The Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios panel on Friday afternoon was the first major creative panel at D23 Expo 2015, and John Lasseter, head of all animation for Disney was on hand to host. Expected news included more about this year's The Good Dinosaur, plus Zootopia, Finding Dory, and more.
The Massive Hall D23 was packed full with every single seat filled with anxious Disney fans. People dressed as Disney princesses and Sith Lords, Marvel heroes and fairies and even as emotions waited for the panel, the unofficial beginning of the show for many.
"We have met heroes and discovered worlds, but the adventure has just begun," starts a sizzle reel that included shots of Avengers characters, animated films, and more. Then it shifted into new films, including Toy Story 4, a shot of Emma Watson as Belle in Beauty and the Beast, the live action Pete's Dragon, Civil War, The Force Awakens, and everything else on the upcoming Disney slate.
"Our Story starts with everything you can imagine."
Alan Horn, Chairman of Walt Disney Studios came onto the stage, thanking fans for coming and saying it's "your weekend." The sizzle, he said, "covers all our studios, including Disney, Marvel, and Lucasfilm - an unbelievable collection assembled by our CEO Bob Iger. But this afternoon is all about animation."
First, though, a look to the past, as Horn mentioned Frozen's massive success, saying, "I'm that close to getting that song out of my head." He moved onto Big Hero 6, which got a lot of applause, and "the highly emotional Inside Out."
With that, Horn introduced John Lasseter, a man who "lives and breathes animation." There's an exhibit on the show floor with John's animation-themed Hawaiian shirts. He has over 500 of them. Horn got a lot of laughs during his introduction, playing to a crowd that's obviously more than a little forgiving.
Lasseter, the CCO of Pixar and WDAS took the stage to thunderous applause. He gave away a couple of shirts that are from his own new signature collection, available at the show. Lasseter fired a t-shirt cannon (courtesy of the Anaheim Angels) and the entire crowd went nuts trying to catch one.
"We have two incredible studios. The Walt Disney Animation Studios is built on an incredible legacy. The studio Walt Disney himself started 92 years ago is still making animation. Pixar Animation Studios, the company that invented a lot of computer animation and is constantly pushing the boundaries in animation."
Starting with WDAS, another sizzle reel was shown. All the classics were present, from old like Winnie the Pooh and Snow White to the 80s/90s heyday of Little Mermaid and Aladdin, up to Big Hero 6 and Frozen.
"I get a little emotional everytime I see that to know that I and the artists involved here now are connected to Walt Disney and his legacy. I think that some of the greatest films of all time were made by Walt Disney and his artists," Lasseter said. He talked about changing the studio back from an "executive-driven studio to a filmmaker-driven studio," his chief goal since 2006's restructuring. "Walt Disney's name is going to be on each of these films. And this studio is back, they are on fire right now."
Zootopia comes March 4, 2016, and got the first feature spot of the panel. "Some of my favorite Disney films of all time are with talking animals. To make one today it has to be really modern - but still have talking animals." Director Byron Howard, Director Rich Moore, and producer Clark Spencer took the stage to talk about the film.
Howard said "all our stories start from research. For Zootopia this took us to some incredible locations, including our own Animal Kingdom. We talked to animal experts, and John told us we had to see them in the wild as well." The team went to Kenya to study animals in the Savannah, study their movement in their natural habitat.
Moore said the trip "inspired us to make them look and feel exactly like they do in the film." For example, the characters' fur and skin textures got their own focus before they started doing anything else with the character looks.
Since the animals are anthropomorphic, they had to translate their four-legged movement into two-legged. "Our most important question was, How does a Tiger Dance? Well, this is how," and played a quick clip of a dancing tiger.
The city itself is "designed for animals, by animals," including neighborhoods for each type of animal, like Sahara Square for desert animals, Tundra Town for cold-weather animals "where we got to reuse all that snow we made for Frozen," Moore deadpanned. Bunny Burrow has millions of bunnies, and a population counter constantly going up.
To introduce the POV character Judy Hopps, a police officer rabbit, Ginnifer Goodwin, who voices the character, came out on stage. She said that she had just recently "accidentally purchased the home of Sterling Holloway," the voice of many classic Disney characters, without knowing it was his.
Judy Hopps lives by the mantra, "anyone can be anything." Most cops in this world are Rhinos and Hippos, large animals. Judy gets parking duty because she's so small, but she wants to be a "real cop." She's an eternal optimist, Goodwin said, "so she decides she'll be the best meter maid ever!"
With that, a clip from the film was introduced.
"Judy is going to meet one of our other main characters, a Fox played by the amazing Jason Bateman."
In the clip, an elephant working an ice cream parlor dishes out huge "jumbo" size ice cream sundaes. Bateman's fox character has a son who lives with an affliction that makes him believe he's an elephant. He's clearly a scam artist, as he starts plucking at Judy Hopps' heart strings.
You might say he's "sly like a fox." The Fox, unfortunately, then goes and melts the jumbo popsicle down, re-freezes it into hundreds of small pops, and sells all of them (to Lemmings - you make one sale, they all follow).
This character is Nick Wilde, who believes, "we are who we are," directly opposed to Judy's "anyone can be anything." They become an unlikely pair, teamed up to solve a case of a missing animal.
Announcement time: Voicing the character of Gazelle in the film and singing in it is Shakira. A recorded message from the singer included her revealing a snippet of a new song she wrote for the movie, "Try Everything."
A second clip was shown as the panelists left the stage. It's further along, as Judy and Nick go to the DMV to research something. Everyone working there is a Sloth, which showed a hilarious moment of them all moving extremely, exaggeratedly, slow.
The sloth they talk to is named "Flash," the fastest one there. He...talks...very...slowly...responding...on...his...own...time.
Wow, the entire thousands-strong audience is laughing incredibly hard. Great clip.
Lasseter took the stage to introduce the next film.
Walt Disney Animation Studios is launching production of "our version of Jack and the Beanstalk," and it is called Gigantic.
Director Nathan Greno and Producer Dorothy Mckim took the stage, and introduced a reel of still shots they've worked on so far. "How far would you go for your dream? How high would you climb?" The classic magic bean stalk grows, and we see young Jack climbing it. Giants roam the lands, including a young daughter giant that it appears he befriends. The harp, the Goose are both there.
"We are so honored and thrilled to continue the tradition [of bringing fairy tales to film] with Jack and the Beanstalk," Greno said. The movie will take place in Spain, because he thought it reflected the "age of discovery," where Jack is making a discovery above the ground while Spaniards are out discovering the world.
"It's not what you've seen before, the one big giant. This is a world of giants. The first one he meets is an 11 year-old girl named Ima. She's 60 feet tall, and very fiery," he said. She's actually inspired by a kid they met while researching in Spain. "She was a little character, a little ham." When they came back from the trip, they looked at their pictures of her and realized they had a model sheet for a character. "When Ima meets Jack, she thinks he's a toy! The possibilities for comedy are endless."
It's a world of giants, though, including the storm giants, who are up to no good, "wreaking havoc around the world of the giants." So the "tiny little man" and the "11 year-old girl" are trying to stop the storm giants. "Their world will change forever, and it's such a great, unique friendship. It has deep, deep, emotion. I think when you read an old Jack and the Beanstalk story, you don't think it's a big tearjerker, but we want that. We think the stories that last forever are the ones that hit your emotions."
They also announced who'll be making the music for the film, songwriting team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robart Lopez, the team from Frozen.
The couple took to the stage, thanking the others for bringing them onto Gigantic. They then started performing a song from the movie live with a storyboard in the background. The scene is when Ima meets Jack, discovering him in her room. When he finally gets a word in, he says, "I'm a man!"
