This week, here are 50 things you might not know about 11 Disney films from the company's middle period, starting with Golden-Era classics like "Lady and the Tramp" and "Sleeping Beauty" and working through "The Great Mouse Detective" and "Oliver & Company," which ushered in a new world of computer animation.
Walt Disney first suggested a story built around a pretty, pampered dog in 1937 after visiting Disney studio artist Joe Grant (pictured), his wife, and their springer spaniel named Lady. Disney registered the title "Lady" with the Motion Picture Association of America that year, with plans to create a short film. Reality became part of the story again when the Grants had a baby in 1939. The new arrival to the Grant household confused Lady, and Disney artists subsequently created story drawings and outlines for a "Lady and the Baby" plot in 1939, 1940 and 1941.
At one point in development, "Lady and the Tramp" was set in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake.
Walt Disney wanted the animals in the film to be realistic, so reference models were used. The model for Tramp was a stray mutt found by associate producer and storyman Erdman Penner. The dog was actually female, and was later adopted and lived at the Disneyland Pony Farm.
Hildegarde, a cocker spaniel used as one of the models for Lady, belonged to Verna Felton, the voice actress behind Disney characters like Cinderella's fairy godmother ("Cinderella"), Dumbo's mother ("Dumbo), the Queen of Hearts ("Alice in Wonderland"), Flora ("Sleeping Beauty") and Aunt Sarah ("Lady and the Tramp").
More than 150 animators and artists worked for four years on "Lady and the Tramp," creating 2 million drawings and 110,000 frames of finished film.
An animated film like "Lady and the Tramp" would run about 24 frames per second.
>> Walt Disney, cinema cartoon film king, introduced the two stars of new full length film "The Lady and the Tramp," during the press conference he gave at Dorchester Hotel, July 7, 1953, London, England.
Animator Frank Thomas — one of Disney's Nine Old Men — is responsible for creating some of Disney's most iconic scenes, from Thumper and Bambi on ice to the spaghetti scene in "Lady and the Tramp."
During production for "Lady and the Tramp," Thomas remembers Walt Disney saying to him, "Frank, I've got an assignment for you: we need to show these two dogs falling in love while eating spaghetti."
Thomas called it "one of the most puzzling assignments I had" while working with Disney.
While working on the sequence, Frank Thomas discovered a discarded story reel showing the two dogs accidentally kissing while sharing a single spaghetti noodle. He decided to use the moment and the rest, of course, is Disney history.
Video: Watch the scene here
"Lady and the Tramp" features a dog named Peg, who may not be on screen for long, but still has an interesting backstory:
Walt Disney said that when the film was well underway, songwriters Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke brought the filmmakers a song they weren't expecting, titled, "He's a Tramp." They created a character to sing the song — Peg — and naturally asked Peggy Lee to perform the part.
The character of Peg was originally named "Mamie" because the dog's haircut reminded animators of then-first lady Mamie Eisenhower (pictured left). Peggy Lee, who voiced the dog, said that Walt didn't want to offend the first lady and asked instead if he could name the dog after her. She said that she would love it.
Animator Woolie Reitherman gained a reputation at the Disney studio for animating fight scenes, having worked on the dinosaur fight in "Fantasia," the Headless Horseman chase in "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad," and the dragon fight in "Sleeping Beauty."
Reitherman animated two fights in "Lady and the Tramp," the first being Tramp's battle with the alley dogs and the second being Tramp's fight with the rat at the end of the film. While animating the second battle, Reitherman kept a cage of rats in his office for reference.
The main concern with making "Sleeping Beauty" was finding a way to make it different from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Cinderella."
In order to achieve this, Walt Disney turned to a studio background painter named Eyvind Earle, saying, "Let's see what Eyvind can do."
Disney liked Earle's horizontal, medieval-inspired work, and that was the direction they took the film — it became a moving medieval tapestry.
One feature that makes the design of "Sleeping Beauty" unique is the strength of the backgrounds. In most movies, backgrounds fade out of focus while attention is put on the main characters. In "Sleeping Beauty," however, the foregrounds and backgrounds were kept in focus at all times.
According to former Disney animator Andreas Deja, some of the film's animators almost felt outraged by the backgrounds because they were just as clear and bright as the characters.
Animating the princes in Disney movies is often called "the most thankless job in animation." In animating Prince Phillip, the task became less of a chore due his horse Samson, who provided the animator with a chance to incorporate comedy.
Actress Eleanor Audley had provided the studio with the voice of Lady Tremaine (the wicked stepmother) in "Cinderella," and Walt Disney also wanted her to voice Maleficent in "Sleeping Beauty." However, she turned down the role.
According to animator Andreas Deja, Audley later said that she turned down the role because she was fighting tuberculosis at the time and didn't think she'd be able to handle the recording sessions. Eventually she began to feel better, though, and took the role.
Video: Cinderella's stepmother
Video: Maleficent's curse
Animator Marc Davis originally wanted Maleficent to wear black and red (representing fire), but Eyvind Earle wanted her in black and purple with green fire. Earle won that argument.
The voice actress for Princess Aurora, Mary Costa, had a trace of a Southern accent when she did the first recordings for the film, but Walt Disney told her the accent had to go and she made it happen.
Video: Mary Costa sings "I Wonder"
"Sleeping Beauty" was the last hand-inked Disney feature. In the hand-inking process, artists drew pictures, traced them onto celluloid sheets, outlined and painted them with colored inks and then sent them to clean-up artists.
According to one clean-up artist who worked on "Sleeping Beauty," it took one full day to clean up one drawing, meaning that it would take 24 days to create one second of film.
The three good fairies were originally going to be three of the same character, much like Donald Duck's nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. However, filmmakers later decided to give them three distinct personalities and looks instead.
The three fairies were also originally going to rule over the domains indicated by their names — Flora over flowers and plants, Fauna over animals and birds and Merryweather over the climate.
In the film, Flora gives Princess Aurora the gift of beauty. She is followed by Fauna, who gives the gift of song. Merryweather is about to give the baby the gift of happiness when she is interrupted by the arrival of Maleficent and changes her gift to save Aurora's life.
Barbara Luddy, who voiced the fairy Merryweather, also provided voices in "Lady and the Tramp" (Lady), "Robin Hood" (Mother Church Mouse and Mother Rabbit) and several Winnie the Pooh features (Kanga).
As mentioned in a previous list, Verna Felton (Flora) voiced characters in "Dumbo," "Alice in Wonderland," "Cinderella," "Lady and the Tramp" and "The Jungle Book."
Voice actress Barbara Jo Allen (Fauna, in green) is the only one of the three fairies without a lengthy Disney resume, and is most famous for creating the character "Vera Vague."
"101 Dalmatians" marked a giant shift in Disney storytelling in a number of ways:
1. It was the first Disney film that was current with a contemporary score.
2. It was the first Disney animated feature to not really count as a musical, despite the character Roger's being a songwriter. The only songs in the film are "Cruella De Vil" and "Dalmatian Plantation," with a "Kanine Krunchies" jingle included on the track listings.
3. It was the first full Disney film to be made using the Xerox process. Rather than following the hand-inked process used previously, Xeroxing allowed animators to skip the tracing step. It gave the drawings a rougher, scratchier look that Walt Disney wasn't fond of, but sped up the process and made the film possible.
Some "101 Dalmatians" statistics:
Pongo has 76 spots, Perdita has 69 spots and each of the puppies has 32 spots. Crews had to go in and draw each of those spots on each frame.
According to the video commentary, "Only Disney would animate a movie called '101 Dalmatians' with a million spots"
Voice actor Ben Wright provided Roger's voice in "101 Dalmatians," and some years later appeared in another Disney film — this time as Grimsby in "The Little Mermaid."
Video: Roger in "101 Dalmatians"
Video: Grimsby in "The Little Mermaid"
Roger's singing voice was provided by Bill Lee, who provided the singing voice of Captain Von Trapp in the film, "The Sound of Music" a few years later.
Video: "Edelweiss" from "The Sound of Music"
Video: Roger singing "Cruella de Vil"
The character of Anita had been designed and existed in the film for a while before Walt Disney decided he was not happy with her and asked that she be given a makeover.
Other voice actor trivia:
Actress Lucille Bliss sang the "Kanine Krunchies" jingle in "101 Dalmatians." Disney fans would've already been familiar with her voice — although most probably didn't know it — since Bliss previously voiced Cinderella's stepsister Anastasia.
Lisa Daniels recorded about a third of the film in the role of Perdita before getting married and moving away. Cate Bauer took over the role and played it for the rest of the movie.
J. Pat O'Malley voiced two characters in the film — Jasper and the Colonel. In a case of divided loyalties, the characters end up fighting each other.
Horace and Jasper are watching a 1929 Disney Silly Symphony titled "Springtime" on TV in the old De Vil mansion.
The film "101 Dalmatians" is based on the 1956 novel "The Hundred and One Dalmatians" by Dodie Smith and features at least one scene that comes from her own experience.
When Smith's own real-life Dalmatian family had a litter of 15 puppies, the 13th puppy was born lifeless. However, Smith's husband wrapped the puppy in a towel and gently massaged it, bringing it back to life.
In the film, the puppy is named Lucky.
Rather than fully animating Cruella's car for the movie, filmmakers built a car out of cardboard and outlined it all in black. They then shot footage of the car and transferred that footage onto cels.
What you see on the screen, then, is that car model being pulled around for a camera and driven through obstacles like sand.
Children's book author and illustrator and Disney animator Bill Peet was integral to bringing "The Sword in the Stone" to life, first by bringing T.H. White's 1938 novel "The Sword in the Stone" to Walt Disney's attention, and then by writing the screenplay for the film.
"In his book, T.H. White describes (Merlin) as a crusty old curmudgeon, argumentative and temperamental, playful at times, and extremely intelligent," Bill Peet wrote in his autobiography. "Walt (Disney) was not quite a curmudgeon and he had no beard, but he was a grandfather and much more of a character, and in my drawings of Merlin, I even borrowed Walt's nose."
Author and illustrator Bill Peet proposed the story of "The Jungle Book" to Walt Disney and wrote what is described as "a very sincere version of (Rudyard) Kipling's book." However, Disney wasn't satisfied with the dark, brooding story that a faithful adaptation created.
When Disney turned to the Sherman brothers for a new story, he specifically told them NOT to read the book.
Casting Phil Harris as Baloo the bear became a critical moment in the making of "The Jungle Book." Putting a Dixieland jazz musician at the center of a Rudyard Kipling story was a shocking choice, and even Harris thought Walt Disney was crazy. Once Harris took control of his character's words and development, though, the project came to life.
Terry Gilkyson wrote a number of songs for "The Jungle Book," but when Walt Disney wasn't happy with the direction of the film and decided to change it, he wanted the numbers all cut.
Just one Gilkyson piece survived the musical purge — "The Bare Necessities."
Kaa the snake (voiced by Disney regular Sterling Holloway) attempts to hypnotize Mowgli toward the end of "The Jungle Book." The song that he sings during this process ("Trust in Me") was originally written by Robert and Richard Sherman for the 1964 film "Mary Poppins," where it was titled, "The Land of Sand."
Disney animators aren't above reusing their own work to save time and money — imagine them with smoother fur and a few spots and you can tell that the wolf pups at the beginning of "The Jungle Book" are just recycled puppies from "101 Dalmatians."
Below, you'll find a video showing other reused Disney footage and concepts:
Actress Darleen Carr was walking through the studio singing to herself when the Sherman brothers pulled her upstairs to do a demo recording of "My Own Home." That demo was played for Walt Disney. A year later, when the filmmakers were preparing to cast the role of the girl, Disney said, "You've already got her; that's the voice I hear," and that's how Darleen Carr got the role.
Although the song "My Own Home" appears at the end of the film, its melody is woven throughout the score as "the human call" reaching out to Mowgli, according to Richard Sherman.
"The Jungle Book" was released a year after Walt Disney's death and was the last feature film that he was really involved with.
After Disney's death, some argued that the studio had enough films, and that it could exist by re-releasing them into theaters rather than making new ones, according to Woolie Reitherman. However, Disney left behind enough of a legacy that the filmmaking continued.
Ten years later, the VHS was introduced in the U.S. — a move that could have dramatically impacted the studio had they decided to focus on re-releasing old films to theaters rather than creating new films.
The song that plays over the opening credits for "The Aristocats" was written by Robert and Richard Sherman. During the writing of the song, the Sherman brothers kept saying, "It's too bad (Maurice) Chevalier retired. He'd be perfect for this. He's Mr. Paris."
A famed singer, Chevalier had been retired for several years, but the director encouraged Richard Sherman to record himself singing the song while imitating Chevalier. Richard Sherman made the recording, sent it to Chevalier, and Chevalier came out of retirement to record the song himself.
Early artwork for "Robin Hood" shows that filmmakers toyed with the idea of using human characters rather than animals. In the end, however, they went with animals because the story was so familiar to children that they felt they needed something to make it different.
An alternate ending for "Robin Hood" had a wounded Robin escaping the castle and being helped to the church. Little John goes for a doctor and Maid Marian tends his wounds, but a disguised Prince John comes in and threatens to kill Robin Hood. He is stopped, however, by the arrival of King Richard. The return of his brother leaves Prince John curled up in a corner, sucking his thumb. The scene would then cut away to the knighting of Robin of Locksley and the marriage of Maid Marian and Robin Hood.
While Lady Kluck is singlehandedly defeating Prince John's rhino army in a football-esque sequence, the fight song of the University of Wisconsin, "On Wisconsin," plays in the background.
"The Rescuers" took four years to make, and 40 animators produced approximately 330,000 drawings during that time.
Original plans had Cruella De Vil from "101 Dalmatians" returning as the villain for "The Rescuers," but those plans were scrapped. Even so, there are aspects of Cruella De Vil in Madame Medusa's animation and personality, and it wasn't accidental.
Actress Eva Gabor provided the voice of Miss Bianca, a representative of Hungary in the Rescue Aid Society. The character's nationality was decided by that of her voice actress, who was born in Budapest.
"The Fox and the Hound" marked the passing of the Disney baton — many of the artists who would go on to make films like "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin" got their start on this movie, while the remaining members of Walt Disney's fabled "Nine Old Men" acted as mentors before retiring from the business. The movie reflects this changeover to a degree, particularly in the scene where Copper takes Chief's seat.
"The Great Mouse Detective" contains a Disney first, according to the DVD: blended computer animation and hand-drawn characters.
The fight between Basil and Professor Ratigan near the end of the film took place on the gears inside of the Big Ben clock. By blending computer and hand-drawn animation, animators were able to move through the set as though they were making a live-action film. Scenes like that are normal now, but it was amazing then.
To create the dog's-eye perspective of New York City found in "Oliver & Company," art director Dan Hansen and production stylist Guy Deel walked around the city and photographed reference scenes using a camera that stood 18 inches off the ground.
Animators used black-outline background overlays to give the film's painted backgrounds the same look and feel as animation. It was a technique last used extensively in "101 Dalmatians," roughly 27 years before.
"Oliver & Company" was Disney's first animated feature to have its own department devoted exclusively to generating computer animation. Computer animation can be found throughout the film, from the cars, cabs and buses in New York City to the spiral staircase the poodle Georgette walks down while singing, "Perfect Isn't Easy."