FUNNY ANIMALS AND MORE
August 17, 2014 posted by

Animated Knock-offs #1: The Real ‘Mockbusters’!

So I get a lot of spam from Amazon.com trying to sell me books and DVDs similar to those that I’ve bought before. Usually I don’t pay much attention to them, but recently I got one saying that “If I like DVDs of animated features, I might like these…”

And there were three direct-to-video “movies” that were among the most blatant imitations that I’ve ever seen: Chop Kick Panda, a ripoff of DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda; Tappy Toes, a ripoff of Warner Bros.’ Happy Feet (produced by Animal Logic); and Puss in Boots: A Furry Tail, a ripoff of you-know what. I put “movies” in quotation marks because these direct-to-DVD releases are technically full movies going by the accepted definition of a feature as 40 minutes or longer, although these barely qualify, at 41 to 45 minutes.

These could not help reminding me of another feature covered on all the animation websites; the Chinese Legend of a Rabbit (Tu Xia Chuan Qi). This was not just an animated feature made in China. It was made by the Beijing Film Academy and Tianjin Film Studio – in other words, the state government. And it was an embarrassing ripoff of DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda!

It’s also well-known that from Cars in 2006 to Up in 2009, Pixar could hardly make an animated feature without a ripoff feature appearing as a direct-to-video movie almost simultaneously.

I wrote a column back in April 2013 about animated features that (almost) no one ever heard of, that are direct-to-video kiddie DVDs. But those were all foreign original animation features that had tried and failed to get theatrical distribution in America before settling for the kiddie-DVD releases. The ripoffs are, with the exception of Legend of a Rabbit which was made primarily for a Chinese theatrical audience, DVD originals deliberately made as imitations of popular American theatrical features. They seemed worth a separate column.

frog-princessSomebody else thought so, too. As I was compiling this for my columns, another website back in January published an “Ultimate Guide” with 38 examples of what it called “mock busters”, the portmanteau used to describe a genre of home video that is dedicated to tricking customers into mistakenly purchasing a low-budget imitation of a popular movie.” But this included both the examples that I had found, plus the original foreign films repackaged to look like imitations of popular theatrical features. Despite that writer defining ‘mockbusters’ as including “deceptively repackaging an existing animated film with a trendy new cover and title”, his examples seemed to imply that these are all original animated features deliberately made as imitations of popular American theatrical features. This seems misleading to me, and unfair to original foreign productions that only some U.S. or British distributor has later repackaged to look like a well-known American feature. This column will concentrate on the deliberate imitations, and I will focus next week on more foreign original animated features repackaged to look like ripoffs of an American animated movie.

The producers of the most blatant ripoffs are notorious for being that. Tiny Robots (Robots), The Little Panda Fighter (Kung Fu Panda), Little Bee (Bee Movie), Ratatoing (Ratatouille), What’s Up: Balloon To The Rescue! (Up), The Little Cars (Cars), and others have been made by Video Brinquedo in São Paulo, Brazil. This is a plot point in Ratatoing; it is set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil instead of in Paris, France. Video Brinquedo has made other DVD movies that have not been released in the U.S. yet, such as Gladiformers (Transformers; “Robos Gladiadores”), and Little & Big Monsters (Monsters and Aliens).

whats-upThe other most notorious producer of ripoff DVD animation is Spark Plug Entertainment in New York. Spark Plug is responsible for An Ant’s Life (A Bug’s Life), A Car’s Life (Cars), Plan Bee (Bee Movie), and Spider’s Web: A Pig’s Tale (Charlotte’s Web). The Cars imitations of both Video Brinquedo and Spark Plug Entertainment have proven to be especially popular, particularly with 2- and 3-year-old children who are too young to recognize ripoffs and just like anthropomorphized automobiles. There are three A Car’s Life movies from Spark Plug, and eight The Little Cars movies from Video Brinquedo plus a live stage musical adaptation of the first in Brazil.

