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Monday Mouse Watch : “Rapunzel” revealed; a “G-Force” sequel?

Monday Mouse Watch : “Rapunzel” revealed; a “G-Force” sequel?

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How many of you remember what happened back in March? When the premiere issue of Disney twenty-three hit newsstands and then all the Internet movie news sites went crazy because that magazine featured an article on Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland"? Scans of the pictures that accompanied that piece suddenly seemed to be everywhere on the Net.

Well, the second issue of Disney twenty-three has been out for several weeks now. With thousands of copies of this magazine being purchased at Barnes & Nobles around the country. Not to mention all of the issues that got out mailed to people who actually signed up for D23, the Official Community for Disney Fans.

Which is why I have to wonder: Given all the copies of the Summer 2009 Disney twenty-three that are currently out there, why is it that no one's been talking about the "Rapunzel" promo piece that's included in this issue?

There’s lots of juicy info to be found in Carmen Esquer’s four page article. Much of which comes straight from “Rapunzel” ‘s two directors, Nathan Greno and Byron Howard.

For those of you who don’t know, Greno & Howard have become Walt Disney Animation Studios’ go-to guys. The team that John Lasseter now turns to whenever he’s got a WDAS project that’s gone off track. And since Nathan & Byron were the ones who fixed “American Dog,” taking the bares bones of Chris Sanders’ quirky Hollywood road picture and then building “Bolt,” John was hoping that these two could run a similar sort of rescue mission on “Rapunzel.”

Byran Howard and Nathan Greno, co-director of Bolt and Rapunzel
Byron Howard (left) and Nathan Greno, co-directors of "Bolt" and "Rapunzel."
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Now what made this kind of difficult was that Greno & Howard were both huge fans of Glen Keane, “Rapunzel” ‘s original director. In Carmen’s article, Byron recalled how – when he used to work at Walt Disney Feature Animation’s satellite studio in Florida

“Every now and then, not very often, (one of Glen Keane’s scenes for ‘Pocahontas’) would come down to Florida,” (Howard) says. “We wouldn’t get the best scenes; we’d get more like the connective tissue. But when a Glen scene would show up at our doorstep, we would covet it. Glen is such a celebrity in the animation world that we’d just marvel at how he’d draw stuff and kind of fight to be the one cleaning up those drawings.”

So – given how these two clearly revere Keane – it must have been awkward for Nathan & Byron to then have to step in for Glen in an effort to get “Rapunzel” ready for its already locked-in holiday 2010 release date. But what made this situation somewhat easier to deal with is – while Keane is no longer directing “Rapunzel” – he remains one of the film’s executive producers.

So Nathan & Byron’s version of the classic fairytale going to be different than the one that Glen was trying to get out of the ground? According to Howard …

“This Rapunzel … is out of the tower and heading for adventure by the end of Act One. “(This) story is more about what happens when she leaves the tower” Byron says. “The moral of the story, really, is that you can’t live your life in a tower. It’s about experiencing the world and living your life. Even though our heroine is physically out of the tower, mentally it’s difficult for her to completely leave it behind. She’s like an indoor cat that gets out of the house; it’s really hard getting the cat back in. It’s great to have a character who is so innocent and so smart. And it’s even better to see her wake up.”

Okay. Admittedly, that is a very different way to approach a Disney Princess picture. And given that “Rapunzel” is actually a CG film … Well, Greno & Howard are looking for ways to connect this new WDAS project to all the other Disney fairytales that came before it. Which – in this case – will be “Rapunzel” ‘s production design.

As Nathan explained he & Byron’s plan for this animated feature to Carmen:

“The design of (this) film will try to put … a fresh twist on a 1950s retro vibe. “Byron and I are such huge fans of Disneyland, and of Fantasyland in particular,” Nathan says. “The architecture of Fantasyland is nostalgic 1950s Fantasyland. There’s real appeal and style that are used in films like Cinderella, so we’re doing research on that style …”

Disney's Rapunzel castle concept drawing
Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

And to provide further connective tissue to the Disney fairy tales that preceded this picture, Greno & Howard have turned to the Academy Award-winning composer of “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin,” Alan Menken.

According to Greno, this Disney Legend did a superb job on “Rapunzel.” Working with lyricist Glenn Slater, Menken …

“ … delivered this lullaby that Rapunzel and Mother Gothel sing to each other that activates the magic in Rapunzel’s hair. The song’s lyrics say ‘You are my forever,’ which – depending on who sings it and when – takes on entirely different meanings. Sometimes it’s a love song between our prince, Flynn, and Rapunzel; other times it’s a terrifying, possessive theme used by Gothel. But it’s great, because it’s a very heartrending, beautiful song, and (Menken) really nailed it.”

Speaking of Flynn, at the time that Esquer sat down to talk with Greno & Howard, “Rapunzel” ‘s new directors were still trying to get a handle on how Disney’s newest prince should look.

“We had a couple of versions of (Flynn), and John Lasseter came in and went, ‘Well, this guy is okay, but I don’t know. Is he drop-dead gorgeous? I think women will want him to be drop-dead gorgeous.’ So he said, ‘What you guys have to do is get all the women in the studio to send you the names of their favorite hot men. Put photos of all these hunky guys in the room, take the best features of each of them, and make one amazing, dynamic character.’ So that’s the process that’s going on right now. This place has turned in junior high. It’s like working in the office of ‘Tiger Beat.’ “

Which may sound like a somewhat odd idea. But Ron Clements & John Musker did this exact same sort of thing when they were working on “Aladdin.” They consulted with the women working at Walt Disney Studios back then to see what their title character should look. Which is why Aladdin wound up looking more like Tom Cruise than he did Michael J. Fox (i.e. the “Family Ties” star that Ron & John had originally used as Aladdin’s inspiration).

Getting back to “Rapunzel” now … Though Nathan & Byron have only been on the job for eight months now, Disney executives clearly seem enthusiastic about the work that these two have already done on “Rapunzel.” Earlier this month, studio execs screened the entire first act for buyers who were attending this year’s Licensing International Expo in Las Vegas. And those who attended this secretive screening had high praise for this still-in-production animated feature.

Disney's Rapunzel concept art drawing
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

If you’d like to learn even more about “Rapunzel,” then I suggest you pick up a copy of the Summer 2009 issue of Disney Twenty-three. This particular issue has a number of great stories, including Michael Singer’s profile of Jerry Bruckheimer.

Speaking of which … Walt Disney Pictures is hyping “G-Force” (i.e. Bruckheimer’s latest production for the studio) as being “ … fast, furry and furious.” But there’s one F that the Mouse’s marketing department isn’t mentioning. Not yet, anything. And that “F” stands for “franchise.”

Yep, Disney’s deliberately leaving its Guinea-pigs-as-secret-agents picture open-ended. More importantly, this movie’s villain (SPOILER AHEAD) manages to survive “G-Force” ‘s explosion-laden finale. Which means that he lives to bedevil Darwin, Blaster and Juarez in a follow-up film. Which – if all goes according to plan – could be popping up at a theater near you as earlier as the Summer of 2011.

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  • If people actually pay to see G-Force...  I mean...   I have yet to see a single thing about that movie that makes me want to see it.  It doesn't look good at all.  Franchise?  I'd be concerned about winning the weekend...

  • the 1950's architecture of Fantasyland???  What?  The medieval tenting facades that were made of metal.  Surely they mean something else.

  • Jim,

    His name is BYRON Howard , not Bryan.  The article calls him "Bryan" about six times and Byron once.  (and there's a hybrid "Byran" in there , too).  

  • I've got a nervous feeling about Rapunzel.  The whole CGI thing, I'm not sure...

  • (@JH - Thanks for the correction.)

    @lostincrowds -

    Byron and Nathan will do a great job I'm sure. They've been handed something that wasn't working to turn around quickly, but they're up to it.  Like you I'm not really that enthusiastic about seeing yet another CG film  , but it will probably be fine for what it is.  (I admit I'm much more excited to see Princess & the Frog , and hope for more hand-drawn coming from Disney in the years to come)

  • G-Force I could live without...but then again, I'm 38 and my standards are too damn high.  If the kids go for it, great, 'cause that means more money for Disney which gives them more breathing room with the shareholders to make real art.

    As for Rapunzel?  What has me nervous, if this plot summary is right, is how close it is, thematically, to Enchanted.  Enchanted was a hit, but not a smash, so repeating the theme to a degree may also repeat the lack of heavy success.

  • I love RAPUNZEL's new plot, but I prefer Glen Keane's original idea for the animation, which was to make it resemble oil-paintings. Still, I'm curious to see how much the film will change.

  • VML -  I wonder how much Rapunzel's art style would have "resembled oil paintings"  anyway in the end ?   Every couple of years someone seems to announce that they're going to do a CG animated film that is more "painterly" in it's art direction ... but the end result is that it just ends up looking the same as all the other CG films.

    People who want to make animated films that look like oil paintings should look at the work of Alexander Petrov and just use real oil paint on glass.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq7nLVoaPX8

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleksandr_Petrov_(animator)

    Unfortunately this approach would require much more innovation and "thinking outside the box" than is possible in a mainstream animated feature.   They want to say "we're taking a painterly approach on this next film", but then by the time it works it's way through the production process it's watered down so much that the original conception for "animated oil paintings" or whatever has been lost.

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