Undisputed Master of Branded Entertainment Does Something New
Last month, my parents were in town visiting for the second time this summer. It had been a difficult first part of the year with several illnesses and deaths in the family, including the loss of my beloved Grandmother. It was definitely time for something different.
A day after my parents arrival to Seattle, we got on the plane the next afternoon and met my Auntie Cora (a late addition to the trip) at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California. We immediately drove to Anaheim and got some rest in anticipation of the next morning.
I got Matt a membership to D23 "The Official Community for Disney Fans" on a tip by a fellow Disney fan we met on an Adventures by Disney tour over the Holidays. After years of supporting many unofficial fan clubs over the decades, Disney had finally decided to create its own fan club and expo.
We made sure to be at the Anaheim Convention Center by 6:30am so that we could be one of the first through the doors. Much of what we were going to see at the inaugural event was really a mystery. There had been a few hints dropped about guest appearances but just a few days before the actual event--really too late for us out-of-towners. Matt and I dragged my family down there with an almost blind trust in Disney and its value in quality.
At the outset, the Expo didn’t seem like anything special--a convention room floor with merchandise and booths for a number of different facets of the company. There were displays for anything from Winnie the Pooh baby gear to Walt Disney 1940’s inspired furniture to even Disney label food like Donald Duck Orange Juice.
In true Disney fashion, most people went straight for the collectables queue. Matt, my family and I ended up separating. I went to wait in a line for Bob Iger’s keynote, while everyone else stood in line to make sure they could get their share of the limited D23 items.
Unfortunately, all of our electronics including our cell phones were stripped from those of us who went to the keynote so I was unable to convince Matt to drop the merch in time to join me. In the keynote, Bob Iger welcomed some of Disney’s most enthusiastic fans to the D23 community. Then, we were shown the first 30 minutes of Disney’s upcoming film The Princess and the Frog. I got teary-eyed twice during this keynote: once watching The Princess and the Frog and then again when Bob Iger gave away a night at the Disneyland Dream Suite.
Yes, it may sound a little silly that I got so emotional, but let me explain why these two moments were so powerful for me. On December 11th, I don’t care how old you are or if you male or female, you must go to your local theater to catch The Princess and the Frog. Now, I’m not the kind of diehard Disney fan that loves every single Disney movie. In fact, I can honestly say that I probably haven’t even seen ? of all the Disney movies ever made and will admit that I haven’t had the stomach to even watch every animated Disney movie. But the animated Disney movies I love, I LOVE with a passion: Dumbo, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland, Lilo and Stitch, Pinocchio... And if what I saw of The Princess and the Frog is representative of the rest of the movie, it’s going to be added to my short list of favorites. The characters are beautiful and likable, the story is strong, the lushness of the environments was surprising and the animation, oh the animation. Animation is an expensive and difficult art and when a company bites the monetary bullet to make a well-crafted animated film, I not only applaud them, I admire and appreciate them.
So why would I weep at a giveaway? No, I did not win the night at the Disneyland Dream Suite--that privilege was granted to Dan Learn, another member of the keynote audience. On stage, Dan mentioned that he spent a lot of his childhood at Disneyland because his father worked as a street sweeper. Dan’s father worked a difficult job for the Disney Corporation and he was treated well enough by that corporation that his son was there many years later overjoyed to win this prize at the D23 Expo as a fan of Disney. How amazing is that?
The rest of the day was spent running around the Expo with my family and my dear Auntie Cora who had been one of the most affected by the loss of my Grandma. Auntie is also a Disney fan but a slightly different shade of Disney fan from Matt and me. And that’s another amazing thing about the Disney Corporation; it’s been successful in creating so many different kinds of products and services that appeal to all sorts of people and all shades of fans are united by Mickey and the Disney Parks.
The inaugural D23 Expo was a four day event but we were only able to attend the first two days. On the second day, my aunt and parents decided to spend the day at Disneyland while Matt and I chose to continue our D23 experience. We joined another couple we had met on the Adventures by Disney tour--Stacey and Leo who are two of the most passionate Disney fans we’ve met in quite a while--for the Dick Cook keynote. Dick Cook was the Chairman of Disney Studios responsible for the movie division of Disney until just a few days after the D23 Expo. Cook had started his career at Disney in 1970 as a monorail driver and was responsible for many important relationships with Robert Zemeckis, Jerry Bruckheimer, Tim Burton, and most recently Guillermo Del Toro that helped solidified Disney as a movie powerhouse.
During Dick Cook’s keynote, we were treated to cameos by some of my very favorite entertainers EVER: Tim Burton, The Muppets, and Johnny Depp. Add to that visits by Miley Cyrus, Jerry Bruckheimer, Robert Zemeckis, John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Nicolas Cage, and a video postcard from Guillermo Del Toro, all in an hour and a half! I should not forget the movie announcements made by the celebrities, including a new Muppets movie, Guillermo del Toro’s Disney Double Dare You movie label and an upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
Matt and I completed our D23 experience by seeing a talk by the Director of the original Tron and the Producer of the upcoming Tron Legacy. We’ve both been long-time fans of the 1982 Tron movie which brought to light the idea of virtual reality and introduced CGI to movie making.
The D23 Expo blew all of my expectations out of the water, as I’m sure it did for many of the other 20,000 attendees. Mind you, these are 20,000 of some of Disney’s most avid and vocal fans who quickly blogged about some of the many exciting Disney announcements made to D23 attendees and even paid $37/day entry fee to support their habit. A number of those fans, including us, pay the annual $75 membership that includes a beautiful shiny quarterly magazine, entry to exclusive events, and the ability to purchase specific D23 collectables. Some might say that it’s a racket. I think it’s another brilliant move by a company that truly understands the importance of entertainment, quality and fostering on-going relationships with its customers. The pay-off to Disney is a dedicated, multi-generational fan base that’s been growing since Mickey’s Plane Crazy animation back in 1923.