Editor’s note: So happy to welcome back Kim this week, as she relays some of her #d23expo moments. I absolutely love her thoughtful recaps and I hope you are enjoying them too!
Lots of people may have walked away from the #D23Expo in Anaheim with lots of Disney swag (free and/or costly!) or photo-ops or plastic-coated bags (seriously… what is up with people coveting those bags?!?!), but I came away with a different sort of message. It had a little to do with work, and the people that you surround yourself with… and just a philosophy on life.
I figure this takeaway had to do with my choice to attend these #D23Expo events: the Animation presentation, Working with Walt Imagineering panel & “Richard Sherman & Alan Menken: The Disney Songbook” concert. Sometimes it came straight from the mouths of the presenters, but other times it just came in the way they shared their time with us.
In the Animation presentation on Friday morning, John Lasseter’s style of presentation and pride in the Disney heritage just radiates out of his bones. He may not have been around the Studios when Walt was alive, but the respect he took from working with those legends of Walt’s time is always present. Whether or not you believe he’s the right person to be there, you know that he considers that place a shrine, and that there is magic in every ounce of history. But it was his reverence, and choice to honor animator Burny Mattinson’s 60 years of work, that really showcased these messages.
Burny got his job by simply walking up to the gates of Walt Disney Studios with his high school art portfolio, being nice and patient with the gatekeeper, and asking for a position. That turned into, essentially, a gopher job for Walt Disney himself, along with a spot in the Animation building a few years later. He worked his way up the ranks at almost every position in the building, until finally working on stories in the “second golden age” beginning with Beauty and the Beast.
It was, by all accounts, an odd place to share such a tribute. Some people would say it fit more in the LEGENDS style of presentation, but the fact that it was there said a lot. You can see that Burny is still around because he’s not only such a likeable person, but a passionate and creative one as well. And to celebrate someone in the middle of your biggest pitch to the media, also shows that those magical people that make what we love… matter as much as the stuff in front of us.
There was also A LOT OF TIME given to all of the producers to pitch their films… well, at least according to my stomach and my 3.5 year old’s patience and the clock… and it was probably a little too generous (the overall presentation went 90 minutes over). But in reflection, it was also a big gift from a boss for those people to shine through on a big stage. There was even this very strange little “intro video” to the DisneyToon Studios that was shared with the audience in an attempt to get Disney fans to know and respect and love the Tinker Bell movie folk just as much as we like Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Some people groaned… but from a work perspective, you saw a boss that was trying to share his pride and joy and make you see it just like he does. It was respect, and a whole lot of it.
Then there was the “Richard Sherman & Alan Menken: The Disney Songbook” concert on Saturday night. This was by far the highlight of the expo for me, because it just radiated with Disney magic. Richard Sherman created the majority of the soundtrack of my youth, but to see and hear him speak with such happiness and enjoyment about life and music was just a pleasure in itself. If you have the time, watch the videos, and I hope it brings a little bit of the joy that we all experienced together. It was a look into the past that many of us shared, and realization of why so many of us love Disney music so much.
Richard Sherman shared a story about how the Disneyland fireworks and Tinker Bell flying made he and his brother cry like a baby, and when he relayed the story to Walt, his reply was, “it gets me every single time.” And Alan Menken played out the melody and sang along to a song very few Disney fans have ever paid attention to, “Will the Sun Ever Shine Again?” from Home on the Range, and relayed how it was the song he used to cope with the aftermath of 9/11.
These very special people found a way to really our collective human emotions inside a film in context, and outside when we hear the songs on their own as so many of them have transcended into our everyday life. When I sing, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” to my daughter at night, I’m not talking about the latest product innovations from GE, but just the magic of the possibilities around the corner through a dream. And when I sing the theme song from the Tiki Room, it’s all about fun and nonsense and silliness and someone who has all of that in their heart.
Finally, there was the “Working with Walt” presentation on Sunday morning. On stage were four amazing Imagineering legends: Alice Davis, Marty Sklar, Bob Gurr and X Atencio. Alice Davis spoke of how she had to make herself a rag doll during the Depression as a child, and none of her friends would let her play with their dolls. So when she was given the task of dressing every single doll in “It’s a Small World,” her heart burst from happiness, and it’s still the pride of her career with Disney. She got her job basically because Walt ran into her and her husband, the amazing Marc Davis, at dinner one night, and she spent 30 minutes explaining the amazing wonder of elastic to him and he never forgot that when his need for a costumer arouse later on. Bob Gurr, designer of almost every ride vehicle out there, spoke immensely of how Walt would just come and check in on your progress, and never ever criticize what you were doing. He described the work ethic that drove everyone as a pure desire to do the best they could every day, and that’s what made coming to work each day so special. X Atencio spoke to the confidence that he had when Walt gave him the task of writing the script for Pirates of the Caribbean, something he didn’t even know he could do. And Marty Sklar spoke of how Walt Disney described his work in the later years as a pollinator, and that he didn’t do anything really, but just helped pollinate creativity throughout.
As that was my final presentation of the weekend, I walked away from #D23Expo as a happy fan, and happy that I had spent the last few days enjoying all of the magic in the castle. But I also walked away trying to remember to infuse life with these little lessons from all of these people that shared them in an indirect way with me.
Do your best every day. Urge others to do their best as well.
Believe in the good of people and the good of the world.
Good and ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
Respect the people around you and the talents they bring.
Believe in the magic.
Give people more than they expect.
Nothing surprising in there… just surprising to find at a fan festival celebrating a big ‘ol global corporation. Guess that’s a little bit of why we’re all such big fans too.