At this year’s D23 Expo, the first two days started out with some major presentations from the studio’s upcoming offerings.
After Friday’s early-morning presentation about the future of Disney’s animated features and video releases, many were eagerly gearing up for Saturday’s early-morning panel: Let the Adventures Begin: Live Action at The Walt Disney Studios.
The presentation opened with a ‘sizzle reel,’ showing clips from upcoming Disney and Marvel productions, along with clips interspersed of the original Star Wars trilogy. Our host for today’s walk-through was Alan Horn. Alan’s name has been around Tinseltown for years, as he was previously with Warner Brothers during the last decade. His appointment as the new Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios was fairly recent, but Alan said he was getting the hang of being a part of one of the world’s most famous companies.
As Alan laid out the different live-action divisions of the company, he chose to talk first about their newest member: Lucasfilm Ltd.
Ever since the $4 Billion acquisition, the rumor mill has been running non-stop as to what 2015’s Episode VII will contain. It’s probably a good bet that the Expo’s Saturday tickets sold out, because people were eager to hear juicy new details.
As it turned out, Alan claimed that there were ‘Dark Forces’ keeping him from revealing much of anything, other than the scant knowledge that we already know, such as JJ Abrams being the upcoming film’s Director. I’m sure it wasn’t what many people there wanted to hear, but I was of the persuasion that the internet had just been building up a huge rumor that wasn’t going to be paid off. And after checking the web later on, there were many who vented that Disney had ‘failed them’ for not revealing anything about the upcoming film.
From there, Alan then turned our attention to Marvel.
Much like at Comic-Con, we were shown the teaser for 2015’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Film-wise, we were led off with some footage from this Fall’s Thor: The Dark World. Though Natalie Portman’s character Jane Foster returns, it feels that the emphasis of the story will focus away from Earth this time. Much like the day before, the women in the arena went wild when Tom Hiddleston took the stage. However, the applause grew when Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins joined him, and each said a few things about working on the film.
Talk then moved on to next Spring’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Following the events of The Avengers, Steve Rogers continues to try and acclimate himself to the 21st century, but has to deal with protecting Washington when a new threat appears. However, this time, Cap teams up with Black Widow, and we were treated to a still-in-progress sequence of the two on a new mission. It looked impressive in rough form, and I’m sure it’ll look even better once completed.
Probably the most intriguing news, was in regards to next Summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
We were shown clips of the different characters of this rag-tag bunch, and I have to say, I got a little excited for it. Peter Quill as Star-Lord had some of the funnier moments. When he reveals his name to some characters in the clips we saw, like many of us, they had no idea who Star-Lord was. I also got a kick out of Rocket Raccoon’s brief imagery. Just something funny but cool about a raccoon brandishing a gun.
From there, it was time to move on to the Live-Action division of Walt Disney Studios.
The first thing that was covered, was discussion about next Spring’s sequel to 2011’s The Muppets. The sequel, titled Muppets Most Wanted, sends the gang overseas, and on a madcap quest with the likes of Tina Fey and Ty Burrell. Ty appeared on stage, driving a miniature Interpol car, and telling a bit about how amazing it was to work with the Muppets.
We were also shown a song-and-dance routine with Ricky Gervais, and Kermit. It was very entertaining, but I don’t want to say anything more about it, other than just thinking about it, makes the song pop into my head.
It was also announced that production had just started on a film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Into The Woods. However, we were given little more than a logo image, and told of the big-name cast attached to the project. The film is set to be directed by Rob Marshall (the director of the film adaptation of Chicago), and is set to feature the likes of Meryl Streep, and Johnny Depp.
After the Woods announcement, we were offered a peek into the future, as we were treated to a video of Kenneth Branaugh, discussing his upcoming live-action film for Disney: Cinderella. We weren’t shown much more than early conceptual images, along with some screen-test footage of Lily James as the title character.
In recent years, we’ve seen other live-action studios try their hands at doing fairy tales, or updating them for modern audiences. Some did reasonably well (like Snow White and the Huntsman), and others dismally (like Mirror Mirror). It’s a pretty good bet that if Cinderella takes off, the company might adapt other fairy tales into the live-action realm.
Probably of all the upcoming live-action films from Disney that are not based around Marvel or Lucasfilm characters, the one that seems most intriguing to some, is Maleficent.
We were shown a sizzle reel of Maleficent coming to the Princess’ christening, with much of her dialogue pulled right from Sleeping Beauty. Even so, we were left to ponder just how that film’s story would tie into this film, which would give us some backstory as to why Maleficent’s feelings of being spited led to her actions.
In recent years, the spotlight has been thrown on villains in many cases, and through different mediums, has tried to come up with why they became the characters they are. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West led to the Broadway production of Wicked, in which we find numerous circumstances turned the green-skinned Elphaba, into The Wicked Witch of the West. With what we were shown, Maleficent definitely has the potential to be Disney’s version of Wicked. One also wonders if they would then try to explore the backstories of their other villains. In The Little Mermaid, Ursula mentions how she was ‘banished and exiled,’ so that could also be another Villainess to explore.
It was already surprising to see the likes of Portman and Hopkins on stage, but when Angelina Jolie was brought on stage, much of the audience went crazy. Angelina shared her own stories about being a Disney fan since she was young, as well as a few funny stories about filming as Maleficent. During some shooting days, they would have young visitors on the set, and even though Jolie was being perfectly nice and inviting, her wardrobe scared several of the children.
It’s not often that Disney does cryptic marketing campaigns for their films. Earlier this year, word came down from Brad Bird, that a mysterious box had been discovered in the catacombs underneath the Disney Studios. The box was filled with a hodge-podge of different materials. On the front of the box, was the number, “1952.” The contents of this box tie into Bird’s upcoming 2014 feature, Tomorrowland.
