Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How to Draw Goofy - 1956

Instructions on drawing Mickey Mouse and his friends have been perennial elements of Disney publications for decades. Even in recent years there have been oversize activity books that teach the amateur artist how to put character to paper.

This particular lesson on drawing Goofy was featured in the Fall 1956 issue of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club Magazine. The text manages to dodge the long controversial question of "What is Goofy?" by stating, "Goofy is dog-like in appearance, but has human characteristics."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Disney Treasures - Wishful Thinking

Similar to Mark Twain’s famous 1907 statement “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” it would appear the same may possibly hold true for the Walt Disney Treasures DVD sets. A recent report on The Digital Bits website indicated that BVHE claims the series is still alive and well, with future waves still penciled in on their release calendar. Dead or alive? I guess only time, and future press releases will tell.

Wade Sampson on MousePlanet recently published his own wish list for future Treasures volumes, and in a similar spirit of Pollyana thinking and Tinker Bell hand-clapping, I would like to present a few suggestions of my own.

One of the true lost treasures of Disney’s laserdisc era is the Exclusive Archives Collection of The Three Caballeros and Saludos Amigos. The set, along with MGM’s enormous Compleat Tex Avery compilation, are the two main reasons I still own, and meticulously care for, my decade-old Pioneer laserdisc player.

Laserdisc special editions were the real precursors to whole “special features” DVD phenomenon, and the Caballeros/Amigos set was a shining example of the best that format could produce. Beyond the films themselves, the set was filled with an overabundance of supplemental material that would make perfect contents for a Treasures or Legacy DVD. The documentary South of the Border With Disney, screen tests, radio broadcasts, storyboards, concept art, and publicity materials, are among its many highlights. But the real gems of the collection are reconstructions of two abandoned short subjects: “A Brazilian Symphony: Caxanga,” and “The Laughing Gauchito.”

Marry this material with a complete set of the studio’s “south of the border” themed shorts, such as Clown of the Jungle, Pueblo Pluto, Pluto and the Armadillo, The Pelican an the Snipe, and Contrary Condor, and even throw in the Blame It on the Samba sequence from Melody Time for good measure. Then add a healthy dose of Disney’s Latin American public service films, such as the long unseen The Amazon Awakes and the Careless Charlie series, and you have the makings of a terrific Treasures product.

My next candidate for a Treasures/Legacy release would be a mostly forgotten chapter in the Studio’s history: the People and Places series of documentary short subjects. Similar in style and format to the True-Life Adventures, these travelogues employed many of the same talented individuals and earned a number of Oscar accolades as well. People and Places began with The Alaskan Eskimo in 1953 and concluded in 1960 with the films Japan and The Danube. Studio and animation veteran Ben Sharpteen directed nearly all of the titles in the series. The most famous entry, Disneyland USA, directed by Hamilton Luske, was filmed in Cinemascope, and would today provide an amazing time capsule-view of the park in 1956.

Unlikely to ever be realized, but my own personal fanboy wish would be a Treasures set devoted to EPCOT Center. Starting with the original EPCOT film that appeared on the Treasures Tomorrowland title, the set could also include the various souvenir videos, and also many of the now long gone attraction films. It would be great to again be able to see items such as the Earth Station film, Symbiosis, The Water Engine from World of Motion, and the various original Energy films, including some type of recreation of the now famous Emil Radok designed Energy: You Make the World Go Round. Other great pieces of obscure EPCOT: the Choose Your Ending sequences from Horizons; the original Seas introductory film, the two animated vignettes also from the Living Seas--The Animated Atlas of the World and Suited for the Sea; and the animated educational short Harold and His Amazing Green Plants, that featured characters from Kitchen Kaberet. Highlights from the numerous EPCOT Educational Media films, and clips from The Disney Channel’s EPCOT Magazine program would also be great inclusions.

All in all, it would make a pretty good tie-in to Epcot’s 25th Anniversary later this year.

Beyond my suggestions, let’s hope that upcoming waves will at the very least complete the Donald Duck and Rarities collections. After that, it’s all just wishful thinking.

Snapshot! - Muppet Mayhem

Molding and ducts in the exterior queue area of Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3D at Disney-MGM Studios become the targets of some good-natured vandalism. Gonzo the Great is immortalized by means of some selectively placed chalk and blue paint. Very little in the surroundings escapes "Muppet-ization," as demonstrated by these pipes and conduits.

Even water fountains take on additional notoriety in this area. For this is not just any fountain; this is an Official Muppet Labs Water Fountain -- Another Refreshing Service from the Muppet Labs Department of Rehydration and Thirst Quenchification.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Muppet*Vision 3D: Signs of Fun

Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3D follows a very loose back story of sorts. The building itself is the World Headquarters of Muppet*Vision 3D and the home of Muppet Labs. A directory just inside the entrance lists a number of departments within the building. Among them are Muppet Kitchens and Pyrotechnic Research, the Institute of Heckling and Browbeating, the Academy of Amphibian Science, and the Dept. of Comedic Timing and Delivery. Muppet Security is also present at the entrance, with the now famous key that is hidden under the mat.

There are a few great signs throughout. Longtime Muppet Link Hogthrob is pictured as a guard on a warning sign, identifying his affiliation with the Pork Security Company. One particularly funny gag is the sign on a utility door that reads "THIS DOOR IS ALARMED - AND GENUINELY CONCERNED!"

Nearby to Muppet*Vision is the Stage One Company Store, selling merchandise themed to Kermit and company. The interior showcases elements drawn from the Happiness Hotel, a location that featured prominently in the film The Great Muppet Caper. One cashier station is modeled after the hotel's check-in desk, and a sign nearby reads "PLEASE STEAL LINEN - IT'S CHEAPER THAN HAVING IT CLEANED." Another (pictured) communicates the benefits(?) of securing valuables in the house safe. Assorted laundry is strung across the "lobby" area; a careful inspection will reveal Mickey Mouse's shorts among the items.

I featured the exterior of the Stage One Company Store in a Snapshot! back in October.

Muppet*Vision 3D: The Fun Before the Show

Tying into my appearance on this weeks MouseTunes podcast, I’ll be doing a little bit of theme parkeology on Jim Henson’s Muppet*Vision 3D and its incredibly entertaining queue and pre-show areas.

When MuppetVision premiered in 1991, it quickly became one of Disney-MGM Studios’ headliner attractions. That necessitated the extended queue area that still currently exists, but is now seldom used, on the right side of the Muppet*Vision building. Here are some of the fun design elements and visual gags that now by and large go unseen by most Disney World guests.

First up, the series of posters by Dr. Bunson Honeydew that deal with the use of 3D glasses:

And you have to look closely at all these posters. Take for example this funny bit in the corner of the one entitled Some Scientific Thoughts Regarding Safe and Hygienic Use of Muppet*Vision 3D Glasses:Another funny series of posters features The World’s First Experimental Line. Here are a couple of examples that chronicle your progress “from here to there”:

More to come tomorrow as we take a few snapshots in the exterior queue, and look at the
various signs at both Muppet*Vision and the nearby Stage One Company Store. And if you haven't already, check out this week's edition of the MouseTunes podcast with Lou, Nathan, and a guest appearance by yours truly.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Annie Leibovitz and the Year of a Million Dreams

No doubt Disney fan sites and blogs will be buzzing about today's USA Today article featuring photographer Annie Leibovitz's celebrity photographs for the Year of a Million Dreams marketing campaign. The online version is here.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Freeze Frame: Animated Animators - Part Two

The 1941 Mickey Mouse cartoon The Nifty Nineties makes subtle, and not so subtle references to numerous Disney Studio staffers of the time period. Now famous animator/writer/producer/director and Nine Old Men alumnus Ward Kimball literally takes center stage with fellow animator Fred Moore in the short’s vaudeville show sequence.

As “Fred and Ward-Two Clever Boys from Illinois,” the two tell jokes and perform pratfalls for an audience that includes Mickey and Minnie. According to an animators draft provided by Jenny Lerew to Mark Mayerson for his Mayerson on Animation blog, Kimball in fact animated himself and Moore in the sequence.

The Nifty Nineties references other studio personnel in the same scene via a number of advertisements on the theater’s curtain.

Walter D.’s Hats That Please -- Okay, that one’s pretty obvious.

Wilfred Jaxon Feed and Fuel -- Veteran animation director Wilfred Jackson.

Riley’s Livery Stable -- Nifty Nineties director Riley Thompson.

Prof. Churchill Pianos Tuned -- Composer Frank Churchill.

Clark’s Confectionary -- Animator Les Clark.

Gen. J. Sharpsteen Dentist -- Studio veteran Ben Sharpsteen.

R. B. Martch Guns -- Animator Bob Martch

T. Hee Shoes -- Storyman T. Hee.

Happy Herb Undertaker, Palms Read - C. Payzant, M. Flanigan Coffee, M. Nelson Fancy Goods, and Breezy Allen’s Haberdashery are the other ads on the curtain. So far in my research, I haven’t found anyone who has been able to identify any individuals associated with those particular names.

[EDIT: Jeff Kurtti provided some additional identifications via the comments section that I wanted to include here as well:

Charles Payzant was a watercolor artist who served as art director on the Night on Bald Mountain segment of Fantasia and on Dumbo. Happy Herb may refer to Herb Ryman, who was an art director on the Pastoral Symphony segment of Fantasia and on Dumbo. Mary Flanigan ran a coffee and snack shop at Hyperion and then at the Burbank Studio.

Thanks Jeff!]

[EDIT #2: Are Myklebust provided some corrections to to my transcribing (from a blurry screen capture) which I have made, and also provided the following identifications:

M. Nelson Fancy Goods -- background artist Myron F. Nelson.

"Breezy" Allen's Haberdashery -- animator Paul Allen.

And one ad I did not previously list:

C.E. Philippi Fishing Eqpt. -- layout artist Charles Phillipi.

Thanks Are!]

In a comment on Mark Mayerson’s aforementioned post about The Nifty Nineties, Michael Barrier identified the drunk man in the “Father Dear Father” part of the vaudeville show as a caricature of company vet Dick Huemer.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Freeze Frame: Animated Animators - Part One

Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston are among the more famous of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” the studio veterans most associated with, and responsible for, much of the company’s classic animation. Thomas and Johnston became especially well known from their various books on Disney animation, and as the subjects of the 1995 documentary Frank and Ollie.

They also became elements in the very art form they mastered and innovated.

Contemporary animation director Brad Bird paid tribute to the pair in two of his films. In The Iron Giant they appear as railroad men, especially appropriate considering Johnston’s longtime passion for trains and scale model railroading, a hobby he shared with fellow animator Ward Kimball and also Walt Disney himself.

Bird brought the two back again in his first film for Pixar, The Incredibles. They appear near the film’s end, uttering the very telling lines “That's the way to do it. That is old school,” and “No school like the old school.”

Bird said in a USA Today interview: "I was fortunate enough to coerce them into doing it for us. It was just a small moment to thank them for all their magnificent moments."

One other homage to Frank and Ollie appeared in the 1995 Mickey Mouse cartoon Runaway Brain. There they found themselves the namesake of the story’s short-lived mad doctor.

Coming in Part 2: The animated animators of The Nifty Nineties.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Return to Hyperion Avenue

My recent post about Disney’s original studio at this blog's namesake, 2719 Hyperion, inspired fellow blogger David Lesjak to send on some vintage photographs.

Here are the pics and David’s comments--

I believe this photo was taken at the Hyperion site. They have used a Mickey Mouse poster to hide the sink in the background. I tried to enlarge the photo to see what was being photographed, but to no avail. There appears to be a nice stack of art on the back left side of the camera table.

