“We all know it’s impossible, to see music…yet many composers have tried to take musical sounds, and give them, a pictorial meaning” – Walt Disney
“Walt’s original idea was that Fantasia would be a continuing work-in-progresss, and Fantasia 2000, is the realization of that dream” – Roy E Disney
The 1930’s was a time of great discoveries and experimentation for Walt Disney, and the men who worked at the Disney Studio. They pioneered character animation, the use of sound and color, and also took a gamble on proving animation could work in a feature-length medium.
In the midst of the experimentation, was Fantasia. What started as just The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Mickey Mouse, soon evolved into “a concert feature,” with numerous classical pieces, and artistic interpretations of that music. Famed conductor Leopold Stokowski would be seen leading an orchestra, as the screen became filled with mythological creatures, abstract images, and much more.
Walt’s gambles had often paid off in the past, but this time around, Fantasia would become one of his first that failed to catch fire. At over 2 hours long, and oftentimes needing a required stereophonic system known as Fantasound, the public did not show lasting interest at the time. Over the years, it’d be clipped down, the narration (by music critic/composer Deems Taylor) taken out, and all sorts of other edits to make the film seem more appealing to audiences.
Even so, Walt still continued to meld music and animation together. Several productions during the 40’s such as Melody Time and Make Mine Music, used an almost similar set-up, though not as classical as Fantasia had been with its segments.
As the years went by, many grew to love Walt’s film folly. In the early 1980’s, an attempt was made to do a Fantasia-style film called Americana. Featuring a mixture of classical and modern music, it would have celebrated music from numerous cultures, but the project was eventually shelved.
One fan of Fantasia for many years, was Walt’s nephew, Roy E Disney. Roy often cited a part of the film’s Dance of the Hours sequence as one of his favorite animated moments. When Fantasia had good success after its 1990 theatrical run and home video release (in 1991), Roy had enough evidence to push CEO Michael Eisner, to give the go-ahead for a new Fantasia.
The film project was continually in the pipeline of Disney’s feature animation division during the 1990’s (and had proposed release dates set for 1996, & 1999 at various points of its production). Roy led the charge, with new segments being made by different creative teams. For filling the role of their conductor, the group recruited composer James Levine, who recommended The Chicago Symphony Orchestra
for the film’s musical tone.
When it came time to decide on returning pieces, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was kept. For a time, The Nutcracker Suite segment was also going to be used (a clip of the segment even made its way into the early trailers), but was replaced with the new Rhapsody in Blue segment, directed by Eric Goldberg.
Originally considered for a 1999 release, the official release date was pushed to coincide with the start of the year 2000. The studio decided to release the film exclusively in IMAX format, in 54 screens across the country, making its release an event somewhat similar to that of the original Fantasia, some 60 years prior.
When it came to Fantasia, I had two experiences seeing it: as a 5-year-old in 1985, and then as a 10-year-old in 1990. I didn’t quite get what the film was about then (most kids were taken on the promise of Mickey alone), but as I grew up, a lot of what they were doing to marry animation and music fascinated me. When it came to considering animation as a career, the film was one of several I cited in the vein of wanting to do something ‘serious’ with animation. Forget making the audience laugh, I wanted to make them feel emotions. I think it also helped expand my mind to the possibilities that animation didn’t always need verbal dialogue.
I can’t say when I knew exactly about a new Fantasia, but I do remember reading little tidbits here and there in some magazines in the mid-90’s. However, the hype machine really started up in 1999. I recall the studio releasing little making-of clips on their website back then, and I’d spent quite a bit of time watching the small Quicktime movies, eager to see what these new segments would entail. As well, once I knew the music that would be playing, I sought out records in my University’s library, and spent some time listening to them, imagining what they’d inspire to the screen.
Being in Iowa, there were only two options for seeing Fantasia 2000 in IMAX near me. Taking the “simpler” of the two, on January 3rd, 2000, I made the 6 hour trek to Apple Valley, MN, in pouring snow. Eventually, I made to the IMAX theater near the Minnesota Zoo.
Being young and rather obsessed with the film, I ended up seeing it 3 times in 2 days. I remember one of the employees was so surprised to see me coming back (I had the ticket stubs to prove it!), that she gave me a discount for the third showing.
My fandom of the film was so great, that when I offered to give information on a piece for the film’s June 18th release in normal theaters, my local newspaper bit. I eagerly gave my opinions and views on the piece, the voice of a ravenous young animation-hopeful coming out. However, my positive attitude failed to help the film much, as when released in normal theaters, Fantasia 2000 failed to ignite with the summer audiences.
As such, I was left alone in Iowa with my fandom for the film, and when the film came out in the 3-disc Fantasia Legacy set that fall, I ordered away for it immediately. Fortunately by then, I had moved from studying graphic design to character animation, and had found like-minded individuals at my new school, that could share in my own feelings for the animated medium.
When it came to the segments included in Fantasia 2000, the film was a mixed bag to say the least.
The original Fantasia was not afraid to go into long pieces, but this film seemed a little uneasy. Instead of 2 hours like the first film, this one clocked in around an hour and 15 minutes.
One segment that I was a huge fan of (before the film was released), was based around Hans Christian Andersen’s story, The Steadfast Tin Soldier. combining both computer-generated animation and hand-painted backgrounds, the segment was one that really utilized some great warm and cold coloration to sell the mood of the piece.
Much like Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in the first film, director Pixote Hunt combined abstract animation, with a (truncated) version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Of all the pieces, this one really felt like it was hitting all the beats, though it sacrifices a little of the abstracted feel in favor of crafting a simple storyline. Even so, I still love the pastel work in this one.
