March 25, 2017
Chris Columbus got the inspiration to for Gremlins after hearing what sounded like a “platoon of mice” in his loft scurrying about. He wrote the script as a show of his skills for potential employers. The idea to actually make it a film didn’t happen until Steven Spielberg got ahold of the script and felt it was the most original thing he’d seen in a long time. Tapping Joe Dante to direct and Warner Bros. to produce the film along with his Amblin Entertainment, the film was a horror-comedy centered around a family’s acquisition of a mogwai: a cute, furry little creature. That is, as long as three rules were followed: 1) don’t expose it to strong light, 2) don’t let it get wet, and 3) never feed it after midnight. Of course, these rules get violated and a horde of ugly, savage gremlins end up on the loose; terrorizing the small town of Kingston Falls. Gremlins opened on June 8, 1984 and became a box office hit.
As part of the promotion for the film, Ralston licensed the right to make a cereal based on it. Gremlins Cereal came with pieces in the shape of the film’s star, Gizmo (Howie Mandel), who also graced the box and was featured in the commercial for it. Incidentally, the commercial also starred Jonathan Ward as one of the kids eating the cereal, who would go on to appear in a Dante-directed Twilight Zone revival episode. With two proofs of purchase from the box and $9.95, people could send away for a plush Gizmo doll. Each box also included one of 11 different collectible stickers. The cereal was a limited edition and stayed on the shelves about as long as the film’s original theatrical run.
THE KING KONG SHOW
(ABC, September 6, 1966-March 4, 1967)
Videocraft International, Toei Animation
Carl Banas – Professor Bond
Susan Conway – Susan Bond
Billie Richards – Billy Bond
Bernard Cowan – Unknown
John Drainie – Unknown
Alfie Scopp – Unknown
Paul Soles – Unknown
Filmmaker Merian C. Cooper became interested in primates when he was a young boy. By the time his career took him to RKO Pictures, he wanted to make a “terror gorilla picture.” He would become inspired to make the gorilla giant-sized after seeing a plane flying over a tall building in New York City and imagining the gorilla fighting warplanes while on top of it. He was also further inspired by William Douglas Burden’s adventures chronicled in his book Dragon Lizards of Komodo and wanted his gorilla to fight a giant Komodo dragon.
|King Kong concept art.|
Willis O’Brien and Marcel Delgado handled the initial design of the gorilla. Cooper wanted the gorilla to be gorilla-like, but O’Brien wanted to add human-like features to make him more sympathetic to the audience. After several versions were designed, the gorilla eventually took a streamlined version of its natural shape while also retaining some human characteristics, such as walking upright most of the time. Cooper decided to name his creation “Kong,” liking the strong sound the “k” gave it and the mysteriousness it encompassed. While deciding on the title for the film, he wanted it to be simply Kong to focus on the central character. Producer David O. Selznick feared that audiences would mistake the one word-titled film for a docudrama like Cooper had earlier made, he added “King” to the title to differentiate it.
King Kong was written by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose, and was directed by Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. The film centered on filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) chartering Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) to take him to Skull Island where he’ll film his latest picture. There, they encountered the giant Kong and other dinosaurs. Denham captured Kong and brought him back to New York City to put on display. Kong soon escaped, kidnapped Denham’s star, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), and took her to the top of the Empire State Building. Kong and the other creatures were created with a combination of stop-motion animation, matte painting, rear projection and miniatures, as well as large-scale props.
