Founded by Walt Disney in 1923 in Los Angeles as a partnership with his brother Roy, the Walt Disney Company is a foremost creator of Animated Movies, a significant maker of live-action movies, the designer and operator of the world's most successful (generally) theme parks, and a notable producer of Comics and Television material. In its meagre beginnings Disney was involved in the production of silent cartoons in the Alice Comedies (>>> Alice in Wonderland ) and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series. When sound came to the movie industry, Walt was an early exploiter of the new technology: after having been unable to sell two silent cartoons starring a new character, Mickey Mouse (devised in conjunction with Ub Iwerks), Walt made a third, Steamboat Willie (1928), as the first cartoon with synchronized sound. It was an immediate sensation, and enabled Disney to expand production. The Mickey Mouse series was soon joined by the Silly Symphonies, based on musical themes, the first of which was The Skeleton Dance (1929), with music by Carl Stalling (not Saint-Saëns, as is often written); in the decade following 1932, the first year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had a Best Cartoon category, a Silly Symphony won the award each year.
Significant profits could not be made from short cartoons. Disney thus embarked on the production of animated features, beginning with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) – with the profits from which Walt was able to build a new studio in Burbank, California – and continuing with Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942). WWII caused setbacks, although the studio produced training and propaganda movies for the US Government and created some of its first educational movies. In the late 1940s Disney turned to nature with the True-Life Adventures, a live-action natural-history series. Tv beckoned in the mid-1950s and Walt was eager, recognizing that he could use the medium to help market his movies and to earn the money he wanted for building Disneyland, a project that had been in the back of his mind for some years. Disneyland, built in southern California around themes from the Disney movies, was one of the first of what became known as theme parks.
Along with the move into tv, Walt began producing live-action movies, realizing that a studio could get a live-action movie into the theatres much faster than an animated feature, which often took upwards of three years to produce. Movies like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Swiss Family Robinson (1960) and (with animated sections) Mary Poppins (1964) were remarkably successful, although Disney continued to produce a new animated movie about every three years, thus adding to a library that was ideal for periodical theatre release and lent itself to profitable merchandise licensing.
Walt died in 1966 but his organization continued his policies. In 1971 it opened Walt Disney World on 28,000 acres near Orlando, Florida. EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) Center followed in 1982, Tokyo Disneyland in 1983, the Disney/MGM Studios Theme Park in 1989 and – at least initially unsuccessfully – Euro Disney in 1992.
In 1984 a management shake-up brought on by corporate raiders had seen Michael Eisner become the company's new head, and he directed a returned emphasis on movie-making: movies like Splash! (1984), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and Dead Poets Society (1989) followed, and new movie labels – Touchstone Films and Hollywood Pictures – were created. Eisner was also responsible for the company's expanded programme of video-cassette sales, the opening of Disney Stores throughout the world, the creation of a new book-publishing company (Hyperion – not to be confused with the non-Disney Hyperion Press, active during the 1970s) and even the purchase of a professional hockey team. The company continues to devote itself to family, rather than exclusively adult, entertainment. [DRS]
Disney has almost always – there are some notable exceptions – displayed a sure touch in the production of fantasy in the form of Animated Movies, but until recent years, and still displaying some uncertainty, it has been much less easy with live-action fantasy movies, almost certainly because of the company's exclusive emphasis until the early 1980s on family entertainment: this led to a lowest-common-denominator attitude that was surprisingly absent from most of Disney's animated output.
The first predominantly live-action Disney feature was Victory Through Air Power (1943), a propagandistic movie projecting the military theories of Major Alexander de Servesky; it contained some animated sequences, just as animated compilation features like Saludos Amigos (1943) contained some live sequences. But the first feature that can be sensibly described as a live-action movie (although still with animated sequences) was Song of the South (1946), based on the Uncle Remus tales by Joel Chandler Harris. The success, both critical and commercial, of this movie brought a return to the same territory – even with the same child stars – in the form of So Dear to My Heart (1949), based on Midnight and Jeremiah (1943) by Sterling North; it has little fantasy interest save a few brief animated sequences in which the character Wise Old Owl gives the protagonist moral lessons. This movie made some anti-racist hackles rise because of its (naïve rather than conscious) Uncle Tom-ish representation of blacks; reissues were revised.
Walt Disney finally conquered his own reluctance to forgo animation entirely with Treasure Island (1950), based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel; it was well received and proved the first of several live-action movies made by Disney in the UK using company funds that had been frozen there in the wake of WWII: The Story of Robin Hood (1952) (>>> Robin Hood); The Sword and the Rose (1953; vt When Knighthood was in Flower), a romantic swashbuckler set at Henry VIII's court; and Rob Roy – The Highland Rogue (1954), an original screenplay rather than an adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's novel. The last, generally agreed to be the weakest, ended this run of UK productions.
Disney's next live-action movie was full-blown sf/fantasy: 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1954), based on the novel by Jules Verne. Though not for the purist, it was exciting and spectacular, and still views well today. Its director was Richard Fleischer, whose father, the animator and animation director Max Fleischer, had been one of Disney's main rivals early on. Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955) was in fact a fixup of sequences from the "Frontierland" strand of the Disneyland tv series; it was sequelled by Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (1956), both movies fleshing a neo-legendary Hero onto the bare bones of historical fact.
By now Disney – although it was almost always the animated features that drew the critical attention – was a full-fledged live-action producer, with adventure movies running alongside natural-history blockbusters. But it took surprisingly long for the studio to marry the fantasy of its animations to the live-action output. The first live-action fantasy movie proper was The Shaggy Dog (1959), wherein a magic Ring transforms a young boy into an Old English Sheepdog; its sequels were The Shaggy D.A. (1976) and The Return of the Shaggy Dog (1987 tvm). This started a train of amiable Disney fantasy comedies, targeted largely at children: the Flubber series – The Absent Minded Professor (1961) and Son of Flubber (1963), being Technofantasy about strange substances like flubber, which enables people and objects to levitate, both loosely sequelled by The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1970), which was remade by Disney as a tvm in 1994 and was itself sequelled by Now You See Him, Now You Don't (1972), about Invisibility, and The Strongest Man in the World (1975) – and the Herbie Movies. The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964), a comedy technofantasy about a mind-reading machine and hypnotism (> Mesmerism) is also in this category of "safe" fantasy; it was sequelled by The Monkey's Uncle (1965).
Later in the same year as The Shaggy Dog came Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959), a more significant breakthrough in that it abandoned the reins of "realism" to tell of a mortal straying into the land of the leprechauns; although not unflawed, it is much more watchable today than the stream of "safe" fantasies begun with The Shaggy Dog. Moreover, it makes full use of Disney's growing expertise in spfx, born out of the studio's technical sophistication in animation. But it was not commercially successful, and it would be a while before Disney tried anything as conceptually ambitious again – meanwhile contenting itself with stuff like Swiss Family Robinson (1960), The Sign of Zorro (1960), Greyfriars Bobby (1961) and others of vague associational interest, alongside mundane adventures and The Absent Minded Professor. Babes in Toyland (1961) adapted the operetta Babes in Toyland by Victor Herbert (1859-1924) for the screen; although set in the world of Mother Goose (with the introduction of a raygun), it is more a musical than any attempt at fantasy.
Then at last came the whole-hearted return of Disney to fantasy proper: the musical Mary Poppins (1964), based on the tales by P L Travers. It is easy to find fault with this movie, which intersperses some brief live-action/animated sequences among a preponderance of live-action, but that would be to ignore its achievement, which was immense – as was its box-office success. A much later attempt to repeat the formula, Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) – based on The Magic Bedknob (1945) and Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947) by Mary Norton – foundered, despite having Angela Lansbury in the lead role as an amateur Witch who, aided by a group of children, repels a German invasion of the UK.
Those expecting that Mary Poppins might herald a renaissance in Disney live-action fantasy were disappointed. There was no real progress until The Gnome-Mobile (1967) – based on Upton Sinclair's The Gnomobile: A Gnice Gnew Gnarrative with Gnonsense, but Gnothing Gnaughty (1936) – a tale in which a family saves a tribe of gnomes whose forest is at threat from logging.
After Walt's death in December 1966 it might have been expected that the studio would take a new tack. In fact, it continued as before for many years. Blackbeard's Ghost (1968) tells how a varsity track coach inadvertently conjures up the Pirate's Spirit, invisible to all but himself; Blackbeard assists the coach's dud athletics team to victory. The Love Bug (1969) was the first of the Herbie Movies. The Million Dollar Duck (1971) is a Technofantasy retake on the Fable of the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs, the phenomenon coming about through exposure to radiation.
Charley and the Angel (1973) was a little more ambitious: somewhat in the spirit of Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946), it relates how an Angel teaches a hard-nosed businessman the error of his ways, turning his attention back towards those he loves. Also more ambitious, but this time more in the vein of Disney's own 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, was The Island at the Top of the World (1974), based on The Lost Ones (1961; vt The Island at the Top of the World 1974 US) by Ian Cameron (1924- ), a lost-worlds tale (> Lost Races) in which explorers aboard an airship discover, deep within the Arctic, an island populated by Norsemen still adhering to the old ways.
Escape to Witch Mountain (1975), though seemingly produced on a shoestring, was far better: a UFO fantasy based on Escape to Witch Mountain (1968) by Alexander Key (1904-1979), it tells of how two orphans, possessed of Talents, come to realize they are, despite appearances, not human but aliens. They rendezvous with a spacecraft bearing their Mentor at the eponymous mountain. The sequel, Return from Witch Mountain (1978), novelized by Key as Return from Witch Mountain * (1978), more of a Technofantasy, is conceptually flimsier but also darker in theme and stronger in characterization.
Freaky Friday (1977) was one of the better Identity-Exchange movies. Pete's Dragon (1977), a live-action/ animated outing, was poorly received at first, largely because of a flabby script, but the re-edited reissue has much to recommend it. The Cat from Outer Space (1978) was a reversion to the bad old days: it featured an extraterrestrial cat in a fantasy/sf adventure suitable for children. The downturn continued with the astonishingly bad Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979) (> A Connecticut Yankee). From the same year, The Black Hole (1979) was an almost equally incompetent piece of sf, with elements directly – almost actionably – derived from the Star Wars saga. This was so badly received that Disney appears to have had the corporate rethink that would soon lead to the formation of Touchstone Films.
The Devil and Max Devlin (1981) was a pleasing fantasy on the theme of a Pact with the Devil. Condorman (1981) is not strictly a fantasy and anyway a mess: a Comics artist is press-ganged by the CIA and uses ideas drawn from comic strips to persuade a lovely Soviet agent to defect. The Watcher in the Woods (1981), based on A Watcher in the Woods (1976) by Florence Engel Randall (1917-1997), is a seeming Ghost Story in which the rationalization deployed to obviate the supernatural (> Rationalized Fantasy) involves the denizens of an Alternate Reality. The movie had much promise but the studio reportedly lost faith partway through and the result is another mess. Tron (1982), although badly received at the time (and commercially unsuccessful), is one of the Cinema's better conceived pieces of Technofantasy, and should by no means be consigned to history's dustbin. Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983), was disappointing in that one expected more from a screenplay that was an adaptation by Ray Bradbury of his own novel.
Then came the first Touchstone movie, Splash! (1984), and it was immediately evident why so much of what had gone before had been so bland: the self-imposed dictum that all Disney movies must be suitable for the youngest and oldest members of the family had effectively emasculated much of the studio's output. That rule was eased for movies released under the Touchstone label. In fact, there is little in Splash! that could offend beyond the admission that unmarried adults do enjoy Sex, plus the (quite innocent) exposure of a fair acreage of Daryl Hannah: this is still a "family" movie, but for the 1980s rather than the 1950s. (Splash! was sequelled rather poorly by Splash, Too [1988 tvm].) Baby . . . Secret of the Lost Legend (1985), although again from Touchstone, was a retrogression to an earlier age but with tougher dialogue and more violence: a community of Dinosaurs is discovered in the African jungle. My Science Project (1985), another Touchstone issue, is again retrogressive: a Time-Travel tale for children, it shows the same patronizing assumption that 12-year-olds are too stupid to understand the fundamental of science that had damned earlier efforts like Unidentified Flying Oddball and The Black Hole.
Return to Oz (1985) (> The Wizard of Oz), not Touchstone, was a respectable attempt to rediscover L Frank Baum's Oz for a new generation. One Magic Christmas (1985) was a derivative but well mounted tale in which an Angel restores to a widow her hope and her kidnapped children; it incorporates a spectacular sequence in Santa Claus's toy workshop at the North Pole. Flight of the Navigator (1986) is an interesting but occasionally over-sickly piece of sf/UFO fantasy.
From here on, in the discussion of the Disney live-action output, it will be assumed that a movie is from Touchstone unless otherwise stated.
