Tag Archives: Disney

Poster Art of the Disney Theme Parks

I have very specific memories connected with the posters at Disneyland – approaching the park, driving into the no-longer-there parking lot, striding towards the gingerbread ticket booths, the first concrete thing I’d see of our adventures ahead would be those iconic posters, affixed to the bases of the Monorail pylons and inside the tunnels leading to Main Street U.S.A. Each poster was a trip in itself – the vine-entrenched intrigue of the Jungle Cruise, the topsy-turvy whimsy of Alice in Wonderland, the hitchhiking ghosts of The Haunted Mansion, the kinetic energy of the PeopleMover’s Superspeed Tunnel – a gallery of future memories waiting to be experienced.

Poster Art of the Disney Parks, a coffee table book published by Disney and written by Danny Handke and Vanessa Hunt, comprehensively explores this angle of that pixie dust-strewn universe. As Tony Baxter’s intro explains, poster art is an integral part of the Disney theme park experience. The book’s 11″x14″ size gives ample space to the best posters, with many getting a full page to themselves (although one of my personal faves, the Columbia sailing ship, gets a mere quarter page). Divided into “lands,” the book includes nearly every poster created not just for Disneyland but for all of the Magic Kingdom theme parks (Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are absent). It’s interesting to note the different ways Disney uses to approach the same attraction in each park, with some intriguing little differences – such as the Euro Disneyland train engine sporting a pair of antlers. The book also contains separate chapters reproducing the Art Noveau influenced designs used for Tokyo DisneySea and the optimistic 1920s to ’50s era throwbacks employed on Disney California Adventure’s recent overhaul.

Two things in particular impressed me about this one. Firstly, they give credit to the unsung artists behind these posters (hooray for that). Secondly, they include lots of fascinating unused poster concept art. Before getting this, I never realized that most of the iconic poster designs from Disneyland’s early years were tied into one talented man – Bjorn Aronson. Aronson’s playful, cleanly modern, eclectic yet unified poster art probably did more to establish Disneyland’s visual identity than anything else. It’s astonishing stuff, and this book reproduces them with vivid clarity.

Poster Art of the Disney Parks can be purchased here at Amazon.com.

Side-by-side poster comparison for Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Bjorn Aronson’s illustration skill is evident on this close-up of his fantastic Red Wagon Inn poster.

Casa de Fritos and the Lucky Nugget Saloon (Disneyland Paris) in the Frontierland section.

Not a good photo, but at least it gives you an idea of the chapter openings (using another excellent Aronson poster).

An undeveloped Adventureland poster concept is shown next to a printed one.

A demo of the silk screen color-layering process (that looks familiar).

Oh, how I wish they would have made Aronson’s Candy Palace poster design a reality!

Tomorrowland: all about the primary colors.

It’s Kind of a Cute Story

Within the pages of the colorful, fun It’s Kind of a Cute Story, legendary Disney Imagineer Rolly Crump shares memories of an extraordinary life with the help of MiceChat.com writer Jeff Heimbuch. Since Rolly was heavily involved with the planning of Disneyland landmarks like the Enchanted Tiki Room, it’s a small world, and the Haunted Mansion, I knew I was going to enjoy it (and I wasn’t disappointed). What really makes the book special, however, lies in how it gives a sense of Crump’s enthusiastic personality and eclectic interests – interests that have taken him well beyond the Disney company.

Prior to reading this book, I was vaguely aware that Rolly Crump was one of the more interesting guys at Disney. For proof, one needs to look no further than his interviews on the Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic DVD, where Rolly is seen (presumably in his home) with tasteful framed art of a naked woman hanging in the background. Boobies on a Disney DVD! The artwork in question, a portrait of entertainer Josephine Baker (reproduced in this book), sums up Crump’s funky, laid-back California vibe pretty well. That casual/cool feeling is reflected in the imagery generously spread throughout this book’s pages – and in the chatty, “cute” stories Rolly shares within. And what memories! Whether it’s being a grunt in the Disney animation department in the ’50s or overseeing massive projects for Jacques Cousteau and gambling titan Steve Wynn, he’s had an extraordinary career.

