ANIMATION ANECDOTES
March 20, 2013 posted by Jim Korkis

Whatever Happened to the Calvin and Hobbes Animated Movie?

calvin_last

“It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy… Let’s go exploring!” were the very last words in the 3,150th and final Calvin and Hobbes newspaper strip by Bill Watterson that ran on Sunday, December 31, 1995.

In the late 1990s, there were persistent rumors of a Calvin and Hobbes animated project. Watterson had always expressed an awe of animation and what could be accomplished in the medium, while he did state that it would be “scary” to hear Hobbes’ voice in an animated cartoon.

Surely, the many fans thought that Watterson could not just walk away from the delightful characters he had created and must have some other plans for them like a children’s book or graphic novel or even an animated short. However, after seventeen years, it seems apparent that if Watterson was working on any of those projects, he has kept that work to himself.

The official statement from artist Bill Watterson’s syndicate, United Press Syndicate, when asked about an animated project was the following: “I’m sorry, there is no ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ movie in production, and there are no plans for such. Bill Watterson is very much retired from cartooning, and has not indicated to us any desire to return in the foreseeable future.”

Still, the rumors kept cropping up. For a very short time there were cels being offered for sale on eBay from an animated “Calvin and Hobbes” project including one featuring a young girl who looked like Susie Derkins from the comic strip getting hit by a snowball. Were these from an experimental project done by Watterson or were they just the product of a talented fan doing a tribute project?

There was talk that voice artists Tress MacNeille (Babs Bunny in “Tiny Toons”, Charlotte Pickles in “Rugrats”, Dot Warner in “Animaniacs”,etc.) and Charlie Adler (Buster Bunny in “Tiny Toons”, Cow and Chicken in “Cow and Chicken”, etc.) were involved in an ultra secret animation project.

Suddenly, there were postings that Tress had voiced “Miss Wormwood” (the teacher in “Calvin and Hobbes”) and Adler had done Hobbes the tiger with Watterson himself voicing Calvin and his father. Then those postings disappeared from the voice actors’ resumes and other sites.

There was a rumor that Watterson like Winsor McCay was trying to do an animated project solely by himself. It was rumored to be a cartoon series and then a movie of short stories based on stories from the comic and then the project was supposedly abandoned for mysterious reasons.

In a rare interview from “Comics Journal”# 127 (Feb. 1989) with Richard Samuel West, Bill Watterson said: “Animation is an art all its own…. In a comic strip, you can suggest motion and time, but it’s very crude compared to what an animator can do. I have a real awe for good animation… For all my admiration of the art, I really can’t decide if I ever want to see ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ animated.

“I know I’d enjoy working with the visual opportunities animation offers, but you change the world you’ve created when you change the medium in which it’s presented. Books are almost always better than the movies made from them, because there are things books do well and things movies do well, but usually those things don’t overlap.

“The same with comics and animation. Another, more personal reservation I have is that animation, by necessity is a team sport, and the fewer people with input into my work, the better I like it. And, finally, to see it done right, it would also take an awful lot of time and energy on my part, neither of which I’ve got a lot to spare.”

However, with his retirement and seclusion, his fans argued that Watterson would have plenty of time to experiment with animation if he chose to do so.

What might an animated Calvin and Hobbes look like? Recently, animator Adam Brown (Comedy Central’s Ugly Americans) created a fan-made cartoon adaptation of a “Calvin & Hobbes” Sunday strip using Watterson’s own artwork, sans voice actors. He did “Flash to trace and animate the comic, and some simple Photoshop and After Effects for the background.”

8 Comments

  • That little short did a surprisingly good job of imitating Watterson’s style. I can understand Watterson’s concerns though. For instance, the creator of The Smurfs wasn’t too happy in the end with all of the merchandising surrounding his comics, despite all the money he earned. Walt Kelly, whom Watterson greatly admires, also was very upset with Chuck Jones after a disagreement over the direction of The Pogo Special Birthday Special.

  • I seem to recall reading where Bill Watterson once said that a reason he didn’t want animation done was that he felt it was better to have the reader imagine the voices in the strip, rather than having them speaking with set voices. I hope I am remembering this correctly, but it does fit in with how he feels comic strips are as opposed to animation. I for one would love to see an animated Calvin and Hobbes, although there is always the fear it would be done poorly, so I can understand his reluctance to move into that medium.

  • The voices would be a big problem. They are better imagined.

  • An animated Calvin and Hobbes, even if brilliant — especially if brilliant — wouldn’t be Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Voices, timing and movement necessarily transform what what created as a purely visual work.

    The Peanuts specials and movies, even with Schulz’s scripts and oversight, are very different from the strip. There’s no way to do an “exact” translation, so the animated versions have a look, sound and sensibility all their own. Schulz embraced the difference, sending the animated characters places he’d never allow in his precisely crafted strip (while there are elements of the strip — Snoopy’s interior monologues, for example — that never appeared in animation). Watterson, very simply, doesn’t want to embrace that difference.

  • For a good example of a comic strip-to-animation gone wrong, check out the DILBERT series from 1999 to 2000. The voices (or voice direction) had Dilbert, Dogbert and Wally speaking in a monotone that killed any humor in their lines. Dilbert also has a tendency towards Lisa Simpson-esque preaching. Since there were several Simpsons personnel involved in Dilbert, the series looked like a more upscale version of Springfield. In fact, the Dilbert series also shared a resemblance to Futurama which came out in March of 1999. The surprising thing about the Dilbert series is that Scott Adams has writing credit on many of the episodes but there are no laughs (a few smiles but no laughs). The interesting thing about the series is that some of Dilbert’s fears about corporate machinations and loss of freedom are especially relevant today even though the show was broadcast nearly two years before 9/11.
    I can fully understand Bill Watterson’s reluctance to bring Calvin and Hobbes into animation and hope he holds out so he doesn’t have a Dilbert on his hands.

  • I’ve been with more than one animation studio who actually approached Bill Watterson about the possibility of animating his amazing characters from “Calvin and Hobbes” — and I can tell you that the response we got was consistently, positively and unequivocally “NO.” We offered him complete creative approval and control, essentially positioning ourselves as an extension of his own creative vision — a large wrist at the end of his own arm, if you will — and still, the answer was “NO.” It was practically a form letter, saying there will NEVER be a “Calvin & Hobbes” in animated form, EVER. The fact that Watterson has never licensed anything about the strip to merchandise, apparel, toys or anything besides the books of his own drawings speaks volumes of the absolute king’s ransom he has passed up for the sake of the original’s integrity. It’s hard to have enough regard for that kind of artistic muscle — and, while disappointing to every animator who has looked at his strip and seen the balls-out animation layouts they contain (and let’s face it, we all have), you have to hand it to the guy. But anyone who says they’ve got a “Calvin” feature, show or any animated version in the works has got some ‘splainin to do.

  • The video appears to be blocked now; a notice saying it is private shows up over dark snow.

    However, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if it never came to pass, as Watterson has always held fast to the characters staying solely within the strip. They even stopped printing calendars after a while. And while I love animation, I’m not sure I’d want to see this strip animated. As with the voices, the characters’ movement resides in my imagination, and anything that deviates from it would be jarring. Watterson created a great strip, and that’s enough for me.

  • I know everyone thinks up their own voices in their head when reading, but I have absolutely NO problem with a movie! I think it would be a universal connection to all the fans. Calvin & Hobbes is by far the best cartoon in my opinion, and a movie that I could watch with my kids would be absolutely wonderful. I really wish Watterson would agree to a movie being made at least. Make it of what is already written. It would be a kick ass kids movie.

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