Featured Attractions

Monday, December 31, 2018

Don Lusk, 1913 - 2017

Don Lusk, who was hired by Walt Disney in 1933 and is generally considered to be one of the last living animators from Disney’s Golden Age has passed away at 105. Mr. Lusk joined The Disney Studios right before it began animating its classic string of hits. Mr. Lusk worked on Pinocchio and Fantasia among other films before leaving the studio to work on television on such projects as the Charlie Brown specials and eventually Hanna Barbera’s Saturday morning television slate. He retired in the 1990’s.

Music Mondays: “There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”

While Walt Disney’s favorite song was Feed the Birds, his unofficial personal anthem (at least in the mind of Richard Sherman) was There’s A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, written by the Sherman Brothers for the Disney produced GE Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.

The song is a bouncy, positive tribute to the future. Walt Disney acknowledged the problems faced by humanity, but he also felt that technology and science could solve those problems. The solution to society’s ills and issues could be found through research and knowledge. It was that positive viewpoint that drove Walt Disney forward.

The Sherman Brothers always said that the song was one of the easiest for them to write because they just inserted Walt Disney’s optimism into the song. There was no doubt that Walt Disney would enjoy the song; it worked in his beliefs about the future. The song would eventually make its way to DISNEYLAND as part of the Carousel of Progress in the New Tomorrowland that opened in 1967.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Magic Of Donald Duck

Disneyland Paris has recently released a commercial that perfectly encapsulates the world’s love of the Disney Theme Parks. 

In the short commercial, we see a cute Duckling who happens upon a Disney Comic Book featuring Donald Duck on the cover. The Duckling fully embraces the comic book, reading it over and over again and posing like his hero Donald Duck. Soon it becomes time for the Duck family to migrate south. The comic book proves too heavy for the Duck to take with him and it falls into a pond- completely destroyed. Saddened, the Duckling flies with his family, lamenting his lost book. He waddles off as a huge shadow approaches. He looks up and we see a look of pure joy on his face. Before him is his hero- Donald Duck. He runs over to him and embraces Donald’s leg. He realizes that his dream world and his hero are real. A heartwarming end!

As a child, I instantly fell in love with DISNEYLAND. After my first visit to the Magic Kingdom, I took home a pictorial souvenir book like the one pictured above, which I read over and over again, much like the little fellow in the commercial. Visiting DISNEYLAND was a dream come true and I eagerly wished and hoped that I could visit it again, much like the little Duckling. My dream eventually came true many times over and I have considered myself lucky to have been able to make so many trips to my most favorite place in the world.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Penny Marshall: 1943 - 2018

Disney Deep Dive: A Practically Perfect Shoot

After a short delay due to Julie Andrews’ pregnancy, filming on Mary Poppins began. The film would use state of the art technologies to bring the magical world of Mary Poppins to life. While the shoot itself was a breeze when the scene didn’t have special effects, some of the technology caused huge issues with the cast. For example, the picture used an audio animatronic bird that required Julie Andrews to wear heavy cables under her costume. Needless to say, she was not very happy about it.

Many of the special effects used in Mary Poppins were devised by Disney Legend Ub Iwerks. If you recall Disney history, that name should ring a bell. Ub Iwerks was the only animator who stayed with Walt Disney after Oswald was taken by Universal Pictures and animated the earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons. Mr. Iwerks was made a partner in the business, owning a third share of Walt Disney Productions. When Walt Disney’s second distributor tried and failed to steal the Mickey Mouse copyrights, he convinced Ub Iwerks to jump ship and go out on his own. Mr. Iwerks cashed out his shares for $4,000, devastating Walt Disney who could barely afford to buy him out. (That stake would be worth about $60 Billion today.) After his solo efforts failed, Ub returned to Disney on the condition that he not be asked to work in the animation department. Walt Disney let Ub work on his own projects, which laid the groundwork for the special effects used in Mary Poppins.

The production completed, the film would go into post production to incorporate Ub’s special effects with the live action footage. Would the world approve of the film? Stay tuned!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Disney Deep Dive: A Practically Perfect Cast

After the drama with P.L. Travers subsided, Walt Disney set about building his cast. He was certain that he had found the only person he felt should play Mary Poppins- Julie Andrews. Ms. Andrews had actually been discovered by another Disney Legend- DISNEYLAND’s Wally Boag. Mr. Boag has been performing in England when he invited a young and shy Julie Andrews to the stage. She dazzled the audience with her singing and by 1962 was performing on Broadway.

