Event Recap: Destination D – 75 Years of Animated Features
I think most of the people who know me, consider me one of the biggest Disney fanatics they know. I can tell you obscure Disney Trivia, and I have been asked a few times about my opinion when Disney or Pixar release a new movie. I also do voices and impersonations if requested (I can do a pretty spot-on Walt, Roy E Disney, or even John Lasseter – it’s a curse from watching too many making-of documentaries).
One place I have been reluctant to tread, was the D23 fan club. One would assume I would have been one of the first to sign up, but even with the exclusive material and social events, living in the Midwest had made me wary, along with the $30+ membership fee tiers to join (the lower “Silver” tier gives you one complimentary issue of D23‘s magazine, but you will need to go for the “Gold” to get a full year of the magazine).
D23 touts events in major cities across the country, but I’ve only counted the equivalent of once-a-year events in Chicago, IL. It seems unless you live in California or New York, expect to travel if you want to find Disney fan events. One event I found out about too late, was one held at Chicago’s Museum of Comteporary Art. In honor of the 70th anniversary of Bambi’s release, Bambi’s voice actor Donnie Dunagan, and Disney animator Andreas Deja were in town.
This year, I grew curious when D23 announced a special event to take place on The Disneyland Hotel grounds. The event was Destination D: 75 years of animation. I almost passed this up, but my love of Disney Animation soon steered me to the event (plus, attendees could get discounted park admission, and I was itching to set foot in Cars Land, which will be part of an upcoming 3-part posting).
After deciding to attend, I chose the standard $225 admission ticket, which was a steal next to the $1000 Diamond level admission. Diamond level admission included a special tour of the Walt Disney Studios and Archives on Monday, August 13th, as well as private access to meet with several of the show’s panelists.
I went to an early sign-in on Friday, August 10th, and also was one of the first to be there when exclusive merchandise went on sale. There wasn’t much that caught my eye, except this:
There were some intriguing pieces, including a recreation of Walt Disney’s Disneyland pin that he wore around the park, and pins based on the storybook covers that opened the classic fairy tale films like Snow White, Cinderella, & Sleeping Beauty.
I was informed that members who attended the Destination D event would get all sorts of freebies. By the end of Sunday, these included:
But, enough with the swag…on with the show!!
DAY 1: Saturday, August 11, 2012
I took my seat Saturday, wondering what to expect. I knew this wasn’t going to be an ordinary event, when the announcer kept making little Disney references in his spiel (at one point, he said that one of the messages was sponsored by Tony’s Restaurant – aka the place Tramp takes Lady for dinner).
Another surprise was that once the event began, over 3 dozen or so fans jumped from their seats, and flash mobbed us by dancing to different songs from Disney’s history. What was the highlight, you may ask? The dancers dancing to the Kanine Krunchies song from the commercial in 101 Dalmatians! I don’t think any of us expected that, and it definitely made me feel that this was going to be a different experience than I was planning to expect.
After we were showered with hidden confetti cannons, the dancers took their seats, and we were then treated to an introduction by John Lasseter…via a recorded message. John told of his love for Disney’s animated feature films, before closing his speech with a Happy Birthday to Snow White (her film is 75 years old this year).
And with that, Destination D – 75 Years of Animated Features got underway.
Walt and The First Golden Age of Disney Animation
Becky Cline (director of the Walt Disney Archives) hosted a chat that included studio legend Burny Mattinson, layout artist and film producer Joe Hale, and Ted Thomas, son of animator Frank Thomas, and director of the documentary Frank and Ollie. Burny and Joe soon regaled us with tales about their time at the studios.
– Joe recounted how being from a small Midwestern town, he was unaccustomed to the studio’s elevator systems. One day, as the doors were closing, he heard someone yelling to hold the elevator. Looking out through the doors, he saw Walt Disney running to catch the elevator. Joe was unsure how to keep the doors open, and found himself in the panicked position of shutting the doors on the head of the studio! Unsure what to do, Joe could only yell through the door to Walt how he felt: “Sorry!”
-When talk switched to the studio’s famed ‘Nine Old Men’ of animation, each of the animators was analyzed, though more was known about the more famous of the nine. Joe recounted how he knew plenty of stories about animator Ward Kimball, but was unsure if he should tell. Becky insisted, and Joe then recounted how he came in one morning to work, and found Ward asleep on a couch in his animation room. Ward then recounted why he was sleeping at the studio, and…well, let’s just say the reason he was there, was that he was ‘late for a very important date.’
– Burny recounted his time working his way up from the mail room, his meeting with Walt, and even working with the Nine Old Men. One of the strangest moments, was when Woolie Rietherman tasked him with creating the Devil’s Eye diamond in The Rescuers. The diamond was just 5-7 layers of paper with different facets of the diamond done with magic markers…yet Woolie said it was great, and that’s how the diamond ended up being depicted in the final film!
(FYI: If you love podcasts, I recommend Clay Kaytis’ “Animation Podcast,” which contains a great 4-parter from Burny. It shows that Burny really does know how to tell stories well)
Roy E Disney and the Second Golden Age of Disney Animation
Disney Historian Tim O’Day hosted this segment, which helped praise and show how integral Roy was in preserving the legacy of his Uncle Walt, and father Roy O Disney. Panel guests include producer Don Hahn, John Musker and Ron Clements (directors of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin), Dave Bossert (head of special projects at the Walt Disney Animation Studios), and Roy Patrick Disney, Roy E’s son, who was also a former Disney Imagineer.
Each of the men recounted the dark days during the early 1980’s, and noted that of all the company’s divisions, animation was slated as the one that was most likely to be axed. Even though Roy didn’t have any animation knowledge, he still fought for it, claiming that it was animation that built the studio’s legacy.
We also got to know a little about Roy’s work on the True Life Adventures series, and how far Roy went when what should have been a humorous collision of ducks on ice, seemed to disappear…and what eventually was done to rectify the situation.
We also got to see some pictures of Roy Patrick and the family, including them posing outside the family’s private plane. Though it looked glamorous, Roy P said that at the time, if you wanted to go from California to Florida in the plane, it took 13 hours, and 2 stopovers just to get there.
At the end of the presentation, Roy P was presented with a Mickey Mouse statue called a “Mouseker,” which was similar to one Walt had been given many years ago. Roy was thanked for his service, as well as that of his father to the company.
Inside Walt Disney Studios Today
Disney animator Darrin Butters then hosted one of the segments I was very excited about, which was going to give us a sneak peek at what the studio was working on.
After opening with a showing of Tangled Ever After (it’s definitely funnier in a room full of Disney fans), Darrin then showed us concept art for the company’s 2013 release, Frozen. Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, this film version appears to be like Tangled, in that it takes the basic premise, but turns it towards someplace new. I was hoping to see some rough animation, but the art still has me intrigued.
The music for Frozen is being composed by the husband/wife songwriting duo of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. They did an incredible job on 2011’s Winnie the Pooh, and if the song we were previewed (titled Let It Go) is any indication, the rest of the songs may be just as memorable. Let It Go played as a declaration, but also as a lament in a way, both touching and heartbreaking at the same time. Sad that I’ll just have the song stuck in my head until I see the film next year.
Next up, was the first non-industry showing of the animated short, Paperman (which will play before Wreck-It Ralph this fall). I’d heard alot of praise for this hand-drawn/computer hybrid, and the short just blew me away! Emotionally charged, creative, and heartfelt, this is the animated short I wish I had created in college (it reminded me of my youthful sensibilities then as well).
Finally, we were treated to clips from Wreck-It Ralph, which just helped make us even more excited to see the final film. Judging from the word out of Comic-Con, I believe we just saw a lot of the same footage as they did.
The Greatest Disney Animation You Never Saw
Don Hahn and Dave Bossert then treated us to some little-seen Disney commercials and shorts. Some highlights included:
– A pre-show from the old Feature Animation Studios in Florida, in which Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite explain how an animated film is made (Don said they had to clear alot of legal hurdles with The Cronkite Estate just to show the footage to us)
– The original pre-show to the now defunct EPCOT attraction, Cranium Command (having never been to Disney World, this was neat to see).
