Meet the Puppets and Animators on the Set of Mickey and Friends Trick or Treats

By Bruce C. Steele

In a nondescript building not far from the freeway in Burbank, California, Mickey Mouse and friends are hard at work, acting out Halloween antics in a studio where 10 or 11 scenes can be shot at the same time. Fortunately, there are four or more Mickeys to go around, each one just 6 or 7 inches tall with replaceable faces and detachable ears.

Mickey Mouse with no face? It sounds a little like a horror movie, but really it’s just a normal, crazy-busy day at Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, the stop-motion animation company behind last year’s Mickey Saves Christmas and the new Mickey and Friends Trick or Treats, coming October 1 to Disney Channel, Disney Junior, and Disney XD and the next day on Disney+ and Hulu.

“We’re all just stop-motion nerds here,” says David Brooks, the director and producer of these distinctly delightful Disney specials. With so much animation going on at the same time, he adds, “it’s a well-oiled circus.”

Mickey and Friends Trick or Treats begins early on Halloween night, when Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck, and Daisy Duck are already in their costumes, ringing doorbells and collecting treats. When Donald insists that the gang also knock on the door of Witch Hazel’s spooky mansion, the trick turns out to be on them, as the irritated witch transforms them into the creatures depicted by their costumes. Lucky Daisy (voiced by Debra Wilson) gets to be a princess, but Mickey (voiced by Bret Iwan) becomes a three-eyed, blue-furred (and kind of cute) Mickey monster. Donald (voiced by Disney Legend Tony Anselmo) keeps his beak but otherwise becomes a frog prince, while Goofy (voiced by Disney Legend Bill Farmer) transforms into a floating, transparent ghost.

The stop-motion puppet representing Minnie Mouse, in the form of the six-legged Spider Minnie, is suspended in the air in front of an elaborate camera setup. Behind her is the miniature set for Witch Hazel’s attic.

On one set at Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, animator Sarah Tejeda is working with the fifth member of the gang, affectionately referred to as “Spider Minnie,” an adorable arachnid with Minnie’s head and six high-heeled shoes on her spindly legs. In this scene, Minnie (voiced by Kaitlyn Robrock) is hovering above the floor of Witch Hazel’s attic, looking at another not-too-scary monster outside the window. “Our characters are always defying gravity,” Brooks quips.

To finish that one shot of “Spider Minnie” could take two or three days, assuming it’s about six or seven seconds long, Brooks explains later. That’s how long it takes to prep the dollhouse-like scale-model scenery—built in the several months before production—and to set up the many lights, then animate the characters performing—each movement created a few millimeters at a time, 12 frames per second. (This is called animating “on twos,” since film speed is typically 24 frames a second.)

It’s a patience-testing, painstaking process, but it generates a dimensional, tactile storytelling unlike any other kind of animation. “There is an intangible, magical quality to stop-motion that’s hard to describe,” Brooks says. “We talk a lot about how it shows the artists’ fingerprint—not a physical fingerprint, like we might see in clay, but the craftsmanship of everything that’s handmade.”

Ethan Marak, the animation director for Mickey and Friends Trick or Treats, holds a Spider Minnie puppet in his right hand and a replacement face for the puppet in his left hand. He is wearing glasses and a blue denim shirt and is looking down at the puppet. A computer, monitors, lighting, and other studio equipment can be seen behind him.

Almost everything seen on set is modeled virtually with 3-D computer graphics during a development phase, but while some elements of the sets and parts of the puppets are 3-D printed, everything has to be hand-painted and some puppets and set pieces are hand-fabricated. Minuscule costumes have to be sewn—and in the case of Daisy’s princess gown, for example, each teeny crystal is glued on by hand. For the mouth positions and eye shapes necessary to allow the puppets to speak and express emotions, “face kits” are put together: boxes that look like fishing tackle containers, each containing about a dozen replacement faces that are used again and again, held in place on the puppets’ heads by tiny magnets. (In the photo above, animation director Ethan Marak demonstrates how to change the face on the “Spider Minnie” puppet.)

Jenny Hogan, the lead supervisor of the puppet department, works out of a small room with a sign over the door reading “Puppet Hospital.” Inside are two worktables and metal shelves lined with boxes labeled with character names: “Daisy Princess #2,” “Donald Costume #3,” and so on. Hogan pulls out one of the Donald-as-frog-prince puppets to demonstrate its poseable fingers, as opposed to having rigid fingers animated by subbing in replacement hands, like most of the other puppets. But something about the puppet looks… off. “He looks a little creepy without his face on,” Hogan explains, since Donald’s “face kit” is stored separately.

Should a puppet break during a shoot, Hogan sends out Baylee Wallace, whose title is “puppet wrangler” but whom everyone just calls the “puppet doctor.” In most cases, Wallace can have a character repaired and back in action in short order.

In a close-up image of a stop-motion set, Ghost Goofy is seen hovering over a wall in a graveyard. He has his hands raised in an effort to frighten the two skeleton men on either side of him. The skeletons are both dressed in shirts and jeans. The skeleton on the right is leaning against the cemetery wall, playing a banjo, while the skeleton on the left has jumped up so quickly that his head has come off. The missing skull is nowhere to be seen.

Every character in Mickey and Friends Trick or Treats is a physical puppet, animated frame by frame on the sets at Stoopid Buddy Stoodios—even the glowing, transparent “Ghost Goofy,” who floats around his more-solid friends. The visual trick was accomplished by painting the character with a bluish fluorescent paint and shooting duplicate images of each frame in which he appears, one with regular lighting and one lit with just UV light, which makes Goofy glow in the surrounding darkness. In post-production, the shimmering Goofy is overlaid on top of the Goofy in the normally lit shot, then a third image of the background behind Goofy is added to make him appear transparent. It’s a trick, certainly—one of many in this hauntingly hilarious Halloween tale—but it’s still stop-motion animation. That’s also true of the green smoke that Witch Hazel conjures more than once: It’s basically fiber fill—aka, pillow stuffing—painted green and rigged for frame-by-frame animation.

