Marc Davis is my hero. He is the best Imagineer to ever live. His influences in theme park design continue today more than a decade after his death. But his early Imagineering experiences weren't all sunshine and lollipops.
An Animation Legend
His contributions to animation are significant– Cinderella, Alice, Tinker Bell, Maleficent, Auroro, Cruella De Vil, and so on. Though he didn't particularly like animating "bland female characters" he mastered the difficult task. Marc once told Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston that "he got a lot of crap characters (to animate). Moving a girl around with a rotoscope [tracings of live action] is a pretty rotten way to make a living."
Marc's WED Legacy Begins
After his work on 101 Dalmations, Marc with a few other animators produced preliminary work on an animated film they hoped to eventually make at the studio. The film "Chanticleer" was never made because management deemed a chicken movie to be not-so-interesting. Note: Some of the work did go on to influence the studio's 1973 "Robin Hood". After "Chanticleer" was bagged, having not been assigned to any specific animation effort, Marc Davis would unknowingly begin his WED legacy.
Improving Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland
In 1962 Walt Disney asked Marc to head over to Disneyland and take a "good, hard, critical look" at Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland which opened in 1960. "See what you think about this thing." Walt was less than satisfied with this somewhat boring attraction.
Upon viewing the attraction Marc quickly saw that "there was an awful lot of things wrong" with Mine Train and other attractions. He had plenty of constructive feedback for Walt and many ideas for improvement. "They had no gags in it, no story at all," Marc said about Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland. "One kit fox's head is going up and down, then about a hundred feet away another kit fox's head is going left to right, so I took the two, put them nose to nose, so one is going up and down, the other moves side to side, So immediately you have humor!"
Marc made about 40 drawings of how the park could be improved. At this time of Disneyland history, park management was very unhappy with the men sent to Disneyland from the Walt Disney Studios to help with the park. Marc's wonderful wife Alice remembers that the Disneyland people "seemed jealous".
Marc quickly found himself (within 2½ hours of telling Walt he had drawings) in a meeting with the entire WED crew. "Everyone who was important was there, and here I am, a stranger from animation. So I stood up and I started explaining piece by piece." When discussing animated figures his knowledge of anatomy gave him the credibility that no one in the room could compete with. He expressed frustration with the way people were seated in the Mine Train cars (all facing center). He described how we look forward when driving a car because forward is where the danger and excitement will exist. This and everything else he spoke of impressed Walt and "he was buying everything I had done and he was quite intrigued with it," Marc said. Interestingly enough, I do not believe Marc's suggestion for the modified seating arrangement was ever fully implemented.
Marc's "Little Pencil"
Quickly Marc Davis was Walt's choice for some of the most interesting and challenging assignments at WED. Other crew members resented this, as you could imagine. One short-sighted WED executive once walked by Marc's desk and said, "And what are you doing with your little pencil now?" Jerk. This would not be the end of Marc's run-ins with prominent Imagineers. Not gonna name names. But I'm looking your way John H. and Tony B. (We still love you, Tony Baxter.)
Jungle Cruise Improvements + Ride Posters?
It's no secret that Explorer Boat Ride a.k.a. Jungle River Cruise a.k.a. Jungle Cruise was nothing to laugh about in its early years. By that I mean it was more serious and less funny than the versions we know today. Marc was asked to pretty much do with Jungle Cruise what he did on Mine Train. He often mentioned that he got a kick out of the Elephant Pool in particular. He also mentioned, "I really did most of the ride posters as well." Interesting! Any we haven't seen?? Most certainly.
Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room
Holy moly how did he do it? I know he wasn't alone in any of these but by golly his visible influence out ways that of all others. Could you imagine a grass hut with dozens of robotic birds singing above you... WITHOUT the Marc Davis charm? This (and quite possibly every other Marc Davis attraction) would have had the potential of being creepy on the level of third-rate (yet still fun) local amusement parks. Or even crazy Japanese rip-off parks.
1964-65 World's Fair
Walt assigned not only Marc Davis to the World's Fair efforts but his lovely wife Alice Davis as well. The character work in all four Disney-designed Fair atrractions– "it's a small world", Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, Carousel of Progress, and Ford's Magic Skyway– were all heavily designed by Marc. Alice's costume designs were also a significant contribution.
Marc, Alice, and Mary Blair (what a trio!) with a small handful of other WED-ites created all of "it's a small world" in what, 11 months? Dang.
All This in the First Couple Years
So with no prior "3-D" experience and in a very short period of time, Marc Davis would create and/or strongly influence some of the theme park industry's most successful attraction experiences ever. "This was quite a change to get up from an animation desk and find out all of a sudden there were people with bulldozers and they wanted to know where you want his pile of dirt!"
Marc's greatest achievement of his career followed by his second-greatest achievement– Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland and The Haunted Mansion. After that, his greatest unbuilt acheivement– Western River Expedition. Other fantastic Marc Davis attractions after Walt's death were and are also fantastic– Country Bear Jamboree, America Sings, etc.
More to come.
Thank you Alice Davis, John Canemaker, World Famous D.E., and others for the stories.
The Wonders of Nature's Wonderland [ PART 1 ]
Marc Davis and Disneyland's Rivers of America Rehab
Carousel of Progress Like You’ve Never Seen It
Diana Lai: An Original Enchanted Tiki Room VIP Hostess
Jungle Cruise Commercials
EYE CANDY: National Geographic Aug '63
EYE CANDY: National Geographic Aug '63 [Part 2]
ABANDONED DISNEY: Country Bear- Max