Written by Sue Nowicki
For those who weren’t glued to the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Periscope, etc. this past weekend awaiting any crumble of information coming out of The Walt Disney Company’s bi-annual D23 EXPO, here are some highlights of the major events and announcements.
The weekend started off with the Disney Legends presentation. While we knew the new personalities being inducted into the stratosphere of Disney Legends prior to the event, that all changed on Friday afternoon when a surprise inductee stepped on-stage… Captain Jack Sparrow portrayer Johnny Depp. While many only think of Depp’s ‘Pirates’ movies as the extent of his relationship with Disney, that is not true. As recently as last December Depp appeared as the Big Bad Wolf in Into the Woods. Depp also appeared in Alice in Wonderland, The Lone Ranger and the yet-to-be released Alice Through the Looking Glass. Depp has also taken his famed portrayal of Captain Sparrow to marvelous heights by visiting children’s hospitals across the globe as the legendary pirate.
AND THEN IT HAPPENED
By far the biggest announcement of the entire expo came early on Saturday from the Parks & Resorts presentation when the long-awaited announcement of the plans for Disney’s Hollywood Studios were revealed. And here is it: STAR WARS IN COMING!
Both Walt Disney World and Disneyland are getting a 14-acre expansion with a Star Wars-themed land. Attractions will include being able to fly your own Millennium Falcon as well as Star Tours getting a facelift by adding a new destination and some new characters.
Completing the Star Wars experience is a limited time event beginning in ‘early 2016’ held in both parks called ‘Star Wars: Season of the Force’ which will include special character experiences, limited edition merchandise and at Disneyland Space Mountain will become ‘Hyper’space Mountain during event. If you can’t wait to see this new integration of Star Wars to Hollywood Studios there will be a new Stars Wars fireworks display set to John Williams’ famous score starting as soon as this fall.
But that’s not all that is coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Similar to Disneyland’s Cars Land, an 11-acre Toy Story-themed land is coming to the park. The back story of this land is that you are in Andy’s backyard and will include a family rollercoaster where you will ride on Slinky Dog and a spinning ride themed after the little green aliens which seems to follow the same pattern as Dumbo. They are also adding a track to Toy Story Mania. (Can I get an AMEN!)
Now don’t fret that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is getting all the love, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Magic Kingdom are all getting some attention as well.
Legendary Disney Imagineer Joe Rhode talked about the plans for Disney’s Animal Kingdom such as the forthcoming Pandora expansion and the new nighttime experiences, a new Sunset Safari and a brand new nighttime spectacular, Rivers of Light which will dramatically change the way the park is toured.
Artworks depicting the new Frozen attraction in Epcot, now called “Frozen Ever After”, seems to reveal that the nuts and bolts of Maelstrom are still there (ie. the boats and the water feature) with Frozen elements overlaid. The whole pavilion of Norway is also getting a facelift to make it appear more like the mythical world of Arendelle which took its inspiration from Norway in the first place.
Soarin’ will also be transitioning to ‘Soarin’ Over The World’. The ride film will be switched from showing only California scenery to that of iconic locations around the world such as the Great Wall of China and Monument Valley in Utah.
Even though the Magic Kingdom should seemingly be done with changes for a while given the major additions at the New Fantasyland, it still got some time with the announcement of a new Jungle Cruise-themed restaurant called Jungle Navigation Co., Ltd. Skipper Canteen. This restaurant is scheduled to open in late 2015 in Adventureland.
It wasn’t just Disney Parks news which dominated the landscape of D23. There was also lots of news and previews of the upcoming movies coming out of the Disney family of movie studios (Marvel, Disney Studios, LucasFilms and Pixar). This news was broken down into two sessions: Animated and Live Action movies. For those of you who have been reading our “News From the World of Disney” reports, there was not much new to report. However, those in attendance were treated to several exclusive previews of the forthcoming movies as well as gobs of celebrity appearances.
• Toy Story 4 – Switching gears slightly, this film will focus on the love story between Woody and Bo Peep and will be in theatres June 16, 2017.
• Zootopia – Judy Hopps, played by Once Upon A Time’s Ginnifer Godwin, is an overly optimistic rabbit who befriends a sly fox, played by Jason Bateman, in the big city.
• Finding Dory – Ellen DeGeneres, who was in attendance, returns as the forgetful fish, this time trying to find her family in California. Finding Dory hits theatres June 17, 2016.
• Gigantic – A retelling of the story of Jack & The Beanstalk which will feature the powerhouse songwriters from “Frozen”.
• Coco – ‘Day of the Dead’-themed movie directed by Toy Story 3 director, Lee Unkrich.
• The Good Dinosaur – Set for release on November 25 of this year, this film tells the story a timid dinosaur named Arlo who befriends a human boy named Spot.
• Moana – The story of a strong-willed Polynesian princess. The presentation of this film featured a special appearance by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who plays a demigod named Maui.
• Inside Out – Yes, Inside Out has already been released but Pixar guru John Lasseter premiered a new short called “Riley’s First Date?”. This animated short will appear on the DVD release.
• Incredibles 2 & Cars 3 – Not much was released about these titles other than they are happening.
LIVE ACTION (Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney Studios, Star Wars)
• Doctor Strange – Benedict Cumberbatch will play the role of Marvel’s Doctor Strange and appeared via video.
• Captain America: Civil War – Sam Wilson, The Falcon, and Captain America himself, Chris Evans, presented some footage of the film which wraps in less than a week.
• The Jungle Book – Shooting for an April 15, 2016 release, this live action/animated feature will follow Mowgli, who interestingly enough is the only live action actor in the film.
• Alice Through The Looking Glass – Returning a majority of the main cast including newly minted Disney Legend Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, this sequel to Alice in Wonderland will be released May 27, 2016.
• Pete’s Dragon – Bryce Dallas Howard (daughter of legendary actor/director Ron Howard) was on hand to present the first clip of this re-telling of the classic movie.
• The Queen of Katwe – Lupito Nyong’o and David Oyelowo star in the story of young Ugandan girl who becomes a world chess champion.
• Beauty & The Beast – Even though the movie is currently filming in London, the crowd got to hear from its star, Emma Watson, via video as we eagerly await the March 17, 2017 release.
• Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – Even though the release of this movie is nearly two years away, July 17, 2017, the crowd enthusiastically greeted its star Johnny Depp in full Captain Jack Sparrow costume. The great news was that Will Turner, played by Orlando Bloom, will indeed be back for this installment of the franchise.
• Star Wars: The Force Awakens – The countdown is on to the December 18th release of this movie and the presentation was chalk full of appearances from the cast including Harrison Ford.
• The Finest Hour – Heading to theatres January 29, 2016, Chris Pine, who was on hand to present the film, stars in this true story about one of the most daring small boat rescues missions in the history of the Coast Guard.
• Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – This Star Wars-spin off, which started filming at the beginning of August, will tell the story of how the Rebels obtained the plans for the Death Star.
Besides all the announcements, events and presentations there was so much more happening at D23. From cast appearances from the ABC and Disney Channel TV shows, to exclusive merchandise for attendees to Disney legends such as Dick Van Dyke greeting Expo goers, it was a true Disney lover’s dream… even for those of us who were watching from afar. It looks to be an exciting few years ahead for The Walt Disney World Company.
For more information on the festivities which took place at D23 check out the Disney Parks Blog.
Sue Nowicki splits her time between planning her next Walt Disney World vacation and being team mom to ten high-energy volleyball players where she fills the roles of secretary, navigator, treasurer, athletic trainer and team psychologist. You can follow her on Twitter @JazzinDisneyMom.
Other posts by this author:
”The Descendants” Movie Review
Disney by Land, Disney by Sea: Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3
”Tomorrowland” Movie Review
Best Walt Disney World Smartphone Apps
Restaurant Review – Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room
Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa – The Way Life Should Be
A Day in the Life of Disney’s FastPass+ Service