The Maturity of Toy Story: A Disney/Pixar Masterpiece (Video Essay)

FeaturedThe Maturity of Toy Story: A Disney/Pixar Masterpiece (Video Essay)

I attempt to explore the main theme of this beloved franchise and why I think it’s an unparalleled masterpiece…

WEBSITE UPDATE: As you may have noticed, I’ve been spending a lot more time making video essays on YouTube than writing new blog posts these days. There’s a reason for that. Although my first and foremost passion is writing about the things that I love, there is no denying that more and more interest is being generated in audio/visual content. While I’ve been stuck at home during this unprecedented situation, I’ve been trying to take advantage of the extra time on my hands to grow my YouTube channel and hopefully offer more of this type of content. However, my goal is to always create what I love, and not what I think others want to see, so I have put great care into my writing of the video’s scripts to accomplish this. I have poured my heart and soul into these videos and I hope my passion for writing still comes through in it. The long and short of this update is to say that I am absolutely 100% planning on making more written content in the future. I have not abandoned that. Videos just take a long time to make, and as I currently do everything by myself, it naturally has taken up most of my time. In addition, my current situation during this pandemic has made it difficult to create an accurate schedule or reliable method of creating content, at least for these last few months, and it will take some time to figure out how to move forward in the changing landscape of the future. My goal is to eventually balance the two  forms of media and find a schedule that works for releasing fresh and original content in both video and written form! I can’t wait! Thank you for reading this and I hope you have a magical week! 🙂

Disney’s Top 10 Villainous Voices!

Disney’s Top 10 Villainous Voices!

A Special Behind-the-Scenes Look at Disney’s Top Villain Vocalists: Part 2

Were just getting started with Disney Magic Fanatic’s fall festivities! “Spooky Season” is in full swing with our strange dive into the world of voice acting villainy. Last time we took a fascinating look into the iconic performers that brought some of your favorite fiendish felons to life. And this time around we’ve got so much more to cover! With more stars, more memories, and more behind-the-scenes mysteries to uncover, the treasure trove of Disney’s vocal performances runs deep. So, come take a dive with me into the animated aristocracy as we discover the greatest villainous voices in Disney History! PART 2!

(You can visit part 1 here if you haven’t read it already!)

9. Dr. Facilier

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Three-time Pimetime Emmy-Winner Keith David provides the voice for this nefarious flim-flam voodoo man. In fitting with The Princess and the Frog’s re-imagining of the classic fairy tale in the setting of a 1920’s New Orleans, Dr. Facilier’s voice is smooth as jazz.

It’s Keith David’s history on Broadway, and as a narrator for film and television, that breathes life into the character. There’s charisma and wit in the performance of this twisted magician’s heart, and it comes through in every piece of his devious deeds. And nothing drives this home more than the highly underrated film’s villainous musical number “Friends on the Other Side”. It’s a true showstopper and a showcase for the silver-tongued character’s talent.

8. King Candy

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King candy is a very special villain for Disney fans because he’s a living Easter Egg!

Just like PIXAR has a “good luck charm” in the many cameo voices of John Ratzenberger, Disney animation has their own! Alan Tudyk, known for his work in the cult-classic television show Firefly, has had multiple cameos in the “New Golden Age” of Disney Animation, and King Candy was the first where he was cast in a major role! There’s also a rumor going around that Alan based King Candy’s voice on the legendary comedian Ed Wynn, the actor who portrayed the Mad Hatter in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland 60 years earlier.

Tudyk is a phenomenal, classically trained actor known for the control he has over his voice. You might recognize him as The Duke of Weselton from Frozen, or even HeiHei the rooster from Moana! All-in-all Alan Tudyk is a Disney icon.

7. Maleficent

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Eleanor Audley was an icon of a bygone era. Unfortunately, most radio royalty has been forgotten by modern audiences. However, their contributions to the realm of voice, particularly Disney voices, cannot be understated.

Known for her sophisticated, commanding, and often chilling tones, Eleanor provided a vocal presence that few could imitate. Eleanor is also known for portraying Madame Leota in The Haunted Mansion, and Lady Tremaine, the evil stepmother in Cinderella. The latter performance is also phenomenal, but only one villain could make this list. Cold and calculating, while still graceful and educated, Maleficent is one of the most memorable villains in Disney History, and Eleanor’s brilliant performance is a major player in that fact!

6. Captain Hook

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Another Radio icon from a bygone era, Hans Conried had a voice like none other. A major player on live stage, and a member of Orson Well’s Mercury Theatre Company, Hans distinguished himself from his peers by his unmatched energy and bold manner. Hans brought a wild exuberance to Peter Pan’s Captain Hook, while simultaneously playing the loud-mouthed George Darling (a strange tradition from the stage play where the same actor would play both characters). His vocal control was simply astounding, switching from high-pitched pirate squeaks, to a rolling British baritone during the same sentence!

5. Judge Frollo

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Distinguished stage/voice actor Tony Jay provided the thunderous gravity for Judge Claude Frollo in the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Recognized by his memorable baritone, Jay had the perfect voice for this wicked authority figure. Known by Disney fans the world over for his cameos in Beauty and the Beast and Treasure Planet, as well as being the successor to George Sanders as the voice for Shere Khan, Tony Jay has quite the impressive repertoire. But it’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame that brings out Tony Jay’s true commanding presence as an actor. Judge Frollo is despicable, but his distinctive vocal tone is unforgettable. In fact, many fans considered this casting choice to be so perfect, that it became known as the defining performance of Jay’s lengthy career.

4. Jafar

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This vile vizier is a fan-favorite due to a skin-crawling performance by Jonathan Freeman. Freeman, known for his performances on stage (which landed him a nomination for a Tony Award), lends and air of wily wickedness to Jafar, making it a voice that all 90’s kids consider quintessential. However, Freeman’s vocal performance is particularly special for Disney fans because it led to his casting in several Disney Broadway productions. In fact, among the roles of Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast, Grimsby from the Little Mermaid, and Admiral Boom/The Bank Chairman from Mary Poppins, Jonathan is the only cast member from a Disney animated film to reprise his role on Broadway! Now Freeman has both the film and stage versions of Jafar under his belt!

3. Hades

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While not exactly the most family-friendly actor, James Woods performance as Hades is a peculiar exception. Often called the most “relatable” Disney villain by fans, Hades is known for his wisecracking sarcasm and wit. It’s the character’s quirky sense of humor, average joe mentality, and short temper that make him memorable to fans around the globe. It’s hard to imagine Hades being voiced by anyone else, which is just fine with Woods because he doesn’t want anyone else to do it! He enjoyed playing the character so much that he apparently told Disney that, if they asked him, he’d play the character again no matter the salary!

Making good on his promise, Woods has pretty much portrayed the character in every single appearance you can possibly imagine. theme parks, videogames, television, sequels…you name it, he’s probably done it! That is some dedication right there!

2. Ursula

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When it comes to a career, Pat Carroll makes most stars look cheap. Since as far back as the 40’s, Carroll has been wowing audiences on the stage, in television, and at the movies. She’s known particularly for her roles on Broadway, and for a successful tenure during the Golden Age of TV. As of this writing, Pat is still working as an actress…and that means she has over 70 years of experience!

After her turn as Ursula in The Little Mermaid, Pat’s career was never quite the same again. She famously reprises the role over and over, which seems to be a trend for a lot of Disney voice actors during the Renaissance of animation. Many people remember her fondly for her signature deep voice and famous song “Poor Unfortunate Souls”. In fact, Ursula is often quoted as one of the best Disney Villains for these very reasons! There are few Disney vocal performances as iconic as Ursula!

1. Scar

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Maybe I’m a little bit biased, but there is no other Disney Villain that has quite the same vocal gravitas as Scar. The Lion King was the quintessential movie for many Disney fans, and although it isn’t my personal favorite, I cannot deny the effect that it had on kids in the 90’s. If we’re being completely honest, he’s going to be at the top of almost every list no matter what aspect of the character we’re ranking. Animation, vocal performance, and even the way the character is written make Scar legendary.

What else is there to say other than that Jeremy Irons is an icon? And in terms of the voices, Jeremy Irons is just as iconic for Scar as James Earl Jones is for Mufasa. Nobody else can play Scar quite the same way, and many have tried. There is no greater example of this than the live-action remake of The Lion King. James Earl Jones reprised his role as Mufasa but, much to the chagrin of Disney fans everywhere, Jeremy did not return as Scar. Disney was surprised to find that their cast was highly criticized, and that the lack of Irons’ vocal presence was one of the reasons for it (along with the presence of certain pop-star). If that isn’t an example of how iconic scar’s voice is to fans, I don’t know what is!

Don’t see your favorite here? Let us know in the comments down below!

Disney’s Villainous Voices

FeaturedDisney’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)
  1. Queen of Hearts

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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!

  1. Man in the Bowler Hat

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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!

