The warmth in the Anaheim Convention Center Hall at D23 for Pixar and Disney animation czar John Lasseter was expressed, loudly, with a standing ovation. Also getting one was Billy Crystal (make him Oscar host already!), who’s back with John Goodman in Disney/Pixar sequel Monsters University (2013). Borrowing a few pages from Comic-Con, Disney is using its direct relationship with fans and marketing synergy to promote its characters and products at its huge three-day D23. Not getting as warm a welcome as Lasseter was Disney chairman Rich Ross, who still seemed stiff in front of the teleprompters, even when he cried, “cupcakes for everyone!”
That was to celebrate the Pixar animation studio’s 25th anniversary. During a long promo, Pixar announced two new projects in the works from Bob Peterson (co-director/writer Up), an untitled comedy about Dinosaurs that posits that dinosaurs survived (November 27, 2013), and Monster’s Inc.‘s Pete Docter, an untitled movie about the inner mind (May 30, 2014), which according to The Playlist is a story written by Toy Story 3‘s Michael Arndt “specifically about the formation of ideas.”
The next Pixar feature to hit theaters is Mark Andrews’ original Scotland-set medieval fairy tale Brave (June 22, 2012), featuring Pixar’s first heroine, a tomboy archer princess (Kelly Macdonald), whose parents are played by Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly. This beautifully detailed and atmospheric movie (which conjures an outdoor Miyazaki feel) seems more classic Disney, while the opening 4 1/2 minutes of Disney’s videogame-inspired Wreck-It Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch (November 2, 2012) shows more of a Pixar sensibility. Disneytoon’s CG Planes (straight to video and Blu-ray in Spring, 2013) got a great reaction from the crowd; it’s the first spin-off film set in the world of Cars; Dusty Cropduster is voiced by Jon Cryer. “The world of cars is really big,” said Lasseter. “Every type of vehicle is a character.”
For the first time, Disney and Marvel merged their worlds with a climactic presentation of footage from Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, which has two weeks of filming left with its assemblage of superheroes: Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Captain America (Chris Evans), brought together by SHIELD’s Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to fight a dangerous threat: Thor villain Loki (Tim Hiddleston). Who got the biggest roar from the crowd? Downey. For the past five years “it’s all been leading to this,” said Marvel production chief Kevin Feige. “We’re building a world.”
While writer-director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) worked the crowd beautifully for 3-D Mars adventure John Carter (March 2012), starring Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights), you could tell that Disney has a long row to hoe to bring folks up to speed on this action fantasy property, which although based on the first of Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burrough’s famed eleven Martian novels (which I scarfed up as a kid), no longer has the same popular currency. This one they should have promoed at Comic-Con: the Orange County family crowd didn’t get it.
The first footage from the film, written by Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon, shows the shared DNA with such films as James Cameron’s Avatar, though, and the advantage of a film that allows audiences to enter an exotic new world, full of nine-foot tall, four-armed green Thark warriors (played on location by live actors like Willem Dafoe on three-foot stilts in performance capture suits) and threatening giant six-armed white apes. Word is, however, that the film has gotten Very Expensive (like Lone Ranger-level).
Also looking pricey is Sam Raimi’s currently filming Oz The Great and Powerful (March 2013), an origin story about a young magician (James Franco), who flies to the magical land in a balloon, which is based on another popular book series from a long-ago era, by L. Frank Baum. Yes, there are munchkins, witches played by Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz, and a yellow brick road. The production designer is Robert Stromberg (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland).
Sure to make a return on its investment is The Muppets due this Thanksgiving, starring Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Jason Segal, Amy Adams and new original songs, which promises “a rollercoaster ride of comedy adventure and mayhem.” Word is that Disney is making director James Bobin and writers Segel and Nicholas Stoller do reshoots in order to make the film less edgy and more mainstream. That’s too bad.
The audience responded warmly to Tim Burton’s latest Disney film, a feature-length black-and-white stop-motion version of his short Frankenweenie (October 2012), in 3-D, which is currently shooting with 25 animators on 35 sets on a giant soundstage in London (on a good day they nab two seconds of footage). The film’s producer showed the convention center crowd the 4-inch puppet for the film’s hero, the dog Sparky, who is brought back to life after a car accident by his loving master Victor, the film’s Frankenstein figure. Burton includes other characters as an hommage to his favorite horror films, including a Godzilla Turtle Monster. Burton has assembled several of his regulars (though not Johnny Depp), including Martin Landau, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder, Martin Short and composer Danny Elfman.
Not getting much reaction was Peter Hedges’ The Odd Life of Timothy Green, starring Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton as childless parents who write down the qualities for their perfect child and bury it in a box in the back yard. Lo and behold a heavy rain yeilds a muddy small boy who brings magic into their lives.