Thursday, June 30, 2011

Live Action Films: Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks With a Circus

While watching Dumbo for this month's installment of The Chronological Canon, I got to wondering if Disney had ever done any live action films set in a circus. It seemed a likely setting for a Disney feature, so I wasn't surprised to discover a Disney circus movie I had never heard of before, 1960's Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks With A Circus.

Toby Tyler is set in some once-upon-a-time in the early 1900s, a time when the circus was the height of entertainment. The title character, played by Kevin Corcoran, is a young orphan living with his terrible uncle and not-quite-as-terrible aunt on their filthy, depressing farm. One afternoon, Toby sees the circus roll into town and can't stop himself from slipping away from his chores and checking out the scene. He can't afford a ticket to the show, but lurks around the proceedings until he draws the attention of a shifty concession-selling carney who offers him a job as his assistant. After one more nasty confrontation with his abominable uncle, Toby is able to run away with the circus guilt-free.

During the next several weeks, Toby experiences a number of misadventures with the circus, befriending the strong animal-wrangler Ben Cotter (Henry Calvin), a gentle giant with a gruff exterior hiding a heart of gold; kindly clown Sam Treat (Gene Sheldon), and the constantly trouble-causing chimpanzee he names Mr. Stubbs. Mr. Stubbs is the catalyst of many of the movie's events, including on scene in which he jumps away from a circus parade, makes his way into the local sheriff's office, finds a gun, and proceeds to go on a shooting rampage (in which the only victim is the sheriff's hat).

No, Mr. Stubbs!

If Toby Tyler was popular enough to inspire a drinking game, the cue to drink would certainly be whenever Toby shouts out an exasperated "Mr. Stubbs!"

Toby's sense of loyalty (though often pulled in different directions) and stoic disposition see him through his trials, help him overcome his adversaries, and eventually win him a place of greater respect in the circus. But once it does, will his old obligations to his terrible uncle call him away from the big tent?

Toby Tyler is an enjoyable bit of cotton candy on film: there's not much to it, it won't fill you up, but it's very sweet and enjoyable. The conflicts are never too dramatic and the stakes never feel high, but that's probably the right tone for a movie aimed predominantly at children. There's a lot to like for the kids in this: a relatable boy protagonist, the romantic lure of the circus, and plenty of animal hi-jinks (mostly by that rascal Mr. Stubbs, but with supporting turns by a group of dogs, and cameos by lions, elephants, and monkeys too).

Calvin,Stubbs, Corcoran.

Disney fans will recognize Corcoran as Moochie from the original Mickey Mouse Club, and maybe Calvin and Sheldon from supporting roles on Zorro (admittedly, I wouldn't). Lots of familiar names of Disney legends from the animated features and theme park Imagineering are listed in the credits: writer/producer Bill Walsh, composer Buddy Baker, costumer Alice Davis, and effects artists UB Iwerks and Peter Ellenshaw. You know you're in good hands with those names.
It's not a movie I'm going to watch and re-watch as an adult, but I'm sure even today's kids would enjoy it. Seven out of ten mice (one of those mice is just for the scene of Mr. Stubbs shooting like a maniac):

If you'd care to see Toby Tyler yourself:

Fun with Dumbo around the internet

Time to wrap up Dumbo month with a variety of fun little miscellany:

First, here's a lovely piece of Dumbo art by Disney legend Mary Blair:

If you thought Dumbo got teased a lot, imagine if he'd had two sets of big ears? Here's a bunny dressed as Dumbo from this post of animals in costumes:

You can waste a little time online playing this briefly-enjoyable Dumbo game from Disney.

Before researching Dumbo this month, I did not know there used to be a show on the Disney Channel called Dumbo's circus featuring costumed characters and puppets. In it, Dumbo is a teenager, can talk, and has apparently forgotten that he can fly without the magic feather. Here's the opening:

It looks kind of horrific, but also better than anything currently on the Disney Channel.

From the I-Don't-Get-It-But-I-Sure-Like-It Dept comes this picture of an unlikely team-up between Dumbo and The Thing of the Fantastic Four by Boramy on DeviantArt:

Let's give the last word to Uncle Walt. Here he is introducing Dumbo on the Disneyland television show, in which he calls it his favorite Disney movie:

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sources and Origins: Dumbo the Flying Elephant Roll-A-Book

I would love to write a Sources and Origins entry about Dumbo, comparing the finished film to the original story that Disney bought the film rites to, but there's one problem with that: I've never seen a copy.

Neither have you. Neither has anyone (that we know of) in many a decade. Apparently not even the Disney company has a copy in its archives.

