Archives for : August2015

Toon-In Talk Episode 16: Interview with Bruce Reitherman

Hello and welcome to sixteenth episode of Fanboy Nation’s Toon-In-Talk, your rendezvous for animation interviews. Have you ever wondered what happened to kid voice actors when they grow up?  Whitney Grace has!  After watching Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book, Whitney wondered what happened to Mowgli.  It turns out that Mowgli is Bruce Reitherman, son of Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman, one Disney’s Nine Old Men!  Bruce was more than happy to discuss his experiences voicing Mowgli and growing up at the Walt Disney Animation Studios in the 1960s.

Episode 16

 

 

  • Bruce voiced Mowgli in The Jungle Book and he is also the son of Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman, one of Disney’s Nine Old Men.
  • Growing up in the Disney Studios was like being alive during the Renaissance.
  • Some of his earliest memories include that it was a very family oriented place and some of the people he ran into.
  • Whitney praises the Ink and Paint Club.
  • Bruce delves into the creativity he witnessed at the studio, including how individuals added to the big picture.
  • Woolie took over the art department after Walt Disney passed away. He was always eager to go to work  everyday, was a great father, intelligent, and talented.
  • Bruce stresses that all animators had the same attributes as his father and this made them great animators able to capture the illusion of life.
  • Woolie was in charge of the Xerox age of Disney animation. Whitney loves this era, because you can see the original pencil sketches and the animation process. Bruce gives a history of the Xerox process, why Disney implemented it, and what he enjoys about this animation process.
  • Bruce talks about his experience voicing Mowgli in The Jungle Book and the fun he had.
  • Whitney wonders how The Jungle Book changed from the original concept and Bruce explains how Disney was interested in making an enjoyable character film and take it in a new direction from the original story.
  • When Bruce got the Mowgli role, he wasn’t a child actor. His dad needed a regular voice from a regular kid and Bruce was in the right place: living under the same roof as Woolie Reitherman.
  • Bruce shares his views on Mowgli’s different relationships with the animals.
  • Whitney wanted Mowgli to go back to the jungle and live, while Bruce likes the ending where Mowgli goes back to the man village. He likes this ending, because it shows that Mowgli accepts growing up.
  • Bruce “wants to be like you!” and he has never seen The Jungle Book 2.

Links

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My Thoughts On Witchblade

Screen-Shot-2015-07-13-at-19.57.40-702x336I love comic books and graphic novels.   I’ve written my own graphic novel, in fact, for a young adult audience entitled Blood, Feather, and Stone, which I’m shopping around for some editors and/or an agent.  I learned a lot about the comics medium by reading thousands of comic books (I’ve kept a log) and one of the series I’ve enjoyed is Top Cow’s Witchblade.  I loved the strong female character, the premise, the weapon, and the mythos of the series.  It also has a TV and an anime series, which were how I was introduced to it.  Witchblade recently came to an end and I was interviewed for a roundtable at Women Write About Comics in the article, “Glove, Bracelet, Bikini, Halberd: Exit the Witchblade, For Good?” by Claire Napier.  Check it out!

Animated Words: How To Train Your Dragon

Animated Words is a featured column at the Rotoscopersan awesome news site for all things animation.

Welcome to the first edition of my article series entitled “Animated Words,” which will be an exclusive look at books that inspired the creation of animated movies. I’m sure you have heard someone spout the phrase “the book was better than the movie” before and I have been known to say it on more than one occasion. Growing up, I was the child who always read the original novel before watching the movie. I read the book first because it was usually how I got to connect with the movie before it was even out in theaters.

From a young age, whenever a Disney teaser trailer aired on TV, I was overcome with eagerness to see the new movie and frustrated that I would have to wait for the VHS release because my parents preferred to take me on outdoor outings rather than to a darkened theater. For hours, I anxiously paced in my room wanting to know the intricate plot points and character relationships for my beloved animated cartoons. My friends would spill spoilers left and right, while singing the newest Disney Renaissance single. It drove me up a beanstalk, until I discovered something called ‘the junior novelization.’9780736429832.jpg.172x250_q85

As part of the merchandising campaign with a new movie, Disney released toys, clothing, and books smeared with the characters. Books have and will probably always be an easy tie-in for feature films, because they are easy to make, quick to produce multiples, and have that educational factor with reading. While my parents weren’t too keen on taking me to the movies, they were big fans of the library and one day I found The Little Mermaid junior novelization. The junior novelization not only told the entire story, but it even included a few extra details hinted at but not included in the movie. From that point on, I scouted out Disney books that were “based on the motion picture” and they tided me over until I saw the actual movie. The junior novelizations were actually published before the movie even played in theaters, so I soon became the one who knew all the spoilers (take note that in the 1990s, however, the word “spoilers” didn’t exist).

I would also discover that Disney and other animated films were based on original novels, not just fairytales. I swallowed these novels in one large gulp and was extremely thrilled when there turned out to be a series with even more adventures starring the characters.

This brings me around to why I want to write “Animated Words”: I love to read books, I love writing about books, and I also want people to be more aware about movies that are based off original novels. Why? Because I want them to read more. Without further ado, let’s dive into a one of today’s popular movie franchises: How to Train Your Dragon.How_to_Train_Your_Dragon_(2003_book_cover)

How to Train Your Dragon is by British children’s author Cressida Cowell. Britain has a penchant for exporting some of the best children’s fantasy literature. I’ve never understood why the island nation is a hotbed for imaginative stories aimed at younger audiences, but it will probably continue (I hope) for years to come. How to Train Your Dragon is the first book in, as of writing this article, an eleven novel series and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. First published in 2003, How to Train Your Dragon combines two popular genres: fantasy and pretend journals of fictional characters. One could argue it falls into the hybrid graphic novel category (a hybrid is a book that is part comic book or has a major visual aspect/part prose novel. like The Diary of Wimpy Kid and Hugo Cabret), but the drawings only augment he text rather than having the story rely heavily on them.

Another popular literary ploy that How to Train Your Dragon uses is to treat the story as if it were real and the author just so happens to be the lucky channel with which it is shared. This is a very popular and old literary ploy. Some notable examples include L. Frank Baum, who is dubbed the Royal Historian of Oz, and his many Oz books and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The device is primarily used in children’s literature, because it fosters a child’s sense of belief and kids are more likely to read a book if they think it’s real. (Admit it, as an adult you think it’s more fun too.) DreamWorks borrowed from the book’s journal narrative by using the main character’s voice-over narration in the 2010 film’s beginning and end (not to mention that is a common trope for many animated movies these days). I digress.

Movies have the tendency to stray from the source material. For many fans of the written word, this is an abomination and in some cases it is. Hollywood, like the publishing industry, is out to make money and so they alter a book’s plot to appeal to a wider audience. When authors sell the movie rights to their books, they often relinquish any form of creative control. Some authors are unhappy with the final product and others don’t really care because they got a paycheck. New York Best Selling Author Meg Cabot once told me (at an author signing) that the best way to work with Hollywood was to drop your book over the California border, take the check, and let it go.how_to_be_a_pirate_large_cover
It isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Hollywood machine to re-imagine a book. If Peter Jackson kept every single detail from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings cycle, the trilogy would have moved slower than production on Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler (or Arabian Knight or The Princess and the Cobbler, take your pick) and it would have been extremely boring (or more boring if you fall into the minority that fell asleep during viewing). Sometimes removal of some details, adding new characters, or rewriting events strengthens the original story or takes it in an entirely new direction, which is what happened with Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon.

I imagine the book and the movie were walking along a straight road together, when they came to a fork in the road and then went their separate directions and created two separate canons or universes. In superhero comics, namely DC and Marvel titles, it’s common for there to be parallel universes in which familiar characters live alternate storylines. It keeps the stories fresh and answers the inevitable “what if” questions that are sprinkled in series. The movie uses the same character names, takes place on the isle of Berk, and there are dragons and Vikings in it. That is pretty much where the similarities end.how-to-train-your-dragon-poster-1

The How to Train Your Dragon book features young Viking Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, who goes by Hiccup, and is the heir Stoick the Vast, chief of the Hairy Hooligans. Hiccup has the unfortunate distinction of being small, thin, tends to look before he leaps, and has a higher intellect than his fellow Vikings. While his friends and family smash items and don’t bother to ask any questions, Hiccup ponders all the questions and investigates the answers. It’s not the type of personality one expects of a future Viking chief and the Hairy Hooligans are unsure of what to do with Hiccup. Hiccup has a best friend named Fishlegs, who has several maladies including asthma and eye problems (not to mention he’s kind of a wimp). Fishlegs shares the wimp characteristic, but his movie counterpart is much, much bigger. Snotlout isn’t that different from his movie counterpart, still a bull-headed, brash bully, except he is Hiccup’s cousin. That last bit adds some interesting familiar tension in the series. Ruffnut, Tuffnut, and Astrid don’t make any appearances, although in the third novel a girl named Camicazi from an Amazon-like tribe shares similar characteristics – she’s sword-fighting, tough, and had a dragon named Stormfly – with Astrid.

The Hairy Hooligans live on the isle of Berk and all young Vikings must go through a right of passage to become an adult. Led by Gobber the Belch, all young Viking initiates must prove their bravery by catching a dragon and training it…wait, what? Yes, you read correctly. The Vikings don’t hate dragons, instead they capture and raise them as their companions. It’s quite the big difference, isn’t it? In the book Hiccup and his friends like dragons and it’s expected that they capture one to prove their worthiness as a Viking warrior. But, in the movie, they make the extreme change to hating and murdering dragons at every chance they get. It’s an all out war in the movie! Viking against dragon, with the “none shall rest while the other exists” kind of mythos.

831621-how-to-train-your-dragonIt gets even better! Toothless does exist in the books, but instead of being an awesome, powerful, and cute Night Fury he’s a small dragon that the book identifies as either a common or a garden dragon. There really isn’t anything spectacular or even cute about Toothless, except he can talk…scratch that, he complains a lot. Actually, all the dragons can talk and Hiccup can speak Dragonese, which proves to be a very valuable gift.

Already one can see how the movie branches away from Cowell’s work and follows a traditional coming-of-age story with a misfit hero. While the book has its coming-of-age moments, it happens as the series progresses (like an adventure serial and rather than having Hiccup fight against the world around him, like movie Hiccup). Book Hiccup goes with the flow, assesses a situation, and then reacts.

Hiccup’s gentle spirit is adapted from the book. During the initiation dragon hunt, all young Vikings must return with a dragon or be exiled from the tribe. Fishlegs fails to retrieve a dragon, so Hiccup gives him the one he captured and risks expulsion. He’s also frustrated about the extreme lack of knowledge about dragons. There is a training manual entitled How to Train Your Dragon within the book of the same name, but it consists of only one chapter with one page and shares the Viking wisdom: “the golden rule of dragon-training is to yell at it! The louder the better.” Hiccup’s curiosity about dragons is a major personality aspect that is expressed well in both the books and the movie. In the movie, audiences are treated to a montage of him learning dragon lore with a the wounded Night Fury, Toothless. Book Hiccup, instead, takes his dragon education a bit slower and is fo_76195203_97924551rced to placate Toothless during the process.

This brings us to another major aspect: how the dragons act. Dragons are mythical beasts and fantasy authors handle them according to their own fancies. DreamWorks decided to make the movie dragons intelligent, non-talking creatures that can be trained and become loyal human companions. Cowell’s dragons aren’t so nice. Toothless, in the book, goes even so far as to say that dragons are self-serving creatures and only listen to humans because they have food and are bigger. Book Toothless is noted as being extremely adorable, but lacking any morals whatsoever.   As the series progresses, Cowell changes the way humans and dragons interact, although they remain wild, scrappy creatures. Changing the way humans and dragons interact is a vital part of both movie and book, because it sets the stage for later conflict.

If you’re interested in becoming a writer, especially of children’s books, change is very important for your fictional world and characters. With more mature fiction it can be subtler and weighed down with fancy metaphors, but children’s literature needs to have more apparent character/environment growth. Younger readers need their change to be less complicated, but not pandering. One folly that many novice writers make is that they create a world or situation that is too “easy” for their characters or where things happen “at” their characters (meaning they’re very passive). Book characters do stuff!

The huge conflict in both the movie and book is the arrival/discovery of a giant dragon that devours everything. In the book it’s called the Green Death; he talks and enjoys intellectual conversation, while the movie has the Red Death dragon and it just eats and destroys. Action-adventure movies wouldn’t be dubbed a thrilling drama if there wasn’t a climatic battle with near death, destruction, and a huge battle. It happens in the movie and is handled very well given that it’s a movie formula used way too often.

Cowell relies on a more cunning, sheer dumb luck route to defeat the Green Death. Another dragon named the Purple Death arrives at Berk to eat the Vikings, but Hiccup forms a plan to pit the two dragons against each other. It works and all seems well, until Hiccup is eaten. The sheer, dumb luck sets in when – by accident – Hiccup figures out how to stop the Green Death’s fire. As in the movie (or vice versa since the book came first), Toothless saves Hiccup, the Vikings accept Hiccup’s strangeness, and everyone lives happily until the next book or movie sequel.

2015020310382037028How to Train Your Dragon 2 borrows some elements from the novels, but it veers off into a whole new direction. Hiccup is decidedly much older, the plot is much darker, his mom comes back, etc. It was made to continue the movie’s canon, rather than adapt preexisting work. The novels, however, retain their more humorous, episodic storytelling as each novel adds a new piece to the great puzzle Cowell writes. The characters do mature throughout the series, but they are still written for a young target audience (rather than the writing maturing as well).

Despite the differences between the book and movie, both How to Train Your Dragon incarnates remain separate, distinct works that are appealing for their own reasons. The books are a fun series with a none-too-serious approach to adventure stories, while DreamWorks is working on turning How to Train Your Dragon into an epic franchise. Cowell mentioned she is pleased with the film adaptations and who wouldn’t be? DreamWorks took a comedic, adventure story for young readers and is transforming it into an awesome animated franchise. The studio puts effort into creating a good story, rather than pasting stereotypical plot elements together. Neither is better than the other, although I am partial to DreamWorks’s version of Toothless. I REALLY want a Night Fury to fly me places, torch my taxes, and be my best friend.

 

The World of Muppet Crap: The Beaker Bra

The World of Muppet Crap is a feature article series on ToughPigs, your ultimate fan site for all things related to Jim Henson, the Muppets, Sesame Street, and more!

Welcome to the wonderful World of Muppet Crap!  Through my Web surfing, I have discovered that some of the best Muppet crap is made by crafters with a bandoleer of crochet hooks and a glue gun holstered to their waist.  Some of these crafters make a product Miss Piggy would call “très magnifique,” while others concoct an item so “original” that it instills this type of reaction in people:

Kermit scrunch sheesh

Frog-lets and piggies, I present to you the Beaker bra!

Beaker Bra
Yes, dear readers, someone took a women’s supportive undergarment and decided to spice it up with felt eyes and a foam nose (it probably chafes too).

The Beaker Bra is a handmade item sold on Etsy.  When I first saw it, I didn’t realize it was a brassiere and my thoughts were, “What an astonishing Beaker likeness.”  Then I clicked on the link and I practiced my best Snowth impression (the metaphor being my mouth rounded and my eyes were caught in that surprised, confused expression).  Do-do-de-do-doo!

Snowths
It’s not hard to make a Beaker replica.  All you need to do is stick a tuft of red fur, an orange foam nose, and eyes on practically anything, and ta-da!  Instant Beaker.

After my initial astonishment, I imagined wearing the bra.  It would create a disproportional third lump and make people raise an eyebrow.

Deanna_Troi_2365Have any of you ever watched Star Trek: The Next Generation?  When Gene Roddenberry created the character of Deanna Troi, the Enterprise’s empathic and half-human counselor, he conceptualized her with three breasts.

This quote by Dorothy Fontana, an original series write and associate producer on TNG, to Entertainment Weekly sums up my feelings about Beaker’s nose:

“I objected to Troi having three breasts. I felt women have enough trouble with two. And how are you going to line them up? Vertically, horizontally, or what? I was like, please, don’t go there. And they didn’t, fortunately.”

I won’t go any further than that.  All other questions can be routed to Miss Piggy, who we know wears a girdle to control her…um…on second thought, I don’t know anything about that.  (Secretly, I am fearful the pig is going to come after me with a pork chop [pun intended]).  Here is a hint of advice: it is always wise to fear and love the pig.  Fear first, though.

Mind you, it has become a popular trend for geek girls to express their fandom with lingerie that bears (pun not intended) motifs from their part of the fandom.  My thoughts are if a grown man can wear Spider-Man underwear, a woman can show her geek pride with her own set of Web crawler under drawers.

Many companies have specialized geek underwear lines, including ThinkGeekBunny JumpJinx, and the Fashionably Geek blog has a compiled a decent list of sellers.

Disney even licensed their trademark Princess line for women who want to feel like a Disney heroine underneath their T-shirt or business suit.

disney-princess-lingerie
Some have questioned the appropriateness of lingerie based on the Disney princesses, but they’re printed already on children’s underclothes.  The argument is that it sexualizes children’s characters, promotes the seduction of the innocent, etc.  These people clearly have never hopped on Deviantart or 4chan (if you haven’t either, be aware that Deviantart has a filter, 4chan doesn’t).

What does that say about the Muppets, then?  Muppets are not children’s characters.  All Muppet fans know this, so why are we even bringing it up in conversation?  I guess this as good as spot as any to insert the Muppet history bit.

Title.sexThe original pilot for The Muppet Showwas called Sex and Violence.  Sex is even mentioned in the title!  It was a half-hour program for primetime television following the popular variety show format.  The Muppet Show, in fact, was a quality evening program that appealed to both adults and children, but Jim Henson strove to create entertainment for a mature audience and not just offspring.  He got irrevocably tied to children’s programming with Sesame Street and the rest is history.

The Muppets, in fact, have appeared on unmentionables for years.

Don’t believe me?

Exhibit A:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B:

Exhibit B

Exhibit C:

Exhibit C

Exhibit D:

Exhibit D

Exhibit E:

Funpals briefs ad

Some of these images make me cringe.  Imagine taking off your pants and there’s Animal saying, “Hello!” to you.  It would scare me to think that a Muppet had been with me all day and, knowing myself, I would have forgotten about what I was wearing.  All day the Muppet would be spying on me.  The thought makes me shudder.

I also can’t help but imagine sound boxes being sewed into the lining of some of the underwear so the Muppets’ voices speak to you when you change clothes.  Kermit’s “Hi ho!,”  Miss Piggy’s laugh, Fozzie’s “wocka-wocka,” and Animal’s “Woman!” yell take on an entirely new meaning.

The psychological damage would be devastating!

What is even scarier is the alarming rate of Animal on underpants.  Why do people like sporting this crazed individual on their under things?

This brings up another interesting topic: Animal’s treatment of women.  Whenever he sees a female he likes, he chases after her, and shouts “Woman!  Woman!” at the top of his lungs.  Has Animal ever been sued by one of these harassed women?  In today’s politically correct world, he would need to attend sensitivity training.  If we want to talk about sexualizing, that is exactly what Animal is doing and he is being a bad role model for children.  We should petition Disney to stop mass-producing plushies of one of the most popular Muppet characters.

Back to the bra… I honestly don’t think any woman would dare to wear it, unless it was a joke.  It makes things too complicated.  The seller does makes cute and * ahem* less noticeable geek underwear.  Probably stick with some of those.