Friday, May 30, 2008

Freeze Frame! - Early Florida Tourists

Donald Duck visited the Sunshine State nearly two decades before Walt Disney World emerged out of central Florida swampland in late 1971. Donald and his nephews toured similar swampy landscapes in the 1953 cartoon Don's Fountain of Youth, released on May 30, 1953. The cartoon makers were likely guiding Donald and the boys through an area near St. Augustine. They travel along US Highway 1, and come upon the site of an old Spanish fort, dated 1571. It would appear that background artist Art Riley drew inspiration from both Castillo de San Marcos and the Fort Mantanzas National Monument (pictured) located in Saint Augustine. The Castillo de San Marcos was constructed during the latter decades of the 17th century; Fort Mantanzas was built in the mid-18th century.

Images © Walt Disney Company

Marvels of Production Art

Upon seeing yesterday's post on the Donald Duck cartoon Modern Inventions, Bob Cowan kindly sent on some wonderful production art pieces from the short.

I recently became aware of Bob and his amazing collection of Disneyana that he has so generously made available via his site The Cowan Collection, and through the sharing of his extensive resources with other Disney history sites and blogs.

Thanks, Bob!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Museum of Modern Marvels

The future frequently envisioned in the 1930s was a bright and shining place, filled with tall skyscrapers and mechanical automatons that took even the most common laborious tasks and functions out of the hands of the common citizens. It was a great big beautiful tomorrow as presented in films such as Metropolis and Things to Come and a popular culture phenomenon that ultimately culminated at decade's end in the World of Tomorrow presented at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair.

Donald Duck experienced that particular vision of the future for a brief time in 1937 when he visited the Museum of Modern Marvels in the cartoon Modern Inventions. It was released on May 29th of that year.

The Museum, like much of era's pop culture futurism, what no so much a showcase of emerging technologies but a series of robotic appendage-based contraptions designed to perform the mundane rather than the magnificent. Hydraulic potato peelers, pneumatic pencil sharpeners and robot nurse maids were among the exhibits within the halls of the museum's sleek, streamline moderne architecture. No doubt many members of the cartoon's audience, as they were then emerging out of the throes of the Great Depression, could dream of owning a robot butler, despite Donald's own exasperation with the one that haunted his steps as he toured the museum.

A standard archetype of these earlier era future visions and also present in Modern Inventions is the robotic barber chair. Donald comically gets his tail trimmed and head polished by the friendly automation. Disney would in fact revisit that concept and the whole of 1930s futurism some forty years later in a set piece of the Horizons attraction at EPCOT Center.

Fleischer Studios, home of Popeye and Betty Boop, would also explore similar themes in 1938 with the short All's Fair at the Fair, a cartoon that anticipated the upcoming New York World's Fair. It as well featured an automated robot-based shave and a haircut sequence.

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:

Images © Walt Disney Company

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Snaphot! - Revisiting the '80s

A computer keyboard, a Sony Walkman and and Pokey (AKA Clyde) all pay tribute to the decade of the 1980s at Walt Disney World's Pop Century Resort. Pop's larger than life set pieces are pure eye candy and a whole lot of fun.

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:

Snapshot! - Of Phones and Foosball
Snapshot! - Surf's Up!
Snapshot! - Roger Rabbit: Larger Than Life

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Melody Time

Vastly underrated, largely unrecognized, and sadly little discussed by even the most serious and well respected of Disney historians is the 1948 animated feature Melody Time. It is in many ways an unheralded classic and a very notable showcase for many of the studio's most talented writers, artists and animators. It was released six decades ago on May 27, 1948.

The initial lack of financial success for Fantasia forced Walt Disney to abandon plans for successive reissues of that film with new material, but he did in fact revisit the style and structure of Fantasia, though not its classical music format, in both Make Mine Music which followed in 1946, and then Melody Time. Along with the other late-1940s "package" films Fun and Fancy Free and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, the films quickly lost their identities when Disney chose to subsequently break them apart into individual sequences for later theatrical releases and television airings. It was not until the mid-1990s that Melody Time emerged again in its original form, though albeit in very low profile Disney Channel airings and then a few years later in home video releases that, at least in America, included the unnecessary editing of cigarette smoking references. These factors, combined with the film's very distinct post-World War II popular music have sadly served to diminish its otherwise significant artistic and creative achievements. Even contemporary critics tend to still compartmentalize the film, analyzing and discussing its component parts rather than addressing its overall theme and presentation.

