Bits & Pieces: Oriental DreamWorks, Craig McCracken, Alan Menken and the Return of Icebox

Oriental DreamWorks

* Oriental DreamWorks, the joint venture between DreamWorks and a consortium of Chinese investors, has announced that its first feature will be released in 2016. Katzenberg is in Shanghai this week reviewing at least seven different film proposals vying to be the studio’s first feature. The studio plans to “closely link elements of Chinese history, culture and literature in its various productions.” More details in this news article.

* Craig McCracken (The Powerpuff Girls, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends) is comign back to TV with a new TV series called Wander Over Yonder for the Disney Channel. The Disney TV Animation-produced show, scheduled for the 2012-13 season, is about:

Wander is an overly-optimistic intergalactic traveler who, along with his loyal but bullish steed, Sylvia, goes from planet to planet helping people to live free and have fun, all against the evil reign of Lord Hater and his army of Watchdogs.

* Composer Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin) talked animation in the Wall Street Journal:

What do you think of the shift in animated film earnestness to irony?
Menken: Ironic is OK. You can have a Sebastian [the crab in The Little Mermaid], as you can have a Jiminy Cricket. They can be adult and smart. However, they can’t be culturally or morally subversive, in that Disney sensibility. Rango and things like that are edgier. In general, the animated medium lends itself to a sweetness.

Do you personally connect to that?
Menken: I first appreciated that medium back in the 1980s when the AIDS crisis had hit full force and everybody–my gay collaborators and friends–was dying. I was so scared for my daughter, Anna, and the only thing that could soothe me was those Disney animated films that were coming out on VHS. It was so safe.

* How did I miss the news that Glenn Beck’s online network GBTV is currently developing an animated comedy series with Icebox. Yes, that Icebox. A lot of readers may be too young to remember Icebox.com, but they were among the more notorious animation dot-com busts in the late-1990s and a punchline for jokes about what happens when sitcom writers try to make funny cartoons.


  • Outsourcing

    If anybody believes that Katzenburg’s venture in Shanghai is *solely* to produce films for the Chinese market…..I’ve got a couple bridges I’d like to sell you.

    They already have an outsource studio in India. Now, to cut costs even further, they’re making another cut-rate outsource studio in Shanghai.

    Anyone who tells you otherwise is naive…..or Dreamworks Management.

    • Joe

      Didn’t DW originally state the reason for the Indian studio was to solely produce holiday specials and consumer products? But then didn’t the Indian Studio produce some 40% of PIB? I also read the reason DW is building overseas is only because there is a lack of talent in the US. But they spend millions training people overseas. Why didn’t they spend that money training new talent in the US? Or in France or England? Is DW really saying only India and China have talent enough to make up for the lack of talent in the US? Or is DW is saving face? They are after all a Fortune 500 best company to work for. Sounds to me like DW begins new ventures with an honorable intention/front and then slowly they reveal their true plan. DW is a business plain and simple. They will need to minimize expenses and maximize profits. Train cheap labor abroad, slowly get rid of expensive employees, make money. Repeat.

      • fish

        Joe and Outsourcing … your posts are pretty ignorant, especially yours Joe.
        This notion that because DWA is a business, thus making them a monster in the animation industry, who just outsources willy nilly to save a buck, is totally absurd. Yes, that statement is a generalization, but really, when you boil down what you two are saying … are you saying anything different than that? nope.
        And Joe, you “read” somewhere that DWA is going abroad because there isn’t enough talent here in the US? That’s even more absurd. I’d LOVE to read that article, please provide a source before spewing anti-DWA rhetoric all over us.
        I’m not sure if you knew this, but EVERY single animation company that operates as a business is doing everything it can to “minimize expenses and maximize profits”,and in most cases that involves some degree of outsourcing. Disney has been outsourcing for years … hell, even Pixar is outsourcing to Canada. Virtually every vfx studio and/or boutique in California has a sister studio in Canada or India or Malaysia or Singapore … or Florida.
        And finally, do some darn research before sounding off about that China joint venture. Puh-lease. It is a separate company. It is not an arm of Dreamworks Animation here in America, like the studio in India is. It is wholly separate, functioning as a source for entertainment content to the Chinese market (a rather LARGE market).
        Anyways, enough of this. I need some pie.

