Sunday, July 1, 2018

Woody Woodpecker: The Movie

I don't think Cartoon Network ever showed reruns of Woody Woodpecker cartoons...if they did, they came and went. Universal Pictures owns the character, but I don't think they even air his cartoons on their children's programming cable channel, Universal Kids.

So...is the out-of-nowhere emergence of a live-action/CG Woody Woodpecker movie akin to when DreamWorks made the Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie? If so, Woody's lucky he's not owned by Sony, who didn't greenlight a Popeye directed by the sole individual responsible for making the Hotel Transylvania movies look good..because they're just not that into Popeye.

But that's not so...Woody Woodpecker cartoons are still very popular in Brazil, where it's still shown daily, so this movie is explicitly aimed at that fanbase. It's the same logic that resulted in those two (!) animated Top Cat feature-length cartoons that premiered in Mexico and an upcoming film adaptation of the obscure DePatie-Freling cartoon series, Here Comes The Grump. If there's a surefire guarantee of a profit to be made, they will make a film. I'm hoping some other country out there is also into Crazylegs Crane or The Mumbly Show. Jabberjaw?

So it's because Brazil was the original target audience for this film that native Brazilian actress Thaila Ayala (who kinda reminds me of Law & Order actress Annie Parisse) gets top-billing in her English-language acting debut as co-lead alongside Psych co-star Timothy Omundson (barely recognizable with the grubby-looking beard). Ayala plays the dimepiece girlfriend/fiance to Omundson's yuppie and bails on him after enduring Woody Woodpecker's pranks one too many times. This allows Omundson's character the opportunity to reconcile with his estranged pre-teen son and cultivate a flirtation with the cute forest ranger...wait, I haven't explained the plot yet..

Have you seen Peter Rabbit? How about Yogi Bear? Kangaroo Jack? The Smurfs? The Smurfs 2? Garfield? Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties? Alvin and The Chipmunks? Alvin and The Chipmunks 2, 3, 4?

The plot of Woody Woodpecker isn't particularly innovative. The yuppies hope to flip lakefront property by building a luxury cabin by the lake (oddly enough, thry make a curious decision to aint the outside of the cabin entirely in blue...if this were a "Pink Panther" CG movie, the plot would be about the panther painting the cabin pink...do NOT be surprised if the rumored Pink Panther CG film has that plot), only to blow their budget by recouping from loses made by Woody - who didn't want them disturbing his habitat - but manage to complete the project after achieving a truce after the bird gets along with Omundson's son. By then, Ayala's character has split around the 45-minute mark (the "screenwriter" neglected to have her say, "Darling, I love you, but give me Park Avenue", but I'm not sure if they air reruns of Green Acres in Brazil) and the rest of the film is devoted to the reunited father-and-son rescuing Woody from goofy poachers and helping the son jam in a rock band with local kids.

It's predictable, familiar, not particularly cinematic, unambitious in scope, clumsy yet competently well-done. If most of the live-action/CG hybrid movies I mentioned earlier felt like stuff that you would think would have the decency to premiere on television like those 3 weird, but harmless  Fairly Oddparents live-action TV movies Nickelodeon aired a few years ago, well, this debuted straight-to-deal everywhere else. Popularity of Thaila Ayala in Brazil notwithstanding, I couldn't help wondering if this cast was really first choice. Were Brendan Fraser and Carmen Electra really unavailable? Was Fraser really reluctant after appearing in similar fare for over two decades? Or really too-expensive?

How was the eponymous title character? Woody was just fine. Perhaps the fact that this wasn't particularly high-profile prevented any superfluous superficial design tinkering that would've led to ghastly results. Eric Bauza does a great job recreating the voice. I thought the scale for the interiors of Woody's treehouse home looked too small for him to actually dwell in, but it's nothing terrible. The film's greatest accomplishment is that it fits right in with the other films in this recent genre of live-action/CG hybrids and gets away with doing so on a cheaper budget. As a bonus, if you sit through the end credits, a restored print of a vintage Woody Woodpecker cartoon Niagara Fools plays (albeit in 3:2 format ratio instead of full-screen - odd, since the live-action film was in full-screen). The plot ofthe cartoon involves a goofy park ranger's attempts to prevent Woody from recklessly jumping over Niagara falls in a barrel. I remember this was broadcast as a heavily-edited instrumental music video during the late-80s and early 90's reruns and the complete cartoon had been rarely seen thereafter...possibly because Woody's efforts could be misunderstood as attempted suicide...or the park ranger repeatedly surviving the falls in the barrel might confuse misguided children into jumping off waterfalls or cliffs..whatever. it's nice to see it again. If the Woody Woodpecker cartoons aren't as acclaimed as the Looney Tunes or Disney cartoons or even Hanna-Barbera cartoons, they usually had a faster pace that kept them from wearing out their welcome..that's why his balloon at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade endured as long as it did. Certainly longer than Popeye's.

