Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Disney Legend Richard Sherman Shares His Memories of Walt


Richard Sherman and Julie Andrews have fun on the set of "Mary Poppins".
Many virtues define a true legend, but divine talent is what differentiates "Disney Legends." For the second segment of our "Lunch with a Legend" series, the Insider broke bread with Disney Legend Richard Sherman who (along with brother Robert) was half of the only songwriting-composing team ever to work on staff for The Walt Disney Company. From "Mary Poppins" to "Winnie the Pooh," this award-winning duo is known the world over – if not by name, then by song. Though Richard admits he's shared them a "million times," the master showman was thrilled to recount some of his most poignant memories.

Meeting Walt Disney

"Here's how it all began for my brother Bob and myself ... we were freelance pop songwriters and a little girl named Annette Funicello sang a song we'd written called 'Tall Paul,' which became a really big hit. We started writing songs specifically for her, and had hits with 'Pineapple Princess' and 'Jo Jo, the Dog-Faced Boy' – big rockers back in 1959/1960. Little did we know Annette was Walt Disney's very favorite Mouseketeer ... he listened to all her songs and liked what he was hearing."

Things changed when Walt wanted Annette to sing in a TV movie called "The Horsemasters" since her records were so popular – and requested that the brothers write the song. "Jimmy Johnson [head of the record company] asked if we wanted to give it a shot, so we wrote 'The Strumming Song.' Jimmy liked it, but said Walt would have the final word. We asked 'Walt who?'" After learning that the Walt in question was Walt Disney, Richard wanted to demo the song with a female singer before the meeting, but was told Walt likes hearing things the way they were written.

With trepidation, the brothers brought their song up to Walt's office. "Now picture this ... Walt was sitting behind his desk signing pictures. I'll never forget it because it was our first meeting with the great man. He looked up and asked if we were really brothers because there were a lot of brother acts in vaudeville with people who weren't really brothers. I said 'No, we actually have the same parents!'"

When Walt began discussing "The Parent Trap," both brothers immediately knew he was talking about the wrong film. "I was dying, but my brother Bob was brave enough to say that we were there with Annette's song for 'The Horsemasters.' I mean, how do you tell an icon he's telling you the wrong story?" After what Richard calls the most brutal performance of "The Strumming Song," Walt said, "That'll work," and gave them a script to see what they could come up with for "The Parent Trap." Richard and Robert were completely bewildered and thought the worst. "Jimmy said, 'Are you kidding? He bought one song and gave you another assignment!' We didn't even realize he LIKED what we had done. So that was our very first encounter with the man who changed our lives forever."

From there, they went on to write songs for "The Parent Trap," "Zorro," "Texas John Slaughter," and many other films and television shows. "Walt kept giving us assignments – he was testing us. He'd always say, 'That'll work,' and give us another assignment. Jimmy told us to keep'em coming."

"Mary Poppins"

Little did they know their careers would be thrown into overdrive when Walt asked "The Boys" (his nickname for the brothers) if they knew what a nanny was. Their reply? "Yeah, it's a goat! We thought he wanted us to write a song for a nanny goat!" But Walt asked them to read P.L. Travers' book "Mary Poppins," and let him know what they thought. "He threw the gauntlet down and wanted to see what we'd do with it. So Bob and I read these very charming stories, but panic struck when we realized there was no storyline – it was strictly about a nanny who flies in on the east wind, takes the Banks' children on wonderful adventures, and flies out when the west wind comes along."

Not knowing where to start, they selected six chapters to loosely base a story on – and the chosen adventures inspired scenes like "Jolly Holiday" and "Feed the Birds." Richard recalls the follow-up meeting with Walt. "Walt was as excited as we were! He fell in love with 'Feed the Birds,' which became his favorite song. When we were done, he asked to see our notes, which were pretty dog-eared from underlining and highlighting. We gave him our book and then he pulled out his copy. He had underlined the same six chapters – that was gooseflesh time. It really, really was amazing."

Walt then invited Richard and Robert to work at Disney. "We said YES, we'd love to work here! He already had a contract written up and told us we'd have an office down the hall. Walt wanted us to develop the story with screenwriters Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi, but called it our 'backburner project' because he planned on giving us lots of work. And that was the turning point in our lives ... two beloved stories that I vividly recall, and both involved Walt Disney."

