Everything We Learned at D23: 'Frozen 2,' 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,' Marvel and More
By John Boone
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios
Disney's last D23 Expo may have only been two years ago, but it feels like it's been a lifetime: In 2017, the studio announced the cast of Aladdin and confirmed a Frozen sequel was in the works, while also previewing their Lion King remake and an upcoming animated project called Coco.
And so it was high time we ventured back to Anaheim, California, for a sneak peek at what comes next. Co-chairman Alan Horn presided over Saturday's Walt Disney Studios presentation, offering those in attendance a first look at what's on the way from Disney Animation, Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios. That means updates on Frozen 2 and Soul, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Phase 4 of the MCU, plus so much more.
Below, ET's live updates on absolutely everything we learned at D23.
A Live Performance From the Cast of 'Frozen 2'
After Frozen 2, "nothing will be the same," Chris Buck said at the end of the presentation. But in Arendelle, some things never change -- which not only applies to the cast (all of whom return from the original) but is the theme of a track performed in Hall D23 by the full cast.
Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff and Josh Gad took the stage to perform a song from the upcoming movie. "Some things never change / Like how I'm holding on tight to you," sang Bell as Gad kissed her on the cheek. Groff piped in with his verse, singing to a stuffed Sven and doing voices for both, then to Bell, "Some things never change / Like the love I feel for her." As they sang, red and yellow and orange paper leaves cascaded from the ceiling onto the crowd.
The Mysteries of 'Frozen' Will Be Revealed
At D23 two years ago, Disney announced that they were hard at work on a Frozen sequel. Now, it is months away from opening in theaters. "There was one question people kept asking: Why does Elsa have powers?" director Chris Buck said, with Jennifer Lee chiming in, "Yeah, we were wondering that too."
Frozen 2 will be "bigger and even more epic" than the first, Buck teased, adding that "Frozen 1 and Frozen 2 work together to form one complete story."
According to Lee, the movie will also ask questions like: Why was Anna born the way she was? Where were there parents really going when that ship went down? Is there really such a thing as happily ever after?
Evan Rachel Wood joins the cast as Queen Iduna, mother to Elsa and Anna, for a prologue set in the past during which she sings a lullaby to her girls. Sterling K. Brown, meanwhile, provides the voice for Lieutenant Mattias, who leads a troop that's been lost in an enchanted forest for over 30 years.
A clip screened at D23 showed Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Olaf playing a game of charades. Olaf is able to transform himself into the words he's meant to act out -- Mickey Mouse, an ice cream cone, Elsa -- but when Elsa has her turn she's distracted by a voice calling out to her. After, as Anna worries whether Elsa is "acting weird," we learn that Kristoff is planning to propose -- though he botches it, fumbles the ring and Anna never notices as she goes off to check on Elsa.
The footage ends Elsa singing a song about following the voice and traveling "into the unknown."
Awkwafina Will Breathe Fire in 'Raya and the Last Dragon'
On Thanksgiving 2020, directors Paul Briggs and Dean Wellins and writer Adele Lim (Crazy Rich Asians) will introduce the world to Disney Animation's latest, Raya and the Last Dragon. It will be a "fantastical" journey inspired by Southeast Asia. "The very first movie I ever watched was Snow White," Lim said, revealing her take will be a combination of Disney animation and Hong Kong action flicks.
The movie takes place in Kumandra, a reimagined Earth created by dragons. But the world is in peril and a lone warrior, Raya, sets out on a quest to track down what is believed to be the last remaining dragon and bring light back to the world.
Raya is voiced by Cassie Steele and Awkwafina will voice Sisu the dragon, a beast with a green born, white mane and pink fins. "That's me up there," Awkwafina said. "Soak it in. I love the hair. The word splendiferous comes to mind." Sisu also appears in human form as an elderly woman.
Tom Holland Spreads the Love Amid Spider-Man Drama
Before leaving the stage after presenting a first look at his upcoming Pixar film, Onward, Tom Holland responded to reports this week that Spider-Man will be leaving the Marvel Cinematic Universe amid a standoff between Disney and Sony.
"Hey all, it's been a crazy week but I want you to know that I'm grateful from the bottom of my heart and I love you 3000," he said to massive applause.
