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#D23Expo: What We Learned about Disney’s Upcoming Animated Films (Video)

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At the recent D23 Expo in Anaheim, California, John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Disney Animation took to the stage in Hall D23 (introduced by Alan Horn, pictured above) to give audiences some new insight into what’s coming down the pipeline from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar and DisneyToon Studios. I was in attendance for the presentation (I was tweeting live from the floor) and got a first-hand look at some incredible things that were shown for the very first time – some of which can be shared with you now, while others you’ll have to wait to see. What’s certain is that there’s a stellar lineup ahead, including some much-requested new chapters of fan-favorite franchises, along with some completely unexpected new films. Here’s the details…


DisneyToon Studios is often the lesser-known, if not occasionally forgotten member of Disney’s animation arm. Known for work such as the Disney Fairies series and their PLANES films (a pair of movies set in and above the world of Disney•Pixar’s CARS, but not created by Pixar), since the release of 2015’s Tinker Bell and The Legend of The Neverbeast, things have been pretty quiet regarding the activities of the Glendale-based crew. Now comes word that Directors Klay Hall and Bobs Gannaway are “reinventing” DisneyToon Studios with a new feature produced by Ferrell Barron – one that “explores the future of aviation—taking moviegoers to the edge of discovery in the air—and beyond.”


Set to open in theaters on April 12th, 2019, the crowd in Hall D23 was treated to a “SPEED TEST” short in which two extremely realistic looking fighter jets streaked across the sky in dazzling acrobatics, prompting many (like myself) to think that this wasn’t somehow connected to the world of Cars… until they opened their eyes, following some type of space shuttle into the mysterious heavens above as the word “SPACE” hit the screen, surrounded by smaller text that read “This SPACE will be filled with a title.”


Directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston stepped out to introduce Emmy®-winning actress and comedian Sarah Silverman, who returns as the voice of Vanellope von Schweetz in the sequel to WRECK-IT RALPH. What no one expected was that we’d see the debut of a scene from the film that manages to lovingly poke fun at the Disney creative empire, with Vanellope making her way through the internet and landing in a Disney-owned website, where behind the scenes she encounters all the Disney Princesses… and somehow, Star Wars’ C-3PO and R2-D2. 

WIR2 FirstLook

After the clip (a mix of finished animation and hand-drawn animatics filling the gaps), the largest gathering of Disney Princesses in history took place – with Auli‘i Cravalho (“Moana”), Kristen Bell (Anna in “Frozen”), Kelly MacDonald (Merida in “Brave”), Mandy Moore (Rapunzel in “Tangled”), Anika Noni Rose (Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog”), Irene Bedard (“Pocahontas”), Linda Larkin (Jasmine in “Aladdin”), Paige O’Hara (Belle in “Beauty and the Beast”) and Jodi Benson (Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”) hitting the stage together.


Produced by Oscar® winner Clark Spencer, RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 hits theaters on Nov. 21st, 2018!


When we last heard from Director Dan Scanlon, he was helming Pixar’s MONSTERS UNIVERSITY. Now, he’s hard at work on “The Untitled Pixar Film That Takes You To a SUBURBAN FANTASY WORLD.” Currently in production at Pixar Animation Studios,  the film, according to Scanlon, who lost his father at a very young age, is inspired by the question he’s always asked: who was my father?


The story is set in a world with no humans—only elves, trolls and sprites—“anything that would be on the side of a van in the ’70s,” said the director. “In the film, we’re going to tell the story of two teenage elf brothers whose father died when they were too young to remember him. But thanks to the little magic still left in the world, the boys embark on a quest that will allow them a chance to spend one last magical day with their father.” Kori Rae (“Monsters University”) will produce. 

No release date yet, but I can tell you that this film treats unicorns like rodents – they’re everywhere, and like raccoons, they’re crazed and eat garbage. Quite simply: This looks awesome.


When I was visiting Pixar Animation Studios ahead of the Cars 3 launch earlier this year, my curiosity for COCO was piqued when I happened upon the “Coco Hallway” where production was taking place.


