*Click Here to read Raiders of the Lost Toyline: Part 1 – The Summer of Indiana Jones
*Click Here to read Raiders of the Lost Toyline: Part 2 – The Fall of Indiana Jones
When last we left the Indiana Jones toyline, things were not looking so hot for Dr Jones and his cohorts. The summer had yielded a new film, that in turn, had yielded a return to Indiana Jones products in many different forms. However, when it came to action figures, children and toy collectors were treated to an avalanche of products. Not only were there figures for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but Hasbro had also released a figure line-up related to Indy’s first adventures, from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Stores across the nation were soon finding themselves in a fix, when their over-abundance of faith in Indiana Jones yielded plenty of product still left on the shelves. As such, when it came time to order the next round of action figures based on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, one could fine next to nothing on the shelves! I was lucky enough just to find a few figures at a couple nearby KMarts.
But that wasn’t the most bitter blow of all. Let us not forget, there was one more film that was to have action figures released to it: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. These figures were meant to be the final figure wave before the start of 2009, but as it seemed Indy-mania had died out several months ago, there wasn’t a single Big-Box retail store that even got the last line.
Though in a pre-Christmas miracle that year, I actually came across the remnants of a Temple of Doom case. When I visited Gepetto’s Toy Shop at Fashion Valley Mall in San Diego, CA, I came to a standstill when I found myself holding a carded Mola Ram figure! Figuring I’d never see another one like it ever again, I paid the full $13 fee, and walked out with it.
That would be the cheapest I think anyone would have for a carded Temple of Doom figure, as secondary market values on eBay pushed these figures into price ranges that I wasn’t willing to pay.
Then it seemed, salvation came in the form of the secondary market. Word was spreading about numerous sellers from China, selling bagged packs of 10 Indiana Jones figures, of which 6 of them were from the Temple of Doom line! I took a chance on purchasing the set, and found it a rather inexpensive way to complete my collection.
Once I got a good look at all six of the figures from Temple of Doom, I was hit with a feeling of sadness. The Crystal Skull line had shown that great sculpting could be had with these figures, and the TOD line showcased 6 that just screamed quality in numerous ways!
Out of all the films, Temple of Doom to me, seemed the perfect film that lent itself to action figures. Armies of Thugee warriors with swords, a daring minecar ride, and that great rope-bridge scene. These were things that kept me coming back to watch the film over and over again as a kid. For some reason, the ending of Raiders terrified me, but seeing a man’s heart pulled out of his chest didn’t phase me at all.
Speaking of heart-tugging, Mola Ram himself is probably the greatest figure of the entire 6. Hasbro even went the extra mile by making his ceremonial headdress removable, allowing you to pose him bald. But, that’s not all. Mola Ram also comes with a wrap of black-and-red cloth that can be draped around his body, as well as the skull-headed chalice from which the Blood of the Kali flowed, and…a flaming human heart that fits in his hand!
A close second is the sculpting done on Indiana Jones. Unlike his other appearances, Indy really had a major wardrobe change in this film. He not only loses his jacket, but his shirt gets torn to shreds during his time in the Temple of Doom. Needless to say, Harrison Ford got in shape for his close-up, and his action figure is pretty well done in replicating his look.
One area where this figure succeeds in a big way, is in its many details. His shirt is muddied, there’s a tear in his pant-leg, and he has whip marks on his back. But the most amazing feature is in the knapsack accessory that Indy has (see right). We could have just had a sculpted knapsack with strap, but they have made the flap on the knapsack able to be opened…and inside, we see the tops of two of the Sankara stones!
Bad guy-wise, the Thuggee army were definitely the kind that I could see someone buying multiples to pit against Indiana Jones. As well, the Chief Temple Guard whom Indy goes up against gets his own figure. In almost every Indy film, he always has to go up against a foe bigger than himself. Within the film, Indy and this guy have a major fight on a conveyor belt, and here, he’s pretty impressive with his build and whip. He’s so big, Indy just barely clears the guy’s shoulders in height!
Temple of Doom was a film that was more like the old Republic Serials than any of the other films, and that ridiculous, madcap (and somewhat illogical) feel to it, probably turned a lot of people away. In a sense, Lucas has often stuck to those serialized tangents (which to me, explains a lot about the Star Wars prequels, and how they’re structured).
