In Walt Disney's Dumbo, Casey Jr. is the little train transporting the circus animals to their various destinations. He lugs his heavy cargo up steep hills, repeating the well-known saying, "I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can." After successfully reaching the hill's summit, Casey rolls down the hill, repeating. "I-thought-I-could, I-thought-I-could." Casey Jr. is part of a long tradition of industrious little trains found in children's literature.
The development of Casey Jr.'s personality was influenced by the popular children's story "The Little Engine That Could," published in 1930 by Watty Piper. This story was inspired, in part, by a 1906 sermon by Rev. Charles S. Wing, as well as subsequent incarnations in 1906, 1910, and 1920. The industrious little engine whose perseverance helps him overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles has often been interpreted as the embodiment of the American Dream. Like Walt Disney himself, Casey's success was predicated on tenacity and dedication.
The intrepid little locomotive is still popular 70 years after his Disney film debut. Case in point: he will be featured in a starring role in the Magic Kingdom's new Storybook Circus (the first section of this mini-land opened to generally rave reviews earlier this spring). Casey Jr. Splash and Soak Station is currently under construction, and tantalizing “over-the-wall” photos have appeared here and there offering glimpses of the colorful little engine that could. Everyone's favorite circus train may be making his most memorable appearance at a Disney park in this new attraction, but it is certainly not his first. Likewise, Dumbo is not the only feature film to feature Casey Jr..
Dumbo is not Casey Jr.'s first film appearance—nor his last. Casey Jr. was featured in The Reluctant Dragon, from 1941. This behind-the-scenes look at the Walt Disney Studios film included a short segment explaining how animated drawings are synchronized to sound. Actress Margaret Wright illustrated how her voice was altered and recorded for her performance as the little circus train. A short animated segment of Casey Jr., one that is not found in Dumbo, accompanies Miss Wright's explanation and subsequent voice recording (it's interesting to note that the actual process shown in the film is incorrect as voices are typically recorded before animation).
Casey's most memorable film appearance, of course, is found in the much-loved Disney classic Dumbo. The Disney artistry of humanizing inanimate objects has seldom been more effective. Casey's appealing personality and physical design—credited to Ward Kimball—give this supporting character lasting appeal. Color and movement also make Casey's scenes stand out; the scene of Casey pulling into town as a big storm builds is one of the film's most technically impressive moments.Casey's most recent screen appearance was a brief cameo in the 1988 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, voiced once again by Margaret Wright.
In his 1960 live-action film Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with a Circus, Walt Disney returned to the circus milieu, first explored two decades earlier in Dumbo. Ten-year-old Toby Tyler, played by Kevin Corcoran, runs away to work at a circus. The opening sequence lovingly re-creates the excitement of a circus parade's arrival in a small American town at the turn of the 20th century. Colorful circus wagons, rambunctious clowns, and exotic animals march down an idealized Main Street to the delight of young Toby Tyler, who sees the circus as an escape from the daily drudgery of his life (the street is actually a redressed back-lot set on Disney's Burbank studio. Western Street, as it was known, appears in many of Disney's best known films and television series—everything form the 1950s serial "Texas John Slaughter" to the 1975 The Apple Dumpling Gang).
Disney history buffs might be interested in visiting the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, to see some of the wagons used in the film. According to Peter Shrake, Archivist of the Circus World Museum, “several of our historic circus wagons . . . were donated to the museum by Disney many years ago. The wagons are genuine circus wagons that once operated on a number of different shows and were later purchased by Walt Disney in the early years of Disneyland and were used on the Mickey Mouse Club Circus in the mid 1950s.” For more information about Circus World, visit its website.
The Casey Jr. Circus Train is one of the original Disneyland attractions from 1955, its “sleigh-style train cars transplanted from the merry-g-round that later became King Arthur Carrousel” (Disney Parks Blog). This charming attraction takes guests through a scenic tour of the Storybook Land area, providing guests with views of the miniature recreations of famous locations from some of Disney's best-known films.
The circus came to Disneyland on several other occasions as well, most memorably in the form of the Mickey Mouse Club Circus in 1955. According to Valarie Sukovaty of Disneyland Public Relations, “This show starred some of the original Mousketeers and Jimmie Dodd.” Sadly, it only lasted three months.In 1972, Casey Jr. appeared again at the parks, this time in the form of a float in the ever-popular Main Street Electrical Parade. The second float features engineer Goofy driving Casey Jr. who pulls a large drum. This delightful float still thrills guests at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Who doesn't love waving to Mickey and Minnie on top of that huge drum?
In 1986, Disneyland once again welcomed a circus, this time a “Circus Fantasy” event that ran from January 25th through March 9th in 1986. Special parades, performers, and decorations were included during this promotional event.
Le Petit Train du Cirque in Disneyland, Paris's Fantasyland, debuted in 1992. Similar to its Anaheim predecessor, this charming little attraction takes guests through picturesque Storybook Land.
Currently scheduled to open in July 2012, this addition to the Storybook Circus area of the the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland expansion in Walt Disne World looks promising indeed. From the renderings by the artists at Walt Disney Imagineering to the actual attraction props arriving daily on the construction site, the color and energy of this new area are sure to please the youngest guests for whom this area has been specifically designed. Not only is Casey Jr. featured on the tracks of the round house outside the new Fantasyland Station complex, but his colorful circus cars have arrived as well. Each seems to be bursting with faithful recreations of the animals so fondly remembered from the film. As a bonus to Disney fans, each car is marked with a number that corresponds to the year in which one of the Walt Disney World theme parks opened its gates to the public.
Join us in welcoming Casey Jr. to town as we anticipate the opening of this promising new area at the Magic Kingdom.
(Send an email to Tom Richards)
Tom Richards is a life-long admirer of Walt Disney, something of a Disney historian, and a free-lance writer. His Disney interests include but are not limited to: Walt Disney World, classic Disney animation, live-action films made during Walt's lifetime, and Disney-related music and art.