From July 14th to 16th, BentoByte was lucky enough to be able to attend a con we’d never been to – D23 Expo in Anaheim, California! The key differences between D23 Expo and the conventions that we usually attend is the target audience and what is being celebrated. While at every other convention we attend, anime, cosplay and gaming are on display, D23 Expo exists to celebrate Disney movies, parks, games, merchandise – everything Mickey Mouse puts out. Being someone who’s only ever attended anime and comic conventions, D23 Expo was an entirely new experience that any Disney fan should make plans to attend. Here’s some thoughts on what made D23 Expo great!

Happening only every two years, the expo draws in thousands of Disney devotees that come together to celebrate Disney at the Anaheim Convention Center. Ticket prices vary on whether or not you’re a D23 (Disney’s fan club) member or a general attendee. The 3-day badge is $238 for a non-member adult and $207 for a D23 member. One day badges are also available at a much lesser cost but D23 Expo is not an event you want to attend for only one day.

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While the badge price might seem steep, it is absolutely worth it. D23 Expo is a hotbed of celebrity appearance, free signings, photo ops, and giveaways. Also magic. There really is no other way to describe the D23 Expo experience as magical, just as expected of Disney. However, one really has to commit to the experience to be able to see everything the expo has to offer. You have to be willing to wait for hours in some lines, but D23 staff is so professional at handling their lines that it’s hard to feel left out even if you don’t get into the event.

 

The badge price includes so much; access to the convention center and every single panel it has to offer, every exhibit, every concert, everything that D23 Expo puts out is available to you with the purchase of your badge and requires no extra money spent. There is one exception to that: signings put on by vendors. You must purchase something at the booth to attend the signing, but that’s understandable. Unlike other conventions that require you to purchase extra tickets to see high-profile guests, D23 surprises you with them where you’d least expect it.

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The weekend was busy for us, and we made plans to attend one big panel so we could spend the rest of the time exploring the expo and meeting its cosplayers. However, we were able to get updates on the rest of the panels from someone who was with us, a D23 Charter member (meaning that she has been a member of the fanclub since it started!) and watched the panels later online.

To say that D23’s biggest panels are anything short of a spectacle would be a lie. The Disney Live Action panel was centered on Marvel movies and Star Wars, and nearly the entire cast of Avengers: Infinity War was in attendance, alongside directors. Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Daisy Ridley (Rey) and John Boyega (Finn) were also in attendance and spoke about their work. Exclusive trailers and footage were shown, and everyone left with gifts.

It seemed that almost every other panel gave you gifts, as we were filled in that one panel in particular gifted its attendees a ForceFX lightsaber, most of which go for more than $100. If you didn’t receive physical gifts, you received some sort of magical memory that you would carry with you forever. The Disney Animation panel brought in the voice actors of the main characters from the upcoming Disney Pixar film Coco to perform never before heard songs from the movie live. Not only that, but they brought out professional Mexican folkloric dances to perform in the aisles as plastic marigold petals rained down from above, glowing in the blacklight.

I only attended a couple of panels in our weekend there – The Disney Video Game Showcase, The Power of the Princess and the Alan Menken concert. Each experience was great in its own way!

 

The Disney Video Game Showcase was, surprisingly, one of the least popular events at the Expo. The crowd is just not your typical convention crowd, as most of them are Disney die-hards that are there to spot new merchandise, learn more about the movies, and see what’s coming up at the Disney Parks. However, the D23 Arena was still filled to the brim with fans of Star Wars Battlefront II, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and of course Kingdom Hearts III. The Kingdom Hearts fans especially were dying for anything new. Fortunately for them, a new world was announced right before our very eyes – Toy Story Land! After this, the green Army men came out marching and danced, introducing a special guest no one was expecting – Tetsuya Nomura himself!

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Star Wars Battlefront II also had a surprise guest; none other than John Boyega himself! John showed up to speak about how he had personally petitioned for the game to have single player story mode and to announce that his character Finn would be in the game. The panel was hosted by popular Youtubers Jacksepticeye and Strawburry17, with appearances from those who worked on the games and other YouTubers such as Markiplier. The panel closed out with You’ve Got A Friend in Me playing overhead as Woody, Buzz and the Green Army Men came out to say goodbye. Everyone left with exclusive Kingdom Hearts III and Star Wars Battlefront II posters, and new knowledge on exciting games to come from Disney.

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The Power of the Princess was a panel I attended last minute. Admittedly out of a total desire to see Auli’i Cravalho, the voice of Moana, as I was cosplaying her. We were had to seal our phones in a bag, but the memories from the panel are lasting! The panel was hosted by two Disney animators, and featured guests were Auli’i Cravalho (Moana), Anika Noni Rose (Tiana), Jodi Benson (Ariel) and Paige O’Hara (Belle). The princesses themselves regaled us with stories of how they got their roles, of working on the movies, and on what it means to be a princess.

They talked about reuniting for a scene where all Disney princesses are featured in the upcoming Wreck-It Ralph 2. We were then shown the full scene, parts of which still weren’t animated. Unfortunately, the world won’t get seen until the movie premieres in March of 2018. Finally, the princesses closed by singing bits of their favorite songs. Moana sang How Far I’ll Go, Tiana sang Down in New Orleans, Ariel sang Part of Your World, and Belle sang Belle (naturally), inviting the audience to join her. Many tears were shed, and I was lucky enough meet Auli’i Cravalho’s mother on her way out. She even complimented my cosplay!

We closed off the convention with a concert by 8-time Oscar winner and composer Alan Menken, who performed bits of music from everything he’s ever worked on for the entire audience, sharing stories as well. And did I mention we didn’t have to pay extra for any of this?

Throughout the weekend, we were also able to catch glimpses of celebrities at their meet and greets and signings. This included Josh Brolin (Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War), Michael Rooker (Yondu, Guardians of the Galaxy), and Colin O’Donaghue (Hook, Once Upon a Time). Just out there in the open! Ready to meet fans! The most surprising and different thing that made D23 Expo stand out from other conventions was something that was in true Disney fashion – a parade and street party, cutting right through the middle of D23’s main exhibition hall.

It’s exactly what you think it is – dancers, balloons, sing-alongs and face characters like Mickey and Donald Duck dancing down the middle of the exhibition hall, flanking old-timey cars that carried special guests. We caught the parade on day 1, and were able to see Mark Hamill and Stan Lee face to face, just a foot or two away from us – again, without paying anything extra.

This was all what D23 provided on its own, but the crowd at D23 provided a different level of entertainment in their creative costumes. The most impressive part about the D23 costumed crowd was that a vast majority of them are not cosplayers by any means – this is the one event they go all out and make a costume for. Yet none of these costumes guests were at a different level of technique and crafting skill as some of the anime scene’s most popular cosplayers. Another fun thing about this Expo was that many of the younger children walking around truly believe that people are the characters they are dressed up as, and when you act like that character for them, you add to the magic they’re already experiencing.

Fun photo ops, gifts, costumes and almost no one without a smile on their face is what you’ll see at D23 Expo. It is absolutely worth the price it costs, and really nothing could replace it.

There’s so much more that could be said about the D23 experience, but it’s really something that any die-hard Disney fan has to see for themselves as least once in their life.

Image sourced from the official D23 site.

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