16 Things We Learned At D23 Expo

D23 Expo

by Sophie Butcher, Ben Travis |
Updated on

Move over, San Diego Comic-Con – there’s another huge, news-breaking, trailer-revealing, internet-breaking convention in town. This past weekend saw thousands descend on Anaheim, Los Angeles for D23 Expo, the annual gathering of Disney’s biggest fans for three days of live events, exhibits, and two extremely exciting panels – one for Disney’s Live-Action, Animation and Pixar studios, and one for LucasFilm, Marvel and 20th Century studios. Empire was lucky enough to be in the room where it happened (the room where it happened; that one’s for you, Hamilton fans), and witnessed a ton of thrilling announcements, including the Thunderbolts line-up, The Mandalorian Season 3 and Secret Invasion trailers, the Mufasa: The Lion King title reveal, confirmation of Inside Out 2 and much, much more. Those stories aside, here are another 16 things that we learned at the D23 Expo 2022:

Indy and Short Round is the ultimate reunion

Few things have been more delightful in 2022 than the career resurgence of Ke Huy Quan, the iconic kid performer from Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and The Goonies, who made a major comeback in Everything Everywhere All At Once after decades of being denied substantial roles. Now that he’s going to be in Loki Season 2, he popped up at D23 for the Marvel panel – and since there was an Indiana Jones reveal too, Harrison Ford was also in the building. The two got together backstage for a heartwarming reunion photo that exploded across the internet. Turns out there was time for love, after all.

A de-aged Harrison Ford will feature in Indiana Jones 5

Speaking of everybody’s favourite archaeologist, D23 audiences were also treated to a first look at Indiana Jones 5, which was introduced by director James Mangold. The teaser gave very little away in terms of plot, though did give a sense that new character Helena (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) would be pretty central, and was packed full of action and adventure. And, most curiously, we definitely glimpsed some flashback footage in there, featuring a de-aged Harrison Ford. Could Indy 5 be filling in some gaps from the previous films? We’re not sure yet, but one thing we can fairly safely assume is that this is most definitely the last time Ford will don the iconic hat and whip, as he exclaimed “I will not fall down for you again!” on stage.

Halle Bailey is a perfect Ariel

While the ‘live-action’ remakes of Disney’s classics have been… mixed in quality, shall we say, Rob Marshall’s take on The Little Mermaid has several things going for it. Not only does it have new songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda, teaming up with the legendary Alan Menken, but it has the supremely talented Halle Bailey stepping (or, swimming? Technically both, really) into the role of Ariel. In the room at D23, the full ‘Part Of Your World’ sequence was shown – for now, you’ll all have to make do with a snippet of the song in the teaser trailer. But what a teaser it is, of Bailey’s vocal prowess (which Chloe x Halle fans will long have been aware of), her ultra-expressive eyes (a key Ariel trait), and that flowing red hair – early signs suggest she’ll be spectacular. We can’t wait to be part of her world.

The main elements of Elemental

Up until this weekend, we had very little idea about what Pixar had in store for us with Elemental, their new high-concept feature film about hot headed gal Ember (she’s on fire – literally) and watery fella Wade. Director Peter Sohn took to the stage at D23, telling the audience about the parallels between Elemental and his own story as part of an immigrant family, and how the film explores what happens when two beings develop a deep connection despite being so different, they can’t even touch. He then showed off Ember and Wade’s character design, and announced that Leah Lewis and Jurassic World Dominion star Mamoudou Athie would be voicing them.

Rogers: The Musical needs to hit the stage for real

Ever since Hawkeye gave us a glimpse of what an intentionally-cheesy Marvel musical could look like, we’ve been secretly hoping for ‘Rogers: The Musical’ to be properly staged. D23 gave us the closest thing – with Kevin Feige kicking off the Marvel panel by teeing up a live performance of theoretical end-of-Act-One banger ‘Save The City’. It was hilarious, it was ridiculous – and it was really, really fun. Seriously, can we get the rest of the soundtrack now, please? We have an army of Hamilton fans and Captain America scholars on the team here who’d be glad to assist…

The most exciting upcoming Pixar project might just be Win Or Lose

If you were to ask us which Pixar project we’re most looking forward to, you might be surprised to hear that our answer could well be Win Or Lose, the studio’s first original series that isn’t based on a movie. But after seeing some utterly delightful new footage of the show at D23, Win Or Lose just shot up to the top of our animated watchlist. It follows a middle school softball team in the week leading up to an important championship game, and focuses on the idea of how the same day, event or interaction can be interpreted in contrasting ways, with each episode telling the story from a different character’s perspective. During the Pixar panel, creators Carrie Hobson and Michael Yates showcased a thoroughly charming scene where umpire Frank asks out the barista he has a crush on. Everything worked – from the animation style, to the hilarious dialogue, to the emotional metaphors that Pixar does so well. We reckon we’ll be feeling like winners when the series hits Disney+ in 2023.