Were I to sum up the Crump aesthetic, I’d say it’s a little bit Disney, a little bit ’60s surf/beatnik culture, a little bit midcentury modern, and a whole lot of charm. One can definitely see the appeal his work had for Walt Disney in developing Disneyland (Disney obviously valued the younger, funkier insights Rolly had over his fellow imagineers). It kind of surprised me to read how much of Crump’s handiwork is around at Disneyland, even today – not just the obvious such as the still awe-inspiring small world façade or the charming statuary in the Tiki Room forecourt, but little things as well like the trash cans (and those themed figures churning the butter in the park’s popcorn machines? Crump’s idea.) Elsewhere, Crump delightully recounts his ideas for the earliest incarnation of the Haunted Mansion (when it was conceived as a walk-through attraction), preparations for the 1964 New York Worlds Fair, and his contributions toward various pavilions at EPCOT. While the Disney stuff is fascinating in itself, Crump also goes into detail on various projects involving other theme parks – and the efforts of his own company, Design 27 (this book is not authorized by the Disney company, which is a huge asset in my opinion).

Although the printing on this book leaves a little to be desired (the paper is thin), I would recommend It’s Kind of a Cute Story not only for Disney fans, but also for those who’d enjoy getting to know a unique guy who marches to his own, propeller-festooned drummer. The book is available here at Amazon.com.

The Happiest Planters on Earth, atop Tomorrowland’s stylish bandstand.

Crump’s layout of the Knott’s Bear-y Tales attraction.

The it’s a small world happy face clock? That’s Rolly’s, too!

Crump’s more recent stuff gets a lot of play here as well.

The funky Crump style in full flower.

A detail from the Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room chapter.

Fun chapter headers and page footage mirror the Crump style nicely.

“One day his mother was gone.”

Bambi title spread, Junior Deluxe Edition (1956).

My bedside reading table is mostly stocked up with non-fiction, but sometimes pieces of classic literature get fit in from time to time. Felix Salten’s short, bracingly realistic Bambi, A Life in the Woods is the latest. The copy I read (pictured above) might have been an abridged version of the 1928 original. One thing’s for certain, however – this isn’t the Disney version, not by a long shot. In describing the title deer’s maturity in a deceptively calm forest, Salten’s elegant, plain-spoken prose takes on a grimly factual outlook that makes the animated version look, well, cartoonish. In the book, animals are born, seasons change, predators kill, and the things that the forest creatures admire or fear turn out to be expertly constructed illusions (no wonder the Nazis hated this book).

There are many other differences between the book and screen Bambis. Thumper and Flower are absent; Faline is more prominent and they have another deer friend named Gobo (who becomes the deer equivalent of an Uncle Tom after he’s domesticated by He, the human). And the relatively sedate hunting scenes from the movie are depicted as a devastating, full-blown massacre in print. Cool. Below are some nice images from various incarnations of Bambi in book form – including the Disney version (can’t help it, the film’s imagery is lovely if overly cute-ified).

Bambi: A Life in the Woods German first edition cover (1926).

Bambi: A Life in the Woods U.S. first edition detail (1928).

Bambi first U.S. paperback edition (1939).

Bambi: A Life in the Woods illustration by Mirko Hanak (1967).

“Bambi Finds the Meadow” illustration by Charles Harper (1963).

Walt Disney’s Bambi, page from film tie-in storybook (1941).

Happy 4th of July

Dear readers: be safe and try to resist having the oversized dolls from Disney’s America on Parade (1976) haunt your dreams.

The Who What Why Where When And How Day

Nostalgia time: The Mouseketeers at Walt Disney World was a 1977 episode of The Wonderful World of Disney starring the jump suited, semi-forgotten ’70s edition of the Mickey Mouse Club — you know, the one with Blair from The Facts of Life in the cast. As a tyke, I was obsessed with the mouseketeers and afternoons would find me a) watching the show, or b) reenacting skits from the show with the kids who lived across the street. We also owned the record album (which contained a white-bread rendition of “Walking the Dog,” I recall) and wore it out.

This Disney World outing was a special memory for me, since the Florida park seemed like such a mystical, faraway place. Disneyland was semi-accessible, but Disney World might as well have been Paris or London. Watching the show now, it looks like one long (and cheesy) commercial. Three years ago, I finally got to go. Didn’t see River Country, however.