Dumbo The Flying Elephant was not a normal book. It was one of a series of Roll-A-Books. From descriptions, they sound like book-shaped plastic containers that held the story on a scroll. Instead of flipping through the pages, you would scroll through them (it almost sounds like a super low-tech Kindle).

Michael Barrier has researched the Dumbo Roll-A-Book about as extensively as anyone can these days, and has written an in-depth and interesting piece about it here (there's no Timothy!).

I like to think that there is at least one copy of the Dumbo the Flying Elephant Roll-A-Book out there somewhere, maybe waiting in somebody's grandmother's attic. Hopefully someday, the grandkids will go clean it out and find that treasure waiting for them. They'd be instant millionaires and the rest of us would all get a look at the first version of Dumbo.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Character spotlight: Timothy Q. Mouse

Dumbo is the movie that features one of my all-time favorite Disney characters, perhaps second only to Donald Duck himself: Timothy Q. Mouse.
Timothy is 10 pounds of moxie in a 25 gram sack. He's a little guy with a big mouth and a bigger heart. What's not to like?

We don't really know much about Timothy - where he came from, or what he's doing. He just shows up amongst the circus animals wearing his little ringmaster outfit. Despite his clothing, though, Timothy doesn't seem to be an actual member of the circus cast or crew. He doesn't perform in the show, and he is never seen doing any work other than how he chooses to help Dumbo or how he secretly manipulates the ringmaster.

I like to think of Timothy as a little mouse who caught the circus during a show in Brooklyn and decided to run away with it and insinuate himself into the proceedings. He's like young Steven Spielberg who snuck onto movie sets and pretended to work there until they really thought he belonged and started paying him. It works out well for Timothy too, as he winds up managing the show's biggest act.

But Timothy doesn't get to that position of success because he's after power or money. He doesn't help Dumbo because he sees a talent worth exploiting, he only does it because he can't take watching the other elephants mercilessly ridiculing the little guy. He retaliates against them and then devotes himself to helping Dumbo turn his life around purely because his conscience would let him do no less.

Underneath the fast talking, scheming, and brass buttons is a little guy that is all heart. We should all be so lucky to have a friend like Timothy Q. Mouse. One who supports us with no thought of personal gain, and one who doesn't overlook our flaws, but sees them as strengths:

"Why didn't I think of this before? Your ears! Just look at 'em, Dumbo! Why, they're poifect wings! The very things that held ya down are gonna carry ya up, and up, and up! I can see it all now!" - Timothy Q. Mouse

Saturday, June 25, 2011

From the movies to the parks: Dumbo

Dumbo has always had a presence in the Disney parks, and has one of the few attractions that was there on opening day that is still a big crowd-pleaser today.

That's Dumbo the Flying Elephant, one of the simplest, but most iconic of all Disney attractions. It's a short ride and there's not much too it, but the appeal of flying along with Dumbo and taking in an aerial view of Fantastyland is obvious. This attraction is present in Disneyland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Tokyo Disneyland.

Park guests can also take a ride around Fantasyland on Dumbo's circus train Casey Jr. in both Disneyland and Disneyland Paris.

In the Disneyland Resort's California Adventure, one of the Games of the Boardwalk is a classic carnival game with Dumbo decor called Dumbo Bucket Brigade. A spray of water launches the firefighting clowns up the ladder to save Dumbo.

Dumbo's Pink Elephants on Parade show up in the Disneyland version of Fantasmic, with a crazy rock version of their song. Here's a clip:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Big Thunder Mountain is making everyone crazy! It must be stopped!

A postman has claimed that the reason he went on a stealing spree was because riding the Disneyland Paris version of Big Thunder Mountain traumitized him, making him crazy.

Now that we know the mild thrills of Big Thunder are enough to drive someone to make such terrible decisions, we can look back and see it's to blame for other aful ideas too, such as...

Dwayne Johnson's photo Rock wins.. again.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson only made The Tooth Fairy because Big Thunder Mt. made him crazy.

Big Thunder didn't just drive Jersey Shore's Pauly D crazy enough to make him think this hairdo looks good, riding it is also how he gets it light this in the first place.

Hey, it's the Hilton sisters, Paris and Not Paris! What activity can they blame on Riding Big Thunder Mt? Open up a tabloid and take your pick!

Miley Cyrus riding Big Thunder was such a traumatic experience that it actually drove disney crazy and made them think she could act! That's one dangerous roller coaster!

Before country rock duo The Carter Twins rode Big Thunder THERE WAS ONLY ONE OF THEM! MADNESS!

