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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Walt Disney – The Thought Continues

Back in January, after finishing Sam Gennawey’s book WALT AND THE PROMISE OF Progress City and what I consider some revelatory information, I started a series of essays on my thoughts on Walt Disney.  This is my next submission for that series.

I have discussed before the attempted deification of Walt Disney by some writers and many fans.  While I have not had the opportunity to discuss it directly with Walt’s surviving daughter Diane [Disney Miller], I do know these endeavors to deify her father are of serious concern to her.  It was one of the motivating factors for the establishment of the Walt Disney Family Museum to show Walt more as the man (albeit a very talented and influential man), and less of the myth that surrounds him today.  As example, we all see Walt Disney’s Animated Features as hugely successful, and in most cases, over time they have become so.   But, how many of you know that of Walt’s first five features, only two were financially successful.  Snow White was, of course, a huge success at the box office, and allowed Walt to build the studio that exists to this day in Burbank.  Though primarily due to WWII, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi lost money for Walt’s fledgling studio.  Only Dumbo returned a very modest profit for the studio.  How many know that had the 1950 release of Cinderella was a make or break moment for Walt and the Studio?  A failure there and we may have never known the joy of Disneyland.  To this day, you will find people adamant in their belief that Walt Disney was a god-like individual whose every touch turned to gold.  There have been many other failures or marginal events in Walt’s History where every potential existed for him to go another direction and what we know today would be entirely different, but he persisted.  The company that bears his name today has indeed and continues to profit from Walt’s early endeavors.  But, many refuse to see that in Walt’s day, many of these products were failures or only marginally successful.  Many also profess Walt Disney to be master business administrator.  Few know that the real business genius, who provided Walt with the resources and business leadership to allow the Disney Brothers Studio, and later Walt Disney Productions, was really his brother Roy.  Instead, more than a few people choose to believe and as proselytize Walt Disney as almost god-like in his art and business skills, and with a Midas touch.

It has been my experience that we tend to deify or demonize people or events we don’t understand with mysticism. Interestingly, Walt Disney, while having a huge group of people who just enjoy what he has created, has been both deified and demonized by small fringe group, because they believe, good or bad, that Walt had to have something supernatural or clandestine helping him to achieve thing no normal human would be capable of accomplishing.  The problem is that as these fringe groups (probably more accurately described as fringe individuals) long ago invaded the public perception of Walt Disney, the man, I think somewhat fuel by his initial storytelling medium, fantasy and fairy tales.  I think looking back throughout the history of the human race you can find many examples of fantasy, fairy tales, and mysticism invade and eventually dominating the public views on these many examples.  I have written this before, but I know, personally, the public perception of Walt Disney has been invaded by this tendency toward mysticism;  I can frequently be found in public sporting my WDFM regalia, and it is not uncommon that I am approached by individual with questions about Walt, rarely are they questions not involving the myth or urban legend that surround him.  My goal, and that of many other amateur or professional Walt Disney Historians to whom I’ve spoken, is to dispel these mystical claims and urban legends, with accurate information and details and thoughtful reasonable analysis based on the data.

So now on to Sam Gennawey’s book WALT AND THE PROMISE OF Progress City and what I found to be revelatory.  Sam wrote of a concept in architecture of “a quality without a name.”  You can’t explain it, you just know it’s right when you see it.  Well, I think we can expand the concept of that ‘quality without a name’ well beyond architecture, to life or human existence overall.  Every day, often without even realizing it, we see, hear, or in some way experience that ‘quality without a name’ in so many different aspects of our lives.  We have some experience, and without understanding why, it just feels right.

Without trying to invoke any canonical theories, I think Walt Disney, consciously or instinctively, understood this quality better than many, if not most, people of his era.  He expressed that vision, not only in the projects he chose, but the people he chose to work on those projects, and the final product.  He just knew when his vision was right, and being presented the way he saw it.  I have heard many of the people, who worked with Walt, claim that he would ask them to do things they had never done before.  Not just things within their respective discipline, but things that were complete outside their area of expertise.  I’ve heard a couple of time from Disney Legend X Atencio, a Disney Animator and later WED Imagineer, of Walt tapping him to write the music and lyrics for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland.  X has been quoted as saying, “I didn't even know I could write music, but somehow Walt did. He tapped my hidden talents."  Do you think Walt was just guessing, or did he see something no one else saw?  Given all that I have learned, I don’t think Walt was guessing.  Additionally, to the best of what I’ve heard…  Walt never showed any disappointment to those who tried and failed to bring his visions to life, only those who said they couldn’t do it, without at least trying.  And…  He always understood that his visions were limited by available technologies, and always had his people pushing the envelope of what they thought was possible.

Where Walt Disney express the belief that when a movie was finished and in the can, he considered himself done with it and ready to move on to the next project, his theme park ideas were living and breathing… evolving things.  I do wonder if he’d have felt the same way today, as we seen some of the early 90s animated features being released in the 3D format?  I’ve seen a number of movies from other producers re-released in 3D, and I have been generally disappointed.  These many of these movies have had scenes redone, and storylines changed even a little to exploit the advantages of 3D, and throw images at the audience.  Disney has been doing type of 3D for years at the theme parks.  Muppets 3D, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, and Mickey Philharmagic come to mind, with Honey and Philharmagic throwing in a 4th D with scents and water added for interesting effective.  Because of this, and my experience with other 3D movies, many of which I find be produced just for the 3D effective and having weak a story at best.  Even Disney’s A Christmas Carol was a bit of a disappointment because of what I considered to be the use of 3D for 3D alone, adding little if anything to the story.  The only saving grace there was a very good story.  But, as I reported in an early post, I recently had the opportunity to see the re-release of Beauty and the Beast in 3D, and was very pleasantly surprised to find the Walt Disney principle of plussing an attraction was at play.  The 3D effects enhancing the story and not taking it over.  I think I will have to look to watch more of these re-releases.

I have to wonder if Walt Disney wouldn’t have chosen to re-release some of his now classic films, if he could have plussed them with newly available technologies.  Most people, who know Walt’s story, know that he temporarily shelved Mickey’s first cartoon, “Steamboat Willie” while he and his guys figured out how to apply the new sound technology becoming available.  But, many are unaware that “Plane Crazy”, Mickey’s second talkie, was in the can before “Steamboat Willie” as a silent cartoon.  Plane Crazy” had fared poorly in an early test viewing, and failed to pick up a distributor, so Steamboat Willie became the first Mickey cartoon.  Or was it? J  After the success of Steamboat Willie, and following the releases of “The Gallopin’ Gaucho” and “The Barn Dance”, “Plane Crazy” resurfaced as a talkie and Mickey’s fourth appearance.  So, at least in my opinion, I think that Walt would have considered re-releasing his canned features, if he thought he could honestly plus the story and experience.

Since I’m having such a wonderful time focusing more on Walt Disney himself, and I’ve learn so much about Walt during the last year or so, when next we meet, I’m going to be looking at this ‘Quality without a Name’ in Walt’s visions for Disneyland and beyond.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

You can find us on Facebook at:  Discovering Disney History on FB

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Marvel Studios - Avengers

So I imagine you are wondering, why a piece on Marvel on a Disney Blog site?  Well, in case you’ve been in a cave for the last couple of year, Disney bought Marvel Entertain in 2009 for a bit over 4 billion dollars.  So…
Almost 50 years ago, a young boy lays daydreaming in his room on a warm summer’s afternoon.  Staring out at the antenna on the radar station on a nearby mountain top making it routine sweeps in protection of our borders from the grave communist threat, his thoughts turned to dreams of superheroes.  On this occasion the attention of those thoughts were the heroes in a recently acquired Avenger comic.  How amazingly cool it would be to run with the likes of Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers, and the rest of the Avengers.  Lying there painting pictures in his mind of the adventures to be lived in their missions.  It is the life of many of children, at least 50 years ago.

Over the years there have been passable animated efforts to tell these stories, along with attempt to creating serial adventures on T.V...  As a young man, I remember being fixated on tube each Friday night, watching the exploits of Dr. Bruce Banner (Bill Bixby) as he transformed into and back from The Incredible Hulk (Lou Ferrigno).  All fun, but not quite as exciting as images I could create in my mind.  Now though, throught the geniuses of CGI, and wonderful storytelling imagery, these daydreams of my youth can and have been truly brought to live.

Last night, my family and I, all awaiting with trembling anticipation for months, got to go seen the latest Marvel offering Avengers.  I made sure to buy tickets early in the week to make sure we had seats, we arrived at the theaters early, and the girls scurried off to find a spot in line.  After getting us checked in and getting our 3D glasses (as much as I dislike the 3D glass, it really is a must for this one), I arrive at our place in line – right at the front.  We’re going to getting the exact seats we want… COOL!!!

As the movie opens, we find the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistic Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) involved in some dangerous secret research desired by arch evil villain Loki.  After the research, the primary scientist, and a SHIELD agent are lost, the director of SHIELD, Nick Fury, reactivates the Avenger Initiative.  There is the self absorbed weapons genius Tony Stark/Ironman, the epitome of anger management Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk, the patriotic super soldier Steve Rogers/Capitan America, and the stoic demi-god Thor, along with resources of SHIELD and a host of agents. Director Fury’s challenge, how do you make a team that is a team want to be a team?  And, do it quick, as Earth’s very existence hangs in the balance.  The movie is an exhilarating ride of action as we see the story unfold to it ultimate climax, where we watch a group of superheroes transform into a team of superheroes, with scenes from my childhood memories coming to life on the screen in front of me.

If you ever dreamed of superheroes, fantasy, or… well any daydream as a child go see Avengers, and spring for the 3D version…  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

You can find us on Facebook at:  Discovering Disney History on FB

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

D23 Fanniversary – San Francisco

This year D23 – Disney’s fan club for Disney Fans – celebrated its third anniversary in March.  To celebrate this anniversary with the fans, D23 created a series of Fanniversary events to be held across the country over the next couple of months.  This weekend the celebration kicked off with events at The Walt Disney Studios, in Burbank Friday night, and at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco on Saturday.  Future events will be held in Boston and New York City next months, and Orlando and Chicago in June.  All events except Orlando are sold out.

My youngest daughter, attending her first ever D23 event, and I attended the first event session on Saturday, at the Walt Disney Family Museum.  The trip from San Jose to San Francisco was the first unknown of the day, as it turns out that this weekend was the weekend of choice for destruction of the Doyle Drive roadway.  For those unaware Doyle Drive is one of the main access routes to the Golden Gate Bridge and in need of earthquake retrofitting since the 1989 Loma Prieta quake.  As has been normal in California politics, the needs of northern California always take a backseat to Southern California.  So 20 some years later, CalTrans is finally addressing these needs.  Enough of the political…  I only bring this up because the part of the Presidio where the Museum resides is within a few hundred feet of this demolition, and my normal access route to the Museum in question.  Even though the warning signs of the impending demolition have been up for months, and the local news broadcasts have been warning all week about the coming event, I was a bit worried that human nature being what it is; I would need extra time to arrive on time, not to mention the rather unpredictable nature of San Francisco traffic on a normal day.  So, we left the house with plenty of time to make the 48 mile trip.  The trip was uneventful, with the exception of the normal nimrods w\ho have better things to do while driving other than paying attention to the road around them, Van Ness was relatively empty, and Lombard was clearer then I have ever seen it.  We were at the Museum’s front door 75 minutes later, a trip that is on average 90 minutes.

We had plenty of time to visit with our favorite volunteers and staff (actually they are all our favorites, just some we haven’t met yet,) and some of the Members who made it in for the show.  Even ran into ‘The Disney Geek” – Jeffrey Epstein in the Museum Store.  Yes, for any of you who follow the D23’s Disney Geek video podcast and don’t like the chances, I told Jeff he needs to come back to the broadcast.  Disney Geek just isn’t the same without him in front of the camera.  After some shopping, T and I got a chance to get a little bit to eat, and then it was downstairs for check-in.  A pin, a postcard, and a pennant later, and we were in the theater lobby await entrance.  From a few more member friends in line, and we stood a chatted away the waning moments before the theater doors opened.  At about 1:30 the doors opens and we were ushered in, with the Disney Geek himself greeting us as we entered.  As I have come to expect, I’ve yet to attend a D23 event that actually started on time, the 2:00PM program did not start until 2:10…  Relatively on time for a D23 event.  J  The afternoon program started out with the introduction of our live narrators – Disney Geek Jeffrey Epstein (not there’s a surprise) and Archivist Steve B.  Sorry Steve, I am not sure how to spell your last name, and don’t want to get it wrong.

Now, here is where you the reader will be a bit disappointed, because I am not going to go into much detail as to what the program entailed.  For one, the show really was primarily visual; to describe what we were shown would be tedious and rather futile.  Second, there are still 4 other events for this program to be shown, I, and would hope others as well, wouldn’t want to spoil it for those still waiting to see it.  I will say that, as an ardent Disney fan, while nothing presented was particularly revelatory, the presentation was a lot of fun.  Jeffrey and Steve both have an energy and love of their jobs that makes their presentation skills very entertaining, and we were treated to many rarely or never before seen (publicly) photos and drawing from the many anniversary events in Disney history occurring this year.  The only thing that was really missing for me, was any real tribute to the one half of the Sherman Brothers we lost early this year.  I realize that this program was in production  and probably nearing finalization when Robert Sherman passed, so again I understand it.  Hopefully we will see something more fitting in the near future.  The event culminated with an acknowledgement of probably the most significant anniversary event this year…  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which premiered on December 23, 1937 at the Cathay Circle Theatre.  T and I had a great time.  The presentation was wonderful, any trip to the Museum is fun, and to top things off…  It is a fantastic way to get some special Daddy – Daughter time.  J

Since I don’t want to spoil things for future attendees, let’s just discuss a few of the comments I’ve heard about the events so far.  I’ve heard from a couple of different sources, questioning if this event was worth the prices of admission?  In my opinion… Yes!  No, there wasn’t anything substantially revelatory to an ardent Disney Fan.  As a fervent Disney fan myself, I didn’t expect anything that big, especially for an $18 entry fee.  But, it was fun seeing some art work I’d never seen before, and gain a little more insight into the development of some of my favorite Disney projects over the years.  I think those of us you live close to the Studio or the Museum may sometimes be a bit more jaded, as we better access to more information and special events than many others around the country, so sometime I think we expect more.  Beside, I have had a chance to attend more than a few D23 events, and I regularly attend programs at the Museum.  One the thing I have come to enjoy is the sense of community that was begun to develop.  As with the Museum programs, there is always a few familiar faces in the crowd at many D23 events, and can see the groups meeting and greeting among themselves and welcoming others.  Anyway, all-in-all, yes it was worth it.

As for D23 itself…  Yes there are issues, and I have expressed those in the past, but, I inclined to be a little more lenient.  I have been able to discover that D23 is what I would call understaffed for the expectations placed upon them.  Even so, I have yet to encounter and D23 staffer, or Archivist (they fill in a lot where need in events) who is anything but friendly and very approachable.  Yes I realize D23 is part of the Disney’s marketing department, and it’s their job to be friendly, approachable and to sell the company’s message, but, I have what I consider to be a fairly well tuned BS indicator, and I honestly think these people do what they do because they love it and they enjoy interacting with us fans.  After you met them a couple of time, they even remember who you are…  but, maybe that just me and my big mouth.  J  Anyway, I’m willing give some time to see how things evolve.  In the meantime, I think what D23 is offering to the Disney fan is worth my cost of admission.

Your comments or questions are always welcome.  If you have a correction or something you think I should look at in my research, please feel free to contact me at

You can find us on Facebook at:  Discovering Disney History on FB