Monday, March 31, 2014

"End Overfishing" Animation


Ending Overfishing from The Black Fish on Vimeo.

Animation goes far beyond "Frozen" and "The Smurfs" (not to single those two out in particular). It has many serious uses, though these uses also have their entertaining aspect. None of us lives on fluff alone - well, probably none of us - and it is fun to challenge ourselves once in a while with a solid look at an important topic about the world around us.


This blog is about animation and its many uses, not political causes. My presentation of this video is not meant to be a political statement, though I am more than happy to give The Black Fish some exposure. Animation can be a useful educational tool, and this video is presented in that spirit, as an example of animation as an educational resource. It is not intended to convince you to join Greenpeace and jump on a Russian oil platform and get arrested and spend Christmas in jail. However, if you are interested in this type of issue, then you'll enjoy it even more. Maybe it will inspire you to save the world, who knows. Stranger things have happened.


This animation about overfishing is from The Black Fish (@theblackfishorg). It highlights issues of overfishing in the EU, bycatch, fish-farming and the tensions between science-recommended catches and economy-driven catch limits. Not something you will learn about unless you read a lot of articles about this vitally important topic - or watch this animated video.

The quality of the animation is not particularly high - it appears to have come from an early generation of computer-generated animation, maybe ten years old. This video also is fairly short at a little more than four minutes, and the musical background is appropriately crack-of-doom stuff. But this just shows the power of animation - it doesn't have to be in 3D with all the bells and whistles with an uplifting score to accomplish its goal. The message (or story) is always the most important thing when it comes to good animation.

From their web page on Vimeo:
Despite an increased awareness of overfishing, the majority of people still know very little about the scale of the destruction being wrought on the oceans. This film presents an unquestionable case for why overfishing needs to end and shows that there is still an opportunity for change. Through reform of the EU‘s Common Fisheries Policy, fisheries ministers and members of the European Parliament can end overfishing. But only if you pressure them. Video made as part of the Ocean2012 initiative. For more information, please see


Pink Panther Live/Animated Hybrid Coming

Pink Panther

If you are a fan of the old Peter Sellers or Steve Martin versions of the Pink Panther, then hang on, because now they are raiding the vaults to start a new franchise.

If you are old enough, you will remember a series from the '70s in which an animated Pink Panther strutted around like a real cool cat, always getting the drop on Inspector Clouseau and his huge magnifying glass. That is the source of this version. Even if you haven't seen the series, you no doubt will recognize the tv theme, which is a compact version of the classic "Pink Panther" theme.

Here is the MGM press release, which is all that we know about this project so far, so there really is nothing more to add right now:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) is developing for production a full-length hybrid animation and live-action feature film based on the animated “Pink Panther” character, it was announced today by Gary Barber, chairman and CEO of MGM and Jonathan Glickman, president of the studio’s motion picture group. Walter Mirisch, executive producer of the original “Pink Panther” films and television series will serve as the producer of the new film, along with Academy Award®-winning actress, Julie Andrews, wife of the late director Blake Edwards. David Silverman (“The Simpsons Movie,” “Monsters, Inc”) will direct. The Pink Panther character originated a remarkable fifty years ago.

The new caper film will focus on the Pink Panther character, rather than Inspector Clouseau, and will harken back to the tone shared by the original Friz Freleng and David De Patie cartoons as well as that of Blake Edwards’ films.

"We are incredibly proud to re-introduce the Pink Panther to a brand new generation in such a fresh way. Even more exciting is the chance to work again with our dear friends Walter Mirisch and Julie Andrews, as well as the talented David Silverman, whose enthusiasm convinced us to ‘Think Pink!’," said Glickman.

“I am proud that the ‘Pink Panther’-- both the feature films and the great library of cartoons created by David De Patie and Friz Freleng that sprang from it-- continues to be one of the brightest jewels in the crown of Mirisch films. Now, for the first time, the live action franchise will be united with the world- famous cartoon character in a new hybrid feature film. I am excited by our concept and I look forward to an outstanding movie entertainment,” said Mirisch.


"Frozen" Early Sketches

Kristoff Sven Frozen
Kristoff feeds Sven
Here is a sketch that shows an early treatment of character Kristoff from "Frozen."

This may be of interest to folks who are interested in the gestation of animation. It doesn't just spring to life like you see it on the screen, that's for sure.


Screamo Version of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman"

Elsa Frozen
Elsa from "Frozen"

The Screamo version of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman"!

This is going to be one of the weirder references to "Frozen" that you will see here. I post this because it shows how far "Frozen" and its songs have sunk into the national consciousness, and also because John Lasseter himself, the Big Cheese at Disney/Pixar, mentioned watching this video and being impressed that someone could get through a tough ordeal with the help of "Frozen."