Aside from "Mary Poppins," the Academy-Award®-winning duo (they garnered two for "Mary Poppins" alone!) wrote songs and scores for countless Disney classics, including "The Jungle Book," "The Aristocats," "Bedknobs and Broomsticks," and the "Winnie the Pooh" short films. Though Richard says they were always creatively connected to Walt, their time with him was limited but intense. "We started with Walt in 1960 until 1966. Walt was very, very thoughtful and kind to us ... if he liked what you were doing, he'd never gush. You'd always hear from someone else that he flipped for whatever it was you did. When he died, we worked at the studio for several years, but it just wasn't the same. We've had a wonderful career thanks to Walt Disney."

Richard is currently working on his second album of instrumental music, which he calls a cross between pop and semi-classical. "I've always been a happy person. I'm very positive and so was Walt ... that's what he liked. If our music makes people feel good about themselves and gives them hints about how to act, I think we were very lucky to write those songs. It's a nice feeling to know the rest of the world responds to your material."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Did you miss it? Davy Crockett’s Window in Frontierland

Have you seen the window in Frontierland dedicated to Fess Parker, the man known to millions of baby-boomers as legendary frontiersman Davy Crockett?

Fess Parker, as Davy Crockett, receives a tribute window

Five years ago this week, Fess Parker received the highest honor Disneyland Resort bestows when the park unveiled a tribute window. Parker’s salute included an entirely rethemed building facade which paid tribute to Parker’s portrayal of Davy Crockett, along with his sidekick Georgie Russel, played by the late actor Buddy Ebsen. Parker and Ebsen were featured stars at the grand opening of Disneyland on July 17, 1955.

In his role as Davy Crockett, Fess Parker helped promote and open Disneyland Park. In the photos below, you’ll see Davy Crockett walking through a yet-to-be finished Disneyland park and later with Walt Disney riding a horse on Main Street, U.S.A.

Fess Parker with Walt Disney walking through a yet-to-be finished Disneyland park
Fess Parker riding horses with Walt Disney

The tradition of honoring individuals with a personalized decorative window was started on Main Street by Walt Disney himself and has continued throughout Disney parks worldwide.

Friday, December 16, 2011

2 years without Roy E. Disney

Roy E. Disney, Key Figure in Revitalizing The Walt Disney Company, Disney’s Animation Legacy, Dies at Age 79

posted on December 16th, 2009 by Thomas Smith, Social Media Director, Disney Parks

Roy Edward Disney, son of Disney Studios co-founder Roy O. Disney, and nephew of Walt Disney, passed away today (12/16/09) at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, California, following a year-long battle with stomach cancer. He was 79 years old. Disney was a successful businessman, philanthropist, filmmaker, and award-winning sailor, who played a key role in the revitalization of The Walt Disney Company and Disney’s animation legacy. He was associated with the Company over a 56-year period, and from 1984 – 2003, served as vice chairman of the Company’s board of directors, and chairman of the Studio’s Animation Department. In recent years, he held the title of director emeritus and consultant for the Company.

As head of Disney Animation, Disney helped to guide the Studio to a new golden age of animation with an unprecedented string of artistic and box office successes that included “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and “The Lion King.” He personally executive produced “Fantasia/2000,” a sequel to the 1940 Disney classic, and served in a similar capacity on a number of recent animated shorts, including the 2004 Oscar®-nominated “Destino,” based on storyboards and original art by the iconic artist Salvador Dali. In the area of live-action films, Disney and his wife, Leslie DeMeuse Disney, most recently executive produced the 2008 feature documentary, “Morning Light,” which followed a group of young sailors as they competed in the grueling Transpac race from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

His philanthropic activities included sponsorship of the Roy E. Disney Center for the Performing Arts at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center, part of Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, is scheduled to open in spring, 2010.

Commenting on the announcement, Bob Iger, president and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, said, “On behalf of everyone at Disney, we are saddened by the loss of our friend and colleague Roy E. Disney. He was much more than a valued 56-year Company veteran – Roy’s true passion and focus were preserving and building upon the amazing legacy of Disney animation that was started by his father and uncle. Roy’s commitment to the art of animation was unparalleled and will always remain his personal legacy and one of his greatest contributions to Disney’s past, present and future.”

John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, added, “I first met Roy when I was still an animation student at CalArts. Not only did I consider him a personal friend, but he was a great man who believed deeply in the art of animation. He put his heart and soul into preserving Disney’s legendary past, while helping to move the art of animation into the modern age by embracing new technology. Roy was a visionary and passionate supporter of the art form, and he was all about quality. I was always impressed that he would make time for someone like me when I was fresh out of college, and he continued to support and encourage me throughout my career.”

