Thursday, May 21, 2015

Walt's Shadow

What's Shadow

There's a bit of a buzz going on in one of the online forums about a change to the storyline in Tomorrowland which eliminated a direct reference to Walt Disney in the film. The scene appeared one minute and twenty six seconds into the Japanese Trailer, which appeared on YouTube April 3, 2015.

In his book Creativity, Inc. Ed Catmull observes that almost all projects go thru phases and sometimes things get thrown out because the concept isn't working. That "working" thing can be a very tricky place. It's where the "magic" happens. It's where the guests willingly suspend their disbelief, allowing themselves to become immersed in the show to the point that it becomes reality. That is where Tomorrowland sets a very high bar. Athena's introduction to the website makes it clear; "If you are ready to change the world, and it looks like you are, then all you need to do is turn around."

After having viewed a dozen trailers and exploring the Take Me to Tomorrowland website, I have to admit that it has worked for me so far. I want Tomorrowland to be real. That is the truly unique aspect of this film. It wants to extend your experience beyond the theater. It wants you to believe Tomorrowland's message completely enough that you will actually go out and change the world for the better.

That is a very lofty goal and accomplishing it will require a great deal of sensitivity and finesse. I suspect that's also why Walt ended up on the cutting room floor. Introducing him into the story broke the spell, reminding you that it is "just" a movie - a little bit about Walt - made by the company that still bears his name, but don't tell anybody..."wink-wink".

He's been gone nearly 50 years. Disney's Land has changed in millions of ways, but his untimely death didn't have to be the end of what Walt wanted to accomplish. This is where things start to get really interesting, because now things are moving out of a land of fantasy and entertainment and into the land of faith and belief and action where personal, even global, salvation and redemption becomes part of the conversation.

In a previous post I mentioned how every little girl - including the ones inside grown up women - want to have the experience of wearing Cinderella's dress, looking perfect, and being treated like a princess. Tomorrowland has an even loftier goal. It wants to make everyone care about, and have the courage to try and fix, what's wrong in the world - regardless of their physical condition or circumstances.

In that way, Tomorrowland has the potential to be the most powerful story Disney has ever tried to tell.

Personally, I hope it works.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Disney Land Challenge

Back in 2010,'s Bob Hill wrote an article called Walt Disney's 8 secrets to success. In it, he summarized what he felt were the "eight principles that made Walt Disney one of the greatest icons of the 20th century." I've summarized and annotated them here;
  • Focus on “the experience” as a key component to increasing value.
  • Exceed customers’ expectations with relentless attention to detail and personalized service that is designed to revolutionize the industry.
  • Passion; Disney films and theme parks are labors of love.
  • Stay true to Disney's values.
  • Hire reliable people who understand the vision and trust them to transfer it to others.
  • Defy convention: Buck the odds and ignore the critics. Trust your instincts.
  • Leave behind something to grow.
When I hear concerns and complaints people have about the company, or their experience in the parks, I try to frame them in the context of Walt's goals and vision. For example; I ask myself if the cause of a complaint is the result of failing to exceed expectations. I also ask if those expectations were realistic and if there was a fair exchange of value - including travel time. This helps take the conversation outside of individual preferences for one attraction or another and places it in the context of a proven set of values which are the historical foundation of the company's success.

On a related note; I believe that responsibility for preserving and improving the park experience is not one sided. I think we - as Guests - have a responsibility to play by Walt's rules when in his Kingdom. The "Magic" flourishes best when both everyone willingly suspends their disbelief and embraces the possibilities of a having a mutually magical experience.

“Disney Land is something that will never be finished, something I can keep ‘plussing’ and adding to. I just finished a live-action picture. It’s gone. I can’t touch it. I want something live, something that will grow. The park is that.” - Walt Disney

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

PerformancExcellence (1994)

Back in 1994, when Disney was about to celebrate their 40th Anniversary.  Judson C. Green, then chairman of Theme Parks and Resorts, penned a pamphlet for Cast Members which "defined the daily goal of exceptional performance... so we may all share a common foundation and expectation of how we intend to work together in the future." 

In 2000, Green left Disney to become President and CEO of  Navigation Technologies Corp, as described in an April 18th article in the LA Times, but the legacy of his vision for the future of Disney lives on in these words:


  • Exceeding guest expectations
  • Getting involved
  • Breaking down barriers
  • Sharing information and suggestions
  • Working smarter
  • Trying new ways to do things
  • Listening to others
  • Being a team player

Our Disney Culture:

We have a rich heritage, traditions, quality standards, and values which we believe are critical factors to our success. This foundation, as well as certain traits and behaviors, create a unique environment which we call the Disney Culture. We will seek to understand and cultivate our culture and challenge ourselves to model the behaviors that it represents.

We respect the Disney Heritage and Traditions:

We are committed to a friendly and informal work environment.
We show our pride and respect for the Disney Product and Legacy.
We emphasize Cast training and recognition.
We pursue synergistic opportunities.
We demonstrate our concern for our environment and community.
We emphasize "family" entertainment.
We protect the public's trust in Disney.
We are committed to education.

We ensure the Disney Quality Standards:

We put safety first, to provide secure, safe experiences for our Guests as well as our Cast.
We give friendly, personalized service and treat every guest as a VIP.
We deliver flawless and professional presentations every day, for every guest.
We strive for the fastest and most effective systems and procedures in order to provide a quality Guest experience.

We share these Disney Values:

HONESTY - We deal with each other in a sincere and straightforward manner.
INTEGRITY - We act in a manner consistent with our words and beliefs.
RESPECT - We treat others with care and consideration.
COURAGE - We pursue our beliefs with strength and persistence.
OPENNESS - We share information freely.
DIVERSITY - We seek value and respect differences among our fellow Cast Members.
BALANCE - WE strive for stability and vitality in our personal and professional lives.

We demonstrate these Disney Traits and Behaviors:

We enjoy making our guests happy.
We care about our fellow cast members.
We work as a team.
We deliver quality.
We foster creativity and innovation.
We encourage risk-taking, realizing that mistakes amy happen.
We are attentive to every detail.
We find enjoyment and fun in our work.
We assume responsibility beyond our individual roles.
We are emotionally committed to Disney.


Share their vision and belief in the Disney Culture.
Share their enthusiasm and pride in Disney with the Cast.
Energize others with their commitment for PERFORMANCE EXCELLENCE.
Display decisiveness and a sense of urgency in achieving goals and objectives.
Encourage creativity and risk-taking.
Promote teamwork to accomplish our business objectives.
Set challenging goals which are realistic, clear and measurable.
Hold themselves and other Cast Members accountable for their performance.
Unleash the potential of each Cast Member by providing developmental opportunities.
Listen intently to diverse opinions.
Communicate honestly and frequently, soliciting feedback and suggestions from Cast Members at all levels of the organization.
Interject a sense of humor, fun and enjoyment in their work.
Set the stage and work with others to produce the show...
Celebrate the Victories!

Walt may have said it more simply, but I think the message still rings true to his vision.

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


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 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. Every little girl in the audience wants to wear it and be seen and treated as a princess.

But, it's what is inside the dresses which 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.