Some Case Wicked This Way Comes

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @   

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


The Hollywood Case of Terror

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @   

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


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



The Case of Animation History

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

The History of animation

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

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

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

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

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


A Disney Halloween Case


Back in 1982, The Wonderful World of Disney aired a Halloween special comprised of animated clips from some of their spookiest works. With about a 60 minute run-time, Disney’s Halloween Treat was hosted by Hal Douglas, an unseen narrator, with a few appearances from a talking foam pumpkin. 

  • Hal Douglas is known for narrating thousands of movie trailers. You’ve heard his voice so many times, and this performance is incredible.
  • One year later, Disney premiered a newer version of the special, this time 90 minutes long. It omitted parts from the original special, but included pieces from a 1977 special called, “Disney’s Greatest Villains” 
    • This version excluded a clip from Ichabod and Mr. Toad, and the skeletons in the beginning were green instead of orange. 
  • Some versions also include an opening with Michael Eisner, the then chair-man of Walt Disney Studios. This opening was most likely added for the VHS release of the special. 
  • Throughout the 1980’s and early 90’s, Disney ran this special on its channel every Halloween season. A Disney Halloween was released on VHS in 1985, though the original Disney’s Halloween Treat was never officially released (of course, Robin has a version taped off TV).

Segments of the Special

In this episode we talk about both specials. We cover clips from both, where they are from, and what we love about them. 

So buckle up! It’s gonna be a REAL treat 😉 

Part 1

  • The opening sequence
    • As we said before, the original special, “Disney’s Halloween Treat,” came out in 1982. It opens with clips from Disney cartoons, most prominently “The Skeleton Dance” (1929)
      • The Skeleton Dance was a “Silly Symphony.” Silly Symphonies were animated short films set to music, that Disney released over a 10 year period. The Skeleton Dance is one of the most popular, along with “The Three Little Pigs” 
      • In this version, the skeletons have been colored orange. In the original short they were black and white. 
    • The theme song for this special was written specifically for it! The music was by John Debney, a well-known film composer. Debney wrote the music for Hocus Pocus, which we talked about earlier this month! 
      • The lyrics were written by Galen R Brandt 
    • In A Disney Halloween, the skeletons are green, and this is how we could tell which special we were watching from the beginning.

Part 2

  • Night on Bald Mountain 
    • The narrator (Hal Douglas) wastes no time leading us into the first clip, a piece from Fantasia (1940). This image is very familiar to many, as the horrifying Chernabog ascends from the mountain to summon his minions. 
    • This piece of classical music was written by Mussorgsky, and this is one of the most famous animations from Fantasia 

Part 3

  • In A Disney Halloween, we get a clip from “The Sword in the Stone” (1963) with an emphasis on Mad Madam Mim. This particular scene features the wizard duel and the death of Mim.
  • Mim was voiced by Martha Wentworth, who also voiced the nanny in 101 Dalmatians (1961). This was her last acting credit. 

Part 4

  • The Old Mill 1937
    • Another silly symphony, this short is anything but silly. 
  • This clip comes from a 9 minute short about various animals: such as owls, mice, and bats that move into an old windmill.  Nearby the songs of frogs, crickets, and fireflies can be heard. The climax comes when a storm puts in peril all the creatures in and around the mill.
    • The beautiful thing is that even though the creatures do not speak you feel for them though the music and their actions.
    • This is one of the saddest and most touching pieces in the special.

Part 5

  • Mickey Mouse 
    • Pluto’s Sweater (1949)
      • We get a very short clip from this short film, but the transition is pretty seamless!
    • Mickey’s Parrot 1938
      • This clip comes from a 7 minute short where an escaped parrot comes into Mickey’s home just as he learns that the dangerous convict Machine-Gun Butch has shot his way out of jail. Thinking that the parrot is Butch, Mickey and Pluto cautiously try to find him.
  • Donald Duck
    • Donald Duck and the Gorilla 1944
      • This clip comes from a 7 minute short about Ajax, the killer gorilla who has escaped from the zoo! Donald Duck and his three nephews prank each other, making them think that Ajax is in their house. 
      • There’s a twist, when the real Ajax appears and tries to attack Donald! 

Part 6

  • Heffalumps and Woozils 
    • Next, we get a segment on nightmares! This clip is another part added to the new special, taken from “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” (1977).
    • In the film, Winnie the Pooh goes to sleep on a stormy night and dreams of the infamous Heffalumps and Woozils! Evil creatures out to steal his honey (or whatever else he wants).

