Relax, Schultz! This is a TRUE LIFE ADVENTURE about large, fresh water, aquatic Rodents!
PERHAPS the passing of the years has managed to dull our collective memory about Mr. Walt Disney and his films. Oh sure, we all know the story of how Mickey Mouse's appearance in STEAMBOAT WILLIE (Walt Disney Productions, 1928) took the world by storm and catapulted in Walt and his little Animation Studio to the very top of the charts. This of course led to Fame, Fortune and the writing of his own ticket for the former Chicago/Kansas City Commercial Artist & Animator.
FOLLOWING Mickey's world-wide acceptance were the likes of Minnie, Goofy,* Donald Duck, Pluto, Pete, Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horse Collar, Chip & Dale, SILLY SYMPHONY, SNOW WHITE, BAMBI, PINNOCHIO, DUMBO, FANTASIA, SONG OF THE SOUTH, Cinderella, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and the DISNEYLAND TV Show & the Amusement Park. Through all of these accomplishments in both Animation and Live Action Film there is one area that seems to be all but forgotten today.
THAT WOULD leave us with what was described on the DISNEYLAND Weekly Television Show as belonging to the category of "Adventure land!" These were that series of Nature Films that Disney himself dubbed the title of "Walt Disney True-Life Adventures." The Films that made the roster on that squad were titles such as THE African LION (1955), THE LIVING DESERT (1953), PERRI (1957), JUNGLE CAT (1958) and THE GRAND CANYON (1959).
REMEMBERING most vividly and fondly in the files of this humble writer's little bunch of gray-matter is BEAVER VALLEY Walt Disney Productions/RKO Radio Pictures, 1950). This is most fortunate, Class, for this is the very title that we have chosen to dissect, analyze and evaluate on this very day! (Just Imagine That!) OUR earliest recollection of Disney Nature Film production was this BEAVER VALLEY, which was shown on a weekly installment of the DISNEYLAND TV Series over the ABC Television Network.
THE Disney Show was an hour long and was (if our memory serves us well) telecast on Wednesday evenings at the beginning of Primetime.** School Kids watched it religiously and made it the topic of discussion on the way to school on Thursday mornings. (All of this devotion and faithful viewing of what could be classified as being "Educational"; and yet there were no Federal Grants, no Corporation for Public Broadcasting, no National Endowment for the Arts and no PBS (Public Broadcasting System).
BEAVER VALLEY is an outstandingly conceived and produced picture. Meticulous editing of what surely must have been literally hundreds of hours of filmed record of the denizens of a temperate, North Woods-type wilderness. The painstakingly rendered scenes of animal life in year round environments are nothing short of spectacular; particularly when the finished product has a continuity of storyline. The Director, the Scriptwriter and the Film Editor have been most diligent in their coordinated effort to bring an uncanny look of a screen story that has its vignettes shown in real time.
BREATHTAKING scenes that bring the camera's eye and hence the viewer right inside of the Beaver's Lodge, or to the nest of a Hawk, Eagle or Owl were marvels in their day and remain so down to this very day. Elaborate setups of cameras that the animals built their nests around; coupled with nearly infinite patience, as it turns out, are the ingredients that make up this recipe. The mix included many underwater shots of fish and swimming mammals and water fowl.
AMONG the most memorable scenes shown include the engineering skills and relentless building that the Beaver demonstrates in the construction of his dam and moat-like water surrounded effect he achieves for his lodge. The Film obviously takes a good look at all of Mr. & Mrs. Beaver's neighbors, who all live in a mutually beneficial Eco-System. (Even if the term "Eco-System" hadn't been invented yet!) A particular favourite in our household was the sequence that showed the Otters as being playful, mischievous and highly intelligent. They were also revealed as being extremely graceful, fast and powerful swimmers.
VERY MUCH in the same manner as Walt Disney's Animated and Live Action Movies, both thematic and incidental Musical Scores are paramount to a film's successful completion. Although Mr. Disney, much like guys such as Sir Charles Chaplin and Herbert John "Jackie" Gleason, had no musical training, like those two, Walt knew good music when he heard it and told his musical staff just what he wanted.***
TOPPING off this Short (32 minutes running time) is the magnificently spoken narration of the film's action and story that was rendered by Actor-Writer, Winston Hibbler. Mr. H. did a lot of this voice work in many an other True Life Adventure.
WE have to be honest about our recollections of this; which comes from boyhood with a re-viewing done as a teen-ager. It was a real surprise to see that the length of the film is listed with a 32 minutes running time. It seemed to be longer; although not being so because of its being boring. It was not a bore then; nor would it be now.
PERHAPS Mr. Disney's Nature Films are sort of forgotten today because of all of the great film of Animal Life that is so abundant today; going both on PBS and Cable Channels such as Animal Planet. Before the True Life Adventures, it was the Safari Movies of Martin & Osa Johnson which were the best and possibly only game in town;but the Johnsons'story is one for another day.
NOTE: * Supporting Player Goofy was born 'Dippy Dog', which was soon adapted into 'Dippy the Goof' and finally just plain old, lovable 'Goofy.'
NOTE: ** If memory serves us properly, the DISNEYLAND Show came on at 6:30 P.M. Central Time.
NOTE *** Not only did Chaplin and Gleason know what they liked and wanted in music, but both men actually composed their own stuff.
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