“The Emperor’s New Groove” — A Neglected Gem from Disney

Posted on June 5, 2013 at 7:19 am

I am really pleased that one of my favorite Disney animated movies, “The Emperor’s New Groove,” will be out on Blu-Ray next week.  It is a neglected gem, colorful and very funny, with wonderfully executed sight gags and action and a great story, with an Oscar-nominated song from Sting.  It’s about an arrogant and selfish young emperor (David Spade) who is turned into a llama by the evil Yzma (voiced by the magnificent growl of Eartha Kitt).

Here is a glimpse and a song from Tom Jones.

 

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Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil

Posted on April 28, 2011 at 6:52 pm

The Weinstein Company may be nowhere near the gold standard set by Pixar in the imagination and technical ability of its animation, but it beats all ten of the champion’s justifiably lauded classics in one category. Pixar has yet to produce a single film with a female hero, while “Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil,” has two, both brave, strong, compassionate, loyal, smart, and independent.

As director Mike Disa wrote in The Huffington Post, female characters in animation – the human ones anyway – are nearly always focused on love and family.  “How many animated films have you seen where the female lead is little more than a cliché object for the hero to impress in the last reel? Face it, if you want to be a strong female character in animation you are better off as a mouse.”  He was determined to make a movie for girls and boys with female characters whose idea of happily ever after did not necessarily mean the perfect date.

The first “Hoodwinked” movie was a fresh and funny take on the tale of Red Riding Hood, with appealing characters and a clever script to make up for animation that tended to be static and pedestrian.  We entered the story at the climax, with the woodsman breaking into Granny’s house just as Red realized it was a wolf wearing Granny’s nightie.  As each of the characters explained what happened to a patient cop who happens to be a frog (elegantly voiced by David Ogden Stiers) we learned that everything we thought we knew about the story was wrong and any assumptions we had about the intentions and capabilities of the characters was entertainingly turned inside out and upside down.  The wolf (with the impeccably wry voice of Patrick Warburton, “Seinfeld’s” Puddy) was merely a reporter trying to get a story. Granny (voice of Glenn Close) had a secret – she was an X-games champion.  The burly, ax-wielding huntsman was a gentle soul who just wants to yodel.  Red did not need to be rescued by anyone.  And the real villain turned out to be the adorable little bunny named Boingo (voice of Andy Dick), who was trying to steal Granny’s recipes.

As the sequel begins, Red (voice of “Heroes’” Hayden Panettierre, replacing Anne Hathaway) has taken a leave of absence from working with the Wolf at a super high-tech law enforcement operation called HEA (for Happily Ever After). She is studying with the Sister Hood, a training camp high in the mountains with a combined program of martial arts and cooking.

Surveillance experts Bo Peep and her sheep, stationed at the control center’s bank of monitors, report that two children have been seen in the vicinity of a house made out of candy.

Wolf tries his best, but this time huffing and puffing won’t blow the door in.  To rescue little Hansel (voice of Bill Hader) and Gretel (voice of Amy Poehler) and Red’s granny from a masked wicked witch named Verushka (voice of Joan Cusack), he needs some help.

Red has yet to learn the Sister Hood’s most carefully guarded secret, the missing ingredient in the magic truffle recipe.  She still makes the mistake of getting distracted from her task by impetuous pride and impatient insistence on doing things herself.  But those lessons will have to wait – or be learned on the job — as she races to the rescue.

Red and Wolf get the help of old friends: the frog cop (who mutters “Mammals!” when things get out of hand), Twitchy the over-caffeinated squirrel (voice of co-screenwriter Cory Edwards), a banjo-playing goat, the yodeling huntsman (voice of Martin Short), and even an old enemy – Boingo, now confined, Hannibal Lecter-style, in prison. Welcome new additions include Wayne Newton as a singing harp, Cheech and Chong as two of the three pigs, and David Alan Grier as Moss the Troll, who tries to keep Red from crossing his bridge.

