I recently attended Disney’s D23 expo, and one of the events’ biggest highlights was, of course, the panel for Disney and Pixar’s upcoming slate of animated films. This particular panel was hosted by none other than John Lasseter himself, and some high points included a preview showing of Riley’s First Date?, an appearance by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who will be voicing a character in Disney’s Moana) and some greatly hilarious scenes from the upcoming Zootopia. Here are some thoughts on the Disney and Pixar movies shown at the panel. Starting with Disney.
One of the downsides to the panel is that, in regards to “Frozen 2” they had nothing new to say. Granted, I am kind of glad that they still haven’t announced a release date, since it shows that Disney is giving filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck time to get all the pieces together before the studio pushes things forward. Frozen deserves a fantastic sequel, not a rushed one.
The only problem is the panel opened mentioning the Frozen sequel, but they basically just reiterated that they’re working on it. They may as well have just said “Remember how we announced a Frozen sequel? Well… we announced it.” I’m obviously vey excited for a sequel to my favorite Disney animated film, but I kind of wished they mentioned…anything.
Gigantic will be Disney’s version of Jack and the Beanstalk, and Disney hopes to make this the “definitive version” of the tale (which was not too subtly writing-off their own Mickey and the Beanstalk). In a small twist to the tale, the story will now be set in Spain during the Age of Exploration. Aside from that, however, I wasn’t too wowed by Gigantic. That is, until they revealed that Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the songwriters of Frozen, will be doing Gigantic’s song work. The musical couple came out to perform one of the songs from the film accompanied by storyboards in which an 11-year old girl giant plays with Jack like an action figure. The song was a whole lot of fun, and combined with the new take on the giant character (though they announced the film will have a number of other giants), I am now looking very forward to Gigantic. Amazing what one song can do for a Disney feature.
I admit the vague teaser trailer for Zootopia doesn’t exactly give you a whole lot to be excited about except for that smug fox, but Disney showed a few scenes of the movie during the panel, and suddenly it got a whole lot better.
Disney seems to be really excited about the world of Zootopia within the movie. They pointed out how most Disney films with anthropomorphic animals either placed the animals in a world alongside humans, or simply swapped out humans with the animals. Zootopia on the other hand is a world similar to ours, but where the animal gimmick has taken over (think of how Pixar made the worlds of Monsters, Inc. or Cars, but with animals instead).
The setting is used as a means to “modernize” Disney’s animal movies, and to make it feel more unique. What really sold the movie though was how funny it was. They showed three clips of Zootopia, each one generating thunderous laughter from the crowd. One scene involving Zootopia’s version of a DMV was so hilarious that I’m actually surprised Disney decided to show it off early to anyone.
Zootopia definitely looks like a good time, and I’m considerably more excited for it now than I was before the show.
Moana seemed to be the “show-stealer” for most people in the crowd, but I have to say it ended up feeling like a mixed bag for me. The Polynesian setting and cultural aspects of the film look great, as does Dwayne Johnson’s character, Maui (a demigod of immense strength and magical tattoos). And the supernatural elements look a lot cooler than Disney’s usual “pixie dust” style of magic (one clip showed the ocean “playing” with a young Moana in a wonderful display of animation).
The problem I have is the story, which directors Ron Clements and John Musker described as being about a “rebellious young woman defying her overprotective father’s wishes and going on an adventure to see the world.” Isn’t that the plot to, oh, I don’t know, every Disney movie?!
Moana looks great from a visual standpoint, and again, the cultural elements give it a unique flair. But after they revealed the plot details, I kind of lost a lot of interest. It just seems like the archetypal Disney plot with a new coat of paint. Though this is just the base of the plot, so hopefully it can be expanded into something more unique so that the story can live up to the film’s other elements.
I will say, one promising moment during Moana’s presentation occurred when one of the directors was discussing the aforementioned plot, and was almost in tears when he mentioned that, early in the story, Moana’s grandmother passes away (“it is a Disney movie, after all” they later clarified). And it wasn’t just to get an audience reaction, it felt like a genuine emotional reaction to the story he’s helping create. It’s always a good sign whenever a creator cares about their work so strongly on an emotional level.
Now I’m really just hoping Moana’s plot turns into something more original, otherwise it will feel like the great setting is just disguising old tropes.
The Good Dinosaur
There’s not too long of a wait left for The Good Dinosaur, as it arrives in theaters this Thanksgiving. This of course meant that Pixar had a good deal to show of the film.
I have to say, I’m more excited about The Good Dinosaur now than I was, but I am still a bit skeptical given the film’s very turbulent production. I expect a good movie, but the last time a Pixar film had such a troubled production it resulted in Brave, one of the studio’s weakest efforts.
Pixar revealed more of the film’s plot, and how it revolves around a young dinosaur (an Apatosaurus to be precise) named Arlo who befriends a young caveboy named Spot after he gets separated from his family. Both Arlo and Spot have suffered a great loss in their life, and form a bond on their journey to get Arlo home.
It sounds like a heartwarming plot, and I love the idea of realistically animated background with very cartoonish-looking characters. The dynamic between the two main characters also looks like it has some great potential (Pixar described it as a “boy and his dog” story, but the boy is a dinosaur and the dog is a boy). But again, the rough production of The Good Dinosaur is keeping much of my enthusiasm at bay. I hope the results can wash my concerns away.