"There are so many things you can do with a little man! You can toss him in the air, you can pet his tiny hair, my pretty pretty pretty little man. You can make him do this, you can make him do this, and he even makes a pretty good bookmark!" She plays with him like a doll, makes him shoot baskets, wear a dress, and yes, puts him in a book. "He's cutest when he's jumping on a sponge cake..."
The next film, Moana, was not just "deeply moving," but also "deeply changing," Lasseter said. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements and Producer Osnat Shurer took the stage next. You may know them from credits such as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid.
John said that it's nearly the fortieth anniversary of him meeting John Lasseter, at a Cal-Arts class alongside Brad Bird (Tim Burton was in the class under them). Shurer took control of the joking pair of Musker and Clements to announce the musicians for the movie.
Opetaia Foa'i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are handling the film's music. That means a South Pacific star, a composer with The Lion King on his resume, and a current Broadway sensation are making the movie sing.
Research again became part of the presentation, as Ron and John talked about looking into the history of the South Pacific. The idea is that Moana, the 16 year-old princess and protagonist of the story, "believes that the blood of her voyager ancestors lives on in her." There is a real-life period of time when the people of the islands in the South Pacific simply stopped leaving their islands and exploring the world. She's meant to be the one who restores that discovery nature.
The god Maui is also in the film, with tattoos that come to life and a magical hook John compared to "Thor's hammer." For someone like this, we knew we had to find someone powerful. "Mm-hmm, go on," Someone mighty! "Yes, go on! go on!"
With that, the voice of Maui, Dwayne Johnson took the stage. The applause and cheers rocked the place.
"I had a goal, and the goal was to be in the Disney family," Johnson said. "For me to be standing here today with these incredible film makers; my girlfriend and daughter, it's my daughter's birthday, and they're both here. it's such a cool moment. What makes it so cool is this story of Moana. I feel a deep connection to it, it's my culture. I am proudly half-Samoan, half-Black. It's in my blood. To tell a story inspired by the South Pacific is truly a great honor."
"So let's talk about Maui. He's all the things John said, he's strong, he's relentlessly handsome. But he has some issues. He was born a human, and raised by the gods. He never felt quite right in either world. Moana may be the person who can help him figure out who he is."
A clip introducing the character, narrated by Johnson, was next:
"Do you know who Maui is? Only the greatest God ever in the South Pacific. With his magic fish hook he pulled the islands out of the ocean... I should know, because I'm Maui." He showed off for Moana, and she stared at him. "Nothing? Really. What's a demi-god have to do?"
Ron, John, and Shurer took the stage again. Ron said, "Sadly, her grandmother, the only one who understands her, passes away. This is, afterall, a Disney movie."
Her pet piglet Pua, and a cranky rooster named Hei Hei join her. Along the way she teams up with Maui to fight monsters of the deep and journey to the oceanic underworld. Eventually she fights a living island, a vengeful land-spirit.
Test footage of the spirit was shown, with her emoting from fierce anger to a sad, made-of-lava face.
"There is one other very important character we want to mention in this movie, the Pacific Ocean," Ron said. When they visited, they saw that the people there spoke of the ocean like "a person or a friend." They make the conversation between Moana and the Ocean a two-way process. A clip shows toddler Moana discovering the Ocean for the first time. It brings her a shell, then teases her a bit. It pulls back to reveal more shells, continuously parting and opening, revealing its wonders. It's easy to instantly feel like the Ocean is a character with this short clip. Teenage Moana is shown holding the same shell and looking out, adventure in her eyes.
Johnson came back on the stage wiping tears from his eyes. "That was beautiful. Truly amazing. Also, I have to say personally for me, I'm so deeply connected to this story, it's amazing to see the process the filmmakers went through, with all their research." He introduced "one last surprise," as Opetaia Foa'i and his award-winning band took the stage. "I want to welcome him with a Samoan call," Johnson said, and taught the crowd live.
The song, from the film, featured a single female singer singing first. It was chillingly beautiful, and dancers in full classic Polynesian clothing took the side stages, contributing tribal yells along with their dances.
Wow. And we still have Pixar.
