Thursday, January 31, 2008

Snapshot: Disneyland! - Squirreled Away

One of the more subtle design elements of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland is this tribute in downspout to one of Briar Rose's smaller forest friends.

Photo taken by

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lost Imagineering: Dick Tracy's Crimestoppers

Back in 1990, Michael Eisner and many other Disney execs were hoping that Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy would become a popular and potentially evergreen property. So much so, that even before the film's June release of that year, plans were already on the drawing board for attractions in both Disneyland and Disney-MGM Studios. Dick Tracy's Crimestoppers looked to be an elaborate extension of the gangster scene from The Great Movie Ride, coupling audio-animatronics with interactive elements (ala tommy guns in ride vehicles).

The film was only a moderate success and the concept soon faded back into the blue sky from whence it came, another casualty of the curse of the Disney Decade.

The film did have a presence in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World that year in the form of the Dick Tracy Diamond Double Cross stage show.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New Music from the Walt Disney Records Archives

Walt Disney Records has been quietly re-releasing long unavailable material from its vast archives on iTunes over the past year or so, and happily, a number of new selections have hit the iTunes store today. The titles are:

Westward Ho the Wagons
Annette Sings Anka
Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House

And quite significantly, the original soundtrack from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

According to Walt Disney Records producer Randy Thornton--

"This is HOPEFULLY the beginning of a new line (only time will tell). Also, when you purchase this title, you can download a Digital Booklet with behind-the-scenes photos, and illustrations. I’ve written a brief “Producer’s Note” outlining the background of the project, and there is (the highlight for me) liner notes from my new friend, composer John Debney . . . It’s taken me over 10 years to get this released, and it was definitely worth the wait! Thanks very much for all your patience, enthusiasm and support for this great, classic stuff."

Thornton continues to be one of the true unsung heroes of Disney-related historical preservation. He has been tireless in his efforts to find and restore these vintage recordings and insure their availability to what is undeniably a very small audience of enthusiasts. Thornton is well known to Disney music fans as the person who produces the Official Disneyland and Walt Disney World music collections; he was notably responsible for the amazing and near-definitive Musical History of Disneyland collection, released during the park's recent 50th Anniversary celebration.

In addition, five albums that were previously available at the Disneyland/Walt Disney World Wonderland music-on-demand kiosks have been added to the archive releases available on iTunes. Those titles are:

Meet Me Down On Main Street
A Musical Tour of France with Maurice Chevalier
Songs from Lady and the Tramp
The Disney Afternoon
Country Bear Jamboree

One special note about today's releases--a number of readers have contacted me recently concerning the song "The Ballad of John Colter." Fess Parker performed the song in Westward Ho the Wagons and it is available on the collection released today. It is also included on the archive release Fess Parker - Cowboy and Indian Songs, also available on iTunes.

Special thanks to Greg Ehrbar for communicating this information via both the Magical Music of the Mouse and his own Mouse Tracks web site.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Adventurers Almanac: Missive from the Mailroom

Since posting the initial two entries in our Tales from the Adventurers Almanac series, I've had a number of readers inquire as to how one went about receiving this fun and interesting newsletter. I'll leave the explanation to Correspondence Committee member Bernice Smythe-Fenton. This appeared in Adventurers Almanac Volume No. 56, Issue No. 8:

Greetings and Salutations, fellow Members!

I cannot tell you how rewarding it is to be able to personally correspond with you clever, creative, and daring Adventurers from all over the globe. Over the past several months, we have received many fabulous updates on your expeditions. I encourage you to keep up the good work! It is your communiques back here to the Club that keep the Permanent Members, and those of us who don't get out much, abreast of the latest news. I very much enjoy my challenging and exciting task of trying to keep up with all of you. It is to that end that I feel it would be prudent to remind you of Membership Policy #7-29565.32 which explains how the Adventurers Almanac is distributed.

According to the Policy, at the point in time you go through the New Member Induction Ceremony (held twice nightly in the Main Salon), you shall receive a current copy of the Adventurers Almanac, if it is available. Your membership is valid for ONE YEAR, and you will be sent any additional issues of the Almanac printed in that one year time period. (I must confide that we have a very random publishing schedule due to the fact that Prof. Wren speculates on ink futures).

