With hits like Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland, Disney’s enjoyed enormous success adapting its back catalog of beloved animated tales—at this weekend’s D23 Expo, the studio showcased some of its latest live-action updates.
Follow our live updates below.
11:05 a.m. Alan Horn introduces Sean Bailey, President of Production at Walt Disney Studios. “These stories and characters are a part of our family,” Horn says. “We want to tell stories that deserve to be told. That have heart and humor and that reflect those vales. It takes a special kind of person to make these films—a person who himself embodies those qualities.”
11:09 “This is a very exciting time to be working at the studio,” says Bailey. “We’re excited to reimagine these classic and timeless tales in a modern way, whether with a twist”—as in Maleficent or Into the Woods, “or hewing more closely to the original,” like with this spring’s Cinderella.
11:15 Disney previews The Finest Hours. Directed by Craig Gillespie, the film follows a rescue that took place in the North Atlantic 50 years ago. A Coast Guard destroyer is ripped in half by heavy seas. And a 36-foot boat with a four-man team braved 80 foot waves before losing navigation to miraculously find the boat. Even then, the rescuers discovered they only had one-third the capacity necessary to make their rescue. It came down to the Captain Bernie Webber – played by Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, Chris Pine – to make the call: “We all live or we all die.”
“Coming from the science-fiction world that I come from, flying fictionally in space on a fictional space ship, it was so nice to read something that got ever more dramatic, the waves got bigger and the stakes got higher,” Pine says. “And everything you read actually happened.”
11:19 a.m. Bailey announces The Jungle Book. “We strive to both honor what’s come before while saying something new. And with this title, the bar is very, very high,” he says. He explained they want to bring back the characters from the 1967 original and honor the integrity of that film as well as Rudyard Kipling’s novel. He promises “heart-stopping action and incredible wonder.” In finding a director, he says, “Our expectations were met and exceeded by a man who has the rare talent of being as good in front of the camera as behind it.” With that, Jon Favreau walks onstage.
11:22 a.m. In their earliest meetings about The Jungle Book, the question was, “Are we going to be adding anything to the tradition? Are we going to be building on something we already love?” Favreau says. Both he and Horn “had different perspectives on something that we both cared deeply about… Finding the balance between the iconic, mythic power of the Kipling and all of the images that I grew up with from the animated feature, how do you combine those things? … How do you build upon that legacy?”
11:25 a.m. Favreau says Walt Disney “was a storyteller first and foremost — but he also loved technology.” He wanted to extend the Disney legacy of incorporating the newest, cutting-edge technology, and doing something completely new with it. “It’s really about the craftsmen, it’s really about the artists. The men and women who work around the clock to make things perfect.”
11:26 a.m. Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha and newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli came on stage next, and Favreau described the experience of shooting the film using motion-capture technology. “This is actually the first time you’re meeting any of these people, isn’t it Neel?” Favreau asks his young star. “Yes,” Sethi replies. “This is awesome.
11:29 a.m. Kingsley says, “When I was Neel’s age, I probably heard for the first time When You Wish Upon a Star and something inside me popped with a kind of recognition. Thanks Jon, and thanks Disney, for making me a part of something that moved me so much.”
11:30 a.m. Kingsley and Sethi did voice work together as part of the motion-capture process, and Kingsley recalls the experience: “Working with really, really young people teaches actors so much, because Neel has an astonishing purity, an amazing connection with his character, and to be with him for those wonderful magic days that Jon brought us together was very inspiring, and it’s so exciting to feel that my voice has been translated by brilliant technicians and artists.”
Kingsley jokes, “They say never work with children and animals. I worked with a child, I played an animal!”
11:32 a.m. “The basis for all of it are the choices the actors make,” Favreau says. “This was a really interesting process,” says Nyong’o, who is enjoying her first-ever trip to Disneyland. She never worked on the set with Sethi, but says she was very moved by watching him. “It was also very cool to work on an animal. I play a mother wolf, an I learned so much about the sophistication of wolfpacks… To be able to tap into that and to bring humanity to that was a really precious experience.”
11:35 a.m. Favreau introduces some never-before-seen footage, exclusive to D23. It begins with Scarlett Johansson as Kaa speaking in voiceover, describing Mowgli’s mythic origin, and then follows Mowgli trying to get back to the Man Village, and making a lot of animal friends (and enemies) along the way. The trailer includes Bill Murray’s Baloo singing a few bars of The Bare Necessities, which, he explains to Mowgli, is “a song about the good life.”
“That was neat!” Sethi says.
“One thing Disney has focused on in recent years is the empowered heroine,” Horn says, before introducing Alice Through the Looking Glass.
11:39 a.m. Sean Bailey attempts to justify why the studio created a sequel to the billion-dollar-plus grossing Alice in Wonderland: “We always have to answer the quewtion: what’s an idea that warrants a return?”
Scheduled to hit theaters next May, director James Bobin, Alice Through the Looking Glass brings back all the first film’s stars — Mia Wasikowska as Alice, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen — and we meet a new addition to the cast: Sasha Baron Cohen as Time.
“With the introduction of time, there’s quite a bit of time travel in this film,’ Wasikowska said. “We get to see the characters at different times in their lives.”
In a sizzle reel for Alice, we see the character step through looking glass only to tumble through a doorway and into a cherry blossom tree—her dramatic entrance into a magical world. Alice is greeted by the White Queen, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee who inform her the Mad Hatter has “gone darker.” She must travel back in time to save him.
From there, we discover Time lives in a castle and is a disgruntled personage with a handlebar mustache, a man bun, and more gold jewelry than Mr. T. “Time is someone extremely powerful. He’s not someone you want as your enemy,” Alice is informed.
Adds Baron-Cohen in character, “You cannot win in a race against Time.”
11:45 a.m. Bailey says the next film, a remake of live-action and animation mix Pete’s Dragon, is a movie he never thought they’d remake. “Like many great boy and his dog—or boy and his dragon—stories, this one will make you laugh and make you cry.”
11:47 a.m. Pete’s Dragon star Bryce Dallas Howard comes onstage. “Disney is killing it!” She cries. “I get to play a character who acts opposite Robert Redford and a dragon,” she enthuses. “I was obsessed with Pete’s Dragon as a kid. I was excited about the notion that I was going to get to kind of re-feel this story again, because when I watched that story as a child, it does something to your core.”
11:50 a.m. We get a sneak peek at an exclusive trailer of David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon. It opens with Howard and Redford’s character discussing a little boy who’s been living alone in the forest — except, as Howard points out, he says he wasn’t alone. No real glimpse of the dragon himself, but it ends with a teasing shot of a small hand petting something enormous and furry.
11:52 a.m. Next up was Queen of Katwe, the true story of an Ugandan chess prodigy named Phiona Mutesi. The film, based a book of the same name by Tim Crothers, focuses on Mutesi’s goal to become a Grandmaster. David Oyelowo plays her coach, Robert Katende, while Lupita Nyong’o stars as Mutesi’s mother.
“It was, first of all, so great to go back home,” Nyong’o says. “I’m from East Africa, I’m from Kenya, which is just next door to Uganda. To go back and make this film for the world to see, it was just incredible. … I met Phiona Mutesi and her mother, and they are incredible people. This is about a commitment to a dream, even in the most discouraging situations.”
She continues: “This is the kind of movie you have to humble yourself to the circumstances. You have to get down and work. … The slum of Katwe is a very difficult place to live, but you see people working to make it day by day. It inspired us. To have that vibe was really exciting. It’s the story of a girl who saw something that interested her, and went for it with all that she had. And we look up to her from around the world.”
Nyong’o also praises the film’s director, Mira Nair: “Mira has a ravenous passion. She lives in Uganda half the year for 13 years. She was so committed to keeping it authentic and letting the world see that. It’s very vibrant, very colorful. It’s full of movie magic as well.
11:58 a.m. Time to say bonjour to everyone’s favorite French princess. “Our goal with this film was to bring the story to life in a way so that all of you who know and love it will be rewarded,” Bailey says about Beauty and the Beast. He assures us it will be a musical, and says Emma Watson is “stunning.” The crowd is exploding.
11:59 a.m. “Bringing Belle to life, for me, has been a complete dream come true,” Watson says on a prerecorded message, since she’s busy shooting in London. She introduces a video of Luke Evans and Josh Gad, who play Gaston and his doofy sidekick Lefou, respectively. “We decided we would sing a couple of bars, if you’re okay with it,” Gad says, before launching into a verse from “Gaston.” My, what a guy!
12:01 a.m. Bailey says the musical numbers in the film are “lavish and joyous,” and says the film will include two new songs from Alan Menken and Tim Rice. Then he moves on to the last Disney Studios film of the day — Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
12:02 a.m. Bailey says the new Pirates will feature a “formidable” new foe for Jack Sparrow, Captain Salazar, played by Javier Bardem, and promises another faceoff between Sparrow and his “frenemy” Captain Barbossa. “There’s another character in this tale, in this franchise, that we think the audience particularly cares to see Jack Sparrow interact with,” Bailey says. It’s official — Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner is back!
12:06 a.m. “Dick van Dyke was there yesterday,” Sparrow slurs. “Susan Lucci, George Lucas, a few people I couldn’t pronounce their names – they were here.” Sean Bailey begins with Depp’s outro when the star exclaims: “I came to sing you a song!” Bailey tries again, prompting a visibly crestfallen Capt. Jack to say: “I don’t want to sing.”
Complete D23 Expo coverage
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