Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

Just before it closed , my son and I toured the art and history installation in NYC “Mickey – The True Original Exhibition”. The “Pop-up” (it popped up for 4 months) was located (it will have closed by the time you read this) right at the dividing line between the Meat Packing District and Chelsea in the lower west side of Manhattan.
Turning the corner of 15th St at 10th Ave, on a cold, wet day, this pop-up was no secret.

Walking along the glass wall toward the entrance at the end of the street, we could see into the inevitable gift shop that awaited us at the end of the exhibit.

Through the door we checked in with our tickets and were given a souvenir button. We had hoped for a coat check. But, alas, they offered us only mesh shopping bags to carry our coats.

There were photo ops here and throughout the exhibit as well as an overview of the entire exhibition. They used our phones or cameras since there was no Photopass option.

In typical Disney attraction fashion, a cast member held us at the door before we entered, what turned out to be, (you guessed it) – a pre-show.

After a short wait, anyone waiting in the outer lobby was ushered in where we were greeted, warmly, by another cast member.

Then we were shown this short video. (too wide for me to get all of it in the very shallow room):

In Disney fashion, a door opened at the side of the room and we entered the actual exhibition. I have over 300 pictures so I give you some of my favorites here in this post. The rest I will put up on this page.

The next section focused on Steamboat Willie. In the small theater they showed an artists recreation of the film using modern art techniques, side by side with the original.

Next area included more photo ops and some very inventive art pieces which, when viewed from the right spot allowed all the disconnected images to be viewed as one.

There was also a salute to Plane Crazy. Although released after Steamboat Willie, it was the first Mickey Cartoon, but failed to attract a distributor

Next up was a narrow hallway paying tribute to the Ink and Paint Department. There’s a great book Ink and Paint – The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation, that goes into great detail about this unsung department, and its’ people, mostly women, who were so critical to the success of Disney Animation

More art of all kinds

Then we passed through a portal, into the world of Sorcerer Mickey

Two circular stands showed these animation clips

The next room was devoted to The Mickey Mouse Club. Costumes and props from the original series were displayed, music played, and video of the 80s Mickey Mouse club were shown on monitors. There was also free ice cream.

Some of my favorite pieces were scattered throughout the next room, including a famous Keith Haring.

This was one of the favorite pieces in the show. Very inventive and mesmerizing.

Walking under this interested doorway adornment, brought us to a diverse collection of Mickey items curated by the Disney Archives.

There were many other amazing items. Please check out this page for more of the exhibit photos. A final photo op

Then. . . Please exit through the gift shop. I didn’t take too many pics here. There were some things I hadn’t seen before, some with the exhibit logo and others which are available elsewhere.

I bought these, mostly because of the packaging.

They had one more artistic surprise waiting for us inside the gift shop.

It’s very hard with photos to properly give you the full experience. The “cavern” was about 25’x25′ and we were completely surrounded by all of this.

This was a wonderful experience. Just large enough to provide an incredibly diverse art exhibit and Disneyana. But, small enough so we were done, even with pictures, ice cream and taking our time to see all of it in about 90 minutes, without feeling exhausted. I’ve posted more photos here.

I hope, for those of you who didn’t have an opportunity to experience the exhibition, I’ve given you a good feel, even with my mediocre photography.

Image result for disney world

I’m fortunate enough to be able to plan a trip to Walt Disney World for this spring. It’s been about 4 years since my last trip, and 2 years since my last Disneyland trip. The trips I’ve taken with my family and by myself have been memorable and completely satisfying.

There’s no right or wrong way to plan or enjoy a Disney vacation. But, for what it’s worth, here’s how I go about making sure that we all have a great time.

We’re Going to Disney World — So Get to Work

I have to admit that over the years, I’ve become a bit of a Disney planning fanatic. Normally, I’m not that focused control. I’m just as happy, in my career, and at home, to sometimes, let others lead and do my part. But, when it comes to a Disney theme park vacation, other imperatives come into play.

First, I am the acknowledged, resident Disney “expert”. I can’t match the expertise of those that visit the parks many times a year. But, in our family, I’ve spent the most time reading and keeping track of most things Disney. My family all love going, have their likes and dislikes, preferences and want to have a great time. But, they want and expect me to lead the planning. My wife and I do a lot of planning for other vacations (yes, we go places other than Mickey’s house). Half the fun of our vacations is the planning. It builds excitement. And for Disney vacations, it brings back many memories of past trips.

