It’s time. The big presentation that D23 Expo promised is hours away, but with our trusty wristbands earned through tears and patience we are ready for the biggest day of D23 Expo. Saturday is usually the busiest day of the expo and with good reason: two big presentations and plenty of VIPs. Most single day guests will be here today, but no matter. We’ve got our wristbands and that is half the battle won.
We’d been told Friday to arrive at least one hour before the presentation was set to begin. Without knowing what the lines to get in would look like we left at 6:30am to stake our claim in line. We rushed down to Starbucks for breakfast (thank you Starbucks app!) and found that the hotel’s Starbucks had a Disney drink: the Moana Nut Frappucino. One please!
Lo and behold the line is as long as it was yesterday, but we’ve got our wristbands! To the left! There’s a re-admission door for us and some friendly staff to point us back to where this all started: Hall E.
The basement wasn’t full but it was definitely more crowded than when we were there yesterday. There appeared to be two areas: one for the Hall D23 presentation and one for Show Floor access. The show floor area may also have been overflow standby for Hall D23 but it wasn’t clear (something that seems to be a running theme at the expo…). It didn’t matter to us since our wristbands got us access to a swath of Section C for our group to wait in.
While most of the people already there had arrived this morning, there were a few who had slept overnight (or at least packed an air mattress to get comfy in). It was a little strange to see people in their pajamas or with full campground-lite setup in the midst of morning cosplayers and tourists, but it’s a fun part of the convention experience. I will admit to quite a bit of envy regarding some of the kit these people had. I will definitely be buying one of those easy-to-inflate loungers for D23 Expo 2019.
We waited around until about 9am. Around 8am the spiel we heard yesterday was repeated: we’ll go inside in an orderly fashion, no devices that can capture images (phones, Nintendo DS, Apple Watches, actual cameras), and no strollers/large items. A new bit for the morning crew: make sure to pack up all your stuff since you’ll be taking it with you. True to their word, at 9am they began to move each section row by row into Hall D23 via dedicated escalators. We’re in!
So the actual Hall D23: not as big as you’d expect considering demand, very dark, cramped seating rows but wide walking aisles, and colder than an Arendelle winter. The cold was the first thing we all noticed. Everyone turned to look that their neighbors in line, wondering if it was just them or were we all freezing. I guess they assume the heat will go back to normal once all those bodies downstairs are seated up here. Much like a Disneyland attraction, they try to fill in every seat in every row. Here’s another area where they could use some Disneyland Cast Members. I was very skilled at grouping: the art of “How many in your party?” Tell me how many seats and how many rows I need to do and I will fill every seat. Quite a few rows had empty seats here and there, but that merely meant that those coming later couldn’t sit together as a group. We sat stage left (right side of the seating area) with a decent view of the main stage and a big screen in front of us. We’d be able to see it all. Just as we were all getting settled in some managers made their way down the sections for those of us with wristbands. They reiterated their sincere apologies about what happened yesterday and if we’d stay in our seats after the presentation they had another gift by way of apology. Cool! Maybe a poster or print?
After a few announcements (the warnings to turn off our phones made everyone chuckle as we’d been made to stow them away) we were all set to begin. Our emcee was Alan Horn, head of Disney Feature Films. This reminded me of videos you’d see of tech conferences: broadly appealing, congenial tone and clearly reading from the giant teleprompter in the back. That being said he seemed genuinely happy to be here (he joked about staying at the Disneyland Hotel and getting a too-cheerful wake-up call from Mickey Mouse) and enthusiastic about the presentation. While he acknowledged that we weren’t shareholders (although a few in the audience probably were) and we weren’t there to hear about numbers, he did want to tout Disney’s absolutely stellar 2016 and currently healthy 2017. Last year Disney was the first studio to cross $1 billion in a year. That’s quite an achievement and at the time it was announced I was pleased that Bob Iger cautioned against thinking of that as a new benchmark (numbers like that are rare, but try telling that to executives). Of the top films of 2016, five were from Disney. 2017 has been amazing with Beauty and the Beast leading as the top-grossing film of the year so far (not bad for a remake people were worried about). He even joked with the audience: “I’m guessing you saw it?” He also revealed the two year projections for live action films. Intriguingly there is an unnamed Avengers film in the future as well as Star Wars: Episode IX. He turned to presentation over to Sean Bailey, head of production, to introduce the first slate of upcoming films.
