Saturday, July 22, 2017

Recap: Trailer-mania / Skydance Directors / Home Media News

Trailers, things going on at studios, what's coming to disc... All right here...

It's been a good couple of weeks for trailers, for both animation fans and general movie fans...

Curiously, the first-ever trailer for Scott Sava's long-in-the-works Animal Crackers has finally arrived. Even though the film is still seemingly without a US distributor, it's still on track for a September 1st release.

For a film made on a $17 million budget, it looks nice. The style is like a mix of the quasi-photoreal look and something cartoony, you can see that in some of the asymmetry of some objects and buildings here and there. Like I keep saying, the small, tiny-budget animated feature continues to make its way to the forefront. You can tell the trailer wasn't edited and put together by a big distributor, for the first half isn't all over the place and it gives you an idea of what it's actually about before the comic mayhem sets in, among the other stuff.

Again, this is supposed to be a very personal project for its director, and ex-Disney animator and Mulan director Tony Bancroft's involved, so it has promise. Early reception from Annecy indicates that it's a fun ride altogether. It's good to see Bancroft finally having a post-Disney directorial feature, after the last thing he was supposed to direct - Bunyan & Babe - was mutated into something else.

On the whole, it looks like it could be solid and it's thankfully free of Minions-y, sugary stuff like that.

Next up is a trailer that had me in stitches. Literally...

During their presentation at San Diego Comic-Con, Warner Bros. unveiled the new trailer for The Lego Ninjago Movie, which arrives just in time for the release of The Emoji Movie...

Very rarely does a trailer for anything make me burst out laughing... Thrice!

Yes, I'm legitimately serious here. This trailer for The Lego Ninjago Movie made me burst out laughing three times... You can probably guess what one of the parts was.

Anyways, I'm fully onboard this picture. I was initially kind of skeptical of this particular film, because what could differentiate it from both The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie? What could set it apart? Would it still be unique and right in line with its brick predecessors? With this trailer, I'm not asking that anymore. The movie looks like a cross-genre blast that just happens to be set in a Lego world. I'm not familiar with the storyline of the Ninjago toyline and the TV series, but I don't think that's going to be much of an issue for me or casual moviegoers. The movie just looks like a really fun, really giddy, really zany send-up of blockbusters, crossovers, and all sorts of things. Kitty kaiju, martial arts, a potentially heartfelt evil father-good son story, and maybe even a high school drama where the young Ninjago heroes balance their daily responsibilities with saving the world.

You know, a little bit like Spider-Man: Homecoming.

In a way, I kind of wish this trailer didn't show Meowthra. Imagine that element just completely catching you off guard in the film itself? At the same time, without the cat monster, I wouldn't have laughed so hard three times when watching this trailer. The other bits that got me? Garmadon's arm at the end, and the part where they attempt to hide behind the trees. ("Ca-caw!")

It makes me wonder... Would a movie like this get off the ground at any other animation studio? If it weren't set in the Lego universe? Probably not, which is why I love this series. The Lego Movie series is a like a springboard for these irreverent, gleefully over-the-top mash-up movies that probably would have trouble getting the green light if they weren't Lego movies. I don't feel any oversaturation of this franchise, either, because... Well... There was no such thing as a theatrical Lego movie until The Lego Movie. You had some direct-to-video movies and cartoons here and there, but nothing like this. The kids of today are lucky, I wish I had these kinds of movies back in the 90s when I was a wee one.

What's so perfect about these movies is that they are great family films, and are smart for the adult audience while being every kid Lego fan's dream come true on the big screen. That's a fine balance right there, and it's so cool that Warner Animation Group struck it twice, and might do it thrice! Oh, and to say nothing of Warner Animation Group's first non-Lego feature. 2016's Storks seemed very divisive, with some really not liking it. Others really liked it, including myself. Some were more middle-ground, saying, "Eh, it's fun, but uneven." I'm in the "dug it" camp for Storks, and I'm really excited about Smallfoot and Bone, and interested in what they may do with the Hanna-Barbera movies.

Yeah, if I hadn't made it clear... I love Warner Animation Group.

Now, next up is not a trailer for an animated movie... Though it's for a blockbuster-type movie that uses a lot of animation, and has lots of connections to animated works...

The trailer for Steven Spielberg's sci-fi action epic, Ready Player One.

Based on the book of the same name, the trailer emphasizes video game action and thrills, but apparently the source material is another commentary on how our nostalgia for old things - in this case, video games and other works of media - might be our undoing.

