Jeanine Yamanaka attended one of the special screenings of The Princess and the Frog at the Disney Studios in Burbank. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about her experience as much as I did.
As part of their big promotional campaign for the opening of The Princess and the Frog, Disney created an event by which guests could (for a fairly substantial fee) not only see the movie in advance of the official opening date, but see it on the Disney Studio lot in Burbank. In addition, they were invited to stay afterward for a meet-and-greet with all the Disney Princesses, see props, swing on ropes, and take part in all manner of diversions.
The pricing was tiered at $50 for reserved seating, and $30 for general admission. The reserved seating also included extras such as popcorn (with souvenir bucket,) soda, beads, commemorative lithograph, etc, however both groups had entry into the post-show event. Personally, I balked a little, both at the prices and at the prospect of facing the traffic up to Burbank during rush hour, however after Goldstar.com offered discount tickets around the $20 price-point, I capitulated.
On arriving at the studios, cheerful cast members swiftly directed cars into the Zorro parking lot and pointed out painted frog feet on the sidewalk, denoting the path to the check-in building.
This was designated the Prop Room, and had a number of large props and set pieces from recent films such as Narnia and Pirates of the Caribbean. After checking in, people were exhorted to purchase food from the concession stand nearby and then leave in groups with various cast members who escorted them to the theater. They were fairly explicit that we were not allowed to have cameras, so I don’t have photos of this room, not wanting to be suppressed with extreme prejudice by the camera police. I don’t know if other people felt the same way, but it would explain why, when we approached the theater, Mickey Mouse was standing near a backdrop waving happily to us, and everyone in the group was all “oh, how cute–hurry up and get inside so we can get a seat.” He seemed a little surprised that no one stopped to meet and greet him, but…that’s Show Business.
The Studio Theater was a relatively small affair which has apparently not been opened to the public since the opening of Fantasia. Consequently, there is a lot of Fantasia memorabilia displayed in the tiny lobby area. On the night I went it was probably about 3/4 full, with the middle half-a-dozen rows in the center reserved for the VIP seating.
The movie was excellent, with songs it took me a good 3 days to get out of my head. Go see it.
After the showing, we were allowed to retrieve the cameras we had to check prior to entering the theater, and were guided to Stage 3 (originally built for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) where every princess under the sun was waiting to be met and greeted on personalized wagons.
One of the first things that caught the eye on walking in however, was a cart offering studio tours. Since one was leaving just then, I tagged along.
The tour was very much like the ones offered by D23, although a bit shorter, and without the time allotted for Dave Smith and the Archives. The first stop was the Animation Building, in which the 9 Old Men had offices, back in the day. The long hallway that runs the length of the building is covered on both sides with artwork from their many animated films depicting the different stages in animated film development.
We then walked on to see the Team Disney Burbank building, designed by Michael Graves and also occasionally called “The Seven Dwarves Building” for the enormous statues supporting the roof of the building, as the proceeds from the film Snow White supported the whole building of the studio in the first place.
This building faces Legends Plaza, which is a small courtyard dotted with plaques commemorating all the different personages who have been awarded the status of “Disney Legend,” in the studio’s annual ceremony. The three statues there are an enlarged version of the Legends award, the Partners statue, and the Sharing the Magic statue. After everyone had taken photos with all the statues (“it’s the only time you’re going to get your photo with them, without other people in the picture,” our guide told us,) we entered the Frank Wells building, which houses the Archives. Although it was closed (apparently Dave Smith didn’t want to wait up for us) we were able to see the lobby displays of famous Disney hats and costumes, and one of only a couple multiplane cameras.
Eventually, we walked back to Stage 3, observing different landmarks such as the water tower and listening to stories and trivia about how the business was run in the early days.
The whole tour took about 25 minutes, and we were accompanied at all times by security people, apparently placed to prevent people from just making a break for it and running wild over the studio grounds looking for cels.
By the time we returned to the event, most of the attendees with children had left, leaving most of the princesses with little to do but stand on their platforms twirling and gracefully posing for the open air. If they were concerned that the floor would open up and drop all the collected Disney royalty into the bottom of the 60-foot water tank built underneath them, it certainly didn’t show.
On one side of the princess area was a character drawing class, run by an actual animator from the Princess and the Frog movie, teaching how to draw the Cajun lightning bug, Ray.
Surrounding that corner, numerous examples of concept art from the film were hung on the walls, and various cases of memorabilia were displayed as well, dating from the Walt era of the studios, to the dress that the Princess Tiana reference model wore for the animators. There was also a craft table for youngsters, and a small store that seemed to stock mostly Princess Tiana dolls and large numbers of plush frogs.
On the other side was a small playground with swings and ropes, and different carnival-like games, including a magnetic dart board. There was no charge for playing…but no prizes either. The last element was a small cupcake concession area which sold Princess and Frog cupcakes, decorated with various rings and toppers. They were not cheap, however I think by this time everyone’s frame of price reference had been shifted up, where $3.00 no longer seemed unreasonable for a cupcake.
The most interesting part of the evening for me, was to see how few people were there for experiences that are usually so sought-after. To be in a studio tour of about 5, after blood was practically spilt when the D23 studio tour tickets were released, seemed as odd as seeing Mickey and all the Princesses forlornly dancing around by themselves, minus the frantic families that usually stalk them down like Gaston hunts down elk. Given how popular all these things usually are, and how well everything was presented here, I’m at a loss as to why it was so sparsely attended that they had to start dumping tickets on discount websites.
Although the event had been advertised to go until 10:30pm, they announced it over around 10:00, probably because there were only a couple people wandering around by then. We then followed the frog feet on the pavement outside back out to Zorro, where the happy cast members cheerfully waved us home.