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D23 Expo 2019 Gives Magic, Marvel, and Mixed Signals

Every two years, thousands of avid Disney fans flock to Anaheim Convention Centre for the D23 Expo 2019. Over the past weekend, D23 Expo welcomed guests and fans to their big extravaganza to give audiences and consumers a taste of what is to come in the near future. This year’s D23 offered plenty of exciting new offerings in film, television, the theme parks, and especially promoting their new Disney+ streaming service.

Disney Legends

The convention kicked off with the time honoured Disney Legends ceremony. Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO, played host in the rather speedy ceremony. Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau were honoured for their contributions to the MCU, though, surprisingly Kevin Feige did not receive such recognition. Favreau delivered a beautiful speech, whilst Downey revealed he got kicked out of Disneyland for smoking pot. Ming-Na Wen, voice actress of Mulan, and Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Agent May, finally joined her fellow Disney Princesses as a legend. Other legends inducted included James Earl Jones, Hans Zimmer, Bette Midler, Christina Aguilera, architect Wing T. Chao, musical director Kenny Ortega, Good Morning America host Robin Roberts, news anchor and documentarian Diane Sawyer, and Disneyland entertainment royalty Barnette Ricci.

Disney+, Star Wars, and Marvel

Disney’s newest venture is into online streaming with their new service Disney+, which will premiere in the United States in November 2019. It will feature the entirety of Disney’ and their subsidiaries’ film catalogue (excluding Song of the South of course), plus tons of new content. Amongst these are a live action remake of Lady and the Tramp, a new show for the Muppets, and the delightful return of Hilary Duff as Lizzie McGuire.

For Marvel, Kevin Feige gave more information on the new Phase Four TV shows coming to the streaming service. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier sees the return of Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter, and introduces Wyatt Russell as John Walker, better known in Marvel Comics as U.S. Agent, or the Super-Patriot. For WandaVision, Feige revealed Kat Dennings and Randall Park would reprise their roles as Darcy Lewis and Jimmy Woo, as well as Kathryn Hahn as Wanda and Vision’s nosy neighbour. Most excitingly, Feige announced three new series, introducing us to Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, and She-Hulk! Hallelujah!

For Star Wars, the first trailer of the Mandalorian premiered, though was more flavour than story. The series will debut on November 12th on Disney+. Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk will return as Cassian Andor and K-2SO in a series taking place before Rogue One. Kathleen Kennedy blew minds by revealing that the popular The Clone Wars animated series was returning for a new season. Even more excitingly, Ewan McGregor took to the stage and confirmed that he would be reprising his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi for an as-of-yet unnamed series. I guess negotiations were short.

Movies, Dragons, and the Dark Side

The movie panel on D23’s second day fused the usually separate animation and live action film presentations together. By far, the biggest thrill of the event was seeing some more footage of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Granted, it was only a sizzle reel, but it did hint at the return of Emperor Palpatine, showed a red-eyed C-3PO, and most jawdropping of all, revealed Rey wearing black and wielding a dual-lightsaber like Darth Maul’s. There have always been hints that Rey could join the Dark Side, explaining her Mary Sue-esque knack for just about everything she does. I dislike the fact they so casually revealed Palpatine’s return. If the second film kneecapped the plot twists left by the first, now the third is deciding to spill all of them at once.

In the animation showing, Frozen II got a little attention with the lead cast performing a new song, whilst Pixar’s next movies Onward and Soul got some coverage. But, the fifty-ninth animated picture from Walt Disney Animation has been announced. Raya and the Last Dragon is about a young girl named Raya (Cassie Steele), who searches the land of Kumandra for the last dragon named Sisu (Awkwafina). Sisu looks like the secret love child of Princess Celestia and Discord. If there is one thing Disney excels it, it has always been in their animated features. The film will be co-directed by Paul Briggs, who is a long-term storyman and animator at Disney.

