Broadway sensation Lin-Manuel Miranda is working on Moana original music, Disney announced the hoped-to-be “definitive” take on Jack And The Beanstalk, Rashida Jones is co-writing Toy Story 4, Ed O’Neill is in Finding Dory, and Shakira is acting, writing and singing in Zootopia. Got your attention? Those are just some of the highlights from the start of D23, which kicked off this afternoon with a presentation focused on inbound Walt Disney Animation and Pixar projects.
“Less is more” was decidedly not the approach Disney took this afternoon as it capped Day 1 of the company’s biannual fan convention. Instead, the Mouse House treated thousands of hardcore fans to a three-hour deep dive into the upcoming slate of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar films. Long? Hell, yes. I’m standing as I write this as a result of soreness from sitting for so long. But for the people who traveled (in many cases) thousands of miles to show their affection for Disney, it was worth it for the chance to see, before anyone else, some of what the company has in store. Probably.
The biggest news to come out of the presentation is Gigantic, Disney’s hoped-to-be “definitive” version of the Jack And The Beanstalk story. Set in Spain during the height of the age of exploration, the film’s version of Jack travels into a world of giants, where he teams up with an 11-year old (giant) girl to stop a group of villains called the Storm Giants. With music by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the Oscar-winning duo behind the songs from Frozen that parents everywhere now know by heart whether they want to or not, and direction by Tangled‘s Nathan Greno, this thing has the feel of a guaranteed hit, even without an announced cast and only a bare-bones story.
Other highlights? Shakira was announced in a dual contribution to Disney Animation’s upcoming Zootopia. She’ll not only play the character Gazelle, she’ll also contribute an original song to the film called “Try Everything.” Good advice to be sure, but what about the song? Shaki appeared in a short video in which she played a snippet of the track and, spoiler alert, it sounds like any one of her songs.
Meanwhile, concrete details were dropped about Moana, Disney’s upcoming ode to Polynesian culture set 2,000 years ago, among them some absolutely touching test footage from the still-in-early-production film. Dwayne Johnson, who voices the demigod Maui in the film, made an appearance onstage along with the film’s director and producer and, as usual, was both inspirational and awesome, explaining how Samoa is “in my blood” and that one of his earliest dreams was to be a part of the Disney animation family. The big reveal, however, was the rock star team Disney assembled to create Moana‘s music. The soundtrack will come from Polynesian artist Opetaia Foa’i; The Lion King arranger Mark Mancina; and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the mastermind behind the Broadway smash Hamilton.
On the Pixar front, a short-film spinoff of Inside Out, called Riley’s First Date, was premiered today. It follows the parents of Inside Out‘s Riley as they come to grips with what amounts to, well, her first date. It’s touching, hilarious and, if you’re an AC/DC fan, awesome, and it’ll be available with the DVD/Blu-ray release of Inside Out later this year.
Saying that Pixar stuff looks great is like saying sleep provides rest. Per usual, everything Pixar showed off was gorgeous and frequently touching. Footage was trotted out from The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory, Toy Story 4 and Coco — the newly titled Dia de los Muertos film Pixar is cooking up. Sure, they were just clips and concept art, but all look to live up to Pixar’s usual standard of quality. Shocker, we know. News worth pointing out is that Ed O’Neill will play Hank the Octopus in the Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory, and Jones and Will McCormack were announced as the screenwriters of Toy Story 4.
John Lasseter oversaw the proceedings from start to finish, and his mood was effusive in the extreme. Celebrating the success of both Pixar and Disney, Lasseter was unembarrassed to repeatedly point out that the merging of Pixar into Disney has been a net positive. Net positive? No, actually Lasseter’s exact phrase was that bringing Pixar into Disney “saved Disney Animation.” Again and again the point was made that around 10 years ago, Disney was not heading in a good direction. Now, however, Disney animation is a hit machine and critical darling, and Pixar continues to release acclaimed film after acclaimed film. As he put it, “The Walt Disney Animation Studio is back, and it’s back because of the talent,” and the current company culture is “filmmaker driven” instead of “executive driven.”
It’s hard to argue with that attitude, since the results speak for themselves.