Wednesday 29 November 2017

The Enduring Power of Fairy Tales

To what do we credit the enduring power of fairy tales? 

At first they may appear to be merely entertaining stories about fantastic places and strange events. Looking at them again, they might appear to be straightforward morality tales or instructive lessons: whistle while you work, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, have courage and be kind. Academics have built careers constructing socio-cultural and psycho-sexual interpretations. Fairy tales can bear many interpretations and be enjoyed on many different levels.

There is, however, something deep at the root and core of fairy tales that invites them to be reread and reinterpreted and reimagined every generation, from paintings on cave walls to CGI musical spectaculars on the silver screen. This enduring power is wonder.

Sunday 19 November 2017

Top Five: Favourite Non-Disney Versions of Disney Things

Disney has left an indelible mark on fairy tales, to the point where it is virtually impossible to think of the stories of Grimm and Perrault, of Barrie and Carroll, without thinking of how Disney visualized them. Yet these stories are part of the common heritage of the West and Disney is not the only artist to have approached them. The following is a list of mine and Ashley's favourite non-Disney versions of stories typically considered the be Disney's own property. In some cases, our love for these renditions supersedes that of the Disney version, either from quality or nostalgia. At the very least, they are well worth the time to check out.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

After Walt's Era: Top Fives

I just can't let it go! Having discussed "Life After Walt" in the closing chapter of Walt's Era and touched on it in my conclusion, which included a "Top Five", I'm going to carry on in a fashion. I have no inclination whatsoever to go systematically through every Disney film made from 1968 to today. Please God no. But I can offer up my top five films, animated and live-action, from each of the company's major eras.

First would, of course, be the era of Card Walker and Ron Miller, from 1968 to 1984. This was the era immediately after Walt's passing, when the company tried in fits and starts to find its way without its founder. That came to an end in 1984 with chaos on the board of directors, several takeover attempts, and finally the introduction of Michael Eisner. It was this era I actually grew up in, incidentally. It's easy to be negative about Eisner from the controversial final years of his reign, but for an entire generation, Eisner was the only face of Disney they really knew. When I sat down on Sunday nights to watch Wonderful World of Disney, it was not Walt Disney who greeted me, but Michael Eisner. Finally it is the era of Bob Iger, who took charge of the company after Eisner was escorted out. Though originally slated to end this year, the loss of Iger's heir apparent, Tom Staggs, forced him to stay on for at least a few more years, with preparations to stay on even longer if necessary.

My reaction to each of these eras is a little different. Having reached the end of Walt's era and having studied Walt Disney World's history a bit more, I have a greater appreciation for what Walker and Miller tried and accomplished during their time. They were up against incredible challenges, and even though their experimentation didn't often work, at least they tried. Eisner's era was the Disney Renaissance, phenomenal in the beginning, a little more questionable towards the end. As a fan of classic Disney, I'm growing less and less enchanted with Iger's transformation of the company into a high-end IP management firm, of which "Disney" is merely one brand, easily discarded as the needs of marketing demand. I recently saw a comment that jokingly, but accurately, described Iger's reign as the Anything-But-Disney Decade. Keep in mind that as I rank these top fives from each era, I'm only counting Disney and none of Iger's acquisitions.

Saturday 11 November 2017

Walt's Era - Part 19: Conclusion and Top Fives

What does one learn by watching every Disney film of Walt's Era, in order? 

Almost all of these films I had seen before, in one way or another, mostly through building up our own DVD collection. Walt's era has long been an interest of mine and my favourite era in the company's history. It was, after all, the era when the company rose to ascendancy, built Disneyland, and produced nearly all of my favourite Disney films. Yet I never sat down to watch them in order, which turned out to be a monumental task that was great in the good years and surprisingly tedious and demoralizing in the not-so-good ones. Here's what I learned...

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Now's the Time we say Goodbye...

This has been a hard decision to make, and has been a long time coming, but after four years of adventures in yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy, it is time to draw this blog to a close.

We've been on a wonderful journey these past four years, and I'm sure there is still plenty to talk about in regards to the true life inspirations behind Disney films and attractions, but for as much as we've loved doing this blog and having a venue to share our own unique approach to Disney fandom, we just don't have the time to devote to producing the best blog we possibly can anymore. Just on the cusp of finishing a grand project of watching all of Walt Disney's films in order, and the way that this blog has often dominated our habits of reading and traveling and writing and otherwise how we spend our time, Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy is a lot of work. That would be fine if it was an all-consuming passion (and a revenue-earner), but we also try to lead healthy, balanced lives that don't completely revolve around Disney. That's the essence of what this blog has been about: to explore life beyond Disney. Both Ashley and myself hold down multiple jobs and volunteer for a variety of organizations, as well as carry on interests outside of the Disneysphere. And honestly, after watching all the Disney movies, what else is there really to do?!

I also wish I could say that the current direction of the Disney company wasn't negatively influencing this decision, but it is. We still love the things we have loved about Disney - the films we've loved, the attractions we've loved, the interest in the company's history, the warm place it's held in our own lives as where we were engaged and honeymooned - but we also recognize that Disney is very much intent on pushing non-Disney IP on us and demolishing or vandalizing everything we actually did love about the parks. Each new development feels like a validation of not centring our lives around Disney, and clearing room for the hours-long line-ups of fans with less discriminating tastes in IP and theme park design. 

Since we still love the things about Disney that we have loved, I may still want to write about them now and then. From now on, you'll find anything I have to say over on my other blog, Voyages Extraordinaires: Scientific Romances in a Bygone Age. In fact, this very day I posted an article about The Island at the Top of the World and Tony Baxter's ill-fated Discovery Bay. The circle for Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy is coming around... It started more or less as an offshoot of my other blog, where I could write about Disney stuff freely instead of straining connections to Victorian Science Fiction. Now we're streamlining operations again.

Since Walt's Era isn't quite over yet, November will feature the final chapter, as well as a couple follow-ups on our regular schedule. Our final post will be on November 29th, with a final inspirational word about what we hoped to accomplish with Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy. And with that...

See ya' real soon!
Why? Because we like you!

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Ghost Stories from the Plantation

The placement of the Haunted Mansion in New Orleans Square is a bit of a mystery in itself. The fundamental reason was simply space: there was room to build it in that far, relatively unused corner of Frontierland. Original plans for a haunted attraction were for the end of one of Main Street's side boulevards, but that never came to fruition. In New Orleans Square, the Haunted Mansion feels both entirely appropriate but oddly groundless. Everyone well knows the historic connections of New Orleans with haunted, supernatural stories. The Crescent City is heralded as America's most haunted municipality, and there is a long tradition of voodoo, spooky bayous, and the dead unquiet amidst Lafayette's atmospheric tombs. Yet at the same time, one is vexed to come up with a single example of any specific tale of terror taking place there (at least predating Anne Rice). 

As a public service, I dug deep to pull a few chilling stories from the American South. Uncle Remus, Mark Twain, and others have their brushes with the supernatural that are perfect to dwell on as Halloween draws near.

Image: Disney.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Walt's Era - Part 18: Life After Walt (1967)

The Disney company did not close down shop with the death of Walt Disney. On the contrary, the period after his death was a general period of expansion for the company, particularly concerning its Florida resort.

Walt Disney World opened on October 1, 1971 with the Magic Kingdom, Contemporary and Polynesian Village Resorts, and Fort Wilderness campground, and steadily added to it throughout the following decade, culminating in EPCOT Center in 1982. A year later, Disney's first international resort, Tokyo Disneyland opened. Ironically, Walt's brother Roy, who took charge and saw the WDW project through in honour of Walt, himself died only a few months after the opening of the "Vacation Kingdom." Under the leadership of Card Walker and Ron Miller, Walt's son-in-law, Disney expanded into new fields of film (including the adult-oriented Touchstone Pictures label) and new types (including such innovative films as Tron and Pete's Dragon). Wonderful World of Color was rechristened to the now more-familiar Wonderful World of Disney in 1968 and The Disney Channel began broadcasting in 1983. For those not willing to wait for television's schedule, Disney released its first videocassettes in 1980. In 1967 alone, less than a year after Walt's passing, both Pirates of the Caribbean and the new Tomorrowland debuted, the latter including Adventure Thru Inner Space, Carousel of Progress, and the PeopleMover.  

Nice jumpsuits. Walt Disney World opens October 1, 1971. Photo: Disney.
Unfortunately, this experimentation did not regularly pay out box office dividends. Disney's films typically underperformed and during this time, up to 70% of the company's revenue came from the two theme park resorts, Disneyland and Walt Disney World. By 1984, the majority of Disney's theatrical releases were reissues of their classics. 1969 alone saw the re-releases of  Darby O'Gill and the Little People, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Bambi, Peter Pan, The Incredible Journey, Fantasia, and Swiss Family Robinson. The Robinsons would find themselves back in theatres in 1972, 1975, and 1981, hardly letting grass grow under their feet. In 1979, Don Bluth lead a mass exodus of animators, practically destroying the department. Unbelievably, the only film to be released under the Disney brand in 1984 was Tim Burton's Frankenweenie, the short that got him fired from the company. This underperformance led to fractured board of directors, a takeover bid by Saul Steinberg, followed by the ousting of Miller and introduction of Michael Eisner.

What could account for it? For one, there had been diminishing returns in the years preceding Walt's death. The public became less entranced with Disney from the financial loss of 1959-1960 onward, and it's difficult to say that the company wasn't mainly peddling in mediocrity from 1964. The quality of Disney's films into the Seventies was largely consistent with the Sixties, though without the same highlights.

The blame isn't directly on Roy Disney, Walker, Miller, or the Disney company per se. That consistency might have put them at an even keel had society not changed around them. After the Golden Age of global peace promised by Walt in the Fifties, America's youth now found themselves bitterly divided on the question of Vietnam. The Space Race was won by America on July 20, 1969, and promptly forgotten. The new frontier was not outer space or inner space or liquid space, but a broadening idea of justice at home. The Civil Rights and Black Power movements, American Indian Movement and emergence of Native Americans as a political voice, Second Wave Feminism, the Sexual Revolution and Summer of Love, Woodstock, Stonewall, the anti-war movement, Vatican II, post-colonialism, the decline of the British Empire, and the British economic depression that fermented the Punk movement, all transformed Western society irrevocably, let alone the United States. On August 6, 1970, the Yippies took over Disneyland in vain defiance of squaredom. President Jimmy Carter even took to the airwaves in 1979 to chastise Americans for their sense of pessimism and malaise. This spirit entered into film, perhaps no better exemplified than in the indulgent motion pictures of Stanley Kubrick. Dour spectacles of barbarism and hopelessness like 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange left Disney's productions looking beyond quaint.