Saturday, June 23, 2007

Transforming the Big Screen

Old cartoons don’t fade away. They just get an extreme makeover on the big screen.

First, there was TMNT, based on the TV series about four genetically-modified, crime-fighting turtles named after Renaissance painters.

Next, Transformers, due to stomp its way to cinemas here on June 28. It’s the latest from wham bang director Michael Bay about a galactic war between robots that have the ability to morph into cars and airplanes.

Word on the grapevine is that there are more productions on the drawing board, all inspired by once-popular action toy figures: Thundercats, about feline-like warriors; He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, about a fantasy hero with superhuman powers; G.I. Joe, the all-American, all-terrain soldier; and Voltron, about another giant tin-can killing machine.

Not to be outdone, Hong Kong-based Imagi Studios, the creative force behind TMNT, will be releasing two manga-based films, Gatchaman and Astro Boy, next year and in 2009 respectively.

Where comic book superheroes and videogame adaptations made the rounds in Hollywood just a few years ago, it’s old cartoon franchises that are calling the shots these days.

Behind this blast from the past: Nostalgia.
“Well, beyond the fact they’re really cool — and cheesy,” TMNT director Kevin Munroe told TODAY during a media visit of Imagi Studios in March.

“I’d say it’s because a lot of people who grew up on these cartoons are now getting into decision-making positions within studios.”

And they’re giving these cartoons a computer-generated spit-and-polish which will not only attract fanboys but also a new generation of movie-goers.

“We’re basically making films for eight to 18-year-olds,” commented Imagi’s co-CEO Doug Glen, noting that there are few feature-length cartoons for those in this age group.

“This is the age when they spend more time playing videogames than watching television. So, we’re making films that look a lot like videogames but are darker than family-friendly stuff like Finding Nemo (2003) and Shrek (2001).

The payoff, as always, is in box office receipts. TMNT, for instance, grossed US$88.5 million ($136 million) worldwide, more than double its production budget.

Going by the buzz on the Internet, Transformers is set to do the same, if not perform better.

Watching the bottom line closely from the sidelines are — no surprises — toymakers like Hasbro and Mattel.

Indeed, Hasbro’s chief operating officer Brian Goldner serves as one of three executive producers on Transformers and reportedly had a hand in the creative development of the story.

It’s obvious that the US$150-million film is as much about merchandising as it is about rebooting an old product for the new millennium.

“We think there’s a tremendous upside in the movie and taking the brand to the next level and exposing the idea behind Transformers to a new generation of adults and kids,” Goldner declared in an online interview.

In practical terms, it means re-launching the Transformers product line all over the world.

But trading on nostalgia alone, Munroe cautioned, isn’t enough. “The whole point is that the movie must be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with other superhero movies.”

Transformers producer Tom DeSanto, agreed. “The key is finding out what the story is and if people still care about the characters,” he told

“If you don’t do them right, you’ll have a giant bonfire of money burning in front of the studio.”

With so much hype and money riding on this fad, these toy stories are certainly no child’s play.


No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...