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Entries in Song of the South (2)

Saturday
Jul032010

America Sings

[ UPDATED 7-6 with new images and info ]

A look back at the Marc Davis / Al Bertino patriotic animatronic wonder and how some of it's pieces live on today.

Think of Carousel of Progress meets Country Bear Jamboree meets American Adventure.  It was hosted by an eagle named Sam, voiced by the great Burl Ives, and co-hosted by Ollie Owl.  Shows ran from 1974-1988 in Tomorrowland's Carousel Theater, Disneyland.  It replaced The Carousel of Progress which was moved to The Magic Kingdom in 1975.  The empty round building with it's rotating outer ring of seating and stationary set of inner stages was a perfect fit for such an idea.  Though I've always thought the Tomorrowland setting was not entirely fitting, America Sings was a really swell! 

 

 

After closing in 1988, a number of America Sings' audio animatronics were repurposed in the 1989 E-Ticket log flume adventure, Splash Mountain- Sam and Ollie, were not included in the move.  Splash Mountain's Song of the South premise with Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, Brer Bear, and friends was an inviting setting for these friendly Marc Davis critters.  Costumes, props, and character poses were changed to fit the new storyline.

Below you'll find side-by-side comparisons of these critters in both setting.  Also included are some Marc Davis concept drawings for America Sings.  Photos of sculpted maquettes- on display at Disneyland's Opera House (still there today)- are also presented.  Additional photos are from Magic Kingdom's Splash Mountain.  

In October of 1992 the second and third Splash Mountains opened one day apart.  Tokyo Disneyland opened theirs on October 1 while Magic Kingdom opened their Splash Mountain on October 2.  To my knowledge, these rides did not receive any America Sings original animatronic figures, though they were both populated with many reproductions.

 

Foxes and Hens

In Act I - Early South -  foxes, hens and frogs sung Lay Down My Burden in gospel choir fashion.  The foxes and hens now can be seen aboard Disneyland's Splash Mountain's riverboat scene singing Zippity Do Da (without Uncle Remus... thanks to Michael Eisner, that rascal).

Also aboard the Zip-A-Dee Lady riverboat are two musical pigs, a hound guitar-playing dog, and a goose playing the part of river captain up top, and 3 female geese- all from America Sings.  The can-can geese came from Act III of America Sings, featured further below.

Magic Kingdom's Splash Mountain was given a mere 12 characters aboard their riverboat compared the 17 aboard Disneyland's.  No foxes and no hound dog.  In fact, no foxes other than Brer Fox exist in Magic Kingdom's version of the ride.  I imagine the happy foxes could easily be confused with the mischievous Brer Fox set out to kill and eat the attractions main character, Brer Rabbit.

 

The Swamp Boys

The Swamp Boys were made up of the gator trio, a harmonica-playing raccoon (above lower left), and singing frogs.  In Splash Mountain they were divided up, minus the gator trio which stayed together (above lower right).  Notice in the first video posted above the harmonica-playing raccoon is not part of the trio.  Must have been in maintenance that week (or year).  You'll see further down in the post where the raccoon ended up in Splash.

I love comparing the two Marc Davis concepts (above upper left and upper center).  It appears the raccoon was originally supposed to be a harmonica-playing possum.  Are raccoons cuter than possums?  Maybe he wanted variety, considering the fact that a mother possum with her babies was to sing right after the Swamp Boys. The second rendering includes the raccoon and the frogs as part of the Swamp Boys.  This time the gators get clothing.

 
The Swamp Boys frogs (above upper right) appear twice in the Early South act.  They sing Polly Wolly Doodle with the other Swamp Boys and they appear again at the end of the act along with the foxes and hens to sing Lay Down My Burden.  You can see where they are today (above lower left).  The closeup photo of the frog (above lower right) is a replica found in Magic Kingdom's Splash Mountain.  Notice the white eyes, lack of spots, and the different style hat.