"Bugs (Bunny) must always be provoked into action...if he isn't provoked, he runs the risk of becoming an unmotivated bully, like Heckle and Jeckle, or Woody Woodpecker at his worst." - Chuck Jones

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Time To Grow Up, Toys R Us "kids"..

You could say the writing was on the wall when their magnificent Times Square location was closed 3 years ago, but it's now officially the end of the Toys R Us retail chain, following the slowest liquidation sale I ever did see. It really did feel like the last two months they were offering everything at only 10% discount.

Did I get to buy anything good?

Well, it's not like that ferris wheel was ever available to own..

I brought the "Toys R Us Exclusive!" Funkopop Fraggle Rock figure of Sprocket the dog, because it just looks fantastic (at 20% off) and the DVD of Woody Woodpecker: The Movie (at 10% off)..that was in the early days..I had a hunch that by the time they got to 50%, I would be staring at empty shelves. They had an iron grip on the Lego merchandise - I wouldn't be surprised if they just boxed those up and shipped them to some outlet mall chain or Family Dollar or whatever. I was curious about buying the updated version of Clue that replaced Miss White with Dr. Orchid, but I wasn't committed to keeping track of anything. Prior to this liquidation, I had gotten into those Funko "Mystery Minis" mini-figures of characters from The Disney Afternoon and wound up with three Negaduck figurines.

Toys R Us was never particularly good at sales...it was only by comparison to the mom-and-pop toy stores, the Kmarts, the Targets, the comic shops...then it looked like they offered better deals by a narrow margin. Plus, unlike the comic shops and mom-and-pops, you could get your money back or make exchanges without difficulty. I don't think the mom-and-pop shops will re-emerge as the main place to shop for toys and games, but there's something about Toys R Us' pricing  strategies that eventually kept them from meeting their quota in the wake of increasing options to shop online or go to other stores. As a kid, I remember Kay Bee Toys and Lionel's Kiddie City toy stores were more popular because they had better prices on popular toys and video games, whereas Toys R Us usually only had lower prices on racecar test tracks and plastic toy dinette sets. They did have good prices on Hot Wheels and Matchbox toy cars; tourists would buy them a lot, as they were actually more expensive in countries outside the U.S.

Because the name of the store is such a recognizable brand across the globe, I wouldn't be surprised if the brand was acquired and the stores were revived, albeit in a smaller scale, possibly as a chain of upscale boutique toy shops..yeah, that's certainly not the same, plus it depends on whether or not the marketplace for upscale plastic toys, but I'm picturing something that can survive between the gentrified boutique and seedy-looking videogame stores.

Should it only be about selling toys? With Kids R Us and Babies R Us it looked like they were testing the waters before just sticking with the Babies department before the 90's ended, but I suppose the word "Toys" in the name kept them from thinking outside the box and feeling like they were overreaching if they were to add a "Home Furnishings"/"Intimate Apparel"/"Food" department...then it would really look like a Kmart.

And bring back Geoffrey the giraffe...they'd been kinda non-committal by keeping giraffes in their marketing material for the last decade or so, but it always seemed like Geoffrey had been retired, yet he was prominent during the chain's heyday...food for thought.

So...have I watched the Woody Woodpecker movie?

To be continued...

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Fishing For Batgirl Movie Hype...

"Because the TheBatgirlTheMovieHypedotcom knows that movies in development are in development even when we know nothing about whether anyone involved in working on development of The Batgirl film is actually working, we're experimenting with discussion posts. For dealing with pure speculation, our head writer will publish some loosely-connected thoughts on the subject, for which he'll leave open the already-open comment section for readers to discuss.."

1. I'm almost done reading Batgirl: The Bronze Age Omnibus. This is a large book reprinting a batch of Batgirl stories in full color with nice paper. I believe 6 of the comic book creators who contributed material reprinted in this book are still alive, so collecting autographs is not out-of-the-question, plus if you count the foreword by Gail Simone, that bumps it to 7...the best stories in the book are the batch by Frank Robbins & Don Heck, particularly near the end, when Commissioner Gordon co-stars with Barbara Gordon, building up to the reveal that he knew all along that she was Batgirl and didn't stand in her way. It makes sense for the Commish to be part of Batgirl's main supporting cast; ideally, I could see him playing the role of confidante that Alfred Pennyworth plays to Batman, but they never realize that potential...even now, after a storyline in which Commissioner Gordon was Batman..it is amazing how the stories aren't too different from modern Batgirl tales at the core. Of the stories in this volume, Batgirl encounters 1 A-list villain  (Catwoman), 3 D-list villains  (Killer Moth, the Cavalier, the Joker's Daughter), 2 wannabes/neverweres (Mr. Scratch, the Maze syndicate) and a bunch of run-of-the-mill grifters snd gangsters. The best writing comes from the Don Heck-illustrated half of the Frank Robbins run, though I did enjoy Gil Kane's art for that story inspired by Pop Art icon Andy Warhol getting shot at his infamous "factory" studio. I recommend this book..not sure if I'd pick up a Volume 2, since it's hinted that the stories and art are handed down to the B-list/C-list creators as Batgirl's adventures tumble around through Batman Family and Detective Comics..maybe if the shop has a "display copy" to peak through first.

