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“The Invisible Art” is a must-have for the serious film fan

Jim Hill returns with a review of Mark Cotta Vaz and Craig Barron’s great new book about matte painting. If you love hearing behind-the-scenes stories about how your favorite movies were made, this really is the book for you!

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First off, Lampwick333 writes

Dear Jim:

Love your new web page. Particularly when you write about Walt Disney Feature Animation and tell us about animated features that had production problems, scenes that got cut, etc.

So I was wondering. Do you have any similar stories about Disney Television Animation? Can you tell JimHillMedia.com readers about any animated TV series that Disney had problems with? Any potentially cool toon TV shows that never made past the pilot phase?

Just wondering,

Lampy

Well, the folks over at Disney Television Animation has pitched some real doozies over the past 15 year, Lampy. For example: Back in the early 1990s, I recall hearing about “Thumper’s Thicket,” an animated TV series that was supposed to have built around Bambi’s bunny co-star. But Disney management — perhaps because they were concerned that a TV program that starred a cute widdle wabbit wid a wisp would have put viewers into a diabetic coma — eventually nixed the project.

The same goes for the “Disney Babies” TV show, an animated series which would have featured the adventures that Mickey, Donald and the gang had back when they were infants. Curiously enough, this idea for this particular series was allegedly originally pitched NOT by the staff of Disney Television Animation. But rather, senior management over at Disney Consumer Products. Evidently, DCP’s thinking was that a animated TV series that starred these characters would be a great way to promote the corporation’s very popular line of “Disney Babies” plush, bedding and children’s clothing.

Lucky for us, the DTA folks really resented the idea that Consumer Products was trying to foist this really lame concept for a TV program on them just so the Mouse could move more merchandise. So these guys did every thing they could to help derail the project. Which is why (thankfully) the “Disney Babies ” TV program never ever saw the light of day. (Would that we could say the same about that awful “Baby Looney Tunes” show that’s currently airing on the Cartoon Network. Anyway … )

There were proposals for shows that actually sounded pretty promising (“Critter Country,” an animated series that was supposed to have featured all the creatures seen in Disneyland’s “Splash Mountain” as well as the “Country Bear Jamboree”) and proposals for shows that just sounded downright weird (“Disney’s Magic Kingdom – The Animated Series.” This program would have followed the adventures of a boy & a girl who discovered a Disney theme park of their very own hidden high up in the clouds … ).

But — if I had to pick — the one proposed Disney Television Animation show that I wish had actually gone to series would have been “Maximum Horsepower.” This was a pitch for a comical sci-fi adventure series (which was been reportedly put together by DTA vet Tad Stones) which really sounds like it could have been a lot of fun.

So what was “Maximum Horsepower” supposed to have been about? Well, you all know Horace Horsecollar, right? One of Mickey’s co-stars in all those Disney animated shorts back in the 1930s. Then — sometime during the 1940s — Horace suddenly falls from sight. He never makes another picture for Walt Disney Studios. And no explanation was ever given for Mr. Horsecollar’s mysterious disappearance.

So what really happened to Horace? Well, “Maximum Horsepower” was going to be the show that would finally fill in all the blanks. According to the premise that Tad and his team put together, Mr. Horsecollar is an actor with a pretty sizable ego. He’s tired of playing second fiddle to a mouse, a duck and a dog. Horace feels that it’s high time for his star to rise in the Hollywood firmament.

So picture this: Horace is determinedly marching across the Disney Studio lot. He’s headed to Walt’s office, where he plans to pitch himself as the star of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The part that — provided that he can actually persuade Walt to give him the role — will finally allow Mr. Horsecollar to leave short subjects behind so that he can become a big-time movie star in features.

Horace is literally just about to enter the Admin building at Disney when suddenly … he’s plucked off the pavement in Burbank and beamed to the fartherest most corner of the galaxy. Why? Because a rather dim alien species has selected him to be their champion …

And the rest of “Maximum Horsepower” would have dealt with Mr. Horsecollar’s dilemma. Totally by accident, Horace ends up defeating the evil ruler who’s enslaved this corner of the galaxy. But — in the process — he also unintentionally destroys the machinery that would have beamed him back to Hollywood.

So Horace is now stuck, billions of light years from home. A beloved hero to this alien race. The animated equivalent of James T. Kirk.

But — just like William Shatner, the actor who played Kirk in the original “Star Trek” TV series — Horace is a bit of a ham (which — surprisingly enough — isn’t all that hard to do when you’re a horse). Mr. Horsecollar desperately misses Hollywood. And — in spite of all the adulation that he receives in this corner of the galaxy — he constantly schemes about how he can finally make his way back to Tinsel Town.

The comedy in “Maximum Horsepower” was supposed to have come from the idea of this blowhard, self centered actor that these dim-witted aliens think is truly heroic … but isn’t. So, in order to keep up his heroic facade, Horace is constantly has to bluff his way through various life threatening situations. But somehow, he always manages to come out on top.

So who ideally would Tad & Co. cast as the voice of Horace Horsecollar in “Maximum Horsepower”? To be honest, I don’t think that this proposed project ever got far enough along for the folks over at Disney Television Animation to seriously start talking about which actor they would have liked to provide vocals for this character. But wouldn’t it have been fun if Shatner himself — or maybe even Kelsey Grammer — had been roped in to provide Horace’s plumy, self-important tones.

So why didn’t “Maximum Horsepower” go forward? Well, in spite of this proposed program’s very promising premise, this wasn’t exactly what Disney Company management was looking for in the early 1990s. They wanted Disney Television animation to pitch series that would expand the brand. Keep particularly popular sets of Disney characters out in the marketplace. Which is how we ended up with shows like “Timon & Pumbaa – The Animated Series,” “101 Dalmatians – The Animated Series” and “Hercules – The Animated Series.”

Which is why promising programs like “Maximum Horsepower” (which Stones supposedly saw as a sort of a stylistic follow-up to another popular DTA show that he created, “Darkwing Duck;” a TV program that — thanks to strong writing — would have appealed to both kids and adults) never got much further than their pitch phase.

That’s pretty much everything that I’ve heard about “Maximum Horsepower.” That said, I do know that Tad Stones — on occasion — drops by JimHillMedia to read the articles and/or to comment on stuff ? Perhaps someday he can come forward and tell us a little bit more about this very promising premise. Here’s hoping, anyway …

Next, here’s a letter from Oriol Cedeno, who asks:

Hi, before I get into my question (or questions, rather) I’d just like to say I love your site! Your “Why For” columns are fun and always eye-opening to me. Keep up the good work!

Now, to the point of this e-mail. I’m a huge Alice in Wonderland fan. It’s my ultimate favorite Disney animated feature, despite it’s rather bad reputation amongst Disney purists. First I’d like to know: is Disney ever releasing a special edition DVD or even a full blown collector’s edition DVD of this film in the distant future? I’d be first in line to purchase it.

Second: can you tell me about any concepts or actual scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor for Alice? In that same vein, was the Jabberwocky ever in the film because a 50’s promotional storybook shows an illustration of him from the Cheshire Cat scene. Any thing you can provide would make me one happy person. Thanks!

Oriol –

To date, I haven’t heard anything about Disney planning to put out a special edition DVD of “Alice in Wonderland.” To be honest, “Alice” isn’t even one of the titles that Buena Vista Home Entertainment currently has slated to receive the deluxe two disc “Platinum Edition” treatment.

Which is really a shame. Why? Because I know that there is a ton of material on file over at the Disney’s Feature Animation Research Library that could be used to flesh out a 2-disc set of “Alice.” Items like those hundreds of inspirational paintings that David Hall did for Disney’s first attempt to turn Lewis Carroll’s acclaimed novel into an animated feature. Mind you, this was back in 1939. Back when “Alice in Wonderland” was being actively considered as the film that Walt Disney Studios would put into production as soon as work was completed on “Pinocchio.”

But then — of course — World War II intervened. And production of Disney’s “Alice” got pushed back ’til the early 1950s. And by then, this feature had a very different style and tone than the European storybook look that Hall had originally proposed for the production.

Which brings me to your next question, Oriol. What became of the “Jabberwocky” sequence that was supposed to have been part of Disney’s animated version of “Alice in Wonderland”? Me personally, I know for a fact that a toony version of this truly screwy Carroll poem was originally supposed to have been featured in the film.

And how do I know this? Because I own a copy of “Jabberwocky,” the children’s book that the Disney Press put out in the early 1990s. Now what’s interesting about this particular book is that it’s illustrated with artwork that was pulled directly from the WDFA research library. And these illustrations that are used in the Disney Press version of “Jabberwocky” are from a series of storyboards that the studio’s artist made for this proposed sequence in the 1951 film.

So clearly — at some point, anyway — Walt was giving some very serious thought to including “Jabberwocky” as part of his animated version of “Alice.” Going so far as to order up these storyboards as well as (maybe) record a vocal track for the sequence.

“What’s this about a ‘Jabberwocky’ vocal track?,” you say, Oriol. Well, legendary writer / comedian Stan Freberg has repeatedly stated in interviews that he’s given over the years that he actually recorded a version of “Jabberwocky” for Disney that was supposed to have been included in the animated feature. But — for some reason or another — this part of the picture eventually ended up getting cut out.

Now wouldn’t it be wild if, someday, someone at Disney could unearth that original recording that Stan made back in the 1950s and sync that up with footage of those wild pastel storyboards for “Alice in Wonderland” ‘s proposed “Jabberwocky” sequence? Or — if that’s impossible — inviting Freberg back (50 years after he originally recorded the poem) to the Disney lot to do a second reading of “Twas Brillig and the slithy toves … “Which then could be synced up to images of those “Jabberwocky” storyboards.

