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Revisiting Mary Poppins before she Returns

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.

 

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The Disney Connection December Giveaway

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!

Celebrating the Spirit of Mickey Mouse

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.

 

Seriously, Let’s Not Forget the Gags

Patience, they say, is a virtue. For my readers who have patiently waited for me to post – You’re all very virtuous and I’m pleased that you’ve come back again. I take my blog writing very seriously, (even if the content isn’t always serious). Part of that is an effort to not let my other life cross over into my blog world. Unfortunately, I’ve hit one of those bumps in the road of life that is making that separation difficult. But, more about that in a bit.

It usually takes me about a week to write, edit, format and add media to my posts. Because I’ve been in a bit of a funk, I’m going to do something different and just put words on the page one at a time until I’ve told you what’s on my mind. After all, every successful writer will tell you that you can’t finish something until you’ve started. Walt put it very well when he said, “The Way Get Started Is To Quit Talking And Begin Doing”. So, I’m going to start.

Life is full of complications, obstacles and unforeseen circumstances. Like, Br’er Rabbit, how we overcome life’s obstacles, in some way defines us. Br’er Rabbit escaped (sorry, there should have been a spoiler alert there) because he understood his adversaries’ weaknesses. My go to in tough times has always been humor. Laughter makes me feel better and tends to not drive away the friends and family who might be able to help me.

Many people, including his daughter and many of the talented people who worked with Walt over the years have said that one of Walt’s best qualities was his sense of humor. Walt encouraged the creation of gags, both in film and later in Disneyland. As we have just celebrated the opening of Toy StoryLand in Orlando and many changes to the theme parks in the U.S. like Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, I’ve been thinking about whether current Disney Imagineers are still following Walt’s lead and finding ways to keep us laughing.

Even in movies that dealt with difficult ideas, like the death of a loved one such as Bambi or cruelty in Cinderella, Walt made sure that there was a heavy dose of gags sprinkled throughout the film. Sometimes the bits were focused on one character as in the scene from Snow White where Dopey chases the soap before swallowing it. There’s a moment in Bambi where after Thumper has convinced Bambi to go out on the ice, Thumper has to work carefully to get all of Bambi’s legs standing straight.  It’s an amazing scene, animated by supervising animator Travis Johnson, full of visual gags, broad expressions and situations.

In films like Cinderella and Pinocchio the Disney creative team gave us a duo to carry much of the humor. It’s likely that Walt would have seen vaudeville type shows growing up. The shows would often feature comedy teams like Weber and Fields or Smith and Dale. Much of Vaudeville humor was based on sight gags, often punctuated by one of the team getting knocked down or hit with something, and plays on words or outright mispronunciation. Gus and Jacques fill that role in Cinderella, with Jacques as the straight man and Gus providing most of the laughs. Gus struggling to pick up as many corn kernels as he can is classic visual and physical comedy. Later on, Gus’ gives us the word play angle when he yells of “Happy Birthday” instead of surprise when the mice unveil Cinderella’s dress.

I think some of the more recent animated movies provide a good mix of visual and verbal gags. Olof in Frozen gets some great mileage out of his body’s ability to break apart and come back together. And there are too many moments to list where his natural naïveté makes for some hysterical moments – “♫ I’ll be a . . .  happy snowman! ♪” “Why isn’t she knocking? Do you think she knows how to knock?” A big shout out to the animators of Hei Hei in Moana. He’s really a mime. So, everything he does is a sight gag. Dory’s different names for Nemo is a classic comedy, running gag.

I am concerned about the recent theme park trends that focus on thrills and high-tech immersive experiences. Pirates and Haunted mansion are immersive, but still have a large helping of gags. On the other hand, Guardians of the Galaxy:Mission Breakout is about great visual effects and the drops as is the original Tower of Terror. Both seem to rely on cast members to provide the fun. Which is fine. But, not all cast members are equally as adept with comedy. So, it’s a bit of a crap shoot. Nothing new in the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. It’s really about theming and animated animatronics. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s fabulously well done and faithfully recreates moments from the film. But, the Imagineers didn’t come up with any new jokes, they just reused the gags from the film. I won’t comment on Toy Storyland, since I haven’t seen it. But I hear there are some subtle sight gags. Will the upcoming Tron and Guardians of the Galaxy attractions at Walt Disney World keep the line moving and give us some laughs along with the thrills? We’ll see.

