Pixar, Walt Disney Animation & Live Action at D23 Expo: Everything We Learned

The Walt Disney Studios made big announcements, revealed new details & future plans, while sharing never-before-seen footage from live action films, Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. This post will share everything we learned during the 2.5 hour panel, plus our thoughts about the announcement.

We don’t normally cover this type of thing, but we sat through this panel for fun–and figured it might be of interest (or not) to share the press-release style details while interjecting our commentary about the footage, filmmakers, and actors we saw during the Walt Disney Studios presentation.

If the same is of interest for the Marvel and Star Wars panel, please let us know in the comments. We’re not diehard fans of those studios, and are on the fence about braving the chaos and crowds for that blockbuster session. Anyway, let’s dig right in…

The event began with a brand-new logo introduction of the iconic Disney castle—now platinum in honor of Disney’s 100 Years of Wonder celebration. Created by Disney Studios and Industrial Light & Magic, and featuring an all-new arrangement of “When You Wish Upon a Star” by award-winning composer Christophe Beck, the new Disney castle introduction will play in front of all Disney theatrical and streaming releases starting this fall.

This was actually shown twice, and is really well done. It seemed a bit longer than the normal intro, and definitely sets the mood for 100 Years of Wonder. Still, it’s just an intro. What follows needs to deliver, too…

Fans got a wicked greeting from “HOCUS POCUS 2” stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, who appeared magically via video to surprise the room with a new trailer. It’s been 29 years since the 17th century sisters have been resurrected and they are looking for revenge.

It’s up to three high-school students (Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo, Lilia Buckingham) to stop the ravenous witches from wreaking a new kind of havoc before dawn on All Hallow’s Eve. Directed by Anne Fletcher and produced by Lynn Harris, “Hocus Pocus 2” also stars Sam Richardson, Tony Hale and Hannah Waddingham. It debuts exclusively on Disney+ September 30, 2022.

As someone who is indifferent to our annual viewings of the original Hocus Pocus, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this. However, Sam Richardson, Tony Hale and Hannah Waddingham have my attention–I didn’t realize they were part of this project. If it brings some of the Veep humor or Ted Lasso heart to the Sanderson Sisters story, sign me up.

Up next, Bailey welcomed to the stage stars from “DISENCHANTED,” including Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, Maya Rudolph, Gabriella Baldacchino, James Marsden, Idina Menzel, Yvette Nicole Brown and Jayma Mays. Featuring music from Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, the musical comedy picks up 15 years after Giselle (Adams) and Robert (Dempsey) get married when their family heads to suburbia in search of happily ever after.

Fans were among the first to see the first trailer of the film, which is directed by Adam Shankman, produced by Barry Josephson, Barry Sonnefeld and Adams, and features new music from the greats, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. “Disenchanted” streams on Disney+ beginning November 24, 2022.

Amy Adams and Maya Rudolph were hilarious on stage as overly-eager Disneyland fans, but that’s about it. The footage didn’t do much for me, but it was also pretty chopped up so as to not reveal too much. (Don’t worry, fans of Enchanted. My opinion does not matter in the least and won’t impact your enjoyment of the movie.)

“PETER PAN & WENDY” spotlights iconic characters in a whole new way. Joining Bailey on stage were cast members Alexander Molony (Peter Pan), Ever Anderson (Wendy), Alyssa Wapanâtahk (Tiger Lily) and Captain Hook himself: Jude Law. The new film dives deeper into Wendy’s story as she joins the boy who refuses to grow up on a magical journey to Neverland and reveals the history behind Peter Pan’s rivalry with one of Disney’s most memorable villains.

The cast discussed what fans can expect from the new film and revealed an exclusive first look at the film for the D23 audience. Directed by David Lowery and produced by Jim Whitaker, the live-action reimagining of the 1953 animated classic begins streaming on Disney+ in 2023.

As someone who has been done with the “live action” (air quotes since over half these movies are made in computers) for several years now, I’m not the best judge of this. If you’re a fan of these projects, your opinion will likely differ dramatically from mine. With that said, this did absolutely nothing for me.