Once that one year time period has passed, however, you must renew your Membership. This, of course, entails participating in the New Member Induction Ceremony, paying your annual dues, and once again filling out a mailing address card for the Records Committee. If there is anyone out there within the sound of my typewriter whose Membership is delinquent, or if your membership is about to expire, please take this notice as a gentle reminder to come in to the Club so we may keep you on our membership rolls.

Yours in Postage,

Bernice Smythe-Fenton
Correspondence Committee

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hollywood Polo at Hollywood Studios

The 1936 short Mickey's Polo Team was inspired by Walt Disney's involvement in the sport during the 1930s. The sharp-eyed visitor to Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World can find a homage to Walt's love of the game and the Mickey Mouse cartoon that grew out of that enthusiasm.

The store Mouse About the Town, located on Sunset Boulevard, features an assortment of Walt Disney polo-related props and photos. Vintage black and white photographs of Walt in polo garb adorn one wall, while nearby are sketches of scenes from Mickey's Polo Team. A color photo from the cartoon sits amidst travel-themed items on a high shelf, while a helmet, mallets and riding crops hang decoratively above the store's main entrance.

According to Disney historian Wade Sampson, "Walt and Roy would play regularly with their employees on Wednesday mornings and Saturday afternoons. In addition, Walt and Roy joined the prestigious Riviera Club where such Hollywood luminaries as Spencer Tracy, Leslie Howard, Darryl Zanuck and others held court on the playing field. During this time, Spencer Tracy became a close friend of Walt's, and Tracy and his wife were often invited to Walt's home."

Check out Wade's terrific and very extensive article on Walt Disney and his participation in the Hollywood polo scene at MousePlanet.

Freeze Frame! - Mickey's Polo Team

While the 1936 short Mickey's Polo Team is best remembered for its many movie star caricatures, it also features a number of scenes that serve up a veritable who's who of Disney Studio cartoon characters from the mid 1930s. Most prominent are Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the Big Bad Wolf as the players for the Mickey Mousers team, who square off against the Movie Stars team comprised of screen comedians Charlie Chaplin, Harpo Marx and Laurel and Hardy.

But even more interesting are the numerous personalities that fill the grandstand:

1. Legs Sparrow, one of the three prime suspects from the Silly Symphony Who Killed Cock Robin.

2. Peter and Polly Penguin from the Silly Symphony Peculiar Penguins.

3. Three of the many miniature Mickey orphans that appeared in the shorts Orphans Benefit and Orphans Picnic. Because there are three, I identified them as such rather than as Morty and Ferdy who made their lone screen appearance in Mickey's Steamroller.

4. Cock Robin and a distinctly off-model incarnation of Jenny Wren from Who Killed Cock Robin. The Jenny Wren character was in fact a caricature of Mae West, though the resemblance is not apparent in this particular version.

5. The Wise Little Hen from the Silly Symphony of the same name. That short is best known for the debut of Donald Duck.

6. King Midas and Goldie from the Silly Symphony The Golden Touch.

7. The title character from the Silly Symphony The Flying Mouse, who is accompanied by his mother.

8. Ambrose and Dirty Bill from the Silly Symphony The Robber Kitten.

9. Pluto and his occasional girlfriend Fifi.

10. The Three Little Pigs surround famous child star Shirley Temple.

11. Two unnamed rabbits possibly derived from the Easter-themed Silly Symphony Funny Little Bunnies.

In separate scenes, Max Hare from The Tortoise and the Hare and Toby Tortoise Returns shares the screen with film star Edna May Oliver . . .

. . . while Clarabelle Cow swoons over ladies man Clark Gable.

Cheering the Movie Stars team in another area of the grandstand are a number of other notable Hollywood personalities of the era:

Clockwise from top left are Charles Laughton (from his title role in Henry VIII), Eddie Cantor, Greta Garbo, W. C. Fields and Harold Lloyd.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Snapshot! - A Slightly Sweeter Apple

The Wicked Queen's poison apple takes on a slightly sweeter nature in this spell book.

"juicy apple
gobs of butter
sack of sugar
pinch of mystery

cast spell
boil in cauldron"

The location is a window display at the Beverly Sunset Sweet Spells at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Souvenirs: Toontown Memories

Continuing our celebration today of the 15th Anniversary of Mickey's Toontown at Disneyland, here are a few fun souvenirs from that land's earliest days. Transportation is one of Toontown's key themes so a license plate is an especially appropriate souvenir.