There was one problem, however. Ms. Andrews was performing in My Fair Lady at the time and was being actively recruited for the part. She agreed to do Mary Poppins, but only if she wasn’t offered the role of Eliza Doolittle. As fate would have it, Audrey Hepburn would get that role and Julie would gratefully accept the role she was seemingly born to play.

Dick Van Dyke was probably an odd choice for Bert, considering he was American and seemingly would have an issue with the accent, but Walt Disney had seen him on The Dick Van Dyke Show and felt that his everyman persona would help introduce the audience to the magical world he intended to produce on screen.

The rest of Cast was all British- Mr. and Mrs. Banks were David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns and the Poppins Kids by Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber.

With the cast in place, filming would begin entirely on a soundstage at The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Walt Disney: 12/5/1901 - 12/15/1966

“In 1966, the world was saddened by Mr. Disney’s death- but it’s such a comfort to know that his soul lives on together with his dreams.”

-Annette Funicello

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Winds Have Changed!

The Mary Poppins Deep Dive returns next week!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Disney Deep Dive: Pre-Production Fireworks

Mary Poppins went into pre-production with the Sherman Brothers, Don DaGradi and Walt Disney brainstorming ideas. After about a month, Mr. Disney flew Ms. Travers in from England to join the pre-production process. That’s when the sparks began to fly.

Ms. Travers’ participation at this point in the production process was unheard of in Hollywood. Most of the time the authors who license their books to Hollywood do little more than cash the sizable checks they receive. Hollywood sees the authors as knowing little about how a film is made and more often than not sidelines them in favor of more seasoned screenwriters. In cases where the author gains the right to submit the first draft of the script, the studios will often discard the script by default. Ms. Travers was given unprecedented access to the production process at its earliest stage.

Many people have criticized the 2013 film Saving Mr. Banks for “smearing” the name of P.L. Travers by portraying her in a negative light. While the movie did take some liberties- the movie depicts Walt Disney hosting Ms. Travers at DISNEYLAND when it was Don DaGradi who took her to the park- it actually softened her abrasive attitude. Richard Sherman has said that the depiction of Ms. Travers in the film made her seem much nicer than she actually was. The proof is in the recordings made of their intense sessions with her. Ms. Travers criticizes the songs, voices her strong opinions and seems to have vastly different ideas of how the film should be. The sessions were recorded so that they could refer back to them after P.L. returned to England, but they ended up proving that the author seemed to have little patience for these Hollywood types and their eccentric (to Ms. Travers) boss. Richard has voiced the opinion that his experience on the pre-production end of the film was more stressful due to Ms. Travers. 

Eventually, this part of the pre-production ended and Ms. Travers flew back to London. She didn’t leave on the best of terms and still expressed doubt that they were on the right track with the picture. While she still provided written notes now and then, the next time she would be back in Hollywood would be for the grand premiere.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Disney Deep Dive: Arranging the Team

With P.L. Travers on board, Walt Disney set about arranging his production team. Prior to Mary Poppins, Walt Disney and his animators would storyboard a feature and determine where the songs should go. At that point, the studio’s songwriters would be brought in to work on the music. They were told what the song should convey and how it should fit into the film.

For Mary Poppins, Walt Disney wanted to change the process. He wanted the songwriters to be involved from the very beginning so that the music would be fully integrated into the picture. This would involve the hiring of full time staff songwriters, which was becoming a rarity in Hollywood. After the collapse of the studio system, most of the studios had shed their full time staff. Walt Disney Productions, on the other hand, had so many musical projects in the hopper that it still had staff writers- Richard and Robert Sherman to be exact.

Richard and Robert Sherman were the sons of legendary song writer Al Sherman. Despite their father’s discouragement, they decided to join the family business and become song writers. They mostly wrote bubblegum songs, which caught the attention of Tutti Camarata, who hired them for DISNEYLAND Records. Tutti had been tasked with turning Annette Funicello into a pop star and he felt the Shermans could do the job, as well as write other songs that might be required for the label. Annette’s string of hits caught the attention of Walt Disney, who offered “the boys” the chance of a lifetime- to write the music and songs for Mary Poppins. The brothers were surprised; not only did Walt Disney apparently know who they were (they hadn’t had much direct contact with him up to this point) he also entrusted them with a massive film project that was near and dear to his heart. They had never undertaken such a project before, but they could hardly say no to Walt Disney. They eagerly accepted this new challenge.