– Storyboards for an unmade film about Hiawatha. One of the inspirations when Disney began work on Pocahontas, were concept art and storyboards from the film, and we were treated to a portion of them, with more to be shown as a special feature on the upcoming Pocahontas Blu-Ray release.
– An early storyboarded sequence for the Pomp & Circumstance song for Fantasia 2000. In it, every Disney character cameos as our favorite princes and princesses prepare to receive their respective babies (even Don and Bill felt odd talking about that). I had read about this early version in my Fantasia 2000: Visions of Hope coffee table book, but this was the first imagery I had ever seen of that odd concept.
– A clip from Song of the South, with Uncle Remus singing the Zip-a-dee-doo-dah song. I think many of us would have loved it if we could have seen a full screening of the film, but the clip was fine.
Animating the Disney Parks
Becky Cline and Tim O’Day then sat down to speak with Walt Disney Imagineering members Tony Baxter, Tom Morriz, and Eddie Sotto about many of the old guard who came from the animation division, and translated their work into the parks’ many style works. They discussed about enhancing the look of some areas of the parks, as well as making the designs work in other countries (for example: there aren’t any Main Streets in France like there are in the United States…so how do you make that concept work in Disneyland Paris?).
An Evening with Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix
This was an incredibly fun way to end the evening. The group was originally formed when Mike Mendyke met Dick in a coffee shop, and both explained how they loved to sing barbershop quartet. It just so happened that Dick had just put an ad in the paper at the time and was looking to start up a group, but noone had responded to his ad.
“Noone responded to the ad?” Asked Mike, incredulously.
“Well, I didn’t put my NAME in the ad,” replied Dick, who apparently wanted to start the group based on talent and drive, not on his name.
The foursome entertained us with songs from Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, The Jeffersons, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Cheers, and even went into the Disney catalogue of songs. One of the funniest moments, was when Dick recreated his role as Mr Dawes, Sr from Mary Poppins, adopting the scatter-brained speech pattern and stooping posture, as the group sang the song Fidelity Feduciary Bank. An image of Dick and the group singing the song is right below:
There was also a Director’s Cut screening of the documentary Walt & El Grupo (which chronicled Walt’s trip to South American during the early years of WWII), but the whole day had been so tiring, that I felt it best to make my way back to the hotel room to gear up for the second day’s event.
DAY 2: Sunday, August 12, 2012
While Saturday’s presentations had been exciting, it was Sunday’s that definitely had some stellar moments. Let’s start the rundown:
Wacky and Wild Disney Animation
Bill Tanek hosted a talk with Animator Eric Goldberg & Animation Historian Jerry Beck about the wackier side of Disney Animation. We even got to see some censored scenes from earlier Disney cartoons, and we’re treated to some of Goldberg’s early test footage of Aladdin’s Genie, which utilized some of Robin Williams’ stand-up comedy routines (sadly, we only saw one clip due to a technical glitch in the program).
Eric made note that when a lot of people think of wacky animation, they are normally inclined to consider the Looney Tunes shorts first. However, the examples shown to us definitely point out that there were plenty of wacky pieces in Disney’s portfolio. One that I had never seen, was a strangely mind-blowing sequence from The Three Caballeros, which makes me think I need to sit down and watch that film one of these days.
Drawing With Personality
This was my most anticipated panel, with animator Andreas Deja taking the stage! But Andreas didn’t just sit down and talk. He brought with him some great examples of classic animation, even showing how the studio’s artistry had grown from pipe-cleaner limbs in 1927, to being able to make Snow White only a decade later!
Andreas brought along examples of classic work, including this image of Grumpy.
He even drew for us, the demented Mickey from the animated short, Runaway Brain. Andreas mentioned that he worked on the short at the old Paris studio, and the crew had shirts made of the demented Mickey. Andreas wore his shirt to Disneyland Paris one day, and was decried and criticized by a cast member there who thought he was wearing “bootleg merchandise.”
Andreas then closed by drawing some of the characters he designed, such as Jafar, and Scar (as seen above).
