Feature Review: Cars 3 (Rated G)
Probably out of every property that PIXAR Animation Studios has created, none has garnered more criticism and eye-rolling, than their Cars series. The studio’s Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, had longed to do a film about ‘talking cars,’ and in 2006, his journey was finally completed.
While many were lukewarm to his idea, I had been aboard the bandwagon ever since the first Cars film was announced. Wheeled vehicles have always fascinated me since I was a kid. My parents met while cruising on the streets of their Iowa hometown, my Dad and Uncles subscribed to magazines like Motor Trend, and over the years, I’d go to plenty of car shows. And of course, as a kid, cars (especially sports cars!) were exciting because of the speeds they could reach!
So, I was highly-entertained by the first Cars when it premiered in theaters in 2006, and being that I was a loyal fan of the series, I went to see Cars 2 when it came out 5 years later.
And now, we get Cars 3, which makes the series the second trilogy the studio has produced, following Toy Story.
Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) has been tearing up the racing scene for some time now, but suddenly, a new rookie begins to take the racing world by storm…Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) that is. Storm’s introduction soon changes things, as racing companies begin recruiting faster, and younger sports cars to try and compete against him.
Pretty soon, McQueen finds himself losing ground, and seeks out the help of a trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), hoping that her skills can help him stay relevant in the world of racing.
Cars 3 is a notable film, as much like Toy Story 3, it shows a world where it’s characters have ‘matured.’ Unlike Cars 2 that felt like an extended version of the episodic series titled Mater’s Tall Tales, Cars 3 feels like a distant cousin to the first Cars film. However, it’s a film that puts two tires in the past, and two in the future, straddling the finish line for Lightning, feeling a lot like some sequels these days, that tends to blend the old, with the new.
The previews do make the film out to be an exciting, fast-paced rollercoaster ride, but like the first film, the filmmakers don’t spend a whole lot of time going fast. There’s quite a number of slower scenes, whose more languid pace I can’t help but feel, will definitely have some kids squirming in their seats after awhile.
I did enjoy where the film wanted to go, showing how in the world of sports, the rookie sports star of today, will eventually have to cope with younger and faster rookies coming up around the bend.
That realization hit me personally in the last year, when I realized I had been working at a company, for as long as Pixar’s been releasing Cars films. I’ve gone from learning the ropes as a young man, to giving advice and tips as an adult to some of our younger newcomers.
What really got me excited while watching the film, was hearing and seeing old clips of Doc Hudson (Paul Newman)! The relationship that was established between Doc and Lightning in the first film is one of my favorite PIXAR friendships (and I won’t lie that I got a little misty-eyed seeing The Fabulous Hudson Hornet back in action in some scenes).
We also get the chance to meet some older racing legends Doc knew, as well as Doc’s trainer, Smokey (Chris Cooper). Seeing some older-model vehicles had me excited for their appearance, but sadly, it feels like they just come-and-go in the film, as quickly as they entered it.
That was something that bugged me throughout the film. We see a number of familiar faces from the first Cars, but they almost feel like minor walk-ons to just let us know they’re alive (and fortunately for some of you out there, Mater probably only figures into about 5 minutes of screentime). Even when it comes to the new racer Jackson Storm, I couldn’t help but feel like I was seeing ‘Chick Hicks 2.0,’ given how much interaction he had with McQueen.
Where the film begins to pick up it’s rhythm, is with the introduction of Cruz Ramirez. A trainer at the Rust-Eze Racing Center, Cruz becomes Lightning’s ‘Mater’ for this film. Once Lightning manages to get her out of the world of racing simulators, the film really has some fun moments, punctuated by little bits of comedy from Cristela Alonzo.
Personally, I was hoping the film would pull an Incredibles and have Sally (Bonnie Wright) assume Lightning and Cruz were off having an affair, but then again, the Cars series isn’t known for getting that ‘deep’ with some of it’s subject matter.
A highlight scene regarding Lightning and Cruz, takes place at a demolition derby in Thunder Hollow. It’s a madcap nightmare of mud, flames, and wild camerawork, that still manages to be highly entertaining (just watch out for Ms Fritter!).
Speaking of environments, the level of detail in the natural world of the film, will probably have you scrutinizing the scenes much like I was. Unlike the pastel-hued environs of the first film, the more ‘gritty’ look here, makes the vehicles seem to blend a bit more into their CG world.
I also really got into the design aesthetic of the newer race cars. It follows the current design trend, where in the last 10 years, we’ve gone from more curved vehicle bodies, to more angular ones, with Jackson Storm’s design looking cool, yet dangerous.
While Cars 3 did entertain me in a more emotional way than Car 2, it sadly doesn’t come close to reaching that finish line that Toy Story 3 crossed. It’s a film that seems to be having it’s own mid-life crisis, struggling with it’s identity, as it tries to pull itself together.
I think when it comes to Cars 3, what you bring with you when you go to watch the film, will determine just what you get out of it once the credits start to roll.
Short Review: Lou (Rated G)
Taking place on a school playground, one little boy takes great pleasure in taking playthings away from his schoolmates…until a thing called Lou, decides to teach him a lesson.
