Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Case (1962)

Hey, Cassettes, and welcome to the first episode of the Christmas Case Diaries! We have a big month planned, filled with all kinds of holiday fun. We all have those Christmas specials that we watch every holiday season, right? I mean, is it even Christmas without the Island of Misfit Toys, or if we don’t watch the Grinch descend from Mount Krumpet to steal holiday cheer from Whoville? 

Animated Christmas TV specials are a holiday tradition that dates back almost 60 years, and while Rudolph has been airing consistently on TV for the longest amount of time, it was not the special that started it all. 

In December of 1962, people all across America turned on their TV sets to watch the first full-length animated Christmas TV special. Keeping with Christmas tradition, the special was an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, but with one notable twist: famous cartoon character Quincy Magoo was playing the part of Ebeneezer Scrooge. 

Boasting colorful and stylish limited animation and songs written by Broadway musicians, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol became an instant holiday classic. Although lesser-known than many other 1960s animated specials, it’s a delightful retelling of a familiar story, packed with great performances and animation, unlike anything you’ll see today. 

So, since this is our first episode of the month, we decided to start by covering the very FIRST animated Christmas special! Grab some woofle jelly cake with razzleberry dressing and come join us!

The first appearance of Mr. Magoo in Ragtime Bear (1949)

  • So first let’s start by talking about the history of United Productions of America (UPA) and Mr. Magoo
    • If you remember back to our history of animation episode, we talked a little bit about the Disney strike of 1941 and how that shaped animation in the years after. 
      • At this time, unions were an established organization for every other form of work from cameramen to cooks, but not animators. One animator, David Hilberman, realized working for Disney, “You were no longer the individual… you were part of an assembly line.” Many other animators and artists realized this as well, and since job security was not guaranteed, holidays could be mandatory, and overtime could be required without added pay. 
    • Industrial Film and Poster Service
      • After being fired for a second time from Disney in 1941, Stephen Bosustow decided it was time to make an animation studio of his own. His first studio was with animator Cy Young and named Associated Cine-Artists. This studio did not last long and soon he began the Industrial Film and Poster Service in 1943 with Zack Schwartz (fired from Disney in 1940), and David Hilberman (who left the company to gain the union more concessions). 
      • Stephen Bosustow had been fired 8 days before the strike. When one of the other fired employees asked Disney what they should do, Disney reportedly replied, “I don’t know, go start a hotdog stand.” 
      • The three men that founded UPA 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. In an article titled Animation Learns a New Language Zach Schwartz and John Hudley, who would become a director at UPA, wrote of the Disney formula, “Select any two animals, grind together, and stir into a plot. Add pratfalls, head and body blows, and slide whistle effects to taste. Garnish with Brooklyn accents. Slice into 600-foot lengths and release.” 
        • In Between Disney and UPA, Zach Schwartz worked for Columbia’s Screen Gems where he had an epiphany. “Our camera isn’t a motion-picture camera. Our camera is closer to a printing press.” 
          • Schwartz explained to his coworkers that animated films are not really films at all but are instead graphic art. Although this revelation did little for his coworkers it affected Schwartz greatly.
    • The first few works produced were paid for by the United Automobile Workers.
      • The first short that the team produced was called Hell Bent For Election in 1944. It was directed by the legendary Chuck Jones and was a video that campaigned for FDR’s re-election. It depicted him and his opponent as trains racing for votes. FDR was a sleek new train and Thomas E. Dewey was older and run-down. 
    • The studio would go on to change its studio name to the much sleeker United Productions of America or UPA and win an Oscar for Gerald McBoing-Boing(1950), When Magoo Flew (1954), and Magoo’s Puddle Jumper (1956).
    • Today we know of UPA for its most popular character–Mr. Quincy Magoo. His first appearance was in Ragtime Bear in 1949. The loveable Magoo’s nearsightedness often gets him in trouble where antics ensue but it all ends up alright in the end.
      • The cantankerous character came to life with Jim Backus’ booming voice. Jim would later be known not only for Mr. Magoo but also Thurston Howell III in Gilligan’s Island.
    • The studio’s influence spread, and before long their use of simpler lines and limited animation techniques went on to be used by Hanna Barbera and even Disney.
  • As the anti-communist movement and publications gained traction, many UPA writers and directors were forced to renounce communism or be fired to save the company. In the end, it did little to save production and by the late ’50s, the creative giant was gutted of most of its most innovative and creative minds. 
    • When Henry Saperstein acquired UPA from Columbia in 1960, production halted on new animation as the medium was losing traction. Saperstein instead decided to license Magoo out for commercials and tv spots. 
      • But, this was not the final chapter for Magoo. In 1961, UPA hired a new director of program development that had a plan for the character: a full-length animated Christmas special complete with Broadwayesque music. 
    • In the ’80s Saperstein looked to sell but could not find the proper amount that he was asking for. By the 1990s he was determined to make a live-action Magoo which would eventually star Leslie Nielson. It was originally set to be directed by Steven Spielberg but the option lapsed. 
    • Mr. Magoo is late for Broadway’s opening night of “A Christmas Carol,” where he will play the lead role. As he finally makes his way to the stage, the curtain rises on the set of “A Christmas Carol.” From there, the audience sees a musical retelling, with Magoo giving a straightforward performance as Scrooge. 
The top picture is the original drawing of Belle. The bottom was the last minute re-design from Tony Rivera.
  • Just as the TV series “Mister Magoo” had finished production, producer Lee Orgel entered the scene as the new director of program development. According to his wife, Lea, the two of them were out shopping when Lee got the inspiration for Magoo’s Christmas Carol. 
    • Orgel rushed to the nearest phone to pass along his idea. He created a pitch for the special, along with several other pitches that he called, “spectaculars.” 
    • While the other specials did not come to be, Orgel believed in Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol. Although there were some doubts that the project could work–A cartoon character in a serious acting role?–Orgel did everything he could to get the project off the ground. According to Orgel’s wife, the made-for-TV film was his “baby.”
  • This was not Orgel’s first animation project, as he was already the Associate Producer of a Warner Brothers film called, “Gay Purr-ee,” starring Judy Garland and Robert Goulet. That film also featured the work of Chuck Jones and songwriters Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg (the team behind The Wizard of Oz.) 
    • The movie was released around the same time as Magoo’s Christmas
  • Although Magoo was a fairly popular character, there was concern that audiences wouldn’t appreciate seeing him play a serious role. After all, Magoo was a goofball that got into wacky situations. Why would he be the lead in such a beloved and serious story as “A Christmas Carol”? 
    • Barbara Chain, a screenwriter that had collaborated with Lee Orgel on a cartoon called Crusader Rabbit, found a solution to this problem. Instead of Mr. Magoo completely changing his personality to fit the part of Scrooge, the special takes place on Broadway and features a play within a play. That way, the audience can see Magoo and his wacky antics on his way to the theater, and then the character drops all of that the moment the play begins. 
      • Of course, the running gag of Mr. Magoo is that the main character has difficulty with his eyesight. There are a few moments when Magoo as Scrooge also has difficulty seeing what is happening in front of him, since playing a character wouldn’t magically fix Magoo’s eyes. 
      • Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol is a fairly true adaptation, but with some key differences. One of the biggest and most mysterious is the change in the order of the ghosts. We’ve never been able to find the exact reason for this switch, though we suspect it was for story purposes. 
  • Abe Levitow was the man tasked with directing Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol. According to the artists that worked on the special, Abe gave them a lot of creative freedom with their sequences, and he had a tight grip on the production, which allowed it to run smoothly. 
    • Although several animators worked on the project, they hardly ever communicated with each other except through Abe. It really spoke to his ability as a leader and communicator that the final product turned out to be so seamless. 
    • Levitow also directed Gay Purr-ee and The Phantom Tollbooth. 
  • UPA was known for a specific type of style, and Mist Magoo’s Christmas Carol was no exception. The team of artists and animators truly understood how to match the specific look of a UPA film. 
    • Animator Lee Mishkin designed the characters, though some of them did go through several changes. 
      • For example, artist Tony Rivera drew a different design for the character Belle, but it was apparently changed late in production. Author Darrell Van Citters wrote about this in his blog dedicated to the special. He also published a book you can buy that he talks about in his blog! Which you can find—HERE
      • This was a big change, as the scenes that included Belle had already been inked and colored, and it would have been expensive to make that change so late in production. 
    • Gloria Wood and Bob Inman were two key background artists that really brought a unique look to the special. Wood designed the background for the graveyard sequence, which takes place when Scrooge is with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. 
    • Shirley Silvey was a female animation designer in a male-dominated profession. In the scenes with Marley’s ghost, she animated the characters from unusual angles, which drives home the unsettling nature of the moment. 
    • Many of the animators that worked on the production were freelance, as UPA probably couldn’t afford a large number of animators on staff. It’s impressive that the animation is as consistent as it is, as the freelancers had to grasp the style before working on the project. There were a couple of sequences, like the Cratchit Family sequence, that needed to be redone. 
  • Almost 60 years after its release, the lasting power of Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol is largely due to its incredible music. Lee Orgel reportedly wanted Richard Rogers to compose the songs, sending him a copy of the novel and asking him to consider it. Rogers was unavailable, and contacted legendary songwriter Frank Loesser (you might remember him from our Christmas songs episode from last year, he wrote “Baby it’s Cold Outside”.) Loesser was also unavailable, so he contacted Jule Styne. Styne was a former vocal coach and prolific composer, responsible for classic songs that appeared in musicals like, Peter Pan and Gypsy. Styne was in-between projects, as he was about to start working on the Tony-Winning musical Funny Girl with lyricist Bob Merrill. So, Styne and Merrill signed on to write the songs for Magoo’s Christmas
    • Merrill was a prominent lyricist that penned a lot of popular songs like, “How much is that doggy in the window?” 
  • Composer Walter Scharf crafted a score that seamlessly blended the songs while adding some musical magic of his own. Scharf was a prolific TV composer, scoring episodes of TV shows like Hawaii 5-0 and Mission Impossible. He also scored 1955 musical classic The Court Jester, though he was uncredited. 
    • The special opens with a musical number, “Great to be back on Broadway,” showcasing the lights, billboards, and traffic of New York City. The challenge for animators in this scene was depicting such a complicated setting using the classic simplified style of UPA. 
    • Bob Singer was one of the layout artists responsible for the scene. He said that UPA was like an animator’s paradise. Even though there was a team of layout artists, the final product looked seamless because they were all able to match the style. 
    • This is the only song sung by Mister Magoo AS Mister Magoo. The rest of the music is the play within the play, which explains why this song has a different overall sound. 
    • As we said before, actor Jim Backus provided the speaking and singing voice of Magoo. 
    • After Magoo gets pushed onto the stage and the play begins, the story wastes no time getting started. As Scrooge, Magoo begins to count his money and breaks into a song called “Ringle Ringle.” 
    • In order to create an accurate setting, layout artists and “color stylists” (also known as background artists) spent a lot of time researching the furniture styles of the 1840s. They also used a type of splatter technique to make the room look dingy. 
    • This song is the first appearance of Tony-nominated actor Jack Cassidy as Bob Cratchit (he would win a Tony in 1964). Scrooge and Cratchit sing a duet, with Scrooge continuing to count his money as Cratchit shivers in the other room. 
    • When the ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to see the humble home of Bob Cratchit, the two witness the family sit down to a meager Christmas feast. The family doesn’t have very much but is still very happy. They break into a song called, “Lord’s Bright Blessing,” which perfectly captures the spirit of the holidays, as they dream of a better Christmas but happily accept the one they have now. 
    • The Cratchit House is designed to look run down, with broken furniture. However, it looks much cleaner than Scrooge’s office, showing the pride that the family has in their home. 
    • This song features Jack Cassidy as Bob Cratchit, Laura Olsher as Mrs. Cratchit and the Cratchit son, and Marie Matthews as the Cratchit daughter. Olsher was meant to only play Mrs. Cratchit, but the actor for the other roles was late to recording. Olsher had almost no experience with music, so Jule Styne helped her through the recording. 
      • Laura Olsher also voiced the boy at the end that gets the turkey for the Cratchits. The boy says, “walker,” which was Victorian slang for “humbug.” Olsher’s daughter had just visited the UK and told her mom about the word, and it made it into the special. 
    • When the ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge back to his childhood, they see Scrooge as a boy. Together, Scrooge and his younger self sing a song about how lonely they are. 
    • “Alone in the World” was meant to be sung by a little boy, but none of the boys that auditioned seemed to have the sound they were looking for. Marie Matthews was in the room because her son had auditioned, and Matthews’ mother convinced the team to let Marie try singing the part. The songwriters resisted, saying that they really wanted a boy to sing the part, but they let her audition anyway. Matthews happened to have the voice they were looking for and was hired for the role. She said she was very honored to sing such a beautiful song. 
    • When the ghost of Christmas past takes Scrooge to relive his days with his love, Belle, she sings a song about their lost love. “Winter Was Warm” is one of the most loved songs from the special, serving as an emotional climax as Scrooge sees all that he lost because of his greed. 
    • Jane Kean played Belle, and although she was known as a comedic actress, Jule Styne knew she would be able to handle the song because they had already been working together on another project. Kean later said that the song should have been a big hit if it had been sung by someone much more famous. 
    • There’s a long-standing rumor that the song, “People” in the musical Funny Girl was originally written for Magoo’s Christmas. Kean cleared that up, saying that they were writing that song simultaneously, and she wanted to sing it, but Jule Styne told her no, they had another song for her instead. 
    • The final song of Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (if you don’t count reprises) is sung by a group of criminals as they pawn stolen items from Scrooge’s home. “We’re Despicable” is many viewers’ favorite part. The song is bouncy and fun, with silly rhymes and gags. 
    • This scene was animated by Gerard Baldwin, who had been given the song and the situation, and built the storyboard from there. Baldwin said it took about two weeks to animate the entire sequence from start to finish after the storyboard had been completed. 
    • This is the only sequence in the entire special where Scrooge has four fingers and a thumb. This was because Baldwin liked to draw hands. This might seem like a continuity error, but it speaks to the charm of the special and the fact that many different people worked on the animation. 
  • Royal Dano as Marley’s Ghost
    • Marley’s ghost is introduced with the sounds of dragging chains. Earl Bennett provided the sound effects for the special. 
    • Royal Dano was a screen actor that appeared as Tom Fury in Something Wicked This Way Comes
  • Paul Frees as the stage director
    • Frees was a prominent voice actor, well known for roles he played in other Christmas specials, especially for Rankin and Bass
  • Joan Gardner as Tiny Tim/The Ghost of Christmas Past/Belle’s Speaking Voice
    • Joan Gardner was a prolific voice actor, although she is hardly known today. She was also a screenwriter and composer. 
  • John Hart as Billings
    • Hart appeared on TV shows like Rawhide and Dallas
  • Morey Amsterdam as Brady
    • Amsterdam was a comedic actor that appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show!
  • Les Tremayne as Ghost of Christmas Present
    • Tremayne worked in radio and had one of the most heard voices in the wartime era. 
    • Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol premiered in December of 1962. According to Lea Orgel, she and Lee rented a color TV and had all their friends over to watch the premiere. In the special edition commentary of the movie, Lea says that Walt Disney called Lee that night and congratulated him. He told him that it would be watched for generations. 
    • For several years after, the special aired on NBC. Sometimes certain songs would be cut for time (usually Winter Was Warm). Throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, families across the US were treated to this special until it stopped airing. 
    • In 2012, on the 50th anniversary, NBC aired the special once again, and it has aired on TV sporadically over the past couple of Christmases. While it is unlikely that you will catch the special on TV, it’s now streaming for free on Peacock (with ads). 
    • At the time of airing, the special was popular enough that Mr. Magoo got a brand new TV series, The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo, and would appear in more animated specials with literary characters. 
    • Despite getting less exposure than some other more well-known Christmas specials, Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol has no shortage of fans. You can find recipes for Razzleberry Dressing online, along with many testimonials about why this particular version of A Christmas Carol is an absolute classic. 

There’s no doubt that Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol had a lasting impact on TV history. It was the first entry in a decades-long tradition of animated Christmas specials. If you love Rudolph and Frosty, but you’re unfamiliar with this animated gem, go ahead and give it a watch. It’s a unique and entertaining look at an old classic and calls back to a time in animation that is often forgotten. 

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is a time-honored tradition. It’s a wonderful look back at the 1960s, a time capsule that brings the viewer to a different age of animation. And in our house, like so many others, it’s not Christmas until this short, bald man sings. 

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

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Little Case of Horrors

On the 23rd day of the month of September, in an early year of this decade of our own, the human race not-so-suddenly encountered an informative film podcast hosted by three old friends. 

And this (hopefully) educational episode surfaced, as such indie podcasts often do, in the seemingly most common and likely of places…

The Black Case Diaries!


Well, it’s that time of year again. The temperature outside is dropping, Spirit Halloween stores are taking over vacant retail spaces, and the evening air is starting to smell like woodsmoke. Summer’s end has come, and Autumn is here! 

And since the end of September is fast approaching, we thought it was the perfect time to talk about something a little…horrifying. In December of 1986, a strange and mysterious plant appeared on theatre screens across America. Cared for by a soft-spoken man named Seymour, the botanical oddity quickly seized the attention of audiences throughout the country. The only problem was that this plant didn’t feed on sunshine and water, but instead craved human blood! 

Little Shop of Horrors is not your average Hollywood musical film. It’s darkly funny, with the gritty texture of the off-Broadway production on which it was based. While musicals like The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music featured brightly colored locations and sweeping cinematography, Little Shop of Horrors takes place on the bleak and infamous street called  “Skid Row,” and follows a protagonist that feeds people to an evil plant from outer space.

This wonderfully odd film appeals to the strangeness in all of us and gives a biting commentary (pun intended) on human nature. Not to mention, it’s absolutely packed with hilarious comedic performances, incredible songs, and mind-blowing special effects! 

So, let’s head back to an early year in a decade not too long before our own to explore the seemingly innocent and unlikely origin of the greatest threat to human existence, in…Little Shop of Horrors

Before Little Shop of Horrors became a movie musical, it was a stage musical. And before it was a stage musical, it was a movie! So, let’s talk about the origins of this odd story, and how it went from movie to musical to movie musical! 

