Monday, June 02, 2008

The Cartoon Studios on the L.A. River

A tale of two animation studios ...

I spent some afternoon time at DreamWorks today, handing out 401(k) packets and schmoozing. The consensus seems to be that KFP will open well at the end of the week:

"Everybody around here thinks it's strong. The characters work, it's funny. We worked on it for five years and the picture turned out good ..."

Which isn't to say there aren't a few pre-release jitters, but hopes are high ...

In the meantime, there's the next one for the crew to focus on.

"Madagascar still has a bunch of work left on it. Comes out in November, so we'll be turning and burning over the summer."

I mumbled something about overtime; the staffer said "Yeah, hm hm."

And in today's New York Times, there is a lengthy piece on the little company further upstream:

Although some bloodletting has been involved in Pixar’s efforts to rebuild the [Disney animation] Studio — the original director of “Bolt” was replaced, resulting in some hurt feelings — Mr. Lasseter said he was pleased with the way the transformation was progressing. “We were very nervous coming in, but to see the change has been amazing,” he said. “Disney has become a filmmaker-led studio and not an executive-led studio. We are very proud of that.”

I encounter Mr. Lasseter in the building from time to time; he's always upbeat. The Times continues:

...Wall Street, which closely monitors major animated movies because of their huge cost, is not yet sold on [Wall-E], which was been criticized by some as looking too much like the star of the corny 1986 film “Short Circuit.”

“I can see how it could work and be huge and I can see how it could not,” said Richard Greenfield, an analyst at Pali Research.

By contrast, the competing DreamWorks Animation has received applause for its coming “Kung Fu Panda,” featuring the vocal talents of Jack Black and Angelina Jolie. Ingrid Chung, a media analyst at Goldman Sachs, said recently that she found the film’s concept and execution “strong enough to create a franchise.” When it came to Pixar, Ms. Chung declined to comment.

I'm wagering that both films do brisk business, since the buzz on W-E and KFP appears positive. (Naturally, I reserve the right to have my head up my large intestine).

In less than a week, we'll know the preliminary verdict on the panda. How the robot fares will no doubt be known at the end of the month.


Anonymous said...

They shouldn't have gone with pandas. Pandas are not entertaining. A polar bear or maybe a large bird would've been better.

Anonymous said...

The target audience for Wall-E has probably never seen Short Circuit, so that's a shaky argument at best - not that I disagree there's more than a passing resemblance. I doubt that's escaped notice in Emeryville either...

Anonymous said...

“I can see how it could work and be huge and I can see how it could not,” said Richard Greenfield, an analyst at Pali Research."

The sun could come up, but then again it might not. OMFG, what an absolute a-hole.

Another NY financial a-hole with abso-f'ing-lutely nothing to add. Just lame finger-wagging. 'Remember Johnny- that's our car you're going to the prom with."

Just give me the keys and I'll be on my way, DAD. And if I return it at five am with vomit and girl's panties in the backseat, you've no one to blame but yourself. OMFG, what an idiot.

Anonymous said...

Pandas entertain just fine, Raif. Rent Ranma 1/2 for hand-drawn martial-arts panda action. :^)

Anonymous said...

that ranma thing looks like another one of those crappy japanese kid cartoons. At least Kung Fu Panda looks APPEALING, unlike that dreck.

Anonymous said...

Kids today are not into kung fu, and they're not into pandas. Kids today like creatures with exoskeletons (like scorpions), and they like breakdancing.

If Dreamworks wants to throw away their money on martial arts pandas, I guess they can. But I'm drawing a comic strip about a breakdancing scorpion with a mohawk, and it's gonna kickass.

Kevin Koch said...

Just remember, Raif, irony and sarcasm on the internet almost always get misinterpreted. Just know that at least a few of us are laughing at the jokes.

Anonymous said...

"But I'm drawing a comic strip about a breakdancing scorpion with a mohawk, and it's gonna kickass."

Just don't be surprised when little jeffrey katzemburg steals this idea.

Anonymous said...

he really could give a crap what it is. as long as he can cast it with an a-list voice that tells fart jokes. that's the beginning AND the end of dreamworks wall street success in a nutshell. yucka-yucka!

Anonymous said...

There aren't any fart jokes in Kung Fu Panda.

Why don't you give your ignorance a rest? The movies aren't all Jeffrey. There are actually a couple of hundred artists who actually do make decisions on these things(I've never known any of them to suggest a fart joke, either).
Yeah, "Shrek" did them and I do believe that kind of came out of the idea of a booger-eating, farting, earwax-picking, nasty green ogre-you know, like in Steig's original book?
Jesus. STFD.

Anonymous said...

that ranma thing looks like another one of those crappy japanese kid cartoons. At least Kung Fu Panda looks APPEALING, unlike that dreck.

And the snap judgements just keep coming.

The beauty of Ranma was that it appealed to girls. Something almost totally verboten here in the US. AND it had fight scenes.

I don't know how freakin' brilliant Kung Fu Panda will be, but I'm going to try a neato approach and actually wait to SEE it before pronouncing its suckiness.

Anonymous said...

How about generating an idea, designing it, animating it, putting it together as a short of your own.