Walt used to pay people $5, cold, hard cash for gags. That was a good sized bonus in the 30s and 40s. I wonder if current Disney management offers incentives for laughs? I’m sure there many laughs in more recent theme park additions that I haven’t thought of. I don’t get to the parks as often as I’d like. If you know of one, let me know so I can get a chuckle next time I see it.

Getting back to my bump in the road and why I’ve been thinking about humor and not blogging. The 20-year relationship with my employer ended unexpectedly due to a large restructuring in advance of being acquired by another company. I haven’t had to look for a job in a long time. Technology and social media have drastically changed the job search landscape. Reaching out to a network of people used to involve, primarily phone calls. Today, it’s LinkedIn, that drives a lot of action. The bigger your LinkedIn network, the more people will be keeping their eyes and ears open for me. So, I would be grateful to anyone who would be willing to send me a connection request so I can continue to find new sources of information about jobs or companies I might interview with in the future. The bigger your network, the better it looks to those who will, inevitably, look at it as part of the interview process. My LinkedIn profile can be found at https://www.linkedin.com/in/brad-kramer/It would be great if you could connect with a note, so I can figure out what we have in common. This concludes the self-promotion portion of the blog post. Now back to the laughs.

Ultimately, Walt liked to give us a laugh along with a tear or two. He even named his early company Laugh-O-grams. I, for one, find some of my favorite movies, even action ones, like Raiders of the Lost Arc or Mission Impossible Whichever, mix in some humor and make the movie better.

For those of you who are struggling with your own life road obstacles. Try a laugh. It works for me.  What do you do when life seems to have gotten the better of you?

As I said earlier, I’m going to forgo the usual media parts of this blog post. It’s just been too long a stretch without sharing. I’ll let you, my readers, be the judge of whether this  post maintains the standards that I have set for myself.

laughograms

 

I See Disney. . . Everywhere.

Disney on the brainIt’s been a few weeks since my last post. I hit a bit of a speed bump on the road of life. I Frequent readers of The Disney Connection will not be surprised if I say Disney can creep into my thoughts, even at times and in places where even I would think it couldn’t possibly find a way in.

On one of our frequent trips into Manhattan, my wife and I had finished our lunch on a bench outside Mamoun’s Falafel (opened in 1971, they lay claim to being one of the first Falafel restaurants in the country and first in NYC).  We wandered the quirky streets of mamouns felafel2the West Village, famous in story, song, TV and movies. If you haven’t visited “The Village”, then perhaps you’ve seen When Harry Met Sally, the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Barefoot in the Park, Glee and so many others where the Village is featured prominently. No, I did not see a Disney item in the window of a second hand store to add to my collection. And it wasn’t a child in a stroller wearing a Disney t-shirt. Before I get to the answer, I need to go back in time a bit. Hang in there.

NYU is one, if not, the largest tenant of the Village. My son is a recent graduate of Tisch School of the Arts and my wife earned one of her two graduate degrees from NYU’S Gallatin School of individualized Study. In our previous lives as actors, my wife and I spent long hours in this artsy part of NYC.

The community center of this world is Washington Square Park.  The park’s dominating features are the Washington Square Arch at the northern gateway to the park and the fountain which sits to its South.

WSP Fountain

washingtonsqpark at night

The Park has a tradition of celebrating nonconformity and the buildings surrounding the park have, at one time, probably served as homes and studios for artists and other artistic rabble rousers.

Today they are primarily NYU owned buildings. On a beautiful weekend like the day we were there, there’s all kinds of people and activities going on. So, what about that Disney thing I started this with? Ok, here it comes.

So, my wife and I are strolling through the park, enjoying the day along with hundreds of others. At one point I had my back to the fountain and I’ looking towards the Arch, and what is it that strikes me? Take a look at this picture.

Washington Square Park ArchLook familiar? No, not the Empire State Building. Maybe it’s the angle. How about now?

It’s easy to see how the hub and spoke design in WSP made me think of Disney theme parks. If you enter through the Arch the fountain is a Weenie, drawing visitors inside the park.

