Thursday, June 26, 2008

DVD Spotlight: World's Fair, Toy Trains

The 1964 World's Fair is an hour long documentary produced for Public Television in 1996. Overall the show is a bit disjointed and unfocused but it is filled with loads of glorious footage from the two year event. A combination of promotional footage, newsreel/archive footage, and amateur home movies offer a first hand look at the New York World's Fair. The narration, provided by Judd Hirsch, is more of a trivia track than a narrative history or tour of the fair. The program does start off with the development of the fair but quickly jumps around to covering attractions and buildings as well as memories shared by people who visited the fair. Of course, the 1964 New York World's Fair was to be the stage for one of the last great chapters in Walt Disney's life. This DVD acknowledges Walt's role in the fair but offers little insight beyond what is general knowledge to any Walt Disney historian.

There's footage of the Disney characters dancing and interacting with fair goers throughout the program. And although it is mentioned several times that Walt Disney was one of the major attractions to the fair not much is discussed about the Disney attractions. As you know, Disney had a hand in four shows at the `64 Fair. Two of these shows: Ford Motor Company's Magic Skyway and the State of Illinois' Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln aren't even mentioned in the show. There are some brief glimpses of the exterior of Pepsi Cola's It's a Small World, including the legendary Tower of the Four Winds. There's also a brief shot of the mammoth building that originally housed General Electric's Carousel of Progress. The documentary takes you inside the Carousel via a grainy home movie that shows some of the sets the exact same way they appear today and even a look at how the show's final "futuristic" scene played out in 1964.

The show doesn't ignore Disney's involvement with the fair, but it hardly gives Disney the coverage they deserve. However, what does make this DVD program worth hunting down and watching is the extensive footage of the General Motors pavilion, a massive ride through experience called Futurama II. The GM ride had it's roots in a similar attraction from the 1939 World's Fair called Futurama. Both versions featured a look into the future and the modern conveniences new technology would bring to everyday life. It's been noted several times in the Disney blogosphere that many of the original attractions at Epcot Center were inspired by the Futurama show at the 1939 World's Fair. A good chunk of this DVD is devoted to a professionally produced film of the interior of Futurama II. From a look at the unusual ride vehicles, which were an endless conveyor of three side-by-side chairs, to the miniatures that made up the numerous scenes; the extensive look at Futurama II becomes the real treat of this program for any theme park aficionado.

While not an outstanding program, The 1964 World's Fair is worth a look for those curious about the landmark event but weren't present to experience it. You can find the DVD for sale on the internet (including Amazon) but it's more of a rental title so luckily you can also find it at Netflix.
Speaking of Netflix, I had also rented Great Toy Train Layouts Disc One. I've been on a bit of a toy train kick lately and I enjoy seeing great big layouts that people build in their basements or garages. The first disc of this three disc set features the collections of eight different men. I wasn't expecting this DVD to have anything to do with Disney so you can imagine my surprise when the first of the eight collectors turned out to be veteran Disney animator Ward Kimball. In addition to working on all of the great classic animated films from the golden age of animation, Kimball is also known the world over as a top collector of model trains.

Ward Kimball has two large buildings behind his house where he keeps all his wonderful toy trains. This video will give you a very detailed tour of his collection. If you've never seen one of these Toy Train Videos before, they can get a bit nerdy and technical. It's all about the gauges when it comes to collecting, and Ward spends a bit of time showing off his collection and talking right to the avid train collector. Still, for a Disney fan who's heard of Ward Kimball's love of trains, it's a real treat to see his collection up close.

The segment on Kimball runs about 23 minutes, most of that is devoted to his toy trains. In fact, it's not until about 18 minutes into the show that Kimball's connection with Disney is even mentioned. After a brief biography, the real pay off is a look outside of Ward's collection buildings and a look at his famed Grizzly Flats Railroad. The video wraps up with a look at all of Ward's full scale collection that he had scattered across his backyard. It's wonderful to get to see all this great stuff that is so much a part of the Disney story.

You'd probably have to go to a toy train shop to find Great Toy Train Layouts on a shelf. There's plenty of sites on the web where you can purchase such a DVD, including Amazon. If you're just interested in seeing it you can check out Netflix, which also has the DVD. (Make sure you put Disc One in your queue.)

1 comment:

Biblioadonis aka George said...

Wow, Ed.

What an AMAZING find!

Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

If you do an serous study of the two NY World's Fairs, you can see the influence on Epcot.