The film opened on March 23, 1933 and became a box office success. RKO quickly put a sequel into production. Son of Kong was released that December, again directed by Schoedsack and written by Rose with Armstrong and Reicher reprising their roles. The film was done as more of a comedy, returning Denham and Englehorn to Skull Island where they encounter a smaller, friendlier albino version of Kong. The film was a modest success, making only three times its budget and earning mixed reviews.
|Concept art featuring Dr. Frankenstein's giant monster (left).|
In the 1960s, O’Brien had come up with an idea for pitting Kong against a giant version of the Frankenstein Monster. After securing permission from RKO to use Kong, producer John Beck began shopping the idea around for a studio to make it (RKO no longer was a production company by that time). The cost of stop-motion animation kept domestic studios away from the idea, and Beck turned overseas. Around that time, Toho Co., Ltd. was planning a return for their Godzilla character. Always wanting to do a Kong film, Toho purchased the script written by George Worthing Yates and had it rewritten by Shinichi Sekizawa; replacing the Monster with Godzilla. Director Ishiro Honda had toyed with the idea of using stop-motion to emulate the earlier Kong movies, but budgetary concerns had Kong join Godzilla in the realm of rubber suits worn by actors.
King Kong vs. Godzilla debuted on August 11, 1962 and became the fourth-highest grossing movie in Japan, as well as the largest grossing film in Toho’s Godzilla franchise. Beck had retained the rights to produce a version of the film for non-Asian markets and had American actors intercut into the footage to explain the origins of Godzilla and narrate the action, as well as alterations to the original footage. His version of King Kong vs. Godzilla premiered on June 26, 1963 and earned $1.2 million against the $200,000 Universal Pictures paid to release the film.
|King Kong, dinosaur fighter.|
After Rankin/Bass Productions (known at the time as Videocraft International) had created the successful Christmas special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, ABC approached them to make a traditionally animated television series for children. Co-founder Arthur Rankin eventually saw that as an opportunity to work on a film property he grew up loving and secured the rights from RKO to make a King Kong cartoon, with the option to make a full-length feature film. With writers Lew Lewis, Bernard Cowan (who also provided voices) and Ron Levy, Videocraft centered the series around a friendlier version of Kong that befriended the family of scientist Professor Bond (Carl Banas) after they had come to explore Mondo Island (sometimes Skull Island). Like the original King Kong, the island was full of dinosaurs, but there were also additional human threats; in particular, the mad scientist Dr. Who bent on world domination and Kong’s destruction. Natural disasters, aliens and the military occasionally played a role to oppose Kong. Returning from the original film was Captain Englehorn, who was made a friend of the Bond family.
Each episode consisted of two 6-minute King Kong segments. In between, Videocraft included an original segment: Tom of T.H.U.M.B. Inspired by the story of Tom Thumb, the segment focused on a three-inch tall secret agent named Tom who worked for T.H.U.M.B. (The Tiny Human Underground Military Bureau). He and his equally-tiny Asian sidekick, Swinging Jack, were shrunk by an experimental ray and their division was created so that they could continue to serve their country. They were sent out on missions by their boss, Chief Homer J. Chief, to foil the fiendish plots of the evil organization, M.A.D. (Maldjusted Antisocial and Darn mean). The segment was a spoof on the spy genre.
|Dr. Who captures the Bond family.|
The King Kong Show premiered with an hour-long pilot establishing the premise of the series. It aired in primetime on September 6, 1966 before the show made its Saturday debut on September 10. The series was the first to be created in Japan for broadcast in the United States, as all the animation duties were handled by Toei Animation (then Toei Doga). The animation, however, was cruder compared to other anime made at the time. Rod Willis, Paul Coker and Jack Davis handled all the initial character designs, and the music was composed by Maury Laws and Jules Bass. The show aired its last original episode on February 18, 1967 but ran an additional two weeks by splitting the pilot up into two episodes. While ABC didn’t order any additional episodes, it did put the show into syndication and kept it on its schedule well into 1969.
Toei also put their own money into the show’s production in exchange for the Japanese distribution rights. The pilot aired on Nihon Educational Television Co., LTD (now TV Asahi) on December 31, 1966 as King of the World: The King Kong Show (Sekai-no Osha Kingu Kongu Taikai). The series proper debuted on April 5, 1967 as King Kong and 1/7th Tom Thumb (Kingu Kongu 0001/7 Oyayubi Tomu).
