Monday, December 20, 2010

The Nutcracker - retelling a classic tale

The Nutcracker is an unlikely classic that has taken many forms. It began as a dark tale by E.T.A. Hoffman, was sweetened by Alexandre Dumas, and turned into a ballet by Tchaikovsky and choreographers Petipa and Ivanov. Even then it wasn’t an instant success, and it took years for the ballet to become the beloved Christmas tradition it is today. (Check out this video to learn more about the ballet’s history.)

So why is it so popular? The ballet itself retains barely a hint of the original story, but enough to make an impression. The story seems to strike a chord the way the best fairy tales do, using fantastical situations to draw out our childhood dreams (a land of sweets) and fears (a wicked mouse king.)

Many artists have been inspired to reinterpret the story in books and films. Just this month saw the release of The Nutcracker in 3D, a steampunk adventure loosely inspired by the original story. The film has been unanimously panned by critics (it got a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes!) Other film versions have been more successful, but it isn’t easy to reinterpret a story that everyone thinks they know, as you end up trying to please all parties.

Book adaptations have fared somewhat better, perhaps because a single author or illustrator can bring more artistic focus to the retelling, as opposed to the layers of committee that steer large films. Here are just a few of the Nutcracker books that have been published over the years. It’s interesting to see the variety of interpretation, yet there are consistencies too, which is important in retelling a familiar tale. As the new movie version shows, a radical reinterpretation of a classic is indeed possible, but it's a hard nut to crack.

Illustrated by Gennady Spirin

Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Illustrated by Susan Jeffers

Retold by Deborah Hautzig, Illustrated by Diane Goode

Retold by Stephanie Spinner, Illustrated by Peter Malone

Illustrated by Warren Chappell

Retold by John Cech, illustrated by Eric Puybaret

Illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Retold by Karen Kain, illustrated by Rajka Kupesic

Illustrated by Allison Jay

Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger

Friday, November 5, 2010

WTD?: Ricochet

After a few months off, we're back! The word that came out of the random word generator this week for What the Doodle? was RICOCHET. Here's what the FableVision crew came up with.

John Lechner

Bob Flynn

Renee Kurilla

Hannah O'Neal

Taryn Johnson

Stop by in another few weeks for a new word!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tasty Pizzamation!

I stumbled upon this tasty tidbit on my search for global creativity... Why am I not surprised that the Japanese cooked this up? Imagine if your pizza toppings were actually weird living things? Wouldn't that make you hungry to devour a few slices? Well, here it is - a hot and tasty a slice of surreal Japanese pizza!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

There Once Was a Dog

There Once Was a Dog is an award-winning Russian animated film by Eduard Nazarov - made in 1983. Great piece of storytelling - very funny and touching.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What the Doodle!? FV's Candy Art Show

This past summer, in lieu of our biweekly What the Doodle!? challenge, the FV team took a few months to complete artwork based on a theme. Collaboratively, we chose the theme: CANDY!
Scroll down to see some imaginative, brilliant, and resourceful art made by the FableVision team!

Balloon Candy by: Naomi Greenfield

Crocheted Licorice Sweater! by: Jordan Bach 

artwork by: Jason LaCouture

artwork by: Taryn Johnson

artwork by: John Lechner

artwork by: Tami Wicinas

Candy Tangoes Game! by: Brian Grossman

Paul Capobianco created a delicious soundtrack of candy themed music which we listened to while playing tangoes and admired everyone's creativity. 
Here's Hannah and Brian playing Sugar Tangoes:

We ultimately decided to make our own art with the homemade sugar shapes and some store-bought candy:

 The group proudly displaying their masterpieces!
Photo credit goes to Matt Bargar and Keith Zulawnik for their timeless traditional and happening hipstamatic imaging.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What happened to Gedo Senki, Tales from Earthsea?

When a new animated film from Studio Ghibli is released in the US, it usually comes with anticipation and excitement, if not from major media then from devoted fans of director Hayao Miyazaki. The film Tales from Earthsea (Gedo Senki in Japan), based on the Earthsea books by Ursula K. LeGuin, was released in limited theaters this month, with mixed reviews and practically no buzz outside the anime community. The likelihood of it getting wider release is doubtful, judging by reports.

What happened here? There were many unfortunate circumstances surrounding this film. It was originally to be directed by Hayao Miyazaki himself, but he became too busy, so it was given to his son Goro who had never directed a feature film before. The film did well at the Japanese box office, but got mixed reviews and made only half the earnings of Ponyo. Then its release in the U.S. was delayed several years because of rights issues, losing any momentum from the Japanese release. And to make matters worse, the author herself was critical of the film (though she was a bit more positive than reports suggest, you can read her detailed analysis here.)

It’s frustrating when a project with such great potential falls short. The original book is a masterpiece, Ghibli is one of the best studios in the world, the design and production of the film look amazing. And yet a film is more than the sum of its parts, it needs that extra magic to pull it all together. I’ve seen it happen with so many films that didn’t live up to their books, both animated and live-action.

Here are the film trailers for the Japanese and U.S. markets. The Japanese one is much longer and contains a bit more of the Ghibli magic. It makes you wonder what might have been, had the elder Miyazaki had a chance to direct it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jim Henson and why we make art

This spring I attended a wonderful exhibit at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington MA, Jim Henson's Fantastic World. The exhibit brought together a treasure trove of rarely-seen photos, drawings, storyboards, puppets and films by Jim Henson and the Muppets. It gave an overview of his entire career in television and film, which really could have filled twenty such exhibits.

There were original puppets of Kermit, Ernie, Bert and others, original drawings and sketches, storyboards for commercials, proposals for early shows, and animated films. I came away with a greater appreciation for the breadth and variety of his talents, which went beyond puppetry to animation, illustration, design, writing, television production and more. Jim Henson could have made a career in any one of these areas, but his creativity and ambition were far beyond the scope of any existing career path, so he had to invent his own.

Another revelation that I took from this exhibit was the relentless amount of work and perseverance that continued throughout his career. Realizing his goals was not as easy as he made it seem, he spent years doing commercials and small works while pursuing his dream of bigger things. He also had many ideas and proposals that were never produced, that were turned down by the television networks, but he still kept on trying. If one idea didn’t work, he would try something else.

Seeing his prolific output and the many lesser-known projects that he created, you realize that his primary motivation wasn’t fame or money, but simply the love of creating. Even if he had not become a success, you get the impression that he still would have spent every day of his life creating art and telling stories, and I think this is an important lesson for artists everywhere. Certainly artists have to make a living and sell our work, but we should also have a little fun and do what is meaningful to us.

One of his most famous quotes is, “My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here.” That certainly turned out to be an understatement; but it shows that keeping things in perspective can help us focus on what is important. Follow your creative ambition and do something that makes you happy. And if you leave the world just a little bit better than when you found it, I’m sure Jim Henson would approve.

Friday, July 9, 2010

WTD:? Web

The word that came out of the random word generator this week for What the Doodle? was WEB. Here's what the FableVision crew came up with.

John Lechner

Tami Wicinas

Keith Zulawnik

Renee Kurilla

Hannah O'Neal

Thanks, everyone!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lost and Star Wars: why some mysteries are better left unsolved

The epic television drama Lost and the epic movie series Star Wars have much in common, and not just a devoted fan base.

Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way first: both are fantasy/science fiction dramas, which tap into classic themes of good and evil. They both draw upon existing mythology while inventing their own. Both have avid (rabid?) fans who are passionate in their praise and their criticism. Both have six “parts” (if you count each television season as one part.) Both use comic relief to break the tension while tackling issues of life and death. Both have been hailed and assailed by critics as game-changing forces of pop culture and melodramatic fluff.

So far so good, but both sagas are more than just the sum of their parts. The best fantasy uses its fantastic settings and characters as metaphors for our own world. Both of these epics did just that, though with how much success is still up for debate. At the heart of both stories is the struggle of good vs. evil. Other themes included family, friendship, loyalty, faith, and our own search for meaning.

Because Lost had so many hours to work with, the show could explore these themes in much greater detail and variation. Star Wars didn’t have this luxury of time, and instead used a broader brush to paint its big ideas. Although the story and themes of Star Wars were simpler than those in Lost, this was also an advantage, for the writers could polish their big concepts without getting bogged down in dozens of minor characters and sub-plots (can you imagine the complications that time-travel would have brought to the plot of Star Wars?) I would even say that Lost is more science fiction than Star Wars, because issues of science and physics were integral to its story.

But here’s the most interesting parallel, I think. Both sagas raised big questions in their early chapters, and both tried to answer those questions in their later chapters. The general criticism aimed by some viewers at the ending of Lost (and I partly share their assessment) is that the show did not answer all of the questions it raised, and when it did, the answers did not live up to expectations. My own criticism of the final three Star Wars films (Episode 1, 2 & 3) is that even though they did answer most of the questions raised in the earlier films (the origins of Darth Vader, the Clone Wars, etc.), the films did not inspire us the way the first trilogy did; the storytelling was somehow less satisfying.

To this I would say that some things are better left unsaid, and some mysteries better left unsolved. In the very first Star Wars film, we did not need to know where Darth Vader came from, his very mystery was part of his appeal. During most of Lost we likewise did not know the origin of the smoke monster, nor all of the other mysteries of the island, yet it was thrilling to watch each puzzle lead into another. I’m not saying that storytellers shouldn’t bother solving their mysteries or tying up loose ends – only that it’s okay to leave a little mystery, because that’s what keeps life interesting. And by letting your audience use their imagination to fill in the blanks, you are involving them more actively and making the whole experience more engaging. It expands the story in infinite ways beyond anything the writers could have imagined.

So here is a message for creators and viewers of genre fiction or any other fiction. Questions are okay if they make you think, if they stir the imagination. Not everything needs to be tied up in a bow; art is a conversation not an explanation. And if you're forced to use your brain once in a while, don't worry, it's good for you.

Friday, June 18, 2010

WTD:? Carat

The word that came out of the random word generator this week for What the Doodle? was CARAT. Here's what a few from the FableVision crew came up with.

John Lechner

Bob Flynn

Tami Wicinas

Brianna Plaud

Hannah O'Neal

Thanks, everyone!
Check back in a few weeks for the next word!

Friday, May 21, 2010

WTD?: Highball

The word that came out of the random word generator this week for What the Doodle? was HIGHBALL. Here's what the FableVision crew came up with.

Laney Wunderli

Peter H. Reynolds

John Lechner

Tami Wicinas

Renee Kurilla

Brianna Plaud

Thanks, everyone!
Check back in a few weeks for the next word!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Robin Hood - fantasy vs. reality

The story of Robin Hood is one of the classic tales in folklore, retold and reinterpreted for hundreds of years. Everyone knows the story of the noble outlaw who robs from the rich and gives to the poor, who is the best archer in the land and can split one arrow with another. Like any classic tale, it can be adapted many different ways to suit the times. A new film is coming out this weekend directed by Ridley Scott, who gives the story an epic, historical, action-packed telling, which is a great idea – I’m all in favor of reinterpreting classic stories for each new generation, and I hope there are many more Robin Hoods to come.

However, I just want to put in a plug for the non-historical, unrealistic, fairy-tale version of Robin Hood that many of us grew up with. It seems like over the last few generations, people have been trying to make the story more gritty and true to its medieval times. But to my mind, the essence of Robin Hood isn’t history, it’s not about a real person suffering the slings and arrows of an oppressive king – Robin Hood is a myth, an ideal.

The legend itself is mostly fictional, an amalgam of different characters and tales which were combined and embellished over the years, in the true tradition of folklore. The reason it survives and flourishes is because it embodies one of the classic themes in literature: the downtrodden hero fighting against impossible odds, using his wits and skill to come out on top. Does this stuff happen in real life? Rarely, but we keep on trying, and stories like this give us hope. We all need a bit of fantasy to make us believe anything is possible.

So while a historical telling of the legend is great, the question of whether or not it is more “true” to Robin Hood is up for debate. Personally, I’d rather see an arrow split in two.

Friday, April 23, 2010

WTD?: Designated

The word that came out of the random word generator this week for What the Doodle? was Designated. Here's what the FableVisionaries came up with.

Renee Kurilla

John McGowan

John Lechner

Thanks, everyone!
Check back in a couple weeks for the next word!