“HAUNTED MANSION” director Justin Simien—who actually used to work at Disneyland—joined Bailey to discuss the ghostly adventure. Inspired by the classic theme park attraction, “Haunted Mansion” is about a woman and her son who enlist a motley crew of so-called spiritual experts to help rid their home of supernatural squatters.

They shared a sneak peek of the film exclusively with the D23 Expo crowd, then welcomed the queen of scary movies, Jamie Lee Curtis, who made an unforgettable entrance aboard a Haunted Mansion doom buggy. Curtis plays Madame Leota in the film, which releases next year.

This looked shockingly good. The cast is stacked to the point that they’ll be able to carry the film even if the script ends up being weak, the cameos look fun (minus Jared Leto), and even the trailer had tons of Easter eggs from the attraction. I wasn’t ambivalent to this going in, but am now looking forward to it. Maybe Disney will go 2 for 3 on Haunted Mansion adaptations, after the surprise success of Muppets Haunted Mansion last year.

“MUFASA: THE LION KING,” a prequel to “The Lion King,” won’t release until 2024, but director Barry Jenkins was on hand to show a never-before-seen sneak peek and share a little about the film, which is currently in production. Told in flashbacks—Rafiki, Timon and Pumbaa tell the story of Mufasa to a young lion cub—“Mufasa” reveals the rise of one of the greatest kings of the Pride Lands.

It’s tough to criticize anything from director Barry Jenkins, who is a rare talent…I just wonder why he chose to apply his talents to a story that doesn’t seem like it needs to be told.

“SNOW WHITE” is a live-action reimagining of the classic tale starring Rachel Zegler in the title role and Gal Gadot as Snow White’s Stepmother, The Queen. The film’s two stars joined Bailey to talk about their roles and to share a very early glimpse at the iconic characters in the 2024 film, which is directed by Marc Webb.

Gal Gadot seems great as the Queen; ditto Rachel Zegler as Snow White. People who love the “live action” remakes will likely enjoy this.

“THE LITTLE MERMAID” director Rob Marshall took a break from post-production under the sea to share more about the live-action version of the beloved tale. He played the “Part of Your World” sequence for fans in Hall D23 and invited on stage Ariel herself, Halle Bailey, who shared her excitement about her new role. Marshall concluded by introducing the new teaser trailer.

Featuring fan-favorite songs plus four new songs penned by Alan Menken and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the feature film also stars Melissa McCarthy as Ursula and Javier Bardem as Triton. “The Little Mermaid” swims onto the big screen in Summer 2023.

Being Very Online, I’ve caught some of the manufactured controversies around this film. Like most things on the internet, they’re stupid. Halle Bailey (not to be confused with Halle Berry…as I might have done for way too long) delivers a strong performance singing “Part of Your World.” HOWEVER, what is actually jarring about this film is Flounder as an actual flatfish! I thought Lion King with “real” animals was awkward, and that’s going to be doubly so here with a bunch of emotionless sea creatures.

This wrapped up the Live Action releases coming to Disney+ and movie theaters in the next couple of years, and took up at least the first half of the presentation. Notice anything?

Nothing is original. Literally all of the movies above are remakes, sequels, or otherwise existing franchises. Ironically enough, I know this criticism also isn’t original…but it’s still disconcerting to see the Walt Disney Company’s creative machine pumping out so many remixes, sequels, origin stories, etc. Revisiting nostalgia is perfectly fine; creating new nostalgia is much better.

Thankfully, the presentation by Pixar Animation Studios did a much better job of that…

Pixar’s Pete Docter was excited to share the upcoming slate for the Emeryville-based animation studio. “These last few years have been a time of great change in the world,” said Docter. “And it’s led us at Pixar to think about the future. Or, if I’m channeling my inner Joe from ‘Soul,’ I’d ask: ‘Why are we here? What’s our purpose?’

Well, for us, it’s to tell great animated stories. Whether those are theatrical feature films, streaming series or shorts, we think telling stories is foundational to who we are as people. They really define us. And we believe in the power of animation to capture and reflect the stories of our own lives.”

