Welcome to Jim Hill Media - Entertainment News : Theme Parks Movies Television

Sometimes the very best gift you can give someone is to show that you believe in their dreams

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.

Sometimes the very best gift you can give someone is to show that you believe in their dreams

Rate This
  • Comments 4
If you ever start to feel overwhelmed this time of year, I want you to take a moment and think about how Mike Gabriel’s Mom & Dad handled Christmas.

You see, this Walt Disney Animation Studios veteran came from a rather large family. 9 siblings (six brothers and 3 sisters, to be precise). And given that an Air Force pilot’s salary could only stretch so far … Well, the holidays were always something of a challenge at the Gabriel household.

That said, when I recently spoke with Mike for the launch of SuspendedAnimationGallery.com (i.e. that new online gallery which showcases non-production artwork by some of your favorite Disney artists & animators), the co-director of “The Rescuers Down Under” and “Pocahontas” still looks back on this part of his childhood with great fondness.

Sears Christmas catalog circa 1966
Copyright Sears Brands, LLC. All Rights Reserved

“The holidays were our favorite time of year for all us Gabriel kids. We helped decorate the tree and house and, since we had very little extra money throughout the year, we spent a great deal of time pouring over the Sears catalogue deciding which toys we were going to put on our list,” Gabriel remembered.

Stage managing Christmas for a brood this big took a bit of doing. Mike recalled what happened every December 24th, when he and his brothers & sisters gathered in the family room.

“Christmas Eve, we would all take the red stockings that Mom had made by hand for each one of us with our stitched names in white thread across the top,” Gabriel continued. “Each one of us would decide exactly where we wanted Santa to set up our toys in the night and that was where we would carefully place our stockings, where we thought there was plenty of room for the payload to be displayed.”

Mike Gabriel's painting entitled "New England Autumn"
"New England Autumn" by Mike Gabriel. Copyright 2009
Suspended Animation Gallery. All images
protected by copyright

And then – to keep their kids in suspense for as long as possible on Christmas morning – Mike’s parents would drape a blanket or sheet across the main hallway that led to the family room. Effectively blocking the view of whatever Santa had brought in the night.

“The thrill of looking at that sheet in the blackness of 5:45 am and waiting for what seemed like hours to go out and see our presents is one of the best memories of childhood I have,” Gabriel smiled. “The anticipation was almost more fun than the actual getting of the toys. The excitement of knowing Santa had been there and now we get to go see what he brought us was beyond thrilling to all of us.”

And then – finally – it was time for Christmas morning to officially begin. Mike’s parents would enter the family room first to turn on the tree lights and then put on some holiday music. While this was going on, Gabriel and his brothers & sisters would line up behind that sheet -- youngest first, oldest last – twitching with glee.

A Mike Gabriel painting entitled "Martini in the Window"
"Martini in the Window" by Mike Gabriel. Copyright 2009 Suspended
Animation Gallery. All images protected by copyright

“We would wait, giggling and squirming, so happy, so excited, so elated that the best moments of the best hour of the best morning of the year had finally come,” Mike enthused. “As the living room lights and the Christmas tree lights came on behind the sheet, you could see the shiny sparkling silhouetted images of the new toys in the room. You could smell that something new had arrived.”

But then – when all that holiday anticipation almost became too much to bear – Gabriel’s Mom would say “Okay, come on out!” And the sheet blocking that hallway would almost be ripped to shreds as Mike and all of his brothers & sisters rushed into the family room. Which was loaded with this pile of shiny, sparkling brand-new toys.

“For the next hour or so, it was bedlam – ‘Noise, noise, noise’ as the Grinch would say – as we all screamed and shouted with each new toy we discovered in our pile. ‘Look what I got!’ Over and over again from one and all,” Gabriel continued.

Mike Gabriel's painting entitled "Montmatre Morning"
"Montmatre Morning" by Mike Gabriel. Copyright
2009 Suspended Animation Gallery.
All images protected by copyright

Doesn’t that sound like a great Christmas memory? But that said, were you to ask Mike about the very best present that he ever got, Gabriel wouldn’t talk about something that he received on December 25th. But – rather – a present that his parents gave him back in May of 1970.

“You have to understand that – when you come from a very large family – your parents can’t buy non-holiday gifts that are just for one child. That just wouldn’t be fair to all of the other kids,” Mike explained. “Holidays are fine. And on birthdays, sure. But those are the only exceptions to the rules when you belong to a big family.”

Which is why Gabriel was floored to come home one day and have his parents present him with his first easel and set of oil paints.

"Golden Wave" by artist Mike Gabriel
"Golden Wave" by Mike Gabriel. Copyright 2009 Suspended
Animation Gallery. All images protected by copyright

“I had been painting & drawing at school and doing a lot of sketching at home. But this is the first time that my parents ever really said that ‘If you want to paint, paint,’ “ Mike remembered. “That was the gift that really changed my life. That made me into the person that I am today.”

So if you’re about to head out to the mall for one last round of Christmas shopping because you think that that pile of gifts under the tree isn’t quite high enough yet … You might want to keep Mike Gabriel’s parents in mind. Who understood that sometimes the greatest gift you can give your child isn’t a toy or a thing at all. But – rather – letting your son or daughter know that you actually believe in their abilities. That you share their dream.

And speaking of sharing in a dream … For decades now, I have been hoping that someone would open a venue where Disney artists & animators could then showcase their non-production artwork. And Tenny Chonin (i.e. the former head of Artist Development for Walt Disney Animation Studios) has actually created such a space with her online SuspendedAnimation Gallery.com.

So if you’re looking for that extra special something for the art fan on your holiday shopping list, you might want to drop by Suspended Animation. Where – among other artists – you’ll find Mike Gabriel’s work on display. Including several of the paintings that were used to illustrated today's article.

And speaking of holiday shopping … If you plan on picking up your last few Christmas gifts via Amazon.com, could you please do JHM a favor and – before you begin bargain hunting – click on the above banner?

If you do that … well, Jim Hill Media then gets a teeny tiny chunk of whatever you spend. Which would be a most generous way to show your appreciation for all the great stories that you’ve read on this site over the past year.

Happy Holidays!

Blog - Post Feedback Form
Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment
  • * Please enter your name
  • * Please enter a comment
  • Post
  • I have been doubly blessed in this area, Jim... to have a Mother who has supported me in my dreams of a theme park career and now again as I transition to a life on the stage.  And THEN to have met you and experienced your support and friendship.  Merry Christmas, my dear friend and best wishes to all JHM readers! -- The Dreamfinder

  • Your story was featured in DisMarks! Here is the link to vote it up and promote it: http://dismarks.com/GeneralDisney/Jim_Hill_Sometimes_the_best_gift_you_can_give_someone_is_to_show_that_you_believe_in_their_dreams

  • Great article, Jim. I'm one of Mike's many siblings, his one-year older brother. The article is 100% accurate, and I share Mike's sentiments exactly. Not only did our parents support Mike's dreams, but they gave him the tools to pursue them. Did you also know that "Pocahontas" was Mike's idea based on our family's Thanksgiving Days; he pitched the concept to Michael Eisner & Jeffrey Katzenberg (others?), which of course they pursued. I believe creativity and family are two of God's greatest treasures, for which I'm grateful. Blessings to you...

  • I'm Mike's brother Bob (one year older). I thoroughly enjoyed this article, Jim. It happened just as described, in every detail and nuance. It was indeed special, and it was fun being in a house where there was always something new and exciting coming to life from Mike's diligent, talented hands. Being primarily self-taught, he is a great example of what you can do if you put every breath into it, despite few resources, and with the emotional support of loved ones.

Page 1 of 1 (4 items)