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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

CinemaCon 2012, Day 2: Disney

Film Flam Flummox


Disney began its presentation with a bang, with an exciting and hilarious fight excerpt between Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) from Marvel's pre-ordained behemoth blockbuster The Avengers, due on screens on May 4. With this film being the ultimate culmination of the universe building seen in Marvel Studios' films dating back to their first release, 2008's Iron Man, it only follows things are, for once, kind of slow as far as active film production on the Marvel front, a hypothesis confirmed by president Kevin Feige, who showed up on stage with neither footage nor stars but merely targeted release dates for the next wave of Marvel Cinematic Universe releases, all sequels: Thor 2, with Alan Taylor directing and Hemsworth and Natalie Portman returning, on November 15, 2013; Captain America 2 on April 4, 2014, with Evans and Samuel L. Jackson returning for an as yet undetermined director; and Iron Man 3 on May 3, 2013. Of the three, the third is the closest to beginning production, and a preliminary concept reel with Downey and director Shane Black revealing some very vague plans, peppered with footage from the first two films, rounded out Feige's and Marvel's brief presentation.

Briefer still was the rather half-hearted run-through of Disney's releases produced by DreamWorks Pictures, delivered by Disney's head of motion picture distribution, Dave Hollis. First up was a trailer and EPK-style interview footage in support of People Like Us (June 29), which marks the directorial debut of veteran writer Alex Kurtzman, who again writes with longtime partner Roberto Orci. This drama is far from the pair's blockbuster bread and butter, focusing on a young man (Chris Pine), who, after his estranged father's passing, discovers that he has a half sister (Elizabeth Banks). Michelle Pfeiffer, whom it is great to see back in substantial action this year, co-stars as Pine's mother. Despite the cast of familiar faces, this attempt at midsummer counterprogramming looks to have an uphill battle ahead, since something that appears this intimate and quiet is almost doomed to get lost among not only louder action extravaganzas but broader comedies. The only other upcoming release from the former SKG is Steven Spielberg's Oscar-bait-in-waiting Lincoln (holiday season), with Daniel Day-Lewis as the legendary president and Sally Field (embarrassingly misidentified by Hollis as "Sally Ford") as Mary Todd Lincoln. No photos nor footage was served up for this film, only a slide with stock headshots of the principal cast, which also includes Tommy Lee Jones and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Following those two segments and the on-stage arrival of Disney head of production Sean Bailey, a certain sense of personal déjà vu came over me, as much of material covered was a repeat of his presentation at Disney's D23 Convention last summer, albeit with some added finished footage here and there.

Frankenweenie (October 5): Tim Burton made his second on-stage appearance this week to introduce both a clip and a making-of featurette of his feature-length, stop-motion animated remake of his 1984 live action short in which a boy resurrects his dead dog. The featurette was the exact same one screened at D23.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (August 15): Jennifer Garner joined Bailey on stage to talk up and introduce the trailer to this live action fantasy-drama in which she stars as one half of an infertile married couple (Joel Edgerton plays the husband) who one night find their ideal child has magically appeared in their garden. The trailer was, again, a repeat from the D23 presentation.

Oz the Great and Powerful (March 8, 2013): Director Sam Raimi and producer Joe Roth appeared on stage to introduce a preview reel heavy on concept art and preliminary footage from this fantasy adventure that tells the untold backstory of how a magician (James Franco) became the Wizard of the mystical land bearing his name. The reel was, again, a D23 repeat but cleverly refreshed with some actual footage supplanting the some of the rough sketches that were used in the version shown last summer. Franco and co-star Mila Kunis, who plays one of the three witches in the film (Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams play the other two), then joined Raimi and Roth for further discussion about their characters and the production.

The one big surprise that Disney did pull out came with a clever misdirect: with "The William Tell Overture" suddenly blaring on the speakers, the audience braced themselves for a look at producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski's revival of The Lone Ranger. Appearing on stage instead, however, was Kermit the Frog as the Lone Ranger asking Bailey to be cast in the part; and then Miss Piggy, dressed in Oz (good) witch regalia, asking to be cast in that film. Bailey broke the bad news to both that those roles were cast, but offered them a compromise: The Muppets 2, to once again to be directed by James Bobin and written by Nicholas Stoller, the team behind this past fall's critically acclaimed box office underachiever.

That taken care of, actual, all-new news on The Lone Ranger (May 31, 2013) was offered on stage by Bruckheimer. While it was too early to unveil any footage, he revealed that Jack White has been tapped to compose the score and that the story would tell the Ranger's (played by Armie Hammer) origin--but, as had been feared when a bigger name had been cast in what was traditionally the sidekick role, from the perspective of Tonto, played by Johnny Depp. Depp then appeared, slightly more talkative than he was at Tuesday's Warner Bros. presentation, meaning he actually said more than one word. Even though this same crowd had just seen him on the same stage two days earlier, the audience reacted as if they'd never seen Depp ever, which struck me as more than a little amusing and baffling. Such is the power of über-celebrity, I suppose.

The personal déjà vu continued when Bailey ceded the stage John Lasseter, head of the Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios. Coming from the Mouse House on November 2, is Wreck-It Ralph, which tells the story of an '80s 8-bit video game villain who grows tired of his routine and attempts to become a hero for once by travelling through the worlds of the other, more advanced games in the arcade. The voice of Ralph himself, John C. Reilly, joined Lasseter on stage to introduce the opening six minutes of the film--the same six minutes that were shown back at D23, but this time not in black-and-white animatic and storyboard form but in nearly finished full-color glory. My reaction remains the same now as it was then: it's amusing to me to see the main Disney animation studio tackle what looks, feels, and plays as a traditionally Pixar "secret lives of..." story concept.

Moving on to Pixar, Lasseter first offered some new information on two projects first announced at D23. Bob Peterson's The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs now boasts a solid title (The Good Dinosaur) and release date (May 30, 2014); Pete Docter's upcoming project remains known as The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside the Mind, but it now has a concrete release date of June 19, 2015. Lasseter then announced a heretofore unknown project: the Mexico-set Dia de los Muertos, directed by Toy Story 3's Lee Unkrich, with no target release date as of yet. None of those were still in production stages too early for there to be any footage or concept images to share, but there were trailers shown for the 3D reissues of Finding Nemo (September 14--has it really been almost 10 years since that film took ShoWest 2003 by storm?) and Monsters Inc. (January 18, 2013), the latter of which nicely segued into the premiere of the new trailer for its prequel, Monsters University (June 21, 2013), which was introduced on video by returning voice stars John Goodman and Billy Crystal. The trailer for the new film, which follows Mike Wazowski (Crystal) and Sully (Goodman) as rivals in college, did nothing to ease my concerns that this is a conceptually questionable--and worse yet, completely needless--dip back into the moneymaking well.

The entirety of the Disney presentation came to a conclusion with the premiere of the first 30 minutes of Pixar's offering this summer, Brave (June 22), which further confirmed that 2012 is Bizarro World, trading places year at Disney/Pixar, with the former tackling a "secret lives of..." story and the latter telling a princess story.

Following the presentation, the action then moved from the Colosseum to upstairs in the Octavius Ballroom, where a kilt-clad Scottish bagpipe band greeted guests to a Brave-themed reception, which in addition to food and drink also offered various activities such as games and photo ops.

(very special thanks to Heather Lewandoski, Jessica Erskine, and the entire crew at Rogers & Cowan for all their helpful and generous assistance at the convention this week.)

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