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Modern Mouse Radio #109: What’s Next for the Muppets?

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Josh is joined by Jordan Duncan, a coordinator at the Museum of Puppetry Arts and a long time Muppets fan. They discuss the recent cancellation of The Muppets on television and ask, “What’s Next for the Muppets?” As Disney grows, it seems like every division continues to be a homerun. Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and so on, have all found their stride and are major successes for Disney, but The Muppets franchise continues to feel lost without knowing where to really go with it. Is it a nostalgia act? Can it be modern? Is it for adults? Is it for children? We try to answer all of these questions and more!

Be sure to follow Jordan on Twitter (@JordanGhastly) or on Instagram to chat more about Muppets, Jim Henson, or the Puppetry Arts in general.

 

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Modern Mouse Radio #106: Disney’s Approach to Social Issues

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Over the past few years, Disney has been adding mature themes to their family friendly films. Frozen has themes of family love vs. romantic love, Zootopia tackles racism and tolerance, and the live action Jungle Book discusses identity. Andy from the DCast joins Josh to discuss these themes and why Disney is doing it. Is it good or bad for business? Are children picking up on these themes and is it thought provoking to them. Andy himself has 3 adopted children and is a pastor at his church so he brings his opinions and voice to a polarizing topic!

Also be sure to check out TheDCast.com to hear more of Andy and more. Plus contact him on Twitter @AndyHerndon or @TheDCast to chat more about this episode!

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Disney Film History: Toby Tyler

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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.

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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.

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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

Modern Mouse Weekly Recap

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As we grow and the website continues to gain more content, we thought it would be reasonable to have a weekly recap of all the of the great content we had this week. This also makes sense because it’s a new year and it just seems fitting to start with something new and definitive for the site! Expect this every Saturday! This way, if you missed anything, you’ll be able to catch up!

Here is what happened for the first week of January 2016!

Podcasts
Modern Mouse Radio #96: Disney Year in Review 2015 – Josh, Angie, and Erika look back on 2015 and give their thoughts on the best films, parks, television, and all around Disney happenings of the year. Plus we get their opinions on the best films of the year from Disney!

Articles
Disney Now and Then: Disney Career Magic – Erika gave us her thoughts on what it was like while working as a Cast Member at Disneyland and what her thoughts are on it now since she has been away from Walt’s original park. It’s sentimental, sweet, and will probably give you “Toy Story 3” tears.

The Whole Picture: Third Man on the Mountain – Josh’s in depth look at all of the Walt Disney company films returns with a look at the film that inspired one of Disneyland’s greatest attractions! Despite it’s lackluster box office, Josh thinks you should give this one a watch.

Comics
Above the Line #8 – Holly gives us a picture perfect comic this week….if by perfect, you mean strollers knocking you down.

Videos
Top 5 Cast Members to Answer Your Questions – Ever wondered who to ask a question to while wandering around a Disney theme park? Need a park map? Need to know when the fireworks start? Erika gives you advice on who to ask with a top 5 list.

Disneyland First Timers! – This past year, Keith moved to Southern California. That move gave his family a reason to visit Disneyland, some of them for the first time. See his families reactions to what they see and do.

Disney Park Princesses are the Best – Being a Disney Princess is hard work. Don’t believe it, ask Erika. She accompanied many princesses around the Disney parks while being a cast member and she can tell you how tough it is to be perfect, energetic, and wearing a ball gown in 100 degree weather.

Awkward Video Diary: We’re Moving to Disneyland – Angie and Josh have an announcement. They decided to announce it in a fun video that they made more awkward than it ever had the right to be. Seems like it will be a recurring video series as well.

