John Lasseter moderated today’s Walt Disney/Pixar Animation panel at Comic Con, which was a definite treat for any fan of animation as it opened with the first five or so minutes of Toy Story 2 in 3-D in preparation for the film’s upcoming double-feature re-release on October 2 as both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 have been re-rendered in 3-D and it looks just as good as you would expect. Strangely enough, in the short bit that was shown I felt the 3-D was far more involving than it was for Pixar’s release of Up, which I never felt benefit from the fact it was in 3-D.
To bring the 1995 and 1999 features to life all Pixar had to do was go back in and render the film bringing out the third-dimension that was already in there as CGI films are already created in 3-D. The movies will be exactly the same, only in 3-D and it’s a bit shocking to see how well it lends itself to the medium as Rex (Wallace Shawn) tries to navigate Buzz Lightyear on a path to victory to take down Zurg. Walls of spikes fly at you and asteroids are suspended in full 3-D animation. I am a tough nut to crack when it comes to films in 3-D, but a lot of what I saw this weekend is slowly breaking me.
Continuing down that path, we were treated to a new mini-teaser for the upcoming release of Toy Story 3, due in theaters on June 18, 2010. Director Lee Unkrich (Co-Director on Toy Story 2, editor on Toy Story) was on hand to introduce the film to the audience telling us they have been working on it for about three years and the voice cast has already laid down their tracks and a quarter of the film is animated. They even broke the news on which character Michael Keaton would be voicing… Ken.
Yup, Barbie is back in Toy Story 3 in a much larger role and Ken will be making his big screen debut as Keaton returns to Pixar after voicing Chick Hicks in Cars. Unkrich ended the news saying, “I think he was born to play Ken,” just before they played a bonus feature called “Groovin’ with Ken” poking fun at the plastic sidekick to Barbie telling him many thought of him as a glorified accessory and pointing out how his name is three times smaller on the packaging than Barbie’s. It was pretty good stuff.
As for the plot of Toy Story 3 the film will center on the idea of Andy and his growing up and too old for his toys. Lasseter said, “It’s one thing to make peace with something and another thing to find yourself at that day.” At the start of the movie Andy is grown up and heading off to college and the film will focus on the emotional implications of that.
“At Pixar we believe it is important to focus to not only make [a movie] funny and make it beautiful, but [to also focus on] the emotion.” And with Toy Story 3 they set out to find “a totally different emotional core” than what they explored in the first two films.
Next, Lasseter invited director Kirk Wise to the stage to introduce Disney’s other 3-D re-release, Beauty and the Beast, which is set to hit theaters on February 12, 2010. We got a short glimpse of the ballroom scene in 3-D, and a long look at the introduction to Belle as she sang “Belle” in full 3-D. Lasseter pointed out how they were able to go back to the digital files and use new software that separates the layers and gives the characters some “roundness.” The end result is obviously not the same as a CG-animated film, which is already operating in a three-dimensional world, but it was rather impressive considering we are talking about hand-drawn scenes.
Following Beauty and the Beast they moved on to a look at “Prep & Landing,” a portion of the program I assumed I would have no interest in since it is a made-for-TV special for ABC, but it turns out it is much, much more as directors Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers have put together a brand new Christmas special telling the story of a group of elite elves that prep the scene before Santa arrives each night. “Get in. Get out. Never be noticed” is their motto and we see them trimming the tree for presents, putting out fireplace fires, making sure not a creature is stirring as well as checking the cookies for allergy causing nuts and making sure the temperature of the milk is just right.
We are first introduced to the little guys upside down in the chimney wearing night vision goggles and just before they taxi the big guy in like landing him on an airport runway they give the dog a dose of holiday inspired sleeping gas and away we go. It really looked like it could be a lot of fun, and like Lasseter, I too am a sucker for Christmas specials and it would be nice to add a new one to the list. “Prep & Landing” will be shown on ABC this holiday season.
Then we came to this year’s The Princess and the Frog, a film John Lasseter made it sound like they were counting on immensely to make sure 2-D, hand-drawn animation remains a viable filmmaking option. When Lasseter said this film was their attempt to “prove this art form is something worth continuing” I appreciate their ambition and hope for the best, but I didn’t necessarily like the way he made it sound like they were putting all their eggs in this one basket. Personally I prefer 2-D over 3-D/CGI animation despite the level of quality Pixar has attained and hope they don’t think twice about continuing the art form should Princess and the Frog not meet expectations. That said, the film had an impressive showing at the Con.
Princess and the Frog is set in the ’20s and was described as an American fairy tale taking place in Jazz Age New Orleans and in the first of two clips shown we heard Keith David sing “Friends on the Other Side,” which makes for one of the seven original songs Randy Newman wrote for the film. In fact, we were told this will be Disney’s return to the animated musical.
The two scenes shown totaled eight minutes of finished footage, the first was a wild introduction to the antagonist known as Dr. Facilier (David), a voodoo-like Tarot card reader who lures Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) and Lawrence (Peter Bartlett) into his fold as Naveen has been loose with his money, burned through the family fortune and is now looking for a southern girl with a rich family to get him back on his feet. Unfortunately, his selfish ways end up turning him into a frog, a fate that soon finds our protagonist Princess Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) in a second clip that was shown, which also showed more of Ray (Jim Cummings) the firefly and Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) the alligator.
Princess and the Frog hits limited theaters on November 25 and then expands on December 11. For more on the film click here.
Finally, the last panel of the day for Disney and Pixar was the introduction of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki who has a new film coming out on August 14 called Ponyo. New, at least, to American shores as the film was released internationally last year. Once he hit the stage the over 6,700 people in Hall H took to their feet and gave Miyazaki a standing ovation as Lasseter introduced him saying, “I think this guy is one of the most important filmmakers working today.”
Following the introduction we got an extended look at Ponyo and while we weren’t able to really grasp the narrative it was a lesson in unique animation as a film from Miyazaki looks like nothing you have seen before, that is unless you are comparing to another Miyazaki film.
The panel ended when Miyazaki and Lasseter were given Comic Con Inkpot Awards, an award for those that have made great contributions to pop culture.
For more on Ponyo click here.