Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio

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

Walt's Era - Part 10: Disney's Lost Years (1957-58)

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.
Photo: Disney.

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

The Three Little Pigs

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: