I never set out to be a Disney hipster on purpose. Yes, I like Song of the South, but if I were a true Disney hipster, I’d unironically prefer movies like The Black Cauldron or Home on the Range or Treasure Planet. I have nothing against the greats like Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t love them because everyone already does. I mean, everyone already loves them, so how dull and uninspiring is it if I, like hundreds of others, claim Beauty and the Beast is my favorite? And how did I come to claim this B-lister as my favorite?
I didn’t watch it until I was a teenager, so it’s not like it’s a childhood favorite of mine. Hypnosis freaked me out as a kid, so the scenes with Kaa should have been a deterrent. The only reason I can recall why I started to get interested in it at all was buying the CD soundtrack. I’d heard all six of the film’s songs on my Classic Disney cassettes, but the CD also included the score, two reprises, an interview with the Sherman brothers, two songs from the More Jungle Book album, and two deleted songs. My thirst for Disney trivia deepened as I discovered more and more about this movie. Even though it’s typically regarded as “The last film Walt was involved with”. But does it deserve better than that?
Just join me and jam with the jungle juvenile and his genuinely jumpin’ journey!
The Plot: The black panther Bagheera (Sebastian Cabot) discovers an orphaned man-cub and leaves him with a nearby wolfpack to be raised. Ten years later, the boy, Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman) is being forced out, as the feared tiger Shere Khan (George Sanders) is returning to their part of the jungle, and will kill the man-cub and anyone who dares to protect him. Bagheera volunteers to escort the boy to a man-village to keep him safe. However, there’s just one problem: Mowgli doesn’t want to leave the jungle. Thus, in spite of Bagheera’s best efforts, the jungle repeatedly proves itself to the boy it’s just as dangerous as it is fun.
There’s of course, the self-righteous and aloof Colonel Hathi (J. Pat O’Malley) and his jungle patrol of elephants, the hypnotic and hungry python Kaa (My Hero Sterling Holloway), a dancing orangutan looking for the secret of fire, King Louie (Louis Prima), a band of musical British vultures, and of course, Baloo (Phil Harris), a bear who basically invented Hakuna Matata. Can Mowgli steer clear of danger or will he be forced to seek refuge with his own kind?
How’s the writing?: RudyardKipling’s novel of the same name was a series of disjointed vignettes, with several chronicling the adventures of Mowgli and his friends. This allowed flexibility for the writing staff to put together a simple story with episodic elements, not unlike Alice in Wonderland. In fact, Walt even assured them to not worry about the “icky-sticky story stuff” and encouraged them to make it fun. As far as I’m concerned, that was definitely the right move.
You could tell me the greatest story ever written: perfectly paced, perfect action, perfect three-act structure, perfect continuity…but if it’s being told with boring characters, good luck trying to get me interested. The Jungle Book, much like the aforementioned Alice in Wonderland and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, has a bare thread of a plot: little more than hooks on a wall to hang the characters on. Sometimes the plot does need to stall for a moment while we spend time with these characters we enjoy spending time with. Does Hathi provide anything substantial to the plot? what was the point of spending so much time singing and dancing with King Louie? Did the vultures really do much to help Mowgli? Did Kaa really need two separate scenes? And after all that happened to show Mowgli just how perilous the jungle could be, he couldn’t be bothered to grow or develop or learn from everything? The answer is no, none of it was “necessary”, per se. It was an adventure with friends. Like, you don’t need a reason to hang out with your friends, you do it because they’re your friends and you enjoy spending time with them.
So because of that, we get through dialogue, musical numbers, and all sorts of great action scenes where we get the full brunt of just how entertaining these characters really are. As a result, we get a story only strong enough to let us spend time with a variety of oddball characters and regale in their interactions.
Does it give the feels?: Because The Jungle Book is often regarded as wild, raucous musical adventure, little light is shed on the emotional aspect. In that Sherman brothers interview on that CD I mentioned, even Richard Sherman admitted the movie “sorta dies at the end”. It definitely is cute and kinda wholesome, as Mowgli goes from wanting to pal around with his friends to getting distracted by the little girl (Named Shanti in the 2002 sequel) and following her into the village, signifying the onset of adulthood. Her song, “My Own Home” is a lovely melody, but its lyrics are fairly unremarkable.
No, if you’re looking for the emotional hook, it’s the relationship between Mowgli and Baloo. You got an impetuous child and a lazy ne’er-do-well coming together and appreciating the fun they bring together. It would be a common trope as time went on, that the child would learn to grow up and the man-child would learn to take on more responsibility, but there’s something special about a big, affable friend like Baloo. Christopher Robin can’t float on top of Pooh in a river, that’s for sure!
Who makes it worth it?: Shere Khan is easily one of my favorite Disney villains. Rational, haughty, and quietly dangerous, Shere Khan loves casually dropping hints about his renowned capabilities, like a mafia crime boss. He’s often compared to Scar, which is hardly fair. Scar was a manipulator, knowing full well what he lacked in muscle he made up for by being clever. While Shere Khan isn’t dumb by any stretch, be clearly values his innate physical prowess and tries to cloak it in a proud, dignified demeanor, as if his ruthlessness and his demeanor gives him permission to be as cutthroat as he desires.
Kaa has always been a fan favorite. Ideally, Kaa could be the most feared threat in the jungle as both a predator and due to his hypnotic abilities, but aside from being a touch narcissistic and clumsy, Kaa gets a little bit drunk on his own power and ends up playing with his food and gloating over it before getting around to eating it. Like Br’er Fox, he’d have accomplished his goal by now if only he’d set his ego aside and eat him already. But as such, Kaa has a bit of a woobie appeal, getting foiled by distractions, and eventually, getting thrown out the trees by his own body weight.
Of course, I gotta give a shoutout to my ursine brother from another bruin, Baloo. He’s so chill, so funny, I would love a lazy afternoon of floating on a river, gorging myself on food, dancing to the bare necessities. Even when times aren’t so good, watching Baloo go full protector mode is a treat. He may not be as threatening as Elliott the dragon, but he’d go down swinging if he felt you were in danger, be it monkeys or tigers. Gotta respect that.
Best quality provided: Andreas Deja is one of Disney’s greatest animators. He was the supervising animator for characters like Scar, Jafar, Gaston, Hercules, Lilo, and Mama Odie. The Jungle Book was one of the first movies he ever saw growing up in Germany and it stuck with him as his biggest career influences. As an animator, Deja’s job is to draw how a character moves every 24 frames a second. Where do their hands go? Should they tilt their head this way? Maybe they should fidget with their coat? How can you convey them thinking? Animation is very nuanced and if you ever tried to act natural and you over thought your every micro gesture, just imagine having to draw it out. To this day, Deja claims The Jungle Book has some of the finest character animation in the entire Disney canon. And he’s definitely onto something.
For starters, most of the characters don’t have hands, and can’t hold props, so everything has to be conveyed through body language, facial expressions, and voice. In lesser hands, this movie would have been dull as dirt, but instead, their personalities radiate off the screen. Ollie Johnston agonized over the right actions for Baloo as he struggled with his guilt. Milt Kahl’s layered Shere Khan with so much cool arrogance in every head tilt and smirk. Kaa was given crazy amounts of leeway considering he doesn’t even have arms, and yet was still able to communicate just as clearly as Mowgli.
And thanks to the strong vocal cast of Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot, Louis Prima, Sterling Holloway, George Sanders, and J. Pat O’Malley, we have an array of wildly colorful and vivid characters that make this film a treat.
What could have been improved: While I’m happy to profess this movie is my favorite out of the WDAS canon, I fully acknowledge this movie has some flaws that certainly hinder it. Even though I truly appreciate most of Favreau’s efforts in his 2015 reboot.
First and foremost is Mowgli himself. I don’t hate the kid, but I am frustrated that the central character lacks a lot of serious potential. The plot hinges on Mowgli’s refusal to return to the human world and the exhilaration he finds every time he meets a new animal. But why not more than that? Did he miss his wolf family? If so, why didn’t he express it? Heck, Bagheera seems to have taken Mowgli off to the Man-Village without letting him even saying goodbye, and the kid is at most, confused. For a kid who was raised ten years in the subtropical rainforest, he seems decidedly not very lupine in demeanor, in fact, he seems to seriously lack ANY survival skills. How is it this kid has never encountered any of the animals in – again – the entire decade of growing up with the wolves? After all, Bagheera seems to know everyone. And when Baloo betrays Mowgli and he wanders around aimlessly, why couldn’t we have a more introspective moment? Yeah, I get Mowgli’s not terribly adept at reflection as most ten-year-olds are, but it might have been beneficial to show Mowgli in a more contemplative mood, lending some weight to the scene instead of – let’s be honest – a rather dull/pointless scene of him throwing rocks at a waterfall and walking along a log.
Furthermore, Mowgli doesn’t learn anything. Bagheera was perpetually frustrated that Mowgli could not understand just how life-threatening jungle life is. Over and over again, the kid’s life was in danger, and Mowgli just kept enjoying himself, as if it were all a game. Ideally, his encounter with Shere Khan – a killer stronger than a pack of wolves, a panther, a bear, and even Kaa – should have made Mowgli realize just how badly outmatched he was. Instead, Mowgli gets his scrawny butt saved by Baloo and a flock of buzzards. Afterwards, he’s so happy his papa bear’s alive again it doesn’t even register just what could have happened. And after soundly defeating the tiger and making the jungle safe for himself again…suddenly he gets his head spun by seeing a girl. A fairly typical plot point, to show child growing into adulthood by way of falling in love. But it renders the journey pointless.
I guess what saves it from being truly disappointing is the movie is the same reason why the narrative is so thin. While I don’t think greater emotional depth would have been a bad thing, it might have given the movie some tonal whiplash. It definitely helped the movie keep its freewheeling, light-hearted tone it became known for.
Because the characters are so entertaining, it’s a shame we never got to see Rocky the rhino. In an earlier draft, the vultures would manipulate Mowgli into antagonizing a near-sighted and dim-witted rhinoceros. But after evading Rocky’s charges, the vultures decree Mowgli an honorary vulture, which, like in the movie, prompt the birds (Plus Rocky) to sing “That’s What Friends are For”, though whether he would have played a role in battling Shere Khan is uncertain. Walt himself suggested Rocky be dropped since there were too many ugly characters between him, the monkeys, and the vultures. But at least Favreau gave a nod to the character in the 2015 reboot.
Verdict: I know the last section was pretty long and involved, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s my favorite animated Disney film.
It’s just so…fun. Unapologetically fun. Unlike The Three Caballeros, where it’s a nonstop party, The Jungle Book is just as content taking a nap or floating down a river as it is having wild dance parties. And best of all, each scene contains at least one robust and fun character that makes it so enjoyable (Except for Mowgli). No regrets, just a complete nine paw paws out of ten.
Are you new to blogging, and do you want step-by-step guidance on how to publish and grow your blog? Learn more about our new Blogging for Beginners course and get 50% off through December 10th.
WordPress.com is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.
Did you ever watch a movie or a show, maybe read a story somewhere, where something about it freaked you out in some weird way you couldn’t explain? Usually when people ask this on Facebook about Disney movies, I often bring up Dumbo’s Pink Elephants on Parade sequence. It’s not a lie: it really did scare me. As I got older, I grew less scared and more fascinated at the uninhibited artistry. I came to terms with it, and analyzed why it had the impact on me that it did. I still think it was a combination of the dark ambiance, the thundering music, the blank, expressionless black eyes of the elephants, the eerie vocals, even the raucous, plodding beat. I couldn’t have been the only one. But now that I’m an adult and I watch so many horror and slasher movies with the wife, I’m thinking I was probably just a wee little scaredy-cat.
But there was something else in movies, TV and books that never failed to set my terror in full swing: mind control. It didn’t matter how, whether it was a magic spell, a microchip, or old-fashioned, real world hypnosis, I was sure mind control would be the doom of us all. Robot armies? Yawn. Stealing national monuments? Lame. Usurping sovereign nations? Boring. Hypno-rays? YOU MONSTER!
These scenes in my Saturday morning cartoons terrified me for years. Yet when I would look around at more real-world examples of it, I was much more surprised at how…well, boring and unremarkable hypnosis actually was. In ninth grade, I tasked myself to research the subject for a term paper and was blown away by what I was able to find. I quickly discovered it was just as boring as well as fascinating as I could have ever imagined. I hadn’t even graduated high school yet and I was already practicing it on fellow classmates.
Now with my eyes opened and a generous stack of hypnosis books in my bookcase, I continued to watch Disney cartoons (Don’t judge me) and became gradually more aware of the exaggerated nature of animation and children’s media. We knew, as kids, our eyes didn’t stretch to six feet in diameter with a klaxon ringing out when we were surprised, but our exposure to everything else was framed by what we saw on our television screens, movie theaters, and books. Sure, real life helped, but how many kids grew up ever even seeing a single stick of dynamite, an anvil, or an actually-slippery banana peel? It’s the same reason we grew up thinking of racist stereotypes perpetuated by writers who were more concerned about comedy than anything else.
I look back on some of these and I ask myself a lot of questions. Like, was there any sort of attempt to capture the reality of hypnosis? Did anyone care? Was it just a wacky hijink to use as a plot device? Or did a villain want to just use it to take over the world? And how much should I let my suspension of disbelief go given the context? So I pulled from various sources at Disney to demonstrate the division between fiction and reality when it comes to depicting hypnosis.
1. You can’t be hypnotized if you don’t want to be hypnotized.
In order to be hypnotized, you’d have to put forth a concerted effort…for the most part. Hypnosis is scientifically characterized as a state of heightened concentration. You’d have just as much luck stumbling into taking an algebra exam. Whisking a fully cognizant person into a trance without their knowledge is borderline impossible. But to make hypnosis seem sinister, or sometimes just a contrived way to get someone to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, it becomes rather commonplace for people to zonk out with little to no effort.
In most of the examples of Disney movies and shows where people are hypnotized, this kind of shenanigan is frighteningly abundant. The whole plot is often set in motion because – Whoopsie! – the wrong person got hypnotized, or someone was trying to do so for diabolical reasons. In Recess‘s “The Hypnotist”, the hypnotist tries to hypnotize a very nonplussed Miss Finster, who is not interested in participating. Realistically, she rejects his attempt and never even blinks. Principal Prickly, on the other hand, watching in the wing, muses about the nice pen the hypnotist is using, and subsequently tumbles into a trance like Alice did down the rabbit hole. This isn’t not impossible (More on this in a bit), but it is unlikely. Most people of average intelligence who are watching a hypnotist onstage wouldn’t plunge into a trance because they’re too focused on the subject’s reaction. That’s why when you go to hypnotist shows, no one has to ruffle up the entire audience because they were hypnotized right along with the subjects onstage.
Weirdly enough, Gretchen manages to break Prickly out of his suggestion by inducing hypnosis while he’s clinging to a pole on top of a jungle gym, eyes clamped shut, throwing a tantrum. If you were in the same situation, you too would not be terribly concerned with the nine-year-old trying to calm you down with a pen, even if – unlike Prickly – you wanted to have the suggestion reversed. Sure, the idea that enticing, repetitive, calming stimuli that draw you in seem plausible that they could make you slack-jawed, drooling, and foggy-headed, but give yourself a little credit.
2. Can you be unwittingly hypnotized? “Yes, but”.
The odds of someone hypnotizing you against your will while you are cognizant of them doing so is pretty much impossible. But there can be times where it can be snuck up on you without your knowing. The most common form of this you may recall from your DMV driver’s test: highway hypnosis.
Imagine you’re driving along an open highway at night. It’s a long, straight road where nothing really changes, not even oncoming traffic. You’re mostly comfortable, there’s no distractions, and the only thing happening is the repetitive flashing of those yellow lines in the road. If you’re not careful, that’s all it takes to lull you into a state where you’re not concentrating on the road anymore and you wind up in a terrible accident. On a less dramatic level, hypnotists are happy to boast any time you completed a task that required little effort on your part and you barely remember even doing it, that’s considered a state of hypnosis. So that time you wound up at the bank and was in line for the teller, and you can’t recall anything after pulling out of the driveway? Boom. Mind. Blown.
But if someone were to jump in front of you with a hypno-disk while you were bingeing Netflix, nah. There’d have to be something about you mentally that’d warrant concern if that were the case. Basically your attention span would already have to be fixed on the stimuli that’d pull you in and your guard would have to be down. In the episode “Wake Up Victor” from That’s So Raven, Raven’s dad is busy getting ready for his big TV appearance when he stumbles onto his son Corey and Corey’s friend Beans as they try to hypnotize Raven and Chelsea into loving them. Predictably, Raven and Chelsea laugh it off, much less take in the suggestions, but Victor goes stone cold entranced, prompting a Weekend at Bernie‘s skit. Ideally, given Victor was so nervous about his opportunity there’s almost no chance he’d just get distracted by a pretty pendant. If he were, chances are he would have been distracted out of it just as easily. It goes both ways.
3. You can’t be hypnotized to do anything you wouldn’t do if you were awake.
Movies and shows LOVE showing the idea that hypnosis is so powerful you can make anyone do anything, laws of physics permitting. And sure, it’s pretty impressive, as you can tell from all those news stories you read about all those hypnotized victims murdering people and robbing 7-11’s. Oh wait, you’ve never heard of that happening? That’s because hypnosis doesn’t work like that. Your moral compass doesn’t shut down the moment your eyes close.
So why do people onstage act like babies, milk cows, and do the funky chicken in shows? Simple: they want to to do something silly, and have the excuse to do so without fear of reprisal. You wouldn’t fall down intentionally, but it’s kind of okay to blame the alcohol if you were drunk, right?
In 1964’s The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, the title character is asked by the town judge Holmsby to hypnotize him to commit a crime so he can understand the mindset for his new book. Merlin does so…and the judge kidnaps the school chimp. (It’s a weird movie) It’s been proven time and again that if you were to hypnotize anyone to do anything they weren’t already preempted into doing on their own, they’d either block out the suggestion or, if severe enough, stir from the trance entirely. The judge would only do what he did if he were already intending to commit a little larceny, just needed a slight boost of confidence to follow through.
In Lilo and Stitch: the Series‘ episode “Swirly”, Lilo accidentally catches sight of the experiment’s suggestible gaze and is accidentally given the suggestion to “Be more like Mertle”. While acting out as another persona is a common act in hypnosis, Lilo would have already wanted to, in some way, act like the kid whom she clearly despises. On the more serious side, in the 1987 DuckTales episode “Spies in their Eyes”, Donald Duck is hypnotized to steal a remote control for a Naval submarine, which is more than grounds for a little court martialing, as well as a huge contrast to Donald’s ethics. The Sultan in Aladdin, as we know, would never have handed his only daughter to Jafar, even before he realized he was evil. But because hypnosis can do a lot of crazy things, it’s led people to believe a highly skilled and highly unscrupulous hypnotist somewhere can persuade anyone to do anything. And it’s baloney.
4. There are no set “rules” in place for how hypnosis works.
This one’s weird, because in both real life and in movies, I’ve never heard the phrase, “Oh no, they’re hypnotized! Quick, someone snap their fingers!” Often the trademarks of hypnosis are things like spirals, pocket watches, bells, or the snapping of fingers (Mostly because it’s film shorthand). Really, to conduct hypnosis, nothing is required but one’s voice. You can induce hypnosis in a million different ways, and there’s a million more how to bring them out. If hypnotists do use the fixed gaze induction (The “look at a thing while I put you under” technique), literally anything can be used, like a spot on the ceiling. To bring someone out of hypnosis, or to induce a post hypnotic trigger, literally anything can be used. In fact, the most common method hypnotists use for bringing someone out of trance is not by snapping fingers, but by counting, while suggesting the subject awaken as they do so.
