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CinemaCon: Taika Waititi, Melissa McCarthy, and Gareth Edwards’ Movie The Creator Steal the Show for Disney

Day 3 of CinemaCon began with a clip-heavy Disney presentation that concluded with a screening of 20th Century Studios’ horror movie The Boogeyman, which has the potential to be a sleeper hit this summer, though frustratingly, reviews — and even social reactions — remain under embargo.

The studio kicked things off with a victory lap for Avatar: The Way of Water, which has grossed $2.3 billion worldwide (and counting) en route to becoming the third-highest-grossing movie of all time. Though there won’t be a new Avatar movie or a new Star Wars movie or even a new Avengers movie this year, 2023 will mark the first time that Disney releases theatrical films from each of its seven studios — Walt Disney Pictures, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, 20th Century Studios, Searchlight Pictures, and Disney Animation Studios.

Disney led with its best foot forward — Marvel — trotting out a new clip from James Gunn‘s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 followed by the film’s trailer. While I was delighted by the first film, I wasn’t a big fan of Vol. 2, though these characters have clearly grown on me over the years, and I’m bummed to say goodbye to them next week when the film opens, as I won’t make it back to L.A. in time for Thursday night’s press screening, as Lionsgate’s CinemaCon screening of the Asian comedy Joy Ride takes priority.

Marvel then showed the same trailer for The Marvels that left me underwhelmed last week. The first film grossed over $1.1 billion, yet I didn’t feel much enthusiasm from exhibitors within the room, though maybe it was just me.

From there, Disney switched gears by introducing the first clip from Disney’s Animation’s Wish, which is said to draw inspiration from the classics and honor Walt Disney’s original creative vision, as well as push the boundaries of animation and storytelling. It’s a musical adventure starring Chris Pine, though the clip we were treated to featured Oscar winner Ariana DeBose, whose character, Asha, has dedicated herself to helping to make other people’s wishes come true. This struck me as a movie for little kids — no problem with that — and not a Disney Animation title that I would see myself, as I prefer non-musical movies like Zootopia and Wreck-It Ralph.

That said, one hit animated musical I do love is The Little Mermaid, which is getting a live-action remake this year starring Halle Bailey and Melissa McCarthy, the latter of whom provided one of the highlights of Disney’s presentation with Ursula’s show-stopping performance of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” McCarthy’s casting as Ursula is pitch-perfect, as it’s practically the role she was born to play. This movie skews young and female, and I’d obviously take my young niece if I had the chance, but I’m not sure I’ll make the time to see it myself, even though McCarthy looks like she’s having a blast here.

The Little Mermaid isn’t the only reboot on Disney’s slate, as the studio also hopes that a new Haunted Mansion movie will scare up some business this July. The spooky film boasts an all-star cast including LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Dan Levy, Winona Ryder, Hasan Minhaj, Jamie Lee Curtis, and her fellow Oscar winner Jared Leto as the Hat-Box Ghost. This looked like PG-rated fun for the whole family — just be sure to leave the little ones who are easily scared at home.

After that, Disney showed off 20 minutes from Pixar’s new animated movie Elemental, which finds fiery Ember (Leah Lewis) and go-with-the-flow Wade (Mamoudou Athie) finding a spark of connection — as well as their place in the world. I don’t believe in watching 20-minute clips, but a high-concept, coming-of-age rom-com from Pixar… what more really needs to be said here? Sign me up!

And then there was a tale of two trailers. The first, for Taika Waititi‘s charming soccer comedy Next Goal Wins, was an utter delight, and a welcome chance to see a lighter side of Michael Fassbender for a change. He plays the coach of a soccer team from American Samoa that is in the midst of an epic losing streak — something Waititi can evidently relate to as the Oscar-losing producer of Jojo Rabbit and the Teen Choice Award-losing scene-stealer from Thor: Ragnarok. Though this movie (featuring Elisabeth Moss and Will Arnett) has been long-delayed, it looks like a crowdpleaser that will be worth the wait.

Unfortunately, I was not vibing with the trailer for Kenneth Branagh‘s latest Hercule Poirot movie, A Haunting in Venice, which appears to add a supernatural twist, as it involves a seance. That’s certainly different than the typical murder mystery formula we’ve seen in recent Poirot films Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. The film features a great cast, including Tina Fey, Jamie Dornan, Kelly Reilly, and reigning Best Actress winner Michelle Yeoh, and though I’m not sure I love the new direction they seem to be taking this franchise in, I’m certainly willing to give it a chance, and it’s probably a recipe for success. I’ve just been a little underwhelmed by both of Branagh’s Poirot films, so I have trust issues, but perhaps this spooky vibe is just what the franchise needs.

Disney concluded its presentation with a clip from Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which I expect to underperform this summer, as the franchise feels pretty creaky by this point. It’ll sound like blasphemy, but I’ve never been an Indiana Jones guy. I remember when Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was coming out, I set out to watch the original trilogy in preparation, but I tapped out halfway through Temple of Doom. It’s just not for me, and I’ve come to accept that. If I do end up seeing it this summer, it’ll strictly be because of James Mangold‘s sure-handed veteran presence behind the camera.

And though the Dial of Destiny brought up the rear, I’m going to turn back the clock to just a few minutes earlier, when Disney unveiled the trailer for a big sci-fi movie titled The Creator from Rogue One director Gareth Edwards. Previously titled True Love, the film stars John David Washington and Gemma Chan, and trust me, this is the movie that people left the Coliseum talking about. Its tagline is “Humanity Evolves,” and it’s a fitting one, as there was plenty of humanity on display, to the point that the film kind of reminded me of District 9. The film involves half-human/half-android hybrids, and though other plot details are slim, one thing we do know is that Washington’s protagonist doesn’t consider himself to be a good person, which could make for an interesting wrinkle. The supporting cast includes Oscar winner Allison Janney, Ken Watanabe, and gifted character actors Marc Menchaca, and Ralph Ineson, so this one has the potential to surprise.

All in all, it’s pretty clear that Disney doesn’t really care too much about CinemaCon, as it’s been doing the bare minimum here for a while. The studio already knows that exhibitors are jazzed about their lineup, so they don’t need to do the whole dog-and-pony show. Given its target audience, it was only natural that Disney’s slate would feature a few films that I, a 39-year-old childless man, have no interest in, but those trailers for The Creator and Next Goal Wins went a long way, and I enjoyed The Little Mermaid clip as well as the Guardians package, though more star power might have helped.

Grade: B-



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