It’s Saturday at the 2015 installment of Disney’s D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center, featuring the “Worlds, Galaxies, and Universes: Live Action at The Walt Disney Studios” presentation — the most anticipated event of the convention, featuring star-studded glimpses at the future of Disney’s live-action film slate. Of course, beyond live-action Disney productions like “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” that also includes Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm — meaning a spotlight on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens, “Captain America: Civil War” and potentially more from those worlds.
Disney’s major D23 presentations are always a showy affair with plenty of guest celebs and surprise announcements — no names are announced in advance. Given the films on today’s docket, it’s not surprising that there was a Hall H-style overnight line to get into the D23 Expo’s Hall D23.
Things are scheduled to start around 10:30 a.m. Pacific, and CBR is there live, so keep hitting refresh for the latest details — and feel free to catch up with CBR’s coverage from Friday afternoon’s newsworthy Pixar and Disney Animation presentation, featuring guest spots from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Ellen DeGeneres, among others.
Things are starting! Again, no photography is allowed so we’ll let the words do the talking. The same sizzle reel — featuring clips from both recent and upcoming Disney live-action and animated films — that opened Friday’s animation panel was shown to the crowd, ending with Han Solo’s “Chewie we’re home” line from the “Force Awakens” trailer (drawing major applause, of course).
Alan Horn, Chairman of Walt Disney Studios, was first out to the stage. “Seen any good movies lately?” he asked the crowd. Horn credited the work of Disney CEO Bob Iger in acquiring Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm for making Walt Disney Studios what it is now.
Marvel Studios is the first up, with Horn lauding the studio for its 12th consecutive No. 1 opening with last month’s “Ant-Man.” Horn brought Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige out to the stage.
Feige discussed the shared history of Marvel Studios and D23, with the first D23 happening in 2009, a year after the first “Iron Man” (and the same year as Disney’s acquisition of Marvel) and 2011’s installment including the first look at “Avengers.” Feige thanked the fans for a successful end to Marvel Studios “Phase II” with “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Ant-Man.”
Feige turns right to “Doctor Strange,” scheduled for release Nov. 4, 2016, and credited the comic book source material for fueling the films. “A fellow named Benedict Cumberbatch is playing ‘Doctor Strange,'” Feige reminded the crowd, to loud applause. This led to a video message from Cumberbatch, recorded in London.
“I’m very, very lucky and excited to be taking on ‘Doctor Strange’ from Marvel,” Cumberbatch said. “He’s an extraordinary character and brings in a whole new dimension — multiple dimensions — to the Marvel Universe. We start work in November, and I can’t wait to bring you the film a year after. You’re going to get girls, cars, explosions and a little bit of astral projections. The usual fare.”
“Doctor Strange” doesn’t start filming until November, but Feige showed the crowd a reel of concept art from the film, narrated by director Scott Derrickson, who talks the premise: Stephen Strange is a neurosurgeon who’s in an accident that ruins his career, leading him on the path to becoming Sorcerer Supreme. The art showed exotic locales and Strange’s usual New York City homebase, levitating cars and scenes in otherworldly realms.
Feige said “Doctor Strange” will be “as weird as any movie ever.”
Next up: “Captain America: Civil War,” which is out May 6, 2016. Anthony Mackie — the franchise’s Sam Wilson, The Falcon — entered the stage, telling the crowd he just flew in from Germany, with one week left in filming. But he didn’t come alone — he brought out Chris Evans, the titular Captain America.
“I’m a big, big Disney fan,” Evans said. “It’s an amazing experience to be in any capacity involved with them. If I’m having a bad day, I go online and watch other people’s home movies at Disneyland.” “And then we go in our trailer and sing the ‘Frozen’ theme song,” Mackie added.
This led to an extended sizzle reel from the film, the first live-action footage shown: Falcon operating a robotic Redwing; Captain America and Crossbones (Frank Grillo) in costume fighting and Crossbones telling Cap that Bucky (Sebastian Stan) remembers him; lots of General Ross (William Hurt) narrating and stating that the world isn’t sure Captain America is a hero or a vigilante; the Winter Soldier retrieving a severely wounded Cap from a watery fate and walking away; Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) employing lucha libre-esque fighting moves in a crowded action sequence; Winter Soldier talking to Cap and showing signs of regaining his memory; a brief look at the film’s previously publicized funeral scene; a quick peek at the Vision (Paul Bettany); Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in costume; Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) telling Steve Rogers, “Sometimes I want to punch you in your perfect little teeth;” Iron Man and War Machine (Don Cheadle) standing side by side, in full armor; and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) fighting each other — Black Widow asks, “We’re still friends, right?” and Hawkeye responds, “Depends on how hard you hit me.” The reel ends with a comedic scene of a starstruck Scott Lang (Paul Rudd meeting Captain America for the first time. “Thanks for thanking of me,” he tells Cap, tongue-tied.
With the Marvel Studios portion concluded, Walt Disney Studios President Sean Bailey was out to talk 2016’s “The Finest Hours,” about the Coast Guard’s real-life 1952 Pendleton rescue mission attempt. Star Chris Pine joined Bailey on stage, to say he was attracted to a film based on a true story given the amount of time he spends in the sci-fi world filming the “Star Trek” film franchise.
“We were on a sound stage out in Massachusetts right by where all this took place,” Pine said of the experience filming. It was arduous, he related, but that feeling evaporated when he saw Andrew Fitzgerald, who was part of the real-life mission, on set. “All it takes is one look at a man like that, and knowing what he went through and put on the line, to shut this young, dumb actor up.” This led to a clip from the film.
Next up: The new live-action take on “The Jungle Boom,” scheduled for release on April 15, 2016. Director Jon Favreau joined Bailey on stage, saying the goal was to “add to the legacy” of the original animated film. Favreau said he’s spent a lot of time with songwriter Richard M. Sherman, who wrote songs for 1967’s “The Jungle Book” with his late brother, Robert Bernard Sherman.
“The best CGI, in my estimation, is the CGI that disappears,” Favreau said of his approach to the film. Favreau brought out three cast members: Ben Kingsley, who plays Bagheera; Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Raksha; and newcomer Neel Sethi, the film’s Mowgli. Favreau said he filmed Sethi for performance capture animation first, and then in live-action with real sets, with the two then blended together.
“It was so fun, so overwhelming,” the young Sethi said of his experience filming. “I can’t even talk about it.” Kingsley said that when he was about Sethi’s age, he heard “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “and something inside me popped, with a kind of recognition.” He said it was a fulfillment of a dream to become part of Disney canon with “The Jungle Book.”
Kingsley joked about the saying to never work with children or animals. “I worked with a child, I played an animal — and I would say, any time, you have my number.”
Favreau complimented the “strength and vulnerability” that Nyong’o brings to the film. “This is my first time at Disneyland,” Nyong’o said, adding that her mother had a dream board of things she wanted her family to do, and one of them was bringing them to Disneyland. “She didn’t necessarily bring me here, so I’m here for her.”
“He’s very pure, and he’s present in a way that pulls you out of yourself,” Nyong’o said of Sethi. “So I’m honored to be your mother in this process.”
Favreau introduced an early look at footage — which is at least cut like the first trailer — from the film by stating everything in the clip was shot in downtown Los Angeles, despite the detailed (apparently entirely CGI) jungle landscapes. It opens with narration by Scarlett Johansson, who plays Kaa. A scene focus on an early encounter between Mowgli and Baloo (voiced by Bill Murray), who sings a bit of “Bare Necessities” to himself. The clip also shows Christopher Walken as the voice of King Louie, who states in his trademark delivery, “I’m the king, call me Louie.” The footage gets a standing ovation from the crowd.
Next film: “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” out May 27, 2016 and reuniting much of the 2010 “Alice” cast, and adding Sacha Baron Cohen as “Time.” Mia Wasikowska returns as Alice, and took the D23 stage. “I love the character of Alice, so to be able to play her again is really fantastic,” Wasikowska said. “There’s quite a bit of time travel in this film, so you get to see the characters at different stages of their lives.”
An “Alice” sizzle reel focuses on the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp growing “darker,” and the introduction of Cohen as Time. “You cannot change the past, but you might learn from it,” Time says in the clip, which ends with the Hatter saying, “I’ve always wondered when soon is.”
Bailey then turned to the live-action “Pete’s Dragon,” scheduled for release on Aug. 12, 2016. A Mickey Mouse t-shirt-wearing Bryce Dallas Howard, one of the stars of the film, joined the presentation. “I play a woman named Grace, who’s a very pragmatic realist, she’s a forest ranger,” Howard said. “One day when she’s in the forest, she happens on a mysterious little boy. He seems like a feral creature, and yet he’s thrived. For her, it becomes a quest to answer this mystery of, ‘Who is this child?’ In answering that question, she comes to believe in magic.”
