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Tag Archives: Documentary

June 25

June 25, 2010 – The Documentary Archiving the Archives: Forty Years of Preserving the Magic Premieres

“We’re excited to honor Dave [Smith] and the Archives, and to give our members a close-up look at some rarely seen ‘jewels in the crown’ of Disney history.” – Head of D23, Steven Clark

On June 25, 2010, the documentary film Archiving the Archives: Forty Years of Preserving the Magic premiered at a special D23 event at the Disney Studios. The film, honoring the Walt Disney Archives’ 40th anniversary, took a look at how founder Dave Smith started the archives, and the impact it has on the Disney legacy. The premiere event also featured appearances by Disney President and CEO Bob Iger, as well as film historian Leonard Maltin to honor Smith and his contributions.


December 20

December 20, 1956 – The People and Places Featurette Disneyland, U.S.A. is Released to Theaters


“Here in Southern California, a new land has come into being. Its purpose is enlightenment; its product, happiness. This place is Disneyland, USA.”

On December 20, 1956, the People and Places featurette Disneyland, U.S.A. premiered in theaters. It was the sixth featurette in the series. It was directed by Hamilton S. Luske, and narrated by Winston Hibler.

The featurette begins a look at Southern California, taking an aerial view over the land. The narrator explains Disneyland in general, pointing out that Disneyland will always grow and expand, so that the “new and unexpected” can continue to be found there. The audience is first brought to the Disneyland Hotel via tram, viewing all the recreational activities the hotel has to offer. Taking the train, the audience is then brought to Disneyland Station, and enters the main entrance to enter the park. They are brought through Main Street, with the narrator explaining the ways to get around in the time of the gas lamp. The camera pans around to several stores along the streets, including the Penny Arcade and the Main Street Movie House. The audience pauses in The Plaza area, the hub of Disneyland. The narrator points out each of the separate parts of Disneyland before looking at a panorama of Frontierland. The narrator points out the various selling points of Frontierland, including Tom Sawyer’s Island and Rainbow Ridge. The audience the boards a train to continue traveling through the land. Next is a look at the Rivers of America, with special attention paid to the Mark Twain paddleboat, before catching the railroad again to view another part of Frontierland: the Indian Village, where 17 different tribes are represented.


The audience then moves on to Adventureland, taking a boat on the Jungle Cruise and traveling through the many winding waterways. After the adventure, the audience quickly moves into Tomorrowland, where guests are given a glimpse at the way of the future. The tour begins at the Autopia attraction, with drivers of all ages heading to the track. There is also an area for model airplane clubs, and the Astro Jets for those that prefer to fly themselves. After this, the audience flies over Fantasyland, walking through the castle to an area of magic and childhood. The first attraction seen is Peter Pan’s Flight, where guests board a pirate ship to fly over London. The narrator then brings the audience to Storybook Land, where miniature scenes of classic Disney movies are shown on the riverbanks. This is followed by a look at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party attraction, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and the Skyway. The end of the featurette shows Walt Disney and Fess Parker leading a parade down Main Street before the falg is brought down at the end of the day.

July 3

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July 3, 1957 – The People and Places Featurette Lapland is Released to Theaters


On July 3, 1957, the ninth People and Places featurette, entitled Lapland, premiered in theaters. Directed by Ben Sharpsteen, the half-hour documentary took a look at the area known as Lapland, currently located as part of Finland and Sweden but had once also had touched a part of Norway and Russia. This documentary focused on the nomadic people of this region known as the Sami, who made their trade through livestock.

April 27

April 27, 1960 – The Final People & Places Featurette, The Danube, is Released to Theaters


On April 27, 1960, the final People & Places documentary featurette, The Danube, premiered in theaters. The 28 minute featurette explored the areas surrounding Europe’s Danube River, looking at old and new customs of the populous, their diverse traditions, and ends with a look at the most popular city on the riverside, Vienna. The film, like many others in the series, was filmed in CinemaScope. It was produced by Ben Sharpsteen.

March 29

March 29, 1951 – The True-Life Adventure In Beaver Valley Wins an Academy Award

Beaver Valley

“The close call with the coyote has failed to shake our young beaver’s stubborn resolve.”

On March 29, 1951, the 23rd Academy Awards were held at the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, California. The True-Life Adventure In Beaver Valley (also known as simply Beaver Valley), scored Walt Disney Productions the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Two-Reel), Disney’s only win this ceremony. It was the second of five eventual wins for the studio in this category. The featurette focused on a beaver as he lived his life in a pond area, and his interactions with other kinds of animals, including a moose, deer, and raccoons. The featurette would also go on to win the Golden Bear for documentaries at the 1st Berlin International Film Festival.

October 7

October 7, 1918 – Film Editor and Disney Legend Norman “Stormy” Palmer is Born

Norman Palmer

“Stormy was one of the key players in creating the classic Disney True-Life Adventures series, and he was a true pioneer in the field of nature documentaries.”- Producer and Creative Director Dave Bossert

On October 7, 1918, Norman Palmer was born in Santa Ana, California. After graduating from Hollywood High School in 1937, he applied to the Walt Disney Studios, joining as a projectionist in 1938. Soon after he arrived, Palmer was transferred to the editorial department. His early career was cut short by the onset of World War II, when he joined the Field Photographic Branch of the Office of Strategic Services in Washington D.C., editing films. He was soon sent overseas, taking aerial photos over Europe. After the war, Palmer came back to Disney, where he continued editing films, including Melody Time and Make Mine Music. When the studio stared working on the True-Life Adventure series, Palmer was brought in to edit the films, including Academy Award winning The Living Desert and White Wilderness. It was Palmer’s special skill with editing and attention to detail that brought attention to these nature documentaries. Palmer also brought his editing skills to several Disney television series. After 45 years with the company, Palmer retired in 1983. He was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1998. Palmer passed away in 2013 at the age of 94.

April 25

April 25, 2009 – The Documentary The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story Premieres at the San Francisco International Film Festival


“So many people know their songs, but not many people really know the boys.” – Julie Andrews

On April 25, 2009, the documentary The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story premiered at the 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival. The film was then given a limited release in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Palm Springs, with a release on DVD in 2010. It has received positive reviews from critics, who were surprised at the backstory behind the high-achieving duo. The film was directed by Jeffrey C. Sherman and Gregory V. Sherman.

The documentary chronicles the often tumultuous relationship between the famous songwriting siblings, and begins in present day, where Richard is at the piano, while Robert is painting. Several people are interviewed about the impact the Sherman Brothers had on the films they worked on, with some acknowledging that people don’t know about the men behind the songs. Unfortunately, the two grew apart, and their sons Gregg (Richard’s son) and Jeff (Robert’s son) never saw each other until 2002 at the premiere of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the West End, where they reconnected after forty years. There was a lot of animosity between Richard and Robert, with Gregg and Jeff trying to understand why. They head back to the past, starting with their relationship as kids, creating a group called Alley Productions, where they put on performances for the local kids. The two were very close to their father, who was a Tin Pan Alley songwriter. Robert wanted to be a novelist, while Richard was a bit of a troublemaker who ended up in military school. When WWII broke out, Robert enlisted in the Army and went to Europe. When they both went to college, Richard finally decided that his calling was to be a composer. The relationship between the two was more distant while in college, as their life experiences were vastly different.

After college, the two lived together and worked on their respective talents: Richard writing a grand symphony, and Robert working on the great American novel. Their father challenged them to work together to write a song, and they wrote “Gold Can Buy Anything (But Love),” which was later recorded by Gene Autry. Although it wasn’t a smash hit, it gave them a taste of writing. The story then touches on the boys’ respective marriages: Robert to Joyce Ruth Sasner, and Richard to Elizabeth Gluck. The two continued to write music, separately, but they finally got together to write the song “Tall Paul,” which would be recorded by Annette Funicello and become a great hit for the star. The song became a huge hit, and the two started working together from then on. After writing several songs for Annette, Disney asked them to write a song for a film, and had to play it for Walt. The two were soon hired to write the song “Let’s Get Together” for The Parent Trap, and then were asked to work on Mary Poppins, giving them a full-time position at the Disney Studios. The documentary explores the work they did with the studio and for Walt, and how their relationship was splintering. After Walt passed away, the two continued working on special projects in and out of the studio, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Aristocats, and for Peanuts animated specials. They didn’t stay at the studio for very long after completing work on The Aristocats and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, as the studio never felt the same after Walt’s passing. The two grew further and further apart, with their families not interacting. After a while, the partnership just grew apart, but would continue to write for special projects, including for The Tigger Movie. After his wife passed, Robert decided to move to London, which Richard remained in California. The two finally reunite at the premiere of Mary Poppins on Broadway, with Gregg and Jeff hoping the documentary will also help reconcile the two.


January 22

January 22, 1995 – The Documentary Film Frank and Ollie Previews at Sundance


“In film after film, some of the most sublime performances ever to flow from a pencil were created by two star members of Disney’s original team, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. Their contributions to the legacy of these films is the focus of this fascinating and entertaining portrait.”

On January 22, 1995, the documentary feature film Frank and Ollie had a special preview at the Sundance Film Festival. This was the debut of the film, which would go on to premiere at other national festivals, winning the audience favorite award several times. The film chronicles the careers of and friendship between Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, prolific animators and members of the Nine Old Men of the Walt Disney Studios, and was written and directed by Frank’s son Theodore.

December 14

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.


December 11

December 11, 2007 – The DVD Documentary Secrets, Stories & Magic of the Happiest Place on Earth is Released


“For fifty years, more than six generations of families and friends from all over the world have gathered together in the happiest of places to experience Disneyland’s special brand of magic, filled with fun, nostalgia, fantasy, and adventure.”

On December 11, 2007, the direct-to-DVD documentary Secrets, Stories & Magic of the Happiest Place on Earth was released. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of Disneyland, the documentary includes interviews from several key Imagineers, Disney employees, and other important players in the park’s history. Starting from Walt’s first meetings about the idea, to the failed attractions, to the future plans for the park, the documentary covers all aspects of the park, and reveals previously unknown trivia about the parks to Disney fans. The documentary was part of a 2-disc set released on the Walt Disney Treasures line, and included an interactive trivia game, a theatrically-released film from the 1950s about the park, and several Disneyland anthology episodes that go into deeper detail about popular aspects.