Kunkel touches 'Herobear's' nose

Last spring Universal Pictures announced that it was developing an animated feature film based on Mike Kunkel's award-winning comic "Herobear & The Kid." Good news for fans of the book is that Kunkel, an animation veteran, would direct and co-write the feature.

Kunkel created the comic as an all-ages book that employed his sensibilities as an animator and a story artist. The story focuses on a young boy named Tyler who inherits a stuffed teddy bear and a broken pocket watch after the passing of his grandfather. Tyler discovers that, by touching the bear's nose, it transforms into a living bear who is also a superhero.

Kunkel found inspiration from the comic in both his childhood experiences and his experiences as a father. "It's going to sound very comicbooky, but when I was a kid I always wondered what it would be like to have a best friend who was a superhero," Kunkel told C2F/CBR News. "And a lot of inspiration came from my kids and watching how they are together. They really are a big inspiration for little Tyler and his sister Katie."

The director recently completed a first draft of the script, which he co-wrote with current "Batman" writer Jeph Loeb and developed with his story crew. Loeb is also serving as executive producer on the movie.

"Jeph's been awesome. I've always loved his writing," Kunkel said, citing "Superman For All Seasons" as a favorite work. "His sensibilities and his way of working and writing has really helped me. It's been a good collaboration."

The script, while utilizing the storyline from the comic, will also expand on it and play to the strengths of animation. "I think what we've created now is a really good interpretation of the books and taken them to the level of now being the film version and revealing more than what's in the actual book," said Kunkel.

The animation influence is apparent in the style of the comics. Kunkel said that his animation sensibilities have helped Herobear's transition to the big screen significantly.

"I thought the comics out like that, it's how I've always seen it. So it makes it easier for me when I have to pitch a sequence or talk about the movie," Kunkel said. "If anything, it makes it easier for the story guys. I can almost point to sections in the book and they've already got the animation in comic book format and they can take it to the next level."

With the script completed and background designs done, the production team has already started to generate some preliminary animation. "The next phase is to now study techniques and how we can take what we're designing and say, 'how do we apply that?'"

Although recent times have seen many CGI animated features doing well at the box office, "Herobear" will be traditionally animated. Kunkel said the decision is merely selecting a style that is most appropriate.

"First and foremost you want to have a really good story. If you create that then you look at, what is the style and format that would best serve the story," Kunkel told us.

The filmmaker said he's got an "awesome" team of executives behind the movie as well. He cited producers Chuck Gordon and Adrian Askarieh as well as Universal executives Mary Parent, Dylan Clark and Regina Lee as being very supportive of the project.

That doesn't mean the movie isn't under some pressure. Expectations are high as Universal is looking to "Herobear" to be on par with recent animation hits like "Monsters, Inc." and "Shrek."

"We're taking that as a challenge," Kunkel said. "It's exciting because they're certainly looking at this as a franchise. They want to start creating franchise characters and having more of an identity."

Kunkel takes the high expectations in stride though. "I try not to let it sink in like that," the filmmaker said. "The way I've always approached the books is that I want to make them the best I can. As much hope as I have that people like what I create, I can't make them like it. I can only know that I tried my best and did my best.

"We're doing our best with the movie as well. We're trying to approach it as let's make sure it is the right thing that needs to be out there."

The "Herobear" movie is currently targeted for the holiday 2005 season, which may seem like a long way off for fans. However, there's a hardbound collection of the comics in stores this week. Fans can look for the second part to the "Herobear and Decoy Field Trip" crossover in the near future as well as a new issue of the regular series further on down the road.

Kunkel said he has no plans to abandon the comics for Hollywood. "I have too much fun with it and the fans have been awesome. I want to keep it coming out."

For more on "Herobear and the Kid," read this CBR News story from June of 2002.

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