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Awesome costumes at New York Comic Con 2010 #video #comics #nycc

Really amazing costumes seen at New York Comic Con 2010. I'm thinking I should plan this into my calendar for next year.

This Year's Animated Feature Oscar Is "Up" For Grabs #film #animation

"Up" is one of Pixar Animation's best animated offerings yet -- some say it tops "Wall-E," though I'll have to get back to you on that. Anyway, "Up" is so far the third-biggest movie of 2009, only behind "Transformers 2" and "Harry Potter 6." Everybody's thinking it's going to run away with the next Animated Feature Oscar -- but I don't think it's going to be that simple.


Image credit: Pixar Animation Studios

The Oscar for Best Animated Feature has seen slim pickings in recent years. But next year, it's likely we're going to have five nominees for the first time in a long while. It's been a great year for animated feature films, and we may see as many as sixteen vying for the five nominee slots. My picks?

#1 - "Up." Hands down, one of the best animated films ever made. Pixar always shines the brightest when it tells fun, original, out-of-this-world stories. You can't get any crazier than an old groan with a flying house, a clumsy but determined Boy Scout, and a talking dog, but at the same time, you can't help but get teary-eyed after the montage of Carl's life with Elly comes to an end. Brilliant.

#2 - "9" by David Acker. What started as a dark, mysterious short film about living puppets trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world has evolved into a full-length feature film, thanks to the discerning eye of Tim Burton. The original short film had caught my eye after being nominated for Best Animated Short a few years ago, and I definitely think it has what it takes to get the top prize.

#3 - "Coraline." Alice in Wonderland gone wrong? "Coraline" shows that stop-motion can still hold its ground against bigger-budgeted 3-D animated films by simply telling one of the most engaging stories told all year.

#4 - "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs." This one's probably my least favorite of the bunch, but I've always liked the Ice Age movies. I always thought they deserved an Oscar if only for bringing us the most hilarious squirrel in history. The first "Ice Age" almost won the 2002 Animated Feature Oscar, only to be upset by "Spirited Away" by Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki...

#5 - ...who happens to be back with "Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea." I think "Ponyo" is the underdog of the bunch, being drawn traditionally (with crayon, at that). But with his brand of magic, Miyazaki stands poised to upset the guys behind "Ice Age" once again.

So ultimately I think it's Pete Docter's "Up" vs. Hayao Miyazaki's "Ponyo," although "9" winning the Oscar would be pretty cool too. My money's still with "Up," though an upset won't upset me in the least.

Sony Brings Home The Bacon With Meatballs

Sony Pictures Animation surprisingly got top spot at the box office this week with its adaptation of the beloved 1978 children's book, "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs." The first weekend revenues of about $30 million wasn't spectacular by itself, but it's still pretty remarkable for an underdog film -- and on a September, too.

September is usually a slow month in the movie business, sandwiched between the fiercely-competitive summer and holiday seasons. "Cloudy" managed to haul in a decent crowd, a good sign that Sony will break even in around three weeks. What's more, it outperformed several other highly-hyped movies.

Sony Pictures Animation has been struggling in the past several years trying to keep up with the industry leaders in animated films, Pixar and Dreamworks. Sony's first animated offering, "Open Season," was mediocre at best, while their second, "Surf's Up," was a box office disappointment.

"Cloudy," on the other hand, sees some clear skies up ahead. The story, only loosely based on the children's book, revolves around a passionate but unsuccessful inventor named Flint Lockwood (voiced by Year One's Bill Hader) who invents a device that turns water into food. After a mishap that launches the device into the atmosphere, his hunger-stricken town gets blessed by showers of hamburgers, hotdogs, pasta, ice cream, and other food items.

Other players in the story include perky weather news intern Sam Sparks (voiced by the "Scary Movies'" Anna Faris) and the evil town mayor (voiced by Bruce Campbell of "Evil Dead" fame). But perhaps the greatest scene stealer is Mr. T, who voices the overprotective cop Earl Devereaux.

