John Lasseter on ‘Finding Dory,’ ‘The Good Dinosaur’ and Disney/Pixar Slate

'Finding Dory,' 'The Good Dinosaur,' Disney/Pixar
Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

John Lasseter talked about the upcoming slate of Disney/Pixar animated films during an extremely detailed two-hour presentation at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday morning.

The chief creative officer unveiled new clips and plot lines of such titles as Pixar’s “Finding Dory,” the sequel to “Finding Nemo,” and Disney’s “Moana” about a Polynesian princess. Lasseter noted how Pixar will release two movies in the same year for the very first time: “Inside Out,” which premiered at Cannes earlier this week out-of-competition, and “The Good Dinosaur,” which has a Thanksgiving release date.

He also declared that Disney Animation had bounced back, thanks to the success of the juggernaut “Frozen” and the Oscar-winning “Big Hero 6,” saying that the studio had previously suffered from low morale. “It was quite broken when they came in,” Lasseter said about the business 10 years ago. He told his staff: “What would heal them was to have a movie that was a really big hit,” he said. “These guys are on fire now because that happened.”

Here are the films Lasseter presented, and Variety’s grades of how they look to be shaping up so far.

The Good Dinosaur (Pixar)
The early clips from this movie played like a cross between “Tarzan” and “Lilo & Stitch.” The story centers on Arlo (Lucas Neff), an Apatosaurus, who after losing his father in a tragic accident, falls into a river, gets knocked out by a rock and finds himself in a land far away. As he makes the trek back home to the Clawed-Tooth Mountains, he befriends a human cave-boy named Spot.

“This is a boy and a dog story, but the roles are reversed,” Lasseter said. “Arlo, the dinosaur, is the boy in the story and Spot is the dog” — meaning Arlo stands upright and speaks, while Spot travels on his hands and feet and grunts.

There will be a supporting cast of dinosaurs straight out of “Jurassic Park” (only friendlier). “We’re putting our own unique Pixar spin on the dinosaur world,” Lasseter said, as he showed images of a trio of T-Rexes, a Pterodactyl and a shaggy Velociraptor. “The feathers on the Veliraptor look like the haircuts of famous football players,” Lasseter joked.

Lasseter talked up the visuals that serve as the backdrop of the story. In one clip he showed, Arlo and Spot chase fireflies in a forest, which looks more real than any scene from a Pixar production. “It’s unlike anything we’ve had before,” Lasseter said. “The level of believability we’re striving for in this film is going to be breathtaking.”

Release date: Nov. 25, 2015
Grade: A-

Finding Dory (Pixar)
Even though it’s been 12 years since the original “Finding Nemo,” the sequel takes place just six months later. Dory and Nemo re-team, this time on an adventure to find the title heroine’s family (Ellen DeGeneres, of course, returns as her voice). Dory’s parents, who Lasseter unveiled images of at the presentation, will be played by Diane Keaton (“Neither of us remember a thing?” she says, channeling an aquatic version of Annie Hall) and Eugene Levy.

Among the adventures in store this time: a dip through the Pacific Ocean where shipping containers have fallen off boats; a frightening encounter with a giant squid; wading past a kelp forest on California’s northern coastline; and new friends in the form of an octopus and a whale-shark named Destiny. “She thinks she’s a whale, but she’s actually a shark,” Lasseter said. But will it be better than “Cars 2?”

Release date: June 17, 2016
Grade: B

“Toys Story 4” (Pixar)
Lasseter didn’t show any clips from this upcoming sequel, but offered a few small clues. “I am very excited to be directing again,” he said. “We’re in the early stages of the film, but it’s shaping up nicely. It’s funny. The story is not as much a continuation of the past films, but a brand new chapter in the ‘Toy Story’ world.”

Release date: June 16, 2017
Grade: Incomplete

Zootopia (Disney)
This animated film, which Lasseter describes as “classically Disney,” was inspired by the idea of a movie anchored by talking animals who act like humans a la “The Wind in the Willows.” Humans don’t exist in the city of Zootopia and animals are divided into classes, where they face prejudice based on preconceived notions about their species. The plot focuses on bunny cop Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) — sidelined into a boring career meter maid because she’s the first rabbit in the police force — who teams with a fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to crack a missing mammal case.

