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Animation fans prematurely shoot off their mouths about "Bolt"

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Animation fans prematurely shoot off their mouths about "Bolt"

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How many of you know the story of the blind men and the elephant?

I bring up this ancient Indian fable because ... Well ... I have to admit that I was highly amused by what happened last Wednesday. When the on-line animation community went completely bananas over those "Bolt" pre-release images.

Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Now keep in mind that all we've seen to date of this Walt Disney Animation Studios production is the above photo as well as the teaser poster for this November 2008 release ...

Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

... But that was more than enough to send certain toon fans right over the edge. They took one look at that pre-release image of Bolt the dog, Mittens the cat and Rhino the hamster and immediately began bitching about how awful this Chris Williams movie was going to be.

Which was just silly. I mean, how can you form an opinion of a film you haven't actually seen yet based on a single pre-release image and a teaser poster? Shouldn't you at least wait 'til you've seen the "Bolt" trailer before you then write this new Disney animated feature off as a complete piece of cr*p?

Okay. I know. The real reason that so many animation fans already have negative feelings about this Chris Williams film isn't so much "Bolt" itself. But -- rather -- because this film's original director, "Lilo & Stitch" creator Chris Sanders, got booted off of the project.

Look, I'll grant you that (strictly from a PR point of view) John Lasseter & Ed Catmull could have handled the whole "American Dog" situation better. And I -- for one -- will really miss the quirkiness that was associated with Sanders' original take on this material.

Copyright 2005 Disney. All Rights Reserved

But that said, it's not like Chris was the first animation director to be forced off of a project that he originated. Let's remember that "Ratatouille" started out as a Jan Pinkava production. Only to have John & Ed pull Jan off of this floundering film in late 2005 and bring in Brad Bird to completely overhaul the project.

In fact, were you to look back over the production histories of some of the more popular animated features released over the past 20 years, you'd find that many of these movies lost at least one of their directors en route to the big screen. Take -- for example -- Disney's "Beauty & the Beast." Which was originally supposed to be this dark, music-free romance directed by Richard Purdum.

Working with a team of artists who had just finished animating "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," Richard tried to make his vision for this project viable. But as soon as then-Disney Studios head Jeffrey Katzenberg saw the leica reel, he declared that Purdum's "Beauty" was a beast and quickly canned this acclaimed filmmaker. Katzenberg then ordered Alan Menken & Howard Ashman (Who were fresh off of "The Little Mermaid) as well as Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale (Who had just delivered "Cranium Command" to WDI) to overhaul the production that eventually resulted in the Academy Award-winning film that we all know today.

Disney's "The Lion King" experienced a similar change-of-command, with George Scribner being forced out so that Rob Minkoff could then become Roger Allers' new co-director. Ironically enough, just a few years later, Allers suddenly found himself in Scribner's shoes. George was booted off of "Kingdom of the Sun" so that Mark Dindal could turn this very troubled production into "The Emperor's New Groove."

Ask any animation industry vet and they'll tell you about the troubled projects that they worked on (EX: "Aladdin," "Toy Story" and "Shrek") where production actually stopped for months at a time before the studio finally straightened out their story problems. In all three of these cases, millions of dollars worth of finished material was ultimately tossed out in favor of taking a fresh approach to the film.

Which brings us back to "Bolt." Again, while it is a shame that we won't get to see how Chris Sanders' cat-with-an-eye-patch character ...

Copyright 2005 Disney. All Rights Reserved

... looks up on the big screen, we can at least take some solace in the fact that this character lives on in the "Kiskaloo" comic strip that Chris has just started over at his official website.

But as for the overhauled version of "American Dog" that Chris Williams is now in charge of ... Given that Williams earned his stripes at the Mouse House by first working on "Mulan" (Which was another WDAS production that really had to struggle before it finally found just the right mix of story elements) before joining the story crew assigned to "The Emperor's New Groove" ... This is a guy who actually knows how to turn lemons into lemonade, people.

So please try and keep that in mind before you make up your mind about "Bolt." After all, given that all we've seen to date of this November 28, 2008 Walt Disney Animation Studios release is that pre-release image and teaser poster ... Well, you wouldn't want to make the same mistake that the blind man did in that infamous S. Gross cartoon, would you? You know, the one where he declares that " ... an elephant is soft and mushy" ?

And speaking of mush ... If the snow is just too deep right now for you to mush on out to the mall to take advantage of those post-Christmas sales ... Well, why not click on the above Amazon banner?

If you do that ... You actually help support JHM. Given that we get a tiny little piece of whatever you spend over at Amazon.com. So please keep us in mind should you want to do any online shopping over the next month.

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  • I, for one, think that the "Bolt" characters look adorable- I've been excited for this project since it was "American Dog", and I'm still just as excited (but I will miss the pirate cat- wait- I just read Sanders' comic...the girl looks like Lilo's lost cousin...and I didn't even understand it.  Never mind.).  

    The background on that image looks like a painting, which is cool- I wonder if the whole movie will have backgrounds like that, and if it'll be a precursor to the painterly "Rapunzel" backgrounds.

    We don't even know that much about the new "Bolt" (versus the old "American Dog"), so I wish that Disney fans would be more optimistic.  As much as I've complained about him in the past, with Lasseter in charge, he won't allow "crap" (but I don't think that WDFA has ever put out crap).

  • See, while I do agree we should all give something the benefit of the doubt (especially when all we truly have is one still photo and a teaser poster), our reaction is completely justified.

    Animation fans are caught in a terrible spot right now.  If anyone is like me, it's like watching your parents fight.  You don't want either side to win, you just want everyone to be happy.  I've been a fan of Pixar and John Lasseter since 1998, when Toy Story made a jaded teenage boy into the animator and geek I am today.  I've also been a huge fan of Chris Sanders since Lilo & Stitch both saved, and changed, the way we look at modern Disney films.  In as much as Chris Williams earned his stripes on Mulan & Emperor's, so did Chris Sanders.  In fact, Sanders' list of credentials is even more impressive than Williams'.  So it's not much consolation that Bolt's new leader simply worked on Mulan.  So did Sanders.  AND he gave us Lilo & Stitch, a world completely out of his own head.  I know I'm not the only one who wants back IN that playful head of his!

    Personally, I've known about American Dog thanks to sites like JHM for a few years now.  Things are currently looking better each day for WDAS, but not too long ago, the future of the Mouse was very, very bleak.  American Dog was the one movie I thought would save Disney's good name.  Like Lilo before it, the world needed another whimsical Sanders story to simply HAVE FUN with a new Disney movie again.

    Conversely, I jumped for joy when I heard that Lasseter & Catmull were taking over WDAS.  I didn't (and still don't) know how they'd manage that massive workload overseeing both Pixar AND Disney, but hey -- if they were up to the challenge, I was ready to enjoy the rewards that were sure to follow!

    Then Lasseter deemed American Dog "too quirky for it's own good" and threw off one of my favorite people working in animation today from his own film.  Now mommy and daddy are fighting, and the kids are scared.  And frankly, why shouldn't we be?  Disney fans, as devoted as we are, have been tossed and turned through some mirky waters over the past few years.  Those of us that have stood by have not been left unshaken.  We need to see not only some quality produced by the Disney studio, but also some stability.  Throwing out the one man who was a rare beacon of light at WDAS is not what I would call "stability."

    However, I don't have any more information on Ameri -- er, Bolt, than anyone else.  I do hope, for Disney's sake, that it is wonderful.  I may always feel the "too quirky" Sanders version is a tragedy to lose, but in the end, a successful Disney film is just that.  So let's not go too crazy just yet over this still photo from the now Chris Williams-led production... but don't think we as fans don't have a reason to be so worried in the first place!

  • You're right, of course, Jim... but when I first saw that picture, it still looked bad to me. Or, at least, it looked generic. The previous American Dog looked like the makings of a specific movie. This one just looks forgettable.

    That said, I had a very similar reaction to the first pic of WALL-E, and my opinion on that has done a complete 180, so if the teaser can make me excited about Bolt, I welcome it.

  • I don't think Mulan ever really came together. It was a decent film, but hardly as cool as I'd hoped after seeing concept drawings of it. It became a social statement about girls being as good as boys, blah blah blah SNORE. The unappealing little dragon didn't help either. (I do wish Disney would stop trying to duplicate itself - Eddie Murphy was supposed to be Mulan's Robin Williams (and Murphy's dragon William's  genie) but it didn't gel. It reminds me most unhappily of the Phil Harris fixation Disney had after The Jungle Book was  a hit. He wound up voicing 2 bears and an alley cat and did it ever get old. But I digress...is Bolt supposed to be a white German Shepherd? Kind of odd looking IMO. Anyway, this looks like it could be cute. Cuter than Wall-E IMO...

  • Robatouille's comment was better (and longer) than the article itself.  How about a bit more meat in the stew, Mr. Hill?  Your updates are getting shorter and shorter.

  • What the "animation fans" were talking about were the CHARACTER DESIGNS displayed... not the picture as a whole.  Had you bothered to actually read the comments (ex. Cartoon Brew talk backs), you would have noticed that.

    However, had you done that, you wouldn't have had this filler "story."  

    This site is becoming a complete joke.  

  • <<See, while I do agree we should all give something the benefit of the doubt (especially when all we truly have is one still photo and a teaser poster), our reaction is completely justified.>>

    I disagree. I think basing any decision based on very limited knowledge or on a snap-shot emotional argument can be a foolish - or even a dangerous - thing to do.

    <<Animation fans are caught in a terrible spot right now.  If anyone is like me, it's like watching your parents fight.  You don't want either side to win, you just want everyone to be happy.>>

    I disagree. Michael Eisner's last years were so distressing for Walt Disney's fans, that the analogy isn't truly between "parents" -- the more apt analogy is that of a step-parent behaving in a way that hurts the family, causing a divorce in the first place. Sometimes, a divorce is justified. Sometimes one of the "parents" is hurting the family and their very presence is causing harm. I don't lament this divorce. I welcome it. In other words, I don't want compromise between Eisner's vision of Disney and Lasseter's. I want a clean, hard divorce between the pain of the past decade and the promise of the new future.

    I want one side to win. One side has proven their dedication to the qualities that made Disney films great for over 20 years. This side has become the modern standard-bearer for American character animation.

    The other side produced one direct-to-video cheapquel after another, and ran the value of hand-drawn animated features and the Disney brand name into the ground.  

    I don't want a marriage between these two. I want the body of the step-parent struck by lightning, shoved off a cliff, crushed by a boulder, and feasted upon by hungry vultures until nothing is left but the memory of the step-parent's stink.

    Then we can all live happily ever after.

  • Ernest -

    I agree with everything you said, but I think you misunderstood my "the parents are fighting" analogy.  I didn't mean Eisner era vs. Lasseter era were the "parents" in question -- I want to rid WDAS of the stench Eisner left just as badly as you do.  Your step-parent/divorce analogy was spot on.  However, I was simply talking about 2 of my modern animation heroes - John Lasseter and Chris Sanders - fighting over the direction a picture should take.  It's a bit smaller scale, and given your analogy, perhaps saying "the parents are fighting" is overstating the case, but I was only pondering how 2 artists whom I would have thought would find great joy in each other's unique vision could instead be fighting over it so severely.

    I believe in Lasseter's vision and plan for WDAS, but I also hold Sanders' work close to my heart and so looked forward to HIS American Dog.  I hope Bolt is great, but it will never truly be American Dog.

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that Sanders bucked heads with Lasseter and company because he couldn't work with their "brain trust," the system that Pixar has thrived on. Perhaps that involved his resistance to making his vision more accessible. I personally think that if a strong individual like Brad Bird can thrive in such a system, with some adaptability Sanders could have, too, but maybe it just wasn't in his personality. But we are just speculating, of course, and ultimately the proof will be in the pudding.

  • You'e right. It won't be. That doesn't mean it's a mistake. We'll never know the original version of The Black Cauldron. Or The Jungle Book. Or the pre-50's version of Peter Pan or Lady and the Tramp or Alice in Wonderland. There's a knee-jerk reaction among internet fans to assume always that the original artistic inspiration (or release version) is the most pure or most honest, when in fact, it can be the most problematic. Ernest Hemingway once said the first draft of anything is s**t. Sometimes internet fans become so obssessed about original release versions or original intent, they forget that there is such a thing as subsequent intent, subsequent revisions, or artistic difference of opinion. I'm not one who thought Lilo and Stitch was the second coming - - I think it was a very problematic film with appealing characters (much like the post-Walt Robin Hood and Oliver and Co.). So I'm not about to rend my heart asunder over the new direction of this new film, and I understand Sanders will move on and create new things and make a name for himself beyond Disney. Life goes on. Lasseter is not a bad man (as Jim so wants to imply) by replacing Sanders on this project. He's doing his job. Difference is -- I trust John Lasseter. He's earned my trust. Can't say the same thing about - oh -- Jeffrey Katzenberg circa 1985 or Thomas Schumacher circa...well...ever.

  • Regarding this topic one thing comes to mind: What would Milt Kahl say?

  • Probably a string of profanity -- then he'd complain to upper management -- and then he'd be reassured how valuable he was -- and then he'd get back to drawing and get back to being brilliant.

  • Sanders comes up with wild characters and situations, which makes him a better fit for something closer to Shonen Jump manga or Fleischer toons. Fun stuff, but not the stuff of clear mainstream storytelling.

    If the Brain Trust was having such issues with Bowler Hat Guy in Meet the Robinsons, imagine if the whole movie was him and the crazier family members like the peanut butter guy and the ventriloquist. I suspect that was the case with American Dog.

  • I find this fascinating.

    So much talk about a movie no one has even seen. Well, maybe not exactly. They did have a screening just before Christmas.

    Of course, if it was my movie I would welcome this spirited discourse. Love it or hate it, there's nothing worse than having your film ignored. People are giving "Bolt" their attention - - and for me, that's a good thing.

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