Friday, September 30, 2011

Music Review - Jesse McCartney: Beautiful Soul

By Alex Popp

The debut album from "J-Mac"


With a fast-paced beat (he was on a caffeine buzz when he wrote it), "She's No You" was written for a girlfriend who had a tendency of being jealous of supermodels on TV and other girls on music videos. Jesse lets her know that she's more than beautiful to him and no "picture on a magazine" could steal away his love for her.

The title track has similar meaning. "I don't want another pretty face/I don't want just anyone to hold/I don't want my love to go to waste/I want you and your beautiful soul." It's, like, the best song ever written!

"Get Your Shine On": A Michael Jackson style party song that invites everyone to show what moves they've got.

After a break-up, rather than responding with anger, McCartney tells her "Take Your Sweet Time", assuring her "I will never stand in your way/Wherever your heart may lead you, I will love you the same." He speaks with such a soft heart that I wouldn't be surprised if the girl didn't hesitate to come back to him.

"Without U" is probably the worst song on the CD. It simply says "I don't want to be without u/dream without u/walk without u/talk without u". It goes on. There's also a mildly suggestive line at the beginning: "I like when you whisper softly/Things only I should hear that lead me on." But then there's...

"Why Don't You Kiss Her?"-A beautiful song. With slow, quiet guitar music, McCartney lies in bed, thinking of his best friend. He can't help but think about when the time is to express his feelings toward her, "Cause she'll never know/if you never show/the way you feel inside".

In "That Was Then" he assures someone that he has changed and promises to work harder at his relationship if he could be given a second chance.

He offers a girl to "Come To Me" after she had her heart badly broken by her last boyfriend.

"What's Your Name?": The only other song I don't care for on the album. He sees a girl with all her friends here and there, dying to ask her those three words, because he's convinced that "I'm the one you need."

In "Because You Live," something tragic happens and he is "Staring out at the rain with a heavy heart". But just the thought of her being alive is enough to heal him.

"Why Is Love So Hard To Find?": The third "question title" on the CD. Love is vital to everyone and "we can't go on without it", right? But he's seen that there's tension in his house that's gone on for too long. How can we possibly go on when love is that hard to find? This song has related to me, lately.

We all make mistakes sometimes. But he assures a loved one that all "The Stupid Things" he does have no reflection on her.


With lyrics that are easy to understand and a remarkable voice, Jesse McCartney has a lot of songs for both guys and girls. Of course, back in his days, about 95% of his fans were female and he was the talk of the town; Justin Bieber has taken that place (yet another reason why he stinks). I'm not afraid to say I'm a fan and I love this album. "Beautiful Soul" and "Why Don't You Kiss Her?" are the top two highlights of it.


Review by Alex Popp for The Animation Empire blog.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cars Land is coming to Disney's California Adventure - watch the video!

Walt Disney Imagineer, Kathy Mangum, gives you a peek at the vehicle testing for Radiator Springs Racers. This thrilling new attraction is set to open in 2012 with the debut of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure Park.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Moms don't need "Mars Needs Moms" - TheAnimationEmpire Movie Review

After the good success of Polar Express, the okay results of Monster House, and the bust of Beowulf, for some reason Disney bought/invested in Robert Zemeckis' Image Movers.

Disney thought the company could line up Polar Express-like hits for their studio. Really?

Well after a successful take on "A Christmas Carol" where Jim Carrey filled the need that Tom Hanks provided in Polar Express, Disney kept at it. And Image Movers' next project did not fare so well. Zemeckis directed Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol himself, but he did not direct...

Mars Needs Moms

We always ask the simple question, "Who is this for?"

Watch the trailer and ask yourself that.

It's a great film. It's jaw dropping at moments and a nice sentimental story (which in theory would appeal to mothers). But aliens kidnapping moms? In a movie starring immature guys? With a visual style of a John Carpenter sci-fi horror flick? Really?

So it doesn't appeal to moms, obviously. You could get that just from the title ("Cowboys Versus Aliens" strikes again).

So who does Mars Needs Moms appeal to then? How about to the immature boys who can identify with the humor of the primary characters? Well, let's see, would teenage and 20 something guys prefer to watch this animation or Hangover Part 2?

No, they're definitely not the audience. Not unless Austin Powers is in this movie (which he's not).

So who's the audience? Girls? Why would girls be interested in a film that looks like a sci-fi horror flick?

What about older men? Well, it's their visual style, but I don't think they really want this family message, humor, and theme.

Then who was it for?

Well enough random people to make about x dollars. However, this hyper-realistic style of 3D animation that Image Movers is pushing forward is really just waiting for a failure (like Final Fantasy was) to put itself out of business. These films are way too expensive, and that puts more pressure on for each to be a hit or else they don't make profit.

Mars Needs Moms cost $ to make. If it cost $ to the theaters and another $20 million in Marketing, then this is a huge loss.

And, as predicted, it did put the Image Movers studio out of business. Zemeckis green lit the film but didn't direct it, and it's the one that sank the studio.

However, Robert Zemeckis is striking back! He struck a deal with X to fund his next grossly expensive animation, Yellow Submarine, based on the Beatles animated short.

But will The Beatles appeal more to adults than children (and then only a niche of adults)?

Will it be able to survive? The only clear hits Zemeckis had (Polar Express and A Christmas Carol) were family/kids films based on the concept of hiring a capable and successful actor to headline the film and make it his own (much like Carrey also did for "A Series of Unfortunate Events").

And Yellow Submarine doesn't fit that mold (instead the focus is on getting actors to recreate the voices and mannerisms of the Beatles). So perhaps Disney wisely pulled the plug?

Anyway, let's talk more about Mars Needs Moms...

It's a great film! =^)

We highly recommend it. It's a little scary (also makes you wonder why moms would want their kids to watch that), it's good fun, adventurous, and it has a nice emotional message about the importance of family and listening to parents. And the acting is almost as great as the visuals.

However, it took me a looooong time of hearing Joan Cusack's voice before I stopped getting pulled out of the movie and visualizing Joan Cusack. (Maybe it's because she was more "in character" in Toy Story 2 and 3 and less herself as she is in "Mars Needs Moms".)

I'm not sure why Mars Needs Moms was made or how they convinced Disney to green light it, but it was. So go enjoy it on DVD!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

What's Next for Pixar? (Pixar and Disney animation schedule for 2012 and beyond)

At Disney’s annual D23 expo in Anaheim, Pixar officially announced two new films coming to theaters in November 2013 and May 2014, plus a few new looks at the rest of Disney’s animated slate.

The first is an untitled movie about dinosaurs set on an alternate version of Earth, in a reality where an asteroid did not wipe out the prehistoric creatures. Presumably, it involves how dinos and humans co-exist in a modern world, but no further details were given. Bob Peterson, who co-directed Pixar’s Up, is directing the feature. Here is the tongue-in-cheek logo from the expo from PixarTimes (via /Film):

The other is even more vague. It’s an animated, untitled family film directed by the other Up co-director, Pete Docter, set in the human mind. The story will take audiences inside the head where we’ll find out “how we forget, why certain songs get stuck in our heads.” The Playlist has learned that Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) is writing the script about “the formation of ideas.”

At the same expo, Disney touted its June 2012 release, Brave, the story of an unruly princess and accomplished archer named Merida (voiced by “Boardwalk Empire” star Kelly Macdonald) who defies a sacred custom and inadvertently brings turmoil to the kingdom... The teaser trailer was gorgeous and reactions to the introductory footage shown at D23 were of genuine excitement, so watch that:

Brenda Chapman wrote this. She also wrote for Lion King, Chicken Run, and Cars, and she directed Prince of Egypt. Apparently Pixar replaced her on Brave, its first female director back in 2010, and she (Brenda Chapman) left the Pixar studio (this has happened before with Jan Pinkava on Ratatouille and Chris Wedge on Bolt). However, IMDB says Brenda is a co-director, so we're remaining hopeful:

Additionally, Disney rolled out a first look at Pixar’s Monsters University, the June 2013 prequel to Monsters Inc. directed by Dan Scanlon (writer on Cars) that details how Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) met in college and became rivals… then friends. Nothing new to see, unfortunately, other than a slightly slimmer Sulley and greener Mike.

Finally, Disney provided an in-depth look at Wreck-It Ralph, their other non-Pixar, animated feature set for November 2012. John C. Reilly voices the title character, an 8-bit video game villain in the vein of old-school games Rampage and Donkey Kong. But Ralph wants to be good and goes on a quest through other arcade games to reinvent himself. The movie will feature familiar characters from arcade favorites like Pac-Man and Q*bert, plus voicework from Jane Lynch and Sarah Silverman.

As for other Pixar favorites, no word on the oft-rumored Toy Story 4. Though Woody and Buzz Lightyear will be back in theaters this November in a short film titled “Small Fry” accompanying Disney’s throwback family movie The Muppets. The characters were also in the short “Hawaiian Vacation” before this summer’s lackluster Cars 2.


NOTE FROM EDITOR: Cars 2 only made about $180 million stateside -- the second lowest Pixar performance ever -- but it made it up in international sales and totaled $521 million worldwide, so it actually performed better than Cars 1, Wall-E, and the older Pixar films. Not too shabby. Plus they opened up the Cars toy line to a lot of cool-looking sportscars and international cars... so it was hardly a bust.

