Walt Disney Pictures hit it big at New York Comic-Con the other day with Big Hero 6 and now DreamWorks Animation just gave it a go with two of its upcoming releases, Home and Penguins of Madagascar. Home is an adaptation of Adam Rex’s children’s book, The True Meaning of Smekday, and focuses on an alien race called the Boov and their effort to make a new home for themselves – on Earth. And for those of you who haven’t kept up with the Madagascar film franchise, Penguins of Madagascar involves Skipper, Rico, Kowalski and Private teaming up with an inter-species task force called the North Wind to stop Dr. Octavius Brine from taking over the planet.
Hit the jump for my Home and Penguins of Madagascar Comic-Con panel recap.
After screening the film’s trailer, director Tim Johnson (Antz, Over the Hedge) hit the stage to share the short film, Almost Home, which you actually can see for yourself right here. Once that wrapped up, he fielded some questions from the panel moderator. Check out the highlights from that conversation below:
- Johnson began by noting that he’s a huge science fiction fan and that it’s important to deliver a fresh spin on the alien invasion scenario. He continued, “We really wanted with the Boov to have fun with a technology that was super sophisticated and yet quirky and fun, so we decided that the Boov have an incredible control over gravity and they do so by the creative use of bubbles.”
- And that’s how the Boov manage to take over the Earth. “Basically when they invaded Earth, they flicked off our gravity, we all began to drift out of the atmosphere, we wisely capitulated and they turned it back on, and the whole invasion was over in about 28 seconds.”
- The ability to manipulate gravity isn’t the only thing the Boov have on us. Johnson further explained, “They’re basically looking for a home planet, running from their enemies across the galaxy and they found the perfect place not only because Earth suits them, but because the native savages, in other words, us, we’re very simple and backwards and could really benefit from the Boov taking over. And so they put us all in a humans preserve, Australia.” The place is packed with white picket fence homes, amusement parks, huge screens and lots of high fructose corn syrup drinks, the things that the Boov consider human necessities.
- In addition to the alien invasion component, Johnson also touched on Tip (Rihanna) and Oh’s (Jim Parsons) relationship in the film. “Our story features these two characters as they do sort of a round the world journey to reunite the young girl with her mom who is with the rest of humanity.”
- Johnson described Oh as the opposite of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. He craves connection and really wants some friends, but feels so alone amongst the Boov. “It’s a character that’s looking to fit in, doesn’t fit in with his own species and finds, to his surprise, he actually fits in more with the humans.”
- Jennifer Lopez voices Lucy, Tip’s aunt and, the funny thing is, in Rex’s book, Oh is actually named J.Lo. Johnson further explained that in the book, “the aliens all took names that they thought were commonly popular human names.” He added, “For various contractual reasons, it felt very awkward to actually call our character J.Lo in the movie.”
- In addition to voicing Tip, Rihanna and some songwriters are doing an entire soundtrack for the film. Johnson noted that he loves hearing pop tunes in films, but often “it sounds like a needle drop with that orchestra playing along and then all of a sudden –clunk – there’s this pop tune that comes in.” In Home, however, Johnson is working with composers to move in and out of score and pop tunes seamlessly.
The clip opens with Tip and Oh surrounded by angry looking Boov, some of which are holding bubble guns and have police lights on their heads. Steve Martin’s Captain Smek approaches them, “Did you really think that you could escape?” Oh babbles on a bit and then Smek cuts him off, “The computer recognized you as – the fugitive Boov!” Tip jumps in, “But he’s a hero Boov now!” Oh points out that he fixed his mistake, but Smek says it doesn’t make up for the many, many mistakes he’s made before. Oh must be “erased.”
Before Smek can erase Oh, Tip threatens to mess with a small blue orb floating in the air nearby. Smek assumes she’s bluffing; she can’t possibly reach the orb. But, of course, she’s human and gets to it. Smek brushes it off and declares, “Boov technology is far too complicated for simple humans.” She quickly flips the switch and it’s revealed that they’ve been standing on a floating section of ground with the Eiffel Tower on it; let’s call it an island.
The deactivation of the device sparks a change in gravity and this floating island begins to flip, sending the bad Boov over the edge. Some manage to access ships that look a bit like a big dish with a bubble that forms around it. Boov and Tip hop in one and zoom off. As they speed through the Eiffel Tower girders, the bubble pops, their “ship” falls down and they use the dish portion as a sled. Apparently the change in gravity causes items to accumulate in midair because, all around them, we can see strange cloud-like formations, one of which is entirely comprised of yellow umbrellas and another of statues.
Some Boov burst through the umbrella cloud and use them to float down to the ground while Tip and Oh land on top of a statue of a man on a horse. They ride it across rooftops until the action comes to a halt and they wind up right back by their human car with Tip’s cat, Pig, waiting for them.
Penguins of Madagascar
- In addition to the Penguins’ presence in all the Madagascar films, the guys also have their very own TV show on Nickelodeon, begging the question, where does this movie fit in? Darnell explained, “There’s kind of two Penguin realities and one is the reality that we created for the films and the other one is for the TV show.”
- Penguins of Madagascar isn’t the fourth installment of the Madagascar film franchise, but it does take place right after the events of Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.
