Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Keeping The Classics Special

I picked up this paperback at a yard sale last summer, The Official Disney Trivia Book by Bill Ginch and Fred Miranda. It's from 1988 and it's nothing really special except maybe for offering 20 questions on The Gnome-Mobile and 30 for The Happiest Millionaire!?! However, after leafing through it for a couple of weeks I finally got around to reading the introduction and found a passage that really struck a cord with me:

"We can all recall our first encounters with the Disney mystique without too much trouble. Impressive television and print campaigns everywhere let us know what was coming next from the master himself. You never had to ask Mom and Dad twice to take you to a Disney feature film; they were all too happy to accompany you. A Walt Disney film never left you disappointed. You traveled home from the theatre on a cloud."

The sad thing is, there's no cloud to travel home on anymore. The only way to experience the classic Disney films of yesterday is on television wheter it be by DVD, VHS, or network television. Sure, we've all got our larger screen televisions but even the best home theatre system doesn't compare to taking your kids to see Cinderella, Snow White or Peter Pan on the big screen at your local theatre. Going to the movies is still somewhat of an event, especially for little kids. I'm afraid for a generation of kids there's going to be no difference between one of the classic animated films from Disney's golden years and modern day movies like Ice Age 2 or even Barbie The Island Princess. To kids brought up in this media saturated world everything is just a DVD you pick up at Wal-Mart. The viewing experience of watching a true work of art is just the same as watching the latest made-for-DVD movie. It will be a shame if an entire generation doesn't have an appreciation for the special magic of Walt Disney's animated films. It's a problem that could hurt the Walt Disney Company later down the road.

It was common practice with Walt Disney Pictures to re-release the classic animated films every seven years. Each of the big cartoon movies were on it's own schedule so that every Spring, Summer or Christmas there would be a great Disney classic in the theatre to take the kids to. Every child's first movie going experience was something along the lines of Cinderella, or Lady and the Tramp or Pinocchio. This was done from the earliest days of the studio up until the mid-90's. It seemed with home video making it possible for people to have all their favorite movies at home that releasing 30 to 40 year old movies in the theatre wasn't quite practical. Each of the classic animated films got one last bow in theatres and then were dumped onto VHS where the money kept on pouring in. The last of the features to be re-released to theaters were Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1993 and The Little Mermaid in 1997.

I realize there is a boatload of money to be made from DVD sales, but I can't imagine that releasing Cinderella to theatres at Christmas 2005 and then putting out the DVD the following Christmas could have done anything but bring in extra money from ticket sales and raised the profile of the eventual DVD release.

No matter how you slice it, the very core of the Walt Disney Company - what makes it special, what makes it unique, what makes it magical - is the animated products. Everything else: the books, the music, the theme parks, the tv shows are all off-shoots of Mickey Mouse, Snow White and the films and characters that came after them. If people aren't allowed to take part in these films in a grand theatrical setting, the movies start to blend together with all the other media out there. And without the special-ness of these films, what magic will the Walt Disney Company have to sell to a generation or two from now?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Before Mickey Came To Epcot

When Epcot Center first opened in 1982, it was decided that Mickey Mouse and his cartoon friends would not have a role in the new grown-up oriented park. So instead of shaking hands with Goofy or sharing a hug with Donald Duck, kids got to line up for photo-ops with these gigantic dolls of the world characters. They were huge, they were completely unfamiliar and they had an empty glass-eyed stare that would chill you to your very bone. In this December `82 picture, my little brother and I manage to maintain a smile long enough for the flash cube to pop on my parent's Inst-o-matic before we ran hiding in fear behind mom and dad from this enormous psychotic looking man-child.

These characters didn't last long and before you knew it, Mickey and the gang were making trips from the Magic Kingdom over to Epcot to visit with guests.

Also, check out the cool not-yet-retro Epcot Center t-shirts my bro and I are sporting. I'm sure they would fetch a pretty penny on e-bay today!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Disneyland On The Air

Disneyland and Walt Disney World have served as the setting to many children's books throughout the years. Sometimes the theme parks are the homes of the classic Disney characters, other times it seems that Mickey and the gang are busy running the parks. And once in a while, the Disney parks just play host to the vacationing antics of Mickey Mouse and his friends. In this 1955 Little Golden Book Disneyland On The Air Mickey and Donald arrive at Disneyland for a live broadcast of the Disneyland television program.

This book was perhaps one of the first to use Disneyland as a setting for it's story. A brief note on the copyright page before the story begins reads: Disneyland, in southern California, is truly the land of childhood's dreams come true. Millions have visited this magic land on TV, and soon will in reality. Here for the first time some of its delights may be sampled in book form." Actually not much of Disneyland is featured in the book.

There are a few exterior depictions of Main Street U.S.A. in the opening pages of the tale, but other than that only a few small illustrations on the front cover give any hint to the contents of the park. This picture to the right suggests Main Street U.S.A. as a real working thoroughfare with foot traffic traveling from inside the park to the Opera House. Also, I suspect Walt Disney would not have been happy with a modern automobile taking a spin down his turn-of-the-century Main Street.

One last image from this book...this somewhat disturbing illustration of Donald pulling two guns on Mickey. The question is: How did Donald get those guns past the exhaustive bag search at the main gate? This kind of thing would never happen today (without a cautionary introduction from Leonard Maltin!)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hey There! Hi There! Ho There!

Another day, another new Disney blog...right!?! Like so many others out there, I'm a huge fan of all things Disney and the obsession kind of runs my life. I've been blogging for about two years now on all kinds of stuff from my family to pop culture, nostalgia and animation and Disney news. I wanted to do a blog that was a little more focused and perhaps had a chance to reach a larger audience.

Like many of us my love of Disney goes back to my childhood. My family always gathered around the TV to watch the latest Disney specials. My parents honeymooned in Walt Disney World and I took my first trip by age four. My first plane ride was to Disney World when I was in the third grade and in the fourth grade we spent Christmas week in WDW, staying in Ft. Wilderness and taking in Epcot Center which had just opened three months earlier! I grew up watching old theatrical animated shorts (from all the studios) on television but my favorites were always the Disney shorts that you could only catch on TV once in a great while. The Disney Animated Classics were (and still are) very special and magical films that are unlike anything else Hollywood has ever produced.

And then there is the man himself Walt Disney. I'm quite sure during my school-age years I wrote enough reports on Walt Disney to fill a file cabinet. I read everything I could about Mr. Disney over the years and still find out new things about him that continue to fascinate me!

Now that I have two children of my own, I share the magic and wonder of Disney with them. I love watching the classic shorts and films with my kids as well as Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Both kids have a dresser full of Disney clothing, a toybox full of Mickey Mouse toys, and bookshelf full of Disney stories. My oldest son even got Walt's middle name, Elias. (My wife wouldn't go for Mickey!!)

So I hope this blog will be an outlet for some of my Disney obsession and an avenue to meet and discuss Disney with new people! And away we go...