Sean reiterated that Disney’s live action film production is steadily working on some highly anticipated projects. To kick it all off he introduced A Wrinkle in Time. I loved this book as a child and I’m so excited (and a little nervous) to see it on screen. Before the presentation I told Busy Bumble that if director Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th) showed up I would cry. Well, I cried. Ms. DuVernay was there, along with Reese Witherspoon (Mrs. Who), Mindy Kaling (Mrs. Whatsit), Chris Pine (Dr. Murry), newcomer Storm Reid (Meg Murry), and… drum roll and theme music please… brand new Disney Legend Oprah Winfrey (Mrs. Which)!!!!!I was right here with Ms. DuVernay when she said of coming to D23, “I’ve found my tribe!”Everyone was incredibly enthusiastic about their experiences on the film, and Storm was endearingly nervous about her first film role but clearly proud and humbled by the experience. Oprah said she simply couldn’t say no to working with Ava DuVernay and wearing fabulous costumes in a fantasy epic where she plays the wisest being the universe. Strongest for me was Ms. DuVernay explaining that she wanted to make a film that reflected the diversity of the world we live in. While there were a few trolls out there who took issue with Storm (an African American) as Meg, I applauded the choice. If she can embody the spirit of Meg (curiosity, tenacity, spunk, and love) then I’m all in. Finally, after showing the us and the cast a new teaser trailer (which was out together just in time for D23 Expo and had never been seen by even the director) we were told we’d be leaving with copies of the first teaser poster. Oprah took over, telling us, “Everyone gets a poster!!! You get a poster! And you get a poster! And you get a poster!” We were screaming and chanting, “Oprah! Oprah! Oprah!”What a way to start the day!
The next film was The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. This film promises to be a creative mix of the ballet we’re all familiar with and some new elements entirely. While the cast and crew were not present they include Mackenzie Foy (Interstellar and that teen vampire love story that shall remain nameless) as Clara, Morgan Freeman as Drosselmeyer, Keira Knightly as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and Helen Mirren as Mother Ginger. Sean explained that the film would include quite a bit of dance still, and they would have actual ballet dancers including the incomparable Misty Copeland, principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre! They would also have a Mouse King that was made of many small mice forming a teeming mass of a body. Because of this he would need unique movements, so the creative team turned to dancer Li’l Buck for inspiration. His dancing has gone viral online and has been featured in commercials and films. And he was there to perform for us! His dancing is truly mesmerizing: unbelievably fluid, eerie, and unnaturally flexible. The man must be double-jointed in all his joints. It was a treat to see him perform live (complete with snow onstage!) and he deserved his standing ovation. I wasn’t sure how to feel about this film, but I’m reasonably excited after seeing his dancing.
Next up was once I’d been excited to hear more about: Mary Poppins Returns. This sequel takes place after young Jane and Michael Banks have grown up. A widower with three young children in the midst of Great Britain’s version of the Great Depression, Michael receives a visit and the services of a returned Mary Poppins to set things right. Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Into the Woods) and star Emily Blunt came out to talk about the influence and legacy of the original Mary Poppins and how they went about making a sequel. For those who weren’t aware, they reminded the audience that the original film was not made from the plot of a single book but a collection of vignettes from a number of P.L. Travers’ books. They adopted the same approach since there was so much more of the story to tell. Emily Blunt admitted that it was hard to try to live up to Julie Andrews’ performance and she decided to try and make the part her own since she’d never be able to out-Julie Julie. Also in the film is the genius Lin-Manuel Miranda as a lamplighter named Jack, who is connected somehow to Bert. Marshall was surprised but delighted at how everyone he wanted first said “yes” right away to being part of this film. He attributed it to the influence of the original and the fact this was coming from Disney. He said he even flew an original table from Mary Poppins that was being used in Club 33 to the London set for authenticity.
Finally Marshall revealed that he had a teaser to show us that they just put together since they’ve recently finished filming. As a surprise the curtains to our right opened to reveal the Disney Studios Orchestra! They would be playing some of the score from the film live to accompany the teaser! The footage was tone-perfect to the original film, but when the children fly a tattered kite into a storm and the clouds part to reveal Mary gliding down with her umbrella I burst into tears. I didn’t think I would cry over a teaser, but that image and the live orchestra playing “Feed the Birds” did me in. I wasn’t the only one, so that saved me some embarrassment.
Sean moved on to some of the live action remakes Disney has in store. There is Mulan, which has been circulated for a while now. Dwayne Johnson returns to Disney with a live action film inspired by The Jungle Cruise theme park attraction, which he’d teased on Instagram (I thought the live action version was Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen?). Finally there was casting news regarding the previously announced Aladdin. We have an Aladdin: Mena Massoud! Someone Middle Eastern will be playing a Middle Eastern character! Jasmine will be played by Naomi Scott. Genie will be played by Will Smith. That was met with a decidedly mixed response. For my part I’m ambivalent to disapproving regarding his casting, but no one was ever going to match Robin Williams. After this was got a special teaser and filmed message from Tim Burton regarding his in-production live action Dumbo. The set pieces shown look like remnants from the HBO show Carnivale, but I’ll reserve judgement. They did have a life-size maquette of Dumbo to bring out onstage and it was impressively cute. Look at those floppy ears! Look at those big eyes! Look at that widdle smile! We all wanted one to take home (where’s Oprah? Can she hook us up?)
Last but not least of this group: Sean brought out Jon Favreau, the director of live action The Jungle Book! Jon is a huge Disney fan and he understands that the response he gets from D23 Expo attendees means a great deal. It was at D23 Expo 2015 that the first clips of The Jungle Book were shown and it went on to make bank for Disney and spawn competitor projects at other studios because of its commercial and critical success. So Jon had a surprise, that got a little ruined when the tech guys scrolled to fast and we saw for a flash the title card: The Lion King. He had the opening scene! From the moment that iconic savanna sunrise those opening notes to “Circle of Life” rang out the audience was in ecstasy. I spontaneously burst into tears. I kid you not: this was incredibly moving and nothing like what I thought it would be. The animation is nearly frame for frame with the animated original, only with photorealistic animals that have just a touch of something that gives them that animated personality (“appeal” as an animator might say). Rafiki pops up from the grass and tha audience cheers. Sarabe brings out baby Simba to a loud “aww” from the audience. Rafiki breaks a ceremonial stick and swipes some dust on little Simba’s forehead, causing the little cub to sneeze. So cute! Finally he takes the cub and hoists him from atop Pride Rock in that legendary tableau. The surrounding animals bow reverently. And scene. Tears and screams and joy! Give it to me! Give it to me now!
Sean bid us farewell after that amazing segment and Alan Horn comes back to the stage with the Star Wars logo dominating the screen behind him. He touched on the success of Rogue One in expanding the Star Wars universe (“We introduced a whole new cast of characters. Then we killed them.”) Kathleen Kennedy of Lucasfilm couldn’t be with us as she’s in London working on the Han Solo film Ron Howard recently took over. Alan also mentioned the tragic loss of Carrie Fisher, whose absence is felt but her spirit lingers in the remaining sequel trilogy films. But today is going to be about The Last Jedi, and who else better to talk about it than director Rian Johnson! Rian shared that he used to work for the Disney Channel before becoming a feature film director. He did the breaks between shows (“Up next on The Disney Channel…”). He joked that he worked in the Halloweentown Disney Channel days, not the High School Musical Disney Channel to raucous cheers. He said, “This is probably the only place where people might want to hear more about Halloweentown than about Star Wars.”