WashingtonSquarePark fountain from arch

Just like the Disney Castles or Epcot’s Spaceship Earth. For those of who aren’t familiar with the term Weenie, here’s how Diane Disney Miller explained it to Jim Korkis:

Dad would park his car in the garage and come in to the house through the kitchen. He would go to the refrigerator and pull out two uncooked hot dogs, one for himself and one for the dog. He would play with her, wiggling the hot dog around and she would go wherever he moved around and was so happy when she finally got her treat. It was part of an evening ritual and both of them loved it and looked forward to it.”

Walt saw that he could control where he wanted her to go by waving this treat around and the joy she had when she finally got her reward. So, Walt used the word “wienie” to explain to the WED designers of Disneyland of how he wanted to get guests to move to a certain area.

From the hub you choose a path to other parts of the Park. Looks very much the same in WSP.

wsp map

The parallels don’t end with the Park layout.

Maybe you want a Fantasyland experience. Well to the West there’s a children’s playground, covered in turf.

Want an experience in Adventureland? Take on the many chess hustlers who take up residence every day. Why is it an adventure? Well, most of them want to play what’s known as speed chess. The entire match might be over in less than 10 minutes. And, your wallet will be lighter as well.

Chess_in_Washington_Square_Park.jpgOr, you can watch the skateboarders put their limbs on the line wherever there’s an open or mostly open piece of concrete and steps. or you can be a true adventurer and try it out for yourself. Skateboard and insurance not included in your admission price.

There’s even a nod to Frontierland if you take a look at this statue of Garbaldi.

He’d be right at home alongside the Country Bears, right?

As for the World of Tomorrow? Well, all around you, is the urban sprawl of the NYU campus, educating future leaders, artists, lawyers  and scientists in Tomorrowland.

nyu flagsAnd, doesn’t this building remind you of a certain futuristic, A-frame building that overlooks the Magic Kingdom in Florida?

You can almost see the monorail blazing a path against the sky. What about the monorail, you say? Okay, the NYC subway is hardly the futuristic transportation of tomorrow Walt envisioned. But there are plenty of busses and even ferries that touch all points of Manhattan island.

No fast passes are required to partake of the parks activities. Read a book, have a picnic or take in some sun in the warm weather. There’s even streetmosphere and entertainment, like this wonderful singer of French songs and her accompanist we sat to listen to that day.

WSP Singers

wsp piano player

You might get to hear other kinds of music as well as see jugglers, comedians and performance artists, just like the Boardwalk. I’ll bet the keyboard player at Casey’s on Main St. at the Magic Kingdom would love to play a piano like this.

 

Disney Parks have parades, you say. Yes, WSP has them too. Granted the parades are not often for entertainment, but might be organized protest marches. The park has a long history of social activism. The first labor march occurred there in 1834 to protest the use of prisoners to clean building stones. And, 20,000 marched in 1912 to remember the lives lost in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in a surrounding building.

WSP Triangle Factory protest

WSP protest paradeEven so, the WSP are still colorful and entertaining. This one, on the day we were there, even had a red umbrella theme. Most of the marches end up in the shadow of the Arch, where there is usually staged a kind of Castle forecourt event, with speakers and other activities that usually elicit cries and applause from the gathered crowds.

Scene from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel recreating the Jane Jacobs WSP protest

In some cases you will need your park pass or don’t expect admittance. In the spring of 1961, the NYC parks commissioner refused a permit to the folksingers for their Sunday afternoon gatherings, because “the folksingers have been bringing too many undesirable beatnik elements into the park.”That April, folk music pioneer Izzy Young, who had been trying to get permits for the folksingers, along with about 500 musicians and supporters gathered in the park and sang songs without a permit, then held a procession from the park through the arch at Fifth Avenue, and marched to the Judson Memorial Church on the other side of the park. At about the time the musicians and friends reached the church, the New York City Police Department Riot Squad was sent into the park, attacked civilians with billy clubs, and arrested 10 people. The incident made the front pages of newspapers as far away as Washington, DC. Security in the Big Apple is not always as understanding as those in the happiest place on Earth.

Beatniks-washington-square-park protest

Any visitor to a Disney Park is expecting to eat something. Not only does WSP have food choices inside, but around the park are more options than you can find in the EPCOT World showcase. Standing on Bleeker street near the park, you can see, an Irish pub, Felafel, Belgian fries, Sushi and other international choices. I’m not even counting the chains like Starbucks. Alas, no food plans are offered, unless you’re an NYU student, and your parents took out a second mortgage to pay the tuition.

There are often vendors in place of the expected gift shops. And you don’t have to go through one to exit WSP. This one looks an awful lot like a pin station. Not sure your going to find plush toys. But mid town at the Disney Store you’ll find Disney priducts with NYC themes.

button vendor WSP.jpg

I think its important in our fast paced lives to, occasionally, stop, look around, notice whats right in front of you. After all, life is what happens when you’re doing other things. Drag your eyes away from your particular device obsession and be in the moment. You’d be surprised what you might find and where it will lead you. I hope you’ve enjoyed this flight of fancy as I’ve taken you for the nickel tour of the inside of my Disney imagination. See ya real soon!

Be a Reader like Walt Disney

The birthday (publication date) of my wife, Jackie Azúa Kramer’s, second children’s picture book, reminded me of how important the activity of reading is, not only for children, but for adults.

As a result, I was also reminded that all of you who are reading this post and the hundreds who’ve read my past posts are taking time out of your undoubtedly busy day to read. In fact, many of you have followed my Blog. That means that there are people out there who have chosen reading my post as an important part of your day. I’ll get back to this later, but I want to focus on reading.

I wouldn’t call myself an avid reader. But I am a regular reader. My literary tastes run the gamut from Sci-Fi/Fantasy to Biography, Mystery, Humor and yes, Disney related books. I recently finished Three Years in Wonderland: The Disney Brothers, C.V. Wood and the Making of the Great American Theme Park. It’s heavily researched and presents

CV Wood & Disney

Disney, C.V. Wood & Bud Price

a view of the many difficulties encountered as Walt willed Disneyland into existence. The figure of Wood figures prominently in the Disneyland creation story in a way that the Disney company has never promoted. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Wood was more instrumental than people like Admiral Joe Fowler or Roy Disney in getting the park open on that memorable and hot day in July 1959. Either way Wood’s story, and how his particular talents for promotion and salesmanship may have made Disneyland possible, is a fascinating read. There are some unique insights into how much the park meant to Walt,by people who were there, and what he was willing to do to make it a reality.

ink-and-paint-departmentI’ve talked before  in a post Inspired by Walt to Get Creative about the amazing book Ink and Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation. For fans of Disney history, especially, the animated films, this book is a must read. And read you will. This coffee table sized book is meticulously researched and filled with personal accounts of the talented, dedicated and creative women who worked in anonymity, advancing the art of inking and painting cels. The book pulls back the curtain on the lengths that Disney was willing to go to make his animated films the best there ever was. None of us takes for granted the skill and attention to detail it takes to color thousands of individual cels.

Ink and Paint PinocchioThis book adds levels of detail around, paint color creation, special effects (real blush used on Snow White’s cheeks), or how the women managed to keep those bubbles in the Cinderella floor cleaning scene all looking the same. Yes, animators created the illusion of life, but the women of the Ink and Paint Department helped bring those drawings to life in glorious color and detail with pens, paintbrushes and other tools in ways that were just as creative as the men who got most of the credit. Find a comfortable chair and a flat surface to put this book on and become immersed in the Disney era that defined animation to this day. If you get tired of reading, there are hundreds of great photos.

Have I successfully whetted your appetite to read? Sneaky, huh? Are you someone who says you don’t have time to read? With smartphones and tablets, you can read just about anywhere. Stuck in line at the Market? Open up a Disney biography like Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas or The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney by Michael Barrier and read a few pages. If you like reading about Disney history, like me, Disney During World War II: How the Walt Disney Studio Contributed to Victory in the War by John Baxter (see my post Working Through a War for a taste). Love the Parks, take a look at another large format book by “The Imagineers”, Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real. Really, whatever particular Disney joy you might have, I guarantee you will find something fun, interesting or revealing to read.

mickey tablet

First Mickey Mouse Merchandise

Walt and the Disney Company have a long history of book publishing and many books have been created using Disney characters or other intellectual property. Many talk about how Disney revolutionized film and character merchandise. Putting Mickey Mouse’s image on stuff started in a rather inauspicious way when he appeared on a simple writing tablet in 1929. The book with a Disney copyright book featuring Mouse titled, “Hello Everybody” was published the very next year. Since that first book Disney and the many Disney imprints have continued to publish children’s books for decades. Not only was Disney a strong proponent of books and reading, but many of the films, animated and live action, produced in his lifetime were based on works of literature.

