HBO Max to Bow Animated Children’s Special ‘The Runaway Bunny’ March 25

Subscription streaming service HBO Max March 25 will premiere the animated special The Runaway Bunny, based on the children’s book by Margaret Wise Brown.

Produced and written by Amy Schatz, the program features traditional hand-drawn animation, narration and performance of an original Margaret Wise Brown lullaby by Tracee Ellis Ross, and songs by Grammy winning artists Mariah Carey, Kelly Rowland, Rosanne Cash, Ziggy Marley and Kimya Dawson, as well as Grammy nominees Rufus Wainwright and Michael Kiwanuka.

The story, an exploration of love and childhood, follows a restless little bunny who dreams of leaving home. Woven throughout the story are songs that accompany the bunny on his imaginary, magical adventures into the world and back home to the comfort of his mother’s love.

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Originally published in 1942 by HarperCollins Publishers, the children’s book has sold more than 12 million copies. The Runaway Bunny brings the illustrations of Clement Hurd and the poetry of Margaret Wise Brown to animated life for the first time.

The Runaway Bunny is a timeless classic about youthful independence and the strength of a mother’s love,” Billy Wee, SVP, original animation, HBO Max, said in a statement. “Amy Schatz has lovingly brought this story to vivid life with an incredible group of collaborators.”

Songs include:

  • Mariah Carey’s brand-new reinterpretation of her No. 1 hit song “Always Be My Baby”;
  • Kelly Rowland performing Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love”;
  • Rosanne Cash performing “You Are My Sunshine”;
  • Ziggy Marley performing “What a Wonderful World”; and
  • Rufus Wainwright perforing Billy Joel’s “Lullabye, Goodnight My Angel.”
  • Kimya Dawson — “You Are My Baby”
  • Michael Kiwanuka — “Home Again”
  • Tracee Ellis Ross performs “Song of the Runaway Bunny,” the never-before-released song written by Margaret Wise Brown based on a Provençal love ballad which inspired Brown to write this book.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run

STREAMING REVIEW:

Paramount+;
Animated;
Box Office $4.8 million;
Rated ‘PG’ for rude humor, some thematic elements, and mild language.

Voices of Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Clancy Brown, Rodger Bumpass, Carolyn Lawrence, Mr. Lawrence, Matt Berry, Bill Fagerbakke, Reggie Watts, Tiffany Haddish and Awkwafina with Keanu Reeves, Snoop Dogg and Danny Trejo.

This third installment in the movie franchise based on the Nickelodeon series “SpongeBob SquarePants” is available on the new streaming service Paramount+ for its launch and as a premium VOD rental on digital services. (The film was released theatrically during the summer.)

In the CGI-animated adventure with live action elements, SpongeBob’s beloved pet snail Gary goes missing in a plot hatched by Plankton to get the Krabby Patty recipe. In a boat driven by the wacky robot Otto (voice of Awkwafina), SpongeBob and Patrick head to the Lost City of Atlantic City where King Poseidon has Gary held captive. On the journey, the pair meet a spirit guide tumbleweed Sage (Keanu Reeves) in a live-action, land-based dream sequence at a ghost town. Sage tells them they must meet a challenge involving some “flesh-eating cowboy pirate zombies” in the saloon and a devil character (Danny Trejo). The sequence might be a bit frightening for younger kids, but luckily Snoop Dogg shows up to get the zombies dancing and SpongeBob and Patrick escape.

The two pals eventually make their way to the Lost City, where they end up at Poseidon’s Palace after a gambling spree, spot Gary and are jailed trying to reclaim him. Meanwhile, back in Bikini Bottom, Sandy, Mr. Krabs and even Squidward and Plankton begin to miss SpongeBob and set off to spring him. It all culminates in a big production number on the Palace stage led by the master of ceremonies, voiced by Tiffany Haddish.

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Ultimately, everyone learns the value of friendship boosted by several summer camp flashbacks that not-coincidentally help introduce the new Paramount+ original series spinoff “Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years.”

While the movie does include some references and music (Kenny G, Weezer, Snoop Dogg, Ricky Martin) that will appeal to the adults, most of the humor is the kind of slapstick visual gags and puns that kids are familiar with from the television series. Still, one can do worse than spend an hour and a half with the innocent and likable SpongeBob and his gang, who can provide a diverting, light-hearted evening for the family.

