Sunday, May 15, 2005

Marco Polo Junior Versus the Red Dragon by Eric Porter 

While I'm being a bit nostalgic, I've been searching for some obscure animated films that I vaguely remember, but no-one else seems to :).

  • La Musetta (1962) - may have inspired Disney's The Aristocats. Whatever, at least it's readily available on DVD, under the title Gay Purr-ee.

  • Hugo the Hippo (1976) - fairly dark and imaginative children's film made in Hungary, but voiced for the US market by the Osmonds and various fine actors. The sharks were scary and the people even scarier! There was apparently a VHS NTSC release which may have been edited.
  • And the really tough ones to find, made here in Australia!

  • Grendel, Grendel, Grendel (1980) made by Alex Stitt, from the novel by John Gardner and superbly voiced by Peter Ustinov. This was a significant film at the time and quite well-known, and did get a VHS release oveseas, but it's currently unavailable in any form.*

  • And most interesting of all:

  • Marco Polo Junior Versus the Red Dragon (1972) made by Eric Porter, who was Australia's answer to Walt Disney. Maybe I saw this at an impressionable age, but it really amazed me at the time!

    It's been remade in the US recently as Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu, but what disturbs me is that there appears to be no mention of Porter's original film (or of Australia) even though the characters and situations appear to me to be identical (see character sheet below)! The original Australian version was released on VHS in some countries (though now completely deleted), so a comparison might prove interesting - this bears further investigation, particularly of the credits on the recent version.**

  • (*The Grendel picture is the cover to the newly released soundtrack CD from 1M1 records - ** The Marco Polo images are an original 1972 film poster available from the eBayer dealer, John Reid, and a 2002 animation still character sheet from Lobitos Creek Ranch animation).

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    remember Dot and the Kangaroo? i remember watching that when i was really young growing up in hawaii, and loving it. i'm afraid to watch it again as an adult for fear of it sucking real bad!
    Thanks, yes, actually Dot and the Kangaroo is still quite good and a worthy effort. It's a Yoram Gross film, from the classic Ethel Pedley book. My children have all enjoyed it at the right age.

    However, Gross and Co. did kind of cash in a bit with a long string of increasingly strained sequels - Dot and the Bunny on up to Dot in Space and Dot Goes to Hollywood. They've done plenty of other nice stuff though, including Blinky Bill and Tabaluga for TV.

    Overall, quality product.

    For a real Australian animated travesty, there's always The Magic Pudding (not by Yoram Gross, but a bunch of other studios). I thought for years about how to best make a film of this - I wish someone had asked me! :))
    marco polo jr was by far and away my fave film (and book) when i was a kid...

    terribly sad about the american rip-off if its true!?!
    what a shame!
    Well, it's nice to know that Marco is still remembered! I was one of the animation directors on the original film, and for a budget of just over half a million 1970's dollars (as against Disney's then average 4-5 million), I reckon we didn't do too badly!
    I've seen the American remake; it uses a lot of our original footage, but the story veers off into time travel and outer space, and is really a bit of a mish-mash.
    Incidentally; I've also worked on "Dot" and "Pudding", but the most fun I ever had was on "Yellow Submarine" when I was working in the UK in the 1960's.
    Cam, thankyou so much for writing - lovely to hear from one of the creative forces behind Marco Polo Junior Versus the Red Dragon.

    It's good to have the mystery about the two versions cleared up, though the time and space stuff sounds to me like an unecessary distraction. The original is definite proof that a huge budget isn't needed to create a work of enduring worth, but imagination and vision is!

    Recently, a friend bought me a copy of the picture book from this film and it brought back fond memories - great characters, an imaginative journey tale and wonderful animation work. I think this film may have been among the inspirations for the Disney films that followed the Little Mermaid resurgence (that really began with The Black Cauldron), particularly Mulan.

    Wow, Yellow Submarine is still (rightly) regarded as an all-time classic and the pinnacle of British animation!

    I still think highly of Dot and the Kangaroo too - the creative decisions made there (such as using real backgrounds) work well, and my children have all enjoyed this one when they were younger.