Unlike the other films, this one takes place before the events of the others (yes, it’s a second film, yet…a prequel). So, Indy’s cohorts like Marcus Brody and Sallah are nowhere to be found. As such, a new group of sidekicks are at Indy’s disposal. An orphan Chinese boy named Short Round (left) is his close confidante, but on his latest journey, prissy nightclub singer Willie Scott finds herself roped into Indy’s latest adventure.
As a kid, I think Temple appealed to me because of Short Round (I’m half-Chinese, and seeing a boy like him on a big adventure must have struck a chord!). His figure is a pretty decent sculpt, and is the only “child” figure of the entire Indy line.
Willie Scott is probably to the entire series, what Jar Jar Binks is to Star Wars (actress Kate Capshaw has commented that even she found Willie’s prissy demeanor to be annoying). For her figure release, Willie is in her ceremonial garb as she is prepared for sacrifice to Kalima. The design on her dress reminds me of the quality Hasbro gave to the many dresses of Padme Amidala. The downside is that her poseability is constricted by her plastic skirt. If anything, it would have been more interesting to see her in her black-and-white outfit that we see her in after she leaves Shanghai.
If the sculpting on this line is something to crow about, “balance” is where my negatives come into play. The majority of the figures just can’t seem to stand up without some support. Mola Ram always has the most dramatic un-balancing act. When he topples over, every single accessory comes off. Short Round is fine without his accessories, but with them, both balance him out…otherwise, he goes splat.
Regarding possible playsets that could have been, a picture surfaced online of a prototype of the mine car that was utilized in the big chase near the end of the film. Vehicle-wise, there wasn’t really as much that could be done as the other films, though that Dusenberg Convertible Short Round drives through Shanghai could have been cool. I could see playsets such as the Thuggee temple, or even the suspension bridge scene at the end.
And thus, with the start of 2009, Hasbro quietly ushered out Indiana Jones like an old sardine. At Comic-Con in 2008, Hasbro had teased images of the upcoming Crusade and Doom lines…but also had offered a glimpse of figures for 2009, with one slide labeled that 5 figures from Raiders of the Lost Ark, would be on shelves starting 1/15/09. Of course, that day came and went like any winter day.
Many like myself were saddened at what had happened. To those of us who had been excited by the line, we were looking forward to the kind of figure quality and variety that Hasbro had given fans of Star Wars for years. But with the fandom for Indy not being what Hasbro had hoped for, we had to contend with the fact that figures of Marcus Brody, Walter Donovan, Harold Oxley, and even a Crystal Skull Marion Ravenwood…would never come to pass.
The doors to the temple had closed for good…or, had they?
*Next Time: At the end of 2008, it looked like the end of the (toy) line for Dr Jones and his friends. But, 3 years later, Hasbro gave the line one last gasp…a gasp that was heard, at Comic-Con 2011. Find out more in Part 4 – The (Late) Spring of Indiana Jones*
It’s not easy being The Muppets.
After the passing of Jim Henson in 1990, it has felt like our favorite felt characters have had to scrabble along the road of life to stay relevant in the eyes of the media.
There was an attempt in 1996 to bring the characters back into Prime Time with Muppets Tonight, a modern-day revival of The Muppet Show, that only lasted 2 seasons.
The characters also returned to the big screen three times in the 1990’s, but future projects like the Muppet characters in a version of The Wizard of Oz, only got as far as television. As well, the characters became commercial pitch persons for the likes of Pizza Hut at one point.
And then, salvation came in the form Jason Segel, who upon finding out Disney wasn’t doing anything with the Muppets, practically begged to be given the chance to bring back his childhood heroes.
While it wasn’t the most original concept (save the long-dormant Muppet Studios from an evil oil tycoon), Segel’s film was both fun and heartfelt, that kick-in-the-pants that reminded many of us that we’d love to see these characters putting on a show for us once again. 2011’s film also garnered an Oscar win for its song, Man or Muppet.
Sadly, Segel’s hopes that the movie would reignite a new televised Muppet Show didn’t come to pass, but the studio did greenlight a sequel, which brings us to Muppets Most Wanted.
