Stories Discussed This Week
Hatbox Ghost Returns to Disneyland
Matterhorn and Peter Pan Upgrades at Disneyland
Easter Celebrations at the Parks
Disney’s Springs Boathouse and Amphicars Opening
Selfie Sticks on Rides
Tomorrowland Movie Previews over Captain EO
Monkey Kingdom in Theaters Soon
Live Action Mulan
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Yep, that’s a long title, but it’s also a well deserved one and a top 5 I’ve been meaning to write for a long while. Beyond loving Once Upon a Time in all of of it’s overwhelmingly and ridiculous dramatic glory, I’m also a major fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead. I presume, like most of the people watching one of the most popular shows on cable television ever, The Walking Dead is appealing because of the realism of the situations as well as the well thought out tactics on how to survive an oncoming zombie apocalypse. Heck, I’ve watched enough of this show to realize what I have to do in any situation to survive. So, getting back to my other love, Disney, I’ve given much thought to which characters would survive at least a few months and who would presumably die the moment they saw their first zombie. So, here are my top 5 Disney characters to most likely die first in the zombie apocalypse.
#5-Most of the Seven Dwarfs. With the seven little men all having traits that make them who they are, these fellas seem to have death written all over them. I would find it obvious that someone named Sleepy or Sneezy would be an easy target for a swarm of undead cannibals. I would assume Dopey would die quickly too. He’s a mute so nobody would hear him go. My assumption is Doc and Grumpy would last the longest, however Doc would probably go in a self sacrificing notion, trying to save someone like Happy. Grumpy may last a long time as I presume his heart would blacken and his ability to hide due to his size would be helpful.
#4-Pinocchio. The former wooden boy is a great candidate for getting himself killed first. In the film, Pinocchio is gullible and seems to get into trouble more often than not. I mix of lying, cowering, and crying out for the Blue Fairy will be his ultimate death, especially of Jiminy Cricket dies first. Sorry Geppetto.
#3-Gaston. Straight to the point, Gaston is dying due to his lack of real knowledge and his probable thought that these zombies are really just people coming to swoon all over him.
#2-Rex. Let’s not forget our favorite Pixar pals. The crew from Toy Story seem to be smart, creative, and go-getting. All except for everyone’s favorite dinosaur, Rex. He’s clumsy and afraid of everything. That makes him a perfect candidate, especially with those small tyrannosaurus arms.
#1-Pretty Much the Whole Cast of Winnie the Pooh. Out of any characters I could think of, and there were a lot, I couldn’t figure out which character from Winnie the Pooh would bite the dust first. Then I realized, more than any single character in the Disney pantheon, the lovable stuffed animals of Winnie the Pooh are all soon to be shredded cotton and cloth. I would toss out Owl surviving due to the ability to fly and possibly Rabbit due to the same cold heartedness that Grumpy would inherit. Otherwise, everyone dies. Let’s face it, Eeyore is already suicidal, Winnie would probably be taken down unexpectedly while getting his head stuck in a honey pot, Piglet would cower and hide, Tigger is far too brain dead already, and Kanga would die in an effort to save Roo. The end. That’s it…oh and Christopher Robin will meet his end calmly while sleeping in his bedroom.
So that’s that. Wow, kind of sad actually now that I go back and read it. Sorry to bring you all down, but the good news is The Walking Dead returns to television this weekend. (If you read this exactly right after I post this.) As always, give your thoughts and comments. This could definitely be an interesting conversation.
Bambi is the last of it’s breed. (Get it? It’s because he’s a deer!) After the success of Snow White, several films were put into production. We’ve already discussed Pinocchio, Fantasia, The Reluctant Dragon, and Dumbo. Bambi is the last of those films that were immediately drawn up for storyboards after the money started rolling in the late 1930s. Many things changed over the course of just a few years though and a studio with the pedal to the metal came to a sudden halt and projects scheduled for the coming years were shelved but we will get to that in a minute. Right now, let’s talk about Bambi and it’s forward thinking animation.
The rights to Bambi were purchased by Walt Disney in April of 1937, just a few months before the debut of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as it was to be his second full length animated feature. Disney bought the rights from MGM as he wanted a modern story to go off of as opposed to the classic fairy tale. MGM had planned to make a live action version with the rights to Felix Salten’s most famous novel. When the rights were sold to Disney, Salten actually flew out to Burbank from Austria to meet with Walt Disney (and to escape Nazi invasion due to his Jewish background.) Story development started on Bambi but it would come as a serious battle for the team. The novel was originally for adults so storymen and Disney tried to take far too many liberties with the story, which at times got out of hand. Some forest scenes were pitched that had nothing to do with the title character or his friends, and characters were pitched that were far too off beat from the original story, such as making Thumper one of many rabbits with personalities. (Maybe a fallback on the success of the Dwarfs?) Other problems with story development included the debate to show Bambi’s mother die or the man that starts the fire and shoots her. Luckily for viewers, those scenes were nixed as it was eventually agreed upon that even without showing the antagonist or Bambi’s mother the scene was still emotional and somber.
Due to complications with developing a clear focus on story, Bambi was sidelined by Pinocchio which beat it to theaters, becoming Disney’s second theatrical film. Then Walt Disney got a crazy idea to do a film all about music and Fantasia put Bambi’s story development on the low end of the priority list. After Fantasia started it’s run in 1940, Bambi finally got it’s go ahead and animation began, but again it became a battle.
Walt Disney wanted to portray his anthropomorphic characters as real animals. Animators had an issue with Walt’s dire need for realism. Forest animals were drawn into the Snow White film, but they were animated harshly and with little movement. Animators didn’t have a sense for animal movements. Trips to the Los Angeles Zoo were used as guidance before animals were eventually brought to the studio. (You can see a live elephant being animated in The Reluctant Dragon film.) Rico LeBrun, a teacher at Chouinard Art Institute and an accomplished painter of animals, was brought in to teach animators about the weight and movement of the forest animals. With all of these tools, animators could finally get things really moving and it was Disney Legend Marc Davis who took Walt’s realistic needs and made it work as he came up with the design for the Bambi character. Keeping his snout shorter and eyes bigger made him friendlier and more puppy like, while keeping the rest of the deer proportionate and his movements natural.
Backgrounds were a big concern for animators as well because they didn’t want forest scenes that would overwhelm the audience. Maurice “Jake” Day spent several weeks on a research trip in the North Eastern United States, taking in some of the natural forests of the region, but even with the research, he found his sketches to be a bit too busy. Tyrus Wong, another animator at the studio would showcase a sense of impressionism giving the center area of the backdrop more detail while the outer areas were blurred. This worked well for animators and allowed the audience to focus on the animals in the film. This revolutionary technique by Wong also gave the film a style as if it were a painting. If you look at a still frame (Just Google a picture from the film.) it looks much more like a work of art than it does an animated film.
Voice acting was provided by a mix of stars and studio hands. Sterling Holloway, who started with the studio on Dumbo as the voice of the Stork, returned as the voice of Flower, the lovable skunk, when he becomes an adult. Sam Edwards, Ann Gillis, Will Wright, and Cammie King are probably the most famous of the stars who voiced characters in Bambi, however none are names that scream out as long lasting stars. King is probably the most famous as she played Bonnie Blue Butler in the 1939 film Gone With The Wind and the young version of Faline in this film, but after Bambi she quit the movie business. (Fun fact: When Cammie King grew up and got married to her second and eventually widowed husband, her father-in-law was a musical arranger at the Walt Disney Studios, keeping King within the Disney circle.)
Bambi would eventually be released on August 13, 1942 as the fifth Disney full length animated feature after 5 intense years of story development and animation. (The Reluctant Dragon isn’t considered part of the collection of animated films due to it being more live action than animation.) The films budget over the course of 5 years grew from $858,000 to $1.7 million so it had expectations at a Snow White level when it was released. In the films original run, it only garnered $1.64 million, due to the market in Europe not being available because of World War II. It was less of a flop than Fantasia or Pinocchio were financially, but critically it was seen as a mixed bag. Critics felt Disney had gotten too far away from the magic and fairy tales we all loved from the earlier releases. They also thought the film got quite dark without giving the family audience anything lighthearted. Game hunters thought the film put them in a negative light. Better critical response would come later, in hind sight, as the American Film Institute would name it as the third greatest animated film of all time, right behind Snow White and Pinocchio. Time Magazine would name it as one of it’s Top 25 Horror Films noting that the film has “primal shock” that sticks with you, even years later. In December 2011, Bambi was added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry recognizing it for it’s statement on nature conservation.
Bambi is also the end of an era at the Walt Disney studios. (See, I said we would get back to that.) When Snow White was a success, films were pitched left and right and many of them were put into production at once. As noted earlier, Bambi was to be the second film, but ended up being the sixth. Other films such as Peter Pan and Cinderella were also in development but were shelved due to several things all colliding at once. A strike by the animators at the studio put several of the artists out of a job and would eventually ruin the “family” feeling amongst everyone working at the studio. The strike also put a damper on and slowed down production on The Reluctant Dragon, Dumbo, and Bambi. The biggest blow to the studio however, was World War II and eventual American involvement in the war. Military took over the studio, Walt and crew were sent on a mission to be good will ambassadors in South America, and propaganda films were put into production instead of theatrical releases. Disney started making money through government funding and films that bundled several shorts together, making them cheaper and easier to make, unlike the more artistic and realistic Bambi. After the war, Disney did return to feature length animation and Bambi’s legacy of impressionistic background designs, realistic animals in animation, and social messages would become a big part of future films, not just from Disney, but several other animation studios.
What are your thoughts on Bambi? Love it? Hate it? Do you have a favorite character or scene in the film? Leave your comments below.
I believe more than anything the reason I started writing these “Whole Picture” articles in chronological order. Starting from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, we saw how the Walt Disney company made money, then lost money going into the 1940s due to production costs and the lack of an international market due to World War II. Dumbo is a unique film in that regard because it wouldn’t have been made the way it did without everything the Disney company had felt the last couple of years all coming to a head. So what is so special about Dumbo? Well, there are many answers to that question. Let’s take a step back though and maybe we can answer that.
Dumbo was originally a children’s story by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, but this story wasn’t even a book. The Dumbo story was put into 8 sketches with hardly any text to demonstrate a new children’s toy called roll-a-book, something I would associate with the current toy, the view-master. The 8 pictures tell the story of a flying elephant who believes in himself after being convinced by a robin. Abused by a clown and forced to jump off a platform onto a trampoline, the elephant jumps and instead glides away with the ringmaster announcing his awesomeness. This roll-a-book was brought to Walt Disney by the head or Merchandise Kay Kamen in 1939. He loved it and decided to purchase the rights to the story. Funny thing though, it was hardly a story. Snow White, Pinocchio, and the Reluctant Dragon were all stories with a distinct narrative. Dumbo was just few sketches thrown onto a toy.
Originally intended to be made as a short-film, Walt decided the only way to do justice to the story of Jumbo Jr. was to make it a full length film. With no complete story to go off of, just a scene, storymen Joe Grant and Dick Huemer were put to work. The ended up actually writing the story as if it were really a book before storyboarding took shape, allowing them to reference their own piece of work. This is interesting to note because it had never been done at the Disney studio up until that point, and would never happen again that any storymen would actually write out the book themselves. Usually, if they don’t have a story to go off of, a script is written and then storyboards are made, not a book.
Due to the financial failure of Pinocchio and the soon-to-financially-fail Fantasia and Reluctant Dragon films, Dumbo was given a small budget, only $950,000. That is half the cost of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and only one-third of the cost of Pinocchio. Despite the lower budget, Disney still wanted some name actors to be a part of the film. Edward Brophy, a character actor best known for films like Freaks, The Thin Man and The Champ, was given the part of Timothy the Mouse. (Timothy Mouse replaced the robin character since it was seen as somewhat of a gag that a mouse and an elephant would be friends.) Cliff Edwards, who had voiced Jiminy Cricket, was asked to return to the studio to provide the voice for Jim Crow and sing a song for the film’s soundtrack. Sterling Holloway and Verna Felton, who were character actors at the time, were asked to star as voices in the film. Both Holloway and Felton would become mainstays at the studio, giving voices to several other films over the next several decades. I’m not entirely sure as to the decision to keep Jumbo Jr. as a silent character. Was it a budget concern? Was it an intentional silence? We might never know, but the title character truly thrives without it and it adds serious depth to the film.
Also due to a lower budget, Disney gave the orders to keep the film simplistic and focus more on characters than backgrounds and details. Ben Sharpsteen, who was the supervising director on the film made the budget work with less detailed drawings and still cels that were used in several scenes, not just one. Some expenses were made though, like bringing in animals to classrooms so animators could be a feel for how these elephants looked and moved. (A scene of animators drawing an elephant cane be seen in Disney’s previous film The Reluctant Dragon.) Water color backgrounds, a technique used for Disney short films, helped keep budget costs down as well. This was a technique also used on Snow White but wasn’t used again until Lilo and Stitch in 2002.
What Dumbo did gain from it’s low budget was the animation department’s ability to really delve into characters instead of worrying about the fine art of the film. Vladimir “Bill” Tytla was in charge of animating Jumbo Jr. and gave an acting performance of a lifetime. In fact, many of the characters in Dumbo don’t only act well, they also pull serious emotions out of their audience. Up to this point, Disney feature films had been visually stunning and had connected with the audience in drama and comedy, but not at this level. The scene in which Jumbo Jr. visits his mother who is locked up is still a tear-jerking moment in my book and one of the best scenes in all of animation.
Other characters also bring out emotion like the leader of the elephants or the clowns that give Jumbo Jr. such a hard time. I’ve talked with several people over the last few weeks about this film and many of them were passionate about the showcasing of cruelty towards our protagonist as well as their stories of tear-jerking moments from the film. Those answers I got about a cartoon film from 1941 drove my point home that this film was different in that it had that additional sense of drama added to it due to the animators jumping on the project and delving deep into these characters.