On a side note, I want to point out a sweet story that the Good Dinosaur’s director shared during the panel that really speaks for the universal appeal of animated films. The Good Dinosaur’s director, Peter Sohn, is a Korean immigrant, and he talked about how his mother would take him to every movie he wanted to see, even though she only spoke Korean and didn’t understand most of them. The only ones she did understand were the animated ones. He mentioned how moments like Dumbo’s mother singing to him as she’s locked up break cultural and language barriers and can generate emotion on a universal level.
Yeah, I know, that story has nothing to do with my take on the movie presentations, but it’s a sweet story. So deal with it.
Yep, Finding Nemo will finally be getting a sequel in 2016. But this is another instance where I’m excited, but skeptical. On one hand, Finding Nemo is a beloved film, so I want to believe that Pixar will take good care of the sequel. But on the other hand, the story is feeling a bit too similar to the first.
Ellen DeGeneres will return as the voice of Dory, and other characters from the first film will return along with some fun looking new ones. The cast (a lot of which were present for the event) looks like a good lineup of vocal talent, and Pixar showed off a pretty humorous scene involving Dory and an octopus named Hank.
But the plot of Dory traveling the ocean to find her family might echo the original film’s story a bit too loudly. In one of the scenes shown, Marlin even says a line like “the whole point of traveling is so you don’t have to travel again!” It just seemed a little too self-referential. Again, this is really just the base of the plot, so hopefully the whole “journey to the destination” can be more unique from the original Finding Nemo.
I’m looking forward to Finding Dory, but I’m also not going to get my hopes up.
Pixar’s Dia de Los Muertos-themed movie finally has a title, and it’s called Coco (named after one of the film’s characters, they said). Honestly, they didn’t show a whole lot, just a teaser and a vague plot synopsis (a 12-year old boy’s fate is forever changed after making a discovery based around Dia de Los Muertos) with a few production stories. So it’s hard to make too much of an opinion of its showing at the panel. The teaser definitely looked pretty, and considering this is the only announced non-sequel in the Pixar canon after The Good Dinosaur, I hope it ends up well.
I must say, I’m a bit surprised Pixar actually continued with the film, given that the similarly-themed animated film The Book of Life was just released in 2014 (Pixar previously cancelled “Newt” due to plot similarities with Rio). Maybe Pixar was too far in production to change course? Hopefully Coco can become something special.
Toy Story 4
I am a big fan of the Toy Story films. In fact, I will say that Toy Story puts up a strong argument to being he most consistent film trilogy of all time (though I suppose it’s no longer a trilogy). That’s why it pains me to say that I am not excited for Toy Story 4.
I believe Pixar (and Disney) when they say they only make sequels when they feel they have a worthy story in mind (this isn’t the Michael Eisner era anymore). Even with Pixar’s recent preference of sequels, they’ve all been released after a considerable amount of time from their predecessors, whereas most animated sequels seem rushed into theaters (The Lego Movie already has three sequels on the way, much to my chagrin). So when Pixar says they felt they have a story they like for Toy Story 4, I actually believe them.
But it doesn’t change the fact that Toy Story 4 feels entirely unnecessary. Toy Story 3, though the most flawed entry in the existing trilogy, wrapped things up rather beautifully. It was a fitting end to a great series. Even if Pixar feels they have something good with Toy Story 4, I can’t help but feel like the old cliche of “too much of a good thing” is rearing its head here.
Pixar did tout at the panel that they (unintentionally) made every Toy Story film into a different genre (Toy Story is the buddy comedy, Toy Story 2 is the adventure film, and Toy Story 3 a prison-break drama), and that Toy Story 4 will (intentionally) continue this trend and be a love story. Although that might not sit well with some people, I at least hoped the love story aspect at least meant that the film would focus on Buzz Lightyear and Jessie. Much as I hate character shipping, I’m alright with genuine character relationships, and one of my gripes with Toy Story 3 was how Buzz Lightyear’s role was largely demoted from the first two entries. He shared the spotlight with Woody in the first two Toy Stories, but in Toy Story 3 he just served as comic relief, so I at least hoped Toy Story 4 could turn the tables in Buzz’s favor.
But then they revealed that the love story will be between Woody and Bo Peep! The Buzz Lightyear fanboy in me died right there. Not only will Buzz not get the spotlight, but he’s playing second fiddle once again just so Pixar can bring back a character they already wrote off in Toy Story 3! Hopefully Buzz’s role will at least be expanded from what it was in Toy Story 3…
On the bright side, John Lasseter has stated that the story of Bo Peep is inspired by his wife’s life story, so that at least says that this story is coming from a personal place. Still, it’s just hard for me to get very enthusiastic about Toy Story 4. Hopefully by the time 2017 rolls around, Toy Story 4 will prove me dead wrong.
So there are some of my thoughts and ramblings about Disney and Pixar’s animation panel at D23, and the films they showcased there. I was a bit disappointed at the fact that nothing was said of The Incredibles 2 (that’s the Pixar sequel we’ve always wanted!) and the lack of any details of Frozen 2 was a bit of a bummer, but what was showcased looks to be a roller coaster for any fan of animated features. Even with some of my skepticisms, I look forward to Disney and Pixar’s horizons.