The film picks up right where the second film ends…literally. Fireworks spelling out The End dissipate, and all those dancing extras clear Hollywood Blvd, leaving our friends to wonder what to do next. Noticing that the camera is still running, it is decided that the studio apparently wants a sequel!
Things get rolling when an international tour manager named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) convinces the group that they should take their act overseas on a European Tour. Though Kermit feels that the group should work on honing their skills since they’ve just gotten back together again, he gives in to his friend’s pleas to do the international road show.
While in Germany, Kermit finds himself face-to-green-face with recently escaped criminal mastermind, Constantine. Kermit is then mistaken for Constantine, and taken to a Siberian prison. Meanwhile, Constantine attempts to fool the other Muppets, who don’t seem at all perplexed why their friend’s voice seems oddly different.
Muppets Most Wanted has one of those thankless tasks when it comes to the following of a film re-uniting a familiar cast. That big question of: now what? The answer becomes a film that is trying to be intimate, but tries to be bigger and better than the first film.
It also feels that once the film starts, it tries to out run itself to get to the mistaken identity portion of the plot. Scenes were flying by so fast, I was trying to comprehend what I had just seen on several occasions. As well, several of the songs just flew by, making it difficult to properly comprehend what was being said.
The character of Constantine has some pretty funny moments, but it can get a little ridiculous that the Muppets seem to be operating on “cartoon logic” when believing that Constantine is Kermit. He also gets a few decent song-and-dance moments, thanks to Brett McKenzie, returning to do song duty on the film.
When it comes to humans, the first film’s stars Gary and Mary (aka Jason Segal and Amy Adams) are long gone. Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, and Tina Fey do decent work as the main humans in the film, but feel like they are upstaged by the Muppet cast almost every single time. Most of what we see, almost makes them out to be little more than extended cameos in the film. Speaking of cameos, there are a number of celebrity cameos in this one, and props to you if you can spot them all (I’m an old-timer, and most of them just flew by me).
Throughout the film, there’s talk about family and its importance, but there’s just so much going on within the film, that it never really feels this message is fully grounded like it was in say, 2011’s The Muppets, or even 1984’s The Muppets Take Manhattan.
It’s strange to think how with all those characters in the 2011 film, it still felt like everyone got a chance to shine. Here, it feels like only a handful of the Muppet cast are given any screentime. Even the newest member of the cast named Walter, seemed shoehorned in because the first film claimed he had to be there. There are cameos also given to some lesser-seen Muppets, including one that I never would have expected to ever see again (and not many will recognize him/it/etc).
It pains me to say that Muppets Most Wanted is a “passable” Muppet film. I did guffaw out loud several times, and several of the films songs stuck with me, but it just did not hold together as well as its predecessor. I can’t imagine anyone outright hating the film, but it is just not as satisfying. It’s a madcap international romp, that feels like it left its heart on Hollywood Blvd at the beginning of the film (or the end of the first film, depending on your point-of-view).
I will say that I did get a little teary-eyed at the end of the credits, when a notation came up dedicating the film to the late Jane Henson, and Jerry Nelson. It’s always nice when they reference those who have passed on, and left a major mark on something as creative as these characters.
Much like what was done with 2011’s The Muppets, Disney has attached an animated short to the film before it starts. This time, they have Party Central, a short related to the world of Monsters University. The short was originally set to play before PIXAR’s The Good Dinosaur, but a recent pulling of that film for reworking shifted it to be placed before Most Wanted.
The fraternity Oozma Kappa is attempting to throw a party, but it seems everyone is more interested in a major party happening at one of the other frat houses on campus. Enter Mike and Sully, who have come to help their friends turn their luck around.
The short was shown in its entirety at August 2013’s D23 Expo, and seeing it again, I was just as entertained now as I was then. It’s sad to admit, but Party Central held together in a more entertaining ball of awesome, than Muppets Most Wanted.
Despite my adoration for many things Disney, all kinds of different cartoons were on display to my viewing eyes in the early 1980’s. Early Sunday mornings were one of those times where I was introduced to the works of Mr Jay Ward. Jay’s bag-of-tricks was simple animation, but containing stories with a few extra gags, and acerbic wit.
His most famous work is The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends. Each half-hour segment would not only contain segments regarding the famous “Moose and Squirrel,” but several other vignettes. These would include the likes of Fractured Fairy-Tales, Dudley Do-Right, Bullwinkle’s Corner, Mr Know-It-All, and Mr Peabody’s Improbable History.
During the 1990’s, an epidemic swept through Hollywood, in which studios suddenly felt they could make plenty of money, turning old cartoons into full-length features (most of them live-action). Unfortunately, Jay Ward and live-action films equaled box-office poison. The track records for 1999’s live-action Dudley Do-Right and 2000’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle pretty much speak for themselves: noone went to see them, and you can find them for around $3 at most used DVD stores.
Of all the different segments left from the Bullwinkle show to be made into features, that just left Fractured Fairy Tales, and Mr Peabody’s Improbable History. Though given Dreamworks SKG’s Shrek films were pretty much the 21st Century’s rendition of Fractured, that just left the segments regarding Mr Peabody. Almost 55 years after the characters were introduced, Mr Peabody and his “pet boy” Sherman, have made it to the big screen (in animated form, no-less).
For those of you who weren’t raised on Jay Ward’s shows, Mr Peabody’s Improbably History followed the adventures of the world’s smartest dog, and his “pet boy” Sherman. Using Peabody’s Wayback machine, the two would travel throughout history, visiting all sorts of famous historical (and a few literary) figures. They assisted Robin Hood’s merry men when the famed rogue got amnesia, helped William Tell when he broke his glasses, and helped the famed painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler complete the famed portrait of his Mother (who was a big fan of playing ‘cowboys and indians’). They’ve also popped up in numerous time-travel gags, including an episode of The Simpsons.
Of course, when it comes to the feature film naturally, some creative liberties were bound to take place.
At the start, Mr Peabody (Ty Burrell) is very much unlike other dogs, and at a young age, puts his considerable brain power to bettering himself, and mankind. However, upon finding an abandoned baby, Peabody takes it upon himself to adopt the boy, and raise him as his own.
Though unknown to the rest of the world, Peabody was also able to perfect time-travel. For much of their lives together, Peabody and Sherman (Max Charles) have used the WABAC machine to traverse across time-and-space, giving Sherman a first-person look at what has come before.
Needless to say, Sherman is quite well-versed in history at a young age, and quickly ends up impressing his History teacher on the first day of school. However, when he ends up (unknowingly) showing up a little girl named Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter), she provokes him, leading to a serious altercation. This then leads to a Social Worker named Ms Grunion (Alison Janney) “threatening” Mr Peabody to have Sherman taken away from him.
Peabody then invites Penny and her parents over for a reconciliation meeting. It is during this time that Sherman ends up letting slip about the WABAC to Penny, and…well, let’s just say that in a film involving time-travel, stuff happens.
Any former cartoon brought into the digital world is bound to be filled with bells and whistles, and that’s what is on display here. The Wabac has been transformed into a “futuristic orb,” with floating, 3-D digital touchpads, and more. The art stylings of the environments do evoke the simplicity almost reminiscent to Dreamworks’ Madagascar films, but not pushed quite as far. The characters definitely put me in mind of those from the old animated shows, and even the loose-limbed way they made Sherman walk was fun (I think because I also have exaggeratedly walked like he did when I was little).
Unlike the show, which mainly focused on Sherman tagging along on Mr Peabody’s adventures, the characterizations here are made out to be moreso a father-and-son film. As well, given that Peabody is one of the smartest beings on the planet, it seems that sending his son out into the world is not something he has been altogether prepared for, which leads to much of the conflict in the film.
As seen in the previews, there’s a rather quickly shoe-horned young-love plot between Sherman and Penny, leading to one of those ‘animosity equals attraction’ scenarios we’ve seen in many films before. Penny is probably going to be one of those ‘love her/hate her’ characters to those watching the film. At times she can be quite nasty, but others she can be quite appealing. The inclusion of Penny in the time-travel adventures is a little awkward at times, and it feels like some of these moments would have benefited from a gradual transition. Then again, the running time of the film clocks in at almost exactly one hour and thirty minutes.
