On the opening morning of D23 Expo, Friday, Aug. 9, 2013, I attended Art and Imagination: Animation at The Walt Disney Studios. The Expo Arena Disney was packed as Disney CEO Bob Iger welcomed the enthusiastic crowd. He shared his dream of one day working for the “happiest place on earth.” And he said that he never imagined holding such a high executive position. Iger then introduced host John Lasseter, who’s Chief Creative Officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios. He took over and opened to a cheering audience. Lasseter says, “It’s a fantastic, exciting time for animation at Disney and Pixar. The filmmakers at our three studios are so talented — their films are all so touching and beautiful – but so different. I am truly excited to share these films with everyone.” You could feel the love and excitement that Lasseter felt for each project, as he changed shirts, transforming into a “walking billboard,” advertising each new movie. Prior to introducing the film, he spoke about his method and love of creating family-friendly classic tales.
This exciting presentation was a chockfull of surprises! Lasseter first surprised D23 Expo Fans with a “first ever” screening of 10-minutes of footage of Disney•Pixar’s “Toy Story OF TERROR!” Taken from the new scary 30-minute Halloween special, the “Toy Story” buddies are on a fun road trip that ends up in an eerie motel with characters going missing! Premieres on ABC, Oct. 16, 2013.
In what I consider one of the highlights of the morning, we finally viewed “never-before-seen” footage of “Frozen” from the Walt Disney Animation Studios directed by Chris Buck (“Tarzan”) and Jennifer Lee (“Wreck-It-Ralph,” screenwriter). Lasseter introduced “Frozen” stars Kristen Bell (“Veronica Mars,” voices Anna), and Josh Gad (“The Book of Mormon” voices the snowman, Olaf, who comes to life). Fans were also treated to an incomparable, soul-stirring live performance of the film’s powerful new song “Let It Go,” sung by Broadway’s Tony® Award-winner Idina Menzel, who provides the voice of Elsa in the film. Idina and Kristin were later presented with “Frozen” Singing Dolls from Mattel at the Disney Store. In “Frozen,” the brave and hopeful Anna (voice of Bell) teams up with sturdy frontier man Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff, “This Conspirator”) and his loyal reindeer Sven in an epic journey, encountering Arctic-like conditions, mystical beings and the hysterical snowman Olaf. The trio race to find Anna’s sister, Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. I can’t wait to see this movie!! In theaters Nov. 27, 2013.
“Get A Horse!” galloped into the D23 Expo Arena, making his “first ever” U.S. premiere!! We were treated to this wonderful short in 3-D. Featuring Walt Disney himself as the voice of Mickey Mouse, this black-and-white, hand-drawn theatrical short follows Mickey and his friends; Minnie Mouse; Horace Horsecollar; and Clarabelle Cow as they take pleasure in a musical hay-wagon ride. Life is good — until Peg-Leg Pete shows up, attempting to run them off the road. This cutting-edge short from Walt Disney Animation Studios is directed by Lauren MacMullan (TV’s “The Simpsons”) and produced by Dorothy McKim (“Prep & Landing” trilogy, “Meet the Robinsons”), “Get A Horse!” opens prior to “Frozen” on Nov. 27, 2013.
As a Tinkerbell fan, I’m always looking forward to her next adventure. Well, the wait is nearly over… From Disneytoon Studios’ comes “The Pirate Fairy,” which indeed brought a little pixie dust to the festivities. Director Peggy Holmes (“Secret of the Wings”) revealed the latest and most thrilling journey in the Disney Fairies franchise. She also introduced Christina Hendricks (from AMC’s “Mad Men,” voices fairy Zarina), and Tom Hiddleston (“Thor,” voices young James aka Captain Hook). Zarina is a “misunderstood” dust-keeper fairy who takes Pixie Hollow’s Blue Pixie Dust, and then runs away with pirates to Skull Rock. Tinkerbell and her friends must race against time to find Zarina and return to Pixie Hollow. However, Tink’s world is switched around because the dust is missing. The Young Captain Hook hoists his pirate flag and sets sail with “The Pirate Fairy” Spring 2014.
When Lasseter appeared wearing a Monsters University shirt, the D23 audience roared: our favorite monsters are returning in Disney•Pixar’s short, “Party Central.” Frightening up six minutes of fun at the D23 Expo, the short follows Mike and Sulley who are back at Monsters University for an exciting weekend with their Oozma Kappa frat brothers. No one is showing up at the party. Mike and Sulley have devised a “fool-proof” plan to make sure “Party Central” is the most historic party the school has ever experienced. This short is hilarious!! In theaters May 30, 2014, prior to “The Good Dinosaur.”
While many D23 Expo fans were anxiously waiting to watch Disneytoon Studios’ “Planes” in the afternoon, curiosity further heightened when Lasseter welcomed Dane Cook (voices Dusty, “Planes”) to the stage. Cook, who was joined onstage with director Bob Gannaway (“Secret of the Wings”) and Julie Bowen (“Modern Family,” voices Lil’ Dipper). Gannaway introduced the next Disneytoon Studios’ “Planes: Fire & Rescue” film! Gannaway, a plane, as well as search and rescue enthusiast spoke about the tale of how Dusty learns to work with an elite yet eccentric firefighting aircraft crew. Dusty joins forces with veteran fire and rescue helicopter Blade Ranger and his courageous air attack team, including feisty super scooper Lil’ Dipper (voice of Bowen), protecting Piston Peak National Park from a raging wildfire. D23 Expo fans were also provided with character images, concept art and footage from the film. It hits theaters July 18, 2014.
