Thursday, May 18, 2017

Hyperion Pictures

Hyperion Pictures got its start in 1984, and was founded by Thomas L. Wilhite, the previous head of motion picture and television for Disney, and writer/director Willard Carroll. Hyperion is a subsidiary of Disney, so keep that in mind. Over the years the company produced live-action movies, TV shows (Amazing Stories, Bone Chillers), and animated shows (Life with Louie, The Proud Family) and movies under their Hyperion Animation Company division. It found success with their animated TV shows The Itsy Bitsy Spider, and OZ Kids. The studio hasn’t done anything since 2005, though it appears to have been spun-off into Jambalaya Studios, another studio specializing in TV animation.

Their first animated movie, and perhaps their most well known, was 1987’s The Brave Little Toaster. This movie has  much more complicated history than I had known, and is partly to thank for Pixar coming into existence. Disney bought the rights to The Brave Little Toaster, a children’s book by Thomas M. Disch, in 1982. Wilhite, at that time employed by Disney, and John Lasseter, future founder of Pixar, pitched the movie to high up execs as Disney’s first CGI/traditional animation film. The execs were not impressed and found that the budget would be astronomical to pull off such a movie. Lasseter was fired after the meeting took place. Disney agreed to fund a traditionally animated version of the movie with an $18 million budget. This didn’t pan out in the long run, and production switched to the newly formed Hyperion Pictures, headed by Wilhite. Disney agreed to help fund the picture, but only provided $2.3 million, as this was an independent production from Disney. Disney helped get the picture off the ground, but did not have any part in the production afterward, writing it off as a cheap production that could be shipped overseas at any moment. Like with many of Bluth’s films and other smaller animation studios, the animators sacrificed their personal time and resources to make the film as good as it could be with the limited budget that they had. Ironically, though they did not have Lassetter helping with the film, many working on the film were graduates of CalArts and would go on to be a part of Pixar. The movie premiered in 1987, though could only find distributing through several art-house distributors that saw Brave Little Toaster at various festivals, including Sundance, the first animated film to be included. Disney, though they had invested in the movie and the video release, did not help them with distribution. The art-house distributors often released the movie in theaters in the evening, as they thought the film lent itself more toward teens and young adults, not children. If you think about it, this movie is a little like the Toy Story trilogy. Sentient objects become enamored with “the master” and after they are forgotten, they journey to be reunited with him. The film ends with the objects being saved from utter destruction (a yunkyard/incinerator) and are ultimately re-united with their “master”. Gee, I wonder where the Pixar guys got the idea from. Disney did premiere the movie on the Disney Channel in 1988, though that wasn’t like coming out now. People didn’t have The Disney Channel, let alone cable in the 80’s like they do now. Disney eventually bought the rights to release the film on video and that is why I saw this movie being sold at The Disney Store. I had always assumed it was a Disney movie, but it isn’t really. Through its limited art-house release, re-runs on the Disney Channel through the 90’s, and video rental, the movie gained a huge cult following, with many who had worked on it going onto bigger and better things. The film would gross the same amount as its budget, which is about half of what a movie should make, at the very least, but more than made up for it with video sales. Critical reception of the film was generally good, with scores improving over the years. This is another classic of my childhood and definitely kept me up at night with Toaster’s nightmare and Kirby almost swallowing his cord.

The next two films from Hyperion are not as well known as The Brave Little Toaster and were not associated with Disney. Warner Bros. distributed their 1991 film, Rover Dangerfield, a movie that answers the age old question: what if Rodney Dangerfield was a dog? Originally planned as an R-rated animated film, Warner Bros. put a stop to that and it was toned down to a G-rating. Critics and audiences were not impressed and the movie flopped. Perhaps if they stuck with the adult comedy it would have done better. Mainstream success for adult animation has been a recent trend, with Sausage Party doing very well at the box office. Most other animated films for adults have centered around their respective TV shows, so it’s nice to see the medium expanding a little bit. Hyperion got a little closer to getting that older audience with their next film, Bebe’s Kids. Based on a stand-up act by Robin Harris, the film was toned down to make it appropriate enough for a PG-13 rating. This film fared little better than Rover Dangerfield, making a couple million less than its budget and being critically panned. After that point, Hyperion stuck with TV and straight-to-video movies, including two Brave Little Toaster sequels. I had seen Rover Dangerfield on some random lazy Saturday in my late childhood, and remember not being impressed. Bebe’s Kids was another one of those movies that I saw at the video store all the time but never bothered to rent.

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