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D23 Expo 2013: Welcome Back My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends

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So the other week, Disney had its third biennial Expo. Perhaps you've heard of it by now? Oh...

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Well I had a great time anyway. The first day I started off checking out the various pavilions on the Exhibitor's Floor. The big hit for this year, as for all the other years, was the Disney Parks and Resorts pavilion.

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To celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Imagineering, the booth was made up to suggest the actual building that houses Imagineering Headquarters in Glendale.

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Inside, the pavilion was separated into various "cubicles," each of which spotlighted a specific area of Imagineering and housed Imagineers ready to discuss their work...mostly. There were displays up front representing work being done on both the Avatar and Star Wars franchises, but no news was particularly forthcoming about either.

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Some of the most amazing sights were not available for photographs, particularly the Art Library section which housed the original Herb Ryman sketch of Disneyland, and the Peter Ellenshaw painting of Disneyland, publicly shown under black light for the first time.

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Another exceptional feature was the handful of original concept models for attractions that were never built. Attractions such as the fabled Western River Expedition for WDW's Magic Kingdom...

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...and the abandoned original Land pavilion from when it was still to have been sponsored by a lumber company.

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There was one booth playtesting an interactive adventure called "Adventure Trading Company."

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The idea was that you would complete various quests/adventures ($5 each,) and on completion would receive a "juju." The first one was free, and involved you having to make up a name for yourself and tell your story to the Adventurer in the booth.

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Subsequently, some days after the Expo, I received a survey asking a lot of questions about the playtest, so presumably they are actually considering implementing this in the parks.

In one office labeled "Dimensional Design," you might have found items as old as the Carrara marble Snow White and Seven Dwarves statues from Disneyland's wishing well...

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...and then turned around outside of it to find something as new as one of Disney's latest additions to its costumed fold.

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Over in Show Animation, they had an impressively gesticulating Hatbox Ghost, along with a variety of other retired animatronics, such as the smoldering Iago and Tiki Goddess Uh-Oah, from Under New Management.

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Set Decoration had an abundance of decor samples from Hong Kong Disneyland's new Mystic Manor attraction...

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...and there were a jillion more areas with fascinating tidbits everywhere, if you didn't want to see anything else at the Expo. "Had we but world enough, and time..." Ah well.

Just outside the pavilion Mickey's of Glendale had their shop set up with enormous lines, just like every time I've visited the actual Mickey's of Glendale! The truth is in the details.

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Speaking of shopping, the one booth that I was never able to get into because of the long lines, was, oddly enough, the Disney Store booth.

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Disney Interactive was out in force, promoting the newly release Disney Infinity with many of the same photo-ops and giveaway machines they featured at E3.

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Disney Consumer Products had a large number of displays showing off all the different branches of merchandise they develop. Some new friends...

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...And some old ones.

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Walking/working the floor were a number of Disney notables, such as Chief Archivist Becky Cline...

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...Head of D23, Steven Clark...

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...And Bob Iger, Disney Chairman and CEO.

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(Side note: I was trying to be all cool and unobtrusive taking this photo, and one of the security guys basically laughed at me. I would make a bad spy.)

Again, there were a boatload of other pavilions, both by Disney and by outside vendors, but there just wasn't time enough to see everything in the detail you'd like as well as see the talks and panels. Each booth also usually had schedules of celebrity/artist/writer signings and giveaways if you didn't already have enough events to coordinate for the weekend.

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By the way, does this booth look familiar to you? It should if you were following The Optimist--a alternate reality game Disney implemented in the weeks leading up to Expo (http://optimist.disney.com/) It was very fun and well implemented, with an elaborate climax over in Disneyland.

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But on to the panels! The first day, I spent the bulk of the day in the entertaining but very long Art and Imagination: Animation at the Walt Disney Studios. Here, they went over most of the new movies in production from Pixar, Disneytoon, and Walt Disney Animation. While a lot of familiar players were featured here, such as Finding Dory and Planes, a standout surprise for me was Big Hero 6--a story of a robotics prodigy who, with his robot pal, joins forces with other crime-fighters to combat a threat to their town of San Fransokyo.

