Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

Posts tagged ‘Disney’

Keep your own “Best Of” List

beast confusionThere are days when I feel as if there are forces trying to control how I think. No, I’m not going around wearing a tinfoil hat. And, I’m the last person to spread rumors or subscribe to websites claiming the government is using mind control methods on us like fluoridating the water (See Kubrick’s brilliant movie Dr. Strangelove for more on that cold war plot). But, because I subscribe to a number of Disney and non-Disney sites, I have noticed an increase in the number of emails that feature a “Best of” or “Worst of” or top ten, or top whatever list. Just like the 24 hour news channels are forced to fill the space with talk to keep us watching, it seems like everyone believes that we incapable of making up our own minds about things. So, in order to drive people to their sites, they have to tell us what to think.

listerineIn the past, product and service companies were the ones telling us that our breath was bad, we needed a better car or reminding us what cool people were wearing this year. I can understand a component of selling that needs to convince us to buy their product. This same approach has now become a staple of many Disney related and other websites. The Internet explosion has made us all information junkies. How many of you Disney fans have clicked on a list link thinking that someone knows something about Disney that you don’t, only to be terribly disappointed by the rudimentary nature of the list? In some cases they don’t even seem to care that much about what they’re espousing as the “best”. Where’s the inside info? I thought it was going to totally change my Disney plans or what restaurant I would eat at California Adventure or my outlook on life.

Critics have been at this for more than a century. Certainly, movie box office receipts are affected by reviews. And there’s no doubt that Broadway shows have seen their lives cut Anton-Ego-reviewershort by sharp tongued newspaper critics. Because the price of some of these tickets has become prohibitively expensive, I, for one, don’t want to regret spending my hard earned nickels and dimes, or in the case of a Broadway show, this week’s paycheck, on a bad production. On the other hand, I have thoroughly enjoyed some things that the “knowledgeable” reviewers thought were terrible. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. My choice to not see “Home on the Range” or pass on “Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin” wasn’t based on other people’s opinions, but my sense that they were not going to entertain me based on the description.

I’m not the ultimate expert on everything Disney. I’m interested in what others think or learning something new. Some people look forward to Stitch’s Great Escape the way I can’t wait to get back on The Carousel of Progress. No amount of lists are going to convince me the CoP is an anachronistic boor and a waste of my precious time at WDW. I recently received an email from a reputable travel source touting that they had ranked every single ride at Walt Disney World. The article starts with, “This [meticulous] ranking of every [stellar must-see] 3D attraction, [perfectly] themed roller coaster, and out-of-this-world flyer will help you plan the [perfect] trip for speed demons and boat ride obsessives alike. (highlights are mine) Keep in mind that there are no real criteria for the ranking, except for the writer’s opinion. I will bet the money in my back account that my agenda for my last Disneyland vacation is very different from yours. Comparing the Prince Regal Carrousel with Space Mountain is like saying steak is better than chicken.


Can you take a vacation to a Disney theme park without consulting someone else’s list for what you should experience? I say yes, you can. There are plenty of websites that provide more than enough information about attractions, shows and restaurants for almost anyone to decide. (Here’s a list of the one’s that I look at regularly) Is there a possibility that you’ll be disappointed? Sure. But, whoever told you that life was always guaranteed to deliver on all our expectations? It doesn’t mean that your whole vacation will be ruined by finding that It’s a Small World was not for you. Doing even the smallest amount of research would have easily told you that it wasn’t going to be a thrill ride. Doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy yourself. At a recent trip to Disneyland I rode Alice in Wonderland for the first time. As a great admirer of Mr. Disney, shame on me for not riding one of the attractions that was designed during his lifetime. I enjoyed the attraction, but probably would not go out of my way to ride again. But, I wasn’t kicking myself for taking the time to give it a try.  Just as I’ve tried Stitch’s Great Escape but will definitely, not go on it again. The point is, neither ride is likely to be on anyone’s top ten. But, I made up my own mind. I didn’t have someone make it for me.

As much s I enjoy a Disney theme park trip, It think approaching every trip just like the last one is a sure fire way to make the the parks seem boring. Adding some new things and leaving time for the unexpected is just the ticket to making each trip more fun and memorable. It’s more than likely that my “Best of” list, including which parks to visit, where to eat and what attractions to ride are going will include some favorites and a rotating list of other things to do. Not only are there new attractions and shows to check out, but there is probably a different mix of people going. I’m getting to the age where the addition of younger children will make it necessary to start adding rides like Dumbo back into our itinerary. And, one never know what kind of surprise you  might stumble upon. Character interactions, street performers, maybe even some Disney magic provided by a cast member.

Even though life might be a crap shoot sometimes, you shouldn’t take someone else’s word for what might entertain or enlighten. Going on a Disney theme park vacation or seeing a Disney movie is a choice in the first place. I’m guessing if you want the thrill and adventure or white water rafting on the Colorado, you wouldn’t have picked a Disney vacation in the first place. Over the years our Disney theme park vacations and moviemice dice choices have changed as our kid’s ages and our tastes have changed. Walt’s original premise for Disneyland was for it to be a place the whole family could enjoy together. You don’t have to choose to spend the day watching your kids on the Carousel. They get to ride Dumbo and others get Space Mountain. Everyone ends the day having enjoyed themselves. Perhaps you ended up liking the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular more than you thought you would.  Part of the enjoyment of a Disney theme park vacation is making it your vacation. Not someone else’s idea of what the vacation should be.

yodaYes, we are an information addicted society today. With all of that great information, literally, at your fingertips, wisely you should use it my young padawans. Don’t think for one moment that someone else’s idea for a fun Disney theme park vacation will match your idea of a good time. Do some research and make your own choices. Only that way can we keep the mind controllers from making everyone’s theme park experience the same. Besides, part of my strategy for my trips to Disney involved waiting the least amount of time on line as possible. If everyone goes only to the same attractions and shows that are deemed “the best”, we’ll all be standing in line forever.