  1. Ratigan

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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!

  1. Clayton

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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.

  1. Shere Kahn

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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.

  1. Yzma

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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!

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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!

Iron Man and Captain America: a Deeper Look Into the Success of Avengers Endgame

Iron Man and Captain America: a Deeper Look Into the Success of Avengers Endgame

 

I think that it’s safe to say that Avengers Endgame has become a true cultural phenomenon. Marvel has accomplished what other movie studios have only dreamed of  doing by delivering this culmination of the epic MCU Saga. They have created a franchise that has not only been met with enormous financial and critical success, but also one that has come a define an entire generation.

But how has the marvel Cinematic Universe risen to such unparalleled success? What has been the key ingredient with their meteoric rise to fame? What is the one common thread that makes the average Marvel movie better than most other superhero films? There are many answers to this question, but if I had to pick one, I would said that it has to be Marvel’s emphasis on character.

Endgame represents, not only the epic conclusion of an entire saga, but also the symbolic fulfillment of a dozen beautiful character arcs. Every single character in Endgame has an ending that represents the thematic culmination of who they are as a person, and what they mean to the greater MCU story. Even if a character’s story isn’t over in Endgame (Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy, Winter Soldier, Etc.) it comes to a crisis point; leaving every Avenger changed.

The most obvious examples of this genius character-driven storytelling is the culmination of the iconic legacies of both Iron Man and Captain America; the two key players of the Avengers in the MCU. And to understand how these stories were so brilliantly told, we have to take a closer look at end of these Avenger’s stories.

(WARNING: Heavy spoilers for Avengers- Endgame ahead!!!)

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The death of Iron Man.

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It was not a cheap trick. It wasn’t a sacrifice just to earn a quick tear from the audience. It meant something. From the very beginning Iron Man was the tortured hero. The hero who made mistakes. He was always a little prideful, but he also always tried to be better. Through the course of the three Iron Man movies, Tony Stark has struggled with what it means to be a hero.

In the first Iron Man film, he saw his weapons in the hands of the terrorists who almost killed him. That moment defined him. It changed who he was. From that moment forward, Tony Stark’s character was driven by a singular purpose. He knew that he had to use his second chance at life to protect the people instead of building weapons to destroy them…He had to use his wealth to save the world instead of destroying it.

And sometimes, like in the case of Ultron and the Sokovia Accords, he went too far or made mistakes. But Iron Man’s goal was always to protect. His heart was always in the right place, even if his head wasn’t. He wanted to be an armor for the weak. He wanted to save the world that he had once so recklessly endangered.

So, when Tony Stark gave up his life to undo Thanos’s snap, it represented the fulfillment of his life’s purpose…to protect the world, even if it meant giving up his own life! He gave up all of his selfish impulses once and for all. None of his past mistakes mattered anymore, because he gave up everything to save the people he loved. Everything came full circle when Iron Man fulfilled his own prophetic quote from the first MCU film;  “I shouldn’t be alive… unless it was for a reason.” This was the second chance that Tony had been waiting the rest of his life for. This was the reason why he was alive, and the ending was so beautifully executed that you feel that sacrifice. Right in the heart.

Captain America’s Last Chance at Peace

 

cap 2Likewise, Captain America also has a very meaningful sendoff in Endgame, but in a very different way. It’s one that represents the fulfillment of what fan’s have been asking for for years…A chance for the most selfless Avenger to have a shot at happiness.

Captain America has always been the soldier. He’s always been the one to sacrifice everything in the service of others, sometimes to his own detriment. In the first Captain America, Steve Rogers proved that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. He proved that power meant nothing if it wasn’t given in service to others. The Red Skull lorded his strength over others, while Cap gave up his own life to protect those who were weaker than him. That experience in World War 2 shaped who he was for the rest of his life. It propelled him on a path to always do what was right

Frozen in ice for decades after sacrificing himself to save countless millions from death, he was revived only to face a torment worse than death; loneliness. He became a man out of time. All of his friends were dead. All of the things that he once knew were taken away from him. And the one friend that he still had was twisted into a weapon against him. But no matter what, Steve Rogers always laid down his life to save others. He always put others before himself; even if it meant losing everything.. In every single Captain America film, Cap gave all that he had, and sacrificed everything that he had held dear, to fight for what he believed in; truth, friendship, unity, and protecting those who couldn’t protect themselves.

So in Endgame, when the final battle was won, and the new heroes took up the torch, Captain America finally got what he so rightly deserved. For once, Steve Rogers obtained lasting happiness. There were no more sacrifices to be made. No more wars to be won. It was just Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter for the rest of his life. It was second chance at joy. After almost a hundred years of selflessly giving up his life in service of others, Cap finally got some peace for himself. and it felt meaningful because it was earned.

And just like Iron Man, Captain America’s ending hit us right in the heart, just in a different way; proving that these two characters are two sides of the same coin. Iron Man and Captain America. Grieving and joy, sadness and peace, sacrifice and reward. The two endings may give us opposite feelings individually, but put them together and they give us a story unlike any other.

Iron Man and Captain America represent the very heart and soul of the MCU. Iron Man was the foundation and the center for the MCU’s grand story, and Captain America represented the heart; the spirit that it stood for. Together, their character arcs not only stay true to their own personal journeys, but they also represent the core of the beautiful story that they have both been a part of!

Tony and Steve feel like real people because they each changed naturally over time, and the story changed with them. They both grew as people with their own ups and downs in life. So, it’s only fitting that their endings would change the story again. This time, they would make way for a new generation to grow and change. Together, the two of them ushered in a new era for new stories.

With character-driven stories like theirs, the possibilities are endless…

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The Origin of Mickey Mouse (and What it Means to Me)

FeaturedThe Origin of Mickey Mouse (and What it Means to Me)

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

epcot 46So, 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.”

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Swinging Wake: The History of The Haunted Mansion Part 2

FeaturedSwinging 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 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 would get about the Haunted Mansion for several years. However, instead of disappointing them, it only raises their expectations to a whole new level.

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.

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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 over for work on any of the ongoing home-projects at Disneyland. The Haunted Mansion would have to wait for a while.

However, fate was on the Haunted Mansion’s side, because the World’s Fair actually provided several technological breakthroughs that effectively solved any future storytelling problems that the Mansion’s had! You see, 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 these borders to 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 movement, rather than in static scenes, allowing the story to be told in a much more efficient manner.

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Abraham Lincoln Figure Made for the World’s Fair

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 of the individual cars to swivel or turn; effectively controlling the audience’s view of the story and special effects just like a camera lens does in a feature film.

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Omnimover System Patent

Now with the technology to tell an effective story, Disney simply needed storytellers that could execute these 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 more, was brought onto the project for design, especially in regards to the characters. After his concepts for Pirates of the Caribbean proved so crucial to its success, Walt wanted him to help guide this new masterpiece. 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 temporary problem, so much so that Walt was forced to bring in a third party to reconcile the two of them.

 

Walt knew exactly who to call; good ol’ X!

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. 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 to this day! Walt thought Atencio might be able to pull it off again with the Haunted Mansion.

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X Atencio at work on a Winnie the Pooh feature

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 one sinister-looking roof of Claude Coat’s design. 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 and has been entertaining guests for 50 years!

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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?:

Peter Pan

EPCOT

Splash Mountain

It’s A Small World

Alice in Wonderland

Welcome, Foolish Mortals: The History of the Haunted Mansion

Welcome, Foolish Mortals: The History of the Haunted Mansion

It had been sitting, seemingly abandoned, for years…

The mysterious building in the far corner of New Orleans Square towered above the land in opulent style, causing all guests to wonder at what could be taking place inside it. But they would not wonder for long. Finally, the mansion’s gates were opening, and its secrets were available to the public. Even though its visionary founder, Walt Disney, had been gone for 3 years, the Imagineers were still able to finish the dream. The long-awaited happy haunts were assembling for a swinging wake.

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But how did the Haunted Mansion get its start? What made it become one of the most famous attractions in theme park history? The answer to that question is found in the mansion’s origin, way back in time; at the beginning. The very beginning…

In 1951 Walt Disney began brainstorming what would become one of his most important achievements: a Disney theme park. Walt had been frustrated with local parks where kids and adults had so little that they could do together, so he made up his mind to create a theme park where families could do everything together. At the time, this concept was referred to as Mickey Mouse Park and would be located across the street from the Walt Disney Studio in Burbank, California.

This was where the idea for the Haunted Mansion was born.

Legendary artist Harper Goff was called upon to conceptualize ideas for concepts that might be found in the park. One of these concepts, was a drawing of a graveyard path, leading to a crumbling Victorian mansion off on a distant hill. This would be the first ever mention of a haunted house attraction for a Disney park.

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Harper Goff Concept

Eventually, the concept for Mickey Mouse Park grew into something much more than a small diversion, and it became abundantly clear that the 11-acre lot across from Disney’s Burbank studio would not be enough space to contain the rapidly growing plans for Walt’s theme park idea. So, a new location was found in Anaheim, and the park was renamed Disneyland.

However, during this time, there were so many concepts for the new park, that they could not all make the final cut. Many ideas were inevitably put on hold, and when the park opened in 1955, many of the attractions that had been created for Disneyland were set aside for future expansions. Harper Goff’s haunting concepts happened to be one of these delayed ideas. Luckily, Disneyland became a smash hit, and many of the delayed concepts were resurrected to accommodate the public’s seemingly never-ending appetite for themed Disney entertainment.

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Disneyland Opening Day

In 1957, Walt brought out the haunted house concept as a possible element of an upcoming expansion to Disneyland. He was planning on opening a brand-new land on the far corner of Frontierland, and he needed new attractions for the area. It would be called New Orleans Square, and would also be home to plundering pirates…but that’s a story we’ll cover later. Walt went live on BBC stating that he planned on building a “retirement home” for happy haunts who no longer had a place to live because their original homes had been destroyed over time.

“The nature of being a ghost is that they have to perform, and therefore they need an audience.”-Walt Disney

The haunted house would be a premier New Orleans Square attraction, and Disney had something extra special in mind for its debut. Being the master storytellers that they were, Disneyland’s “Imagineers” wanted to craft an immersive experience. None of them were content with throwing together a bunch of haphazard spooky carnival ideas and calling it a day. Walt especially wanted a real story, something to provide consistency and quality; elevating his haunted house above the generic ones you’d find at the town fair. To this end, he tasked Imagineer Ken Anderson with brainstorming a story and a possible layout for the haunted attraction.

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New Orleans Square Concept

Ken Anderson had been a Disney animator for many classic films,  and he had also previously worked on Fantasyland’s famous “dark-rides”, (like Snow White’s Scary Adventures). And although the Fantasyland rides weren’t meant to be too scary, he knew a thing or two about playful spookiness…and he also knew how to tell a good story. Walt was famous for family entertainment, and it was almost certain that he wanted the haunted house to be much more lighthearted than other haunted attractions found across the country; making Ken Anderson a logical choice for lead designer.

Still, early concepts for the ride tended towards the scarier side of things, and although some ideas stuck, the story would go through several unused iterations before Walt Disney would even begin considering construction. We’ll cover these unused concepts in a future article, but it’s important to know that they ranged anywhere from a concept based on an evil sea captain and his unsuspecting bride, to an idea revolving around an entire family dying mysterious and sudden deaths. There was even a concept based on a never-ending ghostly wedding feast! You can see why Disney didn’t want to use some of these creepier concepts for his family park!

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Ken Anderson

But since he had announced it already, Walt couldn’t delay the project for too long. He had to come up with something concrete to show the public. At the same time, he strove for quality and never wanted to rush anything. So he came up with a clever compromise.

They would begin construction on the facade that guests would see when they visited the park, but take more time to perfect the attraction behind the scenes. So, even though the inside of the mansion was facing major story delays and roadblocks, the outside would soon come along rather nicely. In 1958, Ken Anderson had drafted a pencil sketch inspired by a Victorian-era antebellum mansion. The drawing had a decaying, run-down, and creepy look, which artist Sam McKim made into an official display painting. Walt liked the look of the house, but not the state of repair that it was in. He didn’t want a ramshackle, rotting house to be a visual blight in his pristine and clean Disneyland. So, he told his Imagineers to make the outside look nicer, saying:

“We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside.”

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At around the same time, Walt brought on Imagineers Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump to design the special effects that would be placed into the ride. Both Gracey and Crump had made a name for themselves at Disney for their technical wizardry and mastery of imaginative special effects. Walt had them spend a huge amount of time perfecting the tricks that would sell the story of a ghostly retirement home. They tinkered away, day and night, crafting the greatest illusions and special effects of their entire careers. In fact, the special effects created by Gracey and Crump for the Haunted Mansion deserve their own article, but suffice it to say that they were so numerous and well-made, that they earned the pair a prestigious new title: “Illusioneers”! This is a nickname which is still used today for Disney special effects artists!

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Yale Gracey

Despite these breakthroughs, the development of the story was not going well. To the untrained eye, it would have seemed like everything was coming together nicely, but in actuality the project was dangerously behind schedule, and the attempts to come up with a satisfying story had so far met with disaster. The Haunted Mansion was slowly dying, and it would take more than a nice façade or state-of-the-art special effects to save it…

Read Part 2 HERE!