I’m delighted to be hosting another night of “Treasures from the Disney Vault” on Turner Classic Movies this coming Sunday, beginning at 8pm EST. It seemed appropriate—if not inevitable—that with St. Patrick’s Day upon us we should begin with Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959). It’s a delightful, often dark Irish fantasy that also serves a magnificent showcase for the ingenuity of the Disney team, including matte painter Peter Ellenshaw and jack-of-all-trades Ub Iwerks, who created startling visual effects that hold their own alongside any of today’s CGI marvels. Darby also features a young Sean Connery, just four years before he became internationally famous as James Bond.
Darby is followed by the Disneyland TV show that promoted its release. But unlike other such programs, this one doesn’t take us behind the scenes or simply spell out the story: instead, Walt Disney stars as himself in I Captured the King of the Leprechauns. It’s the only time I can think of that Walt stepped out of his traditional role as host and became an active participant in one of his shows. If you’re a Disney fan and you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat.
TCM couldn’t think of another leprechaun in the Disney library so they settled for a cartoon about elves: the 1932 Silly Symphony Babes in the Woods. It’s followed by another of the best television hours Walt ever produced, The Story of the Animated Drawing. Who else could have given the prime-time viewing public a lesson in the history of animation, dating back to cave drawings and the first “illusions of life?” The recreation of Winsor McCay presenting Gertie the Dinosaur is worth the price of admission (so to speak) all by itself.
Next up, it’s one of my favorite animated features, The Three Caballeros (1945), a cornucopia of colorful sights and sounds inspired by Walt’s trip to Central and South America in 1941. Donald Duck, Jose Carioca and Panchito are the title characters in this lively, underappreciated picture. It is followed by the TCM premiere of Theodore Thomas’ fine documentary Walt and El Grupo (2008), which traces that milestone field trip South of the Border by retracing Walt’s steps and having wives and children of the traveling artists read the letters they sent home. It’s a moving and eye-opening experience.
The Disney marathon comes to a close with The Fighting Prince of Donegal (1966), one of Walt’s many British-made swashbucklers.
I feel fortunate to have had a hand in selecting some of these films and TV segments, and it’s rewarding to be able to introduce them on the air. The next Disney evening will air just before July 4th…and yes, there will be more to come. You can read more at www.tcm.com/disney.
8:00 PM Darby O’Gill and the Little People
9:45 PM I Captured the King of the Leprechauns
10:45 PM Babes in the Woods (Silly Symphony about elves – closest I could get to Leprechauns)
11:00 PM The Story of the Animated Drawing (great history of animation)
12:00 AM The Three Caballeros (animated classic not often seen)
1:30 AM Walt & El Grupo (documentary about Walt’s trip to South America)
3:15 AM The Fighting Prince of Donegal (back to the Irish theme to end the night)