Monthly Archives: December 2012

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Ralph and Vanellope, an unlikely friendship.

Ralph and Vanellope, an unlikely friendship.

Wreck-It Ralph is a big win for Disney. The characters are adorable, it’s contemporary while holding on to classic themes, and it embraces the original Disney mantra of focusing on strong original characters. Every one of them is flawed, and deeply lovable.

But most notably, this is the first Disney film in nearly a decade that returned to the Renaissance-era tactic of playing the long game. Promotion for the film started early, the characters were developed publicly and the merchandising appropriately on-key.

A version of Ralph’s game — Fix-It Felix Jr. — in the movie was released for smartphones in advance of the theatrical release to familiarize fans with the world of the film. It ramped up to the top of the iTunes best seller list inside of a week.

Previews of the characters rolled out alongside the main theatrical trailers on YouTube and the popular Apple Trailers website. The 8-bit-style poster of Ralph’s face began popping up in cities around the world, and television spots teased familiar video game characters like the Pac-Man ghost and Bowser to boost interest among older viewers.

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Winnie the Pooh (2011)

Pooh gets the feature treatment once again.

Pooh gets the feature treatment once again.

For Disney, Winnie the Pooh and all of his friends have been the gift that keeps on giving.

At one of the shortest run-times of any films in the animated canon (just 63 minutes), Winnie the Pooh tells a simple tale of how gloomy Eeyore lost his tail and his friends worked hard to help him find a new one. Meanwhile, the group misreads a note from Christopher Robin saying he’ll “be back soon” and instead fear he’s been captured by an imaginary beast they call the Backson, so they set off to come to his rescue. All the usual hijinks that befall Pooh and the gang occur.

It should be noted that, despite the library of Pooh titles that bear the Disney name, only this one and 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh were produced by Disney Animation Studios — and it’s only the third time a sequel has been included in the official canon.

Gaining the film rights in the 1960s proved to be a very lucrative move for the studio. The company has produced numerous featurettes, television shows, and feature films, both theatrical releases and direct-to-video, including favourites like The Tigger MoviePiglet’s Big MoviePooh’s Heffalump Movie and Pooh’s Grand Adventure.

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Tangled (2010)

Rapunzel

Rapunzel

Tangled marks an interesting point in Disney’s evolution. For a decade, Pixar had produced more creative and more artistic films. It had produced more memorable characters and more impactful stories. With that company’s acquisition in 2006, Disney also bought the brains behind Pixar’s magic in John Lasseter.

With Lasseter in charge of all creative for both companies, though, the vision behind each set of films began to meld and slowly become indistinguishable from one another.

Tangled marks a clear beginning of that process. It is the first film that Lasseter oversaw from start to finish. The film was announced a year after Lasseter took hold of the reins and Pixar became part of the Disney family of companies.

With a budget of $250-million, Disney bet big on Tangled being a huge success. Given the box office gold that had come with Lasseter’s previous projects, it was more than likely a safe bet. But it was still $100-million more than anything Disney had spent on a film in the past decade.

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The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Tiana dreams of something big.

Tiana dreams of something big.

Not only does The Princess and the Frog bring back that old Disney magic in full force, but it’s also well worth the wait. The film marks a return to the traditional hand-drawn animation the studio is known for and also introduces the company’s first black princess.

Based on the classic Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, The Frog Prince, (with a little help from E.D. Baker’s novel, The Frog Princess), Disney’s version is set in early-20th century New Orleans. When a visiting, jazz-loving, care-free prince is turned into a frog by an evil witch doctor, Tiana kisses him to turn him human again. The spell backfires, and Tiana is turned into a frog, as well.

New Orleans, with its rich musical and cultural history, is one of the hearts of the American south. All of the great parts of this city are featured in the movie: Mardi Gras, jazz, voodoo, Creole and Cajun food and, of course, beignets. Tiana is the most ambitious and independent Disney princess yet. She has grand dreams of owning and operating her own restaurant, and tirelessly works two jobs to save enough for the down payment. She has an admirable mantra that hard work can make your dreams come true (although, by the end of the film, she comes to accept that, in life, there is a little luck involved, too).

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Bolt (2008)

Bolt and Penny

Bolt and Penny

Bolt is the story that saw John Lasseter get comfortable at Disney, exercise some strength and prove his worth.

When Lasseter became involved in the project, Bolt had not yet begun animation but the story was well on its way. It was originally called American Dog, and featured much the same travel-across-America-to-discover-yourself storyline that ended up in Bolt. But it also featured a rabbit deformed from radiation, a dark desert wasteland and a large cat who worked as a junkyard mechanic. It was different, to say the least.

That’s to be expected, though. That story was being produced by Chris Sanders, who had previously created and co-directed Lilo & Stitch.

Lasseter, though, wanted some pretty heavy changes. It needed to be more family-friendly, more emotionally driven, less weird and more adorable. Sanders resisted, though, and was removed from the project and replaced with Chris Williams (writer on The Emperor’s New Groove and Mulan) and Byron Howard (an animator from Mulan, Brother Bear, Lilo & Stitch and Chicken Little). Lasseter, of course, remained executive producer.

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