 

 

Disney Film History: Darby O’Gill and the Little People

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In the late 1940s, Walt Disney made a trip over to Ireland. Looking for inspiration, similar to his South America trips, he made a visit to the Irish Folklore Commission. He was excited to find a story for a new feature. Unfortunately his Irish inspired film got shelved when he decided to focus on feature animations again. Then there was another sidetrack, Disneyland, but by the late 1950’s Walt went back to thinking about his Irish film. He settled on a set of stories from the early 20th century by Hermione Templeton Kavanagh, an Irish-American writer, and called the film Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

Walt’s Irish tale had some of his best men working on the film. Lawrence Watkin, who had written Treasure Island and The Light in the Forest, as well as Robert Stevenson, who directed Old Yeller and Johnny Tremain, were put to work on the project. Albert Sharpe, who had played Andrew Campbell in Brigadoon a few years prior, was cast as Darby and Walt took a chance on a newcomer named Sean Connery.

darby 3Walt was committed to telling a unique folklore story and wanted to keep the magic of the stories. Therefore he wanted to add a note to the beginning of the film thanking the Leprechauns for participating in the film. He also opted not to credit actor Jimmy O’Dea for his role as the King of the Leprechauns. For Walt, that kept filmgoers thinking that the Disney film was truly filmed with little people and the Disney company had gone out of there way to find them.

Despite advertising on the Disneyland television show, and Walt’s magical “discovery of real leprechauns” the film didn’t hit home with audiences. Released on June 26th, 1959, the film didn’t do well and lost money in it’s first run at the box office. Many American movie goers said the Irish actors were too difficult to understand and the live action film wasn’t as “Disney” as other films had been previously. In the re-release of the film in 1964 the actors were dubbed over by American actors but the film still didn’t do so well.

darby 2Critics, on the other hand, loved the film. They praised the special effects and acting as well as the representation of Irish culture, which was often not seen in films. This was still the time of the Westerns in American film. The film never won any awards but in later years it has become a cult favorite especially around St. Patrick’s Day.

The film’s most notable claim to fame is being the launching pad for Sean Connery. Albert Broccoli took notice of the actor and would cast him in the first James Bond movie. I can’t imagine James Bond without Sean Connery and I know that as we go on through time, Walt Disney will be the launching pad for other young actors as well!

What are your thoughts on Darby O’Gill? Have you seen it? Is it something you’d be interested in seeing? Leave your comments below to keep the conversation going!

Josh Taylor
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Previous Film: The Shaggy Dog
Next Film: Third Man on the Mountain

Disney Film History: Tonka

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As the 1950’s come to a close (Only a few more left until the 1960s!) it’s fun to look back and see what the decade was really alabout. The 1940s had given us were purely centered around animation at the Disney studio, but when Walt Disney found that he could make films faster and make money quicker, he opted to only give us 4 animated films in the 1950s as opposed to 24 live action and documentary films. As closely attached as animation is to Disney, we can’t forget his live action films either. The 1950’s also brought us plenty of Western films from the Disney studio. Westerns have often been romanticized as cowboys being heroes. Cowboys have often been “the good guys”, but through the prism of history we can settle on the idea that cowboys of the “wild west” often claimed land that wasn’t theirs, similar to those who landed at Plymouth, and they killed those Native Americans that stood in their way.

Walt Disney was one of the few Hollywood business men to portray a more realistic look at what times were really like during the 1800s. We discussed The Light in the Forest already and how a boy raised by Native Americans was taken back by the European Americans and eventually decides to no longer be part of the battle. This week we discuss a film that came out in the same year, Tonka.

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Tonka is based on a book by David Appel titled “Comanche: Story of America’s Most Heroic Horse”. The film takes a look at how a young Native American boy named White Bull takes in and trains a horse. He names the horse Tonka. When the horse is mistreated by others, White Bull sets him free to run wild but the horse ends up being owned by a U.S. army captain named Miles Keogh and renamed Comanche. As the story unfolds, we find ourselves on the brink of war between the U.S. army and the Native Americans. Despite the rivalry, White Bull seeks out his horse in camp and befriends Miles as they share their common animal friend. Regardless of this friendship, the Battle of Bull Horn erupts and White Bull and his horse remain as the only ones left standing.

