D23, named after the year the Walt Disney Company was founded, was started as fan service. For most people, Disney is the films they grew up with and watched with their parents, and watch with their children – or even by themselves – and Disneyland (especially if you don’t live in California) is a place to go to once, maybe twice. For the D23 crowd, Walt Disney and its various products are a lifestyle choice. The hardcore run the gamut. From babies to the very old, from the physically fit to the couch potato, being at D23 means you probably have a season pass to Disneyland.
Which means that the event was almost entirely for the fans, but in that it replicated the Disneyland experience: everything involved waiting in long lines, and buying (possibly overpriced) Disney-brand items. One of the biggest lines on the first day was for the Disney store, which had D23 limited edition Disney toys and trinkets. Some may have been going to make money on Ebay, but it seems most were just going to get exclusives for themselves.
The floor was made up mostly of sellers, along with areas for more Disney related stuff (there was a section for the young TV shows, and another for improvements being made to the parks), but every section were in some way selling Disney-related materials. The sales floor had people who did airbrushed Disney drawings (officially), there was a booth for people wanting animatronic figures, another for Disneyland resort packages, and smaller areas with shirts and paraphernalia. There was also an autograph booth, but the stars they had were limited (Cindy Morgan, Bruce Boxleightner and Billy Dee Williams would be the highlights). The more official areas offered promotions for upcoming Disney productions, with little emphasis on theatrical titles. There was a Pirates of Caribbean: On Stranger Tides showcase, along with an area for Disney-based video games, food products, nail polish, and toys. This was – to be fair – no different than any other convention floor.
The majority of the panels then connected to other things. I went to see Don Hahn (producer of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast) give a presentation that was about creativity. What I didn’t realize was that he was also selling a book about the same thing. So instead of talking about the creative process in a way that was practical (though he did offer good advice), it was more of an ad for his book. Fair enough.
The big event for film writers was the movie panel, which ran from 10:30-ish to a little after 1:00. Over ten films were covered, and at an event like Comic-con, that would be enough for a day in Hall H. But while Comic-con is marked by its interactivity, D23 functioned as more of a sales presentation. Where Comic-con brings out the talent to talk about their project, show clips, and interact with the crowd, here stars mostly showed up to wave, and there was little activity from the stars other than brief (in the case of The Avengers, one sentence) platitudes about the films they were in. And press didn’t get a chance to talk with the talent, other than some brief video interviews during the presentation.
The film panels (for Monsters University and Brave) were basically extensions of their presentations on the main stage. Mostly they talked about the design, though (because of the no electronic equipment policy for the movies panel) they didn’t offer as much footage, nor were they as flashy. Like the Pixar nerds who presented them, they came off as really solid, but slightly dull power-point presentations.
And when Joe Quesada – Chief Creative Officer over at Marvel – hit the stage for an Arena event, instead of doing his normal pitch about what’s coming up and a heavy fan Q&A, he was told that most of the audience weren’t huge comic book fans, and so he settled on doing more of a “history of Marvel” discussion. He also wanted to show The Avengers footage, but couldn’t because everyone had their cell phones and such.
When Disney pulled out of Comic-con this year (for the most part, DreamWorks’s Fright Night and Real Steel were at the Con, and there were no DreamWorks booths at D23), there was a sense that it was partly to bolster their D23 presentations. Instead, Comic-con as a driving force for hype may be dying, and we may yet see it return to its less Hollywood-driven roots if studios begin to abandon it as a place to launch titles. This is the second year in a row that Universal had a film play at comic-con and die at the box office (Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, Cowboys and Aliens), and it’s hard to know how much it helps a film, period. Comic book titan titles The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel didn’t show at Comic-con. Realistically, they didn’t need to be.
But for other studios, it would be impossible to have a D23-esque presentation, as Warner Brothers or 20th Century fox don’t have that sort of brand-name loyalty. But such is the power of Disney.
How many times have you gone to Disneyland?