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A work-in-progress version of Why For finally finished!

Jim Hill answers even more of your Disney-related questions. This time around, he talks about George Lucas’ original idea for “Alien Encounter,” the “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular” stunt show, offers up some interesting behind-the-scenes info on “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” and well as revealing what Andreas Deja was going to do with Yzma.



Sorry, folks. But it’s been a busy, busy week out here in the woods. Which is why I’m not quite through with this week’s “Why For” yet.

Initially, I thought that I’d hold off on posting the column in its unfinished form. But then I had a change of heart. I just figured I’ll just post my response to this week’s first question. And then — throughout the day, as I finished answering the rest of this week’s questions — I’d just tack them on to the end of this week’s “Why For.”

That work for you guys? Hope so. Anyway … Here we go. First up, Dave C. writes in to ask:

Dear Jim–

After reading that Disneyland press release today, I’m really looking forward to hearing about how “Star Tours” actually came together. But when you write about George Lucas, can you talk about two other projects that he was also supposed to do for the parks: the original version of “Alien Encounter” and the “Young Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular”?

Thanks for all the great stories. Love the site.

Dave C.

Dear Dave C. —

Actually, if you’ll do some poking around’s archives, you’ll find that I’ve already written fairly extensively about “Alien Encounter.” Though — that said — I just came across an old piece of concept art for this Tomorrowland attraction which (I think) offers some pretty interesting insights into the way George Lucas originally wanted this story to play out.

You see, George wanted “Alien Encounter” to be scary. But in a classic sci-fi sort of way. So — rather than having a couple of comical robots appearing in AE’s pre-show area, setting up the sensory adventure that was to follow — Lucas wanted to recycle all of “Mission to Mars” ‘s old AA figures. You know? Mr. Johnson and those 10 other robotic humans who used to man the consoles at Mission Control?

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

Only this time around, Lucas wanted all of the Audio Animatronic figures in the pre-show to be dressed with surgical masks & gowns. More importantly, that theme park guests — as they entered the “Alien Encounter” pre-show area — would only be able to see these figures through several layers of extremely thick glass. Toiling away in incredibly sterile laboratories under harsh fluroscent lighting.

You get the story idea that George was trying to get across yet? His version of “Alien Encounter” was going to be about containment. As in: The people who work at this facility were obviously concerned about beaming something dangerous down to this planet. Which was why all these precautions had been put in place.

Which begs the question: If XS Tech is such a dangerous place to work, then why is it holding an open house? Actually allowing all of us to tour this teleportation facility? Ah, but that’s where Lucas’ version of “Alien Encounter” was supposed to take a truly sinister turn.

You see, it was only after you’ve taken your seat in the main theater and that restraining harness had come down over your shoulders that you realized that you’ve lied to. XS Tech wasn’t actually holding an open house. This corporation was just looking for some human “guinea pigs” to expose to a supposedly vicious alien lifeform that they’d captured. Just so the scientists could see what this creature was capable of.

So the alien is beamed into our midst. The containment shield is lifted and … The ironic twist on this version of “Alien Encounter” is — while the creature does look horrible — it’s not really a vicious beast. It’s actually a sentient being that just wants to go home.

So — after inadvertantly terrifying the audience for a few moments — the creature reveals that it doesn’t want to harm us. It just wants all of us to escape.

So — in Lucas’ version of “Alien Encounter” (Which obviously borrows a page or two from “The Twilight Zone”) — it’s actually the alien who comes to our rescue. As the scientists out in the pre-show area realize that their plan has gone horribly wrong and that the alien is now bonding with the audience, they get ready to sterilize the entire auditorium through a combination of radiation & laser fire. But — before they can do that — the creature figures out how to raise our shoulder restraints as well as open the theater doors.

So — as we hurry out of the auditorium — we can’t help but feel grateful toward the horrible-looking creature who had just helped us escape. But — as the same time — it’s hard to ignore all of those terrified screams that are now coming from “Alien Encounters” ‘s pre-show area. Where it’s fairly obvious that this extraterrestrial — before it heads home — is exacting some revenge on its captors.

I know, I know. That’s sounds pretty dark and sinister for a theme park attraction. But let’s remember that this is George Lucas that we’re talking about here. The man who just sprang “Revenge of the Sith” on the world. Which (I can almost guarantee you) is one of the most dark & sinister summer blockbuster that you’ll ever see.

Anyway … Moving on to the “Young Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular” now: FYI: The title that this show was actually developed under was “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectcular.” Which is admittedly somewhat awkward. But — that said — it still would have been one hell of a show.

