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Monday Mouse Watch : Give the Geeks a Chance

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Monday Mouse Watch : Give the Geeks a Chance

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From the people who brought you …

“We have to save ‘The Land.’ The Imagineers are planning on adding a clone of ‘Soarin' Over California' to this Future World pavilion. And this will ruin Epcot.”

... and …

Haunted Mansion Holiday
Copyright 2001 Disney. All Rights Reserved

“Have you heard about what they’re planning on doing at Disneyland? They’re going to add the ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ characters to The Haunted Mansion. We have to stop them!"

... and …

“A movie based on the Pirates of the Caribbean?! What a stupid idea. Who would go to see a piece of cr@p like that?”

... comes the latest thing that some members of the online Disneyana community are going off half-cocked about: D23.


One of the perks of signing up for D23 ...
Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Let’s cut to the chase: The “Official Community for Disney Fans” wasn’t created so The Walt Disney Company would then have a place where it could sell $850 pens. The execs at Disney Consumer Products are the ones behind those pricey writing implements. They launched the Walt Disney Signature Collection back in April of 2006 when the Company decided to take a run at the high-end adult market. Specifically targeting consumers who are interested in purchasing high priced luxury items.

Whereas D23 … Well, as much as some folks on the Web would like you to believe that this new Disney business initiative is just more money grubbing by the Mouse, it really isn't. "And how do you know this?," you ask. Well, over the past week, I've talked with a number of people associated with D23. And -- to be honest -- they're not exactly financial wizards. If anything ...

Look, there’s no polite way to say this. So I'm just going to blurt it out: The guys behind this “Official Community for Disney Fans”? They’re geeks just like us.

Don’t believe me? Okay. Then let’s talk about Steven B. Clark, the head of D23. He got his start the way the lot of us did. By religiously watching the Disney television shows. And by reading everything that he could get his hands on about Walt and the Company he created. And then came his first Disneyana convention.

D23 California Grill
.... is Disney twenty-three magazine.
Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

“This was the Summer of 1991 and I went with my cousin,” Steven remembered. “And as I was sitting there, waiting for the next panel to begin, I looked around the hall and noticed that – sitting right behind me – was Dave Smith. Well, I recognized Dave from that column that he used to write for Disney Channel Magazine. So I turned around and introduced myself. We then struck up a conversation and Dave was nice enough to invite me out to the Studios to come visit him at the Archives.”

While he was on the lot, Smith asked Clark about his interests. When Steve confessed that he wanted to work for the Company one day, Dave suggested that he apply for a job at Disneyland. And that’s just what Turner did.

So we’re not talking about some faceless suit here. Some overly-ambitious business school grad who only views The Walt Disney Company as a great thing to have on his resume. A stepping stone that he can then use to climb the corporate ladder. No, Steve was (more importantly, still is) a Disney dweeb just like us. Which is why he was thrilled to get hired as a Submarine Voyage captain and then spend the Summer of 1992 endlessly circling through liquid space.

D23 Walt & Roy Disney
Which features great articles about the Company's past ...
Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

I mean, this is a guy who just couldn’t get enough of The Walt Disney Company. Which is why – when an internship opened at Disneyland’s Publicity office – Steve quickly applied for that gig so that he could then learn about that side of the Mouse House.

And that internship led to other jobs in Feature Animation, the Disney Channel and Corporate Communications. And everywhere he went in the Company, Clark found other died-in-the-wool Disney geeks. People deep within the organization who shared his passion for the stories, the characters and the history of The Walt Disney Company.

And it’s still like that today. So many of the folks who are heavily involved with the launch of D23 were / are big-time Disney dweebs. Steven recently related what happened when he showed an early prototype of this “Official Community for Disney Fans” to his longtime friend, Don Hahn.

D23 UP

  ... as well as future projects, like Pixar Animation Studio's next release, "Up."
Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

“Don took one look at it and said ‘Pete’s gotta see this,’ “Turner recalled. “And Pete – as it turns out – was Pete Docter, who’s a huge Disney fan. So then Pete saw what we were doing and said ‘Well, John’s gotta see this.’ And John was obviously John Lasseter. And once he saw what we were doing, John became a huge supporter of the project. He actually came by our office twice.”

And the reason that all these powerful people at Disney Studios are being so supportive of D23 is because … Well, it’s different. It’s smarter. It's going to try & use the Company’s own heritage, its huge untapped reservoirs of images & anecdotes as a way to really connect with the fans.

