‘Mission: Impossible’: Brad Bird goes into Cruise control

Nov. 02, 2011 | 12:25 p.m.

The Los Angeles Times Holiday Sneaks issue runs Sunday, here’s an early look at one of the stories.

Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Tom Cruise, Brad Bird and Paula Patton on the set of "Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol" (David James/Paramount)

Brad Bird, who has two Oscars for his Pixar films, is on a mission to make his first live-action blockbuster but, on a recent morning, as he regaled some journalists with behind-the-scenes tales of Hollywood, there was really only one word to describe his raconteur style: animated.

Waving his arms, hunching over and making high-decibel sound effects, the writer-director was a one-man cartoon as he unspooled a story about working on the “Ratatouille” recording sessions with Peter O’Toole. It was a good story but one suspects Bird will walk away from his new project, “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” with far more exotic memories.

The fourth film in the “Mission” franchise, with Tom Cruise back as super-spy Ethan Hunt, opens everywhere on Dec. 21 and, five days before that, it will get a special early run at IMAX and select prestige theaters. It was Bird who pushed hard for that early giant-screen plan — he is, quite literally, thinking big for this key career moment. But don’t think for a minute that he’s sour on his cartoon past.

“I’m not like some animation directors and like, ‘Thank God I’m out of animation and sitting at the adult’s table, I’m tired of sitting at the kid’s table,’” Bird said with a mock, raspy anger. “I have other ideas I’d love to do in animation. My ideal career from here would be to jump back and forth and let the project dictate what medium I work in. To me it’s all storytelling.”

Paula Patton plays Jane and Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" (Joe Lederer/Paramount Pictures)

The story this time starts in Russia where the Kremlin is bombed and the blame is put on Hunt and his three IMF teammates (portrayed by Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Paula Patton), who must embark on a perilous globetrotting mission to get to the true villains. Shooting a Paramount Pictures tentpole in Dubai; Prague, Czech Republic; Moscow; Mumbai, India; and Vancouver, Canada, shows how much ground Bird has covered since his drawing-table days. The 54-year-old Montana native started his career as an animator with early credits like “Animalympics” in 1980 (produced, by the way, by “Tron” writer-director Steven Lisberger)  and Disney’s “The Fox and the Hound” a year later.

Even if audiences weren’t paying attention, Bird caught the attention of Hollywood insiders as the writer-director of the underappreciated 1999 gem “Iron Giant.” His work on “The Incredibles” — which showed a sly appreciation for classic James Bond films and the spirit of spy cinema  –  and “Ratatouille” led to two screenwriting Oscar nominations and a pair of trophies for best animated feature.

For Cruise, this year is the 30th anniversary of his first two films, “Endless Love” and “Taps,” and he has high hopes that this new “Mission” will light a bigger fuse at the box office than his last movie, James Mangold’s “Knight and Day,” which got trounced last year when it opened opposite Pixar’s “Toy Story 3.”

The star and franchise producer said he sought out Bird — whom he calls “a very special storyteller” — after seeing “The Incredibles” and “Iron Giant” and recognizing the filmmaker’s “understanding of composition to forward the story and character and a great sense of fun.” The “Mission” series has pulled in $1.4 billion in worldwide box office since it launched in 1996 and Cruise said he was eager to add Bird to the franchise director list of Brian DePalma, John Woo and J.J. Abrams.

“Back when I went to Paramount and said I wanted to do ‘Mission: Impossible,’ people looked at me a little cross-eyed because it was a TV series and at that time people weren’t really doing that” for feature-film franchises, Cruise said. “I always hoped that if it did work I’d be able to have a big platform for a popcorn movie and to bring in different filmmakers who could share the love of this genre and see what it is that interests us.”

Bird said he went back to previous “Mission” films to look for the rhythms he wanted for this new take and decided he wanted to avoid geopolitical intrigue that slipped into the relentlessly grim.

“One of my favorite moments acting-wise were the scenes he did with Vanessa Redgrave; he kind of came alive in a slightly different way,” Bird said, referring to Cruise in the first film in the franchise. “You could tell he had a lot of respect for Redgrave and knew that he had to be on his game because she was going to get every drop out of her part of the scene, so he better get every drop of his. There was a playfulness to those scenes together that I really liked. When you see the [new] film, it’s a little more playful than the other ‘Mission: Impossible’ films — hopefully without undermining the suspense or action.”

– Geoff Boucher

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Comments


27 Responses to ‘Mission: Impossible’: Brad Bird goes into Cruise control

  1. LilaBoo says:

    I cannot wait until this movie comes out! It's def gonna be one of the best movies of the year, it look absolutely incredible! Love love love Tom Cruise and Jeremy Renner!

  2. Dave says:

    I cannot wait to see this movie. The thought of "the incredibles" style pace, action and excitement combined with cruise's reprise of the ethan hunt role on an Imax screen will be awesome…at the top of my list!

  3. KarraJ says:

    Pretty sure this will be another masterpiece from Brad Bird. The trailer looks pretty phenomenal. Can't wait to see this.

  4. Gab0Wab0 says:

    Have you SEEN any of the trailers or behind the scenes clips that were just released?! There is so much talent behind the creation of this film…its sick! I think you pair Brad Bird with the likes of JJ Abrams and Tom Cruise and you've got a recipe for blockbuster success.

  5. John says:

    I see Cruise's PR team is here. Talk about a mission impossible.

  6. Doreen says:

    Yes we've seen it before and I personally want to see it again and again and again… 25 years of making movies and he is STILL so hot!

  7. jody says:

    Wow. There's a hell of a lot of "love-bombing" going on here. You'd think there was something more to it than just "four" effusive fans in a row. I suggest throwing in a few less-than-overwhelmingly-starry-eyed comments to make it seem like something other than press agent-, or religious organization-orchestrated whitewashing.

  8. RatzoRizzo says:

    I have other ideas I’d love to do in animation. My ideal career from here would be to jump back and forth and let the project dictate what medium I work in… You know, like when you are spoiled.

    • tony says:

      Really? How is it any different than any other talented artist? They use the best medium to communicate their point, ie -photography vs painting.

  9. hoopsvader says:

    Jason Bourne blows away over the top Cruise. Wait for this dud to hit the 99 cents bin.

  10. AudreyJay says:

    Anyone able to recall how long it took to render a 5 minute animation, the work that's being done now is pretty amazing. Kudos to this team. Any filmmaker able to thrill the 3 second edit generation for 90 minutes, is worthy of some praise.

  11. John Jay says:

    Seriously PR person, at least use more than one author from your office.

    I for one enjoyed Tom jumping off of Oprahs couch more than this recycled trash.

  12. alan says:

    I'd hope that the mission impossible theme is back completely in the series, otherwise i thought the mission impossibles past 1 were god awful. the only abrams film i thought was halfway good was super 8, despite loving lost the series except for the ending. the star trek reboot mediocre to awful in parts. seriously though, the score and mission impossible 1 was right on, i hope brad has some brains and returns to the pacing and scoring of the first film that made both the original series and the first movie work terrificaly.

  13. fabbeaux says:

    Brad Bird, Simon Pegg, Judy Dench, Jeremy Renner… not only star power, but comedic legitimacy, award-winners, and true thespian talent. Tom Cruise? Not so much. What he does well is run, very quickly, and with purpose in his arm-pumping and grim demeanor, consistently reaffirming his overarching ability to ruthlessly take himself more seriously than anyone else might otherwise take either him or his performances. Not that a lightweight can't dangle – he dangles with the best of them. That he requires lifting to dangling height by such an associate cast or director is only proof of his own littleness in such an action film and in such a "franchise", where the backdrop to action figures is generally left to the mind-bogglingly expensive and scene-stealing special effects. I respect his fans, and you may gush your PR hearts out, but do we not all see here that the franchise, having resorted to such heavyweights in the supporting actor and directing columns – not to mention the world's tallest buildings – has effectively shunted your "awesome" running man to the B-team roles of advertising gimmick (name recognition) and publicity stunt? He has hereby become what he has been destined to become all along – an expensive prop or clever product placement conspicuously situated to sell merchandise and cinema tickets for an aging franchise. A task he accomplishes very well, by the way…

  14. Kim says:

    Holy crap – Brad Bird is directing? Aw man… now I feel like I need to see it. As a Mom, still can not look at Tom Cruise without being p*&%ed off about his judgement of Moms with Post Partum depression. Vowed never to see another Tom Cruise film again. (Brooke Shields book was brilliant, IMHO) But seriously – Brad Bird? The sirens are calling me….

  15. zack says:

    yeah you'd think there'd be more comments out there, but then again this is the irrelevant LA Times…

    I want to like this movie because I like Brad Bird and his Pixar connections (and Iron Giant, hello?!), and the MI series (espec 1st and 3rd). I love what he said about the pacing of the 1st one…it had periods of down time where the slickness level and sense of intellectual play was higher. Hopefully it comes across.

    My only criticism comes in the form of a worry…the trailer looks WAY too action packed, and Cruise looks old here for the 1st time in the MIs. Is the movie going to address this age thing? WIll the tone mesh with his age? Because old guys don't look as great sprinting around CGI. Certain styles of action movies, like rock music, are a young man's game. Also, is this going to be a movie with 4,000 things going on a minute, because I am sensory overloaded enough already. Also the trailer setup seems sooooo tired and done before. "Oh no the russians blah blah blah" "Oh the President has initiated whatever it's called" "Oh who are you? Everyone has secrets, right Ethan?" I mean seriously? c'mon. You can't make a movie that's like any other action movie when the key cogs won't mesh…….i.e. an old looking lead, and a film franchise that some are just done with unless there's great word of mouth. For the typical moviegoer, you can't just throw up an action film and say "Come see the exciting third sequel in a decent franchise with an aging action star in the most convoluted and CGI/action packed film of the series!" Seriously? Sometimes I remember that Tom Cruise is just an actor who pretends to be people I'd care about in situations that I'd find interesting and that what happens in and around movies don't really matter in the slightest and I'm better off forgetting they exist. But I don't remember often enough.

  16. infinitemkys says:

    Can we replace Tom Crusie with Josh?

  17. saud says:

    niceeeeeeeeee!

  18. aman says:

    kmaaaaaaaaaaal ha,love u tom

  19. Theedy says:

    awesome!!! ^_^ I love Mission Impossible…

  20. dinesh says:

    mama tom cruise rocks re

  21. WeNdelloreN says:

    Realmente este filme para mim sem sobra de duvidas esta entre os melhores deste ano, pois teve muitos poucos filmes bom este ano. Estou só na espera para ir no cinema confirma o que estou falando aqui…
    E sempre gosto dos filmes de Tom Cruise entre outros atores de filmes de ação..

  22. Denise says:

    I love the "CalArts" shirt!

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