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Experimenting with Stories: Disney’s Storytelling at D23 Fan Expo

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Walt Disney, in my humble opinion, is one of the best storytellers of the 20th century. His stories live on today in movies, books, comics, and, of course, theme parks.

R2D2

The fan community around his properties began before Disneyland opened to the public and has only grown since then. Therefore, it should come to no surprise that they have their own fan convention. The D23 Fan Expo is a Disney owned fan convention that is held every 2 years in Anaheim. This year marked the third convention, with the fourth scheduled for the year 2015.

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The theme for this year’s convention seemed to revolve around Walt’s optimism for the future. From The Optimist ARG (alternate reality game) to hearing the word in multiple panels, optimism and hope for the future was found throughout the convention. While there were no big new theme park announcements and no new details about the upcoming Star Wars movies, fans were given the opportunity to look both forward and back at Disney’s history of storytelling.

Some of my favorite storytelling highlights were:

  • The Optimist Alternate Reality Game – I found the way Disney took people who had connected in an online space and had them work together in physical space was very well done. The scavenger hunt puzzles were difficult and required assistance from other players, but kept you thinking. I did feel it was a shame that the culmination of the experience took place inside Disneyland. This excluded people who did not have either a day pass or an annual pass.
Optimist

Wallace, the artist from The Optimist ARG.

  • The Tomorrowland exhibit for the movie announced during the Live Action panelThe Optimist ARG was a tie-in to the ‘Tomorrowland’ movie. And while the movie is still being made, fans learned that a box of items “found” in the basement of one of the old Disney buildings is somehow related to the events of the film. The recently discovered artifacts, when put together, were used to stream together a story. It’s difficult to tell where fact ends and fiction begins with the ‘Tomorrowland’ artifacts, which fits in nicely with the film’s alternate history premise. This merging of fact and fiction to garner interest in the movie intrigued me, but there were a few moments I was pulled “out of the story”. The most glaring instance was when, at the end of one of the audio recordings, the recording was interrupted due to “technical difficulties”. However, on further examination, it was the end of the original audio recording.

tomorrowland

  • Richard M. Sherman and Alan Menken: The Disney Songbook – Seeing these two great Disney composers on stage together was a once in a lifetime opportunity. At the end, Richard Sherman played “It’s a Small World’ and the whole audience sang along. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. This concert was originally only supposed to last an hour and a half, but ended up going  for two and a half hours. It really highlighted the prominent role music plays in driving the experience of Disney movies and attractions.
  • The Women of Pixar panel – This panel got my interest as soon as I saw it, especially after noticing the number of men on all of the other panels. I loved hearing about their experiences at the company and how they got their start. It also made me realize that those of us who are “Ms. In the Biz’s” still need to infiltrate major entertainment companies. Who’s with me?
  • Sneak peak screening of the “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” pilot While I can’t say much about the pilot (trust me, you won’t regret seeing it the moment it airs), I will say that I was impressed with the cross-platform approach that I saw here. It definitely helped that Joss Whedon had a hand in both the movie and the TV series, and that he’s working with a team that understands his vision. It feels like a natural extension of the film franchise’s storyworld. This is also the perfect way for them to extend other storyworlds in the future. Star Wars live action show anyone? (A fan girl can only dream.)

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The level of storytelling that Disney delivered through D23’s exhibits, attractions, and programing was impressive. I look forward to seeing what they come up with for 2015!

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About Angelique Toschi

Angelique Toschi is a social media professional who is active in multiple social media communities. She uses her BA in English from UCLA and MA in Mass Communications, Advertising from Cal State Fullerton to help her create strategies and write social media content for various clients across multiple industries. Some of her current and former clients in the entertainment industry have included The International Academy of Web Television, web series “Lenox Avenue”, and Transmedia LA. She also currently handles social media and corporate communications for Shakey’s USA, Inc. (57 locations across the US).