Dolby showed off its new theater, Disney and Pixar premiered their new movie and the Los Angeles Film Festival left its downtown home for a splashy event on Monday night in Hollywood, where bagpipes and haggis greeted the debut of the animated feature "Brave."
For the festival, the event was something of a sideshow to the main action taking place at LAFF's base in downtown Los Angeles. But for Dolby and Disney/Pixar, lots was at stake.
The technology company was showing off the former Kodak Theatre, which is now the Dolby Theatre and which has been refurbished and upgraded with the new Dolby Atmos sound system, which Dolby has promoted as the ultimate in surround sound.
For Disney and Pixar, it was a chance to recover from the relative disappointment of last year's "Cars 2," which grossed more than $550 million worldwide but was nonetheless seen as something of a disappointment for the groundbreaking Pixar, which had enjoyed 11 consecutive critical and commercial hits and four straight Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature.
"Cars 2" did not land an Oscar nomination, and it drew more negative reviews than any other Pixar film.
But "Cars" director John Lasseter (pictured), who also co-founded Pixar and now runs both that company and Disney animation, was at the Dolby Theatre on Monday in a kilt to show off his company's new movie, an adventure set in ancient Scotland that also happens to be the least Pixar-like movie that Pixar has ever made.
In the Disney/Pixar brand, the Pixar personality has generally overwhelmed Disney -- it's hard to imagine films like "Up," "The Incredibles" and the "Toy Story" series coming from any other company, in the same way that Disney's late-'80s and early-'90s string of hits -- "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King" -- had that company's stamp.
But "Brave" is not distinctly a Pixar movie; in fact, it's closer to a Disney movie like "Tangled" than to anything that Lasseter's company has ever done. (All those Scottish accents, meanwhile, edge it toward DreamWorks Animation territory.)
The story of a headstrong young princess who doesn't want to be married off to one of three goofy suitors, the film takes a turn into more mystical territory about a third of the way through. It is exciting and imaginative in many ways, though the plot is more convoluted than usual for Pixar.
The company's best films are simple stories told with flair and fun, but also with sometimes unexpected depth and feeling; "Brave" works harder and sweats more as it tried to tug at the heartstrings.
In general, though, reaction to the film was favorable, and the first round of reviews were largely positive.
Wrote Alonso Duralde at TheWrap: "It’s a rousing adventure and a hilarious comedy, and if its athletic and intelligent leading lady creates a new paradigm for animated features, so much the better."
If "Brave" doesn't seem likely to bowl over critics the way "Toy Story 3," "Up," "Wall-E" and "The Incredibles" did, strong box-office totals and favorable reviews are no doubt in store.
As for the Dolby Theatre and the Dolby Atmos sound system, the jury is still out. The theater itself has always been ill-suited for showing movies: It's vertically oriented, tall but not deep, with three balconies look down on the stage. (Most of the time, it will be used by Cirque du Soleil, with the Oscars taking over every February.) To keep sightlines good, the top two balconies weren't used on Monday, cutting out more than 1,000 seats.
The sound system was impressive when it came to effects, and it did create a vivid, immersive environment – but at least from the sixth row of the orchestra on the right hand side, the clarity of the effects was occasionally offset by a muddiness in the dialogue.
Afterwards, Disney and Pixar threw a "Brave"-themed shindig in what is now called the Ray Dolby Ballroom, which was renamed as part of the overall deal between Dolby and Hollywood & Highland's owners, CIM.
The event featured Scottish bands, Scottish food including haggis (plus some more generic British food), Scottish beer, a Scotch-tasting bar in the corner, and Scottish comic Craig Ferguson reading a Scottish poem. In addition, movie-themed play areas allowed young guests to do face- and rock-painting, archery and a variety of other amusements.
"Brave" screens again at LAFF on Tuesday night, this time downtown, before its opening on Friday.