At Disney’s D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center, Disney chairman Alan Horn kicked off the weekend-long events with a July 14 address to the 8000 attendees, stating that excited patrons from all over the world makes him “want to be sure that we deliver the very very best films to you.”
Then, studio president Alan Bergman explained, “Walt Disney started the company in 1923. None of this would exist without animation.” Bergman noted that the animation division of the studio includes Walt Disney Animation Studios, DisneyToon Studios, and Pixar Animation Studios. In Disney’s live-action wing, in addition to Walt Disney Studios films, the organization now includes both Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm.
Proudly stating that Disney features “world-class storytellers, creative wizards, pushing the envelope in this time-honored art form,” Bergman introduced chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation and Pixar Animation Studios, the colorful John Lasseter. “I am so proud of all of these three studios,” Lasseter said. “Today, we are going to show you things that no one has seen outside the walls of our studio. That’s how we roll. We have to show you stuff because we love it so much.”
First, Lasseter showed a clip of an untitled DisneyToon Studios feature with supersonic planes in a type of aerial dance. That project is due to theaters April 12, 2019, with Lasseter stating that DisneyToon Studios “have been reinventing this studio and elevate the storytelling to new heights. They’ve been working hard to create a new film to celebrate the furthest edges of aviation.”
At Walt Disney Animation Studios, Lasseter explained how a short film entitled Olaf’s Frozen Adventure will be released in theaters in front of Pixar’s Coco with stars Kristen Bell and Josh Gad making special D23 Expo live appearances. From the same source material, at the same studio division, Frozen 2 will continue the wildly popular franchise, with filmmakers having gone on a thorough research trip to Norway, Iceland, and Finland to locate the best possible settings for the project.
Next, Ralphs Breaks the Internet—Wreck it Ralph 2 was presented, with Lasseter stating, “We new we had to go somewhere big with the characters.” Zootopia directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston are helming Wreck it Ralph 2, starring attendee Sarah Silverman as Vanellope. In an amusing scene screened for the audience, Vanellope meets princesses from all of the other popular Disney fairy tales. “We got the actual actresses who played the princesses in the original films to voice the iconic characters in that scene,” Lasseter said of a list which includes Mulan, Ariel, Belle, Pocahontas, Tiana from Princess and the Frog, Rapunzel from Tangled, Merida from Brave, Moana and others.
To present the highly-anticipated The Incredibles 2, Lasseter introduced writer-director Brad Bird. “We have a great team back at home working on the movie,” said Bird. “What separates The Incredibles from other superhero films is it’s fundamentally a story about a family. Technology has gotten so much better, we can really bring these characters to life.”
Before screening an exclusive clip, Bird described how new animation tests have been created with original dialogue from the first film. “The whole world is greatly expanded on with mid-century modern design,” Bird stated. “We’re putting together everything we’ve got in this film and can’t wait for you to see it next summer.”
Lasseter then introduced a project close to his heart, from his home territory of Pixar Animation Studios: Toy Story 4. “One of the greatest rewards that I have is getting to work with young and talented filmmakers,” said Lasseter, who then brought out Toy Story 4 director Josh Cooley, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Pixar’s Inside Out. “As executive producer,” Lasseter added, “I’ll be working closely with Josh and his team, mentoring him and teaching him everything I know.”
Having started working at Pixar on the first Cars as an intern in the story department, Cooley simply stated that directing Toy Story 4 “is one of the greatest honors I could ever have.”
As Lasseter conveyed, D23 has become the place to announce new films, and he segued into an untitled and seemingly unconventional Pixar adventure set in a suburban fantasy world. Directed by Dan Scanlon, who also directed Monsters University, the new project is based on Scanlon’s own family in which he lost his father at a very young age.
Pixar’s next movie in the proceedings, releasing on November 22, was Coco, directed by Lee Unkrich, co-directed by Adrian Molina and produced by Darla K. Anderson. Concerning a spirited 12-year-old Mexican boy, Miguel, and his dog Dante, Coco positions its main character as an ambitious child who dreams of one day becoming a great musician. As such, the film is filled with traditional Mexican music and songs, plus original music written for the film by Michael Giacchino. With one of the leading characters being voiced by Benjamin Bratt, Coco ended the animation portion of D23 with a big musical production number, which Bratt sang, entitled “Remember Me.”
