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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.

Got that 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 Thursday.

Hooterville

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 community.

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 Captain EO.

Ho Ho EO

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.


Expo Excedrin

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.

Welcome... your wallet!

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 exhibit.

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 fun.


Expo Thoughts

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 trips.

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.

Pimp my fairy tale

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.

Al-alarmed

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.

Finally...

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.

Who's Zoomin Who?

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.

Oh-kay - that should do it for today. Remember your support is vital, your donations to PayPal help keep the bills paid. We're only here due to all of your kind efforts.

Keep in mind updates only get posted when there is something to report on, and not before. It takes time to confirm things, and even then we can only offer a snapshot of a continually evolving story. Just like the happiest place on earth, patience is a virtue; the queue may take a while before you can enjoy the attraction. ;)

See you at Disneyland!

Al Lutz may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally.

2009 Al Lutz


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