D23 hits its stride with Saturday crowd surge


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Judging by the faces of Walt Disney Co. officials, the Happiest Place on Earth moved south a few blocks on Saturday to the Anaheim Convention Center. With a crowd surging well over 10,000 (perhaps closer to 20,000) and with the weekend energy of so many youngsters added to the attendance mix, the inaugural D23 Expo hit its stride.

When an encore performance was added for Roy P. Disney’s ‘Growing Up Disney’ presentation and an overflow crowd was turned away from ‘Imagineering the Future of Disney Parks’ program at the 5,000-seat arena, you could sense that the event had hit turning point. The message it signaled was a first-year success for Disney’s bold plan to create its own dedicated version of Comic-Con International. The crowd on Thursday had left some observers here (myself included) wondering if the expo was too young to fill this cavernous venue, but the size felt just right today.

It will be interesting to see where the Expo goes next year. With images, footage and media accounts of this year’s edition, I suspect that the second gathering will bring in Disney faithful from across the country and beyond. Photos of Johnny Depp’s three-minute romp on stage on Friday will probably be good for 10,000 tickets sold alone. There’s also a big ace in the hole for the organizers: This year the Expo has Darth Vader, Ms. Piggy, Jack Sparrow and Mickey Mouse on stage, but next year they can add Spider-Man and other Marvel characters after the recent acquisition of the comics-industry giant.

The event feels very different than Comic-Con International and not just due to size. This Expo started with Disney’s polish and intense appetite for control (which, it must be said, has served the company well at times) which makes its sensibility very different than the scruffy, fan-ruled Comic-Con. You won’t see fans sitting on the floors during presentations, and you certainly won’t hear Kevin Smith or Samuel L. Jackson dropping F-bombs from the main stage. On Friday, even press weren’t allowed to bring their laptops, cell phones or cameras into the presentation by Disney Studios chief Dick Cook which is major departure from the digital freewheeling spirit of Hall H at Comic-Con. Comic-Con wants to be everywhere via You Tube; D23 wants you to know that if you weren’t in the room than you missed something special. Comic-Con is like Grateful Dead encouraging fans to swap bootlegs, D23 is more like, well, a Hollywood studio gripped by piracy concerns and the fear of seeing amatuer-quality versions of its product.


Also, it occurred to me today, there’s a big track-meet quality to Comic-Con with so many competing studios, companies and dreamers looking to win over the audience. That creates a kind of lovely chaos that’s missing from the one-company show here in Anaheim. The ‘surprises’ at D23 will be elaborate stage moments that are carefully choreographed, such as the delightful Muppets musical number on Friday. The surprises at Comic-Con feel more like a rock concert where the crowd is more actively involved in the ultimate fate of the show.

But on Saturday, here in Anaheim, the careful rhythms of Disney’s tune didn’t really matter, the big story was that Disney has a hit on its hands.

-- Geoff Boucher


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