Twenty years ago, The Nightmare Before Christmas premiered, directed by animator Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton. But years before that film hit theaters, Burton wrote a poem entitled The Nightmare Before Christmas. It laid out the plot of what would become the film, and it was one of several concepts he pitched to Disney as a candidate for an animated film (Burton worked as a Disney animator in the early 1980s). Disney didn't bite, leaving the project on the shelf for more than a decade.
Here's a version of The Nightmare Before Christmas read by Christopher Lee, and computer-animated roughly in the style of the stop-motion film. Enjoy!
In the early 1990s, Ted Turner committed himself to building an animation empire. In 1991, Turner Entertainment purchased Hanna-Barbera, the animation house responsible for classic toons like Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones, Space Ghost, and countless others. And with the launch of Turner’s Cartoon Network in 1992, all of those classic cartoons would have a permanent home. That took care of the nostalgia crowd, but the network was also anxious to create unique, original content to get the younger generation hooked on this 24/7 world of animation.
On July 14, 1997, Cartoon Network debuted a show that would become a cornerstone of that move toward fresh content: Johnny Bravo. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the muscle-bound greaser with the golden pompadour, here are 10 facts about Johnny Bravo.
1. JOHNNY BRAVO IS A TAKE ON ITS CREATOR'S FULL NAME.
Though it’s easy to assume that the name "Johnny Bravo" came from Greg Brady’s alter ego on The Brady Bunch, it’s actually a take on creator Van Partible’s full name, which is Efram Giovanni Bravo Partible.
2. BRAVO’S VOICE IS A MIX OF YOUNG AND OLD ELVIS.
When Partible told the eventual voice of Johnny Bravo, Jeff Bennett, that he wanted the character to sound like Elvis, Bennett only had one question: Old or young? Bennett explained that they’re basically two unique voices, with a younger Elvis sounding much faster and more energetic, while the elder Presley would require Bennett to deepen and “slow it down.”
Partible asked for something more in the middle, resulting in the signature Bravo voice. While Partible heard a lot of Elvis impersonators for the role, he said Bennett was the only one to go beyond imitation and become an actual character.
3. JOHNNY BRAVO’S BIGGEST SUPPORTERS AT CARTOON NETWORK WERE WOMEN.
After Partible’s initial pitch, Cartoon Network was going to pass on Johnny Bravo for not being “cartoony” enough. That is until three prominent women at the network—Ellen Cockrill, Janet Mazotti, and Julie Kane-Ritsch—fought for the show to get picked up.
It may sound strange for the chauvinistic Bravo to have their support, but as Partible mentioned in his blog, “I think it's because they know Johnny Bravos in their lives and can relate. They also enjoy watching him get his comeuppance.”
4. THE SHOW GREW FROM PARTIBLE’S SENIOR THESIS PROJECT.
While studying animation at Loyola Marymount University, Partible created a short animated film for his senior thesis project called Mess o’ Blues. The short focuses on a character not too far off from an Elvis impersonator, who looks like a much thinner Bravo with jet black hair and one of The King’s trademark white jumpsuits.
The film was sent to Hanna-Barbera, which was on the lookout for new talent after the launch of Cartoon Network. After receiving acclaim from the studio, Partible was brought in to pitch a series based on the film. Partible expanded on the initial project, including a redesign and rebranding of the main character into Johnny Bravo.
To this day, there’s been no official release of Mess o’ Blues, though some snippets of footage do exist.
5. PARTIBLE BASED THE SHOW’S STYLE ON AL HIRSCHFELD ILLUSTRATIONS.
One of the most striking things about Johnny Bravo—especially when compared to its contemporaries—is its minimalist character designs. The lines and extraneous details are kept to a minimum—so much so that Bravo himself often has a face that consists of large black circles for sunglasses and a few simple lines for a nose. In Bravo’s world, mouths seem to come and go as needed.
This was all part of Partible’s vision, as he was inspired by the work of famed illustrator Al Hirschfeld, who was most famous for his caricatures of Broadway stars and big screen celebrities. In particular, Bravo’s head and trademark hair were a take on Hirschfeld’s caricature of actor Richard Davalos for an illustration he did in 1995 that looked back at Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge. The hairdo's vertical lift was the perfect complement to Bravo's faux-greaser panache.
6. JOHNNY BRAVO WAS ON-THE-JOB TRAINING FOR PARTIBLE.
When Cartoon Network accepted Partible’s pitch for Johnny Bravo, there was only one problem: Partible had never worked on a full-fledged TV show before. “My new producer, Larry Huber, told me that this was going to be a type of graduate school where I was going to learn how to make cartoons from the ground up in the studio system,” Partible wrote on his blog.
The initial deal that Partible signed on for was a “step deal,” which he described as, “I was going to be under careful watch and evaluated after every step of production to see if they wanted to continue to go forward.”
The experience turned out to be a blessing. At the time, Cartoon Network was looking to experiment, and Partible’s youth and inexperience were something the network was willing to gamble on. Looking to capture the unique style of upstart creators, the company let Partible do the cartoon his own way.
7. THE LEGENDARY JOE BARBERA WAS PART OF THE WRITERS’ ROOM.
The goal for Hanna-Barbera during this time was to create new shows that still felt like the classic series the studio put out in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s pretty easy to achieve that when one half of the company’s namesake—Joe Barbera—agreed to take a hands-on approach to Johnny Bravo during the mid-’90s.
“So, once a week, we would get a visit from Mr. B, pick his brain, and come up with jokes. He seemed to enjoy the goofy banter we had in the room.”
Barbera became a literal part of the show when he briefly appeared in the episode “Bravo Dooby Doo” when Johnny, Scooby, and the gang team up to unmask the ghoul of the week. When Partible screened the episode for Barbera, the legendary cartoonist fell asleep, only to be startled awake when Bravo and Thelma screamed his name toward the end of the show.
8. THE SHOW WAS AN EARLY BREAK FOR SETH MACFARLANE AND BUTCH HARTMAN.
The influence Johnny Bravo had on audiences is well documented, but the show’s production also helped launch the careers of two household names of animation: Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane and The Fairly OddParents creator Butch Hartman.
MacFarlane was a writer and storyboard artist on Bravo during its first year, while Hartman performed the same duties but also directed 10 episodes of the show in 1997. MacFarlane and Hartman also worked on other Cartoon Network shows for Hanna-Barbera before going off to create their own series in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
9. JOHNNY BRAVO LED TO ONE OF FAMILY GUY’S MOST MEMORABLE CHARACTERS.
In the episode “Johnny Bravo Meets Adam West,” the famed former Batman comes to Johnny's aid after Mamma Bravo goes missing (in reality, she's about one minute late getting home from grocery shopping). The episode was written by Hartman and MacFarlane, which is where the future Family Guy creator first met the man who would eventually become the mayor of Quahog.
The experience on Bravo—highlighted by West’s surreal, self-aware performance—inspired MacFarlane to bring the actor aboard Family Guy years later. In an interview with The A.V. Club, MacFarlane expanded on his choice:
"I wrote on a show called Johnny Bravo when I was at Hanna-Barbera, and he guest-starred as himself. He was so funny, and he's got this way about him. I think he likes playing into what he's known for, even on a casual basis. He's a really fun guy to work with, and genuinely gets comedy. It's not the type of situation where you just bring somebody in to make fun of themselves."
10. THERE WAS TALK OF A BRAVO MOVIE STARRING THE ROCK IN 2002.
When Johnny Bravo was in the middle of its Cartoon Network run, Warner Bros. wanted to make the jump from animation to live-action with a movie adaptation of the show, and there were rumors that they wanted Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Johnny. The Rock is apparently a huge Johnny Bravo fan, which caught the attention of producers Marty Adelstein and Neal Moritz.
Plans obviously fell through, and since then, no serious news on a renewed effort to make a Johnny Bravo movie has surfaced. Moritz and Johnson have since teamed up on the Fast and the Furious franchise.
Princess Mononoke sounds like a charming foreign family film. And that would be a fair assumption, if you were going off director Hayao Miyazaki’s previous hits like Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro. But Princess Mononoke was neither cuddly nor innocent. The movie’s violent tale of Ashitaka, an exiled prince trying to keep the peace between warring animals and humans, was a stark departure from Miyazaki’s previous work. It was also his most commercially and critically successful movie to date when it opened in 1997.
The film’s phenomenal profits in Japan helped carry it over to America, where Miyazaki was known only among hardcore animation geeks. Today he enjoys a more established international reputation, and it’s all largely thanks to Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, which was released four years later. To celebrate the film's 20th anniversary, discover the movie’s unlikely inspirations and secret leprosy subplots with these 13 fascinating facts.
1. HAYAO MIYAZAKI PLANNED TO RETIRE AFTER IT WAS DONE.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Before he even began work on Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki was a little burnt out. Production on his previous movie, Porco Rosso, had been difficult and he was not satisfied with the results. Princess Mononoke wound up being a three-year commitment, so after it was complete, he announced his intention to retire. But it didn’t stick. He returned with one of his most widely praised movies, Spirited Away, in 2001 and made another four movies after that. In fact, all Miyazaki really did with this declaration was establish the first in a long-running series of retirement fake-outs. He ended his latest “retirement” late last year.
2. HE CHANNELED HIS ANGER OVER THE YUGOSLAV WARS INTO THE MOVIE.
The bloody break-up of Yugoslavia had begun while Miyazaki was making Porco Rosso, and it stuck with him as he started work on his next film. “The war happened ... and I learned that mankind doesn’t learn,” he told Empire Magazine. “After that, we couldn’t go back and make some film like Kiki’s Delivery Service. It felt like children were being born to this world without being blessed. How could we pretend to them that we’re happy?” He instead decided to take a risk and introduce kids to Ashitaka's combat-driven world.
3. HE WAS INSPIRED BY JOHN FORD WESTERNS.
The movie’s production notes reveal that Miyazaki wanted his frontier community of Tatara Ba (or “Iron Town”) to look like it “could be at the edge of any wilderness” in the world. So he turned to one of his favorite directors: John Ford. Miyazaki used classic Ford westerns like My Darling Clementine to inform the look and feel of Tatara Ba, a town full of “characters from outcast groups and oppressed minorities who rarely, if ever, appear in Japanese films.”
4. THE MOVIE WAS ONLY 10 PERCENT COMPUTER GENERATED.
Despite the success of Toy Story in 1995, Miyazaki remained wary of computer-generated animation. “Computers are really just an electronic pen or pencil, and I like regular pencils better,” the director told Hollywood.com. As a result, just 10 percent of Princess Mononoke is CGI. The vast majority of the movie is comprised of hand-drawn cels—about 144,000 of them.
5. IT BROKE BOX OFFICE RECORDS IN JAPAN.
When Princess Mononoke hit theaters, E.T. had been the reigning champion of the Japanese box office for more than a decade. But Miyazaki’s animated epic set a new record with its 18.25 billion yen, or about $134 million, haul. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t stay on the throne for long. Titanic arrived mere months later and reset the bar yet again with 18.35 billion yen ($135 million).
6. IT WAS THE FIRST ANIMATED MOVIE TO WIN BEST PICTURE AT THE JAPANESE OSCARS.
Princess Mononoke didn’t just break commercial records. In 1998, it became the first animated film to be nominated for and win the top prize at the Japanese Academy Awards. (Miyazaki claimed this award again four years later for Spirited Away.) This is a milestone the U.S. Academy Awards have yet to achieve—and they’ve been around much longer. The Japanese Academy Awards began in 1978 as opposed to the Oscars, which started in 1929.
