Walt Disney. Sinner or saint? Entertainer, provocateur, or whore? Who is the Walt Disney of 2008? And will his frozen corpse rise above the ashes to save our rapture-ravaged world? All of those questions and more have finally been answered!

With a live show like the Walt Disney Studios Showcase, who needs acid? The big bad Mouse House pulled out all the stops at this year’s annual event, providing a preview of all things Disney headed our way in the very near future. Some of the highlights included Miley Cyrus singing her first single off Hannah Montana: The Movie, Johnny Depp appearing in full Jack Sparrow gear with a Lone Ranger mask pulled up to his face, and a very awkward moment between Tim Allen and Disney Chairman Richard “Dick” W. Cooke. It was quite the extravagant event, and nearly every big name in Hollywood showed up for a few minutes of face time. Appearing on stage were Robin Williams, John Travolta, Sandra Bullock, Nicolas Cage, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy, George Lopez, Isla Fisher, Poppy the Chihuahua, and the entire cast of High School Musical 3: Senior Year, just to name a few. Heck, even the abandoned toys from Toy Story 3D stopped by for a song and dance.

Like it or not, Walt Disney has become a religion that is more powerful than Scientology and Judaism combined. And their live showcase certainly reminded me of some bizarre tent rival out in the desert. The audience seemed ready to slip on a pair of black Nikes and sip cartoon-colored carbonated soda from a tainted punch bowl. Disney Chairman Dick Cooke presided over the entire amazing shebang, introducing new movies left and right, as well as allowing every single big name in Hollywood to take a bow for their onscreen efforts. For a live show that was almost eight hours in length, it never slowed down or became dull. Whoever put this production together should be in charge of next year’s Oscar telecast. Heck, the event was even housed at the great Kodak Theater, annual home of the Academy Awards.

The show opened with a twenty-minute clip reel from the most famous of recent Disney films, backed by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. This astounding musical epic started with scenes from Enchanted and seemed to sweep through the entire Disney library. The soundscape smoothly transitioned from animated fare to live action extravaganzas, effortlessly piecing together a seventy-five year history in one fail swoop. The clips bounced from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, to Splash, to Wild Hogs. Nothing of note was left off the plate, and there were clearly no favorites. When it was over, Cooke took the stage to deliver a powerful announcement about the state of affairs at Disney.

He proudly stated, “We are going to concentrate on doing what we do best. And that is: Being Disney!” He went on to explain how both theatrical ticket and DVD sales have hit a flat market as of late. There hasn’t been an upswing in revenue for either avenue of mass entertainment. “The market isn’t expanding!” He shouted, clearly reading from a teleprompter, “There are limits to being a studio in this economic environment. We have a new strategy. We are only going to make hits!” He was joking, sort of. “This is the Disney difference,” he proclaimed, “Consumers know and trust us! They know to turn to Disney in a crowded, difficult marketplace. Because we have the best ideas and the best technology!” Before he could even finish his sentence, most of the audience was converted. “We already have a strong following. And that is the key to our success. We are obsessed with quality.” He then projected the Iger Quality/Value Relationship Axiom on the big screen in front of us. Apparently, Value equals Quality over Price.

“Only the best is good enough for Disney!” He proclaimed, looking like George W. Patton in a three-piece suit. He then used a scene from WALL-E to drive his point home, “Director Brad Bird knew that 90% of the effects would never be noticed. But he didn’t know which 90%, so he did them all. That just goes to prove the type of quality we are after. We are only going to focus on High Quality!” He then took a quick turn towards the following clips he was prepared to show us, “Today, I am going to give you a good sense of what’s to come! We have the best talent and the best technology. The best executives, and the best effects!”

Beverly Hills Chihuahua:

<strong><em>Beverly Hills Chihuahua</em></strong>
He chose this high quality speech moment to segue into the first film of the event, Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Since the junket for this upcoming film has already come and gone, Cooke didn’t bother showing us any trailers or clips from the talking dog comedy. Instead, he invited Poppy the Chihuahua out on stage with him. Together, they shared in some inane scripted banter, which ended with Cooke looking at the dog and saying, “I don’t know why, but when I look at you I get hungry for Taco Bell.” The Dog coyly replied, “What, do we all look alike to you? That is my cousin, Holmes!”

Voicing the dog from behind a curtain was George Lopez, who looked a little embarrassed when he finally came out from hiding. The comedian took a seat next to Cooke, and proceeded to talk up the movie with some prewritten praises that seemed quite disingenuous. He writhed around in his seat, sweating, stating, “This is the best talking dog movie ever made.” He then looked at the big poster image from the film, which was emblazed across the giant screen in front of us, “Yes, this is the Citizen Kane of talking dog movies!” As if attempting to save his drowning co-star, Poppy jumped off the interview couch and started to dance around the stage. He then ran over to the wall behind the two men, and started scratching at it, as if to be let inside. He then stopped and panted, eating up the laughs from the audience. George went and picked him off the floor, “As you can see, Poppy is very excited to be a dog. And I share in that excitement.” The selling of this kiddy flick was quick and painless, but it didn’t quite set up the absurd carnival nature of the show that was about to roll out in front of us.

High School Musical 3: Senior Year:

High School Musical 3: Senior Year
The show was set at a frantic pace, and Cooke never let us dwell on one particular faucet for very long. As quick as George Lopez and Poppy left the stage, Cooke was already setting up his next bit. Someone off stage handed the Disney Chairman a microphone, as he proclaimed, “I will now sing the first single off the High School Musical 3: Senior Year soundtrack for you!” From behind the signature blue curtain came a bouncing basketball, which Dick dribbled across the stage. He took a couple of deep breaths, and then said, “Okay, that’s not going to happen!” He stepped back from the screen, “You’ve all seen the trailer, so instead of that we’ve put a clip reel together for the biggest franchise in history, High School Musical 3: Senior Year!”

The four-minute featurette featured some of the biggest musical moments from the film. It certainly looked orange and poppy, and it had an almost cartoon-like vibe that screams “This is Disney!” The visual aesthetic is exacting in nature to the two previous High School Musical chapters. Sharpay, the gratuitous bitch played by Ashley Tisdale, seemed to dominate these flashes of color that were belting me ruthlessly in the eyeballs. They also played through a good snippet of Zac Efron’s lonely solo, which seems him suited up in his basketball jersey, yearning for life outside of the adolescent tree. High School Musical certainly seems like a happy affair, and I’m sure that it will make bank when it opens on October 24th.

Director Kenny Ortega hustled his cast out on stage, where they stood and stared, waving and smiling like a group of automatons. While Zac Efron, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, and Monique Coleman were all present and accounted for, they said not one word. Kenny did all of the speaking, herding his cattle with the praise of a third grade teacher, “The phenomenon is this cast. We have an extraordinary group here, and it’s their willingness to make the best film possible that has us succeeding!” A cheerleader couldn’t have said it better. Kenny then went on to explain, “5000 high schools are putting on High School Musical this year alone. It has become a cultural milestone.” Zac Efron seemed to enjoy this news very much, as he clapped louder and longer at this announcement than anyone else in the room. As quickly as they were hustled in front of us, the High School Musical 3: Senior Yearcast was shown back behind the blue curtain.

Bedtime Stories:

Next up was the Adam Sandler comedy Bedtime Stories, which marks the actor’s first foray into the Disney landscape. As the film’s trailer debuted on the Internet earlier this month, Cooke instead cut to a short film made exclusively for this particular event. Adam sat in his rocking chair, telling the story of a man that was paid a lot of money to make a new comedy. Cut to: Dick Cooke in bed with his night cap on, yawning and eating up the tall tale as told by Sandler. It was an amusing bit that the audience seemed to enjoy quite a bit. This moment quickly transitioned into the new trailer, which is actuality quite amusing. There’s the addition of a new scene featuring comedian Russell Brand, and the end bit, where Adam sprays flame retardant into the eyes of a Home Depot employee still makes me laugh. Surprisingly, Adam Sandler was one of the few big names not to make an actual appearance on stage.

Race to Witch Mountain:

Race to Witch Mountain
With the lights coming up, Dwayne Johnson walked out on stage in support of Race to Witch Mountain. He took a seat on the velvety blue couch and proceeded to talk about the film, “I decided to do this because I had such a great time with Andy Fickman on The Game Plan. The challenges were great, and I had an awesome time shooting Race to Witch Mountain. I knew we had to deliver a movie that would entertain, yet would stick pretty close to the original. We are trying to reimagine a franchise here. Once again, Fickman was great to work with.”

As the film is about Alien beings from another planet, Dick Cooke riffed on the fact that director Fickman was born in Roswell, New Mexico, “He may have been probed!” That statement earned the Disney Chairman a raised eyebrow from the man formerly known as The Rock, “That statement is wildly inappropriate, Dick. And I better be careful that I don’t go down the wrong road with it.” Cooke, quick to change the subject, announced that we would be seeing the first trailer from the film.

Not surprisingly, Race to Witch Mountainfeels exactly like one of Disney’s older family films from the 1970s. It has that certain off-vibe too it, and actually looks like it could serve as the perfect sequel to Return From Witch Mountain. Sure, it has been adorned with all of the bells and whistles this era in digital filmmaking provides, and there are some pretty keen looking spaceships, but the trailer felt old fashion in a sense. Which is a good thing. Dwayne Johnson plays a cab drive that has to deliver two alien orphans back to their planet. From the clip that was shown, the movie looks fast paced and action packed. And I have a feeling that it will be a hit, because it looks like it is going to appeal to a wide audience all the way across the board. This isn’t as goofy as Johnson’s The Game Plan, and that film proved to be a monster success.

Old Dogs:

Next up was the latest comedy from the makers of Wild Hogs entitled Old Dogs, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the titles rhyme. The film stars John Travolta and Robin Williams as two aging friends that suddenly have a couple of kids thrown into their life. The trailer was full of Williams’ typical humor, and it actually doesn’t look that bad. I like that they chose Seth Green being cuddled by a four hundred pound ape as their parting image. After the trailer was over, both John Travolta and Robin Williams came out on stage, and Williams was quick to skip the teleprompter. Which threw Cooke’s interview off kilter.

Dick asked the two men if they were offended by the title, and Williams immediately began riffing on that note, “Well, when the script first arrived, it was called Invisible Dogs, and yes! I was offended. Then they called it Hot Bitches! They also tried calling it Dead Dogs, but that just didn’t work!” Robin stuck out his tongue and feigned like a canine corpse. Cooke was quick to segue away from that with a question for John, who looked somewhat annoyed to be there, “What was it like working with your family in the film, John?” He smiled, polite, “Yes, my daughter plays Robin’s daughter in the movie. She is just great in it. My wife is also in the film. She plays Robin’s wife.” Robin cut in, “And we are partners in the film. There is sort of a new age thing going on.” Dick took it on the chin, “Well, it certainly sounds like this film has something for everyone!” And with that, they cut to a clip from the film.

The scene is actually some of the funniest work I’ve seen either actor do on screen in quite some time. The clip finds the two friends taking the wrong prescription medicine. Williams’s visual perception is thrown off, and he hallucinates his way through a game of golf with a group of important Japanese businessman. While that is happening, Travolta is attending a funeral where he gets the munchies and dives face first into a rhubarb pie. John’s medication has an adverse effect on his face, and it causes him to grin like a Cheshire cat through the entire eulogy of a departed friend. The best part about the entire thing was getting to watch Robin Williams sitting in the dark, watching himself, cackling like a mad man at the scene as it played out. This was the funniest shit he’d ever seen. And watching him watch the movie would probably be even more entertaining then the comedy itself.

Hannah Montana: The Movie:

Hannah Montana: The Movie
The next film is one of Disney’s biggest upcoming tent pole events. Hannah Montana: The Movieis a continuation of the very popular TV series and live stage show. Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour was a monster hit, becoming the highest grossing IMAX film of all time. And this new big screen incarnation of the franchise will probably be just as huge. Cooke explained the simple storyline, “This film is about reconnecting with your roots.” He then introduced stars Miley Cyrus and her real life dad billy Ray Cyrus onto the stage. They took a seat on the couch, where they trucked through a couple of prewritten pages of banter. Miley had an incredibly short skirt on, and I think some of the older men in the audience were a little uncomfortable. But she didn’t seem to mind.

Cooke asked, “So, Miley, since this film is about staying grounded, what keeps you grounded?” Well spoken and sure of herself, the young star replied, “It’s so hard to keep focused when everyone is saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ To your every command and desire. But then you come to realize that its those people saying, ‘No.’ that love you the most. And that’s really what the film is about. We go back to Tennessee and I reconnect with my roots.” Dick graciously smiled at this easy answer, and then went into a bit of rehearsed joshing, “So, your sweet sixteen birthday is coming up soon. Do you have any plans?” She smiled a mile long row of teeth at the audience, “Yes, we are going to celebrate it at Disneyland. They are even throwing a parade. I’ve never had a parade for my birthday before.” Cooke continued, “What do you want for your birthday?” Billy Ray Cyrus piped in, “It’s hard to shop for her, because everything has a picture of Hannah Montana on it.” Miley reviled that she wanted a car, and Cooke joked, “Well, how about your own car dealership?” And with that, they unveiled a slide on the big screen that featured the Miley Cyrus Chevrolet dealership. It was bizarre to say the least.

After this sort of lame joke, Miley got up and sang the song “Out of this World”, the first single off the Hannah Montana: The Movie soundtrack. And one thing was certainly obvious. This girl really can sing. The song sounded pretty good, and I heard people praising it as the best part of the show afterwards. During the number, the screen behind Miley featured a number of scenes from her upcoming film. Though seen without any dialogue, it didn’t look any different than The Lizzie McGuire Movie. Take that for what you will.

Up:

Up
Next, the show turned to Disney’s animation slate, and Cooke presented the same overview released earlier this summer, which looks at their entire upcoming strategy through 2012. Pixar’s John Lasseter came out on stage and began to talk about Pixar’s 10th film, Up. He told the audience that Pete Docter was the best man to direct the film because he loves everything Disney. Docter even turned his bedroom into the Tiki Room from Disneyland when he was very young, complete with talking birds and plants. Up is the story of a crotchety old retired balloon salesman that has tied a billion helium filled balloons to his house and floats off into the stratosphere. Along for the ride is Russell, a chubby scout that had made his way onto the porch earlier in the day to sell some cookies.

Ed Asner is playing the role of the old man. And the clip that was shown featured the house lifting off the ground, into the sky. When the old man finds the young scout on his doorstep, he only reluctantly lets him inside the house. It is a quick, funny bit that seemed to provide the audience with enough Pixar nourishment. Lasseter didn’t dwell too long on this masterpiece in the making. He, instead, seemed more interested in talking about Pixar’s other upcoming project.

The Princess and the Frog:

The Princess and the Frog is the first Pixar film to be made using hand drawn animation. Lasseter called it, “A return to the classic Disney animated film. It is a sincere, honest Disney fairytale. And it is being directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, the team responsible for The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. It is about doing what is in your heart. And it is set in New Orleans.”

Lasseter showed us some character designs and background art. It seems they have captured a true Cajun feel with this particular animated film. Some of the characters include a jazz playing alligator, a lovesick Cajun firefly, and a Voodoo high priest. Lasseter also made the announcement that Oprah Winfrey had joined the voice cast, which went over as pretty big news. He quickly went from talking about The Princess and the Frog into talking about one of Pixar’s best loved older films, Cars.

Cars 2:

The team over at Pixar is so excited about this upcoming sequel that they’ve decided to release it a year earlier than originally planned. Cars 2 will now be making its debut in 2011, instead of the dreaded apocalyptic year of 2012. While that might seem kind of far off, Pixar is keeping the Cars name fresh in people’s minds with the upcoming series Cars Toons, which features the Tall Tales of Mater, the tow truck. These will be released both theatrically and on the Disney Channel. Larry the Cable Guy is back, voicing Mater, and each short cartoon will feature some exaggerated tale from this fan favorite’s past life. The first episode finds Mater recalling the time he was a fire truck and a doctor. He pretty much acted as his own rescue squad. Future episodes will see him as a Matador and an Evel Knievel-like stuntman.

Toy Story 3D:

John Lasseter’s part of the presentation ended with real life-sized green army men dropping down from the ceiling. They marched their way onto stage, where they acted as background dancers for the rest of the Toy Story 3D crew. Woody and Buzz, along with the rest of your favorites, did a song and dance number to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”, ushering in the news that Toy Story 3D is going to be about growing up and going off to college. When Andy leaves home, his toys are gathered up in a box and shipped off as part of a donation. It proves to be a very emotional time for Buzz, Woody, and the gang, and Lasseter explained that the story stemmed from his own son heading off to college. He then introduced Ken in his feature film debut, stating, “The doll certainly looks handsome, doesn’t he?”

Bolt:

Bolt
With the Toy Story 3D toys all off stage, 3D glasses were handed out to the entire audience. At first I thought that they were going to show scenes from the newly redigitized Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3D. Instead, Dick Cooke came back out and started talking about the Disney strategy once again, “Disney Digital 3D is a part of our new strategy. We are utilizing the 3D process more than any other studio at this time. This is not just a passing trend. It is being embraced by the biggest names in the industry. I even hear Jeffery Katzenberg is going to release his first 3D film early next year.”

This joke was met with a mixture of shock and laughter. Cooke continued on with his diatribe, “Over the course of the next few years, we will be releasing a total of 16 Disney films in 3D.” The Bolt logo appeared on the screen, “Bolt is our next 3D film. It has great characters, an original story, and a great voice cast featuring John Travolta and Miley Cyrus. Ladies and gentleman, I would like to present to you, in its entirety for the first time: Bolt!”

And with that, he proceeded to show us the entire film. Which was very cute and amusing. The opening action sequence is great, and the film should be a big hit. But afterwards, I heard a lot of people complaining about the 3D. “It was too dark. It gave me a headache. You couldn’t concentrate on the great colors of the animation.” While everyone seemed to like the actually movie, more than most weren’t pleased with the way it was presented.

That ended the first part of the Walt Disney Studios Showcase 2008-2009 and Beyond. The rest of the show was captured in the following stories already posted on our site:

Jim Carrey and Robert Zemeckis Talk A Christmas Carol

National Treasure 3 Officially in the Works

Johnny Depp to Star as The Mad Hatter, Tonto, and Jack Sparrow, Again!

Stay tuned for more on the Walt Disney Studios Showcase in the very near future.

B. Alan Orange