Disney Film History: So Dear To My Heart
The 1940s saw a slew of films that were made simply on the notion to make money. Many of the animated features were shorts compiled together and rubbed with a little musical magic fairy dust before being released. By the end of the 1940s, films like The Three Caballeros, Fun and Fancy Free, and even Song of the South, drew money back into the company and the Disney brothers, Roy and Walt, had the chance to jump back into doing films they were really excited about. One of those projects for Walt Disney was So Dear to My Heart. It was a film truly dear to his heart. It’s a film he wanted to make because it represented his childhood, and the film inspired him to go on and do other great things along the way. Rarely talked about or even known by many film and Disney fans, So Dear To My Heart seems to be a film we shouldn’t forget as it may have sparked the ideas for the Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland.
Based on the book “Midnight and Jeremiah” by Sterling North, the premise for this film seems quite outrageous. There are no antagonists or serious plot twists, no heroine to save or no musical score like Fantasia. This film was unlike anything Walt and company had done before. After World War II, it would be my guess that people were sick of seeing violence and war. It had only been the news for the last decade everywhere in the world. So this story takes us to simpler times to the way things used to be. So Dear To My Heart takes us to 1903 Indiana farmlands where everyone’s got a job no matter how young or old you are, even the animals pull their fair share. I think that was the attraction for Walt Disney. This seems like Marceline, MO where he grew up. You can watch this film and picture the young Jeremiah as a young Walt.
Walt loved the book and knew once he had read it that it was going to be one of his live action films. RKO Productions, Disney’s distributor up to that point, was uncomfortable with a fully live action film, even Song of the South had some animation in it! So Walt added in some animation to this film. Within the store of Jeremiah and his black lamb, Danny, we see visions that the boy has drawn up in his mind using a scrapbook he keeps. The animation was really quite clever in the film, but the acting really sets this film apart from Song of the South.
The film that would debut on November 19th, 1948 starred Bobby Driscoll as Jeremiah, our old friend from Song of the South and Melody Time, as well as his costar from the former two films, Luanna Patten. Despite my half joking assessment of these two child stars and their acting abilities in Song of the South. The two, namely Driscoll, really improve in this film. That might be due to the other acting talent involved in this film though. Buelah Bondi was best known during her career for her work in It’s A Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Gorgeous Hussy, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. She played a phenominal role in this film and I believed her as Jeremiah’s Grandmother 100%. She had amazing chemistry with Bobby Driscoll and really made him much better in this film than in Song of the South. Burl Ives also led his hand to the mix. A classic folk singer, songwriter, and actor, Ives really stood out in the scenes of this film as some what of a superstar. Without knowing his background in films or music, you still get the sense like he is someone important and was cast in the film to give it credibility and that he did with the Academy Award nominated song “Lavender Blue”. Rounding out the cast was Harry Carey, playing his last role before his death. Carey had been one of Hollywood’s first stars during the silent days and he was fortunate enough to make the move into “Talkies” but he died before the films premiere in 1947 due to complications with lung cancer.
During my research, two big pieces of this film stand out as what we can all really take away from So Dear To My Heart. The first being the Train Depot in the film. It’s significant because it was during a period when Walt Disney was curious about locomotives and the train station in the film was moved to the backyard of Ward Kimball where he had to rebuild it. He invited Walt over to take a ride in his train and see the whole thing rebuilt which gave Walt great pleasure and eventually paved the way for Walt having his own train in his backyard and to build a train at Disneyland. The train station now resides at the home of John Lasseter as he keeps the legacy of the train moving forward.
The second, and possibly more important piece of history coming from this film is the idea to build a touring miniature showcase. Walt had the idea previously but found the right model to create for his touring show called Disneylandia. On a miniature scale, he personally recreated Granny Kincaid’s cabin himself and it was taken on tour. When the miniatures outgrew the audience, Walt started playing around with a bigger idea, Disneyland. This model can now be seen at the One Man’s Dream attraction at the Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World.
The film itself wasn’t as successful as hoped even in later releases, however it’s one of those hidden gems that seems to have a great historical value to it. It’s charming, sweet, and everything we expect from a Disney movie, especially from here forward. As we head into the 1950s, we find ourselves becoming friends with “Uncle Walt” and his stories of Cinderella and Alice and Peter Pan, but we will get to all of those later.
What are your thoughts on So Dear To My Heart? Have you seen it or not? Leave your comments below to keep the conversation rolling.
Posted on August 14, 2013, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged Bobby Driscoll, Burl Ives, Cinderella, Disney, Fun, Funny, History, It's a Wonderful Life, Lavender Blue, movie, movies, Review, So Dear To My Heart, Song of the South, Walt Disney, World War II. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.