Saturday, December 18, 2010

Avengers: Earth's Nerdy-est Heroes

I apologize for not getting to Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes earlier, but there’s been little fan interest in it, and I don’t regularly watch its network, Disney XD. However, it’s turned out to be one of the first things Disney has originated since its purchase of Marvel Comics, and it does not bode well for the future of that ownership.

The Good

Unlike a lot of superhero stories, this one begins its origin stories in the middle of things. SHIELD, the military/spy organization, has four prisons, each holding various supervillains. One day, all four prisons break down and all the inmates escape. It’s up to a ragtag group of superheroes, mostly led by Iron Man, to capture them all.

The Avengers has some fifty years of comic book history behind it, and as one of the nice touches, this show features the main characters that started out the book. Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Ant-Man and The Wasp are the central characters. The characters are done in a clean, simple style that owes a lot to anime; there’s no heavy shadow, rounded shading or other dark effects.

The characters are pretty much what you might expect. This version of Iron Man is clearly based on the recent movies, and voice actor Eric Loomis tries to sound as casual and slick as Morton Downey Jr. Rick D. Wasserman doesn’t have a live-action model for Thor (the movie isn’t out yet) but gives him that noble-warrior pseudo-Shakesperian feel. Fred Tatasciore does The Hulk in one of his smarter incarnations, avoiding the “Hulk Smash!” primitivism. As the only female in the starting lineup, Colleen O'Shaughnessey gives The Wasp a cute, sarcastic voice; she’s a girl thrilled to mix it up in battle with the big boys.

Besides the fifty years of comics, The Avengers have had a spotty history in animation. In the 1960’s the ugly Grantray-Lawrence animated series (done for local syndication) were basically Jack Kirby’s comic book panels given minimal animation. In 1999, the series Avengers: United They Stand (done for Fox) used only the second-string characters like Tigra, Hawkeye and Ant-Man. There were two direct-to-video movies made of Ultimate Avengers that, like other Marvel video movies, were unenthusiastic.

Given that history, I was surprised and pleased by this new series. The characters look, sound and think like those comic book characters I saw as a kid. Well, smarter than those characters, and for a curious reason.

Stan Lee is listed as “co-Executive Producer” along with current Marvel Comics editor Joe Quesada, but his bombastic voice doesn’t appear in this show. I’m not a hater of Lee, but in all honesty, his heavy hand and insistence on putting his stamp on everything Marvel has dragged down many projects. Writing styles in comics and cartoons have changed since Stan wrote all those stories by himself, and the dialog in this series sounds fresh and interesting.

The Bad

With fifty years of backstory, the producers at Film Roman and Marvel Animation decided to feature as much of that history as they could. In the two-part pilot episode, it’s mentioned that seventy-odd superpowered villains are loose, and it seems as if every one of them was shown in the episode. You don’t get to know them as characters, only as names and vague powers. “That’s Crusher Creel, The Absorbing Man. He absorbs the properties of everything he touches! Here’s The Leader, a gamma powered genius as smart as The Hulk is strong! Here’s…” You get the point.

Look, that might please comic book nerds. Perhaps the writers and producers are nerds themselves, eager to show off their favorites. Or more likely, Marvel Animation and their parent corporation Disney wanted to get the likenesses of all these villains established and copyrighted at once. But if I were a kid and happened upon this series, I’d get confused by all these characters and I’d give up on it.

The same deluge happens with the heroes, although slower. It is true that Captain America was re-introduced in the fourth issue of The Avengers comics, and by putting him in Episode 6 they’re taking things…slowly. But they’re involving other heroes like Black Widow, Ms. Marvel and Hawkeye peripherally and quickly. We’ll soon have a flood of heroes we barely know and barely care about.

The Unhistorical

By the way, speaking of Captain America, the series shows his foes in World War II to be Hydra, not the Nazis. In the comics, Hydra was an all-purpose fascist organization that grew out of the ashes of the Third Reich. In this series, Hitler and the Third Reich didn’t exist, only Hydra. There is an economic reason behind this; Germany still does not allow the use of the swastika, Hitler or Nazi iconography in its entertainment media. By using Hydra, this series can run in Germany without any problems. But it cheapens many things, including the real-world evil of the Nazis and the origin of comic books themselves.