  • In the late 1950s, director Roger Corman started experimenting with horror-comedy films. A studio manager that was friends with Corman told him that a film was about to wrap with no projects on deck. This gave Corman a funny idea, and he decided to give himself a unique challenge. He asked the manager to leave up the sets from the previous movie so he could come in and shoot another film in only two days. 
  • Corman and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith brainstormed for a day and developed the general plot of a horror/comedy B-movie about a man-eating plant. Griffith then spent about two weeks writing the screenplay before the film began production with a budget between $15,000 and $22,500.
  • For years, rumors circulated that Corman shot the film on the infamous 2-day deadline because of a bet. Others speculated that he wanted to throw together one last low-budget film before a new rule went into effect, which would require filmmakers to pay actors residuals for their performances after films had been released. Corman has never confirmed this and says it was more of a joke–he did it to see if it was possible.
  • The movie turned out to be a joke in more ways than one. First of all, audiences found the film to be hilarious, including a cameo appearance from rising star Jack Nicholson as a masochist. Second, the two-day filming schedule cemented the film in B-movie history, and it was widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s most notorious jokes. 
  • But, as you might’ve guessed, the influence of the film didn’t stop there. For years, the film was replayed on late-night TV shows, which is how a young teenager named Howard Ashman first saw it. 
  • In 1979, Ashman wrote and directed a musical called, “God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater,” with musician Alan Menken (it was their first collaboration). The musical was a hit at the WPA theatre where it premiered but hadn’t done well outside of those productions. 
  • Ashman wanted their next project to be fun and remembered the off-beat silliness of Little Shop of Horrors. The next time the film aired on TV, Ashman taped it, and Menken immediately saw the musical potential for the story. 
  • According to Kyle Renick, then-producing director of the WPA theatre where Little Shop of Horrors would eventually premiere, it took the theatre a year to secure the rights to the film, and 8 months for Ashman and Menken to write the musical. 
    • Ashman wrote the book and lyrics, while Menken composed the music. Menken said, “I decided that I wanted the musical approach to come from some early 1960s music—the girl group sound. It has a very dark, menacing ring. You can almost hear whips and chains in the background. There were two ponytailed teenagers in the movie and we decided to turn them into a black trio that functions as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action.” 
    • Although the plot was similar, Ashman made major changes to the story. He cut out characters and changed the ending. Every death in the original movie was accidental, while Ashman’s version showed the protagonist, Seymour, killing people and feeding them to the plant. 
    • The subject matter may seem gruesome, but because of the humor in the show, audiences didn’t seem to mind. 
  •  For Audrey II, the theatre hired Martin Robinson, a Muppet performer known for portraying Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street. Apparently, Little Shop of Horrors was Robinson’s favorite film, and he had been dreaming of developing the plant for years. He would finally get his chance.
  • In May of 1982, Little Shop of Horrors opened at the WPA theatre to rave reviews. It quickly became a crowd favorite, selling out almost every show. After a couple of months, the WPA was approached by at least 26 different producers that wanted to move the show to Broadway. Eventually, it opened at the Orpheum Theatre on Broadway, where it ran for 2,209 performances. 
  • As the musical’s popularity continued, talks of a major motion picture began to emerge. Producer David Geffen, who helped bring the show to Broadway, signed on to produce a film adaptation of the play. 


  • Seymour Krelbourne is a young assistant at a struggling flower shop in Manhattan. He pines after his beautiful coworker, Audrey, as they both dream of one day breaking free of their financial burdens and escaping Skid Row. One day, Seymour witnesses a total eclipse of the sun and discovers a very strange and unusual plant that he names Audrey II. Just when Seymour’s boss is about the close the shop for good, the exotic plant attracts a great deal of attention to the store, allowing it to stay open. As Seymour cares for the plant, he soon discovers that the only way to make it grow is to feed it human flesh! Although he doesn’t initially want to hurt anyone, Seymour must choose between his morals and his only chance at finding a way out of Skid Row and starting a new life. 


  • Years after producing the Broadway musical and the feature film, David Geffen admitted that he initially thought that a musical version of the 1960 film Little Shop of Horrors was possibly the worst idea he had ever heard. Of course, audiences disagreed, as the show was an undeniable commercial and critical success. 
  • Geffen’s original plan for the film was to not surpass a 6 million dollar budget, and have Stephen Spielberg as a producer, with Martin Scorsese as the film’s director. This plan never came to pass.
  • The film would eventually reach an estimated budget of about 25 million dollars. Instead of Martin Scorsese as a director, Geffen approached puppet master Frank Oz. Oz had previously co-directed The Dark Crystal with Jim Henson, and just recently finished directing his first muppet film, Muppets Take Manhattan. Initially, Oz wanted to turn down the project, as he was unsure how to make it work. It was actually the concept of the three women that acted as a Greek chorus, narrating the story on stage, that convinced him to take the job. He felt like they were the key to making the story flow, and they added a certain magic and style to the production. 
    • Frank Oz started the directing process by storyboarding almost every scene, especially musical numbers with Audrey II. This way, he could figure out exactly how big the sets needed to be, and how to work around the limitations of the plant. Each scene averages about 30 takes, and sometimes the takes would last only a few seconds. 
    • Oz wanted the film to flow seamlessly between scenes. One way he achieved this was by planning out each scene’s transition. If you watch the movie carefully, you will notice how well the transitions fit together. 
    • In many scenes, Oz utilized tight angles and close-ups to help the audience connect with the main characters. He refrained from using wide shots, because he felt like they made the setting look grand and very “Hollywood.” 
  • Howard Ashman stayed with the project to write the screenplay for the film, and also penned additional lyrics. When Frank Oz was planning scenes for the film, Ashman was there to help him through the process. Ashman told Oz that it wasn’t just the music that had rhythm, but that there was a rhythm to his dialogue as well. Oz said that advice was incredibly helpful. 
    • Ashman also made sure that Oz understood that the musical wasn’t meant to be subtle. Ashman and Menken’s songs don’t ease the audience into the music, the music just starts and the viewer either accepts it or they don’t. The film is unapologetic in every aspect. 
  • The entire film was shot over 6 months at Pinewood Studios in the UK, on the 007 stage. Oz wanted the movie to be a strange hybrid of stage musical and film, so he knew they would have to create their own universe and environment for the story to take place. Many films are concerned with realism, making their environments look as close as possible to real-world situations. In Little Shop of Horrors, everything is real to the characters, and whether or not the sets and backdrops look realistic to the audience is immaterial. That being said, Audrey II is as real as it gets! 
    • Roy Walker was the production designer for Little Shop and is also known for The Shining as well. It took him and his team three months to build a Skid Row replica. Walker created three different sets for the flower shop in the film. One set was for people to act alone. Another set was for people to act with the plant, and the third set was specifically for the finale, when Audrey II destroys the store. 
    • In order to make the set look as American as possible, Walker gathered up huge containers with trash cans to place on the street corners of skid row. 
  • The key to Little Shop of Horrors was Audrey II, and having a director with puppet experience was vital for production. Oz had previous experience working with designer Lyle Conway in Jim Henson’s creature shop. Lyle was the mastermind behind Audrey II.
    • According to Frank Oz, it took Conway and his team 9 months to prepare the plants for the shoot, and they continued to work on them even during production. 
    • Oz said that Lyle researched extensively about plants in order to create the beautiful textures and colors within Audrey II. At the end of production he and his team had created 15,000 handmade leaves, 20,000 feet of vine, and 11.5 miles of cable for all the plants combined!
    • Conway created 7 different sizes of Audrey II, and some that performed different actions for the movie. With each size, more people had to operate the plant. When the plant was small, only two or three people needed to operate it. But by the end of the film, about sixty people stood in a tank underneath the massive plant, looking at monitors as they operated its movement. One person even stood inside the plant’s mouth to make it move, while Brian Henson was camouflaged in a suit of vines and leaves as he helped operate the head. 
    • In order to make vines that would bend seamlessly without wearing down, the filmmakers had to approach the Atomic Energy Institute to research the best metal core to use. 


As we mentioned before, Little Shop of Horrors features music by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman. Composer Miles Goodman wrote the score for the feature film. Goodman was a prolific composer who wrote music for films like A Muppet Christmas Carol and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. In this film, he used the foreboding sounds of organ music in his theme for Audrey II. 


  • Little Shop of Horrors opens with a drumroll that leads into the prologue music, followed by an iconic narration, setting up the story. This opening gives off the vibes of a classic horror B movie, much like the one on which it was based. The style of music shifts into a 1960s era number, and as the camera takes us through 16 different cues, we hear the voices of the greek chorus that will lead us through the story. 
  • As we mentioned before, Frank Oz almost turned down this movie. In a 1986 LA Times article he says “I didn’t think I could get my hands around it. There were too many elements. It was a period piece, it was horror, it was comedy, there were 14 songs and a puppet that was going to weigh a ton.” He was finally able to bury these worries and take a chance on the film, and one of the reasons he did so was because of the three muses.
    • The singers bring the camera around the set, introducing the location and characters to the audience as they manage to stay dry during a rainstorm. They provide a type of visual exposition, ending with our main character Seymour. 


  • Skid Row is the first ensemble song, and further introduces the setting and intentions of the characters. We hear the two leads, Seymour and Audrey, sing for the first time, and learn more about their characters. 
  • Frank Oz planned “Skid Row” a year before shooting, and the actors knew exactly how many steps they needed to take during the song. 
    • The chorus walks in an off-beat way on purpose, to further drive home the uneasiness and discomfort of their lives. 
  • The song ends with a medium shot of all the actors singing out toward the camera, in a unifying moment. Frank Oz purposely kept the shot tight because he didn’t want the number to feel grandiose. 


  • Seymour introduces his boss, Mr. Mushnik, to a strange and interesting plant that he named after his coworker and love-interest, Audrey. Immediately after placing the small plant in the window, a man steps into the office to inquire about it. 
    • According to Frank Oz, Christopher Guest (who played the customer in this scene) would play the scene much too seriously. Finally, he gave a over-the-top performance that made it into the final cut. 
  • In the song, Da-doo, Seymour explains that he discovered the plant during a total eclipse of the sun. The song features one of the only optical effects in the film, as a light shines around Audrey II. 


  • After just one day, Audrey II’s presence has boosted business for Mr. Mushnik’s flower shop. However, the plant seems to be wilting, and Seymour stays late to care for it. It’s in this song that he discovers the plant’s lust for blood. 
  • For this scene, only a couple people needed to operate the plant. When Seymour leaves the room, Audrey II breaks through its coffee can and grows. The special effects team achieved this effect by placing the plant behind the coffee can, and just moving it closer to the camera to create the illusion that it was growing. 


  • In this song, Audrey reveals to the audience her true dreams of marrying Seymour and moving into a suburban home with a chain link fence. She highlights the “luxurious” lifestyle she pines for, taken straight from 1950s sitcoms. 
  • For this scene Ellen Greene wanted to make sure that she really felt at home before shooting, and spent time in her on-screen bedroom. 
  • The scenery for this song is an excellent example of how Frank Oz leaned into the theatre and pushed the boundaries. 
  • The scene is packed with visual jokes that, according to Frank Oz, test audiences reacted to even more than they had hoped. One such visual is an animated bird that lands on Audrey’s hand, akin to Cinderella. The scene took immense planning, especially for that effect to work well. 
    • In order to get a real magazine that they liked for the shot, Frank Oz flipped through dozens of old magazines until he found a Better Homes and Garden magazine that had the perfect imagery of homes and appliances that he was looking for. They used the magazine with permission from Better Homes and Gardens.
  • When Howard Ashman wrote the screenplay, he expressed that he wanted a continuous shot from Audrey’s room to the rooftop, leading seamlessly into the next song. To make that happen, Frank Oz needed to put two cranes on top of each other, as there didn’t exist a crane tall enough to film the sequence. 


  • “Somewhere That’s Green” transitions to this next song, where the greek chorus sings about the “fun” Seymour is having taking care of Audrey II. 
  • Since the muses are up at the top of the buildings, they are surrounded by billboard space. Oz hates product placement, so an art director suggested that they use a product from the 50s that no longer existed for the billboard, hence the Chooz billboard.
  • The scene originally showed more footage of Seymour feeding Audrey II, but test audiences were squeamish, so Oz cut out much of it. 


  • In this song, we meet Audrey’s sadistic boyfriend, a dentist played by Steve Martin. The song opens with Martin riding a motorcycle in front of a 3-foot model, composited onto a blue screen behind him. 
  • Before Roy Walker built the set, Oz had counted out how many steps Martin needed to take while filming the number. The steps needed to match up perfectly with the music. 
  • Although he has one of the biggest roles of the celebrity cameos in the film, Martin was only on set for 6 weeks of shooting. Martin brought a lot of hilarious ideas to the role, and worked hard to avoid comparisons with characters like Fonzie.
  • For one shot in this song, Lyle Conway created a gigantic human mouth for Steve to sing into, while holding a huge dental tool to scale. 


  • After Seymour sees Audrey ride off with her abusive boyfriend, Audrey II speaks for the first time. It tries to convince Seymour to kill people for plant food, offering him anything he could possibly want. This is the moment when he decides to make a deal with the devil. 
  • Because the plant couldn’t move fast enough to sing along with Seymour (Rick Moranis), Rick was forced to film sequences in slow motion, so they could be later sped-up. When he’s singing alone on screen, he’s singing at a normal speed and the film was 24 frames per second. When he’s singing on screen with the plant, he’s moving slowly and the speed is 16 frames per second! It was like this for every scene filmed with a talking/singing Audrey II. 


  • After Audrey’s boyfriend disappears (because Seymour fed him to Audrey II), Audrey is free to pursue a romantic relationship with Seymour. Suddenly Seymour toes the fine line between funny and sweet, as Howard Ashman meant for the song to be very tongue-in-cheek, yet the characters are taking it very seriously. 
  • The imagery for the scene references Romeo and Juliet, which foreshadows a not-so-happy end for the two protagonists. 
  • At the end of the scene, the actors run up a fire escape and embrace with the sun behind them. The scene took about 36 takes, and they used the final take. Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene both got lip burns from kissing. 


  • When Seymour cut up Orin, Audrey’s boyfriend, he was spotted by his boss, Mr. Mushnik. In “Supertime,” Mushnik confronts Seymour, threatening him with a gun. Seymour has the option of leaving town, letting Mushnik take over the plant. But instead, he lets Audrey II eat his boss. 
  • The scene is incredibly dark, but is offset by the quick transition into the next song. 


  • After feeding two people to the plant, Seymour has found immense fame and success. But, the plant wants more. Some of the song’s imagery was inspired by “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”


  • In the theatrical release of the film, Seymour confronts Audrey II just after the plant attempts to eat Audrey. The scene escalates as Audrey II reveals that it is being from outer space, here to take over the human race. It’s clear that the plant is too powerful for Seymour to control, and he must destroy it. 
  • This scene was shot in bits and pieces, but pieced together to create a cohesive musical number. At this point, the plant had sixty people operating it, with giant levers and machinery. On set, the music was slowed down so the operators could mouth the words correctly with the song. 
  • The end of this scene is different in the original version of the film, but in the theatrical release, we see Seymour rise from the rubble of the flower shop and electrocute Audrey II. 

After Seymour defeats the plant, we see him and Audrey start their fairytale life…with another Audrey II not far away. 


  • Rick Moranis as Seymour Krelborn
    • We all know him from movies like Spaceballs, Ghostbusters, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
    • Rick was cast before they even knew he could sing! Geffen had Rick in mind for the role the entire time. He even saw Rick at a concert and told him that he would star in his movie someday. 
  • Ellen Greene as Audrey
    • She has been in films like The Cooler, and Talk Radio.
    • She had performed Audrey on the Off-Off Broadway for 4 years and David Geffen wanted her for the part because he knew she would be perfect. Warner Bros had actually wanted Barabara Streisand for the role.
  • The three young girls that act as a Greek Chorus or muses that lead us through the movie were:
    •  Tisha Campbell as Chiffon
      • She was most notably also in Martin and My Wife and Kids.
    • Tichina Arnold as Crystal 
      • She has been in The Main Event and The Lena Baker Story.
    • Michelle Weeks as Ronette
      • She has not been in much but a TV movie called Norman’s Corner.
  • Vincent Gardenia as Mr. Mushnik
    • Known for parts in Moonstruck, Death Wish and more.
  • Levi Stubbs as the voice of Audrey II
    • Most well known for his role as Audry II, as well as Captain N: The Game Master.
  • Steve Martin as Orin Scrivello (the dentist) 
    • A very popular comedian known for roles in Roxanne and Cheaper by the Dozen.
  • Jim Belushi as Patrick Martin
    • Known for many movies including Red Heat and K-9.
  • John Candy as Wink Wilkinson
    • A comedian who we just talked about in our John Hughes episode! 
    • Frank Oz didn’t want any ad-libbing but he made exceptions for some of the comedic actors in the film, like John Candy, who was known to be one of the best ad libbers in the business. 
  • Bill Murray as Arthur Denton (the masochist)
    • Well known for many roles such as Ghostbusters.
    • When Bill Murray came in to do his role, he wasn’t sure about the dialogue. So, even though Steve Martin’s lines are completely scripted, Bill Murray’s weren’t. Every take was different, and the men decided how to end the scene together. 
  • Stanley Jones as the Narrator
    • He is a voice actor most known for his roles as Scourge in the Transformers animated series, and Lex Luthor in the Justice League animated series. 


  • When the test audience saw Little Shop of Horrors, the screening went very well. That was, until the end of the film. In the stage musical Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour and Audrey do not end up somewhere that’s green. Instead, Seymour suffers greatly for his deeds, when his true love dies at the hands of Audrey II. Seymour then feeds Audrey to Audrey II, and gets eaten himself. 
    • Then, the muses sing the finale, “Don’t Feed the Plants,” which describes how Audrey II and its clippings spread across the country, eventually taking over. 
  • When he was adapting the screenplay, Howard Ashman felt it was important to keep the original ending. First of all, it drives home the message of the story. Secondly, fans of the musical might be disappointed if the film ends differently. Frank Oz was on Ashman’s side, and convinced David Geffen to let them shoot the ending that Ashman had written. Geffen told them from the beginning that it wouldn’t work, and that they would eventually need to change it. They went ahead anyway, hoping Geffen was wrong. 
  • Frank Oz said in an Entertainment Weekly article in 2017 that, “We [screened] the film the way Howard and I wanted it. The audience was clapping after every number. Then, when Seymour and Audrey died, they turned like an icebox. The reaction was so bad, Warner Bros. wasn’t going to release it. When one dies in the theater, one dies and comes back for a curtain call, but in the movie you don’t come back for a curtain call. The audience was very angry.” 
    • Special effects artist Richard Conway developed a fantastic sequence of the plants, taking over the US. It was dark, yet comical, with groundbreaking visuals and incredible sound design. It was essentially a mini monster movie, ending with a comically large, “THE END?!?” as a plant covered the statue of liberty. 
    • Only 13% of the test audience said they would recommend the film, so Oz and Ashman worked on a new ending and called back the actors for re-shoots. Unfortunately, this also meant that Conway’s effects wouldn’t be seen by most audiences, which Frank Oz felt was the real tragedy. 
  • Oz has said that he learned a very valuable lesson from the experience. While he prefers the original ending (and he knew Ashman did too) he understood that he wasn’t making a movie for him, he was making it for millions of people. 


