August 30, 2009

A Fish Tale (2000/2006)

OKAY, A LITTLE BACKSTORY to set up this review…

1. My wife showed a Hello Kitty tribute video to my boys, featuring the song “Little Kitty” by Danish pop duo Creamy.
2. Dash really liked the song, so I tried to find the mp3. Turns out it’s from Creamy’s very rare album, which I found a link to on this blog.
3. The album also features “Help! I’m a Fish” – which was the theme to an animated kids’ film of the same name, released in Europe in 2000.
4. The movie was released in the U.S. in 2006 as A Fish Tale – and I found it on for $5.

• Three children – adventurous Fly (Jeff Pace), his baby sister Stella (Michelle Westerson), and their brainiac cousin Chuck (Aaron Paul) – accidentally get turned into fish after drinking a potion made by an eccentric scientist (Monty Python’s Terry Jones).
• The kids end up in the sea, with one problem: They must find and drink the antidote within 48 hours, or remain as fish forever.
• However, the antidote has fallen into the hands (fins?) of a villainous bottom-feeder (Alan Rickman), who has big plans for the antidote, since it can turn fish into humans. Will the kids get the antidote in time?

The first thing that caught my eye in A Fish Tale was the animation. It’s largely 2-D, with fluid motion that often reminded me of classic Disney films (seriously).
The movie is only 77 minutes long – a short yet near-perfect length to keep the attention of young viewers.
A Fish Tale does have its flaws. It jumps between scenes a bit abruptly at times, and while the 2-D animation is impressive, the film’s attempts at CGI animation for larger creatures and objects are lackluster, underdeveloped, and feel out of place.
• Don’t let the atrocious box art fool you; A Fish Tale was surprisingly entertaining. It’s a fun adventure and a nice detour from the animated movies that typically blanket the U.S. market.

Rating: 3 stars
(out of 5)

What did Dash think?
A Fish Tale isn’t huge on laughs, but it had Dash chuckling several times. He definitely enjoyed the movie.

Will your kids like it?
• While it’s no Finding Nemo or The Little Mermaid, your young kids should enjoy A Fish Tale (it’s a helluva lot better than Shark Tale, that’s for sure).
• There are a few scenes that may be too intense for preschoolers, including a school of menacing piranhas, a shark who munches on other fish characters, and a fish who “drowns” after turning human from drinking too much of the antidote.

Will your FilmMother like it?
While it’s far from a classic, A Fish Tale is a highly watchable movie. She should find it fun to watch with the kids, provided she doesn’t judge it too harshly against the other sea movies I mentioned above.

Trailer (as Help! I’m a Fish):

A Fish Tale
• Directors: Stefan Fjeldmark, Michael Hegner, Greg Manwaring
• Screenwriters: Tracy J. Brown, Stefan Fjeldmark, Karsten Kiilerich, John Stefan Olsen
• Stars: Alan Rickman, Terry Jones, David Bateson, Jeff Pace, Aaron Paul, Michelle Westerson
• MPAA Rating: G

Buy A Fish Tale for less at >>

August 24, 2009

Suddenly (1954)

IN THE YEARS BETWEEN the end of World War II and his Oscar-winning role in From Here To Eternity, Frank Sinatra was in a slump. Women didn’t need to fawn over him now that their boys were back home from overseas.

Perhaps desperate to try anything – and maybe not knowing the comeback he’d enjoy from Eternity – Sinatra played against type as a villain in Suddenly.

• The town of Suddenly, California is a quiet, small place where not much happens (“They’re thinking of changing the town to Gradually,” jokes a cop to an out-of-towner). But today is special: The President is arriving by train at 5pm.
• In town, sheriff Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) pines for Ellen (Nancy Gates), who lost her husband Pete in “the war” three years ago (I’m guessing Korea, since it’s 1954). She’s overprotective in raising her scrappy (and mouthy) 8-year-old son Pidge (Kim Charney) while sharing her hilltop home with her father-in-law (James Gleason).
• That afternoon, a trio of sharp-dressed men (led by Sinatra) visit Ellen’s home, announcing themselves as Secret Servicemen who need to inspect the house because of its direct view of the train station in the town below.
• During their “inspection,” Tod shows up with the real head of the Secret Service (Willis Bouchey). Sinatra’s crew opens fire, killing the Secret Serviceman and wounding Tod. It’s here we learn that Sinatra’s character, John Baron, is a hitman hired to assassinate the President for half a million dollars. He and his team hold Ellen, Tod, Pidge, Pop, and an unsuspecting TV repairman (James Lilburn) hostage. Baron’s rules are simple: Anybody tries to stop him, and he kills Pidge.


Director Lewis Allen plays out the events of Suddenly within a four-hour span (and a taut 75-minute film) with very little musical score, providing a relatable level of realism – and an atmosphere of tension, helplessness, and fear. The script by Richard Sale (The White Buffalo) offers clever tricks and turns, as well as many memorable lines of dialogue. (Ellen: “Haven’t you any feelings at all?” Baron: “No, I haven’t, lady, they were taken outta me by experts.”)

It’s intriguing and entertaining to see cinematic “good guy” Sinatra and film noir heavy Hayden both play against type. Sinatra is terrific as Baron, an unbalanced killer who tries a bit too hard to prove his toughness. He’s a villain that's easy to despise – a scrawny weasel who assaults kids, menaces women, and kicks people in their bullet wounds. (It’s a shame he didn’t take more chances like this.) And Hayden does a great job of using Sale’s dialogue to “get” to Sinatra’s Baron in an attempt to throw him off his game.

Contrary to popular belief, Sinatra did not try to have prints of Suddenly removed from the marketplace following John F. Kennedy’s assassination; Sinatra’s family has gone to great lengths over the years to debunk this popular rumor.

Suddenly is an edgy, grim thriller for its era. Get past the dated, hokey intro and you’ll be rewarded for your time.

Where to watch Suddenly:
Suddenly fell into the public domain years ago and now exists in many ultra-cheap versions of poor quality. However, a newly restored version of Suddenly was released this summer, featuring the original black and white film and a colorized version (see below).
• You can also view or download Suddenly free from

On a side note…I requested interviews from two of the surviving stars of Suddenly, Nancy Gates and Kim Charney. I never heard back from Gates, and Charney (who’s now a surgeon) declined my request.

Rating: 4.5 stars
(out of 5)

Will your kids want to watch it?
Teens might find Suddenly entertaining if they give it a chance, but I can’t imagine young kids wanting to watch it – unless they’ve got some kind of early fascination with black-and-white crime dramas. And while there’s no actual bloodshed in Suddenly, it has plenty of gunplay (including several shooting deaths and one injury), plus a rather nasty electrocution.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
I don’t know how your FilmMother feels about classic movies; my wife admittedly has trouble staying awake for black and white films. But if your other half has a thing for film noir or Ol’ Blue Eyes, she’ll enjoy Suddenly.

A man so powerful, he owned the world's first invisible cigar.

• Director: Lewis Allen
• Screenwriter: Richard Sale
• Stars: Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, Nancy Gates, Kim Charney, James Gleason, James Lilburn
• MPAA Rating: N/A

Buy Suddenly for less at >

August 18, 2009

Space Buddies (2009)

IT'S BEEN SLIM PICKINGS for new G-rated movies at the FilmFather household.

With On Demand’s offerings looking pitiful, I went to the last mom-and-pop video store in our town to check out the new kids’ releases…and brought home Disney’s Space Buddies.

• Five sibling puppies – who talk to each other when humans aren’t around – live with five different families. One day, they stow away on their kid owners’ school bus on a field trip to ground control of a space station, to witness a test launch of the first rocket/airplane hybrid.
• While exploring the station, the pups wander onto the test rocket/plane and it blasts into space. But when a sleazy corporate guy at ground control sabotages their fuel supply, will they be able to make it back home?

Space Buddies has its own cinematic pedigree (pun intended): It began with Air Bud in 1997, followed by six sequels – five of which were direct-to-DVD. (By 2006’s Air Buddies, the puppies replaced Bud as the stars of the series.)
The puppies’ dialogue – never thought I’d ever type that – is heavy on kid-friendly clichés of the “dude / dawg / whoa / oh, snap” variety, with a healthy amount of groan-worthy jokes thrown in.
The special effects are lacking in parts; the quality of the talking-puppy animation is barely worthy of a TV commercial, and some of the space effects leave a bit to be desired.
• Also lacking is Jason Earles’ voice work for the Russian dog, Spudnick (who looks a lot like that famous beer spokesdog from the ‘80s). It’s the weakest Russian accent I’ve heard since Schwarzenegger in Red Heat.
• A surprise was the impressive, sweeping score by Brahm Wenger – frankly, it’s almost too good for a direct-to-video movie such as this.
• Humans include Bill Fagerbakke (Coach) as the klutzy supervisor at ground control, as well as Diedrich Bader (Office Space, The Drew Carey Show) – who is nearly unrecognizable as Yuri, a wacky Russian cosmonaut.
• Filmmaker Robert Vince has been a writer and/or producer on every film in the Air Bud/Buddies series – and since Air Buddies he’s been writer, producer, and director. While this level of responsibility and vision is admirable, Space Buddies may have benefited from him handing over one of these duties so he could focus on improving the other two.

Space Buddies was exactly what I was expecting from a G-rated, direct-to-DVD Disney release: light and safe in terms of content, action, and character development. It’s the movie equivalent of a student who does just enough to pass. You can almost see the brass at Disney looking at the finished product and saying, “Good enough.”

That’s not to say Space Buddies isn’t watchable. It’s harmless, inspiring fun for young kids, provided you have the tolerance for a couple of fart jokes.

Rating: 3 stars
(out of 5)

What did Dash think?
Despite my criticisms above, I understand Space Buddies wasn’t made for me; it was made for kids of Dash’s age. And he did enjoy the film. At one point he even said with a laugh, “There are some funny parts in here.”

Will your kids like it?
Kids over 10 may think it’s all a bit silly, but children in the single-digit realm should enjoy it. And there’s nothing objectionable, unless you're opposed to a little flatulence for a laugh.

Will your FilmMother like it?
I don’t think she’ll watch Space Buddies and feel artistically fulfilled, but it’s a good way to spend a rainy day or Movie Night with the little ones.

In space, no one can see your bling.

Space Buddies
* Director: Robert Vince
* Screenwriters: Robert Vince, Anna McRoberts
* Stars: Diedrich Bader, Field Cate, Jason Earles, Bill Fagerbakke, Pat Finn, Josh Flitter, Nico Ghisi, Skyler Gisondo, Henry Hodges
* MPAA Rating: G

Buy Space Buddies for less at >

August 5, 2009

Interview: Hans Dastrup, Lead Animator, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

I recently teamed up with Surfer Jay to interview his brother, Hans Dastrup, a lead animator at Blue Sky Studios for such films as Robots, Horton Hears a Who!, and the Ice Age series. His latest project, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, opened in theaters last month.

Surfer Jay: How did you get hired by Blue Sky? Is it true you animated a large singing and dancing sperm to get the job?

Hans:, that is not true. There was no singing or dancing involved. Just a talking sperm quoting a line from Better Off Dead. That little sperm was my pride and joy at the time. Now it's just embarrassing.

I was hired at Blue Sky right after college. I got lucky! I first heard of Blue Sky when I saw the first Ice Age during my senior year at Cal State Fullerton. Before then, I was focusing mostly on traditional hand-drawn animation; but once I saw Ice Age, it was very clear to me what I wanted to do. I wanted to work at Blue Sky.

I spent the next few months getting my demo reel ready. An animator's demo reel consists of two to three minutes of their best work, and usually submitted on a DVD. That summer, with over 20 demo reels in hand, I went to a huge convention in Texas where all the animation studios were represented, including Blue Sky.

I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought at best I would get a handful of callbacks from small start-up companies. But to my surprise, my work caught the interest of Blue Sky. They called me back, I interviewed the next day, and it went great! I had one semester left before I graduated, so I spent that time animating day and night, finishing the last two animations that I submitted to Blue Sky, which sealed the deal.

FilmFather: As a lead animator, what are your roles and responsibilities?

Hans: My responsibilities are split between helping supervise other animators and animating my own shots. We have two supervisors and two leads. The supervisors often need assistance overseeing the 40-70 animators in our department (the number changes depending on the stage of production).

As a lead, people can come to me for creative advice. I'll also assist in hiring new talent, representing animation on interdepartmental issues, supervising animation and imagery for marketing, etc. I recently directed the animation on a McDonald's commercial featuring Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs characters.

It's nice being a lead. I get experience in different areas, and I still have time to do my own work as an animator.

Surfer Jay: You use to be a tan California lifeguard who spent all his time on the beach checking out chicks with your binoculars, saving lives, sporting a yearlong tan, and surfing all the time. Now, you’ve turned in your surfboard to become a desk jockey. The last time I saw you, you were whiter than my 12-month-old baby’s powdered butt, sporting a farmer tan, wearing skinny jeans, and flabby as the marshmallow man. But of course, now you are making awesome animated movies. So was turning in your lifeguard trunks and surfboard worth it?

Hans: The California beach lifestyle sucked. I hated waking up in the morning on a beautiful sunny winter day, just to ride my beach cruiser a few short blocks to the beach, hop out on my board and surf a nice NW swell with offshore wind. And as far checking out chicks on the beach, I'm married and have been for the last ten years. What hot chicks on the beach? I never noticed any. Also, I prefer to be fat and butt-white. I like the soft ivory skin look. Chicks dig it.

Even though I have missed many things that I loved back in California, it has been worth it for these last 6 1/2 years that I've been here. But I'm excited to say that we are finally coming back! I just got a job at DreamWorks and I start this November. Woohoo!!

FilmFather: Blue Sky Studios is based in Greenwich, CT (just outside New York City). What are the advantages of working on the east coast versus California (the land of Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks)? Any disadvantages?

Hans: The east coast is quite different from where I grew up in southern California. The only potential advantage about working on the west coast is as an animator, you have more options in terms of employment. There are tons of studios to choose from in California. It's not quite the same on the east coast. There are not many animation jobs in feature film animation over here. Actually, there's only one: Blue Sky. But there are plenty of jobs if you want to work in commercials or kids’ television shows.

FilmFather: In your films like the new Ice Age movie, are you part of the recording sessions when the actors create their voices?

Hans: We aren't usually a part of the recording sessions, but I did have the chance to sit in on a few with Simon Pegg via satellite, as he was recording from Britain. That was very cool to see. He is a great actor! He has so much range in his voice and he's quite creative in the choices that he makes. He voiced Buck in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. I had a chance to meet Simon when he came to our studio. He sat down with me as I showed him all the work we were doing with Buck. That was a cool experience!

Surfer Jay: Your previous animation work on Ice Age: The Meltdown, Robots, and Horton Hears A Who! was spectacular. So given your talent and expertise, do you ever think about creating your own cartoon?

Hans: I've thought about that a lot. I think one day I will want to create something of my own, but as for now I am very happy doing what I'm doing. I love being involved on big feature film projects.

Surfer Jay: It’s apparent that in the Ice Age movies, you gave Crash the opossum blue eyes because you wanted him to look like you. How much creative control do you have over the characters, such as their movements and stunts, their facial expressions, and the camera angles?

Hans: I get quite a bit of creative influence over the characters’ look and performance. But the truth is, there are many people involved in creating the final product. The character's personality begins taking shape when the script and story are being developed. At that point, a character designer comes in and begins to develop what the character will look like. The character gets sculpted in clay and then built digitally in the computer.

During this design process, my input is very important. I have to make sure the design of the character is going to allow me, as animator, to achieve the performance and personality the director is looking for. If I feel something isn't going to work well, the design will need adjusting. As an animator, we concern ourselves mostly with things relating to how the character moves, how they walk, talk, run, and interact with other characters.

FilmFather: Does your work require you to be away from your wife and kids for extended lengths of time? How do you balance your work with family life?

