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Saturday, March 28, 2009

As a Boy, Walt Disney Met Buffalo Bill Himself

I ran across a book review in The Sun New York written by Carl Rollyson for Neal Gabler's "Walt Disney: The Biography, in which Walt Disney's recounts a childhood memory of personally meeting Buffalo Bill. I thought I'd reprint part of the book review here and let you be the judge of how Disney's meeting with Buffalo Bill argues for or against the inclusion of Mickey in our new show, Buffalo Bill's Wild West with Mickey and Friends. I've highlighted parts that seem particularly intriguing.
"Walt Disney was in the business of branding the world with a powerful mix of nostalgia for the past and Epcot dreams of the future and confecting the literal space where fantasy met reality. I say literal because in "Fantasia" Mickey Mouse mounted the "(real) podium and shook hands with the (real) conductor Leopold Stokowski."
Collyson: Mr. Gabler is quoting the art critic Robert Hughes, who credits Disney with inventing pop art. Perhaps, but what is most striking in Mr. Hughes's description is that the word "real" appears in parentheses. Stokowski is real, but he is also the product of Disney's imagination. And the conductor is just as honored to meet Mickey as any child would be. This is an astonishing moment in the history of art in which photography and animation converge...

...The biographer seduced, it seems to me, by Disney's desire to backdate, so to speak, every element of his life to suit the contours of Disneyland. Disney's recollection of his Midwestern boyhood, spent partly in the small Missouri town of Marceline:
... In Marceline he was awaiting the parade for Buffalo Bill's visiting Wild West Show when Buffalo Bill himself stopped his buggy and invited Walt to join him. "I was mighty impressed," Walt later wrote.
...What about that meeting with Buffalo Bill? I checked Mr. Gabler's sources, and he has only Disney's word for it. Of course, Disney wanted us to believe that he had reached out and touched a great mythic figure. It was part of Disney's destiny that Buffalo Bill should acknowledge him, part of our destiny that Disney should meet greatness, and part of the biographer's fervent wish that his subject's story have this kind of portentousness. Perhaps it is all true, or perhaps Disney just watched Buffalo Bill pass by and made up the rest...

Read a Press Release for the New Show

I found this English translation of a French press release for the new show, from DLRP Fans:

MARNE-LA-VALL√ČE, France — It’s a grand premiere! From 4th April 2009, Mickey and his friends, Minnie, Goofy and Chip ‘n’ Dale invite guests to join them at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

They allow the audience to relive the conquest of the American West and to meet Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley and the cowboys of the Wild West.

Right from the moment they arrive, guests will be welcomed by Mickey and invited to step into a souvenir photo to capture a memory of this evening filled with adventures and unforgettable encounters.

Before entering the arena, the audience can enjoy a festive ambiance in the company of Sheriff Goofy and a live musical act.

It’s showtime!

Just as Walt Disney presented his film to the public, Auguste Durand-Ruel, the master of ceremonies of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, presents the show alongside Mickey, Minnie and their friends Goofy and Chip ‘n’ Dale.

All throughout the dinner show, Mickey and his friends will take part and join the audience in their epic adventure across the wild American West.

Wearing their cowboy hats and encouraged by Mickey and his friends, parents and children will support the colour of their “ranch” in several games and events held in the area.

The unique participation of Mickey and friends in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show will transport the audience into a grand celebration of the West!

A Collection of Guest Pre-reactions



The buzz is starting to spread about Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show with Mickey and Friends. Check out the Magic Forum for a discussion on the subject prior to its start, or DisBoards for some pirated photos (scroll down to response #12 for photos of characters in the show).

The New Show Will Probably Succeed

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show with Mickey and Friends is already a week old counting from the "soft opening" (it officially opens April 4, 2009). Here's the part I am reluctant to admit: assessed objectively, and theatrically speaking, the Disney characters in the show are not an abomination and do not destroy the integrity of the human performers. In fact, for a Disney audience, their presence works in most parts of most scenes. They are not offensive and their presence does not emasculate the authentic elements of the show.

