The Director’s Chair – Billy Wilder

One of the most common titles that you’ll see in many movies is that of writer/director.  What normally can be two jobs held by two different people on any given movie will also sometimes be a role held by a singular person.  And as is the case with writer/directors, they are far more in command of the film’s narrative and vision.  We see a lot more people today that direct films from their scripts; some of whom I have spotlighted in this series.  And it is true that film directors have existed throughout Hollywood history that often wrote the screenplays themselves.  The only difference today is that the writer/director was less commonplace in old Hollywood than what we see in the film industry today.  There were some noteworthy directors who wrote the bulk of their own filmography.  There was John Huston, Preston Sturges, and of course Orson Welles (though his authorship of the screenplay of Citizen Kane is challenged somewhat, as many believe it was mostly Herman Mankiewicz who wrote the bulk of that movie).  But, there hasn’t been a filmmaker before or since who mastered both crafts of scripting and directing with such versatility and with his own unique voice intact as Billy Wilder.  Wilder was unlike most other double threat filmmakers, as he carved out his own cynical, satirical voice while working in so many different genres.  He effortlessly went from making film noir, to psychological drama, to hard boiled political satire, to elegant romance, to wacky screwball comedy without losing that special Wilder touch.  That’s why even in today’s Hollywood  he’s celebrated as a true original, and he remains one of the most consistently successful filmmakers of any era.  What is also interesting is that he managed to create movies with a distinctly American sensibility, both in his movie’s sense of humor and their observations of American society; a remarkable achievement considering his immigrant past and the fact that English was his second language.

Samuel Wilder was born in Austria-Hungary in 1906 to a Polish Jewish family just outside of Vienna.  His family moved around a lot, including a brief time in New York City, which left an indelible impression on him as his latter career would attest.  As he grew older, he sought a career in journalism, with a special interest in the field of entertainment.  He found himself visiting night clubs everywhere between Vienna and Berlin interviewing jazz musicians and the like.  Unfortunately, the rise of Nazism in Germany and Austria forced Billy Wilder to relocate.  He settled in Paris, where for the first time he was commissioned to write for the movies.  He contributed a number of screenplays to many films made by his fellow German ex-pats as they were in their Parisian exile.  In that time, he also got to make his debut as a director with the French language film Mauvaise Graine (1935), which he also wrote.  However, as Nazi occupation of France inched closer, Wilder knew he would have to uproot once again. Thankfully, by this time, Hollywood finally came a calling, as he was granted the chance to write the screenplay for Ernst Lubitsch’s next comedy, Ninotchka (1939).  Billy Wilder’s brilliant comedic mind translated perfectly into Hollywood and his work on Ninotchka was wildly celebrated; a film that famously was sold on the tagline “Garbo Laughs,” a reference to the out of character turn in the movie from the mostly stoic Scandinavian leading lady at it’s center.  Building off of that success, Wilder would go on to have one of the most successful runs of any filmmaker in Hollywood, both as a writer and director.  His filmography is full of movies that are still celebrated as essential American classics, like Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Ace in the Hole (1951), Stalag 17 (1953), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Some Like it Hot (1959), and The Apartment (1960).  And while all his films are very different in tone and subject, they nevertheless feature the same distinctive voice that was unmistakably his own; which was often slick, irreverent, and sharply critical while at the same time maintaining a sense of playfulness.  So, let’s take a look at what made the movies of Billy Wilder the works of cinematic wonder that they are.



If there was ever a common thematic element found throughout the movies of Billy Wilder, it would be these human failings.  The characters within Billy Wilder’s movies are often motivated to do the dark deeds that they do by one or the other, or even both.  The movie Double Indemnity, one of the films scholars cite as one of the grandfathers of Film Noir as a cinematic style, is a movie where both sins come into play within the narrative.  Fred McMurray’s Walter Neff falls under the seduction of lonely housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), who sees an opportunity to scam the insurance company that Neff works for while also getting rid of her husband, thanks to knowledge of the double indemnity clause in her husband’s insurance plan that Neff clues her into.  In the movie, Wilder explores the depths that people will go to satisfy their greedy intentions while at the same time falling under their lustful inclinations against their better judgment.  Wilder liked to explore this aspect within the human condition, how desires cloud our better instincts and often lead to ruin.  While Double Indemnity takes a salacious and dark view of the complications of dark desires at play, he also knows how to make fun of society’s underbelly when it comes to seeking power and sexual gratification.  The film The Apartment also takes a look at scandalous behavior behind the veneer of “normal” domestic life, but does so with a bittersweet sense of humor as well.  To get ahead in life, C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) lends him apartment to his bosses from work so they can have their extramarital affairs in secret, until he suddenly finds himself in love with one of the girls caught up in the affairs, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).  Here, Wilder finds sweetness in the same kind of story that more often would turn sour in the past, showing that he could indeed tackle the same thematic elements with a great amount of nuance and intelligence.  More importantly, in both cases, he’s confronting the fact that both lust and greed are very human traits that often carry a degree of consequence for his characters, and he’s allowing the audience to confront these same issues to in a way that was quite daring in Hollywood for that time.



Billy Wilder had a special knack for creating iconic characters that go on to become among the most famous in movie history.  But what also makes his characters interesting is the fact that most of them are very much morally compromised.  Most of his characters fall very much in the moral gray zone, and there are genuinely very few pure souls in his movies.  But it seems he especially is interested in the most depraved characters of them all; the ones who have fallen off so sharply that there is no hope for redemption for them in the end.  He seems to find these characters the most fascinating, because their falls from grace are often when his satirical voice finds it’s sharpest edge.  More often than not, his flawed characters are men who grow increasingly corrupt as the movie goes along, but he has also created fascinating female characters that also ride that moral line in the darker shadows.  Phyllis Dietrichson for instance can be viewed as one of the original femme fatales of American cinema.  Particularly in his earlier films, it’s hard to find a person to root for, as pretty much all of his characters have some irredeemable flaw.  In Sunset Boulevard, we hear the story from the point of view of William Holden’s Joe Gillis, who as we learn ends up exploiting the connections of a delusional aging movie star named Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) to get himself ahead, only to find out too late that Norma’s delusions drive her to enact bloody revenge.  One predator falls victim to his prey once she feels betrayed.  That’s a common thread in Wilder’s movies; bad people trying to overcome the situations they got themselves into with worse people.  And then there are the characters whose spirals are predictable and the story becomes awaiting to see how far they will go before the fall.  In the ahead of its time Ace in the Hole (1951), Kirk Douglas plays Chuck Tatum, a sleazy journalist who exploits local tragedy for his own gain, until it turns into a literal circus.  We know that a man as bad as him will eventually meet his fall, but the harsh indictment that Billy Wilder makes, as he does in most of his movies, is showing just how far society is willing to indulge the bad behavior of these characters.



If there was one thing that especially marked Billy Wilder’s career in the latter half, it was way that he turned Marilyn Monroe into a cinematic icon.  Ms. Norma Jean was already well known for her musical comedy work like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), but it was once she began to work with Billy Wilder that she catapulted to the height of her onscreen career.  You know that iconic moment where her skirt is blown up by the updraft of a subway vent, the most famous image of Marilyn Monroe that is replicated everywhere?  That was from Billy Wilder comedy called The Seven Year Itch.  Indeed, Wilder was able to get the best out of Monroe, far more than any other filmmaker had before or after, and that is most evident in what was their most celebrated collaboration; the screwball comedy Some Like it Hot.  Monroe gives without a doubt her best and most effervescent performance in that movie, and it’s the one that absolutely plays to her talents the most.  She of course excels in the musical numbers, but her ability to handle the comedy is also admirable, especially working with heavyweights like Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.  The movie itself is also one of the best examples of another trait of Wilder movies; the more open, frank discussions of sexuality in film.  Though Wilder still worked within Code era guidelines, he was able to address sex in a more frank and direct way that few other filmmakers would even dare to address.  The extramarital affair at the heart of Double Indemnity is evidence of that, as is Sunset Boulevard’s implied sexual history with regards to it’s two leads.  In Some Like it Hot, sexual attraction is a major part of the plot and humor.  And long before it was acceptable in society, Some Like it Hot even addresses same sex attraction, as Jack Lemmon’s cross-dressing character becomes the object of affection for a rich playboy (Joe E. Brown).  Even when confronted with the information that the woman he adores is really a man in drag, Brown delivers the now immortal phrase, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”  Only Billy Wilder would dare to put that in his movie and get away with it, and Some Like it Hot is now celebrated by LGBTQ fans for it’s groundbreaking stance, even if it’s played up for a laugh.  It’s one of the most endearing parts of Billy Wilder’s filmography; not being afraid of addressing underlying issues of sexuality in society in an honest fashion, while also solidifying and legitimizing Marilyn Monroe as an icon, something that the gays are also grateful to Billy Wilder for.



Billy Wilder was often viewed as a cynical man based on his movies, though that can be a misleading thing to characterize him with.  What ended up leading many to this conclusion is the fact that he often didn’t give his characters a satisfying conclusion in the end.  There is no redemption for his flawed characters; no riding off into the sunset for his heroes.  Often, his characters end up dead or in prison by the end of the movie, or in William Holden’s case in Sunset Boulevard, dead from frame one.  But, he doesn’t share these bleak endings as a comeuppance alone for his characters sins.  Often these characters are caught up in societal evils that they willingly participate in, but only too late learn the perils that they have put themselves into.  The descent of Norma Desmond is a particularly potent example of Billy Wilder indicting a segment of society; ironically the one that took him in during his wartime exile, Hollywood.  In Sunset Boulevard, we see the madness that Norma Desmond has fallen into, living within this delusional bubble inside her Beverly Hills mansion, but there is a sad reason for her isolation.  Hollywood has deemed her too old to be relevant anymore, but she’s too stubborn to accept that unfair reality and it sinks her even deeper into madness, something that Joe Gillis shamefully exploits.  There is few indictments of Hollywood as harsh as the closing of Sunset Boulevard, as Norma poses for her “close-up” as she’s being dragged to the asylum, having lost all touch with reality and can only react the only way she knows how, by performing for the camera.  It’s not the only thing that Billy Wilder examines with a sharp satirical eye in his movies; Ace in the Hole examines sensationalized tabloid journalism, Double Indemnity looks at the greediness of insurance brokers, and The Apartment takes a stab at soulless corporate culture and the sexual harassment that arises from it.  Wilder would have examined these assets of society no matter what country he was making movies in, but he especially found America fertile ground for finding these darker aspects of society.  He was by no means anti-American; he remained a grateful émigré to the United States and lived out the rest of his days here, thankful for the creative freedom it gave him.  But, he was also not afraid to call out the darker sides of American culture in his movies, and that made him a very crucial and fearless voice in Hollywood for many years.



It’s hard to believe that Billy Wilder didn’t speak a word of English before the age of 10.  Circumstances of world politics led him to come to America in his latter years, but German still remained his first language.  So it is amazing that his screenwriting style feels so attuned to an American sensibility.  His sense of humor and style of writing, which he cultivated during his years of covering Jazz club life in pre-War Europe, translated into English without losing any bit of wit in the process.  He managed to capture the language of American culture perfectly once he settled into Hollywood.  Just listen to the frantic paced back and force exchanges in Double Indemnity, innuendos and all.  Billy Wilder could write in English better than most native born speakers who were writing movies around the same time, both in quantity of dialogue and in quality.  Sure, he had co-writers through much of his career, such as Raymond Chandler (Double Indemnity), Charles Brackett (Sunset Boulevard), and I.A.L. Diamond (The Apartment), but if you listen to him in any of his late career interviews, as he speaks in that charming Austrian accent that he never quite lost, a lot of the wit of those movies definitely came from him.  He had a knack for writing character interactions with dialogue that sounded natural yet still clever when you listen closely.  From the Code challenging sexual tension of Double Indemnity, to the charming small talk in an elevator ride from The Apartment, he could write any kind of mode for his stories.  Not only that, but he’s responsible for some of the most quoted final lines in movie history, like Norma Desmond’s Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up,” to Fran Kubelik’s perfectly succinct, “Shut up and deal,” to the already mentioned iconic and daring closer of Some Like it Hot.  It’s a testament to Wilder that he also exceled behind the camera as a director, because he could have stayed a screenwriter and still would have been considered one of the greatest of all time.  The fact that he was a master of both crafts really cements him as a Hollywood legend, and probably one of the best examples ever of what it means to be a writer/director.

One of the best things about Billy Wilder’s life and career is that he endured long enough to benefit from the impact that his movies had on Hollywood.  He passed away in his home in West Los Angeles at the ripe old age of 95 in 2002.  Though he hadn’t made a movie since the 1980’s, he still maintained a presence in Hollywood, being a vital bridge between old and new Hollywood.  Though he became a naturalized American citizen over the years, he nevertheless held a special place in his heart for the home he left behind.  One of his last cinematic contributions was offering uncredited script contributions to a project he hoped to direct one day called Schindler’s List (1993).  Ultimately he passed on directing, believing himself too old at the time and not a good fit in the end, eventually leading to Steven Spielberg taking on the project.  Still, Billy Wilder was instrumental in getting Schindler’s List off the ground and he remained slightly involved in helping Spielberg shape the final story.  It was important for him to be a part of the movie, because he himself lost family members to the Holocaust, and he felt this was his way of honoring them after so many years.  One of the benefits that he probably had in his long lived life was seeing how so many filmmakers aspired to make the same kinds of movies that he made; especially when it came to the more subversive stuff.  In his whole career he managed to spark the beginnings of film noir, helped to shed a light on the darker aspects of cultural institutions like Hollywood, the media, and capitalism itself, and even pushed the boundaries of sexuality for his time.  What he left behind were what many consider to be among the best films in cinema history, and it is astounding how varied all of them are as well, ranging across multiple genres.  He was recognized in his time for his cinematic contributions, with The Lost Weekend and The Apartment both taking home Best Picture in their respective years, as well as Directing and Screenwriting honors for Wilder.  But the real reward for his long career is how well his movies hold up even today.  Some Like it Hot still gets a laugh, Sunset Boulevard still manages to be chillingly relevant, and Ace in the Hole is eerily prophetic in it’s account of what the media would end up turning into.  Few can command the roles of writing and directing a film with equal measure, and Billy Wilder is one of those few that really made Hollywood what it is today, and he’s got the sharp-witted iconic masterpieces to back that up so many years later.

Going Rotten – The Rise and Weaponizing of Toxic Fandom

Last week, Disney held it’s bi-annual D23 Expo, a fan driven convention held to celebrate all things Disney, as well showcase the upcoming projects that the company has in the works for the future.  I myself was there, as you can read in my report here, and I can say that there was a general positive feeling of community across the entire convention; something that represents the best of fandom in society.  But, once the convention concluded, and Disney’s many announcements were made available to the public at large, other elements of fandom began to emerge.  In particular, sectors of internet discourse began to pick apart all of the news to come out of D23 Expo, and one particular thing really became a lightning rod for many opinionated reactions.  During the D23 Expo, the Disney company released the first look of their “live action” remake of The Little Mermaid.  Those of us who were in the convention center for the premiere were treated to an exclusive presentation of an entire scene from the movie, while the trailer was released worldwide online at the same time.  The reactions ranged from positive to indifferent at the convention itself, but online, the story was very different.  A firestorm erupted immediately about the movie not because of how the film looked, nor the fact that we were getting yet another remake of a beloved animated classic that probably would pale compared to it’s predecessor.  No, the uproar was over the fact that Ariel, the little mermaid at the heart of the movie, was being played by an actress of color named Halle Bailey.  For some reason, this was too much for people to handle, and it led to a furious response from YouTubers, to bloggers, to even political pundits to voice their displeasure at nothing more than a movie trailer.  It’s not the first time a firestorm like this has erupted over a piece of media, and it certainly won’t be the last, but what I find so particularly insidious about this particular level of outrage over the premiere of a trailer is how much it appears coordinated and done on purpose for what seems to be a larger agenda.  What the backlash against The Little Mermaid remake trailer reveals is a way in which fandom has turned into a weaponized tool for division in our polarized society.

Fandom, for the most part, is not a toxic thing in society.  There are a lot of examples of people from varying backgrounds being able to come together and put aside their difference over a shared love of something that matters to them, whether it be a sports team, a favorite film or TV series, or public figure that inspires them.  Fan conventions are a great place where you see the best of fandom on display, such as D23 Expo, or San Diego Comic Con, or Wondercon, and countless other fan gatherings across the globe.  In particular, you see fan creativity come out in these places, with attendees often putting in a lot of work into dressing up in cosplay.  Free expression of one’s fandom is not a bad thing to have in any case.  But, there are areas in which fandom can be a negative, and in many cases, it can turn quite ugly.  The worst kind of fandom, in my opinion, is what can be called “gate-keeping.”  The gate-keeping side of fandom is one way in which fandom can turn toxic, because it leads individuals to discriminate within the fanbase itself.  For some, they believe that true fanhood is it’s own hierarchy, and if you don’t achieve a certain level of minimum appreciation of their particular beloved piece of media or esteemed public figure, than you are in their eyes not a “true fan.”  Now, gate-keeping fans largely are not reflective of the majority of most fanbases, but in the age of the internet, more and more gate-keepers are putting themselves into positions of power where they can become arbiters of the discourse around any particular subject in the pop culture.  And this has in more recent years led to a toxicity within the culture that has percolated into much more than just fandoms.  We are now in a time when pop culture and politics are becoming more intertwined and that’s having a very scary effect on how the outrage over particular types of media are being used to push forward an agenda of a different kind.

This is mainly what makes the outrage over the release of the Little Mermaid trailer so alarming.  The focus is not on the look of the film, nor the purpose of why it needed to be made.  It’s entirely on the skin color of it’s main character.  In the original animated movie, Ariel is white skinned, but in this remake, she is being played by a woman of color.  For many people, this change in skin color is a cinematic sin, but I have to ask, why?  Mermaids are fictional creatures, so it shouldn’t matter what their skin color should be.  There are legit critiques to be made about the movie.  I for one am not particularly looking forward to the film, and that’s mainly because of my own feelings about past Disney remakes like Beauty and the Beast (2017) and The Lion King (2019).  Like those, I worry that the movie is going to be another soulless remake that is going to greatly pale in comparison to the original classic.  But, that’s a worry, not a conviction.  I’m not going to pass final judgment on the film until I actually see it, and I may end up being surprised in the end.  The movie has to overcome past disappointment that is on my mind, but it still must be judged on it’s own merits.  That is how film criticism works.  What we see in the discourse over the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel based on the trailer is not fair criticism at all, but rather an orchestration of an insidious agenda being pushed in the guise of film criticism.  It can’t be said in any other way; the outrage stirred up over the reaction to seeing a woman of color in the role of Ariel in The Little Mermaid is not over any artistic integrity, but purely because of racism.  It upsets a certain segment of people that a role predominately played by white performers in the past, is not being filled by someone who is not 100% white.  This isn’t a complaint levied against The Little Mermaid alone.  Diversity in casting has been greatly scrutinized as of late in the social media age and it is more and more revealing how fan discourse has been turned into a tool of sowing bigotry into the larger culture.

While there has been toxicity in cultural discourse for a long time, it has very much intensified in recent years thanks to the internet and social media.  Before movies even come out, there has to be a million thought pieces about who’s getting cast in the movie, who’s making the movie, and ultimately why you should or should not see the movie.  We are engaged in a never ending stream of fan discourse that often can turn nasty when certain avenues of the internet becomes fixated on something.  In the era of internet discourse, there has been a rise in new media that is determined to shape the narrative of a cultural event in the way that they want.  If there is an objection to a type of casting or a story point that challenges a so-called “fan’s” stringent expectations, then they will then use their platform to complain.  Now, making a lot of noise on one’s YouTube channel or blog is not unethical and perfectly within one’s freedom of expression, even if it comes from a toxic place.  But, as we are seeing more and more lately, these toxic fans are organizing their own audiences to sabotage the very tools used to gauge audience responses to all types of media.  Certain websites like and IMDb have open forums on their pages that allow everyday users to rate movies and TV shows on a scale, and then that is averaged into a grade for that property.  YouTube likewise includes up and down votes to gauge responses to their videos.  But, these open forums have been victims lately of a practice known as review-bombing.  Basically, a movie or TV show that is seen to have a have a socially conscious message or features a bit of diverse casting will experience a deluge of negative reviews, sometimes from newly created accounts, right at the point when the movie or show is released, with the sole purpose of driving down the audience score.  That’s why you often see Rottentomatoes scores from critics and audiences that are wildly divergent.  The fact that some recent shows like Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power series and Disney+ She Hulk: Attorney at Law have nearly identical negative audience ratings with almost the same number of user accounts involved, which coincidently outnumber all other show reactions by quite a margin in total reviews submitted, kind of tells you that these audience ratings were probably fixed by a manipulation of system itself.

What this practice of review bombing essentially does is that it allows the people behind the campaigns, mainly fire brand agitators with blogs and YouTube channels, to point at the negative reviews on and other sites and have it confirm the narrative that they are trying to push.  And the narrative that many of them have built their reputations around is the specter of “wokeness” that they say has corrupted fan culture.  The definition of “woke” is described as an alert to injustice in society, especially racism, according to the Dictionary.  It’s a term that has created a lot of fervor in the cultural discourse, and in particular, it has riled up a lot of reactionaries who see “wokeness” as a threat.  Because of the loose meaning that “woke” still has for many people, it can be interpreted as many different things, and for those who consider themselves anti-woke, like the agitators behind the review bombing of popular movies and shows, the term can be applied to pretty much anything they don’t like.  For some, being anti-woke is a crusade, and they must use their time and effort to push forward an agenda that they hope can pressure the powers that be in media to stray away from anything they deem as “woke.”  Unfortunately, this is where a lot of bad things can happen, as fandom and politics end up colliding in this atmosphere, and dissatisfaction over a piece of media can end up shaping the worldview of those caught up in this anti-woke rabbit hole.  Of course, the agitators don’t care about the negative effects that their toxic fan discourse has on the society at large nor the negative effects it puts on the psyche of their followers.  Negative discourse creates more engagement, which the algorithms of social media rewards greatly, and the more it gets people interacting with their channels, the better it is for them and they’ll continue to use their platform to spread more bitterness into the world.

There are consequences to this, as we have seen many times.  The toxicity within the Star Wars fandom in particular has had a troubled history.  It is argued that the kind of fandom that we see today across all avenues of society, began with Star Wars in 1977.  The monumental success of that film changed the culture of fandom and spurned a fan base that achieved cult like fanaticism that runs across all avenues of society.  Eventually, the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, decided to revisit the franchise after 20 years, and expand the universe of his franchise with a whole new trilogy of prequel movies.  However, many people were not satisfied with the results once they finally got to see the new films.  Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) was so derided in fact by the fanbase, that some people were complaining that George Lucas “ruined their childhood” by making the movie.  Though George Lucas took much of the brunt of the fan backlash, there were other attacks made at members of the cast.  The most heartbreaking example of this was young actor Jake Lloyd who play Young Anakin Skywalker in Phantom Menace, a character who grows up to be Darth Vader in continuity.  The backlash from fans haunted Lloyd through much of his childhood and even led to him having a hard time adjusting to growing up; eventually leading him to turning his back to the industry despite having the promising beginning he had as a child actor.  Ironically today, the prequel trilogy is now celebrated by a Star Wars fan base that grew up with them, and elements of that fan base now attack the sequel trilogy for the same petty reasons that their fore-bearers in their fanbase did for the prequels; because it was doing something different.  The anti-woke element in particular really was unkind to the new wave of Star Wars movies, as many of them complained how the series was being take over by “forced diversity” because the main characters were a woman and a black man.  This too has led to some negative consequences, as Daisy Ridley who play Rey in the sequel trilogy has largely abandoned social media since playing the part to avoid harassments, and John Boyega who plays Finn in the movies no longer wants to be involved in the franchise, despite growing up as a big fan.  It can be argued that toxic fandom even led to the uneven mess that the final film in the saga, The Rise of Skywalker (2019), turned out to be as parent company Disney took too much stock in trying to appeal to all fanbases; even the negative ones.  Outrage is an easy emotion to express, and it is often how we display our feelings about things that matter a lot to us.  But, outrage can bring a lot of raw and hurtful things to the forefront, and it especially can have a negative effect on people whose job it is to entertain.  Harassments in the guise film criticism and cultural discourse is not something that should define fandom at all.  You may not like a person’s performance, fine, but personal attacks are beyond the pale and reveal a side of fandom that should never be encouraged.

The good news is that people are getting wise to the fact that people are manipulating fan culture for dubious reasons and are beginning to push back.  In many ways, these elements are in no way reflective of fan communities as a whole, and they’ve only garnered attention because the nature of social media has given negative voices a blow horn within the discourse.  But, people are getting wise to the grifting that is going on.  If you see a YouTube channel that continues to reuse the same talking point week after week, like say posting the word “woke” on their video thumbnail over 100 times in their feed, it will be pretty easy to spot what kind of agenda they are trying to push in their commentary.  Studios are also no longer taking stock in review bombs like they may have in the past.  Case in point, the Marvel movie Captain Marvel (2019) was review bombed upon it’s release, and even to this day the movie still has a rotten audience score on, despite a positive critical score.  The reason Disney has not been troubled by this is because the movie performed extremely well at the box office, making over a billion worldwide, and it has led to the follow-up sequel coming out next year.  I’ve seen first hand audience reactions at the theater and at D23, everyday people love Captain Marvel, as seen by cheering audiences at the screening, and people dressed up as the character at the Expo.  The fact that so many young girls are inspired by the character and have become more interested in comic book stories likewise is something that I feel is a strong net positive about the movie.  It’s also becoming apparent that the anti-woke crowd’s pre-emptive strategy of review bombing movies and shows is starting to blow up in their face.  This was evident in the reaction to the movie Prey (2022) this summer, as that movie proved to be a massive hit and the review bombers revealed themselves to be the racist bigots that they mostly are for attacking the movie too early solely for the reason of diverse casting.  The same has again happened with HBO’s new hit series House of the Dragon from the Game of Thrones franchise, as the show has been embraced by the fandom, and the agenda driven anti-woke agitators have had to embarrassingly roll back their criticism after giving up their blatant agenda.  Amazon certainly saw the firestorm coming for it’s Lord of the Rings series, and they dismantled their ratings system pre-emptively before it could be misused.  It is unfortunate that these bad apples have made it difficult to differentiate fair criticism from bad faith criticism, but too much abuse of the discourse has led to these extreme measures and led to studios taking less stock in what the fans have to say.  It’s honestly upon the fan culture itself to call out those who are leading bad faith arguments against popular media and hold them accountable for the bad takes that they make which poison the discourse of fandom as a whole.

The reaction to Halle Bailey as Ariel, the little mermaid, is just another sad chapter in what seems like a never ending culture war.  The sad thing is, toxic fandom is sometimes seen as a desirable path for people who want to hold the contrarian position in the public discourse of pop culture.  And it’s usually the grifters within the toxic fandom media that prey upon these contrarian opinions to serve their own agendas.  Politics and culture are not far divided and appealing towards an individuals intense feelings towards a particular part of fan culture is an effective way of recruiting them for another extreme position.  There is a lot of cross-over appeal between intense fandom gate-keeping and anti-democratic authoritarianism, which is seeping more and more into the political discourse.  How many people have we seen in recent years go into the ballot box because they want to stop a “woke” agenda?  When pressed to define their anti-woke positions, it often stems from them disliking the perceived political message they saw on TV or in a movie.  Fandom can be weaponized to push a larger political agenda that can definitely have some dire consequences for society in general.  What I hope is that none of that noise made from segments of the internet dissuades anyone’s artistic expression.  As I have experienced consuming media of all kinds (movies, television, internet videos) diversity in voices is a good thing and makes for a more interesting and ultimately entertaining experience overall.  And as I have seen, fandoms are for the most part welcoming of all kinds of diverse voices.  It’s those that try to close off fandoms and manipulate it for their own ends that are not representative of fandoms as a whole.  The only reason why they get so much attention is because they are often the loudest voices in the room thanks to algorithms that govern the social media space.  But, when you watch a movie with other fans in a theater or attend a fan convention, you see the other side and how broad and welcoming it can be.  It’s up to that side of fan culture to stand up for the things they love, encourage and not harass those who work in the creative arts, and help critical discourse move things forward and not backward.  I understand that my role as a critic is to give judgment, but my wish is to allow everyone a fair chance to prove my worries wrong and stand on their own merits.  I can’t say how Halle Bailey’s turn as Ariel may turn out, but just on the basis of what her casting means I think it is bold and a worthwhile change that could indeed serve the movie well.  Just take a fair, objective look at what you are seeing and not the implications of what it means for the culture as a whole.  In other words, leave your individual prejudices at the door.  That’s what constructive criticism should be and judging a performance based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or creed of the actors or filmmakers involved with the movie is the kind of criticism that gives fandom a bad name.

D23 Expo 2022 – Film Exhibition Report

It’s been a long break for the D23 Expo.  The ultimate fan event for all things Disney has been on a bi-annual schedule until the Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible for most large gatherings to happen.  Though scheduled initially for 2021, the continuing surges of that year convinced Disney to delay their marquee event for another year, pushing it into 2022.  Now with the pandemic thankfully heading into the rear view, at least with regards to major outbreaks, Disney is ready to invite it’s most dedicated fans back to the halls of the Anaheim Convention Center for it’s 7th D23 Expo celebration.  I have been covering the Expo since my first year writing this blog back in 2013, and I have been eagerly awaiting to return.  Just like having the TCM Film Festival back after a long pandemic hiatus, this is yet another movement for me back to having things back to normal, and I’m sure the same thing is felt for a lot of other dedicated Disney fans.  Apart from moving past the pandemic, this D23 Expo is also coming to us at a very important time in the history of the Disney company.  For one thing, Disney is using this Expo to kick off what will be a multi-year celebration of The Walt Disney Company’s 100 Year anniversary.  The namesake of the D23 fan club is the year the the company was officially founded; 1923.  Disney certainly wants to mark this milestone with a lot of pomp and circumstance and the Expo we are going to see this weekend will hopefully be a great representation of that.  This Expo also sees the company in transition, trying hard to rebuild itself after a shaky pandemic affected blow to it’s theatrical and theme park business.  This will also be the first Expo of the Bob Chapek era, the new CEO and successor of Bob Iger, the former head of the company who oversaw the launch of D23 and the Expos.  There’s no doubt about it, this is going to be a D23 Expo that will have a different air of importance than those of the past, and that puts a much brighter spotlight on it than we’ve seen before.

I am once again attending all three days, and I’ll be sharing my day by day account of all the sights and sounds that I’ll see there; complete with my own pictures.  I’m going to try my best to get into the big shows; the Animation panel, the Live Action panel, and the theme parks panel being the most important.  I will also try to find interesting smaller panels across the weekend as well, while at the same time hopefully getting a good in depth look at all the different booths on the show floor.  There are going to be archive exhibits across the Expo that I also want to check out, and most intriguingly Disney is also bringing Walt Disney’s private jet to the Expo, giving it a showcase all it’s own in an up close look for all the Expo attendees.  It will also be interesting to see how fans of all things Disney will react to all the future plans that the company is going to showcase at this Expo.  Beyond just Mickey Mouse and company, Disney is home to a wide array of brands; Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, ESPN, Hulu, and 20th Century Studios.  This will be the first major Expo since the finalization of the Fox merger, so it will be interesting to see how much of a presence the 20th Century brand now has at this Expo.  Regardless, I’m ready for a long three day adventure.  Below, you’ll find my account and final thoughts, and I hope to have this published as soon as I can.  With that, let’s take a trip to D23 Expo 2022.


Like I have in year’s past, the key part of my plan to get the most out of my D23 Expo experience is to be extra prepared.  So, I started off the beginning of my event experience with leaving my hotel room very early in the morning in order to line up at the security gate to enter the Anaheim Convention Center.  Even at 4 am, the line to enter was pretty significant.  Though Disney clearly stated that this time there would be no overnight queuing, people still showed up well before the 5 am gate opening.  We were let in and allowed to wait for the official opening in the underground Hall E, which is where the queue for the big Hall D23 shows would be.  One of the new things this year that they introduced was a randomized Show Pass system.  Each attendee had the opportunity to select a ranked selection of shows and experiences that they wanted to have a pass for, which guarantees them a seat or place in line.  Obviously the big Hall D23 shows were the most sought after.  I always try to hit the big three (Animation, Live Action, and Theme Parks), and this year I managed to snag a reservation for the Friday afternoon show, which was the Animation Presentation.  Because of this, I really had no need to show up so early, but I decided to do so anyway because it gave me a chance to see how these shows were going to be lined up and seated throughout the Expo.  There was a line-up for people to see the first show of the Expo, the Disney Legends induction ceremony.  This year, Disney was honoring the new inductees into their hall of fame style Legends pantheon, which included Frozen (2013) cast members Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Kristen Bell, and Indina Menzel; Enchanted star Patrick Dempsey, and the late Chadwick Bosemen of Black Panther (2018), honored posthumously. I haven’t attended this show before and had a better opportunity this time with my reservation, but I instead decided to dive right into experiencing the show floor itself.

At 9am, the doors opened for us and I got to be among the first to see the floor first hand.  The spacious floor was again filled with massive booths for all things Disney.  The first thing in front of me was the Marvel booth, which looked much like it has in years past, with a large space designated for fan congregation, as well as a stage and a place for talent and fan interaction.  One fun new thing they added was a photo opportunity in the back themed to the AvengerCon seen in the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel.  Beyond the Marvel booth was a Lucasfilm booth, with of course Star Wars being the centerpiece attraction.  The whole Lucasfilm booth was more of an exhibition this time, with costumes on display from their recent and upcoming projects.  There were costumes from The Mandalorian TV series, as well as the recent Obi-Wan Kenobi mini-series, and the upcoming Andor series for later this month.  In addition to Star Wars, there were costumes on display for other Lucasfilm properties, such as the upcoming Willow Disney+ series, and of course Indiana Jones.  Seeing the Indiana Jones costumes up close was especially neat, as they span across the series, with Harrison Ford’s iconic ensemble, to a costume from the villainous Toph in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s costume from the upcoming movie.  Across from that was the expansive Disney Bundle pavilion.  Here the showcase was for all the streaming services under the Disney banner, which includes Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+.  Disney+ of course occupied the largest footprint here, with a full presentation stage of it’s own that hosted special discussions throughout the Expo.  The Hulu and ESPN+ booths were smaller and on the edges, but still offered some fun photo opportunities for fans.  I didn’t spend too long here, although there was a fun little foot-pad experience that showed off a neat shadowbox projection effect, promoting current and upcoming Disney+ programming that was worth trying.  What I had my sights on next was one of the biggest and most interesting exhibitions in the entire Expo.