The husband-and-wife duo of Eric and Susan Goldberg ended up contributing two segments. While the segment about a yoyo-obsessed flamingo was short yet sweet, their Al Hirschfeld-styled segment to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was one of the most talked about segments…and it wasn’t even supposed to be in the film! Even so, the style of seeing the Hirschfeldian “line” brought to animated life definitely had me entertained (and still does!). Probably of all the segments, this is the one I most remember seeming to capture the audience’s attention.
Donald Duck was given his chance to shine in a segment based on Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, but the segment sadly feels like a throwaway vehicle at times. There’s definitely effort there, but I just never got into the story (and needless to say, Elgar’s song has us constantly thinking “graduation ceremony”).
One of the first segments to be completed was of a pod of whales that take flight, to Resphigi’s Pines of Rome. It’s a nice concept, but feels a little limited due to the computer animation having been done in the early 1990’s.
Brothers Paul and Gaetan Brizzi give the new film its Bald Mountain/Ave Maria ending, utilizing Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. Following a forest sprite as her habitat goes through a major life cycle, the segment is one that really gave the film a high-note ending (I can still hear the pounding of the theater’s bass during part of it). As well, the forest sprite character in the segment, became an unofficial symbol of the film.
Unlike the previous Fantasia, this film adds a celebrity host to introduce each segment. This is where the film almost seems to slow down, and can get a little tiresome. Some host segments that are simple and sweet (like the one featuring Quincy Jones) are nice, but the ones featuring the likes of Steve Martin and Penn & Teller, can get a little too one-note.
While there were some negatives here and there, the film still gets some high marks from me. Given that the concept flew in the face of what a lot of people would say constituted an animated feature at the time, Fantasia 2000 showed a risk-taking venture rarely seen in the world of big-name animation.
That summer, Tarzan had excited me with what it had to offer, and Toy Story 2 that fall had proven to me that PIXAR was a new studio to definitely keep an eye on. Fantasia 2000 was another building block in getting me more excited to pursue a career in animation, and what I saw on that IMAX screen, probably had a hand in my eventual decision to look elsewhere for an art education shortly afterwards.
In the summer of 2000, an online Q&A with Roy E Disney was arranged, with those in a live chat who could send him questions to be answered.
One I asked was if we could see another rendition of Fantasia soon. Roy answered that there were already plans for another film to be released in 2005, or 2006. Of course, we all know what happened a few years down the line.
With the dismantling of the hand-drawn portion of feature animation in the wake of Treasure Planet’s box-office disappointment, all prospects for a new Fantasia never came to pass. Though as it stands, several of the segments that were being worked on and completed, found their way into the public in one form or another.
These segments included:
One By One – Roy had made mention of this segment in his Q&A, and would have featured a theme of how the music of this newer Fantasia, was to take music from other cultures. Telling of a number of African children making kites to fly, it was only released as an addition to the 2004 DVD release of Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride. This pairing somewhat made sense, as Lebo M, who had lent his voice to music for both of the Lion King films, also sang portions of One By One’s song.
Lorenzo -Taking the music of an Argentinian tango, the story tells of a pampered cat, whose tail develops a mind of its own. Word was in the mainstream, it was only released in 2004, showing before the live-action film, Raising Helen. Since then, it has never been released as part of any DVD or shorts collection.
The Little Match Girl – Included as an extra with the 2006 DVD release of The Little Mermaid, this retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen story follows a young girl, as she struggles to sell her remaining matches on the cold streets of a Russian town (Word of warning: keep some tissues handy).
As it stands now, it seems a little doubtful that another Fantasia may come to pass. With the studio pressing ahead with newer ideas and stories to be told, it’d take someone with a lot of clout to buy in to another interpretation of the concert feature.
The only continuation of the name Fantasia currently within the company, is the Harmonix-produced game, Fantasia: Music Evolved. The game uses the XBox Kinect motion-sensing device, to allow one to conduct almost like Stokowski. Sadly, the game seems more involved with having you conduct modern-day music, than many classical pieces (though if you really get into the music, it can be a good workout!).
Though Roy E Disney was not an artist per se, he did see the value in keeping animation alive within the studio. As well, when the studio seemed to reach a tipping point in the mid-2000’s, Roy led the charge for a management shake-up within its walls. Just like he had a hand in the studio’s resurgence in the early 80’s, his actions surely led to so many of the dramatic changes we’ve seen within the studio in the last decade.
As a result of those changes, Walt Disney Feature Animation has risen again to a new level of appreciation and fandom, that I didn’t think I’d ever see happen again.
Sadly, the closest interaction I ever had with Roy E Disney, was him answering my question on that live chat in the summer of 2000. But still, if any film could speak to his love for the animation medium, Fantasia 2000 seems like a shining example of it.
Thank you, Roy.
Sometimes, it is out of ignorance, that we discover new things.
On September 13th, 2013, I attended a book signing of Dave Bossert’s book, Remembering Roy E Disney – Memories and Photos of a Storied Life. Dave was in attendance, as well as Roy E Disney’s son, Roy Pat Disney.
When it came time for a Q&A with those of us assembled, I asked a few questions, but there was one that I had in particular.
“As much as I’m eager to read what you’ve said about Roy E Disney,” I began, “Has there been any talk about a book about Roy O-”
“There is a book written about my Grandfather,” Roy P quickly responded. “It was written by Bob Thomas.”
Needless to say, I felt like I had gotten egg on my face. After that signing, I made it my mission that following my reading of Mr Bossert’s book on Roy E Disney, I would then read Bob Thomas’ Building a Company – Roy O Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire.
