John Cawley You Just Don't Understand

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Holy Crap! Lions! (errr... I mean animated features)
Was thumbing through a recent issue of KIDSCREEN magazine and noticing the number of animated films set for this year. It made me wonder if this will be the shake-out year. That is the year when more cgi films flop at the box-office than succeed. At that point the wise men of Hollywood will state cgi is dead. Once that happens we can probably expect a dark age for theatrical animation. After the last 'bust' the only savior was the cgi film. I can imagine the decision makers saying 'gee, if even cgi can't save animation, it must be dead.'

But, back to the films of 2005. I had heard of some due to constant hype. Some I remember having heard something about it somewhere. And then there were those that I had heard nothing about. These are the ones that always amaze me. Considering how long it takes to complete an animated feature, it seems almost impossible to think of a stealth production. But they do exist. For no other reason than I need to write stuff for the apa, here are my thoughts on the list. (Again, this is KIDSCREEN's list and is only as accurate as any publication's sources.)

ROBOTS (March) - Blue Sky/Fox. This is the latest from the folks who brought us ICE AGE. I liked ICE AGE, and liked the trailer I saw on this film. The poster, with its '30s imagery reminds me of a mix of PINOCCHIO and Puppetoons. Fear the ad art will scare folks away by making it look like a kids movie. Hasn't anyone learned from IRON GIANT and SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW? Retro stuff looks "old" to the general public. Fans may love it, but there are still not enough animation fans to make a hit.
MADAGASCAR (May) - Dreamworks. This is getting lots of buzz from the fursites due to its animal cast. But have heard little else about it. Reminds me of a pitch I made at Disney in the 80s. It was seriously considered then suddenly dropped when it was found they had a similar idea with monkeys from an inhouse director. Don't know if a monkey is in this one or not.
CHICKEN LITTLE (July) - Disney. I have heard a lot about this one... all bad. This is the film everyone is waiting to see... waiting with hatchets. Like TRON, BLACK CAULDRON and other turning point Disney features, everyone is waiting to jump all over this film as a piece of crap. I know it had a troubled (to put it mildly) development and production. But so did LION KING, ROAD TO EL DORADO and THE EMPERORS NEW GROOVE. KING became an evergreen property, ROAD was a flop, and GROOVE has proven a popular cult film and spawned a sequel and a series. So who knows? Heck, even TRON (trashed by critics and audiences) has finally reached cult status with constant talks of remakes and sequels.
THE ADVENTURES OF SHARK BOY & LAVA GIRL IN 3D (August) - Miramax. From Robert Rodriguez, the "spy kids" guy. Have heard almost nothing of this. Title scares me... but if it is just for kids, and has Rodriguez's penchant for smart, tight budgets it could be profitable and create spin-offs.
WALLACE AND GROMIT MOVIE (Fall) - Dreamworks. After the success of CHICKEN RUN (which I liked), Dreamworks killed what looked like a fun second feature. After years of fussing, they finally came up with the 'inspiration' to convert characters from shorts into a feature. Wow. What's next? "Wallace & Gromit's Christmas Carol"? "Wallace & Gromit Back in Action?" "Wallace & Gromit in the Two Musketeers"? I admire the work in the Wallace and Gromit shorts... but have never found them to be the hilarious entities others do. Don't think this will do as well as CHICKEN RUN.
CURIOUS GEORGE (November) - Universal. As Timon might say, "Talk about your backstory." Another film where most of the buzz is about production issues. First a live action, then a live action cgi, then all cgi, then handmade. Will it be a HEAVEN'S GATE or TITANIC or somewhere in-between? Like the GARFIELD movie, I think this one is about a decade, or more, too late. The only people I know who remember the Curious George books at all are those with grand-kids. Think modern kids would be more inline with Underpants Man.
CARS (November) - Pixar/Disney. Hot wheels without people? Have seen the teaser, but it did not 'drive' me to want to see it. Seems most of the hype is about how it is the final Disney-Pixar event. Rumors range from Disney sabotaging the release to hype their films, to Pixar 'not pushing' this film so as not to waste too much effort on another property Disney will control. Personally, I don't know if I'm in the mood for a feature version of Suzie the Little Blue Coupe. And in recent developments, Pixar and Disney have just pushed this film to 2006. Rumors range from the film having 'production problems' to Disney and Pixar not wanting to go head to head in their 'final' year.
ZATHURA (Holiday) - Columbia. From the guys that brought you JUMANJI (a fun film filled with cgi that few ever mention) and POLAR EXPRES a film that no one seems to want to mention. Yet another film I have heard nothing but the press releases about casting and such. No real feel for this.
OVER THE HEDGE (Holiday) - Dreamworks. Based on the comic strip. The strip is a kind of amusing, blending of Calvin and Hobbes with Bloom County. Don't know if it has the heart to be a big hit, unless they totally re-invent the characters and strip. Like the Bloom County cartoon, I figure this will look good... but won't be a knockout. Again, have only heard the press about the casting and such. Have not really heard buzz on the film.

Book Preview Review
In Apatoons133 there was talk of a new book about animated features. I think such a book is long overdue. (In the interests of fair reporting, I should mention I spent over a decade pitching such a book, always being rejected by publishers who told me the information was 'too readily available'. No matter how I tried to readjust the proposal to "just US features", or "just features on video", etc., the rejections kept on coming.) In all honesty, these days, I do not know if I would buy such a book. As Egon Spengler said, "Print is dead." Actually, today's books cost more than I'm willing to spend. Especially since I have less and less time to sit and read. My (almost) daily train commute does give me some reading time, but I find it filled with paperbacks from an overfilled library of my and Rachel's past acquisitions. The dragging of a ten-pound hardcover along doesn't make my trip any easier. Also, the price of books has gotten to the point that I (and actually a lot of the folks at my studio) generally pick up their books at used books shops, garage sales, etc. As one prominent artist-creator stated, "I can't see the point of picking up a book for $50 knowing it will just sit on the shelf. I'd rather wait and get it remaindered or used." The only new books he gets are comp copies sent from publishers or other creators.

Anyway, back to the feature book. There was a 'preview' in the form of an entry on SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS THE MOVIE. The brisk writing style covers just about every aspect imaginable - plot, cast, trivia, history, complaints, and praise. But like so many written reports on films these days, it comes across more as a laundry list. There is no flow, or more importantly no feeling. The writing is safe, so as not to offend those who like or dislike the film.

I am still in awe at Leonard Maltin's early books like THE DISNEY FILMS, MOVIE COMEDY TEAMS and OF MICE AND MAGIC. Those books oozed with Maltin's obvious love of the subject matter. When he was describing films, he went into great detail on things he really admired. If he brought up a point of history, production or casting, it seemed to have been mentioned because it was important. In fact, Leonard had a way of making none of it sound trivial. His points and opinions always seemed important. Of course, Leonard could not like everything he had to write about. No one does. But you had to read between the lines to discover which films, teams, stars, cartoons, etc were of less interest to him. In this way, he gave every reader the chance to share in his joy, and feel that Leonard cared about the reader's favorites as much as his. As I said, you had to read what was said (and wasn't said) to fully discern what Leonard didn't like. And even when he would go into the negative, say at the sad end of a great career, he did it gently.

So much of today's writing on media (art, comics, whatever) comes across more like FOX news than reporting. And I do not consider what FOX news does as real reporting. It is good to have the who, what, why, where, and when in writing. It is good to keep an impartial eye when reporting facts. But writing dictionaries, guides, histories and such on media needs some feeling. Not a point of view (good, bad, right, wrong, etc. that is for criticism, a different form), but a feeling that the author enjoys what they are talking about. A feeling that your favorite film is as good as you remember it.


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