A Detailed Look Inside D23’s Destination D: 75 Years of Feature Animation, Pt. 1

Three years ago, if you were to ask me if I was a Disney fan, I would’ve responded with an excited and resounding “YES!!”  If you also would’ve asked me to name the famed Nine Old Men individually, or if I knew what contributions legendary figures such as Tony Baxter, Bob Gurr or the Sherman Brothers have made to the company, let alone point them out in a crowd, I would’ve fled for the hills.  I had no idea, but it wasn’t for lack of interest, I just never really looked behind the curtain before.  Today, I’m happy to say that not only have I peeked behind the curtain, I’ve ventured far beyond it!  Thanks to D23 and events like Destination D, I know who these wonderful and amazingly talented people are (among many others), I’ve had the opportunity to hear their fascinating stories first-hand, and have even met a few of them personally.

Every experience just makes me that much more excited for the next one.  While it’s no doubt that D23 has it’s critics, and I can see where some folks are coming from given that most events are California based.  For us, our membership has paid off in spades, and this most recent event, Destination D: 75 Years of Feature Animation, was no exception.  Continue reading for the first in a series of articles on the recent Destination D event at the Disneyland Resort including backstage conversations with the panelists themselves.  Also, at the conclusion of the series we’ll be giving away a Destination D goodie bag, so keep reading for details on how to win.

One of the aspects of Destination D vs. the D23 Expo that we love is that you’re guaranteed a spot in each presentation.  The event is held in a giant ballroom in the convention center of the Disneyland Hotel (or a similar set-up at the Contemporary Resort for the Walt Disney World events), whereas the Expo is like any other convention in that several panels and presentations are going on at the same time, so you need to pick & choose which ones you want get in line for, and with no guarantee that you’ll get in.  That’s not a concern here, which helps to justify the higher cost for these events.

The lobby of the ballroom filled with beautiful artwork spanning Disney's 75 years of animation.

Both of these banners are stunning, but the one from "Tangled" was a favorite among many guests


Registration opened on Friday, so we took a break from the parks and headed Hotel to pick up our credentials.  We were given a lanyard to wear during the event and an event program, but also handed a sketch book on how to draw Jiminy Cricket by Walt Disney, a set of 3 buttons, and a lithograph (more like a post card, if you ask me) from the upcoming Tinker Bell movie, Secret of the Wings.  Yay for freebies!  The merchandise shop was also open, where surprisingly, we didn’t actually do much damage.  There were four of us in our group and we were all a bit disappointed by the small selection of event specific merchandise.  My husband got a t-shirt with a retro Walt Disney Pictures logo, and a friend of ours picked up a reusable tote made from the banners of the last D23 Expo.  Normally, we would each pick up an event pin, but there were none to be found.

The festivities began promptly at 9:30am on Saturday when Steven Clark, the head of D23, welcomed members and their guests to the event promising a look into the past, present & future of Disney animation.  To help ensure everyone was alert, a flash mob-esque dance scene started when seemingly regular audience members popped up and began dancing in the aisles to lightning fast clips from various Disney animated films.  I have to admit, it was kind of fun – confetti cannons and all.

Head of D23, Steven Clark, kicks off the event

Oh no, I forgot my dancin' shoes!


Steven Clark then introduced John Lasseter to the stage, however his message was delivered through a pre-recorded video.  Mr. Lasseter upped the ante and promised guests a peek at upcoming features, such as never before seen footage of Wreck-It Ralph, a sneak peek of the upcoming short entitled Paperman, a look at the new Tinker Bell movie, and more.  He also announced another gift, a journal with Mary Blair artwork on the cover!  They were gorgeous and highly coveted.

John Lasseter greets guests and wishes a happy 75th anniversary to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"


Once the gifts were handed out, it was time for the first panel: Walt and the First Golden Age of Disney Animation.  Hosted by Becky Cline, director of the Disney Archives, and featured Disney animators Burny Mattinson, Joe Hale, and Ted Thomas.  This type of panel is exactly why I love these events.  Burny is a Disney Legend and still works at the Disney animation studios today, Joe was an animator and producer, and Ted directed the documentary “Walt & El Grupo”, and is the son of Frank Thomas (Disney Legend, and one of Walt’s Nine Old Men).  They shared stories of working with Walt, the Nine Old Men and what the energy was like on the Studios lot during that time.

