Tagged: animation

Box Office Democracy: Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings fills a void I didn’t realize had grown in the movie landscape until I was watching it— it’s an earnest adventure movie for all ages without a trace of camp. There’s very little winking at the audience, there are no topical references, and the celebrity voice actors even try not to sound like themselves. It is refreshingly straight-laced and serious about the mythology in a way that seems lost sometimes even among supposedly serious films. It’s easy to get lost in the wonder of the story because everything is pushing you to do exactly that. I’ve scarcely been so happy to be lost in a film.

Kubo is like a fairy tale that you forgot. It combines a litany of familiar tropes like evil elders, a bumbling but noble sidekick, and the enduring magical power of parental love and combines it in to something that feels timeless, more a Monet than a paint-by-number. It’s a fairly basic hero’s journey story— Kubo has his life destroyed and must flee with only a few magical artifacts to protect him, and must gather legendary items to defeat the evil moon king. The artifacts in question don’t actually seem super helpful in defeating the villain, but that’s never what these things are really about. If I want to nitpick the metaphor gets a little clunky at times and might completely break down in the film’s climax, but I was consistently entertained and the last shot is killer so the rest is meaningless details.

There’s a level of base discomfort one can get from watching a movie so clearly trying to be Japanese but with no Japanese people in anywhere in the writing or directing credits. This is further compounded when white people voice all of the principal characters. It didn’t feel disrespectful to me, it felt tone consistent with the fables and myths I was familiar with from taking a few East Asian literature classes in college, but it isn’t my place to tell other people what is or is not over their boundaries for a piece of media like this. In a perfect world I would like to see movies like these, love letters to legitimate cultural artifacts, have more people from that culture playing the roles, but I understand that that isn’t where Hollywood is right now. I can’t find any Japanese people criticizing the film on these grounds, so I’m content to enjoy the movie and hope for the time when representation is a little better.

Representation issues aside the cast is uniformly fantastic. Charlize Theron is tiptoeing this line between loving maternal figure and fierce protector and absolutely nails it. Matthew McConaughey gives his strongest performance since winning an Oscar, and it’s probably not even worth looking up what those movies are to figure out how much of a compliment this is. Art Parkinson does most of the heavy lifting in the movie and might finally be moving away from being “that kid who plays Rickon Stark”, if he can keep doing work like this (or any work where he gets actual lines). Ralph Fiennes is such an unexpected delight and is wonderfully understated, but I couldn’t help but think that David Carradine would have 100% gotten that role if he were alive. Rooney Mara is going to be in my nightmares for her exquisitely creepy work. I’ve already mentioned this, but the greatest part of all of this work is the actors are willing to disappear in to the role instead of just sounding like themselves and cashing a big paycheck. I’m especially impressed with McConaughey, who even in his best work sounds an awful lot like himself but manages to fall away in to the part here.

Kubo and the Two Strings was a movie I wasn’t excited to see, it didn’t grab me from the trailer and it was put in a week that just seemed to scream “we’re done putting out the big movies this summer, here’s what’s left over” and I was so pleasantly surprised. Kubo is a strong contender for best animated movie of the year and could probably make a run at best action movie. I loved how it had a childlike sense of adventure built-in, but didn’t feel childish in the way a lot of kids movies can. It seems to be cursed to never find an audience, perhaps because it wasn’t willing to pitch itself as young as possible but it deserves to be a bigger hit. Kubo and the Two Strings is the best movie I’ve ever seen from Laika, and I hope it’s a sign of things to come and that the soft opening numbers don’t scare them back to The Boxtrolls or similar fare.

Jen Krueger: Checking in to The Grand Budapest Hotel

Sometimes living in L.A. has great perks, and one of the most recent I’ve enjoyed is the fact that of the four theaters in the U.S. that had The Grand Budapest Hotel on limited release this past weekend, one was just a few blocks from my apartment. I know Wes Anderson isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but as someone who’s been a fan of his films for more than a decade, I find myself increasingly annoyed by the most frequent criticism of his work: he’s making the same movie over and over again. The most common things cited to support this complaint are the look and themes of his films, but I don’t find either of these to be valid arguments. (more…)

REVIEW: “Justice League: War”

Justice League War cover artThe Warner Animation series of direct-to-disc features has apparently said farewell to the past as this week’s release of [[[Justice League: War]]] and May’s [[[Son of Batman]]] are both from the New 52 era. A pity given how many cool stories remain unadapted. Readers who picked up Justice League #1 in August 2011 were treated to a brand new take on the tried and true characters from DC Comics, but it was clearly early in their collective careers. It was the first time many were meeting one another and dealing with the threat of Darkseid from Apokolips.
Batman-parademonA fresh start but far from a clean one but discussions of that title and the entire New 52 belong elsewhere. Right now, we’re examining the latest feature from director Jay Oliva to see how well it stands up on its own. He’s working from a script by Heath Corson, making his DC animated debut after writing Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktacular and six episode s of Aim High. He hews closely to Geoff Johns’ opening six-issue arc, keeping a lot of the action and dialogue but had to make accommodations when it was decided Aquaman would be jettisoned for Captain Marvel (okay, he’s now called Shazam, which sucks). As a result, the story is about seven heroes coming together for the common good but it’s really about Vic Stone’s transformation from promising teen athlete to cyborg warrior, using him as an audience identification figure.

JLFoursome1We open in Gotham City as Green Lantern arrives to deal with a parademon, believing it to be the urban legend Batman. When the real Dark Knight shows up, Green Lantern is surprised and then stunned to realize he’s just a guy in a suit. They don’t like one another but have to put that aside to deal with the growing number of parademons. Elsewhere, more parademons are threatening Washington DC, Central City, and Metropolis, leaving behind mysterious boxes that baffle scientists and heroes alike. Vic Stone comes to Central’s S.T.A.R. Labs to chew out his father for missing the big game – again – and is on hand when things go boom. Meantime, in Washington, Steve Trevor is bringing Wonder Woman to meet the President but things get delayed when the uglies arrive.

WW protestIn time, we learn they are leaving Mother Boxes behind in an attempt to terraform Earth, paving the way for Darkseid to take control. Humanity would be repurposed into becoming parademons to grow his army. There’s lots of fighting, lots of bickering, quipping, and things blowing up before the heroes prevail.

JLW_ACT_D_05715For us to believe these larger-than-life figures can exist, everything else around it has to make perfect sense. Instead, time and again, the story has gaps of logic or basic science that make you go, “aww, come on! “If Batman has been studying Superman before they encounter one another, he would either have a plan or come prepared because, you know, he’s Batman. Instead, we waste several minutes watching them duke it out. When Air Force One is breached by the parademons, apparently there’s no decompression in the cabin. And if we’re talking terraforming then why are the boxes being placed in these specific places and nowhere else on Earth? Or if they’re on all seven continents, we should address who is dealing with the parademons there and the effects on Earth’s environment. Nope, not touched on at all.

Flash-GLInstead, we get a Captain Marvel who is as gosh wow as Billy Batson is a brat, never once displaying the wisdom of Solomon. Oliva decided to play off the magical thunder and has it crackling around him and Marvel occasionally hurls bolts of lightning which is interesting but doesn’t serve the character well. Similarly, Wonder Woman comes across as a bumpkin, making proclamations about new discoveries with the earnestness of Jethro Bodine.

Darkseid1Overall, the origin story works pretty well if the action is prolonged at times in lieu of actual conversations between the characters. We get hints of a vast new playing field and it’s interesting to see that not all of them are convinced banding together more than once is a good idea – something that would be worthy of exploring in another film since the comic is long past that point.

Cyborg1Interestingly, the character design this time around is from former DC artist Dusty Abell and he once more gives everyone pointy chins and adds extraneous details to GL’s uniform while mangling Flash’s chest bolt. WW’s outfit is a departure from the source material and sort of works. For a fresh take on these heroes, they look remarkably similar, unlike the radical re-envisioning Jim Lee brought to the printed page.

IMG_3642The New 52 vocal cast works pretty well with Alan Tudyk making for a surprisingly good Superman while Jason O’Mara does equally well with Batman. Christopher Gorman’s Flash, Justin Kirk’s GL, and Shemar Moore’s Cyborg are just fine. Michelle Monaghan needed to tone down her Amazon Princess.

The video release comes as a combo pack with a Blu-ray, DVD< and Ultraviolet copy. On the Blu-ray there are several featurettes starting with Deconstructing Justice League: War with Jay Oliva & Jim Lee as the two “meet” for the first time and dissect several sequences from the film, comparing print to animation and you learn some interesting things from it. There’s a surprisingly thorough look at Lee’s professional life in Creating Heroes: The Life and Art of Jim Lee, touching on his development as an artist and his time at Marvel before leaving to form WildStorm (nee Homage) and Image Comics. Finally, there’s Justice League: War Act D – From animatic to pencil test which has side by side by side comparisons of the same Act D scenes, which is interesting for those into art and animation.

Rounding out the disc is the usual preview of the next video, May’s Son of Batman, with O’Mara once more voicing the Caped Crusader and loosely adapting Grant Morrison’s storyline. Then there are four animated episodes which leave you scratching your head at the choices. These include  Justice League Unlimited Season 3 “Destroyer”; Batman: The Brave and The Bold Season 2 “The Malicious Mr. Mind”; Young Justice Invasion: Destiny Calling Season 2 Part 1 “Happy New Year”; and Young Justice Invasion: Destiny Calling Season 2 Part 1 “Earthlings”.

Dennis O’Neil: Disney, Woody and Me

Dennis O’Neil: Disney, Woody and Me

A week or two back, our own media goddess, Martha Thomases, observed that in real life Walt Disney was not the debonair and avuncular presence he wanted us to think he was. I’d heard rumblings over years, now and then, that Walt was guilty of anti-Semitism and racism and maybe sexism and that he was chummy with Nazis. I noted these rumors and then, no outrage, no anger – I pretty much forgot them.

But why didn’t I get upset? It might have been because I wasn’t a Disney fan. What he was selling was not high on my shopping list. In fact, I’m only a casual consumer of animation, which may seem odd, given how I’ve earned my living for the past half-century or so: all those comic books…

But at least the cartoons in comic books have the decency to stand still.

Understand, I don’t hate animation. I remember thinking highly of Mighty Mouse when I was in elementary school, and when Bugs Bunny appeared on my neighborhood movie screen, I enjoyed a few funny minutes. And today, I consider The Simpsons and Family Guy pop culture treasures, though I probably respond more to the writing and voice acting in those shows than to the (bouncing/hopping/jiggly) images. I could even enjoy Donald Duck and his pals. But if the Disney empire had never existed, my life would not be impoverished.

So Uncle Walt was a stinker? Well, that’s regrettable, but many things are, and I have no emotional investment in Mr. D.

That’s not true of every entertainer.

When the Woody Allen’s shenanigans with his step-daughter, Soon Yi Previn, became public knowledge, I had a twitch of distaste, because, no doubt about it, I liked Woody as a comedian, a writer, an actor, and most all, as a film maker. I’ve liked him ever since I first saw his young self do standup, probably on a black-and-white television screen, and I’ve liked and admired him ever since. The Soon Yi business? Yeah, that was regrettable. But since Woody and Soon Yi did not share DNA, no real, biological, incest was involved, and Woody did do the honorable thing and marry the lady. To quote my favorite line from Shakespeare: “Use every man after his desert and who shall ‘scape whipping?”

But now, on the occasion of Woody’s receiving a lifetime achievement award, his son, Ronin, and Ronin’s mother, Mia Farrow, claim that he once molested a seven-year-old. Sexual exploitation of children is hard to forgive, especially when it’s done by someone with whom you identify – one of your heroes. The Soon Yi affair was ugly; molesting children is monstrous.

I try not to judge anyone. But don’t expect to see me at the next Woody Allen movie.




SATURDAY: Back to our normal schedule with Marc Alan Fishman


REVIEW: Space Stars

SpaceStars_CompleteBy the 1980s, the cartoon creations of the 1960s must have looked pretty tempting given the failure of so many properties from the decade in between to latch on to the hearts and minds of the young television viewers. After Scooby-Doo’s triumphant arrival, so many series came and went, aping the premise or adapting films and television series with little to show for the effort. It must have made sense, then, to dust off the last round of interesting space age series, produce a few new episodes, and cram them together for a potpourri hour-long romp. And so was born Space Stars, which lasted all of a season on NBC. An opportunity for new Space Ghost tales and a new adventure with the Herculoids can’t be beat. To freshen the batch, though, Hanna-Barbera decided to offer up Teen Force, inspired by ABC’s The Mod Squad, and a Jetsons spinoff featuring Astro and the Space Mutts. The Teen Force each had a power (of course) and the requisite Astromites for pets/sidekicks. Meantime, Astro somehow left George behind to begin working with the heroic Space Ace (unrelated to Don Bluth’s not-yet-released arcade game), alongside newcomers Cosmo and Dipper.

The stories are mediocre and the animation as limited as usual but there is a charm to these heroes that still speaks to my 8 year old’s heart. Better yet, the continuity buff in me liked that all the characters cameoed in each other’s stories, setting up an early H-B shared universe. It’s also cool to see the Space Star Finale where Space Ghost, the Herculoids, and Teen Force take on one extremely disappointing bad guy.

The three-disc set from Warner Archive comes complete with the previously unseen since broadcast Space Science interstitials, created to appease worried parents. For me, this is a welcome package of cool stuff and well worth a look.

Addendum: Daniel Ferrante at Warner Bros. reached out and corrected some information: “the Space Science interstitials were never aired at all – we found the footage at the end of the reels and reconstructed where they were meant to be placed, so all the educational segments are seen for the first time anywhere on the DVD. The show was originally scheduled for the previous season and was supposed to run 90 minutes with an additional Herculoids segment and a Jetsons. When the show was cut down to 60 minutes (delay and cut caused by the previous year’s strike) the Space Science segments were cut out ( but thankfully retained, so we could put them back in 30 years later). As a side note for comic folk,  all the educational segments were written by Don Glut.”

Thanks, Daniel, for the intel!

Cartoon Hangover launches second season of Bravest Warriors

Natasha_Allegri_BW_Promo_ArtOn October 17, one of the hottest animated series returns for a second season as Frederator Studios unleashes all new episodes of the breakout hit Bravest Warriors exclusively on its Cartoon Hangover YouTube channel.

