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“Why For” returns!

Your questions about the Walt Disney Company (the obscurer the better) answered in that patented long-winded Jim Hill style

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Belle from Celebration, FL. writes:

Dear Jim:

Love the web-site. But you have to be kidding me? Disney’s actually talking about doing a live action movie version of “Beauty and the Beast”? I don’t care how good the Broadway musical is. Seeing live performers portray Cosgworth, Lumiere and Mrs. Potts will just ruin the original for me …

Belle,

Would it help if I told you that Disney’s animated version of “Beauty and the Beast” actually started out life as a live action project?

Strange but true. But as a follow-up to his highly acclaimed 1983 Touchstone Pictures release, “Never Cry Wolf,” director Carroll Ballard talked with Disney execs about doing a big screen version of this classic fairy tale. This project made it so far along in the studio’s development pipeline that “Beauty and the Beast” warranted a mention in the company’s 1982 annual report.

The problem – as you might well understand – was how to pull off the Beast in a live action film. Carroll reportedly didn’t want to copy Jean Cocteau’s 1946 take on this tale and just have his romantic lead slathered in make-up. So – for a time – there was actually supposed some talk about doing the Beast (at least while the character was in Beastly form) as an audio-animatronic.

However, before Ballard’s “Beauty and the Beast” made it too far along the Disney development track, there was a management change at the studio in September 1984. Suddenly Ron Miller was out & Michael Eisner was in. Consequently, any film projects that Miller had initiated just prior to his exit had to be reviewed by Eisner’s people before they could officially go forward. These folks then read through Carroll’s treatment and said “Well, I don’t know about live action. But this might make a cool animation film.”

So the new management team at Disney reportedly told Ballard “Thanks but no thanks,” then sent him packing. (Which was really kind of sad. Why? Because after his Disney deal fell through, it would be nine years before this gifted film-maker could deliver another film to the big screen: Columbia Tristar’s 1992 release, “Wind.”). They then assigned a few screenwriters the task of turning “Beauty and the Beast” into a screenplay for a feature length cartoon.

Of course, these guys ran into the same problems that Walt Disney’s team ran into in the late 1930s, and again in the late 1940s (When these guys repeatedly tried to turn the story of “Beauty and the Beast” into something that could support a full length animated feature). Which is: What do you do in Act II? When all that the girl and the beast seem to do is sit around and eat dinner. Every so often, the Beast blurts out “Will you marry me?” The girl says “No” … Which is not nearly as entertaining as watching – say – a Fairy Godmother conjuring up a pair of glass slippers (Which is why Disney ultimately decided to make “Cinderella” instead of “B & B”.)

So, from early 1985 to 1988, two different teams of writers took a whack at turning “Beauty and the Beast” into a big screen cartoon. Both failed … Which is why the project eventually end up in Linda Woolverton’s lap. Woolverton (Whose only work for the Mouse prior to this point was churning out a few scripts for “Chip ‘n Dale’s Rescue Rangers”) had written a novel that had impressed an unnamed executive at Disney Feature Animation. Which is why Linda ended up getting a shot at writing “Beauty and the Beast.”

Four drafts later, Woolverton came up with a screenplay that everyone at Walt Disney Feature Animation thought they could live with. Mind you, this was the now-legendary non-musical version of “Beauty and the Beast.” The one that then-Disney-Studio-head Jeffrey Katzenberg shut down after just 10 weeks of production. One look at the film’s leica reel convinced Katzenberg that “B & B” was still too dark, too dour, too slow.

So “Beauty & the Beast”‘s original director – animation veteran Richard Purdum was “persuaded” to step aside. Alan Menken & Howard Ashman were reluctantly (And when I say “reluctantly,” I mean “REALLY reluctantly.” These guys just didn’t want to make “Beauty & the Beast” as their follow-up to “The Little Mermaid.” They wanted to push ahead with Howard’s dream project: a big goofy Bob-Hope-and-Bing-road-picture-version of “Aladdin”) recruited to write some songs for the film …

And the rest of the story … Well, you can see for yourself next Tuesday, when the Platinum Collection edition of “Beauty and the Beast” goes on sale everywhere. Hopefully, somewhere among all those cool extra features that Disney crammed onto this DVD, they’ll make some mention of the live action version of “Beast” that Carroll Ballard wanted to make. Or – at the very least – give us a peek at those 1930s & 1940s versions of “Beauty” that Walt tried to get off the ground.

So anyway, Belle … To make a long story short (“It’s too late now!”), Disney turning “Beauty and the Beast” into a live action film isn’t really all that strange an idea. I mean, if the cards had fallen the other way, Carroll Ballard would have probably gotten a chance to make his version of “B & B.” Which undoubtedly would have been loaded with sumptuous cinematography.

So who knows? Maybe some enterprising executive at Disney Feature Animation will read this and think: “That’s what we should do! Hire Carroll Ballard to direct the live action version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’!”

Don’t laugh. This is Hollywood that we’re talking about, after all, Belle. A place where bizarre things like this happen all the time …

And speaking of bizarre Hollywood related stories, let’s go to our next letter. BigFatTom from Cleveland writes:

What’s the deal with Disneyana fans getting so excited about that “Journey to the Center of the Earth” ride over at Tokyo Disney Sea. I mean, it looks like a cool ride and all. But it’s not like Disney ever made a movie based on that Verne book.

That’s true, BigFatTom. But you might interested to know that – within the last 10 years – Disney actually came within inches of making a big budget live action version of Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

The screenplay that I’ve seen for the project (Which – on its title page – says that film was to have been called “Walt Disney’s ‘A Journey to the Center of the Earth’) was written in September 1993 by Clifford & Ellen Green. For those of you who don’t know, the Greens are a fairly successful screenwriting team. They’re the folks who wrote “SpaceCamp,” “Three Wishes,” “The Seventh Sign” and “Bless The Child.” (Disneyana fans might know Clifford & Ellen best from their work on their 1985 ill-fated Touchstone Pictures’ release, “Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend.”)

Anyway … Jules Verne fans will no doubt be disappointed to hear that the Greens’ script wasn’t exactly a faithful adaptation. To be honest, it ditches the book’s original 18th century setting entirely and sets “Journey” in the modern world. A few memorable locations and set pieces are carried over from the novel. But, beyond that, it’s basically a brand new story.

That said, this story does start off with a bang. Disney’s “A Journey to the Center of the Earth” begins out in the Mojave Desert in the middle of the night. Scientists at the Goldstone Tracking Station think that they’re on a brink of a huge scientific break-through. Why for ? Because their enormous array of antennas are picking up what appears to be a signal from deep space.

But – as they try to get a fix on the signal – the scientists are in for a rude shock. For this beacon isn’t actually coming from outer space. It’s coming from inner space. Deep inside the center of the earth, to be precise.

Eventually, we learn that this signal – a distress beacon, to be precise – is being sent by a speleological expedition that being lead by Robby MacLachlan. Who – not-so-co-incidentally is the son of the gruff, driven billionaire J. Robert MacLachlan.

Of course, Robby and J. Robert have been estranged for a number of years. But that doesn’t Mac from quickly mounting a rescue mission. As is usually the case in films like this, the billionaire assembled a team of colorful characters to help him find his son. These include Billy Holden, a caving expert who’s looking for a big score; Dr. Caryl Wickham, a trauma specialist; Alex MacLachlan, Mac’s headstrong grandson who’s determined to go along on the expedition and help save his dad; as well as Hans, an expert rock climber that the script describes as looking “like a Norse God with the smile of an angel.”

This unlikely group of explorers journeys to Iceland. There – on the slope of Mt. Snaeffel – they follow the clues in an ancient manuscript – which directs them down a particular lava tube in the not-so-extinct volcano. From there, it’s an exciting but often treacherous trip down deep into the bowels of the earth.

I won’t lie to you, folks. There’s a reason that Disney ultimately opted not to make the Cliffords’ version of “A Journey to the Center of the Earth.” The third act of this proposed film kind of loses its way. Instead of being an epic adventure, suddenly “Journey” becomes about how greed undermines the team at a very crucial point in the plotline. And what do the explorers have to be greedy about? How about rubies the size of softballs?

But before that happens, there are some great set pieces in this script. Mac and his hand-picked team sailing across a vast subterranean sea while seated inside of an enormous upturned mushroom cap. A hellish electrical storm that sends ball lightening raining down on the explorers. Fleeting encounters with the citizens at the center of the Earth.

Which is why Disney Studio officials probably felt that “Journey” – once the Greens’ version was significantly rewritten, of course – would be a pretty safe bet for the company. A film that they could advertise as being “in the tradition of Disney’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Seas.'”

At the very least, the Imagineers were excited by the idea that Disney was thinking of making a movie based on Jules Verne’s “A Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Which is why WDI immediately set to work designing “Journey” – inspired rides and attractions.

“What sorts of rides?” you ask. Some of you who visited “The Walt Disney Story” at WDW’s Magic Kingdom in the early 1990s may recall seeing some intriguing artwork up in the post-show portion of that theater. It showed a giant magma worm (which reportedly was going to be the largest audio-animatronic figure that WDI ever built) rising up out of a pool of lava, snapping at passengers who were riding through a “Journey to the Center of the Earth” attraction.

Where exactly would this ride have been located at Florida? At Disney-MGM, actually. The preliminary plan was that a “Journey” – themed sequence would be added to that park’s Backstage Tram Tour. The tram would roll into a soundstage where several scenes from the “Journey” movie had allegedly been shot. You’d pass through jewel encrusted caverns, the ruins of Atlantis and then – just as you pull alongside a boiling pool of lava – the magma worm would rise up out of the muck and begin snapping at the trams full of tourists.

The idea was – by adding another big special effects filled sequence like “Catastrophe Canyon” to the Backstage Tram Tour – the Imagineers could finally get guests excited about riding this somewhat underwhelming Disney-MGM attraction again (Let’s face facts, folks: “Catastrophe Canyon” aside, rolling past facades used in the filming of “Ernest Saves Christmas” as well as rusted-out wrecks from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” just doesn’t scream “reride.” At least to me.)

But all of this never happened. Why for? Because – in the end – Disney execs weren’t entirely certain that modern moviegoers would turn out for a film that was based on a 125 year-old novel. Which is why the studio ultimately ditched “Journey” in favor of doing a film that was based on a 43 year-old book: “Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters.”

That this Hollywood Pictures release sank without a trace was – in a weird sort of way – actually a comfort to Disney Studio execs. If you can believe this circular bit of thinking, they actually used the failure of “Puppet Masters” to make themselves feel good about their decision to cancel production of “Journey to the Center of the Earth.”

See if you can follow this logic: “Puppet Masters” bombed at the box office NOT because it was a bad movie. But – rather – because movie-goers don’t like films that are based on science fiction books. Which is why – ultimately – it was a real good thing that Disney didn’t go ahead with production of “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” After all, that movie would have been based on a really OLD science fiction book. And everyone in Hollywood knows that people hate old books.

So everyone at Disney Studios forgot about “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” At least on the live action side of the house. Over in Feature Animation, Kirk Wise, Gary Trousdale and Don Hahn – for a short time, anyway – did toy with the idea of doing an animated version of “Journey.” Until they decided that it might be more fun to make up their own journey-to-the-center-of-the-earth story. Which is where “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” ended up coming from.

But the Imagineers … They never, ever forgot about “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Which is why – as they were prepping the “Mysterious Island” section of Tokyo Disney Sea – someone floated the idea of folding the “Center of the Earth” mythology into Capt. Nemo’s secret base at Vulcania. Particularly the notion of guests having this far-too-close encounter with an enormous, extremely angry audio-animatronic creature.

So, yes, BigFatTom, you’re right. There was no Disney’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” movie to serve as the inspiration for the Tokyo Disney Sea attraction. But – just like with Carroll Ballard’s proposed live action version of “Beauty and the Beast” – if the cards had fallen just a little bit differently, there could have been.

And – finally – Steve C. wrote to say:

Hi Jim,

Given your Big Idea article on Digital Media FX a while back, I was wondering if you had any thoughts or insight regarding their feature film debut this Friday, “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie.”

Love the new site, keep up the good work!

Thanks, Steve

Okay, Long story short here, folks. I am NOT a Christian. (The joke that I usually make at this point is that I am so far from being a Christian that I’m actually in the Express Lane to Hell. Down to three virtues or less. Anyway … ) That said, I still have nothing but respect for the folks over at Big Idea.

Why? Because they make these great videos that could be preachy, but aren’t. Sure, the VeggieTales tapes (as well as 3-2-1 Penguins and the LarryBoy Cartoon Adventures) all slip in a little spiritual teaching. But it’s not in your face stuff. It’s subtle. Soft-peddled. You wanna listen and learn, that’s okay. If you just want to laugh at the silly talking vegetables, that’s okay too.

And the VeggieTale tapes ARE funny, folks. Personally, I’d put them right up there with the very best work of Jim Henson and Charles Schulz. Loaded with wit and whimsy. But plenty of heart too.

Which is why I’m heading out today to check out Big Idea’s very first feature film, “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie.” I just can’t wait to see what the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything do on the big screen.

I promise that I’ll be back next week with a full report on this sure-to-be fun motion picture. But, in the meantime, if you’re in need of a laugh and/or a bit of a spiritual lift this weekend, I’m betting that it would be a good idea to check out Big Idea’s “Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie.”

That’s it for today, folks. Here’s hoping that you all have a great weekend. We’ll talk again on Monday, okay? Til then, take care.

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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