To give you a little background on the “Young Indy” stunt show:  This attraction was originally  proposed for Disneyland back in the late 1980s as part of the “Disney Decade.” Which was this ambitious project that called for dozens of new rides & shows to be added to the Disney theme parks around the world during that 10 year span between 1990 & 2000.

Anyway, getting back to “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular” … This project was actually had two inspirations: The overwhelmingly positive reaction that the “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular” show recieved when it finally opened at Disney-MGM Studio theme park in August of 1989. Plus moviegoers’ enthusiastic response to “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” ‘s prologue. Which — FYI — was released to theaters in May of that same year.

When the guys at Walt Disney Imagineering saw “Last Crusade” [Particularly those scenes toward the beginning of the film, where the young Indiana Jones (played by River Phoenix) is scrambling across the roof of that moving circus train, trying to escape those tomb raiders ]… They suddenly realized that they now had a logical way to bring a huge show like MGM’s “Epic Stunt Spectacular” to Disneyland.

You see, for more than a decade, WDI had been looking for a project to place on that huge piece of property out behind Disneyland’s “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.” For a time, the Imagineers tried to get Discovery Bay built back there. But — in the end — Disney execs didn’t believe that this concept (as colorful & creative as it might have been) justified its projected construction cost.

But here now was Indiana Jones. A character that three highly successful films had been built around. More to the point, here was “Last Crusade” ‘s prologue sequence, which had been set in the American West in 1912. More importantly, that this portion of that Paramount Picture had prominently featured a steam train.

And here was Disneyland with this large piece of empty space inbetween Frontierland & Fantasyland. Which — not-so-co-incidentally — a steam train ran right through.

To the Imagineers, it seemed like this project was almost preordained. Which is why plans for the “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular” flew together fairly quickly.

Copyright 1990 The Walt Disney Company

The concept for this proposed Disneyland stunt show went a little something like this: In the area where Big Thunder Ranch and the “Festival of Fools” are currently, a large red-and-white-striped canvas circus tent would be erected. At the start of each performance, up to 5000 Disneyland guests would be allowed to enter the circus’ midway area. Where — after interacting with various streetmosphere performers who helped establish the date & location of the show (I.E. American west, 1912) — these visitors would then enter the big top.

Once they took their seats in the wooden reviewing stands, these Disneyland guests would probably have noticed something unusual about this performance venue. In that the tracks for the Disneyland Railroad actually ran right through the backmost portion of the stage area. Which meant that the steam engine could actually be used as a set and/or a prop in this production.

And — to be honest — that’s actually what was supposed to happen in the “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular.” At one point in the show, the steam train was supposed to come roaring through the circus tent. And — just like he did in “The Last Crusade” — Young Indy was supposed to race across the tops of the rail cars as he tried to elude his pursuers.

By the way, there’s one important thing that you need to understand about the “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular.” Unlike the MGM stunt show — which stops and starts at various points, given that the performers are pretending that they’re shooting an “Indiana Jones” movie — the “Young Indiana Jones” was going to be performed just like it was a play. Meaning that its performers were going to remain in character through the entire 30-minute-long performance. With no stops or starts, just continuous action all the way through.

I’ll say this much. Based on a version of the “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular” script that I read a few years back, this proposed Disneyland show was going to have one of the oddest endings in show business history. To explain: This stunt show was actually supposed to start off with the older Indiana Jones reminiscing about his boyhood. Then — for the next 20 minutes or so — it would have been just Young Indy on stage. Battling with the villains, performing all sorts of outrageous stunts, etc.

But then — at the very end of Young Indy’s adventures — the older Indiana Jones would come back onstage. Only this time, he’s not walking. Indy’s riding on horseback.

So old Indy would then ride up next to the younger version of himself. He’d then pull Young Indy up onto the horse behind him. And then — with the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” march blaring in the background — these two would ride up onto Disneyland’s berm. And — after their stallion reared up on its back legs — the two versions of Dr. Jones would wave to the crowd, then disappear behind the berm … Seemingly riding off into the sunset.

That sounds like a pretty strange way to end a show, don’t you think? Well — believe you me — the proposed finale was the least of the “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular” ‘s problems. The folks who were operating Disneyland’s railraod didn’t like the idea of their trains’ operating schedule being disrupted just so a steam engine could be used as a prop. And Disneyland’s managers were already carping about the proposed size of the production. In particular  the huge number of performers that would have to be on hand on each day in order to properly stage this show.

Then there was that other set of Imagineers who were pushing for Disneyland to get a very different sort of “Indiana Jones” attraction. One that would actually put theme park guests on board troop transports and/or inside mine cars and then send them careening in, around, over and through a forbidden temple.