Was it a Beauty or a Beast?

FeedbackI have a theory about movie trailers. The number of trailers released in advance of a movie is directly proportionate to the poor quality of a film. If the movie is a dog, we get buried in advance release hoopla. A good film will succeed critically at the box office without a constant barrage of hype.

For the last several months there are two reasons I have tried not to view trailers for the new Beauty and the Beast. First, I wanted to be surprised by the film. I didn’t’ want to have any preconceived thoughts and I wanted to keep an open mind, even as my dread increased in direct proportion to the amount of hype. Movie trailers often leave me feeling as if I’ve already seen the movie or at least what the marketers think are the best parts. Second, the alarming number of trailers left me with the nagging feeling that Disney thought the movie was not beautiful and wonderful, but beastly and horrible.

Please be advised. I’m not a professional movie critic. If you’re expecting a review of the film, there are literally hundreds of newspapers, magazines and websites who make have people who make a living writing reviews you can read. Or, better yet, go see the movie and form your own opinion. But, since I’ve already started writing about the movie, I will happily give you some of my thoughts on what I think was good and bad.

Psst! Avast there! It be not too late to alter course, mateys—there be spoilers ahead.

dead men tell no tales

Even though I knew the plot, I was still drawn into the story in its new form. In an earlier post, Drunk on Do-Overs?, I discussed the remake frenzy going on at the Disney Studios and my hope that the new filmmakers would, at least, add something new to the stories. I’m not talking about making it more “real” by removing some of the fantasy inherent in an animated film. I hope that they will, as Walt would say, “Plus it”, make it better. And, indeed, I feel the director, Mr. Condon definitely plussed things up in this movie.

BEAUTY AND THE BEASTFirst and foremost, was the deeper and more interesting relationship between Belle and Maurice. The tenderness, emotion, and natural chemistry between them at the beginning of the film makes Belle’s choice to take his place as prisoner that much more heartbreaking. And that she tricks him to do it makes our heart break for Maurice as he is dragged out. Condon came back to this key relationship several times later when we learn what happened to Belle’s mother and again in their short stay in the Asylum wagon.

In addition to Maurice and Belle’s backstory, we are given more detail about how the Young Prince’s upbringing laid the foundation for his later, fateful decision. This helps us see the Beast as more “human” rather than just a spoiled kid. He wasn’t a bad person, just flawed — like the rest of us. That context, together with the servant’s admission that they were complicit in the Prince’s inability to care or love for others, allows us to understand why the Beast has struggled in vain to lift the curse. (And why the innocent servants are suffering along with him)

Condon then lets us see the gradual development in the Belle/Beast relationship. TheBeauty and the Beast library is not just a gift, but the means by which they begin to bond. The intimate conversations we are privy to between Belle and the Beast let us see the development of their relationship that goes beyond feeding a few birds and throwing snowballs. We begin to see Belle warm to charms that the Beast has not exercised in many years, while the Beast begins to feel something other than self pity and hatred of the world.

I welcome the additional songs into the B&B canon. The work of Alan Mencken and Tim Rice shines in Evermore and How Does A Moment Last Forever. And putting some of the original lyrics back into “Gaston”, puts more punch in the song and makes the character seem even worse (shooting beasts in the back, etc.). Here again we’re given more rounded and developed characters than we were presented with in the animated film.

In the negative column. They left out three of my favorite lines: Cogsworth has two. “This is yet another example of the late neoclassic Baroque period. And, as I always say, if it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it!” and “Well, there’s the usual things. Flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep.”

And from the song Gaston:

Gaston: LeFou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking

Lefou: A dangerous pastime

Gaston: I know.

It’s all in the timing and it works better when sung rather than read.

I liked the dance break in the “Gaston” pub scene as well as the addition of Cadenza and his relationship with Madame Garderobe. And overall, the movie was beautiful to watch. There were lots of other small things that made the movie enjoyable. But now it’s time to turn to some things that detracted from the film.

The poorly used Pere Robert, as the spiritual leader of the small town, is made to appear more enlightened than others in the town because he shares books with Belle. But he then shows no inclination to do anything to help Maurice or Belle when the town turns against them. I expected he was going to be the one to let them out of the asylum coach. But, he just seemed to melt away. That’s no way for someone who would should have been a model of forgiveness and compassion.

I applaud the Disney leadership for not squashing Condon and Josh Gad’s decision to portray LeFou as gay. But, while I’ve enjoyed Gad’s performances in other things, I found his portrayal of LeFou to be uninteresting. His acting choices left me with a gay man displaying stereotypical behaviors that the worst in our society believe to be true. In the original, LeFou was employed as comic relief and a foil for Gaston. Gad’s LeFou always seemed to be a little out of place in his scenes with Gaston, who’s darker and more cowardly than the animated version. I felt that all that was left of LeFou was a whiney sycophant with little to remind us of his role or purpose in the story.

Taking away some of Cogsworth’s facial expressions caused him to lose some of his zing and appeal. And finally, I still don’t understand the snowball. Was I supposed to be surprised and amused? I think I was mostly horrified.


