While many of the attendees of CinemaCon – both exhibitors and press alike – were probably most excited to see what Walt Disney Pictures would bring to the annual conference, the highest-grossing studio of 2018 showed up with a fairly no-frills presentation with no talent, only a little bit of new footage and not a ton to get excited about… despite everyone already being excited about Disney’s entire 2019 roster. Apparently, if you blinked, you missed the 5-second tease for JJ Abrams’ Star Wars Episode IX, but at least, a long chunk of Toy Story 4 was screened.
Disney kicked things off right away with the elephant in the room by showing a sizzle reel that included many of the Fox properties including Wolverine, The Simpsons, Aliens, Predator, X-Men and even some of the Oscar winners like Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water and last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody, films fully produced by Fox. The sizzle reel ended with footage from James Cameron’s original Avatar, which looks like it will fit in well with the Disney roster.
Alan Horn came out to talk about the merge of the two companies and how they both will continue to focus on the theatrical experience. Horn then got into the 2018 success stories with Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm and Pixar, then he mentioned Fox’s success for the year including The Greatest Showman, Deadpool 2 and Bohemian Rhapsody and its $900 million global box office. “You’ll be seeing more of Deadpool in the years ahead,” he said, in case anyone was worried. He also paid special attention to Fox Searchlight’s past successes on their 25thanniversary, including Birdman, 12 Years a Slave, Slumdog Millionaire and The Shape of Water… which seemed to confuse Horn. “A remarkable streak,” which includes 39 Oscars and four Best Picture winners. “It moves me to see this,” Horn remarked, being very gracious about what’s ahead with the Fox imprint under Disney’s umbrella.
He then introduced Disney’s Head of Distribution Cathleen Taff to present the upcoming slate, also mentioning the three Fox brands that are joining Disney including Blue Sky Productions, but they seemed to be taking credit for Fox’s 2018 success. She also acknowledged the Fox distribution team.Captain Marvel just became Disney’s seventh one-billion-dollar film worldwide.
She showed Disney’s upcoming 2019 line on the screen but then added the Fox and Searchlight movies including Ad Astra,The New Mutants, Ford v Ferrari, Call of the Wildand Dark Phoenix, saying that they realize there are some release conflicts, but saying some things will be moved. She stated in advance that they won’t be showing any Star Warsfootage, much to the disappointment of anyone who missed that 5-second tease earlier.
In fact, the first movie mentioned was Fox’s faith-based drama Breakthrough – and it was just a mention before jumping to the big one Avengers: Endgame, noting the $18.5 billion the 21-movie franchise has grossed over ten years. You can read my thoughts on the clip(s) shown here. (Careful: possible spoilers if you really want to know nothing about the movie before going to see it later this month.)
Taff then introduced the “newest member of the Walt Disney Studios team” Vice Chairman of 20th Century Fox Film and President of Production Emma Watts came out to talk briefly about a few of the Fox projects, including Dark Phoenix. “It’s some sort of Disney hazing that I’m following Avengers,” Watts quipped. “It’s not right. We’ve stood on this scene as competitors for many years, so it’s a bit of a shock to be here now as colleagues, but it’s pretty clear that we’ve been drafted by the best team in the business, so it goes without saying that we’re excited to be part of this incredible team and can’t wait for what lies ahead.”
“This is certainly a historic time in our business, and obviously for 20th Century Fox,” she continued. “While we may be living through a lot of change in our industry, the good news for all of us is that the formula for a good movie and the role of the studio in that process remains the same – creativity, hard work and a singular dedication to filmmakers, empowering to push boundaries and tell stories that stand the test of time. That will never change.”
She didn’t think that Fox should be spoken about in the past tense as “legacies are made every day.” With the vast resources of the Walt Disney company, she says Fox is ready to write its next chapter. She went on to say that this would including continuing to explore new storylines for beloved franchises like the next installment of Kingsman, Alien, Planet of the Apes, Avatar and more, trying to find new franchises like Deadpool and Maze Runner. Seeing Planet of the Apes among the franchises Fox wants to continue was the most surprising, only because most people thought the last movie ended that trilogy nicely. Fox are also looking for original stories like Bohemian Rhapsody, The Martian and The Greatest Showman.
After the Dark Phoenix footage was the Fox comedy Stuber, starring David Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani, which screened at SXSW, and will be released on July 12.
The footage showed Bautista’s police officer stopping Kumail’s Uber – Kumail’s character is named “Stuber,” hence the title — and highlighted the comedic rapport between the two, although Watts only showed the green band trailer. The movie looks funny enough from when Bautista keeps yelling directions at Kumail who retorts, “Uber doesn’t work that way,” to what happens when two young women get into the car with them because Bautista picked Uber Pool. Directed by Michael Dowse (Goon), it seems a bit like a buddy cop action-comedy except that only one of the two actors is a cop. (It looks like Bautista is making a wise move going further into comedy between this and STX’sMy Spy.) Watts mentioned not showing the Red Band version of the trailer because “first day school and all, just Green Band for today.”
The last film highlighted for Fox was “the type of film it takes a studio to make” and that was James Mangold’s Ford v. Ferrari, starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon. The extended trailer was cut to the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” because hey, if it works for Scorsese… But it looked great, especially for car and racing enthusiasts with Damon playing Carroll Shelby, the car designer hired by Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) to build a car fast enough to win the Le Mans race, which means building a car fast enough to beat the car that Enzo Ferrari brings to the race. Bale plays driver Ken Miles, and the trailer shows all that’s involved with designing the fastest car, which includes a lot of trial and error, much of which we get to see as one prototype after another flies across the track, sometimes literally. At one point, Tracy Lett’s Henry Ford tells Shelby, “This isn’t the first time Ford has gone to war in Europe. Go to war,” and that leads to a funny scene where Ford wants to ride in Shelby’s car because he wants to see “what 9 million dollars feels like.” The camera then follows Ford as he almost turns green as Shelby floors it. Out of everything I saw at CinemaCon, this was probably one of the stronger presentations, and it certainly looks like Mangold has made another great movie ala Walk the Line or Logan. The fact it’s opening on November 15 makes it seem like it might be joining this year’s awards race, as well.
President of Walt Disney Studios Production Sean Bailey comes out, making a joke that he wants a screener of Ford v. Ferrari. He mentioned Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and The Jungle Book as three successes of ways that classic stories have been updated for modern times, creating the quintessential live action films.
I’m going to insert a little caveat here, because I haven’t seen many Disney animated movies from the ‘90s… not Beauty and the Beast, not The Lion King, not The Little Mermaid and not Aladdin… so it’s a little hard for me to get excited about more live action movies based on animated properties. (I did love Cinderella and thought Tim Burton’s Dumbo wasn’t terrible but quite forgettable.)
The first film he presented was Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin, which is still being finished for its Memorial Day, and this was basically a scene of Aladdin entering the cave to retrieve the lamp for someone with the warning not to touch anything else in the cave. He enters with Abu the monkey, who sees a shiny red gem and knocks it off, but not before Aladdin has rubbed the lamp and released the Genie, played by Will Smith. What follows was the entire musical number for “You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me,” which is pretty wild and crazy, beginning with Abu playing the drums.
It looks like a pretty insane FX-heavy movie for Ritchie with at one point, the Genie making Aladdin dance like a marionette. I haven’t seen the original animated movie but I have seen that number, and it looks like fans of it will find lots of things to enjoy from the colorful, fantastical footage that was shown. Me, I’m more excited for Ritchie’s The Gentlemen from STXfilms.
After that came Jon Favreau’s The Lion King, which I was told was almost a shot-by-shot adaptation of the animated film. Since I have never seen the original movie, I wouldn’t know.
