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What’s coming next from DreamWorks Animation

Jim Hill shares what he’s learned about “Over the Hedge,” “Flushed Away,” “Shrek III,” “Bee Movie” and “Kung Fu Panda” … as well as revealing a key plot point for “Shrek IV.”

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Oh, sure. Walt Disney Feature Animation came on strong last week at SIGGRAPH 2005. But you have to remember that Disney wasn’t the only animation studio in attendance at this year’s CG computer graphics conference.

In fact, were you to wander around the exhibition hall at the L.A. Convention Center, you’d have seen that Pixar Animation Studios was there too. As was Sony Picture Imageworks and DreamWorks Animation.

Truth be told, DreamWorks Animation actually had a bigger presence at this year’s SIGGRAPH than Walt Disney Feature Animation. During this five day conference, DreamWorks presented four courses, two panels and seven sketches. Which was more presentations than any other major animation studio mounted at this year’s event.

Of course, given “Madagascar” ‘s strong performance this summer (To date, that CG release has earned more than $430 million worldwide), DreamWorks Animation must have felt like it finally had something to crow about. Which is why artists and technical directors from that studio happily hosted seminars with titles like “Bringing a New Visual Style to the Screen.”

And — were you to drop by the DreamWorks Animation booth last week — you’d have seen dozens of eager animation students handing over resumes & reels … All with the hope that they’d eventually make the cut and then be invited to come work for the Glendale-based company.

Mind you, it wasn’t just “Madagascar” ‘s strong performance over the past few months or so that made it that much easier for DreamWorks Animation HR staff to recruit new talent. The word is out that DW has a number of new projects in its development pipeline that sound like they’d be a hell of a lot of fun to work on.

“What sorts of projects?,” you ask. Well, here. Let me give you a brief run-down on DreamWork Animation’s next four or five years worth of films.

Given that Jeff Lange just wrote about “Wallace & Gromit — The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” for JHM, I don’t really feel the need to write about that upcoming DreamWorks release … Other than to say that, while I was out in LA last week, I too got to see the first 15 minutes of this Nick Parks / Steve Box picture. Which was hilarious. Which is why I’ll be making a point to drop by my local cinema on October 7th to see what happens during the next 75 minutes of the film.

No, the films I’d like to talk about today are the feature length cartoons that DreamWorks Animation is prepping for release for 2006 and beyond.

First up — in May 2006 — is “Over the Hedge.” This CG feature is actually sort of a prequel to Michael Fry & T. Lewis’ popular comic strip. In that this film reveals how R.J. (a scheming raccoon voiced by Bruce Willis) and Verne (a tentative turtle voiced by Gary Shandling) actually became friends.

Dreamworks Over the Hedge
Copyright DreamWorks Animation L.L.C.

Fans of the “Over the Hedge” comic strip don’t need to be reminded that Fry & Lewis obviously aren’t fans of suburbia. And this DreamWorks Animation release — which is being directed by Tim Johnson (“Antz“) and Karey Kirkpatrick (screenwriter of Disney’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“) — also delights in twitting people who drive SUVs and strictly adher to their neighborhood association covenants (I.E. Your grass on your lawn must always be no taller than one inch high, etc.).

Last week, I got to see a few work-in-progress sequences from “Over the Hedge” as well as some storyboards. And — based on that material — DreamWorks Animation looks like it may have another winner on its hands. One scene in particular (In which R.J. was leading his forest friends around the sub-division, demonstrating all the dining possibilities therein) had Willis seeming to channel his old “Moonlighting” character, David Addison. As Bruce barreled through page after page of rapid-fire dialogue, pointing out what a “movable feast” the suburbs really are.

Mind you, Willis has got some great support on this picture. By that I mean: Shandling’s no slouch as Verne, the timid turtle. And Steve Carell — who will soon be popping up at a theater near you as the star of “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” — virtually steals the show as Hammy, the attention-deficit squirrel.

Over the Hedge Dreamworks
Copyright DreamWorks Animation L.L.C.

Add to this trio William Shatner & Avril Lavigne as a father / daughter team of possums, “SCTV” vets Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as a put-upon pair of parental porcupines, Nick Nolte as a grumpy old bear, “The West Wing” Alison Janney as the snooty head of the neighborhood association and Thomas Haden Church as a crazed exterminator … And that’s a pretty strong vocal cast.

Luckily, the film’s visuals seem to be just as strong as its voice cast. I got to see one scene where R.J. cons Hammy into pretending that he’s rabid so that the raccoon can then go score some girl scout  … excuse me … trail guide girl cookies as well as a chase sequence (As R.J. and Verne race from backyard to backyard as they’re being chased by a toy-obsessed rottweiler) that shows that Johnson & Kirkpatrick have just crammed “Over the Hedge” full of gags.

Add to that that this DreamWorks Animation release is being produced by an old Disney vet, Bonnie Arnold (Best known for producing “Toy Story” and “Tarzan“) … And I can’t help but think that “Over the Hedge” will be well worth checking out when it hits theaters on May 19, 2006.

Next up is “Flushed Away.” AKA The big experiment. To explain: This is an Aardman Animation film, done in the style of Wallace & Gromit and “Chicken Run.” Only this animated feature isn’t being done with clay figures. But — rather — it’s being produced in CG.

Flushed Away Dreamworks
Copyright Aardman Animation / DreamWorks Animation L.L.C.

Based on conversations that I’ve had with a few folks in the industry, there’s supposedly some trepidation at DreamWorks’ executive level about whether or not audiences will actually embrace an Aardman computer animated film. But — based on the little bits & pieces I got to see last week — Katzenberg & Co. can start breathing easier now. Even though it’s done in CG, “Flushed Away” still has that handmade feel, that same quirky quality that all the great Aardman productions have.

So what’s “Flushed Away” supposed to be about? Well, the picture starts out by depicting the high living ways of Roddy, an upper-class rat. Roddy (voiced by Hugh Jackman) is lucky enough to share his Kensington pad with a rich English family. And — when they’re away on holiday — the rat has the run of the place.

And Roddy … He loves his upper-class lifestyle. Eating only the best cheese (Which he orders straight off the internet) and being waited on hand and foot by his two hamster butlers, Gilbert (voiced by Simon Callow) and Sullivan (Geoffrey Palmer).

Unfortunately — while Roddy’s human family is away — there’s a plumbing disaster in the apartment. And up out of the garbage disposal comes Syd, a sewer rat (voiced by Shane Richie). Dazzled by his new surrounding, Syd thinks that he’d died and gone to heaven. Whereas Roddy … Well, he just wishes that Syd would drop dead.

Which is why the upper-crust rodent tries to trick the lowly sewer rat into leaving the apartment ASAP by offering him a soak in “the jacuzzi.” AKA the toilet. Ah, but Syd is a lot smarter than he looks. And — at the last minute — he gets the drop of Roddy. Which is why it’s the upper class rat that gets “Flushed Away” deep down into the bowels of the London sewer system.

It’s at this point that this picture’s story truly gets into gear. For — once Roddy finds himself deep underground — he learns that there’s actually a miniature version of London under the city. A vast metropolis that’s been assembled out of the bits & pieces that that all the people above have thrown away.

Flushed Away Dreamworks
Copyright Aardman Animation / DreamWorks Animation L.L.C.

And the first “person” that Roddy encounters once he lands in the underworld is Rita, the street-smart captain of the “Jammy Dodger,” a undersized tugboat that’s built out of an old bathtub.

Roddy just wants to escape the world that he finds in the sewers and get back to his posh pad in Kensington. Whereas Rita … She longs to take the “Jammy Dodger” off on a tour of the great drains of the world. See what the sewers of Paris, Rome and Venice look like.

Of course, in order to do that, Rita is going to need money … Which is why this pretty lady rodent (voiced by Kate Winslet) has been doing business with some pretty nefarious characters: Whitey (voiced by Bill Nighy), a rat who’s escaped from a product testing facility after recieving one too many shampoos and Spike (voiced by Andy Serkis), a rat who’d really like to be villainous … Only — because he still lives at home with his mum — Spike can’t quite pull off the whole henchman thing.

Mind you, Whitey and Spike both work for Toad, the James Bond-like super-villain of the Underworld. Voiced by Sir Ian McKellen, Toad has never quite gotten over the fact that he was once Prince Charles’ favorite pet. Only to eventually be flushed down the toilet by the staff at Buckingham Palace because he was … Well …  a toad.

But Toad is now planning on getting his revenge on the world. He’s hatched a diabolical plan that hinges on the United Kingdom being in the World Cup soccer finals, thousands of evil tadpoles and a synchronized bathroom break …

To say much more would give away far too much of the plot of what looks to be a pretty charming picture. To date, I’ve only been able to see several character camera tests, some storyboards and a few work-in-progress scenes. But — that said — “Flushed Away” still has that trademark Aardman look & feel. And even though it’s in CG, this film has the same quirky quality, the same sort of clever staging that made “Chicken Run” and those Wallace & Gromit shorts so much fun to watch. Which is why it will probably be worth your while to go see “Flushed Away” when it finally flows into theaters on November 3, 2006.

And then — on May 18, 2007 — here comes the big one. The animated sequel that everyone (including DreamWorks stockholders) has been waiting for, “Shrek III.”

Shrek 3
Copyright DreamWorks Animation L.L.C.

This DreamWorks Animation film pretty much picks up where “Shrek II” left off. With Prince Harold (voiced by John Cleese) now turned into a frog. Which basically makes him ineligable to rule the Kingdom of Far Far Away. So who does this duty fall to now? You guessed it. Princess Fiona and her husband, Shrek.

As you might imagine, the big green ogre just hates the idea of having to deal with affairs of state, sitting on the throne, having to deal with the papparazzi,etc. Shrek just wants to go back to his home in the swamp. Where he and his bride can finally be alone again.

But — before the ogre and his wife can be allowed to return home — Queen Lillian (voiced by Julie Andrews) insists that a rightful heir to the throne must be found. And — as it turns out — Fiona does have one relative who might fit the bill: Her obnoxious little cousin, Artie. But he’s off at school somewhere …

That’s all Shrek needs to hear. The very next morning, the ogre heads off — with Donkey & Puss in Boots by his side — in search of Artie. Shrek intends to go to that school, collect Fiona’s cousin, bring Artie back to Far Far Away, place the boy on the throne … Then just head back to the swamps of home ASAP.

Of course, what Shrek hadn’t counted on is that Artie turns out to be this spoiled, self-centered little brat who’s always pulling pranks on the storybook trio. So it’s up to Shrek, Donkey and Puss  — as they make their way back to Far Far Away — to teach this boy what it’s like to be a decent person. More importantly, what it takes to be a king.

Mind you, as this quartet is making their way back to the castle, Fiona has her hands full back in Far Far Away. It seems that Prince Charming — AKA her jilted fiancee — has decided to launch a hostile takeover of Far Far Away. So — after assembling an army of storybook bad guys — Prince Charming takes over the castle.

