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Why For returns

Jim Hill

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.

Why For returns

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First up, Jeff S. writes in ask:

What is the word behind Bob Iger's announcement in the Disney Shareholder's meeting that "Song of the South" is still not coming to DVD?

Dear Jeff S.

Well, if you listened to the webcast of Disney's annual shareholder and/or were at Arrowhead Pond last Friday morning, you heard what I heard. That Bob Iger himself was the one who put the brakes on Buena Vista Home Entertainment releasing "Song of the South" on DVD.

And let me tell you, Jeff, that this project was already well underway when Iger finally pulled the plug. By that I mean: A company had already been chosen to handle the restoration of this 1946 Walt Disney Production release. And there had already been a protracted discussion within BVHE as to whether "SOTS" should be released as a "Walt Disney Treasures" (I.E. A limited edition, with possibly as few as 250,000 units actually being produced) or as just a general title.

More to the point, I don't think that we should entirely lose hope here. Given that Bob himself said that Disney will periodically review this decision and -- should circumstances eventually change -- there is still a chance that the Walt Disney Company will eventually release "Song of the South" on DVD.

Okay. I know that there are hundreds -- if not thousands -- of Disneyana fans out there who are disappointed and/or upset that Iger reversed Michael Eisner's decision. But me? You know, I gotta tell you that it was kind of refreshing to have a top Disney executive take personal responsibility for a decision.

I mean, in years previous, whenever Uncle Michael was backed into a corner and had to make an unpopular decision, he'd automatically default into corporate CYA mode. Using vague sounding execu-speak to muddy the water, cover his tracks. So you'd hear phrases like "... We'll take that under advisement" or " ... We'll have to review this matter internally before the company makes any official decisions."

But now here's Bob Iger. Standing on the stage at Arrowhead Pond saying things like "I recently watched that movie" and "... I personally have concerns that people won't be able to take in consideration the context under which this film was originally produced." Making it very clear that he was the one who decided that the time just wasn't right to release a "Song of the South" DVD.

So, sure. I'm disappointed that I won't be able to put an official, authorized version of "SOTS" into my DVD player anytime soon. But -- to be honest -- I'm perfectly willing to make that trade-off if the Walt Disney Company now has a CEO who says what he means and means what he says.

Next up, Jason M. wants to know about:


There is much anticipation and many rumors flying around just about every Disney site that I visit that says the Imagineers are collectively dusting off plans for Beastly Kingdom and re-visiting this exciting concept for DAK. As it stands, this is probably the most beautiful park in the world. But I've always felt that it lacked the fantasy aspect that makes Disney... Well, Disney. Can you please give us an update?

Dear Jason

To be honest, it's kind of premature to be talking about any future expansion plans for Disney's Animal Kingdom. Given that it has yet to be proven that "Expedition Everest" will actually be a hit with Disney World's paying customers.

I mean, sure. Right now, this runaway train ride appears to be a success. But Disney being Disney and all ... I would imagine that the Mouse will want to see at least a full year's worth of attendance figures for DAK (As well as some accompanying spreadsheets that show EE's direct impact on in-park merchandise purchases in addition to food & beverage sales) before they're officially ready to declare "Expedition Everest" a success.

More to the point, let's remember that Disney World has three other theme parks that are also in desperate need of new rides, shows and attractions (FYI: Keep an eye on Epcot over the next 18 months or so. Given that the celebration of that theme park's 25th anniversary is expected to be the hook for WDW's 2007 / 2008 promotional campaigns, you're probably going to see an awful lot of money being thrown at Epcot over the next year or so).

Once the Magic Kingdom, Disney/MGM Studios theme park and Epcot all receive some TLC ... Then the Imagineers will most likely turn their attention back to Disney's Animal Kingdom and (perhaps) revisit the idea of adding a new fantasy-based land to that theme park.

Though, based on what I've been hearing come out of Burbank lately, I'm think that it's fairly safe to say that Beastlie Kingdomme is now DOA. Though ... In its place, we may see a few "Narnia" -based rides and attractions rising up out of the woods in that corner of the property. Or even (Provided that J.K. Rowling finally signs off on the idea) some "Harry Potter" -themed shows. Where perhaps everyone's favorite half-giant, Hagrid, will lead us through a "Care of Magical Creatures" class.

But -- to be honest -- we shouldn't even expect to see construction of something like that get underway 'til 2008 or 2009. In the mean-time, there are much more pressing matters to deal with at DAK. Like what to do with all the guest flow-through issues in the "Rafiki's Planet Watch" section of that theme park. Or whether the new enclosed version of the "Theater in the Wild" meets with WDW visitors' approval. Or whether that new "Asia" restaurant actually proves to be popular with DAK guests (Or whether this means that that theme park now gets stuck with yet another restaurant that under-performs).

All this ... Plus how Disney Animal Kingdom should go about properly go about staffing that theme park during its new extended operating hours. Plus whether it's wise to greenlight production of that after-dark entertainment that Steve Davison wants to stage inside DAK? Not to mention Disney's desire to borrow a few pandas from China and use those rarer-than-rare creatures to temporarily bump up attendance levels at Animal Kingdom.

So as you can see, Jeff ... When trying to forecast DAK's future, there's a lot more factors to take into consideration here than "Will the Imagineers finally revive their plans to build Beastlie Kingdomme?" So this might be a moment when you want to take a step back and try to see the forest for the Tree of Life.

Next up, Rustin P. drops by to ask:

Hey Jim!

I have a "Why For" question for ya! With all of this Pixar/WDFA talk over the past couple months I've seen Don Hahn's named mentioned a lot typically in terms of his creative prowess and high-ranking position in WDFA - basically everyone seems to be talking about him as a positive force within WDFA and that we're lucky he's still in there. My question is, Why For?

Sure he was worked on Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and produced two great films ("Beauty and the Beast" and "Lion King") and is a really cool guy to watch/listen to in interviews ... but he is also the Producer of "Atlantis" and "The Haunted Mansion," amongst others of questionable (in my opinion) quality, and I really have to wonder, is he really all that good of a creative Producer any longer and a reason to be hopeful for WDFA?


Sorry. If you're looking for someone to dish dirt on Don Hahn, you're going to have to find yourself another webmaster.

As far as I'm concerned, Don is the real deal. By that I mean: For 22+ years now, I've been writing about the Walt Disney Company. And -- in all that time -- I've never once come across a person who had a single bad thing to say about Hahn.

I mean, I've talked with dozens of animators, CG artists, writers and directors. People at all levels of productions. And not a one of them ever had anything bad to say about Don. All I've heard is what a nice guy Hahn is, how he genuinely cares about Disney Feature Animation and just wants this division of the company to get back to making great motion pictures.

That's why I think that *** Cook's announcement that Don was being named as interim head of WDFA was greeted with such acclaim back in February. For here was a guy who genuinely seemed to care about the Walt Disney Company and its legacy. Who only wants the studio and its staff to make the best possible motion picture.

So okay. Maybe "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" didn't exactly set the world on fire. The way I hear it, that wasn't so much Don's fault or even the fault of that film's directing team, Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. But -- rather -- the blame for that film going so seriously off-track actually lies with then-WDFA head Thomas Schumacher.

As I understand it, Tom really didn't get what Don, Gary and Kirk were trying to do. Which was make the sort of Saturday matinee big screen adventure that film-making legend Ray Harryhausen used to make. Schumacher ... He didn't get the whole "monsters attacking the explorers" motif. He kept pushing the production team to add more magic & heart. Which is how this 2001 WDFA release slowly devolved into a somewhat schizophrenic mess. Half Harryhausen tribute, half touchy-feely New Age hugfest.

As for what happened with "The Haunted Mansion" ... Let's be honest here, folks. Eddie Murphy was just the wrong guy to star in that Rob Minkoff movie. Though audiences had previously seemed eager to see Eddie in such family-friendly comedies as "The Nutty Professor," "Doctor Dolittle" and Daddy Day Care," they had also turned their noses up at high profile Murphy projects as "I Spy" and "The Adventures of Pluto Nash." So it was pretty much a crapshoot as to whether movie-goers would actually turn out to see this former "Saturday Night Live" star appear in a motion picture based on a Disney theme park attraction. Disney bet big and then lost big.

So -- to be honest -- Hahn could hardly be held responsible for audiences back in November of 2003 not exactly being in the mood to see another Eddie Murphy comedy.

So don't be so quick to judge a man's career based on the box office performance of two motion pictures, Rustin. Don Hahn is well liked by both the executives as well as the working staff at Disney Studios. And provided that John Lasseter and Ed Catmull (I.E. The soon-to-be new heads of WDFA) actually allow Don to do the job that he does so well, you'll soon see Hahn's name attached to several soon-to-be-great motion pictures.

