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D23: Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Panel Recap

Things got decidedly animated at D23 Expo on Friday when Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter and a slew of talent from both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation took the stage at the Anaheim Convention Center to talk all about the future of Disney’s animation efforts. It started with a bang, quite literally, as Lasseter and a detachment of t-shirt cannon-toting ladies from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim unleashed a salvo of special edition D23-themed John Lasseter-style Hawaiian shirts into the crowd. Things only got crazier from there as countless special guests–everyone from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to Ellen DeGeneres–took the stage to give a sneak peek into the next several years of animated awesomeness coming our way. Over the course of the two-hour panel, Lasseter and company offered updates on a wide variety of projects, including the already-announced Finding DoryZootopiaThe Good Dinosaur, and Moana. Though the panel ran exceedingly long, fans’ patience was rewarded with first updates on Toy Story 4, the newly titled Coco, the newly announced Gigantic, and much more.

The event began with Walt Disney Animation Studios’ forthcoming slate of films. Though this segment of the presentation kicked off with a beautifully scored montage of some of the great Disney films of yesteryear, a night vision goggle-toting security guard stood directly in front of my line of sight for a good portion of it. The juxtaposition of the two made me feel a bit like I was in some sort of dystopian nightmare, but maybe that was the point.


Frozen 2

Blame it on global warming, but the most anticipated animated Disney sequel (apart from The Incredibles 2) was all but absent from the Hall D23 stage. Disney chairman Alan Horn, who took the stage prior to Lasseter, revealed that the studio is currently “hard at work on Frozen 2,” but offered little else in the way of updates.

For what it’s worth, he did reveal that Lasseter owns over 500 Hawaiian shirts. Over 500.

HAVE YOU HERD? -- Zootopia's biggest pop star Gazelle will be voiced by Grammy®-winning international superstar Shakira in Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Zootopia." Shakira performs an all-new original song, "Try Everything," for the film. Directed by  Byron Howard (“Tangled”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph”), and produced by Clark Spencer (“Wreck-It Ralph”), "Zootopia" opens nationwide March 4, 2016.


One of the standout films of the presentation was Zootopia, which essentially sounds like Walt Disney Animation Studios’ version of 48 Hours. John Lasseter noted that he always loved Walt Disney Animation’s “talking animal movies,” especially the ones where they “walk upright and wear human clothes.” Fortunately for him, Zootopia is chockablock with anthropomorphic animals acting like humans in a modern metropolis.

Director Byron Howard (Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph), and producer Clark Spencer (Wreck-It Ralph) took the stage to talk about Zootopia. The story is essentially a buddy comedy which pits two unlikely heroes together: an overly optimistic rabbit named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), who moves to the big city with dreams of becoming a police officer (only to get relegated to meter maid), and a slimy con man of a fox named Nick Wolfe (Jason Bateman), who believes in grifting his way to the middle. Together, they must work to solve a missing persons mammals case and locate a lost otter within 48 hours or else Judy will be kicked off the force once and for all.

For Zootopia, the filmmakers went to Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World to do research, as well as on safari in the savannah in Kenya. They wanted a mixture of how animals acted both in manmade facilities and in the unspoiled beauty of their natural habitat. In order to realistically render these animals on the big screen, they had to understand how they moved in real life. While studying the animals, Rich Moore revealed they learned a surprising fact about polar bears: their fur is not white. Rather, it is clear. Who knew? Evidently, a young fan in the audience did because a child’s voice shouted out the correct answer when prompted by Moore.

What really shines in Zootopia, though, is the worldbuilding, which is where the aforementioned attention to detail pays off in spades. “We wanted to make sure this wasn’t just another animal movie where they walk on two legs like guys in suits,” said co-director Byron Howard. Each animal looks and acts distinctly, using its unique physiology to inform how it interacts with the world around it. For example, a burly elephant uses its prehensile trunk to scoop ice cream at a local ice cream parlor. Each type of animal also has its own area of the big city from which it hails — Sahara Square for hot weather animals; Tundra Town for cold weather animals (“The beautiful thing about it is we get to use all that leftover snow from Frozen,” Moore quipped; the Rainforest District; and the Burrows, which is “home to millions and millions of super cute bunnies.”

In one clip, we saw the first encounter between Judy and Nick at a local ice cream parlor, staffed by elephants, naturally. At the order counter, Nick attempts to purchase a massive, cherry-red popsicle for his minuscule son. After the elephant refuses to serve the tiny tot, Nick spins an increasingly desperate yarn which sees the tyke suffering from a psychological affliction where he believes he’s an elephant, as well as being blind, an orphan, and it being his birthday. What are the chances?

Another, which took place at Zootopia’s equivalent of the DMV, perfectly encapsulated the film’s oddball sense of humor. In desperate need of tracking down a motor vehicle, Judy and Nick head to the DMV in order to run a license plate. However, much to Judy’s shock, the entire DMV is staffed by sloths, which, as anyone who has been to the human DMV will tell you, is too perfect.

