Sunday, 19 June 2016

Ensuring Your Own Safety at Walt Disney World

In the past weeks, the city of Orlando has suffered a string of horrific tragedies, the last of which was the drowning of Lane Graves by a wild alligator in the Seven Seas Lagoon. This terrible event has raised a lot of questions about the limits of personal and corporate negligence, liability, and how Americans are taught – or not taught – to respect wild nature.

For the family, what has happened has happened, and there is no need to berate or hector them. They are no doubt punishing themselves far more harshly than the howling mobs of the Internet could, and will have to live forever with the choices they made leading up to the tragedy. What I hope with this article is to offer safety tips for readers who have never been to Walt Disney World, or have but never gave these issues much thought.

Disney can only take so much responsibility for safety on their property. There are many contingencies that they simply cannot have any control over. Tourists anywhere must also take active responsibility for their own safety.

There are three simple tips by which guests can ensure their own safety and the safety of their families: obey warnings, use common sense, and take due diligence.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Jules Verne: A Literary Pilgrimage - Part 2

Jules Verne's mansion against the background of modern Amiens.
Photo © Laurent Rousselin – Amiens Métropole
Though born in Nantes in 1828 and living amidst the hustle, bustle and literary-artistic culture of Paris when he wrote his first novels, Verne's association with Amiens began in 1856 when he attended the wedding of a friend. Weddings are often efficacious for spurring new romances, and Verne fell for the sister of the bride, a widow with two daughters named Honorine. The following year the pair were married, but living in Amiens was still a long way off.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Walt's Era - Part 3: The War Years (1942-1946)

War had come to America, and Disney was in the thick of it.

Since 1939, Europe had been at war between the Allied forces lead by the British Empire and the Axis lead by the Nazis. In July of 1941, the Soviet Union was drawn in against the Axis, and on December 7 of the same year, the hand of the United States was forced by a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On December 8, the American military moved into the Walt Disney Studios, further straining an already beleaguered company.

The loss of European markets right when they were needed to recoup the costs of Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi hurt Disney sorely. Then came the animator's strike of 1941, and finally the military occupying the studio grounds. Everything Walt had managed to build with Mickey Mouse and Snow White looked like it was about to collapse.

Still, there was hope. Before America entered the war, the government sent Walt and 18 artists off to Latin America as part of the Good Neighbor Policy. The goal, as far as the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs was concerned, was to counteract Nazi sympathy in Central and South America by building a healthy, neighbourly exchange with the United States. For Disney, it was an opportunity to get new material for cartoons and to help build the Latin American film market (much needed after Europe's inaccessibility). The result was two of Disney's best films of the Forties, and a string of Latin American-themed shorts.

Walt learning the dances of Argentina.
Disney also secured a contract with the government for 32 propaganda films, which helped chase off the spectre of bankruptcy. These included training films, various Donald Duck and Pluto shorts, and shorts like Education for Death (1943). Animators and artists also did various and sundry odd jobs, like designing logos and mascots for different military units.

Then, shortly after the war, Disney made a bold (but ultimately infamous) experiment in fusing animation with live-action in a film that would become one of its most enduring favourites despite modern controversy.          

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Jules Verne: A Literary Pilgrimage - Part 1

Few Disney live-action films have enjoyed the enduring legacy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Just as Jules Verne's works entered the public domain, Walt Disney took a gamble on fashioning that novel into his studio's first big-budget, Hollywood-made, live-action film. It was a gamble that paid off beyond anyone's wildest expectations. Walt, director Richard Fleischer, and screenwriter Earl Felton used the backdrop of Verne's original story to meditate on the anxieties of the Atomic Age. They captured the fears and hopes of a generation, and did so on a grand scale, with Cinemascope-sized screen, larger-than-life charismatic actors, beautiful underwater photography, and sheer spectacle. In so doing, Walt Disney helped create a new image of Jules Verne… Verne the icon of optimistic futurism.