In the meantime, Rankin had decided to exercise the film option by adapting a concept introduced into the show: Dr. Who’s mechanical copy of Kong, Mechani-Kong. The script was submitted to RKO at the same time that Toho pitched their own Kong film. RKO liked the Videocraft script better, and allowed Toho to make a film based off of it (Toho recycled their rejected script as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster). RKO liked The King Kong Show and asked that Rankin be included to supervise the production as their representative. While it retained Dr. Who and Mechani-Kong, the Bond family was dropped from the story in favor of new characters and retained no continuity with any of the previous films. King Kong Escapes (called Counterattack of King Kong in Japan) was released on July 22, 1967 in Japan and June 19, 1968 in the United States. Paul Frees, one of the Rankin/Bass regulars who worked on The King Kong Show, provided the English dubbing voice for most of the male characters. Although Toho wanted to make another Kong film, their rights to the character expired shortly after the film was released.
|Kong on DVD.|
In the intervening years, King Kong was remade twice: once by Dino De Laurentiis in 1976 (which updated the climax with the use of the Twin Towers), and the second time by Peter Jackson and Universal in 2005. Another reboot of the franchise came in 2017 with Kong: Skull Island, which exists in a shared universe with Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla. As part of the promotional campaign for the Jackson film, Sony Wonder released 8 episodes of The King Kong Show across two DVDs in their entirety. In most cases, the episodes also contained their respective commercial bumpers. The pilot episode was also included, broken up in its two-episode version across both sets.
“King Kong” (9/6/66) – The Bond family discovers Kong on Mondo Island and brings him back to the US for study, which ends up putting him in trouble with the military.
“Under the Volcano / For the Last Time, Feller...I'm not Bait! / The Treasure Trap” (9/10/66) – The Bond family is captured while investigating a dormant volcano. / Tom and Jack recover top secret plans from a sunken ship. / An earthquake traps Bobby underwater as he explores a sunken ship.
“The Horror of Mondo Island / Hey, that was a Close One World! / Dr. Who” (9/17/66) – Bobby dresses up Kong to scare off a mining corporation looking for a rare metal. / Tom and Jack have to disarm a MAD doomsday weapon. / An evil scientist kidnaps Kong.
“Rocket Island / I was a 9 1⁄2 oz. Weakling Till One Day... / The African Bees” (9/24/66) – Dr. Who disrupts a capsule launch in order to hold the US ransom. / MAD puts Tom and Jack in a miniature city. / Kong must protect Professor Bond and a millionaire from a swarm of bees.
“The Hunter / I Was a Starling for the USA! / The Space Men” (10/1/66) – A safari hunter uses Bobby as bait to trap Kong. / Tom and Jack infiltrate a flock of birds to learn which of them are MAD agents. / Aliens land on the island to collect specimens before they invade.
“The Jinx of the Sphinx / Cool Nerves and... Steady Hands / The Greeneyed Monster” (10/8/66) – The Bonds and Kong travel to Egypt to investigate Sphinx attacks. / Tom and Jack have to diffuse a public pool filled with nitroglycerine. / Kong gets jealous when Bobby takes care of Englehorn’s dog.
“The Top of the World / All Guys from Outer Space are Creeps / The Golden Temple” (10/15/66) – Dr. Who heads to Alaska in order to melt the ice and cause the tides to rise. / Tom and Jack must befriend an alien before he can join MAD. / Professor Bond is sucked into a whirlpool while investigating a sunken temple.
“The Electric Circle / Mechanical Granma / Mirror of Destruction” (10/22/66) – A scientist decides to make the island a nuclear missile base for his country. / Tom and Jack use a mechanical grandma to infiltrate MAD. / Dr. Who steals a heat device in order to kill Kong.
“Tiger Tiger / The Day We Almost Had It / The Vise of Dr. Who” (10/29/66) – Professor Bond accidentally revives two frozen sabretooth tigers. / Tom gets amnesia after disarming a bomb. / Dr. Who lures the Bonds and Englehorn into a trash compactor trap.
“King Kong's House / Tom Makes History / MechaniKong” (11/5/66) – A hunt for fossils traps Professor Bond and Bobby in a cave with a tyrannosaurus rex. / Tom and Jack time travel to save George Washington. / Dr. Who creates a robotic duplicate of Kong and unleashes it on New Guinea.
“The Giant Sloths / Tom Scores Again / The Legend of Loch Ness” (11/12/66) – Kong faces off against a pair of giant sloths. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / The Bond family takes Kong to Scotland to investigate the Lock Ness Monster.
“Dr. Bone / Blow, Jack, Blow! / No Man's Snowman” (11/19/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Desert Pirates / Tom and the TV Pirates / Command Performance” (11/26/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Sea Surrounds Us / The Girl from M.A.D. / Show Biz” (12/3/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Wizard of Overlord / Just One of those Nights / Perilous Porpoise” (12/10/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Trojan Horse / Runt of 1,000 Faces / The Man from K.O.N.G.” (12/17/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Caribbean Cruise / Hello, Dollies! / Diver's Dilemma” (12/24/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Great Sun Spots / Pardner / Kong is Missing” (12/31/66) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“In the Land of the Giant Trees / Beans is Beans / Captain Kong” (1/7/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Statue of Liberty Play / What Goes Up... / Pandora's Box” (1/14/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Thousand Year Knockout / Our Man, the Monster / Desert City” (1/21/67) – A trip to France puts Kong against a reanimated gargoyle. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Eagle Squadron / Never Trust a Clam / The Kong of Stone” (1/28/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Murderer's Maze / Drop that Ocean, Feller / The Great Gold Strike” (2/4/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“It Wasn't There Again Today / Plug that Leak / The Mad Whale” (2/11/67) - NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The King Kong Diamond / The Scooby / Anchors Away” (2/18/67) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“A Friend In Need” (2/25/67) – The Bond family discovers Kong on Mondo Island and decide to bring him back to the US for study.
“Key to the City” (3/4/67) – When Kong ends up in New York City, the Bond family must protect him from the military.
Director: Dean Israelite
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G., Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader
Saban’s long-running Power Rangers franchise joins the ever-growing list of Hollywood reboot mania with the franchise’s first theatrical film in 20 years.
|The original Power Rangers.|
The series began in 1993 as Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, created by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy. The series utilized footage from the continuing Japanese Super Sentai series interspliced with new footage starring an American cast and became a worldwide phenomenon. The series focused on five “teenagers with attitude” selected by a being named Zordon to utilize Power Coins to turn them into Power Rangers. As Rangers, they defend the Earth from evil space witch Rita Repulsa and her minions as they try to either destroy or conquer it, depending on her mood.
|Cyler, Scott, Lin, Montgomery and G.|
The film is a more serious take on the familiar story. It still centers on five teenagers from the city of Angel Grove—disgraced football star Jason (Dacre Montgomery); autistic genius Billy (RJ Cyler); formerly popular cheerleader Kimberly (Naomi Scott); self-proclaimed crazy Zack (Ludi Lin); and private loner Trini (Becky G.)—discovering Power Coins left by Zordon (Bryan Cranston, who actually worked on the original series) for the next chosen group of Power Rangers to be found (although the choosing aspect of that is debatable). However, their newfound powers and identity come with a catch: the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), once defeated by Zordon, has returned and they have only days to stop her from destroying the Earth; starting with Angel Grove. Fans of the series will be happy to know all the elements are present: Alpha 5 (Bill Hader), the Power Coins (which looked more like encrusted gems but were still called “coins”), the suits, the Zords, the Mega Zord, and the giant monster fight.
|Jason holding a Power "Coin".|
As far as “teenagers with attitude” go, these kids have that in spades (except maybe for Billy, who doesn’t quite have the chip on his shoulder as the others do despite his own hard-luck story). Even Zordon isn’t above a ride on the ‘tude train, as he’s presented as less of a mentor than his TV counterpart and more as someone who doesn’t really like kids but is forced to deal with them. One place the story is lacking, however, is in character development. Jason gets the most focus in the story, with Billy a close second. We’re told Kimberly became a “mean girl” when she betrayed a friend’s trust, but the designation isn’t really given a satisfactory justification beyond the ambiguous offense. Zack and Trini’s characters get the least development (and a lack of last names, neither ever once uttered on camera unlike the other three). It’s eventually revealed that a sick mother drives Zack to spend times skipping school and acting out. Trini’s backstory is shown only in a singular quick scene of awkward family interaction, and a later attempt at context fails to adequately explain what it was we were seeing.
|Banks as Rita Repulsa.|
The one who benefitted most from the movie’s changes was Alpha 5. While many weren’t happy with his design when it was first revealed, the character has become a bit more competent and less annoying. They did manage to work in at least one instance of the trademarked declaration “ay yi yi yi!”, but it made sense when it happened (and was just one of many Easter eggs peppered throughout the film for longtime Rangers fans). He still served as the film’s primary comic relief, but the comedic moments throughout the film were relatively subdued (while some moments just fell purely flat). Rita and her Putties were made to be a bit more menacing than their TV counterparts; with Rita’s early appearances in Angel Grove verging on satisfactorily terrifying. And fans who guessed the story behind Rita’s design ended up being correct in their assessment, which could play nicely into future films.
|The new Ranger suits.|
As for the story itself, overall it was entertaining enough to keep a viewer interested. Despite the flaws in their characterizations, the actors themselves managed to carry the story—and they had to. Those expecting a lot of action are bound to be disappointed as they spend a good portion of the movie not being Power Rangers. Yes, this is another one of those “superhero origin stories” that spends most of its time world building and doesn’t get to the nitty gritty until the final act.
|Rita and her army of Putties.|
The final act also ends up being the weakest of the film. The tone of things becomes comparatively lighter to all the teenage angst we had been subjected to thus far. Rita, who was building up to be a genuine threat, left too many opportunities for the Rangers to get the upper hand on her. The Rangers, who spent a good portion of the film learning how to fight without their Zords, are thrown into battle with them and clunkily work their way into the fight without even the least bit of guidance from Zordon or Alpha 5, who had been training them. The film was also littered with those convenient and cliched contrivances often found in these types of movies: the main characters all end up in the same place at the right time, instant knowledge on how things work, someone important to a character ends up stupidly in need of rescue, etc. The CGI, however, was well done as was the stunt work, and the fights were decent, though brief and too few.
Overall, Saban’s Power Rangers is one of the better reboot efforts to come through in a sea of reboots that barely resemble or make fun of their source material. Power Rangers satisfactorily takes the over-the-top Japanese elements that made the original show a comedy and grounds them in reality to give us a more serious attempt at the franchise. While the plot is littered with clichés and contrivances to help the story move forward, and is decidedly sparse on important character development and Rangers action, it does present an interesting story that will keep audiences engaged. There are actually some moments which makes it hard to believe they consider this to be a family film, but it never goes as dark as the 2015 short film by Joseph Kahn. Fans of the franchise should come away satisfied enough to look forward to future installments (set up in a mid-credits scene, so stick around), which have a decent enough base to improve upon here.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Zords. A decent start to a new franchise that isn’t much deeper than a typical popcorn flick, but should be found enjoyable by most audiences.
March 19, 2017
You can read the full story here.
Wrightson was an artist and the co-creator of DC Comics' Swamp Thing, who later had his own brief animated series. Wrightson had just announced his retirement from art due to health issues not long before his untimely death.
March 18, 2017
DESPICABLE ME MINIONS MADE CEREAL
After two successful movies and a spin-off, a third was inevitable. Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment announced Despicable Me 3 in 2013 and set out on production for a 2017 release. The film follows reformed supervillain Gru (Steve Carrell) as he encounters a former child star-turned-villain and his long-lost charming, cheerful and more successful twin brother, Dru (also Carell).
As part of the promotional marketing campaign for the film, Kellogg’s licensed the rights to the characters to produce the second Despicable Me-themed cereal: Despicable Me Minions Made Cereal. Interestingly enough, the first was made by General Mills in promotion of the then-upcoming Minions spin-off film. Like that cereal, this one also focused on the Minions (primarily voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin); the popular diminutive servants of Gru. The cereal featured squared cereal pieces flavored with vanilla and a hint of brown sugar, as well as marshmallows in the shape of Minions, bananas and oranges (their food of choice being fruit). The boxes feature various arrangements of the primary Minions—Bob, Stuart and Kevin—as well as games and comic strips on the back.
In 2010, Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment released what would become the first film in a franchise: Despicable Me. The movie centered on supervillain Gru (Steve Carrell) who adopted three girls, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher), as a means to further his own sinister plans against rival villain, Vector (Jason Segel). But, when Vector kidnapped the girls, Gru had grown to realize he genuinely cared for them and set out to rescue them. While the sequel, Despicable Me 2, would continue the adventures of Gru and his new family, there was no doubt that the breakout stars of the film were Gru’s little yellow minions—known as Minions (primarily voiced by Pierre Coffin, who also co-directed the films).
The Minions are smaller than humans, have one or two eyes, and primarily wear goggles, overalls, boots and gloves. They speak in nonsensical “Minionese,” derived from Bahasa Indonesia, French, English, Italian, Spanish and Hindi, and serve only to serve someone else. Serving as the primary comic relief of the Despicable Me films, the Minions became the mascots for the franchise; used in promotions, merchandise, commercials and more. In 2015, the Minions got their own movie, Minions, which showcased their lives just before they met Gru.
As part of the promotional tie-in to the film, General Mills acquired the license to produce a limited-edition cereal based on the characters. Minions Cereal was a banana berry flavored cereal comprised of square pieces with images of the primary Minions, Kevin, Stuart and Bob (who were also featured on the box), stamped onto them (although, the stamps didn’t always come through clearly). The flavoring, while could be said to have been partially selected due to the Minions’ coloring, actually fit the characters’ love of fruits. While other General Mills cereals featured free Minion toys, Minions Cereal itself had no premiums. Instead, it came with a “spot the difference” game on the back of the box showing two images of the Minions in New York City.
FIEVEL’S AMERICAN TAILS
(CBS, September 12-December 5, 1992)
Amblin Television, Amblimation, Nelvana Limited, Universal Cartoon Studios
In 1984, Don Bluth, Steven Spielberg and Universal Pictures united to create an animated film designed to rival the beauty of Bluth’s earlier effort, The Secret of NIMH. It would have been Universal’s first animated feature since 1965’s Pinocchio in Outer Space and Spielberg’s first animated film ever. The film was An American Tail, conceived by producer David Kirschner.
Originally, Spielberg wanted an all-animal world like Disney’s Robin Hood, but Bluth showed him Disney’s The Rescuers and convinced him to make the animal world a hidden society amongst the human world; a format that was more successful theatrically than purely animal. Bluth and Spielberg worked out incidents for the script that would be penned by Tony Geiss and Judy Freudberg, frequent contributors to Sesame Street and who had just completed the script for the film Follow That Bird. The main character of the film was a little mouse named Fievel, after Spielberg’s grandfather. Bluth was initially against the name, believing its foreign sound would put off American audiences, but a compromise was reached and Fievel was given the nickname “Filly.”
While the script was being written, Bluth began developing the character designs. The look of Fievel was the most important, especially to Sears who had a large marketing campaign in place around the film. As nostalgia was at an all-time high amongst baby boomers, and being that there were so many mouse characters out there, Bluth decided to go retro and used the round and soft cuddly style that was prevalent around the time of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Bluth worked on the storyboards with assistance from Larry Leker and sent them over to Spielberg for changes or approval. During the production, Don Bluth Studio began using a valuable tool that would help trip their animating time: a video printer. By recording actions, they could print them out frame-by-frame to use as reference or, in some cases, a traceable guide. Unfortunately, any time benefits were lost when scenes constantly had to be approved by both Amblin Entertainment and Universal. They were also working with a significantly smaller budget than other animated features at the time (causing frequent disputes with the union), and Spielberg’s desire to incorporate as many songs as possible. In compromise, many scenes were trimmed or dropped and replaced with shorter ones, resulting in some errors and a jumbling in the overall narrative. Animation also had a tendency to come back needing fixing, and turnaround for overseas coloring was slower than expected.
Finally, An American Tail came together for its preview screening in October of 1986, and was released theatrically on November 21st after a heavy marketing campaign by Universal. The film, set in 1885, followed the Mousekewitze family on their journey to a “cat-free” America. They were driven from their home in Shostka, Russia when Cossacks firebombed the house of the human family they lived with. Boarding a tramp steamer in Germany, the Mousekewitzes began their perilous journey to a new home when Fievel (Phillip Glasser) was washed overboard and seemingly lost at sea. Fievel ended up saved by a bottle and in America anyway, and set out to reunite with his family amongst the new perils his new country had to offer.
Despite mixed reviews, the film opened in second place only to Crocodile Dundee. Positive word of mouth led to an increase in subsequent weeks. While it became the highest grossing animated feature upon first release, the fact that the independent film went toe-to-toe with Disney re-released films The Song of the South and Lady and the Tramp and was not obliterated was the most noteworthy accomplishment. Sears made a killing on Tail merchandise, and the song “Somewhere Out There” was an immediate hit. The song, the film, and the score by James Horner were nominated for multiple awards. Worldwide, the film ended up grossing over $150 million and was one of the top-selling VHS tapes when it was released in 1987.
In 1989, Amblin and Universal entered a partnership to form their own London-based animation studio, Amblimation. Fievel served as the company’s mascot and appeared with its logo. One of Amblimation’s first projects was a sequel to An American Tail. Bluth and his new Ireland-based Sullivan Bluth Studios were set to work on the film again with Spielberg, but creative differences caused them to bow out. Former Disney animator Phil Nibbelink and Simon Wells, the great-grandson of H.G. Wells, were brought on board to direct the project. As a result, the animation style was markedly different from the first and several characters underwent minor cosmetic changes. Horner returned to score the film.
An American Tail: Fievel Goes West was released on November 22, 1991—exactly five years and one day after the original—and was once again up against a Disney film: Beauty and the Beast. The film followed the Mousekewitz family as they left a hard life behind in New York for a supposedly better life in the west. However, Fievel discovers the move was a plot by Cat R. Waul (John Cleese) and his cronies to turn the mice into mouse burgers and is thrown off the train. Fievel, along with his friend Tiger the Cat (Dom DeLuise) and Western legend Wylie Burp (James Stewart in his final film role) set out to thwart the cats’ plans and rescue the mice.
Like the original, the film generated mixed reviews from critics but still performed well at the box office; however, not as well as its predecessor. The film was a financial success, but only managed to gross over $40 million worldwide. Undaunted by the drop-off, Amblimation moved forward with another sequel; this time in the form of an animated series. Fievel’s American Tails would pick up directly from where Goes West left off and was co-produced by Nelvana, Ltd. and Universal Cartoon Studios.
Phillip Glasser, who was cast for the original movie after being overheard auditioning for an Oscar Mayer commercial, returned to voice Fievel, as did DeLuise as his best friend, Tiger, and Cathy Cavadini as his older sister, Tanya (Cavadini replaced original actress Amy Green in the sequel). The rest of the characters were recast: Nehemiah Persoff was replaced by Lloyd Battista as Fievel’s father; Erica Yohn by Susan Silo as Fievel’s mother; Amy Irving by Cynthia Ferrier as Tiger’s girlfriend, Miss Kitty; Cleese by Gerrit Graham as Cat R. Waul; and Jon Lovitz by Dan Castellaneta as Cat’s sidekick, T.R. Chula. Cavadini also gained the additional role of Yasha, the baby of the family. New to the series was Fievel’s other nemesis, Sweet William (Kenneth Mars), and his dimwitted henchmen, Slim and Felonious (both Castellaneta).