I distinctly remember watching 102 Dalmatians, and the movie begins, of all places, in an asylum, where a Dr. Pavlov (Yes, really, but clearly not that Dr. Pavlov) has successfully found a way to treat psychological impairments in both humans and animals, going so far as to condition everyone’s favorite puppy-slayer Cruella DeVil to love them instead of their coats. At first, she’s truly reformed, but Dr. Pavlov finds out the chiming of Big Ben jars his subjects into reverting back to their old habits, and demands this revelation be kept secret. Cruella later overhears Big Ben, and her old obsession creeps back as her hair sproings back to life in an over-the-top fashion. While an argument can be made that it’s clearly not hypnosis, but merely Pavlovian conditioning, as indicated by the doctor’s name, tell me: when has undoing a psychological treatment ever been done except in hypnosis-related plots? Case in point, in the Phineas and Ferb episode, “A Real Boy”, Stacy hypnotizes Candace to forget about obsessing over her brothers upon hearing “holy guacamole”, but relapse upon hearing “leaping lizard”. In no way, shape or form is this kind of practice even useful, but it exists as an easy comedic opportunity for a character to go from hot to cold instantaneously. While it’s rarely a bad idea to instill a suggestion to undo all previous triggers so they don’t affect the subject in the future, it’s done explicitly so, you know, itdoesn’t affect them in the future.
And while hypnotic triggers can be inconvenient, they’re not padlocks. For years, I’ve read this idea that subjects cannot be stuck in trances, I’ve never known anyone to think that to be the case. In “Wake Up Victor”, Victor is completely out cold from the moment he’s entranced and cannot wake up, per the misconception. It’s revealed he was given the trigger to wake up when he hears the word “Okeechobee” a word no one but Beans can pronounce. And as I said before, Raven conducts a Weekend at Bernie’s routine for maximum hijink outcome, which would jostle awake most anyone out of a trance. Maybe this would be more likely if Beans said he could ONLY wake up upon hearing the trigger, but bear in mind, Victor’s mind would have to be completely shut off to ALL external stimuli, including touch, in order to stay hypnotized. Yeah, you can jostle someone awake, but just counting backwards from 5 to 1 and coaxing them awake would do the trick.
Back to “Swirly”, how does Lilo revert back to being herself? A snap of the fingers, of course. Does this make any sort of sense if you’re not familiar with the common tropes associated with hypnosis? Not likely, but it’s a comedic series where a genetically-modified creature from outer space can corrupt anyone’s mind with a simple glance. Maybe I should give it a pass?
5. Hypnotists have no interest in being sued.
No matter who you are or what you do, you never plan on getting legally called out on the repercussions of a sub-par job. It’s either because you plan on doing a good job in the first place, or you’re a corrupt sleazeball akin to Max Bialystock and hoping you just never get caught. If you’re the latter, shame on you.
But anyway, stage hypnotists and hypnotherapists similarly don’t want to be served with a court summons due to any sort of malpractice. I can at least say Pavlov was negligent in his studies, however egregious. But it seems to me a serious oversight that results in undoing all his hard work is grounds for a serious lawsuit, especially by someone as ruthless as Cruella.
In the Suite Life on Deck Episode, “Shipnotized” (Okay, that’s a good pun), Bailey and London attend a hypnosis show and the subjects, a married couple, are given a suggestion to act like each other. Like I said before, being suggested to act like someone else is fine, but this essentially is airing out dirty laundry in front of a crowd of strangers. Have them act like Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson, or Kanye West, but no one really wants to see someone doing an impression of their wife mocking her constant nagging. Worse still, can you imagine the emotional strife of your spouse doing that to you, in front of a crowd like that? Yeah, even if there’s no real legal leg to stand on, you know a good lawyer could make a sound case.
In the episode, London, the Paris Hilton-parody character, accidentally gets hypnotized and accepts the suggestion, and acts like her country-born-and-raised bestie and roommate, Bailey, much to her annoyance. But she got off easy. Even if the hypnotist were negligent in not making sure only his subjects onstage were hypnotized, at least he was still around for Bailey to ask him to remove the suggestion, even though in reality, it’s a super easy fix Bailey could’ve done on her own. And, you know, not disrupt his show by shoving London onto the stage during a following performance.
Similarly, the hypnotist from Recess, who looks like the much-less successful brother of Professor Hinkle from Frosty the Snowman (And that’s saying something) isn’t seen or heard from after Prickly is made to think he’s a kid again. Miss Finster tells the staff he left for Peru, so calling him back to undo the suggestion is out of the question. But seriously, he couldn’t even recommend another psychologist in the area? Even if he awkwardly failed in front of a whole school to hypnotize Miss Finster, he couldn’t be bothered to make sure no one else got accidentally tranced? Again, he could very easily have been sued by Prickly afterward, claiming mental strife or lost wages or anything, really.
But again, these are kids shows, so litigation wasn’t really a concern.
6. Hypnotizability is a spectrum.
So if you cannot be hypnotized against your will, but you can unwittingly be hypnotized, and as we saw in the previous example, sometimes people actually CAN be hypnotized and accept suggestions without meaning to, just what the smoo are the circumstances in which people can just zonk out into a trance? Well, it’s not entirely up to the hypnotist. Like any talent, be it athleticism or artistic, hypnotizability is a trait you’re born with, but can be enhanced with constant practice. Sounds nuts, right? Some estimates range between 5 – 10% of the population being highly hypnotizable, and roughly the same amount as similarly unhypnotizable, leaving around 80% to 90% of the rest of the population somewhere in the middle. The common idea is that dumb or otherwise gullible people are the easiest to hypnotize, whereas others are “too smart” to be hypnotized. Well, sorry to burst your bubble, champ, but the opposite is often true.
As I stated before, hypnosis is characterized by heightened concentration, so if someone is unfocused or unable to concentrate due to mental disability, alcohol, or drugs, the odds of them going under are next to zero, no matter how skilled the hypnotist. And because hypnosis often employs mental visualization, creative people are more adept at this. Too stubborn? That means you have a will to enforce your convictions, so if you’re given a suggestion, your stubbornness basically enforces it even more. The only grain of truth I can find to this is people like me, who overthink everything, with a touch of being on the autism spectrum, are unable to just concentrate on listening to the suggestions without my mind attaching itself to random words or phrases and losing track what told to me after that. But that’s what confusion inductions are for.
So might London be easily hypnotizable in real life? Probably. Principal Prickly? Maybe. Victor from the That’s So Raven episode? Not likely, considering he probably would have had A LOT on his mind at the time.
Oh, and you know who else you would a heck of a time trying to hypnotize? Animals. In The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, Merlin hypnotizes a cat and Stanley, the chimp, which kind of weird. In Home on the Range, cows are rendered into slack-jawed, technicolor automatons by yodeling, but at least they’re cartoons with autonomy. In the classic Donald Duck cartoon The Eyes Have it, Donald hypnotizes poor Pluto into becoming a mouse, a turtle, a chicken, and a lion, complete with physical changes. If most humans can’t be hypnotized unwillingly, you can assume you can’t really do it the same way you’d hypnotize a human.
7. You need more than a spiral, a watch, or your eyes to induce hypnosis.
“But wait!” I hear you cry put, “You just said you didn’t need anything but your voice to hypnotize people! Are you lying then or are you lying now?” First of all, it’s very rude of you to interrupt me while I’m typing. Presumably days or even months after I’ve posted this online. Still rude.
What I mean is, just because you have a cool doodad doesn’t mean you’re a great hypnotist. It’s a akin to having a cool set of gloves, a awesome leather jacket, and a sweet helmet and saying you’re a great motorcyclist. You need the bike first, then you’ll know what to do with add-ons, if you even need them at all.
So why are these things used for hypnosis? Because repetitive, compelling stimuli can be very useful in allowing subjects to relax, let their guard down, and just look at something that fatigues the eyes. Sleep has been associated with hypnosis for hundreds of years, even the term “hypnosis” is derived from the Greek God Hypnos, the god of sleep. Similarly, those flashing yellow lines from highway hypnosis qualify. Some hypnotists even use metronomes. Sometimes even using multiple stimuli can overwhelm a subject into a hypnotic state, which can be effective for subjects that have a harder time concentrating, called a confusion induction.
In The Incredibles 2, Screenslaver uses giant spirals on screens to captivate their victims. Corey and Beans used supposedly enhanced pendants. Señor Senior Senior in the “Coach Possible” episode of Kim Possible uses a big, flashy disco ball to subdue Kim and Ron. Cinnamon Teal from DuckTales uses her enchanting eyes. In the Gummi Bears episode “Music Hath Charms” a magic set of bagpipes used by Duke Igthorn enslaves the Gummis, save for a temporarily deaf Grammi Gummi. In all these examples, all it takes is something captivating to reduce every subject into a stupefied zombie. A very odd one is from the 101 Dalmatians: the Series episode “Howl Noon”. In this one, puppy Cadpig uses hypnotherapy as a tool to help Lt. Pug overcome his fear of childhood bully Persian Pete. However, when all else fails, and Cadpig tries to handcuff Pug to her to stop him, Pug eventually confronts Pete. And by swinging the puppy from the handcuffs like a pendulum, manages to hypnotize Pete and scare him away. Yes, pendulums of most any kind are helpful in inducing hypnosis, but that one is just absurd. Maybe I have to chalk that one up to comedy trumping realism, I guess.
But what’s even sillier than needing the props is the idea that taking away the prop or hindering it dispels the trance. The Sultan would still be hypnotized whether Aladdin smashed Jafar’s staff or not. Both Cinnamon Teal and the Seniors are thwarted by their subjects…wearing sunglasses. Donald Duck uses some hypno-goggles novelty, probably from a comic book mail-in order, but once they break, Pluto’s stuck as a lion. Imagine if I used a pocket watch and smashed it with a hammer to wake you up. Sounds kinda dumb that way, huh?
By far the most renowned example of hypnosis in Disney is Kaa from The Jungle Book. In the original Kipling novel, Kaa hums and dances in the moonlight, his serpentine body captivating the bandar-log into literally walking into his mouth, which also affect Baloo and Bagheera, but Mowgli is clearly immune, further preserving the idea only smart people can’t be hypnotized. For the Disney cartoon, the python was made a sinister antagonist instead of an ally to rescue Mowgli from the monkeys. Here, the snake seeks to encourage Mowgli into a state of docility as he prepares to consume the Man-cub. His famous looping eyes are his trademark technique, which draw Mowgli in, even when the boy actively resists in a later scene. He also uses his cottony-soft voice (Courtesty of My Hero Sterling Holloway) to lull his victims into a state of sleepy bliss, exemplified best by his signature song, “Trust in Me”. Mowgli, Bagheera and in the sequel, Shanti, all fall victim to Kaa’s gaze, but the only one able to resist is the highly intelligent and strong-willed Shere Khan.
But if you watched any of these shows or movies and suffered no side effects as the spirals spun or loopy eyes whirled or the swinging pocket watches swung, then congratulations, you realized that just those things on their own don’t do squat. And you didn’t even need sunglasses.
8. For hypnosis to be effective, it has to be BORING, REPETITIVE, and TAKE A VERY LONG TIME.
You’ve probably noticed movies have a tendency to emphasize or glamorize exciting things that don’t happen much in real life, or at least they happen a lot faster. For example, from The Empire Strikes Back to Rocky, we get the montage, where our hero musters all their determination and hard work into a few minutes of onscreen progression from novice to expert. In reality, this kind of dedication would take months, if not years, but as a now-ancient meme once said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that”. It’s the same thing with depicting hypnosis in media.
While there are ways to induce hypnosis within seconds, or even ways to execute induction, suggestions, and awakening within moments, like all talents, they rarely happen without preparation and practice. In order for hypnosis to be executed for maximum chance for success, you must take your time. The induction is the trickiest, guiding a fully cognizant and usually willing subject from wakefulness to a state of quiet drowsiness. Then next is the deepening stage, because for better results, subjects would need to be in a deep state of relaxation, often characterized by using peaceful imagery, fractionation, going down steps, or simply counting down. Depending on the subject, this may be all that is necessary to execute suggestions, and then the hypnotist would resume with awakening, which usually involves counting upward. This is by no means the only way to conduct hypnosis, but the goal is to get the subject as deeply entranced as possible so they can better absorb the suggestions given, and often require patience, minimal distractions, a relaxing ambiance, and a rapport between hypnotist and subject. Does that sound dull and uninteresting? That’s because it is. And because movies and TV can’t waste time with long, drawn out sessions, they often use shorthand: edited clips, emphasis of prop iconography, or most often, technological, magical, or otherwise generally fantastic circumstances, like loopy snake eyes, mail order novelties, yodeling, disco balls, bagpipes, or alien genetics. It’s that much easier to use a prop to suddenly zap an unsuspecting victim into a drooling zombie. And much more visually interesting.
9. Posthypnotic amnesia typically needs the prompting suggestion.
What’s funnier than seeing your friends acting like a monkey onstage? How about that brief, bewildering look on their face when it suddenly dawns on them they’re crouched on a chair, clutching a banana, when seconds ago, they were sitting in a chair on the other end of the stage? It’s like a great prank to not just warp their minds into making them think they’re seeing/doing/something no one else can see, but then have a minor mental crisis as they try to piece together what the heck just happened. This phenomena is referred to as posthypnotic amnesia. And it only sometimes happens on its own, but it typically happens when the hypnotist suggests it.
It’s not clear why it happens, but if a subject goes deep enough, posthypnotic amnesia happens naturally. But chances are the subject didn’t go quite that deep, so stage hypnotists often like to add the aura of mystery by showing the gap in their memory. Thus, they often suggest to their subjects to have no memory of being hypnotized or what was told to them under hypnosis.
Sometimes the posthypnotic amnesia emphasizes comedic effect, like Principal Prickly howling in impotent confusion. In the DuckTales episode, Donald insists he’s innocent of any wrongdoing, adding to the mystery. The Jungle Book at least gets this right, as Mowgli is clearly aware of what Kaa does to him, trying to avoid his eyes in their second scene together and even chastising Kaa for lying to him.
I really respect the Phineas and Ferb episode, “A Real Boy” for this. Yes, Candace does clearly blank out on her obsession with her brothers mid-sentence the moment Stacy gives her the trigger (When in reality, she more likely would have simply lost interest). But when Stacy suggests she get ready for her date with Jeremy, Candace asks “Who’s Jeremy?” Though revealed to be a prank, it cleverly teased at another typical cliche we might’ve expected.
10. You wouldn’t be echoing suggestions in a robotic monotone.
Talking requires effort when you’re so deeply relaxed, and when your mind is so thoroughly engrossed in concentration, remember you have to form thoughts before you can express them verbally. So if a subject is deeply hypnotized and the hypnotist requests the subject talk for any reason, chances are the response would be a drowsy mumble. But of course, in family media, it’s not enough to have a character stand stiff, eyes wide with whirling spirals, arms outstretched like a sleepwalker. No, they also have to repeat every command they hear, and acquiesce to ever order with a monotone, “Yes, master.”
You’re still you under hypnosis, no matter how deep you go. If your scruples stay in place, then there’s similarly no chance a switch in your brain goes from “Normal” to “Slave” when you go under. And unlike posthypnotic amnesia, it’s rarely suggested upon. In hypnotherapy, a client may be asked to state affirmations to boost conviction while under, or they may be interviewed as they explore their memories, but otherwise it’s not terribly useful. Even less so if the stereotype were true.
“Coach Possible”, “Music Hath Charms”, “Aladdin”, and “A Real Boy”all had this in their plots. The really odd one is “A Real Boy”where Candace is given her suggestions by Stacy, and when asked if she understands, Candace says no, adding “A brief recap might be helpful…” definitely a line for comedy more than anything, but worth bringing up.
So have I de-mystified hypnosis for you? I kinda hoped using some of these examples would give you a starting point if you wanted to learn more, and if you made it all the way here, awesome! Thanks for sticking with me.
Now, when I count from 5 to 1, you’ll slowly awaken, forgetting everything we just discussed, and you’ll want to read this article again. 5…4…3…2…just kidding!
At last, the day has come. The 2017 reboot of DuckTales has come to a rather abrupt and disconcerting close after only three seasons of solving mysteries and rewriting history. And honestly, this show has been a spectacular treat since day one. I was stoked when it was first announced, and my only disappointment was the first teaser image that featured the angular designs I wasn’t wild about, but if after three seasons, that’s my biggest complaint, then what do I have to gripe about?
DuckTales slowly rose to its status ever since Huey, Dewey, and Louie first appeared in 1937 and Scrooge McDuck ten years later. Artist Carl Barks took the characters and soon began making the classic comic books we love today. Everything, from Scrooge’s vast money bin and obscene wealth, to the globetrotting adventures, from the Beagle Boys to Flintheart Glomgold, was birthed from this series of books and continued to inspire millions, even Steven Spielberg, who remembered a booby-trapped ancient South American temple equipped with a giant rolling boulder in Seven Cities of Cibola, published in 1954. Sound familiar?
In 1987, the comics were adapted into a weekly television series that we millenials treasure, where Huey, Dewey, and Louie were finalized in their popular color-coded designs, and we got even more fan favorite characters such as Launchpad McQuack, Mrs. Beakley, Webby, Ma Beagle, and Fenton Crackshell/GizmoDuck. It was Disney’s most successful animated series, running at 100 episodes over four seasons, is the only Disney Afternoon series to have ever gotten a theatrical release, and the NES game is frequently rated as one of the best for the system.
It’s no surprise that in 2016, as millenials became adults, that their childhood favorites during the Disney Decade would soon reemerge, and we’d obsess over everything from the Disney Afternoon to A Goofy Movie, Hocus Pocus to Nightmare Before Christmas. And what better way to evoke the feels than to reboot the most popular show from that period and bring it to a whole new generation?
So in dedication to this incredible reboot, I turn the clock back to August of 2017, a simpler time before a global pandemic, and relive this awesome pilot episode. Designate a daring driver for these delightful ducks of derring-do!
The plot: Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo) is late for a job interview and can’t trust his nephews Huey (Danny Pudi), Dewey (Ben Schwartz), and Louie (Bobby Moynihan) to behave themselves alone. He begrudgingly takes the boys to McDuck Manor, home to the reclusive Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant), the once-great super-squillionaire who “used to be a big deal”…and the boys had no idea they were his grand-nephews. The boys are locked in a room, but escape with the help of a shut-in little girl and Scrooge’s maid’s granddaughter, Webbigail (Kate Micucci). When the kids fool around with some of his mystical artifacts in the garage, it takes the combined efforts of Scrooge, the kids, and chauffer/pilot Launchpad McQuack (Beck Bennett) to stop them.
Impressed with their fortitude and ingenuity, Scrooge invites all of them on an expedition to the lost city of Atlantis. However, Donald’s newest employer, Flintheart Glomgold (Keith Ferguson), is also seeking the jewel of the submerged city and will stop at nothing to defeat Scrooge through any means necessary.
How’s the writing?: In a word, brilliant. In more than one? Exciting. Funny. Engaging. Loaded. Emotional. Quick-witted. And so many more adjectives that would just be redundant.
In just under 45 minutes, we are given a far better introduction to the characters and their emotional arcs than we did in the original series’ five-part pilot, Treasure of the Golden Sun. What starts as just needing someone to watch the boys for a few hours turns into an excuse to bring the indefatigable nephews to Scrooge’s home without abandoning Donald off-screen in the Navy, relegating him to just cameos. Scrooge is shown as a morose has-been who just needed the right injection of thrills to get him into his adventures again. We even see the boys – for the only time besides 1996’s Quack Pack where they’re given three separate voice actors! – are given distinct personalities, all reflecting a different aspect of their grand-uncle (Huey respects his cleverness, Dewey his sense of derring-do, and Louie for his love for wealth and treasure).
Right away we see each one carries some emotional strain that brings to mind J. J. Abrams’ “Mystery Box” storytelling: to plant the idea of a big, underlying mystery to hook viewers and reward them later with the answers. Here, we see the seeds being laid for why Donald and Scrooge are estranged, why Glomgold hates Scrooge, why Scrooge has such bitter feeling toward family in general, and of course, that question at the very tail end of the pilot. Creators Matt Younberg and Fransisco Angones were damn masterful in their planning, not unlike the MCU. All the while fast-paced, witty, and hilarious. I’m sorry, fellow millenials, but it sweeps the OG series, easy in that regard.
Does it give the feels?: The show’s tone is mostly intense and witty, focused on great legwork, but again, there are some great foundations for emotional payoffs, even solely contained here.
Dewey overhears Scrooge scoff talking about them, telling Mrs. Beakley “Family is nothing but trouble!”, which upsets the young child. After escaping to the garage and watching his great uncle swiftly defeat three mystical entities in one fell swoop, Scrooge crossly reprimands the kids for getting into mischief. In a retort as savage as all get out, Dewey snaps, “I guess FAMILY is nothing but TROUBLE. Right, Uncle Scrooge?” And just seeing Scrooge’s barely-repressed rage warp his beak is chilling. You even get a rather sweet moment where Donald shows off pictures of his nephews to a couple of mercenaries, exemplifying Donald as an overprotective caretaker, which – you guessed it – gets explained in later episodes.
There’s even a sweeter moment where Webby announces her desire to explore beyond the manor, by declaring she’ll finally eat a hamburger. When Louie assures her they’d bring her one, just the tone in which Webby says, “You guys really are my friends” is just so sincere and touching.
I’m sorry, guys, but as great as the OG show was, it barely flirted with emotional depth like this. And it only got better as the series progressed.
Who makes it worth it?: I do admit that there was something appealing…cuddly, if you will…about the 1987 versions. Maybe it’s the rounded, less angular designs, but there was something much more approachable about the originals. And I admit, I miss the more happy-go-lucky, jovial Scrooge over the more cunning one in the reboot, but he’s no less likeable. Heck, I’ll always miss the thick Glasgow burr of Alan Young. But if I had to choose the characters that I’d point to to convince others to invest their time into this show, it’s Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby.
Three of these guys had essentially been clones for years, finishing each others’ sentences, with only the color of their clothes to really discern them from each other. Now, at last, we have three robust personalities that make the show that much more enjoyable. Huey, designated the eldest, is the smart, analytical, and the one most easily frustrated when things don’t go 100% according to plan and is the only Junior Woodchuck among them. It’s so cute seeing him geek out on their Atlantis trip by making everyone matching t-shirts and putting on sea shanties.
Dewey is the crazy one, most in dire need of attention and acclaim. Filled with reckless abandon, he’s also the most egotistical, loving to use his name as a catchphrase, singing “How does he Dewey it?”, unintentionally setting off a series of death traps.
Louie, the “evil twin”, is hilarious as the greedy, lazy one. He takes it upon himself to put sticky notes on artifacts to claim dibs when Scrooge passes away. Dark, yes, but still hilarious.
Then there’s Webby. The thing is, Webby was a transparently naked attempt by marketing to cater to little girls, much like Arcee in Transformers, Smurfette in The Smurfs, and the Chipettes in Alvin and the Chipmunks, among others. Dressed entirely in pink, her baby voice, always carrying around her “Quackypatch” doll…she was less a character than a “girl” stereotype. But in the reboot, Webby got a MASSIVE upgrade, and was made a much more complex and nuanced character. She was cute and naive, but was also trained in self-defense. She loved meeting people, but barely understood social situations. She knew everything about clan McDuck, but never ate a hamburger. Even better, there was no boy-girl dichotomy as there was in the series. It was clear there was no bad blood between the sexes, and the boys didn’t consider Webby a “tagalong”, like they did before.
Best quality provided: I truly appreciated the show’s sense to be snappier and wittier than its predecessor, even incorporating nods to other Disney Afternoon shows, referring to Cape Suzette, Spoonerville, and St. Canard (Not yet realizing this was just a sample of what we’d get in later seasons). I even loved the updated theme by Felicia Barton.
But aside from those things, by far the best thing this pilot gave us was a good story. Characters made decisions. Characters got emotional. They acted in character. Personalities bounced off each other. And it left us by establishing the status quo and ending by beginning a season-long arc that would answer one of the biggest questions in Disney duck history. Aside from three five-part episodes, the OG series couldn’t carry that kind of follow-through, and they rarely did so with much emotional investment.
What could have been improved: Like I said earlier, the only thing I wasn’t really a fan of was the art style. I loved the modern redesigns, particularly the characters’ clothes better updated for modern audiences. But that jagged, pointy aesthetic could be a bit alienating at times. It seemed like further highlighting the fact these characters weren’t real. Though this style does seem to lend itself to the show’s comedy.
I miss Alan Young’s voice. I miss Scrooge’s rounded, cuddly look. I miss his blue coat. I miss his jovial streak. Scrooge remains one of my favorite Disney characters, but you know what? This reboot has been just that good. I could throw a fit that “It’s not my DuckTales“, as if the 1987 show were something I owned to begin with. In exchange, I got a show full of intrigue, sharp wit, better developed characters, and a greater expansion of the duck universe. I’d call that a crazy awesome tradeoff.
Verdict: Reboots often miss the mark as to why certain things were popular to begin with. Beauty and the Beast thought we needed answers to plot holes. The Lion King thought we needed greater realism so the animals didn’t need to emote. Maleficent thought we needed the backstory of one of Disney’s greatest villains and give her a rape allegory. But once in a blue moon, the stars align and we get a reimagining that takes what we already love about the original – great characters and fun stories – and stir in things we really love: like deeper emotional moments, a fresh spin on the characters, multi-episode arcs, and genuine mystery. This pilot was a far and away everything I wanted in a rebooted DuckTales and more I didnt even know I wanted. It’s a shame the series has come to an end after only three seasons, but all things considered, the world was just that much brighter as I continue to get older, especially over the past few years. One might even say it was one big duck-blur. A solid ten jewels of Atlantis out of ten.
And now, a moment of silence for the characters who never got to see themselves brought back for an encore (Pops in cassette of Sarah Mclachlan’s “I Will Remember You”):
Yeah, I’m not letting that last one go. Having Keith David voice a demonic horse, as the Gargoyles overture plays and he bellows, “I live again!” is close…but not quite close enough for me.
How are you? I am fine. Things are okay around here, I guess. Coronavirus is still ravaging the nation, but at least I don’t have to worry about a clueless orange narcissist continually bungling efforts to have all of us not, you know, die. So things are good, sort of.
It’s been just over three years since I left Walt Disney World as a cast member and two since I was last there at all. I like to think I had a pretty good finger on the pulse of what theme park fans did and didn’t like, particularly when my buddy SurferClock and I did our podcast, What’s the Attraction?. Even today, out in the Disney park-less landscape that is Phoenix, Arizona, I still skulk around these days on theme park vlogger videos on YouTube (Yesterworld, Defunctland, Some Jerk with a Camera, Theme Snark & Friends, TPMVids, Theme Park History, Expedition Theme Park, Park Ride History, etc.) and various Facebook groups to keep up on all the latest gossip going on in Lake Buena Vista and Anaheim.
Of course, that doesn’t change the fact at the end of the day, I’m still just some shmuck with a platform on WordPress who hasn’t been to Galaxy’s Edge (Nor do I have any desire to) who takes the occasional pretention to know better than anyone else. Still, if seven years of guest interaction on the ground and observing social media reactions have taught me anything, it’s that there are some things WDI could afford to take to heart. So I present to you my heavily researched list of general policies and suggestions the company may want to keep in mind when preparing Disney parks in the future.
And don’t worry, I’m not going to cite some hackneyed, bad faith arguments to you like “Bring back Horizons!” or “When are you gonna build that fifth Disney Villains park you said you were gonna do?”. I don’t… I don’t care. This is meant to be a more sincere list, aimed at bettering the organization in the future. Because, you see, at the end of the day, we love Disney. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t spend countless hours online crying foul at every perceived indiscretion.
10. Not Everything has to be based on an I.P.
This is a popular rallying cry among many online, and honestly, I disagree. I see nothing wrong with putting Disney characters in Disney rides, but I’m going to play devil’s advocate on behalf of my fellow theme park fans.
Sixty-plus years ago, Imagineers had little choice when building attractions to be based around themes like the wild west, turn-of-the-century America, tropical jungles, the future, and fairy tales. Aside from Fantasyland, At best, Frontierland could use Pecos Bill and Davy Crockett to cross-promote. As time wore on, and more Disney films joined their backlog, it just made sense to incorporate more and more films and TV shows into the park, both to cross-promote and to draw in visitors who knew Disney better from their hometown theaters and living room TV sets. But through it all, several concepts pushed through the synergy barrier to become attractions without the benefit of being tied to a particular film. The Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, Expedition: Everest, Journey into Imagination, and Test Track all became classics without the benefit of film association (Sort of…but you get my point, right?) Today, when a character from a Disney film shoehorns themselves into a Disney ride, or overtakes a ride devoid of an independent property, fans get…testy.
Now, me, I don’t really get this mentality. Sure, I like Jungle Cruise as much as the next guy, and no, I don’t think it’d benefit from having Simba, Shere Khan, and Terk infused into the attraction. But to not want Disney characters in Disney rides? But…I’m speaking as a devil’s advocate for others here.
Sometimes infusing Disney characters into attractions that didn’t have them is really grating or even unnecessary. Adding Disney characters to Disneyland’s It’s a Small World is pretty much a complete waste of effort, and putting Zazu and Iago into the Tiki Room ruined the attraction for over a decade. Other times it felt patronizing, like replacing Stitch with Alien Encounter. I think, though, that last point is probably this feeling of resentment comes from, more than anything.
When Maelstrom at Epcot was announced to be removed for Frozen Ever After, fans were incensed, which struck me as odd, because Maelstrom wasn’t really all that great. It had a few memorable moments, but it had one thing going for it: it didn’t talk down to anyone. It was a pretty straight laced and somewhat maturely-toned boat ride that showcased what Norwegian culture meant. It lasted for nearly thirty years and kids who went to Epcot grew up with it, were surprised it went away…only to be replaced by a guaranteed moneymaker of a theme, based on what was seen as an overhyped kiddy princess cartoon for kids too dumb to know what REAL entertainment is.
I.P.’s are a great hook, but when they replace something that was a unique experience, it feels like watching a ma and pa diner replaced with a McDonald’s. So go ahead and build new rides and shows starring Moana and Wreck-it Ralph or Baby Yoda. Just let us keep the truly unique stuff.
9. We’re not looking for edutainment.
Edutainment, as I call it, is the practice of making an entertaining product where its primary purpose is teach its audience something. It’s a practice that’s been around since our boomer parents were kids, when they used to watch Bert the Turtle warn them about the impending atomic apocalypse. By the time we millenials came onto the scene, television was the primary medium. Sesame Street and a million other kids’ programs taught us social skills, Bill Nye, Beakman, and Ms. Frizzle taught us science, Animaniacs taught us geography and history, and every other show in the nineties never failed to warn us of the dangers of drugs. Most of the time, it’s not done very well, because if it’s too fun, we forget the message. Too focused on the message, it’s not fun and we write it off as another PSA. But usually, it fails because it’s written by grown, usually white men who don’t know how to talk to kids yet think they do.
We know Epcot was based on the founding principle to educate the masses about human civilization, and it’s a noble, worthwhile goal. But it was clear from the moment it opened its gates in 1982 that people did not go there as if it were a field trip destination. Disney execs back then sure seemed to think so, but let’s be real, as Tony Goldmark once said:
A bit of an absolutist perspective, as many museums and historical landmarks can attest, but let’s face it: If you’re going to Six Flags, Knott’s Berry Farm, Legoland, Cedar Fair, Universal Studios, or Disneyland, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re not going there because you’re seeking an educational experience. No, you’d want to go on some thrill rides, find a popular cartoon character to do selfies with, eat some wildly unhealthy food, maybe even buy an overpriced t-shirt. But to learn how Exxon-Mobil uses oil to fuel our planet? To see animatronic vegetables sing lame parody songs about nutrition? To slowly drift through bullet points of Mexican history? To learn how Mission-brand tortillas are made? Not as much of a slam-dunk as you might think.
Now, there have been instances where this has worked well. World showcase does provide some genuine cultural exposure from the native cast members who work there to the imported merchandise. Kilimanjaro Safaris demonstrates the necessity of caring for wildlife at the fictional Harambe Wildlife Reserve with mere exposure to the animals. Disney-MGM Studios was built on the premise of teaching people on how movies were made. But you get places like Universe of Energy, Bountiful Valley Farms, Hall of Presidents, the Disney Institute, and Golden Dreams, where the focus is clearly to lecture you, it’s going to annoy your audience. Why bother watching Mark Twain and Ben Franklin discuss American history when Soarin’ is literally a ten minute walk away?
One place where this really irks me in particular is Dinoland U.S.A. at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. While a land themed around dinosaurs was a central tenet in the park’s trinity-based identity (Animals of today, animals that were, and animals that never were), Dinoland took on a theme of “extinction is forever”. This mission statement was meant to reinforce the idea that the nature we love can disappear if we’re not careful. First, dinosaurs were wiped out long before humans came in, so it’s not like we were exactly culpable. If it were dedicated to passenger pigeons, tasmanian tigers, dodos, and other fauna eliminated due to human stupidity, that makes sense, but not dinosaurs. Second, in Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama, the former Primeval Whirl wild mouse coaster decorated its tracks with cartoony dinosaurs dodging meteors with Saturday morning slapstick, entirely negating the gravitas of the message.
Like I said, good edutainment is hard to come by and incredibly hard to do well. But it shouldn’t be a tentpole idea to hang an entire theme park or even attraction on.
8. Dance parties have not ever counted as an attraction. EVER.
We Disney theme park fans LIVE for the day a new E-ticket prepares to open for the first time. We know not every ride can be the next big thing, and even basic carnival rides, with the right amount of Disney theming, can be a beloved attraction. We get it: even for a a company with as deep pockets as Disney, you can’t churn out new rides every year to keep interest going…
But for the love of every deity in heaven, could you just freaking CUT IT OUT with the freaking DANCE PARTIES?
So at a fraction of the cost of even a simple spinner, guests at the parks who spent over $100 a ticket can wander through an area with a fair amount of pedestrian walking space on their way to Space Mountain or DINOSAUR or whatever when suddenly…a crowd of forty people start dancing to a blasting DJ remix of some Disney song while a couple of totally kewl hosts hype up the crowd, and a handful random characters clumsily mingle to further hype the party. And this is done at least seven times a day, typically during hottest, most-direct-sunlightest parts of the day.
I admit I just may be a grumpy old curmudgeon, but I detest these dance parties for being loud, obnoxious, inconvenient, and worst of all, transparently cheap. At the cost of some equity talent, a stage, and a decent sound system, a whole dance party could run less than a single ride vehicle, plus it can literally be installed overnight, entertain the kids rather effortlessly, and inject some good vibes and energy into the crowd. But man oh man, fewer things feel like a bigger waste of time than these dance parties.
There’s also the fact that essentially a dance party is asking park guests to make their own entertainment. A ride or show asks nothing of guests except to “sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride”, to coin a phrase. But after setting up a playlist, a venue, and some choreography, the fun guests get out of it is by dancing, making the onus entirely on them. To top it off, it’s bad enough when these shindigs cut off traffic flow in an area barely big enough to handle these crowds, but what about Sunset Showcase?
Accessible by Rock n’ Roller Coaster’s entrance, Sunset Showcase was one of the most recent border extensions of any Disney park (By bulldozing a cast member parking lot). Nothing was announced upon its opening, but when it did in 2015, it was basically a dance club/lounge. It’s been used for that other waste of everyone’s time, dessert parties, but mostly it’s been used to host Club Disney, then Club Villain, before becoming the Lightning McQueen Racing Academy. I will not turn down a chance to cool down in some A/C, grab a drink, and take a breather at Hollywood Studios, but how relaxing can it be with pounding bass and dubstep remixes of “Let it Go” and “Be Our Guest”?
7. If Disney’s going to pride itself on theming, then commit to it.
Since Disneyland opened, the company revels in applying thematic elements to their parks. It was they who pioneered the idea that everything, from light fixtures to trash cans, had to look as though they meshed with their surroundings. For the most part, the wonderful idealists at WDI have been conscientious toward this notion and pressed onward, doing their best to allow whole worlds to embrace the wayward park guest.
So what the smoo is going on with Disney’s Hollywood Studios?
Once upon a time, Disney-MGM Studios had a very decided theme: movies and movie production. Half the park was dedicated to soundstages and set pieces where tourists could see movies and TV shows being made. The other half was dedicated to how animation, sound effects, green screen, and stunts were used in creating the productions. This was a model that resembled Universal Studios Hollywood and the new sister park up in Orlando. However, the behind-the-scenes motif wore off quickly, never mind that film production at both MGM and Universal was basically a non-starter. ‘Cause, you know, Universal Hollywood at least had the benefit of having the legacy of real, historical filming locations. The trend began with Star Tours as a movie-themed ride that was more about participating in a film than being taught about a film. Thus, more and more attractions about themed experiences replaced the edutainment ones (See what I meant?), and now Disney’s Hollywood Studios has only one attraction about film production: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.
Of course, lest we forget the attractions were intended to be housed in generic, featureless soundstage buildings, because not only does that fit the theme of a studio, but also like a studio, each one can contain literally any set of any world. So it makes perfect sense one building can house a recording studio with Aerosmith and another can contain an immersive stage production of The Little Mermaid.
But now I pose a question: What exactly is the theme of the park now? It still calls itself Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but it hasn’t been a legitimate studio since the mid-nineties. It’s more than a studio setting itself by having a Hollywood Bowl-type amphitheater, a Chinese theater replica at the end of Hollywood Boulevard, a California Crazy-style ice cream stand based off a pre-Disney animated cartoon, and a haunted hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Some buildings look like soundstages and others still evoke the 1940’s Art Deco architecture Eisner wanted, but it’s also home to whole lands with as much dedication to immersion as Fantasyland or Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The park is also home to Star Wars, Muppets, Pixar, and a few other notable Disney properties…as well as The Twilight Zone and Aerosmith, which have absolutely nothing to do with the Mouse.
Magic Kingdom dedicates each land to conform to its themes so hard cast members are literally restricted from wandering through areas in costume where they thematically belong. Animal Kingdom is almost wholly devoted to its message of conservation and the preservation of our planet. Epcot’s Future World still adheres to a general technological/futuristic/space theme that would interest any scientific-minded individual, however loose. But DHS is what I call a Frankenpark: a park made up of several non-matching elements so that while it looks like a whole product, it’s clearly stitched together haphazardly from a variety of disparate sources.
