Disney to make live-action Sorcerer’s Apprentice

I doubt I could make up something as good as this even on April Fool’s. On Monday, Disney announced that they’re producing “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” as a live-action feature starring Nicholas Cage as the Sorcerer. To be clear, the film is based on Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s original poem, not the Mickey Mouse sequence in Fantasia. From the Hollywood Reporter: “‘Sorcerer’ is being envisioned as a tentpole fantasy adventure set in contemporary New York, where a powerful sorcerer is in need of an apprentice. While not based on a ride like the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ films, the in-development project continues Disney’s trend of reimagining classic Disney titles as live-action, event pictures.”

Waif of Persephone Arrives on DVD

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Nick Cross has released a limited edition dvd of his wonderful 12-minute animated short The Waif of Persephone. The dvd, which includes extras like director commentary, story reel and pencil tests, is available through Nick’s blog for $13.99 (via Paypal or money order) and includes free shipping. I’ve already plunked down my money, and anybody else who wants to support some independent, uncompromising cartoony goodness would be well advised to do the same. Nick has also posted a clip from the film on his blog.

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American Dog or London Adventure?

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Jim Hill blogged today about how Disney is revamping story of American Dog, now that Chris Sanders has been let go. Hill reports that:

“He’s no longer a cute little round brown hound dog. But — rather — a heroic-looking white German Shepherd with a lightning bolt-shaped patch that runs down the left side of his body. In fact, Bolt is actually this character’s new name. And Bolt stars with Penny (a 12-year-old girl) in the hit television show, “American Dog.”

After getting accidentally shipped to New York, Bolt is befriended by a hamster (named “Rhino”) who “is a huge fan of “American Dog,” having seen & then memorized virtually every episode of the series.”

For all the negative talk about direct-to-video sequels, some of these changes bring to mind plot elements and characters in 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure (written by Jim Kammerud and Brian Smith). Co-producer Leslie Hough writes us:

Our film “Dalmatians II” features a German Shepherd deluded by his own stardom named Thunderbolt. In our version Patch, the puppy, is Thunderbolt’s biggest fan and has memorized all the episodes of his show. When I first heard about American Dog, I thought the story was similar, but now it is too close for comfort.

Is it possible that the people at Disney Features have never seen 101 Dalmatians 2? Or have they and thought it was so good that they would use the same story in a bigger budget arena? Or do they just not care? Leslie Hough says, “Disney is welcome to rip itself off, but we, the filmmakers of the first film are kind of shocked.”

Peter Ellenshaw (1913-2007)

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Dave Smith reports that Peter Ellenshaw passed away yesterday, in Santa Barbara.

Ellenshaw is best known for his incredible matte paintings in Disney live action films ranging from The Story of Robin Hood through 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Mary Poppins (above). His work can also be seen in Spartacus, Superman IV and The Black Hole. He is the father of Harrison Ellenshaw (Star Wars).

(Thanks, Jeff Kurtti)

J.J. at the NY Comic Con

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J. J. Sedelmaier (The Ambiguously Gay Duo, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, The Colbert Report’s Tek Jansen, etc.) will be back next week at the New York Comic-Con. This year, Sedelmaier will discuss interpreting the work of print cartoonists and illustrators into animation in a talk titled, Translating Art in Animation. Sedelmaier will show the work of such artists as Garry Trudeau, Barry Blitt and Al Hirshfeld, among others, and will demonstrate how he translates their work into animation. He’ll also screen a selection of his studio’s work for Saturday Night Live, The Colbert Report, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and other clients.

Translating Art Into Animation takes place on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2007, from 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm, at the Jacob Javits Center.

The Value of Owning Your Creations

Spurred on by my recent posts criticizing Cuppa Coffee’s Zootube contest (here and here), animation artist Keith Lango has written some general thoughts about understanding the value of your creative properties. Using his own experiences as an example, Lango stresses one key point—”don’t ever, ever, ever give away rights to your work blindly, without condition and without real value in return. Rights have great value.”

In his post, Keith also uses the boys at JibJab as examples of artists who understand and practice good business. I love how JibJab’s Evan Spiridellis responds in the comments section that they’re not really doing anything revolutionary; in fact, Evan writes, “The case for retaining your rights goes straight back to Walt. If people are unaware of the Oswald fiasco they should read their animation history.”

Alone, Stinking And Unafraid: Fallen Angels

Cartoon Brew’s Jerry and Amid are pleased to welcome our friend Chris Robinson and his new semi-regular column Alone Stinking and Unafraid. We’re sure that many of you already know who Chris Robinson is, but for those that don’t, Chris is one of the leading experts on Canadian and independent animation, a noted author and critic, and the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival. And he always has something interesting to say.

Illustration by Theo Ushev
illustration by Theodore Ushev

I’ve always had a thing for angels and the belief that there is this unseen thing that surrounds all of us, that guides us along our way. I don’t mean some winged creature or anything cornball like that, but just something, something earthy. For example, I’ve been working on this book Fathers of Night for a couple of years. The coincidences that I’ve encountered while writing this book have sometimes left me stunned, speechless… there were so many that I started to see them as more than coincidence…. that they were markers, signs, guides that told me I was on the road I was supposed to be on.

I have met two real angels in my life. One was Helen Hill, an American animator who lived in Halifax for a few years. The other was her husband, Paul Gailiunas a doctor and part time musician (he headlined the Halifax band Piggy that produced an infectious cd in the late 1990s called Don’t Stop the Calypso). You could not meet two more joyful people. Helen stood out for two reasons. First, she had a pet pig. I always found that to be funny. Kelly (my wife) loves pigs and was always envious of Helen and Paul for taking a pig into their Halifax pad. Helen even made a point of stopping at our office in 2000 or 2001 (I think she was on her way to the States, can’t remember) to bring the pig by. Kelly has a nice shot of the three of us with piggy by her desk. “That was my favourite day in the office ever,” says Kelly.

The other vivid memory is Helen’s film, Mouseholes. I took for competition in 2000. The selection raised a few eyebrows. Sure, it wasn’t the most technically polished film, but Helen has made this raw, real and moving tribute to her grandfather (who had just passed away). It was one of the most down to earth, moving and humane animation films I’ve come across. Like Helen, it was absolutely genuine. She didn’t care about polish, she just had something to say and said it. It remains one of my favourite Canadian animation films (she made it in Halifax) and one of the few animation films that makes me cry (in a good way).

After the New Orleans flood, I was very worried about Helen and Paul and tracked them down to make sure they were okay. Helen eventually replied to say they were fine and had gotten out of town before the flood. She asked if I still had a beta copy of Mouseholes. Apparently, their home had been damaged by the flood and they’d lost a lot of stuff. Fortunately, I still had the tape. In fact, I believe I still have it cause I was waiting for Helen to get settled again before sending it off.

Time passed. Life moved on. I got another email from Helen saying they were going back to New Orleans. They wanted to get their life underway again and, typically, Paul wanted to go back and help the many who needed help. Helen was excited too. She got funding to make a new film. All was well.

One of my most vivid memories of Paul and Helen came at Ottawa 2000 or 2002 (can’t totally recall). I remember talking with them at the Chez Ani at Ottawa 2000 or 2002 and I was stunned at how innocent, how just utterly joyous these two were. It alarmed me. I was cynical about it and thought maybe they were a bit freaky. But in truth, I guess it scared me. Their joy was absolutely genuine. IT wasn’t some faux stance. These two clearly loved life and each other. I guess it scared me because it takes a real commitment to be like that in this world…to just let go of all the doubt and anger and embrace, believe and love life. That takes a lot more courage than cloaking yourself in cynicism and hatred—as so many of us are prone to do.