Especially when you compare that to this year's Winnie the Pooh. Now that was a bust!

Really Lasseter? Just because it worked in 1977 with Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh doesn't mean it's going to work again in 2011 with some computer effects thrown in.

Anyway, here is the lineup for Disney and Pixar animated films...

1. Arrietty (Studio Ghibli) - February 17, 2012
Sure you probably don't go see these Ghibli films (Disney has a deal to bring them stateside from Japan and put American voice actors over them, but they really don't do that well). However, Disney wants you to see them and they're released into theaters by Disney, so I'll list them. This one is based on The Borrowers (tiny people who steal our things). Voices include Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, and Will Arnett.


2. Brave (Pixar) - June 22, 2012
Brave (previously titled The Bear and the Bow) was written by Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi and directed Chapman and Mark Andrews. It's an original Scottish fairy tale about how young Princess Merida rebels, gets the Lords mad at her, and she turns to an eccentric old Witch (Julie Walters) for help. Merida then must discover the meaning of true bravery in order to undo a beastly curse before it’s too late. Sounds like fun! Voices include Emma Thompson, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, and John Ratzenberger (wouldn't be Pixar without him).


3. Frankenweenie (Burton) - October 5, 2012
Frankenweenie is an upcoming 3D black and white stop motion film and remake of the 1984 short film of the same name. Tim Burton directed that live-action short film (a Frankenstein dog) and this remake as well. Story: A young boy who makes monster movies tries to bring his dog Sparky back to life after he has been hit by a car. This is Burton's third trip back to Disney (where he started from), and we thoroughly enjoyed Nightmare Before Christmas and Alice in Wonderland. Voices include Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Landau, and Martin Short.


4. Wreck-It Ralph (Disney) - November 2, 2012
Wreck-It Ralph is directed by Emmy-winner Rich Moore, a former animation director of The Simpsons and Futurama. Its working titles were Joe Jump and Reboot Ralph. The film will feature the voices of John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch and Sarah Silverman. The film tells the story of Wreck-It Ralph (Reilly), an arcade game bad guy, who is determined to prove he can be a good guy. The 8-bit video game character struggles with the complex question: ‘isn't there more to life than the role I've been assigned?’ In his quest for the answer, we journey with our hero through three visually distinct video game worlds.


5. From up on Poppy Hill (Studio Ghibli) - Probably early 2013
A girl struggles to keep the old history of a building while people are destroying old buildings and rebuilding to prepare for the Olympics.


6. Monsters University (Pixar) - June 21, 2013
Monsters, Inc. 2 is going to be a prequel which focuses on Sulley and Mike's studies at the University of Fear, where they start off as rivals but soon become best friends. It's directed by Dan Scanlon (who directed Mater and the Ghostlight). Voices include John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi, Dave Foley, and Julia Sweeney.


7. Untitled Stop-Motion Film (Henry Selick) - October 4, 2013
They aren't telling us what it's about, but basically Disney made a deal for Henry to make his own stop-motion movies for Disney without Tim Burton (since Tim split and directs his own animations now). Henry previously directed Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, Monkeybone, Life Aquatic (the animated sequences), and Coraline. I find it interesting that Disney's investing here, because DreamWorks just pulled out with Aardman after Wallace & Gromit didn't sell so well (but it did win the Academy Award for animated feature).


8. Untitled Movie About Dinosaurs (Pixar) - November 27, 2013
All we know is that it takes place where dinosaurs and humans live together in modern times. Should be interesting. Bob Peterson, who co-directed Pixar’s Up, is directing the feature.


9. King of the Elves (Disney) - Holiday 2013 Based on a fantasy story by Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report), it is being directed by Chris Williams, director of Bolt. Likely either this one or the Dinosaur Pixar film will slide to 2014.


10. Untitled Movie That Takes You Inside the Mind (Pixar) - May 30, 2014
It’s directed by the Academy Award winning primary Up and Monsters Inc. director, Pete Docter (see image above), and it is set in the human mind. The story will take audiences inside the head where we’ll find out “how we forget, why certain songs get stuck in our heads.” Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) is writing the script about “the formation of ideas.”

There you go! Previous films that have been removed from the Disney animation slate include:

1. Newt

It was the story of a newt from a lab who, um, had to mate with the female and populate the world. Wow, talk about a difficult story to navigate. Maybe the lack of a clear or compelling story is why Lasseter pulled the plug.

2. Snow Queen

The Snow Queen has been put on hold, though even tabled projects can make triumphant returns, like the years-in-development Beauty and the Beast for example. In other words, Lasseter is probably having trouble seeing a compelling story come out of this idea. So hopefully they'll sit on it for awhile and dig a great story out of it.