Given that an “Indiana Jones” ride — instead of an “Indiana Jones” stunt show — was more in keeping with Disneyland’s already established assortment of rides, shows and attractions, that’s what the Imagineers eventually decided to go with. Much to the chagrin of George Lucas. Who — over the many months that the “Young Indiana Jones and the Adventure Spectacular” had been in development — had grown quite fond of this younger version of Indy.

How fond? So fond that — starting in 1991 — George actually built an entire TV series around this version of Indiana Jones: “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.” Which debuted on ABC back in March of 1992.

And — while no one can claim that “TYIJC” was a ratings smash– the show did have its fans. It even managed to win an Emmy or two.

After three years of production and 36 episodes, “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” also rode off into the sunset. Though fans of that show will probably be pleased to hear that Lucas is reportedly planning on putting the series out on DVD later this year.

Next up, uncle same drops me a line to say —

jim —

Just got back from disneyland and i have to say i really like that ‘first 50 magical years’ exhibit at the main street opera house. but not so much that i’d be willing to give up my ‘great moments with mr. lincoln.’ so can you please reassure me that honest abe will be back where he belongs once this ‘happiest homecoming’ nonsense is over.

uncle same

Dear Uncle Same —

I don’t think you really have to worry about Honest Abe. WDI Vice Chairman Marty Sklar was making the rounds at the Disneyland 50th anniversary press event earlier this month. And — whenever anyone would ask about the original occupant of the Main Street Opera House — Marty would swear up and down that “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” will be returning to the park.

While that “Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years” exhibit is currently slated to occupy that venue through the last week of December 2006 / first week of January 2007, once that run is completed … The anniversary exhibits will be packed up and stored away. And — after the Main Street Opera House recieves a general sprucing-up — “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” will begin presenting performances again in the Spring of 2007.

Here’s an interesting little sidenote, though: That Steve Martin / Donald Duck film has gotten such a nice reaction from Disneyland guests that WDI is already reportedly casting about for another place  in the park to show the flick once the 50th anniversary is over. Among the ideas that are currently being knocked is shifting this film down to the Main Street Cinema, where it could then be shown on all six screens.

I know, I know. That means replacing all of those black & white Mickey Mouse cartoons that are currently running in that theater. But — to be honest — given that (not all that long ago) these cartoons actually displaced all of the silent films that used to run in the Main Street Cinema, it’s not like we’re talking about removing some classic piece of Disneyland history. The damage was already done years ago.

Speaking of classic pieces of Disneyland history … Let’s get back to talking about “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” shall we?

Copyright 1965 Walt Disney Productions

I just heard a great story about this attraction. Which reportedly dates back to the early 1960s, when Walt was getting “Great Moments” ready to be shown at the 1964 New York Worlds Fair.

Word had evidently gotten out around Hollywood that Disney was working on a “winkin’, blinkin’ Lincoln.” For one day while Walt was working in his office at the Burbank studio, he got a call from Henry Fonda.

Mr. Fonda got right to the point. Henry had heard that Walt was working on a robotic version of Honest Abe. And — given that Fonda had already played our 16th president in a John Ford film (I.E. “Young Mr. Lincoln,” which was released by 20th Century Fox back in 1939) — Henry felt that he was the perfect performer to provide the voice for this figure.

Now these days, when studios scramble to cram as many celebrities as possible into a picture, the Walt Disney Company would have probably jumped at an offer like. Immediately made the deal to have Henry Fonda provide the voice for the Abraham Lincoln AA figure for the “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” attraction.

But this is Walt Disney we’re talking about here. Not some spineless suit from today’s Hollywood. And — while he was obviously flattered by Henry Fonda’s most generous offer — Walt’s main concern was still the integrity of his “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” show.

To explain: Disney was worried that — should he agree to allow a well-known actor like Henry Fonda to provide the voice for Honest Abe — that might actually wind up hurting the show. As in: audiences would be less likely to buy into the whole this-is-an-authentic-recreation-of-our-16th-president idea if — at the same time — they were thinking “Hey, that’s Henry Fonda doing the voice of Abraham Lincoln!”

Which is why — despite Fonda’s persistant campaigning for the job — Walt ultimately turned down Henry’s offer to provide Honest Abe’s voice. Opting instead to go with Royal Dano. Obviously a lesser known performer, but one that had the reedy sincerity that Disney was looking for in this role.

Mind you, Walt really knew what he wanted when it came to Royal’s performance in “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” Which is why Disney reportedly ran Dano really hard during the recording of the vocals of this show. The late Sam McKim used to tell this great story about that recording session:

I went to the studio that Saturday morning and Walt handed Royal Dano a 20 minute or so script and asked him to read it while doing a few simple movements. Royal Dano read the script and I thought it was pretty good. But Walt turned to him and said, “No. No. No. You haven’t got it. Do it again!”