The jokes come very fast, with a whirlwind of pop culture references from “Happy Days” to the Food Network, “Goodfellas,” blogging, and the Disney classic “Mickey and the Beanstalk.”  There are some nice 3D swoops and drops, but the more vertiginous entertainment of the film is in the script as once again what we think we know about fairy tale heroines, villains, mean girls, old ladies, witches, and happy endings are deliciously turned upside down and inside out.

(more…)

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3D Animation Fantasy Series/Sequel

Interview: Mike Disa of ‘Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil’

Posted on April 27, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Director Mike Disa has a terrific piece in the Huffington Post about his new film, “Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil,” with not one but two heroines who are strong, smart, brave, and compassionate.

Look at any recent animated movie. Despite sometimes clever plot devices, each of the main female characters’ primary concerns are always love, marriage and family issues. Overused and limiting themes for a modern heroine.  And that’s when the female characters are even focused upon at all. How many animated films have you seen where the female lead is little more than a cliché object for the hero to impress in the last reel? Face it, if you want to be a strong female character in animation you are better off as a mouse.

I had a wonderful talk with Disa about making the film.

Why, all these decades later, do animated girls seem stuck back in the days of Snow White singing “Someday my prince will come?”

Isn’t that amazing?  It’s been basically the same story model now for 90 years.  It’s flabbergasting to me.  I used to get in conversations about this when I worked at the big studios.  They’d say, “Well, it’s a fairy tale and that’s what fairy tales are about.”  I’d say, “Go read the original fairy tales!  There’s a lot of other stuff going on.  And we’re choosing to change this and that — why aren’t we choosing to change this part of it?”  The only honest answer I have for that question is that the people making the films are unwilling to look at women in a different light.  You can go on about fairy tales and animation and the patriarchal system that creates princesses and all that but I think it comes down to the people in films want to portray women like that.

Powerful women in films tend to be the bad guys — Ursula, Cruella DeVil, Maleficent.

There are powerful female heroes in animated films; they just aren’t human.  Did you ever see “The Rescuers?”  If you’re a mouse, you’ve got the potential to be a great character?  You’re likely to get pigeonholed into being about family or sexual identity or role — if you’re an attractive human female or anything female in a Pixar movie, with the possible exception of Jessie in the “Toy Story” movies.  And even she is played off as Woody’s counterpart.  It’s odd because a lot of these studios are so interested in pushing the boundary technically.  Why aren’t they so interested in telling more than the same old story over and over?

What is even more revolutionary in your film is that not only is the girl a heroine, but so is the grandmother!  And not only is she tough, but compassionate and forgiving as well.

I’m really glad you liked that because that was a part of the film I was pushing hard for as well.  Comments I have had about the Huffington Post article are like, “You don’t want to make love stories anymore?”  Of course I want to make love stories!  This is a love story.  It is about the love between dear old friends who have lost each other along the way because of the choices they have made, about the love of a grandmother and granddaughter.  It’s very much a classic love story.  Love is about more than dating.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azVIjdXOsQc

I was so glad Patrick Warburton returned as Wolf.  No one can nail dry, understated wit the way he does.

He is amazing.  He was an absolute superstar.  He would show up after a day of shooting his live-action series, exhausted after a 15-hour day on the set.  (I can’t believe I just said “live-action.”  It shows I live in he animation world.  I’m like — “live action, it’s a little niche thing, don’t know if you’ve heard of it.”)

Not only would Patrick give an incredible performance but he would try alternatives, a different word choice or , he never quit.  You don’t need to direct him.  He’s got a fantastic ear.  You play it back and he’ll hear the same thing I hear, and say, “Let’s do it again.”  He’s a marvel to work with.  It’s such a joy to have people come in and not treat it differently because it is animation.  Every word he wants to be perfect, to work for the character, to fit the lip-synch, to reflect the subtext of the relationships and the rhythms of the other characters.

I’ve seen animation directors who are just: “Go faster.  Go slower.  Be angry.”  That’s such a waste if you have an actor like Patrick who plays subtext and comedy and rhythm.  If it’s appropriate, he’ll give you the funny line reading.  But then he will give you such true heart and emotion, until you get these great little moments.  There are some great moments where Wolf gets very introspective.  A lesser actor would have gone for the laugh.  You see that in animated films all the time.  We got some real emotion — he’s an incredibly talented guy.  I’m gushing, but he was just a revelation.  And he and Wayne Newton are two of the nicest people I’ve ever met in show business.

I wanted to ask you about the Wayne Newton character!  Is his singing harp inspired by “Mickey and the Beanstalk?”

He was influenced by it.  I grew up with that movie.  It’s spectacular.  But that comes to a larger point.  Everything in this movie is working on two different levels, and that is one of the things I like about it.  The movie respects its audience enough that it knows you’ve seen other versions of these fairy tales.  What we can do is subtly play with your expectations.  What was a huge part of the film was knowing that everyone would immediately think of the most popular version of the story.  So our beanstalk was made of cast iron and aluminum because I wanted something reminiscent of that wonderful organic Disney beanstalk but I wanted something completely different.  The same with the singing harp.  We need to nod to the classics but we need to twist it. The nightclub is based on the classic old Hollywood place where the great singers and performers played in the 1940’s before Las Vegas got big.  If you’ve seen any of the movies or places we refer to, it adds another layer.  But if you haven’t, it still works.

 

 

 

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3D Animation Directors Interview

New Site for ‘Hoodwinked Too!’ — Exclusive!!

Posted on March 4, 2011 at 4:38 pm

HW2_1sht_WOLF_mech07_783px.jpgI’m really looking forward to “Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil,” opening on April 29. I loved the original Hoodwinked for its very clever four-part intersecting narrative from the point of view of the characters and for its excellent visuals and voices, including Anne Hathaway as Red Riding Hood and Glenn Close as Granny. It was irreverent without being snarky and one of the best animated films of 2005. As my friend and fellow critic Dustin Putman said:

Kids of all ages will be thrilled by the breakneck pace, the brightly developed and performed characters, and the lovely animation that mixes modern computer-generated technology with an old-fashioned style and feel that befits its fairy tale origins. This latter elements personifies the forested setting as a memorable character all its own, and makes the most of its set-pieces, including a rickety wild ride on a roller-coaster-like mountain track and a runaway cable car.

So I was thrilled to get a peek at the upcoming sequel with the new Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil website. Patrick Warburton and Glenn Close return as the Wolf and Granny and new voice talent includes “Heroes'” Hayden Panettiere as Red and “SNL’s” Bill Hader and Amy Poehler as Hansel and Gretel. The website just went live and so now you can check out Red & Granny and their friends in action, with clips from the film, the trailer, and goodies like wallpapers, icons, posters and more. And you can follow Twitchy all through the site. Coming soon — screensavers and, best of all, some of Granny’s very own recipes to try at home. And of course you can follow the movie on Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to check it out!

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Internet, Gaming, Podcasts, and Apps Trailers, Previews, and Clips
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Flicka 2

Posted on May 17, 2010 at 8:00 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some reckless behavior
Profanity: Very mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Risk-taking and peril, rattlesnake
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2010
Date Released to DVD: May 4, 2010
Amazon.com ASIN: B003NTGA90

Flicka 2 is a straight-to-DVD sequel of the most recent version of Flicka, the kid-and-a-horse story that goes back to the 1941 novel, My Friend Flicka, which inspired sequels, movies, and a 1956-57 television series.

In this latest version a city girl (Tammin Sursok) who has been living with her mother and grandmother comes to the country to live with a dad she barely knows (Patrick Warburton, Puddy from “Seinfeld”). It is very hard on her as everything feels strange and unwelcoming. And then she meets Flicka, the mustang, and realizes that they are alike, both high-spirited, sensitive, and in need of affection. Country singer Clink Black co-stars and is featured in one of the DVD extras along with more information about mustangs.

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