On the heels of renewal through its 28th season, a perennial contract dispute (with a twist) has at long last claimed one of The Simpsons' foundational cast members. Harry Shearer, the versatile artist behind such indelible characters as Ned Flanders, Mr. Burns, Smithers, Principal Skinner, Kent Brockman, McBain, Dr. Hibbert, Rev. Lovejoy, Dr. Marvin Monroe, Otto-man, Lenny, and dozens of others will be departing the show at the end of the current season. Of course, the show must go on.
Ridley Scott's new film Exodus: Gods and Kings recasts the myth of Moses in typically grimdark swords-and-sandals fashion. It... ain't so good. Want something more artful? Look no further than The Prince of Egypt [alt], an underrated masterpiece of DreamWorks' traditional animation era. Directed by Brenda Chapman (a first for women in animation), scored to spectacular effect by Hans Zimmer and Stephen Schwartz, and voiced by, among others, Voldemort, Batman, and Professor X, the ambitious film features gorgeous, striking visuals and tastefully integrated CGI in nearly every scene. It also manages the improbable feat of maturing beyond cartoon clichés while humanizing the prophet's journey from carefree scion to noble (and remorseful) liberator without offending half the planet -- while still being quite a fun ride. Already seen it? Catch the making-of documentary, or click inside for more. [more inside]
Are you a fan of inventive, black-humored sci-fi/fantasy animation? Desperate to fill the Futurama-shaped hole in your heart? Look no further than Rick and Morty, the superb new Adult Swim series from animator Justin "Lemongrab" Roiland and Community darling Dan Harmon. Inspired by a (terrible and very NSFW) Back To The Future knock-off, the show pairs a naïve young teen (Morty) with his cynical, alcoholic, mad scientist grandfather (Rick), each episode exploring a trope -- dreams, aliens, innerspace, parallel universes, virtual reality -- and turning it inside-out with intricate plotting, eye-catching art, and dark, whipsmart humor (with plenty of improvisation along the way). A ratings hit already secured for a second season, the show returns from an Olympics-induced hiatus tomorrow -- in the meantime, why not sample the six episodes aired so far: Pilot - Lawnmower Dog - Anatomy Park - M. Night Shaym-Aliens! - Meeseeks and Destroy - Rick Potion #9. Want more? Promo/highlight reel - AV Club reviews - TVTropes - Reddit - Rick & Morty ComicCon panel - Storyboard Test - Soundtrack samples - Play the "Rushed Licensed Adventure" point-and-click game
Initiate salutation cascade, star-citizens! Seven years ago tonight, Stephen Colbert introduced Tek Jansen to the world. Originally a one-off parody of vanity fiction by media blowhards, the "super-awesome spectacular ultraspy" became the center of a small universe of comics, cartoons, and books, his exploits satirizing awful pulp sci-fi, rampant
Mary Sue "Marty Sue" syndrome, and the cheesy melodrama of 1970s Hanna-Barbera. Look inside for US/Canadian links to both animated seasons along with other content available on the web. [more inside]
Young Edd Gould always enjoyed drawing comics of himself and his friends. Growing up in the internet age, his doodles evolved into Flash animations of increasing complexity, and in time Edd and pals Tom Ridgewell and Matt Hargreaves teamed up to produce an "Eddsworld" series of online webtoons and comics. At first crude and halting, the group's "eddisodes" progressed from surreal shorts and one-shots into full-fledged productions that pushed the boundaries of amateur web animation, with expressive characters, full soundtracks, complex effects, and a fast-paced, off-kilter sense of humor: MovieMakers - Spares - WTFuture - Rock Bottom - Hammer & Fail (2). At its height, the college co-op was producing shorts for Mitchell & Webb and the UN Climate Change Conference, fielding offers from Paramount and Cartoon Network, and racking up millions of hits on YouTube. Work slowed, however, when Gould was diagnosed with leukemia -- a relatively survivable form, though, and Gould carried on working gamely through his hospital stays. So it came as a shock last week when Matt and Tom announced that Edd had passed away, prompting an outpouring of grief and gratitude from all the fans he'd entertained and inspired in his short 23 years.
