Monday, October 31, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 43 - The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

You know, you really can't reason with a headless man.  This and many other things were discovered by the DFPP team as they watched the Disney animated classic The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.  So get in the Halloween tradition and listen to this show as you get ready for All Hallow's Eve.

Show notes:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Seal Island - Review

As I said yesterday, discussing Seal Island is a bit of a minefield.  You don’t want to be seen as hating on seals or nature films if you dislike it, and you get criticized by those who deride the “manufactured” nature of the film if you do.  However, I want to do my best to evaluate this 30 minute feature as a film, just like any other that I’ve reviewed on the site.

And as a film, there are definitely some ups and downs to Seal Island.  Start with the storytelling techniques.  I think without the addition of Winston Hibler as the narrator or the deliberate decision by James Algar and crew to follow specific seals or craft a narrative around that, this would be a very bad movie.  The story of these seals is not of particular interest to me, but they craft it in a way that is intriguing.

Let’s be honest, the real goings on of the seals migrating to this island every year for their mating ritual is not thrilling for audiences of today.  It’s a slow moving story that doesn’t really give you much to hold on to while you watch.  That’s not necessarily bad.  I am a big classic film fan, and the older movies took way more time to let things breathe than modern film.  In Seal Island, though, since there is no real conflict or narrative in the actual footage, the filmmakers manufacture one with narration and music.

Sometimes, that is over the top and obvious.  The burlesque style music used when the female seals come to shore is slightly embarrassing.  I was watching the film and cringed when that music came on, because it’s just so cliché and not at all in keeping with the theme of the rest of the film.  Similarly, when the seal is in “danger” of falling between the rocks, it becomes very obvious that the seal would be fine if he fell, and that the seal that’s rescued is not the same one that was in danger.

Those are the things that kept me from really enjoying the film, even though I think it’s very interesting as a whole.  There is no question that this is a beautiful piece of photography.  The imagery and the vitality of what was captured by the Milottes shines through any hokey music or joking narration.  Shots of the seals scattered across the beach or the waters undulating with swimming creatures are simply breathtaking.  As a pleasure to look at, it’s hard to argue with Seal Island.

This is not to say that I think a straight visual approach with no storytelling would have worked for this film.  I agree that some degree of craftsmanship and manipulation was necessary to create a compelling film.  I went into this knowing that it was present, and expecting a high quality.  What I felt happened instead was a presentation that was not on par with what Disney has produced in 1947-1948.  Seal Island is an average work to me, not something all that special.  It is significant for its place in Disney history, but as a film alone, it lacks the touch of magic that makes Disney films so interesting.

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!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 42 - Disney Halloween Movies


Are you scared yet?  Halloween is just around the corner, and the spooky movies are dominating the airwaves.  Believe it or not Disney has made a bunch of Halloween films beyond The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.  Ever hear of Under Wraps?  Or Hocus Pocus?  

On this week's show, the DFPP team takes a different approach, and looks at the list of Disney Halloween films through the years and tries to point you to some that you may enjoy... and some you might not.  Take a listen for some hints of films you might want to try this Halloween week.

Show notes:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tweetwatch - Monday, October 24 - 8:30p ET - Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Tweetwatching time again!  Disney is releasing lots of movies this time of year, so now's our time to catch up with the summer blockbusters, including the BILLION dollar movie Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.  Join Jack Sparrow as he busts loose from the chains of Will & Elizabeth to go full bore looney.  The Bluray and DVD is out, so pick it up and let's watch together.  Here's how you join the fun:

1. Follow me and Disney Film Project on Twitter

2. Get a copy of the movie.  The Bluray and DVD is available everywhere, so you shouldn't have any problem finding this one.  Disney Movie Rewards has a $5 off coupon for a little while longer.

3. Subscribe to our Friendfeed room. It's been a little wonky the last few weeks, so try to sign up early and make sure you can get in.

4. On Monday night, October 24 shortly before 8:30p, jump in to the Friendfeed room and get your Bluray, DVD or digital copy cued up.

6. At the right time, I'll tweet or post that we should start the movie, and I'll update the feeds with relevant facts about the production

It's that simple!  I'm a huge Pirates fan, as you all know, so join me for the latest in the franchise.  And stay tuned for MORE Tweetwatches coming up as we get ready for Disney's big Thanksgiving release of The Muppets and the holiday season.  

See you Monday!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mickey and the Seal

There are classic Mickey Mouse shorts that everyone has probably seen.  The Band Concert and Steamboat Willie are good examples.  Right behind those, though, has to be Mickey and the Seal.  From the days growing up with Disney Channel to the redone version that airs on the channel today, this is a short that I have literally grown up watching.

Why does this short endure?  There could be several reasons, but for me it boils down to three simple ones: Mickey, Pluto and the seal.  All three are superbly designed characters that have great appeal.  The designs of Mickey and Pluto are slightly different here than they’ve been in the past, but still carry forward the rounded, soft edge appeal that makes them popular.  The seal follows that design aesthetic and makes for a great character.

All three characters are spectacular in this short, and fall into the natural roles you would expect if you were given the basic story.  Mickey goes to the zoo, a seal follows him home and Pluto tries to warn his master about the seal interloper.  It’s simple, sure, but very effective.  This isn’t a short that tries to surprise you, it’s trying to delight you.  That’s a perfectly acceptable way to approach things provided you can get the delightful part correct.

It works in Mickey and the Seal because the characters fit so well.  Mickey at the zoo and when he discovers the seal in his house reacts the way he is supposed to – with a laugh and charm.  He is obviously having fun with it, enjoying life and overcoming complications with a smile.  Pluto, meanwhile, is completely put out by the newcomer in his house.  He attacks the situation with loud barks and frantic gestures.  That’s what Pluto is supposed to do.

The seal comes off perfectly as well.  He’s a simple creature, looking to find a fun, safe spot to play around in the water.  The ending extends that same ethos to the other seals, which is a nice touch.  It’s the consistent characters and superb animation that makes Mickey and the Seal a classic, and I’m sure you’ll all agree it’s one of the best Mickey shorts ever.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 41 - The Lion King

As Rafiki said, "The king has returned."  The Lion King is all the rage these days, with the 3D theatrical release raking in the cash at the box office and the 3D Bluray and DVD release selling out in stores. On this episode, the DFPP team takes a look back to the wild and woolly days of 1994, when The Lion King was the king of the box office the first time around.  Featuring blogger Kristen Helmstetter.

Show notes:
Enjoy the show!

Friday, October 14, 2011

So Dear To My Heart - Review

So Dear To My Heart is likely to be a polarizing film.  After watching it for the first time, I fell in love with this charming story.  However, if you are one of those Disney fans/critics who does not enjoy the soft, charming and sentimental stories that Disney told in its earlier days, you will hate this movie.  It is all about pulling on the heartstrings. 

When that sort of thing is done well, it works greatly.  For me, So Dear To My Heart worked beautifully, because it allowed me to relate to each and every character in the film.  The film tells the story of Jeremiah Kincaid, a young boy living with his grandmother in the town of Fulton Corners.  After a sheep in their barn gives birth to a black lamb, Jeremiah decides to raise the black lamb as a pet, to the chagrin of his Granny and most of the rest of the town.

Interspersed with this little story of Jeremiah and his lamb are animated sequences that tell moral stories about history.  We get the story of Christopher Columbus, for example, as a tale to remind us to be persistent.  To be honest, the animated sequences are the worst part of the movie, because they don’t quite fit in with the rest of what’s going on around them.  They’re well done, but seem shoehorned into an otherwise charming live action film.

Bobby Driscoll as Jeremiah plays essentially the same kind of role he did in Song of the South, that of a young boy looking to share his heart with someone (in this case some thing) that society says he should not.  Luana Patten also reprises the same kind of role, that of a supportive friend.  While both are fine, the stars of this film are Burl Ives as Uncle Hiram and Beulah Bondi as Granny.

The chemistry between these two is incredible, as can be seen in the cabin scene that is the core of the film.  Uncle Hiram is playing an acoustic guitar and singing to entertain Granny, with the idea to convince her to let Jeremiah take his lamb, Danny, to the County Fair.  The back and forth of their jabs, songs and smiles is one of the most entertaining sequences of Disney film I have ever seen.

