Sunday, December 1, 2013

A two-for-one Main Street special

One of the  many reasons I enjoy visiting Walt Disney World is for the immersive experience it provides. In Adventureland, I’m transported to exotic ports and  layers of intrigue. Liberty Square is Disney story-telling at its finest, from the patriotic tones of the Hall of Presidents to the playfully spooky Haunted Mansion. Everything has a beginning, and for the Magic Kingdom that’s Main Street U.S.A. It’s a fanciful recreation of a bygone era, showcasing life at the turn of the century - the 20th, that is.

The Walt Disney Company, diversified as it is today, built its foundation on movie making, first with animation and then live-action. The Magic Kingdom borrows many filmmaking elements, beginning with how Guests are introduced to the park. As you arrive, you walk underneath the train station along red carpeting, as if you’re attending a movie premiere gala. Attraction posters line up either side of the tunnel, as if they are trailers for future films. As you exit the tunnel, you enter into Main Street, transported back in time. Continuing to use filmmaking concepts, the buildings utilize forced perspective, a technique that alters the ratio of second and third stories, making them appear larger. We’ll start with the establishing shot, which takes in the broad avenue of Main Street and ends with Cinderella Castle, it too featuring forced perspective, allowing us to believe that its spires are magnificently tall. The wide shot of Main Street also features store fronts and a horse-drawn trolly gently clip-clopping along. Next, a medium shot is featured, highlighting the town square and the adjacent Town Square Theater. A dolly shot, tracking alongside its subject, showcases the eatery Tony’s Town Square and the nearby confectionary shop and The Chapeau, featuring Disney hats and custom monogramming. Finally, a closeup shot fixates on a pink hat box hanging outside The Chapeau. That’s where our story begins.

(quick sidebar - whenever I think hear the word chapeau, I immediately recall Steve Martin’s monologue about the French language: “Chapeau means hat. Oeuf means egg. It’s like those French have a different word for everything!” But I digress . . .)

A pink hatbox hanging outside a hat shop? Perfectly natural, of course.The Main Street barbershop still uses the traditional red, white and blue striped pole to indicate the service offered within. The ornate hatbox, complete with a bow, elegantly states Chapeau, indicating it’s a fancy store. If our story ended here, it would be, pardon the pun, neatly wrapped up in a bow. Instead, this is where it gets interesting.

Recall that Tony’s Town Square is next door. Its inspiration is from the 1955 Disney animated classic Lady and the Tramp, a canine love story. A key scene in the movie is set at an Italian restaurant, lending an air of authenticity to Tony’s Town Square. There’s a clever nod to the film outside Tony’s, where a paw-drawn heart, pierced by Cupid’s arrow, is forever memorialized in the cement. Two sets of paws are within, one from Lady and the other from Tramp. However, the key establishing shot from the movie is Lady’s entrance. Jim Dear presents a gift to his wife, Darling, one Christmas morning, in a beautiful lavender- and cream-striped hat box. As Darling unwraps the bow, the lid pops up to reveal Lady, a sweet cocker spaniel pup. There it is - Tony’s Town Square and The Chapeau shop next door, each cleverly referencing and reinforcing each other.

But wait - there’s more.

Disney fans will be thrilled to learn that the Christmas scene from the film also has a story, taken directly from Walt’s life. Walt longed for a family pet but his wife Lillian was steadfastly against it. Walt researched the ideal dog breed to counter Lillian’s objections and settled on a chow, given their disposition, odor and fur. The next challenge - how to deliver it. Walt used a Christmas eve family gathering to present his special gift to Lillian. While family guests weren’t looking, he placed the chow pup into a hat box and set it under the tree. The label read: To Lilly, from Santy Claus. When presented with the hat box, Lillian made the logical conclusion that she was getting a hat. To her great surprise, instead it was a dog! She quickly fell in love with the gift, and named the chow Sunnee. You can hear more about this special gift in Walt’s own words, courtesy of the Walt Disney Family Museum.

There you have it - Main Street U.S.A.’s two-for-one hidden Disney tributes. The chapeau sign cleverly referencing a classic Disney animated feature, and also pays tribute to a special moment between Walt and Lillian Disney.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Monsters love Disneyland too

Pixar and Disney have a long and rich history together. Many Disney animators, notably John Lasseter, sharpened their skills originally at Disney Animation, and of course there’s the original multi-film agreement in which Pixar created and Disney marketed and distributed the early films, all which defined Pixar as a studio above the rest. Disney’s purchase of Pixar in 2006 made permanent this amazing relationship.

With this background, it should come as no surprise that Pixar films include nods to Disney and its history. One such instance recently bubbled back into my head while enjoying the deliciously oversized Poster Art of the Disney Parks book. This treasure highlights poster art from the Disney parks around the globe and is a wonderful way to capture a unique slice of Disney history in vibrant color.

Two such classic Disneyland posters from the 1950’s are featured, albeit briefly, in Monsters, Inc

Near the end of the movie, Mike Wazowski is trying out his standup routine in a little boy’s bedroom, working to elicit laughs instead of screams. The boy’s room has the usual artifacts - bed, dresser, bookshelf, and toys and clothes on the floor. Two posters on his wall, however, are directly inspired by Disneyland posters from its early years.

Above his bed headboard is a fleeting glimpse of the AstroJet ride in Tomorrowland. This is a direct reference to the 1956 attraction poster by artist Bjorn Aronson.


Next to the boy’s bedroom door and above the bookshelf is another classic poster, also by Aronson, of the Sailing Ship Columbia. This three-masted vessel, which debuted in 1958, is celebrating its 55th year and continues to serve as an iconic attraction with lineage tracing back to the early years of the park.


The next time you’re enjoying Monsters, Inc, keep a sharp eye out for these quick nods to Disney. There are other unique tributes tucked inside the film, but those can be shared another day. And on a related note, I’m looking forward to seeing hidden tributes in the Mike and Sully’s prequel, Monsters University.

Finally - if you’re a fan of the Disney parks, then you must add this book to your collection.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Finding Sunny

In honor of the 3D re-release of Finding Nemo, let’s examine a little tribute to Pixar placed within the film. No, it’s not typical in-house reference to A113 or the Pizza Planet truck. No, it’s not the Buzz Lightyear action figure briefly seen in the dentist office.

Pixar presents a short film before each theatrical release. Early shorts were done to hone creative and technical talent within the Studio. Lately, the shorts are a way to continue character development of established franchises, such as Cars or Toy Story.

The short that premiered prior to Finding Nemo on May 30th 2003 was a much earlier Pixar work titled Knick Knack, created in 1989. It's about the sheltered life of a snow globe snowman. He’s trying to find different ways to escape, caught by the lure of Sunny the mermaid and other tropical delights. 

In the end he does escape - only to find himself back in the snow globe. In Finding Nemo, Sunny makes a cameo in the dentist office fish tank, so sharpen your eye to spot her on the prow of the sunken ship in the tank!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Humphrey the Bear

Disney’s animation heritage isn’t limited to the theme parks of Walt Disney World. Mickey and the other members of the fab five - Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto - are evident throughout the entire resort, if only on guide maps and other signage.

But If you dig a little deeper into the pantheon of Disney’s animation characters, you’ll find a rather obscure creature named Humphrey the Bear. 

He’s a easy-going brown bear who hangs his proverbial hat at Brownstone National Park. He starred in six Disney animated shorts, debuting in 1950. Humphrey’s antics, including his eternal quest for food from park visitors and his nemesis, ranger J. Audubon Woodlore, inspired Yogi Bear.

Although he’s not an instantly recognizable character to Disney fans, he blends in nicely in the cavernous Wilderness Lodge lobby. He can be found on the bottom of a totem pole just outside the ‘mercantile’ store. The brown bear is the official mascot of this amazing resort, and Humphrey gladly stands duty, perhaps waiting for an opportunity to grab a snack from an unsuspecting Guest.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Welcome to Frontierland, Mr. Smith

File this one under ‘extinct.’ One of the cleverest hidden Disney tributes in the Magic Kingdom has, apparently, walked away.

You remember the slapstick scene from Mary Poppins in which Bert and Uncle Albert are oddly floating high in the air, giddily singing “I love to laugh,” as if the lyrics were a combination of nitrous oxide and helium. While Mary Poppins, Jane and Michael watch  from below, they hear hysterical dialog, including this classic exchange:

Mary - “Why, it's the most disgraceful sight I've ever seen, or my name isn't Mary Poppins.”

Bert - “Speakin' o' names, I know a man with a wooden leg named Smith.”

Uncle Albert - “What's the name of his other leg?”