    Thanks again for writing and I'm delighted that you found this page!
    Hello everybody,

    what a delight to see that not only somebody else knows my favorite childhood-movie... but also loves it the same way I did!!!

    I still remember some scenes I only saw almost 30 years ago.. isn't that amazing? It's such a pity that this movie seems to be unavailable now.... even the Australian production company said that there is too little demande to finance a restauration of the material. I would LOVE to watch this movie again!!!


    Thanks, Deckard! Like you, I can visualise scenes from this - some pretty psychedelic as I remember - it really had a major impact on me as a child, being amazingly atmospheric and unlike any other animated film I'd seen before. It amazed me to find that is was also made here in Australia! A lost classic.

    I still have the "book of the film" of MPJ. I saw it when I was 10 or so and it's impact has always stayed with me.

    Interestingly, Richard Jones worked on it when he was at Eric Porter's studio and he told me a little about the project when he just popped in for a cuppa.

    Sounds like we could form an elite little club right here, or perhaps form one on Facebook, where Poloholics can relate their experiences with one another. It's refreshing to know I'm not the only one who was inspired by this film enough to become a cartoonist!

    Well done.

    Steve Panozzo
    I always remember watching Marco Polo Junior at my cousins house and absolutely loving it! The only problem was we had to go home and I missed the end of it! I would love to see it remade. I actually found a copy of the video in a second hand shop but unfortunately it won't play as the tape seems to be stuck in one place - boo hoo!
    When Marco Polo Junior vs. The Red Dragon was released; I was about 15 and fanatical over animation (I still love it). With a dream of a career in animation production, I researched the background to learn animation for the film was produced at the Film Academy, Milson's Point in Sydney. One day I went to the studio and met a fellow by the name of Rowl Greenlalgh who had some association with the production of the animation. I think my passion impressed him and he gave me some original cells from the feature and a pencil sheet with the Smoothy and Crunchy Bears from a Peanut Butter Commercial. I remember his name because he signed the Bear drawing and of course I possess them still. He also invited me to come back in a few days and view the feature with another production fellow, I don't recall his name. During that private screening the two discussed the good and bad of the animation and I was privileged to take part in that discussion.
    I expressed my appreciation to my hosts and I've always remembered the experience as a highlight of my youth.
    Unfortunately my ability to draw is poor and a career in animation production was not to be. Only five years later I found myself working at the Film Academy as a sound operator on the Channel Nine series, The Young Doctors. Later my understanding of animation served me well as an on-air promotions producer for Network Ten.
    I recorded a broadcast many years ago and since then the children in my greater family and some friends, have had a chance to see this landmark in Australian film history. I would love to see a restored original cut released on DVD with commentaries and a discussion between people involved.
    I actually have a copy the original 1973 book of the movie. The book was titled "the adventuresof Marco Polo Junior", and was released by Paul Hamlyn. It is illustrated with cells from the movie. It was given to me by my mum when I was a kid. Great movie - I still remember it well 40 years later. Good book too - I won't ever sell it and I am reading it to my daughter now.
    Hi Unknown,

    I have a copy of that book too, thanks to Steve Panozzo alerting me to it.

    You might also be interested to know that the original version of Marco Polo Junior Versus the Red Dragon is available as part of the Family Fun (Advantage Collection DVD set. The films in this collection are in all their original, completely unremastered glory, but there are a number of lost classics that anyone interested in animation should see.

    I have been looking for a copy of this "Marco Polo Jr." movie all over with no such luck. Thank you for mentioning that a copy of the ORIGINAL version comes as part of the Family Fun (Advantage Collection) dvd set. I am highly considering buying it, but I just wanted to double check first to ask if this IS indeed in fact the correct version I am looking for, with Bobby Rydell as the voice of Marco Polo Jr?? I am a huge fan of Bobby, and he is the reason I have been on the hunt to find this movie. If you could assure me that this is the right version, I would be extremely appreciative. Thank you. :]

    Hi Melanie,

    Yes, I can confirm that the version of "Marco Polo Junior Versus the Red Dragon" included in that "Family Fun" collection is indeed the original, with the original voices and story.

