D23 Expo Recap – Walt Disney Pictures Presentation
So in Part 1 I covered the Marvel portion of the Walt Disney Studio’s Live Action presentation and now I’m going to cover the Walt Disney Pictures portion. I’ll be honest, I really only came to the D23 Expo for Marvel and Star Wars. So I thought that I would just be getting some much needed sleep during the presentation for these Disney properties because I didn’t really care. Not only would I not have been able to sleep through the cheers of the crowd, what was presented was enough to keep me interested in what they were doing. Sean Bailey, President of Production at Walt Disney Pictures led this part of the presentation.
The Finest Hours
Chris Pine came out to talk about his upcoming movie, The Finest Hours. There wasn’t really anything new about the movie mentioned. I remember seeing the trailer for this movie a week or so ago and it looks pretty intense. It actually didn’t occur to me that this was a Disney movie. Again, it wasn’t too much new shared during this presentation. Even the clip played was just an extension of a part of the trailer. The movie does look great and it might be the movie needed for Pine to show he has range beyond just doing comedy or action films. Good for him.
The Jungle Book
One of the main reasons I wasn’t too excited initially about the Disney Live Action non-Marvel & Star Wars offerings was that I haven’t been to impressed with some of the adaptations that have been made. But it does seem like Disney is on the right track. Cinderella was a critical and financial success as was Maleficent. The Jungle Book and Beauty & The Beast seem like they’re on track to continue this streak. Sean Bailey brought Jon Favreau to the stage and that’s when I realized that The Jungle Book was actually going to be pretty good. I forgot that he was the one directing this film. Favreau talked about the difficulty in doing a live-action version of a Disney classic like The Jungle Book. Hearing Favreau talk about the challenges of staying true to the original story while also trying to modernize it made it clear how much Disney wants to stay true to the original. I think that’s been one of the biggest problems with some of these live action versions of these stories. Folks try to get too cute and too modern and the story loses its soul. Hearing Favreau talk about the film, it seems as those most of the shooting and recording is done and that hat they’re working on now is cleaning up the CG and visuals.
Favreau then brought out some of the cast: Neel Sethi as Mowgli, Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha & Sir Ben Kingsley as Bagheera. While Neel is a newcomer, he’s being surrounded by one of the strongest support casts I’ve seen for voice work. In addition to N’yong’o and Kingsley who were at the Expo, there’s also Idris Elba (Shere Khan), Christopher Walken (King Louie), Scarlett Johansson (Kaa) and Bill Murray (Baloo). Like I said, that’s a strong cast right there. Both Kingsley and N’yong’o praised Sethi’s work and the emotion he was able to bring to the character and how it helped them when doing their voice work. Favreau also mentioned that Sethi would pull double duty and not only record in the booth but then on set as well with the “animals” to really bring in the authenticity. The early teaser they showed for the movie seems to suggest most of the voice work and shooting is done and all they’re doing is trying to really sure up the CG. But even at this point, I have to say, it looks fantastic. Earlier when talking Favreau talked about Disney’s commitment to improving technology to make CG better. He said the best CG is the one that disappears. He stressed that the teaser they showed is still in the early stages and I have to be honest, if this is what a rough cut looks like, the finished product is going to be amazing. The animals look incredibly real. Matter of fact, they look so real, the weirdest part of this movie is going to be suspending your disbelief when the animals talk in English. That said, the voice work is also fantastic. Idris Elba is commanding and terrifying as Shere Khan. The highlights of the teaser were Bill Murray’s Baloo singing The Bare Necessities (they even do the scene where Baloo is floating on his back doing a back stroke while Mowgli sits on his stomach) and the very end when Walken’s King Louie made his appearance. I really think this movie is going to be very good. Oh and the best part of the whole presentation? Seeing the cast reaction to the footage as this was their first time seeing it as well.
Alice Through the Looking Glass
When I was down on the floor on Friday, I took some pictures of the costume display for Alice Through the Looking Glass and it didn’t dawn on me that this was a followup to the 2010 Alice in Wonderland. I remember being very disappointed by the 2010 film. I thought it had a lot of potential but it wasted a pretty talented cast. I was shocked to learn during this panel thought that it made a billion dollars world-wide. So that explains why there’s a sequel in play here. On the positive side (for me at least), Tim Burton won’t be directing but rather producing. I like a lot of Tim Burton’s work, I really do. But sometimes with projects like Alice in Wonderland, I wish there was someone who would reign him in a bit from the weirdness. The director will be James Bobin who directed the last two Muppet movies. We got footage from the film as well as the announcement that Sacha Baron Cohen will be playing Time in the film. The plot of this film is Alice going through Time to save the Hatter who has gone madder than usual. This seems like an interesting way to bring back the cast of the first film and tell a unique Alice in Wonderland story that’s off the beaten path. I’m still not sure this film will have any more critical success as the first film but for films like this, I don’t think critic reviews really matter.
I’ll be real, I don’t have the same nostalgic feeling about Pete’s Dragon as the rest of the world (or at least those who attended this D23 Expo panel) do. Dallas Bryce Howard came on stage to talk about this film. I’ll be honest, this is the only film that I was really iffy about. Remember how earlier I said the problem with redoing some of these classic films is that they try to get too ‘cute’ and modern? That’s what Pete’s Dragon felt like to me. We didn’t get a full shot of the dragon but we did get a “tease” of it and…it has fur. Yeah…I don’t know. I just don’t know.
Queen of Katwe
Lupita Nyong’o comes to the stage for the second time (and it wouldn’t be her last) to talk about the film, Queen of Katwe. I’ll be honest, when they were first talking about this film about this film about a young girl from Uganda who trains to be a world chess champion, I had that Bill Burr bit in my head about how we’re “all the way down to swimming” for white guilt movies. Again, I don’t believe Queen of Katwe is a “white guilt” movie but it’s just one of my favorite Bill Burr bits and it immediately popped into my head. All jokes aside, this looks like a very touching and great story. The film stars two great actors in Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo and is directed by Mira Nair. Marvel movies and other comic book movies are getting a lot of focus when it comes to talking about diversity but the truth is, the rest of Hollywood has even bigger diversity issues. Disney itself isn’t immune to this and is constantly catching heat. That’s why I think it was important to talk about Queen of Katwe at D23 in front of so many people. You have a female director from India and then an academy award winner in Lupita and a nominee in David Oyelowo. The film was shot in Uganda and Lupita talked about how important it was for her to do this film. I definitely think this will be a film folks want to check out.
Beauty & The Beast
For Beauty and the Beast it was stressed that this would be a musical which got loud applauses. There have been plenty of live action attempts at Beauty and the Beast and they’ve all been terrible. I think the problem lies in the fact that at its heart, more than any other Disney film, Beauty and the Beast really is a musical. Sure, music is a big part of any Disney animated film but Beauty and the Beast take it to another level. The director is Bill Condon who directed the 2006, Dreamgirls. He also did the last two Twilight movies but considering the source he had to work with, I can’t hold that against him. The film is still shooting but we did get a video of Luke Evans and Josh Gad talking about the film and they even broke out into a quick version of Gaston. In the video we got to also see some set video of the choreography during the performance and I have to say, much like The Jungle Book, they seem to be trying to keep it as close to the animated film as possible. And I think that’s the best way to go for films like this. If you’re going to remake a classic animated film into live action, you need to remember the magic that people felt from watching it the first time and capture that.
Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales
I have to confess. I really enjoy the first two Pirates of the Caribbean. I lied to myself about the 3rd movie and tried to tell myself it wasn’t that bad. And the 4th one? Well, we don’t talk about that movie just like we don’t talk about Judy Winslow going up that staircase and never coming back down. That said, can you really get tired of Captain Jack Sparrow? The answer to that is in the box office. Much like Alice In Wonderland, the last Pirates movie (On Stranger Tides) did a billion at the world-wide box office. When a film does that kind of money you’re going to be hard pressed to see them look to change it up. That said, I think Disney might also realize they lost a little magic with those films and is trying to turn it around.
The announcement at the expo that Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner will be making his return to the franchise after being absent from the last film was met with cheers from the audience. Geoffrey Rush is also returning as Barbossa. And to up the ante even more, Javier Bardem will be joining the cast as Captain Salazar. Not going to lie, seeing Depp, Rush and Bardem interacting together is probably going to be enough to get me into the theater. Also, in addition to the cast, one thing that seemed to stand out to me is, there was zero talk about bringing back the characters of Philip (Sam Claflin), Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) or Angelica (Penelope Cruz) from the last film. It feels as if Disney is trying to move forward and forget the last film.
We ended this presentation with Johnny Depp coming out (Fresh off of becoming a Disney Legend on Friday) dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow. Honestly, the only person I think who loves a character as much as Depp does Jack is Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. And even then, RDJ doesn’t have as much to do to get into character as Depp does. Instead of rum (it is a family event after all), he was eating grapes…which he would throw into the crowd.
I was pretty impressed with the lineup Disney presented. Like I said, I came for Marvel and Star Wars and initially was annoyed they were going to make me wait by sandwiching in movies I didn’t think I would care about in between. But turns out there was a lot of cool information given and a lot of nice first looks. Also everyone in attendance got the first poster for The Jungle Book which to me was the most impressive film previewed. Disney is definitely going big for the next 2 years. Even without Marvel or Star Wars films, they have a bunch of films that should cross the billion dollar threshold for them (The Jungle Book, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Beauty and the Best and Dead Men Tell No Tales).
Next up, I recap the Lucasfilms presentation.