8 Things We Learned About All The Other Movies Previewed At D23
As I type this, Disney’s D23 Expo is happening. All around me. You can’t see it, but a tiny toddler princess just walked by (totally adorable). And this morning, Disney debuted all their upcoming live-action films in one massive presentation. We’ve already covered the Marvel chunk of that presentation. And the Star Wars chunk. All that’s left are the many, many films entirely unrelated to either franchise. Come, there’s so much to share.
1. The Jungle Book is Trying Its Damnedest to be the Next Avatar
In discussing his upcoming redo of The Jungle Book, Jon Favreau emphasized one thing above all: scary future technology. This is a high-tech, VFX heavy Jungle Book for the 21st century. It uses “every bleeding edge technology” out there. According to Disney president of production Sean Bailey, it’s “one of the most technologically advanced movies ever made.”
Full CG. Photorealistic jungle. The film’s Mowgli, Neel Sethi, filmed his performance entirely in motion capture, then went back and re-performed the entire film as a live actor. Apparently that’s the hot new thing. And just before debuting the first-ever footage from his Jungle Book, Favreau made a point to mention that all the jungles we’re about to see were filmed right here in LA.
Favreau talks a big game, but honestly? The Jungle Book looks terrific. At least as far as photorealism goes. He stressed that the footage is on the extreme side of unfinished, and sometimes you can tell- Bagheera has a weird, lumpy head and the fur in general looks a little pixely and the voices aren’t quite matched to the animal lips the way they should be. But sometimes you can’t tell, and when you can’t, it might as well be real. Lupita Nyong’o’s Raksha (Mowgli’s adopted wolf mom) looks like a real wolf. It’s marvelous, and about as close as I’ve ever seen to a CGI creature avoiding the uncanny valley altogether. Andy Serkis’s competing Jungle Book movie (that’d be Jungle Book: Origins) has some stiff competition as far as computerized wolves go.
2. Favreau’s The Jungle Book Might Just Be a Dark and Gritty Jungle Book Reboot
At one point, Bailey described Favreau’s The Jungle Book as having “more heft,” “more gravitas” and “digging a little deeper.” That set off a little warning light within me. Is he dancing around the words I think he’s dancing around? “Dark” and “edgy?”
Yup. In that early footage, there’s a whole lot of grim, grounded, gritty, edgy, dark rebootedness. We open with Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) telling of “Man’s Red Flower,” which is visualized as an actual flower composed of fire. A group of gazelle burn alive in mid-sprint, their bodies transforming into fiery flower petals as they die. And there’s plenty of Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who’s a monstrous thing, roaring and clawing at the camera (and being driven away by man’s red fire, or a snarling Bagheera) without the slightest pretense of kid-friendliness.
Weirdly, the character who’s been given the biggest dose of gritty reboot is King Louie. Our first glimpse of the once-hilarious jazz ape comes as Mowgli skulks through his temple ruins. Lit only by torchlight, a monstrous ape-hand grasps at him from the darkness. Cut to Louie’s face: “I am the king. Call me Louie.”
Later on in the clip, we see Louie bearing down on Mowgli in a chase scene, and he is enormous. Bigger than Baloo or any other animal we see, by far. He’s practically house-sized, barreling through crumbly old pillars like some endless runner iPhone game. I’m not sure why Favreau cast Christopher Walken, whose voice is so comedy-prone, for a giant orangutan monster. But it’s certainly made me curious.
And not all the footage was that dark. When we meet Baloo (Bill Murray), he’s singing “The Bare Necessities” under his breath (huge applause). “That’s a song about the good life,” he explains to Mowgli (“What’s a song?” Mowgli replies). The rest of the clip’s set to an epic blockbuster orchestration of “The Bare Necessities,” which serves to lighten the mood. That and a quick glimpse of Mowgli resting on Baloo’s chest as they float down the river.
Courtesy of Disney
3. The Jungle Book Debuts its First Poster
Favreau’s Jungle Book presentation ends with the debut of the film’s first artwork- a poster of Mowgli, crouched on a pedestal with Bagheera slinking down to meet him (Kaa’s up at the very top, too). Pretty cool, I guess, although nothing particularly outside what you’d expect of a Jungle Book poster. Everyone in attendance got one, though. I appreciate that.
4. Sacha Baron Cohen is “Time” in Alice Through the Looking Glass
For Alice Through the Looking Glass, Disney’s sequel to Tim Burton’s billion-dollar Alice in Wonderland, we’re adding one new character: Time. He’s played by Sacha Baron Cohen, who’s been cranked up to 100% full Burton kookiness with an enormous, shining black hat, a mustache, a chest made of clockwork gears and a vaguely European accent.
Apparently something’s gone wrong with the Mad Hatter (the sequel will answer “why the hatter is just so mad” something that almost certainly doesn’t need answering), and it’s up to Alice to return to Underland and set things right. And the inclusion of Time lets Alice Through the Looking Glass play around with time travel, allowing us to peek the various players at different stages of life. Time also allows the film (and the creators) to make constant groaning time-puns, like how Alice’s next adventure is a “literal race against time.”
There’s a sizzle reel, but it’s more or less indistinguishable from the first Alice, save for some footage of Cohen’s character. Alice follows a blue butterfly through a mirror (as soon as she enters, it becomes a Burtonesque monster-butterfly), walks through a door that opens up several hundred feet in the Underland sky, and whump– lands in a bouncy array of flowers. From there, all the old cohorts and wacky hijinks resume.
5. Pete’s Dragon Will Have the Hairiest Dragon Ever
When Alice finished, Bryce Dallas Howard came onstage to tell us a little about the upcoming Pete’s Dragon remake she’s starring in. It’s still in the early stages of production, so there’s little she can divulge (and only a few scraps of footage to be shown), but at least we know more than we did yesterday.
Howard plays Grace, a forest ranger who first discovers Pete living in the woods as a feral boy. She’s a “pragmatic realist,” but we can assume her worldview will change for the better once she meets a real-life dragon.
That’s more or less what we get from the footage, too, which shows Grace discovering Pete, who’s looking very grungy after living in the woods for six years. Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) theorizes that no little boy could survive in the woods for so long without help, followed by a few quick cuts of Pete (still dirt-flecked) escaping into town while wearing a hospital gown, then balancing on top of a moving school bus.
As for the dragon? We catch a glimpse of Redford, looking over a picture drawn by Pete: a dragon on four legs with four squat feet. Its face is a little more rounded, almost resembling a dog’s snout, but with reptilian fangs. The footage ends with a hand reaching out towards… something, covered in thick fur. Once the hand meets the fur, it changes color in a series of ripples. According to Bailey, that’s the only dragon footage Disney had in con-ready order by today.
6. Disney’s Keeping Beauty and the Beast Locked Up Tight
Much to my surprise, Disney showed almost zero footage from Beauty and the Beast, despite it being one of the most-anticipated films on their live-action slate (at least as far as I can tell – the tiny bit of footage that did play earned some of the loudest cheers).
Instead of footage, we got two quick “message from the set” videos. One from Emma Watson (playing Belle), the other from Luke Evans and Josh Gad (Gaston and Le Fou, respectively). The sets, at least, look neat (some of the architecture in the Beast’s castle looks almost like it’s constructed out of bones), and Evans and Gad singing a few bars of “Gaston” confirm that yes, they both have lovely voices. There are also a handful of “making of” shots that show Evans, Gad and Dan Stevens (playing the Beast) in their costumes (Stevens is in human form), which look like near-perfect representations of the 1991 Disney designs.
The only real footage we ever see is in a sizzle reel that played before today’s presentation, and also yesterday’s Disney Animation/Pixar one. It’s precisely one shot of Watson in that iconic yellow dress. We’re also shown a logo, set against a mottled grey furry backdrop. Could that be a hint at the Beast’s design? No idea. I’m just grasping at straws, really.
7. Orlando Bloom Rejoins the Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise
Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales presentation was also footage-free (not that surprising, I guess, considering neither this nor Beauty and the Beast are due out until 2017). Bailey offers up a scant pieces of new info- Kaya Scodelario’s character, Carina, will be a scientist of some kind, and Javier Bardem’s villain Captain Salazar is “unearthly” in some fashion.
And then a giant news-drop: Orlando Bloom will be reprising his role as Will Turner in the sequel. No Keira Knightley, however. Wonder how Pirates 5 plans on explaining that breakup.
8. Johnny Depp Loves Grapes. Or Maybe He Hates Them.
In lieu of footage, the Pirates presentation held a different crowd-pleaser: Johnny Depp, live and in full Jack Sparrow regalia. Depp wanders up to the stage, stumbling drunk (or pretending to be, I’m assuming) and eating a handful of something vague he’s concealed in the palm of his hand.
“Is anyone allergic to grapes?” he mumbles, and the mystery is revealed.
Then Depp, fully committed to the pretend-pint of rum he pretend-guzzled backstage, begins flinging grapes at the audience. “Grape.” Fling. “Grape.” Fling. “I’m going long!” Fling. “That’s a grape.” Finally, Depp turns on his fruity snack, scowling “I hate grapes. I despise the rotten little buggers” and departs under cover of the fog machine.
Maybe this one shouldn’t count a list of “Things We Learned,” because I’m not at all clear about Depp’s real stance on grapes.