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Why “Western River” Went South — Part 10

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I spend weeks writing articles about Disney theme parks that haven’t opened yet. Months researching attractions that never made it off the drawing board. A lifetime collecting never-before-revealed stories about Disney animated features.

None of that matters anymore. After the ton of mail I received last week from you folks, I now know what turns on DIG readers. Grabs your attention. Sends chills racing up your spines.

Not stories about corner cutting or staff in-fighting. Not items about soon-to-be-built attractions or soon-to-close shows. All I have to do to really excite you folks is write about … missing geese.

That’s right, kids. Geese. I was stunned by the volume of mail last Tuesday’s story that mentioned – in passing – the mystery surrounding the missing “America Sings” geese generated. (I got hit with so much stuff that my “Outlook Express” account crashed and burned last Wednesday. My computer still hasn’t fully recovered).

I want to thank all of you kind folks who came forward with information about the attraction. After wading though that vast pile of e-mail I think I can finally provide all your “America Sings” and “Star Tours” fans with a definitive answer to that all important question:

“It has long been rumored that the two labor droids featured in the repair bay at “Star Tours” are actually geese AA figures recycled from Disneyland’s “America Sings” attraction. But – if “Star Tours” opened in January 9, 1987 but “America Sings” didn’t close ’til April 10, 1988 – how can this be so?”

In my article, I jokingly suggested that maybe “the Imagineers just took two of the singing geese out of “America Sings” … But wouldn’t you think that someone would have noticed two of the attraction’s AA figures were missing?”

As it turns out, a lot of you did. Many of you wrote to me last week, saying that you’d been to Disneyland during “Star Tours”‘s first year of operation. During these ’87 – ’88 visits to the park, most of you went to see “America Sings” and noticed that something wasn’t quite right.

(This reminds me of a story Imagineer Bruce Gordon – who served as a show producer on Disneyland’s “Splash Mountain” – loves to tell. He used to say that the folks at WDI “wanted to see how many AA figures they could sneak out of ‘America Sings’ before anyone would notice.”)

A lot of you then told me that you did notice that some of the singing geese were missing. Trouble is – none of you could then remember which “America Sings” sequence these AA figures had come out of.

Some folks told me that the two geese had been grabbed out of the “Songs of the Old South” segment. Others argued that one goose had been plucked out of the “Songs of the Old West” scene, while the other came out of the “Gay Nineties.” One gentleman insisted that four geese had been snatched out of “America Sings” finale.

Oh my God! It’s a conspiracy.

Thank heaven for Dan Alexander. Dan is a fan of my “View from a Hill” column. He writes in regularly with detailed information about Disney theme park attractions that no sane person should have access to. I am constantly amazed and humbled by Dan’s in-depth knowledge of all things Disneyana- related.

Anyway, Dan has in his possession a video tape of “America Sings” that was taken during that attraction’s last year of operation. This automatically makes Mr. Alexander the definitive authority when it comes the Disney goose caper.

After careful frame-by-frame analysis (“Notice how the goose’s head snaps back and to the left … back and to the left .. back and to the left”), Dan provided me with the all-important answer:

Old South sequence: 3 geese

Western sequence: 3 geese

Gay 90’s: 4 geese

Modern: 4 geese

There you have it, kids. I think we Disney dweebs can all sleep better now, knowing that – at last – we finally have a definitive answer to the all important “America Sings” goose question.

Seriously, thanks to Dan for unearthing that tape … as well as making me aware of the other questions that continually taunted Disneyana trivia buffs when it comes to “America Sings.”

Kevin Yee – best known on the Web for his excellent, on- going DIG series, “Cast Place” – also provided me with some fun facts related to the missing geese saga. Kevin wrote to tell me that the Imagineers just jerked the geese AA figures out of those two “America Sings” sequences … but neglected to reprogram the three remaining singing geese.

So now – when this newly formed trio would perform in the attraction’s “Old South” and “Wild West” sequences – these geese would just follow their old programming. This meant that the AA figures would continually turn and acknowledge the now invisible fourth member of their used- to- be quartet. Folks who saw the geese robotic trio’s perform this way during “America Sings” last year of operation describe these scenes as being “really creepy.”

In a half-assed attempt to hide the fact that an AA figure was now missing out of each of these “America Sings’ scenes, Kevin described how the Imagineers just piled props up in the spot where that goose used to be. This made WDI’s decision to stick with the attraction’s old programming all the more comical – as the trio of the geese kept gesturing toward these piles of crates and barrels, as if to say ” Come on, you inanimate objects! Why don’t you – SING!! “

After digging through all that e-mail last week, I was amazed to learn how many other people look back fondly on “America Sings.” I mean – given the number of times I personally sat alone in the theater- go -round building, thinking “Am I the only person on the planet who actually likes this show – I was amazed to learn how many other Disney dweebs on the Web truly liked this old Tomorrowland show.

What really surprised me, though, was the number of folks on the Net who have made it their life’s goal to account for the whereabouts of every single “America Sings” AA figure. You see, kids, not all of those computerized critters successfully made the trek from Tomorrowland to Splash Mountain. Some of these AA figures are still MIA.

Mr. Alexander clued me in to the mystery surrounding the old Grey Mare (It’s believed that this car- driving Clydesdale may have undergone a sex change operation during its 1988 rehab at WDI. Now masquerading as a male, this “America Sings” favorite reportedly can be spotted among the AA figures whooping it up in Splash Mountain’s “Laughing Place” sequence). He also revealed to me the current whereabouts of the show’s infamous “Pop Go the Weasel” weasels (These rascally rodents supposedly ended up in WDW’s “Splash Mountain,” where they spend their days popping up and surprising guests in that version of the attraction’s “Laughing Place”.

Dan also told me about the “America Sings” AA figures that haven’t resurfaced (yet) in any Disney theme park attractions. Disneyana trivia buffs are still on the look-out for all six sets of of the show’s robotic narrators: Sam Eagle and that un-named owl.

And then there’s the matter of that guitar- playing, rock- and -roll stork AA figure from the show’s finale.

This stork robot – which (in a not- so- clever jab by Marc Davis at “those kids who listen to that rock & roll”) actually had a dust mop for hair – has been unaccounted for for over 12 years now. Disney dweebs have been wondering for years whatever became of this AA figure.

Well, wonder no more, kids. I have found the stork!

You’ll be pleased to hear, kids, that – after 14 years of endlessly playing watered- down versions of “Hound Dog” and “Joy to the World” in Disneyland – this bass playing bird found himself a cushy gig in Glendale. Nowadays, the stork robot is used to train Imagineers in the subtle art of programming audio animatronic figures.

Truth be told, this stork AA figure is WDI’s equivalent of a final exam. Before they are officially certified to program audio animatronic for Disney theme park attractions, Imagineers are given two hours with this “America Sings” figure and a programming console. Their mission: Get a pleasing performance out of this robotic bird.

Believe me, folks. It ain’t as easy as it looks. Many folks actually wash out of Imagineering’s AA training course because they can’t pass the stork test. (There’s also a very tired WDI joke that’s associated with this portion of the audio animatronic programming training course. When a would- be programmer gets to this point in class, his or her teacher says ” Well, I guess it’s time we give you the bird.” Ha Ha. It is to laugh … )

So – finally – the stork has been accounted for. But there are other mysteries associated with “America Sings.” Questions like:

“What was the deal with Disney changing the voice of the AA Dog’s voice that sang “Who Shot That Hole in my Sombrero?”

Actually, that’s an interesting bit of Disneyland history. Something that might particularly intrigue those folks who get so mad at Disney’s attempts to make its theme park attractions politically correct.

Disneyana fans who became so irate about that recent “Pirates of the Caribbean” rehab (where those salty old sots in the “Rape and Pillage” sequence lost their affection for femininity and began lustin’ after lunch instead) might be interested to learn that changing shows and attractions so that they would not offend theme park guests is not a recent development at the Walt Disney Company. The Mouse actually began doing stuff like this back in the mid-1960s.

Take – for example – the changes Disney made to its films and theme parks due to the civil rights movement. Sunflower, the black comic relief centaurette character featured in the Beethoven’s “Pastoral” sequence in the original version of “Fantasia”, was snipped out of the picture. Bacchus’s two scantily clad zebra attendants from this same segment of that film were severely cut back. Around this same time, Walt Disney Productions also gave serious thought to locking up all existing prints of “Song of the South” up in the vault and throwing away a key.

(Over 30 years later, it looks like Disney’s done just that. Earlier this year, Disney Studio head Peter Schneider announced that “Song of the South” was going on permanent moratorium. As of this moment, the Mouse has no plans to ever re-release this 1946 Academy Award winner. Mind you, this moratorium seems to only be in effect in the United States. If you’d live in Japan and want to have your very own copy of “Song of the South,” no problem. Just head down to your local laser disc shop and snap up a copy today. “Song of the South” has been on sale in the Orient for years now … One can only assume that the Mouse sells this controversial film in Japan because the company figures that there are precious few African Americans in this region to offend. Though I bet you won’t find any copies of Disney’s infamous 1940s era anti-Japanese film, “Victory Through Air Power,” on sale in the Emporium at Tokyo Disneyland. Funny how that works, isn’t it? … ANYWAY … )

Back in the late 1960s, Disney also made an effort to keep Disneyland from accidentally its African American guests by changing the name of that Frontierland favorite – Aunt Jemima’s Pancake House – to the Riverbelle Terrace. As they made this name change, the Mouse also fired the black woman who had played Aunt Jemima since the park opened in 1955.

I’m told that this woman – a much beloved member of the Disneyland cast – wept bitterly when she learned she was being let go. Aunt Jemima wondered what she had done to lose a job she loved so much. Disneyland management tried explaining to the weeping woman that it was nothing that she had personally done. It was just the changing times. ( That didn’t do much to stop her tears, though … )

ANYWHO … Getting back to “America Sings” …

When this Tomorrowland attraction opened in June 1974, this “Wild West” section of the attraction featured a Mexican dog wearing a sombrero who sang while seated on a burro. Using a comically thick Hispanic accent, this AA character did a truncated version of “Who Shot That Hole in my Sombrero?”

Just how thick was that accent? Do you remember Speedy Gonzalez from the old Warner Brothers cartoons? That’s what this character in “America Sings” sounded like. (Curiously, the last time I listened to a recording of the original version of the Mexican dog in this Tomorrowland show, I couldn’t help thinking that this AA figure’s voice had been provided by the same gentleman who also done Speedy Gonzalez’s vocals: late toon voice master Mel Blanc. Can any of you Disneyana trivia buffs out there confirm this for me?)

Anyway … Almost immediately after “America Sings” opened, Hispanic guests began storming Disneyland City Hall and complaining about how offensive the Mexican dog character was. (Hindsight is always 20/20. But – given the great number of Mexican- Americans that live in Southern California and regularly visit Disneyland – wasn’t it kind of dumb for the Imagineers to put an AA figure in this show that deliberately made fun of that segment of public? )

Startled by the numerous complaints this “America Sings” figure was receiving, Disneyland management immediately asked the Imagineers to come up with less offensive vocals for the Mexican dog. Within a month’s time, the offending vocal tracks were gone. The Mexican dog had completely lost his Hispanic accent. He now sounded like your standard canine cow-poke.

That’s pretty much it for my behind- the- scenes stories for “America Sings.” I want to thank Dan Alexander, Kevin Yee and all the DIG readers who wrote in to share their tales of this Tomorrowland attraction and their memories of the missing geese. It’s nice to know that there are other folks out there who now look at Disneyland’s “Innoventions” shopping-mall-go-’round and think:

“I remember when there was a real show in that building.”

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.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
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.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
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.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
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?


Copyright Lucasfilm / Disney
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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