Helen was murdered on January 4th, 2007. Paul was wounded. Francis, their son, was unharmed. I’m writing this cause I need to find words, I need to uncover the brief memories, I need to understand why these two people were punished for being good. I have no idea what unfolded. I just have this image of a bloodied, stunned Paul on his knees, cradling their young son as police arrived. Did someone break in? Did someone knock at their door? It’s just so incomprehensible to me. Apparently, Helen’s murder is one of a string of murders happening in New Orleans recently. This one is particularly painful because of who these people were…. how egoless, how generous, how good they were. They were giving so much to New Orleans to help those in need, those who could not help themselves.

This tragedy simply reinforces my own cynicism towards the world. It makes it easier too. That way I can just brush off this incomprehensible act as typical of the world we live in. But, at the same time, however brief our contact, Helen touched me through that one film and memories of her will always make me smile. I’ll think of her bursting energy, smile without end, Helen and Paul dancing Chez Ani. I’ll think of the pig.

If anyone can overcome this act of hell, it’s Paul. And he won’t be alone. Yes, there are friends and family…but Helen will be there too. In life or death, I know that Helen Hill remains an angel among us. That much I believe.

Chris Robinson is the artistic director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival and a noted author/critic/historian whose books include Between Genius and Utter Illiteracy: A Story of Estonian Animation, Ottawa Senators: Great Stories from the NHL’s First Dynasty, Unsung Heroes of Animation, and Great Left Wingers and Stole This From a Hockey Card: A Philosophy of Hockey, Doug Harvey, Identity & Booze. He lives in Ottawa with his wife, Kelly, and sons Jarvis and Harrison.

Paul Terry on Animation (1925)

Allan Holtz, on his indespensible comic strip blog Stripper’s Guide, has posted an intriguing 1925 article (from Cartoons and Movies magazine) entitled Making Cartoon Movies: The Low Down on How It’s Actually Done by Paul H. Terry, “with illustrations by the author”.

Here is it. The whole thing, by one of the true pioneers of the industry. Terry was actually one of the field’s leading lights during the silent era. It’s been said Disney studied Terry’s Aesop’s Fables, back then, for their craftsmanship. His drawings accompanying the article are teriffic.

Forgotten Cartoon Legend #3 – Jose Jiminez

Jose Jiminez

Caricatures of Hollywood celebrities have been common practice in animated cartoons since the silent era. And comedians authorizing their personas for animation go back just as far (Otto Messmer’s series of Charlie Chaplin cartoons may have been the first). Since then, the essence of Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, The Three Stooges, et al.—all the way through Rodney (Rover) Dangerfield and coming up next fall, Jerry Seinfeld (Bee Movie)—live on in animated form. The cartoon counterpart for Mexican comedian Cantinflas continues today in animated shorts south of the border.

Comedy writer/actor/comedian Bill Dana created a Hispanic personality, Jose Jiminez, as a character for THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW in 1959. As Jiminez, Dana appeared on all the top variety shows, nightclubs, made record albums and even had his own TV series (although titled The Bill Dana Show, the 1963 NBC series starred Jose).

Mark Evanier has posted several times recently about Dana and what a fine comedian and writer he was. In the mid 1960s, Dana apparently explored the possibility of adapting Jose Jiminez to animation. Jose appeared briefly in the 1966 Hanna Barbera TV special (which he wrote) Alice in Wonderland or What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (which is being rerun on Boomerang Sunday Feb. 25). He also made a deal with Paramount to make an animated short, that was probably created as a pilot for a series.

But Jose Jiminez just didn’t cut it as an animated character. The Paramount short, posted below, is pretty darn poor. I WANT MY MUMMY was released in March 1966 and hasn’t been seen since. It wasn’t even shown on Nickelodeon when they had the package of Paramount theatricals they used to run on Cartoon Kablooey and Weinerville, perhaps not wanting to take a chance that Jose might offend Hispanic people. It was co-written by Dana and cartoonist Howard Post, who was running the studio at the time. Post started production on the film when he was abruptly replaced by veteran animator Shamus Culhane. That might explain some of the films crudeness. Or maybe not. This was Culhane’s first credit for Paramount as director—not a good start—in a job he’d hold for a year and a half before being replaced himself by Ralph Bakshi. That’s Bob McFadden doing all the other character voices.