“This is all about going beyond the press release,” Steven explained. “Not giving people the very same pictures that they’ve already seen in the Los Angeles Times or Entertainment Weekly or stories that they’ve already read at other websites. We’re working with every single publicity department within the Company to create all-new content. To give people access to material they’ve never before gotten their hands on.”

bOB iGER & MICKEY MOUSE
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

And one of the reasons that D23 is able to get this high level of access, this huge amount of cooperation is that the man at the top is 100% behind this project. “Bob Iger really gets what we’re trying to do here,” Clark continued. “He has been to that warehouse in Glendale. He has seen the Disney Crown Jewels that are hidden away there. He has a real affinity for the fans and is all about reaching out to them in the right way.”

And how exactly did the fans respond when The Walt Disney Company reached out and launched D23? When Steven and I spoke late last week, he said that he was pleased with their response to date. More importantly, that he was grateful that so many people had given D23 the benefit of the doubt. That they recognized that this “Official Community of Disney Fans” was trying to do something different here. Which is why it really deserved their support.

“You know – what with all the books and magazine articles and web posts that have been written about The Walt Disney Company – you'd think that all of the stories have already been told,” Clark said. “But that’s just not true. As I dug through files at that warehouse, I found things that no Disneyana fan had ever seen before. Things like Dick Irvine’s old correspondence. There was stuff in there that I’d never ever heard about before.”

D23 Logo

And it’s just these sorts of untold tales that D23 will get out there if the fan community actually gives this new Disney business initiative the support it needs, the support it deserves. Rather than picking D23 apart because of its allegedly high price point and/or carping about those over-priced Walt Disney Signature Collection items that are currently up for sale over at Boutique 23.

Obviously, it’s your choice. But if it were up to me, I'd give the geeks a chance.

Your thoughts?

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  • I agree with Jim. No, it's not April Fool's Day. Everyone - please sign up. Don't analyze what you're getting for your money - just sign up. This isn't a Bernie Madoff scheme. While you're at it, please buy up all the Disney fairies stuff too so I don't have to look at it on the shelves anymore.

    I honestly hope that the people that sign up for D23 enjoy it and feel they get value for their money. The club is of the geeks, by the geeks, and for the geeks. They are sharing stories that you can only get one place - the giant achives warehouse. There is stuff in there you've never seen or heard about.

    Let's take a look at some of these stories you can't get anywhere else:

    Annie Leibovitz and her expensive pictures, an interview with Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, a preview of Tim Burton's upcoming Alice in Wonderland, a review of the in-park Dream Suites, meet the California Grill chef and his recipe,

    a preview of Up and Partly Cloudy, behind the scenes at Disney Theatrical's Little Mermaid, current events with celebrities including Jack Black and Jennifer Aniston (?huh?), an interview with Cyril Hobbins - he makes wooden toys !, a reprint of a Disney comic, and don't forget identify the partial picture game. I don't want to be half-cocked, but I don't think the archives were needed to score these stories. Do any of them really "go beyond the press release." Remember, D23 is different and smarter.

    Then there's the stories that might have something to do with amazing things in the archives: Dave Smith, history of the Sleeping Beauty castle exhibit, the Disney bros go to Hollywood, and possibly Mickey's 80th portrait. Far more interesting, but not especially exclusive.  I don't bring this up to be a complaining internet dweeb, I bring this up so D23 can improve. The Disney Fairies stuff - that was more of a swipe. I also realize the magazine does not equal D23, but that is the majority of where the $$$ goes.

    I have no doubt that the folks behind this are Disney fans. Disney fans are located throughout the company. Maybe it's a coincidence, maybe it's just the story that marketing came up with, but the story presented here starts at the first Disneyana Convention. That was quite a convention, especially if it was your first exposure to Disney collectors and history. However, very few of the stories and presentations were new - they had mostly been told at NFFC and Mouse Club Conventions previously.

    I agree with the theory of D23. They may well be trying to do something different here. Unfortunately, I just haven't seen any evidence of it.

  • From what I've read I think Stephen is a nice guy, who had a real vision for this club.  But who probably got stuck between the accountants, the lawyers, and the consumer products execs--all of whom most likely distorted his original vision for D23.  I think I'd like his original vision for the club.  I bet I'd have a great time at dinner with him.  But the club--perhaps not due to him--has some real problems.

    But I'll break down the problems, as I see them.

    (Issue #1) Price Point

    Even if I ignore all of the merch, the D23 pins and whatnots, the Disney price-point is still out of line with other similar products.

    4-issue glossy magazine about the Disney company

    Laughing Place   $36

    Orlando Attractions   $25 (six issues)

    E-Ticket (recently defunct)   $30

    D23   $60

    But this type of price gouging for the D23 subscription seems to be very much in line with other "official" Disney offers to hardcore fans.  Take for example, the 40th anniversary celebration of the Haunted Mansion (9/9/09) at Disneyland, which is dinner, presentation, cake, and a ride-through of the attraction.  $250.  Compare that with the recently announced 50th anniversary of the 1959 attractions, hosted by the 1313 Club, which is dinner, cake, presentation (Bob Gurr, Ron Dominguez, others): $65.  (Yes, no ride through of any attractions, but I kind of suspect most people at either event at APs.)

    (Issue 2) Promotional Content

    Does Laughing Place have promotional content? Yep.  Does this site? Sure thing.  But for the most part--and correct me if I'm naive here--the authors in the fan publications have the freedom to present the entire story as they see it and offer an unadulterated opinion.  The history of the Disney company is a large and difficult subject--with some stories flattering to the Disney company and, well, with some not.  But I doubt that those unflattering stories will ever make their way into D23, even if they're interesting.  And if that's the case, then, from the start, the magazine has a political agenda, which is to perpetuate a certain company image, even if that image is abstracted from a balanced history.  In the fan publications, there's at least the freedom to talk about both the flattering and unflattering stories pertaining to the Disney company.  I'm interested in the history of the Disney company, but after reading hundreds (seriously, hundreds) of official company-produced books, magazines, etc., I'm convinced that despite the emphasis on "history" in D23's language, the magazine will continue the tradition of white-washing Disney history to present a restrained, image-appropriate narrative presentation of the company's history.  I know, the Disney company is a company.  I know, they have a vested interest in image management.  But it's kind of insulting to fans to talk about "opening the vault" to present "history," if all that history is going to be pushed through the company's usual image filter.  

    And then to charge a premium price of $60 for this, also upsetting.

    (Issue 3) Target Market

    The magazine--or at least the first issue--seems to be targeting both the teen Disney fan (with the HSM material) and the longtime, serious fan.  I'm fairly sure that the fans of the Ward Kimball and Hannah Montana have very little interest overlap.

    I've tried to make these suggestions helpful, though I think that with Disney's emphasis on managing the image of events that happened 50 or even 70 years ago, a compelling magazine on the history of the Disney company will be a very, very difficult thing for the Disney company to produce.

  • Totally agree, Jim. Hopefully, the genius that fatured the $850 pen on the D23 merchandise page got smacked upside the head for doing it, because I think the most common things I saw on the discussion groups after "You want me to spend $75 for the chance to buy more stuff?" were comments about the stupid pen.

    To the folks who are pitching a fit about D23: Folks, it's only been live for six days. So far, all they've rolled out was the website, the magazine (which I still haven't gone to my local B&N to look at), and the tchotchkes. At least give 'em a chance to put a little more content and a few more offers out before you start accusing them of being soulless bloodsuckers interested in nothing but your money (and that's not much of an exaggeration of some of the comments I've heard).  Okay, I understand that people were disappointed that D23 didn't live up to the hype of the viral campaign, but sheesh...

    Now having said that, I think the folks online have some valid beefs. Disney probably set the price point of this thing way too high - $23 per year might have made more sense, given the current state of the economy (they could have easily made the magazine an add-on, or not gone quite as high-end as they did on the mag).  And why doesn't Disney have some kind of loyalty program for its guests, particularly the theme park and resort guests? Every other chain has one, and they're free. It wouldn't kill WDP&R to show a little more love for the guests. (Paging Mr. Rasulo, Mr. Jay Rasulo...)

  • I for one like the magazine and the website.  I especially like that the website is free.  I think the complaints about the price point would disappear if membership included exclusive access to blogs by Disney archivists, historians and imaginneers.  Perhaps exclusive chat room events?  Sure that opens the door to the asylum but that's what comes with created a fan club right?  ESPN.com does live gamecasts, so it's not like the company doesn't have the technology...

    I loved the magazine but at that price-point they gotta give us more then glossy pictures.

  • Did anyone actually make those complaints Jim has at the beginning of the article?  =)

  • Time will tell I guess.  I can see this whole thing fizzling out, will 23 still be going in five years time?  

    Disney must be starting to get the numbers in now from the first few days of sales.  I've got a feeling that their projections for this are WAY out.

  • I really WANT D23 to be special. I want to join. But, so far, I don't see anything special. An expensive magazine with nothing truly unique. Some membership stuff. A trinket that no one know what it is.  And the ability to buy exclusive merchandise.  I see nothing YET that is special. Certainly Disney could produce an awesome magazine full of content only they could provide.  Certainly they could produce a trinket that would excite fans.  And they certainly could produce exclusive merchandise that fans desperately want.  But they haven't. YET.  The mag looks nice, but not special.  And even though the club's not about $800 pens, that IS the thing that currently sticks out. And that was a stupid mistake. Every piece of merchandise that they show first should have that WOW factor. It should be something special that fans would really like.  None of the merchandise does it, except for the Walt/Oswald figure. So until I see what people who already joined think, or see some more progress, I just can't bring myself to fork over $75 for something that I have a feeling will disappoint me. If it was $40, I probably wouldn't hesitate.  I'm hopeful.  And the website IS nice.