With any remake of a well-regarded film, there will be those who simply are unable to view the new version as a different movie. That would be easy, if the picture was bad by any measure. But, overall, I think the movie is an excellent film that can stand on its own without constant comparison to its animated predecessor. While there are facets of character that, in my eyes, keep it from being a great film, they are not devastating. I believe that this Beauty and the Beast will be a movie I will add to other Disney films that can watch many times in the future.

beauty and the beast poster


Finding Light in the Darkness

Who’s your favorite Disney animated villain? Do you like villains who like to be bad like Hades or Scar? Or are you partial to villains like Stromboli, who’s just trying to entertain his audience, or Cruella, whose only crime is a strong fashion sense, or Jafar who has a career path he’s following and is very goal focused. You know, the ones who seem to have badness thrust upon them and are only bad because of a character flaw. Hard to pick, I’n it?

Disney animated villains are some of the slimiest, conniving, two-faced, nasty and unrepentant characters ever to be brought to life.  Then why is it that the villain scenes are often so much fun to watch. With all the good and wonderful things that Walt, and those who have followed, have put into Disney movies, they have never shied away from showing the dark side of life and people (real or imagined). I think part of that comes from not underestimating your audience. Although many of Walt’s stories were told through animation, he didn’t tell them just for kids.

Right out of the gate, Walt’s Wicked Queen/Old Hag in Snow White goes to great lengths to carry out her plan to kill Snow. Like her real life, wealthy, positioned, counterparts, for her first attempt, she gets someone else to do the dirty work for her. When that fails, she is absolutely giddy with joy to try it herself. The scene in the laboratory when the Queen turns into the Old Hag (animated by the team of  Art Babbit and Norman Ferguson) is still wonderfully frightening after more than 80 years. Pay particular attention to the slow reveal of the queen’s new, old face, which we don’t see until the very end of the transformation sequence. You can almost imagine Walt really enjoying himself and encouraging his animators to really go for it. I’d stack that scene up with any of the greatest scary, transformation scenes Hollywood has produced (Another example is American Werewolf in London).

What followed during Walt’s lifetime was a host of equally, wonderfully bad villains including, Stromboli, Lady Tremaine, Captain Hook, Maleficent, Cruella deVille, Madame Mim, and Kaa & King Louis. All of them have a signature scene or moment in their films that, not only, helps define the character in the sharpest terms, but whose behaviors or motivations are so far removed from the light, that the goodness or hero qualities of the main character becomes even sharper and more pleasing to us. Think of Lady Tremain’s eyes as she realizes that its Cinderella the prince is looking for. Or Captain Hook’s musical glee as he charms Tinkerbell into jealously so she will aide him in his plot to kill Peter Pan. Even Man, in Bambi, who we never see during the course of the film, stops our hearts for a second as we hear the shot

Many people view the films in the period after Walt’s passing, as somewhat less than successful. With the possible exception, in my opinion, of The Great Mouse Detective and the Rescuers, I would agree. It’s interesting that they are only films of the period with a villain who can match the sustained evilness of a character like Cruella. And, perhaps, that’s what’s missing. The Disney people were so focused on continuing to produce the kind of “family” entertainment they thought Walt was doing, that they lost sight of a significant piece of what had made Walt’s films so satisfying — The contrast between good and evil, the light against darkness. It’s possible, that to feel fulfilled, we need the two extremes in our lives. Those writers and directors who missed that misunderstood that Walt saw family entertainment as an experience the whole family could enjoy it together. He was also a firm believer that you shouldn’t talk down to your audience. The world is filled with good and bad so be honest and show it that way. Walt famously talked about adults as if they were just big kids anyway.

More modern Disney directors, in the period many call the Renaissance of Disney animated films (from The Little Mermaid, 1989 to Tarzan 1999), came back to the villain with a vengeance. In these movies, the most memorable scenes in the films are often the villain songs. There’s a rule of thumb in theatrical musicals. A character will break out in to song when words alone are not sufficient to express his/her/their feelings and emotions. In The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pocahantas, the villain’s song either sets the stage for what will ultimately force the hero to make an important decision, or set the wheels in motion for what will be the defining confrontation between good and evil. Ursula’s enticing offer to Ariel in “Poor, Unfortunate Souls”, Scar convincing the Hyena’s to join him in a palace coup and murder in “Be Prepared” are the turning points in these great films. And songs like “Gaston” and Frollo’s opening to “Out There” continue Walt’s tradition of strongly defining the villain’s character and motivations, just as much as the hero/heroine.

In the end, we all root for the hero or the heroine to prevail. But their eventual triumph is that much sweeter because they have someone like Jafar who is equally as evil as Aladdin is virtuous to overcome. Disney good guys in film are not always the most fun. Their journey takes them from good to better. But, villains, they take us on a one way trip to the bottom with some of the most memorable and fun to watch scenes in the history of the movies.Villains, take a bow!



Hooked on Collecting

I’ve always liked to collect things. I’m not talking about hoarding. I’m talking about interest and passion for a subject or type of item. There are many kinds of collectors. Some people collect memories and stories that they use to gather people around them. Some collect people, friends to make their lives socially active. Others are drawn to a subject or person that they want to feel closer to.

Over the years I’ve collected, baseball cards, comic books, books on magic, magic ephemera and oh, yes, trivia. I seem to collect trivia like the underside of a bed collects dust bunnies. It has, however, helped me at the Disney Trivia contests I go to. Many sports collectors stick with a team or players that they admire or root for. As a teen I collected antique magic books. when I was an amateur magician.


Houdini signed letter and period photo from my collection

I was very drawn to the master showmanship of Harry Houdini and wanted to know more about him. My interest in magic waned after college, as my attention was focused on my career, then my marriage and then my kids. As our kids got a bit older, trips to Disney World increased in frequency and I wanted to know more about the man who had created great movies and could envision and realize a place people could go to escape into a world of fantasy.

Walt’s drive, passion and success was inspiring. I’d always been a fan of Disney movies. The first movie I ever saw was The Sword in the Stone. In my collection I have some small

Jungle Book toys that connect me with my childhood. And since my mother was a Disneyana collector when I was young, I can look at certain things, like a Snow White radio or a Mickey Mouse sled and I am taken back to the house I grew up in. But it it’s Walt who I wanted to know more about. And, since I’m not able to meet him, the closest I am able to get are things with which he was connected.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Given the number of projects in which Walt was involved, it always amazes me that he even had time for anything but work and family. But he did. And his “collection”, his passion, was for trains and railroads. It seems he may have developed a connection when he was a boy and his family lived in Marcelinne Misourri, which I have learned was a town created by the Aticheson, Topeka & the Santa Fe R00_steam_up_at_studio_soundstage_eddie_sargeant_rogger_broggie_and_walt_050327_bennettailroad, which went from Chicago to Kansas City. When he was older, he not only visited railyards, but built a small gauge railroad on his property that he called the Carolwood-Pacific. Walt himself, with help from his staff and other rail enthusiasts like animator Ward Kimball, built engines that they would ride on track laid out on a soundstage. Later Walt would lay out a larger small gauge railroad he called the Carolwood-Pacific, and take friends on rides. His


Walt running the Carolwood-Pacific in his “backyard”

passion for railroads can be seen in the railroads that circle every Disney park in the world (except for the new Shanghai park). The Disney railroad was one of the premier attractions when Disneyland opened. Walt’s influence and interest in railroads is can still be felt in the railroads that are part of every Disney theme park.



Walt at Disneyland Opening Day

Since I was not alive for, for the premiers of the early Disney animated films, or the opening of Disneyland, I like being able to touch things that, not only, Walt might have had on his desk or passed at the Studio, but also things that the animators, Imagineers and other creative people around Walt would have created or touched. The trouble is, Walt was an early adopter of merchandising for his films. As a result, there are thousands of early Disney related items to collect

Some Disneyana collectors focus on a character, movie or type of collectible, like animation cels. I’m not sure I’ve hit on a single theme, so my collection is eclectic. But, primarily I’m drawn to things that would have been produced during Walt’s lifetime.

Some collectors buy things as an investment. While some of the items in my collection are valuable, their value to me is not in what I could get for it if I sell it. I can’t speak for all collectors, but when I buy, or find, a Disney item, it’s as if I found buried treasure. I remember as a teen, prowling old bookstores for out of print magic books. Finding one on a dusty shelf would make my heart race.

I find auctions are very exciting. I go through the catalog of items to be auctioned like a kid in a candy store. Then there’s the anticipation as the item I am interested in gets closer to being put on the block. Then there’s the competition, bidding against other buyers and the excitement as the bids go up and I make quick “command” decisions about how much more to bid or whether I should let the item go. I still remember the first auction I went to in New York City. I think I was about 13. It was a large catalog of magic items. I got my numbered paddle and sat in the room and watched as the items were auctioned off. I was surprised at how fast things went. It wasn’t as if the auctioneer was giving people a lot of time to think about their bids. Finally, after a couple of hours, the item I wanted to bid on, I think it was a Harry Houdini poster, came up. The auctioneer started the bidding. And then, bing, bang, in about 10 seconds the bids were well beyond what my meager budget could afford. And then it was over. I was disappointed, but the experience was fun.

I have some favorites in my collection, that I can’t help but look at when I go past them. I chuckle to myself when I look at the Dopey ventriloquist dummy. Who thought it was a good idea to make a dummy out of a character who doesn’t speak? If I were a kid in the late 1930s what would I have thought Dopey sounded like? There are some autographed pictures which would have been signed by Walt himself, including a check to Bell and Howell from 1935. Since Bell and Howell manufactured parts for the multi-plane camera that was used to film Snow White, that means that Walt signed that check in the midst of one of his greatest triumphs and most highly creative periods of his life. I can imagine him sitting at his desk with piles of papers, drawings, paintings, model sheets and a pile of checks to sign. Maybe it was late at night, after a grueling day of storyboarding, difficult decisions about plot and character and direction. Perhaps there was a scene or moment that an animator was having difficulty translating Walt’s ideas onto paper.

The Disney’s were always on the brink of financial ruin in those early years. “Walt’s Folly”, as everyone in the industry was calling it, was a hard project for them to get financing. Walt and Roy ended up using even their homes and cars as collateral to keep the project going. Then maybe he’d get up, make himself a drink and walk around the animator’s room. He’d look at the work on the tables. I’ve read that he would go through the garbage cans, sometimes pulling things out and leaving notes for the animators on a drawing that he felt had more promise than they did.And I have some early toys, including a tin, windup Ferdinand the Bull from 1938. The book was one of my favorites when I was a boy.

