Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim may be the start of something special
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This is a longer version of a story I wrote with Dawn Chmielewski, the business writer who covers Disney for the Los Angeles Times. Our story ran on the cover of the Calendar section this morning...
Will the success formula of Comic-Con International work for a Mickey Mouse operation?
The leadership at Walt Disney Co. hopes so as it moves forward with the D23 Expo, a four-day event next month in Anaheim that will celebrate -- and sell -- all things Disney with celebrity appearances and slick sneak previews of upcoming films, television shows and theme park attractions.
The approach is pure Comic-Con, the pop-culture festival that has become one of Hollywood’s most potent megaphones by providing hard-core fans with insider-access experiences that turn many of them into Internet apostles for movies, television shows and other projects.
Last month, more than 126,000 people attended Comic-Con in San Diego, and films such as ‘District 9’ and ‘Avatar’ enjoyed a strong surge in public awareness after putting stars and filmmakers in the same room as fans hard-wired into Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
Disney was a key player at Comic-Con with Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton appearing before a cheering crowd to promote their 2010 release ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ but now the company is looking to separate itself by throwing its own pop-culture party in Disneyland’s shadow.
Robert Iger, Disney’s president and chief executive, said that the company has, more than any other entertainment outlet, enjoyed decades of support from ‘very passionate, very ardent’ über-fans, but now, in this digital age, that constituency has greater expectations as well as newfound tastemaker power.
‘We will be much better served by serving them better,’ Iger said. ‘We live in a world where digital communication enables people to express their opinions about things to a much broader set of people. We call it the combustion of digital world of mouth . . . their ability to communicate with others is unlike anything we’ve seen at any time before.’
It’s a good time for Disney to reach out to fans -- the recession has been bruising, even for a company with a market cap of $49.8 billion. Disney’s profits declined in the most recent quarter with tough times for television advertising, DVD sales and domestic theme park attendance. The film studio posted its first operating loss since 2005, despite the success of Pixar’s ‘Up.’ Disney’s ABC has also struggled, with declines in summer prime-time viewership landing the network in fourth place.
Still, company leaders are sunny about the potential of D23, which is a chance to preach to their most devoted choir, the fans who are true believers in the Disney marketing message, that the company creates touchstones, not just entertainment properties.
The event at the venerable Anaheim Convention Center will be a chance for Disney to promote feature films such as Burton’s ‘Alice,’ ‘The Princess and the Frog’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ but also will serve as a big tent for Disney’s varied empire. Attendees will not only be offered the chance to buy new teen-pop CDs and vintage animation cels, for example, they also will be pitched travel packages for the Disney Cruise Line.
ABC Entertainment Group President Steve McPherson and stars Patricia Heaton, Kelsey Grammer and Ed O'Neill will be part of a major presence for the network, which has a screening room and an exhibit dedicated to ‘Lost.’
The expo’s schedule aspires to be all things to all Disney fans. The Disney Channel will bring the cast of ‘Wizards of Waverly Place,’ screen an upcoming episode and stage a musical performance. Pixar fans will be more interested in the final day’s slate of events: a presentation by animation guru John Lasseter, a special ‘Toy Story 3’ preview and a digital 3-D screening of the first two ‘Toy Story’ films. There will also be an exhibit devoted to Captain Eo, the sci-fi fantasy collaboration between Disney and the late Michael Jackson.
The expo will also try to stir interest in Disney’s California Adventure, the struggling Anaheim venture that is undergoing a $1 billion reworking and will, in 2012, have a new 12-acre attraction based on Pixar’s ‘Cars.’ It may also be used to announce the major upgrade to ‘Star Tours,’ the somewhat creaky Disneyland ride based on ‘Star Wars.’ One thing that won’t be there? The Lone Ranger revival (with ‘Alice’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Depp as Tonto) is too far off and ‘is not on the agenda’ at the Expo, Iger said, adding that the projects that will be presented will be those that have enough completed visuals to make for an exciting presentation.
The D23 Expo (the name alludes to 1923, when founder Walt Disney arrived in Hollywood) will begin Sept. 10 with an Iger speech about the future of the company. Iger may take the opportunity to share a favorite anecdote about a fan who stood up at a Disney shareholders meeting in New Mexico and said the company should give its most passionate fans more respect and special access.
‘Some of these fans show up at those meetings,’ Iger said, ‘because, other than going to our parks, it’s been the only way they can feel truly connected.’
D23’s corporate heritage sets it apart from Comic-Con, which started in 1970 as a scruffy merchant show in a hotel basement. Now bursting at the seams, it has become a world’s fair for fanboys.
