A few minutes ago I posted part one of my Disney/Pixar Comic-Con animation panel report which featured my thoughts on “Toy Story 3D”, “Toy Story 2 3D” and “Toy Story 3”. Now it’s time for part two which features “Beauty and the Beast 3D”, “The Princess and the Frog”, “Ponyo” and “Prep & Landing”. If you’re a fan of Disney animation you’ll want to read this. Take a look after the jump:
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST in Disney Digital 3D
After Unkrich leaves the stage to massive applause and cheers, it’s time for the 3D version of “Beauty and the Beast”. Now I love this movie. When I was seven, my grandmother bought me a videocassette of the movie and I watched it every day on my summer vacation. A few years back, Disney started re-releasing some of their classic films on IMAX and I went to see “Beauty” again and it was fantastic, especially hearing the songs in full-surround, but the animation wasn’t meant to be that big. I remember that background figures didn’t look so like people as much as they looked like ellipses with little circles for heads.
But this version of “Beauty” is a different beast altogether (sorry, I couldn’t resist). After bringing original director Kirk Wise on stage, we’re shown a clip of the film’s first song (wasn’t it great when animated films didn’t mind being musicals?), “Good Morning, Belle” and I suddenly realized I didn’t own the soundtrack, a situation which I intend to fix as soon as possible.
The animation was absolutely convincing. As I’ve said before, this weekend turned me into a believer for 3D. Yes, it may be a way to stop piracy, to bring people back into the theatre at a premium, and there’s currently no way to view these films in Digital 3D at home. But none of that matters as I watched Belle twirl around her little town and sing her song (which, by the way, had incredible vocals; the woman who provided her singing voice was angel-choir level), I was transported back to the summer of 1991, watching that videocassette over and over again and loving every minute. Furthermore, the 3D is very subtle. They’re not trying to throw things out of the screen or make look-at-me effects. They’ve cleaned up the animation, done a complete digital restoration and provided the depth-of-field that only Digital 3D can provide. Again, if you’re a parent you must take your kids to this. Hopefully, they’ll understand the musical interludes and then bug you that in addition to all the “Toy Story” stuff you’ll be buying, they want “Beauty and the Beast” stuff too. At least your kids will want stuff from films that are excellent and that they’ll want to pass on to their kids.
Afterwards, we saw a clip from “Prep & Landing”, which was totally off everyone’s radar. They mentioned that it was a Christmas special that would be airing on ABC. I rolled my eyes and began to turn my focus back to writing but then they played the clip (and you’re not allowed to have your laptop open during the footage) and I was stunned once more. It’s about the elves who make Santa’s work possible by preparing all the houses so the big guy can get the job down. Now we’ve seen quirky elves before (there’s this Will Ferrell one whose name I can’t remember), but this may be the best one yet. It’s world premiere footage and we see two elves come down the chimney and work the house Sam Fisher-style. They test the temperature of the milk, the height of the tree for presents, and among many other highly creative and entertaining acts, take out a dog with sleeping gas and then leaving a candy-cane bone for him. I slap myself for ever doubting Disney-Pixar. They’ve probably made a new holiday classic.
THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG
Then it was time for “The Princess and the Frog”, a film I’ve been highly anticipating since they announced that Disney-Pixar was returning to 2D animated musicals (in my notes I wrote down, “Suck it, Eisner”). We’re told it’s a return to a classic fairy tales but with an American twist. When Lasseter mentions that it’s set in New Orleans, the crowd is oddly quiet. Previously, whenever anyone mentioned a state or city, there would be a smattering of people cheering for their hometown. I wonder if people no longer care about “New Orleans” or if they just don’t care anymore. I find it hard to believe that in a room of over 6,000 people, there wasn’t one person from New Orleans or even Louisiana. I should have brought my friend and Lafayette resident Carl to come to this event so he could be the only one who went “Woo.” It also left me wondering if this non-response made the Disney-Pixar team a little nervous about how the film will play if people no longer really care about New Orleans. I’m fairly certain that they sent the film into production and set it in New Orleans as a show of support in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Lasseter (or perhaps one of the directors on stage whose name I can’t remember) tells us that the “Princess” is named Tiana and she’s a strong, independent woman who doesn’t really care about bagging a man as much as she wants to open a restaurant. She’s also Disney’s first African-American Princess (although you have to give them credit because “Aladdin’s” Jasmine However, when she kisses a frog, he doesn’t turn into a prince but she turns into a frog.
We’re told that Randy Newman will be handling the score and I groan. I always recall the scene they poked fun at him in “Family Guy”: “It’s Randy Newman! He sings about what sees!” and then the characters discover that they would rather forsake paradise and wander a post-apocalyptic wasteland then listen to his songs. I hope he doesn’t mess this up and I will say this: the song we got to see where the voodoo-practicing villain attempts to get the dull-witted leading man and his frumpy sidekick to sign a contract giving them everything they’ve ever wanted [which is very Ursula of him]. The way he tries to convince them with a fantastically animated number called “France on the New Side” where the song is okay but it’s made a hundred times better by who’s singing it: Keith David. There’s a movie coming out this year with Keith David singing. If that doesn’t sell you on this film, nothing will.
After the clips, the director tells us his crew has something to prove with this film because they want to show that 2D animation is still viable and worth making. And his crew is absolutely amazing and even though I can’t recall any of their names (keep in mind I’m trying to write down everything I can and I can’t write anything while they’re showing footage). He’s got the all-stars who did the jungle scenes in “Tarzan”, the guy (or gal; again, can’t remember) who did the villains for the early 90s Disney movies, and a wide array of colorists, inkers, and other animators that want to (and there’s a strong possibility that they will) hit this one out of the park.
We’re shown one more scene Tiana (now turned into a frog) and the Frog Prince get their tongues tied trying to catch flies and while they’re alligator friend is trying to find a way to get them untied, they meet a Cajun firefly who helps them out. It’s a scene that tries to show off the film’s humor and writing and it works well enough.
Finally we come to Hayao Miyazaki’s “Ponyo” and the audience goes nut when Miyazaki comes on the stage for his first Comic-Con appearance. I won’t recap “Ponyo” simply because it’s already been screened for critics and it’s hitting about 800 theatres in a few weeks. I will say that everyone who came up to ask Miyazaki question addressed him as “Miyazaki-san” (an address of respect) and while they didn’t take questions for any of the other films, this was the most intelligent and respectful audience Q&A I saw at Comic-Con.
The Great Patton Oswalt (yes, I’m going to praise this man at every turn) comes on stage and while I thought he would be moderating the entire event like he did for the Disney-3D panel on Thursday, it was great that he just showed up. We’re told that Pixar is going to start posting short films online and Lasseter will be putting his first video blog on Facebook in a couple days. Patton says it’s just Lasseter lip-synching to a Rihanna song.
I won’t repeat all of Patton’s fantastic jokes throughout the presentation except for one. He asks Kirk Wise what will be the best scene in “Beauty and the Beast 3D” and warns Wise that even those he directed the film, only Patton knows the correct answer and I think I know both their answers. I’m right about Wise who cites the ballroom scene. Patton shouts “Wrong!” and everyone laughs. The correct answer, says Oswalt, is “Gaston” (I’m right again) because not only is a great song but the amount of movement in that number will be stunning to watch.
Thus endeth the “Disney-Pixar” Presentation of SDCC ’09. I apologize for such a long article but I wanted to give you the best description of what I saw because Pixar speaks, you damn well listen up.