Ink & Pixel: Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I’m always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. If you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature animated films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

Here at Ink & Pixel, we love to dissect and explore animation. And in the spirit of keeping things fresh, I like to - every now and again - wander a bit off the path and see if we can't talk about something equally as exciting. Animatronics, for example. Or how about Puppetry? After all, animation comes in many forms. So let's have some post-Halloween fun and explore a film that combines both of the above mentioned crafts and more! Let's get into GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH.

Everyone knows who the Gremlins are. At least I hope you do. THE GREMLINS, directed by Joe Dante (PIRANHA, THE HOWLING, THE 'BURBS), and written by Chris Columbus (THE GOONIES, ONLY THE LONELY, LITTLE NEMO: ADVENTURES IN SLUMBERLAND), was released in June of 1984. The film, often described as a horror comedy film, featured not just human actors, but also a cast of terrible creatures with a lust for violence and shenanigans. Let me break it down for you real quick. Gremlins start out as furry, adorable little creatures called Mogwais. Mogwais, seemingly harmless, are to be looked after while following a very strict list of instructions. The first rule is to never get them wet (this causes them to multiply), the second is to never allow them to eat after midnight (this causes them to transform into Gremlins), and the third is to never expose them to sunlight (the results will most definitely be fatal). That's some pretty risky upkeep if you ask me. I'll stick with being a cat person, thank you very much.

It turns out that THE GREMLINS, made with only a budget of $11 million, was a huge success, and even though it received mixed reactions from professional critics, the film was a massive hit with the movie going public. By the end of its theatrical run, the film pulled in a total of $153,083,102! An amount well above and beyond what was expected for this rather unconventional film project.

So, by a show of hands, who can tell me what Hollywood always does when it makes a little bit of money off of a new film property? Yes, you there, in the back! Precisely, they move on plans to make a sequel! Very good, you get a gold star! GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH, was released in the year 1990, and once again featured filmmaker Joe Dante as the film's director. That being said, it IS known that, in the very early stages of development, the sequel to GREMLINS had changed hands many times before moving into production. At first, Warner Bros. was unsuccessful in acquiring Dante as the films director as he reportedly believed that GREMLINS had a proper ending. He apparently felt that anything beyond what had already been created would be nothing more than a cash grab.

With Dante staunch in his disinterest in becoming involved with the new GREMLINS project, Warner Bros. shopped the idea around to several other talents before rounding back to him with a new offer. Dante then accepted the project, seeing it as an opportunity to take the Gremlins characters in a new comedic direction – one that chose to use satirical representation of popular trends and themes as a way getting laughs from its audience. Dante eventually found his script by way of writer/actor/producer Charles Haas (TEX, MATINEE) and began production on a film that, when recording the film's DVD commentary track, Dante recalled as being “one of the more unconventional studio pictures ever. And if it weren't for the fact that the studio was in dire need of another one of these movies to put into the cans and send to the theaters, I can't conceive of us getting away with this.” Well, you certainly can't fault the guy for his honesty, right? I kind of dig the way he waited on making the film until he'd found a way to manipulate its presentation into something he very much desired to see onscreen.

At first, Warner Bros. was petrified at the notion of the devious creatures to be moved to New York City, as called for in the script for GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH. Fears of the film going over budget, and production becoming over-complicated, immediately set in. It wasn't until they discovered that the vast majority of the film would take place within a “smart” building (a structure not unlike a state of the art shopping mall, built with the latest in technology and innovation), that the film was given the green light.

As it happens, GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH finds returning characters, Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) and Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates), leaving the small town of Kingston Falls behind and moving onto their new lives in the Big Apple. Elsewhere, after an unfortunate turn in his owner's health, Gizmo (the returning Mogwai hero of the first film) finds himself becoming the victim of twin geneticists, looking to discover exactly what a Mogwai is, and whether or not they'd be marketable enough to become the latest and greatest household pet. Of course, all of the sacred rules of caring for a Mogwai are ignored and before long Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel) has once again given rise to several new Mogwais who do not share his wholesome and well behaved disposition.Before long, the Mogwais are transformed and all hell is breaking loose inside the Clamp Enterprises tower. It's up to Billy, Kate, and the rest of the films cast of wacky characters - Daniel Clamp (John Glover), Murray Futterman (Dick Miller), Grandpa Fred (Robert Prosky), and even Doctor Catheter (Christopher Lee) - to rid New York of the Gremlin menace before they reach the outdoors and subject all of New York City to their often deadly hijinks.

