The 2017 D23 Expo is now in the books and it is time to reflect on the weekend. As with past Expos the weekend was a marathon of events and festivities. These events have turned into reunions/meets of sorts where you get to catch up with friends and other fans on a regular basis. The crowds this year were high with all three days sold out. As with any event like this there were long waits and lines but the overall mood was good as I informally surveyed others in line, while eating, or as we crossed paths most people were ready for it and were either seeing what they wanted to see. Below are some thoughts and observations from each day. Feel free to reply with a question or drop me an email or Tweet and I would be more than happy to share my two cents. For pictures and more information be sure to visit my D23 Expo 2017 Summary page for all our links, pictures and videos.
Preview Day – Thursday, July 13, 2017
On Thursday the Expo hosts several events for Sorcerer guests including a preview. There was also a media preview of the Archives and Parks/Resorts Exhibits which I was invited to.
- Walt Disney Archives Presents: A Pirate’s Life For Me: Disney’s Rascals, Scoundrels, and Really Bad Eggs
This 12,000 square foot exhibit was near the front of the main convention floor and consisted of Disney Pirates items with a focus on props and costumes from the Pirates of the Caribbean films. There were also items from the various attractions around the world and then some space looking at other Disney Pirate films, TV shows, and attractions. I always enjoy the archives exhibits so I was curious to see what they would pull out of the vaults to showcase this year. The exhibit was weighted a little too much to the films for my taste. The ship models and cast costumes were interesting, but many seemed to be the same or similar to past exhibits. On the theme park side they had some items from Shanghai which were interesting and a nice assortment of display items from Disneyland. I would have liked to have seen more from the attractions.
- Disney Parks and Resorts – Galaxy of Stories
The Parks and Resorts display this Expo had a large Star Wars project model as the centerpiece. This model showed the Disneyland version of the project. I really enjoyed having the time to study the model and compare what I was seeing there to what I have been watching on the construction site over the past year. It will be fun to see as the real buildings take shape and compare back to the model. On hand were many members of the Imagineering Team to talk with you about the project and being an Imagineer. Unfortunately they were not able to share a lot of details of the project because much of the project has yet to be announced. For example the name of the land was not announced until Saturday afternoon. The one interesting factoid they shared was over 80% of the model for Walt Disney World was identical to the Disneyland one we were looking at. The key differences will be the entry points and how those are handled. They would not offer any hints as to what that is though. A focus of many conversations was on the level of immersion and guest interactivity with the “residents” of the land. You will be part of the story. The exhibit also featured some concept art and models. Much of the artwork had been shown before but it was great to see it in large format. I thought the presentation of this model was done better than the Pandora one at the last Expo. This was a larger scale model so it was easier to see details and accommodate the large crowds.
Day 1 – Friday, July 14, 2017
Friday was the opening day of the Expo with the Disney Legends Ceremony marking the kickoff. The big event of the afternoon the Disney Animation Presentation. I opted to go to a Pirates of the Caribbean 50th Anniversary panel instead. The evening had several competing panels too. I went to one on the Music of Disney’s Live-Action films to close out my day.
- Disney Legends Awards Ceremony
The Legends Ceremony is the traditional opening event at the Expo. This year’s inductees came from many corners of the Disney Universe.. Imagineering, Theater, television, Marvel, Star Wars just to name a few. The entertainment for the event was provided by the Dancing with the Stars Cast as well as a finale by some of the Lion King Cast. I am not a big dance person so I would have preferred something else. The Lion King finale was great but a little surprised at the choice of song. I was also a little disappointed with the Legends this year. Many are very talented and legends in their fields but I am not sure they are Disney legends. The work that some had done for the company seemed rather thin. The majority of the audience seemed to disagree with this based on their applause and excitement as the various inductees were honored.
- Street Party
A new event at this year’s Expo was a Street Party scheduled to march through the center of the main convention floor twice per day. When I first heard this my initial reaction was this could be a crowd control nightmare. The convention floor gets very crowded mid-day and to try and run an event through it seemed like a big logistical challenge. I was talking with some Disney folks and they said a team was brought in from Disneyland to assist with the event. I was on hand for the first one to see how it went. It worked out really well. The team was able to clear the route and those in attendance really enjoyed the festivities. Each party featured dancers, characters and a band led by Mickey Mouse. Riding along was a different set of guest grand marshals for each. The first one featured two new Disney Legends – Mark Hamill & Stan Lee – riding in vintage Disneyland cars. The one complaint I had is they really should have paused the entertainment on Center Stage during the party. The sound from both events collided and it was loud and hard to really hear.
- Pirates of the Caribbean 50 Years of Swashbuckling Adventures in Disney Parks
The D23 Arena held the first Parks presentation of the Expo and it featured a look at Pirates of the Caribbean attractions. I really enjoyed this presentation. The panel covered a wide range of topics on the attractions, many of which I had heard before but a couple new items and some more detail on some. Listening to the evolution of the attraction and what Tony Baxter did in Paris and the team in Shanghai did was interesting. Also noteworthy, Marty Sklar gave a big defense of the continued changes to the attractions. This was in response to some jeers (well open booing) from a contingent in the crowd.