And finally -- speaking of movies -- Jay comes by with a real Mythbuster of a question:


I've got a great "Why For" question for you. Actually it's a "Mythbuster."

As a CM, I've often heard stories that Walt Disney left detailed notes of what was to be done with his parks after his death. These notes went so far as to include a film that was made for each year. As I hear it, the Company big wigs would sit in a boardroom at the start of each year and screen the film for that year. In these films, Walt would lay out all the plans he wanted done that year, and in years to come. Some versions of this story include Walt even predicting the events of 9-11 and how it would impact the park!

Whatta say Jim? Care to dig into this one?


Dear Jay:

To be honest, over the past 30 years, I've heard a number of variations on this story. But the most consistant version goes something like this:

A year or so after Walt's death, a select group of Disney execs were supposedly invited to a particular screening room on the lot. Once they entered this screening room, these executives reportedly noticed that their names were attached on particular seats in the theater. Once everyone was in their appropriate seats, the lights allegedly went down ... And then -- up on the big screen -- there was Walt.

As the story goes, Disney supposedly started off by saying: "Well, boys. If you're watching this movie, I'm obviosuly not with you anymore. But hopefully you're still following the plans that I laid out."

And -- with that -- Walt then began to go around the room. Reportedly pointing directly to individual executives seated in the screening room and saying things like "Now, ***. By this point, you and Joe should have completed Phase One of site prep on the Florida project. With all of our primary drainage canals being in place and ..." Well, you get the idea.

Anyway .. Disney allegedly addressed each of the execs in the room, giving specific directions as well as offering words of encouragement. Then -- after supposedly signing off by something to the effect of "Well, hopefully, I'll see you all again soon. But not too soon" -- the film ends.

These Disney executives supposedly sit there dumb-founded. Simply amazed at what they've just seen.

But wait! This story's not over yet ... As the rest of this urban legend goes, the projectionist then takes this reel of film outside and -- after placing the reel in a trash can -- he follows Walt's last order and sets the film on fire.

That's a pretty bizarre story, don't you think? And I have to tell you, folks, that this particular tale (and all of its variations) have been making the rounds since the early 1970s.

"But is it true?," you ask. Well ...

Here's my problem. The one guy who really loved to tell this story was Disney Legend Ward Kimball. And given that Ward was a guy who enjoyed practical jokes, I can't help but think that this may be just another Kimball caper. Ward trying to put one over on a bunch of us gullible rubes.

I mean, you gotta remember that Kimball was also the guy who loved to tell people that he knew for sure that Walt Disney had been crygenically frozen. When everyone who worked on the Disney lot in the late 1960s knew that Lillian had had Walt cremated and then scattered his ashes in the desert

Mind you, I've also heard that Eric Larson -- when pressed by his animation students -- would tell a similar story. One about a mysterious movie starring Walt that had been privately screened for studio execs. And Larson's version of this tale also ended with this particular reel of film being taken outside and burned in a studio trash can.

So here we have two Disney Legends seeming to tell the same story. Is that really corroboration? Or just a case of Ward having tricked Eric into believing his tall tale about Walt's last movie being shown select studio execs ...

"So will we ever really have an answer to this story?," you ask. Well ... Kimball was a renowned diarist. So maybe the truth lies somewhere in all those diaries that Ward kept during the decades that he worked at Walt Disney Studios.

Perhaps if someone asked nice, Ward's widow, Betty, might finally grant some Disney historian access to Kimball's diaries. So that -- for once and for all -- we might actually be able to find out if there's any truth to this particular urban legend.

But as for there supposedly being this series of secret films starring Walt. Including one where the Ol' Moustreo actually predicts 9/11. That's a pretty laughable idea, don't you think?

I mean, it's not bad enough that -- for decades now -- conspiracy theorists have had Walt stashed away in some freezer somewhere, sharing shelf space with Clarence Birdseye. But now he's got to be Nostradamus too? That's just ... sad.

Anyway .. That's pretty much it for this week, folks. Thanks again for sending along your "Why For" questions. More importantly, I hope you enjoyed my answers.

Have a great weekend, okay? And hopefully, we'll see you all again come Monday morning.

Til then, you take care, alright?


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