‘Angry Birds 2’ Goes to the Zoo

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment celebrated 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. (Photos by Jamie Phan)

‘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.

Sony to Shutter PlayStation Vue

Sony Interactive Entertainment announced in a blog post that it would be shutting down its PlayStation Vue live TV streaming service on Jan. 30, 2020.

“Unfortunately, the highly competitive pay-TV industry, with expensive content and network deals, has been slower to change than we expected,” read the blog from deputy president John Kodera. “Because of this, we have decided to remain focused on our core gaming business.”

The service launched more than four years ago.

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“PlayStation fans can continue to access movie and TV content through the PlayStation Store on PS4 and via our partnerships with top entertainment apps,” read the blog. “With 100 million PlayStation 4s in the market today, our community continues to grow and thrive. We will continue to deliver the best entertainment experiences across the network, along with other key gaming services, including PlayStation Now and PlayStation Plus.

“We are very proud of what PlayStation Vue was able to accomplish. We had ambitious goals for how our service could change how people watch TV, showcasing PlayStation’s ability to innovate in a brand-new category within the Pay TV industry. We want to thank all of our customers, some of whom have been with us since PlayStation Vue’s launch in 2015.”

Sony reportedly had been looking for a buyer for the service, with roughly half a million subscribers and plans starting at around $50 a month.

Online TV Fortunes Shift as Sony Reportedly Looks to Sell PlayStation Vue

With Dish Network’s pioneering launch of Sling TV in 2015, online TV appeared to be traditional pay-TV’s antidote to subscription streaming video, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

But four years later and the online TV, or virtual MVPD market, has cooled. Online TV services added 430,000 combined subs in the second quarter — a 44% decline from 756,000 net subs additions in the previous-year quarter.

The market, which includes Philo, Hulu Live, YouTube TV, Spectrum TV, and Vidgo, among others, appears stuck in neutral as high-profile SVOD services from Disney, Apple, NBC Universal and WarnerMedia are poised to enter the market.

AT&T’s ambitious DirecTV Now service has thousands of subs after it did away with a $34.99 loss-leading price point. The platform is now called AT&T TV Now with about 1.5 million subs.

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Sling TV continues to lead the standalone online TV market with 2.47 million subs — up 128,000 subs from 2.34 million subs last year. But that growth has eluded Sony’s branded $49.99 PlayStation Vue service, which languishes as a fiscal underachiever with around 500,000 subs.

According to media reports, Sony has hired Bank of America Merrill Lynch to explore PS Vue sale options, with competitor Fubo TV reportedly interested. Nothing has been announced and sports-themed Fubo and Sony aren’t talking.

When Vue launched, it was the first online TV service offering cloud-based storage and on-demand features. But Sony last year began sounding warnings about Vue, saying the “market and future business model” for the platform remained rocky.

Indeed, when Vue dropped Sinclair Broadcast Group stations last year, Sinclair sent out a press release announcing that it had removed ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliated stations from the platform due to “certain contractual provisions” — downplaying any material effect on its business due to Vue’s “very small subscriber base.”

“We remind Sony subscribers that there are other video distributor options available to receive our broadcast stations’ programming, including Sony’s direct competitor YouTube TV, which continues to carry stations that Sony has dropped,” Sinclair wrote in the release. “Fortunately, subscribers to PlayStation Vue can terminate their subscriptions with ease and without termination fees.”

Crackle Plus Original Series ‘Going From Broke’ Generates 1 Million Views in Five Days

Ad-supported VOD service Crackle Plus Oct. 24 announced that its original series “Going From Broke,” from executive producer Ashton Kutcher, generated 1 million views during its first five days on the platform.

Crackle was acquired last year from Sony by Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, a publicly-traded media company.

The series, which debuted on Oct. 17, puts a spotlight on the epidemic of student loan debt. According to reports, more than 44 million Americans collectively owe $1.5 trillion on their federal student loans — a tally second only to mortgage debt in America.

Upon graduation, the series contends those entering the professional world face mounds of bills, a shrinking pool of employment opportunities, a lack of financial skills and a constant, crippling weight of bills keeping them from reaching for their dreams.

“The series is incredibly relevant and relatable and has clearly resonated with our millennial consumers,” Philippe Guelton, president of Crackle Plus, said in a statement.

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In the series, Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig and financial expert Danetha Doe go one on one with young people living in pricey Los Angeles to change their spending habits and gain financial confidence and become CEO of their own lives.

“It’s clear, based on the incredible engagement with the show, that there is a strong need for content and support around personal finance,” Rosensweig said.

Crackle is available on all top streaming platforms, connected TVs, game consoles, Crackle mobile apps (iOS, Android) and at Crackle.com.

Sony PlayStation 5 Video Game Console Launching for 2020 Winter Holidays

Sony Oct. 8 disclosed its next-generation PlayStation video game console will be named PlayStation 5 and debut in time for the winter holidays in 2020.

Sony, which first announced the pending console in April, along with Microsoft’s Xbox, are integral to the success of the video game industry.

The 2020 debut means the gaming industry will likely see continued sluggish sales of hardware and new software as consumers await the updated consoles — both of which will still include disc drives.

Indeed, The NPD Group reported that overall game sales fell 18% in August to $666 million, compared with $812 million in the previous-year period. Through Aug. 31, total game spending for the year is down 6% to $7 billion, from $7.4 billion in 2018.

Regardless, Jim Ryan, CEO, Sony Interactive Entertainment, in a blog post said the PS5 would have several improvements, most notably in the controller.

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“We’re adopting haptic feedback to replace the ‘rumble’ technology found in controllers since the 5th generation of consoles,” Ryan wrote. “With haptics, you truly feel a broader range of feedback, so crashing into a wall in a race car feels much different than making a tackle on the football field. You can even get a sense for a variety of textures when running through fields of grass or plodding through mud.”

Ryan said the second innovation includes “adaptive triggers,”  which he said have been incorporated into the trigger buttons (L2/R2).

Specifically, game developers can program the resistance of the triggers so players feel the tactile sensation of drawing a bow and arrow or accelerating an off-road vehicle through rocky terrain.

“In combination with the haptics, this can produce a powerful experience that better simulates various actions,” Ryan wrote. “Game creators have started to receive early versions of the new controller, and we can’t wait to see where their imagination goes with these new features at their disposal.”

 

‘The Swan Princess’ Swims to Blu-ray and 4K Digital Oct. 29 for 25th Anniversary

The animated film The Swan Princess will be released Oct. 29 in a collectible anniversary edition Blu-ray and in 4K HDR on digital from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment for its 25th anniversary.

One of the last major theatrically-released films in the U.S. to utilize a hand drawn, hand painted cel animation style, the film went on to receive a 1995 Golden Globe nomination and become the top selling home video title in the United States when first released.

To celebrate the new release, creator and producer Seldon Young is bringing the film back to the big screen for a special Pink Carpet Premiere event showcasing the new, fully remastered version at the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood Oct. 24.

“For the restoration and remastering process we retrieved the vintage, vaulted negatives and set to work using the amazing advances in HD conversion technology, to create an even more vivid and stunning film than ever before,” said Young in a statement.

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The story is inspired by the German fairytale and ballet about a princess who is swan by day and princess by night. Princess Odette is transformed into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s spell. Held captive at an enchanted lake, she befriends Jean-Bob the frog, Speed the turtle and Puffin the bird. Despite their struggle to keep the princess safe, these good-natured creatures can do nothing about the sorcerer’s spell, which can only be broken by a vow of everlasting love.

The Blu-ray release includes a new featurette entitled “A Look Back, Tease Ahead,” plus a variety of additional archival features.

Disney Ups TV Channel Distribution With PlayStation Vue

Disney Media Distribution has upped its portfolio of TV channels offered on Sony’s online TV platform, PlayStation Vue.

The standalone TV service with more than 800,000 subscribers now has access to Disney’s recently acquired FX and National Geographic networks, in addition to ESPN’s ACC Network.

Sean Breen, SVP of Disney Media Distribution, said Vue offers subscribers personalization, which he said is “attractive” as consumers navigate video options.

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“We look forward to continue serving subscribers the full value of our content from Walt Disney Television and ESPN,” Breen said in a statement.

Existing Disney channels on Vue include ABC, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Freeform, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU, ESPNEWS, ESPN Deportes, ESPN College Extra, ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Bases Loaded, SEC Network, ACC Network, Longhorn Network, FX, FXX, FXM, Fox Life, National Geographic, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo Mundo, BabyTV, and ABC News Live.

The expanded carriage agreement comes after Sony raised the monthly Vue subscription fee $5, bringing the platform’s bundle options priced $50 to $85.

 

Sony Merging Anime Streaming Businesses

Sony Pictures Television and Aniplex, a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment (Japan), have announced the combination of multiple Sony-owned anime streaming businesses.

France’s Wakanim, Australia’s Madman Anime Group and U.S.-based Funimation will form a joint venture to be owned by Aniplex and Sony Pictures Television. The venture will be led by Funimation GM Colin Decker.

Under this structure, Funimation will acquire and distribute anime content from Japan across the global portfolio of brands, “each with deep regional expertise in serving fans,” according to a Sony release.

“Now with a larger global footprint, the combined businesses will expand their 360 degree, multi-channel approach to fan engagement that spans home entertainment, theatrical distribution, live events and merchandising,” the release stated.

As the first project of this union, Funimation will be the exclusive streaming home of the latest installment in the “Fate/Grand Order” series for one month. Starting Oct. 5, “Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia” will be simulcast in the United States on FunimationNow and will launch on Wakanim and Madman Anime Group’s AnimeLab in their respective territoriesFate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia” is the first TV animation series of the “Fate/Grand Order” mobile game, with more than 41 million downloads worldwide.

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“Anime is a growing area of importance for us at Sony Pictures Television,” said Sony Pictures Television chairman Mike Hopkins in a statement.By combining these businesses, we immediately increase our global reach and expertise in SVOD, theatrical, home video, merchandising, events and more. Along with our world-class marketing capabilities, we’re well-positioned to deliver unprecedented results for our partners and the best possible anime experience for the fans.”

“Through Sony group’s integration of anime related streaming services, we are thrilled that numerous Japanese anime titles will be distributed globally through its digital platforms,” said Aniplex president Atsuhiro Iwakami in a statement. “We hope our partnership will contribute to the further development and expansion of the Japanese anime industry.”

“For 25 years, Funimation has served creators, publishers, and fans,” added Decker in a statement. “By merging, we can extend our support of the industry for another 25 years with some of the most respected talent, and brands, in global anime.”

‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ Actors Reveled in Chaperone Hijinks

They may play poor chaperones who tend to lose students — notably Spidey alter ego Peter Parker — but the antics of J.B. Smoove (Mr. Dell) and Martin Starr (returning as Mr. Harrington) provide plenty of comic relief in Spider Man: Far From Home.

The latest Spidey superhero flick is available now on digital and on 4K Ultra HD combo pack, Blu-ray combo pack and DVD Oct. 1 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

In playing the teacher/chaperones on a European trip with Parker and his friends, Smoove and Starr were encouraged to improvise and try alternate jokes.

“The writers were there as we were shooting it, so that there were a lot of things changing on the fly,” said Starr. “[Director] Jon Watts had a lot of ideas that he gave us to just play with, so we were given a fair amount of freedom to play.”

Smoove found comedy in playing it straight.

“Even when we had our arguments about everything that was going on — that he was messing up, losing tickets and didn’t have the hotel reservations right — I played it like I was mad as hell at this guy for not going his job,” Smoove noted.

One comic scene featuring the duo that ultimately didn’t make it into the film is included on the extras under “Teachers’ Travel Tips.”

“Jon Watts had an idea that, as we had gone on, Mr. Dell keeps thinking that I’m cursed, and it became like a running joke that we would throw into different scenes that Mr. Harrington is just cursed, so every hotel that he sets up, every city that they visit, every opportunity that they have for like going to the opera, everything becomes really just about me being cursed,” Starr said.

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The duo played it as if the attack of the Elementals is part of that affliction.

“There’s a moment where [the curse] comes to a climax, where the Elementals are fighting in the river and I take responsibility, and I’m like, ‘Kids, go save yourselves. I’m the one they want,’” Starr said. “And then Mr. Dell leaves, too. And then I’m like screaming at the Elementals, ‘Take me! Take me!’ And I think it was the last thing to get cut.

“It was so close to being in the movie.”

As comic book fans themselves, both were thrilled to play supporting characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“It was very cool,” Starr said. “Spider-Man was the only comic book that I had a subscription to. I’ve read a number of different comic books. X-Men and Spider-Man were the two that I read the most, but Spider-Man I had a subscription to, so it actually came to my house. This was very cool to become a part of this particular story.”

Smoove, too, relished comic books growing up.

“I would hop on the train in Mount Vernon and go to the Bronx,” he recalled. “They had this huge comic book store there. We would spend three or four hours there. Between buying stuff, and reading stuff until the guy told us to stop reading stuff and buy it, we would be there all day.”

He added, “I still have comic books somewhere in boxes in plastic. I might be sitting on a good hundred thousand dollars. If things go bad…”

Starr and Smoove Sept. 17 continued their chaperone duties by taking journalists and others on a “field trip” in Los Angeles to uncover some of the visual magic behind Spider-Man: Far From Home. The group visited The Third Floor Visualization, which created the pre-vis graphics for the film; Ironhead Studio, which designed costumes; and ended at The Magic Castle, where illusionist Jason Latimer used science to create illusions.