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‘Tron: Uprising’ nurses a franchise

Animated series on Disney XD could help lead to third film

Tron: Legacy” grossed $400 million worldwide in 2010 and launched a successful line of consumer products as well as a theme park attraction at California Adventure. Now Disney hopes the latest spinoff of the 30-year-old “Tron” property — the animated TV series “Tron: Uprising” — finds a new, younger fanbase as the Mouse House develops a third film for the bigscreen.

Disney chief Bob Iger may not necessarily have had “Tron” in mind when he said he wants the studio to focus on launching tentpoles that can prop up all of the conglom’s divisions, but he just may have a franchise on his hands nevertheless.

Kids cabler Disney XD is launching “Tron: Uprising” on June 7 with an immediate goal of appealing to the channel’s target audience of boys age 6 to 14.

The 3-year-old network is putting considerable coin behind the Disney Television Animation production, the channel’s most expensive series to date. It features pricey CG animation produced in Tokyo, characters voiced by Elijah Wood, Bruce Boxleitner, Mandy Moore, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nate Corddry, Lance Henriksen, Reginald VelJohnson, Tricia Helfer and Paul Reubens, as well as vehicle designs by Bugatti car designer Daniel Simon.

It’s joining a schedule that features a Marvel block of toons “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” and “Ultimate Spider-Man,” along with “Motorcity” and live-action shows like “Lab Rats.”Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, “Tron: Legacy” scribes and exec producers of ABC’s “Lost” and “Once Upon a Time,” and “Legacy” co-producer Justin Springer serve as consulting producers. “Legacy” composer Joseph Trapanese returns for the music.

The show’s slick impressionistic look borrows liberally from the style of Japanese anime that has influenced other hit animated series like Cartoon Network’s “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “ThunderCats,” with its elongated characters designed to resemble basketball players, according to “Uprising’s” exec producer and director Charlie Bean, whose credits include “Samurai Jack” and “Powerpuff Girls.”

“The first film was a massive influence on me,” Bean said. “If I was going to do an animated version of ‘Tron,’ I didn’t want it to feel like a cheap version of the movies. We stylized it in a way you couldn’t in a movie. For the 12-year-old in me, it’s what I would want to see.”

“Aeon Flux” also was an influence, with its lanky athletic characters fitting into the permanent midnight world Bean wanted to create with art director Alberto Mielgo and character designer Rob Valley (the Gorillaz musicvideos).

The show was developed with its young target audience in mind, through the introduction of a new character, Beck, a rebellious teen who leads a revolution against the evil Clu and his army.

Series also includes several strong female characters. “I hope this has a female audience, too,” Bean said. “That was very interesting to me.”

Disney also wants to satisfy existing fans, setting “Uprising” in between the two “Tron” films, revealing what happened to the citizens of the computer world the Grid after Clu takes control. Tron trains Beck to lead a revolt to free his home and friends.

It’s no coincidence that the plot aims to fill the gaps of what was only touched upon in the most recent pic.

“We wanted to create something that would satisfy the loyal ‘Tron’ fanbase but also give new viewers the chance to enter the ‘Tron’ universe for the first time and understand it if they didn’t see the movies,” Horowitz said, while not straying too far from what the scribes established for feature follow-ups.

Naturally, Walt Disney Studios hopes “Uprising’s” initial 18 episodes prove a strong enough ratings performer to help greenlight a sequel to “Legacy” that David DiGilio (who penned the Disney pic “Eight Below” and created the short-lived series “Traveler) is writing.

Horowitz and Kitsis had planned on returning to write the follow-up but will produce instead while serving as showrunners on the second season of “Once Upon A Time.”

Disney already has revved up its marketing machine for the show, producing what it calls a 30-minute “prelude” episode that introduces Beck to auds; it aired on Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney XD On Demand, YouTube, Disney XD’s Facebook page and iTunes as a free download before the show’s launch. The episode airs tonight.

Following the premiere, “Tron: Uprising” will be showcased via Disney XD on Demand, DisneyXD.com, Disney XD Mobile, on the Sony PlayStation and Xbox 360 videogame consoles and iTunes.

Disney XD also has split up the prelude into 10 micro-episodes that turn it into part interactive video and game where users take on the role of Beck and help him fight to become the next hero of the grid. Games like “Renegade Strike” will launch on DisneyXD.com after episode airings.

“This show is the perfect way to take advantage of all opportunities for our audiences while appealing to their families, too,” said Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer of Disney Channels Worldwide. “It’s expensive, yes, but I kept pushing our team to come up with something that hadn’t been seen before. It’s the kind of risk we feel is worth taking.”

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