Disney: Day 3/Day 4 of the D23 Expo
Since I’ve been a day late with both of my previous D23 Expo posts, I’ve chosen to combine my thoughts of Day 3 and Day 4 in one to catch up. Fortunately, I should stay caught up, since today was the fourth and final day of the Expo. Phew!
Although it was an incredible (and exhausting) four days, I’d have to say that–all fascinating presentations, surprising special guests and wonderful show, ride and movie announcements aside–my favorite moments of the D23 Expo came when I hosted Sunday’s press conference with Disney/Pixar’s John Lasseter. More press turned out for him than for any other presenter, and understandably so. John has helped revitalize Disney’s animated films division since he and his Pixar team joined forces with the Mouse, and his ability to speak into everything from theme park attractions to consumer products is already paying big dividends, financially and “corporate” culturally.
In fact, just in case you’re wondering if any press turned out to hear John, here’s a photo (on the right) I snapped of some of them (with my “host-cam” iPhone) while we waited for John to arrive.
In true Disney fashion, I asked them all to smile for the camera, since we had been smiling for theirs all week…
But before getting too far into the Sunday program, let’s cover Day 3…
The press docket for Saturday, September 12 started off with Jay Rasulo, Disney’s President of Parks and Resorts, who was joined by Imagineers Eric Jacobson, Jon Georges and Chris Beatty. Among the future plans discussed by Jay and the team from Imagineering were the upcoming re-vamp of Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom at Disney World and the just-announced (at the prior presentation) re-do of Star Tours…in 3-D!
My “M.O.” for all of the conferences was to moderate questions, and ask my own in case of a lull. There were no issues with the latter at any of the Parks sessions, as the press fired question after question at our panels. I must add that both corporate executives I hosted (Bob Iger and Jay Rasulo) did a wonderful job with the queries thrown their way. If a question arose that they couldn’t answer (at least “on the record”), such as a common one about company earnings, they demurred with humor and grace.
I’m the sort of guy who can listen to Imagineers discuss projects all day, so I was sorry that the allotted half hour had seemed to pass so quickly. I really enjoyed everything Chris, Eric and Jon had to say about their work on the new Fantasyland.
The second event of the day was quite a departure from our usual slate of company project announcements. Roy Patrick Disney–son of former Vice Chairman of the Board Roy E. Disney and grandson of company co-founder Roy O. Disney–stopped by the press conference room to discuss his presentation of “Growing Up Disney,” one which had been so popular that a second session was hastily added to the D23 Expo schedule.
I really appreciated Roy’s candor regarding the sometimes difficult (and always complicated) relationship between his grandfather and Walt, as well as the challenges he sometimes faced when he was working for the company that bore his surname (Roy hasn’t worked for the Walt Disney Company for more than a decade).
Our third panel featured Imagineers Kim Irvine and Tom Morris, who weighed in on the recent remaking of Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World” attraction. Both Kim and Tom are Imagineering veterans (I wonder how many combined years of experience our WDI panels had?), and told of how they painstakingly returned to the original work of Mary Blair, Rolly Crump, and Alice Davis (among others) to inspire their re-do of the iconic attraction which dates back to the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Again, I was impressed (but not surprised) by the level of detail and care these artists take when undertaking any new or revitalized show.
We ended the day with the always fun Tony Baxter discussing the reworking of another World’s Fair (and Disneyland) audio-animatronic resident: Abraham Lincoln. Tony lovingly discussed the re-editing of Royal Dano’s voice recordings that brought our 16th president to life, and which soon will again in the U.S. Presidents show.
Which brings us to Sunday…
Among the topics John Lasseter discussed were Toy Story 3, his teachers at Cal Arts, how he learned to make “timeless” and story-driven films from Walt (“Walt was always trying to push the technology of the films…but it was always in the service of story.”), and the mantra of Pixar, which is “tell a compelling story, populate it with appealing characters, and put those characters in a believeable world.”
That’s just a taste…it was more like a symposium than a press conference.
Our final conference of the day was our largest, as 5 Imagineers and 2 members of the Pixar team joined us for a discussion of “Imagineering Pixar for the Disney Parks.” This group included WDI’s Bruce Vaughn, Kathy Mangum, Eric Jacobson, Bob Weis and Kevin Rafferty as well as Pixar’s Roger Gould and Liz Gazzano.
Among the many items discussed was the new 12-acre Cars Land area, set to open at Disney’s California Adventure in (I believe) 2012. Kathy did an especially wonderful job of narrating us through a new cars ride. It was also cool to hear the panel tell–from both the Pixar and Imagineering vantage points–of how excited each team was when the Pixar/Disney deal went through. Roger Gould said that when they heard the news, he and Liz both shouted a loud “Yes.” When he related the story, he accented the word “Yes” with a first pump worthy of Tiger Woods.
I had a couple hours of R&R between the two Sunday press conferences, so I was able to show my wife and two daughters around the showroom floor downstairs, and escort them through the Disney Archives exhibit.
And, since my younger daughter wanted to see the big Wizards of Waverly Place stage show (nearly the entire cast sat on stage and talked about the Emmy Award-wining cable series), we did that as well. It had been quite a while since I was in a huge theater with that many screaming teens and tweens. Yikes!
But all good things must come to and end, and so it was with the inaugural D23 Expo. I don’t think I’ll have a vote in the process, but based on the attendance at the Anaheim Convention Center, I’m pretty sure there will be a second iteration of the D23 Expo.
I’d like to thank Disneyland’s Director of Publicity Mike Hyland and D23’s publicity consultant John Singh for allowing me to spend four wonderful days chatting about the Mouse and hob-nobbing with several of my old Disney pals (such as Richard and Elizabeth Sherman, Mary Costa, Howard Green, George Savvas, Tim O’Day, Michael Young…), and giving me the opportunity to meet so many new ones. I’d also like to thank the Orange County Register‘s Joshua Sudock for letting me use his photo of John Lasseter (and me).
We’ll see you next year!
For links to posts about past Disney events, click HERE.