2. I had found two interviews online with Christina Hodson, the screenwriter of The Batgirl and Harley Quinn's Birds of Prey movies. The first is really a sound bite on YouTube, the other is a podcast interview from last month in which she only offers a one-sentence answer when inquired about whether she's writing The Batgirl, to which she answered that, yes, she is. And that was all she said about it. The interview revealed that she's not on any social media, which is frustrating, because I was curious to see if I could learn insights about her as a working writer - what kind of movies she enjoys, does she read anything, does she know who Batgirl is..little stuff. The podcast interview revealed that she liked writing gothic children's stories in the style of Edward Gorey and thought references to the latest technology in movie scripts tend to date badly...in that regard, I think her approach to Barbara Gordon's other guise, Oracle, might be interesting for what she chooses to focus on/avoid...granted, I always thought Oracle's tech skills sounded like she used a lot of technobabble to hide from Batman & Black Canary that all she really did was use Google.

And I watched Unforgettable, one of the two movies she wrote that's available to rent...I don't know when exactly did Katherine Heigl begin to resemble Wendi McLendon-Covey, but if the producers of The Goldbergs have yet to cast an actress to play Beverly Goldberg's sister, they should contact Katherine's agent.

3. In my imagination, the perfect casting choices for Barbara Gordon are between Lily Collins and Hailee Steinfeld. I'm not sure if Collins is interested, but a search online revealed fans have her on their lists. She's my top pick for the role. Steinfeld has gone on record as saying that she'd like to play Batgirl, so it's a matter of a simple screen test to see who wins it. If neither of them want the part - hypothetical situation, really, since this could be a breakthrough gig for either - then you have to dip back into the pool of Alexandra Daddario, Felicity Jones and Lindsay Morgan and other alleged possibles..or they could just cast Emma Watson, instead. That's a choice that just occurred to me. It could happen.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Batgirl Movie Returns

A little over a month after learning that a Batgirl movie "..won't be a high priority..," it was revealed that screenwriter Christina Hodson was hired to write a script for a film, presumably titled The Batgirl...I think that's the first time Batgirl has ever been referred to with "The" preceding her name, but it puts her on equal footing with Batman, perhaps.

What this means is that Warner Brothers has observed that the initial reaction to the possibility of a Batgirl movie in production was positive enough to give it another try...even when the initial go-ahead was part of a sweetheart deal to court Joss Whedon. When Justice League did lukewarm box office, Whedon suddenly backed away from Batgirl, claiming he didn't have a story to tell...which I recall claiming was b.s...I was expecting his take on Barbara Gordon to fall along the lines of his other work, so it probably wouldn't have looked innovative...just competently done. As with Wonder Woman, the comic books are really weak - I remember writing that I liked the Batgirl comics with Stephanie Brown, but more for the character than the plotlines or new supporting characters created for that run. Batgirl usually captured our imaginations when she appeared on television moreso than in the comic books...just like Wonder Woman! And in live-action, though I liked how she was portrayed in cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series and The Batman. The only neat tricks the comic book Batgirl had that haven't been adapted for the TV and film screens were a photographic memory, plus aplomb with advanced computer tech and - this one is obscure - a knack for hypnosis.

Hodson's past credits include genre thrillers Shut-In and Unthinkable. She also wrote the script for Bumblebee: The Movie, a Transformers spin-off prequel not directed by Michael Bay...which implies it won't have the misanthropic cynicism that shaded the last five Transformers movies. Here is the whole point of this post: Hailee Steinfeld stars in Bumblebee. I had mentioned in my previous Batgirl-related post that she had gone on record as saying she wanted to play Batgirl, albeit this remark was when Joss Whedon was attached to the project, but his absence doesn't mean she wouldn't be interested in playing Barbara Gordon with new people involved, particularly if it's anticipated that Warner Brothers is keen on getting a female director. If Steinfeld wants it - anyone still remember those purple Batgirl-esque she wore to the Grammy Awards this year? - she can get it.

I'm still curious about what the plot of The Batgirl could be. There are some good ideas in Chuck Dixon's Batgirl: Year One. Batgirl wanting to join the Justice Society. Pairing Killer Moth with Firefly. I always thought the scenes depicting her interaction with Batman and Robin in this story had more to do with editorial inference regarding those characters at the time, rather than how they would've acted, so while I like the idea that Batman is supporting Barbara with supplies and equipment, I thought it was portrayed better elsewhere. I like how Jason Bard was introduced, even though a little of him goes a long way in the old comics (I believe Frank Robbins pulled a fast one by introducing Bard so that he didn't have to write about Batgirl and slowly write her out of her own series to write more about the terribly-dull Jason Bard, Private Eye). In fact, without Marcos Martin's art, we might not even be talking about Batgirl: Year One.

