What do The Rocketeer, Captain America, and Indiana Jones have in common? Probably more than you think! In this video we attempt to uncover why The Rocketeer has become such an endearing cult-classic, where its inspiration comes from, how the concept of retrofuturism impacted its enduring popularity, and how it has unexpectedly influenced cinema to this very day…over 30 years after its initial release!
Mickey’s Christmas Carol- A Holiday Retrospective
An Unappreciated Disney Classic (Robin Hood-1973)
Here’s an in-depth look at a truly underrated movie. What makes Robin Hood defy the odds?
Disney’s Villainous Voices
A Special Behind-the-Scenes Look at Disney’s Top Villain Vocalists
It’s that time of year again when the leaves start falling from the trees and the aroma of Pumpkin Spice is everywhere, to the joy (or chagrin) of many. It’s also what I like to call ‘spooky season’, and that means that it’s time to get the ball rolling on costumed candy-corn content for those of you who enjoy alliterations with your hot cocoa. During this season, Disney fans everywhere are delving into their own unique brand of October fun. These Disney fall festivities include movies like The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Hocus Pocus, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Coco. They also consist of Disney Park offerings like The Haunted Mansion, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. However, there is one Disney Halloween tradition that is wholly unique; the Disney Villains.
I’ve noticed that it’s been a while since I’ve visited this specific Disney brand. And since I’m not really that good at “traditional” Halloween fare because of my strange aversion to the macabre and my dedication to being obnoxiously cheerful, I’ve decided it’s the perfect time to delve into some fascinating topics relating to the Disney fiendish foes…Do I really need an excuse?
For our first “Villains Month” offering, I’m diving deep into some of the greatest vocal performances in Disney history! This is a countdown of The 15 Most Iconic Disney Villainous Voices!
(Note: This list only includes the 57 films of “Disney’s Animated Canon”, and due to the sheer number of Disney Villains, not every iconic voice could be included)
- Queen of Hearts
Her royal red highness from Alice in Wonderland (1951), is a bit more obscure when it comes to vocals. However, she’s earned a place on this list due to a voice that was highly iconic for the time. Radio veteran and accomplished voice-actor Verna Felton, known for her iconic work as Dennis Day’s mother in the Jack Benny program, lent her talents to this short-tempered villainess. The constant cries of “off with their heads” should sound familiar too, because Verna ended up voicing characters in 6 different Disney features: the cruel Elephant Matriarch in Dumbo, The iconic Fairy Godmother from Cinderella, The Queen of Hearts, the antagonistic Aunt Sarah from Lady and the Tramp, the fussy Good Fairy Flora from Sleeping Beauty, and finally another elephant in the Jungle Book! That’s an impressive track record!
- Man in the Bowler Hat
Meet the Robinsons is definitely one of the more obscure Disney movies, and although it has become a cult classic with legions of fans all around the world, it’s not exactly the first place you’d look for something like this. However, Meet the Robinsons is actually a treasure trove for amazing vocal performances! The Man in the Bowler Hat (yes, that’s his actual title), better known as Goob, is on this list because of his hilarious portrayal by Director Stephen J Anderson. Stephen is known for his work as a story artist and writer on films like Tarzan, Zootopia, Frozen, Moana, Winnie the Pooh, Wreck-it Ralph…and the list goes on and on! His ridiculous, over-the-top, and irreverent portrayal of the charismatic, and yet incredibly pathetic, Michael Yagoobian is one of the many reasons why Meet the Robinsons is so fun to watch!
Ratigan is somewhat of an icon for fans of Disney’s “Dark Age” of animation. People who grew up on films like Robin Hood or Aristocats, remember The Great Mouse Detective fondly for it’s unique reimagining of Sherlock Holmes as a mouse called Basil. And of course, every Sherlock Holmes needs his own Moriarity! Ratigan, a criminal genius of a rat, fills this role perfectly and is portrayed wonderfully by one of the most refined and iconic actors of classic cinema: The King of Macabre himself, Vincent Price. The sophistication, menace, and dark humour of Ratigan come through in every line of this unique performance thanks to Vincent’s phenomenal vocal range.
Don’t know who Vincent Price is? There’s actually a big chance that you’ve heard of Vincent Price’s work, even if you don’t recognize his name! Seriously, just take a look at his filmography!
This villain from Tarzan often gets passed over in the grand scheme of things, and that’s a real shame. He’s a well-crafted antagonist, but Disney’s precarious licensing deal with the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate ensures that he stays out of most movie-related products, and thus out of the public eye. Such is the world of copyrighted trademarks, unfortunately. But even if he isn’t an incredibly popular villain, he still deserves a place on this list for his highly entertaining vocal performance.
