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“Let It Go” gets the LEGO treatment as a whole new Disney “Frozen” story unfolds across books, TV & digital with “Frozen Northern Lights”

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What with “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion” opening in late May at Disney California Adventure Park and Epcot‘s “Frozen Ever After” attraction opening its doors later this morning, Anna & Elsa have had a very busy month.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So what will these Scandinavian sisters be doing for an encore? Would you believe joining forces with the LEGO Group? Anna & Elsa – along with Kristoff, Olaf & Sven – will be starring in four new “Frozen” animated shorts that will air on the Disney Channel. Not only that, but these new LEGO shorts will be based on a brand-new published-by-Random-House story, “Frozen Northern Lights.”

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The fun officially gets underway in July as “Frozen” fans can once again return to the kingdom of Arendelle thanks to a cleverly interconnected collection of books, animated shorts from the LEGO group as well as digital games & activities.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“So what awaits ‘Frozen’ fans once they return to Arendelle?,” you ask. “Frozen Northern Lights” tells the story of Little Rock, one of those trolls that adopted young Kristoff & Sven in the original “Frozen” film. Little Rock needs help earning his tracking crystal. So Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, Sven & Olaf join this tiny troll on an epic mountain adventure to restore the glimmer of the Northern Lights.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The hardcover novelization of this story — “Disney Frozen Northern Lights: Journey to the Lights” – will hit store shelves next month. As for those four animated shorts, the LEGO Group will definitely be bringing its unique style of animation and quirky sense of humor to the world of “Frozen.”

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And did I mention that the vocal talent from the original Disney “Frozen” will be returning to reprise their roles? Or that a full compilation of all four of the LEGO “Frozen Northern Lights” shorts will air on the Disney Channel later this Fall?

So are you ready to see “Let It Go” get the LEGO treatment?

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post’s Entertainment page on Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Marvel Animation bets big on shorts as it launches the second season of its Funko-inspired comic match-ups

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Marvel Funko Shorts

Marvel Entertainment has long been celebrated for its ability to weave these epic-length narratives that can then play out across multiple motion pictures, TV shows and comic books.

Copyright Marvel Studios. All rights reserved

So if length really plays to this studios’ storytelling strength, why then is Marvel Animation headed in the opposite direction? Creating a series of stand-alone, 90-second long shorts that – rather than putting Marvel’s super heroes through their usual action-adventure paces – opt to shine a spotlight on these characters’ more comic side?

“It’s all about new formats, new audiences,” explained Cort Lane, Marvel’s Senior Vice President of Animation & Family Entertainment. “That’s been our mission statement for this past year here at Marvel. I mean, we obviously have the affinity of our core target audiences. We have those people who already love our characters, go to see our movies or are aware of them. But we wanted to do something that would possibly help Marvel reach a broader audience. And we thought that comedy might be the way to get there.”

Mind you, what spurred Cort & Co. to initially explore this idea was this series of animated promos that Funko created for its Marvel Collector Corps subscription boxes.

Copyright Marvel / Funko. All rights reserved

“These promos were created by this tiny little studio in the U.K. called A Large Evil Corporation. And the folks who work there, they are very inventive and have a great comedy sensibility,” Lane enthused. “Even though the Funko versions of our characters don’t have mouths, A Large Evil Corporation was still able to animate these very simple versions of the Marvel characters in a way that was very expressive and highly entertaining.”

So – building on A Large Evil Corporation’s previously existing relationship with Funko – Marvel Animation launched a trial balloon late last year. They put together a trio of shorts that were basically expanded versions of those animated promos for the Marvel Collector Corps subscription box scripts.

The first of these shorts (i.e., “Spellbound.” Which debuted online back on November 30th of last year and starred the Funko versions of Spider-Man, Iron Man & Loki) was viewed 600,000+ times. By the time the third in this series (i.e., “Chimichangas.” Which featured Funko’s versions of Deadpool & Venom fighting in & around a food truck) bowed on December 14, 2016, these shorts were now getting 4 million views. Which is when Marvel Animation decided to go all in with its comic shorts initiative.

