It was a bit touch and go actually getting into the Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios presentation, but my goodness am I glad we did!
The energy in the room was infectious, even as an “Inside Out” themed video reminded us that there would be no video, audio, etc. Or else. Thankfully D23 has provided us with some amazing shots, so never fear! 😉
After trivia questions and a bit of a delay, the presentation began with an absolutely stunning sizzler of Disney/Pixar animated movies spanning the past several decades. Next Alan Horn, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, came out to begin the afternoon session. He talked about how Frozen far exceeded all expectations; how they followed that with the incredible Big Hero 6, and Pixar’s masterpiece, Inside Out. Then he introduced the one and only John Lasseter (Chief Creative Officer of Pixar Animation, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and DisneyToon Studios – among other things).
John poked fun at his incredible collection of Disney themed Hawaiian shirts, and gave away several of the new one he was wearing (also available at the Disney Store as an Expo exclusive, $99). “92 years after Walt, we are still making animation,” he began. He continued the conversation about the Walt Disney Studios with a beautiful montage of movies from the company. He discussed how proud he was to be connected to Walt through a decades-long family of animators, how proud he was to be a part of the company that isn’t just making great movies, but basically helped invent the art form as we know it. He talked a little about the shift 10 years ago from an executive-driven company to film maker based, and how each and every projects team is reminded, “Walt’s name will be on this film. Aim high.”
[spp-tweet tweet=”Walt’s name will be on this film. Aim high. (JL)”]
Walt Disney Animation Studios
The first film to be featured is the upcoming Zootopia, to be released in March 2016. Lasseter briefly talked about the history of animated films featuring animals, his favorite being The Wind in the Willows. “What would it be like,” the teams at the studios asked, “to create something like that for today’s audience?”
We were introduced to the Zootopia creative team, Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Clark Spencer. The shared stories about their research in Disney’s Animal Kingdom and in Kenya. They talked about their detailed research on animal appearance, including the hundreds of thousands of strands of clear polar bear hair they created to inform the animators, lighting division, etc on how fur “acts”. They shared insight on how they began to think about animal behavior – for instance, that if an elephant began walking on two legs, it still would probably use its trunk for most tasks.
Zootopia is a city made for animals, by animals; it’s not just that they’re walking upright in our universe. Instead, we are introduced to an entire world by way of the neighborhoods in the film: the upscale Sahara Square, frigid Tundra Town, humid and lush Rainforest District, and the charming if somewhat remote Bunny Burrows.
Ginnifer Goodwin stars as Judy Hopps, an optimistic “bunny from the Burrows” who goes on to become Zootopia’s first bunny cop. Goodwin appeared at the event (and by the way, later while Kyle and I were en route to the parks, with her husband
Prince Charming Josh Dallas). She charmed the audience with stories of her lifelong Disney fandom (“an illness, really, but I don’t want any help!” she exclaimed), including how she “accidentally” bought the house once owned by Sterling Holloway, and was so giddy they nearly had to restrain her when she was his name on the deed history.
We were treated to clips from the film, in which Hopps encounters a sly fox named Nick (voiced by Jason Bateman). She falls for his elaborate con, perpetuating his belief that “we are who we are” – the antitheses to Judy’s motto, “In Zootopia, anyone can be anything!”
The rest of the movie will show these two natural enemies teaming up to help save the city from a crime scene larger than anyone is aware. Together they determine that yes, we are who we have been created to be – but we can also discover who we were meant to be. (Boom! :))
Expo guests at the presentation were also the first to hear that Shakira will play a wonderful gazelle character. She invited us into her studio via video for a message, as well as a sneak peak of her song from the film, “Try Everything.” Then oh my goodness, we saw a scene about the DMV that will leave audiences rolling…
The next announcement of the session was that of a newly slated movie, Gigantic – a retelling of the Jack in the Beanstock tale. Lasseter and the creative team that appeared next (Nathan Gremo, Dorothy McKim) reminded fans who needed no reminder that when Disney does a film right, it becomes the definitive telling of familiar, classic stories. “There isn’t really a definitive version of one of my favorites, so we decided to make it,” Lasseter continued.
Gigantic is set in Spain, during the age of exploration. Jack explores and makes in incredible discovery for himself, not just a lone giant (or giant couple) living in a strange castle in the clouds, but an entire Giant World. He befriends an 11-year-old girl, Inma (based on a child they literally randomly met while on a research trip in Spain – how incredible for that little Inma!) and the story appears to center on their relationship.
