Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat!

Today's Halloween treat is a very special work of art from the contemporary master of four color Disney ducks. This wonderful illustration is Don Rosa's homage to Carl Barks' comic book adaptation of animation director Jack Hannah's 1952 Donald Duck cartoon Trick or Treat. Whew. That's a considerable amount of talent in just one sentence. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

13 Tombstones: Francis Xavier

Francis Xavier

Our 13th and final tombstone is dead-icated to X. Atencio. (The "X" standing for Xavier.) He joined the Disney Studio in 1938 and worked on numerous animated features through the 1950s. He was the person behind the clever animated title sequences from The Parent Trap and Babes in Toyland. In 1964, Walt Disney asked Atencio to transfer to WED Enterprises to assist in the creation of the Primeval World diorama for Disneyland. He went on to develop dialog and music for attractions such as Adventure Thru Inner Space, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion for which he co-wrote the song Grim Grinning Ghosts. But most importantly, he is the one who penned nearly all the clever verses featured on the now infamous 13 tombstones that make up the family plot at Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion.

Snapshot! - Nature Hiding in Plain Sight

As many readers here already know, I am a huge fan of Walt Disney World's Wilderness Lodge. And this is one of the reasons why.

Details abound throughout the resort, and many hide in plain sight. Anyone who checks in at the front desk is likely standing only inches away from any one of these six critters. These bronze statues are set equally spaced from each other on the underside of the check-in/concierge counters and are easily lost from view in the vast expanse that is the lodge's amazing and breathtaking lobby.

Monday, October 29, 2007

13 Tombstones: Dear Sweet Leota


As most Haunted Mansion enthusiasts know, Madam Leota is the Mansion's resident medium. Leota Tombs was an artist at WED Enterprises. During the Mansion's development, Tombs served as a model stand-in during concept testing for the crystal ball character in the attraction's seance room. She did such an excellent job that the test performance was used in the final version, and the character was named in her honor.

Another Dispatch from Sleepy Hollow

In response to yesterday's post on the Headless Horseman, Jim Korkis passed on some additional information about Disney's adaptation of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow:

I love the Disney version of the Headless Horseman legend. Out here at Walt Disney World, he pops up at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween, on the Haunted Hayride at Ft. Wilderness and of course, instead of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, there were plans for a Headless Horseman dark ride in Fantasyland. The Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World is set in the Hudson River Valley area (home of the legend) and Imagineer Ken Anderson's original concept for a haunted house attraction featured an appearance of the Headless Horseman as a climax.

However, Walt was beat to the animated punch by one of his former co-workers, Ub Iwerks. Iwerks produced an animated short entitled "HEADLESS HORSEMAN". Distributed by Pat Powers/Celebrity Productions on October 1, 1934 and directed by Ub Iwerks. Animation by Al Eugster. Cinecolor (two strip Technicolor). Under the banner of Celebrity Productions after he left the Disney Studio, Iwerks produced three cartoon series from 1930 to approximately 1936: Flip the Frog, Willie Whopper and the ComiColor cartoon fables. The ComiColor Cartoon series were primarily adaptations of classic folklore stories like Jack and the Beanstalk, the Headless Horseman and Sindbad the Sailor. They were produced in Cinecolor, a two color process using a combination of red and blue hues . Many of the cartoons were filmed in a three dimensional effect using a crude multiplane camera Iwerks had built using parts from an old Chevrolet automobile for about $300. These technical improvements never compensated for the lack of a strong story and charismatic characters.

(Yes, instead of Snow White, Peter Pan and Mr. Toad, there were plans for Cinderella--to theme in with the castle, Mary Poppins--riding in upside down umbrellas, and Legend of Sleepy Hollow. However, as costs soared, the Disney Company decided to just re-create attractions that had been done before, but ironically the Imagineers changed these attractions so much--Toad had two separate tracks--that it cost as much or more than the new attractions that were planned. )

Ever notice that the reeds that scare Ichabod were actually re-traced from "The Old Mill"?

Jim's email sent me scrambling back to my Ub Iwerks DVD collections where lo and behold, there was the Headless Horseman cartoon of which he spoke. One interesting observation I made while watching the short: it appears Iwerks originally used the gag where, during the final chase, Ichabod flips himself over in front of his horse and attempts to pull the mount forward and away from their fast approaching nemesis. Disney animators employed the same exact gag in their version of the story as well.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

13 Tombstones: Brother Dave


Dave Burkhart began his career with Disney in 1967 serving as an artist model maker, building architecture and show models, including some full scale sets and props. He subsequently became a show designer and field art producer, working on attractions such as the Haunted Mansion, Swiss Family Treehouse and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

You Can't Reason With a Headless Man

While Donald Duck's 1952 cartoon Trick or Treat bears the Disney Studio's most direct homage to the Halloween holiday, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow segment from the feature film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad serves up equal amounts of ghostly chills and jack-o'-lantern imagery. For All Hallows Eve is in fact the setting for Ichabod Crane's penultimate encounter with perhaps one of Disney's most underrated villains, the Headless Horseman.

