It's a new year and time to get excited for a new crop of animated features on the horizon. Disney and Paramount have four films coming. Franchise productions heavily weigh on the 2011 schedule, but that doesn't mean there aren't some interesting original properties coming too. I'm sure this list will expand as the year goes along and some indie toons jump into theaters in order to qualify for the Oscars. It looks like an interesting year for lots of reasons.
Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance (Eleven Arts, Jan. 21)
FUNimation Ent. has teamed with Eleven Arts to bring this venerable series to American theaters. Directed by Masayuki and Kazuya Tsurumaki and shepherded by series creator Hideaki Anno, this production is the second film in the Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy, which is based on the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series. In this adventure, a new Evangelion pilot takes the helm in the continued battle against the Angels. The word from the anime world that this is an improvement over the first installment in the remake series, but might make some hardcore fans irate, because makes changes.
This long-gestating project is finally coming to theaters. The pet project of Sir Elton John was originally in development at Disney, but John eventually took over the rights and is producing it through his Rocket Pictures. Starz Animation, who animated 9, animated the garden gnome version of Shakespeare's classic young love tale. Disney was going to release it via Miramax, but now will put it under the Touchstone label. Shrek 2 director Kelly Asbury is at the helm with a voice cast boasting James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Jason Statham, Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart and Julie Walters.
Here is one of the most unusual productions of the year. It's from Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies, and was animated by visual effects house ILM. Directed by Pirates of the Caribbean's Gore Verbinski, the film has Johnny Depp voicing a chameleon with an identity crisis. The lizard dreams of becoming a swashbuckler and gets to play one in a Western town that is under siege by bandits. Depp is joined in the voice cast by Timothy Olyphant, Bill Nighy, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Ray Winstone, Harry Dean Stanton and Stephen Root. It's certainly one of the most highly anticipated animated features of the year.
This is the second and final collaboration between Robert Zemeckis' ImageMovers Digital and Walt Disney. In this performance-capture film, a young boy learns that his mom ain't so bad after she is kidnapped by Martians. Adult Swim, ShadowMachine Films, Stoopid Monkey and Williams Street all have a hand in this production as well. Matte World Digital provided visual effects and The Third Floor the previz. Seth Green is voicing the young hero and he is joined by Joan Cusack, Breckin Meyer, Dan Fogler and Billy Dee Williams. Simon Wells, who helmed Balto and The Prince of Egypt, is the director.
Carlos Saldanha sets into the director's chair for Blue Sky Studios' first original story since they launched with Ice Age. The story centers on Blu, a domesticated blue macaw, who is introduced to the wild female blue macaw, Jewel, in order to save the species. (Due to the similarity to this and Alpha and Omega, Pixar dropped the development of Gary Rydstrom's Newt.) Blu's world is rocked when he gets pulled out of his comfy life and is thrust into Rio de Janeiro. Voice cast includes Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Jemaine Clement, Jamie Foxx, George Lopez and Will I Am. The early word is it's very good.
Many consider Kung Fu Panda to be the best DreamWorks feature, so its follow-up is another one of the hotly anticipated animated films of the year. Jennifer Yuh, who has been a story and storyboard artist at DreamWorks for years, makes her feature-film directing debut on the new adventure, which finds Po (Jack Black) looking into his past, while trying to stop the peacock Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) from using a weapon that could rid the world of kung fu. In addition to the returning Furious Five voices and Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu, the film finds new kung fu masters in James Woods as Skunkman, Alias' Victor Garber as Thundering Rhino, Michelle Yeoh as Soothsayer and Jean-Claude Van Damme as Croc.
Many consider Cars to be the weakest Pixar feature, so it will be interesting to see how this one fares compared to the original and other Pixar films. It also marks the first Pixar sequel other than Toy Story. John Lasseter shares directing duties with Brad Lewis, who was a producer on Antz and Ratatouille. In this new film, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) joins the international racing circuit with Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) as his pit chief. Through their globetrotting they get wrapped up in international espionage in a case of mistaken identity. New additions to the voice cast include Michael Caine, Jason Isaacs and Emily Mortimer. The most cynical out there are saying this is being made to cash in on the merchandising bonanza the original film created. But this is Pixar and whenever expectations are lowered even a tad on them, they have a track record of blowing those expectations out of the water.
Could this be the last hand-drawn theatrical feature for Disney? After the disappointing performance of The Princess and the Frog and the huge surprise amount of success for the CG princess tale Tangled, some are speculating so. Additionally, Winnie the Pooh skews very young, possibly too young for the current box office climate, which might not help the case for more 2D features. But that doesn't have anything to do with the film. Based directly on The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne and Return to the Hundred Acre Wood by David Benedictus, the five stories have never been adapted before. Stephen J. Anderson (Meet the Robinsons) and longtime Disney story artist Don Hall are the directors. John Cleese is narrating with Jim Cummings voicing Pooh and Tigger, Craig Ferguson as Owl, Tom Kenny as Rabbit and Bud Luckey as Eeyore.
Shrek's Puss in Boots gets his own feature film. Antonio Banderas returns to voice the swashbuckling feline in this prequel to Shrek 2. Shrek the Third helmer Chris Miller is driving this production, which includes the voice talents of Selma Hayek and Zach Galifianakis as Humpty Dumpty. Details are known yet, but Hayek's Kitty will be Banderas' love interest, while Humpty tries to gather up all the golden eggs of one very famous goose.
The original won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Little is known about the plot for the follow-up to the surprise hit, which is being animated by George Miller's own Dr. D Studios. Elijah Wood and Robin Williams will be reprising their roles from the original. Singer Pink has been cast to replace the late Brittany Murphy as Gloria. The rest of the cast features some other new big names, including Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Hank Azaria and Sofia Vergara. Fans of the original crowd pleaser are surely hoping George Miller's sequel captures the rousing entertainment value as the first film.
This CG feature is the first production from the partnership between Aardman Animations and Sony Pictures Animation. The holiday-theme film sees Santa Claus ne'er do well son Arthur taking the reins of his high-tech operation in order to save Christmas by getting the presents delivered on time. Writer/producer/director Sarah Smith and Mulan helmer Barry Cook are the directors. This is Aardman's first feature since the disappointing Flushed Away and from the trailer this new one looks promising.
The performance-capture Tintin trilogy kicks off this holiday season with Steven Spielberg at the helm of the first entry. Based on Herge's The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure, the story introduces Tintin (Jamie Bell) to Capt. Haddock (Andy Serkis) as they go in search of the treasure of his ancestor Sir Francis Haddock. Daniel Craig will voice the pirate Red Rackham, Simon Pegg as Inspector Thompson and Nick Frost as Inspector Thomson. I'm fairly confident that this film, animated by Weta Digital, will be an international success, but how will it play in the U.S. where Tintin isn't Mickey Mouse?
Rick DeMott is the director of content for Animation World Network, VFXWorld and AWNtv. Additionally, he's the creator of the movie review site, Rick's Flicks Picks, which was recently named one of the 100 best movie blogs by The Daily Reviewer. He has written for TV series, such as Discovery Kids' Growing Up Creepie and Cartoon Network's Pet Alien, the animation history book Animation Art, and the humor, absurdist and surrealist website Unloosen. Previously, he held various production and management positions in the entertainment industry.