A trailer, a TV show announcement, and more TV-related stuff...
After a lengthy wait, we finally have a trailer and first look at Sony Animation's next feature, The Star. Outsourced to the Montreal-based Cinesite Animation and made for roughly $18 million, the Nativity story re-telling looks fine for such a low-budget production. The animation is pretty smooth for the most part, and the art direction is nice to look at. Some of the colors in the trailer are quite nice, too, even if the film is more quasi-photorealistic than I hoped it would be. I was hoping for something very painterly and perhaps more Book of Life-esque, but here we are...
Unfortunately, the content of the trailer didn't really match up with the visuals. While retelling the Nativity story from the animals' perspective isn't a terrible idea, as that fits right in with the basic things animation can do, the movie looks way too goofy. Now I wasn't quite expecting something tonally similar to, say, The Prince of Egypt, but it just seems like the usual: Funny, wacky animals making awkward quips and such. Plus, a good chunk of the trailer is just an announcement of its star-studded cast... Is it 2005?
Okay, so I will admit, I liked how Bo the donkey tried to talk to Mary, that was a clever little bit... But then you have the dove doing the dance moves to distract the wolves, I mean is this supposed to be an irreverent comedy? Or a more traditional comedy where the humor should blend in with the setting? Jokey stuff like the donkey trying to talk to a human is funny, the dove scene is not. I think I'll agree with Joseph at the end, "There's something seriously wrong with those animals."
I expect a lot out of Sony Pictures Animation, because if you've been here, you'll know that my philosophy is that all the major animation studios have it in them to make high-quality works. It isn't just "Disney and Pixar are great, everyone else sucks." Sony Animation has proven themselves with two features in my eyes, Surf's Up and the first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. (Which the trailer unusually references, and not a more recent hit like Hotel Transylvania.) They're also an interesting bunch because they go from Smurfs to emojis to the birth of Jesus... I mean, what other modern animation studio can have that on their resume?
But marketing is marketing. The Star could very well turn out to be a solid little film, and Sony was very smart to get this done at the lowest price possible. Niche Christian films have their own box office patterns, and often aren't blockbuster-type films. The Star should've never been expected to be a $100 million-grossing, tentpole-launching smash, and I'm kind of content the film is here because of that. I'm looking forward to a future of animated movies that aren't expected to be a Despicable Me/Frozen/Shrek/Toy Story-type right out of the gate, because animation isn't the "family movie franchise-starting tentpole," and animation certainly isn't just the "family adventure-comedy romp" as well. If a few small-scale family films lead us to a field with more diverse, smart-budgeted choices, that's fine.
I am not saying we should get lower-quality, low budget product, though. I definitely want more Captain Underpants-level stuff, not stuff like this. I don't think The Star looks very good, but at least a lot isn't riding on it. It'll come and go, score some holiday season legs, and it probably won't spawn countless imitators. Some argue that it looks very direct-to-video, and it does, but still... I see it as one puzzle piece in the grand scheme of things. Just another entry in a wave of low budget animated pictures. It's good to keep proving to Hollywood that not every animated feature needs to pull such numbers out of a hat. The requirements that often kill many good-quality movies, and put studios' people in trouble. Captain Underpants proved this, Sausage Party proved this, as did Reel FX's The Book of Life, the latter of which is getting a sequel.
On the television animation front, Matt Groening is launching a new adult animated series for Netflix called Disenchantment.
Expectedly a comedy that's being handled by Rough Draft, 20 episodes have been ordered and it has something of cast. 10 of those episodes are set to come next year. The show is set in a medieval fantasy kingdom called Dreamland, which couldn't be any further from being a dreamlike land. It follows boozer princess Bean, an elf simply named "Elfo," and her "personal demon" named Luci. Groening says...
"Disenchantment will be about life and death, love and sex, and how to keep laughing in a world full of suffering and idiots, despite what the elders and wizards and other jerks tell you..."
It seems like Matt Groening is taking a very simple backdrop and looking to do something fresh and new with it. With the early seasons of The Simpsons, Groening and his team spit in the face of family values sitcoms and clean, inoffensive television that had dominated for far too long. With Futurama, they toyed with sci-fi, fantasy, all sorts of different ideas while still keeping a core set of characters to bolster the sheer worldbuilding. Futurama may have similarities with other works, but the way it went about its 3000 setting was very creative, making it something of a dazzling love-letter to all kinds of things, whether it's Star Trek or I, Robot.
