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Immersed in Movies: Disney and Pixar Through the Looking Glass of D23

Immersed in Movies: Disney and Pixar Through the Looking Glass of D23

The biggest takeaway from D23 is that it’s all about creative legacy building: honoring the past while staying relevant.

Disney and Pixar are now on a par and peerless in animation, with Disney alternating between fairy-tales and buddy comedies — or sometimes both with the Polynesian-themed Moana and the Jack and the Beanstock-inspired Gigantic — and Pixar embracing more personal movies about memories lost and found with Oscar front-runner Inside Out, Finding Dory and Coco (the Dia de los Muertos project). Even Toy Story 4 gets more personal as a love letter from John Lasseter to his wife Nancy.
Zootopia (March 4, 2016), from directors Byron Howard (Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph) and producer Clark Spencer (Wreck-It Ralph), represents Disney’s first anthropomorphic feature “designed for animals by animals.” Think of it as hip Robin Hood: Rookie bunny cop Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) teams up with sly fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to solve a disappearance that could tear Zootopia apart. It’s about overcoming bias and Grammy-winning Shakira will voice pop star Gazelle and sing the anthem, “Try Everything.”
The world building by production designer Dave Goetz is very imaginative with Sahara Square, Tundra Town, the Rainforest District and Bunny Burrow, among others. And figuring out how to adapt individual animal behavior when rigging them on two feet was also inspiring after the team went to Kenya. How about an elephant that scoops ice cream? But the most hilarious scene involves a trip to the DMV run by sloths.
Meanwhile, Moana (Nov. 23, 2016) marks the first CG feature from John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog, Aladdin). It takes the princess fairy tale to the South Pacific and the strong-willed Moana is very much in the mold of Ariel and Mulan. She’s paired with quirky demi-god, Maui (Dwayne Johnson). Again, the hand-drawn DNA is evident while cutting edge tech takes further into the CG realm.Test footage was shown of the playful water (reminiscent of The Abyss) and the living island with gorgeous volcanic fluid sim. Music is by Tony-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton), Grammy-winning composer Mark Mancina (Tarzan, The Lion King), and Opetaia Foa’i (founder and lead singer of Te Vaka).
By contrast, Gigantic (2018), from director Nathan Greno (Tangled) and producer Dorothy McKim (Get A Horse!), is set during Spain’s Age of Exploration and features a world of giants living in the clouds. Jack teams up with 11-year-old giant Inma to thwart the evil Storm Giants. The gorgeous, classically-inspired artwork revealed was by production designer Mike Gabriel (Wreck-It Ralph), associate production designer Lisa Keene (Frozen), Lorelay Bove (Big Hero 6, art director of environments) and Brittney Lee (Frozen, art director of characters). Music will be from Oscar-winning Frozen songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.
At Pixar, The Good Dinosaur (Nov.25) is shaping up nicely under director Peter Sohn and producer Denise Ream. The aesthetic of combining a photoreal prehistoric depiction of the American Northwest (beautifully crafted by DP Sharon Calahan) with cartooney characters is quite revelatory. They showed off pathos (Arlo, the Apatosaurus, who strays from home, discovers that his human friend, Spot, is an orphan during a poignant pantomime with sticks) and danger with the introduction of a T-Rex family.
Finding Dory (June 17, 2016), the long-awaited sequel from Andrew Stanton, answers the question: “Where is Dory’s family, and will this overly-optimistic fish with short-term memory loss ever be able to find them again?” In her quest to find her parents (Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton), Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) encounters a host of damaged characters at the Marine Life Institute in Monterey, including Hank (Ed O’Neill), a cantankerous octopus; Bailey (Ty Burrell), a misguided beluga whale; and Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a kind-hearted whale shark with an identity crisis. Judging by the footage, Pixar’s upped the lighting and rendering along with the performances.
The good news is that Toy Story 4 (June 16, 2017), directed by John Lasseter, produced by Galyn Susman (Toy Story OF TERROR!) and scripted by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack (Celeste & Jesse Forever), was revealed to be a love story in which Woody goes after Bo Peep. For those doubting the wisdom of returning to Toy Story once again, this looks to be Lasseter’s most mature take on growing up.
Coco, from director Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and producer Darla K. Anderson (Toy Story 3), has a very intimate grasp of  the festive Dia de los Muertos. It’s about young Miguel and asks “where he comes from, what his place is within his family, and how families stay woven together across time through the simple act of remembrance.” It’s both colorful and whimsical, and the skeletons evoke a somewhat stop-motion look. What’s most promising, as with the rest of this Pixar slate, is that Unkrich is another director grappling with complex emotions pertaining to mortality and memories.

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