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The Universe
Mania Magazine

by Gerard Raiti
Since Men in Black was the top moneymaking movie during the summer, it was no surprise that WB had plans to create an animated series spin-off: Men in Black: The Series. It premiered on Kids' WB Oct. 11, and has been nearly as successful as its big-screen counterpart. It has hit top ratings marks of a 2.2/10 in late November, which is impressive considering that Kids' WB is significantly smaller than other kids' networks like Fox Kids and Cartoon Network. MiB currently airs Saturdays at 9 a.m. ET and Friday afternoons at 4:30 p.m.

Duane Capizzi, MiB's producer, story editor, and writer, took time out to talk with us about the shows origins, direction and gaining fame. He was more candid than most about the achievements and pitfalls of the show and has the credentials to back up what he's talking about, having worked in the field of animation since 1987. He kicked his career off with the animated adaptation of the sitcom ALF, which he co-scripted with Richard (Exec. Producer of MiB) Raynis and later moved to Disney and established a name for himself by writing most of the shows that made The Disney Afternoon prosperous: Talespin, Darkwing Duck, Gargoyles, and Aladdin among others. After leaving Disney in 1995, he became the writer for the Jim Carrey cartoon adaptations of The Mask and Ace Ventura.

For the three of you that may not have seen MiB the movie, the animated redition is fairly true to the film's premise and characters. It is the continuing adventures of Kay, Jay, Elle, and Zed [along with] the other villains such as the worm guy.

"In proceeding with this series, we decided to make a few adjustments and ignored the end of the movie in which Kay was neuralized and returned to his previous life," Capizzi said. "This way we could keep him in the series because we felt [MiB's] main dynamic was between the Will Smith and the Tommy Lee Jones characters. So, rather than coming up with the true sequel, which Amblin and Columbia will probably do anyway, we decided to ignore the ending and continue the adventures."

The other main adjustment to the storyline is in regards to the character Jay. By the end of the movie, Jay had become as adept as any other member of the MiB. In order to create a better chemistry in the cartoon, the writers decided to treat Jay as he was in the first half of the movie where Jay is more of a rookie even though he is one of the best members of the NYPD.

"From a character standpoint, we felt the first half of the movie was more interesting... We retain the 'Will Smith coolness' without sacrificing the rookie quality that makes the character more endearing," he said.

The villain from the movie, Edgar the Bug, appeared in the first season of the cartoon but only in a minor way. Duane was very excited that the actual voice of the character from the movie, Vincent D'Onofrio, has agreed to reprise his role, so an entire diabolical story-arc featuring Edgar the Bug is in store for viewers for the second season.

Another villain that will be returning for the second season is Alpha.

"The idea behind Alpha is that he was the original head of the MiB at its conception, and like in The Heart of Darkness... he began tampering with alien technology that was not intended to be used on Earth for another 1000 years, and it warped his mind," Capizzi said. "He was banished from MiB and spent the last twenty years wandering the cosmos collecting alien body parts... turning himself into a cosmic, alien Frankenstein."

Many times the same animation studio does not create all of the art for every episode and according to Capizzi, this can result in varying degrees of quality.

"Since Batman first aired, WB has gone from being an animation studio to both an animation studio and a network. However, even though MiB is part of Kids' WB, it was animated by Columbia Tri-Star (Sony)... Animation is an interesting beast. We have all the key animation done overseas, and sometimes due to studio availability and other factors, you never quite know which studio is animating what. So, for example on this season of MiB, we have gotten a wide-ranging variety of quality [of animation] from overseas, and we've been ultimately overjoyed or heartbroken from week to week when we see raw-footage come back. I'm happy to say that in most cases, despite the poor animation quality in some episodes, we have managed to do a lot of fixing and make the storytelling as entertaining as possible. I have shown some of these episodes to friends, and they did not even notice the ugly drawings because the stories were so good... So, overall I am very satisfied with the series, and I hope to better control the quality of the animation to make it more consistent. Our four or five episodes from this season that have are best animation and stories I feel can standup to anything that's out there right now; I'm very proud!

His goals for next season are to "pump up the volume" on everything that has made MiB successful thus far. He wants it to be more action-packed, more humorous, and more intriguing.

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