This is what Lasseter had to say about this:
“There’s a hilarious video on YouTube I just saw over the weekend, which was a little girl getting a splinter taken out of her leg and she’s screaming, but she’s singing ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’ from a Frozen. It means so much.”
It may be a little too real for some of you, so don't watch this if seeing a little girl go through a painful experience with a happy resolution would disturb you.

All we know about this is that poor Francesca has a splinter and mama is taking it out for her. Francesca is kind of in pain, but she starts singing. Everything turns out fine.

You're either going to be amused by this, find it weird that parents would film and post this, be completely confused and have no reaction, or perhaps all three.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

"Frozen" a Huge Hit on DVDs and Soundtrack Albums

"Frozen" is Big like "Titanic" was Big!

Frozen soundtrack cover
"Frozen" (2013).
The "Frozen" juggernaut continues.

"Frozen" is a massive hit outside of the theaters, not just inside them. This is what every Hollywood executive dreams about when preparing to release an animated feature film:
  1. A soundtrack that stays at the top of the charts for months and sells more copies after it has been out for months than it ever did upon the first release;
  2. A DVD/Blu-ray release that sells millions of copies on its first day of release; and
  3. Film grosses of a billion dollars.
Well, all that is what "Frozen" has done. It is a studio executive's fantasy film.

For the week ending March 23, according to Nielsen Soundscan numbers, "Frozen" sold more soundtrack albums in a single week than it has - ever. It sold 202,000 copies of the soundtrack that week, beating its own previous record of 165,000 copies for the week of January 5, 2014. It has been at No. 1 on the Billboard Album Chart - the same chart that Beyonce and all the rappers like Eminem and everyone else is competing on - for seven non-consecutive weeks, including the past two weeks as of this writing. It has sold 1.6 million copies so far in total, and obviously still is selling huge amounts every week.

The DVD/Blu-ray combo was released last week, accounting for the soundtrack sales surge as people no doubt figured they'd buy both at the same time. The DVD/Blu-ray sold 3.2 million copies on just its first day of March 18, 2014, according to Disney, which means that every retailer expected huge demand, and the demand was met. This is despite the fact that it was released on digital platforms a whole month earlier, on February 25, 2014, so it was already there for anyone who liked it in digital format. If anyone tells you that DVDs are dead and digital is taking over, well, tell them not so fast - sonny.

There also have been over 100 million plays of "Frozen" on Spotify.

"Frozen" is still in release in countries around the world, and in Japan, where it only recently opened under the title "Anna and the Snow Queen," "Frozen" has the top opening weekend of the year so far for that country, with $9.5 million in ticket grosses. That compares to only $1.4 million for the opening weekend of the previous Disney release, "Brave." In the UK, it has grossed £38.75 million in the UK and Ireland alone. Regardless of where it plays, "Frozen" either set box office records of one kind or another or challenges them.

Total grosses worldwide for "Frozen" so far? $1.032 billion, with $396 million of that in domestic US grosses. Now that's a studio executive's fantasy, for real.

Frozen billboard
"Frozen" is a huge hit!


"How to Train Your Dragon 2" Trailer and Preview

New Trailer for "How to Train Your Dragon"

How to Train Your Dragon 2

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Astrid and Hiccup
Here is the teaser trailer for "How to Train Your Dragon 2," released in 2013.

Here is the synopsis of the film, as released by the studio:
The thrilling second chapter of the epic How To Train Your Dragon trilogy brings back the fantastical world of Hiccup and Toothless five years later. While Astrid, Snoutlout and the rest of the gang are challenging each other to dragon races (the island’s new favorite contact sport), the now inseparable pair journey through the skies, charting unmapped territories and exploring new worlds. When one of their adventures leads to the discovery of a secret ice cave that is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and the mysterious Dragon Rider, the two friends find themselves at the center of a battle to protect the peace. 

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Astrid having some fun.
The "How to Train Your Dragon 2" cast and crew look similar to the first instalment, with the entire voice cast returning: Jay Baruchel, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. The second book in the 7-book series is about pirates, but it is unlikely they will change the original formula that much in the sequel. The first film departed a great deal from the novel anyway. "How to Train Your Dragon 2" is being written and directed by Dean DeBlois, and the score again will be by John Powell. It is scheduled for release on June 13, 2014 (4 July in the UK). Kit Harington of "Game of Thrones" is cast as the villain.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Hiccup has grown up.
had this to say in an interview:
"At the end of the last film, all these Vikings who were previously somewhat landlocked are now on the backs of dragons, so the entire Northern Hemisphere opens up to them. And with that Hiccup’s curiosity increases, the map expands and inevitably they are going to come across new dragons, new cultures."

