Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Story of Ferdinand


Munro Leaf's The Story of Ferdinand and Disney's adaptation Ferdinand the Bull are a delightful story that shows just how closely the animators could hew to a source text if they chose to. As a visual example, consider how well they replicated the cover of the original book for the title card of the film.


The similarities don't end there. Visual echoes are clear throughout the short. For another example, here is Ferdinand en route to Madrid for the bullfights...




And both were inspired by the real Puente Nuevo ("New Bridge") completed in 1793 in the Andalusian city of Ronda, Spain.


And then these guys in funny hats...



That similarity in the art is to be expected, since the original story was really a venue for the illustration of Robert Lawson, who faithfully reproduced the sights of southern Spain. The story goes that Munro Leaf spent one afternoon in 1935 drafting the story on a single sheet of looseleaf, so that his illustrator friend could have a project to showcase his talents. That story is exceedingly short and simple, as we shall see.


Saturday, 15 April 2017

Theme vs. Decoration

One of the most pernicious arguments put forward to justify the change from The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror to Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout is that it's still the same ride, "only" the theme is changing. Serious comparisons are often made to Mickey's Fun Wheel or Silly Symphony Swings as examples of rides that are the same, but simply had a change in theme. And it is an argument riddled with fundamental errors and misconceptions about what a themed attraction even is, as opposed to merely a ride with some decoration. Sadly it is a misconception that has grown ever more pernicious as the fan community fractures ever more deeply into those who understand the concept of theme and those who obsess with a thrill ride's letter-grade.

Basically the same as Guardians of the Galaxy.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Walt's Era - Part 12: Disney in Transition, Part 1 (1960)


1960 was the second-half of a losing fiscal year for Disney. The company's feature films were not its best line-up by any stretch of the imagination, and its television business went up in smoke. Walt Disney Productions bought out ABC's share of Disneyland and canceled The Mickey Mouse Club and Zorro at the height of their popularity. Walt Disney Presents also ran out its ABC contract with a few Zorro one-off episodes, Moochie of Pop Warner Football (further cementing Kevin Corcoran's status in the company), and trying to recapture the spirit of Davy Crockett with Daniel Boone.

On the plus side, the studios negotiated with NBC to begin Wonderful World of Color once the contract with ABC ran out. The company also bought out Western Printing's and Walt Disney's personal shares in Disneyland, making the themepark a wholly owned subsidiary of Walt Disney Productions. Disney also staged the Winter Olympic opening ceremonies in Squaw Valley that year, and this was the year that preparation began on Mary Poppins. The Sherman Brothers were hired on to the company and negotiations began in earnest with P.L. Travers. Walt had been trying to get the rights to the book since 1938, and only now was Travers even remotely sensitive to the dollars Walt waved in front of her face.

These conditions lead to another transitional period for Disney, only a decade after they found their post-war footing. Of course, a company like Disney is always facing new challenges and opportunities, but 1959/60 really seemed to mark the end of a period begun in 1950, reaching its apotheosis in 1954/55. True-Life Adventures and People and Places came to an end, Disneyland reached its most complete form until the additions and renovations of 1965-67, their relationship with ABC came to an end, a new suite of mostly child stars entered the company, new (and cheaper) production methods for animation were enacted, and an unending stream of uneven live-action films really start to become the company's bread and butter. Watching the films from this year, knowing in the back of my mind what's coming up, and learning what was going on behind the scenes, I can see how Disney's "best years" are behind it and most of its more negative reputation is going to be earned. Nevertheless, even "bad" Disney of the Sixties is better than most things! It's not like Swiss Family Robinson, Pollyanna, or Zorro are anything to sneeze at.

Walt on set with Haley Mills and Kevin Corcoran.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers



When Disney set about the make a "true-life adventure" film about the making of their classic musical Mary Poppins, they received criticism from certain quarters for that film's propaganda-like qualities. Margaret Lyons of Vulture takes up the cross for artistes wanting to uphold their creative vision: "...what was presented as a joyless, loveless pedant finally giving herself over to the delight and imagination of the Wonderful World of Disney could just as easily been presented as a creative, passionate person, with dignity and real emotions, getting steamrolled by one of the most powerful companies in the world." But that is unfair to Saving Mr. Banks, which had the herculean task of making P.L. Travers out to be merely a "joyless, loveless pedant" and not the disgusting, horrible human being she actually was. Disney softened her considerably, actually succeeding in making her somewhat sympathetic and therein being the ones to invite a more sympathetic view of her being steamrolled by Walt into turning her British children's book into an American family musical. An acquaintance with the historical P.L. Travers is enough to allow one exception in the rule of artistic integrity, making a person a little glad that her own creation was wrested from her as a kind of karmic retribution.

Born in Australia and suffering the loss of her father at a young age, Helen Lyndon Goff moved to England on the bankroll of her wealthy aunts, took up the stage name Pamela Lyndon Travers, and insinuated herself into the salons and bedrooms of the artistic set. Entranced with the Irish culture that her father claimed to share, she particularly fixated on becoming acquaintances with, and often mistress of, various Irish authors, editors, and publishers. Unfortunately for her, she never could hold down a stable relationship, even a ten-year long cohabitation with friend (and likely more) Madge Burnand, daughter of playwright and Punch editor Sir Francis Burnand. At first she sought relief in various and sundry mystical diversions, including sojourns with the Navajo and Hopi in America as well as a trip to Japan to study Zen Buddhism. None of these seemed to have produced the most necessary spiritual effect, which is to help make you a better, kinder, and more loving human being. Some people turn to spirituality to feel better, some turn to spirituality to become better. Travers was the former.

To fill the gaping cavity where her heart should be, Travers arranged to adopt a pair of twins, grandchildren of the beleaguered Joseph Hone. Biographer of W.B. Yeats, Hone found himself and his wife having to raise their son's six children. Looking to lighten their load, they were keen to adopt off the two youngest at six months. However, after consultation with her astrologer, Travers reneged on her agreement and only took the one. This, whom she named Camillus, she raised as her own with no knowledge of his ancestry or twin brother. At the age of 17, his brother Anthony came looking for him. The revelation created a lasting rift between Camillus and Travers, the emotional damage driving Camillus to drink. It was at this point in her life that Walt Disney came a-calling, offering the money required for her to maintain the lavish lifestyle to which she had become accustomed. Camillus went to his grave some 50 years later, claiming that Travers had robbed him of his family. His children went on to say that when their adopted grandmother P.L. Travers died, she died unloved and loving no one.

Sometimes it's better to know nothing of the author of a beloved story. In the case of Mary Poppins, Disney becomes the spoonful of sugar to ease the bitterness of a creator who can be interpreted as lost and tragic or mean and selfish, but either way a generally awful person. What is most astonishing, when taking all of this into consideration, is how someone like P.L. Travers could have written a book so charming and whimsical as Mary Poppins.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Disney Announces Small World Stroller Parking Structure

GLENDALE - In a quiet press release this morning, Walt Disney Imagineering announced an ambitious project to create the Small World Stroller Parking Structure at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

Long plagued by feet-tripping rows of strollers abandoned in a quasi-orderly fashion, the Small World Stroller Parking Structure will be a welcome addition. The attraction is renowned for its popularity with the discerning 1-36 month old demographic, sometimes causing headaches for guests and castmembers alike. Disneyland's ad hoc stroller parking area has frequently been the scene of "stroller rage" incidents, culminating in a horrific 18 stroller pile-up late last year that caused the death and dismemberment of 24 infants, toddlers, and an inexplicable handful of eight-year olds whose parents still allow them to ride in strollers. The open nature of the existing lot also became the target of thieves and joyriding stroller-jackers. 

"These sorts of incidents are unacceptable," stated Disneyland president Michael Colglazier, "as well as damaging to our reputation as a safe, enriching, and magical place to bring children whose eyes are not yet developed enough to focus on distant objects."

Soon this area will become the world's largest
stroller parking facility. Photo: cyclotourist.

The Small World Stroller Parking Structure will be the largest of its kind in the world until Tokyo builds a bigger one. At five stories, the parkade will have space for 10,000 strollers in a range of models from umbrella to full size to travel system, tandem, hybrid, and sports utility. "The story of the Small World Stroller Parking Structure will blend seamlessly with the existing story of It's a Small World," baselessly claims someone from Imagineering from a video posted on the Disney Parks Blog. Plans are to have the parking structure look kind of  like something designed by Mary Blair or Rolly Crump, but not exactly like it, making it seem inauthentic and cheap in a way you can't quite put your finger on.

This is one of several projects initiated by Imagineering this year to make Disney Parks a more inviting place for the neonatal. Disney has already rolled out a redesign of the costumed characters to make them less alien and terrifying to infants who see nothing but Mickey's monstrous gloved hands, crazed eyes, and huge gaping maw bearing down upon them. Another project will have the pirates ships removed from Peter Pan's Flight so that strollers can simply be attached to hooks without having to remove the child. Taking ques from Disney Cruise Lines "youth clubs" and theme parks' Package Check Service, a planned expansion to Disneyland's Baby Care Center will allow parents to drop-off their children for pick-up at the front gate at the end of the day. Guests staying at Disney Resort Hotels in Disneyland and Walt Disney World may also opt to have their children delivered back to their rooms within 24 hours.

"We are committed," said Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek, "to Walt Disney's dream of creating an entertainment enterprise where parents could ill-advisedly refuse to let their own children stop them from visiting."

"I vividly remember," reminisced Colglazier, "when my parents told me about how I screamed all the way through Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion when I was a newborn, and then how I couldn't walk anymore and had a breakdown in the middle of Tomorrowland when I was four, and the swimming pool of the motel behind Disneyland when I was seven, and how I just totally didn't want to be there with my lame parents when I was a teenager."

"I want to make it easier for parents today to create those same kinds of magical memories with their kids. After all, Disneyland is for kids."

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

National Parks in the Time of Grizzly Peak



Disney California Adventure park's Grizzly Peak Recreation Area and Airfield have been reset from the Nineties extreme sports era to the vintage time period of the early Sixties. This makes it contemporaneous with Disney's True-Life Adventures films, Humphrey the Bear shorts, and the Golden Age of the Great American Road Trip that brought so many visitors to the National Parks along the newly christened Interstate Highway system.

One could do worse to capture a feel for the period than to watch the True-Life films and Humphrey shorts, as well as Disney's later animal features like Yellowstone Cubs (some of which are specifically referenced in Grizzly Peak as films being shown in the late-night ranger program). Nevertheless, there is a wealth of available material out there, above and beyond one's old family photos. For example, the following Vacation Land U.S.A. program presented by the Ford Motor Company features Yellowstone circa the late Fifties.


Castle Films presents this 1965 short on Grand Teton Country, featuring Pioneer Days at Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.


The next travelogue is of Glacier National Park around the early Sixties, this time presented by Great Northern Railway. Clearly they are keen to have guests at their chain of rustic lodges sprinkled throughout the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, reached by a ride on a streamlined Great Northern train. But at this time, railway travel was steadily dying out to highway travel.


Here is another take on Glacier National Park in another mid-century travelogue from Great Northern Railway.


The next film takes us on a black-and-white tour of the crown jewel, the Grand Canyon, circa 1958.


This silent film produced by Castle makes a nice virtual tour of the "Grand Loop" through Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon via Utah Parks Company tour bus. Passengers would disembark the Union Pacific Railway at Cedar City, Utah, stay a night in one of the Hotel El Escalante's 23 rooms, and then hop on the subsidiary company's bus for a round trip through each of the region's great chasms.


The following film from 1957 is a promotional film for the Pacific Northwest in general, but pays more than ample attention to Olympic, Mount Rainier and Crater Lake National Parks, and Mount Hood National Forest. The volcanic mountains that shape the geography of this region also shape human life there, from industry to recreation.



More specific than just the National Parks, Grizzly Peak is meant to invoke the Sierra mountains and its parks: Yosemite, Sequoia, and King's Canyon. The following vintage film from the Fifties features Yosemite and is light on footage of the tourists themselves, which isn't so bad.


Of course it's always fun to see how the National Parks Service promoted themselves. There are no scenes of happy tourists in the following video produced by the NPS, but there is lots of vintage footage, some hilariously overzealous narration, and an insight into how Americans perceived their national story in the Fifties.



Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Jules Verne's In Search of the Castaways

Disney's release of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in 1954 began a flurry of cinematic adaptations of Jules Verne's writings, as well as H.G. Wells and a handful of generically Victorian-style Science Fiction stories. Around the World in 80 Days was released in 1956, From the Earth to the Moon in 1958, Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1959, H.G. Wells' The Time Machine in 1960, The Mysterious Island and Master of the World in 1961, and Five Weeks in a Balloon in 1962. By 1962 it was natural for Disney to want to follow up their smash hit with another Vernian tale, as well as add to their growing list of high-spirited adventure movies like Swiss Family Robinson (1960). Their choice ended up being a strange one, though. Instead of another big budget Science Fiction epic coping with the anxieties and hopes the Atomic Age, in the vein of 20,000 Leagues, they opted to make In Search of the Castaways into a family musical starring Haley Mills and Maurice Chevalier!

Illustration from In Search of the Castaways by Ă‰douard Riou.

Published originally in serialized form through 1867-1869 as Les Enfants du capitaine Grant, the story known variously as The Children of Captain Grant, A Voyage Around the World, or In Search of the Castaways follows Verne's modus operandi of using a rousing tale of adventure (and sometimes futuristic technologies) to take readers on a journey through some far-flung corner of the world. Only a relatively small fraction of the stories written by Verne would qualify as "Science Fiction." Rather, the celebrated French author created an entirely new genre called "Scientific Romance" which purported to educate readers about geography, ecology, zoology, anthropology, history, the arts, and technology through the medium of the adventure story. The Nautilus was a fantastic invention, which ably served its purpose as a plot device to take the protagonists (and by proxy the readers) on a tour of the world's oceans.

For In Search of the Castaways, the order of the day is a trip along the 37th parallel south... A latitudinal line that crosses South America through the Andes and Patagonia, Australia through the province of Victoria, and the high country of New Zealand's northern island. The purpose of the journey, besides offering a chance to meet Patagonians and Maori, is to rescue Captain Harry Grant. This daring explorer at the helm of the S.S. Britannia had gone missing several years before, leaving behind a pair of orphans in Mary and Robert. No clue was left to his whereabouts until a tattered message in a bottle (in a shark) is recovered by Lord and Lady Glenarvan. Inspired by the plight of Captain Grant and the his children, they resolve to travel the 37th parallel around the world until they find him.