  • "To the folks who are pitching a fit about D23: Folks, it's only been live for six days. So far, all they've rolled out was the website, the magazine (which I still haven't gone to my local B&N to look at), and the tchotchkes. At least give 'em a chance to put a little more content and a few more offers out before you start accusing them of being soulless bloodsuckers interested in nothing but your money (and that's not much of an exaggeration of some of the comments I've heard).  Okay, I understand that people were disappointed that D23 didn't live up to the hype of the viral campaign, but sheesh..."

    No...this is a product, and like any other product it should be ready to go at the start.  If your new car doesn't live up to the hype do you just chalk it up to only being on the market a short time?  Nope.  

    If McDonald's rolls out a new menu item that ain't all that, do you dismiss the comments and tell people to just wait and let them have a chance to improve?  Nope again.

    Disney should have spent the time and effort to get this right from the start.  I was surprised at the list of contents crumudgeon provided, I had thought of picking up the magazine when I return to the States in a few days, but I suspect that a quick scan of the contents at the store would have let me to change my mind.

    Disney certainly does have a change to add content and more offers.  And once they do I'll consider joining, but I'm not paying for a product that's not ready.

  • Oh, yeah, the complaints are also coming from the same voices that said, "Why is Disney making such bad animated movies" before they shut down animation.  That complained about "it's a small world" to the point that the Los Angeles Freakin' TIMES wrote multiple editorials.  That said California Adventure looked like a piece of c**p, which it was.  The same fans who complained about the Sorcerer's Hat ruining the sightlines of the Chinese Theater.  The same fans who doubted Disney's purchase of Fox Family.

    You see, Jim, sometimes the "fans" are also business people and marketing experts and accountants and brand managers who actually know what they're talking about.

    Steven Clark's history of being a Disney fan is illustrative only of the fact that a "fan" can get in to Disney -- but we've known that for years based on the unsung heroes who do good things every day.  In this case, Steven's "fandom" does not make up for the fact that this is a really bad concept with REALLY bad timing.

    I know many people who are liquidating their collections because they lost their jobs and can't make their mortgage payments.   I know of people who bought into the notion that the Florida housing market was booming, therefore they should take out horrible loans -- and now they can't pay their bills.  I know of people who have to decide whether to buy a flat of Cup o' Soup to feed their families.  I know people who have been out of work for eight or ten MONTHS and whose unemployment checks have run out.

    Disney doesn't seem to feel these people exist, and with the recent four-day "rally" in the stock market (which gets us to, oh, just 45% below highs, rather than 53%), they're going to be forgotten again.

    Added to that ... this is a product with no product.  There's nothing in it Disney hasn't done before or better or more compellingly.

    It was The Walt Disney Company that created Night Magic, that opened Walt Disney Studios Paris, that insisted on Hong Kong Disneyland, that moved the release date of "Prince Caspian," that produced "Chicken Little" and "Home on the Range."

    It's THAT Disney I think of when I think of D23.  Sadly.

  • Oh, yeah, and given that Steven Clark is a VICE PRESIDENT at The Walt Disney Company, I'd HOPE he has some business sense.  Hope.

  • Has anyone gon to a Barnes and Noble to find the magazine? I went to two and both said they probably won't get Disney23 at their store.

  • Dang, that picture of Iger standing in front of Mickey art is giving me Eisner flashbacks.

  • I will add that I liked the Harper Goff interview today on the website.  Pretty much most of my comments are about the magazine and the paid club.

  • I have a theory that this is suffering from the same issues that Pal Mickey did.  In that the initial idea is great but execs didn't want to support it unless they were certain it would make a profit by making the asking price super high so as to cover the operating costs.  The price may be just as much caused by the economy as it is in spite of it.

    Also, I'm really getting sick and tired of having to hear that John Lasseter supports a project in order to know it's going to be ok.  How terrible is it that there's only one man at Disney that has artistic integrity and the power to use it freely?

  • "Like any other product it should be ready to go at the start."

    Like Disneyland on Black Friday?

    Like virtually every Disney theme park on opening?

    Like virtually every Disney attraction during its grand opening year?

    Most products go through changes even after they hit the market. Even McDonald's menu items.

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