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Monthly Archives: December 2012

December 11

December 11, 1992 – The Feature Film The Muppet Christmas Carol is Released to Theaters

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“A blue, furry Charles Dickens who hangs out with a rat?”

On December 11, 1992, the live-action feature film The Muppet Christmas Carol was released to theaters. It was the first Muppet film to be released after the deaths of creator Jim Henson and puppeteer Richard Hunt (it was released in their memory). The film is based on the classic tale by Charles Dickens, and is considered one of the more close adaptations of Dickens’ story; for instance, the character of The Ghost of Christmas Present is seen aging during his visit, as was written in the story. Directed by Brian Henson, the film stars Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge, and puppeteers Dave Goelz (Gonzo, Waldorf, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew), Steve Whitmire (Kermit the Frog, Rizzo the Rat, Beaker) Jerry Nelson (Robin the Frog, Statler), and Frank Oz (Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Sam the Eagle). The film was a modest success, and has developed somewhat of a cult following in the years since its release.

Set in 19th century London, the film begins with an introduction by Charles Dickens (played by Gonzo) with his friend Rizzo the Rat, selling apples. Although Rizzo doesn’t believe that he’s standing with Charles Dickens, Dickens sets out to prove that he is, beginning the tale. We then meet the miser Ebenezer Scrooge as he makes his way through the town. The residents of London remark how cold and cruel Scrooge is, and he responds with a simple “Humbug.” He arrives back at his business, where his employees, including his assistant, Bob Cratchit (Kermit the Frog), are hard at work. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, arrives at the door, trying to convince his uncle to join him for Christmas dinner, but Scrooge refuses. Late that evening, Cratchit timidly asks Scrooge if the employees can ­take Christmas day off, and Scrooge reluctantly agrees, so long as they arrive all the earlier the next day.

Scrooge is startled by all the strange disturbances he experiences on Christmas Eve

Scrooge is startled by all the strange disturbances he experiences on Christmas Eve

While the whole town seems to excitedly anticipate Christmas day, Scrooge arrives at home, disturbed by a vision of Jacob Marley (Statler). As he sits in front of the fire, strange things occur, startling him, until the ghosts of his former partners, Jacob and Robert Marley (Statler and Waldorf), appear. They warn him that if he doesn’t change his ways, he will end up with their fate, wrapped in the chains of their wickedness. The two tell Scrooge that he will be haunted by three spirits, and without these visits, he cannot hope to avoid their fate. He is to expect the first ghost when the bell tolls one. Scrooge doesn’t believe them, but still crawls into bed, fearful of what could happen.

Sure enough, when the bell tolls one, Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, who takes him back to the Christmases of his youth. They watch as year after year passes by, with Scrooge sitting all alone at his school every Christmastime. They are then taken to his apprenticeship days at Fozziwig’s Rubber Chicken Factory, with Fozziwig’s (Fozzie Bear) annual Christmas party. It is there that Scrooge meets a young woman named Belle, and falls in love with her at first sight. Despite Scrooge’s protests, the Ghost shows him the Christmas where Belle breaks off her engagement, believing him to be more in love with money than with her. The ghost then returns a depressed Scrooge to his chambers.

The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge around town, including to the home of his loyal employee, Bob Cratchit

The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge around town, including to the home of his loyal employee, Bob Cratchit

When the bell rings two, Scrooge meets the Ghost of Christmas Present, who takes him out into the city on Christmas morning, intent on showing him the joy of Christmas. Scrooge asks to see his family, suddenly inspired by the kindness he saw in the street. Taken to his nephew’s Christmas party, Scrooge is saddened to find that he is the joke of the party, and called an “unwanted creature.” The spirit then takes him to Bob Cratchit’s house, where Scrooge sees Cratchit and his son, Tiny Tim (Robin the Frog), walking home from church, full of joy. At their Christmas dinner, Cratchit raises a glass to Scrooge, although his wife Emily (Miss Piggy) strongly objects to this, but in the spirit of the season, she agrees; this touches Scrooge deeply. Scrooge is impressed by the good attitude of the sickly Tiny Tim, and asks the Spirit if Tiny Tim will live. Although the Spirit can’t give a confirmation, he says he sees “a crutch without an owner.”