British actor Brian Blessed, known for his long and illustrious career in film and television, and roles in cult-classic franchises like Flash Gordon, lends his booming sophistication to this heinous hunter. The pleasant bass tones of Brian’s educated vocals lend themselves perfectly to Clayton’s persona of the refined and menacing Englishman.
- Shere Kahn
The Jungle Book was the last animated feature that Walt Disney himself worked on before passing away in 1966. As such, it has earned a place of reverence not just with Disney fans, but also with artists inside the Disney company itself. The movie focused on character above anything else and presented the culmination of Disney’s refinement after 30 years of animating animals. Each character is full of life, authenticity, and fluidity, and each has a distinctive voice that matches their personality perfectly. And the villain is no exception!
Academy Award Winner George Sanders was tasked with bringing the powerful Shere Kahn to life and he did not disappoint! Sanders’ filmography is incredibly extensive, with his most iconic role being The Falcon, and he has played characters ranging from heartless villains, to charming royalty. His resonant vocals gave an air of confident control to Shere Kahn and the performance, along with the sophisticated animation that was paired with it, were quoted as direct inspirations for one of the greatest villains in Disney history; Scar from The Lion King.
There is plenty of irreverent self-aware humor in the The Emporer’s New Groove, so it’s no surprise that the casting wouldn’t be any different. Eartha Kitt was an incredibly accomplished singer and actress who is revered around the world as an icon of civil rights in show business. She used her talents to rise from poverty and oppression into worldwide fame. In her later years, she remained humble and was often known for her ability to find the humor in serious situations. She is also remembered for her willingness to poke fun at her own life.
Known for her beauty and alluring voice, Eartha’s work includes iconic songs like her original holiday hit Santa Baby (yes, that Santa Baby!) and roles like Catwoman in 1966’s Batman television series. So, it’s no surprise that her self-aware role in the Emperor’s New Groove would reference her career. Eartha, who was in her 70’s by the time of the film’s debut, was delighted to learn that Yzma would encapsulate her unique sense of humor. In the film, Yzma is an old woman trying to appear young and beautiful to creepy affect, poking fun at Eartha’s own history as a showbusiness icon.
Most stars wouldn’t be comfortable making fun of themselves, but apparently Eartha loved this self-referential humor so much that she signed on to play the character again for the sequel and the subsequent TV show!
There are more villains to get through on this list, but unfortunately, we’ve run out of time here. But don’t fret! October is a long month, and we have many more fiendish foes to follow! Check out Part 2 here!
Which Villainous voice is your favorite? Let us know in the comments down below!
The Origin of Mickey Mouse (and What it Means to Me)
There’s something incredibly special about Mickey Mouse. Even 90 years after his debut, he’s still making people smile all over the world. But why is Mickey Mouse so special? This is a peculiar question, because I don’t think people ask it very often…or even think about for that matter. For a lot of people, he just is. Today, I think that it’s kind of easy to take this cartoon character for granted and miss the spirit which made him popular in the first place.
Today, I wanted to explain what Mickey Mouse means to me. I wanted to talk about why Mickey Mouse is my hero…
As I was growing up, I knew that I loved animation. I was already interested in movies, but there was something unique about the hand-drawn films of Disney’s heyday that captured my attention. There was an intangible charm that set them apart from most of the live-action movies that I had seen. Animation was the playground where anything was possible.
And of course, you couldn’t be a fan of animation without at least hearing the name Mickey Mouse. He was an icon; his face was everywhere.
So, as a small child who didn’t understand how films were made, I think I took Mickey for granted and just assumed that he went with cartoons the same way that peanut butter went with jelly. But as I got older, and began to study the film industry in earnest, I began to realize that Mickey Mouse represented so much more. And in order to understand why, we have to go back to his creation.
The story of Mickey Mouse’s inception is a long one, so I’ll try to keep this recap brief for context. The most important thing about his creation was that Mickey Mouse was born out of desperation. He was created during one of the lowest points in Walt Disney’s life. In fact, Mickey Mouse’s creation was a direct result of Walt Disney losing everything. During the 1920’s, in the early days of his animation career, and before his name would become synonymous with high-quality animation, Walt produced cartoons for established industry leaders. But it was hard work for very little return and Walt was having trouble making ends meet. Still, ever the perfectionist, Walt strove for greatness and a standard of quality that made his competitors balk. But in this season of pushing for the best product possible he may have done too well. first truly successful creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was popular enough to run a series that Walt’s Distributor, Charles Mintz, coveted. But Walt Disney poured every cent the company had back into his cartoons to make them better. In addition, he spent as much time and talent as was possible on improving the quality of the animation which slowed production and limited the amount of cartoons that Mintz could cash in on.
