Friday, December 25, 2015

The Making Of Mickey's Christmas Carol

Merry Christmas to you all. I figured I should write something special for the Holidays. Definitely something animation oriented.

There have been a lot of animated Christmas specials made over the years, like How The Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, all that Rankin/Bass crap, that sort of thing. However, one that comes to mind just as much as those other specials to me, is Mickey's Christmas Carol.



How many people were introduced to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol through this cartoon? Well, I can certainly say I was. Even watching it all these years later, it still holds up as being an incredibly enjoyable take on the story. One thing that should be noted is that, for something that squeezes the story into under a half-hour, it still has a lot of entertainment value. The animation is energetic and full of spirit, the writing's clever and funny, and the emotional moments manage to hit the mark. Plus, you can't go wrong with Scrooge McDuck playing the part of Ebenezer Scrooge. It's definitely one of my favorite takes of the story. That opening song, in particular, still sticks with me.



My little sister has this cartoon on DVD among her Christmas DVDs. The DVD in question had Mickey's Christmas Carol along with a few Christmas-related Disney cartoons that came after the main feature.

There's just one problem with the DVD: There's no Behind-The-Scenes features!



To give you an idea of the period this was made, it was an incredibly turbulent time for Disney. Most of the old pros had passed away or retired by this point (though there was a credit for Eric Larson as animation consultant on the short's credits,) and the new guard was still trying to find their voice. Mickey's Christmas Carol was first released in 1983 along with a re-release of The Rescuers, and it was Mickey Mouse's first short in 30 years by that point. I actually consider it something of a transitionary film, because this was where then up-and-coming animators like Mark Henn and Glen Keane got to really stretch their wings without most of the Nine Old Men's involvement. Two years later, the failure of The Black Cauldron would cause the heads to question whether it was worth keeping the animation unit on board, but after The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver & Company made a considerable amount of money at the box office, they relented and let the animators stay. This, of course, led to the smash success of The Little Mermaid at the end of the decade and the start of Disney's Renaissance period. (Want to learn more? Watch the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty. It's a very insightful look into this period of Disney history.)

So to rectify this situation about the lack of Behind The Scenes features on the Mickey's Christmas Carol DVD, I figure I'd share a couple of things I found. First is the featurette for the making of the film, which can be found on the 1984 VHS of Mickey's Christmas Carol, but was thankfully put on Youtube for all to see:


Michael Paraza also talked some about the making of the short on his blog, Ink And Paint Club: Memories Of The House Of Mouse. If you have some time to kill, go over there and give it a read. And give the original special a watch, if you haven't already.

Hope you all enjoy your holiday season!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

My Thoughts On Disney’s “Gigantic” Announcement

CAUTION: Expect some strong opinions regarding Frozen and Disney in general. Also, this article was started in August, so a few things might be out of date.


There’s been a lot of buzz regarding this year’s D23 Expo, which is basically a Disney-themed convention, regarding some of the new Disney and Pixar projects that have been announced, including the unveiling of a new Inside Out themed short, “Riley’s First Date?”, more developments on the new Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess And The Frog) film “Moana”, the Pixar film “The Good Dinosaur”,  as well as the other upcoming Pixar flicks, that kind of stuff.

However, what caught my attention particularly was the announcement of a new Disney fairy tale film, “Gigantic”, loosely based off the story of Jack And The Beanstalk.

From what was announced, this new take on the tale will be directed by Nathan Greno (Tangled), produced by Dorothy McKim (Get A Horse), have songs written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Frozen), and will be released in 2018.

Naturally, I couldn’t let this pass by without giving my say on it.

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I’ve been increasingly critical of a lot of Disney’s current decisions and methods. I know a company’s got to change with the times, but I highly doubt THESE particular changes are for the better. I mean, yeah, Frozen IS currently the highest-grossing animated film out there, but when you really look at this film like I did, does it really deserve THAT MUCH success? (Personally, my answer is no, it does not.) And yeah, they bought Lucasfilm and are currently making a new Star Wars film series, but is it REALLY necessary to have a new Star Wars movie since it’s been YEARS since Return Of The Jedi, the last chronologically released movie, came out? (Read this article to understand why I have doubts about this.) And yeah, the live-action remakes of classic Disney animated features are making money, but is there really any need to remake some of them at all? And yeah, the animation unit has pretty much gone all CG now, but whatever happened to John Lasseter’s big declaration of reviving hand-drawn animation at Disney? You know, back when he still gave a crap about things?

