Perhaps better than any studio out there, Walt Disney Studios knows how to put on a show. But at its lean-and-screen CinemaCon presentation this morning, there were no star appearances, no flashy Vegas pizazz, not even a studio head taking a turn at the podium.
The only “suit” on hand was Walt Disney Studios EVP Theatrical Distribution Dave Hollis, who wasted little time in getting to his key pitch to theater owners: the first screening of Pixar’s anxiously awaited new film Inside Out. Director and co-writer Pete Docter won an Oscar for Up and probably should get his tux ready again for this one.
It’s got the same mix of strong emotion, comedy, visual innovation and heart that Docter poured into Up, but Disney has embargoed all reviews and even social-media opinions from critics until its official “world premiere” in competition at Cannes next month. I can tell you, though, that on my unofficial CinemaCon buzz meter, this truly original concept was very warmly received by the exhibitors.
It also marked the debut of the much-touted Dolby Vision, a new “high dynamic range imaging” process that heightens the presentation. It will first debut in theater on May 22 with the release of Tomorrowland, followed by Inside Out’s June 19 opening.
Docter and his producer Jonas Rivera were brought on by Hollis to introduce the film, and they kept their remarks brief. Docter explained that the idea came one day when he wondered what was going on in the mind of his 11-year-old daughter, Elie (who voiced young Ellie in Up, by the way). I was at the D23 convention where Docter and John Lasseter first announced the project, which was fairly esoteric for a Disney/Pixar toon. Audience reaction to the film after today’s big reveal seemed bright and enthusiastic, though one exhibitor told me he wonders what the target kid demo will be for a movie that takes place in the head of an 11-year-old girl.
Her emotions are visually manipulated by characters representing joy, sadness, disgust, anger and fear who sit at a control panel and try to deal with stuff on her mind. It might be a little complicated for the youngest kids to comprehend, but the filmmakers pour on the visuals to compensate. After all, Docter’s Up, which also earned a 2009 Best Picture nomination, had an old man in a flying home at its center – not exactly the prime demo either – and it did just fine.
I often think theater owners, like the mass moviegoing audience itself, are by their nature resistant to anything new and startlingly original, but that’s what Walt Disney built his company on (think the enduring classic Fantasia). And it was nice this morning to see the studio use this forum to vividly promote one of the most original films in its lineup.
Another original that got attention in the 25-minute lead-up to the main event was Tomorrowland, and Hollis presented a featurette comparing that film’s unique sci-fi visions to what Walt Disney himself envisioned. He also showed the new trailer for the movie directed by Brad Bird, written by Damon Lindelof and starring George Clooney.
Trailers also were shown for July 17 release Ant-Man, with Paul Rudd in the title role for Marvel (looked fun and played well in the room) as well as the Star Wars: The Force Awakens (December) teaser trailer that debuted last week (the exhibs are licking their chops for that one).
Hollis kept emphasizing the Disney brands – meaning Bob Iger’s collection of Lucasfilm, Marvel, Pixar and, of course, Disney itself. There was also a mention of DreamWorks and its October release Bridge Of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks.
He said this would be the first year that all the brands will be fully integrated into the release schedule. They include two Marvel films and, for the first time ever, two from Pixar including November release The Good Dinosaur. Pixar was absent in 2014 while Disney’s own animation label took Oscar gold for the second year running with Big Hero 6 following in Frozen’s footsteps. Disney Animation, conversely, is taking this year off but will return with Zootopia in March, Hollis said.
Speaking of Marvel, the distribution chief said today marks the first international openings of Avengers: Age Of Ultron, and early boxoffice returns indicate a hit. You think? Beyond the next 12 months, Hollis pointed out a couple of promising titles, including 3D ocean adventure The Finest Hours and the live-action Jungle Book, another in the growing trend of remaking Disney’s animated classics as live-action films. But he made no mention of any others except to thank theater owners for helping in the success of last month’s launch of Cinderella.
But today was mostly about Inside Out. Next stop, Cannes.