D23 Animated Recap: BRAVE, MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, FRANKENWEENIE, and WRECK-IT RALPH

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At the D23 Expo, Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar previewed their upcoming slate of animated films, showing exclusive footage with select cast and crew present. Among the highlights of the jam-packed panel: Pixar’s Brave and Monsters University, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, and Disney’s November 2012 release Wreck-It Ralph (about an arcade video game bad guy) all screened exclusive new footage. For the bullet point highlights from the animated portion of the panel, hit the jump.  And for coverage on the live action portion of the panel, featuring The Muppets, John Carter, Oz: The Great and Powerful, and The Avengers, click here.

1. Brave

brave-movie-image-merida- Animated feature revolves around the fair-headed princess Merida as she forgoes her ‘noble’ regal duties instead opting to practice archery and roam the mysterious woodlands of Scotland. When Merida is forced into an arranged marriage with a less than desirable suitor, she runs off into the woods and encounters an old witch. The witch casts a spell that relieves Merida of her regal duties.  But as is common with most spells cast by witches, the enchantment has disastrous repercussions, in turn bringing the kingdom to the brink of destruction.

- Brave marks the first “fairy tale” of the Pixar regime. It’s also the first Pixar film to star a female character in the lead role.

- A behind-the-scenes reel focused on Pixar staff visiting Scotland to get all the period details correct and to make sure the finished film pays respect to the country’s lush scenery.

- A scene from the film in the earliest stages of animation was screened. It depicted an archery tournament for Merida’s hand in marriage. Three suitors—all various stages of loathsome—compete to hit the mark dead center and win the raven-haired beauty for themselves. Of course, Merida refuses to play maiden and decides to take the tournament into her own hands. The clip showcased a light touch to the film. The three suitors are all comical caricatures and their various ploys to win Merida’s attention are played for laughs. Merida is a staunchly independent character, refusing to let any man or written gender codes dictate her actions. She is sure to be a favorite to many a little girl.

Pixar’s new original film Brave will be released June 22, 2012.  Here’s the official synopsis:

The impetuous, tangle-haired Merida, though a daughter of royalty, would prefer to make her mark as a great archer. A clash of wills with her mother compels Merida to make a reckless choice, which unleashes unintended peril on her father’s kingdom and her mother’s life. Merida struggles with the unpredictable forces of nature, magic and a dark, ancient curse to set things right.

2. Monsters University

- A prequel to Monsters Inc, Monsters University is the first “animated college movie.” The film will focus on the burgeoning friendship of Mike and Sulley (Billy Crystal and John Goodman respectively).

- Pixar animators went back to colleges across the country in order to replicate a “collegial” feel for the film. Storyboards of the “Monster” campus all appeared uncannily like that of a regular college. The animators are definitely attempting to ground this outlandish monster-filled universe in some semblance of reality. We were also shown storyboards of Monster fraternities, Monster social cliques (i.e. Monster goths, nerds, freaks, jocks, etc…), Monster dormitories, Monster teachers—all mirroring that of what can be found in any college in the country.

- In the prequel, 18-year-old Mike unfortunately still has his braces; whereas Sulley is much more toned and in shape than he will be in the not too distant future.

Monsters University hits screens June 21, 2013.  Here’s the official synopsis:

Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan are an inseparable pair, but that wasn’t always the case. From the moment these two mismatched monsters met they couldn’t stand each other. Monsters University unlocks the door to how Mike and Sulley overcame their differences and became the best of friends.

3. Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie

frankenweenie-logo-movie image- The first 3D, black and white, stop-motion animated film.

- The film, based on Burton’s great short, will feature the same basic premise: boy loves dog, dog dies, boy brings dog back to life.

- Burton stalwarts Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’ Hara, and Martin Short all lend their voices. Long time collaborator Danny Elfman will score the film.

- Tim Burton designed all the characters and animatronics in the film. Burton’s penchant for turning the most mundane looking of things into something far more sinister is duly represented in the models and setting. It’s “Transylvania meets Burbank.” My favorite character design from the footage: a fat rotund looking man in a buttoned down shirt—seemingly so average—but the small oval shaped glasses he wears make the everyman seem downright horrifying. This simple touch changes the norm to the grotesque.

- Producers Allison Abbate and Don Hahn introduced a model of the reanimated dog, aptly named Sparky. The model dog possesses it’s own metallic skeleton allowing animators the ability to shape the creature’s expression, mood and body position.

- The glimpses of black and white footage shown were all duly impressive—crisp and clear of the likes I haven’t seen since the Coen brothers’ Man Who Wasn’t There. To be honest, just the thought of a black and white stop motion film fills me with goodwill. Of all the presentations, this was the one that excited me the most.

Frankenweenie opens on October 5, 2012.  Here’s the official synopsis:

After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life—with just a few minor adjustments. He tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets out, Victor’s fellow students, teachers and the entire town all learn that getting a new “leash on life” can be monstrous.

4. Wreck-It Ralph

wreck-it-ralph-logoThe big surprise of the panel. Going in, I knew nothing about the film, but after watching the first four-minute opening, it’s become a definite must see. 8-bit arcade villain Wreck-It Ralph (voiced to perfect melancholy bemusement by John C. Reilly) grows sick of constantly being viewed as the bad guy. Even after the arcade closes and his part as the Donkey Kongesque foil to “hero” Fix-It Felix is over, he’s still ostracized by his fellow characters and left to sleep out in the trash dump area of his video game world. At a Bad-A-Non meeting (a clever little AA reference), villains from various games lament always being labeled as evil. ”Just because I’m a bad guy doesn’t mean I’m a bad guy” intones one member. Group leader Ghost (adversary to Mr. and Mrs. Pacman) leads the others in the organization’s motto: “One game at a time.” But these words seem to have little to no effect on the forlorn Ralph. From here the footage ended, but storyboards were presented teasing where the film would go from there. Ralph decides to leave his 8-bit world and journey into other arcade games, desperate to prove his worth as a hero. His first stop: a Halo like first shooter game. When Ralph fails there, he journeys to a racing game called Sugar Rush set in the world of junk food. There Ralph makes a “shocking discovery” and then, well—that was all that was given. But this tease more than piques my interest for the Nov. 12, 2012 release.  Here’s the official synopsis:

Wreck-It Ralph longs to be as beloved as his game’s perfect Good Guy, Fix-It Felix. Problem is, nobody loves a Bad Guy. But they do love heroes… so when a modern, first-person shooter game arrives featuring tough-as-nails Sergeant Calhoun, Ralph sees it as his ticket to heroism and happiness. He sneaks into the game with a simple plan—win a medal—but soon wrecks everything, and accidentally unleashes a deadly enemy that threatens every game in the arcade. Ralph’s only hope? Vanellope von Schweetz, a young troublemaking “glitch” from a candy-coated cart racing game who might just be the one to teach Ralph what it means to be a Good Guy. But will he realize he is good enough to become a hero before it’s “Game Over” for the entire arcade?

For more coverage from D23, here’s our video interviews.  We’ve got Jason Segel, Frankenweenie producers Allison Abbate and Don Hahn, Cobie Smulders, Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr., Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston and many more.




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