D23 Expo Offers Trailers for Hocus Pocus 2, Disenchanted, and Live-Action Little Mermaid

Walt Disney Studios unveils second century of animation as D23 Expo returns.

by | September 9, 2022 | Comments

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After its planned 2021 show was delayed, Disney’s D23 Expo returned Friday to celebrate all the myriad things the Walt Disney Company has become in its 99 years. It also took the opportunity to begin celebrating its centenary with a extra-sized presentation focused on the flagship Disney studios’ upcoming live-action projects and those of both the Walt Disney Animation Studio and Pixar Animation Studio.

As the presentation began, Disney studio chairman Alan Bergman said “making the impossible come true” is “what we try to do every day,” before introducing the new studio production card celebrating the anniversary. It opened an afternoon filled with the studios plans for the short term through to 2024. The information was fast and furious, but take a look at what we learned from the session.

Live-Action Films Continue To Find New Depth In Established Disney Icons

As studio production president Sam Bailey noted, Disney’s began making live action features with 1950’s Treasure Island and that the company’s devotion to the big screen remains unwavering. Nevertheless, the studio also has a commitment to Disney+, which, he said, “allows to tell a wider range of stories. We have a chance to explore new chapters of stories we all know and love.”

One of those chances is, of course, the upcoming Hocus Pocus 2. Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker return as the three witchy sisters who are reborn in modern-day Salem.

“It is a film that exists thanks to the overwhelming love fans all over the world have [for the characters],” according to Bailey.

The three principals could not appear in person, but they offered a video message which saw Midler using magic to play with the Hall D23 lights and place a rat tail in Bailey’s pocket. The three also unveiled a new trailer offering glimpses of the modern Salem and the mayhem the trio will get up to when the movie debuts September 30 on Disney+. Bailey mentioned he hopes the film will become a new Halloween classic.

Segueing into the Enchanted sequel, Disenchanted, he added that the film will also serve as a Thanksgiving Day offering on the service. Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, Idina Menzel , and James Marsden return. As a trailer screened during the session revealed, Giselle (Adams) and Robert (Dempsey) are leaving Manhattan behind for a suburb, but as her discomfort with burbs increases, she decides to make her new environs a little more magical via a choice wish. Maya Rudolph, Yvette Nicole Brown , and Jayma Mays join up as three suburbanite women who become wickedly transformed thanks to the wish.

“[Giselle] has all the love and joy,” Adams explained. “But she finds herself in a different position as the mother of an infant and a teenager.” She added that Giselle’s wish is made with “the best of intentions.”

Rudolph added it was “not easy being mean to Amy Adams,” but the pair had fun cultivating an on-screen antagonism. To prove their sense of fun, the duo arrived late to presentation, claiming to be in line for Peter Pan’s Flight at Disneyland across the street.

Peter Pan & Wendy key art

(Photo by © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Peter is one half of the focus in the next year’s Peter Pan & Wendy, directed by David Lowery, it stars Alexander Molony as Peter, Ever Anderson as Wendy, Alyssa Wapanatâhk as Tiger Lily, and Jude Law as Captain Hook.

“We got to mine [Peter and Hook’s] backstory a little more,” Law said. “It’s a past where they were possibly once friends. There is still a great rivalry. The gamesmanship is there and [as I was] playing the good guy, it was nice to layer in the understanding of why Captain Hook is so iconic.”

Law’s joke about Hook’s role in the film went over well among the audience.

Jude Law

(Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

Molony added that “the audience will recognize the rivalry. It’s just so much fleshed out. [They’re] going to love the fight scenes.”

That notion of added depth, naturally extend to Wendy and Tiger Lily. As Anderson put it, the expanded character work sets her and Peter as “equals in this film.” Wapanatâhk, meanwhile, was happy to tell this new story for the character.


(Photo by Disney)

The film continues the recent Disney tradition of live action films not only honoring the studio’s animated past, but bringing new dimensions to their stories. That philosophy continues into the 2023 and 2024 theatrical slate. Although, one film taking its inspiration from outside the animated classics is next year’s Haunted Mansion. Based on the Disney Parks ride, it serves as “full circle moment” for director Justin Simien.

“I used to work at Disneyland, y’all,” Simien said as a photo of his park employment card came up on the screen. “It was the best summer job. When I wasn’t working, I would ride my favorite ride, Haunted Mansion.”

The story revolves around a woman (Rosario Dawson) who reaches out to a gaggle of ghost hunters once they realize their New Orleans home is overrun by happy haunts.

Jamie Lee Curtis, Justin Simien, and Sean Bailey

(Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

“There’s something about that ride that was there in the script,” Simien said. “It’s funny and it had a dark edge to it. I felt like I understood how to make it. I have to make sure all the little Easter eggs are there.”

