Back in March, DreamWorks Animation invited me to a special sneak preview event where I saw new footage from Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted and Rise of the Guardians. While that event was a lot of fun, I didn't expect to be invited back to preview the studio's 2013 slate until, you know, 2013. Yesterday, I went down to the 20th Century Fox lot, the studio's new home after inking a five-year distribution deal back in August. On the agenda was sneak previews of DWA's three movies coming out next year, The Croods (March 22), Turbo (July 19), and Mr. Peabody and Sherman (November 1). To be perfectly honest, I didn't know much about any of these movies before stepping into the Daryl F. Zanuck Theater on the Fox lot today, but I most definitely walked away as a fan of each project.
We were shown a number of clips and full sequences, some of which were still in early stages of animation, with the directors of each project guiding us through the story in between clips. I was also able to speak with all of the filmmakers over crepes and omelettes at a brunch held after the event. Lets get this started with the first project we saw today, director Rob Minkoff's Mr. Peabody and Sherman.
Mr. Peabody and Sherman - November 1, 2013
While movie audiences have been inundated with remakes and sequels throughout the 21st Century, some of which coming just a few years after the original movie, it's somewhat amazing that these characters are making a comeback, more than 60 years after they first debuted on Jay Ward's Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends TV series back in 1959. Hilariously, the introductory segment we saw actually incorporates some of that old footage before showing the new Mr. Peabody (Ty Burrell) explaining to Sherman (Max Charles) that is how they looked back in 1959. Of course, Mr. Peabody and Sherman are watching their older selves in the WABAC machine, a fantastic time machine that the world's smartest dog, Mr. Peabody, built for his adopted son Sherman, which takes them on their time travelling adventures.
The first footage from the movie is a scene where the title characters find themselves in the midst of the French Revolution to meet Marie-Antoinette. After a mishap involving Sherman's quest for cake, Mr. Sherman finds himself in the gallows, about to be executed. Of course, Mr. Peabody is not worried one bit, as he escapes in a rather ingenious and incredibly articulate fashion. The scene also sets up why Mr. Peabody built the WABAC machine to begin with, to prove that the history found in textbooks is often not too accurate. What better way to learn history than to live it yourself!
We also watched a scene from Sherman's first day in school, where he shows up the know-it-all Penny Peterson (Ariel Winter), which leads to a humorous segment with Mr. Peabody being called in to see the principal. The presumptuous Mr. Peabody thinks Sherman already needs to be moved ahead past the other students, but Peabody quickly learns he's there because Sherman got into a fight, after Penny called Sherman a dog. This scene also introduces us to the nefarious disciplinarian Mrs. Grunion (Allison Janney). In the final scene we saw, Peabody invites Penny's parents to dinner, while Sherman and Penny try to overcome their mutual hatred for each other. To break the ice, Sherman shows Penny the WABAC machine and, naturally, they go back in time... although Sherman returns without Penny. The rest of the film follows Peabody and Sherman travelling through time to find Penny, popping in during the Italian Renaissance and the Trojan War along the way.
I really enjoyed the scenes they presented. I am a huge fan of Modern Family, and it was great to hear Ty Burrell give such gravitas to the smartest dog in the world, as opposed to his happy-go-lucky Phil Dunphy on the ABC comedy series. After the presentation, I had the chance to sit down with Rob Minkoff, who spoke about why he wanted to show us that stand-alone teaser with the old footage, and how he wants to incorporate that retro feel into this 21st Century movie.
"It was fun to do that teaser. I wanted to do that to answer the question that I've gotten a lot from people, 'How do you take these characters from the '60s and make a movie about them?' We're trying, as much as possible, to be true to the spirit of the characters. There is something about that show, this mid-century design, that we're trying to bring into the film, so that there will hopefully be a retro quality to it. The story is modern, even if they exist in a kind of retro vision of the world."
The director also revealed that comedy legend Mel Brooks is making a cameo appearance as one of the historical characters Peabody and Sherman encounter.
"We have the greatest cameo ever. Mel Brooks is playing Sigmund Freud. Yeah, that was a coup. Every children's movie should have Sigmund Freud, or Mel Brooks."
Rob Minkoff also shared that we will see much more of Mr. Peabody's intuitive thought process, such as the gallows escape scene we saw.
"What we realize is Mr. Peabody is a character that thinks everything through, and that Sherman is a character who doesn't. Mr. Peabody is the consummate teacher, but there's something missing that he gets from Sherman."
I was really impressed with Mr. Peabody and Sherman, which does a great job of modernizing the classic cartoon for the 21st Century.
Turbo - July 19, 2013
Turbo is the project that I knew the least about coming into the presentation, meaning that I knew of its existence, and little else. After seeing today's footage, this could very well be one of the biggest hits of the summer. Ryan Reynolds stars as the title character, a snail who is obsessed with being a race car driver, which is obviously ironic due to the nature of his existence. He lives in a snail community (i.e. a front lawn in the San Fernando Valley) with his brother Chet (Paul Giamatti), the realist who wants his sibling to ditch his need for speed. To kick things off, we were shown the first scene of the movie, where we see Turbo's obsession with racing, as he watches the Indianapolis 500 and pushes himself to the limit in his own one-meter dash... which he accomplishes in a record-breaking 17 minutes. Then we see how Turbo finally gets a chance to live up to his name in the next scene, after he falls onto a souped-up car during a street race. When he gets sucked into the car, he becomes immersed in nitrous gas in a Spider-Man-like sequence which changes the very fiber of his slow being. Much like Peter Parker, Turbo has to adapt to these new abilities including super speed and eye-headlights.