Part 7

  • Pluto’s Judgement Day

    • This part is very interesting! For this section, animators cut three different Pluto adventures together to create one cohesive story. Those stories are: 
      • Puss Cafe 1950
      • Cat Nap Pluto 1948
      • Judgement Day 1935 (notice the 15 year difference between two of the shorts) 

Part 8

  • This segment is a wonderful piece, that really adds to the creepy atmosphere of the special. It comes from another Wonderful World of Disney episode called, “The Great Cat Family”! It came out in 1956. 
  • This part educates the audience on the beginning of superstitions, and also uses some imagery from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which Disney cut from the second version of this special. 

Part 9 

  • To continue the theme of cats, we have a clip from “Lady and the Tramp” (1955)
    • Here we have Si and Am, the trouble-making cats from the film. The song was originally sung by Peggy Lee. 
    • The song is widely considered problematic,and in the 2019 version, this song will be “rewritten” and performed by Janelle Monáe

Part 10

  • The next segment of “A Disney Halloween” was taken from yet another Wonderful World of Disney episode called “Disney’s Greatest Villains” from 1977
    • This was an updated special following another version called, “Our Unsung Villains” in 1956.
    • It featured Hans Conried as The Magic Mirror. Conried had died when this segment was added to A Disney Halloween, but the footage was used anyway. 
    • Conried was a prolific actor whose voice was used in the animated “Hobbit” (1977), as the Grinch in “Halloween is Grinch Night,” but he was also the voice of Captain Hook in Disney’s Peter Pan.
  • Disney’s Greatest Villains 1977
    • Peter Pan (1953) – Hook
      • This scene with Captain Hook was included in the original Disney’s Halloween Treat, and is the first clip introduced by The Magic Mirror.
      • It shows the defeat of  Hook.
    • The Aristocasts (1970) – Edgar
      • Shows when Edgar drops the kittens while he is being chased by the dogs Lafayette and Napoleon.
    • Mickey and the Beanstalk – The Giant
      • This piece is from “Fun and Fancy Free” (1947)
    • The Jungle Book (1967) – Kaa
      • Voiced by the talented Sterling Halloway 
      • Kaa is interrupted during his hypnosis of Mowgli by Shere Khan.
    • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) – The Evil Queen
      • In Disney’s Halloween Treat, we get a full look at the evil queen, from her transformation to the moment she poisons Snow White. We also see her meet her doom at the edge of a cliff! 
    • Sleeping Beauty (1959) – Maleficent 
      • We get to see Maleficent in all her glory!
  • After Maleficent, the magic mirror briefly mentions:
    • Cinderella – Lady Tremaine 
    • 101 Dalmatians (1961)- Cruella De Vil
      • In Disney’s Halloween Treat, Cruella gets the full treatment, with a clip from the movie showing her ultimate defeat.
    • Alice in Wonderland (1951) – The Queen of Hearts
    • The Rescuers (1977)
      • At the time of “Disney’s Greatest Villains,” Medusa was the newest villain in Disney’s catalog. For this reason, this is the final villain featured by the magic mirror before he says, “I don’t know about you, but I’m getting out of here!” 

Part 11

  • The narrator uses the mirror’s disappearance to bring us into “Lonesome Ghosts” (1937)
    • This short film was originally released 3 days after Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
    • It features four bored ghosts that play pranks on Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. In this episode, the trio are ghost exterminators from AJAX, the fictional Disney company equivalent to ACME in the Looney Toon Universe.
    • Features Clarence Nash as Donald, Pinto Colvig as Goofy, and Walt Disney as Mickey Mouse.

Part 12

  • Trick or Treat (1952)
    • The final piece of “A Disney Halloween” is a piece from “Trick Or Treat” in 1952.
    • This short features the wonderful June Foray as “Witch Hazel” and an uncredited appearance by Thurl Ravenscroft as the Jack-O-Lantern!
    • Clarence Nash is the voice of Donald and his three nephews.
    • The music was written by Paul J Smith! A well-known Disney Composer (Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella).

Part 13 

  • Ichabod Crane and Mr Toad
    • In the original Disney’s Halloween Treat, it ended with a clip from “Ichabod and Mr. Toad” (1949).
      • This film covered two stories: The Wind and the Willows, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.
    • In this clip, we see the thrilling end of Ichabod Crane. It starts with an edited version of the ghost story scene, narrated and sung by Bing Crosby. It then cuts to Ichabod cautiously riding home in the dark before being attacked by the Headless Horseman. It ends just as the story does, with the image of a shattered pumpkin on the bridge of souls. 