To tell us a little more, Brad Bird and co-writer Damon Lindelof came onstage with the box, and went through some of the contents. The contents included such things as a doctored image of Walt Disney with Amelia Earhart, and even a futuristic-looking disc, that contained images, telling of a world of tomorrow.
The contents of the box would then be moved to the Tomorrowland booth on the convention floor, and one could even download a free app onto their Apple products, that would act as a guide through the exhibit.
Of all the upcoming projects, this is one I’m still intrigued by. Even if Lindelof is involved, I’ll see anything with Brad Bird’s name attached to it (it was the main reason why I went to see Ghost Protocol a few years ago). Of course, Lindelof was involved with Lost, so we’ll see if in this day and age, the studio can keep the information about this film intriguing enough to make people venture into theaters in the fall of 2014.
The concluding film discussed for the live-action presentation, was the December release, Saving Mr Banks. Based around the attempts to get the film version of Mary Poppins made, it tells about how Walt Disney (portrayed by Tom Hanks), attempts to convince author P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) to sign over the rights to get the film made. However, P.L. has resisted Mr Disney’s requests for some 20 years now, but finally decides to head out to the Disney Studios in Burbank, CA. Needless to say, she is not at all impressed by Walt in person.
We were shown several clips, such as Travers finding fault with the script, along with the music being made for the film. One of the funniest moments comes when Walt has her chauffeur (played by Paul Giamatti) drive her to Disneyland for a private walk-through with Walt. Even at the ‘Happiest Place on Earth,’ Travers is still guarded. Walt even shows her his wife Lillian’s favorite horse on Fantasyland’s carousel, and asks her to ride it.
This leads to one of the funniest moments, where P.L. sounds almost like a petulant child, refusing to go along with this. In response, Walt, almost like a parent trying to hold back his own feelings about how she’s acting, just semi-casually goes, “Get on the horse, Pam.”
There was one bit I was rather surprised about. In this day and age, one thing that is often glossed over, was that Walt was a smoker. Some even said he had a ‘smoker’s cough,’ and right before Hanks’ Walt greets Ms Travers, you hear the cough from around the corner of his office door! Though we hear the cough, I’m pretty sure we won’t see Tom Hanks as Walt, with a cigarette between his fingers.
I think the audience was hoping we’d see Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson take the stage. Instead, we got Jason Schwartzman, and BJ Novak, who portray musicians Richard and Robert Sherman in the film (FYI: The Sherman Brothers were the musical duo behind the catchy songs of Mary Poppins!).
It looked like the presentation was going to end on a lower note than the animation discussion the previous day, when suddenly, Schwartzman and Novak were rolled out on stage playing a piano, with the real Richard Sherman coming out to join them!
The audience was then descended upon by several dozen performers dressed in period garb, with kites attached to long poles. Schwartzman and Novak then led the audience in a sing-along to the end song to Mary Poppins, “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.”
While the Live-Action presentation had some nice reveals, it didn’t feel like it topped what I had seen at the Animation presentation the previous day. I did like some of the clips we were shown, as well as the presentation regarding Tomorrowland.
In this day and age, I guess I would have liked to have seen at least one ‘new’ idea from Disney’s live-action sector, that wasn’t based on an existing property, or adapting something we are already familiar with. We know the name Disney is normally a standard for family entertainment, but not all films in this vein have to be $150 million productions with A-list stars.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll get a few unannounced gems in the next few years, that weren’t covered in the presentation.
I remember when I first started this blog in November of 2011, with a review of the soundtrack release for Steven Spielberg’s 1941. From there, this blog became my outlet to share my feelings on films, animation, toys, and much more. It also allowed me to tell about some of my journeys across the country, and attending some Entertainment events that others may not have seen.
I am glad to know that some have enjoyed my articles, and the comments are greatly appreciated. Comments are one of the things I most look forward to reading, as it is usually a sign that what I have written has touched someone in an emotional way.
Well, I’ve waxed poetic about this milestone long enough. Better get some more postings set for the next few weeks.
*In August of 2013, I got the chance to attend my first D23 Expo: A convention about all things Disney. This article about the Convention Floor, turned out to be so big, that I have sectioned it off into three parts. I hope you will enjoy some of my thoughts and observations.*
“Where Else Can You Do A Hundred Million Things?” – Huey Lewis
Though that is a portion of lyrics from Huey Lewis’ song The Heart of Rock n’ Roll, I can’t help but feel that that line can also apply to conventions, whether it be Comic-Con, or The D23 Expo.
My first time attending the D23 Expo, reminded me a bit of my first year at Comic-Con when I was 15. The majority of my time was spent walking the floors of the Anaheim Convention Center. I only attended 3 of the major panels that were held in the D23 Arena, as a number of events on the floor captured most of my attention.
Over the course of my 3 days at the Expo, I made several trips to a couple of the big draws to the Disney brand name. I didn’t get a chance to peer into every booth, but thought I’d recount my time at several that tickled my fancy.
Walt Disney Animation Studios
This was one booth on the Expo floor that I figured I was going to be seeing a lot of once I went to it. Throughout the Expo, the booth would play host to some discussions, and even animation demonstrations.
Several discussed work done on Wreck-It-Ralph or even the upcoming Frozen, but I was intrigued by a few given by the crew who worked on last year’s animated short, Paperman.
I stood in during one session on Friday, where animator Patrick Osborne (above) explained about the different toolsets that they used to make the short come to life. During the question and answer session, I asked Patrick if he knew of any ‘easter eggs’ in Paperman. One he mentioned, had to do with the short’s poster. One can make out the silhouette of the girl in clouds above the guy’s head, as he tosses a paper airplane out the window.
I also inquired if there were any scenes he worked on that he really liked. He couldn’t name any that he felt were really great (one of those more modest artists out there), but Patrick did tell me that he animated on the opening scene of the short. Needless to say, I did explain how I loved the little nuances of that sequence, and how it set up the lead characters with a lot of the minute gestures they went through.
The Disney Animation booth would also play host to a number of signings by numerous producers and directors. One that I just had to get in on, was a signing by John Musker and Ron Clements (above, with Ron signing my Making of Aladdin book, from 1992!). These men had been the directors on The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Treasure Planet. As well, Ron came from Iowa ( where I grew up!), and John from Chicago (where I am currently!). It had been a dream since I was 12 to say hi to these fellow Midwesterners, and I got the chance to do that at the Expo!
There were also drawings and myriad giveaways at the booth. It wasn’t uncommon to be given postcard-sized images from the film Frozen, or a little sticker of Wreck-It-Ralph’s 8-bit face.
When the Expo’s main floor opened on Friday, a large curtain hung around the booth next to the Disney Animation one. Though once Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof had given their presentation on the live-action Tomorrowland film at Saturday morning’s big arena event, the curtain came down, and visitors were allowed into the booth.
This was one of the only booths where no photography was allowed once inside. We were allowed to look at cases of various materials, that had been found in an old box at the Disney Studios. The box was a hodge-podge of numerous things, with the number ‘1952’ written on the outside of its casing.
The exhibit featured all sorts of things, from pictures of Walt that were found in the box, to sketches for automated robots, and a jetpack drawing or two. There was even a proposed script for the Disneyland television show, about Tomorrowland. However, almost everything typed on the script, was crossed out in black, with the word “NO!” written on the very last page.
Damon Lindelof was a writer on JJ Abrams’ television series Lost, and with the rather cryptic clues and information swirling around Tomorrowland at the Expo, it looks like they are still doing a decent job of keeping most of us in the dark, as the film heads into its final year of production.
I do give Disney props for putting so much into this booth about an upcoming feature. Compared to all the other live-action films coming out that we saw in their arena presentation, Tomorrowland was the only one given its own floor-space.
An iPhone app was also released to coincide with the booth. iPads were being rented out at the booth for those viewing the items, but if you had your own Apple product with the app downloaded, you could use your own device for the walk-through.
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts: Journey Into Imagineering
The last few D23 Expos have had many crowing about the space given aside to talk about the live-action magicians for the Disney Theme Parks: Walt Disney Imagineering.
Early word on the internet was that this year, there would be no huge reveals. The past years of early views of Cars Land and New Fantasyland may have spoiled some, as there was a feeling that Imagineering was just gonna be ‘boring.’
This time around, Imagineering arranged for a pavilion-looking structure, that acted as an ‘open house’ to just what Imagineering does. Given that the Disney division was founded almost 60 years ago, it seemed like a good way to go.
After attending a small introductory show, the doors were thrown open, and we were allowed into the main floor.
Imagineering has been known over the years, for their work in making miniatures to show their visions in three-dimensions. There were plenty of them around the floor, but one that was rather historical, was this little piece from the never-realized, Western River Expedition. The stuff of Disney Legends, it would have been part of an indoor/outdoor rafting journey, and the enormous ride/attraction, would have been exclusive to Walt Disney World.
A number of smaller units were assembled, with each one telling a little bit about what Imagineering does.
One showcased construction information about Hong Kong Disneyland’s, Mystic Manor, which is the park’s version of The Haunted Mansion.
Naturally, I was fascinated by one showcase about developing ride vehicles. On hand was an Autopia car, similar to the ones I had driven in as a kid, complete with safety strap.
I also had to step into the one showcase dealing with animation, where a number of audio-animatronic figures were on display. There were even various examples of the different types of material used to create skin or texture for the different figures. A hands-on unit to control an animatronic parrot from Pirates of the Caribbean, also provided some fun.
However, the highlight of the animation showcase was a specially-crafted animatronic figure of The Hatbox Ghost. This ghoul was originally featured in The Haunted Mansion, holding a hatbox. As the riders watched, the ghost’s head would disappear from his shoulders, and appear within the hatbox he was holding! The effect didn’t quite work, and The Hatbox Ghost was removed shortly after the ride opened. However, he has become an unofficial part of the ride, even appearing on Haunted Mansion merchandise. There were a few people at the Expo telling Imagineering that they hoped this appearance would mean his eventual return to the mansion, but many were sadly informed that The Hatbox Ghost was just there for the Expo.
There was one area where we were not allowed to take pictures, and it was a small series of rooms, that showcased original artwork from the early development of Disneyland. Many of these I had only ever seen in black-and-white, so seeing them in color was quite a treat. From the early images of a small park across from the Burbank studios, the designs led into larger images. One of which was done in simple pen and ink, before the fully colored one, that Walt showcased on the Disneyland Television Series.
However, we were treated to a spectacular reveal. On the Television Series, the painting had appeared to fade away, showing regions of the park lit up by street lights, and interior lights. But, what many of us thought was an animated illusion, was anything but. Those lights were actually painted into the original painting, using florescent paint! As the lights were dimmed, and a blacklight was turned on, we got to see artist Peter Ellenshaw’s handiwork, in living color! A concept of Disneyland at night!
There were a few hints of things to come. We were told about an Avengers Training Academy that would appear on the Disney Cruise Lines. Here, young guests would be able to interact with the likes of Captain America.
There was also a small Imagineer’s cubicle, set up with plenty of imagery and concepts regarding the world of Pandora, from James Cameron’s Avatar. Disney is said to be trying to put this exotic land into Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom park, but most information on what they are doing, has been rather quiet.
A series of crates labeled Orange Harvest, had many persons intrigued, and with a rolling-and-beeping R2-D2 nearby, many hoped that we’d get some sort of hint as to future Star Wars-based attractions. Personally, I just felt this was an inside-joke. Return of the Jedi was originally made under the alternate title Blue Harvest. Orange Harvest could very well just be a gag, as the land we were standing on for the convention, was once the site of numerous orange groves.
Disney Consumer Products
We might as well face it: when we go to anything associated with Disney, we expect to find products. Lots and lots of products.
The Consumer Products booth on the Expo floor proved to have one of the largest footprints, next to the Imagineering booth.
There were numerous divisions there, showing off their wares, such as Mattel’s upcoming products for Frozen (above). Mattel also had two exclusive items offered for sale at the convention: a special Convoy Brothers 4-Pack from the PIXAR film Cars (see below), and a figure based around the miniature Buzz Lightyear from the Pixar short, Small Fry.
The Convoy Brothers set was limited to 1000 pieces, and the Small Fry set had a run of 2000 pieces. Many at the Mattel booth were surprised when numerous people were buying multiples of this $100 4-pack! Even with a limit of 8-per-person imposed after a few hours on Friday, all 1000 of the 4-packs ended up being sold out. As a collector of Cars die-cast, I got one on the first day.
I was a little saddened by the display for Disney properties such as The Muppets, Marvel, and Star Wars. There wasn’t any new merchandise I could find from Marvel, and The Muppets were also displaying currently-released merchandise, with only a large chalk activity wall and how-to-draw Muppet characters their big draw.
As for Star Wars, the only real traces were an exhibit area, showcasing various incarnations of Darth Vader. Many of these merchandise pieces I had seen over the years, though there was an interesting Samurai wardrobe made to resemble Vader.
The rest of the area offered booth space for Little Golden Books (can’t believe they’re still around!), as well as books from Chronicle Press, and the Walt Disney Animation Research Library. Even Sephora got into the game, with a preview of a fall makeup line, themed around The Little Mermaid (which is coming to Blu-Ray shelves soon!).
There was quite a bit of to-do about Mermaid, including a karaoke set up to Find Your Voice. One could sing along to one of 5 different songs. I found a lull in the line, and took the opportunity to sing Poor Unfortunate Souls, in the style of Howard Ashman (the song’s lyricist).
Right across from the Consumer Products booth, resided floor space for Disney’s digital offerings.
One of the biggest games being pushed at the Expo, was Disney Infinity. This game that also utilized plastic figures had lines all weekend long for people trying game demos.
There were also demos for other games, such as Ducktales: Remastered, and a new iPad app that delved into the art of Disney Animation.
One demo that intrigued me, was Fantasia: Music Evolved. Developed by the creators of Guitar Hero, Harmonix Studios attempts to put a modern-day spin on allowing one to conduct like Leopold Stokowski.
The game is scheduled for 2014, and will allow one to conduct classic and modern-day songs. However, the only classical piece Harmonix has announced so far, is Modern Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain. It was strange that given we were in the heart of a Disney Expo, this piece was not available for demo’ing.
I and many people instead, found ourselves conducting Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, or Fun’s Some Nights. I went with Some Nights, for its driving rhythm. If one really applies themselves to the piece, Music Evolved can be a pretty decent workout game. I saw a number of people (like the girl above) being rather ‘tame’ in their conducting. I decided to be one of the few that was going to actually make an effort, and felt I got a pretty good workout on the arms.
Those of us who played the demo, were rewarded with a Music Evolved pin featuring Sorcerer Yen Sid, as well as a T-Shirt with the game’s logo.
Once upon a time, The Disney Channel was a place where myself any many other people once sought refuge from the loud frenzy of cable channels in the 1990’s. I was introduced to non-Disney cartoons like The Raccoons, new Disney Afternoon programming was often shown first here, and there were plenty of behind-the-scenes specials about Disney Animation and Theme Parks.
In the last decade, I had heard many people abandon ship as The Disney Channel seemed to target a younger tween/teen demographic, culminating in such shows as The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, as well as the wildly-successful High School Musical films.
So, what could possibly send me into this realm of which I seemed an over-aged outsider? One name: Craig McCracken.
I first heard Craig’s name back in the 1990’s, when he appeared on an episode of Space Ghost: Coast to Coast. On that episode, they showed Craig’s student animation piece: The Powerpuff Girls: Meat Fuzy Lumpkins.
Shortly afterwards, The Powerpuff Girls became a hit series on Cartoon Network. Craig would then continue his imaginative streak with Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends in the last decade. And now, his imagination has brought him to The Disney Channel, with a new series titled, Wander Over Yonder.
Wander himself, is a strange, Muppet-looking fellow who rides a talking ‘steed’ named Silvia. While Wander is a happy-go-lucky fellow who just wants to make others happy, he has to contend with Lord Hater, one of the most evil beings in the Universe.
On Sunday, August 11th, Craig McCracken, Jack McBrayer (the voice of Wander), and April Winchell (the voice of Silvia), sat down for an autograph signing at the Disney Channel booth. I received a signed print of Wander hugging Lord Hater, and got to compliment Craig on the work I had seen him do since my teenage years.
If there was one disappointment, it was that I had hoped the three would have been allowed to talk to the assembled audience about Wander, and maybe treated the crowd at the booth to some unseen clips of upcoming episodes.
Disneyland Resort Attraction Display
Right next to the Tomorrowland booth, was a small display of various ride vehicles that one could find inside Disneyland. There was very little explanation give regarding why they were there, but one could see ride vehicles such as Lenny the Cab from Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Dumbo from his signature attraction, a carousel horse from the King Arthur Carousel, and even a motor car from Mr Toad’s Wild Ride.
D23 Silent Auction Display
Tucked into a little corner next to the Collector’s Forum, were a number of props that were part of a silent auction. Throughout the course of the Expo, one could write their name and a bid on a clipboard next to various items.
Some of them included:
This overgrown-Alice-in-house display, which once sat in the World of Disney store.
An original set of ‘retired’ Matterhorn Bobsleds, signed by Imagineer Bob Gurr.
An original art piece, painted and signed by vehicle artist, Chip Foose. The body on the vehicle in the painting, is from an Autopia ride vehicle, and is sporting a custom set of Foose wheels.
And that’s what I have in regards to going around some of the big-name areas. Next, we’ll venture into a den of Disneyana, and outsiders: The Collector’s Forum.
The Walt Disney Company is probably not only one of the most well-known Entertainment entities, but also is one with probably the largest fanbase in the world, thanks largely in part to its stable of animated features, and characters.
In 2012, I attended the D23 Club’s Destination D event, that covered 75 years of animation. Given that Disney’s animated films and shorts had inspired me to pursue animation as a career, I was eager to see what they had to offer. I not only got to see a lot of people associated with the animation side of Disney, but also see sneak previews of new material, rare animation footage, and also met up with some other Disney fans that quickly enfolded me into their group. Destination D offered me something that was rare: a place where a Midwestern outsider like myself could feel like a part of a greater whole.
At the end of the event, my companions asked if I would be attending the D23 Expo in 2013. I was a little unsure, but seeing how well Destination D had gone, I decided to go for it.
And that brought me back to Anaheim a year later, and into the Anaheim Convention Center. Meeting up again with my 2012 companions, we braved super-long lines and bag checks (no cameras were allowed), to see the first major presentation of the convention:
Art and Imagination: Animation at The Walt Disney Studios
With over 4,000 people packing a good chunk of the Anaheim arena, we were soon greeted by the company’s CEO, Bob Iger. Bob spoke eloquently about his love of Disney, before bringing out our main host for the presentation: John Lasseter.
When it comes to big names in animation, Lasseter’s is one of the biggest. A former Disney animator, who went on to bigger and better things at PIXAR, before being brought back into the Disney company to oversee their animation divisions.
This morning, John would discuss upcoming animation projects with us, from three different divisions of the company that he oversees. The first one he talked about, is quite familiar to a lot of us.
The first thing we were shown, was a short titled Party Central. Taking place within the world of Monsters University, we find Mike and Sully attempting to help their friends of Oozma Kappa, throw an incredible party. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this short, but before long, I was laughing along with the rest of the crowd. One would assume the short would be an extra on the upcoming Monsters University DVD/Blu-Ray release, but John informed us that it would be the short showing before Pixar’s 2014 release, The Good Dinosaur.
John then segued into The Good Dinosaur, which posited a what-if scenario: What if a meteor didn’t crash into Earth, and wipe out the dinosaurs? One would assume that given PIXAR’s capabilities to do photo-realism with Wall-E and their short The Blue Umbrella, we might be seeing the same. Instead, the filmmakers have chosen to stylize the dinosaurs. We were treated to some footage, including our first visual introduction to Arlo, a young Apatosaurus who looks like a pretty clumsy fellow. Things change for Arlo, when he comes across a savage little human boy.
While the film does look nice, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach with it. My feelings about this film, remind me of many who were unsure regarding the concept of Pixar’s 2009 film, Up. That ended up surprising a lot of people, and I’m hoping The Good Dinosaur will do the same to me.
The next film to be discussed, was one that had previously been titled, The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside the Mind. John said that he heard such a big response to this title, that he tried to get Disney’s marketing department to consider those 10 words to be the film’s official title. Instead, the new title for the film, will now be Inside Out.
The film takes place inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley, and deals with 5 emotions inside her mind, who we see in different personifications. They include Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, & Anger. While Riley is generally a pretty positive and optimistic girl, her emotions are thrown into turmoil when her family moves to San Francisco.
Inside Out is being directed by Pete Doctor, who went on to explain about the different facets of the mind, as well as how memories are catalogued within ‘head quarters.’ We were also shown a storyboard sequence of a dinner scene, in which we also see the emotions within Riley’s parents. The segment produced so much laughter, that I couldn’t hear some of the dialogue.
During the presentation, I was finding myself thinking, “this concept feels a little familiar.” I soon realized that it reminded me of a 1943 animated short made by Disney, titled Reason and Emotion. The short was made during World War II, and featured a segment showing two little people inside several people’s heads: one that represented reason, the other emotion.
The film is set for a Summer 2015 release, and is one concept that I am very eager to see more of. The storyboard sequence was just the thing to whet my appetite.
2015 is going to be a very busy year for Pixar. It will mark the first year that Pixar will have two animated features released. That fall, will see the release of the sequel to one of their most successful pictures, Finding Nemo. Only this time, we’ll be Finding Dory. Andrew Stanton took to the stage, claiming that the idea for the film came about, because of one scene from Nemo. After Marlin learns that Dory has “short-term memory loss,” she says the following:
“It runs in my family. At least, I think it does…hmm…where are they?”
I remember hearing that some people felt this would also be a proper way to make a sequel, and some claimed that the line made them feel sad that Dory didn’t know what had become of her family.
Andrew then informed us that even though it’s been 10 years for us, only 1 will have elapsed in the sequel. In it, Dory will set out to find her family, as Marlin and Nemo attempt to find her. Not much was shown regarding the film, other than some concept images of Dory going around the ocean.
Personally, I’m one of the few that had no problems with just having Finding Nemo. It’s funny how people claim that Cars 2 was made just for the money, yet seem eager and welcoming for something like Finding Dory. Needless to say, I’m sure opening weekend for Dory will probably come close to rivaling that of Toy Story 3. It should also be noted, that this will be Pixar’s first fall-time release, since The Incredibles in 2004.
With the conclusion of the film portion of Pixar’s output, John had another treat for us: the first 10 minutes of the upcoming Halloween special, Toy Story of Terror.
The toys find themselves stuck at a hotel on a rainy night, after the car they are in gets a flat tire. When Mr Potato Head wanders away from the group and doesn’t return, the others set out to find him.
The 10 minutes we saw, showed that the toys seem just fine in short-story form (I’m one of the few that does not want a Toy Story 4 in theaters). It was fun to see Timothy Dalton reprising his role as the lederhosen-wearing porcupine, Mr Pricklepants, being the know-it-all when it comes to scary movies. As well, the footage we saw did an excellent job of balancing out laughs and scares.
After showing us what Pixar had to offer, John then turned our attention to one of the lesser-talked-about studios: Disneytoon Studios. The studio gained a rather dour reputation during the last 20 years, when it was pretty much a direct-to-video factory, churning out all manner of sequels like Cinderella II (*shudder*), and The Jungle Book 2. When John Lasseter and Ed Catmull came to Disney in 2007, they shut down the sequel factory, and refocused the studio to making original properties, or spinoffs that weren’t exactly sequel-related.
The Studios’ first major success was in direct-to-video films based around Tinkerbell, and her other fairy friends in Pixie Hollow. However, John chose to start off his talk to us, in regards to the just-released film, Planes. Set in the world ‘above Cars,’ the tale of a cropdusting plane who wishes to do aerial racing, is one that just seems right up the alley to appeal to young boys. Though one should be reminded that even though the world is similar to Cars, it is Disneytoon Studios that is making the film, not Pixar.
John spoke briefly about Planes, before giving us a sneak peek of the film’s upcoming sequel next year: Planes: Fire and Rescue. Taking a break from everyday life, Dusty Crophopper finds himself in Piston Peak National Park, and decides to help the local team of aerial and wheeled vehicles, who are responsible for preventing wildfires.
We saw a mixture of rough and finished animation, and I must say, it got me a little excited. The clips utilize some very creative camera moves, as well as plenty of excitement as we see the crew putting out a forest fire. Dusty tags along, though mainly to observe just what they do.
Following Planes, we were then informed on the status of two Tinkerbell features that were in production. The first one discussed, was Legend of the NeverBeast. A rather large and somewhat monstrous-looking creature has come to Pixie Hollow, and while the general consensus is that it must be gotten rid of, Tinkerbell’s friend Fawn (who has a penchant for working with animals), attempts to befriend it. The film is scheduled for release in Spring 2015.
Following this news, we were then treated to word of the Spring 2014 release for the pixies, titled The Pirate Fairy. Tinkerbell and her friends attempt to get back some ill-gotten gain from a renegade fairy, who has joined up with a group of human pirates, including a young man among them, named James. We were treated to a rough animatic of a song from the film, titled A Frigate That Flies. It definitely had a catchy beat, though it’s a pity that they let one of the film’s biggest secrets out of the bag (which I won’t tell).
And then, it was time for the big one: the studio that started it all for Disney so long ago, and that helped shape and change animation as we know it.
However, before we started, we were shown some material by a member of the Disney Animation Research Library (ARL). Some materials were recently obtained from a collector, including a film canister, and some drawings. What was notable on several of the drawings, was the information MM04. Some further research then told the researchers, that a lost Mickey Mouse short had been located! The ’04’ distinction, meant that it would have been made right after Steamboat Willie, one of Mickey Mouse’s most famous introductory shorts!
After some restoration work, the short was screened in several film festivals, before we got the chance to see it. Titled Get A Horse, it concerns Mickey going for a hayride with several of his friends, until Peg-Leg Pete shows up, intent on ruining the other’s fun. I had heard word that this short was something special, and it definitely was. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a Mickey short like this since seeing The Prince and the Pauper, when I was 10 years old.
Earlier this year, Disney released a 30-second piece from their upcoming 2014 animated film release. Taking advantage of their partnership with Marvel, the Walt Disney Animation Studios is taking their comic Big Hero 6, and bringing it to animated life. If you thought Wreck-It-Ralph was a departure for the studio, than Hero is an even bigger one.
Taking place in the future world of San Fransokyo (San Francisco mashed up with Tokyo), a young genius attempts to make the world a better place. This includes building a mobile-yet-inflatable helper robot. But when his ideas end up stolen by an evil mastermind, the boy and his robot team up with 4 other individuals to try and stop him.
We were treated to a fast-cutting montage of clips from the production. The only animation footage that was mainly shown, was in regards to the boy’s robot, who in his normal form, waddles like a baby penguin (those two words sent much of the audience into fits of ‘awwww’).
Combining Marvel and Disney Animation is definitely an intriguing concept. We last saw Disney attempting to do science fiction back in the early 2000’s with Atlantis and Treasure Planet, but those failed to gain much traction (though they do have their fan-followings all these years later). Big Hero 6 also continues the use of lesser-known Marvel characters and properties, and it will be intriguing to see more footage as the studio continues to work on it.
Because 2015 will be ruled by two Pixar films (as well as Star Wars: Episode VII, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron), Disney Animation’s next film will see release in 2016. The film’s director Byron Howard, spoke of his love of animated features with anthropomorphic animals living in a human-like society (such as 1973’s Robin Hood). It was then that Byron claimed that his next film would continue this fun tradition.
Titled Zootopia, it features a world of various animals of all shapes and sizes, with nary a human around. However, even with all these animals, there is still some animosity among the different species. That becomes the main part of the plot, when a fox has to team up with a rabbit.
Zootopia’s presentation only provided us with some rough concept art, and given the film is 3 years away, it’s a good bet that there’s still more story development to go before we can even figure out who will be voicing the leads. The film looks like it’ll have some fun with the differences in animal size, as well as figuring out how the multiple ecosystems of these animals all function together.
After Zootopia, I turned to one of my friends, and whispered a little worry about one film we hadn’t heard about yet: Frozen. With a release coming in November, there had been almost no pre-release information, other than some still-images of several characters, and a teaser trailer in June, that only focused on the comedic sidekicks. I had seen more information about this film at last August’s Destination D event, than what was currently out.
As if reading my mind, the lights went down again, and suddenly, moving images from Frozen appeared on screen. There must have been quite a number of other people who were waiting for this, because I heard a rolling wave of positive sound from the crowd.
We were introduced to several of the main cast, and got to see some footage of Anna (pronounced ah-na), a young Princess in the film. Even though she’s royalty, Anna is a little awkward and clumsy, unlike her more serious and regal-looking older sister, Elsa. However, a power within Elsa manifests itself, plunging the Kingdom into a wintry landscape, and causing her to flee the Kingdom. Anna then sets out on a perilous quest to find her sister, and find some way to break the spell that has befallen their kingdom.
We were shown several clips from the film, including one where we get to see some of Anna’s personality. It’s nice to see a female character be a little awkward, and even Anna’s voice-actress Kristen Bell was on hand, to say that she could see some of herself in the character.
We also got to see an animated musical segment, where Anna and a mountain man named Kristoff encounter a walking/talking snowman named Olaf. Olaf is a rather simple-minded snowman, and has some funny moments. As Anna talks about wanting Spring to come, Olaf grows excited, claiming he can’t wait til’ Spring comes, and tells all about what he plans to do (not knowing what Spring will mean for him).
The music and lyrics are provided by the husband/wife duo of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Robert has worked on the music for Avenue Q & The Book of Mormon, and he and Kristen teamed up to provide the songs for 2011’s hand-drawn film, Winnie the Pooh. Their use of catchy music and funny lyrics makes me see them as the next great song-writing duo, behind Howard Ashman/Alan Menken, and Richard & Robert Sherman.
At the tail-end of the presentation, John Lasseter then introduced Idina Menzel (who will be voicing Elsa), to sing the song “Let It Go” from the film. The song was previewed for us at Destination D last August, and has stuck with me ever since. The best way to describe it, is as a ‘declarative lament.’ There’s confidence in Elsa’s voice as she sings, but a tinge of sadness. If there is still an Original Song category in the Oscars this coming year, this song has a good shot at being nominated. Plus, given Disney’s advertising of the film so far, if they released this as a pre-release music single, I’m sure it’d get a lot of people excited for the film (I know I’d drop money on a single if I heard it was coming out this very minute!).
And with the conclusion of “Let It Go,” the Art of Animation presentation was over. Overall, it was a very exciting slate for upcoming releases. I will admit that the offerings from Disneytoon Studios are not as enticing to me, but there seem to be some exciting offerings from Disney Animation and Pixar.
I still wish the public could have seen more clips of Frozen by now. As it stands, full trailers have been released overseas that actually show Anna and Elsa’s plight. The first US teaser trailer for Frozen, reminded me of how I felt regarding the first trailers for Tangled. I was almost against seeing that film, until I heard a lot of people saying, “don’t believe the terrible marketing campaign. The film is a lot smarter and funnier than they make it out to be.” Given how Tangled surprised me, I’m hoping that Frozen will deliver in the same way.
As it stands right now, the work that is coming from Disney Feature Animation division has me a little more excited than Pixar’s offerings. At this point, when it comes to prequels or sequels, I’m a little apprehensive. Monsters University turned out to be a pleasant surprise, but when it comes to something like Finding Dory, that sounds like the kind of thing floating around in internet fanfiction.
Aside from the guest-stars mentioned in the paragraphs above, we were also visited several times by Bill Hader, who will be providing a voice for The Good Dinosaur, and Inside Out. However, when it came to Finding Dory, Bill came out on stage dressed as a sea cucumber, trying to convince Andrew Stanton that he could be Pixar’s ‘good luck charm.’
It was then that a familiar voice boomed from the loud-speakers, and with the Disneyland Marching Band in tow, John Ratzenberger appeared on stage! John quickly explained to Bill that he was too late, and we were treated to a quick rundown of all of John’s vocal appearances in Pixar’s films.
One of the unexpected surprises during the presentation, was the acknowledgement of storyman, Burny Mattinson. With over 60 years working with Walt Disney Feature Animation, Burny is one of the oldest members still working for Disney (and also got to talk with Walt Disney back in the old days!). Burny was honored with a reel showing his work at the studio, before John Lasseter brought him up on stage for a little chat.
I had first heard about Burny through Clay Kaytis’ Animation Podcast, where Burny recorded 4 parts chronicling his time at the studio, including his development of the short, Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
I was unable to see Burny at an autograph signing after the panel, but encountered him during the Disney Legends Award Ceremony on Saturday. I got the chance to say hello, and thank him for making Christmas Carol.
Let’s face it: when it comes to big Entertainment-based get-togethers these days, it’s not too hard to find people doing Cosplays. 1 in 4 pictures from Comic-Con in San Diego has someone in a costume in it, and when it came to walking the floor at the D23 Expo, I was prepared to see all sorts of people doing Cosplay.
That was definitely the case, and some were so obscure, I just had to snap some pics. I came close to posting all the pictures I took, but finally, settled on the following:
And those, were some of the many, many cosplays I saw at 2013’s D23 Expo. I originally wanted to post just 20 pictures, then it expanded to 25, and finally, I cut myself off at 30. There were quite a few cosplayers I wasn’t able to catch, because I was standing in line, or was in a panel, and couldn’t get to them on the other side of the room.