Maybe it’s because Disney was a huge part of my childhood, but some of these changes leave me feeling kinda cynical. I mean, yeah, I still support some of the new output from the Mouse House and I do try to keep my optimistic side open, but even as someone who loves Disney, I still have my doubts and mixed feelings about how things are being handled and feel it could be run a lot better.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What’s this movie going to be about?



In Spain during the Age of Exploration, Jack discovers a land of giants hidden among the clouds, where he befriends this female giant named Inma who is, according to descriptions, “11 years old, 60 feet tall, fiery, feisty and a lot to control,” and agrees to help her find her way home. Along the way, she treats him like a toy, there’s some stuff about evil “storm giants” and most likely other adventurous stuff. I dunno, this is still a fairly new announcement.

While the idea of getting a giant little girl involved is admittedly really cute, I’m not sure what to think of this revision. Nowadays, it feels like Disney adaptations of classic fairy tales and stories are adapting sources more and more to the point where they become almost unrecognizable, adaptations in the loosest form of the word. When you look back at something like “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs”, even with what was added and changed, it still felt like a telling of The Grimm Brothers’ Snow White. If you read Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen or watched a previous adaptation of it, (I saw the Russian animated version from 1957 before seeing Frozen,) would you be able to tell that “Frozen” was an adaptation of that same story? Hell no, because it’s changed to the point where it can no longer be considered The Snow Queen.

That said, however, I don’t mind an adaptation taking liberties and changing things around as long as the final product is ultimately good enough to stand on its own. The Wizard Of Oz from 1939 is a perfect example of that. It does change things around from the book, but the movie can still be enjoyed for what it is, a fun fantasy adventure with laughs, scares, tears, songs and a coherently flowing narrative. Frozen, on the other hand, sadly fails to do this. Even when you separate it from the source material, it’s not strong enough. Sure, it may have made a lot of money and it’s been overhyped to the point where it annoys a good chunk of the populace, myself included, but the story’s a flawed mess that doesn’t know what message it’s really trying to convey, nor how to properly deliver it. I give it credit for what it tries to do, but a lot of the film just comes off as manipulative rather than sincere, (particularly that atrocious, poorly executed, ass-pull twist involving Hans,) and a lot of the plot elements are capable of taking you out of the film because of how badly written and handled they are. Not to mention that, fantasy aspects aside, it really doesn't make that much sense. It does have nice visuals, and a few of the characters I do genuinely like, especially Olaf, who’s good enough for his own spinoff, but calling it the best Disney movie since Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King? I don’t think so.


I’m hoping that Gigantic doesn’t fall into this trap. I mean, yeah, it really doesn’t sound like the traditional story we’re used to, and the whole teaming up an older guy with a kid has been done by both Disney and Pixar before, with Wreck-It Ralph and Up respectively, but let’s be honest, it involves a normal-sized guy stuck with a giant girl child. I’m sure you could at least get some funny and cute ideas out of a concept like that, and maybe get a possibly sweet story out of the whole thing.

The subject regarding the songs doesn’t fill me with much hope, though. I didn’t like most of the songs in Frozen, either, so while getting Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez might be promising for some people, it’s certainly not promising for me. They might get lucky and turn out something decent, but personally, I would prefer someone like Alan Menken.

And then there’s this little comment that Greno made: “We want to make the definitive version of Jack And The Beanstalk.”

“Definitive”? THIS? I don’t know whether to call that over-confident or just insane.

Granted, the Disney versions of a lot of stories like Snow White, Beauty And The Beast, and Alice In Wonderland ARE pretty much the first things that people tend to think of whenever the name of the story is brought up, and they could, in fact, be dubbed the “definitive” telling of the story. But everyone and their mother knows the actual story of Jack And The Beanstalk all too well. How could a story as well known as this with changes like what was just described be considered “the definitive version”?


Let’s not forget that this story had been adapted by Disney before, most notably with the Mickey And The Beanstalk short that made its debut on the 1940s package feature Fun And Fancy Free. And don’t tell me that they could have forgotten about that one. Not only is the full movie considered part of the Disney Animated Canon, but the featurette on its own was released on video during the ‘90s, as well as on DVD collections with other Disney featurettes.


