D23 Expo 2013 Day 2 – Let the Adventure Begin: Live Action at the Walt Disney Studios

ANTHONY HOPKINS, NATALIE PORTMAN, TOM HIDDLESTONAfter yesterday’s stellar presentation of upcoming animated Disney films, I couldn’t have been more excited for this morning’s panel detailing the live-action films on the horizon.  Would we learn anything about Star War VII?  Would there be any new footage from the upcoming Marvel onslaught?  And what exactly is Brad Bird’s upcoming film, Tomorrowland? The answers are a definitive no, heck yes and I still don’t know.

Overall, this was a decidedly more lackluster presentation than yesterday; however, there was still a lot of great footage, fascinating teases and some genuinely surprising guests.  The morning got off to a disappointing start when people had to suddenly come to terms with the fact that yesterday’s announcement about a lack of Star Wars news wasn’t misdirection, but a statement of fact.  There was absolutely nothing of note given that we didn’t already know.  I’m glad they started with this so we didn’t spend the entire panel waiting for Star Wars.  Still, it set a tone and started things off on the wrong foot.

At least they made the very wise decision to follow this up with an absolutely amazing presentation from Marvel.  Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Gaurdians of the Galaxy and The Avengers: Age of Ultron were all represented.  All of these films look amazing (with the exception of Avengers, which for obvious reasons didn’t have any footage), and we got to see quite a bit of exclusive footage.  Thor has a scope that far surpasses that of the original, with Asgardian sequences stunningly realized.  The filmmakers seem to have stuck a great balance between incredible action and compelling story.  Not only were we treated to an action sequence, but we saw a much smaller scene featuring Jane on Asgard, infected with something that nobody is able to identify.  She is on an Asgardian diagnostic machine when Odin comes in demanding her return to Earth.  When an attempt is made to remove her from the table, she emanates some sort of blast that throws people across the room.  I don’t the context for any of this, but it’s exciting to see that she will play a pivotal role to the story rather than a visitor to Asgard and nothing more.  Finally, the last footage we saw showed Loki committing an ultimate act of betrayal that is sure to become an iconic moment in the Marvel lexicon.  Incidentally, this footage was presented by Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins who received a standing ovation as he entered the stage.

ALAN HORN (CHAIRMAN, WALT DISNEY STUDIOS), ANTHONY MACKIE, SEBASTIAN STAN, CHRIS EVANSNext up was Captain America, which looks simply sensational.  Here is yet another film from the Marvel banner that is just epic in scope.  The new Helicarrier is stunning, far more impressive than in the Avengers.  The scale of this is just incredible with flawless CGI and terrific action sequences.  Yet having said that, the best footage we saw from the film isn’t any of the huge battles, elaborate stunts or incredible special effects, but rather an action sequence in an elevator.  Captain America is trapped in this elevator with several people trying to kill him, and utilizing a combination of his brains and brawn he is able to take them out one by one.  It must have been insanely complicated to choreograph and shoot a sequence such as this, in such tight quarters, and make it come across as believable and intense as it does.  This bodes very well for the film.  We also saw a light of footage featuring the witty banter between Captain and Black Widow, as well as some compelling footage of the Falcoln in flight.

As for Guardians of the Galaxy, no announcements were made but the same footage that was screened at Comic-Con was presented again.  It’s amazing footage, equal parts hilarious and exciting. The special effects are terrific, with Rocket Raccoon and Groot leaving an indelible impression on everyone who saw the footage.  The actors seem to be having a blast, the look of the film is perfectly realized, and this is just a film worth getting excited over.  I can’t wait.

Finally, we saw the same footage from Avengers: Age of Ultron shown at Comic-Con.  This was just an animated sequence showing the Iron Man helmet being reshaped into that of Ultron.  It probably played better at Comic-Con where nobody knew the name of the film.  Still, it was fun seeing the footage and I’m sure it’s going to be great.