As oppossed to pontificating and shitting on other peoples efforts?


Anonymous said...

no one's pronouncing KFP's or KFC's or whatever's suckiness. just critiquing the direction that bankers consistantly bet dreamworks pics need to swing to keep jeff's financial core intact. they're birthing franchises, not movies, you know. give yerself some breathing space between panda deadlines, will ya? you're poised to make some small cut of the bill-yuns in a few days.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I'm quite torn about Kung Fu Panda before its even been released. The clips i've seen are beyond impressive and downright inspiring... but then i remember that this is a project thought up by "creative executive" Michael LaChance and with that in mind i hope sincerely that it fails.

Is that shortsighted? I don't think so in that I always support and defend movies helmed by actual artists like Brad Bird or Chris Sanders. I want artists's stock to rise in this industry and every time one of them creates a movie they are nvloved from top to bottom, working out kinks in the big studio structure and distributing deserved rewards to all of those that are in places where they used to work.

When an executive is responsible for the premise of a movie, the entire product is the fruit of a creative team than stands in the shadow of a person who doesn't have a creative bone in his body. Executives reap the rewards of people more creative than they are and sit at the top of the pile taking in praise and money for something they, at most, assembled a team to put together and then stepped away to let people greater than they are do the work.

Is it bitter to want a movie put forth by a creative executive to fail? Of course it is, but its impossible to NOT be bitter about the current situation involving "creative executives" and how their simplistic hunches are built into a quality product without any effort of their own.

This is the guy that brought us the celebrity stuffed "Over The Hedge" and "Shark Tale". He represents the worst kind of opportunistic scoundrel. The common theme throughout his resume is a crass attempt to have A-list actors voices be the feature element of a movie(second of course to story and character development).

I am sure that the artists at Dreamworks did a tremendous job making Mr Lachance's unimaginative premise into an entertaining film, but i don't want more movies thought up by his kind to find success. His position would be better filled by an actual creative person who appreciates the talent around him and actually - GASP! - takes a risk now and again.

If you don't take a risk, you are a nobody. Thats the bottom line in creative fields and i defy anyone to dispute it. the greatest moments of filmmaker's studios, recording artists, actors, and all other creative people are marked risks that they took. Risks push the medium forward and i have no doubt that if Mr LaChance had an opportunity to do twelve more movies we would see twelve more talking animal movies with a-list actors in speaking roles.

Thanks by no thanks. I won't be spending my money to see Kung Fu Panda. I hope the artists that worked on it can forgive me.

Steve Hulett said...

Uh ... why don't you look at the movie before you slam it?

Good to know you wish for a film to fail because it was conceived by the wrong person.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you think its good to know because i'm here for you Steve. I'm free to see whatever movie I want for whatever reason I want.

i don't want studio animation to be relegated to ONLY talking animals, and a success for Mr Lachance will cement that future for all movies made by Dreamworks and guarantee a non creative executive holds more sway than actual directors. But mostly I'm just not dazzled by cookie cutter hollywood fare like you are.

You can take comfort in the fact that I will be first in line to see Wall-E.

Anonymous said...

LaChance wasn't on the story crew.
It's the story crew, directors and animators who made Panda and they deserve the credit (or the blame) for it.

Anonymous said...

Robiscus is naive and stupid. Sure, he can 'not' see any film he wants, but trying to pontificate about what he sees is wrong with a film amongst more mature and realistic artists should be done with more care.
He clearly knows very little about how DW or any other studio works.
Someone calling themeselves an artist does not make them supremely qualified to suggest an idea for a film any more then it should in live-action. Believe me - I've seen some artist's ideas and they're not all winners.
Sure, many ideas start out with the premise of take a good live-action film and do it with animals or in space, but artists are just as prone to coming up with these types of ideas and sometimes they even are hits. Ask John L. (Doc Hollywood with Cars, Magnificent Seven with bugs, etc) and sometimes they're not hits. Ask Ron and John (Treasure Island in space, Sherlock Holmes with mice).

If the gardener or the janitor came up with a good idea then it's still a good idea.
Stop being a non-artist bigot.

KFP has a good chance of being another BIG hit for DW and that's good for the industry. So what if it's a hit and spawns sequels? That's a good thing too. Or are you opposed to sequels too or just sequels that don't come from Pixar?

Even working from your silly premise that premises should only come from artits then the more hits a studio like DW or Pixar has the more chances are for a pitch from an artist to be greenlit. If Dw closes then there's even less chances of that happening (especially since we know all of Pixar's premises were created sitting around that rstaurant table years ago). And if you believe that just because an exec comes up with one idea that guarantees him success pitching other projects then you don't understand how it all works.

Good luck to DW - MOST of us hope it's a huge hit!

Anonymous said...

