Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Orphan's Benefit and the Disney Remake Program

If you'll recall, when reviewing Orphan's Benefit last week, I stated that it was a remake of the earlier black and white version. My speculation was that this was due to a loss of artists during the 1941 Disney strike. Excellent commenter and Disney animation guru David Gerstein corrects me here, with the explanation of what was really going on:

On June 27, 1939, Walt, Thomson and Dave Hand screened nineteen early Mickey cartoons. The plan was to compile the best scenes from the shorts into a two-reel clip show for Mickey’s upcoming twelfth anniversary. MICKEY'S REVIVAL PARTY (as it was to have been called) would have opened with Mickey’s gang arriving at a studio cinema. As the vintage scenes unreeled on a “screen within a screen,” Mickey and friends in the audience would react in various comic ways.

There were only two problems with this. The elaborate manner in which the vintage scenes were to be reused precluded simply lifting them from old negatives and splicing them together. They would have to be reinked onto cels from the original animation drawings; repainted, retimed, and refilmed.

Another hindrance was that the old cartoons excerpted had to be from summer 1935 or earlier. Anything more recent might still be in release. This meant that there were very few color cartoons to include in the retrospective.

Walt decided to kill two birds with one stone. As the excerpted shorts were all to be reinked and repainted anyway, he decided to repaint some in color that had originally been in black and white: ORPHANS' BENEFIT among them. Walt also saw an opportunity to retouch and improve the color in THE BAND CONCERT, the one short in the show that was originally in color. Story meeting transcripts reveal Walt repeatedly suggesting that remaking or upgrading older shorts could be an ongoing program, independent of REVIVAL PARTY.

That's what ended up happening. REVIVAL PARTY director Riley Thomson completed a cutting continuity for use in preparing the excerpts; but for some reason, the clip show format ended up on the shelf. Instead, Thomson moved forward with remaking earlier cartoons in full-length, standalone form. ORPHAN'S BENEFIT came first. Then came MICKEY'S MAN FRIDAY, four early color Silly Symphony shorts, and ON ICE.
But then the bottom dropped out. ORPHAN'S BENEFIT ended up the only exact Disney remake ever completed. MAN FRIDAY was shut down partway through animation; you can still see model sheets at various online animation galleries for what the updated models were going to look like.

The other remakes were shut down before animation. Dunno why.

Again, this goes somewhat to my point that Walt did not have anything against actually doing sequels. He just wanted to do them right. Thanks to David for letting me reprint his comment and for visiting the site.

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1 comment:

  1. "Again, this goes somewhat to my point that Walt did not have anything against actually doing sequels. He just wanted to do them right."

    Um... but the 1942 version of "Orphan's Benefit" isn't a sequel... it's a direct remake. I'd say there's a difference. Also, I'm under the impression that Walt did in fact object to sequels to most of his full-length features (Fantasia being an obvious exception), as opposed to shorts.


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