Of course, this didn’t sit too well with Mintz’s avarice. Mintz, who still retained the right to distribute Oswald and therefore could make his own cartoons (despite Walt having been the one who created the character) decided that he didn’t want Walt’s quality control. He believed that he could pump out cartoons twice as fast and make double the profits on low-quality animation. He believed Walt to be unnecessary to his own chars and swindled Oswald out from under Disney’s nose. And if that wasn’t enough, Mintz then proceeded to bribe most of Walt Disney’s top animators into leaving him. Effectively, the entire studio, save for a few loyalists who believed in Walt’s standard of quality, abandoned Walt to work on Oswald for Charles Mintz.
Even after working years for what little he had, Walt had lost everything.
Walt Disney, along with his wife Lillian, claimed that on the train ride home from this heartbreaking and potentially career-ending event, he refused to give up hope. No matter how bleak everything looked, Walt was determined to survive. So, with no creative assets to his name, Walt decided to try and create one more character to make new cartoons with. In his desperation, he sketched out a little mouse, and although the design would end up changing significantly thanks to the collaboration of a genius animator named Ub Iwerks (one of the few employees that remained loyal during the Mintz fallout) the spirit of the character was created. Mickey Mouse had been born. And without knowing it, Walt Disney created the most recognizable and popular cartoon character of all time. And he had done it during a time when everyone thought he would fail. That fateful day, Disney proved Mintz wrong. He proved that the Disney touch was crucial to his cartoon character’s success!
The rest is history…and that’s the point.
Mickey’s history, and what it represents, is what is most important about him. What makes Mickey Mouse so special isn’t his popularity, or even his bankability (although he has both in spades), but rather what he meant to Walt Disney himself. For Disney, Mickey Mouse represented perseverance. Mickey was proof that hard work, perseverance, and quality were the keys to success. He represented Disney’s own humble beginnings, and this was something that Walt Disney never forgot.
“I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing-that it was all started by a mouse.”
Walt would say this years later, recalling the humble start of his artistic legacy. It remained a lesson for Disney to never forget how he had started out with nothing, and that he had a responsibility to treat whatever he earned with respect. To remember that he was no better than anyone else, and that what he had was a blessing.
Ironically, Mickey Mouse came to eventually represent that very thing; an average, humble, everyday citizen who could do something extraordinary if he put his mind to it. And knowing the history behind it all, there’s no way that this could have been a coincidence. Walt put his very identity into this little mouse, because he had risked everything on him, and as a result Mickey became Walt’s alter ego, literally and figuratively. Walt even voiced Mickey for several years in his classic cartoons; turning Mickey into who Walt Disney wanted to be.
Mickey is special because he reminds us of what it means to persevere; to never give up on your dreams. Without Mickey, Disney would have never found success, and because many consider Disney to be the pioneer of modern animation, the art form itself might not have become the prevalent and memorable industry that we recognize it as today. Mickey changed the way we look at animation and shaped The Disney Company into what it would one-day become.
So, when I look at Mickey Mouse, I cannot help but be full of gratitude for what he’s done for the movies that I love. When I see him, I’m reminded of what animation means to me, and why I love film in the first place. Filmmaking inspires me to live out my dreams and to never give up on them. It pushes me to tell stories that impact the world and invites me to bring a smile to faces everywhere. Mickey Mouse is simply a physical reminder of this love, and for that, I owe him my undying respect.
So, when I go to a Disney Park and see the statue with Walt Disney holding Mickey’s tiny hand in his, gesturing to a world of imagination, I must thank them both for being brave enough to follow their dreams… and in turn inspiring me to do the same. Mickey Mouse is more than just an iconic face. He’s the representative of a legacy that spans generations, and reminds dreamers everywhere, that they can do anything that they set their minds to. It shows them, like Walt Disney said, that “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
Swinging Wake: The History of The Haunted Mansion Part 2
Read Part 1 HERE!
The year is 1966. A thrilling adventure on the high seas has just been added to Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. But there is something else that grabs the attention of guests in the area. Something new and mysterious. Wide-eyed children look through a pair of wrought-iron gates at a strange building…an opulent mansion. No one knows what will be inside, and the only hint of what’s to come is a sign that reads:
“Notice! All ghosts and restless spirits. Post lifetime leases are now available in this Haunted Mansion”
It’s followed by a description of the mansion’s offerings for retired haunts and ends with the phrase:
“For reservations send resume of past experience to: Ghost Relations Dept., Disneyland. Please! Do not apply in person.”
This sign is all guests know about the inside of the Haunted Mansion and would be the only bit of knowledge they’d receive about the attraction for several years. expectations were rising. This mysterious attraction captured the imagination of Disneyland guests from all over the world and the anticipation rose to new heights.