I don’t have a suggestion as to how to fix DHS without a California Adventure-type overhaul that’d cost millions. Because even consolidating the Frozen Sing-Along, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage into one land would mean having to build whole new venues. Star Wars Launch Bay would either have to shut down entirely or move to Galaxy’s Edge. Indy might have to, at best, become the ride that already exists in Disneyland. It may not be a studio anymore, but if it isn’t, then what exactly is it?
And also, why is a Finding Nemo Musical in the dinosaur-themed section of Animal Kingdom?
6. Being cheap ironically doesn’t work as well as you think it does.
I absolutely despise Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama for a variety of reasons. It’s basically the Big Lipped Alligator Moment of Animal Kingdom. (Ripped from YouTuber Lindsey Ellis: referring to the scene from All Dogs Go to Heaven, Big Lipped Alligator Moments refer to scenes in movies that 1) Come right out of nowhere, 2) Has little/no bearing on the plot, 3) Is tonally dissonant from the rest of the film, and 4) After it is over, no one speaks of it ever again.). My point is that in a park dedicated to conservation and the natural world doesn’t really call for a hokey roadside carnival. But that’s only part of the problem. What arguably is the bigger issue is the land is purposefully made to look as cheap and tacky as humanly possible.
Just look at it. If you had no idea it was at Walt Disney World, would you have ever guessed it? I guess that was the intended idea, but much like Imagineering’s lengthy history with incorporating circuses, Disney park guests almost never come to Disneyland looking for a roadside carnival. Overall, we’re okay with a few off-the-shelf spinners and other standard ride systems, but we come to Disney for the thematic experience. The cheap cutouts of the cartoon dinosaurs don’t look like they were crafted by the company that gave the world Mickey Mouse, Snow White, and Simba. The carnival games have no layer of subterfuge to make you think it’s any more clever than just average games you’d find at a state fair. The asphalt was even made to look sun-bleached and cracked, complete with faded parking lines. Immersive theming? Yes, but the average patron doesn’t pick up on that. It’d be like if Disney included a land full of cardboard boxes and bubble wrap, claiming they were the boxes the roller coaster parts were shipped in. Thematically appropriate, sure, but tell me you wouldn’t be a trifle miffed a company with the resources as Disney would put together something so transparently cheap. (Much like those dance parties I mentioned) It’s kinda like when Scrooge McDuck would pay his grand-nephews pennies for the tedious work he’d have them do. In the end, you feel ripped off.
I kinda put the studio motif I cited in the previous entry, but instead of beating a dead horse, why don’t I move on to the next entry?
5. Understand the power you wield when you market your legacy.
As of October 1st, 2023, the Walt Disney Company, formerly the Disney Bros Studio, will have passed a complete century of existence. By now, there is hardly a soul alive today who hasn’t grown up with Disney in some way. The Greatest Generation grew up with the classic shorts and Snow White. The Baby Boomers grew up with the Mickey Mouse Club, Davy Crockett, and Disneyland. We millenials grew up with the Disney Afternoon, Aladdin on Sega Genesis, and The Lion King. Gen Zers have grown up on Lizzie McGuire, High School Musical, and Cars. Pretty much every generation alive today has a multitude of fond memories when they grew up during those formative years. Similarly, starting with the boomers, kids from around the world have been flocking to the Disney theme parks and experienced every ride, show, and promotion, however short-lived or critically received. And as we adults see now, just because we loved something as kids doesn’t necessarily mean it was any good to begin with. And thus, in the most literal metaphor for adulthood ever, what might have caused us immeasurable joy as kids now leaves us as husks despair and crushing misery.
AND YET…Disney still continues to weaponize nostalgia in its marketing. Effective it may be…heck, HUGELY effective…but completely runs counter to Disney’s other marketing initiative: that there’s always something new to experience!
Sure, there are plenty of attractions that have stuck around for decades and continue to entertain the young and young at heart to this day, but by pandering to both groups, there’s not a lot of wiggle room for compromise. The very first Disney attraction I ever experienced was The Enchanted Tiki Room – Under New Management! Often regarded as one of the very worst Disney attractions ever built, I admittedly have a bit of a soft spot for it, though I shed no tears when I read about its flame-induced demise in 2011. Of course, personal anecdotes can only say so much.
Appealing to nostalgia means reminding people of the past and the best parts of it. Even when Disney tries to invoke your memories of the first time you sampled a Dole Whip or rode Space Mountain, this invariably brings back similar fond memories of things that no longer exist at the parks. And Disney becomes shocked when they announce a ride closure and whole swathes of people seethe in fury.
I’m not saying they shouldn’t invoke nostalgia when Disney’s marketing department is coming up with new ideas to appeal to the masses. I’m saying to understand that a tool as powerful as nostalgia is a double-edged sword and should be used carefully.
4. Abandonment issues
When I first went to Walt Disney World in 1999, I was fascinated with an oddly-shaped building that sat in front of the massive silver cylinder that was Test Track and near the Mayan temple of the Mexico pavilion. It sat at the end of an outstretched walkway over a massive expanse of water, adding to its aura of mystique. Just what was this thing? Why was there no signage? What purpose did it serve? Well, come to find out it was called the Odyssey Restaurant from 1982 to 1994, and has since been referred to as the Odyssey Center since. For the average guest, it’s the first aid/baby care center station and restrooms, but nowadays…it’s a flexspace building, meant for anything from promotional events to corporate retreats. How weird a prolific building like this just stands in full public view but offers almost nothing 99% of the time?
The former Wonders of Life pavilion only recently got pitched to be renovated after 15 years of also being a flexspace building. River Country and Discovery Island continue to hide in plain view after twenty years of closing. World Showplace is almost always closed to the public. Streets of America at DHS stood inert for nearly twenty years after the last Backlot Tour tram rolled through, say nothing of the Premier Theater hidden behind the San Fransisco façade. The Fantasyland skyway chalet sat next to It’s A Small World for almost two decades after the last gondola unloaded. Aunt Polly’s Dockside Inn on Tom Sawyer Island just kinda stopped existing. The ABC Sound Studio was home to Sounds Dangerous before it became a promo center for various movies, and ultimately gave up and became a Star Wars clip show theater and later, a bunch of Rudish Mickey Mouse cartoons. In Disneyland, the critical failure of Rocket Rods destroyed the infrastructure of Tomorrowland so badly it cannot be fixed or removed.
As I understand it, capitalism only works when the power of money is involved. Developers will fall all over themselves to build a new brick-and-mortar store in anticipation of making money, but when the business goes under or moves to another location, there’s no reason to demolish the building and return it to its original, natural state, not even a tax incentive. As a result, we get abandoned, decrepit buildings that only get use as places for urban explorer youTubers to exploit or homeless people to sleep in. It’s no different, surprisingly, at Disney (Minus the homeless people part), whereas if real estate is viable, it’ll get repurposed, typically for limited-time events, but otherwise it just sits around, closed to the public. I cited why these venues didn’t get supplanted with new experiences right away, but it’s no less frustrating that a company like Disney would rather abandon it and only sometimes cover up valuable real estate when it could become a rest area, a restaurant, or, yes, a new attraction.
3. Wasting theaters on stuff I can watch on Youtube.
I’m gonna keep picking on Disney’s Hollywood Studios for a little bit longer if that’s okay with you guys.
Since I’m stuck in Arizona, mid-pandemic, I’m unable to make it out to California or Florida for awhile, even if Disneyland were to reopen soon. So like any obsessed weirdo, I spend a lot of time on YouTube watching videos about Disney and Disney theme parks. Yeah, it’s not the same as riding the Haunted Mansion, but it’s the best I got. Ideally, you go to the parks to get an experience that you can’t get at home, right?
So why on Earth would I waste my hard-earned money going to a theater at the parks showing something can find online?
I already don’t care about Star Wars. And I was already super salty about the loss of Magic of Disney Animation turning into Star Wars Launch Bay. So imagine my frustration when the MoDA show became a ten-minute puff piece of people involved with the franchise praising it, as if I couldn’t find this kind of thing on a blu-ray bonus feature. The ABC Sound Studio ended showings of Sounds Dangerous in 2012, only to showcase teaser clips of movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, The Lone Ranger, Maleficent, and Cinderella, back when the park was struggling to maintain its studio image for cross promotions. After those, they gave up entirely and showed Path of the Jedi, which was – no exaggeration – a clip show of all six canon Star Wars movies, which I could easily find on YouTube. What’s worse, both venues were used in promoting upcoming Disney films, but when Star Wars took over, the teasers had to go somewhere…so they took out the Walt Disney bio-film at the end of One Man’s Dream and shoved the promotional teasers there. It’s bad enough Uncle Walt was evicted in favor of synergetic teasers, but evicted for synergetic teasers because Star Wars took precedence. And again, for movies I could easily find on YouTube or on blu-ray bonus features!
Probably the most insulting one I ever came across was the Disney-Pixar Short Film Festival at Epcot. After Honey, I Shrunk the Audience closed in 2010, the Imagination Theater was the temporary home to the revived Captain EO until 2015. The following year they premiered the Disney-Pixar Short Film Festival, which shows three whole short subject cartoons…but in 3D! Given the shorts here are all previously-released without the benefit of 3D effect, sitting to watch them in a theater is moot. Even if the demand for both previous shows was so low, what makes imagineers think I’d rather see Get a Horse! or La Luna in a theater, especially since they’re all available on Disney+?
No, not every show has to be an immersive, effects-laden extravaganza like Muppet*Vision 3D or Mickey’s Philharmagic. But they ought to be unique shows we can’t get elsewhere. After all, that’s the whole point we come to Disney parks in the first place.
2. You know you don’t have to recreate the movies’ plots, right?
Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid are two of Disney’s most enduring films, beloved by fans around the world, and there’s good reason. Though they aren’t my personal favorites, I still respect them. If I were to go to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I can watch both Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage!, which re-tell the same story, complete with the mostly same story beats and songs we all know and love. Kind of redundant, but okay…so why do both have rides in Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland – Enchanted Tales with Belle and Journey of the Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure – also recreate the same movies’ plots?
If both of these movie have anything to offer for theme parks, it’s arguably the best asset any film could bequeath to an attraction: a cool world to explore. But instead of Ariel or Belle escorting us around Atlantica or an enchanted castle of our own volition, we instead are strung along through a story we’ve already seen a dozen times. Universal didn’t bother reenacting Deathly Hallows for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and instead just let us muggles get lost in Hogwarts. Heck, even Frozen Ever After had the right idea, and they, too, have a reenactment of the movie in stage musical form at DHS. Never mind Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Alice in Wonderland, and Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh all suffer this same, uncreative issue. I admit, there are some moments from those movies I’d like to be a fly on the wall for, but that’s not as important as just creating an immersive attraction where the most important things are ambiance and atmosphere.
Years ago, Snow White was not featured on Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and guests complained that the heroine they came to see was nowhere to be found, even though her name was part of the marquee. Imagineers back then insisted that patrons were meant to BE Snowy, and the creative touch was just a tad too nuanced for the average guest. Sure, it wouldn’t make sense for Alice to be in Wonderland again or to have Pinocchio go through all his escapades all over again, but there are ways to develop a cohesive narrative without copy/pasting the movie. Maybe Alice invites us to explore Wonderland, or Jiminy Cricket tries to guide us through Pinocchio’s decisions in an effort to steer us clear of the same fates he suffered. If the worlds are developed well enough, we don’t necessarily need to have our hands held, much like we don’t need even a story to guide us through the Haunted Mansion.
Though, given, we just might start veering away from that formula. The Princess and the Frog layover of Splash Mountain coming soon is said tell a story after the events of the movie. You just know a decade earlier, they’d have made yet another stage show musical if they had the space for it.
1. Spending more money does not equal better quality, but…
Like I said, we’re always gonna want more as Disney fans, especially E-ticket attractions. And we get it: they’re expensive. Plus you need stuff for the tykes and those with heart conditions. And good rides aren’t always about thrills, they’re about emotional investment. And if capitalism in America has taught us anything, it’s that just because you sank a ton of money into a project, it does not guarantee it will pay off. And with a company with the resources Disney does, as well as their proven ability to make quality attractions, we expect them to pursue their commitment. There are times when saving money is worthy of praise, like when the scrapped America Sings animatronics were repurposed for Splash Mountain characters. But in the business the company’s in, spending money on quality attractions is like setting out the fine china, sterling silver flatware, and crystal stemware when you have dinner guests coming over. You exert the extra effort because you know they’ll appreciate it and come back for more. Yes, the plates may break, the guests may have elevated expectations from then on, and you know breaking out the paper plates is unthinkable…but that’s the standard that’s been set and it’s not like you can stop inviting them over.
Whew, I got a bit lost in that metaphor. Where was I? Oh yeah. Spending money.
So, back in 2011, when it was announced that the 21st Century Fox film, 2009’s Avatar, was being made into its own land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we all laughed. Avatar had nothing to do with Disney (yet)! It was the highest grossing movie of all time, sure, but I didn’t know anyone who remembered it, even if they saw it! Why build a whole land, instead of a single attraction? And if DAK was about celebrating Earth, why incorporate a land that took place literally on another planet? In 2017, the land opened…and the critics (mostly) shut up. Whether Disney was doing this to one-up Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter (As was the pervading theory) or maybe in response to all the nay-sayers, Pandora: World of Avatar decided to go hard or go home. By utilizing a ton of breakthrough technology and absurdly high levels of details, we were decidedly impressed. Of course it wasn’t cheap (Budgeted around $400 million), but it’s safe to say the long lines at Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey show that with that kind of financial dedication, it can pay off in dividends.
Adversely, whole parks were built in the aughts, like California Adventure, Walt Disney Studios and Hong Kong Disneyland where they were built with such stringent budgets they just ended up annoying their patrons, who expected huge, immersive worlds and got parks cost them the same as their superior counterparts but delivered half or less the experience. On the flip side of the coin, Tokyo DisneySea and Shanghai Disneyland were built with crazy astronomical budgets and are now considered the most beautiful and detailed parks on the planet. The thing is, Disney clearly has more than enough money to pay suppliers and labor, and these theme parks will only continue to raise money as long as people are willing to pay the prices and come visit.
Look, my dedicated, creative friends in Disney’s Imagineering division, I dont blame you, really. It’s a tough job. No one denies that. And we really, really appreciate when you pull a rabbit out of your hard hats and create stunning masterpieces of Disney attractions. It seems the biggest naysayers are the guys who control the purse strings, so afraid of investing money in things that we could use, like routine maintenance or increased cast member wages.
But I hope we can still be friends, and this list is a good code of conduct that can be passed on to the higher-ups who’ve lost touch with the average theme park guest. But otherwise, rock on, guys. Keep up the hard work, and hopefully I can return to either American park sooner rather than later.
Welcome aboard the world-famous Jungle Cruise, everyone! My name is skipper TAP-G and I’m gonna be your skipper, captain, cruise director, snake charmer, alligator wrestler, life coach, sous chef, and if you don’t laugh at any of my jokes, your swimming instructor…maybe. Please keep your hands, arms, feet and legs inside the boat at all times, permanecer sentados por favor, and please keep an eye of those kids of yours, or as the crocodiles like to call them, the tater tots!
Ah, the khakis. The puns. The jazz queue music interspersed with the “Voice of the Jungle”. The alliterative boat names. The backside of water. The Jungle Cruise has been a guest favorite since Disneyland’s opening day and is the latest attraction to get a makeover in these changing times.
So…let’s talk about it!
The Backstory of Water!
The Jungle Cruise as we know it dates, as I said, all the way back to a certain sweltering day in 1955. Walt’s studio had been making nature documentaries called True-Life Adventures since 1948, and he’d always been obsessed with nature. One of the earliest plans of his Disneyland theme park included a land dedicated to the exotic corners of the globe, dubbed – what else? – True-Life Adventureland. Walt was eager in one particular aspect: he wanted a ride for guests to see real, live animals.
Now, if you’ve ever been to a zoo, you know animals tend to sleep, hide, lay around, and sometimes engage in activities kids don’t really need to see. On top of that, animals do not perform on cue multiple times a day, all day. Walt was eventually dissuaded from this idea, and resigned to doing robot animals, which are essentially predecessors to the audio-animatronics they developed less than a decade later. This allowed lions to roar, rhinos to charge, crocodiles to snap, and hippos to surface at exactly the right time. To boot, since the purpose of the True-Life Adventure series was meant to be educational, the original script was similarly straightforward. Not a punchline anywhere to be seen. The boats themselves were inspired by the 1951 Humphrey Bogart film, The African Queen.
The urban legend goes that Walt overheard a child asking his mother to ride the Jungle Cruise, but she said no, rationalizing they’d already done it once before. Well, of course he couldn’t have that. Thus, in 1962, Walt turned to his old friend Marc Davis and requested he add some humorous tableaus featuring the animals getting into all kinds of comical engagements, like the indian elephant bathing pool and the the treed safari. On top of these, Walt overheard a young skipper doing an off-script spiel involving jokes instead of the usual educational narration, so he implemented the famous comedic take of the attraction we know and love today. The ride has continued to evolve, adding some show scenes, dropping others, but largely staying pretty much the same.
The ride’s theme is the Jungle Navigation Co., a cargo transport business that has come upon hard times during the Great Depression, and is trying to recoup their losses by doing guided tours through the Amazon, Congo, Nile, and Mekong rivers. Hence why the skippers are so haphazard in their approach to show off what they know as your boat careens further and further from civilization.
Hey…Why’s it in the News?
On January 26th, 2021, Disney made a new announcement: the Jungle Cruise is getting an update, which will feature a story involving the beloved treed safari, who had foolishly left their boat. This means adding a show scene involving a community of chimps have taken over the beached wreckage. The general story is to find said wreckage. The script will of course be updated to reflect this story, and presumably, will inject some fresh jokes into the skipper’s spiel.
Okay, That Sounds-
Oh, and they’re doing away with the racist stuff, too.
OH MY GOD. They’re Really Doing This Again.
Doing what? Oh! You mean that thing where they renovate and update vintage Disney theme park attractions for a world more progressively and culturally aware than the generation before it for the sake of compassion, decency, and cultural sensitivity? Why yes, yes they are!
And are YOU, dear reader, denizen of the world wide web, “doing this again” where you throw a temper tantrum because something you treasure is ebbing away, becoming a relic of a bygone generation, and being replaced by a more progressive ideal that you deem unwelcome? Decrying phrases like “PC culture!” or “Cancel culture!”, as if these were inherently bad things?
Heck if I know. I can’t see you through this blog.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
As many have pointed out, this is isn’t Disney’s first time overhauling a classic ride in the name of “wokeness”.
In 1997, just thirty years after opening, Pirates of the Caribbean had its first major renovation. Where once lusty buccaneers chased after frightened damsels, now were chasing them for trays of food. Where once the portly “Pooped Pirate” snickered with perverse glee, tightly gripping the slip once belonging to a clearly naked woman in a barrel nearby, now the same pirate stuffed his face full of food. The changes outraged in particular one of the attraction’s original Imagineers, X. Atencio, who famously stated, “This is Pirates of the Caribbean, not Boy Scouts of the Caribbean!”
Just twenty years after that, a second major transition took place when the famous auction scene was renovated. Before, as the auctioneer peddled an overweight woman, a firtatious redhead seductively teased the leering crowd. As of 2017, the redhead was promoted to a pirate captain herself, peddling rum to a crowd of drunken reprobates. Traditionalists online were quick to lash out and complain, sparking often bad-faith arguments about gender balancing versus historical accuracy.
Just last summer, Disney proudly announced the long-controversial theming of Splash Mountain was set to be renovated entirely from Song of the South to The Princess and the Frog. Once again, arguments broke out between the necessity of change against the desire to maintain tradition. And once again, the internet frothed with giddy vitriol as discussions on race reached a fever pitch.
Ah, feminism and racism. Two topics that ALWAYS inspire calm, rational discourse online!
So What’s Wrong with the Jungle Cruise?
If you hadn’t ridden the Jungle Cruise in forever, you’d be forgiven if you forgot all but a few animals and the fact the skippers told a lot of corny jokes. Since I’m much more familiar with the Walt Disney World version, I’m using that one as a spring board here.
At the first major bend in the river, the boat skirts by a beach with a few traditional native boats, with the skipper referring to the pygmies who own them. However, they are not present due to being scared away by the giant python in the tree across the river.
Aside from the treed safari, there aren’t any more human sights along the river until after the hippo pool, where a tribal African village, complete with a skiff full of human skulls, comes into view. The natives are hopping around in their grass skirts and headdresses, shaking their spears and shields, obviously some mock-up of a white man’s perception of a war dance. As the boat veers around the corner, a war party jumps out of the bushes and attacks the boat, shouting and crying out at the tourists. One in particular mentioning his love of disco amid the ruckus because seventies.
Finally, the final tableau of the attraction is a beaming native man, the legendary Trader Sam. What’s his deal? Well, he’s a sort of a witch doctor/shaman and all the jokes the skippers tell about him are about head-shrinking and cannibalism.
Because as we all know, Africa is just chock-full of cowardly, superstitious brown people that kill out of sport, gruesomely eat fellow humans (Particularly the white meat variety, if you catch my drift), and are generally savage, bloodthirsty heathens who can’t civilize good.
Look, even if you grant the diegetic (The 30’s) and non-diegetic (The 50’s) contexts in trying to justify that these kind of depictions were okay, the point is they haven’t been okay for a while. We thought it was because most African tribespeople don’t go to Disneyland often and voice their outrage, and the assumption is made that they wouldn’t understand, so it’s okay. You know, like how we make jokes in Garfield about how cats are lazy, entitled, and selfish, but it’s okay because cats don’t read newspaper comic strips. But therein lies the issue: when you equate a fellow human’s intelligence to that of an animal, THAT IS RACISM. There is just no two ways about it.
So, What, Are We Gonna Stop Making Fun of Animals Because They’re Probably Offended, Too?! When will it Stop?!
This kind of bad faith argument is often spurred by people who are already inherently resistant to change and paint a picture of a world where humor can’t exist because someone somewhere has the potential of being upset. It’s a red herring and a slippery slope narrative that misses the point entirely: in the year 2021, Disney has declared that jokes in regards to a marginalized group troubling and is making an effort to fix the issue. Same thing that happened to Pirates and Splash Mountain.
Comedy without putting others down is possible: you just have to be clever enough to find it and execute it. To pretend it didn’t offend people or its intentions were all in good fun is, at best, disingenuous.
But it’s a Classic! You Can’t Just –
So? Disneyland is built on attractions that evolved or were discarded as time went along. The whole darn point of the place was letting it grow and evolve and adapt. It’s like being mad the Jungle Cruise doesn’t still have the original educational, joke-free script.
Disney’s Just Trying to be Woke! They’re Pandering to the PC Crowd!
That’s…probably also true. While I’m sure the Imagineers who are working on these developments have their hearts in the right place, the people who greenlit it are the ones who benefit financially from this. And someone somewhere probably said, “You know, if we remove and update the archaic depictions of backwards natives on the Jungle Cruise, we’ll see a decrease in complaints at guest relations, which means happier guests, which means greater likelihood for repeat visits, which means they’ll spend more money!”. Plus, these kinds of announcements get their company trending, however brief a time, so publicity factored in, too.
The way capitalism works these days is by hedging their bets and trying to figure out who has the money to spend. Over the past several decades, as marginalized groups were taken with greater credibility, companies saw these as untapped, viable markets, and began jockeying for their money. It’s like before when companies were terrified to depict gay people in ads because they worried about alienating the mainstream audience. Now, as homosexuality has become mainstream, companies are much less afraid to do so. Sure, there were trailblazers who started the trend, but that’s exactly the point. You have to start somewhere.
Disney has never been truly progressive in its ideals, and often waited for others before jumping in, which says a lot. Is it better late than never? Of course, but let’s not forget when it comes to being woke, sometimes they can be awful tone deaf and miss the mark entirely. Characters like Jasmine from Aladdin and Nala from The Lion King are great, well-rounded characters, and I daresay most feminists don’t have a problem with them. But in their 2019 remakes, both of them were made super mega ultimate Girl Power Icons, with Nala given more screen time and agency and Jasmine wanting to be the first ever female sultan (Which, historically speaking, was already a thing.) 2019’s Dumbo sidestepped the issues the original had by eliminating the crows, actively not getting Dumbo drunk, the circus made animal-free, and Dumbo and his mother released to the wild.
So yeah, I won’t deny there are some people at the company doing this with their hearts in their wallets, but it’s ultimately better than not making the effort at all.
What Does This Mean for the Future?
Smoo if I know. Short term, we may see renovations at the Enchanted Tiki Room next. I’m not sure what they can do to improve World Showcase at Epcot, but there might be some small efforts here or there. Who the heck knows if anything even could change on It’s a Small World.
Long term, that’s a great question. Facetious as I was earlier, maybe we WILL find ourselves having to change jokes about animals. I don’t know. But right now, we have to find ways to adapt. Sure, transgressive comedy is good, but is the time and place for it at Disneyland? Especially since there’s alternative comedy, deadpan comedy, observational comedy, spoof comedy, physical comedy, prop comedy, and surreal comedy, just to name a few. We’re not wanting for quality humor if we ditch the gags at others’ expense.
I will not cry foul at these changes. They were going to happen anyway, whether it was 2021 or 3021. And it’s entirely possible the new version could be even funnier. So let’s stop pretending the only way to make a good joke is at the expense of a marginalized group. Because if you think so, then…well, the joke is literally, decidedly on you.
Well folks, you’ve been outstanding. But now I need you out standing on the dock. If you enjoyed that, I’m Skipper TAP-G and this was the Jungle Cruise. If you didn’t, my name is Dan and this was was the Haunted Mansion.
Some Disney movies just don’t stand the test of time. Much as we praise Cinderella or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or The Lion King for being timeless stories that transcend generations, we have to come to terms that some Disney movies just don’t age well.
Make Mine Music was supposed to be a modern Fantasia, but who the fudgeknuckles remembers Benny Goodman or the Andrews Sisters?
Oliver & Company, for all its strengths, is CLEARLY mired in the 1980’s, from the diegetic fashions and culture to the non-diegetic uses of Huey Lewis, Ruth Pointer, and Billy Joel.
The Love Bug is totally groovy, man.
And then there’s…
You know, I’m starting to think I talk about this one way too much.
But these movies have a charm that make them feel like time capsules. They’re depictions of culture. No one’s going to fault Baloo and King Louie for talking like beatniks or the AristoCats for jamming out in psychedelic hues. But Victory Through Air Power does not portray 1940’s culture, at least pop culture. It is not a movie with a plot, nor is it a documentary. It is a movie that didn’t even really have the general audience in mind as its targeted demographic. It is, objectively, pure American propaganda.
Walt Disney read the book with the same name and was so blown away by the logic of using airplanes as weapons of war he felt it was his patriotic duty to make it into a movie. He called in the book’s author, Major Alexander “Sasha” P. De Seversky, to consult, who later appeared as himself in the film. Unsurprisingly, the film lost money on its release, but Walt was hardly fazed. He felt he had to do it. The studio, after all, churned out numerous propaganda shorts, training shorts, and educational shorts to boost morale at home and on the front lines. But this remains their only full-length feature whose sole purpose was to help America win the war against the Axis.
I’d ask by now if this film holds up, but let’s be honest, we all know the answer to that already. But regardless, I propose we press play and present powerful propaganda with the power of planes!
The plot: Like I said, this movie does not have a plot, per se. But here’s a general play-by-play of how the movie presents himself:
The movie starts with the history of aviation, starting with the Wright brothers, in classic Disney animation fashion, demonstrating the first manned flight in Kitty Hawk in 1903. This segment shows how planes went from being a novelty to a functional weapon during the first World War, all the way to showcasing the might of “modern” aircraft and just how far aviation had come in just forty short years.
Seversky steps onscreen and directly addresses the audience, discussing how France prepared for land warfare and Britain readied their naval fleet, but both were soundly trumped by German Luftwaffe. He even goes so far as to discuss the terrifying experience British soldiers endured at Dunkirk.
Switching gears to America, Seversky talks about how despite our strong manufacturing centers, our supply lines are weak, with long distances to cover to supply our troops abroad. With surface warfare, he reasons, fighting Japan or Germany back to their home countries is pointless, and that the best way to defeat them is to fly long-range attacks above their armies and bomb them directly. He even suggests bombing hydroelectric power-producing dams and using incendiary bombs to set of miniature earthquakes for good measure.
In the final scene, a bald eagle repeatedly dive-bombs an inky-black octopus in the head, a metaphor for defeating Japan and its far-reaching grip over the Pacific islands.
How’s the writing?: I’m used to grading three-act structures, character development, and emotional beats. But Victory Through Air Power‘s writing can’t be critiqued that way. I have to look at its goal overall, which is to convince the American public that planes and long-range bombing will win the war. That being said, does it do that effectively? I’d say yes.
Is it accurate, though? I couldn’t say 100%. I’m not an expert in WWII-era technology. I know the Navy had anti-aircraft guns aboard their ships, because research shows 29 out of 353 Japanese planes were gunned down during the attack on Pearl Harbor. A further testament to the might of aircraft power over land and sea? I guess, but just as Seversky urges swift action to further develop America’s air force, one could just as easily demand more effective anti-aircraft weaponry. Would it be a biased argument? Yes, but Seversky was an engineer, a pilot, and served as a Major in the US Air Force, so he’s also biased, even if his arguments are logical and pragmatic.
Really, at the end of the day, one would have to ask if the film is effective in persuading its audiences that airplanes would help win the war, and the answer is yes. It doesn’t waste its viewers’ time with gags or irrelevant tangents. And Seversky doesn’t talk down to the audience. He’s blunt, matter-of-fact, and direct. In this way, you do buy that yes, maybe investing in long-range bombers just might be what we need to kick Hitler and Hirohito in the keisters.
Does it give the feels?: This movie has one emotional goal and one goal only: to stir your feelings of patriotism. With some effective animation and stirring music, particularly in the final animated segment, it’s practically begging for you to sing that song from Team America: World Police. You know the one I’m talking about.
Surprisingly, the stoic delivery of this movie avoids some of the more toxic angles of propaganda in that it doesn’t feed your fear or anger. No warnings of another possible Pearl Harbor, no demonizing of Japan or Germany, not even a mild threat of getting overrun by the axis powers should we fail. It’s like, bro, do you even propaganda?
Instead, the tone is simply informative and rational. If Germany does A, then B is the solution. Since C, D, and E have proven not to work, and F, G, and H would not make sense, B is by far the best option. That’s it. Honestly, it’s kind of refreshing to watch something like this and not feel a rush of ire with emotional and irrational chutzpah. It sincerely presents facts and states its case like a researched thesis. Weird, right?
Who makes it worth it?: It’s pretty obvious Sasha is not an actor. The man is many things, but not an actor. So as the solitary face of the movie, his performance leaves a lot to be desired. That is, however, before you realize just how freaking metal he was.
Born in present-day Georgia (The country, not the state) in 1894, Alexander Nikolaievich Prokofiev de Seversky was enrolled in military school at the age of 10 and graduated to the Imperial Russian Naval Academy at 14. He lost part of his leg during a mission in World War I, and despite doctors insisting he was unable to continue flying, he proved them wrong at an air show. He was arrested, but by insistence of Czar Nicholas II, Seversky was pardoned and back in aerial combat, downing his first enemy aircraft at 20. He broke his good leg less than a year later and still went on to fight in 57 combat missions, recieving four service medals.
Seversky was assigned as an attaché to the United States for the war, but stayed with them rather than return home to avoid the 1917 Russian Revolution. He served as a consultant to general William Kinley, and after the war ended, General Billy Mitchell. Seversky applied his engineering degree and commissioned a patent for air-to-air refueling in 1921, and he wasn’t even thirty yet. He went on to submit 364 patents and was made Major by 1928. He founded his own company, the Seversky Aircraft Company in 1923 (Which still exists today as the Republic Aviation Corporation) which made numerous plane designs and parts, many of which Seversky tested himself and broke numerous records. His novel, which gave us this film, was published in 1942. He would eventually go on to write two more books and would provide lectures with his years of experience, and in 1972, just two years before his death…founded the New York Institute of Technology.
So…yeah. what have you done with YOUR life?
Best quality provided: The part of the movie that’s easiest to be drawn into is the film’s opening sequence, the history of aviation. It’s drawn in Freddy Moore’s animation style and is delightfully playful in adding all sorts of gags to emphasize each milestone. Because manned flight had only been around for forty years by the time the movie was released, they pack a lot in nearly twenty minutes. From Wilbur and Orville’s momentous first flight to the powerhouse bombers of the second World War, they cover a lot of ground.
In particular, I’d like to highlight a very cartoony series of events that led to air warfare. What starts out as a French soldier and a German soldier in reconnaissance missions in biplanes waving at each other…until the Frenchman develops the photograph he took to reveal the German made a face at him. The next time they see each other, a brick is thrown. Then it develops into shotguns, and finally into the use of rapid-fire machine guns as part of the plane’s mechanics! It’s obviously meant to be very silly and corny, but it’s easily the most Disney thing in the entire movie.
What could have been improved: So this is a question that’s difficult to answer to in retrospect. The point wasn’t to make a film to entertain, but to educate. Moreover, its purpose ended August of 1945, when – surprise, surprise – America used long-range airplanes to fly to Japan and cripple them. Of course, even Seversky couldn’t predict the use of atomic bombs.
Some movies cease to be relevant after a certain period of time. Think of how many movies involving missing people would be nullified now that everyone has a smartphone. But there is zero need to watch this movie unless you are an aviation enthusiast or a WWII historian. Or in my case, a hardcore Disney fan with serious hipster tendencies. Still, outside the history of aviation segment, there’s not much to get invested in. It really is that dry. Not to mention ethically disconcerting at times like when Seversky recommends causing bombings that show no concern for civilians.
One part that had me chuckling, though: When Seversky demonstrates the strategy of using ground warfare to get to Japan, he provides several strategies that would spell disaster for the Navy or the Army, further proving his point why long-range bombing is the only real solution. Among these doomed suggestions? Taking the fight to Japan through the French Indochina theater, aka Vietnam. And why is it a bad idea? Because the U.S. would spend years battling through humid jungles and mountainous terrain and have little chance of success.
I mean…cite all the listicles you can find about how The Simpsons predicted 9/11 or the Trump presidency, but c’mon. This should have been a lyric for Alanis Morrissette.
Verdict: When I did my review for The Three Caballeros, I concluded that it shouldn’t be shown to people who are just getting into Disney. And while The Three Caballeros is certainly a gateway to the more esoteric stuff with their abundant use of the title characters, Victory Through Air Power is up there with So Dear to My Heart, Song of the South, and The Reluctant Dragon as a movie that only the hardcore Disney fans would appreciate, or – as I stated – for that one person who is obsessed with airplanes and/or WWII paraphernalia. It’s super dull and dated otherwise. It can be a fascinating piece of history, but only if you’re really into at least one of these things. Absolutely not for general audiences. I give it two B-19’s out of ten.
I’ll stick with watching Der Fuehrer’s Face for now. At least that one gets me laughing.
I love a variety of Disney TV shows. I would love to go into depth over each series, and I might at some point. In other cases, I want to dissect specific episodes, but I didn’t want to dedicate an entire blog to a single episode. So why not dedicate a blog to a single episode of each of my favorite Disney shows?
So this one’s pretty simple: I picked my ten favorite Disney shows from Disney Channel, Toon Disney/Disney XD, ABC, and so on, and I plucked my favorite solitary episode from each one. Some were obvious, others weren’t, but I finally put together a pretty good list of episodes that I’ll always be down to watch.
And uh, spoilers for these episodes. I guess that’s still a thing?
10. Lilo and Stitch: The Series: “Rufus”
When I was in high school, I watched both Lilo and Stitch: the Series and Kim Possible as much as I could. I loved Stitch and a friend loved Kim Possible mostly due to Shego, Drakken’s lackey. I got in pretty deep myself, but I’ve found Kim Possible didn’t quite have the same impression on me as it once did as I grew older. So going through the episodes, I remembered ones I liked, but none stood out to me…and then this one popped up. And not even an actual KP episode, but from Lilo and Stitch: the Series.
During Lilo and Stitch: the Series‘ run, the show creators dove into a highly captivating idea: that some of the Disney shows were part of the same universe. Unless you saw the Hercules: the Series episode where Herc and Aladdin teamed up to fight Jafar and Hades, this was practically unheard of in the pre-MCU days. But the template of trying to come up with 624 experiments prior to Stitch with varying gimmicks of annoyance basically forced the show writers to come up with as many creatures as possible. As a result, the gangs from Recess, American Dragon: Jake Long, The Proud Family, and Kim Possible all found themselves in Hawai’i and shenanigans ensued.
When Stitch gets kidnapped by Dr. Drakken, employed by Dr. Jacques von Hamsterviel, Lilo is determined to get him back. But Pleakley has a better idea: contacting globetrotting teen and heroine Kim Possible to find the blue alien. Kim and Lilo butt heads as Lilo is determined to find Stitch without Kim’s help. Meanwhile, Jumba panics at seeing Ron’s pet naked mole rat Rufus, believing him to be the incredibly dangerous experiment 607, who can warp time and space.
I loved how these two shows are two completely different worlds. Possible is action/adventure with combat and high stakes, but Lilo and Stitch has always had a backyard aesthetic where the stakes were usually considerably lower. Even both shows had completely different looks to them. Really, this episode isn’t without its issues, but it’s a great time capsule of two of their most popular series from 2005.
9. The Legend of the The Three Caballeros: ” Mount Fuji Whiz!”
The Legend of the Three Caballeros was a delightful surprise. In 2018, it popped up on the Phillipines’ Disney streaming service, and Disney fans in the west like me were seriously perturbed. How in the world did this get a whole season produced and released without a single press release? Despite stealing what glances I could off of YouTube, I eventually saw them proper when the series was released on Disney+, but I think it’s a pretty good bet it won’t be getting another season. Which is a shame, because it’s very entertaining. More impressively, it took a movie that had almost nothing that qualified it to have a spinoff and make a unique backstory and series of adventures.
In the previous episode, Donald, José, and Panchito die (!!!!!) and wind up in the Underworld. While Xandra, April, May, and June do everything within their power to get them back, the trio struggle to find their way back to the surface world. Soon, they come across Clinton Coot, Donald’s ancestor, who gives the Caballeros some much-needed explanation as to why they’re paired up in the first place.
First, I discussed in my review of the 1945 movie that the plot was not particularly conducive to lore. It was just three random personalities clashed together in a movie that was part travelogue, part music video, part psychedelia, part educational, and part SpikeTV. But from the first episode, we see that sure, Donald’s late great-grandfather left him an eclectic cabana full of mystical curios along with two other random strangers. But the reason why had been a bit of a mystery until this episode. Especially since throughout the show, the trio are called the Caballeros, but they aren’t the three Caballeros.
Second, the stakes are obviously higher here. Like I pointed out, Donald and his friends are basically dead and their spirits are struggling to find their way back to the land of the living. This is even one of the few episodes that forces the heroes to actually fight. Their nemesis, Sheldgoose (Voiced to utter perfection by Wayne Knight), has pulled together all his ancestors to take them down. And how do they fight back? Well, the writers pulled a very pointless scene from the OG movie where Donald’s body warps like a balloon. And with this, our heroes apply the same looney logic to inflate their hands to punch the bad guys. That’s just…brilliant.
Plus, you got to love some of the other gags here: that the Underworld is basically a huge DMV, that Sheldgoose’s ancestors are basically all middle management, and the boss is…you know what, I’ve said too much already.
8. House of Mouse: “Ask Von Drake”
I was not kind to this show when I reviewed the Christmas movie last year and I still stand by the things I said. House of Mouse was the epitome, the pure embodiment of “wasted potential”. I’m sure the creators were given a criminally small budget, which forced them to reuse Mickey MouseWorks cartoons and the same bumpers over and over. Still, what isn’t there to admire about a show that crammed nearly eighty years’ worth of Disney animation into one series?
In this episode, Donald’s eccentric uncle Ludwig von Drake helps Minnie with a question and Mickey, annoyed the answer was something he could have solved for her, issues a challenge to the professor. Because Von Drake claims to know everything, Mickey wagers a penny that he doesn’t, in fact, know it all (Clearly Mickey isn’t a big gambler) for the rest of the episode, Von Drake answers everyone’s questions: he tells Goofy to check his hat for his notepad, tells the queen who the fairest one of all is, and who is afraid the Big Bad Wolf. You get the idea.
In the final section, Daisy’s computer glitches and loses the seating chart. Thus, Mickey poses Von Drake one last question: “where does everyone sit?” And he is up to the task. He launches into “The Ludwig Von Drake song”, where he – like Yakko and his countries – lists a ton of animated Disney characters. This episode makes the list for this segment alone.
And yes, he does reference Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, and Br’er Bear. So sue me.
7. Zorro: “The Sergeant Regrets”
I sadly don’t get to talk about Zorro nearly enough on this blog, and it’s a shame. It was so good, much better than it had any reason to be for a show back in the late fifties. Yes, most of the actors clearly are not Spanish, but darn if they don’t put forth every effort possible into it. The stakes are real, the comedy is fun, and Zorro himself is basically Batman in a period setting. Only instead of fighting psychos, he fights diabolical political corruption. What isn’t there to love about that?!
Late in season one, Don Diego de la Vega/Zorro discovers that the reason so many corrupt politicians have moved into Pueblo de Los Angeles is because it’s a plot by a man who calls himself the Eagle, and he wants to instill puppet governments throughout California. After Zorro has wrecked so many of his plans, he makes a surprise arrival at Los Angeles, moving into the wealthiest hacienda to keep a close eye on things…the hacienda owned by Don Diego’s father, Don Alejandro. Virtually under house arrest, Diego has to find some way to foil the Eagle without arousing suspicion.
When the Eagle gets wind that some of the local dons might instigate an uprising, he is determined to find out whom they might be. He deceives a local péon to tell the local dons about a secret meeting, setting a trap. Diego asks his friend, Sargeant Garcia, to deliver a super secret, super important note to the péon in an effort to thwart the scheme. Sadly, the Sargeant gets distracted by two of his greatest nemeses – Corporal Reyes and food – and he fails to deliver the message.
I normally dislike the underuse and non-use of actors of color in shows like these as Guy Williams (Diego) was Italian and Henry Calvin (Garcia) was clearly not Spanish in any way. But I like these characters so much. Garcia is a sort of Sheriff of Nottingham sort, the second-worst nemesis of Zorro as the primary lawkeeper in the pueblo, long desiring to capture Zorro, collect the reward, and retiring comfortably. But despite this, Diego understands Garcia is really a teddy bear, who cannot order around citizens without a soft-eyed “please?” after every command. Because Sargeant Garcia is a bit slow on the uptake, a kind man, and he enjoys a glass of wine, Diego befriends him and often loosens his tongue for information and the political machinations going on, with the help of another glass of wine, of course.
Yes, Garcia, is often the butt of fat jokes and is kind of a buffoon, but he’s still a sweetheart who earnestly means well. So when he ashamedly confesses about forgetting the message, Diego is enraged and rightfully so, but you still feel for the poor sargeant. I know I’ve been there too many times to count myself.
What makes this episode shine, though, is also knowing despite his prominent rank in the army, Garcia is a coward who will lead his soldiers into battle, but almost never engage himself. When the Eagle’s plan starts to unravel, and Garcia starts to understand the ramifications of his actions, he willingly steps forward, risking physical harm and his career to make up for his egregious error. For 35 episodes, we watched Garcia mocked, humiliated, called “Baboso”, and fail time and again, and in one shining moment, we see this man’s integrity and commitment to disappointing his closest friend.
6. Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: “Along Came a Spider”
I’m just going to come out and say it: I really don’t care for Spider-Man. It’s nothing against anyone or anything, it’s just aside from his powers and skill set that barely interest me, the whole angsty, constantly down on his luck aspect just frustrates me. I get the relatability, but if superheroes are escapism, I’d prefer my heroes that have their crap together. Perfect example, someone like one whose shield whose opponents must yield, if you get what I’m saying.
In the finale of the first season, Captain America gets abducted and replaced by a Skrull (the shape-shifters from Captain Marvel, back when they were the bad guys). For a significant chunk of season two, the Avengers break up, effectively nullifying their effectiveness to the Skrull’s secret invasion. When they finally break all pretense and invade proper, Skrull Cap goes on live TV internationally and tells the world the Skrulls must be welcomed to help humanity. Needless to say, the Avengers get it together and stop the invasion cold, complete with a freshly-returned-to-Earth Steve Rogers taking out his imposter. However, that’s not the end of the story. “Along Came a Spider” is the fallout of the events I just described.
Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson has been running a smear campaign against Captain America (and if Jameson isn’t printing slanderous stories about masked vigilantes, he obviously would be a Skrull), stoking public opinion that Cap sold out the human race to aliens. He demands at Tony Stark’s behest to allow his photographer Peter Parker to tag along with Cap on a prison transport run for a band of dangerous supervillains, the Serpent Society. During the errand, the trucks get stuck underground, and Cap, Peter, a wounded S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, and a small group of people who hate Cap all have to work together to get out. And worse, the Serpent Society members have escaped.
We know Cap was wronged and he has every reason to defend himself, but he instead stays stone-faced and stoic, only declaring that he takes full responsibility for his actions. Even when one of the citizens openly argues against Cap, the superhero wastes no breath in his own defense and simply informs everyone what they have to do to get out safely. At a key point, Spider-Man asks Cap why he doesn’t bother standing up for himself, and Cap gives a surprising answer. He reminds Spidey how he watches Jameson smear Parker on a daily basis, and despite the bad press, Peter never asks for recognition or reward. Cap simply explains how it’s important to just keep doing the right thing and let his actions define him to others, knowing that the truth will come out eventually. When Cap finishes, Peter squeaks out an awestruck response, “Can I be your sidekick?” Honestly, it’s a beautiful monologue.
This is why I prefer heroes like Captain America and Superman. I like my heroes to be the kind of people that can inspire others to be better. The ones that have power and choose to not wield it at others in an aggressive, vindictive, or even petty way. I almost put the episode “Prisoner of War” on here because it similarly focuses on the absolute awesomeness, wholesomeness, and derring-do-ness of Cap, but this one squeaked by just barely for Cap’s attitude concerning the righteousness of actions. It’s inspiring.
5. Scrubs: “My Lunch”
Scrubs is not often considered a Disney show. It was produced by Disney’s subsidiary Touchstone and ran on NBC from seasons one to six. Its last three seasons (And arguably their very worst ones) switched over to ABC, so as far as I’m concerned, it counts.
In this episode, J.D. is desperate to have lunch with his mentor, Dr. Cox, and this endeavor gets him stuck with an obnoxious ex-patient named Jill. The next time he sees her, she’s in the ICU and she dies. The last time she was in the hospital was because she almost committed suicide and J.D. knew she was having new issues lately, so he blames himself for her death. Cox finally invites J.D. to lunch and he has an earnest heart-to-heart about doctors who blame themselves for deaths that aren’t their fault, and how he won’t let that ruin him like it ruined a lot of other good doctors. When they return to the hospital, the three patients who received Jill’s organs are tanking. Turned out Jill didn’t commit suicide, alleviating J.D.’s stress, but contracted rabies, and her organs were infected. One of these patients was one of the very few human beings to ever connect with Dr. Cox, which leads to him descending down into the very same spiral he warned J.D. about.
John C. McGinley’s performance here is (Chef’s kiss) perfect here. For over four seasons, the grouchy misanthrope has berated and insulted everyone around him, particularly J.D.. Even his relationship with his wife Jordan is strained beyond measure. The patient Dr. Cox connects with is astoundingly unusual, while his constant rebuffs on J.D.’s lunch invites are perfectly in character. So when he opens himself up to J.D. and asks him out to lunch, you feel just how serious he is about the topic.
But man, that finale…I think some might find the use of The Fray’s “How to Save a Life” a bit on the nose, but this was my introduction to the song. Seeing Dr. Cox lose those two patients is hard enough, but it gets me every time watching him struggle with his friend, trying to get his heart going again…the song crescendos, Dr. Cox overthrows a table and starts screaming in anger…it’s gut-wrenching. It’s beautiful. It’s profound. And I couldn’t love it more if I wanted to.
The only reason this episode didn’t make it higher on the list was because of the episode’s B-plot. Amid J.D. and Cox’s emotional strife is a cringeworthy plotline where Carla and Elliott think dude-bro Todd is secretly gay and want to make him their gay best friend, an endeavor that is just as uncomfortable as it sounds. On the other hand…I think they alluded to Todd being possibly pansexual, so…props for representation? Still, when Todd is shown ogling a handsome guy, Turk’s reaction shows you EXACTLY when this episode aired.
4. Phineas and Ferb: “Roller Coaster: The Musical!”
Most Disney shows run on a simple formula where most episodes are pretty cut-and-paste. You know Kim Possible’s going to save the world in between classes. You know Darkwing Duck’s going to solve a crime and stop a villain. You know the kids from Recess will deal with the complex social systems on the school playground. But instead of bucking the trend, Phineas and Ferb leaned into it. Every episode was almost completely repetitive, but even in the times where they were reusing story elements, they did the unthinkable, and leaned in even harder.
In the show’s inaugural episode, the boys built a roller coaster, and Doofenshmirtz covered Danville in foil to reverse the rotation of the Earth. Toward the end of season two, Phineas suggests that they do the exact same thing…but make it a musical! So everyone – Candace, Isabella, Buford, Baljeet, Perry, Doofenshmirtz, and all the rest – do their own showstopper musical numbers. The songs of Phineas and Ferb were already insanely fun (“Gitchee Gitchee Goo”, anyone?), and the same energy is maintained in all six songs.
Of course, everyone keeps making the remark that they’ve done all this before, but don’t seem to mind that much. It even gave the writers a chance to embellish some gags from their first go-around. We actually see Candace take up her mom’s offer to yell at some cheese, and Buford stops some “lousy extras” when they take the poster advertising the roller coaster.
What’s even better is it truly showcases just how absurdly passionate the writers were about the show. Among other things I love are during Phineas’ “Hey Ferb”, there’s a montage of classic musicals: Cats, The Music Man, Singin’ in the Rain, Les Miserables, and more. During the final song, “Carpe Diem”, we get a surprise cameo from High School Musical director and choreographer Kenny Ortega as himself. During the last half of the same song, we get a glorious nod to virtually episode up to that point. And also in the same song, I often use as an example to show others just how smart the show was. Seriously, when was the last time you heard even an adult use the word “didactic”, much less as a song lyric?
Honestly, words fail me. It was just that good.
3. Dinosaurs: “Variations of a Theme Park”
I already did a top ten list of my favorite Dinosaurs episodes, but the reason I did not include this one was because unlike the others, the social commentary wasn’t as poignant. I wanted to delve deep into all the ones that had deep, significant things to say, particularly about society, the environment, and politics. But then this former WDW cast member found this episode and…whoof.
Dinosaurs have been dropping dead from exhaustion a lot lately, and the government has at long last devised the concept of a two week vacation. Fran, distressed that the family doesn’t spend time together lately, suggests they use their vacation by going to the swamp cabins. Earl, however, gets persuaded by his boss to instead take the family to the brand-new theme park, Wesaysoland. Upon arrival, the Sinclairs soon find the park isn’t the magical land of enchantment they were sold.
I’ve seen FAR too many shows that take cheap potshots at the Disney theme park machine and mock the long lines, the crazy prices, vindictive employees, and the disgruntled teenagers dressed as mascots. But the thing is, it’s like laughing at superheroes for wearing tights. Yeah, it’s funny, but unless you bring something new to the table, it’s barely more than a flaccid effort.
Like, did you notice the park layout bears an uncanny resemblance to Epcot, complete with the monorail track?
Did you see their hotel room is overly themed to the point of obnoxiousness? Hey, remember those 24-hour channels in the hotels that are just shameless ads for the park and their services? Boom. Earl works for Wesayso…so he gets a 1% employee discount and gets cheated by using fake park currency! And of course, not only do they not get a refund, but they are literally barred from exiting so they are forced to spend money for two whole weeks!
Having been part of a conglomerate-controlled magical world of make-believe, I laugh/weep at these jokes. While I disagree with the stereotype that employees are grumpy, unfocused, or lazy, I definitely have had those days where I’m barely able to stand on my feet and deliver the quality guest service I was charged with. But even without that perspective, the episode still works: great lesson, great jokes, and great commentary. Yet another wonderful entry in this show that doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
2. DuckTales: “The Duck Knight Returns!”
Some are probably shocked that I put a Darkwing Duck-focused episode from the DuckTales reboot on here, but it’s not the hour-long awesomeness that was 2020’s “Let’s Get Dangerous!” It was an incredible episode, to be sure. I loved every minute of it. But let’s be real: that episode would not have existed had show creators Matt Youngberg and Fransisco Angones not put in the legwork to get it to that point. In the end, good as it is, it’s basically a Darkwing Duck episode with cameos from Scrooge and his nephews.
By the time this episode begins, it’s established that Darkwing Duck is a corny, vintage series like Adam West’s Batman. Launchpad is the show’s number one fan in its rather small fanbase, and the show’s star, Jim Starling (Voiced by OG Darkwing actor Jim Cummings) has become a has-been coasting on his past success. When he, Launchpad, and Dewey catch wind that a Darkwing Duck movie is in the works, Starling has no doubt he’s back on top…except the director (Played by Shaun of the Dead‘s director, Edgar Wright) has hired a much younger actor in his stead. Ever the egotist, Starling will do anything to get rid of his replacement. Launchpad agrees to help his idol, primarily because he feels he needs to preserve the integrity of his obsession.
There’s a lot more to this episode, really. For one thing, the film is being made by Scrooge McDuck Studios (Because of course it is) and its logo is a parody of Walt Disney Animation Studios. The DW movie is clearly meant to parody Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, right down to a suspiciously Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon-looking character and Megavolt made to look like Bane. Darkwing Duck’s creator, Tad Stones, even cameos as a security guard. A short flashback sequence for the actor was drawn by Mike Peraza, who worked as a art director and layout artist for the OG DuckTales and a concept designer for Darkwing Duck.
But here’s the biggest thrill I find with the episode: the original DuckTales and Darkwing Duck were bizarrely canonically at odds with each other. If Launchpad was Scrooge’s on-call pilot, how could he also be Drake Mallard’s live-in sidekick? And add on how to transition fans from Cumming’s Darkwing to a new actor, with the narrative of duality permeating the episode. What they wrote in was this plotline of a vindictive actor, unable to accept that his time was over, and we see the rise of a more earnest DW, eventually seeing the origins for his greatest nemesis, a treat we nineties kids never even got from the original show.
1. Gargoyles: “Deadly Force”
My passion for Song of the South notwithstanding, I’m a pretty liberal dude. Among my top beliefs, I’m a solid proponent of gun control. I hate the things. I think I get why some people feel they need them, but in the end, if I could live in a world without firearms, I’d be the first to sign up. But fine. Let’s assume we live in a world where people need guns. Thank Ambiguous Deity we have episodes like this one.
After getting hyped up from watching a gun-happy spaghetti western, Broadway flies over to Elisa’s apartment. He plays around with her NYPD-issued firearm when it goes off and…
Broadway rushes her to the hospital, but her condition is touch and go. Elisa’s captain, her family, and Goliath are all convinced she was shot by Tony Dracon, a scumbag arms dealer who frequently stays one step out of the law’s reach and is the perpetual thorn in Elisa’s side. While Dracon regales over her injury, Goliath is on the prowl, and Broadway is wracked with guilt over potentially killing a close friend.
What I find particularly inspiring about this episode is addresses the primary issue with guns in a way both sides of the aisle can agree. Not in a hacky, weak-willed, nonpartisan, both-sidesy way, but with a legitimate direction where kids can draw their own conclusions. This episode further cemented my perspective that guns, outside of John Wick-type movies, were stupidly dangerous machines that made killing people super easy. For gun advocates, however, it had a similar lesson – that guns are dangerous – but added that that’s why it’s so important to exercise care when storing firearms. Elisa hung her loaded gun in the holster on her coat rack, which made it easy for Broadway to find. At the end of the episode, when Broadway takes accountability for his accident, Elisa admits fault for not being more careful. I hardly think responsible gun owners would object to this perspective.
I respect this episode because it is bold as heck. I mean, consider this: Gargoyles was by far Disney’s most mature show, rivaling Batman: The Animated series, with also-rans like Darkwing Duck considerably less so. This was also the nineties when hot-button issues were generally avoided in favor of accessibility, unless you count those “Very Special Episodes” from prime time sitcoms that denounced drugs, meant to get the whole family talking about Just Saying No. But guns? No, we were still in the “violence shouldn’t be in our children’s media!” age of kid’s programming where bad guys could only use lasers (Which, ironically, Gargoyles also followed: only the police used real firearms). And also of note: this was only episode eight of the series, and that includes the five-part pilot. In other words, right out of the starting gate, Gargoyles jumped right into a gun PSA. How nuts is that?
But far and away, the number one thing I respect about this episode isn’t even in it. And it boils down to one word: consequences.
Most shows in the nineties had the “blank slate” format: at the end of each episode, the status quo would revert everything back to square one, allowing episodes in syndication to air out of order and wouldn’t alienate the audience. However, Gargoyles was a trailblazer in children’s programming in that they weren’t afraid to build on past episodes to establish continuity. So when Broadway shot Elisa, most kid’s shows would have had Elisa show up next week completely fine. But instead, in the following episode, “Enter MacBeth”, Elisa appears on crutches. There was no awkward exposition, just a quick recap. Sure, by her next appearance, she was fine, but even that short time onscreen was more than what most other cartoons would have allowed at the time. Broadway soon developed a deep hatred for firearms, which wasn’t all that highlighted afterward. But then came season two, episode six: “The Silver Falcon”.
Elisa is shown explicitly taking her gun out of a locked box from a kitchen drawer while glancing at Broadway. After eleven episodes, long after most kids would have forgotten anything that wasn’t the fight scenes or a few witty lines, the writers showed Elisa taking great pains to show the audience she learned a valuable lesson about proper firearm storage. And it “only” took a bullet to the spinal cord.
I back the blue, all right…the blue-haired cop who denounces xenophobia and promotes responsible gun ownership.
And that pretty much sums it up. What are YOUR favorite episodes? What shows deserve more credit? Let me know what I’m missing!
And no, I’m not going to start watching The Mandolorian. So stop it with the Baby Yoda memes already.
When I worked at attractions in Walt Disney World, I started out at Pirates of the Caribbean, and I quickly cross-trained at the Jungle Cruise. Because Adventureland and Liberty Square were linked, I was also able to pick up training at the attractions there, too. Uninterested in working at ATT (Aladdin/Tiki/Treehouse), Haunted Mansion, or the Liberty Belle Riverboats, I WAS interested in the Hall of Presidents. Having a keen interest in American history, I felt the dignified atmosphere would be a refreshing change of pace. I enjoyed pulling shifts there, largely due to its leisurely pace, the educational aspect, and it was largely indoors. Plus, I prided myself at knowing the lyrics to Animaniacs‘ “The Presidents”, a skill that was by no means applicable or necessary.
I worked there in 2013, while Barack Obama was president. Never once during my time there did I stumble into a guest outwardly express displeasure at Obama or partisan politics. I know, right? You’d think the Hall of Presidents would be a breeding ground for bad-faith political platforming, but if there was any, I wasn’t there to see it.
A Brief History of the Attraction
Not long after Disneyland opened in 1955, Walt began plans for an offshoot off Main Street U.S.A. called Liberty Street, which included a show called One Nation Under God. The idea waned in Development Hell at WED Enterprises until the late sixties. The show was scripted to feature all 30+ presidents onstage as animatronics. However, because Disney only started making animatronics for the Enchanted Tiki Room, which opened 1963, the technologic know-how to make humans was pretty limited. Long story short, they started by making one of Abraham Lincoln, which would result in the New York World’s Fair exhibit, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
During the development of the Florida Project, Liberty Street was revived as a land to include that would differentiate itself from Disneyland. Now that imagineers were a touch more experienced with making human animatronics, One Nation Under God was also revived, and now featured all 36 presidents from George Washington to Richard Nixon. Over the years, the show remained virtually unchanged, aside from adding a new animatronic when new presidents were added: Ford, Carter, Reagan, and H. W. Bush. But in 1993, a new precedent emerged: when Bill Clinton was added, the incumbent president was now not only addressing the audience, but the speech was recorded by the presidents, too. Since then, W. Bush, Obama, and Trump have all followed suit and recorded speeches for Walt Disney World patrons.
So Why Should it Go?
I have a lot of respect for this attraction. I appreciate its legacy and the attention to detail that was applied to over 40 commander-in-chiefs. I appreciate its spirit and purpose. And while I truly hope the events of the past decade are a mere phase, I fret that the partisan divisions that have plagued our country have grown too toxic to keep an attraction like this Walt Disney World.
The Magic Kingdom has always been designated as a magical realm of fantastic escapism, if not by Disney, then most certainly by the guests who usually go there to have fun. It’s a place so removed from reality, there are still people who go there expecting the place to be under a climate-controlled dome. Liberty Square is certainly escapist: it’s a romantic New England town idealizing the era in which America was founded. Tricorns and fifes and pinafores and stocks and flags with thirteen stars and old world spellings like “Ye Olde T-shirt and Frozen Merchandise Shoppe” or something (It’s been a while since I was last there.) It’s a physical embodiment of “The Spirit of ’76”, the kind of land Americans want to believe looked and felt like when those stoic and brave Founding Fathers gave ol’ King George what-for and declared freedom for all* or something. In a sense, it’s no different from New Orleans Square or Main Street U.S.A. or even Frontierland, to an extent. So escapist and fantastic, in fact, get a load of Why there’s a river of brown gravel in the middle of the walkway.
But I don’t have a problem with Liberty Square as a whole, per se. It’s definitely not my favorite land. But aside from the fact I don’t have a better idea of what kind of theme to replace it with, we all know Disney would not invest the money to re-theme an entire land, especially since one of their biggest attractions, the Haunted Mansion, is already so deeply themed to the land. So that’s why I’m focusing on just the Hall of Presidents.
Okay, so What’s Your Point?
For nearly fifty years, the Hall of Presidents has celebrated both American history and its 45 presidents through the Vietnam War, the oil shortage, Watergate, Reaganomics, the Cold War, the Gulf War, Bosnia, 9/11, the war on terror, the Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, the 2008 recession, and the Trump administration. At every point, whether Democrat or Republican or third party, there has been a time when some patrons have attended feeling like America was not really worth celebrating. So why am I saying it should be closed now? Because one of the two main political parties is growing increasingly radicalized and said group is becoming less fringe.
Oh sure, numerous Republicans have denounced Trump’s action and his fanbase to varying degrees. But many of them aligned with Trump and his rhetoric, assured plausible liability, and fought on his behalf to make sure he was clear of any and all charges. As I write this, with mere days left to Trump’s lame-duck session, a smattering of Trump’s allies have split. His reach to punish his dissenters is rapidly decreasing, but a poll cites 45% of Republicans were okay with the Capitol Hill Riot on January 6th, 2021. Say what you will about the Democrats, but at least the radical ones are demanding universal healthcare, gun control, and stricter environmental regulations, not violence in the name of political ends. And a show in the Disney theme parks that wants to be as neutral and bipartisan as possible, maybe it should not do that anymore, regardless of who’s in office.
That’s not to say a show honoring past presidents or American history is inherently bad. But the problem is featuring the incumbent president as the highlight of the show. While I can’t comment much on when previous presidents spoke, frankly, I’m shocked something hasn’t happened already. I can’t say much about Clinton, but no one made a scene during W. Bush’s installation, when his popularity plummeted after the debacle of the Iraq War? Tea Partiers didn’t get crazy during the Obama version? However, Disney showed some good foresight after Trump’s inauguration and posted extra security at the theater and added spikes along the edge of the stage to deter would-be protesters. Meanwhile shenanigans like these:
…Also went down and were quickly dealt with. And these are when Trump was in office! Can you imagine these same radicals just going away quietly when a Democrat is in office?
See, and that’s the crux of my point: If a divisive and polarizing figure like Trump is in the White House, and his fanbase continue to troll everyone around them with acts like these that make Disney paranoid enough to fortify a freaking robot show, is it a good idea? I think we can all agree the fanatical zealotry of Trump’s fans isn’t going to go away anytime soon and even if it does, it will most likely evolve into something similar. And in times such as these, is it worth the risk of the safety of other parkgoers? This isn’t “political correctness”: it isn’t removing controversy for the sake of not offending people. It’s a question of removing something potentially inflammatory to avoid harm to life and limb. If Disney can shut down the parks moments after the twin towers were struck in 2001 for guest’s safety, surely this can be considered.
Whatever. What do you suggest?
Well, I have a few ideas…
1. Bring back The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History
From 2016 to 2020, Liberty Square presented a new show that was seen in the gift shop adjacent to HoP in the second story windows. A live performer and Muppet favorite Sam Eagle recounted either the signing of the Declaration of Independence or “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” alongside Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, and Miss Piggy. For whatever reason, the show ended in early 2020.
Funny thing is, the Muppets already get criminally underutilized by Disney. While I don’t think they should just bring back the same show, they could revamp it and move it into the HoP theater and expand upon it. With that much space and seats, they could make the show longer, include more Muppets, detail more Revolutionary War enactments. Seriously, just imagine Lew Zealand and Crazy Harry throwing fish and dynamite at each other to represent one of the many battles. Imagine Kermit wanting to salvage at least one crate of tea while his friends chuck the rest other the edge of the ship for the Boston Tea Party. Imagine the show opening with Rowlf playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the piano, but closing out with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem jamming out to a full rock and roll rendition of “Stars and Stripes Forever”. Seriously, the comedy writes itself.
But then the last two questions are: do they rename it A Salute to All Nations But Mostly America, and will Sam finally get his glorious three-hour finale?
2. A in-park production of “Hamilton”
Look, I’ll admit: it’s 2021 and I still haven’t seen “Hamilton”. Yes, I know it’s on Disney+, and yes, I know the world thinks it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. And I’m sure some may think bringing a Broadway play to a theme park full of tourists in mouse ears and t-shirts may cheapen the integrity of the three-time Tony Award winning musical. But suppose they put on a production not unlike Voyage of the Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage where it’s a truncated version of the show.
Heck, combine this with my last idea: have Lin-Manuel Miranda be the sole live actor (On screens, of course) trying to direct the latest production…starring the Muppets. Seriously, who wouldn’t want the Muppets doing their own covers of the “Hamilton” show?
Of course, this depends on if the popularity of “Hamilton” and if it endures as time goes on. Still, why not take advantage while Miranda and Disney are still on good terms?
3. The American Revolution: As told by Amos Mouse
In 1953, Disney released a charming featurette called Ben and Me. Starring My Hero Sterling Holloway, Amos was a mouse who latched himself onto Ben Franklin during his formative years, helping him invent the stove and bifocals, as well as move on from Poor Richard’s Almanack to the Pennsylvania Gazette. As Amos hung around Ben, he helped the man with some of his most significant milestones, but their relationship was tested when Ben’s famous kite experiment caused Amos injury. Amos and Ben reunite when the two help Thomas Jefferson write Declaration of Independence. It’s a great short film and it comes highly recommended. I’d always hoped they’d add Amos to a lamppost somewhere in Liberty Square, but this seems like a good place for the pair.
Maybe as a sort of sequel to the short, Amos (naturally voiced by Jim Cummings) would give us his fly-on-the-wall recollections as he narrates to the audience where he was and what he saw in various events during the American Revolution.
4. The Headless Horseman Returns!
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was half of the 1949 feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The story of Ichabod Crane takes place in 1790, freshly still in America’s infancy, and even took place just outside Tarrytown, New York, which is perfect, considering the architecture of the next door Haunted Mansion is meant to evoke upstate New York in the Hudson River Valley.
The ideal suggestion is to have a dark ride dashing through the creepy and infamous hollow, outrunning the phantasm. However, given the limited space and the fact the show building is connected to Peter Pan’s Flight, so major modifications are out. However, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to feature an immersive stage and screen production, complete with the catchy Bing Crosby numbers. Of course, the climax would be the wildly intense chase between Ichabod and the Headless Horseman, out lookin’ for a head to swap, which could happen in and around the theater.
5. America Sings 2.0!
America Sings was an attraction in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland from 1974 to 1988. Utilizing the speciallly-designed theater made for the Carousel of Progress, the show showcased music from different eras from different parts of the country. It closed when attendance numbers ran low and it was deemed a better use to reuse the animatronics for Splash Mountain.
While it may be just another animatronic musical revue like the Mickey Mouse Revue , the Enchanted Tiki Room, or the Country Bear Jamboree, there are ways to spruce it up and invigorate it to appeal to younger audiences. Plus, it wouldn’t be the same show anyway, seeing as retrofitting to be a rotating theater wouldn’t fit into the show building.
6. The Hall of Presidents 2: Golden Receiver
The other five suggestions were really just me armchair imagineering if they could come up with a new attraction out of original cloth. But let’s say you want to preserve Hall of Presidents. I certainly wouldn’t blame you. But if Hall of Presidents absolutely has to remain, what I recommend is keeping a similar show in place, but the caveat is this: the most recent president be no less than two administrations prior: with Biden the incumbent, that means no Obama and no Trump.
Why? Well, I think I made it pretty clear why I think highlighting the incumbent president is a bad idea, but even now, there are plenty of people who have a grudge against Obama. While George W. Bush certainly had his share of controversies, it’s been awhile, and those who had an axe to grind have cooled considerably. Once Biden is out of office, then instill the Obama animatronic, and so on. I hope even if Biden and the next guy serve only one full term each, it will have been eight years since Trump and we’ll be in a healthier place. Hopefully.
The key thing here is focusing on the past that has led the United States to present day. With partisan politics making a lot of people very touchy these days, it’s just safer to focus on what has happened rather than what is happening. This would ideally be the easiest option, as it would essentially be the same exact attraction. And while I don’t think Disney will actually enact this change, it’s certainly food for thought.
I like Hall of Presidents. I truly appreciate it. But times have changed and it’s in Disney’s best interest to keep guests safe in red-hot political climates. Feel free to disagree, but until we can get a grip on the radicalization of partisan politics, the Hall of Presidents may need to be removed from office.
There’s something to be said about being thrust into a musical experience at a Disney theme park. In fact, the songs at some attractions are just as iconic, if not more so, than many songs from their feature film canon. Sure, Disney could just reuse or even do covers of those songs (And they do…like, a lot.), But in some cases, particularly when an IP isn’t assigned, Disney pens an original tune. And I want credit ten in particular that deserve to be spotlighted. So yeah, you’re not going to see “How Do You Do?” from Splash Mountain, “Let it Go” from Frozen Ever After, or “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” from Festival of the Lion King because they were songs from the movies first. No, these great songs are inexorably tied to the Disney attractions we know and love. And yes, I will fudge this code as we go. As Hector Barbossa says, the code is more ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.
Honorable mention: “Skipper Dan” (Jungle Cruise)
“Look at those hippos, they’re wigglin’ their ears, just like they’ve done for last fifty years! Now, I’m laughin’ at my own jokes, but I’m cryin’ inside, ’cause I’m workin’ on the Jungle Cruise ride!”
This song is not a Disney song. It is not, nor has it ever been, part of the beloved World-famous Jungle Cruise at any Disney park. Even if Disney were to adopt it for some attempt to reach out to a younger demographic to be more relevant or something, the message of the song is too pessimistic and the antithesis to the performance cast members we associate them with. But this is a catchy song, and it’s clearly about being a skipper on the Jungle Cruise in all but name.
Sung by “Weird Al” Yankovic, “Skipper Dan” is about a young man named…well, Dan…who grew up dreaming of becoming an actor. Dan describes his years of dedication and study to the craft of acting, his accolades, his promising future, and the thrill that someday he’d be a great stage or screen actor. However, due to circumstances, Dan is only able to snag a job “Ridin’ my little boat around Adventureland” because he’s “Payin’ the rent and I’m swallowin’ my pride”. Thus, Dan can only put his beloved acting skills to use by telling corny jokes and pretending all the robot animals are real. It’s a bit…well, soul-crushing, to say the least.
I used to work as Jungle Cruise skipper myself. I, too, wanted to be an actor and I majored in theater. I, too, thought doing routines with dad jokes and puns at Walt Disney World was a dream come true. However, I got disillusioned for a variety of reasons: the fact most guests never laughed or even paid attention, the inflexibility of the script, the sticky Florida humidity, the times you’d get boats where no one spoke English, when the boats would cascade and you’d be forced to improvise while waiting for the unload dock, the break room that was a lean-to with a swamp cooler that smelled like forty years’-worth of oil…but this song hit something sobering for me. I liked throwing myself headlong into some of the jokes. I loved those times where I’d be using my full energy, feeding off the gales of laughter when people responded to them. But far too often, it felt like wasted effort when half your boat is on their phones, the other half are too exhausted from the heat and humidity, a third speak only portuguese, and the mom sitting next to you is too busy teaching their baby the animals, talking over you. Add on top of that I was a former theater student with designs of being famous, just like Dan…so yeah, the first time I heard this song, I was seriously shaken.
Almost a decade later, I’ve long since abandoned my plans of becoming an actor, like most every other pseudo-functioning millennial, and my days as a skipper are behind me. Nowadays, I appreciate the song and its cheeky jabs at the perceived phoniness and those days where you really felt you wasted your life. I’ve been there. I doubt I’d ever go back to it ever again, but it does take me back to those days, for better or for worse.
10. “It’s a Small World (After All)” (It’s a Small World)
“There is just one moon and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship to ev’ryone! Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide, it’s a small world after all!”
Yeah, I like this song. No, I don’t care if you hate it. No, I’m not going to apologize. Deal with it.
Here’s the way I look at it: It’s a Small World opened during the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. The early sixties were unquestionably an incredibly stressful time in American history. It was the height of the Cold War. At a time where American writers were envisioning UFOs and rocket ships and automatic washing machines, but at the same time, were watching adorable cartoons with Bert the Turtle warning them about the omnipresent threat of a nuclear holocaust. As the iron curtain sprung up across the European subcontinent, Americans felt under constant peril, fearing commie nukes were coming out of the sky at any given moment. For about forty-five years, that fear persisted, and this especially hit peak levels in October of 1962: the Cuban Missile Crisis.
For those who didn’t pass their sophomore history midterm, the Cuban Missile Crisis was when Cuba and the Soviet Union teamed up and set up nuclear missiles within striking distance of the U.S. on the Caribbean island. For over a month, the United States and the Soviet Union stared each other down, constantly threatening to throwing the first punch. Only by removing American missiles out of Italy and Turkey did the Soviets agree to deescalate, and the world heaved a massive sigh of relief. To this day, it’s the closest the world has come to nuclear war.
After the insane landfill fire we call the year 2020, I think now, more than ever, we should be able to relate. The world is a terrifying place and sometimes you we need something overtly optimistic and kind. The lyrics themselves admit it’s a world of laughter and hope as a well as fears and tears. Composers Richard and Robert Sherman refer to it as “A prayer for peace”, and considering barely two years after the world almost stopped existing, it makes sense to have something like this, even if it seems saccharine.
Here’s to you, Small World. Don’t let the haters get ya down.
9. “I’m Walking Right Down the Middle of Main Street U.S.A.” (Welcome Ceremony/Trolley shows)
“For the time of your life, you oughtta find yourself here! You’re welcome anytime you have the mind to appear! I’m walkin’ right down the middle of Main Street U.S.A.!”
I love the ambiance they play on Main Street, playing instrumentals of songs from Hello Dolly and The Music Man. But no song quite captures the light-hearted atmosphere as much as this tune, which I’m pretty sure originated from that 1990 Disneyland Fun Disney Sing-Along. Since then, snippets of this song have popped up in the park’s opening welcome shows as well as the intermittent trolley shows that play throughout the day.
Main Street U.S.A. is a tough area, thematically speaking. It represents a bygone era that numerous Americans had lived through when Disneyland opened in 1955, but now doesn’t even have that going for it anymore. It has almost no rides, and is instead populated with shops and restaurants. But most notably, it is simply an appetizer as guests dash for Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella Castle and proceed to all the other lands. For people like me who like to take it easy on the thoroughfare and is not in any hurry, I love to stroll along and sing this jaunty, happy-go-lucky melody. Assuming I don’t accidentally stumble and wrench my ankle in half in the trolley track grooves.
This song just bubbles with conviviality and cheer. Not in a overly corny way like “It’s a Small World” is, but it certainly plays up that small-town Americana feel where everybody knows everybody and they’re all happy to see you. No wonder it’s so upbeat and chipper.
8.”One Little Spark” (Journey into Imagination)
“Two tiny wings, eyes big and yellow! Horns of a steer, but a loveable fellow! From head to tail, he’s royal purple pigment, and there – voila! – You’ve got a Figment! A Figment of imagination!”
Ah, yes, the whimsical early years of Epcot’s Imagination pavilion. Back in the days of Dream Finder searching the universe for sounds, colors, ideas, ANYTHING that sparks the imagination. While an updated version plays in the attraction’s current incarnation, celebrating hearing, sight, and smell, it barely holds a candle to the original version that highlighted the camraderie between the Santa Claus-esque Dream Finder and his childlike partner.
I’ve heard many gripe over the years about how Figment just hasn’t been the same since his return in 2001, how he’s become more impish and obnoxious than he was in the OG version (I never had a chance to ride either that one or the maligned 1999 reimagining). In the song, you can hear Figment getting nervous around lightning, enamored with using a rainbow to paint with, and his unbridled enthusiasm in creating new things for the idea bag.
Dream Finder, on the other hand, is jolly and amiable, and leads this mostly spoken-word track with showmanship and joy. The attitude is absolutely infectious.
7. “There’s a Great Big, Beautiful Tomorrow” (Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress)
“Man has a dream, and that’s the start! He follows his dream, with mind and heart! And when it becomes a reality, it’s a dream come true, for you and me!“
Going back to that quirky era of the early sixties, back when everyone thought a Jetsons-type future was right around the corner, Disney also teamed with General Electric to showcase the wonders of how technology made American lives easier. Sure, GE was resistant to the idea of an attraction that celebrated the power of nostalgia, but Walt knew it was a key element in endorsing a company known for their appliances (And at the time, a price-fixing scandal, but that’s neither here nor there…). Thus, Walt, an equally nostalgic man as well as a futurist, had his boys, Bob and Dick Sherman, compose a song about the wonder of how cool and exciting the future will be.
This song is absurdly short at two choruses and one verse, and is chock-full of optimism and excitement, attributed to man’s imagination and drive to create technology used to better people’s lives. That’s truly inspiring.
6. “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me” (Pirates of the Caribbean)
“We’re rascals, scoundrels and knaves, drink up, me hearties, yo ho! We’re devils and black sheep and really bad eggs, drink up, me hearties, yo ho!“
A true theme park staple, Pirates of the Caribbean is iconic is its use of animatronics, special effects, and aesthetics. But it might be safe to say this classic might not be nearly as beloved were it not for its beloved theme song.
Written by writer X. Atencio, the song is almost like a commercial jingle in its repetition. The song utilizes virtually every synonym in the book describing just what debauched renegades they are. And despite all the crimes they do, they’re still loved by their mommies and dads! Still, it’s an upbeat, devil-may-care song that is rollicking and energized. It definitely reminds you why you had that pirate phase back in the mid-aughts.
5. “Grim Grinning Ghosts” (The Haunted Mansion)
“As the moon climbs high o’er the dead oak tree, spooks arrive for the midnight spree! Creepy creeps with eerie eyes, start to shriek and harmonize! Grim grinning ghosts come out to socialize!”
Another beloved classic, the Haunted Mansion was an odd mashup of three artist’s visions. Claude Coats was responsible for the set design, Rolly Crump had designs to make the Mansion ethereal and spooky, and Marc Davis wanted to make it funny. In the end, all three men had their chance to shine. With Coats’ efforts as a gloriously intricate backdrop, Crump took on the first half of the attraction where it’s all about mood and atmosphere as the ghosts merely hint at their presence, and Davis threw all subtlety out the window from the graveyard on with numerous comedic tableaus. Amid the flurry of happy haunts erupting from their graves, guests witness five busts happily singing in spirited chorus, led by the famous bass pipes of Thurl Ravenscroft.
What makes this song glorious is the clever wordplay and phenomenal vocabulary used to illustrate the wild and unhinged jamboree. It’s unapologetically macabre, as all the spirits are loving every minute of being creepy, even kind of scary, while still being happy haunts. There’s a delightfully puckish nature about them, wanting to scare the living while at the same time inviting us to their party. Of course, to do that, we’d have to pay a token fee and bring our death certificates.
Talk about a party you’d be caught dead in.
4. “The Great Outdoors” (The Country Bear Vacation Hoedown)
“If your mind’s been hazy and yer feelin’ lazy and down on all fours, then join us bears and suck up some air in the great outdoors!”
Not a lot of Disney rides do holiday overlays. Sure, third shift will feverishly erect all the Halloween and Christmas decorations, but adding jack O’lantern displays and sparkling garlands is more about making Main Street U.S.A. feel festive. When Disney decks halls on Haunted Mansion Holiday or It’s a Small World Holiday, the rides fundamentally change to tell a different story. And the only attraction to have a summer overlay is…the Country Bear Jamboree?
Yes, from 1986 till its closure in 2001, the Country Bear Vacation Hoedown ran in Disneyland’s Critter Country. The show also replaced the original Country Bear Jamboree in Florida also in 1986, but only ran until 1992, where the Jamboree returned and has been playing ever since. The premise was the bears in the show were celebrating summer, singing covers of classics songs such as “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, “On the Road Again”, and “California Bears”, as well as a variety of other covers, parodies, and original songs. The show kicked off with this unique song, showcased in the Disneyland Fun Sing-Along.
Written purely from the perspective of bears – like being down on all fours, or they’ll chase those who won’t join them up a tree – the Five Bear Rugs happily espouse the joys of heading out to nature. There’s something so endearing about how upbeat and enthusiastic Henry and the others are about fishing, hiking, and camping. It’s incredibly catchy and was a great way to kick off the show.
3. “Finale” (Fantasmic!)
“See it in your mind, and you will find…your imagination! Myst’ries and magic, visions fantastic, leading to strange and wond’rous dreams! Dreams are make believe, but do they all come true?”
I’d have to say Fantasmic! is my favorite nighttime show at any of the parks. As cool as a lot of Magic Kingdom fireworks shows are, I find them mostly a dime a dozen, and IllumiNations was pretty cool for its grandeur, but arguably the best mix of Disney characters with the grandiosity of IllumiNations was Fantasmic! and honestly, I don’t think I have a preference between Disneyland’s or Hollywood Studios’. Both are mind-blowingly beautiful and epic.
What I love about these lyrics is the dreamlike ambiance. Vague and inspiring, the apparently female choir croons the sheer positivity and power of Mickey’s dreams. After going a round with all the villains, the show swells in an excitable bombast, not unlike Alan Silvestri’s beloved Back to the Future score, as it celebrates the power of good over evil. This is where the lyrics come in and upsell the enthusiasm. Boy howdy, does it feel just magical.
2. “Two Brothers” (The American Adventure)
“A cannonball don’t pay no mind, if you’re gentle or if you’re kind. It don’t think of the folks behind, all on a beautiful mornin’.”
See, here’s where I fudge the qualifications a bit. This song has been around since 1951, but if you’ve heard this song, chances are it was at Epcot’s American Adventure, which opened in 1982.
The scene is a family putting themselves together for a family photo, sometime around 1860. It’s the mother’s birthday and her two grown sons are bickering, obviously as some subversive metaphor for the Union and the Confederacy (Granted, not that subversive, as they clearly declare who they think is right in the upcoming engagement). After the portrait is taken, we are given several still photos of soldiers and battlefields as the song, sung by Ali Omo, cites the brothers as “One wore blue and one wore grey”.
In a very haunting way, the song fluidly reminds us that weapons of war don’t care how good a person you are, and war means one brother comes home…and one stays behind. No matter what your position is on the American Civil War, you can’t argue that as a civil war, it’s not unlike a family turning against each other and the result being that it causes irreparable damage. It’s so profound and chilling, if not downright sobering, especially considering it’s featured in a Disney World show!
Before I unveil my number one pick, here are some more honorable mentions!
“Makin’ Memories” (Magic Journeys)
Way too catchy than it had any right to be as a song honoring Kodak.
“Celebrate the Future Hand in Hand” (Epcot’s Millennium Celebration)
So endearingly optimistic and bright.
“Listen to the Land” (Listen to the Land)
Awfully granola, but that’s a huge part of its charm.
“We Go On” (IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth)
The perfect song to finish a day at Epcot after the grandiosity that was IllumiNations.
“Ole Slew Foot” (Country Bear Jamboree)
Easily the catchiest, wildest, hifalutin-est finale this side of Frontierland.
1. “Remember the Magic” (Walt Disney World’s 25th Anniversary Celebration)
“Do you remember the way it used to feel when love was only make believe, and fairy tales were real? Oh, I remember!”
One of the very first CD’s I owned was called Disney’s Greatest Pop Hits: A Decade of Radio Singles (1998). It had 15 hit singles, some of which you’d expect, like Sir Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle’s “A Whole New World”. Others, like Tyler Collins’ “Never Alone (Eeyore’s Lullaby)” …really tested the definition of a “hit”. I came to really enjoy most of these songs, but track twelve featured this mysterious song sung by Brian McKnight. I liked this song enough, but as I grew older, I really fell in love with it.
I’m kind of disappointed I haven’t really found specifically where this song came from. A quick Google search suggests it came from Disney’s Magical Moments Parade, which ran from 1996 to 2001. I don’t know how it was played, because a mellow song like this doesn’t suggest it’s the kind of music that Disney would use to pump up midday crowds. Honestly, it reminds me more of LeAnn Rimes’ “Remember When”, which was made a single for Disneyland’s 50th.
In 1996, Walt Disney World celebrated its 25th anniversary, and commemorated the event with the highly divisive castle cake (See above) and this tune as the anniversary’s theme. And guys…this song is everything “Disney” to me. It is, no joke, my absolute favorite Disney song. Period. End of discussion. No question. Forget “Let it Go”. Forget Beauty and the Beast”. Forget “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah” and “When You Wish Upon a Star” and the DuckTales theme. Why? Because it’s a soft-spoken dedication to nostalgia and fantasy and joy and dreams and emotions. Any Disney song for a parade can recycle words like “wonder” and “magic” and mix it into a catchy tune, but there’s something truly special here: it’s written for adults. It’s soothing, and it asks you to remember what it was like to be starstruck with fantasy. To be young and believing anything was possible. To feel uninhibited love and joy in immeasurable ways. It’s the perfect Disney song, and that’s why it’s my number one favorite out of all of them.
And with that, I hand you folks the reins! What song from a Disney theme park takes you back? Let me know and we all can remember the magic one more time.
In 1941, Walt Disney found himself dealing with a strike on the studio lot. Stressed and annoyed with studio politics, he welcomed a call from Uncle Sam, where he was asked to fly to South America on a goodwill tour, in an effort to dissuade Axis influence in the western hemisphere. Walt only relented so he could bring his artists and scrounge up ideas for new animated features. By the time he returned, they had enough material to make two new features: Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. The latter is unquestionably the better known of the two. While not a top tier classic like Peter Pan, Snow White, or Pinocchio, it has become a iconic image in its own right.
Up until Coco (2017), Disney had almost no Hispanic representation in their canon unless you count this, Tito from Oliver & Company, and Zorro (And even he was representative of colonial Spain, and Guy Williams was Italian…but I digress.). Even to this day, Disney readily pulls these guys out for a quick and easy diversity nod, as well as an homage to an iconic classic image. These guys have popped up in House of Mouse…
The DuckTales reboot…
And they even got their own series!
Say nothing of the ride at Epcot…
Or even their appearance as a water feature at All-Star Music’s Calypso section in the Guitar pool.
But the movie that started all this, how does it hold up after 85 years? Let’s sing and samba for this slew of saucy sensations!
The plot: Donald Duck (Clarence Nash) is celebrating his birthday and receives three huge presents. The first one is a film reel where it plays a short film about the strange birds of South America, including the fourth-wall breaking Aracuan bird. The second film is a short cartoon, The Cold-Blooded Penguin, about a penguin in search for a warmer climate, narrated by My Hero Sterling Holloway, and The Flying Gauchito, a boy from Argentina who finds and befriends a winged donkey.
The second present is a pop-up book from Brazil, where he reunites with his old friend from Saludos Amigos, José Carioca (José Oliveira). José takes Donald to Bahía, where the pair flirt with cookie lady Yayá (Aurora Miranda) and dance alongside her and several opportunistic musicians.
The third present is from Mexico, and Panchito Pistoles (Joaquin Grey) emerges, happy to teach and educate Donald about Piñatas, Las Posadas, Mexican history, and some sights around the country.
How’s the writing?: The framing device is neat: as a literal package film, several disparate elements had to come together with little rhyme or reason, and Donald opening a few presents allows things to be disjointed. The only issue is that each individual segment is not its own neatly-told narrative with standard beginnings, middles, or ends.
Sure, Cold-Blooded Penguin and Flying Gauchito are absolutely self-contained. But the rest of the film rolls through various skits, gags, and sequences that sort of ebb and flow into each other without much rhyme or reason. When Donald finds José, the parrot is two inches tall, and after singing the praises of Bahía, shrinks Donald down. The two scramble aboard a train in what looks like a chalkboard, where the Aracuan splits the rails and subsequently the train cars. The train reconnects, arriving in Bahía, but Donald watches as José turns the page of the book and then they join Miranda in “Os quindins de Yayá”. After they dance with the humans, José suggests Donald open his last present…but they’re still tiny. A bizarre segue follows where José suggests Donald use black magic (Yes, those words exactly) to use his finger to blow himself up like a balloon back to normal size. Donald being Donald, of course, uses the wrong finger and some wacky sight gags happen as he warps in different shapes. Only after José helps him out does the film remember, “Oh yeah, we gotta move to the next section of the movie”, and the pair open the present from Mexico.
There is no greater story at large here. Just a scenario where Donald watches some things, dances in others, and particularly with Panchito, learns some things. It’s a good time waster. That’s why I find it so fascinating in The Legend of the Three Caballeros, they worked so hard at making a greater lore behindthe group. Like Who’s Line is it Anyway?, “Where everything is made up and the points don’t matter.”
Does it give the feels?: This isn’t a movie to get emotionally invested in. Not that it doesn’t try in spots, but the dividing line between beauty and the anarchic insanity is distinct and often jarring. After the Aracuan disrupts the movie (literally tugging the reel off to the side), José sighs and launches into the song “Bahía” and a slow sequence of still watercolor images representing the city plays. It’s a slow, romantic ballad meant to relax and entice. Immediately after that comes José’s weirdly lively and bizarre dance number “Have You Ever Been to Bahía”. I find myself skipping it because if I’m watching this movie, I’m primed to watch the crazy animation and lively atmosphere and “Bahía” just bores me.
Later, Donald fawns over Dora Luz as she sings “You Belong to My Heart”. It’s a love song, and Luz is completely detached from the duck giving her the hubba-hubba eyes. The song is lovely, but it’s juxtaposed with a cartoon duck giggling and swooning over her. It becomes awkward. Not nearly as awkward as a later segment that I’ll get to, but if you just want to appreciate Luz’s singing, it’s super distracting.
Who makes it worth it?: I’ve never came to a decision of which Caballero I like best. Donald is a steadfast favorite, even though his famous bad temper is not really shown here. He is the surrogate for American audiences who know nothing of Brazil or Mexico. José is suave and amiable, a real friendly parrot who would be fun to hang out and have a good time with. By contrast, Panchito is excitable and energized, full of bombastic, raucous, devil-may-care energy. These three personalities ricochet off each other greatly and it’s no wonder these three are so well remembered, even if the movie itself isn’t. I even like the wacky Deadpool-esque antics of the Aracuan.
There’s nothing to say of the human characters. The three most prolific are Miranda, Luz, and dancer Carmen Molina. None of them really talk and only Miranda (By the way, does that last name look familiar? Yep, her sister was the famous Carmen Miranda!) interacts with the animated stars. All three are meant to be pretty faces to showcase their singing and dancing, though Miranda only gets higher billing for doing both.
Best quality provided: When I was a kid, I watched the Disney Sing-Along that featured the film’s headlining song, “The Three Caballeros”. As a Disney hipster, my favorite Disney anythings tend to be the real esoteric stuff. Sure, we all know of the three Caballeros themselves, but throughout the years, I NEVER found an official recording of the song. The closest I got was a mostly score track from the 2008 “Four Parks One World” Walt Disney World CD that was of the ride. I had to resort to downloading a YouTube video just to get it on my iPod. It’s just that fun and catchy. It’s by far my favorite part of the movie.
What could have been improved: I like turning on this movie as background noise because there’s a lot of parts that just don’t interest me. It’s nothing against the movie itself for having some travelogue footage or moments where it’s nothing but dancing. I even like the educational aspects. It’s just awfully disjointed in trying to serve all its goals trying to be everything: especially at the end where the movie gives up and just becomes one long, trippy, dance and music sequence. I’ve often wondered what it’d be like to have a few edibles – now that it’s legal in Arizona – and just zone out during this part. Anyway, those aren’t problems. What is, however, is its perspective on the male gaze.
With Miranda, I guess it’s forgivable. She uses her feminine charm to sell her cookies, but frequently gets drawn into the arms of several men who use their sense of rhythm or musical gifts to woo her. She does give Donald a big smooch at one point, though.
Later on, Panchito brings his new friends to Acapulco Beach, where Donald is driven nutty over the slew of raven-haired ladies in those sexy, sexy one piece bathing suits from the forties. There, it becomes a SpikeTV special circa 1945: Donald struts around posing, goofing around, and even giving chase while blindfolded. All the while, the women titter and smile and play and run. And of course, there isn’t a single unsightly one, they’re all skinny, no men or children on the beach, and of course they’re single, not swimming, not having better places to be, and…you get the idea. During the following psychedelic sequence, Donald frequently gets images of pretty women floating around (Like that weird mirror image one where they’re all…I dunno, touching their toes? Is that a fetish or something?) And at another part, a narrator whispers “Pretty girls. Pretty girls. Pretty girls.” And it’s just so…creepy!
Look, I grew up on a ton of classic cartoons where lots of anthropomorphized animal characters wolf whistle, manhandle, and otherwise harass a pretty woman to gain her affections. I grew up on Pegleg Pete, Donkey Kong, and Bluto kidnapping damsels, only for the hero to swoop in to rescue them. I grew up on Animaniacs, where their most famous catchphrase, “Helloooooo nurse!” was in response to the seductive female healthcare professional whose only role was to be seductive and sexy. But this isn’t that world anymore. We’re in a post #Metoo world where – shock of all shocks – women just aren’t into being hounded by horny weirdos. I’m not a woman, but I can’t imagine how unfunny it must be watching the beloved Donald Fauntleroy Duck ravenously chasing a bevy of giggling models as he cries out “Come here, my little enchilada!”. Makes me glad in Legend of the Three Caballeros, they introduce the lovely Xandra, a literal human goddess, and the boys don’t fawn over her. And believe it or not, Donald trying chase after native women was even put into the Epcot ride.
Can I take it not so seriously? I guess, but in the end, I really have just one burning question:
If Daisy was introduced in 1937, where was she here? And was would she think?
Verdict: This movie is not for novice Disney fans. I’m equal parts drawn to it for its creativity, its main characters, that one song, some of the educational parts, and as a classic Disney film. I’m repelled by its slower moments, the drawn out “dancing for the sake of dancing” sequences, the clumsy intergrating of live action and animation (Where most of the actors seem oblivious to the cartoons’ existence) and of course, its weird predatory perspective on women. Again, I like to have it on in the background, and sit down during a few parts. Overall, I give this film, for all its influences and creepy implications, a solid six snappy serapes out of ten.
And remember: when some Latin baby says “yes”, “no”, or “maybe”…respect her wishes and stop being a creep.