A member of the Associated Press and writer of many things entertainment related, Bob Thomas is no stranger to writing about members of the Disney family, or even The Walt Disney Company. His book Walt Disney: An American Original, is one of the more famous books on Walt (and one I read over 3 times during Elementary school).
Prior to Original, Thomas had written The Art of Animation, one of the few books published in the 50’s and 60’s, that told the world what Disney animation involved. This book would inspire the likes of John Lasseter to seek out a career in animation, and for me, the book served almost the same purpose when it was re-released in the early 1990’s.
Though Walt’s name became synonymous with his company over the years, in the beginning it was originally known as The Disney Brothers Studio. Roy would soon drop out of the company’s title, but his work in the shadows of his younger brother, would often belie just how much he truly did for the company.
His study and work in finance is what he was most known for, and the book gives numerous examples of how he would try to find ways to keep the company afloat, even in the face of Walt’s push for quality (which often resulted in costlier productions).
Much of the book is made up of recollections of people who had worked with Roy O Disney, as well as members of his family. Excerpts from letters that Roy sent to various family members are also included, and provide a nice touch in regards to how he would tell his parents how things were going, or discuss a trip he and his wife Edna took.
In Roy’s role as a big brother (he still called Walt “kid” throughout his life), he ended up almost becoming an unofficial ‘conscience’ to Walt. Whereas Walt was the dreamer, Roy could be considered the realist. In a story relating how Walt was looking for sound equipment to record the soundtrack for Steamboat Willie, Thomas relates how Walt made a deal with a man named Pat Powers. While Walt figured he now had his sound equipment, Roy was incensed that his brother had signed a contract without reading what it entailed (the results of which would lead to Powers causing the defection of the studio’s top animator, Ub Iwerks, a few years later).
Needless to say, Thomas’ book gives many examples of how Roy would keep trying to steer the company to some form of profit, as they faced bankruptcy several times, and several people tried to take advantage of them. While Walt’s cartoons and animated films were often the talk of Tinseltown, they could only provide so much funding. In fact, it would be almost 4 decades later (the company was founded in 1923) before they would reach a point where Roy could even breathe easier.
The book also doesn’t sugarcoat some things. Quotes are taken where people recall profanity used by the brothers (though even the use of such words would surprise some, as they usually were not one to expound such talk). Even talk of family squabbles and arguments is brought to light, including a time in the early 60’s, where Walt and Roy stopped talking to each other for several years.
Chapter 24 has an eye-opening section, telling of the planning of a 1964 annual report on the company. There was talk about referencing several of the company’s film producers, to show that their recent successes could help sustain the company if anything happened to Walt. However, Walt claimed he didn’t want this. In a paragraph summarizing Walt’s comments, I was rather surprised that this bit got published:
“I’ve worked my whole life to create the image of what ‘Walt Disney’ is. It’s not me. I smoke, and I drink, and all the things we don’t want the public to think about. My whole life has been devoted to building up this organization that is represented by the name ‘Walt Disney.'”
That can certainly be said about how Walt has been portrayed over the years. Many people these days probably never knew that Walt was quite an avid smoker.
You may notice that I keep referencing Walt several times, even though the book is about Roy. But, the way that Thomas structures his writing, it soon becomes impossible to talk about one without the other.
The Disney family is summarized as well, from some information about their beginnings, to that of Walt and Roy’s great-grandparents, and their own: Elias and Flora Disney. Even around 360 pages, the book manages to feel knowledgeable about the family, even referencing the sibling’s older brothers Herbert and Raymond, and their younger sister, Ruth.
Family is even mentioned as a factor within the company, regarding its employees. One interesting fact was that the company encouraged husbands and wives to actual travel together on business trips, as it was felt that this would strengthen these relationships, both within the family, and the company’s image as a family entity.
The book also shows in some instances, how Roy often exercised caution when going about some business plans. Walt eagerly wanted to build his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (aka EPCOT). It was already a risky business venture to build Disneyland in 1955, but imagine sinking even more money into the untested idea of a new urban community. Roy then proposed a solution to Walt: build Walt Disney World first, and with the East-coast park generating profits, EPCOT would function as a “phase 2” for the park development.
The last three chapters of Thomas’ book are some of the most eye-opening: Roy continuing on his brother’s vision, without his brother. Roy didn’t have the creative chops like Walt did, but he put any thoughts of retirement on the back-burner after Walt’s death, intending to finish the Florida project that his brother had started.
There was even talk that after the passing of Walt, the Florida property should simply be called Disney World. This is outlined in one paragraph on page 316:
“When someone referred to Disney World in a meeting, Roy stopped him. His eyes narrowed behind his glasses, and he said firmly: “I’m only going to say this one more time. I want it called Walt Disney World. Not Disney World, not Disneyland, not anything else. Walt Disney World.””
From 1966-1971, much of Roy’s time and efforts went into this project. Some would sadly say that the hard work took its toll on him, as Roy O Disney passed away 2 1/2 months after Walt Disney World opened to the public.
Bob Thomas’ book is a definitely a hidden treasure of Disney history. While numerous books have been published about Walt Disney, Thomas’ book sheds some light on a relationship that had its ups and downs, but in the end, proves how strong the love of an older brother could be for his own kin.
