SDCC: Sony Pictures Animation Showcase

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Sony Pictures Animation hit Hall H this morning at San Diego’s Comic-Con, showcasing two of their big upcoming projects, The Pirates! Band of Misfits and Arthur Christmas. Though both are being produced through Aardman Animation (the people responsible for Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit), the first is stop-motion and the latter CGI.

Director Peter Lord introduced the first trailer for The Pirates!, which features a colorful mixture of mostly-nameless characters. Hugh Grant plays the Pirate Captain, who is determined to win the coveted “Pirate of the Year” award, despite his crew not being the toughest the sea has to offer. As he puts it to his men over dinner, “some of you are mostly furniture by now” (referring to their over-abundance of peg legs), “and some are fish that I’ve dressed up in clothes” (which he means literally).

The Captain’s right-hand man is called “The Pirate with a Scarf” and is voiced by Martin Freeman with other members of the crew called “The Pirate with a Gout,” “the albino pirate” and “the lady pirate” (who has a full beard). The crew is rounded-out by Polly who, though everyone refers to her as a parrot, is really a dodo bird.

The Captain’s rival is the far-more successful pirate Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven), who has won “Pirate of the Year” many times over. He’s joined by Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek), a female pirate who is as dangerous as she is beautiful.

In his quest to win the award, the crew of misfits continually fail to attack ships with any treasure, landing instead on boats of lepers, schoolchildren, ghosts and nudists. When they finally attack one ship, they capture Charles Darwin (David Tennant), who winds up leading them to London where they face the film’s true villain, Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) and the Pirate King (Brian Blessed).

Lord closed out his segment of the panel with a musical montage that featured behind-the-scenes footage from Aardman, spliced with final footage. Many of the scenes involved the animators first acting out the scenes on video so that they could properly capture movement in stop-motion.

Hitting in both 3D and 2D, The Pirates! Band of Misfits arrives on March 30, 2012.

The Arthur Christmas segment of the panel began with the previously-released trailer, followed by a character breakdown by writer Peter Baynham.

The film reimagines the legend of Santa Claus for the modern world and supposes that the current Santa is actually the 18th in a long family line. Instead of a sled, he pilots a high-tech flying craft called the S-1.

“Imagine the giant craft from ‘Independence Day,'” says Baynham, “but full of elves.”

In addition to an army of elves, Santa (who is getting on in years) is aided by his two sons, Steve and Arthur. Steve (Hugh Laurie) is a tough military man, dressed in green and red camouflage. He’s got his beard shaved into the shape of a Christmas tree and couldn’t be more different than his brother, Arthur (James McAvoy). The star of the film, Arthur is a Christmas nerd, who is lot goofier and clumsier but who truly loves everything about the holiday.

Rounding out the family is Grandsanta, the now-retired Santa Claus the 17th. He’s quite old and has a very non-politically correct view on the world.

Baynham showed off a clip involving a Christmas Eve emergency. Santa, while inside a house, is almost spotted by a kid who has woken up. Pinned against a toy that will make a noise if he moves, Saint Nick is trapped.

On the bridge of the S-1 the elves go into panic mode. One elf relates a tale of a Christmas in 1860 when, after being spotted, Santa was forced to go into hiding, leading to Christmas being cancelled for six years until it all blew over.

Steve manages to call the shots, though, navigating an elf through the deactivation of the toy (like diffusing a bomb) while Arthur watches on a monitor with Grandsanta who doesn’t understand the trouble. He suggests just smacking the kid over the head and rubbing some whiskey on his tongue.

Arthur Christmas will arrive this holiday season, hitting 2D and 3D theaters on November 23rd.