Weekly Mishmash: November 28 – December 4

poster_lastmileThe Last Mile (1959). The instant watching options on Netflix are still somewhat spotty at this point, but things have been improving over the last few months with a large dump of lesser-known, older flicks that never got a DVD release — including this intense little prison break drama. The film is set almost entirely in a single prison room as several death row inmates ponder their fates and the shabby treatment they’re getting from the guards. The clever use of limited sets, luminous black and white photography, and a soundtrack that is the very epitome of Crime Jazz all work in the picture’s favor, but mostly what elevates this otherwise routine movie is Mickey Rooney chewing the scenery like nobody’s business as a feisty fireplug of an inmate. The better Rooney performances always had an unhinged quality, going back as far as his hyper Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This one is no exception: even when the film gets too draggy and overly religious in its second half, the ever hammy Mickey remains at its fascinating center. TCM will be running this one on December 30th as part of their month-long Rooney tribute.
Palooka (1934). Another offering on my 50 public domain comedies DVD set. As I make way through these films in chronological order, 1934’s Palooka arrives at the tail end of the pre-Code era. While this boxing drama based on a popular comic strip doesn’t win any awards for originality, it is pleasantly jazzy and reminiscent of the Warner Bros. product of the time. The film follows nebbishy Stuart Erwin as he goes from country bumpkin to boxing star. His success is due somewhat to good genes (parents are boxing champ Robert Armstrong and spitfire ex-showgirl Marjorie Rambeau), but mostly it’s a result of underhanded doings by gangsters and his manager, played by Jimmy Durante. Also on hand is Lupe Velez as Irwin’s gold-digging hussy of a girlfriend, whose impossibly low-cut gown is the first clue that this is pre-Code stuff. The film gets draggy at times, and Irwin is seriously miscast, but it’s also a good opportunity to see Durante and Velez at their most dynamic. The two share the movie’s closing gag, which is priceless.
album_partridgeuptodateThe Partridge Family — Up To Date. As far as TV’s made-up musical groups go, the Partridge Family have never truly gotten their due. Their 1971 album Sound Magazine is, no joke, friggin’ fantastic. Total bubblegum for sure, but the elements that made them special (David Cassidy’s creamy voice, sharp production, white bread backup vocals and harpsichords galore) were at the top of their game on that particular platter. Up To Date, which preceded Sound Magazine by a season, isn’t quite as diverse or memorable but it does boast the dreamy hits “I’ll Meet You Halfway” and “Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted.” Other notable tracks include the guitar fuzzy “Lay It On The Line” and the delightful “That’ll Be The Day.” Written by frequent P.F. contributor Tony Romeo, it’s the one track that anticipates the wonderfulness of Sound Magazine. Another thing — Suzanne Crough rocks some good tambourine here.
Seventh Heaven (1927). Classic silent romance from director Frank Borzage and stars Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. The epic story is set into motion when waifish Gaynor is thrown onto the street and taken in by kindly street cleaner Farrell. As the two share Farrell’s humble seventh-floor abode, they fall in love and marry — only to have the arrival of World War I separate them. First impression of this film is that it’s rather long and stodgy (and no match for F.W. Murnau’s contemporary Sunrise), but it’s also charming with a beautifully nuanced performance from Gaynor. Between this, Sunrise and Street Angel, it’s no wonder she was the recipient of the first Best Actress Oscar. I also enjoyed the charismatic Farrell and several of the supporting actors. The petite Gaynor and gangly Farrell always seemed like an odd physical match, but they do have an undeniable chemistry. I suppose this would be considered the 1927 edition of a Chick Flick. Borzage’s direction is assured and passionate, most notable for his still-impressive vertical pan up seven flights of stairs. What a set piece!
Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009). Absorbing documentary deals with Disney Animation’s journey from irrelevance and near-death in the early ’80s to its second golden age starting with 1989’s The Little Mermaid through 1994’s The Lion King. Surprisingly for a Disney-endorsed product, the film casts an admiring but not entirely flattering view of studio heads Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. It also generously uses contemporary news footage and shots of press clippings to show how the studio’s inner dealings were communicated to the outside world. Eisner and Katzenberg come across like canny Hollywood players who are willing to learn but constantly at odds with creatives. It’s a very old story, but the fact that it covers a relatively recent period and all the major players are on hand to speak works in the film’s favor. I was very suspicious that the film might come across as too cozy and complimentary of that era’s offerings (which are entertaining but a shade too Broadway-ish for my personal tastes), but that wasn’t the case at all. Despite all the executive-level turbulence, the film actually makes Disney look like a fantastic place to work!