December 14, 2008 – The Documentary The Age of Believing: The Disney Live-Action Classics Premieres on Turner Classic Movies
“Using his signature style, hard-work, and an unwavering belief in his vision, Walt Disney created the most successful family film franchise of all time.”
On December 14, 2008, the documentary The Age of Believing: The Disney Live-Action Classics premiered on the cable channel Turner Classic Movies. Interviewees range from film critic and historian Leonard Maltin, nephew Roy E. Disney, author and historian Bob Thomas, director Ken Annakin, composer Richard Sherman, and actors Glynis Johns, Dick van Dyke, Lesley Ann Warren, Dean Jones, Kevin Corcoran, Hayley Mills, and Kurt Russell. It was written and directed by Peter Fitzgerald. The documentary explores the Disney Studios venturing into the highly successful area of live-action family films, beginning with the Alice Comedies of the 1920s, which featured a live-action character in a cartoon setting. Although Disney became known for its animated features, it wasn’t until the 1940s during the onset of World War II that the studio was able to start its foray into live-action production, beginning with Victory Through Air Power. Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros featured extensive sequences of combination live-action and animation, thanks to Ub Iwerks’ engineering process. The earliest live-action features were the True-Live Adventure series, starting after the war, with several winning Academy Awards; around the same time, Buena Vista Distribution was formed to handle the release of Disney films. Also after the war, to use funds Disney had sitting in England, it was decided to make films in England to make Treasure Island, The Sword and the Rose, and other classics. The English films were a success, and gave Disney the courage to pursuit one of the greatest live-action films of the studio’s history, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
The documentary also explores the foray into television, which became a main tool in promoting Disney live-action films. Many segments from the Disney anthology series were put together as live-action releases and gained high reviews, particularly the Davy Crockett films. The documentary then explains the behind-the-scenes of a string of several beloved family films, beginning with Old Yeller. The Shaggy Dog was a surprise hit for the studio, and the beginning of comedy films, cemented by the success of The Absent-Minded Professor. The studio found success in all sorts of types of live-action films in the 1960s, and started the careers of several actors, including Kevin Corcoran and Hayley Mills. The film Babes in Toyland was the studio’s first attempt at a live-action musical; although receiving a lukewarm reception, this film paved the way to the creation of Mary Poppins, which became Walt Disney’s crowning achievement. The documentary also touches on Walt’s lung cancer and his final months. After his death, the studio kept working on the live-action films in production while Walt was alive, and Roy O. Disney helped keep the studio going with new films, including The Love Bug series. In the late 1960s, Disney films were seen as “uncool” in Hollywood due to sweeping social changes, but the studio continued to create now-classic films, although it was a struggle for the studio. Although there were no great successes, the film Tron became a cult classic, and the studio continues to make successful family films.