Saturday, September 20, 2014

Bits Journal #25

Before we get to the news bits, first let's look at an unearthed treasure…

TheThiefArchive, or more appropriately animation fan Garrett Gilchrist, is best known for restoring Richard Williams' unfinished animated masterpiece The Thief and the Cobbler. I saw Gilchrist's "Recobbled Cut" of the film back in March 2010 and fell in love with Williams' lost opus, then sought out Williams' other non-Roger Rabbit works, all of which Gilchrist restored/found and put on the channel.

Now he has unearthed a super rare 1982 Disney animated short film that the company oddly didn't give a general release at the time, it was screened but that was it. It didn't show up before any new movies or re-releases in 1982 or 1983, it wasn't released on home video, it's a real rarity… But now you can watch it thanks to Gilchrist and others!

I think it's brilliant, full of energy that a lot of the late 70s/early 80s Disney animated films and shorts lack. The style is different and unique, and having an animatronic head host it was an interesting choice to say the least. Strangely prophetic too, in a way. The art direction, character designs and timing don't fit in with the studio's output from the era, but that's what makes it so unique and so interesting. The film's credits also have a lot of familiar names that are big in animation today. One of the most fun things about watching late 70s/early-to-mid 80s Disney animation is watching the credits and finding all the people who would go on to do big things. Did you know Frozen director Chris Buck worked on and is credited in the now 33-year-old The Fox and the Hound? That's just one fun fact of many!

So yes, why did Disney not opt to release this short to the public? Originally this footage was meant for an EPCOT television special that didn't pan out, but they could've very well attached the short to the holiday 1982 re-release of Peter Pan, or heck, maybe a re-release of an animated movie in 1983. They had some opportunities there.

Fox continues playing their game of release date chess, moving The Fantastic Four off of the 6/19/2015 slot, leaving Pixar's Inside Out free of big competition. Fox put small-scale drama Paper Towns in FF's original spot, but that'll have no affect whatsoever on Pixar's film. The Fantastic Four is now set to open 8/7/2015, yet we know next to nothing about it, have seen like one set photo, heard the actors talk about it, heard nothing from the director, and there was no presentation at Comic-Con. Why so secretive, Fox? Is this nothing more than just a really bad, cheapo rights grab? Or do you have something special brewing here?

The spot The Fantastic Four took used to belong to Fox's own Assassin's Creed, now that film is in the TBD pool. Will it get a new release date? Or is the project dead? Who knows…

However, Fox shocked fans yesterday with the announcement of a Deadpool film. Set to hit on February 12, 2016, some feel that the film is hastily being launched because of the reaction to the leaked test footage of a proposed Deadpool film. Hopefully Fox and the crew behind it gets it right, because this could be a rushed mess if handled poorly. A Deadpool movie is one of the biggest risks in the world of comic book films, and a proper film should go all out and garner an R-rating.

If anything, Fox needs to figure out the DreamWorks slate and pick better dates for some of the films on it…

LEGO also recently revived a line of theirs that was very popular over a decade ago… Bionicle.

Now, why do I bring this up? Well, The Lego Movie of course! Since the film was a huge and very profitable success (Over $400 million worldwide against a $60 million budget!), Warner Animation Group already has a sequel pegged for 2017 and a spin-off film set to come the year before that. The spin-off film happens to be based on Lego Ninjago, a line that has been very successful ever since it was launched in 2011. It even got a show on Cartoon Network that's still running!

Back in the early 2000s, Bionicle spawned comics, novels, and a couple of direct-to-video computer animated films. In fact, I was a big fan of the line and its story back in the day. The first movie in the series was cheesy as all hell and definitely aimed at the young boy crowd that Disney marketers nowadays try so hard to appeal to, but 11-year-old me didn't give too damns! Why LEGO halted the line, I have no clue, but now it's making a comeback next year and I guess that big story of theirs is still continuing.

With all that being said, what if Warner Animation were to adapt Bionicle into a theatrical animated feature? Reportedly, they have a lot of LEGO movie projects in the pipeline and I'd be totally content if a Bionicle film was one of those projects. It got a very, very brief reference in The Lego Movie as well. I think it could be done, but this is speculation and me asking for too much… But please, WAG, make it happen!

John H. Williams, who was one of the producers of Shrek and Shrek 2, is starting his own animation studio called 3QU Media. Williams, hot off the success of Shrek in 2002 founded Vanguard Animation. Vanguard didn't last very long, putting out a slew of critical and commercial duds that began with 2005's Valiant and ended with 2008's Space Chimps. Valiant is particularly interesting because it was a UK co-production, and Disney sunk their teeth into it when the Eisner brigade was all gung-ho about their all-CGI rush. This was in 2003, when it seemed like Pixar was going on their own after they completed and delivered their last film that was part of the Disney contract, Cars. By the time Valiant came and went, Eisner was ousted and Bob Iger became CEO. Pixar was brought back into the fold, and the non-Pixar CGI rush ended with C.O.R.E.'s The Wild, which was also a critical and commercial dud. Lionsgate released Happily N'ever After - which looked like a poor man's Shrek - in early 2007 to little fanfare, it died quickly. Fox dumped Space Chimps on The Dark Knight's opening weekend, not that they really marketed it to begin with. Audiences chose to stick with Pixar's space odyssey that opened the same summer.

This new studio already has four low budget (we're talking low budget, around $20 million) films in the works, the first of which is titled Charming, a project that sounds very Shrek-esque. What's the idea? The Prince Charming that Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are engaged to is the same person. Could it be a fresh new spin on the usual fractured fairy tales stuff that's been going since the Rocky & Bullwinkle days? Or will it come off as another tired Shrek wannabe? Frozen was one of the most recent animated films to tread the fractured fairy tales ground and was huge, so there's no reason not to do it in this day and age.

Also, with such low budgets, what will the animation in each film look like? Will they go the Reel FX route and take advantage of the lower budgets? Will they come up with new or innovative styles? Who knows! Williams said, "Our purpose is to produce mainstream and commercially successful CG-animated family films with elements of comedy, adventure, romance and personal inspiration for the global market."

I like that people are trying to jumpstart animation studios. Double Negative, Simon Cowell (of all people), and now Williams again. Let's hope his studio is successful and decent films come from it…

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