Conventions in New York and Chicago are cutting into the San Diego event’s supremacy as far as Hollywood programming, and it’s reasonable to wonder if Disney will also scale back its participation if it finds success in Anaheim. The D23 Expo is $37 a day (or less with multi-day passes) -- for programming that runs from 10 a.m. past 11 p.m.
Disney is not the first corporate entertainment power to create a major dedicated expo aimed at giving fans an insider experience. About 35,000 people attended Star Wars Celebration in 1999 in Denver, organized by LucasFilm, and there have been six editions of the event since, including a 2007 staging at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Lucasfilm is entertaining civic sweetheart deals now for a 2010 encore.
Like ‘Star Wars,’ Disney has a world-class array of toys and collectibles, and there will be 20,000 square feet at the expo devoted to merchandise new and old. A Disney Treasures exhibit will feature more than 100 rare items, among them artifacts such as Annette Funicello’s sweater from ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’ and Fess Parker’s coonskin cap from ‘Davy Crockett.’ Iger said he was stunned during a warehouse tour of the pieces, especially a ’20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ prop of the Nautilus that he called ‘a jewel.’
Iger said some components of D23 may eventually travel beyond Anaheim -- perhaps those vintage items, considering the success of the touring ‘Harry Potter’ exhibit -- but overall the expo is viewed as an annual Anaheim tradition in the making.
The D23 brand goes beyond the expo. It’s a new $75-a-year paid-membership fan club that launched in March to provide ‘a high-end, elite-level access’ for intense Disney fans, according to Steven Clark, head of the initiative. It includes a glossy quarterly magazine and members-only special events and advance screenings.
The passion Disney is hoping to tap into is the same one that powers hundreds of blogs that obsess over Disney lore, theme park doings and daily corporate life of the company employing more than 150,000.
The D23 community got off to a slow start, according to Al Lutz, editor of the independent Disney blog MiceAge, but the expo seems to mark a turning point. ‘To their credit, they have really come to the ballpark,’ he said. ‘They’ve been responsive and listening to the fan community.’
Kevin Burk, a 44-year-old Disneyphile living in Papillion, Nebraska, joined D23 on the first day. He plans to spend four days at the Expo in Anaheim – actually, he will arrive a day early, so that he can visit Disneyland. He’s hoping it will afford him the opportunity to bump into Roy Disney, nephew of company founder Walt, or one of his favorite classic Disney stars.
“If I was to ever run into Julie Andrews, I told my wife that’s the one person I’d probably faint in front of,” Burk said.
Burk hopes to catch the presentations of by Iger and Lasseter. “I’ll see what I can get into,” Burk said. “It’s going to be 8 am to midnight for four days. You have to pace yourself a little bit. Sugar and caffeine will only carry you so far.”
For Burk, it’s classic Disney and Pixar, for younger fans it may be the special that Depp or Zac Efron might be among the promised surprise guests. Iger said the fans today demand a deeper experience and D23 will aim to give it a wide number of them.
“This is all about – and I hate to sound clichéd – but it’s about making their wish come true,” he said.
-- Geoff Boucher and Dawn Chmielewski
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THE SCHEDULE FOR D23 EXPO IS BELOW...
(PROGRAMMING SUBJECT TO CHANGE)
THURSDAY, Sept. 10, 2009
Bob Iger Presentation, 10 a.m. – Walt Disney Company President and CEO Bob Iger will launch the first-ever D23 EXPO with an hour-long presentation in the Anaheim Convention Center Arena, exploring the incredible future of Disney and exciting projects that are taking shape around the globe. Arena.
Disney Legends Awards, 11 a.m. – Men and women who have contributed to the creative legacy of The Walt Disney Company will be honored in a special presentation, hosted by Tom Bergeron and open to all D23 EXPO guests. The full list of honorees will be announced shortly, and includes renowned celebrities, actors and artists. Arena.
