"Tron: Legacy" grossed $400 million worldwide in 2010 and launched a successful line of consumer products as well as a theme park attraction at California Adventure. Now Disney hopes the latest spinoff of the 30-year-old "Tron" property -- the animated TV series "Tron: Uprising" -- finds a new, younger fanbase as the Mouse House develops a third film for the bigscreen.
Disney chief Bob Iger may not necessarily have had "Tron" in mind when he said he wants the studio to focus on launching tentpoles that can prop up all of the conglom's divisions, but he just may have a franchise on his hands nevertheless.
Kids cabler Disney XD is launching "Tron: Uprising" on June 7 with an immediate goal of appealing to the channel's target audience of 6- to 14-year-old boys.
The 3-year-old network is putting considerable coin behind the Disney Television Animation production, the channel's most expensive series to date. It features pricey CG animation produced in Tokyo, characters voiced by Elijah Wood, Bruce Boxleitner, Mandy Moore, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Nate Corddry, Lance Henriksen, Reginald VelJohnson, Tricia Helfer and Paul Reubens, as well as vehicle designs by Bugatti car designer Daniel Simon.
It's joining a schedule that features a Marvel block of toons "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" and "Ultimate Spider-Man," along with "Motorcity" and live-action shows like "Lab Rats.""Tron: Legacy" scribes and exec producers of ABC's "Lost" and "Once Upon a Time" Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz and "Legacy" co-producer Justin Springer serve as consulting producers. "Legacy" composer Joseph Trapanese returns for the music.
The show's slick impressionistic look borrows liberally from the style of Japanese anime that's influenced other hit animated series like Cartoon Network's "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" and "ThunderCats," with its elongated characters designed to resemble basketball players, according to "Uprising's" exec producer and director Charlie Bean, whose credits include "Samurai Jack" and "Powerpuff Girls."
"The first film was a massive influence on me," Bean said. "If I was going to do an animated version of 'Tron,' I didn't want it to feel like a cheap version of the movies. We stylized it in a way you couldn't in a movie. For the 12-year-old in me, it's what I would want to see."
"Aeon Flux" also was an influence, with its lanky athletic characters fitting into the permanent midnight world Bean wanted to create with art director Alberto Mielgo and character designer Rob Valley (the Gorillaz musicvideos).
The show was developed with its young target audience in mind, through the introduction of a new character, Beck, a rebellious teen who leads a revolution against the evil Clu and his army.
Series also includes several strong female characters. "I hope this has a female audience, too," Bean said. "That was very interesting to me."
Disney also wants to satisfy existing fans, setting "Uprising" in between the two "Tron" films, revealing what happened to the citizens of the computer world the Grid after Clu takes control. Tron trains Beck to lead a revolt to free his home and friends.
It's no coincidence that the plot aims to fill the gaps of what was only touched upon in the most recent pic.
"We wanted to create something that would satisfy the loyal 'Tron' fanbase but also give new viewers the chance to enter the 'Tron' universe for the first time and understand it if they didn't see the movies," Horowitz said, while not straying too far from what the scribes established for feature follow-ups.
Naturally, Walt Disney Studios hopes "Uprising's" initial order of 18 episodes prove a strong enough ratings performer to help greenlight a sequel to "Legacy" that David DiGilio (who penned the Disney pic "Eight Below" and created the short-lived series "Traveler) is writing.
Horowitz and Kitsis had planned on returning to write the follow-up but will produce instead while serving as showrunners on "Once Upon A Time's" second season.
Disney already has revved up its marketing machine for the show, producing what it calls a 30-minute "prelude" episode that introduces Beck to auds that aired on Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney XD On Demand, YouTube, Disney XD's Facebook page and iTunes as a free download before the show's launch. The episode airs tonight.
Following the premiere, "Tron: Uprising" will be showcased via Disney XD on Demand, DisneyXD.com, Disney XD Mobile, on the Sony PlayStation and Xbox 360 videogame consoles and iTunes.
Disney XD also has split up the prelude into 10 micro-episodes that turn it into part interactive video and game where users take on the role of Beck and help him fight to become the next hero of the grid. Games like "Renegade Strike" will launch on DisneyXD.com after episode airings.
"This show is the perfect way to take advantage of all opportunities for our audiences while appealing to their families, too," said Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer of Disney Channels Worldwide. "It's expensive, yes, but I kept pushing our team to come up with something that hadn't been seen before. It's the kind of risk we feel is worth taking."
You have to admit that it's kind of ironic that Elijah Wood has gone from playing Video Game Boy No. 1 in 1989's "Back to the Future 2" (He's the kid who -- after being shown how the "Wild Gunman" video game is actually played -- turns to Marty McFly and whines "You mean you have to use your hands?") ...
... to now voicing a character who actually lives inside of a video game in Disney XD's "TRON: Uprising."
And speaking of TRON newbies: When we spoke on the phone earlier this year about this new animated series, Elijah revealed that he wasn't exactly a fan of the first "TRON" movie.
"But given that I was only a year and a half old when the original 'TRON' movie was first released to theaters, I feel like I have a pretty good excuse for not fully embracing the franchise back then," Wood laughed. "But I do remember playing the TRON video game when I was a kid and really enjoying that. Which is why I was excited to see that storyline continued with 'TRON: Legacy ' in 2010."
Elijah especially enjoyed how Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (i.e. the screenwriters of "TRON: Legacy") had taken the world that Steve Lisberger had created back in 1982 and then expanded that mythology. Changing the Grid into a grander if somewhat grittier place.
"Which is why -- when I heard that Edward & Adam were part of the team developing a new 'TRON' animated series for Disney XD ... Well, I just had to check this project out," Wood enthused. "So when Disney called and asked me to take a meeting about possibly voicing a character for this show, I immediately said 'Yes.' "
So since Kitsis & Horowitz were involved, Elijah knew going in that the writing on "TRON: Legacy" would be solid. But what Wood wasn't ready for was the bold new look that Charlie Bean (i.e. the director and executive producer of this new Disney XD show) had envisioned for this animated series.
"When I looked at the concept art and animation tests that Charlie had put together ... There's no other way to describe it. Charlie had this really ambitious cinematic vision for 'TRON: Uprising,' " Wood continued. "Something that -- thanks to its mix of 2D animation and CG -- was going to look like nothing that had ever been on TV before. It was this -- coupled with the epic scope of the story that Edward & Adam were looking to tell with 'TRON: Uprising' -- that convinced me that I had to be part of this show."
That said, thanks to the voice work that he'd done for "Happy Feet" and "Happy Feet 2," Elijah knew that -- as an actor -- he'd now regularly be facing a unique set of challenges by agreeing to voice the character of Beck for "TRON: Uprising."
"9 times out of 10 when you're voicing a character for animation, you're in the studio alone while you're recording your lines. The only other people that you get to interact with are the director and the sound engineer. Both of whom are behind glass in the control room," Wood said. "What was nice about working on 'TRON: Uprising' is that Charlie would occasionally bring Mandy (Moore) and Emmanuelle (Chriqui) in to record with me. Which made that much easier to get through some of the exposition-heavy scenes that Beck had with Mara and Paige."
And speaking of exposition ... Getting caught up on "TRON: Uprising" 's backstory would probably be a very good idea right about now. Given that this animated series (which actually serves as a bridge between the original 1982 film and its 2010 sequel) is about to begin exploring a particularly intriguing aspect of this sci-fi franchise's mythology. Which (SPOILER ALERT) deals with how the previously heroic Tron (voiced by Bruce Boxleitner) eventually get transformed into Clu's vicious henchman, Rinzler.
Last month at Comic-Con International as part of a Disney Television Animation panel, the folks from Disney XD showed a trailer ...
... for an upcoming "TRON: Uprising" two-parter, "Scars." Which promises to reveal all sorts of juicy details about " ... the betrayal that will define a legacy."
When the TRON: UPRISING animated series debuted this past May -- it struck me as something that transcended being "just" a television series: the production value was striking -- on the quality level of feature animation, and unlike anything that was otherwise commonplace amongst much TV animated series fare. Since then, UPRISING has consistently effused fantastic, imaginative direction and spectacular, highly stylized art design and music -- complemented by a sci-fi/fantasy "dream cast" including Elijah Wood, Bruce Boxleitner, Lance Henriksen, Mandy Moore, Paul Rebuens, and Tricia Helfer -- with clever, entertaining sci-fi stories delving further into the grand mythology of the World of TRON.
Also impressively, the series immediately cemented its own definitive place between both iconic TRON movies with its strong, signature elements -- making it stand head to head with each film.
However, since its debut, the series has had to contend with long breaks between certain episodes, making it difficult for many viewers to track and follow the series with any type of regularity. As well, its time slot has changed twice -- and is now being changed again to Sundays at midnight, Pacific time -- starting on December 2nd. Thankfully we live in the day and age of being able to set our DVRs (digital video recorders) to easily record TV programming!
Many on the net have also voiced that they do not get the Disney X D channel upon which it airs -- and the series actually found higher ratings and a wider audience when it was "shared" briefly on the Disney Channel for a few episodes. Other excellent ways to view the show are via iTunes, Xbox Live Marketplace, the Playstation Store, and Amazon.com Instant Video -- episodes are added there within hours of their broadcast on Disney X D -- and come with full Hi-Definition and Standard Definition viewing options.
I recently had the privilege of viewing an upcoming episode -- "The Stranger" -- which is set for broadcast on December 9th (one week after the series resumes episodes on December 2nd). Just when it seemed the series couldn't possibly get any better, the envelope has been pushed even further with stunning artistry and inventiveness -- and just flat out coolness. I won't go into any spoiler territory here -- but rest assured, it's epic!
There are nine more episodes in this season of TRON: UPRISING -- and to quote Castor from TRON: LEGACY -- "This is going to be quite the ride!".
Keep checking back to TRON-SECTOR for additional updates. You can also follow UPRISING's Director Charlie Bean on his twitter page here -- visit Art Director Alberto Mieglo's website here -- and check out Music Composer Joe Traponese's twitter page here. Speaking of UPRISING's outstanding music -- fans will be pleased to know there will be an official TRON: UPRISING soundtrack release soon!
Yeah, it's been pretty much impossible to follow Tron: Uprising on Disney XD itself, where it's more off than on and with periodic changes in airtimes. Thankfully, though, I've got Disney XD On Demand, and I've been able to enjoy it there. There's lots of action in the series, but just as much characterization and intrigue.
With Tron: Uprising, the 2D animated series that bridges the gap between the cult classic original Tron movie and the 2010 follow up, heading toward the end of its first season run, Disney XD is making moves toward releasing its EDM-centric soundtrack. Composed by Joseph Trapanese -- who arranged Daft Punk's hit soundtrack for Tron: Legacy -- the Uprising score extends the computerized audio adventure even further, stretching over 18 episodes.
The show stars Elijah Wood as the voice of Beck, a rebel leader fighting against Clu within the computer mainframe world of oppression. Code named Renegade, he is the apprentice of Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) and coworker of Mara (Mandy Moore) and Zed (Nate Corddry). The show chronicles the battle for freedom that was waged before Garrett Hedlund joined Jeff Bridges in Legacy. The Hollywood Reporter is premiering the track "Goodbye Renegade."
A second sequel for the film franchise was recently announced.
"With animation, we’re not hindered by the limitations of visual effects and real world stunts. The scope can be much bigger," Trapanese said of working on the cartoon. "Through the two years of collaboration with Daft Punk, we found a balance of electronics and orchestra that worked very well for The Grid, and I've tried to build on that. The remixes for the show are from artists whom I have a great respect for and Cole’s track is added on as his unique, artistic reaction to what we’ve been doing.”