Hey folks, Harry here with another fantastic report from Moo Cow about the trappings and goings ons within the animation department at Disney. This time, Moo Cow is filling us in on the evolution of this THE SEARCH FOR MICKEY project, which actually sounds pretty cool... especially if they bring back Basil. Also, the horrendous kidnapping and disappearance of THE SONG OF THE SOUTH... one of the greatest films to ever come out of Walt Disney's magic wand. Why Disney simply doesn't release the film with a proper introduction to place the correct historical context for the film in place... Is beyond the realm of understanding. First off, to ANYONE THAT PAYS ATTENTION in the film, you will find that this is actually a film that takes place in Reconstruction. Could Uncle Remus, if he was a slave, simply pick up and leave if he was a slave. He's not being ordered around in a master/slave scenario.... the mother character simply wishes him to stop putting damn fool ideas that confuse her son and get him in trouble. AND THE LESSON OF THE MOVIE IS THAT: The white people were stupid, and UNCLE REMUS IS THE SMARTEST WISEST AND COOLEST PERSON IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD AND THAT APPEARANCES MEAN NOTHING WHEN THE LOVE OF A CHILD IS IN THE BALANCE!!!! And anyone that can't see that has issues that I do not every want to deal with. This film was the KEY FILM in me not becoming a rascist growing up. I loved Uncle Remus and his stories. WITH ALL MY HEART. And for ANYONE to tell me that I can't raise my children with him... well... it is simply an outrage and a crime that Walt would not have allowed. It is a time to re-examine this film at large. Not with shrouded memories from long ago, but by doing an extremely limited domestic release with a prologue presentation that puts the film in context. This is Disney's greatest unreleased film. RELEASE THIS MAGICAL FILM!
Moo Cow here. Sorry to have been so long away from Ain't It Cool Country, but I've been working greener pastures these past few months. I still keep tabs on the AICN team, though. And -- when I saw all the ruckus you were raising about trouble at the Mouse House -- I thought I'd best mosey on over and give you a little background about some of the stuff you were belly-aching about.
First up: "The Search for Mickey." Harry, the idea of using all the Disney characters in one animated film has been knocking around Walt Disney Studios for about 10 years now. The time I heard mention of it was as a one shot gag in the 1990 Roger Rabbit cartoon short, "Roller Coaster Rabbit."
Do you remember the section in that cartoon where Roger and Baby Herman are slowly chugging up an impossibly tall hill on that roller coaster? Well, the way this gag would have played out was -- just before their roller coaster car crested the top of the hill -- Roger * Baby Herman would encounter a traffic light at a crossroads of track. As they reach the traffic light, the light turns red and Roger & Baby Herman's car comes to a stop.
As that car sits idling at the traffic light, another roller coaster car comes bombing through the intersection. Riding in this car is every animated character that's ever been in any Disney animated film. Mickey and Minnie in the front car and 'waaaaaay in the back is Monstro, the whale from "Pinocchio." These hundreds of characters blast across the screen in just a few seconds. Roger & Baby Herman stare straight into the camera, with looks that say "Did I see what I think I just saw? " The light turns green and their roller coaster cart continues climbing up the hill.
Funny idea, right?
Well, the folks at Disney Feature Animation Florida -- the studio that actually produced "Roller Coaster Rabbit" -- labored for months over this one gag. They had the Animation Research Library pull all the old model sheets so that they could get the look of these classic Disney characters just right. There were long discussions as to who should be sitting next to which character (Was it funnier to have Peter Pan seated with Captain Hook, or have Captain Hook sharing a seat with the Crocodile?). These guys put their hearts and souls into this sequence.
So these animators crowded into the screening room to watch this soon-to-be-legendary piece of animation ... And the gag didn't work. The characters flew by so fast, no one could understand who they were or what they were doing.
The animators at Disney Feature Animation Florida were heart-broken, but they tried valiantly to fix the sequence. They tried slowing down the car so that you could actually see all the Disney characters. But -- by doing that -- they threw off the rhythm of the film that followed it.
Disney's animators were faced with an awful dilemma. They had put months of effort into producing this one gag. But -- in order to get audiences to appreciate all their fine craftsmanship on those classic Disney characters -- they'd have to throw off the rhythm of the rest of the picture. All for the sake of one joke.
In the end, the animators had no choice, really. That gag -- great as it might have been -- ended up on the cutting floor.
But the idea of using all the Disney characters in one film kept bouncing around the Mouse House. Once work got underway in 1993 on what-was-then-known as "Fantasia Continued," one of the first questions that Disney animators faced is: "How are we going to top 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' scene?"
Someone at the studio remembered that cut "Roller Coaster Rabbit" gag and -- noting that Eisner had requested that the animators do something with Sir Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" -- began knocking around ideas. Do you remember a 1942 Mickey Mouse short called "Symphony Hour"? It's the one where Mickey directs an orchestra made up of instruments that Goofy has accidentally crashed in the elevator. Mickey, Donald Duck, Goofy, Horace Horsecollar, Clara Cluck, Clarabelle Cow et al end up performing a Spike Jones-esque version of the "Light Cavalry Overture." If you haven't seen it, it's actually pretty funny. For a Disney short, anyway ....
