Friday, September 28, 2007

The Disney Films by Leonard Maltin

As mentioned in yesterday's post, a lot of work is going into making the list I'll be working from when viewing these films. I've been using various sources, including IMDB and the Big Cartoon Database. But the most invaluable source has been Leonard Maltin's book, The Disney Films.

The book covers all of Walt Disney's films, including locations, release dates, actors, directors and a review of all the films. It's indispensable if you are trying to watch a film that Walt had something to do with.

The book is also interesting in what it reveals about the company after Walt, and how they made film choices. Did you know that Walt Disney Pictures' second biggest hit came after Walt died? The Love Bug may have been the best and worst thing that could have happened to the studio, as it confirmed that the family pablum that they had been producing would be the way to go, and they proceeded to churn out bad sequel after bad sequel.

It's funny how cyclical all of these things turn out to be. I mean, in the 50s and 60s, Walt's family friendly films were derided as unrealistic and forcing a vision of America on people that was not true. Today, people harken back to those films as a means to hold up a vision of what America could be, and as what values should be like.

Not to mention that the studio has run in cycles as well. From Walt's death until Michael Eisner came in, the studio made some terrible movies, trying to follow in Walt's footsteps. Then, as Eisner came in, they began to make great, daring films again, like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or The Nightmare Before Christmas. True, both of those films were released under Touchstone, but you cannot deny that they may be the most influential Disney films in the last 25 years.

This all strays somewhat from the topic of Maltin's book, which is a must read if you want to explore these ideas and issues. Maltin lays down the facts about each of Walt's films, then gives you a complete list of the shorts, the post-Walt films, the Disneyland TV show, and much more. All Disney fans should have a copy. I know it's coming in quite handy as I complete this *%*%^ list.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Obscure, the Odd and the Impenetrable

As mentioned before, part of this project is to make a list of all the Disney feature films and shorts that were produced by Walt Disney. Sounds easy enough, right? Just go to IMDB and look for Walt. Not quite as easy as it sounds.

The question arises as to where to draw the line. For instance, during the 1950s and 1960s, the studio produced a series of educational shorts titled “I’m No Fool” featuring Jiminy Cricket. The shorts originally ran on the Mickey Mouse Club, then were released to schools on 16mm, and eventually updated and released again in the 1980s.

If you’re like me, you saw these in the 1980s at your school, but had forgotten about them completely. I had no idea these existed until I started this project. However, when I read more about them, I was intrigued and dove into research about the shorts. They are available from Disney on VHS, but the set of 10 costs $329. A bit steep for a set of shorts. They were shown on the Disney Channel series The Ink and Paint Club a few years back, and some have shown up on Youtube.

Now, here’s the fundamental question: do I include these in my list? They were not theatrical shorts, but they were a big part of the studio’s output in those days.

I’ve had a similar concern with the Disneyland TV show. Obviously, this was not a theatrical release, but the show was an integral part of who Walt was, and what he set out to accomplish in the entertainment field. If this project is going to give me insight into what Walt Disney was all about, then surely those shows are a part of the mix?

However, the more things I have to add to the list, the less likely it is that the project will be completed in the allotted time frame of a year. It’s a tough question, but one I have to solve in the months to come before I begin on January 1.

Similarly, I have found a myriad of films on the IMDB list that I do not recognize. I thought I was a Disney aficionado of the highest order, but I do not recall some of these titles.

The Light in the Forest

Take this feature, which I had never seen or heard about. Or what about the TV show, Corky and the White Shadow? There’s not much listed about it, except that Walt was a producer of the show and it aired in 1956. Buddy Ebsen appeared in one episode, but that’s about all I can find on it.

It’s these kinds of discoveries that make this a fun project. No matter how much is written or catalogued about Walt Disney, there’s always something more to learn. That’s what the Disney Film Project is about – learning about Walt through his films.

Well, it’s off to finish the list. More to come…

Monday, September 24, 2007

What’s the deal?

What’s the story with this blog? Who am I? What’s going on here? Let’s take it a step at a time.

My name is Ryan Kilpatrick, and I’m a lifelong Disney fan. My grandfather visited Anaheim on a business trip in 1955 and made sure that he visited Disneyland. When my Dad was younger, he visited Walt Disney World when it opened in 1971. My grandfather took me to EPCOT Center in 1982. About that same time, my cable company made a mistake, and we got the all new Disney Channel on cable for free. I rushed home from school each day to watch Donald Duck, Goofy and Mickey Mouse cartoons.

I fell out with Disney for a while during high school, but in college, I saw The Lion King with the woman who would become my wife, and fell in love all over again. Soon I was digging back to watch all the recent films, like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. On our honeymoon, we went to Walt Disney World for a week. I went to Disneyland for the first of many times back in 2001, and now I visit Disney theme parks at least twice a year.

So, it was no surprise around my birthday back in April when I asked my wife for the new Walt Disney biography by Neal Gabler. It was supposed to be the definitive Walt Disney biography. I thought I had already read that, and it was An American Original by Bob Thomas. Regardless, I bought the book, and for various reasons never got around to reading it until after Labor Day. I just finished it yesterday. My thoughts? Well….

It’s not that Neal Gabler was a bad writer, although the book was a bit dry in some places, but something just didn’t sit well with me. Throughout, Gabler painted a portrait very different than most biographies that I read of Walt. Gabler’s Walt was a control freak constantly seeking to form his own Utopia, hesitating at nothing to achieve it. Possibly accurate, sure, but this was not the entire picture of Walt.

I read some of the criticisms of Gabler’s book by Michael Barrier, author of The Animated Man, a competitive biography, and found them to be true. Even more than these criticisms, I found that things that were obvious in Thomas’ book, and important parts of other works about Walt were omitted from Gabler’s book altogether.

All of the Walt biographies, however, tend to neglect the films. Great lengths are taken to study works like Alice’s Wonderland, Steamboat Willie, Snow White and Fantasia, but not much is said about the individual films other than that. It was then that I began wondering if a study of Walt’s films might reveal more about the man than these authors might have thought. So, that’s why I’m here. More to come…

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Disney Film Project Begins…

Quite the pompous title, huh? Well, I wasn’t sure what else to call this, but it’s a project that involves Disney films, so why not, right? The purpose of this blog is pretty simple: beginning on January 1, 2008, I plan to watch all of the films produced/directed/animated by Walter Elias Disney, in chronological order of their release, and blog about my experiences doing so right here.

So, from now until January 1, I will fill you in on what I’m doing to get ready (this isn’t as easy as you might think), some interesting tidbits I pick up in my research, and give you some more background as to why I’m doing this and what I hope to learn.

The basics are that I want to see if I can figure out more about Walt through his films, as well as some of the critics who use the term “Disneyfication” as a bad thing. Will living in Disney’s World for a year change my outlook on life? Who knows? You’ll be able to live it with me.

All in all, there are nearly 800 films, both shorts and features that were produced by Walt Disney. If I do this right, that’s an average of 2 a day. Of course, I know there will be days without a viewing, and some days I’ll have multiple viewings, so we’ll see where things shake out.

First things first, though, I have to organize the list. So, with the help of the Big Cartoon Database, I have a lot of films to locate. So, it’s off to work I go. Tomorrow, a little more about me, and how this whole thing came about. See you then.