Friday, April 29, 2011

Four Color Friday: Mickey Mouse Birthday Party

1953 marked the 25th Anniversary of the creation of Mickey Mouse and Dell Comics celebrated with the publication of Mickey Mouse Birthday Party, a whopping 100-page comic book chocked full of Disney four color fun.  While the actual content was not exceptionally remarkable, the inside front cover of the comic featured a message from Walt Disney, as displayed above.  Mickey is currently approaching his 83rd birthday, but let's face it--he doesn't look a day over 25!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vintage Snapshot! - Building a Mountain

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was a work-in-progress when this photograph was taken in 1979.   According to author and Imagineer Jason Surrell in his book The Disney Mountains, "At two and a half acres, the attraction was a full twenty-five percent larger than the Disneyland adaptation."  He adds, "At 197 feet (and change) tall, Big Thunder became the tallest 'mountain' in Florida, a record that hasn't been broken, even by the mighty Mount Everest."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What a Character! - Scamp

He was the result of a gag rooted in Walt Disney's own theory of the plausible impossible.  In this case, it is the apparent notion that the mating of Lady and Tramp would produce female cocker spaniel puppies and male mixes, perfect matches to their respective parents.  Thus was Scamp born into the Disney canon of characters in the final moments of the 1955 animated feature Lady and the Tramp.  Though not identified by name in the film, Scamp's brief screen time was enough to inspire a decades-long career in comics and the starring role in a direct-to-video sequel to Lady and the Tramp, released in 2001.

The primary creative force behind Scamp was a gentleman named Ward Greene.  Walt Disney recruited Greene to work on the stalled "Lady" project that had been in development since the late 1930s.  Walt had liked elements of a short story by Greene featuring a character known as Happy Dan, the Cynical Dog, and asked Greene to fashion a story that would build upon the studio's Lady materials.  Greene then wrote the story of Lady and the Tramp, that was actually published two years prior to the release of the film.

Greene was a prolific writer and journalist and was also the general editor of Kings Feature Syndicate which distributed comic strips to newspapers.  Less than five months after the release of Lady and the Tramp in theaters, Greene introduced the Scamp comic strip in newspapers across the country.  Greene himself wrote the scripts with art by Dick Moores.  The series launched on October 31, 1955 and continued for over three decades until being retired in 1988.  Greene portrayed Scamp as an adventure seeker and a mischievous foil to his more prim and proper sisters.

The success of the comic strip ultimately led to comic books, beginning with appearances in Dell Four Color Comics in 1956 and 1957.  Twelve issues of a regular Scamp series followed.  Gold Key brought the title back in 1967 and produced an additional 43 issues through January of 1979.

Scamp was the star of the 2001 film Lady and the Tramp 2: Scamp's Adventure, one of the better direct-to-video sequels produced by Disney during its now infamous and controversial "cheap-quel" period.  It returned the pup to his animated origins some four and a half decades after his nameless debut in the original Lady and the Tramp.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pixar Freeze Frame! - The Incredible Doc Hudson

Doc Hudson was apparently cruising the streets of Metroville some 18 months prior to his debut in Cars in 2006.  This Freeze Frame from The Incredibles shows a slightly less anthropomorphic Hudson Hornet parked on the street when Mr. Incredible is engaged in battle with Syndrome's formidable Omindroid.

Monday, April 25, 2011

EPCOT 1939: Donald Duck Day

Yes indeed, we are passionate enthusiasts here at 2719 Hyperion in regard to the 1939 New York World's Fair.  Our EPCOT 1939 series of posts examined the extensive similarities between the Flushing Meadows exposition and EPCOT Center.  Any opportunity to explore a Disney-related connection to the Fair is one we immediately pursue; thus we came to discover the significance of August 14, 1939.

It was Donald Duck Day.

Donald was flown in from Hollywood for this special event.  (Actually it was a three-foot model of the famous mallard, sent from the Disney Studios and likely the one that was typically used for public appearances and special events during that time period.)  He arrived at the Fair at 12 noon that day, just in time to attend the premiere of his latest cartoon, Donald's Penguin.  The short was shown every half hour from noon to 6pm at the National Biscuit Theatre in the Food Pavilion.  This was also the theater that hosted Mickey's Surprise Party, a cartoon short made especially for the National Biscuit Company as part of their Fair exhibit.  At 12:15, Donald handed out gifts to five hundred lucky children; at 12:30 he was paraded past the Perisphere, accompanied by marching bands and other entertainers, ultimately ending up in Carnivaland where a special luncheon was held at the Children's World Restaurant for the winning children.  Carnivaland was located in the Fair's amusement area that was adjacent to Fountain Lake.

The main event of Donald Duck Day was a special ceremony held in Carnivaland, hosted by a costumed character named Abie the Clown Policeman.  Donald was presented with a honorary degree of Doctor of International Friendship from Dr. Frank Monaghan, a professor of American History at Yale University.  In his speech, Monaghan noted that Donald, "never pretended to be a statesman, nor an ambassador nor even a politician; he has only wanted to be and has only been himself.  But his antics and his quacks are more sensible and inspired than the grave nonsense of many who pretend to higher things."  The professor continued, "He has given the world joy through laughter; he is the ambassador extraordinary of good will to the world." 

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:
Epcot 1939
Museum of Modern Marvels

Friday, April 22, 2011

Vintage Snapshot! - Futureport

It was the gateway to one of Walt Disney World's most beloved attractions, a relatively simple backlit display that can still evoke idealistic visions of future living.  The Futureport remains an almost iconic representation of first generation EPCOT, and names such as Brava Centauri, and Mesa Verde are bittersweet reminders of a level of Imagineering achievement that will likely never be reached again.  While Horizons the attraction sadly fell into neglected obsolescence, even more tragic is that Horizons the idea and concept is something no longer embraced or celebrated by the Walt Disney Company.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The African Lion: Truly True-Life

In recent years, it has been very exciting to see the Walt Disney Company reinvent one if its most acclaimed and honored concepts.  The Disneynature brand is the 21st century successor to Walt's own original True-Life Adventure series of films, and African Cats, Disneynature's latest film opening in theaters this week, certainly has its celluloid roots in the 1955 True-Life Adventure feature The African Lion.

The African Lion is likely the most famous and critically celebrated of the True-Life series.  Even more notable, it was lauded for not being as contrived and gimmick-ridden as some of the earlier True-Life docs.  In his book The Disney Films, Leonard Maltin observes that, "it conforms to the True-Life formula without resorting to the much criticized gimmickry of earlier True-Life Features.  This not only doesn't diminish the interest in its subject matter, but it actually enables the audience to become more involved."

In late 1954, Walt screened an early cut of The African Lion for ranger-naturalist Eugene Burns who was also a well-known syndicated newspaper columnist.  In a column from February of 1955, Burns praised the authenticity of the movie in comparison to the previous True-Life films:
"Here I felt is a true-to-life portrayal, just as animals live it in the wild. And for this, will you please extend my compliments to your camera team, Alfred and Elma Milotte, who spent two years and nine months in Africa getting the picture.  As I talked to people who saw this husband and wife team in action, they told me that the pair worked long hours, exhausting hours, sometimes through days and nights to get their unadulterated effects. Here were no setups, contrived with gimmicks. When they photographed lions, for example, they followed a pride day after day, night after night, for months on end — not permitting the lions to get out of their cameras' range until the lions accepted them and became so accustomed to their truck that they siesta'd under it. A friend showed me photographs to prove it! Wild lions resting under a truck! This, I am sure, is what gives 'The African Lion' that feeling of understanding — it's a slice out of wild life, and a sympathetic one."
The Milottes were indeed the driving force behind much of the critical acclaim received by the film.  In a newspaper article they co-wrote for United Press, they spoke of their trials and adventures:
"For two years and eight months a specially built four-wheel-drive truck was our home as well a camera blind. Several times we broke down and had to make emergency repairs on the spot. We carried food and water for a month's supply out of Nairobi. Once we narrowly evaded encounter with a band of prowling Mau Mau. Solitude, the company of animals, we are used to. We've seen more animals than human beings in the 20 years we've been pursuing our adventures with wild creatures."
They added:
"The most trying thing about our procession is the wear on the nerves from the constant vigilance for interesting and significant incidents. During our time in the African wilds there was scarcely a daylight hour when one of us wasn't standing watch beside the cameras for some revealing act in the life and death drama always going on around us."
Alfred and Elma Milotte (From the Life magazine archives)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Vintage Headlines: Mickey's 1951 Comeback

