In celebration of their 4th anniversary, D23: Disney’s official fan club, kicked off their 2nd annual FANniversary event this past Friday, March 1st, at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA. The D23 FANniversary presentation commemorates over 40 notable anniversaries within the company; ranging from films, to parks, attractions, and even characters. The festivities travel to eight additional cities across the country over the next month, including: Phoenix, Orlando, Chicago, Washington D.C., Newark, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco (San Diego’s event was held on (Sat., March 2). If you’re interested in attending, you don’t have to be a D23 member to buy tickets to the event.
Admittedly, my favorite part of the evening was simply the opportunity to visit the Studios lot. While it wasn’t our first time, every visit has been just as exciting as the first. There’s an almost tangible electricity in the air, and at the risk of sounding cliche, I can only describe it as being truly magical. This alone ups the ante of any of the other D23 FANniversary locations. For that reason, I’m going to spend about as much time talking about the venue as I will the actual event.
We arrived just after 7:30 pm for the 8:00 presentation, where we were directed to the Zorro parking structure. Given that this is Disney, even the parking structure has a story. Residing on the site of the former TV set, it was named in honor of the 1957 series, Zorro. Almost sad when you think about it, but then you see the faces of Daisy, Goofy, Donald and Pluto smiling down at you, and the sadness washes away.
On our way out of the structure, I couldn’t help but notice these old-fashioned time cards and punch clock. We thought their websites were notoriously behind the times! Sheesh.
We made our way to the theater, and passed some neat sites along the way. You can be sure they had volunteers working the event and lot security stationed all over to make sure nobody ventured into areas that were off-limits.
While waiting in line, we had a view of this vintage Walt Disney Pictures logo lit up on one of the warehouses. Neat!
After about 20 minutes we were at the front of the line, which ended right at the entrance of the Fantasia Theater (where the presentation was held). Directly across from the theater is the old animation building – the former home of Walt’s Nine Old Men, and the place where almost all of the animated Disney classics were created.
We quickly headed inside the theater, snapping a few photos on the way.
Costume sketches, scripts, and props on display in the lobby from Son of Flubber and Summer Magic, each celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.
The theater is fairly large, with super comfy chairs. We quickly found a seat, and took one last photo before the audience was directed to turn off all electronic devices. Once the presentation began, there were no photos, video, or audio recording allowed.
The voice of Disneyland, Bill Rogers, came over the speakers asking everyone to take their seats, and shortly after D23’s Billy Stanek and Justin Arthur, a researcher and collection specialist for the Walt Disney Archives, took the stage as our hosts for the evening. The presentation began with a video montage highlighting every facet of the Walt Disney Company. Covering animation, television, films, and vacation destinations around the world, all in honor of the Walt Disney Company’s 90th Anniversary, which falls on October 16, 2013.
Next up was the big cheese himself, Mickey Mouse, who celebrates his 85th birthday on November 18, 1928. Our hosts shared that the date of November 18th was determined to be Mickey’s birthday by head archivist emeritus, Disney Legend Dave Smith, who in 1978 discovered that the mouse’s first appearance came in a program dated November 18, 1928. They played an interview clip of Walt talking about what it was like to have to sync up all of the audio for Steamboat Willie at once. While the interview isn’t necessarily hard to come by, it’s always more meaningful to hear about things directly from the source.
Credit was given to Ub Iwerks, who was the sole animator for the original Mickey Mouse cartoons, and it was shared that he animated Plane Crazy in just 3 weeks, completing over 700 drawings per week. Staggering figures compared to what animators produce today. An audio clip was played of an older Walt talking about how he came to be the voice behind the mouse, and he even re-created the voice for the interviewer.
The conversation turned to another Disney Legend, John Hench, who Walt commissioned to paint Mickey’s 25th birthday portrait in 1953, and thereafter became the official Mickey portrait artist. They played a rarely seen video clip from the mid-90’s of John Hench talking about the portraits and how he came to truly love Mickey, which may have made a few folks misty-eyed in the theater.
Next up was the 80th anniversary of the first Mickey Mouse watch, produced by Ingersoll. It was noted that the production of the timepiece saved the company from bankruptcy. The Mickey Mouse watch, in its many forms, is still one of the most highly collected items, so in honor of that, they played a short film from the late 70’s aptly named, The Collector. It sort of reminded me of the intro to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, if every single thing he touched was emblazoned with Mickey’s face.
Also reaching the milestone of 80 years are the Three Little Pigs. Our hosts shared a rarely seen film of Walt Disney, Ward Kimball, Frank Churchill, and a few others re-enacting how they came up with the music & lyrics for “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.” This was a riot, and definitely the highlight of the entire presentation.
Celebrated next at 75 years were the Donald Duck comic books, and Ferdinand the Bull. Here, they shared a clip and revealed that animator Milt Kahl voiced Ferdinand’s mother, the cow, and Walt himself supplied the voice for baby Ferdinand.
Highlighting 70th anniversaries were World War II animated films Der Fuehrer’s Face and Victory through Air Power, characters Chip & Dale, who made their debut uncredited in Private Pluto and Saludos Amigos. They discussed Disney Legend Mary Blair’s large contribution to the film, and then shared her sketches for the baby ballet scene in Fantasia, which eventually turned into “The Dance of the Hours,” starring Hyacinth Hippo.
At 65 years was the True Life Adventure series, with its first release of Seal Island on December 21, 1948. At the time, Disney’s distributor, RKO, didn’t think the film would be a hit, so refused to distribute it. Using his own money, Walt Disney paid to have the film played at one theater in Pasadena, just one week before the cut off for Oscar consideration. The film was picked up for a nomination, and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary film. They shared a clip of Roy E. Disney talking about working on the True Life Adventure, Vanishing Prairie, and what it was like working for Walt Disney. It was a surprisingly funny story, one I hope ends up on a documentary someday so that everyone can experience it.
Also celebrating 65 years is the animated Melody Time, featuring gorgeous artwork from Claude Coates and Mary Blair.
At 60 years is the recently re-released classic Peter Pan. They showed off some of the gorgeous artwork of Disney Legend Marc Davis, who animated Tinker Bell.
At this point, they picked up the pace a bit. Here’s a summary of the additional milestones:
One milestone I noticed to be missing was one of the films on display in the lobby, and is also slated to be the focus of D23’s “50 and Fabulous” event this April, the Son of Flubber.
Some of the clips shown and insights shared during this D23 FANniversary were new to us, and made the event worth the cost of admission. Although, our hosts were a bit lackluster and seemed very green in presenting to a big crowd. Granted, it was the first night of the presentation, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt in that maybe they just need a chance to get into their groove with the material. On the flip side, however, this is certainly not the first D23 event to have this format, and I expected that the hosts would be a bit more polished. All in all, we had a good time, but I really think that had a lot to do with the venue. I could be listening to a presentation about shoe polish and be happy just to be at the Walt Disney Studios.
Update March 27, 2013
D23’s Fanniversary event continues to make its way around the country, and every show is slightly different from the last. For example, the recent show in Washington DC was the first to see a restored clip from “Ferdinand the Bull” (celebrating its 75th anniversary this year). For a complete report of the DC event from our friend Debra Peterson at Examiner.com, click here.