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Patrick Warburton as the New Buzz Lightyear!
Plus: Bending the rules with CYBER 6, and more of BILL AND MANDY.
By Steve Fritz
October 09, 2000
You might remember him as Puddy on SEINFELD or the evil Jimmy Johnson on TALK RADIO. Personally, I always enjoyed his role as the guy who questioned the action of the animated M&M candies. Come 2001, he'll probably make an even deeper impression when he dons the blue rubber underwear of the Tick. Professionally, he's known as Patrick Warburton, and he's rapidly becoming one of the top character actors in the business. Warburton is also making waves in the straight animation world. He's replacing Tim Allen as the voice of Buzz Lightyear in Disney-Pixar's new TV series, BUZZ LIGHTYEAR OF STAR COMMAND.
Yes, it's a spin-off from the wonderful TOY STORY films. The main twist is BUZZ LIGHTYEAR OF STAR COMMAND is the television series on which the toy version of Buzz is based; in other words, you could say that Tim Allen is the voice of the Buzz toy, while Warburton is the voicee of the 'real' Buzz. This ma be splitting hairs, but it was still a factor in the casting of Warburton.
'We wanted something evocative of Tim Allen's approach, but unique in its own way,' says co-executive producer Mark McCorkle. 'We went back to our original notes, and found comments from [TOY STORY creator] John Lasseter that he always imagined Buzz as being the ultimate cop in space. That was it: the ultimate cop, the last boy scout, the over-dramatic, too-good-to-be-good guy whose biggest character flaw is that he believes his own legends. Patrick pulled it off perfectly. We knew he was our Buzz. Patrick really gives us a cosmic combination of Joe Friday and Maxwell Smart.'
As it turned out, Warburton was more than willing to work on a Disney project, even one that required him to be the central voice of 65 episodes. 'I grew up in a household where Disney was a staple on Sunday night, and we saw every moviefrom SNOW WHITE to THAT DARNED CATso we lived for Disney,' says the actor. 'To be a part of that magic, in such a high-profile role, is a great privilege and pleasure. Plus, lending your voice to a Disney hero definitely gives a sense that you're doing something to be treasured for a long time. To know millions of kids are going to enjoy and appreciate it is very satisfying.'
A father of four, Warburton says his kids actually have been contributing to his portrayal of Buzz in their own strange way. 'There's so much time in production, the kids didn't actually get to see the finished product until recently,' he says. 'All this time I've been leaving the house saying, 'Well, I'm off to be Buzz Lightyear,' and I think they've been humoring me. It got to the point where they'd look at me as if to say, 'You don't have to pretend to be a superhero for our sake.' But now they're excited.'
He adds, 'I guess there's a bit of myself in Buzz, and there's a lot of Buzz in me. We stick to the dialoguethe writers on this series are great, and our voice director is amazingbut there's a reason I'm here, too, and that's to bring the character to life. So there is leeway for improvisation or simply building upon what's already on the page.'
The rest of the voice actors are actually veterans of improvisation in their own right. The cast includes Wayne Newton voicing Emperor Zurg, Diedrich Bader as Dark Warpmatter, as well as Stephen Furst and Nicole Sullivan as two rookie officers under Buzz's tutelage, Booster and Mira Nova. The list of guest characters sounds like a sci-fi fan convention, including a minor reunion of the LOST IN SPACE cast (highlighted by Bill Mumy and Jonathan Harris), now veteran voice actor Mark Hammill, Linda Hamilton, Ricardo Montoban and French Stewart.
'This is such a great core cast,' says Warburton. 'Wayne is comically evil as Zurg, and all of the rangers are particularly hilarious in their own right. Nicole is amazing as a comic foil in the studio.'
As anyone who's seen the introductory direct-to-home video that was released this summer, the show is a pun-riddled, action-packed and sarcastic take on present times. What was surprising is the science in this sci-fi series actually was a bit more grounded than your usual over-the-top animated space saga.
'Playing Buzz offers a fun range of emotions,' Warburton says, 'because while he is this sharp, business-like, get-the-job-done hero, at the same time, he can be a big, funny, silly guy who sometimes has issues dealing with people on a human level. So while he's very comfortable saving the universe from the forces of ultimate evil, he's a little off-balance when a cute girl starts flirting with him.'
If that isn't enough, Pixar has created a number of different opening sequences featuring the toys from the TOY STORY films. It will air on ABC's ONE SATURDAY on Saturday mornings and then UPN's ONE TOO the remaining six days of the week. Check your TV guide for when it airs in your neighborhood. BENDING THE RULES WITH CYBER 6
One of the new Saturday morning series that has been doing a good job of grabbing my attention is Fox Kids' CYBER 6. It's a quirky, quietly daring bit of cartooning that deserves your attention. It certainly made a fan out of me, not to mention James Mastriani, the executive at Fox who acquired the Japanese-Canadian co-production.
