It was news when it was announced that Dick Cook would be a keynote speaker at the D23 Expo on behalf of the Walt Disney Studios. It was big news when it was announced that he would be joined on stage by actor Nicolas Cage. It was headlines when D23 announced at the eleventh hour that directors Robert Zemeckis and Tim Burton would also take the stage. But what literally thousands of rabid Disney fans bore witness to this morning defies any category of news. Filled with exclusives and celebrities upon celebrities, even those who had an inkling there was more than Disney was letting on couldn’t have imagined what the Walt Disney Studio managed to pull off in front of the capacity crowd.
Getting settled in your seat, it was impossible not to notice the orchestra setup at stage right – you knew then you were in for something a little extra. The lights dim and the orchestra fills the Arena with epic theme music as clips from Disney films begin to play. Then you start to hear singing voices as a 10 person choir chimes in when there are lyrics to be sung. Theme song after theme song, movie after movie, from Snow White to the Proposal and everything in-between. It has to be at least, oh, I don’t know… 23 minutes long. An absolute masterpiece crafted by Barnette Richie with music and songs sync’d perfectly every frame of the way, remarkably demonstrated by an extended clip of a musical number from Enchanted mid-way.
Then Walt Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook took the stage. He talked of his love for the company ever since he started as a steam train and monoral operator at the Disneyland Resort some 40 years ago. He spoke of quality being the underlying factor in movies produced by the studio. He talked about the animation studios and upcoming projects such as Cars 2 and Rapunzel which will be covered in depth when John Lasseter takes the same stage on Sunday. He talked about how for the first time in history the Walt Disney Studios will open its gate to the public and invite them to see a limited pre-release engagement of The Princess and the Frog in the studio’s newly renovated state-of-the-art theater as well as the special engagement in New York City’s famous Ziegfeld Theatre.
He acknowledged the work of Miramax before turning to the Touchstone Pictures label and its newest upcoming release The Last Song, written by Nicholas Sparks for and starring Miley Cyrus. And he mentioned the upcoming sequel Wild Hogs 2: Bachelor Ride.
It was then when ‘snow’ began to fall slowly from the ceiling. What’s this? What’s this? ‘Merry Christmas’ he wished us as he presented us with our first gift: a 3D behind-the-scenes featurette of Disney’s A Christmas Carol. After the featurette, director Robert Zemeckis is called on stage. ‘Why?’ asked Cook. ‘Why make A Christmas Carol?’
Zemeckis’ response: ‘It’s timeless. It’s timely. It’s time travel — and you know how I feel about time travel movies [having made Back to the Future]‘ He then went on to explain that he felt the technology employed in the film now allows him to finally make the story the way ‘Dickens imagined it.’ With that, we are shown a new 3D trailer for the film (having seen the trailer before, it appeared that there was significant footage new to me, but I can’t be 100% sure).
Then Cook and Zemeckis confirmed that Disney will in fact be making a 3D motion-capture remake of the Beatles’ classic film Yellow Submarine with the ‘greatest soundtrack of all time’ as noted by Cook. And with that, the Zemeckis segment ends.
We moved on to Old Dogs starring John Travolta and Robin Williams, a film Cook described as ‘off the leash.’ Having seen the trailer before, I wasn’t too excited here because it just doesn’t appeal to me. The film looked nothing short of awful. I would soon eat my words but not before Cook called his ‘lucky charm’ to the stage: Old Dogs stars John Travolta, wife Kelly Preston and daughter Ella Bleu. Praising the debut of the youngest Travolta, Cook jokingly offered her a 25 picture deal. When daddy John wanted in, Cook denied him saying ‘you have 12 left in you at most.’
We were then shown an extended clip from Old Dogs, scenes involving a mix-up of pills between the two leads, which in part affected Robin Williams’ depth-perception as seen in the trailer. I really must confess that as lowbrow as the humor was in the clip, it was truly very, very funny. A glimmer of hope for the film afterall.
Next film up was Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland so cue Tim Burton. Introduced as a former Disney animator, Burton quickly objected and insisted he was an inbetweener (someone who fills in the animation between key frames). When asked why he wanted to make Alice, Burton said because he’s never seen a version he’s liked (with apologies to Disney). ‘Trippy and great’ are the words he used to describe the feel of the film when approached by Disney to make the film. Cook then pointed out that Alice in Wonderland has to be one of the most complicated movies ever made and asked Burton what made it so complicated. Burton’s response: ‘Me.’ Burton then went on to explain that while the movie isn’t doing anything particularly revolutionary, the varied techniques have never been mixed together in such a way before, adding to the complexity. The secret to making a good film according to Burton is to ‘find great actors that don’t mind looking ridiculous.’
We were then treated to the infamous teaser in 3D. Trippy indeed. Cook finished up Burton’s segment by noting that Disney will next work with Burton on a stop motion remake of his live action cult classic Frankenweenie, this time as a full length feature expected sometime in 2011.
The next surprise from Cook was to call out the Muppets which was immediately received by thunderous applause from the arena despite the fact that the Muppets were nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and Pepe appear on the large screen above Cook and they engage in a conversation leading one to think ‘oh, that’s cheap, Disney.’ Wrong again! The Muppets are coming to the stage they insist, just be patient. Pepe advises Cook to ‘go greenlight something.’
Then the curtain opened partially to reveal a replica of Disneyland’s Mark Twain featuring the trio singing a parody of ‘Prince Ali’ from Aladdin paying homage to Pepe. Cute? Yes. Over? Hardly. The curtain opened wider and the ship takes center stage. How does a ship manage to move across a stage? Sight gag: it’s being pushed by Sweetums.
Soon our field of vision is filled with Muppets galore as Miss Piggy is featured in a parody of Winnie the Pooh. The pinnacle is reached when Kermit appears in the wheel house and kicks off a powerful rendition of Rainbow Connection with the various Muppets joining in.
The ship leaves the stage and Statler and Waldorf appear on the screen. ‘That was something.’ ‘It sure was, but what was it?’ and the pair immediately chanted for their favorite celebrity instead: ‘We want Grumpy!’
The biggest laugh is yet to come when Cook announces the upcoming all-new Muppet movie and its title ‘The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made.’ Nothing is added to that, but there will be a Muppets panel on Sunday so that should prove to be fruitful.
Next up is a surprise visit from director Jerry Bruckheimer. Along with a distinguished past working with Walt Disney Studios, Bruckheimer has both Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and Sorcerer’s Apprentice coming up. For Bruckheimer, we are treated to a sneak peek of Prince of Persia which plays much more like a full blown trailer. Cook first advised that the film still was a work in progress and the footage would feature only temporary f/x but you couldn’t really tell. It looked beyond epic.
Next up was Sorcerer’s Apprentice star and co-producer Nicolas Cage. Asked about the interest in making a film based on the animated classic, Cage describes Fantasia as ‘the most beautiful film ever.. I watch it every year.’ We were then treated to what was billed as a behind-the-scenes look at Sorcerer’s Apprentice but it was chock-full of film footagey goodness.
Cook then went on to talk about the Disneynature label and the success of EARTH. He flashed a glimpse of upcoming projects such as African Cats: Kingdom of Courage before treating us to a featurette on the next release Oceans which is due out Earth Day, 2010.
Then Cook dropped the first bombshell: Walt Disney Studios was teaming up with Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro to form a new label: Disney’s Double Dare You. Del Toro, currently in New Zealand working on The Hobbit delivered a message via video in which he reminisced about trips to Disneyland when there were ride tickets and would talk about the most cherished E ticket, which didn’t necessarily mean a thrill ride, but instead meant a fully immersive and rewarding experience. He spoke of two attractions in particular that meant something to him: Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion and segued into what he wanted Disney’s Double Dare You to be: a creator of ‘beautiful, fully immersive and scary’ films the whole family can enjoy. He also talked about the potential of expanding the label’s brand into other areas such as books and merchandise.
Del Toro announced his first project would be an original film titled Troll Hunters. He went on to note that each of the films produced under the label would have a particular element in common, but declined to offer what it will be.
Surprise after surprise after surprise and it just won’t stop. Cook brings to the stage his next guest, Disney wunderkind Miley Cyrus. Cook wryly asked with all she does, how does Miley find the time to twitter? For the record, it’s because she has a blackberry — when her mom doesn’t take it away. The curtains then rose to reveal the band and Miley Cyrus gave a rocking performance of The Climb.
Cook then went on to feature additional upcoming releases such as Tron Legacy, showing the proof of concept film in 3D as well as some concept art. He also spoke briefly of the partnership to distribute live action films from DreamWorks.
Looking further into the future, Cook noted such films as Andrew Stanton’s John Carter of Mars which is anticipated to be a trilogy and offered some amazing concept art never before shown to the public. He mentioned The Lone Ranger which already has Johnny Depp attached to play Tonto and promised additional casting news in the near future before ending the presentation.
Or did Cook forget something? He knew he forgot something, but what?
And then it happened. In Epic proportions, a pirate ship slowly turns into full view and riding it is none other than Captain Jack Sparrow himself. The reason? Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides which is set to be released in the summer of 2011. Captain Jack’s anticipated take on the announcement? ‘Where’s the rum? No seriously, where’s the rum?’
You can see clips from the presentation, including Johnny Depp’s appearance here.
All photos by Eric Charbonneau/Le Studio/Wireimage. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.