Thun­der Strikes Amer­ica

Shout! Fac­tory looks to du­pli­cate the global suc­cess of nWave’s most-re­cent fea­ture in North Amer­ica. By Tom McLean.

Animation Magazine - - Features -

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.

Cel­e­brat­ing Dis­ney

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.

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