D23 Anniversary Event: Steven Clark Talks D23 Expo, New Upcoming Events and WDI Drops Bombshells

Last night, Disney’s D23 held a private after-hours event for members who attended its (slightly early) first anniversary party in which most of the existing Fantasyland was turned into a bounty of attractions, unique character meet and greet experiences and dessert party.

Aside from the party, there were two key events. The first of which was a buffet style dinner inside the Diamond Horseshoe in which D23 head Steven Clark offered a presentation concerning the first anniversary of the first official community for Disney fans.

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Introduced by Walt Disney World ambassador Clay Shoemaker, Clark talked about his own personal experience as a fan prior to joining the company, attending an event in the early 90s in which many Disney legends (past, present and future) were in attendance and presented upcoming projects from The Walt Disney Company. He spoke of meeting Walt Disney Studios archivist Dave Smith whom he had recognized from Dave’s column in Disney Channel magazine. He spoke fondly of Smith’s warmth and how Smith had offered him a private tour of the Studios in Burbank. Clark recalled how he had encountered a custodian with a fanny pack at the Studios and watched as a squirrel ran up the custodian’s leg, took food out of the fanny pack and ran off, appearing to gesture a thank you along the way. It was then, Clark notes, he knew he ‘was at Disney.’ Clark then led the room in a toast saluting D23 and its members and both of their successes. He introduced several key members of the D23 group that were in attendance (and a couple that were not) and spoke of their contributions to the success of the club and the expo.

He followed with a humorous look at what internet rumors had first speculated what D23 would be based on its mysterious Are You 23? campaign, beginning with that it had zero to do with the Jim Carrey film of the same name.

All of this lead into the artwork featuring Disney characters by Disney artist Dave Pachecho after the club was officially announced at the 2009 annual shareholder’s meeting. Then, very seriously, and asking no photos be taken (a request he omitted, intentional or not, from the second seating), Steven told the gathering he would show some of the artwork that didn’t quite make it to the viewing public. What followed were some very funny and quite clever posters parodying Disney animated films, D23 itself and even the legions of company lawyers. The artwork included items parodying DVC (Have You Heard Disney’s Worst Kept Secret?), Finding Nemo (Fans are Friends, not Foood), the merchandising aspect (Bibbidi Bobbidi Buy It, The Greatest Disney Fan Club Ever Sold) and more. One of the well received ones was of Mulan holding a fan with the title We’ll Make a Fan Out of You and the true crowd pleaser, Pinocchio with the words D23: We’ve Got No Strings. As the crowd applauded the artwork, Clark transitioned into the next slide which shows what happened to it after Disney’s lawyers got ahold of it, pointing out in some sub-sub-paragraph that ‘* Strings may or may not be attached.’ Of course Clark identified his favorite of the lot as one featuring Stitch with the title in Stitch’s native language. It failed, according to Clark, because ‘no one got the message.’

Next, Clark presented a video featuring guests and clips from the first annual D23 Expo that took place at the Anaheim Convention Center last year. After the video, Clark announced that there was an announcement regarding the Expo that he would like to make, but couldn’t, but it would be made within the next few days (he later confirmed to me that it would take place during the annual shareholder’s meeting on March 10). When I asked him about the recent report about the Expo not occurring again until 2011 as a biennial event despite other recent reports to the contrary, he would only say that there will be another Expo and we would have to wait until the meeting for any information beyond that. After the first presentation, I had received hope that the announcement would be that the 2010 D23 Expo would occur, but after hearing Steven relay the information to the second seating, I began to consider that the reports of no Expo until 2011 has some merit.


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The other key event at the first anniversary was a presentation inside the Mickey’s Philharmagic theater with imagineer Mark Cole. After showing a couple of photos of Walt Disney as he formed WED Enterprises (the precursor to Walt Disney Imagineering), Cole presented a photo of WDI’s past and future accomplishments, which was really just the Inside Walt Disney Imagineering v1.0 video released by Disney Parks over a year ago.

Cole then offered a presentation and information on the expansion, offering up quite a bit of concept art and information that mostly provided details that would not already be known by guests keeping themselves in the loop on the project. Here are some of the highlights of Cole’s presentation:

Cole: ‘We have lots of work ahead of us… I see a rich forest in which our princesses live in… the likes of which probably doesn’t exist in the Magic Kingdom today.’