But what P.C. hadn’t counted on was that Fiona would dare to fight back. With the help of her mother, the Princess gets the word out to all of Far Far Away’s other princesses (I.E. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Snow White, etc.) that Fiona needs their help. And together … Well, let’s just say this band of princesses become an awesome fighting force …

Again, to say much more would give away too much of the plot (and the fun) of “Shrek III.” But let me at least clue you in on what the button for this picture will be …

After evil has been defeated, good has trimphed and the rightful heir is on the throne … Shrek turns to Fiona and says that he’s going to miss Artie. That — on the trip back to Far Far Away — the ogre learned that he’s actually pretty good with kids. Which was a skill that Shrek had previously thought he lacked.

Hearing her husband say this, Fiona smiles and says: “That’s great news. That you’re comfortable with kids and all.”

Puzzled, Shrek turns to his bride. “Why would you say that?,” the ogre asks.

“Because I’m pregnant,” answers Fiona.

The camera zooms in on Shrek’s dumbfounded face just before the credits rolls … And to learn what happens next … Well, movie-goers will just have to wait ’til May of 2010. When “Shrek IV” (which is currently being scripted by Tim Sullivan) is expected to roll into theaters.

Beyond that … Only thing that’s really worth noting is that DreamWorks has persuaded the entire original cast to return & do voice work for “Shrek III.” We’re talking Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, the aforementioned Cleese & Ms. Andrews as Queen Lillian as well as Rupert Everett. With Ms. Diaz’s main squeeze — former ‘NSYNC member Justin Timberlake — providing Artie’s vocals.

After “Shrek III” cleans up at the box office all summer long, next up from DreamWorks Animation is “Bee Movie.” Written & directed by Jerry Seinfeld, this project promises to have a uniquely New York feel and flair. According to the studio’s own info sheet on the film, “Bee Movie” …

… is the comedic tale of Barry Benson (Jerry Seinfeld), a graduate bee straight out of college who is disillusioned at having only one career choice: honey.

On a rare trip outside the hive, Barry’s life is saved by Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), a florist in New York City. As their relationship blossoms, he discovers humans are mass consumers of honey and decides to sue the human race for stealing bee’s honey.

Copyright DreamWorks Animation L.L.C.

I know, I know. That premise seems kind of slender right now. But let’s remember that Jerry is a big cartoon & comics buff (Remember that Superman statue was so prominently displayed in his apartment in the “Seinfeld” TV series. Not to mention those American Express ads where Jerry appeared side by side with an animated version of the Man of Steel). So maybe this multi-millionaire comic really does have what it takes to deliver a great animated feature.

And then there’s “Kung Fu Panda.” A name that even I will admit is right up there with “jumbo shrimp” and “military intelligence.” And yet there’s something that I find to be very appealing about the premise of this picture …

“Kung Fu Panda” is a CG-animated comedy about a lazy, irreverent slacker panda, Po (Voiced by Jack Black), who must somehow become a Kung Fu Master in order to save the Valley of Peace from a villainous snow leopard, Tai Lung. Set in the legendary world of ancient China, this is the story of Po, our unlikely hero, who enters the rigid world of Kung Fu and turning it upside down. Po ultimately becomes a Kung Fu hero by learning that if he believes in himself, he can do anything.

Copyright DreamWorks Animation L.L.C.

I know, I know. This away far from “Kung Fu Panda” ‘s release date, it’s kind of hard to predict whether this picture will be a winner or a loser. But I gotta tell you … I’m really liking the design of the film’s lead character. More to the point, I think that it could be kind of fun to hear Jack Black’s voice coming out of that panda’s mouth.

Beyond that … Based on how well “Madagascar” has been doing (This DreamWorks Animation release is now just $50 million away from equalling the first “Shrek” ‘s box office take), there’s been a lot of talk lately about possibly producing a sequel to this film. One that would (of course) more prominently feature those psychotic penguins.

But that — my friends — is a brief glimpse at the next four or five years worth of DreamWorks Animation releases. Which I think you’ll agree sounds like a surprisingly strong assortment of animated films.

So what do you folks think? Which of thse upcoming DreamWorks Animation releases are you really looking forward to seeing?

Jim Hill

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.

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.

Film & Movies

How Disney’s “Bambi” led to the creation of Smokey Bear

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When people talk about Disney’s “Bambi,” the scene that they typically cite as being the one from this 1942 film which then scarred them for life is – of course – the moment in this movie where Bambi’s mother gets shot by hunters.

Which is kind of ironic. Given that – if you watch this animated feature today – you’ll see that a lot of this ruined-my-childhood scene actually happens off-camera. I mean, you hear the rifle shot that takes down Bambi’s Mom. But you don’t actually see that Mama Deer get clipped.

Now for the scariest part of that movie that you actually see on-camera … Hands down, that has to be the forest fire sequence in “Bambi.” As the grown-up Bambi & his bride, Faline, desperately race through those woods, trying to find a path to safety as literally everything around them is ablaze … That sequence is literally nightmare fuel.

Source: Economist.com

Mind you, the artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios had lots of inspiration for the forest fire sequence in “Bambi.” You see, in a typical year, the United States experiences – due to either natural phenomenon like lightning strikes or human carelessness – 100 forest fires. Whereas in 1940 (i.e., the year that Disney Studios began working in earnest of a movie version of Felix Salten’s best-selling movie), America found itself battling a record 360 forest fires.

Which greatly concerned the U.S. Forest Service. But not for the reason you might think.

Protecting the Forest for World War II

I mean, yes. Sure. Officials over in the Agricultural Department (That’s the arm of the U.S. government that manages the Forest Service) were obviously concerned about the impact that this record number of forest fires in 1940 had had on citizens. Not to mention all of the wildlife habitat that was now lost.