I will admit, the first hints of Lou that I saw made me wonder if I was going to even like this character. Of course, I soon found myself wondering how I could have doubted Pixar. It’s introduction is cleverly shrouded in mystery, leading up to a pretty impressive reveal.
Lou ends up being both humorous, and emotional, as well as something that everyone in the audience can either relate to, or learn from, depending on your age and experience. The filmmakers do try to have a little bit of ‘bad-fun’ with how the bully takes things away from the other kids, but also never making you feel that he is justified in doing these things. However, where they take him in the story, went in a direction I didn’t see coming.
Some scenes with Lou went by so quickly, that I almost wanted to slow down the scene to eyeball some of what was done (I guess I’ll just have to wait for the Cars 3 Blu-Ray to do that).
I liked the message that was given here (with no dialogue), and I think some people would agree, it would be nice to have a few Lou’s out in our own world.
Final Grade for “Cars 3”: B (Final Thoughts: While being stronger than “Cars 2,” “Cars 3” seems to be suffering it’s own midlife crisis, as it tries to straddle the line between it’s past, and it’s future. A decent capper to the “Cars” trilogy of films, as we follow Lightning McQueen on a rather unconventional journey for an animated sequel.)
Final Grade for “Lou”: B+ (Final Thoughts: Pixar’s latest animated short is a simple-and-sweet film that helps to show that oftentimes, niceness can trump selfishness and greed. The film’s animation on Lou is also quite an eye-opener, and will surely leave some with a smile on their face when it ends.)
To most of the public, the name Brad Bird meant relatively little for many years…but for those who were animation followers, his name meant quite a bit. In the late 80’s/early 90’s, Brad served as an animation consultant on The Simpsons for almost 9 years, and some feel that his input made many of the episodes during his tenure, the most memorable. He also had a consulting hand in the animated series, The Critic.
The 1990’s would also function as a new era of animation, when other studios began to try and get in on the moneymaking action that 1994’s The Lion King seemed to promise. Warner Brothers was developing several features, and Brad was brought aboard for their second one. In 1999, Warner Brothers released an animated adaptation of The Iron Giant, based on the Ted Hughes story of the same name. Like every project he works on, Brad and his associates charged head-first into the story, giving us relatable characters, and emotional moments. Sadly, when it came to promoting such features, the WB promotional department did a poor job, and the film lived and died in a matter of weeks in August of 1999.
Luckily, Brad had friends from his days at CalArts (aka The California Institute of the Arts) who also valued the same things he did…and one of them, was John Lasseter. Shortly after Giant, John talked with Brad about possibly coming up to PIXAR to not only shake things up a little, but to bring any of his pet projects to life. It was here, that Brad started relating his idea of a family of superheroes. The concept intrigued Lasseter, as superheroes were something that had never been done in animated features (that realm was slowly coming back in live-action at the time).
Pretty soon, Brad and several of his colleagues who worked on The Iron Giant, relocated to the Bay Area, and began to acclimate themselves with the PIXAR studio, and its staff.
I recall first hearing word of this project as Disney and PIXAR made its production known around 2002. At the time, we had little information on it, but at the start of Finding Nemo, we received our first taste when in a teaser image, Mr Incredible attempted to return to duty…albeit not quite as fit as he used to be. That teaser trailer ranked right up there with the one from Monsters Inc, in that we had some great character interaction with just trying to do a simple thing, which is also a great animation exercise.
Speaking of exercises, Brad really put the animation and rigging staff through the ringer. The characters in this film had muscles underneath their skin, let alone had to adhere to Bird’s caveat that they move believably, even though they were exaggerated. Case-in-point, Bob Parr has a body that tapers down to a small pair of legs, yet you have to believe that they can support his upper-body. Many animators said it was like going back to school all over again, and working on your Masters degree.
Probably not since Toy Story, had PIXAR undertaken such a major production. Brad Bird is always striving to break down barriers, and The Incredibles is a film that barreled through a number of major hurdles that the company was still trying to get down: humans, hair, water, cloth, and even interaction between those 4 things at one time was huge. Just take the scene below. This simple scene of Bob Parr (Craig T Nelson) putting his hand through the rip in his supersuit, was incredibly complex at that time!
And speaking of that rip in the supersuit, Bird did something that really earned my admiration, and that of others: he made us believe that even though these were animated characters, they could be harmed. When Bob is first attacked by the Omnidroid, and it tears his suit (leaving a red scratch on Bob’s skin). I remember my eyes popping open: this was something that no studio seemed willing to do: making you believe the peril was ‘serious.’
The reinforcement of just who the bad guys are in this film, is delivered in a great little speech by Helen:
“Remember the bad guys on those shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings? Well, these guys are not like those guys. They won’t exercise restraint because you’re children. They will kill you if they get the chance. Do not give them that chance.”
