Heading into our home for the next two days, we were welcomed by some great photo opportunities — really the only ones available due to the strict no photo/video/audio rules that ensure only guests of the event were able to experience all the sights and sounds.
Kicking off the morning was D23's own Jeffrey Epstein have a sit down conversation with Chairmen of Disney Parks and Resorts, Bob Chapek. During the event, Chapek talked about things to come to the parks in the future, but always with an open ended tease. But he did spill the beans (blue beans?) that Pandora: The World of Avatar would be opening at Disney's Animal Kingdom Summer 2017 and gave a sneak peek of that and the Star Wars expansion coming to Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Following the Bob and Jeffrey show was a presentation from Walt Disney Archives Director Becky Cline and film producer Don Hahn gave us a look back at the history of the True-Life Adventures and the current Disneynature films, while adding their own bit of humor.
These two really peeled back the curtain on the groundbreaking series that started the "nature documentaries" as we know them today. Together Cline and Hahn shared in site on the people who risked their lives to bring us the original True-Life Adventures and Hahn, who has been executive producer for many of the Disneynauture films, gave us a feeling of the sheer will and dedication — in some cases years — these film makers have to bring 90 minutes of film to the theaters
Thankfully throughout the day we had Dr. Albert Falls to guide us along our adventure and always bring the crowd to a good chuckle....or in some cases a groan.
For me, one of the highlights of any D23 event is getting a chance to hear from Disney Legends. In this case, that included one of the few that has been at every Disney Park opening from Disneyland all the way to Shanghai: Marty Sklar. Sklar gave us a history of not only Adventureland but the Imagineers who helped build it.
After a brief trip to the local water hole or quick service restaurant, it was time to learn explore "Adventurelands" from Florida to Shanghai with Imagineers Tony Baxter, Jason Grandt, and Luc Mayrand.
This panel was a stand out, with great stories of Adventurelands from people who helped create them. Baxter, who not only designed one of the most extraordinary Adventurelands in Disneyland Paris but also was one of the men who helped bring Indiana Jones to Adventureland, shared stories of what changes had to be made to bring the adventures of the jungles to places where they may not translate so well.
Mayrand, Portfolio Creative Executive Shanghai Disneyland, gave a bit of the background for the Treasure Cove and Adventure Isle area of Shanghai as they would be explored in much greater detail on Day Three.
What would any Adventureland be without a Jungle Cruise? (Well, except Disneyland Paris...) Who better to tell us about the Jungle Cruise than a bunch of skippers?
Sharing stories, anecdotes, and more than a few bad puns, these former skippers took us on a trip thru the rivers of the world-famous Jungle Cruise right into how the Jingle Cruise came to be and ending with a trip to the Skipper Canteen at the Magic Kingdom. This panel had the crowd roaring with laughter at tales of antics along the rivers and even a view of a few things that never made it, including a croc punching gorilla. The worst part about this panel was that it had to end, much like Sam Eagle has in Muppet*Vision 3D, with their glorious presentation had just over a minute and a half to give us a full tour of the Skipper Canteen. But it was still very entertaining.
Closing out Day Two was a pair of panels that both ended up having more in common than many would have thought when we walked into the ballroom that morning. First up was a look at Disney's Polynesian Resort's 45th Anniversary with Disney artists Casey Jones and Richard Terpstra, Disney Vacation Club's Ryan March and D23's Steven Vagnini.
There really is nothing more fun than to hear people who are passionate talk about the history of my favorite resort. Going all the way back to the early days of Walt planning Project X, the Polynesian Village Resort was always part of the theme park area, but went thru many different ideas — even a volcano looking design tower. Vagnini, we could all tell, has a true love for one of the original resorts and really came across in all the work he poured into searching the Walt Disney Archives from rare photos and designs. But no visit to the Poly, as I call it, is complete without seeing Auntie Kau'l — a long time Cast Member of the hotel (and a heck of a hula dancer as we all found out) shared how she came to Walt Disney World from Hawaii and as she said "never went back." To end this panel, Kau'l had all 1,000+ guests stand and learn the hula.
The Polynesian Panel flowed very nicely into Jared Bush talking about Moana, a project he was a screenwriter on.
Bush (co-director/co-screenwriter of Zootopia) is one of those people you can sit and listen to for hours. He gave us backstory on Moana, Maui, Pua, and everyone;s favorite dumb rooster, Hei Hei, as well as how the film came to be.
I had the chance to talk to Bush and, of course me being a life long WWE fan, asked about Dwayne Johnson and how he would address him. He said that was a question when he came on the film and one day Chris Williams, one of the co-directors, asked Johnson and he said, "It's always Dwayne, but if you did call him 'the Rock,' it would just be Rock because putting 'the' in front of it is just super weird."
After the Moana panel, all guests in attendance were invited to the beach of the Polynesian Village Resort for a early screening just for us of the film, which was a perfect way to end our second day of fun.
Now onto Day Three of our Great Adventure.