Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Destination D Rich With Nostalgia, Low On Polish

A packed house at Destination D
Purposefully searching Disneyland for obscure clues during September's Great Disney Scavenger Hunt gives you an appreciation for the minute details that make the Magic Kingdom and all Disney parks special. For all the countless times I've visited, there are always small items like signs, faux bulletin boards, newspapers and window decorations that previously went unnoticed. But, suddenly discover them and it makes me smile. Explore the queues of the Jungle Cruise or the Indiana Jones Adventure, for instance, and you'll find a treasure trove of knick-knacks that lend an authenticity to your experience and allow you to suspend disbelief just a little bit more. It's the minutiae you don't always pick up on, but you would definitely miss if it wasn't there.

Last month's Destination D, for all it's nostalgic pleasure, was missing that extra attention to detail.

D23 Head Steven Clark
It's hard to go wrong when you roll out the likes of Dave Smith, Tony Baxter and the original Mouseketeers to an audience full of Disney fans. Each was received enthusiastically, and rightfully so. They've been the keepers of our childhoods--and adulthoods, for that matter--for decades. But, while most individual presentations at Destination D soared, the in-between times, the continuity, were lacking. I found it odd that the event was meant to celebrate 55 years of Disneyland magic, but that the notable anniversary was barely mentioned during the two days of the conference. In his opening comments, D23 head honcho Steven Clark spent more time talking about fan club membership than explaining exactly why we were there. And, the man perfect to welcome fans to a celebration of Disneyland 55, Disneyland president George Kalogridis, was relegated to an afternoon session on day two of the event. How much more impactful would it have been for George K. and Steven to jointly open the show and properly set the tone for the weekend?

In an event like this, the little things do matter.

Other high and not-so-highlights from Destination D:


The original Mouseketeers with Disney historian Tim O'Day (left)

The original Mickey Mouse Club ran from 1955-1959, a bit before my time to have seen the original episodes, but damned if I didn't get choked up a little singing the "Mickey Mouse Club Alma Mater" along with the original Mouseketeers. Fifty five years after making their television debut and a brief live run at Disneyland, eight of the gang were on stage with Disney PR maven and historian Tim O'Day to talk about old times. Among the stories shared were Doreen Tracey going on her first date with Spin and Marty star Tim Considine; Tommy Cole's fond recollections of Walt Disney ("We were all in awe."); and Bobby Burgess' and Tommy's tales of visiting Australia on a promotional tour (24,000 fans greeted the Mouseketeers at the airport). The most poignant comments were saved for Annette Funicello, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Bobby said, "We were all in love with Annette," and Doreen added, "She's a brave, brave lady." Sharon Baird commented that she was visiting Annette later that weekend. It's fair to say an entire audience sent its love.

Goofy Logistics

Imagine attending a stage presentation and having a front row seat...to a video screen. The odd configuration in the Disneyland Hotel ballroom afforded plenty of center seating with unobstructed views of the stage, but for late arrivals, a lot of the seats to the left and right allowed you only to see video screens of the proceedings or an extreme angle view of the stage. And with the left and right sides on permanent risers and the center section in a "pit," it doesn't appear this is a configuration that could be easily changed.

Adventures in Line Waiting

D23's Armchair Archivists (center)
with two trivia contestants
Destination D's open seating policy meant you needed to get to the Disneyland Hotel early to be at or near the front of the line. Or, as I did, you could have someone hold a prime space for you (I have great friends). With doors opening at 8:00 each morning, people were lining up as early as 6:00. The real fun happened during lunch and dinner breaks, though, when D23 cleared the ballroom (a smart idea, actually), requiring those of us who still wanted good seats the next time around to immediately get in line again. You could bitch about this constant waiting process, but the fact is it was kind of fun camping out in front of the hotel, communing with fellow Disney geeks and running for food in shifts.  It did take D23 a day to see the opportunity in this, however. Props to Steve Czarnecki and Josh Turchetta (D23's new Armchair Archivists), and "Voice of Disneyland" Bill Rogers for throwing together an impromptu trivia contest for the waiting crowd during Saturday's lunch break.

Don't Hate Me For This

(l. to r.) Imagineers Dave Durham, Tony Baxter,
Don Iwerks, Alice Davis, Marty Sklar, X Atencio,
Bob Gurr, Kathy Mangum and Kevin Rafferty
Friday's Imagineering panel, moderated by Marty Sklar, was full of great stories from Disney Legends and soon-to-be Legends. It's always a treat to hear Tony Baxter, Bob Gurr, Kevin Rafferty, Don Iwerks and others give all the behind-the-scenes details of our favorite Disney attractions. Their enthusiasm for what's coming up as well as what came before is infectious. Sadly, though, these days it's painful to watch Alice Davis (in her early 80s) and X Atencio (91) lose their concentration and struggle to answer questions. You can say it's great just to see them in person, but it's just as heartbreaking to see them display the ravages of age. It does no service to their legacies and it's painful to watch. They deserve better.