One of the true highlights of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and perhaps one of the most overlooked musical vignettes in Disney films, is the song "The Headless Horseman" from composers Don Raye and Gene de Paul, noted Hollywood talents, both with extensive popular music resumes.

Don Raye transitioned in the mid-1930s from vaudeville entertainment to songwriting, working with other bright young composers, most notably Sammy Cohn. A fortuitous match was made in 1939 when the Andrew Sisters began performing his material. This led to work in Hollywood, first on the 1939 movie Argentine Nights and later the 1941 Abbott and Costello debut film Buck Privates, both of which prominently featured Andrews Sisters' performances. He became a resident song smith for Universal Studios, teaming with Gene de Paul beginning in late 1941 and the two subsequently collaborated on such films as In the Navy, San Antonio Rose, Keep 'Em Flying and Ride 'Em Cowboy. de Paul was also on the Hollywood fast track; that same year he was Oscar nominated for work on the film Hellzapoppin. The two found their way to Disney in the late 1940s, contributing to So Dear to My Heart, Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and Raye later on Alice in Wonderland. Shortly thereafter, dePaul would become especially famous for the musical numbers in MGM's classic Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, released in 1954.

Distinctly reflecting their own musical backgrounds, Raye and de Paul infused the colonial American setting of Sleepy Hollow with the popular music styles of the mid 20th century. Frequent Andrew Sisters co-performer Bing Crosby tells the story via narration and song, and at one point provided vocal instructor Ichabod with his trademark "bo bo bo baba bo" crooning. But the segment's true musical highlight is in fact Crosby's vocalization of villain Brom Bones performance of the Headless Horseman ghost story.

Famous for such wartime hits as "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar," Raye's skills for clever, densely-worded lyrics are clearly evident in the tale of Sleepy Hollow's resident pumpkin thrower:

Now gather round while I elucidate,
On what happens outside when it gets late.
Along about midnight the ghosts and banshees,
Get together for their nightly jamboree.
There's ghosts
with horns and saucer eyes,
And some with fangs about this size.
Some short and fat, some tall and thin,

And some don't even bother to where their skin.

I'm telling you brother it's a frightful sight,
To see what goes on Halloween night.

Oh, when the spooks have a midnight jamboree,
They break it up with fiendish glee.

Ghosts are bad but the one that's cursed,
Is the Headless Horseman, he's the worst.
When he goes a jockeying across the land,
Holding his noggin in his hand.

Demons take one look and groan,
And hit the road for parts unknown.
There's no spook like a spook that spurned,

They don't like him and he's really burned.
Swears to the longest day he's dead,
He'll show them that he can get a head.

They say he's tired of his flaming top,
He's got a yen to make a swap.
So he rides one night a year,
To find a head in the hollow here.

And he likes 'em little, he likes 'em big,
Part in the middle, or a wig.
Black or white or even red,

The Headless Horseman needs a head.

With a hip, hip and a clippity clop,
He's out looking for a top to chop.
So don't stop to figure out a plan,

You can't reason with a headless man.

Now if you doubt this tale is so,

I met that spook just a year ago.

Now I didn't stop for a second look,
But made for the bridge that spans the brook.

For once you cross that bridge my friend,

The ghost is through, his power ends.
So when you're riding home tonight,
Make for the bridge with all your might.

He'll be down in the hollow there,
He needs your head. Lookout! Beware!
With a hip, hip and a clippity clop,
He's out looking for a head to chop.
So don't stop to figure out a plan,
You can't reason with a headless man.

"Grim Grinning Ghosts" vocalist Thurl Ravenscroft did an equally fun yet slightly more sinister studio version of the song that was recently included on the iTunes exclusive Walt Disney Records Archive Collection Volume One.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

13 Tombstones: Good Friend Gordon


Good friend Gordon refers to Gordon Williams, who was an audio designer and also an authority on audio-animatronics. He was the Imagineer largely responsible for all of the sound effects in the Haunted Mansion.

Friday, October 26, 2007

13 Tombstones: Uncle Myall


Chuck Myall was an art director for WED Enterprises and contributed his skills to attractions such as It's a Small World and the Haunted Mansion. He was also one of the master planners of Walt Disney World.

Revisiting the Robinsons

Six months later, and without the benefit of its truly spectacular 3D presentation, I still unequivocally love Meet the Robinsons.

I was curious if I had actually been overly influenced by those impressive three-dimensional bells and whistles. After two viewings of the film in its just-released DVD format, I can honestly say that I wasn't. As I noted in my earlier review here at 2719, Meet the Robinsons is a wholly unconventional film, especially by Disney standards. It is easily off-putting to those quickly offended by its disjointed and sometimes non-linear storytelling and its on-the-surface exaggerated archetype characters. And while it is doubtful it will ever achieve a cult-like status akin to something like The Nightmare Before Christmas, I don't believe it will be as readily dismissed as its other recent Disney animated contemporaries Treasure Planet, Home on the Range or Chicken Little.

Meet the Robinsons was painted in broad, albeit digital strokes. Characters are extreme in their qualities and eccentricities, but not necessarily defined by their archetypes. If you are quick to dismiss what seems to be Lewis' simple search for family and acceptance, or Bowler Hat Guy's overplayed villainous buffoonery, then you do a disservice to the efforts of director Stephen Anderson and his fellow talents at Walt Disney Animation Studios. For it is the very different, yet intertwined journeys of Lewis and the diminutive Mike Yagoobian that ultimately transcend and compliment what would otherwise seem a wacky time travel adventure into family dysfunction.

Dwelling on past regrets or happily embracing the future. Celebrating failure as a catalyst to success or disavowing personal responsibility to validate a miserable and failed life. These are the challenges faced by Lewis and Goob. When we are first introduced to the two friends and roommates, the contrast in their personalities is distinct. Goob speaks a disjointed stream of consciousness that reflects his dreams of a future of baseball stardom, and demonstrates a lack of focus that will prove crippling and exploitable. At the same time, Lewis displays a quiet determination in constructing his latest invention, yet is crippled himself in his perceptions of failure and lack of forward thinking.

As we witness the reverse-evolution of Bowler Hat Guy back into his original incarnation as the young Mike Yagoobian, we become aware of a complexity of character rather than an over-the-top cliched archetype. Bowler Hat Guy's villainous swaggering exterior is methodically peeled away to reveal a still ingrained childhood mindset that is easily manipulated by an outside influence. When a defeated Goob teeters unknowingly on the precipice of his emotional destiny, it is his own future self that ultimately influences the path he takes:

"No! Everyone will tell you to let it go and move on, but don’t! Instead, let it fester and boil inside of you. Take these feelings and lock them away. Let them fuel your actions. Let hate be your ally and you will be capable of wonderfully horrid things. Heed my words, Goob. Don’t let it go."

Little Mikey grows into a bitter and disappointed individual, easily manipulated by the inhuman and evil machinations of Doris, the true villain of the piece. But in that symbolic exchange, it was he himself who determined the path taken. It is a bold statement about the human condition and its propensity for self-corruption, surprisingly found in a film genre recently better known for flatulence-based humor and teen-pleasing innuendos.

Lewis' obsession with the past is however not so much rooted in regrets as it is in the desire for family and acceptance. But he finds those dynamics, not in a past memory of a long lost mother, but unexpectedly in the wacky spontaneous collective of the extended Robinson clan. In another similarly symbolic encounter, Cornelius Robinson reinforces his forward-moving mantra upon young Lewis, thereby ensuring the very future that he, Cornelius, has in fact created.

This subtle laying of emotional groundwork allows for a culmination of story and events into an ending both overwhelming in its heartfelt nature and unexpected in its sincerity. The film is in many ways presented as a scrambled puzzle where surprisingly, nearly every piece deftly falls into place before the end credits roll. The smallest of details are accounted for despite the usual paradoxical problems inherent to time travel storytelling. The film's final moments, devoid of dialog but set to Rob Thomas' performance of the song "Little Wonders," deliver a succession of character performances rich in emotional nuance and possessing a genuineness unexpected in their very scope and delivery.

Upon subsequent viewings, I noticed a number of subtle elements that were simply brilliant in their execution. The film's opening moments where an infant Lewis is placed on the steps of the Sixth Street Orphanage, is colored in deep sepia tones, much liked an aged photograph and in direct contrast to film's later presentation of a bright and multicolored future.

The roots of the hilarious dinner table martial arts movie confrontation between Frannie and brother Gaston can be found in the film's early science fair scene where Frannie tells future son Wilbur "Don't sass me boy, I know karate."

The differences between Lewis and Goob are demonstrated in a subtle but telling manner via Lewis' equation-filled composition book that plays in stark contrast to Goob's happy unicorn-themed binder and its simple one-page checklist. Despite the nefarious tasks scribbled on that first page of loose leaf paper, the simple joyful nature of the possession betrays an underlying goodness potentially buried beneath the Bowler Hat Guy's villainy. The hollow nature of the adult Goob's plans and motivations is succinctly summarized early in the film when the head of Inventco pointedly questions "You mean you haven't thought this through?" The film revisits this thesis both hilariously and directly via the manipulations of Frankie the frog and T-Rex who both submissively proclaim "I'm just not so sure how well this plan was thought through . . . . . . Master."

I especially loved the parallel visits to the Anderson Observatory by Lewis in both the future and the present. Much in the way Cornelius reveals to Lewis his future potential, Bud and Lucille similarly uncover his eyes to the empty area upon which that unbridled potential will be realized.

And I will without reservation make note of the film's overall testament to the creative philosophies of Walt Disney. Much like the film's conclusion, the end quote is an unexpected emotional surprise that reaches beyond just the specific life journey of Lewis/Cornelius Robinson. While Walt Disney may have not specifically proclaimed the Keep Moving Forward mantra, his suppositions on "pushing the envelope" and "everyone needs a good failure" are clearly the basis of the Robinson family creeds. The quote, for many of us, is a direct correlation as to why we are, and have been, passionate Disney fans and enthusiasts. And it in many ways speaks to the recent transformation of the Walt Disney Company under the collective leadership of Bob Iger, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter. Iger's own recent recent references to "generating creative success" certainly reflect the Keep Moving Forward philosophy, and certainly run counter to the Bowler Hat Guy planning that often defined the company prior to Iger's appointment as CEO.

As I've often stated, opinions are subjective. Meet the Robinsons has its detractors, many of them among the self-proclaimed Disney faithful. They clearly did not have the patience nor tolerance for the unconventional approach to the material taken by director Anderson and his crew. But it was that very approach that set it apart so dramatically and refreshingly from the overabundance of animated product that currently fills the multiplexes and DVD store shelves. At least for me, it was a fun, emotionally-charged and highly satisfying ride into the future with a fitting and relevant tribute to the Walt Disney Company's creative past.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

13 Tombstones: Cousin Huet


Cliff Huet was an architect for WED Enterprises and one of the lead interior designers of the Haunted Mansion.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

13 Tombstones: Master Gracey


Yale Gracey joined the Walt Disney Studios in 1939 as a layout artist on Pinocchio. He also worked on Fantasia as well as numerous cartoon shorts throughout the 1940s and 1950s. In 1961 he came to WED Enterprises as a special effects and lighting artist. His expertise in the field of special effects was gained via his own personal research and hands-on experimentation. He was responsible for nearly all the special effects in the Haunted Mansion.

Desktop Retro: The Skeleton Dance

To celebrate Halloween, our resident desktop design genius Dan Cunningham takes a detour out of Walt Disney World and travels all the way back to the very early days of classic Disney animation. Dan summed it up nicely when he wrote to me, "Some important names in animation history are on that title card, so I thought they deserved special attention. Naturally, this will be appropriate for people to have during the next week (or more often, for the fans of the macabre side of animation.)" As always, enormous thanks to Dan for all his efforts!
(Above links to 800x600)




Tuesday, October 23, 2007

13 Tombstones: A Man Named Martin


While working at 20th Century Fox in the mid-1950s, Bill "Bud"Martin was recruited by Walt Disney to help in the design and building of Disneyland. His first major area of responsibility was as an art director of Fantasyland. In 1971, he was named Vice President of Design at WED Enterprises, overseeing the master layout of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Among his projects were Main Street U.S.A. and Cinderella Castle, and he was one of the key designers of the ultilidors than run beneath that park.

Winning the Rat(atouille) Race

Now that the dust has settled from the 2007 summer movie box office derby, I thought it was a good time to reflect again on a certain little rat and and what has been his very much understated impact on an industry that so often can only find validation in skewered number crunching and hollow punditry.

It has been just a little less than four months since Ratatouille was released in theaters, yet it is fast approaching a worldwide box office gross of a half a billion dollars. And it remains one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2007. It has for the most part shed the loud but still generally minimal anti-Disney-Pixar-merger baggage that some analysts kept handcuffing to it, but there is still the occasional saber rattle from those unwilling to give up what has become an increasingly weak supposition.

