Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Save Our Old Cartoon Animals!

This is the first video I've ever embedded, anywhere, so I hope it works. It's a wonderful choral song, a plaintive plea for sanity in the animation business.

Michelle, Martin and I have always been vocal about how lousy the CGI animated movies have been and continue to be. Well, we were vocal while doing our podcasts, which I hope we'll be able to revive soon. No matter how badly the features turned out - did anyone really go to see Yogi Bear? - the mutant messes continue to roll off the assembly lines. We three have been protesting it forever. But none of us has been able to make our protests sound as beautiful as this.

It's composed and performed by Chris Mezzolesta, lead man of the band Power Salad. It will be appearing on his forthcoming new album. Chris is a voice artist whose main living is recording instructional audio and occasional radio commercials for major firms. But being a creative guy, he does a whole lot of other things..And I'd be amiss if I didn't plug some of his other stuff and maybe make him a few bucks..

* Every Tuesday night at 9 PM - 11 PM  Eastern, or 6 PM - 8 PM Pacific,  he has a two-hour radio show on Dementia Radio  called The Cream Cheese Library. Of all the live DJ shows on Dementia Radio, his is the most scholarly. After all, he has a degree in music, and he has an immense library of wacky, weird and unusual songs. And in the breaks between the song sets, he'll tell you about the artists and their history.

To listen, plug this address into your Winamp, iTunes, VLC or other streaming audio source: http://dementiaradio.org:8027  Check the above link to Dementia Radio for other hints about listening. And during the live show, you can chat with Chris with your IRC client on the EFnet servers, at channel #dementia. If you don't have an IRC client, there's a web chat client on the Dementia Radio web site.

* Chris is a member of Cirque du So What? It's a sketch comedy troupe including other Dementia artists, The Great Luke Ski, Devo Spice and ShoEboX. They've revived the idea of audio sketch comedy. While Firesign Theater, Burns and Schreiber and The Credibility Gap have retired or died, these guys are still making current and funny comedy. After their first album, Procrastinators of the Apocalypse, they've just released Stupid Cowboy Thing - Volume 1: Grandmother! On this album is a recorded cut called "Elevator" that is probably the funniest and most bizarre thing said about American racism and its source - and that source is Otis.

* I'd be amiss if I didn't plug a couple of Chris's other songs with Power Salad. These are his homemade, non-animated, low-tech YouTube videos for his songs: My Cat is Afraid of the Vacuum Cleaner,  Charlie Sheen and a live performance of The Table Near The Band.  (The lyric he forgot in this last song is: "Yes, you are sitting at the table near the band / We'd have you sit inside the speaker, if we can!"

Thank you, Mr. Mezzolesta! I've never met you at a con, but I'm certain we will, and I owe you a meal. And not from the chickens you're raising in your back yard! (Yes, he does that too!)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Have a very cartoony holiday season!

Enjoy whatever holiday you celebrate!

"Zat you, Santa Claus?" Louis Armstrong vs. Disney classic shorts

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Star-Spangled Man With A Plan

I wasn't feeling well when I saw Captain America. It didn't cure me; I went to the bathroom several times during the film, and I'll have to wait to see the whole thing again some time. Although the film doesn't surpass other superhero movies in its effect on audiences, it's a good film, and better than what I expected.

Through CGI, Chris Evans is made into the wimpy, thin, frail Steve Rogers. He's a sickly kid who wants to do anything to serve his country. But he is not a jingoistic jerk. When Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) interviews him, he asks him "Do you want to kill Nazis?" he replies, "I don't want to kill anybody. I don't like bullies, wherever they're from."

When Jack Kirby and Joe Simon created Cap in 1940, of course there was racist talk about the Germans and Japanese in the comics and movies. More against the Japanese, since there were always "good Germans" who often died in sacrifice to save the American hero. Here, the racism does not exist...and, to a large extent, the Nazis don't, either.

The villain, The Red Skull, a.k.a. Johann Schmidt, is a scientific genius who was the first (undesired) recipient of Dr. Erskine's formula. He has discovered a form of energy (known in comics as The Cosmic Cube) which he uses to create incredible weapons and vehicles. But not for the Third Reich. To sell this film in Germany, every Swastika has been deleted. The Skull is ambitious enough to want to destroy both the Allies and Hitler. His organization, Hydra (developed in the 60's as substitutes for Nazis)

After Steve Rogers becomes Captain America, and his creator is murdered, he works for the Allies...in cheesy War Bond fundraising shows where he punches out a bad actor playing Hitler, to the delight of miniskirted star-spangled girls. But it doesn't play on actual battlefields. "Nice boobs, Tinkerbell!" the GI's heckle him. Rogers (who, like his 1980's version, was an artist) draws himself in a notebook as a monkey on a unicycle carrying a shield.

