Suspended Animation #221
Noted filmmaker Joss Whedon at a question and answer panel at a Director’s Guild event said not getting the “Buffy” animated series based on his successful live-action television series off the ground was his biggest regret regarding the popular TV franchise.
“We got to do almost everything we wanted to do,” stated Whedon. “The only thing we didn’t get to do is an animated version, which would have been a delight for us because the writers (from the original series) themselves were working on it.
“The writers produced seven scripts with the idea what could we not do [on the regular series] in mind. They were really fun to write. We could not sell the show. We could not sell an animated ‘Buffy,’ which I still find incomprehensible.”
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a television series based on Whedon’s 1992 movie of the same name but with distinct differences. It ran from 1997 to 2003 on the WB and UPN. It was a critical and popular success.
The stories revolved around high schooler Buffy Summers and her friends who were mentored by Rupert Giles, a ‘Watcher’, whose job is to train new Slayers to defeat supernatural menaces. Basically, the concept was that high school was quite literally hell in many ways.
Whedon was inspired by Batman: The Animated Series to create an extension of the live action series. The animated version of the show began development in 2001 for Fox who were going to produce the show and air it as part of the Fox Kids package as early as February 2002.
Fox then decided to shop the series to other networks for fear that the subject matter might be difficult to air in a block of children’s shows and that it would not be accepted by adults in a prime time slot. When there was no interest, they cancelled development.
However in 2004, shortly after the end of the live action series but with interest still high in the franchise, Fox started developing the project again but to sell to another network.
A three and a half minute promo pilot was produced. Buffy is chased down a blind alley and attacked by a muscular male vampire who she defeats with a stake from her back pack.
The next day in the library, Giles informs Buffy, Xander, and Willow that they will have to miss the party they were planning on attending that evening because the followers of a being named Morgala are planning an apocalypse. Suddenly, a huge, dark, flying dragon crashes in from the top of the ceiling and swallows Buffy. It flies away but Buffy pries open the jaws of the beast and is preparing to dispatch it when she tumbles out of its mouth down toward her hometown of Sunnydale.
The video was posted on YouTube on August 1st, 2008 to try to revive interest in the project.
An adaptation of that storyline was used in a script written by Jeph Loeb for the December 2008 Dark Horse Comic issue 20 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight entitled “After These Messages… We’ll Be Right Back!” Buffy and the gang plan to go to a house party but she first has to defeat five followers of Morgala and a dragon. Some of the same lines and gags from the animation script were incorporated. It was also illustrated by Eric Wight who worked on the animated series in an animated style of art for the “dream sequence” story.
Writer Jane Espenson (who later became a producer as well on the live action series) said, “Joss was very interested in developing an animated version of Buffy to enable us to tell stories that were visually ambitious and also to allow us to go back and tell stories that would only work in the high school setting. He graciously invited any of the writers on staff to join in if we wanted to do so. I jumped at the chance.
“Steve DeKnight and Drew Greenberg wrote episodes, if I recall. And I believe Doug Petrie did too. I think there was a story set aside for Rebecca Kirshner that she never got to start.
“I wrote three scripts. One was called Teeny where Buffy is shrunk to six inches tall that would have been impractical at the time to do in live action. Another was called The Back Room and there was a third about a demon made of cafeteria food called Food Fight!
“One or two of the scripts never went through the final series of notes from Josh and (executive producer) Jeph Loeb. I loved working with Jeph who was in charge of it all and I loved the challenge of a slightly different kind of writing.”
The first episode would have been entitled A Day in the Life and had been written by Jeph Loeb and Joss Whedon. It was meant to introduce the characters and set the show’s premise. The pilot featured some of that material. Another episode would have Buffy trying to get her driver’s license but dealing with a driver’s education teacher who was a demon.
The series was set during the first three seasons of the series including the “altered memories” that introduced the character of Buffy’s sister, Dawn Summers who had become a fan favorite on the live-action version. Each episode would have been self-contained so could be run in any order.
While proud of the series and her work on it, actress Sarah Michelle Gellar who played Buffy has over the years attempted to distance herself from possible spin-offs and other projects related to the franchise. For the animated series, Giselle Loren voiced Buffy. Loren had provided Buffy’s voice for a couple of videogames.
However, the rest of the original cast including Alyson Hannigan (Willow), Nicholas Brendon (Xander) and Anthony Stewart Head (Giles) among others did provide voices for their own characters.
Eric Wight was brought in to establish the visual style of the cartoon from character designs to storyboards to rough background layouts (rendered by Ted Blackman) to color choices.
“It’s great when you are involved from the very beginning of a new project,” said Wight. “The biggest hurdle was that Buffy could not look too much like Sarah because she wasn’t going to be involved in the project. That was tough, to make her design look cool and not too generic. It was tough and rewarding all at the same time.
“Some faces are easier to draw than others. Sometimes you nail the look on the first try, other times, I’ve burned through a box of pencils trying to get the design just right. It’s even tougher on a show like Buffy where all those characters are so distinct and recognizable.
“The animated scripts were as good as any story from the first couple of seasons of the live action show. I worked on Buffy off and on for about three years. My boss from the animation side of the table was producer extraordinaire Eric Radomski.”
Whedon revealed to the Hollywood Reporter: “We just couldn’t find a home for it. We had a great animation director, great visuals, six or seven hilarious scripts from our own staff — and nobody wanted it. I was completely baffled. I felt like I was sitting there with bags of money and nobody would take them from me.
“It was a question of people either not wanting it or not being able to put up the money because it was not a cheap show. One thing I was very hard-line about was I didn’t want people to see it if it looked like crap. I wanted it to be on a level with Batman the Animated Series. And that’s a little pricier. But I just don’t think it’s worth doing unless it’s beautiful to look at as well as fun.”