That must be exactly what Disney is thinking as it continues its massive second annual Disney D23/ Expo, the “ultimate fan event” taking place all weekend long at the Anaheim Convention Center right next to Disneyland (the name refers to 1923, the year Walt Disney started his studio). It’s an offshoot of the official Disney Fan Club and includes a ginormous exhibition center with every imaginable opportunity to buy Disneyana, numerous fan events and celebrity-sighting opps, and then there was today’s centerpiece: a near-three-hour preview of movies in the pipeline from Disney, Pixar and Marvel (which announced a partnership with the company in 2009 that is just now gearing up).
Call it “Mickey Con”. It’s all a bit overwhelming, so no wonder it takes three days just to get through it all. The event continues through the end of Sunday.
After his major presentation of the new Disney slate in the gargantuan arena in front of 4200 seemingly rabid fans (and a few more restrained press members), I caught up with Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross in the Green Room for an exclusive interview in which he talked about the possibilities of a fifth Pirate.s of the Caribbean film as well as his first comments on the demise of Pirates team Johnny Depp and Jerry Bruckheimer’s about-to-shoot Western The Lone Ranger, which Deadline’s Mike Fleming first reported had been dropped by Disney due to budgetary concerns on the pricey pic. When I asked Ross if there was anything new to report he said, “Nothing definitive. There is nothing new. I’m hoping to do it, I’m certainly hoping. I think it’s a compelling story and no one wants to work with Jerry and Johnny more than me, so we’ll see how it works.” And about the possibility of a fifth Pirates? The situation is obviously clouded with the Lone Ranger situation, but again he used the word “hopeful.”
“We’re hopeful; everybody is game for it. Now we’re working on a script. We feel we have to have something that can’t be about franchise, it has to be about the story, and that’s where we’re going now,” Ross said, adding that he’s extremely pleased with the performance of the latest Pirates film, which is a $1 billion worldwide grosser having just passed $800 million internationally. The success certainly took the sting off earlier 2011 box office non-starters Mars Needs Moms (a film he inherited from the previous regime) and Prom (a modest $10 million pic he greenlighted). As for Cars 2, which received disappointing reviews (by Pixar standards) and has done half of what Toy Story 3 did last summer, Ross said: “Its performed everywhere. People wonder if you can hit those kinds of (Toy Story 3) heights, but I am very pleased. It’s about to tip over $500 million this weekend, so it’s not exactly a small figure. We’re proud of [Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios chief creative officer] John Lasseter, and it’s a passion project for him,” he said.
Ross opened his show Saturday morning promising “an insider’s peek at upcoming movies” and then greasing the crowd by assuring, “You’re the reason we do what we do.” Ross said from the first moment he saw Mary Poppins in 1964 at at New York theater he was “a fan for life.” He then introduced Lasseter (wearing what he said was the “official Hawaiian Cars 2 shirt”) who proceeded, with the help of seveal directors and stars, to run through an impressive preview of their upcoming ‘toon product including a semi-Cars spinoff called Planes, which plans to follow suit and turn lovable aircraft into stars including Dusty, a cropduster voiced by Jon Cryer, who appeared in person to hype the crowd on the spring 2013 release. “I’m so geeked out,” Cryer said. This was followed by previews of a Disney Ani November 2012 flick, Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), which takes place in the inanimate world of video games. Co-stars Sarah Silverman and 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer took the stage to try and wow the crowd, with Silverman sarcastically noting, “I’ve always wanted to come to Anaheim without going to Disneyland.”
Lasseter also showed generous footage from the next Pixar release, Brave, opening in summer 2012. Before introducing director Mark Andrews, who arrived in a kilt, he noted it is a “total original’ for the company by featuring a female lead set in a fairy-tale period piece taking place in ancient Scotland.
Director Dan Scanlon showed some unpolished footage and also talked up the college-set prequel Monsters University before co-star Billy Crystal made a brief appearance to promise the adoring crowd, “Trust me, it’s hilarious, as different as anything you can imagine.”
As reported earlier Saturday, Lasseter brought out directors Pete Docter (Up) and Bob Peterson to announce two new Pixar feature films for the first time. Docter will do The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside The Mind, a cerebral-sounding ‘toon the director told me afterwards is still taking shape, with casting soon to begin for a target 2014 date. Peterson said he used his own fascination with the 1964 New York World’s Fair’s animatronic dinosaurs exhibition to spark his idea for the other new Pixar announcement, The Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs, but all he had at this point was a single slide to show the ravenous crowd.
And with that, ushers braved a confetti downpour to bring cupcakes for everyone in celebration of Pixar’s 25th anniversary. (Later in the day, I had the pleasure of moderating nine members of the Pixar brain trust — including Lasseter — in a rollicking 90-minute Q&A in front of 750 fans celebrating the company’s remarkable run of Oscar-winning feature films and shorts).
Ross then intro’d president of production Sean Bailey, who revealed the live-action slate focusing on a generous amount of clips from the blockbuster-franchise hopeful in 3D John Carter, based on the comic book and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ sci-fi novel. Oscar-winning Pixar veteran (Wall-E , Finding Nemo) Andrew Stanton is moving into live action as helmer of the big-budget film. Afterward, Stanton told me he was really enjoying doing live action for a change, but when I asked him how much the budget was, he replied, “I honestly don’t know. I never want to know what the budgets of my films — animated or live action — are, just that I can get the dollars I need to do them. It’s definitely expensive. It’s like doing two films in one, live action and the other CGI.” Stars Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe appeared to set up the clips.
Tim Burton showed up on tape to tout his stop-motion animated Frankenweenie, a black-and-white re-imagining of his early career short of the same name that Disney is gearing for a Halloween 2012 opening. Coming onstage, executive producer Don Hahn took note of the Frankenstein’s monster-like dog named Sparky getting big laughs by saying, “Sparky is 4 inches tall and fully made up of silicone, kinda like that girl on ‘Jersey Shore.’ “
The smaller drama, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, was touted by star Jennifer Garner, while another tape package described the wonders of Sam Raimi’s currently shooting prequel Oz: The Great and Powerful set for March 2013 that stars James Franco.
The show closed with looks at the next DisneyNature doc, Chimpanzee, and the new Muppet film set for Thanksgiving with Jason Segel and Amy Adams; Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy took to the stage with Segel for some amusing back and forth. Then Marvel head Kevin Feige trumpeted their new deal with Disney and introduced the 2012 Marvel summer release The Avengers, which pits a number of superheroes against the bad guys. Robert Downey Jr, Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johannson were among the large cast showing this year, although Downey was upset they couldn’t see the promo reel backstage which unspooled just before they came out. “Does anyone want to see that great reel again?” Downey asked as he attemped to cover up his own motive in wanting to see it himself. They ran it again as the stars watched.
In the Green Room, Ross told me “it’s great to show the breadth. You certainly have these powerhouse brands with Disney, Pixar and Marvel. The powerhouse brands are great storyteller brands. … But you don’t sell ‘brands,’ you sell movies, you sell stories, you sell new characters,” he said.
Ross also confronted criticism in some quarters that he has moved too slowly in building his own slate and taking Disney to the next level. “To me we live in a world that people have a lot of options, and to be able to provide a movie or two a month seems to me to be a lot. I think we need to spend a little bit more time and go a little deeper. I don’t think it’s so much as ‘slow’ as concentrated. For our studio, this is the right amount of films. Twelve is a little smaller, 13 is generally gonna be bigger, so we’re excited,” he said.
He’s also hopeful about getting into business with major talents like David Fincher, who is talking about doing 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, a longtime studio project on the ropes shortly after Ross arrived but now alive again, as well as Raimi on Oz “and smaller pictures as well. It’s the combination that is always the mix because we can only afford so many tentpoles. They’re very expensive.”
As for 3D?
“I think when people see 3D, what Sam Raimi does in 3D (in Oz), the looks Robert Stromberg has created — he won two Academy Awards in a row. I think it will be eye-popping and people will understand it makes sense to go 3D or with Tim Burton and the way we showed today with black-and-white 3D in Frankenweenie. That’s his eye, so you have to work with visionaries to come up with something visionary,” Ross said.
The detailed presentation never mentioned DreamWorks, now being distributed by Disney. Their movie The Help moved into the No. 1 box office slot this weekend, and Ross told me he couldn’t be more proud. “I’m thrilled with the commitment that DreamWorks gave to The Help, that Stacey (Snider) gave to The Help. It was a favorite book of mine; they threw themselves into it. It was a joy to partner with them and see the response because there are many books in this world made into movies that people respond to, but to be the No. 1 movie coming up from No. 2 in a busy field, we’re thrilled,” he said.