D23 Recap: Walt Disney Studios’ Live-Action Films TOMORROWLAND, SAVING MR. BANKS, MALEFICENT, INTO THE WOODS, MUPPETS MOST WANTED and More

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We closed out our D23 experience with a presentation from Disney’s upcoming slate of live-action films.  Yesterday’s animation panel – featuring looks the films of Disney/Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios and DisneyToon Studios - was a difficult one to top.  We’ve already covered the superpowered side of things with our Marvel recap, so now we’ll move on to the live-action fairy tales, original sci-fi mysteries, puppet sequel capers and nature documentaries you’ve all been waiting for!

The second half of today’s presentation included advanced looks at Saving Mr. Banks, Into the Woods, Cinderella, Maleficent, Tomorrowland, Muppets Most Wanted and DisneyNature’s Bears.  There was quite literally something for everyone in this batch of upcoming films.  Hit the jump to read my recap and see which one(s) strikes your fancy!

After Chairman Alan Horn warmed up the crowd (and teased them with the slightest tidbit of Star Wars news), he introduced Disney’s President of Motion Picture Production, Sean Bailey, who walked us through some behind-the-scenes looks at their upcoming film slate.  Though the panel ended with this particular film, we’re going to start our recap off with it.

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Saving Mr. Banks

Sean Bailey set up the story and talented cast of Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks,” the extraordinary, untold backstory of how Disney’s classic “Mary Poppins” made it to the screen, and reminded everyone that “Mary Poppins” is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. After showing two clips from the movie to the D23 audience, Bailey introduced Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak, who portray the famous composing team of Richard and Robert Sherman, respectively, in the film. In a big surprise moment, Schwartzman and Novak welcomed “Mary Poppins” composer Richard Sherman on stage to greet the excited audience. The two talented actors then engaged the crowd in a rousing, confetti-filled, grand finale sing-along performance of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” the classic song from “Mary Poppins.”

Two-time Academy Award®–winner Emma Thompson and fellow double Oscar®-winner Tom Hanks topline Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks,” which is directed by John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side,” “The Rookie”) and produced by Alison Owen, Ian Collie and Philip Steuer. Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith wrote the screenplay.

When Walt Disney’s daughters begged him to make a movie of their favorite book, P.L. Travers’ “Mary Poppins,” he made them a promise—one that he didn’t realize would take 20 years to keep. In his quest to obtain the rights, Walt comes up against a curmudgeonly, uncompromising writer who has absolutely no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get mauled by the Hollywood machine. But, as the books stop selling and money grows short, Travers reluctantly agrees to go to Los Angeles to hear Disney’s plans for the adaptation. For those two short weeks in 1961, Walt Disney pulls out all the stops. Armed with imaginative storyboards and chirpy songs from the talented Sherman brothers, Walt launches an all-out onslaught on P.L. Travers, but the prickly author doesn’t budge. He soon begins to watch helplessly as Travers becomes increasingly immovable and the rights begin to move further away from his grasp. It is only when he reaches into his own childhood that Walt discovers the truth about the ghosts that haunt her, and together they set Mary Poppins free to ultimately make one of the most endearing films in cinematic history.

“Saving Mr. Banks” releases in theaters December 13, 2013, limited, December 20, 2013, wide.

saving-mr-banks-tom-hanks-emma-thompsonThis story behind the story of Mary Poppins is the first time a story from Walt Disney’s personal experience will be brought to the screen, conveniently timed as Mary Poppins is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

In a look at unfinished footage from the film, we see Travers’ introduction to Walt Disney Studios in Burbank and her first in-person exchange with Walt Disney himself.  This meeting sets the tone of Travers’ uptight and refined character and contrasts her against Disney’s personable and informal personality.  There are some nice nods to lines from Mary Poppins, such as a spoonful of sugar.  There are great moments of dialogue that flow back and forth between the two of them, each of them disagreeing on who Mary Poppins is and who she could be to a world full of children.

The second clip features Disney inviting Travers to Disneyland and takes her on a carousel ride.  The serious and stuffy Travers is perhaps slowly being won over by the childlike, confident and fun-loving Disney.  Both Thompson and Hanks play their respective roles perfectly.

