Sunday, April 13, 2008

The World May Never be the Same

To my beloved readers: those of you who frequent this blog undoubtedly know about my deep esteem and love of Mary Blair and equally my passion for maintaining the integrity of Walt's original ideas and philosophies. Many of you read and gave heartfelt responses to one of my most emotionally infused entries to date regarding the closure of the Disney Gallery last Fall. So often it seems the only bandage for a broken heart is hope: in this case the hope that with one grave mistake lessons will be learned and such errors will never again be repeated. It would appear that the Disney Company has no such conscience. I'm certain that Disney-centric bloggers visiting this page will have already heard the death knell that is the news regarding "It's a Small World" at the original Disneyland park. For those of you who haven't, an angry buzz, nay growing outcry is spreading as a result of a new "revamping" to Mary Blair's original concept and themed ride "It's a Small World", originally produced for the 1964 World's Fair. Now, before I opine on whether all of the clamor is warranted or not, I think it's important to take a turn through the halls of "Small World's" history so we can gain a better understanding of why this project was started in the first place...

It was 1956. Disneyland was but one year old when Walt was invited to attend a prestigious conference, at the invitation of President Eisenhower, with the intention of creating some kind of national organization to help promote world peace. This was an arena that Walt had worked in before, and it wasn't the first time the government had turned to Disney to help convey its political messages - The "Goodwill Ambassador Tour" that took Disney and Blair, among other Disney artists, to South America in the early 1940's resulting in the creation of "The Three Caballeros" and "Saludos Amigos" being a prime example. The organization which ultimately materialized as a result of the 1956 conference was the People to People Student Ambassador program, however, Walt was left inspired by the ideas from the conference and began putting his best imagineers, concept artists, and songwriters (eg. Mary Blair, Marc Davis, Joyce Carlson, The Sherman Brothers) to work on what would ultimately become "It's a Small World." The idea, of course, was to represent all of the children of the world, in unity, emitting one message: that our differences, our languages, our nationalities, matter so little when we realize that we are all human beings experiencing largely the same needs, the same dreams, and the same emotions.

Fast forward to present. In January Disney announced that it would be closing Small World for refurbishments until early 2009. Originally plans included basic audio/sound improvements, boat and flume remodeling to more easily accommodate disabled guests, and a possible paint job or two. By March, however, rumors began circling that logistical and cosmetic changes were only part of the plan and that the company had begun implementing more substantial storytelling alterations. The restyling, as I understand it, is to include the addition of more "popular" Disney characters such as Donald Duck, Simba, and Lilo and Stitch - to name a few. But the most egregious and downright puzzling alteration is the abolition of Mary's well-known "Rainforest" scene which will be replaced by a new segment: "Up with America." I'm immediately left scratching my head. Can someone please explain to me what U.S. patriotism has to do with the idea of world peace and the message that ultimately we are all one and equal on this earth? How does one possibly derive from lyrics that state "there's so much that we share" the idea that U.S. culture is sovereign from the rest of the world - afterall, not everyone in this small world is American. It's completely antithetical to the entire philosophy behind the ride's original concept, and in my opinion, completely misplaced.

A regular staple of my blogging diet, Re-Imagineering, has been closely following and fervently commenting on the "It's a Small World", um, downgrade. They summed up the contradiction of the refurbished segments this way:

"In consciously excluding a large scale U.S.A.-land from It’s a Small World (a lone cowboy and Indian in the finale was just enough), the original show writers were asking American audiences to step away from their own national consciousness and take stock in the wider world around them. It’s a Small World was never about nationalistic fervor. It was about finding our common humanity outside our own borders."

In addition to some of its own persuasive clamor regarding the refurbishments, Re-Imagineering has posted a string of touching comments from the art and design community, as well as a letter to the Disney Corporation from Kevin Blair, son of Mary Blair, decrying the changes as "idiotic" and "a marginalization" of his mother's work. I don't need to tell you that it's worth the read.

