Friday, December 21, 2012

It's Kind of a Cute Interview in The Mouse Castle Lounge

There's a lot to like about Rolly Crump. His artistic talent, his bawdy sense of humor, his unlimited imagination.

While reading his new memoir, It's Kind of a Cute Story, I discovered another reason to like him. The man appreciates a good martini.

Among the personal artwork in his book is more than one drawing of my favorite tasty beverage. There are lobsters with martinis, a bathtub martini, even a topless woman holding what has to be a martini.

Mr. Crump, sir, allow me to invite you to The Mouse Castle Lounge. I think we'll find a lot to talk about. I'll even forgive you your preference for gin (I'm a vodka man myself). I suppose, if you'd like, we could discuss some of the amazing projects you helped create over your lengthy career as an artist, designer and Imagineer at Disney: The Enchanted Tiki Room, It's a Small World and The Haunted Mansion to name just a few.

What? You can't make it right now? Well, send your co-author Jeff Heimbuch over and we'll have a chat.

And we did.

In The Mouse Castle Lounge this week, Jeff and I talk a lot about Rolly and the fun journey that led to It's Kind of a Cute Story, a clever, insightful and beautifully designed book from a man who considers himself very lucky to have had the career he did and who succeeded by working hard and always keeping a positive outlook. Rolly had no formal artistic training when he arrived at Disney, but he still managed to make his way by showing plenty of determination and just a bit of chutzpah, qualities that ultimately endeared him to his boss, Walt Disney.

Please be warned, my interview with Jeff contains profanity. We're pretty sure Rolly would approve.

The Mouse Castle Lounge can also be heard on iTunes and Stitcher.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Jeff Kurtti and the Church of Walt in The Mouse Castle Lounge

In the latest episode of The Mouse Castle Lounge, I wrap up my three-part conversation with Disney historian Jeff Kurtti and we spend a lot of time talking about Walt Disney.

Not a bad way to finish an interview.

Walt Disney was a unique man of creative vision and drive who built an entertainment empire by taking risks and trusting his instincts. He made such an indelible impact on society and culture that, 46 years after his death, his influence can still be felt. Jeff and I talk about what made Walt tick, his very human foibles and the inevitable public backlash that came with all his success. There are those who trivialize Walt's accomplishments even now and to them we say, "You just don't get it."

The Mouse Castle Lounge can also be heard on iTunes and Stitcher.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

'Brave': Not Pixar's Best, But There's Nothing Wrong With That

My friend Julia observed a few months back that a group of us on Facebook always have the same conversation whenever a new Pixar movie comes out. For lack of a better term, let's call it the "Cars Test." In a nutshell, someone will make a comment about the latest Pixar release. If any reservations about the film are expressed, the next person will almost invariably ask, "Is it better than Cars?", which we generally agree is the weakest of the Pixar films. After that, a lively discussion will ensue as to which movies are the best and which are the worst. Up, Toy Story 2 and The Incredibles are my favorites (along with Wall-E, which I'm surprised to find some of my friends don't care for--what is wrong with them?). At the bottom of my list are Cars (naturally) and Ratatouille (for all its beautiful animation, it's still about rats in a kitchen--ick). In the last year or so, I've come to the defense of Cars 2, which, despite being panned by the majority of critics, I find to be one of Pixar's most entertaining gee-let's-just-have-some-silly-fun-with-this movies.

I often wonder if Pixar's feature film track record is a blessing or a curse for the animators and film makers in Emeryville. They've made great films--some instant classics--and some flawed films, but they have never made a truly bad one, so every new release automatically comes with the baggage of high expectations. Consequently, it's becoming increasingly difficult to review a Pixar film on its own terms anymore without making a knee-jerk assessment of how it ranks against its predecessors.

That said, Brave--now available on home video--is not perfect, but it's better than Cars. Very much so.

It's an exquisitely animated film steeped in Scottish folklore that presents Pixar's very first female protagonist. Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald)  is a headstrong young princess in a clan ruled by her father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly), a burly and gregarious warrior who lost part of his leg in a legendary battle with a vicious bear named Mor'du. Merida takes much after her father. She's grown up learning his fighting ways and has become very skilled with weaponry, especially a bow and arrow, much to the chagrin of her regal mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), who believes Merida should respect tradition and act more like a proper princess.

Merida and her mum, Queen Elinor
That is the central conflict of Brave, mother steadfastly adhering to the ancestral ways, daughter asserting her independent thoughts and ideals. When Merida, against the Queen's wishes, defiantly shows up three oafish would-be suitors in an archery competition to win her hand, it results in an angry confrontation between mother and daughter. Merida storms off, eventually seeking the services of a witch (Julie Walters) to cast a spell that will change her fate. Merida wants to follow her own path and not be subject to the dictates of her mother.

