When Walt Disney Opened an Elementary School

Thanks to the itinerary, the kids knew exactly when he’d be arriving: 3:15 p.m. There were signs and banners and drawings of Mickey Mouse sticking up from the sea of diminutive bodies waiting by the train station. Seven thousand people in total huddled around the tracks.

When he arrived, he stuck his head out of the compartment to wave a conductor’s hat complementing a dark suit. As he stepped off, the children surged forward, nudging away the politicians who had come out to greet him.

It was a Saturday. The kids were headed for school. They didn’t care. Walt Disney was coming with them.

Already famous for having guided his studio into feature-length animation in the 1930s, Walt's notoriety grew exponentially when he began hosting ABC's Disneyland anthology show in 1954. That same year, when the children in the Tullytown, Penn. school district were asked who they’d like their new elementary building to be named after, officials heard a chorus: the only choice was Walt Disney.

Tullytown was part of land developer William Levitt’s burgeoning suburban stretches. (It would later be known as Levittown.) With immaculately-kept lawns, new housing, and layouts designed for families—no school was ever more than a mile’s walk, with no intersections to cross—it fit Disney’s infatuation with utopias. Coincidentally, he was mired in planning Disneyland when the school board contacted him with the proposal in the spring of 1954.

Flattered, Disney was happy to grant permission. His own school experiences had been slightly traumatic: As a youth, he was told he was the “second-dumbest” in class. Teachers discouraged his interests in drawing and storytelling. This was an opportunity to soften the educational experience and foster—not suffocate—creativity.

State Historical Society of Missouri

Disney assigned in-house artist Bob Moore to design a series of wooden character murals that could be mounted in hallways and the gymnasium; he also had Moore compile original art and animation cels to hang in the school. The children were invited to assign Disney-related names to rooms instead of numbers. The girls' bathroom was the “Mermaid Lagoon”; visitors to the nurse entered “Pegleg Point”; the name plate on the principal’s door read “Captain Hook.”

Though the school opened in April of 1955, Disney didn’t attend the dedication ceremony until September 24 of that year. Arriving from Penn Station, he was greeted by Tullytown’s kids and local and state public officials; a motorcade led him to the building bearing his name. He laid down a cornerstone on the grounds as the Walt Disney Elementary School Band played songs from his films.  

Inside, kids took turns holding his hand and guiding him door to door. (Disney was amused to see the boiler room labeled “Never-Never-Land.”) When Disney stopped inside a class labeled “Bambi” or “Donald Duck,” he’d tell stories about the making of the film or do a character voice. Toward the end of his visit, the students entertained him with a show in the auditorium.

The 318 kids attending kindergarten through fifth grade at Walt Disney Elementary were the envy of the community, which housed eight public schools in total. They were further spoiled when school board president Benjamin Kine convinced a Congressman to arrange the donation of the Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket, a rocket and jet-powered aircraft. Recently put out of service after having broken the Mach 2 barrier, the $9.5 million plane took up residence in the front yard of the school. Kids could eat lunch in the cockpit. Utopia suited them just fine.

Disney would go on to have over 60 schools named after him, including one in his hometown of Marceline, Mo. When an Anaheim school invited him for a dedication ceremony in 1958, he declared classes “canceled” and piled the students into buses bound for Disneyland.

Walt Disney Elementary in Levittown is still in operation. In 2007, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places due in part to the original artwork that still hangs in the hallways. Disney, who died in 1966, has a portrait in the lobby. It’s said that he’s not often recognized, a fact that would be unthinkable to the children who climbed over themselves for his attention back in 1955.

As Disney was led by hand from room to room that day, kids hanging on his every word, he kept one anecdote to himself. Fed up with school, he had dropped out in the ninth grade.   

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Disney
arrow
travel
Disney World is Giving Away a Glamping Trip in Pandora
Disney
Disney

Short of booking a trip to Zhangjiajie, China—to see the surreal landscape that inspired the floating mountains in Avatar, James Cameron's epic fantasy film—Disney World is the only place on Earth that comes close to recreating the wondrous world of Pandora.

As spotted by Travel + Leisure, the Florida-based theme park is hosting a contest to send one winner and a guest on an overnight "glamping" trip inside Pandora—The World of Avatar, a section of the Animal Kingdom theme park that opened last spring.

For one night only, guests will get to sleep in a luxury tent against a bioluminescent backdrop in the park's Valley of Mo'ara. This will be the first time anyone has had the chance to stay overnight in the Pandora park. Accommodations will be arranged for the other two nights, and the trip also comes with round-trip airfare and specially curated experiences like a drum ceremony, night hike, and a visit from "surprise guests." (Sigourney Weaver, could it be you?)

Don't forget the rides, either. Guests will get a private ride on the 3D attraction "Flight of Passage" as well as the "Na'vi River Journey." A writer for Insider called "Flight of Passage" the "best Disney ride yet," and a writer for Travel + Leisure said it made her cry "literal tears of joy." The lucky winner will also receive a $250 Disney gift card and a photography package and, best of all, guests will get access to any of Disney's theme parks for four days.

To apply for the contest, make a short video explaining why you deserve a getaway and click the link here to submit it. The deadline for entries is June 21, and the trip will take place from July 28 to July 31, 2018.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Pixar/Disney
arrow
entertainment
15 Things You Might Not Know About Finding Nemo
Pixar/Disney
Pixar/Disney

Although we now recognize 2003's Finding Nemo as one of Pixar’s most critically and commercially successful films, the underwater masterpiece didn’t exactly kick off production as a guaranteed goldmine. Here are a few little-known facts about the rocky road leading up to the film’s status as a bona fide blockbuster, on the 15th anniversary of its release.

1. THE FILM WAS INSPIRED BY THE DIRECTOR’S OVERPROTECTIVE NATURE.

“Autobiographical” isn’t exactly the first adjective you’d expect to assign to a road comedy about marine life, but Finding Nemo co-writer/director Andrew Stanton’s story came from a very personal place. As a relatively new father during the film’s development, Stanton found himself at odds with his proclivity to veer into overprotective territory, much in the way viewers see Marlin combating his neuroses in raising his son Nemo. Stanton also had a love for all things aquatic that dated back to a childhood fascination with his dentist’s fish tank, so he used this lifelong interest as a funnel for a deeply emotional story about the challenges of being a good father.

2. ANDREW STANTON WROTE A SCRIPT LONG BEFORE HE WAS “SUPPOSED TO.”

Pixar’s multi-tiered film production process begins with a basic premise pitch to the creative higher-ups, followed by (for all greenlit projects) a written story treatment. Stanton already had a script completed before this second step took place, the only Pixar project to proceed in this manner. 

3. IT TOOK ONLY ONE WORD TO GET THE GREEN LIGHT FOR FINDING NEMO.

“You had me at ‘fish.’” That is precisely what Pixar’s chief creative officer told Stanton following his exhaustive pitch for his passion project.

4. THE MOVIE’S ART TEAM WENT THROUGH MARINE TRAINING PRIOR TO PRODUCTION.

A scene from 'Finding Nemo' (2003)
Disney Pixar

In order to get the look and the feel of Finding Nemo’s characters and world just right, Pixar’s in-house art team was required to take courses and audit lectures in marine biology, oceanography, and ichthyology while enrolling in scuba diving classes.

5. DOGS WERE USED AS MODELS FOR THE FISHY FACIAL EXPRESSIONS.

While the Pixar team’s extensive research on the denizens of the deep yielded a wide variety of spectacular shapes and colors perfectly suited to an animated feature, the underwater populace proved consistently lacking when it came to one anatomical component. The dull eyes of the average finned critter weren’t especially conducive to building expressive characters, so Pixar had to look elsewhere for its optical models. The crew chose one of the most openly expressive members of the animal kingdom on which to model the eyes of its fish characters: dogs.

6. THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT HAD A DIFFERENT TREATMENT FOR THE BARRACUDA INCIDENT.

At first, Stanton kept the inspiration for Marlin’s overprotective attitude—the loss of his wife and all but one of their unborn children in a barracuda attack—a secret to reveal gradually through intermittent flashback sequences. Ultimately, this technique made the revelation obvious and anticlimactic while making Marlin feel substantially less likable, so the script changed.

7. MEGAN MULLALLY WAS FIRED AFTER PRODUCERS HEARD HER REAL VOICE.

In the early 2000s, Megan Mullally was best known for playing the rude and eccentric Karen Walker on Will & Grace. Chief among the character’s recognizable characteristics was her high-pitched voice, which Pixar producers apparently thought would be perfect for an animated fish. Upon hiring Mullally to voice an undisclosed character in the movie, the crew discovered that the actress’s natural voice was of average pitch and that Mullally was unwilling to reproduce “the Karen voice” for the film. As such, Mullally was dismissed from the Finding Nemo cast.

8. GILL WAS A VILLAINOUS CHARACTER IN AN EARLIER VERSION OF THE STORY.

Willem Dafoe as Gill in 'Finding Nemo' (2003)
Pixar/Disney

While the combination of somber coloration, a scowling beak, and the menacing vocals of Willem Dafoe render Nemo’s fish tank pal Gill an intimidating presence, we learn soon enough that he is in fact a good guy who has the best interests of his fellow captives at heart. The original cut of Finding Nemo was more ambiguous about Gill’s integrity, however, making him the owner of a falsified identity that he swiped from a nautical-themed children’s book housed in the dentist’s waiting room.

9. ALBERT BROOKS REPLACED ANOTHER BIG STAR.

Although Albert Brooks’s background in films like Broadcast News and Mother seems like it would have made him an obvious candidate to play the high-strung Marlin, the first actor cast in the role was William H. Macy. The Fargo star recorded his dialogue for an early screening of Finding Nemo, but producers ultimately felt that he lacked the warmth required for the role of the father fish.

10. THE DIRECTOR RECORDED ALL OF ONE CHARACTER’S DIALOGUE WHILE LYING ON A COUCH.

Stanton never intended to commit his voice to the final cut of Finding Nemo, but only to sub in as a placeholder until the right actor could be cast to play Crush, the easygoing sea turtle with the California accent. Perhaps due to his understanding of his vocal contribution as merely temporary (or maybe, in fact, to get into the “slacker” mindset of his character), Stanton recorded all of Crush’s dialogue while lying on a couch in the office of his co-director, Lee Unkrich.

11. THE CEO OF DISNEY THOUGHT FINDING NEMO WOULD BE A FAILURE.

The combination of a poorly cast Marlin, an unsympathetic Gill, and the running flashbacks made the earliest versions of Finding Nemo feel pretty dismal. Still, nobody was quite as defeatist as Michael Eisner, the Walt Disney Company's then-chief executive officer. Eisner predicted the underwater adventure would be a “reality check” for the yet unchallenged Pixar. Eisner’s only positive spin was that a commercial struggle would be helpful during contract renegotiations with the Disney subsidiary. Of course, Eisner’s judgment (and fund-cutting aspirations) came up short when Finding Nemo became Pixar’s highest grossing film—a superlative it would maintain until the release of Toy Story 3 in 2010. It has since been surpassed twice more: first by 2015's Inside Out, then in 2016 by its own sequel, Finding Dory (which maintains the top position).

12. THE MOVIE’S POPULARITY LED TO POPULATION STRESS FOR CLOWNFISH.

Albert Brooks and Alexander Gould in 'Finding Nemo' (2003)
Pixar/Disney

Children were so taken with the adorable Nemo following the release of the film that demand for clownfish as pets instantly skyrocketed. Excessive capture and sale of the ocean dwellers led to a steep decline in the organic population of the species; some natural habitats, such as the waters surrounding Vanuatu, saw a 75 percent drop in clownfish numbers.

13. THE MOVIE ALSO LED TO SOME MISGUIDED FISH LIBERATION MOVEMENTS.

On the other hand, Finding Nemo’s anti-tank agenda did provoke a few ecologically-minded viewers to set their aquatic captives free. Unfortunately, not everyone took the necessary steps to ensure that their newly liberated pet fish were being transported to amenable waters. Certain marine communities suffered from the introduction of predatory and venomous species in unnatural locales, resulting in, once again, ecological imbalance. 

14. SEVERAL ORGANIZATIONS RELEASED “ANTI-FLUSHING” PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS FOLLOWING FINDING NEMO.

While tanked fish Gill’s proclamation that “all drains lead to the ocean” contains a grain of truth, the movie fails to acknowledge the fact that a flushed fish is unlikely to survive a trip down the typical drain. Water treatment company JWC Environmental and Australia’s Marine Aquarium Council were among the companies that offered public warnings that flushing would prove fatal to any pet fish. The former organization suggested that a movie that realistically portrayed a household sea creature’s voyage through the municipal sewage system would be more accurately titled Grinding Nemo.

15. A CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR UNSUCCESSFULLY ACCUSED FINDING NEMO'S CREATORS OF PLAGIARISM.

Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, and Nicholas Bird in 'Finding Nemo' (2003)
Pixar/Disney

A year before the release of Finding Nemo, French author Franck Le Calvez self-published the children’s book Pierrot Le Poisson-Clown, featuring a young clownfish on a quest to reunite with his estranged mother. (In fact, Le Calvez first wrote the story as a screenplay in 1995, but was unable to generate interest in the concept.) After Pixar’s admittedly similar tale hit theaters, Le Calvez sued the studio for copyright infringement, but lost two lawsuits and was ordered to pay $80,000 in damages and court costs.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios