D23: A full report from Disney's version of Comic-Con!
It was an exciting adventure awaiting as I made my way to the Anaheim Convention Center this weekend. With the promise of superheroes and a Scottish warrior princess, D23 was the place to be – at least for a first timer like me. This year’s Disney Expo featured more Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck than you could possibly imagine, but with the addition of the good folks at Marvel joining Walt Disney Studios this year, there was something extra to get excited about. Once inside the D23 Arena, the massive crowd waited patiently for Disney Studios to offer up a preview of what they had in store for 2012 and 2013. Certainly it was exciting to hear what was happening with Pixar and possibly John Carter, but many were waiting for a little movie called THE AVENGERS to take the stage. Did it live up to the hype when we caught a glimpse of Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye and even the Hulk? Read on to find out.
The day began with a montage of all the upcoming releases plus a look back at a few classics. This nearly brought a tear to my eye. In fact, it seemed to fill the room with genuine anticipation. When Disney Chairman, Rich Ross took the stage, he reminded the ecstatic audience that “You’re the reason we do what we do!” and that is continue to make great movies. And frankly, they have a darn good track record when it comes to strong features, at least with Pixar on their team.
Mr. Ross introduced us to a very cheerfully dressed John Lasseter (sporting a CARS 2 Hawaiian shirt underneath his sports-coat). His attire was fitting as the first flick to get discussed was part of the world of CARS, and this feature is entitled PLANES.
Planes will be released as part of DisneyToons Studio. This upcoming feature will expand the world that Cars has created. In fact, this is a first in a series of vehicular related flicks according to Lasseter. In the teaser trailer, we find a little character named Dusty Cropduster as he plans to shoot himself off the end of a military battleship. It seems this small town plane is looking for a big adventure, it also incorporates the surprising use of White Zombie’s “More Human Than Human”. Irony? After the trailer, Mr. Lasseter invited Dusty himself onstage, as TV’s Jon Cryer greeted the audience. The “Two and a Half Men” star seemed just as delighted as the fans were to be part of the Cars universe. His own reaction went something like this, “This is ridiculous!” Look for Planes to make its landing in the spring of 2013. Just in time for audiences to rev up their own engines in excitement. Not what you are thinking sicko!
Next up we had the biggest surprise of the evening. WRECK-IT-RALPH is the story of a lonely 8 bit video game villain who decides he doesn’t want to be the bad guy anymore. Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) finds that he is feeling empty as he watches the video games hero, Fix-it-Felix (Jack McBrayer) get heaps of praise and attention. Soon, the animated baddie is searching through a number of classic and modern day video games looking for the chance to do some good and reap the benefits. This film also stars Jane Lynch as a tough Sgt. Cahhoun and Sarah Silverman as Vanellope von Schweets.
We were then shown the first few minutes of this feature, albeit without the beauty of it being the finished product. We saw poor Wreck-it-Ralph – a sort of Donkey Kong inspired creature – knocking down a large building, only to have Fix-it-Felix save the day. However, once the arcade closes its doors, Felix and the video game “extras” retire in a nice, recently fixed building, Ralph sleeps alone on the top of a trash heap.
The writing is warm and very clever here, especially when Ralph is at what looks to be a twelve-step meeting for video game villains featuring a group of well known characters like the ghost from “Pac Man” and Coily, the snake from “Q-bert”. This was easily the most unexpected success of the entire presentation. I don’t know if I can wait until its Spring of 2013 for what looks to be a gem of a movie.
When Sarah Silverman and Jack McBrayer took the stage to talk about the film, Sarah’s reaction garnered a ton of laughter from the audience. “I always wanted to come to Anaheim and not go to Disneyland!” she added. And for those who might have been at the event, is it just me, or did she look insanely hot? Hot or not, it’s a safe bet that all the fans of Disney seemed quite content to be at the Anaheim Convention Center this particular weekend.
Next up was a glimpse into Pixar who happened to be celebrating their 25th anniversary. There were cupcakes for everyone in attendance which begs the question, what better way to salute the occasion with a glimpse inside BRAVE? Cupcakes are good.
This is the first Pixar film to feature a main character that is female. It is also the first Pixar period piece and even the first original “fairy tale” they have created. With that many firsts, the audience seemed genuinely ecstatic as they witnessed Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald) riding throughout the Scottish wilderness shooting arrows at several targets. She falls off the horse when he stops for a fallen tree bringing on a little disagreement between horse and rider. Like many Disney films before it (most notably TANGLED) she has a very playful and heartfelt relationship with her majestic, horse friend. Soon co-stars Kelly MacDonald and Kevin McKidd (a mini TRAINSPOTTING reunion) joined the stage to witness another scene from Brave. This one featured a battle of Merida’s suitors, none of which she wants any part of. While not a one of the gentlemen is able to make the perfect bow and arrow shot, she shows them how it’s done by outmarksman-ing each of the fools. With three perfect shots, she is quickly confronted by her frustrated mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). This was a terrific scene which will likely lead to a fantastic movie. The rest of the cast includes Billy Connolly as King Fergus, Julie Walters as a witch, and Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane and McKidd as rival suitors.
Brave looks truly phenomenal and sadly we have to wait until June 22, 2012 to witness it for ourselves.
Not to be outdone, the next feature takes a look back at the beginning friendship of two very popular characters in the Pixar universe. MONSTERS UNIVERSITY returns to when Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) first meet in this “animated college movie.”
The audience was shown what teenage Mike and Sulley would look like, but it was far too early in the process to see much more than that. After all, Pixar takes a very long time to complete their films, so it wasn’t shocking that there wasn’t much to see with a 2013 release date. However, director Dan Scanlon was there, and after a quick video message from John Goodman and Billy Crystal, the star of WHEN HARRY MET SALLY soon joined Scanlon on stage with a surprise appearance. He also pointed out that teenage Mike had a retainer. Poor Mike! Aside from Mike’s oral issues and a few shots of the college campus, we were left to ponder what adventure lies ahead in the monsters college years.