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Hiccup ventures into new worlds. They quarrel after this accident about whose fault it was.
Here is a preview of the plot, as released by the studio:
“Hiccup and Toothless lead hundreds of hero dragons in defense of Dragon Mountain, battling against Drago Bloodfist’s huge army of Dragon Hunters and their ruthless war machines. The mighty Bewilderbeast, Master of Dragon Mountain, rises to join Hiccup against Drago’s forces, but Drago has a secret weapon – his own enslaved Bewilderbeast arrives to turn the tide. Hiccup and Drago lead their massive armies in an epic showdown.”
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Hiccup takes to the skies!

It sounds like there will be a lot of action!

How to Train Your Dragon 2


Friday, March 28, 2014

"No More Goalpost Dunking" Animation

NFL dunking

Apparently, the National Football League will no longer allow the dunking of the football over the goalposts after a touchdown. That was news to me, it just happened because somebody actually knocked the goalposts off-line during some of these dunks. You know how it is - one guy ruins it for everybody, just like on your high school field trip.

With all the problems in the world, the NFL actually spent time on this. Amazing.

This is not the place to debate whether this change in the rules is right or wrong or whether you care about dunking or football rules or football in general. I'm simply putting up this animation from "Taiwanese Animators" because it is a fun animation, done in the manner of a video game. It has a fresh style and shows a surprisingly cynical viewpoint toward the NFL and its players. The video also shows yet another use of animation: to disseminate news.

I would give the creators of this individual credit for this video - if I knew who they were. The video doesn't even have a proper title. The animators put in some quite edgy things, such as one of the players vomiting up what looks suspiciously like drugs towards the end. The parallels between the NBA art of dunking and the NFL version also are made blindingly clear (the NBA solved the problem of shattered backboards by making them all plastic).

Incidentally, if this animation amuses you, they also did one about the 2014 NCAA basketball title game.

You've got to really love the game if you a) go to all the trouble of making an animation about an obscure rules change, b) even know about said obscure rules change, c) actually care about said minor and obscure rules change, and d) know all the subtle things shown in this video about football players and the league in general. So, I think the bona fides of the "Taiwanese Animators" as true fans and not simply opportunists are secure.

NFL dunking

Of course, the larger question is why people in Taiwan care about obscure rules change in the NFL, but we'll let that go. This also may be the first and only time in your life when you watch football action requiring subtitles.

The below is shamelessly copied verbatim from the youtube page because this gives in excruciating detail why the creators made this video:
The No Fun League has made it a point to take most of the fun out of the game. On Tuesday owners passed a rule banning the dunking of the football over the goalpost. According to the league's vice president of officiating, players will no longer be allowed to dunk the ball over the goalpost after touchdowns. 
Dean Blandino confirmed the new rule in a radio interview with "The Dan Patrick Show" on Tuesday. Blandino told the listening audience that dunking the ball over the crossbar will now be counted as a foul along with other touchdown celebrations that involve props. 
The goalpost dunk had previously been grandfathered in as acceptable celebration, along with the Lambeau Leap. 
 "We grandfathered in some, the Lambeau Leap and things like that, but dunking will come out," Blandino said, according to "Using the ball as a prop or any object as a prop, whether that's the goalpost, the crossbar, that will come out and that will be a foul next season." 
The move was popularized by Tony Gonzalez, but it appears Saints Jimmy Graham was the inspiration for the rule after Graham twice knocked the uprights off balance. This deals a huge blow to all the NFL players that had been working on new goalpost dunks this offseason.  
What's next, is the NFL going to ban chest-bumping, butt slapping and trash-talking? 
The NFL has bigger problems it should be worried about. At least 49ers tight end Vernon Davis is happy about the new rule change.

Rotoscope of Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt rotoscope
Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Here is a fabulous rotoscope animation of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt done by one Carli Ihde, a 22-year-old published comic book artist, illustrator, and graphic designer. She must be a big fan! You can visit her original site if you wish.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in case you do not know, is a former child actor who made a big splash on "3rd Rock from the Sun" and as Arthur in "Inception."

Rotoscoping is an animation technique in which animators trace over footage, frame by frame, for use in live-action and animated films which have been around since the dawn of animation. It was first used by the legendary Max Fleischer in an early series during the First World War and was used by many others after that. Perhaps its most prominent (and often unnoticed, that's how good it was) use was by Walt Disney in his 1937 "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." It also was used in The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" and "The Secret of NIMH," among many, many other uses.

It is a technique that is best when not noticed. A seamless transition from hand-drawn animation to rotoscoping is difficult, but when done properly, it creates an extraordinary extension of the medium. You may notice the difference in the animation, but not really understand why you only know it is fun - that's what the truly skilled animator strives for when rotoscoping. The kiss of death is when the audience knows what's going on, that shatters the whole illusion.

The art of rotoscoping is not lost, but it is somewhat dormant. It is extremely labor-intensive, requiring attention to detail and laborious tracing of every scene. Then, when you add color, it gets even more intense. But with quality animation, such as the above, it is worth the effort.


NASA Animation of Lassoing An Asteroid

NASA Animation of Lassoing An Asteroid.

In this NASA animation, we see their proposal to lasso an asteroid and bring it back so that it enters the Moon's orbit, where it can be studied at leisure. There is no narration or sound, just raw animation.

The goal, according to NASA chief Charles Bolden, is to bring NASA one step closer to a continuing presence Mars. Yes, Mars:
"The ultimate thing … is to put boots on the ground on Mars, and that's not just to do a touch and go. It's to live there one of these days." Charles Bolden, March 26, 2014
The idea is that having a robotic craft get an asteroid (which one is not decided, there are half a dozen choices) and bring it back would help ramp up the technology. It would allow NASA to test a propulsion system and provide some clues as to the origins of the solar system. Bolden continued:
"We really make a big deal out of this [asteroid] initiative, but you should all understand, this is a tiny, tiny piece of getting humans to Mars. I don't want anybody to lose focus on that. The ultimate goal of this agency right now when it comes to human spaceflight is to put humans on Mars. That's hard. That is really hard. We need a proving ground to develop some of the technologies and everything else."
The mission would work in one of two ways: 1) send a robot craft to an asteroid and take part of it, maybe a boulder, and bring it back; 2) send a robot craft and ensnare an entire small asteroid and bring it back. Let us hope that NASA's work on the hardware is as nice as their workup of this animation.

Charles Bolden
Charles F. Bolden, Jr. 
Of course, there are many other difficulties with going to Mars, not the least of which would be shielding humans from deadly cosmic rays. This asteroid mission would provide a testing ground for just part of that mission. It is the usual cautious go-slow NASA approach that works in the long run, though as John Maynard Keyes aptly noted in another context, in the long run, we are all dead.

One thing is for certain, and that is that nothing is going to happen for some time. This whole project depends upon the Orion capsule and Space Launch System rocket. They are not scheduled for operation until 2021 at the earliest. Orion's first test flight is scheduled for some time in mid-2014, the earliest time for the capture and study itself is around 2025.

This is part of my continuing effort to demonstrate the many cool uses of animation beyond pure entertainment.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chinese Short "Little Yeyos" from Light Chaser

Here Comes China in the Animation Field

Little Yeyos
Little Yeyos.

"Little Yeyos." And now, as Monty Python would say, time for something completely different.

Those who read my blog regularly know that I have written a few times about the fact that the Chinese government has been somewhat offended that their own indigenous animation artists cannot come up with anything as good as the "Kung Fu Panda" series of films. It's understandable, considering how well Hollywood is at genre films like that, and naturally, the Chinese have their national pride somewhat at stake as well. It must be kind of irritating to the Chinese to think that foreigners can tell their own folklore better than they can themselves.

Light Chaser Animation Studio
The logo of Light Chasers.
Well, the Chinese are taking steps to try to get into the animation field. The Chinese start-up production company Light Chaser Animation Studio has created a short film, "Little Yeyos," which is not bad - watch it above. "Little Yeyos" is kind of a test run for this new player in animation, Light Chaser Animation Studio. “Little Yeyos” means “Little Night Wanderers,” and the short three-minute 3D film tells the simple story of seven chubby and baby-faced fairies roughhousing over a light-reflecting lapel pin.

"Little Yeyos" is a huge hit in China, getting some astronomical number of hits, 30 million or something crazy like that. It hasn't gotten very many here.

Gary Wang Light Chaser
Gary of Light Chaser, its founder.
The founder of the company is not an animator by trade. He is a Chinese video game developer who sold his first company,, for over a billion dollars, so he has lots of cash to play with. Chinese animation is weak, to put it kindly, but China is such a huge market that they can put out really lame animated series and make $100 million without really trying (which was the case with the animation series "Pleasant Goat and Big Bad Wolf"). As you can guess from that title, the animation is simple and aimed at children, while adults still go to the higher quality American animation.

Zhou Yu Light Chaser
Zhou Yu, co-founder of Light Chaser
The key idea is that Zhou Yu who works with at the Tudou website and produced the "Little Yeyos" short, is ramping up the entire industry in China. The company is spending ten times as much on its first feature animated film than what was spent on each of the "Goat" films. He is a major league player and knows the ropes, having spent some time in Hollywood. When you can afford to hire an 80-person team from scratch and get the latest software and top talent, you are off to a good start. The company has hired some Hollywood veterans to get things moving. Colin Brady, who worked on "Toy Story 2," and Han Lei, a lighting guy at DreamWorks, are providing the experience. Supposedly, the company will have about $40 million pumped into the venture by the time he pushes out his first film in a few years, which is an enormous sum for the fledgling Chinese animation field.

We can expect to see more interesting animation come out of China. This short, "Little Yeyos," is just an appetizer.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Evolution of the Bicycle" Amateur Animated Video

Evolution bicycle Visual Artwork
"Evolution of the Bicycle."
Evolution of the Bicycle from Visual Artwork on Vimeo.

"Evolution of the Bicycle." Here's another amateur - and I'm using that word very lightly here - animation that I found enjoyable on Vimeo. It is about the development of the bicycle from the ancient wooden horse and Pennyfarthing to modern versions.

Visual Artwork apparently is a Danish business. I don't know anything about them, their work speaks for itself. I just found this to be a clever use of animation and thought you might like it, too.

The video description on Vimeo:
"The evolution of the bicycle told with animation all the way from the wooden horse to the modern racer."
The video states that it was made by Thallis Vestergaard, with an address of

Animation: Thallis Ville von Holck
Music: Flying Home by The Benny Goodman Sextet


"Van Life" Amateur Animated Video

Van Life

Van Life from Parachute Parachute on Vimeo.

"Van Life." Here's a kind of eccentric animated video by amateurs that I stumbled across on Vimeo and am giving a little more exposure. I'm putting it here not because it has cutting edge animation or anything like that, but because it is very pretty animation and also concerns a subject near and dear to my own heart: VW Vans. You will probably only be interested in this if you, too, have a history with VW Vans.

The star of this animation is a VW Van aka the Bus, Vanagon, Transporter, Type-2, Westy, T3, etc. We just called ours "the bus," and our third one (!) looked a lot like the one in this video. For those who know these vans, you'll recognize this one as from the mid-70s. The earlier ones are the more iconic ones with more rounded features, but this is the type I personally spent the most time in.

The air-cooled engine in the back, captain's chairs up front, a dashboard that stretched to infinity and beyond, the floor clutch that prevented theft because only people who lived in these vans and drove them every day could figure out how to use them - it's all here in this very brief video.

This was done in very pretty fashion by stills watercolored by hand, which gives this animation a very unique look. It is about a sputtering Westy visiting San Rafael, California’s Valley Wagonworks for a much-needed overhaul. That's it, there's not too much to this video. The amount of work that must have gone into this video is intense, as each scene apparently had to be painted out by the animators.

"Van Life" Produced by Mik Gaspay, Directed by Gaspay and Chris McNally, animation by David Lauer and Kate Klingbeil, illustration by McNally, Editing and Sound Design by Ed Kolouch, Music by Dan Luehring and Mark Pistel.


"Poulette's Chair" From Studio Ghibli Veterans

Charming Anime for Everyone

Poulette's Chair

Let me bring to your attention something you would never know about otherwise.

"Poulette's Chair" (also translated "Pullet's Chair" from "Pullet No Isu") is a short created to commemorate 10 years of Noitamina (Animation spelled backward). Noitamina, which you probably never have heard of if you aren't Japanese, is a Fuji TV programming block with a special mission: to open the world of animation to girls and older viewers, expanding the demographic beyond the young males who are the traditional viewers of anime.

There is absolutely nothing wrong about past anime, and little chance that most anime will change from what it has been. However, anime has developed a bit of a reputation as somewhat hard-edged and masculine, and shorts such as "Poulette's Chair" aim in a different direction. It has a warm, welcoming feel that stands with the best of Studio Ghibli. It is not a stretch to compare the quality of "Poulette's Chair" with beloved Studio Ghibli classics "Kiki's Delivery Service," though of course as a short, it is in a completely different league.

"Pullet's Chair" is directed by Hiroyasu Ishida (who also did the short "Rain Town"). It was animated with the supervision of former Studio Ghibli colleague Yojiro Arai and has beautiful music by talented video-game composer Masashi Hamauzu.

It is an enchanting story of the friendship between a precocious young girl, Poulette, a transfer student to a new school (which is why her name is written on the blackboard), and her magical chair. The theme is to never lose your youthful enthusiasm.

This is something a little different, a very low-profile short that you most likely would never hear about otherwise. However, while it may not be widely publicized, the quality is very high, as would the case with anything even remotely connected to Studio Ghibli.

Give "Poulette's Chair" a whirl, it's only 3:36 long. You might find that there is enjoyable Japanese animation beyond the major studio releases, and we are happy to give talented unknowns a view.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ten Great South Park Episodes

South Park
"South Park."
I realized I didn't have anything about the "South Park" television series on here, which was a major omission, so here we go! Here are ten great South Park episodes.

There isn't too much about television animation such as Trey Parker's and Matt Stone's "South Park" on here because, frankly, the quality of animation on tv isn't nearly as high as that of feature film and films are easier to review. Now, I can imagine the howls of protest at that, but it's true. That is not to say that tv animation is valueless or anything like that. However, if you try to stack a 30-minute show's animation against "Frozen" and you're going to come up short every time. "South Park" follows in the tradition of shows like "Ren & Stimpy" which push the limits, and that is one of its main attractions.