This is how the original special ended, and it’s how we will end our Halloween special as well! Happy Halloween, everyone! 

See you tomorrow. Maybe.

The Watcher in the Case

Woods Patreon

We’re in week three of our Disney Halloween series! This week we’re talking about the 1980 film “The Watcher in the Woods.” This is a supernatural, sci-fi thriller set in England. 

The story preys on two classic fears: The Woods, and being watched. I know it sounds silly when you think of that and the title of the movie, but it’s true. There are a lot of supernatural ties to the woods. It’s a place where many feel close to nature, but it’s also a place that holds terrifying tales of people losing their way and never being seen again. 


When we’re in the woods, we feel small. The trees tower over us, and the foliage blinds us from seeing long distances. Even if we venture in alone, we know we are surrounded by so many unseen animals and insects. So, the belief that there are mythical beasts or wandering spirits in the woods has been around for centuries. This is why the woods are a great place to tell scary stories. Even when we sit around the campfire, we’re not safe. We can be seen, but we can’t see beyond the flames. 


The other fear is being watched by an unknown person or thing. This is also known as scopophobia. We use the threat of observance to trick children into behaving; we tell them that Santa or his elves are watching every move they make. None of us like to feel that we are being watched, and it gives us a strange and creepy feeling, much like most of this film. 


Movie Beginnings:

  • Near the end of the 70’s moviegoers seemed to want more mature content.  Disney decided that they wanted to begin dipping into this latest craze. They began with The Black Hole (a sci-fi space adventure) and then proceeded with The Watcher in the Woods. Both of these films were meant to be PG in order to attract the audience to their new direction.  The Watchers producer Tom Leetch had told the head of the studio Ron Miller that “This could be our Exorcist.”  
  • It is based on a book by Florence Engel Randall which was turned into a screenplay by Brian Clemens.  Later though, Disney decided Clemen’s version delved too much into darkness and so they had revisions done by Harry Spalding, Rosemary Anne Sisson, and Gerry Day.
    • There are small differences, like Jan finds exes in mirrors instead of triangles
      • The presence in the woods reaches out to Jan’s father and shows him why its trapped
      • Instead of using Karen’s friends, it’s Mrs. Aylwood, Jan, and Ellie that have to complete a “triad of power” to bring Karen back
    •   The biggest difference is that the book ends before the seance with the girls heading into the woods. There is a cliff-hanger that doesn’t get resolved. 



  • An American family moves to the British countryside with their two daughters Jan and Ellie. The family encounters Mrs. Aylwood, an old woman plagued by the mysterious disappearance of her daughter Karen 30 years ago. Jan and Ellie start to notice strange happenings in the house. Ellie hears whispers and music that she assumes comes from Jan, while Jan keeps seeing the image of a young girl trapped in mirrors. 
  • Jan learns that Karen disappeared during an eclipse, and that one is about to happen again. She tracks down everyone who might know what happened the night of her disappearance and demands answers. 
  • When Ellie becomes possessed by The Watcher, an unseen entity that has been communicating through her, Jan plans to hold a seance and bring Karen back. 



  • Bette Davis as Mrs. Aylwood the mother of missing Karen
    • A very famous leading lady among those in Hollywood
    • One of her most famous roles being 1962’s drama What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
    • The release of this movie was to be set with Bette Davis’s 50th anniversary in the motion picture business which rushed the production of the films ending. 
      • This was her 85th feature film
    • She had expressed interest in playing a young Mrs. Aylwood and the present day Mrs. Aylwood.  John Hough therefore shot the scenes with her wearing makeup but afterward he privately told Davis that the scenes just didn’t work because nobody would believe she was in her forties.  She reportedly then looked him in the eye and told him “You’re goddamned right.”
  • Lynn-Holly Johnson as Jan Curtis 
    • The part was announced publicly to originally be portrayed by Diane Lane but ended up being Lynn-Holly 
    • She rose to fame by her figure skating in the mid 70’s which led to her first movie Ice Castles where she plays a partially blind skater who is trying to make it to the Olympics.  
  • Kyle Richards as Ellie Curtis
    • She was a young child star that had a recurring role in Little House on the Prairie
    • She now is known for her tv personality on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills since 2010.
  • Carroll Baker as mother Helen Curtis
    • The now retired actress who had roles that ranged from innocent to bold which allowed her to be classified as a pin-up and a serious actress.
  • David McCallum as father Paul Curtis
    • Known now as Ducky from NCIS
  • Ian Bannen as Karen’s friend John Keller
  • Richard Pasco as Karen’s friend Tom Colley
  • Frances Cuka as Karen’s friend Mary Fleming
  • Benedict Taylor as Jan’s love interest Mike Fleming 


