I've found what I believe is the worst Disney special ever aired. There may be worse out there, but so far, this is the most vile one I've encountered. It appeared only once, courtesy of CBS on December 12, 1981.
The "one man" is Walt Disney, and this is supposed to be a "biography special" about his life. Since it was made by a corporate machine whose prime directive is to worship him, the gushing praise, cuteness and corniness have been cranked up to eleven. It is UNBEARABLE. And what seals the deal is that this travesty tries to pass itself off as an honest unbiased biography of someone, though not very effectively.
In the classic spirit of Disney Synergy, it also doubles as an early advertisement for the then-under-construction Epcot Center at Walt Disney World. At the time this was filmed, nothing was up but a few steel bars and the place was merely one big dirt mound. What do you imagine it'll be like? I'M TOO EXCITED TUH SLEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPPPP.
We see a lot of Epcot Dirt Mound in this special, which begins as a helicopter pan around the area while a chorus sings "It begaaaan as one man's dreeeeeam, ooooo aaaaaa." In the middle of the scene, for some reason, Mickey's mug flashes for a tenth of a second. I fully believe it was intended as subliminal.
The host of this special is the tolerable Michael Landon, and I wish he'd gotten the entire thing instead of apperances between embarrassing musical pieces. I say this even though he starts things out by singing "Whistle while you work" while frollicking with the Seven Dwarves all over the mud. What can I say, the man had charisma. He could wear a chicken suit with dignity.
Landon claims the construction of Epcot, when finished, will total 800 million dollars. If that figure is anywhere near accurate it blows my mind. Even if it has the added weight of being something Disney himself wanted to build but never got to, I can't imagine the corner-cutting Disneylandscapists of today spending one-fifth of that amount on anything. Eisner would have looked at that bill and burst into flame.
And that's the thing. "Would Disney have spent that much?" Probably. He was one of the biggest risk-takers of the 20th century. If an idea came into his head and it felt cool enough, he just did it. Sound cartoons, let's do it. Stereo sound, why not. Animated feature films, it's about time. There haven't been very many Disneys since, mainly because in his era there were no pocket-protectored accountants or worried stock investors to stop him. Anyone who produced a box office bomb like Fantasia now would be kicked out the door in two seconds.
Disney was the man, but the legacy he left behind turned into the most self-congratulatory, full-of-itself company to ever exist. There's plenty evidence of that here alone. Walt was admirable, but he wasn't Jesus.
I've never been to Epcot and I couldn't tell you if all the attractions Landon claims will be there in one year made it into the final product. This segment might be more interesting if I was familiar with it. "THIS WILL BE SPACESHIP EARTH!" Landon yells with his hand outstretched toward a skeletal frame. "THIS WILL BE THE WORLD SHOWCASE!" he yells standing near a clump of large concrete pipes. "AND THIS WILL BE 'NEW HORIZONS,' 21ST CENTURY LIVING, IN THE LAND UNDER THE SEA AND IN OUTER SPACE!!" he yells atop nothing but a large mound of dirt. I hear some of these attractions are still there and they're still promising we will be bouncing on the moon by 1997. In the long run, they should have gone with Goofy's Wacky Wild Mound 'o Dirt.
The talking-up of Epcot wears thin once the show comes back from its first commercial break and Landon is still plugging this thing that doesn't exist yet. Isn't Epcot great? Won't we love spending our money there? Blah blah blah. Tell us about Disney!
They do get to Disney--for ten seconds. We see a few baby pictures and his original house, and they mention that he grew up in Missouri starting at age 5. That's when country singer Mac Davis appears next to a sparkling river and talks about how perfectly happy Walt's childhood was, then starts singing about how perfect it was, while bright sunny staged shots of happy farm people appear. Come on! Didn't he scrape his knees or lose a pet or something?
After four whole minutes of slow crooning euphoria, they sing about something that might have possibly been unpleasant for Disney: he spent his time at the nickelodeon watching newfangled moving pictures, and his dad kept dragging him away growling about the chores he was supposed to do. I'm not sure if this is factual or something they just put in, because it's only part of the lyrics (and a simultaneous dramatization with a child actor representing Disney). One thing I'm pretty sure IS staged, though, is that the movie he's seeing in the song is a silent version of "Snow White." And then there's this...
They sing about the time he was in the perfect meadow by the perfect creek drawing a perfect picture, and he met Mark Twain -- wait a minute, WHAT THE %@#$?????
I guess it must be true, or else
they couldn't put it on TV.
So yeah, he's drawing and then a shadow comes over him, and out of nowhere it's Mark Twain, who says "Yew should keep drawin'!"
"Aw, it's just kids stuff," says Walt.
"But keeds' stuff is the best stuff there is!" retorts Twain. "Peeple will tell you ta grow up! Don't listen to 'em! I never did, and I couldn't be happier! So follow your dreems! Us keeds gotta stick together."
And there you have it. Walt would have never gotten into the cartoon business if Mark Twain hadn't appeared from beyond the grave and given him a word of encouragement.
After this, there's a pointless scene depicting Disney shirking his paper route duties to catch a ride on a train with a gang of oddly clean hobos in pressed tuxedos. I don't think this happened either. Remarkably, throughout all this inaccurate weirdness Mac Davis is STILL singing, and he's approaching the 15-minute mark. They don't let him rest until the ads return.
Once Landon comes back on, he's walking around a recreation of Walt's original cartoon studio. He reads from a script about how much he loves Mickey Mouse. Then we get opera singer Beverly Sills and soup-can painter Andy Warhol gushing about how much they identify with Mickey. This is beginning to have shades of that awful Bugs Bunny special I already wrote about. No Dr. Ruth, though.
Thank goodness; some real information for once. Before Disney started his own studio, he worked for Universal and created a character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. After Walt was let go from Universal, they kept the rights to Oswald and made more cartoons without his input. This factoid gets us Carl Reiner in a period costume playing the villainous head of Universal, laughing at an off-camera Disney while waving the contract he signed in his face. Why must he hurt him so? Walt's the kindest, most saintly guy in the galaxy! Boy, if Universal ever gets a theme park, I won't go to it!
Then Walt independently created Mortimer Mouse, or Mickey Mouse after his wife expressed distate for the name Mortimer. You know what shocked the heck out of me, even more than this clip of Mickey trying to pull Minnie's pants off? They mentioned Ub Iwerks by name and gave him partial credit for Mickey's design. I guess the people behind this special weren't completely evil.
Here's Reiner again, playing the guy Walt's brother is trying to get money from to make the first sound cartoon. "What? But you can't make a sound cartoon! Nobody's ever done one! It's about a what? A talking mouse? I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but in the grand scheme of things, MICE DO NOT TALK!"
Imagine if he'd told Reiner about all the butt stuff. Mickey plays the piano, then spanks his rear, then plays some more, then spanks his rear again, then grabs the piano, pulls its covering down and spanks the PIANO's butt (it clearly has a crack).
Reiner appears as the loan man a second time when Walt wants to make the first Technicolor cartoon. By this point you get the idea: every single person who was a possible obstacle to the Will of Walt is going to get this treatment. "You want to make a color cartoon now? But that's never been done! You'll destroy the fabric of society! You have to be stopped! I will kill you! I'LL KILL YOU WHERE YOU STAND AND I'LL KILL YOUR FAMILY! YAAAAHHHH!!"
Fool! How dare you stand in the way of what must come to pass! Once Walt gains the absolute power that is rightfully his, he'll crush you into the dust!
Walt had to bet every single thing he owned--including his life insurance policy--on Snow White. His absolute dedication paid off and the movie is still considered one of the finest animated pictures ever made. Shirley Temple awarded Walt a special Oscar followed by seven smaller Oscars. "I think that was very cute," said Brad Bird. "But I think they should have given him a real one."
For a while we get nothing but clips from Snow White, Mickey and Donald cartoon snippets, and the like. Plus more confessions from Sills and Warhol on who their favorite Disney characters are. Sounds like fluff? You ain't seen nothin' yet...here comes the worst part of the entire special. Ben Vereen appears onscreen and starts dancing with Disney characters for the next five minutes!
One Man's Dream is turning into Every Man's Nightmare.
You'd think this banker guy would be a little less reluctant to hold onto his pocketbook given that every single idea he's scoffed at so far has become a success and netted Walt millions. But he's still laughing at the guy. THIS time, however, the banker was right. Disney wants to make Fantasia now, and while it was an innovative piece of animation, it was also a financial bomb. "Let me explain to you something, Walt. Cartoons and classical music are two different things. One is funny. The other isn't!" That was pretty much America's reaction to the film.
Walt's dream for Fantasia was that it'd become the most successful thing he'd ever made, and would reappear in theaters every few years with new and older shorts mixed. It'd be like going out to a classical music concert every so often, which families love doing, right? Walt had the right idea, just the wrong music style. He should have waited until the birth of rock and roll, because marrying music and images didn't become popular until MTV.
The next project is Disneyland, and guess who shows up for a fifth time, pulling the exact same repetitive act as before? Okay, Reiner, we get it already! Walt was better than his banker and everyone else on the planet!
The next musical number comes from Dick van Dyke, where he directs the tap-dancing Imagineers in the new art of crafting Disneyland's attractions. I haven't described how these numbers go yet, and the answer is they're a bore. They look and sound exactly like the slow ballads that were chorused out in Disney's old films. None of 'em are particularly snappy, because they aren't trying to be. They're trying to be retro, which to them meant 1938.