BIEBER! Need I say more?

But wait, what's this? 30 Rock creator and best-selling author Tina Fey and her talented musical husband riding Big Thunder? How did they survive the coaster and not go on to become crazy people? Look again - they're NOT on Big Thunder, that's Expedition Everest. Easy mistake.

Your honor, Big Thudner Mountain is obviously too dangerous to our culture to be allowed to go on. It must be stopped!

I rest my case.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Looking forward to Pixar's Brave new world more than restarting the Cars

I like the movie Cars more than the average Pixar fan. I won't go into a full review, because that's for sometime down the road (pun intended), but the movie has a lot of heart, and I love the story of the American road mixed in with Lightening McQueen's journey. It's a much better movie than its reputation suggests.

Having said that, I'm only moderately excited about the upcoming sequel. It looks like a lot of fun, and I'm sure there's more heart to it than the previews suggest (that was the case with the first outing, and often is the case with Pixar), but returning to a beloved Pixar universe is never quite as exciting as traveling to an all-new, all-different Pixar universe.

So while it's a lot farther off, I'm excited to see glimpses of the Scottish fantasy Brave showing up here and there. We get the teaser trailer on Friday, but here's the first poster now (click to enlarge):

Gorgeous. I'm going to be mighty impatient for this one. After two Pixar sequels in a row, I'm especially hungry for an all-new, all different world filled with the light of Luxo Jr.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Onion mocks Disney ticket price hikes

Disney has raised its park ticket prices yet again - the second time in less than a year!

This even gained the attention of The Onion which has posted this installment of their satirical American Voices feature on the topic.

Ticket prices increases have risen far, far faster than the rate of inflation. Is this simply Disney trying to get the most they can out of the most people? Are they trying to drive people to the relative value (but still steadily increasing) multi-day passes and annual passes? Are they trying to find a balancing point where they can get more money out of fewer people (and therefore reduce wear and tear on the parks and need fewer employees?

Fans have been grumbling for years about the fast pace of steep increases, but the parks stay packed. Here's hoping Universal steps up its game to the point where Disney doesn't just have to try harder creatively, but at the price point as well.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Disney's other flying elephant

Apparently inspired by our Dumbo review last week, one of the African Bull elephants (or maybe his mother-in-law) of the World Famous Jungle Cruise decided he would like to try his hand at flying too. He needed a little extra help (and we don't mean from a magic feather). Here's the video, via the official Disney Park's Blog:

He'll be back after a few weeks vacation (refurbishment).

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Chronological Canon: Dumbo

Part of what's already proving interesting about watching every Disney animated feature in order is thinking about audience's experiencing these movies for the first time, and comparing and contrasting each movie with the ones that came before it. For example, it's through this process that I realized Disney's fourth animated feature, Dumbo, is the extreme opposite of its predecessor, Fantasia.

Fantasia was all grand ambition - pushing the envelope of what an audience might accept in an animated feature, reaching for high art, striving for technological innovation. For all that, though, sequences often seem overlong, and entertainment value is sometimes lost in the pursuit of those grand ambitions. Dumbo, on the other hand, has very simple ambitions: to tell a heartwarming tale in the most entertaining and compact form possible.

And by compact, I mean short. Dumbo clocks in at barely over an hour - 64 minutes (of the Disney animated features - only Saludos Amigos is shorter at 42 minutes, and that movie is really more a collection of shorts).

Dumbo is full of heart.

But that's not a bad thing. Dumbo is confidently short. Disney's storytellers tell the story that they want to tell, and then get out while the getting is good. The pacing is wonderful. They take their time at the opening, setting the scene with those delightful shots of the storks-eye view of the Earth in which the states are all different colors and labeled like a map, then seeing the delivery of all of those adorable baby animals. Try to imagine this scene playing out in a modern movie - could it be done without wisecracking babies and fart jokes (yes, but only by Pixar).

The council of elephants are just some of the forces against Dumbo.

We finally get to meet out protagonist, the baby elephant with the big ears. Aside from his loving mother, everyone is down on this guy - the gaggle of gossipy lady elephants, the jeering crowds, the blustering circus owner, and the reckless clowns. When mom gets overly defensive, even she's taken away, though Dumbo then earns his only friend: the tiny rodent with the big heart and big mouth: Timothy Q. Mouse. I'll tell you right here, Timothy ranks very high on my list of all-time favorite Disney characters, but the rest of that is for a different post.

