By the end of the 1960s, the production team of Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass had a well-established niche in the annual holiday TV schedule. Their “Animagic” stop-motion animation specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Little Drummer Boy were eagerly anticipated each December and were well on their way to “classic” status. In 1969, the Rankin/Bass team introduced yet another holiday-themed special based on a song, Frosty the Snowman. The special premiered on Sunday, December 7, following the network’s annual revival of 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. Here are a few things you might not have known about the legendary animated special.
1. IT WAS A HIT SONG LONG BEFORE IT WAS A TV SPECIAL.
2. RANKIN/BASS WASN’T THE FIRST TEAM TO ANIMATE FROSTY.
In 1954, United Productions of America (UPA) brought Frosty to life in a short cartoon that is little more than an animated music video for a jazzy version of the song. It introduced the characters mentioned in the lyrics visually, from Frosty himself to the traffic cop. The three-minute, black-and-white piece quickly became a holiday tradition in various markets, particularly in Chicago, where it’s been broadcast annually on WGN since 1955.
3. FROSTY WAS VOICED BY A NOT-SO-FAMILY-FRIENDLY STAND-UP COMEDIAN.
Deadpan comic Jackie Vernon was known for his “slideshow” routines, where he’d narrate slides (unseen by the audience) and “change” them with a handheld clicker. Quite often his routines ended with a graphic description of some sexual perversion that he’d innocently stumbled onto via the recommendation of some stranger, about whom he’d always comment “… and I thought, ‘Gee, what a neat guy!’”
4. THE NARRATOR WAS UNIVERSALLY REGARDED AS A NICE GUY.
Jimmy Durante was a jazz pianist, singer, and comedian whose career spanned a little over 50 years. In the 1950s, he was a regular not only at Las Vegas’ Desert Inn, but also at the Guardian Angel Cathedral, where he stood outside and greeted fellow parishioners with the priest after Sunday mass each week. Durante loved children, and is famous for turning down a performance fee at the Eagles International Convention in 1961. When asked by the organizers, “What can we do, then?” Durante replied in his trademark Brooklynese: “Help da kids.”
5. LEGENDARY VOICE ACTORS JUNE FORAY AND PAUL FREES WERE REPLACED AFTER THE ORIGINAL AIRING.
The original film featured June Foray performing the voices of both the schoolteacher and young Karen, who accompanied Frosty to the North Pole. Paul Frees was the Traffic Cop and Santa Claus, and the two combined to voice the remaining schoolchildren. For reasons unknown (even to Foray herself), nearly all the children’s voices—including Karen’s—were redubbed by unidentified child actors for the 1970 airing. All subsequent TV appearances and video releases contain this new soundtrack. The original is only available on the 1970 soundtrack LP and a 2002 CD release by Rhino.
6. FROSTY WAS PARTIALLY MADE IN JAPAN.
Frosty the Snowman was the first Rankin/Bass Christmas special to utilize traditional animation (versus the stop-motion method used in their other projects). Paul Coker, Jr., a long-time MAD Magazine illustrator, provided both the main character and background drawings. The animation was done by Mushi Studio, the Japanese company founded by Osamu Tezuka to produce Astro Boy and Kimbathe White Lion cartoons.
7. FROSTY’S HOMETOWN IS ARMONK, NEW YORK.
Lyricist Steve Nelson lived in nearby White Plains and loved to visit the historic hamlet of Armonk as a young man. The Village Square mentioned in the lyrics of the song is now the Armonk Historic District in the town of North Castle. Local historians also claim that the traffic cop who hollers “Stop!” is based on former chief of police John Hergenhan. Armonk hosts an annual Frosty Day parade and celebration that is officially listed as one of the “10 Best Things To Do in Westchester County.”
8. FROSTY HAS MAGIC FINGERS AS WELL AS A MAGIC HAT!
Watch carefully when Frosty attempts to count to 10: He has five fingers on one hand for a brief moment, then when he clasps his hand and flexes his digits, he’s down to four fingers. Maybe that falls under the category of “animation blooper” rather than “magic.”
In 2010, the superhero craze was on the rise in the wake of such hits as Spider-Man, The Dark Knight, and Iron Man. which made it the perfect time to launch a silly sendup of the genre. And so came Megamind, an animated action-comedy about a clumsy villain whose world turns upside down once he actually defeats his superhero nemesis.
1. THE PREMISE WAS INSPIRED BY SUPERMAN.
Essentially, the pitch boiled down to "What if Lex Luthor defeated Superman?" Except instead of Luthor being a wealthy, vicious human, the film offers Megamind (Will Ferrell), a cowardly, odd-looking (but still bald!) misfit from another planet. Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt) is more the Superman type, an alien from another planet who is strong, handsome, and can fly. It's easy for the people of Metro City to love Metro Man, whereas the oddball with the big blue head is instantly regarded as "other" and "bad." It's up to Megamind to prove himself, and find his true path.
