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Of Mice, Men and Magic: The Human Component of “Mickey’s Magic Show”

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The following behind-the-scenes tale comes by way of the generous folks over at Genii Magazine, THE
premier magazine in the field of magic. If you're interested in
learning about the great magicians of the past and/or today's top
conjurors, this is one publication you really want to add to your reading list.

As for the author of today's article … Though Richard Kaufman
is probably best known as the editor & publisher of "Genii,"
Disneyana fans probably know Richard best for the book reviews that he
does for
MousePlanet. Speaking of the Mouse, if you head on over to Kaufman's blog, you can read some very interesting comments about Richard's most recent trip to the Tokyo Disney Resort.

And now … On with the show!

GENII: When did the idea to have real magicians in the show come about?

BRAD: About three years ago, Jim Steinmeyer was already involved at that point. Kenneth Feld,
the producer, said that if they were going to do this type of show,
they wanted real magicians in it as opposed to just the characters. He
wanted the show to be heavily about the magic.

GENII: That's unique-there are no non-Disney characters in the Feld "Disney on Ice" shows, no real people.

BRAD:
There are a lot of "firsts" in this show. One is that there are two
non-Disney characters, me and Alex, who are interacting with the
characters. We are interacting, live, with the pre-recorded vocal tracks
of the characters, all of whom are voiced by the same people who do the
characters' voices in TV and movies. Another first is that the mouths
of the characters move and their eyes blink, giving them a greater
degree of realism.

GENII: The show most resembles "Playhouse Disney," a show performed in both Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando and Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim. It has a live performer who interacts with characters from "Bear in the Big Blue House," "Jo-Jo's Circus," "Stanley," and "The Book of Pooh." It functions the same way technically. How did both of you come to be involved?

BRAD: Steve Daley, who worked as "Tiny Bubbles" in "Showgirls of Magic" at the Hotel San Remo
in Las Vegas, has been a friend of mine for several years-he's a
wonderful guy. He called me in September, 2005 and told me that there
was going to be a tour and they were looking for a young illusionist
between the ages of 18 and 25. He thought I'd be perfect for the part
and asked me to send my information. When I heard from my agent that it
was going to be a Disney show produced by Kenneth Feld, I thought about Siegfried and Roy's show, Barnum & Bailey Circus, and the "Disney on Ice" shows but I had no idea what the scope of this show would be. I had been doing an illusion show at Six Flags Great Adventure
in New Jersey as well as a kid's Halloween show. Kenneth Feld, after
viewing my DVD, came up to New Jersey with the director Jerry Bilik, and
watched my show. And they hired me.

GENII: Alex, wasn't Steve Daley also involved in getting you cast?

ALEX: A few days before Christmas in 2005, I got a call from Tiny — most of his friends call Steve "Tiny" — who I'd met at the World Magic Seminar
in Las Vegas when I won the Lance Burton award. We kept in touch. He
called me and said he had a project that he thought I'd be perfect for:
"The producers are expecting your call tomorrow." The next day I spoke
to an agent, Ron Severini, who was also Brad's agent from Castle Talent.
He said that he wanted me to audition next week-with all my shows at
holiday time I had only one day off. Fortunately we were able to arrange
it for that day. And they hired me, too!

GENII: When did you begin rehearsal?

ALEX:
Most of the cast flew into South Carolina on March 17 [2006]. We went
right into the theater on Saturday and Sunday, doing readings, then went
heavily into rehearsal on Monday.

GENII: The first time I saw the show was at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia in April, so you rehearsed for about a month …

ALEX: We rehearsed for five weeks …

BRAD: Then opened in previews in Columbia, South Carolina, and the show you saw in Virginia was still considered a preview.

GENII: How many weeks of previews did you do?

BRAD: We did four cities, Columbia, Baltimore, Fairfax, and Youngstown, Ohio. Then we opened here in Washington, D.C.

GENII: And these were theatrical venues, theaters, as opposed to arenas where sporting events are held.

BRAD:
Most of the cast prefers working in the genuine theaters, but the
arenas are cool, too, because of the number of people — it plays into
your dreams of performing as a kid.

GENII: When you have a large group like that, it can create a real electricity for the performer to feed off of.

BRAD: The magic and nostalgia of a real theatrical environment is great — there's a certain charm to being in a theater …

GENII: … it's more intimate.

ALEX:
The arena is fun because it reminds you of sporting events and to
perform there is really cool because you see the stands, but it's not
the same feel as when you're in a theater and you see a balcony and
orchestra pit, and you can see the audience's faces.


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

BRAD: What's unique about this is
show is the audience interaction. The kids come up and I do the magic
with them on the edge of the stage, but there's also constant
interaction with the kids in the audience throughout the show. So, when
the houselights do come up we can see the people in the audience and
interact with them directly.

GENII: Tell me about working with Jim Steinmeyer, since he designed all the magic in the show.

ALEX:
Brad's 25, I just turned 21, and to actually be able to spend two weeks
with Jim and pick his brain was unbelievable. We talked to him all
about magic in general and the history of the illusions he put into this
show.

GENII: I assume that some of the routines each of
you do solo, "in one" [in front of the closed curtains during set
changes], are items you were performing prior to being hired for this
show.

BRAD: Right before Alex joined the project, I flew
down to Palmetto where the Feld warehouses are, and I had a meeting with
Jim, as well as Jerry, the director, and many other team members. It
was during that time they asked me what magic I'd like to do in the
show. At that point I was blown away because they asked me. One of the
things I brought up when they told me they were going to hire a second
magician was the idea of a Double Sawing. I always loved the trick, but
we didn't know if Kenneth Feld and Disney would agree to it because of
the saw involved.

GENII: But you don't saw!

BRAD: No, we don't.

GENII: You just insert the blades down in the boxes. Did Jim figure out just to put the blades in without sawing?


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.


BRAD: I think so. When
we found out that Kenneth loved the idea I was thrilled because it's the
perfect illusion for two magicians to do. Throughout the entire process
of working with Jim, and Alex will agree, too, there was never a
feeling of Jim or anyone on the production team dismissing our ideas.
They treated us as if we had as much experience, and our opinions had as
much validity, as the other people involved. That meant a lot to us.

GENII: Alex, I assume you were doing Linking Rings before joining the show.

BRAD: Goofy taught him how to do it!

ALEX:
(laughing) When I met with Brad, Jerry, Jim, and my manager, they all
asked what I was already doing that I might like to do in the new show,
so I felt a lot of freedom there. When we started rehearsals, I wanted
to do the rings, but there were also other things I wanted to do. Jerry,
the director, immediately said he loved the rings and insisted I do
them in the show. I was doing the rings beforehand, but Goofy did not
teach me. It was Mickey.

GENII: The show has changed
through its previews as all shows do, but has the magic remained the
same? Are the same illusions in the show now as in the first rehearsal?

BRAD: The magic is the one thing that has remained solid throughout.

ALEX: We have removed a few things, but nothing major.

BRAD:
There were some transitional pieces removed during the rehearsal
process … more audience interaction pieces. The first time we ran
through the entire show in rehearsal it ran two hours and 45 minutes. So
we had to cut things.

GENII: That's an accepted part of the process-shows always start long and are then tightened.

BRAD:
Alex and I have genuine confidence in the show's production team. So if
Kenneth Feld, or Jerry Bilik, or Jim Steinmeyer say to us that
something isn't working, or it's too long, we've learned to trust them.
They've been doing this for so many years and have learned what is going
to work for an audience. So, when they watch the show as we were
performing for live audiences during previews, they know what's working
and what isn't, and what direction in which to move things to make it
better. The changes have all been for the better.

