This past weekend, I attended an exclusive event put on by D23: The Official Disney Fan Club called Destination D: 75 Years of Disney Animated Features, held at the Disneyland Resort in the Disneyland Hotel Convention Center. The event was a celebration of all things pertaining to Disney Feature Animation, highlighting the artists and creative forces behind all the greats, starting with “Snow White” and through the upcoming “Wreck-it Ralph” and “Frozen.”
This two-day event, held August 11 and 12, 2012, was filled to the brim with panels on a variety of topics, but all with the common theme of Disney Feature Animation.
The full list of the panels and their panelists is available here. Rather than repeating those details in the event recap below, I thought I’d add my reactions to each of those panels, focusing on the parts I (and the attending fans) particularly enjoyed. These thoughts offer an overview of what this Destination D event presented, so be sure to also tune into this coming Sunday’s Inside the Magic podcast (Show 385) to hear more in-depth discussion about what went on along with interviews with some of the event’s most interesting panelists.
Day 1 – Saturday, August 11th
After being treated to a particularly moving montage of Disney animated features, we were greeted by Steven Clark, head of D23, and then a group of Disney fans flash-mobbed the stage dancing to a medley of Disney songs. John Lasseter made an appearance (by video) preparing us for what we were about to experience. Then he announced the event’s first (and maybe ONLY surprise): We were all getting sketch books with a print of an original Mary Blair painting on the cover.
WALT AND THE FIRST GOLDEN AGE OF DISNEY ANIMATION
Two legendary Disney Animators, Burny Mattinson and Joe Hale, went down the list of the Nine Old Men, sharing stories about them on a personal and professional level. The nostalgia was thick and the crowd ate it up.
No photography was allowed during the next three panels, which proved to be some of the most entertaining of the entire event.
ROY E. DISNEY AND THE SECOND GOLDEN AGE OF DISNEY ANIMATION
The highlight of this session was seeing a celebrity-laden video shot in the 80s promoting Disney-MGM Studios all about Mickey remembering his first audition. Roy E. Disney played the part of his uncle Walt. With Ron Clements and John Musker (pictured below during an interview after the panel), Don Hahn (as well as Roy Patrick Disney) all talking about the man who saved Disney, this was one of my favorites.
INSIDE WALT DISNEY ANIMATION STUDIOS TODAY
New scenes from “Wreck-It Ralph” were shown and a song was performed from Disney’s 2013 film, “Frozen.” With Idina Menzel playing the misunderstood Snow Queen, the song felt VERY similar to Wicked. But the highlight of the panel was a special screening of “Paperman,” Disney’s newest short. It lived up to all of the hype! (More on that soon…)
THE GREATEST DISNEY ANIMATION YOU NEVER SAW
This was one of the least exciting panels simply because I had seen most of the clips they showed. It did have quite a bit of nostalgia for 1980s Walt Disney World fans. Great to see parts of Cranium Command and Return to Neverland (with Robin Williams and Walter Kronkite) on the big screen again.
ANIMATING DISNEY PARKS
Moderated by Tim O’Day, three longtime Imagineers – Tony Baxter, Eddie Sotto, and Tom Morris – talked about three of Disney’s original Imagineers (Coates, Ryman, and Davis) who helped design Disneyland park – all of whom had an animation background. Highlight: Marc Davis’ memorial video, originally shown at his Memorial Service at Hollywood’s El Capitan Theatre.
AN EVENING WITH DICK VAN DYKE AND THE VANTASTIX
Dick Van Dyke can still entertain like nobody else. It was a little odd when he brought up his new wife to sing with him – she’s probably 50 years his younger. Especially strange after just performing the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank song and commenting, “I don’t need any make-up to look old now.”
SCREENING: WALT & EL GRUPO – THE DIRECTOR’S CUT
I was initially excited to see this film, but after having been warned in its introduction by the film’s director, Ted Thomas (Frank’s son), that it was a little boring, I became nervous. Ted was right. It’s interesting but extremely tough to get through. Attendance to this screening was sparse.
Day 2 – Sunday, August 12th
WACKY AND WILD DISNEY ANIMATION
A fun celebration of Ward Kimball by Eric Goldberg. Apparently, Ward was the only one of his employees that Walt Disney called a genius.
DRAWING WITH PERSONALITY
The simplest, but by far my favorite panel: Legendary Disney animator Andreas Deja with an overhead projector showing sketches and drawings from all of the great animators, past and present, and pointing out the details that most people miss. Plus, he sketched a variety of familiar and fun characters live for the audience.
TINKER BELL: THE EVOLUTION OF A DISNEY CHARACTER
I thought it would be a silly ramp-up to the new “Tinker Bell” movie coming to DVD/Blu-Ray but instead it was a wonderful look into the history of Tinker Bell, all the way back to J. M. Barrie and up through the development of the animated character. Of course, it did eventually turn into a promo for the new film. Did you know Tink was originally going to be a redhead?
No photos were allowed during this presentation, but its stars are seen in the photos below, taken during interviews after the presentation. (Mindy Johnson, Ginni Mack, Margaret Kerry, Mae Whitman, and Peggy Holmes)
HEARING VOICES: A SALUTE TO DISNEY VOICE ARTISTS
Of all the performers included on the panel, the only TRUE voice artist was Bill Farmer. I could have listened to him talk for hours. But then again, Goofy is my favorite character.
SNOW WHITE: STILL THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL
What was probably meant to be the crowning jewel of the event with regards to the panels turned out to feel the most like a college lecture. Musicology of Snow White? Interesting. But dull. The panel ended with a long press release promoting the Walt Disney Family Museum read by its CEO. Talk about deflating the momentum.
AN EVENING WITH ALAN MENKEN
Quite possibly the best concert I’ve ever been to. Just Alan and a piano taking us on a musical journey through his career. Informal and funny. Like a friend just tickling the ivories in my living room. Many Disney Legends were even in the audience just to watch. This was the ONLY way that an event celebrating 75 years of Disney Feature Animation could end. If John Williams wrote the score to my childhood, Alan Menken wrote the soundtrack.
On Inside the Magic Show 383, D23 creative consultant Tim O’Day shared with our host Ricky Brigante that Destination D attendees should expect surprises throughout the weekend. Based on previous Destination D events, I was ready for them. But now looking back, the only surprises were a few give-aways – a Mary Blair Sketchbook and a couple posters. Was that what he meant?
As a huge Disney fan myself and not just a member of the invited press (who I was assigned to be all weekend), I kept asking myself if the event’s hefty ticket price of $225 would be worth it for what I was seeing. Up until the Alan Menken concert, I would have said, “Probably not.” But the concert pushed me over the top. The whole event was lovingly crafted to be a perfect and exclusive experience, meant for the fans. And from what I could tell, everyone was having a great time.
Diamond Level D23 members could purchase a $1,000 ticket which gave them early seating in the hall, an extra day on Monday at the Walt Disney Studios, and private access to the celebrities during the event. As a member of the press, I got a taste of this access but never got to actually speak to Dick Van Dyke. And I couldn’t give Bill Farmer the hug I wanted to give him. Members of the press must remain composed and dignified at all times, of course. I don’t think I would pay $1,000 to have dinner with Dick Van Dyke or hug Bill Farmer, even if I were rich.
Overall, I highly recommend Destination D and can’t wait for the next one.
More photos from Destination D: 75 Years of Disney Animated Features: