Thursday, August 8, 2013

Confidential Disney

Weeks ago, we got a really good serving of information surrounding Walt Disney Animation Studios' upcoming slate. Taking cues from Pixar's past, Walt Disney Animation Studios has become more secretive whilst getting the word out there that they have secured release dates for many of their upcoming projects. Last month, we found out about four films that were going to follow 2014's Big Hero 6, their ambitious adaptation of the Marvel comic. We were told that the first of the four films would hit theaters in March 2016, and the last would arrive in November of 2018.

Of course, Disney left all other details out. All four productions were simply "Untitled"... But many of us fans latch onto what's been mumbled about. In 2010, we heard about the film that Dean Wellins (one of the original directors of the Rapunzel / Tangled project) was going to direct... But very little details. Byron Howard, one of the directors of Tangled, mentioned a new film that he was working on well after Tangled had done incredibly well at the box office. That was in early 2011. Summer 2012 brought us the announcement of a new hand-drawn animated film from dream team Ron Clements and John Musker, nearly two years after their planned adaptation of Terry Pratchett's Mort was announced and subsequently canned. Nathan Greno, Tangled's other director, seemed to be up to something as well...

I of course did my speculating, predicting that the March 2016 release would be Byron Howard's film or Ron & John's film, which ever one was ready. The March 2018 film, I felt, would be something like King of the Elves since Greno's film seemed to be out of the question at the moment... Or it had just escaped my mind. For the November 2018 film, the Mickey Mouse film that Burny Mattinson mentioned in 2011... Or something we've never heard of before.

Honor Hunter of the fantastic Disney/entertainment blog Blue Sky Disney - who gets a lot of bits that turn out to be true - finally got some details on three of the four scheduled untitled productions... Information that he apparently wasn't allowed to share, as The Walt Disney Company requested him to take down his article. /Film's article was also pulled, apparently Disney busted them as well. I followed suite, thinking that they'd find my piece on it as well... But I'll give it another go, because I seriously want to talk about these projects.

Anyways, what is Walt Disney Animation Studios giving us after Big Hero 6 bows in the autumn of 2014?

Well, we're not getting the 55th animated soon-to-be classic any time in 2015. Walt Disney Animation Studios was able to work around Pixar's plans to release two films that year. Their strategy is to release two films in a year when Pixar only has one film ready for the summer only, though I feel that Pixar will not do two films a year every two years. 2015 and 2017 seem to be the only years they'll be doing this.

On March 4, 2016, Byron Howard's Zootopia will hit theaters. Jason Bateman will provide the voice of the lead. Going by Honor Hunter's "foxy" adjective, we can assume that this character might be a fox. Brendon Connelly of Bleeding Cool spilled details on the project not too long ago, telling us that the film would be "wild" and "weird". Action-packed on top of that, and it was two ideas out of six that were pitched to John Lasseter. The man loved the two ideas and told Howard to combine them into one big picture. Honor Hunter also dropped hints that it would be about wildlife. Well, the title half confirms this. My guess is that "Zootopia" is a massive zoo that's almost like a city for animals in captivity. Or maybe it's just a generic name for a zoo that the animals don't want to be in, though that may ring a little too similar to the first Madagascar. Not a vague title, but a mysterious one... What exactly is "Zootopia"? Maybe it's a reserve or habitat for wildlife? Anyways, it's cool to see Disney going back to doing a film (that may be) set in the wilderness in the vein of The Lion King and the misguided Brother Bear... But from what Howard told Connelly, this won't be some annoying talking animals movie. The details about it being "action-packed" also intrigue me... This does not sound like your typical animal comedy, period.

Nathan Greno's film is next, which should hit theaters on November 23, 2016. Titled Giants, I assume that this may be an adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk or a story set in the same universe. In 2010, Disney Animation had an adaptation of the classic fairy tale in the works... But it was canned, either for story problems or the fact that Warner Bros. had their big budget Jack film in the works. One that eventually bombed when it tripped out of the gates earlier this year. This one doesn't give me much to speculate about... But it could be anything. Right now, the Beanstalk is in my mind given Disney's cancelled film about it and the fact that they covered it before... With Mickey and the gang!

Ron Clements and John Musker's film was rumored to be a South Pacific-set retelling of Rumplestiltskin, where the character was an idol carver. The title reportedly was The Name Game, which was - in my opinion - a pretty lame title... Well, Ron & John's film is actually titled Moana and it's about an island, its people and the idols on it that are famous all over the world. The rumors were partially right, but I'm glad that this won't be an adaptation of that fairy tale. I mean, it would seem kind of weird to see Disney doing it after we saw the character in the final two Shrek films. You know, the anti-Disney films. As for the title, it's great. Short, simple but not vague in the slightest. (Can't say the same about Blue Sky's Epic or DreamWorks' Home.) It's intriguing, because it hints that this is a Polynesian-themed film and that might be the name of a character, or the island the film takes place on. Rumors went around for a while stating that this film would be done in the groundbreaking style used for Paperman, which I really hope is true. After all, we were told that it would be a traditionally animated film, plus it would be easy to do in 3D since it's still half computer animated. I can settle for that compromise, because at least it'll different, bold and experimental. Again, Paperman seemed to be a starting ground for Walt Disney Animation Studios' visual future.

Though we got no details on the fourth untitled project, one can assume it's the Dean Wellins project since it's still said to be in the works. Honor Hunter had said that it was a cross-genre film, but also a "teenage space race" film. See, this makes me worry because teenagers are an audience you should never try to appeal to when making animated family films or animated films. Period. Yes, I may be 20 and a lot of you may be around the same age, but we're animation fans. A lot of teenagers aren't, and they only attend animated films because they want to briefly bring out the kid in them. Nothing else. Sad fact, but... I have a feeling that Disney Animation may make this film teen-centric, but also make it appeal to all ages so it doesn't flop. Adults will avoid a film that panders to teens, kids can't or won't see it, and teens will avoid it. It happened to Fox's Titan A.E. and Disney's own Treasure Planet, please don't let it happen again, Disney. But considering how they've succeeded in the recent years, I won't be too skeptical. This studio, after all, successfully pulled off an animated family film about video games that appealed to just about everybody. Talk about a big risk paying off; that was essentially the film that Walt Disney Animation Studios was waiting to do for a while.

Big Hero 6 looks like it'll build on that after familiar fairy tale ground is reheated (or cooled) in the form of Frozen, because Disney Animation has never tackled the superhero genre before and I see that the upcoming films will also be new things that they've never tried. Walt did it in the 1930s and 1940s, Disney today should do the same... With the success they've had lately, they will.


  1. If you ask me, I think the film that's set to be released in November 2018 might be that Mickey Mouse film project. After all, Mickey does turn 90 during that time.

  2. That's a great point! A Mickey film opening near the character's 90th Anniversary would be one hell of an event... But this project seems to be out of the question at the moment, unless Disney implies that it's back on track. At this point, it should be a race between Mickey Mouse and Dean Wellins' film. This "race" of sorts did happen before, with "King of the Elves" and "Frozen". It was a race to see which one would be ready for the fall 2013 slot. It's just too bad that the former isn't in the cards anymore.

    1. Well I certainly hope Disney surprises us and announces the Mickey Mouse film for November 2018. Sure, I'm excited about the Dean Wellins movie, but I think I can wait a while longer for something like that. A Mickey Mouse film would be a much safer bet, but it can be a good event film for its time if done well. I also wouldn't mind Pixar doing a Toy Story short to be released alongside that potential MM film.