 

The Boothill Boys

Before ever looking down on human passers-by with their evil grins as the humans approach Splash Mountain's largest drop, the vulture duo appeared in Act II of America Sings (above lower left and center).  For some reason the Boothill Boys didn't keep their top hats or clothing in California (above upper right) but their counterparts in Florida (above lower right) do wear clothes and have hats.  Why?  Not sure because tuxedos and top hats don't exactly fit the story.

 

Mule, Jitterbug-era College Students

In America Sings a mule ridden by Sam and Ollie in Act I - Early South.  Another mule carries the hound dog in Act II - Old West.  One of the mules (below right) can be seen in Splash Mountain "pulling" a wooden cart with America Sings' Jitterbug-era College Students, two female cats, a male wolf, and a male fox.  This time they wear country attire.

 

Saddlesore Swanson, the Turkey

Saddlesore Swanson sings The Old Chisholm Trail in Act II - Old West (above center).  For his Splash Mountain debut (above right) Saddlesore loses the spurs, gets a new hat and trades in his country guitar for one made out of a turtle shell and tree branch.  He keeps a red handkerchief around his neck, but one with a printed pattern this time. 

 

The Rabbit

During the I've Been Working on the Railroad number in Act II, a rabbit and a fox riding on a rail cart (above left) travel across the stage from left to right and back again.  Is this Brer Rabbit??  Marc Davis was directing animator on the 1946 part-animated, part-live action film, Song of the South.  The rabbit is not supposed to be Brer Rabbit, nor is the fox supposed to be Brer Fox.  Of course not.  But I imagine they were influenced by the Song of the South characters Davis worked with decades earlier.  Today you can see the America Sings rabbit playing the part of Brer Rabbit in Splash Mountain riding the same rail cart (above right).  This time he's wearing pants.

 

Geese 

I always loved the animation of the geese.  The facial expressions and the movement in their long necks.

Geese created for Magic Kingdom are given roles as fishermen (above left, center).  One has caught a boot.  The boot is no longer a real boot but one made of light-weight 'WonderFlex' to lessen the burden on the pole and goose figure.  One goose has caught the hat of another goose.  For more than a decade the hat was directly connected to the fishing line without a hook.  Finally at one point a hook was added. Hooray for details. One goose perpetually tries to catch the same jumping fish with a broken net.... that is if the jumping fish mechanism is properly functioning.  

A couple years before closing, America Sings donated the animatronic skeleton of a singing goose (above right) for the queue of Star Tours.  A binocular/Johnny5-like head was added with some other parts and some paint.  Compare the feet of the geese to the feel of the droid.  The droid definitely kept his webbed bird feet.  Of course a new voice was given.  He sings I've Been Working on the Same Droid, his own version of I've Been Working on the Railroad.  From what I know, Disney-MGM Studios in Florida was also given a goose for their Star Tours queue in 1989.

 

Storks and Can-can Geese

In Act III - Gay Nineties (above left) 4 female can-can geese take stage as another female goose sits in a bird cage above.  Two male storks with out-stretched wings rode old-fashioned bicycles.  The can-can geese still dance today aboard the Zip-A-Dee Lady riverboat mentioned earlier.  The goose from the cage is now on a large mushroom, under a larger mushroom (above lower right) in Splash Mountain today.  The male storks now dance in Splash (above upper right)

 

 

 

Friday
Mar262010

Walking the “Politically Correct” Line

Article by Lilly

 

As a teenager I would always become enraged whenever Disney would change something that I loved in order to be more “Politically correct.” I always felt that people needed to stop picking at everything, just get over it and let things be.

One of the times I remember being most irritated was the refurbishment of Pirates of the Caribbean in the mid 90s. In this refurbishment, Disney made alterations in an attempt to be more politically correct. One change involved the scene which previously displayed two attractive women being chased by pirates and a third heavier woman is chasing the pirate. The scene was altered in a way that turned the focus away from the women and made the pirates appear to be after food or treasure (depending on the park).

In the same scene a large pirate sat against a barrel exhausted from chasing a woman that he is now trying to find. She is, of course, is in the barrel behind him. Here is his dialogue:

This was changed into dialogue about treasure in one park and food in the other park to match what is going on in the rest of the scene (currently, of course, it is Captain Jack Sparrow in the barrel). Now, I realize that comments like "It's sore I be to hoist me colors upon the likes of that shy little wench" and "I be willing to share, I be," aren’t exactly appropriate, but they are pirates and need I mention the girl in the barrel is giggling? Hardly someone who is being terrorized. I really felt that people were just overreacting.