Melody Time is comprised of seven musical vignettes--Once Upon a Wintertime, Bumble Boogie, The Legend of Johnny Appleseed, Little Toot, Trees, Blame It on the Samba and Pecos Bill--presented in the form of an overall musical program, somewhat akin to a concert hall program. Though it jettisoned the classical music trappings of Fantasia, it still retained that film's prominent theme of artistic interpretation. Each sequence begins with a paintbrush and canvas introduction. Though generally well received, most criticisms of the film focused on these connecting narratives, considering them generally weak, and undermining the film's overall presentation. While generally praising Melody Time's individual segments, Leonard Maltin remarked in his book The Disney Films:

"What Melody Time lacks is unity. The paintbrush format and Buddy Clark's introductions are a poor substitute for cohesion, and, though one can enjoy the various segments, there is a feeling, when Pecos Bill brings the film to an abrupt conclusion, that something is missing. Fantasia was episodic, too, but one felt that it was cut from a whole cloth, as it were. There was never a feeling of fragmentation."

It is an opinion with which I must respectfully disagree. The cohesion that Maltin found lacking is in fact present on a much more subtle yet still overriding level. The overall art direction of Melody Time represented a dramatic shift away from the more literal artistic interpretations that had characterized most Disney animation up until that point. Mary Blair, Claude Coats and Dick Kelsey, despite the episodic format, provided the film a unified visual style heavy with impressionistic influence and very atypical uses of color. It is a film that is consistently painted in very bold strokes and in many places truly bears the mark of Mary Blair's artistic genius. This is especially apparent in Once Upon a Wintertime, Trees and Johnny Appleseed. It is indeed ironic that Blair's legacy has been recently so wrapped up in It's a Small World, by individuals who tend to disregard efforts such as Melody Time where her talent and creativity are so very better represented.

The Legend of Johnny Appleseed in particular is easily one of the most underrated and unappreciated works of Disney animation. Studio veteran Winston Hibler created a rhythmic narrative and successfully combined it with wonderful songs and Blair's often stunning tableaus. Hibler's eloquent and frequently beautiful poetic narration is complemented so often by Blair's amazing designs. The sequence's final moments that highlight " . . . John's heavenly orchard of apple trees," where apple blossom trees merge into a cloud-filled sky, is simply breathtaking.

And this is not to in anyway discount any of the other six segments. Once Upon a Wintertime is a holiday greeting card come to life and is especially notable for the aforementioned atypical uses of color. Though brief, Bumble Boogie is a high energy tour de force through a surreal piano inspired naturescape. Well realized are both Little Toot and Pecos Bill, which stylistically come closer in storytelling and design to Disney's then more traditional efforts. Blame It on the Samba returns to the visually dynamic settings, music and characters of The Three Caballeros, while Trees presents a dramatic and again clearly Blair-inspired interpretation of the Joyce Kilmer poem. Ward Kimball's broad interpretation of Pecos Bill is especially well realized.

Similar to Make Mine Music, Melody Time is also an entertaining representation of pre-rock and roll American popular music figures. While little remembered today, Dennis Day, Frances Langford, Freddy Martin, Ethel Smith, and most especially the Andrew Sisters and Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers were well known personalities via both film and radio. For many, it serves as a nostalgic musical time capsule; for others it unfortunately severely dates the movie and diminishes its overall appeal. Regardless, in the history of Disney music, songs such as Johnny Appleseed's "The Lord is Good to Me," "Blame It on the Samba," and Pecos Bill's introductory "Blue Shadows on the Trail" deserve far more recognition than they have heretofore received.

The film's most lasting legacy would certainly be the Pecos Bill segment. Those particular characters successfully transitioned into theme park incarnations over the years, with Walt Disney World's Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe being the most prominent example.

