Disneyland Prep – Movie Nights: The Documentaries

One of our “counting down to Disneyland” traditions has always been movie nights. We’ve done different things throughout the years. One year, we decided to theme our movies by lands. Tarzan, Swiss Family Robinson, andĀ  Indiana Jones for Adventureland, Star Wars for Tomorrowland, a number of animated movies for Fantasyland…. you get the idea. We’ve even attempted to watch movies in chronological order, starting with Snow White and working up. Many times, the only criteria needed is whether the movie is Disney or at least in a Disney vein. Lately, (and my wife has been thankfully been going along with it) I’ve been in documentary mode.

One thing to know about me and my taste in movies: I’m an escapist. I don’t look for realism in my movies; I look to be entertained. There’s enough real in the world, and I’d rather have two hours of good storytelling than two hours of depressing realism followed by another two hours of deep thought.

With that being said, it’s amazing what good storytelling and entertainment Disney documentaries provide. They are among my favorite movies – not just documentaries. This week, we’ve watched two such docs – “Frank & Ollie” and “Waking Sleeping Beauty.” What great movies to bookend each other.

 

 

“Frank and Ollie” chronicles the journey of two lifelong friends who happened to be animators at the Disney studios – Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Walt’s “Nine Old Men.” Aside from being great guys and storytellers, the two were geniuses in the animation field. To watch them describe their work, through drawing and facial expressions, you can’t help but feel in awe of the animation process: the nuances of the characters, the humanizing of non humans – it’s truly amazing. The examples given, from Baloo agonizing over telling Mowgli it’s time to go back to the man village in “The Jungle Book”, to Archimedes the owl laughing hysterically at the idea of man someday mastering flight in “The Sword in the Stone,” really make me want to play closer attention to these little sequences of animation.

Guess it’s true what was said in Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles:”

 

 

Of course, the other focus of the movie – the friendship of the two – is truly touching. These two neighbors had different interests, different ways of doing things, but there was a genuine connection between the two. Knowing this movie was made toward the end of their long and amazing lives makes the final (wordless) few minutes incredibly poignant – Frank playing a tune on the piano while Ollie rides his trains (both their lifelong passions outside of animation) – it’s just about perfect. As were their animations.

 

 

If you’ve followed my Facebook page, I’ve made it no secret that not only is “Waking Sleeping Beauty” my favorite Disney movie, but it’s at the top of my list of all time favorites. Not bad for a film that wasn’t even made by Disney (only distributed)!

WSB follows the story of Disney animation through the turbulent years of 1984-1994. These were the years that saw “The Black Cauldron” get beat out at the box office by “The Care Bears Movie,” that saw the animators get evicted from their own building, that saw a drastic overhaul of the Walt Disney studios. But this was also the era that brought us “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and so much more. The story is told through the eyes of the animators – their successes and their failures. Ideas that worked and many that didn’t. Masterfully narrated by Don Hahn, and filled with interviews from those that were closest to the situation, including those involved in upper level power struggles (including Michael Eisner, Roy Disney and Jeffery Katzenberg) – this movie is master storytelling at its best.

Besides being informative and many times funny, the movie is a bit of a tear jerker as well. The filmmakers deftly chronicle the late Howard Ashman’s role in the resurgence of animation. Without him, one would question whether The Little Mermaid would have ever stayed afloat. Many of us knew of Howard as the other half of a songwriting team with Alan Menken; very few of us saw his creative process with the animators, the voice actors and the musicians. By the time the segment covering his passing arrives in the film, we really feel as though we’ve lost an amazing influence.

I’ve linked a bonus feature from the DVD on Howard here, but it’s nothing compared to the segment in the movie:

After I posted on Facebook, my friend and reader of the blog, Debi shared this with me:

“Feeling grateful again to my friend Craig, who turned me on to Don Hahn’s documentary, WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY. I bet I can do an RTI enrichment class based on this movie. Just watched the “Part of Your World” recording piece. Fabulous. The piece about losing Howard Ashman is very powerful and kids will lean from and relate to that story in an important way.”

I couldn’t agree more, Debi. This movie means that much to me, too.

This post has gotten rather long winded, but I do feel it has given you, dear readers, an insight to the mind of this DisNerd. And I’ll be going to Disneyland soon, thinking of these stories as I ride rides and see shows that they have influenced – can’t wait to share that with you as well!

 

Disneyland Prep – Counting Down

If you haven’t noticed by now, my family’s a little nuts about Disneyland. Aside from the trip itself, one of our favorite times is the time when it starts getting close enough to have “countdown” activities.

 

4…3…2…1….. Blastoff!!!

 

In the past, we’ve done advent type calendars where the kiddo can put stickers on each day as we creep closer. We’ve had Disney-themed meals from an alfredo pasta resemblingĀ  the Countdown Chicken Fusili from Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port to freshly popped popcorn served in Disney souvenir bucket. We play games – the latest being a yard sale find of “The Magic Kingdom” board game. We watch Youtube videos of rides. We listen to music – the “Musical History of Disneyland” 6 CD set is practically memorized around our house!

And of course, there are movies. Videos that range from classic Disney films and shorts to old Disneyland television specials to home movies. After the little one goes to bed, my wife and I may put in something that wouldn’t hold the little girl’s interest, like a documentary or opening day coverage (I know what you’re thinking, but our daughter is four – I’m sure she’ll appreciate it someday!).

As our next vacation is rapidly approaching, I thought over the upcoming days, I’d share Disney related activities we’ve done here on the blog. Whether it be music that catches my ear and inspires me to write about it, movies that I watch that inspire thoughts, or activities that inspire a story I think you might enjoy, I’ll share it here.

I hope you enjoy and have fun reading – if signal permits, maybe I’ll even be able to share pictures from the park once I’m there!

Until then, I ask you, fellow readers: Do you do anything special to countdown the days until your Disney trip? If so, I’d love to hear what you do in the comments below!

A Thank You Note

Lately, I’ve been looking back, trying to figure out where exactly all of this DisNerdia “clicked” into place for me. I’d been a relative fan of it all my life, loving it as a kid, trying to be “cool” in junior high and not let that love show around the other kids in class. I remember seeing The Little Mermaid shortly after it was released on video, and thinking to myself, “This isn’t bad – for a kid and girl movie.” So what brought me out – what made me truly embrace the nerd within when it came to all things Disney?

Was it a movie?

Was it music?

Was it a person?

As it turns out, it was all of the above, combined into one experience, dating back to my sophmore year of high school. And I wonder if the person involved in this ever realized his actions and words had such a profound effect.

Brian and I were both involved in performing arts in high school, having been in a few shows together and in the same choir class. We knew each other, but in all honesty, that was about it. Then, there was a movie poster that changed everything:

Walt Disney’s Fantasia was going to be released into movie theaters for a limited 50th anniversary run. Last time I had seen Fantasia I was about 8, and, aside from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I remembered little from it. Yet I did want to see it again. Brian put sign ups in the choir room so we could go as a group, and I signed up. As it turned out, not too many people signed up, and it was in question whether the outing would happen. Being 15 years old at the time and having no transportation, I was prepared to not be able to go, but Brian offered me a ride to the other side of town to go see it. I must admit, I felt a little out of place on that car trip, not really knowing anyone all that much on our way across town, feeling a bit like a charity case being taken along for the ride. But it would all be worth it.

Seeing something as innovative and mind blowing as so many of the sequences were on a big screen blew me away. The idea of classical music providing the backdrop for some pretty stunning images (it still amazes me how well early hand-drawn animation has held up over the years) left me pretty speechless. I fell in love with the movie, the accompanying music, and really rekindled my appreciation for the Walt Disney Company as a whole.

The final segment, “Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria,” still amazes me with its contrasts of good and evil, chaos and peace.

In Brian, I found someone who shared this appreciation, someone I could talk about the newest releases and soundtracks to, as well as discuss company history and love of theme parks with. Beyond the realm of Disney, this actually helped me realize it was okay to like things some might consider “kids’ stuff.” It was okay to be my own person, with likes and dislikes apart from others. Brian and I kept contact through the years, even turning up (unbeknownst to each other) to the same group interview for The Disney Store. (For the record, we both ended up with part time jobs there!) We have since remained in touch and continue to be friends, one of our common bonds among many being our appreciation for Disney. It’s been nothing short of amazing to see our daughters have so many interests for things such as Disney movies, music and fields such as Imagineering!

This post stands as my thank you letter. To Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski for envisioning Fantasia. To the Walt Disney Company for giving it a 50th anniversary theatrical release. And to Brian, for taking pity on a 15 year old kid and giving him a ride to the theater to see said movie. That small act of kindness meant more than you know in my life.

So, dear readers, do you have anyone to thank for your love of Disney? Parents, friends, teachers, relatives…even Walt himself? Take the opportunity to do so, whether by blog post, a note, or a salute to the “Partners” statue in Disneyland as you walk by.

And then…. feel free to pass that love on.