Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

Archive for December, 2017

2017 Best of The Disney Connection

I’ve had great fun writing this blog. I spend a good amount of time every week reading and thinking about Walt and the Disney company he founded. So, writing the blog is something I look forward to every week. I’ve tried, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much, to keep my posts focused on Walt’s legacy as well as where the foundation he laid has led or taken us today. I’ve been very pleased, often surprised at the level of interest in my writing, even though I purposely do not offer current events, Disney announcements or reviews. I think there are more than enough people and websites doing those things. I’ve listed some of them on this page.

You’ve all stuck with me through a period of writer’s block (see “Oh Where oh Where has My Disney Muse Gone?“) and my November writing challenge which I discussed in “Inspired by Walt to get Creative” and then used to think about Walt as a writer in “Why Writers Matter“. I can’t tell you how great it feels to look at the statistics page for my site and see how many people stop by, like a particular post or leave a comment. I’m particularly thankful for the Facebook group page administrators who have graciously allowed me to post my weekly blog. Much of the visitor traffic is the result of those pages. I also want to thank 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:

walt-disney-story-tellingBack in March there were 50 views of, “Ahead of His Time. . . Again“, which looked at ways that Walt’s genius for developing film products is still being used by modern software developers.

 

D23 Times SquareMy “Report on D23’s Behind the Scenes NYC Event” chronicled on of my favorite D23 events ever was visited 81 times.

 

 

IMG_5705My experience taking the “Walk in Walt’s Footsteps” Tour in Disneyland was viewed 131 times.

 

 

 

d23 2017 crowdThe October commentary and criticism about the 2017 D23 Expo, I called “D23 Expo is still a Fixer Upper” was viewed 279 times and received many comments on Facebook group pages,.

 

The two most popular posts came in July and were both related to the 2017 D23 Expo fan event.

D23-Expo-Balloons-1A report on my 3 days at the D23 Expo, I called “D23 Expo 2017 Magical Afterglow“, elicited many comments and was viewed 319 times.

 

expo_Banner_2017The most viewed post of the year was “D23 Expo 2017 Pre-Event Excitement” which described my excitement before attending the bieniall, Disney, fan extravaganza was visited 561 times.

I hope all of you, your families and friends have a happy and prosperous 2018. I hope to hear from all of you in the new year.

 

Wishing you all a Happy Holiday & a Joyous New Year!

Thank you all for reading my posts and your kind, supportive comments during the past year. In the spirit of giving, I’d like to share the Disney Studio’s 1938 Christmas card from my Disneyana collection.

 

1938 Xmas card 1

1938 Xmas card 2

1938 Xmas card3

1938 Xmas card 4

Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse – Inseparable

walt and mickeyWe recognized some major calendar milestones in the months of November and December. The birth of Mickey Mouse in November as well as the birthday and anniversary of the passing of his creator Walt Disney. Walt was, without a doubt, always the creative driving force behind all the Disney successes and failures during his lifetime. But, the idea of Mickey and the amazing animators and artists who gave him life were not responsible for his meteoric and continued success. For that, Walt left nothing to chance and imprinted himself on the character.

Mickey and Walt are forever linked. Mickey was created out of an act of business

Mickey_Mouse_concept_art

Earliest known drawing of Mickey Mouse

survival. Losing Oswald the Rabbit to a sneaky film promoter, which, while it might have led to the end of Disney brother’s company, lit the fires of Walt’s imagination, leading to the creation of the mouse that still roars. It’s likely that the spark of creation that was Mickey Mouse would keep the character close to his heart for many years. It’s not surprising that Walt couldn’t find a suitable voice for the character. And, he didn’t relinquish the role until 1946. Even though, by then he was incredibly busy overseeing many films in development and production, he knew he was the only one who could give voice to a character that was really an extension of himself – an alter ego, perhaps.