One of my favorite scenes, is when Syndrome sends off a barrage of missiles to intercept the plane that Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) and her children are on. The gut reaction of John Q Public is that this is a Disney movie, and they’ll get out of it. Violet Parr (Sarah Vowell) will make her forcefield materialize, and they’ll be saved. But instead, she fails, and Helen envelopes her children, as the plane bursts into flaming debris, and the three pitch down towards the ocean below! At the time, 3 years after the events of 9/11, Hollywood was apprehensive of showing anything that had to do with explosions and airplanes. And yet, Bird and the guys at PIXAR took a very big chance, giving us something intense that we were not used to seeing in animation.
I still remember my Dad’s first words when the lights came up at a screening we attended in November of 2004: “I really like Edna!”
Edna Mode is an amazing example of giving us a fun character, but not letting that character overpower your story. E definitely has a personality that seems 5 times her normal size, but it’s in keeping her role small, that makes her all the more memorable. Bird has done similar small-yet-big characters like this, with Dean in The Iron Giant, or Anton Ego in Ratatouille. Less can often equal more in cases like this.
One place where the filmmakers do not skimp on, is making all characters seem believable. I can’t think of any characters that ever seem to not seem real or important. Even Bob Parr’s government supervisor Rick Dicker (voiced by Bud Luckey) is memorable for the few minutes of screen time he has. And of course, there’ s something very real amid the comical dialogue of the “Where is my supersuit” moment between Frozone and his (unseen) wife, Honey.
In the making-of documentaries and the audio commentary, the filmmakers touch on something remarkable about the film as well: there doesn’t seem to be a single scene that you would not want to have a shot at animating. Most films have only a few scenes that everyone wishes they could work on, but this is just packed with them! One guy, according to the animator’s commentary, was ecstatic that he was animating a scene of two guys talking inside a car (seriously, you never see that in animated films!).
The film was also notable, for having (at the time) the most locations and wardrobe changes of any film the company had done. Just consider PIXAR’s films from Toy Story up through Finding Nemo. While several of those films had humans, they did not go through multiple wardrobe changes. And in some cases, some characters in those films didn’t wear clothes!
Bird also manages to write his characters like they are real people, such as in the rather grown-up depiction of Bob and Helen’s marriage, let alone how half-way through the film, Helen suspects that Bob might be having an affair. Violet’s timidity feels genuine, as does Bob’s dejectedness at being denied the ability to do the things he wants.
There’s a great joke that I think couples or those who have been in a relationship will get, that most won’t. After she finds Bob on the island, Helen just seems very upset with him, yet Bob doesn’t quite understand why. It seems that all Helen wants, is for him to admit what a stupid thing he did (lying to her, worrying her, putting her and their children in a situation where they could be killed), but like some guys, he’s unable to bring himself to admit it.
It is only after the family has been imprisoned, and are watching Syndrome’s Omnidroid wrecking Metroville, does Bob finally admit his faults, and how stupid he’s been. The funny moment comes when Violet frees herself. Dash sees this, but Helen quickly hushes him.
The reason this is funny? Because Helen is getting what she’s wanted: Bob admitting what he did was wrong, and she knows if anything interrupts him, he might never admit his mistake, ever again!
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention how the film brought a new composer to the ears of many: Michael Giacchino. The Incredibles marked the first major film score Michael worked on, and seemed to cement who he is: a lover of the more classic stylings of film scores, not afraid to bring in the brass, or even to give us a tinkling of fast-paced marimbas. This is a man who likes not only to get dark and deep, but light-hearted and fun. As well, those who bought the soundtrack were soon inducted into Giacchino’s ‘habit’ of making puns out of each of his film tracks (like “100 Mile Dash”).
On a more personal note, The Incredibles was screened at a theater I used to work at, a month in advance for a college audience. As a head projectionist, I begged to be the guy in charge of this thing, and got my wish! I recall that evening being a lot of running around, checking sound levels and waiting for the print to arrive (it had a special padlocked code, and I was supervised by an editor from PIXAR, as I assembled it).
While my first experience with the film was from the projection booth, I was rapt to the attention of the audience, and could hear their reactions in a perfect roar through the projection booth glass.
After it was over, and I had broken down the print to be sent off to its next super-secret screening, I got the chance to say hi to Brad Bird and producer John Walker. Almost everyone who was attending had brought Brad things to sign (DVD’s of The Simpsons, The Critic, and someone had an Iron Giant poster!). As for me, I had brought with me the just-released Art of The Incredibles book. I recall Brad being surprised that it had come out already. Though hearing that I was the projectionist in charge of the screening, Brad added an extra little thank-you to his signature, as can be seen here:
Btw, for those who haven’t seen it, the book shows a dramatic departure from a lot of the previous concept art PIXAR had done, with a lot of characters and scene research, relying on collage work.
10 years later, The Incredibles is spoken of with much love for those who are animation fans (it’s my 2nd favorite PIXAR film, right behind Toy Story 2). While Finding Nemo was PIXAR’s big moneymaker at the time, The Incredibles won many of us over with what Brad Bird brought to the table. While many see it as ‘a superhero movie,’ it is moreso the strength of the story and its characters, that makes it rise above and beyond. Those two areas are what Bird strives to do well, and his efforts were greatly rewarded come Awards Season following the film’s release.
