On the Road Again
Disney Junior refreshes Mickey and pals for a new generation of young viewers with a classic-car premise in By Tom McLean.
No word better describes the American icon Mickey Mouse than “classic,” and nothing defines classic Americana better than car culture — making the merger of the two in the new preschool animated series Mickey and the Roadster Racers something of a perfect match.
“We love cars and car shows and are big fans of Big Daddy Roth and that kind of thing,” says Mark Seidenberg, co-executive producer and supervising story editor on the new series, produced by Disney Television Animation and due to premiere Jan. 15 on Disney Junior. “And we, through this, would be putting two loves of ours together: cars and Mickey.”
That pitch from Seidenberg and executive producer Rob LaDuca — both previously of Jake and the Never Land Pirates and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse — earned a go-ahead from executive VP of original programming Nancy Kanter, and they were off to the races. Supporting the decision was the popularity of an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse titled “Mickey’s Clubhouse Road Rally” that fea- tured the characters racing cars. “It turned out to be one of the best selling DVDs for Disney,” says LaDuca.
The 52 x 11 series — airing as 26 half-hours — focuses on the adventures of Mickey, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck and Pluto in the town of Hot Dog Hills. Mickey runs a garage and all the characters have cars that transform into roadster racers that reflect their personalities — a concept that was a lot of fun to develop, LaDuca says.
“Mickey has a classic hot rod, like they used to make from Model T’s — very American,” he says. “Minnie’s car, she’s a bit more elegant and maybe a bit more international, so we designed her car, it looks like a bow, but it came from the design of a French car from the ’30s, called a Delahaye.”
“And then for Goofy’s car, we were inspired very much by Big Daddy Roth, so we thought, what’s better for Goofy than a bathtub on wheels with a working shower head?” adds Seidenberg.
“And then Donald, because he’s a sailor, we gave him a boat on wheels: the Cabin Cruiser,” says LaDuca. “And then Daisy loves flowers, so we wanted a smoking dragster for her, so we call that one Snapdragon.”
Researching these designs led the producers directly to the renowned car collection of former Tonight Show host Jay Leno, who personally toured them around his garage.
“By the end of the tour, we said we have a character we’re developing called Billy Beagle who’s like the race announcer,” says LaDuca. “And he did a voice, he goes, ‘Would he sound like this?’ And we said, you’re hired!”
‘Directly from Walt’ Telling tales of race after race, however, would quickly get repetitive, so the approach to storytelling draws heavily on the iconic stars of the show. “They’re the dream team,” says LaDuca. “They come directly from Walt, and we have a big responsibility to keep them as their characters.”
Steinberg says the stories are always about the characters. “Sometimes there is a race,
house Club- around the world to some famous cities that got a subtle cartoon makeover. “We will be going to London, Rome, Madrid — and we’re very careful to not make fun of the national icons like the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum,” says Steinberg.
The main setting is the garage, which was inspired by the visit to Leno’s garage and is decorated with racing car posters, trophies and advertisements. Other key settings include the Hot Dog Diner and a freeway whose exits form the familiar outline of Mickey’s head when seen from above.
With animation done by Technicolor, writing of the series is overall script-driven due to scheduling demands. “But then we don’t pull back on the board guys if they want to have fun with a gag,” says LaDuca.
“When we’re going along with a race, we have five or six characters with cars, and the choreography of figuring out who’s in first, second, third at any point — that’s probably the biggest challenge we have,” says Steinberg.
Famous Voices In addition to Leno, Mickey’s Roadster Racers has pulled in some other famous faces and voices. Three NASCAR drivers lend their voices and their likenesses to Disney-fied versions of themselves: Jimmie Johnson plays Jiminy Johnson, Danica Patrick is Danni Sue, and Jeff Gordon plays Gordon Gear.
“All three of them were having a ball, especially when they saw what they were going to look like on screen,” says Steinberg. “They really put a lot of energy into their performance.”
