Founded ten years ago by Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger, the official Disney fan club known as D23 has been going out of its way to offer unique and memorable experiences for fans of the company. None has been more festive than their biennial convention, the D23 Expo. Growing into a serious, major rival to the likes of San Diego Comic Con and the Electronic Entertainment Expo, it has attracted thousands from all over to the Anaheim Convention Center for three days in August, celebrating all things Disney.

The following is a recap of this year’s event from Animated Views’ own Randall Cyrenne and Dan Short. This was the first D23 Expo for Randall and the third for Dan.

DS: Ever since I attended my first D23 Expo in 2015, I’ve been totally enamored by the amazing spectacle and delightful atmosphere of the convention. Each attendance has become a wonderful experience, rivaling the decades of enjoyment had at the San Diego Comic Con, with unique content and opportunities that are incredible to behold. So much so that I’m willing to wait in line for hours, even spending the night at the convention center, for fun unlike any other. Making this year all the more fun was that I would be getting a chance to hang out with Randall and share this majestic experience with him.

It should be noted that this year introduced an online reservation system. The idea was that attendees would get a chance to reserve their spot in panels, signings, and entry into some of the store booths without having to wait in line for a long while. It was also an attempt to help ease overcrowding at the booths. Well, it sounded good in practice. Execution was a different story. There were problems with getting the system working on time, so that they ended up delaying it a full day from its originally scheduled start date.

Once the system was online, virtually everything that was offered had all reservation spots filled within 90 minutes, while most who had logged on waited for an opportunity to make reservations. Many people were angry, as they felt without the reservations they were not going to be able to get into anything. I was merely amused by the whole process because it honestly didn’t change our plans too much, specifically for the panels. It was always planned to wait long hours in line even before the reservation system was introduced. The reservations would have been a nice back-up to have, but it wasn’t all that essential. We still got into all the panels we wanted. What was important was getting the most out of the experience, and by pre-planning were we able to do just that and enjoy the three days of Disney goodness on display.

RC: Whoa, what a show! I had a blast hanging out at D23 with Dan, and was glad that the decision that I made two years ago proved to be so worth it. I can see how this might not be an experience for everyone. The crowds and lineups could be off-putting to some, and there is no doubt that you are being manipulated to love… love… LOVE Disney and keep the money flowing through the coffers at the House of Mouse, but… I was all in! It would be easy to be cynical about the whole exercise, and it is not unfair to cite the sales pushes that happen at the show, but I could not help but be caught up in it all. Why?

Well, because there is so much more going on during the show, so many things to experience and enjoy. Secondly, there is an underlying sincerity that I totally bought. Bob Iger himself hosted the first presentation that I attended, and he was as warm and congenial as you could imagine. Iger thanked the fans, and the many thousands of Disney employees around the world, and said that he was grateful to us all. Sure, he said all the things that he was supposed to say, but darnit, I believed him. I like to believe that there are still people high up in the company that espouse the old-fashioned Disney values, and that was embodied by what I saw in Iger.

Later in the weekend, during another presentation, a slogan came up on a screen that read, “You’re not just fans, you’re family.” And it truly felt like it. From Iger’s gracious hosting, to the smiling celebrities who honestly looked like they were having fun, to the genuine enthusiasm seen in the staff and volunteers, and certainly to the excitement and friendliness seen in my fellow attendees and line-mates, there was a true sense of family at the show. Sure, one can read the news and see clips from the show on your computer at home, but it just ain’t the same, believe me. D23 has so much more to offer than videos and sound bites. It is a celebration of Disney, sure, but also a celebration of our own passions, and the inspirational vision of Walt Disney himself. And y’know what— it’s hard to celebrate sitting by yourself at your computer. If you’re not at the show, you’re not getting anywhere near the whole experience. However, not everyone is able to go, or wants to brave the crowds. We’re therefore happy to share with you what we were able to experience.

2019 Disney Legends Ceremony

RC: Dan and I met in person for the first time at about 5:15pm on Thursday, at the hotel. We were practically next to the Anaheim Convention Center, where the Expo was being held – about a twenty-minute walk to Disneyland. That afternoon, I had already picked up my badge for the Expo, and taken a walk at Downtown Disney before having a little nap before Dan arrived. I had just been vacationing in Europe, only arriving home in Canada on that Tuesday (yes, I had an epic summer), so I was pretty exhausted. In fact, I was quite zombie-like that first evening at the hotel, not making too good of a first impression, I’m sure. However, having jet lag made it easy to fall asleep early, in order to get up at 4am and prepare for our first line-up at the Expo.

Dan, being a D23 veteran, was an invaluable mentor that weekend, and I followed his advice to the letter. We therefore got in line by 5am on Friday, with Dan looking forward to entry onto the exhibit floor to secure signings and photo ops, while I was determined to see the Disney Legends induction ceremony. (Like the San Diego Comic-Con, D23 Expo is many things to many people!) Even lining up at that early hour, it was not certain that I would get in to the Legends presentation; we first waited quite a while in that initial line, before arriving downstairs at Hall E, where we were then put into separate lines. Fortunately, my D23 Gold Membership enabled me to get a wristband that guaranteed me entry to Legends (though I was told that there was only one more Gold wristband left after I got mine!). So, with my “golden wristband,” I could rest easy, knowing that a chair awaited me inside Hall D23 upstairs. I was feeling relieved, and very pleased.

You see, while debating to myself months ago if this trip would really be worthwhile (hard to believe, now), I felt that I would be happy if I had the chance to at least see Robert Downey Jr. So, I was thrilled to find out that he would be in attendance, along with a number of other favorites, at the Disney Legends ceremony. Of course, this would not only end up being a great presentation, it was just the first of many magical experiences that weekend.

Disney Legends is Disney’s “Hall of Fame,” spotlighting people who have contributed the most to the Disney brand over the years, and it was a perfect beginning to D23. Bob Iger, the CEO of The Walt Disney Company, hosted the event, and it was here that we were all first made to feel not just welcome, but treated as honored guests. The Legends ceremony has evolved quite a bit over the years, as many of the more obvious Legends have already been recognized, and Disney has now begun to honor those from other companies that it has bought over the years.

This year, such Marvel Studios luminaries as Robert Downey Jr and actor-director-producer Jon Favreau were inducted, along with film and TV actress Ming-Na Wen (Mulan, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), singer Christina Aguilera (who identified herself as “the biggest Disney fan,” then erroneously cited The Sound Of Music as a “Disney musical” that she always loved!), Touchstone Pictures queen Bette Midler, ABC-TV broadcast personalities Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts, actor James Earl Jones (cited for his iconic voice work specifically), composer Hans Zimmer, and High School Musical director Kenny Ortega.

Ironically, the two people who I would consider to be the biggest actual Disney Legends this year were names less familiar to the average person; but long-serving Disney parks choreographer Barnette Ricci and architect Wing T. Chao (pictured above) were probably the most deserving of the Disney Legend title of all the inductees. Most of the honorees were present, though Bette Midler’s lookalike daughter had to fill in for her when Bette’s flight was canceled due to bad weather; her daughter gave a touching, emotion-filled reading of her mom’s speech, and it was a surprise highlight of the show for me. A few others had to send along video greetings, but overall it was a good turnout. From getting to watch Christina Aguilera perform live, to hearing Robert Downey Junior’s scandalous-yet-unsurprising first Disney parks experience (getting busted for smoking dope), it was a morning to remember.

The Toy Hunter at D23 Expo

DS: While attending the Disney Legends ceremony is something I would eventually like to do, I have usually found myself needing to do other things that ended up taking precedence. This year, it was making sure I got into the Auli’i Cravalho signing and checking up on whether or not some of the booth activities could be a possibility without reservations. Aside from those, I spent the first few hours of the convention just checking out the show floor while waiting to meet back up with Randall. It was during this walk around that I made my way to Center Stage and checked out the Toy Hunter at D23 Expo.

In 2012, the Travel Channel began to air a documentary series called Toy Hunter. The series followed Jordan Hembrough, a high-profile toy collector and operator of his own store, Hollywood Heroes, as he went around looking for rare or unique toys either to sell at conventions or later at the request of a client. The show ended in 2014 after three seasons, but Hembrough has since found himself rather busy doing work to showcase the culture of collectibles online with the likes of Marvel and LucasFilm. Disney figured it would be fun to showcase Hembrough at D23. He appeared many times at Center Stage to display some of the rare and unique Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars toys he currently possessed, spending time providing background on each of them. He skipped out on notating what the possible monetary value would be. He would also pick out a few people in the audience and run them through trivia challenges before they received fun prizes for participating.

