So what’s up at Disney and Pixar, and what are Ron and John working on?
It’s been a while since I’ve done any significant animation coverage because, truthfully, I was tired of chasing rumors. After all, how could I figure out what Disney’s Feature Animation department was up to if they didn’t know themselves? And, judging from their behavior, there’s little indication that they have a plan at the moment. Many of the ambitious pronouncements from just a few years ago seem to have fallen by the wayside, and promises of an active and prolific shorts department and a full slate of traditional animation have turned into vaporware. Everything seems up in the air at this point; we’ve seen projects canceled and revived and postponed time and again, and there’s very little on the publicly-announced Disney animation slate after next year.
Animation is very different from live-action filmmaking; you can’t just up and crank out a major animated film in a year or two. If the Walt Disney Animation Studios plan on having any more traditional animation after Winnie the Pooh next year, it’s time to get moving. I have no idea what’s happening inside the studio, or why things have ossified. But it seems to me that John “Mr. ‘Creator-Driven Projects'” Lasseter needs to allow some creators to drive their own projects in Burbank. But I digress.
The biggest hit out of Disney’s animation studio in recent years was last year’s Prep and Landing. The Christmas-themed television special, the first made-for-TV animation from Disney’s feature division, was expected to be the first entry in a new holiday franchise. True to expectations, Disney has announced that elves Lanny (Derek Richardson) and Wayne (Dave Foley) will return in two new specials in 2010 and 2011.
First to arrive will be the 7-minute “stocking stuffer” short Operation: Secret Santa, airing this December on ABC. Directed by Stevie Wermers-Skelton & Kevin Deters and produced by Dorothy McKim, the short will feature the now-ubiquitous Betty White as the voice of Mrs. Claus. According to the Disney press release, the short will see Lanny and Wayne recruited by Mrs. Claus and Magee (Sarah Chalke) to embark on a secret mission to retrieve a mysterious item hidden deep within the office of Santa Claus. With Christmas imminent, the elves must acquire the target while avoiding detection by Santa and the threat of placement on the Naughty List.
In 2011, the elves will return in another full-length half hour special, Prep & Landing: Naughty Vs. Nice. This time, Lanny and Wayne must track down classified North Pole technology that has been stolen by a computer-hacking “Naughty Kid”. To capture the perpetrator, the elves must consult the North Pole’s foremost Naughty Kid expert, a “bombastic” member of the Coal Bucket Brigade – Wayne’s estranged brother Noel.
There has at last been a little activity in the Disney shorts department; Dean Wellins’s Tick Tock Tale has had several screenings recently, including at the Annecy film festival. There’s even a brief preview of the short at Disney’s animation website. It’s unknown whether the short will actually appear in front of Tangled next month, or if it will disappear into the aether like Glago’s Guest.
Meanwhile, in Pixar towne…
The big news a couple of weeks ago was that director Brenda Chapman had been removed from Brave (formerly The Bear and the Bow), a project that she initiated. Chapman was replaced on the project by Mark Andrews, who directed the 2005 short One Man Band.
This is noteworthy not only because it’s yet another directorial shuffle at Pixar, but also because of all the ballyhoo in recent years about Chapman’s role as the first female director at Pixar. Brave was to feature the first female protagonist in a Pixar film. It’s also worth nothing that it’s the only film currently on Pixar’s slate that is not a sequel.
Speaking of sequels, you might remember that John Lasseter has taken over the director’s seat of Cars 2 from Brad Lewis, who is currently billed as co-director. The 2011 release recently received a teaser trailer, which can be seen below:
Yeah, I know.
As was revealed last year, the film will center on an international race which takes the first film’s characters to Paris, London, Tokyo and the Italian countryside. While Lightning McQueen takes part in the World Grand Prix, his hillbilly friend Mater gets involved with a Bond-esque web of espionage and intrigue. Michael Giacchino will score the film.
The real thing Disney animation fans have been wondering, though, is what’s next? Pixar has Cars 2, Brave, and Monsters, Inc. 2 in the pipeline. Disney has Tangled next month and then Winnie the Pooh in 2011; Reboot Ralph will allegedly appear in 2013 and there’s still a possibility that King of the Elves might re-emerge. We know that there are some projects, at least, waiting to be greenlit, but what are they? And when will we see more traditional animation?
Animation gossips have claimed for a while now that directors Ron Clements and John Musker were at work preparing a new traditionally animated project to pitch. I’ve started hearing rumors that are truly unexpected – that the project they’re boarding is an adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s 1987 novel Mort. The book is the fourth in Pratchett’s beloved Discworld series of comedic fantasies, and follows a young man looking for a job who gets an apprenticeship working for Death.
Is this really what Ron & John are working on? We shall see. Consider it rumor for now. But if so I know a lot of people who will be pleasantly surprised.