The collection lets me, just for a moment, live in a world where Walt Disney is still alive and I was around him. I know it’s easy to sugarcoat a time before we lived. Walt was apparently not always they easiest man to work for. And, we do tend to glorify past times, ignoring the hardships that were part of that era. But, what a thrill it must have been to interact with that creative, blazing comet that streaked through the studio and left, in his wake, ideas and inspiration that built an entertainment empire. Thoughts like that have helped me through many of my toughest days. So keep collecting. Don’t let anyone call it junk or laugh at the dozens of Disney snow globes or trading pins that give you so much joy to prowl second hand stores, browse ebay or buy at the parks, then display, look at and enjoy. Buying and keeping things related to Disney helps keep the magic alive even when you’re not at a movie or in one of the theme parks.


Talking with Walt Disney

Walt Disney has built an entertainment empire that began, modestly, with short, animated films and has grown into a Movie, merchandise and theme park powerhouse. As it is with successful people, we all want to know, “How’d you do it?” I sat with Mr. Disney in his office on the Disney Studios lot  and tried to get to the bottom of it.

You’ve had tremendous success in Feature Animation, live action films, television, theme parks. Did you ever doubt that everything would work out?

walt_disney_portrait_rightSomehow I can’t believe that there are any heights that can’t be scaled by a man who knows the secrets of making dreams come true. This special secret, it seems to me, can be summarized in four C s. They are curiosity, confidence, courage, and constancy

There have been failures. Critical and financial. But those situations didn’t seem to slow you down. What’s your secret to weathering the bad times?

Everyone falls down. Getting back up is how you learn how to walk. There is great comfort and inspiration in the feeling of close human relationships and its bearing on our mutual fortunes – a powerful force, to overcome the “tough breaks” which are certain to come to most of us from time to time. All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you. I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter. Do a good job. You don’t have to worry about the money; it will take care of itself. Just do your best work — then try to trump it. The important thing is the family. If you can keep the family together — and that’s the backbone of our whole business, catering to families — that’s what we hope to do.

Your studio has grown very large. Has the success changed your management style?

I believe in being a motivator. Leadership means that a group, large or small, is willing to entrust authority to a person who has shown judgment, wisdom, personal appeal, and proven competence. Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating those who work with me and aiming their efforts at a certain goal. All you’ve got to do is own up to your ignorance honestly, and you’ll find people who are eager to fill your head with information. Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards – the things we live by and teach our children – are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.

walt-3What would you tell a someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

The more you like yourself, the less you are like anyone else, which makes you unique.

But being unique isn’t always enough to succeed the way have in any of the business you’ve undertaken.

I never called my work an ‘art’. It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment. Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future. People often ask me if I know the secret of success and if I could tell others how to make their dreams come true. My answer is, you do it by working.

So where do you start? How do you go about figuring out how to entertain the public?

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. I am interested in entertaining people, in bringing pleasure, particularly laughter, to others, rather than being concerned with ‘expressing’ myself with obscure creative impressions. I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.

You’ve said that you never considered yourself very good at drawing. Why pick animation as a career?

walt-disney-walter-e-disney-2975110-600-463Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive. This facility makes it the most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for quick mass appreciation. Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.

Others were doing animation before you. What do you think separated your work from theirs?

At first the cartoon medium was just a novelty, but it never really began to hit until we had more than tricks… until we developed personalities. We had to get beyond getting a laugh. They may roll in the aisles, but that doesn’t mean you have a great picture. You have pathos in the thing. I try to build a full personality for each of our cartoon characters – to make them personalities. In our animation we must show only the actions and reactions of a character, but we must picture also with the action. . . the feeling of those characters.”

So you treated your animated characters as if they were live actors?

We have created characters and animated them in the dimension of depth, revealing through them to our perturbed world that the things we have in common far outnumber and outweigh those that divide us.

Are there other studios or animators that have influenced you?walt-smoking

I am not influenced by the techniques or fashions of any other motion picture company.

So your inspiration comes from within?

First, think. Second, believe. Third, dream. And finally, dare. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable. All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. “Get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it’s done right.

So if you take that approach the money just happens?

I don’t make pictures just to make money. I make money to make more pictures. Money doesn’t excite me. My ideas excite me. I could never convince the financiers that Disneyland was feasible, because dreams offer too little collateral. Disneyland is a work of love. We didn’t go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money. We did it Disneyland, in the knowledge that most of the people I talked to thought it would be a financial disaster – closed and forgotten within the first year.

Did you ever imagine the kind of success you’d have when you made that first Mickey Mouse cartoon?

young-waltMickey Mouse is, to me, a symbol of independence. He was a means to an end. Mickey Mouse popped out of my mind onto a drawing pad 20 years ago on a train ride from Manhattan to Hollywood at a time when business fortunes of my brother Roy and myself were at lowest ebb and disaster seemed right around the corner. I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I have ever known.

Is there any end to what you can dream up?

I resent the limitations of my own imagination. We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.

You sound like my 8 year old son.

Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination. But just as a muscle grows flabby with disuse, so the bright imagination of a child pales in later years if he ceases to exercise it. Childishness? I think it’s the equivalent of never losing your sense of humor. I mean, there’swalt-disney-smiling a certain something that you retain. It’s the equivalent of not getting so stuffy that you can’t laugh at others. There’s nothing funnier than the human animal.

That reminds me of Peter Pan.

Why do we have to grow up? I know more adults who have the children’s approach to life. They’re people who don’t give a hang what the Jones’ do. You see them at Disneyland every time you go there. They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought – sometimes it isn’t much, either.

Do you ever look back on your creations and think you could do better?

Yesterday is a thing of the past. Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.

Walt Disney died in December of 1966. This interview was put together from quotes that are attributed to him. Not all of the quotes are from the same time and many don’t have the benefit of the context in which they were originally uttered. With that in mind and the benefit of hindsight, I hope I have honored Walt’s ideas by trying to give them a reason for being said in the first place.


How Much Do You Want it?

winner-vs-loserThe New England Patriots made an epic comeback in yesterday’s Super Bowl. I did not have a favorite in the game, but I hoped for an exciting game that would keep me interested until the end. This Super Bowl LI (kind of pretentious that they use Roman Numerals) did not disappoint. In case you didn’t see it, the Patriots, prevailed against almost insurmountable odds in the second half. Like the Patriots, I have come across people who always seem to come out on top while others are left with just the lollipop stick.

What separates winners from losers when there’s equal opportunity to win? Is it luck? If, like me, you spent a good part of your life competing in sports, coaches always tell you, “Winners want it more than the other guy.” I’ve faced competition where I knew that the other side had better skills, were bigger, or more experienced. It’s easy to think those kinds of thoughts and watch the other side roll up the score. Then it’s also easy to fall back on “we weren’t going to win anyway”, when it’s over.
I don’t think the Patriots were better than the Falcons. It certainly didn’t look like that was true in the first half. The second half was a different story. Was it easy? No. The Falcons didn’t hand the game over. The Patriots had to win. How did they do it? Did they want it more?
I spent a year at a Circle in the Square’s professional acting program in New York right after graduating from college. There were about 50 students who all were accepted to the program after auditioning. We spent eight months in a variety of acting related classes, designed to hone and improve our bodies, minds and acting skills. I watched my fellow actors in class after class. Some of us learned quickly or were just better at dance or singing or acting. We all got the same training from the same teachers with the same opportunities to demonstrate our progress. Some of my fellow students were spectacularly talented and we all knew it. We even talked about the ones we thought would definitely have great careers.
Over the years, as I watched TV, theater and the movies, I would look for those familiar faces. I would look at cast lists and expect to see some of those people start to show up. Then, one day, I was watching a movie, and there on the screen was one of the people who I had spent eight or more hours a day, seven days a week for eight months in classes and rehearsals. It wasn’t a starring role. But there he was, acting in a movie with big stars. But something wasn’t right. It wasn’t one of the people we all thought would prevail. It was one of the people who always seemed to be struggling. Someone who never got the applause at the end of his scene work. One of the students who didn’t dance well, and couldn’t “become” an ice cream cone melting in the hot sun. Had the movie world gone mad? Were casting directors looking for untalented people for their big budget projects?
Then, to make matters more confusing, this actor showed up in more TV and movies. One night I was watching the Sopranos, and boom, there he was again. Had the world shifted off its axis and was spinning wildly out of control? Then I remembered something a mentor had said to me once, early in my acting career. He said, “If there is something else that I thought I could enjoy as much as acting, go do that instead.” At the time I laughed, thinking, “What else could I possibly want to do?” Needless to say, since my name has not become “household” it is safe to say that I did find something else to do. But that guy on the screen had succeeded. Without the best skills, he had succeeded where others who we all thought were better had not. I think the only answer was, he simply wanted it more. He wasn’t going to quit. He had no other plan and there was nothing he was going to find that he enjoy more than acting. So he stuck with it.
Walt Disney never found anything else he enjoyed doing more than entertaining theater oswald-rabbitpeople. Even after he was told that he couldn’t draw. Even after it was proved he wasn’t a very good business man and he lost control of his successful character, Oswald the Rabbit to someone who could write a better contract. Even after people started calling Snow White Walt’s Folly. Even after everyone, even his brother Roy, told him that Disneyland could never be built. He just believed in himself and his abilities more than anyone else.
Could Walt Disney and the New England Patriots’ achievements be, what one might call “teachable moments”? In the morning, before school, we used to say to our kids, “Who makes it a good day? You do.” The only one who will determine your success, your winning
percentage is you. If you want to achieve something, don’t give yourself the easy way out by deciding that the other side is better or bigger than you, before you start. If Walt had quit after Oswald, there would have been no, “It all started with a Mouse”. Believe that you can succeed. Not everyone is going to be five time Super Bowl champions, or build a successful Hollywood studio. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve a level of success that makes you feel good to look into the mirror and appreciate the person you see. You just have to want it more.


A Restless Creator

Most of us spend the better part of our adult lives trying to be good at one thing or another. It might be the job we do or a hobby, or being a parent. For many of us, the only way to achieve some level of satisfaction or recognition is focus and hard work. Being creative is something I’ve striven for throughout my life. After an unscientific study, I’ve come to believe there are two kinds of creative people in this world. The first kind, strives to create an ideal work. Typically, this takes place over a period of time with many attempts. You can see this in the many self-portraits that some artists work on over their lifetimes. Rembrandt is an example of this. Each work reveals something about the artist at the time it was painted. In many cases, the style does not change very much from one portrait to another.

Many are indicative of a period in an artist’s life where they come back to the same subject over and over again. Picasso and his “blue period” guitar are examples of this try it over and over again approach to creativity.

Other artists let their creative passions wander, moving from style to style or medium to medium as they are inspired. Wil Smith is one of these artists. He went from music to television and finally to movies. I would say Walt Disney falls into this category. Walt was a kind of creative nomad. He would pitch his tent at an oasis for a while, but then be drawn to another.

It’s hard to tell why exactly he moved away from animated shorts, to full length films, then to live action then finally to theme parks. Could it have been circumstances outside of his control, or the period of time he lived that dictated some of these changes in focus. Did time create the man we know as Walt Disney or did Walt Disney create his time?