I will also admit, I was never keen on the idea that the world needed an Incredibles 2. Many have pestered Bird for over a decade that we “need” one, and while one is being developed from an idea of his (though Brad isn’t in the driver’s seat), I’m one of the minority that feels it is unnecessary. There’s so much incredible (no pun intended) stuff to be found in this film, that it just feels there’s no way to give us a sequel that can improve on it.
As well, I love that Brad has kept pushing forward with each of the films he’s done. He turned Ratatouille into an ode for artists. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol brought a human element of danger that made these characters feel expendable. And like many, I am eager to see what Brad will bring to the table next year, when the Disney-inspired Tomorrowland takes us away.
It’s hard to believe that almost 10 years later, Walt Disney Feature Animation is about to release its own take on superheros, with the Marvel-associated, Big Hero 6. Just like The Incredibles, I am very excited to see what 6 has in store for audiences. Disney‘s Feature Animation division has almost become what PIXAR was 10 years ago: a studio that keeps churning out new stories and innovative ideas, though we’ll have to wait and see if audiences will warm up to the superheroes of San Fransokyo, the way they did to the Parr family some time ago.
When it comes to the company PIXAR Animation Studios, it is often the names of two of its three founders who spring readily to mind. There’s Steve Jobs, who chose to purchase the company from Lucasfilm in the mid-80’s. There’s John Lasseter, a former Disney animator who saw potential in using the computer for animation.
And then, there’s Ed Catmull.
To many of us out there, Ed is the quiet enigma. More studious, and only willing to talk if he has something to say. Until the release of 2008’s The PIXAR Story, I had never really heard much of Ed’s philosophy on things, and even given his position in life, I was perplexed. How did this quiet man who dreamed big with computers, end up becoming the President of PIXAR Animation Studios, and in 2006, President of Walt Disney Feature Animation?
Like John Lasseter, Ed was also inspired by Disney. He claimed that he drew a lot, but felt he wouldn’t be able to reach the technical level needed to become a member of the company’s animation staff. Instead, he turned his attention to Computer Sciences at the University of Utah. Back in the day, there was a great deal of experimentation going on, and Ed saw something that many in the mid-70’s could probably never envision: use the computer in regards to animation. In fact, it was this idea that would become Ed’s lifelong goal: to some day create the first computer-generated feature film.
Of course, almost 20 years later, Ed would be part of that team that made history, when PIXAR released Toy Story. Since then, the company has become one of the most successful in history, relying less on executive decisions, and moreso on those of its creative staff.
After spending almost 3 decades being the President of PIXAR Animation Studios (and 8 at Disney), Ed has taken the time to put down most of his musings about running a company into Creativity, Inc, with the help of Amy Wallace. From the start, it becomes readily apparent that Ed is not here to egocentrically tell about his climb to greatness. Instead, he uses his life and memories to explain why many of the ideals and business practices he uses, are worth noting and sharing with his readers. Ed’s book is meant to prove that the business models he knows and has seen implemented at Pixar (and in the last decade, at Disney Feature Animation), can apply to other businesses out there.
Creativity, Inc strives to convince us that there is no sure way to avoid failure in a business, or to be pitch-perfect…and we should be okay with that. Given the company he’s worked for, we’ve heard numerous media personalities gush over every PIXAR success like the team just spent 3-4 years having fun after coming up with their film ideas one afternoon. But as Ed and several of the PIXAR staff have often repeated, “Every single film we’ve made has at one time or another, been the worst film we’ve ever made.”
Ed even gives examples of this, when he describes the original outlines for Monsters Inc, and Up. What he describes are story ideas significantly different from the final product, and would have sent the production off on many different tangents. I’m sure there are dozens of readers who went “…huh!?” after reading the original draft of Up that Ed describes.
Throughout the book, Ed recounts his time working on various productions at PIXAR, providing some great insight. He discusses why the company cancelled a film titled Newt, as well as giving a peek into the group of persons dubbed, “The Brain Trust.” Ed also pulls insight from each of the myriad people he works with at PIXAR and Disney, regarding how they respond to challenges and fears in their own ways. Oftentimes, others will take the same concept, but have their own metaphorical structure for it in their heads.
Of all the chapters included, the one that had me at the first word was Chapter 12: A New Challenge. This chapter chronicles a series of events that have been at the forefront of my wonderings since the fall of 2005: when Disney acquired PIXAR in a $7.4 billion acquisition, and brought Ed and John to Walt Disney Feature Animation, in hopes they could fix the struggling studio. It strays a ways outside of Ed’s more precise layouts in other chapters, but to hear his point-of-view from how those at PIXAR first reacted to the news, to what he and John found when they started trying to restructure Disney, is pure gold. The chapter also serves the duel purpose of informing us of a major event in Ed’s life, and seeing if the principles and examples he discussed in previous chapters, could be applied to Disney Feature Animation.
The chapter even addresses why the studios were not merged (or share technology, or personnel). There is some talk about the previous version of the film Bolt (when it was titled American Dog), and also what had seemingly stymied the creative process that had turned the studio into a second-guesser, far from the innovative powerhouse it had long been known for.
The book’s release also comes at an interesting time. 2013 was quite a shocker for you if you were a fan of Disney and/or PIXAR. Many were surprised when Monsters University was shut out of the Academy Award nominees for Best Animated Feature, but the most shocking thing that has come about, has been the runaway success of Frozen. To the general public, the film seemed to come out of nowhere, and took on a life of its own, unseen since the release of The Lion King almost 2 decades before. Even after 5 months, it has made over $1 billion worldwide, and its soundtrack has sold over 2 million albums since its release. To many, the film has become a symbol that Disney Feature Animation has found its footing again.
However, it should be advised that Creativity, Inc is not some sort of get-rick-quick book. Ed is not going to give you the secret formula for making billion-dollar movies (sorry, you idiotic executives). It will be interesting to see or hear if any companies out there take Creativity, Inc to heart enough to make major changes in their corporate structure. Much of what Ed proposes is much like a New Year’s Resolution in regards to company betterment: you can talk about it all you want, but you have to work to make sure that the guiding principles in place are actually helping, and not hindering.
In the end, Creativity, Inc proves to be a much different book associated with the legacy of PIXAR Animation Studios. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime mixture of observations both managerially and creatively. Just seeing those two words mixed together should not be compatible, but Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace manage to find a way.
This winter to me, is a rather interesting milestone in my life. In December of 1988, our local cable company where I grew up, ran a free 2-week showing of The Disney Channel. I recall a few programs here and there, but the one that caught my interest, was one that gave a behind-the-scenes look (at the time) into the world of Disney’s animation studio. It was the first time I had ever seen anything showing just how the animated features that made up a good portion of my childhood were made. They even discussed the production of the just-released Oliver & Company, showing how they painted the characters on clear animation cels, and the computer technology to make vehicles drive around the animated New York City of the film’s world.
As the years passed, I ate up as much making-of material as I could, but I soon found that information on Disney’s animated features could be found within the pages of myriad books. One of those books that I encountered in 1995, was The Disney That Never Was, written by Charles Solomon. Within that book, Solomon wove a tapestry of information over decades of unproduced animated shorts and features, with images that had never been seen outside of the closed walls of The Walt Disney Archives.
Both an animation historian and critic, Solomon has written numerous books on the subject over the years, including one of my favorite Chronicle Books releases, The Art of Toy Story 3. Reading that book, it was as if I had met an old friend after many years. Solomon’s use of interviews and descriptions, provided one of the most inciteful stories of a sequel that people had waited 11 years to see. So when I heard that Mr Solomon was the author of The Art of Frozen (also released by Chronicle Books), I made sure that I was going to get a copy to read as soon as possible…after I saw Frozen 3 times in theaters.
Since 2008, Chronicle has picked up the torch on publishing Art Of books for Disney’s animated features, and has given us some fine coffee table books on the likes of The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and Wreck-It-Ralph.
With Frozen, Solomon divides the bulk of the material up into 5 sections, along with a preface by John Lasseter, and a foreword by directors Chris Buck, and Jennifer Lee.
The book offers some rather intriguing insights into the production, including a summary of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, and the task of making what was considered by some to be a “protracted” story, into an exciting film. The nut was cracked when someone suggested that the female lead and the Snow Queen should be sisters. Aside from 2002’s Lilo & Stitch, this was territory that had never been tackled in a fairytale setting: “Princess sisters.” One intriguing thing the story people did, was arrange “A Sister Summit.” Co-director Jennifer Lee explains a little about what happened in the book’s prologue:
“They brought all of us who have sisters into a room and we shared the real conflict, the real angst, and real heart. We had a lot of fun exploring what sisters do-from fighting over clothes to deeper issues like watching your sister struggle and not knowing how to help.”
Its little stories like that one that make Solomon’s book all the better. He doesn’t just lay out all sorts of great conceptual art, but he gets insight from various filmmakers, on many different aspects of the production.
We even get myriad images of character evolutions. Probably of all of the characters, it is Elsa who went through the most drastic changes. Early concepts show everything from her having blue-tinted skin, to a sharp-looking, “dark” hairstyle (as seen by the digital image on the right next to her sister Anna, by artist Bill Schwab).
One chapter that I didn’t expect to find so intriguing, concerned the production and costume design of Frozen. Early on, Production Designer Michael Giaimo (who had served in the same capacity on Pocahontas) claimed he wanted to give the film a Scandinavian style, and a team was tasked to go to Norway for research. In the last few decades, such excursions have proved valuable sources of insight and culture, that one would not get simply looking up pictures of Norway on Google. There’s even a great 2-page spread talking about the art of rosemaling, along with many different pictures Giaimo took for reference.
Costume design information on the film breaks down just how Giaimo and his crew decided to color and tone the various outfits, leading to several of the filmmakers to consider the film “a costume drama.” Compared to the light garment that Rapunzel wore in Tangled, the characters in this film wear several layers of clothing given their northern environment, with the likes of wool fabric taken into consideration.
This realm of characters in various costumes and patterns may seem boring to some, but offers some insight into the various directions the artists could have gone, as well as where the final product ended up. There are allusions in the stylings to such past inspirational Disney artists like Mary Blair (who did concept art for Alice in Wonderland & Peter Pan), and Eyvind Earle (who was responsible for the design aesthetic of 1959’s Sleeping Beauty).
Another highlight since John Lasseter and Ed Catmull were brought into the studios, is the use of color keys to layout the tone and “atmosphere” of various scenes. Those of us who had seen Pixar’s Art of books for years have always seen such works included, and since the Art of Bolt, these 2-page spreads have become commonplace for the Disney Studios’ books. What’s amazing to consider when looking at these, is they seem to be just a few shades shy of what the final image became. Just take a look at the color key image above of Elsa’s coronation, and the final image from the film below it.
Speaking of Elsa, fans of her character will probably get a big charge out of the third chapter in the book, titled The Ice Palace. One sequence that has had people talking for several weeks, is when Elsa runs away from the Kingdom of Arendelle, and near the summit of the kingdom’s North Mountain, constructs a giant ice palace. Solomon devotes over 23 pages to design work that the studio’s artisans created to come to the final product. There are also myriad additional art pieces that show more of Elsa’s evolving character design.
Earlier this year, many were shocked that the attempts to once again revive hand-drawn animation in the studio had died, with the announcement that there were no current projects being worked on with the medium. It certainly seems that digital is the way of the future, even when it comes to the likes of concept art. I remember opening The Art of Toy Story 3, and being surprised how much of the work being done was now being classified as “digital,” away from the “pencil” and “pastels” that I had seen designated in the past.
When it comes to The Art of Frozen, much of the concept work that was done on the film was digital, but there are a few spots where we see the “old-school” techniques still being done by a few artists. Notable among them are works by Claire Keane (daughter of animator Glen Keane), and Jin Kim.
“Art Of” books can often serve as a great companion piece to our favorite films. While the Entertainment Media may fawn over the likes of big-name celebrities on the red carpet, there are those of us who wonder about the hundreds of artists who pour so much time and effort into making films like these. Charles Solomon’s The Art of Frozen is another great entry in behind-the-scenes material. Just as Beauty and the Beast and its Art Of book inspired me at the age of 11 to pursue animation as a career, I can see plenty of young people out there being inspired by what the artists at Walt Disney Feature Animation have created, and working to one day possibly go to Disney and work on something just as inspiring as Frozen is.
“The fairy tale of film – created with the magic of animation – is the modern equivalent of the great parables of the Middle Ages. Creation is the word. Not adaptation. Not version. We can translate the ancient fairy tale into its modern equivalent without losing the lovely patina of its once-upon-a-time quality…We have proved that the age-old entertainment based on the classic fairy tale recognizes no young, no old” – Walt Disney
The Art of Frozen is published by Chronicle Books. Standard List Price: $40.00 (US)
In this day and age, it can be hard to remember sometimes, that the name Disney is not some kind of corporate-created name. A friend of mine who works at a local Disney Store, was once asked by some foreign visitors, “Why Disney? Why did the company decide on a name like that?”
Of course, for those of us who know its history, the name Disney was the last name of the company’s founders: Walt Disney, and his brother, Roy O Disney. While Walt seemed the dreamer of the two, it was Roy who often found himself trying to find the funds for his younger brother’s next big dream.
After their passing, many people would come to run The Walt Disney Company, but not with the same last name. However, in the last 30 years, there was a Disney who played an important role behind-the-scenes: Roy E Disney (Walt’s nephew, and Roy O’s son).
It was Roy’s idea in the 1980’s to bring in outsiders to help revitalize the company, as many lucrative business people looked at the studio as little more than a hot commodity to sell off. After searching high and low, Roy brought in Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Frank Wells. These three men, over the course of the next 10 years, would help bring about a renaissance that would elevate the status of the company into an entertainment powerhouse, that is still growing to this day.
Still, one area that many fans like myself know Roy from, is in his love and struggles to keep alive what he felt was the studio’s legacy: animation. In the early 80’s, the animation division was in danger of getting axed. Even though he didn’t have any animation experience, Roy requested to the new management, that he be given a role in helping out with this portion of the company.
One person who was also there at the time, was Dave Bossert. A graduate of the California Institute of the Arts, Dave began his career as an effects animator on The Black Cauldron, which was in production during this transitional period. Since then, Dave has worn many hats at Disney, and currently is Creative Director and Head of Special Projects at Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Over the course of his 30 years working at the studio, Dave was able to work with Roy in several capacities, notably on numerous animated features within the company. In regards to special projects, Dave would spend 5 years working with Roy on Fantasia 2000, and then another couple of years finishing up the uncompleted Walt Disney/Salvador Dali concept, known as Destino.
After Roy’s passing from stomach cancer in December of 2009, Dave had a small talk with Don Hahn (a producer at the Disney Studios), and they began to share their remembrances and stories about Roy. Dave felt there were so many things to say about this man, and Don recommended that Dave write them in a book.
Dave then began a 2 year journey, in which he would consult with members of Roy’s family (such as his wife Leslie, and his son, Roy Pat), and several others at the studio. The results of his work now occupy over 209 pages, in the latest release from Disney Publishing.
When starting to read this book, it is important to know that Dave is not here to tell you Roy’s life story. Moreso, it is his, and many others recounting a man who seemed elevated in status because of his famous name, but was something much more than that. One can see Roy E Disney walking down from that lofty pinnacle and asking us, ‘now, why did you put me up there in the first place? It’s much more comfortable down here.”
Dave’s recollections tell of a man so down-to-earth, that one of his favorite things, was eating a hot dog at his local Costco! That was one thing that Roy seemed to inherit from the Disney family: the ability to not let fame and celebrity status get the better of you. Roy wanted to be known on a first-name basis (much like how Walt would not let you call him “Mr Disney”), and he even had no qualms about driving his own car.
And, also like his Uncle Walt, he was not going to let some things just be ‘good enough.’ When a law required an art piece be added to the Burbank property Roy’s company (Shamrock Holdings) would occupy, a budget of only $25,000 was allocated. The first concept was shown to Roy by his business partner, Stanley Gold. Roy didn’t care for what was being considered, and told Stanley he’d handle things.
In the end, the art piece ended up being made by a member of Walt Disney Imagineering. It depicted a man behind an old-fashioned hand-crank film camera. Now, Stanley said their budget was $25,000. The final cost for the statue? $225,000. Of course, that extra $200,000 came right out of Roy’s pocket.
“That was his attitude,” Stanley was quoted as saying. “He didn’t know how much it cost. It’s typical of Roy. He would like to do it right, and he didn’t know, nor did he care how much it would cost.”
The book also gives an insight into one of Roy’s great passions: sailing. Dave gives a whole chapter over to telling of Roy’s love of sailing his boat, the Pyewacket, in the Transpac, a race from Newport, CA, to Honolulu, HI.
Much of the book is filled with pictures, the majority of which are in black-and-white. They cover everything from early family photos, all the way to the final months of Roy’s life. At times, it almost feels like the book overwhelms us with pictures, but they seem to act like a cocoon, keeping us enfolded in these remembrances.
Though I had heard Roy’s name mentioned many times through the years, his face really came into the public’s eye, when he set out to continue one of his favorite films, Fantasia. After a limited VHS release of the film in 1991 resulted in large sales numbers, Roy made a request to Michael Eisner to follow Walt Disney’s original idea of making another Fantasia. The result would be Fantasia 2000, and in the months leading up to its release, I remember I was rabid for any news I could find on it. I even provided information for a piece on the film in my hometown newspaper, The Waterloo Courier, when it came out in regular theaters in June of 2000.
That summer would also be the closest I would ever get to talking to Roy E Disney. During an online Q&A session about Fantasia 2000, I asked Roy if there were any plans for another Fantasia. At the time, Roy claimed they were working on pieces to include in a Fantasia that was being considered for release in 2004, or 2006. Sadly, this next iteration would not come to pass, as management at The Walt Disney Company would (at that time) begin to ‘streamline’ the company’s animation divisions. Of the proposed Fantasia pieces, only four would be completed, but find their way into other areas of the studio’s home video offerings.
It was around this time, that Roy began to grow upset with how the company was being handled. In a shocking move, he resigned from the Board of Directors at Disney, and started a campaign called Save Disney. With his business partner Stanley Gold, Roy set out to voice their opinions, that new leadership was needed, and that the Disney name at the time was being severely tarnished.
Roy’s second attempt (the first being in 1984) to save his family’s company succeeded, and with the appointment of Bob Iger as the company’s new CEO, Roy returned to the company, albeit as a consultant this time.
We all know there can never be another Walt Disney, and as Remembering Roy E Disney tells us, Roy himself was one-of-a-kind as well. Dave Bossert didn’t set out to change the world with his book, but to show the world, that there were several unknown sides to this person he considered a close and personal friend. In the end, it feels he truly has shed a little more light on a man some simply knew as, “Walt’s nephew.”
On September 13, 2013, I attended a book signing of “Remembering Roy E Disney,” at Anderson’s Bookstore, in Downer’s Grove, IL. Dave Bossert (left) and Roy P Disney (right) were in attendance, and graciously signed copies of Dave’s book, and took time to answer our questions and thoughts about Roy, and the Walt Disney Company.
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.
It’s hard to believe that recently, I realized that author Charles Solomon had been keeping me in the loop on behind-the-scenes animation since I was a teenager. His hardcover book The Disney That Never Was (released back in 1995) was at the time, one of the few ways that many of us could see unused concept art and story material from The Walt Disney Archives.
In 2010, Charles also authored The Art of Toy Story 3, which not only showcased much of the film’s concept art, but provided a verbally entertaining story in regards to the film’s journey that spanned almost a decade, making it one of the most satisfying ‘Art Of’ books for a PIXAR production I had come across.
Which brings us to today, with Solomon’s recently-released The Toy Story Films – An Animated Journey. Book-ended with a foreword by Hayao Miyazaki and an afterword by John Lasseter, this 192-page book summarizes the trilogy’s history and work processes.
The book starts at the beginning, before the name PIXAR was on anyone’s lips. We go back to the early 1980’s at the Walt Disney Studios, where John Lasseter’s early experimentation of putting hand-drawn characters within moving 3-dimensional backgrounds was pooh-poohed, and his plans to use computers to create a film around the book The Brave Little Toaster was canned. John then joined Lucasfilm at the behest of Ed Catmull, where he became one of the first to help show that computer imagery could have a life beyond flying logos, with his work on The Adventures of Wally B, Luxo, Jr, and many other short films in which computer animation was given ‘character.’
We are then led into the early stages of development that would become Toy Story. From this point on, each of the Toy Story films is given its own chapter, which contain plenty of information on story development, along with concept and final art .
Toy Story’s production is chronicled quite well, telling of its original incarnation where studio notes made Woody into an edgy, mean-spirited ‘tyrant,’ and also hearing from various people about items such as the design of Sid’s home, or even the thrill and trepidation of working on the world’s first computer-animated film. Reading over it, I felt like John Lasseter and I were kindred spirits when I read about how he handled his toys as a child:
“I always felt John was a freak and Andy was a freak. No kid treats their toys that well,” counters Andrew Stanton. “I think most boys treated their toys like Joe Ranft and I did, which was play with them until they broke.”
The one area of the book I was most interested in, had to do with my favorite PIXAR film, Toy Story 2. Originally pitched as a direct-to-video feature, it soon was considered for a theatrical release, but was halted when the story being considered was not living up to the expectations of the senior leadership (who had been busy working on A Bug’s Life at the time, leaving a ‘B-Team’ to work on the Toy Story sequel). Due to the 11th hour production schedule to complete the picture to its final form (the final film we know and love was completed in 9 months, which is unheard of!), there was no time even for a ‘Making of’ book to be created in 1999. The breakneck experience is summarized very well, though like most rubber-neckers, I was hoping for more stories of what the artists went through trying to make that film. We get a few examples, but nothing quite as harrowing as some stories I’ve heard out there.
One section in the Toy Story 2 chapter chronicles an experience that makes John Lasseter seem eerily similar to Walt Disney. After a retreat in Sonoma and a frenzied few weeks in their Writer’s Room, John Lasseter called together the studio’s artists, and pitched to them the version of Toy Story 2 they were now going to make. The experience lasted over an hour with John referencing no notes , and the passion of his convictions made everyone in that room fired up to complete the herculean task of turning out a quality product. The experience is reminiscent of Walt Disney collecting his guys after dinner one evening in the mid-30’s, and pitching them the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, before announcing that they would then be making it into a film.
In the closing pages of the Toy Story 2 chapter, there are a few storyboards and a clip based on the Toy Story gang’s appearance at the Academy Awards that year, where Woody, Buzz, Jessie, & Bullseye were the presenters for Best Animated Short-Subject. Mr and Mrs Potatohead also were in attendance, but just as members of the audiences. Prior to this appearance, an animated segment had been made by PIXAR for the 1996 Academy Awards presentation, where Woody and Buzz analyzed John Lasseter’s Special Achievement Oscar for Toy Story.
Solomon even manages to shoehorn in a few pages that discuss the non-PIXAR-involved Toy Story 3 that was being worked on by Circle 7 Animation. There are several pieces of concept art, and one showing a rather shocking sight: an old human character seeming to talk to the toys! (note: Woody broke the no talking rule in Toy Story to save Buzz, so that gets a pass in my book).
For those who have followed much of Pixar’s history, the book just gives a few new bits here and there to the work done on the trilogy, but for newcomers, it’ll serve as a wealth of eye-opening material. One item that surprised me, were a few words regarding John Lasseter and storyman Joe Ranft’s original idea for a Toy Story 3 after the second film had been released in 1999. In my opinion, I’m glad that Andrew Stanton spoke up about how it sounded when they started work on Toy Story 3 in the last few years.
The book is also filled with plenty of little candid moments that explain how some ideas, are often the result of just a few words. Michael Arndt (screenwriter on Toy Story 3) recalled how they wanted Buzz to be ‘deluded’ in the third film, but in a completely new way:
“People started throwing out ideas like fast-motion Buzz or slow-motion Buzz. I was sitting next to Andrew [Stanton] and as an aside I whispered, ‘Spanish Buzz.’ Andrew immediately slammed his hand on the table; said, ‘Spanish Buzz!’; and it was off to the races.”
One downside to the book has to do if you have oily, sweaty fingers (like myself). The pages have a tendency to ‘collect’ fingerprints, so you might want to give your hands a real good scrubbing, or turn the page and put your hands to the sides.
Sweaty palms aside, Solomon has crafted a wonderful book that summarizes the creativity, determination, and enthusiasm that PIXAR Animation Studios provided to create these films that have been embraced by the world. There is even an epilogue in which several of the crew discuss how they didn’t set out to make characters that would assimilate into popular culture…but it is still a nice thing to have happen to something you pour a lot of time, effort, and heart into.
“People began to realize that this was a big deal. That we had in fact hit our stride, and this was what we were destined to do” – Ed Catmull, discussing the creation of Toy Story (from the documentary, The PIXAR Story)