Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Jules Verne: A Literary Pilgrimage - Part 3

As age and infirmity set in, Verne's family left their mansion of 18 years to return again to the townhouse at No. 44 Boulevard Longueville. The last five years of Jules Verne's life, from 1900 to 1905, were spent in this modest dwelling. At 3:10pm on March 24, 1905, Jules Verne passed away from complications due to diabetes. Behind him were left his wife Honorine, son Michel, and some eight to fifteen novels in various states of composition. Verne prided himself on being years ahead of his twice-annual publication schedule.

Towards the end of his life, Verne resumed some of his youthful cynicism and his latest novels betrayed an ever more pessimistic view of the effects of technology and industry on human life. His last years were also beset with tragedy. Honorine became an invalid in 1879, Michel took off to sow his wild oats, he was shot in the leg by a mentally deranged cousin in 1886 and crippled for the rest of his life, both Hetzel and his mother died in 1887, he suffered a facial neuralgia in 1890, and he developed cataracts in 1900 that severely impaired his vision. He also died regretting that he had never curried the favour of the French literary elite. As Sherard reports once again:
It was like the confession of a wasted life, the sigh of an old man of what can never be recalled. It was to me a poignant sorrow to hear him speak thus, and all that I could do was to say, with no unfeigned enthusiasm, that he was to me and millions like me, a great master, the subject of our unqualified admiration and respect, the novelist who delights many of us more than all the novelists that have ever taken pen in hand. But he only shook his gray head and said: "I do not count in French literature."

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 M├ętropole
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.