Everything we learned from Disney’s D23 movie presentations


Disney’s D23 Expo is an opportunity for fans to celebrate characters and properties they love, but it’s also a chance for Disney to reveal trailers and make a ton of movie announcements. With studios like Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel all contributing to the company’s prodigious output, there was a lot to cover on the movie front. As in years past, the studio broke things up over two different presentations: one focusing on animated films, and the other on live-action productions.

Below we’ve collected the highlights from Disney’s D23 movie presentations, offering a roadmap for what to expect in the years to come.

The Speed Test

John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar, Walt Disney Animation, and DisneyToon Studios, kicked off Friday’s animation panel with a short film called The Speed Test. It depicted two zooming jets facing off against one another in a scene straight out of Top Gun, before a plane that looked inspired by an SR-71 Blackbird swooped down to blow them both away. Lasseter said it served as a tease for an upcoming film from DisneyToon Studios that will focus on the history of aviation. It wasn’t clear if the film is connected to DisneyToon’s Planes, and Lasseter didn’t have a title to share, but he did have a release date: April 12th, 2019.

Toy Story 4

Pixar is the animation studio that Toy Story built, and the fourth installment in the series had been touted as Lasseter’s return to the directing chair after Lee Unkrich directed Toy Story 3. At D23, Lasseter announced that he would no longer be co-directing the film, and that John Cooley would instead be handling the film solo. Given that Lasseter is already running three animation studios, it’s probably a smart call. Toy Story 4 is scheduled for release on June 21st, 2019.

Wreck It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet

The sequel to Wreck It Ralph sees the titular character moving beyond the world of video games and into the broader internet itself. Directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston (Zootopia) took the opportunity to introduce a new character names Yesss, that will be voiced by Taraji P. Henson. The character is an algorithm used to power a viral news site called Buzzaholic — essentially poking fun at the ephemeral, viral nature of the modern web.

But it was a scene that served as commentary on the history of Disney princesses that got the biggest laughs of the entire animation presentation. Riffing on the meta-leanings of the first film, the sequence puts Sarah Silverman’s Vanellope von Schweetz in the same room as a host of classic Disney animated heroines, from Snow White and Moana, to Frozen’s Anna and The Little Mermaid’s Ariel. The modern characters are all voiced by the original performers, with each bringing up different aspects of their stories that have been seen as increasingly problematic in recent years as Disney has tried to become more progressive with its female characters.

The sequence served as a both an in-joke and acknowledgement of past concerns, the kind of winking take that has made films like The Lego Movie and the original Wreck-It Ralphso popular. Ralph Breaks the Internet is coming on November 21st, 2018.

Pixar’s Untitled Suburban Fantasy Movie

Lasseter promised early announcements about movies in the works, and none stood out more than this original fantasy adventure from Monsters University writer-director Dan Scanlon. Jokingly referred to as The Untitled Pixar Film That Takes You To A Suburban Fantasy World, it follows two teenaged elves as they go on a journey to spend one final day with their lost father. The concept art shown was inventive and surprisingly dark, with unicorns portrayed as ravenous scavengers rooting through trash.

An emotional Scanlon explained that the film was inspired by his own personal story. The filmmaker lost his father at an early age, and had never even heard his voice until Scanlon and his brother were given a tape by a family relative — and even then it contained just two words.


Pixar’s next big release is Coco, and the filmmakers showed an extended sequence in which 12-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) tries to steal his grandfather’s guitar, and finds himself magically transported to the Land of the Dead. The movie appears to be an intriguing mix of Pixar’s traditional family themes — Miguel will team up with his dog Dante to cross the Land of the Dead to solve a family mystery — along with some beautiful and vivid imagery. It’s coming on November 22nd.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure

Paired with Coco in theaters will be the Frozen spin-off featurette Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. A musical number was played for the crowd, which featured Josh Gad reprising his role as the singing snowman — and it should play wonderfully for people that are excited about watching Josh Gad reprise his role as a singing snowman.

Kristen Bell was also in attendance to discuss both the short and the upcoming Frozen 2. While she and Lasseter revealed that directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee recently traveled to Iceland, Norway, and Finland to do research for the landscapes in the film, other details were slim — except for Lasseter acknowledging that the film didn’t have a working title beyond Frozen 2.

The Incredibles 2

Another high point was footage from The Incredibles 2. Director Brad Bird (who also voices the Edna Mode character, who received her own tribute video from the fashion world) introduced returning cast members Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, and Samuel L. Jackson. Revisiting the Parr family with today’s technology has allowed Pixar to create much more expressive and realistic versions of the characters, Bird said, playing several animation tests that had updated models of the characters performing lines of dialogue from the original film.

