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D23 Expo Reveals Jamie Lee Curtis in 'Haunted Mansion,' Mufasa's Origin Story, and More

D23 Expo brought news and first footage from titles including 'Haunted Mansion' and the live-action 'The Little Mermaid.'

Danielle Turchiano
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D23 Expo

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If you want Disney news, you have to head to the D23 Expo because that company always over prepares.

The first studio showcase, which was titled "Celebrate the Magic of Disney and Pixar," brought exclusive news and first-looks from Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios upcoming directly to the Disney fans. Things kicked off with Cynthia Erivo's live performance of "When You Wish Upon A Star" from the live-action Pinocchio that debuted on Disney+ Day (Sept. 8), and then kicked into even higher visual gear.

The panel was so jam-packed with special guests, announcements, and footage it ran almost a full two hours, but the energy in the room didn't seem to wane once as fans cheered and clapped for every truly new announcement aven simply hearing about how much fun casts had working with each other.

Read on to learn what's coming next from Disney and Pixar.


Hocus Pocus 2

The trio of stars from Hocus Pocus (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker) were not out in Anaheim Calif. in person, but they recorded a special video message that featured Midler attempting to do some magic of her own before pitching to a new trailer for Hocus Pocus 2 for the room's eyes only (at least for now).


Disenchanted

The entire cast of Disenchanted was on stage, although it took a minute for Amy Adams and Maya Rudolph to arrive because they joked they spent the day in the theme park — and they were decked out in gear to back up that claim. Rudolph joked about how in-character as Giselle from that film franchise Adams stays, including singing in the park, while Adams sprayed a bubble wand on stage and handed Idina Menzel a Frozen toy.

While giving a little taste of what their characters were up to since the original film in the franchise (Enchanted) — including Menzel joking that she and James Marsden have been in "couples counseling," they introduced the first teaser trailer for the film and announced it would premiere on Nov. 24 on Disney+. Click here to watch the teaser.


Peter Pan & Wendy

Although Peter Pan has gotten live-action reimaginings before, the upcoming film is notably expanded in title and in scope to allow Wendy (played here by Ever Gabo Anderson) to be more fully fleshed out. "Disney worked really hard to bring a lot more depth and a lot more character so her and Peter are equals in this film, which I found really amazing," she said on stage.

And similarly, the relationship between Peter (Alexander Molony) and Captain Hook (Jude Law) is getting a bit more richness, as well. "We got to mine their backstory a little more. We understand about their past — and a past where they were possibly once friends," Law explained. 

But their rivalry is still there, including a "cat-and-mouse game," "in-jokes that they have," and, of course, a lot of tense fight sequences, Molony said.

"For me playing the good guy, it was particularly nice to layer in that understanding of who and why Captain Hook is so iconic," Law added.

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'Peter Pan & Wendy'

Disney


Haunted Mansion

Justin Simien directs the upcoming theatrical adaptation of the beloved theme park ride, but his history with Disney goes way farther back. He actually used to work at the theme park when he was young.

"It was the best summer job I ever had. Anytime I wasn't working on the ride I was supposed to, I would go over to Disneyland and ride Pirates and Haunted Mansion," he said as a copy of his old ID badge was projected on the screen behind him.

Needless to say, he's a "fanboy" of the story of the ride, and he also feels the "responsibility" to make sure his version of the story is filled with Easter eggs. And that's not just true for nuggets for fans of the Haunted Mansion, but Hollywood as well. While the stars of the film include Rosario Dawson, Jared LetoTiffany Haddish, LaKeith Stanfield, Owen Wilson, and Jamie Lee Curtis, who was announced as Madame Leota live on stage as she rolled out in a doom buggy. But the film also features cameos from everyone from Winona Ryder to Dan Levy.


MUFASA: The Lion King

The next tale from The Lion King won't be a remake, but rather an origin story. Barry Jenkins is onboard to direct MUFASA: The Lion King feature film that goes back in time to explain how Mufasa rose to royalty.

"We assume he was born into lineage but Mufasa was actually an orphaned cub who had to...find his place in the circle of life," Jenkins explained. "Mufasa is who he is because of the family and the friends he has with him."

The story will be narrated by Timon and Pumbaa, along with Rafiki.


Snow White

The stars of the upcoming live-action Snow White, Rachel Zegler and Gal Gadot were on-hand at the expo to offer a very quick glimpse at their film and explain why this time around, Snow White is a woman for the modern age.

As Zegler explained, the film will really look at what it means to be the fairest of them all. Snow White has to come to terms with herself, as well as find "some agency so she can be a just ruler because there's another one in town who's not so much like that," she said.

"I'm used to playing the other end of where the heart should be, and she is the first [and] most iconic villain, and stepping into her shoes was so delightful and I enjoyed it so much that the first week of work people actually came to my assistant and said, 'If you need anything, I'm here for you' because I was so much in character," Gadot added.