Said relationship begins when Inma discovers Jack and is thrilled with her new “toy”. Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson Lopez were announced as the music team for Gigantic, and thoroughly entertained the audience with a piano demo of the song, “My Little Man” set to early storyboards. It is absolutely hilarious, and I can’t wait to see what this amazing songwriting duo come up with for this one!
Fans of Disney animation have been waiting quite some time to hear more details about Moana, the Thanksgiving 2015 release from Walt Disney Animation. It was worth the wait, for the folks in the Animation presentation – which hadn’t even reached the halfway point!
The musical team was finally announced, made up of Opetaia Foa’i and his band Te Vaka, “the world’s most successful band playing original, contemporary Pacific music, ” according to the 2008 BBC article on the award-winning group.
2000 years ago, incredible explorers and talented voyagers ruled the South Pacific. Then for nearly 1000 years, the sailing just stopped. It began again, and – according to this film – it did so thanks to the actions of Moana, a spunky 16-year-old Polynesian Princess.
Moana is at odds with her father Tui, the ruler who would prefer everyone remain safely in their village. Her encouragement to explore comes from her grandmother Tala, who tells her stories of the demi-god Maui. The creative teams for Moana put so much research and development into this film in order to share the legends and culture of the South Pacific; it looks unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Maui is a larger-than-life character with a magical fish hook, the ability to shapeshift, and hilariously animated tattoos that come to life. He is believed to be so powerful that he is the one who pulled many of the Pacific Islands up from the sea. “Who could we get to portray such a big character?” John Lasseter asked.
Enter The Rock, Dwayne Johnson.
No, literally – enter Dwayne Johnson, live streaming as he takes the stage. “More than a decade ago I told my closests friends that my goal was to become part of the Disney family… This is a dream come true, and I am so connected to this film as a proud (half) Samoan,” Johnson said. This was no quick appearance, instead most of the session’s coverage of Moana was covered by The Rock. He’s come a long way 😉
In the film, Moana helps Maui find his true self. Attendees got to see several clips, as well as the upcoming teaser trailer featuring Maui himself. We met a land spirit, the “Guardian of Tafiti”, that will surely scare the snot out of my little ones but is visually one of the most impressive things I’ve seen. We see some of the test video, in which it appears Moana may actually converse with and perhaps “tame” this fiery creature. We also met Moana’s adorable pig Pua, and a cranky old rooster named Hei Hei.
Finally, guests were treated to an absolutely incredible performance by Te Baka and Polyneisan dancers – but only after learning, and doing with 7600 of our closest friends, a Samoan call. I’m just sad nobody was able to film such a moment. 😉
Pixar Animation Studios
Next we heard from Lasseter about Pixar, after the crowd went wild for a super brief introduction (wordless, of course) from Luxo Jr followed by some of our favorite emotions.
Riley’s First Date?
One of my favorite scenes from Inside Out, hands down, is when Riley encounters a boy and hands him his dropped water bottle. “GIRL! GIRL! GIRL!” the boy’s emotions freak out, as sirens blare in his head and they run around wildly (or simply assume the fetal position). Conversations about this scene after the movie’s release among the creative team inspired Josh Cooley (head of story for the film), Pete Docter, and Jonas Rivera to create a brand new short, “Riley’s First Date?”. The short premiered at the presentation, and I simply cannot wait for everyone to get their hands on the BluRay this fall to see it!
The Good Dinosaur
Coming this Thanksgiving from Pixar is the beautiful, emotional film The Good Dinosaur, from Peter Sohn and Denise Ream. Sohn kicked the presentation off with a little emotion of his own, sharing via storyboard the touching story of his mother, and how she fostered his love of movies. They didn’t have much growing up, but his Korean mother would make it a point to take him to see American movies. Everyone in the theater laughed and cried together, while his mother – who spoke no English – sat confused. Until Walt Disney Animation, and Dumbo. When Mrs. Jumbo cradles Dumbo in her trunk during the iconic “Baby Mine” scene, Mrs. Sohn didn’t need to understand English to be moved exactly the same as the rest of the audience. It was then that Sohn knew animation was special.
I believe the first words out of my mouth when we saw our first clip from The Good Dinosaur were the ever-professional, “Holy crap!” When we first saw the scene in Cars where Lightning McQueen and Sally go for a drive, I distinctly remember knowing that Pixar had taken CGI to a new level. The scenes then looked “so real”, we discussed, but oh my goodness – new technology has allowed them to become even more breathtaking, more lifelike. This is like Computer Animated Landscapes Version 3.0.
The story is that of Arlo, a young dinosaur who loses his family and ends up far from home, where he meets a young child, Spot. “This is a story about a boy and his dog,” the team said, “except the boy is the dinosaur and the dog is a boy.” It sounds a little awkward, but it works – and works well.
