Thursday, May 23, 2024

CinemaCon 2024 Recap: Walt Disney Studios

When Walt Disney Studios Executive Vice President of Distribution Tony Chambers took the stage at CinemaCon, he touted the quality and diversity of their upcoming slate. But rather than talking at length about the importance of their distribution model and relationship with exhibitors, as most other studios did, he quickly teased the announcements they had in store. “It’s all about the content,” Chambers said, “and we’ve got a lot of it.” He promised the crowd 75 minutes of footage throughout their presentation, and they delivered.

Diving right in, Chambers introduced 13 minutes of footage, two sequences, from Disney’s next release, “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.” The visual effects are absolutely breathtaking. Like in the previous “Apes” films, the characters are so believable and full of life and emotion. The film takes place seven generations after the previous trilogy, so the human world has deteriorated quickly. In the sequence shown, a group of apes, including Noah (Owen Teague), explore a collapsing high rise looking for food when things go wrong. In another sequence, we see Noah’s village being attacked by rival apes. These scenes were thrilling and worked to get this crowd to see the full feature on May 10th.

Up next, Disney made the interesting choice to highlight “Young Woman and the Sea,” starring Daisy Ridley. They repeatedly touted the “limited theatrical release” the film will receive on May 31st. Of course, they didn’t mention that the film was initially made for Disney+, one of the enemies of the theatrical experience. While Disney could have spun this positively to this crowd, explaining how the film was so good that they knew this would drive audiences to theaters (in the way Paramount did in 2022 with “Smile“), they neglected to acknowledge streaming at all. This felt immediately disingenuous. It was a miscalculation to present a film to movie theater owners, most of whom won’t even have the option to show. Nevertheless, Disney presented the fine trailer for “Young Woman and the Sea” and released the trailer online shortly afterward.

Next up, Joy herself, Amy Poehler, took the stage to talk about her love for the “Inside Out” films. She said she didn’t hesitate for even a millisecond before agreeing to return for “Inside Out 2.” She said, “I’ve played a lot of joyful characters over the years, but none of them mean as much to me as Joy.” Poehler then introduced the first 35 minutes of “Inside Out 2.” The first act of the movie is incredibly strong. It finds Riley entering puberty with a host of new emotions, Anxiety, Envy, Embarrassment, and Ennui, taking a more villainous role. Next Best Picture was treated to an early sneak peek at the film a few weeks ago, along with behind-the-scenes info directly from the filmmakers, so stay tuned for more information on “Inside Out 2” next week. Needless to say, audiences are in for a treat when this hits theaters on June 14th.

Disney brought out the big guns next. Marvel Studios Chief Kevin Feige took the stage to present a look at their upcoming releases. For the first time since 2012, Marvel Studios will only release one movie this year, “Deadpool & Wolverine.” To kick things off, Feige talked about his love for the theatrical experience, including for “popcorn buckets that go viral.” Feige said they asked Deadpool himself to create an “intentionally vulgar” popcorn bucket, and he can’t wait for everyone to see it. But before seeing more from that film, Feige teased next year’s releases. He briefly mentioned his excitement for “The Fantastic Four” as well as “Thunderbolts*.” Clarifying that the asterisk is officially part of that title, he promised they won’t reveal its significance until after the film releases.

Next, Feige brought out Cap himself, Anthony Mackie, to talk about “Captain America: Brave New World.” The pair chatted briefly before Mackie cut to the chase. “Show ’em Kev!” Feige listened and cued up the first look at the new movie. In the clip, Mackie’s Captain America meets President Thaddeus Ross, with Harrison Ford taking over the role from William Hurt. After they jokingly reference Ross’s “new look,” Ross asks Cap to rebuild the Avengers. Later, in a different scene, Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) attacks the president, and Captain America must take him down. Feige promised this would be a “relatively grounded” thriller in the vein of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the teaser certainly fit that bill. The movie lands in theaters on February 14th, 2025.

Feige wrapped up his portion of the presentation by turning to “Deadpool & Wolverine.” “I hope you don’t mind me saying: it’s fucking awesome. I can say that cause it’s an R-rated movie.” After director Shawn Levy joined Feige on stage, he joked that everyone in the room is now bonded together after hearing Keige say “fuck” multiple times and that Ryan Reynolds would be so proud. The pair set up a nine-minute clip from the movie, in which Wade’s friends throw him a birthday party. He’s given up the superhero life and trying to be a regular guy. He sticks with that until TVA agents show up to the party and kidnap him. Once at the TVA, Wade fully embraces a role in the multiverse. The clips were full of fourth-wall breaks and vulgarity, just as any “Deadpool” movie should. “Cocaine is the one thing Feige said was off-limits!” While we didn’t see much from Wolverine, it’s easy to imagine this film performing well when it lands in theaters on July 26th.

