*"Fox Broadcasting's `Dark Water';A Swashbuckling Sea Story From an Imaginative Boy; [FINAL Edition]*
*Patricia Brennan*. *The Washington Post*. Washington, D.C.: Feb 24, 1991. pg. y.07
First there was "The Flintstones," the longest-running animated series in prime-time history.
The cartoon ran from September 1960 to September 1966 on ABC, then lived on in Saturday morning programs and spinoffs. Co-producers Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera made a fortune.
Now there's "Dark Water," a five-part animated adventure miniseries, also by Hanna-Barbera Productions, airing every afternoon this week on Fox stations (3 on 5, 4:30 on 45).
Fox will look at the ratings carefully to determine whether to order "Dark Water" as a Saturday morning series.
The story for "Dark Water" first took shape in the head of a boy who retreated to the top of his bunk bed to daydream. That boy - David Kirschner - grew up to become president and chief executive officer of Hanna-Barbera, a company that could make all his daydreams come true.
One of those dreams became the most expensive animated project the company has undertaken ($500,000 each half-hour episode) and the most elaborate: Its half-hour episodes have double the 12,000 cels of a typical Saturday morning cartoon series.
But that's the way David Kirschner wanted it. Even when he was a child in Los Angeles, Kirschner planned to make movies. His first theatrical feature was the animated film "An American Tail," made with Steven Spielberg as co-executive producer in 1986. Like "Dark Water," it was an adventure across the sea.
"I wasn't really great at sports," explained Kirschner, "and as a result I'd climb to the top of a bunk bed and invent worlds. I loved the works of Robert Louis Stevenson and the pictures of Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth. It was all illustrations of pirates, the Arabian Nights, swashbucklers."
Up on that top bunk, Kirschner drew pictures of those imaginary worlds, he said. "Not long ago I was showing my daughters my sketchbook when I was a kid. Now it gives me goose bumps. It was really neat."
At age 8, Kirschner decided to begin turning his sketches and ideas into movies.
"I used to take my dad's Super 8-mm camera and I would shoot movies. I actually spent two weeks in my bedroom making a movie. Once I sculpted a whole lagoon in my sandbox and then set the lagoon on fire, and I had a friend haul me around in a wheelbarrow while I shot it from various angles."
Watching the blaze approach the nearby garage, his parents weren't particularly sympathetic to their young moviemaker.
"I didn't understand why they were putting constraints on my talent," he laughed.
Kirschner attended the University of Southern California film school for a while, then became an illustrator, specializing in record album covers. At 23, he began writing and illustrating a series of children's books called "Rose Petal Place," while illustrating "Muppet" and "Sesame Street" characters. "Rose Petal Place" also became two television specials with 1,100 spin-off products.
He also produced the horror movie "Child's Play" in 1988 and its sequel, "Child's Play II" in 1990. Together they have earned gross revenues to date of more than $165 million.
He is particularly proud, he said, of "The Dreamer of Oz," a recent two-hour telefilm for NBC starring John Ritter as "Wizard of Oz" author L. Frank Baum.
Kirschner is a father now - his daughters are 8 and 9 - but he still lives part of his life in a fantasy world. Since 1989, Kirschner, 35, has been president and chief executive officer of Hanna-Barbera Productions. He was hired to bring ideas to the production house and to expand its endeavors, which include international coproductions, home videos ("Timeless Tales From Hallmark"), licensing, publishing, retail stores and theme parks (Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera at Universal Studios in Florida).
"It's wonderful to get paid for what you did as a kid, when everybody scratched their heads and wondered what was going to become of that boy," he said.
Kirschner's "Dark Water" is set in his swashbuckling fantasy world. It follows 17-year-old Ren, son of the dying King Primus, as he sails around the mysterious planet of Mer (98 percent water) with its ruthless pirates and bizarre half-men/half-animal creatures. Brock Peters, Roddy McDowall, Tim Curry, Hector Elizondo, Jessica Walter and Jodi Benson provide some of the voices.
Sailing in a vessel called the Wraith, Ren tries to locate "the Thirteen Treasures of Rule," which are qualities such as perseverance, strength, grace, generosity, kindness. They are, said Kirschner, the qualities that will make Ren more qualified to take over his father's position as king of Octopon.
But Ren is opposed by the savage pirate Bloth, commanding a warship called the Maelstrom. The ship is built from the bleached carcasses of leviathans and resembles a huge floating fossil. On it rides the dreaded Constrictus, a water beast with four tentacle-like heads.
Kirschner sees the story as a mirror of life and the search for the power that lies within a person.
"It's an action-adventure that's certainly a swashbuckler," said Kirschner. "The story is about a boy who's thrown into a situation beyond his control: He has to bring back the Thirteen Treasures of Rule. At the end of the story, Northern Wind touches him - and it's his father's voice - saying, `Come home.' This amazing journey was not to collect these treasures, but it was what they signified. He moves that much closer to being a true ruler with the qualities it takes to preside over a people."
There are lessons for young viewers, he said. "It's a lot different than just `Cowabunga, man' ... It's the kind of piece I'd love for adults to sit down and watch with their kids." He hopes parents who aren't at home in the afternoon will tape the series, or ask their children to tape it.
Reportedly a skilled dealmaker, Kirschner already has commitments from ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, Ron Howard's Imagine Films, 20th-Century Fox, and Walt Disney Productions.
Among them are the live-action "Flintstones" feature starring John Goodman as Fred; "The Endangered," an environmentally-oriented animated feature film; "Conundrum," an adult thriller starring Sally Field; and a live-action and animatronics spook film for children, "Hocus Pocus."
He's also enthusiastic about "Pagemaster," a film about a boy who becomes lost in a Baltimore library during a storm.
"It opens and closes in live action, but the whole center is animated," he said. "Four books - adventure, fantasy, horror and mystery - befriend him. No one's checking them out because everyone's checking out self-help books. The books say, `If you check us out, we'll help you get out of here."
He also is working on two half-hour primetime animated shows, "Capitol Critters" for ABC and "Fish Police" for CBS, both for the 1992 season. The first, to be done with Steven Bochco, is a series "about the mice and rats and cockroaches that live beneath the floorboards of the White House. There's a wonderful basement and there's everything there from the Nixon tapes to a calendar of Marilyn Monroe," he said.
The series, sort of an "Upstairs, Downstairs" for rodents, includes foreign visitors who came in with the trunks of various diplomats and guests. Kirschner plans to poke a little fun at all the presidential administrations, regardless of political party.
"Fish Police" he described with a chuckle as "a sort of fish noir. Sort of Raymond Chandler under the sea, with the Red Coral district."
John Ritter, Ed Asner, JoBeth Williams, Tim Curry, Jonathan Winters and Robert Guillaume have already signed to provide the voices."