Reading through Bob’s book, and hearing of how Roy had impacted the company and his brother, I had thought that it sounded eerily similar to the story of a wooden puppet and his insect companion. On page 266 of the book, Roy’s granddaughter Abby seemed to be of the same mind as me:
“I watch Pinocchio over and over again with my kids, and being an English major, maybe I read too much in it. But I see Pinocchio as the perfect parable of Walt and Roy. Jiminy Cricket speaks exactly as I remember Grandpa speaking; he always had this Mid-western, middle-America way of speaking-‘Gee whillikers’ and all that. Jiminy is always letting Pinocchio go off into his creative impulses and then pulling him back at the last minute and getting him on the right course again, then letting him run wild again and pulling him back. “
Abby did wonder if the animators were at all influenced by the brothers. Out of curiosity, Thomas asked Jiminy Cricket’s lead animator Ward Kimball, if Roy served any inspiration at all for the cricket.
The answer was no.
In this day and age, it can be hard to remember sometimes, that the name Disney is not some kind of corporate-created name. A friend of mine who works at a local Disney Store, was once asked by some foreign visitors, “Why Disney? Why did the company decide on a name like that?”
Of course, for those of us who know its history, the name Disney was the last name of the company’s founders: Walt Disney, and his brother, Roy O Disney. While Walt seemed the dreamer of the two, it was Roy who often found himself trying to find the funds for his younger brother’s next big dream.
After their passing, many people would come to run The Walt Disney Company, but not with the same last name. However, in the last 30 years, there was a Disney who played an important role behind-the-scenes: Roy E Disney (Walt’s nephew, and Roy O’s son).
It was Roy’s idea in the 1980’s to bring in outsiders to help revitalize the company, as many lucrative business people looked at the studio as little more than a hot commodity to sell off. After searching high and low, Roy brought in Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Frank Wells. These three men, over the course of the next 10 years, would help bring about a renaissance that would elevate the status of the company into an entertainment powerhouse, that is still growing to this day.
Still, one area that many fans like myself know Roy from, is in his love and struggles to keep alive what he felt was the studio’s legacy: animation. In the early 80’s, the animation division was in danger of getting axed. Even though he didn’t have any animation experience, Roy requested to the new management, that he be given a role in helping out with this portion of the company.
One person who was also there at the time, was Dave Bossert. A graduate of the California Institute of the Arts, Dave began his career as an effects animator on The Black Cauldron, which was in production during this transitional period. Since then, Dave has worn many hats at Disney, and currently is Creative Director and Head of Special Projects at Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Over the course of his 30 years working at the studio, Dave was able to work with Roy in several capacities, notably on numerous animated features within the company. In regards to special projects, Dave would spend 5 years working with Roy on Fantasia 2000, and then another couple of years finishing up the uncompleted Walt Disney/Salvador Dali concept, known as Destino.
After Roy’s passing from stomach cancer in December of 2009, Dave had a small talk with Don Hahn (a producer at the Disney Studios), and they began to share their remembrances and stories about Roy. Dave felt there were so many things to say about this man, and Don recommended that Dave write them in a book.
Dave then began a 2 year journey, in which he would consult with members of Roy’s family (such as his wife Leslie, and his son, Roy Pat), and several others at the studio. The results of his work now occupy over 209 pages, in the latest release from Disney Publishing.
When starting to read this book, it is important to know that Dave is not here to tell you Roy’s life story. Moreso, it is his, and many others recounting a man who seemed elevated in status because of his famous name, but was something much more than that. One can see Roy E Disney walking down from that lofty pinnacle and asking us, ‘now, why did you put me up there in the first place? It’s much more comfortable down here.”
Dave’s recollections tell of a man so down-to-earth, that one of his favorite things, was eating a hot dog at his local Costco! That was one thing that Roy seemed to inherit from the Disney family: the ability to not let fame and celebrity status get the better of you. Roy wanted to be known on a first-name basis (much like how Walt would not let you call him “Mr Disney”), and he even had no qualms about driving his own car.
And, also like his Uncle Walt, he was not going to let some things just be ‘good enough.’ When a law required an art piece be added to the Burbank property Roy’s company (Shamrock Holdings) would occupy, a budget of only $25,000 was allocated. The first concept was shown to Roy by his business partner, Stanley Gold. Roy didn’t care for what was being considered, and told Stanley he’d handle things.
In the end, the art piece ended up being made by a member of Walt Disney Imagineering. It depicted a man behind an old-fashioned hand-crank film camera. Now, Stanley said their budget was $25,000. The final cost for the statue? $225,000. Of course, that extra $200,000 came right out of Roy’s pocket.
“That was his attitude,” Stanley was quoted as saying. “He didn’t know how much it cost. It’s typical of Roy. He would like to do it right, and he didn’t know, nor did he care how much it would cost.”
The book also gives an insight into one of Roy’s great passions: sailing. Dave gives a whole chapter over to telling of Roy’s love of sailing his boat, the Pyewacket, in the Transpac, a race from Newport, CA, to Honolulu, HI.
Much of the book is filled with pictures, the majority of which are in black-and-white. They cover everything from early family photos, all the way to the final months of Roy’s life. At times, it almost feels like the book overwhelms us with pictures, but they seem to act like a cocoon, keeping us enfolded in these remembrances.
Though I had heard Roy’s name mentioned many times through the years, his face really came into the public’s eye, when he set out to continue one of his favorite films, Fantasia. After a limited VHS release of the film in 1991 resulted in large sales numbers, Roy made a request to Michael Eisner to follow Walt Disney’s original idea of making another Fantasia. The result would be Fantasia 2000, and in the months leading up to its release, I remember I was rabid for any news I could find on it. I even provided information for a piece on the film in my hometown newspaper, The Waterloo Courier, when it came out in regular theaters in June of 2000.