Jumping from Marvel to DisneyNature, we were next shown a preview from their next film, Bears.  Like all their other films, they have humanized these animals and crafted what appears to be another forced narrative that will detract from the stunning footage obtained.  Of course, it’s too early to say for certain, but the preview sure seems to imply that with the naming of the bears and a voiceover detailing some journey they are forced to undertake.  I love “seeing” these films, but I don’t necessarily enjoy “watching” them.  It’s a shame, as the footage is really quite stunning.

Muppets-Most-Wanted

The onslaught of films continued with Muppets Most Wanted, the sequel to most recent Muppet film.  It looked good, but I have to say I wasn’t as completely impressed as I was hoping to be.  The last one was such a perfect commentary on the Muppets themselves that it feels like a step back to put them in a narrative as conventional as Kermit’s evil twin trying to steal the Crown Jewels.  Of course, there are some very funny gags, but nothing that really stands out.  Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais and Ty Burell all star, and Burell actually showed up in an extremely tiny car that he drives in the film.  It was an impressive feat of contortionism seeing him get in an out of the car, but beyond that sight gag, there was nothing truly inspiring about what we were shown.

Maleficent

Other highlights included Angelina Jolie’s surprise appearance to promote Maleficent, a new film looking at the Sleeping Beauty story from Maleficent’s perspective.  The filmmakers seem to have worked hard to capture the spirit of the original Disney film, and Jolie seems perfect for the role.  However, the fairies of the film look horrendously distorted and I really hope this isn’t a final look that they are going with.  We were also promised that we would see the iconic transformation into a dragon, but we would be rooting for her this time.  The world of the film looks stunning, I’m just a little apprehensive about the CGI work.  This one could go either way.

Tomorrowland

As for Tomorrowland, Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof showed up with an actual “Mystery Box” (look up JJ Abrams famous Mystery Box speech if you don’t get this reference-it’s terrific).  Anyway, the box allegedly was discovered in what they call “The Morgue” of Imagineering, where various concepts are filed away and lost to the ages.  Supposedly, when this box was discovered there were all sorts of mysterious elements that formed a convoluted puzzle that teased a lot of vague ideas of what the film could be, but didn’t really tell us anything specific.  It appears that the film incorporates interdimensional travel of some sort, secret devices under the World Fair’s original version of It’s a Small World, nuclear destruction, robots, a think tank run by the world’s greatest inventors, and on and on.  I have to say, the film appears to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and will be a truly unique experience.  That being said, I did find it frustrating to watch Bird and Lindelof spend so much time deconstructing a puzzle that was obviously developed by themselves.  As they pieced the mystery together, I couldn’t help but focus on the fact that they are the ones who built the pieces.  While it all rang very false to myself, it did provide some interesting insight into a film that we don’t yet have a clear grasp on.  I can’t wait to learn more.

Saving-Mr-Banks

The last presentation of the morning was Saving Mr. Banks, a film that will definitely play very well for the D23 crowd.  If you aren’t familiar with the film, it stars Tom Hands as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers.  Detailing the well-documented contention between them in the creation of Mary Poppins, this appears to be a fascinating slice-of-life of the Disney machine.  The footage was equal parts funny, charming and just altogether compelling.  After the footage, we were treated to a rendition of Let’s Go Fly A Kite, performed by BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman, who play the Sherman Brothers.  Richard Sherman stunned the audience by coming out on stage and leading the audience in a sing-along of the piece while performers rushed into the audience waving around artificial kites.  As their panels tend to do, the presentation ended with a burst of confetti, in this case appropriately shaped like kites.

Overall, there was definitely some good stuff.  However, it would have been nice to have some more surprises such as yesterday’s reveal of Zootopia, or even footage from a film that we didn’t quite understand such as yesterday’s Inside Out.  As is, everything felt very calculated and safe, with nothing really standing out as being unexpected.  It was a predictable morning, but it was a lot of fun.  As I said yesterday, this looks to be a great time for the Disney Corporation, and I can’t wait to see if these films live up to the hype.

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