7. NEIL GAIMAN TWEAKED THE SCRIPT FOR AMERICAN AUDIENCES.
After Miramax picked up the movie for U.S. distribution, the studio hired British fantasy writer Neil Gaiman to adapt the script for English-speaking audiences. Gaiman had to add dialogue explaining Japanese cultural references that likely wouldn’t register with audiences, such as the significance of Ashitaka cutting his hair. He also altered characters so they translated better abroad. For instance, in the original Japanese script, Jigo complains that a bowl of soup tastes like “water,” which is a cutting insult in Japan. That’s hardly a burn by American standards, though, so Gaiman made it “donkey piss.” Finally, he swapped out words that were difficult to translate—although he insisted he wasn’t the one who changed “sake” to “wine.”
8. THE STUDIO WANTED QUENTIN TARANTINO TO ADAPT IT.
JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images
Miramax head Harvey Weinstein originally asked Quentin Tarantino to take a stab at adapting the script, but the director passed on the offer and recommended Gaiman instead. Why? Apparently Tarantino’s mom is a massive Gaiman fan.
9. MIYAZAKI SENT HARVEY WEINSTEIN DEMANDS VIA SAMURAI SWORD.
Weinstein wanted to seriously scale back Princess Mononoke’s 134-minute running time for the U.S. release, but Miyazaki didn’t want a single frame altered. So, the legend goes, Miyazaki sent a samurai sword to Weinstein’s office with a two-word message: “No cuts.” The story is mostly correct, except for one key detail. “Actually, my producer did that,” Miyazaki said in an interview with The Guardian. “I did go to New York to meet this man, this Harvey Weinstein, and I was bombarded with this aggressive attack, all these demands for cuts. I defeated him.”
10. PIXAR'S JOHN LASSETER WAS AN ENORMOUS FAN.
When Miramax began marketing its English-language version of Princess Mononoke, they called on a number of big names to sell the movie and its director to American audiences. The star-studded voice cast—which included Claire Danes, Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, Gillian Anderson, and Jada Pinkett Smith—was one component. But Pixar’s emerging wunderkind John Lasseter was another. The director of Toy Story heaped praise on Miyazaki, saying that “throughout my career, I have been inspired by Japanese animation, but without question, I have been most inspired by the films of Hayao Miyazaki." He continued, “At Pixar, when we have a problem and can not solve it, we often watch a copy of one of Mr. Miyazaki’s films for inspiration. And it always works! We come away amazed and inspired.” Lasseter also recorded an introduction for the movie on TCM and later presented Miyazaki with an honorary Oscar in 2014 (above).
11. IT WAS ADAPTED INTO A STAGE PLAY.
Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli apparently received numerous requests from theater groups around the world begging for permission to adapt Princess Mononoke for the stage. All of them were denied, until the UK troupe Whole Hog Theatre approached. Its version was deemed weird enough by Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki, who approved the pitch. Whole Hog Theatre sold out its limited run of Princess Mononokein 72 hours, a full nine months before the show even opened. The production migrated to Tokyo the following year, where it played to even larger crowds.
12. IT INSPIRED A CANADIAN MUSIC VIDEO.
The Canadian indie rock band You Say Party paid homage to several Miyazaki films in its music video for “Underside.” But Princess Mononoke got perhaps the biggest shout-out due to the location. Jeremy Rubier shot the video on Yakushima, an island famous for its ancient forests. It also directly inspired the woodland setting for Princess Mononoke. See if you can spy the similarities—or any stray kodama—in the video.
13. THE MOVIE IS SECRETLY ABOUT LEPROSY.
Princess Mononoke fans have long touted a theory about the workers in Iron Town. When Ashitaka first meets them, they explain that they fled brothels for the Iron Town factory, because it’s one of the few places where they are accepted. Several are covered from head to toe in bandages. Although the Japanese script says they suffer from “gyobyo” or “an incurable disease,” the fan theory claims they’re actually afflicted with leprosy. Miyazaki finally responded to this idea in January. And his verdict? It’s all true.
Ahead of World Leprosy Day, the director confirmed that the disease and how people live with it were his inspiration. “While making Princess Mononoke, I thought I had to depict people who are ill with what’s clearly an incurable disease, but who are living as best they can,” he explained. He apparently even visited a sanatorium in Tokyo to talk with patients about their experiences.