Saturday, December 20, 2008

On TCM: Disney in the flesh

Everyone loves Disney's animated classics. Its live-action features, starting with 1954's magnificent 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, had their ups and downs, but there's a lot of nostalgia for them, which a new Turner Classic Movies documentary, Age of Believing: The Disney Live Action Classics, milks for all its worth. Angela Lansbury narrates, which gets the cozy vibe going, and check out the guest interviewee list: Kurt Russell, Hayley Mills, Dean Jones, Tommy Kirk, Dick Van Dyke, Glynis Johns, Kim Richards, etc., plus lots of footage of Uncle Walt in (live) action.

The documentary, which premiered last weekend, caps a day of Disney programming tomorrow, as TCM showcases some of the A- (and B-, and C-list) live actioners on Sundays this month. The show ends with 1982's Tron, and pretty much skips over the flailing studio's bid for Star Wars coin with 1979's The Black Hole, which kicks off a day of sci-fi and supernatural-themed outings. Included are the two Witch Mountain pictures (the second had no less than Christopher Lee and Bette Davis as the bad guys), Lansbury in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and Jodie Foster (pictured) and Barbara Harris terrific in Freaky Friday. Foster really was something: From the start you can see the formidable actress she would become, and she harmonizes with David Niven and Helen Hayes in Candleshoe, which is also being broadcast. (1984's Splash, from the Eisner era, got the live-action market back on its feet, as Disney sprouted different branches and moved into PG, PG-13, and R-rated movies, big boxoffice achieved at the price of homogenization.)

It all takes me back to the K-Cinema in Randolph, NJ, which had Disney double features in the mid-70s. 1965's That Darn Cat!!, with Mills and Jones supported by a typically delightful supporting cast including Dorothy Provine, Elsa Lanchester, Roddy McDowall, Neville Brand, William Demarest, Grayson Hall, Frank Gorshin, and the inevitable Richard Deacon, was a favorite. I hate how Disney has looted its heritage by remaking these pictures, with better special effects but duller actors and charmless scripts. (If your kids prefer Robin Williams in Flubber over Fred MacMurray in The Absent-Minded Professor, show them the door.) But nothing lasts forever. The K-Cinema switched from Cat to pussy after the Disney run ended, and became a porn theater.

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