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D23 Expo 2015: Disney Animation Presentation Stuns with ‘Moana’, ‘Zootopia’, ‘Finding Dory’ and ‘Toy Story 4’

Evan Slead ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Movies Editor

Randy Newman and John Lasseter closing the D23 Expo 2015 Walt Disney Animation Studios Presentation. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios.
Randy Newman and John Lasseter closing the D23 Expo 2015 Walt Disney Animation Studios Presentation. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios.

The 2015 D23 Expo in Anaheim, CA started off with a bang yesterday with the teasers for the upcoming animated films slated for release. The magical imagination of both the Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios  has created decades of animated films for audiences of all ages to enjoy. The mega successful Frozen last year raked in over one billion dollars in revenue making it the highest grossing animated film of all time. Pixar’s Inside Out from this summer has also made a name for itself and can now snugly neatly into one of the most profitable films for the studio to date. Their power is growing and it shows no signs of stopping, especially after the showcase at yesterday’s presentation. Zootopia, Gigantic, Moana, The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory, Coco, and Toy Story 4 were all teased to make it an event to remember.

The show began with a message from John Lasseter, the chief creative officer for Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, about the state of affairs for both of the studios. Of course he had some fun too by shooting out exclusive D23 Hawaiian shirts to the audience via shirt cannon courtesy of the Anaheim Angels. A montage of all of the previous Disney animation played for a packed audience of over 9,000 people, and there were nods to upcoming films that the presentation ultimately addressed. First up was Zootopia starring Jason Bateman and Ginnifer Goodwin. Fans of the Once Upon a Time series were given a huge treat as Goodwin surprised audience members by coming out on stage to talk about her character, Judy Hopps. She wasn’t the only celebrity to make a surprise appearance either! Back to Hopps, she is an ever hopeful rabbit that has been assigned the parking officer duty for the city of Zootopia. This is a world inhabited by animals that walk upright like humans and have the mannerisms and dialect to match. Directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore also took the stage to explain their love of the classic “talking animal” Disney films and how they wanted to incorporate that into Zootopia. What was shown was honestly heartwarming and revealed a great attention to detail when it came to recreating these animals from the wild. A particularly hilarious scene involving a DMV run by sloths was shown that is going to be a winning scene once Zootopia hits theaters.

Bryan Howard, Ginnifer Goodwin, Rich Moore, and Clark Spencer. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios.
Bryan Howard, Ginnifer Goodwin, Rich Moore, and Clark Spencer. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios.

A brand new Disney film called Gigantic was also announced. It’s an original take on the Jack and the Bean Stalk fairy tale with some Disney flair added. The main source of flair definitely seems to be coming from the songwriting team behind this original venture. Robert Lopez and Kirsten-Anderson Lopez, known well from their Frozen hits, will pen songs for the giant movie and audiences were given a taste of a number they had already been working on. It tied in well with the focus around a Spanish Jack climbing up to the land of giants to meet a 60 feet tall young girl named Ima. The story was said to be about friendship and what it’s like to traverse two worlds. Another brand new film called Coco from Pixar delves into the world of Dia de los Muertos and will follow the life of a young boy in Mexico City. The project is still in development and only a short teaser was shown but the vibrance and culture of the Day of the Dead was on high display.

Nathan Greno, Dorothy McKim, Bobby Lopez, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios.
Nathan Greno, Dorothy McKim, Bobby Lopez, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios.

Disney and Pixar also revealed the highly anticipated Moana to D23 members. The art direction on this South Pacific focused film is absolutely breath-taking with music that will surprise all. An amazing aspect to the music is who’s behind it. Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda will all lend voice and writing talents. Another huge surprise came as Dwayne Johnson entered the stage to set up his character Maui, a demi god set on proving his greatness to all. A clip of his character was shown, but the moment that silenced everyone came with the depiction of the island gods and Pacific Ocean. The directors explained that when researching the film they heard the islanders talk fondly and personify the Pacific Ocean. They decided to make it a character that could interact with Moana throughout the film; bringing that imagination to a head as well as honoring the customs of the people that the story revolves around. The scene shown had a young Moana playing in the ocean and the fantastic Pixar animation was at its peak as sea turtles and fish swam by majestically through its glass-like waves. The most amazing aspect to this film is just the fact that it’s a culture that doesn’t get attention and will open new generations eyes to the wonders that the world can offer. Moana is about exploration and navigation and couldn’t come at a better time for the changing climate of social affairs across the globe. A Disney princess that takes her life into her own hands and seeks change will create a generation of strong leaders. These are the moments and choices that make Disney something to worship.

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Dwayne Johnson. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios.

The most star filled surprise came with the presentation of Finding Dory. Not only did Ellen Degeneres appear to express her joy that a sequel to Finding Nemo was finally upon the world, but new co-stars Ed O’Neil, Ty Burrell, and Kaitlin Olson also joined her. The banter between the four of them had the room rolling with laughter and was a great sign that this movie is going to be just as strong as the original. If that wasn’t enough, a clip setting up the story was shown which further strengthened the excitement over Dory’s search for her family. At that point it seemed that there were no more surprises available, however John Lasseter appeared once more to set up the final announcement. Toy Story 4 was in production due to the spark of an idea Lasseter and other creators had during a writer’s meeting for another film. The screenwriting duo for the film, Will McCormack and Rashida Jones (bless you Anne Perkins!), surprised audiences as well to show that their humor will be infused into the new chapter of the Toy Story franchise. The story this time around is focused around a love connection between Woody and Bo-Peep; a relationship that audiences have been clamoring to see grow ever since the first installment. The show was capped off by a performance from songwriter Randy Newman singing his classic “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”.

John Lasseter, Will McCormack, Rashida Jones, Josh Cooley, and Galyn Susman. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios.
John Lasseter, Will McCormack, Rashida Jones, Josh Cooley, and Galyn Susman. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios.

Overall the event was one that showed two studios filled with amazing content for years to come. Even the sequels announced felt fresh and like an integral part to the Disney lore.

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