On our second day at the Expo, we were a little more prepared. Originally, I’d had no interest in seeing Dick Cook talk about snoozerific future flicks like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Old Dogs at the Disney Studios presentation. But then one of Swazzle‘s puppeteers became the voice of Kermit the Frog, and we found out that the entire Muppet crew would be making a surprise appearance at the presentation on a replica of the Mark Twain, so we had to go. Patrick got in line outside the convention center at 6:30am while I finished packing and checked us out of the Hilton. I left our cameras and cellphones with his uncle and joined Patrick in the queue area, where he was about 15 people from the front. He’d struck up a conversation with a kid who works as a Submarine ride op at Disneyland, and we exchanged secrets (we told him about the Muppet appearance, he told us that the new Star Tours film will have 25 beginnings, 25 middles, and 25 ends randomly chosen so that virtually no two rides will be the same—let’s hope he’s right!).
Because we didn’t have any electronics to check we ended up at the front of the queue to be wanded by the security guards, and as soon as that indignity was over, I was off into the arena like a shot. We got what amounted to front-row center seats in the 2nd row because the very first row was reserved for a gaggle of bored-looking girls who we suspect were F.O.M. (Friends of Miley). Patrick’s brother, Sean, and sister-in-law, Victoria, and pals Anita & Jeff joined us, and we entertained ourselves by imitating the Disney two-fingered point (plus, I invented what I like to call “The Disney Bird,” a two-fingered gesture of another kind…).
Once again, I have no pix to show you, but I’ll steal some from the InterWebz.
So the presentation started with a fantastic montage of Disney (and its assorted subsidiaries’) movie clips accompanied by a LIVE orchestra and LIVE singing. The singers even synched up with the actors singing on the screen—it was really impressive and stirring and got the whole crowd excited. Dick Cook came out and started talking about each of the upcoming projects and introducing their accompanying stars, sequenced in order of impressiveness. Oh, but first he showed us a bunch of trailers we coulda seen online. OK, so then he brought out John Travolta and Kelly Preston and their daughter (all of whom star in Old Dogs with Robin Williams), and they got the first and really the only warranted standing ovation of the day. (From then on, everyone who came out got a Standing O.)
Next up was Robert Zemeckis flogging his latest motion-capture atrocity, A Christmas Carol (sorry, but Jim Carrey is creepy enough on his own without being rendered in THE creepiest-looking kind of animation going). I love how in all the clips, Zemeckis says that modern animation has allowed them to finally present A Christmas Carol in the way Dickens originally intended—cuz obviously Dickens went to his grave wishing it were possible to show Scrooge sliding under and getting whacked in the face by a series of icicles hanging from the eaves… Patrick calls the look of the movie “Thomas Kinkade by way of Fangoria magazine,” and I told him if anyone reading my trip report has actually heard of Fangoria magazine, he gets a prize.
After that they dragged Tim Burton on stage and he shuffled around and mumbled answers to Dick Cook’s questions about Alice in Wonderland. My favorite part was when he said his motivation for making the movie was never having seen a film version of the book that he liked, adding “No offense!”
Next up was Nicolas Cage sporting quite a coiffure and spouting what sounded like a memorized speech about loving the magic of Disney, or something. Whatever happened to the Raising Arizona-era Nick Cage we knew and loved? He seemed so real and relatable back then…
After that was Jerry Bruckheimer, who, in addition to turning Nick Cage into an action star, has done a few movies here and there for Disney… He talked up Prince of Persia while those of us in the second row thought to ourselves “C’mon, c’mon—get to the Muppets!!!”
The instant the curtain drew back on the front of the Mark Twain with Fozzie, Gonzo and Pepe, the crowd went wild (you can’t hear it on that video clip, but trust me!). Then, when the boat turned and you saw the rest of the characters, there was another huge reaction. This got louder when Piggy started singing, and by the time Kermit appeared, the audience was practically foaming at the mouth (or maybe it was just the six of us…)
You also don’t get to hear much of Kermit’s voice in the video, but let me tell you, he sounds SO much more like Jim Henson than the fellow who’s been doing it since Henson died. In fact, some of the fanboys on the various Muppet discussion boards actually think they played a recording of Jim Henson for the D23 Expo appearance! Plus, the way he manipulates the puppet shows subtleties that Henson used to do (like the way Kermit looks down at his banjo while plucking it). This guy was *born* to play Kermit. When he was a kid, his teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he said “Ernie!” When his teacher told him that he couldn’t be Ernie, but he could be a puppeteer, he made up his mind to do it, and now all his hard work has paid off.