    The animated films in that set are no-frills, unremastered originals of a range of lost classics. They're fairly poor quality, but at least they're the films people remember.
    Okay! Thank you for the reply!

    It is a shame about the bad quality, but it shall just have to suffice for now. I am glad I found your blog which led me to finding a place to acquire a copy of this. Thank you for the info! :)

    My pleasure, Melanie. I hope you enjoy it as much as you remember. This film made a huge impression on so many people. I know the ending broke my 10 year old heart at the time :). It does hold up well after all those years.
    Hi again;
    I've been following the comments on this thread, and am delighted that so many people still have such fond memories of "Marco". Yes, the version recently released on the Family Fun (Advantage Collection DVD set, although not really of good quality, is indeed the original one that we made.
    Recently I've been approached by some producers to take part in a proposed documentary about Eric Porter; which I hope will go ahead. If it does, they will probably use footage from a short live action "behind the scenes" documentary we shot at the same time we were making the film.
    Cam Ford
    Great news, Cam, I'd love to see such a documentary!
    Ian said...
    Hugo the Hippo (1976) - fairly dark and imaginative children's film made in Hungary, but voiced for the US market by the Osmonds and various fine actors. The sharks were scary and the people even scarier! There was apparently a VHS NTSC release which may have been edited.

    I don't believe it is (the Hungarian release that did get a DVD over there actually had some scenes edited out that had English signage used. The film itself was planned first in the US (story, music, art direction) and the rest was Hungarian, at least that's the view I get from it and from the few chats I had with it's director Bill Feigenbaum. Not sure how much input the Hungarians had for the film on their end, but the way it looks kept reminding me of what The Simpsons tried in their earlier seasons (namely Season One).

    I once owned a 16mm print of the film too! It was released on VHS and/or Beta up here in the late 70's interestingly.

    Although I don't recall "Grendel, Grendel, Grendel" another of Alex Stitt that did get some interesting reception via cable TV in the US was his second film "Abra Cadabra". I suppose this film didn't seen a home video release in Australia at all, both this and Grendel, Grendel, Grendel certainly deserve a DVD and/or Bluray release of sorts.

    However, Gross and Co. did kind of cash in a bit with a long string of increasingly strained sequels - Dot and the Bunny on up to Dot in Space and Dot Goes to Hollywood.

    It did seem like the live-action background deal got excessively used because of Dot & The Kangaroo's success, you see it in "The Little Convict" (which was labeled "Toby & The Koala Bear" up here), "Sarah", "Epic" and those later "Dot" spin-offs. Epic by the way got an odd re-edited/redubbed edition up here as well that's up on YouTube but I don't need to link it here.
    Hello Cam Forde..I worked on Marco polo as Paint and Trace head along with June? and the lovely american girl.Kerrie anne.wow so many...I absolutely Loved working on that film,I was only 18 .one of my first jobs!I found Marco in a video shop yrs ago and was able to watch it with my 3 children!so proud! ;0-)

    Hi "Anonymous"; nice to hear that you enjoyed working on "Marco". June Alexander was head of ink and paint; sadly she died some time ago.
    I am still in discussion with Ronin Films,who are hoping to produce a TV documentary about Eric and Marco Polo Jr.; see: https://www.documentaryaustralia.com.au/films/763/letter-to-walt
    Cam, that's exciting news about the potential Eric Porter film!
    Hello all
    I am in my mid 40's and since my childhood in the 70's I have hung on to 2 books that were based on the movie. The first is called "Marco Polo Junior - by Sea to Xanadu", the second "Marco Polo Junior - by Land to Xanadu".
    However, they only cover half the movie - I assume there are two more books covering the Air and Fire journey.
    I am now reading the books to my little kids, who are enthralled, but I would reallylove the last 2 books to complete the tale!
    Can anyone help me where I can find them??

    Regards and thanks!
    Hi Anonymous: My name is Cam Ford, one of the unit directors on Marco; glad you liked the film! There is a third book, simply called "The Adventures of Marco Polo Jr" which tells the complete story. There is a copy on Ebay: http://www.ebay.com/itm/THE-ADVENTURES-OF-MARCO-POLO-JUNIOR-Animated-tie-in-book-SIGNED-1st-ed-1973-/310376586939 but it's not cheap. Look around, you might find a cheaper copy..

