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Animation and VFX Fall 2015 Movie Preview

Variety abounds in the animated and VFX-focused films headed our way this fall.

As we anticipate the depressing thought of swapping out our summer t-shirts for fall jackets, take heart in knowing the spirit of the summer blockbuster season will live on at the multiplex. Two ‘60s-set thrillers are on the way, as well as CG, stop motion and even hand-drawn animated offerings, amidst a spattering of sequels, reboots and spinoffs. In short, plenty to make the transition bearable, as evidenced in this shortlist of noteworthy animated and VFX-filled films.

'Shaun the Sheep.' Image courtesy of Aardman Animations.

Shaun the Sheep – August 7th

Aardman Studios offers up some more of their signature stop motion goodness with the big screen debut of a popular Wallace and Gromit spinoff character. Shaun, created by four-time Oscar winner Nick Park, first flew solo in his own animated series back in 2007. Now, he’s taking a day off from life at the Mossy Bottom Farm to explore the big city in a feature film. This one’s already pulled in $54 million since being released overseas in February, and is sure to do well in North America as the only stop motion film headed our way in the coming months.

'Fantastic Four.' Image © 2015 Marvel & Subs. TM and © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four – August 7th

Marvel reboots one of its more infamously underwhelming superheroes franchises with the help of director Josh Trank. This time around, Kate Mara stars as The Invisible Woman with Miles Teller as Mr. Fantastic, Michael B. Jordan as The Human Torch and Jamie Bell as The Thing. Weta Digital, MPC, Pixomondo, Stereo D and Hydraulx are around to help them fly, turn transparent and “flame on”, but sadly there’s little humor on display in the trailers. Say what you will about the rest of the cast of the original franchise, but Chris Evans kept things light and fun. Here’s hoping this new take doesn’t overlook the entertainment value of a good laugh.

‘Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet.’ Image © 2014 GKIDS / Participant Media.

The Prophet – August 7th

The Lion King co-director Roger Allers teams up with producer Salma Hayek to realize this ambitious big screen adaptation of Kahlil Gibran’s poetic story of the same name. The Prophet tells of an imprisoned man finally permitted to return home and his relationship with a rebellious young girl and her mother. That narrative forms the framework of the film and is animated in CGI, but it’s when the picture transitions to 2D animated segments contributed by artists like Bill Plympton and Tomm Moore that it takes on a Fantasia-like appeal sure to leave audiences breathless. Look for it to open in Los Angeles and New York first, with additional cities and dates to follow.

'Underdogs.' Photo courtesy of Catmandu 100 Bares Productions.

Underdogs – August 14th

This 2013 CG animated film finally opens in the US following several years of distribution delays. Nicholas Hoult, Ariana Grande and Katie Holmes provide the English dub for the story of a young boy named Amadeo whose dreams of playing soccer are dwarfed only by his love for a girl named Laura. Though the reviews for this Argentina-produced effort leave a lot to be desired, it could always end up drawing the attention of the children of disillusioned FIFA fans looking for another fix.

'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' Image © 2015 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and RATPAC-Dune Entertainment LLC. All rights reserved.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – August 14th

Guy Richie delivers this unexpected update of the classic ‘60s spy series starring Henry Cavill, Arnie Hammer, Hugh Grant and Alicia Vikander. Naturally, the good guys have to save the daughter of a scientist to prevent the world from coming to an end, and they have plenty of crisp suits to wear while doing it. We’ll be watching for all the near-death close calls, courtesy of BlueBolt, Cinesite and RISE Visual Effects Studios, as much as for the style.

'Max Steel.' Image courtesy of Dolphin Entertainment.

Max Steel – August 18th

Sorority Row director Stewart Hendler handles this big screen adaptation of Mattel’s toyline of the same name. Ben Winchell and Maria Bello star with Josh Brener as the voice of the robotic Steel – teenaged Max McGrath’s superheroic partner. Gentle Giant Studios, Hydraulx, Soho VFX and Shade VFX have the challenge of trying to make all the mechanical magic look real, though it’s doubtful they’ll be able to keep audiences from making those unavoidable comparisons to the Transformers franchise.

Hitman: Agent 47 – August 21st

ILM and Mokko Studio help bring a video game assassin to life in this action-packed thriller directed by Aleksander Bach. The plot is pretty basic: a man by the name of John Smith (Zachary Quinto) goes head-to-head with a superhuman killer named Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) as he tears his way through hordes of underpaid government flunkies. Though this one is technically a sequel to 2007’s underwhelming Hitman, it is also something of a reboot. Quinto has already gone on record assuring fans it that they’ve raised the bar significantly and 47 won’t leave them disappointed, though some might still be bummed about the fact that the late Paul Walker was originally slated to star in the titular role.

Legend – September 11th

Written and directed by Brian Helgeland (of L.A. Confidential fame), this gangster thriller tells the tale of real-life twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray, whose criminal activities in London’s East End made them famous back in the ‘60s. Tom Hardy takes on the challenging dual roles with Emily Browning playing Reggie’s eventual wife Frances Shea and Taron Egerton portraying Ronnie’s lover “Mad Teddy”. Nvizible and BaseBlack handle the visual effects work here, which likely involved stitching together multiple takes of the same scenes to place Hardy opposite himself.

The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials – September 18th

In Scorch Trials, “Phase Two” gets underway as the escaped Gladers, lead by Dylan O’Brien’s Thomas, get a look at the outside world and fight back against the evil organization known as WCKD. If all that sounds like gibberish to you, you probably didn’t see 2014’s Maze Runner or are as tired of would-be “hip” non-words and abbreviations as the rest of us are. “WCKD” sure does sounds rather “STPD”, but at least there will be tons of pretty visuals from Weta Digital and The Third Floor to distract from the lingo.

Everest – September 18th

Director Baltasar Kormákur leads Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal and Keira Knightley in this nail-biter based on the true story of a 1996 climbing expedition that went terribly, terribly wrong. While all the onscreen snowstorms were created by One of Us, ILP, Framestore, Stereo D and Milk-VFX, an actual avalanche took place on Mount Everest during filming in April of 2014. The incident claimed the lives of sixteen Sherpa guides while the movie’s second unit crew were stationed at the foot of the summit. The filmmakers may have emerged unscathed, but it’s a safe bet at least some of them thought twice before showing up to work the next day.

Hotel Transylvania 2 – September 25th

Animation legend Genndy Tartakovsky returns to direct this sequel to 2012’s family-friendly monster mash from Sony Pictures Animation. The movie – only Tartakovsky’s second, if you can believe it – sees Adam Sandler’s Dracula coming to grips with having a potentially mortal grandson while also dealing with his judgmental father Vlad, voiced by Mel Brooks. Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi and Fran Drescher also lend their pipes to the project, which will get a prequel in the form of a Nelvana-produced animated series set to air in 2017. How scary is that?