The ABCs of Disney, 3 p.m. – Steve McPherson, president of the ABC Entertainment Group, and Emmy®-nominated Tom Bergeron host a D23 EXPO-exclusive presentation as many of the biggest TV stars of today preview ABC’s new series, with a very special “Dancing with the Stars” performance. Arena
An Afternoon With Imagineering Legends, 4:30 p.m. – Recently retired Executive Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering Marty Sklar hosts a panel of extraordinary artists who shaped classic Disneyland attractions, including X Atencio, Alice Davis, Blaine Gibson and Bob Gurr. Storytellers Theater
Top Ten for the Toy Chest: The Making of the Next Great Disney Toy, 12:30 p.m., Stage 23
Beauty and the Beast 3D Preview and Panel Discussion, 1 p.m., Studio Theater
The Magic of Disney in the Art of Disney Stamps, 1:30 p.m., Stage 23
The World of Vintage Disneyland – In Color, 2 p.m., Storytellers Theater
The Music of The Haunted Mansion, 3:30 p.m., Stage 23
The Music of The Lion King Panel, 4 p.m., Studio Theater
the boys Screening and Panel, 7 p.m., Studio Theater
Fifty and Fabulous Film Festival Presents Darby O’Gill and the Little People,
10 p.m., Studio Theater
FRIDAY, Sept. 11, 2009
Disney Movie Magic: Inside The Walt Disney Studios, 11 a.m. – The Walt Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook offers Disney fans an unprecedented sneak peek at new live-action movies from Walt Disney Pictures, incorporating exclusive footage from such movies as Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Disney’s A Christmas Carol, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and more. Special celebrity guests also will join in on the fun. Arena
Tron Presentation, 4 p.m., – Steven Lisberger, director of 1982’s Tron, is a special guest as the D23 EXPO offers an exclusive exploration of the science-fiction classic, including glimpses of the upcoming TRON: Legacy. A fascinating discussion will be followed by the first-ever digitally converted screening of the original Tron. Studio Theater
Disney Rarities, 5:30 p.m. – Academy Award-nominated producer and author Don Hahn joins Walt Disney Animation Studios’ creative director Dave Bossert to present several rarely seen animated short films from Disney history, including some of Walt Disney’s earliest animation efforts. Some of these shorts have not been seen in more than 60 years. Stage 23 Theater
The Making of “Toy Story: The Musical”, 5:30 p.m. – A preview of the newest stage extravaganza for Disney Cruise Line and the Disney Parks. Michael Jung, Vice President of Creative, and Matt Almos, Creative Director, host this musical sneak peek, and composers Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn will perform. Storytellers Theater
Walt and El Grupo and Saludos Amigos, 7:30 p.m. ¬– Filmmakers Ted Thomas and Kuniko Okubo and Disney historian and author J.B. Kaufman lead a panel discussion about the upcoming Walt and El Grupo, a new documentary that reveals the story behind Walt Disney’s influential 1941 trip to South America. After the discussion, D23 EXPO guests will be treated to a rare screening of Saludos Amigos, the colorful animated feature that grew out of Walt’s goodwill expedition south of the equator. Studio Theater
Early Bird Books: Kingdom Keepers, 8:30 a.m., Stage 23
Sailing to New Horizons with Disney Cruise Line, 9 a.m., Storytellers Theater
A Day in the Life of an Adventures by Disney Guide, 12:30 p.m., Storytellers Theater
Happy Haunts: 40 Years of The Haunted Mansion, 12:30 p.m., Stage 23
Nightmare Before Christmas 3D Screening, Plus Tim Burton Shorts Frankenweenie and Vincent, 1 p.m., Studio Theater
Special Preview: “The Wonderful World of Color,” 2 p.m., Storytellers Theater
History and Preservation of Disney Animation Art: The Courvoisier Tradition,
2 p.m., Stage 23
We Make the Music: Conversations with the Creators of Disney Theme Park Music, 3:30 p.m., Storytellers Theater
The Evolution of Mickey with Dave Pacheco and Andreas Deja, 3:30 p.m., Stage 23
Fifty and Fabulous Film Festival Presents The Shaggy Dog, 10 p.m., Studio Theater
SATURDAY, Sept. 12, 2009
So You Want to Be An Imagineer, 9 a.m. – Marty Sklar hosts a conversation with more than half a dozen guest Imagineers, who will discuss the challenges and rewards of their careers ... and the special skills that are needed to “make the magic.” Storytellers Theater
Disneynature Presentation, 10 a.m. –The latest updates from Disney’s newest film label, Disneynature. This prestigious production banner literally goes to the ends of the earth to tell the remarkable stories of nature. Studio Theater
Imagineering the Future of Disney Theme Parks, 11 a.m. – Go behind the scenes with Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Jay Rasulo as he unveils the magical entertainment and experiences on the horizon at Disney’s Parks and Resorts around the world … and offers a surprise or two. Arena
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 12 p.m. – Don Hahn hosts a compelling discussion about the making of Walt Disney’s first animated feature film. Following the discussion, D23 EXPO guests will enjoy a screening of a newly restored digital version of this landmark film. Studio Theater.
Disney Store: The Magic is Back, 2 p.m. – Jim Fielding, president of Disney Stores Worldwide, looks at the vibrant future of the Disney Stores around the world. Arena
The Princess and the Frog, 3 p.m. – All-new footage from Disney’s upcoming animated musical The Princess and the Frog will be screened, followed by a panel discussion with the film’s creators, including John Musker, Ron Clements, Andreas Deja and Eric Goldberg. Studio Theater
Prep and Landing, 5:30 p.m. – The directors of Disney’s new TV special explore the creation of this new holiday-time treat. Studio Theater
D23 Expo Live Auction, 7 p.m. – 49 lots of extraordinary rarities and specially designed items will be front and center at this D23 EXPO exclusive event, including a check personally signed by Walt Disney, a progressive dinner through the Disneyland Resort plus a stay in the Presidential Suite of the Disneyland Hotel, original animation production cels, movie premiere tickets, an authentic attraction vehicle, a very special “Lot 23” exclusive, and much more. 7 p.m., Arena (Note: Auction admission is free; bidders must purchase a $40 bidder’s package.)
Trail of the Panda Screening, 7:30 p.m. – The D23 EXPO presents the U.S. premiere of Trail of the Panda (Xiongmao Huijialu), the second Disney Chinese-language film production, created specifically for audiences in China. Studio Theater
Early Bird Books: The Alchemy of Animation with Don Hahn, 8:30 a.m., Stage 23
Behind the Fairy Tale – Disney Weddings with Kristie Kelly and David Turturro,
11 a.m., Stage 23
The Science of Imagineering, 12:30 p.m., Storytellers Theater
Growing Up Disney with Roy P. Disney, 12:30 p.m., Stage 23
Refreshing a Classic: Remaking “it’s a small world” for the 21st Century, 2 p.m., Storytellers Theater
Sneak Preview of The Walt Disney Family Museum, 2:30 p.m., Stage 23
The Making of the U.S. Presidents, 3:30 p.m., Storytellers Theater
Disney Kids’ Fashion Show, 4 p.m., Performances Stage
Lost Chords – Never-Heard Music from Disney Animation with Russell Schroeder, 5:30 p.m., Stage 23
Fifty and Fabulous Film Festival Presents Sleeping Beauty, 10 p.m., Studio Theater
SUNDAY, Sept. 13, 2009
The Future of Disney and Pixar Animation, 11 a.m. – Get a glimpse of what the future holds at Disney and Pixar Animation Studios as Chief Creative Officer, John Lasseter, shares sneak peeks of such exciting upcoming films as The Princess and The Frog, Rapunzel, Toy Story 3 and more. Arena
A Magical Afternoon With the Cast of Wizards of Waverly Place,
2 p.m. – Cast members Selena Gomez, David Henrie, Jake T. Austin, Jennifer Stone, Maria Canals-Barrera and David DeLuise join executive producer Peter Murietta for an exclusive preview screening of the season premiere episode of Wizards of Waverly Place. Popular Radio Disney personality Ernie D also will join in the fun! Arena
Toy Story 3 Special Presentation, 6:30 p.m. – Sneak a peek at what’s in store when Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the Toy Story gang make their big-screen return – this time in 3D. Pixar filmmakers Lee Unkrich and Darla Anderson host. Studio Theater
Toy Story and Toy Story 2 Double Feature Premiere Screening, 7 p.m. – Following the 5 p.m. sneak peek of Toy Story 3, the D23 EXPO will host the U.S. premiere screening of this 3D double feature. (Note: There will be a 10-minute intermission between the films.) Studio Theater
Early Bird Books: South of the Border with J.B. Kaufman, 8:30 a.m., Stage 23
The Making of Toy Story Midway Mania, 9:30 a.m., Storytellers Theater
Collector’s Edition Fine Art Panel Discussion, 12:30 p.m., Performances Stage
The Science of Imagineering, 1 p.m., Storytellers Theater (an encore presentation)
Silver Banjo Barbeque Panel with David and Ron DeFore, 12:30 p.m., Stage 23
Special Muppets Presentation, 1:30 p.m. - The Muppets Studios takes you inside the Muppet world for an exclusive frog’s-eye-view of what Kermit and Company have been up to in 2009 – and all the fun and mayhem they have planned for 2010 and beyond! Studio Theater
Disneyana Detective with Tom Tumbush, 3 p.m., Stage 23
Imagineering Pixar for the Disney Parks, 3 p.m., Storytellers Theater
From Annette to Miley, 3:30 p.m., Stage 23
Tickets to the D23 EXPO are available at http://www.D23Expo.com. Admission includes access to all experiences and entertainment at the D23 EXPO and can be purchased for single days or for the full four days of festivities. Admission is $37 for a one-day adult ticket and $27 for children 3-12. Four-day passes are $111 for adults and $81 for children. Members of D23: The Official Community for Disney Fans will receive a discount on admission, as well as early entry to each day of the D23 EXPO for themselves and their guests. Fans can keep up with all the news by visiting www.D23EXPO.com, as well as by following “Disney D23” at Twitter and on Facebook.
CREDIT: All images, Walt Disney Co.