Stanley Gold, president, Shamrock Holdings, said, “Roy and I enjoyed a 35-year friendship and partnership that was simply special. We faced many business challenges together, had fun in the process, and enjoyed a wide variety of professional successes. Roy was a man who was steadfastly loyal to his principles and to his friends. He was a gracious, humble gentleman who could make the tough decisions life sometimes requires. He carried the torch high and proud, and the world is a better place for his tireless efforts. I will miss him greatly.

Roy Edward Disney was born in Los Angeles on January 10, 1930 to Roy O. Disney and Edna Francis Disney. His father and his uncle, Walt Disney, co-founded the Disney entertainment business in 1923.

After attending Harvard School and Pomona College, Disney launched his entertainment industry career in 1952, working as an assistant film editor on the “Dragnet” TV series.

He joined The Walt Disney Studios in 1953 as an assistant film editor, where his credits included the landmark Academy Award®-winning True-Life Adventures features, “The Living Desert” and “The Vanishing Prairie.” As a writer and production associate, he received Oscar® nominations for his work on the short subject, “Mysteries of the Deep” in 1959, and in 2003 for his work as executive producer for “Destino.”

Disney produced and directed some 35 other TV and theatrical production, including the landmark 1968 documentary, “Varda, the Peregrine Falcon,” before leaving in 1977 to become an independent producer and investor.

In 1978, Disney founded Shamrock Holdings, Inc., a wholly-owned family enterprise headquartered in Burbank, California, which specializes in private equity, real estate, and public equities investing. He served as chairman of the company, which has approximately $1.5 billion of capital committed to funds.

An avid competitive sailor, Disney holds several elapsed-time records for offshore races in the Pacific Ocean, including multiple wins in the 2,225-mile Transpac.

Among his many professional and philanthropic activities, Disney served on the board of trustees of California Institute of the Arts, the advisory board of St. Joseph Medical Center, and the board of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, Inc. Additionally, he was an advisory member of the board of directors of the United States Committee for UNICEF, chairman emeritus of the board of directors of the Peregrine Fund, a member of the board of trustees of Ronald McDonald House charities, and a member of the board of trustees of the American Ireland Fund.

In 1993, he received the Winsor McCay Award (a special “Annie Award”) from ASIFA-Hollywood (The International Animated Film Society). The McCay Award is for lifetime achievement in animation. In 1997, Disney was awarded the first “Mort Walker Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cartoon Industry,” by the Boca Raton International Museum of Cartoon Art.

Disney received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from his alma mater Pomona College in 1998. In 2002, he received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Mercy College in New York. The following year, he was presented with the Trustees’ Award and honorary Doctor of the Arts degree from CalArts.

Among his other honors, Disney was named a recipient of the 1999 National Catholic Education Association Elizabeth Ann Seton Award, which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to children and education. In April 1999, Disney received the Henry Bergh Humane Award from the ASPCA, and in spring 2000, he was awarded the Inaugural Environmental Leadership Award from the Audubon Society.

Disney is survived by his wife, Leslie, and four children from his marriage to Patricia Dailey Disney – Tim Disney, Roy Patrick Disney, Abigail Disney, and Susan Disney Lord. He is also survived by 16 grandchildren.
Funeral services will be private, followed by cremation. His ashes will be scattered at sea. Plans for a Life Celebration will be announced shortly. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his name to The Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Walter Cronkite - Narrator's voice in Spaceship Earth and IllumiNations Special Christmas Finale

Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr. (November 4, 1916 – July 17, 2009), "the most trusted man in America" was the anchorman for the CBS Evening News for 19 years and reported, during his profiesional life, the World War II, Nuremberg Trials, Vietnam War, the Death of President Kennedy, Watergate, Iran Hostage Crisis, the U.S. Space Program, from Project Mercury and the Moon landings to the Space Shuttle, the Beatles’ first American TV broadcast and much, much more.

He was the only non-NASA recipient of a Moon-rock award.

From May 26, 1986 to August 15, 1994, he was the narrator's voice in the EPCOT attraction, Spaceship Earth, at Walt Disney World.

In 1989 he featured in a 9-minute film entitled Back to Neverland, at the former MGM Studios, (written and directed by Jerry Rees whose include directing the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Pre and Post videos with Aerosmith and the new version of Epcot's "Oh Canada" film, and more) served as the intro to the Magic of Disney Animation Attraction, the walking tour of Disney’s Animation facility.

Since november, 1999 he is the voice wishing Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men, at the IllumiNations Special Christmas Finale.

Jerry Rees recalled, “Walter was exactly the charming intelligent guy you would imagine him to be.  What he presented on the air and what he was in person was one and the same.”