Easter eggs filled the extended clip and teaser screened during the presentation. The clip saw the investigators discovering Madame Leota’s séance room (hidden behind the “May” portrait), while the teaser offered glimpses of the Hatbox Ghost, other well-known specters from the ride, and even some actor cameos. According to the director, people like Winona Ryder, Dan Levy, and Hasan Minhaj will appear while Jared Leto “might” be the Hatbox Ghost. Also, thanks to a handy Doom Buggy carrying Jamie Lee Curtis to the stage, Simien also revealed she has a part to play in the film. The pair then used the Doom Buggy to escape.

Arriving in May of 2023 is the live action adaptation of The Little Mermaid. From director Rob Marshall, it stars Halle Bailey as Ariel, the mermaid whose fascination with the surface world lead to the Disney Animation Renaissance over 30 years ago. As Marshall, director of movies like Chicago, put it, “in 1989, the excitement to hear a musical again … musicals were gone [at the time]. Even though it was animated, people were singing in a movie!” Music plays a huge role in the plot of the animated film and it will remain true in Marshall’s take on it.

“We went to the great Alan Menken and our dear friend Lin-Manuel Miranda — they never collaborated together before! There are four new songs,” Marshall said. But even as the film searched for something new, Marshall stressed it will “retain the beauty” of Howard Ashman’s original score.

As someone who always had the animated version in her life, Bailey called getting the role “such a dream come true.”

Marshall, similarly, called Bailey a dream for a director as she “owned” the role from her first audition. Other cast members include Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric, Melissa McCarthy as Ursula, Javier Bardem as King Triton, Daveed Diggs as Sebastian, Awkwafina as Scuttle, and Jacob Tremblay as Flounder, the latter of whom could be heard in the sequence Marshall brought for the D23 Expo audience – his version of the “Part of Your World” sequence. An ambitious mix of live action and animation, it sees Bailey’s Ariel float around her trove of surface treasures as she sings the song. Indeed, even her hair appears to be part of the animated reality surrounding Bailey. Call it the next generation of “dry-for-wet” cinematography.

Although the film is still in post-production, audiences online can find a brief glimpse of the sequence in a newly released teaser.

Barry Jenkins

(Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

Looking to 2024, director Barry Jenkins appeared on stage to discuss Mufasa: The Lion King. A prequel to 2020’s live action The Lion King, the mixture of realistic CGI and live action sees Pumba and Timon learning more about Mufasa’s origins and how he became the greatest king of the Pridelands. “He was actually an orphan cub who navigated the world by himself and [this] is how he found his place in the circle of life,” Jenkins explained. “What you learn is Mufasa is who he is because of his friends.”

“I had to make this movie because when I was 14 and raising two nephews, there was a [Lion King] VHS tape we watched 90 times in the span of a couple of days,” he added.

Rachel Zegler and Gal Gadot

(Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

The live action adaptation theme continues in 2024 with Mark Webb’s Snow White. As Bailey explained, the studio strives to “bring something new and unexpected” to the production, which stars Rachel Zegler as Snow and Gal Gadot as the Wicked Queen.

“She is the girl you remember, but made for the modern age,” Zegler added. “There is an emphasis on what it means to be ‘the fairest of them all.’ She has to find what it means to be a just ruler.”

Luckily, she has an example in what not to be via Gadot’s Wicked Queen. “It’s very different from what I’ve played before,” she said. “She is the first and most iconic villain [of Disney animation] and getting under her skin was so delightful.”

Zegler also said she was excited for viewers to see the technology the film utilized to bring its world to life — a world she’s only see in conceptual design. Additionally, she said audiences will also have “new music” to anticipate.

Pixar Sets Its Own 100-Year Course


(Photo by © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.)

Following the live action previews, Peter Docter took the stage to discuss Pixar’s upcoming projects, including their first series for Disney+: Win or Lose. The brainchild of Carrie Hobson and Michael Yates, the program concerns itself with a co-ed softball team in the week leading up to their big championship game. But instead of dramatizing that week across the season, each episode will focus on one particular character as they experience those seven days and how their perceptions change the world. Some deal with anxiety, others attempt to find love. As Hobson put it, “this show looks for the drama of bad calls made off the softball field” and finds comedy in those missteps. She also added that the stories will “weave together in the championship game.”

Although the series will feature many character, the pair only confirmed one member of the voice cast: Will Forte as Coach Dan. In a video message, he vowed not to mess it up.


(Photo by © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.)

Switching to theatrical releases, the focus shifted to 2023’s Elemental. Directed by Peter Sohn, it centers on an immigrant fire girl, Ember (Leah Lewis), who moves to Elemental City — a metropolis where the other elements live and work. She quickly meets a boy made of water, Wade (Mamoudou Athie), and sparks seemingly fly even though both understand they can never touch lest they annihilate each other. In a scene from the film screened during the presentation, this comes into stark relief as the pair reveal their abilities to each other, but on her walk home, Ember considers the implications of touching water.

Sohn said the film has its origins in his Korean parents’ own immigrant tale. “Just like them, many people have left their homes to come to a new land, mixing into one salad bowl of cultures and little neighborhoods,” he explained.