Hello Again (1987) was a comedy about the spirit of a dead housewife being recalled by her sister, a medium. Ernest Saves Christmas (1988) sees Santa Claus appointing a dimwit to take his place; it was one of a series about Ernest, of which Ernest Scared Stupid (1991) is the only other of fantasy interest. New York Stories (1989) is an anthology movie by three directors. Woody Allen's contribution, "Oedipus Wrecks", is a Jewish comedy in which a mother-dominated man wishes his nagging mother would disappear – as indeed she does, being "lost" in a conjurer's trick. When she returns, though, it is as an image that fills the New York skies. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) is a comic Technofantasy released by Disney proper: a wacky inventor's new device miniaturizes a group of children, who must make their parlous way the full length of the family garden to safety. The movie re-explores scenes made famous in such movies as The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and Lindsay Gutteridge's Matthew Dilke series of novels starting with Cold War in a Country Garden (1971). It was sequelled by Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992), also a Disney release. Spaced Invaders (1990) was an asinine sf spoof. The same year, though, saw the excellent Dick Tracy (1990) as well as the first release under Disney's new Hollywood Pictures label: Arachnophobia (1990), a splendidly enjoyable ecological fantasy. Mr Destiny (1990) – a comedy about a middle-aged failure being given a second chance, via an elixir, to live his life and discovering that he is just as unhappy being a success – was a disappointment. White Fang (1991), a Disney release based on the Jack London novel, was unfortunately juvenilized; the sequel was White Fang 2: The Myth of the White Wolf (1994). The Rocketeer (1991; vt The Adventures of the Rocketeer), surprisingly a Disney release, is a Recursive, Indiana-Jones-style slice of Technofantasy based on a 1981 Graphic Novel by Dave Stevens. The gadget at the heart of this 1938 adventure is a portable rocket pack that hurtles our hero through various adventures. Encino Man (1992; vt California Man UK), from Hollywood Pictures, is a teen comedy fantasy in which two youths bring to life a prehistoric equivalent of themselves and successfully introduce him into their own partying sphere; it offers few moments of pleasure in its determination to woo the mindless end of the teen market.
The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993), a Disney release, was at least the fifth movie version of Mark Twain's novel. That same year, Super Mario Bros.. (1993), from Hollywood Pictures, represented something of a nadir, being both derivative and clumsy; Hocus Pocus (1993), a comedy about Witches and Ghosts released by Disney a few months later, though slight, was a refreshing signal that all was not lost. Angels in the Outfield (1994) was a remake of the Baseball classic Angels in the Outfield (1952). Ed Wood (1994), not fantasy at all but of associational interest, was Tim Burton's biopic of the famously awful B-movie director. Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters (1994), from Hollywood Pictures, gave one of sf's classics a big-screen treatment. With a similarly structured title – this was the era when other studios were producing movies like Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992; > Dracula Movies) and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994; > Frankenstein Movies) – Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1994), from Disney, was a remake claiming to be based faithfully on Kipling's stories. It was very well received, but probably not nearly the commercial success that Disney had anticipated. But, so far as Disney's live-action fantasy is concerned, 1995 may be remembered as the year in which Hollywood Pictures released the disappointing Judge Dredd (1995).
From the above discussion it will seem clear that, for several decades up to about 1984 and the first Touchstone release, Splash!, it was possible to talk of a "Disney live-action fantasy" and to be immediately understood as referring to a particular kind of movie. Since then the company's output has either become chaotic or has successfully diversified, depending on whether one wishes to be negative or positive. What is certainly true is that few Disney fantasies since 1984 have been guilty of that stultifying blandness that affected such a high proportion of the movies that went before: there have been one or two appalling effusions and a few mediocre ones, but most have possessed a refreshing sense of ambition: they have been either flops d'estimes or, more frequently, deservedly commercially successful movies. [JG]
The vast majority of the Disney animated shorts are of course fantasies, if only in that they feature Talking Animals like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto . . . However, to particularize would be a futile exercise: readers interested in a more extensive coverage should turn to The Disney Studio Story (1988) by Richard Holliss and Brian Sibley, which contains brief synopses of all shorts except the very few that have appeared since the early part of 1987. It is worth noting here, however, the Wonder Tales, nursery stories and classic fantasies. Some of the very earliest – early enough that their release dates are in doubt – preceded the Alice Comedies (> Alice in Wonderland ); all dated roughly 1922-1923, these were Bremen Town Musicians, Cinderella, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Puss in Boots. It was some time before Walt Disney returned to this fertile soil. Later shorts of note in context include Mother Goose Melodies (1931), The Spider and the Fly (1931), The Ugly Duckling (1931), Babes in the Woods (1932), Three Little Pigs (1933) – plus its sequels The Big Bad Wolf (1934), Three Little Wolves (1936) and The Practical Pig (1939) – Old King Cole (1933), The Pied Piper (1933), The Grasshopper and the Ants (1934), Gulliver Mickey (1934), The Wise Little Hen (1934), The Tortoise and the Hare (1935), Mickey's Man Friday (1935), The Golden Touch (1935), Who Killed Cock Robin? (1935), Thru the Mirror (1936), Little Hiawatha (1937), Wynken, Blynken and Nod (1938), The Brave Little Tailor (1938), Mother Goose Goes Hollywood (1938), the remake of The Ugly Duckling (1939), Chicken Little (1943), The Truth About Mother Goose (1957), Paul Bunyan (1958), The Saga of Windwagon Smith (1961), Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966) – and its sequels Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974), Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore (1983), plus the educational short Winnie the Pooh Discovers the Seasons (1981) – Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983; > A Christmas Carol) and The Prince and the Pauper (1990).
In terms of fantasy, however, Disney animation will be remembered more for the features produced by the studio. A number of these have been accorded separate entries in this encyclopedia: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Sleeping Beauty (1959), The Black Cauldron (1985), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) (which mixes live-action and animation; other live-action/animated features of note are treated in the previous section of this composite article), The Little Mermaid, Ducktales: The Movie – Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and the latter's sequel, The Return of Jafar (1994). Both The Little Mermaid and Aladdin have spawned animated tv series, from 1992 and 1993 respectively.
Of the other Disney animated features, some belong to the period 1941-1949 when Walt Disney believed the public would turn up in equal numbers for compilations of shorts as they would for full-length features. This policy almost destroyed the studio's credibility as the cutting edge of animated movies – and would have, had not Cinderella been as good as it is. It is painful to watch most of these "compilation features" today, but the individual shorts (many of which have been reissued individually) are sometimes good and of fantasy interest. The Reluctant Dragon (1941), which includes live-action sequences of Robert Benchley being shown around the Disney studios, contains "Baby Weems", an amusing fantasy, partly Satire, about an infant genius, and "The Reluctant Dragon", based on the Kenneth Grahame tale from Dream Days (1898). Saludos Amigos (1943), again incorporating some live-action, was a WWII propaganda movie aimed at keeping South America neutral; it has little fantasy interest. The Three Caballeros (1945) was a strategic return to the South American market, suddenly important since the studio's European revenues were frozen; again there is little fantasy interest. Make Mine Music (1946) contains a treatment of Peter and the Wolf (1936) by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) that is one of the classic Disney shorts, "Johnnie Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet", about a romance between two hats, and "The Whale who Wanted to Sing at the Met", an excellent fantasy about a cetacean tenor with ambition (voiced by Nelson Eddy). Fun and Fancy Free (1947) contains "Bongo", about a talented bear, based on a story by Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951); and "Mickey and the Beanstalk", based on the traditional story "Jack and the Beanstalk" (>>> Jack), another classic short. Melody Time (1948) has little fantasy interest. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad (1949) compiles two long shorts (or featurettes): "Mr Toad", based on Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (1908) (> The Wind in the Willows), and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", based on the Washington Irving tale.
Further Disney animated features – some of them classics – are fantasies only insofar as they are set among communities of Talking Animals. They include: Bambi (1942), based on Bambi (1929) by Felix Salten; Lady and the Tramp (1955); One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), based on The Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956) by Dodie Smith; The Jungle Book (1967), an incredibly popular travesty of the Rudyard Kipling stories; The Aristocats (1970); Robin Hood (1973), based on the legend of Robin Hood but acted out by animals; The Rescuers (1977), a rather good movie based on The Rescuers (1959) and Miss Bianca (1972) by Margery Sharp – followed much later by The Rescuers Down Under (1990), based on Sharp's characters and the only Disney animated feature to be a sequel; The Fox and the Hound (1981), another good movie, based on The Fox and the Hound (1967) by Daniel P Mannix (1911-1984), The Great Mouse Detective (1986), an excellently buoyant movie, based on Basil of Baker Street (1974) by Eve Titus; Oliver & Company (1988), an extremely distorted version of Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist (1837-1838) set among a pack of stray dogs, Oliver himself being a kitten; and The Lion King (1993), a hugely popular but eventually rather vacuous Animal Fantasy about competition to be ruler of the plains world. Other animated features include The Sword in the Stone (1963), based on T H White's novel of the early life of Arthur, and Pocahontas (1995), a romanticized and very beautifully animated account of the life of Matoaka (aka Pocahontas; 1595-1617), the Indian princess who twice saved the life of English adventurer John Smith (1580-1631).
As a quite different strand, all on its own, Touchstone released that masterpiece of stop-motion animation, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), followed by the computer-animated Toy Story (1995). Although not strictly animated – it has some animation but most of the work is done with Puppets (plus Michael Caine) – The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992; > A Christmas Carol), deploying the incredible skills of Jim Henson's Creature Workshop, is another exceptional movie.
It can be seen that, while the Disney output of animated fantasy has been overall a distinguished one, there have been two dreadful hiatuses: between 1941 and 1949, the era of the compilation features, and between 1951 and 1985, when Disney turned most of its attention away from animated features, which were released at long intervals and were often poor. Since 1985, however, when the studio realized what it had been throwing away in the pursuit of illusory short-term gains, production has been much more frequent – on average over one per year – and quality has increased markedly. This has paid commercial dividends: almost all of the Disney animated features released since 1988 have been among the top ten biggest grossers of their year. [JG]
Since Disney has enjoyed great success with its fantasy movies, it comes as little surprise that the studio has also produced many tv programmes of a similar nature. In fact, Disney's first two experiments in tv, One Hour in Wonderland (1950) and The Walt Disney Christmas Show (1951), both used the "Slave in the Magic Mirror" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to promote two upcoming feature films, Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Peter Pan (1953).
When Walt Disney moved into tv on a regular basis in 1954 with Disneyland, his weekly anthology programme, many of the episodes featured his theatrical cartoons and clips from his full-length features. The anthology series provided many examples of fantasy elements over the next 40 years. As an example, From Aesop to Hans Christian Andersen (1955) offered several classic Fairytales retold in Disney's optimistic style, including The Tortoise and the Hare and The Ugly Duckling. That same season also brought Monsters of the Deep (1955), featuring Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre. Like many Disney programmes of the time, this was a barely disguised commercial promotion for one of the company's feature movies, in this case 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).
The world of fantasy and its obvious artistic possibilities were the subjects of Adventures in Fantasy (1957), where various inanimate objects came to life and provided introductions to several animated sequences. A more interesting programme was I Captured the King of the Leprechauns (1959), which found Walt Disney looking for leprechauns to star in Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959). Several years later, Fantasy on Skis (1962) featured a young girl who dreamed of Peter Pan and Captain Hook battling once again, but this time on skis. The same year brought The Prince and the Pauper (1962 tvm): Guy Williams, of Zorro fame, co-starred in Mark Twain's story.
More than a decade passed until The Golden Dog (1977), a tale about a ghostly miner who tried to help his former partners resolve a feud. Another Ghost featured prominently in Child of Glass (1978), where the Spirit of a murdered girl helped solve both a mystery about her death and a modern crime. In Shadow of Fear (1979) Ike Eisenmann's ability to travel outside his body through astral projection (> Astral Body) allowed him to prove that Werewolves were not responsible for the mysterious deaths of local animals. Spirits returned in The Ghosts of Buxley Hall (1980), where the ghosts were determined to keep female cadets from entering an all-male military academy.
Disney turned next to the studio's theatrical movies as a source of inspiration. Beyond Witch Mountain (1982 tvm), a sequel to Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) and Return From Witch Mountain (1978), was an unsold pilot for a new series; it co-starred Eddie Albert as a man who tried to help the alien children find their missing uncle. Herbie, The Love Bug (1982), a short-lived series, reunited Dean Jones with the lively Volkswagen Herbie. Another short-lived series, Small & Frye (1983), used a popular Technofantasy theme: a failed scientific experiment miniaturized a private detective.
After relatively few fantasy episodes over the first 30 years, Disney suddenly began to turn out a wealth of genre programming. Among these were two tv movies for the Disney Channel cable service, Black Arrow (1985 tvm), a Robin Hood-style story based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, and The Blue Yonder (1985 tvm), a Time-Travel yarn. A change in direction came with Disney's Wuzzles (1985) and Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears (1985), the company's first forays into Saturday-morning cartoon programming. The Wuzzles were strange creatures each composed of two different animals (e.g., Butterbear was part butterfly, part bear). The Gummi Bears were ancient creatures with advanced scientific and magical knowledge who came to the aid of humans in a medieval Fantasyland. The latter concept was popular enough to convince Disney there was a market for such shows. Another animated outing was Disney's Fluppy Dogs (1986 tvm), about alien dogs trapped on Earth. The protagonist of The Last Electric Knight (1986 tvm) was a teenager who could summon mystic energies and channel them into martial arts; it was popular enough to return as a weekly series, SideKicks (1986). The eponym of The Richest Cat in the World (1986 tvm) was not only wealthy but could talk. Immortality was explored in I-Man (1986 tvm), where an accident turned a cabdriver into a virtually indestructible government agent. Mr Boogedy (1986 tvm) saw a mild-mannered family battling a ghost for the soul of a young boy; a sequel, Bride of Boogedy (1987 tvm), found the ghost trying to possess (> Possession) the family so he could live again.
