Something You Should Pre-Order

I’ve never really pre-ordered things really. I’ve always been a “Wait till release” kinda guy. Don’t know why; it’s just easier, I guess. For example, I never reserved a copy of any of the Harry Potter books.

In the past year, though, that’s changed. I’ve preordered Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean At The End of The Lane, Django Unchained, and most recently, Gene Luan Yang’s new book, Boxers and Saints. But now, something is coming out that I simply know I have to pre-order no matter what.

On October 15–as reported by Comics Alliance today–Disney’s wonderful, hilarious and occasionally scary animated series, Gravity Falls will be released on DVD. I’ve written about how much I love the show before, but really, it’s terrific and well-worth your time. Look it up.

This DVD won’t have much other than six episodes, a replica of one of the journals from the show, and a poster map of the titular town, but Im ordering it anyway.

Why? Because with home video companies, particularly with Disney, dollars determine output. The reason all of Darkwing Duck and DuckTales aren’t on DVD is because not enough people bought the initial sets. And with Disney’s notorious habit of taking years to release or re-release certain things on DVD, who knows when they’ll release it again?

People, if you love this show like I do, buy this. If you like Disney and like when they get offbeat, buy this. If you enjoy good, clever, and creative animation and want to see it succeed, buy it.

That’s it really. Go buy it.


Disney and Animation Historians

Props to Memoirs of a Culture Stalker and CriticalHit009 for getting me to think about this stuff.

I recently finished reading Michael Barrier’s wonderful Walt Disney: The Animated Man. As far as Disney biographies go, it’s probably the most unbiased account of his life you will ever read, although Barrier freely admits in the opening that it is far from the “definitive biography,” and he doubts it will be written for a long time as some papers pertaining to Disney’s life are withheld by the corporation that bears his name for legal reasons still today.

But reading that book–as well as Barrier’s other myriad essays available on his website–reminded me of a problem that I keep encountering in animation history that keeps bugging me: the need and want of several historians to place Disney on a pedestal above all other studios.

The book that does this the most is Charles Solomon’s 1994 tome Enchanted Drawings: The History of Animation which, while it is an excellent historical survey, clearly places Disney on a pedestal (there are two sections devoted to Disney’s output exclusively before discussing the work of others in the same period). This bugs me for a lot of reasons, but the main one is pretty easy to state.

My big problem with this line of thinking is that yes, while Disney is technically innovative and focused on the physical art of animation in a way other studios have never been, their characters–as in the stable of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the rest–aren’t visible enough to merit such devotion.

Think about it: have you ever seen an actual Mickey Mouse cartoon on TV? Of course you haven’t; Disney keeps that stuff locked up tight. The only DVD options you have for that stuff is either the insanely expensive Walt Disney Treasures boxsets or the Cartoon Favorites DVDs, which don’t have that much. The only time you ever see them on TV now is either on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (which is a show I don’t really have an opinion about one way or the other) or on the Have A Laugh! program–which takes a seven-minute short and trims it down to five minutes for some inane reason–and Re-Micks, which takes classic cartoon footage and scores it to Top 40 pop (it’s as dumb a novelty as it sounds).

By contrast, Cartoon Network–which has exclusive rights to the Looney Tunes stable of shorts–reruns the old shorts at least five times a day. Not only that, they’ve reinvented the characters with The Looney Tunes Show, which puts Bugs, Daffy & co. in a sitcom setting with new designs and lets them go (I’ve only seen a few episodes; overall, pretty good). As for the classic shorts, they’re available in the Golden Collection boxsets for the enthusiast or, for the budget-conscious, the Spotlight Collections, which are just the Golden Collection sets broken up into halves.

The Hanna-Barbera stable–Tom & Jerry, Fred Flintstone and so on–is pretty much the same deal. Affordable boxsets and easy access on TV (most of the Hanna-Barbera stable can be seen on Boomerang, Cartoon Network’s throwback channel).

Sure, all three sets of characters I’ve mentioned occupy plenty of merchandise, but there’s a greater ratio of mechandise-to-availability of actual cartoons with Disney than the other two.

And another thing: as Barrier and Solomon both document, there was a definite point where Disney short cartoons became formulaic and stale rather than fresh and innovative. Despite geniuses like Carl Barks working in the story department, Disney would–often led by Walt himself–restrict the characters to familiar patterns and jokes so as to hold up the integrity of the brand. It is Solomon, I believe, who tells a story of two Disney animators watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon in a theater at some point in the late ’40s and one asking the other  “Why aren’t we allowed to do stuff like this?”

So yeah, this deification of Disney by historians needs to stop. Yes, they’re technically innovative. Yes, their films are, even at their worst, always interesting and entertaining. But saying that Mickey, Donald & Goofy are still these multi-generational icons–when today’s kids have only grown up seeing them on merchandise–is ridiculous and annoying.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find some Daffy Duck to watch.

