Thunder Strikes America
Shout! Factory looks to duplicate the global success of nWave’s most-recent feature in North America. By Tom McLean.
Ideas often strike at unexpected times, which is how writer, producer and director Ben Stassen realized he could turn an already-successful short movie made for an attraction into the animated feature Thunder and the House of Magic.
“I heard a report on the radio about — because of the economic downturn — people losing their houses,” says Stassen. “And that year — I think it was 2010, 2011 — about a million domestic animals had been abandoned in the streets in North America. And that kind of lit a light in my head, and I thought about the attraction film we had done about an abandoned cat looking for a place to stay. I thought, ‘Maybe I should go back to that original concept,’ which was a 13-minute attraction film, and expand it to a full feature film — all because of what I just heard on the radio.”
Thunder and the House of Magic has already been released in much of the world under the title House of Magic to solid success. Made by Stassen’s Brussels-based nWave Pictures for about $25 million, the film — which Stassen produced, co-wrote and directed with Jeremie Degruson — debuted last Christmas season in France, Belgium, Switzerland, South Korea and Singapore before screening in the rest of Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa.
Grossing an estimated $33 million, it’s now coming to North America with a limited theatrical release starting Sept. 5 from Shout! Factory in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The film will be release simultaneously on VOD, followed by a Sept. 30 home video release on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy formats, available exclusively through Walmart.
The film’s origins go back to Stassen’s early career, when the USC alumnus discovered computer animation after working a few years in American television and on the Golden Globes-nominated live-action feature My Uncle’s Legacy. He began making specialty films, including IMAX films, 3D films and computer animation films for venues ranging from theme parks to educational attractions, forming nWave in 1994.
A Ride in Search of a Story
One of those films was The Haunted House, a hit attraction film about a lost cat escaping a storm in a haunted house made in 2001. Despite nWave having produced to date several animated features — including Fly Me to the Moon, Sammy’s Adventures and Sammy 2 — the short for The Haunted House essential element: The story.
“When you do an attraction film it’s really more about the experience, not the story,” Stassen says. Taking the scenario inspired by the radio story, Stassen says they next came upon the idea of the house belonging to an elderly magician instead of being haunted. That opened up the story to what the film began, with Thunder joining the magician’s animals and invented automatons to foil the magician’s nephew’s plans to sell the house out from under his uncle for profit. The cast grew to include not just the magician and his nephew, but also a rabbit, mouse, the automatons and many more. Despite loving all the characters, that many speaking parts immediately put the movie over budget.
Stephen Irwin ( Moxie) ternal World).
and David O’Reilly ( The Ex-
tion; and an animation series for kids competition.
Showcases include a look at the best of Canadian animation, this year featuring work from such favorites as Janet Perlman, Mike Geiger and Malcolm Sutherland; an international showcase; and an international student showcase.
To ensure more casual fans and enthusiasts of more mainstream animation efforts aren’t left out of the fun, the festival has planned an extensive celebration of Walt Disney Animation Studio. The celebration includes 25th anniversary screenings of The Little Mermaid with directors John Musker and Ron Clements, as well as two programs of classic Disney shorts, one curated by Jerry Beck, the other by Leonard Maltin; and a presentation of Feast, a new animated short that will screen this fall in front of Disney’s newest feature, Big Hero 6. Lastly, there is an art exhibition called Disney Made Me Do It, featuring nine local artists creating works examining the cultural impact of Disney.
Getting even more specialized, Robinson has curated a program of films by Irish animator David O’Reilly, who will be attending the festival.
The host nation’s top talent is on display in a program titled Hot Freaks: The New Generation of Canadian Animation. Featuring the best Canadian animation of the past and the present, the program includes work by Malcolm Sutherland, Elise Simard, Patrick Doyon and Jonathan Ng.
Lastly, comes a trio of curated themed programs: New Ghosts in the Ol’ Haunt: Regrets, Residues and Crossing Over; Wibbly Wobbley Timey Wimey: Time and Animation; and The Dark Side of Russian Animation.
And don’t forget the parties. The standard opening-night and closing-night soirees will be supplemented with the Salon des Refuses, sponsored by LAIKA, which includes screenings of submitted films that didn’t make the festival cut; the popular Animator’s Picnic, presented by Cartoon Network; a Student Party set up by Bardel Entertainment; and the awards ceremony and special Saturday-night party.