TCM’s Treasures from the Disney Vault debuted last December and has now been going strong for a year. Every quarter, Leonard Maltin takes over TCM for an evening of Disney programming. The word “Treasure” does not denote “classic,” but rather celebrates some of the more obscure, less mainstream content the Walt Disney Company has produced. On December 17th, Disney once again takes over the network. Many will sadly miss this, spending the evening at their local theater enjoying Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. But as a collector of Disney films, I have assembled a look ahead at what you can expect from the evening’s lineup including some fun facts to help you determine when to tune-in or which programs to set your DVR for.
8:00 PM – So Dear to My Heart
So Dear to My Heart is a charming musical from 1949 about young Jeremiah and his black sheep Danny, whom he decides to enter into competition at the county fair. This turn-of-the-century piece recasts Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten from Song of the South, who were Disney’s only contracted actors at the time. The primary adult actors are Burl Ives and Beulah Bondi, both wonderful in this picture. The film features many charming original songs, but it was “Lavender Blue” that became a top ten radio hit and earned it an Academy Award nomination for Best Song (it lost to “Baby It’s Cold Outside”).
Filming began in 1946, before Song of the South was even released, and was originally to include many more sequences where animated characters entered the live action world. However, by the end of the two and a half years of production, the final film features animated segues starring characters from Jeremiah’s scrapbook, but is mostly an all live-action feature. Disney did not yet have a robust live action department, and while the talented Disney artists, such as Mary Blaire, contributed to the look of the film, Walt Disney borrowed talented veteran filmmakers from other Hollywood studios to produce it.
I highly recommend tuning in or DVR-ing this film. Perhaps more than any other Disney film, it’s a more personal movie for Walt Disney as it takes place on a Midwest farm around the turn of the century. Walt took up his hobby of model building on this film and was active on set during the train shooting due to his love of steam engines. Many point to this production as the start of his tinkering with the idea of what became Disneyland. And while it isn’t set in winter or at Christmastime, it’s a story about human kindness and that’s what this season is all about.
9:30 PM –Animated Shorts
Last year, Treasures from the Disney Vault kicked off with three classic animated shorts set in wintertime (Santa’s Workshop, On Ice, Chip & Dale). To kick off the rest of the evening’s winter programs, the shorts have been moved to 9:30. This 30-minute programming block again features three shorts, all of which are set in winter at some point in the story.
Rescue Dog is a 1947 short starring Pluto as an arctic rescue dog. When a playful seal gets in his way, Pluto gets upset and tries to retaliate. But when Pluto gets into trouble, the seal is the one who truly comes to the rescue.
The Grasshopper and the Ants is an early Technicolor Silly Symphony from 1934 that retells one of Aesop’s classic fables. While the ants work and prepare for winter, the grasshopper goofs off and plays his song. Left alone in the cold, the ants show him some generosity and allow him to share their harvest. The gag where the grasshopper is so cold he turns blue was new to audiences when this came out, as it was one of the earliest cartoons produced in color. Pinto Colvig, the voice of Goofy, voices the Grasshopper and this is the debut of “The World Owes Me A Living,” which became the Goof’s theme song.
Corn Chips features Chip & Dale facing off against Donald Duck once again in this 1951 short. It’s wintertime and Donald Duck can’t get any peace as Chip and Dale steal his popcorn. His quest to retrieve his popped snack proves futile as the chipmunks outsmart him over and over again.
This is another must-see portion of the evening. Presumably all three shorts will be displayed in their most recent HD restorations. While The Grasshopper and the Ants and Corn Chips are available on Blu-Ray, this should be the HD premiere of Rescue Dog.
10:00 PM – Babes in Toyland
Disney’s version of Babes in Toyland is a personal favorite of mine and is always part of my Christmas movie playlist. However, it seems that growing up with it is a prerequisite to enjoying it as an adult. I’ve yet to find anybody who has fallen in love with it beyond adolescence. It was not a success when it debuted in 1961, but thanks to regular TV airings around Christmastime it became a holiday favorite for many families.
Set in Mother Goose Village, the crooked man Barnaby plots to split up Tom Piper and Mary Quite Contrary to gain access to her dowry. After kidnapping Tom and setting the family’s sheep free, Mary and her family follow them into the Forest of No Return where they find shelter in a toy factory. But when Barnaby follows them there, they will have to enlist an army of toys to get their happy ending.
It’s fitting that Babes in Toyland is airing on the same night as So Dear to My Heart because this was the first full fledged live action musical Disney made since 1949. The melodies are all from the Victor Herbert operetta, but with new lyrics and arrangements by Disney studio songwriters George Bruns and Mel Leven. Disney pulled out nearly all of their top talent to star, including Annette Funicello, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran and Henry Calvin. Teen crooner Tommy Sands was cast opposite Annette and during production on this, the pair also recorded the theme song for The Parent Trap.
In many ways, Babes in Toyland pays homage to the great MGM musical spectaculars of the 1940’s and early 1950’s. Borrowing some of MGM’s former talents, including Ray Bolger and Ed Wynn, this musical was shot entirely indoors and features some amazing choreography and costumes. Despite its faults, it features some wonderful performances, particularly Bolger in one of his view villainous roles. The iconic “March of the Toy Soldiers” sequence has lived on for decades as a staple of Christmastime at Disney Parks around the world.
If you’ve never seen Babes in Toyland, now is the perfect time. It’s clear that Disney learned a lot while making it, lessons that paved the way for Mary Poppins to be “Practically perfect” just three years later. Also of note to film buffs is that Toyland was the result of Disney’s attempt to make a film based on the L. Frank Baum Oz books, recycling much of the cast and crew from the scrapped Rainbow Road to Oz film. In fact, Ray Bolger’s talks with Disney began because he was to reprise his role as the Scarecrow in that picture which was cancelled as Walt realized nothing would be able to compare with the MGM classic.
The night is still young, continue to the next page to finish the evening's lineup.