The Little Mermaid

Disney fans in the audience at the D23 Expo got to watch the full performance of "A Part of Your World" from Halle Bailey's Ariel in the live-action The Little Mermaid, directed by Rob Marshall, well ahead of its May 2023 release. The two also came out on stage to talk about the film, with Marshall noting the relatability of a character who is "displaced" but "wants something more." Meanwhile, Bailey called the three days it took to film "A Part of Your World" "the most beautiful part of my life," in part because of how she was "feeling all of the feelings," from Ariel's passion to discomfort, but also because she was "getting to sing a song I loved ever since I was a child." 

Although the in-room audience got the whole sequence for that iconic musical number, Disney did release a teaser to the public that includes a snippet of Bailey's vocals at the end. Watch that below.


Elemental

The forthcoming Pixar film from director Peter Sohn is set in a city where residents of the four major elements all live together, but are very different, which proves challenging when Ember (perhaps obviously a fire resident) and Wade (a less-obvious water resident) fall in love. Sohn was on stage, as were the two voice actors announced to be playing Ember and Wade, respectively: Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie.

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'Elemental'

Pixar


Win or Lose

Pixar's first long-form series follows a middle school softball team, led by Coach Dan (voiced by Will Forte, as it was announced on stage), in the week leading up to their championship game. The team is coed and the kids have a lot going on — as do the adults in their lives. So every episode will follow a different character — sometimes a player, sometimes a parent, and even the umpire — and will be animated in an individual visual style that suits that story. Forte was not in Anaheim, but he sent a video message to say hi to the fans and to introduce a clip, which ironically did not actually feature his character.

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'Win or Lose'

Pixar


Elio

Pixar announced a new movie called Elio which is about a titular 11-year-old boy who becomes a distant planet's ambassador. Played by Yonas Kibreab, Elio is "an avid indoorsman and down to talk about his feelings, but he can't figure out how to fit in" on his own planet. His mother Olga, played by America Ferrera, is trying to decode a signal from outer space to determine where it comes from and how to fix it, but it's her son who makes the first actual contact, so the creatures from that planet beam him up. What he encounters there is "a sparkling space city," but while he struggles to fit in on Earth, he will come to terms with the uniqueness of being human. The movie is scheduled to be released in the spring of 2024.

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'Elio'

Pixar


Inside Out 2

Just before Pixar ceded the stage to Walt Disney Animation Studios, Amy Poehler came out to announce that the Inside Out sequel is officially a go. Currently planned for summer 2024, the sequel will still take place in Riley's head, only this time she is a teenager, which means the audience will meet a slew of new emotions. Those emotions and the actors who will voice them were not yet announced.


Zooptopia+

Out Nov. 9, the next in the Zootopia franchise will be comprised of six episodes for its first season. The D23 Expo revealed the episode titles, as well as some new footage that featured a musical number and more of the Big family in a Godfather-esque scene. The plot of the individual episodes wasn't able to be deduced by this reporter in the room, though if you want to play sleuth, the episode titles are "The Real Rodents of Rodentia," "Duke the Musical," "Hopp on Board," "The Godfather of the Bride," "So You Think You Can Prance," and "Dinner Rush."


Iwájú

A collaboration between Disney and Kugali, Iwájú is described as a "love letter to Lagos," which is where the founders of that company grew up. Set in that Nigerian city, the project explores themes of race and class and challenging the status quo as it follows a young heiress and an underprivileged boy. And of course, because it's Disney they have an adorable and anthropomorphic animal side kick. You can see a first look at them below.

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'Iwájú'

Disney


Strange World

Strange World, which is due in theaters Nov. 23, came to the stage via director Don Hall and co-director and writer Qui Nguyen, as well as voice actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, and Lucy Liu. The film is about three generations of men who have to learn to put aside their differences and familial issues in order to save a (ahem) strange world that is full of danger.

"I love the idea of looking out for other people, especially at a time like this," Liu said.


Wish

Because 2023 marks the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney Animation Studios, of course they are making the occasion with a brand new original film. Titled Wish and starring Ariana Debose as a teenager named Asha, the movie tells the origin story of the star so many Disney characters have made wishes on through the decades. 

Asha makes a wish to the sky and an actual star (named Star, naturally) comes down to Earth. It is described as a "ball of boundless energy" and "impossibly curious."

The film also stars Alan Tudyk as a pajama-wearing goat named Valentino who also makes a wish on Star. His wish is to be able to communicate with those around him, and it comes true, giving him a voice.

Because the film is a celebration of 100 years of Disney animation, it was promised that it would be peppered with lots of Easter eggs to past classics.

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'Wish'

Disney