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Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

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First up, Kelly T. from Moor Park, CA. writes in to ask:

Dear Jim:

First of all, love the site. Thanks for all the great coverage of the "Save Disney" story and WILL YOU PLEASE -- FOR GAWD'S SAKE -- FINALLY GET AROUND TO FINISHING YOUR "LIGHT MAGIC: SERIES?! I've been waiting for over two years now to find out how that story turns out. So will you finish the damned thing already, okay?

Now that I've got that out of my system ... What with Roy Disney now officially being on the outs with the Walt Disney Company and all, this is probably going to sound like a really silly question, but ... What's become of "Fantasia 2006"? During one of the interviews that Roy did for "Fantasia 2000" back in December of 1999, he mentioned that Disney's animators were already hard at work on a third installment of the series. And that the third "Fantasia" could possibly be out in theaters as soon as 2006.

Well, given that the whole "Fantasia Continued" project was Roy's baby, now that he's on the outside looking in ... Does that mean "Fantasia 2006" is dead in the water too?

Just wonderin',
Kelly T.

Kelly T.

Thanks for the kind words about the site. I'm glad you've enjoyed JHM's coverage of the whole Roy / Stanley / Michael thing. And -- yes -- I promise. I will get around to wrapping up my "Light Magic" series someday soon. (Which will then only leave my "Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" series, My "Country Bear Jamboree" history as well as my "When You Wish Upon a Frog" Henson saga to wrap up ... Sigh ... There just aren't enough hours in the day, are they? Anyway ...)

And -- boy -- I wish I had better news for you about "Fantasia 2006." But even before Roy officially left the Walt Disney Company back at the end of November, that project was pretty much dead in the water. The cutbacks at Walt Disney Feature Animation -- both funding and staff-wise -- over the past two years had pretty much stopped any serious development of possible new sequences for the third "Fantasia" film.

Mind you, three short films -- which had been developed by WDFA animators and artists as pieces that could possibly be included in "Fantasia 2006" -- were completed before the project went off the rails. These films were Mike Gabriel's "Lorenzo's Tale" (The short that was supposed to have run in front of Touchstones' "The Ladykillers" when that Tom Hanks film was released to theaters last month. But -- to date -- I haven't heard of anyone who's seen "Lorenzo's Tail" outside of its presentation at various film festivals around the country), "Destino" (Roy's own pet project. Over 60 years in the making, this Salvador Dali project was finally completed by the artists at Feature Animation France before Disney shuttered that studio last year) and Lebo M's "One by One."

Of these three short films, "One by One" is probably the one that will ultimately reach the widest audience. It's scheduled to be offered as a "Special Feature" on the special edition DVD of "The Lion King II: Simba's Pride." Which is due to be out on store shelves on August 31st of this year.

As for "Destino," Disney once had all these plans for that film. They were first going to showcase the short of the film festival circuit. Then follow that up with a special limited edition DVD that Buena Vista Home Entertainment would put out. Which would feature the short itself, a documentary on the making of "Destino," followed by a still gallery that would be loaded with images of Salvador Dali's conceptual art for the project.

But that was what people talked about doing when Roy still worked for the Walt Disney Company. What's going to happen now that he's (as you said, Kelly) "on the outside looking in," who can say ...

Next up, Michelle P. writes in to say:

Jim,

I've noticed lately that Pizza Hut has been using the Muppets in their 4-for-all pizza commercials, and I for one have been enjoying them. Are there any statistics on the Muppets' reception via these commercials that might speed up the idea of the Miss Piggy's Limo ride by proving that the Muppets are selling pizzas and are therefore not a "tired franchise"? Just a thought......

Michelle

Michelle -

Boy, I wish I had better news for you, Michelle. But -- even if that Muppet Pizza Hut ad were a huge hit -- I don't think that it would help the current situation.

Based on what I've been hearing coming out of the meetings between Jim Henson officials and Disney's attorneys (as they work to finalize this acquisition deal), it's becoming more and more apparent that the Walt Disney Company really doesn't have a clue what to do with the Muppets. And that the real reason that Disney wound up buying these characters wasn't because the corporation thought that this would be a good long term investment. But -- rather -- because Michael Eisner wanted them.

Strange but true, folks. Based on some really depressing comments that I've been hearing coming out of the Burbank lot (EX: "The Muppets were hot in -- what? -- 'way back in the 1970s? This is 2004. What are we supposed to do here? Make every consumer in North America climb in the Wayback Machine and set it for 1977? Just so we can then say: 'See? The Muppets really aren't all dated and lame. They're truly cool.' That's not going to happen, Jim. We're stuck with trying to sell this sh*t because Eisner has this ridiculous Henson obsession ..."), it's clear that -- outside of the corner office in the Team Disney building (And -- of course -- Walt Disney Imagineering) -- that no one thinks that Disney buying the Muppets (even at the bargain basement price that Disney negotiated for these characters) was a very good idea.

So why does Eisner have a "... ridiculous Henson obsession"? Well, you have to understand that -- when Michael Eisner first met Jim Henson back in the early 1970s -- Michael have never actually met a real creative genius before. Oh, sure. In his role as head of ABC's Children's Television Programming, Michael had met many creative types before. But never a true dyed-in-the-wool, really-for-real creative genius like Jim before.

And keep in mind that this was when Henson was looking for someone who'd sponsor the pilot for the very first Muppet television show. And -- even though Eisner didn't really have the authority to do this sort of thing (Remember that Michael's job was to create programming just for ABC's children's division. NOT for the network's adult line-up) -- Michael somehow found the money in his meager budget to help produce a Muppet TV show pilot. Not just once ("The Muppet Valentines Special," which aired in February 1973), but twice ("The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence," which aired in the Spring of 1974).

Unfortunately, ABC ultimately passed on both versions of the Muppet TV show pilot. But these two promising false starts gave Jim Henson the confidence (and -- more importantly -- the experience) he needed to take a third stab at the project. And that version -- of course -- was "The Muppet Show," which began airing in syndication in September 1976.

In this case, the third time really was the charm. This version of "The Muppet Show" became this huge worldwide phenomenon, this international success. It was also something that Michael Eisner would regularly point to with great pride (and not a little frustration), saying: "You see that show? I helped get the Muppet TV program off the ground. And ABC could have had that huge success all to itself, if they'd only just listened to me ..."

In the years that followed, Jim Henson and Michael Eisner remained friendly, stayed in touch. Mostly because Michael was eager to do something -- ANYTHING! -- again with Henson.

What was the cause of this obsession? Some say it was because Eisner felt that he'd never gotten the credit that he felt he was due. After all, Michael was the one who'd found the money necessary to produce those first two Muppet show pilots. And that -- without his initial contribution -- Jim Henson would have never been in a position to get that third (and finally successful) version of "The Muppet Show" off the ground and on the air.

But other folks have told me that Michael's obsession with the Muppets really started with his first visit to the ABC studio where "The Muppet Valentines Special" was being filmed. As the story goes, Michael just stood there, watching Jim and his team of puppeteers perform. And this big silly grin slowly slid across his face.

So who knows? Maybe Eisner's dogged pursuit of the Muppets over these past 14 years has been some sort of bizarre attempt by Michael to get back to a happier time in his life, a better place in his career. Back when things were just getting started for him. Rather than now, when things seem to be getting ready to come to a rather abrupt ending.

All I know is that -- based on what the people from Henson have been telling me -- Eisner's been sitting in on a number of the Muppet acquisition meetings. And -- frankly -- the guy looks terrible. All haggard and tired. The only time Eisner ever seems to smile is when someone brings up Jim Henson. And that's Michael's cue to launch into the story about the first time he met Jim Henson.

Admittedly, this anecdote sounds somewhat sweet, almost charming. Except for the fact that the folks from the Jim Henson Company has thought that the Walt Disney Company was purchasing the Muppets because the Mouse knew how to keep these characters evergreen. Not just because Michael Eisner had become obsessed with the Muppets over the past 14 years. Not because Kermit and Co. had become Michael's "great white whale." Something to acquire just for the sheer joy of acquiring it. Rather than because Eisner had any great plans for the characters after they'd been acquired.

Well, the folks from Henson. They're not in the mood for the Muppets to become some sort of weird trophy for Michael Eisner. Which is why there has reportedly been some rumblings (just from Henson's side of the fence, mind you) about whether or not it might be possible to call off this acquisition. To have things go back to the way the way they used to be.

Certainly, there are a lot of folks who work at the Henson facility in Hollywood (you know, the old Chaplin studio on La Brea) who'd love it if this whole acquisition thing would just go away. Most of these folks initially came to work for the Jim Henson Company because that was where the Muppets were. Now that Kermit and Co. will soon be heading off to Burbank, a lot of these people just don't know what to do with themselves. They're worried that -- once the Disney acquisition deal is completed -- that their jobs will be eliminated. That there'll be no room for them in the new, slimmer, streamlined version of the Jim Henson Company.

Which is why -- were this deal to suddenly hit a snag -- there'd be a lot of happy people. Both at the Jim Henson Company as well as over at the Walt Disney Company. The only person who'd probably be broken up if the Muppet acquisition deal didn't go through would be (surprise, surprise) Michael Eisner.

Sorry that I don't have better news for you, Michelle. But -- like I said earlier -- this isn't really a situation that a good rating for a Pizza Hut commercial is going to fix.

And -- finally -- Simba's Sister writes in to complain:

Dear Jim:

Have you seen "Lion King 1½"? I hated this movie. All those f*rt jokes and silly show business in-jokes. This movie just ruined the original "Lion King" for me. Now I can't watch the DVD of the original film without thinking "Oh, the elephants aren't bowing out of respect for young Simba. They're fainting because Pumbaa just broke wind and knocked them all out."

Was Disney so desperate for money that they had to force this unnecessary sequel on consumers?

Simba's Sister

Dear Simba's Sister -

First of all, repeat after me: "It's only a movie. It's only a movie."

Second of all, "The Lion King 1½" is a very funny movie. To my way of thinking, this is the best looking, most entertaining video premiere that the folks over at Disney Toon Studios (I.E. the division of the Walt Disney Company that produces these "video premiere" projects for Buena Vista Home Entertainment) has produced to date.

And as for the f*rt jokes. Maybe you weren't paying attention during the original "Lion King," but that film was loaded with gas passing jokes as well.

Look, if Don Hahn, the producer of the original "Lion King," can find a lot to love about "Lion King 1½" ... (He told me that he felt that this direct-to-video sequel was "...surprisingly entertaining. Really very clever. And so well animated that I had trouble telling the stuff we did from the footage that the guys at Disney's Australia studio did ...") ... then maybe you should give this film another chance, Simba's sister. Okay?

Alright. That's enough for this week, folks. Here's hoping that you all have a Happy Easter. We'll talk again next Monday morning, okay?

jrh

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