I managed to catch his first presentation on Day One. The audience was relatively small then, but I have seen that each progressive appearance got more crowded. I do believe he showed off the same four toys in all of his presentations, but I imagine prizes differed. Hembrough presented a vintage Mickey Mouse school bus metal lunchbox and thermos from the 1960s, an Iron Man figure of the rare instance the mask had a nose, the first Millennium Falcon figure, and the original Disneyland Monorail toy set still in the box. Having been a fan of Toy Hunter (to the point that I actually appear in an episode), it was great to see Hembrough not only continuing to be active, but showing off some nifty toys to an audience who may be unfamiliar with him. The toys he presented were very cool, in particular the Monorail set, and his interaction with the audience was fun. The trivia participants of the presentation I went to got to take home copies of The Lion King Monopoly game, which was quite nice.

Sneak Peek! Disney+ Showcase

DS: On November 12, Disney will be launching their own streaming service. The highly anticipated Disney+ is set to make a big splash, as it will be backed by one of the largest libraries of programming content around – from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, LucasFilm, Fox, and National Geographic – along with a plethora of original movies and television shows. 7,000 attendees filled Hall D23 to take a look at some of the original content the service will be offering.

The presentation began with a live performance of “We’re All In This Together” by the cast of High School Musical: The Musical – The Series. Actress Yvette Nicole Brown was then introduced as the host of the proceedings. Following a brief summary of what’s to come, she turned things over to Kevin Mayer, Chairman of Direct-to-Consumer & International. Mayer gave an overview of the service, showing off a trailer and announcing a pre-order offer for D23 Gold members.

Mayer introduced Gary Marsh, President and Chief Creative Officer of Disney Channels Worldwide. Marsh noted what Disney Channel programs will be available at launch before going over the original content exclusive to Disney+. The first he announced was Phineas & Ferb: The Movie – Candace Against The Universe. The special will explore the boys’ relationship with their sister Candace when she is kidnapped by aliens. It will premiere sometime in 2020.

Next, Marsh announced a new Lizzy McGuire series. After teasing that it might be a reboot, he announced that it would be a continuation, as he brought out returning series star Hilary Duff. Duff explained that the revival will follow 30-year-old McGuire trying to live an adult life in New York while still having her animated teenage self present to express her feelings. They didn’t have a date yet for when the series will premiere.

Marsh wrapped up his portion of the proceedings by talking about High School Musical: The Musical – The Series. The series will be a mockumentary of students at East High, the setting of the film series, looking to put on a performance of the musical. The trailer for the 10-episode series was screened and it was announced that the first episode will premiere when Disney+ launches on November 12 and will stream weekly afterward.

Brown returned to discuss Pixar shows that will be exclusive to the service. First was the short-format series Forky Asks A Question. After failing to get the Toy Story 4 character to come out, she introduced Tony Hale, the voice of Forky. Following some joking around, Hale set up the full screening of an episode, in which Forky asks Hamm about money. At least one episode will be available at launch, though it wasn’t revealed how often episodes will stream later.

The other Pixar show announced was Monsters At Work. Brown introduced series stars Ben Feldman and Aisha Tyler to explain the premise as concept art was shown. Feldman will play Tylor Tuskmon, who is about to start work at Monsters, Inc. just when they transition from scaring kids to making them laugh. Tyler will be playing Tylor’s mom Millie. The series is scheduled to premiere on Disney+ sometime in 2020.

Brown introduced Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, to go over the original content Marvel will offer. He began with the animated anthology What If…? He was joined by director Bryan Andrews and head writer Ashley Bradley to screen the trailer, with a featured story being “What if Peggy Carter took the super soldier serum?” This brought out actress Haley Atwell to discuss exploring an alternate take on Peggy. What If…? will premiere sometime in Mid-2021.

Next, Feige briefly discussed the Loki series. While there was no footage or production stills to show, director Kate Herron and head writer Michael Waldron came out to confirm that the series will explore what the god of mischief will be up to following the events of Avengers: Endgame. Star Tom Hiddleston sent a video message expressing his excitement for the series, which is set to debut sometime in early 2021.

Next was The Falcon And The Winter Soldier. Director Kari Skogland and head writer Malcom Spellman explained that the series would look at the political repercussions of Avengers: Endgame. Series stars Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson) and Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes) were introduced alongside Emily VanCamp, returning as Sharon Carter, and Marvel newcomer Wyatt Rusell, who will play John Walker. The series will debut in August 2020.

Feige moved onto WandaVision. Director Matt Shakman and head writer Jac Schaeffer discussed taking cues from classic sitcoms like The Dick Van Dyke Show, but injecting a dark spin, as exemplified in the teaser trailer. Stars Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch) and Paul Bettany (Vision) were introduced along with Kat Dennings (reprising Darcy Lewis from the Thor films), Randall Park (reprising Jimmy Woo from Ant-Man and the Wasp), and Kathryn Hahn. WandaVision premieres in early 2021.

Feige closed out Marvel’s portion of the presentation revealing that, along with the previously announced Hawkeye series starring Jeremy Renner, three more shows were in development. The shows would be Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, and She-Hulk. Feige confirmed that they would be connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the characters introduced would be making appearances in the films. No dates were announced yet for any of the three shows.

Brown returned to go over a couple non-fiction shows to be released through National Geographic. The first was The World According To Jeff Goldblum. Goldblum was introduced to talk briefly about the show before showing off the trailer. The series follows the actor in his attempt to understand everyday things such as ice cream, sneakers, tattoos, and video games. The series will debut when the service launches on November 12.

The other non-fiction show presented was Encore! Executive producer Kristen Bell appeared to discuss the show and show off the trailer. Continuing off of the premise used in a 2017 ABC special, each episode will reunite now-older cast members of high school musicals and follow their attempts to recreate their performances long after they had graduated. Encore! is scheduled to premiere with the launch of Disney+ on November 12.

Brown then introduced Sean Bailey, President of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production, to discuss the upcoming feature films exclusive to Disney+. The first is Stargirl, based on the acclaimed young adult novel about a teenage force of nature entering high school for the first time. Stars Grace VanderWaal (Stargirl) and Graham Verchere (Leo) were brought out to talk about making the film and to screen the trailer. Stargirl will stream sometime in 2020.

Bailey next talked about Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. Based on the series of books by Stephan Pastis, the film centers on an 11-year-old who believes himself to be the best detective in town, and he is accompanied by his imaginary 1,500-pound polar bear sidekick Rollo Tookus. None of the stars nor director Tom McCarthy were present, but they did screen a scene from the film. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is scheduled to stream sometime in 2020.

Bailey moved on to the live-action adaption of the Disney animated classic Lady And The Tramp. Running down the cast list, it was announced that proceedings host Brown would be appearing as Aunt Sarah. Brown came out along with the primary canine performers, Rose and Monty. The majority of the dogs used for the film were rescues, with Brown revealing that she took home one of Rose’s doubles before screening the trailer. Lady And The Tramp will stream at launch on November 12.

Sticking to the subject of dogs, Bailey talked about Togo. The film will be based on the true story of one of the primary figures in the 1925 serum run to Nome, with Togo having been the lead sled dog of the initial relay. Willem Dafoe will play Togo’s owner, Leonhard Seppala. While neither Dafoe nor director Ericson Core were present, Bailey did show off an early scene from the film. Togo is expected to stream on Disney+ as early as December.

Bailey closed out his portion with Noelle. The film centers on Kris Kringle’s daughter, who is forced to leave the North Pole for the first time to find her brother and heir to the Santa Claus position, Nick, when he suffers a nervous breakdown. Stars Anna Kendrick (Noelle) and Billy Eichner (Gabriel) were brought out to discuss how excited they were to be making a classic holiday feature before screening the trailer. Noelle will premiere at launch on November 12.

