2009-10-30

The Blu-Ray Blog Gets the Scoop on Ponyo

I just wanted to give a shout-out to The Blu-Ray Blog, for breaking the latest scoop on Ponyo's US DVD and Blu-Ray releases.  You can read their Ponyo post here.  Great work, guys!

Hmm...looking closer at the DVD + plush package, I'm noticing that the DVD name-drops Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid."  Interesting.  You always have to do this sort of thing with Americans, in order to get them to try something new.  If it works, it works.  I think the stuffed Ponyo will help sell the movie more than anything.

Ponyo DVD + Plush Gift Set Comng March 2010



Ponyo US producer Frank Marshall discussed the upcoming Ponyo DVD and Blu-Ray on his Twitter page.  He confirms again that the release has been pushed back, from December 8 to next March.  It's unfortunate, yes...but look at what we're getting!

The Ponyo DVD will be packaged with a plush Ponyo as a gift set.  This really looks terrific, and marks the first time any Ghibli merchandise was made available in the US.  Hayao Miyazaki has always been very strict on this matter, refusing to grant merchandising rights to Disney.

I have no idea if this means Ghibli and Disney have come to a new arrangement.  I remember that My Neighbor Totoro is expected to be reissued on DVD soon...a stuffed Totoro or Cat Bus would be terrific.  It would also sell like hotcakes, and be a great boon for Ghibli in the States.  It's all about Merchandising! Merchandising! in the movie business.

Frank Marshall suggests that Blu-Ray Ponyo could be packaged with a plush if the DVD gift set proves successful.  I'm sure we'll all be crossing our fingers.

The American Ponyo and BD will also include a "World of Ghibli" feature, which I'm guessing is one of those standard retrospectives on the studio.  If the edited documentary on the Nausicaa DVD is any indication, then I'd expect Disney to blot out any mention of movies not being released on their label.  But I would hope that all of Ghibli's films would be mentioned and respected.

2009-10-28

ABC Sucks! Booo!!

The Great Pumpkin is on tonight on ABC, and those jerks at ABC chopped it up! Booo!! They cut the cartoon short so they could pack in more stupid commercials. Why does television even bother with programs, anyway? Why not just broadcast wall-to-wall commercials?

The funny thing is that I remember back in the 1980s when ABC started censoring the violence out of the Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons. Have you ever seen the Road Runner without violence? Predictably, this marked the decline and fall of Saturday morning cartoons....imagine that.

Seriously, broadcast tv can't die fast enough. I'm going to Youtube.

Update: Here's what ABC chopped out of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown":

Lucy and the Football - This is one of the classic Peanuts bits. They cut this out to make way for an SUV commercial?! This scene is removed, and we go straight to Linus writing his letter to the Great Pumpkin.

Shroeder at the Piano - I love this part, when Snoopy dances along to Shroeder's piano tunes. Shroeder, of course, starts screwing around with poor Snoopy's emotions by playing really sad songs. Heh heh.

Did I miss anything? I feel like quick shots were cut here and there, but maybe my memory is playing tricks with me. I think some shots of Snoopy sneaking around were cut, particularly the climax when he rises out of the pumpkin patch. There's also the short bit of Lucy putting Linus in his bed.

Feel free to add in your own two cents to this post. Thank God for Youtube, I say. I'm not paying for a DVD - Charlie Brown cartoons should be free.

2009-10-26

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

(Update: This video has since been removed from Youtube. Sorry.)

It's time for one of the great holiday traditions, the Charlie Brown Special!  Yaayy!!  It really isn't a major holiday unless there's a Peanuts cartoon attached.  Now all that's needed are some Dolly Madisons and we're ready to go.

Great Pumpkin, in my humble opinion, is the greatest of all the animated Charlie Brown films.  The artwork, color and animation are a step above A Charlie Brown Christmas (my close #2), the story is more filled-out and lively, and any number of episodes will dance in your head for days.  There's Snoopy as the World War I flying ace, there's pumpkin carving, there's Charlie Brown's ghost costume, hehe hehe...and Charlie Brown with a bag full of rocks.  Hah hah hah!

The heart of Great Pumpkin, of course, is Linus and his unshakable belief among the skeptics.  Modern hipsters might see this as a criticism of religion, but we must remember that Charles Shultz was a devout Christian (the love and equality kind, not the neocon warmonger and swindler televangelist kind).  He usually treats Charlie Brown as his avatar, but I think he's speaking through Linus in this cartoon.  It's an honest, heartfelt portrayal, never hiding from disappointment or unanswered prayers.  Sparky Shultz did not fear "God's Silence" and the creeping doubt.  He embraced it, accepted it, an humbly understood his place in the world.

I shouldn't have to point out how today's animated films are formulaic or openly pandering.  We all have the ticket stubs and empty wallets and the disappointments.  But that's to be expected from product created by conglomerates.  Got to maximize the bottom line.  Got to protect the franchise.  And that means taking no risks.  It's so very unfortunate, because the Peanuts cartoons demonstrate, time and time again, how you can create a classic with little money.  There should be avenues available for similar storytellers today.  The audiences are out there.

Of course, when I was a kid, poisoning the Halloween candy was a serious scare, so rocks wouldn't be the worst thing to get.  I would have prefered rocks to, say, apples or money.  What kind of cheapskate hands out quarters to kids on Halloween?  Don't give me money!  Use that money to buy me candy!

Halloween is the one great children's holiday.  Despite its medieval gothic roots, which have always freaked out the fundamentalist Christians, this night is about one thing only - kids dressing up in costumes and scoring six weeks worth of free candy.  It's a moment of pure innocence and wonder.  The dark skies and bare trees are not scary at all; they're enchanting, inviting.  The ghosts have those Twix candies, and the owls are handing out candy pumpkins.  Yaayy!!

It really isn't the same thing when you're an adult, and can just buy candy at the store whenever you want.  It's never the same.  But I can still watch The Great Pumpkin, and for half an hour, be eight years old once more.

2009-10-19

"Ponyo DVD Will Be Out in March"

So says Ponyo's American producer Frank Marshall.  He doesn't mention the Blu-Ray, but I would have to assume the BD will be released alongside the DVD in the States.

At least we finally have a release date.  Great news, everybody!

Ponyo in France - December 23 For Blu-Ray and DVD


Good news for all Ghibli Freaks in France: Ponyo will see its release on DVD and Blu-Ray this December 23.  There are four releases in all: standard DVD, deluxe DVD (which includes storyboards), Blu-Ray (includes storyboards), and Blu-Ray + DVD combo.

The prices range from 19.99-29.99 Euros.  Bonus materials include tv spots, press conferences, and numerous interviews with the production staff: Hayao Miyazaki (writer/director), Toshio Suzuki (producer), Katsuya Kondo (animation director), Noboru Yoshida (art director), Michiyo Yasuda (in her final film as color designer), Shuji Inoue (sound designer), and Joe Hisaishi (composer).

It will be interesting to see which of these features will appear on the eventual North American Ponyo release, which has been delayed until next year.  Needless to say, we're all extremely jealous.  This is like looking at presents that Santa took out of his sack and locked in the closet.  French kids get Ponyo.  We're getting socks.


2009-10-15

Ponyo Blu-Ray Screenshots

I posted these screenshots during the Labor Day holiday, and I'm not sure if everyone had a chance to see Ponyo on Blu-Ray.  So here we go, have at them again!  Remember to click on the photos to see them in full-size, and they're very big, so keep that in mind.  Let's see if we can get these circulating on the internet...good luck!












2009-10-14

Deep Thought (10/14)

I just realized something.  I am really terrible at making predictions.  Have any of my Ghibli-related predictions paid off, or have they all gone in the opposite direction?

Literally the only gamble I made this year that has paid off was meeting Marcee Arias Rubio.  That's got to be it!  God cashed in my lifetime supply of karma chips.  From here on out, I won't be able to hit the broad side of a barn.

2009-10-13

Ponyo, Ghibli DVD's Pushed Back to January?

Uh-oh. Here we go again, kids.

Ultimate Disney is marking the upcoming Studio Ghibli DVDs for an "expected" January release. This is pushed back from early December, when the titles were expected to be released for the Christmas season.

Ponyo is planned for release on DVD and Blu-Ray; Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki's Delivery Service are planned for re-release on DVD. Those three titles are now out-of-print.

This is bad news. Obviously, I don't have to explain the details why. Missing the Holidays is an especially hard blow (guess it's back to dreidels for me!), and, frankly, I'd like to hear a good explanation for the delay.

The problem is that "expected in January" isn't a definite date, and an official announcement has yet to arrive. These movies could be delayed endlessly. It seems bizarre that the biggest shopping season of the year is deliberately avoided. If Disney isn't waiting for December, just what are they waiting for?

So now are we back to the old Disney games, where the Ghibli films are trapped in limbo indefinitely? I was hoping the thawing relations earlier this year would continue, but it appears that Ponyo's theatrical performance has changed things. Of course, that's just my guess at the moment, but it's the best guess I have right now.

Really, if the Disney suits are unhappy with Ponyo's box-office totals, they have no one but themselves to blame. I honestly don't know if Ponyo could have earned more than $14 million, but I think if we look at the larger picture - the performance of foreign films and Japanese anime films - Ponyo was a great success.

Studio Ghibli will never be more than a solid niche in America, but that's not a bad thing. We're living in a Long Tail world. Besides, have you seen what "mainstream success" looks like today? Fake Barbie Doll pop, American Idol, Michael Bay summer blockbusters....yuck. Take the road less traveled on, and it will make all the difference.

2009-10-10

The Simpson's Movie: A Review...or, My Eyes, The Goggles Do Nothing!



Good Lord, this movie sucks!

I had high hopes for The Simpson's Movie, and, indeed, it begins on a high note, with a great Itchy & Scratchy sequence that ends with Scratchy eating hundreds of nuclear warheads.  Hah hah!  Then the camera pans back to reveal we're watching a movie, and Homer stands up and berates the audience for paying money to see a show they're getting on tv for free.  Hah hah...more funny.