Prepare for an Emotional Odyssey With 'Onward'
Onward takes place in a modern fantasy world and follows two brothers, Ian Lightfoot, the shy younger brother voiced by Tom Holland, and his rambunctious big bro, Barley (Chris Pratt). Ian wishes he had had a chance to meet his father and thus, the two set out on a magical and epic quest.
"Tom feels like a little brother to me and you see that reflected in the movie," Pratt said. "To share that experience [of making a Pixar movie] with someone you love...We can look at each other and say, 'Holy crap, can you believe we're doing this right now?!'"
Julia Louis-Dreyfus also stars as their mother, Laurel. Louis-Dreyfus is a Pixar alumni, having lent her voice to A Bug's Life, and said she's had a gas "playing an elf mom to these two bozos." Octavia Spencer will voice The Manticore, a mythical create who assists the boys on their journey.
D23 saw eight minutes of footage from Onward that showed the boys inheriting a wizard's staff from their late father with a note explaining why magic faded from the world and a spell to bring their father back for one final day.
Meet the Cast of Pixar's 'Soul'
Pixar will release two original films in 2020. One will explore who we are and why we're here -- with a little metaphysics throw in -- in Soul, directed by Pete Docter. The premise of Soul is that each of us is born with a soul, trained at You Seminar, where they got your quirks and passions and dreams, before graduating to the world to live a life of purpose.
But in the case of Joe Gardener, there has to be a mistake. "His life hasn't gone as expected," the Soul creative team explains. Joe is a middle school band teacher who finally gets the big break he's been searching for: To play jazz. But then he falls down a manhole and reverts to soul form at the You Seminar.
Jamie Foxx voices Joe Gardener, with Tina Fey as 22, Phylicia Rashad as Joe's mother, Questlove as the drummer in Joe's jazz band and Daveed Diggs as Joe's neighborhood nemesis. Jon Batiste will write original jazz for the film, while Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from Nine Inch Nails will write the score.
Emma Stone Goes Full 'Cruella' in First Look Photo
Emma Stone and Emma Thompson will "take us back" in the upcoming Cruella origin story. Both are currently across the pond filming, but Stone sent in a short video message to tease the story: "It's 1970s, set in London -- can you get out of my eyeliner please?" Stone snaps. "It's punk rock. A great cast."
There's a bark and the camera pans to a Dalmatian sitting just off screen. "I can't work like this," Stone deadpans. "I'm going back to my trailer."
Disney then revealed a first look at Stone in costume as Cruella, with a curly wig split down the middle, black on one side and white on the other, donning a leather outfit and posing holding the leashes of three Dalmatians.
'Mulan' Will Have Everything You Love From the Original
"I'm most excited for the audience to feel this story on a truly epic scale," director Niki Caro said of Disney's live-action Mulan, promising that it is truly "the classic that we loved." Caro debuted footage which showed Mulan (Yifei Liu) joking with a friend before entering an etiquette class, where an encounter with a spider draws her into a confrontation with the matchmaker leading the session. When the other gals in the class freak out over the spider, Mulan flies into action, catching each and every tea pot and cup flung into the air -- until her hair unfolds and they all come crashing around her.
As the matchmaker scolds Mulan for bringing "dishonor" on her family, a soldier rides into town and announces that they are at war and every household must contribute one man to serve. With only two daughters, Mulan's father volunteers himself. The teaser ends with Mulan watching her father train, a tear rolling down her cheek. "I will bring honor to my family," she says as she disguises herself and we see her in various moments of training. The scope and expertly-staged action sequences certainly do look epic.
The Maleficent sequel arrives in theaters this year and Angelina Jolie returned to the stage to say, "I missed her." "In the first film, we brought two people, two creatures, together and said just because they're very very different, they're family and they have love for each other," she explained.
Now, Aurora (Elle Fanning) is older and it is being emphasized to them "how different" they are and pulled apart because of it. That dynamic will also be challenged by the additions of Michelle Pfeiffer as Queen Ingrith and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the dark fey Connal.
"Working with women, there's just a sense of feeling safe with each other," Pfeiffer said of why she wanted to join Jolie and Fanning, while Ejiofor said for his part he was "thrilled to join in."
Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt Set Sail on 'Jungle Cruise'
Based on the beloved Disney attraction, the Jungle Cruise movie will star Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, the latter of whom took the stage crowd aboard a prop Jungle Cruise boat. (Think Lady Gaga at Cannes, but with The Rock.)