  • The film grossed $39 million at the box office which, from the viewpoint of the studio, was considered an underperformer. However, it became a smash hit upon its home video release in 1987 on home video.
  • Roger Ebert said in his review: “All of the wonders of Little Shop of Horrors are accomplished with an offhand, casual charm. This is the kind of movie that cults are made of, and after Little Shop finishes its first run, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it develop as one of those movies that fans want to include in their lives.”
  • The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: one for Best Visual Effects and one for Best Original Song for “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space”. The song was the first Oscar-nominated song to contain profanity in the lyrics and also the first to be sung by a villain. The film was also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Original Score at the 44th Golden Globe Awards. 


  • Heather Henson plays the distraught young dental patient with the headgear on. 
  • Pieces of Orin the dentist’s body were created for Seymour to toss into Audrey II’s mouth, including Steve Martin’s severed head, dripping with blood. This was deemed too graphic, and the pieces were used, but they are covered in newspapers so the audience wouldn’t see them. 
  • The film was originally going to be gorier. For example, there was supposed to be blood on the walls of the dentist office. 
  • If you watch the original ending, there is a scene where Seymour tries to commit suicide after Audrey dies. The scene has no musical score because it became clear that they would not use it in the final cut. 

When Ashman first had the idea to turn a B horror film into a musical, it was because he wanted to make something fun. And boy, was he successful. Little Shop of Horrors is weird and wonderful, with a solid story and killer musical numbers. Its lyrics are heartfelt and hilarious, and its performances are to die for. 

It’s been forty years and yet, this film seems to get better every time we watch it. So if you’re hungry for a good time, turn on this treat of a film. It’s suppertime!

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

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The Case of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth

When Jim Henson got the green light for The Muppet Movie, he started quietly working on another film. It was a groundbreaking movie that ambitiously used only puppets as its main actors. He collaborated with artist Brian Froud, and together they developed an entire fantasy world. After six years of work, that film, The Dark Crystal, made it to the big screen. After it premiered, Jim Henson, being the workaholic that he was, already wanted to jump back in to make another film. He contacted Brian Froud, who came up with the idea of goblins. 

Jim Henson loved the idea, and he told Froud that he wanted there to be humans in this film. Suddenly, Froud imagined a baby surrounded by goblins. He painted some concept art, and the idea for Labyrinth was born. 

The Labyrinth was a seamless combination of The Muppets and the deep fantasy of The Dark Crystal. For Jim Henson, it was a deeply personal story of which he was immensely proud. It followed the journey of Sarah, an adolescent girl that has lost her baby brother to Jareth, the Goblin King. It’s also a story of self-discovery, of leaving childhood behind and heading into the wild and winding world of the unfamiliar. With beautiful sets peppered with other-worldly creations, Labyrinth created a unique physical world that still enchants audiences to this day. 

So, as we continue Jim Henson June, let’s follow the Goblin King into the Labyrinth.  


  • In 1939, three-year-old Jim Henson saw what would become one of his favorite movies: The Wizard of Oz. Of course, the only thing he really remembered from the experience was the terrifying MGM Lion. But the story impacted Jim Henson’s imagination, and elements of L. Frank Baum’s fantasy world would influence his own fantasy stories for years to come. 
  • As Brian Froud and Jim Henson laid out the story for the film, they intentionally pulled from several different established stories. The idea wasn’t to make something that felt completely original, but instead something that the audience would recognize. This was shown, in part, in the beginning of the film, when we see Sarah’s bedroom. There are pieces that inspired several parts of the story placed all around the room. This also plants the seed of ambiguity in the audience’s mind. Is this all in Sarah’s imagination, or is the Labyrinth real? This is a callback to The Wizard of Oz and another big influence, Alice in Wonderland. 
  • Sarah falls down several “rabbit holes” of sorts all through the movie. Her trip through the Labyrinth is very reminiscent of Alice’s adventures. Some of the set designs and characters were created to specifically call back to Alice in Wonderland, for example the guards that were shaped as playing cards that asked Sarah riddles. 
  • But beyond those two stories, the Labyrinth is filled with nods to classic fairytales and many different kinds of mythology. For instance, the concept of the labyrinth came from the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Jim Henson said, “Traditionally, the labyrinth is thought of as the voyage through life–the journey through it is Life and the ultimate center is Death. And re-birth is coming back out again.” 
  • Initially, Brian Froud suggested that there be a labyrinth in the film. He felt that it would not only be an interesting place for her character to be, but also could mirror the convolutions of her own thoughts. Jim Henson added, “After all, life is a kind of labyrinth, with all its twists and turns, its straight paths and its occasional dead ends.” 


  • Sarah Williams is an imaginative teenage girl. She feels life is unfair because she has to watch her baby stepbrother, Toby, when her father and stepmother go out on the weekends. Once wishing the goblins would take him away she realizes she really does not want to lose him. In order to bring him home she must solve the Labyrinth and reach The Goblin King’s Castle. It is a journey she must take, but not alone. Along the way she finds friends like Hoggle, Ludo, and Didymus that help her navigate through the labyrinth.   


  • The story goes like this: Jim Henson and Brian Froud rode in silence as their limousine left a showing of The Dark Crystal. They stared at each other until Henson started to laugh and said, “The next one will be so much better!”
    • Jim Henson’s daughter was studying mythology at the time, and often telling her father about the folktales she learned. He wanted to do a film inspired by these myths, but since Goblins were more of Brian Froud’s style, they shifted their focus to a story about goblins stealing a child. 
    • Of course, Henson would eventually make something inspired by his daughter’s education in folklore, a TV series called, “The Storyteller.”                                                                                                                                                
  • After the rigorous 5 years spent on creating “The Dark Crystal,” Brian Froud would have loved to take a break. Instead, he and Jim Henson started working on “Labyrinth.”  Although Froud’s title as Concept Director would mean a lot of work, this second film only took 3 years to create. So, Froud still considered it to be a vacation. 
  • The Labyrinth’s story went through many stages. As Jim Henson continued to promote his current film, he filled a notebook with ideas for his next one. One draft featured a king and a jester, and a twisted maze filled with monsters. There were concepts too dark to end up in the film, and some ideas that made their way to the final cut. For example, Jim Henson always wanted an Escher-inspired staircase sequence. 
    • Many critics felt that “The Dark Crystal” lacked the humor that audiences expected from Henson projects. So, Jim Henson made it a priority for there to be humorous scenes in “Labyrinth.” 
    • Brian Froud and Jim Henson met up with writer Dennis Lee, a songwriter for the series, “Fraggle Rock.” They pieced together a story from Henson’s notes, and Froud created some art to capture the look and essence of the film. One of these paintings was called, “Toby and The Goblins,” a beautiful image of a happy child among a crowd of monsters. Lee gathered the notes and drawings, and pieced together a first draft of the story. This novella would be worked into the final draft of the screenplay. 
      • As Lee worked on his draft, Jim Henson searched for a screenwriter. He wanted a comedian, and decided to go with Terry Jones, one of the frontmen of the famed troupe, “Monty Python.” Jones wasn’t just a comedian, he was also a fan of mythology and co-wrote the famous film, “Monty Python and The Holy Grail.” Jim Henson wrote to Jones, telling him that his contributions would make the script, “jump to life.” 
        • Dennis Lee provided Jones with a poetic treatment about 90 pages long, and Brian Froud handed him notebooks of concept art. Jones used these references to write his script, but was mostly inspired by Froud’s art. Jones said, “Every time I came to a new scene…I looked through Brian’s drawings and found a character who was kind of speaking to me already and suddenly there was a scene.” 
        • Jones was absolutely taken with Froud’s art and Henson’s ability to make these creatures come to life. While filming, he would not call the creatures puppets. He referred to them as some other form of magic.
      • Jone’s first draft went to another writer for revisions, and then another after that. The script went through almost 25 revisions over a two-year period. One of these writers was Elaine May, who was brought on to polish the script in 1985. Her revisions humanized the characters, especially the lead role of Sarah. Jim Henson loved May’s contributions so much, he decided to start shooting after her edits had been made. 
  • As the concept designer, Brian Froud was responsible for the overall look of the film and its characters. Each puppet was built from his designs, but Froud did not fully develop the characters because he felt that it would dampen the creative process. He wanted the creatures to develop beyond the page, and for the designers to have happy accidents in their creation. 
    • Froud also helped design the costumes in the film. He worked closely with costume designer Ellis Flyte to further develop a complex fantasy world. 
      • They decided to dress the baby Toby in a white and red striped onesie so that he would stand out in every scene. They had to invent a slimmed-down version of his diaper to make the costume look right, but this new version couldn’t hold in a lot of “mess” when he had an accident. 
      • Sarah’s costume was designed to be timeless. The top is modeled after old-fashioned peasant tops, paired with contemporary jeans. The costumes were all meant to reflect several different eras and types of folklore, so the audience could apply the story to any time. 
      • Jareth, the Goblin King, has several costume changes. His look changes as the film progresses, showing the feelings of the character in each scene. He is meant to look almost like a medieval knight, and a romantic lead. His hair was designed to be wolf-like, as wolves are often villains in many fairy tales. But, there were also influences from Japanese theater in his design. At one point in the film, he wears some armor. In another, he wears all white, to signify that he had lost his power. Jareth also carried around a “swagger stick” that also acted as a microphone!
  • In this film, the labyrinth itself is a character. Elliot Scott was the set designer tasked with creating both the complex world of The Goblin King, to Sarah’s American bedroom. The film needed to feel like a true voyage, and had to include several different unique spaces. Scott’s design really helped convey that. 
    • Scott was a gifted production designer that also created the worlds of Indiana Jones and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” 
  • Choreographers
    • Cheryl McFadden
    • Charles Augins
      • They got Charles Augins to help choreograph scenes such as Dance Magic Dance. They wanted the energetic movements that Charles choreographed so well. 
  • The Labyrinth was another groundbreaking film with several complex characters and sequences. Let’s talk about some of the most impressive accomplishments of the film. 
    • Hoggle is an incredibly important character in the film, as he acts as Sarah’s reluctant friend and guide through the labyrinth. 
      • The Hoggle puppet was considered to be the most complicated puppet ever created. He was performed by a total of five people, operating 18 different motors! One person was inside a suit (Shari Weiser) and four people on the outside controlling the mechanical head. The performers were together all the time during filming because it was important they remained in sync with each other. After doing the character for so many months, Brian Henson and the other puppeteers were almost able to improvise. Which is unusual for a puppet of this complexity.
      • Shari Weiser couldn’t see outside the suit and needed a monitor and camera. She apparently hated the system, and the camera in the chest was eventually removed. This meant that she could only see out when Hoggle’s mouth was open. Brian Henson had to come up with reasons to open the puppet’s mouth when Shari was about to run into things. He would often let out loud grunts and scoffs so she could see what was ahead of her. This became part of Hoggle’s character and charm.
      • Brian also performed the voice with the intention that his father was going to replace it, but by the end of filming, Jim said he was keeping Brian’s voice in. 
      • Brian said that he never felt closer to his dad than when they worked on “Labyrinth” together. He was only 20 years old at the time. 
    • As Sarah makes her way through the labyrinth, she falls into a shaft of green, arthritic hands. Terry Jones first came up with the concept of the hands, and Jim Henson called the scene, “bizarre and unusual.” 
      • Jennifer Connolly described scenes like this as a personal amusement park where she got to experience all these cool “rides” even though she was very ticklish! 
        • The shaft was 30 feet deep, filled with 150 pairs of foam latex hands, operated by 75 different puppeteers. In order to make this scene, they lined everyone up behind boards that were slightly diagonal, so the hands would show while their faces would stay hidden. 
        • Jim Henson came up with the idea of the hands making faces to speak. He and some other puppeteers spent hours in front of mirrors, trying to create different ways to imitate faces with hands. 
    • Another memorable piece of the labyrinth was the “Bog of Eternal Stench.”
      • Brian Froud was critical of the scene, thinking that the humor was too childish to be in the film. However, Prince Charles reportedly loved the bog of eternal stench, being the only one to laugh at it during the royal premiere of the film.
      • The water in the bog stayed stagnant long enough that it really was quite smelly! They had a stunt double stand in for Jennifer Connolly so there was no danger of her falling into the gross water. 
    • In Jim Henson’s original notes, he wanted a giant that came out of the wall. It was one of the few original elements that made it into the final cut of the film. During the battle sequence in the final act, a huge monster comes forth from the wall, operated by goblins. 
      • Brian really fought against the idea of a giant monster. So, he ended up making the creature come out of the door, because he did not want a straightforward puppet. He also designed it to look like goblins were operating him, so it was this incredibly advanced-looking technology, but in a very disarming and old way. 
      • The monster was gigantic and mechanical, one of the biggest puppets ever created. It was operated remotely. The machine was real and could cause problems if not operated properly.
      • Polyurethane foam was used and painted to look like armour with the entire project taking 2-3 months to build.
    • Jim Henson knew that a climatic battle sequence would be the best way to get his characters to the doors of the Goblin King’s Castle. 
      • The scene was not meant to be overly violent, as the goblin army is a hapless group, barely able to get their own weapons to work. One of these goblins was Star Wars actor Kenny Baker. In his sequence, a cannon doesn’t fire properly, causing his real-life costume to catch fire! 
      • The goblin army is painted many different bright colors, red, green, orange, and blue. They also have numbers on their heads. This design was actually inspired by Thomas the Tank Engine characters! 
      • Many of the goblins in this sequence are puppeteers in suits. They wanted every aspect of puppetry to be present, from suits, to mechanism, to hand operation. Like the rest of the film, the scene was incredibly complex. 


  • Jim Henson knew from the very beginning that he wanted a big star attached to the project. His son John was a big fan of David Bowie, and Henson noticed a certain other-worldliness to the entertainer. Bowie was immediately intrigued by the idea, and wanted to be able to write songs for the film that would appeal to all audiences. It was a perfect match. 
  • The film’s score was written by Trevor Jones, with music and lyrics by David Bowie.


  • The film opens with an owl, created by Industrial Light and Magic. It was one of the first fully CG creatures to appear in film at the time, and looks a little dated now. The owl signifies the night, and eventually turns out to be The Goblin King in disguise. 
  • Underground was the title track for the film, recorded in The Atlantic Studios in New York City around 2 in the morning. 
  • The opening leads us to Sarah, as she acts out a scene in the park with her dog. We’re soon introduced to her home, and bedroom filled with influences for the story that will soon unfold. 

Magic Dance

  • As Sarah has entered the labyrinth and makes her way toward the center, we see she is being watched by the cocky and spoiled Goblin King, from his hall filled with goblins. Then, Jareth sings an upbeat song with the baby, doing twirls in his more casual costume. David Bowie had trouble recording the song, because the baby in the studio wouldn’t make any noise. The baby sounds on the track were made by Bowie! 
  • This scene was one of the first ones filmed. The set had to have several holes within the walls to accommodate and hide the puppeteers. Brian Henson said that the set looked like Swiss Cheese. They were almost worried it would fall apart. 
  • In addition to the puppets there were actors that were on wires jumping around to bring more motion.
  • The song represents the carefree nature of the Goblin King, and his disregard for what he’s done. It also shows off the silliness of the goblins, characters that try to be evil, but just can’t seem to pull it off. 
  • When asked about Jareth, Bowie said, “I think Jareth, at best, is a romantic; but at worst he’s a spoiled child, vain and temperamental–kind of like a rock n roll star!” 

Chilly Down

  • During Sarah’s journey, she encounters a group of Fireys! These are brightly-colored bird-like creatures that live in the forest. At first, she is disarmed by their free-spirited song and dance, but the scene quickly turns dangerous when they want to see if she can remove her head, the way the fireys can remove theirs. 
  • During this scene there are several Firey characters that dance around, bounce their heads, and remove their hands. These characters were modelled directly after drawings by Brian Froud. Even in the drawings their movements were wacky and strange. The team decided to take this and bring it on screen. The rehearsals with these characters informed them a lot. A lot of experimentation was done and each time it changed the configurations and movement of the characters.
  • Since the Firey’s were able to unattach their heads, multiple puppeteers were used to create one Firey. The characters were shot on black velvet with the puppeteers covered from head to toe in black velvet as well. The characters are brightly colored to stand out against the black screen that they were filmed in front of and they were meant to look like traditional muppets.
  • Visual keys were done to match the lyrics. One example:
    • When they say “I shake my pretty little head” their heads are removed and bounced around.
  • This was the first song recorded by David Bowie for the film. 

As the World Falls Down

  • After Jareth convinces Hoggle to give Sarah a poisoned peach, she finds herself at a costumed ball. This scene is absolutely vital in showing Sarah’s progression from a sulky teenager to a young adult. It’s an abrupt transformation, as she’s transported from her regular clothes to a beautiful ball gown, and surrounded by confusing and unfamiliar faces. She gravitates to the only face she recognizes: Jareth, and the two engage in an almost trance-like dance. 
    • The scene meant a lot to Jim Henson personally, because he was able to apply his own emotions as a father of teenage girls, watching them mature into adulthood.  
  • For this scene, the filmmakers tried to create an adult world that Sarah would be simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by, because she’s in that stage between childhood and adulthood. 
    • This adult world was inspired by Venice and is set vaguely in the 18th century. The entire set was supposed to seem as if it existed in a bubble, preserved from the rest of the world. 
    • They took 10 days on this scene and ended up needing more people to fill the room. This caused the costume department to scramble for several more costumes in just a few days.
    • Although Sarah’s character is becoming an adult, Jennifer’s parents were worried about her growing up too much in the scene. So the hairdressers were sure to make her hair not seem too adult; they simplified her design and gave her natural references in her hair. 
    • The scene was Jennifer Connolly’s favorite to shoot because of the costume, and the thrill of dancing with David Bowie. 
  • Jim Henson asked Bowie to write a more traditional song for the scene, and Bowie felt that it was prettiest and most relaxed tune in the film.