Did you know that Mickey Mouse made a big comeback in 1951?  This Associated Press newspaper article from March 4, 1951 provides the details.
Mickey Mouse, all-time international movie favorite, is hitting the comeback trail. He's getting his tail back, too. After ten lean years, the fabulous rodent, who in some 125 films has played scholar, great lover, cowboy, explorer or medieval knight with equal aplomb, is set for a new series of starring roles.
"We never really dropped Mickey," says Walt Disney, who created the tiny dynamo 22 years ago and made a fortune off him. "We just kind of drifted away from him."
The toast of the world 15 years ago, Mickey began taking a back seat to other members of the Disney cartoon family in 1938. That was the year Walt made his first feature-length fantasy, Snow White. That year also marked the emergence of Donald Duck as a rival.  Disney's crew, which once turned out 15 Mickey Mouse starrers a year, cut back to three or four. Donald, Pluto and Goofy who broke in with Mickey, became famous in their own films.  Dumbo, Bambl and the Three Caballeros stepped into the limelight in elaborate feature pictures.
Disney says Mickey was de-emphasized, not because his popularity waned but because he's tricky to handle.  "Only my top men are good enough to work with Mickey." Disney says, (he's always done Mickey's voice himself). "Because he's a nice, sympathetic character, not a natural comedian like Donald. It takes a lot of ingenuity to write Mickey." During the war the little fellow became a complete casualty; Disney was  devoting 85 per cent of his production to special armed forces projects. Mickey has made only four or five films since.
With his comeback in four cartoons this year, many of the younger generation will be meeting Mickey for the first time, and they'll be seeing him with a tail. Maybe you've forgotten that Mickey has been tailless for more than a decade. When Walt first drew him he was a skinny little tyke. His only clothes were a pair of shorts and shoes and he had a tail. But for one reason or another, Walt can't remember exactly why, they lopped his tail off. Why tack it on again? "We came to realize." Walt says, "that he's not as cute without it. It's an expressive thing. I remember he used to twirl it when he was nervous or angry. It carries him through action smoothly, gives him balance and grace."
There have been other changes through the years. As he aged, Mickey graduated to long pants. They gave him a shirt. Once spidery, his limbs thickened and his body assumed a pear shape. His eyes, formerly dots, were given lids. In the new series he'll have eyebrows.
Mickey wasn't Disney's first love. The first was a cat. The second was a rabbit named Oswald. But Walt wasn't quite satisfied. He wanted to make improvements and when the company he worked for said no, he launched his own business. The first two mouse cartoons didn't make much of a splash.  The industry was being turned topsy-turvy by a new element--sound. Walt took his third Mickey to New York and had it synchronized for sound. They premiered Steamboat Willie at the old Colony Theater in New York in 1928 and the mouse was famous.
There never was a more versatile fellow than Mickey. He's been a tailor, a steam shovel operator, fire chief, cop, musician, magician, inventor, football hero, polo player, farmer, whaler, tourist, hula dancer, scientist and gas station attendant. He's been around the world—to Argentina. Alaska, Africa, the Alps. Arabia. Brazil, even to Gulliver's mythical Lilliput. Once he got going there was no stopping him.  His piping voice was translated into ten foreign languages. He had fan clubs in 50 countries. His likeness was given a choice spot in Mme. Tussuad's waxworks in London.  He got into the Encyclopedia Britannica and got Disney into Who's Who. He won Disney an Academy Award and countless other accolades. And his face appeared on armed forces insignia and on hundreds of commercial products.
The entire article is sadly ironic.  Only two Mickey Mouse cartoons were released in 1951--R'coon Dawg and Plutopia.  And Plutopia was essentially a Pluto cartoon that for some reason was instead branded to Mickey. The image presented with the article features a scene from Pluto's Party, which was released in 1952, along with Pluto's Christmas Tree.  Some comeback--Mickey is essentially playing second string to his own dog in all these cartoons.  The Simple Things, released in 1953, would prove to be the last traditional Mickey Mouse cartoon of animation's golden age.  Mickey's illustrious comeback of 1951 lasted a mere five cartoons.

But Mickey's comeback would be sustained in other ways.  Theme parks and television were just around the corner . . .

