Tens of thousands of fans flocked to D23 Expo this August, expecting to hear big news about Disney, “Star Wars,” Pixar, Muppets and more. Excitement ran high and expectations ran even higher. So did D23 Expo meet the bar fans set for the event?
Not only did D23 Expo 2015 deliver with its Hall D23 presentations – covering the expected updates on the upcoming slate of movies in animation and live action, gaming release, and developments for Disney Parks and Resorts – but the Expo also managed to offer attendees quite a few surprises. Here’s a look at ten of them, in no particular order.
1. Star Wars Land. Make that lands, as in not one, but two. While rumors and hopeful speculation have been focused on adding more “Star Wars” to the theme parks since The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, with speculation reaching fever pitch by the fan event. But D23 Expo 2015 still managed to pull out some surprises, first by having Chairman and CEO Bob Iger announced Star War Land for both Disneyland and Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the live-action movies presentation.
Then, Bob Chapek, built upon the excited in the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts presentation by announcing a number of “Star Wars” additions in the short term, including the seasonal “Season of the Force” event and Star Wars Launch Bay for both parks.
2. Johnny Depp inducted as a Disney Legend. Prior to the Expo, D23 announced eight individuals would be inducted at the event. The list offered a mix of Hollywood names, such as George Lucas and Danny Elfman, and Disney figures such as Andreas Deja and Eyvind Earle. Kicking off a weekend of surprises was Johnny Depp, who appeared at the ceremony as surprise Disney Legends inductee number nine. Depp continued to surprise fans on Saturday, when he appeared at the Hall D23 live-action movie presentation…dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow.
3. Yet more “Star Wars” – and a smiling Harrison Ford. Of course, the “Star Wars” news at D23 Expo 2015 wasn’t focused entirely on the theme-park additions. There is also the movie news about “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and Lucasfilm’s planned series through 2019. Not to be outdone by Depp, Harrison Ford surprised fans…by showing up to promote “The Force Awakens.” Ford joined director J.J. Abrams and castmates John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and Lupita Nyong’o.
- Disney also offered these tidbits for “Star Wars” fans:
- Cast for Gareth Edward’s “Rogue One,” the first stand-alone “Star Wars”‘ movie, gets its first cast photo at the Expo. (Slated for release Dec. 16, 2016)
- Rian Johnson, of “Looper” will write and direct “Episode VII (2017).
- Lawrence Kasdan and Jon Kasdan will write the “Untitled Han Solo Project “ (2018) Colin Trevorrow, hot off “Jurassic World,” was announced as the director for “Star Wars: Episode IX” (2019).
4. Toy Story Land for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While “Star Wars” news would be the headliner for Disney Parks, and for D23 Expo 2015 in general, Chapek offered another surprise for Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Toy Story Land, a kiddie friendly area for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, is now official.
Hard-core Disney fans knew big changes must be in store for the park after a series of attraction’s closed in (roughly) the Toy Story Mania area of the park. But the addition of a Toy Story-focused land emerged as a relatively late front-runner for rumors after months (years) of speculation about a Pixar-themed land or variation on Disney California Adventure’s Cars Land.
5. Muppets performers get hand-on with fans. In “The Magic Behind the Muppets” panel, Muppeteers brought six fans on stage, teaching then to puppeteer and having them briefly perform alongside some of our beloved Muppets characters. The session gets bonus surprise point for singing and/or daning to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.” One more welcomed bit of info in a panel that was makes by delightful surprises large and small: new “Pigs in Space” skits are being made for online release.
6. More Disney and Pixar animation, more celebrity voices. It’s a good time to be an animation fan. At D23 Expo, John Lasseter announced seven animated films in the Disney and Pixar line-up. While most of the projects are in development and well known to fans, Lasseter offered “Gigantic,” a “Jack and the Beanstalk” story set in Spain, will be made by Disney Animation. He also dropped the news that “Toy Story 4” will focus on the love story between Woody and Bo Peep.
The full slate of projects almost overshadowed the celebrity appearances common to the biennial presentation: Randy Newman, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ellen DeGeneres, Ed O’Neil, Ty Burrell and Ginnifer Goodwin. Shakira, who appeared via video, will be the voice of Gazelle in “Zooptopia”: her clip provided a snippet from “Try Everything,” an original song for the movie.
Of little surprise to the fans who have attended previous Expos? The Hall D23 animation presentation went long, clocking in at almost three hours.
7. Stan Lee makes a cameo. If Disney Parks surprises made their way into the D23 Expo’s live-action movies presentation, the inverse is also true. In a scripted bit of comedy intended to promote the Iron Man Experience at Hong Kong Disneyland, Marvel’s own Stan Lee made a cameo at the Disney Parks presentation. Stan Lee, who described himself as the world’s greatest cameo actor, had an exchange with Iron Man – not Robert Downey, Jr. – that reminded fans that Marvel, too, will have something of a presence in Disney Parks. (Iron Man Experience will be the first Marvel attraction at any Disney park…but not the last.)
8. Anna and Olaf are reunited with “Frozen” songwriters. “Frozen Fandemonium: A Musical Celebration” promoted the appearance of the songwriting team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. As if that wasn’t a big enough draw, Kristen Bell – the movie’s own Anna – made a surprise appearance to sing “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” (along with the Lopez’s daughters Katie and director Jennifer Lee’s daughter Agatha) and “For the First Time in Forever.” Josh Gad, who Disney fans may know as Olaf, also appeared to sing “In Summer.” appearing for Frozen Fandemonium, singing with Josh Gad. A special appearance by John Lasseter and previously unheard songs and demos made this one Expo event that “Frozen” fans didn’t want to let go of.
9. Disney Interactive surprises gaming fans. Disney Interactive (DI) held its Hall D23 session Sunday, and the one-hour presentation was filled with gaming news. DI surprised fans with Marvel Battlegrounds for Disney Infinity 3.0, a new Marvel-themed play set coming spring 2016. The new play set will offer a four-player gameplay to the series for the first time, and feature new characters. DI also brought celebrities, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” onstage to debut their respective Infinity figures.
For all the Disney-dedicated gamers out there: DI provided news about a new mobile game, Magic Kingdoms, that will allow players to build their own theme parks in the style of Roller Coaster Tycoon.
Finally, if DI did not announce a release date for Kingdom Hearts 3, it did reveal that “Big Hero 6″ will be featured in the game.
10. Brad Kane sings “A Whole New World” duets with fans. Call this an almost best-kept secret for D23 Expo 2015. Brad Kane, the singing voice of “Aladdin,” announced at a Saturday-night panel devoted to the movie that he would hold auditions on Sunday morning in order to give select fans the opportunity to sing a duet with him. Sharp-eyed attendees had noticed the announcement on the D23 Expo app, but this opportunity largely flew under the radar until the public performances at Center Stage Sunday afternoon.
As with any “top 10” list, what doesn’t make the list is just as important as what’s included. What surprises top your list of D23 Expo 2015 surprises?