Exclusive: The latest about the Voltron movie and new animated TV series
Posted by Thurston McQ on Sunday, April 4, 2010
[Coming Attractions' reporter Thurston McQ had the exclusive opportunity to visit the offices of World Event Productions where the next Voltron animated TV series and live-action movie are being developed. This is his report. -- Patrick@CA]
If you are one of the growing number of visitors to Voltron.com, you will have seen the website’s recent announcement: a new Lion Force animated series is coming to NickToons.
This announcement comes at a time when fans are both hopeful and fearful. Like fans of any genre offering, it is not enough for them to see the world and characters they have grown to love revived. They also want to see it done right. Voltron’s fans have seen other franchises revived, and they have borne witness to—and in many cases, have shared in—the disappointment of those franchises’ fans.
I count myself among these Voltron fans. I was a charter member of the post-Star Wars action figure boom, and as such I had dedicated the majority of my toy box’s space to the headquartering of my personal mix of begged-for and traded-for G.I. Joes, Transformers, Masters of the Universe, and Star Wars figures. Voltron (Lion Force Voltron, specifically), unlike the rest of these, was stationed next to the bed. He refused to fit in my toy box unless I disassembled him, and I refused to disassemble him unless whatever battle I was fighting needed robot lions. (Though, in retrospect, what battle doesn’t need robot lions?) Voltron stood fully formed and ready to halt the advances of Lotor, Haggar, or whatever large-enough toy of mine had been tricked out to be representative of a Robeast. (Initially, this was my stepbrother’s Rancor; in later years, it would become the Inhumanoids’ D’Compose.)
Voltron stood guard on my bedside table for years. He protected me. Now I feel it is my turn to be protective of him. Like other Voltron fans, I have watched with concern as other eighties properties have been jammed into the wood chipper and sprayed out onto cinema screens. What makes its way there is sometimes so divorced from what I loved about the original property that I have been made to wonder why anyone bothered to attach the franchise name to the movie at all. (I do not wonder this for very long. Brand names sell.)
That said, I am supportive of creative license. I will always have the cartoons to fall back on, after all. I know many of the show’s elements were of another time and place, and that reproducing some of these elements would prove, at the very least, to be problematic. (I would be surprised and a little disgusted, for example, if Keith were to sport a mullet in the movie.) I suppose I simply want to be proud of—and entertained by—whatever lands in cinemas. I would like to see it played straight, but with enough of a sense of adventure that it still feels like Voltron to me. If the filmmakers can bring themselves to temper the urge to make their finished product thoroughly dark, brooding, and “edgy,” then I hope they will do so. In short, I would love it if I were consulted every step of the way, and I would love it even more if nothing I felt failed to pass muster would make it into the movie.
Such expectations are unrealistic and selfish. I realize this. I have to hope, then, for the next best thing: that those involved directly will show enough enthusiasm and respect for Voltron for me to believe they have every intention of honoring the show’s legacy and expanding on it in a meaningful way. It was this hope that drove me to seek out World Events Productions, Ltd. I wanted to see whatever they were willing to show me in the upcoming cartoon’s and movie’s regard. I contacted them, and they were kind enough to humor me with an invitation to their main office.
[A collection of Voltron swag on display at the offices of World Event Productions. Photo taken and copyright by atrejub.]
WEP is currently located on the top floor of a business high-rise in downtown St. Louis. On a clear morning, the shadow of the Gateway Arch touches the building. It seemed fitting to me that Voltron and the Arch would touch on a daily basis. (It seemed so fitting, in fact, that I was sad to learn that the WEP office would soon be moving to St. Louis’s Central West End.) For the Voltron fan, the fittingness is obvious: Voltron was born in St. Louis. True, much of the animation (not all of it; new animation was commissioned by WEP after the fact) came from two unrelated Toei series imported from Japan (Beast King Go Lion and Kikou Kantai Dairugger XV), but Voltron as most of the Occident knows it was a grand collaborative effort sprung from the germ planted by an enterprising Ted Koplar. From that germ bloomed the phenomenon and merchandizing giant so many of us came to love in the eighties.
