Starting at noon in the middle of the week-long expo, Netflix’s first animation showcase was, in many ways, the central event of this year’s Annecy Animated Film Festival.
In the course of a ninety-minute presentation organized by VarietyPeter Debruge, executives and creative teams previewed upcoming movies and series from the broadcaster’s adult, family and preschool divisions, while directors Henry Selick and David Fincher gave behind-the-scenes glimpses of projects “Wendell & Wild” and “Love, Death & Robots” launched the episode “Bad Travelling” and rapper Kid Cudi made a surprise appearance to promote his “Entergalactic” visual album.
And then Guillermo del Toro took the stage, receiving a hero’s salute as he roared: “Animation is not a bad genre. Animation is cinema!” When the cheering died down, he world-premiered eight minutes of finished and unfinished footage of his stop-motion fable about a wooden boy with a borrowed soul.
Even without the full title “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” the film’s artistic voice would be unmistakable. In the first projected excerpt we find Geppetto meeting Pinocchio for the first time, who has just lived. The characters are unlike any version we’ve seen before. The inventor, for his part, appears completely drunk (or at least terribly hungover), picking himself up off the floor and stumbling around his creaky workshop with bloodshot eyes.
Only something moves, something is up, and that something announces itself with a scare. As the wooden puppet steps out of the shadows, it does so not with the erect gait of a child, but with the lanky movements of an insect. Newly brought to life, Pinocchio moves at first like a spider, using his arms as two extra legs before (presumably) learning that to be a real boy one must aspire to be bipedal.
“[Our goal was to] push the acting forward,” the director said of the footage. “Encourage silence and unnecessary gestures. We said, let’s get the characters wrong. Let’s do in four gestures what others would do in one. Let’s give them itches and headaches [and make this world feel lived in.]”
The film, which follows a boy living under the fascist regime, will complement del Toro’s previous works “The Devil’s Spine” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” completing a thematic trilogy for the filmmaker. Del Toro told the Annecy crowd that he had been working on this project since 2011, and that his version of the story will focus on imperfect parents and imperfect children, achieving a personal record unique to him.
Mind you, “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” isn’t the only creepy stop-motion blast coming to Netflix this fall, as Wednesday’s showing kicked off with a first look at Henry Selick’s “Wendell & Wild.” Written and produced by Selick and Jordan Peele, and featuring voice work by Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Angela Basset and “The is Us” star Lyric Ross, the dark comedy follows two mischievous demons (Key and Peele, of course) than to involve a 13-year-old girl (Ross) in one of his schemes.
We meet the pair as they sit in their underworld prison commiserating over their bad luck. Building a mini-carnival out of construction paper, they suddenly receive an encouraging message from the land of the living: somewhere there is a girl who can free them from her bondage. “Cheer up,” says a child’s voice from a bubblegum pink egg. “It’s a new day in your miserable lives!”
“The stories I choose to tell will always be stop-motion,” said Selick, who marks his return to film after 13 years with this project. “Stop-motion is the oldest type of animation and really the oldest type of film there is, because it’s the most magical way to tell stories. It feels like real magic. That’s why I’ll stick with it.”
Featuring the voices of Chloë Grace Moretz and Riz Ahmed and based on a comic book series set in a techno-medieval world, “Nimona” follows a shape-shifting teenager and the disgraced knight who becomes her unlikely lord.
Directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane bragged about their film’s “punk rock energy, murder, flying cars, shapeshifters, and murder, and murder and murder.” In the projected images, teenage rebel Nimona assumes the form of a bright pink rhino as she rampages through a corporate office complex. Originally developed by 20th Century Fox’s Blue Sky Studios, the project was a casualty of the Disney takeover. Picked up and brought to Netflix by Annapurna last year, the newly revived project is targeting a 2023 release.
Aimed at a family audience, “The Magician’s Elephant” adapts a 2009 book by Newbery Prize winner Kate DiCamillo and will mark the directorial debut of VFX Supervisor Wendy Rogers. Audiences in Annecy discovered characters with angular chins and large, expressive eyes, animated in a lyrical and rather dreamlike CG world that blurs the lines between 3D and 2D. The footage ended with a tantalizing hook: When a young man goes to have his fortune read, the fortune teller studies his palms and delivers the enigmatic pronouncement: “She lives.”
Coming later this fall, “My Father’s Dragon” adapts another Newbery-winning author (this time Ruth Stiles Gannett) and comes courtesy of Nora Twomey, the filmmaker behind the Oscar-nominated “The Breadwinner” and co-founder of the lauded studio. Irish. Cartoon Saloon (“The Secret of Kells”, “The Song of the Sea”, “Wolfwalkers”).
Twomey introduced the 2D pictorial project in person, featuring a clip showing a boy and his large dragon companion walking through an enchanted forest also filled with giant talking cats. The winged creature taunts his young friend and asks, “Are you afraid?” “No,” replies the boy. I am cautious.
From Tokyo, Netflix anime chief Kohei Obara created new “Drifting Home” images that came with a message from the film’s director Hiroyasu Ishida. The film, due out in September, follows two young best friends who are forced to drive and navigate their way through an abandoned apartment complex that somehow ends up in the middle of the ocean.
As a series, the streamer highlights three titles to represent their respective preschool, children’s and adult animation divisions. Flying the flag from the preschool blackboard was “Spirit Rangers,” a bright and colorful 3D adventure that follows a trio of siblings who can become their spirit creatures to protect the national park they call home. When the characters transform their surroundings, they do too, giving the images an extra edge. Created by Karissa Valencia, the series features a Native American writers room and celebrates indigenous culture and heritage. “We also have native actors and composers,” Valencia said. “I like to say we brought the native Avengers together.”
Set between earth and outer space, with a cast that mixes humans and aliens (with some cute robots included), the children’s series “My Dad the Bounty Hunter” is a child of pop culture. Everything from “The Fifth Element” to “The Last Starfighter” to the John Carpenter movies helped spark this story in which two brothers discover that their father isn’t as boring as he is.
The show’s creators, Everett Downing and Patrick Harpin, called the series “a love letter to animation, science fiction and black families.” The visuals took audiences from Annecy to the depths of an outer galaxy, recalling “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Finding Nemo” in equal parts as the heroes try to lose a bioluminescent beast to an asteroid field.
“I like any story where the entire cast dies,” David Fincher said of his 19-minute nautical horror short film “Bad Traveling” (spoiler alert). “Best when eaten by crustaceans.” The director delivered the short film for the adult-biased anthology series “Love, Death + Robots,” which released the episode in May. Explaining why he made his animation debut, Fincher gave a fairly concise answer. “[Netflix said] here are the funds to work, here are ninety of the most talented people you’ll ever meet, [now go] do something weird
Finally, Kid Cudi took over to present “Entergalactic”, the so-called “analog love story in a digital world” that will double as a companion visual piece to his album of the same name. Both will fall on September 30.
Featuring a voice cast that also includes Timothée Chalamet, Jessica Williams and Ty Dolla Sign, the television event reimagines modern New York life with that extra bit of pizzazz that only animation can deliver. The first of two clips shows graphic artist Jabari (voiced by the musician, here given his first name Scott Mescudi) on a night of drugs and alcohol with the boys, leading, of course, to a terrible hangover at the next day. . In the second clip, he makes a connection with modern photographer Meadow (Williams), and as the flirtatious pair start biking through Manhattan, they soon take off and end up in the stars.