For many people, the takeaway from the 2013 D23 Expo was the lack of real takeaways. There were no substantial announcements from the Studios or the Parks and Resorts which left some people underwhelmed. However, I had a great time at the Expo.
I attended the Expo in 2011 and I remember being wowed by the Studios presentation but disappointed by the Parks and Resorts presentation. More importantly, I remember the frustration with the way things were run. Fast forward to 2013 and the event was run substantially better. Two years ago, I couldn’t dream of seeing 3 presentations in a day unless I waited in line for 8 hours. This year, I saw all 5 Imagineering presentations on Sunday without any issues whatsoever.
The Stage Pass concept worked great. The increased sizes to Stage 23 and 28 were much appreciated. The overflow theater for the Arena appeased many. The event was simply run better in 2013 than it was in 2011.
I’d be lying if I wasn’t hoping for Parks and Resorts announcements, but if a project doesn’t have the approval of the Board of Directors, they can’t announce it. As fans, we have to understand that the company does not revolve around this event. Perhaps they could have offered a bit more information on the Avatar and Star Wars projects, but they did at least acknowledge their existence. D23 wanted an Imagineering presence, and the approach of focusing on never built projects was an intriguing one for fanbois.
Inside the Imagineering pavilion, I appreciated the early EPCOT models as well as the Western River Expedition model. The teaser animatronic of the Hatbox Ghost led to more speculation about it being installed into The Haunted Mansion, and the viewing of ride-throughs on the DISH system led to speculation about the ride system on new Star Wars attractions. All of these things created discussion and all of these things led fans to believe that there is a bright future ahead for the Parks and Resorts.
However, it wasn’t the technology takeaways that I appreciated the most. My biggest takeaway from this event was the time that cast members and Imagineers took to talk with the fans. In many cases I didn’t really like the answers I received (like my conversation with an Imagineer in the My Magic+ area), but I certainly appreciated the time and access.
I don’t profess to have a journalism background. Very few of us Disney bloggers have that background. Conversely, I assume all of the employees Disney gave us access to had significant coaching and training in public relations. I wasn’t expecting to get any groundbreaking information out of the Expo, but I was truly surprised by the number of Disney employees that were willing to at least talk about the questions and concerns of the fans.
On the very last day of the Expo, my friend Hunter and I were walking across the show floor on our way back to the final Imagineering presentation. On our way, we saw Bruce Vaughn, Joe Rohde, Tom Fitzgerald, Kathy Mangum, Eric Jacobson and Daniel Jue sitting in the autograph area. We looked at each other and immediately tried to find the line. We were told it had been cut off, but after very little persuasion we were allowed to get into the back of the line. At this point, we no longer cared about the final presentation.
Many of the staff covering the event were not Disney employees, and we struck up a conversation with the Expo staffer that was manning the line. He didn’t know who these six people were, nor why we felt it was important to meet them. We explained to him that they were people that worked behind the scenes to create many of the classic attractions that we as fans love. We likened them to the Steven Spielberg of their profession. He immediately understood and appreciated the significance.
When it was our turn we approached the first table featuring Bruce Vaughn and Joe Rohde. I began with, “You know, Joe there’s an animatronic elephant inside the Imagineering Pavilion that I first saw on April 22, 1998.” Thankfully, he didn’t correct me by saying that the animatronic wasn’t there on Animal Kingdom’s opening day. Instead, both Bruce Vaughn and Joe Rohde spent the time talking to us as fans. We took photos with them, thanked them and moved on to the next table.
Greeting us next were Tom Fitzgerald and Kathy Mangum. Hunter made the mistake of calling Kathy Mangum “ma’am” and she jokingly acted offended. They spent the time with us as well, despite the “handler” trying to usher us on to the next table. Simply put, we wanted to thank them and let them know that so much of what they do goes unrecognized and unappreciated by the average fan.
The final table featured Daniel Jue and Eric Jacobson and we barely talked about Disney. To the uninformed, Daniel Jue was a major contributor to the Japanese parks, and we spent most of our conversation discussing the entire country of Japan.
Collectively, the three conversations made the Expo for me. I would have enjoyed it had they not taken place, but they represented the “something extra” that I remembered from Disney. These weren’t fabricated conversations based on data points being read off a teleprompter – these were real conversations with real people. Sure, they didn’t tell us the five year plans for the parks, but we didn’t expect them to. However, they did answer smaller scale questions and did so in an unguarded way. More importantly though, they seemed to appreciate the conversation and we certainly appreciated them.
Now that a bit of time has passed since the Expo, what are your lingering thoughts? Did the show live up to the hype?