Next up, Pixar unveiled very little about two upcoming features. One – directed by Bob Peterson (voice of Dug from UP and co-director of that same film) – is something involving dinosaurs. The catchy title so far… “The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs.” The only thing we witnessed from this project is a drawing of a dinosaur, so yes, it is about dinosaurs!
Next up, director Pete Docter (director of UP) introduced an original idea that takes place quite literally in our minds. The title? “The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes Place Inside The Mind” So maybe creating title’s aren’t necessarily Pixar’s strong points? Either way, I look forward to seeing what these two particular films shape to be.
Next year’s Earth Day release is another beautifully photographed documentary feature called CHIMPANZEE and yes, that is the title and subject. I’ve enjoyed each one of these films even though you don’t get much more heartbreaking than when dealing with nature. I’m sure this story of a young chimpanzee taken away somehow from his family will help Klennex sell tissue. You can’t help but be in awe by these fascinating docs.
After animation, the fine folks at Disney wanted to show us that they knew something about live action. They kicked off this segment of the presentation with JOHN CARTER. The Taylor Kitsch starring feature is heading to a theatre near you on March 9, 2012. It also features Lynn Collins as a Mars Princess and Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton as Tars Tarkas and his wife Sola.
The footage shown here was similar to what they offered at a recent Edit Bay Visit we did for the film (if not exactly the same). While it seemed to get a rather positive reaction from the audience at this particular screening, the film could go either way. The special effects are terrific, especially the kind of adorable baby Tharks. These “Tharks” that I speak of grow up to be the well over six foot inhabitants of Mars. The first scene presented includes an early arrival on the planet Mars by the dumbfounded John Carter, who inadvertently discovers he can jump incredibly high.
One sequence seems to focus more on the romance and intrigue between Carter and love interest Dejah Thoris (Collins). While the final scene focused on a plot to get Carter killed by having him battle in an arena against a giant white ape monster. This action-packed moment works well enough, even leaving a sort of cliffhanger feeling as a second white ape beastie is released.
Andrew Stanton, the film’s director brought out Kitsch, Collins and Dafoe. It was especially nice to see the great Willem Dafoe talking about working on stilts to give the film a more realistic look in regards to his performance, along with Morton who couldn’t make it to the D23.
After all the adventure, it was time for something that it seems Disney could not do without… another Tim Burton movie. This time, his short FRANKEWEENIE is given the feature film treatment. It’s black and white, 3D and stop-motion animation. Will it work? We’ll find out on October 5, 2012. The biggest surprise here is that the film doesn’t include Johnny Depp. It does however feature some familiar names in the Tim Burton world, including Martin Landau (ED WOOD), Winona Ryder (EDWARD SCISSORHANDS), Martin Short (MARS ATTACKS!) and Catherine O’Hara (BEETLEJUICE, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS). And just to make it even more Tim Burton-y, how about Danny Elfman returning to take on the score.
OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL
Hey, have you heard of a movie called THE WIZARD OF OZ? It was pretty popular and stuff, and now Disney is giving the film a prequel. Okay, sarcasm doesn’t really work in written form, but I have to admit that this seems like dangerous ground to be treading on. You take a beloved film like The Wizard of Oz and create OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, it seems you’ve got some pretty big shoes to fill.
Oz stars James Franco as a lothario wizard who finds himself in the land of Oz. He is joined by Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams and Zach Braff in this star-studded affair directed by Mr. Evil Dead himself, Sam Raimi. This time, hopefully Bruce Campbell will have more of a presence than in Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN films.
The eager audience was shown some behind the scenes images of the set design along with interviews with the cast. The question is, will audiences want to travel down that yellow brick road when Oz conjures his magical spell in March of 2013? With Raimi at the helm, it might actually work.
Then came the second biggest surprise of the afternoon – THE MUPPETS. Presented by Jason Segel, Kermit the Frog and a pissed off Miss Piggy, they offered up a few scenes and they were hilarious. It is hard to really give anything away here, but I will say that the humor and the script are pretty tremendous. The film also stars Amy Adams and of course, the rest of the Muppet cast. November 23, 2011 cannot get her fast enough.
Finally, the one that everybody was talking about, the movie that will be witnessed by every fanboy, everywhere… THE AVENGERS! Kevin Feige was brought on stage to introduce this highly anticipated feature.
The strange part is - and as good as the footage shown was - why bring Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Cobie Smolders, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth on stage, only to wave at the audience. Downey Jr. was the only one to speak, and he just mentioned he hadn’t seen the footage and asked them to play it again. Suddenly, like a flash of lightning, they were headed off-stage ne’er a word spoken about the Joss Whedon directed Marvel flick.
The footage itself consisted of Loki (Hiddleston) being imprisoned by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) while the Avengers watch. This did include Mark Ruffalo being funny as hell in Banner mode, and then later on, a brief glimpse of his Hulkness. This film looks terrific and yes, my expectations are pretty damn high, but if I had gone to this particular convention hoping for a ton of Marvel info, I’d be very disappointed. Avengers really played a small role at D23, aside from this panel. At least we got a quick glimpse of the Hulk in full “don’t make me angry” form!
Either way, I can’t wait for the film’s release on May 4, 2012. Best bit of dialogue from the afternoon’s panel? Loki is challenging Tony Stark with, “I’ve got an army!” and Stark retorts charismatically, “We’ve got a Hulk!” I’m already sold on this movie yesterday.
Which of these films are you excited about? Share your thoughts below!