After the success of Snow White, the studio found somewhat less financial success with animated features that followed. Walt careened from Bambi to Pinocchio and then to the Sorcerer’s Apprentice (which would become Fantasia). While the films were generally, critically well received, they did not do as well financially. Then the war forced Walt to turn share-carfrom other story ideas like, The Little Mermaid (yes, Walt was planning it decades before it was produced), to do work for the military, putting his features on hold. As the studio struggled to stay afloat, the cost for animated features of the quality that Disney demanded became a tremendous drain on the young studio’s budget.

After the animators strike in 1941, Walt undoubtedly felt less confident of his ability to control and trust his animation staff. He still needed an outlet for his creative story telling. So his attention shifted to live action features and nature shorts. Finally, as the studio grew and demands for his time were now focused public relations, as the face of the studio, Walt started WED, the original name for what is now known as Disney Imagineering and began to “build” his Disneyland theme park.

I’m compressing many years of time and simplifying the circumstances, but these outside influences and the time in which they occurred are all plausible and acceptable reasons for him to move from one creative genre to another. Walt was never satisfied with producing a product that was good. His vision was always to be better. But, other creatives have stuck to their primary focus in spite of unexpected and uncontrollable time period circumstances. Dalton Trumbo wrote screenplays for B pictures during his HUAC blacklisting. After a car accident left Dale Chihuly blind in one eye and he later suffered a dislocated shoulder, he has continued to create his glass sculptures by using other people’s hands and strength. So what in himself, the man, might account for Walt’s restless to drive to find new outlets for his type of storytelling.

Walt’s name is so synonymous with animated features that I was surprise
d when I read Neil Gabler’s biography “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination” acccedisney-bio_ssible to his animation staff. He began to turn over creative control to other directors and producers. The turnover wasn’t total, but enough so that some of the animators who had been with him from early on, began to find it difficult to get his attention. When he did engage, he was often short, irritable and highly critical of the work being produced. Was the critical and creative success of Snow White enough for him? Was it, “been there, done that?”

By the time Cinderella was released in 1950, Walt was well on his way to dreaming up “Disneylandia “, which would be funded through a TV contract. Then, to generate capital for the Park, he plowed energy into television with the Mickey Mouse Club and Davey Crocket.  And after Disneyland’s success he was on to planning Disney World. I’m exhausted just thinking about the amount of creative energy it must have taken to accomplish all of this in just about 30 years.

In the end, it may have been a combination of both circumstance and his need for new creative worlds to conquer that drove a restless Walt Disney from artistic endeavor to artistic endeavor. While he never strayed from his ideals of providing entertainment for young and old, he was not interested in riding the gravy train of success in just one area. For some artists, being good or great at one thing is enough to satisfy them both personally and artistically. Many actors are happy doing one type of film or portraying one kind of character.

Perhaps Walt found inspiration around every corner and just had too many ideas. Once he found success in one genre, he was anxious to try something new. Unlike many of us, he acted on those creative impulses. Many would say that it’s easy to accomplish things like Snow White or Disneyland, if you have money and resources. But, what many don’t know,


Original Movie Poster

or forget, was that for each of those ground breaking achievements, Walt and Roy could have gone broke if either had failed. Walt and Roy spent much of their time finding ways to make it possible for Walt’s dreams to become realities. Mortgaging everything they had to allow the Disney team to realize the finished vision of Snow White Walt carried around in his head. Or he cut deals with disneyland-signtelevision and the 1963 World’s Fair sponsors like Ford to fund the building and expansion of Disneyland. Walt was always on the brink of bankruptcy. One great idea away from sinking the Studio forever.

I envy the people who know early on in life what they want to be when they grow up. Nothing keeps them from achieving their goals. We’ll never know if Walt imagined himself in those early years that he would, one day, be the head of a successful Hollywood studio. Perhaps his dreams were more conservative. I think that each time he did the impossible, he was encouraged to dream bigger. Less influential artists have had their art changed into something that has more monetary value than artistic foundation. Fortunately for us, Walt’s dreams are so inspiring that they continue to be a road others are compelled to travel. And to Walt’s credit, whether they are Disney Imagineers,  Universal Studios creatives or movie makers, they are driven to entertain and amuse us.


Picture from my Collection

“A person should set his goals as early as he can and devote all his energy and talent to getting there. With enough effort, he may achieve it. Or he may find something that is even more rewarding. But in the end, no matter what the outcome, he will know he has been alive.”

The Art of Animation

Disney Legend Tyrus Wong

The recent death of Disney Legend artist Tyrus Wong and the release of Disney’s Moana have got me thinking about the state of animated feature films today. Admittedly, this is something I have thought about before. Moana is a beautiful film. Its depiction of island paradises, the ocean and god-like creatures are a joy to watch. And, the leaps that CG animators have made from films like Toy Story in the depiction of people is nothing short of amazing. However, I can’t help feel that Wong’s “re-discovered” work and contribution to Disney’s animated classic, Bambi highlights what I think is an important difference between the animation of Walt’s era and what is generally accepted as today’s the norm for modern animation. Hand drawn animated features, using Disney’s as an example, had and still have (See Hayao Miyazaki films as an example) a distinct artistic look that pulls the viewer in and brings life to the film.


Miyazaki’s “Howl’s Moving Castle”

Considerable print, press, lectures and college film courses have discussed what many consider Walt’s most important contribution to animated films – elevation of animation to an art form. As early as 1929, 8 years before the premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt would drive some of his animators to a local art class. In 1937 he would formalize a regular training regimen for the animators (eventually it would became CalArts) The classes were not


Art Instructor with Disney Animator

just for his lead animators, but for all the animators. Walt was interested in breathing life into drawn forms, not just getting laughs. If you have the opportunity to look just at the background art for some of Disney’s early animated films, particularly Pinocchio, but even later work like 101 Dalmatians, they stand on their own as works of art, even without characters or motion. I believe Walt knew that in order to improve animation, it was necessary to improve all of the film, not just the characters who moved and got most of the attention.

He did, however, have one other trick up his sleeve. If you look at the early Disney animated features, either in individual picture form or the final movie, you can’t help but notice that each film has its own distinct artistic sensibility. Snow White, Pinocchio, 101 Dalmatians are all as different as a Monet is from a Rembrandt. The artistic quality of the films draws us in and creates a visual appeal that is as important as the differences between Mo Willems work and other picture book illustrators, making the turn of each page or the change in scene a new experience that keeps our eyes and our minds interested in the material. It’s the differences in artistic viewpoint that enable us to see the merits of both Rembrandt and Van Gogh’s self-portraits. By all standards, they are both great works of art, yet completely different in look and creative approach and tell us a great deal about the artist and any messages they are trying to convey without the use of words.

CG animation does offer us some visual differences in the complexity and style of the images. But, in in my eyes, the differences in artistic approach and style seem to be flattened out by the computer generated approach to creating them. I’m not saying that CG animation is not an art form. Far from that. I believe that CG animators still have to create, what legendary Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston called the “Illusion of life” on the screen. The complex animation skill it took to “see” Moana think and go through her internal struggle like a real actor are not different from the joy or pain we see on the face of Roger in 101 Dalmatians.

It would be hard to argue that there are no artistic differences between Moana and Toy Story 3, and I’m not going to try.

But, I do think that CG animation has removed some of the style differences we can see in earlier hand drawn animated  features. I miss the water color style of Bambi, simplistic style of Dumbo and the sweeping grandeur of Sleeping Beauty. A viewing of Fantasia is almost a primer on how different artistic styles and approaches impact the look of an animated work. The sorcerer’s apprentice and night on Bald Mountain couldn’t be any more different, while they still maintain a high degree of artistic achievement.

Fantasia 1940

I look forward to each new Pixar or Disney Animation feature. I think Walt would be proud that Disney directors still strive to be story tellers first and animate as a way of telling that story. And, I’m certain that Walt would have welcomed CG as an exciting opportunity to tell stories through a different form of animation and to animate things that might seem impossible in the hand drawn world. On the other hand, Disney animators, when challenged always seems to find a way to achieve Walt’ vision and the directors who folloeed. But, Walt did not follow the path of other animation studios and use the same artistic style for every movie. I believe that he would have seen CG as just that – another creative style, and looked for other styles to help tell a particular story. And, so, I will continue to enjoy CG animated features. But part of me still hopes that John Lasseter will someday unleash the creative talents that are out there in the world and do some more hand drawn animated movies.

A Mother’s Gift

This is my first Mother’s day without my mother and I was thinking about how much she influenced my respect for Walt Disney and love for his work. The first movie she took me to see was “The Sword in the Stone”. Other movies followed: “Mary Poppins”; “That Darn Cat”; “The Ugly Dachsund”; and “The Gnome-MobJungle Book DVDile”. The one that sticks with me most from my early childhood is “The Jungle Book”. My Grandfather was a songwriter in the 50’s and 60’s so hearing legendary singers like Phil Harris and Louis Prima in a movie made for kids mad a strong impression on me.

My mother made it easy to be open to many experiences and interests including theater, books, art and sports. But always in there somewhere was the influence of Walt Disney. It might be plates or napkins at a birthday party, a greeting card featuring Mickey or an image on some clothing. My mother was also a collector. She collected newspapers she never read, recordings of TV programs she never watched again, antiquarian books, which she built into a business and Disneyana. At some point, an entire room in our house was filled, floors, walls and ceiling with pre-1960s Disney collectibles. She and I would sit and look at things, discuss the artistic or historical value of one piece or another. We didn’t always agree and I didn’t always find the time or have the patience to talk as long as she would have liked, but we both enjoyed ourselves.

After I had moved out and started a family of my own, without saying anything, she began to sell off most of the collection, until all that is left isdisneyana book a couple of dozen pieces, autographs and photographs. It’s not clear whether the decision to sell was financial or that my brother, father and I didn’t show enough interest to convince her that it was worth keeping. It saddens me that something that became so integral to her life did not seem to be important to her in the last years of her life. As I looked though the pieces that were left, I couldn’t help remember many of the other collectibles that I had spent so much time looking at. I’m sad, not because there was value in the collectibles, but because it was a connection with me that no one else in our family shared with her.

I think my mother visited Disneyland once as a child, but she never went back and she never took my brother or I to any of the Disney Theme Parks. As I began to take my wife and family to Walt Disney World, I would ask if she would like to go with us. She would comment that it was just too commercial and about selling things. I didn’t understand it then, but I believe I have come to understand that for my Mother, it wasn’t about theme parks or animated movies. She, like me now as an adult, recognized the artistic genius of Walt Disney and the impact he has had, not just on animated movies, for which his legacy is firmly cemented, but for all the other ways he has changed the world. I’m not sure she realized what a special seed she planted. It’s a seed that has blossomed and thrived into my adulthood.  It’s a gift I treasure and don’t mind carrying with me.Mom

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: