Super X D23 Expo
ANAHEIM—If comic book followers have San Diego Comic Con and Star Wars devotees have Celebration, then Disney fans have D23 Expo. The biannual gathering attracts thousands of Disney fans from around the world.
While it has its share of Jedis, pirates and Marvel heroes, the vast majority of the cosplayers were dressed as Disney characters, with a lot of princesses in the house. For a Disney fan, it was overwhelming.
This year’s D23 Expo, held at the cavernous Anaheim Convention Center in California from July 14 to 16, was no different. Along with the creative costumes were dazzling exhibits and stunning revelations, especially when one considers that the Disney family now includes Walt Disney Animation Studios, the live-action Walt Disney Studios, Lucasfilm (thus Star Wars) and Marvel Studios, among others.
Here are the most compelling announcements at this year’s D23 Expo:
Disney Legends: The Disney Legends Award is granted to those individuals who have helped change the Disney brand and left behind a legacy. Last year saw our own Lea Salonga named a Disney Legend. In fact, Salonga was on the cover of the 30th anniversary Disney Twenty Three commemorative magazine. This year’s 30th anniversary Disney Legends are: actress Carrie Fisher, animator Clyde Geronimi, actress Whoopi Goldberg, artist Manuel Gonzales, actor Mark Hamill, Imagineer Wayne Johnson, comic book creator Jack Kirby, comic book creator Stan Lee, director Garry Marshall, director Julie Taymor and actress Oprah Winfrey.
Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS): The panel began with Walt Disney Studios chair Alan Horn talking about Disney animation’s amazing year, which featured the box-office dominance of “Moana” and the Academy Award won by “Zootopia.” Then WDAS and Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter showed what he called “The Speed Test,” a bit of an untitled Disney animated reel that featured jets. This was followed by the announcement of “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure,” a 20-minute short that would precede this November Pixar release “Coco.” Princess Anna voice talent Kristen Bell and Olaf voice actor Josh Gad came on with Gad singing one of the four new songs in “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.” Next came the sequel “Ralph Breaks The Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2,” out March 2018. Vanellope voice talent Sarah Silverman introduced a raucous clip that saw Vanellope crashing a party of Disney princesses, everyone from Snow White to Moana, while being waited on by C-3PO. The audience was overwhelmed when the voice talents of Ariel (Jodi Benson), Belle (Paige O’Hara), Pocahontas (Irene Bedard), Jasmine (Linda Larkin), Merida (Kelly MacDonald), Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) and Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) all came out onstage. Pixar returns to the superhero genre with “The Incredibles 2,” out 2018. Director Brad Bird, Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson greeted fans as footage showing Jack-Jack battling an unfortunate raccoon. Finally, Pixar will be releasing the Mexican-flavored “Coco” in November. Benjamin Bratt and Anthony Gonzales led an elaborate performance of theme “Remember Me,” written by Kristen and Bobby Lopez of “Frozen” fame.
Walt Disney Live-Action: Walt Disney Studios (the live-action films) head Shawn Bailey introduced “A Wrinkle in Time,” the 2018 film adapting the Madeleine L’Engle book. After the trailer, Bailey was joined by director Ava DuVernay, Chris Pine, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey on stage. “This movie tells you that anything is possible,” Witherspoon said. Disney’s new take on a Holiday classic, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” highlighted by a performance by dancer Charles “Lil Buck” Riley, was next. The much-anticipated “Mary Poppins Returns,” a sequel to the beloved musical classic, followed, with the new Mary Poppins, Emily Blunt, greeting the audience along with director Rob Marshall. She said: “No one can out-Julie Andrews Julie Andrews.” Bailey then talked briefly about early work on “Mulan” and Dwayne Johnson being cast in “Jungle Cruise,” based on the Disney ride. The live-action “Aladdin,” directed by Guy Ritchie, has been cast: Mena Massoud is Aladdin, Naomi Scott is Jasmine and Will Smith—that Will Smith—is the new Genie. There was an unveiling of the lead character design for Tim Burton’s “Dumbo.” The big surprise of the panel was the showing of the stunning first trailer for the live-action “The Lion King,” out in summer 2019. The trailer featured the song “Circle of Life,” and director Jon Favreau saying he worked hard to make sure they had the trailer ready for D23.
Lucasfilm/Star Wars: Horn again led this panel, noting that “Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi” was honored to feature the late Carrie Fisher. He confirmed that director Ron Howard was now hard at work on the standalone Han Solo film. “The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson came on stage and talked about the film, introducing a behind-the-scenes reel. He was joined by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro. Franchise newbie Tran, who plays a character named Rose Tico, characterized the role as being akin to “winning the Golden Ticket.” The final guest was Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill. “When I read the script, there were so many unexpected elements, which is great in a Star Wars film, because it’s getting harder and harder to bring new stuff to the table,” he said. “The Last Jedi” will be out December 2017.
Marvel Studios: Talk about a panel featuring heavy hitters: Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige led the live-action Marvel presentation, unveiling the Marvel Studios 10th anniversary logo. “Almost every single hero we’ve introduced is going to be in it (2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War”), which he talked about being the studio’s biggest movie yet. Then, like a special comic book issue, Marvel brought one actor after another on stage: Josh Brolin (Thanos), Paul Bettany (The Vision), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Dave Bautista (Drax), Dom Cheadle (War Machine), Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier) and Anthony Mackie (Falcon). And then, they brought out even more superpowers: Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange), Tom Holland (Spider-Man) and Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther). The stars of the upcoming “Thor: Ragnarok” had to be there, of course, two “friends from work” Mark Ruffalo (Hulk) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor). Then Feige paused before introducing “the man who started it all,” Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man). Never had this many Marvel talents be gathered on a single stage. The star power threatened to blow out the hall’s equipment. Then came a bit of welcome trickery: a reel looking back at Marvel Studios’ 10 years was introduced. But then the reel suddenly swerved into the first teaser trailer for “Infinity War.” It confirmed what Feige said: The trailer literally features every Marvel hero in combat against Thanos. Most notable is the presence of Spider-Man (wearing what is clearly an armored Stark Spider-Man suit) and Doctor Strange among the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy. And though he was not physically present at D23, Chris Evans (Captain America) was very present in the trailer. With that, the panel ended and everybody tried to catch their breath.
Alan Menken: D23 wasn’t done just yet. During his one-man show. “A Whole New World of Alan Menken,” the fan-favorite songwriter (everything from “The Little Mermaid” to “Tangled” performed pieces from his soundtrack, but also made two big announcements. For the upcoming “The Little Mermaid” live-action film, Menken will be working with “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. And for the coming live-action “Aladdin,” Menken will be working with “La La Land” songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul on the film’s music.
The D23 Expo presents such a wide range of fan experiences, from looking at Johnny Depp’s actual costume as Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” imagining the announced “Galaxy’s Edge” Star Wars-themed attractions, buying up all the merch possible and even lending a hand as a Disney “Voluntear” helping put together packs for children in hospitals for Disney’s Citizenship program. Lose yourself in the flood of Disney characters walking around, fans transformed by their own shared devotion. Disney songs were playing in the air, and attendees were walking around singing to themselves and to others. If you weren’t a Disney fan before, you’ll be one after. That is the power of D23.
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