Anywho ... This animator proposes resurrecting the toony orchestra from the "Symphony Hour" short to perform "Pomp and Circumstance" in "Fantasia Continued." But he also proposes topping that gag with an audacious stunt. For -- sitting in that beautiful concert hall watching Mickey & friends perform -- would be (you guessed it) every character from every Disney animated film ever made.
Again, a fun idea. At least on paper. And the animators had a field day mapping out gags for this sequence. (It was decided early on to have the cast of characters from each film be seated together. That was supposed to make audience recognition of these classic characters that much easier. A typical gag was Snow White was seated next to the evil-queen-as-old-crone. These two are snacking as they watch the concert. Snow White offers the crone some of her popcorn. The crone demurs, then offers Snow White a basket full of red apples. Snow White looks bemusedly at the crone, as if to say "You gotta be kidding me.") The game plan was to show Mickey and the orchestra performing, then cut away to a gag with the feature animation characters in the audience. Mickey and the orchestra, then another gag with the characters in the audience. You get the idea.
It sounds like a great idea on paper. But -- once they got the thing up on reels -- it was obvious that this version of "Pomp and Circumstance" wasn't going to work. As great as it might have been to see all those classic old Disney characters again, this sequence was just one gag after another. It didn't add up to anything or have any emotional weight. It came across as a stunt.
So the animators tried again. This time, they dropped the idea on using every Disney character and concentrated on using just the Disney princesses. This concept (which I must warn you that most folks at the studio thought would put audiences into diabetic comas) was that -- somewhere in a great cathedral in Fantasyland -- all of the daughters and sons of all the Disney princesses would graduate from kindergarten together. So, you'd get to see all these cute royal tykes tottering up the aisle, then cut to a teary reaction shot of Snow White, her prince/husband and the seven dwarfs beaming with pride at this kid.
Sickening sounding, isn't it?
Thank goodness someone had the guts to pull the plug on that idea, coming up instead with the funny but still oddly moving Donald-Duck-helps-Father-Noah concept for "Pomp and Circumstance" sequence -- which ultimately did make it into "Fantasia 2000."
Which brings us now to "The Search for Mickey." Now keep in mind, Harry, that this is just in the talking phase right now. It's a direct-to-video project that Disney's considering putting into production to hit stores in 2003 -- just in time for Mickey's 75th birthday. One of the ideas being bounced around is to have Basil of Baker Street as the central character in the film. After all, who better to lead the search for Mickey than "The Great Mouse Detective"?
Again, this animated film is only in the talking phase, Harry. The plug could get pulled on this project at any moment -- depending on whether Eisner loses his enthusiasm for the idea or not. (Remember, this is the same guy who once suggested that the Disney Company build a hotel in Florida that was shaped like Mickey Mouse -- just so WDW visitors could spend big bucks just to say they spent the night in Mickey's pants. Thank God someone finally convinced Eisner that this was a terrible idea ... )
And let's now talk about those scenes being digitally altered or clipped out entirely from "Make Mine Music" and "Melody Time." Believe or not, Harry, Disney's not doing this to piss off film purist or animation fans. They're doing in under the guise of being a socially responsible company.
As a movie fan, I am appalled at the idea of Disney totally deleting "The Martins and the Coys" sequence of "Make Mine Music." As the father of a six year old little girl (particularly in the wake of the shootings last year at Columbine High School ) ... I'm not sure what I think. I don't like the idea of my child being exposed unnecessarily to violence, yet I think it's ridiculous that my in-laws won't let my daughter watch "The Simpsons." After all, no child is ever going to go on a rampage just because they've seen Bart Simpson.
So I'm not sure how I feel about Disney censoring its old cartoons ... But I *DO* know that I don't much care for the hypocritical position Disney's taken toward its 1946 Academy Award winning film, "Song of the South."
As you've probably already heard, Disney's supposedly locked "Song of the Song" away in the vault due to this film's questionable racial content. Early this year, in an interview with Roger Ebert, Disney Studio president Peter Schneider announced that there would be a permanent moratorium on this movie -- meaning that he doubted that there would ever be a time that the Mouse would ever see its way clear to re-releasing "Song of the South".
Which -- if you're an African American who has problems with the way blacks are portrayed in this film you can get on a plane and fly to either Europe or Asia. There, you'll find the Disney Company is still selling on "Song of the South" on video store and has allowed this "questionable" film to have been shown on German television as recently as this spring!
So they're only going to keep "Song of the South" out of release in areas where people *MIGHT* complain about the movie. As for the rest of the world -- COME ON DOWN!
To be honest, Harry, I almost appreciate Disney's efforts to try and keep images of smoking away from my child. But -- when I hear about empty gestures like this "Song of the South" moratorium -- it just makes my blood boil.
Your thoughts, Mr. Knowles?