      • Outsourcing

        Fish… YOU’RE Naive if you think the Chinese studio is *anything* other than laying the groundwork for an Outsource studio to take jobs away from US Animators.
        The difference between Dreamworks and other studios in regards to Outsourcing is, the other studios Dont Lie about it when they set up these satellite studios.
        Dreamworks wraps in in a pretty little box with a bow, and tells all their stateside employees that “nothing to worry about… Just shorts and commercials here….you’ll have your jobs” And then WOOPSIE….They end up doing features.

        And its pretty obvious you work for Dreamworks Management… you’ve got their nonsensical double-speak written all over.

      • Tak

        @Outsourcing
        Woah, hey now! Broad & baseless personal accusations are no fun.
        You know who I find to be wrong an awful lot? Everyone! But that’s just a simple fact of life. Yes it’s often said that the first rule of big business is to be a bastard, cuz its dog eat dog so get ahead, max profits & all that crap. But I really don’t think all the fine folk at Redwood City or Glendale California will fall off the animation map any time soon. At least not through any man made causes. Use that age old philosophical proverb of “well… we’ll wait see.”

      • Outsourcing

        Nobody said Glendale and Redwood City would be falling off the map… They’ll just be taking up considerably less space.
        Actually…..thats not true… They’ll still take up just as much space…..probably more… It just won’t be artists. It will be all the middle management and oxymoronic titled people like, “creative producer” and such.
        Need a lot of US bureaucrats to run an animation Sweat Shop overseas.

      • fish

        Mmmm, this pie sure is yummy.

        I’m sure it doesn’t taste like Outsourcing’s “sour grapes pie”.

      • Joe

        “The India operation “gives us a chance to expand our production environment,” Page also said it’s very difficult for them to expand in California for a variety of reasons, and most importantly, since the talent pool there is “heavily fished” by competitors like Disney, Pixar, and Sony. “We have supervisors trained at DreamWorks, who will exclusively work on our projects in India,” said Page. The team will be equivalent to the teams in California and will not be an outsource model.”

        DW Exec Shelly Page
        Aug 12 2008 The Financial Express.

      • fish

        Joe, you said earlier “I also read the reason DW is building overseas is only because there is a lack of talent in the US.”
        This report you are quoting actually says nothing about a “lack of talent in the US”. It only says that the available talent is of such quality that the people are pursued by multiple companies.
        I still maintain that the volume of available talent here in California, or the US even, is of a sufficient quantity – my point in that regard. But thank you for the quote, I appreciate you providing it.

      • Outsourcing.

        Shelly Page is a Lunatic. Thats Classic Dreamworks nonsensical doublespeak… “The team will be equivalent to the teams in California, and will not be an Outsource Model”
        Do you really believe the words that are falling out of your mouth? THE WORK IS BEING DONE IN INDIA. How can that NOT be an Outsource Scenario???? Just because DW owns the mud hut thats its being done in?
        You’ve taken jobs away from perfectly Capable animators in California, of which there are aplenty.

        And that’s BS that their Talent pool is “Heavily Fished”… Your artists are tied up in Lengthy Contracts. Disney, Pixar and Sony won’t go NEAR anyone thats under Contract and you know that. That’s Dreamworks business model to “Tie up artists under contract for as LITTLE money as they can for as LONG as they can”

        The pill would be a little easier to swallow if Dreamworks Management would stop peddling these fantasies to their employees and just be honest with them. “We’re sending the work overseas because its cheaper…..and we honestly dont care that the quality is sub-par, and you have to fix it when it comes back to the US”

        Pretty disgusting.
        But on the upside… Maybe Shelly Page can get a job in the Story Department… Because thats quite a pitch she has there.

  • Jody Morgan

    I’m very happy to see a new series from Craig McCracken, and Wander Over Yonder looks to be really good, from what little I’ve seen and read.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com Frank Panucci

    Wasn’t FATHER OF THE PRIDE animated totally in Outsourcia, years ago?

    • Matthew Koh

      Where in the world is Outsourcia?

      • Sarah J

        It’s a landlocked country boarded by Equestria, the Earth Kingdom, and the Land of Ooo.

  • Talita Fukumoto

    I can’t stand anymore Disney animated series that doesn’t look as Disney animated series. To hell with this ridiculous space plot.

    • http://ryanrosendal.blogspot.com Ryan

      What is a Disney Animated Series supposed to look like?

