Disney's D23 Expo is like the company's own in-house version of Comic-Con: the most hardcore fans show up to celebrate their love for the company's movies and hear about what is in the works. As you can imagine, it's a crowd that's very prone to getting excited — but nothing in today's Pixar and Disney Animation presentation made the audience explode like the appearance of one man. A nearly mythic, transcendent figure who will clearly become one of Disney's most beloved heroes: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
The surprise appearance was part of the discussion of Disney Animation's upcoming film Moana. The film follows a young girl, named Moana, as she sails across the Pacific Ocean — but one of the individuals she ends up teaming up with is named Maui. No name had been attached to that role, but after a teasing intro, in which The Rock intoned from offstage about how the filmmakers needed to find somebody handsome and charming to play Maui, he bounced on stage, cellphone in hand, taking selfies of himself with the huge crowd behind him.
Quite simply, the crowd went insane. They cheered louder than they had at mentions of Frozen. They whooped wilder than they had when Star Wars and Captain America: Civil War were briefly featured in a sizzle reel. They clapped harder than they did when there was mention of Toy Story 4.
Of course they did. Because it was The Rock. At that moment, I'd like to think the entire crowd all felt a little bit like my colleague Casey Newton did last year.
When he got into the entertainment business, Johnson said, "I had a goal. And the goal was to be in the Disney family." (I'd like to think another goal was breaking an arm cast just by flexing, but the topic didn't come up.) He then praised the filmmaker's attention to detail in researching the cultures and traditions the film is based upon. "I am proudly half-Samoan, and I am proudly half-black," The Rock said, before cracking another set of delightful jokes and introducing a clip from Moana. (His character, while named after a demi-god, appears to be a teenaged boy with a ridiculous sense of humor, all of which seems tailor made for a former wrestler that's since turned himself into one of the most well-known movie stars in the world.)
He later trained the audience in a call-and-return Samoan chant, because when The Rock chants, screams, yells, claps, or laughs, the whole world does it with him.