In the southernmost side of the convention center was the Wonderful World of Dreams exhibit, which was the one that was put on by Walt Disney Imagineering.  This is where the Disney company showcase all of the projects they have currently in the pipeline for their theme parks and vacation destinations.  This particular exhibit, I have to say, is the most impressive and largest one yet seen at the D23 Expo.  It was a sprawling set-up, well laid out with exhibits separated into the different theme parks around the world.  First up in the gallery was the newest park Shanghai Disneyland, which spotlighted the upcoming expansion it will be adding based on the movie Zootopia (2016).  They showed some concept art and models of potential rides coming to the park, but what was also included was a fun demonstration of the street atmosphere.  Occasionally, live performed puppets of Zootopia would open up doors in the wall and begin interacting with each other.  If this is a taste of what is to come, the Shanghai Disneyland guests are in for a definite treat.  Next, there were small exhibits for the other international Disney Parks in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Paris.  What was spotlighted in these were new attractions dedicated to the movie Frozen, with Tokyo’s ride being part of an expansive Fantasy Springs expansion to their Tokyo Disney Seas theme park.  Of course, the largest room was dedicated to the two theme parks central to the company, those being Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California.  On the Disneyland side, they had displayed models of their current Mickey’s Toontown re-imagining, which will include the new ride Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway railway, housed in the hilariously named El Capitoon Theater.  In the Walt Disney World section, there was a replica of the new founder’s statue of Walt Disney that will be installed soon in Epcot.  In the middle of this space was a model of a project coming to both parks, which is an upcoming re-imagining of the Splash Mountain ride with characters from The Princess and the Frog (2009), which is named Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.  The next room was an interesting look at the tech they are working on in the parks, which includes a new type of character interaction technology for large characters, such as Marvel’s Hulk. The last exhibit was devoted to Disney Cruise line, which included looks at their new ships and destinations.  A full and very satisfying exhibit worth multiple viewings.

After walking around for a while, it was time to start seeing some shows.  With my reservation, I was granted a bit more time on the first day to do whatever I wanted, so I decided to check out one of the smaller shows at the Expo.  Available at what they called the Premiere stage was a presentation devoted to Disney and Marvel video games.  I managed to get a chair way in the back for this one, but I wasn’t able to watch the whole show, because I had a conflicting reservation.  Suffice to say, it was a Marvel heavy collection of games with a couple of cute Disney ones here and there.  But it was neat seeing the new Premiere stage, which is debuting at this year’s Expo, housed in the convention center’s new expansion.  Quickly making my way to the underground Hall E, I only had to wait an extra 30 minutes to be seated for the Hall D23 Animation presentation, a welcome change from year’s past, which had me waiting hours prior to show time.  Spacious Hall D23 looked as grandiose as I remember it, and after 3 long years, it was great being back.  The presentation started with a montage celebrating all the media that the Disney company has put out in the last couple of years, and it concluded with the premiere of the brand new Disney 100 logo that will play in from of all their upcoming movies both in theaters and on streaming.  Then, onto the stage walked actress Cynthia Erivo, who most recently starred in Disney’s live action remake of Pinocchio (2022), playing the Blue Fairy.  After a round of applause, she began to sign her rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” which was very lovely.  Afterwards, newly promoted Walt Disney Pictures president Sean Bailey walked out on stage and welcomed the crowd.  He promised plenty of new surprises in the show we were about to watch.

The first selection of films presented were a few Disney+ exclusives, which included Hocus Pocus 2 (2022) and Disnenchanted (2022) with which the entire cast was there to promote.  Once we got to the theatrical set of projects, we learned that we were getting a new Haunted Mansion movie.  This cinematic reboot is being directed by Justin Simien, who brought with him a first look at the movie.  Afterwards came one of the show’s highlights, which was the announcement of who would be playing Madame Leota.  A Doombuggy ride vehicle rolled onto stage, spun around, and revealed to the audience Jamie Lee Curtis, who waved happily at the cheering audience.  Disney concluded this live action segment talking about upcoming remakes of their animated movies.  One was Snow White, starring Rachel Zegler and Gal Gadot as Snow White and the Evil Queen respectively who were both in attendance.  The other was The Little Mermaid, which director Rob Marshall showed us a full 4 minutes of, that being the whole “Part of Your World” sequence.  Afterwards, the actress playing Ariel, Halle Bailey walked on stage to thunderous applause.

Next, was the Animation portion of the presentation.  First up, Pixar Animation, which has honestly had the roughest couple of years during the pandemic, with most of their movies going straight to streaming.   Pixar Studios head Pete Doctor walked out to tell us about the exciting new projects they’re working on.  The first one shown was next summer’s release Elemental (2023), which was best described as Pixar’s first rom com, but with their usual twist on established formulas.  Here, the characters are made of actual elements, with the main characters being literally made of fire and water.  We were shown a few test animation samples, as well as a few quick scenes of the movie.  Finally they introduced us to the voices of the two leads, Mamoudou Athie and Leah Lewis, who were accompanied onto stage with actual fire and water rising from the stage and falling from the ceiling.  It was a neat theatrical trick to add some panache to the presentation.  After the showcase of Elemental, Pete Doctor began to discuss the first original long form series by Pixar for Disney+, called Win or Lose.  The show is going to be about a week in the life of a little league baseball team, and each episode will tell the story from a different character perspective.  Lastly, they announced the follow-up film to Elemental called Elio, which is about a shy kid who is abducted by aliens and must be a representative of Planet Earth in the cosmos, despite struggling to fit in even when he’s living at home.  The visual development stuff that they showed us looked really interesting and it definitely peaked my interest to see how this film turns out.  As a special surprise, Amy Poehler walked out onto stage to officially announce that Inside Out 2 is in the works, while at the same time playfully chiding Pete Doctor who wanted to keep things more secret.

Finally, the presentation ended on Walt Disney Animation, the bedrock of the company which is also celebrating 100 years.  We were shown a glimpse of the upcoming Disney+ series Zootopia+, but most of the focus was on the upcoming fall release of Strange World (2022).  The film’s director and writer, Don Hall and Qui Nguyen, were joined on stage by a few of the cast members of the movie, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Jaboukie Young-White, Dennis Quaid and Lucy Liu.  After a short talk, we were presented an extended scene from the movie.  It was an engaging moment that gave a good sense of the movie, and thankfully we don’t have to wait long for the rest.  Finally, the show ended with the announcement of Disney’s special 100th anniversary release.  In this one, they are imagining the origins of the Wishing star seen in so many of their movies.  So, the movie is conveniently titled Wish.  In it, we meet a princess named Asha who befriends a literal star.  Asha also has a pet goat named Valentino, who is going to be voiced by Disney lucky charm Alan Tudyk, who was there to demonstrate his many roles live.  To close out the show, we were presented a special debut of one of the songs from the movie, sung by the actress playing Asha, Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose.  Overall, a pretty eventful show with a lot of exclusive looks.  I was especially happy to see Disney committing more to theatrical releases with some of their titles, and not just dumping them onto Disney+.  So, a little more walking around for an hour and Day one came to a close.  Unfortunately, Southern California was getting a brush by from Hurricane, which led to us exiting the convention center in pouring down rain, right on the heels of a heat wave no less.  Thankfully, I packed an umbrella and it was off to rest in my hotel for Day 2.


This was the day that was really going to test my preparedness for this Expo.  I left my Hotel very early, and not surprising very few people were honoring that 4:30 am rule.  Arriving a little before 4:00, I found the line to already be substantial to get in.  Once the gate finally opened, I’d say the line to get in probably stretched all the way down the block, though I couldn’t quite get a confirming look.  Why was it so busy you might say?  Because the Saturday Morning show, always the busiest of this Expo, was the one where Marvel and Star Wars were going to present their upcoming projects.  Suffice to say, I wasn’t just contending with Disney fans here.  I had to go up against two other rabid fan bases.  Once through the gates, we quickly made our way to Hall E to queue up.  Even as early as I got there, and as much as I rushed, the line still filled up quickly.  I had no reservation for this show, so I had to contend with stand-by, which itself filled up.  Thankfully, I made it before they closed stand-by to anyone else.  But even here I had no certainty.  I was put in what was essentially the standby of the standby; the distinction being who made it early enough to get a wrist band.  After hours of waiting, the queues were finally walked into Hall D23.  I watched as the regular standby managed to get in, and one line of the standby standy’s.  A cast member made a head count and I got #53, hoping that it was a good sign I might get in.  Alas, another cast member broke the news that the show was full, and that we had to exit the queue.  So, for the first time ever, I struck out getting into a Hall D23 show, and it was the one I was most looking forward to.  Dissatisfied, I walked back to the floor hoping to cheer myself up.  I saw there was another presentation in one of the other halls running at the same time, and I managed to easily find a seat.  This one was about the Disney 100 exhibition that was going to be launched next year in museums across the United States and internationally as well.  It was an interesting break down of a neat exhibition that I hopefully may one day cover for this blog.  It will feature a collection of artifacts from across the spectrum of Disney history.  I just wish I had seen this show without the crushing blow of missing the Star Wars/ Marvel presentation.  From what I understand, there weren’t a whole lot of internet breaking announcements made, so maybe it wasn’t too bad of a loss.  I also got a nice Disney 100: The Exhibition poster after the show, something that I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t been there.  From what I understand, the big Hall D23 presentation only gave out posters as well, plus 3D glasses to watch clips from James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water (2022).

