Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Disney Blogger Finds His Voice

For those of you keeping score, there is no Sunday Shorts news recap today. After establishing a tradition that's lasted, wow, a whole three weeks now, I'm putting an end to it.


Because, I've come to the conclusion that I'm not really interested in it.

Not the news itself, mind you. I'm still just as intrigued as you are about the status of Tokyo Disneyland, the upcoming release of Pirates 4 and the ongoing expansion of Disney California Adventure.

I just don't see the need to keep repeating on my blog what's already being said on hundreds of other websites. There's a lot of regurgitated Disney news out there, some presented very well, some not. I figure if I can't bring something original to the table, why bother? That's a principle very much consistent with Walt Disney himself, so I've made peace with it.

My experience with covering/documenting/blogging the world of Disney started over seven years ago when I began scanning magazine covers from my collection of Disney News and Disney Magazine issues. Tim's Disney News Archive was an ambitious, and as yet, unfinished chronicle of the Disney I grew up with.

It's the nature of my ADD personality that this historical enterprise would be sidetracked by a series of "ooooh, shiny" moments, the biggest of which was my long-term affiliation with the Disney fan site MiceChat. Becoming a MiceChatter, writing for them, and especially getting to know their amazing members is one of the most fortuitous and gratifying experiences I've ever had. MiceChat opened the door for me to cover Disney in a way I'd never considered before. Over the years, I posted movie and DVD reviews, interviewed authors and historians, chatted with Disney animatorsdrank wine with Imagineers and shook hands with two Disneyland presidents. Most importantly, I made dear friends who are now part of my chosen family.

Not bad coming from a lifetime obsession with Mickey Mouse.

In more recent years, I've struck out on my own, creating what's now become The Mouse Castle. This is my personal corner of the Disney universe. And, while I'm not as prolific a writer as some, I'd like to think I stamp my own personal experiences and insights on every story I post. At the beginning of the year, I made a resolution to increase the output on my blog, so for the last few months I've thrown a lot of material against the wall to see what sticks. I've posted more everyday news items and product reviews. I've even dabbled in some video editing and voice work.

All this has made me realize that what I really enjoy most about the Disney oeuvre is what I posted online to begin with.


The Walt Disney Company is the hugely successful enterprise it is today because of the vision of its founder and the sometimes turbulent events that shaped the organization. Although, some critics may deride modern-day Disney for no longer being "Walt's company" (he's been dead over 40 years now--can we move on?), there's still nothing that exists at Disney today that can't draw a line to the past. There are vivid connections between Robert Iger and Walt Disney, John Lasseter and Ub Iwerks, Andreas Deja and the Nine Old Men, Alan Menken and Frank Churchill, Miley Cyrus and Annette Funicello. The list goes on...

These relationships fascinate me. I want to take more time to explore them.

Neal Gabler was the first person I ever interviewed for MiceChat and I have a signed copy of his biography of Walt Disney. In his inscription to me, Gabler paid me one of the nicest compliments I ever received, referring to me as a "fellow Disney scholar." That was heady praise coming from a man who spent seven years researching the life of Walt Disney. I found it both humbling and inspiring. But, nearly five years later, I need to start living up to it.

So, on the Mouse Castle, the everyday news will get put on the back burner for now. That doesn't mean I won't ever review a new Disney movie or spout my opinion on a new theme park attraction or stir the pot on the latest Demi Lovato gossip (I'll always have Facebook and Twitter for that). It just means I'm shifting focus back to what I first got into this game for: Disney's legendary past. From now on, I'll blog about what's really interesting me at the moment and won't be chaining myself to movie release dates or the 24-hour news stream.

In my e-mail inbox right now, I've got messages from Kaye Malins, who runs the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline, and Bob Baldwin, who ran the Magic Kingdom Club and was the editor of Disney News for many years. I need to shoot them both a reply. I have a business card for Bill Farmer, the Disney Legend who's voiced Goofy for over 20 years. I need to give him a call. I have recorded interviews with Margaret Kerry, the original live-action model for Tinker Bell, and Phil Sears, the well-known Disney collectibles dealer. These conversations have never seen the light of day. They need to.

