Not far from Azay-le-Rideau and its famous château in the Loire Valley is the Château de la Chatonnière. No castle, this is a charming country estate that brings to mind the humble home of Cinderella. The current owner Béatrice de Andia has employed the services of master gardener Ahmed Azéroual to surround the château with stunning thematic gardens on the ideas of science, romance, and fragrance. Unfortunately during our visit in May of 2013 we were too early to appreciate the gardens in full bloom. The trade-off was made with having virtually the entire estate to ourselves. Much like the Château d'Ussé that we visited on the same day, this charming villa is off the beaten path and decidedly worth the visit.
Wednesday, 14 June 2017
Saturday, 10 June 2017
1962 is another landmark year in this series, in a certain way. This is the first year that not only lacks an animated classic, but lacks any kind of classic to speak of. There isn't even anything that might be called a minor, cult classic among Disney fans "in the know". The films are not bad, but not a one of them is on most people's top 10, or top 20, or maybe even a top 30 list. In Search of the Castaways, Moon Pilot, The Legend of Lobo, Big Red, etc. are pretty okay films and on the balance, 1962 was a pretty okay year. There are no truly awful films - even Bon Voyage has its merits - at the expense of nothing truly outstanding. Luckily the company also re-released Pinocchio and Lady and the Tramp to offset things.
Behind the scenes, WED moved from the Disney studios to Glendale as construction began on New Orleans Square in Disneyland. The Swiss Family Treehouse also opened this year, adding the second actual attraction to Adventureland and its first expansion since opening day. Walt Disney Productions renewed its contract with Walt and WED Enterprises. Walt received some $3500 per week plus another $1666 in deferred payments and a percentage of profits from the films, with an additional $1500 going to WED.
|Swiss Family Treehouse, circa 1962.|
Wednesday, 31 May 2017
You stay off'a my back and I'll stay off'a your back!
When the Enchanted Tiki Room went down in the early Nineties for a refurbishment, its sometimes tolerance-testing 17 minute duration was trimmed to a taut 12 minutes by the exclusion of the peaceful Barcarolle number. Borrowed from Jacques Offenbach's opera Tales of Hoffman, the Barcarolle offered a calming interlude after the explosive introductory song The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room. It was, however, an unspectacular use of the attraction's signature audio-animatronics. Any use of audio-animatronics in 1963 was astonishing, and the Barcarolle served a proper function in the pace of the show, but 30 years later it simply tried the patience of audiences eager to get out and ride the Haunted Mansion or the Indiana Jones Adventure.
A barcarolle is a type of folk song sung by Venetian gondoliers or music in that same style. In Tales of Hoffman, which is regularly described as one of the most popular melodies in opera, the barcarolle is a piece entitled "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" and is sung between the Venetian courtesan Giulietta and Hoffman's muse Nicklausse, disguised as a male companion. In the opera, the pleasant melody underlines something sinister: Hoffman believes that Giulietta is in love with him, but in fact she is seducing him under orders from Hoffman's enemies.
Most uses of the song outside of Tales of Hoffman have employed this contrast in melody and intent. For example, in the film Life is Beautiful (1997), it contrasts the height of European culture with the collapse into fascism. Disney evidently thought that it just sounded nice, and previously used it in the 1931 Silly Symphony cartoon Birds of a Feather.
Birds of a Feather (1931)
Saturday, 20 May 2017
Not very long ago, FoxxFur at Passport to Dreams posed the question of what makes a themed attraction, themed space, or theme park distinctively "Disney" in contrast to other amusement parks, rides, and spaces. What does it mean when we criticize something made by Disney of not being "Disney" enough? What do we mean when we say the so-called competition doesn't measure up to Disney, or has "out-Disneyed" Disney? Since I take my cues from Passport to Dreams apparently, which frankly isn't a bad place to take them from, I've been given pause to think seriously about what that means.
Wednesday, 17 May 2017
Poor Ngendei, the Earth-balancer... Tormented by Pele, barely hanging on, wobbling around on the globe he is supposed to be supporting... If we descend into the original Fijian mythology from which Ngendi comes, however, it's really Pele who should be on the lookout!
