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Fans Descend on Anaheim For WonderCon 2014

WonderCon Fans 2014

Anaheim is home to the wonderful world of Disneyland, but this last weekend it hosted WonderCon at the Anaheim Convention Center. Anaheim is 26 miles from Los Angeles. This year's WonderCon was dominated by mutants and monsters: Godzilla and X-men. Both movies are slated for release next month and are have their devoted fans.

The center is a long walk or a short drive to Disneyland (just under two miles) and the convention center knows how to host a weekend of family fun with plenty of costumed characters. Disneyland has set a pretty high bar and the convention center makes every effort to meet them. This is the same place that hosts the Disney D23 Expo every two years.

WonderCon was originally called the Wonderful World of Comics Convention, first held at the Oakland Convention Center in Northern California and then later, from 1987 to 2011, in San Francisco, most recently at the Moscone Center. When the Moscone Center was being remodeled in 2012, WonderCon came to Anaheim. The move was supposed to be temporary, but scheduling problems in 2013 brought it back to Anaheim in March.

WonderCon isn't as big as San Diego Comic-Con, but its location has easier access for families and people on wheels. There's a long promenade in front of the main entrance of the convention center, and behind its neighbor, the Hilton, and no stairs into the convention center.

Stan Lee's Comikaze in autumn takes up only one wing of the  Los Angeles  Convention Center in the downtown area with few restaurants in walking distance and endless halls to walk before you get into a long registration line. Last year at Comikaze, attendees could eat convention center food or something from the two food trucks parked outside. Although there are plenty of restaurants in walking distance, WonderCon had ten gourmet food trucks lined up alongside the promenade to feed the hungry crowds.

The lack of stairs at the entrance of the Anaheim Convention Center and the lower number of people compared to SD Comic-Con make WonderCon an easy glide in for people in wheelchairs and it also allows for larger costume props such as a wheeled-in Tardis and different incarnations of Dr. Who gathered around it or the woman whose good friend dragged her on a cart because mermaids can't walk. Then there was the beagle pulling a pirate cart. The beagle might make it in to Comic-Con, but the mermaid would have been beached and unable to navigate the crowded aisles of SD Comic-Con's exhibition hall.

A lot of movie trailers are shown at WonderCon, but in this era of YouTube and social networking, they soon go public on Facebook or Twitter. A few TV shows were screening sneak peaks at future episodes such as a special advance screening of "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" on Friday night or the first hour of "How to Train Your Dragon 2" on Saturday. I can't imagine seeing part but not all of a movie. That would lead to many sleepless nights so I passed on lining up for the first-come, first-seated showing.

The Warner Bros. presentation in the Arena coincided with check in for the Twentieth Century Fox press presentations. The writers waiting for the Fox press presentations missed the trailer that revealed the first look at this version of Godzilla, but on the exhibition floor the marketing director of Insight Editions, Byron Parnell, has already seen all the concept art in "Godzilla: The Art of Destruction."

The book by Mark Cotta Vaz, who also authored the "Twilight Saga" companion books, won't be released until 13 May 2014. Director Gareth Edwards' "Godzilla" is scheduled for a 16 May 2014 release date in the U.S. Besides concept illustrations, sketches, storyboards and other pre-production materials, the book includes interviews with the director, key crew and cast members including Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen. The first run has already sold out and the second run is going fast. The list price is $45, but Amazon offers it for less. You can get your kaiju fix by watching the Godzilla movie marathon on (12-18 May 2014).

While Godzilla successfully teased fans at WonderCon, X-men were absent—no panel and no press conference. A teen sex abuse lawsuit filed in Hawaii on Wednesday against director Bryan Singer derailed plans for Singer to promote "X-Men: Days of Future Past" at WonderCon on Saturday, the busiest day of the weekend. He was the only speaker connected with the movie scheduled for the Fox presentation and there was no replacement. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" opens on May 23, 2014.

Fox's DreamWorks Dragons press conference with Jay Baruchel who voices Hiccup and writer/director Dean DeBlois went without a hitch. The story for the sequel to the 2010 "How to Train Your Dragon" had already been revealed last year at the San Diego Comic-Con.

"How to Train Your Dragon 2" is the second part of a trilogy and takes place five years after the first movie and after the first two seasons of the Cartoon Network TV show. Director/writer Dean DeBlois explained the reason for skipping ahead was that the main character Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) had achieved the respect of his village and his father and has been noticed by his love interest Astrid in the first movie. The second movie "needed to be necessary for me."

Hiccup ended the last movie missing part of his leg, but the second movie is about something missing in his life: his mother. In the DreamWorks Dragon universe which diverges from the original novels by Cressida Cowell, his mother has "been missing for twenty years and is like Dian Fossey living among dragons and learning their ways." She's been "living this intense dragon-centric life" and that partially explains why Hiccup is a "dragon whisperer" according to DeBlois. Cate Blanchett voices Hiccup's mother Valka.

Despite the camaraderie portrayed in the TV program and the movies between Hiccup and his friends, the voice actors aren't recording together. Jay Baruchel said for this last movie he only recalled being in the room with another actor only once. For him, most of the recording was done in isolation because of the size of the cast and geographical considerations.

DeBlois commented that "It's nice when we can get actors together because you can build; you can let them run the scene and step on each other's lines and let them go off script if it feels right. Voice acting in animation is probably the only spontaneous element. Everything else is meticulously executed and planned and happens over the course of several years."

DeBlois admits that "Jay is the greatest authority on the character" of Hiccup and often defers to Baruchel's instincts about Hiccup. The trilogy's story arc is a brewing conflict that's being incited by Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), a dragon hunter and his co-hort Eret (Kit Harington), a dragon trapper. Drago is trying to build up a dragon army.

Hiccup's long-lost mother Valka has been waging a one-woman war against Drago by rescuing the dragons and giving them sanctuary.

The third TV season which has yet to be greenlighted would set up the action of the second movie. DeBlois wouldn't confirm that Toothless will find a mate or another Night Fury, only commenting that Toothless was unique.

"How to Train Your Dragon 2" opens on June 13, 2014 in 3D.

If you have apemania and enjoyed the 2011 hit "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," then you'll be looking forward to "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," which will hit theaters on July 11, 2014, before San Diego Comic-Con (July 24-27, 2014)

James Franco and Freida Pinto won't be returning. Franco's character Will Rodman had been a scientist at a biotech company that developed a viral-based drug ALZ-112. The drug was meant to cure Alzheimer's disease in humans but was being tested on chimpanzees. A female chimpanzee passes the ALZ-virus to her baby. When the project is terminated, Will decided not to kill the baby, but takes him home and raises him. Will has also been secretly treating his father with ALZ-112 and then later ALZ-113, but the virus proves deadly to humans even though it increases the intelligence of other primates. Franco's character Will and his love interest, a primatologist played by Pinto would have been at ground zero and died before the events of the next movie.

"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" takes place 15 years after "Rise." Led by Caesar (Andy Serkis), the genetically altered primates are thriving and battle the surviving humans (new characters including Keri Russell and Gary Oldman) for dominance over the Earth. Director Matt Reeves enthused about his entry into the series because of his obsession with the original movies. "For a long period of time it was my childhood. I was so obsessed after seeing that movie ("Planet of the Apes"). I was so interested in that John Chambers' make up" and confessed that he had the dolls and a copy of "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" that he wore out. "When I saw 'Rise,' having always wanted to be an ape, I was an ape," he exclaimed, explaining, "I had emotional identification with an ape" because "the most human character in that story is Caesar."

In both "Rise" and "Dawn," Reeves commented, "We already know what happens so it's about the why." Reeves feels "Dawn" gives a richly emotional explanation.

Oldman as Dreyfus  leads a colony of human survivors. "Initially, we don't know there are apes there. We have survived the flu, the epidemic...we believe the military has done their job and that they wiped out the apes."  The colony has food and water, but Oldman explained, "The currency in the movie is electricity." In order to find out what is really happening, Oldman added, "We need that to communicate with the outside world." Without electricity they can't find out who is out there and how many and where they might be.

Reeves interjected, "For me, the idea was that it's really a story of two families. There's a human family and there's an ape family...The difference is the apes are on the ascendancy." According to Reeves, the human family has experienced a massive tragedy and are just trying to heal themselves. The emotional depth is drawn from "What it took to even still be here and what was lost along the way and what's worth fighting for at this point."

Rupert Wyatt who directed "Rise," didn't feel the schedule allowed for enough time and dropped out, something that Reeves agrees with in hindsight.

The Fox press conference ended with the panel for "The Maze Runner" which included writer James Dashner, director Wes Ball and stars Dylan O'Brien (MTV's "Teen Wolf") and Will Poulter ("The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" and "We're the Millers"). The movie is based on a book by James Dashner and tells the story of a young man who wakes up in a maze with other boys, but no memory of his past or of an outside world.

When asked what was driving the current fascination with young adult post-apocalyptic movies, O'Brien simply said "Jennifer Lawrence. How could that not spawn a franchise?"

Ball felt "The Maze Runner" doesn't fit into either category—post-apocalyptic or young adult. "I tried to make something outside of the YA-thing," Ball stated. "It's just a movie that has young people in it dealing with adult situations."

Poulter thought categorizing "The Maze Runner" as young adult was slightly patronizing to young audiences because "to suggest that they're confined to watching sci-fi drama, that's not fair." Moreover, "The Maze Runner" is unlike many similarly categorized films because it doesn't focus on action and adventure and visuals, he explained. There's "a real kind of integrity to the characters" and their emotional development and relationships.

When asked if O'Brien's character Thomas was going to be the male Katniss Everdeen, O'Brien replied that "The Maze Runner" is a small movie compared to "The Hunger Games." "We never felt like this was the next 'Hunger Games,' like I'm the next Katniss."

Poulter jumped in and joked, "You're a dude, too"

O'Brien agreed, "I also am a man, a boy, a guy," but Dashner quipped "We are planning a Thomas versus Katniss film a few years down the road."

And apparently O'Brien's character Thomas won't fare well. O'Brien confessed, "She would kick my ass" and Dashner quickly agreed.

While we may have to wait a long time before Thomas meets Katniss, in the near future, we can look forward to listening to the soundtrack for "The Maze Runner." Ball confessed, "I'm a big soundtrack buff. I love soundtracks. That's all I've listened to since I was sixteen years old. John Paesana is one of our composers. He got his training with John Williams, then he went off and worked with Hans Zimmer for a while, and then was hand picked by John Powell to do the TV show version of 'How to Train Your Dragon." He's got a really eclectic mix of old school classic film sound where music becomes a character in the movie and supports the emotion."

Dashner is also something of a soundtrack buff, stating that he writes to soundtracks, from "Lord of the Rings" to "Aliens," and was delighted to learn that Ball wanted full orchestrations for the movie.

When asked what their favorite soundtracks were, Ball listed "Jurassic Park," "The Maze Runner," and the last Superman movie. Dashner chose "Aliens" and Poulter said the Bourne trilogy. "The Maze Runner" opens on September 19, 2014.

Jana Monji

Jana Monji, made in San Diego, California, lost in Japan several times, has written about theater and movies for the LA Weekly, LA Times, and currently, and the Pasadena Weekly. Her short fiction has been published in the Asian American Literary Review.

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