Christmas at Walt Disney World (1978)

So far on this blog, I have mostly talked about obscure and charmingly strange Disney comics. However, there is another treasure trove of weirdness out there that is the world of old Disney TV specials. The first one I will cover is a Christmas special that aired in 1978 (the same year as the now-infamous Star Wars Christmas Special).

The show opens with a group of carolers (including a small child in the front who doesn’t really seem to want to be there) singing “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. I never got why that song was considered a Christmas song, personally, but I can’t fault the special for including it since I’ve seen it in numerous Christmas compilations over the years. The camera pulls out to reveal they’re at the Main Street train station as the Walt Disney World Railroad full of Disney characters armed with fake snow passes by.

I love seeing the old costumes in these specials, along with characters who don’t always appear as much anymore. Check out the right side in the picture above–you’ll see King Leonidas from Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Brer Fox from Song of the South.

After the opening credits, we are taken to the Los Angeles International Airport to see “The Clinkers’ Christmas Vacation” starring comedy mime duo Shields and Yarnell. One thing you’ll learn from this special is that although the times we live in now are bizarre, things back in ’78 were pretty odd as well.

The Clinkers are a pair of mechanical characters that the two play, and this sequence in which they navigate their way through the airport is impressive, but unsettling. Their robotic movements are spot-on, and my still frames can’t do the scene justice. However, their permanently befuddled, unblinking faces, coupled with their jerkiness really plummets them into the Uncanny Valley and the whole thing is kind of unintentionally creepy.

After failing to get on the bus to WDW, they somehow manage to drive there by riding on their luggage. Okay, then.

The two stay at the rustic Fort Wilderness, although I’d have pegged a pair of robots for the sleeker Contemporary Resort myself. They continue to wander around, looking confused.

The sequence abruptly ends with them staring at a sign for the then-recently-opened Discovery Island, which serves a segue for the first big musical number.

On a Pirates of the Caribbean-themed set, an enthusiastic pirate chases a screaming woman, because this was before those elements were removed or toned down from the attraction. The band Pablo Cruise performs “Worlds Away” over a montage of fun Discovery Bay activities.

We also get a few shots of a vulture who’s just biding his time until Splash Mountain opens.

We are then treated to the most unintentionally disturbing ninety seconds of anything in a Disney special.

Shields and Yarnell return not as the Clinkers, but as a pair of giant babies, hamming it up in front of a bunch of parked strollers that you can find outside any Disney attraction. Adults playing babies isn’t cute. It was never cute. It’s creepy and off-putting. I can’t be the only person who finds this unnatural.

The two wander around for what seems like much longer than a minute and a half, and the sequence ends with them sucking on each others thumbs and the audience feeling like they need to take a shower.

As a palate cleanser, we are then treated to some great dancing by Yarnell, who looks a lot better here than she did as a giant baby. She is accompanied by the Firehouse Five and Mickey Mouse himself, who (naturally) is a good dancer, too.

“And now for something completely different.”

In his workshop, Gepetto (played by comedian Avery Schreiber) sits with Figaro (played by a real cat) and reads a Christmas card from his now-human (and even grown up) son, Pinocchio. In a genuinely warm scene, he muses about being a father and the memories of his son.

Feeling lonely, he sings to himself and builds a miniature Gepetto. Hey, why not? Then, we have a flashback to when Pinocchio became a living puppet, starting with footage from the 1940 movie, but…

Pinocchio is played by Shields! They’re all over the place in this special!

After getting his bearings, Pinocchio wanders out of Gepetto’s toy shop (which is apparently in the Magic Kingdom) and wanders around Main Street to the appropriate confusion of everyone that sees him.

Just like in the movie, Pinocchio is accosted by Foulfellow and Gideon, who have a moneymaking scheme in mind.

Pinocchio performs “I’ve Got No Strings” (actually lip-synching to the original Dickie Jones recording) for a large crowd, who presumably paid the crafty fox and cat earlier.

A keystone cop chases Pinocchio off (maybe he needed a licence to perform?) which leads to lots of chaos. Pinocchio finally makes it back to Gepetto’s shop and collapses in relief.

