D23 Expo: Walt Disney Studios Hits the Ground Running with “Art and Animation” (part one)

[Images courtesy of D23 Expo.]

Greetings and salutations, my fellow Fridge Nukers! Bradfield here, reporting from the Mousketeer Clubhouse! Roll call!!!

Let it never be said that Disney Chief Creative Officer, John Lasseter, doesn’t bring his A-Game…

…Particularly, at this moment in time, when it comes the D23 Expo, Disney’s fan convention. This year’s event kicked off with a bang (sometimes literally) today at the Anaheim Convention Center. As opposed to years past, where the live action and animation projects were combined into one presentation — often running long because there’s never a time when The House of Mouse has nothing to talk about — Disney’s cinematic slate was divided [animation today, and live action tomorrow] allowing attendees more time in a day for panels, presentations, autograph sessions, other assorted events, and of course, shopping.

the good dinosaur
Concept art for “The Good Dinosaur”. The film will be in the traditional Pixar style.

Deciding “who goes first” must have been akin to those tales of rock shows from the 1970’s where the question, applied to, say KISS and Van Halen, led to out and out fights. With Disney, you’re talking The Avengers and The Guardians of the Galaxy vs. anthromorph animals and vehicles, and fairy tales. [With, of course, all due respect to the Guardians’ Rocket Raccoon.] Animation went first because animation always comes first. Or, where my words fail to capture the grandure and tradition of Disney’s history in animation, I’ll defer to the more eloquent Mr. Lasseter.

[The animated films are] the heart and soul of Disney.

Also true to form, Lasseter’s usual “Three Ring Circus” was packed with maximum starpower, and glimpses into the future that should have not only sated attendees’ desire for spectacle and information, but exceeded it.

So let’s run through the roster of projects from the pens and pads of the artists working Disney’s upcoming long form animated projects – over the next two to three years. [Note: the following order is chronological.in the order in which the films and guests were presented.]

First up, Party Central, a short featuring characters from this summer’s Monster University. Though not stated outright, it’s likely to be on the MU home video release. Clocking in at under five minutes, it’s basically the reason why we buy Disney/Pixar home releases – or as Walt Disney referred to upping the ante, “plus-ing it.”

Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live), Judy Greer (Arrested Development), and Lucas Neff (Raising Hope) stopped by to talk about a project teased at D23 Expo 2011, The Good Dinosaur – a Pixar project whose point of departure is “What if the comet that destroyed the dinosaurs didn’t hit the Earth?”

Another title teased in 2011 was the impossibly long, The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside The Mind, which in the process of development eventually became, Inside Out. It’s the story of a young girl who goes through a big move, and the five governing impulses/emotions in her life,  in her mind, as they try to balance the experience. Joining director, Pete Docter, and producer, James Rivera, on stage were stars, Phyllis Smith (The Office), and once again… Bill Hader.

Pixar’s new “Lucky Charm”?

Before I’m accused of any “Hader Hate,” Hader’s seemingly ubiquitous presence in current Pixar projects (he was also the voice of Slug in MU) was not lost on the event’s organizers, and even became a running gag. Well, for the Party Central presentation, he scooted out, but in slow motion, imitating his surprise hit character, Slug.

However, just to drive it home in the style of Vaudeville, during the announcement for the long anticipated sequel to Finding Nemo, Finding Dory, Mr. Hader appeared, dressed as… well… a Sea Cucumber… Sort of. More like a pickle with a snorkel and fins. In any event, he sauntered out, evidently petitioning, director Andrew Stanton, for yet another role, in the upcoming film.

More to the point, he expressed the specific desire to be the new generation of Pixar’s fabled “Lucky Charm.”

This was not lost on the original, “Lucky Charm,” John Ratzenberger (Cheers… and roles in over 14 Pixar animated projects), first taunted Hader over the loudspeakers, then not only came out of the wings himself, but came out with a marching band, playing Randy Newman’s iconic Toy Story theme, You’ve Got A Friend In Me.” After a couple moments of comparing resumes, Ratzenberger, and band, departed in a hail of confetti.

That’s all for now, but far from the end of the story. Please stay tuned for part two.

In the meantime, Avengers, Guardians, Jedi and Sith – the ball is in your court.