Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Wonderful World of Disney


I love this photo of Walt. Dressed in a casual sport shirt, natural hair, huge smile on his face, eyebrows raised looking like a kid on Christmas morning. He's doing something that he genuinely loves.

Cynics could point out dozens of things about him which they question, from his sincerity to his intentions, but far more often than not, their complaints are more reflections of their own unhappiness than any objective judgement of the man behind the throttle.

There is a reason why he called the park Disneyland and described it as the Happiest Place on Earth. It was literally his world - his creation - and was intended to be different than what was going on outside the very deliberately placed berm which shelters and frames what happens inside.

It is also part of the reason why so many others have tried and failed to accomplish what he did. When you enter one of Walt's worlds, the rules are supposed to be different. It's not about today and here. It's about the best of the past, your hopes for the future and magic - which is a key element of fantasy.

Here is an example of the type of things that can happen in Walt's Worlds:

A young girl recently recounted the story of what happened to her when she met Peter Pan;
"He saw my arm and he grabbed it and held it up and looked at it. There are scars on my arms from self-harm."
The he asked:
"Are those scars from pirates? That old Captain Hook can be so thoughtless sometimes. Doesn't even realize what he does hurts! You can come to Neverland with me, and I won't let any marks find your arms ever again."
Walt's Park Rules

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cinderella

The Mouse is back in the house. If Maleficent, didn't convince you, Cinderella should put to bed for the last time the question of whether the company that made animated films household words has now turned the tables again and re-invigorated the whole process of storytelling.

The Dress - 1950
Over the past ten years there have been a series of productions taking old stories and putting a new twist on them, the most enduring probably being Wicked. Each of these has been unique in their own right, all the way up to Once Upon a Time and Maleficent, but Cinderella takes things to a whole new level precisely because it works for all levels, ages and circumstances.

The Dress - 2015
Cinderella delivers on what Ollie Johnston said about animation; "I wanted to paint pictures full of emotion that would make people want to read the stories, I found that <animation> was something that was full of life and movement and action, and it showed all those feelings." Ollie was especially proud of his work on "Bambi," including the heartbreaking death of Bambi's mother, the scene that has brought tears to the eyes of generations of young and old viewers. "The mother's death showed how convincing we could be at presenting really strong emotion."

As amazing as the CGI is in Cinderella, the real show is in the breadth and depth of the characters. Cate Blanchett is the embodiment of sly, selfish, power hungry elegance. She also discloses her back story of how she came to be that way so effectively that you almost feel sorry for her.

Do not mess with me...
But the real star of the show, and the reason Kenneth Branagh's vision works so well, is what is in the wardrobe; characters you can relate to and a message that being good and enduring is what we all really want and why we can be so deeply crushed when it doesn't happen.

Things are not going well here.

It's also why both images of Ella are about a girl who is hopeful, beautiful and good on the inside and the outside. Clean or dirty, she is relatable and someone you want your kids to emulate.




And there is the rub and the reason Disney can be so addictive. It's all about how being genuinely good makes the world a better place, where miracles do happen because people care enough to do something to make it so for everyone else, rather than blindly expecting others to wait on them hand and foot because they are special and deserve it. (Like the Ugly Step-sisters)



 And yes, the dress is amazing; all 111,000 Swarovksi crystals and 24 layers of tulle of it.



What's inside the dresses are the real stars of the show, and very true to Walt's vision.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Dear Miss Ford...



I recently came across a reposting of the Mary V. Ford letter, which actresses and activists have been using to take Walt Disney to task for a string of accusations, most ending in some sort of "-ism".

While researching what prevailing attitudes in America were towards women in the late 1930's, I came across something by Mickey Moran which was selected by the Loyola University Department of History as the Outstanding Paper for their 1988-89 academic year, entitled 1930's America - Feminist Void?

In six, well written, pages and three dozen footnotes, Moran explored then current attitudes regarding women's rights. Several paragraphs were quite relevant.