The Toontown Trolley in many ways became the icon of the area, as demonstrated by its placement on these two different styles of buttons. In an interesting contrast, the smaller panel style button seemed to pay homage to Toontown's roots in Who Framed Roger Rabbit with its smiling sun and various animated objects, while the larger round button was a bit less looney and featured Gadget along with Chip 'n Dale in their Rescue Rangers incarnations.

Snapshot: Disneyland! - Celebrating Mickey'sToontown

Mickey's Toontown opened to Disneyland guests 15 years ago today on January 24, 1993. We're celebrating with a couple of fun Snapshots generously provided by our good friend Dave from davelandweb.

Here's an interesting bit of cartoon incongruity. Despite the nearby Gadget's Go Coaster which was inspired by the Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers television show, our two favorite chipmunks shed their bomber jacket and Hawaiian shirt trappings and returned to their "naked" roots at the Chip 'n Dale Tree House.

The chipmunks' hot-tempered nemesis lives nearby. While maps and guidebooks name the interactive playground/attraction as Donald's Boat, the carved figurehead at the prow gives hint to the boat's actual name: the Miss Daisy.

Photos taken by

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Adrian and Edith's Head to Toe

To most, its just the place in Disney's Hollywood Studio's to purchase Mouse Ears. But Adrian and Edith's Head to Toe, located on the right side of Hollywood Boulevard as you approach Sunset Boulevard, is in fact a clever homage to two very distinguished figures from Tinsel Town's golden age. The shop's tag line "Costumes to the Stars" and its interior props and decorations are the clues that lead to celebrated designers Edith Head and Adrian Adolph Greenberg.

It is rare that the names of costume designers live on in the way of stars and directors, but these two individuals have each achieved similar legendary status. Known simply as Adrian on most screen credits, Greenberg created costuming for over 250 films, working primarily for MGM during the 1930s. His most celebrated work was likely for The Wizard of Oz, which included Judy Garland's famous and iconic ruby slippers. Ironically, he was never nominated for an Academy Award.

Such was not the case for Edith Head, who earned 34 Oscar nominations over a career that spanned some five decades. Some of her more well known efforts include The Ten Commandments, Roman Holiday, Samson and Delilah and The Sting. She had just completed work on the Steve Martin comedy Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid prior to her death in 1981.

It is speculated that Head was also the inspiration behind the character Edna Mode in Pixar's The Incredibles.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Back From Walt Disney World!

Greetings all! We just returned from an extended weekend visit to Walt Disney World. I typically try to keep 2719 Hyperion updated while at Disney, but this trip unfortunately left me no time for blogging. Pretty substantial holiday weekend crowds, but a great time nonetheless. Stay tuned, posts should return to a normal schedule tomorrow.

Friday, January 18, 2008

It's the Greatest!

We mentioned in a post a few days ago how the original Mickey Mouse Club was a major part of 1950s popular culture, and this magazine ad from 1956 certainly bears that observation out. It was very important that the Mouseketeers at home identify with their television counterparts, and a genuine and OFFICIAL Mouseketeer Polo Shirt with its multiple alphabet card of iron-on letters could go a long way to making that happen.

Mother will think they're super, too, when she learns they're made of the finest two-ply combed mercerized "Durene Yarn" (White Only).

Retail Price (including the iron-on letters): $2.00.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Snapshot! - A South Atlantic Whaling Trip

The next time you are partaking of chicken strips at Columbia Harbor House at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, realize there is a notice posted nearby calling on all willing and able men to sail with a certain Captain Ahab on a south Atlantic whaling voyage. To any eager sailors, I would advise . . . caution.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Adventurers Almanac: The Belsky Bass

How did Merriweather Pleasure come to find and purchase the land adjacent to Lake Buena Vista and name it Pleasure Island? Well, that's quite a fish story!

For the next installment in our Tales from the Adventurers Almanac series, we present an article from Volume No. 55, Issue No. 9. Club Curator Fletcher Hodges relates the true and accurate story of the Belsky Bass, one of the club's more notable trophies. Here is the that issue's Curator's Corner column:

Greetings Adventurers; Hodges here. My topic for this 'Curator's Corner" is the Belsky Bass. Now, I'm sure when you have visited the Club, you have had the dubious honor of having a conversation with the loquacious Professor Otis T. Wren. In addition to the many self-aggrandizing events he may have recounted for you, he has probably taken your valuable time to tell you of that glorious day he landed the magnificent fish that perches (pardon the pun) on the wall high above the Treasure Room. I feel duty-bound to inform you of the accurate version of how this particular, and often overlooked specimen, came to be a part of the Adventurers Club.

