Disney+ hosted a Drive-In Festival at the Santa Monica Airport October 5 through 12th. The screenings were free if you were quick enough to get a reservation before the event filled up. The Disney+ Drive-In Festival kicked off on Monday, October 5th with an invite only screening of “The Right Stuff,” an anthology TV series from National Geographic that premiered on Disney+ on October 9. It continued with screenings of films thematic to the season or celebrating an anniversary this year: “Tangled” (10th anniversary), “Coco” (Latinx Heritage Month), “Star Wars Episode IV: The Empire Strikes Back” (40th anniversary), “Hocus Pocus”, “Sound of Music Sing-a-Long” (55th anniversary) and “Captain Marvel” (Day of the Girl). The festival concludes the world premiere of Disney+ original film “Clouds.”
I was invited to attend the “Star Wars Episode IV: The Empire Strikes Back” screening on Thursday night. Gates opened at 5:30pm for the 7:00pm screening and parking was first-come-first-serve.
The entire experience was as efficient and thoughtful as what fans have come to expect from a Disney event. To go with the movie you received a tote with some Disney+ swag, including ears and a blanket, plus a concessions box for each person in your car (no more that four guests were allowed per vehicle). There was even a socially distance photo op where guests could pull in front of a back drop and pose from your car for a photo immediately available by scanning a QR code.
The screening featured an actual full size digital screen, not a projector, making the picture quality better and the weather less impactful than drive-ins I had attended in the past. Before the movie began there was a pre-show with a DJ, Disney trivia and photos from the drive thru photo op. For our screening, the pre-show concluded with an episode of “The Simpsons” that fit the “Star Wars” theme. For audio, viewers had the choice of a local FM radio station or streaming through an app on your own device (there was free WiFi in the Drive-In).
Getting in and out of the screening was pretty painless. There was no wait to get in when we arrived, but at other points (and at other screenings) there was more of a wait to get to the gate, check in, get freebies and take photos. I would estimate there were about 150 cars in attendance. There were two exits and a lot of people directing traffic to leave after movie, so it only took us about 10 minutes to leave after the movie.
This was my first non-essential outing since March, and the whole event was meticulously planned for social distancing in a manner that felt much safer than many other reopening efforts around Los Angeles and California. Guests received clear instructions for safety ahead of time, and guidelines were enforced strictly by parking and security at the event. Guests were allowed to leave their car only to use restrooms, and those leaving their car to take pictures or for other nonessential purposes were politely turned back. Upon arrival, guests received a garbage bag and recycling receptacle, and were instructed to leave all trash by their car and it was collected regularly throughout the screening.
Overall, the event was hugely successful. The choice of the line up for the Disney+ Drive-In Festival was excellent, and I would have gone every night if I could have. Beyond a few differences for health and safety, the experience did not feel much different from a pre-covid drive-in movie. This was my first opportunity for a normal, fun outing in months, and I hope that this event signals a new trend that these modern drive-ins will become more common place.