Fast-forward to early 1969…All who visited Disneyland were eagerly awaiting the future attraction; none of them even realizing the development nightmare that had been going on behind the scenes for nearly half a decade.
They could have never known that in 1964 work on the mansion (which had already been in development for 10 years) came to a screeching halt when Walt Disney diverted all of his attention to the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. Everyone who was anyone at Disneyland was sent to work on the extensive lineup of attractions that would debut at the fair, and no one was left to work on any of the ongoing home-projects at Disneyland. The Haunted Mansion would have to wait for a little longer.
However, fate was on the Haunted Mansion’s side, because the World’s Fair actually provided several technological breakthroughs that effectively solved many of the future storytelling problems for the Mansion, allowing development to flow more smoothly than it ever had before.
You see, before the World’s Fair, the story that the Imagineers could tell In the Haunted Mansion was limited by the technology of the times. The World’s Fair provided an unprecedented stroke of luck that greatly broadened the borders of what they could accomplish and opened up previously unimagined horizons. The first of these lucky breakthroughs, and arguably the most famous, was the “perfection” of Disney’s Audio Animatronic technology; which had first debuted in the Enchanted Tiki Room in 1963. With the technological innovation of the photo-realistic Mr. Lincoln at the World’s Fair, it was finally possible to populate the Mansion with a believable cast of characters in various stages of movement, rather than in static scenes, allowing the story to be told in a much more efficient manner.
The second breakthrough, and probably the most important for the future of the Mansion, was the advent of the Omnimover Ride System. This ingenious vehicle design was an evolution of the PeopleMover system developed for the Ford’s Magic Skyway attraction at the World’s Fair. In essence, this system was a chain of individual swiveling vehicles that ran on a hidden track underneath the ground moving at a constant speed, so that passengers could be unloaded and loaded in an efficient manner and at consistent rate.
The reason why this second innovation proved such a game-changer was the fact that, up until that point, the Haunted Mansion was supposed to be walkthrough exhibit. The Omnimover system allowed the attraction to become a continuous ride-through experience; raising its hourly capacity tremendously. It also allowed Imagineers to control what riders would see, by preplanning the track layout and the programming the individual cars to swivel or turn on cue. They effectively controlled the audience’s view of the story and special effects in the same way a camera would for a feature film. The Haunted Mansion was slowly becoming like a real-life movie that you could step into.
Now with the technology to tell an effective story, Disney simply needed storytellers that could execute those technological tools correctly. Luckily, after the World’s Fair ended, two of Walt’s greatest storytellers were now available for the mansion. Marc Davis, known for his brilliant animation of Cinderella, Maleficent, Cruella De Vil, Tinker Bell, and many more famous Disney characters, was brought onto the project for character and scenario design. After his concepts for Pirates of the Caribbean proved so crucial to its success, Walt Disney wanted him to help guide the new haunted masterpiece they were building. At the same time, Claude Coats, a Disney background painter who was known for designing many of Fantasyland’s famous storybook rides and providing the layout for Pirates of the Caribbean, was brought in for his familiarity with the spookier aspects of fairy tales.
However, there was one problem with this dynamic duo; both had completely different ideas for what the Haunted Mansion’s tone should be. Marc wanted the mansion to be funny and lighthearted, believing that a real haunted house would be too scary for a family establishment like Disneyland. On the other hand, Claude Coats believed that you shouldn’t even make a “haunted house” attraction in the first place without making it scary. The two conflicting ideologies became a bit of a problem, so much so that Walt was forced to bring in a third party to reconcile the two of them.
Xavier ‘X’ Atencio was an animator at the studio in whom Walt saw something very special. Even though Atencio had never written a script before, Walt thought he would be good at it, and had him assigned as the lead writer on Pirates of the Caribbean only a few years prior. Walt’s insight would prove prophetic as that ride became what many consider to be the greatest ride in theme park history, and Atencio’s lyrics for “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me” would be sung around the world; remembered by thousands of people to this very day! Walt thought Atencio might be able to pull it off again with the Haunted Mansion.
Again, Walt Disney was right! Atencio managed to somehow juggle Claude Coats dark tones with Marc Davis’s silly characters and create a script that balanced the macabre with the satirical. After a few drafts, a final story focusing on that “retirement home for happy haunts” was approved. This final draft would tie together separate side-stories based on Marc Davis’s unforgettable characters under a singularly sinister roof from Claude Coat’s designs. Finally, the Haunted Mansion had the story it deserved, and although Walt never got to see the finished product due to his untimely passing in late 1966, the ride would have made him proud. The Haunted Mansion opened to critical acclaim in 1969…the rest is history.