Not sure which of Batgirl's different costumes will inspire the movie version, but it's gotta show off the motorcycle...I actually believe Barbara Gordon would have to be adept at motorcycle maintenance & repair if she's going to keep that bike in good shape. It would be cool to show her handy with tools...I don't think that's been depicted in the comics at all, but it makes sense.

It's also possible that Warner Brothers hired Hodson because she wrote the script for the Birds of Prey movie, which would've featured Harley Quinn, Batgirl, Poison Ivy and Catwoman. It's alleged that this film faded away when Suicide Squad also did lukewarm business. DC Films has Aquaman, Shazzam and Wonder Woman 2 on the schedule. For sure. There's a Flashpoint that's supposed to star Ezra Miller and Ben Affleck as The Flash and Batman, respectively, but that might not be happening...it's just fading out. Affleck still has one more film in his contract, so he could appear in The Batgirl to fulfill that obligation and that would be cool. It's a real pity that he never got a solo Batman film going, yet he's played the character in more films under the shortest amount of time than any other actor to date, and his performance has been good work.

So there we are. For now. The Batgirl is on. Female screenwriter. Female director  (we think so). Hailee Steinfeld (maybe). The Penguin, Killer Moth, Firefly, Roxy Rocket, Calculator, Cluemaster, Poison Ivy (villains?). Harley Quinn, The Batman (guest-stars?). Jason Bard, Stephanie Brown, Luke Fox, Dinah Lance  (supporting characters). Cool motorcycle  (absolutely). Purple costume (why not?). Contractually obligated Ben Affleck  (possible). Release date: _____ (I have no idea).

Saturday, March 24, 2018

"Totally Awesome: The Greatest Cartoons of The Eighties" by Andrew Farago

Let's get to that list, shall we?

In the order by which they appear in the book:

1. The Smurfs

Each respective series on the list has a chapter devoted to a condensed history of its production, with quotes offering insights on the development of the show. Interestingly, the spotlight shines on one person in particular, who is strongly suggested to be the reason for the series success...and in some cases, it's someone I didn't know much about before. Regarding Smurfs, it's Gerald Baldwin, who shepherded the first four seasons of the show. This was Hanna-Barbera's first major hit in over a decade; much of the 70's was wasted capitalising/cannibalizing the initial success of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (even Superfriends had it's genesis as a Scooby-Doo knockoff) or dull, gimmick-riddled new cartoons featuring faithful standbys Fred Flintstone or Yogi Bear. I liked learning that The Snorks was a dumping ground for rejected Smurfs story ideas, and that Baldwin thought The Smurfs and The Magic Flute was "crappy". To be fair, I thought the animation in Magic Flute was about as good as the TV series animation ever was, but the pacing of the story and the voices were poor.

2. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends

..in which Don Glut bemoans his lot, forever associated with the late Dennis Marks' apocryphal, yet charming take on Spider-Man that was inspired by the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby-Dorothy Lamour "Road to..." movies, in which Spidey had adventures and told/traded jokes while hanging out with Iceman & Firestar. Glut HATED Ms. Lion, Aunt May's pet dog, created by Marks as a mascot/pet for the series, and would insist on inserting scenes with her in scripts that Glut intentionally wrote her out of. Meanwhile, the rest of us fans of the series in the U.S.  wonder if Disney will ever wake up and release the series on Region 1 DVD.

3. He-Man and The Masters of The Universe/She-Ra: Princess of Power

Lou Scheimer hit the jackpot, here. It just so happens a generation of incredibly talented artists and writers cut their teeth working for Filmation during this time - even taking advantage of a brief strike at the Disney studio, which resulted in some top talent in need of work. Both of these shows were better than they were likely conceived to be, with the push to be toyetic.

4. Inspector Gadget

Less than a handful of Bruno Bianchi's concept/development sketches of Inspector Gadget are reprinted in the book...Bianchi's style reminds me of Sergio Aragones - that got me imagining a great Inspector Gadget comic book that seems obvious, but we have yet to see, drawn by Sergio Aragones. That would be cool.

I recall the idea of Gadget's extendable arms and legs was based on Dynomutt, because Andy Heyward had worked on both shows.

5. The Transformers

As with He-Man, She-Ra and perhaps G.I. Joe, The Transformers  has been the subject of coffee table books of its own, so the ground covered here has been well-tread, but inserted for posterity. The weakness of the book becomes more obvious in these sections, but I have a nice anecdote of my own to share: years ago, on the Comic Book Resources forums, series writer Buzz Dixon had responded to my question about the trailer that Optimus Prime is always shown towing when he's in the form of a truck..Where does that trailer come from? It's clearly a separate component/accessory, not part of Optimus Prime in his robot form. And yet, whenever/wherever he transformed into a truck, the trailer slides into place! Dixon confessed that none of the people could figure out an explanation for what that trailer's deal was(!)...and just let it go as something they weren't going to put much emphasis on.

6. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero

You do get a sense that the people who enjoyed working on these shows the most wanted the audience to believe that they believed in the series' concept. I'm tempted to look up the earliest, "improvised" episodes of G.I. Joe, then stare-and-compare with later "researched" episodes, since the animation for all the Sunbow-produced shows was rarely particularly good..and at the end of the day, this show was always about a bunch of guys dressed as The Village People vs. a bunch of guys dressed like the bad guys from Spaceballs.

7. Jem and The Holograms

This is a concept that probably would've been more popular than it was if the animation and stories matched the energy and pace of the title sequence. I don't know...the theme song/sequence was catchy enough to draw you in (though I wouldn't say that out loud) but the "Afterschool Special"/soap opera-feel to the stories was too earnest, imo. It should've been more like Josie and The Pussycats in story-style...that's probably the way it would go if there was ever a reboot.

Btw, Rich Morris did a truly truly outrageous unauthorized Jem/Doctor Who crossover webcomic years ago that's archived on his Shipsinker website, which established that Stormer and Eric Raymond were errant Time Lords from Gallifrey...believe that, true believer..believe that.

8. Thundercats

I think YouTube still has this audacious fan-made trailer for a live-action Thundercats film, culling footage from Troy, The Chronicles of Riddick, Stargate, and I don't recall offhand what else, then digitally coloring Brad Pitt and Vin Diesel to resemble Lion-O and Panthro. Vin Diesel is a movie producer, YouTuber; dare Vin Diesel to make a live-action Thundercats movie and he'll do it!

9. Muppet Babies

This is one of those shows where you'll have to trust me was actually good; it has Jim Henson's fingerprints on it - the Henson heirs are trying to "Walt Disney's"-brand name recognition on new stuff that didn't even exist as incoherent scribbles in any of Jim's notebooks, but Muppet Babies has his stamp proper...this, Fraggle Rock and the first live-action film with the Ninja Turtles were the last truly commercially successful projects completed during his lifetime.

..and I wish they revived Kermit the Frog P.I. - I have vague memories of seeing that cartoon and that was the only part of Little Muppet Monsters that worked for me. They should try it again...I think the Dog City TV series came from that, somewhat...but no...let's do this again with Kermit and Fozzie proper this time.

10. The Real Ghostbusters

The irony for artists and writers working on animated cartoons airing in "Seasons" is that production on these series made the work itself seasonal; they hopscotched from one animation studio to another. Any show made during this decade will likely have the same five or ten guys on average with their names on the credits. To read Tom Sito gently slam Filmation's Ghostbusters while praising DIC's The Real Ghostbusters is pretty funny, since he appears in interviews and commentary on the DVD box set of the Filmation show. The franchise is such a fallow state since the Paul Feig reboot blew that I've half-jokingly suggested adapting the 1980's animated incarnation with Jake, Eddie and Tracy the Ape into live-action. The stories may just be recycling He-Man tropes with a lighter tone, but the animation and character designs and more attractive than the Real version, which is pretty creaky-looking.

11. The Disney Afternoon (this is a cheat, as the author is actually talking about Disney's Adventures of The Gummi Bears, Ducktales and Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers )

..and "The Disney Afternoon" didn't officially premiere until September of 1990, unless people want to count it as part of the 80's, but 1990 felt like a new start at the time to me...aside from fashion designers attaching neon colors on clothing...

The Disney shows from this decade get short-changed, imo, as there's "Before Disney Television Animation" and "After Disney Television Animation". This was a game-changer that deserves a book of it's own. The chapter was an interesting introduction to Tom Ruzicka, whom I hadn't read much about before, or his and Fred Wolf's critical contribution to the early days, when Gummi Bears was actually going to tie-in with a line of candy (how come Haribo makes "Gummy Smurfs" but no "Gummy Gummi Bears"?) and that The Wuzzles and Fluppy Dogs were specifically designed to sell toys, whereas Ducktales was actually created to capitalize on the success of Gummi Bears moving away from its toyetic origins and becoming more story-based (the Gummis themselves were going to be named after candy flavors...is that why Gruffi Gummi is sometimes depicted in red on licensing instead of brown? What would've been his name: "Redd Gummi"?).

12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The 1980's cartoon incarnation is still the best. All the credit really goes to three people: Fred Wolf (for selling the show), Dave Wise (for giving us an entertaining show) and Chuck Lorre (for giving us that iconic theme song - I liked learning that it was actually Chuck's voice that's shouting "We're really hip!"/"Hey! Get a Grip!"/"He's a radical rat!"/"Gimmee a break!" - I remember thinking that was Rob Paulsen, the voice of Raphael, because that's who it sounded like).