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The film showcases fictional history and depicts the unnecessary rivalry between the European Americans and Native Americans. It’s an interesting film and one that has unfortunately been forgotten over the years. It was a success with critics and at the box office when it was released in December 1958. Maybe we would rather remember films from John Wayne or Clint Eastwood where cowboys are heroes, but I think I prefer this depiction. I like to remember history as having no true good guy or bad guy, but rather a story where everyone made mistakes and unfortunately we paid for it regardless of what side you were on.

Josh Taylor
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Previous Film: White Wilderness
Next Film: Sleeping Beauty

Modern Mouse Radio #84: Disney Princesses and Female Stereotypes

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This week, Josh and Angie are joined by friends Danelle Rains and Holly Stanton (@TheHollyStanton) to talk about female stereotypes. Danelle and Holly both studied film and film history in college and Holly currently works as a producer so we thought it fitting to bring them in to talk about Disney and the film industry’s feelings on female stereotypes.

Disney has always banked on it’s princess films. Walt put all of his money on the line for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and it paid off financially and promotionally. Later, movies like Cinderella and The Little Mermaid would save the Disney’s animation department from going under completely. Even now, the focus the last few years has been mainly on princesses like Rapunzel, Anna, and Elsa.

However, we delve in deep to see what’s behind these princesses. Are we teaching young girls to wait for that love at first sight moment and to be saved by a prince charming or are we an over protective society? We debate whether Disney has made decisions that will impact society for generations by creating false gender stereotypes. Not only that, but are they moving so far in the opposite direction with films like Frozen which portray love interests as manipulative and focus more on family love?

The crew discusses all that and more on this week’s episode of Modern Mouse Radio!

 

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Disney Film History: White Wilderness

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There have been rare occurences of the Disney company being surrounded by controversy. It eventually happened with Song of the South. That film will never be remastered and released due to it’s controversial look at race relations. The next great example of that came with our next movie decades after it’s release, White Wilderness. The True Life Adventure series, like the Fess Parker films, defined the 1950s and like the films all starring Fess Parker, True Life Adventures would be gone by the 1960s. Not that the series was bad or expensive, but more or less because of what Disney knew about their 1958 release of White Wilderness.

Starting in 1952, 12 videographers made their way to the Arctic and filmed. Due to the extreme climate of the Arctic, these film makers would travel back and forth so that they didn’t have to live in such harsh conditions for too long. Like all of the previous True Life Adventure documentaries, Disney funded but did not overlook the filming that happened in the Arctic. This lead to uninterrupted footage of many great and not so great shots that would eventually be in the film.

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After cutting and editing, the film was released on August 12th, 1958. The film met similar reviews to their previous nature documentaries. They were criticized for the narration and unnecessary comedy, but because of the Arctic’s rough climate, it was the first time anyone had seen the landscape on film and in color no less. The animals documented in the film include seals, walruses, polar bears, ducks, lemmings, and wolves, all of which had not been seen on this terrain by the mass public.

Despite critical reviews, White Wilderness was still a box office success. It was released multiple times in theaters after it’s original release due to it’s popularity. Clips of the film were shown on Walt Disney’s television shows up until the 1980s when the film came under fire.

The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC), and one of it’s longest running news shows, The Fifth Estate, ran a new story in 1982 about White Wilderness and other animal documentaries. What came under attack was the use of footage that doesn’t actually take place in the Arctic. Journalist Bob McKeown reported that film makers used a studio in Calgary to recreate the Arctic landscape and shoot many shots there. A scene where a baby polar bear is sliding around on the ice is actually shot on the sound stage and the videographers pushed the bear around for added effect.

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The most disturbing findings brought up by The Fifth Estate are scenes about lemmings. Scenes supposedly shot in the Arctic following lemmings who will live life as a group and will march together no matter the cost were said to be faked in Calgary as well. Lemmings were shown to march across the landscape and jump into the Atlantic Ocean one after the other, only to hope that they make it to the other side before drowning. The scenes were actually shot on a platform at the Bow River in Calgary where videographers forced the lemmings to walk right off the platform into the river where all of them died. Experts were asked and McKeown found that the lemmings filmed were actually not migratory and would not have followed each other no matter the situation, especially in a death march as shown in the film.

It’s unclear of Walt Disney or anyone at the Disney studios was aware of the footage they were editing being phony, but it does raise the question after knowing that White Wilderness was their second to last outing for the True Life Adventure series. It could have been that the studio was just running out of ideas for the series, but it could be somehow related to someone at the studio knowing and willingly adding fake footage to the film for dramatic effect. Regardless of anyone at the studio knowing or not, it’s an unfortunate incident tied to the Disney name.

What are your thoughts on White Wilderness? Have you seen it? Did you know what you were actually watching when you saw the film or did you believe everything was shot in the Arctic? Leave your thoughts and let me know.

Josh Taylor
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Previous Film: The Light in the Forest
Next Film: Tonka

Just Left of Main Street: In Search of Castaways

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One of the topics I plan to cover periodically here in Just Left of Main Street is something I am going to call Obscure Disney Movies. In this topic, as the name would indicate, I’ll talk about Disney movies that you may have not seen in a while, seen at all or even ever heard of. Since most of the movies I’ll cover will have been released 30+ years ago, I won’t provide an in-depth review of the movie. Instead, I’ll provide some history and background information about the movie with some color commentary thrown in. The first movie I want to cover in called In Search of Castaways.

In Search of Castaways was released in 1962 and starred Hayley Mills, Maurice Chevalier, George Sanders and Wilfrid Hyde-White. It was based on a Jules Verne novel Captain Grant’s Children. The basic premise of the film is Hayley Mills’ character’s father, Captain Grant, is lost at sea and she, her brother an English Lord and his son go looking for him after they are given a message in the bottle from him. Joining them on their journey is Maurice Chevalier’s character, Jacques Paganel, who was the one who found the bottle. The movie is made up of series of adventures the group has attempting to find Captain Grant.

The movie was the third of six films for Hayley Mills with Disney following Pollyanna and The Parent Trap. Maurice Chevalier made another movie with Disney as Father Sylvain in Monkeys, Go Home!, which was released in 1967, and, seems like a good candidate for a future Obscure Disney Movie profile. In 1970, he also sang the title song to the animated film, The Aristocats, which ended up being his final contribution to any film as he passed away in 1972. Both Mills and Chevalier have been inducted as Disney Legends.

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Despite the fact that the film is not very well known today, it was a commercial success when it was released, grossing over $18 million dollars domestically – good enough to make it the third highest grossing film of 1962. The film also placed fourth in Top Action Drama category in the Golden Laurel awards, a, now defunct, film buyers voting award. In addition, Chevalier placed third in the Golden Laurel Top Male Musical Performance category.

No, that’s not a mistake; the category Chevalier placed third in was for musical performance. Despite the film being billed as an incredible action adventure with mystery and intrigue around every corner, it also, strangely, contained a series of musical numbers. As I saw one reviewer humorously comment: Castaways keeps you guessing throughout, never knowing if more natural disaster or another Maurice Chevalier song is next. In fact, the four songs that are sung in the movie, Castaway, Merci Beaucoup, Let’s Climb (Grimpons), and Enjoy It, were written by the legendary Sherman Brothers. Enjoy It, sung by Chevalier, is somewhat, well known and can, sometimes, be found on Disney music compilation albums.

These songs, while enjoyable, really did take me out of the movie, it’s difficult to get sucked into the suspense of a film when every 10 minutes or so, the characters are happily singing their way through the adventure. It’s very likely that these songs were included to highlight Chevalier’s singing talent as he had a very successful singing career over the years and an attempt to jump start a singing career for Mills.

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In addition to the songs being a distraction, another major distraction is the extremely pure special effects. While I am certainly no film historian, the effects used in this film appear very bad even by 1962 standards. There is a heavy reliance on the use of green screen and models in the film, generally with very poor application.

Despite these issues, the film is still a lot of fun and quite enjoyable. It’s actually pretty fast paced and while, very predictable, still rather suspenseful in some places. The completist in me drives me to watch as many Disney movies as possible, but, I do think there is reason beyond that to take the time to see this film. I would recommend getting the DVD or getting a download of the film and enjoying a little 1960’s Disney fun into your day.

Chris Nolin
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Just Left of Main Street: Disney and Dahl

Many of you will be familiar with the name Roald Dahl. Dahl was a British novelist, short story writer, poet and screenwriter. His works include James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, My Uncle Oswald, The Witches, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Twits, Tales of the Unexpected, George’s Marvelous Medicine, and The BFG.

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You may also know that Disney made one of those books, James and the Giant Peach, into a movie in 1996 and you may also have heard that in 2016 Disney will release a film directed by Steven Spielberg based on The BFG. However, you may not be aware the Dahl’s relationship with Disney started long before either of these films were ever made. In fact, Disney published Dahl’s first children’s book.

Shortly after the start of World War II, Dahl enlisted in the British Royal Air Force. He became a fighter pilot and flew many missions until a crash in 1940. He then became a military attaché at the British Embassy. In that role, one of his duties was to produce propaganda pieces that would help promote the British war efforts. Some of the pieces he wrote revolved around gremlins and the legends of how those creatures would wreak havoc on British airplanes.

One of the officers who reviewed Dahl’s writings during this time made Walt Disney aware of the gremlin stories. Walt enjoyed the stories and thought there was potential to turn the story into a film. The initial plan was that the film would be live action and animation. Disney and Dahl began working on story ideas, designing how the gremlins should look and generally beginning development of the film. In 1942, Dahl was given leave to visit the Disney studios in Burbank for ten days to further develop the film and move it towards production.

Disney and Dahl

However, the development of the film hit many snags along the way. One problem Disney faced was     having difficulty securing the rights to the gremlin characters. Apparently, the concept of “gremlins” and their effects on planes and other military equipment was something joked about throughout the British Royal Air Force. This made it difficult for Dahl, Disney or anyone else to claim credit for their creation.

In addition, the Disney staff was having a hard time coming up with a design and story for the gremlins they thought would work. Their main challenge was that in the original Dahl stories, the gremlins with mischievous, trouble makers and making characters with those personality traits likeable.

However, despite these difficulties, Disney pressed on with the project. In 1942, Cosmopolitan magazine published, what was billed as, a preview of the movie called Introducing the Gremlins. The preview was well received and the story was expanded to book length and in April of 1943, Disney in partnership with Random House, published The Gremlins: A Royal Air Force Story. Flight Lieutenant Roald Dahl was credited as the author. The book featured illustrations by Bill Justice and Al Dempster and the cover was designed by Mary Blair, all Disney Legends.

The book was a fairly strong success and would have been reprinted if not for a paper shortage due to  the war. However, the book was the only project to come to fruition as part of Dahl’s relationship with Disney. The film was first reduced from live action and animation to animation only but despite a final script being produced no film of any sort was ever created.

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The ultimate cancelling of the project was due to several factors with the inability to secure exclusive rights to the gremlin character concept remaining a major sticking point throughout. The book went pretty much forgotten over the years outside of Dahl collectors who wanted to add the, hard-to-find, book to their collection. In 2006, Dark Horse Books reprinted the book with an introduction by Leonard Maltin and beautifully digital restorations of the Justice and Dempster illustrations. I have a copy of the book in my Disney library and enjoy flipping through it and enjoying those illustrations.

Obviously, following his time working with Disney, Dahl went on to a very successful career as an author and often spoke and wrote fondly of his time working with Disney. In many ways, The Gremlins project gave Dahl his start and paved the way for the years of success that followed. However, it still hard not to lament the missed opportunity to see what two great story tellers like Walt Disney and Roald Dahl could have come up with, sadly we’ll never know.

Chris Nolin
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