Last, but not least, it was revealed that pop sensation Shakira would be joining the cast as a sultry gazelle named, you guessed it, Gazelle. Pictured above, the character will also be singing in the film. In a special video message from the studio, Shakira played an excerpt form her new song, “Try Everything”, which sounded very poppy and Top 40 radio-ready.

GIGANTIC ? DOWN TO EARTH ? Adventure-seeker Jack discovers a world of giants hidden within the clouds, hatching a grand plan with a 60-foot-tall, 11-year-old girl. Directed by Nathan Greno ("Tangled") and produced by Dorothy McKim ("Get A Horse!"), "Gigantic" hits  U.S. theaters in 2018. ?2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved.


It was only a matter of time, but the “Jack and the Beanstalk” story is getting the Disney treatment, courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios. The newly announced project, directed by Nathan Greno (Tangled), will take place in Spain during the Age of Discovery and find Jack working in tandem with Inma, an 11-year-old girl who just so happens to be a 60-foot-tall giant, in order to prevent evil storm giants from ruining everything.

Though no casting or release date has yet been announced, the film has landed the acclaimed Frozen songwriting duo of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. The husband-and-wife duo performed an early snippet of one of the film’s songs, which has a distinctly Frozen feel, so get ready to have another “Let It Go” on your hands.

Get the full rundown in Rachel Heine’s post about the fairy tale film.

"Moana" introduces a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring mission to fulfill her ancestors? unfinished quest. She meets the once-mighty demi-god Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), and together, they traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage. Directed by the renowned filmmaking team of Ron Clements and John Musker (?The Little Mermaid,? ?Aladdin,? ?The Princess & the Frog?), ?Moana? sails into U.S. theaters on Nov. 23, 2016.


One of the most anticipated films in Disney’s slate is Moana, a sweeping story which takes us to the world of the South Pacific some 2,000 years ago. Following the exploits of the strong-willed title character Moana, who happens to be a princess herself, the film sees the young girl attempting to fulfill her dream of being one of the world’s greatest navigators. Accompanied by an adorable pet pig, a haughty rooster, and a magical fish hook-wielding demigod named Maui (voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), Moana will.

Dwayne Johnson brought the house down when he surprised the D23 audience by coming out on the stage to say hello. He revealed that he had told John Lasseter that he had a goal, which was “to be in the Disney family.” It was “to be a part of a Disney animated movie,” so for him to be at D23 Expo was a pretty special thing.

Opetaia Foa’I, a superstar in the South Pacific, will work with Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights, Hamilton) to handle musical duties. Foa’I and his band actually performed one of the film’s songs in an epic display of singing, dancing, and showmanship for the packed convention hall. Unlike other movies, this is a blend of modern songwriting and more traditional South Pacific-style music.

You can read our complete rundown of the film right here.

RILEY'S FIRST DATE.©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Inside Out

There’s no denying that Inside Out is one of the best received films of the summer, but John Lasseter thinks it might be among the best that Pixar has ever made. “I really do think that [Inside Out] could be one of the most important films we make because it makes people think differently about their emotions and memories,” Lasseter said.

Naturally, it makes sense that Pixar would want to revisit the world of Inside Out, which they did in the form of the short “Riley’s First Date?” Though audiences will have to wait until the film comes out on Blu-ray/DVD/digital to see it for themselves, they showed the world premiere to the D23 audience. Short, sweet, and decidedly funny, “Riley’s First Date?” is a welcome addition to the Inside Out canon and a must-see for any fan of the original. Especially if you’re an AC/DC fan.

The Good Dinosaur


The Good Dinosaur

On November 25, 2015, Pixar will release the second of its two original films this year, The Good Dinosaur. The prehistoric saga of an apatosaurus named Arlo trying to reunite with his family was the subject of much scrutiny after rumors of intense behind-the-scenes overhauling and news of complete recasting came out. However, after seeing the presentation of director Pete Sohn’s adorable adventure at D23, there is no doubt left in my mind that this film will be well worth the wait.

Sohn, the son of Korean immigrants, told an adorable story about his personal connection to the world of animation. When he was younger, his mother would take him to see an American movie each week. It was one of the highlights of his week, and he loved the rich cinematic worlds into which he was transported. However, his mother didn’t have the same experience, primarily because she couldn’t speak English. As a result, many of these movies and their entertainment value were lost on her. The one exception to that rule? Disney movies. Their elemental qualities and deeply emotional storytelling transcended language barriers, making them accessible to Sohn’s mother. It was a powerful thing for Sohn to observe and sparked a lifelong interest in animation for him. Fast forward years later and he is directing one of the most promising-looking animated films of the year!