Political clashes about Vibranium will feature in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Not long now until the much-anticipated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever arrives in cinemas – just under two months, in fact – and as of this weekend, we know a little bit more about one of the themes of the film. At D23, the Marvel panel audience was treated to a showing of a scene from the comic-book sequel, before seeing a new trailer. The scene featured Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda in a UN-style international conference, being quizzed about the potential dangers of Wakandan super-metal Vibranium: its versatility, its properties, its indestructibility. Ramonda listens quietly, before firing back that the real danger surrounding Vibranium does not come from the people of Wakanda, but from the rest of the world trying to get their hands on it. Cue a goosebump-inducing sequence that sees the Dora Milaje – and new addition Michaela Coel – take down some military forces attempting to steal it. It looks like the political aftermath of T’Challa revealing the extent of Wakanda’s power and resources at the end of Black Panther is going to be a major theme in Ryan Coogler’s follow-up.

The Zootopia+ series’ pop culture pastiches look genius

Zootopia – or Zootropolis, as it was renamed to for its UK release – is one of the highlights of Disney Animation’s recent output. Characters including plucky rabbit cop Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin), sly fraudster fox Nick (Jason Bateman), glacially-moving sloth DMV workers, a singing Shakira and mafia-esque rodents created a richly textured world ripe for exploring, which Disney will do in new six-part anthology series Zootopia+ (or, here in the UK, Zootropolis+? We’re not sure yet). A tease at D23 revealed the titles of the eps, several of which are some very funny takes on staples of popular culture that riff on those that feature in the original movie. There’s ‘So You Think You Can Prance’, which looks to be a talent show with Shakira’s Gazelle as judge; ‘The Godfather Of The Bride’, featuring the ironically named Big, an Arctic shrew who clearly takes inspiration from Francis Ford Coppola’s crime classic; and ‘The Real Rodents Of Rodentia’, aka a version of reality show phenomenon Real Housewives. Chef’s kiss.

It’s Cassie Lang’s fault that Ant-Man and the Wasp end up in the quantum realm

Marvel’s first big-screen release of 2023, and of Phase 5, will be Ant Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, currently slated for 17 February. We know about a few elements of the film – that Jonathan Majors will appear as Kang, that Bill Murray is also part of the cast, that the two titular heroes will once again head to the quantum realm, and that Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) daughter Cassie will now be played by Freaky star Kathryn Newton. From the footage shown at D23, it looks like Cassie is going to be pivotal to the film’s plot – not only did we see her in costume alongside her father, indicating she may be following in his size-shifting footsteps, but she’s actually the reason they end up in the quantum realm in the first place. Whilst Scott was trapped there all that time during the snap, Cassie was reading up on Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) research. Now reunited, she tries to show an experiment she’s developed to Scott, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Hank and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) – but it all goes awry, pulling them back into that crazy, colourful, sub-atomic world. What happens from there? We’ll find out in February.

What to expect from Iwájú

Iwájú, aka the Yoruba word for ‘future’, is a new series that sees Walt Disney Animation Studios collaborate with pan-African comic-book entertainment company Kugali. Filmmakers Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, Hamid Ibrahim and Tolu Olowofoyeku took to the stage at D23 to introduce the show, describing it as a “love letter” to, and futuristic depiction of, Lagos and Nigeria, and a coming-of-age story. It follows young heiress Tola and her best friend Kole, who end up caught between the worlds of tech and crime in their city, as well as challenged by the divide caused by their differing socio-economic statuses. Bursting with colour – and featuring a robotic pet lizard called Otin – Iwájú will debut on Disney+ in 2023.

Daredevil can be funny!

Yes, it’s happening – Daredevil is officially part of the MCU, and is getting his very own show, Daredevil: Born Again, which debuted some nice new artwork during the D23 panel. That hasn’t started filming yet, so no updates there – but Charlie Cox does appear as the protector of Hell’s Kitchen in Marvel’s currently-streaming series She-Hulk, and we were treated to a clip from the upcoming episode. Many have worried that joining the MCU will mean Daredevil’s darker, more grown-up edges will be sanded down, and that may well be the case – but we’re delighted to inform you that, as it turns out, Matt Murdock can do comedy just fine. In this scene with Tatiana Maslany’s Jennifer Walters, the pair debate the difference between henchmen and goons, she’s introduced to his enhanced hearing, and the chemistry sizzles as he picks up on her speeding heartbeat. Yes, ultra-violent, ass-kicking, incessantly-brooding Daredevil is awesome – but it is nice to see him smiling for once.

