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White Wilderness (1958)
Topic Started: Apr 22 2018, 11:09 AM (191 Views)
Laughing Gravy
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White Wilderness (1958) Dir. James Algar
A Walt Disney True-Life Adventure
72 min. / Color / 1.37:1
DVD: Walt Disney's Legacies Collection Vol. 1

On this True-Life Adventure, we head north to the beauty and splendor of a world where it's friggin' cold even in the summertime. This is the sixth feature in the series (13th film overall) and to celebrate the series' 10th anniversary, I think Disney gave us the most beautiful (and, as it turns out, notorious) installment.

Million-dollar Narration:
"This is the story of life meeting and conquering the bleakest environment on earth."

Through the wonders of both animation and live-action photography, the first reel of the film gives us the story of earth's histories and its glaciers (it's nearly 10 min. in before we see any living creatures), and then we see animals that adapted to the cold after their larger, shaggier brethren died out. As usual with these films, we see little or no mating but an awful lot of creatures eating each other (not so much in this film, but I'm squeamish about stuff like that and a firm believer that for balance, for every animal we see caught and devoured we should see three or four more that escaped).

Mostly, we learn that to survive, there either has to be a kazillion of you (lemmings) or you have to be so huge and fat yet such good swimmers that few things want to bother with you (walruses) or you have to be such a nasty, badass freak that you can kill or steal anything within 20 miles of you (polar bears, jaeger birds, or - the most horrifying creatures I've ever seen - the wolverine, which appears to be as nasty and cruel an animal there is on earth unless, apparently, it's playing the Buckeyes).

More Million-dollar Narration:

Mr. Hibbler, on the wolverine: "If it's alive, he'll eat it ... He is, quite literally, hunger on the prowl."

Naturally, this is balanced with playful bear cubs (slamming each other with snowballs, believe it or not) and wolf cubs, but the film's most famous sequence depicts the lemmings on the run, heading over a cliff and into the sea, in what was revealed in 1982 by a TV crew to be staged footage shot with lemmings trucked into to a non-indigenous area and pushed off a precipice into a river but HEY we have to break a few eggs if we want to win another documentary Oscar™, do we not? (And this film did, the eighth trophy this series brought home.) I don't want to sound cavalier, I am not in favor of drowning lemmings for my entertainment, although if somebody had smacked one of those wolverines with a broom before it ate that baby bird, it would've been okay with me.

Six years in the making, and I think my favorite of all the True-Lifes with one left to go.

ALSO ON THE PROGRAM

The original short that played with this back in the summer of '58, Paul Bunyan (Dir. Les Clark), with unimpressive animation (all the best animators at the studio were no doubt still at work on Sleeping Beauty) but a good story and likeable characters and a lot of swell 1958 music. Thurl Ravenscroft is Paul and the Mellomen do a lot of the singing. This can be found on the Disney Rarities set of Disney Treasures (in the tins).
"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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The Batman
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Wolverines - the best at what they do, but what they do isn't very nice


Always be yourself! Unless you can be Batman...then always be Batman!
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Frank Hale
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Apart from my alma mater, I have had no personal contact with wolverines.

However, about 20 years ago I was on a ski mountaineeering trip in the BC Coast Range, in totally glaciated territory, at altitude and about 50 miles from no place, when we came across a set of mysterious animal tracks crossing the glacier and heading up to a high, steep pass above.

No one could identify the tracks, but we finally decided they must have been made by a wolverine, simply because no other animal could possibly have been mean enough to survive there.
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CliffClaven
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Old enough to remember when Disney "featurettes" (cue Big Al with his little bell) were kind of a big deal. Sometimes they were just a bit longer than a standard cartoon; other times they were long enough to fill a "World of Color" episode (where they either originated or would eventually go). I read somewhere that they were intended to turn a Disney feature into a full show rather than half of a double bill (the animated classics generally ran much shorter than a standard feature).

Of course the True Life Adventures were originally featurettes. Likewise the People and Places series (aside from "Disneyland USA", did any of those get released?). "Winnie the Pooh" appeared first as three featurettes, usually upstaging the features they accompanied ("The Ugly Dachshund", for example). They were often animated, but sometimes you'd get live-action stories. Now and again they'd dig out a piece of an old "package" feature, like "Wind in the Willows".

Thanks to re-releases and frequent television use, the Disney featurettes remained familiar to boomers and their kids. What's a little maddening is that other studios were turning out their own featurettes (aka short subjects) as late as the fifties, but we rarely see them except for the occasional TCM run or disc bonus feature.
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Laughing Gravy
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All true. The Fox classic movie channel (does that even still exist?) used to show some absolutely wonderful vintage shorts I haven't seen anywhere else or since.

As for Disney, I try to pair the featurettes with the feature and since I have most of their stuff I succeed. One of my favorites is Grand Canyon, the CinemaScope short that was created to run with Sleeping Beauty. I never watch SB without it.
"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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