Friday, September 28, 2012

Brenda Chapman in Her Own Words

If you don't know who Brenda Chapman is, you probably haven't been reading this blog for very long. Chapman, who became the first female co-director of a major animated feature with DreamWorks' The Prince of Egypt, made headlines in 2010 after being replaced as director of Pixar's Brave.

Having officially left the studio following Brave's release this June, Chapman is now working as a consultant on an unannounced project at Lucasfilm, which she joined after getting a call from Lucasfilm's new co-chair, veteran producer Kathleen Kennedy.

In a recent email conversation, I asked Brenda about her start in the animation industry, working on Beauty and the Beast (a favourite of mine), and how she feels about Pixar today. This is what she had to say:


"I got in to animation in 1985, after my first year at CalArts. I worked on syndicated TV shows for DIC [Entertainment]—Hulk Hogan's Rockin' Wrestlin' was my first gig. I always knew I wanted to have a job where I could draw. I've drawn since I could hold a crayon. It was when I realized that people actually created the animated films I loved as a kid—my senior year in high school—duh!—that I knew what I specifically wanted to do.

"[Beauty and the Beast] was my favorite to work on as a story artist! It was the first film that I was invited to give my creative voice to the film as a whole. The directors and head of story invited me into meetings to kick around ideas with them. It was wonderful.

"We went to Fishkill, NY early on in the story process to work with the late Howard Ashman, who wrote the lyrics to the songs and had a big hand in the storytelling. We didn't realize that he was sick from AIDS at the time. He was so passionate about the storytelling process on that film. I feel very privileged to have gotten to work with such a talented and creatively passionate man.

"I was also fortunate enough to work with Roger Allers, who was head of story, and share and office with him. I have learned so much from Roger over the years, but those two years were and intense training time for me. Mentors are such an important component of my career. He taught me so much, so that when my time came to be head of story on The Lion King, I was ready for the challenge.

"The late, great Joe Ranft called me and asked me to come to Pixar to help him with "a woman's point of view" on Cars. Joe was one of the best story guys I've ever worked with, as well as being one of the most generous and nice people I have ever known. It was a great lost to our industry and our hearts to lose him. So I am so happy that I said "yes" and was able to work with him for two years before his untimely death.

"I left Pixar because I was ready to move on. I had planned on leaving after Brave was finished anyway. I wanted to work on my own personal work for a while and do more part-time consulting (to pay the bills), and spend time with my family in the meantime.

"Pixar makes entertaining movies—I thought that before and I still think it now. Working in the field you want to be in is a good start, period. You learn that way—what works for you and what doesn't. Experience is a good thing."

Watch: Peter Pan Blu-ray Trailer

Presenting the trailer for the upcoming Blu-ray debut of Walt Disney's Peter Pan, coming February 5. The preview is included on the Cinderella Diamond Edition and looks great in HD, although the looped music did start to annoy me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cinderella Diamond Edition Blu-ray Review

Admittedly it had been a while since I last got around to seeing Cinderella. All the better, because it wouldn't have looked as good as it did today—in high definition, from a shiny new Blu-ray disc.

Watching the film, its easy to see why of all the myriad versions of the ancient folk tale, it's Walt Disney's that has become the standard and most easily recognizable one, more than 60 years on.

The restored 1080p transfer brings out the quality of the picture as DVD never could. The palace exterior and interior scenes rank as some of my favourites. The Mary Blair-esque colours and dimensions are something to behold.

On the audio side, there's a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, but as I usually do on such titles, I gave my left/right/surround speakers a break and went for the Restored Original Theatrical Soundtrack—mono, DTS 1.0—which sounded bold and crisp. (For a movie that begins with a title card for RKO Pictures, a 7.1 mix is not a little incongruous.)

There are a few new extras, including a promo for the Fantasyland expansion at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, and a look at the woman whose charitable work was a model for the Fairy Godmother character.

The Cinderella Diamond Edition Blu-ray goes on sale next Tuesday, October 2, in two- and three- disc combo packs. Both include a DVD copy of the film, as well as short Tangled Ever After; the 3-disc includes a digital copy. A 1-disc DVD will be released November 20.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Brilliant Foreign Posters for Wreck-it Ralph

A bunch of alternate and international one-sheet posters for Disney's Wreck-It Ralph have surfaced at IMP Awards. Of the three above, the centre and left ones—in Spanish and Portuguese, respectively—are brilliant.

Thanks to the anonymous commenter who sent this in.

Disney Announces Production of Saving Mr. Banks; First On-Screen Portrayal of Walt Disney

This afternoon Disney announced the start of filming/production on Saving Mr. Banks, the story of Walt Disney's twenty-year ordeal to acquire the rights to Mary Poppins from its difficult author, P. L. Travers.

The film will mark the first time that Walt will be portrayed on screen, and by none other than Tom Hanks, arguably the greatest actor of our time. It's hard to imagine that a better casting choice being possible.

Among other big names appearing in the picture are Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak (Ryan from NBC's The Office), who'll be playing Richard and Robert Sherman, the fraternal songwriting team behind some of Disney's catchiest tunes.

Although Walt's broader accomplishments as an animation and entertainment pioneer aren't the movie's main focus, as a Disney fan, I'm rabidly looking forwarding to seeing this.

Saving Mr. Banks is aiming for release sometime next year. Around awards season, maybe? Hollywood does love stories about Hollywood.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph Towers Over Classic Characters in New Poster

On Wednesday we got a new trailer... today we get a new poster for Disney's Wreck-It Ralph. It's unusual—hence cool—to see non-Disney video game characters (like SEGA's Sonic the Hedgehog) featured so prominently. This should definitely appeal to gamers.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

New Trailer for Disney's Wreck-It Ralph

Here's the new trailer for Wreck-It Ralph, in theatres November 2. Some of this footage is better than what was in the first trailer, but still lacks the charm of Walt Disney Animation's past two releases.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Toy Story Films: An Animated Journey Review

So I realize I'm late in reviewing it, but this morning I got my copy of The Toy Story Films: An Animated Journey by Charles Solomon, published in August by Disney Editions.

My first impression is that the book is, as advertised, a thorough account of the making of the Toy Story saga. I'm looking forward to reading it in its entirety in the coming days.

In the first few chapters, Solomon puts the production of Toy Story in the context of the early days of computer animation, elucidating the developments that led to Toy Story's singular achievement of being the first CG animated feature.

After an in-depth discussion of Toy Story 2, the 191-page book touches on the period where the franchise was in danger of being ripped out of Pixar's hands, before finally moving on to the massive success that was Toy Story 3.

From the opening pages, there's an excellent amount of concept art, photos, and final shots from the films. However, some of the rendered images don't look very good; they seem to lack proper color saturation. One or two even appear to be freeze frames.

The early concepts are one of the book's biggest strengths. I might have seen them before, but I especially love the Buzz and proto- Woody drawings on pages 48 and 33. Not to mention Miles the jazz player on page 35. Pixar has to do something with him one day.

(Photograph courtesy of Pixar Post)

DreamWorks to Release Twelve Features in Next Four Years

Early still from DreamWorks Animation's Turbo (July 19, 2013)
DreamWorks Animation has revealed an expanded slate of features for the next four years—three per year, twelve in all. The Hollywood Reporter calls it "the most ambitious slate for an animation house in Hollywood history".

With this slate, which includes original projects and sequels such as How to Train Your Dragon 2 (June 20, 2014) and Kung Fu Panda 3 (March 18, 2016), DreamWorks plots its course for its recently inked five-year distribution deal with 20th Century Fox.

Looking at the complete list (/Film has it with synopses), it's classic DreamWorks. Sure, I basically enjoyed Madagascar 3, but I'm not sure I want to see a Penguins of Madagas-car spinoff in 2015, or ever.

Of the non-sequel films, the only one I'm really looking forward to at the moment is the previously-announced Mr. Peabody & Sherman (now scheduled for November 1, 2013).

Sunday, September 9, 2012

TIFF Review: Finding Nemo 3D & Partysaurus Rex

At noon today, Pixar's 3-D conversion of Finding Nemo was seen by its first paying North American audience, as part of the 37th Toronto International Film Festival.

I attended a pre-TIFF press screening a couple of weeks ago and came away thoroughly impressed. After being disappointed by Beauty and the Beast 3D back in January, Nemo is really the perfect movie to experience in 3-D.

It was the scene where Marlin and Dory watch the sea turtles traveling the East Australian Current that did it for me. And remember that "particulate matter" John Lasseter enthused about in the promo video? It delivers some great depth and realism to the underwater frames.

While, as always, I was left wanting a stronger stereoscopic effect overall, its easy to understand, even admire, Pixar's restrained use of 3-D. When the story pulls you in, you mostly forget that you're wearing the funny glasses.

The attached Toy Story short Partysaurus Rex pairs its visually and aural awesomeness with some great, zany humor everyone will enjoy. With solid direction from animator Mark Walsh, Partysaurus Rex is miles ahead of Small Fry, Pixar's previous Toy Story Toon.

As the short's undisputed star, Rex is hilarious, in his own, pathetic sort of way. (I mean that as a compliment.) He's so eager to impress his arm-less bathtub friends that he throws caution to the wind, er, water. The results are worth watching on the big screen.

Finding Nemo 3D and Partysaurus Rex open wide next Friday, September 14.

Friday, September 7, 2012

TIFF Review: Ernest & Celestine

As someone who believes that we should be seeing more traditional animation, I was eager to see Ernest & Celestine since it was announced that the film would screen at this year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Like the books it's based on (penned by late Belgian author Gabrielle Vincent), Ernest & Celestine tells story of "Big Bad Bear" Ernest, and Celestine, an orphaned mouse compelled by her superiors to become a dentist. They slowly become friends.

It's a gentle tale, brought to life by placid watercolour images.

Anyone who cares for the art form will applaud the movie's visual technique and use of colour and light, all excellent throughout. A couple of rain and snow scenes stand out as wonderfully atmospheric.

Nearly all of the visual gags also brought a smile to my face, but there are several instances where the wordplay just didn't translate into English. (I mean this figuratively and literally: there's a spelling error or two in the subtitles.)

After keeping a steady pace from the start (a well-thought-out cold open), Ernest & Celestine's conclusion felt odd—loud and almost surreal in one instance, before abruptly slowing down at the very end. I know what the filmmakers were reaching for; unfortunately they weren't able to achieve it.

The movie has been picked up for North American distribution by GKids, which plans to dub it into English for a Fall 2013 release. Which is good, because in its current subtitled form, its audience outside of the French speaking world would be severely limited.

Ernest & Celestine will have its public North American premiere on Sunday, before playing to a second TIFF audience the following Sunday, September 16.

Tradition Studios Closed Down

Less than nine months after opening a beautiful new campus in Port St. Lucie, Florida, Tradition Studios was shut down by its parent company, Digital Domain Media Group, today, as the effects house battles immense financial and management troubles.

CEO John Textor simultaneously resigned, stating that he is in "profound disagreement" with the company's decision, which he called "not only unwise, but also without compassion."

The shuttering of Tradition means the loss of approximately 300 jobs, many of them artists working on what was to be the studio's first feature, The Legend of Tembo.

I won't pretend I've been following everything that's been going on with Textor and Co., but this is clearly a very sad situation for all the artists who were dedicating their talents to the film.

Production on Tembo should either be restarted, as Textor suggests in his resignation letter, or else find a new home elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Monsters, Inc. 3D Trailer Now Online

The trailer for Disney/Pixar's 3-D re-release of Monsters, Inc. is now up at iTunes Movie Trailers. The Pete Docter-directed classic scares its way into theatres on December 19.

At under two minutes, it focuses nicely on the story's humor, and the editing is great. It reminded me of everything I loved about the movie. Should play wonderfully in front of Finding Nemo 3D later this month.

Oswald Short 'Hungry Hobos', Once Thought Lost, Shown to Telluride Audience [UPDATE]

Last December, Bonhams auction house in Los Angeles auctioned off a 16mm celluloid print of Hungry Hobos, a long-lost Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks in 1928. It was bought by The Walt Disney Company for $31,250.

This past Sunday, Walt Disney Animation Studios treated audiences at the 39th Telluride Film Festival to a screening of an extensively restored digital print—the first public presentation of the short in over half a century. (Disney sent out the press release last night.)

Hungry Hobos follows the Oswald and his ill-mannered friend Putrid Pete as they 'devise ways to cook a meal aboard a freight car loaded with animals'. Film preservationist Serge Bromberg calls the short "a highly entertaining and historically important film that is part of our Disney heritage."

No word yet on when wider audiences will be able to see it for themselves, but it would be great if Disney made it available on iTunes soon or else included it in an upcoming Blu-ray/DVD release.
Update (9:49 PM): Thanks to the commenters who pointed out this Wired article from back in March, which points to Hungry Hobos being included as an unlockable extra on video game Epic Mickey: The Power of Two, coming November 18 to Mac/PC, PS3, Wii, and Xbox 360.

After posting this afternoon, a Walt Disney Animation spokesperson told me that they're "eager to show it" to a wider audience after "a bit more restoration", so a release with Epic Mickey 2 would be perfectly timed.