In the following feature report on animation, KidScreen asked senior executives at a number of animation studios to participate in a special editorial project aimed at highlighting characters in animation.
Our goal was to find a way of providing readers with a glimpse into the way studio executives assess animated film and television characters. We wanted them to share their thoughts and insights.
To accomplish this, we set up a fictitious scenario and asked the executives to take part.
Six studios took up the
1. Lancit Media
5. Harvey Entertainment
6. Sunbow Entertainment
Here is what we asked them to do:
‘Imagine we are back in the days when studios ‘owned’ their top acting talent. You are one of the studio heads. You have your own stable of talent (animated characters), but now, we are asking you to identify that one special star talent you’d love to add to your studio.
‘We want you to tell us in your own words which of all the animated characters out there (excluding those you already have) you would love to add to your studio.
‘We would like you to imagine that you are writing about a live-action film star. Think of this assignment as though it were an internal memo written to your studio colleagues explaining why you want to pursue a particular star talent.’
Some of the elements we asked the participants to consider were:
- What is it about this character’s personality that you like?
- What, in your mind, makes him or her a star?
- How would you change this star to make him or her even bigger?
- What kind of projects would you find for him or her?
- What kind of audience do you think this star appeals to especially?
- How would the star interact with other stars in your studio?
- Tell us a bit about your studio and why and how this star would make it better.
* The following editorial feature is based on a fictitious scenario. The characters identified are not the property of the studios that participated in this feature.
FR: Michael Hirsh, Chairman, Nelvana
RE: The Pursuit of Bugs Bunny
We are currently pursuing a new star to add to our growing and wonderful roster of talent. You all know and love him and his on-screen antics. I’m talking about Bugs Bunny. Personally, his comedy has touched me since I was child enjoying his adventures at the movie theater. His complex sense of comedy and absurd humor followed me throughout my childhood and into adulthood, where he continues to inspire fun. Timing is such an important element of comedy, and Bugs is always right on time with his delivery. His performance has a keen intelligence, while at the same time appealing to blue-collar viewers.
How can I describe Bugs Bunny’s appeal? Universal? Definitely! Kids, adults, rabbits . . . we all love him. He is the best all-around star in television.
One of Bugs Bunny’s most endearing attributes is his call to arms for his on-screen comedy opponents. ‘What’s up, Doc?’ is always funny and poignant in a Bugs Bunny skit, befuddling whomever is trying to share the screen with him.
Bugs Bunny has always been one of the biggest stars of the little screen. But now I know we can make him an even bigger star of the big screen. ‘Casabugsa’, ‘Lawrence of What’s Up Doc’, ‘A Streetcar Named Elmer’ and ‘Ben Hare’ are epics in the making, and Bugs Bunny’s persona will jump off the screen and take the world by storm, the way only Bugs Bunny can.
Because Nelvana is a very diverse animation studio, Bugs Bunny would be in great company if he joined our roster of stars both new and old. We have cutting-edge characters, such as the hilarious Sam and Max, educational and adventurous shows, such as ‘Scholastic’s The Magic School Bus’, and, of course, all of our classic characters, such as Babar, Little Bear, Rupert and Pippi Longstocking.
Bugs Bunny, of course, will insist on top billing on all projects, and he will get it. But he will also work well with all of our studio’s stars. He would respect Babar for his generosity, even while confusing the wise and gentle king. Bugs would sell Rupert London Bridge and a pair of sh’es and teach him the ways of Shakespeare and Oliver Twist. Trusting Little Bear would be intrigued by the rabbit, and we would definitely have to watch over him. Bugs Bunny would give Pippi Longstocking a run for her money, probably while she’s on one of her adventures.
Bugs Bunny could appear with all of them, boosting Nelvana’s comic appeal on television and film.
-The Harvey Entertainment Company
TO: All Staff
FR: Jeffrey A. Montgomery,
Chairman and CEO, The Harvey Entertainment Company
From a purely personal standpoint, one character that I would love to see under the Harvey banner is Arthur Clokey’s Gumby (with the assumption that Pokey would soon follow him out of pure allegiance). While part of my reason stems from nostalgia-like the Harvey characters, Gumby was one of my childhood favorites-I also think Gumby fits well into our own cast of characters and is adaptable to several different animation media.