One of the gags in the film, where Judy is stalled by an exchange with a sloth who works at the DMV, earned big laughs from the Cannes crowd (and landed with a bite that felt more Pixar than Disney). But the story is still a question mark: it could be great, or it could be something out of Disney Afternoon’s “Duck Tales” or “Darkwing Duck.”

Release date: March 4, 2016
Grade: B-

Moana (Disney)
Disney’s first Polynesian princess movie is a musical in the tradition of “The Little Mermaid” or “Pocahontas.” It opens with a song number with Moana’s birth that brings to mind “The Circle of Life” from “The Lion King.” The story is set 2,000 in the past, where 16-year-old Moana wants to set sail to explore nearby islands. After her grandmother’s death, she sneaks away in a boat (despite her father’s instructions not to do so), along with sidekicks in the form of a pig (Pua) and a rooster (Hei). When she gets stranded on an island, she meets mythical hero Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who wears tattoos that come to life and owns a magical sea hook.

“Moana” is the rare Disney film headlined by a character who isn’t white, a goal that has become more of a priority for Disney/Pixar, Lasseter said during this week’s “Inside Out” press conference. In his remarks today, Lasseter revealed that members of the Disney team travelled to the South Pacific for research and they have run the story by a group of “fishermen, anthropologists and elders” who live in the region. “We have gotten their notes, their blessings,” Lasseter said.

Release date: Nov. 23, 2016
Grade: B+

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  1. rachmach says:

    Saw a prescreening of Inside Out- Absolutely loved it.
    Most excited for The Good Dinosaur and Moana. The rest of them… I’m not too sure how to feel. I’m nervous about Zootopia. It makes me think too much of Disney’s Chicken Little, which, I think we can all agree, wasn’t their best. Finding Dory is a long time coming, but Pixar has so many sequels it’s ridiculous!! Toy Story 4 should not be happening. The trilogy was perfect and it’s so time to let that one rest. I wish it would be replaced with a different idea altogether

  2. cadavra says:

    Worried about “Good Dinosaur.” Too many animated features in recent years–and not just Pixar/Disney’s–have followed the same trajectory: Animal(s) or human(s) or toy(s) get separated from home and/or family (or friends) and embark on a journey (usually perilous) to get back. In other words, A to B to A. “Dinosaur” appears to be yet another entry in this increasingly played-out (at least artistically) storyline.

  3. Al says:

    Kind of silly “grading” movies that are literally months, even years away and we know next to nothing about. Seriously, there is essentially nothing to form a valid opinion from yet, none of these films even have teaser trailers yet.

  4. Mike says:

    Great coverage, lousy review. Snarky comments about “Cars 2” and “Duck Tales” do nothing for your article. And what’s the point of assigning a letter grade to a presentation that, in some cases, doesn’t even offer finished clips? Just report on the event and leave the “review” to the finished films and the critics who know how to write them.

  5. OverMaster says:

    “it could be great, or it could be something out of Disney Afternoon’s “Duck Tales” or “Darkwing Duck.”

    But Duck Tales and Darkwing Duck were great. I have to wonder if the reviewer really either watched or remembers those shows, or if he’s just playing the mean demeaning card for the sake of looking clever.

  6. tlsnyder42 says:

    “Diversity” is a phony issue that only makes pinheads happy. Arguments and policies don’t have skin color or sex. They are either true or false, logical or illogical, factual or non-factual (contrary to fact). Not all Africans are black. Not all Mexicans are brown-skinned. Forget race, gender, class, ethnicity. These categories only divide people or are used for obtuse, irrational, utopian politics that don’t work.

  7. Richard says:

    Nice to see that Disney is bucking the trend that when a studio says they are casting for diversity they then think casting a black actor qualifies as such . Not that black roles and themes should be presented but non-white can mean so much more than just exploring one culture.

  8. Dan Castelan says:

    Im more excited for Disney Animation’s slate of films compared to Pixar, for the next 5 years we seem to get only sequels from them while Disney is releasing more original stories.

  9. White Goodman says:

    Not sure how you can grade a movie based on short clips or snatches of information given. Star Wars probably would’ve gotten a D by this rating scale

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