See the iconic yellow Beetle’s humble beginnings in the first teaser for ‘Bumblebee.’
SAN DIEGO – Comic-Con gave fans a peek at two back-to-back December films on Friday – “Bumblebee” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” – with friendships that aim squarely at kid-friendly audiences. And, coincidentally, they both happen to star Hailee Steinfeld.
Those who tired of Michael Bay’s rock-em-sock-em robot nonsense in the “Transformers” movies may come back to the franchise with the retro prequel “Bumblebee” (in theaters Dec. 21), a coming-of-age journey about a teenage girl and her transforming car. There will still be plenty of action and explosions, but with a lot more heart courtesy of director Travis Knight.
“Any time you have giant hunks of metal that are bashing into each other, you’ve got to be very, very careful about how you approach it,” said Knight, the head of the Laika animation studio who directed 2016’s “Kubo and the Two Strings.”
“At some point, it can be incoherent when you’re looking at it. It moves from two giant robots beating each other up to two Radio Shacks reenacting the Kama Sutra.”
With its throwback color schemes and robot designs, “Bumblebee” will definitely appeal to children of the 1980s who grew up with the original “Transformers” TV show and toys. (The movie’s Comic-Con panel even guest-starred singer Stan Bush rocking out to “The Touch,” a power-pop anthem from 1986’s animated “Transformers: The Movie.”)
The story, however, has a fresh touch even with the ‘80s setting: Charlie Watson (Steinfeld) is a misunderstood teenager who’s experienced a major loss in her life and wants to fill that void with love, friendship or just someone who gets her.
Enter a large robot that changes into a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. Knight showed the Comic-Con footage of the meeting between girl and robot, a sweet moment in a garage where each looks into the other’s eyes and she gives him his name because “you sound like a bumblebee.”
“Bumblebee is like an adolescent character and you think about the experiences you go through in that time of your life,” Knight said. “We’re always changing and evolving, we’re always trying to find our place or fit in or stand out, and oftentimes we do feel completely and utterly alone.”
And Charlie is “craving a sense of freedom and sees that in this car,” Steinfeld added. “This is a character who’s finding who she is and what her place is in the world and finding her voice, and so is Bumblebee.”
Steinfeld also factors into “Spider-Verse” (Dec. 14), though the main duo there is a pair of Spider-Men from different universes.
Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is a black/Hispanic kid who looked up to the late Peter Parker, the Spider-Man of his world, and one night at his hero’s grave inexplicably meets the Peter (Jake Johnson) of another reality who’s past his superhero prime.
“It’s Peter Parker at 40 and Peter Parker with a bad back and Peter Parker who’s not sure if he wants to be Spider-Man,” Johnson said of his “chubby” do-gooder.
Miles sees him as a potential mentor because, honestly, “he doesn’t really want to be Spider-Man,” Moore said. “He’s just trying to go to school like a normal kid and all of a sudden he’s bit by this spider and he’s got these powers and now people are trying to kill him. And he has this duty of saving most of the universes.”
Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) gets some lessons from Peter Parker in the animated “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
Peter balks initially but “sees something really special in this guy and it reminds him of what he loves about having those powers,” Johnson said.
And amid dealing with supervillains like Kingpin (Live Schreiber) and meeting Spider-folks from other places like the shadowy Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) and piggy Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), the main Spider-dudes team up with young Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Gwen (Steinfeld).
“She really is just the toughest and the coolest and the most capable one in the room, and she knows it,” said Steinfeld.
Executive producer Phil Lord added that Miles, Peter and Gwen find common ground in all being born out of tragedy. “For the first time, there’s somebody out there who knows what they’re going through. They finally have a tribe that they can hang out with.”
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