Saturday, January 4, 2014

Reminiscing: Animation News in 2004

I've been a huge animation fan since I was roughly seven or eight years old. My love for the medium flourished around the year 2000, as I began watching the Disney films I hadn't had in rotation at the time. Correction, I liked/loved Disney in some form or another before 2000. I saw Hercules, MulanTarzan and Dinosaur in theaters (in addition to Pixar's A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2), I had numerous Disney somethings (films, TV show episode compilations, etc.) on videocassette, I watched a lot of the Disney Afternoon shows when they were being rerun on Toon Disney. That's where I got my DuckTales-Chip N' Dale Rescue Rangers-Goof Troop-etc. fix.

My appreciation for animation was born out of a viewing of my VHS of The Jungle Book, which was around the time I was binging on The Lion King and (unfortunately) its direct-to-video sequel. I had the 1997 VHS of the film, which was in the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection line. At the end of the VHS was a Behind the Scenes special on the film, something I didn't bother with when I was younger because when the movie was over, the movie was over. I got the tape back when it came out in 1997 when I was five (or more appropriately, someone got it for my birthday), and five year old me wasn't interested in what was after. That was until we all sat down and watched it after the film ended one fall (or winter) night in 2000.

Since I drew so much as a kid, I watched that Behind the Scenes special with great interest and watched it again and again. Then I discovered the ones on the Bambi and Sleeping Beauty VHS tapes, the Bambi one inspiring me the most. Since I live in a rural area, I loved drawing forests and I continue to draw them to this day. Bambi's art direction alone was something I admired, I guess I was one of the few eight-year-olds who could marvel at the beauty of a film like that, rather than sit there being bored due to the lack of dialogue or toilet humor. From there, I understood Disney animation and knew it wasn't a kids' thing. It was an art form.

Let's now flash-forward to 2004, because I can save all the nostalgia and memory lane stuff for swamps of other posts.

By mid 2004-ish, I wasn't always on the computer so I didn't really look into sites that revealed upcoming film slates and whatnot. I simply went to IMDb once in a while and dug up what I could find. I remember as far back as early 2003, I clicked on Pixar on IMDb and saw a film titled The Incredibles set for a 2004 release… I kept the title in my mind until I saw Finding Nemo and when the hilarious belt teaser trailer fired up, it was like an "Oh yeah" moment. I was finally seeing what this "Incredibles" movie looked like.

Funny thing is, back then, I was a bit skeptical of the film. After Pixar gave us stories about toys coming to life, bugs, monsters in their own world, and fish, I thought, "Superheroes? Humans?" I wasn't sure how Pixar would pull off an all-humans story, especially since human animation in CGI was still evolving when Nemo was out. Finding Nemo, to me, is like the missing link between the early CGI humans and the current ones. The Incredibles was the one that set the bar so high, and I did like how Mr. Incredible himself looked in the trailer, as I did notice at the time that he moved better than the other Pixar humans did.

But I was a bit "eh" on it, which I do hate to say because it ended up becoming one of my favorite films of all time and the Pixar film that happened to blow me away the most. The second trailer (which I saw for the first time in July 2004, before a film called Two Brothers - why my folks and I decided on that one for that particular night at the movies, I don't know) was what got me hooked, which showcased action and the film's true scope. Of course, it's not fair to judge from a teaser, but up until I saw the trailer, I assumed The Incredibles would be set in a big city. When I saw jungles and the various enemy vehicles, I was like "Wow!" Now it looked interesting, this was a must-see!

I saw it five times in theaters, I loved, loved, loved it. I still do. It's just such a fantastic film. But I'm not here right now to gush over how awesomely great The Incredibles is, I'm here to recall what my reactions to the animation world were like at the time.

2004, by most accounts, was a pretty dark year for American feature animation.

Everyone wanted to ride the CGI wave, they wanted to strike the iron while it was hot. CGI was going through something of a fad during this time, I mean, no way would something like Shark Tale or Chicken Little go over well today. Why's that? Shark Tale, being a computer animated film from DreamWorks, was hit material in 2004. It had everything audiences wanted: Fish (since they loved the underwater odyssey of Finding Nemo), pop culture references, attitude, forced edge and an all-star cast.

Anyways, hand-drawn was shown the door. Disney Feature Animation's final hand-drawn film was the terribly lame Home On The Range, computer animated films conquered the box office (Nemo had beaten The Lion King's all-time record the previous, Shrek 2 destroyed Nemo's record afterwards) left and right. The only other wide release hand-drawn film in 2004 was The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, which only did okay at best. Shrek 2, Shark Tale, The Incredibles and The Polar Express racked up all the big bucks.

That being said, not all was doom-and-gloom. Maybe a few upcoming computer animated features could've been good! I looked into them right away, trying to get info and whatnot.

Here's a good idea of what was on the horizon back in late 2004/early 2005…

Of course, I'm going to try to remember the best I can since dates always changed and projects were canceled, left to die, etc. etc.

Also, these were the projects I knew of at the time. Forgive me if any are missing…


Robots - Of course, this ended up happening, being Blue Sky's second feature. I don't recall reading about their future projects back then, though I was aware of Ice Age: The Meltdown by 2005. As for this film, I didn't really follow it though I did like the concept. I have never seen it, believe it or not.

Madagascar - The first trailer for this film was attached to Shark Tale, which opened in October 2004. I remember when the first scene came up (the zoo gang getting ready to sing "Happy Birthday" to Marty the zebra), I was like, "Father of the Pride?" That was a show that DreamWorks made for NBC at the time, a show that touted itself as an "adult comedy". Keep in mind that DreamWorks was going through their post-Shrek "edgy" phase, thinking their films were more adult than Pixar's or whatever. Some of my peers thought so too.

Anyways, I remember being particularly excited for this one. At the time, I liked Shrek 2 and Shark Tale (ironically, I hated it in theaters but enjoyed it on DVD) back then. I was 11-going-on-12, of course I enjoyed them. Pop culture references and innuendos? Edgy. BUT I still preferred the Pixar films! I always considered Finding Nemo and The Incredibles to be the better films. But why was I excited? It was about wild animals, it had jungle settings among other things. The DVD of Shrek 2 also had an extended first look, which I watched quite a lot.

Valiant - The less said about this one, the better. However, I thought upon seeing some images that it could be okay given the World War II setting. Wasn't it the UK's first computer animated film? Back then, it was set for a March release but ended up hitting the states in autumn. I saw it on DVD, was okay with it then. I'd probably not care for it now, though. Who knows, maybe the Nostalgia Critic will rip it a new one.

Anyways, Valiant was made by a studio in the UK called Vanguard Animation. When they were seemingly about to lose Pixar, Disney joined forces with Vanguard to produce small-scale computer animated films for them. Valiant was the first and only picture in this deal, it went over badly in all markets and Vanguard ended up making a few features afterwards that bombed: Happily N'ever After and Space Chimps.

Wallace and Gromit: The Cure of the Were-Rabbit - Around early 2005, I knew it was coming and then I saw the trailer before Madagascar in theaters. A lot of viewings of Chicken Run took place at this time, too. Saw the film twice in theaters as well, now if only DreamWorks could give it a Blu-ray release. That would be lovely…


Over the Hedge - Until its trailer debuted in fall 2005, I simply knew about the project, knew it was a DreamWorks film and knew it was slated for 2006. I actually remember hearing about the story running into problems, and I blog I came across recently seemed to confirm this. Either way, we still got the film in May 2006. Confession, I have never seen it.

Cars - When the teaser was first released, it had the November 2005 release date listed underneath the chrome Cars logo. I remember really liking what I saw in that teaser, since I'm an auto nut and I loved how they designed the characters. Actually, the trailer's introduction showed a bee flying around. I remember the night I saw the trailer and I was thinking, "Okay, this is Cars, right? Right?" Then boom, Mater's windshield hits the bees and there it was. Cars.

From what I gather, this trailer horrified a lot of people back in 2004. It looked like it would be it, the first Pixar failure. The first dud. I remember my dad saying that it looked kiddie despite being Pixar, and nearly two years later of course, we saw it and he liked it. To this day, we joke about Luigi's final line in the film. "Punch me the face!"