3. Jack and the Beanstalk

Similar to the Snow Queen, this project has taken off either. I think Lasseter and Catmull were a little disappointed with Tangled and Princess and the Frog. Well, I think the problem is that they aren't experienced making those films. Heck it took Walt Disney's personal team to do them right. And in the late 80s / early 90s Disney luckily had the right combination of people to make them. However, that combination quickly dwindled away (two died and Eisner foolishly fired two), and Lion King was the last one made with all the key players on the team (and after that it became a disjointed team). So, yeah, Lasseter and Catmull aren't just going to walk into Disney and figure out the fairy tale formula. It doesn't work that way. Tangled and Frog didn't do poorly because the market "run a course" (as Catmull says here). It was because you didn't make them to be as magical as Little Mermaid and the other films were. Look at Tangled... the songs weren't creative or all that fun (still good though), there wasn't any Genie-like character (Rafiki, Timon, Pumbaa, Lumiere, Fairy Godmother, Cinderella's mice, Dopey, Sebastian... take your pick). It was a great movie, but the filmmakers don't know the fairy tale formula.

In fact, the directors of Little Mermaid and Aladdin (who also directed Hercules, Treasure Planet, and Princess and the Frog) also don't know the formula... they know their part in the formula. But they relied on other people (Ashman, Roy Disney Jr, Katzenberg, and a few others) to fill the rest of the team in order to make the magic. Lasseter does this today with his style of animated film, but fairy tales are completely different. You have to build the dream team to understand them... just like Disney did and just like Katzenberg did in the late 80s (Katzenberg is the one who brought the broadway people in and pushed the conversations forward). He's now performing his magic tricks at DreamWorks (he's the Lasseter of DreamWorks).

So, anyway, Lasseter and Catmull are a little frustrated and deflated by fairy tales, so they put Jack and the Snow Queen on the back burner while they try other genres.


4. Yellow Submarine

Disney humorously purchased Image Movers from Robert Zemeckis (which Zemeckis built for Polar Express, Monster House, and Beowulf). They then used it for some gain to make Christmas Carol and lost a ton on Mars Needs Moms. That's when they pulled the plug on future projects, including Yellow Submarine, which was a remake of the Beatles animation (a much longer and robust version). The problem with Image Movers was that it just cost way too much to make the more realistic style of animation. It just isn't practical, and it only takes one miss to sink the whole boat (thus they got shut down).

That said, Zemeckis is directing Yellow Submarine himself, so he took Image Movers to Universal to continue production. Apparently Cary Elwes has a good Harrison impression. Can't wait to see it! Interestingly, Zemeckis directed Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol himself, but he passed on Mars Needs Moms. Should have been a sign!



Friday, September 16, 2011

Movie Review - Megamind

By Alex Popp

Will Ferrell voices a wannabe super-villain in "Megamind."

After Megamind kills his good-guy nemesis, Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt), he becomes bored since there is no one left to fight. He creates a new foe, Titan (voiced by Jonah Hill), who, instead of using his powers for good, sets out to destroy the world, positioning Megamind to save the day for the first time in his life.

One problem with the movie is that all of the funniest scenes and lines were shown in trailers; the ones you see 70 million times and then when you see the movie, you're like "Yeah, yeah, let's get to the stuff we haven't seen, please", but then there's no better humor. But there are still some other laughs. But the thing I liked the most about "Megamind" was the redeeming qualities. We all have learned that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but those words take new and unexpected meaning in this film. Some of the superhero abilities and specifications may seem like they were taken from "The Incredibles," but it still has some excitement leading to satisfaction at the end.

Rated PG for sequences of animated sci-fi action.

"Megamind" may not be mega-ingenius, but it is good enough for two and a half stars (out of 4).

Written by Alex Popp for the Animation Empire blog.


Emperor's take...

I enjoyed it more than Despicable Me, which seemed to be a sappy display of minions and adoption emotions (although Despicable Me was marketed better to mommies and kids as a result).

Megamind had a fresh story with a slight twist or two in it, and the comedic cast nailed it. Though I agree that most of the funny is in the trailer, it's still enjoyable throughout.

You also actually get to like the villain/hero and feel sorry for him and understand him, so the turn is completed successfully. In contrast, the Despicable Me character doesn't seem to change much at all, other than starting to like kids more and wanting to be nicer.

Interestingly, the scriptwriters originally wrote this wanting to cast Will Ferrell in it as a live-action comedy. It went around forever, and it became more of a portfolio piece to get them more gigs. It was finally picked up by DreamWorks Animation, much to their surprise. Ben Stiller picked it up and talked to DreamWorks. Of course, the writers were then happy to see Will Ferrell cast as the main character (as they intended, but they were thinking live action).