- Melodies in Walt’s Time: The Music of Disney Live-Action Films
This presentation closed out the day and featured musical performances from several of Walt’s live action films as well as panelists talking about their roles in the films. It was hosted by a new Disney Legend, Whoopi Goldberg. I found the first third or so of the presentation to be good. It was moving along with a good mix of guests, live music, and clips. Then it seemed to loose steam for me and drag on to limp across the finish line. It seemed odd that Richard Sherman was there but instead Robert Sherman’s son came out to discuss the role his father and uncle played. Richard only made a quick appearance for the finale to wave. He did not perform or speak which seemed awkward.
- Convention Floor & Exhibits
I made a point this year to spend some time each day walking around the convention floor. I did not have time to really participate in many of the festivities but I did walk through several times to take a look around. I enjoyed seeing the Disneyland Combine Car that was restored by the Carolwood Foundation and on display for pictures. As usual at the Expos the shops and limited edition merchandise were huge draws with some of the longest lines of the day and many of the guests who camped out overnight were there for these items. As with years past there were autograph signing sessions and meet and greets with celebrities, authors, and others.
Day 2 – Saturday, July 15, 2017
Saturday tends to be the busiest day being the heart of the weekend and at this year’s Expo it hosted two of the big draw presentations. The morning featured the main Studios presentation and then the afternoon was devoted to the Parks and Resorts keynote. As I walked to the convention center from the hotel this morning it became very obvious with the longer line to get in. The queue stretched out to Katella when I arrived in the 8am hour. I decided to skip the Studios presentation and instead attend one on the Archives Stage that focused on Marc Davis. I did attend the Parks and Resorts presentation in the afternoon then called an audible and spent the evening seeing the updated Fantasmic! at Disneyland and not seeing one of the evening presentations as I had planned.
Proofed up to this point…
- Marc Davis Goes to WED – The Amazing Artistry and Designs of the Legendary Disney Imagineer
I decided to start my second day at the Walt Disney Archives Stage. I am very glad I did as this turned out to be one of my favorite presentations of the weekend. All us disneygeeks know Marc Davis.. or at least you should. This presentation was preview of an upcoming book that will feature Marc Davis and his contributions to W.E.D. During the presentation we were shown quite a few pictures and pieces of concept art, many of which I had not seen before so it was really interesting to me.
- Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
The keynote presentation of the afternoon was this one. For those of us who cover the parks and track what is going on the question was which rumors would be confirmed at this event. Bob Chapek delivered an address that rolled through a wide range of projects at Disney Parks around the world but a majority of the announcements were for Walt Disney World. Almost everything that was announced had been circulating the internet for a while. As each item was announced the crowd would react, most of the time with quite a few cheers. The one headscratcher announcement to me is why move the Pixar Play Parade from DCA to Disneyland. This parade will be ten years old next year.
Day 3 – Sunday, July 16, 2017
The final day of the Expo traditionally has been more of a catch up day but this year there were quite a few panels I wanted to attend and I had a full day planned out. The crowds were lighter than previous days but still very busy. My theme for the day was entertainment. Starting off the Lion King then Alan Menken. I spent some time in the afternoon enjoying the programming on the Center Stage then closed out my evening with a panel paying tribute to Imagineering Legends.
- Celebration of an Animated Classic: The Lion King
I really enjoyed this presentation. It featured a great conversation with the directors and some some of the voice talent moderated by Don Hahn. It also featured a great finale featuring a large choir filling the arena and music from the film.
- A Whole New World of Alan Menken
This one man show consisted of Disney Legend Alan Menken sharing stories and playing many of his songs that we all know. Alan had a single piano on stage and alternated between sitting at it and standing center stage and talking to us. I enjoyed the presentation but it was very similar to past ones. This was a little more complete and featured some extended songs but was very familiar. It was still entertaining and worth seeing but I was hoping for a little less overlap.
- Center Stage – Susan Egan: The Belle of Broadway, Voice of Jim Cummings, and Billy Hill & the Hillbillies
I spent some time in the afternoon enjoying a great line up at the Center Stage area. I was able to catch the Susan Egan performance since it was delayed. Hearing her perform again was great. She sang parts from the original Broadway show and even some from the new film. One line really jumped out to me is when she was talking about performing the title song that now she is closer to Mrs. Potts age than Belle’s. I was lucky enough to see her perform as Belle in the Broadway show (when it first came to Los Angeles).. which was in 1995.. over 20 years ago! It was great to see the Billies back together again and performing. It really re-enforced how much I miss them in the park. Hopefully they make a return at some point.
- Legends of Walt Disney Imagineering
I was curious what direction this panel would take. It featured Disney Legends Marty Sklar and Tony Baxter and was moderated by John Stamos. I thought John may take the conversation into areas not visited in previous panels. It stayed pretty much in line with previous presentations though. In retrospect I am very happy I choose to attend this as Marty Sklar passed away shortly after this event so it was a final opportunity to hear his stories first hand.