At this weekend’s D23 convention, Disney hopes to capitalize on the excitement around must-see projects like “The Avengers,” Pixar’s “Brave” and “The Muppets” by presenting a look at their entire slate of releases across all divisions. They opened with a lengthy animation presentation from John Lasseter that was heavy on Pixar (“Planes,” “Brave,” “Monsters University” and two new project announcements) and concluded with a Marvel presentation that, while brief, still managed to set fanboys hearts aflutter with a first extended look at “The Avengers.” In-between Disney faced their greatest challenge in holding audience attention for looks at some lesser known projects.
The second portion of the studio presentation began with a lengthy look at “John Carter,” a pricey adaptation of the influential character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in a string of serial novels beginning in 1912. Rumored to possess a production budget in the $300 million range (Disney has denied this, claiming a paltry $250 mil), they face an uphill battle selling a character relatively unknown to modern audiences featuring a star, Taylor Kitsch, largely unknown outside of the “Friday Night Lights” faithful.
Four clips were shown as director Andrew Stanton and stars Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe appeared before the D23 crowd. The first scene is of Carter’s arrival on Mars and a face-to-face desert run-in with a gaggle of slimy green Martian babies. Rendered in slick CG, the babies are cute in a happy green slug kind of way. A group of warrior Martians called Tharks, nine foot tall thin green men, approach. Their leader, Tars Tarkas (Dafoe), is amazed by Carter’s newfound leaping ability. The look of the Martians, captured on location via mo-cap suits while placing the actors on stilts, is generally solid and the process helps actualize the creatures' emoting. In the second clip, Carter is being held captive in a Thark nursery (those same little green babies from the first clip). Here Carter meets Woola, a thick Martian dog of sorts that kind of looks like a cross between a lizard and an English Bulldog. The character is deceptively fast and manages to catch up to Carter no matter how far he leaps. The third clip is a romantic scene between Carter and Collins’ character, Dejah Thoris, as our hero tries to talk the lovely lady out of marrying the wrong man (Dominic West). The scene feels forced and clearly tried the attention span of the fan crowd. Disney could learn something from days of Comic-Con past here - save the romance, this is the time to dazzle. In the final clip, Stanton and co. take that memo to heart with the most action-oriented bit of footage. In a gladiator-like arena, Carter and Tarkas must do battle with a giant monster referred to as the “white ape.” The scene has some thrills, but it’s rather generic - a big CG monster ranting and raving while our heroes concoct a plan to defeat him. The clip ends with a Thark calling for a second “white ape” to be released into the arena.
Disney faces an uphill battle to convince audiences “John Carter” is a must-see before March 3rd, 2012. They are smart enough to understand they can’t throw too many unknown properties at the audience all at once, so they followed with Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie,” a feature-length stop motion take on the short film that launched Burton’s career. Producers Don Hahn and Allison Abbate appeared before the crowd along with one of the Sparky the Dog puppets from the set. Abbate demonstrated how they can change the dog’s expression for the painstaking process. The footage from the film was brief, mixing a few shots of the original short along with some brief glimpses of the new work, interviews with Burton and shots of Burton alumnus Winona Ryder (Elsa Van Helsing) and Martin Landau (Mr. Rzykruski) performing during voice sessions. The look is trademark Burton and the black and white stop motion visuals show great promise. It’s a very brief look at “Frankenweenie,” however, and fans were clearly hoping for something meatier. Still, there’s plenty of time to wow audiences before the October 5th, 2012 release.
Disney’s biggest challenge of the day came with their presentation of “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” so they pulled out their trump card for the project, star and fanboy dream girl Jennifer Garner. The crowd responded to Garner despite indifference for her film, hooting and hollering before she discussed the project. “We love you Jennifer!” shouted out one enthusiastic fan before she could speak. Garner grinned and talked mostly about how cute and impressive her on-screen son in the film, C.J. Adams (Timothy Green) is and that he will capture your heart. This project, the tale of two hopeful parents who bury a list of qualities for their would-be child in their garden one night and awaken to a dirt-covered son, is already drawing mockery online. It didn’t help a whole lot that all the mouse house had to show was the same ho-hum trailer that debuted weeks ago.
Up next, Disney continued their “one you want to see, one we want you to see” philosophy with a very brief look at Sam Raimi’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” Similar to the EPK-style preview of “Frankenweenie,” we got a few brief clips of the visually impressive world and typical “we’re really excited about this”-style quotes from Raimi and stars James Franco (Oz) and Mila Kunis (Theodora). Honestly, we’re really no more or less excited for this one because the preview really doesn’t tell us a thing. After “Drag Me to Hell,” we’re excited for Raimi’s future, but this adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is an ambitious undertaking. “Oz” is scheduled for March 8th, 2013.
Breaking from the routine of the day, Disney followed “Oz” with “The Muppets,” which you can read all about and check out some new images from here.
To close, Disney turned to its least-heralded division, Disney Nature, hoping that their latest project, “Chimpanzees,” could better sell their struggles to draw audiences into theaters for their Discovery Channel-style documentary series division.
Sandwiched between the beloved Lasseter and the anticipated look at “Avengers,” the live action of Disney’s D23 presentation felt a tad forced at times. It also seemed as though, rather than present only what they had material worthy of presentation, they tried to touch on all their major releases, regardless of what or who they had on hand to show it off. Hopefully their lesson will be to shorten the presentation next year and do everything within their ample powers to dazzle from start to finish.