ALEX:
Most of the changes that have happened have been in the script. Brad and
I got the final script the day before we opened. Brad and I are …

GENII: … quick studies!

ALEX:
We are now! Throughout the final week of rehearsals, we knew that we
didn't have the final script, which was sort of nerve-wracking, but they
had enough faith in us that they felt confident in giving it to us the
day before opening.

BRAD: And then it continued changing every day.

GENII: Have they shifted the order of the illusions in the show?

BRAD:
The sequence of illusions has not, but the order of the acts have
changed in the first half, but not the magic section of the second act.

GENII: Run through the show for me.

BRAD: The shows starts out with me and Alex being introduced to the audience …

ALEX: It's like a warm-up, with a few jokes as people are still being seated.


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

BRAD: I do a silk to cane, then Alex links two
rings together, and I finish that section with a trick called
"Bowl-a-Rama," where I produce a bowling ball. All three of these
effects, which magicians see all the time, get great responses from
laypeople.

GENII: That's because they've never seen them done live.

BRAD: As magicians we can become jaded, but the appearing cane gets an "oooo" from the audience.

ALEX:
Brad was saying, "I don't know about doing that," and I said "It's the
best effect in magic, along with throw streamers. You toss those out and
every single time people go 'Whoa!"

BRAD: And that's what you need at the start. Next the "Magic-ettes" come out …

ALEX:
Our Disney magician's assistants, five female dancers. They sing a song
and welcome the audience and introduce our stars, Mickey and Minnie,
who are soon joined by Donald, Daisy, and Goofy.

BRAD:
Then Mickey introduces the first act, which is "Out of a Hat," performed
by Alice [from Alice in Wonderland] and the Mad Hatter. They go into a
cute number with Alex.

GENII: The large box upon which the hat rests is opened up early on in the number and you can see it's completely empty inside.

ALEX:
Benny, my character, now joins the show and helps Alice and the Mad
Hatter produce Goofy's hat, and lots of flowers and silks from the big
hat. Goofy also joins in as a sort of magician's assistant. And then
Goofy and I produce the White Rabbit from an enormous foulard that has
come out of the hat. Then it's time to go, because of course they're
late!

BRAD: Next Mickey comes out and does his "House of
Cards" illusion. It's a card trick where Mickey displays a fan of jumbo
cards, the audience selects one, and it changes into the Queen of
Hearts. The loud roaring voice of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in
Wonderland is heard and the "Magic-ettes" come out dressed like large
playing cards.

ALEX: Alice returns and is joined by the
Queen of Hearts, and the cards (Magic-ettes) do a dance number and the
cards they're wearing all change into the Queen of Hearts. Then I jump
out wearing a Goofy Joker card and the Queen yells out, "Off with his
head!"


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

BRAD: I come out pushing a "Twister," which is
the Queen's torture device, and Benny/Alex gets put inside. Goofy comes
out and he does the twisting while trying to explain to me and Alice how
to do things, and so he ends up twisting Benny by mistake. After he's
untwisted, we exit.

GENII: There's a complete set change
here and the entire Alice in Wonderland, Queen of Hearts set is struck
and a Sorcerer's Apprentice "set" comes in. The Steinmeyer "Pole
Levitation" is brought out. There's one broom off to the side.

BRAD: Then Mickey attempts to make a single broom rise, but he accidentally levitates Minnie …

ALEX:
And then six brooms begin floating around the stage, taking on a life
of their own as in the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment from Fantasia. It's
an awesome effect and gets "ooos" and "ahs" every show. After Minnie
descends from the "Pole Levitation," she and Mickey exit the stage as
Brad enters and brings up a child helper from the audience.

BRAD: I select one kid from the audience and we perform a do-as-I-do "Paper Hat Tear."

GENII: Is that something which was already in your repertoire before this show?

BRAD:
Yes. Then, in order to get rid of the ripped-up tissue from the kid's
hat, we transform it into a flower botania, which Minnie then takes.

ALEX:
Brad exits, then Minnie and Mickey introduce the next act, The Royal
Palace of Toontown, and the curtains open to reveal a great set with an
empty throne in the middle of the stage. Mickey takes a single rose and
places it on the thrown, then the royal assistants Donald and Goofy come
onstage and cover the thrown with a large curtain. When the curtains
are then parted, Belle from Beauty and the Beast is sitting there. Next I
come out again and, after saying hello to Belle, try to duplicate what
Mickey did (hoping to produce the Beast as a prince) by putting a red
rose on the throne and having Goofy and Donald close the curtain. This
time, when it's opened, out comes Gaston. He interacts with Belle and
they leave. Mickey puts another rose on the thrown, the curtains close
and open, and Snow White is revealed. She sings a song and is
interrupted by me, and I put another rose on the throne to try and
produce Snow White's prince. Unfortunately, since my character Benny is
just learning, he inadvertently produces the Old Hag. She asks Snow
White if she wants any apples …

GENII: And Snow White has a terrific line here: "I won't make that mistake again!" It got a big laugh.

ALEX:
Snow White always gets the largest response in the show. Next, Mickey
takes another rose and places it on the thrown. After the curtains are
closed and reopened, Cinderella appears. However she's in rags rather
than her ball gown, and Mickey, Minnie, and Benny all go off to find her
gown. The Fairy Godmother comes in and changes her rags into a gown
during the Bibbity Bobbity Boo dance. There's also a sing-along with the
kids from the audience who remind the Fairy Godmother of the words to
the song.

BRAD: After the song is over, the Fairy
Godmother and Cinderella notice me in the back, working on a box and I
bring it forward. The Fairy Godmother tells me to go into the audience
and borrow a pair of shoes. I bring up the pair of sneakers which are
then turned into Cinderella's glass slippers in the box. The Fairy
Godmother asks me to find two mice in the audience and, when I reply
that there aren't any, she uses some magic and produces Jaq and Gus.
They wheel on the royal carriage and Cinderella's dress of rags is
turned into a ball gown. Goofy and I take the carriage off stage.

ALEX:
The Fairy Godmother produces Prince Charming from the same throne. Then
the Prince and Cinderella begin to dance, and they're joined by Mickey
and Minnie, then Donald and Daisy, Jaq, Gus, and Goofy. This grand waltz
is the end of the first act.

GENII: And the first act is longer than the second?

BRAD: The first act is 43 minutes long …

ALEX: … and the second act is 35 minutes.

GENII:
From what I can see, the entire audio track for the show is
pre-recorded with the exception of your two voices, and so there can
never be any deviation in the timing.

BRAD: Correct,
except for my audience participation segments or when we're interacting
with the audience. When you have a cooperative kid come up as a
volunteer you can go on for quite a while, and there are other kids that
don't work out as well and so the interaction takes less time.

 
Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

BRAD: The second act opens with me onstage to
warm the audience up and I say that I was hoping to get some pizza. At
that point Benny appears, delivering a pizza. Then I realize that I
ordered a double-cheese pizza and they sent me a double pizza. And I do a
version of the Sucker Die Box with a double-pizza box. It has been a
staple of my kid show for a long time. It was originally in a different
spot in this show, but we decided to put it right after intermission
when the kids had just eaten something. Our prop department built this
in a jumbo version and when Alex and I first saw it, we couldn't imagine
being able to handle it. We literally thought it would be impossible to
do because the prop was so big.

ALEX: But Jim, being the genius that he is, said, "It looked really good when you were fumbling, why don't you try it this way."

BRAD: It worked well in rehearsal and when we finally brought the kids in, they just went nuts over it.

