D23 Expo 2013: Marvel, Muppets, Maleficent, and Mary Poppins

Disney chairman Alan Horn at D23 Expo
Disney chairman Alan Horn greets D23 fans at the studio’s live-action presentation.

Fans started lining up before sunrise in front of the Anaheim convention center on Saturday, August 10, just to get a glimpse of some of the films in the works from the Walt Disney Studios. During a presentation titled “Let the Adventures Begin: Live Action at the Walt Disney Studios,” audiences got to view exclusive footage from the studio’s most highly anticipated productions and see some of Hollywood’s biggest stars live.

Disney’s treasure trove of animation and artistic inspiration were a running theme throughout much of the Disney presentation. Of course, there’s more to come from the Marvel universe, but we’ve also got a new version of Cinderella to look forward to and a twist on Sleeping Beauty in Maleficent. Although technically not a fully animated film, Mary Poppins and its rocky road to the screen are the subject of Saving Mr. Banks. And let’s not forget the influence of the park itself, which provides the background for Tomorrowland from writer-director Brad Bird and writer Damon Lindelof.

Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, and Tom Hiddleston at D23 Expo
Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, and Tom Hiddleston chatting with Marvel head Kevin Feige about the next Thor film.

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige kicked off the first presentation of the day by showing a trailer for Thor: The Dark World and introducing star Tom Hiddleston (who had appeared on the same stage just the day before at the studio’s animation presentation). Hiddleston apologized for not showing up in costume as he did at Comic-Con a few weeks ago, but to make up for it he brought fellow cast members Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins out to join him on stage. In a clip from the film, we got to see Jane Foster in Asgard, surrounded by scientists who are trying to figure out how to save her from a mysterious illness.

The next Marvel film showcased was Captain America: Winter Soldier, due in March of 2014. Steve Rogers himself, Chris Evans, appeared to talk more about the film, along with co-stars Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes) and Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson). Evans talked about how Cap is coping with the gray areas of morality in the modern world and Stan warned that Bucky is back to make trouble for his best friend. In an unfinished action scene from the film, we saw Cap jumping out of a plane without a parachute, landing on a ship, and beating up some guards. Intense, but fun.

Lastly from Marvel we got a preview of Guardians of the Galaxy, another comic-book adaptation that looks like it will hold its own with the best of them, and a brief teaser for the next Avengers movie Avengers: Age of Ultron. These teasers were the same ones shown at Comic-Con in July, but they energized the crowd just the same. It doesn’t look like Disney’s streak of great Marvel films will be ending any time soon.

After a slightly awkward segue from Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn, there was a presentation about the next Disney Nature film, Bears. If your family likes baby bears, you won’t want to miss this one. Cute, and appropriate for all ages.

Ty Burrell at D23 Expo
Muppets Most Wanted star Ty Burrell arrived in a tiny Interpol car from the film.

Moving on, it was time for Sean Bailey, Disney’s President of Live-Action Production, to introduce the slate of upcoming films from Disney proper.

After some hilarious footage from the upcoming Muppets film The Muppets Most Wanted, Ty Burrell arrived on stage in a mini Interpol car like the one he drives in the film. Muppets fans were also treated to a live feed from the set of the film with Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog, and Tina Fey. Finally, there was a complete scene from the film featuring Ricky Gervais and a Russian jewel thief who looks exactly like Kermit and is trying to impersonate him. They have a musical number together about their criminal partnership.

Speaking of musicals, another Broadway musical adaptation hits the big screen in December of 2014, Into the Woods. Rob Marshall (Chicago) directs this star-studded feature, with a cast that cast includes Meryl Streep as the Witch, Johnny Depp as the Big Bad Wolf, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Chris Pine as the Prince, and Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife.

Angelina Jolie at D23 Expo
Angelina Jolie talks about playing the title villain in Maleficent.

The company’s other big-screen Cinderella was the next feature on the agenda. Via satellite, director Kenneth Branagh showed off some of the concept art, including Cinderella’s dress and a pumpkin carriage. He said that the film will take audiences into a world where dreams come true. Sounds like he’s got the Disney script down already.

Then it was on to Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie as the wicked sorceress from Sleeping Beauty. The movie will show her entire life story and reveal her motivation for cursing Princess Aurora, played by Elle Fanning. Bailey then introduced Maleficent herself, Angelina Jolie. She talked about what drew her to the character and the film, including the fact that director Robert Stromberg came from the world of production design. She said that her own daughter plays young Aurora in the film because she was the only child who wasn’t scared of her in her full costume and makeup. In a clip from the film we saw the moment when Maleficent first curses baby Aurora to fall into a deep sleep on her 16th birthday. Dark and a bit scary, but very slick.

Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird at D23 Expo
Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird discover a hidden blueprint from a mystery box connected to Tomorrowland.

From Fantasyland to Tomorrowland, the next film in the presentation is based on the development of that particular part of Disneyland. Taking inspiration from a black box found in the Disney archives labeled “1952”, the story will center around an inventor played by George Clooney who is somehow connected to the construction of Tomorrowland. Bird and Lindelof opened up a box on stage with clues about the film, including a mock-up photograph of Walt Disney and Amelia Earhart, an issue of Amazing Stories magazine from 1928, a bit of cardboard which reveals a secret message in the magazine, a blueprint of the original Small World with another blueprint hidden underneath, and finally a data disc containing some animated footage about the great achievements of mankind. It’s an interesting puzzle, though not enough to distract from the fact that no actual concrete details about the film’s story were revealed. They’re playing this one very close to the vest.

The very last film previewed for the audience was Saving Mr. Banks, the true story of how Walt Disney convinced reluctant and notoriously prickly author P.L. Travers to give him the rights to her Mary Poppins novels. Tom Hanks stars as Disney and Emma Thompson plays Travers. In the first bit of footage from the film we see musical composers the Sherman brothers (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) and screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) greeting Travers as she pulls up in front of Disney Studios to meet with Disney. She grumbles all the way to his office and seems immune to his charms as he pleads with her to share her creation with him. In a second scene, Walt takes her around Disneyland and even convinces her to ride the carousel, winning him a $20 bet. The film looks like a lot of fun, and Hanks and Thompson have a great dynamic. It’s no spoiler that they two work out their differences in the end (after all, Mary Poppins did eventually make it to the screen), but it should be interesting to see how it develops.

Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak at D23 Expo
Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak were thrilled to play the famous Sherman brothers in Saving Mr. Banks.

On stage, the real Richard Sherman joined his fictional counterpart Schwartzman, as well as Novak, and the three of them talked a bit about the music before introducing a third clip. This one showed more of Travers being critical of the film, the casting of Dick Van Dyke, and the made up words in “Chim Chimney.” The visual punchline to this scene is Richard hiding the sheet music for “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

The presentation ended on a celebratory note, with the entire audience joining in a chorus of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” as dancers with kites moved up and down the aisles and bursts of confetti rained down on the audience.

Amidst all this excitement, it’s worth noting that there was only one disappointment, but it major enough to elicit audible cries of “Boo!” from the audience. Star Wars fans hoping for information, even a tiny morsel, about the upcoming Episode VII film in the works with J.J. Abrams at the helm walked away empty handed. But the film currently has a release date of 2015, just in time for the next D23 Expo, as well as the Disney-sponsored Star Wars Celebration convention, so there should be plenty to talk about then.

For more on what to expect from the animation division, be sure to check out GeekMom’s full coverage of that presentation as well.

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