Some Case Wicked This Way Comes

Well ghosts and goblins, it’s time for part 2 of our month of Disney Halloween! This week, we’re covering one of the scariest and most obscure Disney Live-action releases! 

Everyone knows that the 80s was the scariest decade for Disney movies. In animation, there were dark flops like The Black Cauldron. But live-action was the real horror show. Three of the scariest films ever released by Disney came out during this time, two of which we’ve already covered on this show. They were: The Watcher in the Woods, Return to Oz, and finally now, Something Wicked This Way Comes. 

Tonight, we’re taking you to Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival on the edge of Greentown, Illinois. We’ll walk through the mirror maze as we discover our deepest desires…or our greatest fears. Come join us, won’t you? By the pricking of my thumbs…Something Wicked This Way Comes!

FROM SHORT STORY TO SCREENPLAY TO NOVEL TO SCREENPLAY AGAIN

  • In the early 1930s, a carnival came to the small town of Waukegan, Illinois. Among its visitors, there was a young boy that would grow up to be one of the most famous authors of the 20th century; his name was Ray Bradbury. Even as a child, Bradbury was a fan of horror and fantasy. The first film he ever saw was The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Lon Chaney’s portrayal of the main character inspired him, as did Chaney’s other movies. So, gazing at the mysterious oddities of the traveling carnival sparked Bradbury’s imagination, and gave birth to an idea for one of his most popular novels. 
  • One member of the carnival was a man named Electrico, that would shoot electricity through his body every night as part of his show. Electrico took Bradbury around the carnival to meet everyone there. This encounter was so influential to him, that Bradbury later said that Electrico was largely responsible for his career as an author. 
  • Ray Bradbury drew from these influences for a short story published in 1948 for a horror pulp fiction magazine called Weird Tales. This story followed two boys as they visited a mysterious carnival, with a Ferris Wheel that could change the age of a person by just moving forward or backward. 
  • A few years later, Ray Bradbury met up with actor Gene Kelly. He was really impressed with a film that Kelly had just directed, and Kelly asked Bradbury if he had a story he’d like to make into a film. Bradbury decided to repurpose Dark Ferris into a screenplay. Gene Kelly tried to get funding to make the film but was unsuccessful. So Bradbury re-purposed the story once again into a novel. 
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes was published in 1962. The novel also followed the story of two boys, and how their lives changed when a sinister carnival came to town. The story focuses on the relationships between Will Halloway and his father, and between Will and his best friend, Jim Nightshade. 
    • Will and Jim complement each other, exhibiting opposite traits while remaining best friends. Will is blonde, while Jim has dark hair. Will was born one minute before midnight on October 30th, while Jim was born one minute after midnight on October 31st. As they run together through the town, Will speeds up to keep with Jim, while Jim slows down to keep with Will. 
    • Alternatively, Will’s father, Charles Halloway, and the carnival owner, Mr. Dark, are antagonistic foils. While Halloway represents the light in Will and Jim’s life, Mr. Dark represents the evil threatening to snuff that light out. 
  • This coming-of-age tale steeped in darkness was a big hit, and it was only a matter of time before it would be adapted as a film, as that was Ray Bradbury’s intention for the story before writing the novel. Many producers and directors expressed interest, including Steven Spielberg. But, when director Jack Clayton mentioned to Bradbury his desire to adapt the book, Bradbury handed over his hefty 257-page screenplay. 
    • Clayton worked with Bradbury on a new screenplay, cutting down several pages a day. Together they decided to place the story in the 1930s, because as Clayton would later say, “…children, like the ones Ray had written about, just don’t exist anymore. A carnival coming to town used to be a big event years ago, but now what with the advent of television, something like that hardly causes a ripple.”
    • Another big change was the relationship dynamic between Will and his father. Charles Halloway is an old man in Will’s eyes and the film emphasizes how much this upsets Charles. For the film, Clayton and Bradbury portrayed their relationship as a tense one that deepens over time, while in the book, Charles and Will have a sweeter relationship from the beginning. 
  • After finishing the screenplay, Clayton and Bradbury brought the project to several studios that passed. Eventually, they ended up at Walt Disney. Clayton hadn’t directed a film in 9 years and was excited to get back in the director’s chair. Filming lasted 90 days, from October to December, and took place almost exclusively on the Disney lot and the Disney ranch. In fact, the water tower shown in the movie is the Disney water tower, re-painted to say Greentown!

SYNOPSIS

It’s late October in Greentown, IL when a strange carnival comes to town. Best friends Will and Jim go exploring and discover that under its friendly facade, the festival is much more sinister than it seems. As adults in the town start to go missing, the boys realize that the carnival feasts on the desires of men and uses them to do their bidding. 

MAKING OF

Usually, we run through the facts of how a movie is made, but this week we’re doing something a little different. We understand that this movie is fairly obscure, and many listeners may not have seen it–or at least maybe it’s been a long time. So, we’re going to run through some of the biggest scenes in the film while discussing how it was made! Hopefully, this will give listeners more context. 

The top portion shows the matte painting. The middle shows the matte painting and the projection. The bottom image shows the final product.
The top portion shows the matte painting. The middle shows the matte painting and the projection. The bottom image shows the final product.
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes begins with an ominous and energetic theme, written by the late great composer James Horner. Originally, the score was written by another composer, Georges Delerue. Disney felt that his score was too somber for modern audiences, and made the switch to Horner, much to Jack Clayton’s dismay. But, Ray Bradbury ultimately agreed that Horner truly brought the magic with his score. (Here is a link to some of the original music for you to enjoy!) 
  • The first image on-screen is the train, bringing Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium carnival to town. This scene was originally CGI, but it was eventually deemed to be too hokey for the dark and menacing tone of the beginning. Throughout the film, there aren’t very many visual effects. This was due to the fact that TRON was in production at the same time, and took most of the focus in terms of effects. Jack Clayton also fought against the use of too many effects, leaving more for the audience’s imagination. 
    • The title sequence was actually a practical effect, with the letters of the title appearing to look like liquid. It was actually re-dyed milk on a metal plate.
  • “First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.” When the audience sees Greentown for the first time, we hear a narrator introduce the story. The first spoken line was also the first line of the book’s prologue. When filmmakers decided they wanted narration, they had Ray Bradbury himself record it. But, as Ray himself put it, he “didn’t do a very good job.” 
    • The beginning establishes the main characters and the setting. We see Tom Fury, a lightning-rod salesman, walking down the road with Greentown, IL in the distance. Of course, the town is fictional and not actually along that road. So, the footage of Tom Fury was combined with a matte painting of the town. This effect was used several times in the film. The matte paintings are put onto glass and an area is left open where the live-action shots are projected. It is composited in this manner and filmed together to produce the final result we see. (You can see this in the picture above.)
      • This beginning is meant to seem quiet and mundane. Jack Clayton said,  “You can only make a fantasy – or even a farce for that matter – only provided you root the beginning in reality. Something Wicked starts very normal-ly and from that…it’s just my theory, whether it will work or not we will just have to wait and see.” 
    • The production team built the entire town square on the lot, and Bradbury said it was so similar to the town he grew up in, that he felt like he was visiting home again. Many of the sets were composites, meaning they were actual buildings with several enclosed rooms and floors, and many of them were connected. 
      • Many of the outside scenes were shot in the early part of the day to get a gloomier look. When this wasn’t possible, the production team would “silk” over the top of the set to soften the natural light. 
    • Just after the narration introduced Will and Jim, we see them running through the town, ending up at the library. Many of these shots are continuous, and the camera was mounted on a car so it could follow the running boys. 
  • “But I suppose that this is really the story of my father.”
    • The library that Will and Jim enter was a detailed set, designed to look like the Carnegie libraries donated to many small towns in the 1920s. This scene introduces Charles Halloway, Will’s father, and sets up his dilemma of being a man too old to keep up with his growing son. This is also where we learn that Jim doesn’t have a father, though he pretends that his father writes to him. 
      • Jack Clayton didn’t like doing several takes with young actors because their acting tended to fall apart after saying the same lines over and over again. So, scenes like this have very minimal cuts. 
    • Now that the film has implied Charles’ desire to be young, we see him interact with the other adult characters. This scene sets up their unique wants, as the barber wishes to be with women, the cigar store owner wants money, and the barkeep wishes to be an athlete again. 
    • After this, Charles encounters the first piece of the carnival in his own town, the “most beautiful woman in the world” encased in ice. The red ring on her hand glows, which was one of the many visual effects that producers added after the first cut of the film was too ambiguous. Clayton and Bradbury didn’t initially agree that audiences needed to see effects to understand the magical aspects of the film, but felt that most of the effects added did enhance the story. 
  • The Carnival arrives
    • Will and Jim are safely home in their beds when they awake to the sounds of a train. Their bedrooms were composite sets, and very difficult to film in. So, sometimes the ceiling had to be taken out in order to fit all the filming equipment. 
    • The boys sneak out of their windows and run to see the train. This scene was shot on the Disney ranch, and bright lights were flashed on the boys’ faces to make it appear as if a train was passing by. The moment that the train stops, a carnival appears out of nowhere. 
      • Filmmakers used miniatures to show the carnival as a whole, while individual sets were built for the actors to interact with. 
      • In this scene, we meet the dust witch character for the first time. She’s dressed in a black costume of spider lace. In the book, the witch is more fairytale-like, but in the movie, they combined this character and “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Ray Bradbury loved the costume for this character. 
    • After Will returns home from seeing the carnival, he confronts his father who was also out late. This encounter shines a light on the tension in their relationship. Instead of using multiple cameras to shoot this scene, they utilized the lighting to get the audience to focus on specific characters at certain times. The key light is on Charles, played by Jason Robards, because this scene is about him and his regrets. 
  • “It’s just an ordinary carnival” 
    • The boys return to the carnival in the daytime, and are almost disappointed to discover that it is a seemingly ordinary carnival that just looked evil at night. But, while they explore, the audience witnesses the adults become consumed by their own desires. 
    • The boys walk past a tent of dancing women, and Will wants to keep walking. But, Jim peeps through a hole in the fabric to watch the dancing ladies. 
      • Set designers specifically made the carnival appear weathered and broken down, with ripped canvases and unkempt attractions. It added to the creepy aesthetic, but it also proved how old the carnival itself was. 
      • This scene replaces a moment in the book, when Jim witnesses something happening with adults in their bedroom at night. Will wants to keep walking, but Jim can’t tear himself away. This speaks to the difference in their characters and how even though they are the same age, they are at different places mentally. 
    • The boys sneak into the off-limits part of the carnival and run into Mr. Dark, the man that runs the place. At first, his face is shrouded in darkness to symbolize the presence of his evil. 
      • Before sending the boys away, he shows the boys the shifting tattoos on his hands, which seems to be his carnival trick. To achieve this effect, the director projected the image of a kaleidoscope onto Jonathan Pryce’s arm. 
  • The backward carousel
    • Convinced that something strange might happen at night, the boys stay behind and sneak back into the carousel’s tent. They watch as the ride runs in reverse, lowering the age of the man riding it until he becomes a little boy!
    • Filmmakers used a real carousel for the scene that they found on Long Beach. They took it apart and shipped the parts to Los Angeles, where it was rebuilt on the sound stage. 
      • The director overlayed past frames to get the dragging, blurred effect as the carousel ran.
    • The man, Mr. Cooger, is one of the carnival owners in the book. He turns into a little boy to do Mr. Dark’s bidding. The boy that played this role was very young and didn’t really understand what was happening. This helped bring a creepiness to the character. 
  • The talk on the porch
    • After returning home, Will has another talk with his father. It’s in this scene that we realize that Will almost drowned as a younger child, and Charles was unable to save him. Will had been saved by Jim’s father, and Charles has felt like a failure ever since. 
    • This scene was cut up by the studio, making it one of the choppier scenes in the movie. It also has the tightest close-ups in the entire film, as it’s an important moment for both characters. 
    • At the end of the scene, Will challenges his father to climb up the side of the house and into his bedroom window. Charles refuses, because Jack Clayton felt it would build the tension between the two characters. 
      • In the book, Charles rises to the challenge and almost falls. But Will saves him, setting up the final act when Charles must rise to the challenge of saving his own son. 
  • Seeing something they shouldn’t
    • Miss Foley, Jim and Will’s teacher, looks into her mirror and sees a younger version of herself. She so desperately wants to be young again, and suddenly becomes her younger self…but immediately goes blind. 
      • To create this sequence, filmmakers used a sodium vapor technique that predates green screens. It’s a version of matte photography that allowed them to overlay images in a realistic way. 
    • After seeing the magical power of the carousel, Jim also gives into his desire to be grown, and heads to the carnival to make his wish come true. Luckily, Will stops him. The boys discover all the adults in the town under the tent, and Mr. Dark has Tom Fury, the lightning salesman strapped to an electric chair. Mr. Dark demands Fury tell him when the next storm is, for storms wash away the carnival.  
    • The sky in this scene was created by using a cloud tank. The bottom layer of the tank is salt water, while the top layer is freshwater. Various liquids are injected into the tank to create clouds! 
    • From this point on in the movie, a lot of visual effects were added to enhance the story. This involved adding hand-drawn animations of dust, smoke, and glowing objects. A green, hand-drawn smoke follows Will and Jim as they run home. 
  • The Spider scene
    • The first cut of Something Wicked did not do well with audiences. The film went through major cuts, and some re-shoots were done for the ending. Originally, there was a scene that involved a giant hand reaching into Will and Jim’s bedrooms. The hand was animatronic, and didn’t seem to look real enough to keep the scary tone of the movie. 
    • So, about one year after initial filming, the actors that played Will and Jim had to return to shoot a new scene that involved hundreds of tarantula spiders. Jack Clayton had to be careful which angles to shoot the boys from, because it was obvious that they had grown. In fact, the actor that played Will had to wear a wig.
    • The scene features a lot of real spiders, which gave most of the crew a bad allergic reaction. The special effects team also built animatronic spiders, but they didn’t match up to the real ones. So, the spiders under the blankets on the boys’ beds are actually animatronic. 
  • The Parade
    • After experiencing the horrible night terror of the spiders in their beds (a vision sent by the Dust Witch, presumably), Will and Jim are certain that Mr. Dark is searching for them because they’ve witnessed too much. 
    • Mr. Dark leads a parade through the town, and for the first time, we see all the people that he has tricked and transformed, but none of the other townsfolk seem to care. Charles Halloway notices when a young boy shows up, wearing the exact clothes of the barkeep, a man that had lost his leg and arm. The little boy catches a football the exact same way the barkeep would, confirming Charles’ suspicion that something nefarious is going on. 
    • Mr. Dark approaches Charles and asks about Will and Jim, showing him tattooed images of them on his hands. The images were photos of the boys that the make-up department had to draw on Jonathan Pryce’s hands. When Charles refuses to give the boys up, Mr. Dark closes his hand so tightly, that blood drips from it. This effect was achieved with a simple sponge with cosmetic blood. 
  • “By the pricking of my thumbs” 
    • The most intense scene of the film takes place in the library, as Will and Jim hide from Mr. Dark. Charles tries to hold him off, buying the boys more time, but Mr. Dark proves to be too powerful. This was Ray Bradbury’s favorite part of the movie. Jonathan Pryce and Jason Robards (who played Charles) were able to act out the scene over and over to give the director lots of different options for the final cut. The scene took a week to shoot.
      • This scene involves pages being ripped from a book. As each page falls to  the floor, it glows. An animator has to use rotoscoping to trace the images frame by frame to add the effect. 
    • This is the scene where the audience learns about Mr. Dark and who he truly is. They are “the hungry ones” that feed off the desires of men. As Mr. Dark attempts to tempt Charles, he quotes the song, “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The song is heavily featured in the book, and Ray Bradbury felt it appropriate for the story. Mr. Dark is mocking the idea of love and goodwill. 
    • Mr. Dark then breaks Charles’ hand, solidifying his defeat. This was a prosthetic hand, and the scene was initially too gory and had to be cut down. Mr. Dark then finds the boys and steals them away, as a Dust Witch gives Charles a “taste of death.” As Mr. Dark pulls the boys away, he shuts off the barber pole in the town, symbolizing the end of life. 
  • The Mirror Maze
    • When Charles awakes, he runs to the carnival to save the boys and gets trapped in a mirror maze. This was another scene that needed to be re-shot. If you look closely, Will is wearing the same wig in this scene that he wears in the spider sequence. 
      • Originally, the scene showed Charles running through a series of mirrors with older men without their false teeth on the other side. This represented his fear of being too old, but the climax didn’t work well with the test audiences. 
      • So, the story was changed, and Charles instead saw the memory of him failing to save his son. Special effects artists added rounded edges to the mirrors so that the audience understood that he was looking in a mirror and not a screen or a doorway. 
    •  Charles is able to break through the mirror and save Will, as Tom Fury defeats the Dust Witch. But, their troubles aren’t entirely over until Mr. Dark accidentally falls victim to his own tricks and is forced to age rapidly on the carousel. 
      • This scene was far too extensive in the original cut, which made the audience laugh. 
    • The scene ends with the carnival being swept up in a cloud that was created with a cloud tank. The miniature carnival was shot upside-down, and filmmakers simply dropped the pieces from the ceiling!
    • After the carnival is swept away, Will, Jim, and Charles all head skipping back to Greentown. The light on the Barber’s Pole flicks on again, and everything seems to be okay. 

STARRING

  • Vidal Peterson as Will Halloway
    • He also played the elder in Mork and Mindy!
  • Shawn Carson as Jim Nightshade
    • This was his biggest role.
  • Diane Ladd as Jim’s mother Mrs. Nightshade
    • Diane has been in many films including National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
  • Jason Robards as Will’s father Charles Halloway
    • Jason had several credits, such as Little Big League and Parenthood to name a few.
    • He was Ray Bradbury’s first choice for the character! The two got to know each other well during filming. 
  • Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark
    • Jonathan has also been a well-known actor in things as recent as Pirates of the Caribbean and The Crown.
  • Royal Dano as Tom Fury
    • He was in a lot of things, even Killer Klowns from Outer Space!
  • Pam Grier as the Dust Witch
    • Pam is an influential woman who starred in blaxploitation films in the 70’s like Foxy Brown. She now has an autobiography Foxy: My Life in Three Acts. 

RECEPTION

  • When the test audience watched Something Wicked This Way Comes, they did not give it a good reception. According to Ray Bradbury, at least ¼ of the film had to be changed. 
  • The movie was a commercial flop, making only about half of its budget. It’s not available to stream, and is still relatively obscure. But, Ray Bradbury was incredibly proud of it. 
  • The movie won two Saturn Awards for Best Fantasy Film and Best Writing. It was also nominated for several other awards, including best director. 
  • In 1983 Roger Ebert gave it three and a half stars and wrote “It’s one of the few literary adaptations I’ve seen in which the film not only captures the mood and tone of the novel, but also the novel’s style…In its descriptions of autumn days, in its heartfelt conversations between a father and a son, in the unabashed romanticism of its evil carnival and even in the perfect rhythm of its title, this is a horror movie with elegance.”

Something Wicked This Way Comes is dark and magical. Pressing play on this film is like opening a time capsule to 1980s Disney, when they weren’t afraid to get truly scary. The film is frightening for children and adults alike, but for different reasons. For children, the fears are literal, like darkness and spiders. For adults, the frights are more abstract: like failure and weakness. And this story makes us all face the question: If you were faced with the chance to fulfill your deepest desires, what price would you pay? 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


SOURCES:

The Hollywood Case of Terror

Well cassettes, it’s the SPOOKY MONTH! This is not a drill! It’s time to get spooky! Two years ago, we spent October learning all about some Disney Halloween movies. This year, we’re doing it again! Get ready for three episodes on some of our favorite spooky stories from Walt Disney. 

Before Emily Blunt rode off on a Jungle Cruise, before Captain Jack Sparrow sailed on The Black Pearl, before Eddie Murphy got trapped in the Haunted Mansion, Steve Guttenberg helped a group of ghosts move on from their untimely death in an elevator shaft. Not sure what I’m talking about, well, strap in because you are in for one thrilling ride. 

Back in 1997, The Wonderful World of Disney on ABC premiered its latest made-for-TV movie. It starred Steve Guttenberg as a former journalist, and a pre-Spiderman Kirsten Dunst playing his niece. The film had an interesting concept, to say the least. It was based on a Disney World ride: The Hollywood Tower of Terror!

Today, we’re taking you back to the late 90s, as we uncover the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of 5 guests at the Hollywood Tower Hotel on Halloween night, 1939. Join us as we take a terrifying look at this spooky Disney gem. 

HISTORY (OF THE RIDE)

  • The Twilight Zone
    • We don’t know about you, but we LOVE rides with themes. Not only do you get a thrilling ride but a story that keeps you interested while you wait in line. In Ohio the best example of this, and the ride that we personally (Robin and Marci at least) love is called Flight of Fear at Kings Island and has a history of its own. 
    • On May 1st, 1989 Disney-MGM studios opened in Florida. Imagineers modeled this park to look like a soundstage, as it was themed around films and TV. 
    • When Disney needed to add shorter attractions to their parks, Imagineer Kevin Rafferty began brainstorming with his coworkers. One idea that had been tossed around, was the concept of a haunted Hollywood hotel. He was talking with another imagineer named Steve Kirk when he considered the idea of working in The Twilight Zone to draw the ride into a TV theme. Then, the name of the ride just came to him: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Rafferty later said that when he said the name, Steve Kirk dropped the pencil he was holding and said, “you may be on to something.” 
    • Rafferty recently recounted pitching the idea to Disney executives, saying, “Michael Eisner just lit up when I said, ‘Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.’ When he asked, ‘What happens?’ I knew I had him.” Later, he added, “This is one of my most vivid memories in my entire career: Michael looked at me and said, ‘This is a home run. We’ve got to do this.’ It was awesome!”
    • So, the Imagineers got to work. The design of the building was modeled after the early revival styles of the 20th century in California. Buildings that were looked at for inspiration included the Mission Inn, the Biltmore Hotel, and the Chateau Marmont.
    • Since the ride has a 1939 theme, the aesthetic of the building was planned out, including how tall it would be. Imagineers wanted it to be as tall as possible. Due to FAA regulations at the time, any building over 200 feet must have a red beacon at the top. Since this would take away from the theme, it was built to 199 feet to avoid the red eyesore. It is currently the second tallest attraction in the Walt Disney World Resort after Expedition Everest which is 6 inches taller. 
    • As they prepared to design this themed ride, the Imagineers reportedly watched all 165 episodes of The Twilight Zone twice! Some of them were screened even more. The building’s entrance is littered with references to many Twilight Zone episodes. The music, props, settings, and more were created in the spirit of the TV show.
      • Although it is not centered around an already existing episode, the ride’s plot was inspired by a few certain episodes. “Little Lost Girl” (Season 3 Episode 26) is what prompted the team to center the ride around entering the 5th dimension. Though mostly they talk about the 4th dimension in this episode, at the very end Rod Serling questions if it was the fourth dimension or even a fifth dimension. The footage of Rod Serling in the ride’s pre-show was taken and transformed from the 8th episode of season 3, “It’s a Good Life.” 
      • Since Rod Serling had passed away before they created the ride, Imagineers watched Rod Sterling’s opening and ending credits a minimum of 10 times in order to pull out the common phrasing he used. This in turn helped them to fashion the pre-show ride video.
    • CBS licensed the rights of Twilight Zone to the Disney Theme Parks. On July 22nd, 1994 Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened and quickly became one of its most popular attractions. It was located in Florida, at the end of Sunset Blvd.
  • After walking into the lobby of the ride, visitors watch as Rod Sterling introduces the pre-ride video. A voice actor imitating Sterling then recounts the unfortunate events that occurred in 1939, when 5 people mysteriously disappeared after entering the elevator. Then, the voice invites the visitors to ride up the service elevator and into The Twilight Zone. 
  • Multiple sources said that the 1930’s costumes used for the bellhops in the video were the most expensive, costing over $1000 per uniform. This made it the most expensive costume for any ride at Walt Disney World.
    • Because the video is in black and white, audiences don’t see that the uniform that the bellhop wears is actually blue, and not the iconic deep red color that bellhops tend to wear.
  • Eventually, the ride was so successful, it had four different locations! 
    • The original ride is in Florida. In 2004, Disneyland added its own version of the ride, which was also a major success. 
      • Many fans were incredibly upset in 2016 when it was announced that renovations would be made to this location to turn it into the Guardians of the Galaxy-Mission: Breakout! We will link to the youtube video of the announcement and by looking at the thumbs down and comments, you can see what we mean.
    • The Tokyo DisneySea version was completed in 2006. 
      • Imagineers had to reimagine the story for this version of the thrilling ride. This was due to the fact that The Twilight Zone was not popular in Japan. The story became about Harrison Hightower III who was a collector and multi-millionaire. On the Eve of New Years in 1899 he vanished after having collected a strange statue from Africa. His elevator crashes to the ground and only the statue is found in the elevator. 
    • The Tower of Terror in Paris opened in 2007
      • It follows the story of the original but in 2019 they announced a new dimension of chills where 5 new experiences were put into the ride. This included shaft creatures that become scarier the more you scream and the little girl haunts you even more while you are in the elevator. 

SYNOPSIS

  • It is Halloween night in 1939 and there is a party at the Hollywood Tower Hotel. Five guests board the elevator to head up to the Tip Top Club on the 12th floor. Strange green lightning strikes the hotel and the guests on the elevator disappear. Sixty years later a disgraced journalist, Buzzy Crocker, continues to try to make his way back into The Los Angeles Banner.  As he continues to work toward that goal he creates fake news stories for the tabloids with his niece, Anna. His “stories” attract the attention of Abigail Gregory, an elderly woman that was at the hotel on the day of the fateful incident and has information that will shed light on what happened to the five that disappeared. 

MAKING OF

  • In the mid-1990s, writer and director DJ MacHale was finishing up his groundbreaking children’s horror anthology show, Are You Afraid of the Dark. If you have heard our podcast before, you may have heard us mention that show from time to time. Some Nickelodeon producers jumped ship to Disney around the time DJ was wrapping up his final episodes, and they asked DJ if he would be willing to work on a project for Disney. MacHale had built a reputation as someone that had “honed his craft” of creating entertainment that was scary, but not tooo scary. 
    • When asked by Beyond the Mouse Podcast about how he kept this balance, DJ said, “It’s all about tension. It’s about (and this applies to all horror movies frankly) it’s what’s truly scary is what you think you might see, not what you see. Using that kind of tension 101 you can translate that to a kids show because the payoffs will never be as gruesome as they are in adult movies.”
  • When DJ MacHale started writing the script for this film, he had to drop any reference to The Twilight Zone because Disney did not secure the rights to the show. Although it might seem like this would make the writing process more difficult, DJ MacHale was thankful that he did not have to work it into the story. Since the characters in the pre-show were not given detailed backstories, he could use their appearances to give them character, stories, and personalities. 
    • Disney did not give the team the budget for a big production, so MacHale knew that he could not afford to create a period piece that would span the whole movie. For this reason, we are brought into a contemporary setting for most of the film. The story only needed to have two major points that matched the ride; the characters from the elevator and the lightning. DJ MacHale felt it was easier to have parameters than to make up a story from scratch.
    • In order to begin preparation for the film, DJ got to meet with the Imagineers that worked on creating the ride. When he arrived at the Glendale offices he noted how bland and unimaginative the offices were with all their normal cubby holes. Once you stepped inside each cubby however you got to see where all the magic and innovation came from. In order to protect all this magic, DJ had to sign non-disclosure agreements before entering. When he talked with the creators it was obvious how proud of Tower of Terror they were. The Imagineers did not hesitate to show him all the schematics and information they had on it. They gave him all the information they could, and let him control the story.
    • Tower of Terror Replica
      • As mentioned before, the ride is incredibly detailed. DJ assumed that a lot of the filming would be done within the actual building of the ride, but Disney did not want to shut down the ride for the duration of filming. They also do not let you skip the line, even if you are making a movie about the ride (according to DJ.) So in order to film at the location, they would have only been able to shoot during the hours of midnight to 4 am. Due to this short time frame, they were not able to film on location. Although there were soundstages nearby, the production team could not use them because they had been booked for months. So, they moved production from Florida to California. There are shots of the actual ride in the film, however. They are wide building shots and detail shots of statues and carvings that are shown when Buzzy Crocker first enters the building.
        • The beginning exterior shot of the film set in 1939 needed a Hollywood Tower Hotel that looked new because the audience needed to believe that it had recently been built. DJ MacHale was worried that the team would have to use CGI to light all the letters on the sign as some of them blink or are not on. When they went to the top of the tower with a worker they were in luck and found that there were switches for the neon lights that would fully light the sign.
      • The Production designer was Phil Dagort (pronounced Dagore). He most recently has worked on the set design for the TV series Why Women Kill. Dagort was dedicated to creating the perfect aesthetic for the film, which also meant building an almost exact replica of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror’s lobby. The only major difference between the replica and the real lobby was that the replica did not have a ceiling! Because a quarter of the budget went to building this set, more scenes needed to take place in the lobby to justify the expense. DJ MacHale had scenes that were going to happen in other parts of the hotel; like the kitchen, but they got moved into the Lobby. Luckily the room was so diverse and expansive that it does not look like it was all shot in that room.
    • One major feature of the hotel is its enormous gates that display the HTH acronym. While searching for a cheap material to make the gates, they found themselves at the same shop that had created the gates for the actual attraction. Not only had they done that, but they had also created a backup set! MacHale could not recall for sure but he believes that they were given to the team for free because they were in a scrap pile.

CAST

When DJ was interviewed by Beyond the Mouse Podcast, he commented on what it was like hiring and working with the cast. This was one of the few movies that he shot in Los Angeles, so many actors that came in to audition were well known. Because of this, he was actually a little starstruck. On another note, he mentioned that it was fun to be able to work with a predominantly adult cast who could carry the workload after having worked with almost exclusively kids. 

  • Steve Guttenberg as Buzzy Crocker
    • Known for his roles in the Police Academy series and Three Men and A Baby 
    • This was not the first time that DJ MacHale had used the name Buzzy Crocker for a character. As an NYU student, he made a film called Deadline and the reporter’s name was Buzzy Crocker.
    • When having to replace audio, DJ met up with Steve at a street cafe in Toronto where Steve was recognized constantly and everyone who saw him wanted to say hello. DJ said that Steve was genuinely happy and nice to each and every person.
  • Kirsten Dunst as Anna Petterson
    • Starred in many child roles until one of her most popular roles in Spider-Man (2002)
  • Nia Peeples as Jill Perry
    • Was in the show Fame from 1983 to 1987 as well as Walker, Texas Ranger from 1999 to 2001
  • Michael McShane as Chris ‘Q’ Todd
    • Known for his roles in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Office Space, and the voices for both Tuck and Roll in A Bug’s Life
  • Amzie Strickland as Abigail Gregory
    • Her acting career dates as far back as 1937 in many uncredited roles, as well as many TV series like Seventh Heaven and Sister, Sister. 
    • DJ MacHale said that she was one of the greatest people to work with because she had been in pretty much everything. He said that normally resumes come in chronological order but hers was in alphabetical order.
  • Melora Hardin as Claire Poulet
    • And actress with many TV roles such as Little House on the Prairie, Murder, She Wrote, and Gilmore Girls
    • The song that she sings at the end is one that a close friend of hers wrote. 
  • Alastair Duncan as Gilbert London
    • He has become a well-known voice actor for video games and cartoons such as The Batman (2004), Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and the recent God of War
  • Lindsay Ridgeway as Sally Shine
    • She doesn’t have very many credits, but those she does have to include Boy Meets World from 1996 to 2000, and Cats Don’t Dance
  • John Franklin as Dewey Todd
    • Another actor with relatively few credits, but he appeared in films and series such as Tammy and the T-Rex, Star Trek: Voyager, and The Addams Family
    • Dewey appears in the book series Pendragon that DJ MacHale created! The events take place prior to 1939 in Manhattan and in book 3  he says he is going to go to work at his Grandfather’s Hotel in California. In book 8 they go back to the Manhattan hotel and someone comments on the fact that Dewey disappeared at the California hotel.
  • Wendy Worthington as Emeline Partridge
    • She has had many roles and Tower of Terror is one of her most well-known. Others include Ally McBeal, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

RECEPTION

  • Although it’s not the most well-known film from The Wonderful World of Disney, Tower of Terror has garnered a cult following in recent years. Kirsten Dunst was nominated for a Young Artist Award for best actress in a TV movie/mini-series/pilot!
  • You cannot currently watch the movie online, but it is available for purchase! 

TALKS OF NEW MOVIE

  • Recently there had been talks about creating a new movie based around the Twilight Zone of Terror. This movie would also have its own story due to CBS still owning the rights to The Twilight Zone. Scarlet Johanson’s Three Pictures Production Company was set to produce the film, and have her as the lead. Pre-production for the film halted due to the recent legal disputes between Scarlet Johanson and Disney. This does not completely rule out a new Tower of Terror but it will most likely not be with Scarlett Johanson.  

Although Disney’s Tower of Terror wasn’t technically a Disney Channel Original Movie, it was prominently featured on Disney Channel for several years. For many of us 90s kids, it was a Halloween staple, a fun ride that felt like a prolonged episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark. 

So, for our first episode of Disney Halloween, we were happy to take you into the fourth or maybe fifth dimension…down an elevator shaft and into the not-so-Twilight zone (because copyright I guess). 

So if you haven’t seen this wonderful Disney charmer, go ahead and give it a go. We’re sure you’ll FALL in love. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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The Case of National Treasure

Since we’re feeling adventurous this month, we’re welcoming yet another guest to talk about one of his favorite movies! You might remember him from our AYAOTD episode last October. He’s our good friend and fellow podcaster, JD Gravatte! 

We’re really excited to have JD on the show today. He was the one that suggested this episode, and we thought it could be super fun to have him join us as we learned all about it!

It was 2004, a day much like this (but not really; it was considerably colder), that National Treasure premiered. Opening to mixed and negative critical reviews (the film has an original Rotten Tomatoes score of 46%), National Treasure seemed to hold the key to viewers’ hearts. The movie was impossibly fun, with a stellar cast that perfectly displayed the sense of excitement and adventure needed to pull off such a wacky concept. After all, only Nicolas Cage could stoically deliver the line: “I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence,” and have anyone take him seriously. 

National Treasure is equal parts ridiculous and masterful, making it a perfect family film on a rainy afternoon. So, friends, it’s time to learn all about National Treasure, a film that features a national treasure stealing a national treasure to uncover a national treasure! 

THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE 

  • This film would certainly not be National Treasure without The Declaration of Independence. So before we follow the clues to the history of this movie, we’re going to talk about the document’s history. 
  • The Declaration of Independence is on permanent display in the National Archives with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It has been on display there since 1952. 
  • Thomas Jefferson’s original draft was called “A Declaration of the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” After much deliberation and several edits to his work, the document was renamed “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.” 
    • One notable change was an omission of Jefferson’s claim that King George was responsible for the slave trade. Many of the founding fathers owned slaves when Jefferson drafted the document, and including this accusation would have been hypocritical. 
  • Congress approved the final version on July 4th, 1776. It was recorded by the clerk Timothy Matlack in iron gall ink on parchment paper. Like they say in the film, parchment is made from stretched and treated animal skin and was commonly used for important documents. 
  • Before congress signed the document, John Dunlap produced about 200 copies. Only 26 copies remain today, and only one final copy with all the signatures exists. This version is known as the engrossed copy, which is the one on display.  
  • It’s a common misconception that the Declaration was signed on July 4th, when in actuality, most members of congress began signing the document on August 2nd, 1776. Some members that signed their names were not present when the document was approved.
  • The document is now 245 years old, and its black ink has faded to brown. The best way to preserve it would be to store it in a dark room, but it remains on display because of how important it is that everyone sees it. 

SYNOPSIS

  • Ben Gates grew up listening to his Grandfather’s stories of a legendary treasure brought over to America by the Freemasons. As an adult, Ben has become a historian and treasure hunter. He and his friend Riley team up with the British adventurer Ian Howe who is also searching for the famed treasure. The hunt seemingly ends when the group discovers that the map to the treasure is on the back of the most famous document in American history. When Ben refuses to let Ian steal it, he turns on Riley and Ben. The two men decide they must take action, concluding that to save the Declaration of Independence, they must steal it.