What kind of Evil Queen Gal Gadot will be

We still have a while to wait until the release of Disney’s live-action remake of Snow White, aka their OG princess, with Marc Webb’s new interpretation of the story hitting cinemas in 2023. But, the House of Mouse did show a very brief first look at the film during their panel on Friday, featuring Rachel Zegler as the titular poisoned apple-eater, and Gal Gadot in a full-on gothic, glamorous get-up as the Evil Queen. With Gadot being most well-known for playing the hero in DC’s Wonder Woman movies, Snow White is a chance for her to sink her teeth into a villainous role. “Playing the Evil Queen was very different to anything I’ve done before,” she said on stage at D23, alongside co-star Zegler. “I’m normally on the other end of things. It’s so not me but I enjoyed it so much.”

Disney Animation will be Wish-ing upon a star

A big part of this year’s main Disney panel was a focus on its upcoming 100th anniversary. That’s, confusingly, not the 100th anniversary of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (which is still 15 years away yet), but a century of The Walt Disney Company – and to celebrate that milestone, Walt Disney Animation Studios has a new castle logo, and a special film up its princess-dress sleeves. It’s called Wish, and it’s an animated musical movie about the wishing star that has long made dreams come true in the Disney canon – set in a fantasy kingdom (where else) where wishes become reality. There are plenty of reasons to be looking forward to this one: it boasts a distinctive watercolour-inspired visual style, has Ariana DeBose as the voice of central character Asha, and Frozen co-director Chris Buck helming (alongside co-director Fawn Veerasunthorn). Most importantly? It has Alan Tudyk voicing a goat sidekick called Valentino. We’ll be wishing for an adorable plush of him – and like most Disney wishes, that one feels very likely to come true.

Potential parental plots of Avatar: The Way Of Water

(L-R): Kiri and Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine in 20th Century Studios' AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Our August 2022 issue featured James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way Of Water on the cover – and in revealing the exclusive subscriber cover, we also revealed some surprising details about Sigourney Weaver’s character in the big blue sequel. Given her original Avatar character Grace died in the first film, it was curious that she was coming back at all – as it turns out, she’s playing a completely different role, that of Kiri, Jake and Neytiri’s adopted teenage daughter. Confused yet? Us too.

At D23, director Cameron joined the 20th Century Studios panel live from New Zealand, and turned the hall into a 3D cinema, handing out 3D glasses to show us some new footage from the film. One clip gives us some clues about how Kiri came to be, and her relationship to Grace. We see Kiri in a lab. She climbs atop a kind of cryo chamber which contains Grace’s preserved Avatar body, and calls her “mother”. Kiri, Spider (a human youngster the Sullys take under their wing, played by Jack Champion) and another Na’vi kid then discuss who could be Kiri’s father, with one of them jokingly suggesting ‘nerdy’ Norm Spellman, Grace’s right hand man from Avatar, as a possibility. Does that mean Grace’s Avatar gave birth to Kiri? Or that Kiri was created from her cells in some way?

Another interesting familial thread hinted at in that clip was Spider’s parentage. As the kids discuss Kiri’s dad, Spider says that sometimes it’s better not knowing who your father is. Given Spider is human, and there was one big human baddie from Avatar that we know is returning for The Way Of Water, could Stephen Lang’s Quaritch be Spider’s dad? If so, how did they end up on separate sides of this story?

Pixar will return to space with Elio

With this year’s Toy Story spin-off Lightyear, Pixar headed into the world of aliens, spaceships and the cosmos for the very first time – and we now know the animation studio is going to be blasting off to space again soon with new film Elio, which they announced this weekend at D23. Voiced by Yonas Kibreab, Elio is an 11-year-old boy who is somewhat of an outsider on Earth, but when he finds himself transported across the galaxy, he accidentally becomes the ambassador for our planet. Joining Kibreab in the voice cast is Ugly Betty and Superstore star America Ferrera, voicing his mother Olga, and the film will be directed by Coco’s Adrian Molina. Prepare for lift-off in Spring 2024.

What that last shot of Ms Marvel was all about

The final few moments of the Ms. Marvel Disney+ series really packed a punch. If you haven’t seen the show yet, here’s your spoiler warning! Still here? Good. As well as finding out that Kamala Khan’s (Iman Vellani) powers were caused by, as friend Bruno puts it, a “mutation” in her blood (X-Men in the MCU confirmed?!), the very last shot shows Kamala being pulled into her closet out of nowhere, before reappearing as Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel (played by Brie Larson). After seeing a first-look trailer of upcoming film The Marvels at D23, we now know a little more about why that happened. The footage opened with shots of Carol, Kamala, and Monica Rambeau (Teyonnah Paris), who developed powers during WandaVision, all switching places with one another, even when they’re on opposite sides of the universe. As Rambeau explains to the Khan family (Yes! The wonderful Muneeba, Yusuf and Aamir are back!), this is because their “light powers are entangled”. Not only is this an interesting premise for the movie, and a reason for the three characters to team up, it sets up some great comedic moments, including Kamala being introduced to Carol’s misleadingly cute cat-a-like Flerken, Goose. Marvel-lous stuff.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us