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Tune Tuesday : "Hello, WALL-E! Well, Hello, WALL-E ..."

Tune Tuesday : "Hello, WALL-E! Well, Hello, WALL-E ..."

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It's one of the main reasons that people just can't stop talking about "WALL-E."

And -- no -- I'm not talking about the opening weekend grosses for this new Andrew Stanton movie (Though -- now that we've broached this subject -- while "WALL-E" didn't earn the $70-million-plus that Mouse House officials had hoped it would, the just-revised-upwards $63 million that Pixar's latest production earned over its first three days in domestic release actually bested "Kung Fu Panda" 's $60.2 million opening weekend. Which means that "WALL-E" can now legitimately claim to be the best opening animated feature -- to date -- for 2008). But -- rather -- why this CG film features music from 20th Century Fox's 1969 release, "Hello, Dolly!"

In interviews, Stanton himself has admitted that Jerry Herman's showtunes were sort of an odd choice for his futuristic fable. "I remember saying – when I first (proposed using "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" & "It Only Takes a Moment" in "WALL-E"), I said – 'I am going to get asked this for the rest of my life.' " When speaking with Rotten Tomatoes, Andrew -- with tongue partially in cheek -- said that the real reason this lonely robot keeps watching "Hello, Dolly!" over & over & over is that " ... WALL-E has bad taste in musicals."


Copyright 1969 20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved

Which won't earn Stanton any points with the managers at the Magic Kingdom. Given that they've had instrumental versions of three songs from this Tony Award-winning musical -- "Sunday Clothes," "Elegance" and "Before the Parade Passes By" -- as part of Main Street USA's area music for more than a decade now.

In fact, you'd be surprised how often the worlds of Disney & "Hello, Dolly!" intersect. Take -- for example -- E.J. Peaker 's appearance on "Disneyland Showtime" ( i.e. that March 1970 episode of "The Wonderful World of Disney" which promoted the then-newly-opened Haunted Mansion).

Mind you, in order to make sure that the folks watching at home actually knew who Ms. Peaker was, poor Donny & Merrill Osmond first had to get through one of the most labor intensive introductions in the history of television. Which went like this:

DONNY: Who's E.J. Peaker?

MERRILL: Well, don't you remember when we saw "Hello, Dolly!" ?


(L to R) Merrill refreshes Donny Osmond's memory in the "Disneyland Showtime" episode of "The Wonderful World of Disney."
Copyright 1970 NBC / Disney. All Rights Reserved

DONNY: Yeah.

MERRILL: Well, don't you remember Miss Molloy's dress shop?

DONNY: Yeah.

MERRILL: Well, do you remember Minnie Fay, the assistant?

DONNY: Uh huh.

MERRILL: That was E.J. Peaker.

DONNY: Oh (Double Take). The movie star?!


E.J. Peaker arrives a year too late for Disneyland's "Love Bug Parade"
Copyright 1970 NBC / Disney. All Rights Reserved

MERRILL: The movie star.

Mind you, Ms. Peaker wasn't the only "Hello, Dolly!" vet that Mickey would eventually recruit in order to lend a little star power to a project. How many of you remember "Condorman," that James Bond spoof that Walt Disney Productions released back in 1981? Do you remember who played Woody Wilkins -- the comic-book-writer-turned-spy -- in that film? It was Michael Crawford ...


Michael Crawford and Barbara Carrera prepare to take wing in Walt Disney
Productions' 1981 release, "Condorman."

... who played Cornelius Hackl in "Hello, Dolly!" and would then go on to the title role in the original Broadway production of "Phantom of the Opera."

So as you can see, even before "WALL-E" rolled onto the scene, Dolly Levi and Co. have been a part of Disney's world. But you want to know the most significant way that "Hello, Dolly!" had an impact on the Mouse House? That film's "Before the Parade Passes By" scene.


Copyright 1969 20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved

Among the nearly 4000 extras that 20th Century Fox hired to fill up 14th Street was the future senior Vice President of Creative Development at Walt Disney Imagineering, one Tony Baxter. Who remembers just being dazzled by this towering recreation of turn-of-the-century New York.

