|We're not quite ready for a full update, but we do
need to let you what was happening behind the scenes this past week
with the return of Michael Jackson's Captain EO to Disneyland.
Ding-Dong out of its wrapper yet? Have that chocolate milk shaken now? Well then let's get going shall we? - Al
Laughing EO Off
What became an ironic surprise at the D23 Expo, especially for yours
truly, was the sudden cold feet Bob Iger got over the advanced proposal to
re-install Captain EO into the old Magic Eye Theater in Disneyland's Tomorrowland.
We'd told you weeks ago that the proposal was a go from Glendale,
and that Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) executives were giddy over the thought of all the locals who would
descend on the park to see this piece of 1980's kitsch reborn for the 21st
century. On Tuesday last week the Honey I Shrunk The Audience show was quietly
closed, and Imagineers moved in with a truckload of equipment used to install
the Captain EO show for a special executive presentation planned for early
The executive review of Captain EO went off without a hitch from a technical
standpoint, and after another show for Jackson's children and family, the EO equipment was dismantled and the Honey attraction
reopened to Disneyland visitors by Saturday. But Iger had lawyers and PR reps
from Burbank whispering in his ear all week and right up to show time about the
possible backlash to the attraction stemming from Michael Jackson's
controversial legal problems in later years.
While returning Captain EO to
Tomorrowland for a temporary run had the full support of the Disney geeks in
Imagineering (WDI), and the TDA planners were only looking at the numbers, Iger has
now become rather unimpressed with the idea and is not convinced it would be
worth the possible PR headaches it might bring.
As of now there is still a strong possibility that Captain EO will at least
return to Disneyland, especially considering all of the technical work already
completed by WDI and the logistical plans made by TDA in the last two months.
But what Iger has his publicity and legal teams looking into is if there is a
way to tie the return of Captain EO into the 2010 Disneyland marketing campaign
centered around volunteering in your local community. The carefully crafted
message might include a big cardboard check given to a worthy charity at Captain
EO's grand reopening, or somehow tied into the 2010 promotion of earning a free
ticket to Disneyland for working a certain number of volunteer hours in your
That will all take time to develop though, and Iger wasn't about to commit to
it at D23 Expo, which helps explain the answer he gave to the Captain EO
questions at D23. Iger hasn't shut down the idea of Captain EO returning
entirely, but by last week he very clearly wasn't as enamored of it as his teams
in WDI and TDA are. Or enamored as much as WDI and TDA were, since
when word got out late last week that Iger was running cool to the idea some of
the biggest executive boosters in Anaheim and Glendale shifted their Expo small
talk to Star Tours II and Cars Land instead of Captain EO. At least Jay Rasulo
had two days to practice his new Expo presentation that was without mention of
What happens after EO runs its course later in 2010 is the real prize for WDI
however, as the plan is for Captain EO to run for at least six or nine months
and then close after the summer of 2010. The Magic Eye Theater would then be
gutted and turned into a slightly re-tuned version of the Monsters Inc. Laugh
Floor attraction already found in Walt Disney World's (WDW) Tomorrowland. WDI has some refinements
planned to the interactive elements of the comedy club attraction, and they
would like to see it up and running by the time Star Tours II opens for the
summer of 2011.
If Iger and his PR group pulls the plug on EO entirely out of fear of a messy
public backlash to Michael Jackson, then Honey would likely limp along through
2010 and then be shut down to become Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. With only a few
thousand guests visiting Honey now on its busiest days, far less than the 6,000+
that visit the 46 year old Enchanted Tiki Room on an average Saturday, Honey is
a tired old attraction that clearly is past its prime. Monsters Inc. Laugh
Floor, tweaked a bit to play to Southern California audiences, would at least be
an improvement for most Disneyland visitors.
In the weeks going into the D23 Expo the Burbank planners were not a very
happy bunch. The three big Parks & Resorts announcements had already leaked all
over the Internet in the weeks and months ahead of the Expo. We'd told you
earlier this year of the plans for a bold interactive expansion using RFID
technology at WDW's Fantasyland, and then earlier this summer an advanced stage
of the actual blueprints leaked out online and caused a fan sensation. Star
Tours II coming in 2011 was the worst kept secret in the universe for most of
2009, and the more recent proposal to bring back Captain EO to Tomorrowland
after Michael Jackson's sudden death also leaked here on MiceAge.
But it wasn't just the leaks that had D23 planners feeling blue, it was the
extremely weak ticket sales going in to opening day. Just a few days before the
Expo opened they had sold just under 5,000 of the multi-day tickets to a
combination of D23 members and non-members alike. Seeing the very weak ticket
demand by late August, they opened up a free-for-all of 5 dollar tickets for
Disney employees in Southern California and their families to try and boost
attendance, if only to give the appearance of bodies in the convention center
halls for the attending media. Thursday dawned with a small rush of Expo
attendees, most of whom made a bee-line to two specific elements; the Parks &
Resorts Pavilion and the Disney Pin Trading zone.
TDA was in a frenzy to bus over as many Anaheim employees as they could find
on Thursday morning to try and fill in the few thousand empty seats in the big
Anaheim Arena for Bob Iger's kickoff presentation, and it worked wonderfully to
help fill in the gaps. (Four hours of pay, free admission and lunch didn't hurt
ether.) But even a busier Friday still had Expo attendance measured only in the
thousands, instead of the several tens of thousands that Burbank had once
projected would attend each day. The Expo floor on Thursday in particular often
had more employees working than paid attendees wandering from exhibit to
Luckily, the masses of Disney fans living in the Southern California
megalopolis helped boost the Expo by descending in big numbers on Saturday,
helped in no small part by Johnny Depp's highly promoted surprise appearance the
day before. The weekend attendance soared towards 20,000, although there were
many Disney employees from Burbank, Glendale and Hollywood and their families
who couldn't get down to Orange County earlier in the week to use their 5 dollar
tickets. Sunday was just a touch lighter.
There is no current confirmation from Burbank that another D23
Expo will be held next year, or any future year, as they try to
quantify if they got their money's worth out of this. But it would
be a shame for them to write off the whole concept after debuting it
in a steep recession and with not much advance warning. Now that we
all know how truly entertaining, expansive and lavish something
called a D23 Expo is, Disney fans from around the world will want to
plan a trip to Anaheim to see it for themselves and be a part of the
First, a few suggestions...
- Change the name from the D23 Expo to DisneyExpo - too many
people were thinking only D23 members could go.
- Shorten the event from four days to two, and schedule it
every other year. Disney doesn't have that many future projects
in the pipeline to show off every single year.
- Alternate between Anaheim and Orlando.
- Give more advance notice so visitors can better plan their
Second, the highlights...
- People complained - the D23 staff listened and fixed things.
The adjustments (moving presentations to larger venues comes to
mind) cost Disney a fortune, but were quickly put into place.
- Treasures from the Disney Archives was great, but the
exhibit should be twice the size.
The Parks & Resorts Pavilion at D23 Expo was the true
hit of the sprawling exhibit floor, operated by Disneyland Attractions Cast
Members in the queue and in the Magic TV pre-show and then staffed by dozens of
knowledgeable Imagineers of all stripes and talents inside at the exhibits. The
huge models, displays and live demonstrations of Imagineering art and wizardry
were a wonder to behold of course. But it was that personal and surprisingly
approachable interaction between the fans and the Imagineers that made the
pavilion so memorable.
Having the actual designers and creators of these new attractions and
technologies standing there happily answering any and all questions thrown their
way, while eagerly running their creations through their paces like proud
parents, was unlike any experience Disney has ever offered its fans before.
If the D23 Expo returns to Anaheim in the future, as it is
tentatively slated to do every September through 2012, the Parks &
Resorts Pavilion will have set the bar very high for all other
divisions of the Disney empire to aspire to.
A great big thank you to all the hard-working MiceChatters/MiceAgers
who helped make our D23 Expo booth such a huge success. Thanks to
our partners and sponsors we gave out a thousand prizes and we were
able to sign up thousands of new readers. No wonder DustySage,
Fishbulb and Circarama (pictured below) look so happy.
And what a pleasure it was to meet so many of you at the booth.
It was great to hear all your feedback, see old friends and finally
match faces to screen names.