Posts Tagged ‘Carlos Alazraqui’

While the topic of R-ratings and comic books is currently circulating, I thought I’d throw in something that should actually be rated R and animated. And that comic book, my friends and frenemies, is Saga. From the wildly imaginative and filthy minds of writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples, Saga is about as cinematic as you can get and I for one think it would make an incredible limited-episode animated property suitable for the likes of Netflix, HBO, or any digital distribution platform.tliid_252__saga__animated_style_by_axelmedellin-d94j5f6

When I talked with Fiona recently, I mentioned the rumor that Brian K. Vaughan purposefully writes Saga in such a way that would make it impossible to adapt. There was definitely some debunking of the rumor, but what it really boils down to is Saga’s story with its sweeping alien landscapes, wide swath of fantastical and sci-fi characters, and its tendency to “go big or go home” doesn’t make it an ideal property for live-action adaptation. Animation, however, would definitely keep the visual elements necessary for crafting those essential pieces. Where the series could potentially run into trouble is its unapologetic approach to sex and “on screen” nudity. Given HBO’s love of full-frontal (at least where women are concerned), there would probably be less push-back, but a digital platform like Netflix might require some strategic planning and omissions.

And before you say, “But animation argle flargle bargle think of the children,” Netflix has a big hit already under its belt with BoJack Horseman about the tragic yet humorous life of the eponymous character voiced by Will Arnett. And though they have yet to announce a second season, Netflix took a chance on F is For Family based somewhat on comedian Bill Burr’s family and childhood experiences during the 1970s. I’m just saying, you see Frank Murphy’s (voice of Burr) balls swinging as he has sex with his wife. It’s from the perspective of their youngest son, but if they’re willing to lump that into a mature content animated series, then I’m pretty sure an animated version of Saga could get away with a naked troll-like monster. You know the one I’m talking about.

But we all know what makes or breaks and animated feature or series is the voice cast. The characters of Saga are fully realized people in the hearts and minds of its devoted fan base and they deserve some pretty stellar voices to bring them to life. I know voice director Andrea Romano would probably choose differently, but I’m gonna save her the trouble and cast the series for all of you lovely people. So, here’s my Saga voice cast.

 

Marko – Ian Anthony Dale

 

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Marko wants to maintain that he’s a lover, not a fighter, but push him too far or threaten his family and he will tear you apart. Dale has spent a lot of his career playing well-meaning yet flawed characters and his time spent playing cops and the occasional criminal would help him find the balance in a conflicted character like Marko.

Alana – Janina Gavankar

 

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Alana is an all-kinds-of-kickass person, but her hot-headed, shoot first attitude is tempered by her romantic side and a fierce love of her husband and daughter. She also swears like a sailor and has a fantastic wit. Janina Gavankar has played plenty of badasses in procedurals and genre television, so I’m confident she’d knock this one out of the park. She’s also a huge geek, so I’m certain she’d jump at the chance to play someone as complex as Alana.

 

Hazel – Melanie Chandra

 

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Acting as narrator for the Saga comic, I could see an animated adaptation using the same framing device with an older Hazel providing context and her own special brand of humor. Though we’re not sure how old the Hazel in the book is, my thought is to pick an actress somewhere in the middle who could provide the maturity of the narrator but also provide dialogue for Hazel as she grows in the story. Melanie Chandra has a very youthful quality to her acting and voice, which gives her a lot of range to play Hazel through the many stages of life.

 

Izabel – America Ferrera

 

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If you’re seen How to Train Your Dragon and its sequel, then you’re aware of how America Ferrera’s voice sounds coming out of an awesome character like Astrid. Playing Izabel would be no different. Izabel is a goof and as sarcastic as they come but she’s also the result of the ongoing war between Marko’s and Alana’s homeworlds of Wreath and Landfall respectively. She needs to be fun yet capable of gravitas, which Ferrera has already proven adept at handling.

 

The Will – Brian Bloom

 

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I really enjoy Brian Bloom as a live-action actor, but he’s also one of the bigger names in the voice over industry where military-type games are concerned, which I think makes him perfect to play the jaded, heart-broken, yet well-intentioned freelancer The Will. Bloom could easily rely on the natural gravel of his voice or change it up and maintain a lighter tone to contrast with the morally ambiguous actions of a man thrown into the middle of a growing conspiracy. And is it just me or do Bloom and The Will share the same eyes?

