Wednesday, June 30, 2010

June 30: Braxton Walks Like An Egyptian

On this day in 2003, singer Toni Braxton returned to Broadway playing the tile role in Disney's hit stage show Aida. In this musical (featuring songs by Elton John and Tim Rice) Braxton played the ancient Egyptian Nubian princess who is captured by Radames, a captain in the Egyptian army, and falls in love with him.

Singing 13 songs a night in Aida, Braxton was no stranger to Broadway musicals as 5 years earlier she had starred in Beauty and the Beast as Belle (a first for an African-American).

On this same evening at the Palace Theatre, Aida also debuted two other lead roles - Will Chase as Radames and Mandy Gonzales as Amneris. Braxton continued the role of Aida until November 16, 2003.

Grammy Award-winning Braxton first topped the Billboard 200 back in 1993 with her self-titled debut album.

Click HERE for more June 30 Disney history.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June 29: A Comedy With Great Taste

About a rat who dreams of becoming a chef, the animated Ratatouille was released in U.S. theaters on this day in 2007. It was the 8th feature produced by Pixar and the second animated Pixar feature directed by Brad Bird (along with Jan Pinkava - who created the original design, sets, and characters).

The plot follows a rat named Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) - who lives in the attic of a French country home and aspires to be a gourmet chef with the help of a Parisian restaurant's kitchen worker named Linguini (voiced by Lou Romano).

Although co-director Pinkava had come up with the concept for Ratatouille back in 2001 (and was the film's original director), Pixar management (feeling a lack of confidence in his storytelling) replaced him with Bird in 2005.
A unique challenge for the filmmakers was creating computer-generated food animations that looked appetizing. Gourmet chefs in both France and the U.S. were consulted and the animators even attended cooking classes!

Critical reaction to Ratatouille was practically unanimous and the film earned five Academy Award nominations and 13 Annie Award nominations - later winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Click HERE for a smorgasbord of June 29 Disney history.

Monday, June 28, 2010

June 28: GF Debuts

On this day in 1988, Disney's Grand Floridian Beach Resort opened at 4401 Floridian Way in Walt Disney World. Re-named Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in 1997, it was inspired by the Victorian era beach resorts built along Florida's east coast during the late 1800s.

Today the deluxe resort features over 2,000 rooms spread out among six red-gabled buildings. The Grand Floridian sits on the shores of the man-made Seven Seas Lagoon across from Magic Kingdom and right next door to Disney's Wedding Pavilion.

Click HERE for much more June 28 Disney history.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June 23: Tiki Time!

The first attraction to feature Audio-Animatronics, Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room debuted on this day at Disneyland in 1963 (at a cost of over $1 million).
First sponsored by United Airlines, the Enchanted Tiki Room is a Hawaiian-themed musical presentation hosted by 4 life-like macaws named José, Michael, Pierre and Fritz. The show also has a cast of well over 150 talking, singing and dancing birds, flowers, tiki totem poles and even a magic fountain. The attraction's signature tune "The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room" was written by the Sherman Brothers. The Enchanted Tiki Room was also Disneyland's first fully air-conditioned building!
The attraction was an immediate hit - opening in an era when all things Polynesian were popular and the fact that Hawaii (which had been made a U.S. state 4 years earlier) was now a hot vacation spot (hence the United Airlines sponsorship).
Although the attraction has gone through many changes and improvements (and is today sponsored by Dole), it continues to greet Disneyland guests at the entrance to Adventureland. (Due to its popularity, similar attractions later opened at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland.)

Click HERE for more June 23 Disney history.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 22: Sounds Like Frees

Paul Frees was a voice actor and character actor who enjoyed a successful 40-year career ... and he was born Solomon Hersh Frees in Chicago, Illinois on this day in 1920.

Unlike many voice actors of his time who did most of their work for one studio, Frees enjoyed the freedom of working for at least 9 major animation production companies - including Walt Disney.
Disney fans know Frees best as the voice of the Ghost Host in the Haunted Mansion park attraction (which first debuted at Disneyland in 1969), but his talent also graced other Disney attractions, television episodes, shorts and films such as:

Man in Space (1954 television 3-episode series) - Narrator
Mickey Mouse Club (1955 television series) - various characters in "Boys of the Western Sea' serial
Donald in Mathmagic Land (1959 animated short) - Pi Creator & Narrator
The Shaggy Dog (1959 live-action feature) - Dr. Galvin
Goliath II (1960 animated short) - Mouse
101 Dalmatians (1961 animated feature) - "Thunderbolt" announcer & Dirty Dawson
Mary Poppins (1964 animated feature) - Barnyard Horse
Pirates of the Caribbean (1965 park attraction) - numerous voices
The Ugly Dachshund (1966 live-action feature) - Eddie
Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln (1966 park attraction) - Narrator & Stephen Douglas
Adventures in Inner Space (1967 park attraction) - Narrator
Hall of Presidents (1971 park attraction) - George Washington, Governor Mifflin & Stephen Douglas

Frees was also the voice of Ludwig Von Drake in numerous episodes of Disney's television series.

For his contributions to the Disney legacy, Paul Frees was honored as a Disney Legend in October 2006 (twenty years after his death).

Click HERE for more June 22 Disney history.

Monday, June 21, 2010

June 21: Big Day of Movie Releases

Over the years, June 21 has been a popular date for Disney-related movie releases and premieres.

-The live-action Disney feature The Parent Trap was released on this date in 1961. Hayley Mills (in her 2nd of what would be 6 Disney films) starred as identical teenage twins Sharon McKendrick and Susan Evers who are reunited after being separated from their divorced parents (played by Brian Keith and Maureen O'Hara). Nominated for two Academy Awards, the popularity of the film led to multiple television sequels and even a re-make in 1998.

-Walt Disney Pictures released the live-action adventure Return to Oz on this day in 1985. A semi-sequel to the classic motion picture The Wizard of Oz, the plot was a combination of writer L. Frank Baum's Ozma of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz. Dorothy was portrayed by actress Fairuza Balk (who was nominated for a Saturn Award for her role). Although it received mix reviews from critics, the film earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects.

-In 1988 the Touchstone/Amblin Entertainment film Who Framed Roger Rabbit premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. A comedy-mystery-fantasy film directed by Robert Zemeckis and produced by Steven Spielberg, it combined live-action with traditional animation. About a world where cartoon characters interact with humans, it starred Bob Hoskins as a detective named Eddie Valiant who investigates a murder involving a famous toon named Roger Rabbit (voiced by comedian Charles Fleischer). It was the first time that animated characters from various studios appeared in the same feature film. (Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released the following day, June 22.) After its success, Disney and Amblin attempted to resurrect Roger for a sequel ... but a preliminary budget was deemed too large.

-The Rocketeer premiered on this day in 1991 at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. Based on the comic book created by Dave Stevens, the live-action adventure film starred Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connolly, Alan Arkin, Timothy Daly, and Paul Sorvino. The story centered around a young pilot who finds a prototype jetpack that allows him to become a flying masked hero. Although nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, the film did not do well at the box office and plans for a sequel were halted.

-Disney's 34th animated feature The Hunchback of Notre Dame was generally released to theaters on this day in 1996. Loosley based on Victor Hugo's classic story, Disney's musical version featured the voices of Tom Hulce (as Quasimodo), Demi Moore (as Esmerelda) and Tony Jay (as Judge Claude Frollo). The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the second Disney film directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise (the same team who had brought to life Beauty and the Beast). The film's soundtrack included a musical score by Alan Menken and songs written by Menken and Stephen Schwartz. In its opening weekend, the film opened in second place at the box office grossing $21 million. (In 2002 a direct-to-video sequel was released.)

-In 2002 Disney released Lilo & Stitch, the 42nd animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics. It was the second of three features primarily produced at the Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida (at the time located in what today is Disney's Hollywood Studios). In this comedy, a Hawaiian girl named Lilo (voiced by Daveigh Chase) adopts an unusual pet named Stitch (voiced by Chris Sanders) who is really an notorious extra-terrestrial fugitive. Lilo & Stitch received positive reviews and led to a direct-to-video sequel and a TV series.

-On this day in 2008, the Disney/Pixar feature WALL-E premiered at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. A computer animated science fiction film, it was directed by Andrew Stanton. The story follows a robot named WALL-E who is designed to clean-up waste-covered Earth. WALL-E was the most complex Pixar production since Monsters, Inc. - due to the film's unique look. The film, which was generally released June 27, met with critical acclaim.

Click HERE for much more June 21 Disney history.

Monday, June 14, 2010

June 14: A Look At Alice

On this day in 1951, the 11-minute black & white "Operation Wonderland" aired on television as part of the Ford Star Revue (a variety show). Narrated by James Melton, Walt Disney explained to viewers the process of putting together his upcoming animated feature Alice in Wonderland (which was released the following July 28).

Watch a bit of here:

Click HERE for more June 14 Disney history ... and remember today is Flag Day in the USA.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

June 05: "Eastern: We'll Be Your Wings"

On this day in 1972 the Disney World attraction If You Had Wings opened in Tomorrowland. A two-person Omnimover dark ride, it was sponsored by Eastern Airlines (at the time, the official airline of WDW).

Located across from Mission To The Moon, If You Had Wings was a 4 1/2 minute journey showcasing films of Eastern's travel destinations (such as Mexico, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas). At a time when most WDW attractions required an admission ticket, If You Had Wings was free. Most of the ride consisted of dimensional sets combined with background projections delivered by numerous 16mm automatic projectors. After exiting the ride ... guests could actually book an Eastern Airlines trip (or just gather information) at a reservation center.

Music for the attraction was recorded by Norman "Buddy" Baker - who also composed the ride's title theme. An official dedication ceremony for If You Had Wings actually took place almost a month later, on July 02.

(By 1987, Eastern dropped sponsorship and the attraction became known as If You Could Fly - until 1989. Soon after, Delta Airlines took over and the attraction was once again renamed to Delta Dreamflight - with all new scenery and music. When Delta left in 1996, it was simply called Disney's Take Flight. Today Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin occupies the space.)

Fly on over HERE for more June 05 Disney history.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

June 03: 20 Years of Pixar

On this day in 2006 The Wonderful World of Disney ABC series aired the program "Pixar's 20th Anniversary Special." Hosted by John Ratzenberger (the voice of many Pixar characters including Hammy the Piggy Bank and Mustafa), the 3-hour documentary showed how Pixar went from a humble little CG studio (producing shorts and TV commercials) to the animation powerhouse studio we know today.
Written, directed and produced by Leslie Iwerks (granddaughter of pioneer Ub Iwerks) it also featured appearances by filmmaker George Lucas, Steve Jobs (of Apple fame who purchased the studio from Lucas and turned it into Pixar), Pixar's chief creative officer John Lasseter and Roy Disney. Also appearing was Tom Hanks (the voice of Woody), Tim Allen (the voice of Buzz Lightyear), and Billy Crystal (the voice of Mike Wazowski).
In 2007 Iwerks released a more detailed documentary titled The Pixar Story - which was nominated for an Emmy.

Click HERE for more June 03 Disney history.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

June 02: Disney's Destiny

On this day in 2003, the Disney animated short Destino had its world premiere at the Annecy International Film Festival (a yearly event since 1960 in Annecy, France). What made this short unique was that its production had originally started back in 1945!
Destino was first storyboarded by Disney artist (& later Imagineer) John Hench and world renown artist Salvador Dalí for 8 months in late 1945 early 1946. Dalí, a surrealist painter and skilled draftsmen, was known for his striking and bizarre images. Walt admired his work and it seemed a perfect collaboration. But after 22 paintings and 135 story sketches, the Disney Studios (plagued with financial problems at the time) ceased production on it. Hench, hoping to rekindle interest, compiled an 18-second animation test - but Destino was no longer deemed financially viable.
In 1999 Roy E. Disney unearthed the dormant project (while working on Fantasia 2000) and decided to bring it back to life. Disney Studios France was placed in charge of completing Destino along with producer Blake Bloodsworth and French animator Dominique Monfrey. A team of about 25 animators deciphered Dalí and Hench's notes and illustrations and finished what the two had first started in 1945. The short - mostly traditional animation with some computer animation - also included Hench's 18-second test!
The six-minute Destino tells the love story of Chronos and the ill-fated love he has for a mortal female. What makes it unique is the lack of dialogue - featuring just a soundtrack by Mexican composer Armando Dominguez.
Destino was well-received at Annecy and went on to be nominated for an Academy Award.

Click HERE for more June 02 Disney history.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June 01: A Master Creator of Fantasy

On this day in 1931 Albert Hurter began work at the Disney Studios. Born in Zurich, Switzerland (in 1883) Hurter was 48 years-old when Walt (at the time 29) hired him as the studio's first "inspirational sketch artist."
Already well grounded in basic drawing skills, Hurter had first come to the U.S. around 1913. Within a few years he was fully engulfed in the fledgling animation business working for Barre-Bower Animation Studios. Hurter had a knack for replicating action, could draw very quickly, and had a great sense of humor. When he left the studios, he began designing direct mail ads for a printing company.
By 1931 Hurter decided to apply for an animation job at the Disney Studios. Walt saw potential in Hurter - specifically his skill in humorous exaggeration. Hurter's job was to fill sheet after sheet with drawings ... to inspire Walt's animators. Among the animated shorts he influenced - Babes in the Woods, Building a Building, and The Three Little Pigs. He also brought to the studio a European illustration-like style that came in handy for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In fact Walt made Hurter the authority on the look of Snow White. All designs - from characters to rock formations - had to be approved by Hurter! He also established the visual look of Pinocchio and influenced other features that weren't even released during his lifetime (such as Peter Pan).
Sadly his time at the studio was cut short ... as he passed away in 1942 from rheumatic heart disease. Six years later a book of his pencil sketches and doodles titled He Drew As He Pleased was published.

"A master creator of fantasy." -Walt Disney on Albert Hurter

Click HERE for more June 01 Disney history.