Company touts goods, films at convention

After hitting the road to court fans at Comic-Con in San Diego this summer, Disney has found a way to do the same thing in its own backyard.

Over the past four days, Disney touted pretty much everything the company has to offer — especially its films and TV shows, theme parks and various merchandise lines, from wedding dresses to collectible pins — at the D23 Expo, the Mouse House’s answer to Comic-Con, held at the Anaheim Convention Center, across the street from Disneyland.

D23 refers to the year Walt Disney moved to Hollywood.

The event can easily be considered a success in its first year, having sold more than 20,000 tickets to mostly die-hard fans who wanted first looks at toons like “The Princess and the Frog,” “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” “Rapunzel,” “A Christmas Carol,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Tron Legacy” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

Disney also used the confab to unveil Double Dare You as a toon production label with Guillermo del Toro to produce scarier animated pics; “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” as the title of the fourth swashbuckler in the franchise, to bow in 2011; “The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made” for the return of the Muppets on the bigscreen; and a 3-D revamp of the “Star Tours” ride.

Disney had been under pressure from its most vocal fans to come up with a confab like D23 that could reward those who have been so loyal to the company over the years, company topper Bob Iger has said.

But the gathering was also clearly designed as a way to enlist Disney’s faithful to hype its upcoming properties.

After screening 30 minutes of footage from “The Princess and the Frog,” Iger told fans, “Nowhere do we shine more brightly than in classic Disney animation. Promise me you’ll go see the rest when it opens.”

It was a hard sell that Disney has certainly perfected as it’s gotten better at promoting itself.

Its Walt Disney Studios Showcase has become a dazzling affair from the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, where studio chairman Dick Cook introduces a future slate of pics, backed by special appearances by the company’s top stars, especially Johnny Depp. Its presentations at Comic-Con this year were more professionally produced and injected with confidence, adding a much-needed dose of energy that hadn’t been felt in years past.

For D23, organizers essentially borrowed what worked at other presentations.

Cook’s unveiling of the studio’s forthcoming slate was essentially the same program from Disney’s previous showcase in Hollywood, and the studio’s panels at Comic-Con. Depp once again generated a roar of applause as he staggered on stage dressed as Capt. Jack Sparrow after surprising guests with his arrival on a pirate ship; Miley Cyrus performed her hit “The Climb” from “Hannah Montana: The Movie,” John Travolta pushed “Old Dogs,” while Nicolas Cage said he’d be back for another “National Treasure,” and Tim Burton was on hand to hype “Alice.”

Still there were new moments that charmed like having 24 Muppets perform “Rainbow Connection” aboard a steamboat as Cook unveiled the new Muppet movie; and having Stormtroopers march on stage to John Williams’ “Imperial March” as it was announced that “Star Tours” would close late next year for the ride’s makeover because the Emperor “wasn’t happy” with the ageing version.

However, Disney may want to borrow a little more from other fanfests as it grows D23 in the coming years.

The convention center’s main floor appeared to lack some of the magic Disney is known for. There was an absence of costumed characters roaming around taking photos with attendees. Booths seemed small and cramped versus the large, inviting displays on hand at Comic-Con or even the loud, colorful booths at the E3 videogame confab in Los Angeles — and that one’s not even open to the public.

The biggest draw, beyond the studio store, was the company’s parks and resorts pavilion that primarily showcased California Adventure’s upcoming “Cars Land,” which opens in 2012, but had little else to excite attendees looking for a new reason to visit the parks. Booths enabling guests to have a tea party with the Mad Hatter from “Alice,” or play the new “Toy Story Midway Mania” videogame seemed lost in the shuffle.

It was the overall ticket price that may also have kept attendance levels lower than hoped. Single day adult tix went for $37, while four-day passes were available for $111 and $81 for children. Two days would have covered a four-day pass to Comic-Con, where every studio is pushing their wares.

But those are all first-year growing pains that Disney will surely fix as it readies another D23 next year and even takes some of the show on the road to other cities.

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