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Monthly Archives: March 2012

March 31

March 31, 1944 – The Donald Duck Short Film, Donald Duck and the Gorilla, is Released to Theaters.

“Where’s Uncle Donald?”

On March 31, 1944, the Donald Duck short film, Donald Duck and the Gorilla, was released to theaters. The short was directed by Jack King, with Clarence Nash voicing Donald Duck and the nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. As with many of the early Donald Duck shorts featuring the nephews, it was hard to tell which one was which, as the colors for their outfits were used interchangeably. This would be remedied with the show Ducktales, in which the nephews played lead roles and the stories were vastly more complicated.

Donald laughs at the nephews' fear of the killer gorilla, Ajax

But back to Donald Duck and the Gorilla: It’s a stormy night, and Donald is sitting around the radio with his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. The announcer informs the audience that the terrible gorilla, Ajax, has escaped from the city zoo. The nephews cling to each other in fear, while Donald laughs. He then notices a pair of gloves next to him that resemble gorilla hands, and gets the fiendish idea to scare the boys. He turns out the light, and the boys, frightened, call out for their uncle. When the boys turn on the light again, Donald is gone from the chair.

Still holding on each other, the boys are unaware of two large, hairy hands coming around the corners of the couch until the hands almost grab them. The boys scream and take off into the other room, slamming the door shut. Peering out through the keyhole, they see their Uncle Donald laughing hysterically at their flight. Angered by their uncle’s prank and bent on revenge, the three find a gorilla costume and begin to creep into the room where their uncle is getting ready to relax. Donald grabs a book and sits down in his chair to read, unaware that it is now occupied by a “gorilla.” Donald continues to be oblivious to the guest in his chair, even when the guest covers the duck’s mouth when he yawns.

Donald finally gets the hint that something may be off about the chair he's sitting in...

Donald finally gets the hint when he takes out a giant lollipop, and sets it aside for a moment while reading. The nephews take a big bite out of the lollipop with the costume’s teeth. When Donald picks up the lollipop again, he is  alarmed to see the teeth marks in the candy. He finally notices the “gorilla” in the room and bolts out of there as fast as he can, leaving the nephews to laugh at their success.

Unbeknown to both parties, the real Ajax is standing at the window, watching the scene unfold. With a menacing smile, he tears open the window and growls at the boys.  They run into their angry uncle hiding in an umbrella stand, and decide to run off in another direction, only to meet up with Ajax again. They run into separate rooms, with Donald following close behind. When Donald enters the hallway, he sees Ajax and, thinking it’s his nephews, starts pulling at the gorilla’s head, only to find that he was pulling on the head of the real gorilla.

Donald sees a terrifying image when he tries to intimidate Ajax

Just as things are looking bleak for the duck, the radio announcer informs all listeners that one can tame all wild animals by looking them straight in the eye. Donald attempts to do so, only to see a tombstone in the gorilla’s eye staring back at him. Donald uses the umbrella to escape Ajax’s clutches, and rejoins his nephews to hunt down and rid themselves of their unwelcome guest. As they sneak around, there are many comical instances with the nephews’ clumsiness with the candle, including pouring wax all over Donald’s tail. Donald snatches the candle from the boys and shoves them into another room, not noticing that he has placed the flame right under the doorknob, which burns his hand.

Donald continues his search, and falls into the gorilla’s trap, but is able to escape – barely. The chase continues through the house, leaving destruction in its wake. Unfortunately, Donald is trapped by the hungry gorilla, and just as it seems that all hope is lost, the radio announcer gives another timely message: the gorilla can be subdued with tear gas. Hearing this, the nephews find some and throw the grenade in just in time. Seeing the gorilla begin to cry, Donald laughs at him, but ends up a victim of the tear gas as well. The two sit together, crying in each other’s arms.