But to be honest, what really concerned government officials was those hundreds of thousands of acres of raw timber that had been consumed by these blazes. You see, by 1940, the world was on the cusp of the next world war. A conflict that the U.S. would inevitably  be pulled into. And all that now-lost timber? It could have been used to fuel the U.S. war machine.

So with this in mind (and U.S. government officials now seeing an urgent need to preserve & protect this precious resource) … Which is why – in 1942 (just a few months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor) – the U.S. Forest Service rolls out its first-ever forest fire prevention program.

Which – given that this was the early days of World War II – the slogan that the U.S. Forest Service initially chose for its forest fire prevention program is very in that era’s we’re-all-in-this-together / so-let’s-do-what-we-can-to-help-America’s war-effort esthetic – made a direct appeal to all those folks who were taking part in scrap metal drives: “Forest Defense is National Defense.”

Source: Northwestern

And the poster that the U.S. Forest Service had created to support this campaign? … Well, it was well-meaning as well.  It was done in the WPA style and showed men out in the forest, wielding shovels to ditch a ditch. They were trying to construct a fire break, which would then supposedly slow the forest fire that was directly behind them.

But the downside was … That “Forest Defense is National Defense” slogan – along with that poster which the U.S. Forest Service had created to support their new forest fire prevention program didn’t exactly capture America’s attention.

I mean, it was the War Years after all. A lot was going in the country at that time. But long story short: the U.S. Forest Service’s first attempt at launching a successful forest fire prevention program sank without a trace.

So what do you do in a situation like this? You regroup. You try something different.

Disney & Bambi to the Rescue

And within the U.S. government, the thinking now was “Well, what if we got a celebrity to serve as the spokesman for our new forest fire prevention program? Maybe that would then grab the public’s attention.”

The only problem was … Well, again, these are the War Years. And a lot of that era’s A-listers (people like Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, even Mel Brooks) had already enlisted. So there weren’t really a lot of big-name celebrities to choose from.

But then some enterprising official at the U.S. Forest Service came up with an interesting idea. He supposedly said “Hey, have you seen that new Disney movie? You know, the one with the deer? That movie has a forest fire in it. Maybe we should go talk with Walt Disney? Maybe he has some ideas about how we can better capture the public’s attention when it comes to our new forest fire prevention program?”

And it turns Walt did have an idea. Which was to use this government initiative as a way to cross-promote Disney Studio’s latest full-length animated feature, “Bambi.” Which been first released to theaters in August of 1942.

So Walt had artists at Disney Studio work up a poster that featured the grown-up versions of Bambi the Deer, Thumper the Rabbit & Flower the Skunk. As this trio stood in some tall grasses, they looked imploring out at whoever was standing in front of this poster. Above them was a piece of text that read “Please Mister, Don’t Be Careless.” And below these three cartoon characters was an additional line that read “Prevent Forest Fires. Greater Danger Than Ever!”

Source: USDA

According to folks I’ve spoken with at Disney’s Corporate Archives, this “Bambi” -based promotional campaign for the U.S. Forest Service’s forest fire prevention campaign was a huge success. So much so that – as 1943 drew to a close – this division of the Department of Agriculture reportedly reached out to Walt to see if he’d be willing to let the U.S. Forest Service continue to use these cartoon characters to help raise the public’s awareness of fire safety.

Walt – for reasons known only to Mr. Disney – declined. Some have suggested that — because “Bambi” had actually lost money during its initial theatrical release in North America – that Walt was now looking to put that project behind him. And if there were posters plastered all over the place that then used the “Bambi” characters that then promoted the U.S.’s forest fire prevention efforts … Well, it would then be far harder for Mr. Disney to put this particular animated feature in the rear view mirror.

Introducing Smokey Bear

Long story short: Walt said “No” when it came to reusing the “Bambi” characters to promote the U.S. Forest Service’s forest fire prevention program. But given how successful the previous cartoon-based promotional campaign had been … Well, some enterprising employee at the Department of Agriculture reportedly said “Why don’t we come up with a cartoon character of our own?”

So – for the Summer of 1944 – the U.S. Forest Service (with the help of the Ad Council and the National Association of State Foresters) came up with a character to help promote the prevention of forest fires. And his name is Smokey Bear.

Now a lot of thought had gone into Smokey’s creation. Right from the get-go, it was decided that he would be an American black bear (NOT a brown bear or a grizzly). To make this character seem approachable, Smokey was outfitted with a ranger’s hat. He also wore a pair of blue jeans & carried a bucket.

As for his debut poster, Smokey was depicted as pouring water over a still-smoldering campfire. And below this cartoon character was printed Smokey’s initial catchphrase. Which was “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!”

Source: NPR

Which makes me think that this slogan was written by the very advertising executive who wrote “Four out of five dentists recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.”

Anyway … By the Summer of 1947, Smokey got a brand-new slogan. The one that he uses even today. Which is “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

The Real Smokey Bear

Now where this gets interesting is – in the Summer of 1950 – there was a terrible forest fire up in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. And over the course of this blaze, a bear cub climbed high up into a tree to try & escape those flames.

Firefighters were finally able to rescue that cub. But he was so badly injured in that fire that he was shipped off to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and nursed back to health. And since this bear really couldn’t be released back in the wild at this point, he was then put on exhibit.

And what does this bear’s keepers decide to call him? You guessed it: Smokey.

Source: USDA

And due to all the news coverage that this orphaned bear got, he eventually became the living symbol of the U.S. Forest Service’s forest fire prevention program. Which then meant that this particular Smokey Bear got hit with a ton of fan mail. So much so that the National Zoo in Washington D.C. wound up with its own Zip Code.

“Smokey the Bear” Hit Song

And on the heels of a really-for-real Smokey Bear taking up residence in our nation’s capital, Steve Nelson & Jack Rollins decide to write a song that shined a spotlight on this fire-fightin’ bruin. Here’s the opening stanza:

With a ranger’s hat and shovel and a pair of dungarees,
You will find him in the forest always sniffin’ at the breeze,
People stop and pay attention when he tells them to beware
Because everybody knows that he’s the fire-preventin’ bear

Believe or not, even with lyrics like these, “Smokey the Bear” briefly topped the Country charts in the Summer of 1950. Thanks to a version of this song that was recorded by Gene Autry, the Singing Cowboy.

By the way, it was this song that started all of the confusion in regards to Smokey Bear’s now. You see, Nelson & Rollins – because they need the lyrics of their song to scan properly – opted to call this fire-fightin’-bruin Smokey THE Bear. Rather than Smokey Bear. Which has been this cartoon character’s official name since the U.S. Forest Service first introduced him back in 1944.

“The Ballad of Smokey the Bear”

Further complicating this issue was “The Ballad of Smokey the Bear,” which was a stop-motion animated special that debuted on NBC in late November of 1966. Produced by Rankin-Bass as a follow-up to their hugely popular “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (which premiered on the Peacock Network in December of 1964) … This hour-long TV show also put a “THE” in the middle of Smokey Bear’s name because the folks at Rankin-Bass thought his name sounded better that way.

And speaking of animation … Disney’s “Bambi” made a brief return to the promotional campaign for the U.S. Forest Service’s forest fire prevention program in the late 1980s. This was because the Company’s home entertainment division had decided to release this full-length animated feature on VHS.

What’s kind of interesting, though, is the language used on the “Bambi” poster is a wee different than the language that’s used on Smokey’s poster. It reads “Protect Our Forest Friends. Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.” NOT “Forest Fires.”

Anyway, that’s how Disney’s “Bambi” led to the creation of Smokey Bear. Thanks for bearin’ with me as I clawed my way through this grizzly tale.

Jim Hill

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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Film & Movies

“Indiana Jones and the Search for Indiana Jones”

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News came late last week that NBC was cancelling the “Magnum PI” remake. This series (which obviously took its inspiration from the Tom Selleck show that originally debuted on CBS back in December of 1980 and then went on run on that network for 8 seasons. With its final episode airing on May 8, 1988).

Anyway … Over 30 years later, CBS decided to remake “Magnum.” This version of the action drama debuted on September 24, 2018 and ran for four seasons before then being cancelled. NBC picked up the “Magnum” remake where it ran for one more season before word came down on June 23rd that this action drama was being cancelled yet again.

FYI: The second half of Season 5 of “Magnum” (10 episodes) has yet to air on NBC. It will be interesting to see when that final set of shows / the series finale gets scheduled.

This all comes to mind this week – out ahead of the theatrical release of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” because … Well, if CBS execs had been a bit more flexible back in 1980, the star of the original version of “Magnum PI” (Tom Selleck) would have played the lead in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Which was released to theaters back on June 12, 1981.

That’s the part of the Indiana Jones story that the folks at Lucasfilm often opt to skim over.

That Harrison Ford wasn’t George Lucas’ first choice to play Doctor Jones.

Auditions for Indiana Jones – Harrison’s Not on the List

Mind you, Steven Spielberg – right from the get-go – had pushed for Ford to play this part. The way I hear it, Lucas showed Spielberg a work-in-progress cut of “The Empire Strikes Back.” And Steven was so taken with Harrison’s performance as Han Solo in that Irwin Kershner film that he immediately began pushing for Ford to be cast as Doctor Jones.

Whereas Mr. Lucas … I mean, it wasn’t that George had anything against Harrison. What with Ford’s performances first in “American Grafitti” and then in “A New Hope,” these two already had a comfortable working relationship.

But that said, Lucas was genuinely leery of … Well, the sort of creative collaboration that Martin Scorcese and Robert DeNiro. Where one actor & one director repeatedly worked together. To George’s way of thinking, that was a risky path to follow. Hitching your wagon to a single star.

Which is why – when auditions got underway for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1979 — Mike Fenton basically brought in every big performer of that era to read for Dr. Jones except Harrison Ford. We’re talking:

  • Steve Martin
  • Chevy Chase
  • Bill Murray
  • Jack Nicholson
  • Peter Coyote
  • Nick Nolte
  • Sam Elliot
  • Tim Matheson
  • and Harry Hamlin

Casting a Comedian for Indiana Jones

Please note that there are a lot of comedians on this list. That’s because – while “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was in development — Spielberg was directed his epic WWII comedy, “1941.” And for a while there, Steve & George were genuinely uncertain about whether the movie that they were about to make would be a sincere valentine to the movie serials of the 1930s & the 1940s or more of a spoof.

It’s worth noting here that three of the more ridiculous set pieces found in “Temple of Doom” …

  • the shoot-out at Club Obi Wan in Shanghai
  • Indy, Willie & Short Round surviving that plane crash by throwing an inflatable life raft out of the cargo hatch
  • and that film’s mine cart chase (which was not only inspired by Disney theme park favorites the Matterhorn Bobsleds & Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but some of the sound effects that you hear in this portion of “Temple of Doom” were actually recorded after hours at Disneyland inside of these very same attractions)

…  all originally supposed to be in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I’ve actually got a copy of the very first version of the screenplay that Lawrence Kasdan wrote for the first “Indy” movie where all three of these big action set pieces were supposed to be part of the story that “Raiders” told. And I have to tell you that this early iteration of the “Raiders” screenplay really does read more like a spoof of serials than a sincere, loving salute to this specific style of cinema.

Casting Indiana Jones – Jeff or Tom

Anyway … Back now to the casting of the male lead for “Raiders” … After seeing virtually every actor out in LA while looking for just the right performer to portray Indiana Jones, it all came down to two guys:

  • Jeff Bridges
  • and Tom Selleck

Jeff Bridges as Indiana Jones

Mike Fenton was heavily pushing for Jeff Bridges. Having already appeared with Clint Eastwood in 1974’s “Thunderbolt & Lightfoot” (Not to mention that “King Kong” remake from 1976), Bridges was a known quantity. But what Fenton liked especially liked about Bridges when it came to “Raiders” was … Well, at that time, Jeff was just coming off “Heaven’s Gate.”

Mind you, nowadays, because we’ve all now had the luxury of seeing the director’s cut of this Michael Cimino movie, we recognize “Heaven’s Gate” for the cinematic masterpiece that it is. But 40+ years ago, that honestly wasn’t the case. All audiences had to judge this movie by was the severely truncated version that United Artists sent out into theaters. Which – because “Heaven’s Gate” had cost $44 million to make and only sold $3.5 million of tickets – then became the textbook example of Hollywood excess.

Credit: Indiewire.com

Long story short: Given that being associated with “Heaven’s Gate” had somewhat dinged Bridges’ reputation for being a marketable star (i.e., a performer that people would pay good money to see up on the big screen), Jeff was now looking to appear in something highly commercial. And the idea of playing the lead in a film directed by Steven Spielberg (the “Jaws” & “Close Encounter” guy) and produced by George Lucas (Mr. “Star Wars”) was very, very appealing at that time. Bridges was even willing to sign a contract with Spielberg & Lucas that would have then roped him into not only playing Indiana Jones in “Raider of the Lost Ark” but also to appear as this very same character in two yet-to-be-written sequels.

Better yet, because “Heaven’s Gate” had temporarily dimmed Bridges’ star status, Jeff was also willing to sign on to do the first “Indy” film for well below his usual quote. With the understanding that – should “Raiders of the Lost Ark” succeed at the box office – Bridges would then be paid far more to appear in this film’s two sequels.

That seemed like a very solid plan for “Raiders.” Landing a known movie star to play the lead in this action-adventure at a bargain price.

Ah, but standing in Mike Fenton’s way was Marcia Lucas.

Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones

Marcia Lucas, who had seen Tom Selleck’s audition for “Raiders” (And you can see it as well. Just go to Google and type in “Tom Selleck” and “Indiana Jones.” And if you dig around for a bit, you’ll then see a feature that Lucas & Spielberg shot for “Entertainment Tonight” back in 2008 [This story was done in support of the theatrical release of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”]. And as part of this piece, George and Steve share Tom’s original audition for “Raiders.” And what’s genuinely fascinating about this footage is that Selleck’s scene partner is Sean Young. Who – at that time, anyway – was up for the role of Marion Ravenwood) and kept telling her husband, “You should cast this guy. He’s going to be a big star someday.”

And given that George was smart enough to regularly heed Marcia Lucas’ advice (She had made invaluable suggestions when it came to the editing of “American Graffiti” and the original “Star Wars.” Not to downplay George Lucas’ cinematic legacy, but Marcia Lucas was a world-class storyteller in and of her own right), Lucas then reached out to Spielberg and persuaded him that they should cast relative unknown Tom Selleck as Doctor Jones over the already well-known Jeff Bridges.

Now don’t feel too bad for Jeff Bridges. When he lost out on playing the lead in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Jeff then accepted a role in the very next, high profile, sure-to-be-commercial project that came along. Which turned out to be Disney’s very first “TRON” movie. Which was eventually released to theaters on July 9, 1982.

Back to Tom Selleck now … You have to remember that – back then – Selleck was the handsome guy who’d already shot pilots for six different shows that then hadn’t gone to series. Which was why Tom was stuck being the guest star on shows like “The Fall Guy” and “Taxi.” Whereas once word got out around town that Selleck was supposed to play the lead in a project that Spielberg was directed & Lucas was producing … Well, this is when CBS decided that they’d now take the most recent pilot that Tom had shot and then go to series with this show.

That program was – of course – the original “Magnum PI.” And it’s at this point where our story started to get complicated.

“Magnum PI” – Two Out of Three Say “Yes”

Okay. During the first season of a TV show, it’s traditionally the network – rather than the production company (which – in this case – was Glen A. Larson Productions. The company behind the original versions of “Battlestar Galactica” & “Knight Rider”) or the studio where this series is actually being shot (which – in this case – was Universal Television) that has all the power. And in this particular case, the network execs who were pulling all the strings behind-the-scenes worked for CBS.

And when it came to the first season of “Magnum PI,” CBS had a deal with Glen A. Larson Productions and Universal Television which stated that the talent which had been contracted to appear in this new action drama would then be available for the production of at least 13 episodes with an option to shoot an additional 9 episodes (This is known in the industry as the back nine. As in: the last nine holes of a golf course).

Anyway, if you take those initial 13 episodes and then tack on the back nine, you then get 22 episodes total. Which – back in the late 1970s / early 1980s, anyway – was what a full season of a network television show typically consisted of.

Anyway … The contract that Selleck had signed with Glen A. Larson Productions, Universal Television & CBS stated that he had to be available when production of Season One of “Magnum PI” began in March of 1980. More to the point, Tom also had to be available should CBS exercise its option to air 22 episodes of this new series on that television network over the course of “Magnum PI” ‘s first season.  

Which then made things complicated for George Lucas & Steven Spielberg because … Well, in order for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to make its June 12, 1981 release date, that then meant that production of the first “Indy” movie would have to get underway no later than June 23, 1980.

But here’s the thing: Production of Season One of “Magnum PI” was scheduled to run through the first week of July of that same year (1980). So in order for Tom Selleck to play Indiana Jones in “Raiders,” he was going to need to be wrapped on production of “Magnum PI” by June 22, 1980 at the absolute latest.

So Spielberg & Lucas went to Glen A. Larsons Productions and asked if Selleck could please be sprung from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligations by June 22nd. And they said “Yes.” Then Steven & George went to Universal Television and asked executives there for their help  in clearing Tom’s schedule so that he’d then be available to start work on “Raiders.” And they say “Yes” as well.

Spielberg & Lucas now go to CBS. But instead of the quick “Yeses” that they got from officials at Glen A. Larson Productions and Universal Television, it takes those suits at the Tiffany Network weeks before they then decided to say “No, they couldn’t release Tom Selleck early to go work on ‘Raiders’ “ because …

I’ve never really been able to get a straight answer here as to why CBS execs dug in their heels here. Why they flat-out refused to release Selleck early from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligation and allow him to go shoot “Raiders.”

Payback from “The Star Wars Holiday Special” Trash Talk

That said, it is worth noting that “The Star Wars Holiday Special” aired on CBS back in November of 1978. And given that – in the years that followed —  Lucas wasn’t exactly shy when it came to saying how much he hated that two hour-long presentation (Or – for that matter – how George really regretted caving into the requests of CBS execs. Who had insisted that television stars long associated with the Tiffany Network – people like Art Carney, Harvey Korman & Bea Arthur – be given prominent guest starring roles in “The Star Wars Holiday Special”). And I’ve heard whispers over the years that CBS executives preventing Tom Selleck from appearing in “Raiders” could be interpreted as the Tiffany Network getting some payback for what George had said publicly about the “Star Wars Holiday Special.”

Harrison Ford Comes to Rescue “Indiana Jones”

Anyway … It’s now literally just weeks before production of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is supposed to begin and Spielberg & Lucas have just learned that that they’ve lost their film’s star. CBS is flat-out refusing to release Tom Selleck early from his “Magnum PI” contractual obligation. So Steven & George now have to find someone else to play Indy … and fast.

The real irony here is … The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists would go on strike in the Summer of 1980. Which then shut prematurely shut down production of the first season of “Magnum PI.” (As a direct result, the first full season of this action drama to air on CBS only had 18 episodes, rather than the usual 22). And because this job action lasted ‘til October 23rd of that same year … Well, this meant that Tom Selleck would have actually been free to start shooting “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on June 23, 1980 because production of Season One of “Magnum PI” was already shut down by then due to that AFTRA strike.

But no one knew – in May of 1980, anyway – that this job action was going to happen in just a few weeks. All that Steven Spielberg & George Lucas knew was that they now needed a new lead actor for “Raiders.” And circling back on Jeff Bridges was no longer an option. As I mentioned earlier, Jeff had agreed to do “TRON” for Disney. And – in the interim – Bridges gone off to shoot “Cutter’s Way” for MGM / UA.

Credit: EW

So this is where Harrison Ford enters the equation. As he recalls:

In May of 1980, I get a call from George Lucas. Who says ‘I’m messaging a script over to you this morning. As soon as it gets there, I need you to immediately read this script. Then – as soon as you’re done – I need you to call.

So the script arrives and it’s for ‘Raiders.’ I read it and it’s good. So I call George back and say ‘It’s good.’ And he then says ‘Would you be interested in playing Indy?’ I say that it looks like it would be a fun part to play.

George then says ‘ That’s great to hear. Because we start shooting in four weeks. Now I need you to meet with Steven Spielberg today and convince him that you’re the right guy to play Indy.’

Of course, given that Spielberg had been pushing for Ford to pay Indy ever since he had first seen that work-in-progress version of “The Empire Strikes Back” … Well, Harrison’s meeting with Steven was very, very short. And just a few weeks later, Spielberg, Lucas & Ford were all at the Port de la Pallice in La Rochelle. Where – on the very first day of shooting on “Raiders” (which – again – was June 23, 1980)– the scene that was shot was the one where that Nazi sub (the one that Indy had lashed himself to its periscope by using his bullwhip as a rope) was arriving at its secret base.

And all of this happened because Harrison immediately agreed to do “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when the part of Indy was first offered to him in mid-May of 1980.  

Before “Star Wars” was “Star Wars”

So why such a quick yes? Well, you have to remember that “Empire Strikes Back” wouldn’t be released to theaters ‘til May 21, 1980. And no one knew at that time whether this sequel to the original “Star Wars” would do as well at the box office as “A New Hope” had back in 1977 (FYI: “Empire” would eventually sell over $500 million worth of tickets worldwide. Which is roughly two thirds of what the original “Star Wars” earned three years earlier).

More to the point, the four films that Harrison had shot right after “A New Hope” / prior to “Empire Strikes Back” (i.e., “Heroes” AND “Force 10 from Navarone” AND “Hanover Street” AND “The Frisco Kid”) had all under-performed at the box office. So to Ford’s way of thinking, taking on a role that Tom Selleck was no longer available to play – one that had the potential of spawning two sequels – seemed like a very smart thing to do. Especially after three years of cinematic stumbles.

By the way, whenever this topic ever comes up, Harrison Ford is very gracious. He always makes a point of saying that he’s grateful to have gotten this career opportunity. More to the point, that he still feels kind of bad that Tom Selleck never got the chance to play this part.

Tom Selleck After “Indiana Jones”

That said, we shouldn’t feel too bad for Tom Selleck. After all, the original “Magnum PI” proved to be a long running hit for CBS. And in an effort to smooth over any residual bad feelings that may have resulted from Tom being forced to give up “Raiders” back in May of 1980, Selleck was eventually allowed to create his own production company (i.e., T.W.S. Productions, Inc. As in Thomas William Selleck Productions). Which – after the fact – was then cut in on some of those “Magnum PI” -related revenue streams.

More to the point, while “Magnum PI” was on hiatus following its second year in production, Selleck flew off to Yugoslavia. Where he then shot his own Indiana Jones-esque film for theatrical release. Which was called “High Road to China” in the States, but – overseas – was promoted as “Raiders of the End of the World.”

FYI: Warner Bros. released “High Road to China” stateside 40 years ago this year. On March 18, 1983, to be exact. It didn’t do all that great at the box office. $28 million in ticket sales versus $15 million in production costs.

And over the years, there’s even been some talk of finding a way to maybe set things right here. By that I mean: Finally finding a way to officially fold Tom Selleck into the world of Indiana Jones.

Could Tom Selleck Work with Indiana Jones?

The way I hear it, between the time when “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was theatrically released in May of 1989 and when “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” debuted in May of 2008, there were a number of ideas for Indiana Jones sequels tossed around. And from what I’ve been told, there was at least one treatment for a fourth Indiana Jones film written that proposed pairing up Harrison Ford & Tom Selleck. With the idea here being that Selleck was supposed to have played Ford’s brother.

Obviously that film was never made. And – no – I don’t know what state Indiana Jones’ brother was supposed to be named after.

This article is based on research for Looking at Lucasfilm “Episode 80”, published on June 29, 2023. Looking at Lucasfilm is part of the Jim Hill Media Podcast Network.

Jim Hill

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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Will “Metro” – that “Cars” Spin-Off Which Disney Developed – Ever Get Made?

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Will Metro Ever Get Made?

First came “Cars” in June of 2006.

This Pixar Animation Studios production did so well (Of all the high grossing films released that year, “Cars” was No. 2 at the box office. Only “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” sold more tickets in 2006) that Disney execs asked John Lasseter to develop a sequel.

“Cars 2” came out in June of 2011 and also did quite well at the box office (It took the No. 7 slot in the Top-Ten-for-ticket-sales that year). Which is why Disney then asked Pixar to prep a follow-up film.

“Cars 3” would eventually arrive in theaters in June of 2017. But in the meantime, Disney & Pixar began exploring the idea of expanding this film franchise. Largely because the amount of money that the Mouse was making off of the sales of “Cars” -related merchandise was … To be blunt here, mind boggling.

Don’t believe me? Well, then consider this: In just the first five years that the “Cars” film franchise existed, global retail sales of merchandise related to these Pixar movies approached $10 billion. That’s billion with a “B.”

So is it any wonder that – while Pixar was still trying to get a handle on what “Cars 3” would actually be about – the Mouse (through its DisneyToon Studios arm. Which produced home premieres like those “TinkerBell” movies) began actively looking into ways to expand this lucrative franchise?

“Planes” – The First “Cars” Spin-Off

The first “Cars” spin-off to arrive in the marketplace was “Planes.” This Klay Hall film (which was set in “The World Above Cars”) was released theatrically in August of 2013, with the Blu-ray & DVD version of “Planes” hitting store shelves in November of that same year.

“Planes: Fire and Rescue” followed in the Summer of 2014. And while a “Planes 3” was definitely put in development (At the Disney Animation panel at the 2017 D23 Expo, John Lasseter not only shared a clip from this film. But he also revealed that this project – which, at that time, was entitled “Space” – was slated to be released theatrically in April of 2019) … This animated feature was abruptly cancelled when DisneyToon Studios was shuttered in June of 2018.

But wait. There’s more … In addition to the aborted “Planes 3,”  Disney had other “Cars” spin-offs in the works. One was supposed to be built around boats. While yet another was supposed to have shined a spotlight on trucks.

“Metro” – The World Below Cars

And then there was “Metro.” Which was supposed to have been set in the inner city and focused on what went on in “The World Below Cars.” As in: Down in the subway system.

Just in the past week or so, a few pieces of concept art for “Metro” have surfaced online. Giving us all an intriguing look at what might have been. These preproduction paintings suggest that this “Cars” spin-off would be far grittier than … Say … the sort of adventures that Lightning McQueen & Mater would typically have out in Radiator Springs.

Metro - Cars Spin-Off Movie Poster
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney
Metro - Cars Spin-Off Concept Art
Credit: Disney

That said, it’s worth noting here that – just in the past year or so – we’ve seen Disney & Pixar attempt to expand the turf that these two characters could comfortably cover. Take – for example — “Cars on the Road,” that nine-part series which debuted on Disney+ back in September of last year. This collection of animated shorts literally sent Lightning McQueen & Mater off on a road trip.

So who knows?

Given that Bob Iger (at Disney’s quarterly earnings call held earlier this week) revealed that the Company now has sequels in the works for “Frozen,” “Toy Story,” and “Zootopia” … Well, is it really all that far-fetched to think that – at some point further on down the road – Disney & Pixar will put yet another sequel to “Cars” in the works?

One that might send Lightning McQueen & Mater off to explore the gritty inner-city world that we glimpsed in all that concept art for “Metro,” that never-produced “Cars” spin-off.

Time will tell.

Jim Hill

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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