By Beth Deitchman
“You’re not just fans, you’re family. And there are 7,000 of you in this audience today. It’s because of you that we keep working so hard to make great films—and we love the D23 Expo because it’s where we can share them with you first,” said Alan Horn, co-chairman and chief creative officer, The Walt Disney Studios, as he kicked off an unforgettable morning in Hall D23 at D23 Expo 2019.
Horn was joined by creative leaders from across The Walt Disney Studios to take fans inside Disney’s upcoming slate. From Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Frozen 2, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to The Eternals, Onward, and Jungle Cruise—to name just a handful of the films spotlighted today—there is so much movie magic coming to a big screen near you in the coming months and years. Here are the films we can’t wait to see:
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Horn welcomed Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy—whom he described as “our Yoda”—and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker director/writer/producer J.J. Abrams to the Hall D23 stage to celebrate the end of a saga that began 40 years ago. They were soon joined by nine stars from the film—returning cast members Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, and Billy Dee Williams, and newcomers to the galaxy far, far away, Naomi Ackie and Keri Russell.
“We have genuinely become a family over these last few years. We’re done making these movies, and it’s crazy to think in a few short months The Rise of Skywalker will be in theaters. We had the best time,” said Rey herself, Daisy Ridley.
Neither Ackie nor Russell could reveal much about the tremendously anticipated film. “The main thing is my son actually thinks I’m cool now,” Russell shared, and she did reveal this description of her character, Zorri: “She’s very cool and a little bit shady.”
Returning to the Millennium Falcon for one last adventure, actor Billy Dee Williams told fans, “Lando has never left me, and being here all these years, these 40 years, is a very special experience for me.”
Anthony Daniels, who plays our favorite protocol droid shared, “It’s kind of hard for me to understand that this story is ending—but what an ending!”
“The character of Leia is the heart of the story,” said Abrams, who came on to the film after the passing of Disney Legend Carrie Fisher. Fans will see Leia in The Rise of Skywalker through new footage that had been shot for Episode VII that has never been seen before, and Abrams shared a surprising story that made Fisher’s involvement in the new film seem inevitable. The director recalls reading the dedication of the final book Fisher wrote, The Princess Diarist, in which the actress and talented writer thanked Abrams for “putting up with her” twice. In fact, he had only worked with Fisher once… until now. Today fans got to see a look back at the incredible legacy of Star Wars storytelling—with an exclusive sneak peek at what will no doubt be an amazing conclusion to the Skywalker saga (along with a brand-new poster). Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens in U.S. theaters on December 20, 2019.
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige then strode on to the Expo stage where he was greeted warmly by his fellow D23 Members. “My kids are here for the first time, trying to figure out what Dad does for a living. And what Dad does for a living is come to D23 and bring cool stuff.”
Black Panther 2
Ryan Coogler—director and co-writer of the only Marvel Studios film to be nominated for an Oscar® for Best Picture—joined Feige to reveal that a sequel to Black Panther is officially in the works. Scanning a treatment, Feige and Coogler agreed that it was too early to share a title… or the opening scene… or a description of the film’s villain. But what could they share? A release date! Mark May 6, 2022 on your calendar.
“We’ve pulled back the cosmic curtain on the MCU in ways you can’t imagine,” Feige said, before he brought the cast of Marvel Studios’ The Eternals to the stage: Richard Madden, who portrays the all-powerful Ikaris; Kumail Nanjiani, who plays cosmic-powered Kingo; Lauren Ridloff, who portrays the super-fast Makkari, the first deaf hero in the MCU; Brian Tyree Henry, who plays the intelligent inventor Phastos; Salma Hayek, who plays the wise and spiritual leader Ajak; Lia McHugh, who portrays the eternally young, old-soul Sprite; Don Lee, who plays the powerful Gilgamesh; and Angelina Jolie, who stars as the fierce warrior Thena. In addition to revealing concept art images of each character, Feige announced three additional cast members: the humankind-loving Sersi, to be played by Gemma Chan; aloof loner Druig, to be played by Barry Keoghan; and non-Eternal Dane Whitman, who, Feige confirmed, will be played by Kit Harington. Chloé Zhao directs the film, which opens in U.S. theaters on November 6, 2020.
We’re thrilled that our next big-screen foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe—and the launch of Phase Four—marks the return of Scarlett Johansson to the role of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow; David Harbour, who plays Alexei the Red Guardian; and Florence Pugh, who plays Yelena, appeared in a special greeting, just for fans in Hall D23. As if that weren’t enough, Feige shared an exclusive look at the new film… taking fans to Budapest for a truly unique family reunion.
Taking the stage to present Disney’s upcoming live-action releases, Sean Bailey, president, Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production, told fans, “We have gone deep into the jungles to find the inspiration for one of our next big adventures—in fact, we’ve gone all the way to the back side of water.”