Against the wishes of the military, Cap goes to rescue a group of captured soldiers. He gets the aid of Howard Stark (yep, Tony Stark's dad) and rescues them. Although the story doesn't specifically mention it, the soldiers who accompany him on his mission are the Howlin' Commandos, the international group of soldiers from Marvel's war comics. (In the comics, the Commandos were led by Nick Fury...who back then was white and had both eyes.)

It all comes up to the climax where Cap crashes the Red Skull's massive "flying wing" into the Arctic, is defrosted in the present day, and stares in wonder at Times Square circa 2011. And the inevitable, very short trailer for The Avengers.

Okay, all the major fanboy plot points are hit. Cap is a man out of time. He can barely understand the present day. He will note how many things have changed, but how some things still need to be changed. And he will represent the spirit of America as the good liberal writers of Marvel Comics always presented him.

And unlike the two TV-movies that screwed up Captain America, unlike the bad cartoons done by Grantray-Lawrence Animaton and Marvel Productions, this Captain is worthy of the legend. But...well, I was hoping for something more. Something inspiring. Maybe something that would comment, even if only obliquely, on our present day.

I wish I felt better about this film. Maybe it was my illness. Maybe it was that this film hit at the end of a drab summer. But Captain America doesn't completely work in an era of Wal-Mart and corporate corruption. There could have been something more than the magic awakening in Times Square; Cap's reaction to our modern world might have made this film significant. Instead we'll have to wait and see if he says anything in The Avengers.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why They Dipped Wonder Woman in Latex

And there she was. In this photo from Entertainment Weekly, we saw the way that producer David E. Kelley intended his version of Wonder Woman to appear. The show was rejected by NBC and will not be made.

There were, of course, numerous comments that another show based on a powerful woman failed. Yes, just like the original Bionic Woman, like British TV's The Avengers with Diana Rigg, and just like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Despite my problems with horror in general and vampires specifically, I've begun to watch the season DVD's of this show. It's remarkably human and vital, unlike the gorier and more sadistic vampires so popular today.)

It occurred to me that this picture explains the real reason why this series failed, and it has little to do with women being unable to carry a show.

All right, this may take some effort on the part of a lot of guys, but get beyond the skin-tight latex. Get away from the fact that this stuff hugs her body like she was naked. (In my opinion, that shouldn't matter. Nudity shouldn't matter any more. You can see stuff on the Internet for free that weren't available except in sleazy stores when I was a kid.)

Fans of the Amazon princess's other adventures should also forget, for the moment, that this outfit is impractical for a fighting woman. There's a little bit of that in superheroinedom. DC's Power Girl has huge breasts and a white outfit with a cutout to show cleavage...and if I were a super-powered foe, I'd grab ahold of that convenient handle and whale on her face for a long time. But most artists that aren't drawing pure porn understand this. In her TV adventures, Buffy Summers mostly wore conventional teen clothes with little exposed, which actually worked for her in combat.

No, try viewing this photo through this filter: this Wonder Woman looks like a plastic doll. All surface. Nothing inside. Shiny and glossy and without context.

It suddenly occurred to me, thinking back about my long life in watching genre TV shows, that this is what most Hollywood types produce when they "do a superhero." There is nothing beneath the surface for them. There's nothing beyond shiny plastic, to hypnotize the rubes.

Or maybe, that's what the Hollywood producers of these abortions believe life should be like. Because they see themselves as exactly that type of superhero. They see themselves as being shiny surface, and they deny there's anything beneath the surface. They think that's what life is all about, and that this is the way to succeed in life.

David E. Kelley has been famous for that kind of surface stuff. The show of his that I'm most familiar with is Boston Legal, which had William Shatner as an insane right-wing defense lawyer, Betty White as a homicidal legal secretary, and one lawyer who openly crossdressed. All surface. There was no there there. So naturally, that was his approach to a Wonder Woman series.

