At the bi-annual Destination D event at Anaheim’s Disneyland Hotel last week, the Disney D23 Official Disney Fan Club hosted a series of events that focused on the legendary history of Disney animated features. Hundreds of Disney fans gathered inside the resort’s convention center to obtain exclusive access to lectures, concerts and footage. Over the coming weeks inside Disney In Depth, I will cover some of those topics featured in the fascinating presentations held at Destination D. As for now, this edition will focus on the exciting future of the division we know as Disney animation.
Walt Disney Animation Studios appears like it is entering that third renaissance we have all been waiting for. With the beautiful The Princess and the Frog and delightful Tangled leading the way, the studio that suffered from creative missteps like Home on the Range is now producing hit films that resonate with audiences and appeal to critics to boot. During “Inside Walt Disney Animation Studios Today,” animator Darrin Butters hosted an appealing round-up of the studio’s newest projects.
Warning: This edition contains some spoilers of details mentioned at the event.
Before the show started, Steven Clark, head of D23, reiterated the importance of keeping this limited to only the individuals in the room. That meant no recording or photography whatsoever, standards held even by those with D23. Everyone followed the regulations, with the only information released by word-of-mouth or recaps like this.
Butters revved up the crowd after playing the uproarious Tangled Ever After short, which received big laughs and applause. He joked he was John Lasseter at first, before mentioning the essential elements of great animation that all of them at the studio follow: producing films with compelling stories and characters in believable worlds. Butters then started off by introducing Chris Buck, director of November 2013’s sure-to-be awesome Frozen.
Buck explained that Frozen dates back to Walt’s time, as Disney himself tried to adapt The Snow Queen story, first written by Hans Christian Andersen, into a feature. But like many stories, they require much time to develop, and that is exactly what happened in the case of Frozen. This Norway-set tale, situated in vast mountain ranges, focuses on a royal family, specifically two sisters. Kristen Bell voices younger sister Anna to Idina Menzel’s Elsa, a regal and graceful individual with a dark secret. Elsa can control ice and snow. After Elsa accidentally reveals her powers, she flees the kingdom, secluded in the ice castle she builds. Off to find her sister, Anna hires mountain-man Kristoff to assist her. Also in the mix is Olaf, a man-child snowman. We received a first taste of Olaf when a puppet version of the comic character emerged from the background. He joked that in a few years many people would be dressing up like him. His one-liners kept on coming, and as he departed the stage, he said we were seeing “the backside of snow,” a clever reference to the “backside of water” from the Jungle Cruise attraction.
As previously announced, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the composers best known for The Book of Mormon, will be providing the music for Frozen. They also developed the enchanting songs from last year’s Winnie the Pooh. We listened to one of Frozen’s spellbinding songs, a beautiful ballad sung by Elsa after she has fled into the mountains. Performed at Destination D by a female singer and pianist, “Let It Go” is absolutely alluring and infectious. The instrumentation also sounded strong. I’m guessing this will be a best-selling piece on iTunes. I definitely look forward to Frozen, which seems to contain much of the sense of adventure and heart, with amazing backdrops and music, that made Tangled such a winner in my book.
Next off, the producer and supervising animator of Paperman shared some information on the acclaimed short film’s development. Director John Kahrs had hoped he would have enjoyed the early days of being in New York City more, to fall in love, and through that experience he later created this stunning short that carries over some of those themes. We were the first public audience to view Paperman, which shares the story of a businessman who meets a woman at a train station, enchanted by one another, only to be separated in a matter of seconds. After discovering the woman he is attracted to is in a building across from him, he uses his stack of paperwork to model paper airplanes to send her way. Thus begins a captivating and warm atmospheric tale of true love in one brilliant setting. The stylistic approaches must be seen to have appreciation, but what else can I say than this is perhaps Disney’s best short they have crafted in many, many years. The dynamic musical score and mesmerizing animation complemented everything that encompasses Paperman, a masterful work. I bet this will be nominated, and could even win, the Academy Award for Best Animated Short. It is that good. Check it out when it premieres with Wreck-It Ralph on November 2.
And onto a movie that most video game nerds will thoroughly enjoy, the energetic Wreck-It Ralph. The 52nd Disney animated film in that classic canon will likely be up there with Aladdin and The Emperor’s New Groove in being among the funniest. Producer Clark Spencer led the sneak peek, which featured artwork and clips of the film. A video showed director Rich Moore, of The Simpsons fame, explaining the look of Sugar Rush, one of the worlds within this environment. Moore said how much fun he had in creating various objects, such as race cars, out of different kinds of candy. Many of those various styles were shown, full of tempting treats. The main clip shown, possibly around ten minutes, takes place at the beginning of the movie. Many fans have already seen some of this footage at festivals or events like Comic-Con, but nevertheless the scenes are hilarious and sweet. I think audiences will roll over laughing by how amusing it is to see Ralph in the company of those classic game villains. Spencer mentioned that he had asked John C. Reilly, the voice of Ralph, why Reilly turned down offers in the past to do voice work. His answer, the typical separate recording sessions. Therefore, the principal cast members of the film recorded together and improvised, quite rare for animation. There is little doubt in my mind that Wreck-It Ralph will perform well both critically and financially.
I think that given the “wow” value of this presentation and the promise of these three exciting projects, Walt Disney Animated Studios is moving in the right direction. They are focusing on creating original, thoughtful pieces of entertainment that inspire in their storytelling and artistic direction to deliver that content. Very little is known in what the future holds for Walt Disney Animation Studios, though some indication exists thanks to this great piece released by Blue Sky Disney. For what we do know about these closer-to-date releases, however, boy is it thrilling to be seeing the studio produce such wonderfully timeless stories.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Check out Disney In Depth in the coming weeks for more editions discussing the events at the fantastic Destination D event, as well as some reviews of other new entertainment from the world of The Walt Disney Company.
See you next Thursday with a review of Disney’s latest fantasy, The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Catch alerts for upcoming editions of Disney In Depth by following me on Twitter. Have a good week!