Others in the online community are taking a more pro-active approach. A website entitled, "Save the Small World" has been gathering supporters since its launch, encouraging readers to take a stance against the company and affording ways to do so. It's slogan, "Save the Rainforest, Save the Small World" has been catching like wildfire around Disney blogging sites. It contains the most comprehensive list that I've found including press releases and news articles regarding the rumors and responses from Disney's spokespeople.

At the end of all of this lunacy, I'm extremely sad to say that I wish I could garner the same outrage I hear from the rest of the community - but I cannot. It's not that I think this is any less heinous than the offended public, but my faith that this company might finally set itself on the track toward the ideals of a greater world, a greater humankind, and a greater sense of beauty in the world are dwindling fast. I have become numb to the thoughtless antics of the so-called artists and engineers that the company has employed to market its poor ideas. I am heartbroken. Some things are so sacred that the occurrence of desecration never allows the observer to move beyond a state of disbelief. This is where I am. I would have believed that the company might install gift shops replete with mass marketed plush and plastic at the end of nearly half of its attractions; I would have believed that they would fire all of their animators and replace them with international CGI artists; I would have even believed that the Disney Corporation would close the Disney Gallery and replace it with a tactic for attracting more consumers to its "Year of a Million Dreams" sweepstakes. But this... well, this I simply cannot believe.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Let's Dance at Disneyland!

As you may know, I have become increasingly thrilled with iTunes’ release of heretofore out of print vintage Walt Disney Records from the ‘50s and ‘60s. The folks at iTunes seem to be releasing these albums in waves, a few at a time. A few complaints: It has been brought to my attention that they do not necessarily last a long time, so if you see one you have to have, it’s best to jump on it as it may not always be available. Additionally, it can be hard to pin down some of these records, especially if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. A broad search for “Walt Disney Records” produces little except the latest Hannah Montana album. The best way, I have found, to browse for these vintage albums is by starting with the name of one such album or group that you know (for example “The Mellomen”) and then do a chain reaction search of sorts by clicking different albums in the box called, “Listeners also Bought” for more leads. It really is kind of like finding a needle in a haystack, but when you stumble upon something good, well, it’s almost like being a kid on Christmas morning again.

The newest wave of Walt Disney Records released brought a bunch of gems. My favorite, hands down, is a 1956 (only one year after the park opened) album, “Date Nite at Disneyland,” with the Elliott Brothers and Disneyland Date Niters Orchestra. Evidently the Elliott Brothers Orchestra was a regular entertainment staple around Disneyland in the 1950’s and ‘60s. They played in the big band/jazz/swing style that was popular at the time, providing evening entertainment for Friday and Saturday “Date Nites” at Disneyland during the summer (And evidently until 1 am?? Can anyone verify this?). It’s the kind of wholesome entertainment you would expect from the time, and which admittedly gets my toes tapping and wanting to strap on my Mary Janes for a twirl on the dance floor. It’s not difficult to imagine the hoards of teenagers coupling off under the striped canvas of the Carnation Plaza Gardens swinging and swaying with the bandstand raging on through the night.

Above image courtesy of the Vintage Disneyland Tickets Blog

Of course the “Date Nite at Disneyland” album is the most comprehensive Elliott Brothers’ Orchestra album I’m aware of. Their opening hit, “Let’s Dance at Disneyland” can also be found on the Musical History of Disneyland album. If you want to see the Elliott Brothers in action, there’s a great segment showcasing their talent in the “Disneyland After Dark” Episode on the Disneyland USA DVD which is part of the Disney Treasures Collection. Now that I mention it, that entire episode is well worth watching. It features some excellent footage of Annette Funicello, Bobby Rydell, the great Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, and even a very young Osmond Brothers Quartet. Also of note, I found an interesting link to a list of big bands and artists who played at Disneyland at the website. It’s really mind boggling to think that such jazz greats as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie and his Orchestra have all played there.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"I hope we never lose sight of some of the things of the past..."

Those close to me who are still keeping up with my blog are aware that I've been under quite a bit of pressure lately. Between working two jobs at around 70 hours a week and planning for a three week trip to California this holiday season, I'm also responsible for creating a three tier wedding cake for my best friend's wedding this Friday (yes, that would be two days from now). That said, I am thrilled to be able to give you all something worth your reading pleasure, that didn't require much effort on my part.

