By The D23 Team
The magic of countless movies from The Walt Disney Studios came to life Sunday night on the historic studio lot in Burbank, California, as D23 Gold Members—in their most majestic finery—attended the D23 Royal Anniversary Ball. The once-in-a-lifetime event was part of the ongoing Disney100 celebration, marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of The Walt Disney Company exactly 100 years ago today on October 16, 1923.
The lot was transformed for the evening into a royal court, with Mickey Avenue turned into a purple-carpeted corridor lined with festive banners and populated by engaging characters. Legends Plaza become a regal ballroom featuring live musical performances and sumptuous lounge areas, while the Frank G. Wells Building hosted a limited-engagement exhibition of costume and other royal-themed treasures from the Walt Disney Archives. Outside the Frank G. Wells Building was a one-night-only 1920s-style speakeasy—and there was much, much more. But the many months of planning by D23: The Official Disney Fan Club would have been for naught without the arrival of D23 Gold Members.
“We knew that we had to go big with the official fan celebration on the eve of the company’s anniversary,” said Michael Vargo, head of D23. “D23 Members love to have a great time and connect with others, so we created the celebration of the century: the D23 Royal Anniversary Ball. This is the best of Disney’s royalty gathered on the Walt Disney Studios Lot for an evening of entertainment, delicious food by the decades, exclusive shopping, and a look at the royal crown jewels of the Walt Disney Archives.”
As Gold Members began arriving on Mickey Avenue, dressed to the nines—if not the elevens!—live trumpeters celebrated the guests with royal fanfares adapted from Disney tunes. Along the purple carpet leading to the ballroom were the expected denizens of any royal court: a town crier, welcoming arrivals and announcing upcoming events; ball guests in Renaissance costumes, ready to share stories with their new friends; and a roving musician, guitar in hand, who took requests for D23 Gold Members’ favorite Disney tunes.
Of course, Disney’s own royalty was also present, including not just princesses and princes such as Cinderella, Belle and Beast, and Snow White, but also the royalty of Walt Disney Animation Studios: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy, and Chip and Dale—all dressed for the ball in royal garb. Upping the princess quotient, Ariel from this year’s The Little Mermaid was also on hand. And what would a Disney ball be without its Fairy Godmother to bring a little extra magic?
An additional 500-plus Disney Animation characters were on view through the night in exclusive theatrical screenings of the Walt Disney Animation Studios short Once Upon a Studio, offered several times at the lot’s Main Theater. Not far away from the theater, the lot’s Studio Store was open and teeming with limited-edition D23 and Disney100 merchandise, while Disney authors gathered in the adjacent bungalow to sign guests’ freshly purchased copies of Disney books.
More talent was soon evident as Vargo appeared onstage at Legends Plaza to introduce the Disney Legends and special guests who had joined D23 Gold Members to enjoy the ball. Legends in attendance included pioneering Walt Disney Imagineer Wing Chao; actor Bill Farmer, the voice of Goofy, Pluto, and many other characters; original Imagineer Bob Gurr, “a man on the move,” as Vargo put it; producer and director Don Hahn; and actor David Stollery, who played Marty in Disney’s The Adventures of Spin and Marty. Also presented to the gathered Members were special guests Mark Henn, the iconic Disney animator; Bret Iwan, the official voice of Mickey Mouse; and Kaitlyn Robrock, the official voice of Minnie Mouse.
Iwan then took the stage briefly to reveal that evening’s special exclusive gift for the D23 Gold Members attending: a print of the 95th anniversary portrait of Mickey Mouse, designed by Iwan himself. After that exciting announcement, Vargo offered “a toast to all of our Disney fans, here with us this evening and around the world.”
Sunday’s event was just the latest in an impressive run of Disney100 events offered to Members by D23. “Disney has been entertaining and touching the hearts of Disney fans around the world for 100 years,” Vargo noted. “Our D23 Members are at the forefront of this milestone celebration because they embody the passion and fandom that Walt Disney shared through stories that transcend generations. We’ve been celebrating the centennial with our fans throughout the year with memorable events like Destination D23, a commemorative edition of Disney twenty-three, and our Leader of the Club Milestone Collectors Set, exclusively for D23 Gold Members. D23 is the namesake of our company’s founding year of 1923, so it’s important to honor and thank our fans the only the way Disney can.”
As always, D23 seeks both to reconnect Members to their fondest memories while at the same time creating indelible new memories to be cherished for years to come. In addition to meet-and-greet photo ops with the Disney characters attending, D23 offered a plethora of additional photo spots, including big, colorful photo montage backdrops representing different eras of the company. Guests could also enjoy stopping at Snow White’s wishing well and the evil Queen’s Magic Mirror as well as posing next to Cinderella’s carriage. Gold Members could also write themselves into this historic moment by signing the giant-sized Disney Book of the Century.
The royal ball was more than just sights to see, as the evening engaged all the senses. Giant and gorgeous floral arrangements brought olfactory pleasures, as did the cornucopia of a feast laid out for guests, the menu highlighting each of the company’s 10 decades. A sampling included a Waldorf Salad with Enchanted Apple Bites (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1930s), delicious Italian meatballs (Lady and the Tramp, 1950s), Practically Perfect Tea Sandwiches (Mary Poppins, 1960s), Tiana’s Beignets (The Princess and the Frog, 2000s), and, of course, the Grey Stuff—it’s delicious!—from Beauty and the Beast (1990s).
For aural enjoyment, the ballroom at Legends Plaza thrummed with music throughout the evening. The Royal Quartet got things started with beloved Disney tunes including “Feed the Birds” and “Colors of the Wind.” Periodically, the quartet was joined by a talented team of six ballroom dancers, who took over the dance floor to demonstrate impressive original choreography to music from Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and Encanto. The final act got the ballroom Swingin’ With the Mouse, as that fan-favorite jazz combo performed toe-tapping arrangements of songs from Moana, Mulan, The Jungle Book, The Princess and the Frog, Encanto, The Lion King, and more.
The party was as fun for its D23 hosts as it was for Gold Members. “It was such a joy to see Members dressed up in their royal attire waltz down the purple carpet on the very location where Walt made magic and where creators, animators, and Imagineers continue to do so today,” Vargo said. “I feel like our fans are royalty, so it was appropriate to create an event like no other that shows gratitude and thanks to our fans. Having our D23 Members be a part of this historic moment is important because Walt simply wanted everyone to be filled with joy and enjoy all the things that The Walt Disney Company creates.”
Vargo summed up the spirit of the evening in his remarks while introducing the Disney Legends. He quoted Walt Disney, who once said, “Fantasy—if it’s really convincing—can’t become dated, for the simple reason that it represents a flight into a dimension that lies beyond the reach of time.” Vargo continued, “That’s what tonight is all about: living a fantasy at our Royal Ball at the very location where Walt created the magic. And that magic still lives on today, thanks to you, our fans. So tonight we honor and celebrate you. Thank you for being a part of this historic moment. And I can’t wait for all of us to experience the fantasy and wonder of the next 100 years!”
A heartfelt thank you to all the Disney fans around the world, for making this magical milestone happen. For more ways to celebrate all things Disney, join D23: The Official Disney Fan Club and learn more about our fan-favorite events, exclusive offers, and more!