Walt Disney liked to appeal to the varying aspects of everyone’s internal self. Disneyland was built, for example, to appeal to the child in all of us. The Haunted Mansion was designed to captivate both the morbidity and dark humor that many guests harbor.
Pirates Lair (formerly Tom Sawyer Island–suck it, Mark Twain!) is a world in which visitors could get in touch with the glorified drunkenness, murder and thievery associated with our romanticized ideals of piracy.
Mickey Mouse, as another example, was a sensation simply because he appealed to the belief in us that everyone, no matter how deep one might have to dig, is essentially good and honest at their core.
Snow White, Cinderella and scores of other films reinforced human nature’s belief that good conquers evil and that love will always conquer hate.
Unintentionally, of course, Disney appeals to other elements in our society that may not share a consensus or shared vision with the general population, but who still have money to spend and are, therefore, equal in the eyes of capitalism.
One element (or sub-culture) that has found an outlet, an outlet not frowned upon by those hoity-toity “normals” that pollute the world, is that of the connoisseurs of that genre of film known as snuff films.
Mary Danella Espinoza…?
* insert sound of record scratching here *
For three seasons, The Mickey Mouse Club entertained America’s youth five days a week with dances, songs, special guests and more. The Mousketeers were kids that everyone could relate to, kids that seemed unpretentious and nice, kids that were approachable if run into on the street.
“Everyone who wants to keep their job next week smile on the count of three. 1-2-3!”
Back before the child performer factory of today that spits out a Zack and Cody or a Miley Cyrus with every turn of its gears, the Disney talent scouts held open auditions for a children’s variety show.
Disney does many things well, like family-friendly movies, theme parks that attract millions of people and reminding us that magic can be a real possibility.
They also do a few things with what must be regarded as an unparalleled finesse and expertise.
Such things include global media domination, turning moderately talented 13-year olds into pop sensations and tapping the unlimited well of character merchandising.
Characters that haven’t been animated in over 50 years still retain a fan base and marketing potential.
Cinderella and Snow White are just a few of Disney’s character elite that have seen a resurgence in popularity, especially with young girls. This is in no small way the result of Disney’s marketing of the Princess line.
The Disney Princesses campaign highlights some of movies’ most cherished princesses, portraying them on equal footing, all the while celebrating their individual appeal. Little girls all over the world have chosen one or more of their favorites and dress up to showcase their love of the storybook world.
“Role models? You betcha! We’ve all got unique qualities that make us strong, female characters. Examples? Well, we can’t think of any off-hand, but we’ll totally get back to you.”
When a television show is popular, profitable, a star-maker and iconographic, the best thing to do is let it runs its course and subsequently fade into the public consciousness as a fond memory.
OR you could wait 20 years, then rehash it, make it hip, modern and in touch with today’s audiences and let the mountains of cash come rolling in!
In 1977, the Walt Disney studio think-tank decided to reach into the mildly dusty vault of Disney home runs and reboot the 1950’s pop culture phenom, The Mickey Mouse Club.
As with the original show, the new MMC would be geared toward kids. But, unlike the original, this newer incarnation would try to reflect the societal make-up of Jimmy Carter’s America. Two things would be important for this to work: diversity and flashy, bright clothes. This was not going to be your mother’s MMC–this was going to be the MMC your mom would watch if she magically switched bodies with her pre-teen daughter. Jodie Foster knows what I’m talking about.
On January 17, 1977, the new Mickey Mouse Club premiered in syndication on a handful of stations nationwide.
It ended on January 12, 1979.
Now, that wouldn’t be a bad run if the show had actually been in production those entire two years. In reality, new episodes were produced from the premiere to June of 1977. With extra footage, more cartoons and serials thrown in, the show’s episodes were repackaged to give the appearance of being new.
The opening theme was changed to reflect the pop influence of the 1970’s by adding a few wicka-wicka guitar licks that instantly made it as timeless as a lava lamp.
Meticulously dressed in polyester body suits whose colors (one can only assume) were inspired by its team of designers spending the week huffing paint out of a paper bag, the Mousketeers, introduced themselves through song, showcasing their “unique” personalities and interests.
Todd, the typical kid-next-door, comes out on a skateboard, a hobby that he’s obviously had for hours.
Don, the slightly chubby kid who is the clown of the group (hey, fat is funny), does a bit of popping and locking Rerun-style to showcase that he’s also got some talent underneath that Cap’n Crunch belly.
Blonde and perky Carrie introduces herself through a series of gymnastic feats that forever reinforces the viewer’s assumption that perky blondes become cheerleaders. Women’s lib thanks you, Carrie.
Curtis, the Asian Mousketeer, comes out and impresses upon the viewers at home that all Asians know Martial Arts. If only Curtis had done his Kung Fu moves while using a calculator, imagine how different Asian stereotypes would be.
Julie (also blonde and also perky), shows that not all white, suburban girls want to be cheerleaders. Some want to be ballerinas. We can only hope that Julie never developed breasts and, indeed, became a ballerina that twirled around in polyester outfits. Shoot for the stars, Julie. Shoot for the stars.
When Pop (yes, Pop) introduces himself, the producers of the show made the very progressive decision to not pigeonhole him into the role of “black youth with street cred.” Otherwise, Pop would have introduced himself while dribbling a basketball. Oh, wait… he does do that.
Angel, the Hispanic Mousketeer, confuses viewers by gesticulating in what can only be described a combination of a mime pretending to be a robot, gang signals learned from television and an illiterate form of sign language used by cruel children mocking a deaf student.
So, are the Mousketeers to blame for the show becoming a flop? Of course not. They were kids who got a big break on a crappy show. Most returned to the obscurity from whence they came, but a few went on to other things.
