Burbank came to Vegas today, as both Disney and Warner Bros attempted to wow exhibitors in their own patented ways at CinemaCon. Disney brought the movies. Warners brought the stars. Both played well in the desert, and especially with the mom and pop theater owners who eat this stuff up.
In all my years attending WBs “The Big Show” presentations here, I have never seen the sheer numbers of filmmakers and actors who boarded the corporate jet and hit the Colosseum stage. Hosted amusingly by Will Arnett, aka Batman in the studios Lego movies, Warners trotted out a planeload of talent to awkwardly hawk their 2018 films, some of them obviously having not given a thought as to what they might say about those films. Nevertheless the exhibs sitting around me right center in the orchestra section audibly were excited to see them, especially, from what I could tell, when the Oceans 8 female cast came out, including fan faves like Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett. The slate of movies these stars were hawking were familiar to anyone who knows the kind of things that tend to get greenlit at Warners.
There were the Conjuring universe horror films like the upcoming The Nun, plus a promise for Sept 2019 of It 2, the first one noted as the most successful horror film ever; plus yet another Jaws wannabe called The Meg, which was described as “Jaws on steroids.” There were the rowdy comedies, such as Melissa McCarthys May 11th release, Life of the Party, and the June 15th guy flick Tag, with Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner and others. There were a number of brightly lit animated entries like Small Foot, and the Arnett-produced Teen Titans Go to the Movies, with the clever premise of a lot of super hero hopefuls who cant get their own film deal.
Andy Serkis brought out footage of his long-gestating directorial effort Mowgli, which looked quite good, but is trying not to seem like it is coming out in the shadow of Jon Favreaus The Jungle Book. Blanchett was back on stage for that one, along with Benedict Cumberbatch, as both are voices of animals in the film. Eddie Redmayne and the cast of the second of five planned Fantastic Beasts films, Crimes of Grindelwald, also took the stage, as did director James Wan and his Aquaman cast, including star Jason Momoa representing the DC Comics portion of the show. Visually, it looked pretty fantastic, so hopefully the story follows suit. The aforementioned and latest in the studios Oceans franchise is tipped to be a breakout hit, and you can feel the theater owners know it.
Bradley Cooper brought a sneak peek of the trailer for his directorial debut of A Star Is Born, repping the third time Warners has made a version of the story and the fourth cinematic telling of the doomed show business romance, this time set in the world of country music and signaling a film breakout for his co-star, Lady Gaga. Both Gaga and Cooper sang their songs live in the film. Early buzz from those who have seen it in rough form is really strong on this October release, which was initially pegged as a directing vehicle for Clint Eastwood. This could be Warners most promising Oscar candidate this year. But perhaps the most unique of all the films on view was the romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians. It is unique, sadly, because it is one of the very few romantic comedies coming this year from a major, but also because it reps the first all-Asian-American cast in a studio film in about 25 years. It is based on the international best-seller and seems to have a real shot at breaking crossing over, especially to those audiences under-served in this genre.
Taking an opposite tact from Warner Bros this afternoon and Sonys starry presentation last night, Disney showed off the complete confidence they have in their various brands by not bringing a single star or director to wow exhibitors at CinemaCon this morning. Instead, they just let the product speak for itself, and even if there was not a single title that needed explanation from this most brand-conscious of all studios, the audience at the Caesars Palace Colosseum seemed to devour it all. With outgoing distribution head Dave Hollis singing the numbers (a nearly combined $20 billion in global boxoffice over the past three years), as well as almost seeming embarrassed to tout the studios success story, it all was on the screen as Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn, and later new Head Of Distribution Cathleen Taff showed off the goods that included, of course, Marvels Avengers: Infinity War opening this week, and Ant-Man And The Wasp this summer. There was also a plug for Brie Larsons Captain Marvel, which just started production.
The Disney labels ode to their Winnie The Pooh franchise, with Ewan MacGregor as an adult Christopher Robin, looked sweet, and holiday offerings The Nutcracker And The Four Realms, as well as Rob Marshalls Mary Poppins Returns, were well-received, particularly the latter, which if it lives up to the teaser-style footage shown, will likely be a massive smash, coming only 54 years since the last Mary Poppins crowned Walt Disneys career, won 13 Oscar nominations, and a Best Actress Academy Award for Julie Andrews. No pressure there, but it seems to have the same sense of magic that beloved film continues to have as an enduring classic. From what I have heard from trusted sources who have seen it, it will deliver. Of course, Disney loves to constantly reboot itself, so its no surprise to see live-action versions of Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King all trotted out for first-ever sneak peeks. When the CGId baby elephant Dumbo appeared on the giant screen from Tim Burtons production, there were audible “ahhhhs” from the crowd, who also seemed to be just fine with Will Smith taking over Robin Williams iconic genie in the new Aladdin. Saved for the end was Jungle Book directors Jon Favreaus photo-realistic “Circle of Life” from the new Lion King, and it looked like the technology has moved forward, judging from the images that drew huge applause to end the presentation.
However, hands down the biggest reaction I have heard to a film so far at this 2018 CinemaCon was that for a scene shown from Walt Disney Animation Studios November 21 release, Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2. In the footage, Sarah Silvermans Vanellope gets inducted into the Disney Princess club by all the current members. Its LOL hilarious and smart stuff that, if the rest of the film lives up to it, ought to give Wes Andersons wondrous Isle Of Dogs a real run for the Animated Oscar the original Wreck -It-Ralph actually deserved but didnt get. It was pointed out that between Disney and Pixar toons, the studio has owned that Oscar the last six years in a row, so odds are good.
Naturally, the Star Wars juggernaut got its moment as well, with extended footage from Ron Howards upcoming Solo which will premiere in Cannes next month.
In a contest between seeing all the stars Warners and Sony have lined up so far at this convention or staying on good enough terms with Disney in order to keep having their movies play their theaters, my hunch is these exhibitors would probably opt for the latter. Nevertheless, both Burbank-based studios are basking in riches, with Warners having their best year ever with $5.1 billion in 2017, not far behind Disneys second best year in 17 with $6.5 billion. It must be nice to have these problems. Incidentally, not a single mention of Fox was heard at Disney this morning, and you can bet there wont be a single mention of Disney at the Fox presentation on Thursday morning.
In between todays studio slate shows, I snuck off to the Palms Hotel, where Disney arranged a screening of The Avengers:Infinity War for those press and critics like me stranded in the desert and unable to be in L.A. for their first screenings last night and earlier today. My full video and print review runs later this week, but suffice to say this all-star mashup of Marvel superheroes lives up to the hype, but in ways that really are surprising and ways that lay out more questions than answers. The Russo Brothers have done it again with a film that nails the perilous times we are living in. More to come on that.