Homer wasn't kidding.  The jokes were good for about, oh...20 minutes.  Then everything went south and became unbearably dull.  20 minutes, or, really, one decent tv episode.  The rest of the picture is such a slave to Hollywood formula that I was looking behind my couch for a paperback copy of "Screenwriting 101."  Yuck.

Do I really have to write more?  I don't feel like it.  You've had more than enough time to see this movie if you're so inclined.  I'm really the last one to the party.  I think the problem here is the same as the tv show - The Simpson's has run out of gas.  After 20 years on the air, every conceivable joke, story, and scenario has been played out at least half a dozen times.  It's just a gag show now, and it's been that way for at least a decade.

Ugh, what a letdown of a picture.  I could imagine a wacky comedy like one of Mel Brooks' classics - Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs - or any number of classic screwball farces.  No such luck.  What's here is just a standard-issue formula picture that has been used on about a billion summer blockbusters.

About the only good thing to come out of this movie is the animation, which is much fuller than tv.  The production team definitely put a priority on animating the Simpsons as they never could on the small screen.  For the most part, it works.  They didn't turn The Simpson's into an overdrawn Disney cartoon, but augment whenever necessary.  It's a very nice looking movie, if still a bit bland, but that's because of the art design of The Simpson's, and it's far too late to do anything about that now.

Yuck...what a lousy movie.  The second half barely had any good jokes, aside from one punch line here or there.  I just didn't care.  Why should I care about some serious plot, especially when these "plots" have been played out a dozen times on the tv.  Why am I supposed to care?  Homer is impulsive and dumb?  He's an inattentive father and husband?  Springfield is going to be destroyed?  What, again?

Other bad choices: why is Bart suddenly drinking hard alcohol in the middle of the picture?  When did he start doing that?  And why did he suddenly stop five minutes later?  What's the deal with that?  And why the need to show "adult" content that couldn't get past the censors?  Homer shouldn't flip the bird, and Marge shouldn't swear.  It doesn't fit their characters.  The part where Bart is buck naked is well-known, but the writers forgot that what makes those kind of scenes funny (remember Austin Powers?) is NOT showing the nudity.  That's the whole gag.  Flash the audience and you ruin the joke.

This movie ruins a lot of jokes.  Most everything else is just one simple throwaway line after another, all subservient to that damned stupid plot.  Spider Pig was funny, yes.  Hearing the Spider Pig song the third time...not funny.

Seriously, people.  Lose the Screenwriter's Handbook, please?  I was always skeptical of the idea of a Simpson's Movie, but I still wanted to discover a good movie.  This is a major disappointment.

Toy Story 3 Trailer



Here it is, folks - the main trailer for Pixar's upcoming Toy Story 3. Looks very good, and it's definitely grabbed my interest. It promises more pathos this time around, as the boy grows up and leaves for college, leaving all the childhood toys behind. This is going to be an interesting challenge for Pixar - this is a subject with a definite end date (the end of childhood), but it's countered by the public's need (and Disney's need) for endless sequels.

Toy Story 3 was originally used as Disney's bargaining chip against Pixar when it appeared the studio would leave and become fully independent. Disney threatened to flood the market with Pixar spin-offs, since they owned the rights to the characters. This move essentially forced Pixar back into the fold...which ended with Steve Jobs spectacular jujitsu of a takeover. I'm still amazed he pulled it off.

Anyway, Toy Story 3 is looking great. It's definitely a showcase for the technology and graphics skill of the Pixar artists. Compare the clean, sparse design of the original movie with the 2009-2010 installment. The studio is eager to show off their considerable skills, and remind everyone why they remain America's best animation studio.

Will this actually be the final Toy Story? Will childhood truly end, as it must in real life? Or will the pressure to keep Buzz and Woody alive and wisecracking for sequel after sequel? This is a very real dilemma for Pixar right now, as we can see from the slate of upcoming sequels to Cars and Monsters, Inc. and possibly more. This is an interesting new chapter in their careers, so let's hope they manage to find the right balance between satisfying the market and taking creative risks.

Update (8:25 pm): It appears that this trailer was meant for movie theaters only. Disney has shut the Youtube video down. D'oh!

2009-10-05

Toy Story 3-D Double Feature in Theaters

I see that the Toy Story "double feature" has opened in theaters this weekend, where it will have a short two week run.  I'm looking forward to seeing them on the big screen.  The two Toy Story movies are probably my favorite Pixar movies, so I can't pass this up.  They are also being presented in 3-D, and I'm hoping that they keep the cheap gimmicks to a minimum.  Whenever I think of 3D movies, I think of "Doctor Tongue's 3D House of Pancakes" on Monster Horror Chiller Theater on SCTV.  Heh heh...the skit it literally John Candy waving a plate of pancakes at the camera...heh heh.

So "3-D" is an ancient gimmick.  Ah, well.  Hollywood is desperate to fight internet piracy, and they see the handwriting is on the wall.  When your iPod can store as many high-definition movies as it currently does songs...well, I don't want to see movies go extinct, but this is going to be a very serious problem.  I really don't know how Hollywood tackles it.

Anyway, go see Toy Story 1 & 2 while you can.