This year’s D23, the ultimate convention for all things Disney, was arguably the most pivotal in the studio’s history. It’s the first one held since both streaming service Disney+ was announced and 20th Century Fox was acquired. This wasn’t just a tease of a huge new swathe of properties, but a mission of intent. How would such an ever-growing behemoth conduct itself both in terms of business and in terms of creativity? What does this new era of Disney look like exactly?
In the company’s own words, it wants to be thought of a family, and that’s certainly how things were conducted over the Expo’s key panels: one on Disney+ and one on Disney’s feature films. Alongside some sneak peeks and never-before-seen footage, the studio also made a few surprise announcements (while also confirming a few things that have been long rumoured and reported). Here is the ultimate breakdown of what happened at the 2019 D23 Expo:
What might have been most surprising is how little of a presence 20th Century Fox actually had at the presentations. Although films like Avatar 2, Artemis Fowl, and The King’s Man were briefly teased, the overall message was that Disney was still in the midst of working out how exactly the properties it’s acquired fit into its mould. There’s still a sense that everything’s up in the air at the moment, which isn’t going to help soothe people’s concerns. Maybe we’ll find answers at the next D23.
With Marvel powering down a little after Avengers: Endgame, it was Lucasfilm and Star Wars that took centre stage at the weekend’s proceedings. A long-awaited second tease of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker footage was brief: a few shots of the gang, a quick look at Leia, Rey and Kylo Ren fighting on the remains of Death Star II, a sea of star destroyers, C-3PO with red eyes (who knows why), and Jannah and Finn on the Millennium Falcon. And then there was the major shakeup: Rey, wearing a cloak, with a red lightsaber. Keri Russell also teased her character Zori as “very cool and a little bit shady”. She’s a criminal and an old friend of Poe’s, Russell said with a knowing wink.
Meanwhile, the jewel in Disney+’s crown is inarguably The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars TV series. After cast members Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers, Taika Waititi, and Giancarlo Esposito took to the stage, the first official trailer for the show premiered. Kennedy stressed that any Star Wars shows produced would maintain the same quality as the films and, from the footage we’ve seen so far, that promise seems to have been upheld. Taking its inspiration from samurai films and westerns, the show is a more gritty and violent take on the Star Wars universe that seems more in line with 2016’s Rogue One than anything else we’ve seen before.
Although Star Wars will already have a prominent place on the service, as every film in the series will be made available within the first year, including The Rise of Skywalker, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy made clear that the franchise has far grander plans. Not only did Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk appear on stage to talk about the planned return of their Rogue One characters Cassian Andor and K-2SO, but the panel also ended with an official confirmation of the rumours that Ewan McGregor would be returning as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Although in exactly what capacity remains unspecified, Kennedy stated that the scripts in question had already been written and that filming would take place next year.
Star Wars The Mandalorian trailer
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige didn’t have too much to bring to D23, considering what a showing the studio made at this year’s Comic-Con. Black Panther II was announced to have a release date of 6 May 2022 while Barry Keoghan, Gemma Chan, and Kit Harington were all officially confirmed to be a part of the cast of Eternals.
A first trailer for Black Widow was also shown, which featured Scarlett Johansson’s Avenger going toe-to-toe with what appears to be her sister, Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova. It’s a brutal fight scene where dish towels, plates, and bedsheets are all used as weapons (think Atomic Blonde) and gives a good idea of the film’s tone. There was a quick glimpse of David Harbour and Rachel Weisz’s characters, with all four characters referred to as some kind of family, in whatever sense that might be interpreted.
More information was on offer when it came to Marvel’s presence on Disney+ , with Feige indulging us in a few select details about what we can expect in the coming years. Although no official trailers were debuted, there was a brief teaser for What If…?, an animated show based on the comic series of the same name. The idea behind it is to take stories already familiar to audiences and change one crucial element, with the episodes drawing from all 23 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The majority of the MCU cast have also lent their voices to the project.
Of the brief clips shown to the D23 audience, the sure highlight was seeing Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter get injected with the supersoldier serum that created Captain America and start wielding a Union Jack-emblazoned shield (worth noting: she is not called Captain Britain in the episode, which is already an existing Marvel character, but Captain Carter). Another clip saw The Winter Soldier fighting a zombie Captain America on a subway train.
