Sunday at New York Comic Con, Cartoon Network treated fans to the exclusive world premiere of their new film "Firebreather." Based on Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn's Image Comics series of the same name, the CGI film was written by Jim Kreig and directed by the visionary Peter Chung, the man behind the popular MTV cartoon "Aeon Flux."
"Firebreather" proved to be a highly entertaining movie for both kids and adults alike, judging by the reaction from the audience. The animation is very good, with moments that could rival feature films. The plot centers on Duncan Rosenblatt, a typical American teen in every way except for one: his father was the king of the kaiju, the giant horror monsters that are typical in movies like "Godzilla." Because of this, Duncan has an orange hue, leathery skin and is forced to snack on charcoal. In the film, Duncan tries to survive daily life as an outcast at his new high school, a theme that is rather reminiscent of "The Amazing Spider-Man."
Duncan is joined by the "loner" types that are typical in such settings - the geeky kid and outcast girl - a forgivable cliche since the young target audience probably won't be used to it like older audiences would. The geeky guy, Ken Rogers, is given an interesting back story in which he pretty much fends for himself, living alone in a trailer. He has an absentee father that one can only assume will play a role in potential future installments as he is hinted to be a spy of some sort by his possibly delusional son.
Other prominent characters include Duncan's handler, Col. Barnes, who pretends to be Duncan's slightly psychotic gym teacher, Duncan's mother and of course Duncan's father Belloc, king of the kaiju. One very cool element that gives the movie a unique identity is that the outcast Duncan actually actually manages to make headway with the popular girl, who turns out to be a genuinely decent person, instead of just realizing he really wants the outcast girl and that the popular girl is evil.
Belloc is the true treat of the film. Whenever he is featured, the animation seems to jump up several notches with the kaiju fight scenes being crammed full of intensity and visual flair. With three or four huge fight scenes featuring the kaiju, viewers get plenty of opportunities to see the giant monsters in action and Duncan's progressive transformation as he begins to accept his kaiju roots.
The animation has Peter Chung's signature stamp all over it. Characters are lanky with exaggerated movements, large heads and angular, almost insect-like bodies. Again, too much can't be said for the creature design which is truly spectacular and has some very cool fire effects used for Belloc and Duncan. You also get to see a handful of other kaiju as well, all with equally impressive character design and unique physicality that helps them in their battles. One cool set of monsters have giant tendrils that shoot out of their hands and can dig in to any material. The animation is slightly less impressive when the plot centers on Duncan's high school days but works well enough that it doesn't detract from the story. One exception to this is a very cool high-energy chase scene between Duncan and the local bullies, which uses parkour moves seen in films like "District B13," "Mission Impossible 3" and "Casino Royale."
The movie's story moves briskly, never treading water with constantly action and goals on screen progressing the film. Every scene adds something to the movie, and writer Jim Kreig managed to pack a lot of plot into the alloted running time. The film ends in a way that unmistakably sets up sequels and, as Chung hints at afterwards, it seems that as long as this movie scores decent ratings and DVD sales, a sequel will surely follow.
Overall, "Firebreather" is definitely worth the time for kids to watch and any adults that are interested in the comic, monsters or movies with great fight scenes in general could do a lot worse with their afternoon than checking it out.
After the screening, "Firebreather" creators Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn, screenwriter Jim Kreig and director Peter Chung, took the time to discuss the movie with the audience.
Asked about his inspiration in creating "Firebreather," Hester said, "I went to high school! You feel awkward, but you also feel the strength of youth."
"I love old comics, you know, like Peter Parker in high school. I wanted to get back to that."
"For me it's just awesome to draw monsters!" said Kuhn.
Chung said that he loved working on the movie because it gave him a chance to do something feature length and in CGI, two things he's never done before. He also liked having a chance to adapt someone else's property since he had been upset with how his properties had been handled in the past, presumably referring to the "Aeon Flux" feature film. "I tried to be very respectful to the source material."
"As a writer I'm always excited to be paid to write something," Kreig said when asked what drew him to the project. "But when you get to write something that's actually really cool, that's an added plus."
Chung discussed one difference between the comics and the film: Duncan's suit of armor. In the comics ,he carried it around, but for the movie, Chung had Duncan's armor grow out of his skin when he became enraged. Chung said in a comic you can throw on the armor in between panels, but that couldn't work in a film.
Chung also discussed his decision to label Belloc and his peers as "kaiju" instead of monsters or dragons. He felt kaiju was just a better way to describe them and opened up the movie to more possibilities.
On the animation, Chung said, "The way the characters ended up looking is just how I draw characters. Trying to work outside of your style ends up not being yourself."
Chung told one young fan who asked how long it took to make the movie, the entire production cycle was about a year and a half, which was quick for this type of project.
Kreig said an important moment came when viewing the movie with his seven-year-old son who picked up on the story's ambiguity between good characters and evil. "He turned to me and said, 'Daddy, wait a minute - which one is the bad guy?' and I was like, 'You just got the movie!'"
Beyond the public Q&A, Chung, Kreig, Hester and Kuhn were all present for a candid chat about the movie with CBR after the screening, courtesy of Cartoon Network.
Hester told CBR that "Firebreather" was originally optioned for a film in 2003. "Oh my God, it was so long ago, right when the first miniseries came out. Cartoon Network's been involved for four years, maybe. We've been talking to Cartoon Network for a long time. To us, it seemed like a blur. Thankfully, every time we got a piece of news from Cartoon Network, it was good news. So it kept us excited and eager to see it, so to see it finally come to this stage has been really gratifying and exciting."
Hester added, at this point, the ongoing series and the film series are completely separate, and the decision to do one did not influence the other at all.
"Everything that you like in the movie is from the comic book and all the questionable things, that's me." Kreig joked when asked about the differences between the comic and film. "Honestly, I tried to stay as true to the comic as possible while adding some detail to it...he said humbly!"
"A lot of the stuff I liked was not from the comic book." Kuhn said. "Yeah, you fixed a lot of stuff!" Hester agreed.
"I give Cartoon Network a lot of props for giving the creators a lot of leeway and having a lot of faith in the creators, because I, frankly, can't see this movie being made this way at any other studio. In the end, it's the movie I really wanted to make, I can't say there's anything in the completed film that I had to compromise, creatively," said Chung when questioned about how much freedom Cartoon Network afforded him in the development of the project.
Chung also had a lot of input when it came to Kreig's screenplay. The two of them spent about two months rewriting the script several times. "Having been a writer myself on 'Aeon Flux,' I believe starting with a very, very tight script and trying not to work things out in storyboard form, because you waste a lot of time that way."
"Here's my joke: the good news about Peter Chung is that he's a genius, and the bad news about Peter Chung is that he's a genius. So, you know that you're gonna have a great finished project, but there are a lot of phone calls that are, 'Hey Jim, I've got an idea!' And then the idea turns in to a discussion and then the discussion turns in to plotting and the plotting turns in to a big rewrite for me!" said Kreig.
"I always had a fascination with cartoons and cartooning," said Kuhn. "When I was young, a guy who had been an animator for Hannah-Barbara moved in across the street and he had kids I was friends with. I used to go, at 10 or 11 years old, through his trash, and he used to throw out all these roughs because he was trying to do a syndicated comic strip. I would get the roughs and just be fascinated looking at these drawings."
"For me it was always about comics," said Hester. "Cartoons were nice and great, but when I was a kid, they were so censored and cut. Comics were uncut, pure adrenaline and adventure."
"When I was a kid I was always drawing, and I didn't realize that was something you could do as a career," said Chung. "At about 16, I started to make actual moves towards pursuing it as a career."
The entire team unanimously agreed that they would love to see "Firebreather" move on to multiple mediums and merchandising. Of course, it all depends on how this film is received, ratings and DVD sales.
"To our credit, that was not at the forefront of our minds, though," said Hester. "At the forefront was making a really cool story that could reach people on some level and that was exciting."
"Merchandise has value if it reminds you of the story and character that you love. As long as it's the story that's driving the rest of it," said Chung. "You need to be commercially successful to continue."
Hester added, "We don't look at high sales on a book or revenues on DVD or toys as a cash-cow for us. We see that as fuel so we can go do more of these things. We'll do it if we're broke or rich, but we're going to do it. If there's money behind us, it gives us more freedom to go make more 'Firebreathers'"
"Firebreather," directed by Peter Chung, debuts on Cartoon Network this November.