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"Make the movie you want to make. Tell your story."

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

"Make the movie you want to make. Tell your story."

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I think that Ken K. speaks for a lot of JHM readers when he says:

Now this is more like it.

I thought that the JimHillMedia that I first fell in love with was gone for good. That I was never going to enjoy another epic-length theme park history story because you were too busy lecturing us about how the Walt Disney Company had paid far too much for Pixar or writing way too many stories about "A Christmas Carol."

But these past couple of weeks, JHM has been great. Gone is the grouchy old bastard who went on and on and on about how "Cars" was such a disappointment. Now we've got a Jim Hill who says nice things about "Ratatouille," who actually seemed excited about "WALL-E." And your site is a much more pleasant place to visit these days because of this change.

I don't know what it is that you're doing differently these days, Jim. Whether Nancy's got you on Prozac or just increased the amount of fiber in your diet. But please have her keep it up.

I do have one quibble, though. I wish that, instead of you always using unnamed sources, that you could just once tell JHM readers where you actually get some of these stories from.

Beyond that, I just want to say that it's really nice to finally have the old Jim Hill back.

Dear Ken K.

Wow. Was I really coming across as this "grouchy old bastard"? Sorry about that, folks.

I mean, I wish I could tell you that it was something deliberate that Nancy and I did in order to lighten the mood here at JHM. But -- truth be told -- if you're seeing a run of upbeat stories about the Walt Disney Company at JHM over the past few weeks ... Well, that's because it's a fairly happy time at the Mouse House. That things seem to be on the upswing at Disney these days. And the stories that I post here on the site just reflect the change in mood that's come over the company.

Now as to Ken K.'s question about my sources ... Sorry. But I really can't reveal any names. Many of these people that I talk with have worked for the Walt Disney Company for years now. And I'm not going to destroy someone else's career just because some JHM reader needs to know who my sources are.

Besides, sometimes the info that I post here at JHM doesn't come from a person. But -- rather -- a place. Take -- for example -- the Walt Disney Company's Corporate Information web page. You'd be amazed at the sorts of truly juicy inside information that you can find by clicking on the "Investor Relations" tab.

Don't believe me? Then let's start by accessing this site's "Conferences & Presentations" file, then selecting "Archive." Here, you'll find slides, transcripts and even MP3 files of the various presentations that senior Disney Company managers gave to investors last month.

This -- to put it bluntly, folks -- is the mother lode. You want to know what the Walt Disney Company is up to? More importantly, where this corporation is headed? All the information you need is right there in the Walt Disney Company Investor Conference files for February 8th & 9th.

Take -- for example -- these highlights from Oren Aviv's presentation. Where the president of production for the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group talked about what the studio has planned for the next few years ...

 

WARNING ! There be spoilers ahead! And given that I've taken the liberty of "borrowing" a few of the slides that were actually used in this presentation, maybe you shouldn't scroll to the bottom of this article. Because -- as this article zooms by -- you may see something that you wish you hadn't.

 

Anyway ... Where were we? Oh, yeah. Oren Aviv's presentation ... Here's a few highlights:

Another project that we're very excited about is "Jungle Cruise," where we'll be turning another one of our well-known, pedigreed, park attractions into an epic, exciting, groundbreaking family movie. We've got the writers of "Spider-Man 2" currently working on the script and it will be a star-driven action-adventure centered around our fun-loving con man of a riverboat captain. Think "Pirates of the Caribbean" meets "Indiana Jones"

"Jungle Cruise" is a great example of our commitment to building franchises for the studio and for the company. And, like "Pirates," it represents another advantage of the Disney brand in as much as we already own all of the underlying rights to this very popular entertainment property.


Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Another potential franchise is called "Prince of Persia," produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Based on one of the longest-running and most successful video game series of all times, "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" will become an epic, sprawling adventure from Walt Disney Pictures. This artwork represents the spectacular look that we're going for in the film.

 
Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. 

 
Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc.


Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

One of the other highlights of the Walt Disney Studios presentation was when John Lasseter & Ed Catmull got up to tell these investors about what was in the production pipeline for Walt Disney Feature Animation & Pixar Animation Studios. And John led off with this great story about how ...

 ... the day after the announcement of the merging of the two studios, Ed and I walked in the Disney Animation Studios, and there we got to meet all of the artists. And each of the directors took us through all the films, and the one director, the young guy named Steve Anderson, was directing this movie called "Meet the Robinsons," which was the next motion picture that's coming out from Disney Animation Studios. And he talked about this story, which is about a boy who is given up for adoption and he always wondered why. Why did his mom give him up?

And, as he told this story, Steve mentioned, "I'm adopted." And his personal story touched me so deeply that when I finally saw the movie, which, by the way, I have to say, it was about 80% finished when Ed and I walked into that studio. I looked at it and it was like the film didn't have in it what Steve's personal story had.