It’s been about a week, but I’m still sorting through some of the other things I want to post about the Expo. I intend to have more articles up in the next few days.
Enjoyable films are often like good recipes: mix the right ingredients, and you often get something grand, and memorable. Plus, if the chefs are enjoying themselves, the residue from their work will infect you as well (preferably in good ways).
In the case of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost, you have three guys who took their love of popular culture, and built a friendship around it through Entertainment. First bringing their style to the ‘Telly’ with Spaced in 1999, they would then push into the Cinema 5 years later, with Shaun of the Dead.
Shaun was what brought them to the attention of most Yanks on this side of the pond, with a film that was one part homage to George Romero’s Living Dead films, and another part coming-of-age story.
The three would team up again 3 years later with Hot Fuzz, which was a brilliant spoof on action films and their numerous cliches. Though not quite as entertaining as Shaun, it did have its moments.
Over the next few years, the trio would split apart, and work on their own pop-culture projects. Edgar Wright took his love of popular-culture and coming-of-age to Toronto with Scott Pilgrim vs The World, while Pegg and Frost would bring their best-friend dynamic and pop-culture love into the realm of UFO’s, with the 2011 film, Paul. “The Three Musketeers” would also unite behind-the-camera with the likes of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, when they participated in Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin.
Since then, the three have re-united to complete what has been called The Cornetto Trilogy, with their recent release, The World’s End.
After graduating from high school in 1990, 5 high school friends attempted to complete a tradition in their little village of Newton Haven: an ‘epic’ pub crawl through each of the town’s 12 pubs (FYI: the legal drinking age in the UK is 18).
Over 20 years later, the leader of that evening, Gary King (Simon Pegg), reunites his friends, with the goal to complete the task that slipped through their fingers so many years ago. The 4 friends Gary knows, consists of Andrew Knightley (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Peter (Eddie Marsan). However, what starts as a trip down memory lane for Gary and the others, will lead to a night none of them will ever forget.
Snappy cuts and snappier dialogue are well-grounded as part of Wright’s film making toolset, and once I saw that he was still using said tools, I breathed easy. I appreciate the style he uses, preferably when it comes to action/fight scenes. While some directors just give you a blurry up-close ‘mess,’ there are scenes where I was mentally thankful that I actually knew where the characters were on the screen, and just what they were doing.
The dialogue in World’s End may be a bit hard on American ears. Plus, given the rapid-fire succession of some character’s verbal, you may not catch everything in one sitting.
Then again, that could be a good thing, as when you go back and watch Wright’s films, you often see/realize things you didn’t the first go-around…something not many directors do these days. There’s also his ability to make the characters relatable, and I won’t lie: there were a few times during World’s End where I could get into the mindset of several of them.
Unlike the previous characters that Pegg has played, Gary King is definitely not Shaun. He’s loud and wild, and it doesn’t take us long to start cracking up at his antics. This was a character that you look and think, “that must have been fun at times.”
Frost also plays opposite his usual, with the more reserved Andrew Knightley. Whereas Gary is more belligerent, Andrew seems to be more buttoned-up and responsible. Some may find this change-up a little shocking, but it reminded me of Back to the Future Part III, where the dynamics between Marty McFly and Doc Brown were reversed (Marty: “Great Scott!” Doc: “I know, this is heavy!”).
Each of the main five are given their moments to shine, as it is nice to see Wright not think of the supporting friend characters as just background fodder. They are also dealing with some issues since becoming adults, let alone have some baggage of their own left in Newton Haven.
There’s also a small-yet-enjoyable part for Rosamund Pike, who plays Oliver’s sister, Sam. In fact, there are a number of noteworthy actors that appear in the film, but if I told you who the rest of them were, it’d spoil the surprises. And trust me, when it comes to The World’s End, you want to be surprised.
Wright’s film Hot Fuzz also played around with the idea of a tranquil village with a secret, and this film does the same, including having fun with the ‘gentrification’ of places you once knew and loved. Several of the pubs are just as prim and proper as a Starbucks, and (my favorite background gag), every other person appears to own a Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle.
Of the films he’s done with Pegg and Frost, World’s End feels a little more personal to Wright as well. He also attempted to do a post-graduation pub crawl, and that didn’t go as planned either. At a post-screening Q&A in Chicago, Wright also spoke about looking at his hometown many years later. While you may have good memories, the years may strip away a lot of the nostalgia, and a lot of what you though was great and grand, probably wasn’t.
I’ve had some similar emotions over the last 5 years. Since leaving my hometown of Waterloo, IA, some memories of those times when I was growing up would pop into my head. But when one looks back at the place today, its change is almost reminiscent of what became of Newton Haven in World’s End: A small place that has attempted to gentrify and modernize itself as time marches on, trying to carve out its existence in a world that seems to get bigger…yet, grows smaller.
To many, Shaun of the Dead is the high-point of the films Wright/Pegg/Frost have done together, and I would have to agree with them. I actually found myself in an obsessive stupor regarding Shaun a few months ago, watching it 5 nights in a row (don’t ask what brought that on. Maybe I just needed a good laugh?). To me, The World’s End is a fitting (yet sad) ending to this little trilogy. In fact, it’s probably my second-favorite of the trio’s work, and is one that I have no qualms about actually paying to see once it comes out in the States in a few weeks (one will hope fans of the trio will come out and pay for the last brouhaha as well).
In a Summer over-bloated with sequels and few surprises, The World’s End proved to be one of the most enjoyable film experiences I had. Though it was partially due to the fact that I saw it with a sneak preview crowd who wanted to be there, I even found myself cracking up voluntarily…and as some of my friends know, it’s hard to get me to enjoy films that are considered “Comedies” these days. Then again, maybe I’m just weird enough to actually enjoy films like this one.