13. Garfield and Friends

On his website, Mark Evanier opts for writing about celebrities/writers/artists he knows and politicians he dislikes rather than stuff he's actually worked on. Oh, and dispensing career advice for would-be freelance writers, I guess, though it comes off more interesting than useful. And obits for people he knew...and people who he never knew (to which he writes, "I don't have any stories about Austin Tasseltyne because I never met him or worked with him, but people liked him and his movies/TV shows/apple pies were quite popular, so he had that goimg for him."). Rarely does he divuge actual stories about his work...or at least without filing the names off beforehand. So it was nice to get him to talk of his time writing Garfield and Friends episodes, because he doesn't talk shop much on his blog about his work, which is unfortunate, because I think it's better-produced than the more-acclaimed TV specials that preceded it. Garfield reached the zenith of his popularity around this point. Ironically, the comic strip is more popular without him, assuming you haven't checked out Garfield Minus Garfield.

14. Mighty Mouse (actually, this was billed as Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, but that was the author's choice on how to identify it in the chapter heading).

With anything from Ralph Bakshi and John Kricfalusi...the superb character design and background stylings will always be marred by the inability to realize that neither can write anything worth a damn. I was most disappointed in this section, because it was fuzzy on details as to how Doug Moench contributed to the writing of the show...I have to hazard a guess that it was his job to transcribe a presentable script from the final layouts that would be passed along to other production/post-production staff - voiceover/music/editing/sound/overseas animators. Most of the people who worked on that show have had long careers since then, but Bakshi and Kricfalusi are infamous for downplaying the craft of writing as an art form that has it's own technique and discipline. As a result, everything they've done has always come off amateurish and slapdash, storywise, because they focus everything on the drawings.

So...I enjoyed this book, it's good, but not great. Something's missing. The presentation is attractive - I like how there's samples of production notes and artwork from several series reproduced and attached ontop of pages, like they've been paper-clipped, giving the book a feel like you're reading a dossier with supplementary information thst could literally spill out. However, with a book like this, you'd think the author would present a stronger defense/commentary in his text for why these shows deserve to be the greatest cartoons of that decade. The title doesn't even specify that it's necessarily just cartoons on television, but could imply animated feature films, of which I could think of six that could bulk up that list to 20:

15) The Secret of Nimh
16) The Castle of Cagliostro
17) The Great Mouse Detective
18) Transformers: The Movie (although this could be lumped in with the TV series, ad it is discussed in the chapter devoted to that show, but it's strong enough to be a separate contender)
19) Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
20) The Little Mermaid

Yeah! And I didn't even get to include animated short films, of which I would suggest Night of The Living Duck and A Grand Day Out as worthy of inclusion. That would make 22.

And then there's a curious happening with (13) and (14) on the book's list: he switches the order by which the series debuted. Up until then, the list follows a timeline; Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures was old news when Garfield and Friends debuted the following year. Maybe that's a reflection on how the cartoons debutingthe following take their aesthetic cues from Mighty, particularly the Nickelodeon cartoons. That's left for us to infer. In fact, the author leaves it to the people who worked on each show to offer their conclusion as to why the respective series is considered great; it's like, "Hey! Here's my list. That's it. 'Nuff said." At a price of 50 bucks, I wouldn't mind more insight on what made these 14 cartoon shows better than other programs offered. There's no sidebars devoted to "Memorable Episodes" or "Honorable Mentions: Good Cartoons That Didn't Make The List". Those would've been cool things to add. There's unanswered questions..why isn't Fraggle Rock in there? Voltron? A Pup Named Scooby-Doo (the template for every new Scooby-Doo cartoon made since the 1990's). How about the 80's revival of The Jetsons? Or Heathcliff and The Catillac Cats? Or Thundarr (I don't care much for that one; the talent behind that series was more interesting than what they produced, but it has a loyal following). I might've been incorrect about the last two, but if I had seriously disagreed with any of the choices in that book - and I didn't, for the record; I agree with all the choices in there - then I would've thought this was just cobbled together by someone who had taken a light survey on social media and his content is grounded on the results of that. The text is just perfunctory and the only fun in reading it is the quotes from the people who worked on each show.

Curious thing I found while preparing this post: I found an alternate cover photo of the book - most likely a mockup for early solicitation purposes; there's a disclaimer on it saying it's not the final image...this cover has images of Voltron and the guys from muh-muh-muh M.A.S.K. on it. Perhaps they were just thrown in there to create suspense and surprise when the final cover was revealed, but I can't help feel we might have some alternate chapters that didn't make final cut...or it was just a ruse to prevent spoilers from leaking.

I'm trying to imagine how a follow-up book devoted to the 1990's would look..

Darkwing Duck
Ren and Stimpy
Beavis and Butthead
Gargoyles
Batman: The Animated Series
Animaniacs
Pinky and The Brain
Freakazoid!
Rocko's Modern Life
Rugrats
Daria
Dexter's Laboratory
The Powerpuff Girls
Johnny Bravo
The Simpsons

See that? That's pretty close..some of those choices I don't even care for, but I don't doubt the authenticity of their being on that list. He should totally do it...and hopefully add some flavor to his rhetoric along with it this time.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

No "Batgirl" Movie? No "Batgirl" Movie.