That summer would also be the closest I would ever get to talking to Roy E Disney. During an online Q&A session about Fantasia 2000, I asked Roy if there were any plans for another Fantasia. At the time, Roy claimed they were working on pieces to include in a Fantasia that was being considered for release in 2004, or 2006. Sadly, this next iteration would not come to pass, as management at The Walt Disney Company would (at that time) begin to ‘streamline’ the company’s animation divisions. Of the proposed Fantasia pieces, only four would be completed, but find their way into other areas of the studio’s home video offerings.
It was around this time, that Roy began to grow upset with how the company was being handled. In a shocking move, he resigned from the Board of Directors at Disney, and started a campaign called Save Disney. With his business partner Stanley Gold, Roy set out to voice their opinions, that new leadership was needed, and that the Disney name at the time was being severely tarnished.
Roy’s second attempt (the first being in 1984) to save his family’s company succeeded, and with the appointment of Bob Iger as the company’s new CEO, Roy returned to the company, albeit as a consultant this time.
We all know there can never be another Walt Disney, and as Remembering Roy E Disney tells us, Roy himself was one-of-a-kind as well. Dave Bossert didn’t set out to change the world with his book, but to show the world, that there were several unknown sides to this person he considered a close and personal friend. In the end, it feels he truly has shed a little more light on a man some simply knew as, “Walt’s nephew.”
On September 13, 2013, I attended a book signing of “Remembering Roy E Disney,” at Anderson’s Bookstore, in Downer’s Grove, IL. Dave Bossert (left) and Roy P Disney (right) were in attendance, and graciously signed copies of Dave’s book, and took time to answer our questions and thoughts about Roy, and the Walt Disney Company.
I think most of the people who know me, consider me one of the biggest Disney fanatics they know. I can tell you obscure Disney Trivia, and I have been asked a few times about my opinion when Disney or Pixar release a new movie. I also do voices and impersonations if requested (I can do a pretty spot-on Walt, Roy E Disney, or even John Lasseter – it’s a curse from watching too many making-of documentaries).
One place I have been reluctant to tread, was the D23 fan club. One would assume I would have been one of the first to sign up, but even with the exclusive material and social events, living in the Midwest had made me wary, along with the $30+ membership fee tiers to join (the lower “Silver” tier gives you one complimentary issue of D23‘s magazine, but you will need to go for the “Gold” to get a full year of the magazine).
D23 touts events in major cities across the country, but I’ve only counted the equivalent of once-a-year events in Chicago, IL. It seems unless you live in California or New York, expect to travel if you want to find Disney fan events. One event I found out about too late, was one held at Chicago’s Museum of Comteporary Art. In honor of the 70th anniversary of Bambi’s release, Bambi’s voice actor Donnie Dunagan, and Disney animator Andreas Deja were in town.
This year, I grew curious when D23 announced a special event to take place on The Disneyland Hotel grounds. The event was Destination D: 75 years of animation. I almost passed this up, but my love of Disney Animation soon steered me to the event (plus, attendees could get discounted park admission, and I was itching to set foot in Cars Land, which will be part of an upcoming 3-part posting).
After deciding to attend, I chose the standard $225 admission ticket, which was a steal next to the $1000 Diamond level admission. Diamond level admission included a special tour of the Walt Disney Studios and Archives on Monday, August 13th, as well as private access to meet with several of the show’s panelists.
I went to an early sign-in on Friday, August 10th, and also was one of the first to be there when exclusive merchandise went on sale. There wasn’t much that caught my eye, except this:
There were some intriguing pieces, including a recreation of Walt Disney’s Disneyland pin that he wore around the park, and pins based on the storybook covers that opened the classic fairy tale films like Snow White, Cinderella, & Sleeping Beauty.
I was informed that members who attended the Destination D event would get all sorts of freebies. By the end of Sunday, these included:
But, enough with the swag…on with the show!!
DAY 1: Saturday, August 11, 2012
I took my seat Saturday, wondering what to expect. I knew this wasn’t going to be an ordinary event, when the announcer kept making little Disney references in his spiel (at one point, he said that one of the messages was sponsored by Tony’s Restaurant – aka the place Tramp takes Lady for dinner).
Another surprise was that once the event began, over 3 dozen or so fans jumped from their seats, and flash mobbed us by dancing to different songs from Disney’s history. What was the highlight, you may ask? The dancers dancing to the Kanine Krunchies song from the commercial in 101 Dalmatians! I don’t think any of us expected that, and it definitely made me feel that this was going to be a different experience than I was planning to expect.
After we were showered with hidden confetti cannons, the dancers took their seats, and we were then treated to an introduction by John Lasseter…via a recorded message. John told of his love for Disney’s animated feature films, before closing his speech with a Happy Birthday to Snow White (her film is 75 years old this year).
And with that, Destination D – 75 Years of Animated Features got underway.
Walt and The First Golden Age of Disney Animation
Becky Cline (director of the Walt Disney Archives) hosted a chat that included studio legend Burny Mattinson, layout artist and film producer Joe Hale, and Ted Thomas, son of animator Frank Thomas, and director of the documentary Frank and Ollie. Burny and Joe soon regaled us with tales about their time at the studios.
– Joe recounted how being from a small Midwestern town, he was unaccustomed to the studio’s elevator systems. One day, as the doors were closing, he heard someone yelling to hold the elevator. Looking out through the doors, he saw Walt Disney running to catch the elevator. Joe was unsure how to keep the doors open, and found himself in the panicked position of shutting the doors on the head of the studio! Unsure what to do, Joe could only yell through the door to Walt how he felt: “Sorry!”
-When talk switched to the studio’s famed ‘Nine Old Men’ of animation, each of the animators was analyzed, though more was known about the more famous of the nine. Joe recounted how he knew plenty of stories about animator Ward Kimball, but was unsure if he should tell. Becky insisted, and Joe then recounted how he came in one morning to work, and found Ward asleep on a couch in his animation room. Ward then recounted why he was sleeping at the studio, and…well, let’s just say the reason he was there, was that he was ‘late for a very important date.’
– Burny recounted his time working his way up from the mail room, his meeting with Walt, and even working with the Nine Old Men. One of the strangest moments, was when Woolie Rietherman tasked him with creating the Devil’s Eye diamond in The Rescuers. The diamond was just 5-7 layers of paper with different facets of the diamond done with magic markers…yet Woolie said it was great, and that’s how the diamond ended up being depicted in the final film!
(FYI: If you love podcasts, I recommend Clay Kaytis’ “Animation Podcast,” which contains a great 4-parter from Burny. It shows that Burny really does know how to tell stories well)
Roy E Disney and the Second Golden Age of Disney Animation
Disney Historian Tim O’Day hosted this segment, which helped praise and show how integral Roy was in preserving the legacy of his Uncle Walt, and father Roy O Disney. Panel guests include producer Don Hahn, John Musker and Ron Clements (directors of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin), Dave Bossert (head of special projects at the Walt Disney Animation Studios), and Roy Patrick Disney, Roy E’s son, who was also a former Disney Imagineer.
Each of the men recounted the dark days during the early 1980’s, and noted that of all the company’s divisions, animation was slated as the one that was most likely to be axed. Even though Roy didn’t have any animation knowledge, he still fought for it, claiming that it was animation that built the studio’s legacy.
We also got to know a little about Roy’s work on the True Life Adventures series, and how far Roy went when what should have been a humorous collision of ducks on ice, seemed to disappear…and what eventually was done to rectify the situation.
We also got to see some pictures of Roy Patrick and the family, including them posing outside the family’s private plane. Though it looked glamorous, Roy P said that at the time, if you wanted to go from California to Florida in the plane, it took 13 hours, and 2 stopovers just to get there.
At the end of the presentation, Roy P was presented with a Mickey Mouse statue called a “Mouseker,” which was similar to one Walt had been given many years ago. Roy was thanked for his service, as well as that of his father to the company.
Inside Walt Disney Studios Today
Disney animator Darrin Butters then hosted one of the segments I was very excited about, which was going to give us a sneak peek at what the studio was working on.
After opening with a showing of Tangled Ever After (it’s definitely funnier in a room full of Disney fans), Darrin then showed us concept art for the company’s 2013 release, Frozen. Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, this film version appears to be like Tangled, in that it takes the basic premise, but turns it towards someplace new. I was hoping to see some rough animation, but the art still has me intrigued.
The music for Frozen is being composed by the husband/wife songwriting duo of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. They did an incredible job on 2011’s Winnie the Pooh, and if the song we were previewed (titled Let It Go) is any indication, the rest of the songs may be just as memorable. Let It Go played as a declaration, but also as a lament in a way, both touching and heartbreaking at the same time. Sad that I’ll just have the song stuck in my head until I see the film next year.
Next up, was the first non-industry showing of the animated short, Paperman (which will play before Wreck-It Ralph this fall). I’d heard alot of praise for this hand-drawn/computer hybrid, and the short just blew me away! Emotionally charged, creative, and heartfelt, this is the animated short I wish I had created in college (it reminded me of my youthful sensibilities then as well).
Finally, we were treated to clips from Wreck-It Ralph, which just helped make us even more excited to see the final film. Judging from the word out of Comic-Con, I believe we just saw a lot of the same footage as they did.
The Greatest Disney Animation You Never Saw
Don Hahn and Dave Bossert then treated us to some little-seen Disney commercials and shorts. Some highlights included:
– A pre-show from the old Feature Animation Studios in Florida, in which Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite explain how an animated film is made (Don said they had to clear alot of legal hurdles with The Cronkite Estate just to show the footage to us)
– The original pre-show to the now defunct EPCOT attraction, Cranium Command (having never been to Disney World, this was neat to see).
– Storyboards for an unmade film about Hiawatha. One of the inspirations when Disney began work on Pocahontas, were concept art and storyboards from the film, and we were treated to a portion of them, with more to be shown as a special feature on the upcoming Pocahontas Blu-Ray release.
– An early storyboarded sequence for the Pomp & Circumstance song for Fantasia 2000. In it, every Disney character cameos as our favorite princes and princesses prepare to receive their respective babies (even Don and Bill felt odd talking about that). I had read about this early version in my Fantasia 2000: Visions of Hope coffee table book, but this was the first imagery I had ever seen of that odd concept.
– A clip from Song of the South, with Uncle Remus singing the Zip-a-dee-doo-dah song. I think many of us would have loved it if we could have seen a full screening of the film, but the clip was fine.
Animating the Disney Parks
Becky Cline and Tim O’Day then sat down to speak with Walt Disney Imagineering members Tony Baxter, Tom Morriz, and Eddie Sotto about many of the old guard who came from the animation division, and translated their work into the parks’ many style works. They discussed about enhancing the look of some areas of the parks, as well as making the designs work in other countries (for example: there aren’t any Main Streets in France like there are in the United States…so how do you make that concept work in Disneyland Paris?).
An Evening with Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix
This was an incredibly fun way to end the evening. The group was originally formed when Mike Mendyke met Dick in a coffee shop, and both explained how they loved to sing barbershop quartet. It just so happened that Dick had just put an ad in the paper at the time and was looking to start up a group, but noone had responded to his ad.
“Noone responded to the ad?” Asked Mike, incredulously.
“Well, I didn’t put my NAME in the ad,” replied Dick, who apparently wanted to start the group based on talent and drive, not on his name.
The foursome entertained us with songs from Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, The Jeffersons, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Cheers, and even went into the Disney catalogue of songs. One of the funniest moments, was when Dick recreated his role as Mr Dawes, Sr from Mary Poppins, adopting the scatter-brained speech pattern and stooping posture, as the group sang the song Fidelity Feduciary Bank. An image of Dick and the group singing the song is right below:
There was also a Director’s Cut screening of the documentary Walt & El Grupo (which chronicled Walt’s trip to South American during the early years of WWII), but the whole day had been so tiring, that I felt it best to make my way back to the hotel room to gear up for the second day’s event.
DAY 2: Sunday, August 12, 2012
While Saturday’s presentations had been exciting, it was Sunday’s that definitely had some stellar moments. Let’s start the rundown:
Wacky and Wild Disney Animation
Bill Tanek hosted a talk with Animator Eric Goldberg & Animation Historian Jerry Beck about the wackier side of Disney Animation. We even got to see some censored scenes from earlier Disney cartoons, and we’re treated to some of Goldberg’s early test footage of Aladdin’s Genie, which utilized some of Robin Williams’ stand-up comedy routines (sadly, we only saw one clip due to a technical glitch in the program).
Eric made note that when a lot of people think of wacky animation, they are normally inclined to consider the Looney Tunes shorts first. However, the examples shown to us definitely point out that there were plenty of wacky pieces in Disney’s portfolio. One that I had never seen, was a strangely mind-blowing sequence from The Three Caballeros, which makes me think I need to sit down and watch that film one of these days.
Drawing With Personality
This was my most anticipated panel, with animator Andreas Deja taking the stage! But Andreas didn’t just sit down and talk. He brought with him some great examples of classic animation, even showing how the studio’s artistry had grown from pipe-cleaner limbs in 1927, to being able to make Snow White only a decade later!
Andreas brought along examples of classic work, including this image of Grumpy.
He even drew for us, the demented Mickey from the animated short, Runaway Brain. Andreas mentioned that he worked on the short at the old Paris studio, and the crew had shirts made of the demented Mickey. Andreas wore his shirt to Disneyland Paris one day, and was decried and criticized by a cast member there who thought he was wearing “bootleg merchandise.”
Andreas then closed by drawing some of the characters he designed, such as Jafar, and Scar (as seen above).
Andreas even gave those of us with sketchpads a little assignment while he was drawing Jafar: draw Jafar as a little kid. My final image came out as more of a teenage Jafar, and I quickly started developing a backstory around his appearance. You can see my image of a young Jafar below:
Tinker Bell: The Evolution of a Disney Character
Disney Historian Mindy Johnson hosted this panel, which served as a lead-in to talk about her upcoming book, Tinker Bell: An Evolution. Mindy gave us a pretty thorough history lesson on Tink’s creation (including where her name came from), before diving into her evolution over many decades at the Disney Studios (at one point, her character designs suggested she would have red hair!).
We also learned that at the time, Tinkerbell’s final look was shaped by three women: Kathryn Beaumont, Margaret Kerry, and Ginni Mack. Ginni (a former Ink-and-Paint girl at the studios) was recently discovered to be the head model for Tinker Bell, while Kathryn and Margaret were inspirations for her figure (animator Marc Davis designed Tink to have a girlish upper body, and a womanly figure for her lower body). We also learned that in the scene where Tinker Bell sees herself in a mirror in the film Peter Pan, it was not meant to show her to be ‘preening,’ but was the first time she had actually seen herself in a mirror.
Ginni and Margaret were on hand to discuss their roles at the studio and Tink’s creation, with the panel ending with animation director Peggy Holmes and Mae Whitman (who voices Tinker Bell in her current computer-generated form), talking about the upcoming direct-to-video film, Tinkerbell: The Secret of the Wings.
Hearing Voices: A Salute to Disney Voice Actors
Tim O’Day next came out, to speak with several people who had provided voices for different characters over the years. These included:
Chris Sanders – the voice of Stitch in Lilo & Stitch
Lisa Davis – the voice of Anita in 101 Dalmatians
Bruce Reitherman – the voice of Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh & The Honey Tree, and Mowgli in The Jungle Book
Kathryn Beaumont – the voice of Alice in Alice in Wonderland, and Wendy in Peter Pan
David Frankhan – the voice of Sergeant Tibbs in 101 Dalmatians
Bill Farmer – the voice of Goofy
Several of them like Chris Sanders and Bill Farmer, demonstrated their vocal talents to us, as well as how they came to their chosen voices.
Of all the panelists, Lisa Davis left a big impression on me. With her gracious voice, she explained how Walt Disney originally wanted her to voice the role of Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians. Walt read the character lines for Anita to her, but as they went along, Lisa just didn’t feel she was right for the part. She then asked Walt if maybe she could read for Anita. Fearing he would get mad at him questioning his decision, she was surprised when he obliged.
Dickie Jones who had originally voiced Pinocchio couldn’t make the panel, but we were treated to a clip from Pinocchio, demonstrating his vocal talents.
Snow White: Still the Fairest of them all
With this year marking the 75th anniversary of the release of Snow White, Destination D would be remiss if they didn’t acknowledge Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature.