Early Mickey Mouse

It isn’t surprising, then, that the many of the early shorts are full of many settings and situations that show Walt’s fingerprints. Farms and farm animals are well represented in shorts like The Barn Dance, The Plowboy and Musical Farmer.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that trains, something close to Walt’s heart, figured prominently in Mickey’s Choo Choo.

And, while Walt never showed any particular musical abilities, the films make judicious use of music, to drive the action and the gags. Anything became an instrument from animal teeth, spaghetti, train tracks, boat and train whistles, even ducks, chickens, animals and more traditional instruments. Walt clearly understood the importance of music and he continued to use to maximum effect in all of his films.

We can be assume that since Walt probably approved every script and frame of the early shorts, it’s interesting how the early Mickey had many of Walt’s personality characteristics. Like Walt, Mickey is forever optimistic, whether he’s trying to build and fly do-it-yourself airplanes, courting Minnie, or cheering her up after rescuing her from the ocean. Mickey’s also a problem solver. Many of the problems he encounters are of his own making, but he always finds a way to get things done. Walt was always creating problems for himself and his staff, creatively and technologically. Many of the difficult situations arose because Walt was always pushing the limits of what could be accomplished in the mediums of animation, film and theme parks. But, he always managed to match the right person to the difficult tasks whether it was making X Atencio a songwriter or recognizing Bob Gurr’s wizardry with wheeled machines.

Walt also instilled Mickey with his own brand of small town, childish humor. Many of the shorts include situations that involve cow’s udders, Minnie’s bloomers, and the use of outhouses. I’ve read that, even though he gave a kind of buttoned up image, Walt was very fond of what we would call today, bathroom humor. Other accounts told of him adding many of those kinds of gags to early animated shorts, much to the chagrin of some of the other creatives on the staff.

In his own way, this early Mickey is a take charge guy who doesn’t hesitate to ask Minnie to get on stage and play an instrument, or want to drive the steamboat. All accounts describe Walt as someone who wanted things his way or not at all. Even though the company started out in 1923 as Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, in 1925 Walt informed his partner and brother that the studio would henceforth be called Walt Disney Studio. He said that it was his name that they were building the company around. I don’t think he wanted any audience doubt about who was in charge. The lack of credit accorded to the people doing the heavy lifting part of the work was the reason why his long time friend and collaborator Ub Iwerks left him to work elsewhere. Given how important Iwerks was to the fledgling Studio’s success, many in Walt’s shoes would have done anything to keep such a valuable asset. But, Walt hardly missed a beat.

As Walt got further away from hands on work with Mickey, you can see changes in the character that practically built the Studio. The changes may have been due to others taking over primary responsibility for story and character. Not only did Mickey’s look change, certainly approved by Walt, but he began to mirror more of contemporary society.

mickey-mouse-gallery-03

No longer the chaos creating scamp of the early shorts. Mickey settled in as a more dapper and conventional man of the 40s and 50s. Pluto is the ever present man’s best friend and we often see Mickey in more indoor settings. Instead of stealing kisses from Minnie by scaring her with loop the loops in a plane, he courts her with flowers and gallantry. It’s possible Walt thought that the symbol of his company should be more accessible and politically correct. But, it’s also possible that Mickey had a personality transplant.

The image of Mickey today is that of a corporate ambassador. He’s someone you want to hug or expect to obediently ride atop a parade float rather than execute a practical joke with him. With the occasional excursion into something more like the old days as we recently saw in Pixar’s Get a Horse.

Mickey is a model citizen showing off a very large wardrobe at the Parks and other public appearances. There’s nothing wrong with the Mickey that recent generations have come to know and love. We may not want to admit it. But we all age and slow down.

In the wake of the spectacular success of the animated features, by the 1040s Mickey was no longer starring in his own shorts. Fantasia had originally been considered as a feature that would star Mickey. Walt changed direction and created a ground breaking art piece. But, Walt kept Mickey in there. And, as his last contribution to the legend of Mickey Mouse, he left us with what may be one Mickey’s most iconic images – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with his oversized robe and the wizard’s hat. That Mickey lives on in many forms including being adopted as the mascot of Disney Imagineering.