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba! It's been nearly two decades since that glorious savanna sunrise, and once again The Lion King is at the top of the box office. It's a good chance to revisit what made the original the capstone of the Disney Renaissance, starting with the music. Not the gaudy show tunes or the Elton John ballads, but the soaring, elegiac score by Hans Zimmer which, despite winning an Oscar, never saw a full release outside of an unofficial bootleg. Luckily, it's unabridged and high-quality, allowing one to lay Zimmer's haunting, pulse-pounding, joyful tracks alongside the original video (part 2, 3, 4), revealing the subtle leitmotifs and careful matching of music and action. In addition, South African collaborator Lebo M wove traditional Zulu chorals into the score, providing veiled commentary on scenes like this; his work was later expanded into a full album, the Broadway stage show, and projects closer to his heart. Speaking of expanded works, there were inevitable sequels -- all of which you can experience with The Lion King: Full Circle (download guide), a fan-made, three-hour supercut of the original film and its two follow-ups. Want more? Look... harder... [more inside]
Two and a half years ago, we explored the early history of Cartoon Network... but it wasn't the only player in the youth television game. As a matter of fact, Fred Seibert -- the man responsible for the most inventive projects discussed in that post -- first stretched his creative legs at the network's truly venerable forerunner: Nickelodeon. Founded as Pinwheel, a six-hour block on Warner Cable's innovative QUBE system, this humble channel struggled for years before Seibert's innovative branding work transformed it into a national icon and capstone of a media empire. Much has changed since then, from the mascots and game shows to the versatile orange "splat." But starting tonight in response to popular demand, the network is looking back with a summer programming block dedicated to the greatest hits of the 1990s, including Hey Arnold!, Rocko's Modern Life, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, The Ren & Stimpy Show, Double Dare, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Legends of the Hidden Temple, and All That. To celebrate, look inside for the complete story of the early days of the network that incensed the religious right, brought doo-wop to television, and slimed a million fans -- the golden age of Nickelodeon. (warning: monster post inside) [more inside]
It was bound to happen eventually. After a quarter-century, 26 Academy Awards, and an unparalleled streak of eleven artistic and commercial triumphs, Pixar's latest project, Cars 2, is Certified Rotten. Critics have assailed the film as a slick but hollow vehicle for Disney's $10 billion-dollar Cars
merchandising industry "lifestyle brand," replacing the original's serviceable tale of small-town redemption with zany spy games, hyperactive chase sequences, and even more lowbrow aww-shucks potty humor from Larry the Cable Guy. But it's not all bad news! Along with a fun new Toy Story 3 short, preceding today's (3-D) premiere showings is a first look at next year's Brave -- a darkly magical original story set in ancient Scotland featuring the studio's first female lead (and director). Evocative high-res concept art [mirror] is available at the official website, and character sketches have leaked to the web, with the apparently striking teaser trailer sure to follow. Also, be sure not to miss the sneak peak of Brave's associated short, "La Luna"!
Romantically Apocalyptic is a morbidly funny webcomic from Russo-Canadian digital artist Vitaly Alexius (interview, gallery). Set in the starkly diaphanous wreckage of post-nuclear Manhattan, it follows an eccentric contingent of Soviet soldiers as they poke through the detritus of the past and contend with the mutants, cultists, aliens, and other horrors that inhabit the ruins. The comic's striking art style is the result of an arduous process, using "Photoshop, live actors, dead actors, sexy assistants, greenscreen, a camera, and a Wacom tablet" to composite "6 years worth of textures: 1 terabyte of stock footage, shot in real abandoned, forgotten places of our world." This multimedia ambition has burgeoned into plans for a community-powered animated/live-action web series (teaser video, animatic, fanart). While waiting for that to come together, be sure to spend some time on Kimmo Lemetti's excellent Gone With the Blastwave (previously), a very similar webcomic project with a more subdued palette that turned out nearly fifty pages of richly-illustrated post-apocalyptic humor before going on indefinite hiatus.
