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D23 Expo 2017: Disney Animation and Pixar News Roundup

Last weekend, Disney fans from across the globe descended on Anaheim, California for the 2017 D23 Expo, and the first big panel of the event took place on Friday with a two-hour showcase for Pixar and Walt Disney Animation. Hosted by the ever-charismatic John Lasseter, the panel features early glimpses at projects currently in development - some that don't even have names yet - along with the first footage from two major sequels on the horizon.

But first, some news: Lasseter confirmed that after a heavy bout of soul-searching, he had decided to step down as director of Toy Story 4. Instead, the highly anticipated fourth installment will be helmed by Josh Cooley, writer/director of the Pixar short Riley’s First Date. Lasseter will remain attached as executive producer, and promises to work closely alongside Cooley and producer Jonas Rivera (known for Up and Inside Out) to shepherd the latest Toy Story film into theaters.

After a delightful featurette that saw numerous members of the fashion industry express their love for The Incredibles character Edna Mode, Lasseter welcomed director Brad Bird to the stage to discuss the sequel. Details on the plot of Incredibles 2 were pretty scarce, but Bird did confirm that the film will focus heavily on Elastigirl, as Bob will be at home taking care of baby Jack-Jack. As the film begins, the rest of the Parr family is still unaware of the infant's powers, and Bird promised the writers would be having a lot of fun with this concept.

Bird then premiered the first footage from The Incredibles 2, with a scene that saw Bob asleep on the couch, with Jack-Jack lying on his chest watching an old black-and-white crime movie. When a raccoon creeps onto the back porch, Jack-Jack notices the resemblance to the black eye mask work by the burglars in the film, and goes on the offensive - he teleports into the backyard to combat the intruder, showing off a huge collection of powers that include shooting lasers from his eyes, engulfing his entire body in flames (Human Torch style), and creating multiples clones of himself. The clip was hilarious and full of action, providing a great look at the sequel's tone while still keeping the plot under wraps.

The other major highlight of the panel was the first look at Wreck-it Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet. When Sugar Rush breaks down, Ralph and Vanellope embark on a journey across the internet to track down a replacement part, which introduces them to Yesss (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), a social media algorithm who specializes in keeping up with the hottest trends. She ushers them to an online location where everyone's love of pop culture can be shared: OhMyDisney.com, and that's when things begin to escalate.

The filmmakers are clearly having a blast playing with some of the other Disney-owned properties, and the scene featured glimpses of Marvel characters (including a booth where fans can transform themselves into the likes of Gamora or Stan Lee), not to mention the Millennium Falcon parked nearby. There's also a red carpet and a huge throng of screaming fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the Disney princesses, who are whisked into their dressing room by an armed escort of Stormtroopers.

Vanellope glitches her way through the door, and tries to convince the girls that she's a princess too. After answering a barrage of questions like "did you get kidnapped" or "did you get poisoned" or "do people assume all of your problems were solved after your big strong friend showed up," the princesses accept Vanellope as one of their own, and the scene shifts to what basically amounts to a slumber party. Everyone is lounging around in T-shirts and pajama pants, and many of these Disney icons have confessions to make: Snow White has trouble seeing, Jasmine is allergic to cats, etc. Merida attempts to chime in, but her Scottish accent is so thick that she's unintelligible, leading another princess to lean in and whisper "We can't understand her, she's from the other studio."

The scene is charming and outrageously funny, and made all the more special by the fact that nearly every princess is voiced by the original talent, including Paige O'Hara (Belle), Ming-Na Wen (Mulan), Irene Bedard (Pocahontas), Mandy Moore (Rapunzel), Auli'i Cravalho (Moana), Kristen Bell (Anna), Idina Menzel (Elsa), Kelly Macdonald (Merida), Anika Noni Rose (Tiana), Linda Larkin (Jasmine), and Jodi Benson (Ariel). It's great to see that Disney is willing to poke fun at themselves a bit, while simultaneously addressing some of the criticisms about their princess characters, and this clip played even better than the sloth sequence from Zootopia did back in 2015.

Both Pixar and the Walt Disney Animation Studios have plenty of new projects to keep them busy, and we'll continue to keep you updated as more news becomes available. The Incredibles 2 will hit theaters next summer on June 15, 2018, with Wreck-it Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet slated for November 21, 2018.

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