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FIRST LOOK: Dreamworks’ Netflix Original “The Adventures of Puss In Boots”

FIRST LOOK: Dreamworks' Netflix Original "The Adventures of Puss In Boots"

Beginning Friday January 16th, Dreamworks Animation’s latest original series for NetflixThe Adventures of Puss In Boots, will make its debut. Based on the swashbuckling feline who made his debut in Shrek 2, the new series sets the character in the town of San Lorenzo, of which he is their sole protector against all manner of evil forces wishing to rob the town of its enchanted treasure. 

Lane Lueras (Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, The Iron Giant) serves as primary director for The Adventures Of Puss In Boots; Kory Heinzen (Kung Fu Panda, Puss in Boots) is art director. The writing staff, headed by story editor Greg White ( MAD, Bricklberry, Wonder Over Yonder, Ugly Americans), includes such notable names as Thrilling Adventure Hour creators Ben Acker & Ben Blacker, Jesse Porter ($#*! My Dad Says); Darkwing Duck creator and Disney Afternoons icon Tad Stones and Candie Kelty Langdale (Scooby-Doo! Stage Fright) have contributed episodes as well.

The voice cast is led by Eric Bauza (The
Book of Life, Turbo FAST
) as Puss in Boots. The cast also includes Jayma Mays (Glee,
Getting On
) as Dulcinea, Paul Rugg (Animaniacs,
) as Artephius, Carla Jimenez (Nacho Libre) as Señora Zapata, Carlos Alazraqui (Reno 911) as Mayor Temeroso, Laraine
Newman (Saturday Night Live) as
Pajuna, John Leguizamo (Ice Age, Moulin Rouge!) as Jack Sprat,
and Danny Trejo (Machete, The Book of
) as El Moco.

Overseeing it all is exec producer Doug Langdale, writer of the current theatrical feature The Book of Life, and who previously created the Disney Channel’s Dave the
and The Weekenders.  Langdale’s work on Darkwing Duck and on current hits like Nickelodeon’s current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the series Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, has helped create some memorable moments in television animation.

The Adventures of Puss In Boots makes great use of 2D animation as inserts into the action… here’s an example in this exclusive clip from an episode called “Brothers”.  In this episode, Toby, one of the orphans from the magical city of San Lorenzo, is reunited with his brothers — who have become ninjas who are terrorizing the town in search of a legendary enchanted object.  They take him to the desert to convince him to work with them — but he’s not so sure.

I spoke with producer Langdale about how the show is shaping up.

JB: Netflix has established a new model for producing TV series. Has that influenced the writing of the show as a series  – or the animation?

 Not really. The original plan was for doing five episode story arcs – but at some point we realized our spin off from a series of movies can’t be another series of movies. We redeveloped the show to have more of a single setting, designed for more episodic adventures. There is a season arc, but the episodes are pretty independent of each other.

The funny thing is the first thing I pitched for the show was what we ended up doing. I did this pitch at first, and the reaction was “we want it to be bigger and more epic – more like the movies…” It’s less like the movies now. It’s pure comedy adventure – with an emphasis on the comedy elements. Though there are a few episodes that are more action oriented than others – but ‘character-based comedy’ is how I’d describe it.

As for the animation, one of the things you find about working in CG, the characters feel so real sometimes its harder to get away with the cartoony stuff. They exist in three-dimensions and if you hit them on the head with an anvil – you feel it, man!

JB: I love the fantasy element in the previous feature… is that going to be in the series?

DL: Yes, even more so than the movie. The hard thing is we want to use the fairy tale characters and elements – but so many of them have been used in the Shrek movies. We will bring those in – but also elements from mythology and other traditions. There’s a Sphinx character in one episode, a Golem in another.

JB: Are you using any of the established supporting characters ?

DL: No. The series takes place after Puss is exiled from San Ricardo, but before he meets Kitty Softpaws, so there aren’t many characters we could use from the movies. The Shrek films take place after the Puss In Boots feature.

JB: What is the production set-up like? What is worked on here in Glendale; what is produced elsewhere?

DL: We’ve got three seasons of 26 episodes each.  All the creative is done here in Glendale. Scripts, design, characters, props, storyboard. All the pre-production is here. It’s a script-driven show – but we do pretty significant tweaks in the storyboard phase. Lots of opportunity for the director and board artist to wrangle the story and gags. Some episodes we re-did two-thirds of the episode once we started working on the boards. The animation is done by either Bardel in Canada or Technicolor in India.

JB: Tell me about the use of 2D on the show?

DL: Early on we had discussed doing the whole show hand drawn because I wasn’t sure we could reproduce the CG look of the movie. We did a little bit of development with an animator at Dreamworks – there was a promotional 2D promo for the first movie done in Saul Bass style – we saw that and thought that’s a cool look. Can we do something like that? We started working it up but it became clear that to do a whole series like that was going to limit the animation and what we could do.

In the meantime the technology evolved to allow us to do a series that could get the look of the movie – we decided we would use 2D for, perhaps, a flashback, or if someone is telling a story – anything that isn’t happening in the immediate present. We’ve done that with Kung Fu Panda and Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles a little bit. When you are so limited with the assets – only one new character or one new location per episode –  you want to expand your storytelling a little bit and you need to make other choices. We’ve been able to keep that limited-stylized look to it – which is really fun to play with.

JB: Who does the 2D animation?

DL: It’s done by two guys in-house, here in Glendale. It requires a lot of planning because we are not going to fully animate any of the characters. We are essentially trying to tell a part of the story with camera moves and single elements in a static frame.

JB: One thing I loved about the Puss In Boots feature – and now with this series – is that its not aimed down toward kids. It’s a show anyone of any age could enjoy. Adults too. 

DL: I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve never thought about my audience being kids – unless someone forced me to. I mostly like the same stuff I liked when I was a kid – I just like more stuff now. From a really young age my daughter could tell when she was being talked down to and just hated it. There was so much children’s television she couldn’t watch because she felt it was pandering. We wouldn’t do an episode about, let’s say, taxes… anything driven by adult issues. Every now and then I’ll get a note “Kids are not going to know what a ‘charcutier’ is”. We are not thinking about the age of the audience. You want to tell stories about characters that are having emotions – and everyone understands that.

And that’s what’s great about Puss In Boots – he’s a character anyone can relate to.

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