Copyright Marvel / Funko. All rights reserved

“Our thinking was – by placing these comedy short form pieces across multiple platforms – we’d then be able to reach a broader audience. Getting all the eyeballs that we might not traditionally get through our animated series. Which – while they have been doing well on Disney XD — have been more boy-targeted,” Cort stated. “By deliberately making these pieces only 90 seconds long, that then makes it possible for these comedy shorts to go on social media, to be put up on YouTube. Which then makes it possible for them to reach an exponentially larger audience.”

Ironically enough, though it obviously doesn’t take as much effort to craft a scenario for a 90-second long comedy short as it does to write a teleplay for a 22-minute long episode of an animated series or the screenplay for a feature-length film, Lane still insists that a lot of thought & effort goes into each o these short form pieces.

“Creating fully formed, independent little stories that can actually be told in 90 seconds requires a lot of discipline and some really tight storytelling,” Cort said. “You’d think that – given that the Funko versions of our characters don’t have mouths – they’d then be easier to animate. But they really aren’t. And given that A Large Evil Corporation has such a small staff of animators … Well, we had to be careful. Make sure that we didn’t overwhelm that studio by sending them too many shorts to work on at any one time. Allow them to turn each of these short form pieces into a comedy gem.”

The first of these gems which were created for Season 2 of this series – “Cosmic Sleigh Ride” – can be seen below:

“For Season 2, we’ll be ultimately be releasing eight of these comedy shorts. Some will be synergistic. ‘Cosmic Sleigh Ride’ – which features the Funk versions of Star-Lord, Rocket and Taserface — is bowing now because the Blu-ray / DVD version of “Guardians of the Galaxy – Vol 2″ hit store shelves a few weeks back,” Lane explained. “While other shorts in this series will premiere online when buzz is building around a particular character. Our ultimate goal here is to give our audience more of what it wants. Which – in this case – is connecting with the characters, but connecting in a different way. With comedy. And in a different format.”

So does Cort have a favorite among the eight new short form comedy pieces that will be debuting online as part of Season 2?

“From a storytelling perspective, there’s one coming up with Hulk and Black Widow that’s a personal favorite of mine which plays on their interesting relationship. I love those two characters because there’s such contrast there,” Lane teased. “I don’t want to reveal too much about this comedy short in advance. What I will say is that they’re on a spy mission and Hulk isn’t so great at spy missions.”

Copyright Marvel Entertainment. All rights reserved

So what with this “new formats, new audiences” initiative, should fans of Disney XD series like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Marvel’s Spider-Man” be concerned? Cort says no.

“Moving into shorts is obviously a big shift for us. But we’re still in the business of creating long form animation. That said, all of the diverse platform opportunities that you get with short form really open you up to new audiences. And we’ll continue to explore that opportunity with things like our pre-school series, the Marvel Super Hero Adventures. Those will be a series of 3 & ½ minute shorts that will be coming out soon,” Lane concluded. “So, as you can see, we’re stretching. We’re committed to exploring short form as a format because the kind of audience that you can potentially get out of it is so significant.”

And that’s the long & the short of what Marvel Animation is doing with its new short form comedy pieces. 

Mm

This piece was originally published by the Huffington Post on Wednesday, September 27, 2017

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“Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls” coming to America

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If you’ve been watching Disney XD lately OR If you’ve been in a Target, a Walmart, a Hot Topic OR anywhere that sells video games … Heck, if you’ve been around a group of kids lately, chances are you’ve heard of Yo-Kai Watch.

Initially released in Japan by Level-5 in 2013, just last year the first of Yo-Kai Watch games were translated and brought over for American audiences. In Japan, the game was a huge, bombastic hit. And why not? The creatures within the game were based on characters from popular Japanese stories. The kappa, the nekomata, and the kitsune, just to name a few. Via use of their Yo-Kai Watch, the main character — Nate in the English version — is able to see the invisible Yo-Kai, who haunt and inspirit the world around them.

Given it was so rooted in Japanese culture, it was thought that this series would have an uphill battle once it arrived in the US. But luckily, Yo-Kai Watch wound up with an extremely solid viewership on Disney XD. And the game — despite a demo that was sort of ‘eh’ — was a really inspired, beautifully detailed, fun game. The writing in the game really held it up, despite the battles sometimes becoming repetitive. Overall, it was a fantastic, moving experience to play.

So imagine how excited I was to see that the long-awaited sequel was finally announced. English fans had been campaigning under the hashtag ‘#LocalizeYW2’ passionately, and it seems they’ve been heard. Or the game sold enough. Or hey, probably both. “Yo-Kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls” will be arriving in America on the 3DS on September 30th, 2016. 

Kind of an odd name, right? Well, there’s going to be two versions. If you’re familiar with Pokemon (And sorry. it’s a bit of a sore point when Yo-Kai Watch is brought up next to Pokemon. But sometimes comparisons need to be made) you probably are aware of the fact that typically two versions of one game are released — Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, X and Y, etc. Well, that’s what’s happening here. The game introduces 184 new Yo-Kai, and some are split between the two versions of the game. There’s also different quests, and different exclusive DLC add-ons between the two.

With new merch coming out, and the sequel on the horizon, it seems Yo-Kai Watch is really picking up speed here in North America. If you’d like to check out this phenomenon, “Yo-Kai Watch” airs weekdays at 5 p.m. on Disney XD

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Film & Movies

Items up for bid at today’s Rick Baker auction include development art from “Captain Eo” and Disney’s never-produced live-action “Gargoyles” movie

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I apologize for the extremely short notice here. But if
you’re a fan of modern film fantasy and live in the Los
Angeles area, you need to get in your car NOW and
immediately drive to the Hilton Universal
City.

Why For? Prop Store (the “Ultimate Movie
Collectables” folks) are riding herd on an auction of over 400 items from
Rick Baker‘s Cinovation Studios. And that auction gets underway in the Hilton
Universal City’s
convention space at 11 a.m. Pacific
Time TODAY.


Copyright 1998-2015 Prop Store Ltd. All rights reserved

For those of you who don’t recognize that name, Rick Baker is a seven time
Academy Award winner. He’s the make-up effects master behind such memorable
projects as “American Werewolf in London,”
“Men in Black” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

After getting his start in the business back in 1973 as
make-up effect legend Dick Smith‘s assistant (Rick & Dick were the ones who
made then-14 year-old Linda Blair so scary looking in 1973’s “The
Exorcist”), Baker has decided to call it quits. “I like to do things
right, and (the folks who are in charge of movie studios today) wanted cheap
and fast. That is not what I want to do, so I just decided it is basically time
to get out.”


Rick Baker with the horns that he design for Angelina Jolie to wear in Disney’s
“Maleficent.” Copyright 2014 Cinovation Studios. All rights reserved

It’s worth noting here that Disney’s “Maleficent” (to be specific,
the extremely frustrating work experience that Rick had on this recent Walt
Disney Pictures release) is supposed to have contributed to Baker’s decision to
get out of the business. Rick and his team created dozens of elaborate make-ups
for King Kinloch (who was supposed to have been played by Peter Calpaldi of
Doctor Who” fame), Queen Ulla (who was supposed to played by Golden
Globe winner Miranda Richardson) and their fairy court. Sadly, all of that work
wound up on the cutting room floor when Disney execs decided that
“Maleficent” needed an entirely different first act and junked everything
that director Robert Stromberg had previously shot
for this portion of that Joe
Roth production.

Mind you, there’s nothing from Disney’s
“Maleficent” up for bid today. But of the 50+ production that are
represented at today’s auction, there are a few films that are sure to intrigue
Disney fans. Chief among these is “Captain Eo.” Or as this project
was known back in 1985 when Baker initially recruited to come work on this
Francis Ford Coppola production, “Captain Eo and the Space Knights.”