Second, even with any discounts I can find, and reasonably priced airfare from NY, a 5-7 day trip is still probably more expensive than other trips to non-Disney places have taken. So, I want to get my monies worth. For me, that means, limiting time on attraction lines, and getting reservations to restaurants where we want to eat, while building in some down time.

Planning a WDW Vacation has Changed

My 1997 WDW Itinerary

In the dark ages of Disney trip planning, twenty plus years ago, before many of the current web sites had matured, I used to build spreadsheets, with all of the information, including, ADR numbers (Advanced Dining Reservations), attraction dates and times, fastpass windows and everything else we would need to enjoy our trip. This was all neatly laid out in columns for the dates and rows for times of the day with rows for meals, parks breaks and plane info. I’d scour the various Disney community forums and even subscribe to rec.arts.disney.parks, a holdover from the text-based way of interacting with a community of Disney parks lovers.

These days, there are many websites that offer a ton of information to help plan our vacation. Many of the ones I lean on are listed on my Disney Web Sites I Like page. I still look for helpful hints and tips, especially for things that I haven’t experienced or for changes in the way Disney “helps” you arrange visits. Some things that have changed over the years and affect my planning are: Fastpass+, (more on that later) resort parking fees, ride services, dining plans, evening and daytime parades and shows, morning and evening magic hours, Downtown Disney/Disney Springs and of course new attractions/Lands. Other things haven’t changed much and I’ll get into those things in a bit.

Goals

As a technologist, I can’t help but approach trip planning in the same way I do any project — Start with goals and assumptions. Our Disney vacations involve a lot of decisions, compromises and a fair bit of hoping for a constant source of Pixie Dust. So, for this Disney trip, we hope to:

  • Make sure everyone has a great time
  • Experience long time favorites
  • Experience new things

Nothing unusual or earth shattering here. But, no project can be successful without being able to make decisions that are in line with what we’re trying to achieve.

Assumptions

Next, we look at some things that we decide are in our control and some which are not. As I thought about these, I was quite amazed at how many there really are. For this trip we assume:

  • All family members are adults and are ready to take on all kinds of experiences. Our son, who has a Cast Member friend, may join us part of the time.  Our son may not join my wife and I all the time, to spend time with his friend
  • We will stay at a moderate, Disney Resort for 5 nights and 6 days. We’ve done onsite and offsite hotels. Even though we end up with a few  less hotel amenities, having Disney all around us, the transportation options and convenience, and extra magic hours leads us to choose a Disney resort. Our time in the room is spent primarily sleeping or resting, and getting dressed.
  • A Cast Member friend will get us a significant discount on our resort room, so we will not be able to take advantage some extras offered in the Disney vacation packages
  • Our Cast Member, friend will be able to get us into one of the Parks for free on two of our vacation days. But, we will not know which days, until about 2 weeks before our vacation (more on this later)
  • Our flight from New York  will arrive early in the AM and leave late in the PM on the last day, all to maximize our time in the Parks.
  • Breakfast will always be at the Resort Quick Service restaurant
  • Most lunches will be quick service
  • We will try to build in an afternoon break into our daily activities, to rest before Dinner or time back in the Parks.
  • To save money, we will not be buying Park Hopper passes
  • We always want to minimize waiting on line for attractions, even if it means extra walking. (Good excuse for exploring the Park)
  • I’m going to use a TouringPlans subscription to keep track of everything. I’ve been using the Unofficial Guides since their earliest editions. I like their honest reviews (not everything in and around the Parks is great) and have found their touring plans to be helpful in maximizing our enjoyment of the Parks. Their website has a huge amount of information and with their Lines app, I no longer have to keep paper versions of our plans and can update things real time.
  • We want to experience Pandora and it’s 2 new attractions. We plan on spending 2 days in AK so we can do the headliner attractions there twice and still do other family favorites.
  • We’ll spend 2 days in MK and one day each in HS and EP

How We Plan

I don’t know if we do anything really unique, but here is how our our planning process works:

  1. Pick dates for the vacation. For this trip we decided to travel just before the big April school vacation dates and far enough away from our daughter’s June wedding.
  2. Pick a Resort. We’ve stayed at Deluxe resorts, Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Polynesian, moderates, The Caribbean, Port Orleans Riverside and Value, Pop Century. This trip we are being coat conscious. But can stretch because of some of the savings mentioned in my Assumptions section. We will stay at an old favorite, Port Orleans Riverside (We were there when it was the Dixie Landings).
    1. It’s close to Hollywood Studios and Epcot
    2. Good pools
    3. Many Disney bus stops
    4. Rooms are comfortable size with 2 sinks
    5. Good theming overall
  3. Select the least crowded parks for each day. We usually spend a few more days than this at WDW, so we will look for Extra Magic hours (EM) where we can get in early or stay late to take advantage of less crowds. I know there are those that say “stay away” from the park with EMH. I still think it helps. Here’s’ what we chose:
    1. MK on our travel in day
    2. HS (morning EMH)
    3. MK
    4. AK (morning EMH)
    5. AK (morning EMH)
    6. MK (evening EMH)
    7. EP on our travel out day (morning EMH)
  4. Restaurants. As we love to eat, (I discussed some of our favorite restaurants in A Foodie Travels in Disney World) our next decisions are for table service restaurants. This works out well since Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) can be made 180 days in advance. In some cases we are eating at a particular restaurant on the same day we visit the Park. Other trips we have purchased Hopper tickets and were not quite so limited. We’ve made the following choices:
    1. California Grill (Not been there since the 80s, so new for us)
    2. Hollywood Brown Derby (a family favorite)
    3. Sanaa (a lunch, new for us)
    4. Chefs de France (a lunch, new for us)
    5. Skipper Canteen (new for us)
      1. Quick service meal we planned include:
        1. Satu’li (new for us)
        2. Columbia Harbor House
  5. Choose our Fastpass+ attractions.
    But first, a word about Fastpasses (FPs). I understand the the current FP+ system is supposed to accomplish 2 things: Give everyone a shot at Fastpasses for popular attractions; Help to manage the crowds at those same attractions. I’m not a fan of the current system. I don’t want to spend my vacation waiting on line, if I can avoid it. I liked being able to get as many FPs as I could, until they ran out. I would build walking time into my daily plan to send someone to get FPs (The Unofficial Guide used to call them runners) when they were available. As a result, I almost never rode a popular attraction like Space Mountain without a FP and I often rode more than once a day. Now, not only am I limited, realistically, to 3 per day, I also have to deal with the tier system in 3 out of the 4 parks. The original FP wouldn’t have required me to choose between Soarin’ and Frozen Ever After. If I was smart, I could get both of them at least once a day. I often feel sorry for those that don’t take advantage of FPs, even today, and wait on interminable lines all day.
    Further complicating things for us this trip are the 2 free park pass days, which we won’t know about until 2 weeks before we travel. So we can select passes on our first available date later this month. But, there’s a chance that by the time we know which parks we will get into, we may not find FPs for the attractions we would like to experience. So we are having to make 2 sets of plans for each day in the parks. One with FPs and one without. I may have to wait on line more than I want. I’ll update this page later, when we’ve selected our first choices.
  6. Finalize a daily plan for attractions including our FP+ windows.

That’s where things stand for now. I’m sure I’ve missed a bunch of stuff I do without really thinking about it. I’m still about 3 months away from the traveling. So, I’ll provide some updates as the dates get closer. One more thing. If you have a friend who’s a Cast Member, remember — It’s their job. It’s how they earn a living. Don’t abuse your friendship by making them feel as if they have to help you get a discount. Saving a few bucks on a Disney vacation isn’t worth jeopardizing your friendship.

How do you plan? What have I missed mentioning?

Disney 1935 New Year cardI’m sure most of us will look back on 2018 and remember ups and downs, good times and trying times. I hope that, for each of you, the memorable moments outnumber the ones you’d like to forget, by a wide margin.

 

This is the second full year I’ve been writing The Disney Connection. I don’t use my blog to make money, but to share my admiration of Walt and the continued success of the the fruits of his boundless energy, imagination and drive to achieve. I continue to be very pleased, often surprised, at the level of interest in my writing, even though I purposely do not offer current event information, Disney announcements or reviews. I prefer to offer thoughts on Disney related topics that inspire me.

I’m thankful that overall unique visitors were up by more than 60% this year to over 3,500. November was the busiest month followed by April. I’m thankful for all of the late Summer and Fall visitors even after a longer than usual hiatus, due to my job being affected by a widespread company layoff. I mentioned my job loss in Seriously, Let’s Not Forget the Gags. I’m thankful to have found a very good job with a solid company. Again, this year, I’m particularly thankful for the Facebook group page administrators at:

D23 Expo 2019 – D23 Members, Expo Fans and Attendees
Disney Parks Moms Panel Hopefuls!

Both have allowed me to post regularly in these closed groups. Much of the visitor traffic to The Disney Connection is the result of these pages.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s wrestling with the many revelations this year about Facebook management’s handling of the information they collect from everyone’s activity. For the moment I am sticking with Facebook. Those of you who decide to call it a day with Facebook, you can follow me on Twitter @Bradkay60. I will continue to evaluate things as time goes by.

Finally, I’m thankful to my family for their support and for allowing me to indulge my interest and excitement about the World of Disney.

Taking a look back, here are The Disney Connection posts that all of you found most interesting this year:

 

Opening the year and the most viewed, is January’s Flipping Disney’s Lands, where I offered my opinion for how to improve the entertainment value of Tomorrowland and Frontierland in the 21st century

 

 

 

Even though I was quite young when he died, in February’s post My Connection to Walt Disney through his Signature, I wrote about feeling closer to Walt Disney through his enigmatic and elusive signature

 

 

 

 

In March, many of you read Pirates Change with the Times to get my perspective on how Disney fans react in different ways to Imagineer’s changes to the iconic Pirates of the Caribbean attraction

 

 

Earlier in March was the next most visited post, Reviewing Disney Reviewers where I took a stand against Disney vacation reviews that often stray from the topic to focus on the Company, rather than criticism of the experience

 

 

 

The next most visited post, Opening Days Excitement at Disney Parks, was inspired by the start of the baseball season, in April, as expectations are high for the many changes coming to Disney theme parks, just like they are on opening day of the Baseball season.

 

I hope all of you, your families and friends have a happy and prosperous 2019. I look forward to hearing from all of you in the new year.

 

Thanks.

Brad.

 

Enter to win my giveaway this month. Details can be found here.

Every time I watch Mary Poppins, I can’t help wondering, “Why isn’t there an attraction at a Disney theme park devoted to Walt’s crowning achievement in live action films?” I’ll get back to my rant in a moment.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.png

For new readers of my blog, and those who may have forgotten this vital piece of information in the overwhelming onslaught of things to remember, I don’t really do reviews. Nor do I use this space to offer Disney news. There are plenty of very good sites and blogs, unofficial and unofficial, that I think do these things very well. You can find some of the places I regularly visit on my page here. I prefer to offer my thoughts on topics that inspire me that are related to Walt and his legacy.

IMary slides up the stairs watch Mary Poppins now and again, and always enjoy it for its pure entertainment magic. But, I watched it the other night, prompted, I suppose, by the tsunami of promotions surrounding the soon to be released Mary Poppins Returns. I’m not a huge fan of the continued rollout of “live action” remakes of classic Disney animated films. In an earlier post, Drunk on Do-Overs, I said that I would keep an open mind. But, I would prefer to have Disney give us something new. And, I certainly don’t want to see an older “classic” redone frame for frame, just because the technology now allows directors to create what was once only possible through animation.

With the way current Hollywood survives on sequels, it seems almost impossible thatFantasia Hippos Walt rarely looked back. During his life, there were no sequels, even if the movie was a critical or box office success. No son of Bambi, Pinocchio Returns, or Dumbo 2. Unafraid of what his critics would say, after animated successes like Snow White and Pinocchio, Walt gave his audience Fantasia – not a traditional feature animated film. World War II and his own creative drive pushed him to explore live action films. Then, of course, came Disneyland. Walt was a restless creator, driven by inspiration, not be profit.

Most critics and Disney historians say that Mary Poppins is Walt’s finest live action feature. Most good directors will tell you that half the credit for a film’s success starts with casting the right actors. Accounts of the making of the film tell us that Walt made most, if not all of the casting choices, including betting that a young actress with no screen experience could carry the title role. Decades ahead of the Harry Potter series, Disney cast many of the roles with talented, but overlooked character actors including, Glynnis Johns (Winnifred), Elsa Lanchester (Katie Nana), and Arthur Treacher (Constable). Oscar winner Jane Darwell (Bird Woman) and Oscar nominee Ed Wynn (Uncle Albert) were nearing the end of their careers. And, like Walt, would live only a few more years. Aside from Dick Van Dyke and maybe Jane Darwell, depending on the viewer’s age, none of the actors would have been very recognizable to American audiences in the 1960s.  All of the performances, including, of course Julie Andrews, David Tomlinson and Dick Van Dyke, even years later, resulted in characters that are believable, funny and heartwarming, even amidst the fantasy world they inhabit.

Aside from having a magic casting touch, it would not surprise me to learn that Walt encouraged the prodigious use of matte painting, and flying by wire, as well as Disney developed technical effects. Traveling matte shots with live action and the Jolly Holiday sequences were accomplished with a technology called Yellow Screen (sodium vapor process). Interested parties can find a great, detailed look at the Mary Poppins matte work on this website. It’s amazing to see how many scenes were actually accomplished with matte paintings. They are hard to distinguish from the standard shots. As Walt did with color film, years earlier with the Silly Symphonies where Disney locked up exclusive rights to use the newest process, Disney owned the only camera in the world that could accomplish the yellow screen process. Walt also included audio animatronics. Today, these effects would all be accomplished with CG.

Anyone who things George Lucas and Industrial Light and Magic invented these kind of special effects, should realize they were just following in Walt’s footsteps as a film innovator. As was often the case, Walt didn’t invent any of these advancements. But, he did realize their potential where others might not have. By themselves, the brilliant use of special effects, which garnered an Oscar, would have been notable. However, Walt would never accept flash without substance. The story and the characters take center stage, supported by the visual effects.

While the story is dominated by the magic that surrounds Mary, there are some themes at the heart of the film that still resonate decades later and are, perhaps, more relevant today, than when it premiered.

It goes unsaid, that the Banks children are home schooled. While they worked their way through a string of nannies, the children are clearly intelligent, curious and inventive. It doesn’t seem that their parents are particularly involved in their upbringing. Winnifred has her cause, as a Suffragette. Women are still fighting for equal rights. And George, while hard working and successful, is content to “pat them on the head and send them off to bed”. It’s almost as if the Banks’ mirror our twentieth century two income families.

While limited parental guidance was the norm in upper middle class families of the day, even the Constable seems to recognize how unfazed the parents are that the children have been without supervision for most of the afternoon. Any of us who are parents could surely use a reminder that what our children become and the relationships with their care-gives could be linked to the experiences of their early years. Given how quickly children of the 21st century seem to grow up, it’s even more important.

Tidy up the NurseryBut, even with proper attention, it’s no secret that almost everyone absorbs things better if they are shown practical applications of the lesson or behaviors. A “spoonful of sugar” doesn’t just make the medicine easier to take, it also makes even the most mundane tasks less tedious. Instead of memorizing, anyone who learns music at an early age, used Every Good Boy Does Fine, to remember musical notes. Or, friendly competitions to see who could pick up the most trash or a game of Horse to hone basketball skills. How many of you think Michael would normally have wanted to tidy up the nursery again unless it was fun.

Learning, however, should be balanced with encouragement to use one’s imagination.

Miracle on 34th street

Kris Kringle helps Susie explore the ImagiNation

Here is where Mary certainly excels. Even adults should use the other half of their brains. But, you don’t need to pop into a chalk painting. I love the way Kris Kringle, in the 1937 Miracle on 34th Street talks, about imagination as a place, the ImagineNation. Thinking creatively can add a whole arsenal of problem solving solving skills to day to day problems as well as tackling bigger issues like hunger, poverty and homelessness. This is often referred to as out of the box thinking. I think we should forget about the boxes and spend less time complaining that things can’t be fixed or changed. As Mary shows the Banks family, a fresh look at things can make every day a kite flying day.

Mary Poppins in WDW

Mary takes a turn with the Pearly Band at Walt Disney World

I started with the lack of presence of Mary in the parks. Other than occasional appearances by Mary and Bert and the Pearly Band, Mary Poppins is MIA. We’ve now had two different Snow White themed attractions, Peter Pan, Mr. Toad (one half of a package film), Song of the South (kept under lock and key), but nothing from the movie that won more Oscars (5) than any other Disney release. I’m not the only one who thinks it deserved a place in the parks. Here’s a video of Disney Imagineering Legend, Tony Baxter describing his idea for a Jolly Holiday attraction.

I’m glad to hear that there are rumors of bring Mary to Epcot’s England Pavilion at Walt Disney World’. But, rumors don’t often turn into reality, no matter what the sources may be. I’m also glad that we can still take some important lessons from Walt’s masterpiece at the same time we fall under its magical spell.

 

The contest has ended.

shutterstock_669515116As a thank you to all my readers, I’m holding a giveaway this month. 

I’ll be picking Four winners from the followers of The Disney Connection. 

This is for US and Canada only this time. (Apologies to my international readers)

First Prize is a one of a kind Disney Pin 


Wendy Gell, whose jewelry designs were seen on the wrists of the “who’s who,” during the wild-style of the ’80s. Her pieces graced the covers of Vogue & famous movie stars. Wendy signed licensing agreement with Disney in 1986. The Disney line debuted in 1987 at Saks Fifth Avenue in a Wendy Gell Disney Boutique and also sold at Nordstroms, Disney stores, and the Disney theme park. This brooch pin measures 2 ¾ ”x 2 ¼”.  It’s difficult to put a value on Minnie as  Lady Liberty, since it was custom designed piece back in the 1980s.  But, I can guarantee that no one else will have one like it

Second Prize is this Disney Plush 

Mickey Steamboat

Celebrating 90 years of Mickey Mouse with the Disney Mickey’s 90th Anniversary Steamboat Willie Plush!  Press Mickey’s hand to watch him sway along to the iconic Steam Boat Willie song! Mickey comes dressed in the signature Steamboat Willie outfit with matching Captain’s hat and he even holds a felt ship wheel in his hands. Mickey is made with super soft fabrics and exceptional character detail. Stands 18” tall. 

Third Prize is this New Mary Poppins Ornament 

Mary Poppins

From the Sketchboook series, Mary is made of resin and stands 5 ¼” high.  

Fourth Prize is this Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mickey frame 

Mickey Frame

I purchased this at Disney World in the late 90’s. It has never been used. Will fit a 3”x5” picture. Frame measures 6.5” x  5.5” 

If you’d like to participate, you must be a Disney Connection Blog follower. If you’re already a follower then you’re already entered. If you’d like another entry, you can tweet the following :

#TheDisneyConnection December giveaway is on. Four winners selected from blog followers. Details at https://bradkay60.wordpress.com/2018/12/03/disney-connection-december-giveaway/ @bradkay60

This is for US and Canada only this time. (Apologies, again to my international readers)

I’ll randomly choose the four winners on December 14th at 9pm ET. Winners will have 5 days to confirm a shipping address.

Good luck!

Mickey Breaks the PaperI usually prepare to watch ABC-TV Disney special events with somewhat low expectations. For the most part, I find them to be very long commercials for whatever Disney is promoting. I’ll give you some other thoughts on Mickey’s 90th Spectacular in a bit. But, that’s not what I want to talk about.

As we continue the celebration of his 90 years, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Mickey. It’s hard not to, since the Disney Company is using the birthday as a major promotion. Who can blame them? There are few characters in the history of print, movies or television that have stood the same test of time. As originally created by Walt and animated by Ub Iwerks, he was no more complicated than, and bears a strong resemblance to Walt and Ubs first successful character, Oswald, the lucky rabbit.

mickey and oswald

Oswald &  Mickey

Walt & Ub

Walt and Ub

And, while, Ub Iwerks seems primarily responsible for the early design and almost all of the animation of the early Mickey shorts, it was Walt who who not only gave him his voice, but also his spirit. As I wrote in my post “Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse – Inseparable”, it was Walt’s personality, sense of humor, drive to succeed and optimism to which audiences responded and made Mickey popular.

The Mickey of Plane Crazy and other early shorts was a mischievous troublemaker. In many of the shorts, Mickey gets himself into trouble, then finds a way to “save the day”. He gives other characters the raspberry, checks out Minnie’s legs and twirls a cat by the tail.

He was a precursor to many of the movie anti-heroes the world would cheer for decades later in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, On the Waterfront, Taxi Driver, Mad Max, Rebel Without a Cause, the Godfather and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean series. The shorts were driven by putting Mickey in various situations then driving the plot with the kind of gags that Walt loved. I’m more partial to the Mickey we see starting in the late 30s. He’s become more of an “everyman”. Crazy things still happen to him and around him, but he’s generally more of a good guy,role model.

I can’t say for certain why of all the Disney characters created under Walt’s direct supervision , why I’m partial to Mickey. Mickey was literally out of the picture during my childhood. After 1953’s  short, Simple Things, Mickey didn’t appear on film again until 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol. It was probably for the best. “Simple Things” Mickey feels stodgy and uninteresting. Pluto gets more screen time than Mickey. And, overall, the quality of the piece feels more like the Saturday morning cartoon lineup of the 60s and 70s right down to the clunky sound effects and skimpy backgrounds.

I got that same feeling of disappointment watching the ABC-TV Mickey Birthday special. It felt more like a long advertisement for everything but Mickey. I understand that Disney, for business reasons, continues to try and stay connected with a young audience. But, as a child of the baby boom era, I felt like a chaperone at a young person’s dance. The musical guests, which I’m sure were loved by the young audience in the theater, were interrupted by brief snippets of Mickey’s history. The character of Mickey seemed more like a museum piece than a symbol of the Disney Company’s continued growth and success. But, enough about that.

My generation got only small doses of Mickey in parades and special appearances and, if memory serves, Disney would occasionally dust off an old short starring Mickey. I have a strong sense memories of going to a 40th birthday party for Mickey in the old Rainbow Club in the Empire State Building when I was 10 years old. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the event and I can’t find any on the internet. Anyone who has photos, I’d love to see them. Does absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Mickey in the 1970s

 

The_Band_ConcertOr, am I drawn, like earlier generations, to a character that is both timeless, and of a time when audiences marveled at Steamboat Willie’s first of its kind synchronized sound, or the first ever color cartoon, The Band Concert. Behind Mickey, though, was Walt, continually striving for something new. Not just to grab audiences, which he remained focused on for his adult life. But, Walt needed to always move forward. Walt bet his entire studio on the idea that sound would revolutionize animated film. He would do the same with his personal fortune to bring Disneyland to life. Mickey was the messenger for all of this innovation.

disney and mickey on disneyland tvThe thought I have is, Walt’s inspiration, that lead to Mickey, was created at a low point in his career. The success of his studio depended entirely on the character’s success. So, the “magic” that would lead to Walt’s success would have been concentrated in Mickey Mouse. The character was the seed out of which his empire would grow. Walt never stopped chasing his dreams. That kind of spirit is powerful.

I’ll admit, that I’m a skeptic when it comes to life after death and the supernatural. But I’m not ruling out the possibility that Mickey carries the spirit of achievement and the creative spark that started with Steamboat Willie and continues to this day. The more I think about this brand of pixie dust, the more I like it. It’s comforting and exciting to believe that Walt is still with us. And, it’s great that, in the form of  a symbol, Mickey Mouse, he continues to do the things Walt loved most – innovate and entertain. So, Happy Birthday to Mickey Mouse.  A creation for the ages.

Walt Norman Rockwell

 

Wither the Muppets?

sesame streetMy kids grew up as regular visitors to the Street of Sesame. It was populated by colorful, friendly creatures and kind, smart, people. The Muppets taught my kids important things. How to count, recognize the letters of the alphabet. Also, how to make friends and be a friend, respect others, and accept the differences between us, to name a few important lessons.

At the same time my kids were gettin’ learned, I could enjoy the irreverence, the wackiness the winks and the never ending, parody-infused humor the Muppets brought to those of us on adult streets everywhere. They taught us how to laugh at ourselves and that the “classics”, whether books, music or movies, you could be take them out from behind the museum glass and play. They taught us to not take ourselves too seriously.

muppet tv

So, what happened? Why have the Muppets not found their audience in the 21st

SherlockHemlock2

Sherlock Hemlock

century? Why is it that Walt’s brand of entertainment far outlasted him, yet Jim Henson’s legacy seems to fade with each passing year? The Muppets have done feature films, television, appeared on countless talk shows, award shows and even have their own hit songs like The Rainbow Connection. Is Disney hiding them in an undisclosed location, plotting a massive marketing campaign? Or is something else going on?

Both men have rightly been called geniuses. Not because they cured a hated disease or helped put a man on the moon. (Although Walt did make that happen every day in early Disneyland, and there was the Muppets in Space. But, I digress) They had a genius for finding new ways to entertain us by taking something old and making it new.

 

dwarfs crying

Even the candle is crying

Walt took animation, which was sill in its infancy, and made it into high art, while using story to create enduring characters. Disneyland was a new kind of entertainment based on old style fairs or amusement parks. His animated and live action movies and their characters continue to charm, amuse and evoke other emotions. And, they have become known the world over. When Disney builds theme parks in other countries, they include Mickey Mouse and many other characters that are as recognizable in Shanghai as they are in Anaheim.

 

fantasia posterThe years have not dulled the enthusiasm even for characters who have not been seen on the big screen for decades, like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. All of this happened, even as Walt pushed the limits of what audiences would accept in animation. After the success of Snow White and Pinocchio, Walt took a left turn and gave us Fantasia. Then he took a trip to South America which resulted in very Latino feeling Saludos Amigos and Three Caballeros. In between those two was Victory Through Air Power, the last feature Walt directed himself, which was more propaganda than entertainment.  He planned but never finished a surrealist piece with Salvador Dali (Finally released in 2003). Audiences might have grumbled, but they still kept coming.

 

THE MUPPETSJim Henson took puppetry out of the fairs and children’s birthday parties and created his own group of enduring characters. He showed us that even puppets that were blue or red, fuzzy and had other un-human like features could, not only entertain, but touch our hearts. I would say that Kermit, Miss Piggy, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch are just as recognizable as Mickey Mouse. The appeal of the Muppets bridged generations.

The younger crowd laughed and learned with Bert, Ernie and The Count. While adults could laugh at the sneaky and wacky humor of Fozzy Bear, Sam Eagle and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew. A string of popular movies (3 in Henson’s lifetime) combining puppets with actors proved that the Muppets could “act”.

And the weekly Muppet show, which ran for 5 seasons was a magnet for every big name in Hollywood to share the spotlight with Miss Piggy, a group of chickens or other Henson Workshop creations.

Like Disney, Henson challenged his audiences. The movie Dark Crystal and Labyrinth moved away from vaudeville slapstick and pushed further in to Fantasy at the same time he advanced the art of puppetry. In television, Fraggle Rock was intended to be an educational program to help kids deal with complex issues around the world.

After Henson’s passing, the deal to sell the company to Disney was completed and park fans have been enjoy Muppetvision 3d for many years. More recently Muppet characters are making regular appearances in Liberty Square above the Hall of Presidents. But recent attempts to revitalize the Muppet franchise, Muppets Most Wanted, failed with audiences who were less enthralled than the critics. The recent attempt to restart the franchise by going back to television, one of their earliest successes, was cut short after just one season.

Muppets_LibertySquare

Muppets in LIberty Square

Oz and Henson

Oz & Henson

Some have argued, like original Muppeteer, Frank Oz, that Disney just doesn’t get the Muppets. While others seem to think that the Muppets brand of entertainment was a product of it’s time and simply doesn’t translate into today’s reality focused offerings. I think it may be a combination of the two. Perhaps, Jim Henson did not have an opportunity to set the franchise off on a long term track as Walt did with multiple entertainment properties.  Then, Disney took too long to produce anything Muppet related, thereby losing any momentum that might have existed with audiences. I remember being excited about the prospect of deep pockets and potential creative input from the Disney organization. Then, radio silence for 12 years, before a movie was released. Pixar hardly missed a beat after being brought under the Disney brands. And Mickey Mouse went 30 years without being featured in a Disney film. But, it didn’t seem to dull his appeal.

MickeysChristmasCarol

1983

I’m a big fan of the Muppets style of entertainment. Maybe, in the final analysis, the very nature of Muppet humor doesn’t appeal to as many. Kermit is lovable. But, while Mickey started out as more of an impish troublemaker he evolved into a more lovable character with broad appeal.

mickey-mouse-gallery

Kermit was always lovable. But he seems stuck in a world of vaudeville, where many of the real jokes go right over the heads of audiences that might extend the franchise — children, who eventually grow into adults and introduce their kids to the characters. Miss Piggy is not very approachable, Dr. Teeth and The Medicine show is product of a 60’s musical era, and Fozzy is, well, an acquired taste for many who grew up with the Carol Burnet Show or even Your Show of Shows.

themuppetsgroupshot

It’s still possible that Disney will find a way to keep the Muppets in the mainstream. They are giving the Muppet Babies TV cartoon a reboot. It’s possible that will be the way to gain some traction. Unfortunately, in the face of the blockbuster dollars other franchises like Marvel and Star Wars bring in, the Muppets will forever be an afterthought. I certainly hope not.

 

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: