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Greetings from Washington D.C. Where -- while the U.S. Government may not be working -- DreamWorks Animation certainly is.
The Kennedy Center reflected in the placid Potomac. Photo by Jim Hill
Last night just across the street from Georgetown Waterfront Park, Fox & DWA officials treated roughly 100 members of the National Association of Theatre Owners (who were in town for their annual general membership and board meeting) to a quick preview of their upcoming slate.
After the audience had been seated inside of Theatre 10 at the AMC Loews Georgetown 14, Chris Aronson -- the president of distribution for 20th Century Fox -- stepped to the podium and welcome NATO members to this special screening. But before footage & preview images from DWA's next three films was revealing, Aronson took this opportunity to introduce Dawn Taubin, the new chief marketing officer for DreamWorks Animation. And Taubin really hit the ground running. She had barely been at the podium for a minute before this former Warner Bros. marketing vet (who was instrumental in helping to first launch and then grow that studio's "Harry Potter" franchise) when Dawn began talking up "Home," DWA's big release for Thanksgiving of 2014 Taubin not only quickly sketched out the premise from this zany invasion-of-Earth-gone-awry movie, she also revealed that comedy legend Steve Martin had just been signed to join Jim Parsons & Rihanna as a member of the vocal cast of "Home."
Dawn then brought Dean DeBlois up to the podium. And DeBlois then talked about how he and the story team at DreamWorks Animation had taken the original "How to Train Your Dragon" (which really cleaned up at the box office during the Summer of 2010, selling nearly a half billion dollars worth of ticket worldwide) and turned it into the first installment of a new film trilogy.
"And what will this 'Dragon' trilogy be like?," you ask. Based on the footage that was shown last night for NATO members (not to mention the additional sequences for "Dragon 2" that were screened at Comic-Con back in July), the next two installments of this series will really up the stakes. "Dragon 2" picks up 5 years after the original movie ended. And we get to see Berk as this remote seaside village where the worlds of dragons & Vikings have now been now fully integrated. And based on the frenetic scene that opens "Dragon 2" (which reintroduces the audience to most of the main characters from "Dragon 1" in a fun way), everyone in the village is really enjoying this new mutually beneficial arrangement.Everyone except Hiccup, that is. Who is now being pressured by his father to not only settle down and start a family but also to become the new village chieftain. Hiccup rebels by climbing aboard Toothless and heading off to previously unmapped portions of the Viking frontier. And it's during one of these excursions that Hiccup & Toothless then become aware that there are others in this worlds. Those who don't necessarily share Berk's rather benign view of dragons. Who view these fire-breathing beasts as potential war machines to be captured & then enslaved.
Hiccup & Toothless face some major new challenges in "How to Train YourDragon 2." Copyright DreamWorks Animation / Fox. All rights reserved
To reveal any more of what Dean is looking to do with the next two installments of DWA's "Dragon" trilogy would really spoil the fun of what looks to admittedly be an ambitious if somewhat dark expansion of this family universe. Know this, though: DeBlois knows exactly where he's going with this story. And while animation will continue on the second film of this series through January of next year, Dean's already hard at work on the script for "Dragon 3" (which is now tentatively slated to arrive in theaters on June 18, 2016).
And from those I've spoken with who saw the first screening-for-an-audience that DreamWorks Animation recently held for the work-in-progress version "How to Train Your Dragon 2," they had extremely high praise for the second installment of this trilogy. Quickly comparing this still-in-production sequel to "Star Wars VI: The Empire Strikes Back ," "The Godfather II " and what many consider to be the gold standard for animated sequels, "Toy Story 2 ."
Once DeBlois stepped away from the podium, it was time for Rob Minkoff to take to the stage and talk up his feature film version of that old Jay Ward favorite, "Mr. Peabody & Sherman." Those who recall those "Peabody's Improbable History" segments from the original "Rocky & His Friends " show (AKA "The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show") already know the basic premise (i.e., a super-smart dog and his pet boy time-travel through the use of their amazing WABAC machine. Where they then meet & interact with various colorful characters from the annuals of history).
Well, back when he was a kid, Rob was a huge fan of the "Peabody's Improbable History" portion of "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle." Not just because of all the great gags and/or awful puns that Jay & his writers would cram into every episode. But also because Peabody & Sherman celebrated Minkoff's favorite subject in school. Which was history.
So when DreamWorks Animation reached out 2 1/2 years ago and offered Rob the opportunity to develop a feature film version of "Peabody's Improbable History," he jumped at it. Not only because he loved the source material. But also because Minkoff saw in these comical characters an opportunity to comment on what's going on in today's world.
The characters of Mr. Peabody & Sherman as they were originally depicted back in 1959 - 1964 on "The Bullwinkle Show."
"I mean, think about it. A dog adopts a boy. Even in today's world, the question of who-gets-to-adopt-whom is still very much part of our on-going dialogue about what makes up a family," Rob explained. "Which is why -- in a weird sort of way -- I think of Peabody & Sherman as our first modern family."
And speaking of "Modern Family," Minkoff tapped Ty Burrell (who recently won a Primetime Emmy for his portrayal of doofy Dad Phil Dunphy on that hit ABC series) to come voice the overly-intelligent Mr. Peabody mostly because of Burrell's natural warmth.
"The character of Mr. Peabody is -- Well, I can't tell what this film's writers call that character. Because it's rather an un-family friendly word -- something of a know-it-all," Rob laughed. "But Ty has a way of plowing through all of Mr. Peabody's dialogue -- which is often just page after page of exposition, since this character has to constantly explain to Sherman who all of these historical figures are -- and then making him seem like this Dad who really does mean well, who genuinely wants to connect with his adoptive son but sometimes his great intellect gets in the way. It's Ty's natural warmth that makes you see the humanity in this super-smart dog."
As this DreamWorks Animation preview event drew to a close last night, NATO reps seemed extremely pleased with the footage & information that Aronson, DeBlois, Minkoff, and Taubin had shared with them. Over an after-event dinner at Sequoia, the general consensus seemed to be that "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" looked to be a fun time-travel adventure that the kids would enjoy which still had enough smart gags that it would also entertain the adults in the audience. As for "How to Train Your Dragon 2," the theater owners that I spoke with just couldn't wait to get their mits on this new Dean DeBlois movie. Based on the footage that they were shown last night, these folks already seem to be believe that the second film of the "Dragon" trilogy will be one of the top earners for the Summer of 2014.But what about you folks? Are you eager to see a feature-length version of "Peabody's Improbable History" ? Or how excited are you to return to Berk with "How to Train Your Dragon 2" ?EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article featured imagery from Thursday night's presentation at the AMC Loews Georgetown 14. At the request of 20th Century Fox, these images have since been removed from this story.
Ty Burell seems like a fine choice for Mr. Peabody, but am I remembering correctly that Robert Downey Jr. was going to play him originally?
I certainly have not seen any footage from Dragon 2...but it seems a bit of stretch to compare it to Empire, Godfather 2, AND Toy Story 2. I mean Toy Story 2 was a perfect self contained story. I saw Toy Story 2 before I ever saw the original Toy Story and it holds up perfectly on it's own. It's a complete story. Empire Strikes Back is a great Star Wars movie...but it's not a complete story. Sounds like Dragon 2 is not going to be a complete story either. I am sure it will do very well....but I don't see it being a "top earner" or even on par with any of the other 3 movies mentioned. I just don't see it.
I'm curious as to what clips were shown from Peabody...they weren't mentioned in the article.