South Park
Smug Alert!
That is not to say that tv animation is an inferior product, just that the quality of that animation is from an earlier technical era. The animation you see on the small screen certainly can be as brilliant as anything you see in the theater if you are measuring impact and cleverness. It also can address topics that you'll never see in a full-length animated feature film because the extended length of a tv show over the course of an entire season allows all sorts of meanderings not permitted to a highly focused feature film. You could be watching shadows on the wall and be engrossed if the story is good, so having cutting edge animation isn't always determinative about quality.

"South Park," of course, had its moment in theaters with "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut." That film did all right and was entertaining, but it had trouble making the transition to the big screen for a few very good reasons. First, it retained the topicality that is a trademark of television programs but anathema to feature films. Some of the biggest comic set-ups involved people like Saddam Hussein, and, to be frank, he really wasn't that funny then and he's a lot less funny or interesting now. The Baldwin brothers? Minor leagues, baby.

South Park

Second, the primitive animation of "South Park" that is perfectly adequate on television is simply inadequate and non-competitive in a theater. It just doesn't look right in the age of Pixar and DreamWorks products. Nobody expects cutting edge animation for free in your living room, but they sure do after paying their $12 and buying some popcorn and juju beans.

Third, there simply isn't that much that is special and unique about a particular episode of a tv show that is expanded for the theater. Just as most folks wouldn't go way out of their way to find episode 8 from season 10 (whatever it was), there isn't much unique about just another rendition of the same South Park characters you see all the time on tv that is worth spending $12 on. Not enough, anyway, to say that the movie's story is anything special, and many fans of the tv show delight in the backward idea that liking the film version is disloyal to the tv show. And heaven forbid that the movie introduce inconsistencies into the canon!

Look, devoted fans are like that.

All that said, some tv animation overcomes its inherent limitations and is top-notch. Even someone who is more into the more expensive feature film productions can enjoy some television animation just as much. While "South Park" is generally accepted to be running out steam after 16 seasons or however long it's been on, it packed a punch during its middle seasons. Almost all of these are from seasons 5-12, showing that the series was at its peak then.

Herewith, we present Ten "South Park" Episodes Worth Watching.

South Park
"Come out, Tom!"

1. "Trapped in the Closet"

Season 9 Episode 12 

This may well be the most famous episode for non-fans, and for good reason. In it, Stone and Parker take on the easiest target in Hollywood, namely, Scientology.

Stan is mistaken for the reincarnation of Scientology’s founder, L. R Hubbard. After many meanderings - including Tom Cruise hiding in a closet - the episode ends with Stan concluding that ”Scientology is just a big fat global scam.”

It's not Scientology that makes this a classic, though the ending, where a Scientology leader explains its theories about aliens and such to Stan as the words "THIS IS WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS REALLY BELIEVE" is shown at the bottom of the screen, is riotous. No, the episode reaches for the gold when it seriously lampoons Tom Cruise, Parker voicing him as a whiny brat who won't come out of the bedroom closet - with obvious unspoken implications aside from religion.

The show is infamous for taking on as many targets as it can, and Scientology gets its lumps here. However, the episode is extremely pointed and personal satire, and Isaac Hayes, who voiced Chef, decided it had gone too far. He abruptly resigned because he is a Scientology member and didn't like his religion being made fun of. Parker and Stone were nonplussed, saying in a statement, "”In 10 years and over 150 episodes of South Park, Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslims, Mormons and Jews. He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show.”

The episode is hardly profound, and the phrase "shooting fish in a barrel" springs to mind, but it illustrates one area in which tv animation can trump film animation: topicality and the ephemeral nature of celebrity. Nobody would waste an entire film on such a flimsy plot-line as an attack on Cruise and Scientology, but a 30-minute tv episode? For sure.

South Park
"Hey, have you guys ever seen this trick?"

2. "Asspen"

Season 6 Episode 2

Tad Mikowsky is a bully and takes on Stan. That's all there is to the episode, but how it is done is what sets this episode apart. Along the way, every sports film from the '80s is satirized, and along the way, we get the "Montage Song" from "Team America."

South Park
"Well, I'm just a typical little girl."

3. Marjorine

Season 9 Episode 9 

Butters fakes his own death and then pretends to be a girl named Marjorine. His hope is to weasel his way into the girls' slumber party and snatch a paper fortune teller. Parker has fun exaggerating horror film conventions and explores childhood innocence. It's a fun episode that focuses on Butter, the innocent guy in the "South Park" universe who always says wacky things.

South Park
"I gotta dance!"

4. You Got F’d in the A

Season 8 Episode 4 

It's the Goth Kids to the rescue in this episode when they reveal that the only proper way to dance is to shuffle with your arms at your side with your eyes fixed to the floor, occasionally taking a drag on your cigarette. The tallest Goth kid busts a move or two, and we are shown just how silly all those "dance-off" films are. If you hate the modern dance hype on tv, this one's for you.

