Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim once again demonstrated its unrivaled franchise power through Marvel, Lucasfilm, Disney and Pixar, as well as the unique mining of its animated legacy. And, in highlighting its social relevance, the emphasis was on diversity and unity in conquering prejudice and hate.
On Friday, the Expo was ecstatic over the hilarious clip of Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) getting snarky with all of the Disney princesses in “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2” (November 21, 2018) — the ultimate Mouse House strut. It was also refreshing to learn that Holly Hunter’s mom, Helen/Elastagirl, will be the star of Brad Bird’s “Incredibles 2” (June 15, 2018), picks up where the last one left off in 2004, with the Underminer (John Ratzenberger) wreaking havoc.
However, on Saturday, Disney wowed them with clips and behind-the-scene footage from “Mary Poppins Returns,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “The Lion King.” The challenge, of course. is balancing originals with remakes and sequels, but with such great material and its box office supremacy, the studio remains the envy of the industry.
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Legacy Building and Beyond
The biggest hit on Saturday was the sneak peek of “Mary Poppins Returns” (Christmas, 2018), with Rob Marshall (“Into the Woods”) directing the sequel to the beloved ’64 classic, and Emily Blunt getting weird and acerbic like P.L. Travers’s iconic nanny, yet still doing justice to Julie Andrews’ indelibly sweet performance. It’s 25 years later, in the depressed 1930s, and the traveling angel returns to save the next generation of the Banks family on Cherry Tree Lane.
The rest of the cast includes “Hamilton’s” Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lamplighter Jack, Ben Whishaw as Michael Banks, Emily Mortimer as Jane Banks, Julie Walters as the Banks’ housekeeper Ellen, with Colin Firth as the mean bank owner, Meryl Streep as Mary’s eccentric cousin, Topsy, Angela Lansbury as the Balloon Lady, and Dick Van Dyke as Mr. Dawes Jr., the retired chairman of the bank. The score is by Marc Shaiman with new songs by Shaiman and Scott Wittman.
The other live-action standout was the thrilling, ethereal teaser from “A Wrinkle in Time” (March 9, 2018) directed by Ava DuVernay (“Selma”). Based on Madeleine L’Engle’s classic time travel novel and scripted by Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”), the sci-fi adventure through time and space to confront the dark side of humanity stars newly-installed Disney Legend Oprah Winfrey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine and newcomer Storm Reid.
Meanwhile, Disney continues to re-imagine its animated legacy for live-action, including Tim Burton’s hybrid “Dumbo” (March 29, 2019) with Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton and a CG animal circus; “Mulan” from director Niki Caro (“The Zookeeper’s Wife,” “Whale Rider”); and Guy Ritchie’s “Aladdin,” with Will Smith as the Genie.
However, the standout is Jon Favreau’s “The Lion King” (July 19, 2019), starring Donald Glover as Simba and James Earl Jones as Mufasa. Hugh Jackman is only rumored as Scar. The opening clip, which faithfully recreates the original with remarkable naturalism, was breathtaking. The brief glimpse already demonstrates the superiority to “The Jungle Book.” But “The Lion King” will be all-virtual with CG animals inhabiting the CG Pride Lands of Africa. Kudos to Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Rob Legato and MPC for taking it to the next level of photorealistic immersion with new tools. And this time the voice actors will be gathered together on stage for greater interaction.
Unlocking the “Star Wars” Force
With only a mere mention of Ron Howard now helming next year’s “Han Solo” standalone (in place of fired Phil Lord & Chris Miller), all attention went to “The Last Jedi” (December 15, 2017). Although Disney screened just a brief behind-the-scenes reel, director Rian Johnson (“Looper”) conveyed the right note of confidence about unifying and expanding the trilogy with newcomers Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, and Benicio Del Toro. “It’s about family — that’s what’s so exciting about it,” said the late Carrie Fisher in the reel, inducted posthumously on Friday as a Disney Legend.
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Celebrating 10 Years of MCU
The biggest family statement was made at the end, when Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige introduced nearly every member of the MCU on stage for a 10-year reunion. The celebratory clip, anchored around “Avengers: Infinity War” (May 4, 2018), revealed a culmination of sorts. Almost every superhero will be present to battle Josh Brolin’s seemingly unstoppable Thanos. With the thirst for power comes chaos, and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron appears the most vulnerable in the footage.