MorphToons: November 2015

November was quite the animated month. Interviews, reviews, holidays too.

Stitching Together an Animated Leap of Faith: An Interview With The Prophet Director Roger Allers

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, a GKIDS release, is one of 2015’s most compelling films, but it also happens to be one of the historical highlights of anthology animation.

With supervising animation director and screenwriter Roger Allers, director of The Little Matchgirl and co-director of The Lion King, at the helm, The Prophet’s poetic, powerful sequences were produced across the gender spectrum by different artists, studios and directors — including Song of the Sea’s Tomm Moore, Sita Sings the Blues’ Nina Paley, and Cheatin”s Bill Plympton. But instead of being a cross-continental logistical tangle, Allers explained that the ambitious project, co-produced by Salma Hayek, was actually an animated treat.

“I was so fortunate in the talent assembled for The Prophet,” Allers recently told me via email, while spreading the film’s word abroad. “I felt like the kid with the box with two layers of different chocolates!”


The Good Dinosaur is Good, Not Great, Pixar

Following in the cerebral, successful steps of Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur isn’t the greatest Pixar film ever made — but its painstaking replication of the Real World is simply astounding.

This would be a good way to describe the critical unanimity, as director Peter Sohn’s The Good Dinosaur evolves into theaters during an American holiday weekend buzzing with economic activity.


Rebooting Charlie Brown With The Peanuts Movie Director Steve Martino

With decades of cultural influence and capital beneath its hand-drawn belt, and the 50th anniversary of television’s foundational A Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon knocking at the door, Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts comic strip has nothing left to prove.

However, the same cannot be said of The Peanuts Movie, Blue Sky Studios and director Steve Martino’s respectful, rewarding CGI feature. Endorsed and co-written by Schulz’s son and grandson, Craig and Bryan, The Peanuts Movie has become a critical and commercial success, as well as an Oscar entrant for best animated film of the year. Which is a quite refreshing result, considering how it could very well have come off instead like an existing property cash grab.

But this is not the case with Martino’s deft mixture of Schulz’s comic strips — whose 2D lines were literally extrapolated into 3D models manipulated by a team of animators — and the Bill Melendez-directed animatemd projects like A Charlie Brown Christmas and You’re in Love, Charlie Brown, which are heavily quoted in Blue Sky’s full-length revival. I spoke with the pleasantly surprised Martino (pictured above) by phone about The Peanuts Movie’s pressurized production, merging the worlds of 2D and 3D animation, and why a Charlie Brown who is actually noticed and praised by the Little Red-Haired Girl who has captivated him isn’t much of a stretch for Schulz old-schoolers and new adopters.


The Peanuts Movie Plays It Safe

Charles Schulz’s legendarily lovable Peanuts loser Charlie Brown always failed, then triumphed, then failed, and so on.

According to critics, Blue Sky’s The Peanuts Movie pretty much does the same.


‘We Nailed It:’ An Interview With Shaun the Sheep Movie Co-Director Richard Starzak and Producer Paul Kewley

Despite comparison to the cinema of Chaplin, Aardman Animations’ Shaun the Sheep Movie bowed stateside this summer to criticism of its comparatively light box-office haul and even its old-school stop-motion technique.

But with a $100 million worldwide return on a slender $25 million budget, an Oscar campaign on the docket, and a sequel quite well underway, few are knocking Shaun the Sheep Movie now. They’re probably taking notes on how to make an all-ages masterpiece stripped of cynicism, with much less money than well-endowed CG competitors.

“I think people have an expectation, and a misunderstanding, that for an animated film to be a success, it has to make a billion dollars,” Shaun the Sheep producer Paul Kewley (top photo, left) told Cartoon Brew by phone, in a mind-meld with Richard Starzak (above right), who directed the film with Mark Burton. “And I would argue, categorically, no. We’ve proven that.”

The animation industry and fandom will continue to take note of Aardman as Shaun the Sheep Movie’s rollout to digital HD, DVD, Blu-ray, and on-demand arrives this month — right on time for the family holiday season. The same season, it bears noting, that Aardman’s half-hour holiday special, Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas, premieres on the BBC in the UK and Amazon Prime in the U.S., as well as the one in which Shaun the Sheep Movie’s award nominations, so far from the European Film Awards and BAFTA Children’s awards, start piling up.

I spoke with Starzak and Kewley about how and why Aardman’s low-budget, big-picture animation continues to compete in our blockbuster marketplace, and why stop-motion can be even more real than hyperreal CGI.


Rebooting Danger Mouse For A New Generation: Interview with Directors Robert Cullen and Paul O’Flanagan

Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall’s surreal ’80s spy-fi cartoon Danger Mouse is rolling out a sleeker post-millennial reboot across the pond. But will its new iteration, produced by Ireland’s Boulder Animation, soar in the U.S.?

“Although Cosgrove isn’t directly involved in the Danger Mouse reboot, we met both Brian — and Brian Trueman, the original series’ main writer — on separate occasions,” current Danger Mouse animation director Paul O’Flanagan told Cartoon Brew. “We showed them what we were doing with the new show, and they were both very enthusiastic, supportive and wished us all the best.”

It’s an important endorsement for the new Danger Mouse, which is earning strong ratings since debuting a little over a month ago. Running from 1981-1992, the original Danger Mouse series was a madcap, tongue-in-cheek nod to Patrick McGoohan’s Danger Man and The Prisoner, the long-running James Bond franchise, and even Sherlock Holmes. One of the earliest British cartoons to be syndicated in America, the show starred the eponymous secret agent and his bumbling hamster sidekick, Ernest Penfold.

Predictably, our reboot-crazy modern age called in an upgrade for Cosgrove and Hall’s good-natured series, and there wasn’t exactly a shortage of animators or voiceover talent — from John Oliver and Stephen Fry to Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey, who co-stars as the series’ new (thankfully female) spy, Jeopardy Mouse — itching to step up to the cheese. I spoke with Danger Mouse’s director Robert Cullen and animation director Paul O’Flanagan about retooling the classic for old-schoolers and new adopters, and how European animation is holding its own against the American juggernaut.


Moonbot’s The Numberlys Pilot Debuts on Amazon Video

Moonbot Studios’ series pilot for The Numberlys has launched on Amazon Video, in search of a playful escape from a world too rigid.

The pilot is one of six children’s projects that Amazon debuted today in the US, UK, Germany and Austria. The other animation projects in Amazon’s fall pilot lineup are If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Danger & Eggs, Eddie of the Realms Eternal, Everstar, and Yoyotoki HappyEars! Amazon customers are invited to watch and provide feedback on the shows that they wish to see turned into full series.

“The Numberlys characters reflect the Marx Brothers sensibilities of how we work, that haphazard, playful inventiveness,” Moonbot co-founder Brandon Oldenburg told me. “Despite insurmountable challenges, they’re blissfully naive and go barreling right into things. Through trying to do something different, they discover new things they never would have expected.”