My New, Favorite Imagineer

Imagineer Dave Fisher
Dave Fisher. He was a bundle of enthusiasm and nervous energy during his presentation on Disney Undiscovered. He spotlighted design sketches and concept art for Disneyland attractions that either never made it off the drawing board or morphed into entirely different things.  So, instead of the Big Rock Candy Mountain or a Roman Garden of the Gods, we have Storybook Land. And who knew Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters was inspired by a proposed Black Hole adventure?  Through it all, Fisher was engaging and passionate. I'd look forward to seeing him more at other D23 events.
Hey Kids, Let's Put On a Show
Friday night's tribute to the music of Disneyland was a hit and miss affair. Among the hits:

John Tartaglia and friends
  • The legendary songwriter Richard Sherman. Though never a great singer, he still has more charm in his piano-playing fingers than most people have in their entire bodies. He went through Disneyland standards including Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow and Magic Journeys not as a man performing on stage, but as a congenial party host inviting you to enjoy a few old tunes with him around the piano. The man's a treasure.
  • John Tartaglia (Avenue Q) was ghoulishly funny using "flamboyant" ghost puppets to perform Grim Grinning Ghosts.
  • Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) performed a hysterical audience participation number, bringing three birthday celebrants on stage, only to ignore them as he sang The Unbirthday Song to everyone else. In an odd act of guilt, though, D23 opted to acknowledge the birthday group again at the next morning's opening session and give them a few Disney tchotchkes for their trouble. Seemed like a wasted apology to me.  I'm pretty sure they got the joke and all seemed to enjoy it.
  • Jeffrey Epstein (D23's Disney Geek) and Becky Cline (Walt Disney Archives manager) can really sing. He, in a Whole New World duet with Ana Ortiz. She, as part of the Melo-D 23 chorus. Who knew?
And . . . the misses:
    Ana Ortiz
    • Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty) had an off night, forgetting lyrics to both A Whole New World and Yo Ho, A Pirates Life for Me. Plus, she hit her share of sour notes on both. When you're outsung by the Disney Geek, you know there's something wrong.
    • Celebrities who try to impress Disney fans by talking about what great Disney fans they are. Dear Entertainers: Unless you have a great story to tell like John Tartaglia did about his love for the Country Bear Jamboree, don't try to be one of us. Almost all of you did Friday night, with mostly awkward results. Tracie Thoms (Rent) loves Disneyland . . . but hasn't been there in 20 years.  Die hard Disney fans can spot poseurs in a heartbeat. We will turn on you.
    Best Running Joke of the Weekend
    Disney historian Paul Anderson and this spear:

    Presidential SummitI had heard good things about Disneyland president George Kalogridis--how he's approachable and has a hands-on management style--but I never had the chance to see it in person. After his Saturday afternoon conversation with L.A. weather guy Garth Kemp, I was sold. Kalogridis is affable, easy-going and clearly has an appreciation for Disney cast members and the demanding fan base. He started humbly with the company as a busboy at Walt Disney World and worked his way up. On the road to Anaheim, he did a stint at Disneyland Paris. He takes credit for introducing pin trading and character breakfasts to the parks, and he doesn't shy away from tough questions like . . . . "What's up with the PeopleMover, anyway?"

    Disneyland president George K.
    George was honest and gave a very reasonable answer about everyone's favorite former Tomorrowland attraction. The biggest issue would be making the ride compliant with state and federal OSHA requirements. Right now, that would mean widening the track and providing exit stairways at regular intervals, two elements that would detract significantly from the PeopleMover's aesthetic appearance. Its future sounded dismal until George chimed in with the quote of the weekend:  "As long as Tony Baxter is thinking, there is hope." Clap your hands if you believe.

    And Finally, From the Sublime . . .

    He talked about the old days of Disneyland and showed a multitude of vintage slides and construction photos. It was gilding the lily. Dave Smith has spent the last 40 years of his life creating and running the Walt Disney Archives. Later this month, he'll hand over the reins to Becky Cline and begin a well-deserved retirement. Just to see him on stage one last time was worth the price of admission. Thanks Dave. You will be missed.

    . . . To the Ridiculous

    Mickey Mouse doing gang signs? Say it isn't so. But, for the energetic new Disney Dance Crew musical show opening later this month, that's exactly what he looks like he's doing. And this is a Mickey with moving eyes and mouth. This shouldn't creep me out more than a Mickey with a fixed facial expression, but it does.

    Destination D will move next spring to Walt Disney World to mark the resort's 40th anniversary. Alternating years, Destination D's big brother, the D23 Expo, will return to the Anaheim Convention Center August 19-21, 2011. In addition to the regular exhibits and stage presentations, the D23 Expo will include the first Ultimate Disney Trivia Tournament. You have 11 months to prepare. Get busy. I know I will.

    These D23 events may not be perfect, but I just can't resist them.

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