From Pendleton Ward, the creator of the Emmy-nominated Cartoon Network smash hit Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors chronicles the out-of-this-world futuristic adventures of four teenaged costumed heroes as they warp through the universe to save adorable aliens.  Joined by fan favorite characters Catbug and Impossibear, the Bravest Warriors split their time between intergalactic adventures and hanging out in their invisible giant robot hideout.  The new season will feature 12, 5-minute episodes with new installments debuting every other Thursday at 4pm ET.

Upon its premiere last Fall, Bravest Warriors became an instant hit.  The 11 episode first season has garnered more than 32 million views to date, and won the Shorty Award for Best Web Show of 2013. Its appeal has also attracted the attention of the licensing community, with more than 15 manufacturers signing on to develop an array of merchandise featuring Catbug, Impossibear, and the warriors that is now rolling out to Hot Topic, Wal-Mart and other retailers.

The Bravest Warriors second season premiere episode , “Aeon Worm,” directly follows the season 1 finale cliffhanger “Catbug,” with the secret of the mysterious, unlockable door sent from the See-Through Zone where their parents have been trapped for two years.  The new season will feature episodes written by Jhonen Vasquez, the creator of Nickelodeon’s cult-hit Invader Zim, and rising star Noelle Stevenson, best known for her Internet Comic Nimona.   The roll-out of the new season is being supported by a multi-platform social media campaign across YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, Google + and Instagram.

The show is the flagship series for Frederator Studios burgeoning Cartoon Hangover YouTube Channel and the new episodes are part of an aggressive programming expansion planned over the next year. Conceived and developed by Frederator Studios’ head Fred Seibert – the animation luminary whose executive producing credits include such animated blockbusters as Adventure Time, The Fairly OddParents, The Powerpuff Girls and  Dexter’s Laboratory – Cartoon Hangover ranks as one of the fastest growing channels from YouTube’s 2012 funded channel initiative.  Since its launch in November 2012, the channel has generated  more than 13 million unique viewers (source: YouTube Analytics), over  55 million views of its programming, more than 156 million minutes watched of its shows, and over 780 thousand subscribers.  Cartoon Hangover is part of Channel Frederator, a new multi-channel network devoted to animation and entertainment.

“The internet is ushering in the next golden age of animation.  We created Cartoon Hangover to hurry it up and give tomorrow’s hitmakers a platform to show their creations to big audiences who deserved and are craving quality animation, wonderful writing and great characters.  Bravest Warriors reflects the type of highly-innovative and imaginative entertainment Cartoon Hangover will deliver as we look to lead a whole new animation revolution,” said Mr. Seibert.

Bravest Warriors is directed, written and executive produced by Breehn Burns, with Frederator Studios serving as series producers.  The show was developed by Breehn Burns, Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi (Pete & Pete, Sanjay and Craig).

Also this month, Cartoon Hangover will continue to unveil new animated shorts that could serve as the inspiration for new series on the channel.  This includes Dead End, created by Hamish Steele and animated by Mel Roach, who has also created the popular Cartoon Hangover short, Rocket Dog.  Dead End tells the tale of the dynamic trio of Barney, Norma, and Pugsley who discover that a ghost is haunting their Wifi, and clogging up their Internet connection with ectoplasmic goo. The Dead End pilot is slated to release just in time for Halloween on Thursday, October 24.

The new season will feature 12, 5-minute episodes with new installments debuting every other Thursday at 4pm ET.

The debut episode has already gotten 1.6mm views.


You can also check out the new trailer:



Emily S. Whitten: TMNT & Ciro Nieli & Greg Cipes

Whitten Art 131022As promised in my New York Comic Con round-up last week, this week I bring to you the awesome chats I had there with executive producer Ciro Nieli and Michelangelo voice actor Greg Cipes of the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series on Nickelodeon (and if you missed it before, I’ve previously interviewed the spectacular Rob Paulsen, voice of Donatello). Ciro and Greg were both absolutely delightful to speak with, and shared some great insights on the show.

If you haven’t given the current TMNT a shot yet (maybe because you were loyal to the original; or you’ve never watched TMNT before; or you’re an adult so why would you be watching a kids’ show…) you are totally missing out. I’m a fan of the original series (having watched from the very first episode at the age of maybe six or seven), and until this series, haven’t really been interested in any of the ones following that, because they just didn’t grab my attention (and, honestly, the live-action versions just plain freaked me out). But when I learned that Rob Paulsen, voice of the original Raphael, was going to be voicing Donatello, I knew I had to give this show a try.

The first couple of minutes of watching were spent getting used to the unique animation style; and then the rest of the time was spent completely falling in love with the new visual style, the storyline and humor, and the new voices and quirks of the characters. The current show is full of humor, warmth, action, and adventure, and pays homage to the original animated and comic book series’ without being in the least bit stale or unoriginal. It’s also grown over the course of the first season along with the Turtles, who have begun exploring the world outside of the sewers and encountering serious problems and responsibilities. By the end of Season 1 and first episode of Season 2, the show has entered some pretty dark and serious territory; but happily, appears to be holding on to the humor and sense of fun that made the show so appealing in the first place. I can’t wait to see where they go with it from here.

So without further ado, let’s see what a couple of the folks involved had to say about that and the show in general! Read on for the interview transcripts, or head on over to YouTube and watch the video interviews there!

•     •     •     •     •

Greg Cipes (voice of Michelangelo)

(YouTube video: Click here.)

Greg, you are known as the voice of Michelangelo on the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show, which is fantastic.

Yes, I am Mikey.

I know that, like me, you were a fan of the original show, because I’ve heard you talk about it on Rob’s Talkin’ Toons podcast. When you were a kid, what else did you watch?

Only the Turtles. Do you mean now, or back then?

Either one!

Really back then, it was all about the Turtles; and back then I didn’t watch too much TV other than the Turtles because I wanted to go outside and play. I wanted to go outside and skateboard like the Turtles. I wanted to go to karate class and learn martial arts like the Turtles. So it really influenced me a lot.

That’s really cool. How old were you when you first started watching it?

Eight years old.

And was Michelangelo always your favorite?

Yeah, Mikey was always my favorite. Although I probably dressed up as a Turtle for Halloween many, many times; and I’ve probably been all the Turtles.

Have you ever been Splinter?

No, not yet! This Halloween.

Yeah, maybe this Halloween! It’s coming up. So of course you’ve done a lot of voiceover; but as a huge Turtles fan, what was it like getting the role of Michelangelo?

Oh my gosh, when Ciro Nieli told me he was making the new show; I’ve worked with Ciro on Teen Titans, and his show called Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! that he created. It’s a great show. So he said, I’m doing Turtles, and I want you to be a Turtle, and I was like, “What?” It just seemed like a dream, right? I was like, “Really?” And of course I had to go through the casting process, which took like, a year. And then when I got the phone call, and the contract, the deal came through, it was really maybe one of the best days of my life.

That’s really cool. Did you call everybody you knew, like, “Guess what??”

Yeah: “I’m a Turtle!!”

And did they all say, “We knew it would happen someday?”

I guess so, yeah. It just made sense. You know, Nickelodeon hired me because they felt like I really am the real life Mikey.

It sounds like it, from your hobbies and everything. Now of course Rob Paulsen was on the original (1987) series, and is on the new one. What’s it like working with someone who was in the original franchise?

Well, it’s cool. I honestly don’t remember what any of the Turtles sound like from the original show at all; nor did I listen to them – so what I brought to Mikey was just me.

Did you do that on purpose, so you could bring your own spin?

Yeah; well I don’t watch much of anything these days, because I’m still very active. I like to be doing things rather than watching TV; unless the Turtles are on! But I didn’t do any kind of research to go back and listen to anything; I just brought myself to it, and what I felt Mikey would be; which is ultimately me; a dimension of myself.

With the new Turtles, what do you think about the direction of the show, and the look of the show, which is so different?

Oh, it’s so cool. So cool. I think it’s the hottest thing on TV right now; better than any live-action show. It’s set a new standard in the animation world, as far as TV animation goes. Every episode’s a stand-alone movie. Like, a feature film quality animated CG thing; but it’s not just CG, it’s this new mix of…Ciro’s notorious for creating new, groundbreaking styles of animation like he did with Teen Titans. It’s got the anime thing mixed with the comic book thing and the CG thing; and there’s all kinds of…

It looks a little bit like a video game sometimes.

Yes, and that too! It’s just got everything going on. It’s like candy for your eyes.

It is! I actually went into it unsure if I’d like it because I really loved the old one; but then I started watching it and I was like, “This is the best thing!” So with the storylines, do you like where that’s going? Do you know anything about what’s in store for Mikey?

I know everything that’s in store, but I can’t tell you anything! I mean, Mikey’s growing up a little bit; he’s got more experience; he’s wiser. But he really hasn’t changed – he’s still very free-spirited. He’s a “now-ist.” He’s just wild; and it’s really fun to play someone like that. He brings that out in me. But he does become more intelligent based on experience, as we all do; so he kind of maybe steps into the leader roll more.

Cool! I enjoy that it started with them not being so sure of themselves and growing. So do you have a favorite episode from the last season?

My favorite episode from Season 1? Oh my gosh, it’s so hard to go back. I really am a now-ist; I don’t think about the future, I don’t think about the past; so once I’ve experienced it, and I’ve done it, I don’t think about it again. So for me to go back is difficult. Also because we’ve done so many episodes; and I do eight other cartoons; all these different worlds mesh together.

That’s fair! I personally loved the one where he had the tPod.

The tPod, of course! It’s always so fun to play Mikey, that every episode’s really cool; very fun. And they always give me fun situations to be in.

Yes. I’ve heard that recording with everybody can be a lot of fun. Do you have any good stories about that?