Later we spoke with one of the other puppeteers who worked the show and heard that, while the puppeteers had been strictly instructed not to bother the stars backstage (what..? Like they haven’t worked with tons of stars before?!), it was the stars, including Miley Cyrus and Johnny Depp, who kept coming up to the puppets and puppeteers!
After the Muppets sailed backstage, we were treated to a surprise live set by Miley Cyrus, including complimentary laser eye surgery courtesy of her stage lights! Unfortunately, the 3D glasses they’d given us for the trailers weren’t much protection against the rows of swiveling klieg lights beaming out from behind Miley and straight into our brains. I have to say I never thought I’d have second-row seats at a Hannah Montana concert—I’ll be the envy of the Sunday school kids when I tell this story!
Miley appeared to have come directly from Flivver McGee’s Olde-Tyme Gibson Girl Pole-Dancing Revue, sporting a white romper that looked like the underwear they used to wear beneath corsets.
Then, just when we thought things were winding down, smoke began curling around the stage, and the curtain rose to reveal…
And the crowd went wild! (I read there was even fainting…) We leapt to our feet and screamed our heads off as Captain Jack Sparrow appeared not 20 feet from us.
As Dick Cook tried to “interview” him, Captain Jack kept asking where the frog had gone—highlarious! The whole thing was very exciting—much more exciting than if Johnny Depp had just walked out on the stage in a suit and chatted about the next Pirates movie. I could barely even understand what he said, besides the frog thing, but who cares? It was Captain Jack Sparrow! All too soon, the presentation was over, and we ducked out the back of the arena to avoid the electronics check.
Originally we’d planned to go next to the Haunted Mansion presentation, followed by “The Making of The World of Color” and then split up so I could go to “We Make the Music: Disney Theme Park Music” and Patrick could go to “The Evolution of Mickey Mouse” (to ask why Mickey’s hands and feet are so huge and bloated in all the illustrations these days). However, each presentation ended only 30 minutes before the next (meaning there was no way we’d get in line in time to get a seat). We were so burned out from the previous day that we bagged all our plans for the rest of Friday so we could go at our own pace and not be enslaved by the schedule. So there ya go, Steven Clark—when you give people too much good stuff to see and do, they give up and don’t get to see any of it.
The first order of business was lunch. On Disney’s Expo map, the Aramark-serviced convention food counters were given cute names like “Walt’s Diner” and “Woody’s BBQ,” and they even made up distinctive-sounding menus for each place: Soup, pizza, calzones, stromboli, and parmesan chicken sandwiches at Stromboli Trattoria, and chicken fajitas, taco salads, and carne asada tortas at Caballeros Cafe. I say “made up” because when we got to each of these counters (which had no signage identifying them by their Disney names, so you never knew where you were) all they offered were pre-cooked burgers, fries, and assorted soggy cold sandwiches, salads and wraps.
We didn’t know any better, so we grabbed lunch at Caballeros Cafe (formerly known as “Aramark Slop Trough #351A.6”). I watched in horror as they pulled a pre-cooked burger from a metal tub of grease and smashed a plasticky square of cheese on top of it—guess I needn’t have specified “medium rare”! At least we had sense enough to bypass the sad, fluorescently lit jumble of a seating area and head over to the D23 Member Lounge with our food. Earlier I’d spotted a few nice sets of tables and chairs scattered among the plush couches and armchairs within its invisible walls (sorry, but an overhead banner and a carpet border do not make it an exclusive area!).
The one bright spot in our lunch was the brick of fudge I’d grabbed on impulse. It turned out to be another treat shipped in from the parks and HOLY CRAP was it delicious! Now I know why everyone on MousePlanet was so sad when Disneyland temporarily stopped making its own fudge—that stuff is WAY better than Disney World fudge! I’d picked up the chocolate cookies & cream kind, but at that moment I vowed to try as many varieties as I could before Expo’s end.
While we were eating, one of the few fans dressed in costume came by — The Rocketeer! It’s one of my all-time favorite movies, and the guy’s costume looked really good (he also looked super-familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him…), so I asked for my first-ever picture with a costumed fan.
