2013’s D23 Expo: My Thoughts on the Live Action at The Walt Disney Studios Panel
At this year’s D23 Expo, the first two days started out with some major presentations from the studio’s upcoming offerings.
After Friday’s early-morning presentation about the future of Disney’s animated features and video releases, many were eagerly gearing up for Saturday’s early-morning panel: Let the Adventures Begin: Live Action at The Walt Disney Studios.
The presentation opened with a ‘sizzle reel,’ showing clips from upcoming Disney and Marvel productions, along with clips interspersed of the original Star Wars trilogy. Our host for today’s walk-through was Alan Horn. Alan’s name has been around Tinseltown for years, as he was previously with Warner Brothers during the last decade. His appointment as the new Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios was fairly recent, but Alan said he was getting the hang of being a part of one of the world’s most famous companies.
As Alan laid out the different live-action divisions of the company, he chose to talk first about their newest member: Lucasfilm Ltd.
Ever since the $4 Billion acquisition, the rumor mill has been running non-stop as to what 2015’s Episode VII will contain. It’s probably a good bet that the Expo’s Saturday tickets sold out, because people were eager to hear juicy new details.
As it turned out, Alan claimed that there were ‘Dark Forces’ keeping him from revealing much of anything, other than the scant knowledge that we already know, such as JJ Abrams being the upcoming film’s Director. I’m sure it wasn’t what many people there wanted to hear, but I was of the persuasion that the internet had just been building up a huge rumor that wasn’t going to be paid off. And after checking the web later on, there were many who vented that Disney had ‘failed them’ for not revealing anything about the upcoming film.
From there, Alan then turned our attention to Marvel.
Much like at Comic-Con, we were shown the teaser for 2015’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Film-wise, we were led off with some footage from this Fall’s Thor: The Dark World. Though Natalie Portman’s character Jane Foster returns, it feels that the emphasis of the story will focus away from Earth this time. Much like the day before, the women in the arena went wild when Tom Hiddleston took the stage. However, the applause grew when Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins joined him, and each said a few things about working on the film.
Talk then moved on to next Spring’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Following the events of The Avengers, Steve Rogers continues to try and acclimate himself to the 21st century, but has to deal with protecting Washington when a new threat appears. However, this time, Cap teams up with Black Widow, and we were treated to a still-in-progress sequence of the two on a new mission. It looked impressive in rough form, and I’m sure it’ll look even better once completed.
Probably the most intriguing news, was in regards to next Summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
We were shown clips of the different characters of this rag-tag bunch, and I have to say, I got a little excited for it. Peter Quill as Star-Lord had some of the funnier moments. When he reveals his name to some characters in the clips we saw, like many of us, they had no idea who Star-Lord was. I also got a kick out of Rocket Raccoon’s brief imagery. Just something funny but cool about a raccoon brandishing a gun.
From there, it was time to move on to the Live-Action division of Walt Disney Studios.
The first thing that was covered, was discussion about next Spring’s sequel to 2011’s The Muppets. The sequel, titled Muppets Most Wanted, sends the gang overseas, and on a madcap quest with the likes of Tina Fey and Ty Burrell. Ty appeared on stage, driving a miniature Interpol car, and telling a bit about how amazing it was to work with the Muppets.
We were also shown a song-and-dance routine with Ricky Gervais, and Kermit. It was very entertaining, but I don’t want to say anything more about it, other than just thinking about it, makes the song pop into my head.
It was also announced that production had just started on a film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Into The Woods. However, we were given little more than a logo image, and told of the big-name cast attached to the project. The film is set to be directed by Rob Marshall (the director of the film adaptation of Chicago), and is set to feature the likes of Meryl Streep, and Johnny Depp.
After the Woods announcement, we were offered a peek into the future, as we were treated to a video of Kenneth Branaugh, discussing his upcoming live-action film for Disney: Cinderella. We weren’t shown much more than early conceptual images, along with some screen-test footage of Lily James as the title character.
In recent years, we’ve seen other live-action studios try their hands at doing fairy tales, or updating them for modern audiences. Some did reasonably well (like Snow White and the Huntsman), and others dismally (like Mirror Mirror). It’s a pretty good bet that if Cinderella takes off, the company might adapt other fairy tales into the live-action realm.
Probably of all the upcoming live-action films from Disney that are not based around Marvel or Lucasfilm characters, the one that seems most intriguing to some, is Maleficent.
We were shown a sizzle reel of Maleficent coming to the Princess’ christening, with much of her dialogue pulled right from Sleeping Beauty. Even so, we were left to ponder just how that film’s story would tie into this film, which would give us some backstory as to why Maleficent’s feelings of being spited led to her actions.
In recent years, the spotlight has been thrown on villains in many cases, and through different mediums, has tried to come up with why they became the characters they are. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West led to the Broadway production of Wicked, in which we find numerous circumstances turned the green-skinned Elphaba, into The Wicked Witch of the West. With what we were shown, Maleficent definitely has the potential to be Disney’s version of Wicked. One also wonders if they would then try to explore the backstories of their other villains. In The Little Mermaid, Ursula mentions how she was ‘banished and exiled,’ so that could also be another Villainess to explore.
It was already surprising to see the likes of Portman and Hopkins on stage, but when Angelina Jolie was brought on stage, much of the audience went crazy. Angelina shared her own stories about being a Disney fan since she was young, as well as a few funny stories about filming as Maleficent. During some shooting days, they would have young visitors on the set, and even though Jolie was being perfectly nice and inviting, her wardrobe scared several of the children.
It’s not often that Disney does cryptic marketing campaigns for their films. Earlier this year, word came down from Brad Bird, that a mysterious box had been discovered in the catacombs underneath the Disney Studios. The box was filled with a hodge-podge of different materials. On the front of the box, was the number, “1952.” The contents of this box tie into Bird’s upcoming 2014 feature, Tomorrowland.
To tell us a little more, Brad Bird and co-writer Damon Lindelof came onstage with the box, and went through some of the contents. The contents included such things as a doctored image of Walt Disney with Amelia Earhart, and even a futuristic-looking disc, that contained images, telling of a world of tomorrow.
The contents of the box would then be moved to the Tomorrowland booth on the convention floor, and one could even download a free app onto their Apple products, that would act as a guide through the exhibit.
Of all the upcoming projects, this is one I’m still intrigued by. Even if Lindelof is involved, I’ll see anything with Brad Bird’s name attached to it (it was the main reason why I went to see Ghost Protocol a few years ago). Of course, Lindelof was involved with Lost, so we’ll see if in this day and age, the studio can keep the information about this film intriguing enough to make people venture into theaters in the fall of 2014.
The concluding film discussed for the live-action presentation, was the December release, Saving Mr Banks. Based around the attempts to get the film version of Mary Poppins made, it tells about how Walt Disney (portrayed by Tom Hanks), attempts to convince author P.L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson) to sign over the rights to get the film made. However, P.L. has resisted Mr Disney’s requests for some 20 years now, but finally decides to head out to the Disney Studios in Burbank, CA. Needless to say, she is not at all impressed by Walt in person.
We were shown several clips, such as Travers finding fault with the script, along with the music being made for the film. One of the funniest moments comes when Walt has her chauffeur (played by Paul Giamatti) drive her to Disneyland for a private walk-through with Walt. Even at the ‘Happiest Place on Earth,’ Travers is still guarded. Walt even shows her his wife Lillian’s favorite horse on Fantasyland’s carousel, and asks her to ride it.
This leads to one of the funniest moments, where P.L. sounds almost like a petulant child, refusing to go along with this. In response, Walt, almost like a parent trying to hold back his own feelings about how she’s acting, just semi-casually goes, “Get on the horse, Pam.”
There was one bit I was rather surprised about. In this day and age, one thing that is often glossed over, was that Walt was a smoker. Some even said he had a ‘smoker’s cough,’ and right before Hanks’ Walt greets Ms Travers, you hear the cough from around the corner of his office door! Though we hear the cough, I’m pretty sure we won’t see Tom Hanks as Walt, with a cigarette between his fingers.
I think the audience was hoping we’d see Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson take the stage. Instead, we got Jason Schwartzman, and BJ Novak, who portray musicians Richard and Robert Sherman in the film (FYI: The Sherman Brothers were the musical duo behind the catchy songs of Mary Poppins!).
It looked like the presentation was going to end on a lower note than the animation discussion the previous day, when suddenly, Schwartzman and Novak were rolled out on stage playing a piano, with the real Richard Sherman coming out to join them!
The audience was then descended upon by several dozen performers dressed in period garb, with kites attached to long poles. Schwartzman and Novak then led the audience in a sing-along to the end song to Mary Poppins, “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.”
While the Live-Action presentation had some nice reveals, it didn’t feel like it topped what I had seen at the Animation presentation the previous day. I did like some of the clips we were shown, as well as the presentation regarding Tomorrowland.
In this day and age, I guess I would have liked to have seen at least one ‘new’ idea from Disney’s live-action sector, that wasn’t based on an existing property, or adapting something we are already familiar with. We know the name Disney is normally a standard for family entertainment, but not all films in this vein have to be $150 million productions with A-list stars.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll get a few unannounced gems in the next few years, that weren’t covered in the presentation.