With the extra time freed up, I decided to take the opportunity to visit one of the marquee attractions of this Expo; an exhibit dedicated to showcasing Walt Disney’s Private Plane.  Dubbed Mickey Mouse One, the plane itself was flown in from Orlando where it had been parked for years at the Disney Hollywood Studios’ backlot.  It received a refurbishment and was presented here at the Expo, making it by far the largest Disney artifact on display here.  It not only needed it’s own room, it was presented in the Anaheim Convention Center’s spacious arena, which in the past had been used for 2nd-tier panels; the ones below Hall D23 in importance.  Though guests couldn’t get up close to the plane, they did have a roped off area close enough to get some good picutres, including a special overhead shot that the Expo provides for everyone in line.  After getting my photo, I checked out a bit more of the nearby gallery.  In it, there were other artifacts from inside the plane like a passenger seat, some of the catering materials, as well as special baggage and paraphernalia that Walt gifted to guests who rode with him in the plane.  The whole exhibit was nicely set up, and it made good use of what usually was show space.  Literally as you walk right into the exhibit, the nose of the plane is staring right at you once you go through the doors.  The exhibit also played some era appropriate ambient music, which really set the scene nicely for the kind of time period that Walt would have been flying around in this plane.

Still, I was determined to not leave the floor that day without at least checking out something in Hall D23.  Unfortunately the afternoon presentation was for Disney Branded Television.  This primarily encompasses original TV shows that fall outside of the major studio brands, so it was pretty much a lot of Disney Channel and a couple Disney+ kid-friendly shows; stuff that I honestly care the least about with the Disney company.  But, I was willing to give the show a fair break.  There was no problem getting in through standby, and the Hall unfortunately only filled half up, which made me feel bad for the special guest and performers on stage.  While most of the stuff they showed was very uninteresting to me, like most of the Disney Channel programming and original movies such as Zombies 3 and High School Musical: The Series, there were still a couple nice surprises.  First, the show opened with a special appearance from a few Muppets.  And not just any Muppets, we got Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, there to promote a new Muppet variety show for Disney+.  They led off with a rousing rock song which honestly helped to improve my mood immediately for the show.  Another wonderful surprise was a presentation for a live action fantasy show called American Born Chinese.  The show itself was intriguing enough, and they did a neat traditional dragon puppet dance on stage.  But what made the presentation for this show even better was meeting the cast members.  They included not one but two of the stars of the breakout hit film from this year, Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2022), those being Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan, who earlier in the day got to be part of a now viral photo with his Temple of Doom co-star, Harrison Ford at the morning Hall D23 presentation.  Also on stage was the show’s producer, Daniel Destin Cretton, who himself also has made news recently being selected to direct the next Avengers movie, The Kang Dynasty.  There were also a couple of other special celebrity sightings, including Disney Legend Tim Allen, who was there to promote his upcoming series, The Santa Clauses, based on his series of hit movies.  Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson, was also on hand to present a look at a documentary series that she’s producing for Disney+.  I will say that despite my cynicism for the stuff being presented and the sour mood I had going into the show, the showcase was still entertaining.  The dancers they had throughout the show really put their heart into their performance, so I have to applaud them for that.  Still, Day 2 was not my best at this Expo, and missing out on the big show sadly cast a pall over my day.  I can’t blame Disney for that.  They only had enough seats, and my number came up just short.  For me, it was leaving me with reconsidering how I should plan for these days going forward.  With so many seats being taken up by reservations, the rush for standby is very competitive now.  Unfortunately, I had one last chance to get into the show I wanted, and I had no guarantee of getting into that one either.


In the past, I have seen that the Sunday morning show, which almost always is theme parks, doesn’t fill up as fast as the Saturday morning show.  Still, I was taking no chances.  I arrived in line about the same time as I did for Saturday, and again it was a substantial line waiting for me.  Already I grew nervous, and was keenly looking at how fast they could get us through the gates, and how quickly I could rush my way there.  So, once the gates opened, and I went through the security checkpoint, I speed walked my way down to Hall E.  Thankfully this time I got there soon enough to receive a regular standby wristband, but as I observed before, anything could happen.  My anxiety rose even further as they seated everyone pretty late.  The 10:30 am presentation began pretty much on time, and yet I still saw about half of even the reservation seats still waiting to be let in.  Thankfully they got through all the reservation seats, so it was left to standby next.  By this time, the Disney Parks president, Josh DiMaro, had already welcomed actor and filmmaker Jon Favreau on stage.  About 10-15 minutes into the show proper, they did finally walk us into the Hall, so thankfully I wasn’t let down two days in a row.  Sadly, Favreau’s segment was already over and he was already off stage, but the next guest was just as big, if not more; Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige.  He shared details about the new Avengers attraction that was coming to Disney’s California Adventure, which includes a storyline tied into the current Marvel Multiverse Saga.  In the ride, the characters will be battling a new multiversal villain known as King Thanos.  This new ride promises to feature a wide array of characters across the Marvel multiverse, though details of the ride system used were vaguely hinted at.  Next, Feige and DiMaro were interrupted by a video message from Mark Ruffalo, who asked when we would see the Hulk in the parks.  As it turns out, we got our answer as a fully built costume of the Hulk, built with the Project Exo technology shown in the Imagineering gallery, walked onto stage.  The size of this character was truly impressive, and it will be interesting to see it in action up close in the parks, which DiMaro told us was happening in a week.

They continued the Parks presentation talking more about the big projects currently being worked on.  One was the Mickey’s Toontown re-imagining, which I saw the model of in the Imgaineering exhibit, as well as the Princess and the Frog changes to Splash Mountain.  One of the cool things that they did for all of us as we walked through the doors into Hall D23 was that we all got a silk handkerchief with the logo for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure printed on it.  After they talked about what they planned for the ride, the team behind the ride asked us to take out those handkerchiefs and swing them over our heads in a New Orleans fashion as they welcomed a surprise musical guest, the voice of Princess Tiana herself, Anika Noni Rose.  She performed two songs from from the movie with a back-up dance troupe on stage with her, and the audience responded with enthusiastic swinging of those white handkerchiefs.  Josh DiMaro then moved on to news about the expansion coming to the Downtown Disney shopping and dining district in California.  He shared the exciting news that Porto’s, a very popular bakery in the Los Angeles area, would be opening a new location there.  To celebrate the news, he added that everyone in the Hall D23 audience would be leaving with free pastry samples courtesy of Porto’s.  Afterwards, the focus went to projects going on in the international parks.  We got to see a look at a Zootopia themed expansion coming to Shanghai Disneyland, and they also talked about the Frozen themed lands that are coming to the Tokyo, Hong Kong and Paris parks.  Next, DiMaro went into a presentation of Blue Sky project ideas that are floating around the halls of Imagineering at Disney.  These include attractions themed to Moana, Zootopia, Coco, Encanto, and the ever popular Disney villains.  It remains to be seen if any of these project become a reality, but I think part of the reason they were shared here was mainly to gauge fan interest.  They also talked about Disney Cruise line and the addition of their 6th ship into the fleet, called the Disney Treasure.  Finally, they concluded with news of brand new nighttime shows coming to the Disneyland Resort to celebrate the 100th anniversary.  It includes a new World of Color show at Disney’s California Adventure, as well as a new fireworks show at Disneyland.  The show ended with a performance of the song that will accompany the Fireworks show, and we all exited, lining up eagerly to receive our individual boxes of Porto’s.

Having managed to get into the show I wanted, and getting a tasty treat out of it too, my morning mood was much better this day.  And honestly, it kept being positive for the rest of this final day too.  I had a really good final day at this year’s D23 Expo, and that helped to salvage it from the disappointment of Saturday.  I decided to catch at least one more panel on this day, which was going on at the Walt Disney Archives stage on the second floor of the convention center.  This panel was about the long running Main Street Electrical Parade, which this year was celebrating it’s 50th anniversary at Disneyland.  I had been catching it myself all throughout the Summer, thanks to my annual pass.  But, this panel offered an in depth look at the history of the parade, which honestly was far more fascinating than I had imagined.  I forget the names of those involved, but they had the show director there, as well as the composer, and the current lead at Disney Parks entertainment who was responsible for the recent revival.  They discussed a lot of interesting tidbits about the ride’s history, from it’s inception, to it’s disastrous rehearsals, to all the additions that have been made and since retired over the years.  One of the most interesting stories was that the original composer of the parade’s them, “Baroque Hoedown” had his music sold to Disney by his agent without him knowing, and he only learned about it after having visited the park himself and hearing his own tune playing during the parade.  It’s smaller shows like this that I think are the special little treasures one can discover while at the Expo.  If you are not interested in competing for a spot in the Hall D23 shows, then these are perfectly good and worthwhile shows to check out too, not to mention also fascinating in their own right.

The rest of my day was spent playing everything else by ear.  I made a visit to the Archives Gallery this year, which to be honest was a bit underwhelming compared to years past.  This Disney 100: A Step in Time exhibit was basically laid out like a walkthrough timeline, with different spaces devoted to important milestones in Disney history.  There were a couple artifacts found there, but mainly each section was more or less a photo opportunity spot, and not much more.  The first spot was for the premiere of Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie (1928).  The next was devoted to the premiere of Walt Disney’s first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937).  Afterwards, there was a spot dedicated to the opening of Disneyland in 1955, which did have the neat artifact of Disneyland Ticket #1, which was purchased by Walt’s brother Roy for $1.  The next section spotlights the classic Mary Poppins (1964), had two of the carousel horses used in the film, as well as a dress worn by Julie Andrews.  The next section was devoted to the opening of Walt Disney World, and they showcased a mock-up of the attic scene in the Haunted Mansion attraction to spotlight it.  The next section was a surprise as it spotlighted the movie Tron (1982), celebrating 40 years this year.  Some of the props from the movie were displayed here, as well as a replica of the neon Flynn’s arcade sign.  The next room was likewise another surprise, as it spotlighted the film Dick Tracy (1990), complete with the iconic yellow coat and fedora that Warren Beatty wore in the movie.  Finally, and not surprisingly, the last room was devoted to Star Wars, a recent addition to the Disney family, and in that section, they had full size replicas of all the droids: C-3PO, R2-D2, BB-8, and D-O.  Layout wise, it was very well put together, but I wanted there to be more substantial things to look at inside, and not just backdrops to make for good Instagram posts.  But, that was the only downside to my day.

I spent much of the rest of my D23 shopping and soaking in the atmosphere while I was still allowed in the Halls.  And it was in these closing hours that I really got to appreciate what makes these Expos such a great experience each year.  For one thing, I just loved spending hours meeting strangers throughout the day and sharing our common love for all things Disney.  That community experience is especially what makes this worthwhile.  While waiting in line for the Steps in Time gallery, I just struck up a conversation with the two ladies in front of me in line, who were dressed as Disney Princesses, but with pajamas on.  Just by complimenting their costumes and speaking with them about their experience thus far, they shared that they came to the Expo the day before dressed as Princess Ghostbusters.  It’s little things like that, people sharing their fandom in a three day fan event that I love every time I go there.  Yes, I felt pretty down on Saturday by missing the show I wanted to see more than any other, especially knowing that it included a first look at the next Indiana Jones movie, with Harrison Ford on stage to present.  But, my overall experience was still a positive one, especially with Sunday going as well as it did.  As I made my way into the final hour, I just made my back through my favorite parts of the Expo, like the incredible Imagineering gallery, the small vendors Emporium, the Animation pavilion, which had been updated with the new announced projects from this Expo.  I could honestly feel it from all the other guests, we were sad to say goodbye after such a fun time, but also grateful to have this back after a painful, pandemic delayed absence.  Hopefully, they are back to their bi-annual schedule again, and barring any other calamities, we will hopefully be seeing D23 grace the halls of the Anaheim Convention Center again.  As I returned home tired and with a filled to the brim swag bag, I can definitely say that I had a great D23 Expo 2022, and I’m glad to have shared my experience with all of you reading this.  Thank you Disney and D23, and as the they said on the Mickey Mouse Club, “see you real soon.  Why?  Because we like you.”

Greetings Programs – The 40 Year Long Legacy of Disney’s Tron

When you look at the films that people would describe as being the quintessential 80’s movie, one of the titles that is likely to come up the most is the movie Tron (1982).  Tron may not have intentionally been made to become a trend-setter of the era, but it certainly would emerge as such.  The reason why Tron became one of the films to define the 80’s, particularly when it comes to aesthetics, was because it was perfectly placed at the forefront of the technological revolution that would define the decade after it’s release; the rise of computers and video games.  Released in 1982, Tron would have an almost prophetic effect on the age of computers, as only a couple years later Apple Computers would release the Macintosh home computer, which would change the industry forever, placing what used to be a tool exclusive to high tech corporations into the homes of everyday citizens.  In addition, the video game industry was blossoming into it’s own, with Atari leading the way in bringing video games out of the arcades and into the living room.  Of course, the power of computing was still far more in it’s infancy than what we have today, but the beginning of the revolution to place computers and networking into every aspect of society was beginning to form in these crucial years.  Tron stands out as a special film in that regard, because it gave us a glimpse of the way that computers would begin to take command of our lives, for both good and bad, and it did so while being a technological marvel in it’s own right.  The story of Tron and how it came to be made is an interesting story in it’s own right, as is the legacy that it has left behind 40 years later.  When you look at the circumstances that led to Tron becoming a reality, you can see how commitment to vision and a great bit of luck resulted in a movie that is unlike anything else that has ever graced the silver screen.

Going all the way back to the beginning, the origin of Tron came from an inspired Boston based animator named Steven Lisberger.  Lisberger’s studio had been making a name for itself in the Boston area with award winning commercials.  They were especially prolific in a style called back-lit animation, which was a popular design of the Disco era.  Basically, they take their black line drawings on white paper, take the negative of that image and turn it into an animation cels which they call Kodaliths, with a mostly black background and clear lines defining the drawing.  Then they would photograph that with the image back-lit with the light shining directly into the camera.  From there, the line drawings glow against the black, and these can be shaded with any color the artist chooses, which creates a striking neon look to the image.  To show off this technique, the Lisberger Studio created a demo reel with an back-lit animated robot throwing discs into the air.  And because he was “electronic”, they called this animated robot Tron for short.  The Tron demo was passed along to many different studios, as Steven Lisberger was hoping to have it be a selling point for his studio’s first ever feature.  In the meantime, they managed to secure a special assignment from NBC, who were gearing up to broadcast the 1980 Olympics.  The Lisberger team was commissioned to animate a pair of half-hour specials with Olympic sports played by animals, which would air alongside the real broadcast.  The studio did deliver their projects, traditionally animated with one or two back-lit sequences, and they were well received by the execs at NBC.  Unfortunately, though the first special did make it to air during the Winter Games at Lake Placid, the United States ended up boycotting the Summer Games that year which were held in Moscow.  Thus, the second special never made it to air, which was disheartening for the Lisberger Studio.  They did eventually get to release a feature length compilation of both parts on home video, but Animalympics (1980) was unfortunately not the big break that Lisberger and his team were hoping for.  However, only a short while after this disappointing turn, they finally managed to get an interested party for their Tron project; and it was one that they probably never expected would look their way.

Enter The Walt Disney Company.  Disney had been in a rough patch during the 1970’s.  These were the post-Walt Disney years where the company was aimlessly trying to find it’s footing again after the sudden loss of their founder and guiding force.  The movie output of the 1970’s was pretty weak, with the studio relying mostly on glories of the past with re-releases and low budget sequels.  When the company came under the new management of CEO Ron Miller, Walt Disney’s son-in-law, there was a renewed focus in wanting to move the company out of it’s family entertainment shell and taking on more risks.  In 1979, the Disney Company released it’s first ever PG-rated film called The Black Hole.  Unfortunately for them, the slow moving Sci-Fi thriller couldn’t compete in a world where Star Wars (1977) now existed.  Still, Miller and the other Disney executives wanted to try to make another more mature action flick that could help to define them as a movie studio.  At this point, they came across the Lisberger Studio’s Tron demo, and they were impressed with what they saw.  Initially, Lisberger wanted to make his Tron movie into a mostly animated film with live action bookends.  But, the idea developed where they believed they could apply their Kodalith technique to live action film frames, and create the same back-lit effect with live action photography.  They created samples of how that would look in practice, which turned out better than anyone had hoped, and they sent that over to Disney as a proof of concept.  Disney was impressed with the look and they greenlit the film with a $10-12 million budget; a pretty favorable sum for a production team working on their first feature.  So, work began on the Disney Studio Lot in Burbank for what would end up being a very unconventional movie.