Most of the writers, artists and editors of comic books were Jews. The heroes they created were a response to the Holocaust in Europe, and the prejudice they faced in America. Although comics were considered horrid, evil works by people in their own time, in recent years comic books have become accepted and even lauded as one of the great contributions of Jews to American culture. By eliminating the Nazis, the producers have cheapened these creations.

While The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is probably the best adaptation of this particular super-group ever made, its flaws are serious. The kid audience, who mostly aren’t comic book nerds and who don’t know all these characters, will find it hard to care about these heroes and their battles. And that means they won’t likely care much about the live-action Avengers movie Disney is planning to make. We old nerds can’t float your boat for you, Disney; you need to get young nerds, too.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Annie noms 2010...not that they matter much to me anymore...



Best Animated Feature

• Despicable Me – Illumination Entertainment

• How to Train Your Dragon – DreamWorks Animation

• Tangled – Disney

• The Illusionist – Django Films

• Toy Story 3 – Disney/Pixar

Best Animated Short Subject

• Coyote Falls – Warner Bros. Animation

• Day & Night – Pixar

• Enrique Wrecks the World – House of Chai

• The Cow Who Wanted To Be A Hamburger – Plymptoons Studio

• The Renter – Jason Carpenter

Best Animated Television Commercial

• Children’s Medical Center – DUCK Studios

• Frito Lay Dips “And Then There Was Salsa” – LAIKA/house

• ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ Winter Olympic Interstitial “Speed Skating” – DreamWorks Animation

• McDonald’s “Spaceman Stu” – DUCK Studios

• Pop Secret “When Harry Met Sally” – Nathan Love

Best Animated Television Production

• Futurama – The Curiosity Company in association with 20th Century Fox Television

• Kung Fu Panda Holiday – DreamWorks Animation

• Scared Shrekless – DreamWorks Animation

• Star Wars: The Clone Wars “Arc Troopers” – Lucasfilm Animation, Ltd.

• The Simpsons – Gracie Films

Best Animated Television Production for Children

• Adventure Time – Cartoon Network Studios

• Cloudbread – GIMC

• Fanboy & Chum Chum – Nickelodeon, Frederator

• Regular Show – Cartoon Network Studios

• SpongeBob SquarePants – Nickelodeon

Best Animated Video Game

• Heavy Rain – Quantic Dream

• Kirby’s Epic Yarn – Good-Feel & HAL Laboratory

• Limbo – Playdead

• Shank – Klei Entertainment Inc.


Animated Effects in an Animated Production

• Andrew Young Kim “Shrek Forever After” – DreamWorks Animation

• Jason Mayer “How To Train Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

• Brett Miller “How To Train Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

• Sebastian Quessy “Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” – Warner Bros. Pictures

Kryzstof Rost “Megamind” – DreamWorks Animation

Character Animation in a Television Production

• Nicolas A. Chauvelot “Scared Shrekless” – DreamWorks Animation

• Savelon Forrest “Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III” – ShadowMachine

• Elizabeth Havetine “Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III” – ShadowMachine

• David Pate “Kung Fu Panda Holiday” – DreamWorks Animation

• Nideep Varghese “Scared Shrekless” – DreamWorks Animation

Character Animation in a Feature Production

• Mark Donald “Megamind” – DreamWorks Animation

• Anthony Hodgson “Megamind” – DreamWorks Animation

• Gabe Hordos “How To Train Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

• Jakob Hjort Jensen “How To Train Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

• David Torres “How To Train Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

