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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?

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First up, T.S. writes in to ask:

 

Dear Jim:

 

I was wondering if you could clear up a Disneyland-related mystery for me. For years, I’ve owned a copy of that concept painting that Peter Ellenshaw did of this theme park back in the early 1950s. Hopefully you’re familiar with the painting that I’m talking about here. It’s the one that Walt stood in front of during that very first episode of the “Disneyland” TV show back in 1954.

 

Anyway, the reason that I’m writing to you today is that I’ve always been intrigued by what Peter painted in the upper right-hand corner of this early Disneyland concept painting. Which seems to show a quaint old colonial village, complete with a white steepled church.


Photo by Jeff Lange

Which brings me to my question: Was this where Walt originally planned on building Liberty Street / Liberty Square? My understanding was that he always wanted that new land built out behind Main Street U.S.A. next to the Opera House. Yet here is Ellenshaw placing a colonial village inbetween Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.

 

So did Walt’s plans for the park change between 1954 and 1956 (When first International Street and then Liberty Street were announced)? Or is what Peter painted here actually an indication of some other land or attraction that never made it off of WED’s drawing board?

 

Here’s hoping you can answer my question,

 

T.S.

 

Dear T.S.

 

You know, I too had wondered about that particular section of the Disneyland concept painting. I mean, for years now, I have been used to the idea that there were these entire lands (I.E. “Anything-can-Happen Land”), individual attractions (I.E. “Mickey Mouse Club Island”) and facilities (I.E. The on-site TV studio) that were originally proposed for the Anaheim theme park but ultimately never built.

 

But this … This was different. The very fact that this land / attraction / whatever was actually included as part of the painting that Walt stood in front of on the very first broadcast of the “Disneyland” TV show … Well, that meant something. That meant – at least as of October of 1954 – something of size was supposed to be built back in this corner of the park. Something that evidently involved quite a bit of design.

 

But for 20+ years, no matter who I talked with, no matter what books I read, I could never get a straight answer about what Peter Ellenshaw had painted in the upper right hand corner of that Disneyland concept painting …

 

But then one day, I was talking with Jeffrey Ford. (I.E. The son of Tennessee Ernie Ford, who now rides herd on the web site that honors his late father’s name, ErnieFord.com). And while we were chatting about Ernie’s professional & personal relationship with Walt, Jeffrey mentioned that – through a family friend who had actually been Disney’s personal projectionist back in the late 1950s / early 1960s – he had acquired a lot of material that pertained to the early days of Disneyland. In particular the development of the Anaheim theme park.

 

And one of the more intriguing pieces of paper that Tennessee Ernie’s son had in hand was a copy of a script for a presentation that was used to woo prospective Disneyland sponsors. This presentation laid out some specifics about the 1954 version of the Anaheim theme park, what Walt hoped to accomplish with the project. More importantly, what sorts of shows & attractions were supposed to be up & running on opening day.

 

And among the proposed rides that is described in great detail as part of this proposed Disneyland sponsor pitch session was the ride-in-the-country ride.


Photo by Jeff Lange

Literally, that’s all this proposed Disneyland attraction was supposed to be, folks. For a dollar, you would have to rent an old fashioned horse and buggy. Then you & your friends or family could then go for a ride down a recreation of a quiet country lane. En route, you’d pass through a recreation of a quaint old New England village as well as an old fashioned family farm.

 

But Disneyland visitors weren’t going to allowed to stop and explore any of these areas. Oh, no. Their horse (Which – it was hoped – would eventually be able to repeatedly ride along this route with little or no prompting from the passengers in back. Who – likely as not – wouldn’t have all that much experience when it came to operating a horse & buggy) would proceed right on through at a very moderate pace. Eventually returning its buggy-load of guests right back to the attraction’s off-load / on-load area.

 

Based on the description of the ride-in-the-country ride that Jeffrey recently read to me over the phone, I can assume that this proposed Disneyland attraction was originally supposed to be the Anaheim theme park’s equivalent of a “Tunnel of Love.” As in: The ride that young couples could go on so that they could then have a little "alone time" during their visit to this family fun park. Maybe steal a kiss or two while leisurely riding by all of that faux New England scenery.

