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Disney In Depth: D23 Expo Recap: Thoughts On Walt Disney Studios’ Future Films
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Brett Nachman   |  @   |  
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The Walt Disney Studios’ upcoming slate of films is one to be reckoned with, a truly vast array of incredible experiences that will undoubtedly win over audiences. Having seen previews of most films on the 2014 schedule at the Disney D23 Expo, as well as even some to debut in 2015 and 2016, I can say this is an exciting time at the Studio.

Here are my thoughts on what I am most anticipating based on the amazing content I viewed.

Most Exciting Films

Disney Zootopia (Working Title)

Zootopia

I have debated which theatrically-released animated project I am most eager to watch from The Walt Disney Studios – there are so many remarkable projects in the works – but I left the Expo most interested in Zootopia. This newly-announced 2016 feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios surveys a world populated by just animals, in cities that they have constructed themselves. The characters include tons of rabbits, dim wildebeest, and an assortment of other creatures. The concept art promises unusual, yet inventive creative approaches to animals’ takes on architecture, design, and transportation. I cannot wait until Zootopia, which is sure to follow a likely successful streak of films from the division (Frozen this November and Big Hero 6 in November 2014). (Read our full coverage from the D23 Expo.)

Tomorrowland

Out of the many wonderful live-action choices, the one I walked away most fascinated with was Tomorrowland. The enigmatic Tomorrowland project remains nearly as elusive as it did prior to D23 Expo, but the revelation of the real-life stories and secrets that have inspired this Brad Bird production have brought ecstasy. Additionally, the same-name exhibit and newly-released Tomorrowland app detailing more of Walt’s vision of the future have similarly raised my anticipation level. Most recent Disney projects are drawing from the “Disney Vault” for inspiration in offering new takes on tales (Maleficent and Cinderella serving as two examples), but this explores the vault in a novel way. As Saving Mr. Banks will detail a valid portrayal of Walt Disney’s development of Mary Poppins through working with P.L. Travers – something the studio has yet to ever do – Tomorrowland will venture into the idealized future of the past. Incredible value awaits! (Read our full coverage from the D23 Expo.)

Most Disappointing Omissions

Star Wars Episode VII

Star Wars: Episode VII

Star Wars: Episode VII has generated even more buzz in light of its exclusion from the presentation, and while I agree with others who are bothered by the lack of surprises and fine details, I must appreciate the relatively-early stage in the process. Then again, if it is to be released in 2015 – and I would assume summertime, reflecting previous releases – it is just under two years from release. Considering we received details from Finding Dory and Zootopia, even further out in the timeline, would it not be expected to gain a nugget of info on this seventh episode? I think The Walt Disney Studios’ Alan Horn handled the Star Wars presentation and sharing an anecdote on his first experience with the original masterpiece with aplomb, but it almost felt counterproductive to mention Star Wars: Episode VII and then to say there were no details at this point. On the other hand, I know fans would have been angrier had Star Wars: Episode VII been disregarded entirely. (Read our full coverage from the D23 Expo.)

Million Dollar Arm

Even if you have not heard much on this upcoming sports feature, slated for 2014, I know I was quite discouraged to see no presence. Jon Hamm stars in this baseball-themed movie that also stars Alan Arkin and Bill Paxton. I’m a big fan of Disney sports films – The Rookie is probably my favorite – and I have yearned to see the studio produce more of these smaller, non-major-event productions fill the lineup, too. Whether or not Million Dollar Arm grabs a date in 2014 remains to be seen. Yet I could certainly view a September 2014 date as likely, since that timing is akin to Moneyball’s release back in 2011.

Pirates of the Caribbean 5

While I might fall into the minority of folks actually coveting a fifth film in the franchise, I would have wanted to hear more details about casting on this Jerry Bruckheimer-produced project. Johnny Depp will return to his most famous role, but who will join him as his swashbuckling sidekicks? Perhaps it’s too early to know, but I wholeheartedly love what Pirates represents, even if to some extent it has encouraged branding and franchise-building across the studio that some may not support.

Most Anticipated Performances

Maleficent

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent

Well, you could see that one coming, couldn’t you? Though audiences only caught around one minute of her role as the evil fairy, it appears to be an electrifying performance that will captivate viewers. Jolie landing the role signals the importance of well-casted star power in an industry that has sometimes lost its luck in A-listers – major flops with former reliable stars show an end to that era – but I have faith in Jolie. Whether or not Maleficent falls into Tim Burton’s frantic Alice in Wonderland-like meld, or the disappointingly-wild Oz The Great and Powerful, cannot be determined this early. However, I think Maleficent, with Jolie as its star, has potential. (Read our full coverage from the D23 Expo.)

Tom Hiddleston as Captain James Hook

The crowd went wild for Tom Hiddleston during both Studios presentations – the first day focused on animated projects, whereas the second day centered on live-action films – and I was actually more interested in his role as a younger Captain James Hook than him reprising Loki in Thor: The Dark World. The Pirate Fairy, featuring Hiddleston voicing Hook before he loses his hand, looks pretty stellar, considering this is a Disney Fairies film. We were treated to a rough-animation musical scene with the pirates, which included Hiddleston participating in the rousing lyrical charade. I am surprised to say this, but I look forward to catching this feature when it releases on Blu-ray Spring 2014, due in large part to Hiddleston’s inclusion! (Read our full coverage from the D23 Expo.)

Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers

The two-time Oscar-winning actress bites her way into portraying the stubborn author of Mary Poppins, as audiences at D23 Expo witnessed scenes of Emma Thompson in action. Thompson’s acting chops come through as the cold, reserved antithesis to Tom Hanks‘ warm and encouraging Walt Disney. She has already garnered awards buzz, and I think she very could be granted big honors if her performance is as strong as it appears in these first looks. (Read our full coverage from the D23 Expo.)

Kermit The Frog as Constantine

Yes, this is a stretch, but I cannot wait to catch Kermit – or rather his puppeteer Steve Whitmire – play the frog’s European double. Constantine looks exactly like Kermit, except for the fact that he possesses a mole and a foreign accent. The scenes from Muppets Most Wanted featuring Constantine knocked me over with laughter. It’s genius, but simply so. (Read our full coverage from the D23 Expo.)

What are you most looking forward to catching from Disney? Share your thoughts!

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. This has been an intense and thrilling week of content, and this edition concludes the eight consecutive days of fresh Disney news. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, back on its regular schedule, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom!

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