By DERRIK J. LANG
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Will the Force be with Disney fans this weekend?
The Walt Disney Co. is cracking open the vault, rolling out the red carpet and pulling back the curtain for more than 45,000 expected fans at this weekend's D23 Expo, a three-day celebration of all things Disney.
Thousands of fans, some dressed as Disney princesses and characters from "Mary Poppins," began lining up early Friday morning to be among the first inside the extravaganza across the street from Disneyland at the Anaheim Convention Center. The event will include special musical performances, presentations and previews of upcoming projects.
However, a possible peek at what's to come from the "Star Wars" galaxy could steal the show. Disney bought George Lucas' Lucasfilm empire last year for $4.06 billion and plans to unleash a new "Star Wars" trilogy and two spin-off films beginning in 2015 with "Star Wars: Episode VII," which is being directed by J.J. Abrams and written by Michael Arndt.
Among the live-action films expected to be teased during a Saturday presentation are "Thor: The Dark World," "Captain America: Winter Solider," "Saving Mr. Banks" and "Tomorrowland." There might also be glimpses at "Maleficent," which stars Angelina Jolie as the "Sleeping Beauty" baddie, and new intergalactic and superheroic exploits from Marvel.
On the animation front, the studio will showcase Walt Disney Animation Studios' computer-generated adventure "Frozen" and Pixar's prehistoric comedy "The Good Dinosaur" during a Friday presentation, as well as the "Finding Nemo" sequel "Finding Dory," the manga-style Marvel adaptation "Big Hero 6" and the new Mickey Mouse short film "Get a Horse!"
Patterned after San Diego's wildly successful Comic-Con, the biannual D23 Expo, which Disney launched in 2009, isn't just about movies. On the show floor, attendees can snap up exclusive merchandise, trade collectible pins and meet stars from Disney Channel properties like "Teen Beach Movie" and "Sofia the First." There will also be presentations about Disney history, theme park attractions and video games.
"I can't wait to see the look on the crowd's face when we show them what we've got to show them," said "Disney Infinity" executive producer John Vignocchi, who will be presenting the upcoming Disney game that combines a virtual world with figurines of popular Disney characters. "Their reaction will make all the hard work worth it."
The event could also offer an update on "Avatar" land at Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park in Orlando, Fla. The company announced in 2011 that it had struck a deal with filmmaker James Cameron to build attractions based on the top grossing film of all time, which is set on the lush alien world of Pandora. He's currently working on three sequels to "Avatar."
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang
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