Disney’s presentation Tuesday at CinemaCon in Las Vegas began with a clip from Marvel’s May 4 release The Avengers, which showed Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) fighting over who would be the one to take down Loki (Tom Hiddleston). It’s an all-out brawl between the two heroes until Captain America (Chris Evans) arrives to break up the fight. After that eye-catching opening, Dave Hollis, Disney’s head of motion picture distribution, took the stage to present the upcoming slate from Disney, Marvel, Pixar and DreamWorks.
Hollis introduced Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, who, asserting that “The Avengers is just phase one,” quickly moved on to future releases. He talked up Thor 2 (Nov. 15, 2013), with Hemsworth and Natalie Portman reprising their roles under director Alan Taylor. Feige promised that the movie would further explore the worlds and characters of the first installment. He also touted Captain America 2 (April 4, 2014), which will once again star Chris Evans and feature the hero interacting more with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and adjusting to life in the modern world.
Finally, Feige circled back to Marvel’s follow-up to The Avengers, director Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 (May 3, 2013), which begins shooting in three weeks in North Carolina. Feige promised the return of stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle, and introduced a preview reel featuring previous Iron Man footage (from the first two movies and The Avengers), plus Black and the actors talking about the film. Black described it as “a crisis movie” that would “take Tony Stark and break him down and put him through the ringer.” Downey said the movie would be “a little more visceral, a little more soul-baring” for his character.
After Feige’s exit, Hollis presented a more subdued look at DreamWorks’ 2012 releases, beginning with People Like Us (June 29), co-written by the Star Trek and Transformers team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, and directed by Kurtzman (the two were recently hired to rewrite the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man). But People Like Us isn’t a big special-effects extravaganza. Based on Kurtzman’s own experiences, it’s a dramedy about a man (Star Trek’s Chris Pine) who discovers after his father’s death that he has a sister (Elizabeth Banks) he never knew. “I wanted to make a movie that felt big even though it was about the intimate lives of these people,” Kurtzman said in the preview reel, which featured select clips and interviews.
Hollis didn’t have much to say about DreamWorks’ other film, Steven Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln biopic Lincoln. Other than naming off the cast (and referring to Sally Field as “Sally Ford”), Hollis could only offer that the movie would open “somewhere in the late holiday season.”
Sean Bailey, Disney’s president of production, came to the stage next, opening with Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, a stop-motion animated adaptation of Burton’s 1984 live-action short film about a boy who resurrects his dead dog. Opening Oct. 5, Frankenweenie will be Burton’s second movie of the year, after Dark Shadows. Following a clip reel and some behind-the-scenes footage, Burton made his second CinemaCon live appearance to talk about the film, which he described as “a perfect Disney movie,” as the studio has “a rich history of dog movies.” Burton showed an amusingly creepy clip featuring main character Victor learning some sinister stuff in science class.
Bailey next brought out Jennifer Garner to talk about The Odd Life of Timothy Green (Aug. 15), a mystical drama centering on an infertile couple (Garner and Joel Edgerton) who find themselves taking care of a mysterious, magical boy who shows up on their doorstep. Garner described it as a “true Disney movie” (something of a theme during this presentation) and introduced the latest trailer.
Looking a little further into the future, Bailey introduced Oz the Great and Powerful, set for release March 8, 2013. The preview reel included a mix of concept art and raw footage, as the effects-heavy movie isn’t complete. Director Sam Raimi and producer Joe Roth were among the most enthusiastic guests of the event, talking up their collaboration. Roth explained that although the movie had more than 2,000 CGI special-effects shots, the filmmakers also built eight large stages at their production facility in Detroit, for an emphasis on practical effects. Once again echoing the theme of the presentation, Roth said Oz was “more Disney than any movie I can remember.”
Raimi said that the movie, which tells the origin story of the wizard of Oz (James Franco), has “something in it for everyone. It’s an action picture but also a character story.” Two of the actors playing those characters, Franco and Mila Kunis, then emerged to talk about their roles. Franco said that Oz, who starts out as a carnival performer before being whisked off to a magical land, is “a little bit of a bumbling character.” Kunis described the arc of her character, a good witch who goes wicked after Oz dumps her, as “A woman gets her heart broken, and she goes crazy.”
After the Oz crew left, the familiar strains of “The William Tell Overture” began to play, but it wasn’t yet time to talk about The Lone Ranger. Instead, Kermit the Frog slid onto the stage atop a plywood horse, wearing a Lone Ranger mask and requesting that he be cast in the role. Bailey gamely engaged in a back and forth with Kermit and then Miss Piggy (dressed as a princess and demanding to play Glinda the Good Witch in Oz) before announcing officially that they would both return in The Muppets 2, along with director James Bobin and writer Nicholas Stoller (but without star and co-writer Jason Segel).
Then it really was time to talk about The Lone Ranger (May 31, 2013), starring Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the title character. It was too early in production to show any footage, but producer Jerry Bruckheimer showed up to offer plenty of hype, saying that the movie, directed by Gore Verbinski, would “reinvent the Western genre” the same way that Pirates of the Caribbean invigorated pirate movies, and touting two “huge sequences” on a train being filmed in Monument Valley, the setting for many classic Westerns. He also announced that Jack White had just been hired to write the musical score.
The movie will tell the Lone Ranger’s origin story from Tonto’s perspective. “He’s a sidekick, but he’s really running the show,” Bruckheimer said of Depp’s character, and compared the movie to “The Odd Couple meeting .” Depp then appeared to speak only slightly more than he had the previous day for Dark Shadows (which had been not at all). He did say there would be “some interesting additions to the character that [original Tonto TV actor] Jay Silverheels would want nothing to do with.”
Bailey gave way to John Lasseter, head of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, who introduced Wreck-It Ralph, opening Nov. 2. The Disney animated feature looks to do for video games what Toy Story did for toys. It “reveals the secret life of video game characters,” Lasseter said, and the title character is the villain of an 8-bit arcade game who longs to become a hero. John C. Reilly, who voices Ralph, told the crowd he based the personality of the massive lunk-head on one of his uncles; animators filmed the actor impersonating his uncle to model Ralph’s movements. Reilly also pushed for recording alongside other voice actors – it’s customarily done separately — to allow for more improvisation in the dialogue. Lasseter said that Reilly and co-star Sarah Silverman built a lot of dialogue around improvisation.
Lasseter then showed the first six minutes of Wreck-It Ralph, some of which featured unfinished animation. It’s clearly a love letter to video games, with Ralph appearing in a meticulously crafted old-school adventure, and then attending a “bad guys anonymous” meeting with other recognizable video-game villains.
Then it was time to talk about Pixar, and Lasseter first made a series of announcements about the studio’s upcoming slate. He revealed the new title for director Bob Peterson’s previously untitled dinosaur feature The Good Dinosaur, which opens May 30, 2014. An untitled Pixar movie that “takes you inside the mind,” directed by Up‘s Pete Docter, will be in theaters June 19, 2015. And Lasseter also announced Dia de los Muertos, set in Mexico and inspired by the Mexican holiday of the same name, to be directed by Toy Story 3‘s Lee Unkrich, with no release date set at the moment.
Returning to more immediate prospects, Lasseter introduced some footage from the 3D re-release of Finding Nemo, which hits theaters Sept. 14, and announced the 3D version of Monsters Inc. for Jan. 18, 2013. The Monsters Inc. prequel Monsters University, set 10 years before the first movie and following monsters Mike and Sully as they attend college, will be released in June 21, 2013. Voice actors John Goodman and Billy Crystal introduced the trailer’s world premiere. Lastly, Lasseter talked up Pixar’s summer fantasy adventure Brave, which opens June 22.