One area some may be surprised at, is a few times, the story gets a little darker than one would believe. I found myself surprised that the film would go to the places it did, but it definitely helped advance some of the characters at times.
The film also serves to almost be a statement on certain family set-ups. As some saw symbolism in parts of Disney’s Frozen, it feels like one can find them here in Peabody and Sherman. While most of the people that Mr Peabody knows have no problems with a dog raising a boy, Ms Grunion seems moreso out to prove some form of personal agenda regarding how she feels Sherman is being raised. I think that theme of the film being “it’s not ‘what’ you are, but ‘who’ you are” was a great way to go, and will help those see it as more than just a slapstick comedy.
As an aficionado of the show, I was pleasantly surprised that several key moments in the film mirror or callback to the introductory episode of Peabody’s Improbable History, but with some modern-day embellishments. However, it was less intrusive than say, the mention of “a Who-Phone” in Horton Hears a Who. As well, Peabody is not without his often “lame” puns about history.
With this film, Director Rob Minkoff returns to the Animation Director’s chair for the first time in almost 20 years. A former Disney animator, he previously wrote the Roger Rabbit short Tummy Trouble, as well as co-directed The Lion King. Since then, Rob has moved into live-action, but also still kept to his animation roots, being the director of both Stuart Little films in 1999, and 2002. In 2003, Rob’s name was connected to Sony making a live-action/computer-generated feature about Peabody & Sherman, but talk of the films development quickly disappeared.
Rob is definitely a man who seems to know his comedy, but it can often be in finding a balance between comedy and drama, the line begins to falter a bit. That seems to be the case with Peabody and Sherman. It felt like there were so many extra time-related gags that they could have crammed into the film, but they had to keep reminding us about the Peabody and Sherman’s journey to finding an equilibrium regarding their familial relationship.
That’s not to say that Peabody & Sherman is bad. In fact, it’s one of the few Dreamworks films I’ll give a pass to. I recall last year how I was eager to see The Croods, but found that production to be big on some excellent design-work, but not reaching me when it came to the deeper story dramatics. Peabody & Sherman manages to get to a place at times where I think audiences will connect, but I do hope that Rob Minkoff will continue to do other projects for the company in the future. Not everyone can be a Herman Cappuccino, you know.
Growing up in the 1990’s, the one thing that fascinated me as much as people working on animated features, were those working on visual effects for film. The movie magic that made DeLoreans time-travel and animated characters interact in our world, had given way to the return of dinosaurs, and…talking pigs!?
Yes, two years after Jurassic Park wowed us, one of the strangest upsets for the Academy Awards’ Visual Effects awards category occurred, when the Oscar went to: Babe.
That win in 1995, would mark the first Academy Award for the production company, Rhythm & Hues. Founded in 1987, they would have their artistic hands in over 145 feature films, and win three Academy Awards. While they would run the gamut over many different types of effects, they were mostly known for their great work in character animation, notably regarding animals.
It was on the night of February 26, 2013, that several of the studio’s crew accepted their third Visual Effects award for their contributions to Ang Lee’s film adaptation, Life of Pi. However, what should have been a triumph, was more like putting the coins over the eyes of a corpse.
Several weeks before, the company had found itself in a bind when it had run out of money. Unable to find backers to help keep them afloat, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, laying off close to 300 people. After completing its final assignments, the studio closed its doors for good. A sad end to one of many studios that thrived during the uptick of effects-heavy features over the past 20 years.
The 30-minute film weaves a story from those who not only worked for Rhythm & Hues, but also founded it as well. It was nice to see a piece that did allow those in higher positions to have a say regarding what had happened. Overall, the consensus is that the system in which visual effects are crafted, is in dire need of fixing.
Of the effects houses left in North America, many have found themselves trying to compete with studios in Canada or even in Asia, which can significantly reduce the budget of a feature film. Life explores this concept with some nice visuals, not to mention explaining just why sending your movie’s work to Vancouver would be seen as a wise move by numerous executives.