It is interesting to also note that Williams’ performance in Back to Neverland is what ultimately led to his casting as the Genie in Aladdin. You can instantly see why when watching this clip from the short film, which includes a quick animated impersonation of Cronkite by Williams:

Rees concluded, “In an era when ‘reality’ is anything but real, he and his approach are a lost treasure.”

And that's the way it is!

Here you can see Cronkite as the mystery guest at What's my Line show :)

Monday, December 05, 2011

It All Began With a Man: A Biography of Walt Disney

During a 43-year Hollywood career, which spanned the development of the motion picture medium as a modern American art, Walter Elias Disney, a modern Aesop, established himself and his product as a genuine part of Americana. 

David Low, the late British political cartoonist, called Disney “the most significant figure in graphic arts since Leonardo.” A pioneer and innovator, and the possessor of one of the most fertile imaginations the world has ever known, Walt Disney, along with members of his staff, received more than 950 honors and citations from throughout the world, including 48 Academy Awards® and 7 Emmys® in his lifetime.

Walt Disney’s personal awards included honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, the University of Southern California, and UCLA; the Presidential Medal of Freedom; France’s Legion of Honor and Officer d’Academie decorations; Thailand’s Order of the Crown; Brazil’s Order of the Southern Cross; Mexico’s Order of the Aztec Eagle; and the Showman of the World Award from the National Association of Theatre Owners.

The creator of Mickey Mouse and founder of Disneyland and Walt Disney World was born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 5, 1901. His father, Elias Disney, was an Irish-Canadian. His mother, Flora Call Disney, was of German-American descent. Walt was one of five children, four boys and a girl.

Raised on a farm near Marceline, Missouri, Walt early became interested in drawing, selling his first sketches to neighbors when he was only seven years old. At McKinley High School in Chicago, Disney divided his attention between drawing and photography, contributing both to the school paper. At night he attended the Academy of Fine Arts.

During the fall of 1918, Disney attempted to enlist for military service. Rejected because he was only 16 years of age, Walt joined the Red Cross and was sent overseas, where he spent a year driving an ambulance and chauffeuring Red Cross officials. His ambulance was covered from stem to stern, not with stock camouflage, but with drawings and cartoons.

After the war, Walt returned to Kansas City, where he began his career as an advertising cartoonist. Here, in 1920, he created and marketed his first original animated cartoons, and later perfected a new method for combining live-action and animation.

In August of 1923, Walt Disney left Kansas City for Hollywood with nothing but a few drawing materials, $40 in his pocket and a completed animated and live-action film. Walt’s brother Roy O. Disney was already in California, with an immense amount of sympathy and encouragement, and $250. Pooling their resources, they borrowed an additional $500 and constructed a camera stand in their uncle’s garage. Soon, they received an order from New York for the first “Alice Comedy” short, and the brothers began their production operation in the rear of a Hollywood real estate office two blocks away.

On July 13, 1925, Walt married one of his first employees, Lillian Bounds, in Lewiston, Idaho. They were blessed with two daughters — Diane, married to Ron Miller, former president and chief executive officer of Walt Disney Productions; and Sharon Disney Lund, formerly a member of Disney’s Board of Directors. The Millers have seven children and Mrs. Lund had three. Mrs. Lund passed away in 1993.

Mickey Mouse was created in 1928, and his talents were first used in a silent cartoon entitled Plane Crazy. However, before the cartoon could be released, sound burst upon the motion picture screen. Thus Mickey made his screen debut in Steamboat Willie, the world’s first fully synchronized sound cartoon, which premiered at the Colony Theatre in New York on November 18, 1928.

Walt’s drive to perfect the art of animation was endless. Technicolor® was introduced to animation during the production of his “Silly Symphonies.” In 1932, the film entitled Flowers and Trees won Walt the first of his 32 personal Academy Awards®. In 1937, he released The Old Mill, the first short subject to utilize the multiplane camera technique.

On December 21 of that same year, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length animated musical feature, premiered at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. Produced at the unheard of cost of $1,499,000 during the depths of the Great Depression, the film is still accounted as one of the great feats and imperishable monuments of the motion picture industry. During the next five years, Walt completed such other full-length animated classics as Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi.
In 1940, construction was completed on Disney’s Burbank studio, and the staff swelled to more than 1,000 artists, animators, story men and technicians. During World War II, 94 percent of the Disney facilities were engaged in special government work including the production of training and propaganda films for the armed services, as well as health films which are still shown throughout the world by the U.S. State Department. The remainder of his efforts were devoted to the production of comedy short subjects, deemed highly essential to civilian and military morale.

Disney’s 1945 feature, the musical The Three Caballeros, combined live action with the cartoon medium, a process he used successfully in such other features as Song of the South and the highly acclaimed Mary Poppins. In all, 81 features were released by the studio during his lifetime.

