Animated Iron Man Movie Hits Store Shelves

Have you purchased your copy of the animated Iron Man yet? Better bone up before the live action version is in theaters...
Spider-Man, the X-Men and Blade may be making waves on the big screen, but they aren't the only Marvel Comics heroes with movies to their credit.

In February 2006, Marvel, in collaboration with Lionsgate, launched a series of direct-to-video animated films with ''Ultimate Avengers: The Movie.'' That picture and its follow-up, ''Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther,'' were jam-packed with Marvel heroes, including the always popular Hulk and Captain America, and consumer response was solid.

Collectively, the two DVDs sold more than 1.5 million units, paving the way for the third title, ''The Invincible Iron Man,'' which hit stores Tuesday.

''From what I'm hearing, orders from retailers on the third are just as strong as the first two films,'' said Craig Kyle, vice president of creative development for animation and an ''Iron Man'' screenwriter.

''That's great, especially when you consider the first two films were large group acts with fantastic characters that included Hulk and Iron Man and Cap (Captain America). Those are huge names and to have a solo film have the same kind of interest and support is fantastic.''

In an entertainment marketplace flooded with product, Marvel has found a happy home in the direct-to-video market, but Kyle said they don't approach their movies like average straight-to-video fare.

''We don't want to be compared to anything Pixar or the theatrical folks are putting out because they have budgets, timetables and resources we don't have access to,'' he said. ''That said, we put every dollar and every hour that we can into these projects so that they do rise above the expectations people have on a direct-to-DVD. . . . These are labors of passion and, yes, we're very proud.''

The results are slick, animated movies that give voice to a variety of Marvel characters, some of which are getting their first shot at feature-length stories. Iron Man is just such a figure, although director Jon Favreau is working on a live-action version starring Robert Downey Jr.

Favreau's movie hadn't been finalized when Kyle began work on ''Invincible Iron Man,'' but he isn't concerned about the overlap - especially since Favreau's picture isn't due in theaters until 2008.

''Even though we're both doing the origin tale, ours is a departure enough that it feels nothing like the story the guys on the live-action end are doing,'' he said. ''I think the more ways you can tell the story, the more people you can touch and the more fans you can create for these characters. You know, the comic books support the animation, the animation supports the live-action films, and the video games allow our fans to jump inside and actually be these characters.''

Kyle also said there are things a filmmaker can achieve with animation that just wouldn't work with real actors.

''You're able to straddle the line between what a comic is versus a live-action story much more closely to the material that you're building from,'' he said. ''You're able to get away with more spectacular characters and costumes and sets and not pull people out of the story.''

The direct-to-DVD format also allows filmmakers more freedom than if they were animating the characters for a children's television show. That's because major TV networks restrict what can be shown in children's programming.

''Invincible Iron Man'' is being released with a PG-13 for action violence and some sensuality. While it isn't racy or gory, it is darker than the average TV toon.

''I definitely pushed the standards,'' said ''Iron Man'' director Frank D. Paur.

With ''Iron Man'' in stores , Marvel is already wrapping its next animated feature. It will focus on Dr. Strange, a wizard-like hero who deals with the mystic arts.

Kyle knows Strange doesn't have the name recognition of Captain America or Iron Man, but he thinks the movie will attract viewers because the mystical subject matter shows the full breadth of the Marvel Universe.

''We always want people to come to the stories knowing they're going to get something of quality,'' Kyle said, ''but never knowing what kind of story they're going to get.''
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