(Photo by © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.)

Elio, set for spring 2024, centers on a boy (Yonas Kibreab) who accidentally becomes Earth’s ambassador despite his mother’s attempt to contact aliens as part of a super-secret government project. According to director Adrian Molina, Elio is an ambitious dreamer who, nonetheless, “has a hard time getting to class on the time.” The tardiness he experiences in the film leads to a fantastical interstellar environment unlike the typical space locale. America Ferrera also features as the voice of Elio’s mother, Olga.

Amy Poehler

(Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

Although Docter was ready to close his part of the session, Amy Poehler rushed the stage to make one more announcement: Inside Out 2 is in production.

“Joy and the emotions are back for a new adventure inside Riley’s head. Only this time, she’s a teenager,” she revealed. Kelsey Mann takes over from Docter, who directed the first film, but Meg LeFauve returns as writer.

“These last few years have been a time of great change,” Docter said. “For us, our purpose is to tell great stories whether they being streaming projects, theatrical, or shorts. We want to make movies that entertain, surprise, and speak with authenticity. We want to make movies that connect all over the world … and will still be watched 100 years from now.”

Walt Disney Animation Allies With an Outside Studio and Makes a Wish

Finally, Walt Disney Animation Studio’s Jennifer Lee presided over a selection of projects Bergman said speak to “the second century” of the studio where the Disney Company story began.

Lee said she sees it as “a moment of privilege and promise.” It all begins in November with Zootopia+, a five-episode series for Disney+. Each episode focuses on a different group of characters from the Zootopia film. A teaser for the series suggests it may also spend some time with various fictional TV series the characters enjoy.


(Photo by © 2022 Disney. All Rights Reserved.)

Another series on the horizon is Iwaju, also set for a 2023 debut. It is the studio’s first original series and its first collaboration with an outside studio, Kugali. The Afro-futurist sci-fi series, directed by Ziki Nelson, takes place in a version of Lagos, Nigeria where technological advancement is at a peak. But it is still a city with a sharp divide. As Nelson explained, the city consists of an island and a mainland literally separated by a river, while cultural and economic differences persist despite all the technology. At the center of the story is Tola — a “persistent, stubborn 10 year old,” according to Kugali co-founder Hamid Ibrahim — and Kole, a kid from the “wrong” side of the river. Along with a robotic salamander called Otin, the pair face off against a criminal kingpin hiding among all the scientific advancement.

As Nelson explained, the series is inspired by his childhood love of “comics and animation,” and the desire to see “comics and imagination that reflected my culture.”


(Photo by © 2022 Disney. All Rights Reserved.)

Over on the feature side, the presentation served as a chance to debut a new trailer for November 23’s Strange World. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as the son of a famous, but lost adventurer (Dennis Quaid). And when he’s pressed into an adventure with his own son (Jaboukie Young-White), he soon learns the fate of his legendarily absent dad.

According to director Don Hall, the film is inspired by “the great adventure stories of a group of people who discover a new world.”

Writer Qui Nguyen added it is also about “an amazing family who get past their differences to save the world.”

After the trailer screened, Quaid joked that his character, Jaeger Clade, is something of a departure for him. “He has a huge calves, which I’ve always wanted,” he joked, adding that “he’s stubborn, but he’s a lot of fun. Take him as he is.”


(Photo by © 2022 Disney. All Rights Reserved.)

Finally, Lee announced a new film for summer of 2023: Wish. Inspired by the first century of Disney animation, it centers on new characters and a new world called Rosas – although there will be a few hat-tips to the Disney classics. According to directors Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn, Rosas is the Kingdom of Wishes. There, the power of a deep desire is real and the wish of 17-year-old Asha (Ariana DeBose), a leader-in-the-making who recognizes a deep threat to the realm, brings down a star from the heavens to offer aid.

The star, known simply as “Star,” elicited squeals when the directors revealed the character’s design. As Ruck explained, Star is “a cosmic force. He is also a beacon of chaos. He communicates only through pantomime.” The latter characteristic was illustrated via an animation test, which saw the character floating around Asha in an attempt to communicate.

Communication is the wish of a pajama-wearing goat named Valentino (Alan Tudyk), who also appeared in animation test revealing the moment his great desire is, at last, granted by Star.

Ariana DeBose

(Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

Yet another animation test revealed the directors’ greatest ambition in terms of animation: blending classical water-painted techniques with 3D animation. The results, at least in the test shown during the presentation, definitely struck a different mood from the look of films like Elemental and Strange World, but it remains to be seen how the environment will mesh with the characters seen in the other tests.

Veerasunthorn announced the film will also follow the Disney tradition of animated musicals, with Julia Michaels providing the songs. To close out the entire presentation, DeBose took the stage to sing the first song Michaels delivered for the production: “More For Us.” Fans of the Disney style will recognize it as the film’s “wish song,” and it definitely sticks with the listener — a good sign for the film, and, presumably, the next century of Disney animation.

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