Pedro and Planes

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

I had a wonderful time in Dayton, Ohio, speaking at the two-day Disneyana Fan Club event at the Wyndham Hotel on June 28–29. The event drew attendees from several Midwest states, so Midwestern Disney fans might want to look into attending this annual event next year.

There were many treasures to be found in the dealer's room, including Tom Tumbusch's latest book, Tomart's Disneyana Guide to Magic Kingdom Treasures, which includes a section on pricing Disney Dollars.

In fact, the Dayton Disneyana event started out many years ago as a pin trading event in Tumbusch's backyard. On June 30, I got to visit with Tumbusch at his cluttered office and he shared some stories and showed me some amazing treasures, including Disney merchandise that were prototypes but never put into production. He also showed me the "mock up" of the latest issue of his Disneyana Update magazine that was at the printers.

However, on Friday June 27, I spent a few hours at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, on the outskirts of the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton.

This was my second visit to the museum (I also went there last year when I attended the Disneyana event) and accompanied Huffington Post writer and Disney enthusiast Jim Hill who also spoke at the Disneyana event, as well.

The museum has a nice little display exhibit of Disney insignias from World War II (as well as some oddball Disney nose art on some of the planes) and I was surprised to discover this visit that upstairs in the administration offices, they have several framed examples of original artwork of some Disney insignias, including some small sections of mistakes that had been carefully "whited out" in the art before being sent out by Disney.

It was great fun seeing Gremlins (the ones known as Spandules) dropping bombs, as well as an insignia I had never seen before of Jiminy Cricket riding atop Dumbo's head.

Jim Hill was quick to point out that it resembled the opening of the original "Mickey Mouse Club" television program a decade later with Jiminy on Dumbo's head, while I was examining the dry brush stroke on the interior of Dumbo's ear.

Interestingly, this artwork was hidden around a far back corner of the offices and were only fairly recently discovered by a curious Ron Kaplan, who was our host and guide for the visit.

Kaplan was the fellow that Pixar contacted back in 2009 when they showed up at the museum to do research on the animated feature, Planes, scheduled for release on August 9.

Kaplan is also a writer and will be having articles coming out in aviation magazines like Warbirds that will detail his involvement with Pixar that included introducing the artists to the air races in Reno, Nevada.

Beginning in 1964, this multilap, multi-aircraft (including World War II fighters) race is well known in the aviation community but was completely unknown to the Pixar artists.

Kaplan also introduced the artists to some of the distinctive pilots that may have influenced characters in the film. Kaplan has he photos of the artists surrounding individual pilots like kids clustered around an engaging storyteller.

When I talked with Kaplan, he had seen Planes and was very enthusiastic.

"I hope that the film will inspire young people to get more interested in aviation," he said. "I know that the Pixar people were very sincere in 'getting it right' and were 'true to the metal' (a phrase meaning that the planes physically behaved like planes, no bending of the wings to be pseudo-hands and arms). I have recommended the film to my peers but some of them still remain skeptical, especially after so many other cartoons where the characters have big teeth or move completely unlike a plane should. I have no favorite character in the film so I guess I will have to buy toys of all of them."

The museum has an IMAX theater, as well, with aviation-related film festivals under the direction of Kaplan (Reel Stuff Aviation Resources).

In fact, I suggested to Kaplan having a Disney aviation film festival for consideration for next year and offered some possible Disney cartoons that focused on flight.

On that list was the short cartoon titled Pedro from Saludos Amigos (1942) that was obviously one of the inspirations for Pixar's Planes.

In 1941, the popular Disney story team of Joe Grant and Dick Huemer worked out a draft for a theatrical animated short about a cute little airplane with the personality of a young boy.

In the 1940s, Grant and Huemer were responsible for writing the animated feature, Dumbo; story direction on Fantasia, writing the only Oscar-winning short featuring Donald Duck, Der Fuehrer's Face; as well as The Square World, Baby Weems and other memorable stories.