Actually, you know what, I do have a good story – working with Roseanne Barr. She plays Kraang Prime; and she’s awesome. She’s so funny. And she’s a friend of mine, and before she got the role, they were like, “Who’s going to play Kraang Prime?” And I was like, “It should be Roseanne.” And it was such a so-far-out-there casting choice, but Ciro was into it, and we made it happen. So it was really cool to have her on the show and work with her.

That’s really neat. So as you said, you’re working on eight other shows. Tell me a bit about what else you’re doing now.

Well, I’m on a show called Teen Titans Go!, which is a wild, crazy, funny, goofy show, that keeps getting crazier. I’m on Ultimate Spider-Man; I play Iron Fist, Danny Rand. And I can’t say much, but I’ve been hired on [The Legend of] Korra. I’m on The Middle on ABC; they keep having me back; and recently I just finished a big arc on Anger Management with Charlie Sheen – these are live-action shows. I’ve got a couple of movies coming out; and I’m also producing and directing my own TV stuff now. I have a company that I just started with Rose McGowan; a television/film production company, called RMGC Productions, and we’re creating our own original content and going around and pitching it, and making these things happen ourselves.

That’s awesome. So are you in the pitching process? Has something been picked up?

I can’t say, but we are pitching a lot of original things that we’ve created.

That’s really cool; and do you have a place where people can keep up on some of that?

Yeah, GregCipes.com.

Great. Now talking about live-action versus voice over work, what’s the difference in those experiences? Do you prefer one or the other, or have any insights for people who are aspiring to be one or the other?

Well, everyone’s always asked me, “How can you do all of it?” Because not only am I an actor – I’m a musician, I’m a director, I’m a surfer, I’m a painter; but ultimately where I make money is in the entertainment world in general, and specifically acting. And a lot of it’s from animation. But – just do what you love. I do it all. I do movies, TV shows, animation, music, all of it. Just do it. Because if you love it, that’s all that matters. So you just do it, if you love it, and you’ll get better and better at it – and then people will want to hire you.

Excellent advice. Now with music, I know you play guitar and had a CD out. Are you working on something new with that?

Yeah, I’m putting out a solo album, entitled Cipes. That’s coming out soon, and I’m going to start releasing singles, and funny, wild music videos. And I also put a music video out recently; a side project called Super Space Fighters, which is based on a comic book that I’ve created. And there’s a music video right now called “International Kid Notorious” on YouTube. But really I’m focusing on my solo career now. Oh, and I put an album out in 2007, with my band called Cipes and the People, and that was called “The Conscious Revolution.”

That’s really cool; and thank you so much for the interview, Greg.

•     •     •     •     •

Ciro Nieli (executive producer)

(YouTube video: Click here.)

I know you were a fan of TMNT as a child, as was I. Coming into this project as someone who was a fan of the franchise, what was your experience getting into the new show?

Well, the one thing about Turtles was that I worked on a lot of projects, and Turtles would always be happening, somewhere, somehow, and I would not be a part of it. And I would just watch it go by and be like, “Damn! I missed Turtles again.” And then I would be like, “Eh, whatever. I did something cool instead, and that’s not my Turtles.” So to be able to finally get to do my Turtles? I mean when I went in to pitch it, it was so exciting to be able to just go, “This is my version of it” and for them to say, “Hey, that sounds good. Let’s try it.”

And a lot of it was just love for the original series. The original comic series; that Mirage Volume One.

Right; and the original animated series was also great. I know that there are some references to the original animated series, as well as, of course, the same mythology. I loved when they had Michelangelo with the 1987 Mikey face over his own [the “tattoo of my face…on my face!” bit]. So is that something that you do, or that everyone does together, or how does that work out?

It depends. Back then, it was more me doing it, because the writers were just kind of more focused on the story. Now I have a little bit of a different relationship with my story editor; so we’ll do things now…where it used to be just the board artists were adding things like what you’re talking about, which is way more visual, now it’s a little more tied in. Like we watch the old series sometimes, and we’ll actually re-use lines and stuff like that. We find ways to slip it in that’s not even overt. It just starts to feel like the brand.

So super-fans might notice, but not everybody.

Yeah, I mean, people will call it out. They’ll be like, “Oh my God, that was like, this episode, where Mikey said this,” and you’ll be like, “Wow, that’s so weird, that you remember that.” Because we’ll watch it, and go, “Oh, let’s write that down.” And then we put it up on the wall.

That’s fantastic. Now of course, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was not your first project. Can you tell me a little about your background in all of this?

I started in animation years ago. When I first got to L.A., my first job was on Family Guy. I was a board artist; actually a revisionist storyboard artist. And then I did a bunch of other stuff online; and then eventually I found my way, in terms of bigger jobs, to Warner Bros. Eventually there I became a director on Teen Titans. That’s where I met Cipes for the first time. He was Beast Boy, Garfield Logan; and then after that…I moved around a lot. I went to Disney; I had my own show there, called Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! Which Cipes was in as well. He was a boy who found a giant robot that was inhabited by cyborg chimps, and he learned the power of Monkey Fu, and fought demons from hell, basically. It was awesome. We did that in Japan; that was a great period in my life.

