D23 kicked off in a spectacular way this past Friday, with the commencement of a 2-hour panel detailing the future of the Walt Disney Studios film slate. Chief among the studios being covered was ever-reliable Pixar, and the storytellers of one of the most ambitious and consistently well-liked animation companies on the planet. While they were only given a third of the panel’s runtime to flaunt their films, studio head, Pete Doctor, and his team of capable storytellers absolutely floored the audience within the auditorium with the reveals of several fantastic films to come from the studio Woody and Buzz built.
The first film covered was Pixar’s Summer 2023 release, Elemental. Helmed by director Peter Sohn (who recently stole the show as Sox the cat in Lightyear), Elemental was inspired by the notion of immigration, particularly Sohn’s own parents. Set in a world where the characters are either made up of Earth, Wind, Fire, or Water, a fire girl named Ember develops an unlikely friendship with a water boy named Wade. Sohn announced the voices behind Ember and Wade would be actors Leah Lewis (Nancy Drew, The Half of It) and Mamoudou Athie (Jurassic World Dominion). The artistry behind the footage they showed was incredibly unique, and gorgeous, as Pixar’s standards are such that they always attempt to push and expand boundaries in feature animation.
Following Elemental, Pixar introduced their first long form television series for Disney+, called Win or Lose. It was inspired by creators’ Carrie Hobson and Michael Yates experiences working on Toy Story 4 at Pixar. On a random day, the two could attend a meeting, and come out with different perspectives of this meeting. From that, they concocted a story centered on a championship baseball game, and the events leading up to it during the week, told from different points of view from the various characters in the series. The team took to the stage and announced the casting of SNL alumni, Will Forte, who will be voicing Coach Dan in the series. Forte recorded a special, hilarious, greeting for the room, and introduced a funny clip in the series. The clip centered on Coach Dan’s rival, a lonely umpire attempting to painfully ask a coffee barista out. The show carries the signature heart and humor we’ve come to expect from the Pixar brand.
After Win or Lose, the entire auditorium began glowing, and a mysterious alien message appeared on the screen. This was, of course, the introduction to announcing Pixar’s Spring 2024 film, Elio. Per director Adrian Molina (Coco), who was present at the ceremony, the story sends a young boy off to an alien planet, where he eventually cons his way into being the ambassador for that planet. Molina and producer Mary Alice Drumm introduced the two voice actors in the film. Playing Elio’s mother, Olga is “Ugly Betty” herself, America Ferrera. And in the title role of Elio, newcomer Yonas Kibreab.
From the heartfelt spectacle of Elemental, to the hilarious humanism behind Win or Lose, and the intergalactic excitement awaiting audiences from Elio, it seemed as if the panel was coming to a close. However, to the surprise of everyone, a familiar, joyful, disembodied voice echoed throughout the room. After hearing a few words from the mystery guest, it became apparent that Joy, herself, Amy Poehler was speaking, and Poehler came out from backstage to greet the curious fans wondering what Pixar was playing at.
And of course, with Poehler’s arrival, came one final announcement for the animation studio: They were moving forward with Inside Out 2! Though details about the film were scarce, Doctor and Poehler teamed up to confirm that the film was scheduled for Summer 2024, and that the character of Riley would be a teenager in this one. Poehler confirmed there would be more new emotions in this one as well. And Docter confirmed that, while the original’s screenwriter Meg LeFauve would be returning to write the script, Docter himself would be passing down the director’s baton to Pixar storyboard artist, Kelsey Mann.
Pixar, at its core, has been a studio that has prided itself in the quality of its work, over the quantity. And, Inside Out aside, it’s absolutely inspiring to see the company stick to what made them who they are today: daring, heartfelt, hilarious original films. Though the presentation was a shorter one, at the end of the day, and to everyone’s relief, Docter and team have left us with a lot to be joyful about.