Thursday, November 29, 2012

From Page to Screen: The Evolution of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

On November 17, I attended an event at the Walt Disney Family Museum called From Page to Screen: The Evolution of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. J.B. Kaufman was joined by Lella Smith, creative director of the Walt Disney Animation Research Library. J.B. (author, Disney historian, and brilliant public speaker) is considered by many to be one of the leading experts on Walt Disney’s version of Snow White. For this program, he didn’t disappoint.

Lella started the program off by telling us about the earliest versions of the classic fairy tale. Contrary to popular belief, the Grimm brothers (Jacob and Wilhelm) did not author the original story; rather they recorded several versions of it from all over Europe. In all of the versions there was a vain and evil Queen. In the Grimm version, the evil Queen was Snow White’s jealous mother who plotted to kill her young daughter at the age of seven.

Walt had a particular fondness for this tale, thanks to the memories of his grandmother reading it to him when he was very young. To improve the story, he made several changes. Originally, the prince never laid eyes upon Snow White until she was lying in the glass coffin. Walt knew the prince would have to be introduced much earlier in the story, which allowed for the creation of the magic wishing apple.

"It's a magic, wishing apple"  © Disney

He also knew that Snow White wasn’t going to be seven years old. While never stating her actual age, Walt said that she should be old enough to be married.

Walt Disney was one of the greatest storytellers of all time. He had a brilliant knack for making changes or additions that considerably strengthened the story he was telling. One of the more powerful scenes in Disney’s Snow White was the Queen’s transformation, thanks to Walt’s idea to let the audience see her slowly change from a beautiful woman into a vile old hag. During the dark forest scene, Walt wanted the audience to feel the fear Snow White felt. Knowing how scary some of the scenes were, Walt didn’t want children under eight years old to view the film. Walt’s own daughter, Diane Disney-Miller, admitted she covered her eyes during several scenes when she first saw the movie.

Production cel of poor terrified Snow White  © Disney

Another cool detail Walt specified was to make sure the dwarfs' instruments appeared homemade. That’s why a flute looked more like a fish than it did a flute. The dwarfs lived in the middle of the forest, and didn’t have quick access to a local music store, after all! This exemplifies one of the many details that Walt and his animators took care to add, which put them head and shoulders above their competition (the small rips in the pool table during the Pleasure Island scene of Pinocchio is another wonderful example of this).

Production sketch of Sleepy with his homemade flute  © Disney

Snow White’s heart wasn’t always the organ the Queen wanted the huntsman to retrieve. Body parts varied dramatically by version, one even pinpointing the young girl’s liver as evidence of her demise. Also, there were no forest animals prior to Disney’s version. But they were a brilliant addition, since they could communicate with Snow White, they were able to help the story along.

Lella wrapped up her segment of the program with this wonderful quote from the man himself: "It has always been my hope that our fairy-tale films will result in a desire of viewers to read again the fine, old original tales and enchanting myths on the home bookshelf or school library. Our motion picture productions are designed to augment them, not supplant them." ~ Walt Disney

J.B. Kaufman jumped right in with an astute observation of Snow White’s few detractors. “I think the people who made those criticisms don’t understand the art of making an animated film.” Some people felt that Walt strayed too far from the source material, while J.B. keenly disagreed. “Walt did come closer to the Grimms’ version than many of the versions before him,” he remarked. J.B. then proceeded to educate us about some of the aspects of those earlier versions.

Carl August Gorner did a stage version in 1856, and was the first to give the dwarfs names. They were: Blick, Pick, Knick, Strick, Rick, Dick, and Schick. The names were pretty much their only distinction from one another, with the lone exception of Blick being the “leader.”

The next adaptation came from Marguerite Merington in 1905 as a “Fairytale Play.” She actually adapted Gorner’s version instead of the Grimms’, and kept the dwarfs’ names. Blick was still the leader, but in her version, Schick stood out as sort of a goof. Winthrop Ames’ version came next in 1912, and he even hired Merington to help. Ames also made a few changes of his own. The names of the dwarfs became: Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick, Whick, and Quee. Quee was sort of the odd man out, and almost never spoke.

In case you were wondering about some of the early dwarf names Disney had in mind for its version, here’s a “short” list: Jumpy, Deafy, Dizzy, Awful, Wheezy, Baldy, Gabby, Nifty, Sniffy, Swifty, Lazy, Puffy, Stuffy, Tubby, Shorty, and Burpy!

Ames billed his production as the first play specifically for children. Because of that, the Queen and the old witch were written as two separate characters. While the Queen was still evil, the old witch was a somewhat comedic character who actually wanted Snow White’s heart for a hair-restoration concoction, as she was completely bald. Actress Marguerite Clark was 29 when she played Princess Snow White for Ames, and reprised the role in 1916 for a film version by Paramount.

Walt saw that film as a young boy in Kansas City. It had a big impact on him, and contributed to his decision to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs his first animated feature. J.B. screened clips of the 1916 film for us, and remarked how much different it was than the 1912 play. J.B. was also amazed at just how different it was from Walt’s version, since it had made such an impression on him. One of the funnier scenes we were shown entailed the dwarfs’ first encounter with Snow White, as she slept in their cottage. “What is it?” a title card read. “It’s a girl, I saw one before.”

With that, J.B. ended his portion of the program, and he and Lella held a brief Q&A with the audience. And yes, as usual, I bugged the presenters for a photo.

Lella and me

Hangin' with J.B.