Offering the disclaimer that he has two young boys of his own and the need to maintain balance in the upcoming princess offerings that many have criticized as being girl-oriented, Cole talked about the various experiences that will be offered beginning with Cinderella.

In an elaborately designed queue, groups of 30 – 40 guests will be led into a room in which Cinderella greets them, dressed in rags. After her story is told, the Fairy Godmother will lead the group of guests in a round of Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo and Cindy’s rags will transition into an elaborate ballgown right before the guest’s eyes. Other reports of the experience have stated that Cindy’s elaborate makeup will also be part of the transformation. After the transformation, Cinderella will engage with the guests, perhaps offering the opportunity to dance with her or offer knight training to help appease the young, macho crowd. Cole would later state that they have already done some testing with this experience and that the dancing opportunity has been extremely well received by both genders.

He then moved on to the Beast’s castle area which features a meet & greet experience with Belle. Guests will enter Maurice’s cottage in which they learn of the magic mirror presented to Maurice by Beast so that he can keep an eye on his daughter. Guests will then enter the mirror (which I would presume to be the same amazing effect that had guests ‘enter’ a wall at the Disney Parks exhibit at the D23 Expo, if not better) and immediately be greeted by Belle who will offer role playing, allowing children to help play out some of Belle’s favorite stories (not unlike Belle’s Storytime which exists in the Magic Kingdom today). Cole then talked a bit about the rest of the area which includes Gaston’s village (no mention of the tavern) and the ballroom of the ‘Be Our Guest’ restaurant which Cole said has so many technological advancements going on, that there simply wouldn’t be enough time to mention it all, but that details would be forthcoming.

The third and final (and arguably weakest) experience is that with Aurora. The concept is that since Sleeping Beauty never had a 16th birthday, guests will throw her a surprise party. Entering the woodcutter’s cottage, guests will have the opportunity to create a greeting card for Aurora and then be led by cast members to the opportunity to throw a surprise party. After Aurora is shocked and honored, she will interact individually with each guest.

‘Unlike the meet & greets as they exist today, ‘we are going to get a chance to spend a significant time with the princesses, [perhaps] up to ten minutes,’ Cole explained.

He then walked us through the Prince Eric / Ariel experience which leads up the ‘E ticket’ attraction Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid and offered some concept artwork of the dark ride.

On the Dueling Dumbos, Cole acknowledged that various generations of the expansion concept art has shown the Dumbos in different places. Disclaiming that everything is subject to change, Cole stated that currently the plan is to have them just above the Mad Tea Party. I later had the opportunity to ask Cole during a Q&A session about the prospects of a water feature in Dumbo like many of the other parks have but Walt Disney World could not have in the current location for various reasons. Based on the model, many have assumed (and with good reason) that Dumbo would have water features based on the blue coloring on the model. In response, Cole simply stated that it has not yet been decided.

Cole then talked about and showed some various close-ups of the model that we so famously first presented to our readers. He explained that the physical model is quarter-inch scale (about 1/48 of actual size) and that the Woodcutter’s Cottage is roughly the size of a beach ball. They are currently working on a half-inch scale model in which the Cottage is roughly the size of ‘a small car.’

In order to further help view the proposed changes from the perspective of the guest, he noted they are also developing a ‘soft model’ on the computer which will allow for a virtual walkthrough of the expansion.

Back on the existing model, Cole noted that one of the biggest features is the topography which features rolling hills. On ambient elements such as the rockwork, he noted that they are being very attentive to ensure that everything fits the country of origin of the individual fairy tales.

Cole then conducted a Q&A session with the audience, but reader be warned: ‘it has yet to be decided’ is the re-occurring theme. For example, there is no timeframe for Toontown’s closure (they have recently broken ground in an area currently inaccessible to guests which will be completed first) and the fate of Pixie Hollow is still in very early consideration as it’s part of phase two.

Even so, the ‘it has yet to be decided’ refrain managed to drop a bombshell or two. Despite what was recently reported in D23 magazine, Cole stated that the theming for the Barnstormer is still unknown and that they have ‘studied lots of things.’ He was quick to note that the Barnstormer is staying, however, which has been a major talking point for the project since it was first officially announced.

