ANNECY, France — The big new news from Warner Bros. Animation — a short-format revival of the Looney Tunes cartoons franchise — went down, with one short “The Curse of the Monkey Bird” screening to thunderous applause at a sneak peek Monday in Annecy.
It was all part of an Annecy Fest Look Ahead by Warner Animation Group (WAG) and Warner Bros. Animation (WBA), co-hosted by executive VP Allison Abbate and VP Audrey Diehl, which also took in “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” and “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” climaxing with an eight-minute excerpt from “Smallfoot.”
The Looney Tunes cartoons will be 1 to 6 minutes in length, with WBA aiming to produce 1,000 minutes in all, Diehl said. Fifty shorts of varying length are in production. The series features veteran Looney Tunes voice cast members including Jeff Bergman and Bob Bergen, and newcomer Eric Bauza taking the reins as Bugs, Daffy and Tweety.
“I wanted to go back to the ‘40s ‘Looney Tunes,’ late ‘30s, early ‘40s, super irreverent, super bananas, high energy. They pushed the surrealism, the high physicality of the animation, the expressions in the animation,” said executive producer Peter Browngardt, displaying character designs from different artists for Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, among others.
All episodes will be in classical 2D animation, Browngardt said, sparking a large round of applause from the Annecy audience.
Browngardt said Warner Bros. Animation would play with “different styles in the shorts, some looking a bit more art deco, some more graphic, other flatter and ‘designy.’”
Spoofing an “Indiana Jones” tomb-caper, and shown in animatics, “The Curse of the Monkey Bird” featured Daffy Duck and Porky Pig venturing inside a jungle temple-pyramid, in search of its allegedly cursed treasure. The Annecy audience ate up in particular one inspired sequence where, thanks to Daffy’s ineptitude, Porky is, in just a few seconds: shot by paralyzing arrows, punched by a giant boxing glove, crushed by a mace, blown up and made victim to a trap floor, plunging to a subterranean level where Daffy, unscathed, joins him.
“WAG is dedicated to the development of smart, irreverent comedies,” which don’t forget physical comedy,” said Abbate. Aided by the studio’s heritage franchises, WAG aims by 2021 to be making two fully animated feature and one hybrid movie a year, striking up synergies with studio sister companies. “We are even starting to do our first DC projects,” Abbate noted.
She added: “It’s important to note that we are up here together, Warner Bros. Animation and WAG, because as we start to work on these brands that go across multiple divisions it’s great to be able to work together.”
Another case of synergy in point: Comedy-action super hero movie “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies,” a spin-off from the hit Cartoon Network TV series, now in its fifth season, the movie is being written by series developers Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath, and directed by series producer Peter Rida Michail and Horvath. Featuring a bunch of maturing young superheroes, the Teen Titans are led by Robin, whose aim is to get a super hero movie of his own. In footage found hilarious by the Annecy crowd, they attempt to go about this by saving other super heroes from the origin stories which fired their identity, such as kid Batman’s witnessing his parents murder down a murky alley in Gotham City.
“This new [theatrical movie] platform allows for us to tell a bigger, richer story and tell these character’s stories like we’ve never done before,” Rida Michail, also the movie’s producer, said on stage at Annecy.
According to Michail, another cool thing about making a movie is that WBA got to expand the series’ world, with DC opening up its library. At one moment in footage shown at Annecy, Swamp Thing, Crypto, Detective Chimp, Batman, Power Girl and others are all seen at a movie premiere, almost certainly of a super hero film.
Another difference with the series: The movie allowed its makers to explore “textures, depth, light,” said Rida Michail, and also incorporate three hand-drawn, traditional animation sequences, two made inhouse at Warner Bros – “a dream come true,” said the director – and one stop-motion sequence.
Jinko Gotoh, executive producer on “The Lego Movie 2: the Second Part,” summed up progress on the much-covered and much-anticipated sequel, and noted its female cast – Alison Brie, Stephanie Beatriz, Elizabeth Banks, Tiffany Haddish – and key creatives: Co-director Trisha Gum; art director Kristen Anderson: picture editor Clare Knight. Dropped last week, the “Lego Movie 2” trailer notably plays up the role of Emmett’s kick ass female friend WyldStyle.
An eight-minute excerpt of the closest to premiere title, “Smallfoot,” takes Yeti Migo, a goofy but upright and affable white woolly monster just dying to befriend a smallfoot - as he calls humans - from his above the clouds mountain peak down below the clouds to a land his kind don’t believe exists. Humans occupy the valley where he discovers a smallfoot specimen, Percy Patterson, a TV star and animal show host whose show is failing in the ratings and is desperate to fake a Yeti sighting.
Presented with large humor by “Smallfoot” director Karey Kirkpatrick, the footage received a rousing final applause for its combination of high technical quality – Migo’s hair has 3,200 simulation curves, instanced into 3.2 million strands of hair, taking 200 hours to render a single frame, Kirkpatrick said – and knockabout physical fun. Migo’s hilarious plunge from Himalayan heights onto a rope bridge between two rickety stone pillars is an instance of classic physical comedy drinking deep from Warner Bros.’ cartoon origins. “We tried to stay true to that original Looney Tunes style on display here,” Kirkpatrick commented.
From its Annecy presentation, Warner Bros. came over as having studio animation operation which have large but realistic ambitions, an identity and a sense of history and momentum.