First up, filmmakers Peter Sohn and Denise Ream joined Docter on stage to discuss “ELEMENTAL,” an all-new, original feature film releasing on June 16, 2023. Sohn, who directs the film, shared the personal inspiration behind the film—a story of immigrants pursuing dreams in beautiful neighborhoods where language and cultures come together.

Filmmakers introduced the characters in “Elemental,” which is set in a city where fire-, water-, land- and air-residents live together. Ember is a tough and fiery young woman, and Wade is a fun, sappy, go-with-the-flow guy. Helping bring them to life are Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie, who were warmly welcomed to the Hall D23 stage. Audience members got an exclusive look at the film and received a mini-poster featuring Ember and Wade.

Elemental looks incredible. Like Inside Out meets Zootopia, but in a fresh, fun, and exciting way. I am totally on board for this film, and cannot wait to see what Pixar has in store for us.

“WIN OR LOSE” directors Carrie Hobson and Michael Yates provided a closer look at Pixar’s first-ever long-form series and what inspired it. “Win or Lose” follows the Pickles, a co-ed middle school softball team, in the week leading up to their championship game. Each episode takes place that same week, highlighting the perspective of a different main character—players, their parents, the umpire—each reflected in a unique visual style. Hobson and Yates revealed that Will Forte will voice Coach Dan in the series, and shared a shout-out Forte recorded for the occasion, followed by a special clip just for fans. “Win or Lose” streams on Disney+ in Fall 2023.

This reminds me a lot of the After Party on Apple TV+, which was generally good but uneven (comes with the territory). It’ll be interesting to see whether a Disney+ show can live up to the quality animation and storytelling standards of Pixar, but I’m willing to give it a chance.

Following flickering lights and an ominous message reading “Bring Us Your Leader,” Docter welcomed to the stage director Adrian Molina and producer Mary Alice Drumm to showcase for the first time ever plans for the original feature film “ELIO.”

In the story, 11-year-old dreamer Elio is artistic, creative and an avid INdoorsman who finds it hard to fit in. Meanwhile Mom Olga, who runs a top-secret military project, is working to decode a strange signal from outer space. But it’s Elio who makes contact, gets beamed into space and is subsequently mistaken for an intergalactic Ambassador for Earth. The voice of smart and super-confident Olga, America Ferrera, was invited on stage alongside Yonas Kibreab, who lends his voice to Elio himself. Kibreab revealed to the audience that “Elio” releases Spring 2024.

Too little was shown to have a strong opinion either way of this project. The child actor playing Elio was electric, and anything aliens is good by me. I’m tentatively on board.

Before Docter could wrap Pixar’s portion of the show, he heard a voice from inside his head. Fortunately, it was actually the voice of Joy, Amy Poehler, who arrived on stage to huge applause—especially when she informed the audience that “INSIDE OUT 2” is in the works at Pixar.

Director Kelsey Mann, producer Mark Nielsen and writer Meg LeFauve are hard at work on the all-new adventure inside the head of now-teenager Riley—who may or may not be feeling all kinds of new Emotions. “Inside Out 2,” the follow-up to 2015’s Oscar and Golden Globe winning feature film, is slated for release Summer 2024.

Pixar has generally earned my trust when it comes to sequels, even if some of their recent output on that front has been spotty. Inside Out is one of my absolute favorite films from the studio; I’m cautiously optimistic that Docter and co. wouldn’t move forward with this unless they had a story that needs telling.

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee received a warm welcome from fans who were delighted to hear details about the studio’s plans for the yearlong 100-year anniversary celebration.

“At Walt Disney Animation Studios, the studio that started it all, on the eve of our 100th anniversary, we see today as a moment of privilege and promise,” said Lee. “A privilege to be stewards of a studio and a dream that Walt and his brother, Roy, started a century ago. And a promise to continue to take risks in our storytelling—and to explore and expand and turn the possible into the actual, just as Walt did.”

Lee discussed the opportunities Disney+ has created at Disney Animation, reviewing the slate of shows heading to the streamer, including new series like “ZOOTOPIA+,” launching on Disney+ November 9, 2022.

Fans saw a trailer for the new short-form series, which heads back to the fast-paced mammal metropolis, diving deeper into the lives of some of the Oscar winning feature film’s most intriguing residents. (Sorry, forgot to get a photo of the title screen, apparently.)

This looked absolutely hilarious. One of the great strengths of the original Zootopia was the way it created a living, breathing city inhabited by an eclectic cast of critters, many of whom twisted tropes from films and television genres. So many great gags that ended up being given minimal screen time. This appears that it’ll remedy that. One of the highlights of all the projects shown.

Coming to Disney+ in 2023 is “IWÁJÚ,” an all-new original long-form series created in collaboration with Pan-African comic book entertainment company Kugali. Lee invited to the stage Kugali filmmakers Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, Hamid Ibrahim and Tolu Olowofoyeku, who introduced the setting of the series—a love letter to Lagos, Nigeria.

Olowofoyeku and Ibrahim described the world of “Iwájú” as a futuristic depiction—a world bursting with color, unique visual elements and technological advancements inspired by the spirit of Lagos, which is physically divided into an island and a mainland separated by both water and socio-economic status. The coming-of-age story introduces Tola, a young heiress from the wealthy island, and her best friend Kole, a self-taught tech expert and loving son from the mainland. Filmmakers shared a first look of the new series.

The footage was gorgeous and the filmmakers further sold this exactly in the way described above–a love letter to Lagos and a coming-of-age tale. It sounds like a very fresh telling of a classic style of story.

Lee then set the tone for Disney Animation’s next feature film, introducing the filmmakers behind “STRANGE WORLD.” Director Don Hall and co-director/ screenwriter Qui Nguyen revealed their personal connections to the film that’s about an incredible family who must get past their differences to save a strange world full of danger and surprises.

The audience was treated to an all-new trailer from Disney Animation’s 61st feature film before voice cast members Jake Gyllenhaal (Searcher Clade), Dennis Quaid (Jaeger Clade), Jaboukie Young-White (Ethan Clade) and Lucy Liu (Callisto Mal) joined the festivities. Produced by Roy Conli, “Strange World” opens in theaters November 23, 2022.

Extended footage was shown, and the strange setting is mesmerizing. I wasn’t expecting much from this, but was pleasantly surprised. Here’s hoping the creative team can stick the landing, because this one has potential. Nevertheless, I’m skeptical–Disney doesn’t have the greatest recent track record with surreal space stories.

In the finale of the presentation, Lee returned to the stage to officially unveil Disney Animation’s next original feature film, “WISH,” set to release Fall 2023, during the Studio’s 100th year. The epic animated musical is inspired by the legacy of films from the studio and asks the question: “How did the famous Wishing Star, upon which so many Disney characters have wished, come to be?”

Directors Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn outlined the story, which is set in Rosas, the kingdom of wishes where wishes can literally come true. Attendees were introduced to 17-year-old Asha—an optimist with a sharp wit who cares endlessly about her community. In a moment of desperation, Asha makes an impassioned plea to the stars, which is answered by a cosmic force, a little ball of boundless energy called Star. Together, they face the most formidable of foes to save her community and prove that when the will of one courageous human connects with the magic of the stars, wondrous things can happen.

Disney Animation good-luck-charm Alan Tudyk joined filmmakers on stage to share an animation test for his newest character, a goat named Valentino. Buck, Veerasunthorn and Lee then introduced the voice of Asha, actress Ariana DeBose, who brought down the house singing an all-new original song written by Julia Michaels, who’s writing all of the songs for “Wish.”

I’m trying not to get too excited about this, because the core conceit–the origin story of the Wishing Star–seems like it could be a contrivance to have a Disney100 film that meets the moment, so to speak. With that said, this looks incredible. The story itself, the setting, animation style, the characters–everything. It looks like the perfect recipe for a heartwarming animated film that only Disney could deliver, perfect for Disney100. Oh, and the whole movie is basically honoring goats!!! It’s what Walt would’ve wanted.

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Your Thoughts

What do you think of the streaming series and movies coming from the Live Action, Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios in the next couple of years? Anything you’re particularly excited to see? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!

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