Toonzone Interviews James Jones, Producer Of "Dorothy Of Oz"
<a href="http://news.toonzone.net/images/2010-06/dorothyoz/Logo210.jpg" target="_blank"><img border="0" src="http://news.toonzone.net/images/2010-06/dorothyoz/t-Logo210.jpg" align="right" hspace="5" vspace="3"></a>Alpine Entertainment has been around for 20 years. It recently made the decision to go into family entertainment exclusively, and has rebranded itself Summertime Entertainment. Executive Producer James Jones was kind enough to be interviewed over the phone regarding Summertime's upcoming animated film Dorothy of Oz starring Lea Michele.
TOONZONE NEWS: What is this new Oz film about? How is it different from the '39 film?
JAMES JONES: We're taking Oz into the 21st century. We wanted to create a brand new story for all the kids today, the 8-year olds of today. We didn't want to hark back to the 1939 movie because that was already done very well. We're doing a new story done in animation. We got the story based on the writings of Roger Baum, great-grandson of the original author L. Frank Baum. The story is that Dorothy wakes up back in Kansas, and Kansas is in disarray because it just got hit by a tornado, so there's lots of rebuilding going on. The people are giving up and leaving. Meanwhile, in Oz, the witch is gone, but she's been replaced by the Jester, who was her nephew, and he's got her spell book and broomstick. So he's wreaking havoc in Oz and trying to take control. The Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man were left in charge and have brains, heart and courage, but it simply isn't enough. They're losing control and don't know what to do. The only person they can reach out to is Dorothy. Now that he has brains, the Scarecrow is able to create a "Rainbow Mover" and bring Dorothy back to Oz. This begins a whole brand new journey where, without going into too many details, Dorothy learns the value of teamwork. She's able to take that message back to Kansas, and get the people of Kansas to learn teamwork and pull together. It's a fun little message, and it's going to be great. We've got a wonderful cast.
TZN: What made you decide to do Oz as your first animated film under the Summertime banner?
JAMES JONES: It was a fortunate stroke of luck. I had the great opportunity of meeting Roger Baum. As a company, we've made horror films, suspense movies, teen dramas, we've made lots of different kinds of movies, but none of these things were clicking the way we wanted them to. All of us here at Summertime are family people and we wanted to make movies for ourselves and for our families, not only for our kids, but for our parents, aunts, and uncles—everybody. We wanted to put the whole family back on the couch together and bring the family together. We decided to plant our flag in family entertainment, and at the same time, Roger came along. It was a simple epiphany: what could possibly be better to get this thing kickstarted than a story in Oz. It just fit the program better than anything possible. It's grown organically as we've gone forward. It's just been an exciting adventure all the way through.
<a href="http://news.toonzone.net/images/2010-06/dorothyoz/Jester.jpg" target="_blank"><img border="0" src="http://news.toonzone.net/images/2010-06/dorothyoz/t-Jester.jpg" align="left" hspace="5" vspace="3"></a>TZN: Oz seems to be very popular as of late, with Wicked, and Disney and Warner Brothers working on their own Oz movies. How will your Oz movie be different?
JAMES JONES: First of all, Wicked, the Oz film Raimi may direct for Disney (which is in development at best), the Warner Bros. project that's been in development for a very long time—they're all adult-themed. They're not for kids. They're not for the 8-year-old market, I'll tell you that. We're making a film that's for the 8-year old. Nobody else is touching it. The other problem is, if you look at a lot of films that have come out previous to this, what they attempted to do is remake a classic. That doesn't work. We're not trying to remake a classic. Also keep in mind, when was the last time-- what other animated Oz projects are out there? That are musical and in 3D? Nobody has that. We're the only ones. The Disney movie and the other one, I doubt they're going to be G rated. Or PG rated.
TZN: So you see yourselves as a Pixar? Making movies the whole family can enjoy without being "edgy"?
JAMES JONES: Pixar is a wonderful company, and they've done a great job. They're a wonderful company to follow through with. We're looking to plant our flag within the family market only. One thing we do is we work with a company called the Dove Foundation, who judges out films with strict Judeo-Christian guidelines, and if you pass with them you get a little symbol that says 'Family Approved' and that goes on all of our family products. So we're very adamant that these products, that every product we have, is for the entire family.
TZN: At one point Disney made a sequel in 1985 called Return to Oz...
JAMES JONES: For one thing, in our film there's not going to be any electro-shock therapy. (laughter) It won't be alarming to children. What they attempted to do with that film was to go back to the source material, and it was actually very true to the source material, and they did a very good job with that. What they missed the boat on is you didn't feel connected to Dorothy, and you didn't feel connected to the characters that she met. You didn't have an invested interest as a viewer. The characters weren't really warm and fuzzy. We learned a big lesson from that film. We don't want to go down that path at all. The most important thing when you watch a film is your protagonist, in this case Dorothy, and you've got to connect to her right away. You've got to fall in love with her, and you've got to believe in her. If we have that bit of magic, you will follow through every bit. Our job is to have our Dorothy be someone kids can relate to, kids can fall in love with, and they want to follow the story through.
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TZN: The red ruby slippers are about as iconic as the yellow brick road. When Disney made Return to Oz they had to pay a large fee to MGM who owned the rights to the ruby slippers. Has your legal team looked into this?