But let's keep that between you and me. I'm still uncomfortable, as a de facto ambassador of the Old American West, talking to a plastic head that "speaks" without moving its lips by bobbing its head to the rhythm of a pre-recorded voice track - as if it were real and we are in the Old West. However, when I pretend it's real the audience plays along and the theatrical convention works. That's always the case in theatre. I'm only "Buffalo Bill" to the degree my fellow actors and I pretend I am. Commitment by the actors to believing the unbelievable is what creates the illusion and allows the audience to suspend their disbelief and accept the "reality". Then we all look like theatrical geniuses and the experience for the guests is magical.

The opening scene with Auguste works because he pretends the characters are real, but there's more to it than that. The characters' giant smiles are critical. Psychology studies show that when we see someone smile we have a reflex to smile ourselves, creating an instant rapport. (Something we can all take home with us.) Add silly voices and animated movements and unless you're fully committed to being jaded you will likely find yourself grinning along. Once you grin, you've accepted their presence and you can pretend they're real. That's how the Disney magic works.

The Cattle Trail Scene, which I now call the Camp Scene, works well. In addition to their smiles, the characters dance and sing which adds to their credibility. When the stunts join in dancing at the end, their movements and energy remind me of Zorba the Greek (a classic musical film featuring a rough old Greek codger who dances). Theatrically speaking, the Camp Scene is an improvement over what the Cattle Trail scene had become - without the chickens, without the trick roping, with often aimless dialogue and without cowboys believing in it, the Cattle Trail scene had tended towards being long, listless, and lifeless. The Camp Scene is tighter and better theatre although it no longer reflects the living tableau of the American West that W.F. Cody envisioned. The cowboys retain their "authenticity" by establishing their identiy in other scenes like the Cavalcade, Rodeo Games, and Cavalry. My only comment is the fight among the cooks, although excellent fight choreography, is under-provoked and makes for an awkward introduction to the Disney characters. The Artistic Coordinator has assured me that the problem is due to the costume of one of the cooks not being "different enough" to the other cooks. As soon as his costume is sorted out, it'll all come together. OK. Whatever.

W.F. Cody saw his original Wild West Show not just as great entertainment, but as a living history lesson of the American West. His show shaped history almost as much as it reflected it. Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in Disney Village was never meant to have the same objective. Although based on the original, the intent beyond pure entertainment was not to tell the story of the West but the story of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. What always made the show work, regardless which century it played in or what the higher-minded objective, was it's entertainment value: it was and is an entrepreneurial venture. If our public wants Disney characters, give them Disney characters. In less than a week we'll ask the public their opinion and see if Disney's marketing research is accurate or not. I'm reluctant to admit they may have been right on this one.

It's the End of the Show as We Know It

I got to work last night at 4:30 pm and was handed a full page of new text to learn for the final performance of the original version of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show (La Legende de Buffalo Bill), Disney Village, Disneyland Paris France. I'm not sure who wrote the text but I'm going to hazard a guess he or she doesn't make a living as a writer. The intentions were good but it just didn't work. So I re-wrote the speech and during the final revue of the second show delivered it, with some improvisation of course. Because I am blessed with a short memory, I paused slightly in places for my brain to catch up, which had the affect of adding drama and emotion to the speech. You'll have to imagine that part as you read. Here's how the show's run, in it's original form, ended:

BUFFALO BILL (me)
(Old text) Folks, we hope you have enjoyed yourselves, and we hope you will all come back and return with us again to the legendary world of the pioneer days on the great American plains.
(New speech)
Although if you do, your experience will be very different than it was here tonight. Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show first played under this roof 17 years ago, back in 1992. Some of the original cast are still with us here tonight. I want to thank them for their dedication and spirit (audience and cast applaud) and I want to thank all of our esteemed guests who have patronized our show over the years. But now, after more than 11,000 shows in front of more than 11 million people, tonight's performance marks the last of it's kind. Starting next week our show will feature Mickey Mouse and Friends (unsolicited hoot of laughter from the audience) That's the reaction I often get when I talk about this. Mickey and his Friends will add a new flavor of fun and magic to our show, while retaining all the excitement of the original. We hope you all come back and see our new show. But now, to mark the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, some of my Native American friends have asked to perform for you an inter-tribal song.
As Auguste Durand Rouel (Didier) translates, Kave, Wiley, and Petit Loup bring a drum onstage. Sitting Bull (Shawn) joins them as they perform a very moving Native American Indian song. The audience and cast explode in applause that lasts almost until the drum is carried off stage. Their last few steps are taken in heavy silence before I start my final text:
Just remember - wherever there's a sunset, there's a West. But there was only one... BUFFALO BILL'S WILD WEST !!