Within You

  • With the help of her friends Hoggle, Ludo, and Sir Didymus, Sarah finally reaches the center of the labyrinth and must face The Goblin King. As she heads inside, she turns to her friends and tells them that she must face him on her own. The scene was meant to drive home Sarah’s maturity, but also paid homage to the classic fairytale or hero’s journey, as our hero must face their final battle alone. 
    • Sarah’s friends have grown with her, an idea that Jim Henson especially liked. He loved the concept that we were all connected and have a responsibility to each other. 
  • Sarah must now chase down her brother through a complicated mess of staircases, inspired by an MC Escher painting. For this scene, the crew built a complicated set that seemed to defy logic, one that really made you question what was up or down. 
  • Jim Henson wanted the stairs as a way to depict the meeting of real danger and the surreal nature of Sarah’s imagination. The story is never clear as to whether or not all of this happens in Sarah’s mind, and this scene illustrates that completely. 
    • For the scene, Jim Henson wanted to put baby Toby up on a tower, but Brian Froud and his wife were too scared to let them shoot it. Both of them were afraid of heights and they did not want their baby so high.
      • Although it looks like Toby is lost in the complex riddle of the stairs, he was actually just climbing up one or two steps off the floor the entire time. Family members stood around, calling his name and playing music to get him to look and crawl in certain directions. 
  • This song was David Bowie’s personal favorite from the film. He said, “I had to write something that sounded like stone walls and crumbling power; and the all-over effect, with Jim’s visuals, is, I think, very tragic and slightly disturbing.” 


  • In the final sequence that Sarah shares with Jareth, he’s dressed in white. He looks pale compared to his other moments, like he’s lost his power. He looks this way because he knows that he’s already lost, that Sarah has all the power. He pleads with her because he really is smitten with her and how strong she has proven herself to be. Jareth is lonely. The only companions in his life are those that he controls. But Sarah would be different because Sarah has the power to leave, even if she didn’t realize it until this moment. 
  • At the beginning of the film, Sarah was memorizing the lines from a play. She couldn’t remember the final lines, and she struggles to recall them now. She ignores Jareth, and a look of realization crosses her face. She remembers something she knew all along, a fact that seems so obvious to her now, if only she had remembered sooner. She looks at Jareth and says, “you have no power over me.” 
  • The words are enough to destroy Jareth’s hold on Sarah, as words were the thing that gave Jareth any power at all in the beginning of the film. Sarah didn’t earn or fight for her power. It was always there. 
  • This was Bowie’s favorite scene to shoot. He said, “It’s so sad, I think, because Sarah really likes Jareth, but she must get her baby brother, Toby, back safely, so she has to reject all of Jareth’s pleas for companionship in his pretty lonely world.” 
  • After Sarah returns to her room, she sees her friends in the mirror. They tell their heartfelt goodbyes, and Sarah tearfully tells them that she needs them. Then, the characters all appear, goblins and Fireys alike, to dance together. 
  • Brian Froud disliked the scene. He felt it was unnecessary and cheapened the ending of the film. But, he said he was happy to be proven wrong, as many people liked the addition of this happy scene. 
  • Underground then plays as the credits begin to roll. 


  • Jennifer Connelly as Sarah
    • Jennifer Connelly began as a model before acting. She was not sure what she wanted to be when she grew up, maybe a vet or carpenter but she kinda fell into acting. 
    • Since this movie she has been in several things such as Requiem for Dream, A Beautiful Mind, and Spiderman: Homecoming.
    • It was the first time Jennifer was ever in England and she said the whole experience was fun for her.
    • Jim Henson was supportive and very kind to her. He did not have to talk down to her or tiptoe around her feelings. Many members of the team even remarked how mature and professional she was at the young age of 14.
  • David Bowie as Jareth
    • Bowie was a singer-songwriter that would also appear in movies. Some of these were UHF, The Prestige, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.
    • Michael Moschen was the amazing performer behind David Bowie, juggling the balls.
      • He was working blind behind Bowie and so every time they had to do several takes.
  • Toby Froud as Toby
    • Toby is actually Brian Froud’s son!
    • He was influenced by what his father did and things like this movie and so he is now a special effects designer, puppeteer, filmmaker, and performer.
  • Shelley Thompson as the Stepmother
    • Shelley is most known now most for her character in Trailer Park Boys as Barbara Lahey. 
  • Christopher Malcolm as the Father
    • He was in things like Highlander, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Never Say Never Again.
  • Shari Weiser as Hoggle
    • Shari was often a suit performer and was in Babes in Toyland(1986), Follow that Bird, and Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree.
  • Brian Henson as Hoggle/ Goblin (voice)
    • Brian was about 22 when this movie was made. He has continued on his father’s legacy and is an amazing puppeteer, director, and technician in his own right.
  • Ron Mueck as Ludo(one of the two that would switch off in the costume)/ Firey 2/ Goblin (voice)
    • He is an amazing sculptor. His sculptures are very lifelike and have a huge scale. He also voiced a character in The Tale of the Bunny Picnic.
  • Rob Mills as Ludo(the other that would switch off in the costume)/ Firey 3
    • He worked for 12 years with Jim Henson’s puppet studio and even started a couple of his own production companies.
    • Ron Mueck was the main actor within Ludo, but since it is such a heavy and difficult character Rob Mills would sometimes take over. 
      • These actors would control Ludo by using one arm to move his head around and one arm to control one of the creature’s arms. Ludo’s second arm hung by itself. Inside with the puppeteer, whether it be Ron or Rob, were two video screens strapped in so they could see what the camera was filming and where they were heading. For a little extra visibility there was also mesh that they could see through, hidden in fur on Ludo’s chest.
      • There were two Ludo heads, one that had a smile and one that had a frown. Both of these heads were animatronic like Hoggle’s and required three people to control. The three people that contributed to this were Francis Wright, Sue Dacre, and Donald Austen. 
    • Jim Henson came up with the idea of Ludo communicating with rocks. He liked the idea of creatures communicating with nature.
  • Dave Goelz as Didymus / The Hat / The Four Guards / Left Door Knocker / Firey 3 (voice)
    • We mentioned Dave Goelz in the last episode as well and has been with Jim Henson’s Company for a long time now and has even voiced the new series Muppets Now on Disney Plus.
    • There were about 4 different Didymus puppets.
      • Didymus is part fox and part dog in an Elizabethan costume that guards the bridge.
      • The first Didymus was essentially a hand puppet, but a little more complicated. In the left hand of the character is a rod that is used as a prop for Didymus, but it is also a clever disguise to assist in control of that arm. Karen Prell aided in controlling the right arm while Dave controlled the mouth and left arm. From afar other puppeteers controlled the eyebrows, eyes, and ears.
      • In the shots where it is just Didymus’s legs a marionette was used and controlled by David Barclay.
      • The third was a radio controlled Didymus that was strapped onto a live sheepdog that was playing Ambrosius.
      • The fourth was a Didymus that was connected to a dog sized puppet where Dave Goelz hand would go up through the dog to get to Didymus’s mouth.
        • Kevin Clash would then control the movements of Ambrosius.


  • The Labyrinth opened at number eight in the US box office charts with $3.5 million, putting it behind other films such as Ferris Buller’s Day Off and Top Gun. During its next weekend, the film dropped to number 13 only earning another $1.8 million. By the end of its run, it had grossed $12.7 million, just over half of its $25 million budget. 
    • According to Variety, it also made another $12 million overseas which would still just fall short of the budget. 
  • The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics. It currently sits at a 73% from critics on rotten tomatoes and 86% from audience scores. The general consensus from critics is that while the Labyrinth is most interesting on a visual level, it provides further proof of director Jim Henson’s boundless imagination. 
  • Labyrinth was nominated at the British Academy Film Awards for Best Special Visual Effects and received two Saturn Award nominations for Best Fantasy Film as well as Best Costumes. Lastly it was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. 
  • The film is ranked 72nd on Empire’s “The 80 best ‘80s movies’ and 26th on Time Out’s “The 50 best fantasy movies”. In 2019 The Telegraph named it as one of “The 77 best kids’ films of all time”. (Two British publications.)
  • Despite its poor performance at the box office, Labyrinth was a success on home video and later on DVD, and has become a cult classic. 
    • Brian Henson remembered his father as being aware that Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal both had cult followings by the time of his death in 1990, saying, “he was able to see all that, and know that it was appreciated.”
  • This movie continues to be a classic beloved by many. In 2017 McFarlane Toys made a special collectible Jareth the Goblin King figurine and in 2019 made a special Dance Magic Jareth!

Much like the name of the film suggests, the Labyrinth takes the audience on a wild and remarkable journey, with confusing sequences and strange visuals. Like the classic fairy tales on which it was based, it’s a timeless story that can appeal to every generation. This film is rich with visual metaphors, telling a deeply personal story that audiences everywhere can relate to. 

Afterall, life is a labyrinth. We’ve all ventured into the twisting walls of the unknown, gathered our friends, lost our way, and fought our own Goblin King. To many of us, this film is a guide that reminds us we’re all on our own strange and magical journeys. And if ever we should need it, we know where to find it.   

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! @   

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


The Case is Alive (With the Sound of Music) Part 1

In 1965, one of the most popular and influential movie musicals premiered. It was based on a musical by the legendary duo Rogers and Hammerstein, and directed by the same man that brought us the groundbreaking film West Side Story. The film starred film-newcomer Julie Andrews, and a young Christopher Plummer, as their characters fell in love in “the last golden days of the 30’s.” 

The Sound of Music changed film forever. Since its release, it’s estimated to have been seen by over a billion people. It has sold more tickets domestically than any other film, besides Gone With the Wind and Star Wars (not dollars, tickets). It’s a story filled with indomitable spirit, and portrays the healing power of music. The Sound of Music has brought countless families together since its release, and is still delighting audiences to this day. 

As Musical May comes to a close, we’re covering one of the biggest musicals to ever hit the silver screen. So big, actually, that we couldn’t cover it all in one episode. This will be only part one, with part two coming your way next week. So, OF COURSE, we will start at the very beginning, we hear it’s a very good place to start. 

We won’t go too far into the real story, but we will talk about the real Maria, and some of the key differences between the film and what actually happened. 

  • It may surprise you to know that Maria Von Trapp was in fact a real person, and the story you see in the film is very loosely based on a true story. And we mean VERY loosely based. When director Robert Wise took on the project, he specifically didn’t focus on any of the differences between the stage play and Maria Von Trapp’s autobiography. He believed it was his job to adapt the play, and that knowing how inaccurate the details were, would only hold him down throughout the process. 
  • Maria Kutschera (Co-CHAIR-uh) was actually raised an atheist, and changed her religious views as a young woman. She became a nun at the Nonnberg Abbey, and left for a year to visit the Von Trapp Villa to aid one of the children there that had suffered Scarlet Fever. According to Maria’s youngest son, Maria came to tutor his sister since she wasn’t strong enough to walk to school with the other children. 
  • The children loved Maria so much, they asked their father to have her stay. According to The Sound of Music website, they asked their father to marry her. His response was, “I don’t even know if she likes me.” 
    • One of the biggest differences between the real Captain Von Trapp and his fictional counterpart was that he was actually a very warm and loving man from the beginning. According to his children, he was strict, and their house was very structured. He did in fact use whistles to signal to the children as the movie suggests, but he never made them line up in a military style. 
  • The couple married in the late 1920’s, and lived in Austria right as Hitler rose to power in 1938. In this time, they had two more children together, and fled to America with a third on the way. 
  • Some aspects of the film are true, for example the family did win first prize at a choral competition in the Salzburg Festival. But, that didn’t happen just as they fled the country. And one of the film’s biggest differences from the real story is the ending, as the family left by train and did not climb over the alps to freedom. 
    • The ending of the movie did receive criticism, as the family’s plan to escape to Switzerland would not work if they went over the alps. As the real Maria Von Trapp pointed out, they would have ended up in Germany if they had gone that way. 
  • After arriving in America, the family traveled the country as a singing group. They eventually settled in Vermont, and the captain passed away in 1947. In 1949, Maria published a memoir that detailed her life before and after joining the Von Trapp family. This was the basis for the musical.


  • Richard Rogers was a brilliant composer that had a very successful career with his longtime partner, Lorenz Hart. Together, the two of them worked on over 40 productions until Hart’s death in the 1940’s. In search of a new partner, Rogers contacted a school acquaintance, Oscar Hammerstein. Rogers’ experience with musical comedy worked well when paired with Hammerstein’s operetta style. The men created many hit musicals, like Oklahoma, Cinderella, and The King and I. The Sound of Music was their last production together. 
  • The Sound of Music premiered in November of 1959. It starred Broadway legend Mary Martin in the lead role, and ran for almost 1500 performances, winning 5 Tony Awards. Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse wrote the book that would be adapted into a film.   


  • The nuns at Nonnburg Abbey are at a loss with what to do with their problematic postulant, Maria. Mother Abbess, the leader of the community, asks Maria to travel to the Von Trapp Villa, the home of a wealthy Navy Captain and his seven children. She is to be their Governess, although she has never looked after children before. Although they have a rocky relationship at the start, Maria quickly warms the hearts of the entire family, and teaches the children how to sing. She and the Captain fall in love, just as Hitler begins to take over Austria. 


  • The Sound of Music was directed by Robert Wise, a legendary film director that worked on titles like, “West Side Story,” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” He shot on 65mm film and planned to only shoot on location for 6 weeks, which turned into 11 weeks because of intermittent rain. 
    • Much of the film was shot on location in Salzburg. 
  • Ernest Lehman wrote the adapted screenplay, making many changes from the stage production. Many of these changes included changing where the songs were located in the film. For example, “My Favorite Things” was originally sung by Maria while she was at the Abbey, not when she was with the children. Decisions like this really elevated the story and helped the music work better into a film format.  
    • The script was very song heavy, with not as much attention on the characters and story. Lehman changed that, and added a lot of depth to The Captain specifically. There was one instance where he locked himself in a room with Christopher Plummer, as he was trying to write the scene where his character said goodbye to the Baroness for the final time. Plummer suggested that Lehman write something similar to a scene in “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Plummer felt that Lehman didn’t know what he meant, but he wrote something great anyway. 
  • Saul Wurtzel designed the sets for the film, which were seamlessly edited with locations. For the opening with the Abbey, they were not allowed to even go inside the actual location, and could only get outside shots. So, Wurtzel visited Abbeys all over the country and built a set based on what he found. He was incredibly detailed, even adding moisture to the bricks of the courtyard. 
    • Some sets were actually built in Austria instead of Hollywood, so the actors could run inside and shoot indoor scenes when the weather was bad. Many scenes in the film were shot over the course of several weeks. For example, when Maria is first meeting with Mother Abbess, that was shot in small pieces over a long period of time. The same for when Maria and The Captain have their fight after the children fall in the lake. 
  • Ted McCord was the cinematographer for the film, and had worked with Robert Wise in the past. In many of the film’s scenes, it was actually raining while they needed to shoot. So, they would put a tarp over the actors to keep them dry, and McCord had to match the lighting under the tarp with the light outdoors. 


  • Songs
    1. The Sound of Music
      • The opening shot of the film is the most iconic. We see some establishing shots of the Austrian landscape, until we pan over a wide open field and Maria singing with her arms outstretched. This opening was the last thing shot on location in Bavaria. 
      • When they originally scouted the location, they asked the farmers that owned the land not to mow the tall grass. When they showed up, the grass had been mowed. The pond in the scene was crafted by the crew, as there was no pond for her to jump over. One angry farmer stabbed the lining of the stream with a pitchfork and drained all the water!
      • The cast and crew all hid in the trees and bushes along the landscape, and Julie was out there all alone. Cameraman Paul Beeson was the only crewmember brave enough to ride outside of the helicopter, as he was strapped to the side with the film camera. Julie walked toward the helicopter and did her memorable turn as she started singing, and the backdraft of the helicopter knocked her down every time. 
      • The trees that she walks past were chopped from somewhere else and stuck into the ground. 
    2. Morning Hymn/ Alleluia
      • The shot where the nuns are all singing Alleluia in a row was the only one done within an actual chapel and not a sound stage.
      • The film was choreographed by then-married Dee Dee White and Marc Breaux. White said that every movement in the Abbey from the beginning until the first song, was choreographed. 
        • The costume designer is actually in this scene, as a nun with a hand on her face. 
    3. Maria
      • This scene features Marni Nixon, the woman that provided the singing voices for Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady! Robert Wise said that they wanted to honor her by giving her some screen time in this film.
      • Mother Abbess, played by Peggy Wood, also does not sing her part here. Wise wanted her in the film because she was a wonderful stage actress, but the singing was too much for her at this point in her life, as she was in her 70’s. 
      • The choreographers rehearsed this scene while wearing the nun habits, so they had an understanding of how a nun could move in the costume. 
    4. I Have Confidence
      • The cast and crew got a special visit from Maria Von Trapp and one of her granddaughters during filming this song. The pair were so impressed and happy with the set and everything that they wanted to appear in the film. Robert Wise was able to sneak them into the shot but they are hard to see if you are not looking for them! They appear behind Maria in the shot with the fountain.
      • This was a song written specifically for the movie. Wise felt it was a great interpretation of how Maria described this moment in her book. 
      • Julie Andrews actually had a little trouble with one of the lines, thinking that it didn’t make sense. It was, “strength lies in nights of peaceful slumbers.” She decided to sing that part of the song quickly, as if she were rambling, that way she didn’t have to think too much about how it sounded. 
    5. Sixteen Going on Seventeen
      • The scene was actually shot during the daytime, since it costs much more to have a crew stay into the night. The cinematographer and the rest of the crew had to make the scene look like it took place at night for this reason. 
      • This was the absolute last scene shot for the movie. During filming they forgot to cover her shoes in rubber. This caused her to slip and fall through one of the windows, hurting her ankle. They wrapped it up and painted the bandage the color of her tights and finished the shoot. 
      • As Liesl is running towards the Gazebo it is a Gazebo that was built in Salzburg. When they are dancing and close to it it is actually on the soundstage in California. The production team ended up leaving the gazebo in Salzburg as a sort of gift and Salzburg moved it to a public park where many travel just to see it. 
    6. My Favorite Things
      • This song was moved from its original spot in the stage play. In the play the children take a liking to Maria immediately but screenplay writer, Ernest Lehman, felt that it would be more endearing if they warmed up to her. He therefore changed it so the children had a dislike of her in the beginning and so he needed a scene where she could bond with them. This bonding experience became the thunderstorm coupled with My Favorite Things.
      • The scene just before this one, and this song were the first sequences shot for the movie. As Leisl appears in the window, she is covered in water and dirt that the production team had sprayed on her. 
      • In the musical the song is fully sung but for the movie Julie Andrews was told to begin speaking the first line or two before beginning to sing. This was to ensure a smooth transition.
    7. Do-Re-Mi
      • This song was originally supposed to be right when Maria arrived. 
      • In the beginning of the scene, Wise asked one of the boys to throw his ball high into the air, as a way to show the audience the beautiful mountain landscape. 
      • Julie Andrews actually didn’t know how to play guitar, and she felt uncomfortable holding it. She faked it as best as she could. 
      • Julie felt like this song was the quintessential song for the film, because it showed the country so well. There were very many location shots, and they traveled all over Salzburg to get them. This scene is also important because it’s when the children learn to sing, which would become the reason that the captain warms up to them again. 
      • Right after this song, we see the first real signs of trouble with the nazi invasion. After a brief conversation about politics, The Captain gets upset. When the Baroness makes a remark that he seems far away and asks him where he is, he replies, “In a world that’s disappearing, I’m afraid.” 
    8. The Sound of Music (Reprise) 
      • One thing this film does really well is its reprises. In this scene, The Sound of Music returns as the children sing it for the Baroness. When The Captain comes into the room, the children start to cry. It was incredibly emotional on set, even for the director. The children finally feel like he’s coming back into their lives for the first time since they lost their mother. 
        • The Captain says to Maria, “You brought music back into my house.” And he asks her to stay, even though they had just had a fight about the way she’s behaving with the children. 
    9. The Lonely Goatherd
      • This song was also moved by Ernest Lehman from the thunderstorm scene.
      • The Salzburg Marionette Theatre influenced the puppetry during this song. The theater originally performed operas with their marionettes. In 2007 they made a mini production of The Sound of Music! It has now toured the world.
      • Years later in “The Julie Andrews Hour,” Julie Andrews welcomed the real Maria Von Trapp as a guest. Although Maria said she liked Julie’s performance in the film, she felt she needed a little more yodelling practice. Maria then proceeded to give her yodeling lessons. 
    1. Edelweiss
      • Originally, this song was only sung near the end of the film at the festival where the family performs. Ernest Lehman moved this number as well, to great effect. 
      • Christopher Plummer hated playing the guitar. He was used to playing piano, and didn’t want to learn the new instrument because it was so painful to play. 
      • This was Julie Andrews’ favorite song in the film, and the favorite of many of the actors.
      • Plummer did not do his own singing for the film, and Bill Lee’s voice was dubbed in. It was a big moment for the film because it’s the first and only time the captain sings alone, and the flower Edelweiss has such a strong connection to Austria. 
    2. So Long, Farewell
      • So Long, Farewell is one of the few diagetic songs in the film. Just before and after this song, there are some key plot moments happening. 
      • Before the song, the children and Maria are dancing a traditional Austrian folk dance. The choreographers studied many dances to create a dance for the scene, just before The Captain arrives to dance with Maria. 
      • Julie Andrews said that the scene felt as magical as it looked. It was a wonderful experience to shoot, and is the exact moment that the two characters discover that they have fallen in love. 
      • Dee Dee White said that she didn’t realize how instrumental the scene was to the story until she saw it on screen. 
      • So Long, Farewell is a fun little song that appears again later in the movie. When Gretl lies on the stairs, the actress that played Leisl had to come pick her up. She said that she hurt her back carrying her up the steps. 
      • Just after the song, the Baroness visits Maria, and points out to her that she and The Captain are in love. This leads to Maria leaving and heading back to the Abbey.
      • In real life, she only left to discuss what she should do with Mother Abbess, after The Captain had proposed. 

Since this is where the intermission happens in the film, we’re gonna have an intermission of our own. 

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! @   

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


You Can’t Stop the Case

Welcome to the 60’s, Cassettes! Last week, we covered the 1962 musical film, The Music Man! This week, we’re heading to the 1960’s again, but through a film that came out in 2007. Or was it 1988? Discussing movies can get so confusing! 

In July of 2007, the hit Broadway musical Hairspray danced into theaters. It featured the effervescent Tracy Turnblad, a Baltimore teenager longing for her chance in the spotlight. The film boasted bright and bouncy musical numbers, coupled with issues of acceptance and overcoming racial bias. It was an absolute delight; a faithful adaptation with stellar performances from an all-star cast. Much like its Broadway predecessor, it was a critical and commercial success, showing people everywhere that it’s okay to be different. In fact, uniqueness should be celebrated.  

So, get out your cans of hair cement and get those do’s as high as they will go. It’s time to talk about Hairspray! 


  • In order to talk about Hairspray, we’re going to have to head back to the very beginning. Filmmaker John Waters has been producing independent films since he was a teenager in 1960’s Baltimore. Growing up in the area, he was familiar with a program called, “The Buddy Deane Show,” an American Bandstand style show that introduced new music and dance to at-home viewers. 
  • After writing an article about a reunion of the show’s cast, Waters was inspired to write a fictional story about Buddy Deane, set in 1960’s Baltimore, when the show aired. In every film Waters has made up to this point, he featured the actor Harris Milstead, better known by his stage name, Divine. After writing this new screenplay, he asked Divine to appear in the film, and for the first time, he would not have the starring role. 
  • Waters wanted a teenage girl for the lead role of Tracy Turnblad. He held an open call, and cast the then-unknown actress Rikki Lake for the part!
  • After securing other stars like Sonny Bono and Jerry Stiller, Hairspray opened in February of 1988. The film was a success, making John Waters and Rikki Lake a household name. They continued to work together for years afterward, most notably on the film, Crybaby. 
  • In the late 1990’s, producer Margo Lion rented the movie and felt like it was perfect for a musical adaptation. She called up John Waters, who was interested to see how Broadway would interpret his story. They both knew that screen to stage adaptations aren’t always successful, especially when the stage version tries too hard to be the film. Lion wanted to find a way to make a musical that could stand on its own, while still holding onto the heart and soul of the original.
  • Lion tapped composer and songwriter Marc Shaiman, who agreed to the project if his partner Scott Wittman could pen the lyrics. After their songs got John Waters’ stamp of approval, the team pushed forward, securing writer Thomas Meehan (who wrote the book for Annie) and director Rob Marshall (who was also working on the film Chicago at the time.) 
  • For the lead, Marshall (who would later be replaced by director Jack O’Brien) chose Marissa Jaret Winokur, who would go on to win a Tony for the role. In the spirit of the original, the producers decided that they should cast a man for the part of Edna Turnblad. They chose the legendary Harvey Fierstein, who continued on Divine’s legacy as well as anyone could. 
  • The musical opened to rave reviews, winning 8 Tony awards! After 5 years, the musical would be adapted to film, this time with Nikki Blonsky in the role. 

John Waters said of the 2007 film, “I’m proud that I thought up something in my bed in my crummy old apartment… that I certainly think will make Nikki a star,” says Waters, “the way the first movie made Ricki a star and the musical made Marissa a star.”


  • The “Corny Collins Show” in Baltimore is having auditions, and despite being overweight, Tracy Turnblad has her heart set on becoming one of the stars! Using some dance moves she learned from a new friend, Seaweed, she is able to earn a spot in the show and become an overnight sensation. Her father even helps keep her in the spotlight by selling Tracy branded merchandise at his joke shop! As Tracy navigates her new position in the group, she strives to change the popular structure set in place by using her platform to integrate “The Corny Collins Show.” 


  • After producing the wildly successful and heavily awarded Chicago, Craig Zadan and Niel Meron wanted to work on another musical. They had previously worked on projects like “Footloose,” “Gypsy,” and the 1997 Wonderful World of Disney CLASSIC “Cinderella.” 
  • Once the producers were tied to the project, they chose Adam Shankman to direct. Shankman had made films like, “The Wedding Planner” and “A Walk To Remember.” Shankman was not the project’s first pick, as the studio had first tried to get both Jack O’Brien and Rob Marshall, which didn’t work out due to scheduling conflicts. 
  • Adam Shankman has a personal connection to Hairspray. He knew the original songwriters, and was even around when they were writing the tunes for the Broadway show. He attended Hairspray’s opening night on Broadway as well. Because of this Shankman begged to be a part of the production, but was turned down. He was crushed. His agent convinced him to try again, and Shankman said he would only meet with the filmmakers if he was guaranteed to get it. Thankfully, the producers ultimately decided Shankman was perfect for the job. 
  • John Waters gave Shankman advice on how to direct the film. He told Collider about the exchange, saying that: “John Waters, when I first got the movie said, ‘I’m so excited for you, you’re such a fabulous choice for this.’ And I was like, ‘Thought bubble, question mark, what?’ And he said, ‘My only advice to you is you have to do your own thing; you can’t do what I did, don’t do what they did. This story only works if it’s told from a really personal perspective, so don’t try to – in this case, imitation will not be flattery for you, so just go for it.’”
  • Screenwriter Leslie Dixon adapted the story from the stage. She has also written the screenplay for some other known movies such as The Thomas Crown Affair, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Runaway Bride.
  • Once the movie began taking shape investors were needed and the majority that helped fund the movie came from China. In order to draw in these investors (and audiences!) the studio needed a big name. They decided this big name would be John Travolta, the once crowned prince of movie musicals. Although he had not done a musical in 30 years, they knew he would draw the crowds. Travolta, famous for his long deliberations for roles, was hesitant and made the filmmakers wait over a year before making a decision. Travolta in a New York Times interview after being asked about his hesitation said that, “Playing a woman attracted me, playing a drag queen did not. The vaudeville idea of a man in a dress is a joke that works better onstage than it does on film, and I didn’t want any winking or camping. I didn’t want it to be ‘John Travolta plays Edna.’ That’s not interesting. It had to be something I could go all the way with, disappear in, like I did in the Bill Clinton role in ‘Primary Colors’ or in ‘Saturday Night Fever.” When he finally agreed to the part he had one condition, that Christopher Walken play Wilbur so that he was not the only known star in the film. He also wanted an Academy Award winner to play his husband. 
  • How Nikki got the role of Tracy Turnblad
    • There is something magical about finding a fresh face for a starring role. Shankman and the casting director, David Rubin, decided that an open call was best for finding the star for the role of Tracy Turnblad. A few reasons guided them to this decision, because not only were there no overweight teenage movie stars, the first two girls cast as Tracy were unknown actresses. 
    • In each city there were about 300-500 girls to audition! 
    • In open calls you want to keep your ears and mind open to all possibilities so it is hard to immediately say, “yes, this is the person.” Even though they received Nikki Blonsky’s tape early they kept searching, but kept coming back to her. Nikki worked at a Cold Stone Creamery and when they decided to break the news they told her that the director wanted to meet with all the finalists virtually.  When Shankman popped up on her screen he told her to make herself an ice-cream cone because she got the part!! 


    • So, the original 1988 film was not a musical, shocking I know! So when Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman sat down to watch the film, they were inspired by various lines and the tone of the film, to write several songs that captured the story and spirit of Tracy Turnblad and 1960’s Baltimore. 
    • Since the film is an adaptation of the musical, it’s structure is a little different. It focuses more on the story, and some of the songs were dropped. While the production lost songs like, “Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now,” “The Big Dollhouse,” and “Cooties,” it gained songs like, “The New Girl in Town” and “Ladies’ Choice!”  
    • Good Morning Baltimore
      • This is the bombastic opening number that incorporates the sounds of 1960’s pop. It starts with an attention-grabbing drum beat, mixed with the peppy vocals of Nikki Blonsky.  
      • Shaiman and Wittman took inspiration from “Oklahoma!” as that musical opens with the number, “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin!’” They wanted the story to welcome the audience and set the tone, as Tracy happily exclaims, “Good Morning, Baltimore!”
      • In this scene, John Waters makes a cameo appearance as “The flasher who lives next door.” The song is funny, and perfectly paints Tracy as the lovable optimist, who sees every day as a new opportunity to make her dreams come true.
    • The Nicest Kids in Town
      • This song introduces Corny Collins, the show that would be the focal point of the film. It’s a snarky song that pokes fun at ensemble shows of the 1960’s era, like The Mickey Mouse Club and of course, “American Bandstand.”
        • “Nice *white* kids who lead the way…” 
    • It Takes Two
    • (The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs
      • The filmmakers intended to replace this song, and several new tunes were written for this purpose. Michelle Pfieffer actually spoke up, and felt that none of the replacement songs gave her character the same amount of depth as “Miss Baltimore Crabs.” So, it stayed in the film!
    • I Can Hear the Bells
      • This is the moment when Tracy falls in love with Link. It perfectly captures the magic of a teen girl’s fantasy and depicts how people can read too much into only a small encounter. This scene sets up the idea that Tracy and Link’s relationship may just be a fantasy, but the film turns that expectation on its head when Link falls in love with her as well.
    • Ladies’ Choice
      • This song was written just for the film, and was a show-off number for Zac Efron’s Link Larkin. 
      • The song was inspired by the sounds of Elvis, obviously style icon for Link as well and popular singer in the 1960’s.
    • The New Girl in Town
      • This song was written for the original musical, but not used in the production. Shaiman added it back into the movie as a song sung on The Corny Collins Show. It worked perfectly as a way to show the culture of the show, and the contrast between the segregated white and black casts.
      • It also frames Amber’s jealousy for Tracy in a clever tune sung in-universe. 
    • Welcome to the 60’s
      • This song is like a coming-out party for Edna’s character, as Tracy convinces her to leave the house for the first time. It reminds the audience that even though these characters don’t have to deal with the nightmare of racism, they struggle with how society perceives them as overweight women.
      • This scene also features the wonderful Jerry Stiller, who played Tracy’s father in the 1988 film! 
      • “People who are different, their time is coming” 
    • Run and Tell That
      • This song is another big number, showcasing the vocal talents of Seaweed (played by Elijah Kelly). Like the other character-driven songs of the musical, this song has a distinct musical style and has elements of R&B. It’s an ubeat look at Seaweed’s perspective, and leads him to inviting the girls to his mother’s record store.  
      • It introduces Seaweed’s younger sister, Lil Inez, and it’s the first time Penny takes notice of her love-interest. As of this time, Penny and Seaweed’s relationship would be illegal. 
    • Big, Blonde, and Beautiful
      • This song has three different perspectives, and cleverly shows the personality and motives of three different female characters. Initially it’s a song sung by Maybelle, but then it is the song that represents Edna becoming more comfortable with her body. Of course, it’s also the song that Velma sings as she intends to seduce Mr. Turnblad. 
      • “Big is back, and as for black, it’s beautiful” 
    • (You’re) Timeless to Me
      • This is the classic number that showcases John Travolta and Christopher Walken’s voices. Travolta was hesitant to take the role since it had been many years since he had starred in a musical, and Christopher Walken isn’t known for his musical abilities. The two make a perfect pair as they sing about each others’ timelessness. 
    • I Know Where I’ve Been
      • The biggest, most heartfelt, and show-stopping song of the musical goes to Motormouth Maybelle. Maybelle is an emotional anchor throughout the story, as she fights for equality on the Corny Collins Show and in life. 
      • In a musical filled with fun, bouncy songs, this ballad lands perfectly with the audience. While Tracy is fighting for integration, this moment isn’t about her. It’s a chance for the audience to really hear Maybelle’s perspective as a black woman in the 1960’s. 
    • Without Love
      • In this song, Zac Efron was forced to make-out with a photo of Nikki Blonsky. Apparently, he had to do that for several takes. 
      • This is the sweet song about young love, and finally unites the two major couples: Tracy and Link and Seaweed and Penny. 
      • Both sets of couples have their challenges, as the group must work to break Tracy out of prison and into the Miss Teenage Hairspray competition. 
    • (It’s) Hairspray
    • You Can’t Stop the Beat
      • The singers referred to this song as, “You can’t stop to breathe,” because there were so many words and so few pauses. Since Queen Latifah was used to performing as a rap artist, she nailed it on the first take. 
      • Rita Ryack (the costume designer) remembers that she at first wondered how Penny Pingleton would get the gown she wears in this final number. Rita decided Penny would have had to make it from her bedroom curtains. For the bottom of the dress, the valance from the curtains were used and hung from the curtain rings.
        • This pays homage to The Sound of Music!
    • Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)
      • An original song for the film, this played at the beginning of the credits with Nikki Blonsky, Queen Latifah, and Zac Efron
    • Marc Shaiman worked the song, “Cooties” into the theme music during the “Miss Hairspray” competition part of the film.
  • Mama, I’m a Big Girl Now was a song that was cut from the production, but it was re-recorded for the film’s soundtrack and credits with all three Tracy Turnblads! Rikki Lake, Marissa Winokur, and Nikki Blonsky all participated.


