Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (1954–1991)
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This show was a mainstay of my childhood. Some of the most beautiful, not to mention earliest, color film of natural wonders flowers, butterflies and national parks appeared on this show. As did some of the best animation, from Disney's best general release Donald Duck shorts to entirely new productions, including a new character who quickly achieved a place in the Duckville pantheon Ludvig Von Drake.
Its live action originals literally the stuff of legend into new legends: Davy Crockett, The Swamp Fox and The Scarecrow. These limited episode productions, the first mini-series, launched two major careers and redirected a third.
WDP gave Fess Parker his first real starring role as Davy Crockett in 1955. It created the homespun, always honest, man of the people personna that would endure through Mr Smith Goes To Washington (1962-63) and Daniel Boone (1964-70). It also turned song and dance man Buddy Ebsen, the original choice as the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, into a small screen star with the folksy, aw shucks personna continued in The Beverly Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones.
Along with 1956's Forbidden Planet, Leslie Nielsen's 1959-61 role as General Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, helped make him an adventure star (until Airplane! accidentally returned him to comedy). Remember his biggest role before this was the romantic comedy lead in Tammy and the Batchelor opposite Debbie Reynolds.
Patrick McGoohan's three episode appearance as The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh in 1964, crystallized and confirmed the dashing, poker-faced, near super-hero personna begun in Danger Man, his 1960-61 British spy series. The Scarecrow also made McGoohan such a hot property that the defunct Danger Man was resurrected and renovated that same year as the commercial and cult hit Secret Agent. This was quickly followed by the truly iconic The Prisoner with 9.1 ratings, The Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption top IMDb's all time favorite movie list, which means that, with a 9.2 score, the Prisoner is the hottest thing ever committed to film.
When it premiered in 1954 it marked the first big plunge by a major Hollywood movie studio into television production. Disney changed the face of television in many ways. At the time the show premiered,the big studios,afraid of competition from the new medium,were television's sworn enemies,not only refusing to produce programming but denying TV the use of any of the latest or best theatrical films. Until Disney led the way,the lavish movie-style series so familiar today were an impossibility during the time the series came out in 1954. Luring Disney into television was a major coup for at the time the struggling network ABC. Both CBS and NBC had negotiated with the moviemaker,but neither could agree to his seemingly exorbitant terms. Among other things,Walt Disney wanted the network to help finance his proposed amusement park called Disneyland in Anaheim,California which opened its gates to the public and the world in 1955. Only ABC was willing to take a chance,paying a then-fabulous $500,000 plus $50,000 per program. However,ABC won big. Both the TV series and the park,Disneyland were fabulous successes. The program,"Disneyland",hosted by Walt Disney himself,which premiered on the ABC-TV network on October 27,1954 was the network's first major hit series sending the show to unprecented heights from which it has never before seen,and it remainded with the network for seven seasons until its departure from ABC in the spring of 1961. "Disneyland" consisted of a mixture of sorts---cartoons,live-action adventures, nature stories,and documentaries,and theatrical previews of new releases from the Disney studios. At first it was divided into four rotating segments,which was listed at the beginning of each week' show by the cartoon character Tinkerbell(from Peter Pan). They were Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Adventureland. The first telecast was a variety show,but what really got "Disneyland" off the ground was the Frontierland adventures based on the frontiersmen hero Davy Crockett. The Davy Crockett segments took America by storm sending the show to Number One in the ratings because of it tremendous success and its loyal base of fans. One of the reason is because of its star,Fess Parker as Davy Crockett. Even the theme song,"The Ballad Of Davy Crockett" became one of the biggest hits of the mid-1950's. Others included stories of actual Western heroes,not to mention stories based on heroes of the Revolutionary War and others as well including heroes based on Mexican folklore. One of the most successful out of these was based on the character of "Zorro",which was a astounding hit for Disney and ABC,and it was also transformed into a hit-weekly series starring Guy Williams. There were other presentations as well on Disney beyond the boundaries of Frontierland. Some were adaptions of classic stories and American folklore as well.
The animated segments of the show tend to feature well-known Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse,Donald Duck,Pluto,and Goofy and sometimes in full-length stories sometimes,"narrating" on documentaries on various subjects. Not to mention others of interest with child-like themes,for example to emergence of "The Mickey Mouse Club",and other children adventure shows were blended in as part of the program. When the series moved to NBC in October of 1961,it was titled "Disney's Wonderful World Of Color",a new characters were added,along with animated character Professor Ludwig Von Drake,who co-hosted many of the shows with Walt Disney. This time around documentaries covered subjects ranging from space travel to how cartoons are made not to mention live-action segments featured "non-human" counterparts and various productions that were for the first made for television. Some of which were made for TV-movies under the Disney banner. And of course there were plenty of plugs for the Disneyland park,and later on segments featuring construction for at the time the newest Disney amusement park,Walt Disney World about the work in progress which was the second Disney theme park to opened its doors to the public and the world in Orlando,Florida in 1971. Other segments included opening galas for theatrical Disney movies,and later-on location variety shows.
In 1965,the titled would be changed to "The Wonderful World Of Disney". Walt Disney continued as the host of the program until his untimely death on December 15,1966. The show went on as scheduled and voice-over narration by Dick Wesson was added. The loyalty with NBC-TV and its viewers kept the series on the air for an astounding 23 years ending its run with the network in September of 1983. However,it would return to the peacock network under a new format in October of 1988 and would continued until September of 1990.
The series would move to CBS in October of 1983 and would run one season and was cancelled in March of 1984 due to low ratings. During the 1985-1986 season,the series shifted to cable for a new venture at the time "The Disney Channel",under the title "The Best Of Disneyland". In February of 1986,the Disney series made a triumph return to ABC and this time around Micheal Eisner,who stepped in as the host of the program under its new title,"The Disney Family Hour",aka "The Disney Sunday Movie". The ratings soared back to Number One,and of which the series remained back at ABC-TV,under the title,"The Wonderful World Of Disney",from the years 1986-1988,and again from 1990-1996,and would remain on the network for astounding eight years until the final episode on September 14, 2005 after more than five decades on network television. One of the many great shows of my childhood era.
Disney has achieved many great things even after his death in 1967, it just goes to show that as Walt once said,"As long as their is imagination".... which proves the heart of Disney films today still lives. Walt was very strict in a lot of things, and demanded the best, but in the end, Walt was very thankful to his staff for doing a great job. As a child, I was fascinated by his ability to create such wonderful stories, films, and shows. Every Sunday night, we would gather round our new color TV and watch Walt Disney.
Later in years, I never dreamed that I would be selected as a cast member of Kids of the Kingdom, a musical ensemble in Disneyland. It was a fun time, and really loved performing. what most people don't know is, the Disney Family had an apartment in Main Street USA.
Disney today is still magical as my own kids just love the classics I grew up with. ONe of his all time great classics was Mary Poppins. Still one of my favorites.
Walt's spirit lives on in all of us. As he once said, "It's kind of fun to do the impossible!" Thanks Walt.
One quibble however is that, in hindsight it was a rather blatant advertisement for the Disneyland theme park. The opening of each show placed the weeks story in one of the four "lands" that made up Disneyland.
What I like about this show: I've seen this on the Old Disney Channel in July 1997 (and several months thereafter), and it had stuff like nature documentaries, short cartoons, and more. The movies - they didn't show because it was part of the Vault Disney block (think of it as old school Nick at Nite, Disney style). And, on a bad new movie on DVD (LOL), "Pirates of the Caribbean," the bonus feature on disc 2 had the "PotC" ride at Disneyland opening episode on there. I remember this from the Old Disney Channel one late 1998 night.
"Walt Disney Presents" is a wonderful show, especially in color like the theme suggested!!!!!
I still think the earlier episodes were the best, especially with Walt Disney hosting and the great animation.
I always used to prefer the animation and comedy shows to the drama.
I especially loved the fun educational shows like the ones on the atom, driving and Donald in Mathemagicland.
And especially the ones with Ludvig von Drake - he was excellent!!!
And the music was totally awesome - especially the original theme.
One of my fondest memories of childhood!!!
Definitely top class!!!!
AFTER HIS EARLY years in native, Chicago, the Disney family moved to Kansas City, Missouri; where the young Disney became a commercial artist, producing filmed ads for local businesses. These short animations would be the first Disney cartoons to be shown in the movie houses.
FOLLOWING SOME SETBACKS with people such as film producer/distributor Margaret Winkler over OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT, he turned to a Mouse and, well, we all know the rest.
HAVING MADE HIS mark in both the animated and live action productions insured that the new DISNEYLAND Show (original title) would surely embrace a "diversity" of sorts. Various program episodes were assembled from Disney's considerable backlog of cartoons and full length features. Others were live action series (or rather mini series) newly produced just for television. (Ever hear of Davy Crockett?)
TWO OTHER AREAS that comprised the show's rotation of subjects were bold forays into the worlds of science. One was biological; chronicling the life of wild animals and the habitats in which they live. The other brought us reports of what scientific research was bringing us to our daily lives. Being right on the cusp leading to the Space Race, rocketry and future space travel were prominent subject to be investigated, dissected and rendered understandable to even the youngest of viewers.
IN ESTABLISHING A format for the show, it was decided to partition the Kingdom of DISNEYLAND into four separate, smaller components. The separation was accomplished along the line of subject matter as follows:
Fantasyland: Fictional live action, animation.
Frontierland: Historical filmed series.
Tomorrowland: Science and the technological developments.
Adventureland: The True Life Adventures, Animals and Nature.
NOT SO COINCEDENTALLY all of these names were also the designations assigned to the various sections of the newly opened DISNEYLAND Theme Park. In addition to being a talented artist, great judge of talent & the public's tastes, Walt was obviously a $hrewd Promoter and Bu$ine$$ Man!
THE BATTING ORDER (or more properly, the STARTING ROTATION) insured both variety and balance in programing. The interest of the viewer-ship was maintained at a high level; as we were kept on the edge of our figurative chairs, wondering what next week's show would bring us.
WHERE ELSE COULD we travel to so many various lands without leaving the comfort of our living room's TV set?