Alrighty… After 3 fairly sleep deprived days and I’m ready to report back on the happenings at Disney’s D23 Expo. Or as I call it Disney Dork Fest!
As with any event like this, there was good and bad. The good? The were much more free about people taking pictures and recording stuff. Only at the film division presentation did they take away everyone’s phones and cameras. Everything else was up for grabs. And yesterday, at the end of the last day, they did a group photo of everyone in attendance that was wearing a costume. Good for them. Disney has, in the past, been very down on people wearing costumes to their events. So I’m glad to see them turning that around a bit.
The bad? Lines… lots of them. And I know lines are part of the Disney experience. But as you’ll see, it was a bit out of hand at times. And it prevented a lot of people from seeing a lot of things.
As for the presentations, and I’ll detail the ones I saw below, some were really good, and some were head scratchers. Overall I had a really good time, met some really cool people, and got inspired to come home and continue my own artistic pursuits.
One of the great things I love about Disney events is the mix of people. Every age, every ethnicity. From hipsters in skinny jeans and hoodies to old ladies with canes to little kids to ComicCon types to body builders to emo kids. Not only mixing, but talking to each other. Groups of people you wouldn’t otherwise see sharing good conversation. The only other place I see mixtures like that is in casinos. The proof that shared interest can bring together some very diverse people who learn to like each other.
You see, everyone loves a good story. And at the end of the day that’s what Disney deals in. Good stories. And those stories connect with people. It’s really heart warming to be around people that are so passionate about these stories. And since I have a permanent Devil’s Advocate in my head, I also realize it’s completely and utterly ridiculous that people get into this stuff so much.
When I see, say, an animation production drawing from the 30’s priced at $4000 I think to myself, “This is a picture that took an animator about 15 minutes to draw and they want four grand for it. Bizarre.” Then I think, “I WANT IT!” It makes me realize that no matter how high minded we think humans are, we’re still just creatures of instinct looking to feel something interesting. Some sort of sensory and emotional stimulation that keeps us going to reach the high minded stuff.
Ok, let’s dig in. I arrived at about 9am on Friday morning to be confronted with a HUGE line to get in. I think I had to walk to Bakersfield to find the end of it. It took just over an hour to get inside the building. The first big event of the day was the Legends Ceremony, which was a must-do on my list. So, of course, as soon as I got in the building I had to get in line for the ceremony for another 90 minutes.
Yep, the first two and a half hours of my day was spent waiting in line. At one point a cast member was coming down the line with survey cards and asked if I’d like to fill one out about my experience at the Expo. I said, “All I’ve done so far is stand in line.” He kept walking.
But at least I did get into the ceremony. A lot of people didn’t. Because the real problem with the Expo was just too damn many people. Easily twice as many as the last one. I’m going to put some pictures of the ceremony below because people asked for them, but as you’ll see, I was pretty far away from the stage. Even maximum zoom couldn’t make up for it. Did the best I could.
First up was Tom Staggs, Head of Parks. He’s not a performer, so he was a bit stiff. But hey, it’s not his normal gig. 🙂 He introduced an Oscar-style death roll of people in the company who passed in the last two years. Then he introduced Tom Bergeron of Dancing With The Stars who would MC the rest of the show.
They started with the 5 princess voice actors being inducted. And after seeing the amazing performance they gave, I thought it a little bizarre that they would start with them. The eventual finale was very nice, but I think the ladies would have left a bigger impact.
First up was Anika Noni Rose who was the voice of Tiana in The Princess and the Frog. She’s the youngest ever recipient of Legend status and I’m not completely sure I agree with it. Sure, she’s very talented, but I think it’s a little early in her Disney career to give her this award. She even said that until the day before she thought the award was for Tiana and she was just there to rep. She didn’t realize it was her they were honoring. Which tells me she doesn’t really the know the company as well as she should to be receiving such an award.
Next was Linda Larkin who was the speaking voice of Jasmine in Aladdin. For some reason I didn’t get a picture of her. Lea Salonga later thanked her for not being able to sing. 🙂
Lea Salonga is the singing voice of both Jasmine and Mulan. Disney discovered her in her Tony award winning performance as Kim in Miss Saigon on Broadway.
They were working backwards through their princesses, so up next was Paige O’Hara, voice of Belle from Beauty and the Beast. She seemed extremely pleased to be getting the award. And she was also the most visible of the award winners throughout the expo. She had at least two autograph signing events in the main hall that were lined up for days. She didn’t seem at all afraid of getting out and mixing it up with the masses.
Last up was Jodi Benson, voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid. All the ladies were very grateful for the award, but Jodi was on the verge of tears. She even whipped out her Disney employee card that she’s had for so long it doesn’t even swipe anymore. This, to me, is what a Disney Legend should be. She’s put in her time and effort on countless Ariel projects and really loves the company and her job within it. The only bummer of her acceptance speech was when she started bringing God and religion into it. I’ve never thought awards events are the right place to proselytize and the rest of the audience didn’t seem to either. But you couldn’t help but be happy for her.
