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Zemeckis’ “Yellow Submarine” is Dead – We Hope!

Our long national nightmare is over. Whatever your opinion of Mars Needs Moms it has accomplished a major goal of all right-thinking peoples – it’s killed the present chances for a mo-cap remake of an animation classic: Yellow Submarine.

The Hollywood Reporter says:

The Walt Disney Co. has deep-sixed Mars Needs Moms producer Robert Zemeckis’ planned next project for the studio, the high-profile remake of the classic Beatles film Yellow Submarine, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.

Submarine was already facing a few rocky reefs before this weekend. There were budget issues, and a key presentation Zemeckis was to have made before the Beatles heirs kept being pushed back. A December date for the confab was scrapped and never rescheduled. But sources say the disastrous $6.9 million opening for the $150 million-budgeted Mars, produced by Zemeckis, guaranteed that Submarine would never set sail at Disney. The producer-director is now free to shop the project to another studio.

How big a bomb is Mars Needs Moms? Brooks Barnes in The New York Times wrote:

The box office bomb Hall of Fame – “Ishtar,” “The Alamo,” “Cutthroat Island,” “Gigli,” “Speed Racer” – has a new member. “Mars Needs Moms” cost $150 million to make (excluding marketing) and managed to bring in only $6.8 million in North American ticket sales over the weekend. What happened? Unappealing alien characters, a tepid marketing campaign, family film gridlock at theaters and the movie’s antifeminist undertones contributed. But Hollywood will read this Walt Disney Studios flop as a rejection of Robert Zemeckis’s style of “performance-capture” animated filmmaking.

Mr. Zemeckis, please return to live action photography of human actors. You were great at that. Forget The Beatles, forget Roger Rabbit. Go back-to-the-future and pick up a camera.

Meanwhile animators can go back to their craft, creating “the illusion of life” frame by frame, safe in the knowledge that actors wearing ping-pong balls won’t be invading their turf – and audiences can go back to watching real actors in digital environments, with faces that won’t offend their eyes. And it’ll be safe for everyone to go back to the movies.

  • What’s sad is that with all this Zemeckis hate no one thinks about all the jobs that show would have provided.

    • Arf Trondolio

      No, everyone is thinking that those same jobs will now be held working on a better project. Don’t worship shit being sold by famous non-animation producers and directors. Champion good projects. There will always be lousy films. I don’t mean to offend at all, but wait around for a mocap remake of The Monkees’ “Head”, if you’re really wanting to see and/or work on shit. There will be another Zemeckis along shortly.

      • Jean-Denis Haas

        Hoping people have jobs is worshipping shit? I’m not quite following that train of thought.

    • I do feel bad that artists will lose employment. But making bad movies will ultimately take work away. If people stop having a good time at the movies they will stay home and explore the wealth of other entertainment options available. So in the long run it’s better to cancel these wrong-headed movies and hope that artists can apply their talents to better projects, ones that will be embraced by audiences, that’s good for everybody. (as Arf aptly pointed out).

  • Pedro Nakama

    Mars needs Moms is such a bomb that TSA has restricted all of the film makers from getting on any flights.

  • BrokenAnimator

    Ah man..I hate when Speed Racer is lumped into the all time flops, it was a good movie!

    Yeah, put aside your opinion of what you think about the Zemeckis animation films, those films created a lot of jobs for the industry. I worked on a couple and was proud of the work done. Just because they use marketing terms like “performance capture” does not mean animators are out of a job. In fact in means more jobs for clean up and tweaking that “performance”.

    Heck I don’t have stats or anything, but I am sure the number of people employed to make those Zemekcis films, is at par or higher then any of the films we traditionally think of as an animated film.

    It’s not good news at all to have these films bomb like that.

    • agree with you about Speed racer!

    • And here I am, thinking I was the only person in America who liked ‘Speed Racer.’ But let’s make one thing clear: I enjoyed it strictly for its beginning-to-end eye candy (in fact I think I almost got eye diabetes) & wasn’t paying any particular attention to acting, story, logic, whatever.

  • Chris Sobieniak


  • YES! I was right! This bad idea is as good as dead! Now lets hope Hop and Smurfs bombs ending the horrible live-action/CG hybrids, as well as Bone being switched from Mo-crap to an actual animated feature.

  • Steph

    Fingers crossed the Tintin is amazing…

  • happy face… although I consider “Death Becomes Her” Zemeckis´last good film.
    Hope he can get back on track!

  • dr. giraud

    From the NY Times: “What child wants to see a movie about his mom being taken away from him?”

    Kids still like Bambi. What they don’t like is dead-eyed mo-cap humanoids.

    • Ugh. It’s comments like that from people that give really good stories with a true, relate-able struggle a bad face. You can have a movie with a theme like that if there’s reconcile at the end of that adversary. Like, just as you said, Bambi.

  • Doug

    But it is good news that Night of the Living Yellow Sub got shelved. That just made my day!!!

  • Now that is “fab” news.

  • Rick R.

    I dunno, I think what really killed the Mars Needs Moms movie is that they should have at least tried to capture Berkeley Breathed’s style in the movie. The book would have lent itself to the style, as it is almost photorealistic anyway.

    But as has been said, Zemeckis really did goof by making it so photo-real that, as you say, it offended the eye, and by adding so much dialogue it may as well have been live action.

  • Christopher Cook

    The article says that Zemeckis can still shop the project to other studios. But hopefully the others will see mo-cap as anethema and won’t bother.

  • C. Stulz

    Jerry, While I agree with your statement “Mr. Zemeckis, please return to live action photography of human actors. You were great at that. Forget The Beatles, forget Roger Rabbit. Go back-to-the-future and pick up a camera.”

    I can’t help but feel that while a Roger Rabbit sequel may seem like a money grab, or unoriginal, the first film is one of those rare classic films that I would love to see more of. Not mo-capped, CG, or in 3D, but live action mixed with traditional hand drawn animation. If they can spend $150 million on “MNM” surly they can spend the big money to make a great “RR” sequel.

  • purin


    I’m so happy that the Beatles will stay FLAT, and that Yellow Submarine will stay a product of its time and not nostalgia!

  • KB

    When I read this, I started turning cartwheels and singing “Can You Feel a Brand New Day” from “The Wiz”.

    Okay, so maybe I didn’t turn a cartwheel, but I DID sing.

  • Think what you will about mo-cap movies (myself, I can’t watch them for the life of me). But one thing’s for certain: I WISH that mo-cap haters would STOP lumping “Happy Feet” in with the mo-cap movies, simply because they mo-capped the dancing sequences. Folks, the REST of the movie is regular (if CGI) animation, and well-done too. Not to mention a movie full of beautiful imagery, great characters, and a cool story too.

  • wgan

    speaking of his last a few live action movies, i deeply enjoyed cast away, contact is phenomenal, it’s sad to see he’s heading nowhere in uncanny valley and the hack of lots of talents, that’s all i want to say, i truly wish him the best even if he’s gonna make another mo-cap movie (or ever allowed); one more thing to say, despite of the fact most of the brewers despise mo-cap(at least for his style), its a technology getting better and better every day, not mentioning avatar too much, check this game

    and worth mentioning that it doesn’t even need ‘cleanups’ (or very little) as far as i know

  • Bummer

    Yellow Submarine should never be touched.

    Disney being behind it too is the best joke ever. They obviously don’t get the context of that movie.

    The Blue Meanies had mouse ears. They came in and sucked the life out of the beauty and artistic freedom represented by Pepper Land and just shit all over it. Hmmm.

  • Butter-ball

    Oh, THANK HEAVENLY JESUS!!! ‘Cause you simply CAN’T remake that movie. It maybe a classic, but there’s little plot.

  • Once a huge fan of Mr. Zemeckis, I loved his “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and the huge boost animation was given back in the eighties.

    I sure hope he returns to filmmaking one day, and puts the ping pong balls away forever.

  • Spencer


  • cbat628

    Funny article. Although I must say I take this as bittersweet news. I’m still a big fan of Robert Zemeckis (especially his “Back to the Future” trilogy and “Roger Rabbit”) and I think he has extraordinarily creative visions of how fun the movies can be. However, I think he may be putting too much faith in the wrong technology, a technology that hasn’t had time to reach it’s potential and put out the kind of work (I assume) Zemeckis expects. I just hope that these recent disappointments won’t make studios turn their backs on a filmmaker as creative as Zemeckis.

  • Shawn’s Bro

    So the theme that parents should spend more time with their kids is “anti-feminist”? Who knew? The male parent working so hard to succeed that he neglects his kids is right behind nuclear Armageddon as a story cliche.

    I’m a big fan of Berkeley Breathed, but never realized he was a crypto sexist.

  • Steve Menke

    Now let’s hope the original “Yellow Submarine” returns to circulation — it’s currently out of print on DVD.

  • I haven’t seen people rejoicing collectively this much since the end sequence of Return of the Jedi. (Is that Ewoks I hear in the distance??)

    In any event, I said it before and I’m sure many of you know about this but someone please print this out and put this on Robert Zemeckis’ desk.

    I think he needs an education about the Uncanny Valley hypothesis.

  • The Lord answers prayers.

  • matt

    Unappealing Alien characters? Is that a typo? Surely they meant unappealing HUMAN characters?! The aliens don’t look good to me (haven’t seen the whole film), but not as horrifying as the humans.

    And God almighty stop blaming the technique for the execution. A bad tradesman blames the tools. You would think animators would know better, but I guess they can be as ignorant and threatened as everyone else. There have been countless pieces of garbage produced in 2d for example, but sure, it’s all mo-cap’s fault. And just because Zemeckis’ and Shrek films have revolting DESIGN/proportions doesn’t necessarily/inherently have everything to do with it being digital.

    And I agree about Happy Feet. Think people. How do you mocap an underwater arial sequence or a mid-air fight and fall? Apart from the little men in tuxes analogy, that was one of the most appropriate applications of the approach ever. And yes, no mo-cap on the faces in that one.

  • Andrew Kieswetter

    Thank God for that! I hope Zemeckis scraps his proposed ‘Wizard of Oz’ remake as well.

  • sigh

    Mo-Cap is dead. It was D.O.A. for most of us, anyway.
    To hear people whine about its demise because to perpetuate it would create jobs is so short-sighted and illogical that it’s embarrassing.
    The one and only “Yellow Submarine” doesn’t need a re-telling. It’s perfect “as is.”

  • Dear Mr. Zemeckis – please give mocap back to the video game industry. They are doing a far better job with it. Thanks.

  • Tadpole

    Ok, wait. There is a dark side to this. As someone on a forum I frequent pointed out, there is less of a chance of us getting a re-release of the original movie now.

    Other then that? JOY TO THE WO~RLD….

  • I think there’s definitely a place for mo-cap in animation. It works very well for the production of “Sid the Science Kid” on PBS.

    Its really the “uncanny valley” problem, which is more a function of art direction and character design.

  • Now, now, Mr. Zemeckis. It’s not that your movies are poorly written or uninteresting. It’s just that you’ve become addicted to a filmmaking process that makes everything look bad. Our eyes hurt. In fact, just publish the storyboards and sell them. They’ll have everything good about the movies without the bad. Okay? Why, I—

    *watches Polar Express*

    No, wait. It sucks.

  • Brendan Spillane

    Once again, Pepperland is saved!

  • Michel Van

    the abomination is Death
    HURRAY !

  • Steven M.

    Let it stay this way.

  • Yves Xavier Zorch

    Let’s hope he just buries the YS project and doesn’t take it anywhere else. An audience of Ringo, Olivia, Dhani, Yoko and Paul would make a tough audience for Zemekis to pitch this squid. Sure, the same people okayed that Cirque du Soleil Beatles “Love” show, (mainly because it was George’s final pet project) but at least that was entertaining and did not contain any mo-cap. Now Charles Solomon will have to do a major fluff piece to rehabilitate the soiled by association rep of Berkeley Breathed, whose work deserved better interpretation.

  • Robert Schaad

    He Said…the YS remake is dead.

    And you’re making me feel like it’s never been born. ;O)

  • The Gee

    I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t think I have seen the original. I am glad to say that I’m glad it may not get re-made.

    Zemeckis should just have chosen fresh points to begin these movies. Think about it, haven’t they all been adaptations? Even with the public domain stories maybe that wasn’t such a great idea. I’m sure with all of the mocap flicks he’s made, he added a lot to take advantage of the technology and the possibilities, but what if he just started from scratch, with a blank slate…

    We may never know. Maybe he would have gone the Avatar route and made something many say was derivative story-wise. But, he’s a good story teller/filmmaker so he could have pulled an awesome rabbit out his hat. He’s just got to realize what some have mentioned that it has got to be a cartoon or like Henson’s “Sid the Science Kid” muppetry to avoid the awkwardness that mocap is being stigmatized with.

    Mocap still doesn’t thrill me. However, I could see why that plus 3D could make for a freaky experience. So the “Yellow Submarine” makes sense when you consider the possibilities. But, if he had forgone “Mars Needs Moms” and done something original, especially now that it is a post-Avatar time, he could have made something super freaky and succeeded at pushing things forward.

    But, that is idle speculation on my part.

  • Jeffers

    Zemeckis and Charlie Sheen should team up and make a Charlie Sheen movie. I think his craziness would compliment his style of film-making.

  • AaronSch

    Another reason to believe in the existence of a higher being.

  • I’m still pissed the Motion Capture Institute of Arts and Sciences banned Linklater’s rotoscoped movies (Waking Life, Scanner Darkly) from Oscar consideration, but still considers mocap legitimate animation.

  • BT

    I know I will be burned at the stake for this, but Zemeckis and his motion capture get a bad wrap. Yes, I agree, Polar Express and to a lesser extent Beowulf had some very unintentionally creepy human characters in them. And yes, they use a technique that is not frame-by-frame animation, which is offensive to anyone who cannot accept more than one form of visual communication. But they’re also unique, atmospheric movies full of great visual storytelling and I’d much rather see Zemeckis continue to explore this new territory than do middle of the road live action crap like What Lies Beneath.

    I think the flaws and idiosyncrasies of Zemeckis’s developing style are worth it for the liberation he obviously felt as a director once he started using virtual cameras and 3-D. I’m a 3-D buff going back before this current resurgence and his trio of movies are easily among the best uses of 3-D I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure how many of you have actually seen the movies, but if you have I would think you’d have to at least admit to being impressed by the shot in Polar Express that follows the ticket on its journey out the window and through the snow, or the opening tracking shot over the village in A Christmas Carol, or especially Beowulf’s pullout from the noisy hall all the way up into the mountains to Grendel’s ear as he screams in pain.

    I enjoyed Polar Express for its atmosphere and strangeness, but Beowulf is legitimately good. It has a really smart and multi-layered script by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary that combines knowledge of mythology and theology with pulpy adventure (Beowulf leaping out of a giant monster’s eye yelling his own name!) With the character of Grendel it makes good use of the motion capture technology, getting a bizarre and weirdly touching performance that only Crispin Glover could do.

    Beowulf’s strengths easily overcome the occasional weird looking humans, and by the time of A Christmas Carol Zemeckis had conquered those problems. I saw it twice on the big screen and never spotted your dreaded uncanny valley. My wife, who to this day makes fun of me for liking Polar Express, thought A Christmas Carol was great.

    So I’d love to see Zemeckis continue with his experiments, and since he’s a way bigger Beatles fan than most of us I hope he gets to do it. I guarantee he’d come up with something more unique than the next six or seven “domesticated CGI talking animal has to survive in the wild” movies. He’ll just have to avoid some angry villagers to do it.

  • Final Fantasy was a movie flop… what where they thinking when “okay’ed” the same tecnique for a new film? (Polar Express et all)