Disney Taps Deep Into DNA In Unveiling Animation Slate
From that beginning, BOLT evolves into a road movie, with the still-deluded and now lost dog in search of Penny. A CG sequence, by turns moody and slapsticky followed, highlighting Bolt's companions: an eager-beaver hamster named Rhino (voiced by Disney story artist Mark Walton) and mangy alley cat Mr. Mittens (Essman).
PRINCE OF EGYPT director Brenda Chapman, together with producer Katherine Sarafian (from the Pixar short LIFTED), introduced Pixar's THE BEAR AND THE BOW, a Celtic-themed legend targeted for a Christmas 2011 release. Against a background of concept paintings and character designs (many reminiscent of Victorian illustrator Arthur Rackham), Chapman described the factors inspiring her original story: her love of Brothers Grimm-style dark fairy tales, the landscapes of Scotland ("it's very rugged and masculine, yet it has a feminine aspect -- there's something growing on everything") and her daughter Emma Rose's fiery personality, the inspiration for the film's Princess Merida. "She has one of the most important traits of all," Sarafian observed, "great hair."
The film abounds in mythic elements, including an ancient ring of stones (that exists in real-life Scotland and is older than Stonehenge), a secret cave, a witch (or "wise woman," depending on your perspective) and a cursed beast -- a 15-foot-tall bear. Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon voices Merida, while Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson portray her royal parents and Julie Waters (Ron Weasley's mom in the HARRY POTTER movies) is the wise woman.
Pixar's summer 2011 release is the comedy NEWT, directed by LIFTED's director Gary Rydstrom. The film's producer, visual effects veteran Richard Hollander, described NEWT as "a romantic comedy about endangered species," as the last two blue-footed newts -- the lab-dwelling Newt and the caught-in-the-wild Brooke -- discover they can't stand one another. When the pair escape from the laboratory, they encounter Eddie, a "Hell Hollow Slender Salamander" and self-deluded ladies' man. "It was my way of sneaking the word 'hell' into a Disney movie," Hollander joshed, although a hardcore Disney buff might point out that SLEEPING BEAUTY's Maleficent beat him to it by 52 years.
A handful of CG stills illustrated Hollander's talk as he summed up his goal for the film: "We want to prove to you that love is not a science."
Christmas 2009 marks Disney's long-awaited return to hand-drawn animation with THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, from the studio's superstar writing/directing team (THE LITTLE MERMAID and ALADDIN) John Musker and Ron Clements. Lasseter pointed out the film is also "the return of the musical to Disney animation," before introducing Musker, Clements and film's producer, musical theater veteran Peter Del Vecho.
Musker began by showing a circa-1976 group shot of CalArts students that included himself, Clements and Brad Bird. After riffing on their three decades out-of-date appearances, Musker described the school as "a magical place." Del Vecho observed that "every fairy tale needs a magical place," and in THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG that place is 1920s New Orleans.
The film's princess is the African-American Tiana, another nontraditional Disney heroine, following in the footsteps of Middle Eastern Jasmine, Asian Mulan and Native American Pocahontas. In an unexpected moment, DREAMGIRLS star Anika Noni Rose, the voice of Tiana, came onstage to sing the film's romantic ballad by Disney veteran Newman.
The film's premise is a classic fractured fairy tale twist on the original fable, but done in a more romantic manner than Jay Ward might've imagined: When Tiana kisses the voodoo-enchanted frog... she turns into one as well. The pair escapes into the swamps, where they encounter lovesick, slackjawed firefly Ray, and Louis, a trumpet-playing alligator. Mama Odie, the film's half-blind, 200-year-old "fairy godmother" was described as "a combination of Moms Mabley and Yoda."
After revealing the film's climax takes place during New Orleans' Mardi Gras, the trio introduced Newman himself, who performed a second song from the film, backed up by a jazz ensemble.