Back in November, TCM and Disney announced that they would be partnering up in a mutual relationship. TCM would be working on a new pre-show movie and finale movie for The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, while Disney would open up its ‘vault’ and allow TCM to air some of Disney’s most classic and rare productions in special programming blocks throughout the year. The first one started on December 21, 2014 at 8:00 pm and here is a recap of everything in case you missed it.
“Treasures from the Disney Vault” started with Ben Mankiewiscz introducing the partnership of TCM and Disney as well as his co-host for the special evening, Leonard Maltin. Leonard Maltin is one of the greatest film and Disney experts out there, making him the ideal choice to host this series. The duo quickly jumped into introducing the first block of programming for the night, Disney shorts. The three shorts chosen were Santa’s Workshop (1932), On Ice (1935), and Chip an’ Dale (1947). Maltin took the opportunity to explain that nothing shown on TCM is edited, so everything airing will be as it was originally seen. This is important, because there can be some racially insensitive material in some of Disney’s older material, because at the time it was culturally acceptable. This was explained specifically for some of the characterizations in the Silly Symphony short, Santa’s Workshop.
8:00 PM – Santa’s Workshop (1932), On Ice (1935), Chip an’ Dale (1947)
Santa’s Workshop (1932) kicked off the Disney shorts for the night, which was very fitting considering Christmas is only a few days away. Santa’s Workshop is part of Disney’s Silly Symphonies and the first part of an unofficial two part series – the other being The Night Before Christmas (1933). Santa’s Workshop is a charming look at Santa going over his list of good and bad girls and boys, as well as a look into his workshop where elves are building toys for Santa to deliver. The short has been shown in the past on From All Of Us To All Of You and A Disney Channel Christmas. It has been presented on DVD on the Classic Cartoon Favorites: Volume 7 – Mickey’s Christmas Carol release and the Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies release.
On Ice (1935) was the next short and by far the best of the three. Although it isn’t a Christmas short, it is a winter based one that features basically every Disney character that was important up to that period in time like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, Donal, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow. The premise of the short is all of the characters are out ice skating. Minnie is struggling, so Mickey shows off by skating backwards, slaloming, jumping on broken ice, but eventually he falls through. Meanwhile, Goofy tries catching fish with tobacco and Donald tricks and tortures Pluto. On Ice represents each character extremely well for how we know them today. On Ice has previously been presented on the Classic Cartoon Favorites: Volume 1 – Starring Mickey, the Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color Volume 1 release and the Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Pluto Volume 1 release.
Chip an’ Dale (1947) was the final short for the night and fit nicely with the winter theme. Chip an’ Dale is the first time Chip and Dale appeared in a cartoon by name with their characteristics as we know them today. In this short, they are living in a tree that Donald Duck cuts down for firewood. Chip and Dale escape from the log and try to extinguish the fire and save their home. Chip an’ Dale isn’t the best short featuring the pair of chipmunks, but it is entertaining. A better choice may have been Toy Tinkers (1949) or Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952), but at the end of the day it was better to have it on than nothing at all. Chip an’ Dale has previously been shown on Classic Cartoon Favorites: Volume 4 – Starring Chip ‘n Dale release and the Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume 3 release.
Overall, this segment of “Treasures from the Disney Vault” was a strong start to the special block. Classic Disney shorts are some of my favorite things the company has ever done, so I probably could’ve spent the entire night watching them. However, it would be completely impossible with only one night of shows, but in the future maybe they could extend this portion to an hour. Also, as I said before, it would’ve been nicer if they would’ve chosen to show more Christmas-themed shorts instead of winter shorts since it is just days away from Christmas, but the selection that was chosen represented a nice variety for this season.
Rating – A
8:30 PM – “The Disneyland Story” (1954)
The next feature up would’ve been a perfect choice for the first of the night, because of its importance in Disney history. “The Disneyland Story” (1954) was the first episode ever of the Disneyland television series on ABC. “The Disneyland Story” set up the premise for the entire series explaining that topics covered on the show would have correlations to the park. Some weeks you’d take a look into Frontierland, the next might be Fantasyland with Adventureland and Tomorrowland following. This episode essentially breaks down into four sections. The first is a brief introduction and overview of The Walt Disney Studios where Walt Disney is waiting to introduce the show.
The next portion is Walt showing off the Peter Ellenshaw blacklight painting of Disneyland and a model of Main Street USA, which leads into an explanation of the other lands of Disneyland. Frontierland is represented with Davey Crockett played by Fess Park singing “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” Adventureland is represented with scenes from True Life Adventure episodes from the Galapagos Islands, the Arctic, Morocco and more. Tomorrowland is explained by Ward Kimball and focuses on man going into space, the moon and mars. Fantasyland gets the shortest mention with a brief look at some of the Disney full-length animated features.