Submitted for you approval, Jose Jiminez—Cartoon Brew’s Forgotten Cartoon Legend of the week.

(Thanks Mark Evanier for the Jose album cover at top)

Previously on the BREW:

Forgotten Cartoon Legend #2 – MUGGY-DOO BOY CAT
Forgotten Cartoon Legend #1 – SUPERKATT

Change is Good

Welcome everybody!

It’s been a long time coming and here finally is the new Cartoon Brew.

Cartoon Brew launched in March 2004 and in the nearly three years that it’s been up, we’d never bothered to redesign the blog. When we finally decided to update the look, we not only wanted to make it more elegant and easier to look at (fixed column widths anybody), but also to add functionality that had been missing from the original design. To that extent, we’ve added post categories, individual page entries, article search/sharing capabilities, better organized monthly archives, and yessirree, the oft-requested ability for user comments.

None of this would have been possible without our incredible designers (Jenny Volvovski, Julia Rothman and Matt Lamothe) at Also Design. We’ve been working with Also on another big project as well so stay tuned. These guys can do it all whether it’s web design, graphic design, Flash or anything else you can imagine, and both of us Brewmasters are thrilled with what they’ve been able to do for us.

A few house notes:
* To make things less confusing, we’re keeping comments closed on all posts prior to the redesign. But posts on CartoonBrew from today forward will typically have comments open. If you have any questions about the ground rules for commenting on Cartoon Brew, check out these notes.

* Most of our older posts are not categorized. So when you click on categories, keep in mind that they are only for posts from January 07 forward. Time-permitting, we will go back and try to categorize some of the older posts.

We’d love to hear what you think of the new look. We’ll be working over the next few days to iron out any kinks so let us know if you encounter any issues. Let the posting and commenting begin!

New Cover For Animation Art

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Three years ago, I – and twenty-three colleagues of mine – put together an illustrated animation history timeline called Animation Art. The goal was to create a concise visual overview of animation history over the past hundred years. I’ve been delighted to hear, during the last year, from many college and high school teachers who have told me the tome makes a great text book and starting point for discussion of animation history.

Now, particularly for those who were afraid to get the book due to the strange, off-putting psychedelic eyeball on the cover (above left), I’ve got some good news. Our long international nightmare is over. My publisher has changed the cover image. Now it’s a mongtage of current (mostly CG) images. At least the forgotten 1930s inkblot “Foxy” rates a spot – pointing a gun at my byline. If the cover kept you from getting a book before, now you have no excuse to pick it up and take a peek. It’s back in bookstores this month.

Ward Kimball’s Escalation

Ward Kimball made this film independently from the Disney Studio in 1968. It is the only independent short ever made by one of Disney’s Nine Old Men. He screened it at film festivals, college campuses and personally gave 16mm copies to friends and liberal-minded fans. The film below may be considered NSFW depending on where you work.

(Thanks to Ted Thomas, Steve Segal, John Canemaker)

Live-Action Geri’s Game

Live-Action Geri's Game

Here’s something that’s cool for cool’s sake. Brazilian film students Cesar Turin, Dalila Martins, Dani Libardi and Dhyana Mai have produced a shot-by-shot live-action remake of Jan Pinkava’s Oscar-winning Pixar short GERI’S GAME (1997). The actor they found to play Geri is absolutely perfect for the role. Watch it below and then compare it to the original Pixar short here.

Cartoon Network President Resigns

On Monday, Turner Broadcasting and the advertising agency involved agreed to pay $2 million in compensation to Boston over the AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE publicity-stunt-turned-bomb-scare. Today Cartoon Network president Jim Samples resigned over the matter.