This misplaced modifier causes even more riotous laughter and they continue with their airborne antics.

Disney Imagineers cleverly paid tribute to this scene by placing a wooden leg high on a shelf in the Frontierland train station, along with other lost items. Naturally, the leg is labeled Smith. Sadly, this hidden tribute didn’t survive a recent furbishment of the train station, since I didn’t see it there on my last few visits. But just thinking about it is worth a laugh.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Looking UP for inspiration

Let's return to the silver screen, to find a sweet and endearing hidden Disney tribute. But first, the setup.
Disney Legends Marc and Alice Davis are figurative giants within the Disney community. Marc's sketches and illustrations were brought to life in the iconic attraction Pirates of the Caribbean, and Alice's contributions to the Pirates wardrobes, as well as the multinational dolls in It's a Small World can't be understated. But perhaps more enchanting is their lifelong partnership with each other, and their appetite for travel and living life to its fullest.
Pixar director Pete Docter was seeking inspiration for the UP characters Carl and Ellie Fredricksen. This couple spends a long and rich life together before Carl is widowed, in the twilight of his life. He's not quite sure how to proceed without his life partner. Pete Docter and other Pixar writers and animators interviewed Alice Davis, to capture the spirit of the life she and Marc had together. Alice herself is a widow, following Marc's death in 2000. The interview was conducted in Alice's home and included a tour of Marc's studio. It was there that one of the Pixar animators found inspiration.
In one brief scene, we see Carl coming downstairs in an electric chair. Various photos and artwork hang on the wall. Pay close attention to the rectangular frame on the left, featuring a chirping bird. This was directly inspired by a similar prominent sketch in Marc's studio, honoring his bold and beautiful tropical-inspired illustration “C'ote d'Azur” that singularly captures Marc and Alice's adventurous life together. In one corner of the illustration is a colorful chirping bird.
Look for Alice Davis listed in the Credits of UP –
Dedicated to the real life carl and ellie fredricksens who inspired us to create our own adventure books
Joe Grant Ralph “Papa” Lopez Mike Oznowicz Alice Davis”

This post is part of the Disney Blog Carnival. Head over there to see more great Disney-related posts and articles

Monday, August 15, 2011

Harper and The Old Mill

Let's return to the Magic Kingdom, where there's a subtle "two-for-one" hidden tribute to Disney. Tom Sawyer Island is an adventurous place for fun and excitement, serving as a time-machine to whisk you back to another era. The Island opened in May, 1973 and the main attractions on Tom Sawyer Island are the mysterious caves and Fort Langhorn. However, one very distinctive bright red building is Harper's Mill, which is quite appropriate given that water mills dotted the landscape in the pre-electrical era. You might think that its name pays tribute to perhaps Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, a town that played a pivotal role in American history. The name “Harper” comes several sources. Tom Sawyer’s good friend was Joe Harper, so this name makes sense, keeping with the theme of the island. But it's also named after Disney Imagineer and Disney Legend Harper Goff. Goff is famous for his design work on the classic Disney attraction the Jungle Cruise, as well as his work on the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The Disney tributes don’t stop here, however. Inside Harper’s Mill is a subtle tribute to one of Disney’s earlier animation efforts. Before Disney delved into feature-length animation, the company was famous for cartoon shorts. Mickey Mouse, of course, was an original star but Disney had another impressive series of animated shorts, culled together as the Silly Symphonies. Although they didn’t feature any particular character, they were increasingly used as an animation “testing ground” for techniques and styles, much like Pixar’s use of animated shorts. In 1937, Disney released The Old Mill, a story about how animals now occupy an abandoned windmill. Dave Smith, the recently retired Walt Disney Company archivist, lists this as one of his favorite animations. Disney used a groundbreaking technique of a multiplane camera, allowing for a rich depth to the scenery. This method would again be used to great acclaim in Disney’s first feature-length animation effort, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

One key scene in The Old Mill features a bluebird atop her nest inside one of the cogwheels of the defunct mill. During a thunderstorm, the mill springs to life and as the blades turn, the gears inside move as well. It looks like the bluebird will be crushed, but fate intervenes. The opposing gear is missing a cog and the two gears pass by gracefully at the exact location of the bird.

Why is this scene significant? Because inside Harper's Mill there is a series of gears, and resting inside one of them is a little bluebird atop her nest!