Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Disney's D23 Expo - A Lesson In How Not To Run A Convention

With the furor Disney caused at Comic-Con this year by holding back Marvel and The Walt Disney Studios for their own convention, we had to check out the D23 Expo.  Not only to see what Disney was holding back, but to see what Anaheim was trying to offer Comic-Con International to get them to leave San Diego.  Well San Diego, you can rest easy.  There is absolutely nothing the Anaheim Convention Center, or the city of Anaheim, has to offer that would accommodate an event the size of Comic-Con, or make it better.  

From the moment we arrived we couldn't believe that Disney put their name on this event.  Figuring out how to get in was a chaotic mess, and that just set the tone for the rest of the convention.  The entrance to the convention was limited to one set of doors (One set of doors!!) where priority entrance was given to D23 members prior to 10:00AM, while everyone else was told to go stand in a line, "Somewhere down there."  Once they got "down there" event staff let them know, "I think this is where you're supposed to be.  I'm not sure.  But if you're a D23 member I think you can stand in that line."

What was the actual convention like?  Let's start off with the arena presentations.

Many D23 members, and non-member regular folk, were disappointed to find out that Saturday's arena presentation was filled up early.  But if you weren't on Twitter (yes, those people exist) you didn't know anything about it because the event staff didn't inform people waiting.    

While the different Disney studios had good presentations, some were let down that they weren't allowed to ask questions during the presentations for The Muppets and The Avengers.  Not to compare it to other conventions - even though I am - where fans feel that they may possibly have a chance to make their voice heard.  

The "Ultimate Disney Fan Event" made it clear that the event wasn't about the fan.  It was about telling Disney fanatics what was coming up.  But for the fanatics, none of the news was new.  Their updates spoke about what was already known.  The Cars area in Disney's California Adventure was coming along fine; The re-model of Fantasyland in Orlando is a large task; The Lion King will be out in 3D and the Disney Channel has stars we've never heard of.

There were hardcore Disney fans we spoke to that kept constantly telling us how good D23 was last year and that they were disappointed with this years event.  What was it that let them down?  For them it was the lack of things to do in the exhibit hall.  We had seen everything there was to do (minus a couple of panels) within two hours.  Two hours to get through what's supposed to be a major expo is not a good thing.    

Image: POParitaville
That's not to say that some of the things to look at weren't cool.  The Carousel of Projects was the centerpiece of the exhibit hall.  In here you could preview some of the items that the parks and resorts have planned.  From scale models, to ride vehicles, you could get a small glimpse at what was coming up.

One of the area vehicles going in to the Cars themed area in DCA
Credit: POParitaville

After a few minutes in there we were done.  Unless you wanted to wait in line to enter one of the many Disney Stores that took up much of the exhibit hall space.  From here you could then venture through the rest of the hall which consisted of more Disney Stores, a large Disney Channel stage, a few props and vehicles along with an okay exhibitors area.

                                       Walt Disney's limo                              Dharma van from LOST
                                                                                           Images: POParitaville

Oh, did I mention that there was a Disney Store?  

One of the things we did look forward to was getting a glimpse at items from the Disney Archive.  When we first entered we were treated to costume pieces from shows Zorro and the original Mickey Mouse Club.  Around the corner was the original marionette used to study Pinocchio along with the title props from Sleeping Beauty.  Looking at the rich Disney history was fantastic, but then we saw this little sign:

Yes, The Wizards of Waverly Place are now considered among the Disney classics.  Sigh.

Some of the other items on display were the obligatory props and costume pieces from Pirates of the Caribbean, along with stuff from LOST and the original TRON.

                                                                                           Images: POParitaville 

We went in to D23 hoping to really enjoy it.  We wanted to learn some great things and just enjoy soaking in a fun atmosphere.  Instead we experienced a convention that seemed like a small town Con with a larger budget.  Disney made people believe that D23 was an experience every Disney fan must experience.  Instead they gave something that was not at the level you would expect for a world-wide Disney event.  

What can the mouse house do to improve D23?  

The first thing is to use more doors to enter the convention.  Whether it was to keep order to only allowing members in early, only using one set of doors for people to enter one at a time is ridiculous for any convention.

Next, the arena.  Use more of it and turn your presentations in to panels.  They should also look at breaking the studios in to their own arena panels.

Another thing, have a Marvel presence on the exhibit floor.  Figure out how to use them and put them out there.  That alone could make the exhibit area more exciting and finally prove to Marvel fans that you're trying to understand them.

Last, change your event staff.  Bring in your event staff from the Disney parks - since they're just across the street - and use them.  They know how to control crowds and they understand the science of queues.  (Yes it's a science.)  Not only that, but perhaps their demeanor might be better than what we encountered.  From the clueless to the rude, D23 was a carousel of bad staffing and bad ideas. 

There is one thing about the D23 Expo that Disney has on their side: the faithful Disney fanatic.  These are the ones who believe that Disney can do no wrong and are lined up in the Disney Store for the latest numbered item.  They will be back next year, and I'm sure we'll be getting emails from them about how wrong we are.

With our experience, and the experience of those that we spoke to, we just can not recommend that D23 be on your list of things to do.  Unless Disney makes major changes to next years event, you're better off going to Comic-Con or Comikaze Expo, then going to the Disneyland Resort after.  

What say you?

To see more pictures of the D23 Expo take the jump to our Facebook page:

POPped by
Jungle Jesse

All Image Credit: POParitaville


  1. As a charter D23 member, I appreciate the early entry hour. I hope they continue to offer it to us. However, I agree with your article.
    My family & I attended the 2009 expo it was great fun. Many more presentations and the floor was interesting & entertaining. When it was announced that D23 would be a every other year expo, we were glad. This meant they had one full year to prepare. More presentations, panels, movies, guests, activities and a plan. A plan on managing cues & crowd control. Wrong.
    On Friday morning the outside staff couldn't tell us where to line up. Attendees where angry & yelling at 8:00 am. I believe all staff througout the expo lacked communication. When they didn't know the answer they would turn cold & rude. By Sunday they placed very experienced staff (I've seen them at many Disney events) at cues. They were helpful, calm & friendly. A little too late.
    You are right, because they held Marvel back from Comic con, we believed that the Marvel presentation was going to be comic con worthy. It turned out to be Marvel 101. We missed Pixar's 25th anniversary panel to go to Marvel. So disappointing. It should have been titled Marvel 101 and held at a smaller stage.
    In 2009, there was only one Disney store. Now they tried to push Disney merchandise everywhere and anywhere they could. The floor was boring. Carousel of Progress lacked excitement. They didn't have characters taking pictures with the fans. The volunteer area didn't have a personal feel to it this time. Last time we worked on quilts, plants and painted prepared Disney art work for children.
    I did enjoy myself. I loved spending Disney time with my family. Legends and Dick Van Dyke topped my list. Yes, I will return. I have hope that the wonderful core team of D23 will learn from all the mistakes and improve. They do have a full year to analyze and fix all mistakes.
    Please send staff to next years San Diego's comic con to analyze and learn how they prepare for cues. How to make the best use of rooms. How to run presentations, panels and what the floor should look and feel like. If you do not want it to get as big as a comic con, then you must limit it to just D23 member & guests or never sell-out a day.
    One more thing, if Anaheim ever tries to petition to bring San Diego comic con to them, I will sign a petition against it. Leave it where it is. It's exactly where it belongs.