It is unfortunate that Melody Time has suffered somewhat unfair comparisons to Fantasia, and also the often very unfair perceptions of stagnant creativity associated with the post-war package films. It certainly deserves better.

Explore the 2719 Hyperion Archives:

What a Character! - Pecos Bill
What a Character! - The Aracuan Bird

Images © Walt Disney Company

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Toontown Field Guide: No Fools Inc.

Though Jiminy Cricket is certainly best remembered for his star turn in Pinocchio, he is that rare feature film character whose career quickly and successfully eclipsed his point of origin. He would go on to star in a second feature film, Fun and Fancy Free, and enjoyed frequent appearances on the Disney weekly television program throughout the years. But likely most extensive of his extended studio duties were the various educational vignettes that he hosted on the original Mickey Mouse Club television show. Distinct homages are paid to one of those series in the Toontown theme park landscapes at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

A window on a building in Mickey's Toontown at Disneyland advertises the services of Jiminy Cricket, Motivational Speaker, representing the business No Fools, Inc. In both Mickey's House at Toontown and Minnie's country house in Walt Disney World's Toontown Fair, bulletin boards display fliers advertising Jiminy's acclaimed "I'm No Fool" lecture series.

I'm No Fool was a series of educational cartoons produced for the original Mickey Mouse Club. Jiminy hosted the series that focused on teaching safety on such subjects as fire, electricity and recreation. The first in the series, I'm No Fool With a Bicycle debuted on Thursday, October 6, 1955. A total of six cartoons were produced in the I'm No Fool series; they would all be later released in 16mm format for use in schools. In the early 1990s, Disney's Educational Media division created new editions for the series that would continue to feature Jiminy Cricket, but also include Pinocchio and Geppetto and add a number of new characters as well.

Media Images © Walt Disney Company

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Snapshot: Disneyland! - Fire Hazard: Medium

Two of my favorite Disney characters, Ranger Woodlore and Humphrey, do their part on behalf of fire safety at Disney's California Adventure. The two play a small but important role on the Fire Hazard Alert on the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lost Imagineering: Venezuela

Among the very earliest of proposed countries for EPCOT Center's World Showcase was this conceptualization for a Venezuela pavilion. Little information has been made accessible beyond this concept painting that features a quite elaborate design and showcases an aerial tram car attraction.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Gasoline Story That Won't Make You Cry?

Probably not . . .

Here are two different subjects that separately tend to get people's blood boiling--gasoline (as in the price of), and Chester and Hester's Dino-Rama at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Bring them together and you have the powder keg-makings of a first rate fit of epic proportions.

Imagineers brought the two together in the form of the Fossil Fueler game featured in the Dino-Rama midway. Cleverly trading on the Chester and Hester gas station backstory, they created a distinct line of dinosaur-inspired fuels using tongue-in-cheek wordplay. Love it or hate it, it's a creative and fun tribute to both the dinosaur theme of the area and filling station marketing of a bygone era.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Inside the Servants' Entrance

Didier Ghez has showcased a miracle of sorts on his always informative and wonderful Disney History blog. The Disney-produced animated sequence from the 1934 20th Century Fox film Servants' Entrance has long been beyond reach, but Didier has secured a copy and generously made it available via YouTube and his site.

The animation features kitchen utensils, led by a Humpty Dumpty-style egg character in a musical vignette that quite deftly for its time mixed live action and animation. As to the context of Disney producing material for other studios, author Michael Barrier noted in his book Hollywood Cartoons:

"In the early thirties, Disney ventured briefly into making animated inserts for two live-action features, Servants' Entrance and Hollywood Party, both released in 1934. He evidently saw such work as a way to ease into the making of his own features, but the inserts turned out to be more a source of irritation than of profit of any kind. Such sponsored films were inherently problematic, in Disney's scheme of things, because they were not under his control in the way that his shorts and features were. Once the feature inserts were behind him, Disney shunned most sponsored films."

I profiled Disney's contribution to the movie Hollywood Party in a post here at 2719 in November of 2006. The Disney Studio also reportedly contributed animation to the 1933 film My Lips Betray. That footage has yet to surface; according the IMDB an incomplete print of the film survives in the UCLA Film and Television Archives.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Freeze Frame! - Gooseflesh 9000

Mickey, Donald and Goofy were in fact the original ghostbusters, chasing down troublesome spirits in the 1937 cartoon Lonesome Ghosts. They were the proprietors of Ajax Ghost Exterminators. Their phone number, as listed in a newspaper advertisement, was the fitting Gooseflesh 9000.

Image © Walt Disney Company

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Snapshot! - Haunted Punnery

What is truly wonderful about the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom is that the show continues well after you leave your Doom Buggy. The exterior crypts continue the tongue-in-cheek humor that underscores the classic attraction.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Magic Highway USA - May 14, 1958

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of one of my favorite pieces of Disney entertainment. This occasion will likely go unnoticed by most; its subject is not a high profile animated feature nor a celebrated character. It was a simple one hour program that was broadcast on the Disneyland television show on May 14, 1958, yet it spoke to the idealism and optimism of a generation now five decades removed. Magic Highway USA is a happy reminder of a Disney dynamic of edu-tainment that in fact predated the likes of EPCOT Center by nearly twenty five years and was rooted in Walt Disney's then symbiotic television and theme park endeavors.

I have lauded and celebrated this Ward Kimball-created presentation in prior posts and was very happy to later be able to present the program's final and visually arresting "Road Ahead" segment.

If you haven't already, check out those earlier articles for some fun and informative rides on the Magic Highway.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Souvenirs: Pennant Magic and Adventure

Five years separated these pennants that celebrated Disneyland anniversaries. I was a big fan of the Disneyland 35 Years of Magic motif from 1990 with its bright colors and non-traditional castle design logo. The Fab Five plus Daisy appeared on the pennant design that was equally colorful and attractive.

Five years later, the 40 Years of Adventures theme took a more spartan design approach. Tying into the debut of the Indiana Jones Adventure, the logo borrowed both font and pose from Indy-based materials.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What's It Really Worth?

I frequently receive emails from readers that request my services as an appraiser of sorts. Many equate my knowledge and experience in matters Disney with an expertise in the valuation of Mouse-based memorabilia and collectibles. When I confess to being generally clueless in these dollars and cents determinations, I am usually met with reactions of surprise and astonishment. Similarly, when guests visit my home with its many rooms that literally overflow with Disney related items of every size, shape and description, inevitably the same question seems to always be raised at some point--"Wow, what is all of this worth?"

It is a question that has never really concerned me.

I can honestly say that I have never purchased or obtained a Disney-related item strictly on the basis of its investment potential. I certainly enjoy collecting numerous types of Disneyana--theme park souvenirs are a personal favorite, especially license plates--but never with a future monetary return in mind. My motivation for obtaining such things was and is the simple joy of possessing items I personally find fun and interesting. But also, these items represent my many passions, and even more importantly, many happy memories associated with those passions.

Wise, wise words on the subject can be found in one of my all-time favorite comic book stories, The Money Pit, released in 1990. It is an Uncle Scrooge story, and interestingly enough, it is Scrooge who dispenses said wisdom to a more greedy minded Donald Duck. When Donald attempts to negotiate payment of his meager wages in the form of rare coins buried within Scrooge's Money Bin, he invites a passionate response from Scrooge that reveals a somewhat unexpected dynamic of his uncle's perceived greediness--

Donald pointedly notes:

"Those coins aren't doing you any good, and some coin collector will appreciate them!"

To which Scrooge replies:

"That's precisely where you're wrong, nephew!"

"Coin collectors make me sick! They collect their coins only because other people put a value on them! They look their old coins up in price guides that the tell them the fool things are worth more than face value! But why?! They don't enjoy their coins! They don't dive in them like porpoises! . . . or burrow through them like gophers! . . . or toss 'em up and let 'em hit them on the head! They don't even build model forts out of 'em!

"They put their coins in plastic sleeves and are even afraid to touch them for fear they'll be worth less to somebody else! Hee hee! They spend their lives building a meaningless collection they only plan to someday sell . . . to a buyer who only plans to resell it! It's all so silly!"