'It's beautiful eye candy,' says Mastriani. 'It's got a wonderful look about it. Most Japanese animation has become very familiar. This show just looks completely different. It looks more like the Batman stuff but the palette is more colorful.'
Indeed. The central and title character is a beautiful female cyborg who's costume mixes elements of Batman and Catwoman, with the flair of Zorro for a more exotic flavor. What's more unusual is the series casually bends its central character gender without raising a single parental or censorial eyebrow.
'Her name stands for Cyber Systems #6,' explains Mastriani. 'She was one of a bunch of cyborgs created by the evil Von Richter. When they started showing independent traits, he destroyed them. She escaped and has been on the run since then. She disguises herself as Adrian Seidelman, and takes a job as a male English school teacher in the town of Meridiana. She has the ability to track down all the other creatures Von Richter created. When they're destroyed, they leave this green substance she needs to survive. This puts her over a barrel because she wants to get away from Von Richter, but he's the only source of the green ooze. Meanwhile, he's tracking her down to destroy her.'
In the second episode, we were also introduced to her main ally, a cyber-panther called Data 7. In a flashback sequence we discover that the two had quite a history together...they were brothers. 'Data 7 used to be human like Cyber 6,' explains Mastriani. 'He was once also Cyber 29, but he fell off of a cliff and his body was destroyed. Von Richter switched him into the cat body.'
The side characters are equally as interesting. For starters, von Richter's latest creations are goon-like android beings punningly called Fixed Ideas. 'They got the name because their minds are fixed to never show independent thought,' says Mastriani. 'They are what Von Richter wanted the Cybers to be, but they didn't turn out that way.'
On the side of good is also a friend of 6's alter ego. 'His name is Lucas Amato,' says Mastriani. 'He sides with Adrian not realizing that he's Cyber 6. In fact, he's infatuated with 6. She also has feelings for Lucas but doesn't want to tell Lucas what she's all about just yet. Yet he's seen some of her stunts, so he wonders what exactly she is.'
Still, the breakout character is Jose, another of von Richter's creations. 'Jose is actually a clone of von Richter,' says Mastriani. 'That's why Jose always calls von Richter 'father.' Jose will never grow up because Von Richter built an aging inhibitor into him. Von Richter feels he has more control over Jose this way. He's turned into one of the most popular characters among kids. It seems they really love the idea of a kid villain. It might be better to say they love to hate him. He definitely provides comic relief as he's a little martinet they way he goosesteps, screams and hollers. I think the kids particularly relates to the tantrums.'
Apparently, CYBER 6 is gathering its share of heat on the internet. Various websites are starting to build domains for fans to talk about the show. Like many Canadian projects, it debuted in the Great White North last March and went on to become the number one show on the all-animation YTV during its run. It's questionable if the show will do similar numbers for Fox Kids. Still, Mastriani reports initial ratings are strong enough that if additional episodes are produced, he'd be more than interested in airing them. CARTOON NETWORK ANNOUNCES FAN'S CHOICE!
The Cartoon Network recently announced that BILL & MANDY will be expanded into a full 13-episode series, which will make its debut sometime in 2001. The show was one of 13 new and original Cartoon Cartoon shorts that aired since last June. The idea was at least one of them would be expanded into a full series. The Cartoon Cartoon program, formerly known as World Premiere Toons, has done a remarkable job of creating a number of new shows for the cable network. Among those who made the grade were DEXTER'S LABORATORY (the first to be expanded into such a series), THE POWERPUFF GIRLS, JOHNNY BRAVO and I AM WEASEL.
The major difference for BILL & MANDY, as opposed to the previous shows, was that Cartoon Network let the fans decide. They did so through a vote on their website (www.cartoonnetwork.com). According to informed sources, the vote was tight, but this series was the one that eventually pulled it out.
It's not that Cartoon Network isn't also doing some selecting of their own. Another one of the shorts, SHEEP IN THE BIG CITY, was selected by the network itself to be expanded into series. Of course, when you have the full power of the net behind you, then you get a much faster production schedule. SHEEP will make its debut this November.
In the meantime, don't be surprised about two things. The first is that Cartoon Network will probably do this again. The other is we'll be seeing a lot more about the retarded Bill, the obnoxious girl Mandy, and their new friend Death in the very near future.