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Animation and VFX Spring 2014 Movie Preview

Time-traveling mutants, rare blue macaws, a webbed crusader, morphing metal robots and the Mistress of All Evil are just a few of the animated characters coming to theatres this Spring.

With the snow and ice finally melting – or, in some places, hopefully soon to the on the brink of melting – marketing campaigns are heating up for some of the biggest films of the year.  This spring offers sequels of both the highly anticipated and highly questionable varieties, as well as some promising re-imaginings of beloved characters.  Which will measure up?  Which will get us to plunk down our hard-earned cash for a ten dollar ticket and a six dollar bucket of popcorn?  And which companies are handling all those visual effects and animation anyway?  Read on for the full rundown of contenders coming our way in the next three months.

April

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – April 4th

Chris Evans is back – and in black? – for this second entry in the Captain America franchise.  Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo are taking over directorial duties from Joe Johnston, who helmed The First Avenger back in 2011.  It may be their first foray into the world of big budget blockbusters, but they’ve got the support of a veritable superhero team of VFX specialists, including Legacy FX, IML, Luma Pictures, Trixter Film, Scanline VFX, Stereo D, Whiskytree, Gentle Giant Studios, Proof Inc, The Embassy, Capital T, Perception, BaseFX and Lola Visual Effects.  There’s strength in numbers, after all.  Having Scarlet Johansson reprising her role as Black Widow probably doesn’t hurt either.

Rio 2 – April 11th

Blue Sky Studios’ ninth animated feature film revisits a certain blue macaw, named (wait for it!) Blu, who first found love in 2011’s colorful Academy Award-nominated romp Rio.  Now, the bird and his mate, Jewel, are taking their fine feathered offspring to the Amazon rainforest, where they’ll find themselves under siege while reuniting with Jewel’s long-lost father Eduardo.  Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway and director Carlos Saldanha are all back for this sequel, but regrettably, Rio 2 marks writer Don Rhymer’s final film as he passed away in 2012 after a long career in television and film.

May

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – May 2nd

The appropriately named Marc Webb returns to helm this second installment in the new adventures of your friendly neighborhood superhero, and he is making a point of introducing some long-awaited villains to the screen.  Jamie Foxx takes on the guise of Electro while Paul Giamatti steps up to play the Russian mobster known as Rhino.  With the Green Goblin also expected to make an appearance, it’s a safe bet there will be plenty of brawling going on, meaning Legend 3D, Shade VFX, The Moving Picture Company, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Nerve Films, The Third Floor, Prime Focus and Pixel Playground all had their able hands full.

 

Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return – May 9th

After numerous delays, Prana Studios’ animated sequel to the classic Wizard of Oz story is finally hitting theatres.  And while it features what seems to be a dream cast of vocal talent – including Bernadette Peters as Glinda, Jim Belushi as the Lion and Lea Michelle as Dorothy Gale – the animation and character designs glimpsed in the trailers are leaving many in the industry scratching their heads.  Here’s hoping at the very least the songs by Bryan Adams will leave moviegoers with a happy tune in their heads.

Godzilla – May 16th

For the first time since 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars – which marked his 50th anniversary – the big spiky lug is marching his way back onto the big screen.  This reboot, written by Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham, establishes that Godzilla’s existence was kept secret by the US government, who tried to off him back in the ‘50s.  Bryan Cranston has gone on record as saying that he and co-stars Juliette Binoche and Ken Watanabe were drawn in by the script’s believable characters and compelling relationship dynamics.  We’re guessing audiences will be showing up for the carnage and chaos, supplied by Weta Digital, Double Negative, Moving Picture Company, The Third Floor, Scanline VFX, Stereo D, Café FX, LiDAR VFX, Pixel Playground and Hammerhead Productions.

X-Men Days of Future Past – May 23rd

After years of bemoaning Bryan Singer’s departure from the franchise, fanboys and girls are finally getting a reason to celebrate the release of an X-Men movie again.  If by some coincidence you hadn’t already heard, this time-hopping blockbuster pairs up the original stars of the X-Men films with the First Class cast for what will undoubtedly be a juggernaut at the box office.  Which only means, of course, that if Halle Berry looks lousy flying around as Storm, blame will fall squarely on the shoulders of Gentle Giant Studios, The Moving Picture Company, Stereo D, Digital Domain, The Third Floor, Rhythm and Hues, Cinesite, Hydraulx VFX, Ignition and Rising Sun Pictures.  Oh, who are we kidding?  We’re just glad this will be her final turn as the otherwise beloved heroine.  Here’s hoping the winds of change eventually bring us someone better suited to white hair and high heels.

Maleficent – May 30th

A true Disney masterpiece gets the live action prequel treatment in this VFX-loaded fairy tale by The Moving Picture Company, The Third Floor, Prime Focus, Digital Domain, 4DMax, Method Studios, Framestore and Reliance MediaWorks.  Maleficent marks Robert Stromberg’s directorial debut after years of racking up Oscars for his work production designing the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Avatar.  Here, he shifts focus from the cursed Sleeping Beauty to the colorful fairy world from which her would-be tormentor sprung.  Jolie clearly seems to have been well cast in the role, but we’ll have to wait to see if Linda Woolverton’s story – which paints the deliciously demonic character in a more sympathetic light – manages to be as enchanting as the 1959 classic that made the Mistress of All Evil an icon.

June

Edge of Tomorrow – June 6th

In what might be a sly commentary on his choice of projects of late, this pic features Tom Cruise trapped in a post-apocalyptic future and forced to relive the same day of combat over and over.  Based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s breakthrough novel All You Need Is Kill, the film pairs Tom up with Emily Blunt and Bill Paxton and promises plenty of exo-suit action and sci-fi vehicles flying around and about.  It’ll also offer Haters a chance to see Mr. Scientology die some two hundred times in a row.  Framestore, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Cinesite, Rodeo FX, Nvizible and The Third Floor had the pleasure of making that happen in various ways.  Sounds like a pretty fun time at the movies, regardless of what you’re showing up for.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 – June 13th

They say it’s hard to miss someone who’s never left, and in that sense it feels like Hiccup and Toothless have been around for quite a while.  After first debuting on the silver screen in 2010, they’ve starred in a traveling arena show and spin-off animated series on Cartoon Network.  With How to Train Your Dragon 2, we see them move into the next chapter of their story, set five years after the original film, where they’ll discover new species of dragons and run afoul of the fiendish-sounding Drago Bludvist.  All the original voice actors are back, along with writer/director Dean Deblois, who will also helm the eventual third installment in this lucrative DreamWorks franchise.

Transformers: Age of Extinction – June 27th

Buckle up for more of Michael Bay’s brawlin’ bots.  This fourth Transformers flick reunites him with Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon writer Ehren Kruger for another round of slow-mo explosions and conversions.  Gone, however, is franchise star Shia LaBeouf, with Marky Mark taking top billing…after Optimus Prime, of course, voiced by fan-favorite Peter Cullen.  ILM, Gentle Giant Studios, Method Studios and Prime Focus are handling the VFX, which will also include some ferocious-looking Dinobots.  Wahlberg seems confident it’ll be the highest-grossing movie of the year, and Rob Moore of Paramount Pictures says plans for a fifth and sixth film hinge on its success.  If history is any indication, it’ll certainly give the other pictures this spring a run for their money at the box office.

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James Gartler is a Canadian writer with a serious passion for animation in all its forms. His work has appeared in the pages of Sci Fi Magazine, and at the websites EW.com and Newsarama.com.

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