Friday, February 24, 2012

And the Award Goes to... Walt Disney

Walt Museum

On Saturday, February 18th, I attended a presentation at the Walt Disney Family Museum titled, “And the Award Goes to... Walt Disney.” This particular presentation focused on Academy Awards won by Walt Disney himself, and not the ones by the Disney Company (because frankly, the Museum is only open until 6pm). It was hosted by creative juggernaut/friend of the Walt Disney Museum/friend of The Disney Project, Mister Jeff Kurtti.

Walt Disney Family Museum, largest display of Oscars outside of Hollywood

To this day Walt Disney owns the record for most Academy Awards won by an individual, with a total of 32. To put that into perspective, Cedric Gibbons is in second place with 11. Walt’s Award road began in 1932, when he took home the statue for the animated short Flowers and Trees (which Jeff screened for us). Flowers and Trees was the first animated film to ever win the Award, in the first year the category was added. In fact the Academy specifically added that category to honor Walt’s work. Walt’s odds were good that year, since he produced 2 of the 3 films nominated (Mickey’s Orphans, with Mickey voiced by Walt, was the other). In addition to winning for Flowers, Walt took home a special Award for the creation of Mickey Mouse.

Also in 1932, Walt Disney provided the Academy with a humorous little short to be shown at the Awards banquet, titled The Parade of the Award Nominees. Besides featuring that year’s acting nominees, the short is a milestone in that it was the first time Mickey Mouse ever appeared onscreen in color, a whole three years prior to 1935’s The Band Concert.

The next Award ceremony wasn’t until 1934, and it was then that Walt was responsible for another first. At that time only Hollywood insiders referred to the Award statue as an “Oscar,” and it was considered to be somewhat of a derogatory term. After Walt won for The Three Little Pigs, he was the first one to publicly refer to the award as “the Oscar,” doing so in his acceptance speech. Walt would go on to win consecutively all the way up until 1940. In that time span he produced yet another first. In 1937, he was the first person ever to present himself with an Oscar. Jeff showed us another short from that impressive run, 1938’s Ferdinand the Bull (which I hadn’t seen in ages). The year after Ferdinand, Walt was presented with a special Award for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, recognizing the film as a significant screen innovation. The Award consisted of one big Oscar and seven little ones. The presenter was a 10-year-old Shirley Temple, who later admitted to being a little upset over the statue’s design. She felt that the big statue was for Walt, the little statues were for the dwarfs, but where was the one for Snow White? After admitting this many years later, she added, “I was ten.”

In 1941, Walt was given the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Award. Per the official Academy website, “The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award is voted by the Academy’s Board of Governors and is presented to “creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production.” As Jeff pointed out, at that time Walt’s body of work consisted of several shorts, but only a handful of features. Overcome by emotion, Walt wept as he accepted the Award.

During World War II, the Disney Studios joined the war effort and churned out several American propaganda films. Released in 1942, Der Fuehrer’s Face took home the best cartoon short Oscar in 1943. The film features Donald Duck living in “Nutziland,” being subjected to horrible food and slave labor conditions while working on bullet and bombshells in a factory. If you haven’t seen it, don’t fret. It does have a happy ending. It was originally titled “Donald in Nutziland,” but the song “Der Fuehrer’s Face” by Spike Jones had become so popular (it is quite catchy), the cartoon was renamed to match. Jeff showed it to us, and it is so good, I want to show it to you.

After 1943, Walt was nominated every year for the rest of the decade, but didn’t win until 1949 with Seal Island. Island, a short documentary, took home the Oscar for Best Short Subject, Two-reel. Two years later he started another winning streak, stretching from 1951 until 1956. In 1953 Walt won for Water Birds, and host Bob Hope cracked a little joke after Walt’s win, which can be heard in the short video below.

Bob Hope, an Oscar record-holder in his own right (having hosted 18 times), was never without a witty comment about Walt’s Oscar dominance.

In 1954, Walt received an amazing six nominations. He was quite modest however, telling his wife Lilly that she might as well stay home that evening since he probably wasn’t going to win any anyway. He won four, setting a record that still stands to this day. When he got home Lilly was so upset she refused to let him into the house. Walt slept in his office that night.

A happy Walt, before he found out where he'd be sleeping that night

The following year Walt won for producing the feature documentary, The Vanishing Prairie. That same year Walt Disney Studios won the best special effects Oscar for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Walt was on hand to accept the award, and on his way off the stage Bob Hope remarked to the audience, "I wondered why he drove up in that truck."

