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SDCC: Warner Bros. Showcases Next Year's Animated Features - Info and Impressions

The Big Shield delivered in a massive panel on Thursday at the San Diego Comic-Con, bringing information and appearances based around their three next high-profile animated features. Responses from the audience ranged from general interest to full-blown elation, almost exactly in that order.

First in the spotlight was next week’s release, The Ant Bully. Writer/director John A. Davis (Jimmy Neutron) and a group of artists from the production team introduced several clips of the star-studded feature, fielded questions ably on the viability of attempting another CGI ant feature after both PDI and Pixar had gone there, and revealed some of the origins of the production concepts and technological tools used in the film’s creation. Of particular interest was how the team took from Aborigine culture, given how it mimicked certain real-life facts about how ants communciate and live. The idea is to give the ant world an “alien culture”; curious how that always seems to boil down to utilizing an Earth culture Americans just don’t know about.

Nobody was on hand to talk in person about Happy Feet, but the preview clip was spliced with interview featurettes with director George Miller (Mad Max, The Witches of Eastwick) describing the basic concept of the plot, the mating behaviors of the penguins seen in the film, and his desire for the film to feature the best musical numbers seen in animation.

The most popular one was saved for last, as Kevin Munroe braved the stage alone to either bask in the glory on his own or take all the possible abuse as he introduced a feature undoubtedly most awaited by a large room of convention geeks: the new CGI TMNT film. Munroe aired a teaser trailer now available online and a Comic-Con exclusive preview reel of unfinished footage. The response was deafeningly positive, to say the least. Munroe went on to explain how this new film was essentially a sequel to the previous live-action features – not an origin story, but a “rebirth” story. The Turtles return to New York after some time and reestablish themselves in the fight against the Foot Clan. Munroe confirmed the heavy involvement of Peter Laird, who gave his blessing to Munroe with a sketch of Raph scowling and a message, “You’d better make a good film – or else!” He confirmed only one voice actor: Mako (Aku, Samurai Jack) will be playing Master Splinter.

Impressions: Anything I write here may come back to bite me if I end up reviewing these films later, but here goes. The Ant Bully looks like it might be good fun, if not somewhat obvious in its moralizing. The idea of a chain of bullying is an intriguing one (the “ant bully” of the title is a geeky boy terrorized by bullies himself, who takes out his frustration on the ants in his yard). Unfortunate that the old curse of twice-done concepts between studios will be rearing its ugly head again this summer, with the second villainous exterminator after Over the Hedge‘s first. Happy Feet is additionally chockful of stars, like The Ant Bully (Kevin Munroe confirmed that TMNT is not relying on celebrity talent), but if I’m not mistaken, it’s giving Robin Williams a chance to play more than one character in the story, an idea that somebody should have had a long time ago. I’m a fan of Savion Glover’s dancing, whose steps are being transposed into the film, but Happy Feet is still throwing me off a tad by virtue of its very, very realistic penguin designs. Celebrity voices, anthropomorphic movements, but faces that can do no more or show no more than a real penguin can. It’s a little bizarre. Finally, TMNT looks to be very cool, finding a balance between the comedy of the first cartoon and the seriousness of the recent cartoon. The teaser trailer’s silhouetted ninja flipping was the best part of the panel.

Toon Zone’s coverage live from the San Diego Comic-Con will continue throughout the weekend.

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