It can also be noted that during production of the film the Disney studio went on strike. The strike of over 300 people at the studio, due to layoffs and lack of raises and bonuses promised after long hours at the studio, lasted five weeks and after all was said and done, tarnished Walt Disney as the “father” figure and killed the family atmosphere the studio had. This impacted the film directly as many of the animators on strike were caricatured in the film as clowns. I think this also indirectly impacted the film, adding a larger sense of “I can do my job better than you” mentality amongst the staff, while also many pushing themselves to do their best work in fear of losing their job.
The film debuted in theaters in October of 1941 and was distributed by longtime Disney partner RKO Radio Pictures. RKO initially saw the film and wanted Disney to change it. The film being the shortest of the Disney animated features at only 1 hour and 4 minutes, RKO wanted them to either lengthen the film or turn it into a short film. Walt Disney refused to change the film and RKO did agree to run it as a feature length film on the note that Disney had been a success for them in the past. Everyone was anxious to see what the film would do at the box office considering the failures of the last three films. Despite World War II and the lack of an international audience, Dumbo earned $1.6 million in it’s initial theater run and was seen as a savior for the Walt Disney studios, bringing morale back up for the first time since the strike. Critical reception was also overwhelming, with plans for Time magazine to put the lovable elephant on it’s cover as “mammal of the year” but that didnt’ occur after the attack on Pearl Harbor and Time dedicating their December 1941 issue to the attack. Even though it never made the cover, in 2011, Time named Dumbo one of the top 25 animated films of all time. Dumbo was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song, “Baby Mine” and won Best Musical Score at the 1941 Academy Awards.
Dumbo has left it’s deep roots as one of the foundations of Disney and has spread itself out into other formats for the company. Dumbo’s Circus was a live action puppet show for Disney Channel in the 1980s, several books have been published about the adventures of Jumbo Jr. by the Walt Disney company, and let’s not forget the most popular attraction at any Disney theme park, Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Any commercial for a Disney park, Dumbo is shown and has become a serious must-do for any first time traveler’s vacation.
The film has seen some backlash with allegations of Jim Crow and his cohorts being displayed as African-American stereotypes but I for one don’t buy into these racism allegations. If you look at the other films of the time or even after Dumbo, characters are shown as stereotypes, but should not been seen as racism. Just merely adding to the story as Walt had always intended. Walt always believed that story and characters are at the heart of every film and that’s really what Dumbo is; a terrific story about quality characters told in the best of ways by his animation team and despite the ups and downs of low budgets, a new war, or even a civil strike, Walt and his crew of great people made things work, and not just for themselves, but for the enjoyment of everyone.
What are your thoughts on Dumbo? Do you like the film or do you hate it? Why so? Keep the conversation going and leave your comments below.
A few weeks back I took a historical look at the making of Pinocchio and gave my review of the film (You can read that RIGHT HERE!) but ever since I’ve poked fun of one thing, the lack of smarts that Pinocchio the character actually has. Walt Disney and his story men decided to change the character in the book, who was more mischievous and troubled, to a character that basically played “dumb” so that his conscience could play more of a leading role in the film. That’s all great news for the Cricket character, but the whole film I just thoughr how stupid Pinocchio was. Yes I know he is made of wood, but that is now excuse why he has to be so stupid. How stupid is he? Well here are my top 5 reasons Pinocchio is dumber than rocks.
#5-His Nose Growing. When the Blue Fairy comes to chat with Pinocchio after being held hostage by Stromboli, Pinocchio creates lies to make himself look innocent. The funny joke on him is that his nose starts to grow everything he tells a lie. The Blue Fairy continues to let him tell lies, and Pinocchio doesn’t notice that his nose has grown until is almost twice his size. Any normal person would have started asking serious questions if their nose grew more than a few centimeters, but the wooden boy waits until he is almost a freaking tree before starting to wonder what is happening. Why would you let that happen to yourself? At least he is made of wood and the Blue Fairy has magic so it could be shrunken back down or cutoff.
#4-Looking For Monstro. There is a large percentage of ocean on this earth. In fact, water encompasses 80% of the earth. That is a significant amount. So why on earth, without knowing what Monstro looks like, would you go searching for a whale in the ocean? I understand love and family triumphs all, but in a realistic fashion, there is now way Pinocchio would be able to find Monstro unless he looked for days, weeks, maybe even months underwater. Not only that, but when he does find a whale 100 times his size, what would he do? It seems as though the thought process here didn’t even start for Pinocchio, he just did it. Luckily it worked out for him in the long run, but he could have spent his whole life either searching for Monstro or never being able to save his father, fish, and cat from staying within the monster’s belly.
#3-Becoming A Donkey. The infamous transformation scene in the film pushes the envelope of family friendly and starts to becoming quite scary. Like Pinocchio, I too would have been afraid if my friend was turning into a Donkey, but once Lampwick turns into a full blown donkey, he starts destroying the pool hall they are in and kicking everything in sight. Pinocchio, instead of running away, hides behind a chair with no back to it as if that will protect him from the donkey going crazy bananas on the place. Seriously? That’s like being told that if you hide under your desk, it will save you from a nuclear war. I would have been running out of there as quickly as possible and forgetting that the donkey in the room was a friend I had just made, but he was a bad influence anyways so who needs friends like him.
#2-Listening To Honest John. When Geppetto sends Pinocchio off for his first day of school, he is stopped by a stranger. A more detailed description of this stranger is Honest John, a talking fox dressed in rags. Now I too would stop to listen to a talking fox because I’ve never seen one before, but I do remember that my first day of school was exciting and nothing would stop me from going. Instead of listening to his father, he listens to John who tells him he will be a star, but never really explains how. Now, if a talent agent told me that I was going to be a star but couldn’t provide details on how or when, I would think this guy was just trying to scam some money out of me in some way. Instead, Pinocchio just goes along with it, forgets about school, and doesn’t ask any questions. Really?
#1-Listening To Honest John Again. So Honest John leads Pinocchio into a money making scam, he is held prisoner by Stromboli, not paid, and has to escape just to get back home. So naturally, you would never listen to Honest John again right? Not Pinocchio! He is taken advantage of a second time by John and sent off to Pleasure Island. Why would you even give him the chance to talk? I mean, Jiminy should have just let him go at that point because he was hopeless. “Fool me twice, shame on me.” That’s the saying right. Shame on you Pinocchio for acting without thinking of the consequences you’d probably face by listening to Honest John again!
Any other reasons why Pinocchio is dumber than rocks? What do you think of my reasons? Would you change any of them? Leave your thoughts and comments as always.
It’s funny that this film is called The Reluctant Dragon because I was very reluctant to watch it. I was unfamiliar with this picture and I have no real explanation as to why it was made. Even audiences at the time thought this film was strange. I guess we can say that this is the first of many films that would be dubbed “package films” as they don’t center around one story, but several. That is the case with the Reluctant Dragon and that’s how I will really have to write this article, analyzing each segment of the film in all of it’s oddities.
If you are familiar with Kenneth Grahame’s children’s book titled The Reluctant Dragon, you’ll be familiar with only 20 minutes of this film. Yes, that’s right. Despite the film being titled The Reluctant Dragon, the story is only featured in the last 20 minutes of the film. This film is actually a behind the scenes look into the Disney studios as seen by popular radio comedian Robert Benchley. This pseudo-documentary takes Benchley on a quest to talk to Walt Disney because his wife told him to offer up the idea to make a film out of the Grahame book.
The reasoning I call this film a psuedo-documentary is vecause half of the film’s characters are real life cartoonists, animators, and personalities. We do meet Clarence Nash and Florence Gill, the voices of Donald Duck and Clara Cluck, as well as animators like Ward Kimball and Fred Moore, some of Walt’s Nine Old Men. On the other hand, the film stars actors playing character parts like Humphrey, who is played by Buddy Pepper or Doris who is played by Frances Gifford. Doris becomes Benchley’s main counterpart in the film showing off different sections of the studio such as the ink and paint department or the camera room where they use the multiplane camera to shoot Donald Duck.
The film also starts out in black and white, but as Benchley makes his way through studio rooms the film changes to full color. Benchley even pokes fun at the change and breaks down the fourth wall saying how everything looks better in Technicolor. It’s also interesting to note that several films were being show as well at Disney studios while the Reluctant Dragon was being filmed so we get glimpses of future films such as Dumbo, Bambi, Peter Pan, and Cinderalla, while the film is scored with music from Snow White and Pinocchio. I especially love the art class scene where Robert Benchley walks in thinking they are sketching a female model but it turns out to be a large elephant as they prep for Dumbo. Nobody ever says these films are in production, but it’s clear as day now. I’m sure for movie goers of 1941, it was peculiar to see artists sketching an adult elephant. Benchley also collects several things from each area of the studio, having animator’s caricature him, or a face made of of clay in the modeling room.
The film also integrates several short pieces including one cartoon shown completely in storyboard format with only pieces of it animated. The short is titled “Baby Weems” and is about a genius baby. Story men tell showcase the board to Benchley before the viewing audience gets to view the entire piece. It’s an interesting way to animate a short and stands out as the first of it’s kind to be showcased this way to a viewing audience. It’s my personal favorite segment of the film.
The other short that comes with this film is showcased in the animation room with Ward Kimball when he asks Benchley to view a short they just finished. They show “How to Ride a Horse” which was the first of many How-To shorts for Goofy after Pinto Colvig, the voice of Goofy, left the studio in the midst of Goofy’s popularity. The How-To short is really the main standout of the film and has been seen on several television specials. It’s one of the more popular Goofy shorts and it’s nice to see it here.
Humphrey, who has been searching for Mr. Benchley the whole film, finally catches up to him and brings him to Walt who is in the viewing room, or the “sweat box” as the animators called it, to view a new film. Before Benchley can propose his idea to make an animated film out of The Reluctant Dragon, the film starts and it is in fact the very story Benchley came to propose. This animated film only lasts about 20 minutes but is quite comical. I was actually looking forward to seeing it as I was unfamiliar with the film. I won’t take anything away from the Reluctant Dragon cartoon, but I felt like after watching the last three films (Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia) this was a step backwards. It was very cartoonish, the characters were over the top, and the hero, simply named The Boy, is unrelatable and uninteresting. Again, not taking away from it, but I was expecting more.
What I was surprised by most is how I wanted so badly to not see the documentary portion of this film as there have been an abundance Disney studio documentaries, and I was looking forward to the actual animated portions of the film. In the end, I really loved the studio tour, especially seeing some early pre-television Disney work, while I wasn’t too fond of the Reluctant Dragon animated film. It isn’t a film I’d recommend to the average movie goer, but if you are a diehard Disney fan, the documentary parts of the film are very interesting and enjoyable. The cast really makes this one shine, and I wish I could see more of radio personality Robert Benchley in films of the era. He has a slapstick Abbot and Costello feel to his performance here.
Unfortunately again for the studio, who had put $600,000 into the film, they lost money in it’s initial release. That makes three films in a row after Pinocchio and Fantasia. This was also in the midst of the 1941 studio strike where animators picketed in front of the studio or theaters calling Walt “The Reluctant Disney”. Luck, however, would soon change for Disney after this film with Dumbo, but that’s another story for another article.
Have you see The Reluctant Dragon? Would you see it if you haven’t? What’s your favorite scenes if you have? Leave your thoughts and comments and I will see you all soon.
In 1937, Walt Disney and company were a locomotive full steam ahead on the production or Snow White. The majority of the crew at the studio were working non-stop on the film, however other things were also on the mind of Walt Disney. Mickey Mouse had been Disney’s golden ticket initially but by the late 1930s, the character’s popularity was waning. Disney decided he needed a short production to boost the character back into superstar status. Disney had the notion that using the short poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the Paul Dukas musical score inspired by the poem would be a great start to a production with Mickey. The mouse would star in a short called The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Leopold Stokowski, then leader of the Philadelphia Orchestra, happened to bump into Disney and a local Hollywood restaurant. Disney, recognizing the famous conductor, decided to pitch the idea of combining the classic Apprentice piece with an animated short in a much more serious fashion than his previous Silly Symphony cartoons. Stokowski loved the concept and agreed to conduct the recording of an orchestra for free on the production. By December of 1937 and with Stokowski on board, an 85 piece orchestra was hired, a stage at a large studio was rented, the best of the animators were on duty, and the budget became four times the usual Disney short. With Roy Disney being the financier of the Studio, he told Walt to keep costs down and to not go over budget as a short like this, as experimental and costly as it was, may not find a way to make it’s return from the box office. Of course, Walt saw this problematic budget as a reason to not just make a short, but to test the waters with a full fledged animated film concert. Instead of keeping the budget low on a short which was guranteed to not return on it’s cost, Disney felt that a larger production and a general release in theaters would surely make money for the studio.
Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski decided to bring together a team of talented people including music critic Deems Taylor, staff story writers, and several heads of departments throughout the Disney company. Meetings were then held to select several musical pieces for which the music would be recorded and the film would be animated. 8 pieces in total made the final cut on what was then discussed as The Concert Feature. A piano concert was held at the studio with Walt talking over the music, telling the story of how the film would look and feel. A contest was also thrown out to the staff to come up with a name for the new feature. Over 1,000 different names came up, but the one everyone always came back to was an early working title for the film: Fantasia.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which had been greenlit initially, went into production in January of 1938, just one month after the debut of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Stokowski conducted a Hollywood orchestra he himself handpicked and the recordings were soon sent to animators. Fred Moore redesigned Mickey Mouse, giving him pupils and larger eyes, giving us the Mickey Mouse we now know today instead of the pie-eyed Mickey of the early 1930s. Each staff member at the studio was given a synopsis of the poem that inspired the short. While work went steadily for the Mickey Mouse segment, there were other productions being made at the studio. Pinocchio was well underway, while Dumbo and Bambi were also stories being bounced around. The film wouldn’t be put back into production again until the following January in 1939.
Stokowski returned as the conductor for the Philadelphia Orchestra whom finished the recordings for the rest of the songs in January. Stokowski finished the recording of the musical portion of the film in July. At that time, the recordings were given to the animation team. While production was on break, ideas were also bounced around about what the animated segments would look and feel like. When production continued, Walt got everyone together and decided on various color palettes, animation styles, and how the music would tell the story. He believed so much in the music, that he wanted several of the pieces to not even tell a story. In the case of the Toccata and Fugue segment of the film, abstract art was key. Various shapes and colors were used to play off of the music without telling a distinct narrative. Other segments were given short stories, such as Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, which depicts a mythological Greek setting. On severeal pieces, Stokowski disagreed with the narratives chosen as he felt those weren’t the stories to be told by the music, but Walt, as well as Deems Taylor, stood up for the ideas and ultimately got their wish.
Along with the film, Roy and Walt felt that the standard sound systems at theaters were not good enough for what the studio was striving for. Walt wanted the audience to get the impression they were hearing an actual orchestra. The brothers contacted RCA to develop the system,whom in turn reluctantly agreed, so long as the studio would front the $200,000 cost to build the equipment. The new Fantasound system created what most of us would now see as a surround sound system, giving the impression the some sounds are coming from the left, some from the center, and some from the right. With this new system, Walt talked RKO Distributors, who refused to release a near two and a half hour film into general theaters, into releasing the film as a limited engagement in the form of a traveling show. This way, Walt could set up his Fantasound system in theaters of his choosing and sell theater seats as if it were a real concert.
Fantasia debuted on November 13th, 1940 at the Broadway Theater in New York. (Pinocchio released as a general theater run in February making Fantasia the 3rd full length feature release.) The Disney company leased the theater for a year, running the show for 57 straight weeks. Demand for tickets was so high that eight full-time telephone operators were hired to take the calls. The second stop on the tour was the Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles which ran for 39 weeks. (The theater at which Snow White premiered.) Fantasia ran a show in 11 other U.S. cities throughout the rest of 1941 until it’s general release in January 1942.
Previous to the general release, the film, which had been a critical success saw very little in return monetarily. The budget of $2.28 million was far from being reached, making the film less of a success than Pinocchio which also failed to earn it’s money back in it’s initial run. RKO asked Walt to cut down the long movie and edit out some of the scenes to make it shorter. Walt refused but allowed RKO to cut what they wanted, only for the purposes of hopefully making his money back on the investment. RKO editors cut nearly 1/4 of the film out, mainly Deems Taylor’s talking parts and the abstract Toccata and Fugue portions of the film. The film would make a return to the theaters several times after the 1942 release, including 1946, 1956, and 1963, but it wasn’t until a release in 1969 that the company finally made back all of the money originally put into the production of Fantasia.
Several factors played into the lackluster box office draw of the film. World War II lost a larger demographic in European audiences when the film wasn’t distributed internationally. The roadshow idea of tearing down and installing the Fantasound system was quite costly. The strange idea of seeing an animated concert of classical music wasn’t a huge appeal to the wider U.S. population who, at that time, were much more into Jazz and Blues music. Of course, we also have to credit the film for it’s brilliance, much like several critics did when first seeing the film in New York. Without Fantasia, we may never have seen the creation of the THX sound system we now see in theaters, or even our own surround sound systems at home. The techniques used to record the soundtrack for the film are still used today, being updated from the mono sounds of early 1930s. Plus we would have never seen Mickey in that awesome sorcerer’s hat.
What are my thoughts on the film? Well, as a child I absolutely hated this film. It didn’t make sense, it was too long, and it wasn’t funny. (Keep in mind that Disney released the film later at it’s original length.) As an adult, I find it charming and brilliant, but out of the films of the era, it seems to get lost in the shuffle for me. The animation is beautiful throughout the film but I don’t care much for the abstract art used. I love the narrative storytelling in many of the symphonic pieces though. I also love that this film gave Warner Bros. the idea to use classical music in their short cartoons as well. As a dying musical style, it really gained popularity again with the animation medium and gave many generations the knowledge that this music was out there. Without it, I’m not sure I would be interested in classical music at all. I tend to see this film as more of an experience than a film I’d plop down on the couch and watch. I’d love to see it released again for a roadshow type of run, maybe projected onto a screen while a real orchestra plays the music at a local concert hall. It’s still a film people know of and credit. What better way to pay tribute to it than breathing life back into it with that live experience Walt was always trying to duplicate.