Brown returned to bring up two more Disney shows. The first is a new Muppets show called Muppets Now, which will be an unscripted short-format series. They screened a teaser in which Kermit The Frog is trying to explain what the show is about, but “Joe From Legal” cuts him off at every turn to notate that because this was a teaser he was not legally allowed to reveal anything beyond the fact it was happening. The show is expected to stream sometime in 2020.

Brown then introduced the next show, Diary Of A Female President. Bringing out executive producer and recurring star Gina Rodriguez (Adult Elena) along with main star Tess Romero (Young Elena), they talked a bit about their excitement for the show before showing the trailer. The series will jump between the teenage life of Cuban American Elena and how her experiences influence her when she becomes President of the United States as an adult. The series will premiere in January 2020.

Brown then handed over to Kathleen Kennedy, President of Lucasfilm, to close out the proceedings with Star Wars. Kennedy first confirmed that all of the Star Wars films would be streaming exclusively through the Disney+ service once it launches. She then started by briefly bringing up the return of the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, announcing that the revival season will begin streaming in February 2020.

Kennedy then moved on to the live-action television projects, beginning with the untitled series that serves as a prequel to Rogue One. She brought out stars Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk, confirming their return as Cassian Andor and K-2SO respectively. The two joked around about what the potential title for the show could be and consideration of incorporating Luna’s history in telenovelas into the storytelling. The show is expected to premiere sometime in 2021.

Kennedy then brought out executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni to talk about The Mandalorian. The two explained how they came about developing the project, and then introduced cast members Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian), Gina Carano (Cara Dune), Carl Weathers (Greef Carga), Giancarlo Esposito (Moff Gideon), and Taika Waititi (IG-11). Each expressed excitement at telling a unique story in the Star Wars franchise before screening the full trailer. The Mandalorian will premiere at launch on November 12.

Kennedy ended the proceedings by bringing out Ewan McGregor. After a little teasing banter, the two confirmed the development of an Obi-Wan Kenobi television series with McGregor reprising the role. McGregor stated that he could not wait to return, and Kennedy further explained that the scripts were submitted and principal photography would begin sometime next year, though the premiere date had yet to be determined.

All attendees of the Disney+ presentation received a Disney+ baseball cap and a Marvel “We Love You 3000” button pin. Trailers for the Disney+ service, High School Musical: The Musical – The Series, The World According To Jeff Goldblum, Encore!, Lady and the Tramp, Noelle, and The Mandalorian are available online.

The Disney+ presentation was as spectacular as I had expected and then some. They covered a lot of ground in over 90 minutes and managed to show them off in a way that it got the 7,000 in Hall D23 very excited, me included. It certainly made me confirm my decision to get the service. Marvel was probably the biggest stand-out but the LucasFilm and even the National Geographic portions were also ones that I really liked from the proceedings.

RC: Dan has said it all, but I have to concur that this was an impressive show. By the end of it, I think everyone was ready to sign up!

Those reading about Disney+ at home may not have gotten the full idea behind the service. The thing to remember is that, while the Marvel and Star Wars films and TV shows have gotten all the publicity, Disney+ will have a lot more to offer. I don’t mean to sound like a Disney publicity guy, but early concerns about the service have been largely based on what Disney has been promoting most heavily— lots of recent films (Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars), and the aforementioned new TV shows. Going beyond that, though, we heard of new telefilms, a ton of Disney Channel content (everything from Hannah Montana to Phineas And Ferb), National Geographic shows, every season of The Simpsons, and potentially so much more. Remember, this is Disney, Fox, National Geographic, and ABC-owned programming, so there is loads of material that could show up as shows get digitized, and previous licensing deals with other services expire over the next year or two. It will be very interesting to see exactly what they debut with in the November launch, and how much gets added as time goes by. Personally, I’m really hoping for them to include 1950s-1970s Disney television shows, classic Muppets programming, and the Disney Afternoon shows. But time will tell if this channel really reaches its potential.

Go Behind the Scenes with the Walt Disney Studios

DS: As soon as we finished with the Disney+ presentation at around 5:15pm, we went looking for where the line for the Disney Studios presentation was. Officially the queue for the overnight was not to begin until 7pm, when the convention closed for the day. But as was expected from previous experience, fans lined up much earlier than that. We found them setting up right outside the bag check station on Katella Avenue and ran westward. We fortunately got in line early enough that it wasn’t yet past the Disneyland Drive entry point to Disneyland, so we knew we were going to get good seats.

This year, D23 has combined the formerly separate animation and live-action panels into one super presentation. As such, the 7,000 attendees looking to get into Hall D23 for the 2+ hour event would spend the night at the convention center ahead of the Saturday morning show. And with our electronics shut down in full force, Disney was looking to ensure that these fans would get a truly exclusive look at their film slate over the next 2 years.

Serving as host of the proceedings was Alan Horn, Co-Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of The Walt Disney Studios. He took a moment to recap the critical and commercial success of the company over the past 2 years since the last D23 Expo. He noted also the recent acquisitions of Fox and Blue Sky. While there wasn’t enough time to add them into the day’s presentation, he did list off a few projects coming out, including Spies In Disguise and the Avatar sequels.

The festivities properly began with Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. Kathleen Kennedy, President of Lucasfilm, and writer/director JJ Abrams came out to briefly discuss bringing the Skywalker Saga of Star Wars to a close. They then brought out cast members Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Naomi Ackie (Jannah), Keri Russell (Zorri Bliss), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), and Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) along with operational R2-D2, BB-8, and D/O droids.

Each of the cast members got a moment to express the joy they had on the film, with Ackie and Russell revealing a few details about their characters. They finished off by playing the montage sizzle reel, tracing the main Star Wars films in order of release leading up to the showing of new footage for the new film. The sizzle reel was made available online shortly after the presentation. Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker will close out the Skywalker Saga on December 20.

Horn returned to move things over to Marvel, bringing out Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios. Feige expressed gratitude for the highly successful past 2 years, in particular Avengers: Endgame becoming the highest grossing film of all-time. He then brought out writer/director Ryan Coogler to discuss Black Panther II. Coogler handed over the treatment and after some banter about what to reveal, they announced the release date as May 6, 2022.

Feige moved on to the films scheduled for 2020, starting with The Eternals. He brought out Richard Madden (Ikaris), Kumail Nanjiani (Kingo), Lauren Ridloff (Makkari), Brian Tyree Henry (Phastos), Salma Hayek (Ajak), Lia McHugh (Sprite), Don Lee (Gilgamesh), and Angelina Jolie (Thena). He then announced the newest cast members with Barry Keoghan (Druig) present and noting the addition of Gemma Chan (Sersi) and Kit Harington (Dane Whitman). Concept art that showed how the actors will look was displayed. The Eternals will be released on November 6, 2020.

Feige wrapped up his portion of the presentation with Black Widow. They played a video message from the set, where Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff), Florence Pugh (Yelena Belova), and David Harbour (Alexei Shostakov), in character, try to determine how to best arrive in Anaheim before revealing that they were deep in the final weeks of principal photography. This would segue into the screening of new footage styled as the trailer. Black Widow will sneak into theaters May 1, 2020.

Horn brought the proceedings to Disney Studios, handing things over to Sean Bailey, President of Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture Production. After highlighting the success of the live-action features the past 2 years, Bailey began his portion with Jungle Cruise. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the film based on the classic Disney parks attraction follows a riverboat captain assisting a scientist and her brother on a race to find the Tree of Life. Bailey introduced star and co-producer Dwayne Johnson (Frank), who came out riding on a previously used boat from the attraction. Johnson showed off a trailer, that specifically highlighted his character; then co-star Emily Blunt (Lily) came out in an early 1900s car, and presented a trailer that specifically highlighted her character. After more back and forth banter, they expressed delight at partaking in an adventure feature. Jungle Cruise rolls into theaters July 24, 2020.

Bailey moved onto Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil with Angelina Jolie (Maleficent) returning. They talked about how the film will further explore the world the story inhabits before introducing Jolie’s co-stars Elle Fanning (Aurora), Michelle Pfeiffer (Ingrith), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Connal) to discuss the nature of their characters. They showed off new footage that extends the scene where Maleficent meets Prince Phillip’s parents. Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil flies into theaters October 18.

Bailey next talked about the live-action adaption of the Disney animated classic Mulan. He introduced director Niki Caro, who explained that she wanted to explore the character and her journey in a real, visceral, and emotional manner. They showed off a couple of scenes, the re-imagined interpretation of the Matchmaker scene and Mulan’s father being called to service, along with more new footage. Mulan will “bring honor to us all” on March 27, 2020.

Bailey closed out his portion of the presentation by briefly talking about the latest live-action update to the Disney animated classic One Hundred And One Dalmatians. Simply titled Cruella, it will serve to explain how the villainess came to be. A video message from star Emma Stone was shown, along with the first production still of her as a young Cruella de Vil. Cruella will make her way into theaters May 28, 2021.

Horn moved the proceedings from live-action to animation, beginning with Pixar. He introduced Pete Docter, attending his first D23 Expo as Chief Creative Officer of Pixar Animation Studios. Docter briefly went over his having been with the company since the early years, being the third animator the studio ever hired, up to moving in to his new position. He assured the audience that Pixar would continue to produce the kind of quality films they have been for years, with two scheduled for 2020.

Docter began by discussing his latest feature, Soul. Along with producer Dana Murray and writers Ken Powers and Mike Jones, they talked about how the film will attempt to explore metaphysics with the story of Joe Gardner. A middle school music teacher, he is on the verge of realizing a life-long dream to play jazz at the Half Note Club when he gets into an accident that causes his soul to be separated from his body.

After showing off an early scene and concept art, they noted that they enlisted Jon Batiste to write original Jazz music for the film, while the score will be composed by the Academy Award winning team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. They then brought out the cast with Questlove (Curly), Phylicia Rashad (Libba), Daveed Diggs (Paul), and stars Jamie Foxx (Joe) and Tina Fey (22). The cast expressed delight at partaking in an original Pixar production. Soul will arrive in theaters June 19, 2020.

Docter then wrapped up his portion with the next feature, Onward. After being introduced, director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae briefly fleshed out a little more about the urban fantasy world the film in set in. Scanlon noted how influential his own upbringing was to the story of two elven brothers having grown up without their father and seeing a chance to have one day with him through the dying art of magic.

Stars Tom Holland (Ian) and Chris Pratt (Barley) were then introduced, coming out through the crowd, with co-star Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Laurel) appearing normally. The three stars talked about how fun it was playing their characters, along with their excitement at being in a Pixar film. They then screened a couple of scenes from the film, including one that ran for approximately eight minutes. Onward will cast its spell in theaters on March 6, 2020.

Horn then handed over to Walt Disney Feature Animation to close out the proceedings, introducing Jennifer Lee, attending her first D23 Expo as Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Like Docter, Lee took a brief moment to bring up how influential Disney had been in her life, showing off two Little Golden books that were her inspirations growing up. She assured everyone that she would continue to contribute to and honor the company’s legacy.

Lee began with the first public showing of the 59th Disney animated feature Raya And The Last Dragon. She introduced directors Paul Briggs and Dean Wellins, producer Osnat Shurer, and writer Adele Lim. Displaying concept art, they described the world of Kumandra, divided into five realms each with their own unique attributes. When a darkness threatens the world, a young warrior searches for the dragons, thought to be extinct, to save them.

They showed off a brief scene introducing the primary characters, played by Cassie Steele (Raya) and Awkwafina (Sisu). To some more concept art being displayed, Steele and Awkwafina briefly described their characters and the joy they were having in bringing them to life. The cast and creators were all the more enthusiastic about telling a story that would incorporate much South Pacific folklore. Raya And The Last Dragon will emerge in theaters November 25, 2020.

Lee ended the presentation with a look at her film Frozen II. Bringing out her fellow director Chris Buck, they noted that its development was driven by the constant question of why Elsa has powers. They introduced new cast members Evan Rachel Wood (Iduna) and Sterling K. Brown (Mattias). The two briefly described their characters, accompanied by the screening of clips, which included the introduction of Iduna’s lullaby “All Is Found”.

They then showed off a full sequence, itself nearly ten minutes, that presumably sets the main narrative into motion as well as plays out one of three big musical numbers from Elsa called “Into The Unknown”. The festivities was brought to a close with Idina Menzel (Elsa), Kristen Bell (Anna), Jonathan Groff (Kristoff), and Josh Gad (Olaf) coming out to perform in full another new song, “Some Things Never Change”. Frozen II will be released “for the first time in forever” on November 22.

All attendees of the Walt Disney Studios presentation received exclusive posters for Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, Onward, and Frozen II.

What more can I say? Part of the joy of the D23 Expo has been these presentations, which are worth waiting in line and camping out for roughly 17 hours – because the atmosphere is amazing to be in, and the presentations themselves are wonderfully done. The rush while watching the Star Wars reel, to the delight in seeing Raya And The Last Dragon for the first time, to hearing the beautiful songs of Frozen II are feelings that are difficult to top.

RC: Well, I’m glad that Dan has such a good memory! I was too busy being dazzled to commit everything to my memory banks; but I was certainly made to feel excited about these films. Onward in particular looks to be a heartbreaker, and Soul also figures to be a special film. The cast’s enthusiasm for Rise Of Skywalker had even me feeling somewhat optimistic, though J.J. will really have to pull a rabbit out of his hat to salvage the film series for me. Ending the whole morning with the cast of Frozen singing was a nice touch.

After the presentation, I joked with Dan, “Kinda disappointing. Not enough star power.” I mean, wow— Not being from southern California myself, I had never seen so many A-level celebrities in one place. Sure, in the past at various shows I have met childhood hero Leonard Nimoy a couple of times and chatted with Adam West and various other folks that I grew up watching, but nothing could compare to the parade of stars that morning. Angelina Jolie and my all-time favourite Michelle Pfeiffer on stage at the same time? The Rock and Emily Blunt? Jamie Foxx and Tine Fey? Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams and the cast of Rise Of Skywalker? Pardon my pathetically fanboy-ish gushing, but that’s a pretty nice lineup. If Disney was trying to impress, they certainly succeeded with me. Disney is today what MGM once was, with a galaxy of stars at their disposal. The biggest ovation, I would like to point out, was given to Tom Holland. We had all only found out days earlier that Sony and Disney had failed to reach a new deal to keep Holland’s Spider-Man in the MCU, and fans were somewhat devastated. The ovation that he received showed that Holland is obviously well-loved by Spidey fans. Tom returned the sentiment, proclaiming his thanks and melting hearts by shouting to everyone, “I love you 3000!”

And I have to say, though camping out overnight may sound crazy to some people, it was a highlight of the weekend for me, and well worth it. What a cool experience. Sure, we waited for four hours on the sidewalk while the convention center was emptied and cleaned up, but we chatted in line with other fans, like the cool Brazilian lady behind us, who was as passionate as anyone about the weekend’s events.

Once we got inside, we were brought again to Hall E downstairs, where we camped out for the night with hundreds of other crazy fans. Okay, it was not the most comfortable experience, lying on a hard floor with a blanket and a neck pillow, while the lights were kept on all night; but it was fun to chat with other fans, as we played games and watched a constant loop of movies on the many TVs mounted on the walls. Concessions ran all night, serving snacks and hot food, including a hearty breakfast bowl. Bathrooms were open, and security walked the aisles, making sure everyone was okay. I can still see that a night like this would not be to everyone’s liking, but I got a total kick out of it, and was then rewarded with a fantastic show.

Also… again, you may have read stories and seen clips from the films presentation, but there’s nothing like being there. From seeing the many stars in person, to the flashing lights, the streamers falling from the ceiling, and the palpable energy of the crowd, it was another great morning that made me happy I’d made the trip.

The Musical Journey of Disney’s Aladdin

DS: Since its release in 1992, Aladdin has been regarded as a hallmark of the Disney Renaissance. At one point the highest grossing animated feature of all time, the film has developed a lasting legacy with numerous accolades and various adaptations. One of the key elements to the film’s success has been the music, itself beloved and having withstood the test of time. A special performance was put together in the Expo Arena celebrating songs from across all of Aladdin.

The show opened with the background singers performing “Arabian Nights”. The first Master of Ceremonies was then introduced in Scott Weinger, the original speaking voice of Aladdin. Weinger briefly mentioned how he landed the role and spoke of the film’s legacy, before turning things back to the background singers. The singers led the audience into a sing-along of “Prince Ali” with Weinger returning in elaborate clothing during the closing verses.

Admitting that he was not a trained singer, Weinger would bring out the singing voice of Aladdin, Brad Kane. Kane briefly noted how he got the role, before he sang “One Jump Ahead” with the background singers. They also showed brief footage of when Kane and Lea Salonga, the singing voice of Jasmine, recorded “A Whole New World.” They got into talking about composer Alan Menken and showed footage of Menken and Kane going over the reprise of “One Jump Ahead.”

They brought up the originally-cut “Proud Of Your Boy” as the song they both sang for their auditions. Weinger then showed footage of his recent attempt at singing lessons with Menken. Afterward, they brought out Clinton Greenspan, who played Aladdin in the national tour of the stage musical, and would be transferring to Broadway a couple of weeks later. Greenspan talked a bit about the stage musical before performing “Proud Of Your Boy”.

The three then introduced the other Master of Ceremonies in Linda Larkin, the original speaking voice of Jasmine. Larkin talked a bit about her landing the role, along with showing footage of her recording lines. They then moved into the performance attraction at the Disney parks, Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular, bringing out Deedee Magno Hall, the original performer of Jasmine. She discussed her four-year run on the show before singing “To Be Free”.

Weigner and Larkin brought up the live-action adaptation after having earlier showed off some trivia and footage of the visual effects process. They first talked about the inclusion of the song “Speechless,” which would be performed on stage by Disney alumni Lillias White (voice of Calliope in Hercules). They then brought out Mena Massoud, who portrayed Aladdin in the live-action feature. Massoud talked a bit about his audition and helped introduce a screening of the deleted song “Desert Moon.”

Massoud stuck around a little longer to show off the film’s blooper reel, and then talked about working with Will Smith. This led to a video of Smith introducing Jamal Sims, the film’s choreographer and Genie dance double. Sims briefly discussed how he came on board and then brought out his dance team for the film, which included Nicky Andersen, the Aladdin dance double, for a live re-enactment of their dance routine for “Friend Like Me.”

To close things out, Weigner and Larkin introduced Regina Belle, who sang the original single version of “A Whole New World.” To perform with Belle, they brought out Broadway favorite and Disney alumnus Norm Lewis (original King Triton in The Little Mermaid on Broadway). All of the guests and background singers were brought out to thank fans for attending. With “Friend Like Me” playing, Sims and the dance team led everyone into an encore performance in party and celebratory fashion to end the show properly.

This was oodles of fun, watching all of the performers have a good time and express joy at being part of the musical legacy of Aladdin. There was a vibrant enthusiasm throughout the show and it translated into a jubilant energy expressed by the audience. It really was just a great performance from start to finish, with the big moments to me being the “Friend Like Me” dance routine, along with Belle and Lewis singing “A Whole New World.”

The Little Mermaid: The 30th Anniversary Celebration!

DS: In 1989, Disney released The Little Mermaid, their first animated fairy tale since Sleeping Beauty. It would go on to become a major success, kick-starting what would become known as the Disney Renaissance. With numerous accolades and spawning direct-to-video follow-ups, a television series, a Broadway musical, and forthcoming live-action adaptations, it was lovingly cherished by fans and the company on its 30th anniversary in the Expo Arena.

The proceedings began with host Jodi Benson (Ariel) singing “Part Of Your World,” alongside six young girls dressed as Ariel. Benson then welcomed all of the attendees and provided a brief introduction. She was then interrupted by a puppet Sebastian, speaking to Benson as if she were her character. Benson eventually managed to convince Sebastian to head backstage to coordinate the big finale for later in the show.

Benson moved the panel along by introducing her co-director/co-writer Ron Clements. Clements talked about how he came upon the idea of pitching the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale as an animated feature, how it was initially rejected due to the studio developing a sequel to the live-action mermaid comedy Splash, and, along with co-director John Musker, sought out Howard Ashman and Alan Menken to compose the songs and music.

In discussing Ashman, they noted that Benson was in a musical Ashman directed called Smile when they considered her to voice Ariel. Coincidentally, she sang a song in the musical called “Disneyland.” They showed video footage of Ashman instructing Benson on singing “Part Of Your World”, including an instance when he turned off the lights in an effort to simulate her being in an underwater grotto.

Going over the other voice cast, Clements mentioned that a young Jim Carrey had auditioned for Prince Eric before they went with Christopher Daniel Barnes. But it was Buddy Hackett they most fondly remembered. Clements noted that they didn’t need to audition Hackett, as they knew right away they wanted him to voice Scuttle. They then screened a video of both Hackett playing Scuttle and talking about his enjoyment at voicing the character.

Benson then introduced the film’s art director Michael Peraza. Peraza mentioned he was on board the moment the directors asked him. Displaying his early sketches for the castles and Ariel’s grotto, he explained being tasked with developing the visual look of the film. They would also screen a clip of Peraza’s sketches to “Under The Sea” with Ashman’s demo playing, bringing up a brief discussion of Ashman determining that Sebastian should have a Jamaican accent.

The next to join the panel was Mark Henn, co-supervising animator of Ariel alongside Glen Keane. Henn noted the challenge having two supervising animators on a character when one for Ariel would’ve been hard enough. He brought up that, for a while, Ariel was to have been a blonde and they were looking to model her after Christie Brinkley, which nearly got Henn in trouble with his wife when she found numerous pictures of Brinkley at his desk.

Benson moved on to Alan Menken. They showed a video clip from a featurette on the Signature Collection disc release with Benson and Menken talking about the music, including how “Part Of Your World” was almost cut. They then screened a video message from Menken, who couldn’t attend the festivities due to working with the staging of Disney’s Hercules for performances in Central Park to begin the following week. He offered his thanks to the fans on this special occasion.

A quartet of singers interrupted the show for a surprise interlude. They brought out three male audience members for the rest of the attendees to determine who would best resemble Prince Eric. The chosen audience member was then seated next to Benson so that the quartet would serenade them with “Kiss The Girl” to Benson’s embarrassment, as her husband Ray was in the audience. “Eric” had to settle for a kiss on the cheek at the end of the song.

Returning to the panel proper, Benson introduced Ruben Aquino, supervising animator of the villainess Ursula. Aquino and Peraza talked briefly about how the character went through various designs before the art director was watching footage of an octopus getting out of a jar by itself, leading to their designing Ursula as half-human, half-octopus. Aquino added that, from Ashman’s suggestion, he referenced Joan Collins and Linda Evans for further design.

Staying with Ursula, they talked about the character’s voice actress Pat Carroll. They played a recent recording of Carroll from her home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts reflecting on the character and reading out a message expressing her joy at being part of a lasting legacy. Benson would also show footage of Samuel Wright in the recording studio voicing Sebastian, which made the puppet Sebastian on stage aghast that they needed anyone to voice him.

Before closing out the proceedings, Benson introduced a surprise in Auli’i Cravalho, who will be playing Ariel in The Little Mermaid Live, a television special airing on ABC on November 5. Cravalho expressed excitement at playing Ariel and noted that Queen Latifah would play Ursula and Shaggy would play Sebastian. They then ended the show with puppet Sebastian leading everyone into a sing-along of “Under The Sea.”

All attendees of The Little Mermaid panel received an exclusive lithograph of original concept art and a sample product bottle from sponsor H2O+.

This turned out to be a very nice panel in celebration of one of the most beloved animated classics. A lot of the information presented I was already familiar with, but it didn’t make things any less enjoyable. Everyone was having a good time, particularly when Benson was getting embarrassed with the serenade, and with Cravalho’s appearance. Just a fun little presentation that left many, including myself, feeling good inside.

RC: Dan has pretty much covered it. I also really enjoyed the Aladdin and The Little Mermaid presentations, and I was impressed that each got the full package— not only many guests associated with the films, but also complete sets and musical numbers. These were far from being dry panels on a sparse stage; they were major productions. On a personal note, seeing Jodi sing Little Mermaid songs on stage brought me a welcome sense of closure, since I had to miss her panel while attending the Calgary Entertainment Expo in 2018, though my wife and son had gotten to see it while I was unfortunately off doing something else.

D23 Expo Street Party

DS: Twice a day throughout the weekend, there would be a parade that would march through the show floor. Going through an aisle known as Mickey Avenue, the D23 Expo Street Party hearkened to the Main Street Parades of the Disney parks, as dancers, characters, and the celebrity grand marshals say hi to attendees in a celebratory atmosphere. Each parade was unique, with differing grand marshals and often the marching band playing different tunes.

While I caught the Street Party at glances here and there, there was one on the last day I watched all the way through. The theme was the 40th anniversary of the Mickey Mouse Disco album with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto disco dancing to the tunes that were played. The grand marshals this time were Christy Carlson Romano (Kim Possible), Ally Maki (Toy Story 4), and Big Hero 6: The Series cast members Ryan Potter (Hiro), Scott Adsit (Baymax), Jamie Chung (Go Go), Genesis Rodriguez (Honey Lemon), and Brooks Wheelan (Fred).

The party atmosphere was in full affect and it was clear that everyone was having a good time. The marshals were jamming along to the music from their car transports while the dancers and the characters were displaying some fine energy. Even the marching band was having fun with the tunes they played, a mixture of the tracks from the Mickey Mouse Disco album and others, my favorite being the Captain America theme. I couldn’t stop smiling as I watched and it just added to the unique experience to be had attending a D23 Expo.

Two Worlds, One Family: The Making of Tarzan

DS: In 1999, Disney released Tarzan, an animated adaptation of the classic series of adventure novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The film was a huge success, accumulating numerous accolades and spawning direct-to-video follow-ups, a television series, and a Broadway musical. It would also be seen as the last great feature in the Disney Renaissance. A celebration of the beloved film’s 20th anniversary in the Expo Arena would close out the D23 Expo for 2019.

Serving as host of the proceedings was Wayne Knight, who voiced Tantor in the film. Following a brief introduction, he brought out the directors Kevin Lima and Chris Buck. Lima went over the origins of the film, having been approached by then-studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg in 1995 with the idea of making the film from a Canadian satellite studio. Lima was hesitant, until Katzenberg left to form DreamWorks, and Michael Eisner then greenlit making the film in Burbank.

Buck said he was unsure about being a director as he hadn’t done anything like it up to that point, but he remembered a phrase about the biggest regrets being of experiences not attempted rather than those that were. Discussion was shifted to the research trips to Africa. Showing off video footage, a key visit was to a chimpanzee sanctuary seeing a young boy who was literally growing up with the chimpanzees, providing inspiration to young Tarzan’s behavior.

They continued on the research trips by talking about their encounter with the mountain gorillas. Again showing off video footage, the directors mentioned how they found themselves between the mothers and babies on one end and the silverback on the other. They were warned to avoid looking at the silverback, though Lima had a moment of staring at him. Buck mentioned a flatulent aspect from being around the gorillas eating that they decided not to put into the film.

Next to be introduced was Bonnie Arnold, the film’s producer. Arnold expressed joy at participating on Tarzan, having grown up on the Johnny Weissmuller films. One of her big contributions early on was enlisting Phil Collins to write the songs. They expanded on the well-known story that Collins had sent them three demo tapes before they even got far in pre-production; she showed off a picture of the tapes and then played the early presentation reel.

Discussion moved over to the cast. Tony Goldwyn, the voice of adult Tarzan, had sent an audio message expressing his gratitude and enjoyment at playing the character. The filmmakers talked about how Minnie Driver voicing Jane completely re-worked the character from posh Victorian lady to delightful comedic force. For Knight, they showed off footage of his recordings and he explained he based the neurotic mannerisms on a chef he had heard on the radio.

They also showed off footage of Goldwyn’s attempt at the Tarzan yell, with Lima saying that the final yell was not just Brian Blessed, who would voice the villain Clayton, as has been rumored. It was voice mixtures of Blessed, Goldwyn, and others, they just didn’t publicly correct Blessed’s claims until now. Buck decided this was a good time to put to rest the rumor he accidentally started and confirmed Tarzan’s parents were not Elsa and Anna’s parents from Frozen.

They moved on to the animation, starting with Glen Keane. As had been known, Keane drew inspiration of Tarzan’s movements from watching his son’s interest in extreme sports at the time, resulting in having to animate fully working human musculature. Keane was unable to attend the proceedings due having recently had surgery. He did send a video message expressing his gratitude, which included him illustrating Tarzan just for the audience.

The animators who were able to attend were Ken Duncan, supervising animator of Jane, and Bruce W. Smith, supervising animator of Kerchak. Duncan explained that he was just coming off of animating Meg on Hercules and wasn’t sure about doing another female lead until he saw Driver’s recordings. Showing off some of his animation tests, he noted it was challenging to design and animate the character’s yellow dress due to how detailed it was.

As Tarzan and Jane would be on screen together often, they brought up how Keane animating from Paris and Duncan animating Jane in Burbank could have potential complications. However, it turned out that the time zone differences, while making for a communication challenge, actually could also be advantageous; each animator could see what the other had done the night before, and work to match it. Duncan then showed off in full the pencil animation to the beloved scene of Jane’s exuberant explanation of her encounter with Tarzan, noting it was one of the longest animated scenes on record and took over six weeks to animate.

Smith explained it was challenging to transition to the stern, rather stoic Kerchak after coming off of being animation director on the wild and wacky Looney Tunes for Space Jam. He also felt intimidated that he had to animate against a master like Glen Keane, thereby forcing him to put forth his best effort. What helped was meeting and learning from Lance Henriksen, the voice of Kerchak, on the mannerisms and physical presence to visualize.

Introduced last was Eric Daniels, the computer graphics supervisor. Daniels jumped right into discussing the Deep Canvas process to make the the computer generated backgrounds look like traditional paintings so that the hand-drawn characters wouldn’t look out of place. Along with footage of an early test and video from a featurette, Daniels explained the challenge was having to understand where in space one brush stroke was in relation to all other strokes.

Due to time and what was planned, Knight wrapped the core portion of the proceedings. Closing out both the panel and the convention was a musical performance by Matthew Morrison, who is releasing an album of covers to his favorite Disney songs, called Disney Dreamin’, in early 2020. Along with a house band and a female dancer from his alma mater Orange Count High School of the Arts doing a ballet, Morrison performed “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Tarzan.

Morrison briefly noted his involvement in the workshop for the Tarzan Broadway production. He then went into the development of his upcoming album and performed “When You Wish Upon A Star” from Pinocchio. He followed by retrieving a ukulele and performing a mash-up of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” from Song Of The South and “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book. He finished, along with the female dancer and a male dancer, performing “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin.

Tarzan is one of my all-time favorite Disney animated features and I really enjoyed the panel celebrating its 20th anniversary. Some of the information presented was known, but there were a few anecdotes that were nice to hear about. The most fun was when Duncan talked about animating Jane. Honestly, the whole panel could have talked another couple of hours and it would still be wonderful. Morrison’s mini-concert turned out to be a nice way to close everything out.

RC: It was pretty cool that they had Wayne Knight (“Newman!”) host this event, and I was really pleased that Deep Canvas was highlighted, as it was a very impressive achievement at the time. The only disappointment, of course, was that the legendary Glen Keane was unable to attend; but having the opportunity to even see a recorded message from him, featuring him drawing Tarzan, was still a special treat. And the surprise closing concert was the icing on the cake for a weekend full of entertainment and surprises.

Talent Signings

Auli’i Cravalho

DS: The Disney Music Emporium booth was one of the few whose signings were not part of the reservation system. Instead, attendees had to buy an associated product to the signing they wished to enter during the weekend. Instead of a wristband, their entry was assured by being coded into the badge so that they could scan in when it came time for the signing. Those who were signing included Randy Newman (Toy Story), Matthew Morrison (Glee), Anthony Gonzalez (Coco), and JD McCrary (The Lion King).

One name added at the last minute was the voice of Moana herself, Auli’i Cravalho, making a return. While I had done her signing at the last D23 Expo, I decided to go again as I really wanted to get a picture with her. The immediate overcrowding an hour ahead of the signing had me worried, but we fortunately found that everyone would be getting their picture with her. She was just excited about the whole experience and happy to meet everyone, even willing to once or twice record video messages. She got a kick out of folks who were cosplaying as characters from her film.

Paige O’Hara

DS: One of the booths at the section known simply as The Emporium was Magical Memories Galleries. A premier gallery at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas displaying the Disney Fine Art collection, their showing offered attendees an opportunity to pick up some high end artwork. They also became a place to meet a few Disney artists throughout the weekend. One in particular was none other than the voice of Belle from Beauty And The Beast, Paige O’Hara.

Not one to pass up an opportunity like this, I purchased a print of one of her Belle paintings for her to autograph. We had a nice little discussion about her art. I noted that I recently came into possession of a canvas copy of Thomas Kinkade’s Beauty And The Beast piece, and she explained how it was Kinkade and his brother Patrick that helped her when she had her first art exhibition. O’Hara was a wonderful woman to meet and pleasant to have a chat with.

Jeff Kurtti

RC: While Dan pursued signings with performers, I went after the authors. First up, at the Disney Publishing booth, was Jeff Kurtti, who is on his way to becoming a Disney Legend himself. Kurtti has many years attached to the company in various ways. He has written over 30 books, and he was signing two of his most recent ones at the D23 show. I was very happy to finally make a purchase of his uniquely engaging From All Of Us To All Of You: The Disney Christmas Card book, as well as the very enjoyable Practically Poppins In Every Way.

Jeff could not have been friendlier, and seemed interested in everyone who came up to him. It made for a slow-moving line, but the warm reception he gave you made it worth it. He told me of the amazing Sunday he had had, meeting a woman who was a huge Disney fan, who emotionally told him how thrilled she was to be on her first Disney vacation; and of introducing his friend, a massive Jodi Benson fan, to Jodi herself. His friend apparently became quite overwhelmed, making Jeff thrilled to help make Disney magic happen. It was that kind of weekend, and that kind of show.

J.B. Kaufman and Didier Ghez

RC: I also had the pleasure of meeting Disney historian J.B. Kaufman at another publishing booth. Kaufman’s books also help to line my shelves at home, and he has become one of the preeminent chroniclers of Disney history. Kaufman has just published the first of a series of “monographs” put out by the Hyperion Historical Alliance, smaller books that focus on previously (relatively) undocumented parts of the Disney legacy. His book covers the making of Fun And Fancy Free, and I could not love the book more. Though not as massive as his Snow White or Pinocchio books, it is still a delightful and ample volume, full of history and artwork. I was speaking to Kaufman about Animated Views’ series of interviews with his colleague Didier Ghez, not realizing that Didier was right there, sitting just out of sight. Ghez poked his head up, and came over to say hi, noting that I must work with Jeremie, who has handled all of those interviews for Animated Views (I noted that I edit all of those interview pieces). It’s always nice to make a connection. I was planning to get a signed copy of Ghez’s latest They Drew As They Pleased book, but he had already sold out.

We hope to have an interview with Kaufman soon, and a closer look at his book, as well.


DS: It went without saying that the Disney Store was one of the hardest booths to get into the entire weekend. It was here that a great many of the most sought after convention exclusives would be sold. Generally speaking, the most efficient way to get in would be the acquire a Store Pass. However, the reservation system this year caused virtually all tickets to get snatched up within the blink of an eye. Thus, all other attendees had to endure a very long wait in line to get in. My venture on the last day had me waiting 90 minutes.

I actually wasn’t sure I wanted to chance being in line for so long because the initial listing of merchandise being sold this year didn’t seem as interesting to me as last time. Then I got a peek into the booth while passing by and saw the Midnight Masquerade series of dolls and collectibles. The lovely designs of how the characters looked in the Designer Collection theme was more than enough to tempt me into jumping in. It turned out to be a good thing I did when I got further information about the dolls as I was buying the lithographs.

Sold during the convention were the couples sets of Aurora and Phillip (Sleeping Beauty), Tiana and Naveen (The Princess and the Frog), and Giselle and Edward (Enchanted). There would also be individual dolls of Meg (Hercules), Esmeralda (The Hunchback Of Notre Dame), Belle (Beauty And The Beast), Cinderella (Cinderella), and Rapunzel (Tangled), only they wouldn’t be available until October and November. As Meg and Esmeralda were the ones I wanted the most, I learned I needed to pre-order all five as a set at the convention to guarantee I would get either one by release, which I did. It was explained that otherwise I would have had to participate in a lottery system at select Disney Stores to buy the dolls.

Of other merchandise I picked up, I caught wind ahead of time of a couple neat exclusives being sold at the Dark Horse Comics booth. They were the lovely looking Disney Storied Places hardcover and the Ralph Breaks the Internet: Heart From the Star, Eyes on the Prize comic. The comic was done by Amy Mebberson, best known for her Pocket Princesses funnies online that led to her illustrating the official Disney Princess comics. Mebberson had a table at The Emporium, so I swung by and picked up a sketchbook. For purchasing that, Mebberson did a doodle of Elsa (Frozen) inside.

RC: I only got to The Disney Store, as well as The Disney Dreamstore, towards the end of the weekend, when lines were thankfully shorter. I did not nab any exclusives, but I did buy some Disney jewelry to bring home to my wife, who was so supportive of my taking the trip.

The exhibit floor was divided into two areas: One had booths run by Disney and their partners, and then there was the Disney Emporium, where various dealers and shops were invited to set up booths. The first area included the various Disney stores, of course, plus many of the attractions that Dan will mention. My first target was the Dark Horse Comics booth, where Dan had told me of the Disney Storied Places hardcover; I ended up buying several Disney tie-in comics collections. The Walt Disney Family Museum was there, too, and I picked up an exclusive Blu-ray of the full cut of Walt: The Man Behind The Myth, and a couple of books, including Andreas Deja’s excellent Mickey Mouse book, based on the current exhibit. Over at the Emporium, I had a great time looking at various collectibles, and buying old Disney books and records. Finally, the Ludwig Von Drake Little Golden Book is mine!


DS: To go to a convention is to see attendees wander around dressed up as their favorite characters. With D23, you get a plethora of folks looking like Disney characters. The inclusion of Marvel, LucasFilm, and even the recent acquisition of Fox allowed for an even bigger roster for cosplaying fans to choose from. And that’s not taking into consideration some of the creativity that can be done, be it crossovers or clever spins that make them fun to admire.

It’s actually kind of hard to choose a favorite when there were some really wonderful costumes at this year’s event. Nevertheless, I got lucky in being present when a group doing some photo shoots of themselves stumbled upon an excellent opportunity at one of the staircases. One of the girls was dressed as Cinderella as she appeared in the live-action film. Just as they started, a Captain America passed by and this resulted in an awesome play of the two together.

There was probably three individual cosplayers that stood out the most. The first was Belle as she appeared in Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, the dress being done quite beautifully. I also liked a fantastic and very well crafted Ursula from The Little Mermaid. Seriously, that was some spectacular work with the tentacles. The other was Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit due to the incredible detail, adding sparkles to the dress.

Some of the more notable ones that I liked included a couple as Milo and Kida from Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Speaking of, there was a rare sighting of someone dressed as Audrey. There was also a nicely designed Pocahontas whose carrying a spear wouldn’t look out of place. I managed to catch sight of a great looking Meg from Hercules, with a nice spin on how to work the impossible hairstyle. And I also admired someone who dressed as Anastasia, one of the rare Fox-based costumes I saw throughout the weekend.

Random Sightings

DS: I found time to check out the “Inside the World of Avatar” exhibit. Taking place inside a pretty big room on the second floor, it offered a near up-close look at props, costumes, and models from the James Cameron film. It was all the more fascinating to be able to compare one’s human size with that of the Na’vi. From just how large their weapons are to seeing how they measure to a life-size bust of the 9′ 1″ Neytiri, this was a really nice exhibit to explore.

There were a lot of interactive show floor attractions for attendees to check out, but they often had really long lines. One of the easier booths to explore was at Disney Parks, which included a sample exhibit of the forthcoming “Avengers Campus” attraction. Fans could operate touchscreens the way Tony Stark would and check out some fun displays. A popular display allowed for direct interaction with a Vyloo from Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!

Believe it or not, there were long lines even to merely get your picture taken with a display. Some displays, like the costumes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the Marvel booth, were easy to get. But you would be amazed to see people wait as much as thirty minutes for a picture with the Elsa and Anna (Frozen II) statues at the Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios booth. I happened to be around early enough on the first day that I decided to get a picture, waiting in line for only a few minutes. The other popular photo op display at the booth was Guinevere, the van that will be featured in Onward.

While there were not as many displays this time around as there were two years ago, fans could still head outside of the convention center for a little rest and relief from all that was happenings inside. There were plenty of food trucks out and about for attendees to try out some unique eats. At least on the third day, Disney Fine Art and street artist Arcy displayed a beautiful mural he had painted. He was also selling prints of the piece to interested fans.

If there was one thing in which it was a necessity to obtain a reservation for, it was for some of the booth signings. In particular were some events at the Marvel and the Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios booths in which the talent would be surprises. The results were that for the Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios booth they had the creative team for Raya And The Last Dragon and Marvel had two: one with Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter) and another for Lauren Ridloff and Don Lee (Makkari and Gilgamesh in The Eternals).

Like last time, they played full movies and additional content in-between on television screens for those queuing in Hall E for the presentations in Hall D23. All day Friday and into Saturday morning, the four movies being looped were The Incredibles, Lady And The Tramp, The Aristocats, and Captain Marvel. While we didn’t catch if anything changed through the rest of Saturday, we did see on Sunday morning that The Little Mermaid was part of an updated loop.

RC: There was lots to see on the exhibit floor, and though I gave a cursory view at just about everything, there is lots that I would have taken a closer peek at if I had had another day there. It was nice to see Avengers and Star Wars costumes on display, and I enjoyed what many of the sales booths had to show, too, everything from statues and figurines, to comic books and waffle makers. We took lots of photos, so some of those more interesting items can be seen below.

A Show to Remember

RC: Since returning home and telling people of my experience, the reactions range from thinking that the show must have been the coolest thing ever, to thinking that it must have been a line-ridden, overcrowded, product-pushing nightmare. Personally, I lean heavily towards the former. We did spend a lot of time in lines, but that was primarily before the show opened every day. And hanging out with other fans is no burden for me – it was often pretty fun!

Certainly, it helps to be with a buddy, too. There was not really any aspect of the show that I did not enjoy. The presentations were impressive and exciting, the panels & retrospectives were grand fun, and the shopping was great as well, especially when it meant meeting respected authors and historians. Naturally, it was also cool to meet Dan in person, after knowing each other for a few years online. I think we hit it off pretty good! I am not certain yet if I will be able to attend the next D23 Expo in 2021, but I could certainly see myself going!

DS: There’s little doubt that I will be continuing to attend the D23 Expo for as long as I am physically able to. The atmosphere is majestic, and the big events make the long wait in line – even an overnight stay at the convention center – well worth it. I actually like that they hold it every two years as opposed to making it annual, as it allows for Disney to really develop the experience. Each convention can be different enough that they are fresh and exciting. The pure joy is that there is always something to check out over the three days of Disney fun. This year was all the more fun as I got to hang out with Randall. It made me real happy throughout that I got to share the experience with a friend, and we definitely had a great time getting to know one another as well as enjoying all of the pageantry being displayed.

Below are exclusive pictures from the 2019 D23 Expo.


Fans lining up as early as 5am on the first day just to get into the show floor.
The Disney on Broadway booth allowing fans to experience being in a musical number via VR headsets.
Cosplayers mixing Disney Princesses with the Avengers being interviewed on the show floor.
Screen worn Doctor Strange and Scarlet Witch costumes on display at the Marvel booth.
Guinevere, the van from Onward, on display at the Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios booth.
Dan hanging out with Elsa and Anna (Frozen II) at the Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios booth.
Fans sampling the upcoming “Avengers Campus” attraction at the Disney Parks booth.
“And a song someone sings, Once upon a December.” (Anastasia)
Jordan Hembrough displaying the original Disneyland Monorail toy set during The Toy Hunter at D23 Expo.
Belle as she appears in Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas.
Tony Hale (Forky) treating attendees of the Disney+ presentation to a full episode of Forky Asks a Question.
Ben Feldman (Tylor) and Aisha Tyler (Millie) describing Monsters At Work to attendees of the Disney+ presentation.
Kevin Feige announcing Ms. Marvel as one of three new shows in development during the Disney+ presentation.
Executive producers Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau, Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian), Gina Carano (Cara Dune),
Carl Weathers (Greef Carga), Giancarlo Esposito (Moff Gideon), and Taika Waititi (IG-11) introduce The Mandalorian
during the Disney+ presentation.
“Come on you poor unfortunate soul, Go ahead, Make your choice.” (Ursula, The Little Mermaid)
Attendees spending the night at the Anaheim Convention Center in line for the Disney Studios presentation.
Auli’i Cravalho (Moana) with a cute baby Maui during her signing at the Disney Music Emporium booth.
“Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me!” (Pirates of the Caribbean)
“You don’t know how hard it is being a woman looking the way I do.” (Jessica Rabbit, Who Framed Roger Rabbit)
“Ki-Ki-Kidamaschnaga… Uh, hey, you got a nickname?” (Kida and Milo, Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
“But still I cannot see, if the savage one is me, How can there be so much that you don’t know?” (Pocahontas)
“Two for flinching” (Audrey, Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
Ariel co-supervising animator Mark Henn displaying his illustrations during The Little Mermaid 30th Anniversary.
Jodi Benson (Ariel) and a fan being serenade with “Kiss the Girl” during The Little Mermaid 30th Anniversary.
Jodi Benson (Ariel), Ruben Aquino (Ursula supervising animator), Mark Henn (Ariel co-supervising animator),
Michael Peraza (art director), and Ron Clements (co-director/co-writer) during The Little Mermaid 30th Anniversary.
Production design of The Little Mermaid Live stage being displayed during The Little Mermaid 30th Anniversary.
Jodi Benson (Ariel) and Auli’i Cravalho (Ariel, The Little Mermaid Live) during The Little Mermaid 30th Anniversary.
“It’s been a real slice.” (Meg, Hercules)
Dan comparing himself to a life-size bust of Neytiri (Avatar) at the “Inside the World of Avatar” exhibit.
Background film props on display at the “Inside the World of Avatar” exhibit.
Replica of Na’vi necklaces on display at the “Inside the World of Avatar” exhibit.
“Are you always this charming, or am I just lucky?” (Esmeralda, The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Minnie and Mickey Mouse celebrate the Mickey Mouse Disco 40th Anniversary during the D23 Expo Street Party.
Christy Carlson Romano (Kim Possible) serving as a grand marshal of the D23 Expo Street Party.
Attendees checking out the unique eateries offered by food trucks outside the Anaheim Convention Center.
Fans waiting in line as long as 90 minutes to get into the Disney Store booth for exclusive merchandise.
Attendees crowd Center Stage for a presentation on The Haunted Mansion 50th Anniversary.
Another look at the Pixar booth and the replica of the Onwards van.
The Disney+ streaming service was being promoted heavily, as evidenced by the large amount of space
given the Disney+ booth.
While Disney had their own stores set up, many other shops were also hawking Disney-licensed merchandise,
including these collectible dolls.
These Star Wars costumes had a striking presence on the exhibit floor.
The Disney Emporium area had a number of vendors selling either new or vintage collectibles.
If artwork is more your thing, you would have had a number of choices at the Expo, too.
The Walt Disney Family Museum had a variety of exclusive items to sell, while promoting the Museum
as a great place to include in your vacation planning.
At the Disney+ panel, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy gave us a vision of the current and planned state
of the Star Wars universe.
Rand and Dan enjoyed meeting book designer Paul Wolski and author Jeff Kurtti, here showing off
their uniquely magical Disney Christmas cards book.
Disney Legend inductees included singer and former Mouseketeer Christina Aguilera…
… choreographer Barnette Ricci…
… Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Junior…
… and actress Ming Na Wen.
Rand couldn’t help posing with his favourite super-hero (next to Superman. Shssshhhhh…)
These puppets were pricey, but pretty neat.
This is one of the hugest Precious Moments figurines that we have ever seen.
This massive X-Men statue was pretty impressive, too.
And who doesn’t love Spider-Verse? …Uh, wasn’t that a Sony film—?
More large, detailed Marvel statues on display at the Expo.
Another Disney store to visit!
The Hulk enjoys mashing as much as smashing.

Our thanks to Disney, not just for putting on the biennial event, but for also releasing official photographs from the show, in particular presentations with “no electronics” policies, to be used for press.