We tip our hat to an attraction that’s been entertaining and spooking guests for half a century. Just make sure the ghosts don’t follow you home!
It may have taken over 15 years to create, but it was worth it! And with 999 happy haunts to visit, you’ll want to hurry back again and again! After all, there’s room for a thousand… Any volunteers?
WANT MORE DISNEY HISTORY?:
Childhood Innocence: The History of It’s A Small World
The Year was 1966, and Walt Disney smiled cheerfully as a crowd gathered in the far corner of his magical kingdom known as Disneyland. It was a beautiful day for a Grand Opening, and Walt was pulling out all the stops to make sure this would be one to remember. There were celebrities, balloons, fanfare, family, friends, and a whole crew of cameramen gathered around a little “canal” leading into a charming looking building; a façade that would put a smile on anyone’s face. The crowd cheered and clapped as little children representing countries from around the world each poured a bottle of water shipped from their country into the man-made river. The balloons were released into the air. Walt Disney smiled even wider as his boat drifted down the river into the building and disappeared as he waved to the crowd.
It was a celebration the little ride deserved, because it was one of Walt’s favorites. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Or you at least have the tune stuck in your head! It’s a Small World, after all!
It seems impossible, but Small World has only grown more popular since that day in 1966. It seems daunting that, more than 50 years after its debut in Disneyland, it’s still entertaining the young, and the young at heart, who ride it. But what’s even more astounding is the origin of the happy singing dolls; which goes back even further than that special day at Disneyland.
In 1963, Walt Disney was called up by Hollywood friend Joan Crawford with a very interesting proposition. Crawford was the widow of Pepsi’s former president Alfred Steele, and she was desperately looking for an attraction for Pepsi to sponsor at the already famous upcoming World’s Fair in New York. Pepsi was on a deadline and time was running short. Joan Crawford believed Walt Disney, who was already working on four other attractions for the fair, was the only one who could create a worthy attraction for the Pepsi brand on such short notice. It would be a tribute to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), but other than that, Pepsi had no idea what it would look like.
Walt, who already happened to have an idea lined up, jumped at the chance to get funding for another of his wild ideas. With only 11 months to prepare the attraction, far less time than any other thing he had contributed to the fair so far, Walt immediate jumped at the task. He wanted to make something truly special; something that would touch the hearts of millions and bring a smile to their faces. It would be a little boat ride with children from around the world in adorable doll form called “Children of the World”.
Truth be told, Walt wanted a change of face from what he saw in the rest of the world. It was the time of the Cold War. Tensions were high, and a possible nuclear war loomed on the horizon. Culture was changing, and unrest was breaking out all over the country. Walt was sick and tired of the fear which clouded the atmosphere and aimed to make this new attraction a ray of sunshine to the anxious public; a symbol for the World’s Fair and its idealistic look at the future.
So, Walt brought on board the happiest crew of “Imagineers” that had ever set sail on a Disney voyage. Walt put his favorite artist, a Disney color stylist and children’s illustrator named Mary Blair, in charge of most of the project. With Mary’s unique style helming the design of the attraction, other talented artists had clear direction on where to go. The husband and wife team of Marc and Alice Davis were immediately set to work on designing the iconic look of the dancing dolls and breathing personality into them; Marc imagined the characters, while Alice lovingly clothed them in fashion of her own design. A younger Imagineer named Rolly Crump, who had repeatedly impressed Walt with his very unique creative style, was given the task of designing the Doll’s toys and accessories, as well as the kinetic “Tower of the Four Winds” which would anchor the outside of the ride and draw attention to it. Lastly, master modeler Blaine Gibson sculpted out the physical dolls under Walt’s direct supervision. Strangely enough, every single one of these Imagineers, save for Mary Blair, would eventually work together again on Disneyland’s great masterpiece Pirates of the Caribbean; and most of them would contribute to the Haunted Mansion too!
The result of this all-star team of Imagineers was nothing short of magical, as the ride exceeded all of Walt’s expectations. But it was the music of the ride that would elevate it from a great ride, to one of Walt’s favorites. The Sherman Brothers of Mary Poppins fame were inspired by the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 to write a song of hope to go with the ride. They specifically made it as catchy and simple as they possibly could, so that it could be translated easily and sung in multiple languages. At first, they wrote it as a slow Ballad, but on prompting from Walt for something more upbeat and cheerful, they sped up the tempo. The resulting song “It’s a Small World” moved Walt so much that he decided to change the name of the entire ride in honor of it, and it was subsequently moved to the World’s Fair in 1964.
