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‘The Lion King,’ ‘Dumbo,’ and ‘Aladdin’ First Footage Delights Disney’s CinemaCon Crowd

Live-action clips directed by Tim Burton, Guy Ritchie, and Jon Favreau whetted NATO members' appetites.

Cathleen TaffThe Walt Disney Studios Presentation, CinemaCon, Las Vegas, USA - 24 Apr 2018

Cathleen Taff, The Walt Disney Studios’ EVP of distribution and franchise management, gave the bulk of her company’s CinemaCon presentation

Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

Disney didn’t trot out the talent at its CinemaCon presentation Tuesday morning in Las Vegas, and they didn’t need to. Chairman Alan Horn, outgoing president of theatrical distribution Dave Hollis, and Hollis’ replacement, Cathleen Taff, let their footage speak for itself.

Perhaps the greatest excitement came with the presentation of a dialogue-free sequence from the live-action remake of “The Lion King.” Taff tried to cap audience expectations, saying that the footage from director Jon Favreau was only a proof of concept.

First, the sun rose over Africa’s Pride Lands, signaling rhinos, antelope, gazelles, and zebras to make their journey to Pride Rock. Once they’ve gathered, Baboon shaman Rafiki (John Kani) used red powder to mark cerulean-eyed cub Simba (Donald Glover) as their new prince. Rafiki then lifts up Simba — as his parents look on — and presents him to his thousands of future subjects for the first time, set to a reprise of “Circle of Life.” The camera zooms out, arresting viewers with a shot of thousands of animals making joyful noise and bucking their legs in delight.

Favreau, who last helmed Best Visual Effects Oscar-winner “The Jungle Book” for Disney, oversees a prodigious cast that includes Beyoncé, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogen, John Oliver, and James Earl Jones, who returns as Simba’s fallen father. The film will be released July 19, 2019.

The crowd also got a sneak peek at Tim Burton’s sumptuous “Dumbo,” another live-action remake of a Disney classic. Taff promised that the studio has “expanded the story,” taking the predecessor as a “jumping-off point.” The new film opens where the 1941 version ended, with the namesake flying elephant as front-page news. However, Dumbo never flew on the CinemaCon screen. Tracking the new star’s literal and figurative rise are the children of former circus legend Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), as are trapeze artist Colette Marchant (Eva Green), and bigtop owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito), who is trying to stave off the nefarious and exploitative V.A. Vadnemere (Michael Keaton).

“Tim understands outsiders, people who don’t fit in,” said Green in a behind-the-scenes clip. “And ‘Dumbo’ is a classic example of that.” “Dumbo” lands in theaters March 29, 2019.

Another chromatic set visit came courtesy of Guy Ritchie’s “Aladdin” remake, starring Mena Massoud as the lovable street urchin, Will Smith as the genie who turns him into a prince, and Naomi Scott as his royal conquest (Scott shared that her Jasmine is more headstrong than her 1992 forebearer). Footage showed the pink-hued buildings of Agrabah, where Aladdin is chased through the marketplace. Smith makes one appearance in drag, and another riding down the street beating a pair of giant drums, looking like he’s having an absolute blast.

Said Taff, “To state the obvious, no one could replicate the iconic performance of Robin Williams,” who played the original Genie. “Nor would we want them to.” She called Smith’s take, “A little ‘Fresh Price,’ a little ‘Hitch,’ and a whole lot of attitude.” Still in post, the May 24, 2019 film features new songs from “La La Land” Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and a script Ritchie penned with John August and recent “The Shape of Water” nominee Vanessa Taylor.

During the presentation, Disney also showed the first minutes of “The Incredibles 2” (July 15), in which the Parr family (led by the voices of Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter) stops the mole-like Underminer from destroying city hall with his stories-tall drill. In a clip of Cannes-premiering “Solo: A Star Wars,” Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) takes Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) to visit a one-time smuggler who might be able to help them: Lando Calrissian (Glover). Solo and Calrissian meet during a game of Sabacc in which they bet their ships; the final outcome of the contest was not shown.

NATO members also took in montages from Disney’s 2018 slate, such as “Christopher Robin” (August 3), “Ralph Breaks the Internet : Wreck-It Ralph 2” (November 1), and “Mary Poppins Returns” (December 25).

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