  • John Travolta as Edna Turnblad
    • He is of course known for another musical movie, Grease, but also Pulp Fiction and Saturday Night Fever.
    • Edna Turnblad is traditionally played by a man in drag. This tradition began with Divine in the original 1988 film.
  • Christopher Walken as Wilbur Turnblad
    • He has been in such movies as Catch Me If You Can, Pulp Fiction, and Balls of Fury.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer as Velma Von Tussle
    • She has been in Scarface, Batman Returns, Grease 2, and Stardust.
  • Amanda Bynes as Penny Pingleton
    • We of course remember Amanda Bynes from All That and The Amanda Show. She has also been in She’s the Man and Easy A.
  • Allison Janney as Prudy Pingleton
    • She has appeared in movies like The Way Way Back and 10 Things I Hate About You. She has also starred in tv shows like The West Wing and the sitcom Mom.
  • James Marsden as Corny Collins
    • He has been in Enchanted, 27 Dresses, X-Men, and Sonic the Hedgehog (2020.)
  • Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelle
    • She is known for Chicago, Taxi, Last Holiday, and many more.
  • Brittany Snow as Amber Von Tussle
    • She is known for the Pitch Perfect Movies,Prom Night, and John Tucker Must Die. Robin and Marci also remember her on American Dreams! Which is of course about a 1960’s Band Stand.
  • Elijah Kelley as Seaweed
    • He was in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Take the Lead, and the live taping of The Wiz.
  • Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad
    • Nikki has been in the movies Waiting for Forever, Queen Sized, and Geography Club.
    • According to IMDB Blonsky still turns up at her former employer, which at one point introduced a new creation — Color Me Cotton Candy — in Blonsky’s honor.
  • Tayla Parx as Little Inez
    • She has been in a few things but she is a really talented songwriter and artist. She has written for many well known artists such as Ariana Grande, Nikki Minaj, Alicia Keys, and Fifth Harmony!
  • Jerry Stiller as Mr. Pinky
    • In the original 1988 film, Stiller played Wilbur Turnblad!
    • Stiller is known well for his parts in Seinfeld, Zoolander, Heavyweights, The King of Queens, and many more.
  • ANNNNND… Link played by Zac Efron
    • Known of course for Highschool Musical before this, but also has been in 17 Again and Neighbors.
    • Luckily Zac Efron favored this project over the 2006 High School Musical tour! His dubber from the first HSM movie, Drew Seeley, stood in Efron’s place on the tour.


  • Hairspray had a budget of about $75 million and had a US Gross of almost $119 million! 
  • After the success of Chicago, Hollywood was interested in adapting musicals again. Films like Phantom of the Opera, Rent, and The Producers weren’t doing well at the box office. When Hairspray came out, it was the tenth movie musical to ever make 100$ million dollars domestically! Some of the other films that passed that mark were, “The Sound of Music” and “Grease.” as well as such animated musicals as “The Lion King” and “Aladdin.”
  • According to New Line, the audience split has been about 65% female and 35% male.
    • Some of that 65% was us! Marci and Robin saw this film when it came out, with Robin’s mom. 
  • The movie was nominated for three golden globes, a BAFTA, and a SAG award. 

In 1988, 2002, and 2007, Hairspray was simultaneously ahead of its time and timeless. It’s a story created by, and for people who feel like outsiders. It cast a man in drag in a major role, starting a musical tradition that lasted through every other adaptation of the story. Hairspray explores fat phobia and racial injustice in a meaningful way. It’s a story with a message for everyone, but especially the people that don’t feel like they have a place in this world. Not only do we have a place, the world will be better the more we embrace our authentic selves and everyone else around us.

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

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The Case of The Music Man

Well, Animation April has come to an end. But, since we’re such big fans of alliteration, we’ve decided to turn this month into Musical May! We each chose a musical to cover this month, which means we’re bringing you three episodes focused on some of our absolute favorites! 

Adam got to choose first! And he picked (drumroll please) The Music Man! Based on Meredith Wilson’s Broadway hit, this film adaptation was released in 1962, starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones. It was a huge success, and is still considered to be one of the most popular classic musicals among younger viewers. For a lot of us, The Music Man introduced us to musicals. It’s funny and entertaining (although a bit dated) and often it’s a great musical to watch if you’re just getting started in the genre. Plus, its songs are SO DAMN FUN to sing!

So, this week we’re taking a little trip to River City, Iowa where we will pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more!

Before we dive deep into the history of this movie, let’s talk first about Meredith Wilson, and the original play! Way back in 2019, we briefly touched on this movie in our Case of the Movie Musical: Part 1! So go check that out if you’re in the mood for some classic BCD. 

  • Meredith Willson was a talented flutist, composer, and songwriter from Mason City, Iowa. He wrote The Music Man as a salute to his home state. He was born in 1902, 10 years before the events of the musical, meaning he would have been about Winthrop’s age when “The Music Man” came to town. Imagine young Winthrop growing up to write the story of Harold Hill!
    • When he was in his early 20’s, he actually traveled with John Philip Souza’s band as a flutist. He also played in the New York Philharmonic! After serving in WWII, Willson returned to songwriting and was the music director of ABC radio and TV networks. He’s in the songwriting hall of fame, and even though he’s best known for writing the Music Man, he also wrote a lot of popular songs like, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!” He also wrote “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” another great musical. But of course, his crown jewel was The Music Man, an ode to his hometown and state, which earned him a Grammy and a Tony. 
  • Originally, Willson intended on writing a book about the happy childhood he had in Mason City Iowa. In the late 1940’s, he decided to write a play instead, incorporating songs that he had written, and basing some of the characters on actual people! 
  • When Willson had trouble securing the funding for the show, it almost became a TV special for CBS. That deal didn’t come to fruition, and when Willson finally found the support for a stage production, the next hurdle was casting the title role. 
    • Apparently, many potential leads turned down the part, from Danny Kaye to Gene Kelly. The show’s director, Morton DaCosta, eventually selected actor Robert Preston to play Harold Hill, even though Meredith Willson was doubtful he could pull it off, since Preston has never starred in a musical before. 
  • The Music Man premiered on Broadway in December of 1957. It was a critical and commercial success, and had a 5-year run that included 1,375 performances! The show was nominated for eight Tony awards, winning 5, including Best Musical – beating out “West Side Story!”

After its successful Broadway run, it was a no-brainer that this show needed the Major Motion Picture treatment. Warner Brothers purchased The Music Man for $1,000,000 (a fairly nice sum in the late 1950’s)! 


The Music Man follows esteemed con man Professor Harold Hill, as he heads to the town of River City, Iowa. He’s been warned that this town is full of people that are impossible to trick, salt of the earth folk that see through every sly-by-night salesman. At first, it seems that this town has met its match, as Hill is able to convince the residents that they are in need of a boys band to keep their children out of trouble. Of course, the local librarian is skeptical, concerned that he will hurt her friends and family by getting them to believe in something and be ultimately let down. Over time, she too sees the magic in the eponymous “Music Man,” just as Harold discovers that his music isn’t really a con at all. 


  • In the early 1960’s, Hollywood was past the gigantic, sweeping musicals of its Golden age. The Music Man looked and felt like a stage performance, but with a technicolor pop and innovative camera work.
  • Morton DaCosta directed both the stage and film productions. He brought with him from the stage, choreographer Onna White. White was instrumental in creating the famous “Madame Librarian” dance scene, an iconic moment for the film. 
    • Lead actress Shirley Jones warned Onna that she wasn’t a very good dancer, but Onna assured her that she would be after making the film! 
  • Shirley Jones was actually the first person cast in the movie, since she was already a bonafide film star. The studio wanted a big name for Harold Hill, to draw in even more audiences. They reportedly asked Carey Grant and were considering Frank Sinatra, but it was clear that Robert Preston was the only Music Man for the job. 
    • Cary Grant was even quoted saying, “Not only will I not star in it, if Robert Preston doesn’t star in it, I will not see it.” 
    • Shirley Jones said that  “I don’t know if you knew this or not, but Warner Bros., who produced Music Man, wanted Frank Sinatra to play Harold Hill. They were about to sign him, but Meredith Willson came in and said, ‘Listen, unless you use Robert Preston, you don’t do my show.” And that’s how Preston got the part.’”
  • The sets were simple. Three of River City’s major establishments, City Hall, the library, and the firehouse, were all located in one facade on the Warner Brothers lot. DaCosta was well-known for his inventive camera work, and he used angles and editing to trick the audience into thinking that these were three different structures.
  • The music was conducted by Ray Heindorf, and all of the songs were pre-recorded. It became clear that Preston was a master of performing the songs as if they were live. 
  • The film took nine months to shoot, as each musical number was shot in about three weeks. Only one number was practiced at a time, with intense rehearsals. The goal was to get each scene done in one take, much like watching a musical performed on stage. 
  • When all was said and done, the film premiered in Mason City, Iowa! It was a star-studded event with box socials and band events as well! 


When Meredith Willson sat down to write the music for The Music Man, he wrote new songs and included others he had written over the years. He ended up writing about 40 songs, and only 17 made it into the film. Not all of them were used on the stage, either. Willson obviously took the advice to write what you know. This is apparent in the scene when Harold Hill coaches The Buffalo Bills. He says, “Singing is just sustained talking,” a piece of advice that vocal coaches have been using for thousands of years. In a lot of ways, Harold Hill really is a music man more than a con man. 

So while we’re talking about the music, let’s go over some of the songs from the film! 

  • Main Title/Rock Island/Iowa Stubborn
    • For the Main Title track, Pacific Title created miniature music men! Just a bit of early film stop-motion to start off the film.
    • The song Rock Island is actually a favorite of Hugh Jackman, and he’s said that doing the number in High School actually got him interested in Show Business.
    • Iowa Stubborn is one of the bigger numbers of the film, involving most of the ensemble cast. It perfectly captures the attitude of smalltown America. 
  • Ya Got Trouble
    • Preston was perfect at appearing like he was doing the numbers live, but they were indeed pre-recorded! This number is definitely a masterpiece of this.
  • Piano Lesson/You Don’t Mind My Saying So
    • This song, sung by Marian and her mother, sets up both characters and depicts a realistic relationship between a mother and daughter. It also is a great musical representation of how adults can have a conversation with a child present, and the child has no understanding of what they are talking about.  
  • Goodnight My Someone/76 Trombones
    • Arguably the most famous song from the musical is 76 Trombones, the stand-out number where Harold Hill inspires the town to imagine life with a band. It’s the perfect theme song for the character, as he’s attempting to swindle everyone. But of course, the song comes back around at the end, as the boy’s band in town turns out to be more than what they imagined it would be. 
    • Conversely, “Goodnight My Someone” is Marian’s song. She first sings it with her piano student, as she says goodnight to her true love on the evening star. It’s a song defined by innocence and love, and seemingly the perfect foil to Hill’s song. 
    • That’s why it’s perfect that both songs are actually the same melody, with different tempos! By the end of the story, the characters are no longer foils, and the two songs become one in a literal and figurative sense. 
  • Sincere/Lida Rose/Every song by the Buffalo Bills
    • When Harold Hill unites the members of the school board, the rest of the town is skeptical that they will stop fighting. Of course, after the group is brought together with music, they appear multiple times in the show, singing. 
  • Pick a little, Talk a little/Goodnight Ladies
    • Goodnight Ladies was one of the few songs featured in the film that was not written by Meredith Willson. The song was written long before The Music Man takes place, and would very likely be sung by the residents of River City.
    • Pick a Little, Talk a Little is an incredible depiction of gossip in a small community. The film even hilariously places the imagery of hens against the group of women as they pick and talk about Marian’s scandal. 
  • The Sadder but Wiser Girl for Me
    • This song is about how he prefers an experienced woman, either in sex or life. In some ways it’s liberating but in other ways it is insulting and crass.
      • “No wide-eyed, eager,
      • Wholesome innocent Sunday school teacher for me.”
  • Marian the Librarian 
    • As we said before Onna White was instrumental in creating this number. Since Shirley Jones did not feel entirely confident in her dancing abilities she appreciated that the male dancers were able to lead and guide her around the room and the number. She said they were such amazing dancers that they could make anyone look good!
  • Being in Love
    • You know, the bathroom song.
  • The Wells Fargo Wagon 
    • This song has been used in Wells Fargo commercials to promote the bank. According to Google it is one of the four biggest banks in America.
    • This film is still beloved by so many that SNL did a sketch where the wagon was coming and offering the townsfolk of River City bogus accounts.  This sketch addressed the scandal around Wells Fargo while singing the upbeat musical number from the film.
  • Gary, Indiana
    • Ron Howard recently sung a bit of this song (lisp and all) in an interview.
  • Shipoopi
    • For this song, Willson invented the term Shipoopi to mean a woman that won’t kiss until the third date. The song is fun, but seems random, and is often made-fun-of by fans. 
    • This was the biggest dance number in the film, showing off the musical stylings of Buddy Hackett. The scene was shot with an elaborate overhead camera.
  • Till There Was You 
    • According to IMDB, when The Beatles covered this song, Meredith Willson got more money than from the play or show combined! 
    • This turns out to be the love ballad between Hill and Marian, and highlights the emotional moment when he decides to stay for love instead of running for his life.
    • This is the moment when Winthrop angrily confronts his hero, Harold Hill. This causes Harold to really consider his own motivations as he utters the famous line, “I always think there’s a band, kid.” 
  • Beethoven’s Minuet in G
    • Otherwise known as the song used in the Think Method! This little theme gets repeated throughout the film, and ends up saving Harold Hill from getting tarred and feathered at the end! 


  • Robert Preston as Harold Hill
    • He was a well known Broadway actor that won Tonys for “The Music Man” and “I Do, I Do.” He also did several movies too, like The Last Starfighter!
    • Shirley Jones said of working with Preston, “Sometimes, when an actor has been doing a show for a long time – and he had been doing it for three years when we made the movie – they come to do the film and do things like ‘Listen, why don’t we do it this way’ – they’ll start directing it themselves. He did none of that. He was so open to anything that the director said or anything the actors wanted to do. He was just so marvelous.”
  • Shirley Jones as Marian Paroo the librarian
    • She was named after Shirley Temple! She had several roles and really hoped to play the role of Marian but did not think it was possible until Warner Brothers bought the rights and the rest is as they say…history.
    • Shirley Jones was pregnant during filming! She found out three months into production and when she told Morton DeCosta he assured her not to worry because they would hide it. They used a corset and frilly dresses/ items to help cover her bump and she was told not to let anybody else know. In the scene when she and Robert Preston embraced on the footbridge little Patrick kicked Preston. 
  • Ron Howard as Winthrop Paroo
    • As a boy Ronnie was an incredible actor. He was not a showbiz kid but he was amazing.
    • Winthrop represents every young child in the town, and the child in every adult. 
  • Pert Kelton Mrs. Paroo
    • She began as a vaudevillian with her parents, and so she was an incredible performer. She was the original on Broadway as well and knew everything about the character that she was playing.
    • She was the first person to play Alice in The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason.
  • Buddy Hackett as Marcellus Washburn, Harold Hill’s inside man
    • In the script they had put Brooklyn because they assumed he could only talk one way. They wanted Hackett because at this time in his career he was very well known and could draw the crowds.
  • Hermione Gingold as Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn the Mayor’s wife
    • The woman that played her daughter said that Hermione played the grand madame from England at all times. Her trailer was completely decorated with bright flowered chintz from floor to ceiling.
  • Paul Ford as Mayor George Shinn
    • He was so sweet and apparently was upset that he was billed over Buddy Hackett. Hackett said that he didn’t care but told Paul to get a ladder and change it if he was so inclined! Hackett however said he didn’t even need his name up there because the only one that gives you billing is the audience.
  • The Buffalo Bills as the School Board (The Barbershop Quartet)
    • The Buffalo Bills were a real quartet from Buffalo, New York. The members changed a few times due to moves and opportunities. Meredith Wilson happened upon them while he hosted his radio show titled “Music Today,” after the quartet won the International Quartet Champions in 1950. He would play their album on the air and became familiar with their work. He travelled to meet them in 1954 and after writing The Music Man he reached out to them to audition for the quartet in his musical. They were immediately hired. 
  • Timmy Everett as Tommy Djilas, the firecracker and love interest to the Mayor’s daughter
    • Timmy was proficient in the theatre as he won the Daniel Blum Theater World Award in 1957 for a supporting role and the Theater World Award for best supporting actor in 1958. He also appeared in a few television shows and things until he sadly passed away at the age of 38. 
  • Susan Luckey as Zaneeta Shinn, (EEEH Gods!)
    • She remembers being cast for the movie because she had done the stage show with Mortin Dacosta. They got along well that she knew she had a very good chance of being cast in the film since he was directing that as well! She did not even have to have a screen test.
  • Harry Hickox as Charlie Cowell the travelling salesman coming to warn the town
    • He was also known for guesting on several tv shows such as Columbo, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Kojak.
  • Charles Lane as Constable Lock
    • He was also in things like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Aristocats.
  • Mary Wickes as Mrs Squires
    • She has also been in the Sister Act movies, Little Women (1994), and White Christmas.
  • Sara Seeger as Maud Dunlop
    • She was in such shows as Bewitched, Dennis the Menace,and The Andy Griffith Show.
  • Adnia Rice as Alma Hix
    • She appeared in just a few television shows, one of which was The United States Steel Hour.
  • Peggy Mondo as Ethel Toffelmier, Marcellus’s love interest
    • She appeared in tv as well like Get Smart, To Rome with Love, and McHale’s Navy.
  • Jesslyn Fax as Avis Grubb
    • She was known for being in the movies Rear Window, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, and Kiss Me Deadly.
  • Monique Vermont as Amaryllis, Marian’s piano student
    • The Music Man was her biggest role. 


The movie received critical acclaim and was well liked across the board.

The Music Man won the Tony for Best Musical in the 1957-1958 Broadway season which put it ahead of West Side Story. Unfortunately when the movies were made Music Man won only one Academy Award, for Best Score, but West Side Story won 11. Though West Side Story is still used often in schools and won more awards, The Music Man continues to be a fan favorite today. This is demonstrated by the fact that a remake was made by Disney and released in 2003.

In a 2009 forum, professor Stefan Hall said, “In some ways, The Music Man (1962), based on Meredith Willson’s 1958 Tony Award-winning musical, anticipated the later 1960s as a transitional moment in American culture. While not overtly patriotic (indeed, some might argue the opposite given that the plot involves con man “Professor” Harold Hill’s attempt to swindle the citizens of River City, Iowa), the  film uses early 20th century Americana to comment on the present. The confrontation between the angry mob and Hill (Robert Preston, reprising his Tony Winning Broadway turn), who throws his con in the name of love, presages the conflict between the hawks and doves that would divide the country during Vietnam. Also, the imaginative power of the youth movement, and an equivalent in Hill’s boy band that learns to play instruments without ever touching them via the “Think System.” And it is fitting that part of the film takes place on the Fourth of July, including the famous “Seventy-Six Trombones,” number, because the restoration of faith that reunites Hill with his love interest also  finally roots him in an American home.”

