Disney’s 2013 D23 Expo occurred over the weekend in Anaheim, and we were there for days 2 and 3. The Expo is the bi-yearly event where each forward-facing division of Disney can show off what it’s doing, and where fans can meet and interact. I intended upon doing a blog post with real-time updates throughout the Expo, but that would have been a lot of work and like 1,304 other blogs were already doing that, so it seemed pointless.
Instead, here’s a recap of what happened at the 2013 D23 Expo. Following that are some of my impressions of our first Expo (since this weekend probably doesn’t merit a full trip report) and a ‘review’ of sorts.
There isn’t a whole lot to recap. Most of what was covered at the 2013 D23 Expo was already known. Additional details were provided or clarified in some cases, but not a whole lot of “news” came out of the D23 Expo. Here are a few quick hits that are noteworthy, though:
By all accounts, Frozen looks absolutely awesome, and is going to have a great soundtrack. Here’s hoping the sneak peak of that is as good as the film.
The Star Wars project code-named “Orange Harvest,” was displayed in the Imagineering both. It hints at the Star Wars Land said to be in development for Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World. TheForce.net has more on this.
AVATAR Land was a non-topic, but the Imagineering booth contained a work station with “artifacts” from an Imagineering scouting hunt in Pandora. Sometimes, nothing is better than something.
An extended look at Saving Mr. Banks was shown. This film looks historically accurate and hopefully will garner award-season buzz.
Tomorrowland continues its viral marketing efforts…as a Disney fan, it looks intriguing, but I can’t imagine this being a big draw for mainstream audiences. Hopefully we start to see something of actual substance on it soon.
Like I said, not much new information came out of the 2013 D23 Expo. As you’ll read below, this wasn’t a problem for me, but it leaves little in the way of a “recap” besides my subjective impressions…
Let me preface this all by saying that the D23 Expo is only going to appeal to a certain type of fan. I’ve read a lot of negative feedback from non-attendees about the lack of announcements, many of whom have called this Expo a bust because of that. The first D23 Expo (2009) set a precedent with the announcements of New Fantasyland and Star Tours 2, so the expectations are understandable. However, after actually attending the Expo, I can’t see how this would have been a highlight of the Expo for me. To me, an announcement is exciting because of its promise for the future, and that promise is the same whether you’re sitting at home reading real-time updates on Twitter or actually there in person. Obviously we all want announcements to be made because announcements represent future growth for the parks, but for me personally at least, I don’t really care if an announcement is made while I’m standing there in person at a presentation, or if I read about it online as it’s made at a press event the next day. To each his own, but I think it’d be a waste to go to the D23 Expo for the sole purpose of hoping to hear announcements, when you could just as easily hear those announcements at home, for free.
Instead, the point of the D23 Expo (at least in my mind) is unique content that is not replicable online. Things like hearing presentations from those who have shaped the history of The Walt Disney Company, seeing the interactive displays and models on the show floor, and interacting with like-minded fans and folks who work or have worked for the Company. With that said, for some reason announcements are the name of the game for this kind of convention. By failing to make announcements at the Expo, the Company is disappointing its fans and isn’t putting the Expo on a good path for the future (two days of the Expo sold out this year, but how many will sell out in 2015 if most fans go to the Expo for announcements, and Disney has set a new precedent of making no announcements?)
We weren’t able to make it out for the first day of the D23 Expo, so I missed the Animation presentation, and everything else that day. The first thing I attended was the Live Action presentation in the D23 Arena (the big venue). I met up with Kate and Henry Work (same folks with whom we went to Tokyo) outside of our hotel, the Anabella, at about 6:00 a.m., and we went to get in line. The D23 Expo has become infamous for its lines, and we did find ourselves waiting in a lot of them, but every line we were in was well-managed, and in most cases we “over-waited” (meaning that we could have gotten in line much later and still gotten into the events).
I thought the Live Action presentation was a disappointment. I honestly don’t know what I was expecting, but with the exception of Alan Horn and the end segment featuring Saving Mr. Banks, it didn’t offer much beyond trailers and celebs. I suppose this goes back to my point above, that I don’t really care about things I can see online. I love movie trailers, but I would never wait in line to see them, especially when I can watch them from my couch. Some of them may never appear online, but I’m sure most will. It also seemed very disingenuous that every trailer was prefaced with (paraphrasing): ‘few people have seen this before, but you’re the fans, so we’re going to let you have an insider’s look!’ We might be crazy enough to wait hours for your presentation, but don’t pander to us. I also don’t really care about gawking at celebrities, so seeing Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, and whomever else was there didn’t do a whole lot for me. Judging by the cheers from the audience, I’m alone in this sentiment.
It wasn’t all bad. Alan Horn is a very engaging presenter who threw in a few barbs and has a way with clever, dry humor. He made things interesting, and it was nice to get a feel for the head of the Studios, who I had never seen previously. The highlight for me, though, was the very end, when Saving Mr. Banks became the focus. Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak came out and performed, and they were joined by Richard Sherman and numerous Mary Poppins-themed performers dancing up and down aisles in the audience. This was a special moment, and almost fully redeemed the otherwise lackluster presentation. Jason Schwartzman in particular seemed like a class act. He was clearly enthusiastic and proud to be a part of the movie, and dressed in a suit and tie while the other celebrities were more casual and seemed to be phoning it in as they fulfilled contractual obligations to Disney. I’m counting down the days until Saving Mr. Banks.
We spent the rest of the day before the Richard Sherman and Alan Menken concert wandering the Main Floor and Collectors’ Forum. I’ll cover those areas at the end of the recap.
The Richard Sherman and Alan Menken concert was fantastic. We were in line for this about 3 hours in advance. I don’t think it ended up filling up completely, but this was THE must-see presentation of the Expo for me, so I didn’t want to chance missing it. I’ve seen Richard Sherman perform in the past, and while he’s a special performer with a passion for Disney who is always worth seeing, I’ve never seen Alan Menken. The latter’s performance was the highlight for me. Hearing what was essentially the songbook of my childhood performed by the man responsible for it was sort of a surreal experience. Written words don’t do any concert justice, so I won’t bother. I’ll just say that it was the highlight of the D23 Expo for me, and it alone made the trip worthwhile. It’s a bit crazy to think that these two men are partly responsible for over half of the most iconic songs in the Disney library.
The final day of the Expo was spent attending the various Imagineering 60th Anniversary presentations. After the first one featuring Disney Legends Bob Gurr, Alice Davis, Marty Sklar, and X Atencio, the remaining presentations largely ran together. This first one was flat out awesome; Bob Gurr is always a charismatic speaker, but hearing Alice Davis’ touching stories and X Atencio perk up as he sang “Yo Ho,” was special. The Craft of Creativity with Joe Rohde, Tom Fitzgerald, Eric Jacobson, Daniel Jue, Joe Lanzisero, and Kathy Magnum was also excellent. I could listen to Joe Rohde speak for hours. He has a lot going on in his head, and you can almost hear his mental processes as he speaks. He’s a really interesting person.
The other Imagineering presentations were a bit of a letdown (I didn’t attend the “Leave ’em Laughing” presentation, so I can’t speak to that). There was way too much abstraction and focus on becoming an Imagineer (hint: there’s no set path). The same thing was essentially said in different ways multiple times, but apparently that wasn’t enough for some members of the audience, as they still asked questions about becoming Imagineers! The DNA of Innovation was the big offender in terms of quality (actually, Leading a Legacy wasn’t bad…it just wasn’t great) here, as the panelists spoke mostly in cliches and buzzwords. It felt more like a faux ‘leadership enhancing’ presentation your office would put on than it felt like insight into Imagineering. The panelists mostly seemed like proponents of the “next generation” of interactive experiences and gamifying theme parks, and I’m not a big advocate of either, so I guess maybe the panel just wasn’t for me. To those panelists, I’d contend that Mystic Manor and the 10+ year old Pooh’s Hunny Hunt are innovative ‘next gen’ attractions that will still be relevant and fun for guests decades from now, whereas games like Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom and other experiences based on hot current technology will be long forgotten in that time.
The final presentation I attended was Don Ballard’s presentation on Jack Wrather and the Disneyland Hotel. This was the surprise gem of the entire Expo for me! Ballard is very passionate about the Disneyland Hotel, and it shows. He shared some excellent early footage of the Disneyland Hotel, as well as Walt Disney’s dedication speech in color! All of this footage was only available thanks to Ballard’s own diligence and quest to find more materials concerning the Disneyland Hotel. I don’t know if Ballard has a day job unrelated to history, but Disney should try to hire him for the Archives.
For what it’s worth, lines were never an issue for the presentations we attended on the last day. None of these seminars filled up, so the final day involved no real waiting in line to speak of.
With the exception of the Richard Sherman and Alan Menken concert, the highlight of the D23 Expo was the Main Floor, and to a lesser extent, the Collectors’ Forum. The Main Floor had a great energy to it, and in addition to the booths, there was always some sort of entertainment. Lots of live music and activities, plus some characters (not just cosplay!) made for a fun atmosphere.
