Flights of Fancy (Part 26): Disney in the Modern Era – To Insanity, and Beyond!
Disney’s illustrious breakthrough into the small-screen medium has been well chronicled. Its early TV ventures were generally solid ratings-getters, watched avidly by the young and the young at heart. Of prime importance to this development was the hour-long showcase series, shown at various times as “Disneyland”, “Walt Disney Presents”, “The Wonderful World of Color”, and “The Wonderful World of Disney”, following the founder’s death. Early episodes were hosted by Walt himself, but commencing with the “Color” run, hosting would often be turned over to a favorite Hamilton Luske creation, Donald’s madcap and batty scientific uncle, Professor Ludwig Von Drake. Veteran voice-over artist Paul Frees would provide energetic jabbering dialogue in Germanic accent for the character, capitalizing upon the modern reputation of rocket scientists such as Werhner Von Braun. Paul has almost as much fun with his Ludwig voicings as with his alternate foreign-accented alter ego, Boris Badenov for “Rocky and His Friends.” (In the rare Disneyland LP, “Walt Disney Presents Professor Ludwig Von Drake”, one cut gives the impression of nearly a ten-minute long “ad-lib” by Frees, where you simply pull his string and never know what he’ll say next, with even the orchestra members breaking up in involuntary laughter as punch lines fly from nowhere.)
One of the best of these duck-hosted hours was “Fly With Von Drake” (10/13/63). While a portion of the show included a nucleus of old footage from the “History of Aviation” sequence of “Victory Through Air Power”, allowing its first public re-screening since its WWII theatrical debut, the hour includes one of the largest percentages of new animation ever included in a Disney hour, with Ludwig taking center stage to expand on the principles and history of aeronautical inventions, dating from the flying myths of the ancient Greek Gods on through the advances just before and concurrent with the Wright Brothers. In a comical and well-timed sequence, Ludwig presides over a “round table” panel discussion concerning which country contributed the most ideas and advances to the ultimate amalgam of ideas that resulted in flight. Of course, Ludwig is the only one in attendance – but with a “split personality”, Ludwig divides into four additional versions of himself with different ethnicities – Chinese, Italian, French, and British, allowing Paul to pull out the stops on all his favorite vocal dialects. Innovations discussed include the skyrocket, the parachute, the ornithopter, hot air ballooning, and development of the glider.
Ludwig also introduces us to an able assistant at demonstrating the principles of flight – a seagull whom he has named Orville, who spends most of his time rummaging in Ludwig’s pail of bait fish, and hilariously demonstrates the perils of trying to take off when your “fuselage” is too overloaded. Ludwig also shows off a billfold of old photographs of himself at toddler age and early youth, when he himself was hot with the “flying bug”, and nearly killed himself with winged inventions by which he tried to fly using pure muscle power. When reaching point in discussion of contributions of the U.S.A. to flight history, Ludwig performs comic close-order drill in Uncle Sam hat, to slightly off-key rendition of a patriotic medley. Finally, at the end of the show, Ludwig announces that for the first time, live, he will demonstrate that he has finally licked the unsolved problem of providing man with the ability to fly under his own power like a bird. He climbs atop a roof, with a set of fake wings and tail that appears no more advanced than his failed flight efforts as a child. He leaps off the roof, and appears to fall straight down. Orville breaks up with laughter at this effort that seems doomed on arrival – but suddenly, a streak whizzes past him, and the camera reveals Ludwig soaring like a fighter jet all around the sky, leaving a contrail in his wake. “I bet you didn’t think I could do it!”, Ludwig shouts to us, as he passes Orville again, speeding by so fast, he pulls off all of Orville’s feathers in the suction of his speed trail. The surprised bird places his wing tips in his ears, as a sonic boom rocks the screen, shattering the camera lens, with the pieces of the TV image falling one by one out of frame, to leave the screen in a black-out to close the show.
A full version of this terrific show, blacking out the imagery from Victory Through Air Power (which can be seen in its entirety in an earlier post in this series) is included below.
Disney’s feature vehicle, The Rescuers (6/22/77), presents the memorable final film performance of Jim Jordan, the longtime voice behind Fibber McGee of the beloved “Fibber McGee and Molly” radio series. His role crosses over into the world of aviation, though he himself is far from mechanized. The setting is the helipad headquarters of the New York Port Authority, where commuter helicopters are seen departing with passengers from the airpad flat roof of tall skyscrapers. Mouse agents Bernard and Bianca, members of the United Nations’ secret “Rescue Aid Society” of heroic mice from around the world who help those in need of rescue whom the humans overlook, are in need of transportation to the remote location of Devil’s Bayou in the Everglades. But the human helicopters are much too busy to be bothered with flights to such an unheard-of destination – so the mice seek out a specialty provider of their own. A makeshift roost, huddled in one corner of the helipad roof, is topped by a small sign, in the shape of a bird wearing flyer’s goggles, reading “Albatross Airlines”. The mice, suitcases in hand, enter the office of this concern, which includes an old shortwave radio set and headphones, left in on position with radio tubes glowing, an old postal scale for measuring baggage weight, and various other odds and ends. No one is present inside, and a chalkboard on a wall indicates flight to Devil’s Bayou leaves at 6:45. “Oh, no, we missed the flight”, cries Bernard, noting the time. Bianca, a persistent optimist, tells him that he worries too much, and that flights are always late. Suddenly, the radio set springs to life, as “Albatross Flight 13″ attempts to signal the tower. It is never established just who was supposed to be manning the radio, as no other members of the flight crew ever appear in the film – nor is it made clear how radio communication even exists, as the “pilot” as later revealed is never seen wearing any kind of a headset or with any transmitter.
Nevertheless, the radio voice persists in calling, “Dad drat it, somebody answer down there.” Bernard takes a chance, and hops up onto the table where the headphones and microphone of the radio are located, and attempts to communicate with the voice. “Well it’s about time, ya lazy lunkhead”, snaps the voice on the other end, then continues, “Look, bud, am I clear to land? Traffic up here is as thick as……..WOWWWW!” The voice’s dialogue is interrupted by the passing sounds of an aerial engine – then the voice breaks into a series of shouted gibberish that is obviously directed at telling off the passing pilot who nearly pit Flight 13 out of commission. Bernard quickly attempts to lower the volume on the radio set’s control knob, so that the tirade will not be fully heard by the feminine ears of Bianca. “Eh, what did he say, Mr. Bernard?”, Bianca asks. “I wouldn’t dare repeat it”, responds Bernard. “Well give him the permission to land”, Bianca suggests. Taking her advice, Bernard radios that “You have our permission to land.” From a distance, a small dot appears over the outer wall of the helipad roof. It soars closer, revealing a large, wide-winged albatross sea bird, wearing an aviator’s leather cap, scarf, and flight goggles. Atop his back is a small passenger seat large enough for two, set inside a sardine can attached to a belt strapped around the bird’s waist. “Doesn’t he fly beautifully?” remarks Bianca – just as the bird’s image descends to a height below the level of the roof edge. Bernard gasps, and grabs the radio microphone. “Pull up! Pull up!”, he shouts. The bird responds just in time, barely clearing the roof ledge, then skids down a short runway with all the grace of a classic “gooney bird” landing as seen in past Disney True-Life Adventures, skidding to a stop on his belly, with his beak folded under him upon the ground. The two mice race out to see what fate has befallen the pilot, only to find him righting himself, dusting off his wings, and straightening his goggles, as if nothing happened. “Are you hurt, sir?” asks Bernard. “Nope. One of muy better landings, bud”, responds the albatross.
The albatross (named Orville) announces that Flight 13 will be hitting the wild blue yonder in five minutes, then turns himself around on the tarmac, and proceedes to a small mouse-sized portable staircase that serves as a loading ramp for climbing into the sardine can, while “scatting” the notes of the march of “The Army Air Corps”. Superstitios Bernard is spooked, not only at the flight being numbered “13″, but by there being 13 steps on the mounting ramp. “Say bud, read the checklist to me”, asks Orville. Bernard picks up a small check sheet he finds in the sardine can, and runs through with Orville the items of goggles down, wing flaps down, and tail feathers – then reaches the last entry, reading “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” “And here we go!”, shouts Orville. The bird plods down the runway toward the roof edge, huffing and puffing laboriously with each step, while the mice are bounced up and down with each forward move, Bernard observing “Sure wish we’d taken the train.” Only a few steps to go – and no more runway, as Orville drops clean out of sight over the roof edge. His flight path appears to be straight down the side of the building. Bernard cringes in his seat, while Bianca excitedly cries, “Ooh, I just love take-offs.” With only a few feet left before reaching the pavement, Orville’s wings extend, and the bird gracefully curves upward into a soaring glide over the city traffic, suddenly appearing to be a master of the air. He skillfully darts between vehicles on the busy street below, and right through a large section of pipe tied atop a cargo truck. His only misstep is soaring through an intersection, just as the light turns red. Bernard worries about the traffic violation, while Bianca responds, “I do that all the time, darling.”
When the flight finally reaches Devil’s Bayou, our heroes have their first encounter with villainess Madame Medusa, a kidnapper of a little girl, needed for her diminutive size as the only one small enough to enter the small mouth of a submerged pirate’s cave rumored to contain a legendary diamond treasure, the Devil’s Eye. The girl has just escaped a wrecked riverboat which Medusa uses as her base in the swamps, and Medusa is in the process of pursuing the girl with a jet-powered swamp boat, while her partmer. Snoops, shoots off fireworks as flares to light up the swamp so that the girl can be seen. The mice and Orville fly overhead just as the fireworks begin to explode around them. “Sufferin’ sassafras! My rudder’s on fire”, shouts Orville, observing flame on his tail feathers. With little regard for his passengers, Orville commands “Bail out. Bail out”, as he performs a barrel roll and loops like a shot plane out of control. The mice fall out of the sardine can, and barely manage to cling together and parachute with items from their packed luggage and an umbrella, while Orville passes them in upside down position, yelling “Mayday! Mayday!” Orville ultimately splashes down into the swamp water – just in time to find himself directly in the path of Medusa’s swamp boat. He is dragged into the air intake of the engine, and spit out the exhaust end, a blackened, oil-soaked, and semi-burnt mess. “Holy smoke! Why don’t you watch where you’re goin’?”, the bird coughs and sputters. Continuing with a hacking cough, Orville shakily and irregularly flaps himself wearily homeward, glad to be exiting this spooky old place. Leave the rescuing to the professionals.