We all exchanged compliments and condolensces afterwards, and posed for a last-minute improvised group photo (thankfully our biggest fan, photographer, and all-around good guy Marc Veillard was there with his camera or even that would not likely have happened).
Now it's the next day and in two hours I'll be attending the dress rehearsal for the Mickey-fication of what had become a 17-year old institution, tradition, and legend in its own right. I still hold on to a shred of optimism, or maybe I should say I have the audacity to hope, that all this pomp and ceremony of a "final show" will fuel the version of Murphy's law that causes things to go the opposite of planned, and we will one day revert back again to a re-energized production of the original show. Until then, a big, fat, gritted-teeth, vein-popping, bone-crushing hug to our newest cast member..

M I C ... see you real soon!
K E Y ... why? Because we LIKE you!
M O U S E !!

Castmembers Start Bidding Farewell to the WWS


After 17 years and roughly 11,000 shows, tomorrow is the last day Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show (La Legende de Buffalo Bill), Disney Village, Disneyland Paris France, will be performed as it was originally conceived. After that, giant rodents and a dog will become integral members of the cast - not just any giant rodents and dog, but Mickey, Minnie, Chip and Dale, and Goofy. They dance, sing, wave, and "speak" via recorded bites in various scenes. The Cattle Trail scene has become a full-blown Disney Character Ho-Down Musical.

The changes are an attempt by Disney's marketing team to capitalize on the "Mickey's Magical Party," a marketing initiative for 2009 that includes four new Character-driven shows in the Disney themeparks. The idea is to expand the audience of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show by targeting families with very young children - Disney's core demographic. Whether the show achieves it's objective or not, nobody knows for sure, but for the human cast who take pride in presenting a largely authentic reproduction of the original Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, the show will be over when Disney Characters arrive, and that's Friday March 20, 2009 - the "soft" opening. The show is closed Wednesday and Thursday, so Tuesday, tomorrow, is the last day. Already many among the cast have played their last traditional show since they will not be working tomorrow. The Native Americans are planning to sing a traditional native song to commemorate the end of the show as we know it.

Character Dancers Visit the Wild West Show

(Picture courtesy of www.rorymcdyertravel.ie )
The dancers, choreographers, and other staff who will be participating in this year's project to integrate Disney Characters into Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show (La Legende de Buffalo Bill) Disney Village, Disneyland Resort Paris, FRANCE, came to see the second show last night. Management laid out a large table in the outdoors break area, complete with white table cloth, drinks, and snacks, to welcome our new performers and supporting staff. The dancers are a very enthusiastic and likable group of young people whose positive energy should be welcomed, but some feel management missed an opportunity for basic team building and instead increased animosity towards management and the project itself by neglecting to invite the Wild West Show cast to the pre-show gathering. One stunt-team member allegedly complained that while the team for the characters got a white-tablecloth welcome and a free invitation to our show, the stunt team were required to attend a sober 3-hour training to work as a character in the Disneyland Park, and then had to dress up in a character costume and actually work for a shift.

Cowboy JM Falls of Horse, Folds in Half


Following the eyes of the other performers, I looked over and saw JM's butt and nothing else. He was on his back, folded in half, his backside facing the audience, the rest of him obscured. Fortunately his pants were still intact and in place. He remained frozen there for several seconds before finally unfolding and getting to his feet. Witnesses report that after JM caught the horse during the roping contest at Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show (La Legende de Buffalo Bill), Disney Village, Disneyland Resort Paris, he turned towards the other performers, perhaps showing off a little, and his saddle turned. Whether he forgot to tighten his cinch or not remains unclear. JM maintained his balance for a few more strides, then fell only a few feet from the curtain in the corner of Gold Star. SH said JM didn't roll or bounce to absorb the energy of the impact, he just hit the ground with a solid thump and folded in half. Annie Oakley rushed down to make sure JM was OK. He was. I added a five-second penalty to his time.