Those in attendance were then given a peek at an in-progress sequence, in which baby Jack-Jack terrorizes a raccoon with his superpowers. It was at turns hilarious and a little frightening — and left me excited to see more next year on June 15th.

Live-Action Films

A Wrinkle in Time

If you want to hear a crowd at D23 get loud, just put them in a room with Ava DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and play the trailer for A Wrinkle in Time. An elated DuVernary introduced her cast during Saturday’s live-action panel, noting to the audience that when she decided to take on the project, it was important to make a film “that looked like you.” As we’ve already covered, the trailer itself is an intoxicating mix of fantasy imagery and emotional beats, and we’re looking forward to its release on March 9th of next year.

Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King and more

Turning its animated classics into live-action movies has become Disney’s go-to move, and there were a slew of updates offered over the course of the panel. The studio’s big reveal was that it is producing a live-action Dumbo, which is already in production with director Tim Burton behind the camera. Guy Ritchie is directing the Aladdin remake, with an appropriately diverse cast announced that includes Mena Massoud in the title role, Naomi Scott as Jasmine, and Will Smith taking on the role of the Genie.

Dwayne Johnson continues to be a Disney favorite, with the studio confirming that the man formerly known as The Rock will indeed be taking part in a cinematic adaptation of the Jungle Cruise ride, but it was The Lion King that stood head and shoulders above the rest of the adaptations. Director Jon Favreau is doing the same thing he did for Lion King as he did for The Jungle Book: creating a photoreal world where animals can walk and talk just like they did in the animated version. An clip screened for the audience was stunning: a nearly shot-for-shot recreation of the original’s opening scene, but with impressively detailed animals that were hard to believe weren’t real. You know an audience is sold when they give a huge “Awwwwwww!” to the adorable baby Simba. (What can I say; I’m a softie when it comes to cats.)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

As it turns out, Disney also releases movies based on this tiny property called Star Wars, and director Rian Johnson took the stage with cast members including Daisy Ridley, Gwendoline Christie, Benicio Del Toro, and Laura Dern to talk about the movie. As expected, no new plot details were revealed, but audiences did get a chance to watch a stirring behind-the-scenes reel that explores the making of one of the year’s most anticipated sequels.

Avengers: Infinity War

With Marvel appearing at San Diego Comic-Con this coming week, there was an expectation that Star Wars would reign supreme at D23 Expo. However, that ended up not being the case. A massive appearance from the cast of Avengers: Infinity War closed out the presentation, while an exclusive teaser trailer began setting the stage for the biggest showdown in Marvel Cinematic Universe history.

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige started by playing things relatively low-key, simply introducing Josh Brolin, who plays Thanos in the upcoming films. But then the list of cast members began to grow: Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Paul Bettany, Don Cheadle, Elizabeth Olsen. After that sunk it, Feige brought out Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Holland. (It was around this moment that I began to wonder if my hearing was actually going to be damaged by being in the room.)

Then came some Avengers — Chris Hemsworth, Chadwick Boseman, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey, Jr. — followed shortly by Joe Russo, one of the film’s two directors. The teaser trailer, which will hopefully be released to the public during Comic-Con, begins as a look back at the adventures that have transpired over the past 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It then jumps to the present, with Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord and the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy finding Thor lost in space. After they wake him up, the group heads to Earth, where all hell appears to be breaking loose.

Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch fights, while nearby The Vision (Paul Bettany) appears to be trapped in some sort of cage. We cut to Loki, grabbing the Tesseract (and the Infinity Stone it holds). Then we see Peter Parker, sitting on a school bus, as the hairs on his arm stand straight up as his Spidey-sense detects… something.

Spaceships crash. Heroes align. There are brief glimpses of a blonde Black Widow, and a newly-bearded Captain America. And then Thanos steps into our dimension, as terrifying as all those many post-credit teases have promised. With the Infinity Gauntlet on his hand, he reaches back and seems to grab an actual planet and hurl it down towards the heroes he’s facing off against… and that’s when the teaser cuts to the title card.

To say that the teaser trailer delivered would be an understatement. To say that it ended Disney’s live-action panel on the highest possible note would be underselling it. A tremendous number of films were highlighted during the two presentations, but nothing — not even the Star Wars behemoth itself — stood up to Marvel’s brief glimpse of Infinity War. On Saturday, June 22nd, the studio will make its appearance at San Diego Comic-Con — and we’ll have the chance to see if it can keep that momentum going.

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