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D23: Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, Featuring “Toy Story 4” and More

by  in Movie News Comment
D23: Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, Featuring “Toy Story 4” and More

Disney’s biennial — that’s every two years — D23 Expo is back for its fourth installment at the Anaheim Convention Center, and once again they’re holding two major presentations to highlight the company’s upcoming feature film slate.

Friday afternoon sees the “Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios: The Upcoming Films” presentation inside the show’s Hall D23, highlighting upcoming Pixar productions such as “The Good Dinosaur” and “Finding Dory,” and Disney animated films “Zootopia” and “Moana” — likely with a few surprises along the way. John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, returns as host for the two-hour session.

Things are scheduled to start around 3 p.m. Pacific, and CBR is there live, so keep hitting refresh for the latest details — and check back at 10:30 a.m. Pacific on Saturday for coverage from the live-action films presentation.

Presentation starting! There’s no photography allowed inside here, so I’ll do my best to paint a vivid verbal picture.

Session starts with a reel featuring clips from multiple recent Disney, Pixar and Marvel Studios films, animated and live-action, including “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Inside Out,” “Big Hero 6,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Cinderella” — before segueing into promotional clips from upcoming films including “Captain America: Civil War,” “Toy Story 4,” “Zootopia,” the live-action “Beauty and the Beast,” “Moana,” “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” and, of course, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The reel ended with the already-famous sgement from the “Force Awakens” trailer of Harrison Ford delivering the line, “Chewie, we’re home.”

Alan Horn, Chairman of Walt Disney Studios, is first out. “This afternoon is all about animation,” Horn said. “Everyone in this room shares a passion for animation, and for the characters and stories from the many beloved Disney and Pixar films.”

“Animation is, of course, where this company began,” Horn said. “It’s the core of our identity. And it’s stronger now than ever.” Horn talked about 2013’s “Frozen,” which he said “defied all expectations” by becoming the highest-grossing animated film in history. “I’m that close to getting that song out of my head,” Horn joked.

“As you know, we’re hard at work at a sequel,” Horn said of “Frozen,” though not offering any further details. Horn also praised last year’s “Big Hero 6,” and Pixar’s “highly emotional” “Inside Out.”

Introducing Lasseter, Horn said that the Disney and PIxar animation exec has more than 500 of his signature Hawaiian shirts. Lasseter took the stage to a jazzy instrumental version of “Let It Go.” His shirt this time around featured stylized heads of many Disney animated characters, including Baymax from “Big Hero 6,” and Lightning McQueen from “Cars.” He tossed out a couple pairs (unworn, presumably) of the same shirt to the crowd — including the use of a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim t-shirt cannon to reach fans in the back.

The first part of the presentation will focus on Walt Disney Animation Studios, leading to another reel — showing brief clips from many classic animated features of the past, ranging from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to “Beauty and the Beast” to “Tangled.” (And, of course, “Frozen.”)

Lasseter discussed the current state of Walt Disney Animation, saying it’s shifted from a from an “executive-driven studio” to a “filmmaker-driven studio.” “Walt Disney Animation Studios is back, and it’s because of its people,” Lasseter said. “This studio is on fire right now. Not literally.”

First film up was the forthcoming “Zootopia,” scheduled for release on March 4, 2016. Lasseter said he loved “Wind in the Willows,” and Disney wanted to do a talking animal — walking upright and wearing clothes, no less — film for the modern day.

“Zootopia” directors Byron Howard & Rich Moore and producer Clark Spencer took the stage. Moore said the best stories start with research, which took them to both Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World and Kenya, to witness animals in the wild. “It gave us a new sense of reverence for the animal world,” Moore said.

“We really were inspired by this trip to make our characters feel like the animals they are,” Howard said. “Which led first to researching fur. We learned that a polar bear’s fur is not white.” (It’s clear.)

Howard discussed the process of taking of how animals — a camel was the example used — actually walk, but incorporating it in an authentic way into the film, where the characters walk on two legs.

“We have thousands of animals, literally, in ‘Zootopia,’ but one of the most amazing things is the city itself,” Moore said. “We wanted it to feel like they designed the world for itself.”

The lead character is Judy Hopps — yes, a bunny. Ginnifer Goodwin, star of “Once Upon a Time,” voices the character, and joined the presentation. “I’m not a Disney fan, I’m a Disney addict,” Goodwin told the crowd. Family photos of Goodwin as a child at Disneyland were shown on the big screen.

“It’s a dream come true to play Judy Hopps,” Goodwin said. “It’s as exciting as it gets. She’s from the outside of town, she moves to the big city to follow her dreams — becoming the first bunny cop in the Zootopia Police Department.” Moore explains that most cops in Zootopia are big animals like rhino, and Judy ends up with assignments like parking ticket duty. “She wants to be a real cop, like the big guys,” Howard said. “She doesn’t want to be a meter maid.”

“But she’s an eternal optimistic, and decides she’ll become the best meter maid ever,” Goodwin explains, to show that the character is meant for bigger things. This leads to the debut of a clip from the film, featuring Judy at an elephant ice cream parlor.

