By Kia Morgan Smith
From partying with Pixar Powerhouse John Lasseter to wiping away the sniffles with the savvy CEO of Dreamworks, Stacey Snider, I had a whirlwind, over-the-top, ridiculously exciting week as a Disney guest in Los Angeles, California, this past weekend for a Disney/Dreamworks Mommy Blogger event on behalf of MyBrownBaby.com.
I was like a big kid re-living little lost dreams. I met the voice behind Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too (Jim Cummings) and almost lost my cool kicking it with Spongebob Squarepants aka Tom Kenny, who is the voice of Rabbit in the Pooh movie.
Disney invited 22 bloggers to come out and review their upcoming movie slate, tour the animation studios, rub elbows with some amazing legendary animators, meet top CEOs and executives, learn about Disney history by visiting the Research Library and Archives, and even party like a rock star at one of the most over-the-top, fabulous after-parties I've ever seen, thrown for the Cars 2 Pixar movie premiere. I learned a lot, had a blast and made many lasting friendships. Here's a recap of my whirlwind week:
On Wednesday, I checked into the fabulous Renaissance Hotel located on the famous Hollywood and Highland Blvd and was given a swag bag brimming with Disney memorabilia and toys from the upcoming Cars 2 movie coming out this Friday, June 24th. I have to mention one of the coolest things in the bag was, by far, a car that converts to a laptop computer when you pop the hood. It's a Cars 2 Lightening McQueen Laptop and it is bad, as in good, and the most adorable laptop computer ever. It has a QWERTY keyboard and a cute tire-shaped mouse, which adds an additional element of fun. Of course my son grabbed it right up when I came home, so now he can travel the learning superhighway in style.
I settled into my plush and (peaceful) hotel room and got ready for a meet and greet scheduled for later that night. We then met our big brother, a.k.a, our wonderful Disney host Marshall Weinbaum, in the hotel lobby and then were whisked off to the lavish Roosevelt Hotel for a poolside chat and chew. When I met the other invited ladies we all instantly connected and every lady was just as honored as I was to be there.
Can you say 20 pounds in 20 minutes? There was so much food from gourmet pizza drizzled in truffle oil and topped with gorgonzola cheese to delectable and juicy fire-grilled burgers and all kinds of foo-foo food! I didn't know what to pick so I had a bit of everything. They say you only live once!
On Thursday, we visited Disney Animation Studios and ABC for a morning brunch and viewing of the Winnie the Pooh movie. Before the viewing, we were surprised and greeted by Don Hall and Stephen Anderson, the directors of Winnie the Pooh and Peter Del Vecho, the Producer.
I loved the movie by the way and will review it closer to the July 15th release date. It had so many whimsical and fun elements that your kids will crack up over. After the viewing we headed across the street to learn about the making of Winnie the Pooh when I literally almost bumped into a tall, gorgeous and much-too-young-for-me Kevin Jonas of the Jonas brothers! And then it set in, I'm at DISNEY! *insert scream here*
Once I picked my mouth off the ground, I looked around in amazement at all the classic and notable illustrations on the wall. To the left Aladdin, the right Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel's 70-foot-long tangled tresses hanging down over there, and Princess Tiana seemingly giving me a smile and nod of approval at the sight of another brown sister over here.
I was taking all this Disney history in and, at times, I have to admit I was overwhelmed. Everything that Disney says about making wishes and realizing dreams is not an affirmation without intent they really mean what they say. For decades, kids have laughed, cheered and wished upon a star while watching fanciful cartoons and feature movies with unforgettable characters like the classic one I grew up loving, Winnie the Pooh.
Hall and Anderson gave us a tour and took us on a story walk through the halls of the Disney animation studios. For Winnie the Pooh, the creative duo resurrected the 85-ish bear once again from the A.A. Milne books to the big screen. During the walk they pointed to illustrations and explained why they decided to take Pooh back to his roots to the Hundred Acre Woods for this big-screen feature film. It's been a while since Pooh has been on the big-screen scene. And the duo admitted they were apprehensive about bringing this cartoon back since they were so used to doing original movies. Now they are overjoyed at the end result.
From there it was time to meet the other creative forces behind the Pooh movie. Because let's face it: it takes a village to build a bear. Bruce Smith, creator of the animated the Proud Family, was the Supervising Animator for Piglet and Kanga and Roo. Smith taught the 22 mommy bloggers how to draw. Above is my interpretation of Kanga. I think I did pretty good! But then again, maybe I better keep my day job blogging!
Smith was witty and nice and told us animated stories of how he went from hanging with the wrong crew (who jacked cars) to turning his life around and landing a major animation job with Disney. This is proof that even brown boys with questionable backgrounds can rise to the occasion, land top jobs and become legends too.
Artist Lisa Keene then gave us a watercolor computer demo which highlighted the artistry behind how the intricate colors of Winnie the Pooh were formed. And it's a lot more involved than putting a brush and paint on paper.
We also met Burny Mattinson (above), a Disney animation legend who worked on such classics as Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast, the Lion King and Pocahontas. It was certainly a pleasure and a joy meeting him and listening as he told us endearing stories of the days of old at Disney.
Then there were two personal highlights toward the end of this day. I got to actually record a voiceover on the new Winnie the Pooh movie as the voice of Piglet! Peter Del Vecho (that’s me with him in the studio, below) instructed the blogging mommas on how to inflect our voices, make the necessary grunts and groans and add a little umph to our premier performances. I will receive an email link soon for you to see my movie debut! That experience was Awesome with a capital A! I truly got my 15 minutes of fame!
