Meet the Hero of ‘TRON: Uprising’ in 31-Minute ‘Beck’s Beginning’ [Video + Review]
Disney XD is now streaming a full, 31-minute installment of TRON: Uprising in advance of the CG animated series' June 7 debut, enticing fans to return to the Steven Lisberger-created digital realm known as The Grid, as seen in the films TRON and TRON: Legacy. Entitled "Beck's Beginning," the installment quickly establishes the show's place in greater TRON-tinuity while introducing new protagonist Beck, a young program seeking justice against the forces of the evil program Clu 2 on behalf of a fallen friend and his recently conquered digital city. Featuring a story by TRON: Legacy screenwriters Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, with character designs and storyboards by comic book artists Robert Valley and Eric Canete, and music by Daft Punk collaborator Joseph Trapanese, the new show should fall right into the comfort zone of longstanding franchise fans and superhero genre aficionados alike.
Writer Erik Amaya attended a screening of "Beck's Beginning" over the weekend that included a Q&A with the TRON: Uprising producers, and you can read his impressions and watch the full 31-minute episode below.
Immediately, the most striking thing about the episode is its extension of the TRON look. When people think of TRON as an icon in the Disney stable, they more likely than not think of the Light Cycle. Devised by Syd Mead in the early 1980s while both he and Jean "Moebius" Giraud contributed design work to the original film, one of the Walt Disney Company's more avant-garde productions, it made a lasting impression on the audience; even if the rest of movie's story, characters, and mythology disappeared into memory.
The light-cycle, and many other of the artists' forward-thinking concepts have been carried over into the series by way of the TRON: Legacy update in 2010. The neon outlines on black forms offer an unusual and sophisticated design style for children's animation, but it's certainly welcome. Beyond that eye-catching aesthetic, "Beck's Beginning" and the following TRON: Uprising episodes are realized in an interesting fusion of computer graphics and traditional 2D techniques. The result is a curious fusion of the two that proves to be well worth the effort. Early on, a tight character shot pulls back to reveal the amazing depth of the show's central location, Argon City. Going one step further, the camera starts to move on its own, detached from the frame, giving the viewer an amazing tour of the city. Merging the two disciplines pays off as the episode highlights the strengths of each.
"Beck's Beginning" introduces us to the principle character of the series, a mechanic thrust into the role of hero when control program Clu's army arrive in Argon City, a coastal town on the edge of the Grid -- the simulated world designed by TRON and TRON: Legacy's Kevin Flynn. As the series begins, we learn Tron has become something of a myth, presumed dead since Clu's violent coup against the Users and Flynn.
As Clu's task force -- led by the power-hungry General Tesler (voiced by Lance Henriksen) -- makes their beachhead in Argon, an unfortunate incident involving Beck's friend Bodhi leads him to adopt Tron's symbol and deface a statue of Clu. After being chased by unfriendly forces and fighting the able adversary Paige (voiced by Emmanuelle Chriqui), Beck learns the rumors of Tron's de-resolution may have been greatly exaggerated.
Originally designed to appear as 10 three-minute mini-episodes, "Beck's Beginning" suffers from a couple of sequences that reveal that original pacing. Paige's introduction, for example, happens at a speed that is at odds with the rest of the story. Tesler berates her for suggesting that Tron may yet live, but before she can establish herself as a major character, Clu (voiced by a remarkable Jeff Bridges sound-alike) makes a surprise appearance to announce that he killed Tron himself. He never appears again. Considering all the important stuff happening in the scene, it's oddly rushed. A similar pacing issue occurs when Tron recounts to Beck what happened after he disappeared. Luckily, both happen within the first 15 minutes of the tale and are forgotten for the most part when the episode's showcase chase scene happens.
And boy, what a showcase.
Beck, again adopting the Tron persona, must prevent a light-train from reaching the Argon Coliseum. The light-track crisscrosses the city and winds through buildings as the train-cars themselves must spin around the track at terrific speed to avoid crashing. This presents Beck and one of Tesler's goons with a pretty tough environment in which to fight. The scene if quite thrilling as it switches from chase to fight and back to chase. The train is a fantastic addition to the franchise's stable of vehicles apparently made of light and if it's any indication of the sort of action in the series to come, kids (and kids from the '80s) will eat this thing up.
Aiding the scene is a great score from Joseph Trapanese. He worked with Daft Punk on the music for TRON: Legacy and his easy melding of electronic and orchestral elements certainly feels natural for the world of Argon City. It also creates a bond with the recent "TRON" film and is a perfect accompaniment to the great animation on the screen.
The voice cast is also quite strong. Elijah Wood gives Beck unexpected confidence, but also an adolescent uncertainty that will play well as the character continues on his journey as the city's hero. Bruce Boxleitner reprises his role as Tron and well, it's hard to imagine anyone else playing the part. The actor's well-earned gravitas is on display as Tron -- apparently not so derezzed -- offers to train Beck in becoming a protector.
If you've seen TRON: Legacy and wonder where Rinzler might be, consulting producers and Legacy writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz explained after the screening that they "haven't forgotten about Rinzler." While that story point will not be immediately addressed in the series, it may eventually come into play.
Henriksen's performance as Tesler is quite surprising as his usually mellow, but gruff voice gives way to a self-absorbed looney, mad for control and personally offended that some young punk would challenge his rule. Reginald VelJohnson of Family Matters and Die Hard fame makes an appearance as Able, the manager of the machine shop Beck works at when he's not fighting Tesler and Clu's army. Able and Beck have a few brief scenes in "Beck's Beginning," but VelJohnson proves to be his fatherly best. After the screening, the actor suggested Able has a secret past and may know more about Tron than he lets on.
Mandy Moore and Nate Corddry round out the cast as Beck's best friends. In the Grid, there are no natural families and it'll be interesting to see how their friendship evolves over the course of the series.
With an unusual look and hip feel, "Beck's Beginning" is a surprisingly strong introduction for the new series. Should it keep up its almost feature animation quality, sophisticated storytelling, strong voice acting, and awesome musical elements, we will no doubt be enjoying a long visit in the world of TRON for some time to come.
"Beck's Beginning" is available on iTunes and YouTube now. TRON: Uprising premieres on June 7 at 9PM on Disney XD.