Friday, June 08, 2007

The Links of June

Who says show biz is only for the young. Octagenerian Stan Lee, still trucking right along, signs a new deal with the Mouse House:

Walt Disney Studios has signed a multiyear, first-look deal with legendary comics creator Stan Lee and his production company, POW! Entertainment.

Specifics were not disclosed, but Lee and his production company will develop and produce all forms of entertainment for various platforms.

"The big thing is we're trying to do projects that are high concept, stories that will lend themselves to franchises," said Lee, whose POW! stands for Purveyors of Wonder.

Lee is the co-creator of many of the most popular Marvel Comics superheroes that have gone on to starring roles in today's tentpole movie marketplace, from Spider-Man to the Fantastic Four to the Hulk.

Ah. So that's why Stan is still a hot commodity. He makes the studios big mon-eee.

And since Sony Pictures is flogging surfing penguins this week, we'll link to the second Surf's Up article in as many days:

[Surf's Up] has taken five years to make, because the two most difficult things for computers to re-create are water and feathers. "Surf's Up" has a lot of both. It's also lucky enough to have a new, young star doing the lead voice.

Shia LaBeouf has a surprise hit, "Disturbia," still selling tickets. He also is in the eagerly awaited "Transformers," due to land July 3, and has been signed for the next Indiana Jones flick. Here, he supplies the voice of Cody Maverick, an undersized Rockhopper penguin who travels from Shiverpool, Antarctica, to Pen Gu Island to compete in the 10th annual Biz Z Memorial Surf-Off.

Sony, not taking any chances, has launched one of the most extensive marketing campaigns in recent moviedom, even out-webbing Spider-Man. Everyone and everything from Old Navy to McDonald's Happy Meals and Baskin-Robbins' Splish Splash sherbet is hawking the flick.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian summarizes a cartoon festival that purports to be the UN-Disney celebration of animation:

...For more than 25 years, Portland, Ore., film archivist, historian, professor, and writer Dennis Nyback has been searching for rare films in the catalog The Big Reel as well as in thrift stores and flea markets. "F@ck Mickey Mouse" is the title of a 16mm film program Nyback has assembled to showcase, as he puts it, "rare cartoon precursors that beat Disney to the punch, imitators that ripped him off, and parodies that made vicious fun of some of Disney's greatest animation shorts."

Forbes Magazine gives an overview of the burgeoning visual effects industry, and how viz effx permeate films of every genre:

Even films that don't seem effects-driven, like romantic comedies and period dramas, rely on as many as 400 effects shots, most of which are "invisible effects" that might be introduced to a commonplace scene, such as the addition of weather effects and backdrops. In Time Warner's (nyse: TWX - news - people ) Blood Diamond, the visual effects team placed actors in dozens of off-limits locations, such as Sierra Leone, enhanced spilled blood, altered out-of-focus shots and made parked vehicles drive.

"There isn't a film without this type of effects," says Okun. "Visual effects have matured to the point where they are no longer a special event. We're just one more tool every director uses."

And some films are now purely digital, such as the animated features that come from Disney's (nyse: DIS - news - people ) Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, which made Shrek the Third. The company used two "render farms"--giant rooms filled with nothing but racks of servers with heavy-duty processors--to complete the film.

And we'll throw in reviews of two dvd animation releases -- one new and one old -- in case you want to know about some of Disney's old Silly Symphony shorts or Starz Media/Anchor Bay's new Hell Boy release... has an interesting take on why and how Disney has become even more of a power-house over the last two years. Title of the piece? "The Apple-ization of Disney"...

A very big, very established company. The Walt Disney Co. has more than 133,000 employees around the world and 84 years of tradition. It has rules. But with digital technology changing the way the once-untouchable media giants create, distribute, and profit from their content, Disney needs people to break some rules and blaze new paths into the future...

Since Bob Iger replaced the brainy but embattled Michael Eisner as CEO in October 2005, Disney has managed to keep the theatrics on TV and movie screens and out of the boardroom and the headlines. The crushing financials, the no-confidence board vote that booted Eisner off the throne, the threat of a shareholder suit--they seem like ancient history now that the company is "firing on all cylinders," as David Miller, an analyst with Sanders Morris Harris, puts it.

The stock price has climbed more than 50% since Iger took over. Analysts are quick to split the credit: Eisner invested wisely; Iger has a more effective management style. Last year, Disney generated a record $34 billion in revenue (up 7% from the previous year) from an impressive string of hits including Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (the year's top-grossing film and DVD); Cars (the year's top-grossing animated film); three of the top-10 prime-time shows; and Disney Channel's High School Musical, which produced the best-selling album and a lucrative franchise.

One key to the turnaround is Pixar Animation Studios, acquired a year ago in a $7.4 billion stock swap. The deal made Pixar founder and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs a Disney board member (and the largest individual stockholder, with 138 million shares). No question, Pixar is resuscitating Disney's animation group. But a change with broader implications is also taking place: a monumental mind shift to embrace digital technology and rethink the business. Which, come to think of it, sounds an awful lot like Apple....

Lots of evil stepmothers in the kingdom of animation, but who's your cartoon daddy? Independent News of the United Kingdom answers the question with two words: Peter Griffin of Family Guy.

...The unashamed similarities between Family Guy and The Simpsons are mocked in an episode of the latter where Peter Griffin appears in a large crowd of Homer clones; Entertainment Weekly has panned the show. But Fox keeps coming back to it because of incredible DVD sales: the first series sold 1.6 million copies, the second a further million. Cartoon Network's reruns have also been hugely popular.

Family Guy thrives on twisted, blacker-than-black humour. Some AIDS groups weren't happy when Peter Griffin sang to a man lying in a hospital bed: "You got the AIDS/You may have caught it when you stuck that filthy needle in here/Or maybe all that unprotected sex which we hear."

It also pokes fun at religion: in an upcoming episode Jesus will rise again, become a celebrity and turn out to be a "colossal douchebag," says MacFarlane. "I'm sure it's going to piss a whole bunch of Bible-thumpers off. It's mind-boggling to me that every aspect of our society can be lampooned except religion. But Fox, to their credit, allowed us to go ahead with it."...

Lastly, I link to this article by Floyd Norman about Pete Young, a Disney story artist who died far, far too young, and who I still think about a lot, even all this time after his passing.


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