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Mr. Beaks Salutes Disney Saluting Itself!

The Walt Disney Company took over the Kodak Theater and a chunk of the Hollywood & Highland complex Wednesday for a six-hour presentation aimed at hyping up their employees, their international partners, and a cluster of entertainment journalists over their extended production slate. Hosted by senior executive Dick Cook, the stunningly lavish affair began with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra tearing through a medley of classic Disney themes ("When You Wish Upon a Star", "I Wanna Be Like You", "Life Is a Highway", etc.) and ended with a surprise appearance by Johnny Depp in full Captain Jack Sparrow getup. In between, there were performances by Miley Cyrus and Dr. John, lots of trailers, and one feature-length movie (BOLT). We heard Pixar mastermind John Lasseter hold forth on the future of animation, saw William H. Macy zoom across the stage on a motorcycle, and toured a makeshift art gallery showing off the Hammer-esque horror design of Robert Zemeckis's A CHRISTMAS CAROL. A continental breakfast, lunch, and cocktails were served. Eventually, a nap was encouraged and a frog dissected. A letter was drafted by Woody Allen's lawyers. There's something spectacularly not right about a studio feting itself so opulently as the economy threatens to collapse, but Hollywood has always been our inspiring beacon of wretched excess. So while it's true that hard-working folk are losing their jobs and their homes due to bad-faith capitalism, I take great comfort in the fact that Disney can still hire out the USC marching band to announce Jerry Bruckheimer's reimagining of THE LONE RANGER. Burning money because you can is a show of strength; it's a sharp elbow to the emaciated midsection of socialism. It's what makes us better than the rest of the world. It's also why I fell in love with film. Most importantly, it's a repudiation of the cost-conscious Disney philosophy of the early 1990s, which brought us nothing but shame, misery and LIFE WITH MIKEY. Judging from Wednesday's star-studded buffet, scrimping is not an option at the Bob Iger-led Mouse House; though they're still very much in the Walt Becker/Adam Shankman/Anne Fletcher business (i.e. the "Whatever you say, boss!" style of directing), the studio is also keen to establish relationships with visionaries like Tim Burton and Robert Zemeckis. And while these films - ALICE IN WONDERLAND and A CHRISTMAS CAROL - have huge built-in insurance policies thanks to the involvement of Johnny Depp and Jim Carrey, from what I saw on Wednesday, they don't look terribly mainstream. (That said, it's way early for Burton's film; to be honest, the filmmaker's sketches of the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar and the Queen of Hearts didn't appear radically different from the boilerplate take on Lewis Carroll's classic. It's the Zemeckis movie that looks... odd. More on that below.) For Disney, this is tantamount to "risk". But - thanks to Pixar (and Lasseter's stewardship of Disney Studios Animation), the company's extensive library of classics, their sturdy relationship with hitmaker Jerry Bruckheimer, and, of course, merchandising - it's risk they can well afford. This is what Dick Cook made abundantly clear to the (mostly) home crowd on Wednesday (who else would cheer wildly over the prospects of a WILD HOGS 2?). The state of Disney's production slate is strong. This is tremendously good news for them. Yay them! As for what you can expect over the next few years from the makers of CONDORMAN, here are my notes from the Day Of Disney:

BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA In a touch of tie-in genius, a real live Chihuahua joins Cook and George Lopez on the stage. The crowd is beyond delighted. A woman behind me exclaims, "Oh, wouldya look... a Chihuahua!" Lopez dubs the picture "Citizen Kanine". Mercifully, no footage is shown. HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 Cook and director Kenny Ortega are flanked by stars Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu and Monique Coleman. Evidently, flanking is all the kids were intended to do, as Ortega answers a few questions, and we move on to... Adam Shankman's BEDTIME STORIES This is Disney's Christmas Day release. It stars Adam Sandler as a ne'er-do-well whose bedtime stories (told to his nephew and niece) start coming true. Or parts of them anyway. Before the trailer plays, there's an adorable skit in which Sandler sends a pajama-clad Cook off to slumberland with a tale of "gi-normous" holiday box office. The crowd reacts as if they've just heard Robin Harris's "Piccolo Player" bit for the first time. The actual movie looks like a spin on WALTER MITTY: Sandler inserts himself into the stories, playing a brave gladiator, an intergalactic something-or-another and so on. It's Sandler, so it looks far more appealing than it should. RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN Dwayne Johnson joins Cook for a little banter. They refer to director Andy Fickman as an alien. If he's really that nutty, why didn't they bring him out on stage, too? The trailer is the same one from Comic Con, and it looks above-average for this sort of thing. OLD DOGS aka THREE TWO MEN AND A BABY TWO KIDS Stars John Travolta and Robin Williams stroll out to the Cook couch. Much is made of this comedy being a family affair for Travolta (his wife, Kelly Preston, and their daughter, Ella Bleu Travolta, co-star). Cook jokes with Travolta about sharing his family with the unpredictable Williams. The audience roars with laughter. Williams retorts that he broadened their cultural horizons. "Daddy? What's LAST TANGO?" This doesn't kill like it should. Footage is shown. People get hit in the nuts with golf balls. None of them are Ted Knight. ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, HANNAH MONTANA. Arguably the biggest star in the United States (and her father) commune with Cook. "With all the things that have happened to you, how do you stay grounded?" Miley is turning sixteen soon, so there is talk of buying a car, which isn't the big sticking point that it would normally be for a teenage girl and her parents. Why? Because she's loaded! I'm still laughing. Miley performs a song from her movie. It sounds like something she'd sing, and she sings it well. Can't wait until 2012 when she remakes SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS. UP It's time for the Pixar portion, and I am relieved. Lasseter proudly shows off his BOLT Hawaiian shirt, but quickly segues to UP, Pete Docter's tale of old man and his flying house. Basically, we get the Comic Con spiel, so feel free to re-read my brief interview with Docter from last July. THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Classic, hand-drawn Disney animation from Ron Clements and John Musker (directors of THE LITTLE MERMAID and ALADDIN). It's a fairy tale set in New Orleans during the Jazz Age, and it'll feature new music from Big Easy native Randy Newman. Oprah Winfrey is announced as the voice of Eudora. We're also shown a few character sketches: e.g. there's a cajun firefly (with bad teeth and a dazed countenance), a trumpet-playing alligator, and a voodoo villain who should probably be voiced by Yaphet Kotto (though Keith David will do just fine). Then we're treated to the morning's highlight: Dr. John premieres one of Newman's songs (). It's nothing out-of-the-ordinary for latter-day Newman or a Disney cartoon, but it's a nice melody, and it's just cool to unexpectedly see a legend like Dr. John. CARS 2 Coming to a theater near you in 2011. That's a year earlier than before. And that's what happens when your tie-in merchandise outsells trinkets from TOY STORY, FINDING NEMO and MONSTERS, INC.. Brad Lewis, not Lasseter, will direct the sequel, which will be something of a globetrotting affair. To tide audiences over, there will be a series of "CARS Toons", which will feature Mater (the tow truck voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) telling whoppers about his adventures as, for example, a fire truck or a matador (battling Bull-dozers, of course). We watch the first short, "Rescue Squad Mater", in which he bravely extinguishes a blaze at the Gasoline and Match Factory. Kinda funny. TOY STORY 3 2010. In spectacular Disney 3-D! It begins with the day Andy leaves for college, and it will for sure return the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, John Ratzenberger, Joan Cusack and Don Rickles. The big question for now: who will voice Ken? To punctuate the triumphant announcement of a movie already known to be in production, drab green army men rappel from the rafters of the Kodak Theater. They're joined by more army men and, finally, the characters we know and love from the first two movies. Then there's a confetti explosion. Bet there wasn't a confetti explosion when Bergman announced FANNY AND ALEXANDER. This takes us into a fifteen-minute bathroom break, which is followed by... BOLT The entire (if 80% finished) movie. In spectacular Disney 3-D. (Get used to it: Disney's got sixteen 3-D movies in the pipeline.) Reviews are embargoed (which is fair, as the film's final act, and highly emotional payoff, was laden with storyboards), but I don't think I'm violating Disney's trust when I say that the movie looks like it should gross in the neighborhood of WALL-E's domestic take, if not more. Dogs are an easier sell than robots. Regarding 3-D... as a colleague said, it's a gimmick that could get old very soon, especially when we start to get more and more movies that are actually composed for the process (and in IMAX, to boot). Watching BOLT in 3-D didn't enhance my enjoyment of the movie at all because it clearly wasn't meant to be seen in 3-D (though there's a syringe gag near the end that made me jump). When the finished film is screened, I'd rather watch it in regular old 2-D so I can fully appreciate the animators' impressive work. LUNCH Chicken. A CHRISTMAS CAROL Before we return to the Kodak, we're encouraged to walk through a gallery setup in the Hollywood & Highland annex for Robert Zemeckis's motion-capture rendition of Dickens's yuletide yarn. The first room is lined with classical portraits of Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman and Robin Wright Penn as multiple characters from the story. Basically, it's digital makeup f/x, only a thousand times creepier than anything Dick Smith, Rick Baker or Rob Bottin ever devised. Look, I've read Dickens's novella, and I'm well aware that the narrative is much darker in tone than it's usually presented; with this in mind, I'm pretty sure I never imagined Bob Cratchit looking like a cross between Gary Oldman a face-lifted Katherine Helmond in BRAZIL. Or Belle as a bulb-eyed Robin Wright Penn with a dash of Sleestak thrown in. I am not exaggerating. Perhaps the digital alterations will play better when they're not in portraiture. Or maybe Zemeckis intends for this film to play like a goddamn nightmare. After what he did to THE POLAR EXPRESS (loved those Leni Riefenstahl elves), I'm beginning to think that the mean-spiritied satirist who gave us USED CARS is alive and well. And I'm starting to get excited about this. Back at the Kodak, Zemeckis is called out on stage to sell us his vision. "You can't beat the source material," he says. He also notes that A CHRISTMAS CAROL is one of the greatest time travel stories ever written. The inference is clear: "Let me at some time travel, and I'm a lock for $200 million." The rest of his comments concern the upside of motion capture and digital cinema: at last, Dickens's story can be presented "the way it was intended" (I didn't know Charlie was such a forward technological thinker); the only limit is one's imagination. After a few minutes, Carrey joins Zemeckis on stage and yuks it up. I really wish Cook would've asked after the "smiley Christ" character sketch. I don't remember that from Dickens. Peter Barnes, yes. Dickens, not so much. Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND Depp is the Mad Hatter. The movie will be in Disney 3-D. And something called "feel-a-round". THE PROPOSAL Thus begins the Touchstone Pictures segment of the auto show. This is a Sandra Bullock/Ryan Reynolds romantic comedy about a tyrannical boss (Bullock) who bullies her young assistant (Reynolds) into marrying her to avoid deportation to Canada. Bullock and Reynolds are an odd pair, but the premise isn't bad for a sexy R-rated comedy. As a formula PG-13 comedy, perhaps it will match the Lubitsch-ian heights of WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING. The trailer gives way to the day's nadir: Cook slobbering over Bullock. I realize it's all for comedic effect, but Cook plays the letch a little too well. I'm also annoyed by his futile attempt at establishing the "Anne Fleming" brand when she's only directed two banal programmers (STEP UP and 27 DRESSES). Bullock looks great, though. She's had a very successful career, and yet it feels like she's been underutilized. SURROGATES This Jonathan Mostow-directed sci-fi flick about a future in which humanity interacts with the outside world via android doubles isn't due until September 2009, but I want to see it now. Bruce Willis plays a cop who must re-enter society as his flesh-and-blood self to investigate a string of murders (the first homicides in fifteen years). It's one of the best trailers of the day! Where the hell are Mostow and Willis? DISNEY NATURE The company has admirably rededicated itself to nature documentaries (harkening back to Uncle Walt's "A True-Life Adventure" series), and their first feature will be EARTH. It's set for release on Earth Day 2009, and the little glimpse we get is impressive. James Earl Jones evidently won the narrator coin-flip with Morgan Freeman. WILD HOGS 2: BACHELOR RIDE If you wanted it, you're getting it. Tim Allen's in a jovial mood, talking over Travolta, Macy and Martin Lawrence. Unfortunately, he's fresh out of LAST TANGO IN PARIS jokes. MIRAMAX Daniel Battsek briefly classes up the proceedings (ignoring Cook's fourth or fifth swipe at Harvey & Bob Weinstein) with a non-shticky run-through of Miramax's fall lineup: Fernando Meirelles's BLINDNESS, Mark Herman's THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS and John Patrick Shanley's DOUBT. Hoping we'd get a look at Herman's picture (which received a rave review from one of our readers a couple of weeks ago), but all we get is the already-released trailer for DOUBT. I haven't seen this printed anywhere else, so I guess it's news that Miramax has signed Helen Mirren to play a Mossad agent in THE DEBT, a drama/thriller to be directed by SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE's John Madden. It's unfortunate that Battsek didn't delve deeper into Miramax's '09 slate. Would've been nice to see Greg Mottola's ADVENTURELAND and Mike Judge's EXTRACT get some love. JERRY BRUCKHEIMER To close out the marathon of self-love, Cook is joined by the studio's number one supplier of (live-action) box office smashes to tease us with his upcoming product. He's immediately joined by Nicolas Cage, which hastens the announcement for NATIONAL TREASURE 3: THEY SAVED NIXON'S BRAIN. Cage will also be appearing in a Manhattan-set version of THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE, in which he'll play the sorcerer. Bruckheimer closes out his segment by showing us the teaser for G-FORCE, an action-adventure about an elite squad of guinea pigs (the furry kind) who work undercover for the U.S. government. Cage, Penelope Cruz, Tracy Morgan, Steve Buscemi and Jon Favreau provide the animals' voices, while Zach Galifanakis pulls down a well-deserved payday as their human liaison. The special f/x are unfinished, but I'm getting a strong whiff of CATS & DOGS from this thing. I do hope they're holding back the funny. CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC Actually, Bruckheimer produced this, too, but they wisely call upon the vivacious and lovely Isla Fisher to sell it to the crowd. It's based on the chick-lit fave from Sophie Kinsella, and, due to the involvement of Fisher and director P.J. Hogan, it looks like it could be another THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA if not better. It's due out February 13, 2009. Sorry, but your girlfriend is not accompanying you to FRIDAY THE 13TH. TR2N Please call this TRON 2. Inserting the number into your title only makes you look stupid or desperate - and the teaser (same one from Comic Con) looks anything but. All that's missing is Wendy Carlos's main theme (and Journey's "Only Solutions"). USC MARCHING BAND ANNOUNCES THE LONE RANGER With Johnny Depp as Tonto. Until we get a director attached (who'll be faced with the unenviable task of enlivening the assembly-line plotting of Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio), this means nothing to me. But nothing is already better than William A. Fraker's THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER. Also announced off-handedly: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 4. Here's hoping it's longer than BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got two incredible Budd Boetticher movies to write about, which, combined, probably cost less to make than Wednesday's continental breakfast. Faithfully submitted, Mr. Beaks

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