"Welcome to the Zion Archive. You have selected Historical File #12-1: The Second Renaissance." So begins the short film of the same name by Mahiro Maeda [Flash: 1 2 - QuickTime: 1 2] -- a devastating yet beautiful work of animation. Originally produced to explain the backstory behind the Matrix trilogy, Maeda's project ended up telling a story far darker and more affecting than any blockbuster. Using a blend of faux documentary footage and visual metaphor, his serene Instructor relates in biblical tones the saga of Man and Machine, how age-old cruelty and hatred birthed a horrifying, apocalyptic struggle that consumed the world. Packed with striking imagery and historical allusions galore, this dark allegory easily transcends the films it was made for. But while "The Second Renaissance" is arguably the best work to come from the Matrix franchise, it's hardly alone -- it's just one of the projects made for The Animatrix, a collection of nine superb anime films in a wide variety of styles designed to explore the universe and broaden its scope beyond the usual sci-fi action of the movies. Click inside for a guide to these films with links to where they can be watched online, along with a look at The Matrix Comics, a free series of comics, art, and short fiction created for the same purpose by some of the best talent in the business. [more inside]
Ten years ago today, Cartoon Network aired a very special episode of The Powerpuff Girls. Though nominally a harmless kids series about three adorable kindergarten superheroes, creator Craig McCracken attracted an unexpectedly diverse audience (50% male, 25% adult) by sneaking in a surprising amount of violence and adult in-jokes -- and on that last point, this particular episode was king. Broadcast on the 37th anniversary of their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, "Meet the Beat-Alls" was an extended and sophisticated metaphor for the rise and fall of The Beatles, cramming more than forty song references and dozens of visual jokes into only ten minutes of animated allegory. Catch the original episode here or read the transcript, but for the full effect, watch this remarkable YouTube mash-up that splices the referenced song clips directly into the audio track and plasters the screen with helpful annotations. Want more PPG goodness? You can start with the special "Powerpuff Girls Rule!!!" (part 2), a sly, hyperkinetic celebration of the show's tenth anniversary directed by McCracken himself that features every character (and totally subverts an important one). But as far as weirdness goes, it's hard to top Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi, a long-running fan-made webcomic which stars the trio alongside Dexter, Samurai Jack, Invader Zim, and tons of other network icons in an unusually dark manga adventure. Oh, and don't forget your plate of beans.
Stephen Biesty is an award-winning British illustrator famous for his bestselling "Incredible" series of engineering art books: Incredible Cross-Sections, Incredible Explosions, Incredible Body, and many more. A master draftsman, Biesty does not use computers or even rulers in composing his intricate and imaginative drawings, relying on nothing more than pen and ink, watercolor, and a steady hand. Over the years, he's adapted his work to many other mediums, including pop-up books, educational games (video), interactive history sites, and animation. You can view much of his work in the zoomable galleries on his professional page, or click inside for a full listing of direct links to high-resolution, desktop-quality copies from his and other sites, including several with written commentary from collaborator Richard Platt [site, .mp3 chat]. [more inside]
Based on a quirky animated short that charmed MeFi four years ago, Pendleton Ward's Adventure Time is arguably the most delightful thing in animation right now. Following the surreal adventures of 12-year-old Finn and his magical dog Jake in the fantastical post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo, the series has breezed through two seasons and secured a third -- while generating a devoted fandom along the way (partially through savvy callbacks to things like 4chan's Courage Wolf meme and Kate Beaton's pudgy Shetland pony). There's an exhaustive wiki, an active discussion board, oodles of fan-art, and AdventureTi.me, a fan-made repository of previous episodes (complete with a mobile version) that makes catching up a cinch. Want more? Then check out the show's bountiful production diaries, its equally in-depth blog at Frederator Studios, catch some official clips, follow Pen Ward on Twitter, or buy or make your own awesome Finn hat (though not necessarily what lies beneath). Oh, and a new episode is airing... oh, right now. Totally math! [more inside]
Unlike many cinematic exports, the Disney canon of films distinguishes itself with an impressive dedication to dubbing. Through an in-house service called Disney Character Voices International, not just dialogue but songs, too, are skillfully re-recorded, echoing the voice acting, rhythm, and rhyme scheme of the original work to an uncanny degree (while still leaving plenty of room for lyrical reinvention). The breadth of the effort is surprising, as well -- everything from Arabic to Icelandic to Zulu gets its own dub, and their latest project, The Princess and the Frog, debuted in more than forty tongues. Luckily for polyglots everywhere, the exhaustiveness of Disney's translations is thoroughly documented online in multilanguage mixes and one-line comparisons, linguistic kaleidoscopes that cast new light on old standards. Highlights: "One Jump Ahead," "Prince Ali," and "A Whole New World" (Aladdin) - "Circle of Life," "Hakuna Matata," and "Luau!" (The Lion King) - "Under the Sea" and "Poor Unfortunate Souls" (The Little Mermaid) - "Belle" and "Be Our Guest" (Beauty and the Beast) - "Just Around the Riverbend" (Pocahontas) - "One Song" and "Heigh-Ho" (Snow White) - "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" (Cinderella) - Medley (Pinocchio) - "When She Loved Me" (Toy Story 2) - Intro (Monsters, Inc.)
