2013’s D23 Expo: My Thoughts on the Art and Animation Panel
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.