Two things...

The Iron Giant... Apparently the titular star of the unjustly tossed 1999 animated feature has a big, big role in this movie. If this movie introduces folks to The Iron Giant, I'm not complaining. More fans for that movie is a big win, and it's great to see it coming out of a Spielberg film no less.

Second... Wreck-It Ralph, you have competition. Serious competition. Ralph Breaks the Internet was actually once set to open mere weeks before Ready Player One (which is releasing on March 30th), but now Disney Animation's video game adventure sequel is set to open during the Thanksgiving week. Now, with what we know from D23 and such, how will it stack up against this? This just looks absolutely bonkers, and the kind of thing I want to see pure animation do. Not jabbering yellow tic-tacs and emojis and fluffy animals and such, I think animation can certainly tell a big sci-fi/video game story like this.

Wreck-It Ralph, while not really a science fiction film, fits the other bill. Animation perfectly brought the film's three game worlds to life and differentiated them, while having great energetic action and strong character development to spare. I not only hope that the sequel does just that, but really goes all out. Ralph and Vanellope are going to the Internet, think of all the games outside of the arcade that they can go to! Not just Internet and mobile games, but also console games and the online modes of big console games. They don't have to be real ones, as the fictitious games in the first film work very well as great send-ups. You can throw them into Warcraft-like games, Mass Effect-type games, 90s-style platformer adventures, everything!

I'm just saying, Ready Player One is loaded. Ralph Breaks the Internet, in addition to having great storytelling, should be loaded as well. I don't want to settle for just parodies of websites and synergy crossover scenes with other Disney characters. I'm sure there will be more to it than just that, given that it's a Walt Disney Animation Studios movie, but at the same time I do want it to go all out and take complete advantage of animation's limitlessness. After seeing so many live-action/CG'ed blockbusters doing just that, it's animation's turn. The medium is way more than just bubbly comedies with cutesy creatures.

Anyways, I anticipate both. Two video game-based epics in 2018 along with some cool-sounding video game adaptations? Sign me up!

Over at an up-and-coming animation joint, things are a-happening...

Skydance Media announced back in March that they want to get in on the animation game. They teamed up with Ilion Animation, a Spanish house that is currently making Amusement Park for Paramount Animation and Nickelodeon. I'm not sure if their partnership will extend beyond that, it is very possible, but who knows at this point. Anyways, the two features they are working on now have directors.

The 2019 release Luck, set to be about the forces that determine the good and bad luck in the world, is going to be directed by former DreamWorks face Alessandro Carloni. Long-time animator at the moon house, he moved up to the story man position, and was supposed to direct the ill-fated 2D/CG hybrid Me and My Shadow. After that, he co-directed Kung Fu Panda 3 with Jennifer Yuh. Since DreamWorks has been changing, it makes sense that some of the old guard has left, so it's cool to see him spread his wings.

Another former DreamWorks individual is directing Skydance/Ilion's other animated feature that's in development, an untitled fantasy picture about a girl having to save her kingdom from dark, dividing forces. Linda Woolverton, of Beauty and the Beast and Lion King fame, has been the screenwriter for a good while. The director in question will be Vicky Jenson, an animation long-timer who had co-directed the first Shrek and also Shark Tale, while working on various projects at the studio. She hasn't really been active for a while (outside of some miscellaneous TV work), so it's cool to see her return to animation.

Who will distribute the Skydance movies, though? I don't think it'll be Paramount, because I've seen no evidence of them getting in on this joint venture, plus Skydance has made movies for other studios. (i.e. Life for Sony, Geostorm for Warner Bros.) Maybe a smaller company will pick them? Who knows, but it's interesting to see another player in the field, even if it's one doing movies for another distributor.

On the home video front, we have some good-sized news...

Shout! Factory is set to release the rather obscure British animated feature The Plague Dogs on Blu-ray sometime this year. 

The Plague Dogs is pretty much the successor to Watership Down, a more widely-known animated film about rabbits that recently got a Criterion Collection Blu-ray set. Like Watership Down, this 1982 film is based on a rather dark talking animals novel by Richard Adams. A film about two testing lab dogs who are running from authorities because they are suspected to be carriers of the bubonic plague, it was certainly a product of the overall confused landscape of the late 70s/early 80s animation field. It is not a family film in any say, shape, or form. Like Watership Down, a lot of kids who grew up in the 80s will tell you that their parents bought these movies for them, accidentally thinking they were kids' films (because hey, in the 80s, everything animated was for kiddies!), and then they would be traumatized by them.

