The Wild Robot Footage Reaction: Visuals So Good You'll Think It's A Still Painting [Annecy]

Chris Sanders is no stranger to making audiences drop their jaws in awe, right before making them sob during a film. The co-director of "Lilo & Stitch" and "How to Train Your Dragon" has time and time again delivered movies full of heart, thrilling action, and fantastic visuals. Now, he's back with "The Wild Robot," one of our most anticipated movies of the year, and if the footage shown to enthusiastic audiences at the Annecy Animation Film Festival is anything to go by, you better get your tissues ready.

Based on Peter Brown's celebrated middle-grade book of the same name from 2016, the film follows Rozzum 7134, or "Roz." Played by Lupita Nyong'o, Roz is a robot who gets stranded on a deserted island populated only by animals. While trying to survive and find a task to fulfill (as is her programming), she accidentally becomes the guardian of a baby gosling, from whom she will learn to truly live.

Audiences at Annecy were treated to about 20 minutes of footage from "The Wild Robot" — the opening scene from the film, as well as a pivotal sequence from the second act — before being shown the new trailer (see above). But before the footage was screened, DreamWorks' Animation unveiled a sizzle reel celebrating the 30th anniversary of the studio that mostly focused on its big franchises — though some of the biggest cheers were for the brief shots from beloved movies like "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron." The video served to show the evolution of DreamWorks' animation style, from the CGI of "Shrek" to "The Bad Guys" taking a hyper-stylized approach that was carried over into "Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" (still one of the best panels I've seen at Annecy), and now "The Wild Robot" carrying that torch.

The Wild Robot looks beautiful

First, we watched the opening of the film, showing Roz crash-landing on a deserted island before going up to every single animal she encounters, asking if they need help with anything. In response, she gets mocked, ignored, yelled at or attacked by every animal (many of which also get snatched away by a predator before Roz can even process the horror of nature). It's one hell of a way to start a movie and implies that "The Wild Robot" will be unlike any other DreamWorks story to date — one that's more meditative and slower yet still retains a sense of humor.

More than anything, this movie looks absolutely, impossibly, gobsmackingly gorgeous. Before the footage, director Chris Sanders told the audience how he was constantly surprised by looking at what he thought was concept art (that is, a single static image) before the animators clicked play and the scene moved. The backgrounds in the film are incredible, with every surface on the film having a painted look that makes each individual shot look, in fact, like elaborate concept art. Watching Roz walk around the woods, or a shot of her walking at night with the moon right behind her, is awe-inspiring.

Though I kind of wish the studio had held off on showing Roz deciphering animal languages a bit longer, it's hard not to laugh along when the animals are suddenly capable of expressing just how much they HATE this annoying robot interrupting their lives. Watching an artificial intelligence try its best to appear useful while, in actuality, just making things awkward and uncomfortable to everyone, with her would-be clients kicking and yelling in response and even celebrating the robot's apparent death, is also weirdly satisfying given the current climate around AI.

An emotional story of a robot and a gosling

The first part of the footage ended with the initial meeting between Roz and a little gosling she later names Brightbill. The second part of the footage jumps ahead to the middle section of the film, set months later, with Brightbill now grown up. Now the stakes are higher; Roz only has about a week to teach him to fly so he can migrate, or he'll be stuck on the island and die during the winter.

This is where Chris Sanders' magic touch comes in. "Lilo & Stitch," "How to Train Your Dragon," "The Croods," and even "The Call of the Wild" have great moments and visuals, but they also know when to pull at your heartstrings. The closest comparison to this part of the footage is the lead-up to the Test Drive sequence from "How to Train Your Dragon," which is equal parts excitement and a roller coaster of emotions. Sure, this appears to be yet another story about a lone wanderer taking care of a small child, makingn it part of the recent "Lone Wolf and Cub" trend that has taken over TV, film, and video games (much like "Die Hard" became a template for many movies in the '90s). But there's a reason the template keeps working. Watching Roz become attached to Brightbill is emotional, and watching the young boy take his first flight accompanied by dozens of birds flying in unison is just emotionally devastating and utterly stunning.

The future of DreamWorks seems to be one dominated by sequels and franchises. However, as long as those franchises start out with films that have a unique and distinct vision like this one, then the future is looking bright.

"The Wild Robot" opens in theaters on September 27, 2024.