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Disney's "Have a Laugh!" program restores & repurposes the Studio's classic animated shorts for today's audiences

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Disney's "Have a Laugh!" program restores & repurposes the Studio's classic animated shorts for today's audiences

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They're the films that The Walt Disney Company was actually founded on. Those animated shorts which wowed moviegoers back in the 1930s & 1940s that then paved the way for the Studio's success in feature-length cartoons.

But with the rise of television in the 1950s, America's movie-going habits changed drastically and the market for theatrical animated shorts suddenly dried up. Walt himself actively tried to find new & different ways to keep these films out there in front of the public. Sometimes by airing them as stand-alone Mouse Cartoons on episodes of The Mickey Mouse Club. Other times by taking three or four of the old shorts and then - after stitching them together with some new animation - repurposing these old cartoons on the "Disneyland," "Walt Disney Presents" and "The Wonderful World of Color" TV shows.


"Meeska, Mooska, Mouseketeer ! Mouse Cartoon Time now is here !"
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But as the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, with fewer & fewer venues available for this material, Disney's animated shorts got pushed towards the back of the vault.

Oh, sure. These shorts were sometimes screened for small children on Disney Channel shows like "Good Morning, Mickey!" They were also made available to animation aficionados through the Walt Disney Treasures series. But as the 1980s gave way to the 1990s & 2000s, there were fewer & fewer opportunities for members of the general public to actually see these early Disney animated shorts.

And then - when you factor in the nitrate negatives that Disney's classic animated shorts are stored on ... Well, The Walt Disney Company suddenly found itself dealing with a two-pronged problem. It had to find a way to preserve this historic material while - at the same time - make it accessible, available & relevant for today's audiences.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which brings us to Disney's "Have a Laugh!" program. Which takes the Studio's classic animated shorts and - after remastering & fully restoring this material - edited shorter versions of these films so that they can then be shown between programs on the Disney Channel & Disney Junior.

"We actually started this program back in late 2009," explained Dave Bossert, Creative Director and Head of Special Projects at Walt Disney Animation Studios. "We went through our entire classic shorts library and then identified those films that we thought could go through the 'Have a Laugh!' production process. Be edited down to a two-or-three minute 'short versions' of that film without sacrificing the story arc."

Now I know that the very idea of "Have a Laugh!" has to stick in the craw of many hardcore Disneyana fans. But Bossert stressed that - in its heart-of-hearts - this repurposing of the Studio's animated shorts is also a major restoration and preservation effort.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"Go out and pick up a copy of any of those 'Have a Laugh!' DVDs that are now on the market. On that disc, in addition to the edited short versions that we created for the Disney Channel and Disney Junior, you'll also find the original full-length shorts," Dave explained. "And thanks to the restoration work that our team has done to each of these shorts, they look better than they have in decades."

More to the point, by putting the edited-short versions of these classic Disney animated shorts out there in front of a mass audience ... Well, Bossert is hoping that Disney Channel & Disney Junior viewers will be intrigued enough by what they see to then go and seek out the original full-length films.

"In a way, we're just doing what Walt did back in the 1950s & 1960s on the 'Disneyland' and "Wonderful World of Color' TV shows. Finding new ways to put the Fab 5 out there. Making people aware of how genuinely fun & entertaining these animated shorts can be," Dave continued.


Dave Bossert, Creative Director and Head of Special Projects at Walt
Disney Animation Studios. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

Mind you, not every animated short in the Disney library was considered to be a good candidate for the "Have a Laugh!" edited short version process. Some of the Studio's 6-minute-long films had story arcs that can't coherently be cut back to just 2-and-3 minute-long versions. While still other Disney shorts featured elements that wouldn't be considered socially acceptable for today's audiences.

"Over the two seasons of 'Have a Laugh!,' we've created short versions of 40 classic shorts. And - wherever possible - we've reused the original music and voice tracks," Bossert said. "But where that couldn't be done, we've worked with Disney voice artists and musicians to replicate as closely as possible the sound of those original shorts."