 

Lying Cat/Sweet Boy – James Arnold Taylor

 

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If you’ve never seen the movie I Know That Voice, go watch it and marvel at the vocal gymnastics of one James Arnold Taylor. He and Frank Welker are two of the most reliable creature voices in the industry. I’m giving the role to Taylor, however, because I think his ability to do aliens creatures is needed more in this instance. Though Lying Cat and Sweet Boy are, for all intents and purposes, a cat and a dog, they’re still aliens and Taylor could definitely add layers to his vocals that would make these creatures shine.

The Stalk – Nika Futterman

 

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In her role as Asajj Ventress on The Clone Wars, Nika Futterman brought pathos to the servant of the Sith who could have easily been a one-note villain for the showrunners to throw at Ahsoka Tano on occasion. Thankfully, she made the character dark and lively, a trait she’s brought to many characters like Catwoman, Gamora, Lady Jaye, and Smellerbee. Who better to bring the wildly wicked The Stalk to life?

 

Prince Robot IV – Neal McDonough

 

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The thing about Prince Robot IV is the actual voice behind him could literally be anyone since some digital manipulation is required to make him sound suitably robotic. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to lose the actor in the process. Neal McDonough is a brilliant character actor who can just as easily play the hero as he can the villain. And though Prince Robot IV is ostensibly the villain for the first two volumes of Saga, there’s no arguing that his motivations are based on his desire to return to his wife and son. He’s as complex as Marko and Alana and he deserves nothing less than a great actor to provide his voice.

 

Klara – Tamlyn Tomita

 

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Marko’s warrior mother is one tough nut to crack. She’s been hardened by the ongoing war and she’s only ever tried to prepare her son for the cruelty of the world around them and the suffering of their people. Her softer side is buried deep, but if you stick around long enough it will still take you a while to see it peek through. Tamlyn Tomika has had a long career of playing authoritative women and it would be exciting to hear her tackle such a robust character like Klara.

 

Barr – Sab Shimono

 

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Sab Shimono is a well-respected character actor who is always a welcome sight no matter what he shows up in. He can be authoritative but there’s a gentle quality to him that’s perfect for Marko’s father, Barr. The counterbalance to Klara’s more militant style of parenting, Barr is a warrior but his strength lies in his ability to craft the armor necessary for battle. Or baby clothes. Ya know, whatever comes first.

 

Gwendolyn – Regina King

 

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A member of Wreath’s High Command and Marko’s ex-fiance, Gwendolyn made herself known with one of the best splash pages in the early issues of the comic. There’s a Pam Grier-ness about her that immediately brings to mind a strong, powerful woman only interested in one thing: getting what she wants. I’m confident in the fact that Regina King could not only bring the forceful, no-nonsense attitude but her superb skills as a dramatic actress would be instrumental in peeling back the many layers of Gwen’s personality. And have you seen Boondocks? Girl’s got chops!

 

Slave Girl/Sophie – Amandla Stenberg

 

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Like Hazel, Sophie grows up in the eyes of the reader, so having an actress who can still capture the innocence of a young girl and the haunted maturity of a child forced into an atrocious situation is a must have. Amandla Stenberg found her Hollywood footing as Rue in the first Hunger Games movie, so she’s definitely capable of channeling that type of wise-beyond-her-years tone that’s essential for Sophie. Similarly, her recurring role as Macey Irving on Sleepy Hollow gave her a character dealing with circumstances outside her control. So really, Amandla has been prepared for this role for a while.

 

The Brand – Vanessa Marshall

 

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After listening to her voice strong, capable characters like Hera Syndulla on Star Wars: Rebels and Gamora on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vanessa Marshall is primed and ready to play freelancer The Brand. There’s a pragmatism and very Hellblazer-esque quality to The Brand, who also happens to be The Will’s sister, that makes her cool, calm, and collected no matter what the situation be it poisoning journalists or going after dragon splooge.

 

D. Oswald Heist – Keith David

 

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Guys, do I even have to justify this one? It’s the freakin’ voice of Goliath. Keith David could read the phone book and I’d find it compelling, so him reciting Brian K. Vaughan’s dialogue would be icing on the cake.

 

Yuma – Susan Eisenberg

 

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I may be biased, but that doesn’t change the fact that Susan Eisenberg has a wonderfully rich voice that would lend itself nicely to Yuma. One of Heist’s ex-wives, Yuma comes along a bit later in the book but she’s a visually striking creature and an artist to boot. And, yeah, she’s big on dealing drugs (metaphorically and in real life), but that doesn’t seem to stop her from being the hero when she’s needed most. I’ve always imagined Yuma with a very empathic voice and Susan, voice of the Justice League‘s Wonder Woman, just springs to mind where sympathy and empathy are concerned.