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pixar Freeze Frame! - Up with Lotso Huggin' Bear

Prior to his debut in Toy Story 3, the deceptively villainous Lotso Huggin' Bear managed to sneak into a few frames of Up.  He and the toy ball from Luxo, Jr. can be seen in the bedroom of a young girl who is surprised when she sees Carl Fredricksen's balloon-tethered house fly by outside her window.  Up arrived in theaters during the summer of 2009,  a year prior to the release of Toy Story 3.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Birthday, Hayley!

2719 Hyperion sends out very Happy Birthday wishes today to one of our most admired Disney-related personalities.  Hayley Mills was born on April 18, 1946, and by age fourteen had become a shining star of Disney Studio live-action productions.  Her first Disney film, Pollyanna, would bring international acclaim and a special honorary Academy Award for Best Juvenile Performance of 1960.  More enthusiastic notices would follow a year later with her dual performance of twins Susan and Sharon in The Parent Trap.

A wholly fanciful (and largely fictional) newspaper account from 1960 claimed that Mills first met Walt Disney when touring Disneyland with her family (including her father, noted British actor John Mills).  But Mills herself once recounted that the actual first meeting occurred a long way away from southern California.  According to Mills' biography on her Disney Legends profile, it happened when Walt was actively seeking a young actress for the Pollyanna part.  Mills recalled, "I went to Walt's suite at the Dorchester Hotel, in London, along with my parents, my younger brother and our Pekingese, Suki. Walt laughed a lot as he spoke, in rather a shy way, which I found very endearing. I think that's what made me warm to him. That, and the fact that he liked childish things -- I remember he and I were crawling around the floor after Suki, who was eating potato crisps off of the carpet."

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:
Retro Review: A Perfect Summer Movie

Friday, April 15, 2011

Vintage Snapshot! - The Gullywhumper

It's been quite some time since the Mike Fink Keelboats navigated the Rivers of America at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.  This Vintage Snapshot! returns us to 1977 where we see the Gullywhumper plying those waters.  The entrance to the Haunted Mansion can be seen in the background.  Despite their obvious Frontierland roots, the keelboats launched from Liberty Square at a dock just adjacent to the Haunted Mansion.  They ceased operation at Walt Disney World sometime in 1997, shortly after the Disneyland version of the Gullywhumper tipped over and dunked a boatload of guests at that park.

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:
Snapshot Disneyland! - The Gullywhumper

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rocketeer Parkeology

Relating to our recent posts celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the feature film The Rocketeer, our latest theme parkeology expedition unearths a famous helmet and jet pack and spotlights a certain character who traded aviation mechanics for frozen concoctions.

The Rocketeer was well showcased at the then still Disney-MGM Studios when it was released to theaters during the summer of 1991.  Sometime shortly thereafter, Lakeside Newsstand, a small retail venue facing Echo Lake was transformed into Peevy's Polar Pipeline, a refreshment stand specializing in frozen drinks.  Peevy is a prominent character in both the Rocketeer movie and the comics stories that inspired it.  Created by writer-artist Dave Stevens, Peevy is a combination scientist-inventor-airplane mechanic and a faithful friend to Rocketeer alter-ego Cliff Secord.  He was portrayed in the film by actor Alan Arkin.

The decor of Peevy's Polar Pipeline features a number of artifacts from the film, most prominent among them being the iconic Rocketeer helmet and corresponding jet pack.  A sharp eye will also notice a framed newspaper headlining the Rocketeer's first public appearance, a pennant for Bigelow's Air Circus and a replica of the jet pack's schematics that Jenny returns to Peevy near the end of the movie.

Historically, the Rocketeer appeared as part of the nightly Sorcery in the Sky fireworks show at the Studios during the summer of 1991.  In addition, the Bulldog Cafe exterior set piece from the movie resided on the Studio Backlot for a number of years.

I would like to send out a very special acknowledgment and thank you to Jessica from If We Can Dream It . . . who pointed out Peevy's Polar Pipeline to me all the way back in October of 2007.  Jessica was a true online pioneer of theme park details and created one of the first Disney World-related blogs to feature such content. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Consider the Source: Pulp Fiction, Rocketmen and Betty Paige

In 1991, the Walt Disney Company had very high hopes for The Rocketeer.  It was envisioned as a potential movie trilogy that could in turn spawn a synergistic franchise encompassing merchandising, television and theme park tie-ins.  Sadly, it was not to be.  The movie-going public failed to embrace the concept and thus, the Disney interpretation of the Rocketeer remains limited to the live action feature film that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Similarly, the Dave Stevens comic book stories that inspired the film are rather slight in actual content.  The entire Rocketeer saga is comprised of just eight chapters totaling 112 pages.  But over the years it has in some ways grown greater than the sum of its parts; it is considered by many to be among the greatest of comic book publications, and Stevens, one of the true masters of the illustrated page.