Another Imagineer who recalls the "Hello, Dolly!" sets as having a profound impact on his career is Eddie Sotto. Who got to tour 20th Century Fox right after production had wrapped on this Gene Kelly film. And as Eddie stood there in the street, marveling at all the detail, he thought to himself: "Who designed all this? I want a job like that."


Copyright 1969 20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved

Now jump forward nearly 20 years or so. When Eddie Sotto and Tony Baxter are working together to create a brand-new Main Street USA for Euro Disneyland. So which film provides Eddie & Tony with inspiration? You guessed it. "Hello, Dolly!"

So while Andrew Stanton may be quick to dismiss this Barbara Streisand flick (As part of his recent interview with CHUD, "WALL-E" 's director actually went out of his way to say that " ... the one thing I want to dispel is I'm a fan of [that] movie."), many Disneyana fans still have a soft spot for this Jerry Herman musical. More importantly, the many different ways that the movie version (Which -- due to its over-$20-million price tag -- is said to have nearly bankrupted Fox back in the early 1970s) of "Hello, Dolly!" has woven its way into the fabric of the Mouse House.

Your thoughts?

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  • Jerry Herman's music in "Hello Dolly" is great, and I suspect the original stage production was quite the show. However, the film version of "Hello Dolly" has always seemed lacking to me, as were many of the musicals that came out in the late 60's/early 70's - the tail end of the movie musical era. (Notable exception: "Oliver!")

    Frankly, I've tried watching "Hello Dolly" several times in my lifetime and I find it just doesn't keep my attention. It really does seem empty to me, despite the melodic score. The dialogue does seem pretty corny and I would have expected much more engaging direction by the likes of Gene Kelly, but there you have it. I saw "Wall-E" yesterday and couldn't really understand the appeal this lackluster musical would have on anybody, including the little robot. By the way, I am certainly not one of those modern day moviegoers who don't like musicals. Quite the contrary, as I would rank many musicals among my alltime favourite films, ie: "My Fair Lady", "Gigi" and Gene Kelly's own "An American in Paris". But whereas the movie musicals of the 40's and especially the 50's I consider wonderful, lavish entertainment, by the late 60's I don't think anybody was doing them quite right. Still, I guess the main theme of love and finding one's match is what the Pixar folks saw as being the strong suit in "Hello Dolly", so I suppose it sort of makes sense, although the movie version really isn't that endearing.

  • Here's a little background on the rather twisted tale of the movie of "Hello Dolly"---The STAGE show was a HUGE hit on Broadway and ran for a LONG time...and thats' what's interesting. You see, 20th Century Fox was being run in those days by the infamous Darryl F. Zanuck, who'd returned to 'save' the studio after the debacle that was "Cleopatra" bankrupted the place and led to the sell-off of about 80% of the former Fox backlot (which is how "Century City"--the Alcoa Aluminum owned development that still stands today was born--but that's another tale.) Anyhow, then also on the board of directors of Fox was famous Broadway producer David Merrick who, not content to be a top NY mogul, both wanted into the Hollywood scene in a big way AND hated with passion Mr. Zanuck.

    SOoooooooooooooooooo......when Merrick made the deal with 20th Century Fox to grant them the rights to make the movie version of "Dolly" he put in a sneaky little clause that, at the time, nobody thought would matter--he made the studio agree that while they could make the movie at once, they would not be allowed to RELEASE it in theaters UNTIL the show closed on Broadway unless he gave them a waiver to do so---he claimed it was to make sure the film didn't hurt the theatrical box office and it made sense, sorta, and nobody at Fox, least of all Zanuck, thought anything about it at the time-----after all, "Dolly" had been running for YEARS by then on the Great White Way and would, naturally, close sometime...right?

    Wrong.

    Fox made the film--at HUGE expense (they not only built the enormous NY turn-of-the-century street sets on the now-shrunken lot on Pico Blvd. taking up virtually every speck of free space including running the "side streets" in between the soundstages AND including a huge overhead "Elevated" train station, too....they also spent what was then a record half a MILLION bucks on the interior set for the "Harmonia Gardens" scene--at that time the PRICIEST interior set EVER built with real gold gilt, fancy red flocked banquettes, and other goodies to set off Ms. Streisand's grand entrance. And of course, La Streisand got a BIGtime paycheck too (that's one of the reasons the relatively un-star-like Walter Matthau was cast instead of a more famous and thus more expensive co-star, plus the young brit Crawford who, once agian, wasn't expensive at the time.)

    Now please understand--movies are made with BORROWED money, and thus the longer they take to make AND the longer they take to get out to earn back their keep, the more INTEREST the studio must pay. SO...what happened? The film got made, got finished, got ready for release...and Merrick said "WAIT! My show's still running!"

    And indeed it was. As a "gimmick" Merrick had extended the run by re-casting the entire show with African-American actors, including putting Pearl Bailey in the lead role replacing Carroll Channing, the original star...and the gimmick worked! The show suddenly was sold out for months and months in advance, and nobody knew WHEN it might EVER close.

    And Merrick was asked by Zanuck "Please? Can we open the film anyhow? After all, Barbra and Pearl are not exactly competing, are they?" And Merrick, savoring his victory over his hated rival, both (a) DENIED the request and then (b) went to the next Fox board meeting and basically said, "See what an IDIOT you put in charge of the studio? How DUMB could he be to make this deal with me? Fire him, and hire ME to run the place!"

    Anyhow, nobody won, Fox finally got to release the film, and it was a money-loser thanks to the huge interest charges and the expense of delaying the release and the PR and the like. And those huge sets? The studio tried to "amortize" them by basically rewriting almost every TV show and movie being made at the time to use them---and remember, some sets are adaptable to a lot of situations: Western streets, "european" streets that can be any time period or nation with some signage changes and the like.....that's the beauty of the big backlots such as Universal and the others--and "New York Streets" like at Universal, Disney, etc. etc. are, once again, adaptable to ANY contemporary city....but a VERY specific 1890's-era NY complete with overhead train?

    I remember one episode of the show "S.W.A.T." that had a 20 minute chase and shoot scene on that "Dolly Street" set at Fox that began with them explaining "We're really grateful to the movie studio for letting us use their lot for training today." etc. etc. UNfortunately for Fox, the Harmonia Gardens interior was struck when the film was done shooting on it, and written off along with so much more in this film.

    Anyhow, there's a little background. Now you can begin complaining that this wasn't really a "Wall*E" story after all, right gang? And how its all a plot by that EVIL JimHill guy to destroy Pixar and Life As We Know It! (smile)

    (but Jim...the E.J.Peaker bit really WAS kind of a stretch!--ROTFL!)

  • P.S. When thinking back (and looking at that photo) to the epic film "Condorman!" one has to wonder:

    Were the Disney geniuses who decided that in order to maximize audience attendance and increase profits in a film featuring Michael Crawford and Barbara Carrera...you put the spandex tights on HIM and not HER.....well....

    ....are these the same guys who are closing The Adventurer's Club?

    (smile)

  • Now jump forward nearly 20 years or so. When Eddie Sotto and Tony Baxter are working together to create a brand-new Main Street USA for Euro Disneyland. So which film provides Eddie & Tony with inspiration? You guessed it. "Hello, Dolly!"

    I love how you throw these little tidbits nonchalantly over your shoulder at the ends of articles like this.  I'd ask if explanation is forthcoming, but I'm not going to jinx it by doing that...

  • I'll be the first (but undoubtably not the last) to point out that Jim has once again declared that a Pixar films opening weekend has fallen short of Disney's expectations. Being that Wall*E had the third biggest opening weekend ever for a Pixar movie (behind, of course, Nemo and The Incredibles), I think the folks over at the Mouse need to cool their jets a bit when making opening weekend predictions.

    After all, Wall*E did third place in a time of economic crisis in America, when the internet and DVDs mean box office in general is down, and with darker and less accessible subject matter (non-humanoid robots in a utopian/dystopian dichotomy future), AND with little to no dialog. Let's face it, it's a little bit easier to sell a movie about super heroes or Cars than it is to sell a movie about robots 700 years from now. At least I would assume.

    But, I suppose, the REAL question after all is will it have legs? Will box office peter out? Will it increase? Will it have a long run and make tons of money? I'm betting on the latter myself.

    To be fair to Jim, I should probably make some sort of comment on the rest of the article. Yes, Hello Dolly was an interesting choice, but I think it worked well. And the Disney connection is interesting. Does make one wonder, if only one movie were to survive in the future, the one movie that would tell the people of that generation how the people of our generation lived, what would it/should it be? Hello Dolly? Wall*E? My vote would be for Koyaanisqatsi, but that's just me...

  • You know, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and in this case, a previously written song, "It Only Takes a Moment" and the hand-holding scene from it, just fit the situation where our robot hero longed to make a connection with another individual, and 'knew' this would be accomplished by holding hands.  It just fits the situation.  As did "Sunday Clothes".  It is funny in its obscurity, and hearing it play from WALL-E's built in boombox as he travels through the apocalyptic streets of the city drew more attention to the bleakness of his surroundings.  We watched "Hello, Dolly", for the first time (I was familiar with the musical from high school performances, but had never seen the film) after and found it long but entertaining.  I don't read anymore into it than what Stanton has said.  

  • Wall*E would have easily passed $80M if it did not open alongside Wanted. Not only will Wall*E pull in another $60M+ over the Holiday weekend, easily, I bet it stays in the Top Five for at least five weeks.

    It’s funny how there has yet to be a mention on how Wall*E is easily the best reviewed movie of the year and one of the best reviewed movies of the decade. Or a correction to the idiotic assertion that Speed Racer toys are flying off toy shelves. If you can’t find Speed Racer toys at your local Target, that’s because they’ve already been sent out to Big Lots.

    I tried finding some Wall*E merchandise yesterday…ha! Good luck. It doesn’t stay on the shelves for more than a few hours.

  • I read that a number of preliminary box office estimates were for a low $50 million and that the opening box office surpassed those estimates by $10 million!

  • As a side note - the bar set from the Harmonia Garden sequence is now a permanent fixture at the Magic Castle in Hollywood and has been re-named the W.C. Fields Bar.  One of the fountains that was built for HELLO DOLLY stood for years at Knott's Berry Farm in the old Roaring 20's District...not sure if it is still there or not.

    As for Disney's Main Street being "Dollyfied", don't forget it is also "River City-fied" also...yup, a few tracks from THE MUSIC MAN play on Main Street as well....

    Now - as for Pixar -- PIXAR is synonymous with DISNEY.  They're the two sides of the same coin.  No matter how you toss the thing in the air, it still comes down a Disney coin.  

    About all she wrote, really.....

  • Just in case somebody wants a "Wall-E disn't meet Wall Street's expectations" article to rail about, here's a link to an article in today's LA Times:

    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-moneyblog1-2008jul01,0,3776963.story

  • Oh, and JohnWayne - thanks for the info! The story behind the movie sounds a lot more interesting than the movie itself, based on the clips I saw on YouTube.

    Wall-E, Wall-E, Wall-E - couldn't you have found a copy of "The Music Man"? :)

  • You know, there may be a kind of damned-with-faint-praise reason for the choice of "Hello Dolly" as  little Wall*E's musical infatuation subject: NOT because it is a GOOD musical or a GREAT musical (it isn't great by any standard, not even the stage show let alone the film).....but if the point is to give the machine a "heart" and he is trying to understand human EMOTION (think "Data" on STTNG endlessly trying to "get" what these things like love, hate, fear, etc. etc. are all about) then maybe it is a subtle satiric point that even a gloppy, schmaltzy, over-the-top nostalgic and utter pastiche of love movie/musical like this one helps the robot "get' humanity...especially in a world where Humanity has been reduced to the sad state of affairs it has in the film.

    BY THE WAY...for HILARIOUS stuff that may be better than the movie, check out the wonderful faux website the Pixar folks set up at www.buynlarge.com and read the wonderful "privacy policy" boilerplate in toto. WOW did they get THAT right.

  • And don't forget Oklahoma -- that is heard on Main Street as well...

  • :: smacks head :: TUNE Tuesday.   I finally got it.

  • John Wayne> I think Wall-E was an active viewer of Hello Dolly, as opposed to the passive humans constantly sitting in front of screens drinking their food. He practiced the dancing, learned about love, etc. He made the movie better for himself by making it bigger than what was onscreen.

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