South Park
"If this is what's cool now, I'm done." 

5. Elementary School Musical

Season 12 Episode 12 

This episode turns the obvious tropes of coming-of-age films on its head. Mr Güermo, unlike every other father in those types of films, actively wants his boy to take up dancing rather than play basketball as is he preference. The dance-obsessed father is a riot, and while "High School Musical" may not even be worth a half-hour of satire, it's still cathartic to stab that brief insane fad with your steely knife when you have the chance.

South Park
"Remember, kids, if you smoke you could grow up to be a failure."

6. Butt Out

Season 7 Episode 13

Everybody had to sit through some puerile speech at some point in their lives from some motivational speaker. It's all about blaming others for things, and it works with extreme cleverness. After some over-the-top speakers decry the horrors of smoking, naturally the boys are caught smoking out behind the school. Trapped, they try to pin it on cigarette advertising in order to not get in trouble. Parker and Stone also throw a few shots at Rob Reiner of all people, who are portrayed as an anti-smoking zealot who has a few health risks of his own. Some very adult issues about freedom and the right of others to impose on what you do are touched upon, zooming this episode way above where you expect it to go.

South Park
What awaits each person in heaven is eternal bliss, divine rest, and $10,000 in cash."

7. The Death of Eric Cartman

Season 9 Episode 6

For pure fun, nothing in "South Park" tops "The Death of Eric Cartman." Cartman, of course, is evil and conniving, that kid you knew who had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, but you still hung out with him anyway. There's even a musical interlude in the middle of the episode that underscores in a cynical way just how meaningless Cartman's attempts to "do the right thing" are. It's all about what a bad guy thinks being good means and goes off in all sorts of wacky directions.

South Park
"Jesus, Jesus, why don't we just shut off the lights."

8. Christian Rock Hard

Season 5 Episode 4

Cartman takes on Christian Rock and gets his comeuppance. That about sums up this episode, and it has a nice twist that shows there are two sides to his issue. While Christian Rock is easy to satirize, Parker and Stone are careful to show that while there are inherent ridiculous aspects to the whole genre, it also isn't polite to dump on what other people like, either. Thus, Token takes a heap of abuse from Cartman, but then ultimately shows him what's what and serves up some righteous justice. A great and satisfying episode that shows that being cool and cynical can go just a little too far when not leavened with a little understanding and true tolerance.

South Park
"Love is like taking a dump, Butters."

9. Cartman Finds Love

Season 16 Episode 7 

Cartman is a busy-body who gets into other people's lives. Here, he takes it to the next level and creates Cupid Me, which goes around making sure that people only get together with others from their own race. The whole notion is stood on its head with the conclusion that, despite all the liberal push to be encouraging for people of different races to be able to be together, sometimes people don't want to live an agenda and actually do want to be with others like themselves. It's a great insight into the Cartman character and a deeper look at what allowing people to do what they want really means.

South Park
"Oh, the tears of unfathomable sadness!"

10. Scott Tenorman Must Die

Season 5 Episode 4 

Cartman is a hate-filled malevolent creature who balances hideous un-PC attitudes while hiding behind the blanket defense of childish innocence. This episode brings us Scott Tenorman, a ninth-grade bully who cons Cartman out of his lunch money. This ignites Cartman into a raging ball of fury that must scale the heights of heroic retribution - only it doesn't quite work out the way it does in the movies. Operatic retribution just doesn't work when it comes to Cartman. In fact, he does become a sort of dark hero who must battle the even evil-er Scott Tenorman with the fate of the Galaxy, or at least his ninth-grade pride, at stake.


I have given this episode a special category because it exists outside of ordinary lists. This episode is either great or revolting, and I think there are a lot of people on both sides of that equation. So, I leave it up to you whether it belonged on the list of great episodes. If so, it also might belong on a list of truly awful episodes.

Oh, here's a hint: if you are easily offended, turn back now.

Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo

Season 1 Episode 9 

This episode aired on December 17, 1997, right in time for Christmas. It's the only season 1 episode with a shot at making our "Great" list. Let's just allow Trey Parker himself (in 1998) discuss what makes this episode - "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo" - about talking poo so special, no need to embellish this story:

“When we were getting courted by all the networks, for people wanted the show, I remember I sat down with (Comedy Central executives) Eileen Katz and Debbie Liebling at our first meeting like two years ago, at dinner. I said, ‘You know, one thing I have to know before we really go any further. How do you feel about talking poo?’ And Eileen, I remember, just was like ‘I love it’. We had the idea for ‘The Mr. Hankey Show’ even before South Park. It’s what we originally pitched to Brian Graden (who became the president of MTV) and he was like, ‘Sounds great. Let’s NOT do that.’