In 1910, Merriweather Pleasure was floating around Lake Buena Vista assessing the possible purchase of the Ferderber Peninsula. Without warning, a Belsky flung itself into his dinghy! It, of course, began doing its characteristic "Belsky Gyrations," unique to a Belsky out of water. Mr. Pleasure took the sighting of the rare Belsky Bass as such a good omen that he promptly bought the land he had been surveying and renamed it Pleasure Island. He took the fish as a pet - naming it "Sue."

There was an uncommon attachment between the two, which ultimately led to tragedy. One afternoon during the construction of the Adventurers Club, before the patio doors were installed, while Merriweather was surveying the design of the Main Salon, "Sue" spied him from the lake. Apparently longing for it's master's company, the fish did a "Belsky Leap" out of the water, ricocheted off of Zeus, and landed smack dab on a freshly painted wall towering above the Treasure Room. There she remains to this day. Thankfully, Mr. Pleasure immortalized Sue's exhuberant spirit with "Forever Fish" -a natural preservative of his creation. This has prevented the summer heat from taking its toll, if you nose what I mean.

Yours in authenticity,
Hector Pledges, uh I mean,
Fletcher Hodges, Club Curator


Monday, January 14, 2008

Defending the Wildcats

Yeah, it's a dirty job, but hell, somebody's got to do it.

But to my point . . .

Verdict by Internet consensus. It is one of the most troubling things about this wonderful information age we live in. Too often, a vocal, but largely minority opinion is repeated enough across the World Wide Web that it becomes a kind of dogma, despite an often questionable pedigree. Case in point--this comment by an anonymous individual in response to a recent blog post that bemoaned a perceived current creative stagnation of the Walt Disney Company:

"High School Musical, that is really pathetic. That if they even bother to look is loathed by almost everyone who is not a female within the ages of 3 to 14."

Search the Disney online community and you find similar comments and conjecture. Yes, the wildly successful High School Musical franchise has become the latest target for some of the cranky curmudgeonly of our society. It seems that when those of the mean spirited demographic run out of dogs to kick and babies to pinch, they peruse the current catalog of pop culture offerings to find a convenient "phenomenon" at which to spew their venom. It appears that in many circles, Wildcats are currently in season.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. God Bless America. If you so desire, climb up on your soapbox in the middle of Central Park and proclaim your contempt of High School Musical to the masses. But alas, for so many, having and expressing such an opinion is simply not enough.

Validation is required. The purveyor must somehow associate that very subjective supposition with as many other individuals as possible. Hence statements such as " . . . is loathed by almost everyone who is not a female between the ages of 3 to 14."

According to who? Sorry, but I don't remember seeing that particular Gallup Poll. And the billions of dollars in revenue that these films are generating would certainly indicate an audience that extends well beyond tweens of the female persuasion.

But sadly, in this oh so pervasive age of extended information, lemmings tend to be the rule rather than the exception. Snarky is cool; cynicism is chic. In the big social picture (online or otherwise), it's likely a lot safer to bash Zac and Vanessa and company, than to at the very least admit a casual indifference. And thanks to the wealth of blogs, forums, and other outlets of Internet communication, once that bandwagon is launched, and despite the innate subjectivity of its formation, there is rarely a U-turn in its trajectory. Just ask Jar Jar Binks.

There's been a fresh round of Wildcat bashing, primarily due to the fact that High School Musical was featured prominently on the Walt Disney Company's 2008 Annual Report, and also the announcement that the films' Albuquerque, New Mexico setting would serve as the location for the company's upcoming shareholder meeting. What is especially troubling is that so much of this poisoned punditry is coming from members of the Disney faithful, those who hold the current company stewards accountable to Disney's long heritage of family-centric entertainment.

I watched the first High School Musical a little over a year ago, and I will without shame admit that I found it well produced and quite entertaining. It successfully blended a classic Hollywood musical formula with contemporary pop music and talented teen stars. While certainly hip in many ways, it also reflected a wholesome spirit and presented a somewhat surprising, albeit gentle critique of teenage social dynamics. It was certainly not everyone's cup of tea, and doubtless many parents tuned out after the first wave of multiple viewings, but a widespread consensus of "loathing" is definitely a stretch of any imagination. Last summer's High School Musical 2, while a bit disjointed and uneven at times in its approach, was by no means a cinematic train wreck, and it clearly pleased its intended audience.

I am therefore amazed when I hear self-proclaimed keepers of the Disney flame railing without mercy on what has become one of the company's greatest successes in recent memory. Many have even fallen back on the always convenient but rarely with merit "Walt theoreticals." As in "Walt would have never approved of this," or "Walt would have never allowed crap like this," and so on. To make any kind of connection between Walt Disney personally and the High School Musical franchise is ludicrous on just about any level. But there is in fact a distinct correlation between the High School Musical films, and by extension the Disney Channel programming from which they emerged, with entertainment the Walt produced and championed during his lifetime.

In the 1950s, Walt Disney served up what became a similar pop culture phenomenon to a generation of children and young teens just as eager to consume mass media entertainment as their 21st century counterparts. The Mickey Mouse Club was at that time passionately embraced by its baby boom audience much in the way that today's young people have caught Wildcat Fever. While the times, styles and sensibilities have changed, the appeal of young, talented and energetic performers to their demographic peers remains by and large timeless. In that context, it is disingenuous to suggest that the High School Musical franchise in some way represents a low point, creatively or otherwise, for the Walt Disney Company.

Many Wildcats naysayers cite the franchise's over saturation in both mass media and consumer products venues as justification for their bitterness and often malicious diatribes. But that argument serves to shine a light on an interesting bit of hypocrisy that exists in many corners of Disney fandom. For Disney's exploitation of Pirates of the Caribbean seems immune to similar criticisms, despite the fact that its exposure has been as equally far reaching as that of High School Musical, and its exploitation for financial gain has been just as intense.

So why all the fuss? If you personally don't appreciate the talented students of East High and their high spirited musical antics, that's fine. But why needlessly rain on someone else's pep rally, with over exaggerated claims that carry more malice than merit? Such remarks only serve to diminish, not elevate Disney fandom.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Freeze Frame! - Maurice at the Crossroads

In the past, we have pointed out Freeze Frame! homages to characters from Beauty and the Beast--the Beast in Aladdin, and Mrs. Potts and Chip in Tarzan--but the film itself has one especially interesting detail of note.

When Belle's father Maurice becomes lost in the woods, a post of weather-worn direction signs provides little in the way of help. Likely because the faded letters indicate destinations not typically found in a fantasy-based France of long ago. Most distinct are the locations of Anaheim and Valencia. While the reference to Anaheim is an obvious hat tip to Disneyland, there seems to be competing theories among Disney fans as to the meaning of Valencia. The obvious connection is that Valencia is the home of CalArts, the Disney-founded performing arts institute. Many of the school's alumni worked on Beauty and the Beast.

Less likely, in my opinion, is the idea that the signs represent the perceived theme park rivalry between Disneyland and Valencia's Magic Mountain. A third sign, above the others and slightly obscured, has been identified by some as Newhall, a community not far from Valencia. That and other near-indecipherable signs on the post likely represent locations that bear personal connections to animators and other talent who worked at Walt Disney Feature Animation during the production of the film.

Friday, January 11, 2008

More Princess and the Frog Revealed

While no major revelations or even new Imagineering concept art could be found within the pages of the just released Walt Disney Company 2008 Annual Report, stockholders were treated to a glimpse of The Princess and the Frog. A scene with the film's title character Tiana looking out off of a balcony was the backdrop for the final page of Robert Iger's Letter to Shareholders. The movie is scheduled for a 2009 release.

Do I Hear $30,000?

That's the opening bid for this classic piece of Disneyana that is currently up for auction at Hake's Americana and Collectibles. The item is an original model sheet for Donald Duck from his first appearance in the 1934 Silly Symphony The Wise Little Hen. The item description indicates that the sheet was likely drawn in December of 1933, but does not identify an artist for the piece. The U.S. 20 displayed in the right bottom corner was a serial number that referred to United Artists Silly Symphony #20.

Snapshot: Disneyland! - The Very First Small World

When Disneyland opened in July of 1955, the Canal Boats of the World took guests on a generally uninspired tour of a featureless landscape. That changed during the summer of 1956 with the addition of a series of elaborate miniature set pieces that became known as Storybook Land. While scenes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella were among the original designs, additions have been made over the years, such as this beautiful rendition of the Sultan's Palace from Aladdin.

