Friday, August 31, 2007

Desktop Retro: The 21st Century Begins

We are almost exactly one month away from the 25th Anniversary of the opening of EPCOT Center. Dan Cunningham helps us celebrate with a desktop that takes us back in style and design to 1982. Dan also includes a much-requested widescreen version as well. Thanks again to Dan for all his efforts.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Back to School - Let's Get Growing

Donald's nephews help us head back to school again as we feature a colorful activity page from another vintage comic book. Record Your School Growth appeared on the back cover of the 1959 edition of Walt Disney's Huey, Dewey and Louie Back to School. The boys' teachers in this particular issue were Daisy Duck, Clara Cluck, Grandma Duck, Gryro Gearloose and Uncle Scrooge. Other activities included Recess Riddles, School Party Popcorn Box and Daisy's Picture Anagrams. All for just 25 cents.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bringing The Animated Man Out of the Shadow

It is unfortunate that Michael Barrier's book, The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney, has struggled to find its way out of the shadow cast by last year's publication of Neal Gabler's more heralded and Disney Company endorsed Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.

I have not up until this point attempted any kind of review of Barrier’s efforts, as in all honesty, I have not read the book in its entirety. I am not a reader of biographies in the traditional fashion; I tend to dig into them haphazardly, usually digesting specific passages as interest or research dictates, but rarely if ever completing cover-to-cover consumptions.

The same held true of Gabler’s longer book, although I did take a more linear approach with it initially, and have more or less completed reading it in the months since its publication. Like many others, I was at first infatuated with the potential of Gabler’s efforts. Here was someone essentially given the blessing of the Walt Disney Company and access to many otherwise restricted items from its extensive and far reaching archives. Great was my anticipation; so also ultimately was my disappointment. I quickly tired of its overemphasis on the “flawed Walt.” The book often becomes a somewhat odd apologist dissertation rather than an insightful and enlightening life story. I, like Barrier, do not subscribe to the Gabler suppositions that Disney spent much of his life discontented and at times mired in mental anguish. The "troubled genius" approach is one all too easy for a biographer to take and one that Gabler seems to readily embrace. He in effect, puts the psychoanalytical cart before the fascinating and far more relevant creatively driven horse.

While I am certainly disqualified from writing fair, overall assessments of both books, I feel I can still venture an opinion or two based on the usage they each receive as parts of my library of Disney research materials. That is to say I frequently find myself perusing The Animated Man with a regularity that keeps it almost constantly residing near my desk. It is rare that I cannot find what I am looking for within its pages. At the same time Gabler’s lengthier tome has become the research equivalent of the relief pitcher who never makes it out of the bullpen.

This is not to say that the book is without merit. Its density alone reflects exhaustive research and extensive content. But there seems to be an odd disconnect between Gabler and his subject that Barrier thankfully does not fall victim to. It's an intangible and highly subjective perception on my part, but perhaps rooted in Barrier's well earned status as one of the leading authorities on animation history. His resume in that regard is extensive, beginning in the 1970s with the publication of Funnyworld, a magazine devoted to animation and comic art. A near quarter century of research and interviews led to the writing of Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age which saw publication in 1999. Those efforts in turn ultimately served in the writing of The Animated Man.

Barrier himself addresses Gabler in a commentary he has posted on his web site. While it would be quite easy to quickly dismiss his pointed criticisms and the extensive list of errors he has found in Walt Disney as rooted in professional rivalry, a careful reading of the post reflects a genuinely fair and balanced assessment of Gabler’s efforts. One especially notable point addressed by Barrier is Gabler’s citings of two particular sources, Hollywood’s Dark Prince by Marc Eliot and Disney’s World by Leonard Mosley, both known for their often outrageous conjectures and numerous inaccuracies. While it is certainly unavoidable to not shine a spotlight on Barrier’s potential bias in the discussion, he is still unquestionably among the very few individuals qualified to question the veracity of Gabler’s work.

Especially pleasing to a Disney historian such as myself (albeit of a distinctly novice stature when compared to the Barriers, Canemakers and Maltins of the world) is the wealth of information and commentary Barrier makes available at his web site. A recent post that addresses Disney’s wearing of a Goldwater campaign button to a White House ceremony hosted by LBJ is an excellent example of the lengths Barrier will go to to insure that his work is accurate and as close to the truth as one can get.

At the conclusion of that particular essay, Barrier states that “. . . where Walt Disney is concerned, I realized long ago, there's always something new to learn. That's what makes researching and writing about him so fascinating, so frustrating, and, ultimately, such an enormous pleasure.”

The statement demonstrates a passion for the subject matter that is, as I previously stated, noticeably absent in Gabler’s Walt Disney. Barrier also displays a much a greater understanding of the business that Disney pioneered and ultimately came to represent on so many levels. While The Animated Man has not enjoyed the publicity and critical recognition that Walt Disney has in many ways received more by design than by merit, it is an effort that deserves to be recognized as a valuable and important contribution to the library of Disney history.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Back to School - Let's Be Careful Out There

These important safety tips come courtesy of the 1960 Dell Giant comic Walt Disney's Huey, Dewey and Louie Back to School.

For a number of years in the late 1950s/early 1960s, Donald's nephews participated in this annual four color tradition that demonstrated at least to some degree that comic books and school could share some common ground. This school safety rules illustration appeared on the issue's inside front cover. I never realized just how serious a problem playground holes were back then.

Cinderella by Mary Blair

Mary Blair fans take note--the new Disney Press edition of Cinderella has just arrived in book stores. It is an amazing presentation of Blair's conceptual paintings from the classic animated feature film. The story itself is retold by Newbery Award-winning author Cynthia Rylant. Kudos to Disney Press for this wonderful showcase of Blair's unique style and unquestionable talent.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Back to School - On a Very Famous Yellow Bus

If there would ever be a Disney Products Hall of Fame, this particular item would likely be one of the most revered and honored inductees.

The classic Walt Disney School Bus lunchbox is a pop culture icon to a generation of baby boomers. Some nine million units of this bright yellow metal lithographed schoolyard accessory were produced over a span of twenty years. Aladdin Industries introduced the lunchbox in 1956 at a then somewhat pricey $2.69. An original in good condition can currently fetch into the hundreds of dollars at collectors markets and online auctions.

This classic piece of Disneyana was the brainchild of Disney Legend Al Konetzni. Self-described as a salesman with a pencil, Konetzni brought his artistic and creative skills to Disney in 1953 when he was hired as an idea man for the character merchandise division, then based out of New York City. He would spend the next 28 years creating Disney character merchandise that included toys, clothing, jewelry, watches and countless other products. He had a hand in everything from Pez candy dispensers to the toothbrushes they necessitated.

Sure, it was just a lunchbox. It carried its share of apples, Twinkies and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And if swung with enough force, it was a formidable deterrent to even the most intimidating bullies. But more than anything, it was a true triumph of consumer product design. Every surface was authentic--including the bottom, which displayed the vehicle’s tires and undercarriage. Sixteen Disney characters were represented--Mickey, Pluto, Donald and Bambi waved on passengers that included Dopey, Thumper, Huey, Dewie, Louie, Morty, Ferdie, Alice, Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Jiminy Cricket, with Goofy at the wheel.

Two wonderful details--Bambi carries an edition of the lunchbox in his mouth, and the Emergency Door on the rear of the bus warns “OPEN FOR LUNCH ONLY.”

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Find Your Way to Miscellainey

I have to say I'm a bit embarrassed that I only recently found my way to Lainey Schallock's wonderful blog Miscellainey. Lainey's posted some terrific articles in the very short time her blog has been up and running. Fellow bloggers and Disney compatriots George (aka half of the Disney Geeks) and Jessica (If We Can Dream It . . .) tipped me off to Lainey indirectly via comments and kudos from their respective sites.

I would like to especially recommend Lainey's wonderful three-part series The Streets of Bakersfield. Don't miss it!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Testament to the Geeks

I have made countless friends in the online Disney community since starting 2719 Hyperion last fall. But I have been especially fortunate in befriending two such individuals who actually live just down the road here in North Carlina. In a very short time, we have become great friends and brothers in the cause, and I have been terribly, terribly remiss in acknowledging them here at 2719. They shamelessly plug yours truly and this site at every opportunity and are just a couple of all around super guys.

George, Andrew . . . could you stand up . . . ah, there they are.

Ladies and gentlemen, I just want to say a big thank you to my very good friends, The Disney Geeks. Passionate about all things Disney, happy, fun, and occasionally irreverent, they daily bring a positive energy and enthusiasm, not just to their own terrific blog, but to all the other Disney sites and communities they actively participate in.

Thanks again guys for all your support!

Snapshot! - Music & Voice Lessons by appointment

Just across the way from Sleepy Hollow Refreshments in Walt Disney World's Liberty Square there is another small detail that relates to Disney's 1949 animated feature film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. A nice reference to one of the studio's slightly less celebrated movies.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Desktop Retro: The Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village

It's back to the 1970s again with Dan Cunningham's latest retro desktop. The roots of Downtown Disney stretch all the way back to the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village and Dan celebrates those earlier, distinctly more subdued years of quiet waterfront shopping and dining. A big thanks again to Dan for all his efforts.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Slightly Off Center Haunted Mansion

It is easily one of the odder licensing marriages that Disney has entered into. For nearly two years, the small and very much out of the mainstream independent publisher SLG has been producing comic books based on four Disney properties--Tron, Gargoyles, Alice in Wonderland and The Haunted Mansion.

SLG has been around for twenty years albeit most of that time known as Slave Labor Graphics. Their mostly black and white non-super-hero fare has more or less placed them on the periphery of the non-Marvel/DC circle of independent comics publishers, but they have attained a longevity that has escaped countless other aspiring startups in this always volatile business.

SLG’s first Disney publication, an ongoing series inspired by Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, was the one I was most curious about. A black and white anthology collecting stories that focused on the mansion’s 999 haunts, it promised to flesh out many of the backstories that have seemingly emerged over the course of the attraction’s nearly four decades of existence.

Despite the Disney pedigree, finding the Haunted Mansion comics can be a bit of a challenge. Having long moved away from buying comics on a regular basis, my intermittent trips to the local comics store combined with SLG’s very infrequent publishing schedule (six issues in close to two years), kept bringing me up empty handed in my searches. I did stumble upon one of the issues, in a Hot Topic of all places, where I had been dragged in by my children to view the latest wave of Invader Zim paraphernalia. I was therefore very excited when 2719 Hyperion reader John Grigas, upon noticing my many Four Color Fun postings and Don Rosa tributes, generously offered to forward onto me the first six issues of the Haunted Mansion series.

As I stated, this is a very odd marriage between SLG and Disney. SLG has always been atypical in their creative sensibilities and they did not at all compromise their very independent nature when approaching the Haunted Mansion property. The dark, cutting edge humor that is prevalent in many of their titles can be seen as a natural fit for tales inspired by the Haunted Mansion. But the very diverse range of eclectic and often extreme artistic styles presented in stark black and white is frequently jarring and ultimately undermines any overall uniformity of storytelling they may be trying to provide involving the Mansion’s underlying mythology. The multi-part story "The Mystery of the Manse," that runs through the first six issues, tells a more serious and well considered story of the Mansion’s master William Gracey and was penned by SLG publisher Dan Vado. But his efforts ultimately suffer due to the multiple artists involved. The renderings of artist Mike Moss in particular, while often dynamic and well-realized, have a manga-inspired style that seems ill-suited both to Vado’s very American Gothic tale and the Mansion’s theme park origins.

This is not to say that the various creators involved do not have a passion for the subject. Their love of the Mansion and knowledge of its history and background clearly transcend the disjointed nature of its anthology format. I particularly liked the clever homage to Imagineers Marc Davis and Claude Coats in the first issue, and another story that made reference to the Mansion’s pet cemetery was equally fun.

But in the final analysis, the Haunted Mansion comics seem more firmly rooted in the decidedly off-center storytelling and loose-form artistry of independent comics creators and publishers, rather than the more mainstream and broader appealing presentations that Disney typically requires from it license holders. It was no doubt a conscious, but still curious decision on the part of SLG to play to its already established niche readership rather than reach for the broader audience that is most definitely out there and hungry for these types of Disney-themed adventures.

While I in no way wish to diminish the work of the series’ talented writers and artists, I have to say that their efforts simply do not do justice to the entity that has inspired them. A Haunted Mansion comic book series should be a rich, deeply textured, colorful and immersive experience, much like the attraction itself. SLG’s efforts may please the generally narrow audience that they have been accustomed to serving, but in this case they have sadly fallen short of what something as high profile as the Haunted Mansion requires.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Another Drive Down The Road Ahead

One of the most popular posts here at 2719 Hyperion has proven to be about something that is not altogether immediately recognizable as a Disney entity. My article on The Road Ahead, a fifteen minute segment from the 1958 Disneyland episode "Magic Highway U.S.A." was widely linked outside of the Disney online community and recognized by a number of retro-futurism bloggers.

I thought it would be fun to take another ride down The Road Ahead and visit again the transportation dynamics of late 2oth century America, as they were imagined by 1950's visionaries. So let's all jump into our highly specialized pleasure vehicles and take a trip along the magic highways of a future that never quite came to be.

"Speed, safety and comfort will be the keynotes of tomorrow's highways. A multi-colored highway system may enable the motorist to reach his destination by following the correct color strip. The increased speed of tomorrow's automobile will demand that highway signs be larger and more simple to read."

"Dashboard panels featuring built-in safety controls and electronic operating devices are predictions for tomorrow. A teletype panel shows up-to-the-minute traffic bulletins. The recommended safe driving speed is automatically indicated. Our rear view mirror is actually a television picture."

"Airborne emergency units would combine police, fire and ambulance services. Quick removal of disabled vehicles will reduce traffic tie-ups."

"Combining new formulas of concrete with quick-setting ceramic materials, a mobile kiln is supported by the bridge it builds."

"For tunneling through mountains, this atomic reactor applying incredible heat literally melts the hard rock as it makes molehills out of mountains."

On entering the city, the family separates, father to his office, mother and son to the shopping center. These new forms of vehicles will bring about special purpose roadways."

"Office buildings will combine unique parking and elevator services. From his private parking space, father will probably have to walk to his desk."

"These non-stop farm-to-market transports will bring remote agricultural areas to within minutes of metropolitan markets."

"Advances in technology will give us more time for leisure in tomorrow's living. The family vacation will always be decided by a family vote, but getting there will be simplified by a punched card system and the car is automatically operated and guided to preset destinations. Highly specialized pleasure vehicles will have every convenience of home."

Images © Walt Disney Company

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Four Color Island Adventures

Pirates have invaded Disneyland's Tom Sawyer Island recently with the Imagineer-installed Pirate's Lair overlay. But here's a view of the Mark Twain-inspired environment from nearly a half a century ago. This map was featured on the inside front cover of the 1958 comic book Walt Disney's Donald and Mickey in Disneyland on Tom Sawyer Island.

This Dell Giant featured stories that tied into the various landmarks located throughout the island. Goofy explores Injun Joe's Cave. The Brer characters go fishing at Catfish Cove. Uncle Scrooge encounters both Captain Hook and Beagle Boys at an adventure at Smuggler's Cove. Chip 'n' Dale try to find a new home in the Tree House, while Grandma Duck and Gyro Gearloose share a story at the Old Mill. The issue's centerpiece story is Donald and Mickey at Fort Wilderness. Set in 1812, Donald plays a frontiersman to Mickey's fort commander. The highlight of the story is the appearance of Davy Cricket, a funny spin on a certain former Pinocchio sidekick. An activities section at that back even features a Davy Cricket's B'ar Trap Game.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Stamp Magic

Today was the issue date for the newest set of commemorative Disney themed stamps from United States Postal Service. Magic is the theme in this, the fourth release in The Art of Disney series. It follows prior themes of friendship, celebrations and romance. Here's a great recap from the USPS website of Disney's history with the postal service:

"The Disney relationship with the U.S. Postal Service began in the summer of 1918 when Walt Disney sorted and delivered mail in the Chicago Post Office. Next, Mickey Mouse worked for the Post Office when he starred in the 1933 animated short "Mail Pilot." The achievements of Walt Disney were first recognized on a stamp in 1968. On that stamp, a parade of children, hand-in-hand, appear from a tiny castle to surround a portrait of Walt Disney. The children, representing many nations of the World, are garbed in native costume.

"In 1998, a "Snow White" stamp was issued as part of the Postal Service's "Celebrate the Century" stamp series that highlighted the most memorable and significant people, places, events and trends of each decade of the 20th century. In 1937, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" premiered as the nation's first feature-length animated film. The movie classic was created from 240,000 separate drawings and won a special Academy Award™ for Walt Disney.

"The Art of Disney: Friendship stamps issued in 2004, the first in the current series, honored friendship as it appears in the art of Walt Disney and featured Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck and a host of Disney friends. The Art of Disney: Celebration stamps issued in 2005 were the second in the series and featured Mickey Mouse and Pluto, Alice and the Mad Hatter, Ariel and Flounder, and Snow White and Dopey. The third in the series, The Art of Disney: Romance stamps issued in 2006 highlighted the love between Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, Lady and the Tramp, Belle and the Beast, and Cinderella and Prince Charming. Each time, U.S. Postal Service art director Terrence McCaffrey joined the Disney team, including artist Peter Emmerich and creative director Dave Pacheco, in designing the stamps.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Freeze Frame! - Mickey and Company Under the Sea

Here's a classic Freeze Frame! from The Little Mermaid, the feature that essentially ushered in Disney's animation renaissance of the early 1990s. Mickey, Donald and Goofy were all on hand for Sebastian's ill fated concert near the beginning of the film. Maybe this is where the trio ended up after their ship went down in the classic 1938 cartoon Boat Builders. An even keener eye will spot a number of mer-people throughout the same undersea audience sporting Mickey Mouse ears.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Snapshot! - Kali Rapids Expeditions

While the Expedition Everest queue has gained quite the reputation for it extensive and very entertaining queue area, the nearby Kali River Rapids queue is almost as equally dense with details. The attraction tells a very specific story, and much of it is communicated through these paths and switchbacks. This particular scene appears to be the office of the business' proprietor Manesha Gurung.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Mickey Mouse Treasures

One of the more interesting and noticeable trends of late in book publishing has been what could be best described as “enhanced books.” The contents of these tomes extend beyond just printed text and pictures to include interactive elements and actual reproductions of materials relevant to the subject matter contained therein.

Disney has produced two notable entries in this genre, The Disney Treasures and The Disney Keepsakes, both written by Walt Disney Archives Manager Robert Tieman and produced by becker & mayer, the leading creator and manufacturer of what they themselves call the “book-plus” format. Tieman and company have returned with a third edition in the series, The Mickey Mouse Treasures, which showcases the company’s most prominent star and longtime icon.

Like its predecessors, The Mickey Mouse Treasures is a lavishly produced collection of history and information, embellished with extensive illustrations and beautifully recreated facsimiles of items from the company’s now famous archives. What especially distinguishes the content of these volumes is that much of the material presented has been rarely if ever seen in other Disney-related books and publications.

Among the diverse selection of reproductions:
  • A program from the November 13, 1940 world premiere of Fantasia at the Broadway Theatre in New York City.
  • A promotional giveaway entitled What Causes Motor Knocks from the Sunoco Oil Company that featured Mickey and his nephews .
  • A vintage postcard from the Art Corner, the now famous spot in Disneyland that sold actual production cels for just a few dollars a pop back in the day.
  • A terrific fold-out map/brochure of Disneyland from its inaugural year.
  • And my personal favorite--a hinged album featuring all of Mickey’s official birthday portraits, done over the years by famed Disney artist and Imagineer John Hench.
This is not to say that The Mickey Mouse Treasures is all fluff and pretty pictures. The subjects presented are quite often unique and new to even the relatively seasoned Disney historian. Tieman’s text is detailed and extensive. I was totally unfamiliar with the 1931 traveling road show Mickey Mouse Idea, staged by well-know vaudeville producers Fanchon and Marco; a detailed description of the then extremely popular production is provided as well as a half a dozen photos and a facsimile of an original theater program.

Likewise, it was a joy to read of the abandoned concepts for Mickey Mouse cartoons that were featured in the section entitled “The Mouse That Might Have Been.” Intriguing ideas such as "The Janitors" and "Mickey’s Sea Serpent" are highlighted, but of particular interest is a 1934 letter from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt suggesting a story idea for a Mickey Mouse cartoon. A copy of Walt’s reply is also presented.