The Music Man is the kind of musical that ends up surprising you. Non-musical fans might turn their noses up at it, as it appears to be just like any other classic hollywood musical. But, this film is different. The Music Man is funny, sincere, and filled with nostalgia. It’s a biting commentary on the world in 1912, the world in 1957, and the world today. In some ways, it’s timeless, while in others it may be a bit dated. But all in all, it’s the classic tale of a lovable con-man that finally meets his match of a town filled with people that makes him question why he started conning in the first place. 

So, even if you don’t like musicals, stop being so Iowa Stubborn, and give this one a try! We promise you won’t be let down. 

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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 (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


  • 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



Blues Brothers

103883552_1654529954712523_5779977072180226546_n (1)

Hello everyone and welcome to season 4 of The Black Case Diaries! We’re three old friends learning as much as we can about movies and TV, and hopefully teaching others in the process. 

We decided to return strong with our now annual series on movie music: June Tunes! This month we will be covering various topics all involving music in movies. Today we’re starting with an all-time favorite! 

In the summer of 1980, a film that defied description raced into theaters. The Blues Brothers starred two big names from SNL, an all-star list of Rhythm and Blues legends, and one of the biggest budgets in comedy history. Even John Landis, the film’s director, wasn’t sure what genre the film belonged in. Is it a comedy? Musical? Forty years later, one thing is for certain: it’s a cult classic of epic proportions. 

Today we’re taking a look at The Blues Brothers, the history of the SNL sketch, the band, and the movie. We’re 369 miles from Chicago, have a full doc of research, it’s dark and we’re wearing headphones. Hit it!


    • SNL Sketch
      • Belushi and Aykroyd first came up with the idea for The Blues Brothers band while drinking at Aykroyd’s Speakeasy in Toronto, The 505 Club, in the fall of  1973. 
        • Belushi had come to town to poach talent for National Lampoon’s Radio Hour in New York, and had heard of the then-20-year-old Aykroyd.
          • They met backstage at Second City, a comedy troupe based in Chicago but with a branch in Toronto.
        • That night, the duo started listening to Blues records. At first, Belushi didn’t see himself much of a Blues fan, but Aykroyd’s devotion to the genre changed his mind. Very soon, the two young comedians shared this love, and they talked about creating a band. Howard Shore, the eventual music director for SNL and acclaimed composer, helped them come up with the name, “The Blues Brothers.” 
        • Two years later, the men join the first cast of  Saturday Night Live in New York, and have a chance to really develop the characters–Aykroyd played Elwood, the straight man and Belushi was Jake– the frontman and “Alpha Illinois male.” 
        • After the band played small gigs around town, Lorne Michaels allowed them to warm up the audience on SNL, but didn’t grant them actual air time. As the popularity of the characters grew, the mission became reacquainting audiences with The Blues.
        • Initially their first Blues sketch was a performance of Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee.” 
          • They were then billed as “Howard Shore and his All-Bee-Band.”
        • Their most famous sketch was a performance of “Soul Man” which was later referenced in an episode of Drake and Josh!
      • When The Blues Brothers came to SNL a second time, the host was Steve Martin and they played “Hey Bartender.” 
      • After their initial success, Steve Martin asked them to open for him at the Universal Amphitheater, which was an issue because they didn’t have a concrete band at the time. After Belushi and Paul Shaffer put together a list of big names, they hand-picked the group.
      • One of the performances was recorded live and made into an album called, “Briefcase Full of Blues.” The album topped the charts and had some hit singles such as Soul Man and Hey Bartender.
        • With the help of Belushi’s wife, Judy and their friend Mitch Glazer, they developed the story behind The Blues Brothers for performances, a plot that would later become the centerpoint of their feature film.
        • With the success of the album and the reputation of Aykroyd and Belushi, many media outlets reported that they were lampooning the music, making fun of The Blues and its artists. Members of the band started doing interviews to convince people how serious “Dan and John” were about the band. Dan Aykroyd studied to learn the harmonica for his part, and John Belushi had been a Rock ‘n Roll drummer long before becoming a comedian. 
        • Aykroyd attributed this success to the fact that Disco was on its way out, and there was a lull in popular American music tastes as the next fad was waiting to begin.
    • The Band
      • The original members of the band were a combination of SNL band members and members that Howard Shore had suggested.  They were Steve “The Colonel” Cropper, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Murphy ‘Murph’ Dunne, Willie “Too Big” Hall, Steve “Getdwa” Jordan, Birch “Crimson Slide” Johnson, Tom “Bones” Malone, “Blue” Lou Marini, Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin, Tom “Triple Scale” Scott, and finally Paul “The Shiv” Shaffer. 
        • According to Steve Cropper, It ended up being one the best collections of blues musicians I’ve ever seen.”
        • One of the producers, Robert Weiss, pointed out the unique quality of the band: a Memphis fat-back rhythm with “slick” New York horns on top, combined with Belushi’s unique vocals and Aykroyd’s harp playing.
        • Dan Aykroyd described the band as a Chicago, electrified, urban Blues band.
  • Akroyd in an interview said “The Blues Brothers came off as a genuine article because we had Cropper and Dunn and Matt Murphy – those three magnificent Memphis guitar players. Murphy played with James Cotton, and Duck and Steve played on all those Stax/Volt records. That combination was a powerhouse that was not to be duplicated, a Chicago/Memphis fusion band. That’s what the Blues Brothers was and that’s what really made it work. They added legitimacy to our enterprise.”
      • When the boys approached Mat ‘guitar’ Murphy, they told him they would pay him “Six-fifty.” When Murphy found out that they meant $6,500, he reported that he almost fell out of his chair at the idea of making so much money.
    • Only a few of them made appearances in the movie. Paul Shaffer was replaced by Murphy “Murph” Dunne for the film.
      • On the Special Features section of the DVD, Dunne says that it was because of contractual obligations with SNL.
      • We also read that John Belushi was upset that Shaffer was splitting his creativity between the Blues Brothers and a different project with Gilda Radner.
    • After John Belushi’s death in ‘82 his brother Jim Belushi took over for him as Zee Blues.
    • Throughout the years the band members have changed but the soul is still there.
      • The members later said they had no idea that they would be playing with the same musicians for the rest of their lives.

The movie follows Jake and Elwood Blues, two brothers on a mission to save their home by raising 5000 dollars in just a couple days. 

Making Of

  • In 1978, John Belushi was on top of the world with a number one TV show, movie, and album. So, it seemed obvious to him and Dan Aykroyd that it was time to take this show to the big screen.
    • According to Vanity Fair, an Executive for Universal named Sean Daniel won the bid for the project and called his boss and said, “Belushi, Aykroyd, Blues Brothers, how about it?” to which his boss replied, “Great, I’ll tell Lew” Lew being Lew Wasserman, Universal Pictures’ “boss of bosses.”
      • Apparently there wasn’t much discussion after that, the movie seemed like a great idea to everyone involved. 
      • Wasserman wanted a budget of 12 million dollars for the film, while the filmmakers asked for 20 million. Budget and schedule would soon become two of the biggest issues this movie faced.
    • John Landis, the director of Animal House, was part of Belushi’s movie stardom and an obvious choice for director.
  • The infamous screenplay
    • Next came the question of who would write the film. Everyone turns to Dan Aykroyd, the 25-year-old mastermind who had written his own SNL sketches. The issue was that Aykroyd had never even read a screenplay. So, when he sat down to write it, he got carried away with his descriptions of sets and character profiles and tried to put all he “knew” of the Blues Brothers in one volume. It ended up being 324 pages long. 
    • When he delivered the screenplay to producer Robert Weiss, he jokingly bound it in such a way that it looked like a phone book.
    • John Landis took the screenplay and condensed it; while he recognized that the draft had great ideas and tone, he described it as “incoherent.” 
    • It took so long that the crew started shooting before they had a finished screenplay.
  • The Music
    • The music was hand-picked by Landis, Aykroyd and Belushi, and it was a meticulous process. Landis has spoken frustration at the fact that some don’t consider The Blues Brothers a musical, despite the fact that the cinematographer and director both had classic american movie musicals in mind while putting scenes together.
    • The cast and crew describe it as a “camouflaged” musical that captured the feeling of the city of Chicago and the times, but where characters didn’t exclusively burst into song to express emotion. Having characters break into song often doesn’t feel organic, but the film seemed to overcome that obstacle so the music feels naturally placed, and not just an action comedy with songs added.
    • Carlton Johnson choreographed the musical scenes, using only amateur dancers so no background players would upstage Belushi or Aykroyd (neither one of them were dancers.) 
      • For the scene with James Brown in the church, the movie brought in professional dancers, but it’s the only scene to do so.
      • “Shake Your Tail Feather” with Ray Charles was a huge musical number shot on the street in Chicago. It was freezing temperatures at the time, even though the scene takes place in summer. So, the dancers were in summer clothes and likely very cold
    • The Movie Band
      • The attitude of Jake Blues and his band on screen mirrored the attitudes of real life. Belushi gathered all the members together to pitch the movie, and told each that they were the “heartbeat” of the band. They had a few concerns like, how much would they get paid, who would get paid the most, and of course the ever-present concern that they were a white band playing black music.
      • Belushi handled every problem bandmates had, and Aykroyd referred to him as the leader.
    • The Guest stars
      • Another gigantic piece of the film was its legendary guest stars. One benefit to the time was that most of these R&B greats weren’t working as much anymore (with the exception of Ray Charles) and getting them to do the shoots was fairly simple. 
      • The cast and crew were star struck by these artists, their heroes. 
      • Aretha Franklin had issues lip syncing her number, simply because she never sang a song the same way twice. An incredible quality that partly made her the queen of soul, but difficult when you’re making a movie musical. 
        • Executives didn’t want Franklin in the picture as her popularity was waning at the time. They wanted Rose Royce, the band known for singing the hit theme for “Car Wash” but the team behind the movie refused.
        • The Diner scene featuring Franklin was not favored by critics, especially because “Blue” Lou Marini’s head is cut off while he’s dancing on the counter, which looked unintentional in the shot. It was actually intentional, John Landis thought it was a funny joke.
        • Franklin later said that her appearance broadened her audience and introduced new people to her.
      • James Brown was another act that didn’t sing a song the same way twice, so they pre-recorded everyone’s vocals in the church scene, and recorded Brown’s vocals live. They also recorded John Lee Hooker’s vocals live in the film.
        • Like we said before, this scene had professional dancers unlike other scenes in the movie, and utilized trampolines for aerial stunts.
      • Ray Charles’ vocals were pre-recorded.
      • Cab Calloway
        • Cab’s number was the most challenging, with a live audience of over 1000 people. They even advertised the show on the radio, and gave away prizes to people while they waited around for the shoot to start.
        • He wanted to record Minnie the Moocher, his signature song, as a disco track since that’s what was popular. He didn’t understand why the creators wanted the old fashioned way from 50 years before.
          • Landis said the first take of his song was mediocre, which made Cab angry. But, when he showed up to the live shoot, he was warm with people, a great performer, and happy to be there.
          • “When you’ve got good musicians, you don’t have to say anything. And if you don’t have good musicians, there’s nothing you can say”
  • The Cars
    • Dan Aykroyd is a vehicle fanatic in real life, who enjoys just driving for the sake of driving.
    • Elwood is a genius driver for this reason, and he chooses a decommissioned cop car because how else could someone out-run the cops but in one of their own cars?
      • Originally, the car was supposed to be magic, which would explain how it makes the jump over the bridge early in the film. There was a deleted scene where Elwood explained how the car was given special powers to do back-flips and other stunts.
      • The explanation was that they parked the car in a garage with powerful transformers, and soaked up that energy. 
    • There were 13 different Blues Mobiles, all used for different purposes in the film.
    • The scene where the Illinois Nazis are chasing Jake and Elwood, they used a model of the Blues Mobile and launched it into the air. For the Pinto, they used an actual car and dropped it from above the Chicago skyline. They had to get the car certified to ensure that it wouldn’t float past the designated area before crashing into the ground.
      • Each police car they purchased was $400 and they bought a total of 60.
    • The cars really were traveling over 100 miles per hour in downtown Chicago.
      • One of the other stunt drivers drove off of a ramp that was 150 ft long. Luckily only minor injuries were reported.
  • The Mall
    • The mall scene was shot in a real abandoned mall in Illinois, which was perfect so they could totally create and destroy the building.
    • There were hundreds of thousands of dollars in merchandise in some stores, and they meticulously decorated the whole space. There were stores marked that they could drive through and ones that they couldn’t. 
      • They had to hire guards to keep people from stealing the goods, but then guards started to steal. 
    • Every car in the parking lot was a brand new car on loan for the scene, and they could not hit them under any circumstances. 
    • Every weekend 40 stunt drivers were flown in and One of them was John Wayne’s son, Ethan Wayne.
  • The Big Finale Scene
    • Shortly before filming this big scene John Belushi hurt himself on a child’s skateboard. The best orthopedist in town had to be convinced to fix him up over the Thanksgiving weekend in order for him to be in good enough shape to dance and do cartwheels.
  • Production
    • The film’s final cost was $27.5 million. 
      • The salaries for the leads were set at the beginning and did not change throughout filming.
        • Dan Akroyd was paid half of what John Belushi was, $250,000 to Belushi’s $500,000.
      • Part of the reason that the film was wildly over budget was because the delayed shoots, which meant more man hours. This had a lot to do with John Belushi, who was an avid partier. 
        • Although Belushi was known as a partier, he was highly regarded among the band and the cast. He was known as the most loyal and friendly person in show business–as long as he decided you were friends, and he was often everyone’s friend.
      • There was a cocaine budget.
        • John Belushi felt that cocaine was crucial to his creative process. Carrie Fisher guessed that he was taking about 4 grams a day. It finally got so bad that Landis had to flush his drugs down the toilet and keep him away from them for the remainder of the shoot.
          • At one point, Landis threw away a bunch of cocaine and had a fight with John Belushi. Belushi got angry and stuck out his thumb, and a random car stopped and picked him up, and took him away–mid fight. 
          • Belushi got lost at one point during the filming, and someone saw him cross into a neighborhood so Aykroyd followed. He found that Belushi had crashed on a stranger’s couch.
            • Aykroyd called him “America’s Guest.” 
      • The realness of the film, also attributed to the cost. Blocking off city streets takes time and money, along with paying for stunt people to stand on the street and in the mall, so that no actual pedestrians were in danger.
    • Chicago
      • Mayor Daley of Chicago had made a rule that no filming was allowed there. He had passed away shortly before The Blues Brothers, which means it was the first major movie in a long time to be filmed there.
      • One of the biggest jokes of the movie was its scale, and the fact that they used real cars for their crashes and stunts helped with that level of visual destruction.
      • They actually did drive the car in the lobby of Daley Plaza.
      • 150 National Guardsman, 60 Chicago cops, 350 guns, 150 batons, 4 tanks, 3 helicopters were all used in filming.
        • They had a war room where they planned each staged gag and wanted to make the final scene as war-like as possible.

How the Movie was Received

  • Apparently The Los Angeles Times had called it a $30 million dollar wreck.
  • It became popular overseas in places like Australia. Landis said that it was the first movie to make more money overseas than in America.
    • One of the reasons that this may be is that it was booked in less than half the amount of movie theaters it should have been. Instead of the 1400, it was shown in 600, for the theater owners feared that a white audience would not like it. 
  • Fun Facts
    • Akroyd proposed to Carrie Fisher on set after saving her with the Heimlich maneuver while she choked on a brussel sprout. 
    • John Paul II was in Chicago at the time of filming and decided to visit the cast and crew!
    • In 2010 the film was deemed a Catholic Classic by the Vatican due to Jake and Elwood’s admirable mission to save the only family and home they know, the orphanage.


  • Main Stars
    • John Belushi/ Jake
    • Dan Aykroyd/ Elwood
  • Other Notables
    • Carrie Fisher/ Mystery Woman
    • John Candy/ Burton Mercer
    • Steven Williams/ Trooper Mount
      • Played Captain Fuller in the original 21 Jumpstreet show
    • John Landis/ Trooper La Fong
    • Frank Oz/ Corrections Officer
    • Twiggy/ Chic Lady
    • Henry Gibson/ Head Nazi
      • The Burbs and Luck of the Irish
  • Band Members as themselves
    • Matt Murphy
    • Steve Cropper
    • Donald Dunn
    • Lou Marini
    • Alan Rubin
    • Tom Malone
    • Murphy Dunne
  • Special Musical Guests
    • Cab Calloway/ Curtis
    • James Brown/ Reverend Cleophus James
    • Ray Charles/ Ray
    • John Lee Hooker/ Street Slim
    • Aretha Franklin/ Mrs. Murphy
  • Blink and You’ll Miss Them
    • Steven Spielberg – Audit Clerk
    • Chaka Khan – Choir soloist
    • Paul Reubens – waiter
      • You know, Pee Wee Herman.

We thought it was fitting to start our June Tunes with this comedy/action/musical film in the month and year that it turns 40. Happy Birthday, Blues Brothers!  



The Case That Never Ends

Back in 2013, we gathered together to record our very first episode of The Black Case Diaries. We were all still in college, and we didn’t even edit the audio! We placed the episode on SoundCloud and there is sat for 5 years before we started the show for real. 


So, to kick off our second year of podcasting, we decided to give ourselves a chance to do it over! Today we will talk about the same topic as we did 6 years ago. We are going to re-release the original episode to our patrons so they will get to hear how far we’ve come. 

Six years ago, the three of us sat down and watched a movie. One of us had seen it many times, one had seen it once or twice, and one of us had never seen it at all. It was called, “The Neverending Story”! After we watched the movie, we went into the sewing room of Robin’s mother to record our thoughts. 

Movie Beginnings:

The Neverending Story is based on a novel: Die unendliche Geschichte – (dee oonend-liha ge-shishta) by German author Michael Ende. The book was originally written in German and released in September of 1979, but translated to English in 1983 – one year before the movie. 

  • The book remained on the best-seller list in Germany for three years!
  • There are a few key differences between the book and the movie. 
    • The movie only covers half of the book! The sequel film is loosely based on the second half, and the third movie is an original plot.
    • The name of the world that Bastian is meant to save is called “Fantastica” instead of “Fantasia” 
  • Michael Ende was not happy with the film and didn’t think it reflected the message of his book. According to a 1984 People Magazine article, he held a press conference in which he demanded his name be taken from the credits. He called the movie “revolting” and said, “the makers of the film simply did not understand the book at all.” 