“John Kricfalusi, the guy who created Ren & Stimpy, after the Christmas show had aired was making some big noise about the fact that Mr. Hankey was a rip-off of some character he created on his website (Nutty, the Friendly Dump). It really pissed me off just because I actually wrote him specifically saying ‘Mr. Hankey has actually appeared on the opening sequence of South Park since it aired in August and even before that when we made the pilot a year before that’. Like I said, we pitched that to Brian years ago and before that Mr. Hankey was something I did in college.

“And so, you know, Brian Graden was the first one to come out and say ‘I was pitched Mr. Hankey four or five years ago’. (Kricfalusi) wrote a letter back saying ‘Oh, okay, I see how it could just be a coincidence but you should admit to the press you are a big Ren & Stimpy fan’. I’m not a Ren & Stimpy fan. I have nothing against it. I saw an episode or two but that’s about that.”


Friday, March 21, 2014

DreamWorks Going to Shanghai

DreamWorks Continues Its Overseas Expansion

Rendering of proposed DreamCenter.
DreamWorks Animation is building a 15 billion yuan ($2.4 billion) entertainment complex in Shanghai, expanding Hollywood's growing ties with China.

The "DreamCenter" is scheduled to open in 2016 or 2017, to be located in Xuhui Riverside. Plans are for the DreamCenter to have a 500-seat IMAX cinema (the world's largest) to host international film festivals and red carpet events. There will be bars, restaurants and performance venues. Basically, the DreamCenter will showcase a top-notch "Dream Avenue" theater district modeled on London's West End and New York City's Broadway. The 15-hectare (40-acre) site also will include eight outdoor events plazas. This is in addition to other DreamWorks complexes being built in London, England and elsewhere.

In layout, the site bears a certain resemblance to New York City's Battery Park.

Shanghai DreamCenter DreamWorks Animation
Proposed DreamWorks DreamCenter.
The project is led by "Kung Fu Panda" and "Shrek" maker DreamWorks Animation. They have Chinese partners in investment fund CMC Capital Partners, whose owners include state-owned companies, and Hong Kong developer Lan Kwai Fong.

Jeffrey Katzenberg Shanghai DreamCenter DreamWorks Animation
Jeffrey Katzenberg makes the big announcement.
"This will become the world's third great urban center of entertainment and arts alongside New York's Broadway and London's West End," said DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg at a news conference. The event was held in a former cement factory, which will become one of the performance venues.

Puss in Boots
Puss in Boots will be funny to hear in Chinese.
The cement factory is near the 2010 Shanghai Expo site in the city's western area. The complex also will include the headquarters of animation production company Oriental DreamWorks, a joint venture between DreamWorks and Chinese partners which will produce "Kung Fu Panda 3" for release in 2016.

Jack Black Kung Fu Panda
Jack Black provides the lead voice in the "Kung Fu Panda" series
The new DreamCenter fits nicely into existing plans for national development of Shanghai, according to Guangshao Tu, Deputy Mayor of Shanghai:
"Xuhui Riverside is one of the key regions to be explored in Shanghai during the 'next National Twelfth Five-Year Plan' period. The speed and quality of the construction will have a significant impact on the future development of Shanghai.”
China has been embarrassed by the quality of DreamWorks' quality animations of Chinese history and culture, with the government in the past questioning why local animators cannot do better than this American studio. Now, it appears, they have found a temporary solution: bring DreamWorks and its quality productions to China.

Shanghai DreamCenter DreamWorks Animation Proposed DreamWorks DreamCenter
DreamWorks DreamCenter model.
Intriguingly, Shanghai Disneyland, the first Disney park on the Chinese mainland, is scheduled to open in Shanghai's Pudong district at the end of next year. DreamWorks is, in a sense, playing catch-up, though they certainly don't see it that way. In any event, any competition between the big American studios there is good news for the city. Shanghai always has been a financial and manufacturing center. The DreamCenter complex and Shanghai Disneyland will add to that, diversifying the city into media and cultural industries.


"Earth to Luna!" Animated Series for Preschoolers Coming

Earth to Luna!
The U.S. 24-hour preschool network Sprout is working hard to educate children in an entertaining way about science. Accordingly, it has picked up a new animated science series, "Earth to Luna!"

From Brazil’s TV PinGuim, "Earth to Luna! will be broadcast exclusively in the U.S. and is set to debut August 16, 2014. The series features Luna, a 6-year-old girl who is passionate about science. For Luna, the Earth is a giant laboratory and she dives into new experiences with her little brother Jupiter and pet ferret Clive.

There are 52 11-minute shows planned, probably an ideal length of time for pre-schoolers to watch and absorb.

“Sprout is committed to creating and acquiring the best content for preschoolers and their families,” said Andrew Beecham, the senior VP of programming at Sprout. “Each episode of "Earth to Luna!" explores the impact that science has on our world, and Luna, in her curious way, pursues answers to scientific questions that viewers will relate to and enjoy.”