Disney Legends Awards Ceremony
America’s Funniest Home Videos host Tom Bergeron and Disney CEO Bob Iger hosted the awards ceremony which began by honoring Imagineer Tony Baxter. Bob Iger introduced Baxter by mentioning he was the creator of EPCOT Center’s Dreamfinder and Figment characters, noting that Disney “learned the hard way” just how loved the characters are by fans.
Baxter’s acceptance speech centered on a discussion about his keys to success, recapping his early fascination with Disneyland, to his pursuit of a career with the company and how he achieved the things he did over his very rich history with Disney.
As well as the late Steve Jobs, who was largely responsible for Pixar Animation Studios being alive today. Pixar head John Lasseter, a close friend of Steve Jobs, accepted the award on his behalf with a very emotional speech.
Richard M. Sherman and Alan Menken: The Disney Songbook
Richard Sherman took to the piano first, sharing stories behind his classic Disney songs and performing a variety of hits from “Winnie the Pooh” to “Mary Poppins” to Disneyland’s “Enchanted Tiki Room” and beyond.
Alan Menken performed songs spanning his incredible career with Disney, from “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” to “Newsies” and “Tangled.”
The concert ended with an amazing duet of “It’s a Small World.”
On Friday, Disney Imagineer (and new Legend) Tony Baxter joined Imagineer Josh Shipley with an amazing presentation of rare color footage of Disneyland from its early years. Unfortunately, I missed this presentation but our friends at Disneyland Live have video that every Disneyland fan should see of Tony Baxter and Josh Shipley showing rare video of Disneyland’s Mine Train Thru Nature’s Wonderland.
The presentation also included an announcement from Disney Parks head Tom Staggs that Disney will honor Tony Baxter with a window on Disneyland’s Main Street. Baxter later spoke with the LA Times’ Hero Complex blog about his career working at Imagineering.
The Art and Artistry of Aulani
Rohde and Lomboy discussed in-depth the design choices made for the new resort, which all go back to celebrating the people and culture of Hawaii. The Imagineering team went to great lengths to get the Hawaiian people involved with the development of the hotel, ranging from calling on local Hawaiians to create art for the property, to having local musicians create the background music for the resort, to having native Hawaiian spiritual guides help with the planning of the resort.
Broadcasts from Buena Vista Street
On Saturday, voice actors that make up the cast of the radio programs you can overhear on Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure joined together and performed one of the programs you can listen to in its entirety live for the audience. It was a remarkably entertaining experience and afterward the cast talked about their careers and experiences working on Disney projects.
Sounds Delightful! An Illustrated Audio Adventure
On Sunday, Disney artist and historian Stacia Martin led a fantastic discussion on early Disney records, which included audio samples from rare recordings including early songs recorded about Mickey Mouse, to records from Mickey Mouse Club star Annette Funicello.
Stacia also treated the audience to demo recordings made for Walt Disney of songs from the never-completed “Rainbow Road to Oz” film. Stacia played demos of the songs that were made for the film and walked the audience through the movie’s story, explaining where the songs would have fit in. The songs had never been heard by the general public until this presentation.
Walt Disney Imagineering 60th: Craft of Creativity
The Imagineers talked about their history with the company (Kathy Mangum started out as a store clerk at the Adventureland Bazaar) and sharing their thoughts on what makes a good Imagineer (Joe Rohde: “To be an Imagineer, “you have to be the kind of person who wants to share.”)
Walt Disney Imagineering 60th: Leading a Legacy
Sunday also included a discussion between Imagineers Marty Sklar (former head of Walt Disney Imagineering) and Bruce Vaughn (current head of Imagineering) on leading Walt Disney Imagineering.
Thoughts on D23 Expo 2013
The 2013 D23 Expo has come and gone and proved to be a big success for Disney, with Friday and Saturday both selling out. The success of this year’s event prompted CEO Bob Iger to announce Saturday that the next Expo will take place in 2015.
Despite its success, not everyone in attendance was wowed by what Disney had to offer at this year’s event, with the main issue being the lack of big announcements and breaking news. It’s true that each Expo continues to grow in size and success for Disney, but how long can that success be sustained if Disney continues to pull back on its major announcements? The first Expo in 2009 set a precedent for the D23 Expo to be a major platform for Disney to showcase its future with unexpected announcements and in-depth previews of what was new and what was next. This year, however, Disney seemingly threw all of that out. Instead, major movie studio presentations mostly just expanded on projects that everybody was aware of, keeping the lid on things that would keep fans and the media talking for weeks. No new theme park announcements, no major movie announcements and hardly a peep on the recently acquired Lucasfilm or upcoming Star Wars sequel.
