Alan Horn today made his CinemaCon debut in his new capacity as Chairman of Walt Disney Studios hosting a long three hour presentation that was a slide show highlighting the studio’s entire slate for the next two years. It included Johnny Depp and a first look at 20 minutes of new footage plus a trailer premiere from Disney’s expensive summer western The Lone Ranger. For Marvel, Horn said Robert Downey Jr really delivers in the May 3 release of Iron Man 3 – but not about the ticketing dispute which Deadline scooped between Disney and some some theater chains like AMC. Horn also hyped the November 8th release of the sequel Thor: The Dark World, plugged Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 2014), and mentioned future offerings Guardians Of The Galaxy, Antman and the sequel The Avengers 2. For Pixar, he gushed about their success rate and quoted from Pixar chief John Lasseter: “Quality is the best business play. I always give him credit for that phrase.” Pixar’s Monsters Inc sequel Monsters University was shown in its entirety with director Don Scanlon telling exhibitors, “You are one of the very first audiences to see it.” Judging from the reaction during the screening, they seemed to like it. Horn intro’ed toons like Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur (May 2014), Finding Dory (Nov 2015), and Inside Out (Summer 2016). For Disney Animation, Horn said the November release Frozen is one that works after seeing the first cut. There’s the August title Planes which was originally going direct to DVD but is now slotted for theatrical opening August 9th. As far as the latest acquisition Lucasfilm, Horn said it is the ideal fit for the studio and kicks off with the 7th Star Wars in Summer 2015 and every 2 years thereafter. He said there’ll be “alternating” pictures in-between that will keep the brand going and that Lawrence Kasdan is writing one of those now. He praised Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy for getting this all underway and noted that she will be receiving the Pioneer Award tonight at the convention.
Horn also mentioned the strong studio relationship with Steven Spielberg, Stacey Snider, and DreamWorks Studios which will provide 3 films a year including October’s English language remake of Starbuck. He mentioned Vince Vaughn in The Delivery Man as well as director Bill Condon’s Wikileaks tale The Fifth Estate being released on November 13 (and probably also another Oscar contender for the studio from what I have heard out of early screenings). Horn went on to say the Disney live action brand will continue under the direction of Sean Bailey with a goal of three tentpoles, and what he calls three “brand deposit movies” a year, including Saving Mr. Banks – this year’s pic about the making of Mary Poppins with Tom Hanks in the role of Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as co-star. (Disney insiders tell me it will be the beneficiary of an Oscar campaign.) “Bring a handkerchief. It’s a wonderful movie,” Horn said. He recently visited the London set and told exhibitors about the making of a new Muppet movie set for March 2014 with a cast that includes Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell and again directed by James Bobin and produced by Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman. Adding to a glimpse of Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent, Horn noted that Robert Stromberg moved from Oscar-winning production designer to director on this 2014 release. And that George Clooney is signed to star in a new Disneyland spinoff picture Tomorrowland to be directed by Brad Bird. The rest of the casting is underway.
Disney opened the presentation with a very well produced sizzle reel which had brief snippets not only from the 2013 live action slate but beyond. Adding a touch of starpower to the proceedings, Disney trotted out Lone Ranger’ stars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer who were brought on by director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The actors did little more than wave to the crowd and only Depp managed to say how tall he thinks Hammer is. The two stars stood apart from each other on stage, probably so Hammer wasn’t towering over Depp who rides tall in this film and has clearly elevated sidekick Tonto to the star spot in the classic tale. Among the footage shown was the infamous train sequence which helped cause the pic’s much publicized budget problems before rolling. Cut down from a reported $250 million to a reported $215 million, this film is still an expensive gamble for the studio. But judging from the results, the decision not to stint appeared worth it among the theatre owners who were clearly into it. Other scenes were the duo’s first meeting and Lone Ranger’s personal life. But when Depp is on screen in a wild reinvention of Tonto, it all works. The action-filled trailer debut drew strong and enthusiastic applause.
The studio is betting on their Pirates Of The Caribbean team of Bruckheimer, Verbinski and Depp so Horn also mentioned there will be a 5th installment of the franchise with Depp in Summer 2015. “You know we have to do that. We just have to it,” he said. In his presentation, Horn downplayed the costs of producing these big tentpoles whose strategy he advocates. “There is no other studio that will give you and us in partnership eight tentpole movies a year,” he told exhibitors. “Of course the business is getting harder. We talk about the cost of these movie. I will be in a production meeting and say the cost of this movie is $200 million and that’s expensive. But we are stepping up and we will provide them. But of course not every movie will work, and we ask for your support as we go through that.” The very engaging host spoke to the theater owners, not at them, and got them on his side right away when he expressed sympathy for their concerns about the shrinking windows. Horn joked how he went from a bunny (Warner Bros) to a mouse (Disney) and then took exhibitors through product from each partner offering opinions, humor and a nice folksy touch along the way. “The Walt Disney company is different. It is the only studio that is a brand. The audience may not know what they are going to see, but they know what they are not going to see,” he emphasized. “This slate exemplifies what sets this company apart.”