Complementing the guest voices — also including Tim Gunn, Gordon Ramsay, Tia Carrere, Patton Oswalt, Fred Willard and Jane Leeves — are the established voices of the main characters: Bret Iwan as Mickey Mouse, Russi Taylor as Minnie Mouse, Bill Farmer as Goofy and Pluto, Tress MacNeille as Daisy Duck and Daniel Ross as Donald Duck.
“But basically everybody is having fun: board guys, background designers — it’s been a really smooth production,” says LaDuca. [
DreamWorks’ new Netflix series Trollhunters digs into a rich mythology mixed with scary moments, humor and character developed by creator and executive producer Guillermo del Toro. By Tom McLean.
caught his eye; Steinberg, who worked with del Toro as producer on the 2012 feature Rise of the Guardians; DC Comics superstar showrunner Marc Guggenheim ( Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, the Green Lantern movie), originally slated to script the movie and now also an executive producer; and writer and co-executive producer Dan Hageman of The LEGO Movie fame. The movie went through several iterations — del Toro wrote a novel version with Daniel Kraus that’s due out in conjunction with the series’ debut — before landing at DreamWorks Animation Television as a series under the company’s overall deal with Netflix.
“With the movie, when you know Guillermo’s stories, they have this mythology and this really deep well of knowledge and references that he’s using,” says Blaas. More than any other DreamWorks series to date, Trollhunters pushes the envelope on serialization; there are no Scooby-Doo- like “bottle episodes” you can watch out of order and have everything still make sense. That helped put focus on characters and their arcs throughout the series. “We really wanted to show a long story that felt like a really long, serialized movie almost,” he says.
While the series allows episodes that focus on secondary characters, such as Jim’s friends Toby (Charlie Saxton) or Claire (Lexi Medrano), the overall story is firmly focused on Jim. “It’s really Jim’s story and we are sort of watching a young boy grow from a boy into an adult and having to take on responsibility,” says Steinberg. “But also I think — we’re all parents — it’s about being able to let go of your child and accept that they’re growing up and accept that they’re going to get into danger and you can’t control them.”
Using the Best Ideas Blaas says while there were more than enough stories to take the show way beyond the initial batch of 26 episodes, they decided to hold back nothing. “We were thinking, if we’re going to go make 26, we’re going to take all the great ideas we’ve had from our movie scripts and put them into the story we’re going to tell,” he says.
That said, Steinberg says they do have an ending planned for the series. “It was really wonderful to have that,” she says. “We knew where we needed to go with the characters, what their fates were going to be, where all the other characters were going to end up, so it was really helpful to work toward that and to craft the 26 episodes toward that.”
Having been developed as a feature, del Toro and his team strived for a look that is more cinematic and deeper than typically found on an animated series. With creatures such as gnomes and changelings coming into the picture, and a darker race of trolls banished to another dimension that travel via special tunnels, and the everytown look of Arcadia, the series has a very wide scope.
“One of the fun things for me was finding out what the troll worlds look like and what the trolls are made of,” says Blaas. “Going back to what the mythology of trolls are, we use a lot of that — when they are hit by sunlight, they turn into stone statues, etc.”
The trolls also had to look different from other versions of trolls (including those appearing in a recent feature film also under the DreamWorks banner). Blaas says the look crystalized for him during a visit with his young daughter to the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, which included dinosaur fossils, dioramas
Sean Donnelly and Alessandro Minoli are the first to admit their new animated comedy series Jeff & Some Aliens is not in any way weighty subject matter, but they do take making the show — and making it funny — very seriously
“We don’t think of this show as a cartoon,” says Minoli. “We think of it more of like if this is a liveaction drama being turned into a fun like madcap animated show. Having those two sensibilities throughout all this time has been important.”
