If you haven’t seen How to Train Your Dragon yet, please get your butt to the movie theater. I was lucky enough to see a 3D screening of the film last week here in San Francisco. Five minutes before the film started a couple guys walked out to introduce the film…a couple guys who were CHRIS SANDERS and DEAN DE BLOIS. (The directors of the film…and also of Lilo & Stitch.) They were off to the wrap party for the Redwood City Dreamworks crew, but they gave a nice little intro to the film.

The combination of Chris Sanders, Nico Marlet (character design), and Roger Deakins (lighting and cinematography) was a dream come true. Kathy Alteiri’s production design was also top notch. The film is one of Dreamworks’ best, if not THE best that they have produced. No annoying pop culture jokes, plenty of humor and heart, and the flying scenes are incredible (especially in 3D). Given that Sanders only had a year to rewrite the film and start animation over from scratch, I think he did a terrific job. (Disney may just be kicking itself for firing him off of Bolt and out of their studio.) There is some sense that the story has been cobbled together from previous versions, but what is there works well.

After seeing the film I immediately purchased The Art of How to Train Your Dragon on Amazon. If you are a fan of Nico Marlet, you must own this book. Incredible! (I had a chance to read the ENTIRE thing today while stuck on a 90 minute BART ride into the city.) PS, I love that Japanese poster up there…it’s very Miyazaki feeling.

This film is a must-see for Disney animation buffs. It’s a documentary assembled by Disney producer extraordinaire, Don Hahn. It focuses on the years between 1984-1994 at the Disney studio – years that culminated in a new Golden Age of animation with films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. Much of the film is spent on the relationship between Roy E. Disney,  Frank Wells, Michael Eisner, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Peter Schneider. (Whole lotta drama going on there, mostly between Katzenberg and Eisner.) Turns out Katzenberg had some big ideas of his own (see the film above, ahem). It was great to see the early footage from the 80’s with a young John Lassetter, Tim Burton, Randy Cartwright, Glen Keane, etc. The whole film is rather bittersweet (especially the Howard Ashman segments), and has a strong nostalgic feeling throughout. That era is looked upon as a “perfect storm” of events that took place in the studio to create some incredible blockbusters at a time when the Disney company was contemplating getting out of the film business. (Crazy, I know.)

So if Waking Sleeping Beauty covers the resurgence of 2D animation from 1984-1994, you can see the continuation of this in another film called “The Pixar Story“. That film effectively covers 1995-2008 in the world of CG animation and Pixar. (Waking Sleeping Beauty very briefly mentions Toy Story, actually.) But what about all those other Disney films that people tend to forget? You know the ones – Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Home on the Range…(heh, these films were up against Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, Toy Story 2, and The Incredibles…yikes.)

There just happens to be another film out there that does cover this era! It is called “The Sweatbox” and is unfortunately pretty much impossible to see. It was made by Sting’s wife and focuses on his involvement in the original version of Emperor’s New Groove (called Kingdom of the Sun). Apparently it is so controversial and shows way too much of the bad side of feature animation development that Disney never released it to video. (So of course I am very eager to see it.) C’mon internet, don’t fail me now!

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