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One Day Out of the Year: A Visit to the Magical Holiday Faire

One Day Out of the Year: A Visit to the Magical Holiday Faire

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Hey, folks!

Jim Hill here. You know, I was lucky enough to actually be out in Southern California in late November / early December a few years back. Which is how I was able to attend one of these "Magical Holiday Faire" events on the Disney lot. That's how I know that today's JHM guest columnist -- Paul Schnebelen-- has done a spot-on job of capturing the exact look and the feel of the event. This is what it's really like when you take part in the "Magical Holiday Faire" at the Burbank. Thanks, Paul, for providing such detailed coverage of this fun event.



It's the place where classic Disney films and TV shows were made - from cartoons to animated and live action features, from "The Mickey Mouse Club" and "Zorro" to "Home Improvement." It's the place where a little train was built in a machine shop, which led to bigger trains and a steamboat and a few other things being built and installed in a former orange grove in Anaheim. It's the dream factory that Walt (and Roy, Ward, Frank, Ollie, Marc, and others) built, and it's where Michael (and Bob and another Roy) run the global entertainment empire that the dream factory became.

It's the Walt Disney Studios -- not the theme park re-creations in Paris or Orlando, but the actual honest-to-(Peg Leg) Pete Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California -- and unless you've got connections, you work on the lot, or you are given (or buy yourself) an opportunity to visit, you can't go there.

Except for one day a year, that is.

Many years ago, the Walt Disney Studios decided to host a Christmas craft fair for its employees on the lot. It was nothing fancy, just a chance for the employees to do a little Christmas shopping and a chance for some craftsmen to sell a few handmade items. The craft fair kept getting bigger and bigger, and eventually the Studios decided to open it to the public, add a few fun little extras, and charge a small admission fee, and the employee craft fair became the Magical Holiday Faire. The Faire is held every November just before Thanksgiving and always manages to attract quite a crowd -- an amazingly large crowd, considering that Disney doesn't advertise it or promote it to anyone other than its' employees.

Now, I must admit I'm not a big fan of craft fairs. My fiancée practically has to drag me kicking and screaming to these things most of the time, and when we get there, I usually try to find a nice quiet place to hide until she has some shopping bags for me to carry. But when the craft fair is being held at the Walt Disney Studios... "What's that, honey, you can't make it? No problem -- I'll go for you and see what they have."

About a quarter of the Studio lot is opened to the public for the Faire -- the parking lot (where the craft booths are located) and the center of the original Studio campus. This is an area roughly bordered by the original Animation Building to the north, the parking lot to the south, the Shorts Building and Sound Stages 1, 2, 4 and 5 to the east, and the Commissary to the west. In years past, you could also visit the Legends Plaza, home to a giant version of the Disney Legends Award and plaques commemorating the winners of that award; you could also have a look at the exteriors of the Team Disney Building (home to the Company's executive offices) and the Frank G. Wells Building (home of the Disney Archives). These areas are fenced off nowadays; guess that with all the troubles the Company's been having lately, Michael's afraid that the stockholders are going to use the Faire as an excuse to gain access to the lot and storm his office or something.

But why dwell on what you can't see when you consider what you can see? You can sit on the steps of the Animation Building and imagine being an animator going off to work on a classic feature. You can walk to the corner of Mickey Avenue and Dopey Drive and admire the famous Art Deco street sign, then take a gander at Pluto's Corner, where Pluto's paw prints are imbedded in the cement and a nice little fire hydrant awaits nearby (available exclusively for the star's use, I guess?). Although you can't visit the Legends Plaza, you can have a look at the handprints of many of the Legends in the sidewalk in front of the studio theatre.

You can have a look at the Hyperion Building, the only structure remaining from the 1930's, when the Studio was located a few miles south of its present location. You can even stop in and have a look at the Art Deco-inspired design and the historical photographs of the Commissary. Not up to speed on your Disney history? If you look closely at the buildings and soundstages as you pass, you can see and read plaques commemorating the significant events in Company history that have occurred in each of these buildings.

If you're not into reading plaques and don't feel like buying arts and crafts, not to worry -- there are a lot of other things to do at the Faire. For example, the Burbank Fire Department has a fire safety display across from the entrance to the Commissary, and the Studio Fire Department also put out some fire-fighting gear and a little electric "fire cart" for little kids (and not-so-little kids) to be photographed in. In one of the side patios of the Commissary is a kids' activity center, where the young'uns can decorate holiday cookies, color, or write letters to Santa.

If you're a few years too old to color or are looking for a little more to eat than a cookie, the Commissary is open to the public during the Faire, serving a limited but delicious menu (fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, corn dogs and fries, sandwiches, and Chinese food from Panda Express). Just grab a tray, get yourself some lunch, and have a look around while you pretend you're a star having a quick bite to eat before you're due back on the set.

Disney also sets up couple of food booths in the craft fair area and on the walkways, selling hot dog and potato chip lunches, kettle corn, popcorn, and (my personal favorite) chocolate-covered frozen cheesecake. Never had the pleasure of this treat? Here's how it's made -- take one frozen slice of cheesecake, put a stick in it, dip it in chocolate, and then cover it in sprinkles, nuts, or candy pieces (or in my case, all of the above). I'm glad they don't sell them at Disneyland -- I'd probably have half a dozen of them over the course of a hot summer day.