Despite its extremely short production time, the now renamed It’s a Small World was a huge hit, becoming one of the most popular attractions at the fair. But it wasn’t only children who were flocking to it. There was something deeply innocent about the ride which spoke to the hearts of downtrodden adults everywhere. Whether they were 9 or 99, Small World made them think of a simpler time when the threat of nuclear missiles wasn’t at their doorstep. It gave them hope that maybe the world would one day be at peace again. It’s a Small World seemed to reach out and speak to the child in everyone.
Even today, the original Small World continues to entertain and delight children of all ages with its message of hope and unity. And with versions at Disney parks all around the world, it’s continuing to bring smiles to faces everywhere…Just like it did to Walt over 50 years ago.
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The Wild History of Splash Mountain!
Legends of the Magic Series:
Part 1: A Rocky Origin
The year was 1983. The Disney Parks seemed to be changing every day, and the designers of these shifting magical environments were faced with some rather daunting tasks. In fact, up-and-coming Imagineer Tony Baxter had a major problem on his hands. Tony had been thrust into a unbelievable career, the likes of which he could have never imagined. He was thrown into the spotlight with the massive success of his design work on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in 1979. Now other Imagineers were looking to him for leadership. They needed someone to lead them into a new era of Disney Parks. If you would have told Tony Baxter that he would become one of the most successful Disney artists of all time when he was first hired as an ice cream scooper in 1965, he would have thought you were crazy.
Nevertheless, here he was, with dozens of people looking to him to fix all the park’s problems. Unfortunately, during the year of 1983, there happened to be some very specific problems at Disneyland. The first problem was that The Disney Company was about to have a change in leadership, and that change seemed to be going in a very different direction from the company’s past. The Disney Company was looking to widen its audience beyond just families, children, and animation. As a result, Disneyland executives were getting more and more interested in thrill rides, something that Disneyland was sorely lacking compared to other theme parks. It was a tall order, and after the success of Big Thunder (which just so happened to be a thrill ride) they had immediately turned to Tony Baxter to lead the charge on another similar experience.
The second problem that was facing Disneyland at that time was a changing of the creative guard. The original Imagineers (Disneyland designers/builders/engineers etc.) were retiring, and a second generation was in the process of discovering their place in the parks. These new Imagineers were attempting to honor tradition, while simultaneously trying to forge a new creative path. That was a very fine line for them to walk, especially when the the company leadership was so set on changing direction with the end-goal of thrill. As a result, some of the old attractions that were seen by the new management as “outdated”, (all of which were rides overseen by the original Imagineers) would have to permanently close to make way for the new ones. Or at the very least, they needed to be heavily refurbished. This caused distress for the new Imagineers who still wanted to honor the work of their predecessors. None of them wanted to tear down the work that they respected so much.
The third problem, while comparatively trivial to the aforementioned issues, would prove absolutely crucial to the future of these situations. A section of Disneyland known as Bear Country was facing a major attendance deficit. Unfortunately, there was no Galaxy’s Edge at the time to draw in crowds to that corner of Disneyland, and the area was cut off from the rest of the park. The land’s location at the far corner of the park, tucked away behind New Orleans Square, with no other path leading in or out, caused dwindling interest and low attendance. Few guests wandered past the haunted mansion into Bear Country’s single entrance. The area was often virtually deserted. Naturally, Disneyland was desperately looking for a way to boost the area’s draw to guests.
All of these problems and artistic dilemmas were placed on Tony Baxter’s shoulders. In fact, they constantly on his mind for some time, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t think of any way to solve them. There was just too many variables to consider, and he was being drained creatively by all of the other projects that management seemed to want to throw at him. He was at a loss for what to do. That was, until one fateful day when Tony happened to be daydreaming in California’s rush hour traffic. Tony suddenly received an unexpected and brilliant epiphany; he could solve all three problems at the same time! His brain bursting with imagination, Tony Baxter rushed straight to his boss, unable to keep the idea to himself. In a legendary pitch, Tony Baxter explained his idea to Disney executives, in almost exact detail. It wasn’t perfect, but it was far more than anyone else had come up with up to that point.
His idea, called Zip-A-Dee River Run (later changed to Splash Mountain when the ride’s production was green-lit in 1984), would be an old-school log flume thrill ride, fulfilling the desire of the Disney executives to draw in teenage crowds. However, this log flume wouldn’t be just any thrill ride! It would be a highly-themed and immersive ride that would take the amusement park staple of a log flume to the next level. But How would they do that, you ask?
