Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Incredible Journey

Filmed on location in the province of Ontario, Canada, Disney's The Incredible Journey (1963) was the apotheosis of the studio's animal pictures. By 1960 the True-Life Adventures series of documentaries had essentially played itself out, already beginning to evolve into narrative films with 1957's Perri. The mantle was taken up by a series of films about animal hi-jinx narrated by Rex Allen, beginning in 1960 with The Hound That Thought He Was A Raccoon and growing to include The Legend of Lobo (1962), Yellowstone Cubs (1963), Run, Appaloosa, Run (1966) and Charlie the Lonesome Cougar (1967), as well as a number of episodes of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. None have had the lasting regard as The Incredible Journey, which was even remade in 1993 as Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.

As with the overwhelming majority of films during Walt's era, The Incredible Journey adapted a pre-existing work of literature. Written by Scottish-Canadian author Sheila Burnford and published in 1960, the scant 127-page novella won the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award and a number of other accolades, as well as capturing the interest of Disney. Whereas many books must be rigorously pruned in the transition to celluloid, The Incredible Journey's short length and lack of literary refinement allowed it to be adapted almost verbatim.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Walt's Era - Part 5: The New Disney Emerges, Part 1 (1950-1952)

From the crucible of war, Disney reemerged in the Fifties, expanding and innovating on who they were as a company. Cinderella put them back in the animated feature film business, Seal Island was such a success that they began pairing a new True-Life Adventure with each feature release, they created the Wonderland Music Company to handle their own music publication, and Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart primed them to enter the field of live-action feature films. They also pushed forward in another direction that had most film studios running for the hills: television.

On Christmas Day, 1950, Disney celebrated its grand return with One Hour in Wonderland. This pseudo-pilot for the Walt Disney's Disneyland television series to come brought back the paradigm of the Disney "behind the scenes" originated in The Reluctant Dragon, but in a form that audiences didn't have to pay a movie ticket to see. Walt was able to leverage his studio's assets - namely clips from Snow White and Song of the South, a Mickey and a Pluto cartoon, and a song from the Firehouse Five Plus Two - into what was essentially an advertisement for Alice in Wonderland that was entertaining in its own right. In so doing, he subliminally elevated his upcoming film to the same status as two of his biggest film successes. With One Hour in Wonderland, Walt ingeniously figured out how to make this new medium of television work for him, instead of against him. The idea was repeated in 1951 for The Walt Disney Christmas Show, reassembling the cast to promote Peter Pan.

There was also something else brewing behind the real scenes, away from the prying eyes of the public. In late 1952, Walt reassigned some of his most creative staff members into a shadowy new unit dubbed WED Enterprises.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Mr. Toad's Not-So-Wild Ride: Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows

When adapting Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, the demands of wartime animation led Disney to focus on the comic farce that was J. Thaddeus Toad's misadventures with automobiles. But as Christopher Robin Milne once noted, having watched his celebrated father Alan Alexander Milne adapt the story to the theatrical stage, there are really two books jammed into The Wind in the Willows. The one is about Mr. Toad. The other is the serene, sometimes terrifying, and always picturesque lives of the animals along the river.

Illustration by E.H. Shepard.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Requiem for a Tower

We have undoubtedly all heard the news by now: at the San Diego Comic Con, Disney announced that the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure will become a Guardians of the Galaxy ride in 2017.

When the rumours first broke, I immediately shot it down as too ridiculous to take seriously... that Disney would never be so foolish as to take down DCA's best, headlining attraction with its own fanbase and brisk merchandising... but apparently nothing is impossible for Disney. It was also very wise of Disney to confirm these rumours at the SDCC, in the Guardians of the Galaxy panel, and not the D23 Expo. I'll never quite forget the footage from several years ago when the Fantasy Faire was announced at the Expo, and the only applause was for the affirmation that swing dancing would be retained in the bandstand (which ended up being a falsehood). At SDCC, surrounded by Marvel fans, this undoubtedly went over better than it would have at D23. More likely than not, surrounded by Disney fans who love Disney enough to attend an expensive official Disney convention, they would have been booed off the stage.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was not only my favourite attraction in Disney California Adventure, but constituted my only substantive reason for going into that theme park at all. Other attractions are appealing once you are through its gates, and they have done so much to improve the park, but it was the Tower of Terror that made me want to cross the Esplanade to begin with. In fact, no Disney attraction won me over in quite the way that Tower of Terror did.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Cory and Ashley on Confessions of a DisNerd!

If you are not reading the blog Confessions of a DisNerd, you really ought to. After a few different iterations, its author Craig has really hit on a neat idea: profiles of Disney fans. It is Confessions of a DisNerd, after all, so why not have the confessions of Disney nerds?

This week, Ashley and I were the nerds in question! We've shared bits and pieces of our fairy tale story with you here at Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy, but if you want the full synopsis, head over to Confessions of a DisNerd!

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Wilderness Lodges of Glacier - Part 2

Glacier Park Lodge, built in 1913, was joined by the magnificent Many Glacier Hotel in 1915. It is situated on the picturesque Swiftcurrent Lake, directly opposite the stunning Grinnell Point, named in honour of George Bird Grinnell. Louis Hill, head of Great Northern, deliberately chose the spot for its symmetrical qualities. Many visitors consider this region the true heart of Glacier. From the hotel, trails fan out to the feet of glaciers, to flowering valleys teeming with grizzly bears, and to lakes covered year round with floes of ice.

The hotel itself was built in a style similar to that of Glacier Park Lodge, which was itself inspired by the Forestry Building of the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon. That building featured an interior  colonnade of 48' high logs to architecturally recall the majesty of the Pacific Northwest coastal rainforest. Because no trees of such immensity grow in the vicinity of the Rocky Mountains, Great Northern was forced to import the Douglas Firs necessary to build the lobbies of Glacier Park and Many Glaciers.

Historic photo of the interior of the Forestry Building,
Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905.

Many Glacier Hotel with Grinnell Point in the background.

Grinnell Point and Swiftcurrent Lake.

The lakefront side of Many Glacier Hotel.

Many Glacier's lobby from below. 

Many Glacier's lobby from above.

Many Glacier's beautifully restored restaurant.

A red jammer bus outside the Many Glacier Hotel.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Wilderness Lodges of Glacier - Part 1

"Far away in northwestern Montana, hidden from view by clustering mountain peaks, lies an unmapped corner—the Crown of the Continent."
These words, penned in 1901 by famed naturalist George Bird Grinnell, introduced the world to the natural majesty of the area known today as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. It is comprised of two national parks in two countries - Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and Glacier National Park in the United States - linked by their ecosystem, geology, cultural history and scenic beauty.

St. Mary's Lake, Glacier National Park.

Upper Waterton Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park.