Animad Max

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An animated Mad Max movie is something I’d really love to see…

An animated Mad Max movie would also be something rather unprecedented in the mainstream film market…

A mostly live-action film franchise going animated…

When does that usually ever happen?

When I say a live-action series going animated, I mean a series that’s going from live-action to something that knows it’s animated.

Of course, nowadays, animation can mean anything. It can mean a CG film from a studio like Disney Animation, Pixar, DreamWorks, et al. It can also mean a traditionally animated film from anywhere around the globe. It can also mean a film like… Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, or Alfonso Cauron’s Gravity, or even James Cameron’s Avatar. Films that make heavy use of photoreal CGI and VFX. The only live-action thing in Gravity is Sandra Bullock herself and George Clooney’s face, everything else… Is animated. The Jungle Book? Mowgli is the only real-life element in that movie, 99.5% of the whole movie was done in CG. It’s an all-animated movie with a live actor in it. It’s just not the kind of animation used to make a film like Zootopia, or Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book.

I don’t mean that kind of animation for a future Mad Max installment. I mean a more unreal kind, like everything else: From Disney to Pixar to Studio Ghibli to Aardman to LAIKA to all the other films out there.

Mad Max can be that… In fact, it was going to be that at one point.

First off, I can think of only one live-action movie franchise that has ever gone animated for a theatrical installment, or an installment that’s officially canon. That’s Star Wars.

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The 2008 animated The Clone Wars movie was released theatrically, and kicked off the CG TV series of the same name. After Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, several once-canon Star Wars stories were purged, many of which came from the Expanded Universe. The Clone Wars was kept, the show ran its course, then a new CG series began and took over: The acclaimed Rebels.

So the theatrical side of the Star Wars franchise briefly went animated, for what was arguably a TV series pilot. No other theatrical Star Wars installments have been done in caricature animation. I highly doubt any future Episodes will be done this way, but perhaps there’s a possibility one of the Anthologies can be animated. I don’t know, but I have a feeling they’ll keep that series in the live-action/photoreal CG realm when it comes to theatrical installments. TV? No hassle, but theatrical films, they wouldn’t.

As they shouldn’t, for that – and I’m saying this as a vocal defender of caricature animation – would be inconsistent. I think it would only work for an Anthology film, and one that is far removed from what’s going on in the main storyline. Something Rebels or Clone Wars-like, visually. Or maybe something else.

Outside of Star Wars, I can’t think of anything else, really. A future installment in the Transformers movie series is set to be all-animated, but I think that really means a Gravity or Jungle Book 2016-style picture, not something like the 1986 animated Transformers movie.

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Actually, Transformers is interesting because the film franchise had a false start with the 1986 film. The original film being animated completely made sense, for the toyline’s TV show counterpart was animated. The movie was barely marketed and ended up flopping, and no theatrical film based on the toyline and show happened until Michael Bay’s live action/VFX-laden blow-em-up hit theaters in 2007. It’s 2017 and the fifth movie in that series is coming, with many more installments to follow.

Then you have the reverse of Transformers with… Scooby-Doo. The Hanna-Barbera cartoon never got a theatrical movie in the span of thirty years. The canine did, however, get tons of made-for-TV movies in the late 1980s, followed by a long wave of direct-to-video sequels in the late 1990s… And they’re still being made! In 2002, Warner Bros. finally made a theatrical Scooby-Doo movie, and it was live-action with a CG’ed Scooby-Doo. It was very successful, and spawned one sequel – 2004’s Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed, which didn’t do as good. That series ended.

In 2018, Warner Animation Group is going to be releasing an all-new theatrical Scooby-Doo movie titled S.C.O.O.B. This will be an all-animated movie that will kick off a Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe, and has no relation to the live-action movies of the last decade. So there’s an example of a series of live-action movies ending, and an animated movie series replacing it… All based on an animated TV series!

So why am I thinking that an animated Mad Max movie could happen?

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Mad Max may have four theatrical installments, but unlike most canons, Mad Max eschews exact continuity and even throws a few wrenches in its own gears. While there is a clear connection between the original Mad Max movie and its sequel, things begin to take shape by the end of that very continuation. It’s been argued for years that the Mad Max series is like a collection of mythical, almost Western-like tales. That these post-apocalyptic stories of the wanderer Max finding himself in other peoples’ situations can be these exaggerated stories that are being told from the perspectives of others… And who knows how the events really all went down! Recollections, you could say. Folk tales in a post-apocalypse Australia.

Consider. Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior) is narrated by an old man whom we never see, but really, the old man is the Feral Kid. Perhaps the film as we see it is a mythical retelling, not a factual retelling. George Miller, creator and director of all the Mad Max films, has said in interviews that he doesn’t worry about the conventional kind of continuity that you see in movie series like Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and several others.

When speaking of where Mad Max: Fury Road fit in, Miller said…

“There’s no real continuity… Just as there wasn’t between the first three… This one came along and it was an opportunity to take what was there; repurpose it, in a way; and take into account all the ways in which the world has changed and I’ve changed and the technology’s changed.”

Max Rockatansky has several hallucinations throughout Fury Road. We see people exclaiming that he let them all die. Who are they? Did something happen between the events of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and this film? We don’t see his wife and child from the first movie, so… Did he encounter a group of people that he failed? Some feel that this film actually takes place between Mad Max 2 and Beyond Thunderdome, because at the end of Thunderdome, Max rekindles his humanity.

After civilization crumbles between the events of Mad Max and Mad Max 2, Max becomes this kind of self-serving scavenger. This is on full display in Mad Max 2. Early on in the film, Max watches the goons of the villainous Lord Humungus attack people leaving the guarded oil reserve. A sort-of village full of survivors who are clinging onto hope in a world without law or anything else. Max watches these people get brutalized, and then goes down there once most of the baddies have taken off… He intends to save a dying man, and get gasoline from him in return. A man of a few words, he says “I’m just here for the gasoline.” “Save it,” he says in response to the man’s melodramatic thankfulness.

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Up until his car is wrecked by these same goons, Max only wants some fuel. He doesn’t want to be with anyone, he prefers to be by himself and maybe have a canine companion. He has a change of heart later on, but then leaves these people after he helps save them. Thunderdome completes it all and he’s a changed man, but in Fury Road, he acts the way he acted in Mad Max 2. That’s evident in the sequence where he attempts to take off with Furiosa’s war rig, and leave her and the brides behind, despite the fact that Immortan Joe’s cavalcade of crazies are on the horizon, not too far behind. So is it set between Mad Max 2 and Thunderdome? Or after Thunderdome?

Miller probably thinks “Who cares?”

Again, these could be just recollections. Tales, really. Not part of some precise timeline, something meticulously thought out. Again, Star Wars, the MCU, any other conventional movie series, really. This is what made Mad Max: Fury Road an especially refreshing change of pace back when it came out. We were already on Avengers film numero due in summer 2015, with Ant-Man to follow, everything all woven together and no loose threads. That same summer, Jurassic Park returned with a continuation of the series that also served as what they call a “soft” reboot. That’s when the story isn’t completely restarted, it’s basically injecting a lot of new into a pre-existing storyline, so much so that it can feel like its own film. You can call late 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens just that as well, as we’re introduced to all-new characters. Same storyline, but so much new stuff. (Save the “It’s A New Hope” snark. You know what I mean.)

Mad Max is not this at all. It never really was. Also, each movie has its own set of characters. Anyone whose fates were never revealed in Mad Max? They don’t appear in Mad Max 2, despite some speculation here and there. (There was a rumor going around for a while that Humungus was Lieutenant Jim Goose, Max’s friend.) Nobody from Mad Max 2 appears in Beyond Thunderdome, and no one from that movie appears in Fury Road.

What’s unique is that certain actors return, but they play completely different characters! Let’s take Bruce Spence for example. In Mad Max 2, he plays the eccentric Gyro Captain.

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In Beyond Thunderdome, he plays Jedediah the Pilot.

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Max Fairchild stars in two of the movies, as separate characters. In the first Mad Max he plays the disabled farmhand Benno, in Mad Max 2 he plays one of Lord Humungus’ captives.

Lastly, we have Hugh-Keays Byrne himself… The villainous Toecutter in movie numero uno, and the villainous Immortan Joe in Fury Road!

Miller says all four of these films don’t have any real continuity, so I think this series could indeed have an animated theatrical installment.

In fact, it almost did!

One of George Miller’s plans was to make Mad Max: Fury Road… An animated feature film!

By March of 2009, the fourth entry in the series had stalled and stalled and stalled. Miller had come up with the idea as far back as the late 1990s when he was directing Babe: Pig in the City, but filming was always postponed because of several different factors. Hoping to shoot in 2001, 9/11 and the subsequent collapsing of the Australian dollar would’ve waxed the budget. Plans to try again in 2003 were halted when their ideal desert filming location became a garden due to rainfall, and halted yet again that same year when their other location – the Namibian desert – was deemed mostly off-limits due to the Iraq War.

Miller then turned to something else in the mean time. A little something that happened to be… An animated movie. Technically, a motion-captured film with CG backgrounds, but still…

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The result was Happy Feet. The film was released in fall 2006, about a year after the release of the documentary March of the Penguins and over a year after the release of Madagascar, whose breakout characters were a group of penguins. There was something of a penguin craze during those years, and it sadly ended before Sony Animation released their brilliant mockumentary Surf’s Up. A film that deserved to be success, it was instead looked at as a belated cash-in on the penguin movie rush. Tangents aside, Happy Feet was a big – and somewhat controversial – success.

While it may not have been the weirdo adult sci-fi cross-genre movie George Miller set out to make, Happy Feet hit it for audiences. After its big success and subsequent Oscar win for Best Animated Feature, Miller seriously considered making the fourth Mad Max movie a computer animated film that resembled a work of anime. His production house, the sadly defunct Dr. D Studios, was set to do it. Months later, Miller later decided that he would make Fury Road a live-action movie. The film finally began shooting, after several delays and the completion of the unsuccessful Happy Feet Two, in the summer of 2012.

Max’s saga isn’t over. Miller has said before that more are planned, and we’ve heard reports of Furiousa getting her own film. Tom Hardy, who now portrays Max, is signed on for two more films. When these sequels move ahead, we don’t really know. Mad Max: Fury Road was not quite a smash hit, though it was indeed a popular, attended film. Costing $150 million to make, Fury Road grossed $378 million worldwide, just about 2 1/2x the budget. I’m not sure how Warner Bros. sees that performance, but I would call it a success.

Contrary to what some might say, the Mad Max series was never really box office gold. The first installment in the series may have been a smash in Australia and Europe, it was barely released in America. Mad Max 2 did well enough, but didn’t quite rekindle the first film’s success, and it only did so-so business in America. Beyond Thunderdome, the most mainstream and Hollywood-ized entry in the franchise, made $36 million domestically in 1985. They ended up being cult hits more than anything.

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Those films, however, weren’t so costly. Fury Road was, WB gave Mr. Miller carte blanche, and thankfully so. Now, Miller has also talked about wanting to do smaller-scale films and have those be his kind of break from the wasteland. He was even courted to direct a DC Extended Universe movie! What’s next for him, who knows? Should he return to Mad Max, I think it would be cool if he goes back to that brief plan he had for Fury Road.

With the series not having such rock-hard continuity and being such an outlier from other blockbuster franchises, it can get away with having its fifth (or sixth) installment being an animated feature film.

It would also be a major game-changer for mainstream feature animation, and something Warner Animation Group could totally do. Miller is an ace director, and given complete and total freedom, he could make an animated feature that is this bonafide masterpiece. Something so operatic and so grand, we get a taste of that in Happy Feet, but that movie was compromised. Imagine an uncompromised animated George Miller movie, and a Mad Max one no less. Imagine something so stylized, something that Fury Road – beautiful it is in every frame – can never be.

Just imagine…

It is what we need in a time of mainstream animated movies going only for family audiences, aiming only to be those kinds of tentpole pictures.

This is all up to George Miller, but I love that he even seriously considered doing this. The man respects animation, did two animated movies, and one of his favorite films of all time is an animated movie. Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. If Miller says yes to an animated Mad Max, we’d have to wait and see what Warner Bros. says.

In the words of a well-known animated character, “Hey, I can dream, can’t I?”

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