After the program, J.B. stuck around to sign a couple of his latest books: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Art and Creation of Walt Disney’s Classic Animated Film, and The Fairest One of All: The Making of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the latter of which took J.B. about ten years to complete. To say the man did his research is an understatement.

Thank you Lella Smith and J.B. Kaufman for the great presentation. Lella did a great job, and J.B. was amazing, as usual.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Birth of a Mouse

Walt Disney once said, "Mickey Mouse will be five years old on Sunday. He was born on October 1, 1928. That was the date on which his first picture was started, so we have allowed him to claim this day as his birthday."

While that date obviously didn't last, the film Walt was referring to would play an integral part in deciding Mickey's birthday. Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho were already completed (and test-screened) by October of 1928, which means Walt was in fact talking about Steamboat Willie. The short, inspired by the Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill Jr., debuted on November 18, 1928, at New York's Colony Theatre.

Happy Birthday to both of you -- photo copyright Disney

It wasn't until Mickey Mouse was about to turn 50, however, that it was decided just when he was turning 50.

Read the full article on STORYBOARD:

Happy Birthday, Mickey and Minnie Mouse!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rocket Rods Song and Lyrics

Below are the lyrics and audio from "World of Creativity (Magic Highways of Tomorrow)," the song for the former Disneyland attraction, Rocket Rods. The lyrics may not be 100% accurate, as I had to transcribe them myself. I believe however they are pretty close.

The first 3 minutes of the song are mainly melody, no lyrics (other than a few non lyrical phrases). If you want to skip to the lyrics portion, please click here. However I recommend listening to the whole thing. It’s only four minutes, and it’s adapted from a Sherman Brothers tune, after all!

World of Creativity (Magic Highways of Tomorrow)
Arranged and performed by Steve Bartek
Adapted from the song "Detroit," composed by the Sherman Brothers for the film The Happiest Millionaire

You can hear it hummin', see it comin'
Stretching down across through all the land. 
Rapid transportation, to destinations, every one at your command

Magic Highways of tomorrow, are more than what they seem
Ride your mind's designs; ride a dream

Ride through open spaces, to distant places
Every destination's up to you
Traveling fast as sound, high above the ground
Hear our dreams and ride them too

Magic Highways of tomorrow are much more than what they seem
Ride your mind's designs; ride a dream

The rest of my Rocket Rods article can be read on MiceChat: Keith Liked the Rocket Rods

Friday, November 2, 2012


On Saturday, October 27, I attended an event celebrating the 30th anniversary of the original TRON at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. TRON has long been one of my favorite films, like most fellow geeks of my generation. It was so ahead of its time that the effects still look cool to this day. The event featured not just the screening of the film, but a panel with some of its filmmakers, producers, and even TRON (Bruce Boxleitner) himself!

The event was scheduled to go from 7p to 2a, and I arrived at the infamous Hollywood landmark at about 6:30. There was already a large crowd gathered out front, which consisted of event attendees, curious tourists, and random homeless people. The event’s special guests started to arrive, and posed for the paparazzi on hand.

TRON director Steven Lisberger

The fans who dressed up posed as well, in many cases with the event guests.

Bruce Boxleitner (center) with a few fans

The different panel members regaled us with many wonderful stories prior to the screening. Co-writer Bonnie MacBird spoke with her husband Alan Kay, and explained that not only did she meet Alan thanks to TRON (a successful computer programmer, he was tapped as a consultant for the film), but she named the character of TRON’s user, Alan Bradley, after him. Alan also told us about a cool scene that was planned for the film, but never made it in: TRON finds some humorous material in a “vast cybernetic store,” and did not understand it. So TRON interfaces with his user, and he tries to explain to TRON what a joke is.

I took video of the panel, for those who are interested.

Once director Steven Lisberger wrapped up his presentation, they screened the film. It is always cool getting to see it on the big screen. After the movie everyone headed to the party, which featured MOBIUS8, ALLUXE, and NOSAJ THING. The party itself was decorated with brilliant neon and lasers, allowing us all to feel what it was like to be on the grid.

Interspersed with the partygoers were TRON arcade games...

...and large screens displaying concept art as well as awesome on-set photos.

Original TRON concept art

Bruce Boxleitner practicing some disc throwing moves

Steven Lisberger and Jeff Bridges

Bruce with Cindy Morgan (Yori) lookin' good!

Out in the main hall, we were treated to several displays containing vintage TRON merchandise.

I got this toy as a kid, and still have it actually

The highlight of the night for me came when I got to finally meet one of my favorite filmmakers in person, Jerry Rees. Not only did Jerry work on the original TRON, but he is responsible for a few films that most Disney fans are very familiar with; In-park films such as O Canada featuring Martin Short (Epcot), Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years featuring Steve Martin (Disneyland), and feature films such as The Brave Little Toaster. He also happens to have directed what I consider to be the best in-park film in Disney history, Cinemagique in the Walt Disney Studios Park, Paris. Do not watch it on YouTube. You have to see it in person first. He and I spoke briefly about TRON, but I have to confess we spent most of the time talking about Cinemagique. Sorry, fellow programs.

Keith and Jerry fighting for the users

The party was scheduled to end at 2am, but I could only last till 1. It was a pretty amazing night. I really loved being surrounded by so many fellow TRON fans.

Flynn, two wayward programs, Quorra, Zuse

If the event were local to me, I might have tried to dress up myself. Even still it was a fun environment, and the event coordinators did a good job providing a variety of TRON-related stimulus to satiate a variety of geek palates. I will definitely attend the next one!