- The Emperor

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

John Lasseter - A Day in a Life - Full Length Documentary

So this takes 25 minutes to watch, but you'll learn a lot about Pixar and Lasseter if you do! You get to tour his house and watch Lasseter work on Cars 2!


Monday, September 12, 2011

Movie Review - Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon

By Alex Popp

Earth goes dark.

The Transformers series goes wild in its third installment, "Dark of the Moon."

In the last days of Cybertron, the home planet of the Transformers, a single spacecraft known as the Ark crash-landed on the moon. When Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong discovered it on the day of our nation's first moon-landing, its secret was kept hidden for 40 years. When the Autobots learn of it, they race against the Decepticons to reach the ship and discover its secrets, ultimately leading the robots' final battle.

Director Michael Bay has totally outdone himself. Forget the first two movies; get an eyeful of this! With one of the best movie openings, out-of-the-ordinary robot fight scenes, and the most stunning 3D effects EVER, "Transformers 3" is stupendous on many levels. Fans of the Transformers will find this a major improvement after "Revenge of the Fallen." And unlike the first two, the premise is fairly interesting and well thought of in terms of the first moon landing and finding things that are kept secret, much like some movies about Area 51 and stuff like that. There are even parts that are laugh-out-loud funny and it would seem that the main character got himself a better girl. She is not as much of a you-know-what as Michaela, and they both agree to wait to say "I love you." She seems far more sincere about relationships than Sam's ex; all Michaela could think of was "No matter what happens, I'm glad I got in the car with you."

But enough about the other stuff and to the battle scenes that completely make the movie. With spectacular visual effects, and incredible sound mixing and editing, none of the action ever fails to deliver. By the way, if you do plan to see the movie (which I'm sure you will), do not skip the 3D, lest you utterly miss out. "Transformers 3" ends the way it should have and when the words "Directed by Michael Bay" suddenly appear on the screen, you just want to shout out 30 times "It was so good!" (Here's to you, Matthew) The movie takes normal robot fights to extraordinary measures and though it isn't the best movie I've ever seen, it's definitely the most thrilling.

Rated PG-13 for language and some innuendo that is unnecessary, but never slows the story down as it only takes place in the first hour of the film's two and a half hour running time. From then on, there's no time for anymore of it because of the intense, prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, destruction and mayhem.

Four stars for the beyond epic and without the slightest hint of unsatisfying, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." Oh, and did I mention the 3D should not be neglected?

Written by Alex Popp for the Animation Empire blog.


From the Emperor...

I agree. While I can't say it's better than the first, I definitely think this was better than the second, and the reason is because Spielberg fired Meagan Fox.

That's right, after Fox called director Michael Bay Hitler in a magazine interview, Bay was willing to write it off and commented on his blog that she was immature but was still planning to hire her back.

However, Spielberg had none of that, with Hitler being a touchy subject for Spielberg (he made many movies that reflect that). So Spielberg told Bay that Fox wasn't coming back.

And that actually made Transformers 3 better. While I think I like Fox a little better in the films, the new love interest story made this third movie much more interesting than the second one.

- The Emperor

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Will A.D. (zombie animated film) be another flop in a sea of adult animated films?

We've been discussing whether or not animated films that are not aimed at mothers, children, girls, or families will have monetary success in the film market.

Rango and Guardians made a little (when all was said and done), but it could have just been two ups in a sea of downs (and they didn't make nearly as much as Despicable Me, DreamWorks, Disney, and Pixar films, which are all clearly marketed to the family).

9 probably made nothing...

It made $46 million, cost $30 million to make, cost about $15 million to the theaters, cost about $5 million to marketing (-$4 million at this point), made $9 million in DVD sales, cost $3 million to the stores and about another $2 million to marketing... and you're left with dead even. No profit.

And that's actually good. Final Fantasy and Beowulf lost a ton.

So it will be interesting to see what AD does. Which brings us to the trailer (warning: a little bit of bloody)...

Not much is known about whether it will even make it to theaters (can't even find it on IMDB):

It looks like the director might have the experience to fight it through to completion:

What do you think? Does it have a fighting chance? What if it died and came back to life? Would it have a chance then?



Thursday, September 08, 2011

Legend of the Guardians: Owls of GaHoole - TheAnimationEmpire Movie Review

I'm going to compare it to Rango a little. Yeah, bare with me.