Following their awards Linda Larkin came out and introduced them as they each sang a song from their respective movies. All extremely good of course. Lea Salonga has an absolutely pristine, perfect voice. Just stunning. Jodie Benson really seemed to embody Ariel. It was as if the mermaid herself had sprouted legs and came on stage. At the end, all four came out to sing “A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes” from Cinderella. No matter who they are, or what they won, it’s always fantastic to hear beautiful voices singing a song as perfect as that one.
That seems like it would be a show stopper, but like I said, it was just the beginning. Next up they gave awards to some of the company insiders that people may not know as well including Ray Watson who was the architect and urban planner that helped Walt get Disney World started. Ray asked if he could sing too.
Barton Boyd was Disney’s long time head of merchandising. Barton unfortunately passed away just two months ago and the award was accepted by his daughters who shared some of their favorite Disney memories.
Then it was back to a little star power with an award for Guy Williams who played Zorro in the TV series. His award was accepted by a large contingent of his family, including his son who brought Zorro’s sword and saluted the audience with a flourish.
Next it was super-ham time for Regis Philbin. The dude is a TV fixture and holds the world’s record for most hours spent in front of a camera. Here’s a guy that treats every stage as his own, chewing the scenery like nobody’s business. I’ve never been a huge fan, but it was fun watching him rib Tom Bergeron.
And finally, the last recipient was Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets. They did a nice little retrospective, showing some vintage muppet footage. Brian Henson and his wife recreated a very early Muppet piece based on the song “Accustomed To Your Face”. Very funny. The show closed with Kermit the Frog (on banjo) and Rolf the Dog (on piano) doing “Rainbow Connection”. It’s one of those songs that people love to hate, but man, it’s a really well written piece of music. I was amazed at the performance as well. Those guys LIVE those characters. At one point Rolf missed a vocal cue, Kermit corrected him, and they had a moment of banter on a vamp. Obviously not planned, but they played it off perfectly. It lent a really nice, relaxed touch to the performance..
Then I headed off to the Carousel of Projects where Imagineers were showing off their new goodies. This is where we thought Disney might have a little trouble this year. In 2009 they announced a bunch of cool projects and in 2011 they’re still working on them. So it was mostly more details about things we already knew about. It started with a quick little film highlighting park achievements over the years, done in 180 degree, Semi-CircleVision.
There was a really great model of the new Fantasyland expansion in Disney World. And some of the head Imagineers on the project were on hand to discuss updates and details on it. It’s always exhilarating to talk to people who are passionate about their jobs and these guys runneth over.
The basic concept is that they’re building the fantasy forest out beyond the castle. The thought being that that’s where the stories take place, so that’s where they should be. I like it. They’ve already moved Pooh and they’re finishing up a lot of the Beauty and the Beast stuff. The next huge project is the Dwarve’s Mine Ride. It’s going to be a roller coaster with a dark ride component. And a new ride vehicle that swings side to side like a mine car would, making the ride both smoother and more exciting.
There was also some great Carsland/DCA stuff that for some bizarre reason I didn’t take pictures of. They had a full-size Red character vehicle that will be in the ride as well as a prototype of the ride vehicles in Radiator Springs Racers. The rest of the room was stuff about Aulani, Disney Cruise Lines, and Adventures By Disney. There was also a small land massing model of the new Shanghai park which only recently broke ground and doesn’t have a lot of details yet. They also had their latest animatronic Destini interacting with the guests. It’s going to be a really interesting technology when they figure out how to implement it in an attraction.
For the auction this year you had to buy a separate ticket, even to watch. But fortunately you could check out the preview room for stuff most of us can never hope to afford. 🙂
Friday also brought me to the Walt Disney Parks and Resort presentation where they dish the dirt on the gems of the Disney crown, the theme parks. Really nothing much new here unless you’re totally not paying attention the rest of the year. They talked about Aulani and even gave away an opening weekend trip to the guy that found the sticker under his chair. It sure wasn’t going to be in the 2nd to last row where I was.
The presentation started with Mickey playing the drums with the band and kind of went downhill from there. Aulani, a little on the cruise lines, the beginning of the Shanghai park, the Fantasyland Expansion at Disney World, the upgrades at DCA. We did get to see a pre-viz video of the the Dwarves Mine Car ride going into Disney World and it really does look fun. It’s a roller coaster than then slows down inside to a dark ride before picking up again. We also saw a pre-viz for the castle in Shanghai which will be the biggest yet and actually have substantial interior space, including a ride. Very cool.
Kathy Morgan, executive producer of Carsland, dropped a little story about how the cast member shirts in that land will be modeled after John Lasseter’s substantial collection of Hawaiian shirts with a Route 66 theme.
George Kalogridis, president of Disneyland, gave some very vague facts to close the presentation. They’ll be working on some “experience” things for Disney nerds. Like dinner in the Haunted Mansion with Imagineers. Some stuff about possible access to older attractions like the Tahitian Terrace. And an expansion of Club 33. Details? Not a one. You know as much as I do.
Personally I don’t think they should grant more access to Club 33. While it’s a place that every Disney fan strives to visit, I also know lots of people who have been there. Meet the right people, get in the club. Making it less exclusive will only harm that vibe.
Then they capped it by talking about the replacement of Carnation Plaza at Disneyland with the Fantasy Fun Faire. This was announced a few months ago to a collective yawn by Disney fans. They’ll be in trouble with the traditionalists for yanking the plaza. But they assured us that live swing bands and such will still be appearing there. Mostly it will be food, shops, and a princess meet up. Yep, yawn.
Tom Staggs very awkwardly closed up the presentation by saying, “Thanks. That’s our presentation.” And there was a palpable expectation in the air that there had to be more. Like they were going to drop a surprise of some sort on us. But no. Mickey came out and played some more drums and we all filed out to get on to the next line. Blah.
My next line was for the Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix performance. A 3 hour line. At a Disney event, Dick Van Dyke is like Justin Bieber. Dick was performing with his acapella group and they were great. Cool songs, Disney and non, great singing, and some fun stories. And it would have been even better if I didn’t have to wait 3 hours to see it.
By Saturday I was so sick of lines that I didn’t bother to try for a lot of things I would have liked to see. I skipped the film division’s presentation. Brave and Avengers were the big topics. And apparently some of the Avengers actors made appearances. The strange thing was that in 2009, the place buzzing with excitement after the film presentation. This year I actually had to ask someone what happened because NOBODY was talking about it.
I did get to see Michael Giacchino’s talk. He’s the score composer for Cars, Rattatoulie, and Up, plus shows like Alias and Lost. He hit all the bases. It was a very entertaining talk with great stories. Stuff that would easily appeal to the non-music types. And plenty of cool info for us music types too. Even down to what kinds of gear he has in his home studio, how his work flow goes, and good tips on how to marry music to film effectively.
I skipped the rest of the presentations on Saturday and hung out in the collectors forum looking at stuff I couldn’t afford to buy. It’s amazing to see a production sketch done in pencil, that took an artist 15 minutes to do in 1937, now fetching $4000. But it’s all fascinating to look at.
The various artists of Disney Fine Arts are immensely talented. If you’ve never seen Noah’s work, check it out. I could have easily spent half the value of my house just on art alone. Instead I restrained myself and bought one little cel from a random Donald Duck cartoon for $25. It’s my first cel and now I have to figure out how to frame it without ruining it. 🙂
They also had a great display of props and costumes from Pirates of the Caribbean 4. And fortunately they were out in the open so there was no line. Here’s a few pics of those…
The last panel I saw on Sunday was an update on Carsland featuring John Lasseter and his crew. I love nothing more than watching someone talk about the things they’re most passionate about. And Lasseter is all over this. The Radiator Springs Racers are based on Test Track at Epcot, though they won’t go quite as fast. 40 mph instead of 60. But fast enough. And of course it will be thoroughly themed. The whole thing sounds really fun. And of course the Luigi’s Tires ride is something everyone is waiting for. It’s based on the old Flying Saucers from the 1960’s (?). It was long gone before I was born, but it was my mom’s favorite ride and she told me lots about it over the years. They’ve worked out the engineering kinks and think it will be a hit now.
At the end, Lasseter talked about having been a Jungle Cruise skipper in 1977-78. And mentioned that he doesn’t have a picture of himself on the job back then. So he announced a contest. Anyone who find a pic of him as a skipper while he was there will be a VIP guest to the opening of Carsland in 2012. Way cool. You can submit pics at www.JohnOfTheJungle.com
My camera ran out of batteries halfway through the Treasures gallery. And I didn’t bring the charging cord with me. Dumb, I know. I’ve got a few more pics on my phone but can’t figure out how to get them off there. Tech savvy, that’s me. 🙂
The Treasures gallery was fun though. Some of the stuff was kind of “whatever”. Nick Cage’s costume from National Treasure – jeans and a t-shirt… yippee.. But some was very cool. The original title card from the old Mickey Mouse cartoons, which is now the wallpaper on my phone. 🙂 Here’s pics of a few other things:
By mid-day Sunday, honestly, I was a little bored, and frustrated about not being able to get into more panel events. So I did a bit of shopping. Picked up the official t-shirt designed by Noah and an Expo pin for my friend Lyndee who couldn’t go. That was a big difference from 2009. At that expo I was still racing around seeing things on the afternoon I had to leave. And I’d already seen a lot. This one I didn’t get to see nearly as much which just kind of dampened my enthusiasm a bit.
Overall though it’s definitely worth the trip if you’re a Disney Dork. Lots of opps for up close and personals with stars both famous and obscure. Loads of amazing art to look at. And enough shopping to choke a Kardashian.
I have more pictures as well. Here’s a link to a zip file than contains them all if you’d like to see them. If you have any questions about what something is in a picture leave me a comment under this blog and I’ll see if I can remember. 🙂
If you made it reading this far, thanks ya big Disney nerd. 😉
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