Tron: Uprising: Bright Lights and Big Battles

When I first saw Tron, I thought, “It looks cool, but this is kinda dumb.” And when I saw Tron: Legacy, I thought, “This looks really cool, but is still dumb.”

Then, after a few more viewings, Tron: Legacy began to grow on me. It became my guilty pleasure and is now something I can enjoy for what it is. And because I was able to get to that point, I was in the right frame of mind to watch and enjoy the Disney animated series Tron: Uprising, which only got one season before being canceled.

Set before the start of Legacy, Uprising takes place inside Argon, a city in the Grid where Programs live and work. When Clu’s forces occupy the city under the rule of General Tesler, a lone mechanic named Beck (voiced by Elijah Wood) takes up arms. In doing so, he draws the attention of Tron (voiced by Bruce Boxleitner), who is in hiding and looking for a successor to wear his mantle as leader of a new resistance. As “The Renegade,” Beck launches a one-man campaign against the occupation, inspiring idealistic Programs like Mara and causing enough mayhem to give the General’s forces sleepless nights.

Copyright © 2012 by Disney
Copyright © 2012 by Disney

So what did Tron: Uprising have to offer?

A colorful cast.

There’s really a surprising amount of depth to these characters, from conflicted hero Beck to the more cynical Tron. Not only that, but we also get to see into the world of the villains, with sympathetic agents like Paige contrasted against cunning psychopaths like Pavel (voiced by Paul Reubens—yes, as in Mr. Pee-wee Herman). Backing up this cast and the different personality changes they undergo is the spot-on writing, which knows when to be subtle and when to let the ham and cheese go flying.

A talented voice cast.

Seriously, I could go on with the number of good voice actors chosen for this show, especially given how surprising some of those picks were. Of course, no Tron adaptation is complete without the one and only Bruce Boxleitner, but then we’ve got big names like Elijah Wood, Paul Reubens, John Glover, Aaron Paul, and Tricia Helfer. I even recognized Nate Corddry’s voice before I saw his name in the credits, which is great since I loved his role on the equally short-lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

A darker spin on the Tron universe.

Compared to the giant end-of-the-world villainy that we’ve seen in the two Tron films, the Occupation of Argon is far more local and sadistic by comparison. General Tesler and his minions Pavel and Paige are more involved in the daily lives of Beck, Mara, Zed, and the other civilians, enforcing order with electronic jackboots and an iron grip on dissent. Tesler also shows a cunning side by using propaganda techniques to pin every problem in the city on the Renegade, spreading Wanted posters and pro-State signage that fits the police state vibe.

Because of the animation, we’re also treated to far more gruesome ways in which Programs can die, including the extremely severe scarring that Tron himself suffered offscreen.

Fluid animation with sweet techno beats.

It wouldn’t be Tron without a lot of neon stripes covering black backdrops on every square centimeter of the screen, but not even Tron: Legacy can match the sheer variety and scale of the Grid shown in the animated series. Add to that a new soundtrack that easily captures the energy and grace of Daft Punk’s contribution to the movie and you have a very thrilling combination that never gets tiresome.

I really enjoyed catching up with this show. It’s a shame that it didn’t get the network love it deserved. If you’re a fan of the Tron franchise or just really into fluid animation, I highly recommend giving this show a good run or two.

Tron: Uprising is available through Disney X.D.

Update (June 2, 2015): I wrote in an earlier version of this article that Tron 3 was in production. However, Disney has recently cancelled the film and the reference has been removed from the text.

Bibliography: Tron: Uprising. Based on Characters by Steven Lisberger and Bonnie MacBird. Developed by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. Directed by Charlie Bean and Robert Valley. Produced by Charlie Bean, Edward Kitsis, and Adam Horowitz. Perf. Elijah Wood, Bruce Boxleitner, Mandy Moore, Nate Corddry, Lance Henriksen, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Reubens, and Tricia Helfer. Sean Bailey Productions, Disney Television Animation (studio). Disney-ABC Domestic Television (distributor). Disney X.D. (channel). Original run: May 18, 2012 – January 28, 2013.

How To Film Fireworks From The Inside: Tron: Legacy

Copyright © 2010 by Walt Disney Pictures.

It’s January 2011 and the Rhapsodist is back!  I hope you all had a great Christmas and are as excited about this new year as I am.  So, let’s celebrate with some new reviews!

During the Eighties, one of the most distinctive-looking films was Tron, starring a young Jeff Bridges as a hacker who ends up inside a computer program, battling against virtual avatars of other programs by racing “Light Cycles” and hurling lethal discs.  Several years later, Walt Disney Pictures had both the technology and the fandom to come out with a sequel, Tron: Legacy.

Legacy had one major selling point: its visual appeal.  Thanks to advances in CG filming and a release as a 3-D format, the sequel was going to be Tron for the Millennial generation.

So how does this sequel hold up to its predecessor?  Visually, it’s pretty cool.  Story-wise, it’s pretty flat.

The Story

Sam Flynn (played by Garrett Hedlund) is the son of the original protagonist, Kevin Flynn (Bridges), who disappears for fifteen years while pursuing his obsession with “the digital frontier.”  Upon learning that his father might still be alive, Sam comes across a portal to “The Grid,” the fantastic digital world that Kevin has been redesigning, albeit as a prisoner of his own creation.  In order to free his father, Sam must battle against Clu, a digital copy of Kevin Flynn who has taken control of the Grid and wants to enter the human world, that he continue his vision of “perfection.”  Along the way, Sam gets help from an independent program called Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and must avoid capture by Clu’s chief henchman, a masked warrior known as Rinzler.

Light Cycles in Action. Copyright © 2010 by Walt Disney Pictures.

Going into this film, I knew that I wasn’t going to be attracted to the story so much as the visuals–and on that regard, I wasn’t disappointed.  The story is predictable, and if you pay attention, then all the revelations in the third act aren’t going to be that surprising.  There are a few obvious sequel hooks in the end, and knowing Disney, there’s no way this franchise won’t continue to be milked for all it’s worth.

The Cast

That said, I did like the set-up of Sam’s character.  He’s demonstrated to be a confident and resourceful young man, and every bit the programming genius that his father was.  Kevin Flynn comes off in this film as some kind of weird hybrid of Jedi Master and aging hippie, although he does have his quality moments.  I found Quorra to be an interesting female character, in that she’s a program who worships Kevin and has trouble appreciating the real world that Sam is from.  As for Clu, he’s just your run-of-the-mill Ruler With An Iron Fist And A Vision… except that his face is that of a young Jeff Bridges, which comes off as slightly unreal and eerie when compared to the older Bridges.

Clu Vs. His Creator. Copyright © 2010 by Walt Disney Pictures.

The Special Effects

With plot and characters out of the way, we come now to the visual element.  Let me say, first of all, that if you really like the colors blue and orange, then you will love this film.  Let me also say that the 3-D, despite its hype, didn’t really stick with me as I watched.  I loved the brightly-illuminated foreground characters and scenery contrasting with the near-black backgrounds, but it wasn’t anything made even better by being three-dimensional.  Still, I enjoyed the disc-dueling, Light Cycle races, and Light Jet dogfighting simply because they were nothing more than the astral-looking action scenes that I’d paid to see.

Final Verdict

Overall, the film’s build-up was good and the execution was okay.  While I loved the Light Cycle races, the electronic soundtrack scored by Daft Punk, and the character of Sam Flynn, the rest of the film didn’t even faze me.  It wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t mind-blowing.  It was just Tron.

Bibliography: Tron: Legacy.  Directed by Joseph Kosinski.  Produced by Sean Bailey, Jeffrey Silver, and Steven Lisberger.  Perf. Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Bruce Boxleitner, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, and James Frain.  LivePlanet.  Walt Disney Pictures.  December 17, 2010 (US release).