I’ve now been to three of the four D23 Expo events held in Anaheim every two years since 2009. I skipped the one in 2013. But with Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens opening just four months after this one, I thought this was one not to miss.
Because I was so busy with work, I could not make the time to do my usual thing and research the panels and plan out my Friday and Saturday attending the expo. From past D23 Expos, I knew lines would be ridiculously long for the big panels like the Disney Legends induction ceremony and beyond ridiculously long for the Star Wars one. And I needed rest and sleep. So I did not worry about waking up before the rooster crows and try and make it out to join thousands in line who most assuredly would be there overnight to see any of those panels. Both days, I made it out to park in Disneyland's Toy Story parking lot on Harbor Boulevard and arrive to the Anaheim Convention Center by around 9am.
This was my first time going to D23 Expo without a game plan, just playing it by ear. As it turned out, I enjoyed a number of panels I never anticipated going to and got a fair number of really fun freebies over the course of the weekend that made the whole of the experience well worth not having a plan. After two full days attending this year’s expo – that’s 9am to 7pm each day – I left enjoying my best two days of D23 Expo ever! Playing it by ear as I strolled around the main floor meant (a) most everything was a new discovery and (b) not having a plan meant I had no idea what I was missing.
Here I'll describe my highlights from my two days at D23 Expo. For those of you who followed along as I instagrammed (that’s a word now, right?), this should fill out some more details I didn’t have space or time to share there already.
The Disney Legends Ceremony
Friday, August 14, 2015
I arrived at the right time to the convention and probably on a good day, Friday. Of the two days I was there, Friday was clearly the lesser attended of the two. And when I found the end of the line to enter the expo surprisingly near the building itself (rather than waaaaay far away where those who weren’t D23 members and had general admission tickets were) and in SHADE in the already-in-the-80s weather that morning, it was also next to one line that claimed to still get folks into the Disney Legends ceremony. In fact, the staffers called the Legends line. It was 9am and the ceremony started at 10. I had friends posting online saying they’d arrived two or three hours earlier than me and were already in the queue to get in. And I really didn’t think that line was serious. But since I had no plan, I switched queues. What the heck, right?
Oh. My. God!
One hour later at 10am, I entered what they called Hall D23 and was seated in the 8,000 seat area, on an aisle seat with no one sitting to my right. I was seated in the audience left so I really decent view of the stage. But there were large video screens on either side so nothing happening on stage could really be missed. Probably about fifteen minutes later, The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger stepped out and started the ceremony just a little late. I couldn’t believe my luck!
The ceremony lasted two hours. The first Disneyland Ambassador Julie Reihm Casaletto gave a cheerleader of a speech when she accepted her Disney Legends award, obviously still cherishing her memories and role in the Disney Company. Walt Disney Animation animator Andreas Deja was very emotional about being there, sharing with us how watching The Jungle Book as a ten-year old in Germany, from a family of limited means, defined his life’s mission, leading to buying a risky, one-way ticket to Los Angeles and culminating in the only thing he’d ever wanted to do…and did it, a dream fulfilled.
In between inductions of some of the legends, there was various entertainment. Dancers from "Dancing with the Stars" (I didn’t know who, I don’t watch the show) danced to “Once Upon a Dream”, the song from Sleeping Beauty before the Disney artist who designed and rendered all of the beautiful backgrounds for that movie, Eyvind Earle, was inducted. There was an “In Memoriam” video which closed with Robin Williams, and that was followed by a live performance by Ne-Yo (Who? Ha ha) of “Friends Like Me" that apparently will be included in a new compilation disc of Disney cover songs available later this year. The last inductees on the agenda, Danny Elfman and George Lucas (induction video), were the more anticipated of the lot, and it was a lotta fun to be there in the room when they accepted theirs, fans screaming loudly when they each were announced. Then, Bob Iger had one more surprise for us, revealing an unannounced, surprise induction for Johnny Depp! See the video of the entire moment in the video from Inside The Magic below.
I’ve been to two Disney Legends inductions now, this one and the one in 2011 with the Disney Princess actresses and singers receiving their awards and who also performed during that event. I think this one was a tad better experience ONLY because I had a closer seat to the stage! But just to be here with George Lucas and Johnny Depp, and to hear Deja’s speech, I really feel super lucky.
Disneyland Home Movies
Friday, August 14, 2015
At this year’s expo, I tried something new they offered. It’s called StagePass. Like the Fastpasses they have at Disneyland, the idea of StagePass is to use it to get in a shorter line for an event happening on stage somewhere at the expo, so you can arrive even fifteen minutes before the start of it and still get it before the rest of the standby line is allowed to enter. They also offered StorePass to get you into shorter lines for the Disney Dream Store, The Disney Store, and Mickey’s of Glendale. This system is similar to what they’ve offered at the San Diego Comic-Con for a while now.