This is followed by another musical number, even slower, by Landon himself as he strolls down Disneyland's Main Street. He's eventually joined by a bunch of children and the song turns into It's A Small World. And then Mark Twain shows up again and says something similar to what he said before about never growing up. The Disney company still takes that Peter Pan philosophy pretty seriously.....once you get past a certain age, Disney pretends you never existed.
What do I mean by that? You should know. Have you ever wanted to buy something Disney put on TV when you were a kid in a nice DVD set? Fat chance, Charley! My dad taped every single episode of the Mickey Mouse Club (original pre-Britney version) when it appeared on the infant Disney Channel, and it was a good thing he did, because there's now no way for the Boomers who grew up with that show to get it. They're too old for the modern company to give two cents about them. Old people are worthless!
Disneyco has been focused primarily on children and tweens and that's even more true today. In the minds of Disney execs, attempting to make a profit off of anyone above 13 -- in any form -- would be fruitless and a financial failure. It's not what they do. This is why they keep everything they hyped up for kids in the cursed "Disney Vault" once they get older and nostalgic. Who could possibly want Disney Afternoon shows again? Not TODAY'S kids, and kids are all the market is made up of. Adults who might want the shows don't exist. Toss 'em in the landfill.
Actually (possibly because we're younger than Boomers, but not young enough), Disney was coerced into releasing a few sets of Disney Afternoon shows. Then they suspended every single one without finishing up the episodes, almost encouraging piracy. Idiots.
Ignorance of adult interest was less so back in the 80's. Disney had a somewhat profitable collector's market going. Profitable enough to be plugged in every one of their specials via stop-motion Mickey products moving around. This one's no exception. The Mickey Mouse alarm clock goes off and the guy in Mickey pajamas covered by Mickey sheets wakes up, and------
|THIS JUST IN!!! POLAND IS IN TROUBLE
FOR THE 38,957th TIME!!!
Warsaw is under martial law and a group of militants has taken over the government and it is total chaos over there. Finally, something interesting is happening.
Wait a minute, am I supposed to be enjoying this tragedy? This dull special has warped my mind.
The show didn't return a moment too late. We only catch the tail-end of the manchild's rapturous romp with Disney merchandise, but it's enough to witness looks on his face like this one:
Wait now, what's this? This is more like it. Dick van Dyke returns to show us a rare pencil test of Mary Poppins, and then a split-screen to show how the animation and live-action was combined. The pencil drawings look exactly the same as their finished left-sides because this movie was from the Xerox era. Interesting stuff. It's short, but I'll take what I can get to stay sane.
Reiner, that act is seriously getting old. Wait a minute, it's actually becoming funny again! They've done it so many times that the sheer repetition has made it comedy genius! Seth MacFarlane, eat your heart out.
The special's section on animatronics leads us to Marie Osmond singing something about magic while gliding around a room full of twittering robotic birds. It's ironic because I believe Marie is an animatronic robot herself. She was in a recent Nutrisystem ad and she looked to be about 29 years old.
Either she entered that pact with the woman from Death Becomes Her and swallowed her potion, or she's a robot. Which one is more plausible? Well, that woman doesn't exist, so....the robot, of course.
After nearly two hours, the special finally approaches the 1970's, Walt Disney World, and the vague promise of an actual end to this program sometime. Mi-Lo mentions WDW is twice as big as Manhattan and even "has its own self-replenishing ecosystem," whether that's true or not.
The following quote from Landon I am not making up: "A number of philosophers and politicians have suggested we should turn the United States over to Disney. Not a bad idea."
Things come full-circle as Landon discusses the futuristic attractions of Epcot again, promising "a permanent World's Fair." Not the wisest of motives. They quit doing World's Fairs once everything was invented. Now WDW is stuck with 800 million dollars of obsolete concepts that expired decades ago.
One obsolete concept Landon admires is the painting of a space-airplane. Actually, it almost exists now, but you have to be Richard Branson or his monetary equivalent to stand a chance of boarding it. In his most cringe-inducing line, Landon looks at the concept painting and remarks "Hope I'm still around." D'OH!!
The final song is sung not by Landon or Osmond or Davis, but....by the construction workers at the Epcot site. It sounds just as bad as you can imagine and more. None of them got their jobs because they could sing. I can't take it; kill me now! Wait, never mind--there's the credits, you can put the gun away. Phew, that was close.
Landon closes out by saying, "I'll see you in 1982 at Epcot Center." The only shot of the partially-completed geodesic dome appears under the end credits. All the shots of a grungy, ugly, incomplete area instantly dated this special and made it impossible to run ever again, for every time in the future Disney wished to promote Epcot, they preferred showing prettier and more complete scenery. But that's a good thing, 'cause this show is baaaaaaaad.
I did get to find out what Walt's business card looked like, though. This guy started out just like me. Maybe 15 years after I'm gone I'll have a multinational corporation kissing my dead feet and claiming I had magic powers and spending 800 mil on bringing buildings I quickly sketched out into reality. If you laugh, you're no better than Carl Reiner.
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