As much as I love the Disney animated films, I think it’s important to remember the contributions the Walt Disney Company has made to the live-action film industry, as well. And I’m not referring to films made by its subsidiary companies like Touchstone or Miramax, either. I mean actual Disney films that you may have never recognized as part of the Disney family. For example:
Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier is a 1955 live-action Walt Disney adventure film starring Fess Parker as Davy Crockett. Due to the immense popularity of the Davy Crockett Disney television series, Disney compiled three of the broadcasts (Davy Crockett Indian Fighter, Davy Crockett Goes to Congress, and Davy Crockett at the Alamo) into a feature film. I think the coonskin caps that were found on the head of nearly every boy under the age of thirteen at the time are the only testament needed to Davy’s immense popularity.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a 1954 film starring Kirk Douglas as Ned Land, James Mason as Captain Nemo, and Peter Lorre as Conseil. It is the first science fiction film produced by Walt Disney Pictures, and is also the first feature length Disney film to be distributed by Buena Vista Distribution. The film has become the most well-known adaptation of the book of the same name by Jules Verne.
Darby O'Gill and the Little People is perhaps not as familiar as the previous two. It’s a 1959 Walt Disney Pictures feature film starring Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro, and a relatively unknown newcomer at the time, Sean Connery, in a tale about a wily Irishman and his battle of wits with leprechauns.
Another actor who got a lot of his early breaks from Disney was Kurt Russell. Even before his series of Disney movies in the ‘60s and 70’s (The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, and The Strongest Man in the World) where he played Dexter Riley, a student at Medfield College (the same school featured in The Absentminded Professor, by the way), Russell appeared in the Disney films Follow Me Boys (1966) and 1968’s The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band (Goldie Hawn, Russell’s long-time girlfriend, had a bit part in this movie as well).
Moving into the ‘70s, another up and coming actress got her shot through some Disney movies: Jodie Foster appeared in a number of Disney films, including Napoleon and Samantha (1972), One Little Indian (1973), Freaky Friday (1976), and Candleshoe (1977).
Around this time, Disney returned to the realm of science fiction, with such cult classics as The Black Hole, Tron, and Flight of the Navigator. They also started delving into some racier properties, like 1990’s Dick Tracy, starring Warren Beatty and Madonna. Yes, Madonna in a Disney film! Of course, Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney seemed like tame fare after the provocative and voluptuous Jessica Rabbit from 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Even today, many people don’t realize that wonderful films such as Remember the Titans (2000) and Earth (2007) are part of the Disney lexicon, as well. Of course, once Tron: Legacy joins this esteemed group in December, 2010 I’ll be geeking out to see how it stacks up to the original!
Hidden references to many of these lesser-known classics can be found throughout the Walt Disney World Resort. Sometime soon, we’ll take a look around WDW and help you find some of these subtle tributes!