D23 Expo Recap: "Snow White," "The Haunted Mansion," "Inside Out 2" and More!

By Behind the Scenes in Hollywood Archives
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Anaheim, CA – After a three-year absence, the Anaheim Convention Center was buzzing with energy and excitement as crowds of families in matching Disney-themed shirts and Mickey ears and cosplayers in perfectly curated Disney princess, Jedi and Marvel superhero costumes attended panels, exhibits and shopped for exclusive merchandise at the D23 Expo. The highly anticipated "Ultimate Disney Fan Event" is known for its exciting announcements and celebrity appearances and the premieres of exclusive trailers and first looks at upcoming projects in the massive Hall D23, which holds over 7,000 fans. This year was particularly exciting as 2023 will mark the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Walt Disney Company in 1923, hence the name D23.

The show opened with an unsurprisingly tear-jerking sizzle reel that included clips from nearly every Disney-related title from the past 100 years, from 1928’s Steamboat Willie to the recent Pixar and Disney titles, followed by a gorgeous rendition of "When You Wish Upon A Star'' by Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo. It's a song she sings as the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, which premieres on Disney+ Day, November 8th. Alan Bergman, Chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, took the stage to unveil the new logo introduction featuring the iconic Disney castle and an orchestral version of "When You Wish Upon A Star'' by composer Christophe Beck (Frozen).

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Disney Live Action

Bergman then handed over the first segment to Sean Bailey, President of Disney Live Action, who shared that thanks to streaming, The Walt Disney Company has had the chance to share more content with audiences than ever before. Three titles coming to Disney+ over the next few months were highlighted, including Hocus Pocus 2, the next chapter of the 1993 "occult classic" coming this Halloween with the trio Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy reprising their roles as the Sanderson Sisters, and Disenchanted, a sequel to Enchanted, with Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, Idina Menzel and James Marsden all reprising their roles and Maya Rudolph, Yvette Nicole Brown and Jayma Mays joining the cast. Adams (below, far right) and Rudolph (next to Adams) hilariously appeared onstage late, coming from Disneyland and decked out in merch and souvenirs including Mickey Ears and a Disney sweatshirt. They even brought Idina Menzel (third from left) a glowing Frozen wand.

Also coming to Disney+ is a new take on the classic tale of the boy who didn’t want to grow up, Peter Pan and Wendy, starring Alexander Molony and Ever Anderson as the titular duo, respectively, Alyssa Wapanâtahk as Tiger Lily and Jude Law as the legendary Captain Hook. The film will be available to stream in 2023.

Upcoming theatrical releases under Disney Live Action include a new adaptation of The Haunted Mansion from director Justin Simien, who shared that he was a Disneyland employee as a teenager and always dreamed of being a filmmaker. He's directing an all-star cast including Lakeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish and the queen of horror Jamie Lee Curtis, whose involvement was announced at D23. Academy Award-winning director and screenwriter Barry Jenkins will join the Disney family to direct Mufasa, a prequel to 2019’s The Lion King, which is scheduled for a theatrical release in 2024.

Next up was a highly anticipated first look at Snow White, starring Rachel Zegler as the title princess and Gal Gadot as the iconic Evil Queen. The two stars were overwhelmed by the audience’s response. “I don’t even know what you just saw … but thank you!” Zegler (above right, with Gadot) declared, holding back tears and laughter. The film will feature new songs from Dear Evan Hansen and The Greatest Showman duo Pasek and Paul. Then, Academy Award-nominated director Rob Marshall (Chicago; Mary Poppins Returns) shared an exclusive look of the full musical sequence of “Part of Your World”, beautifully sung by star Halle Bailey, followed by the premiere of the first official teaser trailer. Lin-Manuel Miranda and original composer Alan Menken will write four new songs for the upcoming film.

Pixar Animation Studios

Pete Docter, Chief Creative Officer, Pixar Animation Studios, then introduced several upcoming animated titles, beginning with Elemental, an imaginative new tale from director Peter Sohn, set in a world where the people are made of fire, water, air and earth and live together. The story is inspired by Sohn's parents' experience emigrating Korea and from finding success in the United States despite cultural and language barriers with those around them.

Next was Elio, a new adventure tale following a creative, introverted 11-year-old boy named Elio (Yonas Kibreab) whose mother Olga (America Ferrera) runs a top-secret military operation that is decoding a message from outer space. Elio accidentally makes first contact and is assumed by the aliens to be the intergalactic ambassador of Earth. Also announced was Pixar Animation’s first-ever television series, Win or Lose, which follows a middle-school softball team. Each episode will focus on a different team member’s perspective that leads up to their championship game. SNL alum Will Forte was announced to voice the role of coach Dan.

Before the end of the Pixar presentation, Amy Poehler came onstage to thunderous cheers and applause from the crowd, sharing the news that Inside Out 2 was finally coming to the big screen, set for a summer 2024 release, with cast members returning and the story following Riley from the original film, now a teenager and dealing with some new emotions.

Walt Disney Animation Studios

Jennifer Lee, Chief Creative Officer, Walt Disney Animation Studios, who wrote and directed Frozen and Frozen 2, then took the stage for the final portion of the Studio Presentation, first announcing a new series coming to Disney+ that sees the return of a beloved cast of characters in Zootopia+, launching this November.

It its first collaboration with an outside studio in its 100-year history, Disney has partnered with Pan-African entertainment company Kugali on a new long form series titled Iwájú, which the filmmakers Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, Hamid Ibrahim and Tolu Olowofoyeku described as “a love letter to Lagos.” The story is set in a futuristic world full of color and technology and follows Tola and her best friend Kole who find themselves in the middle of a feud between two powerful men.

Coming to theatres this Thanksgiving is the studio’s 61st animated feature film Strange Worldwith another all-star cast, including (above, left to right) Lucy Liu, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White and Jake Gyllenhaal. Fans were treated to an exclusive scene from this family adventure film as well as a new trailer.

Wrapping up the presentation was the announcement of WISH, an epic musical feature film that asks the question, "How did the wishing star, upon which so many characters wished, come to be?" The feature centers on Asha, a 17-year-old living in the fantastical Kingdom of Rosas who, in an act of desperation, wishes with all her heart for help to save her community from a formidable foe. Academy Award winner Ariana DeBose voices the young heroine and treated the D23 audience to the debut of a brand-new song, written by Julia Michaels.

As a '90s kid, I am truly excited for all these new and returning titles. In fact, throughout my first-ever D23 I felt like a kid all over again. I can’t end things without mentioning the incredible diversity throughout these projects, from the inclusion of Latinx talent like Rachel Zegler, Lin-Manuel Miranda, America Ferrera and Ariana DeBose, to featuring an original story from Pan African company Kugali with Iwájú. The next two years are going to be chock-full of new classics for folks of all ages, and that’s not even including the Lucasfilm, Marvel Studios and 20th Century Studios titles to come.

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