Rian brought out some special guests: Daisy Ridley! John Boyega (Finn’s alive and awake)! Gwendoline Christine (wow is she tall)! And some new faces to add to the Star Wars saga: Kelly Marie Tran (playing new character Rose), Laura Dern (Rian says we should all hum the theme to Jurassic Park as she enters), and Benicio Del Toro! Rian hinted that Finn and Captain Phasma might be facing off, prompting John and Gwendoline to go toe-to-toe like boxers before a match. Laura also shared that she had a really hard time using a blaster: if you watch her lips she’s always saying “pew pew!” She said, “You forget that they’ll add that in later.” Finally Rian brought out the man standing on the edge of that cliff: Jedi Master and Disney Legend Mark Hamill! Hi Mark! We saw you yesterday! He joked, “Thanks for not standing me next to Gwendoline. You already knew I was a little short for a stormtrooper.” Rian introduced a series of behind-the-scenes clips that the cast hadn’t seen yet. There’s a lot to take in: liberal use of the color red, Rey training (including in water), Rey flying the Millenium Falcon, Rose and Finn in Imperial uniforms (an undercover mission?), a cute froggy thing (what are you so I know what to buy when the toys come out?), Carrie Fisher saying the saga is about family, Daisy Ridley fighting against two stunt men in a rehearsal, and so much more I can’t even write it all down. I’m assuming this will be released online as the film gets closer (guess where I’ll be during winter break this year?) so keep an eye out in a few months. When Alan Horn came back onstage he teased that he’s seen the film (unfinished) four times already and is extremely pleased. No fair teasing us!
Now for the next set of big guns: Kevin Feige comes out and introduces the Marvel Studios slate for the next two years. 2018 marks 10 years for Marvel Studios, so they’re rolling out a new logo and bringing us the culmination of the MCU: Avengers: Infinity War. Yesterday was the halfway mark for filming (seriously, only halfway? How big is this movie going to be?) First out: Josh Brolin aka Thanos. So we have our bad guy, but what’s it gonna take to bring him down? How about some heroes? A few of them flew out from production in Georgia to say hello and take in D23 Expo. Coming out there’s no end to them: Paul Bettany (Vision), Elizabeth Olson (Scarlet Witch), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Dave Bautista (Drax the Destroyer), Don Cheadle (War Machine), Anthony Mackie (Falcon), Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange, huge cheer), Tom Holland (Spider-Man), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man)! We stood and clapped and cheered, then sat down, only to stand and clap and cheer as the next person showed up. I yelled over the cheering to Busy Bumble, “Why are we still trying to sit down? We should just stand!”
They also had some footage to show us: Thor being rescued by the Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Parker on a school bus as his spidey-sense raises the hairs on his arm, Gamora crying in a ruined location, the best mish-mash of comic book characters in battle (Dr. Strange alongside Iron Man!), bearded Captain America (how is it that you’re hot no matter how dirty you get?), an injured Spider-Man apologizing to Tony Stark, and Thanos pulling something like a moon from the atmosphere with the power of the Infinity Gauntlet. Cheers and applause! I’m so psyched for this! Busy Bumble is lamenting that she still hasn’t seen the last 15 minutes of Doctor Strange so she needs to fix that before this movie comes out.
This marked the end of the live action film presentation. I was short of breath from the exhilaration and adrenaline. I’ve never been so starstruck in my life or so blown away by what amounts to a giant sales pitch. This was worth it. Busy Bumble said she regretted nothing since this far exceeded what she expected. She thought she’d only be interested in LucasFilm, but she was engaged with each new film presented. It’s a lot to live up to but if anyone can do it it’s Disney.
We thought we’d get our consolation prize from management and snag an Oprah-bestowed poster quickly. Then it became apparent what our consolation prize was: Disneyland Park Hopper tickets for any day including peak days, good until 2019! A few people brought up that they had Annual Passes, like we do. The understanding manager said the passes were transferable so we could give them to friends or family (a few even whispered they could sell them). So we’ve got two free tickets to Disneyland? Any takers? This was a surprising and generous gesture from Disney. Like yesterday, they went above and beyond what would have been a sufficient remedy and regained all of our goodwill. Later in th day word would spread that we’d received the passes and while many were jealous all seemed to agree that it was at the very least a wonderful gesture and at best a valuable gift from a company grateful for our loyalty.
Naturally I don’t have any pictures from inside the presentation, but in our next installment I’ll have quite a few more: Day 2- Get Ready For Playstation Controller Thumb Injuries!