D23 Expo 2011 Coverage
The Ultimate Disney Fan Experience...
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This past weekend, The Walt Disney Company's very own official fan club, D23, put on an expo for the most die-hard of Disney fans. Held at the Anaheim Convention Center (directly across from Disneyland Park), the three-day convention was filled from morning to night with nothing but Disney; from theme parks to movies to television and more. If you were wondering why Disney and Marvel pulled out of this year's San Diego Comic-Con, the D23 Expo was the answer.
If you've never heard of D23, I don't blame you, as even people who frequent the theme parks or live near the studio don't know what it is. "D" obviously stands for Disney and the cryptic "23" represents the year 1923, the year the company was founded. But even then, calling it the D23 Expo is confusing, since many believe you need to be a D23 club member to attend. Let's make it clear: The D23 Expo is for EVERYONE, although D23 members do get a discount on the admission. Maybe "DISNEY EXPO" presented by D23 would be less confusing.
So how about the Expo itself? Was it truly the ultimate Disney fan experience? Yes and no. We'll get to the "no" down below, but let's first talk about the positives. There was much to see and do including the Disney Legends ceremony on Friday, which was only the second time it was shown to the general public. The ceremony is a tribute to the many talented people (both alive and deceased) who have contributed a great deal to the company, a tradition that has been celebrated for 24 years. The 2011 honorees are: Jodi Benson (voice of Ariel the Little Mermaid, Barbie in Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, more); Barton "Bo" Boyd (Executive); Jim Henson (The Muppets); Linda Larkin (speaking voice of Jasmine from Aladdin); Paige O'Hara (voice of Belle from Beauty and the Beast); Regis Philbin (host of Live! With Regis and Kelly, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire); Jack and Bonita Wrather (Disneyland Hotel); Anika Noni Rose (voice of Tiana in The Princess and the Frog); Lea Salonga (singing voice of Jasmine and Mulan); Ray Watson (Disney Board Member); Guy Williams (actor in original Zorro series).
Each honoree received a two-foot-tall bronze Disney Legends sculpture that signified the imagination, creativity and magic they brought to the company. Disney Legends award recipients also participated in a handprint ceremony and their bronzed prints will be displayed in the Disney Legends Plaza at the Company's Burbank headquarters.
Another D23 Expo highlight Friday was the launch of a new set of "Send a Hello" stamps featuring pals of Pixar. John Lasseter was on hand with the United States Postal Service' Deputy Post Master General to celebrate the occasion. Fans were also allowed to buy first-day issued collectible stamps.
Much like Comic-Con, Saturday treated attendees with a nearly three-hour panel showing sneak peaks at what's to come in both animation and film. The event was hosted by Rich Ross, who gave plenty of time for each film featured. Animation was up first, lead by John Lasseter, who introduced the next two Disney animated features. PLANES, slated for 2013, takes us above the world of CARS. Jon Cryer from Two and a Half Men will star as Dusty, an under-dog crop-dusting plane.
WRECK-IT RALPH is the next CG film from the Walt Disney Animation Studio starring John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, and Sarah Silverman. Reilly plays the title character of an 8-bit video game villain who yearns to be the much loved heroic good guy. He hops from game to game to find his destiny in this animated comedy due November 2012.
From Pixar, the next original film is titled BRAVE, which is their first attempt at a fairy tale type story. And at long last, the lead is a heroine, a first in Pixar's slate. The story of a Scottish princess Merida who defies her parents and causes a threat to the entire kingdom must muster of the courage to save it. Kelly Madcdonald, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson, Billy Connolly and Julie Walters star.
Coming in 2013 is a prequel to the smash hit Monsters, Inc. where we find out how Mike and Sulley become the best friends that they are in MONSTERS UNIVERSITY. The original voice cast of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, and Steve Buscemi return in this animated college movie.
Fans of Pixar who aren't as pleased with sequels and prequels should rejoice as two new original, yet-to-be-named films were announced. Also slated for 2013 is "THE UNTITLED PIXAR MOVIE ABOUT DINOSAURS" directed by Bob Peterson (co-director of UP, and voice of Dug, Mr. Ray, and Roz), is a story about a world where the meteor that supposedly killed the dinosaurs really missed them and their life continues on. For 2014 is "THE UNTITLED PIXAR MOVIE THAT TAKES YOU INSIDE THE MIND", directed by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up).
The animated films wrapped and we were soon seeing chunks of material from upcoming releases JOHN CARTER (directed by Pixar's Andrew Stanton), THE MUPPETS, CHIMPANZEE, TIM BURTON'S FRANKENWEENIE, THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN, and next summer's highly anticipated release, THE AVENGERS. Robert Downey Jr. was on hand to say "hi", along with Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, and Cobie Smulders.
Other highlighted panels included behind the scenes looks at Pixar's Animated shorts, Brave, Monsters University, the music of Michael Giacchino, and if you're a fan of the Disney Parks, there were panels about the making of the new Star Tours and Little Mermaid attractions, as well as the upcoming Cars Land and Buena Vista Street.
On the exhibition floor, Disney Parks and Resorts provided a stunning exhibition of what's to come with models, displays, artwork, and experiments, including a new take on the fortune teller with the robot Destini that can think for itself! All of that is contained in a presentation titled Carousel of Projects inspired by Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress.
The Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives was another fantastic experience that brought some great props and costumes out to display. From TRON, Zorro, Rocketeer, Pirates of the Caribbean, and even Hocus Pocus, there was much to see and appreciate in this exhibit.
There was plenty more to see and do but capacity was certainly an issue, especially getting into panels and even the "Archives" exhibit. Long lines were also found going to each of the merchandise locations, and there were four in all. This being the second year of the D23 Expo, you can tell that stops were not all pulled compared to the previous expo held in 2009. Disney has grown much since then with Marvel being the most recent family member. It would have been a great venue for an Avengers booth to introduce Disney fans who are uncertain about Marvel's presence. The History of Marvel panel on Sunday was met with luke-warm attendance. Perhaps a history AND future of Marvel would have been more interesting to the Disney fan.
ABC is also a major player for the company and the Pan-Am booth that was such a hit at Comic-Con would have been a welcome addition to the Expo as well, but there was no sign of it. Pixar had many panels but no booth. ESPN had absolutely no presence at the Expo. And though Disney has done amazing things to promote Tron Legacy, nothing was done here to promote the upcoming cartoon TRON UPRISING with the exception of Bruce Boxleitner signing autographs.
This was also a three-day event compared to the previous D23 Expo's four-days. The first Expo benefited from visitors not knowing exactly what to expect and being wowed at almost every turn, with the exception of small capacity rooms for the panels. This year, the crowds were even larger, fewer wows, and not enough use of the large venue for panels. I truly had a wonderful time with the people I met while attending D23 Expo 2011, but I do hope that they pull out all the stops for the next show and make this the ultimate Disney fan experience that it ought to be. If you dream it, they will come.
Story by David Yeh
Photography by David Yeh, Unless Otherwise Indicated