In 1987, Disney returned to the small screen with one of its most enduring made-for-TV animated series, “Ducktales”. Modeled after the comic book masterpieces of Carl Barks, the series chronicled the globe-trotting, treasure hunting misadventures of fabulously wealthy Uncle Scrooge, always striving to maintain his reputation as richest duck in the world against would-be tycoons such as Flinthart Glomgold, and the thieving ways of such recurring villains as the Beagle Boys and Magica De Spell. Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie are also retained from the comics as a crack clever support team, with Donald himself making occasional cameos. (The later reboot of the series from 2017 restores Donald to full rank as a supporting player, more in the manner of the Barks’ original strips.) But a principal newcomer of the series, and a runaway favorite in the cast, was tall and muscular Launchpad McQuack, a dashing figure of a classic ace pilot, always seen in flight suit, scarf and goggles, though a little shy in brains and common sense – and notably deficient in his flying skills. Launchpad is of the old school that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing, and his favorite motto is, “If it has wings, I can crash it.” What started as sort of a one-joke personality quickly flourished in the hands of the Disney writers, who developed Launchpad into a faithful friend with a heart of gold, a liking for kids, a sentimental side that peeks out from time to time to provide warmth to a storyline, and a talent for delivering dense and dimwitted one-liners. While he frequently frustrates Scrooge, Launchpad provides brawn and bravery (or is it foolhardiness) when needed, and makes an irreplaceable pillar of the duck team. Though the ducks’ plane takes its regular share of battering at the hands of its pilot, everybody always emerges unscathed, and Launchpad (or some other unseen mechanic) somehow always manages to salvage and reassemble their plane as good as new – though perhaps the real story is that Scrooge’s money keeps providing an endless string of identical planes for the next flight. But I wouldn’t bank on this second theory, as Scrooge’s temperament would be unlikely to stand for such over-expenditure for long.
Launchpad’s popularity was so longstanding, it extended beyond the series length of Ducktales, and spilled over into a second duck creation, “Darkwing Duck”, where, with little explanation, he becomes right-hand man to one Drake Mallard, the unknown guardian of the metropolis of St, Canard, where he spends his evenings donning a mask and cape, swooping down upon evildoers as the self-styled “terror that flaps in the night”, in classic Batman style. Oddly, while Launchpad, now with more advanced and fluid animation than in his predecessor series, maintains his traditional flying ace uniform, he actually logs substantially less flight time than for his prior boss. Darkwing’s arsenal of weaponry from time to time includes a plane bearing a strong resemblance to his masked head – but more typically he arrives at the scene of crime in a souped-up motorcycle and sidecar which he calls the “Ratcatcher”, Launchpad along for the ride in the sidecar. Launchpad’s personality remains substantially unchanged, however, and he continues to provide needed muscle and dimwitted general assistance to Darkwing’s missions – even if his bumbling does lead his employer into a series of pratfalls, explosions, and near-fatal mishaps before the villainous fiends are finally foiled. Likewise, Launchpad would lead a third life in the 2017 Disney XD reboot of “Ducktales”, where both he and his plane would be retained with very little change from the original, though with character voicing that lacked some of the heart and sincerity of the original reads.
The second series to reach the syndication package which would become known as “The Disney Afternoon” was “Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers”, a comedy-adventure mix starring Donald Duck’s favorite theatrical adversaries as self-proclaimed crime fighters, Chip now wearing an Indiana Jones-style adventurer’s outfit, while Dale prefers the Hawaiian floral shirt of a “Magnum P.I.” type. Added to their team, among others, is an orphaned adolescent mouse named Gadget, an inventor’s daughter, who carries on the family tradition with abilities to contruct complicated devices for use in their adventures out of practically anything. One of her principal inventions is the “Ranger Plane”, a ramshackle assembly of hinged wings, basket gondola, propeller, and toy balloon, that provides the needed transportation for the ranger team to provide assistance in solving crimes big and small. The Ranger Plane would make an interesting reappearance in a surprise cameo in the Ducktales reboot episode Double-O-Duck in You Only Crash Twice! (4/11/2020), where Launchpad and Dewey, believing themselves in a virtual reality spy game but in fact imprisoned in a holding cell of F.O.W.L., are inadvertently rescued by a passing parade of the Rescue Rangers, who just happen to be going about first constructing the Ranger Plane from junk lying around on the floor of Launchpad’s cell, and who press a door release button to his cell on their way out.
Disney’s next high-flying adventure was “Talespin”, a tribute to classic 1930’s aerial adventures and serial cliffhangers, in the tradition of such theatrical serials as “Tailspin Tommy”, “The Mystery Squadron”, “Ace Drummond”, and others. Cast in principal roles are three veteran characters from The Jungle Book – Baloo the bear, as the crack but disheveled ace pilot of the maritime community of Cape Suzette, whose cargo-hauling business in a twin-engine seaplane named “The Sea Duck” hits the skids when Baloo slips up on his bookkeeping, allows himself to get in the red, and has the business foreclosed upon. Instead of owning his craft, Baloo has to settle for working for the new purchaser, enterprising businesswoman-bear Rebecca Cunningham, who (much to Baloo’s dismay) renames his service with the “catchy” name “Higher for Hire”. Ape King Louie is cast as the proprietor of a local bar and eatery where all the crack pilots hang out, managing to horn in on many of Baloo’s adventures in the manner of a Bing Crosby-Bob Hope road picture. Tiger Shere Kahn also makes recurring appearances, as a behind-the-scenes millionaire business mogul calling the shots on various secret operations, who maintains lush and dense plant life in his office to resemble his old stomping grounds in the original feature, and refers to the business world as “a jungle”. More aerial adventure is provided by new characters Kit Cloudkicker, a renegade orphan who has somehow mastered the skill of wind-surfing upon a collapsible miniature flying wing he rides like an aerial skateboard, and a squadron of mismatched and varying planes that sometimes resemble Klunk’s old inventions from the Vulture Squadron, who refer to themselves as the Air Pirates, headed by vainglorious Spanish-accented fox (though his creator claims he is a wolf) Don Karnage. A full range of aerial stunts, escapes, and derring-do regularly appear throughout this series, with dogfights a regular part of the daily routine, and anti-aircraft weaponry regularly drawing a bead upon the pirates from defensive points along the high cliff guarding the community. Destinations range widely, including shipments to locales varying from tropical paradises to the extreme ice world of the Russian-inspired mythical nation of Thembria, with a population of miltaristic wild boars who revel in acts of cruelty rivaling traditional exile to Siberia. Baloo, still prone to remaining a lovable slob even when on the job, would have run-ins with authority, including efforts to revoke his pilot’s license, mistaken identification as a criminal, smuggler, or even terrorist, yet always come out on top, often to the amazed wonderment of disciplinarian Rebecca. And no air pirate could ever match Baloo’s fly by the seat of his pants aerial mastery. The series had a fun run, and developed a considerable following both among traditional animation fans and among those familiar with the 1930’s works who could appreciate the series on the level of homage which its writers intended.
“The Rescuers” became the first Disney animated feature to spawn a direct sequel, after considerable wait, in The Rescuers Down Under (11/16/90). While the original film’s two principal stars were reunited for the voicing, Jim Jordan had by this time moved on to that Radio Hall of Fame in the sky – so a substitution was in order. If the Wright Brothers each had a counterpart, then why not the Albatrosses? So, when a flight is needed to the remote outback of Australia, the mice revisit Albatross Airlines, to find the place under new management. Replacing Orville is his nearly look-alike brother Wilbur (voiced by John Candy). Candy makes a lively, if a bit more dimwitted, substitution for Jordan, and is happy to have as passengers anyone who was a former favorite of his brother. But the mice have chosen a terrible night for travel – as a raging blizzard is hitting the city, leading Wilbur to hole up in a comfortable warm hangar and dance along to rock guitar music on the radio rather than attend to his flight schedule. Bianca informs him that a kidnapped boy needs their assistance, and Wilbur, hearing that someone is pushing a kid around, is roused into heroic good-guy spirit, determined to carry out his mission, storm or no storm. Once again, a foot race down the runway occurs, this time with Wilbur smashing through snowdrifts and slip-sliding on icy patches – but with the same result as his brother, in a vertical drop over the building’s side. The animation staff shows off its advancement of skill and increase of shooting budget, having the camera track and vertically pass Wilbur and the mice in dimensional angle, to display his pull-up just inches above traffic. Bianca asks if this is a non-stop flight, but Wilbur replies that they will need to make connections with a bigger bird, adding, “What do I look like, Lindbergh?”
As the next day’s sunshine beams down, we find the mice and pilot in a new setting, having made their “connection” by traveling inside the wheel well of a jumbo jet. The mice sense they are close to their destination, and awaken a sleeping Wilbur, who forgets he is carrying the mice on his back in a sardine can, and rolls over on his back, asking for five minutes more shuteye. The mice are almost crushed, and stand on their heads to keep the bird from pushing down any further. Wilbur finally awakens and rights himself, as the doors of the wheel well begin to open. “Cannonball!”, shous Wilbur, as he free-falls out of the plane, spreading his wings only when he is halfway down, doing some fancy side to side maneuvering through a flock of seagulls flying past at a lower altitude. “One side, ladies. Comin’ through”, shouts Wilbur as he passes, swooping between the domes of the Sydney opera house.
The scene changes to the lonely landing field of Mugwamp Flats, where a mouse named Jake, wearing bush-country khaki explorer’s garb, and an unnamed house fly kill time playing checkers. A call comes in on the radio from Albatross Flight 13, requesting to land. Unfamiliar with the breed of bird, Jake unrolls a chart, illustrated much like an airplane spotter’s chart from WWII, containing silhouettes of virtually every known flighted bird. Reaching the end of the chart, he spies a silhouette double the size of any other, marked as the albatross. “It’s a jumbo”, reacts the startled mouse. Grabbing the radio microphone, Jake replies in the negative to Wilbur’s request, indicating their runway is too short, and that he’ll have to turn back. Wilbur won’t take no for an answer, and is heard whispering to Bernard off-mike that you can’t let these flight controllers push you around. “Crazy Yank”, complains Jake to himself, and he instructs his fly partner that they will have to do everything they can to extend the runway. The two run to opposite ends of the roof of their control room that serves as landing strip, cranking into position awnings on both sides of the building to add a few extra feet. At the rear of the building past the second awning, they open a beach umbrella positioned over an outdoor table. Wilbur touches down, bouncing and sliding across the roof and awnings, and lands atop the beach umbrella, causing it to rotate round and round on its pole several times to take up more of Wilbur’s momentum, while Jake and the fly rig a “drag line” across the roof, consisting of a woman’s brassiere, which snags Wilbur across the chest when he flips off the umbrella and slides back across the roof again.
Hot Air (8/23/92), an episode of “Goof Troop”, explores the misadventures of family life in domestic suburbia between the neighboring families of Goofy and Black Pete. In this episode, two sets of events converge. Pete’s daughter Pistol is watching Goofy’s son Max and her brother PJ (Pete Jr.) attempt a hang-gliding stunt, and gets the notion to fly herself. Max insists that flying is only for boys, until Pistol reminds him of Amelia Airhead, and the Flying Nun! But Max points out none of them were four years old. “Four and a half!” retorts Pistol. Meanwhile, Pete, at his used car dealership, is attempting to film a series of commercials involving his interactions with animals (lampooning then-current ad campaigns of car dealer Cal Worthington, who would introduce all manner of wild animal as his “Dog Spot” – itself a lampoon of a prior car dealer, Ralph Williams, whose manager regularly featured appearances by “My dog, Storm”.) Max appears with Goofy, trying to hand-off responsibility for watching Pistol to her papa, claiming she’s been out of control all day. But Pete’s too busy to be bothered with such problems, and delegates toddler watching to Goofy, who claims it’ll be no problem, as he’ll be able to keep an eye on her as well as keep her occupied at a carnival and air show he is taking Max to this afternoon. Pistol’s face lights up at the words “air show”, and we know the Goof is in for trouble.