The next portion of the show is the Laughing Place sequence from Song of the South. Following it is Mickey’s showcase starting with Plane Crazy and going into Lonesome Ghosts and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice sequence from Fantasia. After Mickey gets his praise, Walt closes out the show with a look at what is coming next week – Alice in Wonderland.
Overall, this was the perfect choice to represent the Disneyland series. There are a lot of episodes to choose from, but none of them encapsulate what the entire series was about more than this one, which makes sense given that it was the purpose of the episode. There are many reasons why The Disneyland Story is so important, but here are my favorite reasons. First, the Peter Ellenshaw Disneyland painting is one of the greatest Disney pieces of art. Ellenshaw took the time to paint all of the tiniest lights with blacklight paint so when the lights were turned off and a blacklight was lit, it would show off what Disneyland would look like at night. It was the first time the public had the chance to see this masterpiece in that way and since then it has rarely been seen by many eyes. Next, Song of the South still hasn’t been released on VHS, DVD or Blu-ray legally in the United States, so any chance to see parts of this Disney feature is greatly appreciated. Finally, The Disneyland Story features Walt speaking one of his most memorable quotes, “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”
Rating – A+
9:30 PM – The Reluctant Dragon (1941)
The next feature up was the look into The Walt Disney Studios in The Reluctant Dragon (1941). The Reluctant Dragon tells the story of Robert Benchley’s explorations at the new Walt Disney Studios while there to pitch Kenneth Grahame’s story, The Reluctant Dragon, as a new animated feature. Benchley gets dropped off at the studios in black-and-white and he meets with his guide, but quickly ducks away and ends up learning the animation process. Along the way he sees the life drawing classroom, a recording session with the voices of Clara Cluck and Donald Duck (Florence Gill and Clarence Nash), foley work on Casey Junior, the multiplane camera room, the ink and paint room, the maquette department, the storyboard department and the screening room. When Benchley makes it to the multiplane camera room, the entire picture turns into a Technicolor film. There are four animated portions to the film – Casey Junior from Dumbo, Baby Weems, Goofy’s How To Ride A Horse, and The Reluctant Dragon. Appearances are made by many Disney Legends, most notably Walt Disney himself.
Overall, The Reluctant Dragon was the part of the night that I was least looking forward to. It has nothing to do with the quality of the film. Of all the features being shown tonight, The Reluctant Dragon is probably the most widely seen. It has been available in its full form on DVD as part of the Disney Movie Club program, the Walt Disney Treasures: Behind the Scenes at the Disney Studio release and in high definition on The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad/Fun and Fancy Free Blu-ray release and on Netflix. The animated Reluctant Dragon portion of the film has even been released on DVD before as well.
The studio portions of the film are great and the feature is worth watching just for those. Little Easter eggs even pop up, like the Capt. Hook maquette seen in the maquette department, which Leonard Maltin pointed out in his introduction. The Reluctant Dragon and Baby Weems animated sequences are what slows this film down and hurt it. The full-length feature was released during an animator’s strike at the studio making it necessary for this blend of live-action and animation, but unfortunately the quality of the animation sticks out like a sore thumb. Like I said, the film isn’t necessarily bad, but this feature is the weakest on paper in a line-up of some classic and rare productions.
Rating – B
11:00 PM – Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955)
The individual Davy Crockett episodes from the Disneyland series might not be seen often anymore, but the legacy definitely lives on. In fact, it would probably be difficult to find a Disney fan, with the exception of infants and children, who isn’t familiar with at least “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” which connects the Davy Crockett stories all together. Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955) finally gets some love though during the “Treasures from the Disney Vault” block. The best way to describe Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier is how Leonard Maltin did so in his opening introduction. This film is actually a combination of the first three Disneyland episodes based on Davy Crockett, played by Fess Parker, and his companion George Russel, played by Buddy Ebsen who later became Jed Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies.
The first episode, Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter, introduces Davy Crockett and shows his battles with the Creek Indians under General Andrew Jackson as well as a glimpse of his home life and time in the wilderness. The second episode, Davy Crockett Goes to Congress, tells the tale of Davy Crockett being elected to the House of Representatives and his glorious exit after opposing a bill trying to illegally take Indian treaty lands. The final episode, Davy Crockett at the Alamo, shows Davy Crockett’s last great battle alongside George Russel, Jim Bowie and volunteer troops against Mexican troops. These three episodes were released over the course of three months and then the film was released three months later. Davy Crockett remained so popular that Disney went back and made two more episodes for Disneyland that were essentially prequels and later it also became a standalone film. Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier has been released before on DVD and the individual episodes were released on the the Walt Disney Treasures: Davy Crockett – The Complete Televised Series release.
Overall, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier is a great film and was a perfect fit in this block. I have to say that I enjoy watching the episodes as standalone features, but it also worked so well as a full-length movie. The performances by Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen are so incredibly iconic it is easy to see why it was such a phenomenon at the time. Yes, there are some rough moments of dialogue in the feature, especially between Davy Crockett and the Indians, but it also screams 1950’s Disney because of it. Leonard Maltin and Ben Mankiewicz were once again quick to explain that this sort of dialogue was common in films at the time and accurate to how frontiersmen would’ve spoke at the time as if it wasn’t completely obvious, but if these explanations keep wonderful uncut Disney features like Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier on air then keep it coming. It’s really been awhile since I’ve watched Davy Crockett, so I really have to say this was a surprise highlight so far.
Rating – A-
12:45 AM – The Vanishing Prairie (1954)
The Walt Disney True-Life Adventure series was an important part of the Disneyland television series, because the short and feature length nature documentaries were used to help promote the Adventureland portion of Disneyland. The True-Life Adventures are an important part of Walt Disney’s legacy and some were even recognized with Academy Awards. The True-Life Adventure chosen for the “Treasures from the Disney Vault” block is The Vanishing Prairie (1954), which won the 1954 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The Vanishing Prairie focuses on the animals of the prairie including ducks, geese, owls, rattlesnakes, prairie dogs, mountain lions, bison, rams, moles and more. The documentary tries to paint the picture that despite harsh weather conditions, predators and even random flooding, the animals of the prairie find a way to survive even if that means leaving their homes. The Vanishing Prairie is currently available to watch on Disney On Demand through YouTube and Amazon. In the past, it was released as part of the Walt Disney Legacy Collections: True-Life Adventures Volume 2 – Lands of Exploration.
Overall, The Vanishing Prairie wasn’t a terrible choice for this programming block, but it also wasn’t a great choice. True-Life Adventures are very, very important, but the films don’t hold up to the feature nature documentaries of today. It is important that people are able to see these films, but it seems like a bit of a misstep for the debut night of “Treasures from the Disney Vault” especially since it aired at 1:00 in the morning. The highlights from the film are definitely the score and the narration. Both aspects of the movie feel inherently Disney and set this apart as a true Disney nature documentary, something that Disneynature features are struggling to do right now. Even the script writing, which Leonard Maltin explained was done by Walt’s team from the animated films, was done in fun, entertaining way. Sure the stories were fabricated from the stock footage, but it did work well enough. Like I said, it wasn’t a bad feature, but it is also the weakest of the bunch.
Rating – C+
2:00 AM – Third Man on the Mountain (1959)
A lot of younger Disney fans out there have always heard of Third Man on the Mountain (1959), the movie that inspired the classic Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction at Disneyland Park, but have never actually seen it. It has been available on DVD since 2004 and on Disney Movies on Demand through YouTube and Amazon for some time, but it’s still not one of those movies that one usually seeks out. There was a lot of excitement surrounding the announcement that it would be shown as part of “Treasures from the Disney Vault” and it was completely warranted.
Third Man on the Mountain tells the story of Rudi Matt (James MacArthur), a dishwasher who has dreams of being a mountain guide and conquering the Citadel, the tallest mountain in Switzerland (the Matterhorn), which took his father’s life during an attempt to summit. After rescuing a famous climber, Captain John Winter (Michael Rennie), Rudi is motivated to achieve his goal and is pushed forward to train by his boss Teo (Laurence Naismith) and girlfriend Lizbeth (Janet Munro). After Captain Winter hires another guide to reach the peak, Rudi sets off to find his father’s unknown route to get to the top first. Rudi finds the passage he was looking for, but makes a major sacrifice on the way giving him the title of the third man on the mountain, but he returns a hero for what he did on the Citadel.
Third Man on the Mountain was primarily filmed on location in the town of Zermatt, Switzerland and on the Matterhorn. Production was far from simple and required the crew and cast to learn the art of climbing, because filming would happen on location as much as possible. Everything that could not be filmed in Switzerland was done on sound stages in London. Peter Ellenshaw even made the trip to paint stunning mattes to be used in the film. So much production went in to making this movie a unique experience, but it has never become a Disney classic despite positive reviews and an outstanding cast. Third Man on the Mountain was even pushed on television when it was cut in two parts and aired on Walt Disney Presents as Banner in the Sky, which is the name of the book that the film is based on.
Overall, Third Man on the Mountain completely lived up to any hype surrounding it, which makes it even more disappointing that it was a failure upon its release. The visuals shot in Zermatt and on the Matterhorn are completely stunning and Ellenshaw’s matte paintings add a ridiculous level of depth and realism when used. It has been speculated that female audiences, including Lillian Disney, were genuinely afraid of the suspenseful climbing sequences which may have had an impact in the long run. As far as acting goes, James MacArthur is perfect as Rudi, which led to his involvement later as Fritz in Swiss Family Robinson. Janet Munro had just finished Darby O’Gill and the Little People and would go on to play the role of Roberta, opposite MacArthur, in Swiss Family Robinson. The story wasn’t intricate by any means, but it didn’t need to be considering that it was the most realistic climbing movie made at that point. The fact that Walt was so enamored with Switzerland and this film to the point that he had an attraction built to represent it should make it mandatory viewing for every single Disney fan out there.
Rating – A
4:00 AM – Perilous Assignment (1959)
After a night full of Disney features not seen very often, “Treasures from the Disney Vault” finished with Perilous Assignment (1959), a documentary/making of Third Man on the Mountain that has rarely been seen. It debuted on Walt Disney Presents, but since then it has never been commercially released. A few year’s back there was a screening at The Walt Disney Family Museum, which could make it the only modern showing besides its TCM debut. Perilous Assignment does lack clear vision, but it is a solid documentary and a perfect companion piece to Third Man on the Mountain.
Perilous Assignment is hosted by Gaston Rebuffat, a French mountain guide and second-unit director of Third Man on the Mountain. The feature starts by showing off the skills of mountain climbing, as well as the training process, dangers, obstacles and everything else along the way that you can experience when climbing. About half of the feature is dedicated solely to the art of climbing, before the feature turns into a commercial for Third Man on the Mountain. Perilous Assignment then shows the process of moving equipment from the town of Zermatt to the Matterhorn via Unimog vehicles, which were specially granted permission to be in Zermatt due to vehicles being banned there. Issues arose in moving equipment up the mountain and at one point in time, crew had to disassemble fences with a promise to reassemble just to get the Unimog vehicles through. Once they made it to the peak, all of the lifting was done by man and burrow and even more time was spent showing off just how difficult this film was to make on the side of a mountain.
Overall, I feel like TCM really saved the best for last with Perilous Assignment. While some might be turned off by watching a documentary on mountain climbing and the production of Third Man on the Mountain, Perilous Assignment mixes two of my favorite topics into the perfect feature. The behind-the-scenes climbing footage is spectacular, insightful and breathtaking. It’s even more impressive considering the size and weight of the equipment used compared to the technology available for climbing and movie making today. It may be a 50/50 split between documentary and commercial, but that was something that Walt Disney was a master at doing. Disney even continues on this practice today with big events like the Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade. Perilous Assignment might not be the type of feature that the average Disney fan would ever sit down to watch, but it is the type of film that die-hard Disney fans are hoping will be more readily available with the partnership of TCM and Disney.
Rating – A+
In my opinion, the debut of “Treasures from the Disney Vault” was a complete success. TCM and Disney chose a line-up that represented Disney’s film and television heritage perfectly and even did so with a holiday twist. The features ranged from widely seen to Perilous Assignment, which most people probably never knew existed – like me. This block definitely fell more on the well-known side by showing Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, The Reluctant Dragon, and “The Disneyland Story” which isn’t a bad thing considering that the final three presentations on the night were a bit more niche. The Vanishing Prairie was a bit difficult to get through at such a late hour, but Third Man on the Mountain and Perilous Assignment made the late night worthwhile.
Now, it is just a waiting game to see what happens next with this seasonal special. First and foremost, it would be amazing to have the ability to go back and watch everything shown tonight on TCM’s website or On Demand somewhere in high definition. Blu-ray releases would be even better, but this might be Disney’s way of testing whether or not there is an audience for this material on the Blu-ray format. This material needs to be more accessible somehow even if it means re-airing some of these features every now and then, especially for those who don’t have a DVR and couldn’t record the programming this time around. Second, TCM needs to announce when the next special will be. My guess is Spring 2015 when The Great Movie Ride reopens with its new enhancements, but that is purely speculation.
Finally, it would be great to see TCM make this showcase longer and even more diverse. I can only imagine how hard it would be to choose what needs and deserves to be seen. Everything in this special might’ve been a first for some Disney fans, but for others it could’ve been a nice reminder to the past. It is difficult to please and impress everyone, but at least it would be possible to add more animated shorts and potentially another feature or two with a longer block. Now that fans are getting their feet wet, they are inevitably going to want more and hopefully it can be delivered. At the end of the day, the features were amazing, the intros and outros were entertaining and informative, and this TCM/Disney partnership has the chance to make a wonderful seasonal television event, just like it was tuning into Disneyland, Walt Disney Presents, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and The Wonderful World of Disney.
Photos – © 2014 Disney, © 2014 Turner Classic Movies, The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Shorts