UAV Corporation, or UAV Entertainment, in Charlotte, North Carolina, did not make many productions but it made some of the most bizarre. UAV’s original productions included The Secret of the Hunchback (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), The Secret of Anastasia (Anastasia), Young Pocahontas (Pocahontas), The Secret of Mulan (Mulan), and Moses: Egypt’s Great Prince (The Prince of Egypt). UAV has tried to make its films a combined ripoff of two popular features, where possible. The Secret of Anastasia was both Don Bluth’s Anastasia and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: the whole Romanov royal family is transformed into talking musical instruments. (For some reason, UAV made Nicholas II look like a generic fairy-tale king instead of the real often-photographed last tsar of Russia. Was UAV afraid of The Secret of Anastasia looking too much like Bluth’s movie?).

The Secret of Mulan (embed below) was both Disney’s Mulan and Pixar’s A Bug’s Life; the characters are mostly insects. The Huns are ferocious beetles, and the Chinese are butterflies, caterpillars, dragonflies, and small furry animals like mice and rabbits. Mulan is a caterpillar commoner who becomes a beautiful butterfly.

Prevalent Entertainment, Inc. is a new Southern California studio formed by veterans of DreamWorks Animation, Walt Disney Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and the Cartoon Network. You sure couldn’t guess that from the quality of its two features so far. The Prodigy is a 2009 feature about a Chinese kung fu champion – human, but she has a “brave yet zany” panda tutor who is emphasized on the DVD cover (the weblink is to PEI’s Prodigy website; click on the Trailer menu option), and the 2012 Life’s a Jungle: Africa’s Most Wanted, about a pampered American puppy lost in the African jungle – a medly ripoff of all three of DreamWorks’ Madagascar features.

The companies mentioned above are the production studios, although UAV Entertainment is the distribution arm of UAV Corporation. The other direct-to-video DVDs are almost all distributed by Allumination, Arc Entertainment, Gaiam, Morningstar Entertainment, Peter Pan, Phase 4 Films, and other specialty labels of the children’s DVD market. In some cases, such as British Brightspark Productions Ltd.’s January 2011 Tangled Up, a DVD ripoff of Disney’s Tangled (November 2010), it is almost impossible to find out the difference between the producer and the distributor, if any. It may be animation, but judging by these trailers, most of it is probably animation that you don’t want to see.

It turns out that the story is more complicated than it seems. There are the movies like Ratatoing, released June 2007, that are blatant imitations of American originals; in this case, of Pixar’s Ratatouille, also released during the same month. The timing may seem too short for an imitation to be made, but the American features have all been publicized in trailers weeks and months ahead. It would not be difficult for an imitator to find out an expected blockbuster’s basic plot months before its release, and rush out a hasty and cheap imitation.


Here’s a round up of some of the most notorious Pixar knock-offs – aka “Mockbusters”

Ratatoing

An Ant’s Life

A Car’s Life

The Little Cars

Little & Big Monsters


Here’s a sampler of other “Mockbusters” derived from popular Disney, Dreamworks, Blue Sky and Bluth animated features – even one that knocks-off Charlottes Web!

Life’s a Jungle: Africa’s Most Wanted

Tiny Robots

The Secret of Anastasia part 1

The Prodigy

Spider’s Web: A Pig’s Tale

Plan Bee


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

17 Comments

  • I hear some very familiar Hanna-Barbera sound effects in “The Prodigy” trailer…they’re undoubtedly the best thing in that whole movie!

  • Secreat of Mulan don’t look to bad, but all the CGI stuff is horrendus.

    • I recongized one of the names that co-wrote “The Secret of Mulan”.

  • One thing I’m curious about, did Chevron or Rick Park try suing Disney-Pixar (and the subsequent knockoffs) for Cars? I always thought the designs of both looked very similar to his claymation anthropomorphic car ads. Of course there were plenty of 2D cartoons featuring anthro cars, planes, etc, over the last 75 years or so.

    Yet even the still frame from Car’s Life looks like a direct ripoff, similar mouths and headlight “eyes”.

    • Probably not. I believe Chevron sponsors Autopia at Disneyland and I think the ad characters make apperances in the pre-show area and this was five or six years before “Cars” came out (I was at the park in 2001).

    • I suspect that’s why Pixar went with “windshield eyes” rather than “headlight eyes,” to avoid comparison with Park’s Chevron commercials and all the other headlight-eyed car-characters through the ages (Speed Buggy, Sid & Marty Krofft’s Wonderbug, etc.).

