The Walt Disney Co. took over the main stage at CinemaCon on Wednesday morning for a 90-minute session that delivered exclusive footage of upcoming films including the anticipated 3D reveal of Avatar 2along with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, LightyearDavid O. Russell’s star-packed amsterdam and Bob’s Burgers.
Tony Chambers, executive vp theatrical distribution, kicked off the session by acknowledging a changing entertainment landscape while countering that “one thing that hasn’t changed and never will is the power of the movies.” He added, “Nothing can match the combined power of Disney, Walt Disney Animation, Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, Searchlight, 20th Century, all led by Alan Bergman, who is in the audience today.”
Before tossing the baton to Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige, he delivered a polite warning of what was to come: “Buckle up as we take you on a whistle-stop tour.”
The first stop of that tour was an exclusive sneak peek at Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange, a film that Chambers said has already earned $42 million in advance ticket sales ahead of its May 6 bow. Feige said he came directly from Marvel Studios’ first in-person creative retreat in three years. The event, he said, featured a giant board “that takes us through the next decade, and they are unique and special and they are meant for your theaters.”
He teased major 3D offerings and said Ryan Coogler is “working very hard” on the next installment of the Black Panther franchise. “Are we back? Yes, I know we’re back,” he said confidently, citing the studio’s collaboration and huge box office returns with Sony on Spider-Man: No Way Home. “In the next 10 years with existing characters and new characters and new storytelling tools with the multiverse, anything can happen.”
Feige then introduced the extended footage of Doctor Strange that featured a wedding scene with Rachel McAdams’ character walking down the aisle before a giant, one-eyed octopus threatens the nuptials celebration outside. Cumberbatch and Benedict Wong’s characters square off with it alongside Xochitl Gomez’s character America Chavez. She later explains the multiverse and her ability to travel through it (while also calling the octopus a henchman that was after her).
Disney previewed 30 minutes of Pixar’s Lightyear, which is set to open June 17 and is the first Pixar title to get a theatrical release since the start of the pandemic. (Drunk, Luke and Turning Red debuted on Disney+.)
The first theatrical feature spinoff of the Toy Story movies, with the original debuting in 1995, Lightyear is effectively developed as the movie that inspired the iconic Toy Story character, Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear. Voiced by Chris Evans (Tim Allen voiced the character in the original films), Buzz is therefore not a toy, but the human character on which Andy’s toy was based.
The movie opens with Buzz — in his iconic spacesuit — along with his best friend and the commander of the mission, Alicia Hawthorne, played by Uzo Aduba, leading the investigation of a distant planet with a sign of life. But the mission goes wrong and they are stranded. With an escape plan in the works, Buzz launches in a Space Shuttle-like craft and inadvertently time travels — multiple times — seeing Alicia engaged then starting a family with another woman on their mission.
By the end of the first act, Buzz loses his friend. Taking command is Gen. Cal Burnside, voiced by Isiah Whitlock Jr. Determined to complete his mission, Buzz returns to space. Later in the film, which will also have an Imax release, he will be joined by new characters Izzy Hawthorne, Alicia’s granddaughter, voiced by Keke Palmer; Mo, voiced by Taika Waititi; and Darby, voiced by Dale Soules. Lightyear also features Buzz’s antagonist, Zurg, voiced by James Brolin. And the famous Space Ranger also gets a new compassion, Sox, a digital cat voiced by The Good Dinosaur helmer Peter Sohn.
The same-sex relationship (and kiss) became a hot button topic earlier this year when it was revealed that the film would feature the company’s first-ever same-gender feature animation kiss. According to earlier reports, the kiss was always in the film, but during the creative process, conversations around intimacy were had, and the kiss was removed. Following internal backlash around Disney’s previous public silence on Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the decision was made in March to add the kiss back in.
The most recent film in the franchise, Toy Story 4opened in 2018 and topped $1 billion at the global box office en route to winning an Oscar for best animated feature.
Russell’s new film now has a title, amsterdam, and was described from the stage as an original crime epic about three close friends who find themselves at the center of one of the most shocking secret plots in American history. The three friends are Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington, a doctor, nurse and attorney “who met in Belgium.” They have a scene with Robert De Niro as he quizzes them on their respective backgrounds.
“A lot of this actually happened,” promises the teaser that features period garb for the 1930s with a dancing sequence and another scene with Taylor Swift acting opposite Bale, Washington and Chris Rock as the four stand over a casket with “a dead white man in a box” (says Rock).
Russell also gathered Anya Taylor-Joy, Mike Myers, Rami Malek, Zoe Saldaña, Timothy Olyphant, Michael Shannon, Andrea Riseborough, Alessandro Nivola and Matthias Schoenaerts, among others. It marks Russell’s first film since 2015’s Joy and he’s credited as writer, director and producer. It hails from Disney, 20th Century Studios, New Regency Prods. and Forest Hill Entertainment. amsterdam hits theaters Nov. 4.
The session closed with the first exclusive teaser trailer for James Cameron’s Avatar follow-up, which now has a title, Avatar: The Way of Water. See THR’s breakout coverage of the highly anticipated sequel here.
Theater owners applauded throughout Disney’s presentation. During the pandemic, the studio sent some films straight to Disney+ or opened titles day-and-date in theaters on Disney+ Premier. Some exhibitors were annoyed by the studio, which stressed its dedication to the silver screen. Disney didn’t tease Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, save for one snippet shown on the opening sizzle reel. It wasn’t a surprise the studio didn’t do more, since it often saves many fanboy movies for D23.
Hollywood studios and cinema operators are gathered together this week in Las Vegas for CinemaCon, the annual convention hosted by the National Association of Theater Owners. This year is especially crucial for exhibitors as they try to emerge from the ravages of the COVID-19 crisis. CinemaCon was canceled altogether in 2020, while last year’s event was a pared-down version held in late August, versus its traditional late spring slot.
This year, all five major Hollywood studios are touting their upcoming slates during their time onstage inside The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. CinemaCon 2022 runs April 25-28.