Friday, May 5, 2017

Filmation

Filmation was founded by Norm Prescott, Lou Scheimer, and Hal Sutherland in 1962, coming up with the name because they were working with film and animation. Real creative, guys. The studio over the years would be known for their use of limited animation and cost-cutting, often sacrificing quality in some cases. They produced a lot of DC comics character shows in the 60’s and Archie comic characters in the 70’s. In the 80’s they would produce the He-Man and She-Ra cartoons with Mattel. The company itself had very few original characters and mainly depended on adapting already established properties. One notable exception, though live action at first, was The Ghost Busters. This was a 1975 CBS show that had two guys and a gorilla hunt ghosts. Yup. 9 years later Columbia would have to shell out money to Filmation to be able to use the name Ghostbusters for their wildly popular film. Suffice to say that when people hear Ghost Busters, they don’t think of Filmation’s TV show. Filmation would later create a cartoon centered around the characters of the 75’ show. This was before the Columbia Pictures Ghostbusters TV show, and that’s why that version is called The Real Ghostbusters. Ouch. Filmation would continue to put out TV shows and movies until 1989 when Westinghouse sold the studio to Paravision International. Before the sale was completed, Westinghouse closed the studio and just gave Paravision its catalog.

Like with Rankin/Bass Productions, the movie output for Filmation isn’t as well known as their TV output. They started on their first movie, an animated sequel to The Wizard of Oz, in 1962, but because they didn’t have the money for it, they shelved it for 8 years. Once their TV shows began making dividends, they started back up on what would become Journey Back to OZ in 1970 with a release in the U.S. in 1972. The interesting thing to note on this movie is that Liza Minelli voiced Dorothy, the role her mother, Judy Garland, had starred in for the 1939 film. Their next several films were compilation films or made-for-TV until 1987’s Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night. This was a continuation of Filmation’s idea to create sequels for popular films, with a new focus on Disney. Disney tried to sue the pants off Filmation and Filmation actually won due to the fact that Carlo Collodi’s character was in public domain. Good for Filmation! I don’t know of many studios that can go toe-to-toe with Disney in the courtroom and survive the ordeal. While they won in the courtroom, they did not win with this film in any way, shape, or form. Against a budget of $10 million the movie pulled in barely over $3 million, constituting a heavy loss for Filmation. The movie was also panned by critics as a knock-off of a much better film. Like most originally reviled animated films, this one has gone on to gain a cult following. I was unaware of this film until a few years ago when a friend of mine recalled watching it during the holidays. I’ve watched bits and pieces and….it’s interesting. But hey, it’s got Tom Bosley as Gepetto!...that’s something...right?

Filmation decided to play it safe with its next film and just adapted one of their TV shows, namely BraveStarr. I literally have no idea what this show is and it looks bizarre. It’s basically a space cowboy cartoon is what I can gather. Coming out in 1988, it released just a year before Filmation would be shut down and though it was critically well received, it tanked at the box office. Filmation would come out with one more movie, though it would come out after they were already gone. Happily Ever After, otherwise known as that weird Snow White movie you saw at Blockbuster in the mid-90’s but never rented, had been in the production since 1987 but for whatever reason was delayed for the U.S. for quite a few years. Like with their Pinocchio movie, Disney jumped at the opportunity to sue Filmation for even touching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Filmation promised that their finished film would not resemble the characters of the classic Disney film and thus were allowed to continue. The lawsuit was part of the reason that the movie was called Happily Ever After and not their original title: Snow White in the Land of Doom. Boy, why do all the titles of their movies sound so dark? Though it was released in France in 1990, it was stalled for the U.S. for three years and released to onerous reviews and worse returns. This was even with the distributer, First National Film Corp, spending $10 million to promote the film. They even had a commercial tie-in with Chiquita bananas! Needless to say, First National filed for bankruptcy shortly after the premiere. Oh, also it was released the same time as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was re-released. Not exactly good timing. Filmation may not have been the most successful with their movies, but they did pretty well for themselves with TV, though besides He-Man I can’t really think of many of their series as veritable hits that have stayed in the public consciousness.

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