The clip showed Judy encountering Nick Wilde — a fox character voiced by Jason Bateman — for the first time, as Nick is attempting to use a child (allegedly his recently adopted son) to con their way into a free jumbo pop at the ice cream parlor. Judy offers to pay for the $15 pop for them — and still images shown after the clip reveal that Nick actually melted the jumbo pops to re-freeze them into smaller ones and re-sell them, something Judy discovers to her dismay.

As the film progresses, the director explains, Judy is forced to enlist Nick’s help in a case — where Nick learns Judy is more than a “dumb bunny” and that he could be more than a “sly fox.”

Here comes an announcement: Pop superstar Shakira is voicing the character of Gazelle and singing an original song in the film. In a recorded video message, Shakira played a short snippet of the song “Try Everything,” which will appear in the film.

The “Zootopia” portion of the presentation ended with another clip from the film, showing Judy and Nick taking a trip to the DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles) to run a plate — where all of the employees are extremely slow-moving (and slow-talking) sloths.

Back on stage, Lasseter announced that Disney is in production of a version of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” titled “Gigantic.” Director Nathan Greno (“Tangled”) and producer Dorothy McKim (“Get a Horse”) joined to share an early look at production art from the film.

“You have to look at the original story, and then you have to mix in a lot of twists and turns,” Greno told the crowd. “You have to make it a unique film.” Greno said the film is set in Spain. “Spain had this Age of Discovery — this age of exploration. If you look at a ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ story, that’s kind of what happens there, too. What if we set the film during the Age of Discovery, and have Jack go up the beanstalk and make the greatest discovery of all time?”

“It’s not what you’ve seen before,” Greno said. “It’s a world of giants. We have different cultures. Different kinds of giants.” Greno shared that one of the main giants — the co-lead of the film along with Jack — is based on a young girl that the creative team met on a research trip to Spain. The antagonist giants in the film are “storm giants.”

“We’re going to have that deep, deep emotion in this film,” Greno said. “We feel like, if we do our jobs right, we hope this will become the definitive version of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk.'”

“Frozen” songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez will write the songs for “Gigantic,” and they joined the presentation to talk their contributions and perform a song where the the 11-year-old giant sings about playing with the (relatively) tiny Jack like a doll, with a refrain of, “I Love You, Little Man.”

Next up: “Moana,” scheduled for release on Nov. 23, 2016. Directors John Musker & Ron Clements and producer Osnat Shurer entered on stage. Shearer talked the music of “Moana,” announcing the music team for the film: Opetaia Foa’i (of the band Te Vaka), Mark Mancina (veteran composer who worked on films including “The Lion King”) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (writer of Broadway musical “In the Heights”).

Describing the title character, Musker called her “high-spirited” and “strong-willed.” “She feels that the blood of her ancestors runs deep within her.” When describing the film’s demigod Maui, Dwayne Johnson (wearing a grey v-neck and white pants — trying to paint a verbal picture here), the voice of the character, joined the presentation — to raucous applause, as you might expect.

Johnson said that when he started in the film business 15 years ago, it was his dream to “join the Disney family.” “I feel such a deep connection to this, this is my heritage, this is my culture,” Johnson said. “I am proudly half-Samoan and half-Black. To tell a story inspired by the South Pacific is truly a great honor.”

“He was born as a human, raised by the gods, never one or the other,” Johnson said. “Moana might just be the person to help Maui find his true self.” Johnson then introduced a Maui-centric clip from “Moana.” The clip — a short one — showed Maui trying to impress Moana, who didn’t seem too affected.

Johnson left the stage, and Musker and Clements talked more about the film, including showing a short, striking animation test of a character made out of anthropomorphic lava. The “Moana” segment ended with another clip, highlighting a young Moana interacting with a very intricately detailed animated Pacific Ocean — with the ocean noted by the directors as an important component of the film.

Johnson returned to the presentation to introduce the band Te Vaka, who joined live on stage to play a song from “Moana” — an elaborate performance complete with Polynesian dancers, accompanied by visuals from the film displayed on the screen.

That concluded the Walt Disney Animation Studios portion of the event, with Pixar up next. Lasseter returned to the stage, thanking Disney CEO Bob Iger for his role in Disney’s acquisition of Pixar. Lasseter then turned to this summer’s “Inside Out,” bringing out director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera — along with the film’s Joy and Sadness (well, their costumed Disneyland equivalents). Docter and Rivera introduced story supervisor Josh Cooley, to talk about the recently announced “Inside Out” short film, “Riley’s First Date?” — which will debut on the “Inside Out” home release this fall. Cooley said it was too early to show it — but that was just a bit of theater, as after a bit of playful back-and-forth, it was screened to the audience.

Written and directed by Cooley, the short centers on Jordan — the boy whose water bottle Riley returns in the original film — arriving at Riley’s house to take her to a group skating trip, and getting grilled (at least temporarily) by her father.

“The Good Dinosaur” team of director Peter Sohn and producer Denise Ream then joined the presentation. Sohn showed a rough animation he made about his own life, and how animation showed him the power of visual storytelling — as Disney animated movies were the one type of film he didn’t need to explain to his Korean mother, who didn’t know English.