In the movie, Johnson plays Frank, the charismatic skipper of a sight-seeing dingy, who is hired to charter Blunt's character on a voyage. "We wanted to make a movie that was big, that was epic, that had romance. Big comedy, big action," Johnson said. "Sometimes you need Dwayne Johnson to save the day."
With that, he debuted the movie's first trailer, which features some of the punny humor of the ride ("Ladies and gentlemen, the moment you've all been waiting for: The backside of water!"), a talking parrot, supernatural monsters, machine guns and Johnson in a kerchief.
When Johnson announced the movie was about strong men "kicking ass and saving the girl," a horn blared offstage and Blunt arrived in an old-timey automobile and criticized that trailer for focusing too much on Johnson. Her take on the teaser featured more talk of mysterious ancient artifacts, curses, snakes and Blunt punching Johnson in the face.
Turns out, neither is the actual trailer, as the movie is truly a two-hander. "To be a part of something like this," Blunt said, "just makes my heart race."
'Black Widow' First Look at the Red Guardian in Action
Though the Black Widow cast was busy filming the movie abroad, Feige debuted an "exclusive" new look at Marvel's first film of Phase 4. Much of it was the same footage screened at Comic-Con, but with a few noted additions. We saw David Harbour's Alexei leading a prison break and suiting up in a red and white Red Guardian suit, a brief shot of Rachel Weisz's Melina in a Black Widow-esque suit and Taskmaster bowing up a car using (I believe) some sort of bow and arrow.
In the last scene, Florence Pugh's Yelena Belova teases Natasha, "Why do you always do that thing? That thing you do when you're fighting? It's a fighting pose, you're a total poser." Then Natasha, in an all-white outfit, drops into frame during an action sequence and strike the exact pose.
'The Eternals' Stages a 'Game of Thrones' Reunion
The Eternals will "pull back the cosmic curtain" in ways we've never experienced in the MCU, Feige teased, bringing the film's full ensemble cast onstage: Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Lia McHugh, Dong-seok Ma and Angelina Jolie.
Feige then announced new additions to the cast: Gemma Chan will play Sersi, Barry Keoghan is Druig and Kit Harington will play a non-Eternal named Dane Whitman.
'Black Panther 2' Gets a Release Date
"We need to give you some new news," said Kevin Feige, donning a Black Widow baseball cap, before bringing out Ryan Coogler and showcasing a Black Panther II graphic onscreen. "Ryan is hard at work on another Black Panther film. He has delivered us a treatment," Feige said.
While Coogler wasn't willing to announce the subtitle of the movie or the villain just yet, he did confirm the release date: May 6, 2022.
"We're hard at work on it trying to give you something special," Coogler said. "We just really, really want it to be right.
A Brand New 'Rise of Skywalker' Poster and Trailer
Abrams is still editing Rise of Skywalker, but the director debuted an epic new poster for the film -- with Palpatine looking down on Rey and Kylo Ren -- and new footage shown only at D23.
It opened with old footage revisiting decades of Star Wars sagas; of Luke, Leia, Han and R2D2; and then cut to new footage: Planets being blown up and a light saber battle with waves crashing all around it and a final, ominous shot of Rey in a hood unsheathing duel of red light sabers.
'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' Will Be an 'Epic Conclusion'
The 40-year Star Wars saga comes to an "epic conclusion" in The Rise of Skywalker, and director J.J. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy promise that Episode IX will be "an incredibly good time."
Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie and Keri Russell, along with their droid castmates BB-8 and D-9, took the stage to offer up new details.
"I can't wait for you to meet Zorri. She's incredibly cool and a bit shady," franchise newcomer Russell said of her mysterious character, revealing that her character is a "criminal" and an old friend of Poe's. Rise of Skywalker will also see Williams reprise his role as Lando all these years later. "Lando has never left me," Williams said.
The late Carrie Fisher, meanwhile, will be "the heart" of the story, Abrams said. "We lost Carrie and I was hired on this film and we realized we needed Leia in the film," he explained, detailing how Fisher thanked him for directing her twice in her final book -- though Abrams wasn't even signed onto the film at the time. "We couldn't be more excited for you to see her final performance as Leia."