When it came to scripting the action, Walt Disney selected the person at his studio who he felt was the best at script and story writing- Don DaGradi. Don was asked to work with the Sherman Brothers to craft a fully realized story that was completely integrated with the music and songs. While Don knew he was fully up to the challenge, he would have to do some on the job training with the Shermans to get them up to speed on what was required for a movie script and how their songs could become an indelible part of the final picture. The biggest challenge, however, would be working with the strong willed P.L. Travers. It would be an experience nobody involved would ever forget.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Disney Deep Dive: “Mary Poppins”

Mary Poppins is considered to be one of Walt Disney’s greatest films, however the film didn’t have an easy path to production. When Walt Disney began his effort to make the film, his daughters were young children. By the time the picture was released, his daughters had children of their own. Along the way, Walt would face his biggest challenger yet- P.L. Travers, the author of the famed Mary Poppins books.

The saga began when Mr. Disney’s daughters were quite young. The book they loved to have read to them at bedtime was Mary Poppins and once they realized that their father was the Walt Disney, they asked him to turn their favorite book into a motion picture. Mr. Disney promised that he would and quickly made an offer to acquire the rights from the author of the book- P.L. Travers.

Despite the extremely British setting of her books, P.L. Travers was born and grew up in Australia, moving to England as an adult. Ms. Travers was known as a blunt perfectionist; a less kind version of Mary Poppins. When she was first approached by Mr. Disney, she quickly declined his offer. She didn’t want Mary to be a cartoon character and when he first approached her, Disney was only producing animated films. World War II would intervene and Walt Disney had other worries to deal with, so the project would take a long rest. After the war, England would try to rebuild itself by freezing foreign assets, including those of Walt Disney Productions. If Disney wanted to do anything with its British earnings it would have to make pictures in England. Walt figures this would be an excellent opportunity to ask Ms. Travers to purchase the film rights again.

Prior to this time, Disney hadn’t produced a fully live action film yet and Ms. Travers was still reluctant to entrust Mr. Disney with Mary Poppins. Walt Disney Productions would eventually begin producing live action pictures, but it would also find itself extremely busy throughout the 1950’s, with numerous television shows, DISNEYLAND and a full slate of pictures. By the end of the decade, fate would finally intervene; Walt Disney would be ready to make the film and Ms. Travers would find herself in diminished circumstances. She finally agreed to sell the movie rights to Walt Disney provided that she be given unprecedented access to the pre-production process. Walt Disney enthusiastically agreed.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Happy Birthday, Walt Disney!

I have always been a huge fan of Walt Disney, even before I knew that I was one. Mickey Mouse was one of my first friends and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know of him or anything Disney. I still have fond memories of going to Disney films as a child; I remember the first time I saw Cinderella and my all time favorite film Pinocchio. Walt Disney’s creations have always been a part of my life even before I knew who he was.

I still recall my first visit to his Magic Kingdom; as I entered the park through the right side tunnel with my parents and sister, I remember being in awe with this magical place. We stuck to the sidewalk and I still remember the moment we rounded the corner past the Disney Showcase and I got my first glimpse of Sleeping Beauty Castle. I instantly fell in love with DISNEYLAND. It was like one of my dreams had come to life and I could actually walk around it. This was where my Disney friends lived and where dreams could come true.

As a curious child, I wondered about who had built this place and why he did it. My parents bought a pictorial souvenir book for me that contained some of the answers. I recall looking at the pictures and reading the text over and over again to learn all that I could about DISNEYLAND and the man who built it. I gained a huge admiration for Mr. Disney and his many achievements and eventually got a larger book about his life to read. Imagine my surprise and delight upon learning that one of my heroes- Mr. Disney- was born on December 5th, 1901. I too was born on December 5th, though many years later, of course. I considered it to be an honor to share my special day with such a special person.

Since that time, I have learned so many things about Mr. Disney that I found inspiring. When first he arrived in California, he had just $40 and a suitcase full of dreams. The studio he founded would grow exponentially over the years and is currently worth over $70 Billion. Several of his groundbreaking achievements were originally derided as “Disney’s Folly”- the first one being Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which naysayers insisted would fail and be forgotten. The second one was DISNEYLAND, which was predicted to go bankrupt six months after it was opened. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a massive success, still watched and loved by generations of children. And nearly 65 years later DISNEYLAND is still going strong.

Mr. Disney continues to be a huge inspiration to me years after his passing. Despite the fact that many people considered his ideas foolish and sure to fail, he persevered and made his dreams come true. I was especially honored when I discovered that I had been quoted in a book about Mr. Disney. It was even more exciting when I found the book for sale in DISNEYLAND, just steps away from the very spot where I fell in love with DISNEYLAND as a child.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Disney- and thank you. Your work and legacy has endured long after the naysayers have been forgotten. Generations of children still enjoy your creations and you truly made the world a better place.