And given the success of Disney's "Have a Laugh!" program, Dave and his team are now taking the same sort of approach to the Winnie the Pooh featurettes from the 1960s. Taking the original films and then  pulling out two-and-three minute-long standalone vignettes. Which - thanks to new music & vocal tracks - are made to be more in the style & tone of the Studio's recently released full-length "Winnie the Pooh" animated feature.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"There's a lot of genuinely charming stuff that was done for 'The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh,' " Dave stated. "And just like we did with the classic animated shorts with our 'Have a Laugh!' program, we're hoping that these new 'Mini-adventures of Winnie the Pooh' will then make this material available & accessible for a whole new generation of Disney fans."

So when you think of Disney's "Have a Laugh!" and "The Mini-adventures of Winnie the Pooh" initiatives, please don't lump these efforts in with stuff like DTV (i.e. where the Studio would first take a piece of contemporary music and then just randomly drop in pieces of animation that had been cut from Disney's shorts and animated features. With the idea that this footage would then provide appropriate imagery to back up that song's lyrics).

No, in the case of "Have a Laugh!" and "Mini-adventures," the appropriate imagery is that Dave Bossert and his crew in Walt Disney Animation Studio's Special Projects unit are like skilled diamond cutters. Taking the Company's crown jewels and - by carefully cutting & then placing them in brand-new settings - allowing these films & characters to get out in front of audiences of today. Where they can shine once more.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Sooo ... Have any of you have seen some of the "Have a Laugh!" shorts on the Disney Channel and Disney Junior? And - if so - what did you think of these restored, remastered if somewhat-trimmed-down animated films?

Your thought?

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  • Yep, I've seen 'em - I watched a couple on the Disney Cruise Line shuttle.  

    I guess I should be happy the cartoons were restored, and it's nice that Disney's at least trying to make the cartoons relevant to modern audiences instead of just sticking them back in the vault. But it feels a little like someone took the Mona Lisa and said, "I bet this picture would be much more appealing to the visitors if we erase the background with Photoshop!"    But if the modern audience has the attention span of a gnat, what else can ya do?

  • This quote bugged me:

    "Bossert is hoping that Disney Channel & Disney Junior viewers will be intrigued enough by what they see to then go and seek out the original full-length films."

    WHERE? Where will they seek out those classic shorts? Out-of-print Treasures sets on eBay? Bootleg uploads on YouTube? Disney has no platform to share anything older than Hannah Montana.

    If Disney's serious about intriguing younger or newer viewer interest in classic material, then they need to provide a venue, i.e., a Classic Disney Channel the way TVLand spun off Nickelodeon. Otherwise, I'm at a loss to think where someone might ever think, "Oh, I liked these - where can I see more?"

  • Nice story, and I agree with the comments from pschnebs ... ultimately, it's good that these great toons are out there. It's not easy for many Disney fans to admit, but we have to change with the times and be willing to adapt.

    Meanwhile ...  @ TJ:

    Note from the article:

    "Go out and pick up a copy of any of those 'Have a Laugh!' DVDs that are now on the market. On that disc, in addition to the edited short versions that we created for the Disney Channel and Disney Junior, you'll also find the original full-length shorts," Dave explained.

  • The first time my kids saw one of these they knew something wasn't right.  They couldn't articulate the issues they had, but they knew something was wrong with the cartoons.  The pacing, the sound...it was jarring even for them.

    There is really no good reason for this.  If they want to show these shorts between shows, fine, make the time to show the original.  Drop one of the Disney Channel commercial breaks.  Or, better yet, put a half hour on a half hour block of the original, un-edited shorts.  That way you save some money _and_ make people happy.

  • Ken, my point as to where to find these shorts was beyond just the original films being added onto these DVDs. The bigger issue is that Disney provides virtually no access to any of its older material now, so I'm not sure where the demand or product awareness is being generated. What would make any kid today wonder what "Lambert the Sheepish Lion" is about if it's never highlighted elsewhere in Disney media?

  • I understand what there doing, but I don't like it. The reason some of those are not great for audiences of today is not the length, but the relevance of some of the humor. The would be better off making new shorts like the ones on House of Mouse.

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