After leaving Hall D23 and the Disney Legends event, I spent some time roaming around the main floor. I never got to review the floor plans, so I was lost…a very unique experience for this guy who goes to Comic-Con and WonderCon now as often as I do. Eventually I found the Disney Dream Store and noticed the line was fairly short. So I took care of some D23 Expo-exclusive merchandise shopping business on day one of my two day visit within an hour. Right next to the store’s cash register area is the queue area for StagePass. One great idea I noticed at this year’s expo were so many video displays positioned throughout the show floor, showing event times happening in areas all around the expo. And over the StagePass area were the list of shows they were offering them for today AND which ones were still available and which were already gone. That info is great for folks who realize they don’t need to get in line because StagePasses for the show they wanted is already sold out and they’ll just need to plan on getting in the regular standby line upstairs.
Because I wanted to try it, I waited about twenty minutes in line to get a StagePass for something called “Disneyland Home Movies”. Some four hours later, I headed upstairs to “Stage 28” (one of the many, large conference rooms in the three-story convention center) and stood in the proper queue. When it was time to enter, I found a seat in a room that held maybe 1,000 people, and I got a decent seat near the front (it helped that I was by myself). When the presentation started at 4:30pm, that's when I learned this was presented by The Academy of Arts and Sciences – The OSCARS – and they would be screening home movies taken by folks who visited Disneyland in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Not only that, some of them were taken by one of Disney’s Nine Old Men, Ward Kimball, whose son was there to provide commentary of that footage, and actor Steve McQueen, whose wife Neile was there to talk about their video of their family trip to Disneyland in the 70’s. It was fascinating!
Rare color footage of the park during opening day and, supplemented with home movies donated by other non-celebrity family, later in the 50’s was screened. Kimball’s videos also included trips before the park opened, when he took Walt Disney to a friend’s home to show Walt his very miniature train and a visit to northern California to a plum orchard whose owner offered train rides through it on a little bit larger train. It was fun to see Walt clearly enamored with the trains!
Apparently, the Academy archives lots of videos pertaining not only to the show business industry but also things of interest in the LA area. They announced that a location to share videos from their inventory would be opening to the public in 2018.
Some fascinating scenes from the footage I remember: Walt shown smoking a cigarette while hosting a group of international OSCAR nominees at Disneyland; no long lines ANYWHERE for the attractions in the 1950’s footage; undeveloped land seen outside Disneyland before Anaheim grew into what it is today; sites of Disneyland that looked absolutely foreign to me like 1950’s Tomorrowland and the original entrances to the Jungle Cruise.
The session was closed out by a screening of color photographs taken by silent movie star Harold Lloyd. His granddaughter was there to talk about the photos. She was the subject in many of them, taken at Disneyland when they were still finishing up putting the sails on the Chicken of the Sea pirate ship restaurant. In fact, there were some pictures with only naked masts and others with the sails finally on them, apparently taken days apart.
She explained too that her grandfather was a 3D enthusiast, and while they were presented to us in 2D, the 3D versions were exhibited downstairs as part of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit. I just filed that away in my mental to-do list to check out the Archives later!
“Disneyland Home Movies” was an unplanned stop at the expo that was thoroughly interesting and enjoyable!
Disney on Broadway: The Originals
Saturday, August 15, 2015
Here’s another panel I grabbed a StagePass for. This was on Saturday at 2pm. There were two showings and I picked the later time. I didn’t know more than what the title suggested, and I figured “Broadway” was a good reason to check it out.
At the proper time, I found myself seated in a larger room than Stage 28, that held maybe 2,500 seats? On stage was a five-piece band, but I still didn’t know who was performing and what. Then the lights dimmed and the show began.
Oh. My. God!
As a guy who does community theatre in Torrance, this 90-minute LIVE CONCERT was absolutely unexpected and phenomenal! The show featured James Monroe Iglehart, the Tony Award winner for playing The Genie in Broadway’s “Aladdin”, Ashley Brown who played the title role in Broadway’s “Mary Poppins”, and Josh Strickland who played the title role in Broadway’s “Tarzan”. Thus the subtitle is explained: the original stars were headlining this musical revue of songs from Disney’s Broadway musical productions. Holy cow!
Iglehart was the emcee and was incredibly charming! Everyone sang solos or with each other as the song warranted. I kept track of what they sang during the show and (if my memory didn’t fail me) who sang what.
From “Beauty and the Beast”
“Gaston” performed by James Monroe Iglehart
“Beauty and the Beast” performed by Ashley Brown and Josh Strickland
“A Change in Me” performed by Ashley Brown
“If I Can’t Love Her” performed by Josh Strickland
From “The Lion King”
“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” featuring Ashley Brown and James Monroe Iglehart
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by all
“My Strongest Suit” performed by Josh Strickland
“Written in the Stars” performed by Ashley Brown and Josh Strickland
From “The Little Mermaid”
“Under the Sea” performed by James Monroe Iglehart
“Part of Your World” performed by Ashley Brown
“Who Better Than Me?” performed by James Monroe Iglehart and Josh Strickland
“Strangers Like Me” performed by Josh Strickland
From “Mary Poppins”
“Jolly Holiday” performed by Ashley Brown and James Monroe Iglehart
“Chim Chim Cher-ee” performed by Ashley Brown and Josh Strickland
“Feed the Birds” performed by Ashley Brown
From “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
“Someday” performed by Ashley Brown and James Monroe Iglehart
“Out There” performed by Josh Strickland
“Something To Believe In” performed by Ashley Brown and Josh Strickland
“There’s So Much More To Me/Proud of Your Boy” performed by Josh Strickland
“A Whole New World” performed by Ashley Brown and Josh Strickland
“Friend Like Me” featuring James Monroe Iglehart
“Let It Go” performed by Ashley Brown and (after a few false starts that were funny) Josh Strickland
This is the only video I took at the concert, most of the song "Friend Like Me" performed by The Genie himself James Monroe Iglehart. It gives you a taste of how the entire show was staged.
I saw Ashley Brown when “Mary Poppins” played at the Ahmanson and loved the show. But hearing her perform here live, she knocked out every song she sang outta the place. What a beautiful voice and passionate performance throughout. Seeing James Monroe Iglehart performing live made me feel bad for missing the opportunity to see him as The Genie in his show. And they included “Frozen” as a prelude to its Broadway version. Done as a duet by Ashley and Josh, “Let It Go” has a subtly stronger meaning to some of her lines sung as a male and female duet and an appealing sound sung in harmony by two voices.
Man, I can't believe I saw this. I guess D23 has offered musical shows at previous D23 Expos. This was my first time seeing one of them. Wow! What a cool and unique opportunity to get to watch for the price of admission and a little luck getting in line!
The Making of Aladdin
Saturday, August 15, 2015
The last highlight of D23 Expo for me was also the last event I saw. The 6pm panel discussion of The Making of Aladdin featured co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements, Genie lead animator Eric Goldberg, Jasmine lead animator Mark Henn, Jasmine voice actress and Disney Legend Linda Larkin, Aladdin voice actor Scott Weinger, and Aladdin singing voice Brad Kane.
It was a breezy hour-long panel filled with production anecdotes and of course, personal memories of working with Robin Williams, especially from the co-directors and Goldberg. One of the funnier stories involved how the "Applause" sign came to end up at the end of the "Friend Like Me" number in the movie. As Goldberg described it, after one of the test screenings, a complaint was made to the production team that no one applauded after that number. Goldberg only described the executive as someone who won't be named. Immediately after that, one of co-directed chimed in with "Katzenberg", generating a really good laugh from the audience. So the animators decide to force the issue by adding the sign into the movie which, after subsequent test screenings, required them to actually pad out the timing after the song's end for the applause so the next lines could be heard!
Brad Kane revealed that once people realize who he is, he gets asked to sing “A Whole New World”. But he admits to being a jerk and refusing; he explains he likes to keep the song special and not perform it. He was even asked by a woman he was dating to sing it for her. He didn't, but promised if….er, when they got married, he would. And they did, singing as a duet at their wedding, which got the obvious "Awww..." response from the audience.
Revealed at the panel was news that included in the upcoming October 13 release of “Aladdin” on Blu-ray would be a newly produced bonus feature. Eric Goldberg took some of Robin Williams’ unused and previously un-heard outtakes and animated them into a new short. They showed a few of his storyboards of the project. This should be brilliantly funny!
The panel closed with a screening of a short scene from Musker and Clements’ upcoming animated feature “Moana”. The directors explained that the ocean becomes an important character in the story, and the footage shows a barely able to walk Polynesian baby girl along on the beach and her interaction with the ocean as she collects large seashells. If you can imagine this, the ocean is shown fascinated with this little girl who wobbles but never falls down, and then the little girl realizing she's being "watched" and "coddled" by the ocean. It ends segueing into an establishing shot on the same beach of the baby girl who has now grown up into a teenager. As short as it is, the scene is beautiful, funny, and heartwarming. Looks like another Disney winner!
So those were my highlights over two days. There were a lot of other great memories made...meeting friends there, getting a Jedi Knight ID card, and others. All the pictures in this blog are mine and you can see them and the rest on my Instagram feed.
After this experience, I'm really looking forward to NOT missing the next one in 2017.
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!