There are people who could have done a much better job. Joss Whedon proved he could make a dynamic but vulnerable female character with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which he has continued as a comic book because Rupert Murdoch's Fox networks would rather attack that Evil Black President than put on decent TV series. Whedon must be a codependent victim of Fox; he took his series Firefly and Dollhouse there, and they got screwed over by Murdoch.

Another good choice would have been J. Michael Straczynski. Joe, as he likes to be called, created many great female characters in Babylon 5. His graphic novel Midnight Nation featured a female angel, who despite being created without a soul, had a lot of soul. And the recent movie he co-scripted, Thor, featured two amazing female characters. Thor's human girlfriend Jane Foster, for once, was not a bimbo or a moon-eyed chick but a scientist and a heroine. And Thor's Asgardian friend the warrior Sif had a bright, shiny outfit that was NOT like a latex fetish thing, but remarkably practical for a warrior.

But, sadly, superhero shows tend to go towards the guys who put women in latex, even though one good blow would rip the outfit to shreds, and in hot weather, would make the women sweat to death and get skin fungus. And they do it to guys too; the Joel Schumacher Batman movies gave him rubber suits with molded-in nipples. Those nipples served no function, as nipples serve no function on me. When Schumacher had the same suit made for Batgirl, someone whose nipples DO serve a function, there were no nipples on the suit. It's been suggested that Schumacher didn't really care that much for women in any capacity anyway, including their nipples.

As long as movie producers, studios, networks and financiers see superheroes as glossy surfaces, with no possible meaning for people, series like this abandoned Wonder Woman thing will be made. Sadly, too often, they won't be cancelled before they go into production, and we'll have to actually see the blasted things.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rango: the Chameleon with No Name.

I saw this film by accident. Two friends and I wanted some fun, after a particularly grueling work week. Their first choice of film was Mars Needs Moms, but because of show times, they decided to choose Rango. It was fortunate that we did.

The ad campaign for Rango was fairly opaque. All you saw was this bug eyed lizard -- one of the most weird and uncomfortable animated characters in a long time -- fighting a hawk in the desert. You saw nothing of this main setting for the story, the Old West town of Dirt. I guess the reason why you didn't see it was because, in the mythology of Hollywood, the Western film is dead.

As a child growing up in the 50s, about two thirds of the programs I saw on TV were Westerns. In that conservative time, people couldn't get enough of the solitary hero, someone unconnected to a town or civilization, fighting bad guys. In fact, most of the backlots of Hollywood studios were Western sets. Dress the buildings slightly differently, shoot them from a different angle, and you had a completely different town for next week's episode.

In the 1960s, Bonanza performed the same function for Westerns as The Love Boat would perform for romantic plots, to recycle all the scripts written over the past two decades. And make everybody sick of them. Every single element that appeared in every half hour western in the 1950s was turned into an episode of Bonanza. As a result, Americans got burnt out on westerns. Very few western series survived, unless they had weird or satirical takes on the genre, like The Wild Wild West or Alias Smith and Jones.

But Rango is a genuine western. And of all the reviews I've read of the film, none of them even thought about the Western film that most closely resembles it. That film is Fancy Pants. That was the 1950 comedy with Bob Hope impersonating an English butler who winds up in the old West, working for Lucille Ball. Hope made a lot of comedy Westerns, including Paleface and Son of Paleface, but Fancy Pants was specifically theatrical. And Rango is especially theatrical.

When we first see the nameless chameleon, he's in a glass aquarium, which he has turned into a stage. He performs little skits about being a romantic hero, using only the headless torso of a Barbie doll and a windup plastic fish as his fellow actors. He has never related to another living being. That changes when his aquarium falls out of the car carrying it, through some desert state, and Rango goes wandering through the desert.

As I said before, the character design of this story can only be described as weird. The desert animals that make up the citizens of Dirt are almost like creatures out of a Beatrix Potter story -- that is, if Beatrix Potter had suddenly developed a taste for grunge. The one that impressed/disgusted me the most was the small mole child Priscilla. I think that's her name, but I'm not certain because the photo wasn't captioned and was hard to find. (They didn't want to scare off the customers.) She wears a little schoolgirl dress over her body of black, greasy fur, and peers out under her hat with glowing yellow eyes. And yet, she is a little girl, precocious and charming, even if she happens to have a pair of revolvers with her.

The character design is wild and woolly all the way across the board. One character walks around with his head pierced by an arrow -- through the right ear and coming out the left eye socket. Yes, it sounds disgusting, but in context it works. And that context is important, because if you looked strictly at the plot of the story, it's obviously a standard Western.