The ever-talented and endless source of information, Wade Sampson, over at MousePlanet contacted me not long ago regarding a new article he wrote about the now-closed Disney Gallery at Disneyland. As you know, I was truly crushed by the news of the Gallery's closing, evidenced by my post last August. As Walt Disney himself said, "I love the nostalgic myself. I hope we never lose sight of some of the things of the past." In the spirit of that sentiment Mr. Sampson has captured warmly and informatively fond memories of the gallery as he knew it. Regarding his article Mr. Sampson had the following to say:

"Lainey, you were the inspiration for this column.
Your first posting eloquently captured how the Disney Gallery effected
your life and later career choices just as the Disneyland Art Corner
effected my generation. I still have my blue Disneyland Art Corner
artist membership card that I proudly flashed to my elementary school
contemporaries to prove that I was going to be a Disney animator. The
card came with the Animation Kit sold at the Disneyland Art Corner.
Today, it is battered, dog-eared and my crudely scrawled ink signature
has faded somewhat and it is now kept in my "treasure box" of memories.
When the Disney Gallery opened many years later, it inspired me to study
Disneyland with the same passion I studied animation and your posting
brought back that rush of memories so I decided to say one final
farewell to the Disney Gallery I knew. Hope you enjoy the column."

I hope all of my readers will read Mr. Sampson's article, as it is just as entertaining as it is informative. The article on MousePlanet can be reached by clicking here. I want to send my warmest wishes and kindest thanks to Mr. Sampson for the flattering tribute and the nostalgic look back at a special place that means a lot to me and many of my readers.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Stamp of Approval

It's that time of year again folks... Retail stores are bustling, snow is foreboding, and that general holiday sparkle lights up the faces of little boys and girls around the world. Okay I realize it's still November. But with Christmas only 25 days away, it's time to start thinking about that always ever joyful obligation to send out annual holiday greetings.

It's not unknown that I am a lover of all things vintage. Any opportunity to hearken back to the days of yore is approached with the utmost enthusiasm. And Christmas is obviously no exception. That means getting out the old Bing Crosby LP's (or MP3's... whatever.), baking up batches of Grandma's old homestead ginger molasses cookies (recipe as old as 1890!), and of course, hand making beautiful holiday greeting cards. I can't tell you how much I delight in doing this. It's therapeutic in a way - watching Christmas movies (in particular Babes in Toyland) and sitting in front of the coffee table laboring over hand calligraphed envelopes. Ahh... The good life. No detail should be overlooked. This year, it means taking the extra special step of adding a touch of the vintage to even the postage. Thanks to a little suggestion from my lady Martha, purchasing vintage postage stamps can be done at the click of a mouse from the American Philatelic Society webpage.

I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting, but what I found was a marvelous world where fabulous designs are encapsulated in the tiny vignettes of a mere inch by inch and a half piece of paper. It's truly fascinating how good design lends itself to such practical applications as a postage stamp. Without question, some of the earlier designs from the 1950's and 1960's are chock full of brilliant flat colored designs which put many of today's holiday stamps available at any local post office to utter shame. At any rate, I haven't exactly decided which combination of stamps I will be using for my holiday cards (yes combination as mid-century letters only cost around 8 or 10 cents to mail). But they were so lovely that I just had to share them with you here. Perhaps I should let you, my readers vote on your favorites. Personally I like the mailbox motif and hobby horse stamps best. Enjoy some unusual holiday eye candy!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Complaints Duly Noted.

A few weeks ago Miscellainey got its first real complaint. A milestone in Miscellainey's blogging history. (And no, I wasn't so shattered that I decided to abandon this blog permanently contrary to popular belief.) I'm always a bit taken aback by negative criticism, in every aspect of my life. It's not generally because I'm so sensitive that any offending response gets taken personally, but more so because I genuinely try to be as objective and careful in my writing as possible and nothing I say (especially in this blog) is meant to arouse controversy.