The scene begins with photorealistic lion cub Simba climbing up a rock to where his father and mother are sleeping, and he jumps on his father Mufasa (once again voiced by James Earl Jones), who says to his wife, “Your son is awake” and she responds, “Before sun rise, he’s your son.” Simba is excited to go out hunting for the first time with his father, and his father takes him to the top of a rock to look out across the vast African plains. He says that “Everything the light touches is our kingdom,” and it’s generally a nice father and son moment. They walk along as Mufasa tells Simba about the delicate balance of nature and how it works before they come up to the hornbill Zazu, played by John Oliver, who is the lieutenant to Mufasa. Zazu is relaying the news to his king while Simba begins practicing to hunt by sneaking up and pouncing on Zazu.
Again, not having seen the animated Lion King (yet?), I’m not sure what to think about this footage, maybe because it’s a little stranger seeing animals talk when they’re so lifelike ala Favreau’s The Jungle Book vs. 2d animation. I’m sure it’s going to do huge business and who knows? Maybe I’ll see it. Maybe I’ll even try to see the original movie beforehand. I honestly just don’t understand the appeal, to be perfectly honest.
The second to last movie in Disney’s presentation was Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, the sequel to the fairy tale reimagining that just moved to October. It’s directed by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales director Joachim Rønning, and once again stars Angelina Jolie as the title character and Elle Fanning as Princess Aurora. They’re joined by Michelle Pfeiffer as Queen Ingrith.
Having not seen the 2014 Maleficent – and not having a particularly strong recollection of Sleeping Beauty besides the basics – I’m really not sure what to think of the footage shown. It looked quite astonishing and beautiful, but it seems the plot of the story involves Maleficent questioning whether she’s good enough to be Aurora’s mother, as Queen Ingrith is going to take over to mold Aurora into a proper princess. The sizzle reel-like trailer also included some video bits of Jolie and Fanning talking about their characters, but it’s hard to really get excited about this movie without ever having seen the original movie. Hopefully, it isn’t like Alice Through the Looking Glass, a sequel that really didn’t need to get made. I will say that for a movie that only recently wrapped production, what was shown looked great, as if they’re further along with the VFX than one usually is at this point. Maybe that’s why Disney moved the movie to later this year?
Up until that point, there hadn’t been a single star or even a filmmaker on stage, just the Disney and Fox execs, which was a little disappointing considering how many great filmmakers Disney has working with them, including James Mangold, Guy Ritchie and Jon Favreau. Having seen past Disney presentations, it struck me as a little odd, but maybe the filmmakers are too busy, you know, making films to come out to promote them for exhibitors. It still felt like a bit of a let-down, at least until the last part of the presentation.
Long-time Pixar Animation producer Jonas Rivera then came out to introduce Toy Story 4, saying that when they were talking about the end of Toy Story 3, Andrew Stanton didn’t feel like it was the ending. It may have been an ending for Andy’s story but not necessarily Woody’s. The idea was to take Woody and put him into a new situation, and that would make it worthwhile to continue the series.
He then stated that they were going to show the first 17 minutes of the movie, which is what they did… but that’s compared to the almost hour Disney showed of Toy Story 3 in 2010. Times certainly have changed.
The basic premise follows Woody and his toy friends as they’re now played with by Bonnie, the young girl Andy donated his toys to at the end of Toy Story 3. However, Woody is being chosen less and less, making him feel unwanted. On top of that, Bonnie is about to head to Kindergarten, and she’s been told by her father that school is no place for toys. Undaunted, Woody sneaks into Bonnie’s backpack and watched from the locker as she’s picked on by another kid. He decides to help her by sneaking out and getting her some supplies for an art project, which ends up with her pasting eyes on a spork and making arms and legs with pipe cleaners. Hence was born “Forky” (voiced by Veep star Tony Hale) and Woody is happy that Bonnie has found a new toy friend, so he brings Forky back to meet the rest of the gang. Forky is so used to being trash that he completely freaks out and tries to throw himself in the trash. At the same time, Bonnie and her family are going on vacation, which means the toys will probably be left behind, although we’ll probably have to wait until the movie is released on June 21 to find out where the story goes from there.
I have a couple more studio presentations to write up, including those from Universal and Paramount, and hopefully I’ll have those for you very soon.
Edward Douglas has been writing about movies and other forms of entertainment for over 25 years, so he’s probably older than you.