Daily Barks 06.07 cataroo.com
Barking at the Moon: June 2007

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June 28, 2007
It was a wild weekend. Sort of. On Saturday, checked out an adult expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The displays were mostly taken by sellers of toys, oils and dvds. Of course to help sell their wares, many a booth had scantily clad women dancing around. Now I have been to many a trade show, and know that such activities are pretty common. (They were even regular fixtures at the San Diego Comic Con for a few years before news reports began surfacing that the image of such models was far from 'family friendly' for a convention about comic books.) But what surprised me was how lame their models were at the expo. None were really pretty. And most had expressions of total boredom as they mindlessly went through some routine or spiel. Not very enticing. And not the best sales technique. Rachel and I picked up some scented oils and a rabbit fur "cat of nine tails". Prices were generally pretty fair. Sadly, one of the oils contained something that gave me an allergic reaction to the point of breaking out in hives! The other oil is fine. Afterwards, stopped by the Disney Soda Fountain for a snack and some pin trading. Was thrilled when Rachel found one of the early park pins featuring the Jungle Cruise. It was my first job at the Magic Kingdom and had long been searching for one. Based on some of the cute plush animals for RATATOUILLE, decided to pick up a pair of tickets for the movie. Seeing films at El Capitan can make a minor film into a fun afternoon. Was surprised to find there were still tickets available for the opening weekend only a few days away! Comparably, we could not get tickets for Pirates III until several weeks after the opening. Despite the continuous flow of positive reviews, it makes me wonder if the film will be a big hit. Especially with a flood of other hits still out, and new ones arriving every week. Many a review has highlighted that the film is not just a bunch of jokey one-liners and "hip references". But the lack of such jokey soundbites has perhaps hurt the perception of the film. Seems nowadays folks see animation as the home of comedy one-liners or big musical numbers. Touching films, like SPIRITED AWAY, may not be the right "genre" for the animated audience.
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"I'm not sure I'm adult yet."
Johnny Depp

June 24, 2007
Whatever happened to the "niche" market? In the world of magazines, general titles like LIFE, LOOK and SATURDAY EVENING POST have all been replaced by specialty titles about carousels, motorcycles, special effects movies and such. When the world of cable began in the late 1970s, it was announced that it would succeed by having specialized channels. While the (then) Big Three networks would continue their generic programming for mass audiences, cable would focus on smaller, but more specific audiences. There would be movie channels, children's channels, sports channels and music channels. And that was how most cable networks came out of the gate. But as cable became more "basic", newer channels became advertiser supported - as opposed to "pay TV", like HBO or Cinemax. Suddenly the advertiser base channels were afflicted with the same paranoia of ratings as the (now) Big Four. The all-music video channel discovered that animated series and live action reality shows got better ratings than just music videos. The all-movie channels discovered that they got better ratings with TV series. As years went by, networks were still worried about identity. Some so that they changed their names and or logos to better reflect a specialty market. But the identities began to blend more. The Discovery Channel, which began by showing nature and science series began airing shows about building motorcycles and debunking myths. Animal Planet, once full of animal documentaries shifted to series with obnoxious hosts doing wild stunts with animals. Now it could be argued that the networks are still within their basic ideas of "discovery" and "animals". But even very specific networks are now moving towards general programming. For awhile, Cartoon Network has been trying to justify moving into live action. As one exec put it, "why does a cartoon have to be animated?" That thought process has led to showing live action movies. Some semi-animated (WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT), some totally void of animation SCHOOL OF ROCK. Now TVland (a spinoff of Nickelodeon's "Nick At Night") has begun programming movies that "fit" with the idea of TV. Huh? And they have announced that they will pick up some reality shows to prep audiences for some original programming that may be something their usual audience "won't expect." Again, I thought the whole point of cable was to give folks a familiar place to spend time. After all, NICK beat the heck out the networks because kids could always watch cartoons without the fear of sporting events, news bulletins and other things pulled by networks that their audience "wouldn't expect". Ironically, a local independent (UHF) station is now showing better programming than TVland with a lineup of I DREAM OF JEANNIE, THE HONEYMOONERS, HOGAN'S HEROES, PERRY MASON and MCHALE'S NAVY. Now that's a niche.
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"I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest."
Agatha Christie

June 23, 2007
Three key animation houses had shake-ups in the last few weeks. And two show a somewhat alarming trend. Though executive shuffles are nothing new in the entertainment industry, one always wonders what the new leaders will bring to the table of the exisiting network. Warners Animation recently announced they had a new head who would begin building a more progressive slate of projects for all media (animation, games, phones, etc.) The new person is simply another exec with various studios in their resume. Of more interest are the changes at Cartoon Network and DreamWorks. Both recently grabbed execs from the Nickelodeon brand to head up development. Considering that Nickelodeon continues to be a ratings leader in the kid biz makes such moves not unexpected. However, Nick has also been consistently dumbing down and hipping up their productions. Beginning in the late 1990s, Nick began a concerted effort to make shows that were the absolutely least offensive. Phrases like "shut up" could not be used. Characters could not seem to be "mean" to each other and such. The goal was to make Nick a completely safe environment for children under 8 featuring a mix of animation and live action. One can only wonder how much of this "focus on youth" will pervade new projects at both companies. Cartoon Network, already in a heated ratings race with Nick, has been trying to find similarly safe ground in animation, while also heading towards live action production. DreamWorks, long trying to become a hip studio, may begin to lose their edge if they start looking more at a younger audience. Of course, the new execs may be planning to bring new sophistication, attention and care to their new animated homes. But, it was their experience creating the popular Nick style that brought them to the attention of their new homes. No doubt the new companies will want similar results, and programming, found at their previous network.
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"There are moments when television systems are young and haven't formed properly, and there's room for lots of original stuff. Then things become more and more top-heavy with executives who are trying to guarantee the success of things."
Terry Gilliam

June 21, 2007
Another odd thought hit over the weekend after visiting the Aquarium. While there, we noticed one tank had fish that actually looked square. This made me think of the new line of commercials from Longjohn Silver's fast food fish restaurants. They have an ad that shows people looking in a fish tank and seeing square fish. One of the viewers comments "that isn't right" and leads into promoting Longjohn's fish slabs over the square fish cakes used in most fast food (McDonalds, Jack in the Box, etc.) places. Then I suddenly wondered "why" fish sandwiches at such places did have a square fish cake on a round bun. After all, the fish in such sandwiches is basically "flaked and formed" as one would do with ground beef. If the manufacturer is forming the cake, why not form a round one so that it better fits the bun? Rachel mentioned it was one of those puzzles that stand up comics like to expound on - like the fact of 10 hot dogs per pack, but 8 buns per pack. However, since the hot dog makers do not make the buns, it is up to each supplier to work as they see fit. But in the case of the fish sandwich, since so many fast food places offer the square fish, it seems a smart supplier would develop the round fish cake and take over the marketplace. Course square beef patties in round buns has never stopped Wendy's from being successful. No doubt an example of "who cares". Yet, I bet if someone came up with a round patty, which would probably look more fish-shaped, they could do a great job of promoting it over the square one... Much as Jack in the Box has had fun using the word "angus" in their commericals for Jack's sirloin burger.
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"I felt like a wonderful sandwich, a slice of white bread between two slices of ham."
Dorothy Lamour

June 19, 2007
Over the weekend, we headed to Long Beach to check out the Aquarium of the Pacific. It is not new. It opened in 1998 on land that once was part of the Long Beach Naval station, which was one of the bases closed during the early 90s. The facility is quite impressive. We had fun looking at a wide variety of ocean locales and the wildlife found in each. The petting tanks had sting rays, including one that kept leaping out of the water, and sharks, one of which had a rough, lizard like skin. They have numbers next to exhibits that match the brochure given to visitors. And at some such numbers, one can emboss an image onto the page via a stamper. It seemed as if the kids were having as much fun as the adults. Especially in the lorikeet feeding area. The only disappointment was the lame souviners in the gift shop. Afterwards, we walked around a bit. Had a nice meal at a shrimp restuarant, played at a Gameworks (and was surprised to see the franchise was still around), and bought each other a gift. Rachel got me a ring with a circle of stars. I got her a pair of pirate earrings. It was a great day, reminiscent of some of earlier dates. Just a lot of fun, and new experiences.
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"All men are equal before fish."
Herbert Hoover

June 18, 2007
A creative vacuum? Recently, while talking about how technology changes things, I noticed a new wrinkle in the development of creators. So many historical and current creators (writers, artists, poets, etc.) often have something in common - an isolated childhood. Some were kept from others because of an illness or injury. Others were simply too shy to mingle with neighbors and classmates. Both of these types found escape through imagination. Since they could not communicate with others, they created worlds where they could. However, with today's technology, you don't have the same type of isolation. True, kids are still stuck in the house due to health and sometimes too shy to talk with others. But no longer are they trapped in their house alone. First the huge amount of channels found on the average TV offers kids constant companionship with re-rerunning series and movies. Thanks to the internet these people can get online and develop friends and companions. On several forums I visit, it is not unusual to meet "kids" (under 18) who speak of living in areas with few people, or write about a physical problem. This new generation of isolated youth can have friends and associates from around the world. And these virtual friends are better than imaginary ones, for they actually exist. In a chat room one can talk and talk. Thanks to email and posts, photos, movie clips, music and more can be shared. No longer do they need to sit at desk, or in bed and stare at the walls, slowing doodling a picture or writing ideas for stories. Now they simply get online and join the party. No wonder the new generation of creators have ideas that seem so familiar. Instead of getting inspiration from inside, they get it from cable TV and online forums. And audiences get more and more homages and "take offs" than new ideas.
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"The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind."
Albert Einstein

June 13, 2007
Who would think that Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond would turn out to be a "see-er" of future events? This idea popped into my mind while hearing a newscast and I realized Fleming's shift in 007 was now actually happening in the world. The shift was in the source of adversaries for Bond. In the early books, Bond often found himself battling SMERSH, a Russian spy agency. This made sense, since when Fleming was first penning Bond, the Russians were the villains of the world. However, when Bond moved to the movie screen, their were some who felt having Bond fight the Russians might not make a film that could be universally enjoyed. So Fleming (with the help of fellow screenwriter Kevin McClory) decided to give Bond an evil organization devoid of political affiliations. The group was called SPECTRE. It stood for "Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion". It was usually viewed as a giant corporation dealing with evil. For many a film, the leader of SPECTRE was only seen from his chest down, always holding a white cat in his lap. (This character is the inspiration for Michael Myer's Dr. Evil in the Austin Power series.) It suddenly struck me that the same thing has happened in the real world, over 50 years after Fleming created Bond. For years, the "free world" battled a cold war with Russia. But in the last few years, our enemy is a "criminal" organization that threatens the peace of the world. The new name for evil is, al-Qaida. Like SPECTRE, we are told it is headed up by a master criminal who keeps in hiding while his agents do his bidding. It is also blamed for worldwide "Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion". Kind of eerie.
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"SPECTRE. Special Executive for Counter Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, Extortion. The four great cornerstones of power headed by the greatest brains in the world."
Dr. No (1962)

June 10, 2007
This weekend we went to our first dog show since Rachel broke her foot. And it was quite successful. Eagle won his class - Bred By Exhibitor, and beat the bitch equivalent as well as appearing in the parade of veterans. Luca came in second in her class, Open Mantle. And I won a nifty pilot-style coat for Eagle in the raffle. But the best part was seeing Rachel in her new outfits. They seemed to attract attention both days as we found a steady stream of folks coming by to congratulate her on the wins and state how "good" the kids looked. Really think it was a team effort of good kids and colorful presentation. Rachel is not one to wear dresses everyday. In fact, her formal show dresses are usually all she wears. And they make her look as professional as the other "pro" handlers. But her new summer outfits were both professional and eye cataching. They really showed her and the kids to good advantage. No wonder the crowd seemed to notice them more than usual. I know I did.
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"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society."
Mark Twain

June 8, 2007
Another week has passed. Only major event was the second screening of PIRATES III. This time we saw it at the El Capitan (Disney) Theater. As usual, the presentation was excellent... and it made the film seem more fun. Along with the great organist and light show, got to see three trailers with it. First was the RATATOULLE trailer seen before. Like the last time, it got a good initial reaction at the "pixar" sign, but then drew little else - no laughs, excitement, etc. Next was ENCHANTED, the new animation/live action feature. Using the not-too-original premise of fairy tale characters interacting in the real world (THE TENTH KINGDOM jumps to mind, as well as the TV series HAPPILY EVER AFTER), it adds the magic of having the fairy tale world being animated. The film looked "cute" but will rise or fall based on the chemistry of the live action actors. Finally there was a trailer for the live action/cgi UNDERDOG. Not enough can be said how this bothered me. The film has nothing to do with the original animated series, which most folks under 20 will not have much familiarity. Which makes me wonder "who" the film is made for? If it is just for kids, why not simply call it "super-dog" and not bother with any payment of rights? If it is for those who remember the old series, why change the concept? All that will do is create unecessary criticism of the final film. Bottom line, we will wait for dvd on RAT, try to catch ENCHANTED if playing nearby (mostly for the appearance of "McDreamy" from GREY'S ANATOMY), and wait for UNDERDOG to show up on the Disney channel. Meanwhile, we now await the appearance of the next film on our list - HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX.
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"There's no need to fear. Underdog is here!"

June 3, 2007
With the news still abuzz about the 30th anniversary of STAR WARS (officially May 25th), I thought I would mention that my anniversary for seeing the movie goes further back. At the time, I was editing a film collecting publication and received an invitation to a press screening of the film on the 20th Century lot. It was around April, as I recall, making it an early birthday gift. At the time, I did not know anything about the film. I was not a big fan of modern sci-fi films so did not follow the rumors and fan mags. (Being pre-internet times, most news came via word of mouth or small fan publications.) I took a friend who had heard about it and was incredibly excited. We sat in the large theater and watched the film. The audience received the film well. I think it even got some applause at the end. Again, this was a screening for folks in the business and thus were not quite as buzzed about the film as fans were. Upon leaving my friend was gushing all over about how the film was neat, cool, amazing, original, modern, fantastic, and such. Noting my silence, he asked what I thought of it. I replied I thought it was a well done B-Western in a sci-fi setting. I thought his face was going to fall off. "You didn't like it?" he asked amazingly. "It was okay," I replied, "but it was nothing I hadn't seen before." I then explained how the scenes reminded me of specific movies from the 40s, 50s and 60s. I also mentioned that most of the effects had been used in other films. However, "like CITIZEN KANE," I continued, "the film takes about every single effect of the time and crams it into every frame." I then added, that I thought the film would be a huge success. Again, he looked surprised. I told him it would be a success because of the fact it had familiar ideas and characters and loads of effects. It was like someone took all the great bits of classic action films, and all the effects of recent films (like 2001, SILENT RUNNING and such) and put them all in one box. It was a natural. Though, even I was surprised at what a hit it was. I remember working at Disneyland there was a group of characters who each day at lunch sent someone to a local theater to buy tickets for that night's show. I knew of at least half a dozen folks who saw it almost every night for several weeks. Even today, I am surprised at how the film molded a new generation. When I first joined Cartoon Network in 2000, a number of folks were talking. Major folks like Genndy Tartakovsky, Craig McCracken, and such. We were discussing an upcoming episode of Dexter and Genndy thought the story was good because it had an idea from what was "the most important film to anyone working in animation today." I thought for a second. My brain raced through films like SNOW WHITE, 101 DALMATIANS, Tex Avery cartoons, Bob Clampett cartoons, ASTROBOY, ROBOTECH, AKIRA and such. Noting my lack of response, Genndy said, "it's STAR WARS. There isn't a person in this business who doesn't think it is the most important, greatest movie ever made." And they were probably right. It was this generation's THE GOLD RUSH, KING KONG, SNOW WHITE, GONE WITH THE WIND, CITIZEN KANE, DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, BONNIE AND CLYDE and TAXI DRIVER. And like several of those films, they are considered the peak of their creative team's output.
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"Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and I've seen a lot of strange stuff. But I've never seen anything to make me believe that there's one all-powerful Force controlling everything."
Han Solo

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