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Toon Thursday : Mermaids, donuts and musical concrete

Toon Thursday : Mermaids, donuts and musical concrete

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Hey, folks --

Jim Hill here. Before this month's Floyd Norman column officially gets underway, I thought that I'd take a moment to let JHM readers know that Mr. Fun recently launched his very own blog. Appropriately titled Mr. Fun's Blog.

So if you want more than just the usually once-a-month dose of this Disney Legend's wit & wisdom that you find here at JimHillMedia, add Mr. Fun's Blog to your "Favorites" list now.

Okay. Now that the shameless plugging is out of the way, let's get on with this month's column ...

If you were to walk down the hallway of Disney's Animation Building (the real Animation Building) as I do on occasion, you might think you were in an investment bank or an insurance company. With the exception of a few reproductions of Disney art on the walls, there's nothing to indicate that this facility was once a crazy, creative fun filled environment.

With this in mind, let's leave big time corporate Disney for a moment and take a trip back in time. A time of wonderful fun and foolishness that I doubt we'll ever see again.

My first story takes place back in the 1960s. It was a typical workday when loud crashing sounds began emanating from the second floor of the Animation Building. A cacophony of howls, crashes and screeching that was so overwhelming it would freak out a drummer in a rock band. People began poking their heads out of their offices. What the heck was going on, they wondered?

It turns out that animator/director Ward Kimball had found this new album of synthesized "music." The album was entitled, "Music Concrete" and must have been some kind of bizarre experiment in electronic music. Perhaps the zany director was searching for sounds for his newest space epic - - who knows? In any case, the music - - if you could call it that -- was pretty weird.

Complaints about the noise filling the hallway were fruitless. Because the more people complained, the louder the music would be cranked up. Talk about falling on deaf ears. Eventually people shut their doors and tried to go back to work. There was no way they were going to solve this crazy situation that could be summed up in two words. Ward Kimball.

Let's move downstairs to F-Wing on the first floor. If you know anything about the layout of the old Animation Building, you'll know that there was an alcove separating the wing from the main hallway. At one time, this area served as a reception space. But it now served as the location for a coffee machine. Next to the coffee maker was a large vending machine filled with donuts.

Well, one day the donut machine became infested with ants. This prompted one Disney artist to add a note to the machine that read:

"Donuts -- 25 cents
With ants -- 50 cents"


Soon, other artists began to join in, and notes & funny drawings soon filled the machine. When people from other wings of the building heard about the machine, they had to see for themselves. Soon the hallway was filled with Disney staffers laughing their heads off at all the hilarious gags.

Eventually, word got back to the vender. So one early morning they arrived at the studio and took the machine away. However, the fun wasn't over just yet. When the Disney artists arrived at work that morning they noticed the empty space where the donut machine had been. There was one lone, tiny note in the middle of the empty alcove. Supposedly a warning by the tiny little invaders.

And what was that note, you ask? It read:


"We have your machine. Tomorrow, the world !"

My last story involves animation legend Blaine Gibson and his assistant Jack Fergus. The two animators, now turned sculptors had been assigned to create a mermaid for a Disneyland attraction. Instead of moving to Imagineering in Glendale, Blaine and Jack chose to create their sculpture in one of the large rooms in B-Wing.

As Blaine and Jack worked away, many of the artists stopped in to observe the progress on the sculpture. The work went quickly, and after a couple of weeks, the beautiful mermaid was completed. Blaine Gibson called the Disney moving crew. It would be their job to haul the mermaid to the Disney backlot where a cast would be made.

The head mover was a feisty little guy named Roy. He was quite a character himself, and looked as though he could have been an actor in one of those 1940s boxing movies. He and his crew arrived in B-Wing, and carefully loaded the beautiful mermaid onto a dolly for its trip to the backlot. As always, Roy advised his crew to be very careful with this priceless Disney sculpture.

What's the worse thing that could happen, one might ask? Well, that's exactly what happened. As the movers made their way down Dopey Drive, the mermaid sculpture suddenly toppled over and crashed to the ground. Roy and the moving crew stood in disbelief looking down at the smashed sculpture. Clearly, their career at Disney was over. However, the Walt Disney Studio is a very special place, as you'll soon find out.

When word got back to Blaine Gibson and Jack Fergus, they nearly fell off their chairs with laughter. "We never really liked it that much anyway," said Blaine. "Now, we can do it over and do a better job." And with that, the Disney moving crew and the talented sculptors ended their day with a good laugh.

How's that for a Disney happy ending?

If you're not ready for the good times to end just yet ... Remember there's now Mr. Fun's Blog. Where you can find even more of Floyd's musing.

Or if you'd prefer to have Floyd Norman in print ... Well, you can purchase one or more of the books that Mr. Fun now has the market. Which each take an affectionate look back at the time that Mr. Norman has spent in Toontown.

These include Floyd's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's cataroo.com) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.

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  • Floyd,

    Thanks ... and I've been regularly visiting your blog for a couple of weeks.

    I really liked your entry about going to Ollie's old office as a way of honoring him. I was very touching and a quiet, solemn way of reflecting on him, animation, life -- I'm sure it felt a bit like being in church or visiting hallowed ground.

    I also enjoyed your column on the ATM experience and your reasoning for backing Obama. I agree, but think it's his multicultural black and white background, his experiences in this country and aboard that makes him my favored candidate.

    It's a shame you and your son had to go through that. In some ways it reminded me of the Bruce Springsteen song "41 shots"

    "Lena gets her son ready for school

    She says 'on these streets, Charles

    You've got to understand the rules

    If an officer stops you

    Promise me you'll always be polite,

    that you'll never ever run away

    Promise Mama you'll keep your hands in sight'

    "Is it a gun, is it a knife

    Is it a wallet, this is your life

    It ain't no secret

    It ain't no secret

    No secret my friend

    You can get killed just for living in

    Your American skin."

    Finally, Floyd, keep it up. Who can ever get enough of Mr. Fun?

  • Hi there Floyd! I have been reading your blog today. I knew that you would probably mention Ollie Johnstons passing. I first heard about Ollie Johnston the same way I heard about Ward Kimball. That was through Trains Magazine. I wish I had met him. I was also saddened to read about the ATM experience. Being white, I have never experienced that but I know many people who have. I hope you told the cops what you do for a living and they may now never live this down due to an uncomming scene in a future film.

  • The "musical concrete" (musique concrete) title reminded me of a reported experiment at Walt Disney World. The imagineers laid narrow raised strips of asphalt across a road --- similar to the ones that sometimes warn drivers they're approaching a stop sign --- in such intervals so that when driven across at a constant speed, the vibrations of a car's tires would sound a tune -- "Small World" comes to mind. It didn't go far, partly because it's often impossible to drive anywhere on property at a constant speed.

  • I don't remember where, but I seem to recall reading that the inventor of the idea pitched it to Disney and was turned down.

    I also read recently that the plan was scrapped because it didn't work well with two-axle vehicles.

    The song in most accounts was "Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah", though.  I think "When You Wish Upon a Star" might have been mentioned as well.  =)

  • Nice article... as always.

    I just checked out your blog... GREAT stuff!

    Thanks.

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