Copyright 1998-2015 Prop Store Ltd. All rights reserved

Looking over Rick’s initial notes for this 70MM 3D film,
while Jackson was always supposed
to play a “music & dance space guy, Captain Eo was originally supposed
to be surrounded by a very different crew. One that George Lucas reportedly
described as the “Seven Dwarfs (only as) aliens.”


Copyright 1998-2015 Prop Store Ltd.
All rights reserved

Eventually, Captain Eo’s crew size was cut from seven to
six. There was the double-headed navigator / pilot Idey & Odey, that flying
monkey / butterly creature Fuzzball …


Copyright 1998-2015 Prop Store Ltd. All rights reserved

The ship’s robotic security officer Major Domo, a smaller robot
called Minor Domo as well as Hooter, a clumsy / combative elephant-like creature.


Copyright 1998-2015 Prop Store Ltd. All rights reserved

What’s fascinating about the “Captain Eo” related items that Prop
Store now has up for today is that you can see how — right from the start —
Baker was looking for ways to make these alien creature costumes accommodate
the human performers inside.


Copyright 1998-2015 Prop Store Ltd. All rights reserved

That’s what Rick really did best. He created make-ups that
still allowed the performers that was encased in these appliances to still
shine through. Take — for example — the Lothar mask that Baker created for
Tiny Ron Taylor to wear in Walt Disney Pictures’ 1991 release, “The
Rocketeer.”


Copyright 1998-2015 Prop Store Ltd. All rights reserved

Rick deliberately sculpted Lothar’s face to resemble Rondo
Hattan, an actor from the late 1930s / early 1940s who played thugs in dozens
of B movies. But at the same time, Baker made this make-up rig (which covered Taylor’s
entire head) flexible enough so that Tiny Ron’s own facial expressions could be
read by the camera.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Obviously, it took months of prep work to deliver effects make-up of this high
a quality. But Rick was always willing to put in the time. Check out this
setting-the-scene sketch that he did for Walt Disney Pictures’ 1998 release,
“Mighty Joe Young.”


Copyright 1998-2015 Prop Store Ltd. All rights reserved

Or — for that matter — this development drawing that Baker
did for that live-action version of “Gargoyles” that Disney toyed
with making back in the late 1990s / early 2000s but ultimately abandoned.


Copyright 1998-2015 Prop Store Ltd. All rights reserved

As you can see by this Goliath maquette,
“Gargoyles” would have featured some pretty impressive full-body
make-ups that would have then featured all sort of mechanical / animatronic
elements (i.e., Goliath’s enormous wings).


Copyright 1998-2015 Prop Store Ltd. All rights reserved

I guess what makes me saddest about Baker’s pending
retirement is that — given the quality of the work that he did on Disney’s
2003 “The Haunted Mansion” …


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

… I was kind of hoping that Rick would then get a shot at
working with Guillermo Del Toro on the “Haunted
Mansion” reboot that Guillermo
now has in the works for Disney
.


Copyright 1998-2015 Prop Store Ltd. All rights reserved

Just to be clear here: Given that Del Toro & Baker had
such fun working together on 2004’s “Hellboy,” the two of them
collaborating on some future projects isn’t entirely out of the question.
Though Rick is still shutting down Cinovation and auctioning off items that
represent three decades of work, Baker has also said that he’d be open to
consulting on a film further on down the line if the work was challenging or
the project interested him.

But that’s off somewhere in the distant future. As of this
moment, the Rick Baker / Prop Store auction is already underway. And if you
want to get in on this once-in-a-lifetime event, you can either drive to the Hilton
Universal City
(which is located at 555 Universal Hollywood Drive)
or hop online and try to get in the action that way. Or — better yet — make a
phone bid
.


Rick Baker and some of the “999 Happy Haunts” that he & the Cinovation team
whipped up for Walt Disney Pictures’ 2003 release, “The Haunted Mansion.”
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved 

Whatever the case, don’t delay. Because there’s some real Hollywood
history coming up for bid today and you don’t want to miss out.

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