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The Living Desert (1953)
Topic Started: Sep 1 2008, 06:47 PM (554 Views)
Laughing Gravy
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The Living Desert (1953) Dir. James Algar

Welcome to the great American southwest, where everybody eats everybody else, for the most part.

A truly spectacular Disney True-Life Adventure, with a lot of high points, notably a tarantula battling a wasp. I also liked the horny toad gulping down ants, the roadrunner pecking a snake for no reason other than to piss him off, and the kangaroo rat's flight to rescue her babies from the snake. Oh, and when narrator Winston Hibler tells us that a wild pig is the most ferocious animal in North America, I just laughed, until I saw one of them take after a bobcat. Yikes! As the man said, a wild pig has "long tusks and a short temper" indeed. Nightmare time!

The only drawback in the film is the music, which frequently is used for comic effect and which comes across these days as so shudderingly corny; worst is a pair of scorpions mating to a square dance, although watching a bird build a nest in a cactus to the strains of "home sweet home" was rather silly, too.

Million-dollar Alliteration:

Mr. Hibler describing the chuckwalla: "Diminutive dinosaurs who dine on daisies."

The introduction by Roy Disney tells us that a college student filmed the tarantula hawk (a wasp) fighting the tarantula as his senior project, took it to Disney, and the film was built around it. Amazing.

The film was an outstanding commercial success (and Walt distributed it himself, the first release from Buena Vista), won the Oscar for Best Documentary, picked up an award at Cannes, and was re-released several times. We saw it in school (and you maybe did, too, right?). It's been added to the National Registry of Historic Films, too. It's one of those movies everybody should see. To date, it's only home video release when in the "Lands of Exploration" volume of the True-Life adventure sets.

Also on the Program


We watched Ben and Me (1953), the 20-min. Disney cartoon that originally accompanied this film in theatres: a mouse named Amos is the genius behind Ben Franklin. A fun short, even if all the mice look like The Rescuers; Sterling Holloway (Amos), Charles Ruggles (Ben) and Hans Conried (Thomas Jefferson) provide the voices.

And just for variety, we saw a 1929 Mickey Mouse cartoon, When the Cat's Away, and a 1937 Donald Duck cartoon, Donald's Ostrich.
Edited by Laughing Gravy, Jan 8 2017, 06:25 AM.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Chandu
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I thought The Living Desert was just about the best thing I'd ever seen when I saw it as a kid! I was just as impressed with The Vanishing Prairie, it's sequel from Disney. But back then, this kind of stuff hadn't yet seen the light of day on television, let alone technicolor.
Not plane, nor bird, nor even frog. It's just little ol' me...
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Paul
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Laughing Gravy
Sep 1 2008, 06:47 PM
The only drawback in the film is the music, which frequently is used for comic effect and which comes across these days as so shudderingly corny; worst is a pair of scorpions mating to a square dance.

They also cornballed that up by running sections backwards and forwards and in loops, as I recall.
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Laughing Gravy
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Re-watched this and re-wrote review. You're welcome.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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CliffClaven
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Annoying old guy notes:

The pointy-nosed Amos in "Ben and Me" looks much different than the "Rescuers" stars, who are a whisker more realistically mouselike.

"Ben and Me" is framed as Amos's personal memoir, a hint that he, like many autobiographers, is greatly inflating his own importance. The notion you're hearing from a tiny BS artist adds a nice extra spin to bits like Franklin groveling to secure Amos's return.

There was an old Rankin-Bass Thanksgiving special, "Mouse on the Mayflower", which I always suspected owed a passing debt to "Ben and Me". A modern church mouse (Tennessee Ernie Ford) reads the memoirs of his ancestor, a Puritan mouse who saved the ship and otherwise made himself useful.

Franklin distracted by a pretty girl: A generic gag unless you know Franklin was distracted a lot. Especially in France.

For the record, "Poor Richard's Alamanac", an annual publication, was actually a huge success. "A gloved cat catches no mice" was a swipe at well-dressed dandies whose finery (including gloves) implied little practical value.
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