The first movie I saw — okay, maybe it was the second — was “The Jungle Book.” My brothers and I loved the movie, so naturally we were tickled pink when our grandmother gave us the soundtrack, singing along over and over to “The Bare Necessities.” (My Dad was less charmed, since the album was a free giveaway from Texaco and he was a loyal Arco company man.)
Anyway, I especially loved Baloo’s joie de vivre. Louis the alligator shares that same spirit in “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s first hand-drawn toon in five years. You simply can’t create characters like that through computer animation, Disney toon king John Lasseter recently told me for this Variety story.
The directors, who have been known Lasseter for decades, felt like they had something to prove with the movie, as did the cast and crew still smarting from Disney’s decision to abandon hand-drawn animation in 2002. They tried some different styles — evoking painting of the Harlem Renaissance in one fantasy sequence and going psychedelic for the villain — and while those gambits didn’t always work, the movie was pleasantly upbeat in the way you could always count on Disney toons to be. The young crowd at the Bridge screening — mostly African-American, incidentally, for a toon with the Mouse House’s first ever black heroine — really seemed to enjoy it, barely fidgeting even during the goopy romance scenes.
The studio has at least two more hand-drawn toons in the works. First up: a new “Winnie the Pooh,” another childhood fave with its share of sing-along tunes. “Surf’s Up” co-director Chris Buck is busy on another.
Who else but Disney would have created a conference like D23? What other studio has the ego to even try?
Opening day at the four-day conference devoted to all things Disney, top dog Bob Iger kept saying that no one else could have mounted a gathering like it. That may very well be true, but it’s even more interesting to examine how and why the studio took the plunge.
Iger suggested there were two main spurs: Fan interest in a Disney club, and desire to share “Disney treasures,” aka production artifacts, with those die-hard supporters. But that wasn’t the only motivation: Iger believes that the Internet can help sustain fan connection to the brand, and these fans can in turn draw new fans into the fold.
“Not only will they tell people about this and the things that they see,” Iger explained, “but they will also tell people about the company.”
Hats off to Ben Fritz, who’s been working the Redbox story hard for the LAT. The paper just posted a Q&A with Redbox prexy Mitch Lowe, a veteran vidtailer who came to the kiosk company after stints at Netflix and operating a Bay Area video store chain with his brother. Lowe explains why Redbox sued Fox and Universal about their attempts to withhold discs from his company, and argues that Redbox’s business has been mostly additive for the industry, luring customers back to DVDs.
What I really wish, however, was that he pressed Lowe further on the nature of Redbox’s deal with Disney. Bob Iger recently alluded to a deal with Redbox, among other kiosk companies, that stipulates they not sell used discs. This deal was apparently struck a while ago. It is not a guaranteed distribution pact like the ones Sony and Lionsgate have recently forged with the company.
And as of a few days ago, Paramount was negotiating with Redbox, per the AP.
A very knotty story indeed.