Thursday, May 21, 2009

Voice of Mickey Mouse, Wayne Allwine, dies at age 62

See my entry on Wayne Allwine's passing here at

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Ricky Gervais 2-step plan: visit the White House in pajamas, get an HBO animated series

It's an auspicious few days for British comedian Ricky Gervais, the man behind "The Office" and "Extras". While in Washington, DC for the premiere of his latest film "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian", Gervais, along with co-star Ben Stiller was invited to visit the White House. Problem was, according to his blog, all his "smart clothes were at the hotel dry cleaner."

Not about to miss out on his White House invitation, Gervais donned pajama pants, a black t-shirt and off he went to Casa Obama.

On the heels of that proud accomplishment, HBO announced today that it has green-lit an animated series based on Gervais's wildly popular podcast, one of the most downloaded on the Internet.

"The Ricky Gervais Show" will feature Gervais, his comedy partner Stephen Merchant and their oddball friend Karl Pilkington in 13 half-hour episodes that will use audio from the trio's podcast.

Wildbrain, creators of Emmy-nominated "Yo Gabba Gabba" will co-produce the show, which is expected to start on HBO by the end of the year.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Beatles' Yellow Submarine at the Senator Theatre in Baltimore

The Beatles' Yellow Submarine, the classic 1968 film featuring animated likenesses of the Beatles on a surreal mission to defend the residents of Pepperland from malevolent Blue Meanies, will be on the big screen at the Senator Theatre in Baltimore this weekend. Show times are Saturday and Sunday at 1 PM.

Yellow Submarine's whimsical art and brilliant use of color remain relevant, impressive and entertaining well beyond its late 1960s aesthetic. Czech designer Heinz Edelmann had never worked in animation before TV Cartoons, the film's production studio, recruited him to help the movie break from the "cartoony" style previously used in ABC TV's The Beatles.
The break was absolute. Upon seeing storyboards of the film already under production, the Beatles were reportedly shocked to see the film's bold use of designs, color and form. Paul McCartney reportedly had expected "a Disney film".

The marriage of Yellow Submarine's creators' spirited creative energy to the Beatles' music resulted in a groundbreaking achievement. The voice acting is particularly impressive. You'll swear you're listening to the the Beatles' actual voices, but you're not. But don't feel like that makes you less of a Beatlemaniac. Variety was fooled, too, when the movie was released.
The chance to see this film in a movie theater with the sound and picture quality of the Senator is an opportunity not to be missed.

The Senator Theatre 5904 York Road, Baltimore, Maryland (410) 435-8338

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Maryland Film Festival 2009 - Animated Shorts Program

Golden Week(end) starts for film afficionados in Baltimore as the Maryland Film Festival opens Thursday night. The MFF continues its commitment to supporting short films with an excellent lineup of animated shorts. This year’s slate runs 79 minutes and will be shown at the Charles Theater on May 8 at 11:30 AM and May 9 at 10:00 PM.

"Animated American" - James Baker, USA, 15 minutes
"The Cave: An adaptation of Plato's Allegory in Clay" - Michael Ramsey, USA, 4 minutes
"Dandelion Will Make You Wise" - Jack Ofield, USA, 5 minutes
"Forestry" – Woodpecker, Japan, 4 minutes
"Fruitless Efforts - Fruit of the Womb" - Andrew Chesworth and Aaron Quist, USA, 5 minutes
"Horn Dog" – Bill Plympton, USA, 6 minutes
"I Am So Proud Of You" – Don Hertzfeldt, USA, 22 minutes
"Mexican Standoff" – Bill Plympton, USA, 4 minutes
"The Realm of Possibility" - Gerald Guthrie, USA, 7 minutes
"Santa: The Fascist Years" – Bill Plympton, USA, 3.5 minutes
"The View from Cleopatra's Knee" - Jack Ofield, USA, 4 minutes

Of the 11 shorts selected for the festival, there are several highlights. Here are my picks:

Former Disney animators James Baker (Mulan, Tarzan) and Joe Haidar (Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast) collaborated to create "Animated American", a mixed live-action/animated tale of a traditionally animated rabbit put out of work by digital animation and a studio executive

"The Cave: An adaptation of Plato’s Allegory in Clay", is a gorgeous, candle lit, stop motion film depicting the “Allegory of the Cave” commentary from Plato’s Republic using John Grigsby’s clay sculptures.

One of three films in the MFF lineup from Bill Plympton, "Horn Dog" is the fourth installation in his guard dog series, and as one would expect, it comes with a healthy dose of dark and twisted raunch.

"I Am So Proud Of You", from one of my favorite animators, Don Hertzfeldt, is the second part of his award winning short "Everything Will Be OK". All of the animators featured in this year’s festival are dedicated artists who are intimately involved with their craft, but Hertzfeldt is a true auteur whose stick figure characters are a reminder of the heart and artistry that can be achieved with pencil, paper and an appreciation for the basic tools and methods of the animator.

For more info:, (410) 752-8083

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A trip to Krazy Tokyo

The intersection of 47th Street and First Avenue in New York doesn’t look much like the modern megalopolis of Tokyo, but across from the United Nations, inside the beautiful home of the Japan Society is a window into the pop frenzy of Tokyo culture.

Until June 14, KRAZY! The Delirious World of Anime + Manga + Video Games, an exhibition originally organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery, will be installed at the Japan Society.While not as extensive as Vancouver’s original exhibition, at the New York show you’ll find a striking architectural space filled with examples of the artistry of contemporary Japan as expressed through anime culture.

The exhibits, which include art, films, objects, toys, interactive games and comic libraries are accessible to the pop culture uninitiated, but are presented in such a way to hold the interest of J-pop enthusiasts. Don’t miss the artistry of Hisashi Eguchi and Yuichi Yokoyama, nor Ichiro Itano’s iconic mecha designs. Audio clips of Yoko Kanno’s brilliant jazz and blues inspired soundtrack for the quintessential space anime Cowboy Bebop show the extent to which Japanese anime culture has become both a globally influencing and influenced vein.

In addition to the installed art, film screenings are scheduled throughout the exhibition. Of the films on tap, I recommend taking in the movie that introduced anime to many Americans, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira; Masaaki Yuasa's jaw-dropping, abstract absurdity Mind Game; Satoshi Kon’s, haunting, mental maze Paprika; and The Place Promised in Our Early Days, the gorgeous feature-length debut of up-and-coming digital animation virtuoso Makoto Shinkai.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Joost Do It

Video site Joost has added Toei Animation’s anime Slam Dunk to its lineup of free shows. Based on the incredibly popular basketball manga of the same name that sold well over 100 million copies in Japan, the television show was also a huge hit, running for 101 episodes and spawning four movies.

A typical sports anime, Slam Dunk’s episodes breeze by and make for a fascinating watch as animators under the weight of mid-1990s budgets use every trick in the book to animate the game of basketball without relying on computers. Not an easy task. The character design is dated and the aforementioned production on the cheap makes for a sometimes choppy product, but Slam Dunk is a classic and definitely worth a shot (so to speak).

Also worth a look on Joost is a collection of clips from the top five battle scenes from Naruto Shippuden, as picked by the editors of the Naruto Shippuden Collector. Full episodes of the show are available too, but if you're only watching it for the fights anyway, why not maximize your time?

Joost is increasingly distinguishing itself as an excellent source of animation, both classic and contemporary. With partnerships in place with Nippon Television Network, Yoshimoto Kogyo, FUNimation and VIZ Media, Joost has placed itself well as a destination for anime unavailable outside of Japan or premium cable television.
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