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John Lasseter and Disney Studios chief Dick Cook set animation fandom aflame yesterday when they hosted a presentation in New York City to detail the next five years of animated films from Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. The press conference was unusually detailed for the typically secretive world of animation – Cook pointed out that it was the first strictly animation-related presentation from Disney in more than a decade.

In all, ten new theatrical releases were announced. Scheduled to arrive in theaters twice annually, the slate includes four films from WDAS and six features from Pixar. Aside from 2011, when Pixar will release two films, Pixar films will arrive during the summer and Disney Animation productions during the holidays. In addition to the new films, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 will be re-released in 3-D. Also announced were four direct-to-video Tinkerbell films – one each for the next four years – from the overhauled DisneyToon Studios. The theatrical slate, in brief:

2008

WALL*E – Pixar Animation Studios, June 27th, 2008 – Directed by Finding Nemo‘s Andrew Stanton, WALL*E is the last robot on Earth when he suddenly falls in love and goes on an adventure to save the world.

Bolt – Walt Disney Animation Studios, November 26th, 2008 – Directed by Chris Williams & Byron Howard and released in 3-D, Bolt follows a canine television star on a cross-country adventure where his on-camera superpowers neglect to translate into the real world.

2009

Up – Pixar Animation Studios, May 29th, 2009 – Also released in 3-D and directed by Pete Docter, Up is about an elderly man who is beginning to think that life has passed him by when he embarks on a perilous journey with an eight year old Wilderness Explorer.

Toy Story in 3-D – Pixar Animation Studios, October 2nd, 2009 – The original John Lasseter film has been converted to 3-D for its re-release.

The Princess and the Frog – Walt Disney Animation Studios, Christmas 2009 – The only traditionally animated feature on this list, and directed by Disney vets Ron Clements and John Musker, Princess reimagines the classic fairy tale in jazz-age New Orleans and features Disney’s first African-American princess.

2010

Toy Story 2 in 3-D – Pixar Animation Studios, February 12th, 2010 – John Lasseter’s first sequel has also been converted to 3-D for its re-release.

Toy Story 3 – Pixar Animation Studios, June 18th, 2010 – Produced in 3-D and directed by Lee Unkrich, the second Toy Story sequel follows the toys as Andy prepares to leave for college.

Rapunzel – Walt Disney Animation Studios, Christmas 2010 – Another 3-D release, this re-telling of the well-known fairy tale is directed by renowned Disney animator Glen Keane and Dean Wellins.

2011

newt – Pixar Animation Studios, Summer 2011 – First-time director Gary Rydstrom, previously a sound designer for Pixar and Lucasfilm, will bring us this 3-D film about two endangered newts who are brought together by scientists to repopulate their species – only they can’t stand each other.

The Bear and the Bow – Pixar Animation Studios, Holiday 2011 – Brenda Chapman becomes Pixar’s first female director with this Scottish tale of magic and fantasy. Produced in 3-D, the film tells of Merida, a Scottish princess who defies her parents and in turn endangers her father’s kingdom.

2012

Cars 2 – Pixar Animation Studios, Summer 2012 – Though long rumored, this film is perhaps the most surprising on the list. Pixar producer Brad Lewis will direct this 3-D sequel, in which our automotive protagonists embark on an adventure overseas.

King of the Elves – Walt Disney Animation Studios, Holiday 2012 – Surprising many, this film had been rumored since Disney optioned the Philip K. Dick story upon which it will be based. Directed by Aaron Blaise & Robert Walker, and produced in 3-D, this odd fantasy tale concerns “an average man living in the Mississippi Delta, whose reluctant actions to help a desperate band of elves leads them to name him their new king.”

We’ll be describing these films in greater detail in upcoming posts, but I have a few thoughts. First, I can’t help but notice that there is unfortunately only one traditionally animated film on the list. It had previously been hinted that Disney had another 2-D project in the works, but as this schedule is fairly crowded I can’t imagine it surfacing before 2013. That’s a long time to wait for some old-school animation, folks!

The release pattern is also interesting. Pixar gets what is assumed to be the plum summer timeslots, not to mention two releases in 2011. It’s also worth noting that all the Pixar films have single directors while all Disney films have two; while this is typical of traditional animation, does it indicate that Lasseter doesn’t yet have faith in Disney directors to have a singular artistic vision?

Troublesome to me is the fact that after WALL*E, all but the traditionally animated Princess are going to be released in “Disney Digital 3-D.” While Disney has been pushing this technology hard since Chicken Little in 2005 as a way to motivate families to choose theatrical releases over home video, I continue to worry that it will remain a gimmick and a fad while neglecting to service the story of the films whatsoever. It was an innovation driven by marketers rather than filmmakers, and despite Lasseter’s enthusiasm for the process I hope that traditional standard releases continue. Maybe I’m a fuddy-duddy (and at such an early age, too), but I’d rather enjoy the art of the animation without having to deal with all the artifacts of the 3-D process (not to mention that I don’t want to wear the sodding glasses either!).

Another interesting aspect of the announcement is how it fleshes out long-circulating rumors, such as the hints that Rydstrom and Chapman were going to be assigned features and the odd mention in one news article mentioning a new Scottish princess in the Disney pantheon. Yet it also brings up questions – where is John Carter of Mars? And while Brad Bird’s Pixar-produced live action 1906 isn’t mentioned, where the frak is Incredibles 2? Such a project has long been denied, but it’s widely asserted among fans that The Incredibles is far more worthy of a sequel than Cars. While Cars 2 is obviously timed to coincide with the opening of the new Carsland at California Adventure in 2011, and inspired by the huge marketing windfall that has followed the original film, one would hope that Pixar isn’t starting to pump out sequels just because of merchandising opportunities. Who cares? I just want Incredibles 2.

In any case, it’s a bold plan and shows the real confidence Disney now has in animation. This is a very ambitious slate, unmatched since the heyday of the 1990′s animation boom. Let’s hope they can just keep all those balls in the air this time around. The best news is that Disney and Pixar have a great mix of seasoned talent and new directors all working on a fairly unique series of concepts with the committed, hands-off support of management. Even the DisneyToons studio has abandoned the unwanted direct-to-video sequel market, with Cook promising more films on the way but only spinoffs or original concepts. It’s an exciting time, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store.

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