He also did his special Rocketeer pose for us, and he taught Patrick to do it too!
The helmet was amazing! We saw the actual Rocketeer costume later in the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit, and this guy’s get-up was spot-on!
After lunch, we headed into what turned out to be hands-down the best exhibit at the Expo, the Disney Parks & Resorts area.
Just like at an actual theme park, the experience started with a queue, then proceeded to a pre-show before we were let into the exhibit.
When you stepped into the curtained preshow area, there was a huge screen with a projection on it that made it look like a big old-fashioned TV.
I know this is just a little thing, but I got really excited when the video switched to ginormous images from the theme parks – you could almost reach out and touch the castle!
But the coolest part was the way the screen split like a Z and opened to reveal the inside of the exhibit.
Stepping through this magic portal brought you smack into Carsland.
On display were the small overview model and the large Radiator Springs Racers models (Patrick asked what the scale was for each of them, but I forget what they said.) There were real-live Imagineers stationed at each exhibit to answer questions (some more effectively than others—we must’ve caught one lady right before her lunch break, cuz all we got were “yes” and “no” answers). At the time we went, the guy who was in charge of building the models was actually there, so Patrick had plenty of questions for him.
Radiator Springs Racers Model:
To give you an idea what the ride will be like, here is video Patrick shot of the snippet of Radiator Springs Racers ride previsualization that was shown at Saturday’s Parks & Resorts presentation by Jay Rasulo:
To the left were life-size (I think—with no humans in the movie, who can tell?) figures of Guido and Luigi that you could pose next to. Luigi is my favorite character in the film, so I was sure to take a terribly unflattering picture with him that you will never see!
To the right was another mind-boggling accomplishment – a talking Lightning McQueen. His mouth is projected from inside his body, and the effect is astonishing, it’s so real.
Here’s video Patrick shot – no sound on him yet…
OK, so the next area of the Parks & Resorts Pavilion had exhibits about AudioAnimatronics, including this nekkid Abe Lincoln figure!
They also had an area devoted to concept art for some of the mobile animatronic projects, like the Muppet Mobile Labs:
And there was a small stage with a demo of a next-generation animatronic character and a talking bird sidekick. I didn’t really pay much attention to that because right next to it was… LUCKY!!!
I never got a chance to meet Lucky the Dinosaur when he was at DCA, so I was very excited to see they had a queue and were doing meet ‘n’ greets, complete with PhotoPass photogs. I was surprised how soft he was (and that they let us pet him)—I guess I thought he’d feel all rubbery, but he felt like a Nerf football. And he was so cute and friendly! I’m sure I looked like a total goon cuz I felt like I was interacting with a real animal.
Actually, I KNOW I looked like a total goon: While we were with Lucky, a camera crew was there filming us. They had us sign waivers, but I figured there was no way our little 10 seconds of footage would make it into any video D23 assembled. …And then we turned up in the D23 Expo recap video that is currently in heavy rotation on Cast TV in every single Walt Disney World resort room—gulp!
Then we found out that they rotated appearances by Lucky and the Wall*E, so we stuck around for that too. Meeting Wall*E was also exciting, since he’d never been anywhere we could see him in person—DHS only had a cardboard cutout to pose with when we were there.
He is so realistic, you almost take it for granted that you’re hanging out with the real Wall*E. He kept trying to make friends with people’s ECVs…
The next thing you came to was a surprisingly small exhibit on DVC and the Disney Cruise Line. There was a lounge-y area done up like the new Villas at the Grand Californian and a model of the Ko Olina resort in Hawaii, but not much else.
Here are a ton of model pix, for anyone who’s interested….
I couldn’t figure out where the weddings would be held, but Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings’ Marketing Director said they will definitely be doing weddings there!
The last area of the pavilion contained models of the expansion at Hong Kong Disneyland.
They had a mockup of the Mystic Manor ride on display. The eager young WDI intern standing next to the model asked if anybody had any questions, and I made the mistake of asking how the ride was gonna go. Turns out it’s one of those “you just had to be there” stories, because we practically fell asleep during the 20-minute schpiel along the lines of “…and then your ride vehicle enters this room and things go terribly wrong… and then you enter *this* room and things go terribly wrong… and then you enter THIS room and things go terribly wrong…”
We slowly edged our way to the fringes of the crowd of people nodding off to the story of Mystic Manor and escaped the pavilion to hit the Dream Store. The area next door was a display on… technology, or something — they had an ABC news van you could climb inside (we definitely missed some hilarious photo ops there!) and a float from the Electrical Parade complete with PhotoPass photographer.
Somewhere between there and the Dream Store we ran across The World’s Largest Vinylmation. Either that, or Patrick decided to do some trick photography.
In fact, I’ll just throw in all the Vinylmation shots he took at the Expo—they had a ton of prototypes on display:
By this time the D23 Expo Dream Store didn’t have a line to get in—and thank goodness, cuz it was totally not worth standing in line for!
I guess I expected the Dream Store to be a little bit more interesting than, oh, say, your local Disney Store at the mall. But except for about three racks displaying just two different styles of D23 Expo-exclusive merchandise (Sorcerer Mickey look or Classic Mickey look), the rest of the merchandise was the same stuff you see everywhere: generic T-shirts, hats, pin sets, and bags; princess costumes; bad, overpriced art giclees… oh, and TONS and TONS of leftover “exclusive” D23 Vinylmation figures.
I’ve been waiting forEVER for them to make a stuffed animal of Presto, but I wasn’t gonna buy $$$-worth of cheesy “inspired by” art prints to get him free in their promo offer.
Anyway, I did end up getting one cool thing, and that was a prize for my 100th Twitter follower, @annewjerz! I was sorry to see the Dream Store didn’t have anything as cool as a flashing-color bouncy eyeball, but since I know she’s a pin collector, she was easy to shop for!
After escaping the Dream Store with our bank account virtually untouched, we enjoyed some quality wandering time on the show floor—it was so nice to have nowhere to be and nothing to stand in line for! Here’s what we saw:
There was one really neat booth of Vinylmation-esque Stitch big figs that had been made over by different artists. Some of them were cool, some were creepy, and some were just puzzling.
(Sorry—Patrick spent a LOT of time here snapping pix…)
For some reason, only these were for sale… I didn’t really pick up on the sales model here—I would much rather buy one of the big figs!
Across the aisle was the Pook*A*Looz booth (I hope I got enough asterisks in the name there…). I have never heard of these things, but I guess they’re sort of a stab at capturing the Ugly Doll/anime market?
Around the corner was the eFX Collectibles booth, featuring replicas of Kermit and Rizzo. Patrick says the Kermit looks off, but he’d buy Rizzo.
….And then there was a display of Disney-inspired art (again, usually not my thing, but they had some pretty cool pieces….)
… plus some weird ones…
…And then I was killed by a pillow in the Walt Disney Signature Furniture Collection display!
…And then we were compelled to take a picture of this giant green alien bean bag in the kids’ room display for our pal who does the green aliens’ voice. Poor guy—he prolly has a whole closet full of green-alien junk people give him!
…And then we ran across Patrick’s brother and sister-in-law doing crafts in the Crayola booth…
… Then we saw the queue for “The Disney Store: The Magic is Back!” presentation… (just kidding!)
… And then we popped into the Fan Forum seller area. We saw some neat Cheshire cats repainted in team colors….
…And this A-FRIGGIN-MAZING Amanda Visell set-up:
…And Patrick met Mice Age‘s Al Lutz! (He’s the guy we invoke whenever we see “bad show” at Disneyland: Ride broken down? Call Al Lutz! Trash on the ground? Call Al Lutz! Lunch overpriced? Call Al Lutz—no wait, call Kevin Yee for that one….)
I was drawn to the Olszewski Studios booth again, like a moth to a flame or a lovebug to some people, so Patrick could get pictures of the complete Disneyland setup (and Magic Kingdom too) for me to put under my pillow at night and dream about.
Apparently you can contact somebody who will mechanize the teacups and Dumbo for you so they spin!
As Patrick was shooting and I was drooling, we heard somebody say “Shouldn’t the Roots be taking those pictures for you?” It was the Haupt Family, who turned out to be longtime lurkers on Lurkyloo trip reports! In fact, they may be lurking here at this very moment! Hi Haupts!!!!
We got a picture together —a picture which also should have been taken by the Roots!
OK, one last thing we saw—they were building a Lego mosaic over the course of the Expo. Here’s the first day…
…and here’s the second day… (we were too busy waiting in line for the rest of the trip to get subsequent pictures).
