Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

Archive for June, 2017

Disney Got the Groove Right

el groupo flight

From left: Hazel Cottrell, Bill Cottrell, Ted Sears, Lillian Disney, Walt Disney, Norm Ferguson and Frank Thomas.

In the summer of 1941, at the request of the US government, Walt and a group of animators and story people took off on a good will tour of South America. The trip took them through the heart of the Inca empire, including Peru, where my wife and I recently visited. The group collected stories literature, music and customs and sketched people, clothing, buildings, animal scenes and landscapes, in addition to learning about folklore and music. Back then,Inca map the trip yielded two shorts, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. Almost 60 years later, the Studio’s 40th animated feature would dig more deeply into the ancient world of the Inca in The Emperor’s New Groove. My wife and I explored parts of Peru, which was the center of the great Inca Empire, which spread across all the places “El Groupo” visited. Based on my ten day visit the Disney artists and director Mark Dindal nailed, not only the look of Groove, but captured the essence of the Inca world and its culture.

kuzco loungingThe beginning of the film, where Kuzco impresses on us that the story is about him, is not so far from the truth. The Sapa Inca, official title of the Incan Emperor, was considered a god whose power derived, not only, from his parentage, but from his religious status as son of the powerful “Inti”, the Sun god. So Kuzco’s attitudes are not far from the bizarre, royal world inhabited by the Inca emperors where everything they touched, wore or didn’t eat was ritualistically burned each year.

mummy on litter

Royal “mummy” carried in the Inti Ryami festival in Cusco

The Emperor would have been carried everywhere by bearers, even after death. His mummified remains would have continued to be carried during annual festivals like the Inti Raymi or Sun festival we saw in the city of Cusco. Kronk carries Yzma, the “new Emperor”, everywhere in a litter emblazoned with a snake, which eventually takes flight like a condor. The Snake and Condor both, we’ll see in a minute, are tied to Inca social and religious beliefs. And the chair inside the litter sports a diamond design that is still found on fabrics hand made by Inca descendants.

Pacha’s willingness to drop everything, trek to the palace, then, without question, hand over his family land to Kuzco is perfectly in line with the Inca culture. He doesn’t go just because the Emperor calls, but he demonstrates an example of the Inca practice of mit’a. Instead of giving money for taxes (the Inca functioned on the bartering system, no money) each Inca man and woman was obligated to give time each year to the state by doing things like farming, weaving, building or fighting in the army. It’s been described as one day for me and one day for the State or my neighbor. In return, the State would make sure everyone was clothed, fed and protected and your neighbor would help you when you were in need. Someone like Pacha would regularly leave his family farm to work communal farms needed to feed the royals and their relations, or perhaps build new cities.


Tiered farming sites like Winyawina might have been farmed by many Pachas to feed others

Kuzco, however, embraces the opposite of the Inca’s Golden Rule, which is still widely repeated in the Andes: ana sua, ana llula, ama cheklla. It translates to “do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy”. Pacha’s attitudes toward Kuzco over the course of their adventures, even though the Emperor demonstrates neither honesty nor gratitude, on the other hand, make perfect sense in the context of that Golden Rule.

Visually, the film is full of Inca symbolism, architecture and references to daily life. The first thing I can tell you about the world of the Incas, is STEPS. We hiked part of the “Inca Trail”, visited many historically significant sights including Machu Picchu. Everywhere we went required climbing stairs. And these stairs aren’t the nice even, regular rises we are used to. Instead clearing areas to make steps, the way we would today, the Incas, to their credit, simply adapted existing landscapes. This often means steps like this:


followed by a distance that could be flat, but might rise or fall steeply, followed by more steps and then more steps. We see the ubiquitous steps around Kuzco’s throne, as Pacha climbs up to the palace entrance and when Kronk carries Kuzco, as a llama in the sack.

Incas did indeed build some of their most amazing cities, like Machu Picchu in the craziest places – often at the top or on a mountainside. Pacha’s village sits on a mountain top.

pacha crossAs Pacha enters the palace we see the Andean cross which has many parallel meanings and exhibits the way Incas used the power of three or “threeology” in their thinking, buildings and religion. Toward the end of the film, when Yzma holds “the” vial, you can see three steps behind her. Inca historical sites are full of the “threes” as in the Andean Cross.

andean cross

The gold that adorned Inca palaces and sacred sites like Kuzco’s palace was confirmed by accounts written by Spanish missionaries in the 16th century. In fact, the Incas didn’t value gold or silver as a source of wealth, but as decoration for buildings, clothing and other items.

kuzcos gold palace.png

Doors and windows, especially in highly sacred or royal architectures have a distinct trapezoidal shape as we can see in the movie buildings as well.

There’s not a lot of actual eating in the movie, other than spinach puffs discussions, and it’s unclear how much llama meat was eaten by the Incas. So Kuzco in llama form might not have been on the menu. But, his wool would have been used for clothing, hides for shoes, and he would have hauled goods. And, oh, he might have been used for ritual sacrifice. Today, there are 16 protected llamas that roam the grounds of Machu Picchu. Unlike Kuzco, they are friendly and seem to mostly ignore photo hungry tourists.

In addition to being able to build fantastic cities in the most remote and inaccessible places, the Inca were masters of urban design. The Inca cities not only supported thousands of people, but included plumbing in the form of aqueducts. All of the aqueducts and flowing water we see in the movie are still evident and working at many Inca sites today, hundreds of years after they were designed and built. Some were used to provide drinking water.

Some were used to drain off potential flooding rains like the one Kronk throws Kuzco into and others were used to move irrigation water.

Based on what our Peruvian guides told us, there are, however, some misfires in The Groove. No women, other than perhaps the queen (Inca rulers had many wives. Some of the rulers had as many as 100 children) would have had positions of power or decision making. Sorry Yzma. But she wouldn’t have come anywhere near the throne.

no throne

Next is Pacha’s cart. No one has been able to definitively prove how the Inca managed to move the enormous stones that make up sites like the ceremonial sites of Sacsayhuaman or Ollantytambo and piece them together perfectly  with no mortar.

big stone

Some stones are over 300 tons

Some say they simply used manpower and logs to roll the stones quarried from many miles away. Others look to the stars and believe ancient aliens assisted. Either way, the Inca did not have access to the wheel so there wouldn’t have been a cart. Pacha would have just tied the sack holding Kuzco to his llama.

no wheel

I find myself laughing throughout the Emperor’s New Groove. It’s a classic buddy movie filled with snappy dialogue, crazy situations and unique characters. No one gets hurt, there’s a happy ending and the movie is filled with subtle, but, accurate representations of the Inca people and their world.

The time I spent in Peru allowed me to see and learn about a culture that encompassed a vast , well organized, culturally rich empire, populated by people skilled in astronomy, architecture, agriculture and economics. I also found their descendants to be warm, welcoming and proud to help me learn about their history.

Gettin’ into the Emperor’s Groove

My wife and I are on vacation in Peru, so this will be a real short post. We’ve come from Lima, the capital and arrived in Cusco, which is the city our favorite Incan ruler, Kuzco is named after. Then we’re headed for the Inca Trail and Macchu Picchu.


Boom Baby, See ya’ll next week!

Keeping Disney Time

I’ve written in the past about collecting Disneyana (See Hooked on Collecting). One of the items, I have gravitated to are timepieces. In the book “The Mickey Mouse Watch, From the Beginning of Time” by Robert Heide & John Gilmen, they relate that Tim Luke, who was working then as the head of collectibles at Christie’s, called the Mickey Mouse timepieces pivotal and central to the theme of Disneyana collecting.

I don’t wear any jewelry regularly, other than my wedding band. But, wearing a Disney watch seems like a way to make a statement without being flashy and it can be a great conversation starter. I have some very nice non-Disney watches that I wear regularly. But I also have some Disney watches that I find myself wearing often. All the items in the post are from my collection.


LtoR: SII Marketing; WDW original artwork (they used to sell these at Uptown Jewelers on Main St); Seiko; early D23 gift; Kodak, WDW 25th Anniversary; WDW SE Collector’s Series

I also have collected some very early Disney watches which I don’t wear. Watches were not the first item Disney granted merchandising rights for. That goes to a simple pad of paper in 1929, shortly after the release of Steamboat Willie. Watches didn’t appear until 1933 and were first produced by the Waterbury Clock Company under the Ingersoll label . The first Mickey wristwatches were sold for $3.75.


Because the watches proved to be so popular, (Macy’s in NYC sold 11,000 of them in one day and they outsold the World’s Fair commemorative 3-1 in 1939). Ingersoll sold more than 2.5 million watches between 1933 and 1935. A Mickey watch was sealed in the NY World’s Fair time capsule in 1939. The watch I own is from 1934, identifiabke by the addition of “Made in the USA”, added to discourage counterfeiters.

Ingersoll also produced a pocket watch version in 1933. The original box was red like the wristwatch. The box I have is from a later model.


Once the watches popularity was established, Ingersoll added a deluxe version manufactured from 1937-1942. I haven’t been able to determine the exact year my watch is from.


In 1933 Disney released the Silly Symphony cartoon Three Little Pigs, which became an enormous success. Not only was the short Popular, with audiences coming to the theaters to see the Pigs, not necessarily the main features. The song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” sold records, sheet music and was easily on everyone’s lips. The watches sold by the thousands. The wolf’s eyes shift back and forth on the pocket watch version. A larger table alarm clock was produced in 1934 and sold for $1.39.

My collection moves ahead to the  what I believe is the 1950s with these two very different alarm clock styles from Bradley. One is a simple windup alarm clock. The other is more in the old whimsical Disney style with 2 bells.

This “Official Mouseketeer” watch is probably from the 1970s revival of the “New Mickey Mouse Club”.


These two mantel clocks from the 1980s. One is a Mickey Mouse 60th Anniversary. The other plays 6 melodies. both are by Seiko.

These are some more recent pieces I bought, because I liked the way they looked and they were limited editions.

Finally, here’s a pendulum style clock that I’ve been unable to track down any information about. Could be someone’s hand made piece. There’s no markings on it and the character image is very well done.


Starting with the Ingersoll watches, Disney timepieces were part of the overall merchandising genius of Herman “Kay” Kamen, the man Walt hired to manage character licensing. Ever watchful of the Disney brand, every licensed item had to be approved for quality by the Disney Company. By the time Snow White opened a complete merchandising campaign was ready to go on day one. It’s no secret that the licensing fees have always been a significant part of Disney company revenues. Thousands of watches and clocks have been produced over the years. So, a collector should be able to find something of interest with a price tag to match the budget.

Because there were and continue to be many different Disney character timepieces produced, it’s often hard to track down specific information, particularly on some of the older pieces. Part of the fun, is the detective work that’s required to specifically identify dates and manufacturers for any Disneyana item. If anyone has reliable information about the pieces I’ve included here, please let me know through a comment or email. Those of you who are hooked on collecting, like I am, happy hunting!


You’re Not a Villain if you take a Disney Vacation

mrtoad_detailI was in a restaurant the other day for the first time and on the inside cover of their wine list was an explanation for their approach to wine offerings. It begins with the following: “Ever been to Disneyland? Welcome to our version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (or splash and swirl mountain, if you prefer)”. A little further along, they talk about changing the way traditional wine lists are formatted. Toward the end of the page, they finish with “Remember, it’s just like Disneyland (without the long lines)”. On the one hand, the restaurant clearly wants its wine list seen as singularly inventive, ground breaking, fun and memorable, the waywalt watching painter many people viewed Disneyland. Whoever wrote this was a Mr. Toad fan, so probably someone who likes Disney theme parks enough to pick an attraction that had a large fan base. But, then after some explanation about how make the best use of the list, including some tips (take a look at it before coming in, ask the server for recommendations, let the server choose for you, or forget the wine and order scotch), the writer felt it necessary to cover the other half of the world’s view of the Happiest place on Earth, by making references to attraction lines. If you read my post What’s with you and the Disney Thing?, I’d say the writer has not come to terms with his or her inner Disney fan.

castle costWhen I hear other people talk about their Disney theme park vacations, some of the first comments they often make are related to three different complaints. First up is “It’s so expensive” (often followed by a “you know what I mean” look or a sigh). I’ll admit, a Disney theme park vacation is not going to be cheap. I do, however, believe one should think in terms of what value for your money. Even If you don’t stay at a hotel on the Disney property, you are getting an extremely immersive experience chock full of just about every vacation option you can think of, (with the exception of the actual ocean), all as close a short car or bus ride.  Here in NY a movie ticket will cost me $13 for about 2 hours of entertainment, including endless previews, commercials, not including snacks, A ticket to the Bronx Zoo is $37 and is limited to walking and watching the animals. I’ll let you do the math. And that doesn’t include all of the free activities that you can take advantage of once you are inside the park.

Wherever you roam within a Disney theme park, you can be assured of a consistently high quality of customer experience. There’s no surprise when playing round of miniature golf that the course will be clean, well managed and, of course, perfectly themed. Every interaction whether it’s an attraction that starts with a themed, often, covered queue or a restaurant, perhaps with characters, or character meet and greets, is handled with the highest quality and attention to detail. As the inventor of the modern7-guest-service-guidelines theme park, Walt always insisted on the highest levels of customer service at Disneyland. It all started with calling the employees Cast Members. Walt believed that a theme park visit should feel like going to a show or a movie. Once a Cast Member is “on stage” each guest interaction is handled with a smile and an honest desire to add to the your vacation’s enjoyment. That tradition continues today. Every time you interact with a cast member, you’re not only treated like a valued customer, but made to feel you are somehow special. Many of us have experienced an unexpected magical moment, like a fastpass, a free pin or help finding a lost item.

06_ParksBlog_BigTop_MerchDisplaySecond complaint is that Disney is too commercial and geared towards kids. Let’s put that first part into context. Every vacation spot in the world is a commercial undertaking. If, by commercial, those people mean that it’s all about Disney. Well, yes, it is. That’s why people would go to Disney parks, instead of some other vacation option. And, having souvenirs with those much loved characters is no different than being upsold a scuba excursion or Hawaiian Luau. And unless you’ve been kidnapped, blindfolded and released without your consent into Disneyland, I don’t think I’ve seen too many unhappy adults at Disney parks. (Unless they are they proud parents of an over tired, over stimulated child who should have been given a rest earlier in the day). Even if you’ve never seen a Disney movie, there’s plenty to enjoy that’s geared aswalt watching painter much for adults as it is for kids. You can play golf, laze about in a water park, be pampered at a Disney hotel or enjoy a world class meal. In addition, there is a growing number of rides that have height restrictions and are not designed for the youngest amongst us.

The restaurant’s wine list comment about the lines is the third most related complaint in my unofficial survey. I sympathize with those who spend the bettecastle fireworksr part of their Disney theme park vacation on line. However, I believe some flexibility and planning can do a lot to reduce the waits while improving the overall quality of one’s Disney vacation experience. Anyone who books a Disney vacation during a peak attendance period, should be resigned to some lines. If you can avoid those times (there is plenty of advice and statistical analysis on expected crowds across the many Disney fan sites), then, by all means, pick a less obviously busy day or days. Expecting an empty park during school Easter break or between Christmas and New Year’s is like expecting a private showing of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center any day in December.

Even if you can’t or can go any other time, I find it rather amazing that many of the same people who complain about costs for Disney vacations, do little or no planning. People will scour the internet for the cheapest airfares, hotels and rental cars. But not doing any planning at all for your time in Parks is just asking for lots of waiting, extra walking, planning-ecardmissed experiences and an overall cranky group of people. If you don’t want to do the planning, there are websites that will help you do it. Some will even ask the age range of the people in your group, whether you want to minimize walking or waiting, hours you want to spend in the park and will consider historical crowd levels to give you a good chance of having an extremely enjoyable time. You can even build in breaks, meals and other special Disney park experiences like parades and fireworks. And there are many well reviewed travel agencies that specialize in planning and arranging Disney vacations from the parks to cruises to Disney adventures. So, don’t stop your planning at plane fare and insure that your hard-earned dollars translate in a vacation that you don’t regret taking.

A Disney vacation is not everyone’s cup of un-birthday tea. Just as climbing Everest or a week of some city’s oldest churches is not going to be at the top of everyone’s list for leisure activity.  Sure, there might be situations where you might not get the best spot for watching a parade, the highly prized meal at Be Our Guest might elude you or keeping everyone in your group happy means that you don’t get a second ride on Splash Mountain. And there are some extras that are beyond many people’s budgets, like the Chef’s Table at the Napa Rose. But, there are so many other options, I defy anyone to say that there aren’t enough options to make your vacation fun and leave you feeling you’ve gotten good value for your money. With some planning, some thought about what’s most important to you and a little flexibility you’ll not only have a great time, but also experience the unexpected magical pixie dust that makes you feel like you too can fly.

peter pan flying.jpeg

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