All told, Sony may have its most successful animated film in "Cloudy." The funny thing about this week in the movies was that while "Cloudy" surprisingly did well, perhaps the most hyped-up offering -- "Jennifer's Body," starring Megan Fox -- did the worst, opening with a disappointing $5 million.

(I guess people really DID come to see the robots.)

Disney Chairman Dick Cook Steps Down

It appears my initial enthusiasm about the changes happening in Disney these days (the blockbuster $4-billion acquisition of Marvel Comics and getting visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro on board) was a little hasty -- it seems Disney isn't merely adding to its repertoire, but going for a complete overhaul instead. Just recently, Disney chairman Dick Cook announced his resignation effective immediately.

Cook began his 38-year career with Disney as a tour ride operator when he was only 21. Many of his friends saw him as someone who thought, felt, and acted like Walt Disney himself, especially in the conceptualization and creation of films. To see him go so suddenly has raised several questions in the industry.

It's no secret that Cook and Disney CEO Bob Iger don't really get along, and that many of Iger and his company don't totally agree with Cook's veteran, traditional style of doing things. Despite the genial parting press statements from Iger, many believe that Iger actually fired Cook.

The shocking news came off the heels of the D23 Expo, where Cook revealed great plans on Disney's table for the coming years. There was news about taking over the Muppets franchise, Pixar sequels Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, and the highly-anticipated Johnny Depp movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. No one really expected the bad news to top the list.

Cook's resignation should ring bells for many of us in the industry -- remember when former Disney head honcho Michael Eisner fired now-Dreamworks CEO Jeff Katzenberg? Now it would be interesting to see whether Cook is going to start his own animation studio, but I think the bigger issue is this -- who's Disney replacing him with? I don't think anyone has better relations with the big names in the industry as Cook did.

Johnny Depp himself was shocked and saddened by Cook's resignation. Depp said that he trusted Cook deeply, and Cook had stood by his side when the actor's portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates movie raised eyebrows among studio heads.

We all know where the Pirates franchise, and Captain Sparrow with it, went from there. I definitely hope Cook's departure doesn't mean the 4th Pirates movie is going to get killed.

Steven Spielberg was also devastated by the news -- the legendary filmmaker said Cook was the main reason Dreamworks signed a contract with Disney.

Whatever Iger and Disney is planning, one thing is pretty clear -- the Disney we've come to know and love won't be the Disney we're going to be seeing in the future.

Guillermo del Toro Heads To Disney

Guillermo del Toro, the acclaimed filmmaker responsible for "Pan's Labyrinth" and the "Hellboy" movies, is heading into a partnership with Walt Disney Studios, launching a production label called "Disney Double Dare You." It's a production outfit that's out to create new animated films that are more edgy and thrilling than the usual Disney fare -- and about time.

Del Toro is known for his fantastic storytelling skills, often coming up with engaging fantasy worlds and gripping plots. Disney Double Dare You seems to be tailor-made for Del Toro's style of filmmaking, and many people in the industry are thrilled at the new development.

The launching of Disney Double Dare You comes off the heels of Disney's $4-billion acquisition of Marvel Comics, which leads many of us to ask -- just what is Disney thinking? It does seem that, with last year's addition of the male-audience-friendly Disney XD channel, that Disney is reaching out to other demographics and coming up with features that can be enjoyed by all ages.

I personally think these are good developments -- after all, if "The Princess And The Frog" was Disney's only major offering this year, I'd probably think twice about the company's future in the animation industry. The addition of the Marvel superheroes and Guillermo del Toro is a step in the right direction.

What I particularly like about Disney Double Dare You is that Disney is bringing a storytelling powerhouse in del Toro into their roster. Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" was nominated for six Oscars two years ago, winning three. Currently, del Toro is directing two feature films on "The Hobbit," J.R.R Tolkien's prequel to the "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy.

Great news. Great news.

Disney To Buy Marvel For $4 Billion

The Walt Disney Company has just announced that they're planning to buy the comic book giant Marvel Entertainment for a massive sum -- $4 billion. The cash-and-stock buyout will give Disney ownership of Marvel and its 5,000 comic book characters. This is obviously a huge development between two of the most dominant entities in the entertainment industry today.

