How to Train Your Dragon 2: When Animated Films No Longer Appear Animated

How to Train Your Dragon 2 has been one of the most anticipated films of the year. The massive sleeper hit that was the original, made out quite well back in 2010 thanks to its brilliant blend of story, animation, and character; setting a new bar for a DreamWorks film and proving that they had the chops to match Pixar if given the chance. Fast forwarding a few years, and after viewing the sequel, I came away with the feeling that although inferior to the original, there was something else that bothered me about How to Train Your Dragon 2.

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Comparing Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton’s Risk Tolerance

Mark Mayerson recently posted (with apologies for the delay, I’ve been without my RSS reader for the past fortnight) about the contrast between he efforts of two first-time live-action Pixarian directors. While the post does not go into much detail, the comments which follow raise a number of points in regards to risk and the nature of it.

As Mark points out, Brad Bird went with a familiar face and an existing franchise in stark contrast to Stanton who went for an unfilmed, 100 year-old book. Were either one of them right, or wrong?

No. Both took on a level of risk that they were comfortable with. Bird clearly wanted to have more certainty whereas Stanton was clearly comfortable loading all his reputation eggs in one basket.

That risk was of course shared by the studios. FOX (or whoever it was) that did Mission Impossible were clearly risk-averse. I mean, why else would they greenlight the fourth film in a series that has had the same star for dangerously close to 20 years. Disney on the other hand thought they had the man with the golden touch in Stanton, previous director of cash cows Wall-E and Finding Nemo. Both studios’ decisions are evidence of their relative tolerance of risk.

Animated films are just as susceptible to such risk, perhaps even more so, given their long lead times and inability to simply “do another take”.  Both Bird and Stanton have proven themselves with multiple successful animated films. A switch to live-action was obviously going to contain a certain amount of risk for both of them. It’s probably safe to say that one had a better idea than the other about what they were getting into; I don’t have to tell you who that is.

The only problem with all of this is that the public and critics constantly complain about repetition in Hollywood movies but at the same time clamour to strike down an effort to do something else. Is John Carter a terrible movie? I don’t know as I haven’t seen it. But for his efforts I would give Stanton the benefit of the doubt, for now.

Brand Bird on the other hand, received a gimme in Mission Impossible. Now that he has proven himself to Hollywood and the public/critics, he will hopefully advance to more innovative live-action features, or return to animation. Either way, he is the one to keep and eye on.

Powet.TV On The Top 5 Cartoons That “Need” Live-Action Remakes

Yes, it’s perhaps inevitable that someone decided to come up with a list of animated shows that are desperately needing to be updated with a live-action film.Why animated shows can’t simply stay animated is a concept that is apparently to mind-boggling for some, especially those in Hollywood but especially all those people who continue to buy Smurf merchandise.

Seeing as the idea will never, ever die and that I would never, ever compile a list of my own,  here’s the 5 from Zac Shipley’s list on Powet.TV with a quick blurb on why it should be so.

5. Cowboy Bebop

With SciFi so common in the summer movie season, and the popularity of good guys who are kind of bad, clinching the success of Bebop as movie wouldn’t be hard.

4. Thundercats

…the revamp produced for Cartoon Network shows how much potential the concept has.

3. Gundam

It’s popularity in Japan and the US for decades has made me wonder why it hasn’t been adapted into a huge movie series.

2. Daria

Daria was a strong female character, as was her friend Jane. Their attitude could easily be written off as overly sarcastic and hipster crap in today’s society, but in the late 90s it was a breath of fresh air when ever show about a teen was overly positive and unrealistic

1.The Venture Bros.

My most wanted since it is easily my favorite show produced in the last decade and any excuse to talk about it I’ll take.

 

It’s Time To Stop Making Lists of Top Animated Films

Yoinked from Animated Review’s Top 100 Aniamted Movies post

Let’s be honest, animation is not a genre. It is, as Richard O’Connor calls it, a technique, and a marvelous one at that. It encompasses as wide a range of genres as live-action, so why do we keep seeing lists of top animated films and not much else?

OK, sure, we see lists of top films all the time, but lists of live-action genres seems to be much more prevalent than animated ones. Granted, there haven’t been as many animated films made over the years, but that in no way precludes people from making them.

For the record, I’m not against general top/favourite lists, it’s just that when it comes to animation, people can rattle off their favourites but when it comes to being a bit more specific, classifying films as Disney or non-Disney is about as specific as you’ll get from most folks.

A potential theory is that animated films tend to be classified as just that. You rarely see an animated film being described as a comedy or a horror, etc, etc. Yes, this is much to do with who makes them but there is no reason for an animated film to be confined to “animation” and not much more.

Let’s see more lists that get into specifics. Like a top 10 of action animated films, or a top 20 of romatic/love stories.

Animated films are squeezed into one category all to often, by both studios and the public alike. Let’s try and separate them out so that we can hopefully see them for what they really are.

Link: Hong Kong Phooey film: let sleeping dogs lie

Via: The Guardian

Stuart Heritage over at The Guardian has a blog post on the announced Hong Kong Phooey live-action movie starring Eddie Murphy as the titular hero.

It’s well worth taking the few seconds to read it (and his suggestions at the end) but here is the standout quote:

The sheen of irony and misplaced nostalgia might have buoyed its reputation in recent years, but the fact is that Hong Kong Phooey was never anything more than a footnote in the story of Hanna-Barbera.

 

A Scary Dream I Had the Other Night

Via: Stuff We Like.com

Not the kind of blood-curdling, shivers down the spine stuff you understand, Hallowe’en is over for another year after all, but scary nonetheless. In it, I was in a film, a rather peculiar film in that it was a lice-action/CGI hybrid version of that classic Disney cartoon, DuckTales.

Yes, you read that correctly. How it came about, I do not know, although I sure hope it is not a premonition of some kind that is a window into the future. As an animation fellow, that would be unthinkable, a crime against humanity even!

Well, since then, I’ve been pondering the whole thing on and off and I’ve come to the conclusion that such a feature may well be within the realm of possibility for the foreseeable future for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Uncle Scrooge is one of Disney’s most successful characters (he’s had his own comic since the 50s after all). I could probably still recall the many, many comics I read as a kid at the kitchen table as I ate my breakfast and supper. The original stories by Carl Barks and the more recent stuff by Don Rosa continue to attract fans the world over. So it is safe to say that the character is far from being hung out to dry.

Secondly, such a film would not be the first time that Disney has capitalized on the character or universe. The TV series DuckTales was, for the most part, the adaptation for animation of some of Barks original stories. The series was massively popular and gave rise to a sequel in the form of Darkwing Duck.

What set DuckTales apart from other shows was the cinematic quality of the animation. So much so, that when a theatrical film was released (The Treasure of the Lost Lamp) the difference in quality was imperceptible to my untrained (at the time) eyes.

That film, apparently didn’t fare too well at the box office, which was a shame but not entirely unexpected. If I had to suspect a reason it’s that not too many adults watched the show, and thus were not as familiar with it as they could have been. By comparison, SpongeBob Squarepants had a pretty large adult following (including both parents and trendy college students) by the time a theatrical film was released. This ensured that it had a significantly larger potential audience than if it were just kids and their parents.

So, why would now (i.e. within the next few years) be a good time for a new film?

Weeeeeell, anybody who watched the original show is probably in their mid to late-20s with the cut-off being 30 years old, for the most part. With that in mid, they’re probably starting to get married and having a few kids. As humans, we’re suckers for nostalgia, why else would they play classic rock and 80s synth-pop on the radio?

There’s a good chance that since all the original viewers have grown up and now have kids of their own, they will be hungry for some link to their youth. A DuckTales film would be perfect and with the recent rash of live-action/CGI movies, it would fit the glove quite nicely for such a production.

I write all this in a somewhat sarcastic manner as I believe such a movie would be most likely horrendous. Why on earth I dreamt it in the first place is beyond me and while I would like to see some new animation from the Duck universe, a live-action/CGI film is certainly not on my list of possible ideas.

The Live-Action Version of the Failry OddParents

The Fairly OddParents is a show we all know and love. Not only has it lasted a heck of a long time on Nickelodeon, it also proved to be pretty popular with grown-ups to boot. I myself used to try and get home from college a wee bit earlier on Thursday afternoons to catch it on CBBC.

The show has gone through the usual twists and turns that long-running series’ go through, namely TV movies, crossovers and most notably, the addition of a new character. Which leads us to today’s announcement that the show will receive the live-action treatment in the form of a straight-to-TV movie.

Long story short (or for fun, read the full details over on AWN), the film will feature a 23 year-old Timmy Turner rather than the little scamp we have become familiar with. This stands in contrast to that other well known cartoon that was turned into a live-action movie, Ben 10, where the ages were kept pretty much the same.

I won’t spoil the plot (suffice to say it is surprisingly mature for a kids TV station) but I can’t help but feel that the inherent feeling of the cartoon will be lost, not just because of its transition to live-action, but because the characters will be radically different.

Personally, I am not a fan of taking cartoons (or anything in animated form really) and turning it into live-action. The point was made long ago that King of the Hill could so easily have been done in live-action that money was needlessly wasted on animation. However that would be missing the point, which is that that show could not have worked as live-action. The style of humour as well as the pacing would have rendered it far too boring, but in animated form, we tend to tolerate it.

Besides the nature of turning animated characters into actors, the whole basis of the cartoon was that Timmy could do anything he wanted. The very nature of animation facilitated his wishes, with humongous changes made in the blink of an eye. Such antics are again tolerated in animation because the audience accepts that what its seeing is not real. In live-action, everything must look and move as if it were real, otherwise the audience is reminded that it is not, which would defeat the purpose of making it live-action in the first place.

I do not mean to belittle the production seeing as nothing of it exists just yet. It will undoubtedly be of no worse quality than any other TV movie/kidcom. I just wish that producers/executives would look for more creative ways to expand their properties. Turning something into live-action seems bone-achingly lazy in the face of how many creative people there are out there who are just dying to get something on the air.

Roger Ebert’s Comments on The Last Airbender and Animation

It’s been established that I don’t really like film critics. It’s not a personal thing, for the most part, I tend to disagree with the way they review things. Having said that, I do hold certain ones in high regard, Roger Ebert being one of them. He’s pretty much seen everything at this point so he knows what he’s talking about when he says a film is pants. That’s not to say that you too will find it horrible, heck, he only gave one thumb up to How to Train Your Dragon and I absolutely loved it!

I am not certain whether or not Ebert is partial to animation or not, suffice to say that he does review almost all animated films being widely released. However, he is spot on with his review of The Last Airbender. He nails the movie itself, but his commentary on why it shouldn’t have been live-action hits the bullseye.

Leaving aside his thoughts on 3-D, the actors and the script, Ebert dives straight to what he sees a a fatal decision on behalf of the producers:

The first fatal decision was to make a live-action film out of material that was born to be anime. The animation of the Nickelodeon TV series drew on the bright colors and “clear line” style of such masters as Miyazaki, and was a pleasure to observe.

I tend to agree. Animated TV shows normally have a tough enough time succeeding on the big screen in animated form. To ask them to simultaneously make the jump to live-action is beyond even the best cartoons and Avatar is no exception.

Ebert declares his admiration for the clean, anime-influenced style of the cartoon. While it didn’t exactly set the animated world on fire, the show did draw deserved praise for its clever mixture of western animation skills and eastern looks. To the best of my knowledge, you can’t do something similar with live-action, unless of course your name is Quentin Tarantino.

Ebert also notes:

“It’s in the very nature of animation to make absurd visual sights more plausible. “

Which is why we can relate to a family with yellow skin and a talking sponge among other things. However, when taken to live-action, it is a tall task to ask audiences to accept circumstances and settings as being real. Sure we know they aren’t, but at least in animation we don’t expect them to be, in live-action we do. And no matter how technically perfect they appear, they still don’t seem real.

Would an animated version of The Last Airbender have been a better idea? Perhaps. It would certainly appeal to more fans of the original show and I am certain that it would not age as much as this new film surely will (think how old Lord of the Rings is starting to look, despite the bleeding edge technology that it used during production). As Ebert notes at the end of his review:

This material should have become an A-list animated film.

Except it isn’t. Let’s remember that animated films of animated TV shows make much more sense than live-action drivel.

Animation Directors Moving to Live-Action: Jumping a (Sinking) Ship?

It has been a topic of debate for quite some time and even within the animation community, there is suspicion that many students who study the artform are really looking for an easy leg-up into the film industry. While this may be true for some, it does imply that animation really is a second-class citizen in Hollywood, despite the proven track record of box-office receipts.

