Disney Film History: Westward Ho The Wagons!

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In case you haven’t read my last few Whole Picture articles, Fess Parker was on top of the world in the mid-1950s. Starring as Davy Crockett, Fess Parker had been part of the biggest culture craze of the decade and the Walt Disney company was reaping the benefits. He starred in several other films that depicted American history and folklore including The Great Locomotive Chase, but it seems as though Disney wasn’t through using their biggest star after the second Crockett film. He along with his Crockett Co-Star, Jeff York (Mike Fink), teamed up for a depiction of the Oregon Trail titled Westward Ho The Wagons!

During the 1950s, cowboy movies were big. So this took Davy Crockett to the wild west to fight Indians. The film was setup to be a sure fire hit. The biggest star on the Disney lot doing a western movie. It was adapted from Mary Jane Carr’s “Children of the Covered Wagon” which had been Disney’s main cash cow. Adapting short stories and books into film. Many of their ventures outisde of  screenplay adapting tended to fail. Oh yeah, it also featured another big tv star of the time, Superman’s George Reeves. Where can this film go wrong right? It seems where it went wrong was story as it was quickly thrown together, possibly to be a feature on the Disneyland TV show but as Disney saw Fess Parker, the tv miniseries may have been adapted for the big screen.

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The rest of the cast was made up of another of Walt’s favorites: The Mickey Mouse Club. All the children from the show were cast into the movie to fill out the wagons and get into controversy with Indians. They also brought their voices to put together a great soundtrack of songs, but I can’t help but feel like the movie wasn’t a match up for the Mouseketeers.

Westward Ho was shot in Cinemascope, the third film to be shot that way from the Disney studio, and a very expensive way to shoot a film. I would assume that a lot was riding on Westward Ho in that case. I have yet to find any box office numbers for the film, but that can only tell me that wasn’t a box office smash like the studio probably hoped. The film was released in December of 1956 and was the last film of the year from Disney. 1956 had also brought us The Great Locomotive Chase and Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. The year had 3 films starring Fess Parker in historical situations. The only other film of the year put out by Disney was their True Life Adventure film Secrets of Life.

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I’m beginning to see why it would fail as a box office hit if it did. Walt Disney was so high on Fess Parker and the “historical film” genre that he overplayed it and it killed itself. In the past, the name Walt Disney meant fantastic stories in animation, great epics in live action, and the only studio to mix live action and animation together. What we got from Disney in 1956 was the same actor playing the same role in 3 different films. Walt had definitely narrowed himself in 1956. Hopefully 1957 has a better slew of movies.

Josh Taylor
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Previous Film: Secrets of Life
Next Film: Johnny Tremain

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Posted on March 7, 2015, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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