The Life List: Top 10 highlights from the D23 Expo

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Cosplayers were out in full force at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. Characters from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and more were on display.

LOS ANGELES – The D23 Expo is famed for being an event that celebrates fans’ love of various Disney franchises, and also packs news and announcements about new films, series, parks and experiences that Disney lovers can expect. Here are The Straits Times’ Top 10 highlights:

1. Cosplayers go big

Star Wars cosplayers at the D23 Expo. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

With Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars all under its belt, Disney is home to some of the most beloved characters in the world. So it was no surprise when the cosplayers came out in full force at the D23 Expo. Different galaxies, be it those far, far away or otherwise, collided there.

At the entrance of the expo, Marvel antiheroine Scarlet Witch took photos for The Mandalorian and Ahsoka from Star Wars. In the marketplace where merchandise from various franchises were sold, Spider-Man – decked out in his iconic red and blue suit – was spotted trying on a Spider-Man shirt. 

Cinderella held the door open for Snow White and Giselle from the fantasy musical movie Enchanted (2007), while Kevin, a gigantic tropical bird from the animated movie Up (2009), slowly inched its way through the doors with the help of friendly passers-by.

Costumes and accessories – horns, wings, capes, armour – were lovingly recreated. Some boasted intricate details on a par with professional costuming while others were homemade with love.

2. Chadwick Boseman: Disney Legend

Derrick Boseman accepting the 2022 Disney Legend Award on behalf of his brother, late actor Chadwick Boseman, on Sept 9, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

There was no one more missed at the expo than the late Chadwick Boseman, who played T’Challa in the Marvel superhero blockbuster Black Panther (2018) and died of cancer in 2020 aged 43. In his memory, the American actor was honoured as a Disney Legend – an award given to those who have made significant contributions to the Disney legacy. 

His brother Derrick Boseman, who accepted the award on his behalf, said in an emotional speech: “As I think about my brother and this honour that is being bestowed upon him, I wish that he was here to receive it. Him not being here has been a point of immense pain for my whole family.”

The cast of the upcoming sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever also paid tribute to Boseman. Angela Bassett, who plays T’Challa’s mother Queen Ramonda, said: “Chadwick was with us every step of the way, he paved the way. We had to meet his level of excellence.”

3. Surprise celebrity guests and big announcements

Sebastian Stan announced as part of the cast for Marvel’s upcoming antihero flick Thunderbolts. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

The star power at the expo was unparalleled, with fan favourite actors, actresses, singers and hosts popping up, sometimes unannounced.

There were big reactions all around for the many A-listers who attended. Sebastian Stan got the crowd going wild as he walked out as part of the main cast of Thunderbolts – a movie about the antiheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Stan will be reprising his role as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier, alongside Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova/Black Widow and David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov/Red Guardian. 

Comedienne Amy Poehler also turned up to confirm plans for an Inside Out sequel. She voices the emotion Joy in the critically acclaimed 2015 Pixar film.

4. Harrison Ford chokes up

Harrison Ford introducing the upcoming fifth Indiana Jones movie at the D23 Expo. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

But perhaps no one got louder cheers than the world’s most famous archaeologist, Indiana Jones himself. Hollywood veteran Harrison Ford, who has played the role in the franchise of the same name since the first movie in 1981, was visibly emotional when he took the stage with co-star Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

The 80-year-old spoke through tears as he looked out at a crowd that gave him a standing ovation.

“Indiana Jones movies are about fantasy and mystery, but they’re also about heart,” he said, confirming that the 2023 movie – the fifth instalment in the franchise – would be his last outing as Indy.

The lovefest continued backstage, when Ford reunited with Ke Huy Quan, who played Indy’s sidekick Short Round in Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom (1984). He posted a photo of himself hugging Ford tightly on his Instagram last Saturday.

5. Marvel takes on Broadway

A surprise performance of Rogers: The Musical at the D23 Expo. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

While the musicals in the Disney family are mostly confined to their animation arms, Marvel sneaked in a little bit of Broadway fun too.

As Mr Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, lamented his studio’s lack of song-and-dance segments, music began blasting through the hall to some 7,000 fans and out came the cast of Rogers: The Musical.