Director Gore Verbinski is no stranger to odd projects, since he became famous for Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Upon which he worked with Johnny Depp, who voices Rango. The real stranger on this film is Industrial Light and Magic, the effects house of George Lucas, who did the majority of the animation. To put it simply, it looks good, even if the creatures look weirder than Jar Jar Binks. I can see a bright future for ILM in the animation field, as long as they keep George Lucas from the story, script and dialogue.

This is a Spoiler Alert -- do not read any further in this paragraph if you want to preserve a surprise. The film talks about "The Spirit of the West," and as you would expect, the film eventually shows the spirit. In South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Stan Marsh went looking throughout the film for the Clitoris, and discovered it near the end of the movie. Of course, Rango meets the Spirit of the West. Of all the beings to personify the spirit -- James Stewart, John Wayne, Randolph Scott -- they chose Clint Eastwood, or rather a very exacting CGI version of Eastwood as The Man with No Name. Or rather, the actor dressed as The Man with No Name, in a golf cart, holding a nine iron. It might have been more appropriate if they had actually used Clint Eastwood, but the voice of the character was done by Timothy Olyphant. But there was nothing appropriate about using Eastwood's character from the cynical, Sergio Leone revisionist Westerns, when this film resembled more serious, optimistic Westerns of an earlier time. Heck, Bob Hope as The Lemon Drop Kid would have been more appropriate.

Rango is a very worthy animated film, and the enthusiasm with which it's been reviewed should make it the animated film to beat. The sequel to Cars doesn't feel right to me. Mars Needs Moms has received bad reviews, and its opening weekend was one of Disney's lowest for an animated film. And no matter how many times they run the trailer, does anybody really want to see Smurfs? Although I am no longer a member of ASIFA, if Rango doesn't win at least the Annie award for Best Animated Feature, what Michele and I have said about the rules change in the Academy will be proven true. Especially if Disney buys the Best Picture Annie for Cars 2.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Oscars: Why do you care?

How it all wound up on TV
First, a bit of history. Although the Oscars were first awarded in 1929, it was not until 1960 that they were telecast, and that was due to economic necessity. Because Hollywood studios didn't want to financially support their own awards.

In 1958, the winner for Best Picture was The Bridge on the River Kwai. It was not an American film; it was released by 20th Century-Fox, but it was done by a British production company. The studios realized that their support of AMPAS, the Oscar academy, was funding awards for their foreign competitors. The studios, which I believe were led by the struggling MGM, cut their financial support for AMPAS.

That was bad. AMPAS, as they occasionally mention on their own telecast, do more than hand out gold statuettes. The "Academy Leader" of countdown numbers is their best-known technical contribution to film, but they've done much more. Although film seems to be an extinct medium in this digital age, they are still working with it and learning new ways it can still be used. They also run an internship program to get talented students working on actual productions, so they can gather experience and reputation and eventually get jobs.

All of that, not just the gold-plated bald men, was at risk. So AMPAS took a daring step. They sold the broadcast rights for the ceremony to network television. It put the studios in a bad place. They didn't want anything to do with television, which they saw (properly) as stealing their audiences. The studios banned their actors from appearing on TV. But they wanted the prestige of the Oscars. So they were forced to put their stars on television, in the ceremony, and watch as AMPAS found a new income stream.

Novelty turns to boredom.
I think the first Oscar telecast I saw was in 1962. It was a big show for whatever network ran it (I forget; perhaps it was ABC). Bob Hope hosted it. Hope was "America's favorite comedian," and although he was later to be revealed as a grouch, a mechanical comic and a cold man, at that time he met the standard of "America's favorite comedian."

It was amazing to see the greatest stars of the movies (many of whose movies I couldn't and didn't see) appearing on that little black and white screen in my own home. It was glamor unknown to a middle-class family in a small Saint Louis suburb. They were also unscripted. One year, when a hydraulic podium accidentally sank into the stage, making the microphones unavailable, Hope broke out into a soft-shoe dance. He, at least, could ad-lib.

That unscripted nature of the awards were also precious, because they showed that these famous people were human. They could make mistakes. Sally Field could yell out "You love me! You really love me!" and look like your uncle or aunt in their dumber moments. They were human...and yet something more than human.