At the air show, Pistol attempts to climb upon the rim of the turbine engine of the world’s largest plane, just as it is preparing for takeoff. Goofy pulls her away, only to get sucked into the engine himself, where he races inside the rotating turbine as if inside a barrel of fun at a carnival fun house, then is blasted out the other side a sooty mess. Max distracts Pistol by buying her a balloon from a carnival clown, who talks like Pat Buttram. She is upset when the clown calls her “Rifle.” “The name’s Pistol!” she shouts. “I don’t care if your name is Bazooka” responds the clown coldly. But as Pistol observes a full size hot air balloon on display, she gets an idea. Deliberately letting loose her hold on her own balloon string, she begins bawling. Max, to shut her up, offers to buy her as many balloons as she wants, and hands her a wad of bills. Before you know it, Pistol has the balloon vendor’s entire supply, and is airborne. Goof and Max each have different ideas how to reach her. Max unties the hot air baloon, and dangles precariously from a rope from its gondola, attempting to grab her. Goofy meanwhile enlists the assistance of the clown, taking his place in a human cannonball act. Goofy is fired (no, not from his job), but only succeeds in puncturing Max’s balloon, on which the two ride a wild trop as it deflates, while Pistol complains, “Boys have all the fun.”
Back at the car dealership, Pete is embarking on another commercial, featuring, of all coincidences, a gorilla pilot. The director insists the aerial stunt will be safe, as the gorilla hasn’t crashed a plane all this week. The gorilla climbs into a biplane and takes off, with Pete being dragged behind by a rope tied around his ankles. The plane intercepts Max and Goofy’s falling balloon, with each of them winding up hanging onto Pete’s arms. Goofy says he’ll speak to the pilot, and clambers over Pete and onto the plane’s fuselage, not knowing the pilot is an ape. When he sees the unexpected face, he is startled, and falls into the cockpit, blocking the ape’s reach of the control stick. The plane takes some daring loops before Goofy rights himself, then finds to his surprise he is alone in the pilot’s seat. Looking down, he spots the ape taking the safe way out – by parachute jump. “Was that in the script?” asks Pete. Another loop, and Goody flops back to his original position with Max and Pete on the tow rope. “Who’s flyin’ this thing?”, demands Pete. Much like his response to similar question from Mickey Mouse in “Mickey’s Trailer”, Goofy responds, “Why, I am.” “That’s what I was afraid off”, reacts Max. Another loop, and Goofy finds himself pursued by the plane’s propeller. More turns, and Goofy is clinging to the pivoting surface of the plane’s rudder. Finally centering it, Goofy creeps past it up the fuselage. “Easy, boy. Steady”, says Goof reassuringly to the plane – but as he is about to set foot in the cockpit once again, the plane suddenly drops out from under him. Goof becomes a human ping pong ball, in a two-handed match between the plane’s alternating wings. Pete somehow catches hold of a flagpole, and tethers the plane like one of Donald Duck’s model craft in Test Pilot Donald, locking the plane into a repeating circular course. Max scrambles off of Pete and down the pole, hailing PJ to help him save their dads. They rummage out of the trash their old hang-glider experiment, and rig a launching rubber band by tying fan belts from Pete’s auto supplies together. But it’ll take both of them to pull back the belts to launch the glider, so who is going to fly? At this precise moment, Pistol’s balloons run out of helium power, gently floating her back to Earth in front of the boys, as the only eligible pilot material. The boys launch her successfully, and she is able to grab onto the wing of the still revolving plane, and climb over the wing into the cockpit. “I can’t hold on any longer”, yells Pete. “Then let go, daddy”, says Pistol calmly. Pete does so without quite knowing what he is doing, then reacts in shock to find Pistol at the controls. “Little bitsy girls can’t fly”, Pete wails. Pistol gigles at how silly her daddy is. “I’m not flying. I’m landing!” “LANDING????”, shrieks Pete. Pistol sets the plane into a dive, right at Pete’s car lot. The plane bounces off the roofs of several cars before contacting the ground, with Goofy and Pete running alongside while hanging from respective wings, and slamming on the brakes by dragging their foot leather, finally bringing the plane to a stop. Pete at least takes solace in the thought that he’ll have a hit TV commercial, until the director congratulates him on a “great rehearsal”, and announces now they’ll do it with film. That’s all Pete can stand for one day, and the episode ends with Pete pursuing the director with murder in his eyes, for the iris out.
