Jul 30, 2009

NOTES ON SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON 2009, FRIDAY PART 2 - Disney Animation/Pixar

There is no other company in Hollywood history (especially modern Hollywood history) that has been as successful as Pixar. Their track record is 10 for 10 both critically and financially, an unheard of feat. Now that Pixar is a full partner with Walt Disney Studios, and John Lasseter is the head of all Walt Disney Animation, well…we all win because of it.

John Lasseter moderated the Disney Animation/Pixar panel (I seem to recall him being at Comic-con in the past, perhaps for WALL-E if not also RATATOUILLE) which also featured more 3-D goodness. The Mouse did not disappoint.

The panel started out with a bang (I seem to be using that term a lot to describe Comic-con 2009 but it fits), as we put on our 3-D glasses and were treated to the opening space sequence from TOY STORY 2 in 3-D which is coming to theaters in October as part of a TOY STORY/TOY STORY 2 3-D double feature. TOY STORY 2, which was great to begin with, looked even better in 3-D, and the sequence screened was ideal to really sell the enhanced version. In addition, we also previewed the 3-D trailer for the event which in the typical Pixar manner poked fun at the material and the 3-D process – in other words, fun and creative perfection.

It was reported that no material has been changed in either TOY STORY movie to accommodate the 3-D process, so we’re getting the 2 movies exactly as they were originally, just jumping off the screen this time – literally.

This event of course is a precursor to TOY STORY 3 which is currently in production, and director Lee Unkrich (after some jokes about the pronunciation of his name) had the pleasure of not only announcing that toys Barbie and Ken are both major players in the film, but that Michael Keaton will be the voice of Ken. Of course with the movie still deep in production and voice work just now being done, there was no footage available to be screened. However a gag reel featuring a 70s style interview with Ken talking about his popularity (with some digs at being secondary to Barbie like how his name is smaller on the box than hers) was screened (in 2-D). It was very clever (as usual) making fun of such things as 70's culture and the fact that the sun glasses for the dolls never stayed on. I have no doubt Pixar is going to continue their successful streak.

To keep the 3-D goodness going, John Lasseter introduced the directors of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the only animated film to ever be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award of 1991 (which will probably change soon thanks to the expansion from 5 to 10 nominations) is also getting the 3-D treatment to be released around Valentine’s Day, 2010. When the film was originally made, they had utilized Pixar created technology, so the transformation from 2-D to 3-D was not that big of a challenge. The clip screened was the opening number, and looked absolutely fabulous. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST also happens to be my favorite of the modern Disney animated features, so I am very excited for this. The filmmakers stated that they were most excited about how the ballroom sequence would look in 3-D, however Patton Oswalt (who appeared later to moderate the Q&A portion) shot that down stating that the bar-room number “GASTON” was easily the best suited for 3-D. We’ll all have a chance to judge our favorite scenes in February, 2010.

One thing that I loved about the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST presentation was the studio logo before the footage. It incorporates a small clip of Mickey Mouse whistling from his star-making STEAMBOAT WILLIE cartoon and even that short glimpse of classic footage in 3-D gave me goose-bumps. Could they perhaps expand their 3-D work to classic titles? I’m sure the expense and work load would be enormous, but it would be great to see the likes of PETER PAN or SLEEPING BEAUTY in 3-D and maybe even some cartoon shorts like STEAMBOAT WILLIE.

John Lasseter then announced his desire to create more memorable holiday programming, and an idea that had come across his desk is now being turned into a holiday special to be aired on ABC. The show, PREP AND LANDING, deals with 2 Elves who are the advance team that goes into each house – MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE style - and gets it all ready for Santa’s arrival including heating up the cookies, making sure everyone is asleep, air into the stockings making filling easier as well as creating a runway to help Santa land. It looked fun and really went a long way to show just how great the John Lasster led Disney Animation team has become. I hope though it covers how they deal with apartments. I always wondered…no chimneys.

Thanks to John Lasseter, Disney is once again comitted to revitalizing the studio's 2-D animated features, the newest being THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. This film has the distinction of being the first out of the studio with an African American female protagonist. 2 clips were shown, one featuring a new song by Randy Newman showing how the prince becomes a frog, and another with the 2 frogs (the princess also turns into a frog) trying to get along and with the obvious sexual tension thrown in. Looked great, very old school and much more entertaining than the past few features which have been average at best.

What followed though was the true draw of this panel, for both the attendees and John Lasseter. Master Japanese animation filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki was on hand to introduce his latest film PONYO which Walt Disney Animation is the North American distributor for. Lasseter was simply gushing (and rightfully so) over the man he considers a mentor. Mr. Miyazaki gave very concise short answers to the questions posed to him (via an interpreter) and along with Mr. Lasseter was presented with an award for innovation and creativity by the head of programming for Comic-con called the Inkpot award. They screened an extended clip which in true Miyazaki form gave me goose-bumps, and I am extremely excited to see the movie. Miyazaki was hosting a screening in San Diego that night which I sadly could not make, and also screened the film at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood this past week (also involving Mr. John Lasseter). Luckily we don’t have to wait long as the movie will be released on 900 screens on August 14.

Having had a very packed day on Thursday, and given all the goodness that continued on Friday you would think that the big panels would start slowing down, but that was not the case. Later that afternoon, Sony was presenting LEGION starring Tyrese Gibson, and more importantly Peter Jackson was on hand for his very first Comic-con (he has sent video wishes in the past) to introduce DISTRICT 9 which he is a producer on not to mention an Entertainment Weekly panel entitled “The Visionaries” featuring a conversation with James Cameron and Peter Jackson to end off the Hall H day. I would have loved to catch these, but had some other engagements and booths and events to check out at the convention (not to mention I made it a priority to actually eat a decent meal unlike Thursday) so knowing that DISTRICT 9 opens wide on August 14 (good weekend for movies with that and PONYO), I didn’t mind skipping it. Word on the convention floor, and through most reviews was extremely positive. Sony really is overly marketing this movie (the “Humans only” signs and bus benches), and it is a clever campaign that should pay off.

I was able to score a picture with the Green Girls at the Paramount STAR TREK booth (on Blu-Ray and DVD November 17) sitting in the Captain’s chair and received a Tribble for my efforts.

I enjoyed the FEED YOUR FEAR display at Fox Home Entertainment highlighting their upcoming line of horror films on Blu-Ray and DVD. I then spotted Rhea Perlman on the convention floor (husband Danny DeVito was involved with panels and a booth for THE BLOOD FACTORY) which inspired the woman behind me to comment that she was “some actress from some old show she didn’t know the name of”. Wow, never thought the day would come when CHEERS was “an old show” and I also felt old suddenly.

Also, Gene Simmons of KISS fame walked by with his son and a camera crew in tow (probably shooting his reality series THE FAMILY JEWELS). KISS also performed at a party that night. Seriously shows how big Comic-con has become when the parties feature live performances by KISS