Photos taken by

Covered Wagon Crossword

It was certainly no coincidence that the comic book, Walt Disney's Covered Wagons Ho! was released shortly after the film Westward Ho the Wagons arrived in theaters in late 1956. The movie was notable for casting Fess Parker and a number of Mouseketeers as members of a wagon train heading west on the Oregon Trail. The comic cast Mickey and friends as similar pioneering trailblazers, albeit in a more lightweight, comedic vein.

And what is a 1950s era Disney comic book without the requisite and always popular activity pages? Test your brain power along with trail boss Goofy on the Covered Wagon Crossword.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Snapshot! - Get Your Kicks . . .

This homage to America's most famous highway comes from the newly re-christened Disney's Hollywood Studios. The makeshift bus stop of sorts can be found on Sunset Boulevard.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Lost Imagineering: Victory Field

The Victory Field area of Disney's America would have paid tribute to World War II era servicemen and military technology. It would seem that some of those blue sky concepts ultimately evolved into the Condor Flats section of Disney's California Adventure. Press material provided the following description of Victory Field:

"The flight of the Wright brothers opened a new chapter in American history, bringing with it thrilling exploits and military advancements. With the assistance of modern technology, guests at Victory Field may parachute from a plane or operate tanks and weapons in combat, and experience firsthand what America's soldiers have faced in defense of freedom."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Tales from the Adventurers Almanac

For a few years following the opening of Pleasure Island in 1989, honorary members of the Adventurers Club received by mail the Adventurers Almanac publication. In its premiere issue, club president Pamilia Perkins lamented the fact that the Permanent Members Board rejected her title suggestion of "Really Rugged Pen Pals." That first issue also featured the theme "Anniversary of Fine Feats in Aviation."

Since copies of the Adventurers Almanac have become somewhat scarce, we thought we would share with 2719 Hyperion readers some of the newsletter's colorful and enlightening articles.

Astute visitors to the Adventurers Club will likely have observed that all of the establishment's bartenders answer to the same moniker: Nash. This particular curiosity of the club relates specifically to historical figures associated with Pleasure Island. The article, "The Origin of Nash," from Adventurers Almanac Volume 54, Number 1, provides a detailed explanation:

In response to the tremendous number of requests from our members worldwide, we have traversed our files to provide an explanation of why our entire staff of mixologists bear the In early April of 1919, while probing the upper reaches of the Amazon, Merriweather Adam Pleasure, founder and original owner of Pleasure Island, came upon and befriended the well known yachtsman and adventurer Gilbert ("The Rambler") Nash. Gilbert, or "Gremlin," as he preferred to be called, had spent most of his adult life (and several fortunes) pursuing the formulas of the world's greatest elixirs.

Gilbert introduced Merriweather to several enticing mixtures, but none as wonderful or noteworthy as the native concoction which we now call simply Jungle Juice. After Merriweather returned to his beloved isle in Florida, he introduced the marvelous drink to his yachting cronies and fellow adventurers.

The original formula for Jungle Juice was quite potent and known only to Merriweather himself. Properly mixed, this elixir was widely accepted to increase strength and intelligence. However, improperly calibrated, the compound was known to become volatile, causing the recipient to become feeble-minded and clumsy. This side-effect was demonstrated by young Stewart Pleasure in the great Library fire of '29 which subsequently destroyed the only existing copy of the recipe and several of Merriweather's prized journals.

After surveying the damage to his beloved club and realizing that no man could ever hope to match the talents of Gilbert, Merriweather vowed that "from this day forth, no one but NASH will tend this bar." And so the tradition began; first with Ogden NASH, the bookish son of Gilbert, and later with Laurence NASH, credited with the first electric lemonade, to our present staff of mixologists, all descendants of the admirable Gilbert NASH himself.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Baloney and Macaroni and a Huckleberry Pie

In their 1987 book, Too Funny for Words: Disney Greatest Sight Gags, Disney Legends Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston noted, "The first Mickey films had been developed so carefully in story that there was really no need for dialogue, other than an occasional 'Yoo-hoo" from Minnie (Building a Building, 1933)." The citing of Building a Building was by no means a random choice on the part of these two Studio veterans; this early Mickey Mouse black and white classic is an amazing and wonderful combination of story, music, character and pratfall comedy, orchestrated by Dave Hand in what was his first directing assignment for Walt Disney. It was released seventy-five years ago today on January 7, 1933 and richly deserved the Academy Award nomination it subsequently received.

Building a Building was built upon a then common foundation, the standard Mickey-Minnie-Pegleg Pete triangle formula used in many of the Mouse's early era cartoons. But the short spins out from that premise in so many other entertaining ways. While Mickey's personality driven steam shovel initially takes center stage, it is in fact lunch cart vendor Minnie who quickly takes the reins of the cartoon via the snappy "Box Lunch" musical number. A cacophony of pounding hammers and rivet gun percussions accompany Minnie in a sky-high choreography that grows to include painters, bricklayers and carpenters. The vignette ultimately concludes with a clever sashay performed by Mickey's aforementioned steam shovel.

The short then segues into a series of Harold Llyod-inspired stunts and construction site daredevilry, as Foreman Pete plays rival to Mickey for Minnie's affections. In an interesting twist, the over-the-top pratfalls are mixed deftly with Douglas Fairbanks maneuverings. One moment Mickey is partaking in a plausible impossible of high altitude gravity defiance, the next he and Minnie are furiously attempting to outrun Pete's uber-destructive rivet gun rampage. Their rope swinging, beam-balancing, cement trough bobsledding escapades can almost rival the action found within any Indiana Jones adventure.

The short is full of funny moments both loud (Pete calling Mickey a "blankety-blank baboon") and quietly amusing (workers parachute down from the building when the lunch whistle blows). One especially notable sequence features Mickey transporting a load of bricks via platform elevator. The animation became a textbook example of the squash-and-stretch gag technique, to the point where Walt subsequently showcased the scene on the Disneyland television show.

Especially interesting about Building a Building was a curious dynamic that it created between director Hand and Walt himself. As critically well-received as the fim was at the time, it elicited a entirely different reaction from Walt, as Hand explained in an interview with Michael Barrier in 1973:

"He told me that I shouldn't be in the business, on my first directorial job on shorts. That was Building a Building. Walt had the extra animators, and I suppose he saw a directorial ability in me—I say that humbly—so he gave me this story that was turned down by other directors and said that I was to direct it. This was my introduction to Disney direction, although I had directed before Disney. He didn't care about what I'd done before. But he wouldn't give me any of the key animators, the guys who could animate. He gave me these little, junior fellows. He said, 'Hell, Dave, you've worked with juniors as supervising animator, you can work with these fellows.' Well, there was a lot of personality stuff, and how do you get it out of juniors? Anyway, when the picture was previewed, I felt happy, because I happened to have counted the number of laughs in the picture, because it was my picture. Never mind the number, it was up there—actually, twenty-one. I was very happy—happy for the studio, not for myself. The next day, Walt came into my room, and he stayed through noon hour—about an hour and a half—and told me where I should have been, instead of in an animation studio, and how did I ever think I could direct. This is true: Walt isn't here to defend himself, but I assure you it was true. He knocked me down until I was lower than a snake's belly. I don't know why he did it, because I know the picture was all right: I heard the audience at the sneak preview."

Hand's efforts on Building a Building and other shorts were ultimately vindicated. As Hand himself noted, "A very peculiar man, Walt was. But I took it. I took it, and before long I was directing Snow White [laughing]. Don't ask me how I got it."

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Snapshot! - Go Gators!

It appears that there is a Florida Gators fan staying at the Hoteli Burudika in the heart of Harmabe Village. This rooftop still life of sorts can be found in the Africa area of Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Imagineer Joyce Carlson 1923-2008

Imagineering Legend and Disney Studios veteran Joyce Carlson passed away Wednesday in her Florida home. She was 84 years old.

Joyce had no regrets of her long and illustrious career at Disney as she related in an interview with Jim Korkis from 2000:

"I always wanted to be in the creative end and I got my dream. I've still got lots of ideas and boxes and drawers filled with things and tools. Around Christmas, I get ideas and I make things out of Styrofoam. I love working with Styrofoam. I still have one of my pens from my ink-and-paint days where I can get any kind of line you want from thin to thick. I still get out into the parks. I still ride Small World.

"I like to see the smiles on the kids and parents when they go through Small World. That's what Walt wanted ... for people to be happy."

Thursday, January 03, 2008

What a Character! - Bootle Beetle

Have you ever heard of . . . a bootle beetle? Well, confidentially, neither have we. But it seems that long ago, these little creatures were plentiful. But because of an in-born love for travel and adventure, the bootle beetle is now a rare little bug.

