Every two years, the D23 Expo arrives in Anaheim, California, and with it comes the might of the entire Disney Company. This is like Comic Con for all things Disney, from Disney Parks to animated features, from "Star Wars" to Marvel, everything gets exhibited, paraded around, and fussed over. The weekend is always filled with exclusive merchandise and brand-new first looks. And in anticipation of the convention, happening this weekend, here is every must-see panel, for everyone from the casual fan to the Disney die-hard.
Friday, July 14th
Disney Legends (10 am – noon) / Hall D23
At every D23 Expo, a certain number of Disney Legends are inducted; these honorees come from every corner of the company and, after their initiation, their names can be seen in Legends Plaza on the Walt Disney Studios Lot in Burbank, California. Among the 10 honorees inducted this year are "Star Wars" stars Carrie Fisher (get ready to sob even more than you did at Star Wars Celebration) and Mark Hamill; Walt Disney Imagineer Wayne Jackson, who did pioneering work on the Disney Parks' Audio-Animatronics; Marvel Comics titans Jack Kirby and Stan Lee; director Garry Marshall (who made "The Princess Diaries" and "Pretty Woman" for the company, amongst others); Broadway director Julie Taymor, who translated "The Lion King" for the stage (and made the company billions in the process); and, um, Oprah Winfrey, who has actually worked with the company a lot more than you'd imagine (she was in "Beloved," voiced a character in "The Princess and the Frog," done a number of ABC productions, and stars in "A Winkle in Time," out next year).
Given the amount of posthumous awards they'll be handing out this year, and how starry and surprise-filled past Disney Legends panels have been in the past, this one is not to be missed.
Mousequerade (11 am – 12:3o pm) / Stage 28
Disney fans are a passionate and creative bunch, and nowhere is that more apparent than on the stage of the official D23 Expo costume contest. These getups will blow your mind -- in the cheeriest, most adorable way possible, of course.
Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios: The Upcoming Films, Hosted by John Lasseter (2:30 – 4:30 pm) / Hall D23This is one of the biggest panels of the entire weekend, both time-wise (look for it to easily eclipse its two-hour allotment) and in terms of what will be shared on the Hall D23 stage. This is where brand-new details of both Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar's upcoming slates will be revealed for the very first time.
Considering the unstoppable line-ups for both animation studios (including but not limited to "The Incredibles 2," "Coco," "Frozen 2," "Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2," and "Gigantic") and the willingness, in previous years, for the filmmakers to share images, footage, and designs from features years in advance, this should be pretty exciting, especially given how much of the studios' upcoming schedules are still a mystery.
Expect things to be way less mysterious after this panel.
'The Golden Girls': A Celebration of Friendship, Laughter, and Cheesecake (2:30 pm – 3:30 pm) / Stage 28
It's been 25 years since the last episode of "The Golden Girls" graced the small screen, and to celebrate, the D23 Expo is devoting an entire panel to the iconic series. The official boilerplate promises appearances from the show's creators and "special guests" (can they please snag Quentin Tarantino to talk about his bit role as an Elvis impersonator? Look it up!) If you even remotely consider yourself a Golden Head, then this is the panel for you.
Ludwig Von Drake and Walt Disney's Colorful TV Revolution (3 – 4 pm) / Archives Stage
The success of the color television set and the development of Walt Disney's "Wonderful World of Color" television series are inextricably linked, and this panel, held at the so-nerdy-taped-glasses-are-
Marvel Animation (6 – 7 pm) / Stage 28
Some of the most exciting Marvel product can be found on the small screen, via the many animated series currently airing on Disney XD. This hour-long panel will go into detail on the shows currently on the air and the ones that will be gracing your television sets in the months and years ahead. Excelsior!
Saturday, July 15th
The Walt Disney Studios Live-Action Films (10:30 am – 12:30 pm) / Stage D23This is it. As huge as the animation panel was the day before, the live-action Disney panel will be even bigger. Why? Well, this will encompass all of the branches of the Walt Disney's studios live-action slate, meaning you'll get a first look at projects from Disney, Marvel, and Lucasfilm. That means, conceivably, everything from the live-action "Mulan" to "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" to "Black Panther" could be featured, plus a bunch of stuff that will be announced at the Expo for the very first time.
