Tuesday, December 22, 2009

“Ex-Seattleite filmed ‘Santa and 3 Bears’”

“Ex-Seattleite filmed ‘Santa and 3 Bears’”
By John Hartl

Yet another filmmaker who is convinced that family movies are making a comeback is Tony Benedict, who wrote, produced and directed the new children’s cartoon, “Santa and the Three Bears.”

And Benedict has the statistics to prove that they can be successful. “Santa,” which will play matinees only tomorrow and Sunday at the Fox Cinema Crossroads, United Artists Cinema 150 and Renton Cinema One, has already earned back its costs in a very short time -- and every one of the 110 prints of the film is booked through the end of next year.

“It’s a popular film because kids really enjoy it,” said Benedict, who is in Seattle to promote the picture. “It’s the kind of film I would like to have seen when I was a kid.” Benedict, 33, once lived in Seattle and attended O’Dea High School.

“One theater manager in Los Angeles told me: ‘I know it’s a good picture, because the kids aren’t out here buying popcorn.’”

Benedict got the idea for “Santa and the Three Bears” from the fact that bears usually hibernate during the winter. A couple of Yellowstone cubs don’t go into hibernation in the film and a forest ranger tells them about Christmas.

They go home to tell their mother about the holiday, and she doesn’t believe them.

“The film has high quality animation, yet I made it for about $200,000. It costs Disney 20 times that much to do the same thing, and I can do it faster,” said Benedict.

Benedict is a former animator for the Disney studios, where he worked on “Sleeping Beauty.” He also worked on Mr. Magoo cartoons and Huckleberry Hound and The Flintstones.

“‘Santa’” was originally made as a television special, and we had a sponsor lined up to pay for the whole thing. But all three networks rejected it,” he said.

“They wanted to know where the villain was in the story. Another asked me: ‘Can you do this live?’ Now why would I want to do it live if I’d already made a feature-length cartoon of it?”

“People criticize the cartoonists for the junk that is shown on Saturday mornings, but it’s the networks who insist on the violence and stupidity of those cartoons. They tell you what to draw, and if it doesn’t have action and villains, it won’t go. The whole animation industry is now tied up with those cartoons. It’s really unfortunate.”

Benedict is glad to be out of television now, although it took a long time to raise the money for “Santa,” his first independent film.

“I started writing it in 1965 and finished filming last year,” he said. “First I sold it to Warner Brothers, but they put it on the shelf. So I contacted another distributor, R & S Film Enterprises in Florida, and they helped me get the rights back and release it through their company.

“Since then, it’s done excellent business at weekend matinees. Most theaters are dark then, and the extra money is gravy to the people who run them. Soon there will be coloring books and a record album based on the film.

“I believe in movies,” Benedict said. “If I bomb, I’ve got no one to blame but myself. But a sampling of a million kids who paid to see my picture is better than a Nielsen rating which may not mean anything.”

Benedict’s next film will be a musical cartoon version of “Robin Hood.”

“The Disney studio is also doing one, but ours will be out first. Ours won’t be pablum. It will be full of wit and sophistication.

“Robin Hood will be an 18-year-old rock musician, and Maid Marian will be a groupie. Prince John will be an uptight type who hates rock. We hope to present it as a roadshow, with a traveling van carrying 16 speakers, which we can place at crucial points in the theater for the best stereophonic effect.”

[The Seattle Times, December 18, 1970, p.C4]

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