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • In the 1990s, producer, and writer Oren Aviv came to director Jon Turteltaub with an exciting idea for a film: what if someone wanted to steal The Declaration of Independence? Turteltaub was a big fan of adventure films, especially capers, and met with producer Jerry Bruckheimer about the idea. Together, they felt they could make the idea work on screen. 
    • Writers Jim Kouf, Oren Aviv, and Charles Segars worked on the story, which would change hands a few different times over the years. One of the story’s most significant influences was Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. Throughout story development, screenwriters Jim Kouf, Cormac, and Marianne Wibberley addressed various scripting issues. The film was initially scheduled for release in 2000, and because of the delay, the heist portion needed re-working. When the story was in its earlier stages, security for The Declaration of Independence had not been updated since the 1950s, meaning that stealing it would not have been that difficult. However, the events of 9/11 intensified security around the document. 
    • The writers wanted to approach a classic treasure hunt from a different perspective. Usually, the bulk of the adventure happens as the characters hunt for gold. This film dedicates more screen time to securing the map than the actual treasure. 
    • Screenwriters and filmmakers consulted heist specialists that would give insight into how they would steal the Declaration. They used this information to craft a plan that was believable enough for the film. 
    • In the film, the biggest key to Ben Gate’s plan is to steal the Declaration from the preservation room, where there is less protection. This storyline was a little too realistic, and the preservation process changed after the film was released, so no one got any brilliant ideas about stealing it for real. 
  • Directed by Jon Turteltaub, National Treasure was shot over six months, mostly on location. Filming included shots in front of the National Archives, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, Independence Hall, and The Library of Congress. The team wanted a realistic touch, which added a historical weight to the story. For example, there’s a scene where characters Ben, Riley, and Abigail bring the Declaration to the signing room in Independence Hall. Ben exclaims, “the last time this was here, it was being signed.” That might actually be true if they were holding the actual Declaration. 
    • In the scene where Abigail (Diane Kruger) confronts Ben (Nicolas Cage) during the Gala, the camera shows her walking across Pennsylvania Avenue with the Capitol Building behind her. The crew shut down the entire street for the scene. 
    • The film crew was not permitted to film in the actual National Archives, meaning the production crew had to build a replica. It was accurate down to the inch. 
      • Of course, the declaration prop is a replica as well. Designers made it from paper and not animal skin. The crew was given photos of the front and back of the actual document for reference.
  • Production Designers Paul Cross and Norris Spencer had two major issues to resolve. One of these was creating fictional spaces and making them fit into a film filled with realistic locations. The other was building the catacombs, which we see during the film’s climax.
    • One of the early scenes in the film was shot on location in Utah. It involved a major explosion on the icy landscape that involved 600 gallons of gasoline and real gunpowder (Justin Bartha, who played Riley, actually caught fire.) This scene also involved the interior of The Charlotte, an excavated ship. This set was located inside a freezer so that the actors would have red faces and visible breath. 
    • Holy Trinity Church is a real location that does have a crypt. The team was able to go and see it for themselves. To create realistic catacombs underneath the church, they visited many Masonic temples for reference. 
  • The Santa Monica California VFX team of Asylum worked on the computer-generated visual effects for the film. They worked on 350 shots in the movie. Their most extensive sequences were the scenes that showed how the Declaration was kept safe, the dangerous shaft beneath Trinity Church, and the treasure room at the end of the film. 
    • After our main cast discovers a tunnel in the tomb beneath Trinity Church, they follow it to a complicated system of stairs, bridges, and elevators. Although the production team created a massive set, CGI made the shaft appear bottomless. It also added touches that made the danger feel as authentic as possible. 
    • When our heroes finally discover the treasure, Ben (Nicolas Cage) lights a trough that reveals a deep cavern of unbelievable wonders. The SFX team combined over 100 elements to bring this scene to life, including a miniature of the treasure room, shot at ⅙ scale. 
  • Some of us might roll our eyes when talking about the historical accuracy of a Disney adventure film. Still, the creative forces behind this movie wanted it to be as true to history as possible. In many ways, they succeeded. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer was a driving force for the realism of the film. 
    • One real-world element of the film is the concept of treasure hunting. Of course, some real people have dedicated their lives to finding treasure. For example, Mel Fisher was a treasure hunter known for discovering the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, a famed Spanish treasure galleon. 
    • But what about the other pieces of the film? The connection between the founding fathers and the freemasons is true. Freemasons date back to medieval times, making it the oldest fraternal organization in existence. George Washington was the head of the masons in the New World, and nearly half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were masons. They’re not exactly a secret organization, though they do have secret rituals, and their symbols do appear on American currency, as the film suggests. 
    • The film also references the Knights Templar, formed in Jerusalem in 1118 CE to protect Christian pilgrims after the First Crusade. Legend has it that the knights uncovered a treasure beneath King Soloman’s temple and slowly transported it back to Europe over 200 years. Actor Christopher Plummer details this story at the beginning of the movie.  
      • Afraid that the group was becoming too powerful, the King of France ordered many knights to be captured, tortured, or executed. Many escaped to Scotland and joined Masonic Lodges. Some believe they held treasure at Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.
      • National Treasure suggests that this treasure was brought to the US, giving us the film’s premise. 
    • Many other historical facts rattled off by our lead character are true. At the beginning of the film, the characters come across a clue that states 55 people signed The Declaration of Independence. Fifty-six people signed the document, but the last person did it in 1781, which would be after the clue was written. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer wanted to add a scene that explained this, but it didn’t fit into the final cut. As a result, many audience members took the line to be a mistake. 
    • One of the less realistic moments of the film is the Gala held at the National Archives. Generally, no food or drink is permitted around such essential documents. 
    • Now, of course, the treasure itself at the end of the film is fictional…or at least their version of it is. But the story itself relies on American history, which is impressive. 

THE MUSIC

  • Trevor Rabin scored this film with a beautiful blend of orchestral and rock influences. His father was a first-chair violinist for the Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra, and his mother was a talented classical pianist. Trevor himself became a big rock star in his own right. The director Jon Turtletaub said that the rock sound was perfect for the chase scene. Trevor is also known for scoring Remember the Titans.

STARRING

  • Nicolas Cage as Benjamin Franklin Gates
    • National Treasure was Nicolas Cage’s fourth film with Jerry Bruckheimer. He was concerned that many of his lines would not come off naturally, as he was often rattling off memorized facts. He reportedly asked for the “greatest actor ever” to play his father. The role of Patrick Gates went to John Voigt. 
    • Voigt noted that Cage liked to be silly on set, keeping up creative energy. He was excited to do the role and be in all the historical locations. Cage was also known to ad-lib a lot of his lines. 
    • The writers never wanted Cage’s character, Ben, to carry a gun. He needed to seem resourceful and be a direct foil to the antagonist.  
  • Diane Kruger as Abigail Chase
    • When Kruger did a screen test with Cage, he seemed a little off his game. She brought the kind of dynamic that they were looking for, and she got the part.
    • Kruger also did a lot of her own stunt work, including a scene where she hangs off the back of a van. She said she was so sore from the scene; she had to take a week off from filming.  
    • She also appeared in Inglorious Bastards
  • Justin Bartha as Riley Poole
    • When test audiences saw the film, there was an overwhelmingly positive reaction to Bartha’s scenes. So, the editors went back through the footage and added more of his character to the film. 
    • Bartha felt like audiences resonated with his character because he represents the everyday person in these impossible situations. 
    • Bartha also appeared in The Hangover.
  • Sean Bean as Ian Howe
    • Sean Bean has been in many other projects, like Game of Thrones and Wolfwalkers. But, he doesn’t die in this film, despite the joke that his character always dies. 
  • Jon Voight as Patrick Gates
    • Voight joined the production later than the other actors. He was initially going to turn down the role, but when he told Jerry Bruckheimer how he would have played Patrick Gates, they knew they couldn’t cast anyone else. 
    • Jon Turteltaub remarked that Voigt is incredible with character acting. 

RECEPTION

  • National Treasure opened on November 19th, 2004, to mixed reviews. Audiences, however, disagreed, and the film swiftly became a treasure because it stayed at the top of the box office for at least three weeks straight; ahead of Christmas with the Kranks, The Polar Express, and The Incredibles.
  • In 2007, Disney released National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. This film received an even worse critical reception but made over 100 million dollars more than the first film. 
  • Over the years, there have been whispers of a third installment to the franchise, but it seems the studio has been dragging its feet. In an interview with Collider, Jon Turteltaub said, “The script was close, but not so great that the studio [could] say yes. But it’s been good enough that the studio could have said, ‘Yes, keep going. Get closer.'”
    • Even after all this time, there are still firm hopes that a third movie is on the way. Looper posits that it will release in late 2022 or early 2023!

FUN FACTS

  • The film’s first cut was almost four hours long, including a deleted scene where Riley and Abigail run through an empty strip club in the afternoon. According to Turteltaub, most Jerry Bruckheimer films include a strip club at some point. But, the scene was eventually cut. 
  • Many have scoffed at the chemistry in the film, like when Ben and Abigail use lemon juice to uncover invisible ink. In the audio commentary, Jon Turteltaub and Justin Bartha were adamant that this would work. 
  • In the film, the characters uncover a set of glasses that reveal another hidden message on the map. The actors had to stare at a blank piece of paper for these scenes and pretend they saw something extraordinary. 
  • Eddie Yansick was Nic Cage’s stunt double. In one scene, when Cage seemingly jumped into the Hudson River, the crew threw sandbags into the water to make the splash. When he jumped in Cage’s place, Yansick was hooked up to a decelerator and yanked backward before entering the water. Later on, the antagonist, Ian, has a line wondering how Ben survived the fall without any injuries. This may have been a nod to the fact that he likely would have died if he made the jump in real life. 
  • Much like The Goonies, some of the close-up hand shots were not the hands of the main actors. In one shot, the hands were director Jon Turteltaub’s hands!


National Treasure may not be a groundbreaking film, but it achieves what it set out to do. This movie is entertaining from start to finish. It has an exciting premise, a likable leading man, several thrilling chase scenes, and honest connections between characters. National Treasure is the kind of movie you’d take your kids to see at the dollar theatre on a hot day or throw on the TV when you’re stuck inside from the rain or the snow or the heat. No matter how snobby or highfalutin our taste in cinema may be, there will always be a need for movies like this one. These films allow us to turn off our cynicism for a couple of hours and imagine something as unbelievable as stealing one of the most famous documents in American history and using it to find buried treasure. If you let them, silly movies like this can make you feel like anything is possible, and that is a treasure all by itself.

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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The Muppet Christmas Case

Hello Cassettes and welcome to season 5 of the Black Case Diaries! Did you miss us? We missed you.

This week we are kicking off the Christmas season with a special look at one of our all-time favorites! 

After the premiere of The Muppet Show in the 1970’s, Kermit and his gang cemented their status as pop culture icons. After the show’s conclusion, the Muppets starred in three successful movies, with more seemingly on the way. By the late 1980’s, Walt Disney Studios was even discussing the possibility of purchasing the muppet franchise from Jim Henson.

Then, the unthinkable happened. In May of 1990, Jim Henson came down with a rare pneumonia caused by the same bacteria as strep throat. By the time he was admitted to the hospital, the infection had spread to his blood. The beloved father, husband, friend, and creator was dead within 24 hours. 

Not only did this loss devastate his family, it sent shockwaves through Jim Henson Productions (now known as The Jim Henson Company.) Disney no longer pursued The Muppets, due to the uncertain climate of their parent company. The future of the beloved Muppet franchise suddenly came into question, and when it was time to decide its fate, everyone turned to Henson’s children; specifically, his son Brian. 

Brian Henson was named the new president of the company, and ambitiously sought out new deals with studios to make more puppet and muppet content. One of these deals was with Walt Disney Pictures, to produce a movie based on one of the most famous stories of all time: A Christmas Carol. 

Although the 28-year-old Brian Henson was an experienced puppeteer, he felt he wasn’t ready to direct the first Muppet movie after his father’s death. He begged others to direct the film, but ultimately the task landed on his young shoulders. Not only did he have huge shoes to fill, Brian  understood the gravity of The Muppet Christmas Carol. This film was a test, and its success or failure would determine if The Muppets would continue. It was also Jim Henson Productions’ opportunity to show Disney the value of The Muppets. 

So, this week we are taking you to a different kind of Dickensian London, where Bob Crachit is a frog, and Charles Dickens himself is a blue alien from outer space. Yes, it’s time to don our nightcaps and visit the past, present, and future of Ebenezer Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol! 

CHARLES DICKENS’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL

  • Just before publishing A Christmas Carol in 1843, Charles Dickens’ publisher had lost faith in the marketability of the author. Dickens’ most recent book, Martin Chuzzlewit, had not sold well, and the book publisher felt that his next work should debut in an inexpensive collection or in a magazine. 
    • Dickens believed in his work, and was adamant that it be a stand-alone book. So, he agreed to pay the publishing costs himself.
    • After its December release, A Christmas Carol sold 6,000 copies by Christmas. It wasn’t the sales Dickens had wanted, but it was still a success.
  • Summary
    • In case you have somehow avoided this story, it follows Ebenezer Scrooge, a rich money-lender. Scrooge lives alone, dines in darkness, and saves every penny he has like a miser. When those that lend from Scrooge cannot pay, he puts them out in the cold. He does not listen to the cries of the poor, and he does not pay his clerk a fair wage.
    • Scrooge hates Christmas, writing it off as a silly holiday of frivolous spending. All this changes when Scrooge gets a Christmas eve visit from his old partner, Jacob Marley. This is strange, since Marley has been dead for several years. 
      • Marley appears in chains, telling Scrooge that he is doomed for eternal damnation if he does not change his ways. After this, Scrooge is then visited by three more ghosts, that show him the visions of Christmas past, present, and future.
      • The ghosts hold up a mirror to Scrooge’s soul, and the reflection is not flattering. He sees the man he was before, the childhood that formed him into a bitter adult, and a lost love that left him heartbroken. The final ghost leads Scrooge to his own grave, showing him that he will die alone with no love from anyone. But, it isn’t eternal damnation or the fear of being unloved that truly convinces Scrooge to change–though those were definitely factors. Most of all, it’s the fate of Tiny Tim, the innocent sickly child of Scrooge’s clerk. 
  • Cultural impact
    • Throughout his career, Charles Dickens was often concerned with impoverished children, and even helped charities that supported education for the poor. He devised the story of Ebenezer Scrooge to illustrate the dangers of apathy toward our fellow man. 
    • Charles Dickens is one of the most well-known authors of the 19th century, and A Christmas Carol is possibly his most-famous work. 
      • A Christmas Carol is a tradition so intertwined with Christmas, it would be hard to imagine the holiday without it. Dickens appealed to audiences with lovable innocent characters, like Tiny Tim, and showed how dangerous it can be to stop caring for those who are in need–and how those with the ability to help, should. He paired this message with elements of horror, hoping to shock the audience, and adding excitement to the story.
      • The story has lasted for so long, because the message will always be relevant, and Scrooge’s redemption is one of the most inspiring in literature.
  • Other notable versions
    • When producer Bill Haber first suggested the Muppets adapt the famous story, Brian Henson was hesitant because the story had been done so many times before. He was unsure how to make the muppet version stand-out.
    • As we talked about in our very first episode of our show, this story has been adapted to film possibly more than any other piece of literature. This version is among our favorites, which includes: Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol, and George C Scott’s A Christmas Carol.
  • Why they chose this for the muppets
    • It’s always fun to see the muppets in a place where they seemingly don’t belong. This was only the fourth muppet film, and it was the first time the muppets adapted classic literature! Since the film needed to be a success, both The Jim Henson Company and Walt Disney Pictures decided that adapting a well-known story was the way to pull in more movie-goers. 

THE MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • The environment at The Jim Henson Company was certainly fragile when production began on The Muppet Christmas Carol. Not only had the team lost their leader, but they were also shaken by the sudden death of Richard Hunt, another beloved Muppet Performer. Hunt had provided the voices of Scooter and Statler during his time on The Muppet Show, and tragically passed away in 1992 at the age of 40 from AIDS. 
    • As we said before, this was Brian’s directorial debut. Jeffrey Katzenberg of Walt Disney Pictures, recognized the sensitive nature of the project, and stepped back to allow the team to work on their production as they saw fit.
    • Michael Caine, who was chosen to play Scrooge, was actually surprised to learn that it was Brian’s first time directing, as he felt he was doing an incredible job.
  • Jerry Juhl
    • At the heart of almost every classic muppet moment, is writer Jerry Juhl. Juhl, if you recall from our Muppet Show episode, was one of the head writers for the muppets from the beginning, and he returned to pen this script as well.
    • The screenplay went through many changes. For example, the original plans were to make an uproarious telling of the Charles Dickens classic with well known Muppets playing all of the largest parts. Robin the Frog was meant to be the ghost of Christmas past, Miss Piggy Christmas present, and Animal as the ghost of Christmas that has yet to come. 
    • After entertaining this idea and beginning the script, Brian Henson began to feel that his father would have wanted a truer adaptation. Both he and Juhl decided to focus on not only being true to the original story, but on the wonderful narration that Dickens used, making this adaptation one of the most faithful ever created.
      • Ultimately, they decided that a human lead for Scrooge was best, as it grounded the muppets in a sense of reality. Juhl decided that for the first time, the muppets wouldn’t get introductions, and would instead appear organically in the story.
      • And, the most effective touch, was to have Charles Dickens himself be in the movie, reciting his own prose to the audience.
        • Because the muppets were known for flipping the script, the men chose the least likely muppet as their victorian narrator: a blue daredevil alien named Gonzo.
          • Once the team had Charles Dickens in the film, they were able to have 95% of Gonzo’s lines be taken directly from the original story.
    • Juhl balanced the film’s tone from scary to light-hearted, with the inclusion of witty dialog and signature muppet slapstick.
      • Juhl and the others working on the movie were always coming up with ways to make Rizzo the Rat “suffer” in comedic ways. Rizzo gets frozen, chased by a cat, and even lands on a burning hot turkey in a fireplace! 
      • Rizzo also voices some of the concerns that the filmmakers themselves had–for example, he asks Gonzo if this is “too scary for the kids.” Gonzo replies, “Nah, this is culture.” 
      • One of the most memorable scenes includes Rizzo, climbing a giant fence and jumping from it, only for the audience to find that he was able to slip through the bars of the fence the entire time. Gonzo shakes his head and says, “You are such an idiot,” which was something that Dave Goelz (Gonzo’s puppeteer) often said to Steve Whitmire (Rizzo’s puppeteer.)
  • Production
    • Production Design
      • The production designer was Val Strazovec, who would also work on Muppet Treasure Island!
        • The Muppets pose an interesting challenge in terms of production design. If you don’t understand how to set up a scene with muppets, they will all end up in the bottom of the frame and you can’t see the bottom half of the character, because often the characters don’t have bottoms at all.
        • Every set was built four feet off the ground, and Michael Caine had to walk on planks among the puppets, without looking at his feet. The floor was often added in post for most scenes.
      • Miniatures
        • In the opening credits we are given a view of the London rooftops. These rooftops however are miniatures, about 3 feet in height. As the camera pans backwards the crew would move buildings into the frame in order to have an illusion of passing through them.
        • The street shots had a tricky illusion to them as well. Although the set itself was pretty large, the buildings toward the back were much shorter in comparison in order to achieve a bigger looking space with forced perspective.
        • In order to shoot forced perspective, you have to move the camera parallel, and be careful not to turn toward or away from the models, or you will shatter the illusion. 
    • Special Effects
      • Often in movies with relatively low budgets, you will see the “rule of one” applied. This means, when an expensive affect is used, it will only appear once, even if the audience is meant to believe that it happens several times. Filmmakers will use the effect the one time, accompanied by a noise, and when they need the effect again, they just play that same noise without the visual, and the audience then uses the context clues to assume the effect happened again. 
      • There were many scenes shot in front of green screens, especially with the more magical muppets, so they could be composited in later.
    • Logistics
      • Most muppets are left-handed, because their puppeteers are right-handed! 
      • Most small full-body muppets are remote controlled, like the rats and mice! Any time a muppet is shot from above, the puppeteer’s arm is being hidden by the puppet’s body–these are the easiest shots to film.
      • There is one scene with rain, and puppets in the rain are always hard to shoot. Puppeteers are watching monitors, so it’s risky to use them with water–but they still did it because they wanted it to be the least romantic weather for Christmas.
      • A Christmas Carol can be a grim story, and Brian didn’t want to take away from its serious nature. But, he and the rest of the crew understood that they needed to balance levity with the darker imagery. Because of this, there are many scenes that were shot with two crews. One crew would focus on the main action of the scene, with the Scrooge narrative. The other crew followed the actions in the background, with muppet characters like Gonzo and Rizzo, which happened simultaneously. Scrooge’s story never stopped when Gonzo and Rizzo had the audience’s attention, which was effective in pulling the younger viewers out of the story and reminding them it was just a movie.
    • Location
      • In order to accommodate both people and muppets the film was shot at the Shepperton Studios in the UK.

THE MUSIC

  • The songs were written by Paul Williams, the man who also penned the songs for the original muppet movie! Brian Henson has said that he believes that Williams is the “most successful” muppet songwriter, being able to capture both the silly nature of the Muppets and their heartfelt moments as well. His lyrics are very sincere, and match the characters perfectly
    • The first song of the film, “Scrooge” sung by the muppet chorus, establishes the main character through every other characters’ opinion of him.
      • It was important for the audience not to see Scrooge’s face until the end of the song, after each character has painted a picture of him for the audience, “…there’s nothing in nature that freezes your heart like years of being alone. It paints you with indifference like a lady paints with rouge, and the worst of the worst, the most hated and cursed, is the one that we call Scrooge…”
      • The line, “Please sir, I want some cheese” was a favorite among children, and a reference to another Dickens work, Oliver Twist.
    • “Room in Your Heart” was a song performed by Honeydew and Beaker, that was ultimately cut from the movie as well, but can be found on the soundtrack.
    • “One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas,” had a lot of technically difficult shots in it, like Kermit’s hand locking the door, and Penguins sliding on ice. But the most memorable shot is of a full-body Kermit standing beneath the night sky as a shooting star passes. This moment was a tribute to Jim Henson, who had used a shooting star in the first Muppet Movie. Ever since, a shooting star has been a signature for Kermit, and one has appeared in Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets in Space.
      • The star happens to pass as one of the rats yells, “Merry Christmas!” and audiences often think the star is saying it instead! 
    • When Roger Ebert saw the film, his favorite song was, “Marley and Marley,” the tune performed by Statler and Waldorf as the two Marleys. The book of course only has one Marley, but having both characters added a special comedic dynamic to an otherwise spooky scene.
      • The muppets were covered in white powder, and filmed in front of a black sheet with their operators wearing black as well. They were then superimposed on the film to make them look transparent.
      • These were the only ghosts played by well-known muppets.
      • One notable line: “As freedom comes from giving love; So, prison comes with hate.”
    • “Bless us All” is Tiny Tim’s song, sung by the muppet Robin. This song is one of the emotional anchors of the movie, and when it is later revealed that Tiny Tim has died, you can hear its melody being played in the score.
    • “The Love is Gone,” the song sung by Belle when her and Ebenezer go their separate ways, was cut from the theatrical release and added back in for VHS and TV versions.
      • Henson said this when discussing the lost footage of When Love is Gone to the online site The Big Issue, “When we tried cutting it into the Blu-ray movie it looked terrible because you could tell we’d cut from high resolution to the original video release,” Henson added. “I’m still pressuring them to find it. They keep swearing to me that there is no way it has been lost forever, and I keep saying, ‘but it’s been 20 years!’
      • “They’re still searching. I call them like every month to ask if they’re still looking. One of these days they’ll find it.”
      • Katzenberg pushed to remove the song, because the runtime of the movie was a little long, and he felt the scene might bore the children watching, as there were no muppets. It truly was a shame, however, because Paul Williams brought the melody of the song back at the end of the film with different lyrics, showing the contrast of Scrooge’s change of heart. The ending song is, “When Love is Found.” 
    • “It Feels Like Christmas” was originally meant to show Christmas all around the world, but it became clear that they just didn’t have the budget for that. 
      • The song ends with a shot that reveals the forced perspective, and reveals the true size of the buildings. But Brian Henson liked the shot, so he kept it in anyway.
      • This is the last song until the finale, leaving the audience with a lot of happiness and heart just before the darkest part of the film.
    • “A Thankful Heart”
      • Shortly before Jim Henson’s death, songwriter Paul Williams started recovering from his drug and alcohol addiction. He was the oscar nominated musician who had written the iconic song, “Rainbow Connection” for the first muppet movie, and now felt that this career was over. That was until Brian Henson called him to write the songs for The Muppet Christmas Carol. Williams felt a special connection to Scrooge’s story of redemption, especially with the song, “A Thankful Heart.”
      • Williams was so grateful for his recovery, and opportunity to further his songwriting career. Later on, Williams told Vulture about the song, “There was a connectedness to the world around me, and a level of gratitude that, to this day, is probably one of the most powerful emotions I’ve ever experienced.”
      • Michael Caine’s imperfect vocals matched the now-humble Scrooge, and the song was a wonderfully sweet conclusion to the classic story.
  • The Score
    • The score was composed by Miles Goodman, who has composed for movies like Sister Act 2, Larger Than Life, and Teen Wolf.

THE GHOSTS

  • The Ghost of Christmas past
    • The Puppet for Christmas past was actually shot in oil and water. After a while, the puppet began to deteriorate because she was made of foam and other softer material. So, in some shots she looks much better than in others.
    • Jessica Fox, the young girl that voiced the ghost, did all of her lines in about one day. Brain Henson said that she was a natural, and read her lines perfectly almost every time.
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present
    • The book describes this ghost as gigantic, so he first appears to be massive next to Scrooge. The puppet itself was only about 6 ft tall, so they composited the character into the frame to look bigger in his first scene. For the rest of his screen time, puppeteers used the 6ft puppet.
    • One puppeteer walked around in the ghost suit, while the eyes and mouth were remote controlled.
      • Jerry Nelson operated the face while Don Austin did the body movement.
      • Nelson was one of the first puppeteers to join The Jim Henson Company back before The Muppet Show even began!
    • The Ghost of Christmas present only lives on Christmas day, which is why he grows old and gray before leaving–”Over 1800 of my brothers came before me” show many years of Christmas.
    • This ghost is where the movie differs in tone from the book. Originally, his scenes are much darker, and the ghost does not let up when Scrooge finally realizes that he cared for the fate of Crachit’s son. This is the famous scene where the ghost uses Scrooge’s earlier words against him, “well if he is to die, then he better do it and decrease the surplus population…” 
      • In the George C Scott version, which is more tonally like the novel, the ghost of Christmas present says, “…perhaps, in the future, you will hold your tongue until you have discovered where the surplus population is, and WHO it is. It may well be that, in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than MILLIONS like this poor man’s child.”
  • The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
    • For his entrance, they filled the stage with smoke. They could only do one take, because the smoke was so thick, it would take hours for it to clear so they could shoot again.
    • With this ghost, Scrooge visits the Crachits once again. This time, the scene was written and filmed to be identical to when Scrooge saw this with the ghost of Christmas present–to further drive home the fact that Tiny Tim is gone.
    • The ghost is moving on a train track with the actor standing on a platform, and he was performed by Don Austin and Rob Tygner.

STARRING

  • Michael Caine as Ebeneezer Scrooge
    • Brian Henson said that Caine is one of those great actors that can lock into emotion in a scene.
    • He was their first choice for the role.
    • Michael Caine insisted when playing the role to act as though he was in the Royal Shakespeare Company working with real actors and not Muppets. His dramatic portrayal, while intimidating at first, brought Scrooge to life.
    • In an interview with Entertainment Tonight Caine said “I mean, people say: ‘Never make pictures with animals or children.’ They ought to try Muppets. They are the biggest scene stealers of all.”
  • The Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens
    • Both Gonzo and Rizzo are not meant to be part of the story, but at the end when Scrooge taps them on the head, it’s meant to signal to the audience that they are now part of the story, which brings closure to the characters.
  • Kermit the Frog as Bob Crachit
    • Rizzo the Rat as himself.
    • When we see full-body Kermit, 10 puppeteers would operate him.
    • This film is the first one where Steve Whitmire steps in to fill Jim Henson’s shoes after his sudden death. When talking about the movie Steve recalls being scared to take on such an important role, that means so much to everyone. He also described to The Guardian a dream he had before filming began, where he tells Jim Henson that he is nervous about taking over Kermit. In the dream Jim thinks for a minute and then simply says “It’ll pass.” 
  • Miss Piggy as Emily Crachit
    • They were worried that Miss Piggy wouldn’t really be able to pull off the role of Emily Crachit because she was supposed to be this perfect housewife, so the character does some very “piggy” things like sneaking some chestnuts and mixing up the names of her children. 
    • Frank Oz performed Piggy, as he had for years, and the other puppeteers like to make fun of Oz for the way he performs the character, which is why Belinda and Betina, the young pigs, shame Piggy for sneaking chestnuts
  • Fozzi Bear as Fozziwig, played by Frank Oz
    • Fezziwig is the name of the original character.
  • Statler and Waldorf as Marley and Marley, played by Jerry Nelson and Dave Goelz.
  • Robin as Tiny Tim
    • Jerry Nelson voiced Robin, who is Kermit’s nephew in the muppet-verse.
  • Bean Bunny as caroler, played by Steve Whitmire
    • When Bean Bunny was created he was meant to be so sickeningly sweet that the cast and crew loved to hate on him. He would be so cute and almost pathetic seeming that he would become a fan favorite. Muppet Christmas Carol is Bean Bunnies most well known appearance but has been in several Muppet shows and movies.
  • Rowlf the Dog as himself
    • Rowlf was Jim Henson’s character, and this was his first appearance after his death, so they didn’t re-cast. They just had Rowlf play piano in the Fozziwig scene instead, as a little nod to Henson.
  • Meredith Braun As Belle
  • Kristopher Milnes As the Young Boy Ebeneezer
  • Ray Coulthard As the Young Man Ebeneezer

RECEPTION

  • A Muppet Christmas Carol was a moderate success at the box office, despite being against Home Alone 2 and Disney’s Aladdin
  • The film’s earnings weren’t spectacular, but better than expected, and it was enough of a success to keep the Muppets alive! Many consider its seamless blend of humor and darkness to be the absolute perfect adaptation of the story, with just the right amount of Muppet Magic.

In the winter of 1843, author Charles Dickens paid his own publishing costs to prove to a disbelieving publisher the marketability of his work. One-hundred-and-forty-nine years later, a young Brian Henson used that same story to prove to audiences everywhere the enduring appeal of The Muppets. For Dickens, the sales were fine, but not spectacular. The same went for Henson. But, luckily for both men, success is not defined by money alone. 

Brian Henson and the rest of the muppet crew (Jerry Juhl, Steve Whitmire, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz and others) were able to carry on the dream of their late friend; a dream that almost certainly would have fizzled out, if not for their dedication and ambition. A Muppet Christmas Carol is a classic, filling homes with laughter and light every holiday season, while carrying on the same important message that Charles Dickens put to paper 177 years ago. 


Sources:

The Case That Returns to Oz

In the summer of 1985, Walt Disney studios released a sequel to one of Hollywood’s most iconic films. Except–it wasn’t really a sequel. There were some characters with the same names, and it was based on the same source material, but the setting and tone were completely different. The director of this new movie, Walter Murch, called it “dark” and “bleak,” and audiences would agree. Disney itself didn’t know how to market the movie, with a dreaded PG rating that was sure to keep parents from taking their children. Their biggest challenge was to shatter the expectations set by the original film, the brightly-colored musical, “The Wizard of Oz.” 

Return to Oz takes place after Dorothy has already visited Oz once before. Concerned for her well-being, Auntie Em takes Dorothy to a mental institution where she will undergo electro-shock therapy. But, during a terrible storm, a mysterious girl appears to help Dorothy escape, and leads her back to the land of Oz. 

Alone with only her chicken, Billina, Dorothy must navigate unfamiliar terrain, like the “Deadly Desert,” and a now-shattered yellow brick road. She discovers that Oz has lost all its emeralds, and its residents have been turned to stone. Much like the original, Dorothy picks up friends along the way–friends like a mechanical man that needs to be wound, a stick-figure man with a pumpkin head, and a flying couch with the head of a moose-like creature called a “Gump.” 

Infamous for horrifying villains, such as: Princess Mombi, an evil witch that stole the heads of beautiful women and keeps them in glass cases; Return to Oz may not be a Halloween movie per se, but it’s definitely scary enough to be considered one!

Packed with horrors from the real world and the land of Oz, this film has enthralled generations of children with its imaginative design and memorable characters. This dark fantasy introduced children to an Oz much closer to the one of the books, and bravely trudged through swampy territory that children’s films of today would likely avoid. 

So friends, mechanical and mythical alike, it’s time to Return to Oz!

AN AMERICAN FAIRYTALE

  • In 1900, a failed actor and journalist published a children’s book that is now considered to be the first truly American fairytale. It was called, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” 
  • L. Frank Baum named the location of his story after the last drawer in his filing cabinet. He gave his main protagonist the name Dorothy, after his infant niece who had just passed away. 
  • It was his mother in law, a notable feminist, who convinced Baum to write for children, and he had published a book of nursery rhymes a couple years before.
  • Baum wrote of a utopia called, “The Emerald City,” and used influences from his own life to create the story of Dorothy Gale, a young girl living a plain life on a farm, who gets transported to a strange fantasy land, filled with witches, talking animals, and metal men.
    • One of the most notable facets of the story is the fact that Dorothy is an ordinary girl, not a witch or a princess, and she becomes her own hero with very little help from her companions (though they do protect her in some dangerous situations.)
    • Baum acted as if the stories were true, and he was the historian of Oz–young readers were meant to believe that Dorothy and Ozma were real people, recounting their stories to him. This technique is similar to Lemony Snicket, another children’s author of a dark fiction.
  • The book has never been out of print, and its fame places it among the ranks of other prominent fairytales.
    • American children know the story of Dorothy as much as they might know about Sleeping Beauty or Little Red Riding Hood.
  • Baum continued to write the story of Dorothy and her adventures in Oz, until his death in 1919. His final Oz book, Glinda of Oz, was published a year later. Other authors continued the series, and there are 40 official Oz books in total, not including unofficial adaptations and sequels! 
  • In the 1930’s, when Walt Disney was working on his first full-length animated movie, he wanted to make “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” next. But, when his brother Roy called the Baum estate, they found that another film studio, MGM, had beat them to the rights! 
    • This resulted in “The Wizard of Oz,” a technicolor marvel that turned Judy Garland into a megastar. This Oz was bright, filled with happy songs, and had notable changes from the book–for example, Dorothy’s magical silver slippers were now ruby!
    • This movie is now one of the most classic films in cinema. This has become the most well-known version of Oz, despite the fact that it is just one drop in the ocean of Oz lore.
  • In 1985, Disney finally produced its take on the Oz universe. This new movie swapped joyful songs for a somber and foreboding film score, and introduced audiences to an Oz filled with dark horrors. 
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SUMMARY

  • Director Walter Murch based Return to Oz on the second and third books in the Oz series: The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz
  • After Dorothy has returned to her normal life in Kansas, she can’t stop thinking about the friends she left behind. One day she finds a key from Oz, and takes it as a message that her friends need her to return. Upset that Dorothy hasn’t moved on from her delusions, Auntie Em takes her to see Dr. Worley, a Psychiatrist. He admits Dorothy to his hospital, and prescribes electro-shock therapy. Dorothy endures the horrors of being locked in a room, strapped to a bed, and hearing the screams of other patients. 
  • While Dorothy undergoes her first session, a storm knocks out the power, and a mysterious girl appears to help Dorothy escape. Dorothy runs from the institution, and climbs into a cage that is soon washed away down the river. When Dorothy wakes, she discovers that she has landed in the Deadly Desert, on the outskirts of Oz, and her chicken Billina has arrived with her, too. 
  • While making her way into Oz, Dorothy discovers a destroyed yellow brick road, and follows it to a bleak and empty Emerald City, where all the residents have been turned to stone, courtesy of the evil Nome King.
  • With the help of Billina and some new friends, Dorothy must escape Princess Mombi and her horrible henchmen, the wheelers (men with wheels for hands and feet), as she confronts the Nome King and demands that he restore Oz to its former glory!

CREATING OZ

  • Director Walter Murch spent 3 years planning and researching for Return to Oz
    • His goal was to present it in the style of early 20th century fantasy, the dark tone and twisted characters were more akin to the original books than the movie of the 1930’s.
    • Murch understood the story for what it was–a fairytale. And if you know anything about fairytales, they aren’t necessarily happy or colorful. He intended to continue the tradition of Oz by celebrating its strangeness. 
  • The scenes set in Dorothy’s Kansas were filmed in Salisbury, England, but the rest of the film was shot on Elstree stages and a studio lot.
  • Production designer Norman Reynolds (who served the same role for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Empire Strikes Back) built a new kind of Oz, with lunch pail trees and a crumbling emerald city, with set decoration by Michael Ford (who also has the same role for the original Star Wars trilogy!)

But, Murch’s biggest focus and concern with regards to Oz, were the fantastic creatures and odd new friends that audiences had never seen on screen.