March 30

March 30, 1992 – The Walt Disney Feature Animation Department Wins the Academy Award for the Development of CAPS

The CAPS System at work

“[CAPS] gives us not only the opportunity to do some really good art, but it also gives us the opportunity to really begin to explore what these computers and graphics things can do for us in kind of shorter pieces where we can get really a little crazy. And I’m looking forward to all of us getting a little crazy.”- Roy Disney

During the 64th Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles on March 30, 1992, nine men—Randy Cartwright, David B. Coons, Lem Davis, Thomas Hahn, James Houston, Mark Kimball, Peter Nye, Michael Shantzis, and David F. Wolf—shared an Oscar for a technical innovation developed jointly by the Walt Disney Feature Animation Department and Pixar Studios. Known as CAPS, or Computer Animation Production System, this innovation computerized the ink and paint process of animated films. CAPS allowed the artists to assemble the separate pieces of animation, from the background to the special effects, onto the final film directly. CAPS was first used in an animated feature in the final scene of The Little Mermaid, and was fully used in The Rescuers Down Under.

“One of the technology guys, Lem Davis, thought we could use computers to paint the characters in our films and digitally assemble all the artwork,” Don Hahn said about the CAPS project.

The main negotiators in the CAPS Project

Roy Disney, excited about the opportunity CAPS could give the company, asked Frank Wells, President of the Walt Disney Company, for $10 million to spend on the CAPS program, even though the risk was great, and there was no guarantee of return on the investment. The Disney check went to Alvy Ray Smith, the co-founder of Pixar, the best company to work with when bridging the gap between hand-drawn animation and computer technology. Pixar and Disney employees on the project worked around the clock on the program, with mounting deadlines and quotas. Although The Rescuers Down Under was not a huge success, CAPS received widespread critical acclaim on Beauty and the Beast.

“It was just the basis of what was to come in terms of the 3-D animation process. It was the engine that drove everything else forward,” former chairman Peter Schneider has said about the use of CAPS.

March 29

March 29, 1993 – Aladdin Wins The Academy Award for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, “A Whole New World.”

“With ‘A Whole New World,’ that’s where my whole style took a move into a new place, working with Tim [Rice]. That was also where I gained some confidence that there can be new chapters in my life.” – Alan Menken

The 65th Academy Awards were held on March 29, 1993, in Los Angeles, California. The Disney Studios struck gold again in the categories of Best Original Score and Best Original Song, winning for the animated blockbuster, Aladdin. Alan Menken won for his score for the film, competing against Jerry Goldsmith’s Basic Instinct, John Barry’s Chaplin, Richard Robbins’ Howards End, and Mark Isham’s A River Runs Through It. The song “A Whole New World,” with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Sir Tim Rice, won for Best Original Song, competing against “I Have Nothing” and “Run to You” from The Bodyguard, “Beautiful Maria of My Soul” from The Mambo Kings, and “Friend Like Me,” also from Aladdin.

Aladdin was the idea of the lyricist Howard Ashman, and was one of his last projects before he died in 1991. Unfortunately, many of the elements in the movie were not working in the opinion of the higher ups (including Jeffery Katzenberg), so many of the songs written by Ashman and Menken were cut; fortunately, “Friend Like Me” is one of the songs that not only stayed intact, but was nominated for Best Original Song. Menken feared that once Ashman was gone, his career would be over. It was suggested that he work with lyricist Tim Rice, and the two dove right in, working on the marketplace song (“One Jump Ahead”), and a song for the magic carpet ride (“A Whole New World”). “A Whole New World” was performed by Lea Salonga and Brad Kane in the film, with a pop version released as a single, performed by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle. The song was an immense hit, peaking at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

March 28

March 28, 1936 – The Silly Symphony, Elmer Elephant, is Released to Theaters

“Elmer’s got a funny nose, looks just like a rubber hose!”

On March 28, 1936, the Silly Symphony, Elmer Elephant, was released to theaters. Directed by Wilfred Jackson, the short film tells the story of an elephant named Elmer, who is cruelly teased about his appearance, particularly his nose, but is able to use his nose to save the day from a runaway fire. Elmer would go on to be a popular merchandising character, and even had his own short-running Silly Symphony comic.

As the story opens, Elmer is seen skipping through the jungle, holding a bouquet of flowers, which he adds to as he passes by a flower bush. He knocks on the door to Tillie Tiger’s house, where the song “Happy Birthday” is heard being sung to Tillie. Elmer peeks in and sees the kids skipping in a circle around Tillie, and then they implore her to blow out the candles on her birthday cake. She agrees, but is unable to extinguish the birthday candles. Sweetly, she asks Joey the Hippo to do it for her, and he agrees.

Elmer and Tillie, with Tillie fawning over the flowers he brought for her

Just as Joey is preparing to let out massive breath of air, Elmer appears on the other side of the table, and is rewarded with Tillie’s cake in his face, as Joey left the candles on the plate, still burning brightly. While the kids laugh, Tillie pulls out a napkin and cleans away the cake from Elmer’s face. Tillie spots the flowers in Elmer’s hand, and begins to coo over them, calling them “the nicest present of all.” She gives him a kiss on the nose, which causes him to react comically.

Some of the boys get together and begin to whisper as Tillie scuttles up to her tree house, telling everyone to have a good time and that she will be right back. As Elmer sits down to wait, the boys appear, holding various long objects as “noses” and pretending they have big, floppy ears. Poor Elmer is so embarrassed that he tries to tuck away his nose. The boys bully him, pulling on his nose and sending him flying down a hill and back into the jungle, when all the party guests appear and begin to sing their taunts to him.

The kindly Old Giraffe, giving Elmer some well-needed advice

Elmer walks away from the party, very upset, when he runs into an elderly giraffe, who asks him what’s the matter. When Elmer explains, the giraffe tells him that “They used to make fun of me too, son, but I don’t care.” He then points out the pelicans nearby in an attempt to make Elmer feel better about his nose.

Just then, sirens are heard in the distance, with the crazy fire truck heading straight for Tillie’s. Tillie is seen trying to beat away the flames with a broom, yelling at her guests to help her get down from the tree house. The boys pull out a blanket for her to jump into, but the flames pull her back and they jump into the outstretched blanket, turning it to ashes. The fire team finally arrives at Tillie’s place, but can’t stop the flames from chasing them down the ladder. The flames trap Tillie up a pole, where she screams for help.

The Old Giraffe, Elmer, and the pelicans use their perceived flaws to work together and save the day

Having observed all of this from the Old Giraffe’s head, Elmer slides down his neck and begins to run at breakneck speed to save Tillie. The Old Giraffe follows, along with the pelicans, and they all work together to put out the flames: the Old Giraffe holds Elmer up to the top of the tree house, the pelicans provide the water, and Elmer uses his nose as a hose. Although the flames are stubborn, Elmer uses some fancy moves to extinguish the flames.

Stuck on her precarious perch, where four little flames are taking apart the pole one splinter at a time, Tillie calls out for Elmer. Elmer comes to her rescue, extinguishing the flames and grabbing the pole Tillie’s holding onto before it completely breaks apart. Tillie calls Elmer her hero, and the two share a kiss, with Elmer using his nose to pull her closer, and one of his ears to keep the moment a bit more private.

March 27

March 27, 1995 – The Lion King is Awarded Two Academy Awards: Best Original Score and Best Song for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”

Image credit: imdb

 “There’s a rhyme and reason to the wild outdoors, when the heart of this star-crossed voyager beats in time with yours…”

The 67th Academy Awards were held on March 27, 1995, in Los Angeles, California. The Disney Studios continued their good fortune in the categories of Best Original Score and Best Original Song, winning for the animated blockbuster, The Lion King. Hans Zimmer won the award for Best Score, beating out Alan Silvestri’s score for Forrest Gump, Elliot Goldenthal’s Interview with the Vampire, and Thomas Newman’s Little Women and The Shawshank Redemption. Sirs Elton John and Tim Rice won for the song “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” competing against “Look What Love Has Done” from Junior and “Make Up Your Mind” from The Paper, as well as “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King.

The version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” that exists in the film and the pop version sung by Sir Elton John over the end credits are vastly different lyrically. The song was originally going to be a comic song sung by Timon and Pumbaa (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella). After that idea was scrapped, the song was going to be cut from the film, but John insisted that it remain, following the new format of Disney songs beginning when the characters run out of words and can only use song to describe how they feel. The pop version became a hit, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, and is one of the most recognizable Disney songs ever written.

March 26

March 26, 1990 – Alan Menken and Howard Ashman Win the Academy Award for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for The Little Mermaid.

“We were adapting Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale in the style of Disney. And so, in a sense, we were pastiching Disney. In order to pastiche Disney, we naturally brought in styles from the outside. Calypso and reggae were clearly a new style to bring in.” – Alan Menken

The 62nd Academy Awards were held in Los Angeles, California on March 26, 1990. Disney scored a great success that night with the musical team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who won the Academy Award for the score for The Little Mermaid, and the song “Under the Sea.” Their competition was The Fabulous Baker Boys by Dave Grusin, Field of Dreams by James Horner, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade by John Williams, and Born on the Fourth of July, also by John Williams. “Under the Sea” competed against “After All” from Chances Are, “I Love to See You Smile” from Parenthood, “The Girl Who Used To Be Me” from Shirley Valentine, and another Ashman/Menken song, “Kiss the Girl.”

Ashman had been brought to Jeffery Katzenberg’s attention through David Geffen, and after meeting Ashman, everyone was excited to work with him on The Little Mermaid project. Ashman brought along Alan Menken, who had worked with him on the musical Little Shop of Horrors. The collaboration between Ashman and Menken helped usher in a new era of Disney animation, bringing elements of Broadway to the animated form. As Director John Musker remarked on the partnership between Ashman and Menken, “One of the great things with Howard and Alan’s music, I think, is the wittiness of it. It isn’t dumbed down for any audience.” Jodi Benson, the voice actress for Ariel added, “They approached it like a Broadway musical. It is something totally different; the characters actually run out of words, can’t express themselves anymore, and it has to come out in song.”

 

March 25

March 25, 1996 – Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz Win the Academy Award for “Colors of the Wind” and Best Original Musical or Comedy Score for Pocahontas.

Image credit: The Academy Awards website

“The emotion of the lyrics [for “Colors of the Wind”], as well as the emotion of the music, was very powerful, and also defined the movie, and what the movie was going to be about.”  – James Pentecost, Producer of Pocahontas

On March 25, 1996, the 68th Academy Awards were held in Los Angeles, California. That night, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz took home two Oscars for the Disney animated film Pocahontas: one for the score, and one for the song “Colors of the Wind.” Pocahontas was up against stiff competition: “Colors of the Wind” competed against “Dead Man Walking” from the movie of the same name, “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” from Don Juan DeMarco, “Moonlight” from Sabrina, and “You’ve Got A Friend in Me” from a little film named Toy Story. The score was against the scores from Sabrina by John Williams, The American President by Marc Shaiman, Toy Story by Randy Newman, and Unstrung Heroes by Thomas Newman. It would be Alan Menken’s seventh and eighth Academy Award wins, and Stephen Schwartz’s first and second.

Menken remarked in a documentary about the process of the music for Pocahontas: “First of all, I went to another collaboration with Stephen Schwartz, and so the very first thing we wrote…[plays the underscore of the song]. We listened to a lot of Indian music from various tribes and came up with certain tonalities.” “Colors of the Wind” was one of the first songs that Menken and Schwartz wrote together, and it helped the rest of the staff understand the direction of the film, as it was written during early development. The song was a rare example of a balance between the lyrics and the music, with Schwartz remarking, “…maybe that’s why it’s so satisfying for both Alan and myself.”

The cover for the single version of "Colors of the Wind," sung by Vanessa Williams. Image credit: amazon.com

“Colors of the Wind” was performed by Judy Kuhn in the film, and was released as a pop version for the end credits, sung by Vanessa Williams. The pop version reached a peak position of #4 on the U.S. Billboard Top 100. Menken has said about the song: “The song is a message song. It’s about respecting the environment and respecting our world, and it says, ‘Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?’ Can you see in the world around us all the rich array of blessings?”