So begins the off-screen narration to the 1947 Donald Duck cartoon Bootle Beetle. But in a 1978 interview, Disney Studio veteran and cartoon director Jack Hannah revealed the actual origin of one of Donald Duck's lesser known, but still very charming and memorable co-stars:

"There was a series with a beetle named Bootle Beetle. My wife knew a race horse in Pomona named Beetle Bootle and I just switched it around."

Bootle Beetle went on to star in two more Donald Duck cartoons, Sea Salts and The Greener Yard, both released in 1949. Hannah directed all three of these cartoons. They were included in the recently released Walt Disney Treasures DVD The Chronological Donald Volume Three.

The three shorts marked a departure from the standard Donald Duck fare of that particular time period, especially when comparing Bootle to the Duck's other mischievous and often times much more malicious but equally pint-sized adversaries. In all three films, Bootle is very much the star and Donald falls back to an almost secondary status. In fact, in Bootle Beetle, three full minutes pass before Donald makes his first appearance. Unlike Chip 'n' Dale or Spike, Bootle is kind, gentle spirited, articulate and well spoken. In many ways he is a reborn Jiminy Cricket and the physical resemblance to that much more famous character is likely not coincidental. His encounters with Donald are told through a series of reminiscences, related by an older, wiser, and whiskered and bespectacled version of the character.

In Bootle Beetle, Bootle cautions the younger Ezra Beetle to not go running off so quickly to a life of adventure. He relates the story of his first encounter with Donald, who is portrayed as an obsessed entomologist attempting to find the Bootle species of beetle, which is revealed to be rare and endangered. The younger Bootle's innocence and naivety stands in stark contrast to the duck's high strung personality and bad temper, and the usual comic antics and pratfalls ensue. In the end, the younger incarnation of Bootle races back to the security of his original toadstool domicile, and Ezra acknowledges to his elder the Dorothy Gale-esque "there's no place like home" moral of the story.

Ezra does not appear in the next Bootle cartoon, Sea Salts, and instead, an elderly Bootle Beetle reminisces directly to the audience of a tale of his younger days with the Duck, specifically aboard the S.S. Quack back in April of '26. Brought together as fellow castaways on a desert island, the always well meaning Bootle again falls victim to Donald's selfish and self-serving ways. Similar to the end of Bootle Beetle, an older version of Donald appears in the opening and closing framing sequences of Sea Salts. Bootle affectionately refers to him throughout the short as "the Captain."

Ezra does return in the final Donald Duck Bootle cartoon, The Greener Yard. Similar in theme and story to Bootle Beetle, the elder beetle again must counsel gentle lessons to his younger counterpart. Via flashback, Bootle demonstrates that Donald's lush and inviting garden landscape is not quite the paradise it appears to be. The short includes a quick homage to director Hannah by way of a "Jack's Real Estate" sign that appears within the trash filled vacant lot that the beetles call home.

As noted, the flashback-narration storytelling used was unique, and provided the Bootle cartoons with a gentler charm and genuineness that was certainly a contrast to the more frantic nature of other Donald Duck cartoons. In The Greener Yard, as the camera settles in on the vacant lot, Bootle invites the viewer to ". . . come on in and sit a spell, and let me tell you a story." Much of that charm was conveyed through the endearing voice work of Dink Trout, who also voiced the King of Hearts in Disney's animated version of Alice in Wonderland. Interestingly enough, the flashback format of the Bootle cartoons was later employed quite directly in 1952's Let's Stick Together, which featured the final appearance of the Duck's other insect foil, Spike the bee.

Another wonderful aspect of the Bootle shorts were the beautiful and often very clever layouts and backgrounds produced by Yale Gracey and Thelma Witmer. They very effectively gave a bug's eye perspective to each cartoon, from the lush forest setting of Bootle Beetle, to the deserted island of Sea Salts, to the bootles' junkyard-furnished dwelling in The Greener Yard. Captain Duck's nautical-themed home in Sea Salts was equally impressive and well realized.

Bootle Beetle would return sans-Donald in Morris the Midget Moose, released in 1953. His resume of storytelling acumen apparently won him the role of narrator for this particular stand-alone short subject, in which he related the story of Morris to not one, but two younger bootles, one of which was presumably Ezra.