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Quint on the Disney Animation half of the presentation! Pics! BOLT! PRINCESS & THE FROG! RAPUNZEL! TINKERBELL!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Alright, this second half of the Disney animation presentation has been a few days coming. I was shown some extra stuff that was in a gray area of maybe on the record, but probably off the record and was trying to find out if I could talk about it. Looks like the answer was no, but I will say it involved BOLT and I’m working on having further insides on that project for separate stories. We got a lot to talk about in this report. For the first half I focused on the Pixar side of the presentation. Since then Disney has released a ton of images… mostly just title fonts, but there are a few pieces of art from the actual movies. I’m going to pepper the Disney Animation art throughout and then, at the end, I’ll throw in all the Pixar pics, which includes looks at UP, NEWT and the CARS 2 title logo.

This is the biggie of the presentation. They showed more for this movie than any others. Coming November 26th, 2008, it’s their Thanksgiving release. It’s 3-D animated, but they’re doing something really interesting with it. They’ve worked on technology (patents pending, apparently) that allows them to bring the classic Disney painterly backgrounds into a CG animated movie. They showed a few scenes to demonstrate, including one of an old train pulling away from a country station that looked fantastic. It was sunset, heavy orange and yellows. I haven’t had a chance to catch MEET THE ROBINSONS yet so I won’t speak to that film, but CHICKEN LITTLE lacked that Disney identity in story, character and tone. Just having that hand-painted background gave the few finished scenes from BOLT that Disney identity. John Lasseter said that this new technology is so sharp that if you take some still frames and look closely at the backgrounds you can even see brushstrokes.

The story of BOLT (formerly AMERICAN DOG) focuses on the love of a puppy for his person. There’s a twist, though. Directors Byron Howard and Chris Williams (Howard and Williams were both story artists on LILO & STITCH and Williams directed a short that will play before BOLT) were brought out to talk about the flick and show some footage from the first 15 minutes. Most of it was still in storyboard format (with a lot of scratch dialog, meaning not the final actors filling in the voices… even the directors doing a couple). But here’s a rundown of what they showed. It opens with Penny, the little girl and owner of Bolt, getting a phone call in the middle of the night. Her father is on the other line, looking over his shoulder, scared. He says something has come up at work and he won’t be coming home. Long shadows appear on the wall, approaching him. He tells her to get out of the house, but not to worry. She won’t be alone… she has Bolt. “I’ve altered him…” This starts a montage sequence showing him putting the dog through machines, his face turning into an x-ray, his paw doing the same, showing his bones, etc. “He can protect you now!” then the logo hits with some pumping music. Following this, we find Penny on a rooftop with Bolt. She’s looking through high-tech goggles, scanning the reflective windows of a skyscraper. She can hear into the rooms she focuses on, passing mundane office conversation until she finds the baddies. The evil Dr. Calico speaks to a minion in an office via a monitor. He’s got one green eye and a cat draped over his shoulder. The baddie is voiced by Malcolm McDowell, by the way. Penny zooms in and the goggles vision blurs, then the wall disappears completely and she can see inside the room. “There he is… Dr. Calico…” she frowns and passes the goggles over so Bolt can look through. He growls. Dr. Calico shows his henchmen that he’s holding Penny’s dad. Cats surround him, hissing. The henchman asks if he’s spilled his guts yet. “Oh, his guts will spill… one way or another.” He then inquires if “the package” has been picked up and the henchman says an agent is picking it up immediately. That agent leaves the building and Penny and Bolt follow. Of course, it’s a trap and Bolt and the girl find themselves in an alley facing down a racing car. Inside the car, Dr. Calico talks to the driver via a James Bond-ish monitor. “We only need the girl.” Bolt runs at the car. The two collide and the car goes flying, front crumpled in. It turns end over end in the air, passing by Penny. Her reflection is seen in the hubcap… in slow motion, of course. The car lands on its top. Penny approaches, he rolls down (up?) the window and he says he won’t talk. By the way, this henchmen is voiced by Macho Man Randy Savage. The next scene is him screaming, being held over the edge of a bridge… Bolt with his mouth around the bumper. He says Dr. Calico in Bolivia… just as helicopters show up. Bolt puts the car down and Penny pops open a scooter. They take off and the chase begins. This really reminded me of the Dash chase from INCREDIBLES. The choppers drop behind the girl and dog as they race through traffic, unloading a dozen motorcycle bad guys. They head for the airport, trying to outrun the choppers and motorcycles and catch a departing flight to Bolivia. The motorcycles are catching up… the bad guys have clawed hands with blue lightning arcing in-between the fingers. Penny calls to Bolt… “Zoom-Zoom!” A ball on a string connected to the scooter pops off the front and Bolt catches it in his mouth and puts the speed on… like the Millenium Falcon going into hyperdrive. They dodge bad guys. One of the baddies holds up a circular bomb with a 30 second countdown on it. Penny and Bolt see it. He tosses it onto a tanker truck driving the opposite way. Penny tells Bolt to fetch it and he does. The tanker is driving next to a school bus and the kids point out Bolt as he runs up behind them. “Doggy!” He grabs the bomb in his mouth and runs away. Darting between cars. A chopper shoots at him. He stops and stares at it, his eyes glowing orange. Two holes appear in the seat beneath the driver, the laser vision burning through and starting a reaction in the engine that ends with the chopper exploding, but not before it shoots a heat-seeking missile at him. He keeps ahead of it, but just barely. Finally he sees Penny dodging motorcycle drivers, making them crash into each other… but one stays in close pursuit. They’re on a deck below Bolt, but he runs full stream at the gap. Another chopper rises in his way and he jumps over it. We got an action movie slo-mo/multi-camera on this as he leaps over the rotors. He lands on the other side, unharmed as the heat seeking missile blows up the chopper. Bolt places the Frisbee-shaped bomb on the head of the last pursuing motorcyclist and leaps off the back of the cycle. The baddie looks at the countdown… 6… 5… 4… He throws it up, trying to get rid of it, but it sticks to the belly of the last bad guy chopper, blowing it up. The baddie puts his hand to his head in disbelief, forgetting it’s electrified. He shocks himself and goes crashing to the pavement. Penny and Bolt make it to the airport where they’re greeted by a veritable army… Choppers, trucks, cars, tanks. They close in on Penny and the dog. She turns to him and says, “Bolt. Speak.” He puffs out his chest, raises his head high, sets his rear legs and then his front and lets out a series of barks. Super sonic barks… sends choppers crashing to the ground and destroys the cars and trucks. “Mission accomplished… good job, buddy.” But he’s still growling. Something’s up. “That’s alright, tough guy, you got them all,” she says. She holds him, takes a camera out and takes their picture. She leads him to a trailer. Ridiculous, right? Well, here’s where the twist comes in. The second the door is closed, the lights change and the crew comes out. The baddies get up, brush themselves off and the clean-up begins. Turns out Bolt is the star of a popular action show, but he doesn’t know it. There’s a scene following this where we meet the director, watching a bank of monitors. They see the boom mic in the shot as Bolt was giving his sonic bark. The director, voiced by James Lipton… inspired voice casting here… he’s perfect as the pretentious holier-than-thou director type… anyway, he has to deal with a lady named Mindy, from the network. She asks why it’s a big deal that the boom is in the shot. He explains the main conceit of the movie… If we can see the boom mic, Bolt can see it. If he sees it, he’ll figure out he’s in a show. The reason why Bolt is a world-wide phenomenon, why it has had 5 highly successful seasons is because Bolt believes with every fibre of his being that he’s protecting Penny. So, they go out of their way to keep Bolt in the dark about the real world. Back in the trailer Penny feeds Bolt. He still remembers the boom and thinks someone is left out there and Penny is still in danger. He growls at the door. Her cell phone buzzes and Bolt’s ears drop. He’s sad, knowing it means she’s going to leave. He blocks the door and whines. “Oh, Bolt. You know I have to go…” She kisses his head. “You’re my good boy.” Then leaves. She’s met by her douchey agent and her mom. She tells her mom she wants to take Bolt home this weekend, she’s worried that he doesn’t know a world beyond the show. In the typical overly-friendly agent-speak, her agent butts in saying it can’t happen… but they need to get going to that Teen Vogue cover-shoot. Penny, by the way, will be voiced by Miley Cyrus, although, I have to say… I liked the voice of the unknown girl that was doing the scratch work for about half the dialogue more. She felt more real. Cyrus did a good job, but her voice just didn’t have the character that the other girl’s voice did. But, I guess the other girl’s name won’t draw in bundles of money. Two cats walk up to the trailer. Both are Dr. Calico extras, one a longtime player on the show and the other a newbie. The vet explains to the newcomer that Bolt thinks the show is real and that he likes to unwind by taunting him at the end of the day. They jump to the roof of the trailer and the main cat, voiced by Diedrich Bader (from OFFICE SPACE and THE DREW CARREY SHOW), says, “I like to start with an evil laugh.” Then he lets out a low, long chuckle, looking down through the vent in the top of the trailer. Bolt looks up and talks. He is voiced by John Travolta. “Hello, hairballs.” “You may have won today, Bolt, but in the end we will get your little Penny!” “Not likely, cat, for you have chosen to follow the path of evil. Ultimately, it will destroy you along with your fiendish puppet-master!” The cats pull back, the newbie (a fat orange cat) has wide eyes. “Wow!” Bader-cat, “I know, right?” They taunt him some more before leaving. Of course, Bolt ends up out in the real world, accidentally shipped to New York, and runs into some troubles… still thinking he’s a super-powered dog. The last scene he shot with Penny had her being taken by the Green-Eyed Man, so he naturally thinks she needs saving and has to get from New York to Los Angeles. The next scene we saw was Bolt getting his head stuck in-between metal bars in a park in New York. Three pigeons, with thick New Yawk accents, scope him out. Bolt tries to bend the bars, but can’t. His head is stuck good. This was the first bit of completed and semi-completed computer animation. The pigeons were completed and there was a great Bolt POV of New York that looked finished… most of Bolt’s stuff was in non-detailed grayscale. The pigeons, eyes blinking and necks bending just like the real life birds. “Oh, buddy… you got your head stuck pretty good, huh, guy?” “Yup, dat is one stuck melon.” They advise him, bending their necks in unnatural (for dogs) ways. “No. like dis. Turn an’ pull.” Bolt does it and finally breaks free. Little packing peanuts are stuck to his fur. He pulls one off. “What are these things?!? They’ve weakend me!” The lead pigeon pecks at it. “Dos are Styrofoam packing peanuts.” “This has the green-eyed man written all over it.” The pigeons look at him, recognizing him from somewhere. “I’ve seen dis guy’s mug somewhere before.” One of the pigeons is a sickly green color, eyes crazy… very skinny, feathers coming off. “Yeah, yeah, yeah… He’s real good wit da faces and such…” A bus pulls up, advertising the Bolt Show, with Bolt standing in the same heroic pose. The pigeons look at him, deep in thought. “No, I don’t know… I taught I knew…” So, Bolt decides the only way he can get any help is to find an agent of Dr. Calico’s… a cat. He ends up with a street scrounger named Mittens, voiced by Susie Essman (Jeff Garland’s wife from CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM). This is my favorite pairing of voice actor to character based on what I’ve seen. She’s tough, definitely New England… strong, but there’s a sweet-ness to her. So, Bolt ties Mittens to him and forces her cross-country. She thinks he’s nuts… the dog thinks he can super-bark and break through walls. But a shakey friendship begins. They meet the third member of their team in a trailer park in Ohio… his name is Rhino and he’s a television-addicted hamster. First we see of him he’s flipping through channels… of course, he lives in his hamster ball, so to change the channel he pushes forward on his ball, which nudges the right button on the remote. He settles on A-TEAM and gleefully watches. Bolt comes to the door… and Rhino is a huge, huge fan of his show… and a little on the dim side, so he believes Bolt can do everything he can in the show, too and joins up. Disney artist Mark Walton voices Rhino, giving him a mad-man nerd energy and a super high enthusiasm level. The last clip they ran has Mittens and Bolt captured by animal control. Bolt is still deluded and thinks he can bust out of the truck. Mittens is sad… she’s street smart. She knows what it means to be captured by animal control and how she’s going to end up. The truck stops to gas up and Rhino sees this as him moment to shine. He unlocks his ball, making that escaping air sound. He gingerly steps foot on solid ground, a new experience for me. He begins to laugh maniacally. The dude pumping gas looks around confused… we hear what he hears, a rapid squeaking. Rhino crawls onto the truck as it takes off. He works the latch. Bolt is knocking it from the other side. The timing works out and they both fall to the ground, Bolt sure he did it himself. Mittens is still stuck in the truck. Bolt soon has to face up to the fact that he might just be an average dog, but he decides to go save Mittens anyway and he and Rhino take to the animal clinic to bust her out. I think the best compliment I can give the stuff I saw was that it was very reminiscent of Pixar and not what we’ve come to know as “other” CG animation. The jokes weren’t all modern day references (outside of the Michael Bay/modern action angles, multi-cameras, slo-mo techniques, etc for the opening 10 minute “show” footage, every other single bit of humor came from the character and story, not a nod to modern culture). The pigeons reminded me a lot characters that’d pop up in FINDING NEMO to help out the Dad fish. Funny, but not slapstick. There’s even a scene during the animal shelter bust out where Bolt distracts a sleeping guard by throwing Rhino into the kennel, ball rolling to a stop against a dog cage. The dogs wake up and see it. After a beat, one starts going “Ball. Ball!” the rest jump up and join in… “Ball! Ball-ball-ball!” tails wagging. The guard wakes up, hearing the rapid fire barking, and walks to the kennel giving Bolt a clear shot into the cat kennel. Very much like seagulls in NEMO. And, probably most importantly, the footage had the heart of a Pixar movie, or a classic Disney movie. That combined with the nostalgia and just right feeling of having the look of traditional hand-painted backgrounds really made me feel at home with what I saw. Hopefully the movie lives up to the first impression.

Lasseter said that RAPUNZEL marks a return to the Disney Fairy Tale and brought out directors Glen Keane (long-time Disney animator, responsible for Ariel, Tarzan, Aladdin, The Beast, Pocahontas and his work goes back to THE RESCUERS and, one of my favorite Disney movies PETE’S DRAGON) and Dean Wellins (an artist and key story man who worked on IRON GIANT). He also said they’ve created technology to bring “Rembrandt, Michaelangelo, DaVinci back to work, alive and making storyboards for them… at least that’s how it looks.” They didn’t show any footage, but we did see some of this art. If I had to guess just based on the art, I’d say they were going for a traditional animation angle here, but the directors announced it’ll be Disney’s first computer animated fairy tale. The art was very beautiful, reminiscent of SLEEPING BEAUTY. Lush foliage, tall castle towers. There was different art with Rapunzel hanging her hair out of the tower, her prince climbing her hair, her walking along medieval streets, hair dragging along behind her, etc. The color palate was very SLEEPY BEAUTY, the art very much in that painterly style. I hope the project ends up keeping that style (according to the directors, the final version will be in a world inspired by those master painters). Here’s one of the pieces, although this looks more like a piece of finished work from the film and less painterly than the rest:

Keane told us a story about talking with Joe Grant who goes all the way back to SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES with Disney. The man is 96 years old and Keane was talking to him about RAPUNZEL and he said they were trying to make that back in the golden age of Disney, but it was a nut they couldn’t crack. They set it aside and were just “waiting for the right day.” Keane said that with Lasseter head of Disney Animation, the animation department at Disney is going through a renaissance and he believes now is the time, now is the “right day” to make this. We’ll see this one Christmas of 2010.
This is a series of 4 direct-to-DVD movies starring Tinkerbell. Lasseter proclaimed a love for the character and I’m with him there. PETER PAN is one of my favorite Disney movies (goes back and forth with PINOCCHIO as my favorite Disney animated movie) and I love her character in it. Sexy, sassy, bitchy, prissy… However, I wouldn’t say that’s the character I saw in the footage from these four movies. The plan is to release these four films that explore the world of fairies. Each film takes place during a season. The first will come out October 28th, 2008 (called simply TINKERBELL) and will focus on Tinkerbell’s origins. It’s set in Spring. Second film comes out November 2009. It’s called TINKERBELL: NORTH OF NEVERLAND and it’s an adventure story set during Autumn. The third film is TINKERBELL: MIDSUMMER’S STORM, a buddy picture with Tinkerbell and another fairy. Comes out November of 2010. It takes place in the English countryside. The fourth film’s story is still being developed, but it will be set in Winter and introduce snow and ice fairies. They’re all computer animated and I won’t say the animation is bad. It’s not like BRATZ level or anything, but there is a noticeable difference between the TINKERBELL movies and the theatrical footage we saw. Lasseter said that he believes quality is the best business plan, no matter where it’s distributed and he stands behind the Tinkerbell series, so I’ll put a little faith in it just based on his say-so. He said they’ve put their hearts and souls into these films. If it wasn’t for that, I’d be completely blowing these movies off. On the surface it looks like a money grab… with the addition of a PC element… African American fairies, Asian fairies, etc. Can’t say it’s my cup of tea, but I’m sure it’s perfect for the little girls out there and the moms and dads who want to keep them happy. Maybe I’m just grumpy because Tinkerbell hit me in the nose. No lie. At the end of the brief montage of footage they had dancers come out dressed as these fairies. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little hot. But they ended their little dance by blowing sparkles (what fairy dust turns into when in the real world) into the audience. At that moment, confetti canons shot out big wads of glittering confetti. One of these wads didn’t break up in the air and sprinkle down over the audience, as intended, but made a straight shot for my nose. It’s hard to complain about getting hit with confetti without sounding like a real pansy, so I won’t complain about it, but it did take me surprise. I can’t believe Tinkerbell hit me… maybe she still is that little bitch she was in the original PETER PAN afterall…

