Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Updates on Sony Animation's 'Popeye' and 'Can You Imagine?'

A few years ago, Sony Pictures Animation had announced that they were going to make a Popeye film that would be done in computer animation, and it would also be directed by animation mastermind Genndy Tartakovsky of Dexter's Laboratory and Samurai Jack fame. It was a project that had and is still having a rather rough voyage to the big screen...

It took some time to progress over the years. At one point Sony intended to launch the film in the fall of 2014, until deciding over a year in advance that it wasn't ready. Around the same time of its original intended release date, the studio finally released a fully-animated test, indicating that things were about to move forward. A sizzle of sorts, showing what Tartakovsky's vision for the sailor man would be like. The CG was very cartoony and it eschewed photo-realism, feeling more like The Book of Life and The Peanuts Movie than something like Turbo or Epic. It was met with praise all around, and it apparently tested well at Sony...

But then, according to Tartakovsky in a recent, must-read interview with Cartoon Brew, former Sony chairman Amy Pascal bluntly told the man what her and the executives thought. This all must've happened around this past November or December...

“Look Genndy, we love you, but we just don’t like Popeye.”

Combine that with what has been revealed via the other leaked Sony emails, and you can see what the problem was. Genndy moved on to his original story Can You Imagine?, which is still in development. He hopes the success of Hotel Transylvania 2 will spur Sony to greenlit, set it in motion. Genndy also mentioned that he thinks the studio is still developing Popeye, without him involved of course.

Who knows if the current brass that's in charge of Sony Animation and Sony Pictures is fine with what Tartakovsky wants to do with the character. As for the possibility of Tartakovsky coming back to Popeye, he said "you never know" but for the time being he just doesn't see the project coming back to him.

In addition to some words on Popeye and how Hotel Transylvania 2 had some particular difficulties (Adam Sandler and Robert Smigel trying to control the movie over him, he added that it was really Sandler's movie anyway so he got to call the shots) during production, he revealed a plot synopsis for Can You Imagine?

"It’s a personal story for me, from when I had kids, and some of the changes I went through. The story is about this youthful couple, who are very imaginative and young-at-heart. They have a kid, and everything seems to be going well, but as life does, it sneaks up on them. Things gets serious, they lose their youth, and their connection to their kid. Everything becomes dysfunctional, so the kid runs away into his own imaginary world. So the parents have to journey into his imaginary world, reconnect as a couple, find their inner youth, and win him back... it’s almost like a fairy tale. It’s funny and energetic, and more pure, like Dexter’s Laboratory, plus everything I’ve learned in the 20 years since I made it, in a feature film."

Genndy writing and directing his own original animated feature was already enough to get me to shout "Shut up and take my money!", but this just sounds amazing. Too amazing for Sony Animation not to move forward with. It sounds a little bit like a much more surreal Inside Out, and mixing that with what made Dexter's Laboratory so good? I love the concept already, and the themes of finding that inner, positive spirit and not losing innocence. We've seen that theme recently in films like The Lego Movie, and Inside Out as well. He also noted that the imaginary world will be more like Narnia, not something set inside his head. It also sounds like an even mix of fun and heart.

Who knows what will happen, though. The ideal situation is basically: After finishing Can You Imagine? (should that come out in 2018 or 2019), Genndy comes back to Popeye, Sony lets him go through with his vision, and that opens 3-4 years later...

Right now, Sony Animation's slate is kind of a jumble. For the longest time, two mystery films were set for 9/23/2016 and 9/22/2017 respectively. Then Warner Animation snatched both of those dates for Storks and Ninjago respectively. Box Office Mojo still lists both untitled 9/23/2016 and 9/22/2017 Sony Animation releases, but a recent Sony slate implied that they no longer are after those dates. Sony will release The Magnificent Seven on 9/23/2016 instead, but nothing is set for 9/22/2017. The slate, however, shows that the studio intends to release The Lamb on 12/8/2017.

Also, their website has an upcoming movies section. Is there anything between Hotel Transylvania 2 and spring 2017's Get Smurfy? Nope, just a direct-to-video Open Season sequel. Oddly enough, next month's Goosebumps is not listed here... I think at the last minute it was billed as an SPA film, but as far as I know, the studio didn't work on it at all. Maybe that's why it's absent.

Anyways, this to me implies that we won't be getting a Sony Animation film next year, and that's normal considering that the studio has sat years out before. Sony Pictures will still get their animation fix next year with ImageWorks/Rovio's The Angry Birds Movie, and Nitrogen's adults-only Seth Rogen comedy Sausage Party. With all of this mind, it seems like Can You Imagine? won't be out until 2018 at the earliest. The September slot they used to go after has once again been snatched up by Warner Animation, so they will have to opt for another month to launch Tartakovsky's project, should it open in 2018.

There were a slew of upcoming projects that used to be on the website's slate, but after the hack and the management switcheroo, those are now up in the air. The Lamb was one of them, and that one oddly moved forward and has a concrete release date. I would've thought something like Lauren Faust's Medusa or Kelly Asbury's Kazorn & the Unicorn would've advanced, but I digress...

Anyways, I hope the best for Hotel Transylvania 2 at the box office (no reviews are in yet, which could be seen as a bad sign, but who knows...) and for Mr. Tartakovsky himself. Really looking forward to Can You Imagine?, and I hope his Popeye film gets made eventually.

What say you?

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