As you may or may not know, Gil’s All Fright Diner was optioned by Dreamworks Animation for a possible movie adaptation, and now the creative story team behind Kung Fu Panda has been given the go ahead to do their thing. This is fantastic news.
I’m really jazzed about this, gang. While I think Dreamworks Animation has always been tops in the quality of their animation, it was really with Kung Fu Panda that I think they hit their stride. I absolutely loved Kung Fu Panda, every bit as much as Pixar’s Wall-E. I don’t know if Panda topples The Incredibles as my favorite movie ever, but it is still a fantastic, beautiful, wonderful film that deserves more respect than it generally gets. And often lost amid the funny animal characters, the wild kung fu action, and physical comedy, there’s a great story there that a lot of people miss. Great characters, terrific story arcs, and subtleties that any writer should be proud of. So I couldn’t be happier that anyone associated with Dreamworks in general or this fine film in particular are associated with a Gil’s movie project.
Obviously, Dreamworks won’t be going R on this. And I’m cool with that. It’s true that Gil’s has swearing in it. And violence. And sex. But these elements don’t define Gil’s for me. I never imagine Gil’s as a gruesome place to visit. And the sex is so mild that an article in the Chicago newspaper detailing all the lurid “controversy” over the book reprinted the most graphic scene word for word. The swearing is part of Earl’s character, but there are ways of showing a character is cranky without having them curse every other sentence.
Does it sound like I’m compromising? Depends on how you look at it.
Frankly, while I have nothing against swearing, violence, or sex in cinema, I also realize that most of my sensibilities as a writer are better for animation than live action. Gil’s is a weird horror fantasy novel about vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, and monster gods. In the Company of Ogres is all about fantastic characters like ogres, goblins, and demons. Too Many Curses has nary an ordinary human in it. The Automatic Detective is about a hulking seven foot robot who fights mutant mob bosses and giant slime monsters in a city of the retro-future. I like monsters and weirdness and when you get a lot of that stacked on top of itself, after a while, the movie audience will be turned off.
Unless you go animated. You can do almost anything animated and if it’s good, the audience will play along. Just check out Up, a moving story about an old man who flies his house with balloons, befriends a boyscout, goes on an adventure where he must help a strange bird escape the clutches of a mad explorer who flies a zeppelin and uses an army of talking dogs. This would just not work live action. It would seem bizarre, ridiculous. But animated…it is the best film I’ve seen all year, hands down. Touching and beautiful and absurd all at the same time.
Kung Fu Panda seems more grounded in reality to some degree, yet the kung fu element which I so love about the film circumvents all sense of realism. Characters leap hundreds of feet in the air, punch holes in buildings, outrun gravity, and do things Jackie Chan or Jet Li could never dream of getting away with. At least not in a thoughtful film. And, make no mistake, Kung Fu Panda is a thoughtful, intelligent film. One that I love from top to bottom.
Wall-E is about a robot fighting with / against other robots to save the human race from endless, mindless existence. Toy Story is about . . . toys. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is all about a scientist who invents a machine that makes it rain food. Monster House is about a monster house. All these stories are pure, unadulterated fantasy. And that’s what I love about them. The fact that they create likable characters and satisfying plots from the absurd only makes me love them more.
Does this mean that in the future I’ll start writing with this audience in mind? No, probably not. If swearing is called for, I’ll put it in. If there comes a time when it’s vital to include a graphic sex scene in a story, I’ll write it. And, heck, I like violence. Having monsters and robots beat the tar out of each other is just good fun. But I can get away with this as a novelist. The written word gives me more leeway than a visual medium, and I will take advantage of that. But when Hollywood comes knockin’, you can bet your ass that I’ll hop on board and trust these people to know what they’re doing. If they do a great job, then I’ll be pleased as punch. If they screw it up, I’ll still get paid, still get exposure, still benefit immensely.
Also, the paycheck is very, very nice. I like when I get paid money for things I’ve already written. It’s like mana from heaven, energon from Cybertron. But you’ll have to excuse the mercenary in me.
In this case though, I have no reason to expect anything but the best from Dreamworks, who seem behind this project and just as eager as I am to make something great out of it. I think it’s fair to say that I am the future of both fantasy and animated storytelling, and that, in that future, all film historians will refer to this period as the Pre-Martinez Period, before the world realized how cool slime monsters and raccoon gods can be.
I’ll take my Lifetime Achievement Award now, friends. Or you can wait until I’m formally nominated. Whatever. I got time.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,