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.