 

That sounds like kind of an intriguing attraction, don’t you think? So why wasn’t the ride-in-the-country ride ever built? There are three reasons, actually: Time, space and money.

 

Even as Walt was standing there in front of that concept painting of Disneyland in October of 1954, talking about what his new family fun park would be like, the clock was already ticking. There were less than nine months of construction time left ‘til Disneyland had to open. And – to be honest – at this point, the Anaheim construction site still looked more like a former orange grove than a Magic Kingdom.

 

Then there was the fact that Disneyland wound up costing a lot more to construct than Walt originally thought it would. An awfully lot more.

 

Which is why – as various parts of the Anaheim theme park finally got greenlit (EX: Tomorrowland wasn’t originally supposed to be one of the “lands” that Disneyland would have ready for opening day. If all had gone according to plan, Tomorrowland wouldn’t have come on line at the Anaheim theme park ‘til sometime in 1957. But in the Fall of 1954, Walt suddenly changed his mind and decided that Disneyland just couldn’t open without the theme park having some sort of Tomorrowland. Which is why the Imagineers really had to rush and/or ad-lib in order to have something ready on that side of the park for guests to see on July 17, 1955) – other aspects of the project had to be put on the back burner.

 

And then there was the size issue. If you look closely at the space that this proposed ride-through-the-country ride was supposed to occupy, you’re talking about a huge portion of the available developable land inside of the berm. The equivalent of the entire piece of property that the Jungle Cruise currently occupies. And all of it dedicated to a single extremely-low-capacity attraction that had a very high (At least for the 1950s, that is) ticket price.

 

So when you take all of that into consideration … I guess it’s easy to see why Walt eventually opted to cut that ride-in-the-country ride out of Disneyland’s opening day assortment of attractions. And then, given how the Ol’ Mousetro had to aggressively expand his family fun park in the late 1950s in order to meet guest demand … Well, it becomes obvious that this particular piece of property became far too valuable to be occupied by a single over-sized attraction.

 

So instead of getting that ride-in-the-country ride, Disneyland wound up with the Fantasyland Autopia, the Motor Boat Cruise, the Phantom Boats, the Submarine Voyage as well as the Matterhorn. Which – when you think about it, T.S. – is actually a pretty good trade for a tired old horse-and-buggy ride.

 

Besides, those Disneyland visitors who needed someplace in the park where they could then be alone with their significant others … They eventually got that in 1967, when the Imagineers finally got around to building “Adventures thru Inner Space.”

 

But I digress … Anyway, I hope that answers your question, T.S.  

 

Next, Windy City Wayne blows in to say:

 

Dear Jim:

 

I’ve really been enjoying your coverage of “The Wild,” particularly this week’s story about Jim Svejda. I too hate it when these allegedly-legitimate critics write such ridiculously positive reviews, with the hope that these bogus quotes will then get pulled out of their articles and used as part of that film’s promotion.

 

That said, I did want to point out one error in Monday’s story. Toward the end of that article, you quote Eric Lurio as saying that Walt Disney Pictures wouldn’t be holding any advance screenings of “The Wild” for critics. At least here in Chicago, that wasn’t really the case.

 

We actually got to see “The Wild” on Tuesday, April 4th. Mind you, Disney’s PR people didn’t tell us about this screening until late in the afternoon on Monday, April 3rd. So it was pretty obvious that the studio wasn’t all that eager to screen this film to critics. But that said, Disney did give us a chance to see “The Wild” prior to its theatrical release.

 

I just thought you’d want to know,

 

Wayne from the Windy City

 

Dear Wayne –

 

Yeah, after I’d actually posted “Tis a pity that he’s a ‘quote whore’,“ I began hearing about these rather begrudged screenings for “The Wild” that were held around the country last week for critics. And there’s actually a pretty funny rumor associated with these screenings.

 

The way I hear it, the folks who actually produced “The Wild” were furious when they learned that Disney’s PR staff was planning on not screening their film for critics.

 

But Disney … Well, you have to understand the attitude in-house back at Burbank when it came to “The Wild” seemed to be that … “Well, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.” Meaning that – even without having actually seen this picture – people were already making unfortunate comparisons to Dreamworks’ May 2005 release, “Madagascar.” Insisting that this new Walt Disney Pictures release was somehow just a cheap copy of that earlier CG film.

 

Mind you, anyone who actually knows anything about animation will tell you that “The Wild” may be many things. But this film wasn’t cheap to produce. I’ve heard figures as high as $80 million (Canadian) floated as possible production budgets for this particular animated feature.

 

More to the point, “The Wild” isn’t actually a clone / copy of “Madagascar.” Truth be told, the basic idea for this animated feature made the rounds in Hollywood for a number of years before the folks at Disney & C.O.R.E.  finally got together and decided to turn this bare-bones concept into a really-for-real motion picture. And it’s been suggested that the folks at Dreamworks Animation may have “borrowed” heavily for that initial “The Wild” proposal that was making the rounds as they began development of “Madagascar.”

 

Now far be it from me to point fingers here … But ever since the days of “Antz” and “a bug’s life,” there have been these whispers about Dreamworks. How that animation studio allegedly keeps extremely close tabs on what its competition is up to. Which is why the story development teams at Disney & Pixar would often get irked when Dreamworks would suddenly put a project in its production pipeline (EX: “Shark Tale”) that would share an awful lot of turf with a film that they were already working on (EX: “Finding Nemo”).

 

So (Not to get too far off-track here, folks) don’t be so quick to call “The Wild” a “Madagascar” clone. If what I’ve been hearing from many animation vets turns out to be true … Well, perhaps the proper way to describe what actually happened here is that “The Wild” (While this animated feature was still in its concept phase) may have served as the inspiration for “Madagascar.”


 

Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC


 

Okay. Now that I’ve made the staff at Dreamworks Animation mad, let’s get back to infuriating the folks at Disney …

 

Anyway … Disney’s attitude toward advance screenings for “The Wild” seems to be … Well, in a recent interview with the Associated Press, Disney publicity chief Dennis Rice summed up the studio’s philosophy quite succinctly:

 

"If we think screenings for the press will help open the movie, we'll do it. ... If we don't think it'll help open the movie or if the target audience is different than the critics' sensibilities, then it may make sense not to screen the movie."

 

This – in a nutshell – pretty much sums up the attitude that Walt Disney Pictures’ PR department reportedly had toward “The Wild.” It seemed like America’s critics were already gunning for this particular animated feature. That they seemed downright eager to tear this picture apart. So why give these guys even more ammo by allowing them to see “The Wild” prior to its theatrical release?

 

I mean, wouldn’t the smarter thing to do here be to just release the film without any critics screenings? So that – when the inevitable negative reviews came … Well, they’d at least be run on Saturday, rather than Friday. Which would then give “The Wild” kind of a chance to find its audience before the picture got buried in bad reviews.

 

So that (hopefully) explains why Disney was originally thinking of taking the no-advance-screenings-for-critics route with “The Wild.” But all that supposedly changed once the film’s producers got wind of Disney’s plan.

 

To put it bluntly, these guys were p*ssed that Disney was thinking about sending “The Wild” out into theaters without first letting critics take a look at the picture. I mean, the crew at C.O.R.E. had spent three years slaving over this film. And they were proud of their movie. Which is why they wanted this motion picture launched with as much fanfare as possible.

 

More to the point, the folks at C.O.R.E. knew that – if “The Wild” were sent out into theaters without first staging any screenings for critics – that would send a message to the rest of entertainment industry that Disney had zero confidence in this motion picture. That they didn’t really expect the picture to perform. Or – worse yet – that Mouse House management actually thought that this movie stank. Which would make it that much more difficult for the crew at C.O.R.E. to persuade another studio to underwrite the production costs of their next animated feature.

 


Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

 

But luckily C.O.R.E. had an ace up its sleeve. In that William Shatner (I.E. William’s one of the principal investors in this Canadian CG operation. More importantly, Shatner is actually the CEO of this corporation) was also the Emmy Award winning star of a very popular ABC series, “Boston Legal.” Which is why it was supposedly strongly suggested that – if there were no advance critic screenings of “The Wild” – Mr. Shatner might be very unhappy. And an unhappy William Shatner might not be inclined to show up for work for a couple of days on “Boston Legal.” Or -- worse yet -- might feel the need to talk with the press about how Disney isn’t being all that supportive of “The Wild.”

 

Once news of this “suggestion” reportedly got back to Mouse House management, word quickly came down from on high that Walt Disney Pictures should hold press screenings for “The Wild.” Which explains those hastily announced / quickly thrown together screenings for the film that were held around the country last week.

 

Me personally? Given that I’ve always been a fan of those “Ray & Carl” commercials that C.O.R.E. used to produce for Blockbuster, I’ll be heading out to the multiplex later today to go check out “The Wild.” Hoping that I’ll have a good time when I finally get to see this film.

 

Mind you, I’ve heard all of the negative buzz about this picture. How industry observers are saying that “The Wild” has to at least out-gross “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown” this coming weekend at the box office in order to be considered a success. Which – in theory – shouldn’t be all that difficult to do. Given that this will be the third weekend that this 20th Century Fox animated feature will be playing in theaters.

 

But – then again -- “Ice Age 2: The Meltdownis a hugely popular follow-up to the original “Ice Age.” By that I mean: It’s the first film this year to actually achieve blockbuster status (I.E. Earn over $100 million during its initial domestic release). So – in spite of all of the promotional effort that Disney’s finally thrown behind “The Wild” – there’s no guarantee that this CG animated feature will actually be able to out-gross “Ice Age 2” this coming weekend.

 

Well, I guess we’ll all have to wait ‘til Sunday rolls around and we get finally get a sense of what this Walt Disney Picture’s grosses actually are. Here’s hoping that Good Friday  translates into some great box office for “The Wild.”

 

And – finally – Gerry M. writes in to ask:

 

Jim:

 

I was wondering if you could give JHM readers an update on what’s going on over at Pleasure Island.

 

Dear Gerry –

 

Sure. I’d be glad to pass along what little I know. As you can see by the photo below that Max Schilling took this past weekend …


Photo by Max Schilling

The construction walls are already up on PI. Various shops along Hill Street are already being cleaned out and are getting ready for their renovation. Construction crew have already begun dismantling both the Hub Stage and the West End Stage. Now as to what Pleasure Island will look like once all of this work is complete, hopefully this overview of the new site plan for WDW’s night-time entertainment district will give you a clue.


Photo by Max Schilling

As to possible new tenants on the island and/or the impact that all these changes may have on PI’s remaining nightclubs … Well, there are a lot of rumors currently flying around. When I get some more solid information about what’s actually going on with this section of Downtown Disney, I’ll be sure and post an update here.

 

And that pretty much concludes this week’s edition of “Why For.” My apologies for it taking this long to post, folks. I’ll try & do better next week.

 

Anyway, here’s hoping that all of you have a very Happy Easter. We’ll see you again on Monday, alright?

 

j

 

 

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  • Hey, a small Why For is better than no Why For. :)
  • That attractions sounds nice.  I'm glad they realized it wasn't worth taking up the space, though.  I like seeing the horses at WDW, so an attraction with horses is kind of intriguing.  I do like the idea of a colonial New England town; Liberty Square is the closest thing.  In Massachusetts, there's a place called Old Sturbridge Village that we went on field trips to (http://www.osv.org/), and something like that might be fun at a Disney park...but that might be kind of like that park in Virginia they were planning on.  Something historical would be nice, though.  Sorry about the rambling..
  • There is still that area between Main Street and Tomorrowland that has been long rumored to be the next "land" at DL.  I would think that eventually they will do something with it.  This one might be it but I have my doubts since all people seem to want nowadays is a new E ticket attraction...
  • I just watched "The Wild" about four hours ago, and I thought it was very well made.  For a company just jumping into the animated feature film business they come with both barrels loaded!  


    By the way I believe this movie surpasses "Madagascar" in every way.    
  • I agree...I got to see The Wild earlier today and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I found it to be more fun than Madagascar and I got quite a few laughs throughout.  Also, the Meet the Robinsons trailer and seeing it on a digital screen made the entire experience all the more worth my while.
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