One of the great things Gumby has in common with characters like Casper, Wendy the Witch or The Ghostly Trio is that he lives in a world of fantasy that is generally without limitations. Casper’s ghostly powers, Wendy’s magic and Gumby’s claymation world are important assets that allow these characters to be developed and redeveloped in a variety of different ways. And because of this fantastical element, the scope of their adventures is almost limitless. I don’t think anyone watching a Casper theatrical short in the 1950s could imagine that, in 1997, he would be an animated series full of pop-culture parody, but Casper’s powers allowed us to develop this kind of show without really changing his character. And so, while Gumby’s television series may now look somewhat dated or campy to certain kids, the essence of fantasy leaves the door wide open for lots of new takes on him.
That’s not to say that Gumby should abandon his current claymation world-in fact, part of his charm is the universe in which he currently exists. And for many people, Richie Rich will always be the character they grew up reading about in comic books. But that doesn’t mean one doesn’t explore new territory and expose the character to new fans. In fact, I think that adapting a character to new media is the best way to ensure its popularity grows. Obviously, Gumby is adaptable to traditional animation and some of the latest techniques in stop motion, but the medium that I think best suits his personality and character is CGI (computer-generated images).
D’es that mean I see Richie Rich riding a CGI Pokey? Probably not any more than I see Hot Stuff interacting with Baby Huey. While there certainly is cross-over potential with Gumby and some of the Harvey characters, I think part of Gumby’s appeal is that he exists in his own unique world.
To: Cecily Truett, Co-president, Lancit Media Entertainment
Fr: Arlene Scanlan, President, Strategy Licensing
Re: Character Acquisition
We concur on BART SIMPSON as a character perfectly positioned to drive Lancit’s new programming and licensing philosophy.
As Program Development repositions Bart into a full-blown teenage heart-throb, then an action/adventure hero with an edge, and finally a middle-aged romantic lead, we see opportunities to brand nearly every facet of Bart’s life.
As a teen idol, we might have:
ALL FEAR – Surfer wear (dude).
RAY-BART – Very hip sunglasses that complement that yellow skin thing he’s got going on.
HAIRWALK – Sneakers modeled after the top of Bart’s head.
And as an action hero, we see:
BARTSPORT – A contemporary collection of men’s skin- and hair-care products.
BARE BART – A provocative line of men’s swimwear.
BART JERKY – A weather-proof and chewable sausage product.
As a romantic leading man:
BARTHOLEMEW – The Scent.
NOGAIN – Hair-restoration products.
Obviously, these are just a sampling of the range and quality of dynamic licensing opportunities, which will grow and mutate much in the same way Bart will. We can’t wait!
To: Cecily Truett
Fr: Marjorie Kaplan, VP, Marketing and Public Relations
I love it! Bart, the chronic underachiever, and Lancit, the ‘goody-two-sh’es’ producer of kidvid. The perfect odd couple, and a marketing marriage made in heaven.
We let Bart ‘grow up’ and we make him the poster child for our new corporate repositioning, a symbol of our rebellion from that predictable preschool image. Almost immediately, we’ll be hipper, edgier, older and more irreverent than ever before.
We’ll pursue corporate alliances and licensing partners that speak to an older demographic, 18- to 34-year-old males, all of whom have purchasing power, make loyal viewers, and will relate to Bart’s machismo coming of age.
In a nutshell: He’s ‘every kid.’ Who d’esn’t connect with his wisecracking wit and his slacking off? Bottom line: No one expects big things from him.
Wait until we get through with him.
To: Cecily Truett,
Fr: N’el Resnick,VP, Development
Re: Character Acquisition
Four letters: B.A.R.T. That’s right, that Simpson kid is ready to grow up, and we’re just the guys to make him do it. His resumé speaks for itself. He’s gone from a one-dimensional underachiever to a full-blown fourth grade rebel without a cause. We’ve always known him as a kid with a sharp wit and an even sharper tongue, but now we’ve come to know that somewhere underneath that spiked hair and yellow skin, there’s a heart of gold (or at least brass).
And therein lies the opportunity. Bart’s been running in place for the last couple of years. He’s proven himself a pro: a guy whose ink can stay fresh on the cel. Now is his time to break out. Certainly his own series would be a slam dunk. But that’s just the beginning. It’s time to position the ‘B-man’ for the big screen.
He’s a franchise guy who can grow with his audience. So let’s think long-term development slate: first teen heart-throb, then action hero, then romantic lead. For instance:
FEAR OF FALLING A coming-of-age story with Bart as a teenage skateboard champion confronting life, love and asphalt.
JAM THIS Bart teams with Dennis Rodman in an action/buddy picture that pits them against Michael Jordan as a cyborg created by Rupert Murdoch to take over the world.
DRIVING HOMER A middle-aged Bart returns home to care for his aging father and comes to terms with his childhood in Springfield.
