SDCC: The Disney Animation Panel

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The Disney Animation panel on Friday was hosted by John Lasseter himself. After a big round of applause, he wasted no time introducing their first 3-D clip. The opening scene of Toy Story 2 in 3-D was shown. I have to say that I was blown away by this presentation. I’ve seen this movie tons of times, but seeing it in 3-D was like seeing it for the first time. Buzz flying through asteroids, shooting robots, and avoiding Zurg’s traps gave a whole new level of appreciation for the original animation.

Lasseter said that Toy Story 2 would be presented as a double feature (with a required bathroom break) along with the first Toy Story. It hits theaters October 2nd and they created a new trailer specifically for the re-release. It features Woody, Buzz, and the gang playing with the 3-D effect, then Rex coming into the screen stuck in 2-D.

Next up was Toy Story 3 where director Lee Unkrich came out to much joking about mispronunciations of his name. He spoke about the pressures of following up the successful predecessors and the fact that they’ve been working on it for 3 years. The big announcement was that Barbie was going to have a bigger role in the film, but Ken was also going to appear for the first time and was voiced by Michael Keaton. They then showed a vintage ’70s interview with Ken entitled “Groovin’ with Ken”. Ken gives a tour of his mansion (aka Barbie Dream House) while we get glimpses of his happenin’ lifestyle (including ’70s dancing). But when they mention that he’s considered an ‘accessory to Barbie’ and her name is 8 times bigger on the box, he gets offended and storms off the set. It was quite funny and I hope they include it on the Toy Story 3 DVD.

Also shown was Beauty and the Beast 3-D which hits theaters Valentine’s Day 2010. We were shown a little of the ballroom scene and the opening musical number “Belle.” Lasseter and director Kirk Wise mentioned that transferring 2-D to 3-D wasn’t going to have that “View-Master” look. Sure enough, they were right. When Belle moves, her arms have depth, her skirt is flowing. Tree trunks look roundÂ… it all looks quite remarkable. It’s going to be fun to see kids discover this film for the first time in 3-D and I think this brings new life to ‘hand drawn’ animation.

Lasseter also mentioned that they are continuing to use shorts as a way to develop talent and test new technology. Their latest short is a Christmas special entitled “Prep & Landing.” It features two highly-skilled and highly-equipped elves getting a house ready for Santa’s arrival. It is full of hilarious gags like dealing with a disturbed dog and getting the roof ready as a landing strip. Look for it on ABC this holiday.

John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid) then came out and presented The Princess and the Frog. It represents Disney’s return to 2-D animated musicals. The story is set in 1920′s New Orleans and features music by Randy Neuman. It covers jazz, gospel, zydeco, and more. There are eccentric characters like Mama Odie (our Fairy Godmother) who has a “seeing eye snake”. We saw 8 minutes of the film including a musical number entitled “Friends on the Other Side”. It featured a voodoo magician voiced by Keith David (who knew he could sing??). I never thought I’d see voodoo in a Disney film, but it looks fantastic. The whole New Orleans setting looks beautiful on the screen. The musical number shows the prince being turned into a frog amidst trippy animation that makes Pink Elephants on Parade look tame. We were then treated to another scene where the prince and the princess, both turned into frogs, have some tongue trouble as they get tangled up while learning to catch flies. A misguided, trumpet playing gator named Louie (get it??? Armstrong???) tried to help them but it takes Ray the Cajun firefly to get them untangled. Overall it looked fun and should be an interesting new animated feature.

Finally, Hayao Miyazaki came out to present a scene from Ponyo. It featured water creatures turning into ‘water fish’ then racing through the water to create a storm as a little girl ran on top of their backs at super speed. Yeah, it was a surreal as it sounds. Outside the context of the film, it looked a bit weird, but the Miyazaki fans were thoroughly impressed. I’ll definitely take my kids to check it out. Lasseter mentioned it would be showing in 800 theaters on August 14.

A short Q&A hosted by Patton Oswalt followed. That concluded the animation panel!

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