Walt’s inquisitive mind and keen sense for education through entertainment resulted in the award-winning “True-Life Adventure” series. Through such films as The Living Desert, The Vanishing Prairie, The African Lion and White Wilderness, Disney brought fascinating insights into the world of wild animals and taught the importance of conserving our nation’s outdoor heritage.

Disneyland, launched in 1955 as a fabulous $17 million Magic Kingdom, soon increased its investment tenfold and entertained, by its fourth decade, more than 400 million people, including presidents, kings and queens and royalty from all over the globe.

A pioneer in the field of television programming, Disney began production in 1954, and was among the first to present full-color programming with his Wonderful World of Color in 1961. The Mickey Mouse Club and Zorro were popular favorites in the 1950s.

Roy and Walt visit Marceline, Missouri in 1956, taking time to stand under the tree Walt used to sit beneath, dreaming of the future.

But that was only the beginning. In 1965, Walt Disney turned his attention toward the problem of improving the quality of urban life in America. He personally directed the design on an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT, planned as a living showcase for the creativity of American industry.

Said Disney, “I don’t believe there is a challenge anywhere in the world that is more important to people everywhere than finding the solution to the problems of our cities. But where do we begin? Well, we’re convinced we must start with the public need. And the need is not just for curing the old ills of old cities. We think the need is for starting from scratch on virgin land and building a community that will become a prototype for the future.”

Thus, Disney directed the purchase of 43 square miles of virgin land — twice the size of Manhattan Island — in the center of the state of Florida. Here, he master planned a whole new Disney world of entertainment to include a new amusement theme park, motel-hotel resort vacation center and his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. After more than seven years of master planning and preparation, including 52 months of actual construction, Walt Disney World opened to the public as scheduled on October 1, 1971. Epcot Center opened on October 1, 1982.

Prior to his death on December 15, 1966, Walt Disney took a deep interest in the establishment of California Institute of the Arts, a college level, professional school of all the creative and performing arts. Of Cal Arts, Walt once said, “It’s the principal thing I hope to leave when I move on to greener pastures. If I can help provide a place to develop the talent of the future, I think I will have accomplished something.”

California Institute of the Arts was founded in 1961 with the amalgamation of two schools, the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and Chouinard Art Institute. The campus is located in the city of Valencia, 32 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. Walt Disney conceived the new school as a place where all the performing and creative arts would be taught under one roof in a “community of the arts” as a completely new approach to professional arts training.

Walt Disney is a legend, a folk hero of the 20th century. His worldwide popularity was based upon the ideas which his name represents: imagination, optimism and self-made success in the American tradition. Walt Disney did more to touch the hearts, minds and emotions of millions of Americans than any other man in the past century. Through his work, he brought joy, happiness and a universal means of communication to the people of every nation. Certainly, our world shall know but one Walt Disney.

from D23

Friday, December 02, 2011

A Very Merry Musical: Walt Disney’s Babes in Toyland

 “I’m here to invite you to a celebration in our village… so put on your best smile, set free your imagination, and come with us to Mother Goose Village,” Mother Goose says in the introduction to Babes in Toyland.

Have you ever wondered where Santa Claus gets all the wonderful toys he gives at Christmas?  According to Babes in Toyland (1961), Walt Disney’s magical mix of music, laughter, and fun, it’s Toyland’s lovable Toymaker who creates the soon-to-be-treasured playthings Santa delivers on Christmas Eve. In this charming fantasy, Walt’s first live-action musical, all of Mother Goose Village is celebrating two of its most beloved citizens, lovely Mary Contrary and handsome Tom Piper, who are about to wed—only the dastardly Barnaby seeks to stop their happiness. In a tuneful, colorful adventure that leads to merry, magical Toyland, our heroes team up with their young friends, including Bo Peep and Willie Winkie, to help the Toymaker meet his Christmas deadline. Babes in Toyland is a cherished holiday tradition, and this year D23 celebrates the feature as a 50 and Fabulous film. Let’s pack up the enchanted sleigh and take a look back at all the wonders of Walt Disney’s Toyland.

“The music for our motion picture Babes in Toyland is based on Victor Herbert’s original score, which he wrote more than half a century ago,” Walt explained in 1961. “We have updated the music and lyrics to fit current trends, but the melodies remain the same.” Combining classic Mother Goose characters with an entrancing vision of a Toyland where wooden soldiers come to life, Herbert’s musical fantasy is an audience favorite. Much as he had done with Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet for Walt’s animated version of Sleeping Beauty (1959), Disney composer George Bruns adapted Herbert’s score, changing the tempo of many songs, making new arrangements, transforming some themes into complete songs, and composing three new tunes—all to enliven Disney’s version of the timeless stage show.