Continuing the R-rated trend, next up was “Alien: Romulus,” introduced via video by director Fede Álvarez and producer Ridley Scott. Extended scenes from the film make it clear that this movie is as terrifying as you would want an “Alien” movie to be. There’s a fresh take on the “chest-burster” sequence that’s brutal and disturbing. Visually, it maintains the gorgeous retro industrial futurism that’s made the franchise so iconic. We’ll find out if it lives up to the earlier entries in the franchise this August 16th.

Chambers briefly turned his attention to Searchlight Pictures, where he celebrated their 195 Academy Award nominations and 22 Best Picture nominations over the years. Noting that “Poor Things” was fresh off of a Best Actress win and Best Picture nomination, he was excited to present the trailer for their next collaboration with director Yorgos Lanthimos, “Kinds of Kindness.” No new footage was shown. Elsewhere, he acknowledged that “Nightbitch” is finally arriving this December. Directed by Marielle Heller, “Nightbitch” stars Amy Adams as a woman who believes she’s turning into a dog at night. The memes will be glorious.

Pitching back to 20th Century Studios, Chambers teased James L. Brooks’ first film in 15 years, “Ella McKay,” which will hit theaters in 2025. Then he revealed the first trailer for “The Amateur,” starring Rami Malek, Rachel Brosnahan, and Laurence Fishburne. The movie looks like a pretty standard thriller in which a CIA cryptographer seeks revenge for his wife, who dies in a terrorist attack. Not much stood out about the movie, but we’ll find out more when it arrives on April 11th, 2025.

Barry Jenkins took the stage next to discuss “Mufasa: The Lion King.” He acknowledged that there are questions about why a director known for small-scale dramas like “Moonlight” would want to direct this movie, but he calls this “one of the best decisions of my life.” Feeling the permission to curse after Feige did it, Jenkins noted that this is a “massive fucking film” and that it was his job to fill it with heart. He teased all new original songs for the movie but said he’s not allowed to tell us who wrote them yet. We got a brief teaser for “Mufasa,” which was light on story but showcased the same stunning, photo-real imagery as 2019’s “The Lion King.” Hopefully, Jenkins can fill the characters with more emotion than that film. We’ll finally get to see it on December 20th.

Before introducing the teaser for “Mufasa: The Lion King,” Jenkins spoke from the heart about his experience working at a movie theater and how it influenced him to go to film school. He encouraged the theater owners to pour into their employees because, in ten years, one of them will be on this stage. It was a beautiful moment and the perfect sentiment for this crowd.

Finally, it was time for “Moana 2.” After showing a strange recap chronicling the global impact of the first “Moana,” Polynesian dancers took to the stage, joined shortly by Dwayne Johnson himself. He says about his love for “Moana” and his character Maui, “This goes deeper than a character for me.” He speaks about his passion for the design, the journey, and the music of this world. While he was speaking, Bob Bagby, Chair of the National Association of Theatre Owners, presented Johnson with the “Spirit of the Industry” CinemaCon award for his commitment to bringing significant movies to the big screen. Before Johnson left the stage, he introduced a clip from “Moana 2” featuring a new song titled “We’re Back.” The song was missing the first film’s musical spark, but it’s passable as generic Disney songs go. As another Disney+ product moved into theaters, will there be a drop in quality? We’ll find out on November 27th.

Disney certainly covered more ground than any other studio at this year’s CinemaCon, but one thing felt notably missing throughout the majority of their presentation. Other studios repeatedly focused on the theater owners in the crowds and acknowledged their needs regarding the theatrical experience. CinemaCon is not Comic-Con. It’s not merely a marketing tool, though it, of course, serves a similar purpose. It felt like Disney played more to the journalists in the crowd than the actual CinemaCon attendees. CinemaCon’s studio presentations represent a symbiotic relationship. The exhibitors need the studios, and the studios need the exhibitors. Disney had a flashy, exciting presentation but should do more to recognize theater owners at next year’s CinemaCon.

What was your favorite piece of news from the Walt Disney Studios’s panel at CinemaCon this year? Please let us know in the comments section below or over on our Twitter account.

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Daniel Howat
Daniel Howat
Movie and awards season obsessed. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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