Friday, March 5, 2010

So Dear To My Heart: Disney Studio's First Live-Action Movie

In one of my last posts I mentioned a movie that was released in 1949 by the Disney Studio titled So Dear to My Heart. I mentioned it because of a quote from Walt Disney, “So Dear to My Heart was especially close to me. Why, that’s the life my brother and I grew up with as kids out in Missouri.” Based on that quote I put this, never before heard of movie, at the top of my must see list. And as luck would have it, a couple weeks ago I was at the library and took a chance, looked and was happy to see that they had it. During the last snow storm I had a chance to watch it and, you know, it was really good. Right from the beginning credits you are put into the relaxed atmosphere of a simpler life with backgrounds of good ole country, Grandma quality, quilts and the turning pages of a very full Scrapbook. This scrapbook becomes an important storytelling tool as we travel through this movie. Jeremiah (Jerry) Kinkaid, played by Bobby Driscoll, is a young boy living in a turn of the century, small town that could have been anywhere in the US at that time. Jerry lives with his Grandma on a farm alone. They are occasionally helped by Uncle Hiram, the towns blacksmith played by Burl Ives. Burl is best know to this generation as the voice of the Snow Man from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. After seeing a prized race horse one day Jerry sets his heart on the un-realistic goal of somehow getting a colt to raise as his very own prized Race horse. His plans change after the birth of a certain black wooled little lamb. His thoughts and his scrapbook go from prized horse to prized sheep. The story revolves around Jerry raising that lamb and his goal of winning a blue ribbon at the County Fair. There is fun and adventure along with some real fearful moments. Jerry’s scrapbook is used to convey lessons as it transforms into animation through-out the film to teach Jerry the important things in life. One of the better of the scenes is based aroundthe song "It's Whatcha do With Whatcha Got". We follow Jerry and his Grandma played by Beulah Bondi, through the summer and then to the County Fair and suffice it to say a classic Disney ending. As I did some research on this film I un-covered a number of unknown, to me, facts that I think are really interesting. This was the first live action movie out of the studios. I had always though it was one of the Richard Todd movies but it was this movie in 1949. After some initial testing with the movie it was found that an all live-action film from the Disney Studio might not be taken seriously, so it was decided to add the animated scenes. Here is a quote from the actual NY Times review of this movie; “Walt Disney's latter-day practice of intruding ‘live action’ into his films, thus displacing in increasing measure his familiar animated images, has worked out something like the donkey which meekly stuck its head in the door. ‘Live action’ has now taken over his latest feature, ‘So Dear to My Heart.’ Except for brief passages in cartoon, which altogether run for twelve minutes, at most, the bulk of this children's fable, now at the Palace, is in straight ‘live action’ style.” Think about how you felt when Disney released The Darryl Hannah/Tom Hanks movie Splash. At the time it was un-heard of for the Disney studios to release a movie with a PG rating. Back then I remember people talking about how Disney had lost it’s values and worse. But they do it all the time now.
One part of the movie stood out to me in that it showed me what it was like in 1903 and how small towns relied on the train for all kinds of things that we take for granted today. There was so much excitement that the train was stopping at an off schedule time. It was as if the circus had come to town. It was close though, that train was carrying Dan Patch a real prize winning horse of that day. But to see the entire town come out for train makes me see a little better the importance and reverence that Walt had always shown for this form of transportation. Another point that stuck out is the un-settling Disney theme throughout a lot of their pictures, no parents. We never find out what happened to Jerry’s parents to have him being raised by his Grandma. Besides that, this is a very fun, touching and down home type of movie. There is a good story, some great action and even a tear or too. The one scene where Jerry goes looking for his lost sheep, he finally takes to heart a lot of what Grandma has been preaching about. Please find time to see this movie. It was based on a novel by Sterling North. I read on the Daveland Blog that the train station set went to Ward Kimball for his backyard scale train set-up. On a sadder note I followed through on Bobby Driscoll's career after this and later Peter Pan and his un-fortunate end. After the recent Corey Haim death it is sad to see that Hollywood does not learn from it's mistakes. Another, funnier note of the time, the NY Times wanted to make sure all of the Loyal Disney Studio animation fans would be ready for the next feature with the final line of their review: “We are happy to say, as a footnote, that Mr. Disney will fully animate his next long film.” The public is slow to change...

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