The first D23 Expo was held in 2009 and had some amazing guests and special announcements on upcoming Disney Parks expansions and attractions as well as news on upcoming Disney movies.
This year’s Expo was no exception to that and Disney Store President Jim Fielding (@DisneyStorePrez on Twitter) gave an opening day speech exclusively for D23 members and press, as well as opened the Expo’s Disney Store “pop up shop” with a little help and imagination from Natalia (who posed for our camera below).
This is my first D23 Expo and I have to say I’m impressed and a bit overwhelmed by everything inside! I knew it would be big, but I had no idea what was in store for me, even as I walked through the doors of the Anaheim Convention Center this morning!
After a brief media tour around the Expo, I broke off to try out the Kinect Disneyland Adventures for Xbox 360. The controls seemed a bit off as I was told to hold up one of my arms to wave at Peter Pan (in game) and ended up high-fiving him instead! This happened three times in a row before it finally worked correctly, however, this game is still in-development and this was just a preview of a work still in progress. After walking around the virtual park I went into the Pirates of The Caribbean and tried my hand at sword fighting against pirates, dodging flaming cannon balls that were being launched at me and then finally fighting and defeating the “boss pirate”. It’s a cute game that the kids will definitely enjoy and there’s a lot of interactivity with the Disney characters that walk around the park. You can high-five, give a character a hug (although Peter Pan wasn’t too keen on that) and even hold out your hands to the character which will pull out your in-game autograph book for them to sign.
They were also taking preorders through Amazon for the game already and has a chance to win a Disneyland Adventures “skinned” Xbox 360.
Then it was on to the arena for the 2011 Disney Legends ceremony. Disney Parks Chairman Tom Staggs gave us all a welcome and a brief introduction and then introduced Tom Bergeron who took over hosting duties. Tom first announced that Disney Princeses were being honored this year. That is, the women who gave voice to these iconic Disney animated characters.
The first honoree was Anika Noni Rose (voice of Princess Tiana from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog) Anika provided both the speaking and singing voices for Tiana and is now the youngest recipient ever of the Disney Legends award.
Next up was Linda Larkin (voice of Princess Jasmine from Disney’s Aladdin) followed by Lea Salonga (singing voice of both Princess Jasmine and Mulan) Lea made it a point to thank Linda for not being able to sing so that she could have a job! Then came Paige O’Hara (voice of Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) and finally, the last of the Disney Princesses to be honored was Jodi Benson (voice of Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid). All of these women made it a point to thank key people in their careers at Disney as well as the fans who support Disney movies. Jodi made it a point to quote a Bible verse (John 15:5) and closed by saying “This is what I do. This is my ministry!”
We were then treated to a montage of songs by Paige, Lea, Anika and Jodi which closed with the four of them singing together on “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”.
Ray Watson was honored next. Ray was President of The Irvine Company when he was asked to join the Board of Directors for Walt Disney Productions in 1973. Watson’s early tenure on the Board saw the expansion of Walt Disney World, the 1976 opening of River Country — Disney’s first water park, and the opening of EPCOT Center, in 1982, which at a cost of $1 billion was the largest private land development project ever at that time. In 1983, Watson was elected as Chairman of the Board and after stepping down as chairman 1984, remained on the Board until he retired in 2004 after serving the Company for 30 years and establishing a worldwide reputation as a real estate development visionary.
Next honoree was Guy Williams. Guy starred in the hit Disney television series Zorro and two feature films, The Sign of Zorro and Zorro the Avenger. Williams’ charming portrayal of Zorro helped galvanized the character in the public’s imagination and made the series a favorite among the Baby Boomer generation and beyond. His other popular television credits include the hit series Bonanza and Lost in Space.
Jack and Bonita Wrather were honored next. Jack and Bonita were approached by Walt Disney who asked them to build and start the Disneyland Hotel. Their children accepted the award on their behalf and it was said before they left the stage that “only Walt could see a hotel as a source of family entertainment!”
Next up, a man who needs no indroduction, television’s Regis Philbin. There was a great video introduction from Kelly Ripa (who could not be present) that recalled some of Regis’s most embarrasing (and highly hilarious) moments from their time together on “Live with Regis and Kelly”. Regis has been called “The hardest working man in showbusiness” and actually holds a Guinness World Record for most time spent in front of the cameras. It’s fitting that Regis got the award the very year he is retiring (He will be leaving the “Live” tv show this November). As Regis left the stage, he held up the award and said “something I can sit on at home!”
Finally, Jim Henson was honored for his work. What more can you say about Jim? The man gave us the Muppets! Jim’s responsible for bringing us Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, several Muppet movies (with the newest coming this Holiday Season) as well as The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Fraggle Rock. We even got a live Muppet performance on stage from Jim’s son Brian (and another performer who’s name I sadly didn’t catch) that was performed to the song “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face”. Brian then got before us and talked about what it was like growing up with Jim for a Dad. “The man had sound effects for everything” he went on to tell us. From something as simple as pulling a pen out of his pocket for me to borrow, to pouring honey on my pancakes. And the funny thing was that he didn’t realize he was even doing it!
The ceremony ended with a very special surprise performance by Kermit the Frog and Rowlf (2 of Jim Henson’s creations that he personally used to be the voices for). Kermit and Rowlf slid out onto the stage on a set piece with Kermit atop with a banjo and Rowlf in the lower half at his piano. The two sang “Rainbow Connection” (from the first Muppet Movie) and got everyone in the audience to sing along by the end of the song.
I’ve included a photo gallery below with pics from the day’s events. Sorry if the quality isn’t stupendous, but a lot of these were taken from my smartphone!