After you've stuffed yourself with lunch and treats, why not catch a movie? The studio Theatre usually screens a film during the Faire; this year, the Theatre presented free screenings of Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas". As you might expect, a theatre on a movie studio lot is an excellent place to watch a movie! Most of the seats in the theatre are soft and plush and they recline; they're comfortable enough to fall asleep in, and I saw several people do just that before the movie started.

In the center of the theatre is a roped-off working area; this consists of gigantic mixing boards used for preparing the soundtrack, a row of work desks used by production staff as they work on assembling the movie, and two ultra-plush leather sofas that make the merely plush regular seats look as appealing to sit on as wooden benches. These are the seats the producers, stars, and Michael and the execs get to use when they screen dailies and completed films. And there's no multiplex mini-screen and tinny sound system at this theatre, folks; the movie screen is as large as life and the first-class sound system made the music sound as good as it did on the recording stage. Michael, if you're reading this, I'm available the next time you screen a movie there -- I'll even bring the popcorn.

What Disney event would be complete without the chance to take photos with the characters?

There was one location specifically set up for photos with Mickey and Minnie in their pilgrim costumes; if you didn't have a camera, the Faire volunteers were available to take a free Polaroid photo. Needless to say, only one photo location and the offer of a free photo with Mr. or Ms. Mouse helped make the line pretty long, but you could also catch one or the other of our stars on their way backstage after they traded off duties at the photo location. Pluto, wearing reindeer antlers and sporting a red nose, was holding court at Pluto's Corner (unfortunately, you had to provide your own camera for a photo with him). Santa and a couple of (real) reindeer were also at the Faire, meeting a long line of kids on the porch of the Hyperion Building. A 5x7 photo with Santa could be purchased for $12, but if the kids just wanted to talk with ol' Saint Nick they could do so without Mom and Dad having to purchase a photo.

Let's face it, a Disney event just isn't a Disney event unless there's stuff to buy, and in addition to the arts and crafts, there was some official Faire merchandise available for purchase. Problem was, there wasn't a lot of it. The cheapest commemorative item at this year's Faire (and apparently the most popular, since they sold out in about 20 minutes) was a $3 pin featuring the event logo (Santa with Mickey and Donald on his lap, surrounded by his naughty and nice list).

Sweatshirts with the logo were also available for $14 for kids and $18-19 for adults. The purchasing method for the sweatshirts was fairly painless - fill out an order form, try on one of the blank display sweatshirts on for size if you're not sure what size you take, exchange the form for your sweatshirt, and pay at the register. Unfortunately, the pins and sweatshirts were all that was available. In the past, commemorative watches were offered. But not this year, and if you wanted a T-shirt (which you might get a little more use out of in sunny Southern California than a sweatshirt), you were out of luck.

A couple of other locations offered non-commemorative Disney items to Faire visitors. Commissary sold commuter mugs featuring a quote from Walt on environmental awareness and a couple of photos of him for $2.50, which included the drink (and a 15-cent discount on future refills -- oh, boy!); I saw a lot of them being carried around by Faire attendees.

The Studio has its own Disney Store, and it's open for business during the Faire. You have to be dedicated to shop at this Disney Store, though -- there were so many people wanting to shop there that there was always a wait of at least 15 minutes to enter throughout the event. Maybe it was the wait, but the Studio's Disney Store was a disappointment for me. The store itself is decorated in the original Disney Store style, with a great mural of the characters walking around the Studio lot and several figure=s interspersed throughout, but most of the stuff for sale was the same stuff you could buy at most any other Disney Store.

There were a few exceptions -- the Studio store has a pretty good selection of WDAC items and animation sericels, and there are several items available that feature the Studio logo (such as pencils, pens, magnets, T-shirts and polo shirts). Thing is, you'd expect a Disney Store at the Studios to be carrying more interesting stuff than the same plush, toys, and kids' clothes you can buy at your local mall. I realize that the purpose of this event isn't to generate money for the Company -- they're trying to get Faire attendees to buy from the artisans, not from the Disney Store. Still, if people are coming to the Studios for a unique experience, more of the official merchandise available should be just as unique.

So, was the Faire worth the money and the hassle? Definitely. I really enjoyed the opportunity to see a part of Disney that I wouldn't normally get to see; it was great to be able to walk around and see the places where so much Disney history has been made. The movie, the photo, the shopping, and the food were definitely worth the $3.00 I paid for admission. The Faire could have been better, though. I would have loved to have seen more of the lot, especially the Legends Plaza and the Wells Building. I was also disappointed to see that some fun things that had been offered to Faire attendees in the past -- such as hayrides through the lot in a cart pulled by Disneyland draft horses -- were cut this year. Finally, it would have been nice if there had been more official merchandise specific to the Studios or the Faire available.

And if anyone at Disney is reading this, don't stock so few of the items that you do have that they run out in 20 minutes! Unless you're a Disney dweeb like me or you're passionate about shopping for arts and crafts, you might not go more than once, but the Magical Holiday Faire is still worth checking out.

Does a visit to the Faire sound like something that you'd like to do? If you'll be in Southern California just before Thanksgiving, start checking the Disney fan sites around the end of October and see if anyone knows the date for the Faire -- unless you have friends who work for the Company, that'll be about the only way to get the date. Once you've got the date, make room in your trunk or a whole lot of shopping bags (don't tell yourself you won't buy anything; trust me, you will) and come on down.

Don't pass up an opportunity like this -- after all, it's not every day that someone gets the chance to visit the Walt Disney Studios.

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