Aladdin (11/25/92) features a brief airline reference, among Genie’s endless string of surprises and one-liners. Trapped in the Cave of Wonders, Aladdin meets the frenetic Genie, an eccentric character who seems to live in all time eras at once, hooked on delivering lines in comic schtick and celebrity impressions thousands of years distanced from the time period of the story. He advises Aladdin of the power he now holds in having the right to three wishes from an all-powerful genie – but cautions of three “provisos” – inability to (a) kill anybody, (b) make someone fall in love, or (c) raise the dead. Aladdin and his monkey Abu are intrigued, but whisper between them in a plan to conserve on wishes, seeing as none of these powers will be of much use unless they can get out of the underground cave. “Provisos?”, questions Aladdin. “Some all-powerful Genie. He probably can’t even get us out of this cave.” Aladdin and Abu rise, discussing between them finding a way out of the cave themselves, when Genie, miffed by this afront to his powers, breaks into an impression of “Goodfellas”. “S’cuse me. Are you lookin’ at me? Did you rub my lamp? Did you wake me up? And all of a sudden, you’re walkin’ out on me? I don’t think so. Not right now. You’re gettin’ your wishes, so, SIT DOWN!!!” The blast of Genie’s bellowing voice blows Aladdin and Abu to a seated position upon Genie’s friend, magic carpet. Genie pops himself onto the carpet, and assumes the voice of a stewardess. “In case of emergency, the exits are here, here, here…..anywhere!”, as he develops a circle of extra arms pointing in all directions. “Keep your hands and arms inside the carpet. We-e-e-re OUTTA HERE!” In a flash, carpet and passengers are zapped through walls of solid rock and desert sand, out into the evening sky. Some time later, they come in for a landing at an oasis, Genie again assuming a stewardess role, now dressed in full outfit and woman’s wig, and speaking into a microphone as if through an airline’s P.A. system. “Thank you for choosing Magic Carpet for all your travel needs. Don’t stand until the rug has come to a complete stop.” Aladdin, still holding the coffee cup he has received during the flight, steps down as carpet folds to create a small series of steps to the ground. “About my three wishes”, begins Aladdin. “Dost mine ears deceive me?”, responds Genie. “You are down by one.” Aladdin, however, reminds him that he never actually wished to get out of the cave – “You did that on your own.” Genie’s jaw drops out of its socket, and he shrinks down to the shape of a small blue lamb, replying, “Do I feel sheepish.”
Lilo and Stitch (6/16/02) went through considerable plot rejiggering when it was decided to excise a nearly-completed sequence where Stitch invades a jumbo jet, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers. The lost sequence has since surfaced in two renditions, one consisting mostly of completed animation, and a longer version in storyboard. Needing to reach the alien spaceship in which Lilo has been captured, Stitch, Jumba, Pleakley, and Lilo’s sister Nani race by motorcycle to an airport, where they catch up with the wheel of a taxiing Jumbo Jet. Stitch climbs into the wheel well, then appears to surprise the pilots by bursting through the instrument panels in the cockpit. The pilots open the emergency doors, and they, passengers and crew exit down the rubber chutes in panic, while Jumba and the others climb aboard. Stitch and Jumba man the controls, while Pleakley busies himself looking over a catalogue of airline accessories to order a four piece luggage set. The escaping spaceship is surprised to find itself being tailed by what appears to be a giant shark fin extending out of a cloudbank, but which in reality is the wing of the jet, flying sideways. As the plane levels off, Lilo sees Stitch in the cockpit waving, and waves back to him. Jumba gets the attention of the alien spacecraft by flipping it into a spin with the jet’s wingtip. Gantu, in the alien craft, engages the plane in a game of missile launching cat and mouse. (In the longer storyboard, the chase is further complicated by the firing from ground of two heat-seeking missiles.)
The jet dives sideways into the heart of the city, allowing tall buildings to provide a shield to keep Gantu from achieving strategic position. The plane’s wingtip travels so low to the ground that it clips a scoop of ice cream off the cone of the sun-tanned tourist who has provided walk-through cameos at various points in the picture. The jet reaches a curve in the road where a luxury hotel provides a solid half-curve wall to the plane’s left side. Jumba extends the landing gear of the jet, and uses the building as a directional guide, rolling upon the surface of the wall as if on a landing strip, to bank the plane into a right turn. Stitch waits at the emergency exit door for just the right moment when the plane’s new trajectory will cross the path of Gantu’s ship, then leaps out, landing squarely upon Gantu’s windshield, to carry the battle to Gantu’s home turf. (In the longer version, the heat-seeking missiles arrive during the conflict, and powerful Stitch pulls a Popeye maneuver, giving the nose of each missile a sock to deflect it off course.) Eventually, Stitch grabs Lilo and leaps from the ship before an explosion rocks it, landing with her upon the wing of the jumbo jet. It is not entirely clear how they get inside the jet (though Stitch’s superhuman strength is the likely explanation how they could reach the entrance door on a moving plane.) The plane is ditched into the ocean – right behind the surfing figure of Nani’s boyfriend, who is toppled over by the wave. From the plane’s floating wing, Lilo, Stitch, and her friends call to the boyfriend, asking if he can give them a ride to shore. Still puzzled as to what exactly has just happened, the boyfriend agrees – with a qualified answer that he’ll need to make two trips.
Planes (8/2/13) was a spin-off from the successful “Cars” franchise, and a direct descendant of the original “Pedro” from Saludos Amigos. It in fact contains one sequence that could be said to be a direct reworking of material from “Pedro”. Dusty Crophopper is a plane built for crop dusting, but aspires to be more than he was built to be – a world-class air racer. Unfortunately, he is attempting to learn racing skills through the sole support of a buddy air-fuel truck (specializing in ethanol, with the slogan, “Corn – it gives you gas”), who teaches him moves from a beginner’s manual, “Air Racing for Dummies”. He also has the unwitting support of a girlfriend (of sorts) in the form of a forklift who serves as his mechanic, and criticizes him for pushing his equipment to the breaking point. But he knows he will need professional assistance to truly break the bonds of his tedious farm existence, and seeks training from a reclusive retired Navy Vought F-4U Corsair (known as the Skipper) who resides in the last hangar in town. The old plane, a “man” of few words, turns him away, with remarks that he is in over his head, and will wind up as a grease spot on the runway. Dusty nevertheless enters the qualifying competition for the Wings Around the Globe rally, and makes a impressive showing in a complex obstacle lap around and through pylons – only to finish sixth, one spot shy of qualifying position. Dusty returns home, and though praised for finishing so close, regrets that he will probably never make racing material. That is, until a messenger arrives with word from the racing officials that a prohibited fuel was discovered in the fifth-place plane, resulting in disqualification. Dusty is in after all.
Upon this word, a surprising appearance is made by the Corsair, in tow by a tractor, who almost commends him on his qualification, but then chews him out for his sloppy turns, poor acceleration, and general “rookie” behavior. It seems the Corsair had been watching Dusty’s training efforts out his hangar window, and has now taken an interest in the feisty crop duster’s request for training. At 0:500, intensive training begins. After many failures and embarrassing timings, Dusty begins to show improvement, but one weakness is discovered. Dusty, so used to flying crop sprays close to the ground, is afraid of extreme heights. “We’ll work on that”, vows the Corsair, promising to act as long-distance “wingman” for Dusty during the race by means of daily radio communications and monitoring his progress during the broadcasts of the race. He pronounces Dusty ready for action, and awards him the painted insignia of his old Navy squadron, (piston and cross-wrenches) as an honorary member. The race begins, with the multi-time champion (Ripslinger) taking an instant dislike to the little plane, as a “farmboy” who will give the sport a bad name. With the assistance of two henchmen (or is it henchplanes) comprising his team, Ripslinger plans to render Dusty’s performance an embarrassment, and drive his kind from all thoughts of competing in their field. But the little plane, despite falling behind in early legs of the race, continues to hang on to a respectable competitive position, creeping up on the leaders. He acquires various friends along the way, including a Spanish-accented Gee Bee racer who calls himself El Chupacabra, who receives some private lessons from Dusty on improving his own romantic score with a female racer. Speaking of scores, Dusty himself begins to attract the attention of another aerodynamically-curved female plane, who states that she has noticed how Dusty likes to fly low, and suggests a means he can continue to do this in the racing leg over the Himalayas, by “following the iron compass” of a line of railroad tracks careening through the mountain range. Dusty takes the advice, but to his surprise finds the canyon walls dead-ending into a train tunnel. He turns upward to follow the nearly vertical slope of the mountain above, but nearly blacks out from his fear of heights, descending back into the canyon. Determined not to give up, Dusty makes the gutsy move to fly straight through the train tunnel, nearly clipping his wings off in the process – and finds himself rushing headlong towards a train about to enter from the other side. Only a split second of air space remains between train and plane, and the scene turns white with the glare of the train’s headlight. When Dusty’s eyes clear, all is quiet, and he finds himself approaching an open field in front of a monastery. He thinks he has died and reached some sort of Shangri-la – but is informed by the locals that he is very much alive, and in Nepal, way ahead of the other racers still traversing the mountains. Dusty has achieved first place – and later discovers the girl who had advised him to follow the tracks wearing a specially-designed propeller reserved for Ripslinger’s racing team. The girl was put up to it by the villain to sabotage Dusty – yet the plan only succeeded in handing Dusty the lead, to Ripslinger’s outrage.
Over the Pacific Ocean, sabotage strikes once again, as Ripslinger’s henchmen knock Dusty’s radio antenna off, leaving him without a positioning signal to navigate by, and out of long-distance radio contact. He encounters two Navy fighter planes, who escort him to the only nearby refueling base – the S.S. Flysenhower aircraft carrier, home base of the Piston and Cross-wrench squadron. While Dusty is refueling, he observes a wall of photos of past members of the squadron, and looks up the record of the Skipper – shocked to discover that the Skipper, despite his reputed war-hero record of the squadron, flew only one mission. With repaired radio and attempting to catch up with the others, Dusty puzzles over this mystery, but flies directly into a storm. Much as in “Pedro”, Dusty tries to fly over the storm – but his height fear plus an engine stall leave him powerless and falling backwards toward the sea. He barely gets out a mayday call before taking the plunge, flounders in the ocean, and only after a time is dragged from the sea by a massive cargo helicopter. Transported to the shores of Mexico where the rest of the racers have paused in preparation for the last leg of the race, Dusty is weather-beaten and water-beaten, with several parts malfunctioning or badly broken, and it appears he has reached the end of his career. But his friends among the other competitors, tactically admitting he is the only one among them with the guts and will to give Ripslinger a final run for his money, arrive with donations of new wings, various spare parts, superchargers – and the special racing team prop the female racer had earned for sabotaging him, which she states she will do without, preferring her old model. Dusty emerges a new and improved, sleek and ready racing machine.
There is still the matter of Skipper (who, along with Dusty’s home support team, has commuted by cargo plane to meet him in Mexico.) Dusty asks if the record of only one mission is true, and why Skipper wasn’t straight-up with him about it. Skipper confesses that, while he was a crack trainer of rookie flyers, his only mission was at the head of a squadron of them, who through the clouds observed what they believed was a lone Japanese cruiser, and convinced him to let them fly down for a “turkey shoot” at the enemy. To Skipper’s horror, when the sqadron descended below the cloud cover, nearly the entire Japanese fleet was revealed waiting below. The squadron was ambushed, and Skipper was fished out of the sea, the sole survivor. He never flew again. “I wasn’t the real thing – but you are, kid”, Skipper adds, and asks Dusty to consider, would he have let Skipper train him, had he known about his past? The sequence is the most poignant in the picture, and well-played. Dusty exits the hangar with a better understanding of his mentor, while the Corsair remains, uncertain whether his assistance will be of any further use to Dusty.
