Fans poured into the Anaheim Convention Center arena Saturday during D23, Walt Disney’s official fan expo, for a glimpse at the studio’s upcoming film slate.
“Like you, I’m one of Disney’s biggest fans!” Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross announced to the cheering crowd before introducing John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Receiving a standing ovation as soon as he stepped onstage, Lasseter waved to the crowd and pointed to the blazer he wore over one of his trademark Hawaiian shirts. “First, I have to answer the question you’re all wondering: What Hawaiian shirt am I wearing?” he joked, revealing that it was in fact the official Cars 2 Hawaiian shirt. He added that he was wearing the blazer because his wife thought without it no one would believe he was “in charge of a company.”
The Cars 2 shirt brought Lasseter to his first announcement: the CG-animated film Planes, set for release in spring 2013. He said the feature, which expands the Cars universe, follows a plucky crop duster named Dusty who lives in a small rural town but dreams about seeing the world. It features the voice of Two and a Half Men star Jon Cryer, who appeared onstage while pictures of the little yellow crop duster cycled through the video screens overhead.
Lasseter took great pleasure in announcing the next animated movie, Wreck-It Ralph, which takes place entirely inside arcade games. Following an 8-bit video game bad guy named Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly), the film chronicles his attempts to become a good guy, traveling through other video games – parodies of Halo, Q*bert, Pac-Man and BioShock among them -- in hopes of redeeming himself.
The audience roared during a four-minute animatic of the opening scene as Ralph complained about his game’s hero, Fix-It Felix, and attended a Bad Guys Anonymous group run by a Pac-Man ghost.
Director Rich Moore, an Emmy-nominated writer of The Simpsons, played a clip of Glee star Jane Lynch voicing the rough-and-tumble Sgt. Calhoun, leader of the Halo-esque fighting game Hero’s Duty. He then brought out two of the supporting voice actors, Sarah Silverman who plays the pint-sized hero of a game called Sugar Rush, and Jack McBrayer, who plays Fix-It Felix.
“We’ve finally made it to D23!” shouted McBrayer, twirling onstage as the audience laughed. “I always wanted to go to Anaheim but not go to Disneyland!” Silverman joked.
Asked if ever thought he would one day lend his voice to an animated character, 30 Rock’s McBrayer replied, “Doing my own voice irritates me, so I never imagined!”
Wreck-It Ralph opens Nov. 2, 2012.
The crowd cheered when Lasseter presented Pixar’s Brave, which he described as a landmark film for the studio as it’s the first to feature a female protagonist, the first fairy tale and the first period piece.
Kilt-clad director Mark Andrews said the film, which opens June 22, 2012, revolves around a Scottish princess named Merida (Kelly Macdonald), a skilled archer who’s being forced into marriage by her mother Queen Ellsinore (Emma Thompson) in hopes of keeping the clans united. Fleeing into the forest, Merida is led by will’-o-the-wisps to a witch with the power to alter her fate. Everything backfires, however, when the witch’s spell instead unleashes ancient evil into the land.
A minute-long unfinished sequence was screened in which Merida humiliates her suitors by outshooting them in an archery contest. Afterward Macdonald and Kevin McKidd, who plays one of the suitors, came out to praise the film and Andrews’ directing.
Monsters University director Dan Scanlon then entered to talk about what he described as an “animated college movie.” Displaying slides of concept art and the character designs for the 17- and 18-year-old Mike and Sully, Scanlon said the two begin as rivals enrolled in Monster University’s prestigious Scare-er program. A video of Sully voice actor John Goodman and Mike voice actor Billy Crystal rolled, and the audience cracked up as the two performers made fun of each other. When Goodman teased Crystal for not appearing in person at D23, however, Crystal waved goodbye to him before stepping out of frame and entering the arena stage. Praising the role and the cast, Crystal told fans it was great to be back. Scanlon confirmed that Steve Buscemi also returns as Randall Bogs. The film is set for release in 2013.
Lasseter reclaimed the stage to surprise the audience with news that Pixar has two never-before-announced films in the works. The two creative teams entered the stage to describe the films, starting with director Bob Peterson, a screenwriter for Up. The audience laughed he disclosed that the project’s title is “The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs.” He added that while in reality a giant asteroid ended the reign of the dinosaurs millions of years ago, the untitled film takes place in a world where that asteroid misses Earth and dinosaurs have not gone extinct. The team then displayed a piece of concept art: a brontosaurs silhouette, backlit by the setting sun.
Director Pete Docter, co-screenwriter of Up, then stepped up to address his film, set in the human mind. The audience laughed again as he revealed the current title is, “The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside a Person’s Mind.”
Ending the animated film section of the event, Lasseter assembled all of the Pixar directors and creative executives onstage to eat cake and celebrate Pixar’s 25th anniversary. “In school they say don’t bring it if you don’t have enough to share -- so you’re all getting cupcakes!” shouted Lasseter as a confetti cannon went off and event staff descended on the attendees, passing out cupcakes decorated to look like the yellow ball the Pixar lamp mascot plays with.
Sean Bailey, president of Walt Disney Studios motion picture production began, the live-action portion of the morning by apologizing because he wouldn’t be handing out cupcakes. He then turned to the live-action movies on Disney’s slate, starting with the trailer for John Carter.
Director Andrew Stanton came onstage and declared himself a huge fan of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. However, he admitted the version of John Carter that most influenced him was the 1970s Marvel comic series John Carter, Warlord of Mars. Stanton then screened three clips from the movie, the first showing the initial meeting between John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) and the Green Martian Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe, who wore a motion-capture suit and walked around on stilts during shooting). The second clip showed Carter trying to outrun the slobbering watch-lizard Woola, and the last gave audience members a tender moment between Carter and the alien princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins).
Then came Frankenweenie, the latest stop-motion film by Tim Burton, based on his 1984 live-action short of the same name about a boy who brings his beloved dog back from the dead. In a pre-recorded message, Burton revealed that the feature is being shot in black and white on 3D film. Allison Abbate then brought the actual Frankenweenie dog puppet onstage to demonstrate how the articulated skeleton inside the puppet worked. The film, which features a score by frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman, is in production now for October 2012 release.
Actress Jennifer Garner appeared next to talk about The Odd Life of Timothy Green, in which she and Joel Edgerton star as a young couple who, after learning they’ll never be able to have children, write a list of qualities they’d like in an imaginary child and bury it in their garden. The film takes a turn for the strange when they wake up the next morning to find a very muddy boy in their garden calling them mom and dad.
Oz: The Great and Powerful, directed by Sam Raimi, followed. The film focuses on how the Wizard arrived in Oz, and how he became the ruler of the Emerald City. In the behind-the-scenes video that accompanied the presentation, actor James Franco described his character Frank, the titular wizard, as a “lothario,” seducing and conning people before “rediscovering his humanity in Oz.” The movie, which also stars Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams and Zach Braff, opens March 8, 2013.
The audience broke into wild applause when Jason Segal and Kermit the Frog entered to talk about The Muppets, Disney’s big-screen revival of the beloved franchise. Sitting in chairs on a rolling stage, which hid the puppeteers, Kermit and Segal panicked when they realized the two clips they brought did not include Miss Piggy, who then rode onstage in a motorcycle sidecar to yell at them for not including “moi.” The puppets and human rolled offstage and the two clips played back to back, setting up the movie’s premise: the old Muppet Theatre from The Muppet Show is about to be demolished, and Segal, his girlfriend (Amy Adams) and his Muppet best friend Walter go about rallying Kermit, Piggy and all the Muppets to save the theater.
Changing gears entirely, Ross reappeared to play the trailer for Chimpanzee, a Disney Earth documentary. Following a baby chimpanzee and his family, the documentary took a surprising turn when the baby was abandoned partway through shooting -- and an even more startling one when he was adopted by a lone male chimpanzee, the only instance caught on camera of an unrelated male chimp raising an orphan.
Closing out the three-hour event was The Avengers, with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige offering an exclusive look at film footage, which showed, among other things, the new CGI Hulk, and separate confrontations between Loki and Tony Stark and Nick Fury.
Feige welcomed stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Cobie Smulders and Tom Hiddleston (Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Ruffalo and director Joss Whedon were busy filming and couldn’t attend). Downey asked whether the crowd wanted to see the footage again, and then brought the screens back down to replay the clips. The event then ended with the actors waving at the crowd before retreating offstage as the audience watched the footage for a second time.