Debuting Jan. 11 with the first of 10 half-hour episodes on Comedy Central, the premise of Jeff & Some Aliens is as simple as the title: An everyday joe who works as a manager at a mall smoothie shop lives with a trio of aliens who were sent to evaluate “Earth’s most average guy” to decide whether humans are worth saving or should all be killed.
Voiced by Brett Gelman, Jeff endures all sorts of embarrassing moments and takes on impossibly ridiculous tasks — like having to kill a human, in a very specific way that involves spitting on people and pubic hair, to make up for accidentally shooting the architect of galactic peace.
“I would say a lot of it is story-based humor,” says Donnelly. “A lot of shows, people come up with funny jokes and they just look for ways to drop them in, like pop-culture references and more ‘joke’ jokes. And I feel like a lot of our jokes aren’t jokes you could just tweet or post; they only make sense if you know the story and what’s happening.”
“We spend most of our time trying to figure it out,” adds Minoli. “We have a situation where we’ve got a normal, mundane thing — which is Jeff — and then we have a magical thing — which is the aliens — and we’re mixing those things together. … I think the way the story unfolds is where the comedy lies.”
Park Origins The duo came up with the idea during a brainstorming session one day in New York’s Central Park, and spent several years developing and elaborating on the idea.
Both creators are influenced by the 1990s comedy animation boom of their youth, as exemplified by, first, The Simpsons and, later, Beavis and Butt-head. As adults, their influences widened to include YouTube videos, the work of independent animators like Don Hertzfeldt, graphic novels, and live-action comedy shows such as Louie and The Colbert Report. Tank Jeff & Some Aliens.
With 30 years’ perspective, it’s easy to see the key points in the development of any industry, and animation is no exception. Animation Magazine’s 30th anniversary celebration continues with a look back at the early 1990s, clearly among the most exciting times for the worldwide scene.
After the doldrums of the early 1980s, animation was on the rise again with features — most notably Disney’s — bringing quality back to the big screen, and the explosion of cable television networks creating new outlets for more and more innovative animated shows of all types.
In 1990, Disney was on an obvious roll with the feature Rescuers Down Under, and successfully translated its hit TV series into DuckTales: The Movie — Treasure of the Lost Lamp. On the television side of things, Steven Spielberg had stepped into the field as executive producer on Warner Bros.’ Tiny Toon Adventures, which was a smash for the studio in syndication.
But 1991 was really the banner year of this period for animation. Most obviously because of the release of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which featured a successful computer-animated sequence that helped prove that technology’s feasibility. In addition to strong box office results, Beauty and the Beast became the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards — a feat not duplicated until the nominee field was expanded to 10 features nearly two decades later.
While Beauty didn’t win, the best animated short category gave a big break to English animator Nick Park, who won the first of his many Oscars with Creature Comforts and helped put Aardman on the global animation map.
Spielberg’s influence continued to be felt as he produced the sequel American Tail: Fievel Goes West, another hit for Amblin.
But the real action was happening elsewhere: Hayao Miyazaki’s debut feature, The Castle of Cogliostro, was released in an English dub in the United States. And in shorts, a director named John Lasseter at a company called Pixar put out two successful computer-animated shorts starring the studio’s now-famous mascot, Luxo Jr.: Surprise and Light & Heavy.
Mike Judge also was starting to dip his toe into the animation world, with
The Annie Awards spread around a lot of love in this year’s nominations, in which Disney’s Zootopia came out on top with 11 nominations, followed by 10 for LAIKA’s Kubo and the Two Strings. Both films are in the race for the best animated feature trophy, along with Pixar’s Finding Dory, DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda 3 and another Disney entry, Moana.
The Annie Awards cover 36 categories, plus honorary Juried Awards. The winners will be announced at a black-tie ceremony Feb. 4 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. A pre-reception and press line begins at 5 p.m. with the awards ceremony following at 7 p.m.