    Hi Marco Polo Jr. fans;
    For those of you in Melbourne, there will be a seminar on the 27th and 28th of June about Eric Porter and Marco Polo Jr. at the ACMI Cinema, including a Q&A session with some of those who worked on it. See https://www.acmi.net.au/live-events/talks-performances/miaf-symposium/eric-porter-tribute/ See you there!
    Later this year (date to be announced)there will be another tribute to Eric and Marco at the ASIFA (International Animated Film Association) annual meeting, hosted this year by Brisbane. Some behind the scenes of the making of Marco will be shown, as well as a similar Q&A session. Both events will screen the film as well.

    Hi Anonymous:
    Glad you like "Marco". I was one of the unit directors on the movie, and I can tell you that there were three books in all; the two you have, plus a third book entitled "The Adventures of Marco Polo Jr" which tells the complete story, also published by Paul Hamlyn. I've spotted a copy on Ebay: http://www.ebay.com/itm/THE-ADVENTURES-OF-MARCO-POLO-JUNIOR-Animated-tie-in-book-SIGNED-1st-ed-1973-/310376586939 but it's not cheap. Look around
    Hi Anpnymous;
    Here are a lot more copies of "Adventures of Marco Pol Jr" on AddAll, at a very reasonable price:

    Thanks for this update, Cam!
    I've spotted a copy on Ebay: http://www.ebay.com/itm/THE-ADVENTURES-OF-MARCO-POLO-JUNIOR-Animated-tie-in-book-SIGNED-1st-ed-1973-/310376586939 but it's not cheap. Look around

    And I can see why, you signed it!
    Ha Ha! Just had another look at the "Adventures of Marco Polo Jr" book on Ebay, mentioned above. Apparently the reason they are asking so much for it is because it was signed by me and several of the other artists who worked on the film! Don't ever recall doing that, but obviously that must make the book well worth the money! :D
    Hi all Marco fans;
    I saw the newly restored digital print of Marco Polo Jr, which was screened at the recent ACMI event in Melbourne, and it looks really teriffic! The expensive restoration took several months, and there is now talk of a limited release on DVD by the Australian Film and Sound Archives. Check their website!
    Finally - that is excellent news - thanks, Cam!
    Hello again Marco Polo Jr fans!
    Good news! The beautiful, digitally restored "Marco Polo Jr vs the Red Dragon" will be released on DVD and BluRay by the National Film and Sound Archives in time for Xmas 2015. Also included (I hope) will be a ten minute behind-the-scenes extravaganza of the making of the film (with a much younger version of me appearing briefly). So go to their website and join me in wallowing in the nostalgia of it all!
    Cam Ford
    I see they ship outside Australia going by their postage info. Doesn't sound too bad.
    Go can
    Gail hall new brown
    I still have cells about 12 _14 backgrounds setup for book
    As well as porters yellow house cells
    And grey tome add
    Would love to.get copy of Marco. I was their at the end I Re throwing cells into a truck for the
    I so half I kept them
    Regards Gail.hall

    Hi Gail! Nice to hear from you again! As I posted above, you can purchase a copy of Marco at ttp://shop.nfsa.gov.au/product_info.php?products_id=4076 But hold off for a while. I was given an advance copy of the DVD, and the color balance is nowhere as good as the beautifully restored digital DCP master that I saw at several screenings before. Something has gone wrong somewhere! I've emailed the Film and Sound Archives about it, but, with Xmas and New Year, things will take a while to get back to normal.
    You'll like the 10 minute live-action short Pete and I made of the making of Marco that is included as an extra on the DVD. Lots of closeups of people you'd remember; sadly too many of them are no longer with us.
    I'm in discussions to make a feature-length documentary tribute to Eric Porter; so if you have any cells or other material that we might be able to use, I'd like to keep in touch. Email me at cinemagic@yahoo.com ; let me know your contact details, and I'll add you to our discussion circle.
    All the best;
    Is a Blu-Ray release still planned, or will the movie be DVD only now?

