Saturday, 12 August 2017

Walt's Era - Part 16: Disney's Peak? (1964)



Did Disney reach its peak in 1964?

On the WED Enterprises side of things, this year was the start of the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, with its four WED-designed exhibits: Carousel of Progress, It's a Small World, the attraction that would become Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and Ford's Magic Skyway which would add Primeval World to Disneyland and pioneer advancements leading to the Peoplemover and omnimover system. This was also the year that Marc Davis applied his hand to improving the Jungle Cruise, land was secretly being bought up in Florida, and the original plans for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow were being drafted. On September 14 of this year, Walt also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Not bad.

A tram shuttles passengers past It's a Small World and Rolly Crump's
Tower of the Four Windsat the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. 
Progressland, home of the Carousel of Progress, sits in the background.
Photo: Disney.

In film, 1964 was the year of the big one... Disney's best film of the period and, indeed, one of the best Disney films of all time. After years of production, Mary Poppins finally graced movie screens to universal acclaim (except by the book's author, of course). After it's 1960-61 reorientation, which had already produced a goodly sum of classic films, Disney released one that is widely regarded as Walt's own magnum opus.

Yet unlike what I considered the best year of "Walt's Era", 1954-55, the New York World's Fair and Mary Poppins were about all that happened. The remainder of the films released in 1964 are okay, generally... Decent, but not exceptional, which has been a bit of a running theme for this period. And if Mary Poppins was Walt's peak cinematic accomplishment, then what's left? It has been argued that Walt at least appeared to have lost interest in film by this point. With this film in the can, was there anything more he could do with the medium, especially in a period where the studios slipped into a reliance on relatively inexpensive live-action films? If we take Mary Poppins out of the equation, are we taking a cold, hard look at an unexceptional future for the Disney Studios?    


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan

The character of Peter Pan was first developed by J.M. Barrie in his 1902 adult novel The Little White Bird. In this semi-autobiographical tale, the narrator tells his young ward David about a week-old infant named Peter who overhears his parents discussing their future hopes for his adult life. This all sounds rather dreadful to him, so Peter absconds to Kensington Gardens where he encounters the various fairy folk who make this London park their home. These few chapters in The Little White Bird inspired Barrie to write a full theatrical play entitled Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up in 1904. The chapters in Little White Bird were slightly rewritten and published as the book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens in 1906. 

Though published to capitalize on the success of the play, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens is not a prequel to Peter Pan. Rather, it is a first draft of sorts. Barrie would revisit many of the themes and situations in that short story, not the least of which being the flying boy who refuses to grow up. Kensington Gardens would become Neverland, though Peter does allude to having spent some time in the Gardens when he first decided not to age. Maimie, the girl who develops an affection for Peter, becomes Wendy. Finally, in 1911, Barrie rewrote his play as a novel. Peter and Wendy became the definitive literary version of the story that has inspired countless adaptations on stage and screen since.



Saturday, 5 August 2017

Post-Mortem on Pirates and the New Rivers of America

While Ashley and I were off on our own vacation the last few weeks, traversing the vast Canadian prairies to visit her family in Manitoba and seeking out every museum and heritage site along the way, a tonne of Disney Parks news broke. Most significantly, the altered Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland Paris re-opened and Fantasmic, the Rivers of America, and the Disneyland Railroad returned to Disneyland U.S.A. Having written articles on little more than the Disney Parks Blog posts about Pirates of the Caribbean and the Rivers of America, it seems worthwhile to revisit the subjects now that the finished products have debuted.