From Friday, Sept. 9, to Sunday, Sept. 11, Disney hosted its 14th annual D23 exposition in Anaheim, California. Fans of all Disney brands expected updates on numerous upcoming projects, as well as announcements of new ones. Many were disappointed by there being fewer announcements at this year’s exposition than expected. However, most of the announcements that Disney made were met with excitement.
On Sept. 9, the expo kicked off with a panel on Disney and Pixar animation. The headline was the announcement of “Inside Out 2” (2024). A sequel to the widely beloved “Inside Out” (2015) had been long rumored, and fans were overjoyed that it was finally official. The film will explore the main character Riley’s experience with puberty, and will feature some emotions that didn’t appear in the original. A “Zootopia Plus” series was also announced, which will consist of six Disney+ shorts taking place during the events of Zootopia (2016). Disney also released new posters for “Strange World” (2022) and “Elemental” (2023).
Disney’s live action division was also present at this panel, and they were busy. They kicked things off by giving audiences a new look at “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” (2022), a Disney+ adaption of the Rick Riordan novels that promises to be more accurate to the source material than the movie trilogy. It will star Walker Scobell as Percy, Leah Jeffries as Annabeth, and Aryan Simhadri as Grover Underwood. Disney also released trailers for “Hocus Pocus 2” (2022), “Disenchanted” (2022), and “Peter Pan and Wendy” (2023). These movies will all be released straight to Disney+.
Disney also teased four upcoming live action theatrical releases. Two of these were live-action remakes: “The Little Mermaid” (2023) and “Snow White” (2024). Disney also released a trailer for the former, which featured star Halle Bailey singing “A Part of Your World” as Ariel. Rachel Zegler will star as Snow White in the latter, with Gal Gadot as the evil queen. Disney’s live action remakes have been hit or miss in the past. Some, like “Beauty and the Beast” (2017) and “Aladdin” (2019), retell the story in a refreshing way. Others come across as bargain bin versions of the originals, and seem like cash grabs.
The other two upcoming theatrical releases are “Haunted Mansion” (2023) and the newly announced “Mufasa: The Lion King” (2024). “Haunted Mansion,” which is an adaptation of one of Disney’s most iconic theme park rides, features a star-studded cast, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Owen Wilson, Rosario Dawson, and LaKeith Stanfield. “Mufasa: The Lion King” is a prequel, and will take after the hyper-realistic look of “The Lion King” (2019). Many felt that that film fell into the bargain bin category, and criticized it for lacking the heart of the 1994 original. However, negative reviews didn’t stop it from making over a billion dollars at the box office. It’s not surprising that Disney is looking to replicate that success.
Friday was exciting, but Saturday was D23’s most widely anticipated day. With Lucasfilm, 20th Century, and Marvel all slated to present, the internet had theorized for months prior as to what this day could bring. The smallest of the three, 20th Century, only had “Avatar: Way of Water” (2022) to present. The original “Avatar” movie still holds the all-time number one spot in the worldwide box office charts, so it’ll be fascinating to see how this one performs upon its Dec. 16 theatrical release.
“Star Wars” fans left the convention largely satisfied after numerous TV announcements. New looks were shown of the Rosario Dawson-led “Ahsoka” (2023), and the Jude Law-led “Skeleton Crew” (2023). Trailers also dropped for the upcoming shows “Andor” (2022), “Willow” (2022), and “Tales of the Jedi” (2022). The headliner of the panel was a teaser trailer for “The Mandalorian” Season 3 (2023), featuring everyone’s favorite space cowboy and alien child duo trekking across the galaxy. The biggest disappointment for “Star Wars” fans, however, was that “Star Wars Episode X” was not announced. Rian Johnson (“Star Wars: Episode VIII,” “Knives Out”) and Taika Waititi (“Thor: Ragnarok,” “Jojo Rabbit”) have been rumored to be directing the project.
Marvel fans came into D23 with the highest expectations. Countless projects and character casting announcements were rumored for Saturday. Unfortunately, the reality was a bit disappointing. A couple new trailers were released, but only a few new announcements were made. One was that “Fantastic 4” (2024) would be helmed by “Wandavision” (2021) director Matt Shakman. This had already been widely speculated, so it was far from enough to satisfy fans. Marvel President Kevin Feige did also reveal that the antagonist of “Captain America: New World Order” (2024) would be Samuel Sterns, a scientist mutated by gamma radiation who becomes one of the smartest men in the world and begins to call himself “The Leader.” The iconic Marvel villain hasn’t appeared since “The Incredible Hulk” (2008), so fans were overjoyed to hear of his return.
The final major announcement was the makeup of the Thunderbolts roster. “Thunderbolts” (2024) will be about a team of villains and anti-heroes working together under Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine (Julia Louis Dreyfus). It’s basically Marvel’s version of DC’s “Suicide Squad.” The members will be Red Guardian (David Harbour), Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), John Walker (Wyatt Russell), Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko), Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Many fans were underwhelmed by this team, and I’d have to agree with them. Baron Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) is a head-scratching omission, as he led the team in the comics and recently appeared in “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” (2021). I’d have to imagine that he’s still in the movie, just not on the team. Along with many other fans, I was also hoping that Marvel would use the Tony Masters version of Taskmaster, after Olga Kurylenko’s version was so widely criticized in “Black Widow” (2021). She lacked the agency and threat level that Masters is known to have in the comics.
One of the new trailers Marvel did drop was for “Secret Invasion” (2023). Its tone was akin to “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014), a widely beloved political thriller. This show will follow Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, and his attempt to defend the world from shape-shifting Skrulls. The “Secret Invasion” comic is one of Marvel’s most iconic, so fans are pumped to see this adaptation carried out in live-action.
The other trailer made available to fans was “Werewolf by Night” (2022). A Halloween special, it has the feel of a campy, old-fashioned horror movie. It is entirely in black and white, and the vast majority of the special effects are practical. I personally adored this trailer and cannot wait to see the final product in just over a month. I also can’t wait for the first live-action appearance of Man-Thing, a humanoid swamp monster and long-time Marvel fan favorite who appeared in the trailer.
Feige did reveal a few things at D23, but it’s understandable for fans to be disappointed when comparing the event to Marvel’s San Diego Comic-Con panel on July 22. Feige officially announced 15 films and Disney+ shows at that event, including some with release dates going all the way into 2025. He also announced that these projects will make up Phases Four to Six of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will culminate in two Avengers films, entitled “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty” and “Avengers: Secret Wars.” D23 was never going to live up to that, despite fan expectations. With multiple release dates still left unfilled in the coming years, Marvel fans may have to wait until next year’s Comic-Con to confirm their theories, such as the cast of the Fantastic Four, and when characters like Deadpool, Nova, and Ghost Rider will be making their long-awaited MCU appearances.
The final day of the expo was the most tame, with only a panel about Disney’s theme parks and cruises.
While D23 didn’t end up reaching every fan’s sky-high expectations, many new projects were announced. Countless people across the world spent the weekend of Sept. 9 to 11 glued to livestreams, and I’m confident that many of them came to the same conclusion — it’s a great time to be a Disney fan.