B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman take the stage to talk about meeting the Sherman brothers and going over their music.  The film also features Novak’s first time singing on screen.  They then screen another scene with Travers going over the script and making a number of mavenly changes to both made up words and specific details in the scene.  At this point, it’s a bit concerning that the one-note joke of “stuffy ol’ Mrs. Travers doesn’t like to have any fun” might be drawn out far too long into the film, but it’s hard to judge from just a few short clips.  Here’s hoping Hanks and Thompson get to explore the honest depths of their characters rather than the superficial caricatures they are upon their first meeting.  (It also remains to be seen whether the portrayal Travers’ experience with Disney will reflect history – with her leaving disgruntled and enraged at her books’ treatment – or if it will be modified through dramatic license.)

After the scene showing Travers sitting in with the screenwriter and composers, Novak and Schwartzman take the stage to sing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”.  Richard Sherman joins them on stage along with a bunch of extras flying kites on stage and throughout the arena.  This is the presentation’s big finale, but using the magic of the imagination, we’re going to go back in time to recap the other films, continuing with…

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Maleficent

Academy Award®-winning actress Angelina Jolie joined Sean Bailey on stage after the audience had an exclusive first look at Disney’s “Maleficent.” Starring as the title character in the highly anticipated live action film, Jolie chatted with Bailey about the film before exiting to wild applause.

“Maleficent” is the untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the 1959 classic “Sleeping Beauty.” A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal—an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom—and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.

The film also stars Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Miranda Richardson, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville and is produced by Joe Roth and directed by Robert Stromberg. Linda Woolverton, the screenwriter of “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast,” wrote the screenplay. “Maleficent” opens in theaters on July 2, 2014.

maleficent-movie-image-angelina-jolieWe will first meet Maleficent as a teenage fairy who grows into a young woman who cares for her family and the creatures of her forest home.  As is the case with any great villain, we’ll also see the betrayal that turned her heart to stone and set the course of events that are familiar to fans of Sleeping Beauty.  Of course, we’ll also meet the king and the three magical pixies responsible for raising and caring for Princess Aurora.  We can expect Maleficent to curse Aurora during the ceremony and then watch her grow into a teenager just before the curse takes hold.  We’ll also get to relive the epic battle with the dragon, though the audience may find itself rooting for the other side.

In a surprise move, Angelina Jolie in attendance (and gets a standing ovation). Reveals that Maleficent was always her favorite, and she was terrified and fascinated by her.  She also talks about putting the horns on for the first time.  She says the world’s elements are a part of the film itself, a beautiful fairy tale with all of the classic elements, but told from the point of view of the villain.  It has an edge that’s a little sexy and a little dark, but stays true to the fairy tale. Jolie tells a story about being in costume and going to say, “Hi!” to little kids visiting the set, not realizing that she was terrifying them as the evil witch.

In an early look at the film, we’re introduced to the three little summery fairies who are about to bless the young princess when Maleficent makes her grand, dark entrance.  Jolie is perfect as the character and orates the powerful curse for all to hear while surrounded by the iconic emerald flames.  We see glimpses of scenes foreshadowing Aurora’s growth into adolescence and eventual fulfillment of the curse.  It’s a great early look at the film, but we’ve only barely pulled back the corner of what this lush and varied world should ultimately look like.

cinderellaCinderella

Sean Bailey thrilled the D23 audience with an exclusive, very early, sneak peek at the vision of Disney’s “Cinderella,courtesy of director Sir Kenneth Branagh. Though many of the elements are still in development and pre-production, like Cinderella’s gown, the audience enjoyed getting a taste of what they could expect when Disney’s live-action version of the classic fairy tale opens in theaters on March 13, 2015.

Although Disney’s magical and amazing “Cinderella” promises to be faithful to the original fairy tale, the filmmakers will elevate the story, the characters and the visuals to take audiences on a sweeping dramatic journey never seen before.

