John Lasseter has one rule: Walt Disney Animation Studio films have to be amazing. They bear Walt’s name, after all.
In celebration of a slew of announcements at Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, Calif., on Friday, audiences were treated to never-before-seen clips and concept art behind two of their most anticipated properties – Frozen, with appearances by voice actors Kristen Bell and Josh Gad, and Big Hero 6. Lasseter also announced the development of Zootopia, a brand-new concept for 2016 that puts the animals back in clothes.
Sisters can be such a pain. Especially when they’re more glamorous and graceful than you are and are blessed with special powers that they decide to use to trap your kingdom in a state of eternal winter.
In Disney’s newest animated feature Frozen, the only hope for the newly icy kingdom of Arendelle is Anna (Kristen Bell), a bright and tenacious optimist, determined to find her sister Elsa (Idina Menzel) and end the winter madness. But in order to cross the harsh landscape, Anna must team up with Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a mountain man with a beard and a scowl. Co-directed by Tarzan helmer Chris Buck and Wreck-It Ralph writer Jennifer Lee, Frozen was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. According to Lasseter, it was a tale that Walt Disney himself had always been interested in bringing to the big screen.
Audiences saw a dialogue-free preview of the action-packed animated epic, a clip illustrating Anna’s awkwardness, and a special appearance by Anna’s voice herself, Kristen Bell. “I always dreamed of being in a Disney movie. Did I think it would happen? No. Did I want it to happen? Yes. With every bone in my body,” said Bell, who recounted recording her own rendition of songs from The Little Mermaid on her boom box in 1989, just in case someone needed to hear it. Lee joked, “Thank goodness you did. That’s why you got the part.”
“I was so excited to be a Disney heroine one day that I already had all these ideas about how I would make her relatable to me,” said Bell, who insisted that she was an incredibly awkward child and channeled that for Anna. “I want her to walk outside and get poop on her head!” She promises that Anna is “excitable, scrappy” and “awkward and weird, just like me.”
Frozen is set to hit theaters on Nov. 27.
BIG HERO 6
What if a group of genius kids came together to save their city … with a friendly robot in tow? That’s the premise behind Disney’s latest, Big Hero 6. According to Lasseter, it’s “inspired by the culture of Japan but mashed up with the culture of America.” That’s true right down to the name of the city where it takes place – San Frantokoyo.
Director Don Hall knew he wanted to combine his love of Disney animation with his love of comic books, so, of course he was excited to come across Big Hero 6. “It’s an underground Marvel comic about a Japanese superhero,” said Hall, who took the opportunity to create his own universe within a more obscure property. “I wanted a robot who we could fall in love with…a huggable robot,” he said, before introducing the audience to Baymax, a puffy-looking robot whose movements are modeled after baby penguins.
The hero of Big Hero 6, aptly named Hiro, is a 14-year-old tech genius who must assemble his own team when the designs for Micro-bots fall into the hands of a super villain. Armed with mechanical marbles, the team includes Gog, a bike messenger, Wasabi, a sushi chef, Honey Lemon, a glamorous chemist and part-time barista, Fred, a dude who just loves comics, and of course Baymax … repurposed into a warrior.
Big Hero 6 will be released in 2014.
Imagine a modern city, lived in and designed by wild animals.
The origins of Zootopia go back to Disney’s 1973 animated Robin Hood, featuring a host of creatures great and small, acting out the roles in that classic story. When Tangled director Byron Howard proposed a new animated film populated entirely by anthropomorphic animals, he said Lasseter “lifted me in the air like a baby Simba,” from The Lion King.
We’ve seen animals in the natural word and animals in the human world, “but we’ve never seen animals in a modern world designed by animals.” The plot is a buddy movie about a smooth fox named Nick Wilde who is accused of a crime and a rabbit cop named Lt. Judy Hops who teams with him to find out the truth. (No voice talent was announced for the 2016 title).
Howard and writer Jared Bush did share how various wildlife experts helped shape the characters. They showed concept art of a studious-looking wildebeest in a three-piece suit with glasses, but were warned that those animals are “impossibly stupid,” Bush said. So that character changed into a dopey, slack-jawed yokel named Gnu-pid.
They also displayed concept images of Zootopia’s title city. “One of the key concepts is if you squint at any frame of film you might think you’re looking at an animal in a natural environment,” Howard said.
He then showed a frame of a snow-covered Alpine mountain, which faded into an irregularly shaped white pyramid luxury hotel.
Just like New York has Chinatown and Little Italy, Zootopia has distinct regional neighborhoods like Tundratown, Sahara Square, Little Rodenta (the bad part of town, populated by vermin), and Burrowborough, populated by millions of bunnies.
They also showcased one more character: Gazelle, a creature named after her own species, who is an outspoken mega pop star – depicted in various outrageous outfits a la Lady Gaga.
And the major metropolitan newspaper in town? The Wall Street Gerbil. Obviously.
• Lasseter paid tribute to Burny Mattinson, a 60-year veteran of Disney Animation, whose credits include Mickey’s Christmas Carol, The Fox and the Hound, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King. “To be a Disney legend, you have to leave the company or die,” said Lasseter. Or, you just have to spend over a half a century creating some of the most memorable characters in the studio’s history.
• Lauren MacMullan unveiled a new short called Mickey Mouse in “Get a Horse,” a 3-D tribute to early Mickey, which will make its big screen debut in front of Frozen.