The full list of nominees follows: • • Audrie & Daisy — A production of AfterImage Public Media in association with Actual Films, for Netflix. • Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Scroll —
DreamWorks Animation. • Little Big Awesome — Titmouse and Amazon
Studios. • Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life — CBS Films, J.P. Entertainment and Participant Media. • Pear Cider and Cigarettes • Swerve Studios and Passion Pictures Animation. Blind Vaysha Canada. • Deer Flower — Studio Zazac. • The Path Title Sequence — Acme Filmworks. • Pearl — Google Spotlight Stories and Evil
Eye Pictures. • Piper — Pixar Animation Studios. Duelyst — Powerhouse Animation Studios. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer — Plastic Wax. • Lily & the Snowman — Hornet. • Loteria “Night Shift” — Passion Pictures. • The Importance of Paying Attention: Teeth
Bill Plympton Studio. • • — National Film Board of Ask the StoryBots — Episode: “Why Do I Have to Brush My Teeth?” — JibJab Bros. Studios, for Netflix. • Peg + Cat — Episode: “The Disappearing Art Problem” — The Fred Rogers Company and 9ate7 Productions. • Puffin Rock — Episode: “The First Snow” — Cartoon Saloon, Dog Ears and Penguin Random House. • The Stinky & Dirty Show — Episode: “Squeak” — Amazon Studios and Brown Bag Films. • Tumble Leaf — Episode: “Mighty Mud Movers / Having a Ball” — Amazon Studios and Bix Pix Entertainment. Adventure Time — Episode: “Bad Jubies” — Bix Pix Entertainment, Cartoon Network and Frederator Studios. • DreamWorks Voltron Legendary Defender — Episode: “Return of the Gladiator” — DreamWorks Animation Television. • Elena of Avalor — Episode: “A Day to
Remember” — Disney Television Animation. • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — Episode: “Trans-Dimensional Turtles” — Nickelodeon Animation Studio. • Wander Over Yonder — Episode: “My Fair Hatey” — Disney Television Animation. Bob’s Burgers — Episode: “Glued, Where’s My Bob?” — Bento Box Entertainment. • BoJack Horseman — Episode: “Fish Out Of
Water” — Tornante Productions for Netflix. • Long Live the Royals — Episode: “Punk
Show” — Cartoon Network Studios. • The Simpsons — Episode: “Barthood” — Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television. • The Venture Bros. — Episode: “Hostile
Makeover” — Titmouse. Citipati — Andreas Feix and Francesco Faranna. • FISHWITCH — Adrienne Dowling. • The Abyss — Liying Huang and Wu Zheng. • The Wrong End of the Stick — Terri
Matthews. • Twiddly Things Kubo and the Two Strings — LAIKA — Lead Effects Artist: David Horsley; CG Look Development Lead: Eric Wachtman; Senior Compositor: Timur Khodzhaev; Compositor: Daniel Leatherdale; Lead CG Lighter: Terrance Tomberg. • Kung Fu Panda 3 — DreamWorks Animation — Effects Sequence Leads: Matt Titus, Jeff Budsberg, Carl Hooper, Louis Flores and Jason Mayer. • Moana — Walt Disney Animation Studios — Head of Effects Animation: Marlon West; Effects Leads: Erin V. Ramos, Blair Pierpont and John M. Kosnik; Foundation Effects Lead: Ian J. Coony.
• • • • Zootopia — Walt Disney Animation Studios — Animator: Chad Sellers; Characters: Mr. Big, Koslov, Judy Hopps, Nick Wilde, Flash.
