Inspired by the Saturday Matinee Serials like Flash Gordon and Commando Cody that he saw as a boy, George Lucas would combine his memories of those shows with mythology and “the hero’s journey,” to create one of the most pop-culturally loved (and loathed) space-adventure series of all time.
Though not much of a storyteller, George was largely a man of ideas, and on a Hawaiian beach with Steven Spielberg in 1977, he shared another serial-inspired idea with his famous friend.
While Steven had been trying to get the family of Albert Broccoli to allow him to direct a James Bond film, George claimed he had an idea that was “better than Bond.”
Lucas’ concept of an archaeologist/professor intrigued Steven, and the two directors made a pact to do a trilogy of films around the character.
With Harrison Ford cast as the lead, Indiana Jones made his whip-cracking debut in 1981 in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and quickly became a worldwide hit. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom followed in 1984, and while a much darker film than it’s predecessor, it still turned a profit. Five years later, the trilogy was completed, with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
However, even though he had created an entertaining action-film trilogy, the public wanted more. Following the release of Crusade, Steven would often be asked, “when are you making another Indiana Jones movie?”
The same was asked of Harrison Ford and George Lucas, and after a reunion with the cast and crew, almost everyone who had been involved seemed okay with doing another film…except Steven.
In a making-of excerpt, Spielberg explained that he was ‘the hold-out,’ and felt the scene of the characters riding off into the sunset at the end of Last Crusade, was a fitting closure to Dr Jones’ story on film.
In the end, Steven was coaxed along by his friends, and after a decade or so of prep-work, Henry Jones Jr, would return to the big-screen.
Aliens…why’d it have to be aliens?
In the early years of the 21st century, it was commonplace for many to bash filmmaker George Lucas as an out-of-touch creator. His Special Edition releases of The Star Wars Trilogy had brought fans back to theaters, but purists were angered at the changes he had made. The release of the Star Wars prequels from 1999-2005, further cemented fan-hatred, when Lucas seemed unwilling to fulfill the words of what Obi-Wan Kenobi had told Luke Skywalker, in A New Hope.
When it came to Indiana Jones, his adventures of fighting Nazi’s and trekking through strange-and-exotic locales in the first three films, fit into Lucas’ ode to the serials and the time period of the 1930’s. While Indy would weather the years and rarely change his ways, audiences would soon find that the world of the 50’s, was a very different place.
With the defeat of Hitler and the end of WWII, there was now a new war…a Cold War, and it involved the country of Russia. With Crystal Skull‘s 1957 time period, the film attempted to tie together real-life elements, such as the fear of Communism, the Red Scare, as well as the birth of The Atomic Age.
There was also a change in the adventure-film aesthetics. In Lucas’ mind, the concept of 1950’s B-movies, would influence Indy’s 1950’s adventure, much in the same way that the 1930’s serial had done with the first three films.
And, unlike artifacts that were a bit more tangible to the common person in western civilization (such as the Ark of the Covenant or The Holy Grail), the mcguffin for the new film, would be a bit more of an ‘abstract’ object, akin to the Sankara stones from Temple of Doom.
The new item, was a crystal skull, in the shape of an elongated alien’s head, that possessed psychic powers.
Upon hearing his friend’s idea to use aliens in the new film, Spielberg claimed that he was done with alien films, but Lucas was adamant that the new film would work with the alien mcguffin. Over the course of pre-production, it was the one storypoint that he would not compromise on: there would be aliens, end of story..or so he thought.
Finally, Lucas decided that instead of being aliens, the crystal-skulled creatures, would actually be ‘inter-dimensional beings,’ but with an alien appearance. And, while they would travel in flying saucers (another staple of 1950’s B-movies), they wouldn’t travel through space, but through time.
Some may assume that Lucas’ concept of crystal skulls in the world of Indy was brand-new, but in fact, they had been thought of as a (non-alien-influenced) mcguffin for Dr Jones, as far back as the early 1990’s.
During that time, Lucas was producing The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. The television series showed Indy in various time periods of his life, and at one point, a script had been written where Indy went looking for a crystal skull. However, the series was cancelled, and the script was shelved…but the concept was still there.
The story concept would next find new life, when Tokyo Disneyseas (an expansion of Tokyo Disneyland), opened Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Crystal Skull in the fall of 2001.
While the ride’s innards would largely resemble Disneyland‘s Temple of the Forbidden Eye, the deity known as Mara would be replaced by a large, glowing crystal skull, that sent riders on a path to their doom.
“You Can’t Go Home Again.”
I often recalled as a kid, the characters in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comics, referencing this line. Taken from novelist Thomas Wolfe, I feel it best summarizes Lucas’ films where he returns to a familiar subject, after some time has passed.
When it comes the properties Lucas has been associated with over the years, people have very much been enamored with trying to recapture the magic they experienced, seeing those films in their youth. I recall how high the nostalgic factor was when Episode I debuted. Within hours of it’s release, it soon became apparent that George was not just going to shower his viewers with lots and lots of fanservice.
The same could be said when it came to Crystal Skull. However, I can’t help but feel there was a method to ‘the madness.’
Like the Star Wars prequels, it feels like many were hoping to walk in and encounter Indiana, as if no time had passed. Lucas isn’t really a sentimental individual, and it feels like the story concept for the film, was to show that Jones had to move on, and find a new group of people to be with in his life.
When we first encounter him, Jones is under suspicion of being in league with the Communists after the Area 51 opening. This puts his teaching career in jeopardy, and, we learn that two of the people in his life have recently died: Marcus Brody, and his father, Henry Jones, Sr.
As the story goes on, we see a new family unit build up around him. From the realization that Mutt Williams (Shia LeBeouf) is his son, to the fact that Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) still harbors feelings for him, and his old friend Harold Oxley (John Hurt), needs his help.
By the end of the film, Indy has a new ‘family,’ and we see him marrying Marion.
Some may find this an odd ending, given the old formula of how Jones encountered a new female lead with every film, but that was a younger Indy, and he isn’t quite the ladies man now, as he was in the 1930’s.
Parallels to Previous Storylines
While many gave Crystal Skull a hard time, screenwriter David Koepp still attempted to retain certain through-lines, that drew parallels to the three previous films.
In Raiders, there was talk about how Hitler was ‘obsessed with the occult,’ which tied into the search for the Ark of the Covenant. In Skull, there is word that Stalin is interested in ‘psychic warfare,’ which ties into the search for the crystal skulls, and attempts to find the lost city of Akator.
The villains also figure into parallels to previous films.
Ever since Raiders, there has come a moment where Indiana usually has to take on a ‘big baddie.’ Whether it be the German mechanic in Raiders, or Colonel Dovchenko in Skull, Indy usually finds himself fighting a losing battle, until he is saved by happenstance, and his foe meets a gruesome demise.
There is also the continual plotpoint about how the lead villain is searching for something, and once they get their hands on it…it usually leads to their demise (as seen in the screencaps above).
Indiana himself is also open to story parallels.
Almost every film involves him trekking deep into a temple or a darkened cavern. In these situations, it is usually Indy who is the brave one, while he has to contend with a cohort who is freaked out by what they find inside. Whether it be Marion with the snakes in Raiders or Mutt encountering a scorpion in Skull, each darkened space can be counted on to contain some creepy-crawlies.
There also is Indy’s doubt over the ‘mystical nature’ of the artifacts he is looking for. In each film, he starts out just thinking the mysticism surrounding the items is nonsense. Of course, by the end of the film, he has usually changed his tune.
Also by the end of the film, he usually ends up going home empty-handed, but has quite a story to tell.
Closing Thoughts, and Ideas on Indiana Jones 5
Much like The Phantom Menace, Crystal Skull would clean-up at the worldwide box-office, but it’s ‘imperfections’ have made it the black sheep of the series, causing many to disavow that it ever happened.
The most notable one, happened recently when the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema announced they were holding a 10th anniversary party for the opening of Crystal Skull…by showing only the first three films (the equivalent of throwing someone a birthday party, and not inviting the guest-of-honor!).
Looking around online in the past few days, it does appear there are those that feel the same as I do about the film: while not a great film, it is far from the trainwreck many claim it to be…but then again, internet fanbases loves to throw pity-parties.
One of the most ridiculous comments I heard following the release of Crystal Skull, was some fans ‘demanding’ that a fifth film be made to ‘apologize’ for the fourth one.
Rumors persisted that we might still get an Indy 5, notably in regards to The Walt Disney Company acquiring Lucasfilm in 2011 (whose purchase included ownership of both Star Wars and Indiana Jones licenses).
Now, word is that another film is coming to pass, with Harrison Ford once again cracking the whip…but, for the last time. Ford is now in his mid-70’s, and given Indy’s rough-and-tumble penchant for action and stunts, it makes sense this will be his last outing.
Scheduled for a July 2020 release, what the fifth installment will entail has not been revealed. Word is that Lucas declined to be involved with the film’s development, but David Koepp (who wrote the screenplay for Crystal Skull), is currently involved. However, it sounds like the new family Indy found for himself in his previous outing, may not return, and plunge the adventurer into a new area. With Shia Lebeouf having distanced himself from Spielberg, and John Hurt passing away last year, that just leaves Karen Allen, though there’s been no word if she’ll return as “Mrs Jones.”
Some of you might be wondering, where is is there left to explore? Well, given that the filmmakers like to have Indy associated with certain time frames, I have one possible locale: Vietnam.
Given Indy has already dealt with Germans and Russians, I could see him having been cleared of spy charges, and then ends up over in Vietnam in the mid-60’s. Given at the time a lot of young men were being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, I could imagine one of them becoming disillusioned, attempting to defect, and following Dr Jones on an adventure into the surrounding jungle territories.
Of course, the big question you may have is, what would Indy be looking for? Why, The Temple of the Monkey King.
Also known as Sun Wukong, the Monkey King is known in a number of different Asian cultures. Resembling a monkey and having supernatural powers, some of the tales revolving around the character, tie into the concepts that the creature or certain items around him, can grant one immortality.
A story involving the Monkey King had been considered for both The Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade, and given how previous unused story ideas have often been recycled into later stories, I could see this being a good candidate to pay homage to some of the past story ideas Lucas considered.
Of course, some might say it could be a story retread, given the Holy Grail was a relic that promised ‘eternal life,’ but if the story was probably tweaked a bit more beyond what I can imagine, it might make for a fitting end. Plus, given technological leaps these days, one can imagine a motion-captured rendition of the Monkey King, interacting with Indiana Jones (though whether the old-school fans would accept this, is hard to say).
Of course, what you’ve read in the last couple paragraphs is just me speculating. I don’t have actual inside information, just a few ideas of my own. Still, if the Monkey King idea is dusted off, I’ll be interested to see what is done.
Otherwise, we’ll see if Spielberg and Koepp may find another religion-based mcguffin for Jones to go after in a few years.
Let’s face it: when it comes to talking about the future, the majority of humanity is extremely pessimistic.These days, with war, politics, famine, global warming, and several more items too numerous to mention…we’re more willing to accept a future world like that in Terminator 2, than say, Back to the Future Part II (and it is 2015, after all!).
Following World War II, there was the thought that the future would consist of elaborate plastic houses, and pristine-white towers that stretched into the sky. There was optimistic talk of the push-button era, and one thing that still fascinated the young and young-at-heart since the pulp comics of the 1930’s: jetpacks!
Today, that world of optimism seems little more than something one finds in reruns of episodes of Star Trek or The Jetsons…but what if?
That’s what director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) and writer Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus) are attempting with one of the most quizzical releases from Walt Disney Pictures in some time: Tomorrowland. Though the film borrows the moniker from the Disneyland realm of the same name, it handles its concepts of Tomorrow in a different way.
Key among the film’s characters, are a former boy-genius named Frank Walker (George Clooney), an optimistic teenager named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), and a bright-eyed girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy).
Clooney plays Frank with a grouchy aplomb when we first encounter him, but then again, he seems very much like I imagine some young dreamers who become adults: that magic may still be inside (somewhere), but the world has hardened him on the outside.
Casey Newton is a new take on the “young genius” characters we’ve seen in the last few decades. Instead of being one of those ‘angsty child prodigies,’ she does some of the most dangerous things a young person can do: she asks questions! Casey is one of those people that is thirsting for knowledge, wanting to actually do something in this world that tells you there’s no hope, which definitely throws a wrench into some people’s thoughts.
Usually in a Brad Bird film, there’s one character that seems to stand out, and here, it feels like Raffey’s Athena will be the one most remembered. What seems like a relatively minor role quickly snowballs into something a little more. Given her wide-eyed innocence and British accent, Athena almost reminded me of Kathryn Beaumont at times…in fact, it was a little fun to imagine Beaumont doing half of what Athena does in this film.
One item marketing seems to almost be ashamed of (at least stateside), is making this world a little more welcome to Disney fans (for those who saw the Japan trailer for the film, you’ll know what I mean). This film at times feels like one of the first that I can recall, that seems to almost speak to those of us who were fans of Walt Disney, telling us about flights of imaginative fancy. Tomorrowland is also the first time I’ve ever heard anyone properly use the phrase “Audio-Animatronics” in a film (sorry Jurassic Park, you missed it by “that much”).
As well, the grand vistas of Tomorrowland really make one wish such a place existed: a world where you do feel that anything is possible, and people have put aside their petty differences, all in an attempt to make a better place. If anything, one hopes that maybe what we see will inspire a new generation of dreamers.
Much like an episode of Lost, you might find yourself disoriented after a few minutes watching the film. A number of ‘pieces’ of the film’s puzzle are thrown at us, and it doesn’t really feel that we have a decent grasp of the world, until maybe 1/4 of the way in. It almost put me in mind of the disorientation first-timers must have felt watching Back to the Future, or Spirited Away.
Writer Damon Lindelof’s work with JJ Abrams helped usher in the ‘mystery box’ style of writing to 21st century entertainment, but it feels that at times, Tomorrowland tries to get a little too deep into how many mystery boxes we unearth. I feel that some people may get a little tired of the mysteries, and just demand that some characters get to the point!
As well, a major revelation in the third act almost feels like you might need to take shorthand in order to understand what someone is proposing.
It’s sad that the cohesiveness of the film doesn’t hold together so well, but even so, the film has little jewels of interesting moments. One that stands out is when young Frank (Thomas Robinson) eagerly shows a jetpack he made out of a vacuum cleaner, to Mr Nix (Hugh Laurie). Nix is not-at-all satisfied with Frank’s thought that a jetpack should just be “fun.” But Frank tells how if he saw someone flying overhead on a jetpack, he’d be excited at what the future of innovation could bring. That seems to be the goal of the film: trying to balance out the pessimism of what the future could be, with the optimism of what it can be.
At times, Tomorrowland did remind me of another rather “cold” film: Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence. One might have a little trouble trying to properly make an emotional connection with the characters…though at least here, the human characters seem a little more “human.” As well, don’t be surprised if you find some parallels to Tron: Legacy interspersed throughout.
Probably the most exciting moment from the geek/nerd perspective, was when Casey finds herself in a science-fiction collectibles shop. Though a fun little scene, it almost feels like the audience’s attention will be torn between listening to the conversations, and looking for hidden images in the shop. As well, a certain science-fiction series may seem to overwhelm the moment.
Composer Michael Giacchino returns to be the ‘ears’ to Bird’s ‘eyes,’ scoring the film with his typical retro-bravado. There are a few times, where some of his musical work almost seems a little reminiscent of his retro-future themes laid down for the recent Star Trek films. it even sounds like he borrows a little from John Williams’ Last Crusade score, with a brass melody that sounds a little like the theme for Henry Jones, Sr.
Brad Bird made Ghost Protocol a pretty tight film given the story it told, but Tomorrowland feels like it gets flimsy at times, trying to be mysterious. I can’t help but wonder if given the mystery and clues to met out, if it might have made a better television series than a film. Or maybe, if it had an extra 30 minutes, it might have been a little better. It’s rather surprising that given the story being told, it clocks in just under 2 hours!
One interview had Bird and Lindelof talk about how they had a number of interesting thoughts and theories they wanted to put into the film, but in this case, it feels like they may have gotten a little in over their heads.
Even with its shortcomings, Tomorrowland is a film I cannot easily dismiss. Even a good Brad Bird film is something one should see. Though the big question I think will be, how the film will “speak” to viewers when it is released?
Final Grade: B (Final Thoughts: Much like the thought of a World of Tomorrow, the film gives forth a valiant attempt to be something different on the face of our movie landscape, but at times, may be a little too smart for its own good. There’s some wonderful ideas and visuals at work within the film, but it feels like all the pieces don’t fit together so well in the end)
When I think back over the dozen or so times I’ve been to Disneyland in my life, I realize that much of my indoctrination to the park, did not include a penchant for character interaction.
In recent years, the character meet-and-greet experience has snowballed into one that now commands long lines. Many would stand in line for a bit to meet the likes of Ariel or Jasmine, but Disney was surprised when the characters Anna and Elsa (from
Frozen) debuted in the Fall of 2013. Pretty soon, the lines to meet the two sisters commanded wait times of over 5 hours, and have been that way for almost a year (and counting!).
Naturally, talk of this explosion in lines for new character meet-and-greets, were on my mind when I decided to do the one for Big Hero 6, which would give attendees the chance to meet Hiro, and Baymax.
Much like the meet-and-greet for Wreck-It-Ralph, the one for Big Hero 6 was set up in the rear of the now-defunct Starcade location in Tomorrowland. The downside of this setup, is the line to see them, was pushed against the side of the wall, near the exit to Space Mountain, which became rather packed with humanity several times.
The day I visited, Hiro and Baymax were scheduled to appear between 10:30 am, through 5:00 pm. I arrived about 5-10 minutes after the scheduled start time, and was informed by a Cast Member that while Hiro would be there for the full event, Baymax’s time would be limited.
The mention that I was at a point in the line that was considered a 1 1/2 hour wait point, almost made me drop out…but as with most of my logical thoughts, I decided to wait and see.
A roped line snaked around inside part of the Starcade, while tape on the ground outside, informed people where to stand. As the line moved on, many of us were happy to see that Baymax was indeed “online,” and appearing with Hiro.
The meeting area was made up to resemble Hiro’s garage workshop, which included such touches as Baymax’s rocket-fist, and helmet sitting nearby. As well, Hiro’s computer monitors, showed parts of the martial arts programming that was added to Baymax’s information.
During the course of the line wait (which ended up being an hour for me, instead of their 1 1/2 hour estimate), Baymax did leave the staging area a few times, to “recharge his batteries.” Luckily, his charging times were relatively brief, and he carefully sidled back out to continue his sessions with Hiro.
When it finally came my turn to meet them, Hiro happily shook my hand, and introduced me to Baymax. Baymax eagerly extended an arm to hug me, and I was surprised that he was vinyl in texture (and just as huggable and soft!) his heart-dock was made of a plastic material, and it even looked like his head was plastic as well. And just like on the film, his eyes “blink”!
We took several pictures, with my favorite one being me with an arm around Baymax, and Hiro giving me a fistbump (as seen above). Hiro also suggested we do an arms-crossed picture in front of Baymax for a second pose.
When it was time for me to leave, Hiro suggested we do a three-person fistbump. Baymax tried his best, but couldn’t roll his hand into a fist. Even so, I concluded it with a “badeladelaldelah,” and a polite nod to Baymax.
I will admit that it was a pleasant experience, though I would strongly recommend getting there early as a precaution. I don’t know how much time Baymax generally is out, so an early visit would be a good insurance policy. I didn’t go back and see how long the line got after I left, but I bet it only got longer as the day wore on.
The guy portraying Hiro was very energetic, and I saw him being as loose and boisterous as Hiro was in the film. Baymax’s movements were simple, with him even nodding his head a few times, along with sidling through the back doorway when he needed a recharge. I was hoping that maybe he would have had some audio sounds from the film, but even so, his presence was very comforting.
One has to wonder if maybe some day, one of the kids who visited this meet-and-greet might actually make a helper robot, with his Disneyland memory in mind.
Retro Recaps: Disneyland’s 35th Anniversary Celebration – When Woody Boyd visited The Haunted Mansion
Retro Recaps is where we will look back at old television episodes from the past, and analyze their story, content, and much more.
In the last few years, one of the shows that I found myself binge-watching on Netflix, has been Cheers. I wasn’t an avid watcher of the show during its initial run (I was moreso into cartoons at the time), but looking at it now, it’s a rather comforting piece of 80’s/early 90’s material, about a bunch of losers in a Boston bar, going through the trials and tribulations of their adult lives.
As a youngster, the first indication I really had about this show, was when most of the cast appeared on the special regarding Mickey’s 60th Birthday. After being stripped of his identity, Mickey takes a stroll through NBC sitcom-land, eventually ending up in the Cheers bar.
Writer Ken Levine told in his blog how the writers for the special eventually came to him and several others on the show, when they couldn’t make the characters gel properly. They were rewarded for their efforts with a swag bag full of Disney merch (including some films on VHS!).
As I mentioned in my Retro Recap of the birthday special, it was not the last time the Cheers gang would end up in a Disney-related special. In the Summer of 1990, Disneyland celebrated its 35th anniversary with a television special hosted by Tony Danza. Though after the big intro rolled, where did the show begin?