Until recently, I had come under the impression that for WEP, the story ended there. My assumption was that they were not involved beyond merchandizing. I was pleased to find out this was not the case. What I would eventually discover was that their involvement in both the movie and cartoon goes deep.
Upon entering the reception area, I encountered a seven-foot Voltron standing victorious over a disassembled Optimus Prime. (Humorous side note: Peter Cullen, who voiced Optimus, was also Voltron’s narrator and the voice of Coran.) I was soon invited by WEP’s managing director, Tiffany Ilardi, to poke around the office. She introduced me to WEP’s Creative Director, Jeremy Corray (a dyed-in-the-wool geek with fond memories of the first iteration of Corona Coming Attractions), and the two of them proceeded to address every question I asked with candor and patience. And then they did something that made me quite happy: they asked for my personal opinions regarding all things Voltron. That is, they recognized me to be a fan (I suppose it would have been impossible for them not to recognize this), and they showed what I took to be genuine interest in what I had to say about their biggest property. Regardless of how the show and movie turn out, my fears have been allayed on some level. WEP actually cares about Voltron.
You are probably wondering what specific things I learned about the movie and show while there. While most of the highlights are bulleted above, I can elaborate a little. I have seen a fair portion of the design work for the Voltron Force cartoon, and I think it looks sharp. Each lion has a distinct look that, while it does not betray the look of the original lions, has been streamlined in such a way as not to look too out of place in the NickToons universe. (My favorite of the lion designs was probably Lance’s lion. That sucker had some fierce shoulder blades.) I would love to be able to share some of the designs with you or describe them in detail, but WEP (understandably) wants to keep them under wraps for the immediate future.
Regarding the movie: I was glad to get some confirmation, finally, on the abandonment of the Marks script and Davis rewrite. I hold no major ill will toward the Marks script (other than being opposed to the majority of the movie being set on Earth), but I like that WEP is keeping its options open. (I must confess I know next to nothing about the Davis rewrite, other than that it punched up the action.) Nothing but kind words were spoken of Justin Marks and Max Makowski, but reboot mode is reboot mode. Whatever the case, I am sure Justin Marks has bright career ahead of him.
The most important thing I learned was that I had been pronouncing "Albegas" wrong all these years. I had been saying it as though it rhymed with "Vegas," when I should have been saying it more like I say the word "albatross."
My thanks go out WEP—to Tiffany Ilardi and Jeremy Corray in particular—for giving me the opportunity to be a part of their hectic world for a moment. They are committed to their properties in a way that makes me hopeful for all the dozens of things they have their hands in. Things are busy, busy, busy there, and much of that business directly involves bringing more Voltron to the masses. I look forward to any further visits they are willing to grant me, and I hope to have more for you all in near future.
Animated Series News:
• The lions are sleek, and are recognizably Voltron.
• There’s an expanded, interracial team.
• All five post-Sven pilots are there (with a probable Sven cameo).
• The show’s major villains will be returning.
• Character design is vaguely reminiscent of (though not in a way I would say apes) Timm-verse DC.
• The cartoon’s working title is now Voltron Force (not Voltron Panthera Force).
• There’s an all-new voice cast.
• Neither the Justin Marks script nor the more recent Jeff Davis rewrite will be the shooting script; the production is officially in "reboot mode."
• Max Makowski is no longer attached to direct.
• Despite longstanding legal rumors and online rumblings, the Voltron property belongs solely to WEP.
• WEP is working closely with Atlas Entertainment on the movie’s direction.
• No actors are currently attached.
• The likelihood of young children confusing Voltron with Transformers and/or Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers is something being addressed; it is WEP’s intention that Voltron be distinctive enough to stand out on his own.
General Interest News:
• WEP is meeting with video game developers in the hopes of releasing a major-platform Voltron game.
• Both a Denver: The Last Dinosaur animated series and movie are in the planning stage.
• A harder-edged, PG-13-rated Voltron OVA in the vein of The Animatrix and Batman: Gotham Knight is being discussed.