D23 Expo 2022, Disney’s big showcase of its theme parks, films and TV series, welcomed superfans to Anaheim, Calif. to celebrate their community, hear about all the latest projects, and yes, buy lots of merchandise emblazoned with Mickey Mouse ears.
In the midst of this three-day Disney marathon that took place over the weekend, there were some very cool announcements that Black fans are going to be particularly excited about. I’ve saved you all from the walking and waiting in line, and gathered all of the best highlights in one convenient place.
While the Walt Disney Studios presentation delivered plenty of great moments, including a stunning Cynthia Erivo performing “When You Wish Upon a Star,” director Justin Simien teasing the spooky yet funny Haunted Mansion and Barry Jenkins debuting footage of his origin story Mufasa: The Lion King, the highlight was Halle Bailey as Ariel in The Little Mermaid.
Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) gave fans in attendance an exclusive look at the entire “Part of Your World” sequence, which was absolutely beautiful. Bailey’s vocals perfectly blended Ariel’s familiar operatic quality with her own R&B roots. As she appeared on stage after the video, the grown-ish actress received a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience. It was the definition of a star-making moment.
After a rousing performance of “I Could Do This All Day” from Hawkeye’s Rogers: The Musical, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige went right into what we all wanted: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Writer/director Ryan Coogler delighted the 7,500 fans in Hall D23 with exclusive new footage from the upcoming movie. I’m not going to spoil anything here, but all you need to know is Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda is a badass.
“It was a great experience with the entire cast, tremendous crew. It takes a lot of magic behind to make this come together,” Bassett said during the presentation. “And of course, our spiritual leader Ryan and our heart Chadwick [Boseman], who was with us every step of the way. He paved the way. We had to meet his level of excellence.”
Coogler stayed on stage to debut the first look at the new Disney+ series Ironheart. The clip showed a very confident Riri Williams building her own iron suit and planning to make it “better” than anyone else. She says this without an ounce of hesitation or fear, and I absolutely love that this character is coming to the MCU. Star Dominique Thorne couldn’t be at the Expo, but Anthony Ramos, who plays Parker Robbins/The Hood, explained that the series will see the two characters pitting technology against magic. Then he clearly had to stop talking because Feige was giving him the “shut up, no more secrets” look.
Jonathan Majors joined Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly to explore Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. The teaser showed Scott adjusting to post-Avengers life until an unexpected trip to the Quantum Realm introduces him to a very scary Kang. Seriously, Majors is about to be everyone’s new favorite villain. I’ve only seen two performances of the character so far and they couldn’t be more different. The Multiverse Saga is going to allow him to bring all kinds of fascinating variants to life and every single one of them will be awesome.
Don Cheadle was on hand to discuss Secret Invasion and Armor Wars, which are connected, as the story from the former directly leads into the latter. The first trailer features a tense conversation between Rhodey and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, where the superspy tries to explain Skrulls but apparently, War Machine already knows about them.
Princess Tiana is finally set to make her big-time theme park debut, with longtime fan favorite Splash Mountain shedding its problematic history and being re-themed around The Princess and the Frog. The story features riders going on an adventure with Tiana and friends, as she looks for the last ingredient she needs for a special celebration. The original voices from the film are all returning for the attraction, including Disney Legend Anika Noni Rose, who wowed the crowd with a great performance of two songs from the movie.
“What I have always loved is when we have the opportunity to take our tried and true techniques, and then combine them with our digital tools for animating and lighting to just create a brand new attraction experience for our guests,” said Charita Carter, executive producer relevancy activations at Walt Disney Imagineering. “For example, we’re going to use mist, like a painter’s canvas, to create this amazing sense of aura which is going to be different from anything that you have seen in an attraction. It’s a thing that I like to refer to as true bayou magic.”
It’s taken a while to get here, and there’s still plenty of work to do, but honestly, there was so much awesome Black entertainment on display at D23 Expo 2022. Yes, Black Panther is still everyone’s favorite, but it wasn’t the only example and that was really nice to see.