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A Brief Comment On The D23 Expo

Good evening.

I apologize that things have been ever so hush-hush here for several days. Rest assured, there are lots of new stories waiting in the wings. And a new podcast should be just a dream away…

But I did want to drop by tonight to make a comment about the news that was reported today in an L.A. Times blog that Disney will not be holding the D23 Expo this year, opting instead to hold the shows on a biennial basis. Other Disney gossip sites are jumping in to say that they’ve heard this too, but Disney is yet to make any statement on the issue.

I was taken off-guard by this, personally. A month ago, I was told by someone who most definitely would know that the Expo would in fact be held this year, and it was strongly implied in the most obvious of ways that the dates for the event would be announced on March 10th – the first anniversary of D23’s original announcement. This would, of course, coincide with not only this year’s Disney shareholder meeting but also the D23 anniversary event at Disneyland.

So, what to believe? I certainly believe that the L.A. Times blogger has his sources. But how firm is this decision? Could this be – and this is the height of wishful thinking on my part – a trial balloon to see what fans would say if they skipped a year?

Well if so, and if they’re looking for input, allow me to say this: don’t cancel the event.

As everyone and their grandma knows by now, we went to the Expo last year, and we had a blast. I’m not much of a joiner or a convention-goer, so I was highly dubious at first; in fact, I was basically using it to justify a trip to Disneyland, and also wanted to be there in the off chance that something interesting happened at the Expo. Well, to say that it far exceeded my expectations would still remain an understatement. I learned so much, and saw so many fascinating people and heard so many fascinating stories, that this grizzled and hardened Disney fan actually got really excited about where the company was going. Mr. Cynic himself bought the company line for the first time in years, because I saw the company honoring its own past and could see the excitement for the future in the faces of all the Imagineers and back-of-house staff that were there.

To use the most worn out and trite of catchphrases, I bought the Kool-Aid.

And this is Disney’s biggest mistake in not holding this event. The D23 Expo was, by far and away, their greatest success in generating fan goodwill in years. Let’s face it, Disney will always have a pixie dust brigade ready and willing to do their bidding no matter what, but after a decade of Pressler and Rasulo and everything else, fandom was starting to get a little shaggy around the edges. To engage the fans in such a positive way felt like at least an overture to some sort of rapprochement, and at the very least it provided a very public forum in which Disney executives were forced to face the music for their choices (I’m thinking here of the extremely tepid reception to Toy Story Playland at Rasulo’s presentation, which still amuses me).

Now, I’m not insane, and I realize that this was just an enormous PR event. But so what? If people had fun – and from the reaction to the cancellation rumors, it sounds like they did – I have no problem with such a symbiotic relationship. Speaking for myself, it was the most fun I had all year – no one is more surprised about that than I! – and I was really, really looking forward to going back.

And not just because of Monte Cristos.

So, dear Disney – snap out of it. Just for once, can we stick to the plan and commit to something? You’re like the worst girlfriend I never had. You start something, then you run fleeing from it. If they don’t do it this year, what are the odds that we’ll ever hear of it again? Or will it become one of those things that people ask Iger about occasionally until he becomes more and more irritated at the question? Will the Expo be buried with Hoffa and Song of the South?

Again, this is still unconfirmed. And we know that they were planning on doing it at some point. So let’s all politely say… Hey there, Disney. How’s about doing this so we can all come spend ridiculously irresponsible amounts of money on you? Why do you hate our money, Disney? Because I was going to come give all my money to you in September, but if you cancel the Expo I won’t! Don’t you want my money? It’s perfectly good, I assure you! My money not good enough for you, buddy? Huh? You got a problem??

Anyway.

Hold the Expo, or I will be sad. Can your conscience bear my sadness, Mr. Robert Iger??

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22 comments to A Brief Comment On The D23 Expo

  • Besides, you know what happens when I get sad? I get ANGRY!!

    Then sleepy.

    Then indifferent, then hungry, then ANGRY again.

    ANGRY!!

  • Mark W

    “Can your conscience bear my sadness, Mr. Robert Iger??”

    Sadly, I think we all know the answer to that one.

  • But… but… it’s me!!!

  • Celeste C.

    If there’s anything I’ve learned from working with lifers at the parks, stay with Disney long enough and it will suck out your soul…it will suck it out, stomp on it, spit in your face and make fun of you for sticking around…but you do stick around because you remember what the good times are like…because when the good times are good, they are REALLY good, and you can’t help yourself.

    I hope the expo rumors aren’t true, I heard it was pretty awesome. Guess the 10th may tell?

  • That would be more of a concern if my current career wasn’t already almost done sucking my soul from my withered husk :)

    At least with Disney, you get a main gate pass…

  • And, all kidding aside, the D23 crew did a great job on the first one, and the idea is something that shows a lot of potential for growth. It would be so foolish to cancel it now when there was so much buzz from last year. How many people skipped out in 2009, then heard about all the shenanigans that went on and swore they’d make it somehow this year?

  • Brian

    OK, so, let me just say … I disagree. It would be foolish TO hold the Expo this year, when they could make it like the Olympics and do it every couple of years, creating more of a special atmosphere. If you’ve been to Comic-Con, you know that, except for the die-hards, going EVERY year is just a little much. Besides, Comic-Con is about the entire spectrum of pop entertainment. D23 Expo is about one thing, Disney. Granted, it’s a VERY BIG thing, but still … make it special.

    And, by the way, I think you made a big assumption and leap in logic when you assumed that the Expo would be held every year. Disney quite explicitly said they didn’t know, that they’d have to look at the results. I loved the Expo, I went all four days, and believe me, I’ll be back. If they held a 2010 Expo, you bet I’d be there. It’s just, I’m not sure I would be there in 2011, too. Or 2012 AND 2013, etc. I like the idea of making it a less frequent event. I like that idea a lot.

  • I thought it was telling that in the latest Disney financials, the only mention of D23 was tied to charity activities. If the numbers were big enough, I am sure they would have made a bigger deal out of the program. D23 is now shifting gears into a high-end pin trading club and an exclusive, high-end, high-cost events program. There is a market for this. Just one that I am not really interested in.

  • Brian: I’ve heard that argument made, and I can see its logic, but I guess it depends on what kind of “vibe” a guest is going for. Either the big Olympic-style blowout, or something like SDCC where people are showing up to get together and hear about the latest and greatest. And especially with something like Disney, where you’re looking to not only explore what’s new but you’re also getting together to examine 80 years of history – there’s so much that 2009 barely began to scratch the surface. And as for “new” news, every year brings a new slate of films and television and games, and more to be revealed about the parks.

    Not every company has the fanbase to do it, of course, but if Apple can have these big huge regularly-scheduled events than surely Disney can.

    The thing about the Expo is that Disney has something for everyone, and if Jonas gets people in the gate that’s great, but I can be upstairs watching Tony Baxter show old film of Disneyland under construction. And the Vinylmators are doing their thing, and the pin people are doing their thing, and the Alice in Wonderland people are doing whatever it is that they do.

    As for assumptions about the annual nature of this, I know that they played it close to their vest, and were going to let it play out before they decided. But I also know that 2010 *was* a go on a very recent timescale.

    Would I go annually in perpetuity? Who knows – Cali is a long way away. But I would go this year :)

    Sam: I agree and am afraid you’re right. Which is sad, since they flat-out stated at the start that that’s not what they wanted to become. I do trust the guys running D23 – they really seem to get it. Their bosses, though… who knows.

    But yeah, if this becomes the $200 dessert party and pin trading guild, I’m out. I still have hope, though. Lots of this is still speculation, and they’ve done a pretty good job so far.

  • Alain Littaye

    Hello Michael,

    From what i’ve been told ( and beside the fact that the first D23 expo cost them a lot of money, probably more than the money they did out of it, although it was a very successful marketing operation ) the main problem seems to be that they won’t have enough material to show – understand: new stuff coming to announce, etc…

    Last year they talked about most of the upcoming movies for the next two years and in the Imagineering section they’ve show a lot about the future DCA and HKDL expansion as well as WDW new Fantayland.

    If they were doing an expo this year the main thing that WDI would have to show would be probably Shanghai Disneyland concept or model which hopefully should be revealed by next september. But – and although just like anyone i’m dying to know more about SDL – it will not be enough to do a whole D23 Expo.

    They could do exhibits, etc… but fans are mostly interested by news of the future and i have the feeling they will not have enough material this year – or that they want to keep it secret for marketing reasons. It would be hard for them to do every year as many announcements as they did last year. For these reasons i think they are probably right to choose to do D23 Expos on a biennial basis.

  • Another Voice

    Just great. One question about “unannounced attractions” at Disneyland Paris and now the fun is ruined for everyone.

  • Another Voice

    I think the “there’s not enough new material” excuse ought to rank somewhere between “We’re closing Pleasure Island because guests tell us they want more retail and dining options” and “We’ve canceling Extra Magic Hours because guests tell us they want more character interaction opportunities at the resorts”.

    If Disney can afford to fly hundreds of press wanks and bloggers to WDW to announce the return of the Main Street Electrical Parade and show off a giant mound of canned food, Disney can figure our something that would keep rabid fans interested for two days.

  • SonnyEclipso

    Let me start off by saying I’m not a D23 member. I am not a rich person and $75 is a lot for me considering most events are on the west coast. I wasn’t able to save up enough money to make it out to California for the D23 last year, but I watched live feeds of it the entire four days and have been saving ever since. It was such an exciting thing to see and as you said, really inspired some good will towards us more cynical fans.

    I understand what Alain is saying, and it’s a plausible reason, but I think the people would come just to hear about the history. Let me hear Tony Baster talking about ANYTHING or show me video of construction being done. Us Disney Geeks love to hear about the future sure, but even more then that, we love to nerd out on the past.

  • Alain: Good to see you! As for new material – last year the park announcements were Fantasyland and Star Tours 2 (which everyone knew about, but still…). They also talked about Carsland and the Hong Kong expansions, all of which had been previously announced and revealed in detail.

    This year, it’s possible that they could unveil the entirely new Shanghai resort. There’s a lot still unknown about Fantasyland, and about future DCA expansion. There’s the Paris Studios expansion (when they’re going to announce Ratatouille, who knows?). Then there are all the projects brewing that might get the greenlight before then for all five resorts.

    For all the hype, most of the stuff revealed in detail last year was already well-known. It was just the level of interaction – seeing the WDI models and artwork close up, and the face-to-face interaction with Imagineers – that was the big draw. How many people were really hyped about Rasulo’s presentation, versus how many were hyped by the P&R pavilion? As for “big” announcements, the Studio side actually had more up their sleeve last year than Parks & Resorts did.

    The Fantasyland confirmation was exciting, true, but there’s so much left to know…

    AV: LOL. I destroy everything I love!!

    And you’re sooooo right. They had a multi-day press event for THAT, and some huge deal the other weekend because they RENAMED the Wide World of Sports. Thankfully, I’ve never heard Disney themselves use this excuse – it just seems to be something that circulates on the internets. Disney has plenty in the hopper to keep people interested. Then again, I’d sit through a 4-hour seminar on Mine Train Thru Nature’s Wonderland so I might be an outlier…

    I had to laugh at the “Extra Magic Hours” excuse – I had totally forgotten about that! That was a true classic of the genre. As to Pleasure Island, someone pointed out the other day that all the new “shops and restaurants” are being opened in Marketplace and West End to plug all the vacancies there – how’s that working for PI?

    Sonny: I hear ya. I think the real star of the Expo were the panels that got very little fanfare – there was so much to learn from the animation side AND the parks side. It wasn’t about the big announcements and Nic Cage for me – it was about Baxter and Don Hahn and Kaufman and Kurtti et al.

  • Another Voice

    Let’s just say more than a few Internet excuses don’t exactly come from basement people in their underwear…Disney has been playing games for a lot longer than people dare to think.

    If Disney really wanted to do something with D23, they are incredibly well positioned for their “new media” strategy. I have no interest in paying dues for the privilege of buying $ ‘Pixie Jack and the Neverland Pirates Limited Edition Trading Pins”. But I’d gladly pay money to access a website where I could watch good quality transfers of all the ‘Wonderful World of Disney’ shows.

  • Wouldn’t be great if they were paying me off to grouse publicly as some sort of COINTELPRO operation?

    You’re right about the potential of D23 to *really* give the fans what they want. I always thought that they should at least be used to keep the out-of-print Disney Treasures DVDs on the market, and making these available online would be great. A D23-style Hulu where I could watch Adventures in Mathemagicland would be well worth the price of admission.

  • AJ

    My initial thought was the same as Alain’s — do they have enough to talk about? And I understand that while many of us are happy just watching vault-edition Disney pics, we have to remember that we’re a fickle group. We’re also the contingent that’s extremely critical of Disney when things aren’t up to par…like if they were to spend an exorbitant amount of money, flood Anaheim with fans, and then deliver bupkus for a “show.” I think the (alleged) strategy this time around is a smart one; even if they had enough to announce this year, the bar they set with the Expo last year would be difficult if not impossible to reach every single subsequent year.

    Though I do hate to see Michael sad, or angry, or indifferent…or even hungry for that matter.

  • According to the D23 site, it looks like it’s on after all, folks.

    http://d23.disney.go.com/

    August 19-21, Anaheim, CA

  • I just noticed that it says 2011… sigh…

  • RO93461

    The Expo is marketing. Apple knew when to leave MacWorld. How many times can you wheel out Bob Gurr, Marty, and Tony Baxter unless you give them something new to say?
    Can they really talk about “Pixie Hollow” with conviction?

  • True, it’s marketing, but at least it’s *good* marketing. It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship; if I’m getting what I want out of it, does it really matter what their motives are for putting it on? That seems to be the case with a lot of the “good” moves Disney makes today – I know that I probably disagree with the reasoning behind it, but the outcome can often still be favorable.

    I doubt they can talk about Pixie Hollow with conviction, when lately they can’t seem to talk about it with any degree of certainty whatsoever. I’ve no idea what’s up with the project, because the mixed messages have been flying like crazy.

    But like I’ve said, while there was some interesting news about new projects at the Expo most of the value for me involved history and the ability to suss out details I never knew before. There’s no substitute for being in a room with Bob or Marty or Tony, or standing there right in front of by-God X. Atencio. Sure, I know they can’t just come tell the same old stories over and over but as long as I have things to learn I’ll value events like this. And man, do I have a lot to learn!

  • (and I’m impatient to learn it too :))

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