Legend of the Guardians did much worse in the box office than Rango or others that struggled. I think it's obvious. Rango at least was comedic, fun for kids, had all sorts of jokes for older people in there, and starred Johnny Depp for the parents. But who was Legend of the Guardians for? It was too violent for little kids and not overly cute or funny (at least not to the satisfaction of what mothers want for their kids). It definitely wasn't for mothers (very violent), and what father really wants to see a cartoon war movie about owls?

I want to know who said, "I've got an idea, let's remake Braveheart, but let's do it with owls instead. You know, for kids!"

I'm not sure who the audience was. It was basically an animated Braveheart. It was made by the director of Dawn of the Dead, 300, and Watchmen. It was great, and I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure why they thought it would sell and why they thought they should give it to the guy who made sweet movies about heroes who die violently.

It cost $80 million, made $56 million in the US, and made $84 million outside the US (the international market also loves epic films with lots of action). Plus we trust Zack Snyder (300 and Watchmen), so that helped a little (and he's now slated to direct a Superman: Man of Steel for Christopher Nolan, which is where Zack belongs). The film didn't do as well on DVD sales (it did okay), but taking into account what the theaters make, and it made less profit than Rango. Another advantage it had, though, is that they made it for $80 million, which is pretty good based on how great that film looks (not sure why they made it for $55 million less than Rango when it seems to look better).

So please keep Zack away from kids movies and give him great movies like "Man of Steel" --- can't wait to see that!



Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Movie Review - Cars 2

By Alex Popp

In "Cars 2", Lightning McQueen gets invited to compete in the first annual World Grand Prix, and brings Mater along.  Racing against the world's fastest cars, McQueen has potential to win the three-routed competition.  But during the trip, two secret agents mistake Mater for another spy.  Together, the three of them travel the world to find the secret behind Allinol, the required fuel for the World Grand Prix.

Marking Pixar's 12th film, "Cars 2" wasn't made because of how well the first one did in the theaters; it was because of all the merchandise.  But even so, the movie is quite a fun thrill ride.  Although they could have added more with the racing scenes, the spy action zips along, and the writers clearly payed attention to a lot of detail.  Like most Pixar movies, it also has its funny and profound elements.  Yes, it has less of an emotional pull than the more fresh and sincere original "Cars," and therefore is not as good.  But it will still give you your money's worth with its rush of excitement and is a great choice to view in 3-D.

It's rated G, but gets far too intense for very young movie-goers.

Three stars (out of four) for the pared but unique "Cars 2."

Written by Alex Popp for the Animation Empire blog.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Rango to Lone Ranger - TheAnimationEmpire Movie Review

UPDATE: Added info about how Rango was the highest grossing film for about a month and how that impacts the business of it. Originally posted 8/28/11.


Some animations seem to focus too much on the adult audience and not enough on the youth audience. And I see that in Rango; I can't help but wonder who it was for.

Who was Rango for? How is Rango interesting to a 9-year old girl? How is Rango interesting to a 12-year old boy, a father, or a mother? Mothers often pay to go to movies because they want their kids to see the movie. What mother sees Rango and wants her kids to see it? Some, yes, but not as many as the mothers who went to see Toy Story 3, Up, or Finding Nemo.

Did you know that Rango was based on an old TV show flop from Tim Conway that lasted one season and was also about a bumbling Old West cowboy who accidentally became sheriff?

Does that seem like a good inspiration for a childrens film?

The point is that films like Rango aren't making as much money as they could and often lose money. The kids can still watch movies like this on DVD (and some films, like TMNT, were made cheap and then probably did much better on DVD than in the box office, thus making a decent profit). Mothers are more willing to pay for DVDs that they don't want to watch... because they don't have to watch them. They just put them on and get a free babysitter for their boys (because Rango seems more aimed at boys than girls).

But of course the mother's preference (for movies aimed at boys) is that it's on TV. Take 3-2-1 Penguins for example. It's a Christian cartoon aimed mostly at boys (from the makers of Veggie Tales). It didn't do well on DVD (mother's didn't enjoy watching it too much, or at least not as much as Veggie Tales), but after the studio (Big Idea) re-purposed it for TV, 3-2-1 Penguins did VERY well. Why? Because the mothers weren't entertained by it, but the boys were. So moms didn't want to invest the time and money, but they were more than willing to sit their sons in front of it and go get some work done.

Now Rango, 9, and Legend of the Guardians were perfect examples of films that didn't do so well (when compared to successes that DreamWorks, Pixar, Ice Age, and Despicable Me are getting), but only in the sense that they lost money or didn't make much to make the effort worth it to the studios (or to get a sequel). In other words, the movies were good even if they didn't make a lot of money. It's more of a marketing problem. (My only point is that they didn't make as much money as they could have; I did enjoy them.)

