Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Different Kind of Disney Adventure

Today marks the release of the first DVDs in the Walt Disney Legacy series, that encompasses the entire library of True-Life Adventure films. To celebrate, I dug down into my own library and retrieved some great examples of late 1950s Disney licensed merchandise. Books were natural tie-ins (whoa, great pun) for these landmark, Oscar-winning documentaries, and the Weekly Reader Book Club made sure they were available in practically every school in the country.

Here is Walt's own foreward to Walt Disney's True-Life Adventures:

It is now ten years since we first turned our cameras away from the world of make-believe and pointed them instead at the world of nature. It was then that we produced our first True-Life Adventure SEAL ISLAND. For this film, as for the many True-Life Adventures which have followed it, we hired no actors. We wrote no story. Wild animals were our only actors. And nature itself provided the drama.

There were adventures aplenty for the cameramen as well as for the animals they followed about on their daily, and even yearly, rounds. This series took its cameramen far from the movie studios and from the comforts of home living. Some of them sweltered under blazing Dakota sun, in the path of a charging buffalo herd. Others waited through weeks of cold and fog for a few hours of pale sunlight on the arctic Pribilof Islands. They have risked the dangers of prairie fires and flash floods. They have tracked the cougar through shadowy forests, the elk over rugged Wyoming snows. They have faced the anger of Arctic bears, pushed their way in small boats through reedy swamps and up jungle rivers. They have climbed mountains, tamed wolf cubs, anchored cameras for safety to the roofs of armored cars.

From months, sometimes years, of adventures like these in the wilds, these cameramen have brought back hundreds of thousands of feet of motion picture film. They have brought back to us at home real records of life as it is being lived today by the wild creatures of many lands. These stories have made a series of motion pictures millions of people have enjoyed. But viewing a film is a fleeting experience. We felt that a book which could capture for more lasting enjoyment some of the beauty and excitement of those films would be well worth the doing.

So we asked our photographers to take on a double job. Along with their motion picture cameras we asked them to carry still cameras. We asked them to bring us a set of photographs suitable for book use which would tell the whole vividly real story of the motion pictures. Our cameramen have done their part splendidly. Our editors have cooperated in shaping those hundreds of thousands of feet of film into dramatic form. They have also provided the background information which gives deeper meaning to the adventures you see. Our publishers have taken this material and have skillfully fitted it to the needs of a new medium.

Here is the finished book. We hope that in its pages you will re-live many moments of rich beauty and high excitement from our True-Life Adventures.

While the children of the 1950s could only bring these amazing adventures home in book form, we are now fortunate enough to enjoy the complete films in these great new DVD sets.

Disney is beyond famous when it comes to animation and theme parks, but few today associate the name with nature documentaries and photography. Yet Walt, along with director James Algar, writer/narrator Winston Hibler and talented photographers such as N. Paul Kenworthy, John Nash Ott, and the husband and wife team of Alfred and Elma Milotte, became true pioneers in a genre that has expanded dramatically over the past sixty years. The roots of cable television's Animal Planet and its many counterparts can be traced back to places like Seal Island, Beaver Valley and the Living Desert, just to name a few. And while the Magic Kingdom represents Disney’s many fantasy worlds brought to life, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is truly the manifestation of these amazing True-Life Adventures. Hopefully these new DVDs will provide some long overdue recognition that these films and their creators so richly deserve.