  • In order to create the many faces in the land of Oz, a huge team was assembled of animators, puppeteers, and sculptors. 
  • They didn’t want to simply make suits for actors to walk in, but to create full-fledged fantasy creatures that the audience would whole-heartedly believe in.
    • The original Wizard of Oz is great, but it was easy to see that the cowardly lion was a man with whiskers. The creative forces behind Return to Oz wanted to avoid this, helping the audience suspend their belief.
  • The characters’ designs were taken directly from the Oz books, with technicians and animators employing similar techniques as they did for The Dark Crystal! Their movements took months of study to create seamless performances between actors and puppeteers alike! 
    • Billina lives on the Kansas farm with Dorothy, and makes her first appearance as the chicken that finds the key sent from Oz to alert Dorothy that her friends are in need of help.
      • Once she has arrived in Oz, Billina can now talk! 
      • Bilina was handcrafted by Val Jones with woven elastic fabric interlaced with wool to which real chicken feathers were then glued to. It was an arduous process but the result was very realistic. 
      • Lyle Conway, the creature design supervisor, said that Billina the chicken was the hardest to create. The puppeteers and technicians practiced for weeks to try to make sure that her movements were familiar and lifelike. They practiced with a closed circuit television to see the movements and make sure they were perfect for filming.
      • Different versions of Billina were used, with the operator’s hand entering from either the back or underside of the puppet. The operator’s fingers would extend through the neck and into two cups at the base of her skull for head movements, while a tiny cable system was responsible for her eye and mouth movement! For the longer, faraway shots, a real chicken took Billina’s place.
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  • Tik-Tok 
    • After Dorothy first arrives at the Emerald City, she meets a mechanical man named Tik-Tok, the royal army of Oz! 
      • In order to work, Tik-Tok needs to be wound. He has dials for thought, speech, and action.
    • Michael Sundin was the actor that had to fit himself inside the round suit, placing his head between his legs and operating the controls of the body.
    • Sean Barret provided the mechanical man’s voice, while Tim Rose used remote control to move his head and eyes.
  • Jack Pumpkin Head is a creature made of sticks with a jack-o-lantern head. He was created by Queen Ozma, and brought to life to scare the evil Princess Mombi! Dorothy meets Jack after she has been captured and imprisoned by Mombi, and he helps her escape.
    • Jack was brought to life by actor Stewart Harvey-Wilson in the suit, with Brian Henson controlling the puppet version of the character! Brian Henson was also the voice of Jack! 
    • The character was difficult because of the difference between the human version and the puppet version. The human was much more stiff and rigid in movement, whereas the puppet was looser and had to have his arms up because of the control levers in them. When he moved his head, his entire torso would move with it. Pons Maar, the lead performance coordinator, taught Stewart-Wilson to be looser and to give little “pops” of movement. 
  • The Gump was a favorite of Walter Murch, a mis-match of items with the head of a green, moose-like creature. Dorothy builds the character out of couches and palm leaves, and uses him to escape Mombi’s castle.
    • Gump was fully mechanical, and cable operated *approximately 20 ft of cable. Those that operated it were just out of view behind scenery or just off camera.
    • Creature design supervisor Lyle Conway was also the voice of the Gump, while Steve Norrington operated his controls.
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  • The Wheelers
    • Return to Oz has quite the group of villains. But, some of the most nightmarish scenes in the film include The Wheelers, a nasty gang of humanoids that have wheels for hands and feet. They also wear terrifying masks atop their heads!
    • The head Wheeler was actually played by the lead performance coordinator, Pons Maar! He was responsible for coordinating movement for The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Man, Jack Pumpkinhead, and sometimes, Tik-Tok! 
      • The Cowardly Lion had a fully mechanized head with a human being in the body.
    • The actors playing The Wheelers began movement training on and off the wheels, which then evolved into just being on the wheels most the day. 
    • The process was grueling, because the performers had to use muscles that they were not used to. Pons Maar said that there was nothing like being on the wheels! Operating these new rigs took 17 actors several weeks to perfect.
    • The Rear wheels were fixed to tennis shoes and leg reinforcements, while the front wheels were built with elbow supports, hand grips and brake mechanisms. 
  • The Nome King is the main villain of the film, who has turned all the inhabitants of Oz into stone and stolen the Emeralds from the Emerald CIty. 
    • Played by seasoned stage actor, Nicol Williamson, the only part of the actor that the audience could see, was his eyes. The rest of him was covered in make-up and prosthetics.
      • The process to make him the Nome King took 5 hours!
    • As the Nome King succeeds in turning Dorothy’s friends into ornaments, he slowly seems more and more human! That is, until the end when he angrily attempts to eat Dorothy and her friends.
    • The Nome King also has minions, other nomes that surround him constantly and spy on Dorothy as she makes her way through Oz. These creatures were stop-motion creations by non-other than Will Vinton! He was one of the people nominated for an Oscar when Return to Oz was recognized for its groundbreaking special and visual effects.

STARRING

  • Fairuza Balk as Dorothy Gale
    • Early on in the movie process, Walter Murch knew it was important to find the perfect Dorothy. Murch took 10 months to search in 8 different cities, auditioning 1500 young girls. He eventually found Fairuza, a 9-year-old from Vancouver.
      • Fairuza was not only a great actress, but she was the same age as the Dorothy character in the books. They dressed her in drab farm clothes to drive home her plainness, this was an every-day girl, lost in an extraordinary land
      • Fairuza did her own stunts, really only being afraid of the scene where the Gump jumps off the balcony, because it was similar to a roller coaster.
    • She is also known for The Craft, American History X, The Waterboy, and Almost Famous!
    • Fun fact: Disney had to pay a large licensing fee in order to use the image of ruby slippers for Dorothy, since the red shoes were unique to the 1939 movie!
  • Piper Laurie as Aunt Em
    • Known for The Hustler, Carrie, and Twin Peaks from 1990-1991.
  • Justin Case as the Scarecrow
    • He has very few credits, but he was also in Superman 3 and Hamlet (1990). Through he is best known for Return to Oz.
  • Nicol Williamson as Dr. J.B. Worley and the Nome King
    • He was the leading role of a different version of Hamlet from 1969. He was also in six episodes of Masterpiece Theatre: Lord Mountbatten.
    • He described the Nome King as being an English Pantomime with an over the top performance.
  • Matt Clark as Uncle Henry
    • He can be found in a few westerns from the 1970’s such as Jeremiah Johnson and The Outlaw Josey Wales. But we know him as Chester the Bartender in Back to the Future 3 which is very fitting!
  • Jean Marsh as Nurse Wilson and the main head, of the multi-faced Princess Mombi
    • Like we said before, there were quite a lot of terrifying villains in Return to Oz, but one that continues to stay burned on our retinas is Princess Mombi and her glass cases filled with human heads.
      • Mombi stole the heads from the beautiful women of Oz, and switches them based on her mood, and sleeps headless.
      • There was apparently a deleted scene, where Princess Mombi chased Dorothy while headless, that was omitted from many versions! 
    • Other heads were portrayed by Sophie Ward and Fiona Victory. The latter being the one that says to Dorothy, “I believe I’ll lock you in the tower for a few years till your head is ready. Then I’ll take it!”
    • Jean plays a similarly evil role as Queen Bavmorda in 1988’s Willow, a less successful George Lucas film.

HIDDEN MEANINGS, COMPLEX THOUGHTS, AND MENTAL ILLNESS, OH MY! 

  • Since the original Oz books were published, there have been many theories about hidden meanings within the stories, and their connection to American politics of the late 19th century.
    • Cue all the history teachers talking about the gold and silver standard AKA the Yellow-Brick Road and Silver Slippers.
  • But, these theories have never been confirmed or proven, and they remain to be speculation. However, there is no denying that Return to Oz (and possibly the Oz books themselves) contained complex themes involving mental illness.
  • In the 1939 Wizard of Oz AND in Return to Oz, the films made a very distinct creative choice: They had actors play roles in both “Kansas” and “Oz.” 
    • This is interesting, because it hints at the idea that Dorothy has used the influences of her world to create the fantastic people and creatures in the land of Oz. BUT, Dorothy doesn’t think that Oz is a dream, at least not in the 1985 version of the story. 
      • Auntie Em sees Dorothy’s delusions as a problem, and she seeks out a popular solution for the time period. Watching the movie now, it can be really easy to criticize her for bringing a young child to a mental institution. But Auntie Em seems to think that Dorothy’s visions and beliefs are causing her to be depressed. 
      • Depression is serious, and Dorothy does seem to be incredibly lonesome without the friends she met (or thought up) from Oz.
  • One prominent theory about Return to Oz, is that Dorothy may suffer from multiple personality disorder, which would explain the reason that she often sees another girl in the mirror. In her mind, this young girl is Ozma, the queen of Oz, but some think she could be the alternate version of Dorothy created in her mind.
  • Some believe it’s possible that Dorothy created Oz to deal with the loss of her home in the tornado. When she undergoes therapy in Return to Oz, a storm comes and gives her a chance to escape. But, what if Dorothy created the delusion of Oz to distract her from her treatment, and she really did undergo the electric shock? 
    • And this begs the question, what really happened that night? Auntie Em says that the institution burned to the ground, but the head nurse is being carted away in a prison, similar to the one Mombi was stuck in. What really happened that night? 
  • When Dorothy wakes up, Auntie Em seems remorseful for putting her in a dangerous situation. But in the end, when Dorothy sees Ozma in the mirror, she doesn’t tell Auntie Em, she knows to keep her “delusions” to herself. Is this the case of a child stifling her active imagination? Or is Dorothy in need of help that she may never receive? Or, of course, the third option, is that Oz does exist! 
  • After Dorothy is found safe and returns home, there’s a noticeable change with her Aunt and Uncle–As Uncle Henry seems to find the motivation to finally fix the house, and Auntie Em seems warmer toward Dorothy.

THE MARVELOUS LAND OF OZ AND OZMA OF OZ.

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  • Some similarities and differences between the books and movie
    • The Marvelous Land of Oz
      • Dorothy is not in this book, and it instead focuses on a boy named Tip who serves an old self-proclaimed witch named Mombi. This is where the movie gets the name for the villain but it is not the same character. 
      • Tip is the character that creates a scarecrow looking character with a pumpkin head to play a joke on Mombi. Mombi ends up bringing the creature to life and he becomes Jack Pumpkinhead. Tip becomes friends with this creature made of sticks and they escape with the magic powder that brought him to life.
      • The Emerald City is taken over by a woman army led by General Ginger and the characters must flee the city where they find the Tin Man in the Land of the Winkies. 
        • Each of the original characters like the Tin Man and Lion became leaders of the different sections of Oz. Tin Man is leader in the Land of the Winkies and with his help they are able to run off General Ginger and her army from the Emerald City. Soon after though they are planning another escape away for fear that General Ginger will return. This is where they create “The Thing with a Gump’s head.” The palm leaves used to create him were venerated and if taken is punishable by death 7 times and then put in prison. The Gump helps the group but is embarrassed to be a mixture of items. 
        • Other things happen but they return to the Emerald City to defeat General Ginger and capture Mombi who knows the secret of where Ozma (the true heir to the Emerald City Throne) is. It is revealed that Mombi had changed Ozma into the boy Tip. So she had in fact been there the whole time. Near  the end of the book The Gump implores Ozma to take him apart as a reward, and so she does.
    • Ozma of Oz
      • The movie plot was mostly taken from this book where Dorothy has returned. Just as in the movie, the characters of the Nome King, The Wheelers, and Tik-Tok are introduced.
      • The second half of the movie character of Mombi comes from this book’s character Princess Langwidere. Her physical attributes are similar because she is also able to switch heads.. The difference however, is that Princess Langwidere’s personality changes with each head, meaning that with certain heads she can be good. The book is more preoccupied with the true villain of the Nome King who does not transform into rock like in the movie. 
      • The rest of the book is basically what the movie was but with a few other big differences. One is that Tik-Tok is given a bigger origin story. The next is that the story takes place in The Land of Ev which is next to Oz. And there is a tiger character that is always hungry, specifically for a baby but he knows that it is terrible. The final big difference was that the ending dragged out longer in the book because they must establish the new royalty and piece Oz back together.

RECEPTION

  • Upon release, Return to Oz was not a critical darling. Many praised the movie for its faithful adaptation to the books, while others wondered about the seriousness of the material and whether it was suitable for children. The New York Times’ Janet Maslin said in her review “Children are sure to be startled by the film’s bleakness,” and others would say Dorothy’s friends are as strange as her enemies. This is faithful to the original Oz books, but it didn’t seem to translate to screen the way Murch intended 
    • The film debuted, earning almost $3 million opening weekend, finishing in seventh place. It grossed just over $11 million in North America, but today is considered to be a cult classic
    • Return to Oz received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects, but lost to Cocoon. It additionally received two Saturn Award nominations for Best Fantasy Film.
    • However, it was quite popular in Japan! 
    • When it was released, Return to Oz made it into the Guiness Book of Records for the longest time between a sequel and its prequel, as it was released 46 years after The Wizard of Oz!

Return to Oz is one of those films you can often find on internet lists about movies that scarred us all for life. It was filled with menacing villains and grotesque imagery, with sometimes-creepy characters. Return to Oz was a special effects marvel, combining talent with ingenuity to create a completely believable complex world, that until 1985, only truly existed between the pages of L Frank Baum’s books. 

This movie shouldn’t be solely defined by its scary characteristics alone. It featured a lead character believed to be suffering from mental illness, a child no less, something that many children’s films would shudder to mention. Sure, Dorothy’s friends seem as strange as the villains, but that just teaches us not to judge people on looks alone. Dorothy loves her friends, no matter how odd they may seem. 

Return to Oz is dark and twisted, but uniquely enchanting. It spoke to a lot of children in a way that no other film had before, with complex themes and dark imagery–with a lovable group of misfits too odd for more mainstream audiences. Return to Oz is strange, but in the most wonderful way. 


SOURCES:

The Case of Disney Villain Songs

106495420_644917256122319_263674084724207274_nHello and welcome the Black Case Diaries! We’re in week three of June Tunes, and this time we’re bringing you a ranking of some of our favorite songs in the Disney songbook. 

It’s undeniable that Disney music is an iconic element to the studio’s best animated films. Disney songs have permeated American (and sometimes world) pop culture throughout the last 70 years. Some songs are tender moments between characters while others are show-stopping power ballads that we belt out in our cars. Today, we’re taking a look at some of the most fun and interesting entries in the Disney songbook: The villain songs. 

These songs are incredibly important in terms of introducing the audience to the main antagonist, giving us a look into the mind and motivations of a character. A good villain song is fun to listen to and perform, and it brings (sometimes) much-needed depth to these intriguing characters!

We’re bringing you a top 10 list of our favorite villainous tunes, with some background and history on each. 

  1. The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind (1986)

  • Although it came from Disney’s Bronze or Dark age, The Great Mouse Detective was a fairly successful film
    • Based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the film takes place in the world of mice living beneath the city of London within the Sherlock Holmes universe.
    • One of the stand-out features of this film is its score by the legendary composer Henry Mancini.
      • He was so prolific and meaningful to American music that we have unintentionally mentioned him or his work in all three of our June Tunes episodes so far–we didn’t mean to, he’s just that important
      • He was known for creating The Pink Panther theme, Moon River, and Peter Gunn.
    • Although there is only one character-sung arrangement in The Great Mouse Detective, it’s incredibly memorable.
  • The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind was composed by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Larry Grossman and Ellen Fitzhugh.
  • If Henry Mancini isn’t enough to get you excited, it was performed by the one and only Vincent Price with an accompanying chorus! 
    • Interestingly Vincent Price’s character, Egghead, in the 1966 Batman was referred to as “the world’s greatest criminal mind” by the narrator.
  • This song introduces the audience to Basil’s archnemesis: a rat named Ratigan who refuses to believe he is a rat. He rules over his minions, singing gleefully about his exploits as a villain with a supportive chorus of animal cronies. 
  • This song made our top 10 because it effectively captures the whimsical nature of a classic cartoon villain, while demonstrating Ratigan’s evil persona. It’s one of the most upbeat songs about murder and crime we’ve ever heard, with some gaslighting and power-hungry pieces to-boot! 
    • The song features Bill the Lizard as an Easter Egg for Alice in Wonderland! 
  • Notable lyrics: Even Meaner? You mean it? Worse than the widows and orphans you drowned? 
    • Earlier in the song, Ratigan mentions the “Tower Bridge Job.” In an earlier version of the song, there was a lyric that explained this crime further. Apparently Ratigan threw mice into the Thames, and shot the ones that came up to the surface. 
  1. Mother Knows Best (2010) 

    • The next entry on our list is from Disney’s first 3D animated princess film, Tangled!
    • This is also the first song on our list composed by Alan Menken, who was one of the architects of Disney’s Renaissance with his memorable melodies that perfectly matched characters and actor voices.
      • Menken spoke on the uniqueness of Mother Gothel’s character and theme music because she was not only a villain, she was a mother and very much loved by her protagonist daughter. 
      • The song is styled after a classic broadway number, and contrasts musically with the pop-oriented songs in the rest of the film.
      • Alan Menken noted the similarities between Mother Gothel and Frollo from Hunchback–the parallels in how they both held someone captive and brainwashed them into believing that they were good.
    • Glenn Slater wrote the lyrics, and had worked with Menken before on Broadway, as well as on the films “Home on the Range” as well as “Sausage Party.” 
    • Performed by Tony and Emmy winning actress Donna Murphy.
    • The song comes within 15 minutes of the film’s opening, and does a great job conveying the relationship between Mother Gothel and Rapunzel. The audience is aware that Mother Gothel is evil and kidnapped Rapunzel, so the context that we view the song is different from how Rapunzel would. Her lies, backhanded compliments, and little digs at Rapunzel give us a glimpse into how she has maintained control over this strong character for so long. Mother Gothel simply raised Rapunzel to not have confidence in herself, so she never thought to stand up to Mother Gothel or question her motives. 
    • Notable lyrics: 
      • Mother knows best, Take it from your mumsy
      • On your own, you won’t survive
      • Sloppy, underdressed, immature, clumsy
      • Please, they’ll eat you up alive
      • Gullible, naïve, positively grubby
      • Ditzy and a bit, well, hmm vague
      • Plus, I believe, gettin’ kinda chubby
      • I’m just saying ‘cause I wuv you

  1. Gaston (1991) 

  • When we first meet Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, we see him more from Belle’s perspective as he unsuccessfully tries to woo her. After she turns down his (frankly disturbing) offer to be his “little wife,” Gaston’s friends cheer him up with a song about how great he is. Imagine every jerk who has ever been turned down getting his own musical number sung by his drunk buddies and you have “Gaston”!
  • Beauty and the Beast’s songs were written by the legendary duo of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. The melody is reminiscent of a jaunty bar tune, while the lyrics achieve a level of comedy not quite reached in other villain songs.
    • The song was compared to the work of Lerner and Loewe, which Menken has cited as an influence to his music before.
    • It is later reprised in the film with one of the funniest lines in any Disney song: 
      • “Lafou I’m afraid I’ve been thinking,”
      • “A Dangerous pastime–”
      • “–I know” 
    • Some of the song lyrics were meant to be test lyrics, but were so popular throughout development, they ended up being in the final recorded song.
  • Performed by Richard White, Jesse Corti, and Chorus.
    • Richard White is an opera singer and his only acting credits on IMDB are for roles in which he voiced Gaston, even as late as the early 2000’s.
    • Jesse Corti, who played Lafou, is a prolific voice actor for video games and movies.
  • Notable lyrics
    • No one shoots like Gaston
    • Makes those beauts like Gaston
    • Then goes tromping around wearing boots like Gaston
    • I use antlers in all of my decorating!
    • My what a guy, Gaston!
  1. Cruella De Vil

  • One Hundred and One Dalmatians is from 1961 and a part of Disney’s Silver Age.
    • Walt Disney based this movie on the children’s novel by Dodie Smith titled The One Hundred and One Dalmatians. 
    • The film follows Pongo and Perdita, two lovely dalmatians that bring their human masters(Roger and Anita) together. Perdita then has puppies that incidentally are coveted by Cruella De Vil. She kidnaps them and the parents must find them before she turns them into fur coats. 
  • Written by Mel Leven.
  • Performed by Bill Lee.
  • This song is sung by the character Roger who introduces us to Anita’s old “devoted” school mate as she has pulled up to their home. He had just finished the melody and when he saw her approaching was inspired by her name for the lyrics. His expressions and body movements during the song help to clearly illustrate her evil and menacing nature. What is neat about this is that once Cruella is in the house Roger has moved to the upstairs where he continues to play her theme with musical instruments such as the piano and trumpet. He finally mocks her after she has left by wrapping a sweater around his upper body and holding something similar to her cigarette and holder.
    • It is one of only two villain songs made by protagonists in mocking. The other being The Phony King of England in Disney’s Robin Hood.
  • Notable lyrics: 
    • If she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will
    •  She’s like a spider waiting for the kill
    • She ought to be locked up and never released 
    • The world was such a wholesome place until Cruella, Cruella De Vil
  1. Friends on the Other Side

  • Princess and the Frog is from 2009 and a part of Disney’s Revival.
      • While Princess and the frog took inspiration from classics like The Brothers Grimm Frog Prince and E.D. Baker’s The Frog Princess, it also used the life experiences of Leah Chase whose life story was used for Tiana’s background and goals.

    • The film follows Tiana, who is a hardworking young woman that in life just wants to make her dream of owning a fine dining restaurant a reality. Life becomes a bit more challenging when she happens upon Prince Naveen who has been turned into a frog by the evil Dr. Facilier. Believing that she may become a princess by kissing him she is then also turned into a frog unexpectedly and they must find a cure together.
  • Music and lyrics by Randy Newman.
  • Performed by Keith David.
  • This song introduces us to Dr. Facilier and his friends on the other side. It also serves the purpose of letting us know how Naveen has come to become a frog before he is to meet Tiana.
    • The evil character Dr. Facilier, AKA The Shadow Man, begins by telling Lawrence (Naveen’s valet) to not disrespect him.  From there he proceeds to make Lawrence and Naveen feel welcome enough to have their fortunes read by tarot cards. Once he has done this and convinced Naveen that his future is rich, and Lawrence that his fortune in life will be switched with Naveen’s, he proceeds to change Naveen to a frog and gives Naveen’s appearance to Lawrence.
  • The song takes after The Little Mermaids “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” considering that both songs elaborate on the villain’s capabilities and lures the protagonists into a trusting and false sense of security. This provides the villains with willing subjects in their evil plans. 
    • In order to falsely lead Naveen into the trap he reveals a tarot card that shows Naveen as wealthy but if you look closely there is a lilypad underneath him that signifies the unstable truth. The lyrics during this reveal are “And when I look into your future it’s the green that I see.”
  • Notable lyrics: 
    • You do have have a soul, don’t you, Lawrence?/ Make your wildest dreams come true
    • I got voodoo, I got voodoo/ I got things I didn’t even try/ And I got friends on the other side
    • It’s the green that I see 
    • I hope you’re satisfied/ But if you ain’t, don’t blame me/ You can blame my friends on the other side 
  1. I Wanna Be Like You

  • The Jungle Book is from 1967 and a part of Disney’s Silver Age.
    • It is very loosely based on The Jungle Book written by Rudyard Kipling in 1894. They reconstructed it into a fun feel good family film with wonderful music.
    • The animated classic follows Mowgli, a young boy who was abandoned and raised by wolves, and now must be convinced to leave the jungle for fear of his life. He is joined by Bhageera the panther and Balloo the carefree bear.
  • Music and lyrics by the Sherman Brothers.
  • Performed by Louis Prima and Phil Harris.
  • In this song we are introduced to King Louis and his desire for the secret of fire. We see what a smooth talker he is and how hypnotic his personality can be. Bagheera sees right through this act and tries to rescue Mowgli with the help of Baloo as a distraction.
  • Richard Sherman said he and his brother aimed for a jazz sound, with a Dixieland-like melody. He said “when we first got an idea for ‘I Wanna Be Like You,’ we thought, an ape swings from a tree, and he’s the king of apes. We’ll make him ‘the king of the swingers.’ That’s the idea, we’ll make him a jazz man.” 
    • The “scat dialogue” between Baloo and King Louie came from two recording sessions. Louis Prima recorded first, with the intent that Baloo would simply repeat after him, but Phil Harris decided not to and made up his own.
  • Notable Lyrics: 
    • What I desire is man’s red fire to make my dreams come true
    • Ooh-bi-doo, I wan’na be like you/ I want to walk like you, talk like you, too
    • You see it’s true, an ape like me/ Can learn to be like you, too
  1. Mine, Mine, Mine (1995)

  • The fourth film scored by Alan Menken for Disney was Pocahontas, with lyrics by the Broadway great Stephen Schwartz. 
    • After Disney suggested the two men work together, Menken felt that Schwartz’s lyrics were the perfect combination of classic, theatre, and folk influences.
    • Schwartz is most known for his contributions to Broadway with Pippin, Godspell, and Wicked.
  • Sung by Governor Ratcliffe, “Mine, Mine, Mine” is a heavily European influenced song that introduces the audience to the intentions of the British settlers, and their lack of respect for the land they have invaded.
    • It contrasts the idealism of John Smith’s character with Ratcliffe, and plays on the double entendre of the word, “Mine.” 
    • The upbeat melody and joyful singing of the chorus gives us a look into how the settlers see themselves, despite the damage they intend to do. We can’t help but be drawn to the loud, happy sounds of a full orchestra pounding out an upbeat melody, climaxing with one of the best musical breakdowns in Disney song history.
    • In the original version, the song was meant to end with a wide shot showing the destruction of the land, bringing the audience back to the harsh reality of what they just happily watched.
      • This did not do well with test audiences, so Disney changed the scene to end with Ratcliffe’s maniacal smile instead.
  • Performed by David Ogden Stiers, Mel Gibson, and Chorus.
    • Stiers was a prolific voice actor in films like Lilo and Stitch (he played Jumba) and on TV shows like Teacher’s Pet and The Regular Show.
    • Before Pocahontas he played Major Charles Winchester on MASH.
    • Mel Gibson voiced John Smith.
  • Notable Lyrics
    • So go for the gold; We know which is here; All the riches here; From this minute; This land and what’s in it is Mine!
  1. Be Prepared (1994)

  • The Lion king is from 1994 and a part of Disney’s Renaissance.
    • This movie is known to be an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. 
    • Simba is meant to inherit Pride Rock and all the lands surrounding it but when his Uncle Scar’s dastardly plan succeeds Simba must run away for fear that everyone will blame him for his father’s death.
  • Music by Elton John (uncredited).
  • Lyrics by Tim Rice (uncredited).
  • Arranged and Produced by Hans Zimmer.
  • Performed by Jeremy Irons, with Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and Jim Cummings.
  • In this song Scar points out the stupidity and faults of the hyenas and even before the song had pointed out their failure to kill Simba. He then proceeds to persuade them that if they join with him and follow his lead that they will rule the Pride. The second half of the song he tells them to prepare and lays out his plan to kill the King.
    • A reprise of the song was cut because after Mufasa’s death they felt that it was inappropriate.
      • The first was an attempt to seduce Nala to be his Queen.
      • The second was to the lionesses after Simba’s departure to persuade them to allow the hyenas on the Pride. 
  • Jeremy Irons reported that after the line “You won’t get a sniff without me!” his voice gave out and so they had to have Jim Cummings finish the song.
  • The beginning lyrics “I never thought hyenas essential/ They’re crude and unspeakably plain/ But maybe they’ve a glimmer of potential/ If allied to my vision and brain…” was cut for the movie but are in the musical and on the official soundtrack. 
  • During this song the hyenas perform a goose step which was fashioned after footage of the Nazi troops marching in Berlin with Hitler observing them.
  • Scars character in Kingdom Hearts II is named Groundshaker, which references that there is an earthquake that reshapes all the terrain during the song.
  • Notable lyrics:
    • Shenzi and Banzai: No king! No king! La-la-la-la-la-la!
      • Scar: Idiots! There will be a king!
      • Banzai: Hey, but you said, uh…
      • Scar: I will be king! Stick with me, and you’ll never go hungry again!
    • A shining, new era/ Is tiptoeing nearer
      • Shenzi: And where do we feature?
      • Scar: Just listen to teacher
  1. Hellfire

  • If we laid out all the plans of Disney’s villains, Frollo’s intentions are quite possibly the most evil. This song is unique from some other Disney villain songs, because it doesn’t exactly introduce the audience to Frollo. The soundtrack of Hunchback hints at Frollo’s personality with his sung piece before “Out There,” which gives “Hellfire” a bigger payoff. 
    • Starting just after the sweet and soft theme of “Heaven’s Light” sung by Quazi Moto, Hellfire stands in stark contrast. The song begins with love and idealism, and leads into a dark ballad of lust and conflict.
    • In this song, we get a grotesque look into the mind of Frollo, a man who sees himself as right and just, and blames everyone around him for his own faults.
      • More specifically, Frollo doesn’t understand his lust for Esmerelda, referring to her as a siren. Knowing that sex without love is a sin, Frollo arrives at the grim ultimatum that he will burn her at the steak if she doesn’t choose to love him.
    • At the end of the song, God answers Frollo’s prayers when a guard alerts him that Esmerelda has escaped, giving him one more chance to let her go and choose heaven over hell.
    • Frollo exhibits some form of each of the seven deadly sins in the song, most notably lust, pride, and wrath.
  • Alan Menken, the film and song’s composer has pointed out the similarities between Frollo and Mother Gothel. While he used Broadway music elements in Mother Gothel’s song, Menken relied on the choral tones and instruments often used in church music to drive home the song’s theme of religious hypocrisy. 
    • Throughout the film, Frollo exercises his holier than thou attitude, using his position in the church to commit atrocities that the church itself would condemn.
    • The priests that appear in the song sing, “mea culpa” which means “My fault.”
  • Stephen Schwartz returned to bring words to Hunchback of Notre Dame.
  • Performed by Tom Hulce, David Ogden Stiers, Tony Jay, and Chorus.
    • Hulce is a tony-winning musician and actor. He was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Mozart in Amadeus.
  • Notable Lyrics
    • It’s not my fault; I’m not to blame; It is the gypsy girl; The witch who set this flame; It’s not my fault; If in God’s plan; He made the devil so much stronger than a man
    • Hellfire; Dark fire; Now gypsy, it’s your turn; Choose me or Your pyre; Be mine or you will burn
  1. Poor Unfortunate Souls

  • The Little Mermaid is from 1989 and a part of Disney’s Renaissance period.
    • It is loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen Danish Fairy Tale.
    • We follow the young mermaid Ariel and her fantasy to live on the surface of earth where she can walk and be free. In order to obtain this life she must make a deal with Ursula the sea witch.
  • Music by Alan Menken.
  • Lyrics by Howard Ashman.
  • Performed by Pat Carroll (Ursula).
    • Howard Ashman recorded a version of the song with himself in the role of Ursula, to send to Carroll to convince her to take the role, which it did. Carroll admits that she even borrowed some of the inflections she used in the song from Ashman, and that he was delighted she had done so.
    • Before this song was written, Ursula was originally going to sing a song called “Silence is Golden”. The lyrics of this were partly reused in “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”
    • The song combines Broadway theatre with Burlesque and serves as the leitmotif for Ursula throughout the film.
  • Notable lyrics:
    • But on the whole I’ve been a saint/ to those poor unfortunate souls
    • It’s she who holds her tongue who gets a man!
    • I’m a very busy woman and I haven’t got all day/ It won’t cost much. Just your voice!

Honorable Mentions

Savages

  • Savages (Part 2) (1995)
  • Music by Alan Menken
  • Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
  • Performed by David Ogden Stiers, Jim Cummings, Judy Kuhn, and Chorus

Kill the Beast

  • Music by Alan Menken
  • Lyrics by Howard Ashman

Shiny

  • Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Siamese Cats

  • Music by Oliver Wallace
  • Lyrics by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke

The Elegant Captain Hook

  • Music by Sammy Fain
  • Lyrics by Sammy Cahn

Headless Horseman 

  • Performance by Bing Crosby

The Phony King of England

  • Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
  • Performed by Phis Harris

Heffalumps and Woozles

  • Music and Lyrics by the Sherman Brothers

Mad Madam Mim

  • Music by George Bruns
  • Lyrics by the Sherman Brothers
  • Preformed by Martha Wentworth

Sources:

 

The Historical Case of Pixar

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Welcome back to our month of Animation! So far we have covered animation history, the Disney Exodus, and the beginnings of some of our favorite animation studios. But today we are going to focus on one particular studio that hopped into the animation world back in the mid-1980’s, and completely changed the game. 

Since its first feature film in 1995, Pixar has been a symbol of animation excellence. Not only that, it became known for rich, original storytelling that engaged audiences while pulling on their heartstrings. Although Pixar has been owned by Disney since the mid-2000’s, for the most part it still stands on its own under the mouse-ear umbrella.

Today we’re taking a long look at Pixar Animation Studios; and we’ll start, as always, from the beginning. 

Humble Beginnings

    • Our story begins in 1979, when director George Lucas had an idea.  He wanted to create a company that would work on creating new digital tools.  Among these goals were nonlinear film and sound editing systems, a laser film printer, and further advances within computer graphics.
    • His solution was to create a Computer Division of LucasFilm, dedicated to making these advancements in film technology. He hired Ed Catmull to head the team. 
  • Key Players

    • Ed Catmull
      • Ed wanted to be an animator so he drew a lot but he didn’t believe that he had enough talent. As a young man he went to The University of Utah School of Computing where he took a class.  It was Physics and Computer Science and he fell in love. It married everything he wanted; science, art, and programming all together. Here he would create a short computer animated film of his left hand which would be later featured as the very first use of 3D animation in a live action film.  The film was Futureworld, a science fiction film from 1976.
          • Futureworld is the sequel to Michael Crichton’s Westworld

        • After graduating he was hired by New York Tech to be the leader of a new computer graphics department.  Their goal was to create art using new computer tools and techniques. This is where he developed “Tween,” which gave the ability to draw and paint straight into the computer.
    • Alvy Ray Smith
      • Smith graduated with an M.S.E.E. and P.h.D. in computer science at Stanford University.  In the years 1975-1979 he would be the senior scientist at New York Institute of Science. 
      • In 1980 he was hired on to be the Director of Computer Graphics for the computer division of Lucasfilm.
  • Computer Division’s Graphics Group 

    • In 1982 the Computer Division’s  Graphics Group got to finally show what it was made of.  In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan they put the first completely animated sequence in a feature film.

      • Each new project was a chance to challenge each other. To make both better art and better technology.
        • Lasseter in the 2007 Netflix documentary “The Pixar Story” says “The art Challenges Technology, the technology inspires the art.” 
    • John Lasseter
      • John Lasseter was attending CalArts (founded by Disney) where the teachers were those who came out of retirement to teach- yes some of “The Nine old men” such as Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.  Some of his classmates were greats like Tim Burton, John Musker, and Brad Bird. The atmosphere was collaborative, fun, and creative. After graduating CalArts in 1979 he was immediately hired by Disney and helped with such films as The Fox and the Hound.  
      • Although there was a big opportunity for computer graphics within film at this time there was also a little bit of fear in it.  Would animators lose their jobs? Would this take away jobs? Lasseter was willing to take the risk and pushed forward to make it happen.
      • He was given the chance to put together (with his team) a storyboard for The Brave Little Toaster in which he would finally get to be a director.  In this movie he would also be able to show off the blending of traditional animation style with that of computer generation. As we talked about last week and before this would not come to be.  After pitching the movie to the head of the studio (Ed Hansen) and being asked how much it would cost, he was told there was no reason to do computer animation unless it cost less than their current methods or was faster.  Approximately 5 minutes after the pitch he was called into Ed Hansen’s office and let go, for his project had been completed. 
      • In 1983 he was asked to do freelance work for Lucas Films’ Computer Graphics Group.  By the following year he was hired full time as an Interface Designer. This title was meant to be looked over and to not draw attention.  He would be their key to character animation.
    • Early Achievements 

      • The Adventures of Andre and Wally B
        • Directed by Alvy Ray Smith, this was the first use of character animation within the computer animation realm. This new type of animation lent itself well to complex characters, hand painted textures, and motion blur.  Motion blur had not been a possibility with traditional animation, which made this computer graphics animation special.
        • When Lasseter conceived  this particular animation he remembered how geometric Mickey Mouse is and realized how well geometric characters would work within computer generated shorts.

          • Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) -Available on Prime Video
            • In this scene a stained glass man comes to life and readies a sword meant to murder the character of Vicar within a church.
            • This scene took a total of a year and a half to make a 31 second scene.
            • It’s Visual Effects were nominated for an Academy Award and many did not know how it was accomplished

    • In order to improve speed and resolution they created the Pixar Image Computer.  This was, at the time, the most powerful graphics computer of its day. It had the ability to convert high resolution imagery into 3D and because of this was implemented in medical imaging and satellite photo analysis.  
      • The team tried to sell this technology in limited markets to stay afloat but ultimately it did not sustain their needs or George Lucas’s attention.
      • Lasseter and Catmull were set on the ultimate goal of making animated films but the budget was just not there.
        • In order to keep the team together Catmull and Alvy Smith convinced Lucas to allow them to branch off from the graphics division and create a new department named after their graphics machine, Pixar.
          • What they needed now was an investor. 
  • Steve Jobs

      • Steve Jobs had been 21 when he co-founded the Apple Computer. By 30 he was a multimillionaire.  While he was still with Apple he met Alan Kay, who told him about Pixar– their history and potential.  They hopped in a limousine and went for a visit to Lucas Film. Jobs met Ed Catmull and believed in him and his dream.   
        • He was Pixar’s financial savior in 1986.  He invested $10 million to launch Pixar.  

PIXAR

    • Now that the team finally had the funding they needed, Lasseter suggested that they make a short film introducing themselves to the world. This manifested into what would become their mascot and symbol of optimism and determination.  It was of course “Luxo Jr.” 
      • Lasseter wanted to build upon the geometric ideas of The Adventures of Andre and Wally B and keep the integrity of an object’s movement.  As he was staring at a traditional Luxo lamp, he began to play around with it and thus the idea came.   
        • It was the first three dimensional computer animated film to be nominated for an Oscar and John Lasseter’s directorial debut.
        • After success with Luxo Jr the team starts to produce more shorts such as…
          • “Red’s Dream” about a unicycle that wanted to perform in the circus.
          • 1988’s “Tin Toy” where a wind up toy is victimized by a baby.
            • In 1989, it became the first 3D animated short film to win an Oscar
          • 1989’s “Knick Knack” about a snow globe snowman who essentially just wants to party.
      • Disney attempted to hire Lasseter back after each new short film he made. Lasseter suggested that he could just make a film for Disney while at Pixar, but Disney insisted that all Disney animated films will always be made at Disney.
        • What changed their mind was Tim Burton. Burton (while employed at Disney) developed an idea for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Burton went on to become a successful live-action director and tried to buy the idea back from Disney. They eventually asked him to simply make the film for them. This opened the door for John and Pixar to show what these niche animated films could really do.
    • Commercials
      • During the 1990’s in order for Pixar to make money they started to do what anyone would. Commercials.  Not for themselves but for companies such as Trident, Listerine, and Tropicana. In order to streamline this process they hired two recent graduates from CalArt: Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton, who would later go on to direct some of Pixar’s later films.
      • As they continued to produce commercials, they got their first agreement with Disney in 1991.  The agreement stated that they were “to make and distribute at least one computer-generated animated movie.”  Pixar then began to work on what would eventually become Toy Story.
        • Toy Story went on to be a huge hit, making over $363 million worldwide. As traditional hand-drawn animation was becoming less profitable, attention would quickly turn to Pixar as the future of the industry.
          • The next big step would be to figure out how often they needed to produce a film in order to sustain the studio. Lawrence Levy, whom Steve Jobs had hired as the Chief Financial Officer, said in his 2016 book that  “Another option was to release a film every eighteen months. We could still hit the two big release windows, a summer release one year, a winter release the next, although the financial numbers did not work as well as they would if we released a film every year. We would need big hits, and any disappointment would hurt more. But we could make a case that a film every eighteen months might work, and this is where we compromised.”
      • In 1996 after putting out Toy Story, Pixar announced that it would cease making commercials in order to focus on making feature length films. 

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  • The Lunch

    • In 1994, Pixar was finishing up Toy Story. As the question of what would come next loomed above their heads, director John Lasseter and writers Pete Docter, Joe Ranft, and Andrew Stanton went out to lunch for a brainstorming session.
    • During this meeting, the men came up with the rough ideas and sketches for the Pixar films that would astound audiences for years to come: A Bug’s Life, Monster’s Inc, Finding Nemo, and WALL-E.
      • Those four movies made nearly 1 billion dollars, and were together nominated for 15 Oscars.
    • Andrew Stanton was quoted saying, “There was something special that happened when John, Joe, Pete and I would get in a room. Whether it was furthering an idea or coming up with something, we just brought out the best in each other.”
    • A Bug’s Life
      • Pixar’s follow-up to Toy Story was meant to be an epic about a small world; they specifically wanted a new story instead of a Toy Story sequel, because they wanted to be inspired by new characters and ideas.
      • It borrowed from the Aesop fable: The Ant and the Grasshopper. 
      • The movie was a critical and box office success and cemented Pixar’s status as an animation giant.
    • Monster’s Inc
      • In 2001, Monsters Inc brought storytelling at Pixar to a new level. They had shown audiences the perspective of our toys, and the point of view from the ants on the ground. Now, audiences got to see the world through the eyes of the monsters that hide in our closets.
      • The creator’s behind Monsters Inc were tasked with creating an entirely different world. This was the first Pixar movie to do this! 
      • Directed by Pete Docter, Monsters Inc also seemed to hold a new level of emotion that the other films had just touched on. When you ask someone who grew up with Monsters Inc, they often cite it as a movie that makes them emotional, something Pixar is now known for. 
    • Finding Nemo                   
      • Released in 2005 it included a re-mastered version of “Knick-Knack” at the beginning and was directed by Andrew Stanton.
      • The supporting characters were drawn with inspiration from classic movies.  Examples would be Gil had Clint Eastwood’s squint, Bloat was based on George Kennedy’s character in Cool Hand Luke, and the Tank Gang borrowed the neuroses of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. 
      • The drop off was both metaphorical and real.  It required Nemo’s dad to brave the unknown outside his home and the terrifying reality of how deep the ocean truly is.
    • WALL-E
      • Wall-E performs the entire first act of the film alone, a feat that no other Pixar character has been tasked with. The filmmakers gave him enough personality through pantomime that audiences fell in love with the little robot by the time more characters were introduced. 
      • Filmmakers used a Star Wars film veteran Ben Burtt to help with the sound design, because every noise was part of Wall-E’s language. 

Conclusion

  • We will cover more about Pixar and its evolution as a film studio some other time. Heck, we might even do some episodes about their specific films! *hint hint* 
  • But, until then, just remember that with hard work and 10 million dollars, you can make anything happen!

Sources

The Case of the Disney Exodus

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Hey everyone, welcome back to our series on Animation! Last week, we ended on a high (ho) note with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This week, we’re continuing to look at the development of other major animated film studios. 

There was a time when Walt Disney Studios ruled over all others in terms of animation. Even as other studios created valuable work, Disney was constantly thought of as the leader in animation techniques and innovation. It was THE studio to work for as an animator, and no other seemed to rival it. 

But, all fairy-tales must end, even for Disney. Today, we are talking about The Disney Exodus; an event that took place over the course of a few decades, but ultimately occured in the late-70’s and early 80’s, when animators left the studio to pursue other projects–taking their skills and ideas with them. Before we start discussing the Exodus, let’s take a look at The Disney Era. 

The time period of 1928 – 1941 is often known as The Golden Age of animation. To some, it’s also called “The Disney Era.” During this time, there were more technological advancements in animation than any other time period. To put this into perspective, this era starts with Steamboat Willie and ends with the breathtaking “Fantasia.” It only took Disney’s studio 12 years to make these advancements, and the world took notice. 

It’s important to recognize that part of this achievement came from Disney’s willingness to sacrifice profit to make his films the best they could be. 

  • One example of this is “The Skeleton Dance.” Disney could have easily stuck to making Mickey cartoons, but his ambition led him to show audiences a glimpse of what animated storytelling could be. This was a mood piece, vastly different from the thousands of cartoons that audiences were used to, and it planted the seeds for Fantasia and other films to come.     

While Disney was focusing on realism, other studios continued to animate in a more cartoonish style. Because animation is an incredibly broad topic, we will talk about the Studio cartoons some other time! 

Disney’s Silver Age

Throughout the 40’s & 50’s, Disney’s studio experienced its silver age, with classics such as Peter Pan, The Lady and the Tramp, and of course Sleeping Beauty. Even if the stories or characters seemed flat at times, it was the animation that lifted them up. In Charles Solomon’s book, “Enchanted Drawings,” he describes the scene of Maleficent’s dragon: 

  • “Maleficent hurls herself across the sky as a glittering pinwheel of fire, landing before him in a burst of flame. She shouts a wrathful invocation in her commanding voice, and the chartreuse fires that surround her explode into a mighty column of flame, higher than the turrets of the castle. The black form of the sorceress, darkly silhouetted against the fire, twists and elongates. The shadow waxes and solidifies, as if evil itself were coalescing in that inferno, and becomes an enormous dragon with a terrible horned head and glowing yellow eyes.”  
  • The mastery that Disney’s animators demonstrated in scenes like this is the reason that the studio became synonymous with animation over all the other projects they were attempting at the time.
  • Disney is responsible for elevating the standard of draftsmanship, and their realism in animation was unparalleled. No other studio came close to having their influence. For a while, Walt Disney Studios was the king of animation. 

The Disney Strike of 1941 & UPA

  • When we talk about The Disney Exodus, we often mean what happened with the studio in the early 1980’s. But, more studios were born from disgruntled Disney animators than we might realize.
  • Remember how we said that no one rivaled Disney’s influence? Well, one studio came very close. 
    • United Productions of America or UPA challenged Disney’s realism and incorporated social commentary. Not to mention, they infused experimental graphics in their work
    • Today we know of UPA for its most popular character–Mr Quincy Magoo. In the early 1960’s, UPA created the first animated Christmas special, “Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol.”
    • In 1941, there was a strike at Disney among young men that were interested in the graphic arts, and they thought that animation could be used as a tool for social reform. They were unhappy with the restrictive, Academic style of drawing at Disney, with familiar fairy tales and an emphasis on humor. One member of this group–Bill Melendez–would one day be responsible for bringing Charlie Brown to life in A Charlie Brown Christmas! 
      • These animators eventually formed or joined UPA, which won an oscar for Gerald McBoing-Boing.
      • Cultural critic Gilbert Seldes described UPA, “Every time you see one of their animated cartoons you are likely to recapture the sensation you had when you first saw, ‘Steamboat Willie,’ the early Silly Symphonies, ‘The Band Concert’–the feeling that something new and wonderful has happened, something almost too good to be true.” 
      • UPA had its own style, but it’s important to note that it wasn’t as uniform as Disney. You could see the different influences from individual animators, and the varying degrees of light to heavy subject matter. They even did a short of The Tell-tale Heart!
      • Columbia shut down the animation house in 1949, and sold it to producer Henry Saperstein. He turned it into an TV studio.

The Death of Disney–an abrupt end to the Silver Age

  • The death of Disney caused a shift in the studio, as it would be expected. The films made by Disney leading up to that point were the work of many different creative people, but they all stemmed from Disney’s vision. The films were somewhat uniform, with a signature style and storytelling that animators were not able to vary from drastically. Variances started to appear in the following years, known as the bronze age or the dark age. 
  • Disney’s death ushered in new leadership that struggled to fill his shoes; the company and its films would never be the same. 
    • Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966.
    • Walt left behind future plans that carried the company for a few years under the supervision of Roy Disney. The Jungle Book and  The Aristocats showed that the company could still make great animation. However it was not the same dynamic company it once was. 
      • The Jungle book is considered to be the end of the Silver Age, mostly because it was the last film that Disney touched before he passed away 
    • Roy did make sure that Walt’s “Florida Project” would come to fruition in 1971, but EPCOT (Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow) never came to be. EPCOT as we know it is not what Walt had in mind.
      • As for the movie business, from the late 60’s on, Disney survived in a lackluster way. There were even rumors that the company would be broken up and sold. 
      • Because the company had leaned so heavily into theme parks and live action films, when Walt’s creativity was gone, there was little “magic” left. This was the feeling for many for almost 20 years.

Don Bluth

  • In 1971, Don Bluth was hired as an animator at Disney. Disney had been gone for 5 years, and the studio had been putting animation on the back-burner so to speak. Live-action films were financially successful, and animation cost a lot of money to produce. Gone was the fearless leader that didn’t mind losing money for quality and new advancements.
    • Many of the animators didn’t question their work, but because he actually first started working for Disney in 1955, he had seen the way the studio worked before Walt had died, and longed for that leadership. 
      • Bluth said in an interview with Steve Henderson that  “Everyone was asking ‘What would Walt have done?’ Which is a strange thing for an artist to say.”  
      • Bluth worked on Robin Hood and The Rescuers and stayed on at Disney for 8 years. One detail that bothered Bluth while animating The Rescuers was that they were instructed not to paint the whites of their eyes because it would cost too much money. 
        • In the 1970’s, the 9 Old Men–the men known for animating Disney’s Golden Age films–were beginning to retire. There was no mentorship, and as these men left, so did their secrets of creating beautiful animation. 
          • This loss in trade secrets bothered Bluth, as the studio didn’t seem interested in re-learning them. Bluth and a fellow animator named Gary Goldman, knew that they would be expected to take leadership roles in the coming years. So, in order to get directing experience, they started their own project in Bluth’s garage called, “Banjo the Woodpile Cat.” 
          • Don Bluth described it, We would look at the old stuff, such as the beautiful water in Fantasia and ask Frank Thomas (one of the “Nine Old Men”) “How did you do that?” and he’d say “I can’t remember, did anyone write it down?” Little things like that would keep happening and we realized we were losing the war with art so we went out and pioneered again to see if we could discover what they had forgotten to tell us.
          • The men used their own equipment, and Bluth pulled animators from Disney for help. Some claim that this project caused a division between the animators at the studio, while Bluth maintains that the atmosphere at Disney was already toxic. He says that no matter how much he tried to bring the heart back to Disney Studios, the corporate side only wanted to make money. 
  • We left because the corporate structure was just too calcified and we couldn’t fix it, we knew they would be angry when we left, and call us traitors and everything else but we knew we had to, to try to resurrect what was beautiful and what Walt believed in and so that is why we left.”-Bluth
    • In September of 1979, Bluth and Goldman left Disney. They took 16 animators with them, delaying the animated studio’s current projects by a year. Their goal was to create a studio that rivaled Disney animation in such a way, that Disney would work harder to bring heart and soul back to their animated films
    • Bluth and Goldman’s first full-length animated film was The Secret of NIMH, an animated treasure that was tonally and visually darker than anything Disney had produced at the time. This film was a major success for the studio because it showed critics that this small, rival studio could compete with an animation giant such as Disney. It was, however, a commercial failure. 
      • A New York Times article said of the film: It’s just this ”old-fashioned” look -rich, fully detailed, opulent and painstakingly achieved – that Messrs. Bluth, Goldman and Pomeroy have sought to recreate, and in this respect, ”The Secret of N.I.M.H.” is something of a technical and stylistic triumph.
      • In the mid-1980s, Bluth teamed up with a man named Morris Sullivan who stepped in just as the studio went bankrupt, and they formed Sullivan Bluth Studios.
        • Sullivan saved the day by investing in the studio. Without him, we wouldn’t have films like The Land Before Time or Anastasia. 
      • Just as Sullivan Bluth was surging back, famed film director Stephen Spielberg approached the studio in the hopes that they could make an animated film. This was even worse news for Disney, as they were losing their place as the leader in animation. 
        • Together, Sullivan Bluth and Steven Spielberg made An American Tale, the highest grossing non-Disney animated film at the time. It even beat Disney’s current release, “The Great Mouse Detective”! 
      • Disney started working to get their footing back with animation, but nothing could stop Bluth and Goldman from making more successful films throughout the 80’s and 90’s. 
        • Spielberg’s success with Bluth also led him to create his own animation studio, Amblin, with releases like “We’re Back,” and “Balto.”

The Mouse-dom Strikes Back 

  • When we last left Disney, their animation studio was falling apart. Some of their best animators had quit, production was delayed, and some feared that this was the end. 
  • In came Michael Eisner (CEO)  and his partner Frank Wells (President)
    • They could see the untapped potential that Disney still had and set about revitalizing the company. 
    • Despite their initial efforts, Disney saw one of its darkest moments with “The Black Cauldron.” It was a financial and critical failure. Not only had the studio lost respect in the animation world, average movie-goers were looking at Disney a little differently.
      • Imagine how we feel right now about Disney animation. When we see a Disney movie is coming out, we all expect good reviews and box office records. This was not the case in the 1980s. 
  • While the studio was staging its comeback, a new film was set to go into production with animator John Lasseter to direct. Lasseter approached the powers in charge and pitched for a film that was a combination of computer and hand-drawn animation. According to Lasseter, they were not interested in this idea since it would not cost any less. They seemed to only want to use a new process if it increased the cost-efficiency of the project. 
    • After that meeting, Lasseter was fired. He was then hired full time at The Computer Division Graphics Group–an early name for PIXAR.
    • Much of the team that worked on The Brave Little Toaster would go on to work at PIXAR as well–some consider it to be a spiritual prequel to Toy Story.

Lack of Teamwork Makes the Dreamworks

    • In 1984, Michael Eisner hired Jeffrey Katzenberg to run the animation studios. During his tenure, Katzenberg put Disney animation back on the map and created what is known as the “disney Renaissance.” 
      • It’s important to note that animation was not the only thing that made the films of the renaissance so successful, but it appeared that the studio was returning to its roots. Before the release of The Little Mermaid, the studio was closer than ever to shutting down.
    • Producing what some call the best Disney movies of all time, such as The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994). 
      • During this time Frank Wells kept the peace between Eisner and Katzenberg, being essentially their counselor as well as colleague.  
        • Disney was doing so well that Katzenberg naturally wanted to advance his career within the company. There was a back and forth as to whether Katzenberg would be leaving the company before the end of his contract or not. There was also a lot of discussion about the amount of money he would be given or giving up if he left.
        • Katzenberg has said that Eisner promised him the position of President if Wells ever left the position in pursuit of another job. According to Katzenberg he said “If for any reason Frank is not here … you are the number-two person and I want you to have the job.”
      • When Wells tragically passed away due to a helicopter accident, tension came to a boil between Katzenberg and Eisner.  
        • Eisner made the decision to eliminate the position of President and force Katzenberg into resignation. He hired two people to take his place; Joe Roth and Richard Frank.
        • Katzenberg later sued the DIsney company and cost them $270 million dollars.
      • Once he was let go from Disney he formed a studio called Dreamworks SKG  with David Geffen and Steven Spielberg. All of whom called Eisner “Machiavellian.” 
        • This is where the story gets interesting.  According to Steve Jobs and John Lasseter, of Pixar, they had pitched the movie concept for “A Bug’s Life” before Katzenberg left Disney. Katzenberg still claims today that he knew nothing about their pitch. His claim is a little hard to believe since Dreamworks’ first movie was “Antz” which had a very similar storyline and name. Recently some new light was shed by Chris Weitz, a writer behind Antz. In an interview with Huffpost he said “We didn’t know that there was that much of a race [to the box office] until late in the process,” he explained, “when it turned out there had even been a fake schedule, which had us completing after ‘Bug’s Life’ was going to be released. We’d been working on this accelerated pace without really knowing exactly why.”
          • Antz ended up beating A Bug’s life to theaters by just over a month in 1998 but made less in ticket sales worldwide.
        • While working on Antz, Dreamworks had also been working on what we would say is their crown jewel.  Released just a few months after Antz, The Prince of Egypt was a project Katzenberg had wanted to do for a long time but had not been able to undertake with Eisner at Disney. We discussed this amazing movie in our Top 10 Non-Disney Animated Classics.
        • Since its beginning Dreamworks has shown that it can and will compete with the Disney machine. They have produced such memorable movies such as Shrek, The Road to El Dorado, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and Madagascar. 
          • Katzenberg  said in an interview that their mission statement is that they “make movies for adults, and the adult that exists in every child.”

If the Disney Exodus teaches us anything, it’s to recognize our own talent and worth. Imagine if these people never spoke out about their ideas? These men picked a battle with a giant, and because of that, we have a much more diverse catalog of animation today. 

In the fight of Disney VS Bluth or Katzenberg, neither side could be declared triumphant. Instead, the audiences that get to share in animation and storytelling are the winners. 

Sources:

The Case of Animation History

92236614_530486834546536_8476213886750556160_nEver since humans have been able to record images, we’ve wanted them to move. From cave paintings and carved ivory on strings, to the blurred drawings of Da Vinci, humans have been obsessed with their art coming to life for thousands of years. Today we refer to this phenomenon simply as animation. Animated films today are the most lucrative kind in the business, earning the medium more respect with each passing year. This week, we’re taking a look at the history of animated films and their evolution throughout early cinema. So bust out your flip-books, pencils, puppets, and clay; it’s time to get animated!

The History of animation

  • What is Animation
    • Animation creates the illusion of movement through still images. In this sense, it has been around since possibly the beginning of history. Paleontologists have uncovered carvings meant to hang from strings that could cast moving shadows on the wall. 
    • The Magic Lantern
      • In his 1645 book, “The Great Art of Light and Shadow,” Athanasius Kircher described a new invention called “A Magic Lantern” which was a box containing a light source and curved mirror. Later, he explained that this could be used to tell a story to an audience. Even though some considered this witchcraft, scientists continued to experiment with the idea. 50 years later, it was used to create the illusion of motion and the first animated entertainments were born.
    • During Victorian times, animation devices were a popular form of entertainment for children and adults. For example, thephenakistoscope” aka the “Phantasmascope,” or “Fantascope” used images painted on a spinning cardboard disc, reflected in a mirror to create the illusion of animation
    • These devices are credited as the precursor to animation, and more recently are thought of as the first GIF! Eventually this toy was replaced by the Zoetrope, and then the Zoopraxiscope invented by Eadweard Muybridge. Muybridge of course was a pioneer in cinematography, which we talked about before. 
  • How is it different from regular film?
    • According to Charles Soloman in his book “Enchanted Drawings,” animation is different from live-action film in two respects: the image is recorded on film frame by frame, and the illusion of motion is created rather than recorded. 
      • Live-action film is exposed in “takes” that can vary in length, and it is projected at the same speed that it was recorded. In animation, each frame is exposed individually
      • He goes on to explain that everything in animation never happened until it was projected, while live-action takes place once when it is recorded and then happens again during projection.
        • By this definition, recorded puppetry isn’t considered animation, but stop-motion is.
  • What was the first animated film?
    • In 1906, J. Stewart Blackton released “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces”. It is a three minute silent short, made with chalk, in which drawings of faces and people were animated against a plain blackboard. 
    • Blackton’s film however, did consist of some small parts showing the artist’s hand in the process of drawing or erasing images. It wasn’t until 1908 with “Fantasmagorie” that we saw the first short comprised entirely of animation. 
    • After many shorts were made, finally in 1917, the first feature-length animation was created. It was a film by the name of El Apóstol. 
    • Originally shown to a South American audience, the film ran for 70 minutes at 14 frames a second, for a total of over 58,000 frames. 
    • Not only is it considered to be the first animated film, it is also credited as being the first profitable animated movie ever made. (Not to say it was a huge success.) 
    • Unfortunately, the only copy of the film was destroyed in a house fire. According to those who did see the film, it was a political satire. 
  • Winsor MCay
    • After J Stuart Blackton essentially invented animated filmmaking, Winsor McCay showed audiences it’s artistic potential and inspired generations of filmmakers.
    • A respected editorial cartoonist, he once said “I never decided to be an artist, simply I could not stop myself from drawing.”
    • McCay believed that he invented the animated cartoons as flip-books! The newspaper would print sequential cartoons on thick paper for children to cut out and bind together as flip-books. They called them “Flippers.”
    • Looking at his comic strips, it’s easy to tell that McCay was thinking about animation. He would make only slight changes from panel to panel instead of using one panel for an entire scene. 
    • His first animated film was “Little Nemo” (1911) based off of his wildly popular cartoon strip.
      • McCay made four thousand drawings for the film on rice paper, and times movements to the second with a stopwatch.
      • This was the first animated picture to contain fully rendered characters, and audiences had never seen any animation move so smoothly and realistically. Some even thought that he had used live actors and trick photography to make the film.
      • McCay’s animations are considered to be 70 years ahead of their time. Some believe his greatest achievement was in 1914 with “Gertie the Dinosaur.”
        • This landmark in animation history was part of McCay’s vaudeville act, and she would seem to respond to his commands.
        • This laid the groundwork for delineating a character’s personality through a unique style of movement. McCay might not have invented animation, but he invented character animation. 

      • This time, audiences understood that this was animation and Gertie still exists as a symbol of the prehistory of life and the prehistory of animation.
      • No one knows why McCay stopped animating, but many assume it was his displeasure with what animation was becoming in the 1920’s. At a dinner in his honor he was remembered saying, “Animation should be an art and that is how I conceived it…but as I see what you fellows have done with it is making it into a trade…not an art, but a trade…bad luck.”
      • McCay’s films survived only by mistake, his son gave them to a friend of his father’s and they sat in his garage for years until uncovered by his son. The men worked to restore the film and transfer it to safety stock. They’re now in the library of congress. 
  • The Cartoon Boom

    • McCay bemoaned the new industry of animation as the processes became streamlined and animated shorts were everywhere. The novelty of moving illustrations had worn off and people didn’t take the medium seriously anymore. This is an attitude that is still somewhat prevalent today. 
    • Thousands of cartoons were created between 1913 and 1928, though only about 200 remain in distribution. The records of their creation have long been destroyed, as studios were constantly merging or dissolving; and because of the lack of serious attention, no one thought to rescue the records. 
    • Many times, more than one studio would use the same characters, and credits were given casually.
    • Four years after Gertie, there were a dozen animation studios in New York alone. Techniques that McCay refined were used to streamline the process, and Raoul Barre created a peg system that would hold paper in place on every drawing board. This system is still in place today!
    • Barre created the first animation studio and was one of the biggest names in silent animation, along with John Bray (aka the Henry Ford of animation because of his assembly-line techniques and animation factory instead of a studio.)
      • Bray also realized that any innovations could be patented.
      • After Earl Hurd patented the use of clear cells in animation, he teamed up with Bray and they essentially had a monopoly on the animation process and forced other studios to pay licenses and royalties. Much of what he claimed to own really belonged to McCay.
    • The most popular and successful cartoon of the silent era was Felix the Cat. His true creator was unknown until the 1970s. Otto Messmer, a cartoonist-turned-animator created shorts for Paramount’s Screen magazine with the then-unnamed Felix the Cat. A producer later gave the cat his name, a play on the Latin words for Cat and Luck.
      • Felix is all black, because Messmer didn’t want to draw outlines. Originally he was angular and dog-like but another animator helped him refine Felix to the rounded shape we know today.
      • What set Felix apart was his facial expressions and his unique character movements, originally inspired by Windsor McCay.
      • In the 1920s, he was the most popular cartoon character in the world.
    • Because of these silent animations, audiences were accepting of the wild expressions and movements of cartoons to come. As Soloman wrote in his book Enchanted Drawings, “Without Dinky Doodle, Colonel Heeza Liar, Bobby Bumps, Oswald Rabbit, Felix the Cat, and KoKo the Clown, there could never have been Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, Tom and Jerry, Betty Boop, and Wile E. Coyote.” 
    • Max Fleischer
      • He emerged in the 1910’s and was inspired by Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur.
      • Unlike Disney, Fleischer’s cartoons were darker and showed the realities of living in the Depression Era. Although they were darker they also brought hope and laughs with them.
      • His philosophy was “If it can be done in real life, it isn’t animation.”
      • When asked about his art career he joked in his 1939 Biography that as he began art as early as when he scribbled on the wallpaper next to his crib.
      • He was so  willing and eager to learn about becoming a cartoonist, that in the early 1900’s he wanted to watch cartoonists work so badly that he was willing to pay $2 to sit and watch.  Luckily The Brooklyn Daily Eagle instead gave him the job of errand boy for $2 per week. This is where he picked up valuable information about photography and photoengraving. 
        • In just one year he was promoted to the Art Dept. where he would create one panel cartoons under the pen name “Mack.” He then began making multi-panel cartoons and became the youngest cartoonist as just a teenager, making two such as Little Algie and then also E.K. Sposher, The Camera Fiend.  Even at this time he was already planning on making moving cartoons.
      • Throughout his career he had the chance to patent inventions such as a non-yellowing touch-up paint but he never did.  His reasoning was to keep these things as a trade secret to make his work stand out and not be exploited for others’ use.
        • One item that he did patent however was the amazing Rotoscope which was simply described as a “Method of Producing Moving Picture Cartoons.”  The name of which is explained by possibly the literalness of the rotation of the projected film during tracing. It could also come from the name of an intaglio printing process called Rotogravure which Fleischer learned about at The Brooklyn Daily Eagle while engraving photos for the newspaper. 
      • Around 1918 Fleischer was hired by Bray as Production Manager, whom he had met while working for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle years before.  With Bray and his studio he worked on many projects but the most notable was Out of the Inkwell which consisted of shorts that were a combination of live action footage and animation.  His brother Dave was also involved and would direct these shorts.

        • In 1921 it was clear that Fleisher’s ideas were straying from the ideas of Bray and so when his brother Dave won $50,000 on a horse race he matched Max’s $800 in the startup of Out of the Inkwell Films, Inc.  This allowed them to pursue their own artistic innovations. Their other brothers Charlie and Joe also came in with helping with mechanics and electrics.
  • The Rise of Disney

    • Obviously the biggest name in animation is Walt Disney. But you already knew that. No one can question the impact Disney has had on animation and the film industry in general. 
    • It was all the way back in 1922 when Disney animated his first short film “Little Red Riding Hood.” 
    • The very next year Walt Disney arrived in California where he made a cartoon called “Alice’s Wonderland.” He would go on to use this as a pilot for a series called “Alice Comedies.” A distributor in New York, M. J. Winkler, contracted to distribute the Alice Comedies on October 16, 1923, and this date became the start of the Disney company. 
    • It was originally known as The Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, where Walt and his brother Roy (who was eight years his senior) were equal partners. The name was soon changed to Walt Disney Studio, at Roy’s suggestion. 
    • Then in 1928, the one and only Mickey Mouse made his debut in a six minute short called “Plane Crazy.” However, the first short to be widely distributed was the famous “Steamboat Willie.” Critically acclaimed for its breakthrough addition of synced audio. 
    • The character was an immediate hit and a lengthy series of Mickey Mouse cartoons followed. 
    • With Disney not being one to rest on his laurels, he continued to innovate and succeed in animation with the release of “Silly Symphonies” in 1929. The series was crucial in giving audiences something to smile about during the Great Depression. 
      • “The Skeleton Dance” and “Three Little Pigs” are two notable entries in the series. The latter won the Oscar for best short film in 1933. 
    • Snow White
      • Toward the end of the 1930’s, Disney was motivated by a desire to reestablish his company as the leading animation studio. He believed that animation was strong enough to keep the attention of audiences for a feature length amount of time.
      • Brand new techniques were even used to create a realism in animation that hadn’t been seen before. They were first shown in “The Old Mill” which marked a defining moment in animation history and was at the time the most technically advanced short.
      • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was a huge risk and financial gamble for Disney. Many, including the New York Times, were skeptical that the studio could live up to the quality of its short films, some going as far as to call it “Disney’s Folly” and expecting a flop. 
        • Even his wife Lillian said “No one’s going to pay a dime to see a dwarf picture.”
      • Snow White cost over six times its initial budget as between 750 and 1000 animators were hired. The estimated budget was 1.7 million, and Disney even remortgaged his house!
      • Lucky for Disney, the film was an overwhelming success and set a new sky-high standard for all animated films to come. 
      • From then on Disney would continue to have ups and downs but never to the same worrying extent again. The next film “Pinocchio,” considered by many to be Disney’s masterpiece, would finally and truly solidify his place in animation royalty. 

Sources:

The Case of Movie Dinosaurs

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This week we dive into a subject Adam has been waiting to discuss… Dinosaurs!!!! We know Adam has been periodically inserting facts about Jurassic Park in many of our other episodes, but this time we discuss the history of dinosaurs in film. We also talk about some of the most well known and loved dinosaurs in these movies by ranking the top five.

History of Dinosaurs in Movies

The word “dinosaur” was coined by Victorian naturalist Sir Richard Owen in 1841, and means “terrible lizard”. The modern meaning is more along the lines of, humongous monster that tramples the getaway car and eats all the supporting actors. Dinosaurs fit perfectly into the role of movie monsters. Many of them were huge, or had good monster characteristics such as spikes, horns, claws and big teeth. It’s not surprising that the history of movies featuring dinosaurs goes back more than 100 years.

  • The first dinosaur movie ever was Prehistoric Peeps in 1905. However Prehistoric Peeps unfortunately is now lost to history much like the dinosaurs it portrayed. Then came Gertie the Dinosaur, in 1914. Gertie is far more famous, and she has the honor of being history’s first dinosaur cartoon.

  • But the real origin of dinos in the spotlight is Brute Force, also from 1914. Brute Force debuted just two months after Gertie did, but Brute Force is live-action, and it contains the origins of every dinosaur special effect to be implemented for the next 60 years. The movie is a short silent drama directed by D. W. Griffith. The film was shot in Chatsworth Park, in California. It is a story of cavemen and dinosaurs, and is a sequel to Griffith’s earlier film, “Man’s Genesis” (1912).
  • It took all the way until 1925 for the first full-length movie to feature dinosaurs to hit theatres. The Lost World. Based on the 1912 book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it tells the story of dinosaurs that survived the mass extinction 65 million years ago. Sculptor Marcel Delgado made dinosaur models for the film based on the work of a leading paleontologist of the time. Stop-motion pioneer Willis O’Brien brought these extinct animals back to life using animation. After that, dinosaurs rampaged through popular culture, and for nearly forty years, stop motion remained the technique of choice for bringing extinct creatures to life.
  • So stop motion may have been king of the dinosaur world, but moving a puppet frame by frame is very time-consuming and expensive. Movie producers were looking for ways to cut corners so along came the “slurpasaur” (AKA a lizard in a dinosaur suit).
  • One of the earliest slurpasaurs appears in “The Mysterious Island”, made just four years after The Lost World. Slurpasaurs continued to offer a low-cost alternative to stop motion into the ’50s and ’60s. Even Willis O’Brien consulted on costumed iguanas for the 1960 remake of The Lost World.

  • Dinosaurs are the beginning DNA of the much broader subject of creature effects. Almost every technique for movie effects that we discussed in a previous episode have been used to make dinosaurs; people in suits, puppetry and animatronics, computer generated images, and more. To top them all it was Stan Winston who finally achieved the impossible when he created full-scale dinosaurs that not only looked incredible, but delivered great performances too.
  • With the addition of truly convincing CGS creatures, Jurassic Park set a new bar for movies as well as visual and special effects. By the time the T. Rex brought the house down, literally and figuratively, at the climax of the film, audiences could believe that dinosaurs really do rule the Earth.

Top 5 Dinosaurs

  1.       Tyrannosaurus Rex (Jurassic Park)
  • The Tyrannosaurus rex of Jurassic Park was nicknamed Roberta in Phil Tippett’s storyboards for the first film, but most fans call her by her novel nickname Rexy.
  • Rexy has made three appearances in the franchise. Debuting in Jurassic Park, then reprising her role in Jurassic World, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. She is also rumored (basically confirmed) to return in the final Jurassic World film in 2021.
  • She is most well-known for saving the main characters at the end of the first film and Jurassic World, although inadvertently. This makes her something of an anti-heroine.
  • Mark McCreery created the design of the T. rex that was used in the film. Before the film was greenlit, McCreery was working on Terminator 2. Stan Winston moved him from that project to create sketches of the T. rex in order to generate interest in Jurassic Park from Universal Studios.
  • (We talked about the animatronic two weeks ago in our Special Effects episode)
  1.       Littlefoot (Land Before Time)
  • Littlefoot, originally voiced by Gabriel Damon, (and many others since) is the main character in the Land Before Time film and television series. He is the main protagonist in the series and is one of only three characters to appear in every piece of media. The other two being Ducky and Petrie.
  • He is an Apatosaurus, (aka “Brontosaurus”) which are referred to as “Longnecks” by the other dinosaurs in the Land Before Time universe.
  • He can easily make friends with other creatures, however his friendships with other animals outside his species is often viewed as a taboo, as many of the dinosaurs practice racial, or species based, segregation. (Mainly in the first movie)
  • Littlefoot is intelligent, playful, and adventurous. He acts as a leader to the other main characters. Pushing them to move forward in difficult times, (most notably in the original The Land Before Time) and is their voice of reason.
  • According to a blog post by Mark Pudleiner, an animator who worked on the original film, Littlefoot was originally going to be called “Thunderfoot”. But it turned out that there was a Triceratops in a children’s book with the same name. His name was Thunderfoot all throughout production, only changing after the movie was finished and had to be dubbed over! If you look closely you can see that whenever a character says “Littlefoot” the animation doesn’t quite match!
  1.       Rex (Toy Story)
  • Rex is a supporting character in the Toy Story franchise. He is a plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex who is voiced by Wallace Shawn.
  • A running gag throughout the Toy Story movies is that Rex is insecure about his lack of ferociousness.  Rex’s worst fear is that Andy may want another, scarier dinosaur to replace him. “But what if Andy gets another dinosaur, a mean one? I just don’t think I could take that kind of rejection!”
  • In the original story pitch for Toy Story, Rex’s personality was mostly the same as in the final film, except that he also was to get very angry and even vengeful when it’s revealed Woody threw Buzz out of the window on purpose. All the toys do this to some degree in the final film.
  1.       Arlo (The Good Dinosaur)
  • Arlo, voiced by Raymond Ochoa, is the protagonist of the 2015 Pixar animated feature, The Good Dinosaur.

  • He is a young Apatosaurus living with his parents and older siblings, Buck and Libby. He is the last and the smallest of the three children to hatch out of his egg. Despite hatching from an egg bigger than the first two.
  • In this universe, the asteroid that is believed to have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, never struck Earth. So, over the course of the movie, Arlo makes an unlikely human friend. While travelling through a harsh and mysterious landscape, Arlo learns the power of confronting his fears and discovers what he is truly capable of.
  • In terms of animating Arlo, animators Rob Thompson and Kevin O’Hara went to a zoo and shot video of elephants in motion. Thompson stated: “One of the most intimidating things to animate is a quadruped, because there’s so much to them and there’s so much to manage. Locomotion is all about efficiency, a lot of times you think, ‘We’re animating a big, heavy character. We should slam those feet. That’ll make it feel heavy.’ The truth is, that’s not efficient.”
  • Just some cool trivia, Arlo is the youngest Pixar protagonist to date. And in total The Good Dinosaur took up 300TB of server space.
  1.       Aladar (Dinosaur)
    • Voiced by D.B. Sweeney, Aladar is an Iguanodon that is first shown as an egg. The opening of the movie shows a ridiculously lucky egg traveling across the ocean where the lemur inhabitants find him, and he soon hatches.
    • Throughout the movie, Aladar butts heads with Kron, the leader of a large herd. In the herd, “only the strongest survive.” So Aladar does everything he can to help weaker dinosaurs. He later falls in love with Neera, Kron’s younger sister, who is considerably more compassionate than her brother. Aladar also seems to be a natural leader, which fueled his rivalry with Kron who feared he was trying to take his place.
    • In an early concept for Dinosaur, Aladar was going to have grandparents and be called Noah, but this was changed due to some similarities to The Land Before Time.
    • Aladar’s story is very similar to Tarzan’s story. Both have adopted families, and both lose their biological mothers to a predator. However, both end up killing their enemies during their adulthood, where they meet their love interest. They even go as far as to both have male figures in the family who initially don’t want them.
    • Just an extra bit, the film score was composed by James Newton Howard and he was nominated for an Annie Award and a Saturn Award for Dinosaur in 2000.

Honorable mentions:

  • Butch, Ramsey, and Nash (The Good Dinosaur)
  • Barney (Barney)
  • Unknown dinosaur (T.rex?) (Fantasia)
  • Big Al (The Ballad of Big Al)
  • Blue (Jurassic World)
  • Indominus Rex (Jurassic World)
  • Spinosaurus (Jurassic Park 3)
  • The Big One (Jurassic Park)
  • Carnotaurus (Dinosaur)
  • Momma (Ice Age)
  • Tiny (Meet the Robinsons)
  • Rex (We’re Back)
  • VRex (King Kong)
  • Red Ranger DinoZord (Power Rangers)
  • The rest of the Land Before Time crew

Sources