As the expression goes, be careful what you wish for. The spell indeed changes Merida's fate, but it also puts her family in mortal danger and threatens to destroy the entire kingdom. It's up to Merida to somehow mend the damage and, in the process, learn the values of understanding and compromise.

Brave is both humorous and heartfelt, adeptly tapping into the complex emotions that bind all mothers and daughters together. There is depth to both Merida's and the Queen's characters. You see the love and the stubbornness that define them both--the emotions that push them apart and ultimately bring them back together. If there's any weakness in the film, it's that the emotional moments don't always flow smoothly with the comic ones, which tend to be too broad at times. There's the obligatory what-Scotsmen-wear-under-their-kilts joke, and I thought the witch was unnecessarily over the top in a Warner Bros. Witch Hazel sort of way. These are minor beefs, however, in a film that otherwise has its heart in the right place.

So, where does that put Brave in the Pixar hierarchy of films? For me, it lands it squarely in the bottom half of Pixar's 13 feature-length productions. But that's no sin, not when you consider it's in the company of Toy Story and A Bug's Life. That's the pleasure of Pixar films. Even their second bests are better than most.

I'll post my ranking of the Pixar films one of these days.  In the meantime, what's your favorite? Your least favorite? And where does Brave fit in the mix? Leave your comments below or share your thoughts on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Snow White, the Walt Disney Family Museum and Diane Disney Miller in The Mouse Castle Lounge

© Disney. Courtesy Walt Disney Animation Research Library
I took The Mouse Castle Lounge on the road last week to San Francisco for my visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum and their new Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs exhibition. I came back impressed, educated and enlightened. And a little geeked out.

The day was full of win just to be able to talk about the Museum's mission with CEO Gabriella Calicchio, animation art preservation with curator Lella Smith, and old movies (not to mention Snow White) with historian J.B. Kaufman. The icing on the cake, however, was spending a few minutes with Walt Disney's daughter, Diane Disney Miller.

In the seven years or so I've been writing and reporting about my obsession, I've been very fortunate to meet a number of well known and well regarded people in and around the world of Disney. Only twice have these encounters ever rendered me speechless, or worse, stupid. First, was my first visit to the Walt Disney Archives. Overwhelmed by the amazing art and memorabilia that surrounded me, items that my childhood was built upon, the only semi-intelligent thing I could manage to say to archivist Robert Tieman was, "Gee, it must be great to work here!" I've been back to the Archives since. I'm a lot less wound up there now.

The second time I found myself at a loss was last week when I met Diane.

I suspect over the years she's become accustomed to fans of her father becoming starstruck in her presence. As more than one friend of mine pointed out, "She's got Walt Disney's DNA in her!" It's not fair, really. For all the work Diane has done over the years to preserve her dad's legacy, it's not the only thing that defines her. She's a wife and mother and, with her husband of over 50 years, Ron Miller (himself former president and CEO of Walt Disney Productions), is co-owner of the Silverado Vineyards Winery in the Napa Valley.

Diane worked tirelessly to make the Walt Disney Family Museum a reality, and now, three years after its opening, there she was, strolling through the Museum's first big expansion, an exhibition dedicated to one of her dad's greatest triumphs. As I was introduced to her, I tried to put my game face on, that of a serious blogger/podcaster working on a story. But then, fan geekery started assaulting my professional instincts. My heart raced. Butterflies invaded my stomach. My mind reeled. "I just shook hands with Walt's daughter!"

Inwardly, I was all nerves. Outwardly, I'm sure I gushed to Diane way too much about what an honor it was to meet her. This is perhaps common when meeting her for the first time, but I didn't want to be that guy. I struggled to get through the interview, trying to find the right words, trying to be too clever. Diane was patient and gracious through it all and shared a great story about the first time she saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when she was three and the Queen's transformation terrified her. When we were done, we shook hands again and parted ways. Of course, that's when my brain finally unlocked and I thought of the hundred different things I should've said to her instead.

Later on, Andi, my contact at the Museum who does a fantastic job in communications and PR, confessed that she acted the same way I did the first time she met Diane. That helped. Disney dorks understand.

One day, I hope to sit down with Diane again when I'm not such a bundle of nerves. Maybe we'll chat over a glass of Silverado wine and I'll run down the list of things I should've said to her the first time around. That would be nice. I think I deserve a do-over. Stay tuned.

My Diane fixation aside, this week's episode of The Mouse Castle Lounge is jammed with Snow White history. You're going to love my conversations with Gabriella Calicchio, Lella Smith and J.B. Kaufman as they talk at length about the Walt Disney Family Museum and the lasting legacy of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Enjoy!

The Mouse Castle Lounge is also available via iTunes and Stitcher.

Related Story:
75 Years of Snow White on Display at the Walt Disney Family Museum

Saturday, November 17, 2012

'Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two' Doesn't Live Up to Expectations

I've spent the last couple of days revisiting Wasteland, the mythical world of forgotten Disney dreams, in the new Epic Mickey installment, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two.

A few hours into the game, I was already tiring of it.

Despite the added dimension of tandem play between Mickey Mouse and his new best friend Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Epic Mickey 2 really breaks no new ground in the franchise. Like its predecessor, it looks great with plenty of clever and imaginative visual treats that will impress any bona fide Disney geek (I'm particularly fond of the Pink Elephants on Parade that populate various hidden rooms and secret passages on Mean Street, Epic Mickey 2's twisted take on Main Street, U.S.A.), but that still doesn't change the fact that the game is bogged down with tedious and repetitive game play that feels exactly the same as the first installment.

In Epic Mickey 2, the intrepid mouse is called back to Wasteland to help save it once again from epic destruction. This time, the world is being ravaged by earthquakes and strange forces that the villainous Mad Doctor from part one says he can fix (in song, no less) with the help of some friends with heart. Has the Doc turned over a new leaf? Should he be given a second chance? Personally, I don't trust him--and neither do the characters of Wasteland.

Equipped with his trusty magic paint brush, Mickey sets out to repair the damage and solve puzzles using paint to build and create and thinner to erase and destroy. By his side, he also has Oswald, who can use a remote control to activate machines and zap bad guys with electricity. Oswald automatically tags along with Mickey in single-player mode, but he's definitely more useful when he's under the control of a second player. How the duo uses the tools at their disposal determines the direction of the game play. There are always choices to make that affect future outcomes.

If most of this sounds familiar, it's because it is. The Power of Two is basically the first Epic Mickey with a two-player mode and different scenery. It does make some improvements from the original, like better camera movement and real dialogue in place of the gibberish characters used to spout (Frank Welker does a fine job voicing Oswald). It also adds interesting new areas to explore like Disney Gulch (Frontierland), Fort Wasteland (Tom Sawyer Island), and especially the best lands of the bunch, Rainbow Falls and Rainbow Caverns, which are at once homages to Disneyland's Mine Train and the Seven Dwarfs' Mine. I was also partial to this boss encounter with a maniacal, mechanical Pete's Dragon in Main Street Electrical Parade mode.

Still, this is all window dressing for a game that makes you slog through quest after repetitive quest--all reminiscent of the original Epic Mickey--to get to the good stuff. This may play well for gamers who missed out the first time (Epic Mickey was only available on Wii; Epic Mickey 2 is available across all major game console platforms), but if you've played Epic Mickey already, The Power of Two is going to feel more like an expansion pack of additional worlds than a full-blown original game.

I had high hopes for Epic Mickey 2. I came away disappointed.

Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two will be available tomorrow for Xbox360, PS3, Wii, Wii U, PC and MAC.

Related Stories:
Back to the Wasteland: Mickey and Oswald Reunite for 'Epic Mickey 2'
From Wilderness to Wasteland: Frontierland's Warped Virtual Makeover

Thursday, November 15, 2012

75 Years of Snow White on Display at the Walt Disney Family Museum

A new exhibition celebrating the 75th anniversary of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs officially opens today at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.  On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to preview the exhibit, which contains over 200 pieces of concept art, pencil sketches, cel setups, watercolor backgrounds, original posters and other items used in the production of the classic film.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic is housed in a separate two-story building behind the museum's main galleries. The building used to contain a basketball gymnasium in the historic Presidio.

On the second floor foyer, Walt Disney and Shirley Temple greet you with the special Oscar presented to Walt in 1939 for his achievements in making Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The award consists of a regular size Oscar, accompanied by seven little Oscars.

At Tuesday's preview, Walt's daughter and museum co-founder Diane Disney Miller was on hand with museum CEO Gabriella Calicchio to introduce the exhibition.

Said Calicchio, "For me, this exhibition is so special because it tells the story of the animation process, about this extraordinary film...But, what's really special to me is that it showcases the artistry that went into this film. There were some amazing artists that participated, and in this exhibition, you'll see amazing pieces of art."

Walt Disney once said, “Of all the characters in the fairy tales, I loved Snow White the best, and when I planned my first full-length cartoon, she inevitably was the heroine.”

The exhibition includes interactive kiosks that allow you to delve deeper into the making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Charlie Chaplin, no slouch to comedy himself, once called Dopey "one of the greatest comedians of all time."

