ANNECY — “·Hello, I’m Margie Cohn, and I am president of DreamWorks….”
By that time, as she walked onto the stage at Annecy on Tuesday for a DreamWorks Animation presentation of upcoming titles, DWA president Cohn’s self introduction had been drowned by a barrage of applause and yelps of approbation.
It’s hard to underestimate the goodwill that Universal’s DreamWorks Animation has built up over the years at Annecy, first by creating a studio as an alternative to Disney, and most recently by one of its crowning achievements, the “How to Train Your Dragon” movie trilogy, presented as works in progress at Annecy to reverent appreciation, and celebrated this year by a medley of special moments from the three movies and the presence on stage of director Dean Deblois.
That said, the two upcoming movies that Cohn and creatives previewed at Annecy – a full 25 minutes of “Abominable” and 10 minutes from “Trolls World Tour” – were warmly received at Annecy.
DreamWorks Animation celebrates “artistry, memorable characters and compelling storytelling,” said Cohn. All were on display in “Abominable,” a movie which as well is given edge by being being written and directed by a woman with strong female lead, which is also produced by women – Suzanne Buirgy and Pearl Studio chief creative officer Peilin Chou, who introduced director Jill Culton.
“Abominable” is a platform for multicultural story-telling,said Chou, noting that Pearl Studio checked every detail of the film for authenticity.
Pretty well half the presentation went to “Abominable,” a co-production of DWA and Pearl Studio co-directed by Todd Wilderman and DWA’s next upcoming feature which Universal Pictures releases on Sept. 27.
Taking in the first third of the film, the never-seen-before footage suggested that “Abominable” is an odyssey parable steeped in increasingly lush natural colors about the powers of friendship, creativity and compassion to transform, – whether the nature around the protagonists or one’s bonding with those most loved, in Yi’s case her family.
Culton took the audience through her sources of inspiration which took in Cooper, her very large dog – “I’ve always had giant dogs and I think that the non -verbal communication humans have with animals is really fascinating” she said, her own tomboy childhood, and her parents separation when she was young.
The 25 minutes of never before seen footage included some of the most spectacular beats in the early part of the movie: young teen Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet) odd jobbing in Shanghai to go on a trip across China; her escape from an overwhelming grandmother and mother to her apartment building rooftop where, in a spectacular sequence, she plays her violin as the camera swoops around here revealing the stunning skyscraper-scape of the modern city; then her discovery of a young Yeti, whom she soon calls Everest, still sporting hugely expressive blue eyes and three buck teeth but with an intelligence and empathy behind his young years.
In two other icmic scenes, with Burnish, a desperately bushy-eye browed millionaire pursuing Everest, Yi and two friends through marshlands, Everest shows he has magic powers turning the flatlands into a rolling hill so that the boat he’s on can surf to safety. In another, Yi plays her violin on top of a huge Buddha statue, hacked into a cliff, and white flowers spring up around her.
“I really wanted the film to be a feast for the eyes on two levels, showcasing the beauty of the Chinese countryside as well as taking the audience to a new place with the idea that Everest has magic powers and can control nature,” Culton commented.
The footage took in other scenes, such as, in the early going, when Yi realizes Everest won’t be able to get back on his own to his yeti family which lives high up on the mountain, and decides she must accompany him.
Said Culton: “It’s very exciting and emotional footage where our main character shows that she is strong willed, that she is determined. I really want her to be an inspiration for all kids that grow up in general, a kind of more independent spirit who makes bold choices.”
Playing on her violin standing on top of a Buddha statue, Yi pays tribute to her dead father, another violinist who wanted to visit the monument with his daughter.” One question is whether Yi, in trying to reunite Everest with his family, will move closer to hers.
Scheduled for an April 17, 2020, U.S. bow, “Trolls World Tour” marks the sequel to “Trolls,” which earned $347 million worldwide, which sees Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake reprising their roles The original scored Timberlake an Oscar nomination for his song “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” “World Tour” sees the trolls learning that they’re only one of six Troll tribes, each with its own land and specialists in different musical genres: Funk, country, techno, classical, pop and rock.
Conducted by “Trolls World Tour” director Walt Dohrn, a co-director on the original, the Annecy first look, often of rough animation, took in an opening scene at a techno troll rave disrupted by the arrival of rock trolls, answering to Queen Barb, who want to destroy the other strains of music. Poppy and Branch decide to fight back but, in one of the funniest scenes in the movie, fall under the tranquilizing effect of the king troll of cool jazz. Some of the character designs – such as of Trollsart, the king of classical music trolls, or a Dolly Partonish country music troll, hair piled on to of her head, had the Annecy audience laughing out loud. The presentation ended with DWA’s first trailer
There was also hearty applause for “Marooned,” playing between the “Abominable and “Trolls World Tour” presentations. The shirt film is written and directed by Andrew Erekson, a story artist on “How To Train Your Dragon,” and produced by Jeff Hermann, attached to produce Tom McGrath’s “The Boss Baby 2,” and the third title in DWA’s shorts program, developed and launched by Hermann. Both appeared briefly on stage at Annecy.
An affecting tale with a powerful final twist, “Marooned” turns on a manic old robot, CoR13, abandoned on a spectral moon base, clinging to the hope of building a rocket which will return him to earth. Deviling to finish the ship before his power runs out, he discovers a mini robot, who becomes an eager helper. But CoR13 suddenly realizes he doesn’t have enough batteries to power back to earth himself, the ship and the mini robot as well.
“Marooned” was inspired by two ideas, Erekson told Variety: A “character stuck on a sort of deserted island,” here the Moon, whose landscape is basically black and white and gray; “the character wanting more than anything else to get back to earth, but then ultimately asking themselves to give that up.”
The only real color in the film is the bright blue of the robots’ eyes, the energy source and the earth itself, whose earth rise over the horizon causes the robot to sit on a bluff entranced at the vista.
The moon itself has a near fantasy sheen. “I wanted to show something that looked a little bit different than what we’ve seen in the past,” Erekson said.
He added: “We have a tendency or just by default to skew for realism.” Erekson looked in contrast at “a lot of the hardware from the ‘50s and ‘60s of NASA illustrations of what colonizing the Moon would look like, or future endeavors to outer space. I just wanted to make it to feel like a painting or like a conceptual art.”