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Trailer: The Princess and the Frog

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Almost three years ago, I got my enthusiasm all up because then-newly-promoted Chief Creative Officer at Disney John Lasseter announced the Mouse would be returning to making traditional cel-animated features. This holiday season, we’ll finally see the payoff from that announcement when The Princess and the Frog hits theaters.  Below, enjoy the initial trailer for the new film.  (I especially liked the pencil-markings-becoming-beloved-characters bit at the beginning…nice bit of symbolism.)

The trailer itself seems promising; some of the humor seems a little awkward, but the New Orleans setting should make for some splendid art direction.  I’m reasonably sure this one will require a first-weekend visit, even if it looks like there might be some scary elements in there [1]…but don’t most of the good Disney cartoons?  

I won’t blather on again about how happy I am to see hand-drawn (for some 21st-century version of “hand-drawn”) animation coming out of Disney again, but that’s only because I’d just be repeating what I said three years ago — just go read that, because it all still applies.

[1] I meant scary elements in the movie, not scary elements in New Orleans, though there are plenty of those, too.

Written by Allen

May 17th, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Huzzah! Hand-drawn Animation Returns to Disney!

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As I had hoped when the Disney-Pixar deal went down, Pixar’s John Lasseter is reintroducing traditional hand-drawn animated features in his new role as Chief Creative Officer at Disney. First up: The Frog Princess, to be directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, the guys who directed The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Treasure Planet (well, two outta three ain’t bad). Alan Menken will be in charge of the music for the movie, which will be a return to the Broadway-esque Disney hits of the early 90′s (think, for example, Beauty and the Beast (which Menken worked on) and The Lion King). This announcement seems to me to be something worth celebrating — the driving talents behind The Little Mermaid making a new cartoon feature with John Lasseter in charge of the whole thing? Oh, yeah, man, good stuff.

But according to the news brief on the IMDb, the Hollywood Reporter doesn’t think Disney’s bringing 2D animation back is such a hot idea: the traditional animation “no longer draws the crowd,” the Reporter says. Um, hello, Hollywood Reporter? Yeah, the thing is that bad hand-drawn animated flicks, movies that seem excessively lame, insult the audience’s intelligence or seem to exist only as launching pads for Happy Meal toys… those are the movies that don’t bring audiences anymore.

Let’s go back to 2002, the year the death knell for cel animation was rung, for just a moment, shall we?

In November of ’02, Treasure Planet, by most accounts a not-very-good movie, brings in a pitiful $38 million in the United States. Planet‘s monumental failure pretty much single-handedly decimates Disney’s cel-drawn animation department, resulting in thousands of layoffs and the shutdown of Disney’s Florida animation facility. It was at this point that the “hand-drawn animation is dead” movement began in earnest.

Yet only five months earlier, Lilo and Stitch, a great movie with plenty of heart designed to appeal to both adults and children, pulled in $145 million domestic, plus launched a spinoff series and several direct-to-DVD sequels. Lilo and Stitch grossed almost as much in its opening weekend ($35 million) as Treasure Planet made during its entire theatrical run. By any metric used, Lilo and Stitch was a solid hit. (For some reason, every article I’ve read of the “no one wants to watch 2D animation” variety ignores this fact — doing so would dispute the foregone conclusion the writers were trying to assert, I suppose.)

Even 2003′s Brother Bear, which was released with relatively little promotion as a result of the huge stinking disaster which was Treasure Planet, managed to earn a healthy $85 million at the box office. (And 2004′s lame Home on the Range, also released with almost no promotion, still managed to out-gross Treasure Planet with a $50 million haul.)

So because of one massive stinkbomb, all of a sudden no one wants to watch hand-drawn animated features anymore?

Audiences do like hand-drawn animation when done well. (Have you noticed the huge surge in popularity of anime over the last decade?) Computer animation isn’t inherently superior, and doesn’t automatically ensure that people will show up. You’ll notice that in the glut of computer-animated movies that have come out over the last few years since 2D animation went into its coma, there have been some pretty big duds in that list, too (The Wild and it’s $36 million take, anyone?). Would The Iron Giant or The Lion King have been better movies if they had been done in 3D rather than 2D? No, I don’t believe it would have. What makes these movies work are the characters, the story, the songs (where applicable), the heart and soul that comes through — not whether the animation is flat or three-dimensional.