To understand that, we must first go back in time to 1946 and the release of a live-action/animated hybrid film called Song of the South. Disney may have had the best intentions in mind when they made Song of the South, and had never meant to offend anyone, but even good intentions couldn’t save the PR disaster that it turned out to be. Due to several crucial writing mistakes, as well as sheer ignorance, they created what soon became a very controversial film. Ashamed of their mistake, The Disney Company would never release the film on home video in the United States (for more information on the troubled history of Song of the South, we recommend reading the excellent book “Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South” by Jim Korkis.) He goes a lot deeper into this topic than we could ever do in a blog. Despite the nightmare it would one day become, it was virtually unknown to the Disneyland public at large during the 80s. However, when he was younger, Tony Baxter happened see Song of the South in theaters, and he chose this obscure film as the property to base the ride on.
Tony Baxter was convinced that most of the animated sequences featured memorable, cute characters that could be extrapolated from the more controversial aspects of the source material and planted into a different story. At the time, pre-social media, few people had actually heard of Song of the South, and they thought it was prime time to completely redo the IP. If they removed the controversial aspects of Song of the South, and focused on the cute animated characters by building a new story out of the cartoon “cat and mouse” chase sequences in the film, it would be a perfect themed ride for Bear Country (later changed to Critter Country for Splash Mountain’s debut). At the time, executives were convinced that a majority of Disneyland guests would not be familiar with Song of the South or would not have seen the movie. They reasoned that guests would assume that it was an original property and that they could retool the characters as Disneyland mascots instead of references to Song of the South. Still, this was mostly wishful thinking, and a bit of a shortsighted decision on the part of the executives. Because of the birth of the internet and social media over the following years, more and more people “rediscovered” Song of the South. The characters continued to gain controversy over the years, and the connection to the film, however small, would eventually effect the future of the ride in a big way… more on that later.
The Imagineers were back in their element solving difficult problems. By pure luck, Song of the South’s animated critters happened to be designed by legendary first-generation Imagineer Marc Davis who also just so happened to have been the designer for the soon to be extinct attraction America Sings. America Sings was an outdated stage show featuring a huge cast of Audio-Animatronic animals. Because of this amazing twist of fate, the imagineers could simply reuse most of America Sing’s cast as characters in Splash Mountain because they looked like they belonged in the same world! So, besides a reskinning of two Animatronics into Brer Fox and Brer Bear, the rest of the America Sings animals were simply reprogrammed to synchronize with the new show and moved over to Splash Mountain!
But even after all these creative solutions, there were still some rather large obstacles that the Imagineering team needed to overcome. After all, building a Disney attraction is no easy task. After 4 years in production, Splash Mountain had risen well over its budget at a cost of over $75 Million and would continue to rise in cost to an estimated $85 million by the time of its official debut; which is more than the entire Disneyland park cost in 1955, even adjusted for inflation!
As a result, during the year of 1988, Imagineers were looking for a way to save some money on the tail end of this construction behemoth. It was at that moment that the Imagineers were thanking their lucky stars that they already had the foresight to reuse assets from America Sings to reduce cost early on. Tony Baxter realized that this decision to recycle the audio-animatronics from America Sings saved the company millions and was the only thing that kept the ride afloat financially. If it wasn’t for that foresight, the ride would never have been green-lit, or it would have been cancelled halfway through construction!
Finally, after five years in development, including 80 hours of reprogramming for every single Animatronic, and an additional three months to rewire them, Splash Mountain opened to the Imagineer’s great relief on July 17th, 1989; the 34th anniversary of Disneyland! The ride was an instant success and soon spawned beautifully redesigned copies at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland.
Part 3-The Reimagining:
Although it’s a fan favorite around the world, it’s controversial film roots have finally caught up with it. After careful consideration, the Imagineers were faced with a brand new problem: retooling Splash Mountain for a new generation. They wanted to fix their mistakes and reimagine the log flume concept with a new theme that wasn’t connected to Song of the South. And with Disneyland’s Splash Mountain situated right between New Orleans Square and Critter Country, a new idea was sparked in the creative team behind this project. It would make sense to choose a new IP that was firmly placed in both worlds. Hence the decision to utilize the Princess and the Frog…a film that has deep roots in New Orleans, and a wonderful connection to the lovable animals found in Critter Country! This solution fit perfectly into the story of the two neighboring lands and seemed meant to be! This decision would redeem Splash Mountain in the eyes of the more socially aware public and reimagine this thrilling experience for a new generation. And although many people are understandably sad to see the classic attraction disappear, especially when it spawned so many of their nostalgic childhood memories, the creativity of the Imagineers continues to live on in its future. And if Mission Breakout at California Adventure is anything to go by, the re-theme could be amazing! It just goes to show that any problem, no matter how daunting, can be solved if we’re willing to put in the imagination and hard work! Who knows, maybe your next big idea will come during rush-hour traffic too!
Which version of Splash Mountain is your favorite?
Infinity War Analysis and Review
Everyone seems to be sharing their thoughts on Infinity War. At first, I thought writing a review of my own would just be creating white noise. But then I gave it some more thought and realized that I had to write a review; because if I don’t, I might go crazy from all the thoughts swirling around in my head! I need to get them out of my mind before I’m driven mad, so without further ado, here’s my Infinity War review and analysis!
Infinity War is different from any other Marvel movie in history. It opens different. It ends different. It even plays out different. Right from the cold open, to the end credits, this movie takes you through a unique journey. And when I say cold open, I mean a cold open out in the middle of space, where in the first five minutes of the movie, two of the longest running characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe die. Both Loki and Heimdall, fan favorites, die relatively harsh deaths before the actual story even starts. The directors want to make it very clear to the audience that this movie will be unlike any other Avengers movie ever made. In one genius stroke, they let the audience know that no one is safe. For once, a Marvel movie has very real stakes.
It’s totally ambitious, not just because it is the culmination of 10 years and 18 movies in one shared universe, but also because it risks alienating the very fans that have made the franchise so popular. They took risks with the themes of the film and even with the lives of characters, raising the death toll with the possibility of making some viewers upset that favorite characters had been axed. The fans of the comics, including myself, may have been mentally prepared for it (even if they didn’t know the exact details), but the average viewer was not. With one wrong move, the makers of this film could have alienated a large portion of the fan base.
But with a brilliance that is often overlooked, the directors (the Russo Brothers) managed to pull off these calculated risks, all whilst honoring what had come before, juggling dozens of A-list stars, and even…dare I say it…telling a fairly engaging story. It’s interesting how many people take this feat for granted. If you looked at the facts, you’d see how nearly impossible this film should have been to pull off; at least on a technical level. And yet they did it.
The theme is sacrifice. We don’t have time to cover all the instances of this theme here, but there are quite a few (especially from Gamorra and Vision). Even with the villain, the Russos didn’t shy away from playing with this theme. Even if I still hate Thanos, and his backstory only makes me hate him even more, at least they managed to make him believable. The character, even through heavy CGI manages to convey weighty emotion, and really makes you believe he’s a real person with real motivations (whether we sympathize with those emotions as an audience or not).
Thanos is not some forgettable Dark Elf that wants revenge. He’s a deeply disturbed individual who believes that killing half the universe will curb overpopulation. He watched his home world die because of that, and he wants to prevent it from happening anywhere else. It may be insane and morally wrong, but it’s also a unique and plausible motivation for this ‘Mad Titan’. He really believes himself to be the hero. Most of the audience is pulled into this slightly different perspective. In Thanos’ mind, he is the hero who is sacrificing everything that he has, and the Avengers are the villains arrayed against him; attempting to stop him from obtaining universal peace.
This uncomfortable perspective makes the audience, at least in my opinion, hate him even more, as one-by-one my favorite heroes are swatted away like mere insects. It’s a bit depressing to see our heroes not have much of a chance. Thanos managed to dispatch Hulk with a single Infinity Stone. What can our heroes possibly do when he has more? The answer is nothing. Even the strongest Avenger is no match for Thanos and for the first time in Marvel cinematic history, the heroes have lost before the movie even begins. They can do absolutely nothing about it.
Well, almost nothing. My last point is the theme of failure and mistakes. The heroes have several opportunities to beat Thanos, and every small glimmer of hope is snatched away by a single character’s mistake. It’s not just Star-Lord and his sentiments for Gamorra that you should be mad at…everyone had a chance to mess things up. Of course, there were several of these chances that I’m glad they avoided (like Star-Lord killing Gamorra so Thanos didn’t get the Sould stone, or Scarlet Witch killing Vision so that he didn’t get the Mind Stone), but there are also several that would have been fine. Iron Man went to Titan to fight Thanos on his own turf, even when Strange said it was a stupid idea. Scarlet Witch went out to battle in Wakanda when she should have been protecting Vision. Even Thor failed to land a killing blow, or at least cut the gauntlet off Thanos’ hand, with Stormbreaker. There were so many moments when the good guys could have won, but they did not and that is the true art of this movie; to show that, even in the world of superheroes, mistakes have real consequences.
For the first time, several real heroes died in battle; not just token characters. They did not shy away from killing off popular heroes that we love, and they even managed to surprise the audience with who died; leaving alive the older heroes that everyone thought were going to die, and instead killing the newer ones that we expected to live. Not only was it emotional for the audience, but it was also emotional for the characters. The filmmakers have, by killing off the Avengers’ closest friends and family, brought the original heroes of this universe to the lowest place that they have ever been; raising the stakes to the absolute maximum to bring them to the point of desperation for the coming battle in Part 2…and that is feat to be reckoned with!