"Cowboys Booted" is Partly Fictional

KK came into my dressing room last night between shows to inform me he had read Cowboys Booted from Dance Rehearsal . We discussed the article and I learned that it contained the following errors:

1. Cowboy "RL" was not at the rehearsal. This was apparently an assumption on my part, following the conversation I had with RL in which he suggested the cowboys could go work on a ranch if they didn't want to rehearse properly. RL rehearsed on a different day. Whether he danced at the rehearsal or not I didn't verify, but probably he did.

2. PT was not late to the rehearsal, he just wasn't there, either because he wasn't scheduled to rehearse that day, or because he called in to say he couldn't make it. I made that assumption because NR had been complaining he'd been working in place of PT regularly during the rehearsal schedule.

3. The implication that the cowboys were relegated to the floor as some sort of statement of social status is unfair. In a dance studio, it's normal to have few chairs to maximize the use of space. If their rehearsal was anything like the one I attended after writing the article, the dancers also sat on the floor, and the directorial/management team probably spent most of their time on their feet conducting the rehearsal. There were tables and other props on which cowboys could have sat if they tired of the floor. Or, of course, they could have chosen to participate, which would also have relieved them of the discomfort of sitting on the floor.

4. According to KK, many of the cowboys present were not scheduled to attend the rehearsal but came anyhow, for reasons not made clear to me. For those not asked to attend, asking them to leave has a different significance than the article implied.
Disclaimer: While I have tried to be adequately accurate in my reporting, this is all hearsay, and generally one-sided information. Initials are used to protect the privacy of those involved.

Disney Comic Features Buffalo Bill

The current project to integrate Disney characters into the story of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show is not new. A simple Google search revealed at least two comic books featuring Disney characters in the Wild West. Click on the image above to see a comic written by comic book writer and illustrator Don Rosa that features Uncle Scrooge McDuck and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Disney characters on a cattle trail are also not new, as seen in "The Buckaroo of the Badlands," also by Rosa.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cowboys Booted from Dance Rehearsal

Rehearsals have started for the Festival of Mickey Mouse, a company-wide initiative for 2009 that includes featuring Mickey, Minnie, Tic and Tac (Chip and Dale), and Goofy in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Apparently friction is already showing up, resulting in Cowboys being told to leave one of the recent dance rehearsals.
(Consistent with the lax journalistic procedure that has come to characterize the content of The Casual Reporter, this is all hearsay, and generally one-sided information.)
Here's the juice:

The Cowboys and Stunts arrived on time at the rehearsal (except for Pete) and the cowboys were told they would not be required to dance if they didn't want to. They could just watch.

With the artistic coordinator, director, choreographer, and other self-important types supplied with chairs and the cowboys told to sit on the ground, the rehearsal started and continued for a couple hours, the Stunts and Richie dancing and rehearsing.

Finally, the director told the cowboys who were watching it was their turn to dance. Brock reminded Kramer that he was told he wouldn't have to dance. An argument ensued, ending with J.P. alleging that Brock had been paid to do nothing for the last two years (Brock was on training leave) and if he didn't want to be there, he should leave. Brock left.

Chad, who also sometimes plays the speaking parts, was ordered to dance. Chad reminded Kramer he was told he wouldn't have to dance. "Why did you come here then?" Kramer asked. Chad replied that he was asked to and he was getting paid overtime. The lead cowboy supported Chad, pointing out to Kramer that the cowboys were indeed told they wouldn't have to dance. Kramer said that if they didn't want to be there they should all just leave then. So they did, except for Richie, who later observed that there are plenty of ranches back in the states that the guys could work on if they didn't want to do their job here.
Hi ho, Hi ho! It's home from work we go!
(whistles)
Hi ho, Hi ho, Hi ho!