I have a Disney News Archive website that really needs to be finished.

Be patient with me. The best is yet to come.

--Tim, Disney Historian

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Shorts - Tokyo Disneyland Still Closed, Cast Member Dies at Walt Disney World

Odds and Ends From the Week in Disney

Tokyo Disney Resort remains closed in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11. Previous reports suggested the resort could reopen as early as March 22, but a notice on TDR's website gives no projected reopening date.

While Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea sustained minimal damage from the disaster, they are still hampered by power shortages, transportation issues and radiation fears affecting a large part of the nation. Understandably, tourism has dropped off dramatically throughout Japan since the quake.

On Thursday, Disney announced it was suspending all administrative and store operations in Tokyo until further notice. In a statement, the Mouse House said, "Our top priority is the well-being of our employees and their families during this challenging time and we will continue to closely monitor the situation as it develops."


Not just a box office disappointment, Mars Needs Moms is being called one of Hollywood's biggest bombs. The family-friendly motion-capture sci-fi film took in a paltry $10 million during its first full week of release. That's a small crater compared to its planetary $150 million cost. MNM's poor return is consistent with Disney's decision last year to break ties with Robert Zemeckis's ImageMovers Digital studio, which co-produced the film, and to scuttle Zemeckis's plan to shoot a remake of the Beatles animated classic Yellow Submarine.


A maintenance worker at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom died Monday, a day after being struck in the head by a ride vehicle on the Primeval Whirl attraction. The victim was identified as 52-year-old Russell Sherry Roscoe.

Primeval Whirl is a "wild mouse" style roller coaster ride in Animal Kingdom's DinoLand area. It was closed for scheduled maintenance at the time of the accident.

Our condolences go out to Mr. Roscoe's family, friends and co-workers.


Four of a kind: Depp, Rush, Cruz and McShane

Disney released four new movie posters for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. In this latest adventure in the Pirates saga, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) goes in search of the mythical Fountain of Youth. On his quest, he encounters his old rival Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), now in service to the British Navy, and meets an old flame (Penelope Cruz) who is none other than the daughter of Blackbeard (Ian McShane), "the pirate all pirates fear."

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens in the U.S. on May 20.


New artwork also surfaced for the upcoming Disney animated short The Ballad of Nessie. The cartoon will be shown with the new feature Winnie the Pooh when it opens on July 15.

The Ballad of Nessie evokes an animation style reminiscent of Disney in the 1940s and '50s, particularly that of legendary artist Mary Blair. It tells a revisionist story of the Loch Ness Monster, who has a run-in with an evil land developer who wants to take over her home.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Royalty Rights to Disney Music Go on the Auction Block

Disney composer Frank Churchill
Have you ever wanted to own a piece of Disney's vast music history? Now's your chance. The song rights auction house SongVest will auction off shares of the royalties from the complete music catalog of Frank Churchill beginning on April 30.

Churchill was the in-house composer for the Walt Disney Studios prior to World War II. He wrote the music for dozens of short cartoons in the 1930s and penned Disney's first bona fide hit Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? for 1933's The Three Little Pigs. When Disney animation went feature length, it was Churchill who scored Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, co-writing the classic tunes Whistle While You Work, Heigh-Ho and Someday My Prince Will Come.

Churchill's compositions were nominated for five Academy Awards. With Oliver Wallace he won the award for Best Score for 1941's Dumbo.

The last Disney feature film he worked on was the score for 1942's Bambi, which included the songs Little April Shower and Love is a Song.

Churchill's talent for sweeping scores and bouncy, singable tunes belied his personal demons. Depressed and alcoholic, he committed suicide at his home near Los Angeles in 1942. He was 40.

Disney spotlighted Churchill's work in this bonus feature clip from the recent Diamond Collection home video release of Bambi on Blu-ray and DVD:

Over the years, royalty rights to Churchill's music passed to the family of the husband of Churchill's surviving spouse. Through SongVest they will be auctioned off in 5% and 10% lots. Bids will be accepted from April 30 through May 7, 2011. The minimum bids will be $500 for the 5% shares and $1,000 for the 10% shares. Once obtained, the winning bidders will receive quarterly royalty payments from the licensing of the music library. These are royalty rights only, not ownership of the songs themselves.