Open Season - Sony Animation's first, and I saw the first image around this time. It was Boog and Elliott in a hollowed tree, and a "Boys in the Wood" slogan underneath. Its first trailer wouldn't pop up until June 2005.

A Day with Wilbur Robinson - Of course, this became Meet The Robinsons. During this time, the film was slated for a fall 2006 release. I didn't have much interest upon reading what it was about, as some of the other Disney Feature Animation projects in the works hooked me instead. We'll get to those!

2007, Undetermined
and Beyond…

Shrek 3 - This was originally a 2006 release. In fact, I saw the Father of the Pride episode where Donkey appears and he actually says in the episode, "Tell the kids Shrek 3 is coming out in 2006!" That was the first time I had heard of the threequel.

American Dog - Now this was the Disney Feature Animation project I was hyped up about. Dog protagonist and some super-cool concept artwork. At the time we had the pieces of art showing the Henry character on his show, him seeing the cat and hamster for the time, and him in a car just escaping an oncoming train. I was already hooked.

I'd like to see the reels of Chris Sanders' would-be film. I love Bolt and I understand why American Dog had to be canceled, but I would really love to see what the film was going to be like, story wise.

Ratatouille - The story had me scratching me head. A rat living with a chef in Paris? That didn't necessarily get me going, but I was excited nonetheless because it was Pixar. At the time, Pixar would put out these vague synopses that really didn't say much about what happened in the actual films. Was Ratatouille about a rat "living" in a Parisian restaurant with an eccentric chef? Nope. The rat lives in Paris, but not in the restaurant and that eccentric chef is dead. Remy imagines him telling him things and whatnot. "I am a figment of your imagination!"

I also remember, upon reading the title, pronouncing it as "rat-tat-oy-all".

Cat Tale - Apparently Sean Astin was supposed to voice in this one. Imagi, the studio who did films like TMNT and Astro Boy, was supposed to make this. The Wikipedia page says it's still in the works, but when was that last written? A lot of their projects fell through.

Kung Fu Panda - I don't remember any images being around at the time, but the name alone had me intrigued. An image popped up later on in 2005.

Kung Fu Gecko - Okay, let's go into weird territory here. Shortly after I had read about Kung Fu Panda, I had come across this little oddity.

Apparently a Korean studio called EggStory wanted to jump into feature film production with this tale that coincidentally happened to have a martial arts theme, funny talking animals and a "Kung Fu something" title. I bet it was cancelled because of this, because I've seen no evidence of it ever being completed or being released in theaters. This trailer does show that a good chunk of it was probably finished and realized, too. Plus, it didn't help that there is a fighting mantis in this thing. For its time, the animation isn't too horrible. Oh, and this trailer, released in early 2005, had the 2008 release date in it and everything. At the time, Kung Fu Panda was set for a 2008 release.

Weird, weird and weirder…

Toy Story 3 - Oh yes, the dreaded Circle 7 version of Toy Story 3 where Buzz Lightyear was recalled to Taiwan along with several other dolls and other toys made by the same company. I remember first hearing about it during my first trip to Walt Disney World. I had no idea what to think at first, and until late 2005-ish, I still didn't really know what to think.

Fraidy Cat - I liked this one. Ron Clements and John Musker's next project for Disney Animation, and I hope that after Moana comes out in 2018, they revive this one and make that their next feature. The idea was awesome: A Hitchcockian thriller about a cat who had already lost three of his lives. Too bad it was in development during David Stainton's tenure as President of Disney Animation.

Rapunzel Unbraided - With such a title, I could only think of Shrek or something Shrek-like. I first thought of Rapunzel's appearance in Shrek 2, if I can recall correctly, her hair is all over a certain section of Far Far Away.

Surf's Up - Knew little about it at the time, not until late 2005-ish would I find out the plot. Penguins and surfing, ya know? At one point, this film was apparently supposed to open first with Open Season following. You know what? That should've happened, because Surf's Up was a good, weird, almost against-the-norm animated gem that didn't do well because another penguin animated film beat them to the punch, among other things. Marketing didn't sell it, and it was probably too different for audiences or whatever. See it.

Boy how times changed things…

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