Sunday, April 13, 2014

Snapshot '73: Early River Life

The Walt Disney World Frontierland of 1973 does in many ways resemble a wild and largely uninhabited wilderness.  This particular snapshot showcases a view looking across the Rivers of America. Barricades can be seen in the distance, though predating any Big Thunder Mountain construction by a number of years.  Tom Sawyer Island, at the photo's right edge, was then a newly opened attraction.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Snapshot '73: Topiary Lane

Wow, it's certainly been a while.

Life took some twists and turns over the past few years and 2719 Hyperion, out of necessity, had to move to the periphery.  Not that this is a return to full-time daily-post blogging; I'm not feeling quite that ambitious as yet.  But I have stumbled across some items of interest and I thought I would share.

First up: a good friend recently discovered some vintage Walt Disney World photographs that her father snapped in 1973.  She found it funny that the photos were by and large scenery set pieces and expository shots, devoid of posturing family members.  After catching my breath, I politely begged her to share with me whatever she could.  She graciously complied.  Hence, my return to Disney blogging and the birth of the new Snapshot '73 series of posts.

Topiary Lane still exists as a small byway just east of the Ticket and Transportation Center, but the majority of the hedge creatures that were present there in 1973 have long since migrated to other pastures.  The topiaries were early eye candy that entertained guests on their tram rides from the parking lot to the TTC.

 This Monorail-view shot provides a better location perspective.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Windows to the Past: The Mickey Mouse Weather House

Forget about the Weather Channel and all those high-tech weather apps on your smart phones and tablets.  In 1948, people predicted the weather the good old fashioned, common sense way--they relied on cartoon characters.  "Watch for balmy days when Mickey is out--beware of rain when Donald's about."

It was as simple as this:
"There is no difficult mechanism to get out of order--nothing complicated to study.  You'll love the beloved Disney clan--Figaro the Cat, the rooster weather vane and Pluto the Pup. The Mickey Mouse Weather House is sturdy, works indoors or out, is made of brightly colored plastic all hand painted."
The Weatherman company out of Chicago sold these types of devices via mail order and advertised primarily in general interest magazines and comic books.  It appears to employ a very basic hygrometer.  For $1.49, it was likely more gimmick than science.  They must have been rather disposable.  I have never ever seen one and a quick eBay search produced no results. 

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Lady and the Tramp Arrives on Blu-Ray

Lady and the Tramp is truly a top tier Disney classic.  Characters and story combine with very best of Disney animated technique; it is both an engaging tale and a stunning visual masterpiece.  And it has now been so deservedly migrated to a high definition home entertainment format; its Blu-ray Diamond edition arrived in stores this week.

Seeing Lady and the Tramp a number of years back in its original widescreen aspect ratio (via its first DVD release) was a revelation.  Combine that now with high definition picture and sound and it quickly becomes a Disney enthusiast's dream.  It remains to this day one of Walt Disney's most beautiful animated achievements.  

As with the other releases in the Diamond line, Disney is generous with bonus features although most have been transferred from the previous Platinum Edition.  These include the making-of featurette Lady's Pedigree, Finding Lady; The Art of the Storyboard, the 1943 storyboard version, and various excerpts from the Disneyland television program.  New to the Diamond edition is a sentimental remembrance by Diane Miller Disney entitled Remembering Dad, that focuses primarily on Walt's firehouse apartment at Disneyland.  Also new are three additional deleted scenes from very early in the development process and a deleted song entitled "I'm Free as the Breeze."

The most notable edition to the package is the Disney Second Screen feature that has been included on the previous Diamond editions of Bambi and The Lion King.  To recap once again, Second Screen is an additional interactive platform that provides supplemental content that is synchronized to the actual presentation of the film.  Two such platforms are currently available, either an Apple iPad or a laptop computer.  Second Screen comes to the iPad by way of a free application downloaded via the App Store.  For the Mac or PC, it is a Flash-based interface streamed through Disney's web site.  Second Screen provides a veritable treasure trove of archive materials including production art, photographs and studio history. 

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:
What a Character! - Scamp
Windows to the Past: Lady at the Lowes Grand
Walt Disney's Surprise Package: Lady

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Exhibition Hall: Walt Disney's Christmas Carol

Every Christmas season, I still get emails about Walt Disney's Christmas Carol.

In those very early days of 2719 Hyperion, back in the latter months of 2006, I featured what I thought was an interesting, if rather obscure piece of Disney ephemera from the 1950s.  A friend, upon cleaning out the nooks and crannies of his elderly parents' home, presented me with eight torn, water-stained and near crumbling pages that had been removed from a copy of the December 1957 issue of McCalls magazine.  Contained on those pages was an illustrated holiday vignette entitled Walt Disney's Christmas Carol.  It was a perfect match for my fledgling Disney blog and on December 16, 2006, I posted the article Cedric's Christmas Carol that described what I considered a likely long forgotten piece of holiday nostalgia.

Shortly thereafter, the emails started arriving.  I heard from many fellow baby boomers who distinctly remembered this liberal retelling of the Dickens classic from their childhoods.  For many, it was a holiday tradition to read the story on Christmas Eve.  And every correspondence I received included a request for a copy of the story.

With the launch of the 2719 Hyperion Exhibition Hall, I realized I finally had an ideal forum in which to make available the complete text and illustrations of Walt Disney's Christmas Carol.  You can read the complete story in Exhibit Room 3S.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Rocketeer: High Flying in High Defintion

First the good news: The Rocketeer has been released in a remastered high defintion Blu-Ray.  It appears that Disney took note of the numerous pundits and bloggers who, earlier in the year, called for such an edition to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the film's original release.  The not-so-good news: the Blu-Ray release is an embarrassing bare bones affair, devoid of all but the film itself.  It is yet another reminder of the sad state of Walt Disney Home Entertainment and its utter lack of interest in marketing to Disney enthusiasts and historians.  With The Rocketeer, they threw us a bone, and as noted, it is a very bare bone indeed.

Since there is so little to say about the new Blu-Ray release, I will reprint the content of the Retro Review I posted earlier this year as part of our own celebration of the film's 20th Anniversary:

Two decades ago, one of Disney's better live-action films met with a severe case of audience apathy. It has since languished in unfortunate obscurity despite being an exceptionally well crafted period adventure and a loving homage to vintage movie serials and 1930s era pulp heroes.

The Rocketeer deserves to fly much, much higher.

I personally found the film to be very much in the tradition of early Disney live-action movies, though in setting, eras removed from the studio's 19th century adventure stories and swashbucklers.  I am always loathe to in any way channel the ghost of Walt Disney, but I think he would have approved of  The Rocketeer, if not necessarily the slightly edgier Dave Stevens' comic books upon which the movie was based.  Much in the way that Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson provided the boyhood nostalgia for Walt that he then successfully translated into motion pictures, the filmmakers behind The Rocketeer similarly tapped into the nostalgia of classic Hollywood B-movies and serials, and combined that inspiration with the new-found romance with aviation that was prevalent during the 1930s .  The result was an exciting and entertaining romp that was largely ignored by film-goers who, during that summer of 1991, were more enticed by the groundbreaking special effects of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and the comedy antics of Billy Crystal in City Slickers.

The Rocketeer was Joe Johnston's sophomore directing effort.  Johnston, a special effects veteran who had cut his teeth with George Lucas on the original Star Wars films, was fresh with success from directing Disney's own Honey I Shrunk the Kids when he was enlisted to helm The Rocketeer.  His special effects background served him well on the assignment and the film's pre-digital-era craftsmanship remains impressive to this day.  Johnston recently directed the excellent The Wolfman remake and is currently wrapping up work on the World Wat II-based Captain America: The First Avenger, set to arrive in theaters this summer.

Beyond its well-executed and fast paced storyline and capable cast, The Rocketeer is a visual cornucopia of 1930s popular culture and Hollywood archetypes.  Aviation pioneer and eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes plays a central role, while Errol Flynn is not so subtly channeled into the villainy of movie star Neville Sinclair, an undercover Nazi agent in pursuit of the jetpack that is the centerpiece of the film.  Also included in the mix is California Crazy architecture in the form of the  Bulldog Cafe; the over-the-top but rather accurate-for-the-era set design of the South Seas Club; the giant German dirigible Luxembourg; the film's climatic showdown at the Griffith Observatory; the true fate of the original and iconic Hollywoodland sign; and a brilliantly realized piece of animated Nazi propaganda showing squadrons of rocket-propelled German soldiers symbolically conquering Europe and North America.

One of the film's most notable components is the perfectly matched score by composer James Horner.  It was an Oscar-worthy effort that went almost entirely unrecognized at the time.  

Disney had intended The Rocketeer to be a trilogy of films, but the lackluster (but not entirely disastrous) box office returns quickly quashed further productions.  The film's troubled production history (screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo were fired and rehired several times during the movie's five years of development) and aforementioned box office did not endear it to studio execs, and it has subsequently faded from view. 

Friday, November 04, 2011

Celebrating Spin and Marty on Storyboard

My latest contribution to Storyboard, the blog of the Walt Disney Family Museum has been posted today.  The Museum's featured movie of the month is a collection of episodes from The Adventures of Spin and Marty, the popular Mickey Club serial from the 1950s.  The article, Vinyl Magic - Yippi-A, Yippi-I, Yippi-O!, showcases the program's trademark tune, "The Triple-R Song."  I am also very happy to be in the company of Mickey Mouse Club historian Lorraine Santoli, who penned for Storyboard a wonderful article on Spin and Marty entitled Saddle Up Boys, and Saddle Up Well.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Cars 2: Racing Beyond the Cynicism

One could almost imagine the metaphorical arm-twisting that occurred between Disney CEO Robert Iger and Pixar chief John Lasseter, that ultimately resulted in the making of Cars 2.  Beyond the Toy Story films, Pixar has always been generally against sequel-driven inspirations (unlike say, Dreamworks), but Iger, a stalwart believer in franchising, apparently convinced John and company otherwise. Thus Cars 2 arrived in theaters this past summer.  It certainly succeeded commercially but, unusual for Pixar, it was savaged by mainstream critics and not entirely beloved by audiences.  I must with some shame admit that I was not wholly immune to the cynicism that surrounded Cars 2; I skipped it at the multiplex, preferring to wait for its home entertainment release, which occurs this week.

It is certainly difficult to praise the film on any level without appearing to be an Iger/Lasseter apologist.  The film was, after all, created to support a still incredibly lucrative billion dollar toy business, a pedigree that is difficult at best to overlook.  But one cannot also overlook high standards of Pixar craftsmanship and creative energies, and Cars 2 is distinctly infused with both.  Strip away all of the movie's aforementioned external baggage and what is left?  A fun couple of hours, beautifully rendered and well realized, and certainly entertaining. 

Pixar often takes its cues from retro-based themes and in Cars 2 it milks 1960s spy films for inspiration.  Mater takes center stage but his presence is thankfully and necessarily diffused by new characters Finn McMissle and Holley Shiftwell, automobile incarnations of super spies in the James Bond mold.  Lightning McQueen is relegated to a third string supporting player while the rest of the Radiator Springs gang fades even further into the background.  The action is fast and furious; the humor, while never subtle is rarely overdone.  The visuals are spectacular and often eye-popping.  Pixar eye candy remains unmatched in contemporary CG animation.  While it does not break any new ground, neither does it disappoint to the degree many have suggested.  It appears that many critics and viewers are not willing to extend Pixar the same benefit of the doubt they typically show to non-Pixar franchises such as Shrek, Ice Age and Kung Fu Panda.

In keeping with recent Disney DVD packaging/marketing misfires, the non-3D Blu-ray set is a bare bones affair, devoid of extras beyond the Toy Story short Hawaiian Vacation, a Mater's Tall Tale entry, and a director's commentary.  The Mater short, Air Mater, is a not-so subtle introduction to the upcoming direct-to-DVD spinoff Planes, produced by Disney Toon Studios.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Winnie the Pooh - Traditonal, Fresh and Wonderful

Winnie the Pooh, Disney's most recent return to hand-drawn feature animation, proves both traditional and fresh, charming in its simplicity and possessing a gentle humor that inspires smiles and quieter laughter.  It is a wonderful film, especially for the most youngest audience members, but manages to retain a level of sophistication that will certainly satisfy older viewers.  It arrives this week in a myriad of home entertainment formats.

Poor Pooh Bear has been stretched pretty thin over the past couple of decades.  He remains the centerpiece of one of Disney's most lucrative franchises, and hence has been reinterpreted and reinvented almost non-stop since Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree debuted in 1966.  Over this time, the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood have been brought to life on both film and television via animation (Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and theatrical and direct-to-video features), costumed actors (Welcome to Pooh Corner), bunraku-style puppetry (The Book of Pooh) and rather uninspired and misguided CG animation (My Friends Tigger and Pooh).  In this context, Winnie the Pooh directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall have done something entirely new and different--they returned to Pooh's roots, as represented by the original A. A. Milne stories and Disney's original short features from the late 1960s.  It's a very welcome creative turn.

The film is a near seamless mixture of beautiful scenery, appropriate music, comfortable storytelling and traditional Pooh silliness, deftly executed to entertain the younger crowd and bring forth nostalgic memories and good feelings to the adults in the crowd.  And with good reason--the credits include names such as Andreas Deja, Mark Henn, Eric Goldberg and Dale Bear.  Most notably, Studio veteran and Disney Legend Burny Mattinson, who worked on the original Pooh films, served as the movie's Story Supervisor.

The new songs by Robert Lopez (Avenue Q and Finding Nemo-The Musical) and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez complement recycled Pooh standards by the Sherman Brothers, and the musical sequence "The Backson," is an eye-popping delight with its chalkboard inspired artistry.

DVD bonus features are adequate for the family demographic but slight for the animation enthusiast.  Winnie the Pooh and His Story Too is an all too brief profile of the famous bear and his history.  Also included are five deleted scenes presented by directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall, and two animated shorts, The Ballad of Nessie and Pooh's Balloon (actually just recycled material from Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Freeze Frame! - Gary Time in Hawaiian Vacation

The newest Pixar cartoon Hawaiian Vacation, featuring the Toy Story gang, arrives next week as part of the Cars 2 DVD.  Quick pause-button reflexes found this homage to film's director Gary Rydstrom.  When Ken and Barbie "sunbathe" as part of their simulated island holiday, they use a kitchen timer branded "Gary Time" to alert them as to when to flip over.