Character Animation in a Live Action Production

• Quentin Miles – Clash of the Titans

• Ryan Page – Alice in Wonderland

Character Design in a Television Production

• Andy Bialk “The Ricky Gervais Show” – W!LDBRAIN Entertainment

• Stephan DeStefano “Sym-Bionic Titan” – Cartoon Network

• Ernie Gilbert “T.U.F.F. Puppy” – Nickelodeon

• Gordon Hammond “T.U.F.F. Puppy” – Nickelodeon

• Steve Lam “Fanboy & Chum Chum” – Nickelodeon, Frederator

Character Design in a Feature Production

• Sylvain Chomet “The Illusionist” – Django Films

• Carter Goodrich “Despicable Me” – Illumination Entertainment

• Timothy Lamb “Megamind” – DreamWorks Animation

• Nico Marlet “How To Train Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

Directing in a Television Production

• Bob Anderson “The Simpsons” – Gracie Films

• Peter Chung “Firebreather” – Cartoon Network Studios

• Duke Johnson “Frankenhole: Humanitas” – ShadowMachine

• Tim Johnson “Kung Fu Panda Holiday” – DreamWorks Animation

• Gary Trousdale “Scared Shrekless” – DreamWorks Animation

Directing in a Feature Production

• Sylvain Chomet “The Illusionist” – Django Films

• Pierre Coffin “Despicable Me” – Illumination Entertainment

• Mamoru Hosoda “Summer Wars” – Madhouse/Funimation

• Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois “How To Train Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

• Lee Unkrich “Toy Story 3” – Disney/Pixar

Music in a Television Production

• J. Walter Hawkes “The Wonder Pets!” – Nickelodeon Production & Little Airplane Productions

• Henry Jackman, Hans Zimmer and John Powell “Kung Fu Panda Holiday” – DreamWorks Animation

• Tim Long, Alf Clausen, Bret McKenzie, Jemaine Clement “The Simpsons: Elementary School Musical” – Gracie Films

• Shawn Patterson “Robot Chicken’s DP Christmas Special” – ShadowMachine

• Jeremy Wakefield, Sage Guyton, Nick Carr, Tuck Tucker “SpongeBob SquarePants” – Nickelodeon

Music in a Feature Production

• Sylvain Chomet “The Illusionist” – Django Films

• David Hirschfelder “Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” – Warner Bros. Pictures

• John Powell “How To Train Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

• Harry Gregson Williams “Shrek Forever After” – DreamWorks Animation

• Pharrell Williams, Heitor Pereira “Despicable Me” – Illumination Entertainment

Production Design in a Television Production

• Alan Bodner “Neighbors From Hell” – 20th Century Fox Television

• Barry Jackson “Firebreather” – Cartoon Network Studios

• Pete Oswald “Doubtsourcing” – Badmash Animation Studios

• Richie Sacilioc “Kung Fu Panda Holiday” – DreamWorks Animation

• Scott Wills “Sym-Bionic Titan” – Cartoon Network Studios

Production Design in a Feature Production

• Yarrow Cheney “Despicable Me” – Illumination Entertainment

• Eric Guillon “Despicable Me” – Illumination Entertainment

• Dan Hee Ryu “Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” – Warner Bros. Pictures

• Pierre Olivier Vincent “How To Train Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

• Peter Zaslav “Shrek Forever After” – DreamWorks Animation

Storyboarding in a Television Production

• Sean Bishop “Scared Shrekless” – DreamWorks Animation

• Fred Gonzales “T.U.F.F. Puppy” – Nickelodeon

• Tom Owens “Kung Fu Panda Holiday” – DreamWorks Animation

• Dave Thomas “Fairly OddParents” – Nickelodeon

Storyboarding in a Feature Production

• Alessandro Carloni “How To Train Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

• Paul Fisher “Shrek Forever After” – DreamWorks Animation

• Tom Owens “How To Train Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

• Catherine Yuh Rader “Megamind” – DreamWorks Animation

Voice Acting in a Television Production

• Jeff Bennett as The Necronomicon “Fanboy & Chum Chum” – Nickelodeon & Frederator

• Corey Burton as Baron Papanoida “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” – Cartoon Network

• Nika Futterman as Asajj Ventress “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” – Cartoon Network

• Mike Henry as Cleveland Brown “The Cleveland Show” – Fox Television Animation

• James Hong as Mr. Ping “Kung Fu Panda Holiday” – DreamWorks Animation

Voice Acting in a Feature Production

• Jay Baruchel as Hiccup “How To Train Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

• Gerard Butler as Stoick “How To Train Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

• Steve Carrell as Gru “Despicable Me” – Illumination Entertainment

• Cameron Diaz as Fiona “Shrek Forever After” – DreamWorks Animation

• Geoffrey Rush as Ezylryb “Legend Of The Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” – Warner Bros. Pictures

Writing in a Television Production

• Daniel Arkin “Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Heroes on Both Sides” – Lucasfilm Animation Ltd.

• Jon Colton Barry & Piero Piluso “Phineas & Ferb: Nerds of a Feather” – Disney Channel

• Geoff Johns, Matthew Beans, Zeb Wells, Hugh Sterbakov, Matthew Senreich, Breckin Meyer, Seth Green, Mike Fasolo, Douglas Goldstein, Tom Root, Dan Milano, Kevin Shinick & Hugh Davidson “Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III” – ShadowMachine

• Billy Kimball & Ian Maxtone-Graham “The Simpsons: Stealing First Base” – Gracie Films

• Michael Rowe “Futurama” – The Curiosity Company in association with 20th Century Fox Television

Writing in a Feature Production

• Michael Arndt “Toy Story 3” – Disney/Pixar

• Sylvain Chomet “The Illusionist” – Django Films

• William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders “How to Train Your Dragon” – DreamWorks Animation

• Dan Fogelman “Tangled” – Disney

• Alan J. Schoolcraft, Brent Simons “Megamind” – DreamWorks Animation


Winsor McCay Award – Brad Bird, Eric Goldberg, Matt Groening

June Foray – Ross Iwamoto.

Ub Iwerks Award – Autodesk

Special Achievement – “Waking Sleeping Beauty”

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Potter Animation, and why ASIFA Won't Celebrate It.

I'm not going to review Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 in full. There's enough about that from other critics. But I wanted to talk about one little bit of it.

During the latter part of this story, our three protagonists - Harry, Ron and Hermione - wind up at the house of Xenophilius Lovegood. For those who need a refresher - you have read all the Potter books, of course - he's the father of the somewhat spacy Luna Lovegood, and the publisher of The Quibbler, the Weekly World News of the wizarding world.

Lovegood publishes all the outrageous rumors about magical creatures and political intrigues. Unfortunately, he is dead right about supporting Harry Potter and the late Albus Dumbledore. Right now, Harry and his friends are being hunted by Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters, who have taken over the Ministry of Magic. Having someone like Lovegood on your side is like having the support of The Amazing Criswell.

Harry and company ask about a peculiar mark they've seen. It turns out to be the mark of the Deathly Hallows, three magical items that legend says were bestowed by Death itself. This is all recounted in the wizarding world's version of Grimm's Fairy Tales, called The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

J.K. Rowling wrote that book as a sideline Harry Potter project, and contributed the proceeds to charities for British children. In the movie, Xenophilius Lovegood starts reading the book, for the benefit of Harry, who never read the book. As he reads it, the camera pans out to a pond outside his house...and the story becomes animated.

I can't reproduce the picture of the animation. I didn't see it in 3-D, since this first part is not in 3-D. But it was hypnotic. It made everyone in our half-filled theater gasp. If I had to describe it, it would be animated paper cutouts, shot in silhouette, the cutouts converted to solid colors, and given wisps of animated smoke that moved through them. All of it was in different shades of white, tan, brown and black.

It is the most abstract piece of animation I've seen in commercial release since the work of UPA in the late 1950's and early 1960's. There may be wilder things in the world of independent animation, but nothing like it has been given popular release. And abstract as it was, it perfectly illustrates the grim story of three wizards who each gained a gift from Death, and how it affected each of their lives...and deaths.

In retrospect, it is absolutely appropriate for the film, which is darker in tone and more dramatic than anything in the previous Harry Potter movies. Unlike most of the graphic and illustration design we've seen in the movies and books - and that I've seen in Universal's The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - it is not done in an antique, turn-of-the-1900's graphic style.

It deserves some kind of notice from ASIFA Hollywood. But it probably won't get it. As you know, ASIFA has voided the voting rights of ordinary civilian members like myself and Michelle. We are ending our memberships with great regret, because we believed that the participation of people like us kept ASIFA honest.

Since this movie's animated segment is perhaps less than one percent of the film, ASIFA will probably ignore it. And since we ordinary civilians don't have a voice in ASIFA any more, we can't suggest even an honorary commendation.

All I can say right now is this: Ms. Rowling and Warner Brothers have provided animation lovers something to love. Maybe she might see fit to animate some other tales from Beedle the Bard in the same, or even more experimental, visual styles.