Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Month: January 2006 (Page 1 of 2)

Disney/Pixar Fallout & 2006 Animated Movies

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Pixar Moves In

The Disney/Pixar merger went through in record time. The $7.4 billion-dollar deal sees Pixar’s Steve Jobs taking a seat on the Disney board of directors, and John Lasseter adding creative executive duties for Disney Feature Animation to his title as the creative head of Pixar. He’s also in charge of the “Imagineering” department for the Disney theme parks, which has fans of the parks rejoicing.

On Wednesday, Jan. 25, Lasseter’s first day on the job, production on “Toy Story 3” was shut down. A sequel will not be made without the original production team from Pixar. Lasseter is said to have plans in store for the folks working on “Toy Story 3,” so they won’t be laid off, just reassigned.

A New Animation Glut

2006 is shaping up to be a banner year for animated feature films. According to some sources, as many as 15 major animated feature film releases are set for this year. That number includes the already-released “Hoodwinked”, as well as a smattering of independent or foreign releases. The big-money major studio releases include:

Universal: “Curious George”

20th Century Fox: “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown,” and “Yankee Irving”

Pixar: “Cars”

Disney: “The Wild,” and “Meet The Robinsons”

Warner Brothers: “The Ant Bully,” and “Happy Feet,” the computer-animated tale of a dancing penguin, directed by George Miller of “Mad Max” fame.

Dreamworks: “Over The Hedge” and “Flushed Away” (the latter made by Aardman Animation

Columbia: Director Robert Zemeckis’ “Monster House,” done in the same creepy motion-capture manner as “Polar Express”

And that’s leaving out lesser offerings from Paramount/Nickelodeon, The Weinstein Company, and Bill Plympton. Looks like a heavy year for fans of animation. True to the trendy nature of Hollywood, of the above-mentioned movies, only “Curious George” is traditionally-animated. “Flushed Away” is done in clay animation, while everything else on the list is all done with computers.

Update on WB30

Well, as of this fall, there won’t be anymore “WB30.” The station, WHCP, isn’t going off the air, but they will have to change their nickname. On Tuesday The WB and UPN announced a merger of sorts. Both networks will shut down in September to be replaced by a new entity called “The CW.” That stands for CBS and Warner Bros. It is not a tribute to C.W. McCall, who had the hit single “Convoy” back in 1976.

The interesting thing about this move is that local viewers won’t really see much of a change. WHCP already carries both network’s programming. This is good for them in that they’ll have a few more hours available to fill with syndicated programming. It would be really cool if they sought out some quirky innovative fare, but in all likelihood they’ll just fill the time with infomercials or more hours of “Shop At Home”.

This move does make a heck of a lot of sense. I predicted it five years ago. Each network had almost enough quality programming for half a good line-up, so between the two of them, they might put together a really strong collection of shows. UPN will bring “Friday Night Smackdown!,” “Veronica Mars,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” and “America’s Top Model” to the mix, while The WB will contribute “Smallville,” “Everwood,” and “Charmed.” Cult TV fans are already salivating over the prospect of “Smallville” and “Veronica Mars” airing back-to-back.

Now if WHCP could only
bring their broadcast signal up to modern-day standards, we might all enjoy these shows.

Speaking of WHCP, of late, they’ve added a new feature to their newscasts. For the last few weeks they’ve had a problem keeping the audio and video in synch. It takes a harmonic convergence of ineptitude to accomplish this on a live broadcast. Some nights the sound is so far off that a person might expect the newscasters to start screaming that Godzilla was attacking. One night you could tell they were struggling to fix it with digital delay, but the end result caused so much stuttering and skipping that Tom McGee was made to look and sound like Max Headroom. I’m begging you guys, hire a chief engineer! You’re supposed to be improving with time, not finding new and exciting ways to screw up.

Fries with your Mannheim Steamroller?

C.W. McCall, as noted in the above post, had a string of regional trucker hits before his national breakout, “Convoy.” But he wasn’t a real person. He was created and voiced by Bill Fries, an advertising executive. Originally, he starred in a series of commercials for “Old Home Bread.” Those ads were so well-received by the public that Fries was able to spin off a side career singing trucker songs as his ad icon alter ego. For these records, he teamed up with a jingle writer at the Bozell ad agency named Chip Davis. Davis had another side project he was working on at the time, and used the musicians from that project to play the music behind C.W. McCall.

Eventually Chip Davis’ other project was released to no small acclaim. Not many people realize that C.W. McCall’s back-up bands, The Old Home Band and The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant Boys, were the same group of musicians that’s now known as Mannheim Steamroller.

Ode To GI Joe

I haven’t exactly made a secret of the fact that I have a ridiculously huge collection of GI Joes. I’m talking about the big guys here, the eleven-and-a-half inch tall guys–the “real” GI Joes from the 60s and 70s–not the little guys from the 1980s. Not that there’s anything wrong with them.

My office walls are lined with reproduction GI Joes. I use reproductions because, while I am a fan and collector, I’m also a cheapskate. Some vintage GI Joes cost as much as a small car. Luckily, while most of the world wasn’t paying attention for the past decade, Hasbro has quietly cranked out a series of high-quality reproductions that are remarkably close to the original GI Joe from the classic era.

This was largely due to the efforts of two buddies of mine, John Michlig and Derryl DePriest. In 1995, John teamed up with Don Levine, one of GI Joe’s “daddies,” and Chronicle Books, to create the GI Joe Masterpiece Edition, a book packaged with a near-perfect reproduction of “America’s Movable Fighting Man.” This was no mean feat, since the original molds were long gone, and the whole project had to be reverse-engineered and adapted to modern manufacturing techniques. John went on to write a comprehensive book about GI Joe, as well as other Pop Culture tomes like “Bob’s Basement,” and an upcoming book on King Kong. Along the way, he kept tossing me paying writing gigs, for which I am eternally grateful.

The Masterpiece Edition was
such a success that Hasbro leased the molds and started producing “The Timeless Collection” of reproduction figure sets. In 2003, as GI Joe’s 40th Anniversary approached, Derryl DePriest — then the man in charge of GI Joe at Hasbro — had brand new molds created that were even closer to the original figures. With this latest rebirth, GI Joe embarked on his 40th Anniversary with an ambitious line of collector’s sets that each contained a reproduction figure complete with reproduction packaging, and an authentic-looking accessory card. These sets would sell for between $30 and $40–a fraction of what the vintage figures are worth mint in their original packages. Forty years after these toys hit stores, the kids who grew up with them could once again experience the joy of opening them for the first time. They even got the smell right.

Collectors were delighted, but it turned out that the plan was too ambitious. Nationwide, sales were not what Hasbro expected. Locally, these sets flew off the shelves, but I’ve come to understand that the Charleston area has an unusually large GI Joe collecting population, albeit one that keeps a low profile. After 22 of the projected 30 sets were released, Hasbro pulled the plug. Derryl, who’s exhaustive book on GI Joe is sadly out of print, moved on to the Star Wars toy division.

All of which left me with an empty wall in my office. Happily, the Official G.I. Joe Collector’s Club has stepped up, and plans to finish GI Joe’s 40th Anniversary celebration. In the interest of full disclosure, I do write extensively for the G.I. Joe Collector’s Club, but the main reason for that is because they do cool projects like this. Of the eight remaining sets, the first two can be ordered now. They’re not cheap, as far as toys go: a set of both will cost you $116 plus shipping ($84 plus shipping, if you’re a member), but these are limited to 1,000 pieces each, and it’s the only way to complete the 40th Anniversary series. Plus, buying vintage examples of these figures and accessories would cost you thousands of dollars. So $58 each is a bargain. These sets sold so well locally that I figured it would be a good idea to alert collectors to the existence of these new editions.

The first two sets from the Club are #23, a Combat Action Soldier with four field equipment accessory cards, and #25, an Air Force Pilot with Dress Uniform. You can order one or both of these by calling 800-772-6673 , or check out the website here.

The Disney/Pixar Deal

Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Over the weekend the animation world was abuzz with news that Disney and Pixar might mend their long-festering rift by having Disney buy Pixar. While this would certainly be great news for Disney shareholders, it’s hard to say that it would be good for everyone. There’s no guarantee that Pixar would be able to remain independent under Mouse Rule, and it’s not clear if Disney would maintain its own animation unit, or simply replace it with a Pixar-led division. Either way, it could mean layoffs or a dip in the quality of both studios’ output.

This morning, another bombshell dropped. One rumored new permutation of the deal has Disney buying Pixar, and then Apple buying Disney! This is significant because, if Disney buys Pixar, it would make Pixar’s Steve Jobs the largest single shareholder in Disney. Jobs is also the chairman and chief executive of Apple. The implications of this go way beyond animation. If Apple bought Disney, they’d then have the inside track on cutting iPod deals for all the programming from ABC, ESPN and the Disney library. This has industry analysts wondering if Apple might be endangering its potential relationships with Disney’s rivals among other content providers. Time Warner or NBC Universal, for instance, might hesitate to work with Apple if they think that it might ultimately benefit their competitor, Disney.

Most importantly, however, if all, or even some, of these deals go through, it could mean that we get sequels to the great Pixar films, and that those sequels will be the product of the people who originally made them, rather than hired guns brought in to try and duplicate their work. The famous point of contention between Disney and Pixar in the first place was that Disney not only controlled all the sequel rights to what Pixar created, but they also weren’t obligated to hire Pixar to make those sequels, and if Pixar did work on them (like they did with Toy Story 2), those sequels wouldn’t count towards the number of films that Pixar was contractually obligated to deliver. If Disney bought Pixar, that issue would evaporate.

However, that would also leave Disney with at least two full-time computer animation units. The folks who produced “Chicken Little” might find themselves out in the cold. It wouldn’t be the first time Disney shut down a CGI feature film unit. After the movie “Dinosaurs” underpeformed at the box office, Disney quietly shut down the entire division and laid off 160 people. A few years later, when it looked certain that Pixar would bolt after it delivered the last of its five films under its contract, Disney started a whole new computer animation division from scratch.

No wonder Disney’s shareholders made Michael Eisner walk the plank. The question remains, if Disney buys Pixar, and defers all its computer animated projects to Pixar’s creative minds, what will happen to “Toy Story 3” and “Toy Story 4,” both of which are in pre-production? Will they continue as planned, or will the Pixar boys move in and toss out everything that’s been done to date so they can start over from scratch? They did it with “Toy Story 2,” so it’s not that far-fetched an idea.

Photo Blogging

Imagine my surprise the other day when I was walking around downtown Charleston and spotted a Vespa Scooter parked in the Brawley Walkway, across from Taylor Books!

Luckily I had my camera with me, so you get to see this coolness, too. You know, with the camera, I was tempted to jump on the scooter and take off in search of Gina Lollabrigida in some Fellini-esque papparazzi fantasy. Sanity prevailed, and I just took a shot of the scooter.

Wild, Wonderful….

Okay, they found thousands of dollars in duplicating equipment, blank DVDs and CDs, and illegally purchased computers, all set up in a makeshift studio in the basement of the state Capitol — so THAT’S what they mean by “Open for Business!”

I should have known something was up when they started selling copies of The Family Guy DVD at the tollbooths on the Turnpike.

Avast Ye Maties!

The latest trend that’s threatening to make the leap from geek-culture (my home base) into the mainstream is something called the “Constructible Strategy Game” or “CSG.” This is basically a hybrid of role-playing games (think “Dungeons and Dragons”), collectible card games (think “Pokemon” or “Yu-Gi-Oh”) and good old-fashioned model kit building. The “CSG” that blazed the trail for the phenomenon is called “Pirates Of The Spanish Main”. Made by Wiz Kids, the folks behind the popular MechWarrior and HeroClix games, and introduced just a year-and-a-half ago, this game is a work of pure genius.

In each pack of cards (four bucks at most stores) you get enough pieces to play a short game. As you accumulate more cards, you can expand the game, build fleets and play with more complex rules. The kicker here is that the cards are plastic, and you punch out pieces that you assemble into tiny pirate ships. You actually play on a table top, using the assembled ships as playing pieces. It’s like a ‘build-it-yourself” version of “Risk” or “Stratego.” Building these things can be addictive. I’m hooked, and I have yet to even try to actually play the game. I just love assembling the little ships. They look really cool when put together, and if you’re cramped for space, they can be disassembled and put back into the cards.

I’ve been getting these for a few weeks. They’re a great way to pass a few stray minutes, and if you’re into gaming, they’re a cool new twist. And they’ve been very successful. Wiz Kids is preparing to release the fourth new edition of the Pirates line, “Pirates of the South China Sea,” next month, with a fifth edition scheduled for May. There are now other CSGs like “Rocketmen,” with cool Flash Gordon-type rocketships, and “Race Day,” a NASCAR racing game.

Locally, there must be loads of folks who are into these things. All the stores that carry them seem to sell out very quickly. That’s one reason why I think these are poised to cross over into the mainstream. The fact that they’re so damned cool is another. There are weekly Pirates tournaments every Wednesday at Treasures in the Kanawha Mall. Call (304) 925-9090 for more details. You can find the cards at Target, Wal Mart, K Mart, Toys R Us, Hobby World and most area hobby card shops. This could be a big trend in 2006. Or at least a cool way to pass the time and yell “Arrrrrrr” a lot.

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