Monday, July 18, 2005

Sombrero Grande went to the San Diego Comic Con and all I got were these lousy previews
Trip report by Sombrero Grande

Sombrero Grande here, reporting from the 2005 San Diego Comic Con. Nerds, freaks and geeks from all over make this yearly pilgrimage from their darkened, musty bedrooms to America's Finest City, and once again, Sombrero Grande was there to give you the inside scoop on what you missed.

This year I made the mistake of assuming that Disney's Friday panel would be as interesting and exciting as last year's. After all, they were advertising an exclusive preview of Pixar's next opus, Cars. How could I miss that? So Friday afternoon I got out of work, hopped on an Amtrak down to San Diego's historic Santa Fe station, strolled the few blocks to the San Diego Convention Center, registered and made it to the gi-normous Hall H where I hoped I wouldn't be late for the panel. It turns out the previous panel hadn't yet ended and my buddy Jon Favreau was still talking about his new directorial project, Zathura. I hadn't been too enthused with the premise for the "Jumanji In Space!" movie, but Favreau's enthusiasm and passion for the film got me not only excited about the film but reminded me why I like the guy so much. Following Favreau, the new trailer for The Legend of Zorro was shown, but due to a bug in the A/V system, it was shown at super speed, giving Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones "Alvin and the Chipmunks" voices. The whole audience was in stitches. There was an apology and the trailer was replayed at the correct speed, though I have to admit I enjoyed the "chipmunk" version more.

After that there was a long delay before the Disney presentation started, so long that when SDCC employees came around with microphones asking what people liked about this year's Comic Con to fill time, several smartasses said, "how on-time everything is." Finally the panel began with a preview of Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest. This was easily one of the best aspects of the whole panel, going into detail about the returning characters and cast, along with quick previews of some really cool-looking new characters. There's Davy Jones, who looks to be part man, part squid, part crab, etc., as well as his motley crew of equally anatomically aquatic henchmen. Toss in his ship, The Flying Dutchman--which makes the ramshackle Black Pearl look stately in comparison--and a giant Kraken sea monster, and I can only hope that all these great, fun visuals are being paired with a story is as fun and well put-together as the first movie's was. If it is, we're all going to be in for a real treat.

Next up the first presenters came out to give us a preview of Chicken Little. I was really disappointed in this portion of the presentation. The preview clips weren't particularly funny or interesting and the presenters seemed half asleep. For being the guys who did The Emperor's New Groove, I guess I was just expecting them to be a little more...entertaining. They did show an interesting clip to demonstrate how rubbery their characters could be, breaking the bounds of what CGI characters can usually do to resemble the infinite flexibility of hand-drawn figures, but most of their talk seemed to be heavily Disney PR-enforced about how Disney's abandonment of hand-drawn animation wasn't a big deal because it was always the "story" that drew people to Disney animation and how Chicken Little was all about being a classic Disney "story." From the clips I saw, though, I'm not sure I buy that yet. There seemed to be a significant move on the presenters' part to try to preemptively shoot down any questions or comments about Disney's dissolving of its hand-drawn animation business that positively reeked of corporate PR influence and image "damage control."

Surprisingly more fun and frankly honest was the presentation for Sky High, a "tween" comedy/adventure picture about a high school for superheros and sidekicks that seemed to be a mix of Harry Potter, X-Men and The Incredibles. Director Mike Mitchell, of such previous "gems" as Surviving Christmas and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, was actually rather funny. The screenwriter impressed me with a frankly honest backstory to the greenlighting of Sky High which was that he originally pitched it as a TV series idea for The Disney Channel ten years ago and was turned down, only to have Disney contact him recently to ask, "what was that idea you had that was like Harry Potter?" Indeed the clip we were shown of the movie, in which the students are divided up into classes of Heroes and Sidekicks, seemed highly reminiscent of the scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone where the kids are sorted into their various houses. Bruce "Ash" Campbell, who plays the Coach in the movie, was also there to pretend to pick fights with people and just generally prove why he's so popular with the Comic Con crowd. While the movie seemed to have some genuinely ingenious ideas behind it, the execution felt a little lacking, like it's an interesting, high-concept idea wrapped in a standard Disney Channel "tween" packaging.

By the time the Pixar folks were finally brought out, the simple folding chair I'd been sitting in for nearly two hours now was going medieval on my back and the "proof you don't need to be smart to be a nerd" people sitting around me were noisily chatting on their cell phones or loudly speaking obscenities within the earshot of children. It turns out the Pixar folks weren't really there to talk up Cars at all, but to promote a new DVD set release for Toy Story's tenth anniversary. While it was interesting to hear from some of Pixar's finest giving little anecdotes about Toy Story's creation, such as alterate titles like "Spurs and Rockets" and "I'm With Stupid," after all that time sitting I was really getting antsy for my Cars preview. Last year, Disney and Pixar had shown two full scenes from The Incredibles to a stunned Comic Con audience, and it spoiled me; so when the Pixar portion of the panel concluded with merely a new trailer for Cars, I was significantly bummed. Even though I have complete faith that Pixar will find a way to win me over just like they always do, Cars is a tough sell for me. From the trailer it looks like the anthropomophic automobile characters exist in a bizzare world only inhabited by cars. The sight of a "judge" car situated behind a podium was particularly awkward. This looks to be the first Pixar film that isn't set somewhere even adjacent to the real human world, which immediately raises all kinds of questions, like, how did these cars build all these human buildings, and why? Granted, it's still early to be asking such speculative questions, but I was hoping there'd be a preview clip of the movie to explain some of it, not just a trailer that set up more questions.

So I left the Disney panel disappointed and then only had a little over an hour to check out everything on the main floor of the Comic Con before it closed because the Disney presentation had started so late and then ran over its end time. If youv'e ever been to the SD Comic Con, you know you need much more than an hour to see everything there, so, unfortunately, the time I was planning to spend at each booth had to be severely abbreviated. That's a real bummer, considering I was only able to watch a mere snippet of the Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit preview at the DreamWorks booth before having to move on. It looked pretty cool and very much in the familiar spirit of the Wallace and Gromit shorts. Somehow I missed all the King Kong stuff entirely. There was a wrapped up big rig to advertise the recently announced Transformers movie and a giant open wardrobe for The Chronicles of Narnia, but the coolest display I saw was for Tim Burton's Corpse Bride in which you walked through a claustrophoic Gothic archway to see a full church set from the film, complete with the actual puppets in all their glorious detail! I know Burton's famous for awesome visuals with so-so storytelling, so I'm reserving much of my excitement for this one until I get to see it, but the fantastic look of the film's sets and stop-motion characters is probably going to guarrantee I'll be seeing it soon after it comes out.

And so my rather abrupt-feeling trip to this year's San Diego Comic Con comes to a close. Next year I think I my skip the panels altogether and just go for touring the main showroom at my leisure on Sunday when it's cheaper. Of course, there will probably be another panel or two that will promise too-good-to-pass-up previews that could make me change my mind but we'll see. Until then, I'll see you at the movies. Sombrero Grande signing off in San Diego.


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