Wendy Jackson reviews the newest releases on home video and offers insight into the growing quality and depth of this market.
`Tis the season for animated home videos....and plenty of them. From theatrical re-releases and re-packaged television content, to original direct-to-video fare, the relatively young home video market is booming. Distributors increasingly find themselves competing not only with each other, but with other venues of entertainment. With the veritable cornucopia of animated fare currently on cable television and in theaters, it's tough to get kids' attention at this time of year.
This fall, home video distributors will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on television and newspaper advertising, most of it aimed towards gift-buying parents. Tie-ins, rebates and cross-promotions catch consumers in daily life, with a wave of restaurant, grocery store, shopping mall, airline and even elementary school partnerships. Going for those point-of-purchase sales, many distributors are even offering toys attached to packaging, and elaborate in-store displays with coloring books, buttons and posters.
This month, we sat down with a crate full of video tapes and a bowl of popcorn to explore this market. Here's a sampling of the latest new animated home video offerings, and a sneak peek at what's coming soon to a video store near you.
Babes in Toyland
The first feature-length animated musical adaptation of the classic book, Babes in Toyland is a fun and charming twist on classic nursery rhyme tales. Based on the operetta by Victor Herbert and the book by Toby Bluth, Babes in Toyland tells the story of cherubic orphans Jack and Jill (of went-up-the-hill fame), and their adventure to save "Toyland" from their own Gargamel-esque, crotchety uncle Barnaby. With its surreal, vividly colorful animation of various anthropomorphic toys, machines, tableware and even a cow jumping over a talking moon, the film is worth watching for the visuals alone. If that's not enough of an incentive, get it to hear the character voices by James Belushi, Jonathan Dern and even Charles Nelson Reilly.
The film is a remarkable accomplishment, in that it is the first made for home video title from MGM's three year-old animation production division, MGM Animation. Their first two titles, All Dogs Go To Heaven I and II, had theatrical runs before their respective home video releases. Premiering on video last month, Babes in Toyland was co-directed by Charles Grosvernor, Toby Bluth and Paul Sabella (Sabella served as one of four co-producers as well). In addition, Toby Bluth served as production designer, and his book, Babes in Toyland, provided a style guide for the film; and, yes, he is the brother of director Don Bluth whose Anastasia is released theatrically this month.
Distribution MGM Home Entertainment Available 10/24/93 Price $19.98 Run Time 80 min. Rating G Tie-Ins MGM Interactive, Mail-in offer for plush toy, Nathan's Restaurants
Many generations will recognize Pippi Longstocking, the spunky, red-headed nine year-old girl in striped socks and pigtails. Since her mother is an angel, and her father is a rarely-seen seafaring pirate, she lives in her father's house, with her pet horse and monkey, using her super strength, singing and taking what she needs from the overflowing chest of gold in the attic. Pippi's irreverent, creative character shines when her carefree lifestyle is cramped by two bumbling bad guys attempting to steal her gold. Meanwhile a nosy town busybody, Mrs. Prysselius, tries to send her to a "children's home." The first full-length animated musical feature based on the classic children's book by Astrid Lindgren, the film features five original songs which are not very inspired. However, one in particular does really stick in your head, "Hello, I'm Pippi!"
Pippi Longstocking was released in U.S. movie theaters starting in August, and will be released in video stores on November 25. The film is a co-production between Nelvana (Canada), AB Svensk Filmindustri (Sweden), Iduna Produktiongesellschaft GmbH & Co and TFC Trickompany Filmproduktion GmbH (Germany). It was directed by Clive Smith, co-founder of Nelvana, a company known for masterminding complicated co-productions, and for adapting children's books into animated properties. With three studios, nine producers and the book's original author, who turns 90 years-old this month, involved in the production, keeping Pippi on track was no small task. "It was very complicated, not just from a production point of view, but also from a creative point of view," said director Clive Smith. "In fact, we had production going on in about 12 different cities. I was literally running around the world for three years!"
Nelvana has recently expanded to include a feature films division, headed by supervising producer Merle Anne Risley. The studio's next project is Babar: King of the Elephants, a direct-to-video title slated for completion in 1998. Several other films are currently in development.
Distribution Warner Bros. Home Video Available 11/24/93 Price 19.96 Run Time 75 min. Rating G Tie-Ins Figurine included with video, Co-production partners (International), Coupons included for other Warner titles, Continental Airlines
The Land Before Time V: The Mysterious Island
Lost your calendar? The sequential releases of The Land Before Time videos can almost serve as a measurement of the passing time. It's hard to believe that a whole year has gone by since the last one was released. In December, the fourth direct-to-video sequel to Steven Spielberg's 1988 animated theatrical feature, The Land Before Time, will be released directly to home video. So far, the six-title franchise (which includes a Sing-Along-Songs title) has amassed consumer sales of over $480 million. The character design in these films is an accomplishment in itself, in that dinosaurs, which are more or less giant prehistoric lizards, can be depicted as so, well, cute and cuddly.
