Monday, March 16, 2009

The princess, the frog and the art of traditional animation

First off, I have to say that after seeing all the reviews calling it simply "somber," I was pleasantly surprised and thoroughly entertained by NBC's equally clever two-hour premiere of "Kings" last night.

Along with being a welcome showcase for Al Swearengen, it just sets up some juicy but still fairly intelligent palace intrigue that's a cut above the norm. That said, I'm hoping it stays at the 8 p.m. slot it's headed to next week rather than going up against "Desperate Housewives" at 9 - which I had originally heard - because then it will just be toast.

And in unsurprising box-office news, "Watchmen" did indeed get its ass kicked by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson last weekend. I did my part by going to see Zack Snyder's film again while ignoring the family fare I was under no obligation to watch, but it apparently didn't help.

"Race to Witch Mountain" enjoyed an opening weekend of $25 million while "Watchmen" fell a rather whopping 67 percent to $18.7 million. Worse yet, overseas, where Snyder's flick was expected to pick up most of its scratch, the flick took in only $13.5 million to fall to "Marley & Me," which finished first at $13.9 million (I know things get released later in certain parts of the world, but where the heck did that come from?)

Overall, the total for "Watchmen" so far is still $135.5 million, so given how much it's sure to make from fanboys on DVD I suppose it's still going to make money, but still disappointing news all around.

But here today, before some great news about Greg Mottola and the world's funniest comedy team, it's all about Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" and the art of simple, 2-D animation. Now, don't get me wrong. After seeing "Coraline" with those goofy glasses on I'm thoroughly sold on the power of 3-D animation, and can't wait to see what Pixar has cooked up with it for "Up."

In my heart, however, I still miss the simpler days when animated films were driven by a fun story and entertaining tunes as much as amazing imagery. Though no one noticed, Michael Landon Jr. took a pretty darn good shot at it just a little while ago with his mostly rewarding take on one of my favorite childhood tales, "The Velveteen Rabbit" (and, as promised, I will indeed write it up in tomorrow's DVD report, since they were kind enough to send me a screener.) And, on a much bigger scale, Disney is getting back in the game come December with "The Princess and the Frog," which also just happens to star its first black princess, Tiana, voiced by "Dreamgirl" Anika Noni Rose and pictured above.

It still amazes me that Disney has the class to set this in New Orleans and do so many other things right, and yet still can't look any further than Randy Newman to provide the score. The number of Big Easy musicians - black or white - who I would rather see on this project is extremely long, but my top choice would be piano man extraordinaire Allen Toussaint (a little more on him later.)

But enough of that bile, because all I really wanted to do today was share these pretty darn cool character shots, which I found at Aint It Cool (where they have some more here.) I'll let them speak for themselves now except to say that the next two are for characters named Louie (natch) and Mama Odie. Enjoy.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost invade America

What is already shaping up to be a vastly improved movie year so far over what came in the beginning of 2008 is about to be helped along by the arrival of three promising comedies virtually back-to-back, "I Love You, Man" this weekend, Greg Mottola's "Adventureland" just one week after that and then Jody Hill's "Observe and Report" with Seth Rogen in early April.

And while Mottola's semi-autobiographical "Adventureland," starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and veryfunnypeople Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and Martin Starr, looks like it will be a real winner, what he's cooking up after that should be even better.

Teaming up with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (two-thirds, completed usually by Edgar Wright, of in my opinion the world's funniest comedy team), he's now at work on something called "Paul." The flick, written by Pegg and Frost, centers on two British tourists on a roadtrip across the U.S. to San Diego’s movie geek mecca Comic-Con, who have an extraterrestrial encounter along the way. This being a Pegg-Frost flick, they befriend the alien fellow and bring him along for the ride. Here's what Mottola had to say to the surprisingly entertaining MTV Movies Blog about the project:

“Whoever plays the [alien] needs to do so like a three dimensional guy, he’s kind of like just another character in the story and he’s not just an [ET], I need a method acting performance out of this nonexistent person. My joke is its ‘Five Easy Pieces’ with an alien. There’s a fun factor to the film because it’s an alien and you can’t escape that and it has to be satisfying, but my goal is to make the audience stop thinking about it ten minutes after they meet him and really start to think about him as a character and a performance. Now that i’ve gotten deeper into how to pull that off, i realize its really f***ing hard!"

That all sounds perfectly funny to me, so keep your eyes on this flick set to come out in 2010. And now, to hopefully brighten up everyone's Monday morning just a little bit, here's a clip of the aforementioned Mr. Toussaint at Joe's Pub in NYC, where I had the pleasure of seeing him a few years ago and where he has sort of taken up residence after Hurricane Katrina. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Monday. And of course, now and forever, fear the turtle. Peace out.


Mercurie said...

I enjoyed Kings, although I am wondering long they can keep it up and if they will try to stay true to European ideas about kingship (I assume even in this alternate history, North America was colonised by the UK, France and so on, so presumably their ideas of Kingship would influence kingship in Gilboa).

I have to admit, I am also disappointed by Watchmen's performance, but then in some ways it is doing very well. Let's face it, is an R-rated movie which automatically limits its audience. It is also well over two hours long, limiting how many times it can be shown a day. At $135.5 million, it's not doing too badly!

They had a teaser trailer of The Princess and the Frog on The Sleeping Beauty DVD, and I must say I am really looking forward to it. I find it ironic that it took John Lasseter, one of the masters of computer animation at Pixar, to breath new life into Disney and cel animation! But then, let's face it, Lasseter has always had class.

Reel Fanatic said...

I think you're right about the R-rated thing, Mercurie, and I'm also fairly certain that the flick will make more than enough on DVD to allow Zack Snyder to keep making whatever kind of movies he wants to, for at least a while longer anyway ... And I think you may be right about "Kings" too, but judging from the future scenes they showed at the end, I hope it manages to run for at least 10 episodes or so, cause it looks like they have something really fun going here.

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