It would be one thing if Disney had never used the D23 Expo as a platform for major announcements, but the first two Expos were just that – the place for Disney to proudly show off its new toys and get people excited with big announcements on major new productions. Despite Disney announcing before the Expo that no new announcements would be made, the lack of information still stung fans and burned the blogosphere. Entertainment magazines and film blogs aren’t being shy about openly discussing the disappointment of Saturday’s live action presentation; Variety opens an article on the subject with “The disappointment was palpable at D23 Expo as Walt Disney Studios promoted 11 movies that it will release through the end of 2015.” Obviously, the biggest letdown from the studio was the lack of Star Wars announcements but that disappointment bleeds through to just about every other major division of Disney, including Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
Are fans asking for too much? If Disney wants to host its own version of Comic Con then it needs to deliver something. You can’t buy up Lucasfilm, Marvel and Pixar and run the world’s premier vacation destinations without fans expecting you to make new announcements at your huge, biennial conventions. Aside from cosplaying and surprise celebrity appearances, major announcements are what conventions like this are known for. Instead, the 2013 D23 Expo just spent three days sharing information that had mostly been released already and celebrating the company’s history, rather than previewing the future. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the company’s history, and D23 (a product of the Walt Disney Archives) does quite well at producing events that do just that. Still, those events are much smaller than the Expo and cater to a niche market. There’s certainly a place for Disney history at the Expo, but can the Expo really support company history as its primary draw? It’s a question that Disney is now going to have to weigh when they start planning the next Expo. It isn’t just the vocal Disney fan community voicing disappointment anymore – with Disney now owning Lucasfilm and Marvel, there’s more at stake than ever. Hopefully Disney will plan accordingly for the 2015 D23 Expo and bring their best game like they did in 2009 with major new announcements.
Despite the lack of breaking news or exciting new announcements, the D23 Expo improved greatly in other areas from the last convention in 2011. The most impressive improvements were increased capacity and better handling of crowds. Disney obviously listened to complaints and concerns from 2011 where attendees waited for hours to get into popular panel discussions only to be told there was no space left. Both Stage 23 and Stage 28 were significantly expanded with bigger seating and viewing areas and I had no issues getting into any of the presentations that I attended. Similarly, the D23 Arena included an overflow viewing area with screens for those who were unable to make it into the huge arena.
The new D23 Expo StagePass service was also a success, allowing attendees to secure seats for popular presentations in Stage 23 and Stage 28. I heard some frustrations from Expo attendees about waiting in long lines for StagePass, but I think it would be foolish to expect a first-year service like this to not have some kinks to work out. Hopefully StagePass returns in 2015 with improvements to the system, but its debut year seems to have been successful. I heard numerous attendees talking about how it allowed them to see more than they otherwise would have been able to, which is great.
Also worth noting is the continued growth of the D23 Expo’s show floor offerings. The trend here points toward bigger pavilions with more varied offerings and that’s great to see. The show floor in 2009 had a lot of potential for growth and it’s great to see Disney taking note of this and growing the show floor. There was always something happening – whether it be live performances, celebrity appearances, signings, demonstrations or giveaways. It’ll be interesting to see how the show floor continues to grow in the coming years.
So what the D23 Expo lacked in content this year, it made up for in production value, crowd management and event planning. From what I could tell, this was the easiest Expo to date for attendees thanks to smart scheduling, great planning and efficient crowd control. Congrats to the D23 Expo team for a successful event. Here’s to 2015!
Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives
Unfortunately, the exhibit wasn’t as large or as strong as the display put together for the 2011 D23 Expo. What was great was planned overflow queue and smart handling of crowds lining up for the exhibit. Inexplicably, however, crowds coming to see the impressive displays of Disney history were greeted with a series of designer gowns based on Disney princesses.
The exhibit picked up steam with its extensive display on Disney’s varied Oz efforts over the years. A great collection of art and artifacts from the canceled “Rainbow Road to Oz” production that Walt Disney worked on was on display.
The big success of the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit was the huge “Mary Poppins” display. With the film approaching its 50th anniversary and the upcoming release of “Saving Mr. Banks,” the exhibit was a fitting tribute to the legacy of Walt Disney’s classic film.
Art and Imagination: Animation at the Walt Disney Studios
On Friday, the D23 Arena hosted its big presentation on Disney Animation, giving the audience a look inside what the teams at Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios and DisneyToon Studios are working on. The audience was introduced to new characters and some of the voice actors made special appearances including Judy Greer, Bill Hader and Lucas Neff from “The Good Dinosaur” (2014) as well as Bill Hader (again) and Phyllis Smith from Pixar’s 2015 release, “Inside Out.” Pixar also teased the upcoming “Finding Dory” movie.
Walt Disney Animation Studios gave an in-depth look at “Frozen,” which will hit theaters this winter. Actor Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf the snowman, made an appearance and talked about his character and working with Disney.
Disney also treated guests to a screening of the new animated Mickey Mouse cartoon, “Get A Horse!” The new short will debut for the general public in front of “Frozen” this winter. The new short is unique in many ways, but perhaps most notably because it features Walt Disney’s voice as Mickey Mouse using audio pulled and stitched together from Walt Disney’s previous performances of Mickey. The effect is seamless and it’s really special to hear Walt Disney as Mickey Mouse again in a new cartoon.
