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Disney's real-life lessons

Forced by British law to produce movies there, the studio's forays from animation proved popular and lucrative.

June 29, 2007|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Walt Disney took a small step away from animation in the 1940s with the live-action/animated features "Song of the South" and "So Dear to My Heart," and in 1950 he made his first foray into pure live action, "Treasure Island," in England.

The impetus was financial -- British law required American film companies to use a percentage of the money they made showing films and shorts in England to produce movies there. So Disney financed 80% to 90% of "Treasure Island" with those funds.

The film proved so popular that Disney began churning out more live-action features. Though the first few movies were produced in England, Disney moved his live-action division to the Burbank studio with his 1954 sci-fi extravaganza, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

The American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre celebrates "Disney Live-Action Classics" with a five-day festival beginning July 11.

Opening the series is a screening of the restored 1955 adventure "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier." The historical epic was culled from "Davy Crockett," the phenomenally successful three-part episode from Disney's ABC series "Disneyland," which took the country by storm in late 1954. Lanky Fess Parker became an overnight sensation as the plain-spoken frontiersman, and the toe-tapping theme song performed by Bill Hayes sold 10 million copies. Disney also made oodles from sales of coonskin caps, lunch boxes and even watches. Directed by Norman Foster, the film also stars Buddy Ebsen.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 30, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Hayley Mills: An article in Friday's Calendar section about the Aero Theatre's celebration of Disney live-action classics misspelled the first name of actress Hayley Mills, who starred in 1961's "The Parent Trap," as Haley.

On tap for July 12 is 1961's "The Absent Minded Professor," which was so popular it spawned a sequel, "Son of Flubber," a TV miniseries remake and a feature remake with Robin Williams. Nominated for three Academy Awards, the quirky comedy stars one of Disney's favorites, Fred MacMurray, in the title role as a scatterbrained college chemistry professor who stumbles onto Flubber, a rubbery substance that defies gravity. Nancy Olson, Ed and Keenan Wynn and Tommy Kirk, another member of the Disney stock company, also star.

Rounding out the evening is the 1961 version of "The Parent Trap," which stars Disney golden girl Haley Mills in the dual roles of twin sisters separated at birth by their parents' divorce and reunited at a summer camp. They decide to switch places so they can bring their parents (Brian Keith and Maureen O'Hara) back together.

Scheduled for July 13 are two features from the 1970s. "Escape From Witch Mountain," from 1975, has developed a strong cultfollowing. In fact, writer-director Craig Brewer cast Kim Richards as Christina Ricci's mom in "Black Snake Moan" because he was such a fan.

"Freaky Friday," from 1977, is a clever comedy starring Jodie Foster as a rebellious young girl about to enter her teenage years. Barbara Harris plays her self-confident mom. Secretly, they envy each other's lives, and then on one "freaky Friday" they end up in each other's bodies.

The series continues with Disney's magical 1964 film "Mary Poppins," the colorful, action-packed 1960 adaptation of Johann David Wyss' novel "Swiss Family Robinson," and "Treasure Island," and it concludes Sunday with a feline double bill. The 1965 film "That Darn Cat!" stars Mills as a young woman who believes that the collar of her crafty Siamese cat D.C. holds the clue to a kidnapped woman.

A must-see for cat lovers is 1963's haunting "The Three Lives of Thomasina." Karen Dotrice plays a young motherless Scottish girl whose beloved orange tabby dies at the hands of her emotionless vet father (Patrick McGoohan). But the supposedly dead Thomasina is brought back to life by a young woman (Susan Hampshire) with seemingly magical powers.


`Disney Live-Action Classics'

Where: American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica

When: July 11 through 15

Price: $7 to $10

Contact: (323) 466-FILM or go to


All programs start at 7:30 p.m. unless noted.

July 11: "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier"

July 12: "The Absent Minded Professor," "The Parent Trap"

July 13: "Escape to Witch Mountain," "Freaky Friday"

July 14: "Mary Poppins," 3 p.m.; "Swiss Family Robinson," "Treasure Island"

July 15: "That Darn Cat!," "The Three Lives of Thomasina"

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