Mousketeer Lisa Welchel went on to play the feather-haired Blair Warner on Facts Of Life.
Lisa followed this up with a pop album that reached #17 on the Contemporary Christian charts (my heathen self was surprised there were 16 other albums on that chart, at all. Who knew?) and is now a homeschooling advocate who writes books on disciplining children in a Christian home.
Recently, she has been criticized by parenting groups who say her definition of discipline borders on abuse. Good for you, Lisa!
Mousketeer Kelly Parsons went on to be a runner-up for Miss USA, deciding to throw off the shackles of being objectified and stared at on television to doing it on a stage for prizes and a sash.
Of course, in the early 1990’s, the MMC was again brought out for a new generation, only, this time, it worked (and helped introduce the world to Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Ryan Gosling).
The original and the 90’s versions of the show were given the DVD treatment and sold to an adoring public.
However, the 1970’s Mousketeers are given no acknowledgement outside the occasional trivia question and exist today only as YouTube clips that were transferred from VHS.
The hopes are that someday Disney will stop treating this MMC as though it were some snuff film they want buried and actually transfer this forgotten treasure into a DVD or streaming option. I can honestly say that I would be one of upwards of a dozen people who would be interested in watching these.
“Her vibrant colors and stylized designs pervade Disney animated films from 1943 to 1953… Beneath her deceptively simple style, lies enormous visual sophistication and craftsmanship in everything from color choices to composition.”
Walt Disney was a good at sketches, but by no means a great artist.
His inspirations came from realists like Norman Rockwell. What Walt Disney was was a great producer, the man with the vision and a discoverer of great talent.
So, why was Walt’s favorite on-staff artist someone who was neither a realist nor someone whose work went beyond the one-dimensional?
Short answer: She was awesome.
Mary Blair was one of the true artists amidst a boys’ club studio of animators and cartoonists, including her own husband, Lee Blair. In many ways, like with many great artists, Mary was even a bit ahead of her time in terms of style melding with the viewing public.
In her first few years as a Disney artist and part of Walt’s famous El Grupo of artists travelling South America in 1941, she heavily influenced The Three Caballeros and Saludos, Amigos. Her exaggerated perspectives and in-your-face colors were seen by the public as “experiemental” and too, well, new. The films received mixed reviews from both critics and an always critical general public. From the perspective of other artists, on the other hand, Mary’s influence and style were seen as inspiring and her color choices ground-breaking.
One of Mary Blair’s concept designs for The Three Caballeros
Within a few years, the influence of newer types of art began to permeate more and more aspects of contemporary life and, as such, Mary’s style became more appreciated.
Alice In Wonderland has Mary splashed all over it. No, she wasn’t murdered and her body run through the film reels as they were being printed. The overall design of Alice showed that Mary’s view of the world could, in fact, inhabit an entire world, one that Walt invited moviegoers to immerse themselves in, to toss aside an appreciation for realism (something Walt himself was doing) and to just enjoy the fun of what was Blair-inspired.
For both Peter Pan and Cinderella, Mary’s concept art helped set the stage for the vibrant color design of both films and her harder lines and skewed edges are definitely recognized in the animation design of Cinderella.
Mary left Disney studios to pursue a successful freelance career that included children’s books and successful ad campaigns. But, like Michael Corleone and “the family business”, Mary returned to Disney because they kept pulling her back in.
Actually, Walt personally recruited Mary to design an attraction he was putting together for the 1964 World’s Fair, a themed ride that would benefit UNICEF. The ride, titled It’s A Small World, is all Mary, all the Blair-iest time. It’s what would happen if Mary Blair had ingested 1000 pounds of steroids, set of an Atomic bomb and created a rip in the fabric of space.
Okay, that’s slightly (a tad, at best) an exaggeration, but for the first time ever, the public literally went inside a Mary Blair world.
It’s A Small World has been the source of lessened respect over the years, mostly due to its monotonous song and its canals of water filled with undiscovered and possibly deadly bacteria.
After being closed for renovation for 2008 (additional characters, exterior refurbishment and, as rumor has it, increasing the depth of the canals due to boats dragging along the “shallow” canals of old which totally had nothing to do with, ya know, obesity. Nope, not at Ice Cream and Turkey Leg Land, er, Disneyland), there was a bit of a withdrawal that happened for guests.
They realized that they needed that Mary Blair fix, they liked how they felt when they allowed themselves to be absorbed in Mary’s small world.
One article suggests the possibility that Mary was a synesthete, someone who experiences with different senses (ex: can “hear” colors or “taste” smells), that her constant desire to achieve an unending variety of each color was partially a neurological need to understand and interpret the world. If she was a synesthete, hell, even if she was an anti-Semite with occultist leanings and an NRA membership, who cares? Her art is amazing to look at, it’s fun, there’s a great sense of whimsy and innocence that other artists attempt to emulate.
Jonas Rivera, producer for Pixar’s UP, admitted in one interview that much of the film’s design was inspired by the concept paintings of Mary Blair.
The necessity for a Mary Blair style for UP is because here was a story about a floating house, so…”we decided we needed a certain amount of whimsy and caricature to support that. So Carl is three heads high, and he’s very much a square, with square glasses. He sort of looks like a house, in a way. The caricatured look of this world — we really want to push shape language, we really wanted to push the color palette, to be bolder.”
Pixar’s UP does Mary Blair
Mary Blair died in 1978, but is still being celebrated by artists, fans and the Disney company, who named her a Disney Legend in 1991 and continue to use her work for books, prints and pretty much anything else they need to look cool.