While recent wrinkles like the stalled casting on "Aladdin," the box office under-performance of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales," and whatever happened on the set of the Han Solo movie that resulted in its directors being fired and handily replaced, are putting a slight damper on the fun, this is still a panel that will be an overstuffed burrito of Disney-branded awesomeness.
The Power of the Princess (10:30 – 11:30 am) / Stage 28
This panel sounds like a great, utterly rousing ode to the powerful princesses at the heart of so many Walt Disney Animation Studios classics. Hosted by Walt Disney Animation Studios animators Amy Smeed ("Moana") and Kira Lehtomaki ("Zootopia"), and featuring actresses like the charmingly kooky Jodi Benson (Ariel from "The Little Mermaid"), Ming-Na Wen ("Mulan"), Anika Noni Rose (Tiana from "The Princess and the Frog"), and Auli'I Cravalho ("Moana"), the panel promises stories not only about the creation of these iconic characters but the effect those characters have had on the entire world. This will probably be inspiration to the point of tears, just FYI.
Creating the Worlds in Pixar's Universe (12:15 – 1:15 pm) / Stage 28
Sorry, this has absolutely nothing to do with that dumb, unified Pixar theory where every movie takes place in the same universe. We good? Okay, this is actually an exploration of the production design of Pixar's many masterpieces, from the forests of Scotland to the enchanted realms of Monstropolis and the mind. It's staggering just to think about the locations Pixar films have used as their backdrops; just imagine how overwhelming it will be to learn about all of them.
'Olaf's Frozen Adventure': A Sneak Peek at the New Frozen Short Film (2:30 – 3:30 pm) / Stage 28This Thanksgiving, you'll be able to see "Olaf's Frozen Adventure," a brand-new animated "featurette," in theaters attached to Pixar's "Coco" (presented, of course, in glorious 3D). Animated by Walt Disney Animation Studios and featuring the voice talents of original cast members Josh Gad, Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, and Jonathan Groff, the special extends the "Frozen" brand while the wheels continue to churn on the highly anticipated sequel.
It'll be interesting to see if the filmmakers address the fact that, for the longest time, this was supposed to be a Christmas special that aired on ABC (first announced in 2016), and only became a theatrically-exhibited short earlier this year. (Also worth paying attention to: If they'll comment on a Walt Disney Animation Studios short being grafted to a Pixar feature.) Even if these behind-the-scenes tidbits remain untouched, this should be a great panel and very much worth attending, particularly if you're looking to see footage from the special.
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts (3 – 4:30 pm) / Stage D23
This is one of the biggest panels of the entire weekend, and it's not just for Disney Parks fanatics (although, if you are a Disney Parks fanatic, obviously you'll be over the moon) -- consider the major additions that are coming to Disney Parks, like the "Star Wars"-themed lands that will be debuting at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida and Disneyland in California; the new Marvel-centered attractions at Disney California Adventure and Epcot; and the "Toy Story" expansion happening at Shanghai Disneyland (with a similar addition being made to Disney's Hollywood Studios).
The Disney Parks are, increasingly, becoming the physical spaces where you can enter your favorite Disney properties. The only side effect is that you'll probably immediately start waiting in line for an attraction that won't be constructed for several years. But hey, it'll be worth the wait.
Disney and Pixar Did That? Advertisements and Animated Commercials (3 – 4 pm) / Archives Stage
Talk about fascinating -- both Disney and Pixar (they did those Listerine commercials back in the day with the acrobatic bottles of mouthwash) have had a long history of doing illustrations and animation for advertisements and special marketing projects. This panel will go into the history of those projects, featuring rarely seen materials and archival presentations. Can't wait.
'Once Upon a Time' (3:15 – 4:15 pm) / D23 Expo Arena
Everybody loves "Once Upon a Time," ABC's long-running series that wittily combines beloved Disney characters into an epic (and, at times, utterly confusing) primetime soap opera. But with next season's bold shakeup serving as a soft reboot for the series (much of the cast has been jettisoned and longstanding plot threads winnowed down), this is even more of a must-see panel.
'DuckTales' Panel (4:15 – 5:15 pm) / Stage 28Next month "DuckTales" finally returns, with a star-studded new series on Disney XD. Based on everything we've heard, the new show is going to be amazing, drawing on both the original animated series and the Carl Barks comic books, while injecting a fresh attitude and visual style. (Many of the folks who worked on the brilliant, deeply missed Disney XD series "Gravity Falls" now work on this.)
If you want to get a first look at the reboot and get to meet the new cast (including Ben Schwartz, Kate Micucci, Beck Bennett, and Toks Olagundoye) and crew (including executive producer Matt Youngberg and producer Francisco Angones), well, this is the place to do it. To quote the theme song: Woo-hoo.
The Evolution of Pixar's Characters (6 – 7 pm) / Stage 28
Learn how your favorite Pixar characters were brought to life. It might seem like magic ... but it's not.
Sunday, July 16th
Celebration of an Animated Classic: 'The Lion King' (10 – 11 am) / D23 Expo ArenaThis fall, "The Lion King" returns to home video in a brand-new edition, while aspects of that inescapably brilliant film continue to permeate large sections of the Disney company (there's "The Lion Guard" spin-off on TV, multiple shows in the Disney Parks, and the long-running Broadway play). All of this, of course, reaches its peak in Summer 2019, when the high tech retelling of the story (directed by Jon Favreau) hits theaters worldwide. This panel should look at the making of the original classic while also giving us a peak of things to come. Expect the crowd to roar.
'Tangled: The Series' Panel (10:30 am – 11:30 am) / Stage 28
If you haven't been watching "Tangled: The Series," the new Disney Channel series based on the beloved Walt Disney Animation Studios feature, well, you should. It's funny and exciting and the 2D animation style, emphasizing stylization over fidelity to the original material, is utterly charming and gorgeous. This panel, which features stars Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi (who reprised their roles from the feature film), along with new cast members Eden Espinosa and Jeremy Jordan, will probably make you a fan even if you haven't watched the show yet.
Zero to Hero: The Making of 'Hercules' (12:30 – 1:30 pm) / D23 Expo ArenaThis year marks the 20th anniversary of Walt Disney Animation Studios' brilliant "Hercules," a movie that has a very storied production history. This panel, which features directors John Musker and Ron Clements, animators Eric Goldberg (who is an epic storyteller and one of the nicest people you'll ever meet) and Ken Duncan, as well as voice talents Susan Egan and Tate Donovan, should be a jovial forum for some of those stories to be shared.
It's so exciting to see a film that took so many chances, both aesthetically and storytelling-wise, be so widely embraced 20 years after its initial release. (It was a hit but by no means a blockbuster on the scale as the previous few Disney classics.) Hopefully, some of them will even talk about the bonkers premiere that virtually shut down the city of Manhattan for an entire weekend. Only a demigod could pull something like that off.
A Whole New World of Alan Menken (1:30 – 2:30 pm and 5:30 – 7 pm) / Hall D23
Composer Alan Menken, already a minted Disney Legend and contributor to every one of your favorite Disney animated classics ("Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," "Tangled" -- you name it), debuts his brand-new one-man show at D23 Expo, and you have two chances to see it. The official synopsis states that the concert, directed by Richard Kraft (who recently brought "The Little Mermaid" to the Hollywood Bowl with a series of electrifying performances), will be "filled with magical musical memories that will make your heart sing." Also singing: you, probably.
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: The Search for the Lost Disney Cartoons (6 – 7 pm) / Stage 28
The story of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the spunky animated character that Walt Disney devised before Mickey Mouse, has virtually everything: corporate intrigue, hurt feelings, missing cartoons that were thought to be lost forever, and a homecoming for the character that happened during one of the most fascinating swaps in the history of Disney (Bob Iger traded broadcaster Al Michaels to NBC for the return of Oswald).
The character is 90 years old, intrinsic to the Disney company (and hugely important to Walt himself) and yet few people know the story. On the 90th anniversary of his creation, this panel should shed some light on that story.