Interestingly, Marvel Entertainment started out similarly as the Walt Disney Studios did. Martin Goodman, a struggling publisher fresh out of the Great Depression, came out with Marvel Comics #1 in October 1939 -- almost 70 years ago. A few years later, Stanley Lieber -- the great Stan Lee, then only 19 years old -- joined the team, and he would propel Marvel into mainstream popularity over the next several decades.

Marvel today has been enjoying some great success in the movies. It all started with "Blade," a little-known Marvel comic book character, becoming a sleeper hit and grossing $131 million worldwide. The first "X-Men" movie followed and did even better, and "Spider-Man" enjoyed enough success to spin two sequels (with a third in the making). Robert Downey, Jr.'s "Iron Man" has also enjoyed its share of the spotlight, with films about Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers in the works.

The buyout is obviously going to be very good for Marvel -- if Disney gives Marvel free creative reign (as it does with Miramax), then the comic book giant stands to benefit from the massive exposure, advertising, and marketing prowess of Disney. It showed overnight -- Marvel's stock price jumped 26% when news of the buyout first reached the press.

On Disney's front, it's clear to me, this deal has acquired them Marvel's comic book character library. This now gives Disney direct access to the young (and adult) male demographic.

Then again, it does leave one to think -- just what does Disney have in mind? It doesn't stand to gain much unless it exerts some form of creative control over Marvel, which fans will definitely dislike. The edgy violence of Marvel also doesn't seem to fit into Disney's wholesome, feel-good image either. Apparently Disney shareholders think along the same lines -- share prices dropped 2% overnight.

I've seen worried bloggers say that Wolverine and Mickey Mouse wouldn't get along at all. I doubt this is what Disney has in mind, but let's see how things pan out.

Shane Acker's "9" To Hit US Theaters In Three Weeks

It's a rare occasion when an animated short film (10 minutes and 38 seconds) leaves me thinking about it for days afterwards. That's what Shane Acker's "9" did to me when I first saw it in 2005. Acker's short about a tiny puppet trying to survive and save his puppet friends was good enough to be nominated for best animated short in the 2005 Academy Awards, although it didn't get the plum.

Here's the original 2005 short film:

But Acker's efforts seem to be paying off, as he teamed up with Tim Burton to produce a feature-length movie based on the "9" animated short. The movie will carry on the original's dark, gloomy settings, with the puppets (called "stitchpunks") trying to survive in a world overrun by mechanical monsters.

The premise is pretty standard for any post-apocalyptic movie. Machines have eradicated the human race, and now the stitchpunks -- gifted with souls by a now-dead creator -- now have the daunting mission of making life go on in a decrepit, dead world.

The official trailer is really neat:

With powerhouse voice actors like Elijah Wood, Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Christopher Plummer, and Martin Landau, this is yet another 2009 gem you won't want to miss.

PONYO And DISTRICT 9 Hit US Theaters

It's been a great year at the movies so far, and it just keeps getting better -- two movies I'm keeping a close eye on are making their debuts in the United States today, and I'm having high hopes they make their way to Southeast Asian shores soon. I'm talking about Disney's English adaptation of "Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea" and Peter Jackson's "District 9."

I've written about "Ponyo" a few times before, and I can't seem to write enough about it -- it's just plain amazing. Superstar Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, creator of the wildly popular films "Mononoke" and "Spirited Away," came up with the Little Mermaid-esque story about a little goldfish aspiring to be human over a year ago.

In a rarely brilliant move, Disney enlisted powerhouse voice actors to dub "Ponyo" in English. While Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, and 9-year-old Noah Cyrus (who voices Ponyo) make the film sound American-made, there's definitely something about the adventurous storytelling that's distinctly, beautifully Japanese. After making waves at Comic Con, "Ponyo" is expected to be a weekend box-office hit.

On the other hand, there's "District 9," a story about ghettoized refugee aliens trying to eke out a living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The extra-terrestrials are actually only the subplot -- the story revolves around a government official tasked to oversee the eviction and relocation of the aliens. What follows is an effects-heavy, action-packed sci-fi adventure that's wild enough to merit an "R" rating.