We also see members of an underground snail racing crew in the next scene, which also highlights the diverse voice cast. Turbo and Chet are caught by a taco truck driver (Michael Peña) who races snails with a host of shady characters on the side. This is where we first get to see what Turbo can really do with his new abilities, which intrigues the other racers voiced by Snoop Dogg and Samuel L. Jackson. Together, they all journey to the Indianapolis 500 to help Turbo live out his dream.
I was able to sit down with director David Soren after the footage, who was inspired by both his racing-obsessed six-year-old child and the growing number of snails in his front yard to create this animated tale.
"For me, it was less about trying to make a racing movie and more about finding an underdog that I could really latch onto. I think that a snail is inherently an underdog. It's smashed, eaten by people, the butt of slow jokes around the world. It just seemed loaded with obstacles. Obviously, the opposite of slow is fast, and that's where racing came into the picture. The whole first act is loaded with obstacles snails face on a daily basis. There's a kid in the front yard with a big wheel constantly running over things. Life is tough for those guys."
The front yard he speaks of (inspired by his own) is actually home to a whole snail community, full of utterly complacent snails who don't want much more out of life. The director explained that this is what drives Turbo to make something more for himself.
"We establish the community that he lives in, and the inherent complacency of those snails. It's more of him rebelling against that a little bit. We certainly explored a catalyst of why he wants to be fast, but, ultimately, it felt like people who have crazy dreams, don't necessarily have a dramatic event that caused those dreams. It's all set within that one yard. Turbo actually works with all the other snails at this local "plant," literally a tomato plant. They're just picking and eating tomatoes from this yard, and Turbo is in charge of the rotten ones. Chet is the safety inspector at the plant."
I definitely can't wait to see more of Turbo. The animation is top-notch, especially in the stunning Indianapolis 500 scenes which look like a photo-real environment and the cast is out of this world. For all you racing fans out there, the director also mentioned they will be partnering up with the Indianapolis 500 to promote the movie next summer, so stay tuned for more details on that.
The Croods - March 22, 2013
While all three of the movies presented today will be released in 3D, The Croods is the only one we actually saw 3D footage from. This animated adventure takes us back to the days of cavemen, or, more appropriately, cave-families. The Croods are lead by the mighty patriarch Grug (Nicolas Cage), along with his wife Ugga (Catherine Keener), their kids Eep (Emma Stone) and Thunk (Clark Duke), and Gran (Cloris Leachman). The opening sequence, narrated by Eep, shows how dangerous this time really was, and that they are essentially one of the last families left in their area. The film opens with this tight-knit family going out for breakfast. By going out, I mean the whole family must go on a treacherous quest to procure a huge egg, with every creature in the area trying to steal it from them. It's quite a fascinating scene that gives us a lot of insight into this world.
The second clip introduces us to Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a man who goes against everything The Croods believe in: that anything new is bad. After their cave is destroyed, the family embarks on a quest to find their new home, where they encounter a number of creatures they have never seen before. Guy is the first man on the planet who possesses an imagination, and staunchly believes that the world is coming to an end. He swoops in and saves the family from a swarming horde of insects by using fire, something The Croods have never seen. Guy shows the family how to make their very own footwear, how to set traps for animals, and much more.
After the presentation, I sat down with producers Kristine Belson and Jane Hartwell, and directors Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders. The project first came to DreamWorks several years ago, when Kristine Belson was working in development. She revealed that the movie was actually set up as two very different cavemen, without the family.
"It was a buddy movie then, about two different cavemen, who are still very much that Grug and Guy character, but it had yet to become a story about a family. It was about this guy who was all about new ideas, some of them backfire horribly, and the other guy who never wants to do anything different. That just seemed like it had a ton of potential."
Director Kirk De Micco revealed that we do get into why Guy has this burgeoning mind while the Croods don't want anything to do with thinking of any sort.
"There is a scene where he explains a little bit of his back story, what happened to his family. We make it clear that he lost his family at such a young age, that the only we he could have survived, is to innovate and come up with things on his own. Grug was passing on a tradition, teaching them how to do things the right way. Guy had no one to teach him. The great thing is, Guy has all these great ideas, but in the end, Grug has the biggest idea of all to save his family that even Guy is blown away by. It's so out there."
Director Chris Sanders spoke about finding real-world environments that they used as reference for this prehistoric world.
"We sat through a lot of slideshows. Our art department came up with environments that you would swear came from Dr. Seuss, but are on the planet Earth. That was the challenge. We always wanted them to know that we are on Earth. We never wanted them to think we were on another planet, but we wanted to find these fantastic places that will challenge the Croods, but will keep the audience interested and engaged. They found so many crazy slides, and we drew upon all that kind of stuff.
Producer Jane Hartwell expanded on that by saying they went on a research trip to Zion National Park in Utah which also provided inspiration for the film's look.
"We went on a research trip to Zion, which was gorgeous, and was a big inspiration for Act I of the movie. Sometimes, we'd just go back and look at the snapshots we took on that trip."
That about from the DreamWorks Animation 2013 preview, featuring The Croods (March 22), Turbo (July 19), and Mr. Peabody and Sherman (November 1). Stay tuned for more on these animated tales as we get closer to their respective release dates.