The sequel to Black Panther was announced for 2022. For The Eternals, Kit Harington has been confirmed to appear, playing Dane Whitman, better known as the Black Knight of Captain Britain fame. Other movies covered include Jungle Cruise, based on the beloved Disneyland attraction starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt; Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, where Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, and Michelle Pfeiffer appeared, and basically said nothing about the movie; next year’s Mulan remake; and Emma Stone’s take on Cruella De Vil, set in the 1970s. A promo still was revealed, showing Stone’s version of Cruella resembling a mix between Bellatrix Lestrange and Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

New Horizons At the Theme Parks

The parks and resorts panel was the most divisive of events at D23. The panel was hosted by parks executive Bob Chapek, who has the stage presence of a toothpaste commercial salesman. It was very much about IP brand recognition, which does make instant cash for the company. The panel felt more corporate than usual, not enough magic. The most embarrassing moment was when Chapek announced a partnership between Disney Stores and Target, dragging out a pitbull onstage with Target’s logo painted on its face. Charming stuff. This was a day after the dogs starring in the Lady and the Tramp remake were brought onstage with much more tender care. Ironically, seeing the pitbull trying to sit was the best part of the presentation.

But, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. A lot of attractions announced in 2017 gained opening dates, with further confirmation that Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland are getting a Zootopia and Frozen land respectively. The largest news came on Epcot’s ongoing transformation into a “more Disney, more family, more timeless and more relevant” park, according to Chapek. Bit of a mixed message there, especially when Epcot was already a compromise on Walt Disney’s dream to build an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Disney is doing away with Epcot’s original educational themes in favour of the vague idea of storytelling, using familiar Disney brands to achieve this. Still, the new attractions will no doubt be both amazing and popular.


Speaking of which, the new Guardians of the Galaxy coaster coming to Epcot now has the subtitle “Cosmic Rewind”. And that wasn’t the only Marvel news. Details on the new Marvel lands coming to Disney California Adventure, Paris, and Hong Kong have been revealed, sharing the collective name of “Avengers Campus”. These lands cover an international story where the Avengers and other heroes founded campuses for new trainee superheroes (i.e. the guests). Attractions across the world include those based on Iron Man, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, and the existing Guardian of the Galaxy rides. We’ll cover the finer details of Avengers Campus in a separate article.

A Galactic Hotel Far, Far Away

Though announced at the 2017 D23 Expo, the ambitious Star Wars hotel got some better coverage here. Named the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, this out of this world hotel is described as being the most immersive Disney project since, well, Galaxy’s Edge. Guests will experience a two-night stay in the Halcyon starcruiser, exalted guests of this intergalactic ship, and can play the role of a hero in their own Star Wars story. Guests will meet the crew, encounter rebels and stormtroopers alike, and hopefully not blast a hole in the side of the ship.

While I admire Imagineering’s knack for pushing the envelope, I really don’t get how they’re gonna pull off this off, and it brings up a lot of questions I’ve put way too much thought into. Can you open the windows? I mean, the idea is that you are on a space cruiser, but will you get sucked out into space and depressurise the cabin? What is there is a fire alarm? I would assume they may take some subtle inspiration from Star Trek with figuring this stuff out. The coolest sounding activity is training with a lightsaber like Luke Skywalker. Hopefully, Disney will learn from their lessons from Galaxy’s Edge – over-hyping the attraction and driving everyone away, with warnings of high prices, and wall-to-wall crowds. Another problem will be the likely high prices. I doubt many people will be able to afford to stay in this hotel when the prices at Walt Disney World are expensive enough as it is. Are Disney being too greedy again?

I didn’t cover everything at D23 Expo, as there was a lot. The new movies, television shows, the arrival of Disney+, and expansions across Disney’s theme parks are sure to keep guests and audiences happy. There are some concerns, like the direction the company is going with Epcot, focus on the family group consumers at the expense of everyone else, and the lack of plans for 20th Century Fox. And why in the world would you need to remake Home Alone!?

Did you attend D23 Expo this year? Which announcements from the across the board are you excited for? Leave a comment below, or on our Twitter and Facebook feeds.

About the author

Mark Russell