Young Again (1986 tvm) was the first of several new Identity-Exchange programmes; it featured Robert Urich and Lindsay Wagner in a tale of a man mysteriously granted his wish to be a teenager again. Another identity-exchange story was Hero in the Family (1986 tvm), where an alien force caused an astronaut to trade minds with a chimp. Strange creatures invisible (> Invisibility) to most people were featured in Fuzzbucket (1986 tvm), where a young boy learned that his unusual friend was part of a Wainscot society. The next year provided a new identity-exchange story: in The Return of the Shaggy Dog (1987 tvm), a sequel to the movie The Shaggy Dog (1959), a cursed Ring causes a boy and dog to "trade places". Other genre outings of the period included Bigfoot (1987 tvm), where a Sasquatch kidnaps a young girl, and Young Harry Houdini (1987 tvm), which offers the possibility that the Magic of Harry Houdini (1874-1926) was real.
Disney moved into syndicated tv with DuckTales (1987), an animated series featuring Donald Duck's nephews and their uncle, Scrooge McDuck (>>> Carl Barks). For the next several seasons they would encounter ghostly Mummies, a crazed sorceress, evil Genies, Norse Gods and other menaces, and also make several trips back in Time. This series was so successful that Disney moved heavily into tv animation; among the new series were Chip 'n Dale's Rescue Rangers (1989), TaleSpin (1990) – incorporating characters from Disney's The Jungle Book (1967) – and Darkwing Duck (1991).
A teenager who wanted to impress another student by seeming an adult was the theme of 14 Going on 30 (1988 tvm), in which a machine aged the youngster in a matter of moments – then exploded, leaving him trapped in his new body. A ghostly detective helped solve his own murder in Justin Case (1988 tvm), an unsold pilot starring comedian George Carlin. In a further unsold pilot, Splash, Too (1988 tvm), a sequel to the hit movie Splash! (1984), the Mermaid and her new husband moved to suburbia and had to free a captive dolphin.
Another sequel was The Absent Minded Professor (1988 tvm), based on the feature movie The Absent Minded Professor (1961). This Technofantasy offered a new explanation for the invention of "Flubber", Disney's famous "flying rubber", and was in turn followed by The Absent Minded Professor: Trading Places (1989 tvm), in which the hapless inventor stumbled upon an evil industrialist and a deadly weapon. Both episodes starred comedian and magician Harry Anderson.
Singer/actress Olivia Newton-John was the star of A Mom for Christmas (1990 tvm), where a lonely girl got her wish for a mother when a department store mannequin mysteriously came to life. A weekly series, Disney Presents The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage (1991), followed the adventures of a crooked financier and the ghost of a ancient Pirate, who unless they could save the lives of 100 people would be doomed to a terrible Afterlife for their past crimes. A lighter theme was found in Dinosaurs (1991). Created in partnership with Jim Henson, the series used elaborate puppet costumes to bring an ancient dinosaur family to life; the twist was that the Dinosaurs lived just as we do today, complete with cars and tv. An Invisible Companion was featured in Dayo (1992 tvm), which starred Delta Burke as a woman who was shocked to see her long-forgotten childhood friend return to her life.
The demise of Disney's weekly series has resulted in far fewer fantasy-themed programmes in recent years, but the studio still occasionally ventures into the genre; recent offerings have been remakes of the movies The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1970) and Freaky Friday (1976). With the purchase of the ABC network in 1995, Disney has announced plans for a new weekly anthology series, and thus all but assured there will be further fantasy programmes from the studio in the future. [BC]
The first Disney character to appear in comics was Mickey Mouse, whose daily strip was distributed to US newspapers by King Features from January 13, 1930. Originally written by Walt and drawn by Ub Iwerks, it was soon entrusted to Floyd Gottfredson, who drew it until his retirement in 1975. Aided by scriptwriters like Ted Osborne, Merrill DeMaris and Bill Walsh, Gottfredson turned Mickey into a full-fledged adventurer, creating memorable continuities until 1955, when a gag-a-day format was adopted. A Sunday page – drawn by Gottfredson until 1938 and then by Manuel Gonzales until 1981 – was added in January 1932. The Donald Duck gag-a-day daily strip began February 7, 1938; it was written by Bob Karp until 1975 and drawn by Al Taliaferro until 1969; a Sunday page started December 10, 1939. Brer Rabbit (from the movie Song of the South ) appeared in the Uncle Remus Sunday page 1945-1972. Scamp, son of the stars of Lady and the Tramp (1955), had his own daily and Sunday strips 1955-1988. The Silly Symphony (1932-1945) and Treasury of Classic Tales (1952-1987) Sunday series featured adaptations of or characters from most of the Disney short and feature animations. Only Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, produced by King Features under Disney's supervision, survive among the newspaper strips.
Disney comic books started featuring original stories in 1941. Jack Bradbury, Carl Barks and Tony Strobl were the best Donald Duck artists until the early 1970s. Paul Murry drew most characters, but is best remembered for the Mickey Mouse serial featured in Walt Disney's Comics and Stories 1953-1973. Other excellent comic-book artists included Al Hubbard (on Scamp, Chip'n'Dale and feature-animation adaptations), Carl Buettner and Gil Turner (on The Li'l Bad Wolf), Harvey Eisenberg (on Little Hiawatha) and Ralph Heimdahl (on Bucky Bug). More recently, Don Rosa has created great Donald Duck stories that emulate the adventurous atmospheres created by Barks.
Original UK Disney comics first appeared in December 1936 with The De(f)tective Agency, starring Goofy and Toby Tortoise, started in Mickey Mouse Weekly; created by Wilfred Haughton, the series lasted about a year. Original Donald Duck adventures appeared in the same magazine 1937-1940, written and drawn by William A Ward, who paired Donald first with a prototype of Daisy Duck, Donna (from the 1937 animated short Don Donald), and then with a Scottish sailor named Mac. During the late 1940s and 1950s artist Ronald Neilson contributed a number of beautiful "painted" stories including adaptations of feature animations like Cinderella (1950) and (1951-1953) episodes starring Mickey Mouse with Eega Beeva.
In Italy Federico Pedrocchi wrote and drew original Donald Duck stories from 1937; since then over 100 different artists have worked on Italian Disney comics. Guido Martina was a guiding light: he wrote most stories from 1948 through the 1980s. However, Romano Scarpa and Giovan Battista Carpi, both of whom started in 1953, better absorbed the US Disney comics tradition and mixed it with original Italian influences. Luciano Bottaro adapted Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to his ingenious graphic style. In the 1960s and 1970s Giorgio Cavazzano and Massimo De Vita contributed new stylistic approaches to the Disney characters. The artist-writer Marco Rota has rendered the Ducks in a style inspired by Barks.
In France Mickey Mouse made his time-travelling appearance in 1952 with Mickey à travers les siècles, begun in Le journal de Mickey by writer Pierre Fallot and artist Ténas (Louis Saintels); the series was later drawn by Pierre Nicolas, who continued it until 1978. Today France's best Disney artists are Claude Marin and Gen-Clo (Claude Chebille).
In Holland Donald Duck first appeared 1953, drawn by Hungarian refugee Ed Lukacs, but only in the 1970s did a "Dutch School" develop, its foremost exponents being Jules Coenen, Daan Jippes, Dick Matena and Ben Verhagen. In Sweden original Disney comics art appeared as early as 1937-1938, drawn by Lars Bylund and Birger Allernas.
In Denmark the Gutenberghus/Egmont Publishing Group, which controls Disney publications in Northern and Eastern Europe, started its massive production of Disney comics in 1968. Scripts have come mostly from the UK, with most of the artists either being Spanish or working through Spanish studios. Among them, Vicar (Victor Arriagada Rios), from Chile, and Daniel Branca, from Argentina, are best at drawing the Ducks in the classic Barks style. The Spanish artist Miquel Pujol produces excellent work for all the characters, and since the late 1970s has been doing so also for other countries, including France, Holland and Italy.
South America has produced Disney comics since 1945, when Donald Duck serials, written and drawn by Luis Destuet, started in the Argentinian magazine El Pato Donald. Since 1975 the Argentinian studio headed by Jaime Díaz has been producing art on all Disney characters for both the US comics and the international market. In Brazil, Abril Publishing has released original Disney strips since 1961; among the most popular characters there are José Carioca, Donald's screwball cousin Fethry Duck and the white-bearded hillbilly Hard Haid Moe (the latter two created 1963 by writer Dick Kinney and artist Al Hubbard). Among the best Brazilian artists have been Carlos Herrero, Luiz Podavin and the brothers Moacir and Irineu Soares Rodrigues. [AB]
further reading: The Art of Walt Disney (1942) by Robert D Feild; The Art of Animation: The Story of the Disney Studio Contribution to a New Art (1958) by Bob Thomas; The Disney Version (1968; vt Walt Disney 1968 UK; rev under original title 1985 US) by Richard Schickel; The Art of Walt Disney (1973; cut 1988) by Christopher Finch; Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life (1981) by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston; Walt Disney's World of Fantasy (1982) by Adrian Bailey; The Disney Films (1973; rev 1984) by Leonard Maltin; Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters (1987; 2nd edn 1993; corrected 1993) by John Grant; The Disney Studio Story (1988) by Richard Holliss and Brian Sibley; Disney's Art of Animation – from Mickey Mouse to Beauty and the Beast (1991) by Bob Thomas.