The second photo I believe was also taken at Hyperion.
From left to right: Back row: Jack King, Dick Lundy, Bert Gillett, Ub Iwerks, Walt Disney, Carl Stalling, Wilfred Jackson
Front row: Jack Cannon, Norm Ferguson, Merle Gibson,
Ben Sharpsteen, Les Clark.

Jeff Kurtti relayed some additional information via the comments section of the original post, that provided background on a number of Hyperion Avenue structures that were relocated to Burbank. I’m reprinting Jeff’s remarks here for those who may have missed them:

"Two Hyperion buildings were moved and combined to create the Shorts Building on the Burbank Lot.

The Personnel Building that now houses the Studio Store and Employee Center was likewise moved from Hyperion to Burbank.

The Publicity and Comic Strips Building, which was actually a small wood frame bungalow, was moved to Burbank where it was long the Studio Mail Room, and has since been moved again and renovated as two conference/meeting spaces, known as the Hyperion Bungalow and the Silver Lake Room (Silverlake is the neighborhood where the Hyperion Studio was located)."

Special thanks to David and Jeff for their contributions. And check out David’s great Toons at War blog if you haven’t already. It features material from his extensive and incredibly impressive collection of World War II era Disneyana. Great, great stuff!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Comic Book Caballeros

There are clearly a lot of fans out there of The Three Caballeros. When news surfaced last year of a rumored makeover for World Showcase’s El Rio del Tiempo involving Donald and his pals, numerous cranky mouseketeers across the Internet decried yet another potential “characterization” of a classic Epcot attraction. In a refreshing twist, many others came quickly to the defense of our trio of amigos, countering a great deal of misinformation and some genuinely mean-spirited negativity. My own article, Caballeros in the Age of Misinformation, has proven to be one of 2719 Hyperion’s most popular posts to date.

But just how many of these south-of-the-border enthusiasts are familiar with the further adventures of Donald Duck, Jose Carioca and Panchito Pistoles? In recent years, there have been not one, but two sequels to Disney’s classic 1945 feature. But just not quite in the format you would expect. These incarnations are not in fact animated features, but comic book stories.

Yes, comic book stories. Really, really good comic book stories. But alas, somewhat difficult to find comic book stories.

But first a little background--

Disney-themed comic book publishing has undergone an interesting evolution over the past three decades. In recent years, traditional Disney comic books have faded, and Disney comic stories have migrated into publications like Disney Adventures and its occasional spinoffs.

Things are a bit different overseas, however. Companies in numerous countries, especially throughout Europe, still publish traditional format Disney comic books to very substantial and passionate readerships. It is in those venues that artist/scribe Don Rosa continues to produce original Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge stories. Rosa has been chronicling the adventures of the Disney ducks for the past twenty years, much to the delight of countless international readers, and an extremely small but equally passionate American audience.

And Rosa just happens to be a huge fan of The Three Caballeros. Hence, in 2000, he produced The Three Caballeros Ride Again, and then followed up with The Magnificent Seven (minus 4) Caballeros a few years later.

Rosa typically works within the largely Carl Barks-created landscape of Duckburg, and the larger, often historically and geographically authentic world it inhabits. In a companion essay to the U.S. reprint of The Three Caballeros Ride Again, he explained why he took a detour out of Barks-inpired settings:

"I have never been especially interested in the animated Disney Donald Duck cartoons... they seemed to be a different character to me altogether. However, the best thing I think that the Disney Company ever did with Donald was his appearance in the 1945 film "The Three Caballeros"! I thought the interaction between Donald and the other two characters, Jose Carioca and Panchito Pistoles, was marvelous, and the action and music in the film was wonderful! In fact, their rendition of "We're Three Caballeros" is one of my very favorite musical numbers in any movie! I have always thought it would be a neat idea to do a new Donald Duck adventure with Jose and Panchito, and in 2000 I finally got around to it! And when I did, I knew I'd include a new rendition of the classic musical number from the film, even though that's a wacky idea to attempt in a comic book!"

Both of Rosa’s Caballeros stories are high energy tales that return Donald to the environs of central and South America where he reunites with his good friends Jose and Panchito. Adventure, slapstick humor and even music combine in these delightful and beautifully rendered stories.

The Three Caballeros Ride Again takes us to the Copper Canyon of Panchito’s native Mexico where the trio engages in a Treasure of Sierra Madre-style quest for a hidden silver. Fortunes are won and quickly lost, but friendship and camaraderie ultimately prove to be the greatest treasures of all.

In The Magnificent Seven (minus 4) Caballeros, the setting moves south to Jose’s stomping ground of Rio de Janeiro. The three set off to seek their fortunes as diamond prospectors traveling across Brazil’s vast central plateau. Action and hilarity combine again with highly entertaining results. One particular sight gag (pictured) involving a capybara, the world’s largest rodent, is priceless.

It is a real shame that these and Rosa’s many other wonderful stories are by and large inaccessible here in the United States. Both Caballeros stories are available directly from Gemstone Publishing, but unfortunately, each one is split among three separate issues of Walt Disney’s Comic & Stories, with each issue costing a pricey $6.95.

One wishes that Gemstone would focus less on publishing in the traditional ongoing issue style, and concentrate more on trade paperback collections featuring distinct themes and/or specific creator spotlights. The recent editions of Rosa’s own The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck and the Disney Comics Treasures are certainly steps in the right direction. There are no doubt numerous folks out there who would likely be interested in the Caballeros stories, but will clearly balk at the $42 cost of having to purchase the six individual issues.

The Three Caballeros Ride Again was serialized in Walt Disney Comics & Stories #635-637. The Magnificent Seven (minus 4) Caballeros appeared in Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories #663-665.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Greetings From the Fair!

Here are two postcards from the New York World's Fair 1964-1965. Both feature the Disney-designed Pepsi-Cola Pavilion that was home of the original incarnation of It's a Small World. The left card is an actual photo from the fair, while the right card shows a concept model of the attraction. Both cards were postmarked during the summer of 1964.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Jungle Navigation Co., LTD. - Part Two

Here are a couple more items from the queue area of Walt Disney World's Jungle Cruise. Again, the Jungle Navigation Company is identified prominently as the owner of the attraction's fleet of boats. It will be interesting to see if the Jungle Navigation Co., LTD becomes a part of the upcoming Jungle Cruise movie.

The Passport to the Rivers of the Pharaohs is one of a number of artistic renderings scattered around the dock area. Check this earlier post for a desktop wallpaper version of the graphic.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Snapshot! - Pete's Punt, Pass & Pummel Contest

There are a number of sports trophies on display in the recreation room of Mickey's house in Mickey's Toontown Fair at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Bowling, golf, baseball and even archery are all represented. This particular shelf is dedicated to Mickey's football career, likely inspired in part by his 1932 cartoon short Touchdown Mickey.

So, just exactly how does the title of this post relate to any of this? A closer inspection of the punctured bronze football will reveal the answer.

The Donald Duck Hat

In Donald's never ending battle for recognition during the Mickey Mouse Club years, the benay-Albee company (the most famous name in novelty hats), presented the authentic Donald Duck hat. This magazine ad was featured on the back cover of the Mickey Mouse Club Magazine's fall 1956 issue. It's kind of weird how the ad is in color but the kid's face is in black and white.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Jungle Navigation Co., LTD.

The tongue-in-cheek humor of the Jungle Cruise in Disney World's Magic Kingdom extends beyond the various boat skippers and their infamous bad joke-filled narrations. Dock elements reveal that the Jungle Cruise boats belong to the Jungle Navigation Co., LTD. which seems to have a rich history of ineptitude. According to postings on the dock, the company is currently seeking the whereabouts of eleven missing boats and nine lost individuals.

While waiting to begin your "exotic expedition," check out the various company-related signs and postings. Offers of Free Kittens, daily menus for the Crew Mess, and the Employee of the Month sign are just a few of the queue area's interesting, and sometimes hilarious details.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Recreational Rocket Vehicle Show

The retro-future theme of Tomorrowland in Disney World's Magic Kingdom seems to fade away more with the advent of yet another character-themed attraction. This poster serves to remind us of "the future that never was," the concept behind Tomorrowland's redesign in the mid-1990s. While Buzz Lightyear and Stitch both had elements to justify some degree of inclusion, Mike Wazowski and company are an odd fit in the new attraction's home within the Metropolis Science Centre, outside of which the Recreational Rocket Vehicle Show poster has been displayed.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Hank Porter and Pirate Gold?

When I was doing some research for the recent Jack Hannah Four Color post, I stumbled across some information that connected to my slightly earlier post on studio artist Hank Porter. The information related to the Carl Barks/Jack Hannah collaboration on Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold, and speculated that Porter was the comic’s cover artist. When Gladstone Publishing reprinted the story in an album format in 1989, they used the original cover illustration from 1942. In their creator credits for that album, they noted that the artist was unknown.

I decided to contact Toons at War blogger and Hank Porter scholar David Lesjak to see if he could provide any enlightenment on the subject. David in turn contacted his good friend and fellow Disney collector Dennis Books, who recalled a conversation he once had with Carl Barks on the subject.

Dennis related: "I believe Hank did the cover. Carl Barks and Jack Hannah split the comic story, one doing the inside shots the other the outside shots. I assume the comic book cover artist is the same one who did the Big Little Book cover for the same story. Carl Barks told me that Hank did the cover [of the comic], or he thought Hank had done the cover."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Donald Duck Goes to Disneyland

Here’s an interesting piece of 1950s Disneyana.

I really love storybooks and comics from this time period that feature Disneyland. This particular item, Walt Disney’s Donald Duck Goes to Disneyland, appears to have been first released around the same time the park opened in 1955. The copy I own is probably an edition that was a subscription offer premium. The following advertisement appeared on the inside front cover of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #218 from November 1958. Like the book featured in the ad, my copy doesn’t have a price marked on it, likely indicating its status as a giveaway.

The book tells the somewhat absurd story of Donald Duck being chased by villainous cowboy Bearclaw Bill, who covets an envelope Donald possesses, containing his birthday present from Daisy. The chase moves across a desert landscape, and then ultimately through Disneyland itself.

I really love the book's title page design:

And artwork featuring some of Disneyland’s attractions:

And here is a very cool illustration that appears on the inside front and back covers:

The book was written by Disney Studios storyman Milt Banta, whose credits included numerous shorts and features, most notably Donald in Mathmagicland, Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty. The illustrations were by Neil Boyle, then a young man in his twenties, who would go on to become a successful commercial artist outside of Disney, and later, a renown painter of impressionist oils.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

2719 Hyperion: Now and Then

It may have all started with a mouse, but it’s equally important to remember where it all started.

That would be 2719 Hyperion Avenue.

Birthplace of Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto. Home of the Silly Symphonies. The place where the art of animation was taken from the almost crude drawings of Plane Crazy to the elaborate and unquestioned beauty of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in just ten years. Its now famous sign has become an iconic representation of the golden age of Hollywood cartoon entertainment.

Today, 2719 Hyperion Avenue is the location of a grocery store. A small historical marker is the only indicator of Walt Disney’s one time occupation of the site. Reader Bob Cazzell was kind enough to send me a photo of Gelson’s Market, and the surrounding commercial development. Bob noted that it's very difficult to get a shot from the same perspective as the 1930s era photos of the studio. He also sent a snapshot of the marker sign that’s attached to a lamppost near the front of the lot.

And a rough approximation of how they relate to each other:Hallowed ground amidst the produce, canned goods, shopping carts and cigarettes.

Special thanks to Bob for taking the pictures and sending them on. And thanks to reader Wayne White who also lives nearby to 2719 Hyperion, and lives close to Walt‘s and Roy‘s former homes on Lyric Avenue as well. He just recently contacted me with kind words for the blog, and shared some nostalgia for these largely overlooked landmarks of Disney history.

Lost Imagineering: Mickey's Movieland

In the spirit of today’s other post on the original Disney Studios, formerly located at 2719 Hyperion Avenue, we present another sadly abandoned concept from the ever more infamous Disney Decade.

Mickey’s Movieland was planned for the Disney-MGM Stuidos Theme Park. A Disney Crew publication in 1990 provided the following description:

“A replica of Disney’s original Hyperion Avenue Studio, where guests will encounter whimsical, hands-on movie making equipment where they can live out their own motion picture producing fantasies.”

I don’t think I would have even cared what was inside. Just to stand in front of an authentic reproduction of the studio would have been awe-inspiring in and of itself.

An open appeal to John Lasseter: Please somehow resurrect this concept!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Snapshot! - Level One Yellow

This one might have you pause for a moment, but ultimately the guitar and amp pretty much give it away. The next time you are waiting to board the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney-MGM Studios, look across the "parking garage" for an interesting tableau. My favorite part? The HONK IF YOU ARE ELVIS bumper sticker on the door of the wall cabinet.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Road Ahead

The last fifteen minutes of the 1958 Disneyland episode “Magic Highway U.S.A.” is like an odd holy grail for many fans of both Disney and 1950s futurism. Informally titled “The Road Ahead,” and using limited animation, it demonstrated futuristic transportation concepts to a generation of Americans just being introduced to the Interstate road system.

Rarely seen since its debut, “Magic Highway U.S.A.” was written and produced by Ward Kimball, who was by and large responsible for all of the anthology program’s early Tomorrowland-themed episodes. Its last prime time airing was in 1962. It finally resurfaced in the late 1990s, when it was broadcast a few times on the Disney Channel’s Vault Disney overnight schedule.

The show’s first forty-five minutes are a somewhat dry affair. We are lectured on highway development. Archival footage provided by the University of Michigan shows cars traveling on the unpaved Lincoln Highway circa 1913. And footage provided by the Horseless Carriage Club recreating the efforts of early motorists, while intending to be humorous, just ends up falling flat. It’s all fodder for the fast forward button; it’s that last segment that’s the payoff for the whole show.

If anything is a shining example of 1950s futurism, it is certainly these fifteen minutes. Sleek and stylized, its concepts and images portray a fun and exciting vision of future America. And sadly, so much that it predicted still has yet to be realized nearly fifty years later. We have yet to see the likes of multicolored travel lanes, radiant heat to clear rain and snow, radar screen windshields, giant road builders, atomic reactors that tunnel through mountains, and highway escalators, just to name a few of its high concept innovations.

“The Road Ahead” gained some degree of notoriety in later years while at the same time remaining still largely unknown in its origin. Visitors to the Horizons attraction at EPCOT Center, up until its closing in 1999, were typically intrigued by a few minutes of footage from the segment that looped on a display in the “Looking Back at Tomorrow” portion of the ride. Guests usually saw a vehicle being prepped inthe family motorport, and later heard “. . .on entering the city the family separates; father to his office, mother and son to the shopping center,” as the automated vehicle split in two on the screen. Intrigued riders were often curious about where the footage originated. It was a good match; the film displayed that same forward-thinking idealism that Horizons represented, and that EPCOT Center embodied during its first decade of operation.

The film was also a precursor of sorts for many of the ideas illustrated in the presentation Walt Disney made in October of 1966, outlining the company’s plans for Disney World, and specifically his vision of EPCOT. Not unlike "Magic Highway U.S.A.," most of those ideas and concepts also went unrealized.