Michael Barrier has an insightful post on the topic of animation directors and the opportunities open to them at the present time. I highly recommend you head over to his site and read it.

In the post, he singles out Brad Bird for not only being perhaps the greatest director of his generation, but also for moving onto live-action and the unliklihood that we will see another animated film from him in the foreseeable future.

In that he may be correct. Brad is no longer at Pixar, where he developed my favourite, The Incredibles, and the somewhat drama-strewn Ratatouille, but is in line to direct Mission Impossible IV. Michael Barrier speculates that Brad may have moved on for the simple reason that he is unable to find a studio that is willing to create his kind of film.

In this he may be right. I wrote on the topic previously and it is fair to say that of the main animation studios in Hollywood, none bar Pixar are suited to Brad Bird. Barrier hints that Brad did not figure in the long-term plans at Pixar, which may be true. In this I am reminded of one of David Ogilvy’s maxims:

If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.

Brad is one of the most creative guys in the industry and the reality is he has been left to fend for himself in a sea of sharks. Directing a live-action movie may well be putting bread on his table but it is a real loss to the industry as a whole when one of its best people ups and jumps ship.

Animation directors are a enthusiastic bunch. The vast majority have a genuine love for the artform, and Brad Bird is certainly no different. He has three films to his name and each one is superb. In a way, he’s the Quentin Tarantino of animation, putting out a film every couple of years that wows people every time. The fact that he has a fine attention to detail is secondary.

With just three main studios and smaller independents (although even Henry Selick, director of Coraline has joined Disney in order to develop projects for them) the source of jobs is scarce to say the least.

Live-action represents a bigger pool to swim in with more variety thrown in for good measure. Unless and animator goes the personal or independent route, they are unlikely to be able to create an adult-orientated (i.e. serious) animated film. This is a shame but we have only ourselves and the studios to blame. They will never take a risk with animation, even Pixars supposedly ‘brave’ and ‘experimental’ film Wall-E was still well within the unspoken walls that imprison animation in the family-friendly market segment.

Time will tell how this trend develops. In the meantime, I agree with Michael Barrier in that studio head must make a dilligent effort to retain and nurture key creative talent, not insulate their favourites into an old-boys club of sorts. Fresh faces, even those better than you, will only serve to increase the studio as a whole. Their loss only serves to decrease the gene pool, with a corresponding drop in quality.

Live-Action Movies Based on Animation

I very nearly went with Scooby Doo for the picture, but this one has Robert DeNiro in it!

Although the trend has died down somewhat, the genre just doesn’t seem to die. The Smurfs is the latest to get the treatment and although we will be treated to Hank Azaria as Gargamel, I still can’t quite look forward to it,

Although it has been common to mix animated and live-action characters (most notably in several Disney films and a scene where Jerry Mouse dances with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh), the latest craze has been to use CGI characters.

There have been numerous releases over the last number of years and I can’t honestly remember a good one among them. People are familiar with the characters so that’s not a problem, but of all of them, the main problem seems to be the downright atrocious quality of the script or the actors hired (seriously, Daphne as a blonde???).

All of them have skewed towards the young market. Fair enough if that’s what you’re going for, great! But seriously, with the likes of Pixar churning out movies with complex, believable characters and smart, clever jokes, there really is no excuse for toilet humour.

Sure some of these movies are based on cartoons that were never great to begin with (thank you ACT) but at least they never tried to make us believe they were clever.

Of course, by aiming at kids, the adults who actually remember the cartoons when they were broadcast on TV, they are making a fortune. That’s why we got a sequel and prequel to Scooby Doo and why we’ll continue to see ever more annoying Alvin movies for years to come.

I realize that Hollywood turns out the same crap all the time, but as an animation connoisseur, I find it deplorable what has happened to some characters as they’ve been hauled out and flogged like a dead horse.

There are plenty of examples of studios being able to create interesting movies with original characters, why can’t we see the same with established characters, or do studios assume that the movies will coast on the remnants of the characters embedded in the millions of us who are familiar with them?

Sadly, it doesn’t look like the practice will die anytime soon. My advice? Spend your hard-earned money on an original movie with some depth to it.