The Rocketeer stories were born from the then emerging independent comics publishers of the 1980s.  Stevens' very first two Rocketeer chapters debuted in 1982 as backup features in Mike Grell's Starslayer series, published by Pacific Comics.  Chapters three and four migrated to a new anthology title called Pacific Presents which was published in late 1982 and 1983.  Chapter five went to press in 1984 with a wholly different publisher, Eclipse Comics.  Eclipse would later collect all five installments into one over-sized graphic novel collection.  Comico launched a new Rocketeer storyline, Cliff's New York Adventure, in 1988 with the publication of the Rocketeer Adventure MagazineCliff's New York Adventure was continued in a second issue released in 1989, but then the series stalled.  Dark Horse Comics finally published the third issue and concluding chapter of the comic in 1995, some four years after the release of The Rocketeer movie.

Stevens drew inspiration for the Rocketeer primarily from movie serials and pulp magazine characters.  Visually, the Rocketeer outfit and helmet is wholly derivative of designs created for a series of Republic Pictures "Rocket Men" serials released throughout the 1940s and early 1950s.  The two Rocketeer storylines, (The Rocketeer and Cliff's New York Adventure), are very direct homages to 1930s pulp.  The Rocketeer indirectly featured characters from the popular Doc Savage stories, while Cliff's New York Adventure guest starred a thinly disguised version of the Shadow.  Due to potential copyright issues, those elements could not be carried over into Disney's feature film.

Stevens' Rocketeer stories are visually striking, fun and frequently very clever, but the storytelling is at times rushed and occasionally disjointed.  Likely this was due to Stevens falling victim to a run of bad luck in regard to publishers.  In an interview conducted a year prior to his untimely death in 2008, Stevens noted, "The whole experience of jumping from one, two, three, four publishers in a span of a handful of years, it just drummed all the enthusiasm out of me.  I loved the character and I loved creating scenarios in which the cast could play and grow, but it just wasn't meant to be.  If not for the disastrous financial end of it, it might have been a good gig to have for ten years or whatever."

The Rocketeer movie originated when screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo contacted Stevens in 1985.  DeMeo remembers. "Dave met with us and saw we were 'kindred souls.'  [He] knew that we understood and respected the pulp genre.  So we really met at the beginning of the road that led to the film--years before pre-production would begin."  Bilson recalls, "We had a story pitch we had developed with Dave that we presented to a number of studios before Disney bought it.  Dave would bring copies of the comic and some of his original art, which was always impressive.  But we didn't write a script until we had a deal.  Then there were several years of revisions and new drafts before the film was finally green-lighted."

Working closely with Stevens, Bilson and DeMeo created a more cohesive storyline from Stevens' first five Rocketeer chapters.  They focused on the central premise of the stolen rocket pack falling into the hands of pilot Cliff Secord and his mechanic friend Peevy, who are then hounded and pursued by a combination of gangsters, Nazis and federal agents.  Forced to jettison the Doc Savage references, they incorporated billionaire and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes into the plot and created a new central antagonist in the form of flamboyant movie star Neville Sinclair.  The Sinclair character, a secret Nazi agent, was inspired by a largely fabricated version of actor Errol Flynn attributed to biographer Charles Higham.  According to Stevens, " . . . from the get-go there was never any great villain.  All there was was the rivalry between Cliff and this--and what do you call it?--a Svengali photographer, and that doesn't make for a big adventure.  So we had to come up with a really suitable villain, and that was where Neville Sinclair came from."

The filmmakers transformed Cliff Secord's Bettie Paige-inspired nude model girlfriend into the more sexually-benign Jenny, in keeping with Disney's more family-friendly sensibilities.  The trio also added the climactic final showdown at the Griffith Observatory, culminating with an intense battle between Cliff and the Nazi agents on board a German zeppelin high in the skies over Hollywood.