Also, like its rabbit predecessor, it was done at a studio called Nepenthe, and the same director - Martin Rosen - returned to helm the picture. An American unit helped alongside, animation legends Brad Bird (who presumably landed here after leaving Disney out of frustration during production of The Fox and the Hound) and Retta Scott (animator of the hunting dogs in Bambi) had a hand in making the film.

It wasn't really much of a box office success in Europe from what I understand. In America, the 103-minute movie was chopped down to 86 minutes. Screened in Seattle in 1983, the film got itself a limited American release sometime in 1985. Most home video editions of the movie contain the 86-minute cut (82 minutes if you live in a country where PAL's the video format), which mostly removed sequences that were thought to be superfluous. The only noteworthy cut here is the absence of a scene where we see the rotten carcass of a sniper. Towards the end of the second act, if I remember correctly, a sniper is hired to kill the titular canines. Their fox accomplice, simply called The Tod, causes the sniper to fall off the cliff. In that later aforementioned scene, the rescue crew sees his remains, making it clear that the dogs - Rowf and Snitter - ate him to survive.

While the uncut film was rated PG in the UK (back when there was no 12 or 12A rating), I can't imagine why the American distributors cut that one bit out, because the film still got a PG-13 rating here in the United States... And they also left in a sequence that I personally felt was much more disturbing anyways. The film's home video history has been rather murky. Folks say the theatrical cut was released on VHS in the UK right after the film left theaters, and only a few thousand copies were pressed. Most later US and UK releases contained the butchered version, an Australian DVD had the full cut but the print appeared to be beat-up and washed out. The 2008 UK DVD apparently presented the film in its uncut form as well. It's never been released uncut here, though.

Considering that Watership Down got the Criterion treatment, I was kind of hoping they'd do the same for this film. A great suggestions list for the Criterion Collection made many moons ago had this very film on it, alongside things like Ralph Bakshi's Coonskin, the legendary uncut version of Don Bluth's The Land Before Time, Harry Nilsson's ABC-Movie-of-the-Week The Point!, and - surprisingly - two Disney features: Song of the South and the also much-sought-after uncut version of The Black Cauldron.

No word on whether Shout's Blu-ray will be the uncut 103-minute version in the correct speed, as the announcement seemed to be a rather passing one. I saw the film a decade ago on YouTube, someone had broken their Australian DVD of it into 10-or-so parts. I think it's a great film, and a rare animated film that dips into some truly dark and uncomfortable waters, not dissimilar to some other 70s and 80s animated movies out there. (When the Wind Blows comes to mind.) I have little desire to revisit it myself, because I don't do movies like that, personally. I admire them for their writing and high quality, but generally bleak and dismal films like that don't gel with me. I may just get it for the heck of it, and to marvel at the animation itself.

Another animated film heading its way back to home video is none other than Disney's beloved The Lion King, returning to Blu-ray after being in the Vault for over four years.

The Walt Disney Signature Collection is really in full swing, and I mean *really*. Titles are coming out faster than the Road Runner, and the wait times between the previous vaulted editions and these new ones are getting shorter and shorter. I'm guessing that the company is slowly but surely eradicating the Vault altogether, or changing things up in a big way, because honestly... The Vault is nothing these days. It only gives scalpers the incentive to sell their old Lion King DVDs and Blu-rays for ridiculous prices. Actually, that has been a problem since the days Disney started releasing their animated features on video. It was an early indicator that the Vault really was outdated, even by the mid-1990s!

Yet it worked for Disney up until recently, Blu-ray and DVD sales for most of the classics hasn't been all that desirable to them. Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainiment (that's a mouthful, just go back to Walt Disney Home Video) was apparently folded into the TV division, and a lot of their home media releases as of late have been let-downs. You've had some exceptions here and there like the Target edition of the Zootopia Blu-ray and a few of the Diamond Editions, but on the whole? It's been a rather sad state of affairs. Their cover art is pretty lazy nowadays, too.

Some of the new bonuses here sound cool, but I'll wait on reviews before double-dipping, because the 2011 Blu-ray was pretty comprehensive despite the BD-Live snafu, and I've got the 2003 DVD as well for the features the Blu-ray does not have... Of course, both of those editions were missing bonuses from the original LaserDisc! But hey, this problem spans multiple Disney home media releases.

Anyways, the new Blu-ray hits stores August 29th, earlier than I had expected. The Platinum and Diamond lines had this tradition where there would be one title in the late winter/early spring, and another in the autumn. Last year, the Signature Collection began and seemed to follow that trajectory: Snow White come out in February, Beauty and the Beast followed in September. This year? Pinocchio in January, followed by Bambi this past month, now Lion King just around the corner! Are we getting a Signature Edition in the late fall, too? Lady and the Tramp? Fantasia?

I'll actually dip if the Blu-ray presents the film the way it was shown in 1994. Only the film's 1995 VHS and LaserDisc release have the full theatrical cut, every following home media release changed something. It's not Star Wars-level severe, but a bit distracting in some ways. You see, The Lion King got an IMAX-exclusive re-release in 2002, which boasted an all-new sequence based on the film's Broadway adaptation: 'Morning Report.' Other changes were made alongside this addition.

One of the changes appears during the 'Can't Wait to Be King' sequence. A few singing crocodiles and toothpicker birds were completely re-designed and re-animated. I like the older ones better, honestly. That's not because of nostalgia, but because I feel their designs fit in better with the overall look of that sequence.

I don't know, do you find the 2002 ones better looking?

In fact, more changes were made to the 2011 theatrical re-release and Blu-ray. Take the scene where Mufasa's ghost leaves Simba towards the end of the second act. It was given a noticeable lift on the 2011 Blu-ray.

Yeah, I don't like little changes like that.

The other thing I want? Fix the opening title cards! Most Disney films made after the mid-1980s open with the Walt Disney Pictures castle. Some movies had their own special music playing over the logo, others did not and used the 'When You Wish Upon a Star'-sounding theme with the unusual sound at the very end. Until 2006, the common opening logo was a bright blue one. The original version of The Lion King opens with that, but there's no music, instead it's the morning sounds of the savanna. Sets the atmosphere, you know? Right before the opening chant of 'The Circle of Life.' The 2003 DVD has a different WDP logo, but keeps the sound effects. The Blu-ray uses the CGI Walt Disney Pictures castle with the 'Wish Upon' theme, no savanna sounds.

I know that's a super-nerdy concern, but I like when movies have the correct title card at the beginning, especially if it opened with its own unique music/sound effects.

Anyways, long story short, I'll dip if it presents the original theatrical cut - not the 2002 version sans 'Morning Report.' Beauty and the Beast has had this same problem on home video, as that got itself an IMAX re-release in 2002 with an added sequence and other changes, which turned into a home video clustercuss.

What say you on these trailers, the Skydance news, and the home video announcements?


  1. About the Skydance news, I'm a little confused. It says here that Luck is now a 2019 release whereas the fantasy tale is TBD. I thought your last Skydance article said it was the other way around.

    1. Things change all the time. Very likely 'Luck' surged ahead in development.

  2. Also, there is an article on Deadline which states that Leap has been moved up from 8/30/17 to 8/25/17.

  3. Kyle, I have a theory for what the 6/1/18 WAG film could be. Would you like to hear it?

    1. Alright, here it is: In February of last year, a couple months before the release of Storks, The Tracking Board announced that Nicholas Stoller was going to produce an animated film by the name of "Fowl Road". The film was being written by Matt Flynn the head of story for Storks and was set to be about a chicken and a hen who have have to rescue their daughter from a fried chicken factory. The movie is set to be a parody of overblown action movies. My theory is that "Fowl Road" could be the untitled WAG film slated for 6/1/18 but could possibly be receiving a new title hence why it would be currently untitled. Or, and this might be stretching it, there could be three other films that could possibly take that release date. It could either be the fully animated Tom and Jerry movie also reported by The Tracking Board, which would explain why we haven't heard anything about the cast of the movie, or either the Speedy Gonzales movie or the Pepe Le Pew movie written by Max Landis which is set to be a 60's heist film. But my bet is on Fowl Road for sure.

    2. I think the untitled 6/1/18 release might be the Adventure Time movie that is in development. The show ends next year, so I figure that the movie could serve as the series finale, kinda like what was supposed to happen with SpongeBob after his first movie.

    3. These are good theories, but I must say, The Tracking Board can be rather unreliable when it comes to scoops. Some turn out to be completely fake, others turn out to be true. It could very well be one of those movies, or maybe not. This is actually the first I'm hearing of 'Fowl Road,' because I barely check Tracking Board because of what I just explained.

  4. Did you hear about the Studio Ghibli/GKIDS news?

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