Walt_Disney_Imagineering

It’s only natural that future generations may gravitate or identify more with characters in the Marvel and now 21st Century worlds. I think everyone will still have a soft spot for the Mouse that started it all, even if they don’t understand the important role that Mickey played in making everything we associate with Disney in the 21st century possible. I do hope that as long as Mickey is the symbol of the Disney Company, we will continue to be reminded of Walt Disney himself.

 

A Disney Musical Connection

Steamboat-willie-title2Up until recently I believed that my only connection to Walt Disney and the Disney company was that I liked going to the Parks, enjoyed the movies and collected Disneyana. But, while going through some old family photos as such, I came across something I probably had looked at many times, but never made the psychic connection had a link to Disney through music. Music has always been an important part of any Disney production from the first silly-symphony-opening-card-c2a9-walt-disneysound film Steamboat Willie to later shorts like the Silly Symphonies to today’s academy award winning songs. It’s also an important part of our theme park experiences. Whether it’s the soundtracks for rides like Rock n’ Roller Coaster and Splash Mountain or the instantly recognizable parade songs or the background music that sets the tone for each of the lands in all of the Parks around the world. Music is all around us when we are there.

IMG_7344While I am not particularly musical, I did have a famous relative who was. His name is probably not an instant “Wow” to the current or even my generation. But, if you were listening to popular music in the 40s to the early 60s, Dick Manning was well known composer and radio personality. By himself and with collaborators he provided lyrics and music to songs sung by eras songsters like Perry Como, Patti Page, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong, Kate Smith, Dinah Shore, Donny and Marie Osmand, Annette Funicello, (Ah, some Disney Bells went off on those last two, didn’t they?”) and many others.

The most direct connection is through that loveable Mousketeer Annette. In 1960, my grandfather co-wrote a song called O Dio Mio, which was released as a single and later as part of several albums of Annette’s greatest hits. Here’s Annette being introduced by Dick Clark on American Bandstand (The MTV of several generations), singing the song.

Dick’s collaborator is also a Disney connection. His partner on that song and many of his other great hits was Al Hoffman. Disney music buffs will recognize that name from some very well known Disney tunes,

Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo

A Dream is a Wish your Heart Makes

and So This is Love

all from Cinderella. And from Alice in Wonderland, The Unbirthday Song

IMG_7345Dick Manning and Al Hoffman wrote many songs which were used in al hoffmanmovies and television, including some Disney productions. One of Dick’s biggest hits were his lyrics for 1905 waltz melody called Fascination, which was featured most recently on Dancin’ with the Stars in 2011 and 2012. Fascination was also heard in Disney’s Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, in the scene wherein Herbie plays this song on his radio, to the Lancia Scorpion later named “Giselle”, much to the annoyance of driver Diane Darcy.

Another successful song that was used on DWTS 2006 Season 3, was Papa Loves Mambo, a song that was covered by many recording stars of that era including Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Pearl Bailey was danced to by Sara Evans & Tony Dovolani.

It’s played in the of Par-Tay episode in TV series The Middle. And When Disney owned Miramax the song can be heard in the Pallbearer. Perry Como can be heard singing the song in the 2006 movie Stick It. These two songs can be heard in many other non-Disney movies like Diner, My Cousin Vinny, Ocean’s Eleven and on TV in the Sopranos.

For those of you who might have been listening in the Land Pavilion at Epcot, Dick’s song Allegheny Moon, originally recorded by Patti Page could also be heard in a music loop that used to play inside until sometime in the early 2000s.

elvis hawaiin wedding songAnd there’s a couple of three degrees of separation that connect singers who have appeared in Disney animated films. Elvis’, whose music is famously featured in Lilo and Stitch recorded Dick’s Hawaiian Wedding Song, the last number in the movie Blue Hawaii.

And that great motivator Donny Osmand as Shang, who rallied his troops in Mulan, recorded Morning Side of the Mountain in 1974 with his sister Marie who competed in DWTS season 5. The song was on the Billboard top 100 and made number 1 on the easy listening chart.

My Grandfather came from a strong musical background. His father, David, an emigre from the Ukraine has several recordings of folk songs in the Library of Congress. With his wife they performed around the world and in NY’s Yiddish theater in the 1920s. Dick had a long and varied career which started in radio when he had his own music show. In addition to popular music he wrote the words and music for a musical called The Fifth Season, which ran off Broadway in New York as well as a Rhapsody. His contribution to Disney is limited, but I found it fun to research how it has been used. He wrote at a time when clever lyrics and melodies were very popular and many artists might record a well received song. It’s always a little thrill when I catch part of one of his songs in a movie. And I like thinking that I have a connection to Disney, even if it’s slightly removed. I think Dick would have been pleased that his creations have continued to be enjoyed by new generations of listeners. Here’s a listing of his most popular songs from the promotional piece I found:

Dick Manning Songs

Why Writers Matter

NaNo-2017-Winner-Twitter-HeaderWith the passing of November so passes the annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWrimo) challenge of writing a novel in thirty days. According to my calculations, at 6pm on November 27th I crossed the NaNoWrimo 50,000 word finish line. The official word count on their computer was about 58,000. I must have lost track of some words along the way. The draft of my future best seller will be left to rest for at least  a couple of weeks as I give myself a breather. To give you some perspective on why I am so proud of this accomplishment I offer these facts into evidence. I’m not a professional writer. The weekly Disney Connection blog I’ve been submitting for your enjoyment over the past year typically runs about 1,500 words and usually takes me between 3-4 days to write, edit and layout. According to my NaNoWrimo Dashboard, for the 27 days I wrote, I averaged 1,932 words, writing every day. My best one day word count day was 11,000! I went from running a couple of laps around the track to tackling a marathon with no training period. There was no carb loading, no daily stretching, just BIC (Butt in Chair) and fingers on the keyboard. So, I hope you will forgive me for using this space to crow about my accomplishment. I have proudly hung my “Winners” certificate on the wall of my office.

2017 Nanowrimo winner cert

I see a hand raised in the back of the room. Yes? You’re asking, “So, what has this got to do with Walt Disney?” I’m glad you asked that. Among all of the things Walt Disney accomplished in his lifetime, he was, first and foremost a story teller – a writer. Having taken a month to see what it’s like to do what he did, almost every day, here’s what I have learned from all my hard work this month.

Walt Disney hard at workFirst, no great or even good writing appears on the page, fully formed and perfectly written. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back (or if you’re Shakespeare they kill themselves) is just the framework. The hard work is making that story arc interesting by populating the story with characters, good and bad, and placing them somewhere the audience can identify. Creating a plot and story arc that the audience can follow, builds to a climax and then finishes with a satisfying ending is harder than most people think it is. I’m sure when I read back what I wrote, the plot will have all kinds of unexplained holes that need to be filled and the climax probably lacks emotional punch. It all seemed so simple when I wrote my four sentence plot summary.

snow white model sheet

I think I could make the argument that Snow White was the one animated feature that Walt wrote himself. In 1934, he pulled some his animators together on a soundstage for, what is now considered, a legendary session, during which he acted out the entire story for them. Walt was a visual artist so, he hadn’t written the story down on paper. But, he had spent considerable time writing it in his head so he could tell the tale. He couldn’t get away with the short film format which was really just a series of comedic gags. Walt knew that he could never sustain the feature film length without a strong story that would captivate the audience.

