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Toon Thursday: How Disney's "Mickey and the Beanstalk" went from being a full length film to an animated featurette

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Toon Thursday: How Disney's "Mickey and the Beanstalk" went from being a full length film to an animated featurette

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Nancy and I were just watching "The Purdum Reel." Which is this Special Feature on the Blu-ray version of the Diamond Edition of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." Which hits store shelves yesterday.


Concept art from the Richard Purdum version of "Beauty and the Beast."
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Anyway ... After getting an exclusive look at the earlier, darker, non-singing version of this animated feature that English director Richard Purdum tried to make for the Mouse ... Well, it made me think about some of the other feature length projects that Walt Disney Animation Studios has worked on over the years which changed significantly during the production process.

Take - for example - Mickey abd the Beanstalk . Which -- as any good Disney animation history buff will tell you - is the second half of a "package film" that the Studio released back in September of 1947.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But that wasn't always the plan for this project. As is demonstrated by the model sheet that I've reproduced below, Mickey and the Beanstalk was originally designed to be a full-length animated film. The "Mickey Feature," if you will, that was supposed to have built on the momentum that had been created by Mr. Mouse's star turn in "Fantasia" 's "Sorcerer Apprentice" sequence.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Seriously. Even though "Fantasia" wouldn't open in theaters 'til November of 1940, Walt was so confident that his "Concert Feature" would be this smash hit that - in May of that same year-he actually put animators& artists to work on new sequences that could eventually be folded into this animated feature.  Of the many pieces that were proposed for this "Fantasia" follow-up, animation was only completed on two of these: "Claude DeBussy's "Clair de Lune" (which - after it was recut & rescored - wound up in 1946's "Make Mine Music " as that film's "Blue Bayou" sequence) and Sergei Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" (which also wound up being shoehorned into Disney's 1946 "package film").


Animation that was originally created for the "Clare de Lune" sequence
which was to have been folded into to a freshened up version of 
"Fantasia" sometime in the early 1940s. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

May of 1940 was also when Walt convened the very first story meetings for that feature length version of Mickey and the Beanstalk. Which - at one point, anyway - was supposed to have been this all-star production. With characters from all manner of Disney shorts & feature film popping up in this picture. With Clara Cluck playing the part of the hen who laid the golden egg ...


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... while J. Worthington Foulfellow and Gideon from "Pinocchio" were originally supposed to have played the two scoundrels who swindled Mickey out of his cow.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Over time, Walt and his team came to refine this story point. Opting instead to have an innocent misunderstanding between Mickey and Minnie (who - in the feature length version of Mickey and the Beanstalk - was to have played the Queen of Happy Valley) result in that cow being swapped for a box full of magic beans.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Development of the Mickey Feature went fairly smoothly. With Disney's Character Model Department quickly coming up with an appropriate fairytale look for Mickey, Donald and Goofy ...


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... Whereas coming up with a suitable design for Willy the Giant (who had to be both silly & scary over the course of this animated feature) took a little while longer.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Things seemed to be going great with "The Legend of Happy Valley" (which was one of the many titles that the Studio considered for this Mickey Feature). Disney's artists had settled on an overall look & style for this motion picture ...


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... And Walt seemed pleased enough with the way that the script for Mickey and the Beanstalk was coming together that he actually recorded much of the Mouse's dialogue for this movie in the Spring of 1941.

But then on May 29, 1941, members of the Screen Cartoonists Guild declared a strike against Walt Disney Studios. And given that it would take until September 14th of that same year before this labor issue could be resolved ... Well, all work halted on Mickey and the Beanstalk so the minimum crew that was willing to cross those picket lines could then concentrate on completing "Dumbo."


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And then on December 7, 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army commandered Disney Studio's only soundstage. So that this structure can then be used to help defend the nearby Lockheed Aircraft plant. Which meant that - at least for the next few years - Walt Disney would have to table his once-ambitious plans for producing two new full length animated features every year and concentrate instead on government work. Which would not only support the war effort but also help keep the lights on at Walt Disney Studios 'til the Fall of 1945.


This is an actual illustration from a Walt Disney Productions
employee handbook circa 1943. Which reminded all artists
& animators that - due to the sensitive nature of some of the
military training films that they were working on at this time
- they'd actually need signed security passes to get on and
off the Lot. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Then following VJ Day (August 15, 1945), Walt - as part of a concerted effort to get some new cartoons in Hollywood's distribution pipeline, which could then start making some money for his seriously cash-strapped studio - took a long hard look at all of the projects that Walt Disney Productions had had in development prior to the start of World War II. And one of the easiest things to turn the key on was Mickey and the Beanstalk.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, this was a seriously stripped down version of this animated feature that Walt rushed into production.  So where once Willie the Giant -during the second verse of his "Fee Fie Fo Fum" song - turned himself first into a walrus ...


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... and then into a three headed dragon ... Well, now that Mickey and the Beanstalk was being pared down so that it could then paired with Sinclair Lewis' Bongo as part of "Fun and Fancy Free," there was now only enough time for a single verse of Willie's "Fee Fie Fo Fum" song.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Another sequence that got cut out of this animated feature was when Mickey, Donald and Goofy accidentally woke up Willie's baby boy. Who - after tumbling out of his crib ...


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... -- then began pursuing this trio of toons. Thinking that they must be the coolest wind-up toys ever.

Yeah, in order to accommodate Mickey and the Beanstalk's new 29 minute-long running time, a number of characters & plot devices that Walt and his team originally dreamed up back in May of 1940 wound up on the cutting room floor. Among them any scenes with Queen Minnie and/or Clara Cluck (i.e. the hen that laid the golden eggs). A potentially funny button for this film (in which - because Willie has somehow forgotten the magic words which allowed him to transform into all sorts of creatures - this giant now winds up as the world's shortest midget ...


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... who Queen Minnie then puts to work at the castle as a footman) also got dropped in favor of a new tag gag. Where Willie the Giant, after literally crashing Luana Patten's birthday at Edgar Bergen's house, quickly exits through Hollywood. Whereupon - after spying the Brown Derby restaurant at the corner of Wilshire & Alexandria - Willie places this hat-shaped building on his head and then heads off for the Hollywood hills.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which is a funny way to cap "Fun and Fancy Free." But that said, one can't help but wonder how much better the full-length version of Mickey and the Beanstalk would have been. Especially if Walt had been able to follow his original plan for that Mickey Feature. Which would have seen this film got into full-blown production in late 1941 / early 1942 and then be released in theaters in late 1942 / early 1943.


Copyright 2010 SRLabs. All rights reserved

FYI: Much of the artwork featured in today's article came from the Fall 2010 catalog for S/R Laboratories' animation art auction. Which will be held on October 25th & 26th. If you'd like to learn more about this auction and/or are looking to purchase your own copy of this 52 page full-color catalog, please click on this link.

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  • I was also fascinated by what was cut from this feature when I saw the info provided on the Fun and Fancy Free DVD. I agree that it might have been marvelous with all of the bits added in. but, like other Disney projects, maybe it was for the best.

  • This is one of my favorite cartoons of all time! I think it's perfect just the way it is.

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