Monday, March 05, 2007

Animation News Hither and Hither

Time once again for a few news items we've vacumed up over the past week or two that you might find of interest. (It's a litte more weighted to Disney than usual, but what're you gonna do?)...

John Lasseter Leads the Revamping of Meet the Robinsons:

Burbank, Calif. - It wasn't the first time John Lasseter, the director of "Toy Story" and "Cars," had sat through the screening of a not-quite-ready animated film. But when he saw an early cut of Disney's "Meet the Robinsons" last March, he watched it with a new eye. He wasn't just a fellow director, and a founder of Pixar Animation Studios. This time he was the boss, the chief creative officer of animation for the Walt Disney Co., which had agreed to acquire Pixar two months before.

As he sat in a dark theater on the first floor of Disney's animation studio here, something bothered him about the villain.

...[T]he lanky villain in "Robinsons," the story of an orphan who builds a time machine in order to find his mother, was neither threatening enough nor scary.

After the screening, Lasseter and his colleagues from Pixar and Disney met with the director, Stephen Anderson, and told him so...

And then there's this early, favorable review of Mike Barrier's new Walt Disney biography:

If you've loved the animation side of Disney, and care less about the family life, the business struggles and the theme park-and-TV adventures, less about the Disney myth, then Barrier's book is the one to read. The art form gets the long treatment by Barrier, whose specialty is writing about animation.

The Virginia Pilot publishes a story about the Mouse House's Song of the South, why it won't be coming out at Blockbuster anytime soon, and what various film scholars have to say about it:

"What I would say in defense of 'Song of the South' is the same thing I would say about 'Showboat': If you study them in the context of the time in which they were made, they are socially progressive," said Douglas Brode, a Syracuse University film expert who has devoted several books to Disney fare...

"I can't believe 'Gone With the Wind' is shown on television today," he said. "I can't watch it.

"That people would think 'Song of the South' is racist and would have no problem with 'Gone With the Wind' is just bizarre."

And while we're on the old movie front, Variety has a nice piece on why some film classics show up on DVD and others don't:

Ten years into the DVD era, "The Wizard of Oz" has been issued a handful of times, and "Terminator 2" at least three. Sharon Stone's nearly forgotten "Sliver" has come out in unrated form; even such musty TV skeins as "Hazel" and "ALF" have made their way to disc.

But thousands of worthy offerings -- some that never made it to VHS, let alone DVD -- remain MIA as the industry gears up for next-generation delivery mechanisms like high-def discs and digital downloads.

Among the missing: classics such as "The African Queen," the Beatles' "Let It Be," works by John Ford, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, Roman Polanski, Sidney Lumet and Karel Reisz, such popular skeins as "The Wonder Years" and cult pics like "Toxic Zombies..."

(We include the above because it mentions how Warners was after the Fleischer Popeye cartoons for decades. A lot of these little numbers -- the Popeyes -- are Public Domain, and can be found in your low-priced cartoon DVD bin at Toys-R-Us.)

Variety's head honcho Peter Bart sounds off about various Hollywood institutions. Among them:

Disney: For years the Disney company under Michael Eisner pursued a ferocious knee-in-the-groin operating style. The company was always suing kindergartens over copyright infringements or widows over Winnie the Pooh. Disneyland once reflected a flight of imagination; over time, it's become about long lines and product plugs.

Now the Disney of Bob Iger and Pixar has discovered a new rhythm -- and some heart. Sure it's still about profits and there were major layoffs, but new ideas are flourishing. It's possible to admire the Disney brand again.

Enough of Disney. Let's turn now to a Disney alumnus, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and the studio he heads called DreamWorks Animation. The Motley Fools had a nice article last week about the financial prospects for the east San Fernando Valley's other big animation studio:

With apologies to Jessica Rabbit, the latest quarterly report out of DreamWorks Animation (NYSE: DWA) isn't bad -- it's just drawn that way. The computer-animation specialist's fourth-quarter numbers are really a lot better than they look.

It's true that the company posted a loss of $0.20 a share, but that includes an $0.80-per-share hit from writing down the value of Flushed Away. Analysts were actually braced for a loss of $0.42 a share. Without the charge, DreamWorks would have earned $0.60 per share for the quarter, and $0.95 per share for all of 2006.

But we just can't flush away Flushed Away. When Shrek the Third is a summer smash, is anyone going to mark down the scintillating profitability just because it did so well? Of course not. When you're a company like DreamWorks Animation, you're riding mostly on the performance of your two annual theatrical releases...

Enough already. Have a Happy Monday.


Kevin Koch said...

The most heartening part of the NYTimes article (the first link) was this quote:

"One of the things I find distressing is that when money gets tight, the money for drawing dries up," Catmull said. "When people draw, they are learning to see."

It's not just in-studio drawing classes that disappear, it's the whole notion of artists and animators constantly learning, improving, expanding. To me the most intriguing part of Pixar has always been the "Pixar University" concept, which appears to be modeled on Walt's strong emphasis on in-studio training and constant improvement.

Without that kind of stuff, it just becomes a job, and the same kind of movie gets turned out again and again.

Site Meter