Pointing out a widespread lack of support for the ERA, government and commercial regulations restricting working hours, or the type of labor women could perform, declining economic conditions causing intense competition for jobs, a widespread belief that a woman's primary role was to civilize her husband, family and society at home, and a sharp decline in the number of women obtaining advanced college degrees, Moran sums the decade up with these words:

"But while the number of married women in the work force actually increased by 50 percent between 1930 and 1940 - despite the Depression -women found enormous obstacles blocking their entry into certain fields. Most women found work in factory and clerical jobs, as traditional barriers against women in professional fields loomed higher. Instead of "glamorous" professions, 36 percent of working wives entered domestic and personal services, while another 20 percent were in apparel and canning factories. Those who were in lower-level professions, such as elementary and high school teaching, found men displacing them for higher pay. In 1939, the median salary of a male teacher was $1,953 a year, while female teachers received only $1,394."

With this backdrop, Walt's opinion, whatever it was, was probably at least mainstream for the time.

With an understanding of Disney's process of making feature length animated films the letter to Mary Ford - actually penned by Mary Cleare - begins to take on a distinctly different tone.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a massive undertaking. An article by Andrew Boone in the January 1938 issue of Modern Mechanix estimated the effort at more than 1,500,000 individual pen and ink drawings.  Six months was expended by the animation team before the illustrations used in the film were even begun. Then the actual cells were produced, at the rate of 1960 per day, to create the master reel. Boon explains:

“Ink and paint” represents the manufacturing bottle neck, for a movie cartoon can progress no more rapidly than skilled hands complete the multitude of drawings. Since this cartoon required an average of twenty-two individual painted cels for each foot of completed picture, 166,352 finished paintings were exposed to the camera.

Movie|fone reported; "The film's production took nearly five years. It took at least 570 crew members (some sources say 750), most of them animators or water-color artists. As many as 2 million sketches and paintings were created, though only about 166,000 of them can be seen in the finished film."

The list of visual artists who worked on Snow White is impressive. In addition to most of Walt's Nine Old Men, it includes hundreds of women including Claire Weeks, Jeanne Lee Keil and Rae McSpadden. The group of Assistant Animators included Marc Davis and Ollie Johnston, then in their mid 20's, who were certainly, as Ms. Cleare factually stated, "young men".

Note also that Mary Cleare didn't turn Mary Ford away. Rather, she suggests that Miss Ford show up with samples of her pen, ink and watercolor work, and points out that competition for the openings is stiff.

It appears that the letter was somewhat of a template, as another, sent to Frances Brerer of Van Nuys about a year later has a familiar ring. Again the closing message is that they'd be happy to talk with Frances, if she shows up and brings her portfolio;




By the way, we probably also shouldn't overlook the fact that there was probably lots of support for the Ink and Paint girls coming from another quarter. At this point, Walt had been married to a former Ink and Paint Department girl for over a decade and had made her sister head of the department.

Here is a link to a much more interesting take on the story of being one of Disney's 100+ Ink and Paint Girls, from the March 2010 issue of Vanity Fair; Coloring the Kingdom.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A New Opening Day Story - Walt Eyes the Skies

There are dozens of stories about all of the things which weren't ready or didn't work on Opening Day, from the lack of drinking fountains to high heals breaking off in the asphalt and "milking the elephant" to get rid of Dumbo's Hydraulic Shaving Cream.

Walt was a stickler for detail.  Disney was, and still is, legendary for timing story elements to fractions of a second. Missing the mark or gag timing was bad show.  Then actor Ronald Regan, announcer for the Opening Day parade knew about timing and, on que, he'd announced something about the show to the millions of viewers in the TV audience, but Walt was the only one who's gaze was elevated.

What Walt was anxiously anticipating was a flyover by jets from the 146th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard, stationed at nearby Van Nuys Army Airfield. It was probably supposed to happen during the closing bar of The Star Spangled Banner, just as the Marine Band launched into their opening number.

17 Minutes into the show Walt anxiously scans the skies

A full minute minute later the unmistakable sound of jets was heard. The TV cameras caught nothing as they panned up. We'll probably never know what thoughts were going thru Walt's mind, but I'm pretty sure that if the lead pilot could have seen his face, the legendary raised eyebrow would have been there.

It may have been too much to ask to get a flock of screaming, six ton, 670 mile per hour, fighter jets to pass over the flagpole in time with the music, but it apparently wasn't out of the question for the man who made elephants fly.

