Monday, April 16, 2012

Movie Monday: Mars and Beyond

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This week for Movie Monday we go to Mars and Beyond!

With movies about Mars all the rage right now (or not), I thought it'd be fun to try something different this week. Instead of a movie, we're going to look at an episode of Disneyland (the original title to Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, which ran off and on from 1954-1990!) called "Mars and Beyond" all about the red planet and human beings' fascination with it. It originally aired December 4, 1957.
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Mars and Beyond opens with a live-action piece featuring a robot named Garco talking to Walt Disney himself, who introduces the episode and tells us about what we're about to see: Mars!
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The first third of the episode is animated, but not in the typically realistic, florid Disney style. No, this segment (narrated by the legendary Paul Frees) looks like those classic UPA cartoons, with their super-exaggerated people and mix of different styles and forms:
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This opening segment tells the entire history of the world in about fifteen minutes flat, and then moves on to how the mystery of Mars has haunted the human imagination for almost as long, starting with how H.G. Wells presented martians in War of the Worlds:
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Mars as seen in books, comics, cartoons, and movies is covered, and gently poked fun at (as you can tell from the above and below stills). There's a few minutes devoted to parodying sci-fi movies and their tropes, like how the lead character is always some bookish scientist only interested in Discovery:
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Even though this show (and pretty much all their output, really) is meant for kids, this segment really made me laugh, realizing that Disney was ribbing sci-fi cliches...in 1957. At one point, our heroine is chased by a bunch of grotesquely silly aliens, including one character regular viewers were bound to be familiar with:
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The show then shifts back to the natural history of the Earth, starting with protozoa and working its way through the dinosaurs, and then finally to man. Appropriately, the style of animation shift to something a little more serious-looking:
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We then "move" to Mars, and talk about what kind of life might be put there by us, or what might be there already:
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There are also some live-action segments, featuring real life scientists and assorted poindexters as they talk about exploring Mars:
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The show ends with visions of life in the deepest reaches of space, and we watch alien ships rendevous with a space station and then fly away:
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Not being a particular aficionado of Disney stuff, I was really impressed--shocked, even--by Mars and Beyond. Its utterly delightful, crammed with more visual imagination than about your average five sci-fi blockbusters of today. Even though the science is of course half a century out of date, this show's 55 or so minutes filled with me a sense of wonder and excitement about the red planet that the recent John Carter could not muster in all of its two-plus hour running time.

Considering how skilled Disney is at marketing (the aforementioned John Carter being a major, painful exception), I'm surprised The Mouse hasn't dug through their vaults and released some of these WDWWOC shows on DVD. The show ran for decades, and if they brought even half the creativity to some of those other episodes that they did to Mars and Beyond, it would make one hell of a boxed set. I think if Tim Burton got his hands on just this show, he could probably spin two or three movies out of the material found herein.

I thought I'd end this odd little post with a shot of the credits. The artistic geniuses who put this show together deserve a shout-out:
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...nicely done, boys!


Update: Between writing this post and it going live, I looked up WDWWOC on Amazon and found that Disney has, in fact, released some of the episodes of the series on DVD, including Mars and Beyond! By the Tharks of Barsoom, that's great news!

You can order the "Tomorrowland" themed-set via Amazon by clicking below. If you have kids (heck, even if you don't), I suggest picking up a copy:



1 comment:

Robert M. Lindsey said...

What a cool post! I wasn't expecting much (I'm not a whole lot into sci-fi) but that WWOD looks pretty wild. Love the artwork. I may steal some of it for my Facebook profile pic.
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