Wouldn’t that be a terrific little item to include as an “Extra Added Bonus” the next time Disney re-releases “Alice in Wonderland” on DVD? Paging Scott McQueen, Disney’s Director of Library Restoration! I have an intriguing project for you …

And – finally – Rick G. writes:

Hi Jim,

Two Questions. One: I went to Disneyland about a month ago and we rode the monorail, and the monorail got stuck on the track somewhere between fantasyland and Tomorrowland, right before the Matterhorn. I happened to notice something that I had never seen before. I saw a sign that read Disneyland Oceanographic Research Center. I had never even heard of such a thing. Could you possibly shed some light on that subject?

My second Question. I heard one time that the Tower of Terror was going to be Mel Brooks themed. I think it was supposed to have been called Hotel Mel or something like that. Could you provide some insight on that as well? Thanks. I love your site and I’m glad I have something like it to read while I’m waiting to take calls at work. It really helps me to pass the time. Keep writing and I’ll keep visiting your site.

A Disney Dweeb, Rick G

Regarding Question No. 1: Sorry, Rick. But there really isn’t much of a story to report there. Near as I can figure, that “Disneyland Oceanographic Research Center” sign that you mentioned has been in place since the late 1980s / early 1990s. If I’m remembering correctly, it went up just about the same time that the Tomorrowland subs got their canary yellow paint job. Can any of you Disneyland historians out there back me up on this?

So (sadly) there’s nothing much exciting or controversial to report about that particular Tomorrowland sign. If — on the other hand — you someday want me to talk about that “Atlantis Expedition” sign was hoisted on top of the rocks to the back on the “Submarine Voyage” lagoon back in September 1998 (and the ugly shouting match that erupted between Disneyland’s ops staff and the Imagineers who were in the park that day, pitching a proposal for a new Tomorrowland attraction), THAT’s a really fun story, Rick. Remind me to tell you about that sometime.

As for Question 2: Yes, someday very soon, I will get around to answering your question about Hotel Mel. I just won’t do it here at JimHillMedia.com.

Why For? Honestly, it’s not because I’m trying to be a pain in the ass, Rick. But rather, because I began writing a series about the Tower of Terror for Kevin Boles’ terrific www.tower-of-terror.com site a few months back. But then — what with the launch of www.JimHillMedia.com — I got distracted (and bogged down. Who knew that writing three to five new stories each week would swallow so much of my free time? Anyway …)

So, when I left off with my “Tower Tales” series over at Kevin’s site, I was actually just getting around to the part of the story where I was going to talk about the whole “Hotel Mel” concept. Explain in detail how Mel Brooks came to be involved with WDI. So — if I were to write about that here now — I’d feel like I was be cheating Mr. Boles out of a story that was rightfully belonged to him. Which wouldn’t be a nice thing to do, Rick.

Tell you what. I just exchanged e-mails with Kevin about this very same matter not two days ago. And — provided that Chuck and Roger come back to JimHillMedia next week with some great stories about their experiences at this year’s Macworld Expo (hint, hint) — I should have a little more free time next week. Which (hopefully) means that I’ll finally be able to finish up Part III of my “Tower Tales” series for www.tower-of-terror.com. Which I promise (Scout’s Honor), Rick, will address the whole “Hotel Mel” angle of the “Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror” story.

Sorry that I stiffed you on both of your questions, Rick. Better luck next time, okay?

That’s it for this week, folks. Except for one quick personal message: Puddie4Banned, could you please drop me an e-mail at my stadlerhill@mindspring.com address? Thanks.

See you all on Monday,

jrh

Jim Hill

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

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

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General

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

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

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

… the postman delivering the mail …


Photo by Jim Hill

… the hot dog vendor working at his cart …


Photo by Jim Hill


Photo by Jim Hill

… the street musician playing for tourists …


Photo by Jim Hill

Not to mention the tourists themselves.


Photo by Jim Hill

But right alongside the bronze businessmen …


Photo by Jim Hill

… and the tired grandmother hauling her groceries home …


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

… or — for that matter — out-of-time.


Photo by Jim Hill

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


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

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

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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

Jim Hill

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

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

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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


Photo by Jim Hill

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

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill

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

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

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

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


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc.
All rights reserved

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


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights
reserved

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


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

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

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


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc.
All rights reserved

Better yet, let's take a look at what the folks at Avalanche Studios just went
through as they attempted to create a Classic version of Mickey & Minnie.
One that would then allow this popular pair to become part of Disney Infinity
3.0.

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


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

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

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


Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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

But given that the specific assignment that Avalanche Studios had been handed
was to create the most appealing looking, likeable version of Mickey Mouse
possible … In the end, Jeff and his team wound up borrowing bits & pieces
from a lot of different versions of the world's most famous mouse. So that
Classic Mickey would then look & move in a way that best fit the sort of
gameplay which people would soon be able to experience with Disney Infinity
3.0.


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Inc. All rights reserved

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

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


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Inc. All rights reserved

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

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


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Inc. All rights reserved

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

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


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Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

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

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

Jim Hill

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

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