There was also a Japanese animated film adaptation in the 1970s that did its own unique take on Jack And The Beanstalk, which I found out about thanks to Jerry Beck’s Animated Movie Guide. From what I gather about that one, though, it does seem to have a lot of the traditional elements from the original story, along with all the new things added. If Disney still retained some elements into this new version, like the golden-egg laying goose, the singing harp, and the whole “Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum” thing, then maybe one could see how this could tie to Jack And The Beanstalk. It sure as heck wouldn’t make it the “definitive version” of the story, though.

There’s also the issue with the title. Ever since The Princess And The Frog apparently “underperformed”, they’ve been changing the titles of fairy tale adapations into stupid adjectives, like Rapunzel into Tangled and The Snow Queen into Frozen and that sort of thing. Why do they keep doing that? Is it to appeal to a broader demographic or something? Because the average person would consider this a really desperate attempt at doing so. Though, to be fair, considering the really loose adaptations they seem to be making these stories and fairy tales into now, it makes me wonder if they should really leave the name the same or change it to something else, even to something as uninspired as a simple adjective, because as previously mentioned, they’re getting adapted to the point where they can no longer be identified as an actual adaptation. And to think, years ago, Disney artists were poking fun at the fact that they had to change the title of “Basil Of Baker Street” to “The Great Mouse Detective” by sending a fake memo about changing the titles of previous Disney features, like “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs” into “Seven Little Men Help A Girl” and “101 Dalmatians” into “Puppies Taken Away”. Boy, were THEY na├»ve! (No joke, by the way. This actually HAPPENED.)

(See? Here's the proof!)


Ultimately, though, I’ll just have to wait until it comes out and see it for myself. It might be good, it might be bad, it might be just okay, who knows? Like I said, I still enjoy some of the stuff that Disney puts out, like Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6, and I am looking forward to checking out stuff like Zootopia, Moana, and this as well, even if I do wish that they’d do more hand-drawn stuff again. To me, quality is what matters most whenever I watch movies or read books or whatever, and there are very few Disney animated movies that I would consider straight up bad, since the majority of them have their own sense of charm or elements of likability and at least SOME effort put into the animation and story and that stuff. Even Frozen, which is currently one of my absolute least favorite Disney movies, has its moments that do work. So, without much left to say, it seems like only time will tell if Gigantic becomes either an enormous success or a colossal fail.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Chance Raspberry's Little Billy

One of the things I love doing is promoting special animation projects in the hopes that other people will notice and embrace these projects like I have. I think word of mouth is an important way to spread recognition to something. I’m a huge supporter of creativity in general, and I feel on the ever so vast Internet, there are plenty of talents that deserve more recognition. I’ve already promoted a few animated movies in progress, so this time, how about a TV series in progress?

I learned about this particular artist and project through Charles Zembillas, the designer of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro The Dragon and founder of Burbank’s Animation Academy and AnimationNation.com. I plan to talk about him later, since he’s also worth talking about.

Say hello to Simpsons animator Chance Raspberry…



…and his original creation, Little Billy.



I know what some of you are probably thinking, “What? A TV series about a little boy with a common name? What’s so special about that?” Well, much like the title character, there’s much more to this series that’s under the surface.

The big catch about this one? It’s largely aimed at Special Ed Kids.

SAY WHAT?

Yep, that’s right. Little Billy is the first cartoon for kids (and adults) with Special Education Needs, and I think it’s a good cause.

Anyone that knows me is aware that I have Autism/Asberger’s Syndrome. It’s been a struggle for me growing up, but also a blessing. I’ve been lucky to have a good family, friends, teachers, and God helping me out with the ups and downs in my life. For the past few years, I’ve been working with CLE in Austin to learn how to live independently and provide help with work I might have, and my next step is attending NonPareil Institute in Dallas, where I can try my hand at designing video games and other projects.

Chance is similar. He was part of the original generation to have Tourette’s Syndrome, but thanks to family, friends, God, and a relentless love for cartoons and drawing, he’s learned to overcome his difficulties and managed to get a career as a professional animator. He created this project as a way to share his own story with others and he managed to get it funded through Kickstarter.

So a lot of people are wondering what this series will be about or what it will be like. It’s about this innocent four year old boy who has his own neurological condition: UHS or Ultra Hyper Sensitivity, which gives him, as Chance described in one of his Kickstarter videos, “the energy of a thousand hummingbirds”. That means he has endless amounts of energy all the time. The series will involve his life in suburbia as “that weird kid” and how his family and friends are affected and blessed by his unique way of life.