Donald retorts:

"I suppose your three-acre coin collection is sane?"

To which Scrooge responds:

"The difference is that I value each and every coin as a personal memento! Nephew, I've learned to treasure that which has value to me, not to somebody else! That's what life's all about!"

Scrooge's pointed message came via well known Disney comic book scribe and artist Don Rosa. Though the story specifically targeted coin collectors, it was but a thinly veiled reference to comic book collecting (putting them in plastic sleeves and afraid to touch them) where enjoyment of a comic book's content became secondary to its collectible status and value. But the message could certainly be applied to any such medium, including Disneyana.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Toontown Field Guide: Horace Horsecollar

Horace Horsecollar is certainly one of the better known of Disney's secondary cartoon players. Like his female counterpart of sorts Clarabelle Cow, Horace predated even Goofy, Donald Duck and Pluto. Significantly, his debut was in the Mickey Mouse short The Plow Boy, which was released on this date in 1929.

In Mickey's Toontown at Disneyland, Horace is a fitness entrepreneur, being the proprietor of the Horace Horsecollar Gym. The image that appears on a punching bag sign is drawn from the 1941 color version of Orphan's Benefit.

In the book Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters, author John Grant noted:

" . . . it must have been galling for Horace and Clarabelle to take part in so many of the early Disney "greats" and then watch Johnny-come-latelies like Goofy and Donald Duck ascend to the heights while they remained forever struggling to reach the first rung of the ladder of stardom."

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Snapshot! - Collecting Hollywood Dust

Playing to the darker and more sinister atmosphere of the Villains in Vogue store in Disney's Hollywood Studio is a decor that could be best described as "Hollywood Attic." Dusty props evoke an era yet to experience sound and Technicolor.

Tender and Tasty POPPED CORN - Oh Boy but it's Good!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Roadside Disney: Trailer Tales

It is an icon of roadside popular culture. A home on the road for tin can tourists. Over the years, Disney cartoon makers incorporated the American travel trailer into a number of short subjects, but perhaps never more famously than in the Technicolor classic Mickey's Trailer, released on May 6, 1938.

Mickey's Trailer was not born out of happenstance. A mere decade earlier, everyman Arthur Sherman, a modest bacteriologist, turned the then fledgling auto camping movement on its ear when he introduced a solid-walled trailer that was devoid of the more traditional canvas and tent based designs that had been popular up to that point. Jokingly dubbed the "Covered Wagon" by Sherman's children, it would launch both a successful new industry and a popular culture phenomenon. In their book Ready to Roll: A Celebration of the Classic American Travel Trailer, authors Arrol Gellner and Douglas Keister elaborated on Sherman's unique achievement:

"Sherman's Covered Wagon Company was a rare success story in the bleakest years of the Depression, and naturally, it attracted notice—both from competitors and from the American press, who were desperate for stories containing some glimmer of economic hope. For their part, Sherman's competitors—including those who had specialized in all manner of sophisticated, fold-out gadgetry—were eventually obliged to adopt the Covered Wagon's hard-walled construction."

This Depression-era trailer boom reached a peak in 1936, followed quickly by an unpredicted and near devastating decline shortly thereafter. Manufacturers dramatically over predicted growth and demand and the bubble quickly burst. This was coupled with a sudden public disenchantment with many aspects of trailer culture. Gellner and Keister noted:

"The media's giddy, rose-colored accounts were gradually supplanted by more hostile examinations of the trailering phenomenon. Trailer parks were pilloried as a new kind of American slum-on-wheels and were even accused of being a breeding ground for epidemics, while trailerites were increasingly portrayed as freeloaders helping themselves to public roads and facilities without paying taxes for their support."

When it was released in 1938, Mickey's Trailer encapsulated many of these both positive and negative associations. Via Walt's well known "Probable Impossible," the canned-ham style trailer featured in the short embodied with extreme exaggeration the trailer manufacturers much hyped claims of style, luxury and countless conveniences. Its interior featured a series of ingenious if not impossible transforming set pieces; a bunk room dramatically morphs into a bathroom (complete with sink and already filled bathtub) and then into its final incarnation as a dinette upon which Mickey serves up breakfast.

Yet the cartoon's creators, in a subtle yet still noticeable manner, poked fun at the various negative associations to trailer culture that began to emerge in the late 1930s. The short's opening reveal of the trio's city dump campsite is indicative of what Gellner and Keister described as local government fears of trailerite slums taking root on city outskirts. The perception of trailer campers as freeloaders is distinctly portrayed when Mickey, without conscience, absconds corn from a nearby farmer's field and similarly draws milk from a passing cow. The background music for that particular scene featured the song "The World Owes Me a Living."
A post-World War II boom returned the travel trailer to a more than receptive American public. The industry itself experienced a distinct split as larger residence-based mobile homes became as equally popular as their recreational-centric counterparts. The smaller travel trailers became linked with then very popular outdoor sportsmen dynamics that included camping, hunting and fishing. This pop culture phenomenon was not lost on Disney animators; they used it to great effect in the 1950 Donald Duck cartoon Trailer Horn. A canned ham-style trailer is the focal point of Chip and Dale's inspired antagonism and Donald's resulting frustration.

In the 1952 cartoon Two Weeks Vacation, Goofy falls victim to a well known highway convention--getting stuck behind a lumbering, slow-moving car and trailer combination. Mixed in the short with the Goof's other road trip pratfalls is a recurring encounter with an oversize and impassable trailer. Similar gags would be revisited quite famously a couple of years later in the classic Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz comedy The Long, Long Trailer.

Disney Imagineers have similarly drawn inspiration from the travel trailer and have peppered Disney theme parks with numerous trailer-inspired set pieces. Trading on mid 20th century nostalgia are trailers that appear in Animal Kingdom's Dinoland, at Disney's Pop Century Resort and in Mickey's Toontown at Disneyland. Trailers were also a featured part of a character greeting area at Disney's Hollywood Studios prior to that particular location's current Pixar Studios redesign. But likely the most prominent use of travel trailers and their connection to roadside culture are the "Elfstream" designs found at Winter Summerland Miniature Golf at Walt Disney World. The theming mixes roadside campground nostalgia with retro Christmas trappings for a truly entertaining and often hilarious experience.

Media Images © Walt Disney Company

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Congratulations . . . Again!

I am very happy and excited to announce that Amanda Chin, Victoria Gatarz, Emily Jarosiewicz, and Valentina Pannullo have been awarded First Place in the New Jersey History Day competition held this past Saturday. I had previously reported the girls' successful performance in the regional competition last month under the guidance of their teacher Christy Viszoki. As I noted then, for their subject they chose to focus on the controversy that surrounded Disney's America, the unrealized theme park that had been conceptualized for an area in northern Virginia just outside of the nation's capital. Their project, an exhibit entitled "Disney's America Exposed," will now be entered in the National History competition to be held next month in Washington D.C.

I continue to be very proud to have been a part of the girls research efforts and I wish them the very best of luck in the national competition!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Snapshot: Disneyland! - Hey Goofy!

There is a much more casual dynamic to the characters at Disneyland. It was a refreshing change of pace from the long lines and general mob scenes that accompany character appearances at the Florida parks. A fun and spontaneous picture such as this is well nigh impossible most of the time at Walt Disney World.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Freeze Frame! - Lucky Number 13

Disney cartoon makers loved to associate Donald Duck with the unlucky number 13 whenever they could. One entire cartoon revolved around the Friday the 13th premise (Donald's Lucky Day) and and his fictional birthday was celebrated in the film The Three Caballeros on Friday the 13th as well. The short Donald's Happy Birthday identified his birthday as March 13.

The "13" gag was employed twice in the cartoon Donald Gets Drafted, released on this day in 1942. Donald's draft notice cites order number 13, and he subsequently reports to Draft Board No. 13.

Also of note in the short--the draft notice reveals Donald's middle name to be Fauntleroy. And some of the sidewalk posters outside the Draft Board are significantly similar in style to designs produced by Walt Disney himself while with the Red Cross in France at the end of World War I.

Images © Walt Disney Company