That said, I feel obliged to finally make a response to the comments "Mr. (shall we call him... Smith?)" made a couple of weeks ago. In response to my earlier blog entry "A Half-Baked Idea", which discusses the Symposium on Popular Song's clip "The Boogie Woogie Bakery Man", "Mr. Smith" had the following to say,

Are you really so offended by the depiction of an Asian baker making fortune cookies? Do you really think the talented people who created this cartoon were 'ignorant' and less enlightened than people today? ...You are obviously a sophisticated and intelligent writer--there's no need to hop on the anti-intellectual political correctness bandwagon by cowtowing to hypersensitive folks who seek to needlessly demonize good works and the people who created them.

Now in truth, having re-read what I wrote, I can see how my comments may have been a bit overly cautious and maybe even a bit harsh. But goodness knows I would be the first person to stand up and say that these cartoons should be considered "good works" and that the people who created them were not only smart but incredibly talented. I definitely did not mean to imply as a blanket statement that the animators of days past were less-enlightened than people of today. In fact, and I believe I've said before, today's animators would do well to take extensive notes and pay close attention to their elders of animation-days-past. Frankly a lot of what goes on TV and in the movies animation wise these days is just plain crap. And I'd rather see "Boogie Woogie Bakery Man" 100 times in a row than watch a single episode of "A Pup Named Scooby Doo". (Surely that comment alone will offend someone else...)

That said, even Leonard Maltin and Richard Sherman issued a disclaimer in their commentary about the film for its depictions and how it would be viewed in today's context. Now, maybe I'm an optimist, but I like to think we've come a long way in our treatment of all races and ethnicities over the last 50 years. And hopefully in the next 50 years the next generation can say they've come a long way from where we are now. Personally, I'm not offended by that thought. And I think it's unfair to characterize my sentiment that blanket stereotypes of days past might need to be prefaced with disclaimers as "cowtowing".

At any rate, I appreciate "Mr. Smith's" willingness to bring forth criticism, as a good dash of objectivity is healthy for all of us, and I also appreciate his recognition that I am, or at least aspire to be, an "intelligent writer". That said, my last intention with this blog is to ever offend anyone. And if I have, I do want to be notified. I may not always agree, but so is life. You can't please all of the people, all of the time.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Friends, I know it's been over two weeks since I've posted and I just wanted to extend my apologies that it's taken me so long to get back here and get some new material up. My life has been overwhelmingly busy and I've had very little free time to devote to a thorough blog entry as I would like. This is the longest I've ever gone without posting but I assure you that I'll get new material up very soon. I'm not going anywhere. Don't worry.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

It's the Great Halloween!

No Halloween would be complete without watching "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!" Watching the film is even better when you have a pumpkin to carve at the same time. I love the Peanuts gang, even though Disney does get it's generous share of airtime on this blog. There's something really nostalgic about watching Schultz's creations around the Holidays. The Peanuts family has been around for over 40 years, always making appearances on prime time TV during the holidays on ABC and other family channels. You no longer need to hope and wait that the Peanuts gang shows up on TV now thanks to the recently released Peanuts "Holiday Collection" DVD which features all three major Peanuts films: "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!", "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving", and, of course, the classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

I've posted some stills from the movie just to get you into the Halloween spirit. As I was grabbing some of these images, I couldn't help but marvel at some of the great color styling. Now, the Peanuts cartoons aren't exactly high tech or chock full of special effects or even, at the most basic level, believable. But that's where the charm is. The story lines are sweet, the characters are lovable, the lessons are endearing. The movements and motions of the characters are not meant to be realistic, by stylized in the familiar Schultz form. That doesn't make the films any less enjoyable. In fact, as I was saying before, the color choices are what are really phenomenal. I particularly love the scene above that takes place at the Halloween party. The use of pink is entirely novel and it compliments, almost too perfectly, the orange and the black.

So often we get locked into the concept that palettes are limited to only one or two colors. Often ir's the one or two unexpected yet complimentary colors that make the main color scheme really pop. Schultz's film provides a lovely example of good color styling, and as ever fits perfectly with the childlike and endearing theme of the Peanuts cartoons. Afterall, Halloween's spooky frights should always be sprinkled with some childish delights!