August 9, 2013


If you’re a fan of all things Disney and have yet to attend D23,  make plans to change that for next year as this event is only going to get bigger and better. Today was my first-ever experience attending D23, the annual Disney event that’s just for fans.  In my naivete, I assumed it would be like San Diego Comic-Con.  Some things are similar: the lines, the sneak peeks, the star sightings.  But where Comic-Con is a loose collection of mostly unrelated one-hour panels scattered across a few days, D23 is a top-notch production meant to entertain and reward fans from start to finish.

In today’s D23 presentation for “Art and Imagination: Animation at the Walt Disney Studios”, the production company’s three animation divisions were highlighted.  This article deals with a recap of the anticipated work coming out of Disney/Pixar, which includes Bob Peterson and Peter Sohn’s The Good Dinosaur, Pete Docter’s Inside Out, Andrew Stanton’s Finding Dory, and two short films, including Monsters University’s “Party Central” and the Halloween special, Toy Story OF TERROR!  Hit the jump for some up-to-the-minute info on each of these films as well as my take on the presentation itself.

After a classy and warm welcome from The Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO, Bob Iger (who expects to see far more lightsabers in the audience next year), Disney and Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter took the stage.  Wearing the first of a few different Pixar-themed Hawaiian shirts – this one happened to be Monsters University – Lasseter was joined by Bill Hader, who kept popping up during the Pixar panels in a bid to become the studio’s lucky charm.  More on that in a bit.  After a screening of the Monsters University end-credits scene featuring stand-out star (the slug voiced by Hader), Lasseter then introduced the first short of the presentation.

monsters-university-sulley-vs-mike-wazowskiMonsters University short “Party Central”

The crowd roared when their favorite monsters returned to the big screen as Disney•Pixar’s short “Party Central” scared up six minutes of fun at the D23 Expo. In the short, Mike and Sulley are back at Monsters University for a fun-filled weekend with their Oozma Kappa fraternity brothers. The gang is throwing their first party, but no one’s showing up. Luckily for them, Mike and Sulley have come up with a plan to make sure “Party Central” is the most epic party the school has ever seen. In theaters May 30, 2014, with “The Good Dinosaur.”

While this bit was short on dialogue, it was long on laughs and audience appreciation.  The Oozma Kappa boys came up with the brilliant idea of using a set of door stations to transport food, beverages, and guests to their own party.  There are some hilarious moments featuring a human couple attempting to sleep through the monstrous party, but it’s Scott “Squishy” Squibbles’ mom who really steals the show.  As mentioned, this short will play in front of The Good Dinosaur in theaters, which brings us to…

the-good-dinosaur-concept-artThe Good Dinosaur

Disney•Pixar’s heartfelt and hilarious “The Good Dinosaur” roamed the convention center this morning. Co-director Peter Sohn and producer Denise Ream ( “Cars 2,” “Up”- associate producer) were on hand to announce key members of the voice cast, including Lucas Neff, voice of Arlo; Bill Hader, voice of Forrest; Judy Greer, voice of Ivy; Neil Patrick Harris, voice of Cliff; John Lithgow, voice of Poppa; and Frances McDormand, voice of Momma. Neff and Greer appeared on stage, alongside Hader, whose voice was also heard in Disney•Pixar’s “Monsters University.” 

“The Good Dinosaur” asks the generations-old question: What if the cataclysmic asteroid that forever changed life on Earth actually missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? In theaters May 30, 2014, the film is a humorous and exciting original story about Arlo, a lively 70-foot-tall teenage Apatosaurus with a big heart. After a traumatic event rattles Arlo’s tranquil community, he sets out on a quest to restore peace, gaining an unlikely companion along the way—a young human boy named Spot.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from The Good Dinosaur since everything about the plot has been kept under wraps until now.  Sohn described each of the dinosaurs as “farmers” who would work the land through the use of their own specially-adapted skills, ie apatosauruses plowing the earth, triceratops acting as bulldozers, stegosauruses harvesting the crops using their tails as scythes and ankylosauruses transporting the haul on their broad backs.  Plaguing the dinosaurs’ quaint, and surprisingly precise, agrarian lifestyle are pests in the form of little bugs.  One such bug, revealed to be a tiny human named Spot, makes the acquaintance of Arlo, the apatosaurus protagonist.  Needless to say, the language barrier sets up a lot of laughs and Arlo takes the brunt of Spot’s primitive and misplaced aggression.  There are some funny moments between the two characters and it will be interesting to see just what makes them put aside their traditional ways to take a journey together on a grand adventure through varied and exotic landscapes.

Speaking of exotic places to set a story…

inside-out-concept-artInside Out

Disney•Pixar’s “Inside Out” brought Joy to fans—literally—revealing members of the voice cast, including Amy Poehler as the voice of Joy, Lewis Black as the voice of Anger, Mindy Kaling as the voice of Disgust, Phyllis Smith as the voice of Sadness, and Bill Hader as the voice of Fear. The audience met two of the film’s five starring emotions, Sadness and Fear, when Smith and Hader appeared on stage to greet fans and fuel excitement for the 2015 film.

From director Pete Docter (“Up,” “Monsters, Inc.”) and producer Jonas Rivera (“Up”), Disney•Pixar’s “Inside Out” takes you to a place that everyone knows, but no one has ever seen: the world inside the human mind. Riley, an 11-year-old girl who recently moved with her family to San Francisco, is not the main character but the setting for the film. Moviegoers will go inside her mind to explore how memories are formed and how a mixture of five emotions—Joy, Disgust, Anger, Fear and Sadness—defines life experiences. In theaters June 19, 2015.

Inside Out, which began as “Pete Docter’s Untitled Film That Takes You Inside the Mind”, looks like an absolute slam dunk.  I’d been looking forward to seeing more on this film since I first heard about its early inception and I was not disappointed in the slightest.  We were introduced to the film’s protagonist, Riley, an 11-year-old girl who’s a bit of a tomboy but is comfortable with who she is.  However, when Riley and her family move to San Francisco, she finds it difficult to adjust.  Pretty straightforward, until it’s revealed that Riley is also our setting for the film.  This is where things get interesting.

We’re taken inside Riley’s mind to her “head”quarters, where we meet her emotions as listed above.  Anger is a little red dwarf in a suit and tie, Disgust is a fussy girl in a sparkling green dress, Fear looks like he was modeled after Bill Nye the Science Guy and Sadness is a roly-poly little blue sweetie in a sweater and glasses.  The main emotional protagonist in Inside Out is Joy, a shining pixie similar to a blue-haired Tinkerbell.  The look of the emotional avatars is ever-so-slightly pixelated and each of them has a digital glow to them; they’re a rather pleasant little bunch of sprites.

As pretty as this particular Pixar movie looks (and don’t they all?), the use of the emotional avatars plays a crucial role in the telling of Inside Out’s story.  When Riley’s emotions of Joy and Sadness are ousted from headquarters in search of core memories (which takes them on a journey to such mental spaces as Long-Term Memory, ImaginationLand – which looks a lot like a familiar theme park, Abstract Thought, and the movie studio-esque Dream Production), Anger, Disgust and Fear are left in control of Riley herself.  This leads to some unfortunate misunderstandings and adolescent blow-ups between Riley and her parents.  In a brilliant bit of storytelling, we also get a peek inside the mind of Riley’s mom (where her avatars are all confident and intuitive sprites who are distracted only by the memory of a handsome Brazilian helicopter pilot) and her dad, whose avatars are all mustachioed and well-meaning, but ultimately bumbling, sports-obsessed and without any hope of getting a clue.  Put this one high up on your list of future films to keep an eye on.

finding-dory-concept-artFinding Dory

Director Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo,” “WALL•E”) and producer Lindsey Collins (co-producer “WALL•E”) shared exciting voice cast announcements for Disney•Pixar’s “Finding Dory.” Joining Ellen DeGeneres, who provides the voice of Dory, are Albert Brooks as the voice of Marlin, Diane Keaton as the voice of Dory’s mom Jenny, Eugene Levy as the voice of Dory’s dad Charlie, and Ty Burrell as the voice of Bailey.

The all-new big-screen adventure dives into theaters Nov. 25, 2015, taking moviegoers back to the extraordinary underwater world from the original film. “Finding Dory” reunites the friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish with her loved ones, and everyone learns a few things about the true meaning of family along the way.

Pixar fans also delighted in a surprise appearance by the studio’s “lucky charm” John Ratzenberger, who was ceremoniously paraded on stage by the Disneyland marching band.  Ratzenberger joined Hader in a hilarious duel of one-upmanship over the multiple Pixar characters each has voiced.

While there wasn’t any new footage from Finding Dory screened during the presentation, we did learn a bit more about the plot from Stanton.  The film will take place about a year after the events of Finding Nemo.  Dory has been living happily with her new family along the reef until a traumatic event triggers her homing instincts and she sets off to find her previous family, which is much bigger than she ever imagined.  Marlin and Nemo track her down with the help of a Beluga whale named Bailey (Ty Burrell).  (Bill Hader may or may not voice a sea cucumber in the sequel.)

toy-story-of-terrorToy Story OF TERROR! – Halloween Special

Lasseter surprised fans with a screening of the first 10 minutes of Disney•Pixar’s “Toy Story OF TERROR!” The D23 Expo audience was the first ever to see footage from the spooky new 30-minute special that features favorite characters from the “Toy Story” films. What starts out as a fun road trip for the “Toy Story” gang takes an unexpected turn for the worse when the trip detours to a roadside motel. After one of the toys goes missing, the others find themselves caught up in a mysterious sequence of events that must be solved before they all suffer the same fate in this “Toy Story OF TERROR!” From director Angus MacLane and producer Galyn Susman, “Toy Story OF TERROR!” premieres on ABC Oct. 16, 2013.

Who doesn’t love a little more Toy Story?  This Halloween special hits all the right notes and introduces a new G.I. Joe-type character by the name of Combat Carl, voiced perfectly by Carl Weathers.  While we were only treated to the first 10 minutes of this half-hour special, it’s a must-watch come the Halloween holiday.

If today’s presentation is any judge, Pixar looks to be in great shape for the next two years.  Time will tell what the award-winning animation studio has in its production pipeline post-2015.

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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