Top Grossing Films of 2007

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From IMDB comes this listing of the top grossing films of 2007 (U.S. Theatrical box office, in millions):

1. Spider-Man 3 • $336,530,303
2. Shrek the Third • 320,706,665
3. Transformers • 319,014,499
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End • 309,404,152
5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix • 292,000,866
6. The Bourne Ultimatum • 227,137,090
7. Ratatouille • 206,435,493
8. The Simpsons Movie • 183,121,527
9. Wild Hogs • 168,213,584
10. Knocked Up • 148,734,225

Three of the films were pure animated features (Shrek, Ratatouille, The Simpsons Movie) and another four relied heavily on CG special effects (Spider-Man 3, Transformers, Pirates and Harry Potter). In addition to these figures, it should be noted that Bee Movie grossed $122,651,629. and Meet The Robinsons, Surf’s Up and, (cough) Beowulf were modest successes in their own right. Enchanted is doing great and although I don’t consider it an animated film, Alvin and the Chipmunks has become a huge Christmas holiday hit.

All in all, it’s been a great year for animated films – and results like these reassure Hollywood that animation is still viable, popular – and big business.

Here’s to a great 2008! Happy New Year!

Delgo?

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Coraline, Wall • E, Kung Fu Panda… 2008 has many exciting animated features scheduled for release. But is anyone anxious to see this?

I admire the fact that this is an independent production — something I frequently champion on this blog — created by a group of dedicated animators out of Atlanta, with an all-star voice cast and an ambitious trailer. But the character designs are, to me, unappealing and the character animation lacks the sophistication the big studios (Pixar, Blue Sky, etc.) have long perfected.

The film is apparently in post production and the producers are seeking a theatrical distributor. My guess is it’ll go straight to video.

Mickey’s Meat

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I’ve noticed it’s been several months since we last posted on unusual Disney-licensed food products. Earler this year we had posts on Old Yeller Dog Food, That Darn Cat Food, Disney Peter Pan Tomato stickers, and Mickey Mouse Liver Paste.

As the year comes to a close, we should note Croatian meat maker, Pik, has added to its Disney line with an assortment of Mickey Meat products.

Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I can’t help thinking these would sure go good with an Orangina right now.

The Rarest Looney Tunes of All

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For years I’ve been trying to make the case for The Bugs Bunny Show. This was the original ABC TV series which first brought the post-1948 Looney Tunes to prime time (and later Saturday morning) television. The original bridging material was directed by Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson and featured all the Looney Tunes stars with voices by Mel Blanc.

The show was never syndicated, and though prints of the original series exist (mainly in original broadcast black and white) they are scarce. The clever bridges were cut up and reused, for decades, on Saturday morning reruns. The problem is that the film editors at Warners cut up the original negatives for this purpose. We are able to present some of these bridges on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection dvd sets as bonus material, in a Frankenstein-like hybrid of black and white and color footage.

Matthew Hunter over at the Misce-Looney-ous blog has just started to post some of these lost bridges – including my favorite, the first one produced by Chuck Jones (this was the fifth episode aired, in November 1960). If you are a Looney Tunes fan, these are certainly worth a look. And until Warners greenlights a full restoration of the series, this is all we’ve got.

His Pen-and-Ink Live For Laughter…

Below is an Eastman Kodak ad I spied recently in a 1950 edition of The Hollywood Reporter. I love the headline copy — “His Pen-and-Ink Live For Laughter…” — juxtaposed against the angriest illustration of an animator I’ve ever seen (click for a larger view). I realize the animator is angry because he’s working out the expression he’s drawing, but it still strikes me as funny. Regardless of its humor value, it’s still a kind of cool historical curio.

Eastman Kodak ad

Three Little Pigs named to National Registry

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Each year the National Film Preservation Board of The Library of Congress names 25 “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant films to the National Film Registry, a collection of movies selected to be preserved for all time. Chuck Jones’ What’s Opera Doc?, Bob Clampett’s Porky In Wackyland, Fleischer’s Snow White (1933), Pixar’s Toy Story and several Disney titles including Steamboat Willie, have already made the grade. The 2007 selections were just announced and Disney’s landmark Three Little Pigs will be inducted this year.

I assume they will preserve the original, politically incorrect version?

Disney’s Bolt

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Disney fans are still outraged at the dismissal of Chris Sanders (Lilo and Stitch) from his film American Dog.