The condition is fictitious, but as Chance describes on his FAQ page:

By making Billy's condition fictitious, I'm increasing the scope and appeal of his character, as well as the reach of the series. People with any condition or special need will be able to watch the show and feel included, without feeling singled out or put on the spot. Furthermore, the ultimate goal of Little Billy is to blur the line between "weird" and "normal" like never before, so people with NO condition will be just as entertained as those who have them. It will be an outlet and reason for families and friends from all walks of life to come together and celebrate what makes them unique. The icing on the cake is that many of the other primary and secondary characters will possess actual, existing neurological conditions. Literally everyone will be represented!

If that isn’t a good reason to do a show where the lead character has his own neurological condition, I don’t know what is.

Another reason why I wanted to promote this is because, content wise, this series sounds like it’ll be up my alley. Not only because of the Special Ed aspects, which in and of itself should be a big reason to support it, but it will be a big shout out to the 80s and done in the Golden Age style of Animation that Looney Tunes is done in. AWESOOOOOOME!!!

Two Awesome Things...

...That Are Even More Awesome Together!


Those that know me are aware that I love 80s and 90s culture and Golden Age Animation like the Looney Tunes and Tex Avery. The addition of 80s culture and classical animation just sweetens the deal for me and I’m sure a lot of others feel the same way. However, I know there are people that dislike nostalgia-driven stuff. To be perfectly honest, though, I think society needs this stuff more than ever. It’s always focusing on the present and progressing so fast and all that and it’s quite frankly killing us. I’ll go more into why later, but the point is, I love stuff based around nostalgia, mostly because it represents the return to a more simple time, uncomplicated by modern technology and modern trends. I especially love stuff based around the 80s since some of my favorite things are from that era, like movies, music, trends, the works.

Chance also talked about why the show has a “nostalgia factor” in his FAQ:


“A show about Special Needs immediately limits your target audience...but everyone is nostalgic for something at some point. For me, it's the '80s because that's where my childhood magic all began. It's also a great way to involve older generations because so much of the '80s is a throwback to the '50s and '60s (when our parents and grandparents were kids and young adults.) By playing up this angle in a major new way, I'm keeping the subject matter of the show universally appealing (Special Needs or not.)”


Personally, as long as the project as a whole is entertaining, I think utilizing a nostalgia factor is a good thing. And I have a feeling that Chance’s project will be very entertaining. He’s dedicated to giving this project not only humor, but heart as well. It’s something he’s clearly passionate about, having worked on it for years. To be exact, he’s been working on it since 1999, and now he’s revealed it for all to see. I’m glad this has been catching on with people like it has, because I feel it’s a great concept.

He also created a rough animatic for the theme song, and trust me when I say it’ll be the funniest thing you’ll see all week. This energetic opening is a throwback to the openings of cartoons of the 80s, but it also contains a sampling of Chance’s demented sense of humor. It kills me every time I watch it. The link also contains his original unreleased Kickstarter pitch.


I wrote to him expressing my interest in the project, and he wrote back with an incredibly nice response, answering any questions I had and thanking me for my willingness to support Little Billy. I plan to write back to him soon. I was waiting to respond back, since I don’t want to feel like I’m disturbing him if he’s working on it.


He’s successfully managed to fund the first full-length episode, with the plans to release it on DVD and Blu-Ray as both education and entertainment material. As of now, he’s working on the trailer and promoting Little Billy. However, I still feel he needs the extra help, since he’s doing this without major studio backing, and since animation is a labor-intensive process, he might need as much help as he can get to complete this. He still allows donations, so if you want to donate, do so. (And if you want, tell him that I sent you.) If you want to spread the word, spread the word! More people deserve to hear and know about this, because this is a special project that means a lot to Chance, and it can mean a lot to people in general.