Degei, also called Ndengei, is the supreme god of ancient Fiji. The first of the Fijian gods, he created the islands and peopled them, determines the fate of his people in the afterlife, and provides for them as they live, blessing them with fruits and rains... Or tormenting them with floods, famine, and devastating earthquakes. Like nature itself, Degei's moods change from kindly to wrathful, from provider to judge, jury, and executioner.
|Fiji's coastline. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.|
Saturday, 13 May 2017
The process of finding new footing continued for Disney into 1961. The company paid off its existing loans, debuted Wonderful World of Color on NBC on September 24th (and introduced America to Professor Ludwig von Drake), and released its first truly new animated film since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to theatres. Disney also ended their popular series of Donald Duck cartoons this year, against the backdrop of general changes in America's filmgoing habits. Nevertheless, they also acquired the rights to the Winnie the Pooh character. The first draft of Mary Poppins was finished, and it is in this year that the film Saving Mr. Banks is set, fictionalizing the challenges of working with Pamela Travers. Disney was setting itself up nicely for its new-new era.
Wednesday, 3 May 2017
The Mississippi River is one of the great rivers of the world. Counting in its entire drainage basin, the Mississippi and its tributaries drain 31 states and the southernmost part of two Canadian provinces. It straddles the Rocky Mountains to the West and Appalachian Mountains to the East. It is the fourth longest and ninth largest river in the world. The Mississippi is the central artery of American industry, controlling it meant victory for the Union and defeat for the Confederates, it demarcates Country music from Western music, and the settlements along its ever advancing delta gave birth to Jazz. Sooner rather than later, the living river might bypass New Orleans and Baton Rouge altogether, rerouting its primary outflow to the Atchafalaya River. It already would be, if not for the engineering marvels placed by the US government attempting to bend nature to its will. Great industrial barges ply the urbanized riverscape today, but in Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and wherever Imagineers have transplanted the American frontier, the romance of the river's old steamboat days are perpetually rekindled.
In Disneyland, the riverboat is named for the Mississippi's favourite son: Mark Twain. Born and raised in Hannibal, Missouri, Twain grew up to the whistle of the paddlewheeler. He served as a pilot aboard one before he stopped working and became a writer. Never quite prepared to leave that life behind, he penned a nostalgic tome entitled Life on the Mississippi, capturing the spirit of those halcyon days.
Wednesday, 19 April 2017
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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 Édouard 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.
Wednesday, 22 February 2017
Filmmakers and media mavens were quick to recognize the appeal of the masked bandito for justice, Zorro. No sooner had Johnston McCulley's character first appeared in print in 1919 than the film rights were scooped up by none other than Hollywood's top action star, Douglas Fairbanks. He found the perfect vehicle for his patented brand of swashbuckling acrobatics and thrilling swordplay, creating the very first picture released by United Artists, the production company founded by him, his wife Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith. It became the first of 40 films to feature Zorro, the most recent being those starring Antonio Banderas and the most famous being Disney's television series (the first 13 episodes were condensed into a feature film, The Sign of Zorro). It would also inspire wider aspects of pop-culture: the debt owed to Zorro by comic book creator Bob Kane was acknowledged when it came time to reveal the origin of The Batman. It was a showing of The Mark of Zorro that the Waynes were returning from when a mugger killed Thomas and Martha, the parents of young Bruce Wayne. Five years later, Fairbanks would return in Don Q, Son of Zorro.
Now here, for you enjoyment, is Douglas Fairbanks' silent film adventure from the Golden Age of Hollywood, The Mark of Zorro...
Saturday, 11 February 2017
1959 was a good year for Disney in front of the cameras. In Disneyland, it was a "Gala Day" when the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Submarine Voyage, and Disneyland-Alweg Monorail were opened on June 15th. The openings were commemorated on television with the program Disneyland '59 (to be re-released theatrically the following year), and inaugurated the new "E-Ticket." On television, Walt Disney Presents, The Mickey Mouse Club, and Zorro were still going strong. On the silver screen, 1959 was Disney's best year since 1954/55... Sleeping Beauty, The Shaggy Dog, Darby O'Gill and the Little People, Third Man on the Mountain, Jungle Cat, Grand Canyon, Donald in Mathmagic Land... After some of the low points of the last couple entries, such a consistently good slate of films is a welcome relief. New stars were also being built up, like Annette Funicello, who was rising to stardom with her first top ten single, Tall Paul.
|Walt and the Nixons attempting to cut the ribbon for the Monorail.|
Behind the cameras though, the situation was tense. Annette was getting an improved sense of her own economic value with her rising stardom, and filed a suit to break her contract with Disney in order to make higher pay. Disney launched into their own dispute with ABC to break their contract. As a result, the last episode of Zorro aired on September 24th and the last episode of The Mickey Mouse Club aired on September 25th. It was competition from Pacific Ocean Park, which had started to outdraw Disneyland, that prompted the investment in new attractions. However, the low-capacity wagons and stagecoaches of Nature's Wonderland closed down. And despite how good the films were, Disney's theatrical releases also underperformed through 1959 and 1960. In 1960, the company reported their first fiscal loss in ten years, leading to substantial layoffs in the animation department.
