Universal Pictures kicked off its presentation for CinemaCon with a sizzle reel featuring more titles than most will even remember. These quick cuts played to the biggest franchises, showing off the best action the studio has to offer. The video also went onto thank the exhibitors for Universal's best year in motion picture history.
Universal President of Domestic Distribution Nick Carpou took the stage. He thanked his team and the exhibitors, giving a shout out to the folks at NATO that produce CinemaCon. Nick then brought to the stage Donna Langley, Chairman of Universal Pictures, to discuss how Universal sees the development of their slate. Langley said she wouldn't be showing us ALL of their great stuff, but promised that all footage released would be exclusive new footage, not previously shown anywhere else. This was actually a first at the convention, as most of the studios were showing trailers and clips that had previously been released on the internet.
Langley started with Warcraft, introducing director Duncan Jones to show off the film. Jones talked about the origin for the film, and how it sprung from the game World of Warcraft with around 100MM players worldwide. Jones is very excited to be less than 2 months from releasing the epic blockbuster, which has been 3 years in development. The new Warcraft footage paints an exquisite tapestry of epic battles, fantastic creatures, magic and loyalty spanning different species.
Next up, the director of The Girl on the TrainTate Taylor took the stage. Taylor described how he kept seeing this book, by Paula Hawkins, everywhere he looked. When he found he could not put the book down and recognized that it was a huge best-seller, he soon understood that it was very cinematic, even on the page. H was compelled to get this project into development. Taylor cast Emily Blunt, who has created a role he calls, "Nothing short of breathtaking". As you would expect, Taylor had only effusive praise for the film, the first under Dreamworks' new partnership with Universal. He then tossed to the brand new, exclusive, never screened footage for the film. The trailer is riveting, promising a thriller that is mysterious and too compelling to turn away from. Playing, to some degree, like a (possibly) less violent Gone Girl, the drama, if it delivers a fraction of the energy of the trailer, will be almost unbearable.
Next up, Frank Marshall, the producer of Jason Bourne, came on stage. Marshal thanked everyone in attendance for their help in creating a great past year. But he looks ahead to an exciting 2016, revisiting the world of Jason Bourne after 10 years away. With Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass, they searched to find this great new contemporary story that has a fresh take on Bourne. Marshall then kicked it over to brand new Bourne 5 footage, where we find our title character 'remembers everything'. With that, he sets off in search of the 'rest of his story'. Bourne wreaks havoc on those that get in his way, through epic chases and action-packed fights. He's on a mission, across the globe, to truly find himself and, maybe, finally find peace. The crowd, clearly, loved that clip.
Next, we hear "LET'S GET READY TO RRUMBLE" boom out. The most famous voice in all of ring announcing history, Michael Buffer, takes the stage to introduce "a comedy concussion" a "snapchat superstar"...The "thimbleweight champion of the world"...Kevin Hart. We've seen Hart's comedic stylings previously on the stage at CinemaCon, facing off with the absent Dwayne Johnson just last night. He was apparently held-over in Las Vegas by Universal to intro his concert pic, What now? Tonight, he marches up the main aisle with dancing girls, to take the stage to a thumping beat. He told the audience to 'make some noise and act like this is a big fucking deal'. Hart thanked Universal for allowing him to create a great next step in concert comedy films. Hart talked about his 'groundbreaking' 156 show world tour. He has traveled the world telling jokes, and believes that laughter heals all wounds and he thinks that he can bring all people together to laugh at him! He said he wanted to create something groundbreaking by putting an action movie with his concert film. He compared his film, lightheartedly, to Bourne, saying, ultimately, that Bourne was "fucking amazing", and giving a nod that his pic was a different beast altogether.