If you want to learn more, you can check out this list of helpful sites:

Chance Raspberry’s Official Site: http://chanceraspberryhome.blogspot.com

The Little Billy Website: http://www.littlebilly.com




Chance Raspberry’s Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ChanceRaspberry

Chance Raspberry’s Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/chanceraspberry

Larry Raspberry, Chance's Rock 'N Roll Dad: http://www.larryraspberry.com

To close this article, here’s an extra little tidbit: Chance Raspberry is also a singer and musician, and one of his Kickstarter rewards is an album he made that combines 80’s heavy metal with 90s skatepunk, and one of the songs is the theme to Little Billy. Have a listen to his cover of “Friends”, from the ‘80s B-Movie Cult Classic “Miami Connection”:



Monday, June 1, 2015

MST3K Shorts

I'm a huge fan of the 90s cult show Mystery Science Theater 3000. The basic gist of the show is that an ordinary guy (Joel Robinson or Mike Nelson, played by Joel Hodgson and Michael J. Nelson, respectively) gets launched into space and forced to watch movies ranging from cheesy to downright terrible aboard what is known as the Satellite Of Love. While watching, the guy riffs, wisecracks, and generally makes fun of the movie du jour with two robots (Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot) aiding him. It's hard to talk about the history of the show when you're trying to introduce it to someone, since it's gone through quite a few cast and format changes over the years it's been on the air.

It's also hard to know what episode to use as a good starting point for the show. However, I feel that a good starting point is through the shorts that are shown before certain movies, since they're not as long as the films but are a good introduction to what riffing entails.

A little note, by the way, Tom Servo is sitting on the left, Joel or Mike is in the center, and Crow is sitting on the right. There, hope we've avoided some potential confusion with that.

So anyway, here's a selection of some of my personal favorites when it comes to shorts:

A Case Of Spring Fever
From: 1012- Squirm



This was my personal introduction to the show as well as the final short that was featured on the show. It involves this poor dope who wishes that he never has to deal with springs again, only to accidentally summon Coily The Spring Sprite (who I swear is voiced by Pinto Clovig) who grants his wish. Realizing that a world without springs would, well, kinda suck, he takes back his wish and proceeds to preach about his newfound wisdom about springs.

Mr. B Natural
From: 319- War Of The Colossal Beast



Easily the most famous of the MST3K shorts for one reason: Mr. B Natural (who is played by a woman) and his/her incredible flamboyance. So anyways, the sexually androgynous spirit of music helps this nerdy boy learn about musical education and the benefit of the right instruments.

Gumby In: Robot Rumpus
From: 912- The Screaming Skull



As someone who was a fan of Gumby growing up, I really enjoyed this riffing and it makes me wish that the crew riffed on more animated shorts. In this outing, Gumby gets robots to do his lawn work but they run amuck, so he has to stop them. The ending traumatized the bots so much that they viciously attacked the short later on in the episode.

Body Care And Grooming
From: 510- The Painted Hills


The last short featuring Joel before he left the show, this PSA going over body care for adolescents manages to get some fun riffing from the guys.

Keeping Clean And Neat
From: 613- The Sinister Urge



Man, if people of the 50s were really THIS obsessed with cleanliness and neatness, it makes me glad to be a child of the 90s! Anyways, another PSA for body care with some more fun riffing.

Johnny At The Fair
From: 419- The Rebel Set



This little kid ditches his parents at the Canadian National Expedition and proceeds to explore the sights and sounds. We get some hilariously dark riffing from Joel and the Bots in the process.

Cheating
From: 515- The Wild Wild World Of Batwoman



Ya gotta love whenever someone makes a PSA designed to scar viewers and make the subject seem like the worst possible thing imaginable. A school boy manages to cheat his way to the top, but when he's caught, he's ostracized and it seems like his life is practically ruined. The dark lighting and atmosphere certainly doesn't help matters either. During this movie's host segments, (which occur in between the movie so as to provide breaks for the characters) Mike and the bots satirized this short mercilessly.

Circus On Ice
From: 421- Monster A Go-Go



Monster A Go-Go is easily the worst thing that was ever riffed on MST3K, but at least it had a delightfully dark riffing of a short to be paired up with. I wasn't sure how long Disney has been on ice, (sources say 1981 was when it first started,) but apparently somebody decided to make a circus themed ice show long before and, from the looks of it, the final result didn't blend well.

Alphabet Antics
From: 307- Daddy-O


Leave it to the guys on the Satellite Of Love to get a lot of mileage out of a whimsical and often unusual alphabet themed short for children.

Aquatic Wizards
From: 315- Teenage Caveman



An announcer tries to flaunt the marvels of water skiing. Joel and the bots proceed to mock it.

Catching Trouble
From: 315- Teenage Caveman



Hoo golly, this one is pretty damn uncomfortable. It doesn't stop Joel and the bots from coming up with some hilarious riffs, but man, if you hate animal abuse, this might be kinda hard to sit through. So anyways, this spineless creep named Ross torments snakes, a bobcat and two bear cubs before capturing them and selling them to the zoo, and it's exploited in the worst way possible. Even Joel and the bots acknowledge just how wrong it all is.

But to help cope with the above short, here was the host segment that followed right after it, where Joel, Tom and Crow proceed to give Ross a taste of his own medicine.

MST3K- Catching Ross

Uncle Jim's Dairy Farm
From: 607- Bloodlust



A couple of city kids spend the summer at their uncle's farm. I love how Mike, Tom and Crow try to make it seem like the kids' time at the farm is absolutely miserable and that they're even missing out on some things back home.

A Date With Your Family
From: 602- Invasion U.S.A.


Ah, more 50's wholesomeness. Let's watch Mike and the bots tear apart the outdated and questionable ethics of having dinner with the family.

Last Clear Chance
From: 520- Radar Secret Service


This short on traffic safety, particularly around railroad tracks, is one of those shorts that actually managed to outshine the film that it was paired with.

The Truck Farmer
From: 507- I Accuse My Parents


This short involving modern (at least modern at that time) farming techniques gets some glorious riffing from Joel and the bots.

Progress Island USA
From: 621- The Beast Of Yucca Flats


A short travel documentary that's clearly from the 70s promoting Puerto Rico and all it has to offer. The riffing is funny, of course, but one thing I will give the short is that I do love the music they used for it.

Until next time, keep circulating the tapes (or video links, or whatever.)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Randall Kaplan's Boxhead

Hey there. Recently, an animation Kickstarter that looks like it might be of interest to some managed to get successfully funded. It's an animated HORROR film.

To my knowledge, the only people who have pulled off horror films in animation would be the Japanese. Ralph Bakshi tried a live-action/animation horror film, but thanks to the meddling of execs, we got Cool World, which is considered a mess by many.

I freely admit to not being much of a fan of horror (though I do love horror-comedy, like Gremlins, Cabin In The Woods, and the Evil Dead movies), but regardless, I'm a huge supporter of animation as a serious storytelling medium that's capable of being more than "just for kids". Besides, I tend to have a fascination with the macabre, and-


Alright, ALRIIIIGHT!!! 

So anyways, now that we got a humorous bit out of the way, time to be a bit more serious. This project is the brainchild of Randall Kaplan, a filmmaker and artist who has worked in the film industry as an editor, concept artist, and even actor, and he has done some short films of his own. It's based around this character that came to him in childhood that he dubs Boxhead, a human-like creature with a head that has eyes and nothing else and a long stalk of a neck.

Creepy looking, isn't it?

He drew this character again and again, and it grew into a story. His thesis film in college was a live-action short film involving the creature, which was shown at festivals and eventually compiled with Kaplan's other films on the DVD "Behind The Flesh".

But he wasn't done with Boxhead yet, oh no. The story only grew, and Kaplan decided it should be a feature length movie, and as he was drawing these concepts and storyboards, he came to the realization that he HAD to see these images and characters come to life through drawings.

This is the story, according to the Kickstarter page:

Al is an aging, alcoholic recluse. There was a time when he aspired to be someone; a writer, with a life and career. That time, along with all of his dreams have long passed him by.

He lives alone, his life reduced to an empty, solitary and drunken existence.

But as time slips away, a strange creature watches, waiting in the dark...

One night Al discovers something absolutely horrible that could possibly save his soul.

He takes on the role of a detective, acting out a story he never finished.

All the while, the creature enters into different people's lives, unveiling their deepest fears and regrets, their loneliness...

...and feeding off of it.


Al is led down a rabbit hole, through a labyrinth of past and present fantasies and nightmares, to ultimately, find himself.

Promotional Art for Boxhead done by Randall Kaplan
This film has creative potential for quite a few reasons. First of all, as was mentioned, it's an animated horror film, a rarity outside of Japan. With the whole Animation Age Ghetto thing in place, people are still under the delusion that animation is just "for kids". In actuality, it's capable of being a storytelling medium in its own right, one that's capable of matching or even surpassing live-action. And with the right mind and the right project, it's possible to demonstrate that. I believe in its potential to be that. Sure, there can still be animation for kids and families, but that doesn't mean that ambitious, adult projects can't be accepted as well. I've mentioned that I was a huge fan of indie animator Bill Plympton before, and a lot of the reason was because he was always daring to be different from the mainstream, and it always showed in his work.