The Main Floor had more booths that I could count, and while a lot did not interest me, several did. The highlight of these was definitely the Journey into Imagineering booth. The art and models in here were amazing, and it was great that they had so many Imagineers out “working” (sculpting, sketching, etc.) and others happy to explain the various displays to guests. There was a good mix of static models that you could get lost poring over, and also plenty of interactive displays. The Imagineering sub-booth with Audio-Animatronics was really cool, and the highlight of this was The Hatbox Ghost (it’s still unclear whether this was just a neat toy, or is intended for Disneyland after this year’s Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay is removed…we heard both). It was definitely cool seeing The Hatbox Ghost in “real” form after so many years, and it would be nice to have him in the parks as more than a merchandising gimmick. This particular AA had Lincoln-esque legs. I’ve always envisioned the “actual” Hatbox Ghost as being a little shorter.
Another spectacular sub-booth was the Art Library, which featured Herb Ryman’s concept for Disneyland as well as the original ‘black light’ painting of Disneyland by Peter Ellenshaw. This was truly jaw-dropping, and one of the highlights of the D23 Expo for me. I only wish I had gone through it a few more times! Elsewhere in the Journey into Imagineering booth there were models scattered about. My favorites of these were Tony Baxter’s early concept for The Land pavilion, Western River Expedition, and an early concept for Spaceship Earth (all pictured above and below). I probably spent a good 30 minutes at these three models. If The Land balloon ride concept is (more or less) what we’d get out of an Oz: The Great and Powerful ride, I’m fully in favor of it! Check out more coverage (including video) of the Journey into Imagineering booth from DlandLive.com.
There were numerous other booths on the Main Floor with current and upcoming projects, as well as interactive and conceptual displays that would probably never materialize in actual products. Some of these were really fascinating, and it was great, and a bit reassuring, to see the creative capital of The Walt Disney Company on display, even if some of that creativity would never come to fruition. Dateline Disneyland did a great job of documenting some of the other booths, so check that out.
Shopping was also on the Main Floor, but the waits for the stores were measurable in hours(!!!), so I didn’t go in either store (as far as I know there were two–perhaps more). To my knowledge there wasn’t any exceptional D23 Expo merchandise, so I’m not really sure why these lines were so long, but Disneyland fans love their LE merch (and lines to get it!), so perhaps that was why?
We spent less time in the Collectors’ Forum; it seemed pretty polarized. There were a couple booths where Disney Legends, former Imagineers, and other interesting folks kept dropping in, and it was cool to see and hear them. There were also some interesting artists there that were worth seeing, but the majority of the booths were businesses trying to sell limited edition merchandise that had sold out in the parks (largely because of these resellers) at ridiculously inflated prices.
I saw Rolly Crump, Bob Gurr, and Tony Baxter at various times back here, and while it was easy to meet them, most people who wanted to see them just wanted autographs, and it wasn’t a conducive setting for actually conversing with them. I’m still kicking myself for not going to the meet with Rolly Crump and Bob Gurr at Tangerine Grill & Patio, as I think that would have been the right setting, and not many people knew about it, but we went to the Tahitian Terrace show at Disneyland Hotel instead (more on this awesome show in a later post).
Overall, I really enjoyed the 2013 D23 Expo. The presentations were mostly fascinating, I didn’t encounter problems with poorly managed lines or crowd control, and it was great to interact with people in the real world who I’ve otherwise only known online. It wasn’t without its flaws, and lines were often long, but my overall impression of the D23 Expo was very positive. There certainly wasn’t a lack of content–I saw maybe 50% of the Main Floor and only a handful of presentations that I wanted to see. There just wasn’t enough time to do it all. We definitely plan to head back for the 2015 D23 Expo.
Like I said at the beginning of the Impressions, the D23 Expo is not going to appeal to everyone. Sarah spent most of the two days we were in Anaheim at Disneyland, only spending a little time on the floor of the Expo and in presentations. I’d hazard a guess that everyone but the uber Disney geeks or locals who can visit the parks anytime they want will enjoy their time at Disneyland Resort a lot more than the D23 Expo.
If you’re using this article to help you determine whether you should plan a visit to Disneyland during the 2015 D23 Expo, my advice would probably be to not do it. While I really enjoyed my first D23 Expo, we visit Disneyland fairly regularly, and I am one of those uber geeks. If you’re an uber geek, too, the D23 Expo is worth considering, but if you only have so much time to see Disneyland and Southern California, the D23 Expo might not be the best way to spend your limited time there. While August isn’t a bad time to visit the Disneyland, there are better times of year, so that’s something else to consider.