Saturday, December 27, 2008

Small Wonder
Scale models for Disneyland's Very Merry Christmas Parade, lined up backstage, 1977.

It was the most wonderful time of the year, and the year was 1977.  I was eleven, in the 5th grade, and finally man enough to see my first non-"G" rated movie, Star Wars with my Dad!

Our family spent the Christmas holiday at my grandparents' house in California, and on December 27, we all went to Disneyland together.  That day we stood in front of Main Street's Penny Arcade to see the Park's newest holiday spectacle, The Very Merry Christmas.  With its pop-up book floats, glockenspiel girls, and, yes, silly reindeer, my imagination was inspired! 

A decade later, I became a Disneyland parade designer myself, and I never forgot the enchantment I felt with my family that December day in 1977.

In the late 1980s, I worked at the off-site Disney art facility on Olive Street in Anaheim. In our building there was a warehouse aisle of stacked crates containing some of the most beautiful miniature models you've ever seen, some harkening back to the early 1960s and the time of Walt Disney himself.  There were parade floats, tiny stage sets, photo locations, miniature puppets and architectural details spanning the entire history of Disneyland's in-Park live entertainment... 


...including the original hand-made models for 1977's Very Merry Christmas Parade!  At the time, these 3/4 inch-scale works of art were still in marvelous shape, and I photographed them all for reference. 
(Note: This turned out to be a very smart thing to do, because now these photographs are the only way to view this body of work. Tragically, due to extreme short-sightedness, Disneyland destroyed and discarded their entire archive of entertainment models to create room in the warehouse for other things.  I'm sure someone there regrets this now!)

The iconic Gingerbread house popping out of an open-book would become the symbol of the parade, its image appeared in advertising and on tickets.

Disneyland Christmas Parade 1977

In the final parade, Chip and Dale busied themselves making sweets at the candy kitchen table, while surrounded by happy, dancing gingerbread cookie people.

At the North Pole Post Office, letters are pouring in from children around the world, all addressed to Old Saint Nick, himself.

Meanwhile on the workshop float, toys of all kinds are being manufactured.  This toy factory is actually made of toys!

These drum units were rolling stages for various characters and dancers, and were also packed with speakers for the parade's musical soundtrack.  Make sure to click on all these photos to appreciate the details.

Some of these environments seem empty without the performers.  Here is an implied cottage for the Seven Dwarfs.  Grumpy played the pipe organ, while Dopey pumped the giant air bellows. 

Incidentally, this seems to be the spot in the parade where I recall the newest Disney animated characters made their appearance.   I had seen the film The Rescuers earlier that summer and I was totally obsessed with it - even more than Star Wars, I have to admit.  Orville the albatross was my favorite character in the movie, and the Park costume was a nice interpretation.  Evinrude the dragonfly looked pretty strange to me as a kid, though, with his huge eyes and shapely feminine legs.  Nevertheless, I loved them all.


Disney characters of all kinds, including Pooh, Tigger, the Three Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, appeared with this unit, carrying prop gifts and decorating the Christmas Tree.  Snowmen and Snowladies bopped along behind.

And finally, Santa!  Led by his team of reindeer, and surrounded by the famous Disneyland "Glock Girls" Santa wished everyone "a very merry Christmas" from his sleigh above a landscape of snowy rooftops!  If you'd like to see a GREAT BIG photograph of this very float in the final 1977 parade, check out "Disney on Parole's" fascinating blog here!

To all of you who follow this blog throughout the year, thanks!  I hope it's been as enjoyable for you, as it's been for me putting it together.  Here's wishing you a very merry 2009! And more merriment to come!


Monday, December 22, 2008

Silly Buffalo



Those Silly Reindeer at Disneyland appear to have a not-too-distant cousin. This comical critter is yet another creation of Disney artist Bill Justice,  and appeared in the Golden Horseshoe Revue episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color in 1962.

On the show, the "Silly Buffalo" demonstrated the Buffalo Roundup, a four-legged eccentric square dance, with faux-Indian princess Annette!









And if you think you can stand it, here's the clip, courtesy of YouTube...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Silly Reindeer

I miss those Silly Reindeer at Disneyland, do you?  It's not quite Christmas without their lolling tongues, crossed eyes that blinked and winked, and especially that begging-dog prance as they led Santa's sleigh for four decades of holiday parades.

Disneyland Christmas Parade Flyer, 1962
The silliness began in the early 1960s, with designs by artist Bill Justice. 

Prancing around on television in "Disneyland Around the Seasons", December 1966.


Silly Reindeer - Paper Models
Vintage Paper Models from Disneyland's Entertainment Art Department

Throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the holiday parade changed names a few times (Christmas In Many Lands Parade, Fantasy on Parade, Very Merry Christmas Parade, Disneyland Christmas Fantasy...) but the Silly Reindeer remained their same silly selves.

Silly Reindeer Model CU
Disneyland Parade Model from the early 1980s.

Silly Reindeer Model

In 2003, Santa got himself a brand hew herd. More attractive, perhaps. But 100% un-silly.  As blank as a you-know-what in the headlights.






