This morning Disney rolled out a large slate of announcements as part of its D23 Fan Expo, which the mouse house hopes will develop into their answer to Comic-Con. And considering the Saturday sellout at the Anaheim Convention Center, they might really be onto something. The nearly three-hour presentation was heavy on animation and the presence of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios head John Lasseter.
Outfitted in his trademark Hawaiian shirt, Lasseter clarifies that he’s sporting the “official ‘Cars 2’ Hawaiian shirt.” He adds that the sports coat he’s wearing over the shirt is at the suggestion of his wife, who said it makes him look more like a chief creative officer.
On the “Cars” note, Lasseter first turns the discussion to “Planes,” a direct-to-DVD/Blu-ray cash-in which Lasseter adds “takes place in the ‘Cars’ universe.” Lasseter doesn’t focus too heavily on the fact that this is a DisneyToon release rather than Pixar. A clip featuring the hero of “Planes,” Dusty the Crop duster, is set to blaring rock music and shows Dusty taking off from an aircraft carrier landing strip. Lasseter then brings out the voice of Dusty, Jon Cryer. “If you ever have a chance to do a voice in a Disney movie,” Cryer jokes, “I highly recommend it. “Planes” is directed by Klay Hall (“The Simpsons,” “King of the Hill”).
Next up was one of the show’s surprises, “Wreck-it-Ralph,” the story of an 8-bit villain from an ‘80s video game that looks kinda like a cross between “Donkey Kong” and “Rampage.” Prior to the show, this one had been met with skepticism, but the unfinished footage -- combining full animation, video game-type footage and storyboards -- won over the crowd. This was primarily due to the appearance of some recognizable video game villains from the heyday in a self-help meeting. A ghost from Pac-Man leads the meeting and Coily from Q*Bert sits in, amongst other familiar digital baddies. As 'Ralph' director Rich Moore (“The Simpsons,” “Futurama”) further explains the adventures of Ralph, he shows some of the worlds the character visits, the first of which was a less-than-subtle take on the “Halo” world. We’re not exactly sure how this one works in terms of obtaining the rights to all the properties being referenced, but if anyone has the clout and the fat pockets to pull it off, it’s Disney. After all, they managed to pull off the crossover a few decades back in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
Moore shows the crowd an amusing voice booth clip of Jane Lynch fiercely voicing her Sergeant Calhoun character. Finally, two of the voice talents from “Ralph,” Sarah Silverman and Jack McBrayer, take the stage. “I’ve always wanted to go to Anaheim and not go to Disneyland,” Silverman quips.
Pixar’s highly-anticipated “Brave” follows, which Lasseter describes as one of the most unusual releases for Pixar. “This is our first fairy tale, if you can imagine Pixar doing a fairy tale,” says Lasseter. “And it’s our first female main character.”
Lasseter then turns the “Brave” presentation over to directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman. Andrews sports a kilt for the occasion.
There was a fair amount of “Brave” footage shown to the crowd, which had the usual top-notch Pixar visuals, even with the caveat that not all of the footage was in a completed stage. Heroine Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) shows off her archery talents on horseback before her noble steed tosses her off and into a mud puddle. She throws some mud back at the horse and he snorts it right back into her face. She approaches the horse to reprimand him, but instead simply kisses him on the snout. Awww.
Next up is a scene showing the bumbling lords vying for Merida’s hand in marriage -- Macintosh (voiced by Craig Ferguson), Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd) and Dingwell (Robbie Coltrane). They compete in an archery competition. MacGuffin and Macintosh miss before Dingwell hits the bullseye, seemingly by accident. His father brashly celebrates and moons the other fathers, which gets a big laugh from the crowd. An enraged Merida, who wants nothing to do with any of the men, mounts her horse and races through the course, landing bullseyes on the first two targets before perfectly splitting Lord MacGuffin’s bullseye arrow right down the middle. Merida’s mother follows, yelling at her daughter and the two square off in a face-to-face stare down. One last bit shows the bright blue “Will-o-the-wisps,” lightning bug-like blue lights which can change fate, according to legend. The wisps lead Merida to a witch (Julie Walters) whom the heroine hopes will aid her in warding off her motley crew of suitors.
Kelly Macdonald takes the stage along with Kevin McKidd to talk about how great it’s been to work on the movie. Macdonald wins over the crowd with her bright yellow dress and usual accented charm. Can’t wait for more “Boardwalk Empire.” “Brave” is slated for release June 22nd, 2012.
The problem for Lasseter now is that his own Pixar stuff always seems to overshadow anything else from Disney Animation. He does mention “Tangled” a few times as proof that Disney can produce good animated flicks without the Pixar banner. Luckily, he also had another Pixar release to discuss, the recently announced prequel to their 2000 hit, “Monsters Inc.,” “Monsters University.” This one is still in the early stages, but Lasseter confirmed that it will take place back in the college days when longtime friends Sulley (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) first met. Back in the day, they were college rivals competing to be scarers. Later in the day, Disney announced the return of Steve Buscemi as the antagonist of the first film, Randall Boggs, plus the new additions of Dave Foley (Pixar's "A Bug's Life"), Julia Sweeney, Joel Murray and Peter Sohn (voice work in "Ratatouille").
We got a look at character designs, which show a slightly thinner Sulley and Mike sporting a retainer. Dan Scanlon (story artist on “Toy Story 3” and co-director on the short “Mater and the Gaslight”) is directing. In a short video clip from the sound booth, Goodman and Crystal address the crowd. “Perhaps we should have come in person,” says Goodman. “Well you should have thought of that,” Crystal says as the screen goes blank and Crystal takes the stage to big applause.
This one is too early for footage, but it sounds like a fun premise and the crowd seemed pretty excited about the sequel/prequel. “Monsters University” comes out June 21st, 2012.
The biggest news of the day (really the only news, per se) was the announcement of Pixar’s next two projects, neither of which actually have a title. First is “Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs” directed by Bob Peterson and produced by John Walker. This was just an announcement, but we did get a still showing a silhouette of what looked like a brontosaurus with what might have been a small child atop his head. “In our movie, the asteroid missed the Earth and dinosaurs continue to live,” Peterson told the D23 crowd.
The second project is “Untitled Pixar Movie that Takes You Inside the Mind” and it’s being directed by Pete Docter and produced by Jonas Rivera. And that’s all we got on this one (though we have some of our own details, including who the writer is, over at this piece).
To finish off Lasseter’s long series of announcements, the Arena doors opened and endless boxes of cupcakes were brought in so that everyone could join in the celebration of Pixar’s 25th Anniversary.
The cupcakes weren’t bad, but maybe a little heavy on the icing. The animation portion of today’s D23 Studio presentation was clearly the strongest portion and may have set the bar a bit high for some missteps that followed in the live action presentation. We’ll be back with more on that tomorrow.