If John Lasseter’s going to be overseeing these new features, I have every expectation that the new breed of 2D movies will be more Lilo-like than Planet-esque. Lasseter might be most associated with computer animation, but the man knows storytelling and character and detail, and it’s those qualities which I hope will make these new hand-drawn features every bit as excellent as the Pixar films.

Written by Allen

July 28th, 2006 at 3:57 pm

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Day of Corporate Munging, Take Two: Disney Buys Pixar

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Back on December 27th, I got to talking about Disney and Pixar and the rumors that The Mouse was going to buy Pixar outright rather than simply renewing their soon-to-expire distribution deal. I had some qualms, I said:

I might be less concerned if they installed John Lasseter as Almighty Inscrutable Pixar Overlord and left them alone, but I have trouble imaginging Disney buying a new toy and not wanting to play with it.

Well, the deal’s done — Pixar is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company. Steve Jobs just made himself somewhere north of $3 billion (yes, that’s billion) and finds himself the single largest shareholder in Disney (which could mean some interesting corporate synergy ‘twixt Disney and Apple, I’d imagine).

But the most important part of the buyout?

John Lasseter, the highly respected creative director at Pixar who had previously worked for Disney, will rejoin the House of Mouse as chief creative officer for the company’s combined animated studios and will also help oversee the design for new attractions at Disney theme parks.

I swear to ${god}, that sentence almost made me cry when I read it.

Not only does installing Lasseter as CCO help insure that Pixar will get to keep on keepin’ on as they have been, it also might mean a rebirth of traditional 2-D animation from Disney. Lasseter has said he’s a fan of old-school animation — might we get to see Disney return to producing new hand-drawn animated features? It doesn’t seem like it would make much sense to have two separate computer animation facilities, especially when one would so clearly outclass the other. Former CEO Michael Eisner was the oatmeal-brained idiot who decided Disney should get out of the cel-animation business; now that he’s gone and Lasseter’s in charge, maybe Lasseter can reverse that decision.

I’m sure his buddy Brad Bird wouldn’t mind. I know I sure wouldn’t.

Written by Allen

January 24th, 2006 at 10:57 pm

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Good Deal

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As I’ve been predicting since early in the negotiations, Disney and Pixar are nearing a deal to re-up their distribution deal, which was set to expire after the release of Cars next year. I can’t honestly see how anyone might have believed this deal wasn’t going to happen — both companies stood to lose way, way too much if they parted ways: too much money for Disney, too much caché for Pixar.

I do have some concerns about the new agreement, if the information out there right now turns out to be true. If Disney were to outright purchase Pixar and make them the official Disney animation division, as one rumor has it, Pixar would lose the independence that’s allowed them to craft their movies they want the way they want to make them. If Disney owns them rather than simply distributs their product, Disney would likely want to have more of a white-gloved, three-fingered hand in what Pixar does and how, and we’ve already seen how wretchedly Disney manages their current animation department. I might be less concerned if they installed John Lasseter as Almighty Inscrutable Pixar Overlord and left them alone, but I have trouble imaginging Disney buying a new toy and not wanting to play with it.

Part of the deal might also include allowing Disney’s current 3D animation department to produce Pixar-sanctioned sequels to some of the Pixar catalog. I’m not sure if this one’s true or not, since Disney’s in-house 3D division seems to be nothing more than a poorly-constructed sham (“Circle 7 Studios” taking its name from the logo for the ABC studio across the street from their offices). I had been thinking that Pixar wouldn’t want to be involved with making any direct-to-video sequels of their work…until I remembered that Toy Story 2 was originally intended to be exactly that. So we’ll see; I’m going to leave this development in the “skeptical” column for now.

Those concerns aside, though, I’m very glad this deal’s going to get done. I’m not the biggest fan of The Mouse, but I realize that Pixar’s better off having their name connected to Disney than not. The distribution and promotion they get (like, say, having their creations slapped all over theme parks around the world) from being associated with the Disney Multimedia Conglomerate can’t be beat by anyone else they could have snuggled up with. And they certainly didn’t want to get into distributing their own movies; far better to let a company with that infrastructure in place take care of it so Pixar can stick with what they do best.

Written by Allen

December 27th, 2005 at 5:57 pm

Posted in Movies

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