HOLLYWOOD -- A new animated feature cartoon, 'Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night,' opens on Christmas, but don't confuse this with the 1940 Disney classic featuring Jiminy Cricket and company.
'Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night' gives audiences a different looking hero and supporting cast. But Geppetto and the Fairy Godmother are back, because they were part of the original fable by Carlo Collodi some 95 years ago.
The new Pinocchio is the product of Lou Scheimer, president of Filmation, a major contributor to animated kiddie shows.
Scheimer, a veteran in the animation field, says the Disney Studio's recent success from re-issuing 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' and 'Cinderella' proves there is a large audience for animated films.
''Snow White' grossed $50 million and 'Cinderella' has earned $21 million,' he said. 'And Steven Spielberg's 'An American Tail' grossed $40 million. There's an audience out there waiting.'
However, animation has had its share of failures, with most of them based on futuristic stories in surrealistic settings.
'I didn't think people would come to see new concepts,' Scheimer said. 'So I looked for the biggest names in fairy tales and classic stories. It made sense to produce for the first time a sequel to a classic fable -- what happens after the original story is over.
'So I wrote an original story using Collodi's 'Adventures of Pinocchio' as the background. Our story starts where Collodi leaves off, on Pinocchio's first birthday as a real boy.
'He almost becomes a puppet again and when he tells lies, his nose grows.'
Once Scheimer decided to go ahead with the story, he found his skills as animator and producer put to the test, but quality was a prime concern.
'So we went ahead with 'Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night.' I thought it would take 18 months of production at a cost of $4.5 million,' he said. 'We ended up spending 4 years and $9.5 million.
'Every bit of the work was done here in Hollywood. Unlike most animated cartoon studios, we didn't send out any of the work abroad where labor is cheaper. And we didn't use computers. Everything was done by hand.'
Scheimer's production also features some new characters: Scalawag (Ed Asner), Twinkle (Lana Beeson), Bee-Atrice (Linda Gray), Grumblebee (Jonathan Harris), Emperor of the Night (James Earl Jones) and Gee Willikers (Don Knotts). Tom Bosley is the voice of Geppetto and Scott Grimes is the voice of Pinocchio.
Scheimer walked a fine legal line in making the film to avoid a conflict with Disney's patents and other legal rights. He also had to make certain none of his animated characters bore any similarity to the Disney characters.
'When we first announced our intentions Disney tried to sue and to get injunctions,' Scheimer said. 'I couldn't blame them. It was a two-year fight. They didn't want us to infringe.
'But it was all settled amicably. Our Pinocchio doesn't look like the Disney version. You could say this is not a chip off the old block.'
Scheimer is liable to encounter the same objections from Disney when his next animated feature, 'Snow White, the Adventure Continues,' is released next year.
'This also is a continuation of a fairy tale,' he explained. 'Only we don't have Snow White involved with dwarfs. This time she returns to the forest to seek out the seven dwarfs and instead finds their seven lady cousins who are called dwarfelles.
'We are making an effort to provide animated features that will entertain adults as well as children. Walt Disney never made pictures for kids. He made them for people.
'But the elements of every successful animated film are pretty constant. You entertain, make the audience laugh and cry and you frighten them a little bit. Kids love to be scared as long as they are reassured there is no major problem.'