Hans: I don't usually travel for work; once in a while, they fly us somewhere to recruit new animators. But balancing work and family life can still be difficult. For the last few years, we've been working 60+ hours a week for six months a year. During the last few months of Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, it got even worse; we were working around 80 hours a week. It was insane. I definitely didn't get to spend a lot of quality time with my wife and kids. But even when I work a lot of hours, I make sure I see my kids every day. The best part of my day is playing with my two kids, Annika and Eli. They are a ton of fun!

Surfer Jay: For every movie you’ve made, you give your brothers the company shirts, which were made by and for the animators only, and not sold to the public. But I can’t help and wonder: Why don’t you send your favorite brother more free movie loot? I mean, you have access to all the character toys and posters and clothes and bobbleheads, and you don’t even send me anything. What’s up with that?

Hans: I hoard it all. I have a HUGE stockpile in my basement. One day when it's worth millions of dollars, I will sell it for an early retirement. Maybe I'll give you first dibs.

FilmFather: What's your next project?

Hans: Our next project is called Rio, which centers on a nerdy parrot who leaves the comforts of his cage in a small Minnesota town and heads to Rio de Janeiro. I'm not allowed to say much more than that.

Surfer Jay: Do you think it’s okay to mislead our kids into believing that dinosaurs are real, that llamas can talk, and wooly mammoths sound like Kermit the Frog? Okay, scratch that: How are you going to convince fathers to spend ten bucks a pop, not including popcorn and a soda, to go see your new movie?

Hans: You should take your kids to see our movie because they will learn that sloths can talk, not “llamas." And you don't buy movie popcorn and soda at the movie theater. Buy it for half the price at the nearby convenient store and smuggle into the theater. That tip just saved you ten bucks.

FilmFather: If you had to animate your brother Jay in one of your projects, what direction would you give your team?

Hans: Animating Jay would be easy. Now that he's Mr. Mom, he plays all day with his cute chubby baby, and also plays video games while his wife goes out and earns the dough. So I'd tell my animators he's good with a joystick. Not a bad gig, if you ask me.

Somehow he stays fairly muscular, even though he never exercises. He has a talent for breaking surfboards. He has a shoulder that dislocates on command. He has a really great artistic eye, and he has used that talent to become an accomplished, award-winning photographer. He's a creative writer and I'm sure will take advantage of that skill someday. And growing up, he learned how to defend himself from his four older brothers. He has a really hard left kneecap and will use it as a shield if you try to punch him in the stomach. Beware, if your fist makes contact with his knee, your knuckles will shatter into pieces. And it friggin’ hurts! Well, that's what I heard.

Surfer Jay: I’ve asked you several times to send me your rough, unfinished, top-secret animations during the making of your movies so I can post them on the net. Why don’t you ever hook a brother up?

Hans: I'll hook you up, if you promise to provide my family with free room and board while I search for a new job.

Surfer Jay: One of the really cool things about being a part of these films is that you get to have your name in the credits. Your kids’ names are also in the credits, which is also really cool. Being immortalized like that must be exciting for them. How did that happen?

Hans: All they had to do was be born during the production of one of our movies. Every film we make, we save a section at the end of the credits for the all the "production babies." It's really special. I love that our studio does that.

Surfer Jay: I remember you as a kid always acting like a cartoon character. You would sing, dance, and make goofy faces, making noises and mimicking movie characters and voices. Even now, you talk in funny character voices as if you were one. So when will you realize that you were destined to do character voices, and animating is merely a gateway to get into that? Jim Carrey’s got nothing on you. When will you start being in the movies you animate?

Hans: I'm glad you enjoyed my singing, dancing, and silly voices. I thought I was just an annoying kid. I would love to do voiceover work one day. I did have a few opportunities to do voiceover for some of our movies "in progress," but nothing I did ever made it into the final films. They hire only SAG members for that. Although, one time on Robots, my voice made it into a movie trailer. That was exciting! Honestly, it's very tough to make it as a voice actor, especially in animated films. You have to be a famous celebrity to make into feature film animation.


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