What Disney means to them – Part 2
More esteemed guests share their thoughts as The Mouse turns 100
To mark its centennial, the Walt Disney Company recently kicked off the Disney100 Years of Wonder celebration. In honor of the occasion, I’ve invited a stellar group of folks to share their thoughts about the company. The first batch of guest essays included a former and current Imagineer. What follows are more wonderful musings from Jim Hill, Dina Benadon, and Brent Young. I’ve also reflected on Disney at 100 and collaborated with my colleague, Robert Niles, who provided his own take.
Now that you’ve heard me and others meditate on the Disney company, it’s time for YOU to weigh in. Please join the conversation this Friday for the next “What’s the Attraction” discussion thread and let us know what Disney means to you.
Everyone working in themed entertainment knows that none of us would have careers were it not for Walt and Roy Disney. For those of us who also work in animation, film, and television production, the depths of gratitude are even more profound.
When we start to tally up all the creative and technical achievements that blossomed at the Walt Disney Company over the last century, we’re left dumbfounded. Just consider the amount of awards won (EGOTs and beyond), patents received, records broken, etc. On a purely quantitative level of cultural impact, Disney has no equal; more people recognize Mickey Mouse than Santa Claus.
Today, the highest compliment a theme park attraction can earn is that it is “Disney-quality.” And though there are other companies working at the same level of mastery, Disney continues to raise the bar. See “Rise of the Resistance.”
Of course, all that success can be credited to the thousands and thousands of creative geniuses the company has employed over the decades. But the seeds were planted in that humble 1923 start-up called the “Disney Brothers Studio” (whose first Kingswell Ave. location is less than two miles from our own studio).
We love that they went with that name. Partnering with Roy was the turning point for Walt, and their unique fraternal relationship was integral to everything that followed. It’s a relationship we’ve learned more about during the restoration of their birthplace home, and we find it continuously fascinating. What a different world we’d be living in if these two children didn’t share a bedroom during Walt’s first years.
Thank goodness they did. And now we can look forward and imagine the magic The Walt Disney Company will produce during the next 100 years.
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“The Simpsons” recently got renewed for its 34th & 35th seasons. Which means that there are people of this planet–actual adults with kids & jobs & mortgages–who have never known a time when Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Homer, and Marge weren’t on television.
That’s sort of how I feel about The Walt Disney Company. Since I was born back in 1959, I have never known a time when The Mouse wasn’t part of my life.
By that I mean: Walt was in my family’s living room every Sunday night via “The Wonderful World of Color.” And the shelves of my childhood bedroom were lined with a dozen or more Little Golden Books that featured the Disney characters. Not to mention various LPs produced by Disneyland Records. And every so often, the Hills would pile in the family van and drive one town over where, at the now-defunct Nashoba Drive-In, we’d then catch the latest release from Walt Disney Productions.
And while I enjoyed all of that stuff, it was the Disney parks that really fascinated me when I was a kid. As soon as I learned how to read, I began religiously checking the “TV Guide” every week to see what was coming up next on “The Wonderful World of Color.” Not just because I never wanted to miss an episode where Donald Duck battled with Humphrey the Bear (those were the absolute best). But also because I was just mesmerized by those shows where Walt would pull back the curtain at WED [the predecessor to Walt Disney Imagineering].
I remember vividly “Disneyland Goes to the Fair” (which originally aired on NBC in May of 1964, right after the four shows that Walt produced for the 1964 – 1965 New York World’s Fair opened). This was the show where Walt interacted with the animatronic brontosauruses that the Imagineers built for Ford’s “Magic Skyway.” [Disneyland visitors can see the dinosaurs to this day in the Primeval World scene aboard the railroad.]
That one image–Walt Disney playing with dinosaurs that were also robots–blew my five-year-old mind. It launched an obsession with the company that then somehow turned into a career as an entertainment writer. So thanks to The Mouse for that.
And just so you know: I’m not the only person whose life path was changed by watching a single episode of “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.” The late, great David Mumford (one of the genuine stars of the second generation of Imagineers) once told me that he too watched “Disneyland Goes to the Fair” when he was seven. And that’s what made Mumford decide that he was going to work for WED one day.
Flash forward to 1979, where, as Imagineering was staffing up to tackle the construction of Walt Disney World’s second theme park, Dave got hired to work alongside Disney Legend John Hench on EPCOT Center’s “Universe of Energy” pavilion. So on his very first day at WDI, what does Mumford get assigned to do? Help build robotic dinosaurs.
Of course, these days, Disney is a very different company. It’s Marvel and Star Wars and cruise ships and ESPN. But I bet that, even today, there are little kids out there who are seeing things, whether it’s on Disney+, or the Disney Channel, or even on the Official Disney Parks channel over on YouTube, and then thinking, “That looks amazing. I want to learn more about that.” Or maybe even “I want to do that someday.”
So thanks to The Walt Disney Company for a hundred years of…well, not just the beloved characters, the entertaining stories, and the memorable experiences, but also the spark. The inspiration that then spurred people like Andreas Deja (who, when he was just a ten-year-old boy in Germany, saw Disney’s “Jungle Book” during its original theatrical release) to eventually become a master animator.
If you’d like to learn more about that particular animated feature (which was the very last feature-length cartoon that Walt personally rode herd on for Disney Studios), plan on heading up to the Presidio in San Francisco to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum. There, you’ll find “Walt Disney's Jungle Book: Making a Masterpiece,” an exhibit that features over 300 pieces of art that were personally curated by Mr. Deja. FYI: That exhibition closes on March 5th of this year. So don’t dawdle.
And here’s to the next 100 years of entertaining and inspiring people. Which, given that Disney now owns Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Marge, and Homer, will undoubtedly feature a healthy helping of “The Simpsons.”