Dressed in their superhero garb, Captain America, Thor and Black Widow twirled onstage and belted out lines like “Avengers unite/We’ve got to hear you say”.

The musical is a fictional one that appears in the series Hawkeye (2021), in which Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), an original Avenger, goes to watch a Broadway show based on Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America. The show has also appeared in films like Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) in the form of posters and billboards.

6. Avatar: The Way Of Water sneak peek

Guests were given 3D glasses to watch exclusive clips from Avatar: The Way Of Water at the D23 Expo. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

Director James Cameron might not have been physically present at the expo, appearing via a video clip instead, but he made sure guests who sat in on his upcoming fantasy film Avatar: The Way Of Water’s presentation were fully submerged in his cinematic world. 

Excited murmurs could be heard in the presentation hall as curtains were drawn between sections and ushers handed out 3D glasses, complete with cleaning cloths to boot, for an extended preview of the long-awaited sequel to the epic science-fiction film Avatar (2009).

While many might have trouble remembering the events of the first film, Cameron managed to stun using 3D technology yet again, with an ultra-realistic rendering of an alien underwater world.

7. Interactive installations

Interactive spaces created around Disney’s various banners of content were also one to remember. A pop-up by American retail store Target was designed to look like a 1950s diner, with red and white tables, chairs and bar stools.

Visitors were each given a token when they entered the space, which they could then insert into a gumball machine to get an exclusive D23 Expo badge. 

At the Journey Into Storytelling pavilion, general entertainment programmes under Disney, such as award-winning comedy Abbott Elementary (2021 to present), medical drama Grey’s Anatomy (2005 to present) and comedy-murder mystery Only Murders In The Building (2021 to present) were showcased.

At the Only Murders In The Building space, visitors preened and posed against a green screen, and finally received a clip of themselves integrated into the show’s cheeky opening sequence. 

8. Animation treasures

The voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Jodi Benson (left), and Mark Henn, the animator of Ariel at a panel discussion at the D23 Expo. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

The D23 Expo weekend was packed with panel discussions, showcases and exhibitions, but a must-go for lovers of Disney’s beloved animation treasures/films was 100 Years of Treasures from the Walt Disney Animation Research Library.

With speakers like Jodi Benson – who voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid (1989) – and animators such as Mark Henn and Eric Goldberg, who worked on The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas (1995) and Aladdin (1992), the panel was a real treat.

Even better were rare clips from the library’s collection that were screened to audiences for the first time. This included videos of Benson getting coached by late producer and lyricist Howard Ashman as she struggled over how to sing the now iconic Part Of Your World. 

There were also behind-the-scenes clips of actors like Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella and James Earl Jones contributing their voices to The Lion King (1994), one of Disney’s most beloved and enduring animated titles.

9. Disney goes high-tech

Disney’s Stuntronic prototypes on display at the D23 Expo. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

The Walt Disney Imagineers – designers and developers who create Disney theme park attractions – brought Stuntronics and Project Exo prototypes to the showroom floor.

Stuntronics are pre-programmed robots more mobile and flexible than regular robots. They are able to perform highly complex actions, which is how guests can see Spider-Man fly and somersault through the sky at Disney California Adventure Park. 

Project Exo helps to bring larger characters like Hulk to life. Essentially a skeletal structure worn between performer and costume, it helps performers control the movements of their character’s gigantic limbs in a more organic way. It also helps to distribute the weight of the costume down into their legs instead of carried on their arms and backs.

10. Disney anecdotes

Actor Josh Gad (right) and Bob Chapek, CEO of Disney, pose as Gad is honored at the 2022 Disney Legends Awards in Anaheim, California, on Sept 9, 2022. REUTERS

Everyone at the expo has a Disney story, even celebrities like Josh Gad. Honoured as a Disney Legend for his voice work as Olaf the snowman in the Frozen films (2013 to 2019), the 41-year-old American actor got sassy in a hilarious acceptance speech, calling out his one-time snub by the Mouse House.  

Referencing the Jungle Cruise riverboat attraction at Disneyland, he says: “To the person who rejected me at Disney casting headquarters in Orlando, Florida, when I was 18 years old and applying to be a Jungle Cruise Skipper – true story – please make sure to update my resume to Disney Legend Josh Gad.”

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