When Walt Disney Animation and Pixar took the stage today at this year’s D23 Expo, there was an endless array of possibilities for what might be in store for the audience. After making a huge splash at the last D23, from Idina Menzel coming on stage to sing “Let it Go” from Frozen for the first time publicly, or the initial announcement of this year’s fantastic Pixar film, Inside Out. So to say the two animation studios had a lot to live up to from their presentations two years ago, would be an understatement.
So did they manage to successfully match/succeed the audience’s expectations? In short, yes. Absolutely, and you’ll understand why by the time you finish this piece, or at least, that’s my hope. Let’s start off with Walt Disney Animation shall we?
The presentation began with a sizzle reel showing new and old projects from all Walt Disney properties, including Marvel, Lucasfilm, and glimpses of new Disney Original films like the live-action Beauty and the Beast (those with keen eyes were able to spot Emma Watson’s Belle dressed in the iconic golden gown) and the Chris Pine-led The Finest Hours.
Then John Lasseter (the head of both Walt Disney Animation & Pixar), came firing onto the stage like a rock star. He started tossing out free issues of his signature Pixar Hawaiian shirt (which is available on the Expo floor for $99), including, at one point, equipping himself with a T-shirt gun so he could reach the back of the audience.
Then the actual presentation began with new looks at Walt Disney Animation’s 2016 film, Zootopia.
Some new artwork and plot details were revealed from the new movie, as the directors and producers took the stage to talk about their research and design process. It was then announced that the lead character of the film will be a female, up-and-coming Zootopia Police Officer, named Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin). Who, in case you couldn’t have guessed, is a bunny rabbit. She has big dreams of becoming the first female cop in the city’s history, that is, until she gets bamboozled by a sneaky fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), in a hilarious scene at an Elephant-run ice cream shop.
However, when she gets the opportunity of a lifetime after being assigned to a missing mammal case, Judy realizes that Nick was the last person to see her missing otter. The rest of the movie follows Judy and Nick’s growing friendship, as she races to meet her 48-hour deadline before she gets fired. Although, it’s not like they start working together and instantly become good buddies. In fact, in the other sequence shown at the presentation, Nick tricks Judy into believing he knows the “fastest” guy to look up a license plate for her. It’s only to her horror that she realizes Nick has pulled the wool over her eyes yet again, as the entire DMV they go to is run by sloths… I won’t give away anymore, but what followed in the couple-minute clip had the audience in stitches by the end.
The last little reveal came when the filmmakers announced that musician Shakira would be doing the voice of a character named Gazelle, and will also be recording an original song for the film as well. While the best-selling musician wasn’t there, she did send a video clip for the audience featuring her in her studio, and giving a glimpse at the song. Keep an eye out for Zootopia next year everyone. It won’t be one to miss it looks like.
Zootopia is set to be released on March 4th, 2016.
Next, was the announcement that the Walt Disney Animation studios would be adapting yet another classic fairy tale, “Jack & The Beanstalk”, in their new film titled, Gigantic. The film’s goal is to become the quintessential telling of the story, and the filmmakers revealed the movie will be taking place in Spain, during the country’s great discovery era (so around the 1400s) and follows a Spaniard named, Jack as he scales a giant beanstalk into an unknown world filled with giants in the sky.
Some details were revealed about one of the main giants in the movie, an 11-year old female giant who finds Jack first and proceeds to unknowingly torture him. Some concept art for the film was shown, and the last announcement came when Frozen composers, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, took to the stage to reveal that they would be doing the original music and score for the movie. Anderson-Lopez finished off the panel with a live-performance of one of the film’s songs, and for all those out there who liked the fun, sometimes juvenile, lyrics of Frozen, it looks like the tradition will continue in Gigantic.
Gigantic does not currently have a release date.
The next film that was presented was yet another movie from Disney Animation, Moana. The film takes place in the South Pacific when the voyaging that the region had become known for, suddenly decreased. It follows a character named Moana, a 16-year old girl who decides to set out on a voyage to try and calm a vengeful island spirit. It might sound a little hokey, but in Disney’s hands, it looks like they are pulling it off with flying colors.
However, the audience was in for one hell of a surprise when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson surprised everyone in the room by coming out and talking about the movie. He voices a character named Maui – a demigod with moving tattoos, a magical seahook that allows him to pull islands from beneath the ocean, as well as is equipped with superhuman strength. So can I see The Rock voicing this character? Yeah, pretty easily.
In fact, two clips were shown from the film including Maui introducing himself to Moana, and a scene featuring Moana meeting her best friend when she was 1 1/2 – the Pacific Ocean. In the film, the water is sentient and interacts/plays with Moana, and the clip was breathtaking. Honestly, everyone in the room went quiet throughout it, and the Rock even came back out with tears in his eyes. Out of all of the films at this presentation, Moana was the stand-out for me.
Moana is set to hit theaters on November 23rd, 2016.
That was how the Disney Animation half ended, and the Pixar Animation half began. What happened next though was the definition of a gift to the audience though, as Inside Out director Pete Docter, and one of the film’s producers took the stage. They quickly followed out by Inside Out story supervisor, Josh Cooley, though as they premiered the new Inside Out short film, Riley’s First Date?, that he wrote and directed. The title basically explains the premise of the short film, and it managed to stay at the same quality as the feature movie, and the audience ate up every second of it.
Riley’s First Date? will be available on the Inside Out Blu-ray/DVD later this Fall.
Lasseter walked out onto the stage again, to this time talk about, The Good Dinosaur. New details and images were shown from the film, and some more of the cast members were announced as well. It was revealed that Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, and A.J. Buckley will be doing the voices of a T-Rex family in the movie, with Elliott as the father, Paquin as the daughter, and A.J. Buckley as the son.
It was also announced that Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand will be doing the voices of Arlo’s (the lead dinosaur in the film) parents. They then went on to reveal new plot and setting details as well, including the reveal that the film takes place in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Arlo is very much the runt of his family, and always sticks by his father whenever he can. However, after tragedy strikes, Arlo is washed away from his home and left stranded with no idea where he is. He begins his journey back to his family, when he runs into a human boy named Spot.
At first, the two don’t know what to make of each other, but as time goes on and the journey between the two develops, they begin to share a strong friendship. Two clips were shown from the film, one featuring a fun/suspenseful scene between Arlo, Spot, and the trio of T-rexes. The other clip though, may not have left a dry eye in the room. While I won’t spoil what takes place in the sequence, just know that when people say The Good Dinosaur may be the most emotional Pixar film yet, they may not be wrong.
The Good Dinosaur is set to hit theaters on November 25th, 2016.
Then the real surprises began, as John Lasseter walked out and intro’d the presentation for Finding Dory… with a video montage of all the times Dory herself, Ellen Degeneres, harassed the studio to make the sequel. As the filmmakers and producers walked onto the stage, they introduced the first official clip from the film, which features Dory waking up after being knocked out, and struggling to remember what she saw when she was out.
As she sleep swims, she reaches the edge of the reef and remembers her family. The one she had lost, due to her short term memory loss. As she begs Marlin and Nemo to let her go to them in Monterey Bay, the trio decide to go together. It was then that Degeneres surprised the audience and walked onto stage to talk about the movie.
The film follows Dory as she tries to find her parents (voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Leavy), while being aided by Marlin and Nemo. However, things get slightly difficult when Dory is captured and put into a Marine Institute Lab in Monterey Bay, California. There she meets a new cast of characters, including a scheming octopus (Ed O’Neill), and whale who believes he has a brain injury (Ty Burrell), and another whale/shark in the institute, voiced by Kaitlin Olson. The presentation ended with a clip showcasing the meeting between Dory and O’Neil’s octopus.
While I was initially skeptical of Pixar making a sequel to a film that seemed to be better as a standalone, the footage was impressive and with Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) back on board as director as well, I think this may actually end up being one of Pixar’s better sequels. We’ll have to see though.
Finding Dory is set to be released on June 17th, 2016.
Next came the announcement of a brand new project from the studio, directed by Toy Story 3 helmer, Lee Unkrich, titled Coco. The film goes into the mythology behind Mexico’s Day of the Dead, and looks to follow a story of a boy who accidentally crosses over into the afterlife on the night of the celebration.
Not much was told about the movie, but a sample diorama was shown following a graveyard during one of the celebration’s three nights, as it transitioned into the ghost world. What followed included a lot of dancing colored skeletons, and a boy’s skeleton mask falling off – much to the dismay of the ghosts around him. While the skeleton imagery could be scary for some kids, it looks like one of the more interesting films Pixar has ever made. Whether or not this risk will pay off though, will have to wait to be seen.
Coco does not currently have a release date.
Finally, the presentation neared its end as John Lasseter walked back out and introduced, Toy Story 4. What was perhaps most interesting about the introduction though, was that Lasseter stressed how hesitant they were to make a fourth film in the franchise – revealing that the idea came after Andrew Stanton wrote a “wonderful” treatment for the movie. Lasseter went on to reveal that he will be co-directing Toy Story 4, alongside the Riley’s First Date? helmer, Josh Cooley, based on a script by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack.
That wasn’t all though, Lasseter also unveiled the plot of the film, which will be a love story focusing on Buzz and Woody leaving to search for his beloved Bo Peep. Lasseter shed a tear when he revealed that he was basing the story on his wife, Nancy. So while there never is a sure thing in this industry, it looks like the Toy Story franchise in in more-than-safe-hands.
As the presentation drew to a close, Lasseter brought out composer and musician, Randy Newman to perform a live rendition of his Toy Story classic, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” When Newman finished, about a dozen green army men rappelled down from the ceiling of the hall, before performing a synchronized dance onstage. Oh yeah, and confetti rained down from the sky too.
Walking out of the hall – one thing was for sure, as fans covered in confetti exited the room with big, dumb smiles on their faces, I think it’s safe to say that Walt Disney Animation and Pixar more than knocked it out of the park this time around. We’ll see you again in two years.
Make sure to keep checking back for more D23 updates — right here on GeekNation.
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