But, I digress. Arlo is a timid young apatosaurus, who is very close with his father. However, in classic Disney fashion, disaster strikes as Arlo’s father is killed and Arlo himself is swept away in a raging river current. Bereft of his best friend and role model and miles away from his family, Arlo begins to despair…until he encounters Spot. Who is Spot, you ask? A feral child of sorts in caveman-style animal skins who walks around on all fours like a dog. In fact, Spot is meant to be a twist on the classic “boy and his dog” trope — except this time Spot is the dog and Arlo is the boy. Together, they make the long journey back to the Clawtooth Mountains where Arlo’s family lives.

In a pair of clips, we got a distinct sense of the emotionally charged adventure coming out way. One clip showed off what is, perhaps, the best “my parents are dead” sequence I’ve ever seen. With sparse dialogue, Arlo and Spot communicate volumes in a beautiful moment of empathy and understanding. Honestly, I’ll be impressed if the rest of the movie can live up to the standard set by that scene.

The other clip was thankfully a fair sight more lighthearted as it introduced a trio of T. rexes,voiced by Sam Elliott, A.J. Buckley, and Anna Paquin. Who knew that Sam Elliott would make such a good T. rex? Evidently, Pixar did because the gruff-voiced actor’s basso profundo seems right at home coming out of the King of the Dinosaurs. With a definite cowboy sensibility, the T. rexes enlist Arlo and Spot’s help to find their herd of longhorns (which seem to be buffalo), which have been stolen by “rustlers.” It’s a tense but raucously enjoyable sequence that makes me deeply hopeful and rather excited to see the finished product later this fall.


Finding Dory

From new cast additions to a full-on plot description, we learned an awful lot about the long-simmering sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo. Directors Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane and producer Linsey Collins revealed that Finding Dory will focus on Dory’s quest to reunite with her parents, who are located somewhere near Monterey, California. Famously forgetful, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) remembers her homeland after getting sucked into an undertow, a traumatic experience which evidently awoke something within her.

Joining returning cast members Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks (as Marlon) are joined by Hayden Rolence as Nemo; Ed O’Neill as a curmudgeonly octopus named Hank; Ty Burrell as Bailey, a beluga whale who believes his naturally large skull is the product of a head injury; and Kaitlin Olson as a sweet-natured but confused whale shark named Destiny, who doesn’t seem to understand that she’s a shark, not a whale.



Little was revealed about Pixar’s Day of the Dead-themed animated feature except that it now has a name — Coco. The film, directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and produced by Darla K. Anderson, “is the celebration of a lifetime, where the discovery of a generations-old mystery leads to a most extraordinary and surprising family reunion.”

Coco centers on a 12-year-old boy named Miguel, who is adept at playing the guitar. The clip we saw featured plenty of dancing skeletons and a rockin’ mariachi band that seemed straight out of Book of Life or Guacamelee. Honestly, though, we don’t know a heck of a whole lot about this flick just yet.


Toy Story 4

You can’t keep a good franchise down. Even if you’re a studio who had been as famously sequel-resistant as Pixar. Although, their policy had relaxed over the years, it still seemed like a bit of a shock when it was announced that Toy Story 4 was going to be made. Lasseter, who will be directing the film, was quick to address this when he took the stage.

“Pete Docter and I made a pinky promise that we wouldn’t do another Toy Story UNLESS we came up with a story that was worthy of following up Toy Story 3,” he said.

While working on a separate project with Andrew Stanton, Lasseter and Stanton began brainstorming ideas for a potential Toy Story sequel. After toiling away in secret, Stanton went off and wrote up a treatment that was so good they decided to greenlight the project. So what was the idea that was so good that it had to be made?

Toy Story 4 will be a love story between Woody and Bo Peep. Buzz Lightyear will help Woody on his trek to find Bo Peep in order to reunite with his lady love. Evidently, the story was inspired by Lasseter’s real-life wife Nancy, so it has a deeply personal connection for the Pixar head honcho.

In order to bring it to life, though, they wanted some fresh blood and a unique perspective, so they enlisted the writing duo of Will McCormick and Rashida Jones. Though their on-stage banter was excruciating, their writing is a fair sight better — something that Lasseter was quick to remark upon after the writers exited stage left.

After the announcement that Randy Newman would be returning to handle musical duties, Lasseter brought Newman out on stage. The singer-songwriter sat at a grand piano and played his classic Toy Story tune “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” while a montage of iconic Toy Story scenes played on the screen behind him.

Then everything went off the damn rails as 20 or so people dressed as plastic Army Men descended from the ceiling, rushed the stage and began performing an all-male revue. As they Army Men danced up a storm, a flock of girls with t-shirt cannons came out and began firing more swag into the audience. Last, but not least, a gaggle of performers in oversized Toy Story mascot costumes danced across the stage as confetti erupted from the ceiling. It was surreal to say the least, and slightly terrifying to say the most. One thing was for certain — this was a panel that none of us would soon forget.

Which announcement were you most excited for? Let us know in the comments below!

Dan Casey is the senior editor of Nerdist and the author of 100 Things Avengers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. You can follow him on Twitter (@Osteoferocious).

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