"District 9" didn't have the same amount of fanfare that surrounded "Ponyo," but it promises to be one of the year's sleeper hits. We all know how Peter Jackson launched the "Lord Of The Rings" franchise into mainstream popularity -- there's no telling how "District 9" will fare until the weekend rolls around.

Are YOU waiting for any 2009 movie in particular? Drop me a line.

Ponyo Swimming To English-Speaking Theaters Soon

"Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea," the wonderful hand-drawn animated masterpiece by Hayao Miyazaki, made waves at the recently-concluded Comic Con. I have a feeling it drew a more sizeable crowd than the other American offerings in the event -- when Miyazaki took the stage to talk about "Ponyo," adoring fans greeted him in the same way they'd greet a rock star -- on their feet.

As I've written in an article several months ago, "Ponyo" is Miyazaki's latest creation. He's also responsible for the wildly popular offerings "Mononoke" and "Spirited Away," and fans are no doubt waiting for the next work of genius to come from his hands.

"Ponyo" is the story of a young boy who finds a special goldfish near their seaside home. He then names the goldfish "Ponyo," who grows such a liking to him that she wills herself to turn into a young girl. What follows is a charming, magical, and heartwarming story about friendship and adventure.

Okay, you know me. I know I'm out to save what remains of the world's masochism, but there's no denying the power of warm-and-fuzzy movies. "Wall-E" was a good example (like I said, you know me...). "Ponyo" delivers that kind of effect -- only this time, everything is hand-drawn (with crayon, no less!) and vibrantly-colorful.

There's something about "Ponyo" that made the American offerings like "Toy Story 3" and "The Princess and the Frog" seem to pale. One look at the new trailer (released just yesterday) gives you the feeling that this really isn't your usual animated movie.

Okay, of course it isn't -- it was made in Japan. There was a lot of worry about how the dubbing would be like if "Ponyo" ever merited an English translation (American dubbers have been known to be some of the world's worst*). Thankfully, names like Noah Cyrus, Cate Blanchett, Liam Neeson, and Tina Fey lent their talents to bringing this masterpiece to the rest of the world.

Ponyo is set to screen in North America this month, and elsewhere around the world afterwards.

*OK, not really. That award will have to go to Malaysia. If I have to sit and listen to the dubbing made for Doraemon reruns again, I will have to shoot a few voice-over actors.

Online Community Comes Up With First Crowdsourced Animated Film

Some people in Hollywood aren't going to like this. The rest of the us, however, probably will.

Last week saw the debut of "Live Music," a short five-minute animated film about an electric guitar named Riff who falls in love with a violin named Vanessa. It's kind of a rock version of Romeo and Juliet, complete with mocking cymbals, keyboards, and other musical instruments.

What's interesting about this film is that it wasn't made by Pixar, even if the radical plot and setting seems so like them. Nope, "Live Music" was made entirely by animators around the world, collaborating on the project over the Internet.

The upstart animation group Mass Animation, led by Yair Landau, spearheaded the effort. They released the plot, the soundtrack, and some computer animation software on Facebook, for interested animators who wanted to help out in the project.

According to Landau, more than 500,000 Facebook users signed up to help out. In the end, shots from 51 animators were chosen for the final product, which Mass Animation took only $1 million and six months to produce. The animators came from all over the world -- 40 men and 11 men, and between the ages of 14 and 48.

Sony Entertainment Pictures has seen the short and, very impressed, offered to screen it as an opener for their November 12 animated film, Planet 51.

No one really expects "Live Music" to win or get nominated for any award, but you'll have to admit -- all the major animating studios started somewhere. Open-source filmmaking sounds so attractive that I'm pretty sure more crowdsourcing animating "studios" will pop up on Facebook and other social media platforms soon enough.

There's also little doubt that Sony and the other big names in animation will try to leverage this new way of generating good content to their advantage.

But apparently, not everyone likes the idea. Soon after Mass Animation came into the public eye, a group called Anti Mass Animation also opened up on Facebook. They degraded Mass Animation's efforts, calling them "manipulative" and "insulting," among other things.

Meh. Probably Republicans.