Not much in the way of footage was revealed since Kenneth Branagh is just now prepping to shoot the film.  We’re told it will be faithful to the original fairy tale, but hopes to elevate the story with an exploration of the riches of the palace as well as the politics of the royal court.  In a first and exclusive look at the film, which is still in rough pre-production, Branagh gives the audience a behind-the-scenes look in a video that shows off concept art and introduces the actors behind the beloved characters.  Lily James appears in a screen test as Cinderella herself.  Branagh also highlights the grand scale and classic appearance of the film’s sets, along with the challenge of reinventing the iconic imagery and entrances.  Looks to be a sweeping and epic fairy tale that extends far beyond the castle.

into-the-woods-posterInto the Woods

Disney’s “Into the Woods” celebrated its first public introduction as Sean Bailey shared some details with the audience about the highly anticipated musical. Rob Marshall, the talented filmmaker behind the Academy Award®-winning musical “Chicago” and Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is set to helm “Into the Woods,” which stars Academy Award®-winning actress Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine and Emily Blunt. Marc Platt, who produced the multiple Tony Award®-winning musical “Wicked” on Broadway, will produce “Into the Woods,” along with producers Marshall, John DeLuca and Callum McDougall.

“Into the Woods,” based on the Tony®-winning original musical by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, surrounds a baker and his wife’s quest to break a witch’s curse in order to start a family. Along the way, they encounter several well-known fairy tale characters and together they learn what happens after “happily ever after.”

The film is slated for a December 2014 holiday release.

Not much to speak about here except the reiteration of Meryl Streep, who leads as the witch and Johnny Depp who stars as the Big Bad Wolf.  Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine and Emily Blunt also star.  Look for it Christmas Day 2014.

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Muppets Most Wanted

President of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production Sean Bailey came on and stirred up Muppet mayhem with details about Disney’s “Muppets Most Wanted,” welcoming Ty Burrell to the stage—via Le Maxium, a tiny European car that aptly underscored the actor’s portrayal of French Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon. The film also stars Ricky Gervais, plus Tina Fey, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, who greeted guests of the D23 Expo “live” from the film’s international set—somewhere far, far away.

Directed by James Bobin and produced by David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman, Disney’s “Muppets Most Wanted” takes the entire Muppets gang on a global tour, selling out grand theaters in some of Europe’s most exciting destinations, including Berlin, Madrid and London. But mayhem follows the Muppets overseas, as they find themselves unwittingly entangled in an international crime caper headed by Constantine—the World’s Number One Criminal and a dead ringer for Kermit—and his dastardly sidekick Dominic, aka Number Two, portrayed by Gervais. Fey is featured as Nadya, a feisty prison guard. Bobin co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller, who is also executive producer with John G. Scotti. Featuring music from Academy Award®-winning songwriter Bret McKenzie, “Muppets Most Wanted” hits the big screen March 21, 2014.

muppets-most-wanted-ty-burrellA new Muppets Most Wanted trailer was screened, featuring the introduction of Constantine, the Most Wanted Muppet, who looks exactly like Kermit (minus a very European mole).  The Muppets get wrapped up in the global manhunt for the world’s greatest thief.  There seems to be equal time devoted to Muppet hijinks and live-action craziness from such actors as Ty Burrell, Ricky Gervais and Tina Fey.   There’s a couple of great gags like a battle of badge size between Interpol and CIA agents, plus Fey’s Russian police officer cracking jokes in the gulag.

Burrell takes to the stage in his ultra-tiny Interpol clown car and talks about his first experience on set of a Muppets movie, as well as his portrayal of a French Interpol agent paired up with the “uber-American” Sam the Eagle.  Poor Ty has to get back into the car to drive off stage.

Miss Piggy, Kermit and Tina Fey come to us “live” from the UK via video feed.  After a misunderstanding over P23 vs D23, we’re treated to the first clip from the film.  This shows Dominic Badguy (Gervais) introducing Constantine as “Kermit,” though his Russian accent should be a dead giveaway as to the switcheroo.  Silly Muppets. Constantine and Gervais then perform a musical montage, “I’m Number One, You’re Number Two”.  It’s fun to see Gervais take second billing to a puppet frog and it’s equally entertaining to watch Kermit tapdancing free of strings.

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Tomorrowland

The D23 audience was treated to a glimpse into the mysteries surrounding Disney’s “Tomorrowland” as Sean Bailey and filmmakers Brad Bird (director, co-writer, producer) and Damon Lindelof (co-writer, producer) talked about the inspiration of the secrets of the black box, which was featured in a short behind-the-scenes piece screened for the audience about the visionary Walt Disney. Although the audience was buzzing with questions, Bailey remained coy, but then announced a special, surprise “Tomorrowland” exhibit opening in the afternoon on the D23 floor that would reveal the contents of the box and more. Starring George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy and Thomas Robinson, the action-packed adventure hits theaters December 12, 2014.

