10 Things We Learned About Disney and Pixar’s Upcoming Animation Slate at D23

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Walt Disney Pictures

Over the weekend, we attended Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim. And on Friday, John Lasseter, a revolving door of celebrity guests and roughly 7,800 con-goers (also, me) crammed themselves into Hall D23 (it’s like Hall H at Comic-Con, only slightly smaller and with more Mickey ears) to see all kinds of exclusive goodies on what Disney Animation and Pixar have coming up in the next couple years.

We learned quite a bit over that three-hour panel, but we’ve condensed it into easy-to-consume list form for your convenience. Just ten things (huge things) we’ve learned about the next few years of animated moviemaking. Read on, and you’ll have learned ’em too.

Zootopia Is 48 Hours With Cartoon Animals

First up in the presentation (after a jumbo-sized sizzle reel) is Zootopia. After seeing large chunks of Zootopia, I’m impressed and baffled and wildly curious, because it looks and sounds exactly like a cartoon animal 48 Hours.

Our Nick Nolte is Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin)- the first-ever bunny on Zootopia’s police force. Only the biggest of beasts get to wear a badge (your rhinos and water buffalos), and Judy’s barely a foot tall, so she’s not taken seriously and made a glorified meter maid. Until she gets her first big assignment: a missing persons (“missing mammals,” really) case involving a lost otter. She’s only got 48 hours to solve it, naturally.

Which is where she meets her Eddie Murphy, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). He’s a fox, and a quick-tongued con man (as are most foxes, it seems). The two first meet while Nick is mid-con. Both are in line at an elephant-run ice cream parlor, and Nick’s pimping out his “son” (no idea if it’s his real son from the footage) to score a free elephant-sized Jumbo Pop. His son’s sick, you know. And blind. And mute. And an orphan Nick adopted half an hour ago. Oh, did he mention his son also thinks he’s an elephant on the inside? Obviously he’s gonna need an elephant-appropriate ice cream. On cue, the kid slips into a full-body elephant costume and lets out a teeny little trumpet-squeak. It’s adorable.

And over the course of Zootopia, Judy and Nick partner up to crack the case, which goes so much deeper than you’d think. I love the whole concept, and I’m praying there’s a Disney-appropriate “Nick Tears Up A Redneck Animal Bar” sequence somewhere in there.

Shakira’s Voicing a Gazelle, And Singing In Zootopia

Besides the footage (of which there was plenty), the other major Zootopia announcement was the addition of Shakira to the cast. She’ll be voicing a gazelle. Named… Gazelle. Hearing it out loud, it sounds a little like “Giselle,” which might be what they’re going for. Here’s the artwork for Gazelle shown during the presentation:

I am thrilled to announce that I will be playing Gazelle in @DisneyAnimation’s #Zootopia (1/2) pic.twitter.com/qRpZFEjeik

— Shakira (@shakira) August 14, 2015

Shakira’s also recording a track for the film (although it’s not a musical), titled “Try Everything.” We’re shown a quick pre-recorded clip of Shakira in her studio, introducing herself, the character, and then pressing play on about 30 seconds of “Try Everything.” It’s not bad. A Latin dance-pop thing with a lot of strummy guitar and a four-on-the-floor beat.

Walt Disney Animation

Disney Announces Gigantic, the “Definitive” Jack and the Beanstalk Movie

Our first big surprise of the afternoon. John Lasseter (who hosted the whole presentation, more or less) wants to make the “definitive” film version of Jack and the Beanstalk, just as Disney’s cornered the market on Rapunzel, Snow White, etc. And that film would be Gigantic.

It’s set in Spain during the Age of Exploration, with Nathan Greno (Tangled) directing and Dorothy McKim (Get a Horse) producing. Jack (who looks like Tangled’s Flynn Rider, minus the chin scruff and with a red tunic) climbs the magic beanstalk and meets Inma, an 11-year old, 60-foot girl. Jack hates kids. Inma is extremely precocious. It’s the perfect combination.

A few more details: there’s not just one castle above the beanstalk, but a whole world, with different cultures and different giants. One such group is the Storm Giants, who’re the film’s villains. Green and McKim played a kind of quasi/trailer cut from concept art, and we see a lot of one particular storm giant, who sports a pointy beard/mustache combo and a lot of purple. Think Pocahontas’s Governor Ratcliffe, but less hoity-toity and more outwardly menacing.

Expect Gigantic to Be a Lot Like Frozen

Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (who did the music for Frozen) are handling songbook duties for Gigantic, which is also a musical. The two of them previewed the first song from Gigantic, which (as Disney surely intends) is very much in that pop-Broadway Frozen style.

The song begins just as Inma’s discovered Jack- she thinks he’s a toy- and the song plays through all the ideas she’s got for her new tiny toy man. “You can wash him in a dish,” for example. He also makes a great bookmark (Inma fits Jack between two pages and slams the cover shut- Jack grunts in horrible pain). When Inma shoves him into a paper airplane (which crashes into a houseplant), he’s her “flying, crying, almost dying little man.”

There’s no name for the song yet, but the words “My little man” are repeated a good dozen or so times throughout. Maybe something along those lines.

We Actually Know the Story to Moana Now

For Moana (the last non-Pixar movie of the presentation), directors Ron Clements and John Musker (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid) explained a good chunk of the plot, straight up.

Historically, the people of the Pacific Islands were world-renowned for their seafaring and navigational skills. But for about 2,000 years- roughly a period 3,000- 1,000 years ago- all South Pacific sailing mysteriously stopped. Moana’s set during that sailing dark age.

Moana (the character, that is) is the daughter of the local chief, Tui. Tui’s a strict man who forbids all sailing, but Moana’s wise old Grandma encourages sailor spirit. Then Grandma dies, and that settles it- Moana sets off for a mysterious island and all kinds of seafaring adventure.

Like any Disney Princess movie, there’s a few animal sidekicks. Moana’s got Pua, a fuzzy black-and-white spotted piglet, and Hei Hei, a stringy stowaway rooster. And then there’s Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, a Pacific demigod who tags along to help out.

We’re introduced to Maui in a clip, presented by Johnson (who came onstage to tout the film, its connection to his Pacific Island heritage, and his own handsomeness). It’s very much like the opening of Hercules– ancient artwork (Pacific, not Greek), come to life as Johnson narrates Maui’s various heroisms. Until we pull back a bit… and the art’s actually tattooed across Maui’s body, moving on his skin as he narrates to Moana and Pua. They seem unimpressed. Maui leaps about, whirling his mythical fishhook (described as the Pacific Island version of Thor’s hammer). Moana and Pua: still unimpressed. “What does a demigod gotta do?” Big laugh.

There’s also concept art of Maui morphing into some kind of bird (he can shapeshift), concept art of oceanic beasts (large, shadowy, crab-like), an undersea underworld and test footage of a “land spirit,” a massive woman erupting out of a volcano with oozing lava dreadlocks. It’s all so very wonderful. In fact…

Walt Disney Pictures

Moana Wins Best of Show, Hands-Down

Not that anyone’s keeping score, really, but Moana was easily the most impressive thing on display today. Towards the end of the presentation we’re shown some early footage from the film- Moana as a baby, investigating the Pacific Ocean (described as a character in its own right) lapping at the shore.

The water effects are absolutely dazzling. Moana and the surf- which parts as she walks, offers her seashells and even braids and puts flowers in her hair- gives off that same in-awe-of-nature feeling like the opening of The Lion King. The music (composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i), is just as powerful as those opening Lion King strains and ties the entire clip together. Johnson came back out after it aired to admit that, yes, he cried watching it. I may have gotten a little sniffly myself.

Later on Foa’i and his band Te Vaka came out to play a piece they’d composed for the Moana soundtrack, a mix of traditional Pacific Island dance, chanting, and thumping acoustic guitar rock. It’s terrific and I can’t wait to hear it in the film.

The Good Dinosaur Is a Western With Dinosaurs (Kinda)

And now we move on to Pixar. First up is The Good Dinosaur, introduced by director Pete Sohn and producer Denise Ream. Only three months until the release date for this one, so a fair amount of footage was shown, but most of it just builds on what we’ve already seen in the trailers- Arlo the Apatosaurus, running through all kinds of photo-real prehistoric landscapes.

Except for one extremely nifty standout. Arco, his human boy/dog Spot (it’s a “boy and his dog” story, only the boy’s a dinosaur and the dog’s a feral human) have allied with a family of T-Rexes to help Arlo find his way home. The T-Rexes (Sam Elliot, Anna Paquin and A.J. Buckley) are cowboys. Plain and simple.

In the clip, Arlo, Spot and the Rexes are trailing a herd of “longhorns” (some kind of prehistoric buffalo). Butch, the poppa T-Rex (voiced by Elliot) notices a tuft of blue feathers, meaning there are “rustlers” afoot. Butch instructs Arlo, in full Western drawl, how to flush them varmints out: stand on a rock in the middle of the clearing and holler (Elliot’s actual dialogue is an incomprehensible stream of cowboy jargon that his fellow T-Rexes have to translate).