Left to Right: Becky Cline, Ted Thomas, Joe Hale and Burny Mattinson discuss how everything went through Walt, as shown in this flowchart. (Don't mind the remnants from the confetti cannons hanging from above)

The panelists describe each one of the Nine Old Men and each of their individual styles and personalities.

Ted Thomas shared stories of his father Frank & his best friend Ollie, and how their friendship helped them capture elements of character relationships in a way that no one else could.

FUN FACT: "Peter Pan" was the last film that all of the Nine Old Men worked on together, along with John Hench and Mary Blair!

When animating Tramp, they had a really hard time making it look natural when he pushes the meatball towards Lady in the infamous Bella Note scene because a dog's neck just doesn't move that way.


BACKSTAGE PASS: Representing AdventuresbyDaddy.com, I was able to take part in group interviews with various panelists throughout the weekend.  From this presentation, I had the opportunity to speak to Joe Hale & Burny Mattinson, where Burny shared that he’s currently working on a short entitled Mountain Carvers that was shelved in 1941 due to World War II.  The premise involves Mickey, Donald and Goofy carving Mt. Rushmore, sounds fun!

Backstage: Burny (left) will celebrate 60 years with the Walt Disney company next year!


The next panel, entitled Roy E. Disney and the Second Golden Age of Disney Animation was hosted by the incomparable Tim O’Day, a noted Disney historian and author.  The panelists here were Roy P. Disney, son of Roy E. Disney, Don Hahn, John Musker, Ron Clements and Dave Bossert.  Basically, the who’s, who of the Disney Renaissance.  Unfortunately, no photos were allowed during this presentation. The discussion was largely based on Roy E.’s passion for animation and the great strides he made to ensure it was not cut from the company, something that was very close to becoming a reality.  Roy P. shared stories of growing up, and brought along photos from his childhood, including standing on the construction ground of Walt Disney World, and boarding the private plane now seen on the Backlot Tour at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  It was surreal to not only hear stories from people that worked with Walt & Roy, but this was Roy’s very own grandson.  The entire audience was captivated.  At the end of the presentation, Steven Clark presented Roy P. with a “Mouscar” (think Oscar), an internal company award, given to people that have made a significant impact within the company, noting that the award was a thank you to Roy E. for “saving the company.”  I’d say that’s pretty significant.  There may have been a few tears in the audience.

BACKSTAGE PASS: Roy P. Disney and Dave Bossert shared how instrumental Roy O.’s contributions to the company were, noting that while it’s a great thing to come up with the idea of Disneyland (ala Walt), it’s an even better thing to come up with the check to pay for it (Roy).  They also discussed how if people were to take Walt and Roy’s ideas to an MBA class today, they would be laughed out of there.  They noted that they were both visionaries in different ways, and that if Walt had an idea for something, Roy wouldn’t tell him no, he would ask “how much?”  Roy P. shared that he previously worked for the company in film & television, and later in Imagineering. He left years ago to start a family of his own, but that he would love to come back one day.

Roy P. Disney with the family Mouscar.


MORE BACKSGTAGE: Don Hahn, John Musker and Ron Clements shared  stories from Cal Arts and how technology has changed not just the face of animation today, but also how students learn about animation.  John Musker recalled going to Disneyland for the first time with his buddies while attending Cal Arts, and noted that John Lasseter’s girlfriend pointed out that one day they could see their own characters walking around the park.  Something that seemed so intangible at the time has become a reality, with characters like Buzz Lightyear, Belle, Ariel, and so many more beloved characters of today.

Left to Right: Don Hahn, John Musker and Ron Clements


Stay tuned for the next installment where we discover Disney animation today, animating the Disney parks, and a performance by Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix!

GIVEAWAY: Adventures by Daddy will be giving away a goodie bag from Destination D, so be sure to follow along to find out how you can win!  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Chrysty Summers

Growing up in southern California, Disneyland has always been a staple for my family. Today, my husband and I spend most of our free time at the parks, where you can usually find us soaking up the atmosphere of Buena Vista Street in California Adventure. We also love traveling to Walt Disney World as often as we can, especially during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival in the Fall! Find me on Twitter @PenelopePeach for live updates from around the parks.