Things were winding down on the show floor at that point (yes, the show floor only stayed open til 5pm). Apparently Comic Con’s is open til something like 7pm, and it sure woulda been nice to have something to do between 5pm and the 10pm movie screenings they held. I wish I’d remembered to mention this when I filled out Patrick’s Expo survey… We’d made plans to go to dinner and see Walt & El Grupo at Downtown Disney with Sean & Victoria and Anita & Mr. Anita, but Mr. Anita was still in the Tron presentation and screening. So we kidnapped Anita and took her with us to check in at the Disneyland Hotel (she likes to pull my suitcases. No, really!), then walked over to Downtown Disney to meet the rest of the group. (And by “walked” I mean “got pulled by Anita in a rickshaw”… no, really!)
We met at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen, which I love for its decor. The food is good but overpriced.
I’m a sucker for New Orleans atmosphere, and I like how each room is themed differently. We were seated in the Parlor.
One good thing about going with a big group is you get to take lots of food porn!
After dinner we walked over to the AMC at Downtown Disney to see the new documentary Walt & El Grupo, which uses lots of never-before-seen footage and covers Disney’s South American goodwill tour, which inspired Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. It also changed the lives of many of the illustrators and animators Disney took with him—most notably Mary Blair, whose illustration style went from being a near mirror of her husband’s to something completely new and fresh and made her one of Disney’s favorites for many years. She’s one of my favorites!
By showing our D23 Expo wristbands to the ticket-taker, we each got a pin of the movie’s poster.
For some reason, although there was a discussion of the movie and a screening of Saludos Amigos at the Expo, they didn’t show the film—maybe cuz they’d convinced the AMC to run the movie at regular intervals every day of the Expo (a pretty big deal, since it’s being shown in only a handful of other cities across the US and usually as a one-off presentation). The documentary was directed by Theodore Thomas, son of Frank Thomas, one of Walt’s Nine Old Men and director of Frank & Ollie—a wonderful, touching documentary about the two animators’ friendship.
Which is all to say that I expected Walt & El Grupo to be fascinating, edifying, and insightful. Instead, I almost fell asleep three times! I felt terrible—here was all this rare footage, some of it shot by Walt Disney himself, and I could not keep my eyes open to look at it! I thought maybe it was cuz we got up at 5:30am, or maybe cuz we’d just eaten dinner, but when the 6 of us talked about the movie afterward, I discovered that it wasn’t me—the movie is just really boring! (Patrick dubbed it “Walt & El Snooze-o”!) For one thing, there was no narrator providing continuity and context. Clips played too long and sometimes were just not that interesting. There were interviews with people who remembered that time, but a lot of the subjects didn’t have much to say. Thomas also had people read the animators’ letters to home from the trip, but, again, some of them were just kinda dull. Another thing that drove me nuts—and maybe it’s just because I’m an editor—is they introduced something as being one of three reasons that something important happened and then never told us what the other two reasons were. ARRRRRRRRRRGH! Really, it felt kinda like a student film, which is weird, because Frank & Ollie was so polished.
Anyway, don’t listen to me… go see it if it comes to your town—you might like it!
After the movie we went back to our room in the farthest tower at the Disneyland Hotel, and I made Patrick take pictures while I propped myself up against a wall and rested my eyes for a bit.
So, it looks pretty nice in these pictures, but we were kinda shocked by the rundown condition of the room—notably the huge swatch of peeling, mildewed wallpaper in the bathroom:
There were also big scuffs and badly patched paint on the doors and door jambs, the towels were thin and worn—some even had holes in them!—and in general the room felt more “motel” than “hotel” in its upkeep. It seemed like they’d decided to stop maintaining the place in anticipation of the makeover, but 3 years out seems a leetle bit early for that. Also, some of the fundamental problems with this 59-year old hotel will not be addressed by the cosmetic enhancements, like the paper-thin walls that allowed us to hear everything going on in the room next door. Originally the plan was to demolish the hotel one tower at a time and build a completely new one, but now they’re just going to give them a facelift.
At least the rooms will look nice, in a dark, heavy sort of way…. and there will be fiber-optic fireworks in the headboard… I just wish our Disney hotels had themes, like the ones at WDW.
OK, enough complaining for today…