Disney trots out 'Monsters University,' Johnny Depp in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS -- The cavalcade of A-list stars continued to descend upon Caesars Palace here Wednesday, as Johnny Depp turned up to wow movie theater owners at CinemaCon, days after Brad Pitt put in a surprise appearance.

Depp's arrival to tout Disney's "The Lone Ranger" film wasn't actually all that shocking, of course. The actor has often showed up as an unannounced guest at Comic-Con. Last year, he popped up at CinemaCon to promote his movie "Dark Shadows."

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In the Disney movie, Depp stars as Tonto, a Native American who forms an unlikely partnership with uptight Texas Ranger John Reid (Armie Hammer), a.k.a. the Lone Ranger. Gore Verbinski directs.

Depp barely uttered anything on stage at the Colosseum -- not that the crowd seemed to mind, as fans hooted enthusiastically as he waved to the audience. "Armie is very tall -- which means we're not small," he said, standing next to his 6-foot-5 costar. "Anything to add to that, Armando?"

"No," Hammer replied, and then the two exited the stage and roughly 20 minutes of previously unseen footage from the $225-million-plus production began to play.

Exhibitors seemed to have a mixed reaction to the new footage, which attempts to strike a tongue-in-cheek tone. After shutting down production on the film in 2011 to work on reducing the picture's budget, Disney has a lot riding on the still very pricey movie, which hits theaters over the July 4 weekend.

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On stage, studio chief Alan Horn said he was often surprised by how few people in the industry seem to be fazed by the notion of a $200-million budget. It's only when he tells colleagues that $200 million could buy 600,000 dinners for four at one's favorite restaurant with a bottle of wine that he gets a reaction, he says.

"Of course, not every movie can work .... We ask for your support if we go through that. Not that we care about money," he quipped. 

Horn appeared at ease in front of the auditorium, cracking that his recent transition from Warner Bros. president to Disney head was made simple by remembering “bunny, mouse.”

He said he soon learned, though, that Disney was “different because it's the only studio that is in fact a brand .... The audience may not know what they’re going to see, but they know what they’re not going to see.” Part of that strategy, he added, includes releasing between 14 and 15 movies per year -- eight of which are tentpoles.

The studio's upcoming slate, which includes Angelina Jolie as "Maleficent," Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in "Saving Mr. Banks" and George Clooney in "Tomorrowland," was then outlined. Horn also announced that the seventh "Star Wars" film will be released in summer 2015, followed by two sequels in 2017 and 2019. In the years between those releases, spinoff properties from the "Star Wars" brand will hit theaters.

The movie that arguably got the biggest push during the presentation, though, was "Monsters University." The animated prequel to 2001's "Monsters Inc.," out June 21, was screened in its entirety and got a warm reception from the crowd.

The movie follows a monster, Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal), who journeys to Monsters University, where he hopes to become a "professional scarer." But Mike quickly realizes he's not as frightening as his peers and teams up with fellow monster Sulley (John Goodman) to prove everyone wrong.

Horn, for one, was bullish about the Pixar Animation title's box-office potential.

"They give us one diamond of a movie a year," he said of John Lasseter's studio, "and they've had 13 smashes in a row."


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