Arlo and Spot begin the long journey back to find Arlo’s family, discovering along the way that they have a lot in common. And making audiences cry ugly cries while they do so.
Jeffrey Wright and Francis McDormand voice Arlo’s parents. We also meet other fun characters, including a “spiritual leader” who is actually terrified of everyting, and keeps animal talismans on his horns to stave off threats – little and large, like those evil mosquitos. 🙂 We get a first look at the trio of T-Rexes in the film, voiced by Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, and AJ Buckley.
Attendees of the presentation saw two more clips from the movie to round out the presentation. I wasn’t sure about this one going in, but now I can’t wait to see it! And I must remember to bring tissues.
For months while I was on bedrest and subsequently home with two newborns (that sleep a lot, of course, as newborns do) I found myself watching Ellen. Throughout that time, it became very clear she was all but begging to do a sequel to Finding Nemo, a fact from which they didn’t shy away when announcing the next Pixar film to be covered at the D23 Expo’s three-hour Animation session.
Finally, Ellen’s wish has come true. Andrew Stanten, Lindsey Collins, and Angus McClane have teamed up once again to create the long-awaited sequel to the original hit film. Finding Dory is set six months after Finding Nemo left off, in what is essentially a rehab facility for injured and ill aquatic life.
We saw clips where Dory is in an accident that causes her to begin remembering her family, Jenny and Charlie voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy. Al Brooks returns as Marlin, and – since Nemo is now like 21 years old in the human world – Hayden Rolence is introduced as the new voice of Nemo, which sounds like a perfect fit from the pieces we saw.
[spp-tweet tweet=”Not everything you learned in school has a practical application, Nemo!” – Marlin. Ha! :)”]
After a few clips, we are introcuced to the one and only, Ellen Degeneres! I may have squealed. My excitement for her (alone) didn’t last long though, as they also brought out Ed O’Neill, who voices a cranky but determined Octopus – “Septopus”, really, thus the rehab – Ty Burrell portraying a Beluga named Bailey, who believes he has a massive head injury (hilarious!), and Katilin Olsen as Destiny, a whale shark with an identity crisis.
[spp-tweet tweet=””This film is about claiming what we think are our shortcomings, and using them,” on Finding Dory”]
Oh my word. This looks so, so good – but would you have expected any less?
Previously, Pixar had announced a project centering around the Latin holiday, Die de Los Muertos. The “Day of the Dead” is a fascinating celebration throughout Latin America and Spain, in which departed friends and loved ones are remembered in celebration – a sort of family reunion.
The juxtoposition of festive colors and decor with skeleton and death intrigued Lee Unkrich, prompting him to find out more about this unique cultural event. The more he learned, and the more time the team spent with families around the world who were celebrating and sharing their stories, the more he realized they had a movie project on their hands.
At the Animation Event yesterday, the official title was revealed: “Coco”. It is named after a character in the movie, but we didn’t get to meet Coco. Instead, we got a sneak peek at Miguel in Mexico, and at the gorgeous art they have so far. I have to say – it’s visually stunning, but still so strange to me, even after studying Latin culture for several years. Perhaps I’m a great target audience, then, right? 🙂
Toy Story 4
Finally, the crowd that was not even a little bit weary after a 2-hour event ran an hour long :), John Lasseter began talking about the 20th Anniversary of Toy Story. He retold the story we heard at the initial announcement of Toy Story 4, that the creative team behind the franchise swore to one another they would never make another Toy Story movie unless the story was worthy to follow Toy Story 3.
Gaylen Sussman and Josh Cooley were announced as the rest of John’s team (he will direct this one as he has the rest of the franchise), plus a fresh voice from screenwriters Will McCormick and Rasheeda Jones.
“This is a worthy story,” Lasseter said of Toy Story 4. We started to notice that each of the three prior films was a different genre, and we hadn’t yet done an important one: a love story.
So in Toy Story 4, Buzz and Woody set out to find Woody’s true love – with the return of the one and only Bo Peep!
This was exciting, but what followed next made us downright giddy. “Randy, there’s a piano here,” John Lasseter said to the incomparable Randy Newman, who had just walked on stage.
The finale of the 3-hour presentation was Newman singing the absolute classic, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”. Mid-song, green army men rappelled from the ceiling and proceeded to provide an amazing dance finale, eventually joined by Buzz, Lotso, Mr. Potato Head, Bo Pee, and Bullseye.
You guys, Walt Disney Animation and Pixar Animation Studios? They’re pretty special.