FUNNY ANIMALS AND MORE
August 24, 2014 posted by Fred Patten

Animated Knock-Offs #2: Not Quite ‘Mockbusters’!

hm1995-newLast week’s column covered the indisputable “mockbusters”; animated features made for DVD release just to impersonate popular theatrical features. This week’s focuses on ripoff packaging; foreign animated theatrical features repackaged for the American video market to impersonate popular American theatrical features.

The clearest example is UAV Entertainment’s Kimba, the Lion Prince (January 1996), which looks like a blatant imitation of Disney’s The Lion King (June 1994). In this case, the video packager took animation that had been made thirty years earlier, the 1965 Japanese TV Kimba the White Lion, and packaged it misleadingly to look like an imitation. “It’s action and adventure as Kimba battles the evil hyenas and his father’s wicked brother!”, the jacket copy reads in imitation of The Lion King, but in this video and the earlier TV program there is never any suggestion that the brutal adult lion whom Kimba must defeat is a relative. The name of Osamu Tezuka, the 1965 Japanese producer, is removed from the credits.

Nobody produced an imitation of Pixar Studios’ 2012 Brave, but there were two attempts to repackage older foreign movies to look like imitations of Brave. One is a 2011 Indian animated feature (produced by Shemaroo Entertainment, a live-action studio) about a superheroine, Super K, which was repackaged as Kiara the Brave.

The other, which was only marketed in the U.K., is called Braver, in a video box that showed a Merida lookalike. But the video inside is a 2005 Canadian TV special originally titled A Fairy Tale Christmas, with a princess who is blonde and dressed in a pink flowing gown (like Merida’s mother was always trying to get her to wear). Disney has sent a cease & desist letter (the prelude to filing a lawsuit) to the British distributor, Brightspark Productions Ltd., over this lookalike. The Braver packaging is certainly a ripoff. But the 2005 Canadian TV animation was innocent.

braver200Or was it? Who produced A Fairy Tale Christmas for Canadian TV in 2005? Brightspark Productions Ltd. Did Brightspark take advantage of its 2005 production to release its 2012 DVD ripoff of Brave? Yes, reported British newspaper The Argus on November 20, 2012. “Brighton-based animation firm Brightspark Productions was accused of marketing its DVD Braver to confuse customers into believing it was the Disney title Brave.

Brightspark’s film was originally released in 2005 under the title Fairy Tale Christmas, but the firm changed the name and packaging to a new design that bore striking similarities to the Disney blockbuster featuring the voices of Billy Connolly and Kelly MacDonald. Brightspark initially claimed that any similarities between the film – produced by a company with just five staff in an office behind Brighton bus station in Old Steine – and the Disney title were entirely accidental.

tangled-up175However the company reached an agreement with the animation giant in the High Court and has now agreed to destroy every remaining copy of four films that were similar to Disney hits. They also had to pay some of Disney’s legal costs. The four Brightspark DVDs were Braver, Tangled Up, The Frog Princess, and The Little Cars; the latter three being ripoff productions rather than just packaging.

A very similar example is the Canadian feature The Legend of Sarila. This was released theatrically in Québec (Canada) on March 1, 2013 (original release poster below, left), and several European and Arab countries during 2013 and 2014. It failed to get a significant American theatrical release, and was sold to Phase 4 Films, a company known for direct-to-DVD releases. Phase 4 changed its title to Frozen Land, and released it to DVD (see DVD package cover below, right) during November 2013, the same month that Disney released its theatrical feature Frozen, in packaging almost identical to Disney’s feature. Disney promptly filed a trademark infringement lawsuit, requesting the destruction of all copies of Phase 4’s Frozen Land. Phase 4 gave in to all Disney’s demands after less than a month.

sarlia-frozen-land

Compare (below) Animals United: Adventure in Africa (released in June 2012) with DreamWorks’ Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (November 2008). This was an October 2010 German theatrical release as Konferenz der Tiere, based on the 1949 German children’s novel by Erich Kästner. Talking African animals, check. A drought that threatens all the animals, check. The discovery that Man has dammed their river, check. The animals unite to destroy the dam and release the water, check. So what else is new (that’s any good)?