In the Grant-Huemer version of the story, the little red plane's first name was "P.T." ("Petey") and under his wing was the designation "O-2-L" ("O'Toole"). The narration for the short was to be supplied by Disney Legend Sterling Holloway: "Like a small boy, he had a mother and father, only they were called Momber…and Bomber."

Petey O'Toole was a mail plane who was to come of age taking over his father's mail route. His first delivery would take him over "Old Thunderhead," a tall and unfriendly mountain known for its threatening storms. Of course, Petey's bravery is somewhat undercut at the end of the cartoon when it is revealed that the mail sack does not carry vital documents but a simple vacation postcard.

Concept art was created by Disney Legend Mary Blair and Hardie Gramatky (best known as the creator of the anthropomorphic Little Toot tugboat). At one point, there was a discussion of adapting the story directly to a children's book.

It was Disney storyman Bill Cottrell (Walt's brother-in-law who had been teamed with Joe Grant on some early animated shorts) who worked on developing the clever story into a segment for Saludos Amigos (1942).

Cottrell was part of the famous "El Grupo" team of Disney artists who journeyed to South America with Walt Disney to find material to develop into individual cartoons. Those cartoons were later compiled into the feature Saludos Amigos.

The team was unable to find enough material in Chile (especially since they only stayed there one week, about one-third of the time they had spent in Brazil or Argentina) for a suitable story but a plane flight that Cottrell took with Walt over the Andes to Santiago was thrilling (they even saw a crashed plane in the snow on the mountainside).

"On that flight, we passed very close to Arconcagua…It's over 22,500 feet high, a very impressive, rugged thing, and it seemed like we flew so close to it, you could almost reach out and touch it," recounted Cottrell in J.B. Kaufman's highly recommended book, South of the Border With Disney." "This plane that we saw was nose down in the snow. The pilot and co-pilot, I believe, were probably killed in that crash. The plane was still there. They couldn't get it out and this was rather an ominous-looking thing to see."

Cottrell remembered the story treatment for a little mail plane that had been developed four months earlier and felt it could be reconfigured to showcase the landscape of Chile.

In addition, the little plane could be tied in with Pan American Airways (Pan Am), the airline that transported Walt and his team around South America.

Giving the Grant-Huemer story, a South American flavor was exceedingly easy.

"Pedro" is the Spanish equivalent for "Pete." Instead of a fictional menacing mountain, Cottrell substituted a real South American mountain, Arconcagua. One deleted scene from Pedro had the little plane stuck nose down in the snow on the mountain (just like the plane Cottrell had seen) and barely escaping an avalanche when he pulled himself out.

The story was a simple tale of bravery of a young boy who overcomes his fear and his youthful mistakes to make sure the mail gets through despite all obstacles.

In Santiago, Chile, there is a small airport that is home to three planes: Papa, Mama and Pedro, their young son. Pedro goes to school to learn the basics of flying including reading, writing (sky writing) and geography (the mail route). Their job is to fly a route over the Andes mountain range and fetch the mail from Mendoza, Argentina, and bring it back.

One day, Papa cannot go to get the mail because he has a "cold in his cylinder-head" (a gag that inexplicably amused Walt to no end) and Mama has "high oil-pressure" so wouldn't be able to handle the altitude.

Pedro, unlike his mother and father, does not speak during the short and is given the chance to deliver the mail. His trip to Mendoza is uneventful but on the return trip, he begins to feel cocky and gets distracted by a condor.

Pedro soon finds himself off course and in the path of the dreaded Arconcagua mountain, "the highest mountain in the Western hemisphere" known for its treacherous storms.

The little plane struggles to climb high over the cross currents and stormy weather as his fuel level goes dangerously low, never abandoning his mail sack (although sharp-eyed viewers will notice that sometimes the Disney animators forgot to include the mail sack in a few frames).

Back home in Santiago, his worried mother and father believe that their baby has become another martyr to the mail service.

Almost magically, Pedro reappears and makes a sputtering upside-down landing to become a hero. In the precious satchel is only one postcard reading "Having wonderful time, wish you were here," a cliched greeting sent by friends on vacation.