2. IT WAS INTENDED AS A VEHICLE FOR BEN STILLER.
The original script by Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons was pitched to Ben Stiller's production company, Red Hour Films, with hopes he'd star as its titular baddie. "[It] was written as a live-action movie," Stillerexplained in the spring of 2008. "But we thought it would work as an animated movie so we brought it to Jeffrey Katzenberg [CEO of DreamWorks Animation], and now we're in pre-production."
3. STILLER TURNED DOWN THE LEAD, BUT STILL PLAYED AN IMPORTANT PART IN MEGAMIND.
Instead of voicing Megamind, Stiller opted to executive produce the movie—but he does pop by for a quirky audio cameo as the curmudgeonly curator Bernard, who works at the Metro Man Museum.
4. PRODUCERS WANTED ROBERT DOWNEY JR. FOR THE LEAD.
Riding high off the career revitalization of his live-action superhero hit Iron Man, Downey was game to bring his sarcastic charms to Metro City's menace. But scheduling conflicts ultimately killed the deal. So producers turned to beloved funnyman Will Ferrell, who brought a zany charisma to Megamind, and some crucial gags.
5. THE FILM CYCLED THROUGH VARIOUS TITLES BEFORE MEGAMIND STUCK.
In the fall of 2008, Stiller was teasing the movie as Master Mind. In that version, Megamind's longtime foe was named Uberman (a more overt spoof of Superman), but by spring of 2009, the title had changed to Oobermind, while Uberman had become Metro Man.
6. SEVERAL DIRECTORS TOOK A CRACK AT MEGAMIND.
"There were two or three sets of directors on the movie, each of which started making a different version of the movie before it went to someone else," illustrator/author Jason Porath, who helped with the film as an employee at DreamWorks Animation, told Mental Floss.
The project was kicked off by Gary Trousdale, who had co-helmed a string of Disney animated movies including Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Next, Kyle Jefferson and Cameron Hood, who'd directed the DWA short "First Flight," were brought on. But the final version of Megamind is credited to Tom McGrath, who had co-directed Madagascar and Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa with Eric Darnell, and would go on to helm Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted (also with Darnell) and Boss Baby. For their earlier efforts, Trousdale, Jefferson, and Hood ultimately received a special thanks credit on Megamind.
7. IT'S PRETTY COMMON FOR AN ANIMATED MOVIE TO CHANGE DIRECTORS.
In the case of DreamWorks's How To Train Your Dragon, credited directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders were brought on about one year before the film's release. Then, the beloved movie about a boy and his pet dragon would have been unrecognizable to its fans. "At that point, I think Hiccup was like 9 or 10 years old, all the dragons could talk, and Toothless as we know him didn't exist," Porath tells us. "Those little bug-eyed tiny green dragons he fights for fish in the first movie, one of those was supposed to be his companion dragon. It was a lot closer to the book source material."
Thispractice extends far beyond DreamWorks: At Pixar, The Good Dinosaur went from Bob Peterson to Peter Sohn. Mark Andrews replaced Brenda Chapman on Brave, and Brad Bird took over directing duties from Jan Pinkava on Ratatouille. At Sony Pictures Animation, Hotel Transylvania cycled through six directors before committing to Genndy Tartakovsky.
8. OTHER VILLAINS VANISHED THROUGH PRODUCTION.
One version of Megamind had its eponymous fiend as part of a supervillain league known as the Doom Syndicate. To concoct this crooked but colorful crew of criminals, DreamWorks had an open call, encouraging its artists to pitch villain ideas. Story artist Ryan Savas has publicly shared his sketches for such quirky baddies as White Zombie, The Barista, The Ectopus, the Liberace-inspired Rhinestone, and Alec Baldwin, who can "hypnotize his victims with awesome acting skills." But as the script became streamlined (and the budget got tighter) the Doom Syndicate was cut from Megamind, meaning characters like Destruction Worker, a smoking skeleton, and "geriatric flame-wielder" Hot Flash never made it to the big screen—but they didn't disappear completely.
Three years after the film's release, DreamWorks unleashed the video game Megamind: Ultimate Showdownfor the Xbox 360 and PS3. Some of the Doom Syndicate characters reappeared here, including Hot Flash. But Porath told us the fiery old broad made her mark at the animation's offices as well. "Every year, DreamWorks Animation has a big Halloween costume contest," he shared. "And the winner one year was one of the producers who dressed up as Hot Flash."
9. SOME CHARACTERS WENT THROUGH RADICAL PHYSICAL CHANGES.
Concept art reveals that love interest/journalist Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey) had a variety of longer haircuts before the filmmakers settled on her perky pixie cut. During his Uber Man days, Metro Man's Elvis-inspired look toyed with some more outlandish iterations, which involved fur collars, sunglasses, and plenty of glitter. Sometest sketches even showed Megamind with spiky hair. But the biggest transformation came to the cunning character's devoted sidekick.
Though fans of the film have come to know Minion as a fanged, talking piranha who gets around in a robo-ape mechasuit, his origins were once far less fantastical. Early concept art shows a version of the character imagined as a chubby man with a tiny jetpack.
10. STILLER WANTED TO SATIRIZE THE SUPERHERO GENRE.
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"This genre's been done so many times, that it's always interesting to try to find a postmodern version of it," Stiller told MTV. So he spearheaded a story about how people are not always what they seem.
Notably, this wasn't Stiller's first tme parodying superheroes and villains. In 1999, Stiller starred in the comedy Mystery Men, which followed a batch of wannabe superheroes as they face off with a nefarious foe who was way out of their league. Their powers included farting, bowling, being furious, and shoveling "well."
11. MEGAMIND UNDERWENT A GAG PASS TO MAKE IT EVEN FUNNIER.
In an informative blog post, Porath explains that a "gag pass" is essentially the part toward the end of production where filmmakers find opportunities to work in more jokes. In this case, the writers and storyboard artists crafted humorous dialogue and visual gags. Meanwhile, Ferrell was encouraged to improvise to bring some more of his unique brand of comedy to the mix.
12. THE FILM'S MARKETING CAMPAIGN ACHIEVED A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD.
To promote the film,Ferrell invited all wannabe superheroes to suit up and join him for a party on October 4, 2010, just a month before the film's opening. But the event also set a Guinness World Record for Largest Gathering of Superheroes. With 1580 costumed attendees, Ferrell and his friends made hero history, breaking the old record by 79 superheroes.
13. THERE'S AN ANCHORMAN EASTER EGG.
Toward the end of the movie, Megamind is channel surfing and crosses a news report about a water-skiing squirrel. A very similar story is covered in Ferrell's 2004 comedy, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
14. MEGAMIND WAS HURT BY DESPICABLE ME.
Cruel timing meant that Megamind opened four months after audiences went wild for Universal's Despicable Me, an animated movie about a villain who goes good. While Megamind pulled in a decent $321 million worldwide, Despicable Me boasted $543 million, spawning sequels and a spinoff for its cuddlier Minions.
The closeness of their premises and release dates hurt Megamind with critics, too. Roger Ebert wrote, "This setup is bright and amusing, even if it does feel recycled from bits and pieces of such recent animated landmarks as The Incredibles with its superpowers and Despicable Me with its villain." USA Today's Claudia Puig was even more cutting, concluding, "Do we really need Megamind when Despicable Me is around?"
15. MEGAMIND FOUND REDEMPTION AS HOME ENTERTAINMENT.
Released on Blu-ray and DVD on February 25, 2011, Megamind pulled in another $74 million in domestic sales. Readily available in this fashion, its popularity grew. Today, Megamind is warmly remembered and rewatched by fans happy to mispronounce "Metro City," "school," and "spider" like the lovable villain at its center. And despite its bumpy ride through production, it's fondly remembered by the fleets of artists who brought it to life.
You can see their enthusiasm in the blogs linked above, where they've proudly shared concept art and sketches. But perhaps Porath puts it best, declaring, "To put in perspective: almost every movie goes through radical shifts like this. Megamind had a bit longer journey than others, but not by much. I would by no means consider it an outlier. There were a phenomenal number of talented, funny people working to make it great, and it was a fun time at the studio. DreamWorks treated us all really well; I will never work for somewhere that took better care of me."
Get ready, anime fans. As part of an upcoming film festival, some of Japanese animation icon Hayao Miyazaki’s best-loved films will be coming back to U.S. movie theaters this fall.
Fathom Events and the North American animation distributor GKIDS are running a film festival devoted to Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki's Tokyo-based animation studio. As part of a series of monthly events that began in June, the festival will be showing Castle in the Sky, Nausicaä, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Earlier this summer, the festival showed My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Due to the festival’s popularity, Studio Ghibli Fest is adding an extra day of showings, beginning with the August re-release of Castle in the Sky. Instead of two days of movies, there will be three screenings on three different days.
The films will be shown on the last Sunday of the month, with subsequent screenings the following Monday and Wednesday. The Sunday and Wednesday films will be dubbed in English, while the Monday showings will have subtitles. The festival runs until November 29.
Since it’s through Fathom Events, the films will be shown at hundreds of theaters around the country. You can check where screenings are available near you by entering your ZIP code here.
Miyazaki is technically retired, but he hasn't been able to resist the call of Studio Ghibli. He's scheduled to release Boro the Caterpillar, a film he's calling his last (several years after saying the same about 2013's The Wind Also Rises) in 2019. So maybe we can expect an extended Studio Ghibli Fest in a few years.