According to SongVest's website, this is the first time the royalties from any Disney song have ever become available to the public. It won't make you rich--5% increments have an estimated value of $346 annually--but, for a Disney fan, the bragging rights would be priceless.

For auction details and information on how to register, visit

UPDATE 4/30/11: Songvest has postponed the Frank Churchill auction. According to their website, the auction will resurface at a later date at the new Royalty Exchange website.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Shorts - Japan Earthquake, Annette Funicello

Odds and Ends From the Week in Disney

As Japan struggles to recover from Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami, Disneyland Tokyo and Tokyo DisneySea remain closed for at least ten days. Neither theme park currently lists any operating hours on their website until March 22. According to the Disney Parks Blog, the Tokyo parks sustained minimal property damage and there were only reports of minor injuries. Thousands of guests were stranded in the parks overnight following the 8.9-magnitude quake when Japanese transportation services failed.

Nationwide, the death toll could exceed 10,000 from the biggest quake to hit Japan since records began being kept in the late 1800s.

Related Story: Disaster at Tokyo Disneyland's Doorstep


Mouseketeer Annette in 1957
Original Mouseketeer Annette Funicello was listed in good condition after suffering smoke inhalation from a house fire on Thursday. Her husband and nurse were also injured in the blaze, but not seriously. The fire badly damaged Funicello's Encino, California home. The 68-year-old Disney Legend has multiple sclerosis and has been wheelchair-bound for over 20 years. We wish her well.


Earth didn't need Mars Needs Moms this weekend. The motion-capture animated sci-fi film starring Seth Green and Joan Cusack opened to mediocre reviews and dismal box office, taking in only $1.7 million on Friday. Mars Needs Moms was beaten handily by the alien-invasion epic Battle: Los Angeles and Johnny Depp's animated lizard flick Rango. Mars Needs Moms was produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Robert Zemeckis's Image Mover Digital studios and is based on the book by Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed.


In the more-anticipated movie category, a new Cars 2 trailer came out this week. The Pixar film follows Lightning McQueen on a worldwide race where he and his travelling buddy Mater somehow get mistaken for international spies.

Director John Lasseter says, "This is not a parody of a spy movie. This is a spy movie."

He says a lot more stuff about Cars 2 here:


Disney Interactive Studios will release Cars 2: The Video Game this summer. This week, they gave us a sneak peek at how players will race and go to spy school:

Cars 2: The Video Game will be available on all major video game platforms.

Related Story: A 'Cars 2' Toy Story


Disney/ABC stirred the ire of the Parents Television Council with their current production of a pilot for Good Christian Bitches, a proposed TV series based on the book of the same name. Calling the title "an affront to women," the Council accused ABC of tarnishing the Disney brand. It also felt the title was an attack to the Christian faith.

Responding to the pressure, ABC has changed the working title of the show to GCB.


Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. has moved from the diamond to the world of children's sports fiction. His new book Hothead was published this month by Disney/Hyperion. It tells the story of Connor Sullivan, a talented young ball player with a bad attitude. Disney is giving readers a chance to win autographed Cal Ripken, Jr. swag on their website. Enter at


Walt Disney World announced this week that after more than 30 years of hosting Grad Nite parties at the resort, they will discontinue the high school tradition after this year. On the Disney Parks Blog, they cited increased springtime attendance by leisure visitors as the major factor in the decision (Read: We can get more money from tourists than from locals).


Friday, March 11, 2011

Disaster at Tokyo Disneyland's Doorstep

Tokyo Disneyland guests
stranded following the earthquake
Like many of you today, I followed intently the news of the devastating earthquake in Japan. At once, it was a fascinating observation of the unforgiving power of nature and a somber reminder of the frailty of humankind and the preciousness of life. As a Disney blogger, the disaster had added resonance because of the close proximity of the Tokyo Disney Resort to the epicenter. During the day, I passed along news bits here and there via Facebook and Twitter of the status of the Tokyo parks, the guests who were stranded there, and the likelihood of the parks reopening soon. I'm grateful to the entire Disney blog and news community for their generosity in sharing information.