Counterfeit Cat — Episode: “28 Seconds Later” — Tricon Kids & Family, Wildseed Kids — Art Director: Raphaël Chabassol, Characters: Max, Gark, Betty — full cast. • DreamWorks Trollhunters — Episode: “Win, Lose or Draal” — DreamWorks Animation Television — Character Designers: Victor Maldonado, Alfredo Torres and Jules Rigolle, all characters. • Pig Goat Banana Cricket — Episode: “It’s Time to Slumber Party” — Nickelodeon — Character Designer: Jennifer Wood, Character: Cricket with Turbine Nose, Burgerstein Nose Picking, Pig Window Squished, Moms Raisin, Angry Old Raisin Toothless, Angry Old Raisin Falling, Pig Melting, Incidental Adult 0014, Army Sergeant Broseph Red Eyes, General Potato, Goat Soldier Dizz. • Rain or Shine — Google Spotlight Stories, Nexus Studios — Character Designer: Robin Davey, multiple characters. • Wander Over Yonder — Episode: “The Night Out” — Disney Television Animation — Character Designer: Benjamin Balistreri, multiple characters. Kubo and the Two Strings — LAIKA — Character Designer: Shannon Tindle, multiple characters. • Moana — Walt Disney Animation Studios — Art Director of Characters: Bill Schwab, Characters: Moana, Maui, Pua, Heihei, Tamatoa, Kakamora, Lalotai Characters (Realm of Monsters); Visual Development Artist: Jin Kim, Characters: Moana, Maui, Gramma Tala, Sina, Ancestor, Wayfinders, Lalotai Characters (Realm of Monsters), Te Ka. • The Secret Life of Pets — Illumination Entertainment — Character Design by: Eric Guillon; all characters. • Trolls — DreamWorks Animation — Art Director: Tim Lamb, Characters: Trolls; Character Designer: Craig Kellman, Characters: Bergens • Zootopia — Walt Disney Animation Studios — Character Designer: Cory Loftis, Characters: Nick Wilde, Judy Hopps, Flash, Chief Bogo, Clawhauser, Mr. Big, Fru Fru, Koslov, Bellwether, Yax, Finnick, Doug, Mr. and Mrs. Otterton, Duke Weaselton, miscellaneous characters. A Love Story Unseld. • Adventure Time Episode: “Bad Jubies” —
Cartoon Network Studios — Kirsten Lepore. • Open Season: Scared Silly — Sony Pictures
Animation — David Feiss. • Pearl — Google Spotlight Stories, Evil Eye
Pictures — Patrick Osborne. • Wander Over Yonder Episode: “My Fair Hatey” — Disney Television Animation — Dave Thomas, Eddie Trigueros and Justin Nichols. Kubo and the Two Strings Knight. • My Life as a Zucchini — Rita Productions, Blue Spirit Productions, Gebeka Films, KNM — Claude Barras. • The Red Turtle — Studio Ghibli, Wild Bunch, Why Not Productions — Michael Dudock de Wit. • Your Name.
Shinkai. • Zootopia — Walt Disney Animation Studios
— Byron Howard and Rich Moore. Bob’s Burgers Episode: “Glued, Where’s My Bob?” — Bento Box Entertainment — Composers: Loren Bouchard, John Dylan Keith. • Disney Mickey Mouse Episode: “Dancevidaniya” — Disney Television Animation — Composer: Christopher Willis. • DreamWorks Trollhunters Episode: “Becoming, Part 1” — DreamWorks Animation Television — Composers: Alexandre Desplat, Tim Davis. • Pearl — Google Spotlight Stories, Evil Eye Pictures — Composer: Scot Stafford; Composers/ Lyricists: Alexis Harte, J.J. Wiesler. • Star Wars Rebels Episode: “Twilight of the Apprentice” — Lucasfilm, Disney XD — Composer: Kevin Kiner. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders — Warner Bros. Animation — Composers: Kristopher Carter, Lolita Ritmanis, Michael McCuistion. • Sing — Illumination Entertainment —
Composer: Joby Talbot. • The Little Prince — Netflix, ON Animation
• • • • — LAIKA — Art •
Three of the five nominees for Best Original Song — Motion Picture came from animated features: “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from Trolls “City of Stars” from La La Land “Faith” from Sing “Gold” from Gold “How Far I’ll Go” from