August 20, 2011


Disney’s D23 Expo (the D standing in for Disney; 23 being a reference to the founding year of the studio – 1923) is kind of sorta like Comic Con, except more family friendly, cleaner, smaller, not as crowded, better smelling. And blue. I swear –it seemed like everything at the Expo was blue.  The seats in the auditorium, the rug on the show room floors, the gelled up lights, the screen – all blue. Hell – even the press packet folder was stripped in the color. At times, I felt like I was watching a latter day Derek Jarman flick.

The big highly anticipated panel of D23 – Walt Disney’s presentation (i.e. shilling) of their upcoming slate of films did not disappoint. So jam-packed was the three hour presentation, I’m forced to split my coverage into two parts. The first herein will focus on Disney’s upcoming live action films, whereas the second will cover their forthcoming animated films. Exclusive footage and clips were shown from the likes of The Muppets, John Carter (formerly of Mars), the just-started-shooting Oz: The Great and Powerful and, of course, The Avengers. For descriptions and impressions of the footage shown, hit the jump.  And for coverage on the live action portion of the panel, featuring Brave, Monsters University, Frankenweenie, and Wreck-It Ralph, click here.

jason-segel-the-muppets-movie-image-21. The Muppets – easily my favorite of the live action footage/clips shown

Cast in Attendance: Jason Segel, Kermit, Miss Piggy

Clips Shown: The first clip featured Segel, Amy Adams and Walter as they search Beverly Hills for Kermit, finally stopping at a gate emblazoned with the green frog and his paramour Piggy. What follows can be glimpsed in the trailer as Segel attempts to throw Walter over the gate, only to be met with the shock of an electric fence. All this is for naught, as Kermit enters behind the three to the tune of passing singing choir bus.  Kermit’s divine entrance causes Walter to faint and when he awakens, he’s inside Kermit’s mansion Segel and Adams in tow. From here, we’re introduced to Kermit’s butler: a malfunctioning robot keen to serve the new guests Tab and/or New Coke. Mostly, however the robot just bumps into walls. This silly anarchic sense of humor was further enforced in the second clip shown – wherein Kermit rallies his fellow Muppets to restore the broken down ol’ Muppet Theater. A montage of Muppet renovation soon follows set to Starship’s eternally awful classic ‘We Built This City’ (I still prefer ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’). The clips were playful, fun and showcased all the Muppets to maximum effect. I could listen to the gibberish of Swedish Chef all day. November 23rd can’t come soon enough.

HELIUM_Dusk_John_Carter_Concept_art2. John Carter

In Attendance: Producer Jim Morris, director Andrew Stanton, Actors – Willem Dafoe, Taylor Kitsch, and Lynn Collins

Clips Shown: In the first clip, the newly-arrived-to-Mars John Carter (Kitsch) discovers a hatch filled with eggs. Soon the eggs begin to crack and little green baby aliens with tusks sprout forth from them. Carter is justifiably taken aback. Gunfire rings out. Carter turns to see the source of the shooting: grown up eight feet tall green aliens with tusks (otherwise known as The Tharks). They shoot at the Carter again, causing him to jump back yards away, a talent he was not aware he possessed. This newfound ability equally surprises the chief of the green aliens with tusks: Tars Tarkas (Dafoe). What follows is a “meet-cute” between Tarkas and John as they try to introduce themselves to each other – Tarkas speaking Martian, John English. Miscommunication ensues.

john-carter-concept-art-imageThe second clip: a scene later in the film between Carter and Dejah Thoris (Collins). Relationship stuff. Carter urges Dejah not to marry somebody else, Dejah begs John not to leave for earth. Neither gets what they want.

The third clip: Carter and Tars are put to battle in an arena to the death. Their opponent: a giant six legged white ape. When Carter uses his jumping ability to avoid the mammoth beast again and again, a second ape is called to finish off the job…

The most notable thing about the footage shown is how muted the colors of John Carter appear to be. The vast desert landscape –a barren brownish gray. Carter’s clothing – a muddy yellow. Even the reds of Dejah’s tattoos are ruddy and tainted. These muted colors suggest at the more somber tone the film appears to be going for (also the great Peter Gabriel cover of “My Body is a Cage” in the trailer suggests the same). It’s intriguing to mar a giant tent-pole flick with seemingly so melancholy a tone. I’m just not sure if the footage shown convinced me John Carter’s done it successfully. On the one hand – everybody in the film seems to be playing to that somber melancholy beat, on the other – it’s still just a guy fighting and jumping over giant CGI monsters.

John Carter hits theaters March, 2012.

sam-raimi-image3. Oz: The Great and Powerful

Everybody is currently in Detroit shooting the film, so no special guest – only a video previewing the upcoming Oz adaptation. The video preview opened with Sam Raimi dressed to tee like Frank Morgan discussing the basic premise of the film: where did the wizard come from and who was he beforehand? James Franco starring as the titular wiz, described his character as a cad and a performer. In essence – a fake. Oz, he stated is this guy’s second chance. What followed were flashes of preproduction artwork – displaying the emerald city, munchkins, people travelling Oz via giant bubbles, the yellow brick road, a small girl made entirely of porcelain. All of it looked perfectly suited and in tune with Baum’s universe. As a great admirer of the series of books and the original film, I’m still greatly looking forward to this release.

Disney also sent over the official synopsis.  Oz: The Great and Powerful hits theaters March 8, 2013:

Walt Disney Pictures’ fantastical adventure “Oz The Great and Powerful,” directed by Sam Raimi, imagines the origins of L. Frank Baum’s beloved character, the Wizard of Oz. When Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a small-time circus magician with dubious ethics, is hurled away from dusty Kansas to the vibrant Land of Oz, he thinks he’s hit the jackpot—fame and fortune are his for the taking—that is until he meets three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are not convinced he is the great wizard everyone’s been expecting. Reluctantly drawn into the epic problems facing the Land of Oz and its inhabitants, Oscar must find out who is good and who is evil before it is too late. Putting his magical arts to use through illusion, ingenuity—and even a bit of wizardry—Oscar transforms himself not only into the great and powerful Wizard of Oz but into a better man as well.

4. The Avengers

Kevin Feige previewed a scene from the Mecca of superhero films. In the scene, Loki trapped within a glass box, designed to hold the Hulk, spars with Nick Fury in a verbal rat-a-tat as the rest of The Avengers look on from monitors. It wasn’t necessarily the most visually dynamic of scenes to show – but it greatly showcased Hiddleston and Jackson’s innumerable talents. Hiddleston’s Loki is easily my favorite of the Marvel filmic universe’s roster of villains – and the scene suggests he will be extremely prominent in the upcoming film.

After the verbal exchange, flashes of the various Avengers popped up in montage – underscored by Downey Jr.’s/Tony Stark’s dry wit. Hawkeye, Captain America, Thor — all in succession undermining some unseen enemy’s threats. The unseen enemy; Loki, who counters ‘He has an army’. Tony Sparks four word response – ‘We have a Hulk’. And wiith that the scene cuts to quick flash of The Hulk rampaging at the screen.

The Avengers “assemble” next summer.

For more coverage from D23, here’s our video interviews.  We’ve got Jason Segel, Frankenweenie producers Allison Abbate and Don Hahn, Cobie Smulders, Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr., Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston and many more.

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