Writer's block? Seriously?

Well, if that's the song Joss Whedon wants to sing - actually, it was "I just don't have a story" to be precise - then that's the tune we're going to hear.

And yet...

Didn't he get the ball rolling by pitching a Batgirl film to Warner Brothers/DC Films? What's really going on here? Could it be fallout from Justice League underperforming in spite of the hype surrounding Whedon filming reshoots over Zack Snyder's original cut of the film? Could it be his public image taking a beating from his ex-wife's statements about his philandering lecherous ways with co-workers at his production company? Could it be that he was given Batgirl on the condition that Justice League would be successful?

Maybe we'll learn more dirt as the days go on. I knew that with his name attached, a Batgirl film wouldn't be a pipe dream, but he was never clear about what he thought of the character beyond being influenced by Gail Simone's work...which kinda raises alarm bells, because due to editorial interference, a lot of what was happening in Gail's run wasn't particularly good. For my money, the best Batgirl comics ever were the issues Bryan Q. Miller wrote, with Stephanie Brown as Batgirl, ironically. Regarding Barbara Gordon, her best appearances as Batgirl were in Season 3 of the 1966 Batman TV series (as played by Yvonne Craig), plus in cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series , The Batman and in the respective tie-in comic books featuring those incarnations of Barbara. Plus, loathe as I am to admit, Barbara received significant character development in the 80's and 90's, when she was wheelchair-bound due to getting shot by the Joker in The Killing Joke and assumed the identity of Oracle. What's unfortunate about that bit is that it usually feeds a polarizing argument for keeping her in the wheelchair, in light of her current Batgirl characterization coming off superficial and lacking empathy. This is more a reflection of the quality of the scripts we've been getting to me...judging from the current comic books, it's still an ongoing problem that hasn't been reconciled. I don't know why DC Comics has been slow to change Batgirl writers - I wouldn't mind seeing K. Perkins take over the book now that Superwoman has been cancelled; I think she's good at writing natural dialogue and keeping a good pace with the suspense. If they could reconcile the positive elements of the character's evolution with their attempts at a soft reboot of the character's history, then her current comic book adventures would really start cooking. In other words, let Babs act her age.

Back to Hollywood. The Batgirl film is now "...no longer a priority." It looks like the next film in production is Shazzam, with Zachary Levi as Captain Marvel. After that, the only sure thing is the Wonder Woman sequel - everything else is..in the air. It's not clear if Flashpoint will happen, no clue if Matt Reeves' Batman movie will see the light of day (the underwhelming and tepid response to the possibility of seeing Jake Gyllenhaal as Batman does no favors). It always looked like DC was baiting TV executives with concepts for a Batgirl TV series, anyway, especially with the "Batgirl of Burnside" angle of the current comics. The floor is clear for that to happen.

Meanwhile, I'm still mulling over what might have been. I seriously doubted anyone took Lindsay Lohan's attempt to campaign for the part seriously...though in a parallel universe...to get an idea of how I imagine a different Lindsay Lohan's acting performance as Barbara Gordon, check out actress Caity Lotz's Sara Lance in Legends of Tomorrow. Hailee Steinfeld, of Pitch Perfect and True Grit fame, suggested as of last month that she would've loved to have played Batgirl in Joss's film..I actually see this as something that could have happened if things hadn't derailed the way they just did, even when it looked like Warner Brothers was going to push ahead and find a replacement for Whedon. At this year's Grammy Awards, Steinfeld showed up on stage in a stunning form-fitting white dress that showed off a pair of high-heeled, knee-high purple boots! If that wasn't a not-so-subtle hint about her campaign to play Batgirl...then she still looked great in those boots, regardless. She kinda looks like Yvonne Craig in some photos..that would be kinda cool if they casted her. I wouldn't object if they had.

Meanwhile, I had been narrowing down potential casting choices by selecting  Lily Collins. She just seems like a capable  actress who gets name-dropped here and there, but hasn't really had a breakthrough role - she's accumulated a number false-starts (The Mortal Instruments, Rules Don't Apply, Mirror Mirror) but nothing that stuck with an audience.

So no Whedonesque Batgirl, then. That's okay. Barbara Gordon won't sound like Buffy Summers or Winifred Burkle or Willow Rosenberg...or Veronica Mars. Barbara Gordon should sound like a woman who's as smart as Batman but has the poise of Wonder Woman and has Supergirl's enthusiasm mixed with Superman's humility. That's how she operates.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

"Getting" Ready For Ready Player One

The film adaptation of Ready Player One looks good because The Iron Giant guest-stars in it as a replacement for Ultraman. What this means is that certain sequences won't happen exactly as they did in the book, yet we'll get an improvement on what was in the text. There's a logical explanation for why the Iron Giant would appear as a replacement - he was name-dropped in the book - but I think that character's presence has a greater resonance among audiences than Ultraman, so it's a trade-up. That doesn't mean a contemporary appearance in a mainstream American film by a Japanese kaiju character directed by Steven Spielberg wouldn't have been awesome...it's just...one step closer to Warner Brothers green-lighting The Iron Giant Returns/Iron Giant Comes Back/Iron Giant Vs. Mecha-Godzilla or whatever title a sequel to The Iron Giant would have. And yes, it looks like Mecha-Godzilla won't be appearing in the film, either, for similar copyright reasons. To my mind, it sounds similar to when Pixar was barred from including Barbie from the first Toy Story, but then she appears in the sequels when that film became a phenomenon.