As if on cue to my typing, the Pixar lamp hopped out onto the screen. A Pixar sizzle reel similar to the WDAS one before it ran next.
All your favorites were there, with Inside Out, Toy Story, and Incredibles getting prominent placement, though Wall-E, Up, Cars, and Finding Nemo (along with the rest) got their due.
After that third tear-inducing sizzle reel, Lasseter took the stage and thanked Bob Iger for "saving animation."
"For the first time in history we have not just one Pixar original movie coming, but two in one year." The first was Inside Out, a film that "we knew was special" from the beginning. "I really do think it's the most important film we've made because it makes people think about their emotions."
Director Pete Docter and Producer Jonas Rivera took the stage, alongside characters Joy and Sadness. While the characters left with Lasseter, the creators thanked the fans for their support. "It's surreal being back here," Docter said, as they've been touring the world to promote the movie.
They mentioned one of their favorite moments, the "Girl, Girl! Red Alert" moment inside the pubescent boy's head. Josh Cooley came out to the stage to talk about the scene, his conception and the scene he directed.
Cooley announced a short film called Riley's First Date, which will premiere on the Inside Out Blu-ray and digital release. They then begged Lasseter to let them show it, and he did.
The boy from Inside Out came to pick her up for a skating date. We see Dad's emotions getting militant, while Jordan's emotions are just messing around in his head.
I won't spoil the rest. Enjoy. It's hilarious.
The Good Dinosaur, coming later this year, was next, with Director Peter Sohn and Producer Denise Ream taking the stage. Pete directed the short "Party Cloudy," voiced Emile in Ratatouille, Squishy in Monsters University, and served as the inspiration for Russel in Up.
"Our crew is back at Pixar pouring all their filmmaking love into The Good Dinosaur," Ream said. Sohn mentioned this being a dream come true. He started showing storyboards of his life story "as if it was a Pixar pitch."
His love of movies came from his mom, a Korean Immigrant. "Every week if there was any money available, she'd take me to see an American movie," even though she didn't understand English. "But there were movies that I didn't have to explain, and those were the Disney ones." He specifically talked about Dumbo, when his mother reaches out with her trunk through the bars, and "it got her." They shared tears and the emotional moment. "From then on, I wanted to learn about animation."
After that heartwarming story, finished shots from the film were shown, and they look very nearly photo-realistic. The backgrounds and landscapes, the rain, the rivers. Wow.
Arlo is the main character in the film. The smallest of three children, Arlo clings to his father - who passes away, with Arlo then falling into a river and being torn far from home. A clip of Arlo in the river was shown; it looks like they put a cartoon dinosaur into a real river. They "try to balance the beauty and danger of nature."
Arlo meets Spot, a human child who runs around on all fours. "We love the story of a boy and his dog, but in this case, Arlo is the boy, and the human kid is his dog."
The two grow closer, and in a clip, discover that they "have more in common than they could ever imagine." Arlo runs his tail around tall grass, making fireflies come out. The two chase them around together. A heart-to-heart occurs next.
Of course there will be humor, and not just heartbreak, including "Dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes." A Styrachosaur has animals on all his horns including one to protect him from mosquitoes, and one to protect him from unrealistic dreams.
A family of Tyrannosaurs enlists Arlo and Spot's help in exchange for some protection, as shown in another clip.
A final clip was shown as the creators left the stage. This one showed Arlo and Spot running gleefully along the river into a huge flock of birds that scattered.
Finding Dory, the sequel to Finding Nemo, was next. A reel of clips showing Ellen DeGeneres asking about a Finding Nemo sequel about a hundred times on her show hit the screen to laughs. Director Andrew Stanton, Co-Director Angus Maclane, and Producer Lindsey Collins came out onto the stage. Stanton said that he initially thought "Finding Nemo was a closed circuit." He realized that Dory was the key. Ellen DeGeneres of course comes back as Dory, and we'll meet Dory's parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy).
Albert Brooks returns as Marlin, but Nemo was recast "because the original voice is now 21 years old and he doesn't sound like a kid anymore."
A clip was shown, with Dory sleeping on the Ocean floor, having just remembered something, "something important!" Dory dreams and starts sleep-swimming.
When Nemo repeats what she said in her sleep, she suddenly has a burst of memory, remembering her parents and takes off swimming. The clip had a lot of laughs, and some classic Pixar heart wrenching after a quick turn. "I don't want to forget this. Somewhere, out there is my family."
Then, Ellen came out on stage and the place erupted. Is Ellen bigger than the Rock?
The film takes them to a new place, Northern California, and the Marine Life Institute, where a new cast of characters is introduced. Ed O'Neill plays Hank, an Octopus with only 7 tentacles. And O'Neill took the stage, too.
The two actors riffed some "witty banter" including O'Neill singing "Let's Get it On" for a line.
A beluga Whale named Bailey is voiced by Ty Burrell, who also took the stage.
A clip of Bailey was shown, using his Echolocation - it was ridiculous.
Destiny the whale shark is voiced by Kaitlin Olson (not from Modern Family). She's a shark who thinks she's a whale. A clip was shown, of Destiny and Bailey having a chat.
"The heart of Finding Dory is the very title, taking our shortcomings and seeing how they define us as individuals." The final clip has Dory scooped up by staffers and meeting Hank for the first time.
Lasseter took the stage again to talk about Coco, the movie about Dia De Los Muertos from the filmmakers behind Toy Story 3, Director Lee Unkrich and Producer Darla K. Andersen, who took the stage next.
They talked about - you guessed it - researching for the film. "They leave gifts for the spirits of their family members; it's like a family reunion that spans the divide between the lifving and the dead," Andersen told the crowd. Unkrich started thinking about what questions he would ask the family members and ancestors who were dead before he ever met them, and that made him start thinking about the film.
Several trips to Mexico informed the characters and story of the film. The main character Miguel is "a spirited 12 year-old boy growing up with a big family in rural Mexico." He discovers a generational mystery that "forever changes his fate."
The filmmakers revealed a clip showing people lighting candles at a cemetery. Suddenly, dancing, singing skeletons having a party. A skeleton mask falls off Miguel, and the other skeletons gasp.
"This year marks the 20th anniversary of the original Toy Story," Lasseter said when he took the stage again. "It was a perfect trilogy. We got together and made a pinky promise to each other to not make another Toy Story unless we found a story that could really stand up to 3."
A conversation sparked an idea, and Andrew Stanton and John Lasseter started working on it in secret. Lasseter is directing Toy Story 4, with co-director Josh Cooley. The movie is very early in production but will "take Toy Story in an exciting new direction." To add a new perspective and fresh voice to the story, Will McCormack and Rashida Jones were brought on to write the screenplay off Stanton and Lasseter's story.
McCormack joked taht he was really excited to meet Woody, "not the actor, the actual toy." Rashida Jones and Lasseter tried to explain to him that Woody's a character. "Looks like somebody's going to meet his favorite deputy pretty soon!" he said, playing as if he just didn't get it.
"He is a great writer, trust me on that."
Each Toy Story is a different genre, and Toy Story 4 will be the first full-on love story. It's between Woody and Bo Peep. Woody and Buzz head out to find Bo, "a very emotional story, and really fun to do a love story between the two of them." Lasseter said it's personal, as it and Bo Peep are inspired by his wife Nancy.
Randy Newman came out on stage; yes, he'll be part of this film, doing music for it once more as well. "Randy, there's a piano here!" And with that, he sat down to play his classic Toy Story theme "You've got a Friend in me" while clips from the films played.
Toy Soldiers then repelled down from the ceiling, from all over the room. Girls with t-shirt cannons ran through the aisles firing them while the soldiers danced on stage. The rest of the Toy Story cast of characters came out on stage, too, and confetti popped from the ceiling. And that's a wrap! See you tomorrow for live-action!