Fortunately I think Rango is making more money on DVD (again, mothers don't want to go watch it, but as a gift to their boys to watch without them, it seems like a better idea). Also, Rango did better than it would have done, because they hired Johnny Depp to voice it (that made more mommies and daddies interested in it).

Rango cost $135 million to make, and it made $123 million in the states, but it also made $120 million outside the US (the international market loves Johnny Depp after he made Pirates). Add its DVD sales and subtract the costs of theaters (which are never factored in, but could be as much as one third the box office take), and you have a film that made a little and did "okay."

Did you know that Rango was the highest grossing film for about a month in 2011? Now, does that really matter? I say that's irrelevant. They spend x dollars to make something and need y dollars to make profit. If x is too big and y is too small, then it doesn't matter if it sells better than its competitors (because they spent more money on it than its competitors). It's a business just like anything else... like making toothpaste. Doesn't matter if you've got the best selling toothpaste for a month. If you spent more to make it than you're getting back then it's still not a profitable business.

We probably won't see a Rango sequel.

The director of Rango was Gore Verbinski (Pirates 1-3, The Ring, Mouse Hunt). He has wisely decided to forgo more animations and chose to instead go back toward his biggest success (epic adventures like the Pirates movies), and he's trying to do for Old West what he did for Pirates (redefine and reset the genre). (Spielberg, Ron Howard, and the Iron Man director, John Favreau, just attempted to redefine old west with "Cowboys and Aliens" and failed.)

What's Gore Verbinski's next movie?

The Lone Ranger!

(Interestingly, Rango was based on an old TV show flop from Tim Conway that lasted one season and was also about a bumbling Old West cowboy who accidentally became sheriff. I find it interesting that Gore went from Pirates to 2 cowboy movies that are VERY different from each other!)

For Lone Ranger, Gore was also attempting to team back up with his dream team from Pirates 1-3... Jerry Bruckheimer, Disney Pictures, the Elliott/Rossio writing team (who also wrote Pirates and Zorro), and Johnny Depp (who would play Tonto). Armie Hammer (Social Network) is on for playing Lone Ranger. (George Clooney was once in talks.)

However, this past week, Disney announced that The Lone Ranger was on hiatus, simply because the budget is getting big and "Cowboys and Aliens" lost a ton of money.

But I say to Disney... go for it! After all, yes Cowboys and Aliens lost money, but it wasn't very fun (cool but not fun), the romance and story weren't really thought through, and it really wasn't all that well marketed. Who wanted to see it? Sure, women like Daniel Craig, but not enough to see a movie like that. It's target audience was older dudes, the characters were all stoic and serious, the romance wasn't there (Olivia is an alien, keeps dying, isn't relatable to women, and gets naked once... not exactly what women want), the title alone makes most women snort (I've heard a lot of women snorting at it), the weapon on the arm bit gets old after awhile (which is why they change that in the story near the end), and not enough older dudes were interested in it (and the moms weren't interested in taking their sons).

So "Cowboys and Aliens" failure had nothing to do with the old west. They just thought the concept would sell and they stuck too close to the comic and to the screenplay that they got. It could happen to anyone, and this time it happened to three of the best filmmakers of all time (Spielberg, Howard, and Favreau), all of which have flopped like this before (and probably won't be their last; Howard's got the most flops, Favreau didn't do well when he directed Zathura and Spielberg practically lost DreamWorks films when he flopped with Michael Bay on The Island).

In contrast, Wild Wild West did well (despite bad reviews), Mask of Zorro did well, and the Elliott/Rossio writing team (who wrote Zorro and Pirates 1-4) found the right chord with Pirates by including supernatural elements. They sought to do the same thing here on Lone Ranger (with a screenplay massage by Justin Haythe). So Lone Ranger has all the right signs (the right writers, producer, director, actor, and the romance that was missing from Cowboys & Aliens). (For example, the love interest from Cowboys & Aliens, Olivia Wilde, was also the love interest in Tron Legacy, which had a much richer romance, and that film did much better.)

So what's Disney waiting for? This is likely to do amazingly well despite Cowboys & Aliens' performance.

Of course, rumor has it that the "hiatus" announcement is merely a political move by Disney to get Bruckheimer and team to lower their budget. Normally, I would say, "Are you kidding? This is Jerry Bruckheimer we're talking about!" But Bruckheimer did deliver lackluster results with Sorcerer's Apprentice, Prince of Persia, G-Force, Deja Vu, Glory Road, King Arthur, and Bad Company (good movies with budgets too high and that weren't assembled in marketable ways). So I think both Bruckheimer and Disney should compromise a little (since this is the first attempt at a Lone Ranger film, they shouldn't assume it will do $200 million+ ... then they can increase the budget with sequels once they prove that it's a hit).

