Friday, September 11, 2009

D23 Expo - Day One Recap

Impressions, thoughts, and maybe a picture or two from day one of the D23 Expo in Anaheim:

Anika Noni Rose performs during the opening session at the D23 ExpoRobert Iger's Opening Keynote

A great, big, beautiful commercial for Disney (not that the whole of the D23 Expo isn't anyway) with an opening video splash of all the elements in the Disney universe. Everyone had their favorites and the crowd showed its appreciation accordingly. "Alice in Wonderland" (Johnny Depp especially), "Lost," and "High School Musical" all drew generous shares of applause. The audience positively roared for "Tron Legacy," though. Anticipation is very high for the 2010 game geek movie release.

Iger was pleasant and professional and apologized to the crowd for a nearly half-hour late start. He blamed it on giving more time for all the attendees to be seated. You could argue it was about crowd control, but it also could've been an issue of attendance--the arena was only about 2/3 full.

He talked at length about the Disney legacy and how we all grew up with it. Iger even admitted that, as a child, he owned a Davy Crockett coonskin cap. Nice. He followed it up with a montage video of Walt and the entertainment world he created.

Iger's mention of Disney's recent acquisition of Marvel Entertainment drew a pretty good round of applause. Disney fans (this group, at least) seemed to be ok with Wolverine standing side by side with Mickey Mouse.

The highlight of the opening was the screening of the first half-hour of "The Princess and the Frog," Disney's return to 2D animation coming out on November 25th. The movie definitely has a "Little Mermaid"/"Beauty and the Beast" feel to it--and I mean that in the most positive way--telling the story of Tiana, a working class woman with dreams of running a high class restaurant in New Orleans, who has a curious encounter with a cursed frog-prince. The movie has an jazzy musical score that absolutely grabs you. "Friends on the Other Side," performed by the the film's voodoo-practicing villain, Doctor Facilier, is an absolute show stopper. Think "Oogie Boogie's Song" meets "Under the Sea." Disney's return to fairytale story telling is going to be a hit. As an added treat after the preview, Anika Noni Rose, the Tony Award winning actress who voices Tiana, performed music from the movie.

Betty White and Robin Williams share a laugh with Mickey Mouse at the 2009 Disney Legends ceremony at the D23 Expo. Photo courtesy Disney/D23.Disney Legends Ceremony

In a rare public ceremony, Disney inducted this year's Legends honorees. Among the highlights:

Bob Iger singling out 97-year old Legend Art Linkletter (inducted 2005). He still looked pretty spry.

The daughters of Leota Toombs Thomas accepting the award for their mom with a warm and sincere speech. Leota did so much more in her decades of service to Disney Imagineering than just be a head in a crystal ball.

Tony Anselmo accepting his Legends award with a Donald Duck pitch-perfect "Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!"

Betty White jumping the gun before host Tom Bergeron and Bob Iger finished introducing her. Even better was her later admission that she still owns a Mickey Mouse doll from when she was a child. She's one of us.

Robin Williams marveling at how Disney animators kept pace with him during his brilliant voice work as the Genie in "Aladdin." Who knew you could ever squeeze Jack Nicholson and William F. Buckley into a Disney cartoon?

It's tight, make no mistake. For the arena events (Bob Iger yesterday, Dick Cook today), when they say no cameras, recording devices or cell phones, they mean it. Bags are searched, electronic items must be checked and, oh yeah, you'll be wanded just to make sure you're not sneaking anything in. It makes for a tense situation, though. Can that many people be without their iPhones and Crackberries for three hours or more? Scary.

Richard Sherman performs at the D23 ExpoMost Pleasant Surprise: Richard Sherman

The piano on stage was a dead giveaway, but how nice to see songwriter Richard Sherman perform following a showing of "The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story." The movie is a nostalgic and touching look at Disney's prolific musical team, who wrote "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," "I Wanna Be Like You," "It's a Small World" and many, many more. The film focuses not only on Richard and Robert's songwriting successes, but also the decades-long strained personal relationship that leaves them virtually estranged from one another today. Richard performed some of their lesser-known songs, "Won't Be Long Until Christmas," "Your Heart Will Lead You Home," "The Ugly Bug Ball," and "River Song," but he couldn't resist reverting to the tried and true, leading the audience in a chorus of "It's a Small World." A terrific performance from a songwriter who, with his brother, doesn't get as much credit as he deserves for helping write the Great American Songbook.

I've got plenty more to share from the D23 Expo. On tap today is Dick Cook's Walt Disney Studios keynote--Nicolas Cage, Tim Burton and Robert Zemeckis will be paying a visit. Also slated is a screening of "Tron" with a sneak preview of "Tron Legacy," and look at the new "World of Color" nighttime water show headed to Disney's California Adventure next year.

See you real soon . . .


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