Tim O’Day started out the presentation, talking to musicologist and historian Alex Rannie. We were treated to excerpts from the musical history and evolution of the film, including original music pages, and deleted audio of Snow White singing her own verse from the film’s Silly Song sequence.
The live-action model for Snow White also made a rare west-coast appearance. Marge Champion explained to us about her family’s dance studio (at one point, they even gave Shirley Temple some lessons!), and how she ended up working on the production. Marge even explained that when she was given the dress to wear, she noted that it looked like it had been originally made for someone else, but as to whom they may have chosen before her, no notes exist.
The panel closed with Gabriella Calicchio, CEO of The Walt Disney Family Museum, who explained about the museum’s upcoming exhibit regarding Snow White, and their plans to enhance the museum to help people explore their own creativity.
An Evening with Alan Menken
For many of us, the evening’s big event was An Evening with Alan Menken. Many of us eagerly got in line early to wait the 3+ hours until we’d be allowed back into the main convention hall.
All of us have been touched by Alan’s music in some way (for me, you need look no further than my review on the mid 90’s boxset, The Music Behind The Magic). Alan never gives private concerts, so the chance to see this was a moment that many will probably never forget.
Alan’s musical repertory was so vast, that much of his performance was small medleys from various films. Even so, Alan shared with us songs from the highs and lows of his career. We even got to hear a song he made for the cancelled Roger Rabbit prequel that was being worked on in the late 90’s (the song was titled “This Only Happens In The Movies”).
During the course of the performance, Alan also shared with us some little moments of his career:
– When both he and Howard Ashman were nominated for the song “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space” from the film version of Little Shop of Horrors, Alan realized as they were sitting in the Oscar Ceremony audience, that he didn’t have an acceptance speech penned in case they won. When he told this to Howard, Howard replied, “Don’t worry. We’re not going to win.” And, Howard was right.
– Alan also told about a meeting he had with Jeffrey Katzenberg after Newsies came out, and it’s opening weekend gross was only $5 million. Alan pleaded with Jeffrey that if they just spent more money on advertising, they could bring in more people. “Alan,” said Jeffrey,”It’s over. I could take $10 million, throw it out on the street right now, and the film would still not do any better.”
Alan also got emotional as he talked about his former music partner, lyricist Howard Ashman, and took time to play for us a song that he did not compose. The song was made by both Howard and Marvin Hamlisch, who created an off-broadway production called Smile, based off of the film about several girls entering a California beauty contest. The song Alan played (which seemed appropriate for where we were) was titled “Disneyland.” In the production, one of the contestants (played by Jodi Benson!), sang about her desire to one day live in Disneyland. Even though Alan didn’t have a hand in the creation of the song, it was definitely a wonderful sign of how much he missed and cared for one of his early musical partners.
For those of us who couldn’t afford the $1000 Diamond level admission, it was a rare treat to see some of the day’s guests in person. I got to meet up with Don Hahn for the second time in 2 years (I got the chance to meet him in February of 2010 when he and Peter Schneider brought Waking Sleeping Beauty to Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center), and Don seemed to appreciate the love I had for his documentary about the Disney Studios.
Many of us animation fans were on the lookout for the likes of Chris Sanders and Andreas Deja, but were pleasantly surprised when Eric Goldberg sat in on the remaining panels, and greeted fans for the remainder of the Sunday presentations. Eric kindly fielded my questions, and even signed my Making of Aladdin book, personalizing it with a little profile image of the Genie!
One of the most surprising appearances late Sunday evening, was Richard Sherman (part of the songwriting duo who brought us the songs of Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, and The Jungle Book). As soon as word spread that he was in the audience, he was quickly mobbed by many fans and well-wishers. It seemed that he was there for the Evening With Alan Menken event, and politely waved when Alan pointed him out to the rest of the audience.
This was one thing that I felt would have been great for those of us who came to see many of these people we had seen on television or in interviews: interactivity. I’m sure many of us would love to have asked Andreas Deja questions, or many other panelists.
Destination D also served as a surprise, as I got to say hello to Mr Jim Hill, the owner of JimHillMedia.com. I had written several articles and covered the world premier of the film Cars for Jim in the mid 2000’s, and it was great to finally meet him in person!
Another highlight was getting to meet and chat with other Disney fanatics. It feels so great when you can talk to people about this stuff, and they actually know what you’re talking about! After the first day, I joined in a little group with a guy named Jason, and two sisters named Kelly & Lisa. I also talked with an artist from San Diego who taught autistic children, and a couple young persons who (of course) wanted to one day work for Disney (one had dreams of being an Imagineer, and the other was considering animation schools to attend once she graduated from high school).
Before we parted ways on that amazing Sunday evening, Jason, Kelly, Lisa & I posed for the following picture. We each got an autograph by Eric Goldberg, but he drew each of us a different character he supervised:
And that, was my experience with my first D23 event. While it didn’t totally blow my socks off, I was pleasantly surprised at the way the event was handled, and how it definitely felt tapered to the fans in the audience. After awhile, I wasn’t worrying about the $225 price tag, and got swept up in the excitement (kind of like how being at Disneyland cancels out the thought of ticket prices for me!).
My one hope is that D23 will try to hold more fan events around the country, for those of us not near some of the major entertainment hubs.
I had a couple people ask me if I was going to attend the D23 Expo next August. D23 holds the expos every 2 years at the Anaheim Convention Center (a few blocks from the Disneyland Resort), and it usually serves as a beacon for all things Disney (theme parks, live-action films, animation, apparel, etc). At this point, I’m still mulling over whether to return to Anaheim so soon, but given the atmosphere and experiences at Destination D, it might very well be a possibility next year.