JAMES JONES: We probably won't go with the ruby slippers. The ruby slippers were made up for the 1939 movie. The rights to the slippers are currently owned by Warner Brothers. We've been in heavy talks with Warner Brothers about various other things, but the original slippers, if you look at the source material, in the original book, the slippers were originally silver. What we're looking to do is kind of break free a little bit of this harness of trying to retract everything to '39. We're trying to take this into the new millennium. Adults grew up watching the '39 film—it was a huge movie when I was a child—so these are iconic things to adults, but they're not as iconic to the 8-year-old of today. The 8-year-old today is more malleable, so we're going t make sure that our Dorothy is relatable to the 8-year-old of today and we can create a new Dorothy, an new icon for a new generation.
TZN: Your movie's going to be a musical, right? You have Bryan Adams, who worked on Dreamworks' Spirit, writing the songs. The fact that it's a musical means that people are even more likely to compare it to the songs to the '39 film. Are you concerned?
JAMES JONES: There are also going to be people who compare it to the original books. We can't worry about trying to match up to something, because you fail every time. What our job to do is to make sure we make a high quality film that stands up on it's own legs, that families enjoy, and families appreciate all on it's own. We have to pay homage and respect to all Oz canon that's come before, but if we followed suit, all we'd be doing is a remake, and really, what's the point of that? What people forget is there is more than that '39 movie. Oz is so much bigger than that! There's so much more potential. There's a whole mythology that exists, and we can have a lot of fun with this thing, taking it into the 21st century.
TZN: Does not yet having distribution give you a lot more freedom?
JAMES JONES: That's one of the things we want to avoid. If we came up with an idea and went to a studio, of course what happens is you get caught up in their crazy machine. We're an independent company, and one of the advantages is Bonne (Radford, the animation producer) can call me or any of the executive producers and ask to have something done, and it's done. It's one phone call, you know? We don't have to have a committee. We don't have to have a meeting. Thing move very quickly here, and everybody on our staff, from animation to licensing and even our public relations, I think they enjoy the freedom that the independent has. We are in talks right now with distributors for domestic distribution. We've had very positive response with that, but we aren't in a huge rush on any of those deals at the moment. There is time, but we'll probably be making a decision here very shortly.
<a href="http://news.toonzone.net/images/2010-06/dorothyoz/EmeraldCityHall_medium.jpg" target="_blank"><img border="0" src="http://news.toonzone.net/images/2010-06/dorothyoz/t-EmeraldCityHall_medium.jpg" align="left" hspace="5" vspace="3"></a>TZN: You seem to be very excited about the 3D aspect. Can I hear a little bit more about that?
JAMES JONES: It should be an immersive tool, and we're going to be doing some interesting things. Just between you and I, one of the wonderful things is that in Kansas it's not 3D, it's not popping out at you, but there's still 3D in depth. Then when we transition to Oz, then it will start popping out at you. It's a wonderful tool to enhance the overall movie going experience. So it's not something we're going to just use to stick it in for some marketing ploy, it's a wonderful tool. When you think about Oz, what a wonderful thing to have a flying monkey over your head or something happening. You know what I mean? It's immersive and completely fun, so it just makes sense.
TZN: So you're going to use 3D in the way the 1939 film used color.
JAMES JONES: Exactly.
TZN: How far along are you in the film right now?
JAMES JONES: We work with Ken Duncan Studios, and we've just completed the animatic. We're working with Prada Studios right now going into full animation as we speak. The voice recordings are already scheduled, so we're in the final stretch, basically.
TZN: Summertime is relatively unknown. What are Summertime's plans in the future?
JAMES JONES: Film media is changing dramatically. What we are looking to do as a company is something called transmedia. Transmedia allows us to tell more of the story. In the film you'll be introduced to new characters, but you may not know the whole background on that character. Transmedia allows us to do a book, comic strip, or another form of media to fill in the background of this character. This allows fans to find out more information, and really what you're looking at is not so much the film, but the mythology of Oz. We'll have social games, Oz games on like our facebook and twitter pages, and we'll be creating an Oz virtual world. There will be mobile applications. Of course we're going into licensing. That will cover activity books and other types of publishing formats, clothing, and other games, perhaps for the Wii. At Summertime, that's our blueprint. That's the way we're growing the company.
<a href="http://news.toonzone.net/images/2010-06/dorothyoz/ChinaCountyGatesSmall%20copy.jpg" target="_blank"><img border="0" src="http://news.toonzone.net/images/2010-06/dorothyoz/t-ChinaCountyGatesSmall%20copy.jpg" align="right" hspace="5" vspace="3"></a>TZN: One last question. Are there any other animated movies planned in the future for Summertime Entertainment?
JAMES JONES: Sure. We've got lots of Oz projects coming up. Our goal is to do three films. I've got about six other projects on my plate right now. I don't want to give them away at the moment, but they're all pretty exciting and will go very well alongside Dorothy.
TZN: Sounds exciting. Most cartoons that come out now try to be 'edgy' and don't always have a good role model.
JAMES JONES: Two thing that we feel that animation allows us is to create a place you can't go to, but you really would like to. I don't mean to knock anybody, but if you look at Bolt, what's exciting about that? What's exciting about being on a freeway? I have to deal with that every day. But if you can take someplace brand new and you look at it and you would love to go there but you physically can't, that's exciting to me. The other thing I think is important is, my personal feeling as producer is to inspire kids. To teach them some kind of morals. A lot of the television right now is all snarky. It has a tendency, I think, to breed bad behavior. Anyone who watches television today can see what goes on. You know, the Jerry Springer phenomenon that kind of got the ball rolling. It's really not the message I think we want our kids to see. So it's wonderful to provide them with something that's an alternative to that, and I think parents will respond to that.
Toonzone News would like to thank James Jones for taking the time to speak with us. Stay tuned to Toonzone News for more info on the upcoming Dorothy of Oz.