Back in 2012, I interviewed animator/filmmaker Genndy Tartakovsky at the Toronto Film Festival shortly before the premiere of his new animated film, Hotel Transylvania. At the time, it seemed like a different route for the animation giant, who gained mass acclaim for Samurai Jack and won an Emmy for a Star Wars: Clone Wars series that was, sadly, pretty much wiped from existence once Lucasfilm invested in the second Clone Wars series that’s still canon today. (More on that in a bit.)
Here we are six years later and Tartakovsky’s two Hotel Transylvania films have grossed around $700 million. A third, set on a cruise ship, will arrive in July. Tartakovsky wrote the film (it’s his first script for the series) drawing on a real-life cruise he had to take with his own in-laws. After this sequel, the series will officially be a billion-dollar franchise, but quite a few projects that Tartakovsky had been attached to, including an original film and a Popeye movie, are all now dead. Tartakovsky takes us through the ups and downs of this decade and why his Popeye will now never happen. But he also explains why coming back to Samurai Jack was one of the most fulfilling experiences of his career.
And then there’s his poor Clone Wars series, which is seemingly consigned to oblivion not unlike the Star Wars Holiday Special, the only difference being people love his Clone Wars series. I did wonder, with the sale to Disney, if anything had changed since we last spoke about it. The answer is “not really,” but Tartakovsky did notice a scene in The Force Awakens that makes him feel his contribution to Star Wars isn’t forgotten.
After the second Hotel Transylvania you said you wouldn’t do another. You’re just like Sean Connery now…
So this is my Never Say Never Again?
And you wrote this one. Does that help?
It does. Because I’ve been doing this a long time, I started to notice a difference between when I write it versus when someone else writes it. Because I know I wrote as an animator. And I write to facilitate the animation. So when I write a sequence, I think of what fun thing I’m going to do here visually. The first two were written by amazing comedians — Robert Smigel and Adam Sandler — but they write for more verbal because that’s what they are great at.
They want zingers.
They want zingers and funny character bits and all this stuff – and, for me, I actually hate one-liners.
Oh, Robert is going to love that…
[Laughs.] Oh, he knows.
So you want scenarios…
I want scenarios and I want one idea milked through the sequence. It’s a subtle difference.
These movies have been extremely successful, and take a lot of time, but considering the other work you’re known for, do you wish you could have done other stuff, too?
Yeah, three movies in seven years, that’s pretty amazing.
Oh, of course, but do you wish you could have got in some other projects, too?
For sure, yeah. Doing Samurai Jack that last season — that was so good for me spiritually and creatively because I got to go back to my own thing.
There are always rumors. At one point you were going to do a Popeye movie.
Yeah. My bread and butter are my originals. That’s how I got to this point.
And you were going to do an original movie…
There was Can You Imagine and that one is kind of dead for now.
Why is that dead?
That one was right after the studio got switched over, it was right after the hack. So you’re going from one executive structure to the next and what they usually do is wash away all the old projects and make their own fresh ones. But, listen, they are talking about me doing originals for them, too.
Did the same thing happen to Popeye?
Popeye is more complicated. Basically, I think Popeye – they wanted to use the name “Popeye,” but at the end they wanted sunglasses with a backwards baseball cap.
Right. But I wanted to do the Popeye I remembered. I would tell them that there’s a reason Popeye has existed for so long. Yes, he’s an ugly, weird character, but there’s something that existed all these years and all these generations. So why would I change it? I don’t want it to be that I killed Popeye! And it was so today, because not only was it a Popeye story, but it was an Olive story, as a strong independent positive role model. She wasn’t a damsel in distress; she was amazing. So we had a cartoon, crazy, animated, physical, comedic adventure.
That sounds great.
But we’ll never see it.
I asked you about your Clone Wars series back in 2012 and you were very frank that it bothered you that they were kind of wiped away, adding, “It existed.” I just wondered if anything changed after the Disney purchase?
No. I think it’s such a small blip on their radar. But the one thing, but in the first J.J. [Abrams] movie, that opening sequence when they are chasing through the destroyed Star Destroyer, that was our full concept. And it was weird. I was like, wow, look at this. It was even some of our shots, just done with a $300 million budget or whatever. It could be coincidence. It could be inspiration. Maybe it’s somewhere in the back of the head and you saw it and it made it. But I feel like we’ve had our influence on the Star Wars universe and I feel like it has a lot of love.
Look, I don’t think they think about it twice. I think they are so successful now and the universe is branching out, which is great for them. And I haven’t been on a Star Wars website for years, so I don’t know where the canon is nowadays. But after we did ours, then George Lucas started doing the CG ones and they erased ours.
In a nutshell, that second Clone Wars series is still canon. But after the purchase they pretty much erased everything that’s not a movie. But the old stuff is available as “Legends.” So that’s why I asked because this could come back as “Legends.”
That would be good.
You should float that idea. I checked prices of the old DVD sets before I came here.
In good condition both seasons are not cheap.
[Laughs.] I need to get my digital files out and bootleg it myself.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.