On July 15, for the live-action portion of Disney’s divisions, after an opening presentation of Ava DuVernay’s big-budget adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, D23 was succeeded by a spirited Nutcracker and the Four Realms, featuring an all-star cast including Keira Knightley, Misty Copeland, and Morgan Freeman. One Nutcracker dancer recreated a special live performance from the film while wearing hi-top shoes.
Then, D23 guests were treated to a preview of Mary Poppins Returns, directed by Rob Marshall and starring Emily Blunt, both of whom were present. Marshall detailed that the original Mary Poppins in 1964 was the first film he saw in a theater. “There’s something so amazing about that [which] lived with me my whole life,” Marshall revealed, adding that he was initially terrified but exhilarated at the idea of making a sequel. “We found a new story in a whole other generation. The bar is so incredibly high. A foot in the past in that gorgeous film, and a foot in the present with this new film. I can tell you that [Emily] is stunning and born to play this part.”
Having shot for nine months in London, Mary Poppins Returns went directly to the P.L. Travers books for inspiration. Marshall reflected that the new film, set 25 years after the events of the 1964 classic, “has the reality of the 30s and the fantasy world that Mary Poppins takes us in.”
Next, Blunt explained her affinity for the material. “I found the idea of this magical mysterious person whisking into their lives and making everything right again comforting as a child,” she said. “People have responded to that lack of sentimentality that she has. She’s rude and eccentric and odd. Most people wanted to be those kids.”
In preparing for the iconic role, Blunt watched 15 minutes of the original film before stopping. “Quite a daunting thing to take on,” she confessed. “No one is every going to out-Julie Julie Andrews. I had to do my version of her.”
Arriving Christmas 2018, Mary Poppins Returns, which only recently finished filming, was screened in part for the D23 crowd, who cheered with the appearance of each onscreen character.
After the audience was teased with the news that Disney’s live-action arm is in pre-production on a live-action version of Mulan, directed by Niki Caro, and that they are working together with Dwayne Johnson on a Jungle Cruise film, they were presented with a new iteration of Aladdin from director Guy Ritchie. Combining the 1992 animated classic and 1001 Arabian Nights, in Aladdin, the title character will be played by relative newcomer Mena Massoud, with Jasmine played by Naomi Scott, and Genie played by Will Smith.
Another announcement came directly from filmmaker Tim Burton who sent in a video describing how he has begun production on a new live-action Dumbo.
The Lucasfilm section of the event then commenced, with first an announcement that a standalone Han Solo film is due next summer. No real mention was made of the recent reports of trouble with the film, mandating a replacement of directors. Then, eager fans were told that while Star Wars: The Force Awakens “left us on a cliff,” the next film will pick up right where TFA left off in this December’s The Last Jedi. Many familiar faces appeared on behalf of the film, which was written and directed by Rian Johnson. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Gwendoline Christie all came out to loud cheers with special surprise guests Kelly Mary Tran, Laura Dern, and Benicio Del Toro all taking bows and making comments about their elation with being in a Star Wars film. Finally, Mark Hamill appeared, almost 40 years to the month that the original Star Wars first created box office history in the summer of 1977.
If any cinema brand at present could follow Star Wars, it had to be Marvel Studios and their lead creative team member, Kevin Feige. With 16 films so far, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has attained a $12 billion dollar gross in nine years. Fans were treated to a 10th anniversary logo, debuting next year. Showing their loyalty to the extended franchise of films, many of the actors who have played Marvel characters came onstage in an increasingly impressive lineup of stars, from Robert Downey, Jr. to Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Holland, Anthony Mackie, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Josh Brolin, among many others.
Currently in the midst of production in Georgia, Avengers – Infinity War, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, will feature nearly every Marvel hero of the past ten years. Fans can expect the film in May of 2018.
With that, thousands of fans poured onto the main convention center floor, where Disney had filled over 800,000 square feet with exhibits, demonstrations, stores, and other attractions for virtually any fan interested in Disney’s plentiful brands in film and television. D23 2017 ran through July 16.