After all these ripoffs, I want to acknowledge one DVD that is not a ripoff but may look like one to Americans. The 2012 Jock: The Hero Dog is a South African 2011 CGI adaptation, by Jock Animation (a production company formed especially to make this film), of a 1907 autobiographical adventure novel, Jock of the Bushveld by (Sir) Percy FitzPatrick, filmed in live-action twice, in 1986 and 1992. It may look like a thinly-rewritten imitation of a Jack London novel like The Call of the Wild, but it is a legitimate if loose adaptation of a classic South African best-seller that has never been out of print. I seriously doubt that the animals talk in the 1907 novel or the two live-action features.

An exceptionally confusing example is the two features The True Story of Puss ‘n Boots and Puss in Boots: A Furry Tail; lookalikes of DreamWorks Animation’s October 2011 Puss in Boots. The True Story of Puss ‘n Boots is genuinely original; it was loosely based on Perrault’s story, and was released in France in April 2009, two years before DreamWorks’ Puss in Boots. Puss in Boots: A Furry Tail is a true ripoff. It was “a sequel”, released directly to video also on October 11, 2011; and at 41 minutes, it is barely a feature going by the 40-minute definition. (Most audiences today expect a feature to be 60 minutes at a minimum.) There have been dozens if not hundreds of animated adaptations of Charles Perrault’s famous 1697 fairy tale from all around the world – Toei Animation in Tokyo’s logo is from its 1969 feature of the story – and The True Story of Puss ‘n Boots was released in April 2009 in France as La véritable histoire du Chat Botté, while the DreamWorks feature did not come out until October 2011. But DreamWorks’ Puss has been a popular favorite since Shrek 2 in 2004, and the American DVD release of The True Story was also in October 2011. Coincidence? I think not!

fish-tale150And finally, here is one that even fooled me! In my April 14, 2013 column, Animation That (Almost) Nobody Ever Heard Of, I lamented that the 2000 Danish A. Film feature, Help, I’m a Fish, which made the rounds of the international animation festivals in 2000-2001 to generally very good reviews – it won at least one award – had never come to America, even as a direct-to-DVD children’s movie.

David Gerstein corrected me: it did get an American DVD release in September 2006, but retitled A Fish Tale, and repackaged to look as much like DreamWorks Animation’s October 2004 Shark Tale as possible. “A. Film president Hans Perk, a personal friend, stated that the cover design was ‘the choice of the distributor, out of our hands’; quite a shame.” Belated thanks, David.

14 Comments

  • Geez, I can’t believe what the DVD distributor did to relaese “Help, I’m a Fish”. And they didn’t even mention Terry on the cover. At least they didn’t say anything about Spam.

  • Thre are definitely a few mockbusters of “Shark Tale”. Two are “A Turtle’s Tale” and “A Turtle’s Tale 2.” I’ve seen the first one. It’s actually a good movie!

  • In this case, the video packager took animation that had been made thirty years earlier, the 1965 Japanese TV Kimba the White Lion, and packaged it misleadingly to look like an imitation. “It’s action and adventure as Kimba battles the evil hyenas and his father’s wicked brother!”, the jacket copy reads in imitation of The Lion King, but in this video and the earlier TV program there is never any suggestion that the brutal adult lion whom Kimba must defeat is a relative. The name of Osamu Tezuka, the 1965 Japanese producer, is removed from the credits

    Even worse, this was not the 1965 NBC Films version at all, but one made sometime in the early 90′s by Landmark Entertainment Group, using different actors and changed the music from Isao Tomita to something more insipid (dubbed up in Canada so I’m sure this probably got played a lot up there too). In later years this version popped up on many cheap broadcast venues like AmericaOne.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKdzvHCq5sg

    Disney has sent a cease & desist letter (the prelude to filing a lawsuit) to the British distributor, Brightspark Productions Ltd., over this lookalike. The Braver packaging is certainly a ripoff. But the 2005 Canadian TV animation was innocent.

    At least Disney didn’t go after the Canadian guys for something they did years before the fact.

    Brightspark initially claimed that any similarities between the film – produced by a company with just five staff in an office behind Brighton bus station in Old Steine – and the Disney title were entirely accidental.

    What a “hole-in-the-wall” operation there!

    Phase 4 changed its title to Frozen Land, and released it to DVD (see DVD package cover below, right) during November 2013, the same month that Disney released its theatrical feature Frozen, in packaging almost identical to Disney’s feature. Disney promptly filed a trademark infringement lawsuit, requesting the destruction of all copies of Phase 4’s Frozen Land. Phase 4 gave in to all Disney’s demands after less than a month.

    It’s a shame when these companies waste their time re-titling movies only to throw them away like that. I suppose there was no way around that than the path they had to take.

    You didn’t include an example of Puss in Boots: A Furry Tail, but here you go. It was produced by Darrel Van Citters’ Renegade Animation….
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8Vfq-s_ono

    David Gerstein corrected me: it did get an American DVD release in September 2006, but retitled A Fish Tale, and repackaged to look as much like DreamWorks Animation’s October 2004 Shark Tale as possible. “A. Film president Hans Perk, a personal friend, stated that the cover design was ‘the choice of the distributor, out of our hands’; quite a shame.” Belated thanks, David.

    It’s a shame when that happens at all. It just goes under the radar simply because we don’t think to see what else they decided to call it around here.

  • With so much of the Disney canon coming from public domain tales and legends, it’s probably easier to find and repackage an old “Cinderella”, “Aladdin”, “Beauty and the Beast”, etc. One company had the cheeky slogan, “The version kids love”. Lately I see these versions packaged several to a disc or set (“Ten features for one low price!”)

    A related phenomenon is the Near Miss. These are either the same public domain chestnuts repackaged to suggest a better or more extensive release (particularly Betty Boops and Popeyes); or “The versions you hate” (usually later television revivals of favorite characters). The latter tend to be legit studio releases, but not the toons you are looking for.

  • “A Turtle’s Tale” and “A Turtle’s Tale 2” are not mockbusters. They were produced by nWave Pictures in Brussels, with funding from “Le Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral de Belgique”, among others, and have a strong ecological/environmental/global warming awareness theme of protecting sea life, endangered sea turtles in particular. Both were theatrical releases in France, Belgium, and the French-speaking part of Switzerland in the original release, and in other countries such as Great Britain, Israel, Khazakstan, Finland, Singapore, Brazil, and many others. The first was shown at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, which I have never been to, but I don’t imagine that they select mockbusters for their programs.

    • So in other words these are actual fine productions that are otherwise being overlooked as something else around here.

  • Brussels’ nWave Pictures is also the producer of last December’s “The House of Magic”, released theatrically for the Christmas 2013 season in French in France, Belgium, and the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and coming (according to Jerry’s Animation Scoop) to American theaters, retitled “Thunder and the House of Magic”, in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, on September 5. The limited release is by Shout! Factory, primarily a DVD releaser, so presumably this will become a generally-available DVD release shortly after that. The American release is also to qualify “Thunder and the House of Magic” for the 2013 Oscars, Annies, and Golden Globes.

    Here is a trailer under its original title that is different than Shout! Factory’s. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeTTvAK05kY

    Note the English-language signage in the movie, which establishes the locale as Boston. “U-Move-It”, the “School Bus”, “Boston General Hospital”, and Uncle Lawrence’s “Magic Show” tent. Could this have been produced by nWave primarily for the American market in the first place?

    • Wouldn’t surprise me if they were aiming it there or simply wanted to tell a tale that takes place in the states (no different from the way Japan sometimes did that in the past like Candy Candy, of course that didn’t get anywhere here). We outta be thankful we’re getting this movie at all I suppose.

  • I just noticed some slight misinformation on Wikipedia (shock! horror!) about the source of Disney’s early animated features based on public-domain folk tales. The Wikipedia article on the “Disney Princess” media franchise says that the studio’s 1937 animated feature was “based on the heroine of the German fairy tale Snow White (1812) by the Brothers Grimm.” Similarly, “Cinderella” was “based on the heroine of the French fairy tale Cinderella by Charles Perrault”, and “Sleeping Beauty” was “adapted from the French fairy tale The Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault (1697), from the German fairy tale Little Briar Rose (1812) by The Brothers Grimm and from The Sleeping Beauty ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1890).”

    It has been exhaustively documented elsewhere that The Brothers Grimm were not primarily authors. They were ethnographers who went about the German countryside in the early 19th century writing down the peasants’ centuries-old oral folk tales. Often the popularized 20th-century children’s fairy-tale versions are considerably bowdlerized from those. In the Grimms’ original recording of “Snow White”, for instance, at the conclusion the evil Queen is tortured to death.

    Similarly, Perrault did not write the “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” fairy tales as much as he wrote literary embellishments of established peasants’ folk tales. “Puss in Boots” is almost universally attributed to Perrault, and he did establish the “Marquis de Carabas” name, but there is a fairly well-known version of the basic story that was written down in Italy over a century earlier in which Puss is an obvious pre-Christian nature spirit disguised as a cat, and the miller’s son whom it helps betrays it at the end. Finally (and this is a real quibble), Tschaikovsky may have written the music for “The Sleeping Beauty” ballet, but he does not deserve all the credit. He was asked to do so by Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the director of the Imperial Theatres in St. Petersburg, whose idea it was to write a ballet based on the popular Perrault and Grimm versions of the tale. Vsevolozhsky got Marius Petipa to choreograph the ballet.

    • As with all folktales, there’s not really a true author or authors present given how these were stories handed down from one generation to the next with no clear connection to the original origin point besides the memory of said tale. The writing only happened when an interest to publish these stories occurred very late in the last millennium.

  • Fred-
    Did you get the idea of a series of “Mockbuster” posts from me?

    • Well, someone was inspired!

    • No, I got it from Amazon.com’s sending me spam for “Chop-Kick Panda”, “Ratatoing”, and “Puss in Boots: a Furry Tale”, all three together plus others, last September 26:

      http://webmail.c.earthlink.net/wam/msg.jsp?msgid=28662&folder=INBOX&isSeen=true&x=341555809

      As I said, I was just about to develop this into a column, adding “Tappy Toes” and others, in January, when another website beat me to it with practically the same examples; so I let it continue to stew for awhile. I did not get the term “mockbusters” until Jerry told me that this was already a well-established term for the kind of ripoffs that I was describing. He insisted that I work it into my title.

  • Well at least you have an alibi, Fred!

    Yesterday I managed to discover one recent Russian film that caught my attention. Produced in 2011, it’s a loose but amusing adaptation of the Russian folk tale “Tsarevitch Ivan, the Fire Bird and the Gray Wolf”. From what I’ve seen of it on YouTube, it looked rather promising.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRzEzLlD8Nk

    Some further info can be found here (at least to follow along since the video isn’t subtitled or anything to help us foreigners out). http://www.kinokultura.com/2012/37r-ivan-sery-volk.shtml

    The film did pretty well they even made a sequel to boot! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3toHBUFcyRU

    At this point, I suppose it’s just as well it didn’t show up around here, they’d be doing anything they could to capitalize on Frozen despite there only being one scene I recall noticing involving a wintry environment.

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