The Long, Strange Odyssey of ‘Foodfight!’

Foodfight!-150

The news that the Godot of animation, Foodfight! was FINALLY going to be released (albeit only on DVD and only in Europe), puts an end to the bizarre saga of the most ill-fated epic in toon trench history. Created and produced by digital effects shop Threshold Entertainment, which was technologically partnered with IBM, Foodfight! is a $50-million CG feature set in a grocery store after hours. The noirish comedy/adventure first blipped industry radar screens in 2001 due to its controversial product and brand placement deals with major corporations, to include such trademarked characters as Mr. Clean, Charlie the Tuna and Mrs. Butterworth in cameos. It was also hyped for its starry voice cast, including Christopher Lloyd, Charlie Sheen, Ed Asner and Eva Longoria (plus a few others who have since dropped to the C-list).

Foodfight! was produced in-house at Threshold’s Santa Monica headquarters, which CEO Larry Kasanoff, the film’s co-producer/director/co-writer, predicted would become the next Pixar. “In terms of coming to have an independent digital animation studio making a digitally animated movie right now, I think we’re pretty much it,” Kasanoff told me in June of 2002, adding:

“We’ve got the movie, we’ve got the property, the place, the equipment, the talent, we’re there. Do we believe our next movie, Foodfight! is going to be a huge hit? Of course we do! We think it’s great. We’ve gotten an amazing response to it. I’ve told people about all over the world and we’re getting uniform reaction to it. We’re betting a ton that it’s going to be a great movie. We’re risking more on this movie than any other venture I’ve ever been involved in in my life.”

Foodfight!

Foodfight!

That risk involved Threshold’s insistence on maintaining complete control of the film.

“Every studio but one offered us a deal on the movie,” Kasanoff said, “but for us as producers, not for us as the animation studio. We’re never going to be the next Pixar being for-hire producers with some other shop.”

About six months after this conversation Foodfight! hit its first iceberg: computer drives containing all the film’s files were reportedly stolen in what Kasanoff called an act of “industrial espionage.” Despite this the-dog-ate-my-homework setback, ambitions remained high. The film was restarted with a proposed 2005 release date…which was missed.  Then in 2007 a distribution deal was struck, but it, too, evaporated. The fact that Foodfight! had acquired a PG rating (and contrary to widespread opinion, the MPAA ratings board does actually have to see a film before rating it), meant it really did exist…but where was it? The answer finally came last year when it was announced that, having fallen into receivership, the film would be put up for auction with a starting bid of $2.5-million—one-twentieth of its production cost. Britain’s Boulevard Entertainment won, and Threshold’s ambitious crapshoot officially crapped out.

Foodfight!

Foodfight!

So what is the moral of this story? A host of them could be derived, though given the number of would-be “next Pixars” that have crashed and burned over the last decade, the moral might be that making such a claim releases a curse.

Of course, the moral could simply be: always lock up your hard drives.

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  • Cobra

    I just saw this DVD available at my local Wal*Mart available in the U.S. It was only one copy on the shelf and I believe it was $9.99 or around $12. On the DVD cover, one can see 4 iconic characters large and in the middle, with the two lesser characters following. Actually, for truthfulness, this probably should have been revered. Some characters had multi-cameos and some even spoke, but mostly, the main characters and the “made-up analogies” of characters they couldn’t get (General Mill’s Count Cocula for one) made up the bulk of the movie.

    I was surprised Threshold did this because…it was bad. The Animations were very horrible; it felt like a student film project or a very small budgeted film. In retrospect, these could be rough-cuts that were never polished out at post-production. Some characters were too shiny/platic-ey and lots of the action/movement of characters were so stiff. Background characters only seemed to know one dance move when they danced. It gets worse near the end, especially the final fist fight scene.

    While the animation was bad, the script/story was worse. There is hardly any meaningful character development; I really did not “feel” for the characters and some (most) were borderline annoying. It wasn’t the voices, persay, although they probably could have used more voice direction. It wasn’t that I couldn’t recognize many of them, even though I have a good ear and can “peg” many voice actors (The Sound engineering/recording was a bit bland)…it was the story, the characterizations, and the gaping plot holes and unexplained plot actions. In one scene, the good guys are get into the Supermarket’s room that has a computer to e-mail “the company” (Maybe the Federal Government or some regulatory agency: It isn’t really explained) to get the “villain” Brand X recalled from the store. The villains glue them in, but they seem to be *outside* the store because of a brickwall, concrete floor that indicates a parking lot, different lighting and a power-junction box. The villains feel that will keep them in, but the heroes entered *inside* the store (past the store’s owner who didn’t notice a big bottle of fizzing soda fly past between his feet). So…why couldn’t they exit from where they entered? And if we are to believe the villains also glued that entrance, what’s to stop the store owner from cracking open the door in the morning. I didn’t even mention the villains turned off the power (to prevent using the computer) and that would probably be the first thing the store owner would turn on once he returned, right? These characters are supposed to be living in secret and not known by humans, so the villain characters aren’t going to reveal themselves to the store owner to stop him.

    The plot holes pile up. Interestingly, the villain is not shown sympathy at the end, even though there is reason for sympathy : she did what she did out of vengeance and neglect. She even has the same “healthy products” as the heroine (and everyone eats fruit and the villains represent “sugar” and “preservatives” and “bad dental hygiene”). Needless to say, the lofty exclamations of, “We will be a PIXAR” are totally looked over in the story department and character development department. If the story were better, I could forgive the bad textures/animation and defend this movie, but it was not.

    The “over-abundance” of product placement did not bother me and it is a reason I bought this: I thought it would be a bit quirky and possibly like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” with a bit of “spot-the-characters-in-the-background/Where’s-Waldo” feel to it. I did not get that experience. Some of the Iconic marketing characters where barely recognizable and others seem to have been place-holder analogies for other characters whose companies did not sign up with this film (General Mills’ Count Chocula for one). Also, another critic also cited “Nightmarish characters” and “Nazis” as possibly inducing nightmares in children who would watch this and I can say that is baseless…although some of the background characters do look a bit grotesque, but that’s more art-style than anything.

    Basically, avoid this movie unless you use it as an example of what NOT to do with a Computer 3D-CGI movie. There are small moments here and there (the posters in the Dog-Detective’s office were nice) but the movie is not too enjoyable.

  • Michael Peter

    I think this movie is great! I love the humor and laugh a lot each time I watch it! It’s unfortunate how long time it took before it came out and the challenges the production company had to face. I hope they make another one soon!

    • Danny

      and this is Lawrence Kasanoff’s fake profile commenting