Movie Column

Disney’s D23 expo includes Oprah, movie previews and lots of line waiting

Courtesy of Erik Benjamin

Aout 100,000 people attended the fifth annual D23 expo, a biennial convention for Disney fans. The event took place ver the course of three days.

The scene was something out of a Disney dream, or nightmare. Thousands of Disney fans stood in lines for panels, events, and performances at the fifth biennial D23 Expo.

Some stood in line at the Disney store for six hours to get their hands on a few souvenirs.

The event, put together by The Walt Disney Company, was held last weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center. Fans got information on the company’s future including announcements of developments like a Star Wars Hotel and a Ratatouille attraction in France.

The convention’s big events, like panels on the live action films and the animated slate. Drew the biggest crowds. The animated panel showed footage from the upcoming “Wreck-It-Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet,” and first ever footage and concept art for “The Incredibles II.” They were a hit despite some disorganization in the line.

The real passion came for the live action panel that seated around 8,000 people.  When I arrived at 4:30 on Saturday morning the line for the 10:30 a.m. panel was at full capacity, apparently reaching it’s peak around 1 a.m.  

Those who waited overnight were rewarded.

They saw stars from Oprah to basically every Avenger and they got to see some very exciting footage. From first trailer to “A Wrinkle in Time,” which is now online, to an extended preview of “Avengers: Infinity War.” The most exciting development was the display of the opening number of the live action remake of “The Lion King”, which was by all accounts nothing short of footage as the Circle of Life was recreated using photo realistic effects. People were blown away by the footage, reaffirming my prediction of the film’s success.

The “The Power of the Princess” panel featured Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel, Paige O’Hara, the voice of Belle, Anika Noni Rose, the voice of Tatiana, and Auli’i Cravalho, the voice of Moana. They discussed the role of princesses in children’s lives, how these characters have evolved and the importance of representation.

We saw upcoming footage from “Wreck-It-Ralph 2” featuring every princess. It included the first scene of its kind where Penelope from WIR2 has a slumber party with the princesses. They made self-aware jokes and homages. At the end of the panel each woman performed a snippet of dialogue from their respective films and a few lines of a song. It was breathtaking to see these voices I have heard all of my life not only singing their songs, but in rapid fire succession one after the other.

The night ended though with a concert and discussion with legend Richard Sherman, who, with his late brother Branton Sherman, tuned a few songs you may have heard of including “Mary Poppins” and “It’s a Small World”.

Seeing Sherman in person was an out of body experience. Most people never actually think of the people who bring these songs to be. They are so classic and timeless that you forget they came out of a person’s imagination. After a lifetime of fandom and admiration, you forget these mythic creators are actually just people, who still live and breathe this mega conglomerate that disguises its $105 stock price as magic.

On day two I rushed into the convention hall to get a great seat for a panel on “The Lion King”, featuring the film’s co-director Rob Minkoff, Producer Don Hahn, two supervising animators, and some exciting voices: Ernie Sabella, the voice of Pumbaa, Jim Cummings, the voice of Ed the hyena among other Disney classics and a surprise Whoopi Goldberg, who voices Shenzi the hyena.

They had a spirited discussion about the film while sharing anecdotes of production history, while also speaking on its lasting legacy. The panel came to a showstopping finale when a choir came out and sung “Circle of Life”, eventually setting the stage for the song’s original singer Carmen Twillie.

The Lion King panel only got me more excited to listen to some Disney music. I was fully prepared for the afternoon’s activity and really the crown jewel of the weekend: a 90 minute concert by Alan Menken, composer of Disney hits from “The Little Mermaid” to “Tangled”, with countless classics in between.

After his introduction by Zachary Levi, of “Tangled” and “Chuck” fame, the show was a mix of musical performance and discussion, as Menken took us through his sensational career step by step, most notably outlining his relationship with lyricist Howard Ashman who died during the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Menken ended the concert, before his encore, with a performance of “Proud of Your Boy” from Aladdin in Ashman’s memory. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I grew up on Menken’s music, from his non-Disney hit “Little Shop of Horrors,” to every last note of “Beauty and the Beast”. Menken is a true mythical figure. He only became more of a legend after this concert as I understood his journey through his career, while also seeing his brilliance first hand.

Though I spent most of my time waiting in lines and navigating stuffy crowds, the magical moments I had made up for the waiting and the discomfort. I was reminded of childhood memories, but created new ones that I will hold with me for my lifetime.

The expo itself is not the best run event, but the content was so magnificent and special that these squabbles could be dismissed. A skeptic could look at this weekend as a conference of corporate synergy, fan exploitation and revenue creation. They wouldn’t be wrong, but D23 Expo was ultimately a celebration of not the company Disney, but the ideals and memories we associate with its offerings.

Disney made a fortune off of this expo, but you will never see people happier to spend money, and in the long run walk away with a bigger smile on their face than any Disney shareholder could imagine.


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