Josh is joined by James Carter from the Creepy Kingdom podcast this week to talk about his newest venture, a full length documentary about the Haunted Mansion attraction and it’s loyal and unique fan base. James has just started filming and will be looking to put out the film at the beginning of next year. He is on the show to promote and gain some buzz around the project.
If you are interested in donating to the film’s Kickstarter, make sure to do so as there are some great perks involved. Also be sure to check out FoolishMortalsDoc.com for all of the news around the film!
Walt’s continued love for his nature documentary series pinned him into a film with tons of footage but not from one place in particular. Unlike previous outings for the documentary series of films, Disney’s Secrets of Life focused less on one climate or geographical area of the world and more on our ever changing planet and the cycle of life we all take part in.
What separates this film as well, apart from the topic at hand, is the cinematography. This was the first time time lapse was used to shoot flower growth. The shots of volcanic eruptions as well as small insects is also breath taking and something rarely seen in the mid-1950s. The film starts like the other True Life Adventures, with paint brush strokes bringing us into our scenes, but this film is far more advanced than the previous films. I’ve noticed that these films tend to get better and better with each one.
With the critiques on the previous films, Walt, as well as director and writer James Algar, dropped the slapstick comedy and silly punchlines for a more serious look at nature. I hope this continues as it was one of the only complaints I would make about these films. Secrets of Life opened in November 1956 and critics gave it praise but unlike the previous films in the True Life Adventure series, it was not nominated for an Academy Award and seems to be lost in the vaults of the studio. There was a DVD release in 2006 as part of a bigger collection of films, but there has yet to be a stand alone film release of Secrets of Life in modern times.
While many at the studio were working on animation and live action films, Alfred and Elma Milotte spent two years in Africa filming wildlife. Walt Disney had hired the two to spend time filming footage for his next great True Life Adventure and the two years of footage was enough to make a film mostly on the great cats of the African continent. The result of all of this footage was the 1955 film, The African Lion.
Following on the heels of 1953’s The Living Desert and 1954’s The Vanishing Prarie, this True Life Adventure took viewers out of the North American continent for the first time and put them into the Serengeti of Africa. The film is similar in many ways to it’s predecessors, starting with an animated segment on Africa before bringing us to the real wildlife that we see the in the film. The major difference, however, in this film is that Walt Disney learned that True Life Adventures don’t necessarily need the gags that were in his popular animated films. Some scenes from his films on the Desert or Prarie were plagued with unneccessary comedy that gave the wild life documentaries of Disney lack credibility. That’s not the case The African Lion. The film nixes the comedy and brings you a very real and dramatic look at these animals.
Prey versus predator is a key story here as we watch lions hunt for food. This allows the viewer to not only learn about the cats of the film, but also many other animals in the Serengeti including zebras, wildebeests, and elephants. This film is also filled with lighthearted moments as well. These segments are often filled with cute and cuddly baby animals and their mothers nursing them. It’s actually refreshing to see both sides of the lions as we often view them as dangerous animals instead of caring and loving family members. I guess that’s often the case with predatory animals, but I’m glad Disney decided to showcase this here.
The African Lion was released on September 14th 1955 to a modest box office of $2.1 million which is on par with the previous True Life Adventure films. The African Lion, unlike the previous films, did not get nominated for an Academy Award. It did win an award at the Berlin International Film Festival, but did not bring home the big prize that Disney had hoped with many of his nature documentaries.
The film was released by itself in 2006 on DVD as part of the True Life Adventure series but has not sustained any home video release since making it a difficult find and a lesser known film within the True Life Adveutures. Having said that, I can’t help but think that The African Lion gave birth to much of the television and film specials we see on lions and Africa now. Walt Disney was a pioneer in the nature documentary field. He practically invented the genre. The African Lion takes one step farther in signifying the first time we saw these beautiful animals on a big screen in this way and we will no doubt see many more documentaries like this one in the future.
Continuing the True Life Adventure series, Walt Disney’s second nature film comes with similarities and differences to his first. Growing up in the midwest, Walt Disney had close ties to the places that live between the Mississippi River and Rocky Mountains. The Great Plains of the United States have historical significance as a land once called home by many Native Americans and animals not found on the coastlines of the States. Disney’s The Vanishing Prairie is the story of a world that was once filled with life and rich history which has since been lost thanks to the white man taking over the land.
The tale of the Eastern Colonial men and women traveling across the country along the Oregon Trail, and several other trails is a tale many of us may not know the whole story of, but that’s where The Vanishing Prairie takes us and then back into the Native American’s great land and the animals that enrich this flat land across the U.S. We meet buffalo, big horn sheep, prairie dogs, and more.
The stories that follow these animals is similar to that of the first True Life Adventure film, The Living Desert. Mating, children, and surviving become the main topics. Despite some great footage, we are yet again plagued with funny sound effects and inappropriate music. It’s as if they had learned nothing from the critical arguments that followed the desert film.
For myself, and for history buffs alike, this film takes us one step further with a historical look at the Great Plains. The small specks of knowledge that Winston Hibler, our narrater for The Living Desert and this film, give this film an edge of it’s predecessor.
On top of all of this is some great cinematography. Animals aside, this documentary really makes the American Prairie look beautiful. I’m sure some of us who have traveled across Nebraska and Kansas know better, but this truly is stunning work. The rich green grasses, the flowers, and the blue skies light up this film and give a breath of fresh air between animal scenes. I can see why this film, along with The Living Desert, won Academy Awards for Best Documentary. The work shines through both in narrative as well as cinematography.
All in all, the continuation and evolution of the nature documentary according to Disney is a fascinating tale and a journey I’m excited to continue onward with. True Life Adventures will pop up from time to time as will the eventual rise of Disney Nature films. Through all of the live action films that conquer over Disney Pictures during the 1950s-70s, these documentaries are really a treat and after watching and discussing the films from England, I was glad to get back to some of these great, although tongue and cheek at times, True Life Adventure films.
Have you seen the Vanishing Prarie? What are your thoughts on True Life Adventures, Disney Nature, or nature documentaries as a whole? Do you think it’s wrong to manipulate the narrative in order to tell a story or should we tell the story straight forward with these nature films? Leave your thoughts and comments below!