At the end of the presentation Jeff gave us one final treat. He screened the 1959 Oscar winner Grand Canyon in its entirety. I had never seen it before, and was delighted when I heard Ferde GrofĂ© Sr.'s score, "The Grand Canyon Suite." I instantly recognized it from the Grand Canyon Diorama, located along the Disneyland Railroad between Tomorrowland and Main Street, USA. That would be the last Oscar Walt would personally win in his lifetime. His final Oscar came in 1969 for Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, three years after his passing.

After the presentation Jeff answered a few questions, and was not surprised when I asked for a photo. We had a pretty good idea where to pose this time.

Thank you Jeff for the stories and insight on just some of the many Oscar-winning films produced by the greatest creative genius of all time, Walt Disney. It seems no matter how many books I read about Walt, I'm always learning something new about him.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cars Land Construction

The construction is coming along nicely for Disney’s California Adventure’s much needed improvement project. Now it’s not just the red rock wall of Radiator Springs Racers that can be seen from behind the walls. The main strip of Radiator Springs is visible too (if you’re standing by the entrance of the Blue Sky Cellar), and they even turn the lights on at night. Conveniently placed at the spot of said vantage point is a map of where everything will be in Cars Land when it’s finished.

The first attraction on the left when you enter Cars Land will be Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, which will be somewhat similar to the Tea Cups in Disneyland. The main difference is you won’t have the option to spin yourself 360 degrees.

They were testing it when I was there. It turns out Disney already posted video of the testing on their YouTube channel in December. I missed it. If you did too, check it out!

I snapped a few pics of the main strip, zooming in a little each time.

The strip at night.

In this shot we see also see the sign for Ramone’s, which is going to be a shop called “Ramone’s House of Body Art.”

Personally, I’m most looking forward to Radiator Springs Racers. At 6 acres it will be the largest attraction in the entire Disneyland Resort, as well as the most expensive Disney has ever built. For fans of Test Track in Epcot (like me), this ride will utilize the same technology. For those not crazy about Test Track, don't fret. RSR will have an actual story, as well as a race at the end with another car filled with guests, with random results each time.

Cars Land is scheduled to open Summer 2012.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Matterhorn Refurb

So in keeping with the theme of my last two posts, I felt that I should make my first post since my weekend trip to Disneyland about the good ol’ Matterhorn. It is currently down for refurbishment until June, so I snapped a few pics of its progress.

All covered up

Workers playing roshambo to see who goes outside next

The biggest change will be the seating arrangements, thanks to brand new bobsleds. People who prefer lots of personal space will no longer have to demand their own bobsled. Disney is doing away with the “snuggle system” in favor of sleds that contain three individual seats (much like Space Mountain in Walt Disney World, although I hope with more leg room). This is a great move in terms of ridership as it will cut down on the number of single riders and help move a line that probably won’t have FASTPASS any time soon. The more confined sled space will probably also cut down on the rockiness of the ride, although I have to admit that’s one of the things I love(d) about the Matterhorn.

Also, on display were a few posters containing cool pictures and tidbits about the famous first E-Ticket attraction. Hopefully you learned from one of my last posts that the ride was built thanks to one of Walt’s trips to Switzerland while he was checking on the filming of Third Man on the Mountain. If you missed that, check it out! The posters also feature several more great pieces of information, such as:

-When the mountain received its first abominable snowman

-Some of its more colorful climbers (hint: ho ho ho)

-A clever “rumor” about whether or not there is actually a basketball hoop in the top of the Matterhorn (spoiler alert: there is)

Below are photos of all the posters. I tried to make them a good size while still maintaining quality and a reasonable load time. Click on any image for a larger version. If anybody wants a copy of any of the original full-size image(s), feel free to email me (my email can be found in the About section).

Per Guest Relations, the Matterhorn is currently due to re-open on June 15th, 2012.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Perilous Assignment: The Making of Third Man on the Mountain

Walt Museum

On Sunday, January 29th, I attended a presentation at the Walt Disney Family Museum titled “Perilous Assignment: The Making of Third Man on the Mountain,” hosted by one Jeff Kurtti. I hope my readers know Jeff by now, but for those who don’t, he was the Creative Director at the Walt Disney Family Museum. He is also a prolific author, an accomplished producer, and an all-around good guy. Since we touched upon Third Man on the Mountain in my last post, I wanted to learn more about the making of what film writer Karl Holzheimer called, “The best live-action Disney film you’ve never seen.”

