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Why For?

Why For?

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First up, Frank T. writes in to ask about:

Jim -

I loved today's story about Eric Idle's involvement with various projects at Disney. I have one question, though: Who was the actor that Idle replaced in "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience?"

Thanks,

Frank T.

Dear Frank -

You know, I've been trying to get an answer to that question myself for about 10 years now. I've asked various friends who work at WDI and Theme Park Productions (I.E. The division within Walt Disney Imagineering that actually creates all of the movies that are shown in the theme parks). I've even made inquiries of Randal Kleiser, the director of both "Honey, I Blew Up the Kid" and "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience." But everyone that I've spoken with has been ridiculously tight-lipped about this tale.

Of course, were you to look at this situation from Disney's side of the fence, I'm guessing that you could understand why the Mouse might want to keep mum about this matter. The company certainly doesn't want to do anything to embarrass the performer who originally signed on to do this 3D film.

After all, sometimes actors will back out of jobs at the very last moment for reasons that they really don't want publicized. Take - for example - what happened with Shelley Duvall on the production of "Captain EO."

It was actually the star of "Popeye" and the producer of Showtime's acclaimed "Faerie Tale Theatre" series that George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola originally hired to play Michael Jackson's nemesis in this 3D movie, the Supreme Leader. And Duvall was reportedly really excited to be part of the project ... Until Shelley found out about all the make-up that she was expected to wear in her role as the film's villain.

As this character had originally envisioned by Academy Award winning make-up artist Rick Baker, any actress who was going to play the Supreme Leader would be covered from their neck to the top of their head with latex appliances. So that - at the end of the movie, when Captain EO gives the Supreme Leader his "gift" - her transformation from crone to fair maiden would be all the more startling.

Well, as it turns out, Ms. Duvall is terribly claustrophobic. The very idea that her face would be buried under tons of latex for hours at a time was just terrifying to Shelley. I'm told that - as a personal favor to Francis - she did one make-up test. But Duvall found that experience to be so excruciating that -- immediately after that - she bailed out of the project.

Mind you, Shelley tried to be as professional as possible about her untimely exit. I'm told that she made apologetic phone calls to everyone involved in the "Captain EO" project. From the two Michaels (I.E. Michael Eisner & Michael Jackson) to Lucas to Coppola. Explaining that she'd still dearly love to be part of Disney's new 3D film but that she just couldn't handle the make-up.

Which was why - just days before "Captain EO" was scheduled to begin shooting - Disney's new 3D movie was suddenly in need of a new Supreme Leader. Thankfully, Francis knew that Angelica Huston was available at the time. So Coppola made a few phones. Which is how the star of "Prizzi's Honor" would up menacing Michael Jackson.

But you want to know the ironic part of this whole situation? It turns out that Ms. Huston was just like Ms. Duvall. In that Angelica really didn't like roles that required her to wear an awful lot of facial appliances. (Which - the way I understand it - made the filming of that her 1990 fantasy film, "The Witches," particularly hellish for this Academy Award winner ... Anyway ...)

So here was another actress that was balking at playing "Captain EO" 's Supreme Leader. At least in the facial make-up that Rick Baker had originally designed. So - rather than recast this role for a second time - Lucas and Coppola just went to Baker and said: "Can we lose the latex and just go with regular paint-on make-up for this character instead?"

Rick reluctantly agreed. Which is why "Captain EO" 's Supreme Leader wound up looking the way that she did in the final film. With few facial appliances & just that weird head piece.

Every time I saw that movie when I was at the theme parks, I couldn't help but think: "You know, if they'd just started off with this sort of make-up treatment for the Supreme Leader, Shelley Duvall could have probably handled this role."

Though - that said - I wonder if Disney theme park visitors would have found it all that entertaining to see the King of Pop being menaced by Olive Oyl.

Anywho ... Next up, B. Baker wrote in to ask about last week's "Don't like the way your cartoon is turning out? Hit 'rewind' and recast" article:

Re: Your "Voice Replacements" article...

Many years back -- before myriad details of Disney works-in-progress were so closely scrutinized in the press (and the 'net didn't yet exist) -- I used to keep up with upcoming films by reading Variety every week. I would carefully study the trade paper's "Production Chart," which listed most every major movie then in production or about to begin shooting. It was sometimes useful to keep an eye on this chart from week to week, because it included a short credits summary for each project -- and when creative personnel would change on a film, the paper would accordingly update its listing on the chart. As entertainment journalism was not nearly as mainstream back then, quiet alterations of this chart and a similar one in The Hollywood Reporter were sometimes the only prominent announcements/confirmations of certain cast and other creative changes in pictures-in-progress.

Anyway, when a Disney animated feature landed on the production chart in the '60s and '70s, it would, of course, stay there for well over a year. As did ROBIN HOOD. For some months it sat on the chart with the listing looked something like this, if memory serves:

ROBIN HOOD (Disney) ANIM. PROD./DIR.: Wolfgang Reitherman. CAST (voices): Tommy Steele, Phil Harris, Peter Ustinov, Terry-Thomas, Roger Miller, Andy Devine. DISTRIB: BV

[Something like that, anyway.]

Perhaps you can see where I'm going with this.

After what seemed many weeks of production, I scanned the chart one Wednesday to see -- well, I didn't see Tommy Steele. The British song-and-dance guy's name was missing from the listing for ROBIN HOOD. Brian Bedford, a fine English actor, was now heading the voice cast.

Bedford did a great job, to be sure -- but I don't recall ever reading or hearing about this pretty sudden (and major) casting change anywhere else.

Do you know the scoop -- or can you point me somewhere that might have some details about this?

Regards,

B. Baker

Dear B. Baker -

Ah, yes. "Robin Hood." One of the more misbegotten movies that Disney Feature Animation ever turned out.

Don't get me wrong, B. There's still a lot to like about this 1973 Walt Disney Productions release. But -- based on stories that I've heard from various WDFA vets who actually worked on this project -- "Robin Hood" was a bit of a train wreck. Due almost entirely to constant second-guessing on Woolie Reitherman's part.

"What was the problem?," you ask. Well, you have to understand that "Robin Hood" was actually the very first film that Disney Feature Animation produced all on its own following Walt's death. By that I mean, even "The Aristocats" (which was released in 1970) had at least been given a very tentative greenlight by the Old Mousetro just prior to his death in December 1966.

Whereas "Robin Hood" ... This was the very first film that the studio's animation staff did all without any input from Walt. Which -- as you can probably understand -- made the animators extremely nervous. Which is why -- throughout this film's production -- "Robin Hood" 's production staff constantly kept asking themselves "Are we doing the right thing here? What would Walt have done?"

Which was why -- on this particular WDFA project -- the studio's motto seemed to be: "When in doubt, play it safe."

Mind you, "Robin Hood" didn't start out a safe project. The first animator assigned to the project -- Disney Legend Ken Anderson (Who's credited with coming up with the film's initial concept as well as its character design) -- initially wanted to play fast & loose with this legend. Which is why Ken proposed shifting the story's setting from the woods of Merrie Old Englande to the swamps of the deep south. So that WDFA could then produce an Americanized animated version of "Robin Hood." A project that Anderson hoped would recapture some of the fun & the spirit of "Song of the South" 's animated sequences in "Song of the South."

Well, those of you who read this week's "Rewriting Uncle Remus" article are already aware that -- by the early 1970s -- execs at Walt Disney Productions were already starting to have some very serious concerns about the studio's 1946 live action / animated release. So Ken's proposal to turn "Robin Hood" into "Song of the South Revisited" just wasn't going to fly.

Which is why -- in the end -- Reitherman nixed Anderson's idea, insisting that Disney's new animated version of "Robin Hood" be just like the live action version of this classic English folk tale that the studio produced back in 1952. As in: This story is set in England.

The studio's whole "play it safe" philosophy even extended to the actors that WDFA initially hired to do voicework for "Robin Hood." They deliberately chose Tommy Steele to voice the film's title role because Walt had so enjoyed watching this Broadway vet work perform on the set of "The Happiest Millionaire." Likewise, Woolie chose Peter Ustinov to do the voice of Prince John because Disney -- during one of his last visits to the studio -- had really enjoyed watching this Academy Award winner frolic on the set of "Blackbeard's Ghost."

Well, Peter proved to be an inspired choice for "Robin Hood" 's villain ... Whereas Mr. Steele ... Well, my understanding is that - after just a few weeks of recording -  it was determined that this "Happiest Millionaire" star just didn't have a very heroic sounding voice.

Sure, Tommy could pull off "Robin Hood" 's sillier scenes without any problem. Likewise his character's more romantic moments with Maid Marian seemed to come off fine. But in those parts of the picture where Robin had to sound heroic, inspirational ... Steele just came across as rather goofy sounding.

Which was why -- in the end -- Tommy was quietly let go and Reitherman found another, more heroic-sounding Englishman to do voicework for the film's title character: veteran stage actor Brian Bedford.

However, given all the time that was wasted on exploring different settings for the film and/or auditioning new actors to voice the film's title character, "Robin Hood" fell ridiculously behind schedule. So much so that -- in order to get this picture out in time to meet its December 1973 release -- the staff at WDFA had to recycle animation that had been used in the production of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Alice in Wonderland," "The Jungle Book" and "The Aristocats" in order to complete some of the trickier scenes in the picture.

Don't believe me? Then go pull out your "Robin Hood" DVD. Jump to the chapter that features the "Phony King of England" musical number. Now watch this scene carefully.

If you've a good eye or/or have a great memory for Disney animation, you'll be able to recognize the moments where the folks at WDFA "repurposed" footage from other pictures. Snow White's dance with the dwarfs. King Louis and Baloo boogie-ing. There's even bits borrowing from the musical felines from "The Aristocats."