Oh, Silly Reindeer, wherever you are now....I miss your silly reindeer games.


Disneyland Christmas Parade, 1966
The Silly Reindeer were shouted out with glee in this 1966 issue of Jack and Jill Magazine. Click to Enlarge.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ghosts of Christmas Past

This year I spent several days in the small German town of Lauscha with my friend, American folk artist Debbee Thibault. Besides being incredibly quaint, with little structures that look like real-life gingerbread cookie houses, Lauscha is the birthplace of blown-glass Christmas ornaments.

Debbee has been collaborating with a small company there to produce an assortment of delicate hand-painted glass lanterns using original antique molds - some designs reaching back to Christmases in the 1840s.

My favorite is this delightfully maniacal antique clown.

Antique glass lanterns and ornaments by Debbee Thibault.

Monday, December 15, 2008

December 15, 1963


Forty-five years ago, two movie-star-attractive people threw a wedding and invited everyone they knew. I wasn't there, but that's understandable because I hadn't met them yet. But someday when I get my time machine, I plan to show up and introduce myself.

Anyway, being married was a new concept for both of them back then, and now they're about as skilled at it as two people can get. The only mistake they've ever made was getting rid of that Thunderbird.
Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! I love you!

Merry and Bright

It's Christmas at our house

Speaking of priceless heirlooms and exquisite trash, it's Christmas at our house once again! Everything that bakes in the attic heat all summer is allowed a month-long recess in the living room. (Some sad news: those little candles shaped like choir kids didn't make it this year.)

The driftwood/lamp creation on the mantelpiece is a thrift store score, as is all of our furniture and, well, everything else we own.

It's Christmas at our house
In keeping with the traditional "no room at the inn" theme, there's no room to walk or sit down in here.

It's Christmas at our house! Vintage wrapping paper? You betcha, we use it, but only for our friends who really appreciate it, which is all of them...


Friday, December 12, 2008

1957 Castle Keepsake

Disneyland Castle souvenir book cover 1956

In 1957, Disneyland guests could purchase a lavish full-color booklet as a souvenir of their visit to the Sleeping Beauty Castle walk-through dioramas.  Copies sold for a mere 25¢...

book cover art - full painting
The cover art is not a background painting seen in the final animated film, but a concept from the early stages of production.

Disneyland Castle Souvenir Book Centerfold, 1957
Inside, the book's panoramic centerfold spans four pages.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sleeping Beauty Rare

Sleeping Beauty "Big Golden Book" Art by Eyvind Earle, 1957

Eyvind Earle's exquisite cover painting for the 1957 Sleeping Beauty storybook published by Golden Press.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hail Aurora!
The very best thing to happen down at Disneyland within the past decade (or more) took place recently without any fanfare at all;  no opening day confetti shoot,  no big television ad campaign,  no billboard alongside the 5.  Nay, not even merchandise.
 
The paper and foam-core model for the new restoration.

Thanks to a handful of talented people - who no doubt endured untold battles against thorns and dragons - Sleeping Beauty's Castle has re-awakened from a long slumber.  Royal guests can once again climb the stone steps, passing through corridors and into chambers, to view the fairy tale illustrated in exquisite miniature scenes.

To save his daughter from Maleficent's curse, the King decreed that every spinning wheel in the land be burned.

The new dioramas are lovingly true to the originals designed by Ken Anderson and Eyvind Earle. But even more exciting, they cleverly employ technologies and special effects that were unknown when the attraction first opened at 3:00 PM on  Sunday, April 29, 1957. 

Flora, Fauna and Merryweather bestow gifts upon the baby princess.

On that day, there was a fanfare. You betcha.  And speeches, and, yea, even merchandise!  The Master Showman of the World wouldn't have it any other way.  With the Disneyland Band filling the forecourt with the Park's anthem, When You wish Upon a Star, Walt and Shirley Temple welcomed the first excited guests inside. 

In his dedication, Walt wrote, "And now as a result of our vast research and motion picture production efforts, Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland has been completed.  We hope the magic spell of these scenes will revive in every beholder's heart some image of his own precious dreams -- the dreams from which all enduring fairy tales are made."

The fairies put the entire kingdom to sleep with their magic.

The images you see here are a few of the painted concepts created over 50 years ago in the development of the attraction in Fantasyland.  They are scanned from the vintage souvenir booklet that guests took home with them in 1957, as well as images reproduced in the hard-to-find Walt Disney's Big Book published in 1958 by Whitman.

The princess in slumber repose.

"Zzzzz..."

Two different versions of  one scene: the castle surrounded by a forest of thorns.

A dizzying, whirling nightmare of spinning wheels.

In her dungeon, Maleficent summons her demons to celebrate the triumph of evil.

As we exit, one final threat awaits in the shadows. 


 The three princes responsible for re-awakening a sleeping beauty:
  Tony Baxter, Chris Merritt, and John Gritz.  Astonishing work, fellas!  

For some glorious photographs of the newly restored Sleeping Beauty Castle Diorama, please march on over to the website of my friend Dave, in the nearby kingdom of Daveland.  You'll be amazed...