So Royal Dano read the script and did the action again. At the end of that reading Walt again said “No. No. No. Do it over!”

I was perplexed because I thought Royal Dano was doing a good job. The look on Royal Dano’s face was evidence he was thinking the same thing. I wondered why Walt was picking on him.

Well, Royal Dano shrugged his shoulders, let out a big sigh and started the long speech again. This time I thought his performance was terrible; he was obviously tired and had lost energy. At the end of this last reading, Walt jumped up in front of us and started leading us in “The Battle Hymn of The Republic.” Which is the closing scene in the presentation.

This was where Walt was going all along. He knew Lincoln was tired both physically and emotionally over the Civil War and wanted the speech to reflect his weariness. In fact, the last reading was the audio used in the final attraction.

That’s an intriguing story, don’t you think? That Walt was a sharp enough guy to know exactly how to get the kind of vocal performance he wanted out of Royal. That — if he just drove Dano hard enough — he’d eventually get the weary sounding Lincoln he was looking for.

Finally, MacaRonnie writes in to say:

Jim —

Yzma has to be my favorite character in “The Emperor’s New Groove.” I just love the work that animator Dale Baer did with her in that picture. I didn’t think it was possible that anyone could ever do a better job with that character … Until I heard that Andreas Deja was Yzma’s original animator.

That just blew my mind, Jim. Obviously, Andreas is one of the greatest animators of our modern age. And given what a fiendishly fun character Yzma is, I’m sure that Deja would have done a great job with her.

So what I can’t understand was why Andreas would walk away from an assignment like that to go work on “Lilo & Stitch.” I mean, Yzma’s so wild & colorful, while Lilo’s just this plain little girl. Where’s the challenge in that?

So can you explain Deja ditched “The Emperor’s New Groove” to go work on “Lilo & Stitch”?


Dear MacaRonnie–

First of all, the movie that Andreas Deja had been working on wasn’t “The Emperor’s New Groove.” But — rather — the film that he was animating on was first called “Kingdom of the Sun,” then “Kingdom in the Sun.”

Copyright 1998 Walt Disney Company

Secondly, Dale Baer’s version of Yzma doesn’t really have a whole lot in common with Andrea’s take on this same character. I mean, sure. They’re both painfully thin former beauties who will do whatever they have to in order to hang onto power.

But Dale’s Yzma accurately reflects the comic sensibility of the movie that she’s appearing in. Whereas Deja’s version of Yzma … Well, it was created for the movie that Roger Allers was trying to make, “Kingdom of the Sun.” Which was a far more ambitious, much more emotionally grounded animated feature.

And — in that version of the picture — Yzma wasn’t played quite so much for laughs. She was the really-for-real villain of the piece after all. So this “Kingdom of the Sun” character had to look like she was really capable of villainy. Which is why Andreas drew her the way that he did.

Copyright 1998 The Walt Disney Company

Anyway … When Allers left “Kingdom” and Mark Dindal reimagined this picture as a go-for-broke comedy, Deja saw that his far-more-serious take on the Yzma character wasn’t going to fly anymore. And — rather than attempt to retool his version of the villain in order to fit the new comic sensiblity that Dindal and producer Randy Fullmer were retrofitting into this movie — Andreas opted to vacant this assignment instead.

Not because Deja didn’t like Dindal or Fullmer, mind you. Andreas reportedly had nothing but respect and affection for Mark & Randy. Who — in essence — ran into the burning building that was “Kingdom of the Sun” and saved that production by reinventing the picture as a wild-ass comedy.

But after several years of working on his version of Yzma, Deja supposedly didn’t feel like he had it in him to successfully reinvent the film’s villain to fit “Groove” ‘s newer, wilder, crazier comic sensibility. Which is why Andreas ultimately decided to go down to Orlando and work on “Lilo & Stitch.”

And — just so you know, MacaRonnie — just because a character like Lilo looks small, round and cute doesn’t mean that she’s actually particularly easy to draw. Especially when you work as Andreas does, and you try & deliver a top calibre performance every time you sit down at your drawing table.

“Lilo & Stitch” works as well as it does because Deja did such a great job with his character. Sure, Stitch is the showier part. But Lilo is actually the heart of that picture. This lonely sad strange little girl who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, who still hasn’t gotten over the death of her parents, who really needs a friend …

If Andreas hadn’t delivered the goods with Lilo, that Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois film never would have worked. To care about Stitch, you first had to care about Lilo. Who was the very first person in the universe to see any good in Experiment 626.

Anyway … That about does it for this week’s “Why For.” I apologize again for the protracted nature of today’s column. Hopefully, the questions that I’ve chosen to answer this time around have made it somewhat worth your while to make all these extra trips over JHM.

Anywho … Before I go, a few quick reminders:

  • “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” is on ABC tonight starting at 8 p.m. If you want Disney to produce even more Muppet-based material, I’d make a point of tuning to watch this new TV movie out. Particularly if you’re a Nielsen family.
  • Speaking of movies … “Dream On Silly Dreamer” will be having its LA premiere next Monday at the Alex Theater. So if you live in the Glendale area and want to see Dan Lund & Tony West’s extraordinary little documentary about the demise of traditional animation at Walt Disney Studios … Well, here’s another chance. Monday night’s screening starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are only $7. So be sure and go check “Dream On Silly Dreamer” out.
  • Monday is also the day that Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom is supposed to begin beta-testing. So, if you’d like to be among the first to try out this new website that will allegedly allow you to “… experience the Disney theme parks from anywhere” … Well, you might want to make a point of dropping by this URL repeatedly on Monday to see if you can successfully sign up to be part of VMK’s testing team.

And — finally — for all of you who’ve been writing in, asking what the hell is going on with my Disneyland history CD … Well, due to all the big Disney-related stories that have broken over the past two weeks, that project has fallen a little bit behind schedule.

I know, I know. A Jim Hill-related project that’s fallen behind schedule. I bet you’re all shocked.

But the good news is … The CD project isn’t really running that far behind schedule. In that I’ll be recording tracks for the disc sometime next week. Which means by mid-June we should have an actual product in hand.

In the meantime, I’ll be sending that long overdue e-mail to JHM readers that explains how they can pre-order a Disneyland history CD (at a significant discount, mind you) sometime next week. Sooo … If you’d still like to get on that official notification list, here’s your one last, really-for-real final chance. Drop me a line at before the list closes out on Monday morning. And I’ll make sure that you get your official pre-order e-mail next week.

Anyhow … That’s it for this week, folks. Here’s hoping that you enjoyed this week’s array of stories and that you’ll be back for more come next Monday morning.

Til then, you have a great weekend, okay?


Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Seward Johnson bronzes add a surreal, artistic touch to NYC’s Garment District



Greetings from NYC. Nancy and I drove down from New
Hampshire yesterday because we'll be checking out
Disney Consumer Products' annual Holiday Showcase later today.

Anyway … After checking into our hotel (i.e., The Paul.
Which is located down in NYC's NoMad district), we decided to grab some dinner.
Which is how we wound up at the Melt Shop.

Photo by Jim Hill

Which is this restaurant that only sells grilled cheese sandwiches.
This comfort food was delicious, but kind of on the heavy side.

Photo by Jim Hill

Which is why — given that it was a beautiful summer night
— we'd then try and walk off our meals. We started our stroll down by the Empire
State Building

Photo by Jim Hill

… and eventually wound up just below Times
(right behind where the Waterford Crystal Times Square New
Year's Eve Ball
is kept).

Photo by Jim Hill

But you know what we discovered en route? Right in the heart
of Manhattan's Garment District
along Broadway between 36th and 41st? This incredibly cool series of life-like
and life-sized sculptures that Seward
Johnson has created

Photo by Jim Hill

And — yes — that is Abraham Lincoln (who seems to have
slipped out of WDW's Hall of Presidents when no one was looking and is now
leading tourists around Times Square). These 18 painted
bronze pieces (which were just installed late this past Sunday night / early
Monday morning) range from the surreal to the all-too-real.

Photo by Jim Hill

Some of these pieces look like typical New Yorkers. Like the
business woman planning out her day …

Photo by Jim Hill

… the postman delivering the mail …

Photo by Jim Hill

… the hot dog vendor working at his cart …

Photo by Jim Hill

Photo by Jim Hill

… the street musician playing for tourists …

Photo by Jim Hill

Not to mention the tourists themselves.

Photo by Jim Hill

But right alongside the bronze businessmen …

Photo by Jim Hill

… and the tired grandmother hauling her groceries home …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there were also statues representing people who were
from out-of-town …

Photo by Jim Hill

… or — for that matter — out-of-time.

Photo by Jim Hill

These were the Seward Johnson pieces that genuinely beguiled. Famous impressionist paintings brought to life in three dimensions.

Note the out-of-period water bottle that some tourist left
behind. Photo by Jim Hill 

Some of them so lifelike that you actually had to pause for
a moment (especially as day gave way to night in the city) and say to yourself
"Is that one of the bronzes? Or just someone pretending to be one of these

Mind you, for those of you who aren't big fans of the
impressionists …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there's also an array of American icons. Among them
Marilyn Monroe …

Photo by Jim Hill

… and that farmer couple from Grant Wood's "American

Photo by Jim Hill

But for those of you who know your NYC history, it's hard to
beat that piece which recreates Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous photograph of V-J Day in Times Square.

Photo by Jim Hill

By the way, a 25-foot-tall version of this particular Seward
Johnson piece ( which — FYI — is entitled "Embracing Peace") will actually
be placed in Times Square for a few days on or around  August 14th to commemorate the 70th
anniversary of Victory Over Japan Day (V-J Day).

Photo by Jim Hill

By the way, if you'd like to check these Seward Johnson bronzes in
person (which — it should be noted — are part of the part of the Garment
District Alliance
's new public art offering) — you'd best schedule a trip to
the City sometime over the next three months. For these pieces will only be on
display now through September 15th. 

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Wondering what you should “Boldly Go” see at the movies next year? The 2015 Licensing Expo offers you some clues



Greeting from the 2015 Licensing Expo, which is being held
at the Mandalay Bay
Convention Center in Las

Photo by Jim Hill

I have to admit that I enjoy covering the Licensing Expo.
Mostly becomes it allows bloggers & entertainment writers like myself to
get a peek over the horizon. Scope out some of the major motion pictures &
TV shows that today's vertically integrated entertainment conglomerates
(Remember when these companies used to be called movie studios?) will be
sending our way over the next two years or so.

Photo by Jim Hill

Take — for example — all of "The Secret Life of
" banners that greeted Expo attendees as they made their way to the
show floor today. I actually got to see some footage from this new Illumination
production (which will hit theaters on July 8, 2016) the last time I was in Vegas. Which
was for CinemaCon back in April. And the five or so minutes of film that I viewed
suggested that "The Secret Life of Pets" will be a really funny
animated feature.

Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, Universal Pictures wanted to make sure that Expo
attendees remembered that there was another Illumination Entertainment production
coming-to-a-theater-near-them before "The Secret Life of Pets" (And
that's "Minions," the "Despicable Me" prequel. Which
premieres at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival next week but
won't be screened stateside 'til July 10th of this year). Which is why they had
three minions who were made entirely out of LEGOS loitering out in the lobby.

Photo by Jim Hill

And Warner Bros. — because they wanted "Batman v
Superman: Dawn of Justice
" to start trending on Twitter today — brought
the Batmobile to Las Vegas.

Photo by Jim Hill

Not to mention full-sized macquettes of Batman, Superman and
Wonder Woman. Just so conventioneers could then see what these DC superheroes
would actually look like in this eagerly anticipated, March 25, 2016 release.

Photo by Jim Hill

That's the thing that can sometimes be a wee bit frustrating
about the Licensing Expo. It's all about delayed gratification. You'll come
around a corner and see this 100 foot-long ad for "The Peanuts Movie"
and think "Hey, that looks great. I want to see that Blue Sky Studios production
right now." It's only then that you notice the fine print and realize that
"The Peanuts Movie" doesn't actually open in theaters 'til November
6th of this year.

Photo by Jim Hill

And fan of Blue Sky's "Ice Age" film franchise are in for an even
longer wait. Given that the latest installment in that top grossing series
doesn't arrive in theaters 'til July
15, 2016.

Photo by Jim Hill

Of course, if you're one of those people who needs immediate
gratification when it comes to your entertainment, there was stuff like that to
be found at this year's Licensing Expo. Take — for example — how the WWE
booth was actually shaped like a wrestling ring. Which — I'm guessing — meant
that if the executives of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. didn't like
the offer that you were making, they were then allowed to toss you out over the
top rope, Royal Rumble-style.

Photo by Jim Hill

I also have to admit that — as a longtime Star Trek fan —
it was cool to see the enormous Starship Enterprise that hung in place over the
CBS booth. Not to mention getting a glimpse of the official Star Trek 50th
Anniversary logo.

Photo by Jim Hill

I was also pleased to see lots of activity in The Jim Henson
Company booth. Which suggests that JHC has actually finally carved out a
post-Muppets identity for itself.

Photo by Jim Hill

Likewise for all of us who were getting a little concerned
about DreamWorks Animation (what with all the layoffs & write-downs &
projects that were put into turnaround or outright cancelled last year), it was
nice to see that booth bustling.

Photo by Jim Hill

Every so often, you'd come across some people who were
promoting a movie that you weren't entirely sure that you actually wanted to
see (EX: "Angry Birds," which Sony Pictures Entertainment / Columbia
will be releasing to theaters on May 20, 2016). But then you remembered that Clay Kaytis
who's this hugely talented former Walt Disney Animation Studios animator — is
riding herd on "Angry Birds" with Fergal Reilly. And you'd think
"Well, if Clay's working on 'Angry Birds,' I'm sure this animated feature
will turn out fine."

Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, there were reminders at this year's Licensing Expo
of great animated features that we're never going to get to see now. I still
can't believe — especially after that brilliant proof-of-concept footage
popped up online last year — that Sony execs decided not to go forward
with  production
of Genndy Tartakovsky's
"Popeye" movie.  But that's the
cruel thing about the entertainment business, folks. It will sometime break
your heart.

Photo by Jim Hill

And make no mistake about this. The Licensing Expo is all
about business. That point was clearly driven home at this year's show when —
as you walked through the doors of the Mandalay
Bay Convention Center
— the first thing that you saw was the Hasbros Booth. Which was this gleaming,
sleek two story-tall affair full of people who were negotiating deals &
signing contracts for all of the would-be summer blockbusters that have already
announced release dates for 2019 & beyond.

Photo by Jim Hill

"But what about The Walt Disney Company?," you
ask. "Weren't they represented on the show floor at this year's Licensing
Expo?" Not really, not. I mean, sure. There were a few companies there hyping
Disney-related products. Take — for example — the Disney Wikkeez people.

Photo by Jim Hill

I'm assuming that some Disney Consumer Products exec is
hoping that Wikkeez will eventually become the new Tsum Tsum. But to be blunt,
these little hard plastic figures don't seem to have the same huggable charm
that those stackable plush do. But I've been wrong before. So let's see what
happens with Disney Wikkeez once they start showing up on the shelves of the
Company's North American retail partners.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of Disney's retail partners … They were
meeting with Mouse House executives behind closed doors one floor down from the
official show floor for this year's Licensing Expo.

Photo by Jim Hill

And the theme for this year's invitation-only Disney shindig? "Timeless
Stories" involving the Disney, Pixar, Marvel & Lucasfilm brands that
would then appeal to "tomorrow's consumer."

Photo by Jim Hill

And just to sort of hammer home the idea that Disney is no
longer the Company which cornered the market when it comes to little girls
(i.e., its Disney Princess and Disney Fairies franchises), check out this
wall-sized Star Wars-related image that DCP put up just outside of one of its
many private meeting rooms. "See?," this carefully crafted photo
screams. "It isn't just little boys who want to wield the Force. Little
girls also want to grow up and be Lords of the Sith."

Photo by Jim Hill

One final, kind-of-ironic note: According to this banner,
Paramount Pictures will be releasing a movie called "Amusement Park"
to theaters sometime in 2017.  

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, given all the "Blackfish" -related issues
that have been dogged SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment over the past two years, I'm
just hoping that they'll still be in the amusement park business come 2017.

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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It takes more than three circles to craft a Classic version of Mickey Mouse



You know what Mickey Mouse looks like, right? Little guy,
big ears?

Truth be told, Disney's corporate symbol has a lot of
different looks. If Mickey's interacting with Guests at Disneyland
(especially this summer, when
the Happiest Place on Earth
is celebrating its 60th anniversary), he looks & dresses like this.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
All rights reserved

Or when he's appearing in one of those Emmy Award-winning shorts that Disney
Television Animation has produced (EX: "Bronco Busted," which debuts
on the Disney Channel tonight at 8 p.m. ET / PT), Mickey is drawn in a such a
way that he looks hip, cool, edgy & retro all at the same time.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights

Looking ahead to 2017 now, when Disney Junior rolls out "Mickey and the
Roadster Racers
," this brand-new animated series will feature a sportier version
of Disney's corporate symbol. One that Mouse House managers hope will persuade
preschool boys to more fully embrace this now 86 year-old character.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

That's what most people don't realize about the Mouse. The
Walt Disney Company deliberately tailors Mickey's look, even his style of
movement, depending on what sort of project / production he's appearing in.

Take — for example — Disney
California Adventure
's "World of Color:
" Because Disney's main mouse would be co-hosting this new
nighttime lagoon show with ace emcee Neil Patrick Harris, Eric Goldberg really had
to step up Mickey's game. Which is why this master Disney animator created
several minutes of all-new Mouse animation which then showed that Mickey was
just as skilled a showman as Neil was.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
All rights reserved

Better yet, let's take a look at what the folks at Avalanche Studios just went
through as they attempted to create a Classic version of Mickey & Minnie.
One that would then allow this popular pair to become part of Disney Infinity

"I won't lie to you. We were under a lot of pressure to
get the look of this particular version of Mickey — he's called Red Pants
Mickey around here — just right," said Jeff Bunker, the VP of Art
Development at Avalanche Studios, during a recent phone interview. "When
we brought Sorcerer Mickey into Disney Infinity 1.0 back in January of 2014,
that one was relatively easy because … Well, everyone knows what Mickey Mouse
looked like when he appeared in 'Fantasia.' "

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

"But this time around, we were being asked to design
THE Mickey & Minnie," Bunker continued. "And given that these Classic
Disney characters have been around in various different forms for the better
part of the last century … Well, which look was the right look?"

Which is why Jeff and his team at Avalanche Studios began watching hours &
hours of Mickey Mouse shorts. As they tried to get a handle on which look would
work best for these characters in Disney Infinity 3.0.

Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"And we went all the way back to the very start of Mickey's career. We began
with 'Steamboat Willie' and then watched all of those black & white Mickey shorts
that Walt made back in the late 1920s & early 1930s. From there, we
transitioned to his Technicolor shorts. Which is when Mickey went from being
this pie-eyed, really feisty character to more of a well-behaved leading
man," Bunker recalled. "We then finished out our Mouse marathon by
watching all of those new Mickey shorts that Paul Rudish & his team have
been creating for Disney Television Animation. Those cartoons really recapture
a lot of the spirit and wild slapstick fun that Mickey's early, black &
white shorts had."

But given that the specific assignment that Avalanche Studios had been handed
was to create the most appealing looking, likeable version of Mickey Mouse
possible … In the end, Jeff and his team wound up borrowing bits & pieces
from a lot of different versions of the world's most famous mouse. So that
Classic Mickey would then look & move in a way that best fit the sort of
gameplay which people would soon be able to experience with Disney Infinity

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

"That — in a lot of ways — was actually the toughest
part of the Classic Mickey design project. You have to remember that one of the
key creative conceits of  Disney Infinity
is that all the characters which appear in this game are toys," Bunker
stated. "Okay. So they're beautifully detailed, highly stylized toy
versions of beloved Disney, Pixar, Marvel & Lucasfilm characters. But
they're still supposed to be toys. So our Classic versions of Mickey &
Minnie have the same sort of thickness & sturdiness to them that toys have.
So that they'll then be able to fit right in with all of the rest of the
characters that Avalanche Studios had previously designed for Disney Infinity."

And then there was the matter of coming up with just the
right pose for Classic Mickey & Minnie. Which — to hear Jeff tell the
story — involved input from a lot of Disney upper management.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

"Everyone within the Company seemed to have an opinion
about how Mickey & Minnie should be posed. More to the point, if you Google
Mickey, you then discover that there are literally thousands of poses out there
for these two. Though — truth be told — a lot of those kind of play off the
way Mickey poses when he's being Disney's corporate symbol," Bunker said.
"But what I was most concerned about was that Mickey's pose had to work
with Minnie's pose. Because we were bringing the Classic versions of these
characters up into Disney Infinity 3.0 at the exact same time. And we wanted to
make sure — especially for those fans who like to put their Disney Infinity
figures on display — that Mickey's pose would then complement Minnie.

Which is why Jeff & the crew at Avalanche Studios
decided — when it came to Classic Mickey & Minnie's pose — that they
should go all the way back to the beginning. Which is why these two Disney icons
are sculpted in such a way that it almost seems as though you're witnessing the
very first time Mickey set eyes on Minnie.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

"And what was really great about that was — as soon as
we began showing people within the Company this pose — everyone at Disney
quickly got on board with the idea. I mean, the Classic Mickey that we sculpted
for Disney Infinity 3.0 is clearly a very playful, spunky character. But at the
same time, he's obviously got eyes for Minnie," Bunker concluded. "So
in the end, we were able to come up with Classic versions of these characters
that will work well within the creative confines of Disney Infinity 3.0 but at
the same time please those Disney fans who just collect these figures because
they like the way the Disney Infinity characters look."

So now that this particular design project is over, does
Jeff regret that Mouse House upper management was so hands-on when it came to
making sure that the Classic versions of Mickey & Minnie were specifically
tailored to fit the look & style of gameplay found in Disney Infinity 3.0?

Copyright Lucasfilm / Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"To be blunt, we go through this every time we add a new character to the
game. The folks at Lucasfilm were just as hands-on when we were designing the
versions of Darth Vader and Yoda that will also soon be appearing in Disney
Infinity 3.0," Bunker laughed. "So in the end, if the character's
creators AND the fans are happy, then I'm happy."

This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post's Entertainment page on Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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