Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Seal Island - The Origins and Production

Talking about the production and release of Walt Disney’s True Life Adventure films is sort of a minefield.  No matter which direction you may choose to go, there will be danger ahead of you.  Whether it’s film lovers, nature lovers or storytellers, everyone has their condemnations and praises of the series.  In some cases, they’re the same thought, flipped on its head to suit the viewer’s argument.

The series started with a simple thought.  During the production of Bambi, Walt saw the footage that photographers had gathered as reference materials for the animators.  The raw beauty and power of these forest images struck him.  After rattling the idea around in his brain for a while, Walt decided to venture into the field of nature films.  He contracted Alfred and Elma Milotte to venture to the wilderness of Alaska to shoot some footage.

When the two returned from their voyage in 1948, they came with hours upon hours of film, and it was up to Disney to turn it into something.  Walt and his team zeroed in on the footage that featured the Pribilof Islands, where large numbers of seals migrate each year.  Deciding to term the film Seal Island, Walt directed his crew to apply the storytelling tools they had learned from animation to the production of this new kind of film.

This is where the problem lies for nature lovers.  The film that is Seal Island is not a straight documentary, in that the pictures on screen are shown in exactly the manner they happened in the wild.  Director James Algar used the talents of his musicians and narrator Winston Hibler to tell a story, much the same way that they would in animation.  One seal is subbed for another, for example, to better fit into the narrative the filmmakers are crafting.

This, of course, flies in the face of what “nature films” are supposed to be.  These films are supposed to capture the ongoing nature saga, and not alter it.  However, Disney followed the idea that these films are supposed to be entertainment.  So, they crafted a story to pull the viewer in, which rankles some.  In my opinion, there’s a value to both approaches.

Disney’s approach was certainly vindicated on Seal Island when it was released to the public in 1948.  RKO refused to distribute the film, since it was only 30 minutes long.  Disney believed in it so much, however, that the studio booked the film in a theatre themselves, and it proceeded to win an Academy Award for Best Short Feature.  From there, Seal Island went on to be a hit throughout 1949.  Its success led to the future of the True Life Adventures series, a staple of the studio throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.  But how was the film?  Tune in tomorrow!

1 comment:

  1. Man, I respect your desicion to watch all these Disney movies. I don't able to wach all of the series, and I would grateful if you review these series too!


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