Hart thanked the audience for their work in exhibition and then introduced his passion, his baby, what may be a look at his last world tour ever. Don Cheadle, Halle Berry and others show up in the clip as it opens. Hart spars with a Russian over a poker table and, hilariously, calls Cheadle out as the "black Iron Man". The scene is a lighthearted spoof on Bond flicks, as he beats a Russian in a poker game and proceeds to kick everyone's ass in the room. As he stabs his Russian foe, he's sprayed with the blood of the vanquished. When he asks why his date, Halle, doesn't have a drop of blood on her (since all she did was watch him kick everyone's ass), she retorts, 'Kevin, I'm Halle Berry, I don't get messed up'. Hart is basically playing some kind of secret agent that is en route to play the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, where he sold out the 69,000 seat stadium, before he takes the stage to make people laugh. As the Bond spoof ends, we're treated to Hart telling jokes and lighting it up like we've not seen for decades on the big screen, most likely not since Eddie Murphy's Delirious}.
Donna Langley sets up an effusive introduction of Chris Meledandri from Illumination Entertainment, who is up next with the focus on Despicable Me, Despicable Me 2 and Minions. Illumination's hits that have grown the label from 2 people in a borrowed room in Los Angeles to a thriving animation studio with 800 people spanning Los Angeles and Paris. Meledandri talks about the July 8 release of The Secret Life of Pets, but only, at this point, to introduce an exclusive Minions short that he's developed, Mower Minions that will be attached to the Secret Life of Pets, the only place to see the new short, only in theaters. He then showed us the Mower Minions short, which sees our characters trying to raise money to buy a new smoothie blender. They steal a mower and set out to operate a mowing business to raise the money. Hilarity ensues and the Minions land their first clients in their geriatric neighbors across the street. You'll have to see it for yourself to get the gist (since you all know how difficult it is to translate Minion-speak), but at the end of the clip, the 'clients' are so entertained by the Minions that, despite the epic #fail of the yard care, the old folks pay the Minions for the entertainment...Enough to buy that blender. But that only satisfies them until they see the next thing they need money for...The new and improved blender.
Up next, the audience is treated to the first 10 minutes of The Secret Life of Pets, which seeks to enlighten all of us humans on what our pets do when we're away at work all day. With an expansive voice cast including Kevin Hart, Albert Brooks, Louis CK, and others (all pet lovers), the film opens 3 weeks after Finding Dory (as they did releasing Despicable Me (the first installment), 3 weeks after Toy Story 3, in 2010). Dory will provide a perfect launch platform (trailer target) to promote Pets to audiences. Meledandri teases that, after the 10 minute run, they'll play a trailer cut specifically to highlight Kevin Hart's character, Snowball. While the first 10 minutes shown proves that this is a well-animated and well-acted animated feature that has really appealing scenarios and dialogue, it's really Hart's teaser that leaves the audience with a broader taste of what's coming in this animated treat.
Despicable Me 3 will release June 2017, focused, as in the other installments, on recognizable themes, this time, sibling rivalry. Gru will meet his 'opposite' twin, Dru. While Gru is dark, bald and somewhat 'unique looking', Dru is blonde, handsome and dressed in bright white. A new villain also emerges in South Park creator Trey Parker's Balthazar Brat, a helplessly 'stuck in the '80's' former star. Meledandri showed several animation tests and cels from their early work on the characters (showing movement of various sorts, like dancing and walking), proving his team has great skill in animation translation.
Up next, The Grinch will, once again, steal Christmas in 2017 in an all-new 'modern-classic' animation. The big announcement for this title? Benedict Cumberbatch is voicing The Grinch! Again, animation tests are shown to give us just a raw 'taste' of his Grinch-ness in motion.
Finally, the capacity crowd gets 20 minutes of Sing, an anthropomorphic animated feature telling the tale of animals signing up to become the next great singing star in a competition promoted by a down-on-his-luck promoter, a Koala, voiced by Matthew McConaughey. This is a pic that's sure to appeal, once again, to families, with a story that looks to inspire at the same time as it entertains. Despite some of the early footage still rendered in story-board, the clip plays well. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that all of the voice cast performs their own songs, ranging from Sinatra to Drake. If this is true, the music performed in this little clip really shows-off some amazing vocals that will fill the soundtrack.
With that, Universal wraps up its presentation, notably without any word on the next Fast and Furious follow-up and, disappointing some in the audience who thought we might, once again, see Vin Diesel in his shameless self-promotion on a third studio presentation. Alas, we'll have to wait until another time to get a Fast 8 update.