One of the biggest movie stars of the moment made the biggest entrance of the morning, as Dwayne Johnson sailed into Hall D23 on a Jungle Cruise boat. “We wanted to make a movie that was big, that was epic, that had romance, big comedy, big action, but—most importantly—it’s got me,” Johnson said, and he surprised fans with a “trailer” for Jungle Cruise showing off his character, riverboat captain Frank Wolff.
Of course, Johnson has a talented and very beloved co-star in the Jungle Cruise, and Emily Blunt, who plays Dr. Lily Houghton—motored onto the Expo stage via classic car, to present her own “trailer” with her character front and center. Bailey laughingly informed both stars that neither trailer was official—we’ll have to stay tuned for a new look at the film.
“We are keenly aware of the responsibility we have for such a beloved property, and that property is Jungle Cruise, the ride,” Johnson assured fans, acknowledging how beloved the attraction has been for generations. Johnson and Blunt promised fans they’re in store for “the adventure of a lifetime.” Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, Disney’s Jungle Cruise hits U.S. theaters on July 24, 2020.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Get ready for “wicked fun,” when Maleficent: Mistress of Evil arrives in U.S. theaters on October 18, 2019. Angelina Jolie, who stars in the title role, shared that she loved the character she first embodied in the 2014 film and responded to the themes that, despite the dramatic differences between Aurora and Maleficent, they can still be a family. In the new film, Maleficent, portrayed by Jolie, and her goddaughter Aurora, played by Elle Fanning, begin to question the complex family ties that bind them as they are pulled in different directions by impending nuptials, unexpected allies, and new dark forces at play. “We really pose the question and fight for the belief that what is different makes you stronger,” Jolie shared today. “And what is family and what defines family is what you believe in and how you love and what you stand for—it’s not just blood, and it’s not because you’re the same.”
Jolie and Bailey were joined by Fanning; Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays Prince Phillip’s mother, Queen Ingrith; and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who stars as Connal, a leader of the dark fey who becomes Maleficent’s ally. Fanning filmed the first Maleficent when she was 14, and now the actress, like Aurora, has grown. “Now I’m 21. I feel exactly like Aurora,” Fanning said. “I have grown as a young woman, and getting to revisit her at this special time in her life and experiencing the things that I myself am experiencing now is really extremely special. The cast unveiled an exclusive clip from the film, which is directed by Joachim Rønning, who co-helmed 2017’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
In Disney’s Mulan, the Emperor of China issues a decree that one man per family must serve in the Imperial Army to defend the country from Northern invaders. So, the eldest daughter of an honored but ailing warrior masquerades as a man, transforming into a heroic warrior to ultimately earn her the respect of a grateful nation and a proud father.
“What drew me to this project was Mulan herself. Her journey from village girl to male soldier to warrior to hero, I think represents all of us. And the story is as relevant and inspiring today as it was when it was first written over 1,500 years ago,” said Niki Caro, director of Mulan. Caro shared several minutes of footage from the upcoming live-action reimagining of the 1998 classic film—which features explosive action sequences, breathtaking costumes, and so much more. The film opens on March 27, 2020.
Alas, Cruella star Emma Stone was not spotted in Anaheim, California, today, but she sent a special greeting from the film’s London-based set, where production has just gotten underway. Bailey offered a first look at Stone as Cruella, sharing an image of the actress in full costume with Cruella’s signature black-and-white-hair. Emma Thompson also stars in the movie—along with some four-legged canine co-stars, one of whom joined Stone for her special message to Disney fans. Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya, The Finest Hours) brings a fresh, 1970s, punk-rock approach to Cruella, which opens on May 28, 2021.
Moving “onward” to Pixar Animation Studios, Chief Creative Officer Pete Docter made his first Expo appearance since taking the helm of the Emeryville-based studio—a studio he joined in 1990. “We are the luckiest people on earth up at Pixar. We get to do what we love—we love animation—we get to make very personal films, and to have them so well-accepted by the world is just amazing,” Docter said. Two original films are coming from Pixar in 2020, and Docter said, “Sequel or original, the most important thing for us at Pixar is making films that speak to everyone.”
Docter is director of Soul, a film that journeys from the streets of New York City to the never-before-seen cosmic realms and “The You Seminar,” the fantastical place where we all discover our unique personalities. According to Docter, the film asks the ultimate questions: Why am I here? Where did I come from? What am I here for? The film’s producer, Dana Murray, co-director/writer Kemp Powers, and writer Mike Jones joined Docter on stage to share a sneak peek of the film. They revealed that globally renowned musician Jon Batiste is writing original jazz music for the film, and Oscar® winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network), from Nine Inch Nails, will compose an original score that will drift between the real and soul worlds.
The filmmakers also introduced Disney fans to the voice cast of the intriguing—not to mention stunning—new film. Jamie Foxx stars as Joe Gardner, a middle-school band teacher whose true passion is playing jazz; while Tina Fey is 22, a soul-in-training who has an unexpected encounter with Joe when he accidentally finds his way to the “The You Seminar”—where, the filmmakers revealed, she has spent a very, very long time. Together, they embark upon finding a way to get Joe back to Earth, making him think again about what it truly means to have soul. Rounding out the cast—and joining Foxx and Fey today—are Ahmir Questlove Thompson as Curly; Phylicia Rashad as Libba; and Daveed Diggs as Paul. Disney and Pixar’s Soul opens in U.S. theaters on June 19, 2020.
Director Dan Scanlon shared that the new film Onward is based on his personal experience growing up. “My brother and I lost our father at a young age, and I’ve always wondered who my dad was and how I was like him. Those questions became a roadmap for this film,” he explained. The film stars Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as two teenage elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot. Barley is super-confident… Ian is less so. The brothers embark on an extraordinary twist, with Barley’s beloved van “Guinevere” serving as “a mighty steed,” as they set out to discover if there is still a little magic left in the world.
Holland and Pratt took the Hall D23 stage to thunderous applause. “The last time we were here we were like ‘space buddies,’ fighting on Titan, and now we’re ‘elf buddies’ fighting in L.A.,” Holland joked.
Emmy® winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who previously voiced Princess Atta in the Pixar film a bug’s life) voices their mom. “It was really fun to play an elf mom of these two bozos here,” Louis-Dreyfus laughed, before introducing an eight-minute clip from the film. The audience also received an exclusive poster for the film, which opens in U.S. theaters on March 6, 2020.
Jennifer Lee is no stranger to D23 Expo, but today marked her first Hall D23 appearance as Walt Disney Animation Studios Chief Creative Officer. Lee shared that, as a child, “Disney spoke to me like nothing else. I felt transported. I felt somehow understood and definitely like anything was possible, so Disney gave me the courage to tell the stories that were in my head.” Those stories led Lee to Walt Disney Animation Studios, where she said, “For nearly a decade, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most incredible artists and technicians in the world. And like me, they came to Disney because they were inspired and they wanted to help create the animated films of the future: adventures in completely original, fantastical worlds; stories from around the globe; and the next generation of musicals.”
Raya and the Last Dragon
Lee was joined by directors Paul Briggs and Dean Wellins (Big Hero 6, Frozen), producer Osnat Shurer (Moana), and writer Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians) to introduce the fantasy-action-adventure Raya and the Last Dragon. The film tells the story of Raya, a lone warrior from the fantasy kingdom of Kumandra, who teams up with a crew of misfits in her quest to find the Last Dragon and bring light and unity back to their world. Lin, a lifelong Disney fan who was born and raised in Southeast Asia, said, “Disney was a magical, transporting presence in my life.” She grew up watching Disney animated films, but noted, “When my cousins and I were not watching Disney movies—on VHS—we lived for Hong Kong action movies, where young girls could still put the beatdown on bad guys. So this movie is a combination of both those genres which I love—which all of us love.”
The Hall D23 audience met two newly announced members of the voice cast: Awkwafina, who will voice Sisu, the Last Dragon; and Cassie Steele, who voices the lead character. Raya meets Sisu when she is in human form, when she is “not the dragon hero Raya is looking for,” Steele points out. Fans were treated to an exclusive, three-minute piece from the dazzling film, which explores themes of community and hope and is inspired by the beautiful and diverse cultures of Southeast Asia. Raya and the Last Dragon opens in U.S. theaters on November 25, 2020.
Jennifer Lee welcomed to the stage fellow Frozen 2 director Chris Buck, whom she referred to as her “mentor.” The two previously partnered to direct Frozen and admitted that there were burning questions that they still wanted to answer for fans, such as: Why does Elsa have powers? Why was Anna born the way that she was? They also wondered about Elsa and Anna’s parents. Where were they really going when their ship went down? Together, with Oscar®-winning songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, they realized they still had more story to tell. And according to Buck, together, Frozen and Frozen 2 form one complete story.
Though Lee and Buck wouldn’t reveal the mysteries of the past, they did reveal two new characters we’ll meet in Frozen 2, and introduced the actors who will play them. Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld) will play Queen Iduna (and fans were treated to clip in which she sings a beautiful lullaby to young Anna and Elsa); and Sterling K. Brown will voice Lieutenant Mattias, who leads a group of soldiers who have been trapped in an enchanted forest for more than 30 years. “I came to D23 Expo because I heard they show parts of the film here!” said Brown, who saw his character for the first time today along with Expo attendees—and he was all of us when he leapt for joy. The filmmakers also treated fans to a sequence from the movie that showcased Elsa’s yearning for answers about the past, culminating in another song, “Into the Unknown.”
The film’s stars, Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad, appeared on the Hall D23 stage to cap a spectacular morning with a performance of the new song “Some Things Never Change” from the film, which opens on November 22, 2019—making for a finale that was truly worth melting for.