There is no doubt that this is a sentimental film.  If you can imagine a trick that the filmmakers would use to tug at your heartstrings, they probably do.  However, it works.  It doesn’t feel like a trick, because the story is so charming and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a simple morality tale. 

So Dear To My Heart is not high art.  It’s not Oscar bait.  But it does typify everything you want from a Disney film, and more specifically a Walt Disney film.  The film obviously draws from Walt’s background in Marceline, as so many of his films did.  It makes no bones about being fun, safe family entertainment with a lesson to impart, and that makes it feel authentic.  I loved it, and can’t recommend it highly enough for fans of Walt and the old heartwarming formula of Disney films.

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.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 40 - The Incredibles

This week, we celebrate Todd's birthday with one of his favorite films and one of his favorite people!  AJ from the Disney Food Blog joins the crew as we break down the Pixar superhero film, The Incredibles.  Thrill to the heights of our derring-do as we take you through the heroic twists and turns of the life of a super heroic family.

Show notes:
Enjoy the show!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tweetwatch - Monday, October 10 - 8:30p ET - The Lion King

I'm off to Walt Disney World later today, but wanted to announce the latest Tweetwatch!  It's time to join the Circle of Life.  It's your destiny.  Disney's newest 3D Bluray deluxe DVD of doom is out, and it's the 1994 classic The Lion King.  It's time for all of us to grab the new edition and get our Tweetwatching on.  Here's how you join the fun:

1. Follow me and Disney Film Project on Twitter

2. Get a copy of The Lion King.  The Bluray and DVD is available everywhere, so you shouldn't have any problem finding this one.

3. Subscribe to our Friendfeed room. It's been a little wonky the last few weeks, so try to sign up early and make sure you can get in.

4. On Monday night, October 10 shortly before 8:30p, jump in to the Friendfeed room and get your DVD or digital copy cued up.

6. At the right time, I'll tweet or post that we should start the movie, and I'll update the feeds with relevant facts about the production

It's that simple!  This is a fun flick, so come on in and join us for the excitement.

See you Monday!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Three For Breakfast

I’ve been very surprised at the rebound in quality of the Disney shorts during the latter half of 1948.  I have been vocal about the dip that occurred with the 1947 shorts and the early 1948 shorts.  With Three for Breakfast the good vibes continue, as we get an absolute classic featuring Chip and Dale at odds with Donald Duck.  That is a recipe for greatness.

It’s a different Chip and Dale that we see in this short, as they are now in their final form.  Recall that in previous shorts, the two were very similar to each other, without the distinguishing characteristics that you would recognize today.  Here, though, we see Dale with his larger nose, colored red, and his sunken eyes.  Chip, meanwhile, looks much the same, with alert eyes and little brown/black nose.

Donald, meanwhile, is less the focus of the short than the chipmunks.  He is making pancakes which the two interlopers conspire to steal.  Seeing Donald making pancakes just gave me a happy feeling.  I can’t really explain why, but seeing that was something that appealed to the child in me.  Could be my craving for pancakes, could be my affection for Donald, but that image just seemed right to me.

It’s Chip and Dale’s antics that steal the show in this one, however.  They rig up an elaborate mechanism to steal the pancakes, firing a fork at the stack of pancakes then reeling them in one after the other.  It takes Donald a little while to catch on, but when he does, the gags are fabulous.  There’s lots of give and take between he and the chipmunks, which is exactly what you want in this kind of short.

The ultimate ending could be considered offensive, as both Donald and Dale don a Chinese hat and do a little stereotypical dance to some synthesized music.  It’s not anything out of the ordinary for the time, but today seems a little out of place.  It still doesn’t diminish the value of the short, though, as Three for Breakfast is one of the best examples of Donald Duck meeting Chip and Dale ever made.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

Disney Film Project Podcast - Episode 39 - Dumbo

You will believe an elephant can fly when you listen to Episode 39 of the Disney Film Project Podcast!  This week, the team is joined by Scarlett from to review Dumbo!  Grab your magic feathers and clown costumes for all the fun.

This continues month on the show, as a salute to our all new sponsor. is your home to the Crowd Calendar, Touring Plans and Lines - all the best tools to help you save money and time while you're in Walt Disney World.

Show notes:

Enjoy the show!