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NYCC 2014: Looking at “Home” and “Penguins of Madagascar” with DreamWorks Animation

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New York Comic Con 2014 DreamWorks Animation Panel
Susan Wloszczyna and Tim Johnson

The first panel of the final day of New York Comic Con 2014 was dedicated to the next two features coming from DreamWorks Animation: Home and Penguins of Madagascar. Hosting the panel was Susan Wloszczyna, veteran USA Today senior entertainment reporter and current contributor to RogerEbert.com. After screening the trailer for Home, Wloszczyna brought out director Tim Johnson (Antz, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, and Over the Hedge), who went into the earliest origins of the movie and briefly described the alien Boov race that drives the film. Johnson revealed that he discovered the original book The True Meaning of Smekday while searching for good books to read aloud to his kids. He confessed that after the first night, he cheated on his kids and finished reading the book after they had gone to bed. He added that while he’s a big fan of science fiction, it tends to be insular, and he aspired to put a different spin on the classic “alien invasion” tropes. He also added that it was his second time working with Jennifer Lopez (who plays the mother of the lead character Tip) and joked, “I had hair when I worked with her last” in Antz. He did confirm that the lead Boov was renamed “O” from the book, where he was took the human name “J-Lo,” for fairly obvious reasons.

The movie’s lead character Tip is voiced by Rihanna, and Johnson noted that the first human song O hears is not accidentally a Rihanna song. Rihanna also worked with the film’s composers so that the songs she contributed to the movie were not just “needle drops” into the film, but become themes and leitmotifs for the characters. He described it as “almost like a musical, but the characters don’t sing.”

Several movie sequences were screened as well. In addition to the trailer, attendees got to see the “Almost Home” short, which is a prelude to Home and prominently features Steve Martin as the Boov Captain; and a never-before-seen five-minute sequence from the middle of the film, involving a daring (and destructive) escape from the Boov that involves the Eiffel Tower and the Boov’s anti-gravity technology.

New York Comic Con 2014 DreamWorks Animation
(left to right) Susan Wloszczyna, Eric Darnell, Simon Smith, and Tim Johnson. Darnell is demonstrating some of John Malkovich’s exaggerated acting in the booth.

Next, Wloszczyna brought out the co-directors of the Penguins of Madagascar feature film, Eric Darnell and Simon Smith. The pair did note that there are “two Penguin realities,” one for the Madagascar movies and a different one for the TV show (where the Penguins live at the zoo with King Julian from the Madagascar films). This film is in the first Penguins reality, and starts immediately after the events of Madagascar 3 although it is not a direct sequel to that film. The drive behind the film wsa to throw the Penguins into a 1960’s James Bond movie, since they’re on missions most of the time anyway and the crazy, cartoonish villains from that era made for a good actual cartoon villain.

The pair discussed the casting of John Malkovich as the movie’s villain, since they wanted someone crazy and unexpected and “what would be weirder than the Penguins smashing into John Malkovich?” Penguins of Madagascar will be Malkovich’s first animated feature role, and according to the directors, his wild flailing in the booth was used as reference for his character. The other major star in the movie is Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the leader of the North Wind: a secret organization of Arctic animals dedicated to helping other animals in need. Both of these characters were introduced in brief clips from the movie that were screened for the audience, along with the first four minutes of the movie (since released publicly).

Penguins of Madagascar will be released on November 26, 2014; Home will be released on March 27, 2015.

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Last pup of a dying planet, a young German Shepherd is rocketed to Earth, where he is bombarded by cosmic gamma rays emitted by a radioactive spider. Crash-landing in the forgotten land of Hubba Hubba, he is discovered by the Who-You-Callin'-Ancient One and his lovely wife Pookie. Instilled with their traditional American values, he spends his young adulthood roaming the globe, learning all the secrets of Comic-Fu. Donning battle armor fashioned from spilled chemicals splashed by lightning, he becomes the Sensational Shield of Sequential Art ACE THE BATHOUND! Look, it sounds a lot better than the truth. Born in Brooklyn, moved to Queens at 3 and then New Jersey at 10. Throughout high school, college, grad school, and gainful employment, two things have remained constant: 1) I am a colossal nerd, and 2) I have spent far too much time reading comics, and then reading and writing about them. Currently working as a financial programmer in New York City, while continuing to discover all the wonderful little surprises (and expenses) of owning your a home in the suburbs. Shares the above with a beautiful, wonderful, and incredibly understanding wife named Frances (who, thankfully, participates in most of my silly hobbies) and a large furry dog named Brownie (who, sadly, does not). Comics, toys, Apple Macintosh computers, video games, and eBay