Thousands of people were forced to remain at the parks overnight because of train service cancellations following the earthquake. By all accounts, Disney cast members did everything they could to keep guests as comfortable as possible during the chilly, rainy evening. Rain jackets, plastic bags and hand warmers were given out to help protect people from the elements. A statement from Disney via the Disney Parks Blog noted that there were only minor injuries reported and that the parks sustained minimal damage. It went on to say the "safety of our guests and cast members is always our first concern." As damage assessments continue, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea will remain closed at least through Saturday.

In the grand scheme of things, though, that all seems so trivial.

A guest at Tokyo Disneyland shot this video during the earthquake as people awaited the beginning of the Jubilation! parade:

The calmness of the crowd, cast members and videographer belies the destruction that was being unleashed 250 miles to the north. Entire towns and neighborhoods were being flattened by an 8.9 magnitude quake, then swamped by an epically powerful tsunami. The most unforgettable video news footage I saw was of burning houses, ripped from their foundations, being washed out to sea still ablaze. As of this post, over 400 people are confirmed dead from the disaster and that number could reach the thousands. There are further fears that a nuclear reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, about 160 miles north of Tokyo, could suffer a meltdown.

Suddenly, Disneyland being closed this weekend isn't so important.

Our hearts are with the people of Japan.

Help support recovery efforts by visiting

News sources:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Shorts, March 6, 2011

Odds and Ends From the Week in Disney

On Tuesday, Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich brought the hardware home to the Pixar studios in Emeryville, where he showed off his bright, shiny, new Oscar for Best Animated Feature. He shared these pics with his followers on Twitter:


Toy Story alums Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are expected to sign on for Disney's latest theme park ride movie, "Jungle Cruise."  The film is rumored to also have also piqued the interest of John Lasseter, since he, himself, was once a Jungle Cruise skipper at Disneyland.


Disney Parks released the latest ads by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz for the Disney Dream Portrait campaign. The series casts well-known celebrities as classic Disney animated characters.

Penelope Cruz and Jeff Bridges as Beauty and the Beast
Queen Latifah as Ursula from The Little Mermaid
Olivia Wilde and Alec Baldwin as the Wicked Queen and the Magic Mirror
from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
The ads will run as special inserts in the April issues of O – The Oprah Magazine, People En EspaƱol, Real Simple, Essence, and InStyle, and in the March 28 issue of People.


Demi Lovato, Disney Channel's Sonny With a Chance star has emerged from rehab and promises a video message to her fans on Monday.


Toy Story Hawaiian Vacation, a new Pixar short cartoon featuring the return of Woody, Buzz and their friends, will debut in theaters on June 24 as an accessory to Cars 2. I posted stills from the movie a couple of weeks ago and this week Disney/Pixar released the first clip. In it, Barbie and Ken believe they've stowed away with Bonnie on a family trip to Hawaii only to discover they've been sadly mistaken.


The first Spanish-language version of Disney's theatrical musical The Lion King will premiere in Madrid in October.


Disney acquired Finnish video game developer Rocket Pack for a price tag estimated between $10 million and $20 million. This gives Disney access to Rocket Packs versatile HTML5 gaming engine and a broader platform with which to develop online games.


Back in the day when Miley Cyrus was still speaking to her father, they appeared together in a little trifle on the Disney Channel called Hannah Montana. Over a hundred episodes and millions of starstruck tweens later, the series wrapped in January. On Tuesday, the final season of Hannah Montana Forever will be available on home video in a 2-DVD set that will include a series retrospective and an alternate ending to the final episode. Also available on DVD Tuesday are the Studio Ghibli releases Tales From Earthsea and NausicaƤ of the Valley of The Wind.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Second Screen: 'Bambi' for the ADD Generation

John Lasseter on the Grid at the Oscars
John Lasseter brought his iPad to the Academy Awards last weekend.

