D23 Expo: Disney Fanfest Starts Off Strong with Animation Lineup

The Mouse House reveals voice cast, first footage of new shorts and feature films scheduled through 2016

The Good Dinosaur

Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Bob Iger kicked off the D23 Expo on Friday with a nod to Walt Disney: “Animation will always be the heart of Disney,” he told thousands inside the Anaheim Convention Center’s arena.

“This company was built from (Disney’s) imagination and his extraordinary vision,” Iger said, noting that he’s only the sixth executive to ever run Disney. “Every one of us has done our best to honor his legacy and to stay true to his innovation. … We’re proud of that legacy.”

Iger was clearly in his element on stage Friday, the charming ringleader speaking to the masses of Disney superfans gathered over the next three days to take part in the fanfest Disney produces every other year as its version of Comic-Con. This is the company’s third year hosting D23 across the street from Disneyland. Event runs through Sunday.

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“I get to go to Disneyland whenever I want,” he said to the packed room of 7,500. “Heck, I even get to go to the front of the line.”

While tickets for Saturday’s D23 activities sold out quickly — most likely for the much-anticipated Walt Disney Studios panel, during which fans will see footage from new films like “Maleficent,” and Marvel’s superhero sequels and new launches like “Guardians of the Galaxy” — they’re also hoping for any updates on J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars” film, the seventh in the series.

“Disney, Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm all under one roof,” Iger said during his opening remarks. “Even I have to admit that’s pretty cool.”

But Iger tried to calm those excited fans down a bit and lower their expectations for any new “Star Wars” movie updates.

“There are a lot of ‘Star Wars’ fans here,” he said looking out at the crowd. “Welcome to the Disney family.” As he said that a lightsaber flared up. “Next time we do D23, I expect the place to be flooded with them.”

“We’re speechless” to now own Lucasfilm, Iger said. But “we’re speechless at this D23 because we don’t have a lot of details to share with you yet.”

Instead, Iger brought out John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, who had plenty of new announcements to offer.

Most revolved around voice casting on already announced projects from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios and DisneyToon Studios.

■ “Raising Hope’s” Lucas Neff, Bill Hader, Judy Greer, Neil Patrick Harris, John Lithgow and Frances McDormand will voice the dinosaur family in “The Good Dinosaur.” Neff is Arlo, the film’s lead dino. Film revolves around what would have happened if the dinosaurs weren’t annihilated by a meteor and became farmers.

■ In Pixar’s “Inside Out,” emotions are the lead characters. Amy Poehler voices Joy, which also features Lewis Black as Anger, Mindy Kaling as Disgust, Phyllis Smith as Sadness, and Bill Hader as Fear. The Peter Docter-directed project bows June 19, 2015, and reveals the world inside the human mind.

■ Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy play the voice roles of Dory’s parents in “Finding Nemo” sequel “Finding Dory.” “Modern Family’s” Ty Burrell, who also is in “Muppets Most Wanted,” plays Beluga whale Bailey in the follow up from Andrew Stanton, out Nov. 25, 2015, in which Dory reunites with her family.

■ Hader has now voice characters in three Disney films, including “Monsters University,” an impressive feat mocked by John Ratzenberger, who came on stage to remind the former “Saturday Night Live” comedian he now has 14 Disney toons under his own belt and is dubbed Disney’s “good luck charm.” He was backed by the Disneyland marching band to rub it in.

■ Disney announced “Zootopia” as a new release for 2016, designed as a buddy action comedy set in an animal world where humans never existed. The design of the locations are all based on how an animal might have produced them. Director Byron Howard wanted to design “an animal civilization that’s incredibly real, incredibly original and distinctly anaimal.” Howard found his inspiration from older Disney films like “Robin Hood” that featured animals wearing clothes. “(John) Lasseter will support any movie that has animals running around in clothing,” said screenwriter Jared Bush. Plot revolves around a fast-talking fox who’s trying to make it big goes on the run when he’s framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and teams up with a self-righteous rabbit when they become the targets of a conspiracy.

“It’s a fantastic, exciting time for animation at Disney and Pixar,” Lasseter said. “The filmmakers at our three studios are so talented—their films are all so touching and beautiful, but so different. I am truly excited to share these films with everyone.”

DisneyToon Studios, the smaller outfit that produced “Planes,” was given considerable time by Lasseter to show off new projects like sequel “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” which brings back Dane Cook as lead character Dusty, and introduces “Modern Family’s” Julie Bowen as a new character, now that the first film is flying into theaters this weekend. Pic had originally been developed as a direct-to-homevideo release. Disney has dated “Fire & Rescue” for July 18, 2014.

Disney is hoping the film, itself a spinoff of “Cars,” launches a new franchise that spawns theaterical, homevideo, TV shows and short form content, along with consumer products already on store shelves.

“When we create a film we don’t create one film, we create a world and set of characters that can handle many diddifrent stories” Lasseter said.

Studio is also producing two new films starring Tinkerbell, “Legend of the NeverBeast,” out spring 2015, and “The Pirate Fairy, the latter of which features the voice of Christina Hendricks as Zarina and Tom Hiddleston as Captain Hook. Fans coaxed an all-too-willing Hiddleston to sing part of “Bare Necessities,” which he had once used as part of an audition. Pirate pic bows next spring.

■ Pixar’s six-minute “Party Central” was screened for the first time. The short will debut May 30, 2014, with “The Good Dinosaur.”

■ The new Mickey Mouse short “Get a Horse” was screened, which features new hand-drawn black and white animation and CG animation in the style of the films of 1928 that first introduced Disney’s iconic mouse. Walt Disney voices the character in the short, directed by Lauren MacMullen. Film will be attached to “Frozen” in November.

■ Studio screened the first footage of “Big Hero 6,” a mash-up of Disney animation and Marvel comicbooks set in a blended version of San Francisco and Tokyo. “I got excited about bringing these two passions together,” said director (“Winnie the Pooh”). Director wanted a new look for the film’s robot and turned to the look of new technology of inflatable robots being developed in labs. Pic bows Nov. 7, 2014.

■ Disney also showed the first 10 minutes of Pixar’s “Toy Story of Terror,” a Halloween-themed special set at a roadside motel that will air on ABC on Oct. 16.

During the presentation, Lasseter brought onto the stage Burny Mattinson, who celebrates his 60th year with Walt Disney Animation Studios this summer and is the only remaining artist at the studio who worked with Walt Disney. He was a key member of the story team on Disney’s “Aladdin,” “Beauty & the Beast,” “The Lion King, “Pocahontas,” “Mulan,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Tarzan,” and was senior story artist on 2011’s “Winnie the Pooh.”

The event, which crossed the three-hour mark, ended with a musical performance by Idina Menzel, who sang “Let It Go,” from “Frozen,” out Nov. 27, that features the voices of Menzel, Kristen Bell and Josh Gad.

“It’s a fantastic, exciting time for animation at Disney and Pixar,” Lasseter said. “The filmmakers at our three studios are so talented—their films are all so touching and beautiful, but so different. I am truly excited to share these films with everyone.”