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Why For?

Jim Hill answers even more of your Disney related questions. This time around, it’s three about the sea. As in: Where exactly is Walt Disney World’s first wave machine located, what’s the deal with that missing shark scene in “The Little Mermaid”and – finally – a follow-up on yesterday’s controversial “Finding Nemo” story.

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Estelle E. from Cobleskill, N.Y. writes to say:

Jim –

You seem to know a lot about the early days at Walt Disney World. So maybe you can answer this question: When my husband and I first vacationed at the resort back in the fall of 1971, I distinctly recall seeing men on surf boards riding the waves off shore of the Polynesian Hotel. But that was the only time – in my 50 plus visits to WDW – that I ever saw anything like that out on Seven Seas Lagoon.

Did I really see this, Jim? Did people really used to surf out on Seven Seas Lagoon? Or did all that Orlando humidity cause my brains to fry?

Nope, you’re not suffering FBS (Fried Brain Syndrome), Estelle. You really did see surfers out on Seven Seas Lagoon. You see, backin the early 1970s, there actually was a fully functioning wave machine hidden out under those seemingly ornamental islands just off shore of Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Beach Resort. The idea was that – in order to recreate the authentic look & feel of a real South Seas resort – the Polynesian needed to have gentle waves slapping against the sandy shore right outside the hotel.

So – as Seven Seas Lagoon was being carved out of the cypress swamps right next door to Bay Lake – the Imagineers had this wave machine installed 50 yards off shore of where the Polynesian was going to be built. Of course, the beauty of this particular wave machine is that it could be adjusted. Push one button and you get soft, gentle waves lapping against the shore. Push another button and you get perfect curls for surfing.

The downside of this set-up is that the Imagineers forgot to factor in the effect that waves actually have on the shore. As in erosion. Which means that the folks at the Poly found that – if they ran that wave machine for too long – it actually had a pretty detrimental effect on the hotel’s beach area.

Which is why – starting in the Winter of 1971 / 1972 – the people at the Polynesian began cutting back on the number of hours that they’d run their wave machine each day. Eventually – to cut back on the cost of regularly having to repair the hotel’s beach – they stopped running the machine entirely.

But WDW Vice President *** Nunis just loved the Polynesian’s wave machine. He’s the one who probably hired those kids that you saw riding those surf boards, Estelle. Nunis dreamed of actually staging surfing competitions out there on Seven Seas Lagoon. Which was why *** was heartbroken when he learned that the Imagineers couldn’t figure out a way to fix WDW’s wave machine. As in make the thing run without totally trashing the Poly’s soft, sandy beach area.

Of course, given that this wave machine was installed while Seven Seas Lagoon was being built, there was just no way to remove that machinery without first draining the lake. Which – given that the Walt Disney World resort is open 365 days a year – this isn’t ever going to happen. Which is why WDW’s original wave machine remains in place, rusting away under those ornamental islands just off shore of Disney’s Polynesian Beach Resort.

Of course, *** Nunis never forgot about his dream of staging surf contests at Walt Disney World. So when the Imagineers began hatching their plans to build a second water park at the Orlando resort – Typhoon Lagoon – in the mid-1980s, Nunis insisted that WDI include a wave machine as a key component in that park. Which is one of the reasons that that water park was such a huge hit when it opened in 1989.

So – long story short, Estelle – No, you weren’t hallucinating. You really did see people riding the curls out on the water next to WDW’s Polynesian Resort Hotel. They just didn’t do it for very long.

Next, Ariel’s-Twin-Sister wrote in to say:

Jim:

I absolutely lo-o-o-ove your site & all the great behind-the-scenes stories that you tell about the Walt Disney Company. I particularly enjoyed your recent column about the original opening for “Beauty and the Beast.” So I was wondering … Do you have any stories about any scenes that got cut from MY favorite film, “The Little Mermaid”?

Actually, Ariel’s-Twin-Sister, I do. By that I mean, not a story about a whole scene that got cut out of that film. But – rather – a pretty funny gag that was set up in the final version of “The Little Mermaid” that never got paid off.

Which gag am I talking about? Well, do you recall Ariel’s introductory scene in “The Little Mermaid”? The one where she and Scuttle going searching through the wreck of a ship for human artifacts, only to be attacked by a great white shark.

That shark’s name (at least according to the film’s original screenplay) was Glut. And – according to the first draft of that script – in his desperate desire to consume Ariel & Flounder as he surges through the ship, the shark swallows a lot of things. Including a French horn. Then the two friends escape only because Glut gets his head caught in the rope end of an anchor. But not before Glut makes one, final snap at Flounder.

That was a funny but pretty exciting sequence, wasn’t it? But – upon reflection – doesn’t Glut’s moment in the movie seem like an awfully large introduction for a character that you never see again? Well – as it turns out – “The Little Mermaid”‘s writers / directors John Musker & Ron Clements HAD intended on bringing Glut back. More importantly, giving the character a really spectacular send-off later on in the movie.

How so? Well, do you remember “The Little Mermaid”‘s action packed finale? The part that begins when Eric sets sail on his wedding barge with the magically disguised Ursula. Ariel is left alone on the dock, as the sun begins to set. Triton’s daughter is heartbroken. But her animal friends refuse to give.

Sebastian uses his claw to cut a rope that’s securing a barrel to the dock. The crab then tells Ariel to grab onto the barrel while Flounder (who’s taking hold of the part of the rope that’s still secured to the barrel) tows her out to the wedding barge. Sebastian then orders Scuttle to do whatever he has to delay the ceremony.

That’s pretty much how you remember this scene from the movie, isn’t it? Well, what’s missing from the final version of this sequence in “The Little Mermaid” is that – just before Ariel and Flounder reach the wedding barge – Glut spies them again, out in the open ocean. So the Great White swims up underneath them and throws open his enormous jaws when …

Ariel and Flounder reach the boat. The Little Mermaid is able to clamber up the side of the ship just as Flounder spies Glut. The terrified little fish then crams the barrel into the Great White’s gaping maw. As Glut bites down on the wooden container, the camera zooms in to reveal the “Gun Powder” label that’s pasted to the side of the barrel.

Cut to the deck of the wedding barge. Prince Eric and Ursula’s ceremony is interrupted as the ship is rocked by an enormous off-screen explosion. Tons of water now rain down on everyone standing on deck. After a slight pause, a battered French horn falls out of the sky – landing right at Ursula’s feet.

Pretty funny, huh? So why didn’t this gag make it into the final, finished version of “The Little Mermaid”? To be honest, time and money played an important part in Glut’s return getting cut. As the movie entered its final phase of production and Disney’s animators were rushing to finish up the project, Musker and Clements began actively looking for things to cut. Little bits of things that they could cut to speed up production, simplify the picture. Stuff that they could drop without hurting the film.

Everyone at WDFA agreed that Glut’s return was a great gag. But not absolutely essential to the telling of the “Little Mermaid”‘s story. Which is why this joke eventually ended up on the cutting room floor.

Of course, once I learned about this joke getting cut, I found that I can’t watch this part of “The Little Mermaid” – the sequence where Flounder is busting his butt to tow Ariel out to the wedding barge – without thinking “Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if that great Glut joke that Ron’n’John had set up actually finally got paid off?”

Hmmn. I wonder if someone should let the folks who are working on the IMAX version of “The Little Mermaid” know about this scene? I don’t know if the folks at Disney would actually dare to call the upcoming Platinum Collection DVD a “Special Edition” if all the animators did was finally fold in the pay-off for a gag that got set up ‘way back in 1989 … but still … it’s worth a thought.

Anyway … and – finally – following up on yesterday’s “Is Disney trying to torpedo ‘Nemo’?” story, BobbyV from Vail wrote to say:

Mr. Hill –

It was bad enough last year when you suddenly switched sides on the California Adventure issue and became one of DCA’s staunchest apologist. But now you’re going to start carrying water for Pixar too? Please!?

Did it ever occur to you that those test scores that this supposed Disney insider source has allegedly been leaking to entertainment & financial reporters might be right? Maybe “Finding Nemo” really is a mediocre movie. That teaser trailer for the film that Pixar put in front of my “Monsters, Inc.” DVD certainly was a snore. All those talking fish just left me cold. (Cold. Fish. Get it?)

Steve Jobs is a big boy, Jim. He doesn’t need your help, Hill. Let him fight his own fights, okay?

Bobby V –

Look, I honestly understand that it’s possible that Pixar could produce a mediocre movie. After all, just taking the law of averages into account, someday it’s gotta happen. Not every film can be a “Toy Story II” or “Monsters, Inc.” sized hit. Someday, one of that studio’s productions isn’t going to connect with a mainstream audience. Pixar’s going to burp out a clinker.

I just don’t think that “Finding Nemo” is going to be that film. I mean – based on what I’ve been hearing about “Finding Nemo” – this picture does evidently have some problems. Chief among these is that children seem to be somewhat put off by Albert Brooks’ vocal performance. Adults are said to love Brooks’ work as Marlin, the film’s fretful father fish. But kids are said to be having trouble warming up to the film’s central character – thanks mostly to the edgy, anxious spin that Albert has put on most of his dialogue.

But – on the flip side – Ellen DeGeneres is reportedly getting high marks from audience members of all ages for her vocal performance as Dory, the Regal Blue Tang with memory problems. DeGeneres’ work here supposedly adds tons of fun to the film, as does William Dafoe and Stephen Root’s performances as fish that Nemo encounters when he’s trapped in that fish tank in the dentist’s office.

But what really drives this film is Marlin’s quest to find his son, Nemo. Hence the film’s title, “Finding Nemo.” But if Brooks’ vocal performance in the part that actually drives the movie’s action is actively turning off kids … that’s going to be a problem. For Pixar (the company that’s making the movie) as well as Disney (the corporation’s that gotta distribute this supposedly flawed film).

Now – before we got any further here – it’s important to recognize the role that test screenings play in the film making process. For they allow the movie makers to really see what an audience thinks of their picture. To get some good, solid feedback on what things need to be tightened and/or reworked.

It’s also important to remember – six months prior to its release – “Monsters, Inc.” was also getting somewhat iffy scores during its test screenings from kids. But that was mostly because of the film’s scary opening sequence. Which is what prompted Pixar to go back and rework that particular scene, folding in lots of additional physical stuff to happen to poor Mr. Bile (“My friends called me Phlegm”). Once those gags were in place (and kids could see – right from the get-go – that “Monsters, Inc.” was supposed to be a fun flick), the test scores for that film shot right up.

Unfortunately, “Finding Nemo”‘s reported problems don’t really lend themselves to this sort of quick fix. Making Marlin more kid-friendly would supposedly involve making dozens of changes – both large and small – to the almost finished film. And give that the picture’s May 2003 release date is already locked in, there really isn’t enough time at this point to make too many changes.

So Pixar may have no choice but to stick with “Finding Nemo” as it is and hope that the test audiences were wrong, hoping against hope that the general public will embrace Albert Brooks’ somewhat anxious take on Marlin. There’s still time to make some changes. Just not a whole lot of changes.

And – just for the record, BobbyV – regarding yesterday’s story: I’m not out to carry water for Pixar. I’m not trying to fight Steve Jobs’ fights for him. I wasn’t trying to brush over the fact that “Finding Nemo” supposedly got some low test scores during its recent test screening. My problem was with that Team Disney – Burbank exec who reportedly has been going out of his way to spread the bad news about those low test scores far and wide.

I know, I know, BobbyV. The most important word in “Show Business” is “Business.” And Disney has long been known for playing hardball. So – if deliberately leaking info to the financial & entertainment press about how “Finding Nemo” was supposedly not exactly winning over test audiences can be played to Mickey’s advantage – Well, all’s fair in love and war, I guess.

It just seems (at least to me) like such a strange, passive-aggressive negotiating ploy. Similar to Mickey’s decision to sign that deal with Vanguard Animation right in the middle of the Walt Disney Company’s attempt to arrange an extension of its five picture deal with Pixar. What is Jobs (or – for that matter – Lasseter) supposed to think after the Mouse makes a move like that?

Okay. So maybe this is all the action of a single individual who just has an axe with the “Cal Arts Mafia.” But – given how systemically this “‘Finding Nemo’ is testing poorly” story appears to have been distributed – I can’t help but think that there’s something more significant going on behind the scenes.

But – what the hey – I could be wrong. After all, Hollywood is a town that loves to build people up, then tear them down. And Pixar HAS had a rather long run of box office successes. Perhaps professional jealousy IS helping to speed the “‘Finding Nemo’ got lousy scores at its recent test screening” story along. Maybe industry insiders are just taking great pleasure with the idea that Pixar may finally be in for its first flop

Of course, one of the reasons that Lasseter & Co. opted to set up their studio ‘way up around San Francisco was so that they could avoid just this sort of Hollywood bullshit. It’s just too bad that – in today’s world of teleconferencing, e-mail, and instantaneous communication – being hundreds of miles away from Tinsel Town doesn’t make you immune to the gossip anymore. Nowadays, the bullshit comes to you

So my apologies to those of you who thought that yesterday’s piece was more gossip than news. I did make repeated attempts to get someone who was “in the know” to go on the record about this story. But – surprise, surprise – no one out there wanted to the first one to officially pissed off the Mouse and/or Pixar. So all those folks I talked with over the past 10 days insisted that their comments to me be used as deep background or as strictly off the record stuff.

So that’s all I’m going to say about this particular story for now. Mind you, I will continue to monitor the whole “Finding Nemo” / Disney & Pixar negotiation situation. As this story continues to develop, I hope that I’ll get the chance to revisit it. I just hope that – next time around – someone “in the loop” will be brave enough to go on the record and reveal what’s really going on.

That’s it for now, kids. Have a great weekend, okay? We’ll talk again 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.' "


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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.


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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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