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CinemaCon Day 3 Recap: Disney, Indiana Jones, Elemental, Universal, Oppenheimer, Fast X

April 28, 2023 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
INDIANA JONES AND THE DIAL OF DESTINY, CinemaCon chase sequence Image Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM, Walt Disney Studios

CinemaCon 2023 continued for Day 3 with two huge studio presentations on Wednesday, April 26 for Walt Disney Studios and Universal Pictures. Disney’s showcase had offerings from across Disney Studios live-action, Disney Animation, Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and 20th Century Studios for exhibitors. Meanwhile, Universal had offerings from its main studio, DreamWorks Animation, and also Focus Features. There were some big reveals and big names on hand for the various showings, including Christopher Nolan appearing live to showcase his new film, Oppenheimer, so let’s dive in.

Disney Studios Presentation

The Disney Studios presentation kicked off with a sizzle reel celebrating 100 years of Walt Disney Studios, plus showcasing the various film that would be featured throughout the event. Studio co-chair Alan Bergman took to the stage, noting the huge success of James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water, which has made $2.318 billion in theaters at the worldwide box office. Bergman noted that Cameron is currently hard at work on Avatar 3.

Marvel Studios started things off, with a new clip from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. This is an extended version of footage that’s already online, showing the Guardians in their space suits, and Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) attempts to have a private conversation with Gamora (Zoe Saldaña). Unfortunately, it’s soon broken up as the rest of the group informs Quill that they can hear everything they are saying.

I believe the theory that the Guardians have shrunken down and are operating on one of the implants on Rocket’s back is accurate for this scene. Nebula (Karen Gillan) appears to be performing some type of laser surgery on the surface of the terrain. She also mentions helping their friend. However, it’s still not 100% clear.

After the clip, the presentation featured a new sizzle reel for Vol. 3, which did offer some snippets of new footage of The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). He taunted the Guardians saying their song is finally coming to its end. The buildup for this feature definitely underscores that this is really the final and last hurrah of the current Guardians team. I will likely be bawling at the end of this film. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opens in theaters on May 5. Following the new Guardians footage, Disney also showed the previously released trailer of The Marvels to exhibitors. The film hits theaters on November 10.

Melissa McCarthy also made a live appearance to promote the live-action adaptation of The Little Mermaid, introducing a clip of Ursula singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” I will admit, McCarthy did a good job with the singing for this sequence, and McCarthy looks to be having a lot of fun as Ursula. Much like many of the characters in the live-action version of The Lion King, Flounder and Sebastian didn’t translate very well into the live-action format.

Next up was Pixar’s upcoming film, Elemental. The presentation screened the first 20 minutes of the film, showing the origins of the main character Ember (Leah Lewis), and her parents first arriving in Elemental City while pregnant. Ember’s parents looked to be the first fire element people to emigrate to Elemental City. It’s a bright new place, but the city also isn’t built as accessibly for fire-element people.

Elemental City is very reminiscent of Zootopia from Zootopia. There’s a lot of great visual storytelling, offering hints of the lore of this society and how the city came to be. It’s a city made up of sentient Earth elemental people, wind elementals, water elementals, and the fire elementals. Ember’s parents build their own shop for the burgeoning fire elemental population in the city, and Ember grows up ready to inherit her family’s shop. Unfortunately, she has a bad temper and trouble dealing with impostors. On the day of her shop’s big red dot sale, she almost explodes (literally) and takes a breather in the basement. She accidentally causes a bit of a flood, causing a city inspector, Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie) to leak into her basement, which is how they meet.

Personally, I think the movie looks fantastic, and it will be a grand return to form for Pixar. Visually, it looks unlike anything Pixar has ever done before but no less imaginative than some of their best work. The creative team clearly put a lot of thought into how this world, its society, and people work. The way it’s using sentient elementals as a commentary on racism, interracial relationships, and xenophobia was fascinating. When Ember’s parents first arrive in Elemental City, they can’t speak the language, and they are given new easier sounding names. It’s reminiscent of immigrants arriving in New York at Ellis Island.

Meanwhile, Ember’s father appears to have a strong aversion to water people. The way Pixar externalized these tensions and relationships is fascinating. Fire is capable of burning other elementals, but the water elementals can literally douse and evaporate fire elementals. In terms of this narrative, they literally cannot mix. And yet, Ember and Wade appear to have this strange connection and are drawn to one another. Overall, the movie looks romantic, emotional, whimsical, and magical. I can’t wait to see the final product when Elemental opens in theaters on June 16.

For the Walt Disney Animation side, Disney debuted a finished musical sequence from the upcoming animated feature, Wish. Disney previously offered some material from Wish last September at the 2023 D23 Expo. For CinemaCon, Disney debuted a fully-finished animation sequence showcasing the character of Asha (Ariana DeBose), singing for something more. She makes a grand wish, which brings a star to life.

Disney also announced during the presentation that Chris Pine will be voicing King Magnifico, the ruler of Asha’s homeland, Rosas, a magical land where wishes can come true. I like the animation style of this film. It looks like it blends both CG and a more traditional hand-drawn animation style to create something visually unique. If anyone remembers the Disney animated short, Paperman, this style looks somewhat similar. Wish will hit theaters on November 22.

Kenneth Branagh returns as Detective Hercule Poirot in A Haunting in Venice. A new trailer debuted during the presentation. This looks like it’s being shot like a full-blown horror and ghost story. Michelle Yeoh also joins the cast. Branagh is back in the director’s chair as well for the film, which arrives on September 15.

On the live-action side, there was also an extended look at the new movie, The Haunted Mansion, based on the classic Disney theme park attraction. After seeing the first footage at D23 Expo, I actually got excited about this film, and that remains to be the case after the new footage that was shown during the CinemaCon presentation. The new film actually looks to be incorporating the classic designs and signature rooms of the theme park attraction. The Hatbox Ghost looks great, and the new footage also provided the first look at Jamie Lee Curtis as Madame Leota, which is great casting.

The new scene showed LaKeith Stanfield’s character and the rest of the group (Owen Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Chase W. Dillon, and Tiffany Haddish) exploring the mansion estate and finding a secret passageway to a centuries-old seance room. Filmmaker Justin Simien appears to have done his homework for this film and looks to be having a great deal of fun. It looks like the movie will have a good mix of humor and classic Disney family movie thrills and scares. The production values and visuals also look impressive. The Haunted Mansion hits theaters on July 28.

From the Searchlight and 20th Century Studios side, a new trailer was shown for Next Goal Wins, a new film from Taika Waititi. This is based on a documentary of the same name and follows the exploits of a Dutch-American soccer coach who is forced to coach the American Samoa soccer team, who lost a 31-0 FIFA game in 2001. Now, it’s up to coach Thomas Rongen (Michael Fassbender) to turn this ragtag soccer team around.

One of the more interesting trailer reveals is a new, original sci-fi feature from Rogue One and Godzilla (2014) director Gareth Edwards called The Creator. This sci-fi drama features John David Washington as some type of wayward ex-soldier or warrior protecting an android child from dangerous enemies. It looks to have a post-apocalyptic or dystopia setting. It’s like a mix of the Lone Wolf and Cub setting along with the visuals of Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The designs for the sentient robots, or possibly cyborgs, look interesting. I’m glad to see Edwards is directing another sci-fi feature again, and this looks to be a fresh, new original story for the big screen. So, I’m keenly interested to see how this one turns out.

Closing things out for the Disney presentation was a full sequence from Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The footage featured a full chase sequence in a market square. Indy (Harrison Ford) and Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) are attempting to chase down Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), who at this point, has possession of the dial. However, Helena is being chased by either a jilted ex-lover or a business associate. So they are trying to chase down Voller and get back the dial while driving these motorized carts while also being chased.

It was a fun sequence. It was traditional, Indiana Jones-style action, and the banter and wit were there. Harrison Ford still looks to be having fun too. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny arrives on June 30.

Universal Pictures Presentation

Universal Pictures had the second major studio showcase on Wednesday. Studio chair Donna Langley got to open things up and talk up the wild success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which is currently the highest-grossing movie of 2023 so far, and it’s well on its way to $1 billion at the worldwide box office. The man himself, Christopher Nolan, took the stage to start this showcase off with a bang, quite literally, with his new movie, Oppenheimer.

Nolan spoke at length about presenting the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project, filming in both black and white and color. He then jokingly noted to the crowd, “But not too much black and white, don’t worry.” He called Oppenheimer’s (Cillian Murphy) story “both dream and nightmare,” noting how the scientists at Los Alamos, theorized that pushing the button on the first atom bomb could potentially cause a chain reaction that could burn up the atmosphere and literally destroy the entire world. And yet, they pushed the button anyway. Nolan also teased that a trailer would be released for the film alongside Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but he could “neither confirm nor deny” those rumors.

