D23 Expo: When Disney Magic Comes to Life – The Live Action Films of Disney
During a massively epic Walt Disney Studios D23 panel, which included highlights from Pixar and Disney Animation, Disney announced a whole slew of upcoming releases from their Live-Action Studio. Headed by Sean Bailey, the panel kicked off with a tremendous new opening credits sequence of the iconic Disney castle. This addition comes just in time for the celebration of the company’s 100 year journey, and definitely showcases how massive and gorgeous the Disney castle really is.
That said, following the logo reveal, Bailey set out to discuss the next Disney live-action project; the eagerly anticipated sequel, Hocus Pocus 2. The film reunites Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker, reprising their roles as the Sanderson Sisters from the 1993 cult classic. The trio prepared a special intro video, in which Midler pretended to have magic powers and everything went wrong from there. From there, the group introduced a new trailer, for the forthcoming release, out on Disney+ September 30th. The footage featured a lot more about the expected storyline of the film, which will dive deeper into the origins of The Sanderson Sisters while introducing a whole new group of heroes, in the form of Sam Richardson, Lilia Buckingham, Whitney Peak, and Belissa Escobedo. The trailer generated a great deal of laughs from the audience, as the chemistry between Parker, Najimy, and Midler hasn’t waivered a single bit in close to 30 years!
Following Hocus Pocus 2, Bailey then introduced another highly anticipated sequel years in the making: Disenchanted. He then brought out the cast of the film to join him on stage including returning cast members, recently named Disney Legends, Patrick Dempsey and Idina Menzel, and James Marsden, and new castmembers, Gabriella Baldacchino, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Jayma Mays. Crashing the party midway through the introduction arrived comedian Maya Rudolph, playing the film’s antagonist, and of course Academy Award nominee, Amy Adams, reprising her role as Giselle. Rudolph and Adams provided several laughs arriving wearing Disneyland paraphernalia, and joking they had just come from enjoying the parks. After a round of Q&As, the cast debuted the trailer for the film, which sees Giselle, Robert, and Morgan moving from New York City to the small suburb of Monroeville, where their lives are turned upside-down by a wish gone wrong. The new footage definitely captured everything that charmed audiences about the original, so fans of that first film should be in for a treat.
From Disenchantment, Bailey next moved onto the first of many live action remakes the Walt Disney Studios team is planning to unleash: Peter Pan and Wendy. The film stars Ever Anderson and Alexander Molony as the title characters, as well as Jude Law as the nefarious Captain Hook, and Alyssa Wapanatâhk as Tiger Lily. All stars were present on stage to talk about the film, which is directed by Pete’s Dragon’s David Lowery. They unveiled the first footage of the film, which showcases a Annie Leibovitz-inspired look and feel to Neverland, and first looks at Yara Shahidi as Tinker Bell. It was full of adventure and excitement, but felt surprisingly grounded for a Peter Pan film.
Following that, Bailey brought out Dear White People director Justin Simien to discuss his work on the reboot of Haunted Mansion. Simien spoke about his days working as a Disneyland employee and even revealed an embarrassing company ID photo of himself. He spoke about how big a fan he’s been of the Haunted Mansion ride, and why he was excited to helm the reboot. The pair debuted the new footage for the film, an extended teaser trailer, which featured Rosario Dawson, Lakeith Stanfield, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, and a varitable who’s who of famous ghosts from the ride, including Constance the Bride and the Hatbox Ghost (which Simien joked may or may not be, but probably is, Jared Leto). As one final surprise, he had legendary actress, Jamie Lee Curtis enter on stage in a Doom Buggy from the ride, and announced she was going to be portraying ride staple Madame Leota. Then he got into the Doom Buggy with Curtis and they rolled off from there.
The panel then returned to the world of live-action remakes, as Bailey showcased the first, incredibly brief footage from Disney’s upcoming remake Snow White. The footage didn’t show much, but did reveal Gal Gadot as the Wicked Queen, and Rachel Zeigler as Snow White. The looks and costumes of both actresses were almost identical to their animated counterparts. Gadot and Zeigler then took to the stage to discuss what an honor it was to be contributing to the legacy of the most legendary animated motion picture of all time.
While Snow White is still in the early stages of production, the highly anticipated remake that is further along is Rob Marshall’s reimagining of The Little Mermaid. Bailey brought out Marshall, and commended him for all the good work he’d completed for Disney, from Into the Woods to Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides. Marshall talked about his fondness for musicals and how the original 1989 Little Mermaid really revitalized the concept of musicals for him. He then showed a clip of Halle Bailey as Ariel in the full ”Part of Your World” sequence, and to no surprise, Bailey’s strong vocal abilities single-handedly blew away the naysayers. Marshall brought out Bailey herself, who nervously greeted the audience, charmingly befuddled by the scale and scope of the crowd applauding her performance.
All in all, having The Little Mermaid, conclude the live-action panel was quite appropriate given the symmetry behind The Little Mermaid kicking off the Disney Animation Renaissance of the late-80s/early-90s. And while many remain skeptical at the prospect of any live-action remake living up to, let alone surpassing the legacy of its ink and paint counterpart, the audience was absolutely astonished by what Marshall and especially Bailey have accomplished on screen. All of this to say, it was, all in all, an epic day for Walt Disney Studios’ Live Action division, which proved without a shadow of a doubt why after 100 years, the Disney brand is and always will be part of our world.