Despite being forced to face theater owners in the wake of Rich Ross’ exit last week, Disney pulled out their usual showmanship and unveiled a slate of high-profile movies. The studio didn’t miss a beat during their 2 1/2-hour CinemaCon presentation Tuesday night. In fact, the whole thing was similar to what the studio did in August at D23 in Anaheim. The only thing missing was the host — Ross. On Tuesday, it was distribution EVP Dave Hollis who handled the duties, deftly promoting the Disney “brands” with equal enthusiasm for their association with Marvel, DreamWorks and Pixar in addtion to the studio’s home-grown product. In fact, I lost count over how many times the phrase “we’re excited” was used by all of Tuesday’s participants in describing the future films from the Mouse House. And even though Hollis took time to highlight Disney’s recent slate, there was no mention at all of John Carter (the film that prompted a $200 million writedown for the company) — and quite frankly the Caesars Palace Colisseum exhibitor crowd didn’t seem to care. They were hyped that, studio upheaval or not, things were business as usual.
In addition to making news with some formal film announcements — like the official “green” light given to The Muppets II via a funny appearance from Kermit (riding in on a plywood horse as The Lone Ranger) and Miss Piggy both jockeying to be cast in upcoming Disney tentpoles — each division got their turn to show off its stuff.
The show began with an extended 3D clip of blockbuster-in-waiting The Avengers, which Hollis said was opening in 10 markets today before hitting North America on May 4. Marvel’s Kevin Feige came out for a brief rundown of future Marvel/Disney projects including Thor 2, set for November 2013; Iron Man 3, with new director Shane Black, scheduled for May 2013; and Captain America hitting theaters on April 4, 2014.
With no DreamWorks execs in the house, Hollis previewed the trailer for their summer “counterprogramming” adult release, People Like Us (6/29) and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which Hollis says should land in late December but no footage was shown from the historical drama starring Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field. Production head Sean Bailey then came out to preview Disney’s own films starting with Tim Burton’s black and white stop motion ‘toon, Frankenweenie, complete with an appearance from Burton (his second of the day after appearing at the Warner Bros show touting Dark Shadows) who noted this is a very personal film for him, “a boy and his dog movie mixed with horror”. He said it was kinda strange recreating (Burton’s hometown) Burbank in East London before introducing a terrific clip set in a classroom that the director said he couldn’t bear watching himself (“school makes me ill”). With its combo of heart, laughs and weirdness Frankenweenie looks like a real contender for top animation honors this year too. It opens October 4.
Bailey brought on star Jennifer Garner to push their small August family drama, The Odd Life Of Timothy Green and then producer Joe Roth and director Sam Raimi talked up the March 2013 fantasy , Oz The Great And Powerful which has embarked on a long post-production period . Roth says there are 2000 3D special effects shots among other challenges, but between Alice In Wonderland, Oz and the soon-to-start Maleficent with Angelina Jolie he plans to produce as many “billion dollar grossing March movies as possible” for Disney while also noting that Oz is “more Disney than any Disney movie I can remember”. Stars James Franco and Mila Kunis also joined them to push the film for exhibs. Franco pointed out it is going to be a really “big” movie that thankfully doesn’t rely on violence.
Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp (who also had made a brief appearance at Warners earlier) pushed the currently shooting western, The Lone Ranger which hits theatres summer of 2013 citing it as a true origin story of the famous Ranger but told from the point of view of his famous indian sidekick Tonto. “It’s The Odd Couple meets The Wild Bunch” says Bruckheimer who praised the two massive action train sequences director Gore Verbinski is shooting. Depp was a man of few words only offering that the role intriguingly provides ”interesting additions (original Tonto) Jay Silverheels would want nothing to do with”.
Last up, Pixar and Disney Animation Studios Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter promoted the animated lineup, bringing out John C. Reilly to talk up November’s Wreck -It Ralph and showing off the first six minutes of the film which had the crowd laughing, but perhaps not as much as the preview of footage from the Monsters Inc. sequel, Monsters University that had the exhibs roaring. The studio plans to re-release the original in a 3D version next January as a precursor to the follow-up which is a prequel set 10 years earlier. Billy Crystal and John Goodman appeared via tape to intro the footage.
In addtion to announcing a number of future Pixar projects, Lasseter took time to praise the 3D conversion of Finding Nemo (9/14) and showed 3D footage that handily proved the format is ideal for those fish. Finally accompanied by a group of bagpipers Lasseter ditched his traditional hawaiian shirt and re-appeared in full Scottish Kilts to introduce the first 30 minutes of their June release, Brave, the first Pixar movie to center on a female lead.
Afterwards at a post-dinner for the exhibs Disney execs including new marketing head Ricky Strauss seemed really upbeat about the slate, even as the Ross exit leaves the studio with a big job to fill and a bit of uncertainty about how that will affect things going forward. It certainly didn’t affect Tuesday’s presentation or the feeling they are going to be having a very good Summer after a not-so-great Spring.
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