Also, no news on the Han Solo prequel, except that it’s still coming out next summer as planned. And while attendees lucked out with an Avengers trailer, the footage has not been posted online for the general public – so read on for a description.
The highs, indeed, were pretty high, with first looks at Ava DuVernay’s A Winkle in Time, a dazzling Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins Returns, Jon Favreau’s show-stopping new CGI Lion King, a surprise trailer for Avengers: Infinity War and a great compensatory behind-the-scenes reel of Last Jedi.
The biennial Disney expo is always a good time, and the Live Action panel is reliably top of the list for big-ticket news. We heard that Tim Burton’s live-action remake of Dumbo is in production, to be released March 29, 2019, and an adorable 3D elephant was wheeled on stage to prove it, along with a video clip greeting from Burton. We heard Dwayne Johnson is working on a project called Jungle Cruise. It was confirmed there will be a live action Mulan, and Aladdin has finally been cast–Mena Massoud will play the man himself, while Will Smith is set to co-star as the Genie.
So what did we learn from the Last Jedi reel? Heartbreakingly, we saw Carrie Fisher on set, sunglasses on head, joking around with old pal Mark Hamill. “Its about family, and that’s what’s so powerful about it,” Fisher says in the clip. We saw Daisy Ridley and Hamill attempting to sing the iconic theme tune, wearing puffer jackets on a (presumably Irish) hillside. There were quick glimpses, but no great giveaways.
What got the biggest roars of approval though, was when the cast took to the D23 stage, especially when John Boyega tried to front up to a much-taller Gwendoline Christie and she responded by leaning down and mock-pecking him on the lips. “I tried to milk some Game of Thrones spoilers out of Gwendoline, and she was having nothing of it,” director Rian Johnson also joked.
Next, Hamill appeared to massive cheers from the crowd, and said, “It’s so kind of you to not make me stand next to Gwendoline. I’m too short for a stormtrooper.” Of course a delighted crowd laughed heartily. Without a new trailer, and with no Star Wars panel planned for Comic-Con, it was a bitter blow to not see more footage ahead of the December 15 release this year.
But the cast who really got the audience on its feet–despite the strict ‘no standing’ rule at D23–was that of Avengers: Infinity War. While the film is currently mid-shoot in Atlanta, they managed to round up a good selection of stars, including Chris Hemsworth, Elizabeth Olsen, Robert Downey Jr., Josh Brolin, Paul Bettany, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman and Mark Ruffalo.
Downey joked, “It’s funny to think Kevin (Feige, Marvel president) and I figured all this out at Randy’s Doughnuts shooting Iron Man 2.”
Feige told us to sit back and enjoy a “look back” at Marvel’s previous work, and that’s what we saw at first. But then, to deafening screams from the crowd, the footage segued into brand new scenes from Infinity War. We saw an unconscious Thor (Hemsworth) smash into the windscreen of the Guardians of the Galaxy ship wearing his Ragnarok garb. Mantis (Pom Klementieff) magically wakes him up and Thor shouts, “Who the hell are you guys?”
In another scene, we saw Loki (Tom Hiddleston) with the tesseract and his typically-evil smile. Next, in New York, there were Peter Parker’s arm hairs standing on end as he rode a school bus. We also spotted Spider-Man perching on what looked like a broken rollercoaster, and Thanos, wearing the Infinity Gauntlet, punching poor Iron Man in the face. The film is set for release May 4, 2018.
A Wrinkle in Time was another big crowd-pleaser, especially given that its stellar cast appeared on stage: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine and newcomer Storm Reid. Director Ava DuVernay joined them and said of the project, “I saw myself in it and I saw so many different kinds of people in it. It’s a family story wrapped in an epic adventure.”
The teaser trailer that followed showed a disheveled and greying Chris Pine traveling through time in a bright orange tunnel, plunging us into what looks to be an otherworldly, huge movie. The full experience comes to theaters March 9, 2018.
We also got a new trailer for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms starring Misty Copeland, which opened with Morgan freeman intoning, “It’s Christmas eve.” Head of productions, Sean Bailey, promised, “The mouse king character will be a cutting edge CG creation, and we’ll see more on that soon.” It’s set for release November 2, 2018.
Mary Poppins Returns received a very warm welcome too, with much screaming as its star Emily Blunt appeared on stage. “I needed to try to pay homage to Julie Andrews,” she said, “but carve out a new space for myself. And we were very loyal to the books.”
Director Rob Marshall added, “This is a brand new original film musical from top to bottom, which is very rare, and it is a wonderful opportunity to create something specifically for the screen.” The new trailer of the film (release date: December 25, 2018) shows Blunt floating in on her umbrella as per the original 1964 film. Other nods to the original included Blunt playing with cartoon birds in her hand and synchronized dancing in the streets of London a la Dick Van Dyke’s original chimneysweep number. Van Dyke himself also made an appearance in the trailer, along with Colin Firth, who plays heartless bank manager Mr Wilkins.
One of the most visually striking new projects revealed during the panel was the new CGI version of the Lion King. We saw incredible footage of photo-real animals, including Simba, set to the Circle of Life theme music. The opening-scene action we saw appeared to perfectly mimic the original, only through an incredible ‘reality’ lens.
“We know how important this is,” director Jon Favreau told the crowd. “We love this movie and we are working hard.” Scheduled for a July 19, 2019 release, the film follows in the footsteps of Favreau’s Jungle Book, once again using virtual production techniques and again working with VFX supervisor Rob Legato and lead VFX house MPC.
While we were very impressed, it seemed Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn was equally so. “I do know that Jon and his team will create something that is completely respectful and faithful to The Lion King you already know and love, just as he did with The Jungle Book,” he said.
Bottom line: there’s a whole lot to look forward to in the live action realm. Disney, Lucasfilm and Marvel together continue to be an unstoppable force.