Walt and Verne, the two optimists. Photo: Disney.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea spawned a whole genre of movies based on Verne's work, including Michael Todd's Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), Ray Harryhausen’s Mysterious Island (1961), and Disney's own In Search of the Castaways (1962). His adventures also translated well into three dimensions. Disneyland opened in 1955 with an exhibit of props from the film, Walt Disney World opened in 1971 with a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarine voyage, Disneyland Paris opened in 1992 with a new version of Tomorrowland based on Verne's work, and Tokyo Disneysea opened in 2001 with Mysterious Island, where guests can embark on an expedition 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or take a Journey to the Center of the Earth. Trader Sam's Grog Grotto in the Polynesian Village Resort includes leftover props from the submarine ride and a Nautilus-themed drink. Verne has also popped up again, as the founder of a secret organization of geniuses in Tomorrowland (2015). 60 years after the film's debut in 1954, Verne's creations are still furnishing material for theme parks the world over.

Concept art for Trader Sam's Grog Grotto. Image: Disney.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Baía in Song: "Na Baixa do Sapateiro" and "Você Já Foi à Bahia?"

One of the most hypnotic sequences of song and animation in Disney's oeuvre is the song Baía from The Three Caballeros. José Carioca, the cigar-chomping Brazilian parrot, asks Donald if he has ever been to the state of Baía. When he answers in the negative, José creates a picture in song of the sleepy region and its capital Salvador. Though our host is clearly from Rio de Janeiro - the term "Carioca" refers to people from there - the romantic image he paints of Baía can create a longing in anyone's heart for languid South American cities of 70 years ago.

The Three Caballeros (1944) and Saludos Amigos (1942), the two films to come out of Walt Disney's goodwill tout of South America, were as much steeped in the popular music of their time as Make Mine Music and Melody Time. All four films dated from the period of Disney's wartime "package" films, which took the route of bundling together an anthology of shorts built around music. They were equal parts heir to Fantasia and the Silly Symphonies shorts. For the two Latin American films, the popular music hailed from Latin America.

The song that Disney turned into Baía was originally written in 1938 as Na Baixa do Sapateiro by Ary Barroso. Translating to English as "In the Shoemaker's Hollow," it tells the story of a humble shoemaker in Salvador who holds out the torch of unrequited love for a dark-haired young lady. The Portuguese lyrics are as follows:
Ai, amor ai, ai
Amor, bobagem que
a gente não explica ai, ai
Prova um bocadinho, oi
Fica envenenando, oi
E pro resto da vida é um tal de sofrer
Ô lará, ô lerê
Ô Bahia, iaiá
Bahia que não me sai do pensamento
Faço o meu lamento, oi
Na desesperança, oi
De encontrar nesse mundo
O amor que eu perdi na Bahia
Vou contar
Na Baixa do Sapateiro
Eu encontrei um dia
A morena mais frajola da Bahia
Pedi um beijo, não deu
Um abraço, sorriu
Pedi a mão, não quis dar
Bahia, terra de felicidade
Morena, ah morena
Eu ando louco de saudade
Meu Senhor do Bonfim
Arranje outra morena
Igualzinha prá mim
Ai Bahia, iaiá 
Ray Gilbert rewrote the song for Disney, altering the lyrics to...
Oh Baía, when twilight is deep in the sky, Baiá
Someone that I long to see, keeps haunting my memory
And so the loneliness deep in my heart calls to you, calls to you! 
Oh Baía, I live in the memory of many dreams ago
When the stars were bright and you were mine alone
My love for you cannot die, though the oceans run dry
Or heaven's call from the sky, now you’re gone! 
Baía, can’t you hear my lonely call?
Morena, make my life complete again!
How I pray for the day when I'll see your smile
And my heart will beat again! 
Oh Baía, when twilight is deep in the sky, Baía
Someone that I long to see, keeps haunting my memory
And so the loneliness deep in my heart calls to you, calls to you!
Oh Baía... 
The alteration served Barroso well. After its release, the song was intended to be used by Carmen Miranda for her film Banana da Terra, but the licencing fees demanded by Barroso proved prohibitive. Disney's deep pockets could easily afford it, and in its rewritten form has been played and covered countless times.

Ary Barroso's original recording of  Na Baixa do Sapateiro

José decides that the pair must see Baía, and launches into a rendition of Você Já Foi à Bahia? Unlike Na Baixa do SapateiroVocê Já Foi à Bahia? was a direct and accurate performance. The title translates to "Have You Ever Been to Baía?" and José's rendition switches freely between Portuguese and English. The original was written by Dorival Caymmi in 1941, being successful on its release and hitting international acclaim after being featured in The Three Caballeros.

Dorival Caymmi's recording of Você Já Foi à Bahia? 

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Walt's Era - Part 2: Fits and Starts (1940-1942)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a smash success, redefining what animation could be in Hollywood. The film funding a brand new, custom built studio in Burbank, from which Disney artists could push their craft even further. The company, and the man for whom it was named, were on top of the world.

Disney, all smiles, at his new studio. Photo: Disney.
Disney's bread and butter was still the ongoing series of shorts featuring Mickey Mouse and his friends. The Silly Symphonies upped their game, with a noticeable rise in quality between the early half of 1937 and into 1938 and 1939. Wynken, Blynken and Nod, Moth and the Flame, Farmyard Symphony, and The Ugly Duckling learned from the lessons of Snow White, as did the one-off short, Ferdinand the Bull (1938). The Ugly Duckling (1939) ended up being the final Silly Symphony. That testing ground for new processes ran its course. Now Disney's attention was turned to feature film.

In this period between 1940 and 1942, we find a Walt Disney Productions trying to find its footing, experimenting and exploring with what an animated film can be. Creatively, films like Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi are triumphs (with The Reluctant Dragon sandwiched in there too). But these films also challenged Disney's credibility as a populist. Like any great artists, sometimes they innovated too far beyond the pale of what the audience was receptive to. It would take some time for them to settle on working formulas that allowed them to break new ground while responding to market forces. The raging war in Europe didn't help matters much, nor did the infamous animators strike that landed on Disney's doorstep on May 29, 1941. Disney was trying to figure itself out artistically and organizationally.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book - Part 3: "Tiger! Tiger!"

The original animated version of The Jungle Book ended with Mowgli's leaving the forest, lured to the man village by the beckoning eyes of a winsome girl. That coming-of-age story was subverted in the new live-action version, but both alike neglect to fill in what happened afterwards.

Kipling did, however, conclude his Mowgli chapters with the story of his life in the man village and his final confrontation with Shere Kahn. The aforementioned live-action version took bits and pieces of its story from across The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, and so Mowgli's faithful brother Gray and the buffalo stampede through the ravine were inspired by this chapter.

Historically, Mowgli was one of the inspirations behind Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, and we see that come to the forefront in this chapter. Both are ultimately inspired by Enkidu, the wild man of the 5000 year old Epic of Gilgamesh. In that most ancient of Babylonian writings, Enkidu represents untamed nature and the untrammeled spirit of man against the powers of civilization. He is brought to heel eventually, first by the temple prostitute Shamhat (the lure of the feminine, as exemplified by the girl in the animated Jungle Book) and then by combat with the warrior-king Gilgamesh. The wild man myth has endured through the millennia, sometimes as a cautionary tale about the need to suppress violent, natural urges, and morem often as a romantic vision of savage nobility. The wild man character is usually brought into confrontation with civilization, to varying effects. Tarzan had his run-in, and discovered that he operates best on the fringes of both the wild and the civilized worlds, not truly a part of either. Mowgli makes his own discovery as to his place in the world.

Indian Village. Photo: Wellcome Trust.

This encounter of the wild man with society allows the author of any given tale to divulge his or her own thoughts about society. In this chapter, Kipling satirizes the caste system and the self-importance of the village's wise old men and so-called great hunters.

Again, the complete book can be found at Project Gutenberg.