Dishney: Muppets, Wizards and Other D23 Delights

Sunday at the D23 Expo: a day promised to be filled with cartoons, Muppets and Disney Channel sitcom stars. A day I looked forward to like few others. I am 26 years old.

First up on the fun-genda Sunday at D23 was “The Future of Disney and Pixar Animation” panel in the “D23 Arena,” where head Pixar dude/”Chief Creative Officer” of Disney Animation John Lasseter spoke for 90 minutes or so about a variety of upcoming projects. I got there as he was introducing a new Cars short called “Unidentified Flying Mater.” Also on the agenda: Cars 2, which will take the Cars gang all over the world, including Japan and much of Europe. He also ended the panel with another Cars short. Oh, and they're planning that Cars land in California Adventure. People really love Cars, apparently.

Other things going on: a new Winnie the Pooh animated feature in spring 2011; Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi voice the leads in holiday 2010's Rapunzel. Lasseter promised “a lot of girl power” in that one. (She uses her hair as a weapon!) He showed two full scenes from this winter's The Princess and the Frog; in the first (spoiler alert!) main character Tiana becomes a frog herself, which is how she appeared in the second scene, a jazzy musical number. Isn't there something disappointing about knowing that, for all the hype of this movie having the first African-American Disney princess, she appears as a frog for at least part of the movie? Or is that thinking way too much about this?

(Luckily, even though I missed the Toy Story 3 scoop at the
Disney/Pixar panel, I heard some girl loudly detail it all over the
phone while in line for Muppets. The story begins with Andy going to
college. Michael Keaton plays a Ken doll. Bonnie Hunt and Whoopi
Goldberg are also voices. I don't think I've ever heard someone so excited to talk about Bonnie Hunt.)

Next was the “Muppet Presentation,” which was upstairs in one of the smaller (but still sizable) rooms. The line got cut off early, leaving hundreds of Muppet fans disappointed. They probably would have been disappointed if they had gotten in–the panel began with a long video of “recent” media appearance of the Muppets, which ranged from things like the “Keep Fishin'” video by Weezer (from 2002) to stray references on Family Guy. It basically seemed like a corporate shill video to encourage the audience to invest in The Muppet Brand. And no Muppets in sight, though it was later obvious that Kermit was busy hanging out at the VMAs with Lady Gaga.

They did announce a Muppet Halloween special on track for next year on ABC. I had to leave the panel in progress, so am not sure if they talked any more about The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made (the title of the next Muppet movie, announced earlier at D23) or Jason Segel's involvement. I did notice how much they're pushing Pepe these days; he's basically bigfooted the likes of Muppet veterans Rizzo or Sam the Eagle. Not sure how to feel about that.

The final panel of the day for me was “A Magical Afternoon with the Cast of Wizards of Waverly Place.” I was so happy to end up sitting next to someone who appeared to be around my age, alleviating the nagging feeling of creepiness that follows being an adult male at such an event. That feeling resurfaced tenfold when the program began with a 10-minute “tween fashion show” displaying a new line of clothes inspired by Wizards main character Alex Russo.

Selena Gomez, who plays Alex, was there with the rest of her cast members; all pretty giddy since they won the Outstanding Children's Program Emmy the night before (deservedly so, even if award show cred still won't be enough to make my friends not think I'm weird for enjoying the show so much at my age). They showed a new episode and answered some questions from the audience, but mostly were asked for lots and lots of hugs (especially Gomez and co-star David Henrie, who is quite popular with the young ladies). One especially sheepish girl, probably no older than 9, tearfully asked for a hug, and got a long, lingering one from Gomez, prompting the 15 or 16 year old girl behind me to yell “jealous!” And an older (early 40s?), muscle-y dude in an Affliction t-shirt asked a question. (No hug, though.)

You might think the whole “asking for a hug” thing is endemic to audiences mostly comprised of young girls, but as a veteran of many show panels from various comic book conventions (Buffy, Smallville, Veronica Mars), it happens no matter the demographic. People just really like asking people on TV for hugs. I'm sure if there were NCIS panels somewhere, 60-year-old ladies would be asking Mark Harmon for hugs.

[Here are some pictures!

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