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Thursday Treasures

March 22, 2012

Thursday Treasures: Disney Film Premieres

By: Pedro Hernandez

Back in the day, there was something that Disney used to do very, very well, and that was treat its animated movies like big, once in a lifetime, events. It was more than just a movie that was out at the time and then released on home video a few months later, it was something that needed to be experienced while you could! Disney spared no expense in making sure people went to see these movies and would be entertained from the minute the opening credits roll till the last note of the musical is heard, even if it meant invading New York or New Orleans and put on the biggest show ever in honor of the latest Disney Animated Classic. That's precisely what they did in 1995, 1996 and 1997 when Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules premiered respectively.

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon?
Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grins?
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountain?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

After the grand success of The Lion King, it seemed like Disney saw that the rest of the Disney films could benefit from this momentous occasion. The next film after The Lion King would have to be treated as something that was beyond special. Pocahontas was the movie premiere that Disney thought would give them great prestige. While film critics and audiences would think otherwise as time went on, Disney decided that its premiere would have to be more than just a press event for the stars and production team members to exclusively enjoy. Pocahontas would have its premiere in New York, most specifically in Central Park, on June 10, 1995. The event was huge to say the least as four giant screens adorned the park and displayed the movie to thousands of New Yorkers and Disney fans. It wasn't televised on the Disney Channel at the time, but they sure did talk about it a lot. And for good reason! Regardless of whether you love the film as a romantic period piece or hate it with a passion you have to agree that this was something that many would remember for its sheer ambition alone.

Topsy Turvy!
Everything is upsy-daisy!
Topsy Turvy!
Everyone is acting crazy!
Dross is gold and weeds are a bouquet!
That's the way of Topsy Turvy day!

The next film premiere, however, was indeed televised. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was considered at the time to be an epic and bold film. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, this was no mere animated film: it set out to tell an emotionally charged story with one of the unlikeliest Disney heroes ever. Even if the story featured themes of social cruelty, injustice and corruption of the church, Disney still had a lot of jolly good fun to celebrate. The film's 'Feast of Fools' scene is easily the lightest part of the entire film with this wacky visuals and upbeat music. So with that scene in mind, Disney put on a massive show in New Orleans that included a parade that ran through the French Quarter, and a huge concert featuring music from the Disney classics. Titled 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame Festival of Fun Musical Spectacular,' Disney recorded and then aired the event on the Disney Channel in the summer of 1996. The concert was held at the Louisiana Super Dome and featured talent from many of the modern Disney films, like Jodi Benson and Sam Wright (The Little Mermaid), Paige O'Hara (Beauty and the Beast), Lebo M (The Lion King), All-4-One (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and many more. They sung various of the modern songs and concluded the show with a massive show stopper featuring nearly every Disney character that ever existed at the time appearing on stage along with a fireworks extravaganza.


I remember taping it off of TV and thinking it was one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. It made The Hunchback of Notre Dame a film I would remember as being an event that shouldn't be missed. I never saw the movie while it was in theaters, but I was there when it premiered (well, not physically there, but you get my point) and was hyped as almost the second coming of Disney animation.

I am on my way, I can go the distance!
I don't care how far, somehow I'll be strong!
I know every mile, will be worth my while
I would go most anywhere
To find where I belong!

The next year, Hercules was set to premiere and take its place in the grand line of animated classics. Disney returned to New York to hold its premiere. This time, they came with a Disney theme park tradition: The Main Street Electrical Parade. You all know what Main Street Electrical Parade is all about: a pageant of lights bringing to life some of the most beloved Disney classics of all time. For years, the parade has delighted theme park guests with its bright imagination and colorful aesthetic. Knowing how important and iconic the parade is, Disney took it to New York, added two Hercules-themed floats and called it 'The Hercules Electrical Parade'. The Hercules floats lead the way, the first one featuring Hercules, Phil and Meg as Pegasus pulls on the float. The second float was that of Hades and featured his henchmen, Pain and Panic. The classic Main Street Electrical Parade followed not far behind. This too was also televised on the Disney Channel. In between the parade footage they would show interviews with the cast and crew behind the film and further sing the praises of this film.

It's funny how three of Disney's most 'controversial films' (in terms of critical and general audience reception) received the biggest premieres ever at the time of their release. With Mulan, though, they kept things quiet and on a smaller scale. Sure the hype for the movies after Hercules was there. We still got the McDonald's toys, the commemorative plates and cups, the toys, the video games and making-of specials on the Disney Channel (more on those things... later), but none of them would top the scale these premieres presented. There's a reason why the Disney Animated Classics have become more than institutions of our childhood, destroying the barriers of adulthood and becoming something that would stay with us forever. A lot of love and care went into the creation of these films, and they deserved the best when they were finally presented to the world. Once more, it doesn't matter if you loved these three films in particular or see them as the weakest of the line-up, it was awesome to see something so big and so magical come to life in front of our lives.


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