These are but two of twenty-one different subjects covered, with other topics ranging from World War II to Fantasia to Disneyland to merchandise guru Kay Kamen. Tieman, and designer Paul Barrett, have created a handheld museum of Mickey Mouse history and ephemera that is both an invaluable reference tool and a delightful and entertaining excursion by proxy through the Disney Archives.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Runaway Brain - August 11, 1995

It’s been a dozen years since the happy anomaly that is Runaway Brain debuted in theaters alongside the now forgotten feature film A Kid in King Arthur’s Court. This cartoon emerged over forty years after the studio produced its last traditional format Mickey Mouse cartoon short, The Simple Things, in 1953. It is a dynamic, hip and fun seven minutes of animation, very much awash in 1990s popular culture, yet still thankfully grounded in the creative sensibilities of the Hyperion Avenue era of Disney production.

While Disney did not completely abandon Mickey Mouse cartoons during the decades following The Simple Things, the two efforts that preceded Runaway Brain, Mickey’s Christmas Carol and The Prince and the Pauper, were longer form literary adaptations and somewhat removed from the more traditional cartoon short format. Runaway Brain returned Mickey to the classic time and pace of a one reel short subject, the very type of animated entertainment he pioneered some sixty years earlier.

From its opening frames however, there is no mistaking Runaway Brain’s modern age pedigree. After its King Kong-esque opening title is quickly clawed into tatters, the audience is met with a joystick-wielding Mickey totally immersed in a Mortal Kombat style video game based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Minnie arrives for an anniversary date and is quickly put off by Mickey’s inattention. Mickey tries to make a amends but digs himself even deeper when Minnie mixes up newspaper ads and misinterprets 18 holes of mini golf for an 18-day Hawaiian cruise.
Desperately in need of a $1000 windfall, Mickey follows a want ad to the laboratory of simian mad scientist Dr. Frankenollie, whose devious plan is to do a brain swap between the mouse and his monstrous lab assistant Julius. Frankenollie features, albeit briefly, the voice talents of Kelsey Grammer, while Julius is in fact portrayed by Disney career villian Pete, whose peg leg was returned after a fairly extended PC-related sabbatical. Brains are switched, the good doctor is incinerated, and the short plunges into a frantic paced tour de force of action and heroics with a rough and tumble cityscape atmosphere more akin to recent Spiderman flicks than to traditional Mickey Mouse adventures.

But Runaway Brain is not as disconnected from Mickey’s cartoon heritage as one might think. Scratch below it’s video game, surf shop and other contemporary trappings and you have a short produced from very much the same disciplines behind Disney’s earlier short subject cartoons. The brain exchange that takes place between Mickey and Julius is an especially notable achievement in character animation and a credit to Andreas Dejas and his team; it effectively transplants Mickey’s personality into the monstrous Julius, and likewise turns a long standing corporate icon into a raving psychopath. In addition, director Chris Bailey was not afraid to move his non-existent camera around and approach shots from wholly unorthodox angles, as demonstrated by the sequence where a Julius-possessed Mickey scampers up through the laboratory’s pipes and conduits to dramatically emerge before the city skyline. Early Disney animators used similar “camera moving” techniques as far back as the early 1930s.

More than anything, Runaway Brain is a successful creative marriage of the Mouse’s very early and certainly less inhibited black and white efforts with the later Technicolor productions that featured a much more benign Mickey but were rich in style and layered upon lush, detailed backgrounds.

While the occasional pundit has made note of this uncharacteristic approach to Mickey and has even speculated that that is why it has been largely unseen in the years since its release, its darker and wilder dynamic is not unprecedented. Mickey explored similar avenues in early cartoons such as The Haunted House, The Gorilla Mystery and The Mad Doctor, just to name a few. Dr. Frankenollie’s lab is an obvious throwback to Universal’s classic monster films, but no doubt also received some inspiration from Mickey’s similarly styled 1937 cartoon The Worm Turns.

Runaway Brain’s unconventional nature was also likely influenced by the trio of Roger Rabbit cartoons that preceded it during the early 1990s. That is especially evidenced by the number of inside jokes its creators slipped into the film. While references to The Exorcist, veteran Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, and even a regurgitated Zazu are relatively obvious, it takes a keener eye to spot the newspaper homage to Clarisse, the torch-singing counterpart to Chip and Dale in the 1951 short Two Chips and a Miss. The monster’s name Julius is a possible reference to one of Pete’s earliest of co-stars, a cat character from the pre-Mickey series of Alice comedies. And it appears that Mickey must be a Trekkie of sorts, as a model of the Starship Enterprise can be seen in a corner of his living room.

Preschooler moms beware--this is not your standard toddler-friendly Mickey Mouse cartoon. Hence its inclusion on a Disney Treasures DVD rather than in the more inclusive Cartoon Classics line. Modern audiences may be jarred somewhat by its darker, irreverent tone, but most animation buffs would likely view Runaway Brain as a return to Mickey’s earlier, often times impudent, sometimes scary, and definitely more uninhibited, black and white years.

Images © Walt Disney Company

Blogging Some Animation Backgrounds

Longtime friend of 2719 Hyperion, Rob Richards has started a wonderful new blog featuring one of my favorite subjects: Animation Backgrounds. In Rob's words:

"Animations backgrounds create the world where cartoons come to life. In traditional, classic animation, the backgrounds are often masterpieces in and of themselves. In this new blog I'd like to share backgrounds I've re-created, so animation enthusiasts can enjoy their incredible beauty."

Rob inaugurates his efforts with detailed looks at backgrounds from Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book. Head on over to Animation Backgrounds and take a look at what is often one of the more overlooked categories of animation art.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Goodbye Leo . . .

In the early days of Disney-MGM Studios (a mere decade and a half ago), MGM's Leo the Lion held equal billing on nearly all of the theme park's publicity material and branded merchandise. Leo's prominence ultimately faded due to the ongoing legal disputes between Disney and MGM. His final pink slip of sorts came yesterday with the announcement that beginning in January, Walt Disney World's third gate would become Disney's Hollywood Studios.

The change was certainly inevitable, but I have to admit a certain sentimental attachment to the Disney-MGM moniker. I, like many others, will undoubtedly continue to refer to the park as simply "MGM" for some time to come.

And speaking of MGM, a big shout-out to Matt Hochberg, webmaster and all around good guy from and host of the WDW Today podcast. Matt featured yours truly and 2719 Hyperion in a recent article at Thanks, Matt!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

What a Character! - Milton

Throughout the history of Disney cartoons, cats have never enjoyed the stature and prominence bestowed upon their canine counterparts. Both Goofy and Pluto became Disney superstars, but no felines were ever able to break out in similar fashion. Figaro, who transitioned from Pinocchio supporting player to Minnie Mouse’s house pet, made a go of it in the early 1940s with three starring shorts, but then just as quickly faded into the archives. It would seem that within the Disney studio, dogs always did have their days.

Certainly less remembered than Figaro but a notable character nonetheless, Milton, a clever and at times feisty Siamese, made a similar run for glory a decade later. But he too failed to make an impact that would have allowed a longer and more noticeable film career.

Milton emerged as a foil for Pluto in the 1950 cartoon Puss-Café. He and his pal Richard see Pluto’s backyard as a veritable smorgasbord of bottled milk, goldfish and songbirds, much to the annoyance of our hammock-napping hero. Milton and Richard were clearly created from a Laurel and Hardy mold, so it was somewhat surprising that when Milton returned the following year in Cold Turkey, his partner in crime was nowhere to be seen.

Milton’s circumstances had changed as well. Instead of being the garbage can dwelling vagabond of Puss-Café, he was now a housemate to Pluto in a household that very much represented the emerging suburbia of the early 1950s. Less rivals and more co-conspirators in mischief and mayhem, the two work together to secure a turkey from the refrigerator, only to have their efforts fall short when baser instincts emerge. Post-war pop culture conventions such as large unit-small screen televisions and studio wrestling (used to great effect with actual black and white footage) humorously provide the means to the pratfalls and gags that effectively showcase the two characters.

Milton’s third and final appearance came in 1951’s Plutopia, where he takes a wacky left turn in a dream sequence that showcases Pluto’s vision of a Utopian life. Milton dons butler garb, and with newly acquired voice, sadistically encourages Pluto to torment and punish him while at the same time gorging the pup on cream, steaks, bones and other doggy delicacies. At one point, Milton levels a shotgun at his own head as yet another punishment, a scene which ultimately earned the short a Leonard Maltin disclaimer on a Disney Treasures Pluto DVD collection.

Sadly, like many other Disney cartoon stars who emerged during the 1950s twilight of animated short subjects, Milton too saw a potential longer career cut short by the advent of television and the ultimate shuttering of the studio’s shorts department.

Images © Walt Disney Company