ALEX:
After the pizza trick is over and Brad finds the vanished pizza hanging
on his back, the Magic-ettes come out and re-introduce Mickey and
Minnie to actually begin the act. All throughout the show, as a running
gag, Donald Duck has been aching to do his own special trick and now the
time arrives. Donald enters to do his trick and, while he's not
looking, the Magic-ettes and Daisy wheel on the "Colossal Cannon." They
explain to Donald that he's going to be shot out of the cannon and his
reaction is, naturally, "I don't think so." He runs off the stage. They
look around for someone to shoot out of the cannon when Benny runs
onstage, and he's more than happy to volunteer to be shot out of the
cannon. They try to stuff me in the cannon, but I'm too big, so they
wheel on a giant roller box called "Mickey's Magical Mashing Machine." I
get put inside, then they roll me out in a flat version and they put
the flat version of Benny into the cannon.

BRAD: At that
point they wheel the cannon into position to fire Benny into the back of
the theater, then Minnie explains that it could get messy so Mickey
brings on the magical target. The cannon shoots Benny across the stage
and he emerges from the target a little worse for wear. Benny and the
cannon leave the stage and we transition into the magical land of
Aladdin. We take the audience on a trip to Agrabah, with a new set, with
Mickey and Minnie, then Goofy appears as the genie and shows Mickey how
to use the magic carpet. The carpet dances around and Goofy chases it
offstage, followed by a huge crashing sound. Then Goofy reappears on
stage when they want to create Princess Jasmine by rubbing the lamp.
Princess Jasmine appears as the curtains part and reveal her sitting on
her couch. Jasmine is surprised that Aladdin isn't around, so Mickey and
Minnie introduce me. I come out and Jasmine gives me the once over.
Mickey then introduces the "best illusion of all," which is our
levitation.

GENII: It's great that Jim convinced them to leave it alone and let it be what it is-black background, stars.

BRAD:
The music went through changes-originally it was an all-male a cappella
group and it was very slow. Now it works better and leaves the audience
wanting more. So Jasmine floats up, then down, and I pass the hoop over
her. Then she floats up again to about nine or 10 feet-and so do I,
which is a bit shock to the audience.

GENII: At that moment, I looked at the laymen and it seemed that, in that instant, they really felt they were watching a magic show.

ALEX:
That's the beauty of this presentation. The first act is really a
Disney show, while the second act is more the "Magic" show. A lot of
adults aren't expecting that and the second act really brings them into
it.

BRAD: Jim, Alex, and I talked a lot about how the
first act is a magic show within a show, whereas the second act is a
pure magic show and the kick-off is the levitation. In one of the early
previews in Columbia, Jim sat behind a father and daughter in the
balcony. During the first part of the show, the father just sort of
nodded to agree with the daughter's enthusiastic remarks, but when the
levitation took place, and when I floated up after Jasmine, the father
shook his head and said, "Wow." At that moment Jim knew it was perfect.

GENII: I wish there were more moments like that in the show.

BRAD:
We do as well. Feld shows are always 100 percent about the audience,
and as time goes on and they start testing the audiences, I wouldn't be
surprise if things are added or changed.

ALEX: This show
is always a work in progress. Now, after the levitation, Mickey and
Minnie congratulate Brad, officially complimenting him in front of the
audience, then he takes Jasmine back to Agrabah.


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

BRAD: Now Benny comes back on. He's still trying
to unlink the same two rings-this is a running gag throughout the
show-and Mickey and Minnie give him a pep talk because they want to see
him succeed as well. This is where the story line comes together, with
Mickey and Minnie approving of both of us.

ALEX: As Brad
mentioned, at the beginning of the show I link the two rings, but have
been unable to unlink them since. Mickey tells me to believe in myself
and I'll be able to do it. In the polls they've taken after the show,
parents have remarked a lot about this particular message because it's
so positive. So, Benny says he'll continue to practice and I leave.

BRAD:
Mickey and Minnie then turn the show over to me and we do two illusions
from my existing repertoire from Six Flags. There's an audience
participation spot involving a "Substitution Trunk" with one of the
Magic-ettes who switches places with me. Then I introduce our "Air
Memory Box," where we save up the air from each city we go to, then the
air turns into smoke and the smoke turns into Benny.

ALEX:
After I emerge from the smoke chamber, the audience can still see me
fussing with the two linked rings and Brad asks me how it's going. I
say, "I thing I've finally go it," and Brad gives me a bit of
encouragement and I go into my Linking Ring routine with six rings —
something from my existing repertoire. After I've linked all the rings,
Mickey joins me on stage and I do the "lean."

GENII: Was your performance of the Linking Rings directed by Jerry Bilik?

ALEX: Not at all. They gave us lots of freedom and told us that they hired us because we already did these things well.

BRAD:
One of the things that's given us the most pride in the show is the way
they've always come back to me and Alex, as magicians, and consulted us
about costume, music, and choreography to make the magic the most
effective it can be.

GENII: After the Linking Rings …

BRAD: Mickey and I come back on stage and congratulate Benny on all of his hard work that finally paid off.

GENII: And now you're equals: both qualified magicians. Benny has graduated from being a bumbler to a success.

ALEX:
Brad and I both say that we want to show our favorite illusion and
Mickey suggests that we perform it together, and out comes the Double
Sawing. Mickey exits, our assistants come out, and we perform the
routine: two thin model sawings. Each of our assistants is wearing a
different color outfit and, after they're cut in half, we switch the
lower portions of the boxes. When they're restored and come out of the
boxes, the lower half of their outfits are switched as well.

BRAD: This gets a huge reaction from the audience.

GENII: The kids all think it's very funny.

BRAD:
After the Double Sawing, Mickey comes back onstage and gives us his
seal of approval on everything, but we still can't find Donald Duck
because he's been missing since he ran offstage during his cannon
illusion. Since we need someone to do "Donald's Special Disappearing
Duck Illusion" and he's not around, I go into the cage — a "Lion's
Bride" illusion. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Benny, and Daisy cover the cage
and, when the cloth is removed, I've vanished and Donald has taken my
place. Then all of a sudden I go missing on stage and Mickey asks,
"Where's Brad?" I turn around dressed as Benny, and Benny then appears
in the audience.


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.


ALEX: Brad
says to Mickey, "What do you have to say?" And Mickey says, "Let's make
some magic" and we do a double Silk Fountain, then we do a small
Snowstorm and go into the finale which brings everybody back onto the
stage with singing and dancing. Small fireworks go off and confetti
shoots out.

GENII: And the kids love it. My daughter saw
the show twice and would like to see it again-which is, I'm sure,
exactly what Kenneth Feld had in mind.

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Film & Movies

Park’s Closed: “Vacation ’58” Inspired by Seasonal Closing at Disneyland

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This year is the 30th anniversary of the release of National Lampoon’s “Vacation.” Warner Bros. released this Harold Ramis movie to theaters back in July of 1983.

John Hughes adapted his own short story (i.e., “Vacation ’58,” which had run in “National Lampoon” magazine less than four years earlier. The September 1979 issue, to be exact) to the screen.

Key difference between “Vacation ‘58” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation” is that the movie follows the Griswold family on their epic journey to Walley World. Whereas the short story that Hughes wrote (i.e., “Vacation ‘58”) follows an unnamed family to a different theme park. The actual Disneyland in Anaheim.

Let me remove any doubt here. Here’s the actual opening line to John Hughes’ “Vacation ’58.”

If Dad hadn’t shot Walt Disney in the leg, it would have been our best vacation ever.