Now renamed Bolt, the revised senario is being directed by Chris Williams (Mulan) and is being readied for release on 11/26/08. A new image (above) released today on ropeofsilicon.com has some of the fans even more enraged. The character’s redesign is less appealing and more generic, some say, than Sander’s original.

I’ll concede that this publicity picture is not as attractive as some of Sander’s previously released preliminary paintings. However, I’ll trust Lasseter and Williams’ judgement in this matter and am willing to wait and see the final product next November. Lasseter made a similar directorial switch on Ratatouille – and I was certainly pleased with how that turned out.

(Thanks Celbi Pegoraro)

Animal Soccer World

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This has to be one of the worst animated films I’ve ever seen.

Animal Soccer World is apparently a Sony PlayStation 2 game that liberally rips off character designs from various Disney films (Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Lion King, Bambi, et al) and produced on zero budget. Does anyone have the scoop on who made this atrocity? The people behind the music, voices, drawing, and animation (check those walk cycles) deserve to be recognized for their contributions to the art. Check out part one (below), if you dare.

Not enough? Click here for Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.

(Thanks to Matt Wilson for pointing me toward this)

Persepolis opens today

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Persepolis, opening today in New York and Los Angeles, is as far from the Hollywood status quo as you can get. It’s an important film, not only for its brilliant presentation of an incredible true life memoir, but for its artistry and its courage to take animated features toward a new path of personal, autobiographical storytelling.

Autobio is common in alternative comics and animated shorts, but rarely at feature length. Bakshi’s Heavy Traffic certainly blazed this trail over 35 years ago, but that was then and this is now. If animated features are to progress, animators need to feel comfortable to tell stories beyond the commercial constraints required by the Hollywood motion picture industry. Stories must get deeper, visuals must evolve, and all the techniques available to animation artists should be used (let me note that Pixar stands unique among the major animation studios, artfully pushing the medium in a commercially entertaining way acceptable to both Hollywood and to mainstream audiences).

Sony Pictures Classics deserves kudos for taking a chance on releasing this (and The Triplettes of Belleville several years ago) in a country weary of cartoon features and less demanding of its motion picture entertainment. Already garnering rave reviews, Persepolis is positioned to influence the medium and may inspire further independent animated features.

But will it? I’m not sure. It’s not that I’m looking for more films to look or feel like Persepolis, rather, I’m hoping for more artists and cartoonists like Marjane Satrapi who will bring their passions to animated films. That’s how our artform will grow — and what I hope Persepolis will do.

Love it or hate it, I encourage you to see the film. Below is video of creator/co-director Satrapi discussing the influences of comic books on her life and work. Merry Christmas.

The Oozing Skull

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Once again I’ll veer off topic to plug my favorite comedy troupe outside the realm of animated cartoons.

As mentioned here previously, the main brains behind Mystery Science Theatre 3000 have regrouped to create a new series of movie commentaries under the banner Cinematic Titantic. The first one has just been released on DVD and is only availble for purchase through a website called EZ Takes. There are clips and customer reviews posted there, but based on what I’ve seen and know, the first film, The Oozing Skull, is as hilariously skewered as anything on the original MST3K. Be one of the first to check it out, it’s a great way to kick off the new year.

An Online Animation Festival

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A British internet magazine, The First Post, is hosting the first online animation festival on its site.

What does that mean? It means they’ve post 27 independent animated shorts, including such festival favorites as Tomek Baginski’s Fallen Art, Pes’ Kaboom, Pat Smith’s Drink and Lesley Barnes’ Herzog and the Monsters; it means articles, links and clips relating to Aardman’s The Pearce Sisters; it means they discuss Anime; it means they post a retrospective of the best animated ads of 2006 and 2007; and they host a gallery of art from TVC’s production of Raymond Brigg’s The Snowman. Check it out, it’s totally worth a visit during the Christmas break.

Snow White Scrapbook

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In honor of the 70th Anniversary of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, Steve Worth has posted images from an an incredible scrapbook of material relating to the landmark Disney film.

The Snow White scrapbook was created by Disney animator Clair Weeks and was donated to the Asifa Hollywood Animation Archive several months ago by the Weeks family. I’ve seen this book in person and it’s the only way to truly appreciate it. If you can’t get to the archive, Steve will be posting better images and digitizing this material properly after the holidays. In the meantime, go here now for a taste of things to come.

Hans Bacher’s Dream Worlds

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A happy note to close out this year’s animation book releases: Hans Bacher’s eagerly anticipated book about animation production design, Dream Worlds, is finally shipping on Amazon. I’ve yet to see a copy but animation director Michael Sporn has received the book and is quite pleased. He writes on his blog: “With the same ardent enthusiasm I had for Amid Amidi’s Cartoon Modern and Mike Barrier’s The Animated Man, I encourage you to buy a copy of this book if you’re serious about animation. It’s stunningly beautiful, filled with excellent art, attractively designed and it looks to be enormously informative. The book shows you what a production designer does in an animated film. I’ve seen no other book like it.”

Woody Woodpecker Volume 2

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I’m happy to announce the April 15th 2008 release date of The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection: Volume 2.

The dvd set will contain three discs and include 75 vintage Walter Lantz cartoons, completely uncut – as originally seen in theaters.
• This collection includes 45 Woody Woodpecker cartoons, continuing the chronology, from 1952-1958.
• The set will feature treasures from the Walter Lantz archive including rarely seen Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Pooch The Pup, Cartune Classics and Swing Symphonies cartoons – titles include: Five and Dime, Wax Works, Springtime Serenade, She Done Him Right, A Haunting We Will Go, Fair Today, The Painter and the Pointer and Boogie Woogie Man.

Bonus Materials Include:
• Behind-the-Scenes with Walter Lantz (12 Segments from The Woody
Woodpecker Show TV series)
• Walter Lantz TV Pilots for Space Mouse (Secret Weapon), featuring the voice of Paul Frees, and Sam ‘n’ Simian (Jungle Medics), which features the voices of Dal McKennon.
• The Woody Woodpecker Show TV Episode (a full-length episode featuring Woody, Inspector Willoughby and the Beary Family)

Retail price will be $39.98, but expect discounts from Amazon and at the major retailers.

Holiday Gift Ideas: Thunderbean Animation Classics

commercialsthunder.jpgSteve Stanchfield is one of the unsung angels out there who does the important work finding and restoring lost pieces of our animation history, and makes them accessible in attractive presentations on DVDs. He’s just finished two more volumes in time for last minute Christmas shoppers. I know that more time and money goes into these compilations than Steve will ever recoup. He does them for the love of the artform, and we should be very grateful. I certainly am. Both of these new releases are highly recommended.

Cartoon Commercials, Volume 1- features all animated commercials from the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. It’s a totally entertaining disc with lots of “cartoon modern” stylized animation I haven’t seen elsewhere. I think the coolest thing about it is a subtitle feature that lists many of the animators, directors, voices and studios as you’re watching.
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Return of the 30′s Characters follows in the same tradition as Stanchfield’s previous volume, Attack of the 30′s Characters. Great prints with original titles (or restored, and a few recreated). The highlights (for me) is Steve’s restoration of the lost Dick Huemor Toby Pup cartoon, The Museum (1930) and the Ub Iwerks’ ComiColor films, Balloonland (1935), Brementown Musicians (1935). Steve even attaches a strip of Cinecon 16mm to the box as a bonus. Fifteen other cartoons including Little Orphan Willie with Flip the Frog; Joint Wipers with Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry; His Off Day with Puddy the Pup (Terrytoons); and The Hunting Season an RKO Rainbow Parade cartoon. Order it here.

Jack Zander (1908-2007)

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Mark Mayerson has informed us that animator Jack Zander has passed away at age 99.

Zander cut his teeth as an animator at Van Beuren, Terrytoons and MGM (Harman Ising) Studios in the 1930s. After World War II, Zander’s New York studio was considered one of the best in the business. In addition to hundreds of commercials, he produced the TV special Gnomes (1980) and the infamous King Features TV special The Man Who Hated Laughter (1972). Mayerson has posted an overview of Zander’s career, with remembrances by colleagues and friends, on his blog

Jerry on Stu’s Show Today

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Brewmaster Jerry Beck will be broadcasting once again, live on Shokus Internet Radio today, Wednesday December 19th from 4pm to 6pm Pacific time (that’s 7pm to 9pm for you in the Eastern Time Zone).

Stu Shostak and I will be discussing Terrytoons and all other classic animation. If you have a specific question you want answered, call in during the broadcast toll free (888) 746-5875. If you miss the show, it’ll be rerun for the next seven days at the same time. Tune in!