This was the big all in extravagant presentation. THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG marks the return to Disney cell animation, coming Christmas 2009. It’s also a musical, nonetheless. John Musker and Ron Clements write and direct… traditional Disney men who wrote and directed THE LITTLE MERMAID, ALLADIN and HERCULES. Musker’s first order of business when he was brought out was to show a Cal-Arts photo of him, Lasseter (making a funny face, of course) and a mustached, long-haired Brad Bird. The audience got a big laugh out of it. The movie’s set in New Orleans and features Voodoo pretty prominently. The baddie is a Voodoo doctor (voiced by Keith David), the fairy godmother is a blind Voodoo priestess living in the swamps (with a seeing eye snake, apparently) and the star is a New Orleans girl named Tiana sure she’s destined for greater things.

It is a musical, with a bent to jazz, blues, Dixie-land and gospel. At this point they brought out Anika Noni Rose (the third part to Hudson and Knowles in DREAMGIRLS) who voices Tiana. She sang one of the songs from the movie as stills showed on the screen behind her. It’s a sad song … pretty much a song of longing. It’s starts cynical, saying there’s no Prince Charming coming in a white horse, no matter how much she wants to believe in fairy tales, but then gets a little more uplifting. Pretty much a “damn it all, I don’t care what they see. I know I’m the future Queen of New Orleans.” The art definitely looked in the same world as ‘90s (good) Disney animation. The Prince of the story is named Prince Levine, who arrives in the French Quarter seeking out jazz. He is lured in by the Voodoo doctor, Facilier, and one way or another he becomes a frog. The fairy godmother, Mama Odie, is 200 years old. She has a giant cauldron always brewing with Gumbo in which she can form magic visions (they called it “Gumbo Vision”). They called her wise and all knowing… a combination of Moms Mably and Yoda. The twist on the fairy tale is the frog’s kiss. It takes a lot of doing and Tiana isn’t convinced at first, but relents. And when she does, she becomes a frog, too. They wind up trapped in the Bayou as frogs… pretty low on the food chain, right? They run into Louis, a giant swamp ‘gator. Louis really, really looked like the crocodile from PETER PAN, a nice touch. He had a beat up trumpet in his hands and is apparently a huge fan of Jazz, following river boats for the music. One day he found a beat-up trumpet in the swamp and began playing. The other ‘gators don’t get it, so he strikes a fast friendship with the newly frogged people, a receptive audience. Also joining the band is Ray, a “lovesick Cajun firefly,” who was hillbillyed out… lazy eyes, mop of hair, missing teeth. “You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but Ray is a hopeless romantic.” He’s in love with the prettiest firefly that’s ever lived. The film culminates during Mardi Gras. Randy Newman then came out to play a tune from the film, very jazzy… kind of a jazzy version of his Toy Story music… undeniably Randy Newman. It was funny, I couldn’t shake that Family Guy sketch out of my head as he sang. His vocal style is just as distinctive in person as you’d think. He also messed up, calling a halt to the song in the last bit and apologizing to the audience. “Go back to A minor… I screwed up, ladies and gentlemen, I’m very sorry… first mistake in 400 performances…” It looked good and again it was it’s own thing, didn’t seen to SHREK it up. But I have to worry a little bit that it doesn’t come off too much like Don Bluth’s ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN… both are set in New Orleans with a heavy Jazz influence. Bluth has his own distinctive style and the story’s very different, but I couldn’t help but draw comparisons as I was watching. That’s it from the presentation. I have some of the Pixar logos and art to give ya’ before I go… so here are those:

They’re certainly going to be busy. Of all the material I’ve seen, WALL-E, UP, BOLT and KING OF THE ELVES look the most interesting. If you didn’t see them, here are the other articles from the event: CARS 2 KING OF THE ELVES PIXAR’S SLATE Thanks for reading along, squirts! -Quint

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