It’s always a good time attending the D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center. Not only are you across the street from the Happiest Place on Earth, but you also get a glimpse of what’s coming up next for all things Disney surrounded by (and in line with) hoards of hard-core Disney fans. Got to meet some great people face to face that I have only known through Twitter. Did lots of shopping (Mickey’s of Glendale, The D23 Dream Store, Matell) – though I never made it into the ridiculously busy Disney Store pavilion. That seemed to be the shop to get into but with a 2-3 hour wait (at least) I just couldn’t find the time. Visited as many panels as I could squeeze in (and actually get a seat for). Hit up all the major pavilions – including Disney Imagineering and the elaborate Tomorrowland display.
Here’s a few highlights from the arena presentations I attended which outlined the coming films from all of Disney’s divisions.
Co-Director Pete Sohn was on hand to present Pixar’s fifteenth release, THE GOOD DINOSAUR. Director Bob Peterson, who talked about the then untitled project at the last Expo, was a no-show this year. The film, set to debut next summer (May 30th), looks terrific. The character designs are charming – lots of personality and humor with a slightly cartoonish look to the creatures. It will be hard to resist the baby dinos they previewed for the D23 audience. A short clip showing the dinosaurs as farmer was just gorgeous. Set to some very Copland-esque music from composer Randy Newman and using no dialogue, the breathtaking piece of animation played like a segment in FANTASIA. Not sure if this was actual footage from the film or a test reel. We were also treated to the lively new Monsters University-themed short, PARTY CENTRAL, which will play before ‘Dinosaur’ in theaters next year.
While I can’t wait to see ‘Dinosaur’, I am even more excited by what I saw for Pete Docter‘s INSIDE OUT. Docter is quickly becoming my favorite of Pixar’s directors. His film’s are notable for their high concept and big heart. For me, his work defines the Pixar appeal. An animatic was shown of just one scene of the 2015 film and it killed. The concept, which sounds more confusing when described, becomes crystal clear and completely accessible the minute you see the interplay between characters. If this little glimpse is any way representative of what the rest of the film will be, I think it could be one of Pixar’s very best. Character designs for this look terrific – lots of personality and a great voice cast that includes Amy Poehler, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader and Phylis Smith (The Office).
Saw the first 10 minutes of Pixar’s first television special – TOY STORY OF TERROR. It pays homage to the cinematic devices of all the great horror films and looks to be a lot of fun. I love these characters and I’m so happy to see them have a life beyond Toy Story 3. Combat Carl looks to play a large part in this one. Another television special is set to follow this one.
(For complete Pixar coverage from the Expo, please visit THE PIXAR TIMES)
Walt Disney Animation Studios
FROZEN looks wonderful and I can’t wait to see more of this one. All the snow and ice effects will guarantee the film looks great but will the relationship between the two leads make for an intriguing story? So far so good. Having songs from the writing team behind Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon can’t hurt. The sunny tune from Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad) previewed at the Expo certainly made me warm-up to this comedic side kick. I wasn’t completely sold on the film based on the teaser clip released earlier this year. But that’s the same thing I thought about TANGLED months before its release and I ended up adoring that film. There are definitely aspects of TANGLED in the clips we saw for FROZEN – particularly in the chemistry between Kristin Bell‘s Anna and Alan Tudyk‘s Duke characters. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Much will be riding on Idina Menzel‘s Elsa – she has quickly emerged as one of the more interesting characters in this highly anticipated film from what little we’ve seen. As often the case with Disney films, the strength of this feature will be determined by its villain. Attendees also got to see the truly fantastic Mickey Mouse short GET A HORSE. It will play before FROZEN and should not be missed.
BIG HERO SIX – This looks intriguing. Like last year’s fantastic WRECK-IT RALPH, this one is a bit of a departure for a Disney animated feature. Based on a comic book, the film possess a great style – a little dark and futuristic in a BLADE RUNNER sort of way. It takes place in the fictional San Fransokyo – a mash-up of a glowing Tokyo and the rolling hills of San Francisco. Character designs look great, most prominently the squishy robot that looks to play a big part in the story. Definitely want to see more.
ZOOTOPIA – Anthropomorphic animals are certainly nothing new to Disney animation. Like the storybook settings in CHICKEN LITTLE, the characters of ZOOTOPIA inhabit a world made for animals by animals – rabbits live in Burrow Borough, mice live in Little Rodentia, etc . We’ve seen this visual puns and gags approach to environments before so let’s hope the story brings something interesting.
Disney Studios (Live Action)
SAVING MR. BANKS (December 20, 2013) – The more I see of this film, the more excited I am to see it. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson look great as Walt Disney and P.L. Travers respectively. The extended clip shown at the Expo was well received. While everyone is curious to see Hanks as Disney, Thompson’s fussy take on Travers is the real star of this one. Can’t wait to see it in theater this Holiday season.
MALEFICENT (July 2, 2014) – Angelina Jolie (Left) cast as one of Disney’s most popular villains is, in itself, intriguing. It will be her performance that drives this re-imagining of the Disney classic as seen through the villains POV. The footage shown for the film looked predictably dark and CG heavy, but it was the horns everyone wanted to see. Those few glimpses of Jolie in full costume were enough to make me want to see the film. Let’s hope the back story stands up to this very intriguing villain. Jolie showed up to talk about her role and said it was her brother who called her the moment he learned of the project in development to make sure she applied for the job!
MUPPETS MOST WANTED (2014) – The film looks hilarious. Seems they went for more laughs this time around. An extended clip showed a little song and dance with star Ricky Gervais and an evil Kermit (paying dual roles this time). Tina Fey and Modern Family’s Ty Burrell round out the human cast in addition to several cameos.
CINDERELLA (March 13, 2015) – I have to admit, I wasn’t that excited about a live-action re-make of CINDERELLA. But once I heard Cate Blanchett was cast as the step mother, the project became immediately more interesting. Add Helena Bonham Carter into the mix and there’s much to look forward to in this Kenneth Branagh directed take.
STAR WARS: EPISODE VII (2015) – While Lucasfilm was formally welcomed into the Disney family, there was no news to report for this one. Not a single new image was shown and no formal announcements were made. While Disney certainly doesn’t need to promote this highly anticipated sequel, it might have been nice to do something – anything – while their legions of fans had gathered. Come on, J.J. – how about a pre-taped message? One piece of concept art? While it will be almost painful to see how every little thing released for this film is scrutinized over the next few years, bringing out – say – Mark Hamill might have been an easy way to appease the hungry masses without spoiling any of the fun.
For my take on Brad Bird’s TOMORROWLAND, head on over to The Pixar Times and read my article and all the other great coverage of the Expo.