Like Mickey Saves Christmas, this holiday special thrums with original songs, this time composed by Beau Black, a regular contributor of tunes for Disney Junior shows. Parents should be ready for their kids to adopt the catchy hooks from “Fright Night,” “Alone on Halloween,” and “Friends Like You Make Halloween” as their theme songs for the rest of the autumn.

David Brooks, the director and producer of Mickey and Friends Trick or Treat, stands next to a wooden worktable topped with black fabric. On the table sits a group of the stop-motion puppets from the Halloween special. The puppets include Witch Hazel and five Disney characters in Halloween costumes: Mickey Mouse as a blue monster, Minnie Mouse as a spider, Daisy Duck as a princess, Donald Duck as a frog prince, and Goofy as a ghost. Behind the puppet display is a poster for the show and an enlarged print of a still image from the special, depicting the Disney characters trick-or-treating on a street.

After touring the many stages with a group of journalists—with stops in a couple of graveyards, a “cauldron room” (every witch needs one!), a library, and other frightful locations, each set seemingly more elaborate and more impossibly detailed than the last—Brooks addresses the obvious question: Why go through so much trouble for 20-some minutes of family fun? “It’s difficult and challenging work,” he says, “but it’s a fun challenge. It all comes down to the story and finding the best way—not the most efficient way—to tell it. It’s the best way to tell this story with the talents that we have.”

An Animated Behind-the-Scenes Look at ESPN’s Toy Story Funday Football

By Zach Johnson

ESPN, The Walt Disney Company, and the National Football League are teaming up for Toy Story Funday Football, a first-of-its-kind presentation featuring beloved characters from Pixar Animation Studios. This Sunday at 9:30 a.m. ET, fans can immerse themselves in a fully-animated offering on Disney+, ESPN+, and on mobile with the NFL+ app when the Atlanta Falcons and the Jacksonville Jaguars game at London’s Wembley Stadium is recreated live in Andy’s room, one of the film’s iconic settings. This special presentation marks the latest in ESPN’s innovation strategy, providing alternate telecasts in key events.

Andy’s room will replicate the on-the-field gameplay from Wembley Stadium—host of the NFL International Series game—where each Falcons and Jaguars player will have an animated representation on a familiar-looking field, modified for the Toy Story setting. Fans will see all of the football-related action through state-of-the-art tracking technology enabled by the NFL’s Next Gen Stats player tracking data and Beyond Sports. In addition to the gameplay, other aspects—including the announcers Drew Carter (play-by-play), Booger McFarland (analyst), and Pepper Persley (reporter); the graphics; the scoreboard; the penalty announcements; and more—will embrace the Toy Story-themed presentation in their packaging and delivery. Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Bo Peep, Jessie, Bullseye, Bunny, Ducky, Forky, and other characters from the acclaimed animated franchise will be visible throughout, participating from the sidelines and in other non-gameplay elements. And, during the special Halftime Show, daredevil Duke Caboom will attempt a motorcycle jump!

This pioneering NFL presentation is made possible by ESPN, ESPN’s Edge Innovation Center, The Walt Disney Company, NFL, Pixar, Next Gen Stats, Beyond Sports, and Silver Spoon. ESPN and Disney’s Toy Story alternate telecast complements the primary game presentation of the Falcons and Jaguars’ Week 4 matchup available on ESPN+, local broadcast stations in the markets of the participating teams, and on mobile with NFL+. In the U.S., a replay will be available shortly after the game ends on Disney+ and NFL+ (for a limited time). Globally, Toy Story Funday Football will be available in over 95 markets live and/or on replay. Video on Demand will be available 24 hours after the live broadcast ends.

Before Toy Story Funday Football streams this weekend, Michael “Spike” Szykowny, Senior Director, ESPN Creative Studio, shared an inside look at how the presentation comes to life.

D23: ESPN’s NHL Big City Greens Classic—which aired on ESPN+, Disney Channel, Disney XD, and Disney+ in March—was the first live, animated NHL game telecast. What lessons from that special presentation did you implement for Toy Story Funday Football?
Michael “Spike” Szykowny: Rather than start from scratch, as we’d done with Big City Greens, we built upon it. From the Beyond Sports point of view, the characters are now football players instead of hockey players. What improvements could we make there? How could we make the environment—Andy’s room—even more interesting? We knew how to do the mocap [motion-capture] characters, but Silver Spoon said, “Let’s take what we did and build on it.” We added a third person, Pepper. And then in the game presentation, the Toy Story brand is so iconic that there was a lot more for us to build upon in the animation package. So, we took the playbook of Big City Greens—which had great 2D animations, by the way—and we built upon it even more. Taking the lessons learned from the NHL Big City Greens Classic—starting 50% up from where we were last time—really helped us out.

D23: What made Toy Story the right IP to incorporate in an ESPN alternate presentation?
Spike: We sat around in a room brainstorming until somebody said, “What about Toy Story?” Everybody looked around at each other and said, “Yeah, that’d be awesome!” We looked into it, and there’s research to prove how powerful the Toy Story brand is with a lot of different age groups. It just resonates with everybody, so it was a great property to use.

D23: You’re fully animating Drew, Booger, and Pepper—and their body movements—via motion-capture technology. How are they adjusting to this added production element?
Spike: Drew’s done one with us, and he’s great. I do believe this is going to be the first time for Booger and Pepper to wear a mocap suit. We learned during the Big City Greens telecast, for example, that you have to watch where you place the hockey stick; you can get an occultation that intersects with the other characters, so you have to be careful. But ultimately, once they’re in their mocap suits, we practice quite a bit to make sure that the movements feel good. We’ll run through it in order to find out what they can and can’t do.

D23: From a technological standpoint, how are you animating the gameplay in real-time?
Spike: The principle is the same as before. We’re using tracking chips on the players and a tracking chip in the ball. Some of the bigger differences from last time are that hockey’s only six people per team on the field at the same time, and it’s almost constant motion. Football has 22 players on the field, and there is downtime between each play. With hockey, everyone kind of skates the same way and takes a shot the same way; they’re the same motions. With football, you have so many variations: a lineman acts totally differently than a quarterback does, and a running back acts totally differently than a receiver does. It’s a little more challenging to make everybody do what they need to do [in animation]. And, honestly, this has never been done before—combining the single-point tracking with the optical link tracking. But Beyond Sports has a lot of very smart people working on this.

D23: What a fun and unique opportunity to work with another segment of The Walt Disney Company.!Can you explain how the graphics package was designed with the Pixar team?
Spike: First of all, I can’t stress enough how wonderful [Franchise Creative Director] Jay Ward, [Franchise Marketing Manager] Brian Tanaka, [Marketing Coordinator] Catalina Hosokawa, and everybody from Pixar has been. We have two IPs, Toy Story and the NFL,  and we have to be respectful of both of them. And that’s the balancing act, right? Pixar has been great to work with. They’ve told us what we can and can’t do. They’ve supplied us with some elements to get us started. The ESPN Creative Studio animation team is doing all of the animating past the stuff they gave us. Pixar gave us clips in a tool kit, and then we took those clips and said, “OK, Woody and Jessie are dancing. When would that happen in the game? Oh, on the sidelines after a touchdown!” So, then we had to build the correct background and put them in the correct environment. After a team scores a touchdown, we can cut to that clip, and it looks like because of the touchdown, Woody and Jessie are dancing on the sidelines. That’s sort of the magic behind it. We’re also doing the Duke Kaboom daredevil spectacular at Halftime—which is a brainchild of our group—and Pixar loved the idea. Even though we’re animating the entire piece, we got to work with the animator who actually did the animation for the movie [2019’s Toy Story 4]. It’s been a great collaboration overall. We want to be respectful of their IP. They know what we’re trying to get done, so we all meet in the middle and do whatever we can to make it work.

An aerial view of the Toy Story Funday Football field in Andy's room.

D23: What do you hope young fans and families take away from this alternate presentation?x
Spike: Alternative broadcasts are a great way for audience expansion. The world has changed a lot, and people have a lot of different things going on. Traditional sports games are still super compelling, but how do you reach the casual fan? After Big City Greens, I had so many people say, “My kid would never sit down and watch hockey, but because of how you presented it, they sat there for the whole game.” That’s the way the world is going. To be relative and to continue to expand our audience, we need to find new ways in. These alternate presentations are great. The ManningCast is another great example, right? You have these two amazing, Super Bowl-winning brothers giving you an inside look at football.

D23: Is it safe to assume other alternate presentations of this kind are in development?
Spike: Absolutely. A lot of sports are interested in doing this. With the NHL, we scratched the surface a little bit; it opened a lot of people’s eyes. The difference is the NHL one was a little bit more under the radar for us. I think once everybody saw that, it was like, “Oh! This is pretty cool.” Now it’s like, “OK, how can we expand this out?” These aren’t easy to do. It’s a lot of work and they’re time consuming; a lot of goes into it. The bigger the hype, the bigger the sport, are more challenges to overcome. But I think the plan is to try and do these on a regular basis where they make sense and where they can make the most impact.

D23: How would you summarize your experiencing working on Toy Story Funday Football?
Spike: It’s super exhilarating, but at the same time, it’s exhausting! [Laughs] It’s been so exciting to see it all come together, knowing we still have a few challenges ahead. If anything’s too easy, it just doesn’t feel as rewarding. I think every great project has those moments that test your mettle, right? You’ll often wonder, “Are we going to be able to do this or not?” And then you figure out a way to do it. I think that’s the fun of the challenge.

The Creator Director Gareth Edwards’ Unique Take on the Future

20th Century Studios’ The Creator, in theaters today, is an epic sci-fi action thriller set amidst a future war between the human race and the forces of artificial intelligence (AI). Directed, produced, and co-written (with Chris Weitz) by acclaimed filmmaker Gareth Edwards, the story is eerily prescient in that it grapples with questions about what it means to be human, whether humans should embrace or fear AI, and whether the two can coexist. “I’ve always been interested in those sorts of questions,” Edwards says. “My favorite science fiction films always have meat on the bone. The genre takes in aspects of the world and twists them slightly, and so it certainly makes you question all your beliefs and previous assumptions.”

The Creator is set in the year 2070, after AI has decimated the city of Los Angeles. Western governments respond by wholly banning AI, while Eastern nations continue to develop the technology to the point where robots have become sentient and embraced as equals. The story picks up when Joshua (John David Washington), a hardened ex-special forces agent grieving his missing wife, Maya (Gemma Chan), is recruited to hunt down and kill the Creator, the elusive architect of advanced AI who created a mysterious weapon with the power to end the war—and mankind itself. Joshua and his team of elite operatives cross enemy lines, into the AI-occupied territory, only to discover that the world-ending weapon he’s been instructed to destroy is AI in the form of a child, Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles).

In a jungle, a trio of futuristic-looking police helicopters overhead and a trio of police officers on foot surround Colonel Howell, played by Allison Janney, in The Creator.

To bring Edwards’ vision of the future to life, the production traveled more than 10,000 miles to 80 different locations across Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, the U.K., and the U.S. “I wanted it to feel as realistic as possible—not use green screen, not use motion capture suits, but go to real villages and temples all around the world and shoot the actual journey the characters go on,” Edwards says. “When you do that, you don’t want to delete everything you’re seeing, because it’s so rich, beautiful, interesting, and sort of alien, in a way. You want to let the world into the shots. Something I learned from [Disney Legend] George Lucas is that you want to change about 25% at most and let the rest stay as is. We tried to keep the sets open as well; we didn’t close the roads or the beaches. We let villagers come and go. It’s not a documentary, but it has a naturalism to it.”

Rather than design the film up front, Edwards­—who spent the first decade of his career as a visual effects artist—took the unconventional approach of saving the post-production design work until after filming had wrapped. “It’s actually way easier to do it backwards,” Edwards explains. “Here’s my bad analogy: People normally make a film by painting a target on a wall. Then, they stand back with a bow and arrow and try to hit a bullseye—and they usually miss. What I was trying to do was stand back, fire an arrow at a wall, and wherever it hit, paint a bullseye around that and make it look perfect. To do that, we shot lots and lots of material. The first cut was about five hours, but then we could edit the movie without caring about the effects or the design. It allowed us to see the most beautiful things that worked the best. Once you’re there, you can start to design the film.”

In the foreground, AI wearing a red monk-like robe looks into the distance. In the background, a futuristic space ship in the clouds emits two beams of blue light into a valley.

Admittedly, after Edwards finished directing Lucasfilm’s Rogue One: A Story Wars Story (2016), he became “kind of obsessed with camera technology”—and that obsession led him and director of photography Greig Fraser to develop a revolutionary lightweight camera system for The Creator that has multiple configurations, allowing them to shoot on the go and still deliver a high-resolution image. “This camera can shoot at 12,800 ISO, so you can see in moonlight,” Edwards says. “With a camera this sensitive, you can use very small lights to light your scenes.” This meant the LED lights didn’t need to be affixed to giant, heavy equipment that often required hours to set up and later rearrange. Instead, the best boy would simply hold the light on a pole (much like a sound recordist would hold a microphone)—and as the actors would move around, the lighting would instantly adapt. “We had to do a little test to prove it to the studio,” Edwards says, laughing, “because obviously it sounds a little crazy.” After Industrial Light & Magic polished Edwards’ test footage (“They were surprised by how efficient it is”), New Regency greenlit The Creator.

Edwards’ big bet paid off, with critics calling The Creator “breathtaking” (Forbes), “a masterpiece” (Screenrant), and “the best sci-fi film of the past decade” ( With the film now playing in theaters, Edwards hopes it will inspire audiences to ask themselves the very same questions that inspired him to write and direct it. “I think we’ve all got it wrong. We spend 99% of our lives worrying about food and money and nonsense,” he says. “Now and again, you’ll have a drink with a friend, and you end up chatting about the universe. Films are great opportunities to take those really profound ideas and put them in a story in a way that won’t overwhelm you but will make you think.”

8 Fascinating Facts About the Making of The Creator

By Emily Hewitt

Director, producer, and co-writer Gareth Edwards went through quite the filmmaking process to make the sci-fi action thriller The Creator. The film, set against a future war between a human military and AI robots, is about ex-special forces agent Joshua (John David Washington), who is recruited to hunt down the Creator, the architect of advanced AI who has developed a weapon with the power to end the war and mankind itself. Instead of the formidable weapon he expects, Joshua discovers an AI robot in the form of a young child, whom he dubs Alphie (Madeleine Yuna Voyles). He soon comes to believe Alphie holds the secret to a tragedy from his own past, which takes him on a journey between their two worlds.

In anticipation of the film opening September 29, only in theaters, here are eight facts you didn’t know about The Creator:

1. Gareth Edwards got the idea for the plot when driving by a factory.
After finishing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), the director took a break by going on a four-day road trip to his girlfriend’s home state of Iowa. Not expecting to think of any film ideas on this trip, he simply put on his headphones and looked out the window. That’s when he saw a factory with a Japanese-looking logo on it, situated amid the tall grass and farmland.

“I wondered, ‘What they’re doing in there? Oh, maybe it’s robots or something cool,’” Edwards recalled during a recent press conference. “And then I was thinking, ‘Oh, imagine being a robot built in a factory and you step outside the factory for the first time.’”

The idea took ahold of his imagination, and by the time he got to his girlfriend’s parents’ house, he had the basics of the whole movie mapped out.

2. An open casting call found the young actress who plays Alphie.
After seeing hundreds of kids from around the world who sent in audition tapes to the open casting for Alphie during the pandemic, Edwards met with Madeleine Yuna Voyles. At her in-person audition, he said, “We were just trying not to cry. It was so emotional and brilliant. And I just thought, ‘Okay, this is too good to be true.’… And I got paranoid that it was a one-off thing and it would never happen again.” To challenge the young performer, “I invented this other scene and she did something even more heart-grabbing. And I was just like, ‘Okay, this is it. This is our kid.’”

3. Certain scenes were purposely held until the end of the shooting schedule.
Edwards left the most emotional scenes until the end so Voyles could build a strong relationship with Washington. “Madeleine’s a very quiet, shy girl,” Edwards said. “It’s really hard to become her friend. I tried the entire movie, and I think she let me a little bit in, but not fully. But [John David] cracked the code and became like a big brother to her—and her best friend.”

The two were “inseparable,” Edwards said. After wrapping a take, when Washington would walk off set looking for some quiet time alone—“trying to keep in that headspace before you do the next take”—Voyles would simply “run after him, hold his hand, and start talking about a toy she really likes. And he’s such a sweetheart, he’d go down to her level and start getting really excited about what she was saying.”

4. Many of the actors were local to the regions the film was shot in.
Many of the supporting performers and background actors seen in the film were from near where the shooting was taking place. In Nepal, people from a little town by the Buddhist temple were used as actors.

“Some of the kids agreed to shave their heads and play some of the robot monks,” Edwards said. “It was kind of surreal. They all got really excited about being in a Hollywood movie.”

Rather than shoot in a studio, against green screens, and then creating the sets and landscapes with pricey CG effects, Edwards decided it would be more cost-effective—and more visually compelling—to film on location in Asia. The production visited eight different countries, where they handpicked each location based on the scenery and the script needs.

“We cherry-picked: the volcanoes of Indonesia, Buddhist temples in the Himalayas, ruins of Cambodia, and floating villages,” Edwards said, listing just a few of the film’s many stunning locales.

5. Edwards creates a visual bible for each of his films.
Edwards said his favorite moments in cinema are the “things that are nonverbal, like music and sound design and cinematography.” So, for his own films, he creates a visual bible for these elements that don’t always stand out in a script. This also helps people he brings onto the film to understand his artistic vision better.

“For each scene in the movie, there’s a stack of imagery [I’ve put together] that’s like, this is what this scene is going to feel like,” Edwards said. “And then there’s music. I create a playlist of music”—existing recordings that capture the mood of each scene.

6. Instruments from Asia were used to make composer and Disney Legend Hans Zimmer sound less like himself.
“I really wanted it to feel like if someone played this soundtrack not knowing anything, they might not guess it was Hans Zimmer,” Edwards said—an idea Zimmer and his collaborator, Steve Mazzaro, loved. The resulting score was inspired in part by western themes, but “using instrumentation from Asia.”