While there had been many theatrical productions of this evergreen musical before Walt mounted his spectacular big-screen adaptation, there had also already been a screen version of the show, released in 1934 and starring Laurel and Hardy. Produced by comedy maven Hal Roach, this black-and-white film—re-titled March of the Wooden Soldiers in 1961 so as not to compete with the Disney release—also featured several “live” versions of Disney animated characters. (Roach personally sought Walt’s permission to use Mickey Mouse and the Three Little Pigs, and he provided his full cooperation.)

“About 1958 or ’59,” recalled animator/director Ward Kimball, one of Walt’s fabled Nine Old Men, “Walt called me up to his office and explained he had the rights to Babes in Toyland. Walt wanted to know if I’d like to take a crack at it because it would go into the public domain in 1960. There had already been two or three attempts at the Disney Studio to write some sort of story, but Walt figured that maybe I would have a different angle on it. I never agreed with the original Victor Herbert plot structure because the relationships between the characters seemed confusing. I forgot about what had been done before and worked out a plot where there was no doubt about what Barnaby was up to. Then I sat down with [veteran story artist] Joe Rinaldi and we did the storyboards. That’s what Walt saw and he liked it. Next, I got Mel Leven to write some new ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’ type lyrics. Walt always thought that a song should advance the plot. That was the big change in Babes, and Walt liked it.”

The sweet star of Babes in Toyland is Annette Funicello—Disney’s “girl next door” from TV’s Mickey Mouse Club—then at the crest of her success as a recording star. Though one might assume Babes in Toyland was planned as an Annette vehicle, Walt actually mused for some time about who to cast as Mary Contrary. Finally assistant to the producer Lou Debney said, “Well, Walt, in my opinion, if Columbia or Universal were making this, they’d probably be calling you, saying, ‘Can we borrow Annette?’” In fact, Annette remembered “all these redheaded gals coming to the studio for years being auditioned for the part of Mary. One day, however, Walt Disney walked up to me and said, ‘Follow me to the hairdressing department. I want to see how you look as a redhead.’ I guess he liked the way I looked because I got the role. For me it was a dream come true. People ask me what is my favorite film that I have done, and I have to admit, this is it.”

Annette’s vocal performances of the film’s songs are lovely, even though she considered Victor Herbert’s light opera melodies the most difficult she ever attempted. “Tommy Sands had a magnificent voice,” noted Annette, “he never had any problems, but I was a little shy about singing those beautiful songs.”

Teen idol Tommy Sands stars opposite Annette as Mary’s sweetheart, Tom Piper. The young singer was a national sensation since his starring role in The Singin’ Idol, a 1957 presentation on NBC’s Kraft Television Theatre, in which he was cast at the behest of admirer Elvis Presley. “I was doing a film with Fabian called Love in a Goldfish Bowl (1961) at Paramount,” related Tommy. “There were actually several of us up for the role in Babes—James Darren, Michael Callan, and myself—but one day Walt asked if he could come over and see the dailies. I was a bit concerned. I had my hair bleached blonde for Goldfish Bowl, so I would contrast with Fabian, but after Walt saw the dailies, he told my manager I had the part. I signed the contract and was thrilled.”

For the comically villainous Barnaby, Walt made the offbeat choice of Ray Bolger, beloved as the Scarecrow in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (1939). Walt cast Ray because, Lou Debney recalled, “he said, ‘I remember Ray Bolger when I was taking a trip to Hawaii on a boat. Ray Bolger was there, and after dinner, why, he would perform. God, that guy can dance.’” Returning to the screen after an eight-year absence in which he starred on Broadway and television, Ray essayed his most unusual role as the scheming Barnaby. “I’ve never done a part like this before, and I couldn’t resist the challenge,” admitted Ray. “He enjoyed playing Barnaby,” recalled Ward Kimball, “and played it in an old-fashioned melodrama kind of way.” Walt said, “Here’s a guy who can dance, sing, and has a face we can make a villain out of.”

Longtime comedy favorite Ed Wynn was deliciously cast as the befuddled Toymaker. “It was Walt’s challenge to recapture something we laughed at 30 years ago that intrigued me. That something is a combination of the dramatic, together with parts of The Perfect Fool and The Fire Chief characters I played on stage and radio that long ago.” Ed’s newly found status as a movie actor in such films as Marjorie Morningstar (1958) and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) even caused him to be mobbed at the Dallas airport on a publicity tour. “Nowadays, I have almost as many fans as Elvis Presley,” laughed Ed. “Only difference is that when they swoon, they have a hard time getting up again.” “Ed Wynn was always ‘on,’” commented co-star Tommy Kirk. “He was a nut.”

Based on the young actor’s popularity in films ranging from Old Yeller (1957) to Swiss Family Robinson (1960), Walt found a role for Tommy Kirk whenever he could. In Babes in Toyland, Tommy plays the daffy inventor Grumio. “Tommy was very talented,” observed Annette. “He never realized what a fantastic comedian he was.” Another Disney favorite, Kevin “Moochie” Corcoran is joined by his bother Brian as two of the titular Babes. Kevin and Brian appear as Boy Blue and Willie Winkie respectively. Like his older brother, 10-year-old Brian was under Studio contract and was seen in such Disney TV mini-series as Elfego Baca, Texas John Slaughter, and Daniel Boone. Doing a hilarious Laurel and Hardy-like turn as Barnaby’s henchmen, Gene Sheldon (one of America’s foremost pantomime artists) and Henry Calvin steal the show, just as they had done on the Zorro TV series. Interestingly, Henry performed as Oliver Hardy opposite Dick Van Dyke’s Stan Laurel on a classic episode of TV’s The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Singer Ann Jillian made her motion picture debut in Babes in Toyland. This talented young actress went on to appear in Gypsy (1962), the 1980s TV series Jennifer Slept Here, and for Disney, the well-loved Sammy the Way-Out Seal on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in 1962. “Working in Babes was like living out a fairy tale,” remembered Ann. “Ray Bolger taught me how to tango while we were both in costume one day. It’s such a blessing, as a child, to be encouraged to pretend. It fascinated me that people were actually paid to make up all those wonderful sets. Yes, it really was like living out a fairy tale.”

Three Disney soundstages were utilized to house the fanciful film’s enormous sets. These candy-colored backdrops, designed by legendary art directors Carroll Clark and Marvin Davis, set a whimsical stage for the lively action, creating a cartoon-like world of fantasy. “We had carpenters who’d worked all those years on the Mickey Mouse Club, and they could make anything,” revealed Ward Kimball. “There was also a certain cartoon quality that we tried to go for. Originally, they were thinking of doing Babes as a cartoon, but when you’re doing a feature cartoon, you’re talking about two years of work. There was the time element involved here. Doing it as a live-action film, we could do it quickly. Walt also had his stable of stars available at that time.”

“The Babes sets were a fun place to be when you’re a kid,” recalled Kevin. “The Pumpkin House and Mother Hubbard’s shoe were set up like living rooms with little tables and chairs, dollhouse furniture. Walt was very particular in what he did, and he didn’t do anything halfway—he wanted to do it right or not do it.” Filling a stage longer than two football fields, the spooky Forest of No Return included smoke-like fog, cobwebs, and 100 fiberglass trees, hauntingly highlighted by blue and purple spotlights and backed by a 180-degree cyclorama-like painting. For the singing-and-dancing sentinel trees, special effects artist Robert Mattey fashioned tubular foam rubber into trunks, sculptured with burners and spray-painted for a weathered look. Movable eyes, arms, and mouths were operated by dancers inside the tree “costumes” through a specialized set of rigs.

For the scenes in which the Toyland characters are made toy-size by Grumio’s “poof” gun, eye-popping oversize versions of many of the Toymaker’s shop’s sets and props—including furniture, toys, and an immense birdcage—were crafted. Among the most elaborate of the film’s fantastical props is the wacky Toymaking machine. It took 28 Disney stage electricians to control its operation from a panel of 400 switches. Composed of everything from Lucite globes, glass tubing, steel pipe, rubber hoses, and oscilloscopes to neon lights, multi-colored cellophane, balloons, and ping-pong balls, the contraption even included a childlike design complete with robotic face. “It looks great,” said Walt. “But if it could only work, really work, we could revolutionize the toy business.”

One of the movie’s most delightful props is actually one of its most lovable characters: Sylvester (“my friends call me Silly”) Goose, a puppet voiced by director Jack Donahue. “Mary McCarty as Mother Goose held this puppet,” explained Ward Kimball,” and right out of sight behind her was Jimmy Macdonald, head of our Sound Effects department. He made the goose’s mouth move, synchronizing it with the dialogue, by reaching his hand up Mary’s arm.” Mel Leven recalled that in the “Floretta” number, “it was my gag when the gypsy picked up the goose’s foot to read its palm and sang, ‘I see in your palm you are lonesome for Tom’ [to the goose instead of Mary]. Well, Walt thought that was so funny he almost fell off his seat. He just roared about that one.”

Oscar®-winner Bill Thomas designed the lavish costumes including Mary’s holiday-themed hand-embroidered red-velvet robe with white fur stole and matching muff. This elegant cloak was worn over Mary’s exquisite winter-white wedding dress. Annette was so thrilled with Bill’s costumes that he designed the bridal gown for her real-life fairy-tale wedding in 1965. The Walt Disney Archives proudly counts Mary’s Christmas ensemble and Tom’s wedding outfit, as well as their magical sleigh, among its treasures.

Disney special effects sparkle throughout Babes in Toyland, from the animated stars that emanate when Tom is hit on the head with a mallet to the ever-deepening pool of Roderigo’s crocodile tears during the “Slowly He Sank to the Bottom of the Sea” number. Another highlight is “I Can’t Do the Sum,” in which Ms. Funicello splits into a series of multi-colored Annettes, forming a chorus in which she sings with herself, echoing the famed “Annette sound” of overlaid vocals. “‘I Can’t Do the Sum’ was actually one of my favorite scenes,” Annette said, citing the movie magic throughout the number. “I was working on wires when I was walking on my hands.”

The film’s climax is the rousing “March of the Wooden Soldiers” sequence, in which a miniaturized Tom leads a toy battalion against Barnaby. Ward Kimball, who was also an avid toy collector, headed the special unit set up for the making of the more than 100 toys created especially for this dynamic scene. Many of the toys incorporated working parts from store-bought playthings, converted to fit the enchanting sequence’s uniquely designed characters.  Disney’s resident stop-motion animation experts, Bill Justice and X. Atencio, with an assist from master sculptor Yale Gracey and Ted Tillman, of the studio property department, handled the creation and “animotion” (the Disney-created term for stop-motion animation) of the individual characters.

The toy soldiers were made with interchangeable sets of arms and legs so that the stop-motion camera could capture their parading. “The marching sequence was all on a 12-beat,” explained Bill, “which meant the toy soldiers would each take a step every 12 frames. Each one of those soldiers—we had 40 in some scenes—had 12 sets of legs that had to be changed every frame in order to make a complete step.” The soldier figures were about 12 inches high with bodies cast out of hollow fiberglass. Babes in Toyland‘s red-uniformed toy solders became the breakout stars of the film and have been featured in holiday parades at Disney theme parks ever since the movie’s premiere.

Babes in Toyland marked the first time Disney’s licensees had the opportunity to manufacture toys that were actually seen in a movie. The Fairy Princess doll played with by Annette in the endearing “Just a Toy” number was designed especially for the film by Uneeda Doll Co., and 367 separate fun-filled Babes in Toyland items, including puzzles, puppets, Colorforms, costumes, and games were manufactured by 45 companies participating in the giant Christmas promotion.

Feature stories ran in The New York Times and Life, but the most spectacular celebration of the film came courtesy of Walt Disney himself. Originally colorcast on December 17, 1961, on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, “Backstage Party” featured Walt inviting his viewers to the Babes in Toyland wrap party. The principal Toyland stars performed songs and comedy routines, accompanied by such Disney staffers as composer George Bruns on trombone, lyricist Mel Leven on ukulele, and sound effects expert Jimmy Macdonald on drums. Choreographer Tom Mahoney danced, director Jack Donohue took some good-natured ribbing, and Tommy Kirk presented Ed Wynn with a “Mousecar” award commemorating Ed’s 60th anniversary in show business.

Released on December 14, 1961, Babes in Toyland was showcased as the Christmas attraction at Radio City Music Hall where Ray Bolger, coincidentally, had danced at the great theater’s grand opening in 1932. This toy-riffic tune film was honored with two Academy Award® nominations: Best Scoring of a Musical Picture (George Bruns) and Best Costume Design (Color) (Bill Thomas). So colorful and fascinating in themselves were the film’s ornate settings that an elaborate exhibit of Toyland sets were displayed at Disneyland’s Main Street Opera House from December 1961 through September 1963. The movie made its television premiere in two parts on The Wonderful World of Disney, on December 21 and December 28, 1969, where Mary Contrary herself, Annette, introduced the merry musical as a Christmas event. Since then, after multiple yuletide airings and its first release on home video in 1982, this kaleidoscopic collage of holiday treats has become a seasonal tradition in many homes.

Weaving such wondrous screen enchantment was child’s play for Walt and his motion-picture merrymakers. And for the rest of us, Babes in Toyland remains a tuneful treat at Christmas or any time of year.

By D23′s Jim Fanning
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