The picture says it all. There he sat on the aisle inside the Kodak Theater, Pixar's creative guru perusing the Oscar Backstage Pass app. It had live streaming video of various behind the scenes locations including the press room and a "Thank You Cam" where award winners could issue addenda to what they didn't have time to say on stage. John was wired in. Maybe he was keeping tabs on the broadcast control room or even following Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich's play date with destiny after winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. The choices were many. There was red carpet coverage prior to the ceremony and shots of the Governors Ball afterwards. John himself had been caught on camera near the lobby earlier in the evening, joyously waving his iPad in front of the "Champagne Cam" as if to say, "See? I'm hip, I'm cool, I'm connected...and I'm at the Oscars, bitches!"

I know this, of course, because I was following John--and Colin and Natalie and Christian and Melissa and the rest of the Hollywood elite--on my iPad at home while I watched the proceedings on TV and simultaneously tweeted a steady stream of 140-character bon mots on my iPhone. 

It's all about the interactivity, baby.

My girlfriend--who remembers a time when the two of us would do things together without the company of 2,000 virtual friends--watched me with bemusement.  She's not particularly tech savvy. More like tech indifferent, actually. She has a cell phone that just makes phone calls, can you imagine?

As my fingers danced nimbly and relentlessly between Twitter and Facebook, my right eye comparing backstage camera angles and my left eye tracking Anne Hathaway's wardrobe changes, Jeanne asked me if I really had to watch the Oscars this way. Her question was based on the assumption that no sane person would do this voluntarily. I assured her that not only was I on the brink of sensory overload of my own free will, I was HAVING FUN DOING IT.

(help me)

There is a popular website for those of us who need to disengage from our ADD behaviors. It's called Do Nothing for 2 Minutes, where you basically, umm, do nothing for two minutes except listen to the sound of soothing ocean waves while a clock silently counts down the seconds. Move your mouse or otherwise fiddle with your computer and you'll receive a "Fail" message, requiring you to start over with a fresh two-minute clock.

I've found I can easily master two minutes of inactivity, sometimes even longer (I call those periods "naps"). Where the challenge comes is trying to do one thing--and only one thing--for any period of time. We live in a world of multitasking, whether in the workplace or at home. Our jobs and our families are constantly competing for our attention, not to mention the presence of the Internet, trash TV and the 24-hour news stream. Do anything remotely interesting and you feel compelled to text, tweet or Facebook about it to anyone within reach. You know you can't resist.

You've got your smartphone in your hand right now, don't you?

Man was in the forest...and he installed Wi-Fi.
Exploiting our need for more input, Disney released Bambi on Blu-ray this week with a devilish add-on feature called Second Screen. Remember when we were content to view Disney DVD bonus features after we saw the movie, immersing ourselves in all kinds of concept art, games and "making of" featurettes? Now you can do it while you watch the movie, provided you have a computer or iPad handy. The movie is synchronized with what's on your secondary device, so while you're watching Bambi chase a butterfly on TV, you can manipulate the same scene on Second Screen like an electronic flip book and study the detail of how the images were drawn. That's just one element. There are plenty of design sketches, trivia pop-ups and games to create even more distractions. And, should you get sidetracked on a puzzle or activity, Second Screen keeps track of where you are and gets you back in sync with the film.

It's extremely clever technology, the bonus material is fascinating and it's all free (just enter the "magic code" found inside the Blu-ray box), but after about 15 minutes, it gets pretty tedious and frustrating. What do I watch, the movie or Second Screen?  OMG, Bambi's moved on to the next scene and I'm still piecing together pictures of birds. I'm falling behind! ACCCK!

Attention deficit disorder, FAIL!

With time, I discovered the best way to appreciate Second Screen is to just focus on the app and not worry about watching the TV. As long as you can hear the movie, it's easy to follow along. That's the work around, but does that mean Second Screen really enhances your movie-viewing experience? I'm going to say no.


Thank you Disney for pointing out one thing I can do without succumbing to distraction: Enjoy a well-crafted piece of animation history with no smartphone or Internet connectivity necessary. I know Jeanne appreciates it.

Hey, I may be onto something here.