 

Ghüs – Yuri Lowenthal

 

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An adorable little seal who wields a giant ax, Ghüs was basically a drawing in Fiona Staples’s sketchbook who became an example of what makes Saga such a visual feast for the eyes. It’s the contrast that works so well and quickly pushed Ghüs up there with wonderfully memorable characters from the book. So, how does one capture the cuteness and the potential for sweet, sweet ax-swinging glory? Simple: get Yuri Lowenthal. And that’s all the context I’m going to give you.

 

Upsher – Carlos Alazraqui

 

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The writer of the dynamic duo of journalism, Upsher knows a story when he sees one and isn’t afraid to pursue it to the very end – even if that puts him and his partner (in career and life) in mortal danger. There’s definitely a desire to do good, but it’s countered by the love of being the one to break the story, which would make Upsher the fish-man version of Lois Lane. Carlos Alazraqui, I think, could bring out the sincerity and the ambition that drives the character.

 

Doff – Diedrich Bader

 

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Upsher’s better half – or is it the other way around? – Doff is more concerned with keeping out of trouble, but when given the choice to help himself or serve the greater good he’s a fairly selfless person. Diedrich Bader has such a deep, rich voice that sounds pleasantly kind even when he’s swearing up a storm. There’s something gentle about Doff that Bader could capture. Plus it would be kind of fun to hear him and Alazraqui riff like and old married couple.

 

So those Are my picks. Obviously not everyone is going to agree with my choices, so feel free to tell me who you’d cast if you got to play Voice Director for the day.

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The Book of Life

When you walk out of a movie, any movie, smiling it’s definitely a win, but after the end of writer/director Jorge Gutierrez’s The Book of Life not only was I smiling, I was practically vibrating with anticipation for a sequel because I honestly didn’t want to leave the world of San Angel. There’s a lot to be said for the cultural landscape of animation when you find yourself crying out, “Yes! More of THAT!” because The Book of Life shows us just how much we’re missing out on, how many stories have gone untold. It took Gutierrez fifteen years to get the film made, and those years worth of passion and love for his home country shows in the vibrant, kinetic, and joyous story that is unrelenting in its dedication to throwing the windows wide open on what it means to be Mexican. The Book of Life is Gutierrez’s – and by extension producer Guillermo Del Toro’s – love letter to Mexico and Mexican culture via the celebration of one of the country’s most revered holidays.

Celebrated from October 31st – November 2nd, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is the embodiment of Mexican culture as families gather in remembrance of their deceased loved ones by building altars and leaving offerings around their graves. But it’s not a somber affair by any means. Music, food, and colorful decorations ensure that death is not something to be feared but is a natural part of life. And it’s through the rituals of the holiday that Mexicans strengthen familial bonds and remain spiritually connected, keeping the memories of those they’ve lost alive. The Book of Life honors those themes while crafting a beautiful fairy tale that will most definitely cast a long shadow over subsequent animated films.

Reading the BookWhen a group of rowdy children show up at a museum, they’re greeted by the unfazed Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) who, in celebration of the Day of the Dead, shows them the Book of Life, which contains all the great stories of Mexico. She relates one in particular, using a set of carved dolls to tell the story of Maria, Manolo, and Joaquin. In the town of San Angel, the three children are playing among the gravestones during Dia de los Muertos when La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, make a wager about which of the two boys Maria will marry. If Xibalba wins and Joaquin marries Maria, he gets to rule the Land of the Remembered, but if La Muerte wins and Manolo marries Maria, then Xibalba will have to leave the humans alone.

Unbeknownst to La Muerte, Xibalba gifts a young Joaquin with a medallion that will make him invulnerable, which he realizes soon after when Maria frees a bunch of pigs from being slaughtered and he effortlessly defends her and the town from an angry boar. Manolo is no slouch either, revealing his gift as a matador to stop the beast and save the little pig Maria sought to free. Angered at his daughter’s feisty and unladylike sensibilities, General Posada (Carlos Alazraqui) sends Maria to Spain to be educated. Before she leaves, Maria gets a final goodbye with her friends, gifting Manolo a new guitar inscribed with the phrase, “Always play from your heart.” Manolo gifts her the little pig, Chewie (also Carlos Alazraqui), and promises to wait for her. Joaquin, lacking a present, vows to always fight for her as the train speeds away.

Years later, Manolo (Diego Luna) has been trained by his father, Carlos Sanchez (Hector Elizondo) to be a bullfighter like his ancestors before him, including his grandmother, though his true desire is playing guitar with his mariachi friends. Joaquin (Channing Tatum), thanks to the medallion, has become a great soldier and hero like his father before him, returning to San Angel the same day as Maria (Zoe Saldana) returns from Spain. The two men both vy for her love and her hand in marriage, but when Xibalba believes he’s losing the bet he makes sure Manolo isn’t even a contender. From there it’s a race for Manolo to return to the Concept Artliving world to be with Maria again and save the town from the dreaded bandit Chakal (Dan Navarro) who’s out to get his medallion back.