What’s kind of intriguing about the plot complication that sets Act 3 of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” in motion (i.e., that – just as the Grisworld arrive at Walley World [after a harrowing cross-country journey] – they discover that “America’s favorite family fun park” is closed for two weeks for cleaning and to make repairs) is that … Well, it’s based on something that Hughes learned about the real Disneyland. That – from 1958 through 1985 [a total of 27 years] the Happiest Place on Earth used to close two days a week during the slower times of year. To be specific, Mondays & Tuesday in the Fall & early Winter as well as in the late Winter / early Spring.

Want to stress here: Two days a week versus the two weeks each year in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

Sorry folks. Park’s closed. Moose out front shoulda told ya.

When Did Disneyland Start Opening 7-Days a Week?

It wasn’t ‘til February 6, 1985 that Disneyland Park formally switched to being a seven-day-a-week operation. This was just four months after Michael Eisner had become Disney’s new CEO. And part of his effort to get as much profit as possible out of Disney’s theme parks.

Which is a trifle ironic. Given that – back in December of 1958 – Disneyland deliberately switched over to an open-five-days-a-week-during-the-off-season schedule in an effort to get Anaheim’s operating costs under control. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Early Disneyland Operations – Ticket Books and Ticket Booths

So let’s start with the obvious: When Disneyland Park first opened in July of 1955, there had never been one of these before. So the Happiest Place on Earth was a learn-as-you-go operation.

So things that are now closely associated with a visit to Disneyland back in the day (EX: Having to purchase a book of tickets before you entered that theme park. Which then pushed Guests to go seek out various A, B, C & D Ticket attractions around the grounds) … Well, that form of admission media didn’t come online ‘til October 11, 1955. Some three months after Disneyland Park first open.

Prior to this, if you wanted to go on a ride at Disneyland, you had to first get on line at one of the Park’s omni-present ticket booth. Once you got to the front of that line, you then had to open your wallet and purchase enough tickets for your entire family to enjoy that attraction. Only then could you go over to the actual attraction and get in line for that experience. Where – just before boarding that ride – you then surrendered that ticket.

Disney Parks Getting Too Expensive

Interesting side note: It’s now an established part of the on-going Disney theme park narrative that “Going to the Parks has just gotten to be too expensive and/or complicated,” what with the institution of Lightning Lane and then forcing people to use virtual queues if they want to experience newer attractions at the Parks like “Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind” at Epcot or “Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway” out in Anaheim.

Walt Fixes “Expensive” Impression

What fascinates me about the parallels here is that … When Walt began to see the same thing bubble up in press coverage for his new family fun park (i.e., All of those Summer-of-1955 stories in newspapers & magazines about how expensive it was to visit Disneyland. How – whenever a Guest visited this place – they were constantly being forced to repeatedly open their wallet), his immediate reaction was “We need to fix this now. I don’t want people coming away from their visit to Disneyland with this impression.” And by October 11, 1955 (less than 3 months after Disneyland Park first opened), they had a fix in place.

Lightning Lane – Raising Prices

Counter this with Lightning Lane. Which was first introduced at Walt Disney World in October of 2021. Which has gotten miserable press since Day One (and is a large part of people’s growing perception that it’s just gotten too expensive to take their family on vacation to WDW). Disney Corporate knows about this (hence the number of times questions about this perception has bubbled up in recent surveys that Resort has sent out).

And what does the Company do with this info? During the 2022 holiday season, Disney Parks actually raised the prices on individual Lightning Lanes for popular attractions like “Rise of the Resistance” to $22 a person.

Conclusion: Disney knows about all the bad press the Resort is getting lately but doesn’t care. They like all of the short-term money that Lightning Lane is pulling in right now and are deliberately overlooking all of the long-term implications of the narrative getting out there that going to WDW is getting too expensive.

“Spend Dollars to Get People Back” – Disney Cutting Corners on Projects

Which reminds me of something Walt once said when an Imagineer suggested that the Company could save a few bucks by cutting corners on a particular project: “If people ever stop coming to the Park because they think we cut corners on a project, the few cents we saved ultimately aren’t going to matter. We’re then going to have to spend dollars to get those people back.”

That’s what worries me about Disney’s current situation. What’s the Company ultimately going to have to do convince those people who now think that a trip to WDW has just gotten too expensive for the family to come back.

Disneyland Parking Closing on Mondays & Tuesdays

Back to Disneyland Park closing on Mondays & Tuesdays during the off-season … When did this practice start? Let me share something that I just found in the 1958 edition of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. This document (which was published on December 23, 1958) states that:

While the gross income of Disneyland was greater this year than in any prior year, the operating expenses for this family fun park were likewise up substantially primarily to two factors.
(1) Operating a seven-day week throughout the 1957 – 1958 week against a six-day week the year before.

(2) Increased costs due to rising salaries and the
inauguration of a 40-hour week. This resulted in lower net profits compared to the prior year.

So – reading between the lines here – in Disneyland’s second year of operation (July 1956 – June 1957), the folks down in Anaheim experimented with keeping Walt’s family fun park open six days a week during the slower times of the year. Which – I’m told – resulted in all sort of angry people at the entrance of Disneyland’s parking lot. Who had to drive down to Anaheim for the day to experience the Happiest Place on Earth only to find said place closed.

Okay. So for Disneyland’s third year of operation (July 1957 – June 1958) on Walt’s orders, Disneyland is then kept open seven days a week all year long. Which proves to be a problem on the off-season, given that there are days in the late Fall / early Spring when there are more Cast Members working in the Park than there are Guests coming through the turnstiles.

Which explains this line in the 1958 version of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. Which – again – I remind you was published on December 23rd of that year:

This current year, we are operating the park during the winter months on a five-day schedule with resulting savings in operating costs and in the hope that a full week’s business can be compressed within the five days.

So did this change in the way that Disneyland Park ultimately operated off-season ultimately work out? Let’s jump ahead to the 1959 version of Walt Disney Productions’ annual report. In that document (which was also published on December 23rd of that year) states that:

Again this year, as in each year since Disneyland Park first opened in 1955, new records were set for total attendance and per capita spending of park visitors.
The change to a five-day operating week during the 1958 – 1959 winter season from the seven-day schedule in effect the previous year has worked out very well. Reduced operating hours helped to control operating costs in the face of increased wage rates and other rising costs.

Making it Right for the Disneyland Hotel

Okay. So this change in the way that Disneyland Park operated during the off-season made things easier for Walt and Disney’s book-keepers back in Burbank. But what about Jack Wrather, the guy that Walt went to back in the Late Winter / Early Spring of 1955 and begged & pleaded for Wrather to build a hotel right next to Disneyland Park?

What happened to the Disneyland Hotel in late 1958 / early 1959 when – in the off-season – Disneyland Park goes to just a five-day-a-week operating schedule? At this point, the Disneyland Hotel is the largest hotel in all of Orange County with over 300 rooms.

It’s at this point that Walt personally reaches out to Jack and says “I know, I know. This operational change at the Park is going to affect your bottom line at the Hotel. Don’t fret. I’m definitely going to make this worth your while.”

Extending the Monorail to the Disneyland Hotel

And Walt followed through on that promise. In June of 1961, he extended Disneyland’s monorail system by a full 2 & a half miles so that this futuristic transportation system rolled right up to the Disneyland Hotel’s front door. Which was a perk that no other hotel in Orange County had.

And just in case you’re wondering: The cost of extending Disneyland’s monorail system over to the Disneyland Hotel was $1.9 million (That’s $19 million in 2023 money).

Credit: Ultraswank.net

Magic Kingdom Golf Course at Disneyland Hotel

That very same year, Walt had some of his staff artists design a miniature golf course that could then be built on the grounds of the Disneyland Hotel. This kid-friendly area (called the Magic Kingdom Golf Course) featured elaborately themed holes with recreations of attractions that could be found right next door at Disneyland Park.

  • Hole No. Three was Sleeping Beauty Castle
  • Hole No. Five was Matterhorn Mountain

Other holes featured recreations of popular Disneyland attractions of the 1960s. Among them the TWA Moonliner, the Submarine Voyage, the Painted Desert from Frontierland (this is the area Guests traveled through when they experienced Disneyland”s “Mine Train thru Nature’s Wonderland” attraction), Tom Sawyer Island, the Fort in Frontierland, not to mention Skull Rock as well as Monstro the Whale from Disneyland’s Fantasyland.

This area was specially illuminated for night-time play. Which meant that the Magic Kingdom Golf Course at the Disneyland Hotel could operate from 10 a.m. in the morning ‘til 10 p.m. a night seven days a week.

Additional Disneyland Hotel Expansion and Offerings

It’s worth noting here that – from the moment the monorail was connected to The Disneyland Hotel – that hotel achieved 100% occupancy. Which is why – even after Disneyland Park switched to a 5-day-a-week operating schedule during the off-season – Disneyland Hotel launched into an aggressive expansion plan. With its 11 story-tall Sierra Tower breaking ground in 1961 (it opened the following year in September of 1962). Not to mention adding all sort of restaurants & shops to the area surrounding that hotel’s Olympic-sized pool.

All of which came in handy during those Mondays & Tuesdays during the Winter Months when people were staying at the Disneyland Hotel and had nowhere to go on those days when the Happiest Place on Earth was closed.

It’s worth noting here that the Disneyland Hotel (with Walt’s permission, by the way) on those days when Disneyland was closed would offer its Guests the opportunity to visit Knott’s Berry Farm as well as Universal Studios Hollywood. A Gray Line Bus would pull up in front of that hotel several times a day offering round-trip transportation to both of those Southern California attractions.

Likewise the Japanese Village and Deer Park over Buena Park. It was a different time. Back when Disney prided itself in being a good neighbor. Back when the Mouse didn’t have to have ALL of the money when it came to the Southern California tourism market. When there was plenty to go around for everyone.

Walley World Shooting Locations

And back to “National Lampoon’s Vacation”… The Walley World stuff was all shot at two Southern California attractions.

The scenes set in the parking lot at Walley World as well as at the entrance of that fictious theme park were shot in the parking lot & entrance of Santa Anita Race Track (Horse Track).

Any scene that’s supposed to be inside of the actual Walley World theme park was shot at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

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Film & Movies

“Build It” – How the Swiss Family Treehouse Ended up in Disneyland

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Things get built at the Disney Theme Parks – but not always for the reasons that you might think.

Case in point: The Swiss Family Treehouse, which first opened at Disneyland Park back in November of 1962.

Swiss Family Robinson – 1960 Disney Film

Back then, Walt Disney Studios just had a hit film that was based on Johann David Wyss’ famous adventure novel of 1812. And at that time, Walt was justly proud of this project.

Out ahead of the release of this Ken Annakin film (Walt’s go-to director in the 1950s), Walt talked up this project in the Company’s annual report for 1959, saying that Swiss Family Robinson is …

… photographed on the island of Tobago in the West Indies and that it is shaping up into such an exciting and thrilling picture that the ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ shows every promise of equaling or surpassing every production our Company has ever put out.

Okay. Walt may have been overselling things a little here.

But when Disney’s version of Swiss Family Robinson finally arrived in theaters in December of 1960, it did quite well at the box office. It was No. 4 at the box office that year, behind “Spartacus,” “Psycho,” and “Exodus.”

And one of the main reasons that this Walt Disney Productions release did so well at the box office that year was … Well, Swiss Family Robinson looked great.

It had all of this lush shot-on-location footage (Though – to be fair here – I guess we should mention that this movie’s interiors were shot over in London at Pinewood Studios). One of the sequences from this Disney film that people most fondly remember is that montage where the Robinsons salvage what they can of their wrecked ship, the Swallow, and then use that same material to construct this amazing treehouse on an uninhabited island off the shore of New Guinea.

The Swiss Family. Robinson Tree was Real

By the way, the tree that appears in this Disney film is real. John Howell – who was the art director on “Swiss Family Robinson” – was out scouting locations for this movie in 1958. He had stopped work for the day and drinking with friends at a cricket match. When – out of the corner of his eye (through a gap in the fence that surrounded this cricket pitch) – John spied this beautiful Samaan tree with a huge 200 foot-wide canopy of leaves.

It’s still there, by the way. If you ever want to journey to the town of Goldsborough on the Caribbean island of Tobago.

Success at the Movies – Helping Disneyland Attendance

Anyway … Like I said, Disney’s movie version of Swiss Family Robinson comes out in December of 1960 and does quite well at the box office (Fourth highest grossing film of the year domestically).  Walt keenly remembers what happened when he last built an attraction at Disneyland that was based on a Ken Annakin film (Matterhorn Bobsleds inspired by Third Man on the Mountain). 1959 was Disneyland’s greatest year attendance-wise. Largely because so many people came out to the Park that Summer to experience Disneyland’s heavily hyped brand-new attractions – which included the Matterhorn Bobsleds.

The Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland

The Matterhorn at Disneyland was largely inspired by research that the Studio did in Zermatt, Switzerland in late 1957 / early 1958 out ahead of the location shooting that was done for Third Man on the Mountain – which officially got underway in June of 1958).

There’s a famous story about the origin of the Matterhorn-at-Disneyland project. Walt was over in Switzerland for the start of shooting on Third Man on the Mountain in 1958 and evidently really liked what he saw. So be bought a postcard of the actual Matterhorn and then mailed it to Dick Irvine (who – at that time – was the Company’s lead Imagineer). Beyond Dick’s address at WDI, Walt reportedly only wrote two words on this postcard.

And those words supposedly were “Build this.”

It’s now the Spring of 1961 and attendance at Disneyland Park has actually fallen off from the previous year by 200,000 people. (You can read all about this in Walt Disney Productions’ annual report for 1961. Which was published on December 14th of that year. There’s a full scan of that annual report over on DisneyDocs.net). And Walt now wants to turn that attendance deficit around.

So what spurred Disneyland’s attendance surge in the Summer of 1959 was Walt pumping $6 million into the place for the construction of new attractions (Matterhorn Bobsleds, Submarine Voyage, & Monorail). So that’s now the plan for 1962 & 1963. Only this time around, it’ll be $7 million worth of new attractions. More to the point, since Disneyland’s 1959 expansion project was largely focused on Tomorrowland … This time around, the work will largely be focused on the other side of the Park. To be specific, Frontierland & Adventureland.

Adventureland Upgrades

Attendance had been dropping on the Jungle River Cruise attraction because it was largely unchanged from when Disneyland Park first opened back in July of 1955.

There’s a famous story of Walt observing a Mom pulling her kid away from the entrance of the “Jungle Cruise.” Saying words to the effect “We’ve already seen that ride. We went on it the last time we went to Disneyland.” This is what then inspired Disney to develop the practice of plussing the attractions at his theme parks.

This was what led Walt to bring Marc Davis over to WED from Feature Animation in October of 1960 and effectively say “Help me make Disneyland better. Let’s look for ways to make the rides there funnier. Better staged.” This is when Marc came up with the idea for the Sacred Elephant Bathing Pool and the Africa Veldt sequences for “The Jungle Cruise.” Not to mention the Trapped Safari.

How the Trapped Safari Vignette Ended Up in “The Jungle Cruise”

Interesting story about that vignette that Marc created for “The Jungle Cruise.” It originally wasn’t supposed to be part of that ride. Guests were supposed to see it alongside the side of the tracks as they rode the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad from Main Street Station over to Frontierland. The Trapped Safari was basically supposed to be something that made Guests think “Ooh, I need to get over to Adventureland while I’m here at the Park and go check out that new, improved version of the Jungle River Cruise that everyone’s talking about.”