The Making of the Movie:

  • The Neverending story was directed by Wolfgang Peterson, and written by Herman Weigel and Wolfgang Peterson.
    • According to some of the actors, Peterson was a perfectionist and required sometimes as many as forty takes for a scene.
    • The scenes in the swamp of sadness and with the giant tortoise took two months to shoot.
  • Most of the film was shot in Bavaria Studios in Germany, with outside filming done in Vancouver and Spain. 
  • The music was written by Klaus Goldinger and Giorgio Moroder.
    • It also included a very special song performed by Limahl 
  • Colin Arthur was the special effects supervisor, but he had a huge team!
  • Rolf Zehetbauer designed the set decoration 
    • But the designs for the creatures was a collaboration between an Italian artist named UI De Rico, the set designer, and a professional mime named Caprice Roth.
  • The movie cost 27 million dollars to make, which adjusted to today would be about 65 million! It was the most expensive film in German history. It made 100 Million! 
  • Many attribute the magic of the movie to its incredible effects.
    • According to Wolfgang Peterson, digital effects hadn’t advanced to the point of even a green screen yet. They were using blue screens for the flying scenes in the movie, but practical effects for everything else.
    • Each puppet was operated by a team of trained puppeteers; as many as 25 people were in charge of operating Falcor!
      • In order to get the puppet to move as one cohesive unit, the team had to train together for several weeks
      • One person was assigned to each of his facial features, including one person responsible for his eyebrow
        • The dialogue was also recorded before-hand and the puppeteers had to try to sync up movements with the words.
      • No matter how many times they practiced or did a scene over, they could never eliminate the error behind the puppet. There was always something out of place, but Peterson believed that this made it true art.



  • Barret Oliver as Bastian
    • Oliver also starred in the original Frankenweenie in the 80’s.
    • He no longer acts, but is an accomplished photographer and specializes in the wet-plate process. He also teaches photography in Los Angeles. 
  • Noah Hathaway as Atreyu 
    • Hathaway played Boxey in the original Battlestar Galactica. 
    • He was also in the 1986 film “Troll” as Harry Potter Jr. 
    • Hathaway was seriously injured twice while making the movie and still has health problems today because of it.
      • While preparing for the horse-back riding scenes, a horse actually fell on top of him and cracked two of his vertebrae. 
      • The other injury came at the end of the movie, when he fights G’mork. The robot malfunctioned and cut Hathaway next to his eye. G’mork was also very heavy and caused him to lose his breath. Because of this, they could only get one shot!
  • Alan Oppenheimer as Falkor
    • Oppenheimer is an accomplished voice actor who narrated the movie, voiced Falkor, the rock-biter, and G’Mork!
    • He is probably most well-known for voicing Skeletor in the He-Man animated series.
  • Tami Stronach as The Childlike Empress 
    • She has been in very few things since the Neverending Story. Two are films from the Czech Republic.
    • The director saw 3000 young girls before choosing Stronach as the empress. 
    • She has since focused mostly on her dancing and being a choreographer.
  • Gerald McRaney as Bastian’s father
    • He has been acting since about 1969 and been in many different roles including things like Chips, The Rockford Files, and Diagnosis Murder. He is still acting today and plays a small part in the new Netflix show called Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings.



As a young boy named Bastian is heading to school he is chased by three bullies. In order to escape the bullies he dashes into an old bookstore.  There he is tempted to take a book that he is told he is not ready for. In order to read it he steals away into the school attic and begins the book called “The Neverending Story.”  It is about the land of Fantasia where the creatures have been threatened by a force called “The Nothing.” It destroys all that it touches. In order for Fantasia to survive it needs the help of a human boy.

  • The film was fairly well-received and was a box-office hit! Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars. I think he summed up the meaning of the film with the end of his review: “But ‘The NeverEnding Story’ is about the unfolding of a story, and so the framing device of the kid hidden in his school attic, breathlessly turning the pages, is interesting. It lets kids know that the story isn’t just somehow happening, that storytelling is a neverending act of the imagination.”
    • I found a Huffington Post article about the film, and there was a quote from Wolfgang Peterson 
      • “It has very dark and scary moments, but life is like that. It educates you and a reader like Bastian how to go through that and pass these sort of dark moments, to achieve something at the end. I think it empowers kids to — as the Childlike Empress says in that goose-bumpy moment at the end of the film — do what you want.”


As a bonus here is one of the pictures from Marci’s college years taken with the wet plate Collodion process!




The Case for Knowing the Scores: 1 1/2 Disney Edition

62355005_1141195532734999_8701329314760622080_nWe are dedicating the month of June to movie music! First on our list, we have the third installment of our film score series! This week we are focusing on the scores and songs of the Disney Animated Classics. We will be looking at Disney scores by each era, while discussing the evolution and influences of the music.

In order to listen along to the incredible list that Robin put together for this episode follow the link below!


The Golden Age

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
      • It’s 1937–two years before Judy Garland will sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  Talking pictures have only been around for 10 years, and the movie musical is becoming all the rage (for example, 42nd Street and Top Hat were big successes in the 1930s)
      • Walt Disney makes headlines by not only producing the first full-length animated film, but he pushes the limits by making it a musical as well. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the birth of Disney animation’s Golden Age.
      • The men who worked on this score were: Paul Smith, Leigh Harline, Frank Churchill, and Larry Morey (lyrics)
        • Smith, Harline, and Churchill worked on the score while Churchill and Morey were responsible for the music and lyrics
  • Their score was the FIRST EVER commercially issued feature film soundtrack  
        • This music and songs set the tone for the “Disney Formula” that the later films followed for years to come
        • All three composers were nominated for an Oscar for this score
  • Pinocchio
      • We will not be able to talk about every movie in length, but we will try to highlight the most prominent films of each era. This includes Pinocchio, Disney’s second animated classic
      • Paul Smith and Leigh Harline returned, earning an Oscar for best original score
      • Snow White may have set the tone for Disney Animated musicals, but Pinocchio is responsible for bringing us the most iconic song in Disney’s collection: When You Wish Upon a Star
  • When You Wish Upon a Star
      • Music by Leigh Harline, lyrics by Ned Washington
      • Voiced by Cliff Edwards, a popular singer of the 1930s, Jiminy Cricket delivers the song that would become the theme of Disney
      • Not only did it win an Oscar, the American Film Institute named it the 7th greatest song in film history (one of only four Disney songs on the list)
      • Ned Washington was a lyricist from Tin Pan Alley and was inducted in the songwriters hall of fame in 1972
        • If you are unfamiliar, Tin Pan Alley was a genre of music that came from American song producers in late 19th century New York. It’s where a lot of American popular music was written; another lyricist from this time and genre is Johnny Mercer who we will talk about in another episode
  • Fantasia, Dumbo, & Bambi are other films of this era that we don’t have time to go into fully but are important to note
    • Bambi was the first Disney animated movie where the songs were not sung by characters, but all off-screen; it also was an important movie for the time and an animation marvel, but since this episode is about scores, we won’t go into that
      • Frank Churchill and Edward Plum scored Bambi
      • Churchill and Larry Morey wrote the songs and lyrics, the same team behind Snow White
    • For Dumbo, Churchill and Ned Washington were reunited to write the songs
      • Churchill was obviously instrumental (ha) in early Disney movie scores; He was what Alan Menken became during the renaissance
      • Ned Washington, as you might recall, was the lyricist for Pinocchio
    • Fantasia’s score was made up of classical pieces, so it didn’t really have a true score.

The War-time Era

  • Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, Melody Time, and The Adventures of Icabod and Mr. Toad
    • This era of Disney animation is often forgotten, mostly because the films had a smaller budget and were not necessarily up to the same standards as the films of the Golden Era
    • These movies were known as package films, consisting of two or more shorts instead of an overarching plot
      • Saludos Amigos was notable because the Disney studio worked with other musicians in South America to create the songs of the shorts
        • This was the introduction of José Carioca, a now iconic Disney character very popular in South America
        • Paul Smith also worked on this movie with Edward Plum, the most notable song was “Saludos Amigos” by Charles Wolcott and Ned Washington
      • The Three Caballeros was a similar film that took place in various parts of Latin America, where Saludos Amigos had a strong emphasis on Brazil
        • It was scored by the same people as the former film
      • Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, and Melody Time were all package films that consisted of narrated shorts based on poems, songs, classical music, or fairy tales
        • One of the most notable shorts from Make Mine Music is Peter and the Wolf
        • Many people would recognize Mickey and the Beanstalk from Fun and Fancy Free
        • The Andrews Sisters are an example of a popular singing duo that lent their voices to “Little Toot” in Melody Time
      • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad was a different story, however, because it only consisted of two separate stories
        • These two segments had their own plots and songs pertaining to the specific stories on which they were based: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and The Wind in the Willows
        • Oliver Wallace, an American composer wrote the score with songs by Don Raye and Jean de Paul; Frank Churchill and Charles Wolcott
        • The most notable thing about this soundtrack, is that it was sung by Bing Crosby; this is an example of a famous singer lending their voice to the animation, which was not a common practice at the time and is much more prominent in animation today

The Silver Age

  • Cinderella
      • With the war over, all hands are on deck for the next era of Disney animation! Disney has now proven that animation is a viable medium in motion pictures, and that they are steering the ship. With more resources, time, and ever-changing technology, Disney begins to make movies based on more complex stories, with dynamic characters. This is the era where Disney Animation stands tall and shows everyone: they aren’t going anywhere.
      • Cinderella is undoubtedly the most prominent film to come from the next era of Disney, and its music continued the trend set by the Golden Age
        • Scored by Oliver Wallace and Paul J Smith, both now veteren Disney composes; the score also reflects the era of popular music and film scores.
        • Songs like “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” became well-known staples in the Disney songbook
      • Mack David, Jerry Livingston, and Al Hoffman wrote the songs of Cinderella, and were nominated for Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo
        • Mack David and Jerry Livingston often worked together on Broadway; Much like other composer/lyricist combos that have come to Disney, they came as a team
        • Al Hoffman was also known for writing many popular tunes including “Fit as a Fiddle” which many might recognize from Singin’ in the Rain (if nothing else)
  • Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone
      • Alice in Wonderland was also scored by the same men behind Cinderella, though the songs were written by several different people
        • Most were written by Bob Hilliard and Sammy Fain, though our old friends Don Raye and Gene De Paul (Ichabod and Mr. Toad) and Jerry Livingston and Al Hoffman also shared writing credits
      • Peter Pan shares similarities in its score to other movies of this time, sweeping orchestral music with the addition of a chorus for some songs
      • 101 Dalmatians, like many movies of the “Dark Age” only has one song. However, the iconic “Cruella DeVil” has had a lasting impact for generations
  • Mel Leven, who wrote the melody and lyrics, also wrote the songs for the movie “Babes in Toyland”
        • This song also shows a clear Jazz influence in Disney music
        • The soundtrack was done by George Bruns who went on to score more films for Disney
      • Lady and the Tramp
        • The songs for this film were written by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke, the most famous of course “Bella Note”; this is the first female credit for songwriting on this list
  • Sleeping Beauty
    • Once Upon a Dream
      • The only character song of the movie was written by Sammy Fein (of Alice and Wonderland) and Jack Lawrence
      • This song melody is based off “The Garland Waltz” from Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty” ballet
    • The rest of the score is standard to the sound of this era, very similar to Cinderella
  • The Jungle Book
    • This film is incredibly important to the direction that Disney went in the upcoming bronze era; George Bruns this time wrote a score that was heavily influenced by the setting of the movie
    • The songs were written by Terry Gilkyson, though Disney felt his songs were too dark and thus he asked the Sherman Brothers to do a rewrite. The only song they kept was “The Bare Necessities”
    • The Sherman Brothers, who also wrote the music for Mary Poppins, would be part of the Disney Animation music team for the next few films

The Bronze Age (or Dark age)

  • At the time, this seemed like a bad era for Disney. The movies took a darker turn with storytelling and the studio was working hard to find its footing after the death of Walt Disney. However, this time was incredibly important in the development of Disney Animation, and that goes for music as well
  • The Aristocats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Fox and the Hound
      • George Bruns created a jazz-inspired score for The Aristocats with an influence of classically French tunes as well
        • The Sherman Brothers returned to write the songs, some of the most notable being “Thomas O’Malley” and “Everybody Wants to be a Cat”
      • Bruns’ Robin Hood score is similar to that of Aristocats, with songs sung by artist Roger Miller
        • Robin Hood is notable for having Roger Miller write and sing the songs, as this helped set the stage for artists (Phil Collins) to do this in the future
        • The song, “Phony King of England” was written by Johnny Mercer who was an incredibly prominent songwriter of the time (Moon River)
      • The Sherman Brothers returned once again to write songs for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh; “Winnie the Pooh” has since been a recognizable theme for the silly ol’ bear
      • The Scores for Winnie the Pooh and The Fox and the Hound were both written by Buddy Baker who had worked for Disney scoring live-action films
        • “The Best of Friends,” the only song from The Fox and the Hound, was written by Stan Fidel and Richard Johnston
  • The Rescuers
      • “Someone’s Waiting for You” was written by Carol Connors and Ayn Robbins (who also wrote “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky) with music by Sammy Fein
      • Connors and Robbins wrote the rest of the songs for the film with Artie Butler’s score
  • The Black Cauldron
      • The Black Cauldron was a definite turn from the light-hearted films of early Disney, and with it it had a grand score by legendary composer Elmer Bernstein
      • There are no songs in the Black Cauldron, and it’s dark orchestral score sets the tone for the fantasy epic
      • Bernstein was foriegn to animation-composing, and the idea of using a well-established composer for a stand-alone score and no songs was essentially unheard of for Disney
      • This style was repeated in the Disney films of the post-renaissance (ie Atlantis)
  • The Great Mouse Detective
      • With the exception of “World’s Greatest Criminal Mind,” The Great Mouse Detective also was a movie that relied heavily on a well-crafted score by non other than the great Henry Mancini
      • This was the only Disney film scored by Mancini, who was well-established in the entertainment industry for “Pink Panther” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Peter Gunn”
  • Oliver and Company
    • Scored by J A C Redford, Oliver and Company closed out the Disney dark ages
    • The songs of this movie are notable for how many different artists collaborated on them! Using the voices of Billy Joel, Huey Lewis and the News, and Bette Midler hearkens back to the time of Ichabod and Mr. Toad or Robin Hood
    • One of the most prominent songs: Once Upon a Time in New York City is important as it was the first Disney writing credit for Howard Ashman who was a vital piece of the Disney renaissance

The Renaissance

    • Ah yes, the time period we’ve all been waiting for! Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Disney Animation saved itself from being closed down; and all it took was the angelic voice of a little mermaid
  • The Little Mermaid
      • As Disney was in danger of losing its animation studio, they brought in a composer/lyricist duo that had had some success with musicals such as “Little Shop of Horrors”
      • Alan Menken, the composer, would go on to write music for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Hercules. He was responsible for the sound of the Disney renaissance and helped save Disney
      • His other achievement though, was bringing in Howard Ashman, considered by many to be one of the greatest lyricists in Disney history
      • Ashman also suggested changes to the film that also brought success; He changed Sebastian’s ethnicity for example to Jamaican
      • Here is a clip of Ashman coaching Jodi Benson as she records “Part of Your World
  • Beauty and the Beast
    • Alan Menken and Howard Ashman his the world with a 1-2 punch with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast
    • From the hauntingly beautiful score of the beginning to the delicate sound of “A Tale as Old as Time,” Beauty and the Beast won the hearts of audiences, and Disney was once again considered to be the best in animation
  • Aladdin
    • After the death of Howard Ashman, Tim Rice came in as a lyricist for Aladdin
    • Howard Ashman had worked on some of the songs in the film before he passed away, including Friend Like Me; Tim Rice wrote the lyrics for A Whole New World
    • Aladdin broke ground by having separate actors sing and speak for the leading roles, a practice they continued as they saw fit throughout the renaissance
    • Robin Williams as the genie also increased the popularity of casting celebrities as voice actors, though this was not a brand new concept in Disney animation
  • The Lion King
    • Scored by the well-known composer Hans Zimmer, The Lion King’s music has a vast and epic feel to it, as well as influences from the African location of the movie
    • With songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, the movie was a step in a different direction from the previous movies of the renaissance, though it kept the broadway-like structure and feel of other renaissance movies
  • Pocahontas
    • Stephen Schwartz joined the Disney team as a lyricist for Pocahontas
      • He had seen much success on Broadway for Pippin and Godspell (and in a few years he would have a MAJOR success with Wicked)
    • Alan Menken returned to score Pocahontas and write the melodies for songs, fitting the mold of the other movies of the renaissance and proving that he was responsible for the Disney-movie-sound of the 1990s
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame
    • This movie proved that Disney could in fact cover dark topics with intense themes while still maintaining a appeal for children; this was something they were not able to nail down during the bronze age
    • Stephen Schwartz wrote lyrics for Hunchback as well, and Alan Menken gave us one of the greatest scores in the Disney collection to accompany Schwartz’s lyrics
  • Hercules
    • For Hercules, a new lyricist joined the team, David Zippel and Alan Menken returned once again to write the score and songs
      • Hercules sets itself apart from other Disney movies by using gospel and mo-town influences
      • Using narration throughout the movie, accompanied by music and Zippel’s lyrics, Hercules was able to keep the plot moving forward in a unique way
    • It’s important to note that this is the last movie of the renaissance that Alan Menken worked on and his absence was noticed in the post-renaissance
  • Mulan
    • Jerry Goldsmith, a film score giant, was responsible for the grand soundtrack with Eastern influence in Mulan
    • Along with Elmer Bernstein and Hans Zimmer, this was an example of Disney using a composer unfamiliar with animation, but well-known for live-action film scores
    • The songs for Mulan were written by Matthew Wilder and lyrics were penned, once again, by David Zippel
      • The most popular songs from the film were: Reflection and Be a Man
  • Tarzan
    • For the Tarzan soundtrack, Disney took a new direction. Reminiscent of The Lion King, they had a well-known singer/songwriter write the songs for the film. This time, the artist was Phil Collins and he wrote music as well as lyrics
    • Collins’ voice appears many times in the film, with songs sung by characters and songs off-screen
    • The score is by Mark Mancina, a composer known today for Moana
      • Mancina had worked for Disney in the past as an arranger for other films like The Lion King, and would go on to score Brother Bear (another Phil Collins collaboration)