    Also any updates on the quality difference on DVD, compared to the restored digital DCP master?
    Hi, Kirben: At present it will only be a DVD release. The DCP was taken from an existing archive print that had already been screened several times in the past, and thus shows negligible dust and scratch marks. Not enough to worry about. I have now run my preview DVD release copy, which seems to have a few color balance problems compared with the DPC master; being somewhat red biased at the start and green biased later into the film. I have contacted the Archives, and they are looking into it, so I'd hold off buying a copy for a while.
    Personally, I already bought a copy of the current DVD, and will buy the improved version if that becomes available. This is such a step up from the previous (totally unremastered) version I have from that Family Fun collection that I'm happy to have it.
    I'm a Chinese in my twenties, and I only watched the 2001 remade version in my childhood, and its ending really baffled me. Marco Polo and his friends traveled back in time and space to pursue Fooling(i.e. the Red Dragon) and the credit rolls in which shows several constellations before Marco Polo and the Princess dancing and kissing. This is the most unforgettable cartons endings in my childhood, I always felt something missing. Even now I don't think the ending is good.

    The other day, however, I searched on Google and find out it's a remake of a 70s film and there's actually a full movie on YouTube (I don't suppose YouTube allows copyrighted film, anyway I watched it). I finally find some closure to this cartoon. The remade version ending is more like to be continued. The original ending is sad but a good one.

    By the way, I think there are Chinese involved in the remake. Opening and ending both involved fireworks, which is Chinese tradition. The antagonist, Foo-Ling(the Red Dragon) and the Princess Ming Yu(Shining Moon), and several supportive characters names are Chinese pinyin.
    Hi All;

    There is another series of screenings of the beautiful digitally restored Marco Polo Jr scheduled for April; this time at the ARC Cinema, McCoy Circuit in Canberra. Daytime sessions screen from Mon 18th to Fri 22nd April at 10am and there is an evening screening and Q&A session on Fri 15th April at 6.30pm: You will also be able to buy a DVD copy of the movie there.


    See you there!

    Cam Ford
    Cinemagic Animated Films Pty. Ltd.,
    Unfortunately the DVD release of Marco Polo Junior vs. The Red Dragon been sold via the Nation Film & Sound Archive is DVD-R, which isn't stated anywhere. I wouldn't have wasted my money if I knew if was DVD-R, rather than a pressed disc.

    DVD-R never lasts well in the long term, so hopefully others will be warned now.
    Hi Cam, and everyone else from Eric Porter. I was animator in the commercial section of the studio, but did some work on Marco. (I have quite a few cels from the movie, including a rather battered 'delicate dinosaur' cel. plus the book that came out during the first screening).
    I'm eagerly forward to seeing the documentary on Porters.
    Henry Neville
    Hi Henry - nice to hear from you! You might look at the "Animating Aeroplane Jelly" page on Facebook, which will keep you up to date with developments. Or you can check out this video on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/162669063, with the password AAAGFS2015; which is a video of a screening and Q&A session of Marco held at Brisbane last year. It has Yvonne Pearsall, Kev Golsby (the voice of the Red Dragon) and me, sharing memories with Trent Ellis of ASIFA.
    Thanks Cam, that ought to be worth a view!
    Hi again everybody. FYI - if you haven't already bought the National Film and Sound Archives' digitally remastered copy of "Marco Polo Jr vs the Red Dragon", it is now in OzFlix's catalogue (https://www.ozflix.tv/#!/collection/623/nfsa-classics) as part of a list of classic Australian movies from the National Film and Sound Archives, now available for online streaming. Enjoy!
    OzFlix - Marco Polo Jr vs the Red Dragon
    Nice, I don't suppose I can VPN my way to seeing it in my 'neck of the woods'!
    Don't know, Chris - you could try; lots of Aussie films that are little known in the US.
    Marco Polo Jr. vs the Red Dragon will be released on DVD by Schröder Media in Germany in February 2018, with English & German audio, according to Amazon Germany ( http://www.amazon.de/dp/B077Y5YTH3/ ). A much better option, for anyone who wants a pressed DVD disc, that will last long term.
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