Andreas even gave those of us with sketchpads a little assignment while he was drawing Jafar: draw Jafar as a little kid. My final image came out as more of a teenage Jafar, and I quickly started developing a backstory around his appearance. You can see my image of a young Jafar below:
Tinker Bell: The Evolution of a Disney Character
Disney Historian Mindy Johnson hosted this panel, which served as a lead-in to talk about her upcoming book, Tinker Bell: An Evolution. Mindy gave us a pretty thorough history lesson on Tink’s creation (including where her name came from), before diving into her evolution over many decades at the Disney Studios (at one point, her character designs suggested she would have red hair!).
We also learned that at the time, Tinkerbell’s final look was shaped by three women: Kathryn Beaumont, Margaret Kerry, and Ginni Mack. Ginni (a former Ink-and-Paint girl at the studios) was recently discovered to be the head model for Tinker Bell, while Kathryn and Margaret were inspirations for her figure (animator Marc Davis designed Tink to have a girlish upper body, and a womanly figure for her lower body). We also learned that in the scene where Tinker Bell sees herself in a mirror in the film Peter Pan, it was not meant to show her to be ‘preening,’ but was the first time she had actually seen herself in a mirror.
Ginni and Margaret were on hand to discuss their roles at the studio and Tink’s creation, with the panel ending with animation director Peggy Holmes and Mae Whitman (who voices Tinker Bell in her current computer-generated form), talking about the upcoming direct-to-video film, Tinkerbell: The Secret of the Wings.
Hearing Voices: A Salute to Disney Voice Actors
Tim O’Day next came out, to speak with several people who had provided voices for different characters over the years. These included:
Chris Sanders – the voice of Stitch in Lilo & Stitch
Lisa Davis – the voice of Anita in 101 Dalmatians
Bruce Reitherman – the voice of Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh & The Honey Tree, and Mowgli in The Jungle Book
Kathryn Beaumont – the voice of Alice in Alice in Wonderland, and Wendy in Peter Pan
David Frankhan – the voice of Sergeant Tibbs in 101 Dalmatians
Bill Farmer – the voice of Goofy
Several of them like Chris Sanders and Bill Farmer, demonstrated their vocal talents to us, as well as how they came to their chosen voices.
Of all the panelists, Lisa Davis left a big impression on me. With her gracious voice, she explained how Walt Disney originally wanted her to voice the role of Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians. Walt read the character lines for Anita to her, but as they went along, Lisa just didn’t feel she was right for the part. She then asked Walt if maybe she could read for Anita. Fearing he would get mad at him questioning his decision, she was surprised when he obliged.
Dickie Jones who had originally voiced Pinocchio couldn’t make the panel, but we were treated to a clip from Pinocchio, demonstrating his vocal talents.
Snow White: Still the Fairest of them all
With this year marking the 75th anniversary of the release of Snow White, Destination D would be remiss if they didn’t acknowledge Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature.
Tim O’Day started out the presentation, talking to musicologist and historian Alex Rannie. We were treated to excerpts from the musical history and evolution of the film, including original music pages, and deleted audio of Snow White singing her own verse from the film’s Silly Song sequence.
The live-action model for Snow White also made a rare west-coast appearance. Marge Champion explained to us about her family’s dance studio (at one point, they even gave Shirley Temple some lessons!), and how she ended up working on the production. Marge even explained that when she was given the dress to wear, she noted that it looked like it had been originally made for someone else, but as to whom they may have chosen before her, no notes exist.
The panel closed with Gabriella Calicchio, CEO of The Walt Disney Family Museum, who explained about the museum’s upcoming exhibit regarding Snow White, and their plans to enhance the museum to help people explore their own creativity.
An Evening with Alan Menken
For many of us, the evening’s big event was An Evening with Alan Menken. Many of us eagerly got in line early to wait the 3+ hours until we’d be allowed back into the main convention hall.
All of us have been touched by Alan’s music in some way (for me, you need look no further than my review on the mid 90’s boxset, The Music Behind The Magic). Alan never gives private concerts, so the chance to see this was a moment that many will probably never forget.
Alan’s musical repertory was so vast, that much of his performance was small medleys from various films. Even so, Alan shared with us songs from the highs and lows of his career. We even got to hear a song he made for the cancelled Roger Rabbit prequel that was being worked on in the late 90’s (the song was titled “This Only Happens In The Movies”).