 
Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

His personal story story brought me to tears, right, and I thought, ah, this feels like it's had too many cooks trying to stir this soup. So we gave him a lot of notes, some really strong notes. We were very honest with him about the movie, but then I gave it back to him. I said, Steve, make the movie you want to make. Tell your story.

And he came back with changes to this film, minor changes, but it made all the difference in the world, and this movie about Lewis, the main character Lewis, who is focusing on the past, and he's wondering, why did his mom give me up? And he wants to focus on his past, but this focus actually takes him to the future, where he meets this amazing, crazy, wonderful, appealing group of characters that actually turns out to be his future family.

And he learns through this experience to look forward in life, not to look back. And this story, it's Steve's story.

We're really excited about this. I'm very, very proud of the film and what Steve and his crew have done. The film is really beautiful too. They have a stylization in this film that is really striking.


Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

The next movie coming out after "Meet the Robinsons," from Walt Disney Animation Studios, is "American Dog." "American Dog" is being directed by Chris Williams, a very talented young filmmaker at Disney. And this film is about a dog named Bolt. Bolt is owned by a little girl whose father is this incredible scientist.

Now, to protect the little girl, he gives the dog superpowers, but the dad is kidnapped by these bad guys, and the little girl and the dog -- and the dog is protecting her by fighting off the bad guys with his superpowers, and for 10 years they search for the father and battle the bad guys.

But all this is actually a TV show. You see, Bolt is the star of the most popular television show and it's been running for 10 seasons, but he thinks this is real. He lives on the soundstage and that's all he knows, so all of this is real to him. In one unfortunate incident, he falls into a box and he's shipped from his home on the soundstage to New York City and he comes out of it and he thinks it's all part of his life, where he has superpowers. But he is in the real world and nothing works like he thinks.

It's crazy, and he's trying to figure out what the heck is going on with the help of this crazy alley cat and this super fan hamster who is always in his hamster ball. He's trying to figure out what's going on and then he realizes that he is just an actor on a TV show, that his entire life, 10 years of his short life, has been spent being a fake, that he is not really what he thinks he is. It crushes him, but, really, he learns what it is to be a true dog. And it's a very heartwarming story.


Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

And one of the things, we've done a lot of research and development for this film, because computer animation always likes to make things look clean and perfect. Ed (Catmull) and I have been working our entire careers in computer animation trying to manhandle this computer and this technology to make things look organic, to look lived in, to have a sense of history that our natural world has, so it doesn't look perfect and clean.

But the one thing that we've never been able to do is achieve the beauty and the softness that you see in the backgrounds of classic Disney animated film. We wondered why. We set out to do some research at Disney to figure out if can we take that look, that beautiful look of those hand-painted backgrounds and see if we could do it in computer animation. And we solved it.

How beautiful this imagery is going to be. There's a softness to this, a look that no one's ever seen before. So this is the look that we're going to use in "American Dog" and we're really, really excited about this. And Chris Williams is a very talented filmmaker.

Then -- once he finished talking about Walt Disney Feature Animation's future projects -- John moved on what Pixar had in its production pipeline. And after talking a bit about "Ratatouille," Lasseter then began discussing "WALL E."

After "Ratatouille," the next film coming out from Pixar is being written and directed by Andrew Stanton, who created "Finding Nemo." He is taking his wetsuit off and putting his spacesuit on and taking you into outer space for "WALL-E."


Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

"WALL-E" is the story about the last little robot on Earth. He is a robot that his programming was to help clean up. You see, it's set way in the future. Through consumerism, rampant, unchecked consumerism, the Earth was covered with trash. And to clean up, everyone had to leave Earth and set in place millions of these little robots that went around to clean up the trash and make Earth habitable again.

Well, the cleanup program failed with the exception of this one little robot and he's left on Earth doing his duty alone. But it's not a story about science fiction. It's a love story, because, you see, WALL-E falls in love with [Eve], a robot from a probe that comes down to check on Earth, and she's left there to check on and see how things are going and he absolutely falls in love with her.


Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

And he follows her back up to her main spaceship, and you see a vision of the space and the future in this movie like you've never seen before. It is really spectacular. But with all Pixar films, one of the things we pride ourselves in, not only a great story, but the characters, memorable, appealing characters and these little robot characters that help WALL-E and Eve, these rejected, defective little robots, are the most charming group of characters we have ever created.

You see? These are the sorts of things that you can find while poking around in those supposedly dry & boring corporate reports.

I mean, I would have never known that the final trailer for "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" was going to have an unprecedented global launch later this month, debuting simultaneously on dozens of network & cable channels if I hadn't spent the past week reading through all of those transcripts of last month's investors conference.


Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Speaking of "At World's End," I'm actually going to be talking about the "Pirates of the Caribbean" film franchise as part of the debut of Nathan Rose & Tim Devine's new Magical Definition Podcast. Which is supposed to go live this coming Sunday night at 8 p.m. EST. So if you'd like to hear what Nathan & I have to say about the problems that the Walt Disney Company appears to be having with their "Pirates" franchise, you may want to give a listen to that podcast.

Oops. Did I say "problems" ? That sounds like the old grouchy Jim is rearing his ugly head again. Maybe I should have Nancy bring me another heaping bowel of Prozac & Fiber.

Anywho ... That's it for this week, folks. Here's hoping that you have a great weekend. And hopefully, we'll see you all again come Monday morning.

Til then, you take care, okay?

j

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  • good read.

  • I still miss the large bunny and pirate cat, but I'm sure that "American Dog" will be great.  And, are they definitely sticking with "American Dog" and not "Hollywood Dog"?  Terrific article, Jim!

  • WOW! The story about MTR has really cheered me up. It's a perfect example of Lasetter giving power back to the creators and for him to say he's really proud of it is a big deal.

    Thanks Jim, a great article today!

  • Add this article to the list of reasons why I feel that John Lasseter is moving the Mouse in the right direction again... which makes me that much happier about when, a few years from now, I take my daughter to Walt Disney World for the first time; I can only imagine what progress they will have made by that point.

    Thanks you, Jim!

  • On the animation side, I'm really happy ... sounds like John and the guys from Pixar are really heading things in the right direction. I particularly LOVED this line ...

    "But the one thing that we've never been able to do is achieve the beauty and the softness that you see in the backgrounds of classic Disney animated film. We wondered why. We set out to do some research at Disney to figure out if can we take that look, that beautiful look of those hand-painted backgrounds and see if we could do it in computer animation. And we solved it."

    That's always been one of my biggest pet peeves with CGI. It's too darn smooth looking ... too clean ... surreal ... if they can bring some of that 2D animated reality (or at least quasi-reality) that some of the old classics had, I think that would be great.

    On the live action side of things, though ... I'm dubious. Now don't hang me ... I know Pirates has done amazing things ... but Jungle Cruise?? I mean ... to me that REEKS of another Haunted Mansion level disaster. Of course, I know nothing about the film, but still ... derivative, unimaginative, and boring are some of the first words that came to mind. Stop "mining" the theme parks for ideas and just make some good movies.

    Also ... whatever happened to Eisner's idea (one of his few great contributions to Disney, I might add) about making moderate budget pictures to lower risk and increase profit potential? It worked for them so well in the 80's and early 90's. Why is everything all of a sudden, " ... an epic, sprawling adventure ... "? Which to me means a big budget, high risk kind of picture?

    And if I'm not quite sick of the notion of "franchises" and "brands", I'm getting damn close. What is this? McDonald's???

  • <i>"...action-adventure centered around our fun-loving con man of a riverboat captain. Think "Pirates of the Caribbean" meets "Indiana Jones..."</i>

    Wow... that's almost exactly what I was hoping for from this movie. It all hinges on the skipper. If they put a throwaway line implying that his great-great-great-great grandfather was a familiar pirate, I definitely won't mind.

    Prince of Persia could be GOOD. "The Sands of Time" was phenomenal game. The second entry wasn't as well done, but they redeemed themselves with the third. You can bet that Disney will want this to be their next epic trilogy.

  • I am going to carry the water for 'Jungle Cruise', and say it should be a great film.  I think Disney learned after Haunted Mansion, Country Bears and POTC what it takes to turn an attraction into a film.  As Curly would say, It's the One Thing.  And that one thing is a story that stands on its own.  In POTC II when the Governor say's "Where's that dog?" everybody laughed.  But those who have voyaged on Pirates at a park were in on the joke as well.  I'm not sure if I'm clear, but HM and CB just seemed too forced to include as many ride references as possible which did not really advance the contrived story.  HM just became an Eddie Murphy vehicle.  Since Jungle Cruise itself was based on the movie 'African Queen', that is where the writers need to look for inspiration.  As in POTC, ride references should give the film a patinia of familiarity, without forcing the story.

  • Is it just me, or does their some to be a bit of hipocrisy surround Lasseter?  On Meet the Robinsons, his attitude is "Make the movie you want to make.  Tell your story."  On American Dog the attitude was, "I don't like the movie you're making.  You won't tell the story I want you to tell.  We'll get someone else to make this movie, thank you."

    In Disneyland he increases the budget and delays for the Nemo ride, because he wants to plus the hell out of it.  In Epcot, well, it's a cute C-ticket that he made no changes to.

    The guy can make some great movies, no doubt about that, but so far his management style seems to be very much based on his interests and desires.  

  • "So if you'd like to hear what Nathan & I have to say about the problems that the Walt Disney Company appears to be having with their "Pirates" franchise, you may want to give a listen to that podcast."

    Yeah, I highly doubt you'll be able to convince me that a franchise whose last movie is the 3rd biggest movie box-office-wise of all time is having problems.

    As for the Rest

    Jungle Cruise: As long as they take inspiration from the ride (and not make it about the ride), it should be good

    Prince of Persia: The pics look very cool (and it certainly looks epic). Hopefully it doesn't take the same turn as King Arthur did.

    Meet the Robinsons: All I know is that before Lasseter came on board, the trailers were inspirational, heavily featured Bowler Hat Guy and felt truly Disney-like. Now th trailers show a film that's basically yet-another-CGI-toon (are the frogs & dinosaur needed)? Now the posters don't even show Bowler Hat Guy (again, do some singing frogs take precedent over the film's villain?).

    Ratatouille: Looks to be Yet-another-Pixar-film

    Wall-E: Still, nothing makes me the least bit excited about this.

    Pirates: Can't wait

    Jim: What happened to the Jim that always used to say that he would never JUST post a press release from Disney? I see that lasted long.

  • >>He's trying to figure out what's going on and then he realizes that he is just an actor on a TV show, that his entire life, 10 years of his short life, has been spent being a fake, that he is not really what he thinks he is.<<

    I dunno, man, seems like a cruel trick to play on a 70 YEAR OLD DOG.

  • Who is goning to do the voice of Bolt in American Dog? Jim Carrey?

    To me the story is like a cg version of The Truman Show.....

  • daf118:  "I dunno, man, seems like a cruel trick to play on a 70 YEAR OLD DOG."

    You see, your point would work IF the dog/human "year conversion" was actually factual... :D

  • RE: Ask Mike.

    See?

  • "Yeah, I highly doubt you'll be able to convince me that a franchise whose last movie is the 3rd biggest movie box-office-wise of all time is having problems."

    Third biggest of all time, but how much profit did it bring up?

    You can't deny the movie has been full of problems. FULL. What problems? Well, they're called hurricaines, and have nothing to do with anything other than location. But huge problems. They won't alter the quality of the movie unless Disney gets nervous and starts doing less on location, but they're still problems.

    Of course, then there's the big expectations it is desperate to live up to and in many ways needs to, thanks to the massive budget explosion. And the question of whether or not a fourth, fifth and sixth would be viable, let alone whether many of the cast would be willing to return, for how much, and if they're even really needed.

    No matter how successful a movie you're going to have problems. In fact, the bigger the movie, or the movie before, the more likely you'll have these problems.

    Jungle Cruise - meh. We'll see. I don't think the subject matter will catch fire. If you asked late teenagers and twentysomethings before the film came out what they thought was cool you'd get lots of Pirates and Zombies. Both made huge combacks shortly after Y2K. Pirates cashed in on both of those trends. Both trends are still going strong, zombies moreso than pirates. But jungles? Not as much. Vikings would have been a better way to go.

    Same goes for Prince of Persia. Is the American audience interested in a historical fantasy based in Iran? I'm thinking it'll be a hard sell. Had the purchased the similar Ninja Gaiden property and done ninjas vs. traditional japanese ancient evil... same tone similar movie different location... I think it would have played in Peoria.

  • "Third biggest of all time, but how much profit did it bring up?"

    Let's say the combined budget of DMC & AWE is $600m (that includes the $225 per production pudget and $150m in advertising (which I personally think is overestimating)). DMC made $1.06b worldwide. What that means is after AWE makes $135m (which, btw, is what DMC made in its first three days), every dollar it earns after that is pure profit. So, yeah, I'm thinking it's gonna bring in a whole buttload of profit.

    "See?"

    See what?

    "and in many ways needs to"

    As I pointed out above, it only needs $135m to break even. Even if the appocalypse comes and AWE flops, it will still break even.

    "No matter how successful a movie you're going to have problems. In fact, the bigger the movie, or the movie before, the more likely you'll have these problems."

    Yes, every movie has production problems, some avoidable and some not. However, what Jim said is that Disney is having problems with the Pirates franchise, not production on the film, and that I simply cannot fathom (considering how DMC did, the profit AWE will bring in, all the theme park updates (like Pirates replacing Tom Sawyer), and various other big Pirates events).

    "But jungles? Not as much."

    I guess you can tell that to the millions of people who watch Lost & Survivor. And movie wise, when was the last major film set in the Jungle to judge from? Before CotBP, pretty much every Pirate film flopped (minus Peter Pan).

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