Palisadians Make Major Mouse Moves at D23

Alan Horn, Kevin Feige and Alan Bergman
Photo courtesy of Michael Aushenker/Alfredo Rodriguez

Marvel’s Feige, Star Wars’ Abrams and Kennedy, and Simpsons’ Groening Announce Revelations at Disney Convention in Anaheim

By Michael Aushenker | Contributing Writer

It was the weekend that broke the internet, as all manner of announcements related to Walt Disney Company brands Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and Disney emerged from Anaheim August 23 through 25.

D23 Expo, held at Anaheim Convention Center and attracting some 65,000 people, signified the sixth time Walt Disney Company had staged the convention since 2009.

Yet at Disney’s answer to San Diego Comic-Con International, the Burbank studio broke big news regarding its four biggest brands. Chief among the major players were some prominent locals—“Star Wars” franchise shepherds J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy; Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige; and Matt Groening, creator of “The Simpsons,” the long-running Fox property now owned by Disney after an acquisition earlier this year.

Across last weekend, Disney CEO Alan Horn and filmmaker Abrams introduced the teaser trailer and poster art for the final installment of the official Star Wars saga, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” It was, in fact, lifelong Palisadian Abrams who kicked off the most recent “Star Wars” trilogy with 2015’s “The Force Awakens” (for which he modeled the petite, goggle-eyed character Maz after legendary Palisades Charter High School teacher Rose Gilbert).

Abrams and fellow Pacific Palisades resident Kennedy (who lives with husband Frank Marshall in The Riviera) welcomed to the stage the “Rise” cast—Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran and Billy Dee Williams, plus franchise newcomers Naomi Ackie and Keri Russell.

Abrams explained how unused footage of the late Carrie Fisher, who died in 2016 at 60, would be incorporated in “Rise,” to bookend the final official last trilogy of what has become known as “the Skywalker saga.”

While Abrams originally did not intend to return to direct the final film, he said he derived inspiration from a few words Fisher had written in her memoir, “The Princess Diarist”: “And special thanks to J.J. Abrams for putting up with me twice.”

As Abrams explained, “Now, I had never worked with her before ‘The Force Awakens’ and I wasn’t supposed to do this movie, so it was a classic Carrie thing to sort of write something like that and it could only mean one thing for me. And I could not be more excited to have you see her in her final performance.”

D23 came days after news broke that Spider-Man would be leaving Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, overseen by Feige, following a major rift between Sony Pictures, which has held the movie rights to Marvel’s flagship character since Palisadian Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” in 2002.

The Culver City-based studio had worked out an agreement to lend out Tom Holland as the web-slinger, beginning with 2016’s Disney/Marvel Studios’ “Captain America: Civil War.” After five films, that arrangement collapsed late August when Sony refused Marvel’s idea to collect a hefty percentage of Sony’s take on Spidey projects moving forward.

At D23, Feige shared how grateful he was regarding the unique bi-studio arrangement.

“It was a dream that I never thought would happen,” Feige said from the stage. “It was never meant to last forever. We knew there was a finite amount of time that we’d be able to do this, and we told the story we wanted to tell, and I’ll always be thankful for that.”

Feige was on-hand to announce and/or introduce insights and talent related to a slew of upcoming Marvel projects, including feature films “Black Panther 2,” “Black Widow” and “Eternals,” as well as a series based on Marvel Comics’ “Moon Knight,” “She-Hulk,” “Ms. Marvel” and “What If…?” created for Disney’s November 12-debuting Disney Plus.

D23 hosted a panel on “The Simpsons,” the animated series by Groening that has been a fixture on Fox and, entering its 30th season, is the longest-running prime time series on television.

The August 24 discussion—which included creator Groening, Executive Producer Al Jean, Executive Producer Matt Selman, Supervising Director Mike B. Anderson and voice actor Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson)—was moderated by voice actor Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson).

Before some 2,500 Expo goers, Groening—who for years lived in and raised his children in Pacific Palisades and today lives in Santa Monica Canyon—revealed how Disney had gotten into his “Simpsons” lore long before the Fox characters became part of the extended Mickey Mouse family.

“Disney influenced me growing up,” Groening said from the Expo Arena stage.

Prior to creating the Simpsons, the cartoonist had read an article about “the brilliant design of Mickey Mouse,” whose ears remained the same whether Mickey was facing frontward or in profile.

And so, in creating the irreverent cartoon family from fictional Springfield, U.S.A., Groening said, “I tried to design the characters [to look distinctive] in silhouette. Except Lisa and Maggie are kinda the same.”