First Mickey Book

First Mickey Mouse Book

David McKay Publications became the first to publish a whole line of books under Walt’s authorization in the 1930s. I have two of these in my Disneyana collection.

All of us Baby Boomers grew up reading or having Golden Books read to us. Golden didn’t publish only Disney character books but the Golden Books library included, wonderfully illustrated stories about Mickey, Chip n’ Dale, Snow White, Dumbo, Donald Duck, Pinocchio and our favorites from cartoon shorts and feature-length animated movies.

Today, Disney continues the tradition of book publishing through many imprints including Disney Publishing Worldwide and Disney Hyperion.

Walt has been quoted as saying,

“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island and best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day of your life.”

Treasure IslandWalt oversaw the production of 35 films whose stories started as books. Certainly stories stuck with him, were inspiration, like Snow White and Treasure Island. A consummate story teller himself, biographies refer to him reading constantly in his years as head of his Studio. He did research, he read scripts, story treatments and was likely inspired by books, newspaper and magazine articles on a variety of subjects.

Here Walt can be seen in his research library at the Burbank studio with a collection of National Geographic magazines. Much of the research went into Disney’s True Life Adventure series. But, I’m sure all that information found its way into other films as well.

Disney Nat Geo collection

Storybook_land_poster_largeWalt’s Disneyland was filled with literary influences. Tom Sawyer Island can be traced back to Walt’s love of Mark Twain, The Mad Tea party comes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Jungle Cruise probably came from writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is drawn from the 1908 children’s novel The Wind in the Willows, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, while based on Disney’s film, the story that Walt read was from the Grimm’s Brothers. It’s not surprising that Walt included an attraction called The Storybook Land Canal Boats in his opening day roster.

Study after study has shown that reading to children and encouraging them to read as they get older, not only improves their reading comprehension, but stimulates their imagination, encourages them to ask questions, increases their curiosity, improves language development and stimulates brain activity rich with visualization. Children who are read to early are more likely to be readers themselves. Aside from these benefits, reading to your child is an opportunity for quiet times together that can help parents form lasting bonds.

Walt and other celebrities lent their name and photos in 1959 for the second year of a National Library Week, to give more attention to libraries and stem the tide of reductions in book readers who had turned to movies and TV for entertainment. The campaign and programs continue today in the month of April. Those who prophesied the end of Libraries in the digital age couldn’t have been wronged. If your library is like mine, it has re-imagined itself as a community center where adults and children can find all kinds of activities from book clubs to yoga film showings, music and oh, yes, book – physical and eBooks. If you haven’t stepped in your local library recently, you’d be surprised what you might find. How about free museum or local attraction passes, banks of computers for use, and printing. You might even find a cafe or at least you can bring in the beverage and snack of your choice.

World Read Aloud DayAnyone looking for ways to influence their kids or any kids to read can pick from a wide range of activities. My wife and other authors participates in World Read Aloud Day.  If you have no local library, or even if you do, you can support or build your own Little Free Library, which is a standalone lending library, usually in an easily accessible location supported by the community, a group or an individual. Check out their website for examples, building plans and success stories. Books in school libraries and classrooms are always in short supply. If the school you attended is still in business, consider a donation through the PTA and support not for profits like Behind the Book, whose mission is to inspire NYC Public School students to love reading by bringing accomplished authors into the classrooms.

Examples of community Little Free Libraries

Getting back to my earlier topic of reading my blog. Over the last couple of months I’ve had an uptick in new followers. In my own way, I’d like to think that I’m encouraging people to read. Thank you all for your support and the encouragement I get from the thought that I’m not just talking to myself. (Although I have been known to amuse myself for hours with my rapier wit) I write because I have something I want to share and it’s a great feeling to know that you find my creative outlet worthy of your time. Thanks!

Now, go read a book!

Walt and reading

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