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Animation and VFX Summer 2014 Movie Preview

Monkeys, Mercenaries, Mobsters and Mutant Turtles take over our multiplexes this summer.

We’re there folks – right smack dab in the middle of summer, a time of year when it’s practically impossible to justify spending two hours of your day trapped inside a movie theatre when you could be outside enjoying the sunlight and fresh air.  Leave it to Hollywood to try and tempt us away from our daily dose of Vitamin D.  But are their explosive sequels, CGI-infused reboots and animated fare up to the task?  Check out this rundown of upcoming releases and decide for yourself.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – July 11th

The early reviews are looking very good for director Matt Reeves’ follow-up to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which explores the complex social and political conflicts between humans and super-intelligent apes…all the while still delivering plenty of visual bang for your buck.  Weta Digital, MPC, The Aaron Sims Company and Stereo D are responsible for helping to create the simian army and also polishing up Andy Serkis’ motion capture performance as Caesar, 90% of which was reportedly filmed on location.  If anyone’s got a proven track record when it comes to satisfying CG-filled blockbusters, it’s Serkis.

Planes: Fire and Rescue – July 18th

DisneyToon Studios continues to milk a cutesy concept dry with latest expansion of the Cars franchise begun by Pixar in 2006.  Directed by Roberts Gannaway, who previously acted as producer on the animated shows The Emperor’s New School and House of Mouse, Rescue sees Dane Cook’s Dusty Crophopper having to retire from competitive racing in order to fight forest fires.  Teri Hatcher, Brad Garrett, Ed Harris and Julie Bowen lend their voices to supporting characters, all of which can be found in the isles of your local Toys “R” Us, no doubt.

Hercules – July 25th

I know what you’re thinking: “Didn’t we just get a Hercules movie seven months ago?”  Well, this one features chiseled Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the legendary demigod, so maybe it’ll actually succeed in making back it’s budget, unlike Kellan Lutz’s The Legend of Hercules.  Of course, audiences might still be wary of checking out a Brett Ratner film, what with the director still living down X-Men: The Last Stand and all.  It might be up to Prime Focus, Double Negative, Cinesite, Milk VFX, Outsource, Stereo D, The Third Floor and Method Studios to pull out all the stops and make this mythological outing especially striking.

Guardians of the Galaxy – August 1st

James Gunn’s highly anticipated Marvel comics space epic hardly needs any more publicity at this point, but in case you missed its big selling points, here they are: green assassin Zoe Saldana, gun-toting raccoon named Rocket, comedy, action, Vin Diesel as a tree man who can only say his name over and over.  Oh, and visual effects by Method Studios, Framestore, MPC, Stereo D, Proof Inc, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Luma Pictures, Lola VFX, New Deal Studios, Prime Focus, The Third Floor, Cantina Creative and The Senate VFX.

Into the Storm – August 8th

Director Steven Quale (Final Destination 5) teams up with Richard Armitage (The Hobbit), Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead) and a cast of youngins for this “found footage” tornado thriller.  Credit Cinesite, Gentle Giant Studios, Hydraulx, Rhythm & Hues, Method Studios, Digital Domain, MPC, Scanline VFX, Prime Focus, LIDAR VFX and Svengali FX with churning up a storm so intense it makes airplanes look like tumbleweeds.  How this one managed not to be converted to 3D is anyone’s guess.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – August 8th

It’s hard to have hope that this reboot of the live action Turtles franchise will prove anything more than passably entertaining.  Consider that director Michael Bay’s original vision of the turtles – and Shredder! – involved rewriting them as space aliens.  Then consider that he mended fences with Megan Fox to cast her as April O’Neil…over natural redhead Jessica Biel.  Well, if all that weren’t enough to make you want to hide in your half shell, there’s the news that nostrils have been added to the faces of Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo.  Any chance Tippett Studio, ILM, Stereo D, Image Engine, BaseFX and The Third Floor might have secretly conspired to remove those from the picture before sending it out for distribution?

The Expendables 3 – August 15th

Ah-nold, Stallone, Snipes, Statham and an army of other testosterone-y A-listers take to the big screen one last time to blow things up ‘80s style in this third entry in the mindlessly fun franchise.  Look for Mel Gibson to take advantage of his bad reputation in the role of the Expendables’ former colleague-turned adversary, Conrad Stonebanks.  Keeping the high-octane action looking real is Prime Focus, Mirada, Digikore Studios, Ghost VFX, Hammerhead Productions, The Resistance VFX and Worldwide FX.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – August 22nd

Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez team up again to give us another dose of graphic novel goodness in this follow-up to 2005’s Sin City.  Combining two of Miller’s previously published tales with two new stories created specifically for the film, Dame looks to be a crowd-pleaser.  It’s swollen ensemble cast features the likes of (deep breath now!) Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Juno Temple, Ray Liotta, Lady Gaga, Josh Brolin, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Meloni, Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater, Jumping Jack Flash, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.  And several others.  The visual effects, however, are a one-man show, with Prime Focus’ international offices handling all of the tricky stuff in this crime-ridden, high contrast world.

The Zero Theorem – September 19th

Terry Gillian has made a habit of questioning what humanity’s future may bring, given our continual reliance on technology.  Now, with Theorem, he brings that discussion to a close.  Expanding on themes he previously explored in Brazil and 12 Monkeys, the celebrated director casts Christoph Waltz in the role of Qohen Leth, a computer programmer feeling disconnected from a world in which everything may be meaningless.  Though reviews have been mixed since its debut at the 2013 Venice International Film Festival, Gillian’s penchant for cramming his sets with tiny interesting details makes this one worth checking out in theatres.  If you’d rather see it from the comfort of home, however, expect to be able to download it on iTunes come August 19th.  Visual effects assistance here provided by Haymaker and Lenscare FX.

The Maze Runner – September 19th

If Divergent burned you out on teenage coming-of-age stories set in strange dystopian circumstances, consider this: Maze screenwriter Noah Oppenheim has already been recruited to pen the first part of the final chapter in the Divergent film franchise, Allegiant: Part 1.  So hopefully, this adaptation of the popular book series might have something that other one didn’t.  At least first-time feature director Wes Ball teamed up with well-established visual FX houses Gentle Giant Studios, The Third Floor, Method Studio, Factory VFX and Crazy Horse Effects to make sure the ever-shifting labyrinth at the centre of the story is as visually exciting as possible.

The Boxtrolls – September 26th

Stop motion animation fans are already salivating at the prospect of checking out Laika’s latest feature, based on Alan Snow’s 2005 illustrated novel Here Be Monsters!  In it, Isaac Hempstead-Wright voices Eggs, an orphan who is taken in by a bunch of sewer-dwelling trash collectors being pursued by Ben Kingsley’s Archibald Snatcher in the city of Cheesebridge.  Also featuring the voices of Elle Fanning, Toni Collette, Simon Pegg and Tracy Morgan, Boxtrolls marks Graham Annable’s first turn in the director’s chair, which he shares with Anthony Stacchi, co-director of Sony’s Open Season.  In short, if Coraline and ParaNorman left you chomping at the bit for more, this one’s for you.

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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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