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'Hotel Transylvania' opening doors for veteran TV director

By Jeffrey Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Oct. 12 2012 12:56 p.m. MDT

"Hotel Transylvania"

Sony

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SALT LAKE CITY — Even if director Genndy Tartakovsky’s name doesn’t ring a bell for many audiences checking out his new feature, “Hotel Transylvania,” some of his past work undoubtedly will.

As the creator of some of Cartoon Network’s most beloved shows like “Dexter’s Laboratory,” “Samurai Jack” and “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” the Russian-born director has already left a huge mark on the world of animation.

In spite of his outstanding TV resume, though, the leap to feature filmmaking was still a difficult one.

“Hollywood is about relationships,” Tartakovsky said, speaking to entertainment site Screen Crave. “When I came in, everything I had done didn’t matter. You spend 20 years paying your dues, and you come in and have to start over.”

Before “Hotel Transylvania,” which opened to record-setting September numbers, Tartakovsky’s attempts at a big-screen debut were plagued with false starts.

First, it was “Star Wars.” After his 2003 animated series “Clone Wars” became a massive hit, winning two Emmys, Tartakovsky was invited to become, as he put it in an interview with CraveOnline, “the John Lasseter of Lucas Animation.” As such, Tartakovsky would have overseen the creative development of a number of projects, including new TV series as well as feature films, set in the “Star Wars” universe.

That deal fell through, though, and since then — to the deep chagrin of fans — George Lucas has inexplicably tried to expunge Tartakovsky’s “Clone Wars” from official “Star Wars” canon.

Then there was his sequel to the ‘80s cult classic “The Dark Crystal.” Announced way back in 2006, the collaboration between Tartakovsky and the Jim Henson Company was never able to secure the necessary funding and slowly faded away.

Finally, his most famous creation, “Samurai Jack,” has almost become a feature-length film on four separate occasions. Each one, for better or worse, has fallen apart as the different creative teams have wrestled with how to adapt the boundary-pushing source material.

After all this, Tartakovsky decided to try his hand at a troubled project that had been kicking around Sony Animation since 2006: “Hotel Transylvania.”

As the director told Screen Crave, “I had another film in development here (at Sony), but it was going really slowly, so I thought I should come in with (“Hotel Transylvania”) and show what I could do and build relationships.”

Before he came on board, five other directors had already bailed on “Hotel Transylvania.”

Ultimately, Tartakovsky’s ability to steer the troubled project to completion is something he credits to his long history of working in television.

While critical reactions to “Hotel Transylvania” have been lukewarm, audiences are certainly responding to the cartoonish take on Dracula and his monstrous friends. In its first weekend, it set a new record for September releases with $43 million. It also earned a solid A- on CinemaScore.

The best news for animation fans is that “Hotel Transylvania” is already opening doors for its talented director.

As part of a recently inked two-picture deal with Sony, Tartakovsky will write and direct a big screen adaptation of E.C. Seger’s iconic, spinach-swilling sailor “Popeye.”

Tartakovsky, who is a huge fan of old animation and lists Olive Oyl as one of his top three favorite animated characters, promises to remain true to the tone of the early Max Fleischer “Popeye” cartoons.

“When it was first presented to me, it felt like the cheap exploitation of a known property. But as I started to think about it, it felt more like a great opportunity to do physical animated humor — to take what we did in ‘Hotel Transylvania’ and multiply it by 10 and really push it and design very physical sequences that aren’t reliant on dialogue.”

As for the other movie in his two-picture deal, Tartakovsky is keeping it close to his chest, but he has revealed that his new relationship with Sony could bode well for the long-awaited big screen adaptation of “Samurai Jack.”

Speaking with IGN, he said, “I've been trying so hard every year, and the one amazing thing about Jack is that I did it in 2001, you know, and it still survived. There's something about it that's connected with people. And I want it; it's No. 1 on my list, and now Bob Osher, the president (of Digital Production at Sony Picture Entertainment), is like 'Hey, let's talk about Jack. Let's see what we can do.' … So it's not dead for sure by any means, and it's still on the top of my list, and I'm trying as hard as I can.”

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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