There were so many upcoming movies from Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar that the panel showcasing them ran for three hours, giving each its own spotlight. As Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter led the presentations, bringing out a wide variety of filmmakers from both studios to introduce and talk about each film, it became clear that the goal for both companies is to come up with new, original and very different ideas that can speak to audiences of any and all ages with the emotion and heart that they’ve become known for.
Animation is where the Walt Disney company began and it is the core of who they are, since 1923. For 92 years, they’ve been making audiences laugh and cry, believe in true love, and learn about the true power of family and friendship. And even though the animation itself has evolved in quality over the years, the stories have always been top-notch with valuable life lessons.
First up, from Walt Disney Animation Studios, was Zootopia, which opens nationwide on March 4, 2016. Directors Byron Howard (Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph) and producer Clark Spencer (Wreck-It Ralph) were joined on stage by actress Ginnifer Goodwin, who voices the film’s lead character Judy Hopps, and showed some hilarious scenes that gave insight into what to expect.
Here’s what we learned about Zootopia:
- Because the best storytelling comes from great research, the filmmaking team started at Animal Kingdom at Disney World, and then went to Kenya. They wanted to recognize what makes each animal great and incorporate the walking, personality and behavior that makes them who they are. They also heavily researched animal fur.
- The residents of Zootopia live in a city designed for animals by animals. It is made up of Sahara Square, Tundra Town, the Rainforest District and Bunny Burrow, and we were showed artwork of each of these locations, each with their own distinct look and feel that fits their name.
- Ginnifer Goodwin voices the rookie rabbit officer Judy Hopps. As a life-long fan, Goodwin had always wanted to voice a character in an animated Disney feature, and this role has provided that opportunity. Hopps is the first bunny cop and her mantra is “anyone can be anything,” but it’s hard not to be a bit discouraged when she’s given parking duty. If the footage shown was any indication, that mantra will definitely be tested by another character she finds herself having to work with on a case.
- Jason Bateman voices the con artist fox Nick Wilde. We got to see the see when Wilde and Hopps first meet, and their interaction shows how Hopps optimism allows her to be taken advantage of by Wilde’s more manipulative and sly personality.
- The story becomes something of a buddy comedy, as the two find themselves in a circumstances that leads them to seek answers together in the case of a missing otter. During the investigation, Wilde begins to gain respect for Hopps as he sees her determination.
- Another fun scene that we got to see was one in which Hopps and Wilde have to go to the DMV, which is run by sloths, to get help from a sloth who is so slow in his speech and movement, driving Hopps crazy as she is desperate for answers. What was most striking was how true to the animal’s behavior the animated sloths were.
- International music superstar Shakira is lending her voice to Gazelle, the biggest pop star in Zootopia. She will also perform an all-new original song called “Try Everything,” that was written by singer/songwriter Sia and songwriting duo Stargate. Unable to be there in person, Shakira appeared via taped message where she gave attendees a sneak peak of the catchy track.
Next to be presented was Gigantic, a unique Jack and the Beanstalk-inspired story that’s set to hit theaters in 2018. Director Nathan Grace (Tangled) and producer Dorothy McKim (Get A Horse!) were joined by Oscar-winning songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Frozen) to debut some artwork and drawings and give insight into this new version of the classic tale.
Here’s what we learned about Gigantic:
- They are hoping that this will become the definitive version of the Jack and the Beanstalk They are taking parts of the familiar story and adding their own twists and turns and emotion to it. There will also be endless possibilities for comedy.
- Set in Spain during the Age of Exploration, the story follows adventure-seeker Jack as he climbs the beanstalk to discover a world of giants hidden within the clouds. While there, he meets Inma, a 60-foot-tall, 11-year-old girl with a fiery and fiesty personality, who thinks he’s a new little toy that she can play with, dress up, brush his hair and wash him.
- The story also has villains, called the Storm Giants, that looked suitably scary in the early artwork.
- The visual development piece put together for D23 started by asking, “How far would you go to follow your dream? What would you leave behind? How high would you climb?”
- Sill early in the process of the songwriting, the duo has written a piano demo vocal of the first meeting between Jack and Inma that they debuted for the fans in attendance. The song was sweet, cute, funny and all of the things that not only every great Disney song has, but that we’ve also come to expect from the duo.
The final WDAS film that we got a glimpse of was Moana, out in theaters on November 23, 2016. Renowned directors John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog) and producer Osnat Shurer were joined by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to discuss their tale inspired by the people, music and stories of the South Pacific.
Here’s what we learned about Moana:
- The filmmakers’ research took them deep into the South Pacific, where they met wonderful people and learned about their rich history and traditions, including the importance of music to their culture.
- The story follows a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring mission to fulfill her ancestors’ unfinished quest and prove herself to be a master wayfinder. She meets the once-mighty demi-god Maui and together they traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage.
- With a goal to be a part of the Disney family by voicing an animated character, Dwayne Johnson lends his voice to the mythical figure Maui. Covered in living tattoos, the strong, powerful and determined character was born human and raised by Gods, but stuck in the middle, and the clips of him in action showed that the personality of Johnson will most definitely shine through.
- The test footage shown was by far the most dazzlingly beautiful of the day, with a true reverence paid to the land and culture of the story. After glimpsing underwater artwork and early renderings of the volcanic guardian on a living island, we got to see a scene of toddler Moana playing in the ocean while the ocean interacts with her and parts so that she can collect shells. We then see a teenage Moana staring out at that very same ocean. The footage showed just how important the ocean and the land will be to the world they’re creating.
- The music of the film is being done by Tony-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, Grammy-winning composer Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i, founder and lead singer of the world music award-winning band Te Vaka. They will blend their diverse and dynamic sounds to help tell this very special tale. After a show-stopping performance by Foa’i and Te Vaka, illustrating the magic of the movie’s music, it was clear that this will be a soundtrack that is sure to be a classic.
First up from Pixar was the debut of the all-new short, “Riley’s First Date?” Director Josh Cooley introduced the short, which revisits Riley, first introduced in Inside Out, now 12. The charming and heart-warming story ventures into the minds of Riley’s parents, when a mysterious boy shows up at the front door, and shows how they handle their daughter growing up very differently, but in equally humorous ways. We also get to see what the new boy in Riley’s life thinks about. The short will be included as a bonus feature in the digital HD (out on October 13th) and Blu-ray (out on November 3rd) releases of Inside Out.
Following that premiere, director Peter Sohn and producer Denise Ream (Up, Cars 2) presented The Good Dinosaur, in theaters on November 25th, and showed an extended glimpse into the unlikely but very special friendship at its center. Behind the scenes, this film experienced a change of directors and a reworking of the story, but after seeing the footage, there is no reason to doubt that it will stand up next to any film in the Pixar catalog of favorites.
Here’s what we learned about The Good Dinosaur:
- The filmmakers went on a research trip through the American Northwest and created footage for the film that is so photorealistic that it would be hard to tell the difference from footage shot with a camera.
- The film introduces audiences to Arlo, a sheltered Apatosaurus who finds himself far from home, and Spot, Arlo’s human friend. The story is a role reversal, in the sense that the boy is the dinosaur with the ability to talk, and the dog is the boy who is more animalistic and communicates by growling and grunting.
In one of the scenes we got to see, Arlo’s father (voiced by Jeffrey Wright) dies, early on in the story, and he gets unintentionally separated from his mother (voiced by Frances McDormand) and siblings when he is swept down the river, far from home, nearly dying on the intense trip. He finds himself lost and surrounded by the danger and beauty of nature, and comes across a caveboy who doesn’t have the same communication skills as Arlo.
- On their epic journey that is a story of self-discovery and friendship, Arlo and Spot learn that they are more alike than they ever could have imagined. In another of the scenes that we got to see, we learn that while Arlo lost and misses his father, Spot was left without both of his parents. Like many Disney movies that pull on the heartstrings, the scene left the audience with tears in their eyes and sniffles that could be heard around the room.
- We also got to see a trio of T-Rexes, voiced by Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin and AJ Buckley, in action. This family of dinosaurs push Arlo to face his own personal features and teach him what he’s truly made of.
Next up from Pixar was the long-anticipated Finding Dory, out in theaters on June 17, 2016. Director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E), co-director Angus MacLane (Toy Story of Terror) and producer Lindsey Collins (Wall-E) were joined by Ellen DeGeneres, Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell and Kaitlin Olsen to show why the Finding Nemo follow-up will be well worth the wait.
Here’s what we learned about Finding Dory:
- After basically reminding the filmmakers non-stop that she wanted to revisit her fan favorite fish, Ellen DeGeneres has returned to help bring the forgetful blue tang back to life. The movie reunites the overly-optimistic Dory with Nemo and Marlin (voice by Albert Brooks), on a search for answers about her past and where her parents are. Ultimately, it is a journey for Dory to learn to accept herself and her flaws.
- The one emotionally open-ended issue that remained from the first movie is, where is Dory’s family, and will she ever be able to find them again with her short-term memory loss? Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy will be the voices of Dory’s parents.
- Dory’s search for her family allowed the filmmakers the opportunity to travel to very different locations, on land and sea, and to bring a variety of new sea creatures that expand her world, including Hank, a cantankerous octopus (voiced by Ed O’Neill), Bailey, a misguided beluga whale (voiced by Ty Burrell) and Destiny, a kind-hearted whale shark (voiced by Kaitlin Olson).
- Even though the story takes place only six months after Finding Nemo ended, the film opened in theaters in 2003, so the voice of Nemo had to be recast, as the original actor is now 21.
- As part of the presentation, we got to see a scene with Dory, Nemo and Marlin that revisits their friendship and love for each other, as Dory starts to remember things about her past and her family that she didn’t even know that she knew. We also got to see another scene with Dory having a rather hilarious interaction with Hank, who isn’t quite sure how to deal with Dory’s short-term memory loss. And along with those scene, we got to see some artwork of the new characters and what they’ll look like.
Up next, we got a brief look at the in-development feature Coco, inspired by Dia de los Muertos. Director Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and producer Darla K. Anderson (Toy Story 3) were pretty vague about the details, but said that it’s the celebration of a lifetime, where the discovery of a generations-old mystery leads to a most extraordinary and surprising family reunion. The themes of family, remembrance and connection across generations are at the story’s core, and the celebration of Dia de los Muertos serves as the perfect backdrop for the main character – 12-year-old Miguel, who lives in rural Mexico – to ask where he comes from and what his place is within his family. The brief footage shown was of a large festive celebration, vibrant in color and with skeletons dancing everywhere.
Last, but most certainly not least, Pixar presented Toy Story 4, due out in theaters on June 16, 2017. Director John Lasseter (who’s also one of Pixar’s three founders), co-director Josh Cooley (Cars 2, Ratatouille) and producer Galyn Susman (Toy Story of Terror) were joined by screenwriters Rashida Jones and Will McCormack to talk about this entirely new chapter that takes Toy Story in an exciting new direction. Because Pixar only makes sequels when the idea is better than the original, it was important that they have a new perspective and fresh voice for the fourth film in the franchise. Each of the Toy Story films has tackled a different genre, and this latest one will be a love story about the relationship between Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Bo Peep, featuring all of the returning characters along with some amazing new ones. And although there were no scenes or footage to show yet, the panel came to a very memorable close with composer Randy Newman performing “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” accompanied by all of the Toy Story characters.