The cracks show...and start to widen.
Year after year, there were great moments, but they began to decrease. For some reason, every time the Academy tries to present real entertainment, they fail. The presentation of the "Best Song" nominees is always, always clunky. The staging, the settings, the backup dancers, the performers who seem like they've never been in front of a live audience...it's always awful.

More and more, the actors who read the nominations act awkward while reading their scripted jokes. I think they know they're dying in front of the live audience and before the entire nation, and they look like first graders reading before an audience of their parents.

The only great moment I have seen in the last decade or so, the only one that made me cheer, was when Michael Moore received the Best Documentary Oscar for Bowling for Columbine. He stumbled and mis-spoke, but he dared to say something real on stage. Not the pretentious, fake Indian girl who ranted while picking up Marlon Brando's unwanted Oscar, but something from a working-class man bringing a little reality into the phony black-tie world of the Oscars. And he really meant that "it was a great honor to be nominated" by bringing his fellow nominees up on stage with him. That was class, that was meaning that the show biz world would never do.

Who cares about these particular movies?
Each year, the pictures nominated for the major awards are films that I and my friends don't normally watch. Even after the Oscar awards, we don't go out to catch up on "this film that was so great it got an Oscar."

Most of the films treasured by film lovers and the mass audience, the films that encourage us to get out and go to the movies, the films we quote from and do fanfic and stupid parodies of, are not even nominated in anything but the Special Effects categories. Yes, an honest award should not be given on simple popularity but by intrinsic artistic merit. But that merit has always been judged by people who are not involved in the real world - not simply the real world of motion picture production or marketing, but the real world where we agonize over how much a gallon of milk costs.

Finally, who cares about Joan Rivers?
Open disclosure: I paid to see Joan Rivers in Las Vegas many years ago. About halfway through her performance, I realized what I had suspected for years was true; she was a cruel, backbiting woman without a touch of humor or humanity. Her own movies, like her script for The Girl Most Likely To... (an early slasher film marketed as a comedy) are little more than bile.

In the last decade, she has stood out on the red carpet to criticize the clothing and attitudes of every female walking into the Oscar ceremony. That this is cruel and pointless is besides the point; she is grandfathered (grandmothered?) into the position, and when she dies, no one else, not even a flaming gay male like Mr. Blackwell, will be able to do it again.

Okay, having read that, we should ask, why do we care what the women wear or what Joan Rivers says? Isn't the Oscars supposed to be about the movies?

Obviously not, because watching the couture is more interesting than watching the ceremonies or the movies the ceremonies are supposed to be celebrating. The sideshow is more interesting than the circus. The supported purpose for tuning in, losing sleep and watching this cheesy spectacle is no longer there.

If you wish to catalog this as a rant by a bitter old man who is yelling at clouds - in other words, a John McCain speech - so be it. But think about why you're bothering to watch the Oscars again this year. Is this what you call glamor? Intellect? Humor? Or is this what someone tells you you're supposed to like?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Were the Annie Award results ever in doubt?

It's Kung Fu Panda all over again. And I could have -- and did -- predict this would happen when ASIFA-Hollywood purged the Annies voting rolls of student and fan voters. The fact that Disney finally spoke out about the controversy and pulled their support from the show only solidified the end result.

Here are the winners of the Annie Awards, brought to you by Dreamworks Animation, where getting an ASIFA-Hollywood membership is allegedly just another perk of the job.


Best Animated Feature

* How to Train Your Dragon – DreamWorks Animation

Best Animated Short Subject

* Day & Night – Pixar

Best Animated Television Commercial

* "Children's Medical Center" – DUCK Studios

Best Animated Television Production

* Kung Fu Panda Holiday – DreamWorks Animation

Best Animated Television Production for Children

* SpongeBob SquarePants – Nickelodeon

Best Animated Video Game

* Limbo – Playdead


Animated Effects in an Animated Production

* Brett Miller How To Train Your Dragon – DreamWorks Animation

Character Animation in a Television Production

* David Pate Kung Fu Panda Holiday – DreamWorks Animation

Character Animation in a Feature Production

* Gabe Hordos How To Train Your Dragon – DreamWorks Animation

Character Animation in a Live Action Production

* Ryan Page – Alice in Wonderland – Sony Pictures

Character Design in a Television Production

* Ernie Gilbert T.U.F.F. Puppy – Nickelodeon

Character Design in a Feature Production

* Nico Marlet How To Train Your Dragon – DreamWorks Animation

Directing in a Television Production

* Tim Johnson Kung Fu Panda Holiday – DreamWorks Animation

Directing in a Feature Production

* Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois How To Train Your Dragon DreamWorks Animation

