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Arrrrr you kidding me? An extra’s eye-view of “Pirates of the Caribbean II”?!

Avast, me hearties! Freelance journalist Diane B. Rooney drops anchor at JHM to bring us an on-the-set report from Universal Studios Hollywood, where “Dead Man’s Chest” is currently in production.

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Before we get started here, just a quick thanks to Diane B. Rooney. Who so graciously offered up this “Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man’s Chest” set report (which previously ran over on the Compass Rose discussion boards) for reprinting on JHM.

Also — for those of you who don’t want to know too much about this eagerily anticipated Walt Disney Pictures release prior to its release to theaters in the summer of 2006 — not to worry. “Dead men (and Diane) tell no tales.” What follows is a spoiler-free article. As in: It steers clear of revealing plot points and concentrates more on what it was actually like to be on the set of this Jerry Bruckheimer production.

Okay. Enough with my long-winded intro. Let’s get to Diane’s report, shall we?

They took off from day jobs as waitresses, security guards, even lighting directors. They postponed trips to China or drove three hours each way. Those without cars spent hours navigating Los Angeles’ public transit system. Most were experienced, some were novices. Some had been seen at December’s open casting call, others had already been registered with Sande Alessi Casting. They wanted to work for Gore Verbinski, or be on the same set as Johnny Depp. They came to be part, even a small part, of a few scenes in the making of Pirates of the Caribbean II.

I was fortunate enough to be one of them. What I’d like to do here is to share my experience as a novice film extra on a project as exciting as Pirates II. I won’t describe the scenes I saw being filmed, most of all because the folks at Walt Disney don’t want that stuff leaking out from people like me, but also because I’ve no idea where in the story these scenes might occur or to what extent they’ll survive the editing process.

To answer your most burning questions first: Yes, I did see principals Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Jack Davenport, Kevin McNally, and director Gore Verbinski, stood or passed within feet or even inches of them, and yes, that was a huge thrill.

While I’ve been on stage many times, this was my first experience on a film set. There’s a lot that I didn’t know how or when to do. I dread these situations, because I hate feeling stupid and because I know my ignorance exasperates or makes work for other people. I did ask a lot of questions and do some research, but if I use an incorrect term or title here, I ask forgiveness in advance.

Getting the Call.

The phone rang on Friday afternoon, March 4. It was Nina from Sande Alessi Casting, calling to confirm that I would be working on Pirates of the Caribbean the following week! Even though I had been fitted for a costume back in early February, I know that a lot of things can happen. I was a complete novice – perhaps they’d decide it would be better to use someone with experience?

Filming took place Wednesday through Friday (March 9 -11) on the backlot at Universal Studios. I don’t know why a Universal set was used or if it was used in the first film. I can only suppose it was because the set had the right look and was available for that window in the production schedule.

Arrival.

I was told to report at 9:30AM on Thursday at Universal Studios. Security there, as at all studios, is tight. Trying to get in just to see the set or a celebrity is hopeless. No one gets through the gate without a studio ID or, in the case of temporary workers like me, unless you are on a list for that day. On my first day, I wasn’t on the list yet, so, with a few others, I had to call in and be verified. I was scared – what if they didn’t have my name? To have come so far, and then not get in!

But my name was found and verified, the guard alerted and a parking pass issued. From the garage, I took a shuttle van, together with other extras and some production crew members, through the Universal backlot to the Pirates’ location. The van passes not just famous sets like Universal’s western towns but also the cottages that house independent production companies like Dino Di Laurentis and Imagine. I saw Sam Mendes’ parking space. There’s even a lakefront set and one with a steam locomotive!

On arriving at an area with trailers and tents, I checked in, giving my name and number (the number of my costume/character), and filling in a session form so I could be paid for the day. Then I picked up my costume and headed inside.

Wardrobe, Hair, Makeup, and Aging.

The changing area (women’s anyway) is a mad whirl of people getting dressed, with plenty of wardrobe professionals tying chemises and skirts and lacing corsets. You keep all your hangers together with the tag with your name and costume number and loop over it a large zipper bag for your own clothes and personal belongings. At the end of the day, items like your shoes, stockings, jewelry, and corset go back into the bag. Photos of each extra in costume, with her number, hang in the dressing area, so your look can be compared to the photo from the costume fitting to make sure it matches.

Next, hair and makeup. This area also has photographs of each person, numbered, in costume. The hair professional locates your wig if you have one. Your own hair is carefully pinned up and a skullcap or net is placed over it. The wig goes on top of this, and can then be styled with a curling iron. The wig’s forehead line and the sides by the ears are secured with a type of glue (which comes off with alcohol) so the wig doesn’t get out of place during the day. Then your hat is pinned on top of the wig.

Once your hair or wig is styled, you proceed to the other side of the room for makeup. Again, pictures are checked to ensure you look exactly the way you should. Makeup includes face, hands, and body, to make the character look dirty and disheveled (it’s Tortuga, after all), and even includes tooth makeup to make teeth look stained.

With all the extras needed for these scenes, hair and makeup was a busy area. Picture three aisles of hair and makeup professionals, their work stations, mirrors and kits lining each side, and people to direct us to an open station to keep the process moving.

Many of the male extras had grown their hair and beards long and did not need wigs or facial hair. Their hair was still dressed and styled, however, and they still had makeup applied to complete their look, in some cases, to make them look older, fiercer, or more battle-scarred.

Unlike the men’s coats, most of the women’s skirts did not have pockets, so it was difficult to stash cell phones, glasses, medicine, or smoking materials. I took my phone, note pad, and ID in a small bag I left in the extras’ waiting area off the set. My glasses I slid into the top of my stocking so I could pull them out to see in between shots. This strategy didn’t work that well long term and they eventually broke from being bent so often.

The last stop before proceeding down to the set was aging. Here wardrobe technicians carefully “aged” or distressed the costumes, applying to them what looked like dust or dirt in a cotton or muslin bag. (I’ve read that what’s often used to distress costumes is fuller’s earth, clay, or ground up chalk). They wore masks to keep from breathing in the material.

At the end of the day, the process is reversed. You change, re-hang your costume, put the loose pieces in the zipper bag, return your wig, and turn in your costume for re-racking. You take your session form to sign-out, where your hours are recorded and you’re given a copy for your records and join the line for the van back to the parking structure. Professionals become expert at this. I was still wrestling with my last skirt and the bunch of hangers, looked around, and saw the room was nearly empty.

To Tortuga and the Cantina.

At the bottom of the hill from the trailers and tents is the Tortuga set, and along the streets of the backlot are more trailers for people and equipment, a tent and waiting area for extras and a large meal tent.

Tortuga looks much as it did in the first film. It’s a rather rough place where the residents mostly drink, fight, and carouse. Tortuga’s residents represent a wide range of ages, body types, and ethnicities. The scenes I participated in take place in a cantina or tavern. (You’ll remember the cantina from the first film, where Jack takes Mr. Gibbs for a drink and tells him he plans to recover the Black Pearl – I have no idea if this is the same cantina location.)

Close up, the cantina set is amazing. As in the first film, it’s furnished with wooden benches and tables. On the tables are wooden and metal plates, jugs, and leather and metal cups and tankards. Some items are made from a rubberized material, so they can be thrown in fight scenes without injuring anyone.

Given the time period, the cantina is lit with candles, hundreds of candles, on the tables, in wall sconces, and in overhead chandeliers. Indeed, there were production people going around periodically through the day replacing the candles, and a lot of wax built up on the tables over the two days. The cantina set is roofed with white screening or sheeting material supported by an exterior crane, I think so the lighting can be better controlled (or perhaps to keep people in helicopters from photographing the set?)

The level of detail in set dressing is incredible. For example, the cantina walls and the walls of other town buildings are decorated with handbills and news sheets detailing upcoming pirate trials, promoting shop owners and their wares, or announcing engagements and marriages (no one we know.) Even though it’s unlikely they’ll ever be readable on screen, these details help create the atmosphere of Tortuga.

The number of people present and the amount of equipment on and near the set is astounding. There’s equipment in trailers, trunks of equipment stacked high outside the set, and miles of cable to power lights, cameras and other equipment snaking through the entire set. You have to step very carefully over cables and around cameras, monitors, and other equipment as you move in and out of position, not easy in period costume. Ack! If I broke it, would Disney make me buy it?

Being on set is overwhelming at first – a film version of what historians call “the fog of war.” It’s crowded with people and equipment, hot from the candles and film lights, and hazy from stage smoke being blown in by large fans. The costume feels strange, and the corset restricts your field of motion. Plus, if you’re nearsighted like me, you can’t see very well.

What Film Extras Actually Do

Before going on to the set, we extras were sorted into smaller groups of about 8-15 people each, so we could be directed and managed by assistant directors or production assistants. (Each production person wears an ID tag with his/her name and title, though I couldn’t read them because of my nearsightedness. They are also all connected via walkie-talkies and head sets, and have one or more cell phones at the ready.)

The ADs or PAs place each person in an area of the set and give them specific actions and interactions for the scene. For example, this could include greeting someone, pouring a drink into their cup, clinking cups with them, walking with them from one side of the area to another, and reacting to action taking place nearby. I was impressed with one PA’s direction to our group: He told us to be carousing, but with a bit of sadness because we’re here on Tortuga and not in London. Thought that captured it perfectly!

Each group rehearses its action a few times to make sure it’s smooth. Meanwhile, all the other groups of extras as well as the principals in the scene are rehearsing, so it’s quite busy. Over the two days, we all moved around quite a bit from group to group and from area to area on the set.

While I started out deep in the background of the cantina, in a later sequence I was closer to the principals. I think the production people made a real effort to move the extras around so they’d have at least one or two opportunities to be closer to the main action (and the principals!)

With all the people present, the noise level got quite high, and there were frequent calls for quiet, especially when the principals or stunt people were rehearsing.

Action!

All the scenes I observed or participated in had several takes, and multiple cameras were used in each one so the action was captured from different angles. Usually, a few seconds of music would play, someone would call “Background action! (our signal to begin moving) and then “Action!” We’d keep going until we heard “Cut!” Then we’d regroup and get ready to do it again.

I was able to watch Johnny Depp, Jack Davenport, Keira Knightley, and Kevin McNally in several scenes. They worked closely with director Gore Verbinski, trying different pacings, movements, and timings for the scenes in rehearsal. It was fascinating to watch them focus and center themselves before a scene started. Everyone was patient with re-takes, as different inflections, emphases, or sequences were filmed.

After the last take of a demanding scene involving a principal, Mr. Verbinski would call out, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Keira Knightley,” or “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Jack Davenport, all the way from England,” and everyone would applaud.

I watched a sword fight involving about ten stunt professionals, who work with the film’s director and the stunt director. It really is like a ballet, as people enter and exit and change fight partners. Although I ‘m sure they had rehearsed the scene previously until their motions were engrained in their muscle memory, before the cameras rolled they went through it at half, three-quarter, and full speed.

Food, Refreshments and Comfort.

Everyone’s heard about the craft services (catering) on film sets. There is always water, soda, coffee, tea, and snacks including fruit, peanut butter and jelly, yoghurt, bread and bagels, cookies, and chips for the extras, which you can have while waiting to go on the set or on breaks. You can’t bring food onto the set, but production people come through frequently with bottles of water. My big production secret is that you’ll never see how many plastic water bottles there were on the floor of the cantina!

Professionals who are members of SAG have a separate refreshment and break area, except for the main meals, when the food tent is open to all with buffet line service. We had a lunch break on Thursday at 4:30, and both lunch and dinner breaks on Friday. Our dinner break was at about 1AM. We left the set and were greeted just outside it on the streets of Tortuga with a full buffet setup and helpful servers: roast chicken, vegetables, burgers and hot dogs, even dessert.

Efforts are made to keep people comfortable. The extras’ tent is heated in the evening. Makeup professionals give people eye drops if needed.

Continuity.

Continuity is critically important, even for extras. Photographs were taken of everyone on the first day to ensure costume, hair, and makeup would be consistent for the second day. Wardrobe and makeup professionals and production assistants carried plastic envelopes of photos to check consistency. Makeup professionals came around frequently all day and night touching up face, body, and tooth makeup and spritzing us with water both to cool us off and to make us look sweaty.

Health and Labor

There are lots of people on and around the set you wouldn’t automatically think of. On one break, a gentleman came around asking if any one in the group was a member of SAG (the Screen Actors Guild), as he was the SAG representative for the production and was available if anyone had questions. Also present on set was a medic. One of the men in my group had a bronchial problem and for a few minutes it was difficult for him to breathe. He declined help but on the next break a production assistant came over with a medic, who offered medication and other assistance.

Shop Talk and Pirate Tales.

So what do extras talk about? Well, professionals tend to talk about work they’ve done, or work they’ve heard is coming up. I met several men who had worked on the television series “Deadwood,” and one who’d spent six weeks in Mexico as an extra on “Master and Commander.” They talk about the cost of living, traffic, day to day stuff. Pirates fan extras tend to talk about the films, the stars, the stars’ films, and drop lines from The Curse of the Black Pearl at every opportune moment.

And they talk about the scripts for the sequels. “Well in the second film, what happens is…, but then in the third….” The first several times I heard conversations like this, my ears perked up. But no two stories agreed. I heard people claim to have picked up scripts from trash baskets and copy machines, even one person who claimed to have copies of both scripts in his car. I’m afraid they were used more as pick-up lines than confidential disclosures.

Not that the plot lines discussed weren’t interesting. I especially liked the suggestion that the Black Pearl was a real character the ship had been named for, and she’d appear in one of the sequels. I also liked what I call the George Lucas treatment, in which it’s revealed that Elizabeth is Governor Swann’s ADOPTED daughter, and her real father is…Captain Jack? Bootstrap Bill? Mr. Gibbs? Whoever. In this version she’d been adopted after some family tragedy back in England, after which her father went to sea. Ah well, sounds like someone’s seen ol’ Darth Vader and Luke a few too many times.

Day Two

By Friday, I felt a bit more comfortable, since I knew at least a little more of what to do. When I arrived at the gate and gave my name, the guard gave me a big smile and said “You’re in our system!” We were due to report at 10:30AM but I got there very early so I wouldn’t feel rushed. I was able to have breakfast in the big food tent – with a big selection of hot dishes, cold platters with salmon, cereal, juice, bread and pastries, fruit, and a van outside serving egg dishes, wraps, and breakfast burritos. Then back up the hill to wardrobe, hair, and makeup.

Friday afternoon Sande and some of her associates from Sande Alessi Casting visited, chatting with many of us, and stayed for lunch. It was great to see them and they were very interested to hear our stories.

Advice

Some of you may be waiting for a call to be an extra on Pirates, or may just want to give being an extra a try. Based on my (limited) experience, here are some things that may be helpful if you get the chance:

1. Try to get a good night’s sleep. Production days can be long. Thursday we were there ’til midnight, Friday til 4:15AM Saturday.

2. Get to your location early, so you allow plenty of time for the security check and can be among the first into wardrobe and makeup. If you’re not rushed, you’ll feel less flustered.

3. If you don’t know what to do or where to go, ask, but try not to be a pain. Almost everyone you will encounter is a professional and unfailingly nice but I’m sure it’s tiring to get the same questions.

4. Conserve your energy. Sit down when you can, drink plenty of water, and be sure to eat on the meal breaks.

5. Listen, follow instructions, and be quiet on the set. Making people call repeatedly for quiet wastes time and energy.

6. Observe and learn from the professionals around you. I would have been lost without the experienced extras I met who gave me advice, rehearsed with me, helped me relax, and even turned me around to face Johnny Depp and the camera.

7. Try not to complain. By the end of the day you’ll be tired, hot, and dirty, your costume will probably be uncomfortable, your feet will hurt, and you may have blisters or red eyes, but remember, there are thousands of people who’d give anything to be where you are.

8. This should go without saying, but maybe not. Don’t speak to or make eye contact with the principals unless you’re directly involved in their action, especially before the start of a scene when they are preparing themselves.

9. Be professional. Don’t even think about autographs or photos on the set. And keep cell phones and pagers off and well hidden.

Closing Thoughts

Several qualities about the people and production impressed me. Here are the top four:

Professionalism: Everyone one I met and observed was a true professional. They took their work seriously and gave a full effort every time. The production people are very mindful of the schedule and what needs to get done each day. There’s a constant sense of focus and the need to move forward.

Energy: Film making is hard work over long days. The amount of energy put out by everyone from the director to the newest production assistant is staggering. Well after 2AM Saturday, there were multiple takes of a scene involving Elizabeth Swann. The director, crew, actors, everyone involved was still going full steam, from checking monitors and camera angles to suggesting changes to repeating sequences, in what, the 17th or 18th hour of their work day. And they still managed to look like they were having the time of their lives.

And while we were released at 4:15AM Saturday, there were many more hours of work to be done to take down the set: Equipment to be packed up, costumes to be racked and organized, tents taken down, trailers moved, water bottles picked up from the set and who knows what else.

Attention to Detail: No detail is too small to get right. Adjusting a costume, touching up tooth makeup, replacing candles, thousands of details that may never been seen, even going through the DVD frame by frame, it’s all important.

Camaraderie: We’ve all seen documentaries covering the last day of production: the hugs, the tears, the goodbye gifts. Well, we extras were there after just two days. By the end of our time on Tortuga we had traded stories, aspirations, work histories, family tales and more.

Leaving Tortuga

We were released at 4:15AM. Saturday morning. Some extras were off to bus stops to wait for 7AM buses. I was tired, dirty, bleary-eyed, footsore, and my hair stuck out in all directions from being in pin curls under the wig all day. I’d also had two of the best days of my life. I was so confused it took me about half an hour to find my car. I staggered into my hotel lobby around 5:30AM, where people were already having breakfast and starting their day. I’m sure I looked like an escapee from a zombie party. I slept for about six hours and then headed home, playing the Pirates’ soundtrack most of the way.

Before leaving Tortuga, I exchanged emails and phone numbers with many of the people I’d met. Yes, several of us plan to meet in Los Angeles next July to see the film together and watch for our on-screen appearances.

Do I have the extra bug? Well, let’s just say “Rent” is being filmed here in San Francisco, and they’re looking for extras….

Summing Up.

Eyeglass repair: $22
Gasoline for round trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles: around $80

Two days with Johnny Depp and an amazing group of professionals and Pirates fans: Priceless!

Special thanks again to Ms. Rooney for offering to share this great set report with JHM readers. For those of you who’d like to thank Diane for her great coverage and/or anyone who has additional questions can contact her at dianeroone@aol.com.

What’s that? You’re hungry for even more “Pirates” related news? Well, you can check out this great article that Diane did about the “Dead Man’s Chest” casting call. Or — better yet — this fun feature that Ms. Rooney filed about her “Pirates II” costume fitting. Which might give me a better appreciation of the whole process involved in film-making.

And let’s not forget about KeeptotheCode.com, the official fan site for Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Which finally officially went live last week. There’s lots of piratical fun to be found there.

Anyway … That’s your “Dead Man’s Chest” update for today. Your thoughts?

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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Film & Movies

“Khrushchev at Disneyland” – The Film Walt Disney Almost Made

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Khrushchev Disneyland Film
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Did you ever hear about … “Khrushchev at Disneyland”?

It was back in October of last year that Disney+ revealed that they were now working on a film about the creation of Disneyland.

Given that Evan Spiliotopoulos – who crafted the screenplay for the Company’s live-action reimagining of “Beauty & the Beast” (which then went on to earn $1.26 billion at the worldwide box office back in 2017) – is reportedly writing the script for this yet-to-be-titled film, I have high hopes for this movie about the making of The Happiest Place on Earth.

After all, if we go by “Saving Mr. Banks” (i.e., That 2013 Walt Disney Pictures release about the making of “Mary Poppins,” where Emma Thompson played “Poppins” author P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks turned in a masterful performance as Walt Disney), this company-of-storytellers has already proven that it can turn its own history into entertaining motion pictures.

But that said, if The Walt Disney Company is now actively looking for moments from its past that it can possibly turn into motion pictures … Well, might I suggest a moment that Walt himself might make one hell of a movie. And that’s Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s non-visit to Disneyland.

Khrushchev’s US Visit (1959)

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the details surrounding this incident. Which occurred during Khrushchev’s 11-day trip to the US in September 1959. The Soviet Premier and his entourage arrived in Washington D.C. and — after making a brief stop at the UN in New York City — flew out to LA … And that’s when all the trouble started.

The Los Angeles leg of Nikita’s nationwide tour really did get off to an awful start. By that I mean: As the Premier’s motorcade sped away from LAX, the limousines were actually pelted with tomatoes.

Then Khrushchev was taken to 20th Century Fox, where he and his family were supposed to be feted at a luncheon that featured hundreds of Hollywood’s top stars. Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Shirley MacLaine, David Niven and Maurice Chevalier were there.

Nikita Khrushchev stopped by 20th Century Fox studios in Los Angeles to mingle with some of Hollywood's biggest stars.
Credit: PBS

Which (you’d think) would have been enough to entertain the Soviet Premier.

Not Nikita. He stood up at this luncheon and — in front of the entire Hollywood press corps — had a hissy fit. Here’s an excerpt from the remarks that Khrushchev made that afternoon:

We have come to this town where lives the cream of American art. And just imagine (that) I, a Premier, a Soviet representative, when I came here to this city, I was given a plan. A program of what I was to be shown and whom I was to meet here.

But just now I was told that I could not go to Disneyland. I asked ‘Why not? What is it? Do you have rocket-launching pads there?’ I do not know.

And just listen – just listen to what I was told – to what reason I was told. We, which means the American authorities, can not guarantee your security if you go there.

What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken over the place that can destroy me? Then what must I do? Commit suicide?

This is the situation I am in. Your guest. For me, this situation is inconceivable. I can not find words to explain this to my people.

Visiting the “Happiest Place on Earth”

Truth be told, the Soviet Premier was somewhat mistaken. The original itinerary for the Los Angeles leg of his U.S. tour called for just Khrushchev’s wife and children to tour the “Happiest Place on Earth,” while Nikita was scheduled to tour a housing development out in Granada Hills. But when the Russian leader learned where his family was headed, he reportedly told his State Department handlers “Well, I wanna go to Disneyland too.”

This — unfortunately — was just impossible to pull off on such short notice. Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker immediately put the kibosh on Khrushchev’s request. Citing the difficulty of providing adequate security for the Soviet Premier and his motorcade all the way out to Anaheim.

Walt Disney Interested in Khrushchev Visiting Disneyland

Now where this gets interesting is that — somewhere along the way, as US officials were preparing for Khrushchev’s arrival in America — Walt Disney was told that the Russian Premier and his family were interested in visiting Disneyland. And Walt (of course) immediately saw this official state visit as a huge opportunity to generate some publicity for his then-four-year-old theme park.

Disneyland’s PR staff envisioned creating a photo opportunity by having Walt and Khrushchev stand on the “Submarine Voyage” ‘s loading dock as all eight of the ride’s faux subs floated by. Disney’s gag writers even provided a quip for Walt to casually toss off at this photo op. As Nikita looked out at all of those subs, Disney was supposed to say: “Well, now, Mr. Khrushchev, here’s my Disneyland submarine fleet. It’s the eighth largest submarine fleet in the world.”

Walt was — of course — disappointed when he learned that, due to security concerns, only Mrs. Khrushchev and the kids would be coming out to the Park that afternoon. So imagine Disney’s delight when this firestorm of publicity suddenly rose up when the Soviet Premier was told that he wouldn’t be allowed to go to “The Happiest Place on Earth” too.

Disneyland Trip Cancelled for Nikita Khrushchev

Because — once Nitika learned that his own trip out to Anaheim had been axed — he fell into a truly foul mood. In a fit of pique, the Soviet Premier declared that — since it wasn’t safe for him to go to Disneyland — then it wasn’t safe for his wife and children to go out to Anaheim either. So their long planned Disneyland excursion got canceled ASAP.

Immediately after the luncheon broke up, Khrushchev was taken to a nearby soundstage where the Russian Premier observed the filming of a scene from a forthcoming 20th Century Fox musical, “Can Can.” But — rather than being titillated by the sight of Juliet Prowse flashing her 19th century bloomers as she performed the film’s title number — Nikita reportedly declared the whole episode “horribly decadent.” Which embarrassed State Department officials as well as offending the Soviet Premier’s Hollywood hosts.

From there, Khrushchev’s motorcade was taken to Granada Hills, where the Russian Premier was supposed to tour model homes along Sophia Avenue. But — since Nikita was still sulking about not being allowed to go to Disneyland — he refused to even get out of his limousine.

As he pouted inside the car, Khrushchev reportedly told his State Department handlers that “… putting me in a closed car and stewing me in the sun is not the right way to guarantee my safety. This (not being allowed to go to Disneyland) development causes me bitter regret. I thought I could come here as a free man.”

To add insult to injury, four Soviet newsmen (who had been assigned to cover Khrushchev’s US trip) slipped away to Anaheim for the afternoon. They spent four happy hours touring Disneyland, then told US reporters that they believed that the Russian Premier and his family would have really enjoyed the theme park.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gestures as he arrives at the Mark Hopkins hotel on Sept. 20, 1959, in San Francisco. | AP Photo
Credit: Politico/AP

Later that evening, Khrushchev gave a speech at a Los Angeles area hotel. But there was, understandably, very little written about whatever remarks the Soviet Premier made at that long-forgotten dinner. Given that the next day’s newspapers devoted page after page to coverage of Nikita’s very public tantrum once he learned that he was not going to be allowed to visit Disneyland.

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 19 -- Nikita S. Khrushchev's temper exploded today, not long after he arrived here from New York, when he was told that he could not go to Disneyland because security officials could not guarantee his safety.
Credit: NY Times

Khrushchev and his party tried to put some distance between themselves and the Disneyland debacle by quickly boarding a train and heading up to San Francisco. From there, the Russian Premier flew off to Des Moines and eventually returned to Washington D.C. Where Nikita spent a few days at Camp David with President Eisenhower talking about Cold War-related issues.

Which (you’d think) would be how history would remember the Soviet Premier’s 1959 trip to the United States. That Khrushchev & Eisenhower actually sat down and then tried to find a solution to their Germany & Berlin problem. But (picture John Belushi saying this) N-O-O-O-o-o-o. All the US press corps could talk about is how upset Nikita seemed when he had been told that he wouldn’t be allowed to visit Disneyland.

Media Covers Khrushchev’s Disneyland Denial

Within a day or so, there were political cartoons in newspapers nationwide that made fun of the Premier’s very public tantrum. Even Bob Hope eventually got into the act. As part of his annual Christmas television special, Hope stood in front of hundreds of military personnel at a U.S. Air Force base in Nome and quipped: “Here we are in America’s 49th state, Alaska. That’s halfway between Khrushchev and Disneyland.”

And of course, all this talk about how upset the Russian Premier was about not being allowed to visit “The Happiest Place on Earth” generated tons of positive publicity for Walt’s theme park. Newspapers around the world printed article after article about this amusing international incident. Even Herman Wouk (best known as the author of “The Caine Mutiny” and “The Winds of War”) chimed in: “I really don’t blame Khrushchev for jumping up and down in a rage over missing Disneyland. There are fewer things more worth seeing in the United States or indeed anywhere in the world.”

And Walt just didn’t want this fun to end. He kept looking for ways to perpetuate the story. Which is why Disney insisted that clippings highlighting the whole Khrushchev affair be included in the official Disneyland press kit for a number of years after this incident.

Movie About Khrushchev’s “Disneyland Trip”

But as the 1950s slipped into the 1960s and Khrushchev was forced from power by Leonid Brezhnev in October 1964, this story lost some of its charm. But still Walt loved to tell the tale of Nikita’s tantrum. And Disney began to wonder: might there be a way that his company could continue to capitalize on this incident? Like perhaps by maybe making a movie that would put a comic spin on the whole “Khrushchev denied access to Disneyland” incident?

So Walt turned to his very best producer, Bill Walsh (best known these days as the guy who wrote and produced “Mary Poppins,” “The Love Bug” and “Bedknobs & Broomsticks”) and told him to create a screenplay for a live-action comedy that would then be based on this infamous incident. So Walsh got together with his long-time collaborator, Don DaGradi. And eventually the two of then crafted a script or a film they wanted to call “Khrushchev at Disneyland.”

This screenplay (at least for the first 30 pages or so) pretty much follows how the real-life events played out. It recounts — in a light, breezy manner — how the Soviet leader had supposedly flown over to America to meet with President Eisenhower. But — in reality — Nikita had actually traveled all this way because what he really wanted to do was go to Disneyland.

Eisenhower and Khrushchev
Credit: Past Daily

So Khrushchev flew into Southern California, all excited that he was finally going to get his chance to visit “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Only to discover that — due to safety concerns — the State Department had canceled his trip out to Anaheim. Moviegoers were then supposed to see a slightly comic take on the Soviet Premier’s infamous tantrum at 20th Century Fox. And then …

Well, then the film morphs into your typical Walt Disney Productions live-action comedy of the 1960s. First Khrushchev is seen moping around his hotel suite in downtown Los Angeles later that evening. Then the Premier realizes that Disneyland is only 30 miles away. More importantly, that the theme park is open ’til midnight that night.

So Nikita decides that he’s going to sneak out of his hotel and somehow make his way out to Anaheim. Using a goofy disguise, he gives both his Soviet security detail as well as all of his State Department handlers the slip. Then Khrushchev somehow makes his way out to Disneyland, with all of these US & Soviet officials in hot pursuit … and hilarity ensues.

Okay. Admittedly, we’re not talking about “Lawrence of Arabia” here. Walt wasn’t really looking to make a historically accurate film based on this amusing, relatively minor international incident. Disney, Walsh, and DaGradi envisioned “Khrushchev at Disneyland” as being a film that would be very similar in tone to “That Darn Cat!” A comedy caper picture that was aimed straight at the family audience.

So — once this script was completed — how close did “Khrushchev at Disneyland” actually come to getting made? So close that Walt had already lined up an A-List actor to play the Soviet Premier. And that was Academy Award winner Peter Ustinov.

If all had gone according to plan, “Khrushchev at Disneyland” would have been Peter’s follow-up project for Disney Studios once work was completed on “Blackbeard’s Ghost.” Bill Walsh was slated to produce the picture, while the prolific Robert Stevenson would be directing.

By the fall of 1966, all of the necessary pieces were already in place. Disney Studio had a script in hand that was ready to shoot. They also had an A-List actor that was positively eager to get in front of the cameras and then do his impression of the Soviet Premier. Not only that, but Disney’s top producer was slated to ride herd on this project and the studio’s very best director would be helming this picture.

“Khrushchev at Disneyland” Movie Halts Production

So why didn’t “Khrushchev at Disneyland” get made? Well, because Walt Disney died before production could officially get underway. And given that all the studio execs that Walt had left behind were … Well … The polite term for them is “cautious corporate citizens.” The not-so-polite term is “gutless wimps.”

Anyway, these guys shied away from this project. Largely because they were concerned that there would were film fans out there who wouldn’t see the humor in “Khrushchev at Disneyland.” Their genuine fear was – because of Peter Ustinov’s sure-to-be-charming performance as Nikita Khrushchev – there were certain segments of the US population that would then accuse Walt Disney Company of corrupting America’s youth / of going soft on Communism by suggesting that – GASP ! — the Russian people were actually a lot like us. That they too like to do fun things like – say – go to Disneyland.

Of course, the real irony here is that one of the main reason that Walt really wanted his Studio to make “Kruschchev at Disneyland” was because he’d already seen that a Russians-are-people-too family comedy could succeed at the box office without controversy.

“The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming”

I’m talking – of course – about “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.” Which MGM had released to theaters in May of 1966 and had then gone on become the seventh highest grossing film of the year at the North American box office.

And I know for a fact that Walt was well aware of “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming” for a couple of reasons.

  • This Norman Jewison movie starred Brian Keith, who – just 5 years previous – had co-starred in Disney’s “The Parent Trap” along with Hayley Mills & Maureen O’Hara
  • The year after Disney’s “Parent Trap” had been released to theaters, Jewison had directed “40 Pounds of Trouble.” Which was the first live-action film that Walt had ever allowed to be shot on location at Disneyland Park.
  • For the entire Summer of 1966, “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming” and Disney’s own “Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N.” were duking it out at the North American box office. Seeing which family comedy would then go on to sell more tickets domestically. In the end, Disney came out on top. With that Dick Van Dyke movie selling $22 million worth of tickets in North America, while MGM’s Russians-are-people-too picture sold $21 million worth of tickets domestically.

This is why – when Walt made his very last trip to the Disney lot in November of 1966 – “Khrushchev at Disneyland” was very much on his mind. As far as Disney was concerned, this project was a go. Something that his Studio would start shooting in 1967 and then release to theaters the following year.

This is why Walt made a point of dropping by the set of “Blackbeard’s Ghost” that November morning. He wanted to let Peter Ustinov & Bill Walsh know how much he was looking forward to “Khrushchev at Disneyland.” And Ustinov … Well, Peter was supposedly even more excited about this back-then-soon-to-begin-shooting-movie than Walt was. Ustinov reportedly told Disney that – to insure that he look as much like the Soviet Premier as possible – this acclaimed actor was actually planning on shaving his head.

Ustinov then cracked up Walt by saying that he was thinking of basing his portrayal of Khrushchev on Peter’s mother back in England. As Disney laughed, Ustinov insisted that his Mom was a dead ringer for Nikita. “I didn’t know that your Ma was bald,” Walt replied.

Having really enjoyed his visit to the “Blackbeard’s Ghost” set, Disney then quietly excused himself and left the soundstage. Once Walt had left, Walsh and Ustinov quietly talked amongst themselves about how pale and gaunt the studio head had looked.

Of course, neither Peter or Bill knew that Walt had – just days earlier – been diagnosed with lung cancer. Or that – at this point – Disney had just weeks left to live.

And when Walt Disney died in December of 1966, “Khrushchev at Disneyland” pretty much died with him. In spite of all the preparation that had already been done on this project up until that point, Walsh and DaGradi’s script got shelved. And I’d imagine that this screenplay is now stashed away in some filing cabinet, where “Khrushchev at Disneyland” has been gathering dust for over five decades now.

Potential for “Khrushchev/Disneyland” Film

I bring up this project today … Well, for a couple of reasons.

  • Disney+ has this unending appetite for new content. And wouldn’t it be cool if the Studio were to revive a project that Walt himself once wanted to make and then make that movie available to customers of the Company’s subscription streaming service.
  • Given what’s going on in the Ukraine right now and how the Cold War keeps threatening to become a hot one … Well, while I am no fan of Vladimir Putin, I think that a movie which reminds us that the Russian people (NOT the Russian government, mind you. But the Russian PEOPLE) are people too … That might be a smart, hopeful message to put out in the world these days.

Making-of-Disneyland Movie on Disney+

Anyway … If the Company is looking for a follow-up for that making-of-Disneyland movie they’re prepping for Disney+ …

By the way … Interesting side note: The gentleman that Disney has tapped to direct this movie is David Gordon Green. He directed last year’s smash hit horror film, “Halloween Kills.” Which might make David seem like an odd choice to helm a film about The Happiest Place on Earth.

But then again, Gordon also executive-produces “The Righteous Gemstones.” Which is this wonderfully funny TV series about a family of televangelists who also own & operate a theme park. Which perhaps makes Mr. Green the perfect person to direct a movie about the creation of Disneyland.

Anyway … If Disney+ is looking for the perfect follow-up for their making-of-Disneyland movie, might I suggest that someone dig out a copy of “Khrushchev at Disneyland.”

More to the point, someone go ask Josh Gad if he’d be willing to shave off all those curly locks so that he could then play a certain Soviet Premier.

Josh Gadd and Nikita Khrushchev
Credit: Wikipedia Commons
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How Mattel’s “Men in Space” Toyline Lead to the Creation of Buzz Lightyear

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Buzz Lightyear Origin Story - images of Major Matt Mason, Buzz Lightyear, and Lunar Larry Concept Art
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Angus MacLane’s “Lightyear” is supposed to be … Well, not exactly an origin story for Buzz Lightyear, the action figure that we know from all of the “Toy Story” films. But Rather an explanation of why Andy is so excited at his birthday party in the first “Toy Story” movie when he gets that Buzz Lightyear toy.

You see, Andy’s seen the movie that this action figure was based on. Which is supposed to be this huge Summer blockbuster. Which is why Andy & his friends at that party react the way they do. As far as they’re concerned, the movie that spawned the Buzz Lightyear action figure line was the greatest film they’ve ever seen.

Credit: Disney

Of course, because I’m a nerd and an animation history buff, I can’t help but think about how Buzz Lightyear – the character from the “Toy Story” films, rather than the really-for-real space ranger that Chris Evans voices in “Lightyear” – really started out. Which honestly wasn’t supposed to be a spoof on Captain Kirk from “Star Trek” or Gil Gerad’s Buck Rogers from the TV show. But – rather – as a riff on a space-themed toy line that Mattel produced in the mid-1960s called “Men in Space” which was then built around a character called Major Matt Mason.

Now how we got to the “Men in Space” toy line is kind of convoluted. This story actually starts over 60 years ago when Mattel sent two dolls out into the world, Barbie & Chatty Cathy.

Doll’s For Boys – Mattel’s Space Action Figure

Mattel made money hand over fist from sales of these two products. Which then made Mattel’s competitors stand up and take notice. They too wanted in on this mass-produced plastic toy market. Which is what prompted Hasbro to do something bold in 1964. Which was to license a concept that Stanley Winston had been developing. Which is a military-themed doll for boys.

Hasbro’s G.I. Joe

Just so you know: The executives on the marketing side of Hasbro knew that that nomenclature – “dolls for boys” – wasn’t going to fly. Especially with the Dads of the 1960s. So this is why the phrase “action figure” came from.

credit: The Toys that made us

Anyway, Hasbro introduces G.I. Joe, “America’s movable fighting man” (because – again – you can’t call this toy what it actually is. Which is a poseable doll for boys) in 1964. And it’s a huge hit right out of the box.

Marx “Best in the West” Cowboy Dolls

And Hasbro & Mattel’s direct competition, Marx, sees what going on with G.I. Joe and decides that … Well, we want in on the “dolls for boys” market … So they come up with the “Best of the West” line. Which is this series of G.I. Joe-sized poseable cowboy dolls. Those arrive in the marketplace in 1965 and are also hugely successful.

Mattel Introduces “Men in Space” Toyline

So now here’s Mattel. Which has cornered the market when it comes to dolls for girls with its Barbie & Chatty Cathy lines. But now that Hasbro & Marx have blazed this brave new trail – poseable dolls for boys – with their G.I. Joe & “Best of the West” action figures, Mattel wants in too.

But now that soldiers & cowboys are the exclusive property of Hasbro & Marx, Mattel has to find some sort of hook for its new “dolls for boys” line. So rather than looking back to World War II or the glory days of the America West, Mattel decides to take a chance on what’s going on in the real world at that exact moment. Which is the space race.

Which is why – just in time for the holiday buying season of 1966 – Mattel rolls out its “Men in Space” toy line. Who is headlined by Major Matt Mason an astronaut-themed action figure “ … who lives and works on the Moon.”

Credit: Vintage Action Figures

Major Matt Mason – Astronaut-Themed Action Figure

Now what was kind of interesting about Major Matt Mason is that the toy line that he headlined was based in reality. As in: A lot of the outfits & ride vehicles that were created for Mattel’s “Men in Space” line were direct lifts of publicity images that NASA had already put out there of space vehicles that they envisioned building once man actually made it to the moon. Which brought up some interesting copyright-related issues at that time.

Now I have to tell you that Mattel’s “Men in Space” toy line had problems right from the get-go. Instead of the sturdy 12-inch-tall poseable action figures that G.I. Joe and Marx’s “Best of the West” toys were … Major Matt Mason was half that size. Also, instead of hard plastic, Mattel used a rubber-like substance called Plastizol when it was making its “Men in Space” toys. That material was poured into a mold that had a wire armature inside.

Which wasn’t the sturdiest thing on the planet. Typically, after a few months of playing with your Major Matt Mason, the wire armature inside of this “Men in Space” action figure would break and it would then no longer be poseable.

Mind you, this was a deliberate choice on Mattel’s part. Their thinking was – by making Major Matt Mason half the size of G.I. Joe and then making this action figure out of cheaper material – … Well, that could then help them keep the cost of their “Men in Space” toy line down. Which would then – in theory, anyway – make these action figures far more affordable and make it possible for consumers to eventually purchase the entire playset.

Major Matt Mason’s Astronaut Friends

Oh, yeah. Did I forget to mention that Major Matt Mason had friends? Well, co-workers really. Sgt. Storm, Chip Davis, and Jeff Long (who was an African-American astronaut). Who could all lived & worked together with Matt inside of a three-level lunar base and then got around the moon’s surface by using space sleds and jet propulsion packs.

Credit: Mattel

“Men in Space” Toy Sales

Mind you, Mattel’s “Men in Space” action figures didn’t sell nearly as well as that toy company had hoped they would over the 1966 holiday shopping season. And the thinking initially was that this was because Major Matt Mason & Co. didn’t have anyone that they could battle with. So – in much the same way that Buzz Lightyear has his evil nemesis, Emperor Zurg – the “Men in Space” team then found themselves (just in time for the 1967 holiday shopping season) dealing with evil aliens like Captain Lazer, Callisto, Scorpio and Or.

Unfortunately for Mattel, interest in the space program began to wane as the 1960s gave way to the 1970s. Which is why they decided to discontinue their “Men in Space” toy line in 1970.

Lunar Larry – The Original Buzz Lightyear

So when it comes to Buzz Lightyear, where’s the Major Matt Mason / “Men in Space” connection? Well, if you take a look back at the original concept art for Woody’s nemesis in the first “Toy Story” movie, he isn’t this G.I. Joe sized action figure. But – rather – a six-inch-tall poseable astronaut doll who (I kid you not) is called Lunar Larry.

Credit: Disney
Credit: Disney
Credit: Disney
Credit: Disney

Tom Hanks, Robert Zemeckis, & “Men in Space” Film

FYI: If all had gone according to plan back in 2011, there would have been an even stronger “Toy Story” / “Major Matt Mason” connection. This was when it was announced in the Hollywood trades that Tom Hanks (that’s right. The voice of Woody) had co-written a movie based on Mattel’s “Men in Space” toy line. Not only that, but Hanks was trying to persuade Robert Zemeckis (who Tom had worked with on “Forest Gump,” “Cast Away,” “The Polar Express,” and Disney+’s live-action “Pinocchio”) to come direct the “Major Matt Mason” – the man who lived & worked on the Moon – movie.

Wait. It gets better, Hanks himself reportedly wanted to play Major Matt Mason.

I’m not entirely sure whatever became of Tom Hanks’ “Men in Space” movie. This past February, Hanks & Zemeckis announced that they’ll be re-united with Eric Roth, the writer of “Forest Gump,” on a film adaptation of “Here.” Which is Roth’s graphic novel.

Supposedly sometime over the past 10 years, Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to make a “Men in Space” movie. Hanks is still allegedly attached as a producer for this project. But given that Tom will be turning 66 next month, I doubt that he still wants to play Major Matt Mason.

Which is kind of a shame. Given what Woody once said to Buzz in the original “Toy Story” …

YOU ARE A TOY!!!  You aren’t the real Buzz Lightyear, you’re an action figure!!  You are a child’s plaything!!!

… I would pay good money to see Tom Hanks play one of the original action figures: Major Matt Mason, the man who lived & worked on the Moon as part of Mattel’s “Men in Space” toy line.

Credit: New York Times

This article is based on research for Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor “Episode 178”, published on June 16, 2022. Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor is part of the Jim Hill Media Podcast Network.

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“Honey, I Shrunk the Audience!”: Sequel Troubles and New Attractions

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Honey I Shrunk the Audience
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This article is part of a series documenting the story of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” and Disney Science-Based movies. Be sure to check out our additional research on the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”.

On the heels of the enormous success of the original “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” movie (which was released to theaters in June of 1989) — Disney Studios made plans to release a whole series of science-based gimmick comedies based on the “Honey” characters. A number of the titles that the Studio copywrote as possible follow-ups to that film:

  • “Honey, I Sent the Kids to the Moon”
  • “Honey, I Swapped Brains with the Dog”

With the plan here being that — from here on in — every two years, just like clockwork, a brand-new “Honey” movie would arrive in theaters (ideally in early June) and then clean up at the box office. Just like the original “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” did in June of 1989.

“Honey, I Blew Up the Baby”

We now jump ahead to June of 1992. Which is when “Honey, I Blew Up the Baby” finally arrived in theaters.

Now if you’re halfway decent at math, you’ll immediately notice that — hey — the follow-up to the original “Honey, I Shrunk” film didn’t arrive in theaters two years later (like Disney originally planned) but three years later.

“And why was that?,” you ask. Well, at it turns out, it was a lot harder to develop a suitable sequel to the original “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” than anyone at Disney had thought it would be. The Studio went through dozens of drafts before executives at Disney finally threw up their hands and said “We give. Let’s just go buy someone else’s script and then turn it into a ‘Honey, I Shrunk’ movie.”

And that’s exactly what Disney did. They found this script called “Big Baby.” Which was originally supposed to be a parody of all those Godzilla movies. Only — in this case — instead of a giant radioactive lizard rising up out of Tokyo Bay and then laying waste to the city, the monster in this movie was a toddler who’d accidentally been made 200 feet tall. And who was now disrupting Rush Hour because he kept picking up cars off of the freeway and then making them go “Vroom Vroom.”

Very cute idea for a movie. Definitely something there that could then be used for a “Honey, I Shrunk” story. But here’s the thing: At this time, the State of Nevada was offering movie studios in Hollywood a huge tax break if they came and shot movies in that state.

Filming in Las Vegas, Nevada

And given that the movie that Disney was then calling “Honey, I Blew Up the Baby” was going to be hugely expensive to make (what with all of these elaborate special effects scenes of that giant toddler wandering around that regular-sized cityscape) … Well, Mouse House executives then began to think “Could we switch the location of ‘Honey, I Blew Up the Baby’ from a generic Southern Californian suburb to — say — the Las Vegas Strip? Which has all sorts of famous, recognized-around-the-globe super-sized icons like Vegas Vic, that giant neon Cowboy who’s been a fixture on the Las Vegas Strip since 1951.

The only problem is that a story that’s set in Las Vegas doesn’t exactly scream “Family friendly.” Of course, the real irony here is that — while “Honey, I Blew Up the Baby” was actually in production in June of 1991 was when Las Vegas was beginning its initial flirtation with becoming a more family-friendly destination resort. This is when we saw resorts like the Luxor first announced. Heavily themed hotels & casinos which would also have rides & attractions incorporated into their designs that would then appeal to kids.

Credit: Walt Disney Company

From Blowing up the Baby to Blowing up the Kid – Movie Name Change

Disney didn’t initially realize that setting “Honey, I Blew Up the Baby” in Las Vegas would then have an impact on this “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” sequel. They were more concerned with what focus groups were telling them about the title of this “Honey” sequel. As is: They didn’t want to take their children to see a Disney movie where babies got blown up. That was cruel & gross sounding.

Disney’s marketing team tried to explain to the people in these focus groups that no babies would actually be harmed over the course of this sequel. That — when they said “Blew Up” — they didn’t mean “exploded.” But — rather — made bigger.

It didn’t matter. According to what Disney learned from all those focus groups, “Honey, I Blew Up the Baby” was the sort of film title that turned people off. It sent the wrong message to would-be movie-goers. So they would up trashing the thousands of teaser posters that had already been printed for this project as a new title was crafted for this “Honey, I Shrunk” sequel. Which would now be known as “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.”

Credit: Walt Disney Company

Box Office Troubles for Franchise

The new title didn’t matter. To this day, no one at Disney knows what exactly went wrong here. Whether it was the movie’s title or that decision to take advantage of the tax credit that the State of Nevada was offering and changing the story’s location to Las Vegas … But long story short, “Honey, I Blew Up the Kids” cost almost twice as much as the original “Honey,  I Shrunk” did to shoot and only did 2/3rds of the original film’s ticket sales.

Which then sent the message to Disney film executives that perhaps this was NOT the studio’s next big film franchise. More to the point, that the enormous success of the first “Honey, I Shrunk “ movie may have had more to do with “Tummy Trouble” (the new Roger Rabbit short that had been placed in front of this film when it went out into theaters back in June of 1989) more than audiences falling in love with the antics of Wayne Szalinski.

So the idea of creating any further theatrical releases based on the “Honey, I Shrunk” characters was temporarily tabled as execs at the Mouse House regrouped. Debated about what should happen next with this franchise.

More “Honey, I Shrunk…” in the Disney Theme Parks

Whereas the Imagineers, they had no such qualms when it came to the “Honey, I Shrunk” franchise. They had seen how popular the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: Movie Set Adventure” was with Guests at Disney-MGM Studios. Likewise the Flying Bumble Bee vignette in the Special Effects Workshop of the Backstage Tour at this theme park.

And given that — starting in August of 1993 — accusations had begun to surface about Michael Jackson and some of his younger fans, the thinking at Imagineering (at that time, anyway) was that maybe it was time to start working on a replacement for “Captain EO” (which had first opened at the Parks in the Fall of 1986).

And given that “Captain EO” was being presented in 3D theaters that were located in Future World at EPCOT and in Tomorrowlands at Disney Parks around the globe, the thinking was that a new movie that featured characters from a Disney-produced science-based gimmick comedy would be the perfect replacement for this Michael Jackson movie.

“Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” – Hiring Eric Idle

So production began in earnest in the Fall of 1993 on this new 3D movie. But “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” almost stopped before it even began. Monty Python vet Eric Idle likes to tell the story about how — one afternoon — he walked into a hotel bar in Los Angeles and found actress Marcia Strassman sitting there, nursing a drink. Eric noticed that Marcia looked a little down and asked if he could join her.

Anyway, Idle eventually asked Strassman why she looked so depressed. And Marcia — who played Diane Szalinkski, Wayne’s wife in the “Honey, I Shrunk” film — explained that they were supposed to begin shooting “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” (a new 3D movie for the Disney Parks) that morning. But that — just before shooting was to begin — the actor who was supposed to play Nigel Channing in that film had dropped out. And now the whole project was on hold while Disney scrambled to find a new actor to play the host of that show’s “Inventor of the Year” ceremony.

It was then that Eric Idle supposedly said “Well, I’m not doing anything for the next couple of days. Do you think that Disney would consider me for this part?” And Marcia said “Let’s find out,” and then asked the bartender for the house phone.

And the very next day, Eric Idle is on the set for “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.” As director Randall Kleiser walked this Monty Python vet through this hugely-difficult-to-shoot / FX-filled production. Kleiser — by the way — got this gig because the Imagineers thought that he’d done an amazing job with the direction of that “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.”

And speaking of doing a great job, the Imagineers were so pleased with Eric Idle’s performance as Nigel Channing, the MC of the “Inventor of the Year” Awards that — when it came time to redo the “Journey into Imagination” ride — they reached out to Idle again and asked if he’d be willing to reprise that character. Which he was. So now Eric Idle is an established fixture at Future World … I mean, World Nature.

“Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” – Attractions Around the World

“Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” finally opened at EPCOT in November of 1994. And it proved to be so popular with WDW visitors that Oriental Land Company execs (They’re the folks who operate Tokyo Disneyland & Tokyo DisneySea) insisted that they get a clone of this 3D movie for the Tomorrowland theater at their Disneyland.

Honey, I shrunk the audience Epcot sign
Credit: Flickr Gary Burke

The Tokyo version — which went by the name of “MicroAdventure!” There’s an exclamation point at the end of that attraction’s name, by the way) opened in April of 1997. It was so well received that the original Disneyland Park in Anaheim — which was in the process of designing its second New Tomorrowland (which would open for the Spring of 1998) — said “Hey, we want a clone too.”

So the Anaheim version of “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” opened in May of 1998, going into the exact same theater that Disneyland’s version of “Captain EO” had been screened in. And then — the following year — Disneyland Paris got its own version of “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.” Which opened at that theme park in March of 1999.

Closing for “Captain EO”

All four versions of “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” then screened at theme parks around the globe the next 11 years. Until May of 2010 arrived. Which was when — within one month’s time — all four versions of this 3D attraction shuttered.

Michael Jackson had died back in June of 2009. And since Disney believes firmly in death being the ultimate disinfectant, the Summer of 2010 was deemed to be the perfect time to begin screening “Captain Eo” at the Parks again.

“Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves” & “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show”

In May of 1997 — Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment releases “Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves.” Which was a home premiere extension of that film series which marked Rick Moranis’ last appearance as Wayne Szalinksi.

In September of 1997, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show” debuts in syndication. This hour-long adventure comedy series ran for three season. With Peter Scolari (formerly Tom Hanks’ co-star on “Bosom Buddies”) now playing the role of Wayne Szalinski.  A total of 66 episodes were produced, with the last one airing May 20, 2000.

Next Steps for “Honey, I Shrunk” Film Franchise

On May 13, 2019 , a“Honey, I Shrunk” reboot was announced. To star Josh Gad playing Wayne Szalinski’s son Nick. Josh persuaded Rick Moranis to come out of retirement to play Wayne again & recruited Joe Johnston — the guy who directed the original “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” more than 30 years earlier to come back and direct the sequel.

Joe was done in Atlanta in March of 2020 directing the construction of the sets for “Shrunk.” That’s what this sequel (which will air of Disney+) will be called. Just “Shrunk.” When the pandemic happened. Production suspended.

Good news. “Shrunk” is now back on. Can’t reveal where it’s going to be shot. But Josh & Rick are slated to go before the cameras next year. Can’t wait.

This article is based on research for The Disney Dish Podcast “Episode 375”, published on May 23, 2022. The Disney Dish Podcast is part of the Jim Hill Media Podcast Network.

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