- The villain this time around is John Malkovich’s Dr. Octavius Brine. Here’s how Darnell described him: “[He] masquerades as a human being who’s a geneticist, but in fact, he is Dave the octopus who first met the penguins at the Central Park Zoo. The penguins were loved and adored by the people, and everyone stopped paying attention to the octopus. And so he was shipped off to another zoo and every zoo he went to, the same thing happened. The penguins were always loved and he was always shipped off because nobody was giving him any attention. So he broke out of the last zoo that he was in and spent a decade learning what he needed to learn, because octopuses are brilliant, to get his revenge on these penguins.”
The first clip of the Penguins of Madagascar portion of the panel will pop up at the very beginning of the feature film. It’s Private’s birthday and Skipper wants to celebrate it in a big way – by breaking into the United States Gold Depository at Fort Knox. After floating in on a makeshift parachute, they roll over a crosswalk, blending into the black and white of the pavement and crosswalk lines. When the time comes to get through a locked door, Skipper busts out an ancient looking tape player, plays a banjo tune, the security system approves and lets them inside.
The door opens revealing an enormous room packed with gold bars, but the Penguins don’t touch them. They go straight through to the back of the room to another door. Skipper asks Private what he wants for his birthday and Private tells him, “to be a meaningful and valuable member of this team.” But Private has something else in mind. They open up that next door and find themselves standing face-to-face with the very last Cheezy Dibbles vending machine. Skipper wishes Private a happy birthday, tosses him a gold coin and turns to chat with Kowalski while Private gets himself a bag.
While Kowalski and Skipper are chatting it up, in the background, Private is sucked into the vending machine. When the other Penguins realize that he’s gone, they turn around and spot him sitting inside the machine, amongst the Cheezy Dibbles. Then, one-by-one, they’re all pulled inside by a purple octopus tentacle.
This one takes place after Dr. Octavius Brine catches the penguins using the vending machine from the first clip. He takes them to his lab/evil lair in Venice, but they manage to escape and the clip begins with the penguins getting ready to push a big red button. However, they’re interrupted by a man, a slightly odd looking man. He’s dressed like a scientist and tells them, “Naughty, naughty. Pretty birds belong in their cages.”
As he makes his way over to them, it becomes even clearer that something isn’t right with this guy. His limbs are gangly and tangled, and when he finally pulls himself together, he towers over the penguins. He knows who they are, but they don’t remember him. He introduces himself as Dr. Octavius, but then adds, “But you know me by a different, much older name, a name perhaps you hoped you’d never hear again.” He ditches the scientist outfit and reveals his true self, Dave, a big purple octopus. But that didn’t help either. The penguins still have know clue who he is.
They all say his name a bunch of times, but still, nothing. And then, at just the right moment, we get crickets – well, a cricket. One little cricket tries to walk through this very awkward conversation, but the moment he leaves frame, he comes right back in and heads the other way, telling the gang, “I live this way.”
This one highlights the undercover interspecies task force, The North Wind, which is comprised of Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch), Eva (Annet Mahendru), Short Fuse (Ken Jeong) and Corporeal (Peter Stormare). The penguins are at The North Wind HQ and Classified reveals that Dr. Octavius Brine has been secretly developing something called the Medusa Serum. Classified is quite proud of his intel, but that’s when Rico spits up the vile containing the Medusa Serum. Skipper rubs it in Classified’s face, “Saved the day, did your job for you,” but that’s when Dave pops up on the The North Wind’s video monitor.
Trouble is, he doesn’t know how to turn on his audio. While Dave flails around the screen, The North Wind and the penguins try to tell him that his microphone isn’t working. Finally he figures it out and gets down to business. Classified tells Dave that they have the Medusa Serum. It’s over. Dave replies, “If it’s over, why did I call you?” Then he reveals a giant container of Medusa Serum bubbling in the background. Dave makes an attempt to end the call with an über evil mug on his face, but when he presses the button, the call doesn’t terminate. Nor does it end after he pushes it time and time again.
Every single clip from Penguins of Madagascar unveiled at the panel was especially well received, earning big laughs all around, but this last one is a personal favorite, and it’s actually the first few minutes of the film.
We begin with a young Skipper, Kowalski and Rico out in the wild. The penguins are all walking in a nice, neat line, but then Skipper jumps out and shouts, “Seriously?” They try to use their wings and fly, but quickly realize that it’s not happening. Skipper asks, “What’s the point of these?” That’s when Rico slaps Skipper’s fin with his and they dub it the “high one.”
Immediately after, an egg rolls down the hill right by them. Someone says, “We lose a few eggs every year. It’s just nature,” but Skipper isn’t having it and takes off after it. The egg collects snow as it rolls so it lands safely on an old ship down below. Trouble is, there are nasty leopard seals all over it. The penguins jump down to rescue the egg and in order to keep it safe, Rico eats it. The penguins fly themselves off the ship using a deck-mounted harpoon gun and once safely on the ground, Rico coughs up the egg and they high one each other. When a penguin goes to high one the egg, it cracks and Private pops out. He asks, “Are you my family?” Skipper tells him, “You know what you’ve got, kid? You’ve got us and we’ve got each other. If that ain’t a family, I don’t know what is.”
Penguins of Madagascar arrives in theaters on November 26, 2014 followed by Home on March 27, 2015.