I had read the Ready Player One novel last Fall, just after seeing the first trailer for the film. I didn't write a review because I didn't think it was a big deal..it was okay and fun to read in a lot of places. I was impressed with Ernest Cline's prose being readable...a fault I find with a lot of trendy novels is that the prose is very clumsy...but I'm a picky reader; I could never get through any Stephen King, Stuart Woods, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Michael Critchton, etc.. - books by authors that appear on shelves at supermarkets, airports, bus stations, train stations, drug stores, discount stores. I've read books 3-7 of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter And... and I guess ..And The Cursed Child counts as the 8th installment, but I never thought she wrote action scenes well..and have no desire to check out those faux-pseudononymous mystery novels "by Robert Galbraith" she's written. Incidentally, "Robert Galbraith" is a much-easier to spell name than Commonran...Comeonman...Comoreram...CalmacalmacalmacalmacalmaChameleon Strike when you're just trying to recall it casually...my interest is too...casually vacant to look it up proper.

Back to the book. The paperback edition I had read was the precursor to the new edition released, which uses one of the movie posters as the cover. It's the same as the one I had, with the narrow shape and easier-to-read-but-still-not-large-print format. I figured Spielberg wasn't planning on reanacting the plot to Wargames or scenes where we would just watch characters play old arcade/PC games. The movie suggests we're getting a mix of The Maze Runner with It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with a Who Framed Roger Rabbit dose of spectacle...

If I could just go on a tangent for a moment..the thing with Roger Rabbit is that, as good as it was, whenever it's shown on TV reruns lately, I find that without the late Bob Hoskins as Eddie Valiant, the whole movie could've just fallen apart. One key casting decision. With him there, you believe everything that's happening. Eddie's the most-challenging character any actor could play in a movie like that. People like to act nostalgic about Space Jam, but the only reason that worked (and it was no Roger Rabbit) was
because everyone involved was awake, alert and working together. Nobody was sleepwalking, nobody was bored; Ivan Reitman didn't just stamp his name on it, Bill Murray wasn't bored & had fun, Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

I had just seen The Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Having never read the books, I was surprised that it ended with Thomas losing both his best friend and his girl. Theresa's death was spectacularly done, but I wouldn't have minded seeing her survive - if this were an episode of Talespin, Baloo would've flown that plane in a loop-de-loop into the collapsing building to follow her descent...so Theresa would be shown falling..into the cargo hold of the plane - which kinda looked like a military-grade version of the Sea Duck, in point of fact - so instead of Giancarlo Esposito going "Guys! I can't keep this plane hovering longer!" or whatever he said, Baloo would've been like "Hang on, li'l britches!! Ol' Papa Bear's got a trick up his sleave! Pelican Dive - don't fail me now!!" Baloo was pretty badass on that show. And I think I saw Matt Smith do a similar trick to rescue Alex Kingston in a Doctor Who episode..it's not a new trick. Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay would've had it happen, though it probably would've been with Thomas inexplicably finding the strength and skill to take control of the plane and rescue Theresa..who would've been wearing a tank top & micro-miniskirt with high heels...played by Alexandra Daddario (yeah, I saw her in San Andreas). As it is, we're left with a hero who has lost his damsel and his squire, so he just gets to..be around and..chill out on an island...maybe he'll take up fishing...or look for pirate gold.

It's with this mindset that I'm more charitable towards Ready Player One's Art3mis hooking up with Wade/Parzival in the end, as if she were the real prize...though all that money is nice...there's been criticism about the casting of Art3mis. Cline made a point of describing Art3mis as looking Reubenesque...in other words...curvaceous, full-figured...hips that don't lie...with junk in the trunk. The only actress that came to mind as I read the book was Demi Lovato, who's embraced having a curvaceous, fit-and-thick figure and makes wardrobe choices that match Art3mis fan art on the web. Casting-wise, that's the only one I had..and cash-strapped Johnny Depp as Halliday, seeimg as how the movie trailer makes the Willy Wonka connection between the two characters obvious..and Depp has bills to pay...Tim Burton isn't going to make Charlie and The Great Glass Elavator (though I wish that was the Wonka movie he had made with Depp instead of the unnecessary remake)..in fact, they could just make Great Glass Elevator without Burton and Depp would still be up for it..a job is a job is a job..he's available...I wouldn't mind a 6th Jack Sparrow movie, but I might be in the minority with that opinion...stopwaitcomeback.

#WomanCrushWednesday: Demi Lovato