With its D23 Expo, Disney has figured out how to attract tens of thousands of the company’s faithful fans to Anaheim without offering rides at Disneyland.
Sarah Silverman joked of the feat as she took the stage Saturday to help promote the new toon “Wreck-It Ralph,” smashing into theaters next year.
During a nearly three-hour presentation of the company’s upcoming films, Disney animation chief John Lasseter revealed the concepts of two upcoming Pixar pics (untitled projects about dinosaurs and the human brain) and introduced Jon Cryer as the lead voice in “Cars”-franchise spinoff “Planes” after discussing “Brave,” “Monsters University” and “Wreck-It Ralph.”
Chief Rich Ross, prexy Sean Bailey and Marvel’s Kevin Feige
introduced new footage for “The Avengers,” “The Muppets,” “Oz: The Great and Powerful” “Frankenweenie,” and Disneynature’s “Chimpanzee.”
But given the Mouse House’s various entertainment divisions, Disney has been eager to turn the Anaheim Convention Center confab, billed as “the ultimate Disney fan event,” into its own Comic-Con that takes place every other year (Disney sat out Comic-Con this year because of the event).
The successful inaugural edition, which saw the launch of the company’s first official fanclub, was held in 2009. Organizers tweaked this year’s program, paring it down to three days from four and moving the date from September to the vacation days of August.
This year’s confab sold 40,000 tickets, priced from $22 to $136, with Saturday selling out.
Not much else changed, however.
Most of the booths looked the same, and were just as small and cramped, as they were two years ago, undermining the magic Disney likes to tout. Even many of its costumed characters were missing, providing limited photo ops.
And despite Marvel’s full integration into the company, the comicbook giant didn’t have a booth to show off its superheroes as it did at Comic-Con in San Diego.
When asked about it during a panel presentation on Sunday, comicbook vet Joe Quesada, who serves as Marvel’s chief creative officer, didn’t know why. “Hopefully next D23,” he said.
The largest booths were taken up by the Disney Store, Disney Channel and Radio Disney, props from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise and a pair-up of Nordstrom with a line of apparel for “It’s a Small World.” Company also tubthumped the sizable expansion of Fantasyland at Orlando’s Magic Kingdom and showed off its new theme park in Shanghai. In a parks and resorts pavilion, it also provided details of its Hawaiian resort and new cruise ship to launch, as well as updates on California Adventure’s Cars Land.
But most of this information had already been previously discussed this year, and D23 was short on real news.
Ross didn’t discuss the status of “The Lone Ranger” beyond saying that he was hopeful it would still get made. Feige didn’t mention the titles of the two Marvel films that have already been dated for 2014. And “Tron” fans were still left wondering whether a sequel will follow “Tron: Legacy.”
The biggest push was given to “John Carter,” formerly known as “John Carter of Mars.”
Film’s stars Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins and Willem Dafoe joined helmer Andrew Stanton (“Wall-E,” “Finding Nemo”) to introduce clips from the Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation unspooling in March. Given the fantasy’s pricey budget (which has reportedly risen to $300 million heights), Disney’s talking points focused on the property’s influences from “Star Wars” and “Avatar” to start getting auds excited about a property they may not be familiar with.
But footage shown conjured up the dusty locales, alien creatures and vehicles of “Cowboys and Aliens,” and seemed dated when compared to other sci-fi tentpoles. Disney’s marketing brass will be working overtime to overcome such difficulties in the months ahead.
The crowd of 4,000 that filled the convention center’s Arena theater for the film presentation or the 40,000 that flocked the show floor didn’t seem like the contingent that attends Comic-Con in July.
Most lit up for appearances by Lasseter and Billy Crystal (on hand for his return to the “Monsters, Inc.” prequel after 10 years), giving both a standing ovation. Thesps Jennifer Garner, Jason Segel, Jack McBrayer, Kevin McKidd, Kelly McDonald and, from “The Avengers,” Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson also took the stage to surprise fans.
Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Woody and Buzz Lightyear joined Ross for his dog-and-pony show. He may have needed the support to win over fans who may still be faithful to former studio chief Dick Cook, who presented at D23 in 2009.
Ross was quick to announce that he’s been one of Disney’s “biggest fans” since watching “Mary Poppins” in 1964. After that, “I was a fan for life,” he said.
The exec and Sean Bailey also weren’t shy in letting fans know their value to the company.
“You’re the reason we do what we do,” Ross told them. Bailey reflected on how Disney was the first studio lot he visited 20 years ago before quoting Walt Disney on the importance of making movies for people age 6 to 60.
Lasseter also thanked the crowd for “how much you love Disney.”
And to make sure fans weren’t left empty-handed, attendees received a cupcake to celebrate Pixar’s 25th anniversary.