OPINION: Disney Still Has Its Magic Working

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This past weekend, a family friend and I went to the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California, a trade show run by The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) and named after their official fan club, D23. I have to tell you it was an incredible experience, and if I had the chance to do it again I’d take it. I’ve had my experiences with conventions and trade shows, with my first one being Hong Kong’s now-defunct HD (Hospitality Design) Asia in 2006, and the 2008 New York Anime Festival (now absorbed into New York Comic Con). The D23 Expo was a lot like the Anime Festival, only there was a lot more variety, the cosplay wasn’t weird like you’d see an an anime convention, and this convention was officially sponsored by Disney – so there was something that the whole family could enjoy. My trip taught me a very valuable lesson when it comes to a big business like Disney. Whenever you’re a company that size, there will be areas that you won’t like. In my case, the television division and the tween line of products, as well as their non-Star Wars live-action movies don’t really interest me that much. However, there are two areas that still keep Walt Disney’s vision of ambitious projects alive, and they are Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, and the two theme park resorts here in the US – Disneyland Resort in California, and Walt Disney World in Florida. Speaking of Disneyland, let’s talk about that real quick…

11888117_747538585368430_8994590408649960058_nThe day before the Expo, we decided to spend the whole day at Disneyland. Founded in 1955, the park is currently celebrating its 60th Anniversary (or Diamond Celebration), and as you can tell in the picture on the left, Sleeping Beauty castle was covered in gorgeous diamond-like decorations. The attractions I went to also pretty much reminded me of when I was a child, the time before I had to witness all these culture wars, race wars, and other wars going on here in the US today that is now being encouraged by Hollywood and a compliant news media. Enough with that though, because I’m getting too carried away into politics. The first thing my friend and I did was get a picture with the one and only Mickey Mouse at the Mickey’s Toontown section, which dates back to at least 1993. The first ride we decided to go on however was It’s a Small World, which is located in Fantasyland, one of the first sections to open at the park in 1955 along with Tomorrowland, Adventureland, and Frontierland. That attraction’s title was written by the Sherman Brothers, perhaps very well known for the soundtracks of a lot of great Disney material including the Winnie the Pooh franchise, Mary Poppins, and The Sword in the Stone. Other rides we went to include Star Tours: The Adventures Continue and the legendary Space Mountain at Tomorrowland, and the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland. After the rides tired us, we decided to watch the modern successor to the former Main Street Electrical Parade, Paint the Night. This is basically more high energy, mainly due to the music being more upbeat and sounding like something out of a Nintendo video game and the lights being more neon. This parade is worth the trip if you ever plan on going to Disneyland. However, the highlight of our trip to the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth was the fireworks show called Disneyland Forever. When it comes to fireworks shows, Disney never disappoints in tugging at your emotions – especially if you’re about to turn 24 like I am. Well, that does it for the Disneyland portion of my trip. Next stop… the expo itself.

We began Day 1 with the Disney Legends ceremony hosted by the company’s CEO, Bob Iger. Among the honorees that got the award are Susan Lucci, the star of the long-running ABC soap opera All My Children, George Lucas, the creator of the legendary Star Wars franchise, Andreas Deja, an animator best known for working on many Disney villains including Jafar in Aladdin, and A-list Hollywood actor Johnny Depp. However, the main highlight of this day definitely has to be the animation panel hosted by John Lasseter, the Chief Creative Office of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios (and the co-founder of the latter). Before the presentation, he shot free Hawaiian shirts themed after Disney’s animated films to anyone who was able to catch them. After that, he cut to the chase and went on to announce a great slate of films the entire family will be able to enjoy together. In the case of Disney, Zootopia by far promises the most laughs out of all the current slate. The scene they played which takes place at a DMV run by sloths was especially hysterical! I can’t wait to see it. Disney also has two fairy tale movies in the works too. The first is called Gigantic, which they hope to be their definitive version of Jack and the Beanstalk. The film is co-directed by Byron Howard, who also directed 2010’s Tangled, while the music is being done by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the songwriting duo who also did the songs for the 2013 surprise smash, Frozen. The upcoming film Moana, however, stole the show. The film is also set for a 2016 release, and among the voice talent for that film is the great Dwayne Johnson (formerly The Rock). The character Johnson plays is named Maui, and although the film itself will mainly be in CGI, Maui’s tattoos will be brought to life using traditional hand-drawn animation – something Disney hasn’t really done with any of their recent fare since 2011’s Winnie the Pooh film. On the Pixar front, we have the original film The Good Dinosaur, which is actually the first Pixar film since The Incredibles to get a November release. They also have a Day of the Dead-themed film set in Mexico called Coco. That film will be directed by Lee Unkrich, who also directed Toy Story 3. Other films in Pixar’s slate are Finding Dory – the sequel to Finding Nemo, and Toy Story 4. The panel also concluded with a performance by Randy Newman, who sang his signature song You’ve Got a Friend in Me. 

Day 2 was even more exciting, because we actually got a closer look at Zootopia. By the way, did I say the main characters are played by Jason Bateman and Gennifer Goodwin? Yep, it’s true. Anyway, from the clips I’ve seen, it promises to be a hilarious film that both kids and adults can enjoy together as a family. You can tell that Lasseter really loves his job, and it shows. Day 2 also included a lot of panels we didn’t really get to see, including a sneak peek at the new Star Wars-themed lands now in development at Disneyland and Walt Disney World… and that was pretty much it for Day 2.

Day 3 sadly didn’t really have anything big that my friend and I had time for, but it sure was a fun convention. It really does remind me of that anime convention I went to when I was 17 (and most Comic-Cons as a whole). The only difference was everyone was normal. Most of the crowd also had the entire family together, something that is rarely seen in most geek-centered events. My lesson to you whenever you go to any Disney-sponsored event or any Disney movie theme park is this… the company may lean left in certain areas (more specifically the television division, including ABC, Disney Channel, and ABC News), but if we leave our own political biases out of these events, we will realize that these companies still have great products. Most of all, as families have disintegrated in America, and as children are losing their innocence at younger and younger ages, it’s a welcome relief to see the Disney brand keeping the great tradition to bring families together, especially when it comes to theme parks and animation.

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