Ratatouille is certainly an unqualified success, both critically and financially. In animated circles, while it could not compete quite on the level of the well-established Shrek franchise, its box office remained greater than that of The Simpson's Movie, despite that film's blockbuster $70 million opening and over saturated media blitz.

I will unapologetically acknowledge that I have long championed the Disney-Pixar marriage. For doing so, I have been described by some as an uneducated pollyanna with a clear fan-rooted bias, clinging to an unrealistic view of what is ultimately a financially driven dynamic. By not consistently addressing Disney's entertainment endeavors from perspectives relating to corporate politics and fiscal performance, I have been told that I am essentially engaging in Mickey Mouse journalism of the most irresponsible nature.

It is a criticism that truly befuddles me.

I have always attempted to apply my college education in journalism and communications to my efforts here at 2719 Hyperion. Blogs tend to be very personal reflections of their authors rather than disciplined exercises in journalism, and in that regard, 2719 Hyperion very distinctly represents my lifelong passion for Disney entertainment. But I feel that that does not necessarily preempt the need to apply long respected principles of journalistic responsibility to what is still a very public forum for ideas and information.

When reporting news and writing feature stories, I strive for accuracy and always attempt to clearly attribute my sources. If a source is questionable or unnamed, I make every effort to identify it as such. Reviews, criticisms, and commentaries are labeled as such to reflect their typically subjective content and opinions.

But, at the end of the day, I'm still essentially doing what I do because I love Disney. As the header says, I'm addressing the many worlds of Disney entertainment. Entertainment.

And the heart of Disney entertainment is unbridled, inspired creativity, rooted in the dogged determination, passion and unbending commitment to quality demonstrated by the company's founder and namesake. Sure, it is an idealistic sentiment that has at times been undermined by uninspired executives, boardroom politics and monetary motivations. But it is in fact the nucleus of Disney fandom. We do not arrive at our passions because of interests in corporate governance, financial ledgers and monetary projections.

And while one could never at any point deem those subjects irrelevant, when it comes to Disney entertainment, they must always be viewed within the context of supporting creative visions and providing quality products. I begrudge no one who embraces the task of reporting or commenting on the Disney company from a strictly fiscal perspective. It is simply not my mission here.

What was so incredibly frustrating about the sound bites and punditry that emerged following the Disney-Pixar acquisition was that it was all about numbers. Everything about the merger was quick to be judged solely on basis of box office revenues. The financial performances of Cars and then Ratatouille became the focal points of discussions while their creative merits were either completely ignored or quickly dismissed.

At a recent conference with analysts from Goldman Sachs, Disney CEO Bob Iger made the following comments that speak to financial strategies rooted in creative dynamics, as relating specifically to the Pixar acquisition:

Well, I think the number one success would be the strengthening of our management, in particular our creative management in animation at the company. John Lasseter and Ed Catmull are applying their talents, which are considerable, to Disney animated films. Their first film will be out the end of next year, meaning next calendar year, called Bolt, which is renamed from American Dog, which we feel very optimistic about. But in general, the leadership that they brought to Disney animation I think has been not just greatly needed, but really impactful. I think the results that we will ultimately see from that, and time will tell, will make a big difference.

He concluded his presentation by saying:

I think more than anything, focusing on quality and creative success is critical, and creating more ways to generate creative success is also very important. So we're very optimistic about the company's prospects.

Creative success. Quality. And nowhere are those words more fitting than in describing a little character named Remy, both within the context of the wonderful story that was Ratatouille and the creative process the film ultimately came to validate and represent.

And a half a billion dollars ain't nothing to sneeze at either.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Freeze Frame! - Classic Hollywood Monsters

Many, many classic Hollywood monsters have become ingrained in our popular culture, and the Universal Studios incarnations of the Frankenstein monster and Dracula have in many ways become icons of the Halloween season. Disney has had little association with this particular film genre. But for a brief moment in 1932, these two particular characters, along with Paramount Pictures rendition of Mister Hyde, all made a collective cameo appearance in the Mickey Mouse cartoon Mickey's Gala Premiere.

Bela Lugosi's Dracula, Boris Karloff's Frankenstein monster and Fredric March's villainous Mister Hyde were all just recent Hollywood arrivals, with each of their films only having been released the prior year. They were just but a few of the nearly twenty celebrities caricatured for the short.

13 Tombstones: Mister Sewell

Peaceful Rest

Bob Sewell came on board at WED Enterprises shortly after the opening of Disneyland in 1955. A model shop veteran, Sewell was often in charge of show installations at the park. He was involved in the development of a diverse array of attractions including Nature's Wonderland, the Grand Canyon Diorama, the Submarine Voyage, the Swiss Family Treehouse and the Enchanted Tiki Room.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

13 Tombstones: Grandpa Marc


One of Disney's legendary "Nine Old Men"of animation, Marc Davis also stands as one of the most influential and creative forces in the history of theme park design. His clever and highly detailed concepts were the basis for the audio-animatronic vignettes of both Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, and his unrealized designs for Walt Disney World's Western River Expedition are among the great lost treasures of Disney Imagineering. He also contributed to other celebrated attractions including the Enchanted Tiki Room, the Jungle Cruise and It's a Small World.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Snapshot! - Halloween on Main Street USA

The good citizens of Main Street U.S.A. have some fun Halloween representations in Town Square at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. The seasonal decorations for fall, while not approaching Christmas levels, have certainly been ramping up the past few years. Fun stuff.

Friday, October 19, 2007

More Adventures from California

Details continue to emerge and circulate from the official announcement earlier this week of the extensive refurbishment to Disney's California Adventure planned for the next five years.

Some of the more interesting details:

Cars Land will feature two other character-themed attractions in addition to the Radiator Springs Racers. One will feature tow truck Mater while the other will be derived from Luigi's Tire Store. Based on concept art, it appears that the Radiator Springs Racers will be similar in design to Epcot's Test Track vehicles.
Mullholland Madness will be born anew as Goofy's Sky School, and the Paradise Pier midway games will be extensively re-themed to feature Disney and Pixar characters.

Perhaps the most notable, albeit small element to be added to the park is a re-imagining of the now-famous "Partners" statue found at Disneyland and all the other Magic Kingdom parks. This new version reflects DCA's new theme of 1920s California and Walt's arrival in the Hollywood of that era.

The park's new entrance will not be very far removed from the existing theme and architecture at Disney-MGM Studios in Florida, even going so far as duplicating that park's Pan-Pacific Auditorium-inspired entry gates. DCA's new central icon, a recreation of the famous Carthay Circle Theatre, is already represented on Sunset Boulevard at the Florida Studios. The Pacific Electric Red Car Trolleys, a key design element and attraction for DCA's new "main street" area, are also made reference to on MGM's Hollywood Boulevard.

Images © Walt Disney Company

Thursday, October 18, 2007

More Mad Doctor Madness

2719 Hyperion friend and supporter Jim Korkis sent some additional information about The Mad Doctor that was featured in a post yesterday:

"Yes, you are right that The Mad Doctor was banned in Britain. With Dracula and Frankenstein (1931), the British Board of Film Censors demanded extensive cuts, enforced age restrictions, and outright banning of Hollywood horror films. The issue was “unsuitability” to children. (A) for Adults (H) for Horrific which both meant restricted viewing to those 16 or younger.

"The Mad Doctor was banned by the BBFC because of the skeletons (the "living dead"), not for Pluto being almost cut in half. It was also banned in Britain when it was released on 16mm for home use.

"Mad doctors and scientists were very popular in the 1930s. It was the mistrust of science. Whether it was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1908) which Walt read and was made into a 1920 film version with John Barrymore or the popular 1932 film with Frederic March that won him an Oscar as best actor. Or Dr. Frankenstein. Or Dr. Moreau in The Island of Dr, Moreau (1896) by H.G.Wells. In the book, Moreau is deported from England because of his cruel experiments on pet dogs so goes to a tropical island. This is the book that featured the line “The natives are restless tonight.”

"It was the first ever black and white Mickey Mouse cel set up offered for sale in 1988 and purchased by Steven Spielberg for $64,000. Mickey is at the top of the stairs with his back toward the audience and skeletons are starting to pop out of the stairs. (The next year a black and white cel from Orphans Benefit sold for $450,000.)

"It was the only Mickey Mouse cartoon improperly copyrighted so it fell into public domain.

"The triple XXX also meant poison."

Thanks, Jim!

Image © Walt Disney Company

13 Tombstones: Wathel R. Bender


Wathel Rogers was a long time veteran of the Animation Department before moving to WED Enterprises in the mid-1950s. Initially part of the model department, Rogers' true calling emerged when Wat Disney drafted him for his now famous "Project LittleMan" which was the genesis of the development of audio-animatronics. Within the halls of WED Enterprises, he became known as Mr. Audio-Animatronics and went on to contribute his design and engineering skills to countless theme park attractions until his retirement in 1987.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Disney Formally Announces Plans for California Adventure

The Walt Disney Company finally went public today with its future plans for the much needed overhaul of Disneyland's sister park, California Adventure. Here are the details from Disney's official press release:

Coming to Disney’s California Adventure Over the Next Several Years
In addition to the new theming and attractions, Disney’s California Adventure will receive new restaurant and retail innovations, landscaping to enrich the placemaking, facade and graphics enhancements, and an extensive menu of entertainment and events.

Disney’s California Adventure is already home to some of the Disneyland Resort’s highest-rated attractions and shows, including: Soarin’ Over California, California Screamin’, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the Broadway-caliber show, Disney’s Aladdin - A Musical Spectacular.

Cars Land
The expansion will culminate with an entirely new, 12-acre addition: Cars Land, immersing guests into a world inspired by the hit Disney/Pixar movie, Cars, playing to America’s love affair with automobiles.

Radiator Springs Racers, a major “E-ticket” attraction, places guests right in the middle of the amazingly detailed, dimensional Cars world of Mater, Lightning McQueen, Doc and Sally. Guests get a quick race briefing from Doc and Lightning, and suddenly find themselves in the midst of a race around hairpin turns and steep banks.

Cars Land increases capacity to the park with two additional immersive family rides, featuring Luigi and Mater from the movie. Cars Land represents an unprecedented level of collaboration between Pixar Animation Studios and Disney Imagineering to create this extensive new area. The new land will substantially extend the total area of Disney’s California Adventure park.

Paradise Pier
Paradise Pier will host major new attractions beginning next summer with the opening of Toy Story Mania!, a ride-through, interactive adventure where Guests ride into a high-energy 4-D carnival midway hosted by Toy Story characters. Woody, Jessie, Buzz, Hamm and the gang come to life in amazing ways, immersing guests in the rich stories of the Pixar blockbuster Toy Story films.

A major ride based on Disney’s classic The Little Mermaid comes to the park’s Paradise Pier with leading-edge animation and special effects. Guests will dive into the magnificent scenes and magical songs from the movie. A Mermaid Grotto area with a fountain and sand castle will offer new play experiences for children.

Unique Nighttime Spectacular
The dramatic and unique Disney’s World of Color will bring new nighttime excitement to Paradise Pier. This nightly panorama of spectacular water effects, colorful lighting and music will bring Disney animation to life with an entirely new creative and technical approach. The 9,000 person viewing area offers prime waterside viewing of the show – and provides a site for live entertainment, music festivals, and outdoor film premieres.

Entry Plaza and Gateway
The totally new gateway to Disney’s California Adventure welcomes guests into an immersive world of historic California streets as Walt experienced them as a young artist arriving with big dreams.

A new visual icon in the tradition of Los Angeles, California’s great entertainment palaces will draw guests into the heart of the attractions. This new facility, which was inspired by Los Angeles’ historic Carthay Circle Theatre that premiered Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, will house a next generation Walt Disney Story featuring an interactive tribute to Walt’s California experiences, and his entertainment legacy that continues world-wide today. Red Car trolleys reminiscent of the old Pacific Electric Railway will travel up and down the main street. New dining and shopping experiences and a slate of unique, live entertainment will bring energy to the Walt Disney Plaza.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot
Hollywood Pictures Backlot will be a new home for a slate of special ticketed events and chances to hear first hand from innovative directors, writers and animators. An update of the popular family show “Playhouse Disney” will provide an experience for younger children.

Golden State
The “Golden State” area of the park will see the addition of numerous new dining opportunities tied to the incredible bounty of California’s farmland and its rich ethnically diverse food heritage. Food and wine festivals that celebrate the seasons, tastes and cultures of the dynamic communities of the Golden State will entertain guests, bringing unique one-of-a-kind experiences.

Preview Center
A Preview Center located on San Francisco Street in the Golden State region of the park will feature models, Imagineering concepts – giving park guests a sneak peek at the excitement that lies ahead. The Preview Center is scheduled to open in late 2008.

Images © Walt Disney Company

A Visit to Dr. XXX

It is a near overwhelming task to quantify the sheer brilliance of the 1933 Mickey Mouse cartoon The Mad Doctor.

Director Dave Hand clearly intended to borrow style and design from that era's stark yet very stylized black and white horror films. This seven-minute tour de force is heavy on atmosphere and surprisingly, a little bit more chilling and unsettling than one might expect. So much so that it was considered unsuitable for some audiences by a British film censor, and later, 16mm prints carried a similar warning.

The Mad Doctor employs many standard horror story conventions, beginning with its dark and stormy night opening. It then goes on to blend three somewhat disparate themes--a haunted house filled with booby traps and secret passages, threatening creatures in the form of animated skeletons, and the title character mad doctor and his ambitious plans of body part amalgamation. Let's face it gang, those early Mickey cartoons were not the benign "strolling in the park one day" and "I'll clean up your yard" efforts that characterized his later Technicolor years.

The tone is established quickly when Pluto is violently kidnapped and taken to a skull rock-perched castle, the ominous and threatening features of which are only clearly revealed in split second lightening flashes. Mickey bravely follows in pursuit and quickly encounters the first in a series of comical yet still decidedly scary booby traps, when the castle bridge disassembles as he moves across it. Still teetering high above the crashing waves of the sea, Mickey is literally pulled into the castle's interior. At the same time, a nameplate near the door reveals the villain to be Dr. XXX. This is a distinct aside to Warner Brothers 1932 film Doctor X. That particular film's art direction and set design no doubt inspired Dave Hand and his crew as Mickey and Pluto's subsequent adventures would reveal.

Mickey finds himself in a set piece with all the standard haunted house embellishments. Cauldrons, chains and manacles, skulls and bones all litter the entrance foyer, while a swarm of bats emerge from the darkened recesses. Most striking is Mickey's journey down a secret passage that is, in my opinion, one of the single most amazing pieces of animation from those still rough-around-the-edges early days of cartoon production. In this sequence, as Mickey travels down a claustrophobic passage, the view follows him in a continuous shot as he pivots around a corner and tumbles down a long shaft. My young son, upon viewing this segment of the short, immediately exclaimed, "Wow, that was 3-D!" No, actually that was hand-drawn, traditional animation at its finest, where the background elements were ingeniously animated along with central character.

Following earlier efforts such as The Skeleton Dance and The Haunted House, the comical potential of skeletons is revisited again as Mickey encounters the prank-delivering undead denizens of the doctor's castle. It is here that the very clever designs of the creative team are entertainingly demonstrated, beginning with a coffin-styled cuckoo clock complete with skeletal cuckoo. Equally clever and well-realized is the skeleton-filled stairs that Mickey literally finds himself falling victim too. An ensuing chase scene in which the skeletons lob their own skulls at Mickey builds up the short's kinetic energy, but it's tempered somewhat by the still determined and resilient mouse's encounter with a giant spider skeleton.

At the same time, helpless victim Pluto is mired in troubles of his own. The mad doctor has revealed both himself and his diabolical plans. These plans involve Pluto and an equally terrified chicken and a lot of cutting and dissecting. The doctor's chalkboard diagrams are very funny as is his poetic soliloquy, but Pluto's fear in the scene is so palpable that the short does tangibly shift into a slightly more chilling and for some, no doubt frightening experience. When the mad doctor cuts apart Pluto's shadow, it is almost more disturbing than comical.

Despite his own valiant rescue efforts, Mickey soon finds himself in similar circumstances, and with no hope of escape. The story's happy resolution is only accomplished through the "it's all just a dream" plot device. But subtly, this underlying nightmare context is still a bit unsettling--the villain was never vanquished and the heroes were left to some decidedly grisly fates. I can see why some of those early card-carrying members of the theater-sponsored Micky Mouse Clubs may not have left the theater happily whistling "Turkey in the Straw."

But that was, and is still the joy of those early Mickey Mouse cartoons. Most of these endeavors displayed a plucky irreverence that was ultimately lost or diminished in later years. The Mad Doctor both immersed itself in, and at the same time, satirized Hollywood's then fledgling horror genre to great effect. It is certainly a classic piece of animation, and one of the most notable achievements of the Disney Studio's pre-Technicolor years.

This degree of notoriety served it well in recent years when it was used as the basis for content in the video game Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse. Many of the short's inspired gags and pratfalls translated deftly into challenging game devices.

The Mad Doctor can be found on the Walt Disney Treasures DVD collection Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume One.

Images from The Mad Doctor © Walt Disney Company

13 Tombstones: Good Old Fred


Fred Joerger joined the Walt Disney Studios in 1953, coming on board as a set designer and model builder. He, Harriet Burns and Wathel Rogers were the members of WED Enterprises original model shop. He was a master of rock formations, as noted in this passage from his Disney Legends biography:

"Fred's unusual knack for creating gorgeous rockwork out of plaster led to his reputation as Imagineering's "resident rock expert." Among his rocky mountain highlights are the huge stones featured on the Jungle Cruise and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. In fact, he designed and constructed most all rockwork at the Florida theme park for its 1971 opening, including the breathtaking atrium waterfall featured in the Polynesian Resort."