Happiest place

Happiest place

Mickeys world

Happiest place

Grand treat Mickey Mouse welcomes delegates at the Anaheim Convention Centre. photos by author

Marking 85 years of the Mouse, it was time for the Walt Disney Company to look back at its gold-speckled past, soak in the resplendent present and take a walk through the sun-splashed splendour of future. And to commemorate the momentous feat, Disney invited its fans, who have undiluted love for great stories, characters and experiences churned out by the Disney stable since its establishment in 1923.
The D23 Expo, held at the Anaheim Convention Centre, around 40 kms from Los Angeles, was a first-of-its-kind event where fans converged to see all-things-Disney, the likes of which was never seen before! As part of the media contingent, I too joined the fans to experience the four-day gala of Disney legacy.

The show opened with the speech of Walt Disney President and CEO Bob Iger, who was cheered by devoted fans and this cheering continued for everything that spelt and smelt Disney — even during lengthy presentations.

The guests got the chance to see the work-in-progress version of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ highly anticipated return to hand-drawn animation, ‘The Princess and the Frog’. Seated in the D arena of the convention centre, with around 4,000 fans throughout the four days of expo from September 10-13, I could feel the ripple of excitement while watching the preview of upcoming movie events, including ‘Rapunzel’, Disney’s ‘A Christmas Carol’, Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘TRON’, ‘Toy Story 3’, ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’ and ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’.
The expo also drew its share of stars who have appeared either in Disney movies or TV shows. Robin Williams did his usual shtick when he was awarded a place in Disney’s version of the Hall of Fame. Fans also got a chance to hear Tom Bergeron, host of the ABC show ‘Dancing with the Stars’, and Donny Osmond, one of this season’s hoofer contestants. ABC sitcom stars Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton also made an appearance.

However, it was sombre-looking John Travolta accompanied by his wife-actress Kelly Preston and their daughter, who got a standing ovation from the crowd. Travolta was making his first public appearance after the death of his son a few months back.

Miley Cyrus, Nicolas Cage, Tim Burton, Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp also came to the delight of the fans and offered a sneak preview of upcoming Disney blockbusters. Miley, wearing white shorts and boots, sang ‘The Climb’ with a live band and talked about her role in the forthcoming film ‘The Last Song’.

Johnny Depp sent audience members into a frenzy when he appeared on stage as Captain Jack Sparrow. It was also announced that Depp will star in the fourth film of the series, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’, which will hit theatres in 2011. One could hear ‘Love you Johnny’ from different parts of the auditorium. The entire cast of the popular TV serial, ‘Wizards of Waverly Place’ was also paraded on the stage for an interaction with the audience.

At the end of the grand affair, the star-stuck fans were convinced with the Disney marketing message that the company creates touchstones, not just entertainment properties. As the fans watched fabulous exhibits, including the amazing ‘Treasures from the Disney Vault’, the journos were singled out to have a different experience.
My excitement knew no bounds for now I was about to step inside the ‘happiest place on the earth’.

Disneyland, Anaheim

From the charm of Main Street to the whimsy of Mickey’s Toontown, one can explore eight fantastic ‘lands’ of nostalgia, excitement and colour inside Disneyland. It was time for me to let my imagination run riot in a magic kingdom, where life is a fairy tale and dreams really do come true! One just can’t accuse grown-ups of behaving like kids.

My first stop was ‘Soarin’ over California’. It was like flying over the spectacular spots in California as I touched the skiers, missed the mountains and kissed the waves with my dangling feet. This incredible experience was made all the more realistic with puffs of artificial air blowing on the face which carried the peculiar scent of the forest.

Next I set off on a shooting spree at the ‘Toy Story Midway Mania’. Wearing 3-D glasses, I sat aboard a spinning vehicle that travelled through virtual environments playing mini-games. My score was recorded by onboard display screen as I fired from the toy cannons at virtual targets. At the end of the game, I had scored 58 thousand points. Then I looked at the screen of my Chinese co-passenger who was grinning from eye to eye. She had scored more than one lakh!

Not at all disappointed, my next destination was ‘Nemo Submarine Voyage’, where I boarded one of the yellow submarines and ventured on an aquatic quest through colourful reefs, exotic fish, sharks, ancient ruins and wandering divers.

As a space tourist, I ventured on a mission on the ‘Star Tours’ amusement ride, the brainchild of Disney and George Lucas, the creator of ‘Star Wars’. Disney announced the closure of this ride for expansion purpose and it will be reopened only in 2011.
To seek the thrills of adventure in the cove of the plundering pirates, I then headed to the wax museum of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ that was conceptualised much before the movie by the same name was made, and Johnny Depp immortalised the role of Jack Sparrow in the costume drama. Sitting on the ride, I traversed across eerie, dark alleys of the pirates’ habitat with water dripping overhead or gushing all of a sudden, drenching me and my mates on the boat. ‘Animatron’ pirates along this landmark boat ride shot cannons drank rum, and, went pillaging merrily. It was completely an exhilarating experience.

By the time I finished the ‘Jungle Cruise’, which was another boat ride amidst ravines, it was already dark and little twinkling lights had transformed the place into a fairyland. And then it was time for the fireworks, which simply put, was a spectacular sight!

The magic had been cast and I was under its spell.