      • Sarah J

        They’re supposed to look “not Flash”.

      • wever

        Kick Buttowski, Fish Hooks, The Buzz on Maggie, etc…

  • Crystal

    YES! So excited for Wander Over Yonder! And Tom Kenny and Keith Ferguson are in the voice cast! I haven’t been this excited for an American TV cartoon in a while! Hope I like it as much as Foster’s!

    Also kind of hoping it’s not Flash, even though Foster’s was. Guess what Foster’s was new, I didn’t feel like there was too much of it. :P

    Will we have to wait a full year for it? Darn . . .

  • Sarah J

    Oriental Dreamworks? I’m curious to see how that turns out. I really do like seeing other cultures portrayed in animation.

    And I’m very glad to see another series by Craig McCracken. Love that guy, he worked on my favorite shows as a kid. Maybe it will make me stop hating Disney Channel, too.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      The only way I can stop loathing Disney Channel is if they return back some of the things that made me watch it before it became a “basic” cable channel.

  • Dario

    I find hilarious when we’re told that companies, business men are the ones working to create jobs. They really do…. but in China/India and so other places. Just disgusting.

    So much talent whithin America just being wasted.

  • Chris

    Lack of talent in the U.S.?! Don’t tell that to the thousands of kids wasting tens of thousands of dollars on art schools in the U.S. that these companies supposedly endorse!

    • Idle Pencils

      Not to mention what a waste it is that so many of the 2D guys from Sheridan, Calarts & elsewhere gotta retrain at their own expense at Animation Mentor, I-Animate, AnimSchool, The Animation Collaborative, Vancouver Animation Online School etc… in 3D-CG-Animation just for the prospect of getting a decent animation gig these days. Christ! There are talented kids who worked on Disney’s Princess & The Frog who are currently sitting at home paying tens-of-thousands of dollars just to take these online classes taught by the very people who will basically be their senior peers or directing animators when they eventually DO get back into one of the big studios as a 3D animator. I don’t begrudge the keen entrepreneurial success of these schools, or their recent proliferation, but the general situation from a student’s point of view really makes you re-think the industry.

      Maybe you would be better off buying a plane ticket & taking your show-reel to China.

  • Jackson

    Problem is that many of the traditional animators at major studios were naysayers when it came to CG. Their precious “hand drawn animation” was more important to them than a strong film, performance, and pushing the medium forward. I love all forms of animation, but not taking full advantage of the medium is just lazy. Imagine how much further CG (for one) would be if some of the talented Disney animators of the late ’80′s had really pushed the limits of the technology? And I mean AT Disney, not just at Pixar and then Dreamworks.

    • Derp

      So it is somehow a character flaw- and completely inconceivable to you- that disciples of a specific, beloved artform would not conform to bigger and shinier? To not bow to your new CG overlords is a betrayal to animation? Hand-drawn animation can’t produce a strong film, performance, or ever push the medium forward?

      “Just think how much further CG would be…” As if the technical advancement of zeros and ones is a noble artistic goal in itself– nay, the ONLY worthwhile goal.

      Just think how much further photography would be if NC Wyeth had dumped those stinky old paints.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    It’s been so long, I thought Icebox never existed! I may have to go back and watch those classics like “Poker Night” and “Navy Bear” again!

  • Taco Wiz

    Okay, I’ll bite. Why is Dreamworks still relevant?

    Anyone who is still following the company should know that it’s as good as dead.

    The “franchise strategy” that the company has been employing hasn’t been working very well. Even young children, seemingly the most predictable of all demographics, can get sick of seeing the same characters everywhere. Shrek has five feature films, two TV specials, seven shorts, and countless other spin-offs. While there will be no more features with Shrek as the protagonist, the Shrek franchise and universe will continue to expand indefinitely.

    Stock in the company is cheaper than ever now. Pretty soon the universally dreaded Christmas presents will include not only socks and dollar store trinkets, but also shares in Dreamworks Animation. Your grandma has already purchased two shares for each of her grandchildren.

    Katzenburg’s plan appears to be to “stay the course”. The Penguins of Madagascar is being considered for a feature film adaption, and the Monsters vs. Aliens series that was canceled after the movie flopped has just been put back into production, presumably because the company is running out of ways to make money.

    Dreamworks is going to be gone soon. Let’s just ignore it.

    Illumination, on the other hand…