7. AI is used as a metaphor for people different from you.
A big reason Edwards adores the science fiction genre, he said, is that “when you change some aspect of the world… suddenly a lot of the things you thought were true start to not work and be wrong. It makes you question what your beliefs are. And I think that’s the best kind of science fiction.”

For The Creator, reality started to catch up to the fiction while the film was in production. “We were using AI as a kind of metaphor for people who are different to yourself,” Edwards said. “But then obviously in the last year or so, [AI has] become quite a reality. It’s gotten very surreal.”

8. Edwards has no plans for a sequel.
“I really like endings,” he said. “My favorite part of a story is how it ends. It’s like the best part of a joke is the punchline. And so, when I’m trying to figure out a story, I’m always working backwards from the end to try and get it to [reach] this climax [I’ve envisioned] as much as possible. Everything sort of leads to that moment. So this [story] is self-contained.”

Of course, one can never say never in Hollywood. “It’d be a high-class problem to have the studio come up and tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, Gareth, you gotta think of something. We need a sequel,’” he said. “But that’s not on my agenda. So… fingers crossed.”

Your Guide to Surprising Secrets About Disney: Weird But True! Disney

By Jocelyn Buhlman

Disney has long been known for its wonder, fantasy, and fun—but behind the scenes lie some truly weird and wonderful facts that will surprise and delight even the most dedicated Disney fans.

National Geographic Kids bestselling Weird But True! series pulls back the curtain at the House of Mouse to share some of the quirky, lesser-known facts that add an extra layer of enchantment to Disney’s films, parks, and experiences.

Uncover the mystery at the top of Disneyland’s Matterhorn, what Mickey’s first words were, how many balloons it would really take to lift Carl’s house in Up, and more.

Now the next time you visit a Disney park or watch a movie, you’ll be able to share some weird but true facts with your friends and family.

National Geographic Kids Weird But True! Disney was released on September 26, 2023, and is available wherever books are sold. Learn more here!

5 Fantastic Things to Watch This Weekend Presented by State Farm®

By Courtney Potter

Not only is it the end of September—honestly, how did that happen?!—but we’re heading into a truly auspicious month: October, when The Walt Disney Company officially celebrates its incredible 100th anniversary (do join us for our Royal Anniversary Ball; click here!) with all manner of fun and frolic featuring an extra special dash of magic. But until that time, why not while away the hours with some fresh, amazing content from around the worlds of Disney? Charismatic new filmmakers; a few refreshers to get you ready for the return of a certain God of Mischief; a brand-new way to watch football; and so much more…

In an image from the Launchpad episode “Beautiful, FL,” a young girl named Omara (Dariana Alvarez) is peering over the side of her bunk bed at something off camera. Her hair is pulled up in a bun, and her head is resting on her folded arms. There are curtains that surround the entrance to the bed, and a door can be seen to the right.

Disney’s Launchpad—Season 2 now streaming on Disney+
Disney’s Launchpad Season 2 is a collection of live-action shorts from a new generation of dynamic filmmakers. This season showcases six writers, five directors, and one writer-director from underrepresented backgrounds who were given the opportunity to share their perspectives and creative visions. Continuing the first season’s goal—which was to diversify the types of stories that are being told by giving access to those who historically have not had it— Launchpad Season 2 is proud to present six new shorts for Disney+ based on the theme of “connection.”

In an image from Season 2 of Loki on Disney+, Tom Hiddleston as the God of Mischief is seen three times—wearing a ‘’70s-era tuxedo, complete with frilly-chested button-down shirt and a wide bow tie.

Marvel Studios Legends—new episodes now streaming on Disney+
Marvel Studios Legends serves as a refresher for the various heroes and villains making their way to the highly anticipated series premiering on Disney+, setting the stage for all their incredible upcoming adventures… In anticipation of Loki, Season 2, two new episodes are now streaming to get you up to speed: You’ll find out everything you need to know about Variants, and explore the mysterious origins of the TVA.

In an image from Disney Branded Television’s Hailey’s On It!, Hailey (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) and Scott (voiced by Manny Jacinto) are grabbing handfuls of credit cards from inside a cardboard box labeled “Top Secret” and “Keep Out.” Hailey is wearing blue jean overalls, a red and white long-sleeved T-shirt, and red glasses; Scott is wearing a green T-shirt over a white long-sleeved shirt.

Hailey’s On It!—Friday, September 29, at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on Disney Channel and Disney XD
The episode’s two stories include: “Beta’s Gonna Hate,” where Beta (voiced by Gary Anthony Williams) suspects Alphred, a cleaning robot, is a chaos-bot spy—but Hailey (voiced by Auliʻi Cravalho) and Scott (voiced by Manny Jacinto) aren’t so sure; and “The A-maize-ing Maze,” in which Hailey and Beta ditch Scott to complete a complicated corn maze on their own.

In an image from Disney Branded Television’s Alice’s Wonderland Bakery, Alice (voiced by Libby Rue), left, and Fergie (voiced by Jack Stanton), right, are standing in a kitchen and both holding mixing bowls and whisks. Behind them is a larger-than-life standing mixer, as well as an oven to their right. Fergie, a bunny, is wearing large blue glasses.

Alice’s Wonderland Bakery—Saturday, September 30, at 7 p.m. ET/PT on Disney Junior
The episode’s tales include: “A Hare Raising Halloween,” in which Fergie (voiced by Jack Stanton) overcomes his fear of Halloween at the Palace’s holiday celebration; and “Fergie Turns the Tide,” where Fergie invites the Dodo Beach oysters to play at Cookie’s (voiced by Secunda Wood) fancy dinner.

In an image promoting Toy Story Funday Football, the logo for the event—which features the Toy Story franchise logo at top—is flanked by two animated football players; the one at left is dressed in a black uniform, for the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the one at right is dressed in white, for the Atlanta Falcons. Behind them is a wall covered in wallpaper that looks like a blue sky covered in white fluffy, animated clouds; beneath their feet is an animated version of astroturf.

Toy Story Funday Football—Sunday, October 1, at 9:30 a.m. ET on Disney+ and ESPN+
Are you ready to go to infinity and beyond for some football? ESPN, The Walt Disney Company, and the National Football League have collaborated on a first-of-its-kind NFL game presentation—where real-time action between the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars, live from London’s Wembley Stadium, will be experienced within Disney and Pixar’s iconic Toy Story universe! Andy’s room will replicate the on-the-field gameplay from Wembley, where each Falcon and Jaguar player will have animated representation on a traditional-looking field; meanwhile, fans will view every run, pass, score, and all football-related action through state-of-the-art tracking technology enabled by the NFL’s Next Gen Stats player-tracking data and Beyond Sports. Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and lots of other Toy Story faves will be visible throughout, cheering on from the sidelines and in other non-gameplay elements.

Everywhere You Can Find Jenna Ortega in the Worlds of Disney

By Emily Hewitt

From being an average middle child from a not-so-average-sized family to voicing a princess, Jenna Ortega has made several appearances in Disney shows and films. In honor of Hispanic & Latin American Heritage Month, here is a tally of Disney entertainment that Ortega, who is of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, has been featured in:

1. Stuck in the Middle
Being the middle child is never easy, especially in a family of seven children, or at least that’s what Harley Diaz (Jenna Ortega) would say. In this series, Harley must navigate the challenges of being part of a large family as she tries to stand out.  Watch her family learn that they can accomplish anything if they stick together in all 3 seasons of Stuck in the Middle on Disney+.

2. Iron Man 3
Before Ortega starred in Stuck in the Middle, she was the Vice President’s daughter in Iron Man 3. While Vice President Rodriguez (Miguel Ferrer) tries to overthrow the government with Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), he hopes Killian’s nanotechnology, Extremis, that rewrites DNA, can cure Ortega’s character of her disability. Watch the third installment of this epic Marvel trilogy on Disney+.

3. Bizaardvark
Bizaardvark follows best friends Paige (Olivia Rodrigo) and Frankie (Madison Hu) who get invited to produce videos at an influential studio after reaching 10,000 subscribers on their online comedy channel, Bizaardvark. But before Frankie and Paige were besties, Paige was friends with Izzy (Jenna Ortega). When Izzy comes to visit, Paige is jealous of how well Frankie and Izzy get along. Watch the drama unfold in the Season 2 episode “The BFF (Before Frankie Friend),” of this series on Disney+.

4. Elena of Avalor
Not only has Ortega been featured in live-action Disney shows, but she has also voiced animated characters. In Elena of Avalor, she voices Princess Isabel who must help her oldest sister, Princess Elena (Aimee Carrero), learn how to rule Avalor after their parents and kingdom were taken from them by evil sorceress, Shuriki. Watch all 3 seasons full of magical adventures on Disney+.

4. Big City Greens
Ortega lends her voice talents to the animated comedy-adventure series Big City Greens, which follows the offbeat adventures of Cricket Green, a mischievous and optimistic country boy who moves to the city with his wildly out of place family. Cricket’s natural curiosity and enthusiasm lead him and his family on epic journeys and into the hearts of his new neighbors. Ortega voices Gabriella Espinosa, a love interest and eventual girlfriend of Cricket. Watch this hit animated series on Disney+, in which Ortega’s character first appears in Season 1 Episode “Valentine’s Dance.”

Watch a New Wish Trailer and Learn How D23 Members Helped Inspire the Movie

By Bruce C. Steele

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ stunning new musical comedy, Wish, coming to theaters on November 22, is about the power of our most deeply held wishes to change the world—so it only made sense that the Studios asked D23 Members to share their wishes as inspiration.

In a one-on-one interview with D23 during a Hollywood press event for the film last week, Jennifer Lee, Chief Creative Officer, Walt Disney Animation Studios, described how the film’s creative team utilized D23 Members’ wishes to keep them inspired during the past year.

It all started at the WDAS booth at the D23 Expo in 2022—Members’ first chance to learn a little about the movie. Lee recalled, “People would come by to explore the booth, and we gave them a sticky note in the shape of a star and said, ‘Write your wish on it and put it on the wall’” where the movie’s title logo was displayed. Soon, she said, “the wishes surrounded the title, then they covered the title. The whole wall was just covered with people’s wishes. And we decided we should keep them.”

A few months later, “when we were in the final year of production, we started putting one wish up every day [on a wall in the Roy E. Disney Feature Animation Building] for people to connect with, to inspire us.” The range of wishes D23 Members shared, she said, “would get you emotional. Some are hoping for a sick person in their lives to be better. Some are adorable—like, ‘I want to be an animator.’ You could tell from the penmanship that some were young [people], some not so young—some beautiful wishes about us connecting in the world—and all over the place…. I remember when they started putting the first wish back up and now the wall is covered again. And we walk by it every day.”

The wall of wishes is a real-life version of the observatory in King Magnifico’s castle on the island of Rosas, where Wish takes place. There, the king (voiced by Chris Pine) keeps the most heartfelt wishes of all his adult subjects, each one kept in a glowing, floating globe with the promise that Magnifico, a powerful sorcerer, could well grant anyone’s wish at any time. When a bright 17-year-old girl named Asha (voiced by Ariana DeBose) asks Magnifico to grant her grandfather’s wish for his 100th birthday, however, she discovers that the king has no intention of granting most of the wishes—setting off a clash between Asha and Magnifico that will reshape the entire kingdom.

“This is our first original fairy tale,” Lee said. “It honors our 100-year legacy and celebrates the original storytelling that we’re going to keep pushing ourselves to do, driving our stories forward.”

Standing on the stage at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, in a line, are the top creative team from the Walt Disney Animation Studios feature Wish. They are (from left to right) producer Peter Del Vecho, director Fern Veerasunthorn, Walt Disney Animation Studios Chief Creative Officer and screenwriter Jennifer Lee, director Chris Buck, and producer Juan Pablo Reyes. Behind them are directors’ chairs and, barely visible, the logo for the film Wish.

At the press event in Disney’s El Capitan Theatre, Lee and the filmmaking team (above, from left, producer Peter Del Vecho, director Fawn Veerasunthorn, Lee, director Chris Buck, and producer Juan Pablo Reyes) shared more than 30 minutes of footage from the film, which also features a magical wishing Star whom Asha inadvertently brings down from the sky, a goat in pajamas who’s granted the power of speech, and a host of memorable human characters, from Asha’s teenage friends to Rosas’ wise queen.

