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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Trouble at the Studios with 'Frozen'

I'm sure you've all heard, but Disney laid off a bunch of the hand-drawn animators a while back, and once again shut down the hand-drawn animation department. Obviously very sad, but something that Disney has done quite a few times in the past, and those animators had seen the writing on the wall since a short period before Tangled was released. Looking at past Disney history, I'm fairly confident they'll eventually re-open and close the department again in the future. CG is cheaper, easier and the company makes the excuse that CG films make more money, therefore ink and paint is a waste of the company's time. Truthfully, it's not so much the medium in which an animated film is created, but the social climate, advertising and content is what really sells or doesn't sell something. Maybe one day the suits will care enough to figure that out.

But perhaps the original way the company made feature animated films really was the better way to do things. Surprise surprise, Frozen, that upcoming CG animated feature to open in November, is apparently having some significant trouble right now. Apparently all of the people in the animation studio were asked to literally stop all the other work that they were doing to come and help fix this significantly troubled film.

Final artwork for Olaf, a sentient snowman that Elsa, the Snow Queen, created as her first attempt at making an evil snowman for her army. Olaf turned out more goofy and friendly than evil.

Is it really any wonder that they're having a tough time? The Snow Queen project has been in development at Disney for decades. It's the on-again, off-again fling Disney animation has been having. It was in development years ago, but when Disney felt that The Princess and the Frog underperformed with audiences because it was a princess film, they shelved it once more. But even then, they were having issues...issues with the Snow Queen's character, the plot, etc.

They have some strong people working on this project. They have the tools to succeed, although I think they should have given themselves more time and, well, focus. The feature film animation department used to work on only one project at a time. They didn't set severe deadlines on themselves, though admittedly that had plenty of drawbacks. Watch Waking Sleeping Beauty and you'll get the full story there.

Disney may be a powerful company, but their image will always be rather vulnerable because the public expects so much from them. Frozen could be a true powerhouse of a film, but it must have all the bells and whistles. Dreamworks continues to churn out films that make bank at the box office, but (at least in my opinion) they are nowhere near as good as most Disney films.

Advertising, Disney. Please, for the sake of your company, don't screw up the advertising!

Speaking of which, we still don't have a trailer for Frozen, and the film opens in about 6 months! I wonder if the negative feedback on the looks for Anna and Elsa (from those fake movie posters - I had a feeling they weren't genuine) have anything to do with that? Yes, the posters were fake, but the models were fairly accurate. Truthfully, the similarity in looks between Rapunzel and Anna were a bit disconcerting, not to mention the fact that she looked cross-eyed in the image. And then the Snow Queen, the character that admittedly everyone was honestly the most excited for, ended up looking like a fairy out of a Tinkerbell movie.

Last year at Destination D, there was a panel all about Frozen (that's where the image of the sentient snowman came from). And a little before that event, a video was composed as promotional material for the film - yet, interestingly enough, it was never shown at the D23 event. However, the video was leaked a week ago, and the internet was in a slight frenzy. The video has been pulled for the most part, but I still stumbled across it accidental today while doing a little research for this article. Some stills have been shared online, so I'll share some of them here now (and of course, if Disney wishes for me to take them down, I will do so). If you don't want anything spoiled (though I doubt you would have clicked to read this article then), get out of here now!

Here's a first look at one of the castles in the film. I am guessing that this is the castle that both Anna and Elsa grew up in, as they are sisters. Who knows if this part of the story is still the same, but from what was told at Destination D last year, a major coronation ceremony was taking place when Elsa's powers reveal themselves in a rather unfortunate way. This is even more tragic for her, as there is a prophecy that pretty much calls her out for ruining her kingdom in snow and frost. The girl flees, creates her own castle of ice and an army of evil snowmen, and hides inside from the rest of the world. Presumably Anna misses her sister and wants to make things right, so she goes on the dangerous quest of finding her sister with a "ragtag team."

Once can guess that this is Elsa in her icy palace. I really love this artwork with the stylization and the contrast between cold and warm, something emulated in the designs between Elsa and Anna.

Anna and Kristoff mountain climbing. This could be a set-up for a pretty interesting action sequence.

Another piece of concept art of Elsa. I'm fairly confident that this will not be how her hair looks in the final film (from everything I've heard, it sounds certain that she will have a long fishtail braid), but the dress is fairly close and if anything this just looks quite beautiful. Something that I have heard is that the snowflake motif is like the signature to Elsa's work.

This looks to be Elsa's ice castle. I feel a little bit of Maleficent's Forbidden Mountain Fortress in this, but not per say as ominous. Elsa is probably more misunderstood than evil - I like that.

More of Elsa's handiwork. What a spectacular image! I really hope we see this in the finished version of the film.

Note the color of Anna's hair. She's now more of a strawberry blonde while Elsa keeps the platinum locks, emphasizing warm vs cool colors. Her long cape is also shredded, yet she appears more free.

I'm sure many of you remember those fake movie posters. In the one featuring Anna, I noticed at least one significant white strand in her braid. While the image overall looked like unrefined CG, I don't think that was just a highlight - I'm wondering if the strand has any significance, as Elsa has white blonde hair that looks exactly like that. Anna and Elsa are sisters - is it just because they are related, or could this mean that Anna has some winter magic in her as well?

Disney created a few moments of unfinished CG animation for this video. Here are Kristoff and Anna running from something, only to come to the edge of a cliff.

Here is Anna, covering herself from Elsa's icy attack.

Elsa forming her snowflake trademark.

Actually seeing something makes me more excited about this film. Disney may be holding off any sort of promotion because they are hard at work fixing the film, but I really wish they would officially release something - anything. This leaked video might have been a mistake, but if anything I think it has helped the film. They need to start generating some buzz!

I figure that there will be a major Frozen panel at the D23 Expo this year, which I will of course be attending and covering. They had a big one for The Princess and the Frog, so why not this feature film? And it will be August, so whether they like it or not, they'll have to have something to show by then, as winter will be a hop skip and a jump away.

So, what do you think? How do you feel about Disney not sharing this promo video last year? Do you think that Disney will get Frozen's loose ends tied together nicely by the time the film opens in November? Are you excited for the film? How do you feel about the 2D vs 3D animation debacle? Talk about it here!

P.S. - Many thanks to The Rotoscopers for all their information and insight on this upcoming Disney release!