Were you actually in Japan, doing that? How long were you there?

Yes. We did that project for about four years. And during that time I was back and forth a lot, sometimes months at a time. I learned some Japanese. After that, I bumped back around to the studios. I did some stuff for Warner Bros., some Batman stuff. I was the showrunner on Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for the first season, which was great, getting to do the Marvel thing. And then I think that kind of segued right into Turtles. I didn’t really have any time off in between those gigs, so…Turtles just kept rolling. Like, that’s what you do, you work – while you’re on one project, you try and get the next one going.

Sure! So as I said, I watched the original, and I hadn’t watched any of the ones between that and this, because they just never appealed to me. But I watched this one, in part because Rob [Paulsen] is on it, and I love Rob as a voice actor; and I just love the new show. It’s fantastic. It has a lot of humor and a lot of heart. Was that part of your vision, that you wanted to bring to it?

I mean, the whole thing that we always wanted to do was to make the fighting more accurate; make the funny funny, and then actually have a strong sense of drama. I’m one of those kids – like, the first movie that kind of blew my mind was Empire Strikes Back, and the thing that you could say about Empire is that that’s the show where the heroes get their ass kicked, and lick their wounds a lot. And there’s something about that – to actually have that sense of gravity and loss and stakes means a lot. So to balance that against humor is perfect. And I work with funny guys. I think we genuinely try to be really funny, and scary, all the time.

I heard that the original 1987 cast is coming back. How is that going to work?

Well, not to blow it out of proportion – it’s just a big cameo. But it’s great. Without giving too much away – the Turtles get lost in some dimensional portals, and they kind of look into the Eighties a little bit.

That’s fantastic. I can’t wait to see it, and thank you so much!

•     •     •     •     •

Well, I hope you guys got as big a kick out of these interviews as I did! Thanks again to Ciro and Greg for their time, and the folks at Nickelodeon for setting this up, and until next time, Servo Lectio!




REVIEW: Uncle Grandpa – “Good Morning!”

Cartoon Network’s Uncle Grandpa, seen here with Pizza Steve, Gus, and Giant Realistic Flying Tiger.

Artist Willy Elder called it “chicken fat” – the extra background gags he’d cram into his art for Mad, Little Annie Fanny, and elsewhere.  He described it as “The part of the soup that is bad for you, but where all the flavor is.” Cartoon Network’s new Uncle Grandpa is slopping over with “chicken fat”, but manages not to drown in it. It successfully answers the question, “What if Mary Poppins were not only male, but an idiot”?

A spin-off from Peter Browngardt’s previous effort, Secret Mountain Fort Awesome, the title character is described as “Everybody in the world’s Uncle and Grandpa”, a magic character that drives around in an enchanted RV with his compatriots Gus the world’s strongest monster, Pizza Steve (a sentient slice of pizza) and Giant Realistic Flying Tiger (who does what it says on the tin).  He drops into children’s lives and takes them on mad adventures, usually depositing them back home with lessons learned, that lesson usually being “Do not go on mad adventures with Uncle Grandpa”.  The show has the same “anything can happen” feel as many of Cartoon Network’s recent outings like Adventure Time and Chowder (on which Peter served as a storyboard artist), with a more unabashedly silly bent.

The character design is much cleaner than the camp-grotesque style of both Fort Awesome and the pilot episode he did as part of the Cartoonstitute. Like Chowder, the show features various animation techniques – Giant Realistic Flying Tiger is animated with paper cutouts of photos of real tigers. It skewers many kids’ show contrivances while still zealously clinging to them. Uncle Grandpa’s talking belly bag is a clear shot at Dora the Explorer’s backpack.

The show follows CN’s new 15-minute format, with each episode featuring two cartoons, a 9-minute main adventure and a two-minute backup.  The show is packed from stem to stern with crazy, with so much going on you’ll need to rewind and check on it all.

Uncle Grandpa runs Mondays at 8PM on Cartoon Network.

REVIEW: “Duck Tales Remastered” – Ah-HOO-oo!

Duck Tales Remastered is out, and it is glorious perfection.

The original gameplay of the original Capcom NES classic (largely considered the finest platformer on the system) is reproduced perfectly.  Nothing has been “improved”, nor need it be.Yes, there are difficulty settings now, but if you want to reproduce the original in its infuriating awesomeness, it is there for you.

Note that I only said the gameplay had not been improved.  The rest has been catapulted into the 21st century by spectacular game developers WayForward, makers of the Mighty Switch Force series, and also just reinvigorated Shantae.  The graphics are still 2-D, but they are as sharp as the animation from the series, and thanks to the advances in technology, includes voiced narration and dialogue…by the original cast, wherever possible. Almost everyone is back; June Foray as Magica deSpell, Chuck McCann as Duckworth and half the Beagle Clan, and Frank Welker as the other half of the Beagle Boys,  Hal Smith, original voice of Flintheart Glomgold, passed some years back – voice and character actor Brian George has stepped in expertly, and Eric Bauza steps in for the late Hamilton Camp as Fenton Crackshell, AKA Gizmoduck.

And as for the hero of the game…I will not lie to you, once again hearing Alan Young as Scrooge McDuck brought tears to my eyes.  There have been others to voice the world’s richest duck, but none so often, and as long as the illustrious Mr. Young.  It’s a voice he’s used often, most famously in The Time Machine as various members of the Filby family.

I look forward to hours of maddeningly reliving the frustration of my…well, not quite my youth, more like my early married days.  I beat this thing one, I can do it again.


Interview With Steampunk Octopus Artist Brian Kesinger

LA-based illustrator, animator, and artist Brian Kesinger has just released his first book, Walking Your Octopus: A Guide to the Domesticated Cephalopod. I first came across Brian a few years ago when I was the judge for the WeLoveFine steampunk tee shirt art contest, where he submitted “Walkies for Otto”. He won that contest and thus started the Internet’s love affair with his adorable characters Otto and Victoria. Since then, Otto and Victoria have grown to encompass books, prints, shirts, and more. Brian was good enough to sit down with me for an interview on his new book, upcoming projects, and the very important question of “why the octopus?”

ComicMix: How did you get started in the arts?

Brian Kesinger: I was fortunate enough to born into a family of artists. The thing is they were all musicians! In fact I’m the only one in my family who couldn’t play an instrument. I was much more fond of drawing than practicing piano. My parents recognized this and were able to support my artistic endeavors all through school and that support has certainly helped make me the artist I am today.


ComicMix: How did all this Steampunk style art you started doing in 2010 come about?

Brian Kesinger: I had been drawing steampunk art before I knew of that term. Back in 2000 I was doing layout and background design for Walt Disney animation studios on the film, Atlantis. It was on that film that a grew fond of drawing submarines, gears and gadgets. After that I moved on to the film treasure planet where I continued my alternate history aesthetics that time with the mixture of tall ships and sci-fi. It wasn’t until recently that I started doing my own steampunk art and I think my passion for the subject matter stems from the education I had on those films.”



ComicMix: Can you tell us a little about the new book you have coming out?

Brian Kesinger: My book, walking your octopus: a guidebook to the domesticated cephalopod is based on two of my more popular original characters, Otto and Victoria. It’s not your typical storybook. It reads more like an owner’s guide to pet octopuses. (Think of a Victorian era “puppies for dummies”)
It’s sort of a satirical look at how we all can get a little carried away with how we raise our pets. It’s certainly inspired by my own dog Scout but also inspired by the ups and downs of raising two young children with my wife. My hope is that the book speaks to not only steampunk fans but pet owners and parents as well.


ComicMix: Why the Octopus?

Brian Kesinger:  I find octopuses extremely fun to draw. It is a real challenge inventing eight different things for them to do in every image. They are nature’s original multi-tasker and they certainly have captured the imagination of a lot of people. Along with the squid and other Cephalopods, octopuses seem to be a sort of theme animal for steampunk so when I set forth trying to render an image of a high class Victorian lady and her boutique pet the choice was obvious. What was not obvious was how popular Otto has become since I first drew him a year ago. He has inspired fan art, tattoos and I’ve even seen girls cosplay Victoria and conventions around the country! And for that I am so grateful and it keeps me drawing octopus.

Brian Kesinger's Tea Girls

ComicMix: What other things do you have coming up that we all should look forward to?

Brian Kesinger: Well my first love is movies. It’s why I have wanted to work in animation. So I have been developing several short film ideas and in addition to that I am in the very early stages of developing a full length feature of Otto and Victoria’s adventures. I would love to see a beautifully rendered steampunk animated film and I can’t think of any characters better suited for that than Otto and Victoria. Stay tuned for more details!

Annie Award-winning artist Brian Kesinger has loved to draw ever since he could remember. During his senior year of high school, Brian was accepted to the Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, California as the second youngest animation hire in the history of the company. At just 18 years old, Brian became a layout artist and in his 16+ years at Disney Animation, he has worn many artistic hats from visual development to story artist. In 2011, he was honored with a prestigious Annie award for his story work on the hit Disney TV holiday movie “Prep and Landing.” Brian’s most recent film at Disney is the Academy Award-nominated film “Wreck It Ralph” – and if you listen closely, you’ll hear him lend his voice talents to comic bad guy, “Cy-borg.” Inspired by his love of gadgets and fantasy, his delightful steampunk characters celebrate Victorian sensibility and timeless beauty with a dash of geekiness thrown in for good measure. His original “Tea Girls” art is created with different kinds of actual tea – resulting in an innovative visual affect.