From the left to right, "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax," "Ice… (Universal / 20th Century…)
Among the year's major animated releases (and award contenders) are sequels in billion-dollar franchises, an expansion of a beloved Dr. Seuss book and an irreverent claymation pirate adventure. There are prehistoric animals battling other pirates who sail ships of icebergs; New Yorker animals joining the circus to escape an indestructible, Edith Piaf-belting Frances McDormand; and a moonstruck loser named Charles Darwin.
'The Pirates! Band of Misfits'
The stop-motion pioneers at England's Aardman Animations made their first foray into high-tech, with 3-D and extensive computer-generated imagery, for "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," which makes sense for a film originally titled "The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists."
AWARDS: Oscars 2013
The film pokes fun at several icons of the British Isles, including Charles Darwin. "He's venerated over here; no one speaks out against Darwin. So it was fun to treat him in this irreverent, mischievous, I'm sure totally unjustified way," says director Peter Lord of the portrayal of the father of evolutionary theory as a scheming, lovelorn loser.
Not even one of their country's most revered monarchs could escape the animators' clay-covered hands: Queen Victoria herself is the vile object of Darwin's ardor and the primary antagonist to the epically idiotic Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant).
"Queen Victoria, in England, has a catch phrase — not many queens have a catch phrase — 'We are not amused.' She's the epitome of an unsmiling, strait-laced, grim, serious ruler. So we had fun with her."
'Ice Age: Continental Drift'
The fourth entry of a multibillion-dollar series, "Ice Age: Continental Drift" finds its makeshift family of prehistoric beasts separated from mammoth Manny's mate, Ellie, and daughter, Peaches. Their quest to reunite is obstructed by a band of pirates.
A band of what, again?
"People didn't say, 'They fought dinosaurs; pirates is definitely the next thing,'" laughs co-director Mike Thurmeier. "Hopefully [audiences] appreciate that they're not going to get what they expect. And it was really fun to have a true villain [Captain Gutt, voiced by Peter Dinklage] with personality and fun lines."
"Drift" features bigger effects and more action on an even wider screen. One of the greatest changes involves one of the smallest characters.
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"We wanted to integrate [acorn junkie, saber-toothed squirrel] Scrat into the story," says co-director Steve Martino, "so we have a little fun with the creation of the continents."
Thurmeier chuckles: "500 million years happen in about 30 seconds."
'Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted'
It's a billion-dollar animated franchise with talking animals in Africa trying to make it back to their New York zoo. So for the third installment of the adventure, the natural choice for a co-writer was … a writer-director whose nebbishy oeuvre as an auteur has eked out about $20 million? Worldwide?
"His agent was stunned," says "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" producer Mireille Soria of Noah Baumbach. "But Noah watched dailies. He looked at the cuts in editorial. Finally I told Chris Rock he had to stop saying, 'Noah's still on this?'"
In this story, the protagonists run away with a circus, pursued by Monaco's animal-control cop (a Frenchly lisping McDormand). The result is the series' best-reviewed, highest-grossing and most absurd entry so far.
"We get parents coming up to us, joking but not joking: Their kids make them crazy, playing the songs," says Soria. "First 'Move It, Move It,' now it's the circus song. Chris came up with that."
'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax'
The makers of "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" knew they'd face resistance.
"Any time you take a beloved text and make any kind of change, you're going to run the risk of raising fans' ire," says director Chris Renaud. "We were looking to expand the world of the boy who comes to the Once-ler … [and] the Lorax's relationship with the Once-ler. We were just trying to make an entertaining film and carry the message."
Renaud sees that message as: "One person can make a change — it's more than just the environment; it's about personal responsibility."
But the box office success still took some hits. From the left, anger that the film partnered with a car company. From the right, a complaint that the movie created "Occu-toddlers" by a pundit who suggested viewers litter in theaters.
Renaud shrugs: "If one kid walks out of the theater and makes a better choice, then we did our job as filmmakers, carrying on the legacy of Seuss."
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