The Land Before Time: The Mysterious Island takes us on a toddler adventure with the little tyke dinosaurs Chomper, Littlefoot, and friends. After "swarming leaf gobblers" devour the food supply, the entire dinosaur clan embarks on a journey in search of food. The animation in this film is quite good, with full movement and expressive characters. Universal's producer/director Charles Grosvernor and Overseas Animation Supervisor Richard Forgues worked with their US staff and Akom Productions in Korea. Additional work was contracted to Galaxy World (Korea), Inventaria (Spain), Funbag Animation Studios (Canada) and Heart of Texas (USA). The film includes three new songs music scored by Michael Tavera, to lyrics by Michele Brourman and Amanda McBroom, who also scored the previous Land Before Time titles.
Distribution Universal Studios Home Video Available 12/8/93 Price $24.98 Run Time 74 min. Rating G Tie-Ins Denny's Restaurants, Dairy Queen Restaurants, Sound Source Interactive, Kitchen Sink Press, Equity Toys, Float in Hollywood Christmas Parade
Beauty and Beast: The Enchanted Christmas
It's no wonder that Disney chose the Beauty and the Beast franchise as the next direct-to-video project. Just in theatrical grosses alone, the original animated feature topped $350 million worldwide, and, to date, the film is the only animated feature ever nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. The all new, direct-to-video Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas was directed by Andy Knight and produced at Disney's facilities in Vancouver and Toronto. Disney Australia handled some animation and inbetweening as well as clean-up, checking, and digital ink and paint on Toon Boom software. Wang Film Productions created additional backgrounds, and additional animation was contracted to Chuck Gammage Animation and Character Builders.
Freshness is added to the story with three new characters: Angelique, a treetop ornament (voiced by Bernadette Peters), Forte, an evil pipe organ (Tim Curry) and Fife, an insecure piccolo (Paul Reubens, formerly known as Pee Wee Herman). All the other characters are voiced by the same actors as appeared in the first theatrical film.
Distribution Walt Disney Home Video Available 11/10/93 Price $26.99 Run Time 70 min. Rating G Tie-Ins Mattel Toys, Disney Online, Walt Disney Records, Disneyworld, Disneyland, Ocean Spray
This direct-to-video Christmas story takes the cake for the number of cross-promotional tie-ins, but loses points with low quality animation and a cloyingly sweet story that is more tedious than heartwarming. But, as any good marketer will tell you, Annabelle's Wish is likely to sell plenty of units.
An association with the charitable Make-A-Wish Foundation, and a bevy of promotional tie-ins make Annabelle's Wish the consumer-friendliest title of the season. Based on a short story by Dan Henderson, the film tells the story of a mute, orphaned little farm boy, whose wish is to speak, and a baby cow named Annabelle, whose wish is to be one of Santa's Reindeer. The boy's wicked aunt (vaguely reminiscent of Cruella DeVil) and a handful of local bullies challenge the magic of the Christmas season, but in the end, their wishes do come true.
This is the first animated film from independent producer Ralph Edwards Films, the newly formed division of Ralph Edwards Productions, producer of television shows such as This is Your Life and The People's Court. The film was animated by Studio City, California-based Baer Animation, a contract studio which does both feature (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Lion King) and commercial work.
Distribution Hallmark Home Entertainment Available 10/20/93 Price $12.95 Run Time 54 min Rating not rated Tie-Ins
Mrs. Fields Cookies, Golden Books, Novus Credit Cards, Previews at 144 shopping mall Santa Claus booths, Elementary school activity sheets, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Float in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Rising Tide/Blue Eye Records, Point of purchase promotional plush toy
Scooby Doo Goes to Hollywood
Scooby Doo Goes to Hollywood is an older Hanna-Barbera television production from the studio's doldrum days. Since acquiring the rights from the Turner library, the film is being released on video for the first time through Warner Bros. Home Video division. In the film, Shaggy serves as Scooby's agent, shopping the clumsy dog around Hollywood, with some great parodies such as The Sound of Scooby and Scooby's Angels. Zoinks! If only poor Scooby really did have an agent, maybe Warner Bros. would have kept this film in the vault, where it belongs.