Randall Kaplan's project is similar. It dares to be different. It dares to present something new to animation and horror fans alike. And that's something that deserves to be admired.

Second, rather than being exploitive nonsense like certain horror films tend to fall under, this deals with some pretty heavy themes, like loneliness and isolation. It's very personal to Kaplan, but he hopes it'll be universal to others. To me, it's a story that has a lot of promise to it, a story about someone who has given up hope but, amidst a series of truly terrifying events, manages to finds himself. It's one that presents the possibility for a lot of depth. I love good stories, and this has the makings of not just a good horror story, but a good story in general, from the interesting premise to the strong themes.

And under it all, surprisingly, there will be a tenderness to it, something that doesn't come to mind when you think "horror". I don't know how most horror fans would respond, but personally, I like this idea. Sometimes, there needs to be something to balance out the darker aspects of a project, like humor or poignancy. Just like life isn't all sunshine and rainbows, life isn't all bleakness and misery, either. I love dark stuff as much as the next guy, but it's always nice to be reminded that, even in the darkest of times, the good of humanity can still shine through.

Turner Classic Movies wrote a blurb about Kaplan's short films back in 2009, and one that will hopefully apply to Boxhead as well:

"Kaplan expertly blends the uncanny, grotesque, and the touching..."

Already, this film sounds like it could be up my alley. Despite not being the world's biggest horror fan, I've managed to find quite a few I like and, thanks to stuff like Cinemassacre's Monster Madness reviews, I can understand and appreciate what the genre is about, what the appeal is, and what it's capable of. Besides, as someone who understands what it means to be lonely, (yes, even for someone who's not very social such as myself, I've had my fair share of loneliness,) I'm pretty sure it'll manage to gravitate towards me as well.

Third, just from what I've seen of the project, through the opening scene available on Kickstarter, as well as Kaplan's concept drawings, it looks great. The drawings are creative, well-shaded, and they really give off this heavy atmosphere. As I mentioned, I tend to have a fascination with the macabre, and whenever the macabre is depicted through drawings, it's very fascinating, because you can see where someone's imagination can truly go.

Like I said, he managed to get it successfully funded, but I feel indie artists need all the help they can get. I wrote to Kaplan, and he said that he was still open for donations and support of any kind. I plan to write back to him once I finish this blog post, thanking him for responding back and likely donating some money, because this is a project I'd like to see come to life, and one that I'm sure a lot of others would like to see as well.

If you like, you can read more about Boxhead here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/287021562/boxhead-an-animated-horror-film/description

And you can visit Kaplan's website here: http://www.randallkaplan.net

Thanks for reading and, as Kaplan told me in his email, "many dreams and nightmares to come..."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Two Cool New Kickstarter Projects

Image belongs to Bill Plympton

Bill Plympton's Revengeance

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of Bill Plympton. His work is creative, well-drawn and funny. From his shorts like Your Face and Guard Dog (both nominated for Academy Awards) to his features like The Tune and Idiots And Angels, he is an example of what you can do in animation when you follow your own path without interference from studio heads. Anyone who knows about him is aware that he usually does mostly everything by himself, animation, writing, designs, you name it. He usually has people to composite the films into computers and doing post-production work, but aside from that, Bill's the man behind it all, and he's done plenty of shorts and seven full-length features with this work method. His reason for not going with any collaborators? He never found anyone who could recreate his twisted imagination.

This time, however, he has himself a partner, an artist/writer who goes by the name of Jim Lujan, making this new project his first feature film to have a creative partner. After seeing some of Lujan's shorts, Bill felt that Jim's work was a perfect fit for his animation. So after calling him up and suggesting they collaborate, Jim sent Bill a script, Bill liked the results, and now, here we are. They set up a Kickstarter to get some extra funding for the project.

Bill will produce, animate and direct, while Jim will write, design, and provide music and voice. They even got some names like Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket, Vision Quest, The Dark Knight Rises) and Dave Foley (The Kids In The Hall, NewsRadio, A Bug's Life, Monsters University) to provide some of the voices.