Last week I sat and rewatched one of the Disney classics I hadn’t seen in quite a long time. Pinocchio was actually a very pleasing film to watch again and it got me thinking about who else could use a conscience. Of course my brain works in maddening ways that is too difficult to explain in a single article, but it led me to thinking about celebrities of the modern era and show could use a Jiminy Cricket push. So without much more of an intro, here are my top 5 celebrities who need Jiminy Cricket as their guide.
5-Gary Busey. I saw a commercial for the All-Star edition of Celebrity Apprentice the other day and came to wonder how and when Gary Busey lost his way. The answer is copious amounts of drugs and a long time ago. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I heard the name Gary Busey and thought anything positive was going to come from it. Busey is a former Academy Award nominee for best actor when he played the role of Buddy Holly in the Buddy Holly Story and has also been in several classic films like Lethal Weapon, Point Break, and The Firm. I mean, this was a serious movie actor with some great qualities. Then he was involved in a motorcycle accident where he wasn’t wearing a helmet. He could have definitely used Jiminy at that point, but none-the-less he survived and continued on down a road filled only with B-movies and punchlines that end with his name. It’s a sad state of affairs as he has been arrested multiple times for drug possession, domestic violence, and countless other crimes. His latest role has been the insane former actor on Donald Trump’s show, and despite his antics, NBC is making money off of his tom foolery so they continue to bring him back so he can make himself look even worse. Seriously, get this man a talking cricket immediately. Better yet, let’s travel back to the mid-1980s in our DeLorean and find him a cricket there when Busey still had a promising career.
4-Lindsay Lohan. A former Disney star gone bad, Lindsay Lohan has been the epitome of bad choices. What was once a promising career for a young actress trying to mature out of her Disney phase became an out of control nightmare. Lohan has been in and out of court more times than anyone can count. She has lied in court about her film schedule and drug use, as well as continues to miss court dates that she is scheduled for. The Blue Fairy would be very disappointed and with as many lies as she has told, her nose would be the size of a redwood if you cut it down. (Don’t cut down the redwoods though.) On top of that, she has found herself in and out of rehab just as often as she is in and out of court. She should have stayed with her old Disney pal Jiminy and this would have never happened. Of course, I can partially blame some of her madness on her parents, but as someone who is 26 years old, I think it’s about time to stop blaming her parents and start blaming her own personal problems.
3-Rihanna. A surprising pick, but I think for good reason. At age 24, Rihanna has an extremely good future ahead of her, but only if she goes down the right path. Like Pinocchio meeting Honest John, Rihanna tends to find herself hanging out with the wrong crowd, aka Chris Brown, and falling completely in love. Now, I have to say, like most people, felt sorry for Rihanna when she was first attacked by Brown a few years back. The two split and she seemed better off for doing so in the long run. She had success on her own and should have listened to her personal Jiminy Cricket about continuing along that path. Unfortunately love, or whatever feelilng I try to often tell myself doesn’t exist, gets in the way sometimes and brings people back. For Rihanna, that meant hooking up with former domestic violence case Chris Brown. I also am not one to say that people don’t deserve second chances, but in this case I think Rihanna was better off. Only time will tell if this is her downfall or not, but it does seem to me that this has potential to ruin her career, and at such a young age. Rihanna, find your cricket and listen to him!
2-The Vast Majority of U.S. Politicians. Seriously, can we turn on the nightly news and not see a political scandal for once. At a time when politicians need to focus on what’s a stake for a changing American society, what we end up with is a mix of prostitution, drug use, and racism I only thought existed in the film Beloved. Can we not elect government officials that are straight laced anymore, or do those even exist. The sad note here is that if these people had a conscience, Americans could be better off and decisions could be made at a quicker pace. When scandals happen in Washington D.C., they impact us all in the sense that the real issues get pushed to the side and are not resolved. I won’t push this topic any further, as I’m not one to talk politics on my own Disney site but you get the message.
1-Charlie Sheen. Has there ever been someone so misguided in life. As an actor, Charlie Sheen has played some major roles. As a personality, Charlie Sheen is off his rocker. Growing up in a family of actors is a strange ordeal, so I understand how Sheen could be a bit off kilter, but off kilter doesn’t describe him at all. (Epcot reference for those of you who caught it.) Name it and Sheen has been there and done it. Domestic Violence..check. Drug use…check. Alcoholism…check. Serious meltdown…check. So where did he go wrong? I don’t think anyone can pinpoint that exact moment, but starting in the early 1990s, it seemed like this trainwreck was doomed. Despite himself, he continues to land big roles and make money, but eventually all of his partying habits will catch up to him. Pleasure Island’s fun can only last so long. Jiminy needs to get to him to change his ways before he ends up dead in a gutter somewhere.
What other celebrities need a conscience like Jiminy Cricket? Leave your thoughts and comments down below. As always, thank you guys and I will see you soon.