Wednesday, October 12, 2011

So Dear To My Heart - The Production

For a film that is so important to the Disney tradition, So Dear To My Heart is largely forgotten today by Disney fans.  This movie was a part of a new move into live action by Disney, and closely reflects Walt’s childhood in Marceline, Missouri.  It’s reach beyond the film itself was a huge piece of what created Disneyland, and its influence extends even farther than that.  Yet despite all that, I wager that most of you have never seen it.

Based on a 1943 book by author Sterling North titled Midnight and Jeremiah, So Dear To My Heart combines animation and live action to tell the story of a young boy who adopts a black lamb and dreams of competing in the county fair.  If it sounds slight, it is, but it also is right in line with the types of films Disney was creating at the time. 

Originally, the film was conceived as Disney’s first entirely live action film, and the scripts produced in 1945 and 1946 when work began demonstrate that.  There were no animated sequences in those early scripts, but as time progressed, animated sequences began to be inserted.  There are debates over whether it was for story reasons or not, but truthfully, Disney’s distribution contract with RKO did not allow for films without animation.  So, some animated sequences had to be in the film to ensure its distribution.

Walt recruited Harold Schuster from 20th Century Fox to direct the live action sequences, because of his work on My Friend Flicka.  Walt’s daughters loved that film, and it convinced him to get Schuster on board for this one.  The film was shot in Northern California at various farms and ranches around the San Joaquin Valley.  Filming completed in 1947 after some additional shooting took place to finish off the last pieces of the film.

Since Disney did not have a great deal of stages to build sets on, many of the sets were built on location, including the train depot.  The depot would end up later on the property of Ward Kimball, the animator who owned a backyard railroad.  Walt gave him the finished building because it was Kimball who had designed it, based on a railroad station he saw in upstate New York.  As Disneyland was being constructed, however, Walt wanted the depot back for Frontierland.  Instead of giving it up, though, Kimball instead helped Walt reconstruct it from the same blueprints. 

To promote the film, Walt built a miniature replica of Granny’s cabin from the film.  It was the beginning of his Disneylandia project, where he planned to create a series of miniatures to tour the country.  Eventually, this seed of an idea became bigger than miniatures…it became Disneyland. 

All of these great things come from a movie that Disney has not released widely on DVD.  Unless you were a member of the Disney Movie Club, you could not get this film on DVD.  It’s one that Disney has put to the side for quite some time, but we’ll take a deeper look at it in the days to come.

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