ANAHEIM, California -- Disney's D23 fan convention kicked off with a look at the upcoming magic on Walt Disney's animation slate.
Animation head John Lasseter previewed what Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios have coming up over the next few years. "It's amazing what's happening in animation at the Walt Disney Company," Lasseter said -- and he really wasn't kidding. The three-hour panel presented impressive animation and emotional storytelling, proving that Disney and Pixar are once again pushing the boundaries of innovation. Here's what's coming up in the world of Disney animation:
Lasseter kicked things off with "Zootopia," a film from Walt Disney Animation Studios being released March 4, 2016. The imagineer said he's always loved "talking animal movies," especially "the ones where they talk upright and wear human clothes" -- like elephants who serve ice cream and sloths who work at the DMV. Similar to its predecessor "Robin Hood," "Zootopia" follows another handsome, and incredibly sly, fox.
Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore, and producer Clark Spencer, showed off some footage from their animated flick, which they describe as a buddy comedy with a sly fox and an optimistic bunny.
Judy Hopps (played by Disney fanatic Ginnifer Goodwin, who joined the directors on stage at D23) hails from the Bunny Burrows. But she's a bunny with big dreams, so she moves to Zootopia and becomes the first bunny cop with the Zootopia police department.
But when she meets a sly fox by the name of Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), things start to go off the rails. They end up working together, despite being natural enemies, because he’s got info on a missing otter, and that's when "Zootopia" basically turns into a buddy cop comedy as the mystery gets bigger.
Pop star Shakira will voice Gazelle, the biggest pop star in Zootopia. She will also perform an all-new original song for the movie titled "Try Everything."
Lasseter also announced "Gigantic," a new project from Walt Disney Animation Studios inspired by the classic tale of "Jack in the Beanstalk." Set in Spain during the age of discovery, "Gigantic" follows Jack, a young guy who makes the greatest discovery of his life when his magic beans create a giant beanstalk overnight. As he climbs the beanstalk, he discovers an entire world of giants -- from different places and cultures.
The first giant Jack encounters is an 11-year-old giant girl named Inma, who was actually inspired by a real little girl the crew met in Spain when location scouting.
And because a film with the name like "Gigantic" needs a gigantic soundtrack, the film has tapped the Oscar-winning team behind "Frozen," Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, to write the original music for the film. The talented duo previewed "Little Man," a song sung by Inma to her "little man," Jack. It's as freakin' adorable as you could imagine.
Next up was "Moana," one of the most anticipated animated films in the studio's slate.
Set in the South Pacific nearly 2,000 years ago, "Moana" follows Disney's new 16-year-old heroine, Moana, a "strong-willed" princess, who wants to voyage behind the reef and become a navigator, like her ancestors. So she sets off on a journey to navigate the sea. Joining her is her PET PIGLET NAMED PUA. (He's so adorable, it will make you audibly squeal) and a stowaway cranky rooster. Oh, and a demi god named Maui.
Naturally, the only guy worthy of playing such an incredible force was Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who joined the directors on stage to make our hearts explode with joy. "He's very strong and very powerful," Johnson said. "He determined and extremely handsome. But deep down, he's got some issues. He was born a human and raised by the gods, so he's been stuck in the middle."
Johnson, who's half Samoan himself, introduced the exciting first clip of Maui. While we don't get to hear Moana speak, we do get a pretty clear picture of who Maui is, and we can't think of a better guy more suited to bring Maui to life than Johnson.
The filmmakers also introduced a stunning clip of Moana meeting her first love, the Pacific Ocean, for the first time. The clip, accompanied by a beautiful song from music team of Opetaia Foa'i, Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda, was visually stunning, evoking the kind of emotion we've come to expect from Disney. "Moana" is the kind of film that wears its heart on its sleeve.
"The Good Dinosaur"
Pixar's next release, "The Good Dinosaur," has gone through its ups and downs, but with Peter Sohn at the helm, "The Good Dino" (as it's affectionately referred to by this writer), it's found a renewed spirit.
Sohn -- a favorite among his Pixar peers and the inspiration of Russell in "Up" -- walked us through his Pixar journey (he’s been at the animation studio for 15 years) and gave us a glimpse into the film’s beautiful, yet dangerous world, its characters and the fascinating story that takes young Arlo away from his family farm and into the vast unknown.
Animation fans will love the unbelievably majestic landscapes and Pixar novices will enjoy the delightfully cartoonish dinos. The film follows Arlo, a young Apatosaurus. After a tragic event turns Arlo’s world upside down, he’s separated from his family (prepare to cry, guys). Hundreds of miles away from home, Arlo meets Spot, a young human boy who is more animal than person. Spot doesn’t really speak, so communication is sparse. But Arlo and Spot find ways to say things without actually saying them. "There’s not a lot of dialogue," said Sohn. "It’s a visually driven film."
Visually speaking, "The Good Dinosaur" is breathtaking -- and it's emotionally gripping. (Trust us, it's on par with "Inside Out.") "It's unlike any animated film you have ever seen," said Lasseter, and we'd have to agree.
Disney Pixar's "Coco," new film from the team behind "Toy Story 3," will explore Dia de los Muertos, a Mexican celebration that honors the dead and highlights the importance of family. Lasseter described it as "breathtaking, beautiful, emotional and funny."
The film will follow Miguel, a spirited 12-year-old boy who, on the eve of Dia de los Muertos, sets off a chain of events that leads to a most extraordinary and surprising family reunion.
"As artists and filmmakers, we couldn't help but be drawn to the striking visuals of Dia de los Muertos," said director Lee Unkrich. "But it was the celebration's core themes of family, remembrance and connection across generations that resonated within and truly inspired us."
While further plot details are being kept under wraps for now, D23 attendees were shown a diorama, not originally intended for public viewing, that offered a taste of the general tone of the film. If "Coco" is anything like its colorful diorama, we're in for quite the festive treat.