Nick & Nora's

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Review: Meet the Robinsons, and The Catharsis of The New Disney.

Lamentably, in all of Toronto, MTR is only playing in 3D in the wastelands of suburbia. Figure that one out. Nevertheless, I braved the crowds and checked it out in plain ol' 2D, and I'm happy to report I enjoyed the heck out of it.

For starters, 'Robinsons' doesn't come across nearly so desperate or forced in its humor as Chicken Little or Open Season, and never approaches the overall dullness of every WDFA feature since The Lion King (though I myself am not a fan) The time-travel story contains some genuine surprises (even though they're likely to go over the heads of kids) and Lewis is easily the most deeply-felt Disney protag since Lilo.

Even better, the film is marvellously flatulence-free, light on pop-culture nonsense, (seriously, who's still watching the original Shrek? Even the trailers for Shrek the Third feel tired before the film's even been released) and never sinks into peurility or crassness for the sake of squeezing a cheap laugh out of the kiddies while their parents frown and lament the state of family fare. The family-discovery-time-travel plot crackles under the machinations of a villain named Bowler Hat Guy. A classic developmentally-arrested baddie with bad teeth and a penchant for hilariously vaudevillian moustache-twirling.

There was so much good stuff I just wished it would slow down. I wanted to spend more time in this world and get to know the characters a little better. Another 5-7 minutes, perhaps added to the perfunctory character introductions could have made it perfect. But perhaps such a degree of cohesiveness is too much to ask from a film with seven credited writers, not including the gargantuan re-writes 'recommended' by WDFA's new Chief Creative Officer, Pixar helmsman John Lasseter.

Despite these quibbles, Robinsons is still a wonderful cinematic achievement. But more importantly, it does an admirable job as a symbol for the change in the Disney culture that the film is obviously intended to represent. Shaking off years of mediocre films with equally disappointing boxoffice and critical reaction, plus the recent talk of canning their justifiably-maligned direct-to-video division, the Disney brass is obviously hoping Robinsons is going to represent a turnaround in their theatrical image after over a decade of trouncing by Pixar and Dreamworks.

Indeed, the entire production seems infused with a spirit of cathartic healing. From the newly designed/presented WDFA logo intended to cement Walt Disney Feature Animation's own unique and distinct identity with a clear link to its roots, to the classic Mickey Mouse short that precedes the film (a rare and magical theatrical experience all by itself, particularly for fans of vintage animation) to the epilogue quote by Walt at the end, the entire production screams "Things will be different from now on. We promise."

Here's hoping. If the Robinsons are any indication, they're off to a solid start at a promising rebirth. Just don't be afraid to slow down a bit now, guys. Please?


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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Animation Update: Rapunzel Unbraided and Ratatouille

Howdy hey, folks. Forgive the lack of updates recently! In the last seven weeks or so I've come down with two wicked colds, broken a molar, been promoted to Animation Supervisor at my studio, and taken a much-belated honeymoon to Disney World for five days.

Looks like N&N was proven right with our tidbit a few weeks back about "Rapunzel Unbraided" being in some major story trouble. Jim Hill Media reports:

Don't get me wrong, folks. Glen Keane's directorial debut still looks as though it will be " ... a film of astonishing beauty" loaded with lush visuals. It's just the proposed storyline of this still-in-development animated feature that now appears to be on the slim side.

Mind you, back in the late summer of 2006, Keane reportedly showed Lasseter the first 20 minutes of the most recent version of "Rapunzel." And John was allegedly very lavish in his praise, saying that it was the strongest opening of a Disney fairy tale film that he'd ever seen. The only problem is ... Glen & his team are still struggling to come up with a satisfying second & third act for their animated version of "Rapunzel."

I personally hope this project can be salvaged. However, there's going to be lots of politics and ego-bruising going on between two heavyweights like Lasseter and Keane; two 800 pound gorillas from different eras and cultures thrashing it out so lets hope it gets done at all.

In Ratatouille news, Brad Bird's adopted picture will apparently not be 100% CG animation. My super-secret sources inform me that the first ten minutes of Ratatouille will in fact, be 2D. Yes, traditional, hand-drawn animation, allegedly in the style of the classic Disney short 'Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom', currently available in the excellent 'Disney Rarities' set. Even more surprising is that apparently, the 2D work will be completed in-house! Quite likely from some of Pixar's abundant 2D-turned-3D talent who were no doubt happy to replace the mouse for a pencil, even if just for a short while.


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