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Archive for Sunday, April 29, 2001

Fresh plots, computer images accent summer cartoons

April 29, 2001

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— This summer's cartoon fare offers a nice mix of original story lines and a cutting-edge blend of live-action with computer-generated images and traditional pen-and-ink animation.

"In the way Scorsese and Spielberg and Lucas sort of reinvented live action movies in the '70s, I think now we're seeing a whole new group of guys and girls reinventing animation and the way we use it to tell stories," said producer Don Hahn, whose credits include "The Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast."

Hahn's latest, Disney's "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," features the voices of Michael J. Fox, James Garner and John Mahoney in a pen-and-ink animated epic about explorers burrowing deep underground in a search for the mythical city.

Other animated flicks this summer:

l "Shrek," the second computer-animated comedy from DreamWorks, which released "Antz." Mike Myers provides the Scottish brogue of the title character, a misanthropic ogre forced on a journey with a talking donkey (Eddie Murphy) to rescue a princess (Cameron Diaz) so he can rid his swampy sanctuary of unwelcome fairy tale creatures.

l "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within," featuring semi-realistic human figures created by computer animation. Based on the video game, the movie tells the story of humans battling ghostly alien invaders. Voices include Peri Gilpin, Steve Buscemi and Ving Rhames.

l "Osmosis Jones," blending pen-and-ink animation and live action for a comedy about a man (Bill Murray) whose body is host for a fight between a white blood cell (the voice of Chris Rock) and a deadly virus (Laurence Fishburne's voice).

l "The Trumpet of the Swan," E.B. White's children's novel about the adventures of a speechless swan, brought to life through pen-and-ink animation. Featuring the voices of Jason Alexander, Mary Steenburgen and Reese Witherspoon, the movie is getting a limited theater run before its home-video debut.

l "Cats & Dogs," which combines live action, animatronic puppets and computer-animated canines and felines. Unbeknownst to humans, a rogue cat named Mr. Tinkles carries on a high-tech feline war against dogs of the world.

The movie features Jeff Goldblum and Elizabeth Perkins and the voices of Alec Baldwin, Jon Lovitz and Susan Sarandon.

"I just thought it was a hysterically funny concept that should have done before but nobody thought of doing," said "Cats & Dogs" director Larry Guterman. "The idea that we've always suspected something was up with our cats and dogs, and the idea it was going on right under our noses."

The movie promises big advances over such previous films as "Babe" in depicting human expressions on the faces of talking animals. Likewise, with "Shrek" and "Final Fantasy," animators continue to push the boundaries for creating entire worlds on computer.

The "Final Fantasy" characters are not photo-realistic people, but they're as close as current technology allows, said Chris Lee, a producer on the film.

"We've all seen dinosaurs and toys come to life, or characters like Stuart Little and Jar Jar Binks," Lee said. "But the difficulty level is so much higher to create something everyone has a relationship to. To try to create believable people in the computer has been the holy grail for the artist."

The possibilities of computer animation have "just opened up everyone's imagination," said Vicky Jenson, co-director of "Shrek."

"But at the same time you have those breakthroughs, you can only capitalize on it with good stories. People don't become enamored of the medium for its own sake. Regardless of the medium, people aren't going to want to see it if you don't tell a good story."

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