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Their powerhouse however, was Frozen--they showed several clips from it, including a song from Olaf the snowman, and ended the presentation with Idina Menzel singing the movie's showstopper "Let It Go." Sadly, no photos or video were allowed.

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Hosted by John Lasseter, it was an amusing presentation but it ran over by almost two hours, insuring that anyone staying to the end missed Tony Baxter's Undiscovered Disneyland talk (Gah!) in which it was announced that he would be awarded his own window on Main Street this Fall. Congratulations Mr. Baxter!

The next talk I made it to was Disney Imagineering Legend Marty Sklar Presents...Dream it! Do it!

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Honestly? I've heard Sklar speak on a number of occasions, and this, quite frankly, wasn't his best. He started off saying that they had asked him to speak and he had responded that everything was in his new book. It seemed like a joke at the time, but the rest of his talk was such an amalgamation of material from talks he's given before, that perhaps it wasn't. The bulk of his presentation was video clips that either have been presented multiple times in the past, or are readily available on DVD, and a retelling of Walt's Four C's, and Mickey's Ten Commandments. It seemed like a talk more suited for company training programs than Disney enthusiasts.

The last event I saw for the first day was Broadway & Beyond...Celebrating the Stars of Disney on Broadway.

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Hosted by Thomas Schumacher, President/Producer of Disney Theatrical Productions, this was a rousing romp through the musical catalogs of all the many productions Disney has had on Broadway. The cast was made up of Heidi Blickenstaff (The Little Mermaid,) Ashley Brown (Mary Poppins, Beauty and the Beast,) Merle Dandridge (Tarzan and Aida,) Josh Strickland (Tarzan,) and Alton Fitzgerald White (The Lion King.)

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This was a great concert, with really strong performers doing both lesser-known songs, and songs they themselves performed in the shows. Josh Strickland in particular showed off his versatility, singing parts as varied as Tarzan, Quasimodo, and one of Ariel's sisters.

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And that was only the first day! Phew!

The second day started off for me with Let the Adventures Begin: Live Action at the Walt Disney Studios. Again, no cameras were allowed.

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Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn hosted the session that went over the lengthy docket of films currently in production. As expected, no big news on Star Wars VII was released, but then Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, got the party started with his presentations including clips and star appearances from Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

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President of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production Sean Bailey then introduced footage and stars (both in person and by remote,) of a variety of films such as Muppets Most Wanted, Into the Woods, Cinderella, and Maleficent.

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He finished with the two films that have arguably been getting the most attention in the fan circuits the last few months: Tomorrowland, and Saving Mr. Banks. For Tomorrowland, filmmakers Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof came out and displayed the enigmatic "dusty old box" they brought in lieu of the film's star George Clooney, and showed some curious animation they claimed to have discovered, promoting the mysterious organization hinted at in The Optimist (remember when I spoke of that game earlier? CALL BACK, friends.)

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They also announced that a booth dedicated to the mysteries of the box would be unveiled out on the Exhibitor's floor later that day, and that limited edition Tomorrowland t-shirts (worn by Brad Bird in the photo) would be on sale at the Dream Store.

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Saving Mr. Banks showed us additional footage which added a few minutes onto the trailers already online, and brought out Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak who play Richard and Robert Sherman in the film.

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The whole thing ended in a grand finale as Richard Sherman came out and sang "Let's Go Fly A Kite" with them, while confetti and kites whirled about the audience.

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After that was over, I sprinted upstairs to catch ABC's Once Upon a Time: Behind the Fairy Tale panel with Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. Laura already wrote about that in a much more timelier fashion than I, so I'll just say while the footage from Wonderland didn't impress me quite as much as Once Upon A Time, I'll certainly be watching as well.

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After that, it was a mad sprint back to the Arena, where the Disney Legends Awards Ceremony was already in progress. Fortunately I got there in time to see the first award recipient, Tony Baxter.

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All the acceptance speeches were very nice, particularly Glen Keane who looked back fondly on his start at Disney Animation, where he was met with the creative incense of "pencil shavings, cigarettes, and scotch."

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After that, it was a pretty short walk out the door of the Arena to the line to get back in again, a mere 2 1/2 hours in advance of the big Richard M. Sherman and Alan Menken: The Disney Songbook concert. In case you want to know how I spent that time, I'll just leave this here: http://storify.com/JustJeanine/d23-expo-in-line-for-the-sherman-menken-concert

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Anyway, it was a great concert, although not exactly as they had represented it in the phone interview (transcribed, in part, by me here: http://land.allears.net/blogs/lauragilbreath/2013/08/menken_and_sherman_q_a_togethe.html) While it was supposed to be 1/3 Sherman, 1/3 Menken, and 1/3 both of them, they each played the bulk of the individual concerts they've given in the past, causing the show to run overtime.

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(As a surprise to Richard Sherman, Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak returned to the stage to sing a number with him.)

Consequently, the part where they were together was whittled down to one song from each of them while they were both on stage as a curtain call. Ah well--more for next time.

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Finally, we arrived at the third and final day, which was largely going to be taken up by a series of panels celebrating Imagineering's 60th anniversary.

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The first discussion, called WDI 60th: Working With Walt, celebrated the early days of Imagineering, with Marty Sklar, X Atencio, Alice Davis, and Bob Gurr.

Subsequently, I saw WDW 60th: Craft of Creativity with Chris Montan, Tom Fitzgerald, Eric Jacobson, Daniel Jue, Joe Lanzisero, Kathy Mangum, and Joe Rohde. This was an interesting discussion that largely revolved around how they all became Imagineers, and how what they do compares to the popular conceptions of Imagineering.

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Next up was WDI 60th: Leading a Legacy, with WDI Chief Creative Executive Bruce Vaughn, and former WDI Executive Marty Sklar.

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The two spoke on and answered questions about the challenges and satisfactions inherent in leading a team of creatives.

Finally, the last panel of the weekend for me was WDI 60th: Leave 'em Laughing. This was a discussion on humor in the parks with Imagineers Dave Fisher, Joe Lanzisero, Kevin Rafferty, Jason Surrell, and George Scribner.

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It was a nice way to wrap up the weekend, with some good humor to soften the post-Expo dejection.

In between the panels I finally got around to seeing the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives--an exhibit I totally missed last Expo, not knowing that it closes early on the last day.

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The objects on display were all impressive and attractive, although I would have liked to see more historical items in lieu of the artifacts from Disney's more contemporary franchises. Loved the Once Upon A Time stuff, nonetheless.

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Perhaps in expectation of Saving Mr. Banks coming out soon, there was a heavy emphasis on Mary Poppins in the form of costumes, storyboards, art and props.

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In the last hour or so, I was able to take one more turn around the Exhibitor's floor to see anything I might have missed before, such as the pirate ship from Once Upon A Time that was last seen at Comic-Con.

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Finally, I was also able to check out the Tomorrowland booth which had an enormous line, complete with FastPass. As it turned out, the line was to borrow an iPad for the audio tour so I was able to skip it as I had already downloaded the app to my own.

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Although they prohibited any photography in the booth, most of the papers and arcane items on display from the "mystery box" can be seen with descriptions in the Tomorrowland app from iTunes. It was a very professionally put-together exhibit that alluded to mysterious activities and futuristic discoveries made by a secret society whose members included Jules Verne, Nicholas Testa, and perhaps...Walt Disney? We'll have to wait for the movie to find out.

SO, that was the D23 2013 Expo. My thoughts, in summary:

The Good: I felt the content this year was really stepped up from last year. Year One Expo still feels like it had the most material of the three, but as that was prior to the start of the Destination D series, probably understandable. The increase in room size was a huge improvement over all past years--I had initially had no expectations of getting into even 50% of the Imagineering panels on Sunday, and yet I don't think anyone was turned away from any of them. The Parks and Resorts booth was remarkable in all the detail and gawk-worthy items and the concerts both nights were exceptional experiences that would be worth a trip even as stand-alone events.