A visual record of the the moment has probably been lost forever, but here is a guess at what the scene may have been as the flight formed up for their pass.

Come right to 180 and descend to 1000 feet... Shucks! We're late!

I think they should have come right over the Castle and directly down Main Street.

Castle Blues

Today the flyover tradition continues and the Blue Angels don't miss their mark.



Saturday, October 18, 2014

Crossing Blurred Lines

Disney's California Adventure
I was reviewing some material I used in one of my Arrow Development postings and came across these quotes from Walt;

"I'm not Disney any more. I used to be Disney, but now Disney is something we've built up in the pubic mind over the years.  It stands for something and you don't have to explain what it is to the public. They know what Disney is when they hear about our films or go to Disneyland. They know they're gonna get a certain quality of entertainment. And that is what Disney is."


"What is the difference between our product and the other?...  The thing that makes us different is our way of thinking, our judgement and experience acquired over the years.  Giving it 'heart.' Others haven't understood the pubic.  We developed a psychological approach to everything we do here. We seem to know how to 'tap the heart.' Others have hit the intellect. We can hit them in an emotional way. Those who appeal to the intellect only appeal to a very limited group."

Walt Disney Productions Stock Certificate Image

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Small Reminder to a much bigger world

Sometime in 1953 a prospectus for a place called Disneyland was prepared. In twelve pages it outlined the purpose and form of a new type of gathering place, one for people of all ages and backgrounds. It was to be a place to find happiness and knowledge, teach and be taught, share hopes and dreams and be a source of courage and inspiration for all the world. 

It remains the voice of the man who dictated it and the place which followed and bears his name.

Holographic Re-creation

Friday, July 11, 2014

Walt's Estate and Legacy

An article in the December 22nd, 1966 Times Record offers some details on the disposition of Walt's estate.  Fourty-five percent went to the family; Lillian, Diane, Sharon and their children. 

Another fourty-five percent went to the Disney Foundation. Five percent of that (2.13% of the total) was reserved for charitable organizations, at the discretion of the foundation. The remaining portion of the second fund (42.87% of the total) went to the California Institute of the Arts.

According to online sources; "The Walt Disney Company Foundation was established in 1951 by Walt and Roy O. Disney to serve The Walt Disney Company's philanthropic needs and interests. It does so today along with Disney Worldwide Outreach, part of The Walt Disney Company.

The Walt Disney Company's outreach initiatives are dedicated to making the wishes of families and children a reality through public service initiatives, community outreach and volunteerism in the areas of compassion, learning, the arts and the environment.

To learn more about The Walt Disney Company Foundation and Disney's outreach programs, visit www.DisneyHand.com." In 2013, the Disney Company donated $369.5 million in strategic philanthropy.

Disney Will Leaves Three Trust Funds

Los Angeles (AP) - The will of Walt Disney - leaving three major trust funds - was filed for probate yesterday, naming his widow, Lilian, as a trustee and executor of the estate.

The document, dated March 18, disposes of Disney’s separate property and his half of community property. No estimate of the estate’s value was given except to note that the moviemaker left “substantial real and personal property.”

Disney, 65, died last Thursday.

Also named trustees and executors were attorney Herbert F. Sturdy and United California Bank.

The first of the trusts was named the Disney Family Trust, leaving 45 percent of the estate to Mrs. Disney and two daughters and grandchildren. The daughters are Mrs. Ron Miller, Encino, Calif. and Mrs. Robert Brown, Tarzna Calif.

The second trust <was> another 45 percent of the estate, which went to the Disney Foundation. The will said five percent of this is to remain in the foundation to be earmarked for charitable organizations, at the discretion of the foundation.

The remaining 95 percent of the second fund goes to the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. Disney was instrumental in founding the institute, a college level professional school for the creative and performing arts. It now has a student body of 950.

The third fund (10% of the total?) went to benefit three nieces and a sister. The nieces are Marjorie Davis, of Beverly Hills, Calif., Dorothy Disney Puder, Bakersfield, Calif., and Phyllis Bounds, Los Angeles. The sister is Ruth Flora Beecher of Portland Ore.

Disney is also survived by two brothers, Roy O. Disney and Raymond A. Disney, who received no bequests.