Mountain is based on the 1955 Newbery Honor book, “Banner in the Sky” by James Ramsey Ullman. The book is based on the true story of Rudi Matt (played by James MacArthur), a sixteen-year-old boy who wants nothing more than to climb the mountain that claimed his father’s life fifteen years prior. The problem is The Citadel (Switzerland’s Matterhorn in real life) is the most dangerous mountain in the Alps.

Walt loved Switzerland and took many trips there. In 1955, Switzerland was the subject of one of Disney’s “People and Places” short documentary series, being the first episode to be shown in CinemaScope.

Cover of the soundtrack for Switzerland

Walt felt Mountain would be fun for young people. He was disenchanted with some of the cinematic choices that featured them, feeling the films painted a picture of delinquency. “I don’t think they show a true picture of young people today," Walt said. "Despite all the publicity about delinquency, America’s youngsters are a pretty good lot.” The film’s stars had no previous climbing experience, and had to take a two-week crash course in mountaineering. MacArthur, already in good shape, became pretty good at it. So good in fact, he sneaked off one day and actually climbed the Matterhorn, much to the dismay of the studio’s insurance people.

Well-received by critics, it is somewhat of a mystery as to why the film didn’t perform better at the box office. Jeff pointed out that an adventure film abundant with real climbing scenes might have turned off 50% of the audience: women. “My wife wouldn’t look at it,” producer William H. Anderson said. And during the film’s screening, Mrs. Disney was heard saying, “Tell me when the climbing is over.”

Third Man on the Mountain took three months to shoot. And in Walt’s introduction of Assignment, he stated, “We were only going to make the film if we could film it in its actual locale.” Don’t hear many filmmakers say that these days.

Perilous Assignment

Perilous Assignment originally aired on November 6th, 1959 on the TV series Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. After Walt’s introduction, we were introduced to Gaston Rebuffat, a French mountain guide. In those days it was very uncommon for an outsider to become an official guide of the Alps. That speaks to how talented he was. He would go on to serve as Mountain’s guide and second-unit director. Assignment was promoted as an in-depth study of the art of mountain climbing, but some felt it was more of an hour-long commercial for the soon-to-be-released Mountain. I felt it was a little bit of both. Sure they threw in some behind the scenes footage of the filming of the movie, but there were also a few pretty detailed lessons on how to properly scale a mountain. In fact I will have to steal the tag line from Mountain’s promotional poster and say the climbing footage was BREATHTAKING. Some of the maneuvers Rebuffat performed were simply amazing, as he was accompanied by his much less-skilled yet determined companion, Maurice.

Highlights from Assignment:

-The production used the town of Zermatt as its initial base. Motorized vehicles have been banned there since 1947, so Disney had to obtain special permission to operate some in order to transport equipment and supplies. The four-wheel drive vehicles they used were called Unimogs.

Late 50's Unimog

-As the Unimogs climbed towards the Matterhorn, some narrow passages had to be widened by tearing down fences that flanked the road. The only reason most residents tolerated it was because they were promised the fences would be completely restored after filming.

-The production set up base camp where the Unimogs could go no further, the base of the Matterhorn.

-Film crews, who were not trained in climbing, had to traverse barely traversable terrain while carrying heavy boxes of equipment (although they did add that they never would have been able to transfer all of the equipment from the base camp to the shooting location without the help of mules).

-James MacArthur was personally "chauffered" to base camp via helicopter by Hermman Geiger, one of Switzerland's most famous rescue pilots.

-Even though they received helicopter rides to base camp, the stars of the film were hardly prima donnas. Stars MacArthur and Michael Rennie also helped carry equipment.

As a fairly active guy I have to confess that after watching Assignment I actually began considering giving mountain climbing a try. The sport however is as equally dangerous as it is exhilarating. Current and future climbers should heed these words of wisdom from Edward Whymper, the first man to successfully scale the Matterhorn way back on July 14th, 1865: “Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.”

I think I will just try some indoor rock climbing for now.

After the presentation it was business as usual for me, which meant harassing the presenter for a photo. Ever accommodating, Jeff was happy to oblige. We even mixed it up this time.

I think I like these Mickey Ears even more than my gold Disneyland's 50th pair!

Thank you Jeff for the great information before Assignment’s screening, as well as your willingness to stick around afterwards to answer our questions. My lame question of, “Do you think they named the characters in Beauty and the Beast after Gaston and Maurice in Assignment?” was met with the polite response, “I think those were just popular French names of those days, Keith.”

Good point, Jeff.

For any of my readers who live near or plan on being in the Bay Area on February 18th, Jeff will be back at the Museum giving a presentation about the history of Walt’s many Academy Award winning films!