Once upon a time, Walt Disney was thinking about building his next theme park in St. Louis, Missouri. Though Disneyland was a great success, research showed that only two percent of visitors came from east of the Mississippi River. In order to reach that part of the country, Disney figured, he’d have to build a park that was more accessible to them. In addition to St. Louis, the company considered Niagara Falls and Baltimore, but St. Louis is the city they were most serious about, even going so far as to draw up 13 pages of blueprints.
As any Missourian can tell you, the weather isn’t exactly temperate year-round. So, instead of creating an outdoor theme park as he had in Anaheim, Disney planned to construct a five-story building in downtown St. Louis. Attractions would have included a tribute to Missouri’s Meramec Cavern and a Lewis and Clark Adventure ride.
Unfortunately for St. Louis (and all Midwesterners, really), those plans were scrapped. It was long rumored that the park went kaput due to a dispute between Disney and Anheuser-Busch head August Busch, Jr., about serving alcohol. Walt was opposed; you can probably guess Busch’s stance. In reality, other factors were likely at play, including funding—Disney offered to pay for the rides, but wanted St. Louis to pay for the building. When the city’s redevelopment corporation nixed that idea, Disney may have looked a little harder at Florida and decided he liked what he saw there.
But there’s still at least one remnant of Disney St. Louis floating around today, and you can own it: Those 13 pages of blueprints for “Walt Disney’s Riverfront Square” go up for auction on Thursday. This little piece of history is expected to go for somewhere between $5000 and $10,000. Other pieces of Disneyana are also on the auction block, including a stretching portrait from the Haunted Mansion, a ride vehicle from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and shrunken heads from the Jungle Cruise.
Forty years ago, on November 3, 1977, Pete's Dragon was released in theaters across America. Though it was a box office disappointment at the time, it has since turned into a beloved classic for the generations of audiences who grew up with Pete and Elliott. In honor of its 40th anniversary, check out these brazzle-dazzle facts about the Disney classic.
1. ELLIOTT WAS VOICED BY VETERAN ACTOR CHARLIE CALLAS.
Charlie Callas was a comedian known for his rubbery face long before Jim Carrey was around.
2. IT WAS HELEN REDDY’S FIRST LEADING ROLE IN A FILM.
You’d assume that working with an invisible dragon would be pretty challenging for anyone, let alone someone new to the film industry, but Helen Reddy enjoyed the experience. “I only had one actual scene with the dragon," she explained, "and during rehearsals I worked with a latex model of his head so that I would be familiar with the dimensions during filming.”
3. REDDY’S BALLAD IN THE MOVIE WAS NOMINATED FOR AN OSCAR.
Reddy's "Candle on the Water" was nominated for Best Original Song. It lost to “You Light Up My Life.”
4. DON BLUTH SUPERVISED ELLIOTT'S ANIMATION.
The project notoriously called for a lot of overtime hours, and a couple of years after Pete's Dragon was released, animator Don Bluth left Disney. He went on to animate and direct The Secret of NIMH (1982), An American Tail(1986), The Land Before Time (1988), and All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), among others.
5. CALIFORNIA DOUBLED FOR MAINE.
The movie may look like it takes place in Maine, but neither the cast nor crew went anywhere near the Pine Tree State. The landscape scenes were courtesy of Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch in Canyon Country, California, while the Passamaquoddy town square and wharf area was constructed on the Disney Burbank Studio lot, partly from an old Western set. Even the harbor was constructed on-set.
6. ACTOR SEAN MARSHALL HAD NO FORMAL ACTING BACKGROUND.
Despite this, he beat hundreds of kids who auditioned to play Pete. “I think Disney always went for kind of the natural,” he said.
7. MARSHALL BECAME AN ALL-AMERICAN POLE VAULTER IN COLLEGE.
He partially attributes his athletic success to his role in the film, saying that the training he went through for the part, especially ballet, made him more of an athlete.
8. THE LIGHTHOUSE BEACON COULD BE SEEN FOR MILES.
Nora and Lampie’s lighthouse was equipped with a real lighthouse lens and a wickstand that could create a beacon that was visible for 18 to 24 miles. Constructed on California's Morro Bay, Disney had to obtain permission from the U.S. Coast Guard to actually light the lamp. There were plans to eventually move the lighthouse to Disneyland, but it became too deteriorated.
9. MICKEY ROONEY AND RED BUTTONS DID SOME AD-LIBBING.
The scene where Mickey Rooney and Red Buttons drunkenly walk to the cave to see Elliott turned into a massive ad-lib session, with each comedian trying to outdo the other with pratfalls and slapstick. “The director said, ‘That was fantastic, but we can’t have a 20-minute scene where you two are just walking through the cave. We’ve got to re-shoot it,’” Marshall recalled.
10. IT WAS A DISAPPOINTMENT AT THE BOX OFFICE.
The film only made $18 million in the U.S., which was a real disappointment to Disney. The studio was hoping to experience the same level of success it had had with another movie that mixed live action and animation—Mary Poppins.
11. THE SODIUM VAPOR PROCESS WAS USED TO MIX ANIMATION AND LIVE ACTION SCENES.
Invented by Ub Iwerks, the co-creator of Mickey Mouse, the process involved using a camera with a prism installed that separated the sodium vapor lights from the rest of the color. This projected a yellow light onto the screen behind the actor, which could later be subtracted out, and any background could be added in its place.
12. THERE’S A GOOFY YELL TUCKED AWAY IN THE FILM.
It’s when Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) accidentally sends himself flying via harpoon. Listen for it at 1:13 below.
It may not have followed Rudyard Kipling's book exactly—in fact, Walt Disney preferred that scriptwriters not read the book—but The Jungle Book was a toe-tapping box office success. Here are a few "bare necessities" you should know about the 1967 animated classic, which was released in theaters across America 50 years ago.
1. WALT DISNEY THOUGHT THE FIRST VERSION OF THE SCRIPT WAS TOO DARK.
Writer Bill Peet was brought on to script the first version of the movie, but Disney believed it was too dark. It’s not clear whether Peet left or was booted from the project; either way, a new team was brought in for rewrites. Floyd Norman, one of the new writers, said Walt wanted the film to have more laughs and more personality, and—true to Disney form—he also wanted sign off on every little detail.
2. MOST OF THE SONGS WERE DEEMED TOO DARK AS WELL.
Composer Terry Gilkyson was hired to write songs for the movie, but as with the script, Disney felt they lacked a sense of fun. Though the Sherman brothers (Richard and Robert) were brought in to write a new soundtrack, one of Gilkyson’s songs did remain in the movie: "The Bare Necessities." We'd say he got the last laugh: Not only is “The Bare Necessities” one of the best tunes in Disney history, it was also nominated for an Oscar (the film's sole nomination).
3. IT WAS THE LAST ANIMATED FEATURE WALT DISNEY OVERSAW.
When Disney died on December 15, 1966, the studio closed for a single day. Then they got back to business working on the last animated feature Disney had a hand in. It was released on October 18, 1967.
4. A RHINOCEROS CHARACTER GOT CUT.
Rocky the Rhino was intended to be a dim-witted, bumbling, near-blind character that would provide some comic relief. His scenes were completely storyboarded before he got the boot: He was supposed to appear after King Louie’s scene, but Walt didn’t want to put the funny sequences back-to-back.
5. THEY WANTED THE BEATLES TO VOICE THE VULTURES.
The Sherman brothers wrote the vultures’ song “That’s What Friends Are For” with The Beatles in mind, even giving the characters similar accents. But the Fab Four turned them down. “John was running the show at the time, and he said [dismissively] ‘I don’t wanna do an animated film.’ Three years later they did Yellow Submarine, so you can see how things change,” Richard Sherman said.
Here’s what the version of “That’s What Friends Are For” would have sounded like, as well as a glimpse of Rocky the Rhino:
6. THERE ARE MAJOR MISPRONUNCIATIONS IN THE MOVIE.
According to a guide written by Kipling, the main character’s name is pronounced "Mowglee" (accent on the 'Mow,' which rhymes with 'cow'), not “Moe-glee,” which is how Disney chose to say it. In addition, Kaa the snake is supposed to be “Kar,” Baloo the Bear should have been “Barloo,” and Colonel Hathi is really “Huttee.”
7. KING LOUIE WAS BASED ON LOUIS ARMSTRONG.
Although jazz singer and bandleader Louis Prima voiced the fire-obsessed orangutan, he’s not the Louis who the Shermans originally had in mind when they began writing “I Wan’na Be Like You” for the character. "We were thinking about Louis Armstrong when we wrote it, and that's where we got the name, King Louie," Richard Sherman toldThe New York Times. "Then in a meeting one day, they said, ‘Do you realize what the N.A.A.C.P. would do to us if we had a black man as an ape? They'd say we're making fun of him.' I said: ‘Come on, what are you talking about? I adore Louis Armstrong, I wouldn't hurt him in any way.'” In the end, Louis Prima stepped in.
8. A JUNGLE BOOK DANCE SEQUENCE WAS LATER BORROWED FOR ROBIN HOOD.
King Louie and Baloo’s “I Wan’na Be Like You” dance was later repeated, frame for frame, in Robin Hood, which also borrowed dances from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Aristocats. This was achieved through an animation technique called “rotoscoping,” where animators trace over the frames of old footage to use it in a different environment.
9. THE SONG "TRUST IN ME" WAS ALSO RECYCLED.
Originally written for Mary Poppins as “Land of Sand,” “Trust In Me” was recycled with new lyrics for Kaa to sing while hypnotizing poor Mowgli. Here’s what it would have sounded like:
10. THE YOUNG ELEPHANT WAS VOICED BY CLINT HOWARD.
Ron Howard’s younger brother also voiced another Disney youngster: Roo in the Winnie the Pooh movies.
11. PHIL HARRIS BROUGHT NEW LIFE TO BALOO.
Allegedly, Walt Disney chose Harris to voice Baloo after meeting him at a party. At the time, Harris was retired and nearly forgotten in Hollywood. His first day of recording didn’t go so well at first: Harris found Baloo’s tone wooden and boring, so asked if he could try a little improvisation. Once given the go-ahead, "I came out with something like, 'You keep foolin' around in the jungle like this, man, you gonna run across some cats that'll knock the roof in,'" Harris recalled. Disney loved Baloo’s new personality and rewrote lines to suit the style.
12. THERE WAS A SEQUEL.
It came out in 2003 (not direct-to-video, surprisingly) and featured Haley Joel Osment as Mowgli and John Goodman as Baloo. By most accounts, you shouldn’t bother seeing it; it currently has a 19 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.