Friday, July 30, 2010

Rebirth To Rebirth 2...

Bring on the non-princesses...

It's been an interesting few years for Walt Disney Animation Studios...

When John Lasseter took over it was literally thought of as the second coming. And in a sense, it was, but it has been a far more difficult effort to reproduce the lightning in a bottle that is the Lamp as I mentioned in my post, "In Betweeners." From the last film made by Walt Disney Feature Animation, "Meet The Robinsons," which John wound up tinkering with so that the ending of the film would be more coherent, to the current films, the Mouse has been looking for a turnaround. A rebirth from its rebirth, so to speak.

Beginning with "Bolt," the Suits and the new animation heads were expecting a great shift in the direction that the once, crown of animation unit was headed. Sadly, Calvin Klein Vampires in a badly told, badly acted film drove a stake in the opening weekend box office of this critically well received film and it wound up limping the way to the finish line. The next film, last years "The Princess and the Frog," also critically well received film under-performed at the box office, and people were wondering what was up. With that, the princess problem began and all the turmoil surrounding the renaming of the upcoming film, "Rapunzel" to "Tangled" happened.

And so the Hat Building waits to see the reaction to this latest film, which, from those I've talked to is quite good actually. It's far more classic in its telling than that horrid teaser trailer with the rock music score would have you believe. It's not a direct attempt to mimic the pop-cultury films of rival studio DreamWorks Animation. It's just the marketing departments sad attempt to take a film that is what it is, and try to make it appeal to more boys. Which, if you think about it is a stupid thing to do, because once those boys realize they've been sold a bill of goods, they'll stomp out of the theater and head toward the exit.

And then there is next years film, "The Further Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" or whatever the final name becomes. It's adding to another classic character and it is also supposed to be a very entertaining story from what the Bothans have told me. One thing that has definitely changed since John and Ed took over is that the quality of the last few features has dramatically gone up, even if the box office hasn't.

The problem is the Mouse is treading old, familiar ground, while it's younger brother is experimenting with different concepts. Yes, they've started to make sequels, but they haven't sacrificed the quality and no one has stopped exploring other ideas that would make you think Pixar is getting comfortable with its success. But that is the problem for WDAS. It's looked at as not being risky. Milking a formula that people have come to expect. And what appears to have been needed is to boldly go out in uncharted directions, not just appeal to what was expected.

It takes a long time to make an animated film and changes appear slowly. Make that, sloooooooooowly. But, now with the new slate of stories that Disney Animation is working on it appears the future will be filled with films that are absent tiaras for the remaining future. It most likely won't appear for a couple years as there is a lull in 2012, but starting in 2013 you will likely see a whole different collection of films. Ones that tread a path not known for over a decade and certainly a departure from the strategy that began a few years ago.

So what is on the slate for the next few years? Well, as you know, the schedules for these are nowhere near set and dates can change and some of these could even be canceled because they're in development now, not production. Once you hear they're in production, you can expect firmer release dates and a clearer picture of what lies ahead. But here is what you can expect to see in front of you, with the blurry vision of a distant future that is always in flux. There are various pitches being prepared for theatrical and a few for shorts (with one featuring Lanny and Wayne, again). As of right now, (after Rich Moore's film) two CG animated films have been approved for development and one hand-drawn animated film.

Around 2013, you can expect to see "Reboot Ralph" come into theaters if the schedule solidifies. This is the project by Rich Moore that bares a slight history with "Joe Jump." Very slight, as most of what you will find in Moore's story has very little resemblance to the tale that Joe was. Kind of how "American Dog" was vastly different that what "Bolt" became. Except perhaps that J.J. was never in as much of a story mess as Dog was. But the original story didn't gel, unlike the new one which seems to be heading along at a brisk development pace. We should start hearing more about this project as we get into the new year when Disney gets closer to putting it into production.

What then/after?

A while back, Chris Williams presented to Lasseter, Catmull and Ross his pitch for his next project. It was rejected outright by the Chairman of Walt Disney Studios as playing "too young" so it was shelved and Chris went away trying to retool his pitch. Now you all know that Disney Animation was going to do a film called "The King of the Elves," based on the Philip K. Dick story. Well, it too was shelved because of story problems. The take that Aaron Blaise & Robert Walker had wasn't going smoothly. Lasseter decided to stop development on it until they had a better take on the project. Well, now they have that better take, and the version that will be going forward is much different thanks to Chris Williams new direction on the project. That's right, Williams is the new director of KOTE, and it is moving forward in development. While it hasn't received approval to go into production, Williams is one of John's "first finds" at WDAS and he likes what he sees in the young animator/director. Since he came aboard, the story flow has become much smoother than the previous try.

The hand-drawn feature is one of two projects that two venerable Disney directors pitched to Lasseter, with the hopes that one of those would get the green light to move forward. And while details are slim, this project is being described as unlike any project that these two directors have done before and takes Disney into territory it hasn't really explored. This will be no princess movie. It's still in the embryonic state, but the development of this project that we'll call the "Untitled John Musker & Ron Clements film" is moving forward. That's right, the duo are back at it, but no release date is set as it hasn't been put into production and likely won't until at least next year.

One other project is in development from Dean Wellins that is the other CG animated feature, it is in the formative stages as well. Again, the story is very unlike what we've seen in the past, but we will wait to see how this one evolves. It all depends on how the development process goes, but the direction that John and Ed have now plotted is far more interesting than the original line-up a few years ago.

There have been several ideas shot down. Some are what you'd expect, like using classic characters in new situations. Others, like Chris Buck's project have been shelved. What was Buck working on? Well, after his Snow Queen project was shelved, he started working on a twist on a classic fairy tale. He was planning a big animated "Jack and the Bean Stalk" film. He had a very good and aggressive pitch that he poured his heart into, but Ross and Co. turned it down. You see there is a little project that Brian Singer is working for Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures on called "Jack the Giant Killer" that would have been out well before Chris' project and the Suits didn't want any brand confusion with the competition. And so Buck went back to working on another pitch. His and several others are planned to be heard by Lasseter in the coming weeks, so another one could be greenlit for development before the year goes out. There are many ideas at work in the Hat Building. The walls there cannot stop them; eventually they'll get out.

It takes time. More time than we would like, but Disney Animation is moving on and moving forward. Now that Lasseter has improved the storytelling, he's trying to improve the bottom line. The more money the Burbank animation unit generates, the less it will be compared to its younger brother. Once the hits start coming, the moral will improve and the letting go of talent will cease. And as that happens, the depth of stories and ideas in the production pipeline will improve and grow. It's frustrating, but when you break something apart like what was done to WDFA in the late 90's/early 00's, it takes time to find all the pieces and correct your bearings. But based on some of the projects I've heard about, those bearings may have finally been found.



Anonymous said...

Chris Williams is directing King of the Elves???


Kevin Bruehl said...

I love Disney, always have, always will. I am really looking forward to Tangled, though I'm not sure about the title change, but I'll still see it. I don't feel like seeing Meet the Robinsons or Chicken Little. I loved the Princess and the Frog as well, such a great turn back to classic animation. One thing is, they're running out of fairy tales to tell, and when that comes, original ideas will be the driving force, hard to do but achievable. I trust John Lasseter, he knows what he's doing and I really enjoy him as the head of Disney animation. I look forward to more projects from them.

Anonymous said...

So, no "classic characters in new situations", eh?

So I take it that Epic Mickey will never get translated to the big screen? Or Kingdom Hearts?

IF so, boo. You talk about properties boys - as well as girls - are interested in, those two are definitely it. Oh, well, why should Disney take a chance on Mickey when they have a non-Disney property like the Muppets to waste time and money on? *snort*

And the cancellation of the Snow Queen is still disappointing. Now it's very likely true that if the original plan - to make this classic, enchanting and very dark Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale into the usual Prince-and-Princess boy-girl romance - had been implemented, then the resultant film could very well have underperformed at the box office just like Princess and the Frog did. But if it had adhered more closely to Anderson's original story, the results could have been dazzling. But we'll never know now in any case because the movie's been shelved. What a waste of a good idea!

Jack and the Beanstalk????? :P

About Princess and the Frog: it had story problems galore, so I fail to see how Lasseter has improved things much. The movie went downhill the moment Tiana became a frog. She lost all of her working-girl charm and became a bland slimy nag. As for the prince, he was a dull jerky dud. Plus, that alligator was just another annoying animal sidekick that plagues so many toons, and he added nothing to the humor or story; the old lady in the swamp was pretty off-putting; and the bad guy looked cool but was poorly developed. Truly, the only two characters in the film who had any real appeal were, in fact, the firefly and Tiana. If the story had focused on them and if at least the alligator had been dropped, the movie would have been greatly improved. As it was, it was an unappetizing gumbo (get it?) of a movie, full of various mismatched ingredients that didn't exactly combine into a cinematic feast. And the most disappointing thing of all is that the New Orleans backdrop was barely utilized; Randy Newman's songs were bland and hadn't the faintest trace of real Dixie in them; plus, the movie's best song "Almost There" ended before it barely began, being much shorter in duration than "Friend Like Me" or "I Just Can't Wait To Be King". All in all, "Princess" was riddled with small blunders, making poor use of its potential and what few good characters it had. So I really don't think Lasseter has proven yet that he can run the Mouse House as well as he runs his own Pixar. That remains to be seen...

Aldebaran said...

Will KotE be able to be fixed in time to fill the 2012 gap?

...or at this point, will it remain a hole in the schedule?

Pixie Arrhh said...

No, it won't fill the gap. There is no way that it could be rushed to fill that and have the film work.

Do we really want them to rush this?

Anonymous said...

The problem with Disney's box office is all in the marketing. They've been unable to create a decent trailer to any of their animated films since Lilo and Stitch. The first time I saw the Princess and the Frog trailer I should have been excited, but instead felt nothing. And I'm a Disney fan, so I can imagine the general public having even less of a response. Now the Tangled trailer is an even bigger mess. I don't see how they expect the film to be anything but a failure if even the die hard Disney fans like myself are finding anything to like based on the trailer.

Anonymous said...

Honor, do you know who is directing Planes? I going to randomly guess Brad Raymond.

Aldebaran said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Conscientious Objector said...

You would be wrong, Neal. It would take a good two years to get it animated, less than that would be a very, very hard thing to do. And I'd rather wait six months or a year more than have my time wasted inside a theater watching millions thrown in the trash.

Swatsi said...

Well I really liked Bolt, Princess and the Frog, Prep and Landing and the few shorts so far actually released. Didn't like Meet the Robinsons - but there wasn't much hope of saving that one.
All in all, I'm quite positive and with the definate progess over the past few years, happy to give them the opportunity to rebuild an animation studio.

Not really a critic of Ross, but I wish he'd have less influence of the animated projects. By know I would hope that the animation studios would become a bit more independant. That of course is if Disney ever has any ambition to groom Lasseter and Catmull for the WDP role.

Anonymous said...

was Tangled rushed? i heard once they finaly settled on all the story changes with Rapunzel/Tangled, booted Keane as director, etc. & finally got down to business - it has only been about a year of animating

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2, when will you finally shut up for a change?

Something tells me that you're that "I hate everything"-type troll Gigglesock from Jim Hill Media.

And Honor Hunter, please reassure us all that new shorts featuring Mickey, Donald, Goofy, et al. WILL continue to get made in the future.

swatsi said...

How come when I see that image of Mickey on the top of this post I get excited?

Anonymous said...

King of the Elves - awesome! I always thought this was the most interesting title out there and with Chris Williams on it makes it even more exciting. I loved Bolt!

Who else is working on it?

Anonymous said...

Paul Briggs was on King of the Elves a while back - does anyone know if he is still working on it as well?

I'm really excited about the news of all of the films and the film makers!

Ron and John, Dean Wellins and Chris Williams are all incredible!

jedited said...

I didn't like Chicken Little and I liked Bolt even less.
I REALLY liked Meet the Robinsons though. I think part of the reasons is that all my kids are adopted.
Someone once said that Meet the Robinsons has a good beginning, a great end and a muddled middle. I would have to agree.
I think that someday Meet the Robinsons will get it's due.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anything produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios will ever gross anywhere close to two hundred million domestically.

Just my opinion. Hope I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know whether the new development of "The King of the Elves" will be in CGI or 2D? Because i've heard rumors of it being converted to a 2D film after all.

Anonymous said...


I hope Fraidy Cat for the Musker and Clements project.

It's a thiller, very different to HIM filmography at Disney.

wow!!! I adore Williams for Elves.

And for Chris Buck, there are many male classic tales for example THE BRAVE LITTLE TAILOR, BLUEBEARD, PIED PAPER OF HAMELIN, in the same style of BEANSTALK.

And then, for made SNOW QUEEN.

Finally, Disney wants to change styles and genres in his next films.


Conscientious Objector said...

Dude, he said there are three films in dev right now. One is hand drawn and two are CG. The 2D is by Ron and John so that means the other two are CG. If Elves is one of the other two what do you think it is?

Read the article before you ask questions that make it seem like you didn't read the article. Or maybe just don't read.

Anonymous said...

^^ Actually, if YOU had read the article more closely than you would have noticed Honor mentioned 2 CG projects in addition to King of the Elves - Reboot Ralph and the unspecified Dean Wellins project. I was wondering this myself, as I have heard rumors about KOTE being hand-drawn as well.

Anonymous said...

"So I take it that Epic Mickey will never get translated to the big screen? Or Kingdom Hearts?"

Let's HOPE not. What an ugly, bland video game. What a shame Disney didn't at least TRY to do something interesting with that.

Anonymous said...

**And Honor Hunter, please reassure us all that new shorts featuring Mickey, Donald, Goofy, et al. WILL continue to get made in the future.**

That's not likely.

And yeah, I'm Gigglesock, the "troll" whose grandfather worked for Walt Disney, who owns stock in Disney and who has been present at many Disney stockholder meetings. And for those reasons I'm not going to shut up. So deal with it, junior.

Anonymous said...


artego said...

Very interesting developments, but for now I will just sit back and pray for the day that Snow Queen will come back to us, in all of its intended 2-D animation glory...

Anonymous said...

Well, then, Gigglesock, shut up, get a life, realize that you're wrong and stop being such a hateful troll!

As for you, the last Anonymous, you're also wrong as well and need to realize that!

Anonymous said...

Also, Gigglescok, I wasn't talking to you. I was talking to Honor Hunter--DON'T BE HIS MOUTHPIECE!

Anonymous said...

I really wish the films were as follows:

2011 - Winnie Pooh

2013 - Ralph Reboot 3D

201? - King of the Elves by Chris Williams 3D

201? - Fraidy Cat (or Velveteen Rabbit) by Musker and Clements 2D

201? - Ramayana by Dean Wellins 3D

201? - Pied Piper of Hamelin or Brave Little Tailor by Chris Buck in 2D for then to make finally Snow Queen also in 2D.

Anonymous said...

Gigglesock here, to the pre-adolescent Anonymous who keeps throwing hissy fits here when someone says something he doesn't agree with: Grow up. Stop playing with puppets. Move out of mommy's basement and get a taste of life before trying to advise anyone else about getting one. Just a little fatherly advice, since it seems you could use some.

I wouldn't presume to speak for Honor, who runs a very informative site (and I love the art he produces for his articles). For the record, it'd be nice to be optimistic about the current Disney administration, but it's showing some very poor judgment and I, along with quite a few other stockholders, are deeply disappointed with it. Iger's spending company money like mad on further acquisitions, and meanwhile things like Walt Disney World go begging, and it's in desperate need for at least some basic upkeep. For instance, why isn't Iger spending money to fix that busted Yeti ride, which is a real embarrassment to the park and the company? That'd be a much wiser investment than wasting money on a Muppet movie or any of the other questionable things Iger's done lately. It seems like Iger's all about acquisitions and NOT about investing in what made Disney so great. Some might point to World of Color, but if you've ever watched that show - or TRIED to watc it - when there's a little wind blowing, it too is an epic fail. Roy Disney initially didn't like Iger, and it turns out his initial reaction was right. And now they've taken Walt's first name off of some of the company's product. What the hell's wrong with Iger? Has he any appreciation for the legacy at all?

Anonymous said...

The new John and Ron 2D feature is going to be called Mort:

It's about a guy who becomes an apprentice to Death.

You were right. It explores new territory and will be no princess movie.

Anonymous said...

Shut up gigglesock, you immature loser.

You're almost as bad as Honor.

Honor, a different strategy? Uh...isn't that what they tried starting with 2000's Dinosaur and Emperor's New Groove. The films that started the Dark Age?! Right...a new strategy is not what they need. Look at how successful Tangled is. They need to stick with classic Disney. Not all fairy tales of course but films with beautiful animation, great characters, and a good story.

Just because they try something new doesn't mean that it will be good you gutless worm. They simply need to make good films!