In the final leg of the race, Ripslinger and his team wait until a stretch of desert is reached where they are out of camera range, then gang up on Dusty, and attempt to force him into the ground. To their surprise, another plane buzzes them and nearly clips their tails off. It is the Skipper, who has broken his vow to never fly again, coming to Dusty’s aid in dogfight style. Dusty and the Skipper play a game of aerial follow-the-leader with the villains, Dusty leading Ripslinger’s henchmen into a trap between narrow canyon walls. But Ripslinger takes a piece out of the Skipper’s rudder, then charges ahead toward the finish line. Skipper tells Dusty to go ahead without him, and Dusty desperately tries to catch the swift villain. A patch of sunlight above and a trail of high cirrus clouds reminds Dusty of an incident in the Skipper’s training him for altitude flying, where he had encouraged Dusty to find the jet stream for a ride like he’s never had before. Dusty finally builds up the courage to follow the past instruction, rises above the clouds while trying not to look down, and is swept forward at terrific speed by the high stratospheric winds. Dusty finds himself enjoying it, and, in a clearing of sky below, finds himself right on top of Ripslinger. Dusty power-dives toward the finish line, and, as Ripslinger tries to show off his good side for the cameras, Dusty flies an arc right around his back, and crosses the finish line inches ahead of Ripslinger to claim the trophy. The surprised villain crashes into a row of portable outhouses, and comes out smelling worse than the fertilizer he had always accused Dusty of being tainted by from the farm. The film ends happily with a visit back to the Flysenhower, where both Dusty and the Skipper are honored with new squadron markings as honorably instated into the active roster. Dusty and Skipper launch from the flight deck, and run a challenge race through the skies against one another, for the fade out.
A sequel, Planes: Fire and Rescue (7/15/14), while also well produced, did not develop quite the detail and story-line of its predecessor, and will not be covered here in as great detail. A primary plot point is the breakdown of Dusty’s engine gearbox – a part so old, it has been discontinued, and cannot be located in any supply warehouse. (This sounds like the same problem I used to have finding exhaust manifolds for a Ford Pinto!) This appears to put an end to Dusty’s racing career, and a mishap which results in a fire at the local airport results in his seeking a change of career to qualify as a fire and rescue plane, to make amends when the airport is closed by an inspector for lack of a qualified firefighter. The training and peril plotline is a bit meandering and a little tedious at times, but suffice it to say that Dusty not only becomes a hero and qualifies to permit the reopening of the airport, but receives a new and improved custom-manufactured gearbox to restore him to full power. As with most sequels, less well thought out, and less entertaining though still pleasant enough.
A final note is deserved for a promotional short, “Air Mater”, from the “Mater’s Tall Tales” series of “Cars” spinoff shorts, as a sort of advance premiere for some of the characters and settings which would ultimately be displayed in the “Planes” series. Tow Mater, the tow truck, spins a tale for Lightning McQueen about hauling a wreck to Propwash Junction (the home town in which the Planes stories begin). There he observes the all-winged community, and further encounters the hangar of the Skipper, who now (inconsistently with the feature, unless this is a post-quel depicting the future line of work Skipper will take after ending his self-imposed hermitage) runs a flight school, whose sign states he guarantees to teach anyone to fly. “I’m anyone”, observes Mater. Skipper makes a mental note to change that sign. However, he has his tractor assistant strap on a prop, wings, and a tail to Mater’s chassis, then rins him through a series of charts on an easel regarding principles of lift, propulsion, steering, etc. Mater rushes through all the big words as if he is understanding perfectly, though it is obvious his dense mind probably hasn’t absorbed a thing. The truck races down the runway much like Orville the albatross, running out of runway, and disappearing vertically down over the runway edge. But as Skipper resigns himself to really have the sign taken down immediately, Mater rises into the skies, somehow getting the hang of it. “I really CAN teach anybody”, says Skipper, ordering the sign back up.
A four-plane squad of stunt planes is preparing for performance at a big air show, when one of them turns up with wing damage. Their leader wonders where they can get a replacement pilot on such short notice – just as Mater flies by performing loop de loops in his favorite travelling direction – backwards, and lands upside down. He is asked to join the squadron. At the air show, Mater performs group flying moves, and is also given skywriting duties, in which he performs a smoke-trail game of tic tac toe, crashes through smoke bowling pins for a strike, and even draws his own autographed self-portrait. But when he breaks the sound barrier, that is not the only thing broken up, as all his attachments snap off of his main frame. As was a formula element of this series of shorts, Mater extends his tale beyond all credibility, by weaving McQueen into it too, who has also learned to fly, and conveniently arrives to catch Mater on his own added set of attached wings, and deposit him on a bulls-eye target on the runway below, where Mater pushes a button to set off a fireworks display for the crowd. “Mater, that did not happen”, complains McQueen. But Mater proves otherwise as the voice of the squadron leader is heard on his car radio, advising that they are again down one plane and need him. Mater excuses himself, and takes off into the air, leaving McQueen gape jawed as Mater joins the flying formation once again. (Original airings of the short included a coda shot, where Mater looks at the town’s name sign again, and suggests to the audience that they ought to make a movie about it, giving the camera a knowing wink.)
Flying foolishness under the Warner shield, next time.