This all-too-obvious recycling remains a real sore point with some animation professionals. They feel that  the folks who were then-working at WDFA should have created all new animation that actually fit this sequence, rather than borrowing so obviously from the past.

But -- to be honest -- this practice continued well into the 1990s. Remind me sometime to tell you where -- the studio's 1991release, "Beauty and the Beast" -- you can see footage that was repurposed from "Bambi" and "Sleeping Beauty."

And -- finally -- Derek S. writes in to ask:

Hey, Jim!

I have a vague memory of hearing a long while back that Universal was pursuing creating a theme park attraction based on The Simpsons--perhaps to do with a bus ride with Otto. Have you ever heard anything about this or am I merely mis-remembering?

Thanks!

Derek S.

Oh, yeah. Universal's infamous "Simpsons" simulator attraction. The one that was supposed to have taken theme park visitors on a high-speed thrill ride through Springfield with everyone's favorite stoner -- Otto Mans -- at the wheel.

But you want to know what would have really been killer about this proposed "Simpson" simulator? It wouldn't have been plain, old ordinary Springfield that you were riding through as you bumped along inside that school bus. No, this was supposed to be a "Treehouse of Horror" version of Homer's hometown.

Speaking of Homer ... It was America's favorite boob (Insert your own Lindsay Lohan joke here) who supposedly set this attraction's story in motion. In the attraction's pre-show, we learn that -- as parents of students at Springfield Elementary -- we've been assigned to join Miss Krabappel, Principal Skinner and Groundskeeper Willie Homer as chaperones on a tour of the Springfield nuclear power plant.

So -- as we tour the plant -- we get to interact with Mr. Burns, Smithers, Lenny and Carl  before we finally arrive at Homer's control console in Sector 7-G. And -- of course -- as we're visiting Bart & Lisa's dad, he accidentally releases a cloud of deadly radiative gas (Insert your own Taco Bell joke here). Which begins to cause various workers at the plant mutate horribly.

Clearly this isn't a place that we want to be anymore. So Skinner hurries us all back outside to the school bus. Where we learn that the gas has now leaked out of the plant and is now effecting the entire town of Springfield. Shelbyville. This is when the Principal gives Otto the order to drive to straight to Shelbyville.

Mind you, Otto or Principal Skinner or Miss Krabappel doesn't actually last all that long in the attraction. They're picked off in gruesome but funny ways by various monsters that we encounter along the way.

Take -- for example -- Otto's fate. As we come around a corner, we suddenly encounter a 50-foot version of Marge. Who -- after picking up the school bus and shaking it back & forth a few times -- swallows the stoner whole.

It's then that chronic under-achiever -- Bart Simpson -- comes to our rescue by taking the wheel of the bus. Which is when that the thrills & laughs start coming thick & fast.

This proposed Universal Studios attraction has dozens of great gags. But here's my absolute favorite:

As we're zooming through the streets of Springfield, who should pull up beside us in a speeding jeep but action film star Rainier Wolfcastle? Dressed in full "Terminator" regalia (I.E. The leather jacket, the sunglasses, the works), Rainer tells everyone on the bus: "Come with me if you want to live."

The only problem is -- as Rainer is talking with us -- he doesn't see that bridge abutment that's directly in front of him.  Wolfcastle's jeep hits the concrete pillar at full speed, then explodes in a ball of flames.

After a short pause, Bart -- while still driving the bus -- looks over his shoulder and says to the assembled theme park guests: "All in all, it's probably best that we didn't go with him."

Doesn't this sound like a killer idea for a theme park attraction? So why hasn't Universal Studios built this "Simpsons" simulator yet? Because -- to be honest -- doing theme park attractions based into this popular Fox program isn't really all that high a priority to "Simpsons" executive producer James L. Brooks.

Representatives of Universal Creative reportedly met with James L. three or four years back to get his approval on this project. But while Brooks admitted that this was a really funny idea, one that was very much in the spirit of the show ... "The Simpsons" production team had other, more pressing projects. Like keeping this animated sitcom on the air long enough to beat out "Ozzie & Harriet" 's old record (I.E. That TV program had a 14 year run on ABC) as well as prepping the "Simpsons" animated feature.

Don't get me wrong, folks. James L. still likes the idea of Universal putting a "Simpsons" simulator into its theme parks. But only after these other projects are wrapped up. Which is why we may have another couple of years to wait 'til we get to ride in that school bus with Otto & Bart.

Anywho ... That's it for this week, folks. Sorry that this edition of "Why For" was somewhat on the short side. But -- you see -- I wrote it on the plane while I was flying west to do this coming weekend's JHM tours of Disneyland.

Speaking of which: Scott Liljenquist tells me that we've still got a few open spots on the Saturday morning tour (What's the matter? You guys just can't tear yourselves away from watching "Kim Possible" on ABC Kids?). So -- if you'd like to join me tomorrow for a rather unique look at the "Happiest Place on Earth" -- then I suggest you follow this link.

Even if I don't see you  in Anaheim on Saturday or Sunday, you folks have a great weekend, okay?

jrh

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