As an aside, for the many fans of a particular Disney Parks attraction (myself included), Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone also debuted in 1959 on CBS. It would run for five seasons, ending in 1964. The show was not initially profitable, having to fight against the bias that Science Fiction was merely childish escapism, but has since become one of the most revered and respected adult television dramas of all time. That The Twilight Zone should have eventually worked its way into a Disney theme park is an ironic twist worthy of the show itself. Whereas Walt offered reassurance, Rod Serling did anything but. The dominant theme of The Twilight Zone was the existential angst of modern society, and especially the role of the modern man in a culture that seemed to be leaving him behind.
Wednesday, 8 February 2017
The archetype of the avenging swashbuckler is a very old one. Ballads of Robin Hood go back to the 15th century, and there were certainly others before him... Characters of great daring and great romance who rob from the rich and give to the poor, and otherwise seek to right wrongs and fight injustice against which others are cowardly or impotent. The legacy of the swashbuckler has distilled into the modern superhero, the Captain Americas and Batmans who fight the fight that properly constituted authority cannot (in fact, Captain America lately seems to spend more time fighting government institutions than being one). Though the swashbuckler archetype is an old one, some of its most popular and well-known manifestations are not as old as some might think. The lineage of Batman - the dilettante whose secret identity is the mask - goes back at least to Baroness Orczy's Scarlet Pimpernel, the 1905 novel set in Revolutionary France. His more direct ancestor is Johnston McCulley's black-clad avenger of Alta California, Señor Zorro, who was created in 1919. Zorro was such a smash success that Douglas Fairbanks immediately scooped up the movie rights, and it was that 1920 film that a young Bruce Wayne and his family saw on that fateful night.
Originally published in the pulp magazine All-Story, The Curse of Capistrano introduced Zorro and his alter-ego Don Diego de la Vega to the world. While the various assorted swashbucklers of the past had their romantic appeal, Musketeers and Pimpernels working for the benefit of European aristocracies was a bit of a hard sell in the United States. Zorro was the first true, homegrown version of the archetype. Zorro was not an agent of Alta California's governor or the Mexican authorities. Unlike Disney's later adaptation, there was no recourse to any just form of higher authority whatsoever. In McCulley's California, the corruption goes all the way to the governor himself. Capitán Ramon and his cronies were merely vultures at the scraps, using their position to exploit what the governor himself had overlooked in a pervasive culture of injustice. Zorro instead stood as a man among men, fighting against the corrupt system for the benefit of Natives, Franciscan missions, and the unfairly persecuted, eventually uniting to himself a militia of gentry to confront the governor. The Curse of Capistrano could very well be taken as a veiled recapitulation of the American Revolution.
Wednesday, 25 January 2017
By 1881, the Italian author Carlo Collodi had already achieved renown as a translator of fairy tales when friends piqued his interest in writing his own. A short story about a little wooden puppet come to life was published in the children’s section of a Roman newspaper, which evolved into the serialized Adventures of Pinocchio. The first 15 episodes ran through 1881 and 1882 before Collodi was invited to write an additional 21 chapters for publication in a book in 1883.