I actually point to Futurama as one of the better shows of the "adult" animated show boom of the late 90s/early 2000s. A little after the success of The Simpsons, Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill, and the runaway success of South Park, we started to see more of these kinds of cartoons. This was not dissimilar to the early 90s when the rush-job Simpsons imitators (i.e. Fish Police, Capitol Critters, et al.) came and went. In came shows like Family Guy, which was lucky to survive two cancellations.
Then you had a mixed bag of other shows. Among the better ones, I think, were things like The Oblongs and Mission Hill, both of which first aired on the long-defunct channel The WB. I did enjoy the former when watching the reruns on Adult Swim years ago, though to my understanding it's a heavily watered-down version of its rather twisted source material. Still, its unique premise and absurdist sense of humor made it stand out despite the family sitcom trappings. Mission Hill (pictured below) had really great art direction that took advantage of the limited budget you usually get with TV animation, in fact Get A Horse! director Lauren MacMullen did the Xerox-like design for the show. It was like a sort-of modern 101 Dalmatians in terms of its look, mixed with a sort of, I want to say... Modern art, almost Cubist-like style? In a way, it kind of reminds me of Cartoon Network's Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy, which was modern and retro in its look as well. Like Oblongs, that didn't last too long and found itself on Adult Swim in no time.
These shows, I feel, work better than the tried-and-true that seems to be the thing in this field for a while, as it still shines in things like Sausage Party. Had their legs not been cut off, I think Oblongs, Mission Hill, and a couple other shows (Home Movies, for example) would've lead to something more interesting in the realm of adult-oriented TV animation, and maybe by extension, features. Futurama also had the misfortune of being screwed over by FOX in 2003, a year after Family Guy's second death-blow. Family Guy was truly a shock-value show back then, but I feel its earliest seasons actually did have strong writing and characterization. An unpopular opinion for sure, for Family Guy has always been divisive, long before its return to the boob tube.
No, where Family Guy really took off was on Adult Swim. Adult Swim, I have a lot of respect for because they were the launchpad for more oddball shows, stuff that probably wouldn't have flown on FOX or ABC or any major network. While I think [as] kind of did themselves in for a while with shows that overdid it on the shock value, they've pulled through, now they have things like Rick & Morty. 10-year-old me stumbled across Family Guy when I was in fifth grade, when I was finally beginning to watch Cartoon Network's meant-for-adults block. (I was a lame fourth grader in 2001/2002, plus I wasn't one for staying up late back then.) One of my classmates had recommended it to me, and I was hooked. I knew maybe a small group of people in school that watched it, too. We'd laugh about all the "inappropriate" jokes at the cafeteria table, like presumably every other middle schooler. Then every other kid I went to school with started watching it months prior to its 2005 resurgence.
Its return, I feel, lead to a series of knockoff shows that added little to the playing field here in the states. FOX only really invested in shock-value sitcoms and tired things, though I do consider American Dad! - a show Seth MacFarlane co-created that debuted a little before Family Guy's comeback - to be a cut above the usual. Comedy Central tried to launch more adult shows over time, and mostly failed, though they were the ones that revived Futurama... But Futurama didn't seem to lead to imitators that actually tried to infuse that kind of non-family friendly attitude with imaginative worldbuilding.
Futurama, I feel, is the best show from that era because of that. Also, it wasn't a shock-value show, the "adult" humor came naturally, from the situations. It wasn't content with always getting a TV-14 rating. (Edgy!) The writing would call for it, and the episodes didn't rely on over-the-top wackiness. There were compelling characters, great storylines, and some episodes - much like The Simpsons - brought people to tears. The episode 'Jurassic Bark' was one of the first animated anythings to make me feel near-dead inside, and that was when I was 12! I didn't really cry at things when I was a kid, I didn't cry at my Disneys, oddly enough. I sort of treated the big deaths with a "Well, it happens. That's bad." Nowadays, I'm a sap, any sad or emotional part in a good story gets me. Futurama and Toy Story 2's 'When She Loved Me,' those were the firsts for me.
Now by contrast, when Family Guy "killed off" Brian four years ago, a main character no less, what did it register? Mostly angry reactions, people sensing that it was just a cheap stunt... And it was. In fact, I can't really name a truly resonant moment on the show, post-cancellation. Brian faking his death in the 'Dog Gone' episode felt contrived, as did the near-end of 'Brian & Stewie.' Oddly enough, I got a slight tinge of emotion in the 'Road to Germany' episode, when Brian and Stewie time travel to WWII-era Europe and celebrate at a synagogue with neighbor Mort and his ancestors. The jovial scene is interspersed with scenes of the Nazis preparing for invasion, it was actually a rather effective moment in a strange way.