To: Colleagues
From: Jim Samples

jimsamples.jpgI am sure you are aware of recent events in which a component of an Adult Swim marketing campaign made Turner Broadcasting the unintended focus of controversy in Boston and around the world. I deeply regret the negative publicity and expense caused to our company as a result of this campaign. As general manager of Cartoon Network, I feel compelled to step down, effective immediately, in recognition of the gravity of the situation that occurred under my watch. It’s my hope that my decision allows us to put this chapter behind us and get back to our mission of delivering unrivaled original animated entertainment for consumers of all ages. As for me, there will be new professional challenges ahead that will make the most of the experiences I’ve had as part of this remarkable company. Through my 13 years at the company I have found myself continuously in awe of the talented artists and business people surrounding me, from those who realize their vision in creating a cartoon to those who so brilliantly deliver the animation to viewers. I will always cherish the experience of having worked with you. I appreciate the support that you have shown me. As a friend and a fan, I also look forward to seeing your best and most personally fulfilling work yet. Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Boomerang and each of you deserve nothing less.

If they would just stick to making and showing cartoons…

Toy Story 3 and American Dog News

During a Disney investor’s conference yesterday, John Lasseter and Ed Catmull announced some major Disney-Pixar news. Notably, that TOY STORY 3 is scheduled for release in 2009. Pixar vet Lee Unkrich (co-director of TOY STORY 2, MONSTERS, INC. and FINDING NEMO) is going solo as director for the first time. He’s working from a script by Michael Arndt (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE). Also, it was announced that Disney story artist Chris Williams is the new director of AMERICAN DOG, which is set for 2008 release. You may recall the buzz from last December when Chris Sanders was unexpectedly removed from the project (Sanders has now left Disney). More notes from yesterday’s conference can be found in this VARIETY article.

“After These Messages” At Nucleus This Saturday

Anna Chambers
Anna Chambers

Need something awesome to do in LA this Saturday? Check out the art show opening “After These Messages: A Tribute to Saturday Mornings of the Past” which opens at Nucleus Gallery (30 W. Main Street, Alhambra, CA 91801). The show features new paintings, prints, installations and sculptures by dozens of artists who have been influenced and inspired by SatAM cartoons. Numerous animation artists are showing including Alex Kirwan, Ben Jones, Derrick Wyatt, Elizabeth Ito, Megan Brain, Anna Chambers, Jeaux Janovsky and Bob Doucette. Refreshments and breakfast cereals will be served and live DJ too. Complete details at the Gallery Nucleus site.

 Dan Santat
Dan Santat

 Mari Inukai
Mari Inukai

 Liz Ito
Elizabeth Ito

Shane Acker’s 9

Shane Acker's 9

Shane Acker, the director of the atmospheric Oscar-nominated short 9, was a special guest at the ANIMATION SHOW screening in LA a couple nights ago. I had the opportunity to do a short Q&A with him on-stage after the screening and there were lots of excellent questions from the audience. One of the primary topics of discussion was about how 9 is currently being adapted into a full-length animated feature. I can’t think of a better short to be expanded into a feature. There’s plenty of cinematic vision in Shane’s original short as well as the sense of a fully developed world that’s just begging to be explored and fleshed out. Acker is also directing the feature and the producers include Tim Burton and NIGHT WATCH director Timur Bekmambetov.

The feature version of 9 is being animated in Luxembourg at Attitude studios and will be released by Focus Features. During our Q&A, Shane announced for the first time the voice cast for his film. The leads are Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Elijah Wood and John C. Reilly. If that voice cast is any indication, this isn’t going to be your typical paint-by-numbers CG feature and that’s something to be excited about. Focus Features, which is the art house arm of Universal Pictures, is also the distributor of Henry Selick’s upcoming flick CORALINE (currently being produced at Laika).

Tokyo’s Art Of Disney On DVD

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If you couldn’t make it to last summer’s incredible Tokyo The Art Of Disney exhibition, or couldn’t get a copy of the fantastic exhibition catalog (pictured above), you still have one more chance at it. Disney Japan is releasing a DVD/Blu-Ray copy of the exhibition on April 25th. Click here to see a trailer for it. The question is: Will it be accessible outside of Japan?

