In debt to Disney's version

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Published: Feb 13 2015, 01:01:am

Friday, February 13, 2015


     Recalling Leslie Nielsen's birthday earlier this week, I posted my review of the 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure, in which the Regina-born actor played the captain of the doomed ship. I also recalled that early in his career Nielsen starred in the eight-part Swamp Fox mini-series that was the dramatic highlight of the Disneyland television show's sixth season (or, to be absolutely precise, its second season as Walt Disney Presents).

    At a time when most movie moguls considered television their enemy, Walt Disney saw an opportunity for growth and influence. Already planning his company's expansion into the production of real-life experiences — it was his idea to re-imagine the traditional amusement park as something more: a theme park — Disney saw TV as the way to raise money and audience awareness for his Disneyland dream.

    When it went to air in October, 1954, TV's Disneyland promised viewers entertainment originating from Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland and ("the happiest kingdom of them all") Fantasyland. Designed as a grand promotion for the theme park (which just happened to incorporate the same four "lands" in its design), it ran regular reports on the progress of construction, and major coverage of its July 1955 opening.

    The TV show drew from the studio's film library, and cross-promoted new Disney feature films. It also featured original material, demonstrating along the way television's power to create social phenomena. The mid-1950s Davy Crockett craze was both a surprise and a revelation to Disney, the all-American son of a Canadian farmer who'd moved to the U.S. in search of gold.

    Like those Google guys who adopted "don't be evil" as their corporate motto, Disney did his best to be a force for good in his community. The True Life Adventure documentaries that were the heart of Adventureland's programming championed what was then known as conservation (and would become known as environmentalism).

    Tomorrowland worked hard to make science interesting, and began advocating on behalf of the U.S. space program more than four years before the October, 1958, founding of NASA. Frontierland offered values-laden history lessons.

    And, yes, Disneyland moved the merchandise as well. Walt Disney's death in December, 1966, resulted in a major corporate crisis for the company he'd built. What happened after that . . . well, that's another story entirely.

    As for the Reeling Back archive, the work continues. My ten most recent additions to it were:

CHAINDANCE — Finding a project he believed in, Michael Ironside pulled out all the stops. He co-wrote the screenplay, produced and provided a superb starring performance for this challenging 1991 tale of prisoner rehabilitation through social service. (Posted February 12)

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE — Following the mass-market success of producer Irwin Allen's 1973 suspense thriller about a capsized ocean liner, the 1970s became the decade of the all-star disaster epic. (Posted February 11)

JERRY GOLDSMITH (8 scores) — Arguably the greatest composer of motion-picture music ever, Jerry Goldsmith left a legacy of soundtrack recordings. Eight of his CDs released in the 1990s are reviewed here. (Posted February 10)

ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES — In 1993, director Barry Sonnenfeld returned to the spooky mansion for a second visit, but had real difficulty finding much humour in this lame tribute to the 1960s television hit that was based on an even older series of New Yorker magazine cartoons. (Posted February 9)    

OUR FEATURE FILM FEST: 8 — In Part 8 of a 20-part series, Reeling Back continues its restoration of 1997's Greater Vancouver Book Feature Film Festival, with notes on the nine features in the program called Self-Portraits. (Posted February 8)

WHITE PALACE — Considered brave and even shocking in 1990, director Luis Mandoki's look at love and lust involving an older woman (Susan Sarandon) and a youngish man (James Spader) is so pre-social media. (Posted February 7)    

THE SILENCE OF THE NORTH — Director Allan King brought a documentarist's eye to this 1981 film. A special project for its star, Ellen Burstyn, it told the story of Olive Fredrickson, a pioneer woman who survived adversity in the Canadian wilderness. (Posted February 6)    

THE CRAZIES — Now a Canadian based in Toronto, George Romero will always be remembered as the father of the modern zombie movie. In this 1977 feature, though, he took a hard look at government response to a miltary experiment gone wrong. (Posted February 4)

A WINTER TAN — Self-destructive American feminist icon Maryse Holder is remembered in this 1987 Canadian feature filmed in Mexico, made memorable by an intense, unstoppable performance from the irrepressible Jackie Burroughs. (Posted February 2)

THE LITTLE MERMAIDSong of the Sea, one of the five cartoons nominated for the 2015 best animated feature Oscar, tells the story of a selkie. That makes Saoirse, the new film's heroine, a distant cousin of Ariel, the fish-tailed songstress featured in this 1989 Disney musical adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale. (Posted February 1)