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HOLLYWOOD - Walt Disney Studios and Pixar teamed up with Dolby last night to christen the "new" Dolby Theater with the world premiere of the new animated adventure "Brave" and, fortunately, everything sounded just fine.
The Dolby Theater was formerly known as the Kodak Theater and is the home of a little annual awards shindig known as the Academy Awards and, more recently, became the permanent home for Cirque du Soleil's "Iris." After Kodak declared bankruptcy earlier this year, it put the landlords of Hollywood & Highland, which owns the theater space, in a precarious naming rights position at the exact same time they were negotiating with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a new long-term lease for the Oscars (it even became a running joke during this year's show). Thankfully, everything worked out as Dolby Laboratories stepped in to replace Kodak, jumping at the chance to put their brand on one of entertainment's biggest stages. The San Francisco based company is a major technical player in the movie theater business and arguably provides a more seamless fit with the Academy in this new digital age.
Monday's premiere was Dolby's first opportunity to show off their new surround sound technology Dolby Atmos in the space and judging from this pundit's seat in the first balcony it all sounded fine. It was a bit hard to judge having never seen a movie in the theater space before (premieres are rare held there), but it certainly sounded better than when I've seen films at the Nokia Theater at LA Live (a huge problem for that venue). Most impressive, however, was the digital 3D projection. The screen at the Dolby was HUGE and there was absolutely no problem watching the film in 3D from the first balcony.
As for the premiere it self, Disney pulled out all the stops with their first Pixar release in the post-Rich Ross era. Teaming up with Visit Scotland, the post-party featured traditional dancers and band, kid-friendly archery stations (watch out!) and for the adults, a tempting whisky tasting station. Besides cast voices Kelly Macdonald, Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson, talent on hand included Pixar and Disney Animations head John Lassiter, Disney CEO and Chairman Bob Iger, new Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn, Brad Bird, Angela Kinsey, Allison Janey, Molly Ringwald, Angela Bassett, Olympic gold medalist figure skater Scott Hamilton, upcoming NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller and Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden (the latter six all with tykes in tow).
"Brave" is set for a strong debut this weekend and should find mostly positive reviews. It's clearly not in the upper-echelon of Pixar films (the story has some issues), but it's light years better than "Cars" or "Cars 2." You can read Drew McWeeny's review here.
Having a premiere at the Dolby was likely a one-shot deal for Disney. The studio owns the El Capitan Theater across the street and finds it much more economical to stage their premieres there. A majority of the studio premieres are split between Grauman's Chinese and the Arclight also in Hollywood. It's unclear whether Dolby and the Hollywood & Highland complex will be attempting to secure more premieres in the "Oscar" theater, but they should. As much as I'm a fan of the Chinese, the wide lobby and easy access to the top level after party made having the event at the Dolby seamless. And, as noted, the projection was fantastic.
Just a few months ago, there was a lot of worry about the name situation for the "Oscar" theater and whether it would be another lead to the Academy abandoning Hollywood for the bland digs of the Nokia downtown. Monday's "Brave" premiere proved that even Hollywood can have a happy ending now and then.
"Brave" opens in theaters nationwide and in 3D on Friday.