Nolan also introduced a first look at footage from the film. The sizzle reel appeared to underscore the desperation of the arms race for the United States in building the a-bomb, competing against both Nazi Germany and the Soviets. It looks like the film will detail the entire Manhattan Project, the building of Los Alamos, and the dropping of the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima. It appears the black-and-white scenes will involve Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss grilling Oppenheimer about the Manhattan Project and Los Alamos. If I were to guess, these scenes look like they will be a type of framing device for the overall narrative.

The footage looked amazing, and this looks like it could potentially become Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus. Oppenheimer arrives in theaters on July 21. Nolan also announced to exibhitors that the film will be released with special engagements in 70mm, 35mm and IMAX film presentations.

Next up, Gru of Despicable Me provided a grand voice-over introduction and montage video to celebrate Illumination CEO and founder Chris Meledandri, who was in attendance to showcase Illumination’s next CG-animated feature, Migration. The new footage offered up an overall look at the film, as Mack Mallard (Kumail Nanjiani) attempts to lead his duck family on their first family migration trip. Unfortunately, things go awry as instead of going to Jamaica, it looks like they end up in New York City instead. Imagine National Lampoon’s Vacation, but a family of ducks is subbing in for the Griswolds. Migration hits theaters on December 22.

Producer Jason Blum and filmmaker David Gordon Green were out next to showcase their new film, The Exorcist: Believer. This will act as a direct sequel to the 1973 original film, and it features Ellen Burstyn returning to the role of Chris MacNeil from the original. The footage shown shows a case of two innocent girls being possessed by what appears to be the same demonic force from the first film. As the father of one of the girls, Leslie Odom Jr. seeks out Chris MacNeil for help.

I’m not sold on this concept of reviving the story from William Friedkin’s first film, especially after how things were left with Green’s Halloween trilogy, which started strong but got progressively worse. I’m not really understanding the significance of having Chris MacNeil return to help in this case of two young girls being possessed by a demonic force unless the events with her daughter caused her to become a type of demon-hunting exorcist herself. Now, some type of cameo or scenes where she provides advice or insight on what happened 50 years ago makes sense. But it looks like Chris might be actively involved in the actual exorcism. The Exorcist: Believer will open in theaters on October 13.

Will Ferrell was live in attendance to promote his new R-rated comedy, Strays. Ferrell came out with the real-life dog, Sofie, served as the model for Ferrell’s in-movie canine character, Reggie. Ferrell got a lot of humor about the cameraman giving more attention to the dog than to him. We got a new red-band sizzle reel for Strays. Think of this movie as an R-rated, irreverent version of Homeward Bound or The Incredible Journey. Reggie is abandoned by his callous owner (Will Forte), and once he realizes this, he wants to go on a trek back home to get revenge on his owner with his new fellow stray dogs. High jinks ensue. To give an idea of the movie’s humor, at one point the dogs eat mushrooms and go on a wild drug trip, and they find some stuffed animal toys they rip apart. When they wake up, they realize they mangled and tore to shreds some bunny rabbits and feel awful. They then subsequently give the rabbits a burial. Strays is due out on June 9.

For DreamWorks Animation, the one and only Jack Black was in attendance for a presentation of Kung Fu Panda 4. However, there wasn’t any footage to show, so Jack Black instead provided a dramatic reading of the plot of the film. So, while there wasn’t any footage, a few new details were revealed about the story. In the franchise’s fourquel, Po is about to get a promotion, but that means he has to choose his successor to become the new Dragon Warrior for the Valley for Peace. It appears Po finds his new protege in the form of a mischievous fox named Shen, and they become quite the oddball teacher and student pair. Apparently, there will be a new chameleon villain who will have the power to summon any villain from the past. So, it will be up to Po and his friends to once again save the day. The film is currently due out for a March 8, 2024 release. I was disappointed by the lack of footage, but it was great to see Jack Black live in attendance and performing for the crowd.

Universal did a transition over to Focus Features to showcase some new cinematic offerings from Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne, and more. Wes Anderson’s next film will be Asteroid City. The film features a star-studded ensemble cast, and it looks like a pure Wes Anderson film. Set in a fictional American desert town, a Junior Stargazer/Space Cadet convention is disrupted by some world-changing events and what appears to be an actual alien invasion. The film stars Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, and Steve Carell. It will release first in New York and LA on June 16 and then open wide on June 23.

Also coming from Focus Features is the new road-trip comedy from Ethan Coen and Tricia Cooke called Drive-Away Dolls. The free-spirited Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and her demure friend Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan) set out on a road trip to Tallahassee for a fresh start. However, things go awry after they get embroiled in a criminal plot and accidentally rent a car that had an important briefcase in it of interest to some mobsters. The film also stars Beanie Feldstein, Pedro Pascal, Colman Domingo, Bill Camp, and Matt Damon.

Focus Features also previewed Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3. The Holdovers follows Paul Giamatti as a miserly private school teacher who bonds with his previously adversarial student after realizing the boy’s father has died and he’s not going home for Christmas. The film is slated for a limited release on November 10 and will open wide on November 22. In My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, the Portokolas family sets out for Greece for a family reunion. Most of the original cast looks to be back for the threequel including Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Joey Fatone, and Lainie Kazan. Moviegoers will be able to see this in theaters on September 8.

Gears switched back over to Universal for a showcase for Fast X. The presentation opened with stars Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Sun Kang, and Tyrese Gibson, who ran down all the previous Fast and Furious films. Rodriguez was ready to have some fun at the show, as he did a spontaneous roll out of nowhere during her entrance. Gibson got some “oohs” when he made a joke about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson joining the cast in the fifth film, “Mr. Baby Oil himself.” When the crowd reacted to the joke, Gibson said (paraphrasing), “Don’t worry, the joke is in the movie. He knows.” The group then gave a grand introduction to Mr. Dom Toretto himself, Vin Diesel, who took the stage solo.

Diesel gave a rousing speech for the exhibitors, exclaiming that he likes The Colosseum at Caesars Palace more than the Oscars because (paraphrasing) “I like this room better than the Oscars! Unlike all the people sitting there at the Oscars, all the people sitting here are there because of you.” Diesel then shared a story about getting a call from a studio executive about making sure the values of the film line up well with today’s modern audiences. Diesel’s response was, “What value is more important than family?” Diesel also noted that this will only be Part One of Fast X. Part 2 is currently in the works for a 2025 release.

Diesel then introduced a new sizzle reel of footage for Fast X with a lot of new action beats. It looks like Cipher (Charlize Theron) and Letty (Rodriguez) get into a knockdown, drag-out brawl in some sort of high-tech lab. The lab kind of reminds me of Eteon from Hobbs & Shaw, but I have no idea if they are revisiting that subplot here. Another big action moment shows Dom driving with his son in the passenger seat, dodging two huge tanker trucks on a dam. Dom drives over the edge, and the tankers collide in a massive explosion. Dom with his son now has to outdrive the explosion down the side of the dam. It looks like crazy, nutty, absurd fun. Fast X hits theaters on May 19.

It was time for more action and stunts, literally. The Eighty Seven North Productions stunt team came out and did some live stunt performances to get the audience ready for the next showcase, The Fall Guy. The upcoming film is based on the 1980s television series of the same name starring Lee Majors. David Leitch directs the film, and he spoke live about how important the show was for him growing up. The Fall Guy was what inspired him to get into the Hollywood stunt game. Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt star in the film, with Goslin in the Colt Seavers role from the show. Blunt portrays Gail, an up-and-coming director, and Colt’s ex-girlfriend.

In the new footage presentation, it’s shown that Colt is retired from the stunt game after an onset accident, becoming a car valet. However, he gets a call from an old producer friend (Hannah Waddingham) to work on Gail’s new movie. Unfortunately, the film’s movie star (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) soon goes missing, and if he isn’t found, Gail’s career could go up in smoke. So, it’s up to Colt to save the day. However, it appears the movie star has gotten into some actual trouble. This movie looks like it could be fun. Though, visually, it almost reminds me more of a Michael Bay film. It’s got a good cast at least, and it doesn’t appear that it will take itself too seriously. The Fall Guy dives into theaters on March 1, 2024.

Donna Langley came back out to introduce an early look at the new film, Wicked, based on the hit Broadway musical. The Wicked presentation closed out the Universal Pictures showcase with a behind-the-scenes featurette, with new commentary footage from director Jon M. Chu and producer Marc Platt. It had a mix of finished footage, some unfinished rough footage, and behind-the-scenes footage. So far, I’m liking Cynthia Erivo’s casting as Elphaba, and Jeff Goldblum playing The Wizard of Oz. That said, I’m not completely sold on Ariana Grande as Glinda. I think the potential is there for her to hit her out of the park, but I need to see more of her performance to be convinced. The featurette did have a bit of Erivo singing “Defying Gravity,” which did sound on point.

Wicked is still currently in production in the UK and will be released in two parts. Part 1 arrives on November 27, 2024. Part Two will be released on December 25, 2025.

I will be back with the wrap-up of my CinemaCon 2023 coverage featuring Day 4 with Paramount Pictures and Lionsgate, so stay tuned.