That was the original plan, anyway. But as soon as Walt saw Marc’s art for the Trapped Safari, he basically said “That’s too good a gag to waste on the people who are riding Disneyland’s train. That’s gotta go inside of the actual Jungle Cruise.” So – at Walt’s insistence – the Trapped Safari then became the tag gag for the African Veldt section of that Adventureland attraction.

In fact, Walt so loved this gag that – after the Africa Veldt section first opened at Disneyland Park in June of 1964 – he actually made the Imagineers go back in this portion of that Adventureland attraction and restage it. Build up the cave that was behind that pride of lions which was watching over that sleeping zebra so that the Trapped Safari would then have a stronger reveal. Would get a bigger reaction / stronger laugh largely because Guests now wouldn’t see the Trapped Safari until they then floated by the lion’s cave.

Draining Jungle River Cruise and Rivers of America

Anyway … Now what made this redo / expansion of the Jungle River Cruise complicated is that this Adventureland attraction shared a water system with the Rivers of America (Guests who were headed to Disneyland’s old Chicken Plantation Restaurant for lunch or dinner used to have to walk over a bridge in Frontierland. Under which flowed the water that traveled from the Jungle River Cruise into the Rivers of America).

If the Jungle Cruise was being drained for months so that the Imagineers could then install the Sacred Elephant Bathing Pool sequence in that Adventureland attraction, that meant the Rivers of America had to be drained as well.

Drained Jungle Cruise – Credit: imgur.com

The Rivers of America were now going to be dry for months at a time from January of 1962 through June of that same year, this is when the Imagineers decided to tackle two projects that were well below Disneyland’s waterline – which was digging out the basement space in New Orleans Square (which was originally supposed to house the walk-thru tour version of “Pirates of the Caribbean”) as well as carving out that below-grade space over at the Haunted Mansion. Which was going to be necessary for the two elevators that would then make that attraction’s “stretching room” scenes possible.

While this work was being done along the shore of the Rivers of America, over towards the entrance of Adventureland, the Imagineers were reconfiguring that restaurant that faced out towards Disneyland’s Hub. They were using the temporary closure of the Jungle Cruise to revamp that operation. Carving out the space for the Tahitian Terrace as well as the Enchanted Tiki Room.

As you can see by all of the projects that I’ve just described – this was a hugely complex addition to the Parks with lots of moving parts.

This redo of Adventureland & Frontierland (which then set the stage for Disneyland’s New Orleans Square) was moving through its final design phase – the Imagineers were startled when Walt pointed to the very center of this incredibly ambitious $7 million construction project (the very spot where Adventureland bumped up against Frontierland) and said:

“Here. This is where I want you guys to build Disneyland’s version of the Swiss Family Treehouse.”

“Build It” – Swiss Family Treehouse in Disneyland

It wasn’t that easy.

The Imagineers explained “But Walt. That’s the piece of land that the pipe which connects the Jungle Cruise and the Rivers of America runs through. We’d have to rip that up and then reroute that water system.”

Walt said “I don’t care. Build it.”

The Imagineers then said “But Walt. If we built a Swiss Family Treehouse in the Park … Well, that then means a steep set of stairs first going up into that tree and then a second steep set of stairs coming down out of that tree. People aren’t going to like doing all of that climbing.”

Walt said “You’re wrong. Build it.”

Imagineers continued “An attraction like that’s only going to appeal to kids. And we’ve already got Tom Sawyer Island across the way.”

Walt “ Again, you’re wrong. Build it.

So that’s what the Imagineers did. Not happily, I might add. Because the concrete foundation that supported this six ton structure had to go down some 42 feet … Well, that totally screwed up the water system that previously connected Disneyland’s Jungle River Cruise to the Rivers of America.

Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse Construction (1962) – Credit: thedisneyblog.com

And as for those steep sets of stairs … While work was underway on this 70-foot-tall faux tree, Walt persuaded Betty Taylor (who was playing Sue Foot Sue over at the Golden Horseshoe at that time) to come over to the Swiss Family Treehouse construction site one afternoon. Betty was wearing a dress and high heels at the time. But she & Walt put on hard hats. And then the two of them made multiple trips up & down the stairs that had already been installed in & around Disneyland’s Swiss Family Treehouse. Just so Walt could then be certain that this attraction’s stairways weren’t too steep. More importantly, that they’d also be safe for ladies who were wearing skirts & dressed in heels to use.

The Opening of Swiss Family Treehouse at Disneyland

This 70-foot-tall faux tree (with its 80 foot-wide canopy of 300,000 pink plastic leaves) opened just in time for Thanksgiving of 1962. John Mills (the male lead of Disney’s “Swiss Family Robinson” film) was on hand for the dedication of this Adventureland attraction. FYI: He brought along his daughter, Halley (As in Halley Mills, the star of Disney’s “Pollyana” and “The Parent Trap”).

There’s this great 3-minutes-and-41-second video over on YouTube that shows Walt leading the Mills family (John, Halley & Mary Mills, John’s wife) around Disneyland’s Swiss Family Treehouse in the Fall of 1962. You can see Disney proudly showing off the elaborate water wheel system at the heart of this Adventureland attraction, which send 200 gallons of water high up into that faux tree.

How Much Did it Cost to Build the Swiss Family Treehouse at Disneyland?

Disneyland spent $254,900 on the construction of that theme park’s version of Swiss Family Treehouse. Which the Imagineers (back then, anyway) felt was money wasted. Because no one was ever going to climb up the 68 steps that then led to the three rooms in this Adventureland attraction (The parents bedroom, the boys bedroom [up in the crow’s next] and then the common area / kitchen / dining room) and then the 69 steps back down to the ground.

This is where the Imagineers were wrong.

Don’t Bet Against Walt – Success of Swiss Family Treehouse

Swiss Family Treehouse quickly became one of the more popular attractions in the Park. Back then, this Adventureland attraction was a C Ticket (35 cents apiece). And since it only took three Disneyland employees to safely staff & operate the Treehouse (i.e., one person to take tickets at the entrance, a second staffer patrolling upstairs in the tree to make sure the Guests were behaving themselves / not touching the props, and then a third Cast Member down by the exit making sure that Guests aren’t sneaking up the back stairs to experience the Swiss Family Treehouse without first surrendering a C Ticket), it also became one of the more profitable attractions in the Park.

200 people up in the tree at any one time. 1200 people an hour. Killer views of New Orleans Square construction / the Jungle Cruise ride just below.

Oh, and that only appeal to kids thing? Out of every four Guests who came through the turnstile / surrounded that 35 cent C ticket, only one was a kid under 10. The other three were adults.

To be specific here:  Once construction of Disneyland’s Swiss Family Treehouse was complete in the Fall of 1962, it only cost $21,000 to staff & operate annually. An additional $16,000 to maintain each year. In 1965, this Adventureland Attraction – even after taking those costs into consideration – still managed to turn a profit of $313,000.

Long story short: It was never a smart thing to bet against Walt. At least when it came to how popular an attraction would be with Guests (The Mickey Mouse Club Circus fiasco of the holiday season of 1955 being the exception, of course).

Ken Annakin – Film Director

Disney Legend Ken Annakin – Credit: D23

Sadly, the Imagineers weren’t able to base any other theme park attractions on Ken Annakin movies. “Swiss Family Robinson” was the very last film that he directed for Disney Studios.

Annakin went on to direct several very popular family films in the 1960s & 1970s, among them “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines” and “The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking.” And the Walt Disney Company went out of its way to recognize Ken’s contribution to the overall success of Disney Studio & the Company’s theme parks by naming him a Disney Legend in 2002.

Sadly, Ken passed away at his home in Beverly Hills back in April of 2009 at the ripe old age of 94. Worth noting here that – in the late 1960s / early 1970s – when Walt Disney Animation Studios was fumbling around for an idea for a project to tackle after “The Aristocats” (That was the last animated feature that Walt Disney personally put into production / greenlit) – someone asks that classic question “What would Walt do?”

And in this case, the thinking was … Walt really liked those live-action movies that Ken Annakin directed for the Studio. Maybe we should look at those. So they then screened the very first movie that Ken directed for Disney, which was “The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men” from 1952. And since people in Feature Animation thought that that was a pretty solid story … Well, that’s how we wound up with Disney’s animated version of “Robin Hood” in November of 1973.

New Robin Hood on Disney+?

Back in April of 2020, Disney announced that it was working on a CG version of Disney’s 1973 hand-drawn version of “Robin Hood.” Which is eventually supposed to show up on Disney+. Carlos Lopez Estrada had been signed to helm this film. Kari Granlund was writing the screenplay for this “Robin Hood” reboot. An  Justin Springer, who helped get “Tron: Legacy” off the ground back in 2010, would be producing.

So the Ken Annakin corona effect lives on at Disney.

So does Disneyland’s Swiss Family Treehouse. Which – after being renamed / rethemed as the Tarzan Treehouse in June of 1999 – will revert to being the Adventureland Treehouse later this year. With a loose retheming that then allows this Disneyland attraction to become home to characters from Disney’s “Swiss Family Robinson,” “Tarzan,” and “Encanto.”

This article is based on research for The Disney Dish Podcast “Episode 412”, published on January 30, 2023. The Disney Dish Podcast is part of the Jim Hill Media Podcast Network.

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Theme Parks & Themed Entertainment

The Road to Cars Land – Part One

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It’s the early 2000s. Things are starting to get spikey between Michael Eisner and Steve Jobs in regards to Pixar Animation Studios.

These two titans of industry are trying to hammer out a third extension of that animation studio’s production & distribution deal with the Mouse House. Their original three picture deal had been signed back in March of 1991, and then – following the enormous success of “Toy Story” in November of 1995 – was then been renegotiated & turned into a 5-picture co-production deal in February of 1997.

As far as Steve Jobs was concerned, Pixar was now within inches of meeting its contractual obligation to Disney. Which meant that was now time for these two studios to hammer out a new deal. One that would be far more lucrative for Pixar. After all, the folks up in Emeryville (They’d only just moved from Pixar’s original studio set-up in Port Richmond over to Emeryville in 2000) had already delivered six films for Disney to distribute:

  • “Toy Story” (1995)
  • “A Bug’s Life” (1998)
  • “Toy Story 2” (1999)
  • “Monsters, Inc. (2001)
  • “Finding Nemo” (2003)
  • “The Incredibles” (2004)

“Toy Story” & “Toy Story 2” Don’t Count – Pixar’s Original Film Obligation to Disney

Not so fast, says Disney’s lawyers. “Toy Story” was produced outside of that 5 picture co-production deal that was signed back in February in 1997. So it then couldn’t be counted as one of the five films that Pixar was contractually obligated to deliver to Disney.

More to the point, because “Toy Story 2” was a sequel to the original “Toy Story” movie from 1995 (and was originally supposed to be a Disney Home Premiere, rather than a theatrical release. Disney only decided that “Toy Story 2” would be released to theaters a year or so out from completion of that production. Which caused an awful lot of angst up in Emeryville) … Well, that film also couldn’t be counted towards those 5 co-productions that Pixar was now contractually obligated to deliver to Disney.

Which made Steve Jobs furious.

Credit: Gitlab

Steve Jobs had every right to be angry – given how many movie tickets had been sold to “Toy Story” & “Toy Story 2” (the first film in this series earned $244 million at the worldwide box office. While the second film in this series effectively doubled the first “Toy Story” ‘s box office take, pulling in $487 million at the worldwide box office), it just made Jobs crazy that a film franchise which had already pull in three quarters of a billion dollars at the worldwide box office didn’t count towards Pixar’s 5 picture co-production deal. Never mind the hundreds of millions of merchandising-related dollars that Disney had also pulled in from the sales of “Toy Story” -related toys.

Anyway … As far as Disney was concerned, factoring in the whole the-first-“Toy-Story”-doesn’t-count-towards-that-five-picture-deal-because-it-was-produced-before-this-co-production-deal-was-signed and “Toy-Story-2”-doesn’t-count-towards-that-five-picture-co-production-deal-either-because-it’s-a-sequel-to-the-original-“Toy-Story” thing … Well, Disney’s lawyers insisted that – to date – Pixar had only delivered four of the five movies it was under contract to deliver to the Mouse House.

  • “A Bug’s Life” (1998)
  • “Monsters, Inc. (2001)
  • “Finding Nemo” (2003)
  • “The Incredibles” (2004)

Early Talks of “Toy Story 3” – Will It Count ?!

Now where this gets interesting is that – in the middle of this negotiation in the early 2000s – Pixar actually approached Disney with an idea for “Toy Story 3.” Which they then wanted to produce as the fifth and final film Pixar was contractually obligated to deliver to Disney as part of that co-production deal they’d signed with the Mouse House back in February of 1997.

Now remember that the first two “Toy Story” movies had already earned three quarters of a billion at the worldwide box office. So it was a gimme that a third “Toy Story” film would sell lots & lots of movie tickets as well. Not to mention all of the fees that Disney would collect from toy manufacturers for those officially licensed “Toy Story” toys.

And – just in case you’re wondering – Disney wasn’t wrong. When “Toy Story 3” was finally released to theaters in June of 2010, it would go on to earn over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office all by itself. Never mind about all of the officially licensed toy money.

But here’s the thing: Pixar will only make “Toy Story 3” IF Disney agrees that this sequel then counts as the fifth and final film that this Emeryville-based operation is still under contract to deliver to the Mouse House. And Michael Eisner – when he hears about this – digs in his heels and says “You know that’s not the deal. Sequels don’t count towards your 5-picture contractual obligation to us. If you opt to produce ‘Toy Story 3,’ you’re still going to need to deliver another movie to Disney after that in order to honor the terms of that contract.”

Which makes Jobs furious. Here he was offering Disney yet another sequel to “Toy Story” that – as I mentioned earlier – would eventually go on to earn over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office … And here was Michael Eisner saying “Nope. That doesn’t count towards completion of our 5-picture co-production deal. You’re still going to owe us another movie after you deliver ‘Toy Story 3.’ “

Which is when Jobs decides to play hardball. He says “Okay then. No ‘Toy Story 3.’ “

To which Eisner responds “Okay then. No ‘Toy Story 3.’ Let’s make that cars movie instead.”

“The Yellow Car” – Origin Story to “Cars”

Which now brings us to “Cars.” Or – as this proposed animated feature was known back then (when work first began on the development of this Pixar project back in 1998) – “The Yellow Car.” Now – given what’s going on in California right now (You did see where that State is looking to ban the sales of new gasoline-powered cars and light trucks by 2035?) – the original storyline that Pixar had put together for “The Yellow Car” was kind of interesting. It dealt with a tiny little electric car – which had just arrived from overseas – trying to make a new life for itself in the American southwest. Where it was then surrounded by all of these gas-guzzling 4-wheelers and long-haul trucks.

Credit: Pixar Room

That storyline might have had a chance today. But back in the late 1990s / early 2000s, the story notes that Disney kept sending Pixar were more along the lines of “Is there any way we can change that scrappy immigrant into … Say, a young race car who’s on the cusp of his first big professional win?”

And that note reportedly came from Michael Eisner himself. Who – even though he had said “No” to Pixar making “Toy Story 3” because of that whole contractual-obligation thing – still thought that he had a huge winner for Disney in “Cars.” And that was because – back in the late 1960s – Michael had had a front row seat when Mattel’s Hot Wheels first arrived on the scene.

Michael Eisner & Hot Wheels

You gotta remember that Michael Eisner started out in television. To be specific, he had two brief stints at NBC & CBS in the mid-1960s before he then got hired ABC. Where – in 1968 — Eisner was named that network’s director of program development for the East Coast. Which meant that Michael was then largely responsible for what aired on ABC on Saturday morning.

And around this very same time (May of 1968), Mattel introduced Hot Wheels. Which was this new toy line of scale model cars. The first 16 Hot Wheels hit the market that year and were supported by this massive television advertising campaign (with the bulk of that commercial time which was supposed to support the launch of this new toy line — of course — being purchased on shows that would air on Saturday mornings. Which is when kids would be guaranteed to be watching TV).

So taking into account where Michael Eisner was working at that time, he was obviously keenly aware of what an enormous success the “Hot Wheels” toy line had been for Mattel. So – some 35 years later – when Pixar effectively told Eisner “You can’t have ‘Toy Story 3.’ You’ll now have to settle for ‘The Yellow Car’ instead,” Michael’s response was “Okay. Disney will temporarily shut down its ‘Toy Story’ gold mine and now go and open a ‘Cars’ -themed platinum mine instead.”

Now please note that I used the word “temporarily” there. That was because Disney’s lawyers believed that they owned the Pixar-produced characters from the original agreement.

Pixar Breaks Away from Disney – Disney Creates Circle 7 Studios

In January of 2004 – Steve Jobs announced that he was breaking off negotiations with The Walt Disney Company and upon delivery of “Cars” – which would be released to theaters in June of 2006 – Pixar was finally free & clear of its obligations to the Mouse House. Which is why they now open negotiations with other studios in Hollywood seeking a new production / distribution partner.

Once Pixar formally broke off negotiations with Disney, The Walt Disney Company announced that it would be starting Circle 7 Studios (named for the street that this brand-new animation studio was located on. Which is Circle 7 Drive in Glendale, CA. Which is where KABC, the Los Angeles-based ABC affiliate is located. “And what is the KABC logo?,” you ask. A 7 – for Channel 7 – with a circle around it)

… And at Circle 7 Studios, Disney intended to produce its own sequels to “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.” Because – under the terms of those production & distribution deals, later co-production deals that Pixar had signed with Disney back in 1991 and then 1997 respectively – the Mouse felt that they owned this Pixar-produced characters & storylines outright and could then do whatever they wanted with them.

That whole Circle 7 Studios was a nightmare for the folks at Pixar. Though – it’s worth noting here – the people at Disney who did work on those “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo” sequels did do some decent work.

Original “Toy Story 3” Plot

The storyline for Disney’s version of “Toy Story 3” (which had Buzz Lightyear getting recalled to the factory that originally made him in Japan, and then the Andy’s Room gang shipping themselves via FedEx to that very same factory in an effort to save Buzz from being dismantled) had its charms.

“Monsters, Inc.” Sequel – “Lost in Scaradice”

I’d argue that the storyline for Disney’s version of “Monsters, Inc.” (which was to have been entitled “Lost in Scaradice”) would have made for a far better film than the one that Pixar themselves produced in June of 2013. Which was “Monsters University.”

But we’re not here to talk about “Lost in Scaradice.” We’re here to talk about “Cars.”

“Cars” – Michael Eisner’s Decision Creates Billions with New Franchise

“Cars” finally got released to theaters in June of 2006 and then went on earn $461 million at the worldwide box office.

Which – admittedly – wasn’t the over-a-billion that “Toy Story 3” would earn at the worldwide box office just four years later in June of 2010. But then when you factor in the $11 BILLION in sales of officially licensed “Cars” toys (And that was just in the first two years after “Cars” was released to theaters) … Well, like I said earlier, Disney had just temporarily traded its “Toy Story” -themed gold mine for a “Cars” -themed platinum mine.

Important to stress here: Michael Eisner’s “Hot Wheels” -related hunch proved to be correct. Him deciding to make Pixar produce “Cars” rather than opting to greenlight production of Toy Story 3” created a whole new, extremely lucrative franchise for The Walt Disney Company. Which is paying off even today.

For example, Over on Disney+ the very day that this Bandcamp Exclusive show went live (September 8, 2022), a brand new original animated series – “Cars on the Road” – starring Mater & Lightning McQueen debuts. Nine episode detailing what happens on a road trip when Lightning & Mater drive back East to attend Mater’s sister’s wedding. Can’t wait to see what Mater’s sister looks like.

Bob Iger Helps Disney Reclaim Pixar

Eisner doesn’t often get credit for the success of cars. But that’s largely because Michael Eisner is no longer the CEO of The Walt Disney Company. He stepped down in September of 2005. Now Bob Iger is called the shots at the Mouse House. And he’s determined to do whatever he has to in order to repair the Company’s working relationship with Pixar. Up to & including buying that animation studio in January of 2006 for $7.4 billion and then making Steve Jobs the Company’s largest individual shareholder. For a time, Steve owned 7% of that Company.

And when you lay out that kind of cash … Well, of course, you’re looking for a quick return on your investment. Which is Iger then turned to the Imagineers and said “I want a lot of Pixar-related stuff in the Disney Parks as quickly as possible.”

“Cars” Attractions in Disney Parks

And the Imagineers took the orders they were getting from Disney’s new CEO very seriously. Which is why – a year to the day after “Cars” first opened in theaters (June 9, 2006) – Cars Race Rally opened at Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris (on June 9, 2007).

Cars Race Rally at Walt Disney Studios Park in Disneyland Paris

Mind you, Cars Race Rally wasn’t the most elaborate or ambitious attraction to ever be installed at a Disney theme park. Located in the Toon Studios section of Walt Disney Studios Park, this flat ride was a reimagining of Zamperla’s Demolition Derby. Only in this case, this ride’s vehicles that have been rethemed to look as though they were part of the ”Cars” universe.

Credit: Flickr/Ramella

Radiator Springs Announcement for Disney California Adventure

But just four months after Cars Race Rally would open at Walt Disney Studios Park in Disneyland Paris (on October 17, 2007, to be exact), The Walt Disney Company announced its $1.1 billion redo of Disney California Adventure. This 5-year-long project be capped off by the creation of a 12-acre area that would basically recreate Radiator Springs in all its glory at the very center of this theme park. Which – it was hoped – would then give Southern Californians a compelling new reason to go visit the Disneyland Resort’s second gate.

Mind you, the irony here is – if you look back at the original plans for Disney’s California Adventure (back when this theme park was first announced back in July of 1996), Disneyland’s second gate was supposed to have had an area that celebrated California Car Culture. A place that would have allowed DCA visitors to experience firsthand street racing or the joy of cruising along Route 66 or just the fun of sitting in a classic car from the 1950s outside of a neon-laden drive-in restaurant. Where you could then have had your fast food order brought right to your vehicle by a car hop who was wearing roller skates.

Credit: Inside The Magic

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? So how did we go from an area at DCA that was supposed to have celebrated California’s car culture to a land that then recreated Radiator Springs from Pixar’s original “Cars” movie? We’ll get to that on the second installment of this new Bandcamp Exclusive series, “The Road to Cars Land.”

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