D23 Recap: Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Newest Fairy Tale FROZEN, BIG HERO 6, ZOOTOPIA and the Restored 1928 Mickey Mouse Cartoon “Get a Horse”

     August 9, 2013


In case you missed Disney’s big animation presentation at D23 today, we have a recap of the Pixar portion already up and running with a DisneyToon Studios rundown coming shortly.  Here you’ll find our write-up of another segment of today’s event: the animated features produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios.  These projects include the newest installment in Disney’s storied history of princess fairy tales, Frozen; a flashy adaptation of the Marvel comic, Big Hero 6; an original take on animal movies with Zootopia; and a restored 1928 Mickey Mouse cartoon, “Get a Horse”, which made its U.S. debut here at D23.  While D23 is a special event aimed at entertaining and rewarding Disney fans around the world, the presentation also included an acknowledgement of Disney veteran Burny Mattinson, who celebrates his 60th anniversary with the company this year.  Hit the jump for my full recap.

While Disney and Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter hosted the “Art and Imagination: Animation at the Walt Disney Studios” presentation wearing (at one point) a Wreck-It Ralph shirt, no mention was made of that particular film’s sequel.  However, there were plenty of other surprises offered up under the Walt Disney Animation Studios banner, starting with:

big-hero-6-concept-artBig Hero 6

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Big Hero 6” hit the D23 Expo in style, welcoming director Don Hall (“Winnie the Pooh”) to the stage with a story presentation, including concept art and a sizzle piece designed to build excitement for the action comedy adventure.

“Big Hero 6” features brilliant robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, who finds himself in the grips of a criminal plot that threatens to destroy the fast-paced, high-tech city of San Fransokyo. With the help of his closest companion—a robot named Baymax—Hiro joins forces with a reluctant team of first-time crime fighters on a mission to save their city. Inspired by the Marvel comics of the same name, and featuring comic-book style action and all the heart and humor audiences expect from Walt Disney Animation Studios, the CG-animated “Big Hero 6” hits theaters in 3D on Nov. 7, 2014.

We first heard about this particular film over a year ago, but it has stayed relatively quiet since then.  Hall sets the story around our protagonist, tech-genius Hiro Hamada, who has lost his older brother and finds solace in BayMax, an inflatable robot intended to function as a diagnostic nurse.  Hiro’s nanobot technology falls into supervillain hands, forcing the boy genius to change his penguin-like BayMax into an epic fighting machine.  Along the way, he recruits GoGo Tamago, a bike messenger with attitude; Wasabi-No-Ginger, an expert sushi chef; Honey Lemon, a chemist and movie star; and Fred, a comics fanboy/fire-breathing monster.  Hiro and his allies will take on the criminal underworld in the fictional city of San Fransokyo in what looks like a fun and frenetic comicbook ride.


Walt Disney Animation Studios’ director Byron Howard (“Tangled”) and writer Jared Bush shared plans for the upcoming comedy adventure ”Zootopia” (working title). In the animal city of Zootopia, a fast-talking fox who’s trying to make it big goes on the run when he’s framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Zootopia’s top cop, a self-righteous rabbit, is hot on his tail, but when both become targets of a conspiracy, they’re forced to team up and discover even natural enemies can become best friends. In theaters in 2016.

One of the surprises at D23 came by way of Zootopia, an original idea inspired by such stories as “The Wind in the Willows” in which anthropomorphic animal characters wear clothes and act in a generally human fashion.  In Zootopia, humans never existed and therefore, animals have made their own version of the civilized world.  Their world accommodates animals of all shapes and sizes; for example, hotels have multiple sizes of beds in each room, newsstands have a variety of periodicals and even the city sectors themselves are scaled to a size appropriate for their respective denizens.

The city of Zootopia is itself divided into different areas. To the cold side of an air-conditioning wall that separates the city is Tundratown, complete with Zambonis, Polar Bear karaoke bars and icy massage parlors.  On the hot side of things is Sahara Square, a tropical area in the spirit of Dubai that just so happens to be full of dune buggies.  There’s also Little Rodentia, the Rainforest District and Burrow Burrough, home to millions of bunnies in the “cutest part of town.”

The plot of Zootopia centers on the odd couple of Nick Wilde, an historically-predatory species (in this case, a fox), and Lt. Judy Hops, a bunny; they form an unlikely duo of natural enemies who are forced to peacefully coexist due to circumstances beyond their control.  Other characters include the incredibly stupid Gnupid (a wildebeest); Gazelle, an outspoken mega-popstar with a social agenda and a huge array of outfits; and one rude porcupine who will definitely be thrown against the ceiling.

get-a-horse-mickey-mouse1928 Micky Mouse cartoon, “Get a Horse”

“Get A Horse!” made its U.S. premiere at the D23 Expo. Featuring Walt Disney himself as the voice of Mickey Mouse, this black-and-white, hand-drawn theatrical short follows Mickey, his favorite gal pal Minnie Mouse and their friends Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow as they delight in a musical haywagon ride—until Peg-Leg Pete shows up and tries to run them off the road. This groundbreaking short from Walt Disney Animation Studios is directed by Lauren MacMullan (TV’s “The Simpsons”) and produced by Dorothy McKim (“Prep & Landing” trilogy, “Meet the Robinsons”), “Get A Horse!” opens in front of “Frozen” on Nov. 27, 2013.