snow white model sheet posesSecond, a good story must be supported by characters that the audience comes to know and care or, in the case of the villain, hate. As I wrote my story, I found I still hadn’t really gotten to know my characters well enough. In scene after scene I discovered new details about their lives. As a result, my characters, seem to lurch between different emotions and don’t always act consistently from scene to scene. Snow White, and all of the other characters (with the possible exception of the Prince) have distinct enough personalities that most of us could write our own stories about them beyond what appeared in the movie. It’s not just the names of the Dwarfs that tell us who they are. It’s how they act with each other and how they interact with Snow White. Even the Huntsman, who appears only briefly, is someone who we come to understand and feel for, from the moment he is given his assignment to just before he has a change of heart (credit Milt Kahl and Co. for an amazing acting job along with Walt and the directors). There are no wishy-washy characters (maybe the Prince). Every character has his or her own set of objectives (even the Prince) and the story is driven forward by their desire to reach their goals.

Third, setting the story somewhere and describing it in enough detail to allow the reader to enter the fictional or real world is what sets a novel apart from a movie or play. Since I was writing a historical piece, I tried to gather enough information before I started writing to accurately describe life in Southern California in the mid 1960s. As it turned out, I woefully underestimated the kind of detail I would need to know. This meant frequent trips back to books and the internet to try and see and feel what a restaurant would have looked like, what cars they drove, clothing, houses, etc. Even if I were writing in the present, I would still need to be observant enough to tell someone what they needed to see in their mind’s eye.

Multiplane CameraConsiderable time and effort was put into backgrounds, costumes, settings for both the real things in Snow White as well as the fantasy elements, like the Queen’s laboratory and the Magic Mirror. If that had not been accomplished so well, our attention would have been drawn away from the story and focused on what we knew to be “wrong” or out of place. The use of the multi-plane camera provided more believability to the settings by giving a sense of real depth to what are only flat drawings.

 

Finally, the protagonist must overcome obstacles that increasingly raise the stakes. Each new challenge should have the potential to keep our hero from succeeding. The higher the stakes the more interesting the story. I can tell you from my experience that finding ways to get your hero into trouble without having Martians drop in from outer space is no easy task. Snow White finds herself almost killed and forced to run through the scary forest at night. This is followed by having to convince the Dwarfs to let her stay with them. She fails her last challenge, the apple, and needs the Dwarfs and the Prince to bail her out. I prefer to see my heroes solve their own problems. I think Pinocchio’s story follows a better path of obstacles to his eventual redemption and success.

The NaNoWrimo site offered this at the end of the month:

nanowrimo end of month message

Good stories and storytelling were the cornerstone of the Disney brand and its success and continue to be today. Many stories that are now considered legendary kicked around the studio for years before Walt or current Disney management felt they were “ready”. The Little Mermaid which premiered in 1989 was a story Walt had his people do work on right after Snow White was finished in 1937. Even then, once stories are in production, the stories continue to be reworked and refined.

Early on, Walt relied heavily on fairy tales and other stories he had enjoyed as a child or, in the case of Mary Poppins, stories he would read to his children. “What?” you say, JoeGrant3_Disney“Couldn’t he come up with his own stories?” I see nothing wrong with the approach he took. He took well written pieces and found ways to have them speak to new generations through the magic of animation and later live action films. Walt’s uncanny ability to recognize what his audiences would respond to was part of his story telling genius. He also had a knack for finding the right people to collaborate with and help him work out the final version of the story.

Writers of movies and television rarely get the credit they deserve. Most novelists toil in obscurity and few become household names even after their work hits the NY Times best seller list. But, make no mistake – writers are the engine of many mediums. Those of you who pursue the illusive satisfaction of a well written piece, as I do, regardless of the medium, should be proud, not only of your finished work,  but of the effort it takes just to try.

Here are some of my favorite authors (no particular order). Who are the authors you like to read?:

favorite authors

J.K. Rowling, Ernest Hemingway, J.R.R. Tolkien, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dan Brown, Rex Stout, Harper Lee, Isaac Asimov, Erik Larsen, David McCullough

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