Following a funky performance of “O Come All Ye Faithful” set to Magic Kingdom fireworks, we are taken to Cinderella Castle, where the famous pumpkin coach arrives with the Fairy Godmother.

The Fairy Godmother is played by comedian Phyllis Diller (whose other Disney connection is voicing the Ant Queen in A Bug’s Life), accompanied by a sarcastic Danielle Spencer (Dee from What’s Happening!!). The Fairy Godmother wants to seduce Prince Charming herself, and Danielle agrees to help as long as the Godmother pays for all the rides later on (this was back when Disney attractions all had individual tickets).

From one classic Disney movie to another, we fade to the Sleeping Beauty segment, complete with the classic “storybook opening.” Sterling Holloway narrates this one. His unmistakable voice can be heard in nearly a dozen Disney productions, as characters such as the Cheshire Cat, Kaa the python, and Winnie the Pooh.

The Good Fairies bless the baby, but the Maleficent-type evil fairy appears and places her usual curse on the princess. The evil fairy is performed by voice actress Joan Gerber, who had an extensive career, notably playing Mrs. Beakley in the original DuckTales series, among many other characters.

I find it interesting the Good Fairies are younger and more glamorous than their movie counterparts, and Maleficient is not glamorous at all, unlike her own statuesque movie portrayal.

As in the original fairytale, the spell lasts 100 years until a prince happens to pass by, see the seemingly-dead girl, and decides to kiss her. At least in Disney’s Snow White they had previously established a romance.

This is followed by a ballet performance by Yarnell and Alan Kinzie, which I can find no real fault with, but my ignorant, uncultured self is bored and can’t bear to even sit through five minutes of this, so we’ll skip ahead.

The final part of the special is a ten-minute medley, featuring Andrea McArdle, who had originated the Broadway role of Annie a year prior. She walks down a snow-covered corner of Main Street, when suddenly…

Out march Brer Fox, Brer Bear, the Big Bad Wolf, Captain Hook, Gideon, and Foulfellow, all singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”! Apparently, even the classic Disney Villains can’t help but get into the Christmas spirit.

Thumper, Flower, and Brer Rabbit come out next. Bizarrely, Thumper is holding a real-live baby deer. Wonder how Bambi feels about that?

More Disney characters enter, several of whom carry more live animals. After singing more Christmas carols, Andrea sings “Home” from The Wiz, which debuted on Broadway in 1975 and had its feature film version hit theaters a few months before this special aired.

After even more singing (like I said, the medley is ten minutes long), Shields and Yarnell bid us goodbye and Merry Christmas.

Well, it was certainly…interesting. The whole special was mostly a series of vignettes of varying quality, but many of them rather strange.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Seeing the old costumes is always a plus.
  • As weird as some of their segments could be, Shields and Yarnell are quite talented.
  • It’s nice to hear a song from The Wiz.
  • Avery Schrieber is charming as Gepetto.
  • Sterling Holloway can check off yet another Disney production he’s been involved in.

LOWLIGHTS

  • The adult baby scene, hands down. I didn’t need to see that.
  • The Christmas medley is ten minutes long and really loses steam about halfway through.
  • Phyllis Diller is clearly aware of the cheesiness of the whole affair and is waiting to cash her check, but the much younger Danielle Spencer noticeably seems embarrassed to be there.

Well, that’s the ’78 Christmas special! Hope you all enjoyed it, and happy Life Day!

Disney’s Christmas Classics (Part 2)

Our next story is 1961’s “Pinocchio’s Christmas Story,” not be confused with the previous post about his Christmas Party all the back from 1939.

This story seems to be a re-telling of part of the movie, with Pinocchio still as a puppet in Gepetto’s workshop, learning to become a real boy with the help of Jiminy Cricket as his conscience. This story takes place around Christmas, and Gepetto is even helping Santa with making toys (Santa outsources?).

As in the movie, Pinocchio heads off to school, only to be stopped by Foulfellow the fox, who sells him to Stromboli the puppet master. Unlike the movie, however, Pinocchio is doing a Christmas show here instead, complete with a Santa hat and beard. He is a great success, but of course, Stromboli puts him in a cage at the end of the night, intending to keep his new moneymaking star.

Gepetto mopes and frets around his shop in worry, wondering where Pinocchio is, neglecting his toymaking duties. Jiminy sets out to find Pinocchio and briefly passes Foulfellow, who is buying ghoulish presents for his family. Despite Jiminy’s suspicions that the fox knows where Pinocchio is, nothing really comes of this, and it’s the last time we see Foulfellow in the story. The villain manages to get away with a Merry Christmas.

In desperation, Jiminy calls to the wishing star, summoning the Blue Fairy. She transports them to Pinocchio and frees him. However, there’s still a problem…

Remember those other puppets Stromboli has? They’re apparently alive, too! It kind of defeats the purpose of Pinocchio’s “novelty” of being alive himself (he might be able to move without strings, but he’s still a sentient piece of carved wood, which is pretty unusual).

This would kind of explain why the puppets all have different voices in the “I’ve Got No Strings” sequence of Pinocchio–I always wondered who was puppeteering them and providing the vocals, since Stromboli’s wagon is pretty small and aside from a suggested orchestra, there are no other crew members visible. But does this mean that all the puppets in the movie are aware of their situation?

Suddenly the already somewhat spooky Pinocchio scenes just got darker. First the donkeys, now this!

Well, the Blue Fairy frees the puppets of their strings. Stromboli attempts to stop their escape, but the Fairy easily hypnotizes him into thinking he’s sleepwalking and he lumbers back to bed.

The whole gang heads to Gepetto’s workshop where the freed puppets assist him in making toys. In the end, Santa Claus comes to pick up his merchandise and offers to give the puppets all a lift home while making his rounds.

“You’re free, children! Run back to your individual countries of origin!”

So everyone had a Merry Christmas, even Foulfellow. Interestingly regarding the multiracial puppets, this comic was written three years before Disney’s “it’s a small world” attraction premiered at the World’s Fair in 1964. Who knew?

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Disneys-Christmas-Classics-Frank-Reilly/dp/1684050065

Disney’s Christmas Classics (Part 1)

For a long time, it was an annual tradition for Disney to run a month-long comic serial in the papers at Christmas, featuring many of their beloved characters helping Santa. I was afraid that most of these would be lost to time, but recently, Disney released an amazing collection of almost all of them in hardcover form. I have this collection and it’s very good! I’ll include an Amazon link at the end of these posts where I look through the many Disney Christmas stories found in this book.

Peter Pan’s Christmas Story (1960)

Because Captain Hook hates everything fun and jolly, he naturally despises Christmas. One year, however, he comes up with a plan to essentially commit a terrorist act on the North Pole. See, Santa never gets any gifts himself, so using Smee, Hook will send a “present that will end all presents” to Santa Claus.

Like in the Peter Pan movie, it’s a bomb in a delicately-wrapped box. Tinkerbell overhears the evil plot (Peter sent her to spy on Hook) and reports back to her boss/boyfriend/whatever-Pan’s-title-of-the-day-is.

Smee is blasted out of the ship’s cannon toward the North Pole. He realizes too late that he has no way of getting back. Maybe Hook is killing two birds with one stone by getting his incompetent sidekick out of the way?

Oddly enough, the Seven Dwarfs appear to live up at the Pole, complete with a replica cottage! Perhaps it’s a vacation home?

Smee sneaks in and rather cleverly disguises himself as an eighth dwarf. Amusingly, the Dwarfs don’t really notice that there’s another one of them, although Grumpy does remark that it feels more crowded than normal.

After the Dwarfs fall asleep, Smee sneaks the bomb over to Santa as “Bashful,” although I’m going to have to fault Santa a little bit by admitting he can’t tell the dwarfs apart. Santa, man, c’mon. That’s not something you admit out loud, especially to one of the dwarfs!

Smee hightails it out of there as Santa looks his gift over in delight, having never received one before. Peter Pan and Tink get there right in time to stop Santa from opening it. They toss it out the window, landing it right by Smee, blasting him all the way back to Neverland.

So did everyone have a Merry Christmas? Well, Hook got away with no comeuppance, Smee will most likely be severely punished for failing, and Santa still hasn’t received a real gift ever.

But everyone else is happy, I guess! 🙂

Amazon link for the book: https://www.amazon.com/Disneys-Christmas-Classics-Frank-Reilly/dp/1684050065

“Pinocchio’s Christmas Party” (1939)

In February 1940, Disney released their second feature-length film, Pinocchio. Shortly before that, the Snellenburgs Department Store in Philadelphia PA released a promotional comic for their Christmas “Toytown” event featuring the Pinocchio characters. And it is weird.

I don’t normally plan on posting full comics for legal reasons, but seeing how old, obscure, and most likely unofficial this is, I think I can post the full thing. It deserves to be seen.

It needs to be seen.

Despite the image of Pinocchio sitting dismally in a cage, the blurb promises everything is bright and jolly!

Apparently, the story takes place after the movie when Pinocchio has turned into a real boy, although all the figures of Pinocchio featured in the pictures are of him still as a puppet. In fact, I don’t recall seeing any merch of Pinocchio as a real boy. Go figure.

Pinocchio is in a bratty mood and is complaining that he won’t get any presents for Christmas, never mind the fact that Gepetto is a doting father and that he lives in a toy shop.

Gepetto shuts Pinocchio up with a gift that can’t be opened until Christmas, and Pinocchio is then ominously warned by the Blue Fairy that if he does open it beforehand, whatever is inside will vanish and something “very, very dreadful will happen!”

Now, anyone who knows the tiniest bit about folklore knows that you never mess with fairies. They mean business. But Pinocchio apparently does not know this little detail, because…

Pandora-nocchio can only think about what might be in the box. All that matters is the box.

As punishment for going against the Blue Fairy, Pinocchio is branded with a Scarlet A in the form of a long nose. I thought that only happened when he lied as a puppet. Even as a real boy he has to deal with the nose shtick? That’s rough. I figured he’d be exempt from it by this point.

Pinocchio has waited all his life to see a toy shop, despite living in one. Maybe he’s just not content with Gepetto’s handmade stuff. No, he needs whatever Snellenburgs’ Toytown has and he needs it now. Too bad Jiminy Cricket uncharacteristically makes fun of his enormous schnoz. Maybe Pinocchio should take a note from the original version of the story where the cricket gets smashed with a hammer.

Stromboli, like in the book, is portrayed as not only a puppetmaster, but a fire-eater as well. Also, despite imprisoning Pinocchio in a cage, he’s at least going to actually pay him this time. I guess that’s…slightly better?

That night, Pinocchio escapes with five pennies, instead of the four that Stromboli promised him. Maybe it’s a holiday bonus. He runs into Foulfellow and Gideon who scam him out of his coins, much like in the original book where they promise he can grow a money tree and then dig up his earnings instead when he isn’t looking.

Pinocchio then runs into Lampwick (he’s human again!) and the “jolly coachman” who enjoys turning kids into donkeys. They’ve stolen a “fine coach” (what, did the coachman lose his?) and are having a great time. Pinocchio appears to secretly plan to stab them both in the back for the greater good.

They reach the ferry, which is an enormous whale. It’s quite friendly, unlike the ferocious Monstro. It doesn’t stop them from being accidentally swallowed, though. Pinocchio must be having some major deja vu at this point.

Somehow, everyone is reunited in the hiccuping whale’s belly.

And Pinocchio saves everyone by basically doing exactly what he did in the movie the first time!

Everyone gets go to the TOY SHOP now! Even the Coachman, who is on totally good terms with Pinocchio at this point!

Ah, so this is Pinocchio’s Christmas Party that we were promised. I do have to admit, I dig the vintage Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck toys they have there.

So everyone gets a Merry Christmas, even the whale who didn’t try to vengefully kill Pinocchio, unlike Monstro.

So that about wraps up Pinocchio’s Christmas Party. It was strange, in a charmingly off-putting sort of way. Obviously, since the movie hadn’t come out yet, the people writing this had to make a few educated guesses based on the original book and the film’s press material. Overall, it makes for some fun, obscure, and wonderfully weird blog fodder.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in “The Milky Way” (1955)

It was 1955 and Walt Disney’s Disneyland anthology TV series had been on for a year, sponsored by the American Dairy Association.

What better way to celebrate this partnership than by producing a promotional comic about how great milk is?

Disney printed several promotional comics around this time, featuring characters like Snow White and Peter Pan talking about how great various refrigerators and washer/dryers were. Another American Dairy-based comic exists featuring Brer Rabbit.

Today, though, we’re focusing on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. For this blog, I want to celebrate not only the great Disney comics out there, but also the rather strange ones that have fallen through the cracks over the years.

We open on Snow White and her husband, Prince Charming (the only time I think he’s ever been given an official name, although fans like to call him Ferdinand), who has been summoned away to a neighboring kingdom. I guess it’s one of those time when “living happily ever after” really means “dealing with politics.” No wonder the story ended with the kiss.

As soon as Charming leaves, Snow White is summoned to the Seven Dwarfs’ house via a message from a little cardinal. She journeys out to the Dwarfs, who inform her that the Wicked Queen is apparently alive and after her. The message from the neighboring king was a fake and she wanted to get Snow White alone.

The problem is, why not just tell Prince Charming before he left? The bird shows up while the Prince is only a few yards away. I suppose it was a “too late” moment, but I personally think the Dwarfs are jealous of Charming’s relationship with Snow White. Many fanfiction writers appear to agree.

The most intriguing part is that they use the Queen’s real name, Grimhilde. She has only been called that in production materials and comics, but never (to my knowledge) on any screen appearance. Also, Thumper from Bambi is in this, which is kind of neat, since I love those old Disney comic crossovers where everyone was just neighbors with each other.

The Dwarfs celebrate Snow White’s return and hope that Grimhilde never finds out where she’s hiding, although if I were the Queen, I’d check the cottage first thing. If Snow White really wanted to throw her off, she should have hidden with Pinocchio or something.

Grumpy refuses to drink his milk, so Snow White talks about how wonderful it is and that it might make him sleep better. Also, adults apparently need three glasses a day? I love me some milk, but even I’m behind on that one. Maybe things have changed since ’55.

Thumper makes a physical appearance, warning them that Grimhilde is now searching the forest for Snow White, to which I called two paragraphs above.

Snow White leaves the Dwarfs house and rides to the fortune teller, Madame Zo (who only appears in this comic), to see if Grimhilde has left any guards at Castle Charming.

Madame Zo is grumpy (the mood, not dwarf) because she can’t seem to lose any weight without feeling weak. Snow White suggests a diet that includes three glasses of milk a day. I don’t know enough about milk to dispute that, so maybe that’s the secret to weight loss? Milk? Sure, let’s go with milk.

Madame Zo is so elated by the prospect of dairy products that she runs off to buy some, entirely forgetting about Snow White’s plight. See what you’ve done milk? See what you’ve done? Are you happy now?

Grimhilde spots Snow White and orders her men to shoot her with arrows. Well, that’s a more direct way than the ol’ poison apple bit, I’ll give her that. She clearly learns from her mistakes.

Snow White rushes back to the Dwarfs’ cottage to find that Grumpy, through the almighty power of milk, has fallen asleep with a smile on his face! Perhaps as long as he drinks his milk, his name shall no longer be “Grumpy,” but rather, “Content.”

This peace is not last, of course, because Grimhile easily tracks Snow White down and is about to attack the cottage, when Charming swoops in and makes quick work of the guards, prompting a retreat.

Charming drinks his milk, you see.

Interestingly, the Prince was going to have a similar scene in the 1937 Snow White movie where he would be imprisoned by the Queen and left to drown in her flooding dungeon and need to fight his way out with the help of Snow White’s animal friends. It was cut because the animators weren’t comfortable with the action sequences involving realistic humans yet. A similar scene finally made it into Sleeping Beauty, nearly 30 years later.

According to Charming, Madame Zo’s raven informed him of what was going on, so Madame Zo didn’t fail Snow White, which means that milk didn’t fail Snow White, either. Sorry, milk. I was too hasty there.

So what have we learned from all this?

Milk, Dopey. Milk.