Jerry and Gore should cut a few financial corners, and they should get this ball rolling!

Meanwhile, Johnny Depp has something good going here. Not only is he Jack Sparrow (Pirates 5 broke 1 billion even though it sold a little low in the United States, so they're making a sixth one), he's tied into almost every recent Tim Burton hit (Sleepy Hallow,  Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland, and the upcoming Dark Shadows), he's now also on Gore Verbinski's short list (Pirates 1-3, Rango, and the upcoming Lone Ranger), and he seems to have been finding some blockbuster dramatic projects in between Pirates and Burton films (Chocolat, Finding Neverland, Public Enemies, and The Tourist). Plus Johnny has a 21 Jump Street movie coming up. Keep the hits coming for Johnny Depp!



Sunday, September 04, 2011

New Snow White Ride! - John Lassetter does it again.

D23 Expo attendees got even more detail around the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train where guests will take a journey through the diamond mine of the Seven Dwarfs in a new ride system designed by Walt Disney Imagineering. The ride system allows each mine car to swing back and forth individually as the train twists and turns along the track.


Saturday, September 03, 2011

New Star Tours ride at Disneyland! (videos)

While we can't confirm where your Star Tours flight may take you, here's a sneak peek at a new video that will appear in the queue area of the "re-imagined" Star Tours attraction in Disneyland park and Disney's Hollywood Studios next year. The video produced by Star Tours is a new "commercial" that shows one of their exciting getaway travel packages. May the Force be with you- always!

Ride in the cabin of a Starspeeder 1000 on Star Tours 3D now at Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World

Here's C3P0 and pod racing (don't cry):

At Disney's Hollywood Studios in Orlando on May 20, 2011, the grand opening dedication ceremony for Star Tours 2 was held on a stage in front of the Sorcerer Hat featuring George Lucas, Bob Iger, Anthony Daniels, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, and plenty of characters...

Hahaha. Jedi running through Disneyland while being blasted is too funny!

A full look at the queue and new 3D ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's the new Star Wars themed Star Tours: The Adventures Continue...


Friday, September 02, 2011

Brave Trailer - Disney and Pixar make a different princess movie

This is Pixar's first princess fairy tale, which is typically Disney fare, but this one is original and isn't the average Disney princess. So we're up to see what they do with it.

We're also glad to see Brenda Chapman billed as a codirector (she wrote Brave, she directed Prince of Egypt, and she was a writer on Cars, Chicken Run, Lion King, and Beauty & the Beast; she's actually the first/only female director of a theatrical animation, so we're glad to see her sophomore effort come through). Basically, she put this film together and pitched it, and then she reportedly left the picture in 2010 and was replaced by Mark Andrews, the director of the One Man Band short. (Her reason for leaving was likely disagreements with Lasseter, since that's what replaced Jan Pinkava (of Gerry's Game fame) with Brad Bird on Ratatouille and what replaced Chris Sanders (of Lilo & Stitch) with Howard and Williams on Bolt.) So we're hoping that they brought Brenda Chapman back to finish Brave with Mark Andrews.

So far, the trailer looks interesting, as is the tale behind it...


Brave features Merida, an aspiring archer and impulsive daughter of royalty. Merida makes an irresponsible decision that inadvertently unleashes danger and forces her to launch into action to set events right.

Since ancient times, stories of epic battles and mystical legends have been passed through the generations across the rugged and mysterious Highlands of Scotland. In Brave, a new tale joins the lore when the courageous Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) confronts tradition, destiny and the fiercest of beasts.

Merida is a skilled archer and impetuous daughter of King Fergus (voice of Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson). Determined to carve her own path in life, Merida defies an age-old custom sacred to the uproarious lords of the land: massive Lord MacGuffin (voice of Kevin McKidd), surly Lord Macintosh (voice of Craig Ferguson) and cantankerous Lord Dingwall (voice of Robbie Coltrane). Merida's actions inadvertently unleash chaos and fury in the kingdom, and when she turns to an eccentric old Wise Woman (voice of Julie Walters) for help, she is granted an ill-fated wish. The ensuing peril forces Merida to discover the meaning of true bravery in order to undo a beastly curse before it's too late.

Directed by Mark Andrews (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, John Carter of Mars) and Brenda Chapman (The Lion King, Prince of Egypt), and produced by Katherine Sarafian (Lifted, The Incredibles), Brave is a grand adventure full of heart, memorable characters and the signature Pixar humor enjoyed by audiences of all ages.

Brave will be out in cinemas in 2012, and will be presented in Disney Digital 3D™ in select theatres.


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