Music in a Television Production

* Jeremy Wakefield, Sage Guyton, Nick Carr, Tuck Tucker SpongeBob SquarePants – Nickelodeon

Music in a Feature Production

* John Powell How To Train Your Dragon – DreamWorks Animation

Production Design in a Television Production

* Richie Sacilioc Kung Fu Panda Holiday – DreamWorks Animation

Production Design in a Feature Production

* Pierre Olivier Vincent How To Train Your Dragon – DreamWorks Animation

Storyboarding in a Television Production

* Fred Gonzales T.U.F.F. Puppy – Nickelodeon

Storyboarding in a Feature Production

* Tom Owens How To Train Your Dragon – DreamWorks Animation

Voice Acting in a Television Production

* 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

Writing in a Television Production

* 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

Writing in a Feature Production

* William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders How to Train Your Dragon – DreamWorks Animation


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

June Foray Award — Ross Iwamoto

Ub Iwerks Award
— Autodesk

Special AchievementWaking Sleeping Beauty

Until ASIFA-Hollywood seriously looks into the issue of whether or not membership in its organization is given out as a perk of employment at Dreamworks as some have alleged, and until the independent and potentially balancing voices that are student and fan voters are restored to the voting pool of Annie voters, this will be the last time The Cartoon Geeks covers anything having to do with this allegedly and apparently tainted award.

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Friday, February 04, 2011

They're BAAAACK....

MTV made it official: Beavis and Butt-Head are back in production. From what I can piece together, Starz Animation, formerly Film Roman, is doing this with Mike Judge's Judgmental Productions.

I hope that they go for nostalgia instead of the urge to modernize. B&B were a creature of a more innocent era, the Clinton era. 9/11 hadn't happened. Presidential scandals were something we could "Huh huh huh" laugh at instead of mourn because they caused bloodshed overseas or destroy our economy. When Clinton lied, it was just about his ability to keep "Junior" in his pants. I want to see Quinn Morgendorffer and the Morgendorffer parents have to deal with Beavis and Butt-Head, rather than have the Morgendorffer family living far, far away from Highland, TX in Lawndale, (mumblemumble). I want to see Highland High again. Heck, I have a freaking fanfic that would have made an awesome B&B episode, where Daria becomes the "consumer reporter" for the Highland Howdy, and sets B&B to work testing infomercial products. Testing in their inimitable destructive way, of course. :-)

Seriously, guys. If you take B&B out of the '90s and out of High School, they'll wind up being Jay and Not-So-Silent-Bob work at Burger World. That is, if they still have that Burger World job...bleah. "Present day...Present time" is just too depressing. Leave B&B in the Clinton Era where they belong.

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

Margaret Cho's superhero alter-ego (NSFW)

Just mildly NSFW though. The Notorious C.H.O. teams up with Ani DeFranco as "Captain Cameltoe."

Flash video by Roberutsu.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Surprise! Repo Chick is a dizzy, funny, likeable romp!

When I started hearing about Repo Chick, the non-sequel to Alex Cox's 1984 madcap classic movie Repo Man, it sounded promising. At first.

Then came this trailer. That's when something inside me said..."uh-oh..."

I should not have doubted that Cox had a couple of aces up his sleeve, in that the pacing of the movie is totally unlike the trailer, and obviously a lot of the shots were given major tweaks before picture lock, but after the trailer was made. The finished movie looks a bit better than the shots you see in the trailer. Lots of refinements, finished animation (yes, this is why I'm writing about it here at Cartoon Geeks) and better composites make a big difference.

But even more importantly, the trailer gives you zero clue about the sheer exuberance that is palpable from the screen. In the official behind-the-scenes doc for the movie, Better Than Money, what you hear again and again is how fun making the movie was. And this was in spite of equipment heists, long days, break-neck shooting schedules and frustrations with overheating Red One cameras.

It's a silly movie. But then again, Repo Man was silly too...sausage shaped aliens in the trunk of a '62 Chevy Malibu, a delirious atomic scientist, punk rockers, an oversexed UFO cultist, running gags about generic grocery products and "Little Tree" car air fresheners, and lots of punk rock.

