Disney Film History: Toby Tyler


So here we are, the 1960s. It’s taken a while to get here. We went through the early Disney animated films, through the packaged films during World War II, to the adventures, westerns, and nature documentaries. So what’s next for us in this new decade. Well, it seems like the family comedy, and there is a great representation of that in the first film of the decade from Disney, Toby Tyler (or Ten Weeks with a Circus).

It’s pretty well documented that Walt Disney favored his childhood home of Marceline, Missouri and the early 1900s. Even Disneyland and Magic Kingdom’s Main Street U.S.A. is supposed to reflect that turn of the century small town America feel. If you are unfamiliar with the time period, one of the biggest attractions in the world was the circus and when it came to town, it was like seeing the show of shows. So Walt Disney read James Otis Kaler’s Toby Turner story, possibly during his childhood, and he decided it would be a wonderful piece to turn into a film.


The studio had several actors under contract at the time, many of whom were regulars on television, so it wasn’t a difficult choice to cast some of these actors in his film. Kevin Corcoran, better known as Mickey Mouse Club’s Moochie, who had also starred in previous films The Shaggy Dog and Old Yeller, was cast as the title character in the film. Gene Sheldon and Henry Calvin from Zorro were cast in supporting roles, as well as Zorro’s Charles Barton as director.

The story revolves around an orphaned boy, raised by his aunt and uncle,  who runs away and joins the circus. He takes over as a horse rider in one of the acts when another rider becomes injured. He befriends several circus performers including a chimpanzee named Mr. Stubs. When he hears that his uncle is sick, he and Mr. Stubs run off, but return to the circus so that his aunt and uncle can see him perform. If the movie sounds simple or silly, that’s because it was meant to be. This is a comedy film with little substance, but filled with practical stunts and slapstick comedy.


The movie was released on January 21st, 1960 with critical acclaim from critics. The movies praise came in it’s simplicity, it’s hysterics, and the family fun adventure. The film, when opened to the public, got little response. The film was never released again in theaters, but like other poor box office draws, was broken up into segments and shown on television so that it could make money through advertising instead.

If the film is any indication of what’s to come, I’m ready to enjoy a few laughs. The simple comedy is a much enjoyed departure from the True Life Adventures and the ridiculous over-the-top westerns starring Fess Parker. As simple as they are though, I do hope we see some live action films with a little substance. Toby Tyler was a fun movie, but forgettable in the long run.

Josh Taylor
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Previous film: Jungle Cat
Next film: Kidnapped

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Posted on January 20, 2016, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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