P.S. When Solomon addresses the then-airing Batman: The Animated Series in his book, he decries it for having “pedestrian storytelling.” Right: and that’s why it won a Daytime Emmy for writing in its first season, sparked a stylistic revolution in action animation that persists to this day, became a generational touchstone, directly influenced the comics it sprang from, and served as the foundation for a cohesive universe unlike anything ever seen in children’s cartoons before. Sure, that’s “pedestrian.”

“Insert your joke about lens flare/smoke monsters here”

I don’t even think I need to put a link to this news, since the entire Internet pretty much collectively has blown up about it. But, just in case you didn’t know, Disney announced last week, with rumors leaking on Thursday and their confirmation on Saturday, that the director chosen to bring Michael Arndt’s script for Star Wars: Episode VII to the screen is none other than…J.J. Abrams.

Now, while a lot of respectable and smart people have made their fears and frustration known about this, I’m actually really excited.

Why? Well, because I think Abrams has that same sort of visual flair that early Lucas had and because…and this is really important…he’s a Star Wars fan. BIG TIME!

Even though Abrams’ biggest box office success as a director is undoubtedly his 2009 reboot of Star Trek (which, among other things, kept the brand alive and helped introduce ME to it), he went into the project as having been a Star Wars kid in addition to having only a general knowledge of the franchise. Ultimately, that general sense of the iconography, along with a script that proved Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman can actually write (when they’re not working with Michael Bay), is what helped make the film a success with mainstream audiences.

Now, Abrams as a filmmaker has really only made one original movie: 2011’s Super 8. But that film tells you everything you need to know about where he comes from; the main character, a kid named Joe with a love of making movies, monsters and special effects is undoubtedly drawn from Abrams.

And y’know what? I bet you anything that, if he could without everyone breathing down his neck and cursing his name all the time, George Lucas could have made that movie too. heck, he probably even WAS that kid too!

And for all of you joking about smoke monsters and polar bears or whatever, y’all need to remember something; Abrams is directing but not writing. He’s working off of a treatment and future script by Michael Arndt, an Oscar-winning screenwriter who, in his screenwriting workshops, uses A New Hope as the example of a perfect screenplay. Whatever Arndt has written, it must be powerful, because his story is what helped make the Disney/Lucasfilm deal happen.

Episode VII hits theaters in 2015. I’ll be there and so will probably a lot of you. Till then, may the Force be with you.


I Have A New Strategy

So, if you’re like me and place way too much importance on this sort of thing, you know that this week, the Walt Disney Company paid George Lucas $4.5 billion dollars for his company Lucasfilm, which gives them the rights to, among other things like Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound, the Star Wars franchise. And the long-rumored Episode VII is coming out in 2015, with a film to follow that every two years.

<p>This really is just the tip of the iceberg.</p>

(Credit: Hitfix)

I found out about this through oblique references online before I actually found out the news story and honestly…I’m fine with it. I really am.

Let me back up here: I am not a HUGE Star Wars fan. I mean, I own all the movies, I like them (for the most part), I’ve read a few Expanded Universe novels, a bit of the excellentStar Wars: Legacy comic, I dressed up as Darth Vader for Halloween when I was little, I’ve played some video games and the Emmy-award winning, yet darn near impossible to find on DVD Star Wars: Clone Wars show is still on my list of things to watch…but I’m not a BIG fan. I don’t think it’s the best SF franchise out there, I don’t think it’s one of the best fictional universes out there and frankly, a whole lot of Star Wars stuff out right now doesn’t particularly interest me.

But this announcement DOES and here’s why. I was in high school when Disney bought Marvel Comics and at the time I groaned and joked about it like everyone else, but this? This makes total sense.

If one looks at the original trilogy, even the first film (which I did just last weekend for a class), it’s a very broad story. The characters are archetypes through and through and the story is about as predictable as it gets. George Lucas (who, if you look at his biography, is more of a visuals guy than a storytelling guy)has said on many occasions that he was inspired to make the first film in a homage to all the pulpy Westerns and SF serials he loved as a kid and I bet classic Disney films had some influence on that as well. They specialize in telling simple stories (heck, a large part of their animated features catalogue is culled from fairy tales), they know how to make characters that appeal to a broad group of people and–and this is the most important part–they know how to line up talented people and let them do their thing.

This is the third huge franchise Disney has bought since the start of the 21st Century, with the Muppets before them in 2005 and Marvel in 2009. In the cases of both, when it came time to make movies, Disney put people who LOVED the franchise and understood it (Jason Segel and Nick Stoller for The Muppets and, among other people, Joss Whedon for The Avengers respectively) in charge and let them do pretty much as they saw fit.

Considering that, and considering the phenomenal track record Disney has had by adopting that model–plus the sheer amount of Disney-affilated names who’d LOVE to write or direct anything to do with Wars (Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, etc.)–I’m excited to see what they do.

There’s more fun things to get excited about and one thing to keep in mind that drew McWeeny–one of my favorite film critics/insider Hollywood guys–chronicles here and here. Got to tell you, with this new Star Wars film, The Avengers 2 and Justice League–a little hopefully on that last one–all coming out in 2015, when I graduate college, it’s a great day to be a nerd.

May the Force be with you.