So, if I don't like cookie cutter Hollywood films that never deviate from a formula, then I'm stupid? If those are the grounds for being stupid then I'd hate to be 'bright' and lapping up the hits that Mr. LaChance comes up with(Sharks Tale, Over The Hedge, Kung Fu Panda).
You must find comfort in the fact that nothing new will come out of DW as long as a dunce like LaCahnce is dictating the same formula to the artists. Plus, didn't the tactic of sticking to a formula sink Disney's animation division?
If there is no risk, if there is no innovation, then I don't really have time for it.
But listen, I'll invest a little bit of time right now in suggesting the next Dreamworks smash hit: How about-
-A turtle thats a cop. His beat is a pond and then someone lets a piranha loose in it and he and the community of animals have to stand up to the threat.
-An owl that likes to breakdance. He shows off during the daytime and is chased and injured and then he is brought to a raptor refuge with other wounded birds of prey. He learns about himself during this little odyssey.
-A platypus who likes to...

You get the idea.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Bitter enough?

Those ideas don't sound much worse than Seven Samurai recast with insects or Doc Hollywood remade with cars in the lead roles.

Anonymous said...

Just remember, robiscus, irony and sarcasm on the internet almost always get misinterpreted. Just know that at least a few of us are laughing at the jokes.

Anonymous said...

Oh no, I'm bitter. Thats already been posted by my own admission. 4 or 5 talking animals per year with no end in sight is as asinine as Meg Ryan making the same romantic comedy 9 times in a row. I'm allowed to be bitter that the LA studios don't take any risks.

Anonymous said...

Robiscus: what is your idea of what would be a "risk-taking" film? I'm not baiting you, I really want to know.

All I ask of films-new, old, silent, animated, foreign, studio product comedy-whatever-is that they don't bore me. That I am entertained. That I di not know what's coming next. Often that doesn't mean the "plot" is something unheard of(there are VERY few of any film like that ever made)but that the particular scene in the film is done in a unique, believable and appealing way.

To me the absolute dopiest criticism is "oh no-NOT another animal film!". That's like saying another film with the color blue in it as far as I'm concerned. Animation should play to its strengths-which are many, sure-and some are untapped, yes-but that doesn't mean the issue of whether the characters in a story are animals or humans has anything to do with it. It's a fact that the more stylized/well designed animation is the more opportunities it can provide for telling a visual fable in an appealing way.

I saw Panda for the second time last night: the audience was about 1/3 kids, the rest adults. In our row there was a family of some little girls and their mom. I kep looking over at the girls' faces(about 7 and 9)-they were totally loving the whole thing. At the very last shot of the film I looked over again and their mom had the most delighted grin on her face looking at the screen.

That's gold, that's unselfconscious, that's real. And I am sure that mom has suffered through a heck of a lot of "cookie cutter" animation--far more than Robiscus or anyone else on this board at the moment. Yet she clearly enjoyed the film on its own merits.
I think that's because it's damn good. But obviously there will always be grouches who see crap where they expect to see it, or who have an extra special value test that who knows who can fill. That's fair too, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

" what is your idea of what would be a "risk-taking" film? I'm not baiting you, I really want to know. "

Wall-E is a feature film starring a silent character. thats a decent risk and an exciting premise.

think about what the executives at the LA studios would skriek if you proposed them investing millions of dollars into that idea...

Anonymous said...

The above post makes me sound like i'm one of those lock-step Pixar super fans, but i'm not. heck, i walked out of Cars(with my lady pushing me from behind to walk faster). So let me just say that i am also a huge fan of what was done in The Triplets Of Belleville and The Iron Giant. Nightmare Before Christmas was a cornerstone film for modern animated features as well.

I'm not into the status quo and following a formula regardless of the present success. Why? because it leads to the industry falling apart.

it wasn't that long ago that the standard Disney animated movie would bring returns over and over again with the same formula. you had the character yearning to be somewhere else, the sidekick that wisecracked along the journey, the villains song explaining how he got to be so mean etc. etc (there is a great interview with Brad Bird from years ago where he rails against it all). what happened?

the bottom fell out. Disney got less and less returns on these films and then decided that it was because of the type of animation(wrong). risks push the industry in new directions. risks guarantee the industyr grows and surprises the public and believe it or not, keep stability.

how many more of these talking animal features do you think the public is going to digest before they get disinterested? when that happens the studios are going to blame animated movies as a whole and not a stale formula.

i'll say it again because it bears repeating. if you don't take risks you are a nobody.

Anonymous said...


Yes, creative risks are fun for us jaded professionals but for the general public, or as an expensive investment for a major film company it can be, well, risky. Take the animated feature films of various degrees of quality that pushed the envelope creatively, from Hunchback and Pocahontas from Disney; literature, history, WB's Iron Giant, Spirit from Dreamworks- no funny fuzzy talking animals, and the terrific mocumentry Surfs Up, which beat out the Simpsons for a nomination. None of them were blockbusters, all were innovative in some way. A truly original film needs to be twice as good as a formulaic film to break through. Your personal admiration is, unfortunately, not enough to compensate.


Anonymous said...

Wow, Robiscus, who put the turd in your punchbowl?

You'll have to tell us what brilliant creative ideas you've pitched to the studios. Which ones were they again?

Oh yeah, I forgot. None of your ideas have become movies! So the only way you can be creative is to vent on a blog. Wow, what a risk taker!

Anonymous said...

Robiscus (or should I say Dan), relax. It's only a movie.

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