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The Legends ceremony and the panels with the original Imagineers were really the main reasons to attend this Expo, however--with the emphasis on looking back over the history of the company, the opportunity to see and hear from the people instrumental in building and continuing the Disney Legacy is something you can't get from many other venues.

The Bad: While the lines have improved, they continue to be something of an issue, primarily in the morning. I heard frequent complaints that there were insufficient people available to scan badges and that morning talks were going half-full because people couldn't get inside the hall fast enough to get to them. Lines for shopping were much longer than I remembered from past years, despite the fairly limited amount of Expo-specific merchandise that I saw.

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I also think the topics of some of the talks could be beefed up. The speakers were great, but sometimes they either spoke really generally, or reiterated already widely-known anecdotes. Speaking just for me, I'm not so much interested in the streamlining of business communication, but in the specific history of Walt Disney and his company. I don't want to hear that you shouldn't crush your co-workers ideas, as much as I want to know, say, about the time you had lunch in the commissary the day before Disneyland opened. What did everyone say? What did they feel? Were they funny? Did they have nerves? What did they think were going to happen? These are things only the people who were there will know, and everything they don't tell us will be lost to time.

My main complaint would be one of time. The first Expo was four days and I think going back to that would really help alleviate some of the hysteria involved in trying to crush seeing everything in between overlapping panels. Unfortunately, the response to feedback like this usually tends to involve cutting the amount of presented material--NO. Less content is NOT desirable. Too much is better than too little, but more time to see everything would be best.

The Hmm...: The highlighted issue of this year seemed to be the "no new announcements" one. Prior to Expo, it was generally announced that there would be nothing new/exciting announced for the parks this year. During Expo, it became clear that there would, in fact, be no new announcements. Subsequent to Expo, there was loud hue and cry from some areas that the whole thing was a waste of time, because there were no new announcements.

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Putting aside the question of why you would enter into an event expecting something you had explicitly been told not to expect, it's hard for me to imagine a Disney fan that couldn't find something of interest here. If you like the contemporary stuff, Disney Channel and Disney Interactive, along with ABC and the Studios all exhibited current projects and programs. Stars? Billy Crystal, Angelina Jolie, Chris Evans, Anthony Hopkins and more were in attendance. If you're a fan of the history of the company, Tony Baxter, Alice Davis and a plethora of other Legends had you covered. If you just like the music, there were concerts and panels by Randy Thornton and Stacia Martin. If you primarily follow the parks, there were exhibits and Imagineers available to answer questions on almost every facet of attraction development. If your entire interest in the Disney company boils down to only caring about new developments for the parks and resorts...well, that is some impressive specialization, and no, this probably wasn't for you.

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Having said that, I guess the next question would be, "well, why aren't they announcing anything?" The pat answer would be that they simply didn't have anything to announce, however we've seen in the past that that is often not the case. The company has had huge releases in the past, sometimes in the next few weeks after the Expo, and it just seems as though they might be able to schedule it a little better. Just this last weekend saw Disney Infinity appear in stores and online for purchase--doesn't it seem as though making this available during Expo would have generated some sales? Obviously there must be creative and legal reasons for why a given thing might not be ready for announcement but on the other hand, you do have two years to make your arrangements. While I certainly don't think the presence or absence of startling news at each Expo is a make-or-break issue, the times when it looks like the news is passing the Expo by, makes it look like more of an after-thought to the company when it really should be a vital way for it to celebrate its past and display its vision for the future.

Quibbles aside, I thought this was a fantastic event, particularly for fans of the history of the Disney Company, that was a vast improvement over the last Expo--I look forward with expectations of an even better one in 2015!

The previous post in this blog was D23 Expo 2013 - Cosplay.

The next post in this blog is Disneyland Resort Photo Update - 8/16/13.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 19, 2013 4:28 AM.

The previous post in this blog was D23 Expo 2013 - Cosplay.

The next post in this blog is Disneyland Resort Photo Update - 8/16/13.

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