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Published on August 22nd, 2011 | by simeon

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D23

On August 19 – 21, 2011, all eyes were on the Anaheim Convention Center as the Walt Disney Corporation held its D23 Expo to a capacity crowd. In addition to an impressive display of vendors, Disney brought a star-studded array of celebrities to promote their upcoming films , TV projects, theme park additions, and consumer products.

On the theme park side, panels were held to discuss the recent renovation of Star Tours, as well as the pending Cars Land which will open in 2012. There were also forums geared to the Disney channel, and the numerous tween talents that caused the younger members in attendance to erupt into giddy squeals of delight at various times throughout the weekend.

Despite the large audience that I was told would push 60,000 people, the flow of the exhibition floor was quite good and I did not have to push my way through people as I have had to do at other expos. My wife and I took time to take part in a conservation project by planting seedlings that would then be distributed to various area schools as part of their studies and green projects. We also really enjoyed seeing the 3-D Blu-ray’s that are coming as well as a look at some of the props from the recent Pirates of the Caribbean films.

One of the most fun highlights for our coverage was getting to see the pending Disneyland game for the Kinect. The game allows users to take a virtual tour of Disneyland that is exact down to the most minute details such as the infamous Golden Spike under sleeping beauties Castle. Six of the planned 11 rides were on display and I was able to sample a few of them. You can either walk to a locale or use a fast pass to immediately go to the ride of your choice. Once set on a ride you and a friend can embark on a series of mini games related to the ride. For example, on Big Thunder Mountain, my wife and I had to simulate pumping a handcar as we raced through a series of tracks and moved to flip tracks to avoid various dangers. While it was much longer than the ride itself, not only did we get a great workout but I enjoyed the familiar run through the dinosaur bones and water splash at the rides’ end.

Also built into the game are character interactions. We chose Mickey Mouse, of course, and was able to hug, high-five five, get an autograph, and pose for a picture with him. During the game we collected a series of coins which we were informed would be used to purchase various items at the Disney store later in the game. Our next stop was the Matterhorn, and after both bobsledding and engaging in a snowball fight with the abominable snowman, we joined Goofy for a fast paced ski race down the mountain as we attempted to avoid all manner of obstacles and dangers and stay ahead of the pending avalanche.

The game was amazingly fun and we can’t wait to see what other rides and features are available as it truly was as close to spending a day at the park as you can get without actually being there. The rides were a lot of fun, great exercise, and we did not have to wait in lines and weave through crowds to enjoy them.

The big event of the expo was of course the first thing panel of Saturday morning when we got a look at what was coming in the next few years from the various film divisions. After introductions by the various studio heads which was preceded by a very impressive video montage, we were introduced to John Cryer who will be voicing the lead character in a new animated film called Planes. Cryer plays a crop duster who dreams of making it big who will be given the chance of a lifetime.

Sarah Silverman and Jack Brayer then came on stage to support a film called Wreck-It Ralph. The title character is voiced by John C. Reilly and tells the story of a videogame villain from the eight bit era of gaming. Thirty years later Ralph secretly desires to become a videogame hero and will eventually find himself on an epic adventure. The film also stars Jane Lynch and looks to be a breakout hit for the company.

Pixar celebrated their 25th birthday by giving everyone in attendance a commemorative cupcake and then nearly brought the house down with an awe-inspiring array of projects. First they introduce the Scottish adventure Brave which includes such memorable talents as Robbie Coltrain, Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson, and other Scottish actors in this Highland tale of death of a defiant young girl. The clips we saw were absolutely stunning as the creators made several trips to Scotland to do their research and, although being of Scottish lineage, it was not offensive at all to see the humor in the project ranging from sheep, clan fighting, and of course the bagpipes as well as the incomprehensible accents.

Monsters University, which is a prequel to the beloved Monsters, Inc. was presented with a video greeting from stars John Goodman and Billy Crystal Crystal then surprised everyone by stepping out of the screen and bursting on stage to deliver his address in person. The film tells the early days of Sully and Mike as they started as rivals and later became the best of friends. Steve Buscemi Is also back as the villainous Randal.

Pixar was not done as they announced two as-yet-untitled projects: one dealing with dinosaurs, the other dealing with what goes on in the human mind. Both films are not due until 2014 which shows that the creative geniuses at Pixar are not content to rest on their laurels and are continuing to push the boundaries of digital entertainment.

There were also presentations done for the pending stop motion Frankenweenie by Tim Burton and Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great and Powerful which stars James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, and many others in this prequel to the Wizard of Oz.

The star power did not stop as Jennifer Garner took the stage to thunderous applause to promote her pending project, The Odd life of Timothy Green. Which deals about an infertile couple whose lives are changed when a mysterious boy appears in their garden after a bizarre storm.

Willem Dafoe, Taylor, Kitsch, and Lynn Collins also appeared to promote John Carter of Mars. The film was based on a series of books by the creator of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and has long been in development for the screen. The tale of a despondent Civil War vet who gets pulled into a conflict on Mars certainly is poised to be in FX extravaganza though many fellow media members I spoke to afterwords were concerned that it might come across as somewhat ho-hum and cheesy. I prefer to wait to see the finished product but I can understand some reservations.

Jason Segel, Kermit the frog, and Miss Piggy followed with a look at the upcoming Muppet movie. The clips from the film caused the audience to burst into laughter several times especially during the montage to “We Built This City” as the gang lovingly restored the dilapidated Muppet Theater to its former glory. The film is set to release this November and looks to be a massive smash for the studio.

The event wrapped up with the moment that we all waited for when we were treated to a look at The Avengers. This highly ambitious project contains numerous heroes and villains from the world of Marvel comics and is loaded with stars. Josh Whedon wrote and directed the project which we were told was approximately 2 weeks away from the completion of filming.

The scene shown to us had Sam Jackson as Nick Fury interrogating Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, who was contained in a transparent cell. Fury explains to Loki that if he so much as scratches the cell, Loki has something very special awaiting him and Fury proceeds to open a panel beneath Loki showing a 30,000+ foot drop from what I assume is SHIELD Headquarters in the clouds. Loki starts to brag of his abilities but is quickly rebuffed when Fury informs him that the cage was made for something much bigger and larger than he was. Various clips followed showing Thor, Captain America,and other team members as well as a great scene between Loki and Tony Stark where Stark in his deadpan way responds to Loki’s threats with” Yeah, but we have a HULK”. This echoes an earlier comment from Fury who indicates that when the safety of his people and his planet are threatened he has a team ready to respond to the challenge and Loki likely will not enjoy seeing them in action.

Amid huge ovations, Tom Hiddleston, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Cobie Smulders, Chris Hemsworth, and Robert Downey Jr. took the stage as the audience nearly blew the top of the stadium off with a sustained and thunderous applause. The group did not speak much other than to thank all of us for being there and Downey, Jr. then asked them to replay the footage that we just saw that garnered an even more enthusiastic response.

The panel alone would’ve been enough to make the convention a success, but this was just one of several panels throughout the weekend. While I would say it was the largest and most comprehensive of the panels for those wanting information on upcoming films, there were numerous other events throughout the weekend. The evening showing in the arena of the beloved Lion King movie now in 3-D also garnered a capacity crowd.

Some fans we spoke to did complain about the lines and some of the helpers on hand not really having an understanding of where things were. Most of these were ironed out as the weekend went along and even those who were disappointed by not being able to attend panels understood that with so many people in attendance you can’t fit everybody in, and that there was still a very impressive and fun array of things to see and do. I’ve always said that Disney sets a very high standard for entertainment and time and time again they deliver first-class experiences and the D 23 Expo not only met but surpassed all of my expectations of the convention.


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