Thursday, November 19, 2009

Disney is back!

Finally! Signs that the great master of animation and storytelling is back from stasis.

I grew up on Disney movies, classics like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas and The Lion King, to name a few.

Then in recent years Disney faded into near oblivion, kept afloat by its association with Pixar and summer blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean.

Watching the trailers of these movies, I think Disney may be in for a very good year ahead. And it looks like they're doing what they've always done best: putting creative, fresh spins on old classics.

Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future and Forrest Gump) continues to use the lukewarmly received performance capture technology to turn living actors into 3D characters.

But cinematographically it looks triumphant. And I've heard that it is one of the most faithful adaptations of the Charles Dickens classic; that's good since I love Dickens's story!

Long-time collaborator Alan Silvestri returns to provide the music; if Forrest Gump is anything to go by, the soundtrack should be just as good, if not better, than the movie itself.

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, in a movie directed by... who else but Tim Burton? (I won't be surprised if Danny Elfman is back as the music composer for this film.)

Disney is promoting this as a 3D movie, just as it is doing for A Christmas Carol. But at least both stories have a reasonable claim to artistic licence in the design department; Dickens and Lewis Carroll created these characters to be larger than life and beyond normal imagination. Disney is simply fleshing them out, just as it has done superbly with everything from Cinderella's pumpkin to the interpretations of classical masterpieces in Fantasia.

Any one of the names in Alice in Wonderland would be reason enough to watch it when it comes out. But the most interesting part of the story is perhaps one Lewis Carroll did not foresee, but would probably accept as a very logical follow-up: 19-year-old Alice returns to Wonderland.

I say he would probably accept it because, although Alice was written for a little girl, Carroll's masterpiece appealed, and continues to appeal, to much older 'children' as well. As C.S. Lewis once said, a good children's story is one you never outgrow.

It's great to see a sequel with a smart idea for a change; let's hope the movie lives up to the hype!

Along the lines of characters ageing, Andy is now about to enter college. This is the moment everyone was talking about in Toy Story 2, when Andy would be too old to play with his toys.

So what happens next? I must admit I was a little alarmed when I heard there would be a sequel to Toy Story 2. Disney-Pixar have never resurrected any of their characters except these toys, and common wisdom dictates that a movie should not have too many sequels (think Sylvester Stallone's Rocky) lest they be the undoing of a great work.

However, I remain hopeful. Toy Story redefined a lot of things, and did it remarkably well; Toy Story 2 performed exceptionally well for a sequel. On top of that, the people in Pixar have proven themselves time and again, and I don't think there's any reason to doubt their judgement here.

3D remains, in my opinion, very much a marketing gimmick, very much like Face Detection technology in cameras, but so long as they continue to release 'plain' 2D versions, I wouldn't be too worried.

At any rate, these movies exude a certain freshness that's been missing from animation in a very long time, and I shall indeed look forward to watching them.

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