Arlo does… and after a beat, a purple velociraptor with long, stringy black hair pops its head into the frame.

“Howdy,” he snarls.

Cut to black.

From the other footage shown, the Western influence isn’t so apparent (although there’s a fair amount of fiddle music in one sequence, so maybe…). But the cowboy moments are by far the most memorable. I hope there’s plenty more of ’em in The Good Dinosaur.

Pixar Animation

Finding Dory Adds Ed O’Neal As a Surly Octopus

Finding Dory brought out a cavalcade of stars (Ellen Degeneres, Ty Burrell, Kaitlin Olson and the just-announced Ed O’Neal) and two major chunks of footage.

The first sets the story in motion. After the events of Finding Nemo, Dory’s living with Marlin and Nemo in their little reef home. Dory’s not doing so hot- sleep-swimming, flashbacks, a general sense of unease- until her memory clears up for a second-long moment of clarity. Her parents are at the Jewel of Monterey, California, whatever that is. She must find them. Marlin’s surly, as usual and wants everyone cooped up at home, but eventually he caves.

Compared to some of the other material on display, it’s a little flat. There’s not much beyond oh, your parents are in California? I guess it’s time for another adventure, I guess.

The second clip- featuring O’Neal as Hank the grouchy octopus- is much stronger. Dory’s just arrived at the marine institute where most of the movie will take place (as Hank explains, it’s the fabled “Jewel of Monterey, California.” Hooray!). Dory’s been tagged and bagged and placed in quarantine. Hank very much wants to take her place, because quarantine means you’re shipped off to an aquarium in Cleveland with much cozier digs. Negotiating is difficult, though, when Dory’s short-term memory resets every 15 seconds.

Pixar’s animators look like they’re having a ball with Hank- he suction-cups and shlorps his way around the facility during the clip, constantly camouflaging himself against kitchen equipment. At one point he nonchalantly sips from a pot of coffee. This gets a big laugh. There’s also a quick bit of test footage that shows Hank grabbing up all his excess tentacles like loose clothing and sprinting on the remaining two. Another big laugh.

Beyond that, director Andrew Stanton and the cast showed off some quickie clips of Burrell’s character, Bailey the beluga whale, and Olson’s Destiny the whale shark. Both have a screw loose- Bailey thinks he’s deformed because of the lump on his forehead (which all beluga whales have) and Destiny thinks she’s a real whale, not a whale shark. That seems to be a recurring theme here, once you add Dory. And Hank, who’s missing a tentacle. He’s really a septopus.

Untitled Pixar Dia de los Muertos Film becomes Coco

We’ve got an official title for Pixar’s untitled Dia de los Muertos feature. It’s called Coco. Beyond that, there’s not much to go on.

The scant few details, revealed by director Lee Unkrich: Coco follows a 12-year-old boy named Miguel, who uncovers a “generations-old mystery” that involves Dia de los Muertos, somehow. Coco is also a character in the move, but we’re left in the dark as to who she (or he?) might be.

Unkritch also debuted a quick test clip for Coco. It’s one long tracking shot, moving forward down a cobblestone Mexican street as festive painted skeletons dance and strum guitars. Compared to The Book of Life (last year’s Dia de los Muertos movie), Pixar’s skeletons are much more traditional. And more cartoony-looking, stylistically.

After a minute or so of skeleton dancing (and a few neat tricks, like swapping bones mid-dance number), we reach a mariachi band at the end of the street. A skeleton mask slips off the musician in the middle- it’s Miguel! The other skeletons are taken aback by his still-living humanness. At least until Miguel kindly picks up the jaw of a shocked skeleton (get it? Jaw-dropping?). Then they’re all cool.

And that’s it for Coco.

Disney/Pixar

We Learn One Small Detail About Toy Story 4

We’ve come to the end of the presentation, and Lasseter’s talking about Toy Story. This can only mean one thing. Toy Story 4. It was teased in the sizzle reel at the very beginning of the presentation; it has to be here, right?

And it is. Lasseter revealed a few things we already knew (Toy Story 4 is a love story, Rashida Jones and Will McCormack are handling the script. Then one new tidbit. The romance? It’ll be between Woody and Bo Peep. Peep wasn’t present in Toy Story 3, and Woody and Buzz have to go out and find her. I’m assuming it’s early enough in production that this is all they can really tell us.

Then Randy Newman comes out to sing “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” Army Men-dressed backup dancers descend from the ceiling amid bursts of confetti. Costumed characters crowd the stage, doing some kind of line dance. The D23 Expo’s Disney/Pixar panel has ended.

Check out more of our D23 coverage here.