Loki will take place after the character escaped with the tesseract in Avengers: Endgame, while The Falcon and the Winder Soldier will allow for a much deeper exploration of the two characters, played by Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie, revealing both their pasts and their futures in a post-Endgame world. Daniel Brühl will return as Helmut Zemo and Emily VanCamp will return as Sharon Carter, while Wyatt Russell will star as new character John Walker. Feige also briefly mentioned the Hawkeye series, which will introduce Kate Bishop to the MCU.
Elsewhere, there are a couple of book adaptations (Stargirl and Timmy Failure Mistakes Were Made), and some traditional Christmas fare – Noelle stars Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader, Billy Eichner, Shirley MacLaine, and Airplane!’s Julie Hagerty. The plot follows a member of the North Pole’s own Pringle family as she goes on the search for her missing brother, who had recently been promoted to the role of Santa Claus.
The service will also feature 5,000 episodes of both Disney Channel and Disney Jr shows, alongside 100 original movies. Hilary Duff appeared to announce her return as a grown-up Lizzie McGuire in a new series from original creator Terri Minsky, which will follow the lead-up to the character’s 30th birthday. “She’s older, she’s wiser, and she has a much bigger shoe budget,” Duff joked.
Lady and the Tramp - official trailer
Disney will also be taking something of an unusual step by avoiding a straight remake of High School Musical, the 2006 TV movie that shaped many a millennial’s teen years and spawned the unstoppable earworm that is “We’re All in This Together”. Instead, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series will follow a group of kids attending the high school where the film was shot, as they stage their own version for their winter theatre production. It will feature both reinterpretations of the original songs and completely new numbers. Plus, as the first trailer revealed, the series is shot as a faux-documentary and there’s even a touch of The Office to its humour.
On a different note, The Muppets will also make their long-awaited return to the screen, starring in a series of shorts titled Muppets Now, which (as per tradition) will feature a string of celebrity guests.
In direct contrast to Disney’s live-action fare, Pixar’s future slate is entirely original – it’s something studio head Peter Docter made sure to emphasise. The first to be released will be Onward, which sees Tom Holland and Chris Pratt play elf brothers, Ian and Barley, who live in a world that was once home to magic but has now become dull and modernised. The footage shown featured jogging centaurs, gnomes with lawnmowers, and trash-eating unicorns. The boys’ father died before Ian was born, but their mother (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gives them a special gift he left behind: a staff that can bring him back – even if it’s for one day. The event sets them off on an incredible journey that brings the two brothers closer together.
Soul, meanwhile, will delve into the world of metaphysics, while featuring Pixar’s first majority black cast. Jamie Foxx will voice Joe Gardner, an ordinary middle school band teacher with dreams of becoming a jazz pianist, but who ends up trapped in the You Seminar. In short, the You Seminar is the place where souls are trained, giving people their personalities. Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs and Tina Fey also star, while the soundtrack will be composed by Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor, and Atticus Ross.
During the first year of service, Disney+ will host the entire Pixar library, alongside two new additions. A series of shorts titled Forky Asks a Question will bring back Toy Story 4’s standout favourite, as he discovers the answers to life’s most pressing queries with the help of a few friends. Monsters at Work, set to debut in 2020, is a situation comedy based in the world of Monsters Inc and set directly after the events of the 2001 film. Ben Feldman voices Tylor, a monster who’s struggling to deal with the fact Monstropolis is no longer powered by the screams of children, but by their laughter. Aisha Tyler will voice Tylor’s mother.
It was all about Frozen II when it came to Disney animation and D23 certainly didn’t hold back. Three new songs, written by the original’s Oscar-winning team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, were confirmed: a lullaby sung by Anna and Elsa’s mother (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) in a flashback; “Into the Unknown”, sung by Idina Menzel as Elsa; and “Some Things Never Change”, sung by Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Kristen Bell, and Josh Gad. Sterling K Brown was also announced as the voice of new character Lieutenant Mattias. The sequel promises to answer everyone’s burning questions about why Elsa has her powers and why her parents died, since the past isn’t what it seems to be.
However, an entirely new (and original) project was also announced: Raya and the Last Dragon, which draws from the cultures and mythology of South East Asia. Set in the fictional kingdom of Kumandra, which is divided into five clans, Raya (Cassie Steele) goes on a journey to find the last surviving dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina). She hopes Sisu can help dispel the dark force that has taken over the kingdom but, as it turns out, the creature isn’t quite the hero she was expecting.