I actually think Dumbo could benefit from just a few more minutes (but I'm certainly glad they didn't try to pad the thing out another 20 to 30). While I applaud the leisurely pace of the majority of the movie, I wish there was just a little bit more of the finale. If you haven't seen the movie in a while, I bet you'd be shocked of just how little flying there is in it. Dumbo gets the feather from the crows, learns to fly, then the FIRST time he flies with it in the circus, drops it and learns he can fly without it - boom, end of movie. I think the drama might've been heightened a smidge if he'd started to gain acclaim before losing the feather, then lost it at some key performance, something like that anyway. As it is, the ending is pretty abrupt.

That's really my only complaint about Dumbo, though, and it's a minor one.

Another way this movie is unlike Fantasia: Dumbo is appealing to kids. It's cute without being too saccharine sweet, and sentimental without ever being cloying. Those baby animals are all pretty darn adorable, but none more so than our pachyderm protagonist, Dumbo himself. What kid hasn't, at some point, felt a little like Dumbo: overwhelmed and outmatched by a world that moves to fast and forgives too little?

A few of the impressive images during "Pink Elephants on Parade."

But lest I give the impression that Dumbo plays it safe and steady at every turn, let's talk about "Pink Elephants on Parade." Dumbo and Timothy accidentally get a little tipsy, and their booze-induced hallucinations briefly take over the movie in an incredible, eye-popping sequence. Pink Elephants is pure pop art - the animation runs absolutely wild in a scene that is daring in its color choice, creatively inspired with its constant morphing images, full of frantic energy, funny as heck, and just a little bit creepy. One more comparison to Fantasia, for all of that movie's grand ambition or marrying art and animation, Pink Elephants on Parade does a better job at that than any sequence in Fantasia except Night on Bald Mountain. It elevates the whole endeavor.

Clever crooning crows.

The rest of the songs are all solid, though none of them have ever quite been let into the Disney Song Hall of Fame. Two contenders deserve the shot: "Baby Mine" is a perfect song of motherly devotion, and "When I See An Elephant Fly" is both catchy and funny.

Yes, Dumbo is short and sweet, but that's just the way I like it. Eight out of ten mice:

Little notes: Dumbo features the first Disney feature voice performances by Sterling Holloway as the stork. Sterling would go on to perform in many, many features over the next several decades, including the voice of Winnie the Pooh.

Casey Junior takes on a tough hill.

Dumbo includes a mini-adaptation right in the movie: the circus train Casey Junior, briefly acts out the story of The Little Engine That Could, complete with "I think I Can"s. A nifty little bonus.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Golden Horseshoe stars Wally Boag & Betty Taylor take final bows together

We've all heard stories of longtime married couples passing away within a few days of weeks of one another, but what about performers who only portrayed a couple? That's what happened over this weekend when Wally Boag, Disneyland's original Pecos Bill passed away on Friday, June 3 at the age 0f 90, followed by his longtime co-star Betty Taylor, the woman who shared the stage with him as Slue Foot Sue from the mid-50s through the mid-80s, who died on Saturday, June 4 at the age of 91.

It's fitting that Boag and Taylor make their final curtain call together. They shared the stage in the leading roles of the Golden Horseshoe Revue three times a day during three decades - many tens of thousands of times all told. The Guinness Book of World records lists the Revue as the longest stage show in history.

In 1995, Boag and Taylor were both inducted together as Disney Legends. While not a romantic couple in real life, it was clear to anyone who saw them perform together (or to those of us who can only see recordings of their performances today), these co-stars shared a genuine love for one another.

Let's watch a portion of the Golden Horseshoe Revue's 10,000 performance, recorded for Disney's World of Color TV show. Take it away, Betty...

Boag's park performances became so well known and well-loved that he was chosen to host an episode of the Muppet Show in 1980, just two years before he hung up his guns and retired. Here he is on the Muppet Show, performing his balloon animal routine:

While Boag's hilarious broader antics may have brought him a greater measure of notoriety, Taylor was always there behind him in the often-harder and less colorful role of the straight woman. This time, let's give her the final bow, and close with a song:

For further reading:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Pirates poll results / Dad poll opens

Pirate month is over and so our poll has closed for the month. Your favorite pirates by a good margin was, unsurprisingly, Captain Jack Sparrow. Congratulations Captain Jack, you win a jar of dirt!

Glad you like it.

Surprising second place winner was the Redhead from the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Almost everyone else tied for third (except for poor Blackbeard's Ghost and Treasure Planet's John Silver who got nothing).

This month, in honor of Father's Day, we ask you to pick which Disney Dad you would select as your own. Choices come from animated classics, Pixar films, and a few live action movies. Take your pick! You'll find the poll along the right-hand sidebar.