My son adores his cars and his toy trucks but he also has a special love for all things plush (like Pooh bears) and spongy (like Spongebob). I had the pleasure of meeting the man behind Pooh, Jim Cummings, who makes my little boo such a happy guy. And I met Tom Kenny, who plays Rabbit in the Pooh movie who is also the voice of the popular Spongebob Squarepants.
Meeting them really made my day! Ok, yes I was REAL hyped about meeting Tom Kenny. When I told my kids I was meeting Spongebob, they were real upset they couldn't meet him. So Kenny was kind enough to record a personal message to my kids Jo-Jo, Milan, Mikaela and Kaitlin! How cool is that! I definitely scored cool mommy points for this! This is me with Tom Kenny.
We also toured the Disney Animation Research Library with Lella Smith and learned much about the history behind the 60 million pieces of sketches and animation they have stored.
I channeled my inner Mary J Blige and was like, I am not gonna cry over The Help Movie! a truly extraordinary film we screened on Friday. A truly extraordinary movie, The Help reached deep into each of our souls and hauled out so many emotions from us all. I held back my tears and that was tough. But when you know this history is intertwined with your own and you know members of your family have experienced some of the same pain recounted in the movie, you just don't want to cry once again. Well at least I didn't. I think it was a mechanism to keep me from feeling that pain. That said, I think every woman and man of color must march to the theaters in August and support and see The Help.
Stacey Snider, co-chairman and CEO of Dreamworks Studios (with Steven Spielberg) told us after the viewing that she reacted the same way when she read the script. It has the right blend of heart, humor and pathos, said Snider. The novel was written by Kathryn Stockett and is about the complex relationships between white Southern women and their black maids during the civil rights movement. The story has a painful edge; more to come when MyBrownBaby covers the movie around its release in August.
Our last day was dedicated to Cars 2 and that’s when all H Hollywood broke loose! We met the cast: Owen Wilson, the voice of Lightening McQueen; Larry the Cable Guy, voice of Mater; Emily Mortimer, voice of Holley Shiftwell; Eddie Izzard, voice of Miles Axelrod; and Cars 2 producer Denise Ream. We also met John Lasseter, the head of Pixar and the visionary behind the wildly successful movie.
John Lasseter (that’s him, below, getting lots of blog mommy love) told us he REALLY loves cars especially since his dad was a parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership. And he's a dad of five boys my kind of family guy, especially since I have five kids myself! And the icing on the cake of his Cars kingdom is the fact that he's built a compound called Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure Park, which is set to open in 2012.
I have to point out that Emily Mortimer is a sugar-sweet, sweetheart and very open and honest and Denise Ream was a delight, proud and passionate about Cars 2 and got a bit emotional when talking about her career path that got her to Pixar and ultimately the premiere.
Then lights, camera, action! We walked the carpet of the Cars 2 premiere! Paparazzi were shouting, cameras were popping, celebs were posing and I was cheesin' and star gazing outside the El Capitan Theater. From Victoria and David Beckham to Bonnie Hunt, we rubbed elbows with A-Listers, who all came to check out the James Bond-esque/spy action/ adventure/cartoon Cars 2. I loved it much; check out my review on Friday, here on MyBrownBaby.
And only Disney would flip a football field and turn it into an all-out Cars Land with games and picture booths and life-size McQueens and Maters. It was a carnival atmosphere with slides for kids, itty-bitty cars for them to drive through a mini racetrack and even a big old car for everybody to tag with paint. There was a wonderland filled with all-you-could-eat food from around the world and just about any kind of drink you could consume. Ah, heaven in Hollywood.
I whipped my head back and forth and was truly seeing stars: Is that Cheech Marin? (Where's Chong?) Hey Jennifer Lewis! Wow that's Sheryl Crow! My man Joe Mantegna! Christina Milian's kid is cute! Whoa, that's the Beckhams' and Victoria's got a baby bump!
I had so much fun and it was the experience of a lifetime and I still cannot fully capture all we did during our Disney week. I want to first and foremost thank Denene Millner for being such a gracious and leading force in the blogging community and like Mother Earth to me. It takes someone with a true heart who is strong and confident enough to open the door for others. Thank you for giving me this opportunity sis.
Thank you to Marshall Weinbaum, our big brother for the whole week, who was just the BEST! Funny, kind, caring and someone I'll never forget! (Disney folks are really happy all the time. What's up with that? ) I would also like to thank Dustin Sandoval and Samantha Fisher for being so gracious and kind. And thank you to the Walt Disney Company for truly top-notch red carpet, first class treatment all the way. Every person we spoke to, from the directors to animators, were amazingly super-nice to us. I am still in awe.
From John Lasseter to Stacey Snider, thank you all for making my childhood dream come true and making me feel extra special for a moment in time. I truly enjoyed myself, and could hardly contain my excitement! I will never forget this special Disney experience!
[So you know: Disney paid for Kia Morgan Smith’s travel, lodging and meals for this Cars 2 Disney experience, but her views and opinions are strictly her own.]
Kia Morgan Smith, author of the delightful children’s book, Goony Goo-Goo and Ga-Ga Too, is a passionate and dedicated educator and former award-winning education reporter from Philadelphia. She has five kids and balances life like nobody’s business all of which she chronicles on her blog, CincoMom. She lives with her husband and their family in Atlanta.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.