I have to admit, I was in awe after hearing director Don Hall’s (“Winnie the Pooh”) concept and watching footage of “Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Big Hero 6.” Hall hopped on the stage enthusiastically and shared what he calls, a “life-long dream” of making this movie. I, too, am a huge Japanese animation fan, and when you combine Japanimation with Walt Disney-style animation, how can you go wrong? That’s the theory behind the CG-animated “Big Hero 6.” Set in the fictitious, futuristic city of San Fransokyo, Hiro Hamada, a 14-year-old robotics genius stumbles upon a criminal plot that might possibly destroy his city. Now, it’s up to Hiro along with his best friend, a robot named Baymax, and his halfhearted school buddies-turned “first-time” crime fighters to save the day! Expect comic-book style animation, as well as all the humor, and heart-tugging emotions that you find in Disney films. Hall showed concept art and D23 Expo fans were treated to an amazing sizzle reel of this action comedy adventure. Hits theaters in 3D on Nov. 7, 2014.
Plenty of pixie dust was flying in the D23 Expo Arena. Lasseter introduced Disneytoon Studios director Steve Loter who revealed plans for “Legend of the NeverBeast.” This journey takes the Disney Fairies on an epic action trip that’s full of heart and brink-of-your-seat uncertainty. Amusing and talented animal fairy Fawn believes you can’t evaluate a book by its cover—or an animal by its fangs—so she befriends an enormous and secretive creature known as the NeverBeast. While Tink and her friends aren’t so sure about this scary addition to Pixie Hollow, the elite Scout Fairies set out to seize the monster before he abolishes their home. Directed by Steve Loter, “Legend of the NeverBeast” growls to life in Spring 2015.
For many D23 Expo fans, Friday was also the day to get the scoop on Disney•Pixar’s “Inside Out,” from director Pete Docter (“Up,” “Monsters, Inc.”) and producer Jonas Rivera (“Up”), Disney•Pixar’s “Inside Out,” ventures to the place that all know, but no one has witnessed: the inside the human mind. The story centers on 11-year-old Riley, who recently moved with her family to San Francisco. Film focuses on her five emotions – that form her life experiences; Joy, Disgust, Anger, Fear, and Sadness. Special introductions were made such as casting including Amy Poehler as the voice of Joy, Lewis Black as the voice of Anger, Mindy Kaling as the voice of Disgust, Phyllis Smith as the voice of Sadness, and Bill Hader as the voice of Fear. The audience met two of the film’s five starring emotions, Sadness and Fear, when Smith and Hader appeared on stage to greet fans and fuel excitement for the June 19, 2015 film.
Another highlight of the morning was the announcement from director Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo,” “WALL•E”) and producer (Lindsey Collins (co-producer “WALL•E”) concerning the thrilling voice casting for Disney•Pixar’s “Finding Dory.” Joining (Ellen DeGeneres), who provides the voice of Dory, are (Albert Brooks as the voice of Marlin), (Diane Keaton, as the voice of Dory’s mom Jenny), (Eugene Levy as the voice of Dory’s dad Charlie), and (Ty Burrell as the voice of Bailey). “Finding Dory” dives underwater into her world, where the charming-yet-forgetful beautiful blue fish, searches for the true meaning of family, and learns a few empowering lessons along the way. Splashes into theaters Nov. 25, 2015.
What happens when crime runs amuck in a futuristic city run by animals? Walt Disney Animation Studios’ director Byron Howard (“Tangled”) and writer Jared Bush shared concepts for the upcoming comedy adventure ”Zootopia” (working title). In the animal city of Zootopia, a clever fox on the fast-track to success goes on the run when he’s framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Zootopia’s top cop, a pious rabbit, is hot on his tail, but when both become targets of a plot, they’re forced to band together and discover even sworn enemies can become best friends. In theaters in 2016.
Disney also honored 60 years of creating animation with Veteran Disney Filmmaker at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Burny Mattinson celebrated 60 years with Walt Disney Animation Studios this year, and the landmark was esteemed with a surprise celebration at the D23 Expo. Mattinson is one of the few enduring Disney artists who worked with Walt Disney, and remains on staff at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Mattinson’s career is highlighted by directing the Academy Award®-nominated 1983 animated featurette “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” which returned Mickey Mouse to major theaters for the first time in 30 years. In 1984, he wrote, produced and directed “The Great Mouse Detective.” Mattinson’s credits include “Sleeping Beauty,” “101 Dalmatians,” “The Sword in the Stone,” “The Jungle Book,” “The Aristocats” and “The Rescuers.” Mattinson joined Disney in 1953 at age 18, with no formal art training; within six months, he was working as an in-betweener on “Lady and the Tramp.” Indeed, Burny Mattinson is a legendary animated filmmaker. He too, never imagined that he would work at “the happiest place on earth.” He started in the mail room and worked his way up. Mattinson says, “dreams do come true.”
I guess the statement from Walt Disney bodes well, “When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires, will come to you. If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme. When you wish upon a star, as dreamers do.” (Lyrics from eLyrics.net). I thoroughly enjoyed Art and Imagination: Animation at The Walt Disney Studios, and can hardly wait for the new movies to hit theaters!
– That’s IT Mom Penny
* We attended D23 Expo as media and received comped tickets to facilitate this review. The review is in our own words and is our opinion. Your results and opinions may differ.