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We're Back from the Big Show in Anaheim!

Written By: Abel S. Pinedo

August 17th, 2015

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We're back from the D23 Expo! This was certainly the most thrilling and surprising Expo yet. There was so much to see and do we were kept busy all weekend! The two year build up since the last D23 Expo was certainly worth the wait. The show was filled with fun, surprises and huge, megaton announcements that brought smiles to everyone in the convention center. Disney fans certainly have a lot to look forward to in the coming years. Let's take a look at the best moments of the show.

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Photo Courtesy of StarWars.com

 Arguably one of the biggest events of the weekend occurred first thing Friday morning at this year's Disney Legends Awards ceremony. Inductees included Danny Elfman, Susan Lucci and George Lucas. During his speech, Lucas admitted that Goofy was his inspiration for Jar Jar Binks and that he still loves both characters to this day. The big surprise was the additional appearance of Johnny Depp who thanked the fans for basically keeping him employed and allowing him to do what he loves the most.

Several members of my family including myself have all worked at Disneyland at some point in our lives, thus our house had a healthy amount of Disney merchandise. With that in mind, one panel I had to see was '60 Years of Disney Parks Merchandise'. We were treated to the earliest versions of the mouse ears that debuted on the Mickey Mouse Club. (One million sold in the first year alone!) We also saw the history of variations of the logo as it changed throughout the years as well as a sneak peak at new clothing and designer lines that will make their debut as early as this Fall.

One of my all time favorite rides is the Jungle Cruise so it was a foregone conclusion that I'd sit in on the '60 Years of the World Famous Jungle Cruise' panel. Some of you may not know that it was one of the few attractions that has been around since opening day. The panel was hosted by a variety of Jungle Cruise skippers throughout its history. They shared a rarely seen video hosted by Walt himself as he points out what the ride will ultimately look like. We also got to see snapshots of changes the ride has gone through over the years, including the recently added Christmas overlay. The biggest news is that Walt Disney World will soon open a new restaurant, the Skipper Canteen, hosted by Jungle Cruise cast members and it is slated to open by the end of the year.

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Lots of news was revealed at the panel dedicated to upcoming animated features. We finally have confirmation that The Incredibles 2, Cars 3 and Toy Story 4 are all in development at Pixar. We also got our first look at the sequel to Finding Nemo, this one being Finding Dory.  As for Disney Animation, we got our first look at Zootopia, which opens next March and the first announcement of a new take on the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk to be titled Gigantic.

Saturday was the BIG day. I got to the Expo extra early to secure my seat at the panel 'Worlds, Galaxies, and Universes: Live Action at the Walt Disney Studios' hosted by Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn. We got our first look at Alice Through the Looking Glass (the sequel to Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland). Emma Watson sent in a video greeting from the set of the live action version of Beauty and the Beast which ended with Luke Evans and Josh Gad singing a few bars of the original “Gaston” song. Bryce Dallas Howard was live on stage to briefly tease the remake of Pete's Dragon (a personal favorite of mine) as well as show us a one minute teaser. Count me in!

Finally, director Jon Favreau hosted a look at next year's live action The Jungle Book. Joining him onstage were Sir Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong'o and Neel Sethi, making his screen debut as Mowgli. He was quite charming and overwhelmed by the crowd response. After our first look at the trailer, Favreau mentioned that the whole film was shot on a stage in Santa Monica, quite removed from the jungles of Africa. The look of the film using photorealism is breathtaking. The first full trailer is slated to arrive in theaters later this Fall.

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As a surprise, newly minted Disney Legend Johnny Depp appeared onstage in full Captain Jack Sparrow attire while the announcement was made about the next film in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Dead Men Tell No Tales. Depp was munching on grapes and proceeded to randomly throw them out to the crowd. Sadly I was out of range. Javier Bardem will be playing the villain this time around and Orlando Bloom will make his return to the franchise as Will Turner.

Not to be outdone, Kevin Feige was up next to present our first look at the upcoming slate from Marvel Studios. While Doctor Strange doesn't begin filming until November, Feige presented a look at concept drawings as well as a video greeting from Benedict Cumberbatch. The big news from Marvel was our first look at Captain America: Civil War. Feige was joined onstage by Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie. Apparently they flew in from Germany the night before where they have one week left of filming. Evans spoke of his love of all things Disney while Mackie worked up the crowd into a near frenzy before showing us the trailer. It looks to be following along the same path as the last film with more action and infighting this time around. We get our first look at Crossbones in his outfit throwing down with Captain America. We also get the return of General Ross from the Hulk films. I won't spoil the cameo that ended the footage but it was hilarious. The film comes out next May but Feige was coy as to when this trailer would debut in theaters. 

Finally, the moment I was waiting for. JJ Abrams was onstage to talk about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As previously announced, there was no footage presented. What we saw was even better. For starters, we got our first cast photo for next year's Rogue One spinoff film as well as the news of additional cast members Alan Tudyk and Mads Mikkelsen. Next up, we got the news that Colin Trevorrow, fresh off the monster hit that is Jurassic World, will be directing Star Wars Episode IX. Next up, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and  Lupita Nyong'o joined Abrams onstage for the first ever look at the new poster for The Force Awakens created by the legendary Drew Struzan. Boyega surprised us all by announcing that we'd each be getting one as we left the panel. On top of that, Harrison Ford joined them onstage and thanked Abrams and us, the fans, for being so supportive and welcoming him back. (Ok, I came close to tearing up.)

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Easily the biggest news of the weekend was the official confirmation that both Disneyland and Walt Disney World will be getting a new 14 acre Star Wars land! Based on the concept artwork we were shown, this will be a fully immersive experience, not just an off the shelf overlay. CEO Bob Iger walked us through some of the drawings that promised an all new Star Wars city/planet never seen before to be populated by all manner of creature from across the galaxy. There will be, of course, a cantina with Star Wars themed entertainment and at least two new rides. One of these will put you right in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon while the other will be an action adventure themed ride. No date was given but speculation is that construction would begin sometime in 2017.

Sunday, one more day to create some more memories! Today was my day to roam the exhibit floor, catch up on all the things that I had missed and get as much shopping done as I could. Not easy tasks by any means. I made my way to the Dream Store to get my exclusive Star Wars R5-D23 astromech droid figure as well as some other souvenirs emblazoned with the official D23 logo. Check out complete, I made my way through artist alley as well as the vendor aisles to pick up a few other goodies I'd had my eye on.

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The big challenge was making my way into the Mickey's of Glendale store. All of the merchandise in this store is unique to the Walt Disney Imagineering team and cannot be purchased outside of the Burbank Studios. The line snaked around for over 2 hours but once I made my way in, I was glad I stuck it out. For you pin collectors, there was a treasure trove of limited edition pins. There was also every style of shirt and hat featuring variations of the Imagineering logo. I found some really cool coffee mugs and a new baseball cap featuring Mickey as the Sorcerers Apprentice. The real surprise for me was the mugs and shirts featuring the travel artwork for Star Tours. I picked up the Hoth mug and shirt but there was also ones for Endor, Tatooine and Cloud City.

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Once my purchases were secured, there was one last thing I wanted to cross off my to do list. One of the archive booths had two of the vehicles from the original PeopleMover ride. I waited my turn to get a few clean photos and then climbed inside. When asked if I wanted my picture taken, I said sure but all I really wanted was to sit in one of my favorite rides from childhood one last time. I sat there and was transported back to a time of Super Speed Tunnels and later the Tron Tunnel. I smiled a smile that can only be attributed to a little Disney Magic. After all, where else would I ever be able to physically sit in this ever again?

As I exited, I knew that it was best to go out on a high note so I made my way to the exits. Big grin on my face. Arms loaded with purchases. New memories loaded into my brain. Thank you D23. See you in two years!

About the Author: Abel S. Pinedo a.k.a. "Honest Abe" has written reviews for Dark Horizons, JoBlo and MusicTap.  He has worked in the entertainment industry for over a decade. He can usually be found at his keyboard ranting and rambling about the human condition or watching Beavis & Butthead.