The Spirit then takes Scrooge to the cemetery, to await the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Although frightened, Scrooge declares that he is willing to learn with an open and grateful heart. They arrive on a rainy Christmas day in London, seeing a crowd of pigs discussing someone’s death, declaring that no one would go to that funeral. They then move on to a back alley trader named Old Joe, with people trading with him items from the deceased, including his bed curtains and the blankets from his bed. Although Scrooge suspects that he is the deceased in question, he claims that with his new blossoming outlook on life, this may change. He then asks to see some tenderness in the world, and is taken to Bob Cratchit’s once again. Unfortunately, at this Christmas, Tiny Tim has passed away. Scrooge is taken back to the cemetery and sees his own grave before his eyes. He pleads that he has changed, that the future can change. He then promises to keep the spirit of Christmas alive all year round, sobbing into the spirit’s robes.

Scrooge, having turned over a new leaf, finds the charity volunteers and offers them a large sum to help the homeless and destitute

Scrooge, having turned over a new leaf, finds the charity volunteers and offers them a large sum to help the homeless and destitute

All of a sudden, Scrooge looks around to see that the spirits have passed, and it is Christmas morning. He then sets out to make things right, buying the prize turkey from the butcher and bringing good tidings to all, including giving to a charity he had turned down the day before. Scrooge then goes to Bob Cratchit’s house to surprise him with the turkey, presents, and the offer of a salary raise. The movie ends on a high note, with Tiny Tim living after all, and the whole town of London celebrating Christmas.

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December 10

December 10, 1941 – Actor and Disney Legend Tommy Kirk is Born

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“[Walt Disney] was with Hedda Hopper, the legendary columnist. He put his arm around me, and he said, ‘This is my good-luck piece here,’ to Hedda Hopper. I never forgot that. That’s the nicest compliment he ever gave me.”

On December 10, 1941, Thomas Lee “Tommy” Kirk was born in Louisville, Kentucky. While he was still very young, his family moved to Los Angeles, California. In 1954, he followed his older brother to an audition at the Pasadena Playhouse, and ended up being cast in the production of Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness! He was soon signed to a talent agency, and began working on television, which brought him to the attention of Walt Disney. Walt cast Kirk as Joe Hardy in the Mickey Mouse Club’s Hardy Boys serial opposite Tim Considine, another well-known Disney player.

Although Kirk found popularity in the Hardy Boys, his star role was Travis Coates in the 1957 film Old Yeller. Thanks to the immense popularity of the film, Kirk was cast in roles of the all-American teenager, frequently teaming with Kevin Corcoran as his younger brother. Kirk had continued success with The Shaggy Dog, Swiss Family Robinson, The Absent-Minded Professor, Bon Voyage, and Son of Flubber. The last films Kirk did for Disney were the popular Merlin Jones films, opposite Annette Funicello. In 1963, Disney decided not to renew his contract, and his career stalled in adulthood. He left show business after battling several personal problems, and started his own carpet-cleaning business in the San Fernando Valley. He was inducted as a Disney Legend in 2006.

December 9

December 9, 1931 – The Mickey Mouse Short Film Mickey’s Orphans Premieres in Theaters

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“Aw, isn’t it adorable?”

On December 9, 1931, the Mickey Mouse short film Mickey’s Orphans premiered in theaters. It was the first Disney cartoon with a Christmas theme, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, but lost out to Disney’s Flowers and Trees. The short was directed by Burt Gillett, and stars Walt Disney as Mickey and Marcellite Garner as Minnie.

A mysterious figure trudges through the snow carrying a large covered basket as the carol “Silent Night” is heard in the background. The figure stops at a window of a nearby house and sees Minnie and Mickey preparing for Christmas. The figure leaves the basket on the doorstep and departs. Pluto brings the basket inside and pulls the blanket off to reveal a multitude of orphan kittens, who proceed to explore their new surroundings. Mickey and Minnie take to the kittens, but Pluto is rather suspicious of these invaders.