A brief “Pete’s Dragon” sizzle reel revolved around Howard’s character talking with her father (played by Robert Redford) about a boy found living alone in the forest — except he says he’s not alone. Other than a drawing made by Pete, the clip shows only the slightest hint of the dragon, right at the end.
Nyong’o returned to the stage to talk “The Queen of Katwe,” based on a real-life Ugandan woman (Phiona Mutesi) who successfully sought to become an elite international chess competitor. “It’s the story about a girl who saw something that interested her and went for it, with all that she had,” Nyong’o said. “We look up to her today around the world.”
Turning to March 17, 2017’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast,” a video message from Emma Watson (the film’s Belle) greeted D23 fans and stated that the film was a “complete dream come true.” The video showed some looks at the sets, which look very authentic to the 1991 animated classic, and also saw Luke Evans (Gaston) and Josh Gad (LeFou) singing a few bars of the “Gaston” song. Alan Menken & Tim Rice have written two new songs for the film.
The last Disney Studios film featured at the presentation: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” with Bailey telling the crowd that Orlando Bloom will return as Will Turner in the film, scheduled for release on July 7, 2017. Johnny Depp — the most popular person on stage so far today — entered the stage in full costume, and in character as Captain Jack Sparrow, throwing grapes out onto the crowd (yes). Depp briefly talks — in character, still — about becoming a “Disney Legend” the day before, alongside George Lucas, Danny Elfman, Susan Lucci and others.
Now it’s time to talk Star Wars, with the Lucasfilm logo displayed on the screen. “It’s amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish together in just two-and-a-half years,” Horn said. “The new Star Wars Universe has begun to take shape, under the tremendous leadership of [Kathleen] Kennedy.”
Horn looked to the future, briefly talking Episode VIII, directed by Rian Johnson, and confirmed that “Jurassic World” director Colin Trevorrow will helm Episode IX.
Talking “Rogue One,” a logo was shown reading “A Star Wars Story,” not with the “Anthology” branding announced at Star Wars Celebration earlier this year. Horn threw to a (very) brief video from “Rogue One” director Gareth Edwards on a desert set, greeting the D23 fans. The first “Rogue One” cast image was shown, with a tough-looking crowd of assembled rebels.
Finally, turning to “The Force Awakens,” J.J. Abrams joined the stage. “I went over to John Williams’ house one day, and he played me on his piano music he was going to conduct,” Abrams said. “It was just like hearing music from the gods.”
Abrams promised “epic Star Wars news,” but first brought out franchise newcomers John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and, on stage for the third time, Lupita Nyong’o. Boyega announced that Drew Struzan has illustrated a new poster for “The Force Awakens,” that will be given out to everyone in attendance at the presentation; featuring Boyega’s character Finn wielding a lightsaber, Ridley’s character Rey, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Han Solo — which led to Harrison Ford joining his cast members on stage. Ford thanked the fans and said he couldn’t be happier.
Disney CEO Bob Iger joined the stage. “Trying to figure out who’s going to direct this film was not the easiest of tasks,” Iger said. “J.J. and I had the good fortune of working together when he did ‘Alias’ and ‘Lost’ for ABC.” Iger and Abrams both expressed gratitude for recently minted Disney Legend George Lucas.
Abrams and the cast left the stage; Iger remained. “We were excited about bringing Star Wars to just about every corner of the Walt Disney company,” Iger said of the acquisition. “Today, I’m thrilled to announce the next chapter in the long and exciting history between Disney Parks and Star Wars.”
A brief video, beginning with the “A long, long time ago…” played, leading to Iger saying, “We’re creating a jaw-dropping new world that represents our largest single-theme land expansion ever.”
“We’re going to transport guests to a whole new planet,” he continued. “Every encounter will bring more of the Star Wars story to life than ever before. Every store and restaurant will be operated by local inhabitants. Nothing in the land will be out of character, or stray from mythology. On a planet like this, you’d expect to find a cantina — and there will be one. But you’ve never seen a cantina like this one before.” It’ll have characters from “The Force Awakens,” and “familiar faces from the Star Wars saga.” In two main attractions, attendees will be able to “take the controls” of the Millennium Falcon on a “customized secret mission;” along with an “epic Star Wars adventure that puts you right in the middle of a climactic battle between the First Order and the Resistance.”
“We’re not just building one of these, we’re building two,” Iger said of the 14-acre Star Wars lands. “One, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando. And the other, right here in Anaheim at Disneyland.” The video teaser then played again, giving a hint of the scope of Disney’s Star Wars land plans, which wrapped the presentation.
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