Steven Lisberger had the vision he wanted to make a reality, but what kind of story would be at the center of his film.  Around that time the video game craze began to explode, and within it, Lisberger was witnessing the rise of a very different kind of tycoon in the industry of computers.  Instead of the tailor-suited corporate leaders in the high offices that were at the heart of companies like IBM and AT&T, there were the renegade pioneers of the tech world like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, presenting a different kind of visionary in the world of computing.  This new stock of computing wizards was becoming even more evident in the gaming world, as these t-shirt and jeans wearing nerds were suddenly rising up in the tech world.  Lisberger was fascinated with this clash of old vs. new in the world of computing, and found the centerpiece of what would be the conflict of his story.  At the same time, he imagined what it would be like if one of the creators of this digital world actually ended up becoming a part of his creation, leading to an Alice in Wonderland journey into another world existing entirely within a computer.  Through that, Lisberger created the character of Kevin Flynn, a computer genius outcast from the company that he helped to build.  The mega corporation ENCOM now is run by the cutthroat Executive VP Ed Dillinger, who got where he is by stealing Flynn’s ideas.  Through circumstances, Flynn ends up finding himself injected into the game system that he created, where computer programs exist as humanoid extensions of their creators, including one of Flynn’s own adversary Dillinger, found in the game world as a ruthless authoritarian named Sark.  While Steven Lisberger’s story has all the tried and true elements of familiar adventure stories, he nevertheless stumbled across the forward thinking idea of how the cutthroat nature of the gaming and computer networking industry would go on to affect the lives of everyone in the near future.

The movie was an unconventional one to be sure.  To bring his characters to life, it required actors with a strong imagination, as it required them to work with the minimalist of sets.  Essentially the actors had to work on sets with completely black backdrops and wear skin tight black and white costumes in order to make the bac-lit effect work.  Luckily, Lisberger managed to find a cast that perfectly fit within his vision and helped to bring a strong sense of sincerity to this unconventional project.  In the role of Flynn, the movie cast rising star Jeff Bridges, who really took to the free-spirited nature of the character.  For his counterpart in Dillinger, the movie gained noteworthy British character actor David Warner, who likewise excelled in the part of Sark within the gaming world.  For the titular role of Tron himself, the stoic good cop of this crazy adventure, the movie found Western actor Bruce Boxleitner as their central hero, who brought a quiet reserve that fit well with the character, very much in the mold of a Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda  for the film.  With his actors in place, Steven Lisberger needed them to hopefully buy into the final vision that he was hoping to achieve.  For them, they would be working in a very Brechtian kind of mode of staging, with nothing but themselves to act against.  Today, it’s not far off from the way big budget movies use massive blue screens to fill out the world, but this was unusual in the early 80’s, when computer technology had not advanced to the point where you could see everything rendered in real time.  For Lisberger and his team, they had to hope it would all match up in the end.

Though the back-lit visuals themselves would be unique enough to set the movie apart, it was another tool that would define Tron’s legacy even more.  Tron would incorporate the first ever use of computer generated environments ever in a studio made film.  Computer animation had been used briefly in films before; the wire frame Death Star blueprint in Star Wars for example, but they were as primitive and bare bones as you could get.  Tron would be a great leap forward for computer animation, because it allowed computer graphics engineers the ability to not only build fully modelled environments and objects, but to also allow the simulated camera to boundless fly around these creations in ways never before seen on screen before.  Though the computer animated creations of Tron are still simplistic in shape, due to the limitations of the technology at the time, it was nevertheless groundbreaking, and the digital world took notice.  The animation was undertaken by a number of small CGI studios, and they were basically building all their tools from scratch; tools that in turn would go on to be the backbone of the  industry for years to come.  For many reasons, these are the things that we remember the most from the movie.  The light cycle sequence in particular is one of the most iconic computer animated sequences ever made, and was probably the thing that inspired the advancement in the years ahead.  The movie also introduced the first instance of character animation in CGI, with the personification of the villainous Master Control Program.  Though simple in design as they are, the movie does an excellent job of making the primitive CGI effects feel palatable and authentic, which is crucial to making them work in conjunction with the live action elements of the film.  Many in the industry took notice and saw the potential for how computer animation could be used as a cinematic tool.  Pixar co-founder John Lasseter, who at the time was a junior animator at Disney, once said that “without Tron, there would be no Toy Story.”  Computer animation almost assuredly would have found it’s way to Hollywood, but had Tron not made the bold first step that it did, we may not have seen the artform advance as quickly as it did.

Certainly Tron was going to be a bold statement from the Walt Disney Company, one that they hoped would help launch them into a new prosperous era.  Unfortunately, short-sighted distribution execs wanted to move the movie off of it’s originally planned Winter 1982 release, and instead rush it into the more competitive Summer season.  And this sadly happened to be one of the most competitive and noteworthy Summer seasons in movie history, with movies like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Blade Runner (1982) to contend with, not to mention the juggernaut that was E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982).  It’s funny that Steven Spielberg managed to rule that Summer season with the warm and cuddly family movie, something that in the past used to be Disney’s foray, which they sadly did not have that year.  Suffice to say, Tron did not perform as well as Disney was hoping it would.  In fact, it may have been the final nail in the coffin for the Ron Miller era, as Michael Eisner was brought in by the Disney board soon after to re-steer the company in a new direction.  Still, the movie was well received by those who saw it.  Film critic Roger Ebert championed the movie for many years, calling it one of the greatest Science Fiction movies he’d ever seen.  Over the years, the film developed a cult following, which grew larger over time, particularly as computer animation became more and more prevalent as the years progressed.  It even developed a presence within the pop culture as one of the granddaddies of a new style of storytelling and artwork known as “Cyberpunk,” alongside it’s fellow 1982 competitor Blade Runner.  You can definitely see the DNA of Tron in many cyber based thrillers after, like The Lawnmower Man (1992), Johnny Mnemonic (1995), and it’s more successful cousin The Matrix (1999).  Over time, the cult following for Tron grew strong enough for Disney that it convinced them to make a long awaited sequel.  Though Steven Lisberger had ideas for a sequel, Disney instead went in a different direction, though Lisberger stayed involved as a producer.  The sequel, Tron Legacy (2010), managed to bring back Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner to their iconic roles, but it also built upon the world that we had seen before, realizing it on a grander scale with the technological advances that have come as a result of the original movie’s legacy in computer animation.  Though the movie was well received by audiences, it again didn’t perform as well as Disney had hoped, though it did much better than the original by comparison.  Hopes of a franchise were dashed again, but the legacy still remains strong.

It’s interesting looking back on a movie like Tron and seeing how the age of computers was viewed in it’s early infancy.  Remarkably, what Steven Lisberger imagined about the direction of the technology in the computer age has been scarily prophetic over time.  He foresaw a lot of the good and the bad that would come from a world where computer technology would take over so much of our daily lives.  With the personification of the Master Control Program (MCP) as this authoritarian dictator run amok, he imagined the dangerous implications of what it would be like if computers took on too much control.  It wouldn’t surprise me if James Cameron had the MCP in mind when he created his own evil AI overlord SkyNet in his Terminator movies.  Even in our own real world today, the algorithms that run so much of the media that we consume bear a bit of resemblance to the kind of control that the MCP in Tron abuses.  Even in the characters in the movie, you can see the clash of egos that bear a lot of comparisons to the tech CEO’s of today.  We see a lot of Kevin Flynns and Ed Dillengers today, with the Jeff Bezzos and Elon Musks of the world, all vying for more control in a world becoming more and more digital.  Even still, Tron does offer positive outlooks on the uses of computer technology within it’s story.  It foresaw video games as a burgeoning artform, which at the time of the movie’s making hadn’t advanced past Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.  In the movie, you see Kevin Flynn playing an arcade game with fully rendered 3D environment.  Such technology wouldn’t be possible for another 15 years or so, but Lisberger believed it was possible enough to include a game with those kinds of graphics in his movie, and today it looks like a primitive version of the first person shooters that dominate the industry today.  It was a  movie well ahead of it’s time, and though audiences weren’t quite ready for it back in 1982, it has since become one of the founding stones of the computer based culture that we live in today.  Imagine how different computer animation would be today had Tron not taken that first step when it did.  Steven Lisberger and Disney certainly made a mark that continues to ripple through the industry today.  And even though it’s outdated in many ways, it still remarkably holds up even with all the advancements that have been made over time.  There really is no other movie like Tron, not even it’s sequel which is a very different kind of movie.  It is a true original and an engaging adventure that continues to have it’s influence shown in both users and programs alike these four decades later.