During the course of the performance, Alan also shared with us some little moments of his career:
– When both he and Howard Ashman were nominated for the song “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space” from the film version of Little Shop of Horrors, Alan realized as they were sitting in the Oscar Ceremony audience, that he didn’t have an acceptance speech penned in case they won. When he told this to Howard, Howard replied, “Don’t worry. We’re not going to win.” And, Howard was right.
– Alan also told about a meeting he had with Jeffrey Katzenberg after Newsies came out, and it’s opening weekend gross was only $5 million. Alan pleaded with Jeffrey that if they just spent more money on advertising, they could bring in more people. “Alan,” said Jeffrey,”It’s over. I could take $10 million, throw it out on the street right now, and the film would still not do any better.”
Alan also got emotional as he talked about his former music partner, lyricist Howard Ashman, and took time to play for us a song that he did not compose. The song was made by both Howard and Marvin Hamlisch, who created an off-broadway production called Smile, based off of the film about several girls entering a California beauty contest. The song Alan played (which seemed appropriate for where we were) was titled “Disneyland.” In the production, one of the contestants (played by Jodi Benson!), sang about her desire to one day live in Disneyland. Even though Alan didn’t have a hand in the creation of the song, it was definitely a wonderful sign of how much he missed and cared for one of his early musical partners.
For those of us who couldn’t afford the $1000 Diamond level admission, it was a rare treat to see some of the day’s guests in person. I got to meet up with Don Hahn for the second time in 2 years (I got the chance to meet him in February of 2010 when he and Peter Schneider brought Waking Sleeping Beauty to Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center), and Don seemed to appreciate the love I had for his documentary about the Disney Studios.
Many of us animation fans were on the lookout for the likes of Chris Sanders and Andreas Deja, but were pleasantly surprised when Eric Goldberg sat in on the remaining panels, and greeted fans for the remainder of the Sunday presentations. Eric kindly fielded my questions, and even signed my Making of Aladdin book, personalizing it with a little profile image of the Genie!
One of the most surprising appearances late Sunday evening, was Richard Sherman (part of the songwriting duo who brought us the songs of Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, and The Jungle Book). As soon as word spread that he was in the audience, he was quickly mobbed by many fans and well-wishers. It seemed that he was there for the Evening With Alan Menken event, and politely waved when Alan pointed him out to the rest of the audience.
This was one thing that I felt would have been great for those of us who came to see many of these people we had seen on television or in interviews: interactivity. I’m sure many of us would love to have asked Andreas Deja questions, or many other panelists.
Destination D also served as a surprise, as I got to say hello to Mr Jim Hill, the owner of JimHillMedia.com. I had written several articles and covered the world premier of the film Cars for Jim in the mid 2000’s, and it was great to finally meet him in person!
Another highlight was getting to meet and chat with other Disney fanatics. It feels so great when you can talk to people about this stuff, and they actually know what you’re talking about! After the first day, I joined in a little group with a guy named Jason, and two sisters named Kelly & Lisa. I also talked with an artist from San Diego who taught autistic children, and a couple young persons who (of course) wanted to one day work for Disney (one had dreams of being an Imagineer, and the other was considering animation schools to attend once she graduated from high school).
Before we parted ways on that amazing Sunday evening, Jason, Kelly, Lisa & I posed for the following picture. We each got an autograph by Eric Goldberg, but he drew each of us a different character he supervised:
And that, was my experience with my first D23 event. While it didn’t totally blow my socks off, I was pleasantly surprised at the way the event was handled, and how it definitely felt tapered to the fans in the audience. After awhile, I wasn’t worrying about the $225 price tag, and got swept up in the excitement (kind of like how being at Disneyland cancels out the thought of ticket prices for me!).
My one hope is that D23 will try to hold more fan events around the country, for those of us not near some of the major entertainment hubs.
I had a couple people ask me if I was going to attend the D23 Expo next August. D23 holds the expos every 2 years at the Anaheim Convention Center (a few blocks from the Disneyland Resort), and it usually serves as a beacon for all things Disney (theme parks, live-action films, animation, apparel, etc). At this point, I’m still mulling over whether to return to Anaheim so soon, but given the atmosphere and experiences at Destination D, it might very well be a possibility next year.