“The Avengers,” “Brave” and “John Carter” are coming to Anaheim this weekend.
The three-day D23 Expo 2011 opens Friday with previews and promotions representing every corner of the Mouse’s universe but the brightest of all spotlights will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday when Walt Disney Studios begins a preview of upcoming film projects that will include movies from Disney proper as well as Pixar and, for the first time at the Expo, Marvel Studios.
At the first Expo, back in September 2009, the same preview program in the Anaheim Convention Center’s arena included appearances by Johnny Depp, John Travolta, Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage, and you can expect a similar parade of famous faces this year as Disney looks to further establish the D23 event as its own in-house version of Comic-Con International’s Hall H — the place where Hollywood studios reach out to fans, bloggers and the media with celebrity panels and first-look footage.
The preview on Saturday will be hosted by Rich Ross, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, and he will be joined by Sean Bailey, his president of production, as well as John Lasseter, the chief creative officer for Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, and the newcomer to the group, Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios. The details of the program are top secret at this point but here’s a look at six of the films that will be highlighted (and one that they probably won’t be mentioning):
“John Carter”: The most startling no-show last month at Comic-Con International’s Hall H had to be this fantasy epic from Andrew Stanton, the writer-director of “Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E” who is making the move into live-action feature film. If you consider cost (well north of $200 million or even, by some accounts, north of $300 million), ambition, release date and the century-old source material, there’s no 2012 movie that appeared more in need of a San Diego splash than this project. Disney’s choice to hold the March release back from Comic-Con may show an institutional commitment to make D23 a must-see event (as opposed to an afterthought sequel to Hall H) but it puts even more pressure on Stanton and cast members Taylor Kitsch, Willem Dafoe and Lynn Collins to win over the D23 crowd to the idea of visiting the expansive (and now expensive) Martian landscapes of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
“The Avengers”: On the screen, this May 2012 film will team Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (now Mark Ruffalo and looking different) and off the screen it represents the first Marvel Studios release to fully fly under the Disney banner. Feige and his team made Comic-Con history in 2010 when they marched the whole cast (which also includes Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner) out on stage and the thunderclap moment was so big that they opted to skip Hall H altogether this year. Feige and director Joss Whedon won’t say what they have in mind for this weekend’s Anaheim adventure.
“Brave”: It’s hard to imagine that Pixar (which is celebrating a special but understated 25th anniversary this week) has something to prove after a dozen feature films, more than $6.5 billion in worldwide box office and 10 Oscars on the mantle, but that’s absolutely the case. “Cars 2” had some dazzling visuals, sure, but after the triumphs of “Toy Story 3” and “Up” it felt like a crass concession to retail realities. Lasseter knows the score and will be coming to D23 to bang the drum for the June 2012 release of “Brave,” a Pixar riff on the classic Disney princess story. “Brave” is an ancient Scottish Highlands tale of an impetuous, red-headed young archer named Merida who goes against clan tradition to find her own path but encounters a dark curse along the way. Cast members Kelly Macdonald (“No Country for Old Men,” “Boardwalk Empire”) and Kevin McKidd (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” ) will join Lasseter. (There will also be other Pixar panels during the weekend and we’ll have more on that here at Hero Complex.)
“Wreck-It Ralph”: This November 2012 computer-animated release is banking on the voice of John C. Reilly as well as some serious television comedy talent. The director is Rich Moore, former animation director of “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” and the stars are Jack McBrayer of “30 Rock,” Jane Lynch of “Glee” and and Sarah Silverman of “The Sarah Silverman Program.” Reilly is the title character, a video-game bad guy who longs to be loved like Fix-It Felix, played by McBrayer. Even more interesting: Will Silverman be able to stay G-rated for the entire preview session on Saturday?
“The Muppets”: This Thanksgiving release has just everybody in Hollywood making an appearance (Neil Patrick Harris, Mila Kunis, Katy Perry, Ricky Gervais, Jack Black, Zach Galifianakis among them) but who will show up on Saturday in Anaheim? Disney officials confirm that Kermit the Frog, Ms. Piggy and Jason Segel (who stars in the film and also co-wrote the screenplay) will be on stage but won’t say much beyond that. The first Muppets film in 12 years is being directed by James Bobin and there are high hopes that the inventive Brit will bring the right subversive humor to the franchise — he worked with Sacha Baron Cohen on the creation of Ali G, Borat and Bruno and is also the co-creator of the HBO series “Flight of the Conchords.”
“Oz: The Great and Powerful”: After all the box-office heroics of his “Spider-Man” trilogy, director Sam Raimi is watching the masked-man swing off with a new filmmaker. Now Raimi turns his attention to this “Wizard of Oz” prequel, which stars James Franco as Oz and Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams as the three witches from all directions in the land of the Yellow Brick Road. The movie doesn’t reach theaters until March 2013 so this will be a handshake moment between Disney fans and a project that has hopes that lie somewhere over the box-office rainbow.
“The Lone Ranger”: At D23 Expo 2009, Jerry Bruckheimer showed the audience a logo for his planned masked-man western and in the months after Gore Verbinski was announced as director and Armie Hammer as the title hero who would ride with Johnny Depp as a non-traditional Tonto. All that is up in the air now, though, as a budget showdown between Ross and Bruckheimer’s team has shut down the work on the film. The movie might still happen but the upshot for D23 fans: Don’t expect to see Depp in the room this weekend.
— Geoff Boucher
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