Despite objections by some Disney executives, Rockeeter director Joe Johnston insisted on remaining faithful to Stevens' designs, especially in the case of the iconic helmet of the title character.  The Bulldog Cafe, based on an actual 1930s southern California eatery, was also deftly translated from comic to screen.  In an interesting collaborative twist, Stevens, Bilson and De Meo created the film's Lothar character, Sinclair's giant-sized henchman, and then later featured him in the final two chapters of Cliff's New York Adventure.  Bilson and De Meo co-wrote those last two comic installments with Stevens.  Lothar was directly inspired by vintage B-movie actor Rondo Hatton, whose brutish facial features were the result of acromegaly, a pituitary gland disorder.  The persona was recreated for The Rocketeer film by actor Tiny Ron Taylor working with veteran makeup artist Rick Baker.

Stevens was active in the making of the film.  He carried a co-producer credit and worked extensively on production design.  Bilson recalls, "Dave spent a lot of time on the set.  I think most of his energy was in the art of the film."  DeMeo adds, "What I remember was Dave's enthusiasm.  He was really into it, really enjoyed seeing his creation come to life as a film."

While The Rocketeer movie did not live up to Disney's exceptionally high expectations, it was distinctly not the box-office bomb many pundits claim.  And it is fondly remembered by fans and filmmakers alike.  Danny Bilson notes, "The Rocketeer may be the highlight of my long career.  I only wish it had more initial success for all the creative people involved--in particular, Dave Stevens."

Special acknowledgment to interviews with Dave Stevens and Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, published in Back Issue magazine, issue #47. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Retro Review: Flying High with The Rocketeer

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.  A bare-bones DVD edition was released in 1999; a restored high definition Blu-Ray would certainly be welcome, but it doesn't appear to be on the company's radar at the moment. 

We will continue to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of The Rocketeer this week at 2719 Hyperion.  Check back tomorrow as we Consider the Source of the movie--the comic book stories of Dave Stevens.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Simply Incredible!

The Pixar migration to high definition continues as The Incredibles makes its Blu-Ray debut this week.  This is one that a lot of folks have been waiting for and it most definitely lives up to expectations.  Brad Bird's now classic retro-superhero tour de force screams brilliance even more so in a maximized home theater presentation that enhances the sharp, vibrant and often jaw-dropping visuals of this 2004 Oscar winner.  In this case, Pixar + Blu-Ray + Home Theater = Simply Incredible!

Pixar has a reputation for producing top-of-the-line DVD sets.  What is even more significant is that a Pixar DVD reissue, in this case The Incredibles, dramatically outshines a recent package for a brand new Disney film, that being Tangled.  It is embarrassing to say the least that the newly produced Blu-Ray special features for The Incredibles offers so much more than what consumers were given in total on the Tangled set.  In addition, all of the bonus features from the original Incredibles DVD have been included in the new Blu-Ray set.  It's a hefty batch of content spread across two discs, with a standard DVD and digital copy thrown in to boot.

What's new:

The Incredibles Revisited
This is a brand new roundtable discussion on the making of the film with Writer/Director Brad Bird, Producer John Walker, Story Supervisor Mark Andrews, Supervising Technical Director Rick Sayre, Production Designer Lou Romano, Character Designer Teddy Newton and Supervising Animator Tony Fucile.  It is a fun and often very funny conversational remembrance that is quite substantial in content and material, despite its twenty-five minutes length.  One especially interesting tidbit--the project was very nearly killed in the early going by a very high placed but unnamed Disney executive (Eisner?).

Paths to Pixar: Story Artists
Continued from previous Pixar DVDs, this series focuses on specific disciplines within Pixar, in this case, story artists.  Brief and succinct but still quite enlightening, the individuals showcased discuss their work, their career paths and the inspirations behind their efforts.

Studio Stories: Gary's Birthday
This hilarious series, also continued from previous Pixar DVDs, features a bare-bones animated vignette relating to the Incredibles production crew and how they solved the problem of too many birthday celebrations.

Ending with a Bang: Making the End Credits
The least of the newly produced features, this very brief piece provides interviews with Andy Jimenez and Teddy Newton about the creation of the film's end credits, which were inspired by Newton's own original production designs.

"The New Nomanisan" Island Redevelopment Plan
This interactive feature abounds with retro design and tongue-in-cheek humor.  It provides a guided tour of Nomanisan Island, now converted into vacation resort that still integrates Syndrome's infrastructure and robotic minions.

As noted, the set includes all the original and very extensive DVD bonus features, including most notably the animated shorts Boundin' and Jack-Jack Attack.

The 4-disc Blu-Ray Comb Pack includes two Blu-Ray discs, a Standard DVD and digital copy disc.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Cars 2 - Retro!

This newly unveiled movie poster for Cars 2 is circulating throughout the online Disney world, but I couldn't resist showcasing here.  Pixar loves retro and that is clearly evident in this throwback to James Bond-style 1960s era designs.  Great stuff!

Pixar Freeze Frame! - Finding Mike in Finding Nemo

We kept our heads above water in the previous two Pixar Freeze Frames, but we will be diving below the waves this time to discover where a certain sea "monster" can be found in Finding Nemo.  This particular cameo is not by any means hard to spot, but it may in fact be unknown to those viewers who have neither the patience nor the interest to sit through the film's closing credits.  Though never indicated in Monsters, Inc., it appears that Mike Wazowski has a penchant for snorkeling.  He swims across the screen, right after the Production Babies list and just prior to the Special Thanks acknowledgments. 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

What a Character! - The Beechcraft Busy Bee

Unlike most of the insignia-related characters created by Disney artists during World War II, the Beechcraft Busy Bee was very much a homefront hero.  Beechcraft was founded in 1932 by husband and wife partners Walter H. Beech and Olive Ann Mellor Beech.  With designer Ted Wells, they created the Model 17 Staggerwing, a civilian plane that was manufactured in their Wichita, Kansas factory.
Walter and Olive Ann Beech in the Wichita factory, 1942.
 In 1942, the U.S. Army Air Forces ordered the first of 270 modified Staggerwings for service in World War II.  It was at the same time that Beech commissioned Walt Disney to create a company mascot that would encourage productivity and improve morale among his employees.  The result was the Beechcraft Busy Bee.  A company publication provided the following background:
Created by Walt Disney especially for Beechcraft as a badge of merit and honor to be awarded to employees of any rank or station. To qualify for the award an employee must have demonstrated, by performance, the qualities of high efficiency, interest in his work and in training for further advancement, cheerful cooperation with others, and the constant determination to "Kill 'em with Production."

The Beechcraft Busy Bee, rampant on a field of blueprint paper shaped in the form of a Beech leaf, embodies these qualities. Although this Beechcraft Busy Bee is busy as can be, he's not too busy to look aside to see, if instead of two jobs, he can't do three. His flaunted Beechcraft wing insigne and his cheerful grin are indicative of his high morale, but his determination is written all over his face.

Most Beechcrafters will qualify for this Award. With willing spirit and determination they are pushing production rates ever upward.
Beechcraft would be awarded the coveted Army-Navy E Award in 1942 and subsequent followup awards through the end of the war.  The E Award was given to companies as a reward for excellence in the production of war materials.  The spirit and determination of the Busy Bee was certainly reflected in the Beechcraft workforce.


The Bee was featured in numerous company publications, and employees were awarded patches, pins and certificates of merit that all showcased the Disney-created design.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Vintage Snapshot! - Fantasyland Steampunk

It was a first class E-Ticket during the first decade of Walt Disney World, but photographs such as this one are among the few tangible reminders of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  This particular image from 1974 offers a rare glimpse of the attraction's exit area.  It is increasingly hard to imagine the scale and scope of the lagoon that once occupied the northern portion of Fantasyland, especially as that area now evolves into something new and wholly different from Jules Verne-inspired science fiction.  When I was a young man of twelve years, the Nautilus was the be all and end all of the Magic Kingdom.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Freeze Frame! - Mickey on the Grid

Relating to our post this week about Tron and Tron Legacy, here is a classic Freeze Frame! where a certain corporate icon became part of the virtual landscape.  In the original 1982 Tron, a trademark Mickey Mouse silhouette can be seen in the background as heroes Flynn, Tron and Yori pass by on their solar sail simulation.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Bringing Home the Grid: Tron and Tron: Legacy

The original Tron and Tron: Legacy become user-friendly this week as Disney rolls out a multitude of home entertainment options as the two films arrive in both Blu-Ray and standard DVD formats.  My package of choice was the 5-Disc 2-Movie Blu-Ray Combo Pack, despite not really having a need for the Blu-Ray 3D edition of Tron: Legacy.  MSRP is a bit steep at $79.99 but finding it for less is a given; Amazon is advertising it at $49.95 and other retailers and online merchants will likely be offering up similar discounts.