The exhibition takes you through the film scene-by-scene, often showing works-in-progress juxtaposed with the final product. Here, a cleanup drawing of the queen's transformation by animators Campbell Grant and Stan Quackenbush is presented with a video clip from the film.

Concept art by Samuel Armstrong of the hag in a rowboat is paired with two production cels.

While the exhibition does include some original production cels from the film, many of the cels were too fragile to transport to San Francisco, so reproduction cels were created at the Walt Disney Studios by its still active Ink & Paint department.

Diane Disney Miller (l.) views some artwork with exhibition curator and Walt Disney Animation Research Library creative director Lella Smith. In the next episode of The Mouse Castle Lounge, coming this weekend, I'll have interviews with Diane, Lella, Gabriella and an in-depth conversation with author J. B. Kaufman about the exhibition and his two new books about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic will run through April 14, 2013.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Home Video Preview: 'Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 2'

La Luna
Five years ago, Disney released the first Pixar Short Films Collection on home video. It was a seminal compilation of Pixar's early cartoons, starting with John Lasseter's breakthrough experiments in computer animation from the mid-1980s, The Adventures of Andre and Wally B. and Luxo Jr. This 13-film collection also included the Academy Award winners Tin Toy (1988), Geri's Game (1998) and For the Birds (2001), all films that would be the proving ground for up-and-coming animators (including Lasseter) as Pixar made its inevitable plunge into feature films. On this single DVD, you could witness the growth of computer animation in leaps and bounds as movement, texture and complexity improved dramatically with each short film.

On Tuesday, Disney will release the Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 2, and while you won't see quite the evolution of technology you witnessed in Volume 1, you will get a dozen entertaining tales, because the one constant in any Pixar creation is story. Even when computer animation was limited to anthropomorphic desk lamps, unicycles and windup toys, it's always been Pixar's gift to inject a good deal of heart, humor and humanity into its characters.

Tops among the Volume 2 entries is Day & Night (2010), director Teddy Newton's incredibly clever look at what happens when the keepers of light and darkness meet. First, they're overcome with suspicion and jealousy, but with time they learn to appreciate each other's differences with a sense of adventure, fun and common purpose.

Also notable are La Luna (2011), a gentle, dreamy fable about a boy who learns the business of tending to moonlight and falling stars from his father and grandfather, and Presto (2008), the story of a magician who learns there are repercussions when you don't properly feed the rabbit in your hat. I particularly enjoyed Presto for its frenetic silliness reminiscent of 1940s-era Warner Bros. cartoons. The gags come fast and furious as Alec the bunny uses his boss's magic against him to acquire the tasty carrot he craves.


For Toy Story fans, the Volume 2 collection also includes the "Toy Story Toon" shorts Hawaiian Vacation and Small Fry.

Small Fry

John Lasseter accepts his 1979 Student
Academy Award from actress Quinn
Cummings for Lady and the Lamp.
Now, if you're a collector of Pixar DVDs and Blu-rays, there's a very good chance you have all the short films in this collection already. They can all be found scattered among the bonus features in Pixar's home video releases over the past five years (La Luna is included in the Brave Blu-ray, also available this week). That said, the reason to get this disc is for the bonus features, which include the early student work of Pixar directing icons John Lasseter (Toy Story, Cars), Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, WALL-E) and Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up). It's fun to see how their short film projects at CalArts informed (and still inform) their work decades later. Lasseter's Nitemare, about a little boy confronting the monsters in his bedroom at night, is a direct precursor to Monsters, Inc. and the upcoming Monsters University. Likewise, his film Lady and the Lamp (for which he won a Student Academy Award in 1979) would influence Toy Story and Cars in its ability to bring inanimate objects to life.

My favorite of the student films is Stanton's Somewhere in the Arctic, a simply animated (Stanton acknowledges he was one of the weaker animators in his group at CalArts) bit of silliness about a savvy polar bear who outwits a trio of high-strung hunters. Like Presto, it has a Warner Bros. sensibility to it with its use of random, non-sequitur jokes (where does a polar bear find a boombox anyway?). It's fun to watch and, as Stanton points out in his introduction, it's a reminder of how an audience will let a film maker get away with shortcuts in animation as long as there's a good story.

For all of Pixar's technological accomplishments in animation, the greatest strength of its creative people has always been their ability to tell a story. As the Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 2 demonstrates, even before they ventured beyond the walls of CalArts, Lasseter, Stanton and Docter had that gift.

La Luna

Saturday, November 10, 2012

'Lucasfilm,' 'Wreck-It Ralph' and Jeff Kurtti in The Mouse Castle Lounge

The second episode of The Mouse Castle Lounge podcast featured a look at the Disney/Lucasfilm deal, my review of Wreck-It Ralph with audio clips from its red carpet premiere in Hollywood, and part two of my conversation with Disney historian, author and film maker Jeff Kurtti, who talks at length about his long-time friendships and collaborations with Roy E. Disney and the Sherman Brothers.

