Saturday, April 6, 2013

More on the Disney-Mormon Connection

My Granddaughter as Princess Snow White.
She has a few other costumes her mom made made for her.
There are worse things than being a Disney Princess - Malibu Barbie, for instance. While my granddaughter lives closer to Malibu than to Disneyland as her dad works at the Disney Studios in beautiful downtown Burbank, her destiny as a Disney Princess is pretty sure. And I think that's just fine.

As I promised a little more research on the Disney-Mormon connection, I thought I would share what I have so far. The most recent and solid connection is the 2001 Disney movie The Other Side of Heaven based on a Mormon  Missionary's experiences in Tonga. It also featured a young Anne Hathaway, now an Academy Award winner, as the missionary's intended bride who stayed at home to wait for her missionary. She was fresh off her first movie role as a Disney Princess as training under the tutelage of Mary Poppins herself (Julie Andrews) in The Princess Diaries.

The Heaven movie was a rather modest success. There were a lot of DVDs sold in Utah. I had a non-Member friend who told me he was interested to see it, but he bogged down in boredom and didn't finish watching. Oh well.

The Disney-Mormon connection is deeper historically and culturally. As I noted the other day, we saw a lot of Mormon families at Disneyland this week. It is Spring Break for some schools in Utah and maybe elsewhere in the western US. Waiting in line for the Peter Pan ride, I asked the parents if I could take this picture of one little boy whose mother takes as much care as my daughter-in-law in the Disney connection. Later that day, we discovered that they were LDS as well.

Mormon Boy Peter Pan at Disneyland
No one wants to grow up!
Now to a little more of the history. My boy is far from the first Mormon to have worked for Disney. There's this magical voice for one, as reported on Keepa. And I've always been suspicious that some of those playing characters at the Park are graduates of BYU's "Young Ambassadors" or other Mormon-style "feel good" entertainment. And there was the Osmond-Disney connection. As evidence, click here and here. The first clip is from 1970 and could very well be from the TV special my brother and I saw in the flat in San Francisco making that surreal Sixties experience even odder (before I even knew the Osmonds were Mormons).

And it goes even farther back in the history and the cross-cultural pollination. I remember seeing many Disney films at church functions. When we were lucky, we saw something like Toby Tyler or Treasure Island. On less lucky occasions, we made do with a Disney nature film. I read somewhere about the LDS Church having Disney films in its lending library that could be sent to local congregations. There some reference to that in this BYU Studies article A History of Mormon Cinema here.

And the article on the history of Mormon films also includes the rather direct connection that Wetzel "Judge" Whitaker was one of Disney's prominent animators - he worked on Peter Pan and even developed Donald Duck! (See also this blog posting.) In 1946 he hosted LDS Apostles on a tour of Disney Studios and assisted in the production of two instructional films for the church while still at Disney. He was eventually asked to establish the motion picture studios at BYU. Many church films he helped produce have a distinctive Disney feel. I remember when The Windows of Heaven was first shown at our ward in the Seattle suburbs in 1963. That is the one about President Lorenzo Snow's trip to St. George and the preaching of Tithing. I talked about it at show and tell (mostly about the ducks who were happy when it finally rained). This was much to the confusion of my teacher in that my mom had to explain things to her a little. My family still enjoys that movie even if they wince at my imitations of President Snow in his creaky old voice every time we go to Utah's Dixie, "I don't know why the Lord called me to St. Jarge [George]. . . ."

So back and forth the influence went. It's not just Disney. Southern California became one of the principal locations for out-migration of Intermountain-West Mormons. There's a great Calvin Grondahl cartoon I remember showing the "This Is the Place" Monument and next to it, a statue of a frazzled family in a station wagon with the "I Think I'll Take that Job in San Diego" Monument. But Disney himself knew and respected the Mormons.

The main thing with my son working at Disney is that I'm waiting for the day I can see the names of the Statisticians in the end credits. And it's OK by me if his girl is a Princess.

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