In the original serialized form, Pinocchio is an outright brat whose short life ends with being hanged until dead at the conclusion of chapter 15. Collodi dispenses with trying to explain how Pinocchio is alive. Much like ourselves, he merely is and the rest must suffer the consequences. Among his miscreant acts is to flee from Geppetto the moment he is given legs, squish the Talking Cricket that tries to moralize at him, sell off the A-B-C book that Geppetto bought for him (by trading off his only coat) in exchange for tickets to the Marionette Theater, and finally to run afoul of the Fox and the Cat, who are ultimately responsible for his assassination. Pinocchio's was a hard life poorly spent and easily lost.
|Fleeing from Geppetto. Illustration by Carlo Chiostri.|
Saturday, 14 January 2017
1957 and 1958 coasted along fairly well for Disney, with a few hiccups. Walt started the experiment of taking True-Life Adventures to their next logical place, with his first (and only) "True-Life Fantasy"... A scripted film featuring animals. On October 10th, 1957, the first episode of the legendary Zorro series debuted. In 1958, Walt added to the largest model train set in the world with the addition of the Grand Canyon Diorama, the #3 engine, and a new station at Tomorrowland. That wasn't the only change in Tomorrowland either. Large parts of it went down for renovations, including the Viewliner train that only opened in 1957. On the other side of the park, the Sailing Ship Columbia, Fowler's Harbor, and the proper Alice in Wonderland ride opened. In September of 1958, Walt Disney's Disneyland on ABC becomes Walt Disney Presents. Apparently the need to so directly build up Disneyland's name recognition was no longer urgent.
|Guy Williams doing a public appearance in Frontierland, in character, in 1958.|
The biggest blow to the company in this period came with Fess Parker's departure in late 1958, though they probably didn't really notice. After such a banner year in 1956, in which he carried the company's live-action films, Fess was severely underutilized through 1957 and '58. He only made one film for Disney in 1957 - Old Yeller - and another in 1958, and in both he was merely a supporting actor. Recognizing this, how his character was essentially the same in every film, and how little he was being paid by a demanding institution with so many fingers in so many pies that they could really care less about his well-being or career, he wanted to pursue other opportunities. Walt refused to lend him out to other studios for any role that did not conform to Disney's vision for him. This included missing out on a meaty role opposite John Wayne in The Searchers (which he only found out after the fact, when Walt told him in passing) and as Marilyn Monroe's leading man in Bus Stop. Therefore, when Fess was ordered to begin filming a bit part for Tonka in 1958, he refused. He was put on suspension, and eventually walked away from his contract.
What I find most notable about this period, though, is that so much of it is missing. Of the 20 films listed in this part, 10 are not available in any current format and a further four are not available in their theatrical form. Four of those films that are unavailable in theatrical form don't even have a recorded release date. Also of interest, three of those were "Tomorrowland" featurettes: Our Friend the Atom, Man and the Moon, and Man in Flight. In retrospect it would have been interesting to have had a second Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrowland DVD with the theatrical versions of these shows and Man in Space and Mars and Beyond, as well as missing episodes like Magic Highway U.S.A. Maybe that could have gone alongside the People and Places DVDs that should have been made alongside the True-Life Adventures DVDs. The vast majority of the missing films in this section are People and Places shorts. Unfortunately both Walt Disney Treasures and the Walt Disney Legacy Collection DVDs stalled out long, long ago.
Wednesday, 11 January 2017
When Disney's Silly Symphony short The Three Little Pigs was released in 1933, it was a runaway success. In Disneyana: Classic Collectables 1928-1958, authors Robert Heide and John Gilman attribute this to the short's echoing of the Great Depression's darkest depths...
1933 has been called the worst year of the Great Depression, and those who kept their jobs worked hard to keep the proverbial wolf from the door. In the 1930's, the Big Bad Wolf served as a euphemism for the landlord, the mortgage company, or the bill collector... The story of the three little pigs and their frantic attempts to outwit the wolf, as well as their desperate search for security, captivated adults and children alike, who identified with them in those difficult times.
The original nursery rhyme has an enduring quality because those trials faced by the titular swine aren't unique to the Depression. Originally, the story began with a sow sending her children off to make their own way in the world, as all children eventually must. The wise pig builds his house of bricks and demonstrates sufficient craft to outwit those who would take advantage of him. The other two pigs less so. Like many nursery rhymes and fairy tales, it was a cautionary tale about the world. An acquaintance of mine once described fairy tales as "the horror stories we tell children to prepare them for the horrors of the real world."
The story is of unknown provenance. The first printed edition comes by way of James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips' The Nursery Rhymes of England, published in 1886. That version gives us the same basic outline found in all subsequent versions, and is credited directly by Joseph Jacobs, who quoted almost verbatim in his English Fairy Tales book of 1890. Jacobs was a pioneering folklorist and is responsible for popularizing many of the stories that are still passed on today (and which became fertile source material for Disney's Silly Symphonies). The following rendition, and illustration, is from Jacob's book: