Saturday, August 20, 2011

D23 - A Look at Walt Disney Studios' Upcoming Animation Slate

 Saturday marked the massive Walt Disney Studios panel, which brought lots of footage. In fact, pretty much only footage, along with a couple of announcements and staged bits. Some Q&A would have been nice, but apparently, Disney can't handle wild cards like "people" so there was very little room for spontaneity. Still, we saw some interesting stuff, so to jump start our Saturday coverage, here are my impressions of what Walt Disney Studios Animation had to offer.

First up was Planes, a film that takes place in (or as the teaser points out, "above") the Cars Universe. The director's father was an aviator, which sits nicely with the Pixar folk as they loves them some authenticity. The main character is Dusty, voiced by Jon Crier, who appeared on stage to talk about what an honor it had been to work with Pixar on this project - "Every so often I get an email that says I have a Planes session and I'm like ::cue guttural sounds of joy::". John Lasseter, present to run the whole Animation portion of the show, gave some insight into the work of a voice over actor on a Pixar film. He explained that the lead actor would typically come in for 10 sessions over the course of two years, and it's not uncommon for the character to design to change with every session, as it is molded and transformed by the actor's performance. The teaser clip was cute enough and I can say without hesitation that this *will* be a movie I go in theaters, unlike Cars 2, because flying through the air in 3D makes me a happy.

More after the jump!

The non Pixar joint of the bunch, Wreck It Ralph, in short, looks absolutely wonderful. Yeah. Wonderful is the word I am using. And I mean it. Get this film on your radar NOW. Set in the world of video games, Ralph is an 8 bit video game villain struggling with his role as a "bad guy." Determined to find a way to be a good guy in the world of gaming, he heads to Game Central Station, on a quest to find a place that could use him as a hero. His trek takes him through a modern FPS where he has to battle space bugs, as well as to a car racing game set in a land made of candy, where he uncovers a dark secret, and my guess - saves the day and becomes the hero he so yearns to be. We got to see the first four and a half minutes of the film, which was a combination of 8 bit animation, pre-vis and black and white storyboarding, set against an absolutely hilarious voice over from John C. Riley, who is voicing the titular destroyer of buildings, Ralph. In this opening to the film, we get plenty of back story, as well as a peak inside a "Bad-anan" meeting, where Ralph and a group of famous video game villains discuss how to accept their bad-ness. The delightfully goofy and clever sequence ends with the Bad-Anon oath, which goes a little something like "I'm bad and that's good, I will never be good and that's not bad...."

Brought on to stage were Jack McBrayer, looking entirely too tan, and Sarah Silverman, two of the voice in the cast, along with Riley and Jane Lynch. Director Rich Moore informs us that "this is a great cast." Which I definitely knew already. Oh Disney. Telling us how awesome you are any chance you get. Keep on keeping on. Sarah entertains the crowd with some of her trademark humor. Highlights included "I've always wanted to go Anaheim but not go to Disneyland!" and in reference to why she has a love/hate relationship with Disney-Pixar, "I hate that they make me feel."

Long story short, the film looks hilarious, endearing, fun and truly different from the rest of their slate and anyone else's slate. I cared not a whit about this movie before today, and now it's easily one of my most anticipated.

Brave is an exciting movie for Pixar in many respects. As Lasseter pointed out, it's their first "sort of fairytale", their first period film, and their first film with a female main character. We got to see a featurette that had clips of their research in Scotland, images of and information on all the characters, storyboards, sketches, finished animation, still frames and more, taking us through the story. The featurette didn't particularly pique my interest, as it seemed like, well, very much previously tread territory. I found nothing original or inspiring about this, my only interest resting in the accents and score possibilities. The cast is certainly impressive, including Kelly McDonald, BIlly Connolly, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane and Kevin McKidd (two of which were there in person - Thompson and McKidd), but I wasn't truly intrigued until a work in progress scene was screened for the audience. In this scene, three suitors vying for Merida's attention compete in a bow & arrow competition, which yields some unexpected results. The producers requested that we not spoil the scene, so I'll refrain from specifics, but the scene did actually get me leaning forward in my seat a bit. There was tension, the animation was beautiful, there were Pixarian laughs - it definitely seems to be on its way. I'm still not sold, as the story seems wholly uninspired, which is a shame considering if it fails, there will no doubt be grumblings blaming the fact that it has a female lead, as people did with Princess & The Frog, but hopefully I'm wrong and they are simply withholding the details that will make this film as special as I hope it to be.

My most anticipated animated film going into this panel, hands down. And although Billy Crystal was there and we got some glimpses of the character and location design, I still would have liked some actual footage. Monster's Inc is my favorite Pixar film and I am ecstatic for this film. Director Dan Scanlan took us through some design slides, showing us smaller, college aged versions of Mike (sporting a retainer) and Sully (significantly skinnier) and their cohorts - cool monsters, nerdy monsters, gothic monsters, the lit professor, the drama teachers, the coach, the frats, the sororities, the building where Mike & Sully learn to scare, the dorms, and more. We also got a little more insight into the story itself. Mike and Sully have apparently known each other since grade school, but as they both wanted to be famous Scarers, they hated each other with a passion. Monsters University is where we get to see them grow from enemies to lifelong friends. As research, the team traveled to many different colleges, as they "went to art school and don't know what real college looks like", which I, having gone to NYU, completely relate to. They also announced Steve Bushemi returning as Randall, and brought Billy Crystal on stage (to a standing ovation! Interesting. Huh.) to pretty much just say "Trust me. It's hilarious." (Disney, if you keep hitting me over the head so much with the fact you are so great, I'm gonna start to wonder why you feel the need to say it so much over and over. Overcompensating much? Cut it out!). Although we got to see no actual footage, I'm completely on board, and was glad to see what and learn what we got to see and learn.

The panel ended with two new announcements. One from producer John Walker, of The Incredibles and director Bob Peterson, who wrote Finding Nemo and Up, and is best known by me for voicing Dug, was "The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs." opening Holiday 2013. There was only one piece of concept art, but it was gorgeous.

The second announcement was from producer Jonas Rivera and Director Pete Doctor. Set for release in Summer 2014, all we really know is "Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside The Mind." Oh hell yeah. I'm so in, Pete Docter. You're my favorite.

The panel concluded by John Lasseter announcing that we all got cupcakes. And then we all got cupcakes. I'm not kidding. They were delicious. Like, unnaturally delicious. They may have been drugged with happy thoughts for all I know, cause it is Disney after all, and maybe they sensed I wasn't completely sold on Brave. But whatever the intention, bribery or genuinely wanting to do something nice for the fans, I appreciated the gesture and in any event, Nov 2, 2012 is already marked in my calendar for Wreck It Ralph.


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