The film has a rich and beautiful watercolor look—harkening back to Disney Animation’s earliest features, like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Pinocchio (1940)—recreated in CG form via lavish design work and technological breakthroughs that were years in the making. “We’re embracing our legacy along with moving toward the future,” Wish director Chris Buck told the gathered journalists, describing the movie’s “hand-drawn look, [via] computer.”

Walt Disney Animation Studios Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee stands with a microphone at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, talking about the upcoming feature film Wish. She is wearing glasses and a black suit coat jacket over a blue dress. The room is dark and a bit of the edge of the stage is visible behind her.

The goal, Lee said, was to translate the vision of the artists who create stunning watercolor concept paintings and backgrounds directly to the screen in a CG environment with no compromises. The intention, she told D23, is to “connect the artistry of our artists with the technology, to honor the past and get stronger and stronger as storytellers.”

The film is also chock-full of references to earlier Disney stories, from its sweeping themes of perseverance and possibility to its soaring, emotional songs by Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice to the tiniest visual details. The majestic old tree by the sea that serves as Asha’s “wishing tree,” for example, was inspired in part by Walt Disney’s Dreaming Tree at his boyhood farm in Marceline, Missouri. “There are so many nods in this movie to our legacy,” Buck said. “They are all over it. Every different department would put little moments in there or on a character or something in the background that will be nods to that legacy. It’s just who we are.”

The Q&A at the El Capitan also touched frequently on the how the legacy and values of Walt Disney Animation Studios had been passed from generation to generation among the studios’ artists—a tradition that continued on Wish with the teaming of veteran director Buck (Tarzan, Frozen, Frozen 2) with first-time director Fawn Veerasunthorn.

“Her very first film with us at Disney was Frozen, as a story artist,” Lee recounted. “And she had such passion that we watched her learn to speak up and fight for what she believed in. We watched her get stronger and stronger, not just as a storyteller, but an artist with vision—and then to step into this role. She’s done an amazing job, and the crew absolutely loves her.”

Such stories of determination and aspiration behind the scenes have also been reflected in the on-screen stories from Walt Disney Animation Studios over the past 100 years. “Walt really had a great sense of character,” Lee told D23. “He really excelled in creating very relatable, entertaining, fun characters”—a tradition Wish reflects in everyone from Asha to the villainous Magnifico, and from the magical Star to the hilarious Valentino, the goat (voiced by Alan Tudyk). Disney films, Lee continued, have always told “stories that resonate with people, that bring hope. Walt wasn’t afraid to tell stories that could go to dark places—as life does, as fairy tales do—but ultimately recognizing we’re here to bring hope and possibility. And I think of that all the time.”

A poster for the movie Wish depicts the head and shoulders of King Magnifico (voiced by Chris Pine) at the top, with his hands at shoulder level and sparking with green lightning to represent his magic. Below him is a circular image that depicts the Island of Rosas on the left and Asha’s wishing tree on the right, with the sea between them, where the sun in setting. At the center of the circle and the center of the poster is Asha (voiced by Ariana DuBose), standing on a rock with one arm raised, reaching for Star, a glowing gold rounded star-shaped character with a simple face hovering above her. Standing on the rock at her feet is her pet baby goat, Valentino (voiced by Alan Tudyk).

Celebrate the Series Premiere of The Golden Bachelor with Golden Discounts

By the D23 Team

After more than 20 years of fostering love on The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and Bachelor in Paradise, The Golden Bachelor showcases a whole new kind of love story—one for the golden years. For the first time in Bachelor franchise history, 22 incredible women in the prime of their lives will roll up their stockings and step into the spotlight, hoping to find lasting love with Golden Bachelor Gerry Turner. Ranging in age from 60 to 75, these accomplished golden ladies will take time away from their established home lives, friends, and family, in the quest to rediscover love—and perhaps even themselves—in the process.

Great deals aren’t just for seniors anymore! To celebrate the premiere of The Golden Bachelor on Thursday, September 28, these popular brands will be offering special “golden discounts” for EVERYONE for a limited time only! Watch Gerry Turner, ABC’s first Golden Bachelor, begin handing out roses when The Golden Bachelor premieres this fall. Watch episodes on demand and on Hulu the day following their premieres. See the full list of golden discounts available below.

D23: The Official Disney Fan Club

  • Discount: 30% Off New Gold Membership. Terms and conditions may apply, visit website for full membership details.
  • Promo Code: GOLDEN23
  • Offer Valid: 9/28 to 10/12 PST
  • Redeem now

National Geographic Magazine

  • Discount: $10 Off National Geographic magazine subscription. Terms and conditions may apply.
  • Redeem at
  • Offer Begins: 9/28

Disney Music Emporium

  • Discount: 15% Off Storewide
  • Discount automatically applied at checkout
  • Offer Valid: 9/28

El Capitan Theatre

  • Giveaway: Branded giveaways all day. While supplies last.
  • Redeem on-site at the Hollywood Blvd. location
  • Offer Valid: 9/28

Disney Studio Store and Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop

  • Offer: Enjoy the revival of the Magical Gold Rush Sundae!
  • Redeem on-site at the Hollywood Blvd. location
  • Offer Valid: 9/28

Randy’s Donuts

  • Discount:
    • Buy any donut, get a Golden Bachelor donut free during Golden Hour from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. daily
    • 10% off all purchases day of premiere
  • Redeem at Inglewood location only, while supplies last.
  • Offer Valid:
    • Golden Hour offer valid 9/25 to 10/1
    • 10% off all purchases offer valid 9/28

Pink’s Hot Dogs

  • Discount: Buy any hot dog, get one free during Golden Hour from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. daily
  • Redeem at LaBrea and Melrose location only
  • Offer Valid: 9/25 to 10/1

D23 Exclusive Q&A: Percy Jackson Author Rick Riordan

By Alison Stateman

To celebrate today’s publication of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Chalice of the Gods, D23: The Official Disney Fan Club sat down with New York Times bestselling author Rick Riordan to discuss his new novel, which features the long-awaited reunion of Percy and his two besties Annabeth, the daughter of Athena, and Grover, a satyr. The trio first joined forces in Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief—the novel that launched the beloved Percy Jackson book series in 2005. Riordan also filled us in on the making of the Disney+ series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, based on his bestselling books. Debuting on the streamer on December 20, the series stars Walker Scobell in the title role, with Leah Sava Jeffries as Annabeth, and Aryan Simhadri as Grover.

D23: What was it like writing in the voice of Percy Jackson again?
Rick Riordan (RR): It’s been a while, 14 years since the last novel narrated by Percy. I was a little nervous about it. I didn’t know what that would be like, stepping back into that point of view. But I found it to be very easy. I think Percy is just so close to my own voice, [and is] so much a part of my life and my family’s life that he really does feel like a member of the family. So while no book is ever easy to write, this one felt like a reunion with a good friend.

D23: What was the biggest challenge you faced writing the new novel?
RR: I think just trying to figure out how to recapture that energy that this trio, Annabeth, Grover, and Percy had in the very first book in the series, The Lightning Thief. That really is the last time we saw just the three of them as a trio. So, getting back into their friendship, and the roots of the Percy Jackson world was a challenge, but it was also a whole lot of fun to do.

D23: There are Percy Jackson fans who have been eagerly awaiting this book, but also new readers to the Percy Jackson universe. What do you hope they each take away from Chalice of the Gods?
RR: The goal with all of my books is to provide a reading experience that’s fun and enjoyable and also kind of a stealth education in mythology. I always want kids to have fun and, maybe, not even realize how much they’re learning until afterwards. If I can provide kids with a good experience of reading a book for fun rather than because it’s been assigned to them and, learning, “Hey this reading stuff is pretty cool,”—if I can do that, I think I’ve done my job.

…I hope that readers who know the series will pick up Chalice of the Gods and say, “Oh, yeah, this reads exactly like I remember.” And I hope new readers will be able to pick it up and enjoy it for what it is—just a fun adventure with three young people trying to figure out life.

D23: What do you think fans of the Percy Jackson book series will enjoy most about the new novel?
RR: It is like going to a high school reunion, in a good way—catching up with the people you really cared about and seeing them again. If you’ve known the characters for a long time, it will be a treat to see them again in action. I hope it’ll feel like coming home. Even though the characters are older now—they’re seniors in high school—they’re still dealing with life issues and things that most kids can relate to, like getting ready for college and trying to graduate, all the while going on this dangerous quest and meeting gods and monsters who aren’t the friendliest. It’ll hopefully be a good ride.

D23: Because they are older, how has each grown in terms of their relationships—or understanding about navigating everyday life and these quests?
RR: I think to no one’s surprise, Annabeth is the one with the plan. She has it all figured out and she knows what she wants. She wants to study and become an architect and design buildings that will last forever. Her struggle is to get Percy to take all this seriously, to pass his courses so that he can go to college with her. Percy is like a lot of seniors in high school; he’s kind of done with the whole school thing and not feeling very motivated, especially when he gets distracted with all these quests he’s got to do. Grover is the most interesting. He is looking ahead to a time when his two best friends are going to be leaving for college and he’s going to be staying behind. He’s a satyr; he ages differently. That’s a real bittersweet moment for him, wondering how that’s going to change their friendship.

D23: In addition to your new novel, you have adapted Percy Jackson and the Olympians into a series for Disney+. [Two films, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief from 2010 and 2013’s Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters—both of which Riordan wasn’t directly involved in—are currently available to view on Disney+.] What inspired you to take on this new series?
RR: I wanted to see if there was an opportunity to make an adaptation that was more closely aligned with the source material. Fans of the books have wanted that for years. The acquisition of Fox by Disney presented an opportunity to look at that again. I made the choice with my wife Becky to go out to Hollywood again and give it one more shot. It became a full-time job. It was, to use Greek mythology, a Herculean effort to get it off the ground—but we did it. It was three solid years of work and I’m really pleased that we finally have the series coming out.

D23: What was the production process like?
RR: There was COVID and all the other many challenges of putting together any TV show. It was a learning experience. I like to compare it to learning a new language, like immersion—just dropping myself into another country where I don’t know the language, I don’t know the culture, and trying to muddle my way through until I’m at least conversant.

D23: Translating your books into an entirely different format must have involved its own particular challenges…
RR: Absolutely. It was a great challenge and something that I don’t think I understood until I was on the other side trying to figure it out. Again, I like the challenge of learning other languages—and I have come to realize from doing that, that it’s very difficult, even from one language to another to translate something. If you just try and go word for word and recreate the sentence, it will be faithful but it won’t make any sense. It won’t make the same point. You have to make some changes in order to say the same thing. That’s the way it is with film too. You have to use a different toolbox to say roughly the same thing.

D23: Can you tell me about casting the three main roles? What were you looking for and around how many actors did you screen?
RR: Disney’s company policy, which I agree with, is open casting—we’re going to see everyone who wants to participate and we’re not going to put any guidelines on it other than actors being able to play the age of the character. We saw thousands and thousands of audition tapes and got it down to a smaller number and had to consider not only which actor or actress had the aura we were looking for to capture the character, but also had good chemistry with the other two main leads. It took months and months. I can safely say that the three actors that we got are unbelievable. They’re not only talented individually, but they are fantastic together. They bring the characters to life.

D23: Do you have a favorite episode?
RR: Oh, gosh. It’s hard to say without giving away too much. I will say there are several very important scenes that we adapted from the book that never made it into the movie versions. Those are probably my favorites in the show because it’s the first time fans will see those rendered for the screen—and I think they will be very pleased.

D23: How closely did you hew to the book?
RR: In terms of the plot, we stuck with it very closely. What I will say though, that I found really fascinating, is that we were able to look at the story, which I wrote back in 2005, and say, “What do I wish I had done at that time? What background can we give people that know the story backwards and forwards, but still have questions like, ‘How did Sally meet Poseidon?’ or ‘What were Percy’s experiences in school before we see him in the first chapter?’” We were able to dive into that and flesh out the history of these characters and the chemistry between them in ways that are completely faithful [to the book] but are also new.

D23: Are there any Easter eggs you can share from the Disney+ series that fans will especially appreciate?
RR: I have a cameo in the series. So, if you can find it, you may spot a Rick Riordan in the wild!