The train station will either be ‘refreshed or replaced’ but will not move from its existing location. Cole also told a questioner that the expansion will be contained by the existing train tracks. Probably most telling on the state of the expansion, however, is Cole’s response to a question regarding just how much space the Fantasyland upgrade will consume. ‘I hesitate to give an answer,’ Cole responded. ‘Every time I think we’re done, we continue to look at things differently.’

Questions I wish had been asked but I don’t believe were addressed by the presentation are whether the Pooh playground and meet & greet will remain (all signs are pointing to yes, but there is some debate over the evidence presented so far) and even the meet & greet with Ariel, which we would almost have to assume to take place, but wasn’t mentioned at all.

But clearly the gem of the presentation was the answer to a question that was asked multiple times by the audience: what will become of Mickey and Minnie’s homes in Toontown? The first time, Cole gave the standard, evasive answer that Mickey and Minnie will always have a place in the Magic Kingdom but they aren’t ready to discuss that yet (we know that Exposition Hall is undergoing a transformation to house the meet and greets but we do not know whether it’s permanent). When asked again, specifically about the houses, Cole outright said that the homes ‘would not be eliminated,’ but declined to explain further.

There will be additional D23 events announced later this year, but being who we are, we don’t mind telling you about some of them now. In addition to the Studios and Archives tour that has already been announced for November, we are told there will be two additional tours offered this year. During his second presentation, Steven Clark mentioned there will be another Magic and Merriment event, but didn’t say whether it would take place this year.

I’m also told by a source that there will be an event held inside The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. No details were provided, but it may not be unlike the recent event held by Tables in Wonderland or other times when the attraction is used as a venue.

I also hear that under consideration is a series of private screenings of classic Disney films as they have occasionally done on the west coast, this one taking place inside the animation building at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. D23’s concern over this proposal, however, is that they may not be able to offer the additional bonuses such as appearances by talent which is generally afforded by the Los Angeles area.

I must acknowledge and thank Stitch Kingdom reader Cedric who I met at the event for pointing out to me that D23 had set up shop, pre-selling a limited amount of merchandise. Most of the merchandise listed was nothing that wouldn’t have already been offered to existing D23 members (notably charter members who renew) which included all of the back-issues (which can be ordered by D23 members at DisneyStore.com anyway) and the 2010 member gift, the calendar, was also being sold separately for $24.95.

Items such as a storage binder to store a volume of issues in was being offered as well as all of the character art posters for D23 and the D23 Expo (10 in all, $5 each) and there were quite a few items available not on the list including a set of all 6 of the 1955 attraction patches that were distributed to members with the magazine. Selling for $30 for the set, I was assured they fixed the spelling of monorail for this run (unfortunately), but I still hold out for hope. They were also selling the Mickey Mouse bandleader charter pin as well as the D23 exclusive pin from the UP All Night screening event. Bibbidi Bobbidi Buy It!

Of course there was the party itself. Attractions, special character appearances and complimentary desserts scattered throughout most of Fantasyland as we know it.

Many have asked which attractions were open during the event and, to be honest, I really don’t know. It appeared many were, but ‘it’s a small world’ was definitely not and I believe I heard Pooh wasn’t running either. Truth be told, I was in it for the characters as D23 vaguely promised some characters that had not been in the parks for a while.

The first character I encountered and met was Bandleader Mickey. Granted it’s virtually impossible to find him at Walt Disney World, he’s a quarter-regular at Disneyland and was at the D23 Expo. Nontheless, he was a good find for the event and was probably a first for many of the attendees.

Other meet and greet opportunities included: Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle the cow; Jiminy Cricket with a very feisty Pinocchio; Anastasia, Drizella and Lady Tremaine; and — the pièce de résistance — Belle with Gaston. As he’ll be the first to tell you, Gaston was particularly amazing, very vocal and true to character, offering classic liners as ‘I’m glad you could meet me’ and ‘I looked good in that photo, Belle. Just like every picture ever made.’ The interaction between the two was also very enhanced, but Gaston made sure he was the star of the show and he can’t blame you for loving him. Here’s hoping he’ll end up being a part of the Beast’s Castle area of the expansion.

Desserts were also widely available throughout the land. Personally, I very quickly became a huge fan of the warm apple funnel cake bread pudding with brandy butter sauce.

All in all, another great event presented by D23 and I very much look forward to being able to attend my next one. Job well done.

Below is our photo gallery of the event. Click on each individual thumbnail to expand it to a larger size, or click on the PicLens link to begin a slideshow.

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