Making of the Movie:

  • Directed by John Hough and Vincent McEveety, The Watcher in the Woods was filmed at Pinewood Studios in England
  • After it’s premier in New York in 1980, it was pulled from theatres after 10 days because of the overwhelmingly negative reviews 
    • When Disney pulled the film from theatres, they replaced it with Mary Poppins and re-shot the final scenes
    • In the original version, the film shows a physical depiction of the Watcher, a horrifying monster that wraps itself around Jan and transports her to a different dimension 
      • Audiences hated the apparently unfinished graphics and practical effect of the watcher
      • The original ending was also confusing, making the story more clunky and hard to explain. We find that the watcher is an alien that suspended Karen in time and space when it was accidentally transported to our world in its place
        • In this version we also get an explanation of the Watcher, a creature from another dimension that “turns people into negative images”
      • In the new version, we don’t see any of this. The watcher appears as a beam of light. Jan disappears, and then reappears with Karen. The scene ends there with no explanation and we don’t see the reunification of Karen and her mother. 
  • The film also had an alternate beginning, with a girl playing with a doll in the woods. The watcher scares the girl, causing her to drop the doll and run away. There’s a burst of light that catches the doll on fire and the titles play over the melting doll’s face
    • An executive at Disney refused to allow the original beginning to be released on the DVD because it wasn’t in line with Disney’s brand
  • Many of the filming locations were used in “The Haunting” based on the book by Shirley Jackson. You might know this story, as it was adapted for a Netflix show as “The Haunting of Hill House” 
  • The movie was re-made in 2017 for Lifetime. It was directed by Melissa Joan Hart and Angelica Huston played the role of Mrs. Aylwood


Just a Case of Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus

Today we’re kicking off our month of Disney Halloween movies with the live-action classic: Hocus Pocus!

  • Now, before we start talking about Halloween movies, let’s talk about what Halloween is and where it came from
    • There is a scene very early in Hocus Pocus where Allison schools Max on the origin of the holiday, after he says that it was a conspiracy made up by the candy companies.
    • There is no doubt that Halloween has been commercialized, but it didn’t start out that way. Halloween started with the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain, which is the Irish word for November. The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1st. This meant the beginning of winter, a time associated with death and loss. Because October 31st was the last night before the new year, they believed that the border between the living world and the world of the dead would weaken and that souls could pass through.
    • Allison tells Max that Halloween came from All Hallows Eve, but the incorporation of this name came much later when Pope Gregory III moved the feast for all martyrs and saints to November 1st. All Saints Day is also known as All Hallows, hence October 31st having the name Halloween from All Hallows Eve.


The history of the Salem Witch Trials

  • Another important topic that we should touch on is the Salem witch trials. In 1692, a group of young girls in Salem Village Massachusetts claimed to be possessed by the devil and several local women became accused of performing witchcraft. A special court convened to hear the cases, and consequently 19 people were hanged, 7 people died in jail, and one elderly man was pressed to death by stones. As the months went on, about 150 men, women, and children were accused of witchcraft.
  • The opening sequence of Hocus Pocus takes place in 1693. According to, the public hysteria of the Salem witch trials began to fade by the fall of 1692, one year earlier than the film.


The Story of Hocus Pocus

  • Producer David Kirschner revealed that the story for Hocus Pocus started as a bedtime story for his two daughters. Kirschner wrote the story and submitted it to Muppet Magazine. The story was well-received, so Kirschner submitted it to Disney.
    • He added some personal details from his childhood, naming the cat Binx, after his own cat Inks
    • When he and Mick Garis pitched the story to Disney, they made a big production by spelling out October 31st in candy corn on the conference table
  • Disney called in Kenny Ortega, who had been offered the chance to direct Newsies (1992) and asked him to direct Hocus Pocus as well.
  • Originally the film was called “Disney’s Halloween House”


  • Three-hundred years ago in Salem, the Sanderson Sisters would stay young by sucking the lives out of children in the town. When they go after Elizabeth Binx, her older brother Thackery fails to stop them. Just before the witches are hanged, they cast a spell that will bring them back in 300 years, when a virgin will light their black flamed candle.
  • In present day Salem (1993) Max, a skeptical teenage boy lights the candle to prove that there is no such thing as witches. To his surprise, he resurrects the evil sisters and must keep them from killing all the children of Salem before the sun rises on November 1st.


  • Bette Midler plays the lead witch and oldest sister, Winnifred Sanderson.
    • To help Midler with her dialogue, she had people read to her from dictionaries containing old curse words. She would use these insults in the film when yelling at her “thundering oafs” masquerading as sisters
    • Earlier this year, we did an episode about movie musicals and referenced Bette Midler’s role in “Gypsy.” Well, she referenced the role in Hocus Pocus as she takes the stage to sing “I Put a Spell on You.” She declares, “My name is Winnifred, what’s yours?” In Gypsy she said, “Hello everybody, my name is Rose, what’s yours?”
    • Bette Midler reportedly loved playing Winnifred and said she would play her forever if she could. But, she didn’t love the flying rigs, and thought they were painful on her back.
  • Kathy Najimy as Mary Sanderson
    • Kathy Najimy had recently found fame for her role in Sister Act alongside Whoopi Goldburg when she played Mary Sanderson
    • The role of Mary was offered to Rosie O’Donnell who ended up turning it down
    • She took inspiration from a bloodhound, and that is why her character “sniffs out” children in the film
  • Sarah Jessica Parker as Sarah Sanderson
    • Sarah Jessica did her own singing for the role! She was incredibly nervous to sing around Bette Midler, and they even had the same singing coach!
    • Sarah Jessica also tried out a lot of different voices for her role, attempting to sound sultry but also unintelligent. We think she nailed it.
    • She stated in an interview that she believes that Sarah is the most evil of the sisters, as she naturally loves to torture and harm others while the other sisters learned their evil over time
  • Omri Katz as Max Dennison
    • The role of Max was originally offered to Leonardo DiCaprio, who was a rising star in 1993. He turned the role down and it went to Omri Katz
    • Katz was 17 when he played the role, and had starred in the TV show Eerie, Indiana. He has since retired from acting
  • Vinessa Shaw as Allison
    • Shaw was the same age as Katz while filming the movie, and she said that they had a great time on set. Her favorite memory was that the kids from home improvement were on the same lot and they would all spend time together
  • Thora Birch as Dani Dennison
    • Thora Birch was 10 when she was cast as Dani, and Kenny Ortega still considers her to be one of the most intuitive young actresses he’s worked with
    • She later revealed that she had a very hard time with the multiple black cats that played Binx on set. Even though her character loved Binx, training cats is incredibly difficult and they never quite knew what would come out of a scene with the cats.
    • Birch also admits she had a crush on Sean Murray who played the human version of Binx. I mean, didn’t everyone?
  • Sean Murray and Jason Marden as Thackery Binx
    • Sean Murray played the human version of the beloved cat Binx in the opening and closing scenes of the film. When Binx was a cat, he was voiced by prominent voice actor and 90s sitcom regular Jason Marsden. Later on, filmmakers even dubbed Marsden’s voice over Murray’s in the human sequences so his voice sounded the same the entire time
    • Sean Murray is known for NCIS
    • The cat was played by real-life cats but also some animatronic cats, with a little bit of CGI
  • Doug Jones as Billy Butcherson
    • Doug Jones is a well-respected character actor who plays the zombie Billy. When Billy loses his head in the movie, they had a stunt-woman walking around as Billy’s body
    • In the scene where he cuts open his mouth, those are real moths that come flying out. Originally he was supposed to call Bette Midler a bitch in that scene, but he changed the line to “Wench! Trollop! You Buck-toothed, mop-riding, firefly from hell!”
  • Gary and Penny Marshall as Satan and his wife
    • Gary Marshall frequently showed up in his own movies, and even though he didn’t direct this one, he appeared alongside his sister Penny in one hilarious scene as a man dressed as the devil

The Making of the Movie

    • The Sanderson sisters had a much bigger role in the film before editing. Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker both revealed in interviews that the film was edited to be a different film than what they shot. There were several scenes with the sisters that had been cut from the film, presumably because Disney wanted the film to be more family friendly and for the children to be the main characters.
    • The budget on the film was small, so the costume designers re-used old Disney costumes from other live-action features, especially for the town hall dance scene. Some of these movies are old Disney films that Adam and Robin watched recently as we quietly try to watch every Disney live-action film
    • The film makers went to Salem to research the film, and the opening scenes were shot in Massachusetts. Max’s house is a real house that they took exterior shots of. Allison’s house is also a museum in Salem. But, the majority of the movie was filmed on a sound-stage in California. Kinda funny how the bullies make fun of Max by calling him “Hollywood”, huh?
    • Well-known stunt coordinators and engineers used rigs in order for the three witches to fly throughout the movie. While flying was fun for some, it was painful for others. The scenes were tough to coordinate, but gave the film a very real feel. Thora Birch was delighted to be the only child in the movie that got to do flying stunts
  • This was Kenny Ortega’s second film, since he started in the industry as a dancer and choreographer, he wanted there to be a fluidity in the movie. He choreographed the musical number, but also just the regular scenes.
    • Bette Midler pointed out that she had never acted as part of a “trio” before, and liked that she felt as if she was part of a unit instead of a single actor.
  • The score for the film was incredible and was done by John Debney with a little help from the well-known composer James Horner. Horner wrote the melody for “Come Little Children” and the lyrics were written by Brock Walsh who also wrote the chants used in spells in the film as well. The song can be heard three times in the movie, though there is one prominent scene where Sarah sings it as she flies through the sky.
  • The movie opened in July of 1993, and it completely flopped. Much like Newsies, Ortega’s film from the summer before, it became a cult classic. Honestly, even more than a cult classic. The film has reached insane levels of popularity since its release.

The Case of Summer Movies

It’s officially summer! It’s the season of cook-outs, family reunions, patriotic holidays, and childhood nostalgia. This week, we each chose a movie we watch every summer and talked about why it’s a quintessential summer movie.


Adam started off the episode with the 1980 classic Caddyshack!


  • Although the main plot seems to slip as the film goes on, Caddyshack initially follows Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe), a teen caddy at the high-end Bushwood Country Club. Eager for money to pay for college, Noonan attempts to gain votes for a college scholarship reserved for caddies by volunteering to caddy for a prominent club member Elihu Smails (Ted Knight). As the stressful Caddy Day golf tournament approaches, Noonan seeks advice from wealthy golf guru Ty Webb (Chevy Chase). Meanwhile, Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield) arrives and starts to flaunt his money and causes big trouble for the club owner.

Fun Facts

  • This was Harold Ramis’ directorial debut and is considered to be an accidental hit by those who made it
  • Referred to as “Animal House on a Golf Course,” Caddyshack is an over the top comedy about the Bushwood Country Club
  • The movie was originally going to be more about Michael O’Keefe’s character Danny Noonan and his fellow caddies. However, throughout a ridiculously difficult shoot it turned into an adult comedy with no significant plot.
    • Gopher was added last minute to create some kind of plot that would tie scenes together.
  • According to actors and crew there were parties almost every night that would rival those of rock stars. The cast of Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, and Bill Murray didn’t make things any easier either. They were constantly goofing around and ended up ad-libbing a large amount of the movie.
    • Examples of this include:
      • Cinderella story
      • Party scene
      • Ugliest hat
    • Dangerfield thought he was doing terribly during scenes, as no one was breaking character to laugh. Being a stand up comedian, he was used to laughs

Favorite Moments

  • “Doodie” Pool scene with Jaws theme
  • Destroying the yacht
  • Carl Spackler the grounds keeper, blowing up the course and winning the game for Al.


Marci brought us back to camp with Heavy Weights (1995)


  • Gerry Garner comes home from the last day of school (The True beginning to summer!) He is surprised to find that his parents have decided to send him to camp named Camp Hope. Not just any camp though- in Gerry’s words a “Fat Camp”. When he arrives all the campers soon find out that this year will not be the same as years past.  The owners have gone bankrupt and sold the camp to Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller) who is a fitness junkie.
  • Screenplay written and produced by Judd Apatow
    • Known now for Superbad, Anchorman, and Knocked Up


  • Marci believes the former Chipmunks kid was a real entrepreneur. He takes away the kids candy by snitching on them but then proceeds to charge them to sneak candy into a tree trunk in the woods.
  • Who would not want to jump on an awesome air filled bag named “The Blob” into the water?
  • The dance scene was perfect- just as it seemed to be everywhere- girls on one side, guys on the other.
  • One of the funniest lines is when Tony tells Josh (Shaun Weiss from Mighty Ducks) to promptly get off the scale when he is weighed on camera during the second weigh in.
  • Even though this movie has mixed reviews because it seems to have mixed messages we have loved it for many reasons.  One of the main messages Marci takes is that you should take control of your own lives.

Fun Facts

  • The original camp owners were played by Ben Stiller’s parents: Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.
  • The boy that played Gerry (Aaron Schwartz) ended up breaking his arm during the food fight scene and had to be taken to the hospital.  In order to continue shooting the crew covered his stand-in’s face with chocolate syrup.
  • This was basically the beginning of Ben Stiller’s Dodgeball character
    • Since Heavyweights did not fare well at the box office he thought nobody had seen it and borrowed mannerisms and things from the Tony Perkis character.  He then uses them for his character White Goodman in Dodgeball.
  • Ben Stiller did not hang out with the kids during filming which may have helped to contribute to his villainous nature in the movie.
  • 20 Mile Hike
    • The story that Tony tells the boys during this hike is actually a mixture of the myths of Icarus and Sisyphus. Sisyphus was a Greek king who tricked the gods. When he died the gods created a hell for him where he was forced to push a boulder up a hill forever.  Every time just before he reaches the top of the hill the boulder rolls back down and he has to start over. Icarus was a young man who attempted to escape an island with his father, Daedalus.  They made wings out of feathers and wax. Even though his father warned him not to, Icarus flew too close to the sun, his wings melted and he perished upon the fall down.


  • “Don’t put Twinkies on your pizza”- Roy (Kenan Thompson) telling Pat Finley what they learned after the big party


Robin finished up the episode with Field of Dreams (1989)

  • Robin started hers off with an excerpt from the poem, “Green Fields of the Mind” by A Bartlett Giamatti
    • “[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”
  • She also quoted an article about poetry in baseball
    • In a Thought.Co article by Bob Holdman and Margery Synder, they say, “Baseball is the most literary of sports, bursting with metaphor, image, and rhythm.” Baseball is considered to be America’s official pastime, though its popularity has dwindled in recent years. This sport has a rich history filled with nostalgia, an activity played in backyards and on small town fields among family and friends for at least 150 years
  • Shoe-less Joe
    • It’s not a surprise, then that Field of Dreams was a success. Initially the film was to be named the same as the book by W.P. Kinsella, “Shoeless Joe,” but the producers were afraid that audiences would be confused as to what it was about. Kinsella was fine with the change because his original title for the book was “The Dream Field”
  • Synopsis

    • Ray, a farmer in Iowa hears a voice one night as he tends to his fields of corn. “If you build it, he will come.” When Ray is confused, the voice seems to give him a vision of a baseball field. Taunted by fellow farmers and other townspeople, Ray mows down his corn and builds a baseball field. He believes that the ghost of his father’s hero, Shoeless Joe Jackson, will appear. Sure enough, Jackson does appear. Soon, the rest of the 1919 White Sox appear in Ray’s field, only visible to him and his family.
    • Ray believes he built the field so that others could fulfill their baseball dreams, but he finds there’s something there for him too.
  • The Black Sox Scandal 

    • Now, to understand why these particular players appear on the field, you should know a little about The Black Sox Scandal of 1919
        • Back in 1919, baseball players were not paid as well as they are today. Many of them found it difficult to sustain a living off of being a player. The Chicago White Sox first baseman conspired with some gamblers and agreed to throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds for $100,000.00. After the Sox lost the first few games, gamblers weren’t paying out the amounts promised and so they called off the fix and decided to win the series once and for all. However, the gamblers threatened their families and the White Sox lost the World Series to the Reds.
        • When authorities started investigating the series, the players (including Shoeless Joe) confessed to taking the money
          • Shoeless Joe had only taken 5k from his teammates
        • Because of the suspicious disappearance of evidence, the players walked away free from the court. But, the commissioner of baseball did not let them off so easily. All eight players were banned from baseball for the rest of their lives, including Buck Weaver who dropped out of the fix before it started and Shoeless Joe who batted just as well during the series as he had all season. Shoeless Joe also claimed he was an unwilling participant and tried to tip off the owner of the fix.
        • Shoeless Joe was a hero to many children and the scandal brought about the famous cry, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”
  • Fun Facts

    • In Field of Dreams, Ray visits a reclusive author named Terence Mann. In the novel, the author was JD Salinger. Kinsella purposely used the name Kinsella for the title character because Salinger had also written pieces with characters of that name. The purpose was for it to seem that one of his own characters had come to knock on his door and take him to a baseball game.
      • James Earl Jones took the part of Mann after his wife was mesmerized by the famous “people will come, Ray” speech
      • No one outside of the cast and crew knows for certain who’s voice is used as THE voice, though the common belief is that it was Ray Liotta who played Shoeless Joe
    •  Moonlight Graham, a player that Ray travels to Minnesota in order to find, was an actual person. Graham did in fact only play one game before moving to Minnesota and becoming a doctor. Kinsella, the author, found his stats in a book and decided to use them for the story
      • The movie is the final film for Burt Lancaster, the actor who played Graham
    • Field of Dreams was never number one at the box office, it competed with: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; Batman; Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; Dead Poet’s Society; and Weekend at Bernie’s
    • Roger Ebert gave it four stars: “The ghost of Shoeless Joe does not come back to save the world. He simply wants to answer that wounded cry that has become a baseball legend: “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” And the answer is, it ain’t.”

If you like our show, please consider supporting our Patreon!

Until July 31st, you can nominate us for a Podcast Award under TV/Film!

Happy Fourth of July from all of us here at The Black Case Diaries!

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)

The Case of the Best Disney (or Pixar) Princess Part 5

Well Cassettes, it’s finally here! Thank you so much for joining us on our quest for the best Disney (or Pixar) Princess! After 5 weeks of discussion, we do have a winner!

Special Thanks to Kelly Tyree for joining us this week as a guest judge!56547376_411999092950777_7648564068084613120_n

Elsa v Tiana

Rapunzel v Eilonwy

We spent a lot of time discussing these princesses over the last few weeks, and our judges have brought us to the final four!

  • Elsa
    • With her groundbreaking character, showstopping signature song, and incredible ice powers, Elsa won over every competitor to make it to the final four
    • What really seemed to resonate with judges was the adversity Elsa faced through no fault of her own
    • Many times throughout the weeks, we discussed how Elsa was emotionally stunted by being kept in her room and unable to accept who she was until she finally freed herself
    • In this episode, we highlight the moment she breaks down on the ice at the climax of the film, showing true vulnerability as she succumbs to the fear that she is the monster Hans says she is
  • Tiana
    • Tiana is the last of the classically animated princesses, but still broke ground as the hardest working royal on the list
    • She won over Merida for being relatable as a woman who with a goal that many of us could see ourselves aspiring to
    • Her unique music, inspired by 1920s New Orleans also gives Tiana a special perspective that sets her apart from other princesses
    • Even though she finds a prince, she never intended to and never relies on him in order to reach her goals
      • Although she breaks the princess mold, Tiana teaches us that loving another and being part of a team can be just as important as achieving your personal dreams
    • Kelly ultimately decided that Tiana should win over Elsa because of her work ethic and devotion to her dreams; She felt that Tiana is the most relatable princess
  • Rapunzel
    • Much like Elsa, our judges connected with Rapunzel for the adversity that she faced
    • We noted her bravery for leaving the tower when all she knew of the world was what Mother Gothel had told her; Her sense of adventure outweighed her fear
    • Rapunzel is an upbeat character in a terrible situation, held back by the manipulation and verbal abuse afflicted on her by the only person she knows and trusts
    • We also noted in an earlier episode that Rapunzel doesn’t need to be rescued physically, having no issue with jumping from the the tower, she was only held back by fear and devotion to her mother
    • Rapunzel must learn to trust others, come to terms with the fact that she’s been lied to her entire life, turn on the person she’s loved most, and watch her die all in one movie; this sequence of events helped Kelly (this week’s judge) decide that she deserved a spot in the final two
    • Kelly noted that Rapunzel is an example that someone can come from a toxic situation and still make something of themselves
  • Eilonwy
    • In a lot of ways, Eilonwy is the dark horse of this competition
    • Coming from a movie made in the “Dark Ages” of Disney, she is the only princess in the final four that is not on the official list
    • Judges connected with Eilonwy for her bravery in the literal face of the Horned King, a terrifying villain by any standard
    • It was her action against him, her decision to help Taran find the black cauldron that got her to the semi finals of this competition
    • Eilonwy is strong, smart, and confident in her abilities
    • Even though we don’t know much about her from the movie alone, the fact that she made it this far shows that she is a character that still resonates

The Final Round


For the final round, Kelly selected Tiana and Rapunzel. For the final, we all voted and Tiana came out on top! We believe Kelly put it best when she said it was because “She is a self-made queen.”

Thank you so much to everyone who read our blog or listened to our episodes the past five weeks. This was a great time, and we are excited to continue to bring you new episodes on different topics! We also want to thank everyone who came on to judge!