This one came as a surprise as well.  I won’t ruin it here, but if you want to know the spoiler, just highlight the following: the cartoon is actually a hybrid of traditional 2D animation made to look like it did 85 years ago and cutting-edge CG animation that allowed the characters to literally leap off the black-and-white screen into a 3D color world.  It was a fun little short with lots of laughs and the audience sure seemed to enjoy it, but the purist in me would have been happier if it was actually a fully-restored Mickey Mouse cartoon from 1928.  On hand to talk about the short’s creation were 2D and CG Heads of Animation, Eric Goldberg and Adam Green, respectively.

Before the big finale, Lasseter brought veteran Disney filmmaker Burny Mattinson on stage to recognize his 60th anniversary with the company.  More on Mattinson, one of the few remaining artists who worked with Walt Disney himself, can be found below:

Veteran Disney Filmmaker Celebrates 60 Years with Walt Disney Animation Studios

Burny Mattinson counts 60 years with Walt Disney Animation Studios this year, and the milestone was marked with a surprise celebration at the D23 Expo. Mattinson is one of the few remaining Disney artists who worked with Walt Disney and is still on staff at Walt Disney Animation Studios. His career is highlighted by helming the Academy Award®-nominated 1983 animated featurette “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” which returned Mickey Mouse to the big screen for the first time in 30 years. In 1984, wrote, produced and directed “The Great Mouse Detective.” Mattinson’s credits include “Sleeping Beauty,” “101 Dalmatians,” “The Sword in the Stone,” “The Jungle Book,” “The Aristocats” and “The Rescuers.”  He served as a key member of the story team on Disney’s contemporary classics including “Aladdin,”  “Beauty & the Beast,” “The Lion King, “Pocahontas,” “Mulan,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Tarzan,” and was senior story artist on 2011’s big-screen adventure “Winnie the Pooh.” Mattinson joined Disney in 1953 at age 18 with no formal art training; within six months, he was working as an in-betweener on “Lady and the Tramp.”


Walt Disney Animation Studios’“Frozen,” directed by Chris Buck (“Tarzan”) and Jennifer Lee (“Wreck-It Ralph”- screenplay by), and produced by Peter Del Vecho (“Winnie the Pooh,” “The Princess and the Frog”), shared never-before-seen film footage, introduced by “Frozen” stars Kristen Bell, voice of Anna, and Josh Gad, voice of Olaf. Fans were also treated to a show-stopping live performance of the film’s powerful new song “Let It Go,” sung by Broadway’s Tony® Award-winner Idina Menzel, who provides the voice of Elsa in the film.

In “Frozen,” fearless optimist Anna (voice of Bell) teams up with rugged mountain man Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) and his loyal reindeer Sven in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf (voice of Gad) in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa (voice of Menzel), whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. In theaters Nov. 27, 2013.

This was the big crowd-pleaser for Walt Disney Animation Studios.  It look much like the Disney films of old … well, tonally, at least, since the animation style is much more in line with a film like Tangled.  Lasseter called it a “truly magical and amazing” experience to work on this film, which is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, which, interestingly enough, was one property Walt Disney had always wanted to adapt.  On hand were the songwriting duo of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, whose song “Let It Go” was called “one of the greatest songs ever” by Lasseter.

frozen-posterAs for the plot itself, at its heart, Frozen follows two sisters: Elsa, who possesses the beautiful but dangerous ability to conjure snow and ice; and Anna, an “ordinary” and magic-less girl who is excitable, scrappy and cute in an awkward sort of way.  After an outburst of her powers accidentally hurt Anna in the past, Elsa has grown withdrawn, even though Anna just wants to be close to her.  In another loss of control, Elsa accidentally freezes the entire kingdom, setting her at odds against Anna and the royal family.

We were treated to a clip in which Anna goes through a meet-cute with the handsome Prince Hans and his noble steed.  It is indeed a cute and funny scene which shows that, yes, girls can be funny and that, yes, boys can be both handsome and awkward, as well.  Unfortunately, Anna runs off to a coronation ceremony before she and Hans can become better acquainted.  We don’t see Anna again until she’s in the company of Kristoff and his goofy reindeer, Sven.  They encounter Olaf, a diminutive snowman brought to life by the magic that exists between the sisters.  In a great song sequence, Gad lends his singing voice to Olaf, who ponders how wonderful it would be to be a snowman in summertime.  (I won’t tell him if you won’t.)

The fantastic presentation was brought to a close with a standing ovation for Tony Award-winning Broadway actress, Idina Menzel, who will voice Elsa.  As Menzel sings “Let It Go”, clips from Frozen show the beautiful but tortured Elsa so afraid of people discovering her powers that she flees and ends up unleashing them in a torrent of ice and snow.  It was a beautiful piece and fitting end to the day’s incredible presentation.

Be sure to catch up on our other D23 panel recaps below and tune in tomorrow when we report on Disney and Marvel’s upcoming slate of live-action films:


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