To entertain the kittens, Mickey and Pluto dress like Santa and a reindeer

To entertain the kittens, Mickey and Pluto dress like Santa and a reindeer

The kittens begin to wreak havoc on the house, pulling on Pluto’s ears and tail, and playing with the hanging light fixtures. Dismayed, Minnie suddenly comes up with an idea that Mickey and Pluto set in motion: Mickey plays Santa Clause to the kittens and Pluto plays the reindeer. The kittens are thrilled with their gifts, and parade around the house like a marching band playing a tune. Some kittens, who received saws and other tools, begin tearing the house apart. They continue to play pranks on Mickey and Pluto, until Minnie reveals the large decorated Christmas tree – which the mischievous kittens proceed to take apart.

December 8

December 8, 1916 – Director and Disney Legend Richard O. Fleischer is Born

Image credit: wikipedia

Image credit: wikipedia

“I called my father in New York that night and told him the story. He said, ‘Of course you must take that job without any question. Just do one thing. Give a message to Walt from me, tell him that he’s got great taste in directors.’”

On December 8, 1916, Richard O. Fleischer was born in Brooklyn, New York. Son of famous animator and producer Max Fleischer (Betty Boop, Popeye), Richard grew up around the entertainment field and attended the Yale School of Drama before joining the New York RKO-Pathe News, where he wrote newsreel commentaries and directed wartime documentaries. Soon after, he moved to Hollywood, where he directed several film noirs, including Bodyguard and The Clay Pigeon. In 1952, after he directed The Happy Time, starring Bobby Driscoll, he got a call from the Walt Disney Studios, asking him to direct the new live-action film, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The film was a great success for the studio, as well as for Fleischer. After its release, he went on to direct such classics as Doctor Dolittle and Tora! Tora! Tora! He was inducted as a Disney Legend in 2003, and passed away of natural causes in 2006.

December 7

December 7, 1997 – The First “Toad-In” Protest Takes Place at Walt Disney World

“Afterwards a Mr. Toad ride operator told us she was glad we didn’t lie down on the tracks or something, and assured us that she wouldn’t have run us over.”

On December 7, 1997, the first of a series of “Toad-In” protests took place at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, protesting the closing of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Although the ride was popular, and there were many protests, the planned closing occurred on September 7, 1998, with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh taking the Wild Ride’s place.

This first protest consisted of six people standing in front of the ride wearing matching T-shirts. Although there was not a lot of media coverage, the protests grew from the simple six (who also rode the ride a couple of times that day) to a crowd of fifty people. The protests were peaceful each time they were held, with protesters merely standing in front of the ride, then experiencing the attraction a couple of times before heading home for the day. Despite this, the ride was closed; however, a movie version of the attraction is supposedly in the works.

December 6

December 6, 1922 – The Laugh-O-Gram Film Cinderella is Released

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“Cinderella, whose only friend was a cat.”

On December 6, 1922, the Laugh-O-Gram Film Cinderella was released. This was a silent film from Walt Disney’s early Laugh-O-Gram Studio, founded in May 1922. Cinderella was one of the six fairy tale cartoons produced during the studio’s contract with Pictorial Clubs, Inc. The short is a modern-day (of the time) take on the classic fairy tale.

The opening of the short introduces Cinderella and her only friend, the cat; her two stepsisters; and the prince, who chases a bear with a shotgun. A group of bears is seen dancing, playing music, and being merry, until they see the prince, who chases them all into their cave. The prince victoriously captures all the bears and drags them out in a row, their feet tied to a single rope. The prince then sends out invitations to a ball, and his trusty servant dog takes them to every home in the kingdom.

The night of the ball arrives, and the stepsisters head to the ball, leaving Cinderella alone with the cat. As they both lament that they wish they could go to the ball, the Fairy Godmother appears in a cloud of smoke, letting Cinderella and the cat know that she has come to grant their wish. Instantly, Cinderella is turned into a flapper, and a motorcar appears in their living room, ready to drive Cinderella and the cat to the ball.

Once the two set their eyes on each other, they dance the night away

Once the two set their eyes on each other, they dance the night away

At the ball, the prince is dancing with one of the stepsisters when he spies Cinderella, and it is love at first sight between the two. Everyone wonders who the girl is. Meanwhile, Cinderella’s cat is busy dancing with the prince’s dog. As the guests start to rush for the food, Cinderella and the prince spend time together alone in the garden. Cinderella suddenly notices that it’s five minutes to midnight, and dashes out of the ball, losing her shoe in the process. As she runs home, her clothes soon change to rags.

The next day, the prince sets out to find her, following a set of footprints that unfortunately lead to a duck. He finally finds Cinderella’s house and has the stepsisters try on the shoe, but of course it doesn’t fit. Then he sees Cinderella, and realizes that she is the mystery girl from the ball. The prince and Cinderella, as well as the cat and the dog, live happily ever after.

December 5

December 5, 1901 – Walt Disney is Born

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“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

On December 5, 1901, Walter Elias Disney was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Elias and Flora Call Disney. A few years after his birth, the Disney family moved to a farm in Marceline, Missouri, where young Walt developed a love for simple farm life and drawing. The family eventually moved to Kansas City in 1910, where Elias owned a newspaper distribution business, and Walt delivered papers for him before school. In 1917, the family moved back to Chicago, where Walt began high school and took night courses at the Chicago Art Institute. At age sixteen, Walt dropped out of high school to join the army during World War I, but he was rejected for being underage. He and a friend decided to join the Red Cross and were sent to France for a year. After the war, Walt came back to Kansas City and found work, thanks to his brother Roy, at the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio, creating advertisements. It was there that he met Ub Iwerks, and the two soon started their own commercial art company.

In1920 Walt became fascinated with animation, and decided to start another studio, called Laugh-O-Gram. This venture failed as the studio’s debts mounted, and Walt decided to move to Hollywood, California, to start again. After convincing his close friend Iwerks to move all the way from Kansas City, Walt and his brother Roy set up the Disney Studios there in 1923. The studio had a hit with the Alice Comedies (live action girl in a cartoon world), and then had a success with their animated character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. In 1928, Oswald was taken away from the Disney Studios, along with most of the studio’s animators, by their distributor, Charles Mintz. Needing a new character, Iwerks and Walt worked in secret, and on November 18, 1928, their new character, Mickey Mouse, debuted on the big screen, becoming an overnight success. The Silly Symphony short films quickly followed and led up to what Hollywood had dubbed “Walt’s Folly,” the film that changed the face of animation: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

A young Walt poses for a publicity photo

The studio thrived until 1941, when it was taken over by the U.S. armed forces for creating training and instruction videos. Many propaganda and training films were released during this period, with one film in particular, Victory Through Air Power, convincing President Roosevelt to use air power to help win the war. However, these films did not generate as much income as the studio needed, and it took several years after the end of the war for prosperity to return to the studio. It wasn’t until the release of the 1950 animated feature Cinderella that Walt had another hit on his hands.

In 1955, Walt opened his biggest project to date: Disneyland. It was designed as a place where adults and children alike could enjoy the attractions. The success of Disneyland gave the company the financial stability it had sought for many years. Walt also devoted time to other media, including live-action films and television, revolutionizing both with great triumph. He continued to work until his death of lung cancer on December 15, 1966. Thanks to the weekly televised anthology series Disney hosted, millions of children thought of him as “Uncle Walt,” and he was mourned the world over.

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There is much to say about Walt Disney: he was an innovator, able to see the potential in people and new processes, starting with synchronized sound, to Technicolor, to the multi-plane camera, to television and theme parks. His many firsts helped revolutionize the entertainment industry. At virtually every step, people called his projects a “folly” or “unattainable,” but Walt would always surprise them. The company still thrives today, with millions of people visiting the theme parks, and millions of children still enjoying the films their parents and grandparents loved, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Mary Poppins. They say it all started with a mouse, but it really all started with a man: a dreamer and modernizer named Walt Disney.

December 4

December 4, 1942 – The Goofy Short Film How to Fish is Released to Theaters

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“This desire becomes acute only through bodily contact with the cosmic undulations of Pisces, or fishes. This creates a mental malady known as ‘Fishus Febris,’ or ‘fishing fever.’”

On December 4, 1942, the Goody short film How to Fish was released to theaters. It is technically the third in Goofy’s “How To” series. The short was directed by Jack Kinney, and narrated by John McLeish.

The short, presented as a book, opens as an instructional text all about fishing, including when to fish, which is determined by the zodiac. We then move to Goofy in his study, when he suddenly he has the overwhelming urge to go fishing. On the next page, Goofy is at a lake, having spent an uncomfortable night on the beach, ready to get on the water. The narrator then introduces a trout, who is afraid of his own shadow.

Goofy uses one of his lures to bring the fish to him in a conga line

Goofy uses one of his lures to bring the fish to him in a conga line

Goofy tries to sneak up on the fish, only to fall from a tree and land in the water, with the fish jumping up and attacking his hat, leaving it a tattered mess. The next lesson in the book is about fly-fishing and its many lures, including one that looks like a hula girl and leads the fish in a conga line. Goofy tries to let his line fly, but it hooks around a tree; as he tries to reel his catch in, he ends up in a tangled mess. He then tries to go out with a motorboat, and accidentally hooks his motor. The motor takes off, slicing the boat into pieces, and dragging Goofy all across the lake. However, Goofy is still impressed that he caught something, much to the exhaustion of the narrator.

December 3

December 3, 1965 – Director, Screenwriter, Producer, and Voice Actor Andrew Stanton is Born

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“Without meaning to, I sort of made this epic journey that takes you all over the ocean. That meant every set piece had to be different. The look of being underwater is actually quite simple from a technical standpoint. It was just really tough to dial all the different ingredients just right.”

On December 3, 1965, Andrew Stanton was born in Rockport, Massachusetts. As a child, he wanted to be a comic-book artist, which evolved into wanting to become an animator. He attended the famed California Institute of the Arts, and in 1990, he was the second animator to join Pixar Animation Studios; he and Pete Docter were the ninth and tenth employees hired by the young animation studio. He soon began working as a designer and writer on Pixar’s first film, Toy Story. The time spent on Toy Story was rather tense, as the writers were given comments and notes from Jeffery Katzenberg, whose big push was to make the main characters more “edgy;” in following these notes, the film was no longer Pixar’s, and the character of Woody was stripped of all charm. Disney shut down the production, and the Pixar team quickly began rewriting the film they wanted to make, with Stanton sequestering himself in a small office, only to emerge with new pages of script. The film went on to be a success, with Andrew Stanton, along with Joss Whedon, Alec Sokolow, and Joel Cohen garnering an Academy Award Nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Stanton would go on to co-direct and co-write A Bug’s Life, co-write Toy Story 2, and co-write and Monsters, Inc., before being tapped to direct his first feature film, Finding Nemo. It became highest grossing animated feature on its release (before being taken over by Toy Story 3), and Stanton was awarded the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.  Stanton’s next major project was 2007’s Wall-E, which he directed and co-wrote. Similar to Finding Nemo, Stanton wanted to pick a setting that would challenge the animators, this time choosing space. The film was another success, winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. After Wall-E, Stanton mostly executively produced several short films for Pixar, and co-wrote Toy Story 3. In 2012, Stanton’s project John Carter was released; he directed and co-wrote the film, adapting it from A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Unfortunately, the film received mixed critical reviews, and just barely made back its budget. However, Stanton announced that his next project is back at Pixar, working on a sequel to his hit film, Finding Nemo.

December 2

December 2, 1929 – The Mickey Mouse Short Film The Haunted House is Released to Theaters

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“I c-c-can’t play!”

On December 2, 1929, the Mickey Mouse short film The Haunted House was released to theaters. Many of the skeletons’ dance moves are similar to those of the Silly Symphony The Skeleton Dance. The short was directed by and stars Walt Disney.

It’s a dark and stormy night, and Mickey is trying to get home, with his umbrella flying away in the wind. He spies a house nearby and decides to see if he can wait out the storm there. As he opens the back door, the door and back hallway completely fall apart, revealing another door that opens for him. He screams in fear, but ends up inside, with the door magically locking him in. Bats and spiders fly and crawl about, further frightening an already scared Mickey.

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After the lights go out, Mickey lights a match to see the hallway, unaware of his shadow playing tricks

The lights go out. Mickey lights a match, only to be scared by his own shadow. He comes face to face with a Grim Reaper and a herd of skeletons, who sit him down at the piano and force him to play. Mickey carefully begins to play, with the Grim Reaper guiding his hands to perform the melody. The whole crew begins to dance to the music, with some of the other skeletons joining with their own “musical instruments.” When Mickey finishes the song he tries to leave, but the skeletons see him and come after him. Mickey finally jumps out a window and flees the house back into the storm.