Quint tours Dreamworks Animation, sees HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and bits of SHREK 4 and MEGAMIND!!!
Published at: Feb. 2, 2010, 2:21 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I wasn’t in Los Angeles for one full day before diving into a little bit of coolness, namely a tour around Dreamworks Animation studios following a screening of the near finished cut HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, half an hour of SHREK THE FOURTH and some rough footage from their upcoming MEGAMIND.
Three years ago I wouldn’t have been interested in a tour around Dreamworks Animation, but after KUNG FU PANDA I’ve gained a bit more respect for the studio than I had before. I didn’t even hate OVER THE HEDGE either, but KFP was just a fun flick that I didn’t feel talked down to its audience and was the first time I felt they actually presented a real challenge to Pixar in terms of quality.
When HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON started I didn’t think I’d like it much. It was pretty, but standard. Cartoony dragons routinely attack a Viking colony, stealing sheep and other livestock. We’re dropped right in the middle of one of these attacks and it’s chaos. That’s usually not a bad thing. I love being dropped into the middle of a story already in motion, but with the excess of animation there was just too much going on… we’re introduced to a dozen characters, a dozen different types of dragons and the Viking’s history of dragon slaying all in one go. It was a bit overwhelming.
About a reel into the movie the lead character, a young scrawny boy named Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), manages to capture the most elusive dragon species and can’t find it within himself to kill it. Of course a friendship develops and that friendship between boy and dragon is what got me interested in the movie.
I’ll have a more detailed look at the movie sometime soon, but I will say that after Hiccup and the dragon, named Toothless because its teeth can pop up from his gums at will, get together the film went from okay to really good. It’s a similar creature/human dynamic co-director Chris Sanders employed in LILO & STITCH, the last 2-D Disney animated feature of real quality, in my book. In fact Toothless looks a little like Stitch, with the round face and big eyes.
The story also streamlined at this point, heading upwards and onwards to a dynamic, truly tense finale that actually has real consequences for our heroes. Kids will shit over this movie and after a bit of a hectic first act I think adults will be along for the ride as well.
After the screening we took a short break and then they played about 30 minutes of SHREK THE FOURTH or SHREK FOREVER AFTER or SHREK The Final Chapter… They called it The Final Chapter in the screening room, but I’m not sure what the final title is.
When I saw this on the agenda I was like… “Okay…” I’m not much of a Shrek fan. I kinda like the movies when I watch them in the theater, but even before the credits roll they are horribly dated and hard to rewatch. For me, anyway. I never even watched Shrek The Third.
I won’t say the half-hour they showed me changed the way I view the franchise… it didn’t… but I was surprised at how much like in the footage. Not everything worked, mind you… there’s at least 4 modern pop songs that are thrown in to random montage or action scenes that would have worked a thousand times better with a decent score in place in stead and every time I hear Eddie Murphy as Donkey I mourn for what he could have been if he’d chosen to stick with edgy, dark hilarious comedy instead of family fare.
But I think what I liked about the footage the most was the new villain, Rumplestiltskin. The film opens with the King and Queen back during the time when Fiona was still imprisoned… they’re so desperate to get their daughter back they go to make a deal with Rumplestiltskin, a kind of dark magic midget that lives in a “carriage park,” this universe’s version of a trailer park. I liked the sight gags here… all the trailer park inhabitants were green-faced witches… some are hillbilly witches with tons of children, some are strangely Transvestite looking people. I’m not sure how much I liked that particular gag, but I can’t deny that the scene on the whole made me laugh.
That might have been a bit of guilty laughter, but I can wholeheartedly admit to loving Rumplestiltskin and his creepy, psychotic pet goose that always bares its creepy little goose teeth while looking at the other people in the room (sometimes the camera itself) with a sideways head… because geese can’t see you straight on, right?
Rumple himself is a tiny dude that reminded me a little bit of David Bennent in LEGEND… he was the little elf boy that was really, like, 20 years old, but looked like a 10 year old.
Our wonderful tour guide, Scott, told us that they were going after an A-lister to voice Rumplestiltskin, but after hearing their story artist’s temporary scratch work they kept him. His name is Walt Dohrn and it was easy to see why they kept him on. Rumple’s voice is a little ADD child, a little munchkin and a little “maniacal laugh villain.”
So, the King and Queen visit Rumplestiltskin and the King is just about ready to sign away his kingdom to the little bugger when an aide runs in telling him that the curse on his daughter has been broken. The King then, of course, rips up the magical contract he was about to sign and little Rumple’s world is smashed.
Now we get back to Shrek who loves his ogre wife and ogre children, but misses the days when being an ogre was something to fear. He’s become a popular guy, worshipped by the townspeople that once hunted him and that weighs on him. The monotony of being a family man wears him down.
Rumplestiltskin sees this and tricks Shrek into a contract that allows him to have one 24 hour day where he could be the feared ogre of the swamp again. The catch is that magic is a balance. In order to get a day he has to give a day. Rumple says he can just take a day from Shrek’s childhood, something he doesn’t even remember.
Of course, we later find out that the day he takes is Shrek’s birth. Without ever being born Shrek isn’t there to break Fiona’s curse and the King has signed over his kingdom to the evil midget.
Shrek only has the 24 hours Rumplestiltskin is contractually obligated to give him, but he sets his army of hillbilly witches out to keep Shrek from disrupting his ownership over the kingdom.
Not a bad premise, actually, and it gives the filmmakers a chance to reintroduce Shrek to damn near every single character he’s ever met. The half-hour of footage ended with Shrek absconding with one of the witch’s brooms and escaping the Rumplestiltskin-controlled palace with Donkey in tow.
As with previous Shreks the footage was hit and miss, but I was very surprised that the hits outnumbered the misses. If this movie works and works better than the previous Shrek entries it’s because of the villain and his crazy-ass psychotic goose… it’s normal sized in the flashback, but when we’re in the “present day” it’s as big as a horse and literally pulls Rumple’s carriage, doing that crazy bent over, wings out screaming goose run thing. That fucker cracked me up every time I saw him.
After the Shrek footage we went into a conference room and watched about 8 minutes of their in-development twist on the super hero formula flick MEGAMIND.
The set up is kind of a reverse Superman. A young alien child is shipped off of his homeworld by his parents, but instead of landing into the loving arms of Ma & Pa Kent the craft lands in a penitentiary, so this little blue baby with a big head is brought up by convicts, not kindly adoptive grandparents.
Megamind is the result, a super villain voiced by Will Ferrell that’s trying to take over the world, constantly butting heads with Metro Man, an Elvis-like muscle-bound hulk in studded spandex voiced by Brad Pitt.
The footage I saw was very rough and focuses on Megamind’s latest attempt at destroying his adversary. Of course, this means kidnapping Metro Man’s reporter girlfriend, Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey), who is so used to being kidnapped that she’s blase about her situation. She’s annoyed and just wants to get through all the speeches and threats to the part where Megamind is defeated by Metro Man and she can go about her day.
But the twist is this time his plan works… he traps Metro Man accidentally, not realizing the planetarium he used as a trap is lined with copper, which drains Metro Man’s powers. In a flash, a satellite laser destroys the building and his nemesis.
So, he fucks up forward if you know what I mean. His plan was just as flawed as usual, but Megamind stumbled into his goal, defeating his mortal enemy. But where does he go from there?
That was the extent of the footage I saw, but there was a rundown of where the plot goes, with some art.
Turns out that a super villain without a super hero is a ship lost at sea, so Megamind uses his intellect to replicate Metro Man by injecting his DNA into a schlub of a guy, Roxanne’s overweight cameraman Hal (voiced by Jonah Hill), creating a ginger superhero calling himself Titan…
But Hal is kind of stupid (he spells his name Tighten) and sees that it’s much more fun to be a villain, which begins cutting in on Megamind’s territory, forcing him to change roles and become the hero.
Again, not a bad set up. This one was a bit more on the nose than How To Train Your Dragon in terms of gags and humor, but if it works it’ll be because of the details. My favorite character shown was Minion, an ape/android maching thing that looks a whole helluva lot like Robot Monster, but with his head an actual fishbowl instead of a deep sea diving mask.
Minion is an alien fish that lives in the fishbowl atop the hairy mecha-ape body and is voiced by David Cross… Minion is just that, Megamind’s minion and he acts like a Hollywood agent’s assistant. Cross is a funny dude and the design of this guy is really funny itself.
I didn’t see anything that turned me off, the closest was Shrek being Shreky and Dreamworks’ campus is pretty rad. I went into the game room where there were driving game set-ups, arcade games, rows upon rows of foosball tables and a Wii hooked up to a flat screen TV. Apparently Dreamworks also pays for every employee’s breakfast and lunch in their massive cafeteria.
The campus was also very beautiful, a great effort to include nature in the Glendale complex… a stream rolls through, full of carp and ducks, squirrels play in the grass and I even saw a baby opossum as I was leaving. I joked that there must be some dude watching us with a remote control device and all these animals had to be mechanical, operated on cue.
If I’m not mistaken all three projects I was shown are being released this year, so you’re gonna see a shit ton of Dreamworks animation hitting screens over the next 10 months. I can vouch for one of them and the other two show promise.
Speaking of showing promise, tonight I am going to see Pee-Wee’s Playhouse in person! I can’t tell you how psyched I am. If it’s as awesome as I think it’s going to be I’ll be back with a report on the show!
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