Sohn and Ream talked the plot of “The Good Dinosaur,” and showed a brief clip. “For the first time, Arlo finds himself lost and alone in the world,” Sohn told the crowd. “The world is so vast in scope that even a large dinosaur feels small.”

Sohn said “The Good Dinosaur” is the story of a boy and his dog, except the boy is a dinosaur, “and the dog is a little human boy” — the film’s “caveboy,” Spot. Sohn and Ream show another clip from the film, centered on the connection shared by Arlo and Spot, with both of them missing their families.

Two more clips were shown: A group of Tyrannosaurus Rexes (including one voiced by Sam Elliott) encouraging Arlo to be intimidating (which doesn’t go that well, until Spot bites him on the leg to let out more of a scream); and Arlo and Spot frolicking up a remarkably detailed mountain.

Next up on the agenda: “Finding Dory,” the sequel to “Finding Nemo.” Lasseter introduced a video package featuring the many times Ellen DeGeneres, the voice of Dory, called for a “Finding Nemo” sequel on her talk show — and then brought out “Finding Dory” director Andrew Stanton, co-director Angus MacLane and producer Lindsey Collins. The team talked the voice cast — DeGeneres, of course, but also franchise new comers Diane Keaton as Dory’s mother (Jenny), Eugene Levy as her father (Charlie) and Hayden Rolence as the new voice of Nemo (as the original voice of Nemo is now 21 years old). Albert Brooks returns as the voice of Marlin, Nemo’s father.

The “Dory” team showed a fairly lengthy sequence from the film, with Dory awakening from a dream with something of an actual memory — having a family, spurring her to want to cross the ocean to find them. Nemo supports it, but Marlin is reluctant.

Following the clip, DeGeneres joined the presentation. “I can’t wait for you to see the film, it’s really exciting,” DeGeneres said. This led to some voice cast news — two “Modern Family” main cast members are a part of the “Finding Dory” cast, with Ed O’Neill playing an octopus named Hank and Ty Burrell voicing a beluga whale named Bailey. Both O’Neill and Burrell joined DeGeneres and the “Dory” creative team on stage. A short clip of Bailey attempting to echolocate was played.

Kaitlin Olson, Dee from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” is voicing a whale shark named Destiny — she thinks she’s a whale, but she’s actually a shark. Audio of her in character was played for the crowd.

The “Finding Dory” portion wrapped with another clip, of Hank agreeing to help Dory — though it took a while to get to that point due to Dory’s memory issues. “Finding Dory” is scheduled for release on June 17, 2016.

Lasseter returned to the stage to announce the name of Pixar’s previously untitled Día de los Muertos-inspired film — it’s called “Coco.” Director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson, who worked together on “Toy Story 3,” joined the presentation.

Unkrich called “Coco” a “fun yet powerfully emotional” story. “We are really excited about the story we came up with,” he continued.

The main character is named Miguel, “a spirited 12-year-old boy” growing up in rural Mexico. His actions begin a chain of events tied to an ancient mystery, one that “forever changes his fate.” Unkrich and Anderson then showed a test sequence, showing a quiet scene at a graveyard focusing in on a Día de los Muertos altar — which then segued into a celebratory scene with high-spirited skeletons having fun.

Next up: “Toy Story 4.” Lasseter said that he, Stanton, Docter and Unkrich made a “pinky swear” after “Toy Story 3” to not make another “Toy Story” film unless they had a worthwhile idea for a follow-up. Eventually they did have one, and Lasseter said he and Stanton worked together on it quietly at first, before Stanton wrote a treatment for the film that made things official.

Lasseter is directing “Toy Story 4,” and he brought out co-director Josh Cooley and producer Galyn Susman, who said the film will take “Toy Story” in an “amazing new direction.”

“We wanted to add a new perspective and a fresh voice for the story,” Lasseter said, bringing out the “incredible screenwriting team” of Rashida Jones (primarily known for her work in front of the camera on shows like “Parks and Recreation”) and Will McCormack, who previously collaborated on “Celeste and Jesse Forever.” “This is a dream come true,” Jones said. “I’m most excited to meet Woody,” McCormack added. “He’s not real, Will,” Jones replied. “I know that,” McCormack said. “He pretends to be a toy when people walk into the room. But we’re colleagues — I don’t think he’s going to flop on the floor when I walk into the room.”

Lasseter said “Toy Story 4” is a “love story” — between Woody and Bo Peep. “It is a very, very emotional story, and it’s very fun doing a love story between the two of them. It’s a personal story for me, because it’s inspired by my wife, Nancy.”

Singer/songwriter Randy Newman, who has been a major part of “Toy Story” history since the first film, was next to join — and quickly sat down at a piano, to play and sing “You Got a Friend in Me” from the 1995 original. After that song concluded, human versions of the green Army men from “Toy Story” rappelled from the ceiling and took the stage for a military-inspired dance number, while shirts were shot out into the crowd — all in honor of the 20th anniversary of the original “Toy Story.”

After all that, color confetti fell from the ceiling (and all over the press section’s laptops) and the costumed Woody and Buzz Lightyears joined the stage — bringing the presentation to a close.

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