During my days as an animation intern over a decade ago, my Supervisor told me a valuable lesson about the big studios:
Every studio wants the work to be three things: Faster, Better, and Cheaper. However, there is no way to have all three of these things. You can only have two. This means if you want your production work to be done Faster and Cheaper, it definitely won’t be better.
These days, there is a mindset in Hollywood that unless you strike before the iron is even hot, the shrinking attention-spans of moviegoers are going to look elsewhere with their money. After all, this isn’t the early 1980’s where people were forced to wait for 3 years until The Empire Strikes Back was released. These days, production schedules are often squeezed incredibly tight. Even the upcoming Star Wars Episodes VII-IX are only being allowed a 2-year window between films.
Recent articles have predicted that it’s possible one day, computing power will become so fast, that what would normally be preview animation, could be finalized animation in a matter of hours…or minutes!
The documentary put me in mind of another that chronicled the semi-collapse of Walt Disney Feature Animation’s hand-drawn department in the early 2000’s, titled Dream On, Silly Dreamer. However, that production was made several years after the events that are told. In the case of Life, the documentary is being released almost a year after the studio’s Oscar win, and was started almost as soon as word spread of the company’s closing.
It also acts as a healthy dose of reality regarding how a majority of effects artists work. This isn’t a solid 9-5 workplace job in many cases. Some people end up packing up and moving from job-to-job, oftentimes working into unpaid overtime hours during the final stretches of a production. One of the people interviewed shows (and tells) how his entire life is now spent living out of hotel rooms, in his pursuit of being a visual effects artist.
Even for a short-subject, the documentary details a studio that seemed to be a tight-knit little community (one person mentions how one of the studio’s founders actually took time to help her move in the early days). Rhythm & Hues appears to have been a studio run by people who wanted to do big things, but not fall into the trap of being gobbled up and (possibly) spat out by the studio system.
That scenario actually happened to the effects house Dream Quest Images in the late 1990’s. Walt Disney Studios bought them up, and renamed them The Secret Lab. However, when the films the company worked on like Dinosaur and Reign of Fire didn’t do well, the studio quickly pulled the plug, and disbanded the company (you can read an article written by a former DQI/TSL employee here). I always found this move perplexing, how the studio had its own visual effects company, which could have saved them from going to outside vendors for future film series like Pirates of the Caribbean. Then again, I’ve never been one to understand most executive decisions.
Even though it mentions that something needs to be done regarding how visual effects houses are relied on, Life After Pi offers no quick-fix or steps on how to do this. If anything, it acts moreso as a signal flare, that something is amiss. Could it be possible that the push to do things Faster and Cheaper, may one day cause the system to break down? It’s hard to imagine, but maybe a new visual effects Dark Ages could be looming on the horizon.
It feels like there could be even more information to have stretched the documentary out to an hour, but is considered the first chapter in a number of future segments, to be released through Hollywoodendingmovie.com . Currently, the site says that the upcoming documentary will chronicle the different ways in which the financial climate in Hollywood, is taxing numerous areas of the industry.
Life After Pi is an informative look at a side of the industry that not many may want to get into. While many are enamored with big-name superstars, many often forget that there are often hundreds of “little people” in the shadows, doing all sorts of little details on feature films, leg-working like mad against the clock. It’s often one reason why I don’t leave when the credits roll.
Many times, I’ll find myself sitting in the theater, counting how many visual effects houses worked on a film. I did that this summer, and my eyes almost popped out when I saw the list of effects houses that were pulled together just to complete Iron Man 3! It was almost as many as had been recruited by James Cameron to finish Titanic.
It is sad that we can pay people millions of dollars to hit a ball with a stick or to kick a ball…yet when it comes to people pouring so much time, effort, and care into artistry, the general consensus is, “can you do this for next-to-nothing, and get it done in 1/3 of the normal time?”
During the first 5 minutes of the documentary, we are treated to some scenes that show just how amazing Rhythm and Hues’ work was in crafting Life of Pi’s tiger character. During production, they shot reference footage of a real tiger, and then attempted to replicate what they saw, using their people and programs. The side-by-side comparisons of both live-action and the animated tiger are a testament to what a group of talented people can do, when they strive to push quality in a world that wants everything faster, and cheaper. At the end of the day, one has to also wonder…will things (ever) get Better?