Well, years go by and maturity begins to set in and I begin to realize just how damaging the effects of racism, sexism, and other prejudices are on our society, even when the intentions are innocent. For example, I hate how we use the term “pimp” or “pimpin’” as something cool. Pimps are really terrible men who use violence and drugs to to lure in prostitutes and keep them in line and more and more are becoming involved in the ever growing business of human trafficking. Not cool. Yet we throw around the term like it is.

 

  

So I’m boarding Pirates with my friend who is acutely aware of negative stereotypes and she asks me if I think it is a problem that our society thinks pirates are cool the way people think pimps are cool. Um....pirates are cool. Okay, she had me. I had to acknowledge that pirates are really terribly violent and self indulgent people that do horrible and unmentionable things. But at the same time, I love my version of pirates. You know the ones that are pirates, but still good men (like Boot Straps Bill). Never mind the fact that it is a completely inaccurate depiction of real pirates.

 So here comes the inner struggle. Do I think Disney really ought to try their best to be thoughtful and respectful to all races, cultures, sexes, etc. and only have the most uplifting material void of anything inappropriate? Yes. Do I want Disney to erase everything that had such content in the past? No. I can confidently say that if Bob Iger announced that they planned to tear down Pirates of the Caribbean due to the inappropriate romanticism of pirates, I would stand in front the the attraction with a very stern expression on my face that read something like “over my dead body.”

The truth is, although we love everything Disney stands for, they make tacky decisions here and there. That doesn’t mean we should try and erase every potentially offensive thing Disney has ever done. So many of those things are part of Disney “heritage” if you will.

I mean take Carousel of Progress for example. I have a friend that won’t ride it because of how derogatory it is towards women. I rode it again with her eyes and the truth is, it is degrading towards women in several parts. Should we tear it out? No. The Carousel of Progress was thought up by Walt Disney himself to show the amazing development of technology through time, one of his passions, and how it affected families and influenced culture during those times. Can’t we just ride it for what it is? It doesn’t mean that we have to think being demeaning towards women is okay, but maybe we can just recognize that wasn’t the intention and move on. 

If we took out everything that contained something inappropriate, we would lose many of the greatest works the Walt Disney Company has created.  Evette is getting seriously molested in this scene. Should they have included it? Perhaps not. Should we ban Beauty and the Beast? No. 

How about Peter Pan and the “What Makes the Red Man Red” scene? I doubt there is a Native American on the planet that feels that Native Americans are being accurately portrayed by lyrics like “When did he first say ‘Ug?’” and “Why does he ask you how?” And I’m sure they weren’t fond of the incredibly stereotyped way of the chief spoke, either. So should we take Peter Pan off the shelves for good? Absolutely not. 

Of course you know where this is going. Song of the South has not recently been released in the US due to the racially insensitive tone of the film. Now, I may or may not own a copy of this film and I have watched it many times. When I had first seen it, I argued that Disney executives were crazy. I thought there was nothing insensitive about the film. Okay, I’m over it now. Let’s be honest, black people working on cotton plantations in the south just after the civil war weren’t exactly laughing, singing and telling stories. Heck, even in 1946 when the film was released, James Baskett (Uncle Remus) didn’t go to the premiere because Atlanta was segregated and he wouldn’t have been able to participate in any of the events. Okay, it’s insensitive, I get it. But do we have to ban it? Of course there are rumors it is going to be released soon. Those rumors have been floating around for a long time. But really let’s just release it. Does that mean I excuse the racially insensitive tone of the film? No. It just means I can acknowledge it and still appreciate the role the film played in the development of Disney filmmaking as well as finally see the original source for the song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

All in all, I do hope the Walt Disney Company becomes increasingly sensitive moving forward. It is important. And also, Disney executives if you’re listening...don’t touch anymore of my attractions. Thanks.