FandangoNow and Vudu Launch Sale on Family Titles for ‘Sponge on the Run’ Debut

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run debuts March 4 as a premium VOD rental, and for a limited time, fans who rent the movie on Vudu and FandangoNow can get a code for 50% off the purchase of more than 25 select family titles on the two Fandango transactional VOD services.

Titles include the previous “SpongeBob” movies (The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie), Sonic the Hedgehog, Love and Monsters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Wonder Park, Sherlock Gnomes, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Bumblebee, The Rugrats Movie, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Harriet the Spy, Hotel for Dogs, Imagine That, Good Burger, Snow Day, Clockstoppers and a number of other family classics.

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Fandango is also launching this week a trivia video, “From Top to Bikini Bottom: The History of ‘SpongeBob SquarePants.'”

Apple TV+ Orders Kids Series ‘Jane’

Apple TV+ has ordered “Jane,” a series for kids and families inspired by Jane Goodall.

From Emmy Award winner J.J. Johnson, Sinking Ship Entertainment and the Jane Goodall Institute, “Jane” follows Jane Garcia, a 10-year-old girl with an active imagination. Through pretend play, Jane and her trusty teammates work to protect an endangered animal in each episode because, according to her idol Jane Goodall, “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, can they be saved.”

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From Sinking Ship Entertainment, “Jane,” a live-action/CGI blended series, is created and executive produced by company partner J.J. Johnson, with the Jane Goodall Institute also serving as executive producers.

Universal Celebrates ‘Croods’ Release With Virtual Museum Events

La Brea Tar Pits, part of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County, and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History have partnered with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment on educational virtual “Camp Croods,” based on the DreamWorks Animation family film The Croods: A New Age.

The Croods: A New Age will be available to own on digital Feb. 9 and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD Feb. 23, 2021, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

The two separate interactive programs will feature hands-on activities and scientific investigation to explore the Ice Age, human origins and the fate of saber-toothed cats. Families will have the chance to meet real-life paleontologists and archaeologists, participate in DIY art projects, explore virtual tar pits (La Brea Tar Pits camp), take a virtual tour of the Human Origins exhibition (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History camp) and experience drawing demonstrations that bring the prehistoric Croods characters to life.

“Bringing the world of The Croods to life with the help of these two distinguished museums within an exclusive setting is a truly unique opportunity that we are pleased to share virtually with families and kids,” said Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing for Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “As time-honored brands for research, discovery and exhibition, La Brea Tar Pits and the Smithsonian continue to develop entertaining and engaging programs for kids making them the ideal partners to celebrate the home entertainment release of The Croods: A New Age, the must-own family movie of the year.”

The La Brea Tar Pits camp takes place Feb. 11 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. PT and Feb. 13 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. PT. (Free. Registration required. RSVP at tarpits.org/campcroods).

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History camp takes place Feb. 23 from 6 to 7 p.m. ET (Free. Registration required. RSVP at s.si.edu/croods ).

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“This collaboration is a great opportunity to showcase the ways in which art and science intersect, while at the same time introducing families to La Brea Tar Pits, the world’s only active paleontological research facility in a major urban area,” said Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, president and director of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County. “We are grateful to Universal and DreamWorks for helping us provide campers with a new way to see science in action and encourage them to keep exploring the world around them — be it through paleontology or animation.”

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“We are excited to join with Universal and DreamWorks to take visitors to Camp Croods on a journey back in time to explore the evidence scientists use to understand the lives of early humans,” said Dr. Kirk Johnson, sant director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. “Campers will embark on a virtual tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Human Origins which examines the lives and environments of our earliest ancestors and considers the notion of what it means to be human.”

Netflix Inks Deal With Disney Vet Nancy Kanter for Kids and Family Content

Netflix has entered a partnership with executive producer and former Disney exec Nancy Kanter and her Available Light Productions to develop and produce new original content for the service globally.

Kanter will develop and produce animated and live action projects, both feature films and series, for kids and families.

Kanter most recently served as EVP of content and creative strategy at Disney Channels Worldwide, and is a 20-year Disney veteran who established the Disney Junior brand, developing programming for the network and growing them into franchises, including the Peabody Award-winning “Doc McStuffins,” the Emmy Award-winning “Sofia the First,” the Emmy Award-nominated “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” and “The Owl House,” and other series “Elena of Avalor” and “Vampirina” for Disney Junior. She also shepherded “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” “Monsters at Work,” “Secret Society of Second Born Royals” and the upcoming movies Spin and Sneakerella, all for Disney+.

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“Throughout my career I’ve challenged myself to think differently, imagine bigger and aim higher,” Kanter said in a statement. “I am delighted at this opportunity to partner with the innovative creators and executive team at Netflix who value those same aspirations, and I look forward to working with them to create new stories that will inspire the minds and touch the hearts of kids and families everywhere.”

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“We want Netflix to be the home of the world’s best storytellers and creative visionaries, and few embody that more than Nancy Kanter,” Melissa Cobb, Netflix VP of original animation, said in a statement. “She’s already made a lasting impact on a generation of kids — creating opportunities to see their lives on screen and inspiring them to feel connected to something bigger than themselves. We can’t wait for her to bring new stories to life at Netflix, and continue to entertain and inspire audiences around the world.”

Korean Animated Adventure ‘A Dog’s Courage’ Due on Digital April 14

The South Korean animated family film A Dog’s Courage will debut on digital  April 14 from Well Go USA Entertainment.

The film follows Jacob, a feisty and playful dog abandoned by his owners. He joins a pack of strays that embarks on a journey filled with adventures and life lessons in their pursuit to find a new and loving home, finding the perfect place of safety and peace, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

The film is available in both the original Korean and an all-new English dub.

Directed by Chun-Baek Lee and Oh Sung-Yoon (Leafie, a Hen Into the Wild), A Dog’s Courage was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2019 Asia Pacific Screen Awards. 

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Netflix Inks New Deal With Nickelodeon

Netflix and Nickelodeon have formed a multiyear output deal to produce original animated feature films and television series for kids and families based both on the Nickelodeon library of characters as well as new IP.

The deal is an expansion of the existing relationship between the companies, which has already brought several titles to Netflix, including animated specials Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling and Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus. Also forthcoming are specials based on “The Loud House” and “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

“Nickelodeon has generated scores of characters that kids love, and we look forward to telling wholly original stories that re-imagine and expand on the worlds they inhabit,” Netflix VP of original animation Melissa Cobb said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to continue collaborating with Brian Robbins, Ramsey Naito, and the creative team at Nickelodeon in new ways as we look to find fresh voices and bring bold stories to our global audience on Netflix.”

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“Nickelodeon’s next step forward is to keep expanding beyond linear platforms, and our broader content partnership with Netflix is a key path toward that goal,” Nickelodeon president Brian Robbins said in a statement. “The Nickelodeon Animation Studio is home to the world-class artists and storytellers behind some of the most iconic characters and shows ever made, and our head of animation, Ramsey Naito, has been building on that legacy over the past year by ramping up development and production exponentially. The ideas and work at our Studio are flowing, and we can’t wait to work with Melissa and the Netflix team on a premium slate of original animated content for kids and families around the world.”

‘Angry Birds Movie 2’ Brings New Characters to the Game-Based Universe

Turning an online game into a movie has its challenges, but it also provides some room for creativity, said executives who have worked on the films based on the iconic web product Angry Birds.

“When you have a project based on a book or comic book series, so much of that has been defined,” said producer John Cohen. “Everything is set in a mythology, and you’re translating it  into a movie and trying very hard not to veer from what’s already been created. But with Angry Birds we’ve had this amazing opportunity where not a lot had been defined.”

Cohen and co-director Johnny Rice attended a special event for the home entertainment launch of The Angry Birds Movie 2 Nov. 9 at the Los Angeles Zoo. The sequel was available Oct. 29 on digital and debuted Nov. 12 on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Joining the returning cast, which includes Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Bill Hader, Danny McBride and Peter Dinklage, are Leslie Jones (TV’s “Saturday Night Live”), Rachel Bloom (TV’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians), Sterling K. Brown (TV’s “This Is Us”) and Eugenio Derbez (Dora and the Lost City of Gold).

In the sequel, a new threat emerges that puts both Bird and Pig Island in danger. Red (Sudeikis), Chuck (Gad), Bomb (McBride) and Mighty Eagle (Dinklage) recruit Chuck’s sister Silver (Bloom) and team up with pigs Leonard (Hader), his assistant Courtney (Awkwafina), and techpig Garry (Sterling K. Brown) to forge an unsteady truce and form an unlikely team to save their homes. Jones stars as Zeta, a new villain threatening the islands.