But enough waffling about this, what excites me about Matt Groening's new show is that it looks to basically follow in the footsteps of both The Simpsons and Futurama, in that it will play with familiar ideas while giving us something to care about, and something that's genuinely funny, and some worldbuilding. What will this crapsack fantasy kingdom look like? Also, a female lead? Now you're talkin'. Plus it's also good to see the man have more than two great shows under his belt.
Netflix seems to be turning things around for adult animation, what with BoJack Horseman, the new Castlevania series, and plans to back a feature-length film. We may be onto something...
In the previous recap, I talked about the trailer for an oncoming Nickelodeon reboot. A trailer for another Nick reboot happened to drop during Comic-Con as well, and it's the one for Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie...
Yeah, they're actually calling it that...
Like the Rocko's Modern Life reboot, the Hey Arnold! reboot looks to keep the original series' style and aesthetic. The look of it is spot-on. Jim Lang's smooth jazzy music is back, which was always one of the best things about the show itself. When revisiting the older Nickelodeon shows of the 1990s, I felt it was among the better ones, because it was actually about something. Arnold's overarching storyline concerning his parents may be one thing, but the series actually had some heart and some real weight to it, which took me by surprise. This is very evident in episodes like 'Pigeon Man' and 'Arnold's Thanksgiving' and such. The reboot, or should I say the conclusion the series should've gotten a decade ago, looks to be no different. Most of the other 90s Nick shows, I looked at them and said they were solid cartoons, not the greatest things ever like 90s babies seem to think.
As I said on the post about Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling, I'm actually surprised at how Nick is going about rebooting its beloved 90s properties. Static Cling is going to be an exploration on nostalgia and the problems that can bring, while this looks to be a fitting end to Hey Arnold! We all know the story of course, creator Craig Bartlett had troubles with Nick that ended up torpedoing The Jungle Movie and ending his roughly 8-year tenure with the network. Now some 13 years later, it all comes around.
The trailer itself is light on the premise, it's just a sort-of "greatest hits" kind of retrospective of the show. Not bad, as it was designed to get people around my age hyped up... But for me, I already knew this thing was coming, so I was kind of hoping to get a small bit of the storyline. Oh well, it's still a well-made trailer nonetheless, and the production values - much like Static Cling - are surprisingly pretty good. Faithful to the original, new-looking in a way, still good.
I'd be content with Nick stopping after the TV movies of Rocko and Invader Zim, they needn't rehash every single show from the sacred 90s. I'd be okay with Doug returning, where he's in college, but I think that one's probably a no-go because of its move to Disney in the mid-90s, and I don't know if they still hold the rights or not. If Disney still owns it, why hang onto it? Doug doesn't fit their bill, it can't be morphed into a mega-franchise a la Marvel and Star Wars, so why not just send it back?
I don't know...
If you've been here since the beginning, over five years ago, you'll know that I love retro video games... It was one of the big reasons why I was so hyped about Disney Animation's Wreck-It Ralph. Well, it turns out... My favorite 80s arcade game from the Golden Age is getting an animated adaptation.
Yes, that's right. Namco's space-shooter arcade classic, pretty much a sequel to the company's 1979 answer to Space Invaders, Galaxian, it is getting an animated series from The Nuttery Entertainment. A small American and Swedish company, Nuttery is looking to get top-notch talent to handle the oncoming series. Nuttery CEO Magnus Jansson says...
"We are incredibly honored to be able to work on such an amazing legacy property and help launch it into the animated space. There is such a deep love for this game from fans around the world and our team is excited make sure the next chapter in the Galaga saga is equally impressive and inspiring as its humble 8-bit beginnings..."
Despite my love for the original 1981 game, I am out of the loop... Apparently this thing spawned some kind of mini-franchise? I mean I knew it had some sequels, like Galaga '88 and Galaga Arrangement (this was a full-on expansion of the original that was designed for an arcade collection of older Namco games that was released in the mid-90s - my local bowling alley had the cabinet, but I had it on a Namco Museum collection for my Xbox), but nothing beyond the mid 90s outside of some mobile game remakes and such. Like, the reports say it's working off of "existing lore..." What lore? Like the creature details themselves?
Anyways, I dig the idea. Galaga's cabinet and promo art, I always felt, would look awesome in animation. Galaxian's American flyer has a really nice rendering of an alien insect on it that would look cool in the medium as well. Of course, I'd love to see it as an animated feature, but a series has a lot of potential. They can make a really cool space war storyline out of this, and maybe it could lead to a new iteration of the game, who knows! I just think it's one of the more exciting things to come about on the TV animation end of things.
What say you on all of this?