At D23 Expo, guests were treated to the first-ever public performance of “Remember Me” a new original song from the film. Anthony Gonzalez, who provides the voice of Miguel in the film, and Benjamin Bratt, who lends his voice to Ernesto de la Cruz, teamed up to perform the song written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Capping the animation presentation, the grand finale featured more than 160 performers who descended upon Hall D23 at the Anaheim Convention Center, including the Grammy-winning Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea and Ballet Folklorico de Los Angeles under the direction of Kareli Montoya, and the Grammy®-winning Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band.


“Our film embraces a broad landscape of music,” said director Lee Unkrich. “We were fortunate to have Kristen and Bobby create ‘Remember Me’—it’s the signature song made famous by Ernesto de la Cruz, and it embodies the key theme in our story: the importance of remembering loved ones both in life and beyond.”

Unkrich, co-director and screenwriter Adrian Molina and producer Darla K. Anderson shared details about the original story with the crowd. In theaters Nov. 22, 2017, COCO introduces Miguel, an aspiring musician whose family long ago banned music. Desperate to prove his talent and follow in the footsteps of his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz, Miguel makes a fateful decision and finds himself in the Land of the Dead, where he meets his extended family and charming trickster Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal). Together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.


I remember sitting in a theater and seeing the trailer for THE INCREDIBLES about a year or so ahead of its 2004 release. My thoughts at the time were that it looked quite unfinished – like a late 90s videogame – and while the film ended up being fantastic, visually I’ve always thought it could’ve looked better. Now, technology has finally caught up to the concept, and THE INCREDIBLES 2 is headed for theaters on June 15, 2018. 

Incredibles 2 FirstLook FINAL

Lasseter, who’s looked forward to the return of everyone’s favorite family of superheroes since THE INCREDIBLES was still in production, was excited to share with fans a look at what the fashion world thinks of super-suit stylist Edna Mode—the petite-but-powerful character introduced in Pixar Animation Studio’s 2004 Oscar®-winning feature. Showcasing fashion phenoms from Heidi Klum and Kendall Jenner to Zac Posen and Rachel Zoe…

INCREDIBLES 2 director Brad Bird—who lends his voice to Edna—joined Lasseter on stage to welcome to the festivities the voices of Mr. and Mrs. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (newcomer Huck Milner) and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson). Bird revealed details of the upcoming caper, which puts the family into an expanded universe that includes new allies and a brand-new villain. “‘Incredibles 2’ is really a family film, it’s just that the family happens to have super powers,” said Bird. “They may have super speed or super strength, but they experience the same problems as any family.” 


Let’s just say that Mr. Incredible as an at-home dad at one point is something I can very much relate to. If you fall asleep on the couch (as I have), your kids can get into some wacky adventures.


It was long-expected that John Lasseter himself would be helming TOY STORY 4, but at D23 it was revealed that Pixar’s Josh Cooley (“Riley’s First Date?” short) has assumed full director responsibilities for TOY STORY 4. He’ll be under the guidance and mentorship of Lasseter, and the pair brought with them a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the director’s life at the Northern California studio.


Produced by Jonas Rivera (“Inside Out”), TOY STORY 4 is slated for release on June 21st, 2019! 


Our next visit to Arendelle hits the big-screen in front of Disney•Pixar’s COCO on Nov. 22, 2017.


In the 21-minute holiday short, OLAF’S FROZEN ADVENTURE, Olaf sets out to find some holiday traditions for Anna and Elsa to celebrate. Kristen Bell, the voice of Anna, introduced fans to a clip from the film, while Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf, surprised the crowd with a live performance of the all-new original song “That Time of Year,” written by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson

FROZEN 2 (Not the Final Title)

FROZEN 2 is coming to theaters on November 27, 2019, and we have confirmation that the final title is not FROZEN 2, nor FROZEN PEAS or FROZEN ASSETS, nor will it be THAWED (seriously, those were all refuted). Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, and produced by Peter Del Vecho, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ feature-length follow-up to 2013’s Oscar®-winning film FROZEN will welcome back Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel and Jonathan Groff to reprising their roles in an all-new story. John Lasseter, Bell and Gad shared with FROZEN fans a behind-the-scenes video showcasing the filmmakers’ recent research trip to Norway, Finland and Iceland.

With so much to look forward to, you’ll want to stay tuned to THE ROCK FATHER™ Magazine for more news on these films in the days, weeks, months – and even years ahead!

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