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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, Rich writes in to say:

Hello, Jim,

I was hoping you could answer this Disney related riddle for me since you seem to be the Disney Go To Guy. A friend, knowing I am a huge fan of both Dave Steven's The Rocketeer, as well as of the Disney film, once told me that in the summer of 1991, Disneyland replaced Tinkerbell flying over the part during the fireworks with the Rocketeer.

Do you know if there is any truth to this? And if so, what information can you tell me about this?

Thanks in advance for your help,

Rich

Dear Rich --

Well, your friend is of sort kind of right. While Disneyland has occasionally allowed someone other than Tinkerbell to slide down the wire that used to stretch from the top of the Matterhorn to just behind the Village Haus Restaurant (I.E. During the 1960s, at the height of "Mary Poppins" popularity, the world's first Supernanny used to fly over Fantasyland. And during the summer of 1995, right after "The Indiana Jones Adventure" opened, Dr. Jones also zoomed through the sky over that theme park), the Rocketeer never made any regularly scheduled flights over Anaheim.

However, 3000 miles to the east, this Dave Stevens character did (for a short while, anyway) have a featured spot in Disney-MGM Studios theme park's nighttime fireworks extravaganza, "Sorcery in the Sky." During the Summer of 1991, a stuntman wearing a Rocketeer-like jetpack would make a brief flight around the Chinese Theater's forecourt area as a snippet from the film's soundtrack played.


Copyright 1991 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Ironically enough, Danny Bilson & Paul De Meo's original screenplay for "The Rocketeer" featured an action sequence that was actually set at the really-for-real Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Unfortunately, due to budgetary reasons, this witty little scene was cut out of the picture just prior to production.

Lucky for you folks, I have a copy of that film's original script in my research library. And -- for those of you who are familiar with "The Rocketeer" -- this scene would have come right after Cliff Secord & Peevy Peabody have escaped from Eddie Valentine's goons. Since he's just learned that his girlfriend Jenny is in danger, Cliff once again straps on Howard Hughes' experimental jetpack and makes ready to take to the skies.

EXT -- BULLDOG DINER -- NIGHT

Cliff stands precariously on the Bulldog's "head." He takes a deep breath and poises his thumb over the ignition button.

CLIFF:
Here goes nothing.

He presses the switch. The enormous dog is briefly crowned with fire as the Rocketeer blasts off into the darkness.

EXT -- HOLLYWOOD -- NIGHT

Like a shooting start, Cliff streaks through the night, the lights of the city brilliant below.

Circling like a hawk, Cliff looks down at the confusing swirl of illuminating streets and rooftops.

He fumbles in his jacket for a map of the city. As he attempts to open it, the wind plasters the map to his helmet, blinding him. Cliff tears at the map. It flies off and bursts into flames as it passes through the rocket's exhaust.

As the Rocketeer passes over Hollywood Boulevard, he is suddenly illuminated by a spotlight.

Startled, he looks down to see Grauman's Chinese Theatre, a gala movie premiere is in progress.

EXT -- CHINESE THEATRE -- NIGHT

On the theatre's roof, an excited SPOTLIGHT MAN is attempting to track Cliff across the sky.

SPOTLIGHT MAN:
What the heck ... ?

He swings the heavy light on its pivot. Then, the operator's foot slips over the edge of the roof. He stumble and rolls over the brink, hands clawing. His fingers seize on a gutter and he hangs precariously over the forecourt.

Down below, however, all attention centers on a roped-off pad of wet cement.

Theatre owner SID GRAUMAN stands at the microphone, trying to get the attention of the crowd, who are transfixed by the beautiful blonde walking up the red carpet. Flashbulbs pop like fire works.

GRAUMAN:
Ladies and gentlemen, please ... Please welcome the lovely Ginger Rogers.
Who will become part of Hollywood history by leaving the prints of her hands
and feet in our world famous --

A panicked voice interrupts Grauman.

ONLOOKER (o.s.)
Oh my God! Look up there!

All attention shifts to the Spotlight Man dangling from the theatre's main tower. The other searchlights sweep over to illuminate him. Women scream as the unfortunate employee vainly attempts to pull himself up. Helpless, Ginger Rogers, her tuxedoed escort, and the pack of spectators hold their breath.

Then, the man's fingers loose their desperate grip. The crowd gasps in horror as he drops to the pavement.

An explosive roar thunders down from above. Cliff's path is drawn by the rocket's fiery trail as he scoops up the falling man just before impact. Barely managing the extra weight, Cliff circles above the crowd then drops the man safely into a group of policemen.

The crowd goes bezerk. Every spotlight, camera, and eye is on Cliff. He executes a loop and lands proudly, feet spread, hands on his hips.

It is his best landing yet -- but for his feet planted firmly in the wet cement.

Flashbulbs flare blindingly as recognition ripples through the crowd.

SPECTATORS:
It's him! It's the Rocketeer!

FIRST REPORTER:
Lemme through ... Press ... move it!

SECOND REPORTER:
Mr. Rocketeer! Who are you? Where do you --!

Cliff's moment of glory is short lived. The excited crowd surges forward. As Cliff blasts off into the night sky, thrust craves a crater in the cement between his footprints.

Thinking like a true showman, Sid Grauman grabs a pencil from a reporter. He reaches down and quickly etches "THE ROCKETEER" in the cement.

FIRST REPORTER:
Miss Rogers! Miss Rogers!

GINGER:
(turning with a smile) Yes?

FIRST REPORTER:
Would you step aside, please?

Flustered, the actress moves to one side. The reporters aim their cameras. Flashbulbs explode as the cement slab is photographed.

That's a fun little scene, don't you think? Not entirely crucial to the plot. But still, it would have been fun to see this sequence actually make it into the finished picture.

Anywho ... Next up, Darren checks in to ask:

Jim,

The closest I'd ever been to my hero Walt was through a friend who was the niece of Pinto Colvig. He is best known for being the original Bozo the Clown. In the world of Disney, he was the original voice of Goofy and contributed heavily to the song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" I've heard that he and Walt had a falling out of sorts. Do you know what happened or have any other interesting tidbits about this little known connection to Walt?

Dear Darren,

Yeah, I've heard the same thing about Colvig. That sometime in the early 1950s, Pinto supposedly did something something that really upset Walt. Which is why eight years passed (I.E. From 1953 "Father's Day Off" to 1961's "Aquamania") before this Mouse House veteran (His connection to the studio dated back to the old Hyperion days) was invited back on the lot to voice a new Goofy cartoon.

To be fair, this eight year absense was during a period when Walt Disney Studios was significantly cutting back on the number of animated shorts that it produced annually. So perhaps there's a more innocent way to explain Pinto's prolonged absense. That Colvig wasn't invited back to the Burbank lot for such a long time because there just wasn't any work.


Clarence "Ducky" Nash, the original voice of Donald Duck (left)
and Pinto Colvig, the original voice of Goofy (right)
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.

But -- that said -- Walt did tend to run hot & cool when it came to the studio's staff. Even talented veterans like Bill Peet & Ward Kimball wound up doing things that unintentionally earned Disney's ire. And Walt then punished these animation legends by taking away plum assignments (In Ward's case, he lost out on the chance to direct "Babes in Toyland") and/or giving them demeaning tasks (In Bill's case, he was demoted from working on story for "Sleeping Beauty" to creating storyboards for Peter Pan Peanut Butter commercials).

Given Disney's history of being very quick to anger and extremely slow to forgive ... I have to admit that I tend to lean toward the Pinto-must-have-done-something-that-really-offended-Walt explanation as to why Colvig didn't work for the Mouse Factory for eight long years.

But let me make a few phone calls and see if someone who's much more knowledgable about Disney animation history than I am has a different take on this particular tale. Which I'll then try & post as part of next week's "Why For" column.

And -- finally -- in response to yesterday's "Could cashing in on Pixar now be a whole lot harder than Disney officials had originally thought ?" article, Dory Defender writes in to say:

Why do you always have to be so f*cking negative about Pixar? What has John Lasseter ever done to you? You are such an *sshole. I hate your website. I hope that you & your entire family get cancer and die !!!

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Gee, Dory Defender. Why don't you tell me how you really think?

To be honest, e-mails like kind of amuse me. Who'd have ever thunk that someone could get that emotionally overwrought over something that they've read here on JHM?

I mean, it's not like I made up that Disney Brand Management report. That's why the Walt Disney Company isn't stepping forward to deny yesterday's story. That document really does exist. More importantly, it actually does say that there's been significant erosion in the value of the characters from "A Bug's Life," "Monsters, Inc.," "The Incredibles" and "Finding Nemo." Which is seriously going to hamper the corporation's efforts to get a speedy return on that $7.4 billion it spent to acquire Pixar.

So why -- because I dared to post that story yesterday -- am I now the bad guy? Isn't that sort of like getting mad at your local weatherman because he tells you that it's going to rain over the weekend? I mean, that guy doesn't control the weather anymore than I control the news.

And yet -- because I choose to write about the Walt Disney Company as if it were an actual business, rather than some magical kingdom that's loaded with beautiful princesses & talking mice -- I continually get slapped with the "you're being far too negative about Disney" label. Which (to my way of thinking, anyway) just seems ... Well ... a trifle bizarre.

Make no mistake, folks. The Mouse really does want to make serious money off of Pixar. And the sooner, the better. Which is why -- after "Cars" under-performed (And it did, folks. No amount of whining or complaining by JHM readers is going to convince me or senior Disney officials or key industry observers otherwise. Initial financial projections suggested that Mickey had a "Finding Nemo" -sized hit on his hands. But "Cars" stalled out at $244 million during its domestic run, which is $95 million less than Andrew Stanton's movie earned stateside. Which is why this John Lasseter film is now considered to be something of a disappointment. End of story) and then this Brand Management report shows up ... Well, that's the sort of thing that really upsets Disney's board of directors. After all, they're the guys who okayed that $7.4 billion payout for a studio that had only produced 7 films. And they don't like being thought of as the boobs who got played by Steve Jobs, the suckers who paid at least a billion (or two ... or three ... ) too much for Pixar Animation Studios.

Which (The way I hear it) is making for some pretty awkward moments in the boardroom. Given that Steve now has a seat on Disney's board of directors. Which only makes sense, given that -- thanks to all those shares of Disney stock that Jobs acquired as a result of the Pixar acquisition -- He's now this corporation's largest individual shareholder.

Anyway, that's the story that is currently making the rounds in financial circles. Increasing discontent about the Pixar situation at the uppermost reaches of the Team Disney Burbank building.

But JHM readers ... Based on most of the talkbacks that were tacked onto yesterday's article said, you guys don't seem to want to hear any more stories like that. Reading between the lines here, it sounds as if what a lot of you really want to read here is some sort of fairy tale about how everything is sweetness & light back in Burbank. How -- now that John Lasseter & Ed Catmull are in charge of WDFA -- everything there is running as smooth as silk and everyone who works in animation at Disney is just happy-happy-happy.

If that's honestly the sorts of stories that you want to read on this website ... I'm thinking that maybe you should probably stop coming by JHM.

You know how Bill O'Reilly has his "No Spin Zone"? Well, here at JimHillMedia.com, we try & keep things Pixie Dust-free. We make an effort not to get sucked in by all of that talk about Dreams & Magic & Wishes & Wonder that the Walt Disney Company always does. I mean, just because virtually every movie that the Mouse makes ends with a " ... And they lived happily ever after" ... Well, that doesn't mean that that actually happens in real life at Disney. Just ask Chris Sanders.

So -- to answer Dory Defender's question (I.E. Why am I so f*cking negative about Pixar?) ... The way I see it, it's not that I'm being negative. It's just that everyone else seems to be looking at the Pixar / WDFA situation through rose-colored glasses. Which is why they print Disney's press releases as written. They believe what they're being told.

Which perhaps explains why this incredibly complex story (I.E. The melding of two distinctly different animation enterprises) has been so under-reported lately. Particularly the negative stuff.

So if it seems as though JHM is the only place where you're reading somewhat downbeat reports on Pixar ... Well, there's a reason for that. I don't have the standard weenie's take on the Walt Disney Company. I try to write about the Mouse as if I'm some reporter who's covering the automotive beat in Detroit. And the tone that I'm going for here is informed but dispassionate.

Mind you, sometimes it's extremely hard to remain dispassionate. Take -- for example -- my current dilemma when it comes to Pixar's next picture.


Brad Bird, director of "The Iron Giant," "The Incredibles" & "Ratatouille"
Copyright Disney / Pixar

As an animation fan, I really can't wait to see "Ratatouille." Given that Nancy & I are such huge Brad Bird fans, this is probably the film that I am most looking forward to seeing in 2007. Simply based on Brad's history (Plus what I've seen so far of the film's characters from various books & the trailer as well as the voice talent that Pixar has tapped to work on this picture), "Ratatouille" looks like a thoroughily delightful movie. Something that I'll probably see two or three times while it's in theaters this summer.

But that's just Jim Hill, animation fan, talking. When I put my reporter hat on, I then to admit that there's still some very weird buzz swirling around this film. That those within the company who have already seen the work-in-progress version of "Ratatouille" will first tell you that they absolutely love this movie, that it's some of Bird's best work ... But then they'll go on to say that they still expect this Pixar film to do only 2/3rds of the business that "Cars" did. Which means that this Brad Bird movie -- just like the John Lasseter film that preceded it -- will get tagged with the "Pixar disappointment" label.

Now I'm assuming that JHM readers would actually like to know about something like that. That -- in spite of the recent assurances that were posted here on this website that Disney has this situation well in hand -- there are still those in-house who are very concerned about this Brad Bird movie.

But then when I read the 40+ talkbacks from yesterday (Plus -- of course -- Dory Defender's delightful note), where JHM readers go on & on how they don't want to read any more negative Pixar-related stories. And then I think: "Well, it's not like I commissioned that report. Disney Brand Management did. All I did was report its findings."

I mean, is that what you really want? That I not report stories like this? Are you honestly saying that you'd prefer not knowing about stuff like this? That we all should just pretend that bad news never happens at the Walt Disney Company? Because I'm not sure that I can do that, folks.

That said, I'd be willing to consider some editorial guidance from JHM readers. So what it is exactly that you want to see at this website? What do you want to see more of? More importantly, what do you want to see less of?

Mind you, I make no promises that I actually follow any of the suggestions that you folks post in the talkback section of today's column. But I will make a point of reading through each of your comments this coming weekend. And -- if a strong enough pattern emerges -- maybe we'll make a few changes at the site. Maybe.

Soooo ... Your thoughts?

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  • A final comment: The stories I DO miss are those of "rides-in-planning" [otherwise known as "what-Could-Have-Been"].  Your article for LaughingPlace.com on the Jim Henson Company comes to mind as my favorite of all your articles; every time I read the description for the not-quite-realised Great Muppet Movie Ride, I burst into hysterics.  Those are the kinds of stories that got me hooked on your site, Jim, and while I do still enjoy the current articles, there is some indescribable joy to hearing about long-lost Disney attractions, like the ride based on Disney's Atlantis or the Beastley Kingdome.

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