A brief video introduces the audience to the archives of Walt Disney and the mystery box labeled “1952″, along with Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof.  Both take the stage along with the mystery box from the Disney vault to reveal what’s inside of it.

Under the “1952″ is the text “That Darn Cat” but Lindelof reveals there was no cat inside.  Bird holds up a photograph of Walt and Amelia Earhart, which is dated April 1945; a few years after her disappearance.  The photo is actually a hoax: Walt’s head was superimposed on Cary Grant’s body. They, as storytellers, thought about, “Why was the photograph was put in there and why it was faked?”

Another item is an issue of Amazing Stories dated August 1928, with an H.G. Wells short story.  Also present is an old piece of cardboard with a strange insignia and it says AS 828 with a page number 422, related to a story that says Armageddon AD 2418.  The cardboard has notches cut out, which, when matched up to the story, reveals a secret message.

tomorrowland-mystery-boxThey just started principal photography on the film so there’s no footage to show, but there is a dried-up piece of parchment, which is the blueprint for the It’s a Small World ride.  It was presented at a 1964 World’s Fair.  The strange insignia is present again.  There are also some numbers present, which is a light frequency for a UV black light.  Under the It’s a Small World blueprint, there’s a full other blueprint for another structure.  They think that, possibly, the Imagineers had something else going on beneath the It’s a Small World attraction.

The Tomorrowland exhibit is present here at D23 and will be unveiled for attendees today.

“The coolest thing in the box” is a disc with the insignia present again, saying “A History of Tomorrow”. It’s a metal disc dated November of ’63 and says Orthacoustic Transcription.  It’s all scratched up but has a number of rings etched into it, like a record.  They managed to extract some animation from the disc, which also reads “Play Inside Out”.  They’re working to clean it up to the point that it’s able to be shown … or maybe they have it ready right now.

In this teaser for Tomorrowland, an animation sequence showing the history of human evolution and the rise of civilization.  The world’s greatest minds of Eiffel, Einstein, Verne and Tesla united to build the ideal urban utopia of Tomorrowland.  The animated teaser invites people to visit Tomorrowland and to escape the march toward mutually assured destruction by weapons of war.  While it’s a fun bit of sleight of hand to lure the audience into a mythology of the Disney archives that blends fact and fiction, I’m far more interested in what exactly the film is about rather than a gimmick to get people hooked into the movie.  For those who didn’t know the film even existed to begin with, I hope this bit of parlor trickery did just that.

bears-movie-disneynatureDisneyNature’s Bears

Chairman of The Walt Disney Studios Alan Horn hit the stage to share exciting news for Disneynature’s newest big-screen adventure “Bears.” Horn announced plans to support our National Parks through opening-week ticket sales. See “Bears,” Protect Our National Parks invites moviegoers to see the film during opening week (April 18-24, 2014) and Disneynature, via the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, will make a contribution to the National Park Foundation to protect wildlife and wild places across the National Park system. D23 Expo fans were among the first to see the film’s new trailer, which is slated to premiere online next week.

In an epic story of breathtaking scale, Disneynature’s upcoming True Life Adventure “Bears” showcases a year in the life of a bear family as two impressionable young cubs are taught life’s most important lessons. Set against a majestic Alaskan backdrop teeming with life, their journey begins as winter comes to an end and the bears emerge from hibernation to face the bitter cold. The world outside is exciting—but risky—as the cubs’ playful descent down the mountain carries with it a looming threat of avalanches. As the season changes from spring to summer, the brown bears must work hard to find food—ultimately feasting at a plentiful salmon run—while staying safe from rival male bears and predators, including an ever-present wolf pack. “Bears” captures the fast-moving action and suspense of life in one of the planet’s last great wildernesses—Alaska!

Directed by Alastair Fothergill (“Earth,” “African Cats” and “Chimpanzee”) and Keith Scholey (“African Cats”), “Bears” arrives in theaters April 18, 2014, to celebrate Earth Day.

First trailer for the film which centers on a family of a mama bear and her two cubs.  It looks like a worthy addition to DisneyNature’s line of fantastic documentary films. Disney will donate to the National Parks Foundation for every person who sees the film in theaters on Earth Day, April 18th.

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