Disney fan clubs have captured people's imaginations, and fueled their passion, for years
CHUCK SCHMIDT / Still Goofy about Disney
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger
During the weekend of May 14-15, 2011, I attended my first Disney fan convention. I walked through the doors of the Contemporary Resort's Convention Center at Walt Disney World at 8 on that Saturday morning and stepped into a different version of Disney's world ... a world populated by people wearing Mickey Mouse ears and Figment T-shirts, Disney-themed leather jackets and multi-colored vests adorned with the faces of Disney characters ... a world where nostalgia and memories were about to be rekindled and celebrated, with the help of many of the people who played such an integral role in generating all those warm memories in the first place.
I was walking into D23's Destination D: Walt Disney World's 40th. Even though I was a first-time fan event attendee, I felt a kinship with all those in attendance and anxiously looked forward to drinking in everything the two-day experience had to offer.
It turned out I was late on this very important date. Even though the first of the speakers and presenters wouldn't take the stage for another hour and a half, the queue stretched farther than the eye could see, from one side of the massive entrance lobby to the other, then around a corner and beyond. I walked to the end of the line, official event lanyard dangling from my neck, and joined the others, who didn't seem to mind the long line at all.
After the doors opened and everyone filed into the massive auditorium, I began to understand what all the excitement was about: What followed was a weekend worthy of an E Ticket park attraction: Exciting, thrilling, fun and entertaining, with memories that will truly last a lifetime.
D23, of course, is the official fan club of The Walt Disney Company. It was formed in 2009 as a way to keep Disney fans "in the middle of the magic." The group has its own website, throws a huge biennial Expo in California and even publishes its own magazine four times a year.
At each D23 Expo, the past, the present and the future all share the spotlight during the always jammed-to-the-rafters event in Anaheim, Calif. Disney Legends reminisce about their glory days, product displays give attendees an idea of what's hot on the market now, while Disney's top executives take the opportunity to introduce new theme park attractions or upcoming blockbuster movies to appreciative audiences.
In addition to its Expo, D23 offers a variety of events around the country for its members, including behind-the-scenes tours and exclusive movie screenings. On Nov. 19-20, they'll be hosting a major event at Walt Disney World. It's called Destination D: Amazing Adventures, to be held in the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World. Presenters and panelists will include Disney Legends Marty Sklar and Tony Baxter; Walt Disney Imagineers Joe Rohde, Chris Merritt, Jason Grandt and Wyatt Winter; producer Don Hahn (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast); and Walt Disney Archives Director Becky Cline. A selection of exclusive Imagineering merchandise as well as limited-edition pins, T-shirts and collectibles themed to the event will be available for purchase by eager fans.
But D23 is far from the only Disney fan club out there. Regular gatherings, whether they are once a year, every other year or every few months, are the hallmarks of these groups ... as is their affection for all things Disney. They get together to share that mutual love, reveling in the past while keeping a watchful eye on what's planned for the future.
One of the most popular fan gatherings, the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet, is held in Lynnwood, Wash., outside of Seattle, each year [it'll run from July 9-10]. Guest speakers this year include Disney Legends Bob Gurr and Marty Sklar, as well as Disney artist and historian Stacia Martin. In addition to its main event, the group also hosts smaller 'mini-Meet Ups' throughout the year both locally, in the parks and at other select locations, including at the D23 Expo.
Founded in 2009 by Don Morin, the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet strives to capture the essence of what it means to be a Disney devotee. Morin is proud to say his Mouse Meet is "by Disney fans, for Disney fans."
Morin's love of Disney began in 1974 when his grammar school class was asked to write a report on a famous person from the 1900s. He chose Walt Disney. The experience "had a profound affect on me, for sure," he said. From that point on, with his Disney switch flipped, "I had a desire to learn who was creating all this magic."
The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet grew out of that quest to take a deep dive into Disney history and culture. Morin says he devotes hundreds of hours into giving guests as rewarding an experience as possible; he has many hard-working volunteers helping him to achieve that goal. The work includes "prep on so many levels. Contacting vendors and guest celebrity speakers; working with the convention center and the volunteer team; updating the website; planning, building displays and securing photo ops; writing, producing and recording videos, scripts, travel, set-up and so much more. It's definitely a love and a passion for what I do for Disney fans."