…in a familiar little bar in Boston, Massachusetts.
As the special starts, we see Norm Peterson (George Wendt), Carla Tortelli-Lebec (Rhea Perlman), and Cliff Claven (John Ratzenberger) watching female wrestling on the bar’s television. As the match continues, Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) and his wife Lilith Sternin-Crane (Bebe Neuwirth) walk in, inquiring about the match.
Just then, Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson) comes out of the bar’s office, requesting to watch the Disneyland TV special (we’re one level away from television inception here!). Needless to say, Norm, Carla, and Cliff find Woody’s taste in television programming to be boring (it’s rather funny to see Carla on the side of both Norm and Cliff for a change).
Woody defends his decision, claiming “everyone loves Disney,” though even Frasier is unsure if Woody can sway the group in the bar away from “the knockout girls of wrestling.”
Hearing the word “knockout,” Cliff then steers the conversation to Disney heroines, when he proclaims that Cinderella was attractive. Norm claims he used to agree with Cliff, but with the recent release of The Little Mermaid, he is now an Ariel fan, citing the red hair.
Frasier chimes in, claiming that the most beautiful Disney character to him, is Snow White: “Skin white as snow, hair black as night, lips red as blood…wait a minute, I married her!”
Needless to say, Lilith adds her own coda on this: “With a little Wicked Queen thrown in, just for fun.”
The conversation then returns to Disneyland, and Woody begins to recall when he and a few friends went there when he was 10 years old, on opening day. Of course, this being Woody, he doesn’t quite get his facts straight, with Lilith correcting Woody that given his age, he wasn’t even born when the park opened (in 1955).
Addle-brained as ever, Woody keeps insisting he was there opening day, given how clean the place was, the Mickey-shaped balloons, and getting to meet Mickey Mouse. Of course, the Cheers regulars insist to Woody that the park is always like that.
Needless to say, Woody’s innocent view of Disneyland is now a little shaken up.
“All this time, I thought my experience was so special, and now I find out it’s just plain, old, ordinary everyday stuff,” says Woody. “Everyone goes out to Disneyland, meets Mickey, and sees the parade, and goes in the haunted house, and falls in love with the girl of their dreams in a dark corridor.”
The last line immediately hooks the others, as that is definitely not an everyday Disneyland experience. When they pry to know more, Woody then begins to tell his story.
On his visit to Disneyland, Woody and his friends had been on most of the park’s rides, but had not yet gone on The Haunted Mansion. His friends eagerly want to go on it, but Woody tries to get them to go on the Tea Cups in Fantasyland instead. Of course, this causes his “friends” to ridicule him, claiming they’re going into The Haunted Mansion whether he comes or not.
Woody tags along with them, but grows scared once he gets to the main corridor, with its eerie portraits, and flashes of lightning out the nearby windows. When his friends make fun of him, Woody insists he isn’t scared, and they do what most “good friends” do in situations like this: run off, and leave him to go on the ride…alone!
He slowly makes his way through the main corridor, but hesitates again when he gets to the Doom Buggy ride vehicles. The attendant (played with horror-movie host relish by Charles Fleischer), doesn’t help Woody’s fear, with his wide-eyes and spooky eyebrows.
Woody attempts to leave, when he bumps into a little girl in a pink dress. Seeing that he seems scared, she offers to go on the ride with him, claiming she’s been on it plenty of times.
The two then board one of the Doom Buggies, and begin their trip through the mansion. Naturally, Woody is a little spooked at first, but the little girl is just enjoying all that the ride has to offer, from the dead trying to rise from their coffins, to the myriad ghosts haunting the main ballroom.
In a rather strange moment, as they watch the ghostly dancers the little girl asks Woody if he’d like to dance. They are immediately whisked from the Doom Buggy…
…and down among the apparitions. After the dance, the two return to the Doom Buggy, and continue on with the ride.
Eventually the ride ends, and Woody admits that he actually did have fun. The girl then gives him a kiss on the cheek, and admits she had a fun time as well.
Woody eagerly tells how he’d love for her to meet his friends. He glances away for a moment, but when he turns back, the little girl is gone! Looking around, the only thing he finds is a pink ribbon on the ground.
Picking it up, he walks outside, where he encounters his friends, who apologize for leaving him behind. However, he claims that it is ok. Turning back to look at the mansion, he is surprised to see the little girl, standing on an upper-level balcony. As Woody waves to her, she waves back…and disappears!
Of course, Woody’s childhood friends wonder who he is waving at, as the young boy smiles, and caresses the ribbon the girl left behind.
It is then that Woody comes out of his flashback, with several of his current friends remarking that his story was really touching, with Frasier claiming that everyone’s reaction to it, shows that they’re all “big kids at heart.”
Needless to say, Woody’s story has made the group forget about female wrestling, and Woody turns the channel to the park’s TV special.
Of course, there’s more to the rest of the special, but since I’m in a Cheers mood, I figured it only natural to cover this segment. There are several others within the special, featuring the likes of Ernest P Worrell (Jim Varney) going through some old home movies on his visit to the park, as well as Miss Piggy telling of her experience getting to be Cinderella in the park’s parade. There were also appearances by Ronald Reagan, and even Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
At the time I saw the special, I still had never been on The Haunted Mansion. It wasn’t until sometime in the 90’s, did I finally experience it. I the ride to be like a dark-comedy, straddling that line between creepy, and kooky. It’s almost like Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: the ghosts and ghouls here are just having a good time, and aren’t really intending to harm the guests. In fact, maybe that’s why they decided to theme the mansion around the Nightmare film every Christmas.
The segment on the Disneyland special does show the limited budget at times. If one estimates that Woody Boyd was also born in 1961 like Woody Harrelson, and he was 10 in the flashback, then he would have been in the park around 1971. Though in the flashback, young Woody and his friends are wearing clothing more suited for the 1980’s than the early 1970’s (I had a number of shirts like young Woody had when I was that age).
When it comes to what is inside the Haunted Mansion, the filmmakers definitely take some liberties. For example, one cannot exit the Doom Buggy and dance with the ghosts…but as we saw, the little girl helped make this exception to the ride’s rule. Looking over the scene, it looks like they actually filmed that sequence inside the actual attraction (though the ghosts were added in post-production, of course).
I also never encountered any wise-cracking attendants like Charles Fleischer plays (FYI: Charles is the voice of Roger Rabbit!). In fact, Fleischer is the only other cast member in the entire segment, playing both the Doom Buggie attendant, and in a hard-to-pinpoint role, a man inside a suit of armor in the ride (note: that definitely doesn’t happen during the ride!).
The interior footage in much of the special, is also made up of some of the original stock footage shot when the ride was first introduced, as one can sense a difference in the quality of the images.
When going over the credits of the piece, I was curious if any of the child actors in the flashback went on to bigger and better things.
in the case of the kids playing young Woody and the ghost girl, Brandon Maciel and Erinn Canavan appear to have acted in just a few more movies and television episodes, before disappearing from the realms of the big-screen. The boys playing Woody’s friends (portrayed by Chris Demetral and Billy O’Sullivan) lasted a ways beyond, doing TV and video game work into the 21st century.
Though the Cheers segment is credited to Cheers’ own co-creator and director, James Burrows, it’s most likely a given that the flashback sequences at Disneyland were directed by the special’s main director: John Landis. Yes, the man who directed Animal House and An American Werewolf in London directed the majority of this special. In fact, there’s something rather familiar to Landis’ Werewolf work in how he directs much of the interior scenes for his segment here.
Of course, if you’re a Cheers fan, you might be wondering about the bit as it pertains to continuity within the show. I think in truth, it exists as one of those stories outside the main continuity, much like the 60th Birthday bit for Mickey Mouse.
I will admit the fictional story of a young Woody Boyd encountering a mischievous ghost girl on The Haunted Mansion did capture my youthful imagination, but there are plenty of other stories about ghosts and ghouls at Disneyland out there (though most of those, I’ll leave for you to discover on your own).
There have been reports over the years of people seeing spirits in Disneyland, and many wanting to take up the Ghost Host’s offer that the 999 ghosts within the mansion, are always looking for one more.
Some people are so willing to never leave the Happiest Place on Earth, that when they die, they ask to be cremated, and their ashes scattered within the park. Of course, The Walt Disney Company doesn’t allow or encourage such things, but there have been all sorts of stories, including a story I recall in the past 10 years, where people were shaking ashen remains out of their pant legs as the Doom Buggies in the Haunted Mansion went on their way.
Needless to say, there are now special procedures for this type of things, and this can lead to quick ride closures while the remains are cleaned up.
…of course, it’s fairly certain, something of those poor unfortunate souls…still…remains!
Most of us who grew up in the late 1980’s, know of Ernest P Worrell in some form or another.
Originally conceived of as as commercial pitchman, the character was embodied by actor Jim Varney, into a well-meaning, if often accident-prone Southerner, often addressing the camera as if it was his good friend, Vern…whether Vern liked it or not.
In 1987, Ernest made his leap from television to the big-screen, with Ernest Goes To Camp, making him one of several commercial spokespersons to make the leap to film personality. Though receiving a drubbing from a number of critics, the positive reception to the film by the public, quickly pushed the character onward into more adventures.
Ernest would ride out the height of his popularity over the next 5 years, with several films, and even the television series, Hey Vern, It’s Ernest! But unknown to some, Ernest also acted as a guinea pig/test pilot, for a brand-new Disneyland attraction, in the Summer of 1989.
Almost a decade after Disneyland opened its third mountainous attraction (aka Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, in 1979), a new mountain would rise up in the western section of the park near The Haunted Mansion. Billed as the world’s tallest flume-drop ride (at the time), Splash Mountain took the story of Brer Rabbit from Song of the South (before the world tried to forget the film was made), and interspersed it in an attraction that brought some relief from the southern California sun.
The cul-de-sac behind The Haunted Mansion was soon given the name of Critter Country, and was billed for awhile as a separate land of its own…albeit one that only had one attraction (for over 2 decades, anyways).
To tie in to the opening of the new attraction, The Disney Channel aired a network-only special, in which Ernest P Worrell would become America’s first “Splashtronaut,” and try out the ride. Just how Ernest got chosen? Well, those facts are lost to the annals of history.
The show starts with real-life news anchor Ralph Story in Splash Mountain News Central, our main eyes and ears on the mountain as Ernest prepares.
While the news team readies for Ernest’s arrival, the man himself is undergoing testing at his friend Vern’s Daredevil Training Camp (Vern is a man of all trades, isn’t he?). Needless to say, these sequences just last as small vignettes as Ernest seems to get into all sorts of trouble.
Interspersed within these little bits with Ernest, are news reports given by several different correspondents that Story talks to. Some of them act as little more than travelogue material to tell people what they’ll see if they go to Disneyland, but some do offer some behind-the-scenes material and facts about the attraction. In one scene, we see the water filtration area where the ride’s water is constantly pumped out and back into the attraction’s waterways. In another, a reporter (played by Sheryl Bernstein), interviews Walt Disney Imagineer Chris Gordon.
Unknown to many, Gordon was part of the next generation of Imagineers at the company, helping to orchestrate a number of new attractions and refurbishments, with Splash Mountain being one of his biggest projects. It is nice to see Gordon (who passed away in 2007) given some screen-time, even if the humor of the moment is that the reporter doesn’t let him get a word in edge-wise.
Eventually, Ernest makes his way to Disneyland, where he’s carried down Main Street USA, and into the ride. After some rather eye-rolling humor (“Someone call me a log!” “You’re a log!”), Ernest gets into one of the ride’s log-shaped vehicles, and starts on his way.
We’re treated to several interior shots of the the ride as Ernest eventually makes his way up the steep incline leading to the top of the ride’s flume drop. Of course, in typical Ernest-fashion, the plunge down the flume into the briar page lasts 3 times longer than normal, as Ernest freaks out in his typical over-exaggerated style.
Ernest soon returns to the station, seemingly in a state of shock, and at first, having a hard time getting any words out. It’s only when the reporter asks if he’d recommend Splash Mountain to the other park guests, does Ernest finally find his voice:
“I’d recommend Splash Mountain to anyone. Things like Splash Mountain keep you young…that and, blood transfusions, organ transplants, cosmetic surgery…I feel great.”
And with Ernest’s seal of approval, the ride officially opens.
Back in Splash Mountain News Central, Ralph Story concludes his news report, claiming that “Ernest P Worrell will certainly be written into the history of Disneyland, because he’s one for the books.”
The credits then roll, but not before we get a small bit with Ernest telling Vern how he is throwing a party after his victory over Splash Mountain. He also makes mention that he invited the guys from Walt Disney Imagineering over to his place, but they claimed they were busy.
Originally airing on The Disney Channel on July 7, 1989, Ernest Goes to Splash Mountain was almost like a members-only early look into up-and-coming attractions, for those lucky enough to have this new cable channel. The ride’s official opening would be on July 17, 1989, also the 34th Anniversary of the opening of Disneyland.
I will admit this special helped raise awareness for the new attraction, and several of my family and I went on it that very summer. I still recall the 2-hour wait time to get on the ride, and by the time we got on, the heat from the afternoon sun made us eager to ride. The ride definitely threw down the gauntlet to other theme parks, as almost 8 years later, Universal Studios Hollywood would try to outdo Splash Mountain with their bigger and more expensive, Jurassic Park The Ride.
One of my favorite moments in the special is when Ernest is on his way to the top of the flume drop. He’s leaning back calmly going, ‘Wish I’d brought a book.’ I always wanted to do that if I had a log to myself, but when that moment came in the Summer of 2010, the log seating had been re-designed, and one could not recline like Ernest had once did.
There are also some humorous little easter eggs. In one scene as Ernest is saying his lines, one can see Brer Rabbit in the background, almost miming along to the words. I don’t know if this was the result of the character-actor just getting tired of standing around or what, but it is one of the few funny moments. As well, one gets to see the often-never-seen costumes for Brer Fox and Brer Bear.
In my younger days, Ernest was pretty funny, but when one gets a little older, some of Varney’s humor at times get a little too cornball.
Of course, this wouldn’t be the last time Ernest would make a trip to Disneyland. The following year, he returned for a television special celebrating the park’s 35th Anniversary. Over the next decade, Varney would soon find himself ingrained further into the legacy of The Walt Disney Company.
In 1995, he was part of the world’s first computer-generated feature film, Toy Story, playing the role of the loyal Slinky Dog (a role he’d also reprise in 1999 for the sequel). And, in 2001, he voiced Cookie in the animated feature Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
Though throughout the 1990’s, Varney’s role as Ernest became less mainstream, and soon, further “Ernest Goes To” adventures became relegated to the growing direct-to-video marketplace.
His role as Cookie in Atlantis would be one of his last roles, as Varney passed away from lung cancer, a year before the films release. A dedication was added to the end of Atlantis for him as well.
In the last few years, it was mentioned that Ernest could possibly make a return, albeit in the form of another person donning the persona and clothing. Of course to many of us, the only Ernest that matters or makes a difference, will always be Jim Varney: the man who saved Christmas, conquered Splash Mountain, and defeated a band of evil trolls. Not many people could put those claims on their tombstones.
I think when it comes to books being adapted into motion pictures, the large majority of authors are just not satisfied. Word was Roald Dahl disliked the way Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory detoured from his original work, and video exists of Michael Ende voicing his displeasure at what Hollywood did to his book, The Neverending Story.
When it comes to “rewriting the book” in some cases, one can often look to Walt Disney himself. To this day, the majority of people tend to prefer the company’s versions of popular stories to their originals. Of course, when it came to authors voicing displeasure over Disney adapting their work, one of the more famously-known is author P.L. Travers, which is the subject of Walt Disney Pictures’ latest release, Saving Mr Banks.
The film starts in 1961, where Pamela Travers (Emma Thompson) seems to be in dire financial straits. However, there may be a silver lining that her agent Diarmuid Russell (Ronan Vibert) begs her to take. For over 20 years, Walt Disney(Tom Hanks) has been wanting to adapt the author’s Mary Poppins story, and is currently doing some pre-production work in California. Giving into this 20-year request, Pamela jets off to Los Angeles, though seemingly sure she is going to end her two week trip without signing over the rights to her book.
Needless to say, once she lands in California, Pamela has “a few words” on almost everything. She thoroughly detests her hotel room being filled with Disney merchandise, the use of “nonsense” words in the songs composed by Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman & BJ Novak), and refuses to fall under Walt’s charm. She also grows rather disconcerted over how the character of Mr Banks is to be portrayed in the film.
Also juxtaposed within the 1961 storyline, are remembrances of Pamela’s childhood in Australia. Colin Farrell plays the role of her father, whose imaginative flights of fancy and charm captivate the little girl, but when they have to move due to his job, the world slowly seems to change for young Pamela (Annie Rose Buckley), in many ways.
While much of the promotional material has shown Hanks’ Disney persona front and center, the real scope of the film revolves around Ms Travers (as she prefers to be called), to the point where I would nickname the film, Citizen Travers. During her time at the studio, each meeting she had was recorded, and numerous tapes were listened to by the cast and crew. Her character is definitely a juicy role for Emma Thompson, who was faced with a rather difficult task of taking someone who probably annoyed more people than she enlightened. Even so, Thompson is able to bring a vulnerability and understanding to the audience in the role she has undertaken.
Thompson even delivers one of my favorite lines in the film, when Travers fears the worst that Disney can do to her beloved nanny: “I know what he’s going to do to her. She’ll be cavorting…and, twinkling.” That line reminded me of the vitriol spouted by fans in the last few years, who have seen The Walt Disney Company acquire such companies as Marvel, and Lucasfilm, LTD.
In some films, a rather abrasive character will be given a foil, and that role falls to Paul Giamatti, as Pamela’s limo driver. Giamatti’s role as “an ordinary man” is charming and enjoyable, rolling with the punches that his guest dishes out, and willing to be concerned when he notices her in contemplation.
While we know very little about Ms Travers, the one person who has been put under the microscope since the first images, is Tom Hanks. Even in interviews, Hanks has claimed he looks nothing like Uncle Walt, but where he excels, is in trying to capture the personality of a man that many know largely from popular culture. However, Hanks knows there is more to Walt than just squinting his eyes a little tighter. I think those who have heard candid interviews with Walt Disney will probably see more of Walt’s personality than most. For me, a highlight is when Walt is telling Travers about delivering newspapers in Kansas City. This is a key scene where it feels that Hanks just blends into his role.
One thing I do wish the film had, was a tagline stating, Inspired by Actual Events. Certain elements are true to life, but others seem to have been shoehorned in to make for a more entertaining experience. One of those revolves around the big scene of Walt taking Travers on a personal tour of Disneyland. Word is Travers did visit The Happiest Place on Earth, but not with Walt. As well, there’s a scene near the end that worked well in 1998’s The Parent Trap, but here, may make some go, “yeah, right.”
John Lee Hancock directs from a script penned by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, and the subject matter seems suitable material given his past credits. John’s resume includes films about those triumphing over difficult circumstances, with the likes of The Rookie, and 2009’s The Blind Side.
The filmmakers know that fans of the company and the Poppins film are going to want references, and they get them in spades. Even certain moments in Pamela’s childhood echo some of the film’s scenes. There’s even an “author” joke in here that is not time-appropriate, but I guess the filmmakers felt they could get away with it (and most likely, Travers would have said something about it too).
One highlight of seeing this film, was that I got to view it as part of a double-bill, with Mary Poppins playing right before it. I think until this screening, I had never seen Poppins all the way through in one sitting. Seeing it at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre, with a nearly-full auditorium definitely helped make it one of the few great communal theater experiences I’ve had. I will admit, seeing the song Step in Time on a big screen made it even more exciting. In a sense, Mary Poppins is the perfect storm of a film combining the studio’s penchant for storytelling, animation, and live-action filmmaking, and physical special effects.
In fact, I’d say if you are planning to see Saving Mr Banks, it might be best to have a viewing of Poppins to refresh your memory. After going from Poppins to Banks, there were definitely some things I wouldn’t have noticed had I gone into the showing “blind.”
When it comes to viewing this film overall, some are going to come out on one of two sides. On one hand, you’ll have those being almost like Pamela Travers, rolling their eyes at much of what they just saw, hardly believing much of the circumstances or little details. The others will be more like Walt: they will give into the emotions and the images on the screen, and it will touch them deeply, as many a good Disney feature will.
The film almost subscribes to that old adage Walt had about the films he made: For every laugh, there should be a tear. That definitely seemed the case in several places in the film. The trailers do make the film look overly-cheerful, but there are a few places where it can get a little dark and unsettling, which explains this being rated PG-13, which is partially for “unsettling images” (and…there were a few).
Saving Mr Banks is not a masterpiece of film making, but it is a competently-created feature film. It manages to bring a new perspective onto a 40-year-old film, as well as two creative figures you might not know much about. While I do see it gaining favor with those who are fans of Disney, I figure we’ll have to wait and see how the general public receives it in the next few weeks.
*Saving Mr Banks will premier in limited release on December 13, and nationwide on December 20*