The story itself is actually quite simple. While there’s a lot of window dressing with gods, realms, and world-shattering consequences, it really boils down to being true to yourself – a common premise in family films. But through the lens of The Book of Life being true to yourself, standing up for what you think is right and what you believe in – whether it’s defending your town from banditos or choosing the guitar over the sword – is what solidifies how we are remembered. Both Joaquin and Manolo live in the shadows of their family legacies and in trying to live up to those standards they ultimately set the stage for the chaos that follows. Maria, in contrast, is very aware of who she is and it’s her encouragement and love that leads the two friends down their desired paths. She too has a legacy to uphold and she proves herself to be every bit the leader the Posadas desire. Not only is this a hero’s journey, it’s the journey of an entire community.

The simplicity of the story allows for the film to revel in the culture of Mexico, using the bright colors, energetic music, and stunning art to build the worlds of the living and the dead. Jorge Gutierrez has been quoted saying that he wanted the film to look as beautiful as the art book for an animated film looks and my God did Reel FX Creative Studios deliver. The settings are grand and gorgeous and the designs of the characters are distinct and wonderfully original. Because Mary Beth is using carved figures to tell the story, the people of San Angel look like wooden figures, which shows in the angular build of the characters and the static movement of hair and clothes. The designs, however, don’t limit the characters or the settings. In fact, the choice to tell the story through doll-like figures allows for more detail. The many medals on Joaquin’s uniform, the intricate carvings in Manolo’s guitar, as well as La Muerte’s catrina visage and Xibalba’s Aztecan armor all invite closer scrutiny. You should want to press your face to the screen in order to take it all in.

La Muerte and XibalbaThe cast alone should be reason enough to see the film. Other reviews I’ve read have claimed Channing Tatum’s performance stands out the most and I’m inclined to agree. It isn’t hard to see where the story is going and who Maria will end up with, but Tatum’s Joaquin never lacks personality despite being the overconfident jock to Manolo’s sensitive musician. There’s a surprising amount of depth to his character and Tatum does a wonderful job of capturing Joaquin’s arrogance as well as his deep love and affection for Maria and Manolo. Diego Luna and Zoe Saldana aren’t slackers by any means. Luna’s Manolo is charming, mischievous, and lovable. There’s a believable earnestness and sincerity about the character that is entirely Luna’s making. And Saldana’s Maria is more than just the pretty love interest. She’s a capable woman with a mind of her own and she isn’t afraid to speak out when she’s offended. But she also knows how to have fun, sporting a laugh that’s delightfully infectious. However, I’d have to say that Kate del Castillo and Ron Perlman steal the movie for me as La Muerte and Xibalba. The characters and their actors have great chemistry, bickering like an old married couple (which they are) that just happen to be otherworldly gods. Both possess fiery tempers, literally, but both are just as easily soothing and calming. I mean, it’s Ron Perlman. C’mon! Filling out the cast are fantastic actors like Cheech Marin, Gabriel Iglesias, Danny Trejo, Grey DeLisle, Miguel Sandoval, Placido Domingo, and Ice Cube as The Candle Maker.

Like the designs and the brilliant color palette, the music in The Book of Life is just as important in telling the story and shows how specific cultural influences can affect songs and their meaning. The soundtrack to The Book of Life is mostly pop songs, sung by the actors, ranging from Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” to Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend”. It’s an eclectic mix of songs with two originals written by Paul Williams and Gustavo Santaolalla. At first I was a bit put off by the jukebox musical unfolding and, to be honest, I’m still not certain Radiohead’s “Creep” was the most appropriate song for a film like this, but I give a huge amount of credit to Santaolalla for the movie’s score and the fusion of Latin American music and pop songs. Though the audience seeing the film may not be of Hispanic, Latin American, or Mexican descent, music is a shared language and many of us remember these songs, which gives audiences a THE BOOK OF LIFEcommon ground through which to relate to the story and the characters. There are also little pieces of music that show Santaolalla’s cleverness, like the nuns singing “Adios, Maria” in the style of “Ave Maria” or the use of Kinky’s “Más” whenever Joaquin goes into super soldier mode. It’s a soundtrack and score that has a distinct identity, something that other animated films tend to lack.

Hopefully The Book of Life will become a classic of the holiday season because it deserves the attention of children, parents, and really any fan of animation. It’s a cultural celebration of life and death, bringing families and friends together to remember the ones we love and giving us all permission to “play from the heart.”