Also teased were Disney’s upcoming film “Zootopia” (2016) which takes us into a world of anthropomorphic animals without humans as well as the Marvel-inspired animated film “Big Hero 6″
Let the Adventures Begin: Live Action at the Walt Disney Studios
One of the biggest events at the Expo was the big Disney live action presentation in the D23 Arena. Fans had high expectations for the show, many with the hopes that Disney would make a big announcement for the upcoming Star Wars sequel. Despite fan hopes, Disney stayed true to their promise that no Star Wars news would come out of the Expo but fans were treated to presentations from Disney’s live action studio as well as Marvel Entertainment which featured sneak peeks, celebrity appearances and more.
Marvel brought out stars from Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy
“Maleficent” (2014) starring Angelina Jolie
As well as the upcoming “Saving Mr. Banks”
…and the upcoming “Tomorrowland” movie.
Tomorrow: Part 4
Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Pavillon Journey Into Imagineering
The big draw on the show floor was, of course, the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Pavilion. By entering through a facade evoking the Imagineering headquarters in Glendale, California; guests of the pavilion, put together by Walt Disney Imagineering, took a “Journey Into Imagineering.”
As the sign above the door stated, “Journey Into Imagineering” was largely an “open house” for Walt Disney Imagineering and the main point of the pavilion this year was the ability for guests to be able to talk with Imagineers and learn more about what each of them do. The first room allowed guests to meet with Imagineers working on new projects at Walt Disney World, from the Disney Springs project (a major overhaul of Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney) to the Avatar project that is still being planned for Disney’s Animal Kingdom as well as a hint at new Star Wars attractions for Walt Disney World.
With Disney not quite ready to announce details for the upcoming Avatar Land expansion, Imagineers working this booth managed keep straight faces when talking about taking a research trip to the fictional planet of Pandora to learn as much as they could about the Na’vi and the planet so they could properly recreate Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
A Na’vi-sized backpack.
Plenty to look at here but not really much to see.
Nearby, a stack of crates with various Star Wars references hinted at an upcoming Star Wars-themed project for Walt Disney World. Much like at the Avatar display, Imagineers here were tight-lipped and stuck to their script which said these crates were delivered to Imagineering but wouldn’t be able to find out what’s inside until they them get back to Glendale.
Also represented in the pavilion was the new MyMagic+ program coming to Walt Disney World. The RFID-based technology is expected to transform the guest experience at Walt Disney World and Disney says it will make vacations easier for guests. The display showcased a lot of MyMagic+ wristbands and hardware in a very clean, contemporary space.
Aside from these three previews at what’s new and what’s next, the rest of the pavilion largely focused on the history and legacy of Walt Disney Imagineering. Historical displays of attraction art and models and displays showing various departments of Imagineering allowed guests to learn more about the folks creating Disney’s theme parks and delve into the history of Disney theme parks. Below, a portion of the scale model for Walt Disney World’s never-built Western River Expedition:
This would have been an incredible ride.
A concept model for EPCOT’s Space Pavilion.
My personal highlight of the Parks and Resorts pavilion was the Imagineering Art Library walk-through experience. The walk-through showcased several pieces of iconic Disneyland artwork, including the original pencil drawing of Disneyland by Herb Ryman that Walt Disney took to the bankers to get funding for Disneyland. Also on display was the original black light painting of Disneyland by Peter Ellenshaw that Walt Disney showed off on television when announcing Disneyland to the public. I got chills when the black lights were turned on and Peter Ellenshaw’s nighttime vision of the park came alive. It was a truly incredible experience to see this art in person and a big thanks goes out to the folks in the Walt Disney Imagineering Art Library for putting this together. Unfortunately (but understandably), no video or photography was allowed.
Destini, interactive Audio-Animatronic.
Imagineers wouldn’t say if the Hat Box Ghost would return to the Haunted Mansion anytime soon, but were quick to note that the figure was built specifically for the D23 Expo using a model of Audio Animatronic that Disneyland fans might normally know as the Auctioneer in Pirates of the Caribbean or President Lincoln in “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.”
The Imagineering pavilion also gave guests the opportunity to meet Marvel’s Captain America, who will be appearing in a new meet-and-greet and interactive kids show called “Avengers Academy” aboard the Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Magic ship.
Imagineers sculpted live while talking to guests.
The original marble Snow White Grotto statues that were sculpted in Italy under the supervision of Leonida Parma and given to Walt Disney in 1958 were on display. The originals were removed from Disneyland in 1982 and replaced with replicas.
Tomorrow – Part 3
Welcome to D23 Expo
|D23 Expo Show Floor|
The D23 Expo show floor featured booths and pavilions from just about every corner of the Walt Disney Company. Here are a few photos from around the show floor.
The new “Get A Horse!” short was shown in its entirety for Expo attendees during the Disney Animation arena presentation and it was a delight. It will be shown before “Frozen” in theaters this winter.