Anyway, you get the idea. Let’s make him an offer he can’t refuse.
To: Development Team
cc: Tick, Mask, Guapo and Fraz Flub, Fat Dog Mendoza, Zippy the Pinhead, Salty
Fr: C.J. Kettler, President
Re: New Talent
Guys, I was talking to Arthur (turns out he’s the smarter one) at the Sunbow commissary, and he had a good thought. We should approach Bullwinkle and Rocky to see if they would like to sign on here at Sunbow. For a guy in a moth suit, I think he’s on to something.
Rocky and Bullwinkle are really funny, and I hear they’re a dream to work with. I think they’ll fit in with our stable of unstable stars. They have that combination of smart and stupid we’ve come to love here at Sunbow, and play right into our trademark style of satire, parody and bad puns. (Note to outside counsel: has that trademark cleared yet?)
I love all their puns, even the really bad ones (‘Moose gets the Juice, or Mourning Becomes Electra-cuted’; ‘for a powerful magnate, you sure don’t pick up things too quickly’). And you have to figure that all their pop culture references will appeal to the parents, as well as the self-referential stuff (‘You can’t have a cartoon without a happy ending,’ says Rocky, as he and Bullwinkle fall off a cliff. ‘Yeah,’ Bullwinkle says, ‘this must be one of those adult cartoons.’) But with their broad stories and sight gags, kids love them too. Perfect for Sunbow-they have cross-over written all over them. (Have Geraldine talk to the cleanup guys and see if we can take care of that.)
Bullwinkle and Rocky are doing OK with Jay Ward, but it’s worth talking to them. Offer them some opportunities they might not have over there. Let’s put our thinking caps on. For instance, after 326 three-and-a-half minute episodes, they may want to think long form. We have The Tick movie going; maybe we can present some film ideas to the moose and squirrel. Or maybe we can go the philanthropy route and make a contribution to their alma maters. According to my sources (don’t even ask), Bullwinkle played some ball at Wossamatta U., and Rocky went to Cal Tech (Calvin’s School of Supermarket Technology). If worst comes to worst, we can offer them a new pink limo; but if Fraz and Guapo hear about that, there will be trouble. In any event, try to set up a meeting for them with Zippy. He’s a huge fan-turns out he says, ‘Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat,’ like six times a day.
Let’s get going on this. Bullwinkle and Rocky fit our style, being a comic buddy team who specialize in satire, parody and wordplay; they’re cross-over characters, who will play in prime time as well as daytime; coming from Frostbite Falls, the demos are good-they can help broaden our reach beyond urban areas; and (to my mind, most important), both of them have the middle initial ‘J.’ Send someone out to Moosylvania ASAP to get the ball rolling.
By the way-remind me at the next development meeting to talk about Pete Puma. He’s underutilized at Warner’s, and I think he could be a huge star.
Date April 14, 1997
To: Production Development Team
From: Albie Hecht, Sr. VP, Worldwide Production
Subject: Pending Deal with Rocky and Bullwinkle
As you know, I’ve just come back from talks with Rocky and Bullwinkle and their agent, Mr. Peabody. It’s looking good for a pickup on a new Nickelodeon series that spells ‘big comeback.’ We’re very excited about the opportunity and feel these two superstars would be an excellent fit with the network.
To me, Rocky and Bullwinkle are, like Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy, one of the great comedy duos. They have a magical relationship built on slapstick, adventure and lots of laughs. Theirs is really a world of possibility, and Rocky and Bullwinkle are the ringmasters.
Rocky and Bullwinkle are big-time stars because they have cross-generational appeal. The show’s humor works on different levels, making it funny for five-, 15- and 35 year olds. This allows us to air the show in all day parts. I think they’d even score a late-night hit on Nick at Nite.
Of course, every new show needs some tweaking. Here are some thoughts on making Rocky and Bullwinkle even bigger:
- Update the colors and design: Rocky’s always been speedy, but a few nips and tucks to those cheeks and a makeover wouldn’t hurt. We’ve already got Bullwinkle working out with Susan Powter.
- Put them in more situations than they’ve ever been in before: Explore the changes in their world since the Cold War; create a whole other world of exploration and adventure for them.
There are many more venues and media to explore with these stars. We could take them on the road, hosting talk shows and live events. (We’ve already slated them for next year’s Kids’ Choice Awards.)
We can discuss marketing and consumer products tie-ins at the next development meeting, but I want to add one comment in that regard. I am sure that Rocky’s hat will be the next fashion statement in the year 2000, and I think we should consider whatever licensing opportunities are available.
So far, Rocky and Bullwinkle are fitting right in with our existing talent pool. Last week, we set up a dinner for them with our other comedy duos, Ren and Stimpy and the Angry Beavers, at Lutece. Although we discovered that Stimpy isn’t the only one with a furball problem, they got along very well. I think they’ve already planned to vacation together at Frostbite Falls and the Hoover Dam.
Rocky and Bullwinkle told me they approached Nickelodeon because of our ability to make and build stars. We made Ren and Stimpy, Arnold and the Rugrats into hot properties, as well as Alex Mack, Clarissa and Kenan and Kel, so I know we can break out these two and build their careers even higher.
I think the characters and stories we could create for Rocky and Bullwinkle would be a creative challenge for the original and innovative artists at our studios-Rocky and Bullwinkle’s brand of quirkiness fits in well with our brand of quirkiness. Another benefit we bring to this deal is that the variety format works so well on Nickelodeon, and all the pieces of their program comprise an original and successful variety show.
Even though we’re dealing mainly with Rocky and Bullwinkle, we can’t forget the potential of supporting cast members like Sherman, Natasha Fatale, Boris Badenov and Dudley Do-Right. They are important co-stars, much like those in Your Show of Shows. I also think Peabody’s WAYBACK machine would be an excellent resource for the Nick at Nite press junkets, and he’s willing to throw it in as a side deal.
We’d also utilize the talent and personality of the announcer, William Conrad. Not only would he be an integral part of the show, but he could be part of cross-channel promotional opportunities through his Nick at Nite’s TV Land series, Cannon.
I hope you all are as enthusiastic as I am about our newest stars. We’ve all grown up watching these talented guys and personally, I can’t wait to see what they do next on our network!
To: All staff
From: Marc du Pontavice, head of Gaumont Multimedia
Re: New talent
What is it about cartoons that make us laugh so much? Is it the pie in the face in movements too quick for the eye to follow? Or is it something less? Tex Avery’s Droopy is immensely funny without even lifting a hand, let alone a whole pie. Droopy is animation’s definition of understatement-a true minimalist. With a few spoken words or even just a raised eyebrow, Droopy can send us into side-splitting laughter. His animation, which is always minimal, d’esn’t get in the way of the character or the joke.
Droopy’s on-screen opponents, such as Butch The Dog, form the antithesis of Droopy’s charm. Butch The Dog is fast moving and easily excitable, while Droopy slowly moves towards his goals. Droopy moves so slowly, in fact, that excitable Butch just can’t believe it when he is outdone by Droopy. His understated manner also makes him a star. While other characters on the screen are fast moving, Droopy’s slow moves and inactivity catch the audience’s attention and keep it long enough for the audience to enjoy his humorous lines.
Droopy always gets the girl. In ‘Senor Droopy,’ he is outfought by a professional bullfighter while both are trying to win the affections of a beautiful senorita. He tells the audience early on, with his deadpan delivery, ‘You know what? She’s my girl. . . . I wish I knew her.’ He almost gives up on his quest, that is, until the bull makes fun of the love of his life. Then he shows the bull the error of his ways, and wins over the beautiful senorita.
Because of Droopy’s everyman quality, he would make a great male lead in romantic comedies in both television and film. Droopy could star opposite today’s hottest leading women. And with today’s technology, Droopy could also join some classic femmes fatales from Hollywood’s past. Imagine Droopy opposite Marilyn Monr’e in ‘Some Like It Hot.’ He could stand in for Spencer Tracy’s in ‘Adam’s Rib’ opposite Katharine Hepburn and he would be a great Dustin Hoffman in ‘The Graduate .’
Audiences young and old love Droopy. Older audiences love him because of his reserved nature, which gives him the energy to be passionate about only the most important things in his life. Kids love him because he tickles their funny bone, no matter what he’s doing. He is also the king of one-liners.
Droopy would fit right in with our studio. He could play a great tenant in our new series ‘Home to Rent.’ Droopy would interact well with all of the alien characters, including Candy, Bud, Gorgious and Stereo, and he would particularly have fun with Ento, whose condescending attitude towards humans would produce hilarious results when matched with Droopy’s laid-back attitude. Droopy’s classic Tex Avery-style animation would also be very welcome at Gaumont Multimedia. He’s the type of character that I can relate to when I’m working with our animators.
What would Droopy say to all of this? ‘You know what? I’m happy.’
Droopy is a Hanna-Barbera character, and is now the property of the Warner Bros. Animation Library. He is not the property of Gaumont Multimedia.