By Amber Lena
It was a shock to everyone when the D23 Expo Live Action panel began with Marvel Studios's showcase. The general thought was that the Marvel franchise would go later in the panel so as to keep the audience anticipating what many were there to see. However, Disney Studios held its own.
First up, Alan Horn introduced Disney Nature's upcoming feature, "Bears." "Bears" follows a mother bear as she raises her two cubs through the first year in the Alaskan wilderness. During its first week in theaters, all tickets purchased for "Bears" will have a portion of profits donated to the National Park Foundation.
Next up, the president of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production, Sean Bailey, took the stage. The first film he introduced was "Muppets Most Wanted." The sequel to the popular first film features the Muppets traveling all over the world due to the diabolical scheming of an evil Ricky Gervais and an renown international criminal who bears a strange resemblance to everyone's favorite frog. Also in the film are a distinctly Russian sounding Tina Fey, a farcical French Ty Burrell, and the lady who will tell you she's the real star of it all, Miss Piggy.
Burrell made quite the entrance when he joined Bailey on stage by arriving in a mini car. Burrell offered his profuse apologies to any French audience members for his accent during the film. He introduced a short clip made by Fey with her muppet costars before proceeding to climb back in the mini car and drive backstage.
Bailey then gave a brief introduction to the anticipated adaptation of the Broadway musical "Into the Woods." Not many details were revealed about the upcoming musical film. Bailey announced the already confirmed cast members to much applause, including Meryl Streep as the Witch, Johnny Depp as the Wolf, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Chris Pine as one of the princes, and Emily Blunt as the Baker's Wife.
Following "Into the Woods" was another fairy tale, though this live action film will be much more true to the original animated film. Fans can expect to see "Cinderella," directed by Kenneth Branagh, in March 2015. The film stars Lily James in the titular role, "Game of Thrones'" Richard Madden as Prince Charming, Cate Blanchett as the Evil Stepmother, and the ever-popular Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother.
The next film has been been discussed for years and has finally been given a release date; "Maleficent," the live action retelling of "Sleeping Beauty" from the villain's perspective will hit theaters in July 2, 2014. Much to the shock of the arena, Bailey was joined on stage by the film's star, Angelina Jolie. Jolie was greeted by a standing ovation and delighted the audience as she talked about her passion for Disney tales and her delight at being cast in the role. She told stories about how she would forget that she was a villain and would eagerly greet any children on set, many of whom would cry. Incidentally, Jolie's daughter Vivian was cast as one of the young Auroras because she was one of the few children who wasn't afraid of Jolie in full costume. The arena was shown a clip of Aurora's christening scene. Sadly, Jolie did not get into green face paint for the film. Nevertheless, she embodies the role perfectly.
The quirkiest presentation of the afternoon was definitely that for "Tomorrowland." The film was inspired by what filmmakers Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof refer to as "the dusty old box". Mysteriously labelled "1952", the dusty old box includes a photoshopped picture of Walt Disney with Amelia Earhart, original blueprints of "It's a Small World" with a hidden design that can be revealed only by black light, and a mysterious disk that contained a never before seen animation. While the arena was shown what remains of the animation in question, the bizarre futurist clip left everyone with more questions than answers. "Tomorrowland" stars George Clooney and will be in theaters December 12, 2014.
The panel closed with a look at "Saving Mr. Banks," the previously untold story about what it took to make Disney's "Mary Poppins" film a reality. The film stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Mary Poppins' creator, P. L. Travers. Set in 1961, after Walt had been bothering her for the rights to Mary Poppins for 20 years, it depicts Travers visit to the Walt Disney studios and her reluctance to let her work become a film (especially not a musical!). Bailey was joined on stage by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak, who portray the famous composers Richard and Robert Sherman. They talk, joke about B.J. singing in the film, and exit.
As a grand closing number, Schwartzman and Novak suddenly return to the stage. Schwartzman plays the piano as the two of them sing the Mary Poppins classic, "Let's Go Fly a Kite". As an added treat, they were joined on stage by Richard Sherman himself. Suddenly, the stage was filled with dancers and people in costume ran into the arena with kite props. The finale was full of singing and confetti, a fitting end to a brilliant panel.