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D23 2009: John Lasseter Talks Up the Future of Disney and Pixar Animation

Early on Sunday, the final day of the D23 2009 Convention, Disney and Pixar Animation Chief Creative Officer, John Lasseter, hosted an event to talk about the future of Disney Animation and Pixar Animation and their upcoming slates. He reinforced Disney’s current and positive vision of moving forward with both traditional and computer animated features. Lasseter also previewed upcoming and in development projects for both Disney and Pixar. 

Early on, the presentation in the D23 Arena previewed a 3D clip from Toy Story 2: the opening sequence featuring Buzz Lightyear and Zurg.  Lasseter talked about how amazed he was in seeing the movies they made in the 1990’s now in 3D, and how Pixar was making movies in 3D when they first started making computer animated movies. Hence it makes sense to release Pixar movies in 3D as well.  Lasseter also previewed the Toy Story/Toy Story 2 3D double feature trailer. This is a clip with original animation where Woody and Buzz are testing out the 3D glasses.  Jessie walks up to the screen and pushes her hands out “in 3D.”  Rex walks in to the frame but he’s “not in 3D.”  Rex turns around and notices he’s nothing but a flat, paper thin image.  Rex then walks back on and he’s in 3D now, but he knocks over the other characters who became a flat image.  Woody, Buzz, and Jessie then jump back into frame having played a trick on Rex.  It’s a cute little clip. 

Lasseter discussed working on Toy Story 3 and the movie’s early development, and how the story of Andy growing up and going to college being inspired by Lasseter’s own real life experiences in sending his now grown children off to college.   Lasseter also talked about going on a retreat with the other Pixar writers who also had a hand in the original Toy Story to come up with the movie’s main story and themes as well as new characters.  One new character will be Lotso played by Ned Beatty, and another new character will be played by Bonnie Hunt.  There’s also of course Mr. Pricklepants, a thespian hedgehog plushie that wears lederhosen played by Timothy Dalton.  Lasseter showed an animation test of Mr. Pricklepants with some voice work by Dalton where Mr. Pricklepants is trying to get into character.  The first trailer for Toy Story 3 was also shown which begins with some poignant home movie imagery of Andy playing with all his beloved toys we’ve known to grow and love.  Woody now overlooks the room of the now adult Andy as the toys try to prepare for Andy going away.  The toys looks to be given away to a day care facility where they are under attack from small children.  Woody then breaks into the daycare in order to bust his friends out.  The biggest gag in the new trailer is that Buzz has has to be reset after he has an accident.  It doesn’t fix Buzz and instead restarts him back to his Toy Story mode except . . . in Spanish.  Also shown was the “Groovin’ With Ken” segment that debuted at San Diego Comic-Con 2009, featuring Michael Keaton as the Ken doll.  I hadn’t seen this before and it was hilarious, almost sort of like a Pixar version of a Robot Chicken skit.

Lasseter also talked up the Cars Toons that Pixar will continue making which he is also directing.  This led into the showing of a full cartoon short featuring Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) called “Unidentified Flying Mater.”  Mater recounts a story to Lightning about meeting a UFO.  Mater meets a baby UFO car and they form a friendly bond and have fun.  The UFO is then taken away by the government and then Mater has to break in to Area 51 to help the UFO.  I know some hardcore animation fans on the boards don’t like Cars as much as the other movies, but this was a lot of fun.  Lasseter than talked about Cars 2, the next Pixar sequel, due out for a summer 2011 release.  No clips were shown, but Lasseter showed some art for new characters like the secret agent car, Finn McMissile, and some of the car locations that will be seen throughout the movie for a large international race.  London of course is riffed by changing Big Ben to things like “Big Bentley.”  Lasseter said he got the idea for the sequel from traveling around the world and doing promotion, so they’ve made a story where Lightning McQueen enters an international race and Mater is his crew chief.  Mater then gets mixed up in some international espionage with the secret agent Finn McMissile.  The spies and bad guys think Mater’s personality is all a cover, “How can anyone be that stupid,” says Lasseter with a laugh. 

Lasseter was very excited in discussing The Princess And The Frog, a new American fairy tale set in Lasseter’s favorite city of New Orleans.  The new clip that was previewed during the panel was another song from the movie, not totally finished but all the music and dialogue was finished and edited, and most of the animation was done but not yet fully colored.  In this sequence, Naveen and Tiana as frogs are moving along the bayou with Louis the Alligator singing about becoming human.  This was another great musical sequence, and Disney did a good job of showing quite a sizable chunk of the movie to audiences at the Convention.  Lasseter again explained how disappointed he was with studios only thinking audiences wanted to see computer animated movies, pointing out that people want to see good movies to a thunderous applause.

The next traditionally animated feature from Disney will be a new feature for Winnie The Pooh.  The story supervisor for the new movie due in 2011 is longtime Disney veteran Burny Mattinson.  A short featurette was shown featuring new interviews with Mattinson and the main crew and animators for the movie talking about Winnie The Pooh’s history with Disney and moving forward with the new feature.  No new animation was shown, but there were some early still shots as well as the mention of that the story will be based from the original books that were not animated before.  The art style looks to use that sort of water-color, story book feel.  Some of the new characters will be the critters that like to follow around Rabbit and are not as “self-aware” as the other animals in the Hundred Acre Wood.  The producers and animators definitely sound passionate about the material, and I’m happy to see more traditional animated movies from Disney, but I would’ve liked to have seen more in how Lasseter plans on making this story more viable “for adults” as they mentioned.  I think Winnie The Pooh is great, but I’m not sure how the story will also attract audiences besides small children and some parents. 

There are five known Brothers’ Grimm fairy tales named after princesses:  Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and The Beast, and Rapunzel.  Of those tales, the only one Disney has never animated as a feature before is Rapunzel, which will be one of their next computer animated features.  The new animated feature (with a planned 3D release) will also be a musical featuring songs composed by Disney veteran and Academy Award winner, Alan Menken.  Lasseter previewed a montage of some concept art and design shots from the movie as well as some early animation tests showing Rapunzel moving and her long flowing hair.  There were also some pencil animatics with some temp voices (Rapunzel sounded like Kari Wahlgren).  Mandy Moore will be playing Rapunzel and the Prince Charming-esque love interest will be Flynn (described as a rogue bandit by Lasseter) played by Zachary Levi.  Lasseter said this will be a more action-adventure/swashbuckling type of story and Rapunzel will be a more independent woman of action rather than a damsel in distress.  Lasseter also said that Rapunzel will know how to fight and use her hair as a weapon and even an Indiana Jones like whip which some of the animatics showed a brief example of.  Based on what was shown, I definitely want to see more.

Lasseter concluded the panel with some previews of the upcoming Tinker Bell And The Lost Treasure which will be the second of a series of CG direct-to-video movies starring Tinker Bell and her fairy friends from Fairy Hollow. The animation looks strong, but the stories themselves don’t seem quite as exciting.  Lasseter also previewed a clip from the Holiday special Prep & Landing about Santa’s elves.

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