Okay, so before you can even begin the process of making a sequel to GREMLINS, you're going to need an effects coordinator to build and operate the film's grotesque antagonists. At the start, Dante was hoping to have Chris Walas (designer of the Gremlin creatures from the first film) back on monster detail. Alas, Walas was tied to other commitments and was unable to join the GREMLINS 2 crew. After tossing around another name or two, Dante turned to creature effects legend, Rick Baker (HELLBOY, ED WOOD, MALEFICENT), for guidance. Upon being asked to join the project, Baker refused, saying that he saw the project as being far too cumbersome, and that he also had no desire to work with character designs that were not his own.

However, this was only a mere bump in the road, as Dante then struck a deal with Baker. Dante informed Baker that if he agreed to do the picture, he would be afforded the opportunity to create several new Gremlin species for the project. This agreement brought about a torrent of new ideas to the scripting process, as the idea to include a genetics laboratory within the building provided the perfect environment to introduce Baker's outrageous new Gremlin designs. So, in addition to creating new models for the character of Gizmo, Baker also introduced those looking for more monster madness to several new breeds of Gremlin – including, but not limited to the Bat Gremlin, Vegetable Gremlin (seriously), Brain Enhanced Gremlin, Arachnid-based Gremlin, and even the very first female Gremlin. Some audience members thought these new Gremlins ridiculous, but many fans of the franchise embraced the new designs and saw Baker's contributions to the film as hilariously appropriate and wildly entertaining. Given the fact that the GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH was clearly carrying with it a very “Looney Tunes”, tongue-in-cheek vibe, I've never seen the harm in Dante and company taking things to the extreme.

I suppose now would be the time to tell you that GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH wasn't just all wires and hands shoved up and into little green butt holes. There was also a fair amount of black screen (nope, not blue screen, black) implemented when making the film. Before long, Dante and his effects team discovered that using the more traditional method of blue screen technology was proving to be problematic. This was evidenced by the color palate of both the creatures and film's environment often disappearing into the blue – which then left the effects team with an inadequate amount of information from which to work and complete the shots during post-production on the film. To combat this unfortunate setback, several new methods for operating the film's creature characters were implemented, as well as the use of black screen technology to capture the desired colors on film. Digital technology was also used to create Baker's Electric Gremlin - a character that would play a pivotal role in the film's messy final act.

Want to learn more about GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH? You should totally seek the movie out on DVD or Blu-Ray and give the commentary track a listen. If you're looking for more information along the lines of what you've been reading, and are interested in more fun facts about the film, the commentary is the place to go! At the end of its theatrical run, GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH only managed to bring in $41,482,207 and another $20,800,000 in rental sales. Some critics and audience members embraced the bold, new direction of the film, while others simply thought it too stupid and self aware to be a proper sequel to the beloved first film in the franchise. Despite the mixed reviews, the Gremlins characters hung around a bit to enjoy their renewed popularity by appearing in 3 video game titles, and were once again made into collectible PVC-based figurines.

Look, I've got a saying that I've adapted from Les Claypool (of the band Primus), and that saying is, “They can't all be zingers.” Yes, GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH was a huge departure from the first film, but you have to admit that it's still a whole lot of fun. The new Gremlin designs, the over the top comedy, eye rolling horror cliches, and wildly out of place cameos, make GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH one of the best “awfully good” films around. I've heard rumblings of there being a reboot, and even one about Steven Spielberg looking to produce, but I'm not holding my breath. See you next time, folks!

Extra Tidbit: Though it was the most difficult scene to film due to the complex body movements, you've got to admit that Gizmo dancing to Fats Domino's "I'm Ready" is pretty priceless.



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