The only level Repo Chick is serious on is the same level Repo Man was. Repo Man was the product of the Reagan era, the militarism, the corporatism, and the endless interventions in Central and South America which felt like they could boil over into endless war. Likewise, Repo Chick is the product of the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney Administration, the insanity of the Global War On Terra, the rise and fall of the housing bubble and house-as-piggy-bank-to-break, and the consequences of the Reagan Administration coming home to roost.

When Reagan finally shuffled off the mortal coil, the one thing I wanted to do was rewatch Repo Man, it's that much of a document of the time and place I grew up in. I imagine when I need to be reminded of the train wreck (and yes, trains factor into this plot) that was Bush/Cheney, I'll grab this DVD from the files and watch it. And laugh my silly ass off.

If you want a really awesome window into exactly what went on in production, including the use of both drawn and dimensional stop-motion animation and entirely virtual sets, take a look at Better Than Money and see what went on. Then check this out on DVD or Netflix. Unfortunately the short run at te IFC theatre in New York and the Downtown Independent in LA was it for a theatrical run.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Set the WABAC Machine to...somewhere else.

According to Entertainment Weekly...and I still can't believe I followed this link to their site... Morton Downey Jr. is going to do the voice of Mr. Peabody, in a new CGI cartoon based on the old Jay Ward cartoon segment, Peabody's Improbable History.

Okay, lots of issues here. First of all, the voice in the original cartoons was an impression of Clifton Webb, the character actor of the 1940's. He was most famous for playing the gay murderer in the film noir classic Laura. He was more popular for playing Mr. Belvedere, the gay butler to a middle-class American family. (Remember when Americans used to be middle class?) Not a voice that you'd attach to either Tony Stark or Sherlock Holmes.

The effeminate and glasses-wearing white dog, Mr. Peabody, took his "boy" Sherman back into time. Yes, he had a "boy." That suggestion of pedophilia, slavery and the rest will undoubtedly be a big part of this "modern" version of the story. But let's move on.

Peabody's Improbable History was typical wiseguy jokes by Jay Ward, the creator of Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris Badenov, Natasha Fatale and many other old beloved cartoons. People who loved those cartoons have tried to revive them many times, always will ill effect. Remember the awful live-action Boris and Natasha? Here's a link to the IMDB page for that movie. And worse, there was The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (and here is that IMDB link), which attempted to do a CGI moose and squirrel with live action villains.

Jay Ward is dead. And like it or not, his world is dead with him. He was a pioneer of wiseguy dialog in cartoons, and innocent heroes against stupid villains, and his cartoons will probably be remembered a long time (I won't say forever). But a lot of people have done wiseguy animation, from Trey Parker and Matt Stone to Seth McFarlane. And nobody has ever been able to duplicate Ward's unique combination of cynicism and optimism.

There was only one honest attempt to revive Jay Ward, and it worked...but nobody paid attention to Cartoon Network's George of the Jungle series. It was cute and charming, and George was more an emotional naif than a moron fighting Jay Ward villains.

Ward saw his heroes as innocent, but they weren't fools; fate always made sure they won in the end. Rocky, George of the Jungle, Hoppity Hooper, all of them succeeded because they were the good guys. That was his faith, the faith of the American generation that won World War II, and few people have that kind of faith any more.

In Peabody's Improbable History, that optimism was applied to history. Peabody would tell Sherman to "set the WABAC Machine to..." and they'd go to visit some famous historical figure...who was always an incompetent and a moron. Peabody would help the famous old guy fulfill his destiny, from helping the Wright Brothers make their first flight to helping Lucretia Borgia's husband survive all her poisoning attempts.

Again, you see the Jay Ward faith aspect? There is a right way for history to be, Americans know what it is, and they can set it right. Even if the Americans happen to be a gay dog and his sidekick boy. This aspect won't fly, not in a culture where time travel has been examined by everyone from Doctor Who to Bill and Ted. We aren't that innocent any more.

It's easy to see why this is being made, and it's all in a single paragraph from the EW article:

A script has been penned by Jeffrey Ventimilia and Joshua Sternin, who wrote for the The Simpsons, That ’70s Show, and adapted the recent feature version of Yogi Bear. Minkoff won’t divulge which historical figures Peabody and Sherman will meet, but said the movie will focus not only on their time traveling, but also their origin story.

It's another attempt to mine animation history for something quick and cheap, and which might have some slight smell of success. That smell won't be Yogi Bear, which has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 15 percent. And it's another attempt for some current-day creators to redefine classic characters by adding an "origin story."

Believe it or not, the first episode of Peabody's Improbable History was an origin story. Jay Ward didn't need an extensive backstory. Peabody was a genius dog who could speak, and apparently delude people into thinking he was a human being. He came across a "stray boy" named Sherman and adopted him. With that out of the way Ward started slinging the historical gags, and puns, puns, puns.

But by "re-imagining" Peabody and Sherman, Ventamilia ans Sternin are making these classic characters their characters. It's so much easier to appropriate someone else's success - old and outdated as it may be - than to risk creating something original. And it's easy to get your remake financed if you can convince someone like Downey to voice the main character.

What's amazing and laughable is that executives at DreamWorks, who should know better, have fallen for this. The true measure of their stupidity will be if they continue with this project, even after the team's Yogi Bear took a poop in the woods.

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.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Don't mind the nega-minds on Megamind.

From the trailers, you would expect Megamind to be a simplistic superhero parody. Something like Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles, but much more dumb and cartoonish. The voice cast of Will Ferrell (Megamind), Tina Fey (Roxanne Ritchi) and Brad Pitt (Metro Man) didn't make me confident. However, I had to take friends to the theater, and make them happy, and they didn't want to see the action thriller/comedy RED. So it was Megamind or nothing.

It wasn't nothing. It was better than nothing. Far better. It isn't the best film animated this year, but it's a lot of fun. It had actual heart at the center of the film, which took me and my friends by surprise.

You know the basic plot from the trailers. Two extraterrestrials, Megamind and the future Metro Man, arrive from two neighboring planets. Metro Man is Caucasian, sleek, with perfect hair and perfect social skills. Megamind...not so much. And from childhood on, Megamind decides to become a villain. Right now, you're expecting traditional stuff; bad guy gets pummeled by good guy, amusingly. The kind of thing you saw in Despicable Me. This film had to be derivative, didn't it, because Megamind looks so much like Galaxar from Monsters vs. Aliens, doesn't he?

The film plays to these expectations. For what must be the millionth time, Megamind kidnaps Roxanne Ritchi. The predictable death traps bore her. Megamind lures Metro Man to his lair. And then...to all appearances...Metro Man dies. Megamind triumphs.

What does the villain do when he beats the hero? That's Megamind's new dilemma. He realizes that, having won it all, he no longer has a goal or an obstacle to struggle against. He is, in other words, more sensible than most standard supervillains. In fact, he's in precisely the same dilemma as the petty crook in the Twilight Zone episode "A Nice Place to Visit." Getting everything you want...is Hell.

So, Megamind decides to duplicate Metro Man's powers and give them to someone, make them a hero, and he'll have another nemesis. He chooses Roxanne's nerdish, socially incompetent cameraman (voice by Jonah Hill), appears to him in the guise of his "alien father" (a voice impression which is hilarious and which I won't spoil) and christens the new hero Titan. Of course, the guy is illiterate, so he spells his name "Tighten."

Instead of fighting Megamind, Tighten goes nuts. He has power now. He has revenge on his mind for a life of lowly work. He wants to blow up stuff, real good. And he wants Roxanne Ritchi, bad. Oddly enough, due to a disguise he assumed out of necessity, Megamind has fallen in love with Roxanne. Love has forced the stereotypical villain to become a different kind of hero.

As I say, this is not revolutionary stuff. The CGI is quite adequate. (I did not see it in 3-D, because that would have added nothing to the story. You shouldn't, either.) The best part of Megamind is that the actors went to the trouble of getting inside their characters. You believe that Megamind could actually fall in love, and you see the process happening throughout the film. You believe that the cynical Roxanne could also come to love Megamind.

When stars do voice acting in animated movies, it's usually just their regular personalities. You would expect Tina Fey to do something like her 30 Rock character, or maybe a version of her Sarah Palin impression. But she dug into the part. So did Will Ferrell and the others.

I doubt severely that we'll see a sequel to Megamind or a TV series. After one Halloween special, Monsters vs. Aliens has disappeared. Despicable Me came and went. DreamWorks has trouble making sequels outside of Shrek and Madagascar. And the conclusion of Megamind doesn't leave much room for any follow-ups. That may be best. As it is, Megamind is a solid animated movie with good entertainment value. It's worth a DVD purchase - and I don't make that kind of recommendation quickly these days.