Fievel’s American Tails debuted on CBS on September 12, 1992. The show continued Fievel’s adventures in the west, often spoiling the schemes of Cat and Sweet William using his wits and guile. Otherwise, he helped his family in their violin shop as they dealt with the other immigrant families in the community of Green River. The series was animated by Wang Film Production Co., Ltd., Bardel Animation and The Hollywood Cartoon Company. The series’ theme was composed by Hank Saroyan and Robert Irving, while Milan Kymlicka handled the rest of the music. When Fievel was selected as the spokesmouse for Reading is Fundamental in 1992, little segments called “Reading Buddies” showcasing reading were tacked on to the end of the episodes of the series. Fievel’s ability to read also helped him out of some troubles in the show proper as a further tie-in to the campaign.
The series failed to capture an audience the way the films, particularly the first, had and the ratings dwindled as it went on. At the conclusion of its sole season, CBS quietly cancelled American Tails and it was off the schedule by the fall of 1993. MCA/Universal Home Video released six VHS collections containing two episodes each, as well as two laserdisc volumes. The United Kingdom saw a similar release in 1995, but with a different episode order and swapped one of the episodes for the one not released in the United States. Episodes have also been released to DVD in France, Germany and Italy.
Amblimation was dedicated to making more subdued and high-brow entertainment than what was currently being offered in animation at the time. Unfortunately, that didn’t attract American audiences and the studio’s few projects underperformed at the box office. It was shut down in 1997, but Universal went ahead with two more direct-to-video American Tail movies: 1998’s Treasure of Manhattan Island and 1999’s Mystery of the Night Monster. Fievel and the American Tail mythology live on at Universal Studios Theme Park in the form of Fievel’s Playland; a playground that allows visitors to pretend they’re the size of mice. It outlasted the live show that opened around the same time in 1989, and is currently one of the oldest attractions at the park.
“Fievel, the Lonesome Ranger” (9/12/92) – When other cats kidnap Tiger, Fievel becomes the Lonesome Ranger in order to save him.
“Law and Disorder” (9/19/92) – Being late for school ends up getting Fievel banned from seeing Tiger until his work is done, just as Tiger needs his help to perpetuate a ruse.
“Little Mouse on the Prairie” (9/26/92) – Fievel accidentally loses his friend’s boomerang to Cat R. Waul and sets out to get it back.
“The Gift” (10/3/92) – Fievel gets a violin for his birthday and accidentally breaks it.
“A Case of the Hiccups” (10/10/92) – Fievel is tricked into giving the townspeople the hiccups so an unscrupulous “doctor” can sell them the cure.
“The Legend of Mouse Hollow” (10/17/92) – Cat R. Waul disrupts the school play by kidnapping their teacher.
“The Babysitting Blues” (10/24/92) – Papa and Mama leave Fievel to babysit Yasha as they prepare for a photograph.
“The Lost Mother Lode” (10/31/92) – Fievel and his friends set out to find a supposedly haunted gold vein, but Cat R. Waul plans to get there first by giving them a phony map.
“A Mouse Known as Zorrowitz” (11/7/92) – Cat R. Waul plans to steal the cheese delivery, but is thwarted by the mysterious Zorrowitz.
“Mail Order Mayhem” (11/14/92) – A mail order catalogue causes chaos in the village through the items ordered from it.
“Aunt Sophie’s Visit” (11/21/92) – Fievel wants to participate in the rodeo, but can’t because his aunt is coming to visit.
“That’s What Friends Are For” (11/28/92) – Chula becomes Fievel’s friend when Tiger believes he can no longer be it.
“Bell the Cats” (12/5/92) – Fievel ties bells to the cats’ tails so that their movements can alert the mice, unfortunately the plan backfires.