I think I'm starting to get the hang of this. I'm sure as hell having a lot of fun doing it. Why don't you drop by some time? It's never too late to join the party at your unofficial Disney happy hour.

Be sure to subscribe to The Mouse Castle Lounge on iTunes or keep up with me directly via the show's RSS feed.  

I'm already way excited about my next show. I'll be taking The Mouse Castle Lounge on the road to San Francisco next week to preview the Walt Disney Family Museum's new exhibit celebrating the 75th anniversary of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It'll definitely be a show you won't want to miss. See you then.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Happy Election Day!

Politics, romance and some catchy Sherman Brothers tunes. The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band (1968) starred Walter Brennan, Buddy Ebsen, Lesley Ann Warren, John Davidson and Janet Blair and was set against the backdrop of the 1888 presidential election between Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. Family Band was one of the last films Walt Disney had his hand in (it was in production when he died in December 1966) and is noteworthy for being the movie where Kurt Russell met Goldie Hawn (although they wouldn't become a long-term Hollywood couple until quite a few years later).

And, for what it's worth, in 1888 the Republican challenger (Harrison) defeated the Democratic incumbent (Cleveland).

Wherever your political loyalties lie, make sure you get out and vote today.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

'The Mouse Castle Lounge' Podcast Premieres: Happy Hour Has Begun!

Well, I went and did it. In the early morning hours I officially opened the doors to The Mouse Castle Lounge, my new Disney podcast.

In this premiere episode, you'll hear John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman talk about Wreck-It Ralph, Disney executive vice president Leslie Ferraro talk about 2013's "Limited Time Magic" at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and historian/author Jeff Kurtti talk about his fascinating career in and around the world of Disney.

You'll also hear me talk. A lot.

My guests sound great, but I could use a little polish. I know this. With your help, I'll get better, I promise.

I want The Mouse Castle Lounge to be a place where friends hang out, have a drink (non-alcoholic or otherwise--we don't judge) and talk about all things Disney. I realize that's a pretty tall order when you look at the size of the Disney universe, but that's part of the fun. What news, stories and events can you bring to the party? I want to hear from you. Give this first episode a listen and please let me know what you think. Leave your comments below or send me your thoughts and ideas at

We're going to make this the coolest Disney podcast on the Internet. Your unofficial Disney happy hour has begun. 


To download The Mouse Castle Lounge for your MP3 device, click here.

Update 10/30/12: The Mouse Castle Lounge is now on iTunes!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New Book Explores 50-plus Years of Disney Poster Art

Cover of Poster Art of the Disney Parks
© Disney
Have you ever looked at a poster at a Disney theme park? I mean really looked at it.

You may have given one or two a quick glance as you hurried through the tunnel underneath the Main Street train station, eager to get to your first attraction. It's okay if you did. The best posters are designed to tell their stories on the fly, to get your attention in a flash with a compelling graphic design and a minimal amount of words. If all you do is make a brief mental note that, oh yeah, you need to ride Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion or It's a Small World later, then the poster has done its job.

But, take a few minutes to stop and study a Disney attraction poster, to appreciate both its simplicity and complexity, its use of shapes and colors, its ability to tell a story, and you discover a unique and beautiful art form unto itself.

If you're an old guy like me, the Disneyland posters created in the 1950s and 1960s stir up a wealth of childhood memories. Even more so than in the entrance tunnels, I remember the attraction posters that adorned the posts supporting the Monorail track outside the main gate: Dumbo, the Rivers of America, the Swiss Family Treehouse, Alice in Wonderland and many others. After spotting the Matterhorn and the uppermost spires of Sleeping Beauty Castle on the drive in through Anaheim, these posters, visible once you entered Disneyland's parking lot, were the next best delightful teasers of what was to come.

Authors and Imagineers Vanessa Hunt and Danny Handke
Disney Editions has released a compilation of the best of over 55 years of Disney Parks posters in the beautiful new coffee table book Poster Art of the Disney Parks. Not just a collection of artwork, it's a visual history of Disneyland, Walt Disney World and all the international parks as seen through the eyes of very gifted artists, graphic designers and Imagineers. The book spans the vivid silk-screened layouts of Bjorn Aronson and Paul Hartley during Disneyland's early days to the more recent retro-cool designs of Greg Maletic for Disney California Adventure's massive face lift and expansion.

Poster Art of the Disney Parks was written by Danny Handke and Vanessa Hunt, who both grew up with a passion for Disney that ultimately landed them their dream jobs at Walt Disney Imagineering. By e-mail, they were kind enough to answer some questions for me about their new book.

Peter Pan's Flight
by Bjorn Aronson (1955)
© Disney
Tim: In the book's Acknowledgements, you both mention your love and appreciation of all things Disney. Where did that love start?

Vanessa Hunt: My love for Disney started when I was very young and would watch all of the animated films. My love for Disney Parks started when I was six years old and my parents took me to Disneyland for the first time. They had to take me once a year every year after that!

Danny Handke: It’s funny because my story is very similar to Vanessa’s. My love for Disney started at a young age watching all the animated classics and going to Disneyland once or twice a year with my family. I knew I wanted to work for Disney at either Walt Disney Imagineering or the Animation Studios. My passion for Imagineering peaked when I worked at Disneyland as a ride operator after college.

Tim: When and where did you start working for Disney? How did you end up at Imagineering?

VH: I started working for Disney in 2001 at my local Disney Store. In 2007 I interviewed for an internship at the Art Library and have been here ever since.

DH: My Disney career started in 2002 at my local Disney Store in Scottsdale, AZ. Then I worked at Disneyland, followed by Mickey’s of Glendale (the employee store at Walt Disney Imagineering). In 2009 I landed my dream job in WDI Creative as an associate show producer.

Mickey's Fun Wheel
by Greg Maletic (2010)
© Disney
Tim: Where did the idea to write Poster Art of the Disney Parks come from?

VH: This is what happens when two book and attraction poster fans get to talking. Danny wanted to do an attraction poster book for our Imagineering store and I said it had to be a really nice “art of” coffee table book. [Disney author and historian] Jeff Kurtti is a regular in the Art Library so I took the idea to him, he took it to Disney Editions, and you know the rest of the story!

Tim: You credited Jeff Kurtti for his "influence and guidance" in completing the book. What type of support did he provide?

VH: I had never co-authored a book before, so Jeff was there for me throughout the entire four years. Anytime I had a question or wanted feedback, I would ask Jeff. He has done so many amazing books, is very knowledgeable about Disney, and is a very good friend. So having his support meant the world to me.

Tim: Vanessa, you're credited as the book's designer while Danny, you're named as the writer. How much did the two of you collaborate on the text?

VH: Danny and I both conducted interviews for the book. So that and providing artist and date information from the Art Library database was my contribution. We didn't have all of that information, so Danny and I tracked down what we didn't have during our interviews and research. I would say that Disney Editions had the most input on his text but I’ll let him elaborate on that.

DH: It was very much a collaborative effort, especially when it came to the order and groupings of the posters. We probably iterated the copy and the layout dozens of times based on the story we wanted to tell. Disney Editions had the most input on the text. They wanted to make sure the book had broad appeal. Vanessa and I were fine with this approach knowing that the posters are self-explanatory. I’m especially happy with Chapter One, which goes into the history and the people behind the posters.

Tim: What type of look were you trying to achieve in the overall design of the book?

VH: I wanted it to showcase the artwork entirely. I didn't want anything to distract readers from these amazing posters, which is why it is a very clean layout with minimal text and somewhat small captions. Part of the attraction posters’ job is to tell a story, so I wanted to allow them to do so.

Grand Canyon Diorama
by Paul Hartley (1958)
© Disney
Tim: Were there any surprises as you put the book together? Posters/concepts that you weren't aware of? Stories/insights from people you interviewed?

VH: We learned a LOT while putting this book together. One of the biggest surprises came while we were looking at some original silk-screened posters in the Art Library Vault. We noticed an archival storage box labeled “Attraction Posters” and decided to open it up. It contained a handful of concepts that we had never seen before. Turns out they were not cataloged yet, so only some of my Art Library co-workers had seen them before now!

DH: Learning about the screen printing process was fascinating for me. I didn't realize the tremendous amount of effort, time and passion the screen print artisans put into producing these attraction posters until after we interviewed several of the Imagineers.

Tim: How was the condition of some of the earlier 1950s and '60s-era Disneyland posters? What were the challenges of digitally cleaning up the poster scans for publication?

VH: Most of them are in really good shape considering their age and the fact that some of them may have been displayed in the Park. First, I had to be sure we had a high resolution, color accurate scan of the original silk-screened poster. Once we have that, we look at the file and see what needs to be done. We want the posters to look how they would have looked when they were brand new. That means tears, blemishes, dirt, scratches, spots, etc. have to be edited out digitally. That process can take anywhere from an hour to several days! Luckily, everyone in the Art Library is highly trained in digitally cleaning art and we were able to get every poster looking perfect.

Tim: It's probably an unfair question, but do you have a favorite Disney Parks poster? A favorite poster artist?

VH: I love all of the '50s and '60s Disneyland posters, but if I had to choose one, it’s the Grand Canyon Diorama poster. I love the color palette used and that train is just amazing!

Turtle Talk by Chuck Ballew
and Will Eyerman (2009)
© Disney
As for a favorite poster artist, there are so many great ones. But I would have to say Bjorn Aronson and Paul Hartley are a couple of my favorites.

DH: Every day I have a new favorite poster because there are so many to choose from! Today, my favorite poster is the Turtle Talk poster from Tokyo DisneySea. Chuck Ballew and Will Eyerman did an amazing job stylizing the poster to make it appropriate to the time period of American Waterfront (a land in Tokyo DisneySea set in 1912 New York).

In addition to Bjorn and Paul, I would say Jim Michaelson is another favorite poster artist of mine. His ornate “window box” posters defined a whole new generation of attraction posters in the late 1970s through the opening of Disneyland Paris. Greg Maletic is one of my favorite modern poster designers. His digital art for the Disney California Adventure and Hong Kong Disneyland posters capture the essence of the original 1950s and 1960s posters for a whole new generation.

Tim: What do you think has been the biggest change in the appearance of Disney poster art over the years? What has remained the same?

VH: There has been a lot of change over the years. I think the biggest jump was when they became more like illustrations with the “window box” style in the 70s. That was a huge difference from the more simple posters of the '50s and '60s.

Disneyland Railroad
by Jim Michaelson (1977)
© Disney
What has remained the same though is their purpose. [Imagineer] Tony Baxter said the posters were a way to educate and entice you into experiencing the attractions. The first posters and many of the ones following were always drawn from the perspective of your being engaged in the attraction. “You were in the vantage point of the family looking at the giant squid, you were on the jungle boat with an elephant out there, you were flying in the Skyway bucket.”

I think that great attraction posters still have that same effect on you when you see them; you look at them and immediately know that that is something you want to experience for yourself.

Tim: What do you think is the significance of poster art to the Disney Parks?

VH: In the beginning, the posters would educate people on what this brand new place was. Now that people are much more familiar with what a “Disney Park” is, I think they have become more decorative. Although, every day there are people coming to a Disney Park for the very first time, so I’m hoping that the posters are still educating and enticing those guests!

DH: In addition to what Vanessa said, I think attraction posters are now considered a Disney Parks tradition. Take Disney California Adventure for example—the poster program that launched a few years ago helped redefine the park as a distinctly Disney experience.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Annette Funicello and the Ravages of Multiple Sclerosis

Annette Funicello
Walt Disney discovered Annette Funicello when she was only 12 years old, performing at a dance recital at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank. Less than a year later, she'd be receiving 6,000 fan letters a month.

As a member of the original Mickey Mouse Club, Annette (really, she's always just been "Annette") became Disney's first superstar girl next door, arguably the most famous of all the Mouseketeers. When the series ended its first run in 1959, she stayed under contract with Disney, appearing in the movies The Shaggy Dog, Babes in Toyland, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones and The Monkey's Uncle. Beyond Disney, she was co-starred with fellow teen idol Frankie Avalon in the popular "Beach Party" movies of the 1960s.

She was pretty and vivacious. She could sing, she could dance. She could sell Skippy peanut butter. In 1992, Annette was named a Disney Legend.

1992 was also the year she publicly revealed she was suffering from multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system. Hers was the most debilitating kind of MS, the kind that gradually and relentlessly ended her ability to walk and to talk and to care for herself. Today, as Annette nears her 70th birthday, she requires constant care and is attended to by private nurses and her husband of 25 years, Glen Holt.

As the ravages of the disease took its toll, Annette withdrew from public life. In 1993, she founded the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases to fund research and treatment of MS and other neurological diseases. Her last movie appearance was in the 1995 telepic A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, based on her autobiography of the same name. Since then, she has rarely been seen except by her family and her closest friends.

Until now.

On Friday, the Canadian news show W5 presented Annette's heartbreaking and courageous story. For the first time, viewers get a look inside her home, where she must be physically lifted every day from her bed to her wheelchair and back again. We see the devotion of her husband, who talks to her constantly and takes her on daily outings, trying to keep her engaged even though she can only blink in response. This story vividly shows the cruel and devastating nature of MS, which afflicts more than 250,000 people in the U.S. alone. It also offers hope as it details a controversial treatment Annette underwent last year. And while that treatment only provided minor relief to Annette--her body is already horribly damaged by the disease--it could signal a breakthrough to patients worldwide who suffer from this most severe form of MS.

Full story (with video): Annette Funicello: Her Life With Multiple Sclerosis

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cinderella on Blu-ray: Evil Moms and Talking Mice

If the mice can talk with Cinderella, why can't the bluebirds? Or the dog? Or the cat?

Are mice multilingual? Do they possess an intellect and social development beyond that of other animals? Do they really like to wear little hats, shirts and shoes?

And where did they learn to sew so well?

These are questions that have puzzled me for years. Seriously, watch Cinderella--available for the first time on Blu-ray this week--and see if you can figure it out. I mean, I get the whole pumpkin coach and glass slipper thing. Bibbidi, bobbidi, boo--that's very simple, really. Fairy Godmother, hello!

The thingamabob that does the job
But...Lucifer the cat can only viciously purr and hiss. Bruno the dog, well, he doesn't do much but chase the cat--when he's not sleeping. Jaq and Gus-Gus, however, have regular conversations with the little cinder girl. Yes, they have speech impediments, but you can still understand them, kind of. What the hell does "zug-zug" mean, anyway?

Rodent evolution aside, Cinderella was Walt Disney's masterful return to fairy tale form following the studio's financial struggles during World War II. It was a make-or-break film that turned out to be a huge financial success. While not as ambitious or elaborately detailed as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio, it was still a beautifully animated film (Mary Blair's color styling is exquisite) with likable characters and the meanest bitch of a villain ever to inhabit a Disney film. There's a cruelty to Cinderella's evil stepmother that doesn't exist in other Disney villains who are motivated by greed or vanity. Lady Tremaine mistreats Cinderella and forces her to work as a scullery maid simply because she can--and that makes the stepmother the most evil of all.

Disney packages the Blu-ray release with a number of bonus features previously seen on the 2005 Platinum Edition DVD (in general, the bonus features from this earlier version are far more extensive and satisfying). Best among the new material is "The Real Fairy Godmother," a profile of the inspiration for Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, Mary Alice O'Connor. The wife of long-time Disney layout artist Ken O'Connor, Mary Alice was a passionate champion of charity work and community service programs. She eventually became known as the "Fairy Godmother of Burbank." "The Real Fairy Godmother" is a touching tribute to a woman who devoted her life to helping others with more than just a wave of a magic wand.

Disney has excelled at bringing it's classic animation library to Blu-ray, even when they've been skimpy with the bonus features. Still, if you're a completist adding to your Disney Blu-ray collection, Cinderella is a no-brainer addition. It looks and sounds beautiful.

Now, if they could just explain about those talking mice...

Monday, October 1, 2012

The 21st Century Began Thirty Year's Ago Today

Walt Disney World's Epcot turned out quite differently from the ambitious Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow that Walt Disney envisioned over 40 years ago. Still, as the permanent world's fair it's become, Epcot clings to many of the optimistic ideals Walt held--that technology and industry are the keys to a better future and that cultures from around the world can peacefully coexist  On today's 30th anniversary of Epcot's grand opening, The Mouse Castle takes a look back at the ideas and concepts that brought this innovative theme park to life.

"There's enough land here (in Florida) to hold all the ideas and plans we could possibly imagine. It will never cease to be a living blueprint of the future, where people actually live a life they can't find anywhere else in the world." -- Walt Disney

Spaceship Earth under construction

"Epcot Center represents a unique combination of innovative imagination and technical virtuosity. Disney's 'Imagineers' have created a new dimension of pleasure, excitement, amusement, and education.  From Opening Day onward, Epcot Center will be the standard by which all such undertakings will be measured, and future phases will further expand even the current level of appeal. Until now, there's never been anything remotely like Epcot Center, and it's unlikely there ever will be again." -- Stephen Birnbaum, Disney News, Fall 1982

Souvenir preview book, 1982

"If we can bring together the technical know-how of American industry and the creative imagination of the Disney organization--I'm confident we can create right here in Disney World a showcase to the world of the American free enterprise system." -- Walt Disney

Friday, September 28, 2012

Diane Disney Miller Sits Down With...Her Dad?

Tom Hanks with Diane Disney Miller (click to enlarge).
The cool picture of the day comes from our good friends at the Walt Disney Family Museum, where Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks paid a visit this afternoon. In this photo posted on the museum's Facebook page, Hanks chats with museum co-founder Diane Disney Miller. In very Forrest Gump fashion, they're on a park bench together, but not just any park bench. This is one of the Griffith Park benches where Diane's father would sit and watch Diane and her sister Sharon ride the merry-go-round as kids. Legend has it that's where Walt dreamed up the idea for Disneyland.

Hanks was no doubt at the museum to do some research on Walt since he'll portray the great man in the upcoming film Saving Mr. Banks. The movie started production earlier this month and will tell the tale of Walt's difficult relationship with Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and the lengths he went to to get his classic movie made. Hanks is the first actor ever to portray Walt in a dramatic film.

No word yet on whether Hanks offered Diane a box of chocolates.