Toy Story 3 hits theaters today, and it's already winning universal acclaim as an enchanting and heartbreaking wonderwork, employing understated 3D and a "real-time" perspective that deftly capitalizes on the nostalgia and can't-go-home-again angst of a generation that grew up with the series. It has a strong pedigree, with 11-year-old predecessor Toy Story 2 the rare sequel to equal its forebear, 1995's Toy Story (itself the first CGI feature in history). And it joins a lofty stable of films: over the last 15 years, Pixar has put out an unbroken chain of ten commercial and critical successes that have grossed over $5 billion worldwide and collected 24 Academy Awards (including the second-ever Best Picture nom for animation with Up), a legacy that rivals some of the greatest franchises in film history. But there's rumbling on the horizon. Although the studio has been hailed for its originality (of the 50 top-grossing movies in history, only nine were original stories -- and five of them were by Pixar), two of their upcoming projects are sequels, both of them based some of their least-acclaimed films (Cars 2 in 2011 and Monsters, Inc. 2 in 2012). And while 2012 will also bring
The Bear and the Bow Brave, the first Pixar flick to feature a female protagonist [previously], fellow newcomer Newt has been canceled. With WALL-E/Up/Toy Story 3 guru Andrew Stanton focusing on his 2012 adaptation of John Carter of Mars and with forays into live-action already in development, does this mark the end of the golden age of Pixar? Or is this latest entry lasting proof that even the toughest case of sequelitis can be raised to the level of masterpiece? [more inside]
Five years before Toy Story proved to the world that pure CGI -- a field long relegated to the role of special effects -- could be an art form in its own right, Odyssey Productions attempted to do the same on a slightly smaller scale. Drawing on the demo reels, commercials, music videos, and feature films of over 300 digital animators, the studio collated dozens of cutting-edge clips into an ambitious 40-minute art film called The Mind's Eye. Backed by an eclectic mix of custom-written electronic, classical, oriental, and tribal music, the surreal, dreamlike imagery formed a rough narrative in eight short segments that illustrated the evolution of life, technology, and human society: Creation - Civilization Rising - Heart of the Machine - Technodance - Post Modern - Love Found - Leaving the Bonds of Earth - The Temple - End credits (including names and sources for all clips used). But that was just the beginning... [more inside]
As households across the world quietly deploy presents from St. Nick, Kate Beaton, author of the charming historical webcomic Hark, a Vagrant! (previ ously) remembers the tradition in a bittersweet light. In spite of venerable op-eds (and their animated offspring), such pain moves some to question whether parents should teach their children to believe in Santa Claus at all.
Saturday morning cartoons were once a staple of American television, but by the year 2000 they had all but disappeared. Of course, the Internet never forgets. Case in point: Cartoon Network Video -- a free, searchable, ad-supported service that provides hundreds of full-length episodes of classic shows like Dexter's Laboratory, Cow and Chicken, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Johnny Bravo, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, and The Powerpuff Girls, as well as current offerings and scads of shorter material. Too recent for you? Then give Kids WB Video a whirl -- it does the same thing with the same interface, but for older programs like Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Smurfs, Scooby-Doo, Thundercats, and the original Space Ghost. If you're in the mood to learn (and don't mind some live-action), PBS Kids Video has educational fare such as Arthur, Wishbone, and Zoom. And don't forget about Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, The Magic Schoolbus and Schoolhouse Rock! Now if only we had some Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs...
Like iScribble and Oekaki before it, DoInk.com is a place for people to create collaborative artwork online. The difference? It's for animation. [more inside]
"Once upon a time there was a game that nobody ever played, sitting on the floor in the back room of an empty arcade. The game was full of life and strife, mega-monsters and robot fights. We Are The Strange was the title. Now meet the players who live inside, idle." The story of filmmaker M dot Strange and his solo indie masterpiece, We Are The Strange. [more inside]
While Adult Swim is generally regarded as the pioneer of irreverent short-form animation -- especially for 'toons that reimagine past hits -- it wasn't always the king. In fact, the late-night programming block arguably found its birth in a series of short toons and interstitials that ran in the heyday of its daytime alter ego, the venerable Cartoon Network. The brainchild of C.N. Creative Director Michael Ouweleen and Hanna-Barbera chief Fred Seibert, these cartoons reinterpreted the network's properties through stock footage, indie music, and original animation in a wide variety of styles, as well as introducing prototypes of characters that would become some of the most famous in the history of American animation. (warning: monster post inside) [more inside]