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We're Back from the Big Show!

Written By: Abel Pinedo "Honest Abe"

August 12th, 2013

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The D23 Expo is billed as “The Ultimate Disney Fan Event” and boy they sure aren’t kidding! No matter what your focus is as a Disney fan, be it the films, animation, attractions, pin collecting or what have you, there was something for everyone.

I decided to spend the majority of Friday roaming the main exhibit, primarily to get a head start on the anticipated Saturday crowds. One of my main priorities of the day was to visit the Journey Into Imagineering pavilion. Celebrating 60 years, the Imagineering pavilion was a chance to glimpse some of the behind the scenes magic that goes into making the rides and attractions at the Disney theme parks. I got to see a sampling of models and blueprints and miniatures, many of which had never been seen by the general public before. On a personal note, the fact that I actually got to see a model for a small portion of a never built attraction called the Western River Expedition made me glassy eyed. It is something that I never thought in my lifetime I would see. I also got to see an animatronic of the infamous Hat Box Ghost from the Haunted Mansion. Again, something else I never thought I’d see in person.

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There was one panel I wanted to see the most today: Undiscovered Disneyland. What this was supposed to be was a look back at attractions that never got off the drawing board. Instead, after a last minute renaming, I was now watching Rediscovered Disneyland. Imagineering legend Tony Baxter took us all on a journey back through time to view such gone but not forgotten attractions as HolidayLand, the Flying Saucers, the Mine Train and the Stagecoach and pack mule rides. There was a surprise at the end of the panel when it was announced that Baxter would be getting his own personalized window on Main Street in Disneyland. What does this mean? Well, next time you find yourself walking down Main Street, take a look up at some of the windows of the buildings. All those advertisements in the windows are actually named after real people who have left a lasting contribution to the Walt Disney Company. This is the highest honor Disney can bestow on anyone.

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Saturday was the big event day for me. This largely consisted of a nearly three hour panel entitled “Let the Adventures Begin: Live Action at The Walt Disney Studios”. This was essentially a showcase for a slate of live-action releases for the coming year. To kick things off, Walt Disney Studios Chairman Alan Horn announced that the new Star Wars film was coming out in 2015. John Williams was back to compose the score. The studio is also pursuing two standalone Star Wars films outside of the trilogy.

Next up was Marvel Studios with a sneak peek at the latest films featuring the Marvel heroes. First up, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman and Sir Anthony Hopkins were on hand to present the newest trailer for Thor: The Dark World. (Side note: when Hopkins walked out, it was a near instantaneous standing ovation!) We also got to see two all new scenes, including the first meeting between Odin and Jane Foster. November can’t get here soon enough!

Following this was Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie were on hand to present an all new trailer for the film. Mackie played up to the crowd, relishing in his role as The Falcon. We also got two bonus scenes. First was a fight scene between Cap and a dozen…well, I don’t want to spoil anything. The second scene was an assault on some mystery bad guys by Cap and Black Widow. The special effects were very rough but the dialogue was on point, highlighting the kind of relationship these two characters have. This portion of the showcase ended with an added bonus: we were treated to the teaser trailer for next summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy and the teaser for Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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Now that the crowd was pumped, it was time for some laughs. We got to see the first footage of Muppets Most Wanted, coming out next spring. Ty Burrell literally drove out onto the stage in his, well; I guess you could call it a Mini Mini Cooper that is featured in the film. (Seriously, this car looks about the size of something that kids ride for a quarter outside of a grocery store!) As the film is still in production in London, the crowd was also treated to a video greeting from Tina Fey, Kermit and Miss Piggy.

Next up was the mystery film Tomorrowland starring George Clooney. When I say mystery film, I mean just that. Plot details are being kept tightly under wraps so all we got to see was a very vague animation reel claiming to be from the early 50’s about the wonders of the future. It looks intriguing but it is quite a head scratcher. The overall opinion seemed to be, “looks cool, I don’t get it!” All will be revealed in December of 2014.

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Angelina Jolie was on hand for the premiere of footage for Maleficent. If you don’t know the name, first of all, shame on you! Second, she is the evil queen from Sleeping Beauty. This is Disney’s live action adaptation of the Sleeping Beauty story but from the viewpoint of Maleficent. We will be privy to her story before she became evil and Jolie did promise that we’ll see her transformation into the dragon for the final battle. She claimed to love Maleficent ever since she herself was young. “She was just so deliciously evil; I wanted to know what her story was.” Jolie also said that her own daughter will be playing the young princess Aurora in the film as she was the only child to audition for the role who wasn’t flat out terrified at the sight of Jolie in full on Maleficent makeup and outfit. (Bonus points to Disney: everyone in attendance was given paper Maleficent horns upon our exit!)

The final film presented was Saving Mr. Banks. Starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney himself, this is essentially the tale of Walt’s twenty year struggle to secure the rights to the story of Mary Poppins from author P.L. Travers. Emma Thompson portrays Travers while B.J. Novack and Jason Schwartzman portray the famous Sherman brothers who composed and performed much of the films’ music. As an added final bonus, the crowd was treated to an impromptu performance of the classic “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” by Schwartzman and Novack. In mid-song, Richard Sherman himself appeared along with a large group of dancers wielding kites! It was an incredibly colorfully awesome way to end the presentation. No video was allowed so unless this shows up as an added bonus on the Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Blu Ray release this fall, then this magical moment will have to live on only in my mind. You really had to be there to see this once in a lifetime musical moment!

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After all that, I made my way back to the main exhibit hall. I spent a few minutes listening to a Disney VoluntEARS presentation about how the Walt Disney Company through its Disney Citizenship program helps create and provide lasting positive impacts on the community. I then made my way over to the Disney Interactive pavilion where scores of kids were playing demos of Disney Infinity. I also learned that my drawing skills are horrendous as I wandered over to the Muppet pavilion. There I was beckoned to the chalkboards to “Draw Your Favorite Muppet”. Yeah, let’s just say that my Beaker lasted all of thirty seconds before he met the eraser!

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What’s a convention without exclusive merchandise? Several vendors were on hand such as American Tourister featuring Mickey and Minnie themed luggage to Huffy Bicycles with similarly themed merchandise. Hallmark had an exclusive ornament of Sleeping Beauty’s castle and Ridemakerz featured a Lightening McQueen themed remote control car. Of course, there were shirts, hats and other loungewear featuring the D23 Expo logo. There was a series of limited edition Disney princess dolls as well. This was also the first opportunity to view and purchase merchandise to commemorate the 20th anniversary of The Nightmare Before Christmas before it premieres in the Disney parks later this year. My personal favorite was merchandise featuring the Walt Disney Imagineering logo. Outside of Walt Disney Studios, this is the only time that Imagineering merchandise is available to the general public. My Christmas shopping has begun!

For something truly unique, there was a silent auction. This was a rare opportunity to bid and possibly own some unique artifacts, artwork props, etc. from the Disney archives. Ever wanted to own an original Matterhorn bobsled? You know, one that was actually in the ride? Here was the chance to do so. Pin sets, a five foot tall Vinylmation figure and an original Disneyland sign were just some of the highlights to wistfully drool over.

To sum up, if you are a Disney fan, then this is definitely an event to add to your bucket list. This is a bi annual event which has already been confirmed to have its next show in the summer of 2015. Hopefully this gave you a taste of what I saw and experienced so you can join me two years from now.