The story, as described on the Kickstarter page, goes as thus:

Revengeance tells the story of a low-rent bounty hunter (named Rod Rosse, The One Man Posse) who gets entangled in a web of seedy danger when he takes on a job from an ex-biker/ex-wrestler turned U.S. senator named "Deathface." Rod has to find what was stolen from the senator and find the girl who stole it. Soon, Rosse finds there’s more than meets the eye to this dirty job. Between the ruthless biker gangs, the blood thirsty cults, and the crooked cops - Rod Rosse is a marked man. If the bullets don’t kill him - the California sun just might!

So as you can tell, this is a very adult story, but since I'm an avid supporter of animation being taken seriously as more than just a medium for younger audiences, I think it has its own merits. There's a demand for this kind of animation, and with Bill Plympton's amazing creativity, I'm positive he can turn out a great production. And despite not being familiar with Jim Lujan, I get the feeling he'll work great with Plympton. I mean, if his work is good enough to impress the King of Indie Animation himself to the point where he gets to work with him, there has to be something to admire about Lujan's work.

There's only seven days to go, though, and they haven't quite made the $80,000 mark yet. They're pretty close, though, so I'm hoping that, by spreading the word, they'll be able to make it.

To check the campaign out, go here: Bill Plympton's Revengeance: An Animated Feature Film by Bill Plympton

Image belongs to Playtonic Games

Yooka-Laylee

I've been getting back into the gaming mode, (more on that later, since I have a LOT to talk about involving it,) even getting a Nintendo 64 so I can play catch up with some Nintendo classics, most notably Banjo-Kazooie. Created by Rareware, the same guys behind such games as Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye 007 for the N64, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Killer Instinct, Battletoads, and a great many others, Banjo-Kazooie is considered one of the greatest platformers for the N64. I actually remember playing it at a friend's house, and playing it again, I still enjoy it. It plays great, it looks great, it's fun, it's funny, it's just downright brilliant. And so's its sequel, Banjo-Tooie.

Sadly, in the early 2000s, Rareware was purchased by Microsoft, and it's only gone downhill since, eventually culminating in what is considered the ultimate betrayal for Rare fans: Banjo-Kazooie-Nuts & Bolts. Don't believe me? Here's what game reviewer JonTron had to say on it, for those curious:



Thankfully, most of Rare's staff left to create Playtonic Games, and their spiritual successor, Yooka-Laylee (formerly Project Ukulele), is now available to be funded on Kickstarter. It actually managed the incredible feat of being fully funded in 40 minutes, (clearly demonstrating how much demand there is for a game of its kind,) but they still allow donations for it to make it the best game they can possibly make it. Not only do they have the original Banjo-Kazooie designer, Steve Mayles, back on board, but they have David Wise (Donkey Kong Country) and Grant Kirkhope (Banjo-Kazooie) doing the game's score. These are just a few of the names from Rare we can expect to work on this game. We don't know what the game's about yet. All we know is that our main stars are a chameleon and a bat and that it'll be done in the tradition of classic 3D platformers.

As someone who's sick to death of most modern gaming trends, this is a hopeful return to the good ol' platforming action adventure games that I love with some fresh faces. Forget stuff like Call Of Duty or whatever generic FPS is on the market. The world needs more games like this, that are in the action platformer spirit of Mario, Donkey Kong, Banjo-Kazooie, and even non-Nintendo games like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro The Dragon (two of my childhood favorites). Hopefully, with games like Yooka-Laylee, A Hat In Time (another platformer successfully funded through Kickstarter,) and Armikrog (the spiritual successor to the adventure point-and-click clay animated game The Neverhood,) we can bring back games that are fun, imaginative, creative, and artfully designed to the industry.

Who knows? We may eventually get a real Banjo-Threeie as well. (Hopefully, Nintendo, Playtonic, or someone will be able to buy back that particular IP. Hopefully.)

To check the campaign out, go here: Yooka-Laylee: A 3D Platformer Rare-vival by Playtonic Games

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oh Brother...

This was something that came up on my Blog Reading List:

Here's Why Disney's Frozen Will Be Here Forever

Let's forgive the fact that I think Frozen is just a very mediocre movie. This article doesn't talk about the kind of influence this movie in question could possibly have so much as it talks about how Disney is cashing in on its recent mega-hit. NOTHING in this article serves as proof that Frozen will have a lasting impact outside of how much it's making. We all know what the human race is like now, focusing on the most successful thing for a little while, then going on to the next successful thing once it comes along. That's what I think will happen to Frozen. Eventually it will wear out its welcome and people will move on from it. It's just taking longer than normal.