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“We’ve got a lot of new characters; of course, the Leslie Jones Zeta character is a big new character,” said Rice. “She’s bigger than life in every way. Leslie brought a voice to the character that is just incredible. She really stands out in the movie as a huge force. And it’s kind of interesting as that’s the way our story works as well. She’s a force that comes into the world, into the birds’ world and the pigs’ world that just changes everything.”

“Our other big new character is Silver, voiced by Rachel bloom, and Silver is actually Chuck’s sister,” added Cohen. “Chuck, the Josh Gad character, is the bird who moves very fast. Everything about him is quick. He talks fast. He moves fast. And we started to ask ourselves, well, if he had a sister who shares the DNA, what would she be like? Silver’s superpower is that she thinks fast. And so she is hypersmart and is an engineering major at Avian Academy, which is the college on Bird Island. And when the birds and pigs come together in the movie and have to team up to fight these mortal enemies and for the very first time have to work together, Silver ends up as the leader of the group because she’s just the smartest and kind of the best people person.”

Co-director/animator Johnny Rice drew the character Red at a Nov. 9 event for The Angry Birds Movie 2 at the Los Angeles Zoo.

Because the animators are filling out the online game, “we bring our own experiences, our own life experience and attitudes into it,” said Rice. “I really connected with Red on the first one and in the second one as well, where I felt like I totally understood who he was. And the voice actors add a lot to that of course.”

Animators use the performances of the accomplished comedians who play the characters to inform the animation.

“Their comedic sensibility and their ad-libs and improvisation do so much to bring that character to life in a way that you couldn’t have even imagined,” Cohen said.

“The animators pay a lot of attention to every nuance in the voice,” Rice said.

“We film the actors to see their mannerisms. Even an eye movement or just a gesture can inform the animation of the character,” Cohen added.

The actors often recognize themselves in the animated pigs and birds that end up in the movie, Cohen said.

Bonus features on the sequel disc include a new mini movie “Live Stream,” DIY activities inspired by the film, behind-the-scenes featurettes with cast and crew, a feature on the birds at the L.A. Zoo, and six Hatchling shorts directed by Rice.

The baby bird Hatchling characters are played by children, rather than adults using child-like voices, which brings an authentic humor to the characters, said Rice and Cohen. The child actors are encouraged to be themselves, which provides for some surprising humor.

“They do the funniest things,” Rice said.

“It’s not ad-libbing in the traditional sense,” Cohen said. “It’s more just the weird things and the surprising things that kids might say and the way in which they would say them. We love to capture real kids’ voices and that’s what’s given the Hatchlings so much charm.”

The Hatchlings in Angry Birds 2 are played by Alma Versano, daughter of Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman); Genesis Tennon, daughter of actress Viola Davis; Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project); Jojo Siwa (TV’s “Dance Moms”); and Sunday and Faith, daughters of Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban.

“Most of them it was their first time ever acting, and they were really, really fantastic,” Cohen said.

Animated ‘Abominable’ Stomping to Digital Dec. 3, Disc Dec. 17 Including 4K

The DreamWorks Animation film Abominable is coming out on digital Dec. 3 and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and on demand Dec. 17 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

With the biggest opening for an original animated film this year, according to Universal, Abominable features the voice talents of Chloe Bennet (Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D”), Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winner Sarah Paulson (“American Horror Story”), Eddie Izzard (Cars 2), Tenzing Norgay Trainor (“Liv and Maddie”), Albert Tsai (“Fresh Off the Boat”), Tsai Chin (The Joy Luck Club) and Michelle Wong (“Scandal”).

The film made $166.6 million at the worldwide box office.

In the story, teenage Yi (Bennet) encounters a young Yeti on the roof of her apartment building in China. She and her friends Jin (Trainor) and Peng (Tsai) name him “Everest” and embark on an epic quest to reunite the magical creature with his family at the highest point on Earth. The trio of friends has to stay one-step ahead of Burnish (Izzard), a wealthy man intent on capturing a Yeti, and zoologist Dr. Zara (Paulson) to help Everest get home.

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Bonus content includes two original shorts, deleted scenes, and family activities.