(Thanks, Celbi Pegoraro)

Yo Gabba Gabba! Greenlit

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YO GABBA GABBA! has been picked up for twenty half-hour episodes by Nick Jr. The kooky live-action/animated preschooler variety show is produced by The Magic Store and W!LDBRAIN. It’ll begin production in April in Orange County, CA, and the show will premiere on Nick Jr. this fall.

YO GABBA GABBA! is created by Christian Jacobs, Justin Lyon and Scott Schultz. They started the Magic Store in 2005 and produced two half-hour episodes of YO GABBA GABBA! independently. The show became an online viral hit last summer (we even plugged it on the Brew in June 06) and Nick Jr. announced late last month that they were picking it up as a series.

Watch the original opening titles HERE, find out how to apply to work on the series, and stay tuned to the show’s brand-new production blog called Yo Blogga Blogga!

More On Cuppa Coffee’s ZooTube

Cuppa Coffee Studios

Cuppa Coffee president Adam Shaheen responded indirectly to my recent post, “Cuppa Coffee Wants To Ream Filmmakers” (Feb. 5), by writing a letter to Cold Hard Flash‘s Aaron Simpson. Shaheen’s response can be read in its entirety here.

It’s a lengthy response but what Shaheen doesn’t discuss is more noteworthy than what he does. For one, he doesn’t address my primary complaint: why does Cuppa Coffee expect to receive exclusive rights to all the animated shorts entered in the contest, across all media, forever, without any obligation of compensating any of the artists?

The only response that Shaheen manages is, “Any short film that earns a development deal with Cuppa Coffee, would then naturally involve the author being integrated into an upfront deal that would be negotiated fairly between the two parties – again, a true negotiation that doesn’t present as being anything but that.” That’s essentially saying, ‘Yeah the contract you sign to enter the program is unfair, but if you win, we’ll then negotiate a more fair contract with you. And guess what, if you don’t win our development deal, we still own the rights to your film.’

With the explosion of online video, there’s new contests like this popping up every week – two other recent ones are iLaugh’s Shortfest and AniBoom’s Eyedoll contest. All of these contests have ulterior motives: either helping to build a company’s brand/library or getting free development out of artists. In every case, the benefit of the collective entries coming into these companies far outweigh the benefit returned to the individual artists who are entering the contest.

Frankly, I think it’s time to get over this silly and insulting notion that creating animation is a game. Animated filmmaking is not a contest and no piece of classic animation has ever been produced because of a contest. Animation is an art form and a business. Investing time and effort into creating quality work and backing it up with some basic business skills is the only proven formula for achieving success in this industry.

One final thought. In his letter, Shaheen writes,

“At the end of the day, would you rather own 100% of something that sits on Youtube, or would you prefer to relinquish your rights and use this piece as a launching pad for your career?”

Personally, if I was going to “relinquish my rights” to further my career, I’d rather relinquish it to a major network like MTV (as Mike Judge did for Beavis & Butt-Head), Nickelodeon (as John K. and Stephen Hillenburg did), Fox (as Matt Groening did), Cartoon Network (as Genndy Tartakovsky and Craig McCracken did) or Comedy Central (as Parker and Stone did) than to a Canadian production house looking to attach itself to my talent under the guise of a contest.

Disney Artist’s Tryout Book (1938)

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ASIFA-Hollywood’s Animation Archive has posted a rare 1938 animators handbook, the Disney Studios Artist’s Tryout Book. It outlines what each department does and what is expected of each employee. This book is fascinating, especially in comparison to the way studios operate today. Story Men are required to draw. Inking and Painting is the only department open to women. Special note is made of Television, which shows the studio was thinking ahead, to how animation would adapt to a new medium.Speaking of new mediums, ASIFA-Hollywood’s annual event, The Annie Awards, are being bestowed this Sunday in a star-studded presentation at the Alex Theatre in Glendale. VIP tickets are sold out, but I’ve been told there are still a few general seats available. The pre-show reception starts at 3pm, the award ceremony begins at 5pm and the gala post-event party (this year in a tent behind the theatre) starts around 7:15pm. See you there.