On Friday, August 14th, 7,500 Disney fans crammed into Hall D23 at the fourth D23 Expo to get a first glimpse at the upcoming slate of Disney and Pixar animated films. John Lassetter, Chief Creative Officer of both studios, hosted the three hour presentation and kicked things off by launching a few of his exclusive D23 Expo Hawaiian shirt into the crowds. The shirt, by the way, was nearly impossible to get at the Expo’s Disney Store and came at a price of $99.
The first half of the presentation was devoted to the studio that started it all, Walt Disney Animation Studios. First up was Zootopia and Lasseter passed the mic to the creative team which included Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer. After showing a few hilarious animation tests and photos from their research trips (stops included Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Kenya), they brought out Ginnifer Goodwin, who voices one of the main characters Judy Hopps. Judy is a bunny with big dreams of being a police officer. Her optimistic attitude is counteracted by a fox named Nick Wilde, a cynical con artist that she has to team up with when she gets the chance to solve a real crime mystery. Not only does Zootopia look incredibly cute, but the audience was roaring with laughter. It’s very clear that this will be one of the funniest animated films of all time. They also teased a new song from the film called “Try Everything” performed by Shakira (via a pre-recorded video, she wasn’t there).
Next up was the big announcement that Disney is adapting the fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk as an animated feature. The Disney treatment is currently titled Gigantic (because we can’t just use the original fairytale name anymore…) and sets the story in Spain. Nathan Greno and Dorothy McKim presented some concept art as they explained that in Gigantic, Jack finds himself in a whole world full of giants, which features its own array of cultures. Jack’s main foe is an 11-year old giant girl who wants him as her living toy. Kristen Anderson and Robert Lopez are writing the music and they performed a new song that the girls will sing while playing with Jack. It was cute, but certainly isn’t the next “Let it Go.”
The big crowd pleaser from the WDAS portion was Moana and they pulled out all the stops to sell this film. John Musker, Ron Clements and Osnat Shurer started with an explanation of the South Pacific theme and the songwriters chosen for this film, which inlude Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mencina and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Moana takes place 2,000 years ago and the title character’s name means “ocean.” Her people were natural voyagers, but for some reason stopped exploring. The sea calls to her, but her father forbids her to go to the ocean. After losing her beloved grandmother, nothing is holding Moana back as she and Maui, an Island demigod, set sail for an adventure unlike any other. Not only did Dwayne Johnson (the Rock) come out to promote his character Maui, but he also introduced Opetaia Foa’i and a group of island dancers who performed an incredible song from the film. After this, expectations for Moana are extremely high.
Next up was Pixar as Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera celebrated the success of Inside Out by introducing Josh Cooley, who has directed a new short that will premiere with the home video release. The short is called Riley’s First Date? and finds the boy from the end of the film showing up at Riley’s house to go skating. The story bounces around inside the heads of Riley’s parents, her gentleman caller, and Riley. It’s a hilarious add-on to the film that fans will enjoy.
Peter Sohn and Denise Ream introduced the packed hall to The Good Dinosaur, which has changed considerably since the last D23 Expo when the film was first announced. The world that Pixar has created for this film is breathtaking, but the biggest surprise were the tears everyone had streaming down their cheeks when they played a clip. In this new, emotional version of the film, Arlo is a young apatosaurus and after his father dies, he gets separated from his family and winds up far from home. The timid young dino soon finds a companion on his journey, a young human boy named Spot who crawls on all fours and can’t speak. When they realize they share the loss of their parents in common, they set off together to get Arlo home on a journey filled with danger.
The biggest cheers based on title alone came form Finding Dory, which was promoted by Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane and Lindsay Collins. The film takes place just six months after the first movie. When Dory suddenly remembers her family, she is overwhelmed by her longing to see them again. She sets off on a journey with Marlin and Nemo from Australia to California where her parents live at the Marine Life Institute. Ellen Degeneres made a surprise appearance and the audience went wild, followed by appearances from voices for new characters that included Ed O’Neil, Ty Burrell, and Kaitlin Olson.
Another tease from the last D23 Expo was given more clarity by Lee Unkrich and Darla K. Anderson. Their film about Dia de los Muertos now has a title, Coco, named after one of the characters in the film. Not much was revealed about the film, but the main character is a 12-year old boy named Miguel who accidentally stumbles upon a family secret that changes his fate. Unkrich shared a short test film that they made as a proof of concept. It featured skeleton’s wearing bright colored clothes dancing and playing music as the camera panned through a Mexican city at night. It was gorgeous and the concept is really cool.
As the grand finale, John Lasseter talked about Toy Story 4 and welcomed Josh Cooley back to the stage as his co-director. Lasseter shared that the initial treatment was done by Andrew Stanton, but the final script is being written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormick, who joined him on stage. Toy Story 4 is a love story between Woody and Bo Peep, whom you may remember was absent in Toy Story 3. Buzz and Woody leave Bonnie and the gang to go on a mission to bring back Bo Peep so she and Woody can be together. To close the show, Randy Newman performed “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” As the song finished, ropes dropped from the rafters and Green Army Men dropped into the crowd as confetti bursted from the ceilings and more shirts were shot into the crowds.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.