Let me just say from the start that I am an unabashed Tron fan.  Unlike my children who were born into a world filled with video games, computers and gadgets, I was fortunate to witness an era of techno-history unfold, from which the original 1982 movie of Tron has emerged as a pseudo-pop culture benchmark for many of my generation.  It is by no means a perfect movie, but its flaws are dramatically overshadowed by its groundbreaking special effects techniques and its still visually dazzling presentation.  It is a legend hard-earned and well deserved and a legacy that extends beyond just its more high profile sequel that debuted in theaters last year.  Pixar-chief John Lasseter once noted that without Tron there would have been no Toy Story, and many other contemporary Hollywood craftsmen have made similar testimonials.

Tron: Legacy, arriving close to three decades after Tron, has inspired passionate debate among both critics and fans.  I personally enjoyed the film, noting in my earlier review that I found it intriguing and thought-provoking, and most certainly dazzling and technically amazing.

Garrett Hedlund, Steve Lisberger, Jeff Bridges and Joseph Kosinski

Tron: Legacy is an equally dazzling and entertaining home theater experience.  It is a film tailor-made for high definition and it does not disappoint in that regard.  Also well served is the perfectly matched score by Daft Punk that wonderfully resonates through five channels of digital surround sound.  The film cleverly and seamlessly alternates between aspect ratios, allowing it to match its original IMAX presentation.

On-disc bonus features are neither impressive nor overly disappointing.  The Next Day: Flynn Lives Revealed is perhaps the most significant.  It is a short film that purportedly bridges the gap between Tron: Legacy and a possible third Tron film.  It also provides some interesting exposition and background heretofore unrevealed about the Tron universe.  Other special features include a series of making-of vignettes, the Daft Punk "Derezzed" music video and a brief teaser for the upcoming Tron: Uprising television show.

The lion's share of bonus features for Tron: Legacy has shifted to Disney's new Second Screen feature that debuted with the Bambi Diamond Edition DVD last month.  Second Screen is exactly that, 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.  Unfortunately, as we went to press, the Tron: Legacy Second Screen app was not yet available in the Apple App Store.  I was especially impressed with the Bambi edition and hold high hopes for the Tron version.

Returning to Tron: The Original Classic, as Disney is now packaging it, the film has been remastered with a digital restoration and enhanced sound.  It is spectacular in high definition, likely better than it looked in theaters in 1982.  The very extensive array of special features from the 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition DVD have been included in this set; new materials include The Tron Phenomenon documentary and Photo Tronology, where director Steve Lisberger and his son dig into Tron resources that have long been stored in the Disney Archives.

For clarification, here is a breakdown of Tron and Tron: Legacy buying options:

5-Disc 2-Movie Blu-Ray Combo Pack
Includes Blu-Ray 3D, Blu-Ray, Standard DVD and Digital Copy of Tron: Legacy and Blu-Ray of Tron: The Original Classic Special Edition

4-Disc Blu-Ray Combo Pack of Tron: Legacy
Includes Blu-Ray 3D, Blu-Ray, Standard DVD and Digital Copy of Tron: Legacy

2-Disc Blu-Ray Combo Pack of Tron Legacy
Includes Blu-Ray and Standard DVD

1-Disc Standard DVD of Tron: Legacy

2-Disc Blu-Ray Combo Pack of Tron: The Original Classic Special Edition
Includes Blu-Ray and Standard DVD

2-Disc Standard DVD of Tron: The Original Classic Special Edition

Unfortunately, Walt Disney Home Entertainment has once again made the digital copy only available with the more expensive Blu-Ray 3D packages.  As a result, they are doing a disservice to those consumers who desire a digital copy but have no need for the 3D edition.  Disney did not make available a digital copy of Tron: The Original Classic via DVD purchase.

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:
The Legacy of Tron

Friday, April 01, 2011

Windows to the Past: Lady at the Loew's Grand

We've looked out this particular Window to the Past before.  The view encompasses a movie theater in downtown Atlanta.  Our previous visits were during May of 1955 and June of 1956.  This photograph captures another Disney-related moment, one dating from August of 1955.

The Loew's Grand was perhaps Atlanta's best known picture palace and was frequently home to the latest Walt Disney feature.  Lady and the Tramp debuted there on August 4, 1955 and both humans and dogs were on hand to celebrate the film's release.  The image is from the Special Collections at the Georgia State University Library.