Friday, March 13, 2015

Still Sailing: Updates on Sony Animation's 'Popeye' [UPDATE]

Hoist the anchor! It looks like S.S. Popeye still sails at Sony Pictures Animation!

Thanks to Jerry Beck, we now have a good idea on what's going on with Sony Animation's Popeye...

Hollywood certainly has had a thing for bringing back classic and iconic characters that we are well aware of in the form of films modernized for today's audiences. While many of these were artistic backfires, a majority of them scored at the box office. Alvin and the Chipmunks (or more appropriately "Alvin and the Hipmunks") was a big hit, its sequel did just as well. The Smurfs opened well and had strong legs and made some serious bank overseas. Yogi Bear was similar, opened poorly but had insane legs.

More and more films similar to it were greenlit. We heard about Blue Sky doing a Peanuts movie (which thankfully will be great and respectful of Schulz's iconic creations), we heard that Sony wanted to do a film based on ALF. Illumination was thinking of making a Woody Woodpecker movie at one point.

A lot of us were excited about this particular film though, because it was in good hands... Genndy Tartakovsky's hands, to be exact. Who is Mr. Tartakovsky? The creator of two beloved Cartoon Network shows, Dexter's Laboratory and Samurai Jack, and a unique creative type on top of that. Sony Animation gave him what would be his feature film directorial debut, Hotel Transylvania, but what he really did was salvage a film that was very, very, very troubled. It was met with mixed reviews, it certainly has its fans (I'm not one of them, I thought it was rushed and forgettable), but it did great at the box office.

He was then tapped to direct the sequel, and I have some hope for the sequel because he doesn't have to deal with fixing a mess anymore. Start fresh, start new. The teaser that debuted earlier in the week was cute and funny, and I do look forward to the film despite what I thought of the first film. Hey, if part uno wasn't all that good, there's always room for improvement with the sequel!

I admire Tartakovsky, and I'm happy to see that he's still set to do more features for Sony. He's got three projects lined up at the studio, including this film!

So naturally I was excited about Popeye. Then that bit of test animation was released this past autumn, and it showed how much potential the film had. Tartakovsky's take on the classic character looked respectful of the zany fun of the Fleischer cartoons, complete with an animation style that eschewed CG naturalism and was more akin to something like The Book of Life or The Peanuts Movie.

Then when the Hotel Transylvania 2 teaser debuted, he mentioned in an interview that he was "off" of Popeye and that he wasn't sure if Sony Animation's new management wanted to go through with his vision or not. Why was he off of Popeye? Well, he's got another project in the works, an original story called Can You Imagine?

Inevitably, pessimism spread like wildfire... I was certainly worried, other sites made it seem like the project was dead in the water. I assumed one of a few things were happening. Either Tartakovsky left Popeye and someone else took over, or Popeye was canceled. I also speculated/hoped that Tartakovsky was simply focusing on his original story, and then would return to the sailor man after completing that said original film.

Beck contacted a spokesman at Sony Pictures Animation, and he said: "Genndy has been developing both Popeye and his original idea Genndy Tartakovsky's Can You Imagine? (temp title) at the same time while directing Hotel Transylvania 2."

Up until the release of the sequel's trailer, my assumption was this based on what I had read in the past: Tartakovsky was going to be a super-busy man. After Transylvania 2, he was gonna dive straight into Popeye, work around the clock, and have it ready for a fall 2016 release. Or a 2016 release, no specific quarter.

That seemed a little tricky, I mean, directing a film right after finishing the last one? It sure burned John Lasseter out circa 1999, and I'd imagine it would burn anyone out. Maybe not Genndy though, but I don't know.

Can You Imagine? was announced right around this time last year. It's a completely original story that Genndy's doing for the studio. It sounds super-exciting, and it seems like we'll be seeing that before Popeye. Will Genndy still direct Popeye after Can You Imagine? Well we hope so, why wouldn't he? The spokesman also told Beck...

"It initially looked like Popeye would happen first but Imagine pulled ahead and is now scheduled to be his next directorial film at Sony Pictures Animation. That said Popeye is still very much in active development."

Exactly what I was thinking. So we're getting his cool original story first, then Popeye some time later. A longer wait, which is a real bummer, but I hope it's still in Genndy's hands when all is said and done. If someone else takes over, hopefully it still remains faithful to the character.

At least Sony Animation didn't outright say that Popeye would be their 9/23/2016 release, or even their 9/22/2017 release. Both slots remain vacant at the moment, nothing has filled them yet. I'm happy about that, wait till a certain project is ready and then say when it's coming out. Disney Animation does it now, Pixar does it, DreamWorks should do it, so I'm happy Sony does it.

So yes, here's to Popeye and here's to Genndy possibly directing it! One can only hope!

UPDATE: March 15, 2015...

Bad news, folks. We might not be getting Genndy's take on Popeye, or a film that'll be like the classic short films...

Steve Hulett says...

"But since, you know, the cat is now out of the bag, we'll relay what we heard: Popeye development has slowed way down. There was a difference of opinion between corporate parties over the movie's take on the characters. Should the film have a thirties' sensibility along the lines of the Fleischer featurettes? Or should the sailor man be more modern? Some story artists thought the Fleischer approach was the way to go, but the story and character development wasn't grabbing higher ups, and so ...

Back burner time."

This confuses and kind of infuriates me.

This whole "modernize classic characters" thing is arguably dying down, what with Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked and The Smurfs 2 opening horribly, ditto Yogi Bear. Sure, all three of those films ultimately had legs, but they opened badly and that to me shows that only few kinds of audiences are showing up for these types of films. Sony Animation then did the unthinkable and halted The Smurfs' third installment in its tracks, rebooting the whole movie franchise and going for a film that would be respectful of the comic strip. Not the Hanna-Barbera cartoon from the 80s that everyone knows, but the original comic that was launched as far back as 1958!

So why in the world would they object to Popeye? Or why is the new management not keen on a classic-style Popeye movie? Didn't they get some savvy minds from DreamWorks? Or did they just get suits that think one way about everything when it comes to animation and iconic characters?

Well... Sony Animation's Popeye will still happen, but sadly it's not going to be the film we wanted and arguably deserved. My interest is super-low now, unless they somehow make a modern Popeye that's still hilarious, witty, and clever. No different from the Fleischer cartoons or the original comic strip.

1 comment:

  1. Well, Tom Rothman (the guy who almost ran 20th Century Fox to the ground with his micromanagement and approved such disasters as Alvin and the Chipmunks and Dragonball: Evolution) runs Sony Pictures now, so he basically wants to modernize Popeye and make him "hip". I hope Fox's The Peanuts Movie has Rothman change his mind if that Peanuts film is successful.