Distribution Warner Bros. Home Video Available 10/20/93 Price $14.95 Run Time 51 min. Rating G Tie-Ins
Comic Book included with video
Pinky and the Brain: Mice of the Jungle and Cosmic Attractions
Everyone's favorite caged-in lab mice, Pinky and the Brain can now take over your VCR. These two titles are the first re-released episodes of Steven Spielberg's popular Warner Bros. television series, Pinky and the Brain, to be released on video. With such a large base of existing fans, these should sell well in the holiday season.
Distribution Warner Bros. Home Video Available 11/3/93 Price $12.95 Run Time 23 min. ea Rating n/a Tie-Ins Wendy's Restaurants, Kids WB! Network, Warner Bros. Online
Brand Spanking New Doug's Secret Christmas
Twelve year-old Doug Funnie is so wholesome, that he will be pictured on millions of milk containers distributed in schools this year. A clever licensing partnership between Disney Television and International Papers Liquid Packaging division will promote the animated character in elementary lunchrooms across the U.S.
In this re-release of a 1996 Christmas special, Doug and his dog Porkchop celebrate Christmas their own way when the family decides not to make a big deal of the holiday. Doug's Secret Christmas will also air on December 13, as part of a special Brand Spanking New Doug matinee program block on ABC. Produced by Disney-owned Jumbo Pictures, Doug started out as a series on Nickelodeon, before he was "Brand Spanking New."
Distribution Buena Vista Home Video Available 10/6/93 Price $12.99 Run Time 44 min. Rating G Tie-Ins Nestle Foods, International Paper (milk containers ), Mattel Toys
What's Coming Soon...
FernGully II: The Magic Continues Five years after Bill and Sue Kroyer's animated feature, Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest, a sequel is finally on the way. The direct-to-video release is being produced by FAI Films and Rosen Harper Entertainment, with funding by CBS/Fox and Banque Paribas. Currently in production at the two year-old animation studio, Wild Brain in San Francisco, the film is slated for release in March, 1998.
Distribution Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment Available 2/28/94 Price TBD Run Time TBD Rating TBD Tie-Ins Mail-in offer for plush toy
Hercules and Xena: The Battle for Mount Olympus
Universal Television's live-action (and they mean action) series Hercules: Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess are tremendously popular with each being syndicated in more than 15 countries worldwide. Universal Studios Consumer Products Group has a huge line of Hercules and Xena licensed merchandise on the market and even Universal Studios Florida is home to an interactive attraction based on the characters. Now, Universal Home Video is bringing the two super-heroes together in their first animated project, a direct-to-video feature called Hercules and Xena: The Battle for Mount Olympus.
Currently in production in the U.S. and Korea by Universal Cartoon Studios, the film is being produced and directed by Lynne Naylor, who has worked at Filmation, Hanna-Barbera, Marvel, Spumco and Warner Bros. The script was written by John P. Loy, who has penned numerous scripts for animated television series such as Porchlight Entertainment's The Book of Virtues and Warner Bros.' Pinky and the Brain before entering a multi-year deal with Universal Cartoon Studios to write, develop and produce animated projects. Originally slated for a mid-October release, the film has been pushed back to January, where it will face fewer competitors, but will miss out on holiday sales. "We want the finished product to be of the finest quality," said Louis Feola, President of Universal Home Video. "As often happens with an animated feature, more time was needed to complete the film."
While the finishing touches are being made on the film, a Hercules and Xena road tour is now trekking around the U.S., featuring a traveling exhibit of paraphernalia from the live-action show, previews of the interactive games and an inside look at the production of the animated feature.
Distribution Universal Studios Home Video Available 1/5/94 Price $19.98 Run Time 90 min. Rating not rated Tie-Ins Sound Source Interactive, Universal live-action television series, Road tour, Universal Consumer Products, Tropicana Juices, Topps Comics, Carl's Jr. Restaurants, Hercules & Xena fan conventions
The King and I
The first feature-length animated adaptation of the Broadway musical, The King and I, is now in production through Morgan Creek Entertainment. The film is being directed by Rick Rich, of Rich Entertainment, producers of films like The Swan Princess.
Distribution Warner Bros. Home Video (U.S.) Available Summer 1999 Price TBD Run Time TBD Rating TBD Tie-Ins Playmates Toys, Morgan Creek Entertainment (International)
In addition to the above mentioned titles, video stores are packed with plenty of perennial holiday releases of old favorites, like Rankin-Bass' stop-motion classic Rudolph's Shiny New Year, distributed by Warner Bros., Disney's Mickey's Christmas Carol and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Be sure to read The Animation Flash, Animation World Network's Weekly Email Newsletter, to learn about future video releases throughout the year.
Wendy Jackson is Associate Editor of Animation World Magazine.
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