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Volume 9 of the “Walt’s People” series features some great behind-the-scenes stories

Jim Hill

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Volume 9 of the “Walt’s People” series features some great behind-the-scenes stories

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Good God. Are we really already be up to Volume 9 in the “Walt’s People” series?

I can recall when Disney Historian Didier Ghez initially proposed these books (which – if I’m remembering correctly – was sometime back during the Pleistocene Epoch) that would collect & then reprint the very best Mouse-related interviews & articles. It seemed like a pretty audacious idea at the time. But Didier reached out to people like John Canemaker, Dave Smith, John Culhane and Christopher Finch. And thanks to Mr. Ghez’s persistence, these respected researchers & authors ultimately opened their files and all this great Disney-centric material began spilling out.

And having just read all 541 pages of this brand-new paperback (which just came available for purchase yesterday), I honestly have to say that these “Walt’s People” books just keep getting better and better. I mean, where else are you going to hear great behind-the-scenes stories like Tom Sito’s tale of Ron Clements & John Musker‘s struggles to come up with a suitable ending for “Aladdin.”

Walt's People Volume 9 by Didier Ghez cover

As Sito recalls, this 1992 Walt Disney Pictures release – at one time, anyway – was supposed to …

… end by going back to the peddler who is in the first sequence who sings the Arabian Nights song. After Aladdin and Jasmine flew away on the carpet, the peddler was supposed to sing a reprise of Arabian Nights. Duncan Marjoribanks was going to animate the peddler. At one point we would indicate that the peddler was the Genie in disguise.

The interesting thing was that when we ran the film for test audiences, as soon as Aladdin kisses Jasmine and they fly off on the carpet, the entire audience stood up and left the theatre. Ron and John looked at me and the other guys, “I think they just told us where the movie ends.”

The Genie smiles at Aladin and Princess Jasmine from Disney's Aladin
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Or – better yet – how about longtime Imagineer Jack Ferges’ story of the abuse that the Audio Animatronic star of Disney’s big show for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” used to receive?

As Jack explained to Paul F. Anderson, it was all because of those …

… ball bearings! (The kids of Queens) would go to the Swedish Pavilion (SKF Industries) and they had this machine cranking out these ball bearings about as big as a marble. These punk kids would come back in with a slingshot. They thought Lincoln was a real guy. They would shoot at him. They were trying to make him duck or flinch or something. They knocked one eye out which was damned expensive. They busted his teeth about three times.

The Abraham Lincoln audioanimatronic figure from Disneyland
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, Abe wasn’t the only one who took a beating while working for Mickey. As Margaret Kerry recalled to Jim Korkis, more than her ego got bruised while shooting the live-action reference footage for “Peter Pan.”

You remember (that scene in the finished version of this 1953 Walt Disney Productions release where Tinker Bell) falls over backwards in Wendy's dresser drawer? Well, they had me falling over backwards onto a mattress. The mattress was about half an inch thick, or at least it seemed that thin, and I went over backwards, and I went “thud.” The look on my face of surprise and pain was identical to the one Tink has in the finished film.

You know how this season of “Lost” has featured the Sideways universe (i.e. What would have happened to the passengers on Oceanic 815 if their flight had landed safely in LA)? Well, Volume 9 of “Walt’s People” often allows you take a Sideways glance at the Disney theme parks. Hear about attractions that never got built like …

Bruce Gordon sitting next to a model of the attraction that was originally known as Zip-a-Dee-Dah River Run
Bruce Gordon sitting next to a model of the attraction that was originally
known as Zip-a-Dee-Dah River Run. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

… the Moonshine Express, a ride, which much later morphed into Splash Mountain.

Or how about that 1990s-era project that Imagineer Julie Svendsen worked on with Jeff Burke. A proposed attraction for the Parks that was to have been …

… based on the animated feature One Hundred and One Dalmatians. We designed it as a dark ride. We thought then and we still think now that it would have been a terrific attraction, but it just never got off the ground.

Cruella D'Ville speeds through the snow in Disney's 101 Dalmations
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Volume 9 of “Walt’s People” takes you to all sorts of places that Disneyana fans rarely get to go to. Like the second floor of the old Animation Building. Where – according to Floyd Norman -- Disney Legend Ken Anderson spent the early part of the 1970s …

… developing a project called Scruffy. The movie was based on an idea about the Apes of Gibraltar, and as you can imagine, it featured a zany cast of monkeys. However, the story was set during the Second World War and Nazis were also involved. Sounds like a winning combination, don't you think? Monkeys and Nazis?

Did you think that film idea sounded kind of bizarre? Well, wait ‘til you hear about how Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston spent much of 1985 doing story work on “Alvin and the Chipmunks - The Chipmunk Adventure.” Or how Johnny Mercer was originally supposed to write some songs for Walt Disney Productions’ 1973 release, “Robin Hood”? Or how Disney Studios’ sales department initially thought that “Mary Poppins” would never become a huge international hit because – as Jack Cutting recalled -- …

The movie poster for Disney's Mary Poppins
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

… they didn't think (that Cutting would be able to) find foreign talent who could match Julie Andrews' performance. Fortunately I was able to. In fact, after testing many voices, I found a little-known singer in Paris whose pitch and range was identical to Julie Andrews, and when we were mixing the French version in Paris I had a special tape made of the Spoonful of Sugar vocal routine in which the sound jumped back and forth from French to English, and I sent it to the Studio for those concerned to hear. They were so impressed by the remarkable similarity of the French woman's rendition to Julie Andrews they called Julie Andrews in to hear the trick recording, and she said that she was amazed that she spoke and sang in French so well.

That’s the real beauty of Volume 9 of “Walt’s People.” There’s Mouse House history here that I’ve never, ever heard about before. Like how Bill Walsh was offered Walt’s old job of overseeing Disney Studio in the Spring of 1967. But Walsh ultimately turned this job offer down because this veteran producer didn’t think that he’d ever be able to fill Walt’s shoes.

From beginning to end, this 541-page paperback is a fascinating read. And speaking of endings … Let me close this review of Volume 9 of the “Walt’s People” series out by sharing yet another great behind-the-scenes story. Which comes to us courtesy of Tom Sito. As part of his interview, this animation industry ver talks about how “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” ‘s classic closing shot ultimately came together.

Porky Pig says "That's all folks!" at the end of Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Copyright Amblin Entertainment & Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Andreas Deja did the level of Porky Pig coming up, turning to the audience and saying,“That’s all, folks.” But because it was a Disney-funded project, Disney didn’t like the idea of their big movie ending on a Warner Bros. character. That was not going to happen. So they brought in Tinker Bell to come in and tap Porky on the nose and this little spray of Disney dust, and then it goes to the first of the end credits.

The funny thing was that the Tinker Bell was stock from “the morgue.” Ordered up by Steve Hickner. I think that original scene was done by Clair Weeks, one of the animators from Peter Pan. That was the last animation in the picture.

For further information on how you can get your hands on a copy of this new Xlibris release and/or some of the earlier volumes in the “Walt’s People” series, please click on this link.

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