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MichaelBarrier.com Exploring the World of Animation and Comic Art

"What's New" Archives: February 2005

February 27, 2005:

BRAD BIRD: As promised, you can read my interview with Brad Bird, the writer and director of Pixar's The Incredibles, by clicking here. If you've been visiting the site for the last few months, I don't have to tell you that I'll be rooting for Bird and The Incredibles when I watch the Academy Awards tonight. You can read my enthusastic comments on the film by clicking here, and my article about The Incredibles in today's Los Angeles Times by clicking here.

BI-POLAR: I flew into Boston on January 31, exactly one day too late to see The Polar Express in Imax 3-D at the New England Aquarium's theater. I haven't been anywhere else near where the film was showing in 3-D. Fortunately, John Benson, the esteemed comics scholar, has seen it in 3-D, and he has written detailed comments on how dramatically the 3-D Polar differs from the flat version. After reading John's report, I'm sorrier than ever that I haven't been able to see Polar Express in 3-D. John didn't want his comments presented as a separate by-lined piece, so I've appended them to my own review of the film.

February 26, 2005:

OSCAR AND THE INCREDIBLES: The Los Angeles Times asked me to write about The Incredibles as part of its Oscar preview coverage, and you can read the result by clicking here. I interviewed Brad Bird for my article, and I'll post the transcript of that interview on Sunday.

February 20, 2005:

THE NEW LION KING: Sometimes movie studios do things that leave one baffled: what could they have in mind? I'm not referring to Warner Bros., which clearly knew exactly what it was doing when it let the world know about its new Loonatics show. (I just watched a segment on Loonatics—an expanded version of a report that ran on the CBS Evening News last week—on CBS Sunday Morning.) I would welcome the show itself if I felt the least confidence that it would be as sly and clever as Warners' publicity coup.

The studio I'm speaking of is Disney, which has entrusted The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to Andrew Adamson, a co-director of Shrek and Shrek 2; you can click here to read a New York Times report on the making of the film. My question is this: C. S. Lewis's Narnia books are a Christian allegory, a touchy subject for any film, much less one coming out under the Disney label and mixing live action with computer animation. Why would you entrust such a film to the director of the Shrek films, both of them notable not just for their smart-ass sceenplays but also for clunky computer animation that makes stop motion look smooth and realistic?

The only possible answer, of course, is the two DreamWorks films' huge boxoffice success. I suspect that what we see here is yet another of the many conjunctions of cynicism, cluelessness, and huge amounts of money that make Hollywood a fascinating and unending train wreck.

There's another question that I find even more intriguing: Given his years at DreamWorks, will Adamson be able to resist the temptation to use at least one fart gag? "Aslan, you big old putty tat! Did you cut the cheese?"

February 18, 2005:

Diabetes bookANOTHER BARRIER BOOK: Not by me, but by my wife, Phyllis; and not about animation or the comics, but about a rather more serious subject, diabetes.

Phyllis is a health professional who has specialized in diabetes for most of her career, and and now she has written Type 2 Diabetes for Beginners, the first easy-to-read book for people newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. It has just been published by the American Diabetes Association, her employer for more than a decade until we moved away from the Washington, D.C., area.

Fortunately, neither of us has had any direct experience with diabetes, but members of our extended family have, and it's probably a rare American family that does not include one or more members who suffer from Type 2. Phyllis knows her stuff—as one expert says, her "wealth of personal and professional experience is evident on every page of this book"—and if people you care about are struggling with the disease, you should give Type 2 Diabetes for Beginners a look.

(If you click through to amazon.com, don't be confused by the cover shown on the page for the book—that's an old and outdated version.)

February 17, 2005:

Walt's PeopleWALT'S PEOPLE: I've just received my contributor's copy of the first volume of Walt's People, the new series of books, edited by Didier Ghez, that collect interviews with artists who knew Walt Disney and worked for him, in some cases for decades. The book includes my interview with David Hand that has already been published here, but most of the other interviews have either never been published or have been out of print and difficult to locate for many years. The interviewers include many of the Disney researchers that I like and respect most, people like Robin Allan, Paul Anderson, J. B. Kaufman, Jim Korkis, and Didier Ghez himself. The interviewees are also a stellar lot: Rudolf Ising, Ken Anderson, John Hench, Marc Davis, Jack Hannah, Milt Kahl, Harper Goff, Joyce Carlson—and Bill Tytla, whose interview with George Sherman of Disney's publications staff is the only such interview that I know of.

It's hard for me to praise this book enough, or to praise Didier enough for having conceived this series and brought it to fruition. I expect to be represented in all the future volumes, and I hope there will be many of them.

Didier asked me to write a foreword for the second volume, and I happily complied. Writing that piece gave me the opportunity to consider the value of interviews, especially interviews about Walt Disney. Lazy or timid academics tend to dismiss the importance of interviews as research (as opposed to, say, reading trade-paper articles as if they were tea leaves), but I think interviews about Walt, in particular, have indisputable value. To learn why, you can read my foreword by clicking here.

February 16, 2005:

THE HORROR, THE HORROR: Today's Wall Street Journal includes a terrifying story about the "extreme makeover" planned for the classic Warner Bros. characters. Excerpts:

"Hoping to breathe new life into its animated Looney Tunes franchise and prop up the WB television network's slumping Kids' WB line-up, Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. is planning to launch a new cartoon series this fall based on 're-imagined' versions of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tasmanian Devil, Lola Bunny, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.

Loonatics"Warner Bros. has created angular, slightly menacing-looking versions of the classic Looney Tunes characters for its new series, dubbed 'Loonatics' and set in the year 2772. Names for the new characters haven't been finalized, but they are likely to be derived from the originals: Buzz Bunny, for example. Each new character retains personality quirks of the original. The new Bugs, for example, will be the natural leader of the Loonatics' spaceship; the new Daffy will remain confident that he is the one who should be in charge. ...

"'The new series will have the same classic wit and wisdom, but we have to do it more in line with what kids are talking about today,'says Sander Schwartz, president of Warner Bros. Animation. The plots are action-oriented, filled with chases and fights. Each character possesses a special crime-fighting power.

"Sounds familiar? The format echoes a successful show Warner Bros. launched in 2003 on its WB network and Cartoon Network called 'Teen Titans,'about five teenage superheroes. The series, featuring dark, futuristic characters, based on such DC Comics personalities as Robin the Boy Wonder, quickly became a hit. It ranked No. 26 among kids programs for the fourth quarter last year. ...

"Given Warner's mixed track record over the past two decades with the Looney Tunes franchise, advertisers may be wary. Steven Spielberg sparked things up in the early 1990s with 'Tiny Toons,' a series in which new characters interacted with the originals. But a 2002 effort, 'Baby Looney Tunes,'has been a dud for the Cartoon Network, where it ended the fourth quarter ranked No. 104 among kids programs."

It isn't just advertisers who will be wary.

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