As a guest of The Walt Disney Company, I was fortunate to be in the unique position of easy access - a privilege that I'm grateful to have had as our group bypassed crowds of thousands, many of whom spent hours (and in some cases, days) camping outside in the blistering heat, or winding through what seemed like an endless labyrinth of queues for everything from the major panel presentations to the exclusive shopping destinations.
In the cavernous Hall D23 (the Disney equivalent to Comic-Con's Hall H), upwards of 7,000 fans and more than 300 members of the media took their seats for some once-in-a-lifetime festivities, or to be the first (or only) audience to get a look at what lies ahead for Disney's live action (Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm) or animated (Walt Disney Animation Studios/Pixar/DisneyToon Studios) films. Backstage - an area off-limits to both the public and much of the press - we took a "no cameras" look at what appeared to be the inner workings of the Death Star, as an army of technicians illuminated by little more than the glow of their computer screens and the flicker of their gear oversaw the technological side of the D23 Expo, ensuring that the digital aspects of the presentations were seamless, all while guarding footage unseen by most. Behind them, a series of makeshift green rooms crafted of black pipe-and-drape, complete with carpet and furniture, were there to welcome an unprecedented array of Disney talent past, present and future.
The Disney Legends Awards
Having visited The Walt Disney Studios lot on several occasions, I've made it a tradition to visit Legends Plaza and take a picture alongside the famous "Partners" statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse (the bronze icon also featured at Disney Parks). In that Plaza, each pillar holds plaques featuring the handprints and signatures of the Disney Legends - those who have made indelible contributions to the Disney legacy. This year, 11 new Legends were introduced, and being there for the ceremony was a very special thing.
The 2017 Disney Legends Award honorees (listed alphabetically) are: Carrie Fisher (Film), Clyde "Gerry" Geronimi (Animation), Whoopi Goldberg (Film & Television), Manuel Gonzales (Publishing), Mark Hamill (Film), Wayne Jackson (Imagineering), Jack Kirby (Publishing), Stan Lee (Film & Publishing), Garry Marshall (Film & Television), Julie Taymor (Theatrical) and Oprah Winfrey (Film & Television). Introduced by Disney CEO Bob Iger, each Legend was honored with a video tribute prior to accepting their award (accepted by family for those no longer with us).
While all of the Legends are incredible, it was the combination of Stan Lee & Jack Kirby alongside Mark Hamill & Carrie Fisher that really hit home for me personally. Seeing Stan "The Man" Lee take to the stage just a week after the passing of his wife, it was impossible not to tear up as Stan honored Kirby, his co-creator on many of Marvel's most famous heroes.
With Carrie Fisher's untimely passing last December, it was a surreal experience to see her honored not only by Disney, but by her on-screen brother, Mark Hamill. As a kid who grew up fighting countless battles of Rebels vs. Empire, to be in the same room as Skywalker himself for this moment was unbelievable.
It's also important to note that this ceremony marked the crowning of the world's one and only LEGOT - with Whoopi Goldberg now the first person to be a Legend and a winner of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.
“Disney and I go way back, since I was a little kid, I mean way back,” said Whoopi. “So it’s beyond an honor and a joy to become a Disney Legend because everybody knows I love Disney, Disneyland, Disney World, Disney movies, Disney toys and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique! What’s better than this for a Disney-phile? Absolutely NOTHING!”
Walt Disney Archives presents A PIRATES LIFE FOR ME
Becky Cline has wanted to do a pirates-themed exhibit for ages, and as the Director of The Walt Disney Archives, that dream came true at the D23 Expo. An impressive, 12,000 square-foot exhibit, I asked her if this would live on past the Expo, perhaps as a touring affair as they've done in the past with "The Treasures of The Walt Disney Archives." Unfortunately, the answer was "no" as this look at the importance of pirates through Disney history was a one-time-only event.
From theme park attractions to feature films, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN was a big focus, but there was so much more. THE MUPPETS TREASURE ISLAND, DAVEY CROCKETT, JAKE AND THE NEVERLAND PIRATES, and even this summer's DESCENDANTS 2 were all featured.
Disney Music Emporium
For a music buff like myself, the Disney Music Emporium is a very special place that celebrates the importance of music to Disney. With the recent vinyl resurgence, Disney Music Emporium has been able to issue some fantastic collectible pieces, and I've been buying The Rock Daughters some picture discs (like FROZEN, BIG HERO 6 and THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB) for awhile. I had my eye on MOANA, but they were sold out thanks to a signing by Auli'i Cravalho, but I later picked one up at the DreamStore across the hall.
Of particular note was the return of the Walt Disney Records Legacy Collection, which will release ROBIN HOOD on August 4th (order here). Attendees got the first shot at owning the album, which I now have in my collection here at Rock Father HQ!
A Whole New World of Alan Menken
Alan Menken is a Disney Legend (Class of 2001) with his music being enjoyed by generations. Now, in his new one-man show, Menken presents a collection of his greatest hits from Disney (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ALADDIN, THE LITTLE MERMAID, TANGLED, GALAVANT, NEWSIES and more) and beyond (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS!) in a storytelling setting.
Menken's personal tale has its ups-and-downs, and it's a fascinating journey through music, with the crowd fighting the urge to sing along at every turn.
The Expo Floor
My favorite part of any convention-type event, the show floor at D23 Expo did not disappoint. From first-looks at new films and experiences (Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge!) to exclusive shopping destinations, live music, talent appearances and more, it was easy to get lost in the shuffle, with much to look at and buy.
With the 2017 D23 Expo behind us, plans are already being made for the next installment, not yet announced, but expected for 2019. In a sit-down with Michael Vargo, Vice President, D23, Special Events and Disney Corporate Creative Resources, he said that they'd be back to work the Monday following the Expo in working on the next one. Likewise, Becky Cline says she already has her next installment from the Archives both pitched and approved. If the growth of the Expo since 2009 continues, expect the 10th anniversary D23 Expo to be absolutely massive. Vargo said that they're always looking for new ways to enhance the D23 experience across the fan club, magazine and special events, so there's many surprises always lurking ahead.
Visit D23.com to join the Official Disney Fan Club and stay up-to-date on special fan events throughout the year.