This year's event is already sold out, with a crowd of about 500 fellow Disney fanatics expected to be on hand for presentations, product displays, memorabilia sales and, as an added treat, Dole Whips.
Marty Sklar, the former creative leader of Walt Disney Imagineering, has high praise for the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet and Don Morin.
"It's the second time for me, and I know it is for Bob [Gurr]. Don Morin runs such a great show and is a grand host. He's had Tony Baxter, Don Hahn, Kevin Rafferty and many other Disney and Pixar people participate in the past."
Getting Disney's blessing is a major coup for Morin. In 2015, D23 participated in the Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet by supplying guest speakers. This year, D23 will be a sponsor. [The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet has a number of sponsors, including AllEars.Net].
"Earning the respect and partnership of so many people over the years has been key to longevity, growth and building of the PNW Mouse Meet brand," Morin said. "From early on, guest celebrities have been so impressed with the event, how it is run, what it represents and what it offers the guests, that these guest celebrities go back home and talk to others about the event and even recommend them being a part of the event in the future.
"One Disney Legend has been noted as stating several times, 'The Pacific Northwest Mouse Meet is by far the best fan run Disney fan event in the country.'"
During the 2013 event, Morin presented a donation to Marty Sklar earmarked for Ryman Arts, a cause near and dear to Marty's heart [he and his wife Leah, as well as Lucille Ryman Carroll, Sharon Disney Lund and Harrison and Anne Shaw Price founded the arts education group in 1990 in honor of Disney Legend Herb Ryman].
Another well-known Disney fan group, the Disneyana Fan Club, will be holding a dinner and fundraising event of its own on July 13 in Garden Grove, Calif., with proceeds also going to Ryman Arts. "This event is our 'big' fundraiser for Ryman Arts," said Dennis Ritchey, Ryman Arts Fund Raising Event Coordinator for the Disneyana Fan Club. "This will be our 10th year doing this and currently we are about $4,000 away from having donated $100,000 to Ryman Arts over the past 10 years." The club also holds fundraisers throughout the year for other worthy causes.
The Disneyana Fan Club is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich legacy of Walt Disney. Its common goal is to provide Disneyana enthusiasts of all ages from around the world with news, information and events that enhance their experience with, and love of, all things Disney. The group also publishes a member newsletter, called the Disneyana Dispatch.
The Disneyana Fan Club holds an annual gathering, called DisneyanaMania Convention, July 13-16, while staging other events at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
"In addition to our annual convention in July, we usually have several special events," Ritchey noted. "Last year, we had an event at the Smoke Tree Ranch, and a great afternoon at the Jim Henson Studios in Hollywood, where Lisa Henson accepted our Legends Award posthumously for her father."
Cathy Perrone, a Disneyana Fan Club board member in charge of special events, adds that the group "hosts events that showcase some of the finest talent the Disney brand has to offer. ... A recent outing was a weekend at Walt's 'happy place,' Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs. Our group was able to see Walt and Lillian's two homes, learning why they were so special to them."
Ms. Perrone added that Disneyana Fan Club prides itself "in bringing 'intimate' experiences so our members and their guests are able to speak to, shake hands with and, yes, get autographs and pose for pictures" with some of Disney's most prominent Legends.
"One of our personal favorites was a magnificent luncheon in the Magic Kingdom Ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel. There, we were treated to a rare opportunity with eight of the original Mouseketeers. They surprised us with interviews, live music and dance. To top off that special day, Tommy Cole sang 'Annette,' which was written by Disney Legend Jimmy Dodd."
At its DisneyanaMania Convention, "we have an annual Luncheon with a Disney Legend. This is an opportunity for our organization to honor and salute those individuals who have helped make so many of our dreams come true through their talents, skills and artistry.
"We began this tradition in 1993 and to date have bestowed this honor to 137 individuals," Ms.Perrone added. "While a few have been presented posthumously, I'd say 98 percent of all those honored were able to attend in person and were very moved by this honor. It is a highlight of our club and one that makes it very special."
According to Ritchey, "there are Disneyana Fan Club chapters throughout the country and we have members worldwide."
There are other clubs out there, as well ... smaller, less well-known, perhaps, but drawing devoted Disney fans to the fold. Many are popular online sites, some are tied to the Disney Vacation Club, like Mouseowners. But all have one thing in common: A desire by its participants to spread the word about Disney and share their thoughts, ideas and opinions about their passion.