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Disney unveils animation slate

Schedule includes 'Toy Story 3,' 'Cars 2'

After years of relative reticence, the Mouse House is strutting over its animation slate once again.

With Disney chief exec Robert Iger and the investment community looking on in Gotham Tuesday, John Lasseter presented an uncharacteristically detailed road map of the next four years of Pixar and Disney animation.

Two years after the pair’s $7.4 billion merger, the Mouse House is eager to tout the lineup and keep Pixar’s momentum going after “Ratatouille” and “Cars.” Studio is also looking to pump up the fortunes of Disney’s own animation unit, now under the control of Lasseter and former Pixar prexy Ed Catmull after suffering a string of disappointments, including last year’s “Meet the Robinsons.”

Lineup includes a Pixar film every summer and a Disney Animation Studios toon every holiday season, save for 2011, when Pixar is releasing two films and Disney Animation Studios will take a breather. All of the films starting with this November’s “Bolt” will be released in digital 3-D, except for 2009 Disney toon “The Princess and the Frog,” the only pic being made in traditional 2-D.

Disney studio chief Dick Cook said it was the first pure animation presentation for the Mouse House in more than a decade.

“A few months ago, Ed and John and myself realized we have a lot of stuff, and we haven’t done anything like this since the Pixar acquisition,” he told Daily Variety.

Among the pics unveiled for the first time were a sequel to “Cars,” an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story and two original toons from Pixar.

In addition, the studio detailed the new plan for DisneyToon Studios, the direct-to-DVD unit that has been left in an uncertain state since former topper Sharon Morrill left last year and Catmull and Lasseter brought it under their control. DisneyToon has four Disney Fairy movies starring Tinker Bell on its slate, with one set to be released each year starting this October.

“DisneyToon has a very robust slate of movies, and when (Lasseter) feels they are ready, we will be talking about others beyond ‘Tinker Bell,’ ” Cook noted. He said the division will focus on spinoffs and original pics but won’t do any more sequels to Disney classics.

Taking the stage at NYU’s Skirball Center for Performing Arts, Lasseter, chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar, sported his trademark Hawaiian shirt (“What else did you think I’d wear?”) and hugged each of the filmmakers as he brought them onstage.

Aside from 30 minutes from this summer’s “Wall-E,” an affecting mashup of “Blade Runner” and Charlie Chaplin, little finished footage was shown, but designs, animatics and models were presented, and significant announcements were sprinkled throughout.

The highlights:

  • “Up,” set for release May 29, 2009, will be Pixar’s first 3-D title, and thereafter every Pixar toon will be produced in 3-D. Disney has been an early proponent of the format, starting with 2005’s “Chicken Little,” and all its own toons going forward will use the format as well. Lasseter noted he is such a fan that his wedding pictures were done in 3-D. Along with its new pics, Disney is also releasing Pixar classics “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” in digital 3-D in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

  • Larry the Cable Guy, who voiced Mater in “Cars,” took the stage to announce that “Cars 2” is going into production, with a planned release date of summer 2012. It’s being directed by “Ratatouille” producer Brad Lewis and is the first sequel for Pixar outside the “Toy Story” franchise. Though “Cars” didn’t do as well at the box office as some other Pixar titles, it has been a licensing bonanza for the Mouse House.

  • Miley Cyrus will be a lead voice opposite John Travolta in Thanksgiving’s “Bolt,” formerly titled “American Dog.” About 15 minutes of footage of the pic screened to some of the heartiest applause of the day.

  • “Toy Story 3” will be released June 18, 2010. Plot details for the third part remain under wraps, though the filmmakers said it begins with Andy (owner of Woody and Buzz) about to head off to college. A Ken doll will be the franchise’s newest toy.

  • Anchoring the Disney side of things is the hand-drawn musical “The Princess and the Frog,” from “Aladdin” and “Little Mermaid” helmers John Musker and Ron Clements, who were lured back to Disney by Lasseter. It’s set for a Christmas 2009 release. Stills were shown, and star Anika Noni Rose performed a song live, as did Randy Newman and his eight-piece New Orleans combo.

  • Disney’s long-in-development CG version of “Rapunzel” finally has a release date: Christmas 2010. It’s directed by studio vet Glen Keane and Dean Wellins.

  • Pixar will have two original films in 2011: “Newt,” a romantic comedy directed by Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom, and “The Bear and the Bow,” a magical tale set in Scotland and helmed by Brenda Chapman, who previously directed “The Prince of Egypt” for DreamWorks. The first Pixar feature from a femme helmer will star the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson.

“I love sincere fairy tales,” Lasseter said.

  • Last release on the slate for Disney Animation Studios is Christmas 2012’s “King of the Elves,” directed by Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker, based on the short story by sci-fi scribe Dick.

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