      Side note: The characters of Pixar’s Cars were designed–at least in part–by the late great Dave Deal, whose car-and-plane caricature art, along with that of Tom Daniel, defined a whole line of model kits in the ’70s which has been regularly revived since. Deal’s “Go-Mad Nomad” just got reissued a few weeks ago, in fact. Not toons nor characters–but still some great art.

      As for the stuff of this article…man, I’m sorry but sometimes it makes me just wanna smash some hands. Video Brinquedo has the chutpah to announce their garbage as “totally original works,” and I can’t believe Legend of Kung Fu Rabbit comes from the same country that once gave us Uproar in Heaven and Nezha Conquers the Dragon King (but to be fair, also made Chinese Gods).

    • Correction to previous post: Chinese Gods was made in Taiwan.

  • Phelous has reviewed a few such knock-offs, with hilarious results.

    • Oh, man, and I’m off the next two days. This is gonna be fun/painful. Thanks!

  • Secret of Mulan: Nice color selection, but kind of painful.

  • In my opinion, The Amazing Bulk is the worst mock buster I have ever seen. It’s so hilariously bad, that it looks like a SNL skit, not to mention almost all the backgrounds seem to have been thrown together in MS Paint! Don’t believe it? Just look at the trailer below.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywaR-Lq_ayk

  • I’m always puzzled what kind of artists would work on such projects. How can any artist work on a product that is so blatant a ripp-off, and so obviously low in quality? I’d be totally ashamed. That said, I notice that the animation on ‘The Secret of Anastasia’ is not that bad.

    • I guess some people are gullible enough to need money.

  • UAV Corporation, or UAV Entertainment, in Charlotte, North Carolina, did not make many productions but it made some of the most bizarre. UAV’s original productions included The Secret of the Hunchback (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), The Secret of Anastasia (Anastasia), Young Pocahontas (Pocahontas), The Secret of Mulan (Mulan), and Moses: Egypt’s Great Prince (The Prince of Egypt).

    I recall UAV best as that cheap budget video company of the 80’s that released typical Public Domain material my mom use to buy me on VHS (same with Goodtimes). Sometime in the 90’s they caught wind of what Goodtimes Entertainment was doing and followed suit. If anyone recalls the Jetlag Productions titles GT released. I noticed they were up on Hulu for a while but I guess they’re gone.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6IlgV8yWIY

    Of course that’s not counting the “Golden Films” crop as well (although I thought this wasn’t too bad a film if you’re into”funny animal” type characters).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuK1SVLHLXg

    And going further off-topic, this Italian nutjob that appears to combine lions with the Japanese anime adaptation of The Jungle Book (and animated in North Korea no less).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10Hu64hNGo0

  • I noticed “Peter Pan” in the list of distributors. I wonder if they are connected to Peter Pan Records, which produced popular, theme song and other music for children that was rerecorded to avoid having to pay for the original recordings. I got a “Monster Mash” collection of Halloween songs as a gift, and a friend had another Peter Pan record of more popular and rock songs that almost, but not quite sounded like what they were supposed to sound like. My first trip into the Uncanny Valley. I quickly learned to watch out for fakes like that, and the new generation of kids now has to do the same thing.

    • It probably was, or under it’s original title as “PPI Entertainment Group”. In the 90’s they released videos either under Peter Pan or Parade Video.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksDNj1H9YQw

      A while back the company changed it’s name to “Inspired Studios” though seems to be less focused on the sort of thing Peter Pan made infamous in it’s day.
      http://inspired-studios.com/

  • I found my way here because of “Mockbusters” being a topic I find interesting due to their often-comedic badness.

    I just wanted to say that you may want to look into the dubious work of Dingo Pictures for this rather excellent feature. 😉

    Dingo Pictures made some truly awful Mockbusters which I gather went straight to video in mainland Europe, dubbed into various languages aside from their native German. The extant English dubs, however, were seemingly released only as “video games” (in quotes because basically, it’s just a bad film along with a menu option to play a rudimentary game such as a sliding tile puzzle featuring images from the film) for the PlayStation 2, by an outfit called Phoenix Games. The English dubs (or clips from them) being posted to YouTube are probably better known than the games themselves, though!

    The quality of their work is best put (and badly delivered) by the father dinosaur around a minute or so into Dinosaur Adventure (their rip-off of the Land Before Time franchise): “RUBBISH!!”.

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