The narrator (Fred Shields), adds: "Well, it might have been important."

The postcard was addressed to "Jorge Delano," the cartoonist who was the Santiago guide for "El Groupo". The postcard is from "Juan Carlos," who hosted a party in Mendoza for Walt's group before their flight to Santiago, Chile.

Some of Walt's top animators worked on the segment. Fred Moore who was known for his "appealling" work on Mickey Mouse animated Pedro, primarily in the early scenes like Pedro's preparation for his first flight as well as his triumphant return. It was his contribution to include Pedro wearing a small green baseball cap to make him appear young.

Ward Kimball also animated the character, primarily the encounter with the playful condor. Finally, Bill Tytla handles much of the animation of Pedro battling the storm.

Ham Luske was the director.

Letters to the Disney Studiso felt that Pedro was adorable but there were two reasons there were no more Pedro cartoons. First, Walt's aversion to doing sequels was a factor, especially after his disappointing experience with trying to produce more cartoons with the Three Little Pigs.

Second, while the Chiliean audience also loved the character, they did not love him as a representation of the Chiliean people, especially with the more prominent Jose Carioca for Brazil and Goofy for Argentina being included in the same feature film.

In response, Chiliean cartoonist Rene Rios ("Pepo") created a comic strip character called Condorito ("little condor") in the Disney style. Condorito lives in a small town and behaves just like Donald Duck in Duckburg.

Over the decades, the character has grown in popularity, even appearing briefly in the United States. However, he was created to show Walt Disney that he had "missed the boat" in trying to represent the character of Chile with Pedro.

Pedro was popular enough to appear in his own book, a 36-page storybook released by Grosset Dunlap in 1943, and in a series of comics.

He even had his own comic strip series.

Pedro flies off to Toontown with Dumbo the Flying Elephant in the final scene of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and he made several appearances in the television series House of Mouse.

In fact, Pedro's animated adventure was released by the Disney Company as a separate short in May 1955. He also appears on some fairly recent merchandise.

While Pan Am will not be represented in Planes, there will be a cameo from American Airlines.

However, Pedro is just one of the inspirations for Planes. I think the film also probably owes a small debt to an MGM theatrical short cartoon called Little Johnny Jet (1953) directed by Tex Avery from a story by Heck Allen, his long-time writing colloborator. The animated short was even nominated for an Academy Award.

Avery was well known for his wild exaggerated style when he worked on Warner Brothers cartoons (and many credit him with being the original father of Bugs Bunny, especially since the catch phrase "What's Up, Doc?" was one of Avery's favorite expressions) and once Avery moved over to MGM, he created the character of Droopy and Red Hot Riding Hood (the inspiration for Jessica Rabbit) among many other accomplishments.

The short deals with anthropomorphic planes. John, a B-29 bomber who was a hero of 90missions in the Pacific during World War II and awarded a Purple Heart, cannot find work in the United States of the early 1950s because everyone wants jets, not propellor aircraft. John even tries to re-enlist but is turned down.

To make matters worse, his wife, Mary, gives birth to a son, who also turns out to be a jet. John now has a larger family to support. In the paper, John learns that there is to be an air race around the world with the winner to receive a major government contract. Although he sputters smoke, he arrives at the race, not knowing that his son is stowing away in his fuselage.

During the race, John struggles against the new jets so much that his propellors fall off and he plunges to his doom. His son appears and pushes his dad around the world (at one point going so fast that the skirt of the Statue of Liberty blows up revealing her panties), beating all other contenders.

The Air Force awards the contract to John, telling him they want thousands more just like his son. Mary blushes but has already started knitting little jumpers for the new arrivals.

By the way, it was Avery who also directed One Cab's Family (1952), the story of a family of taxi cabs who worry about their young son who wants to become a hot rodder. Yes, the eyes are on the windshields, not the headlights.

The Avery cartoon came out May 1952. Disney's Susie the Little Blue Coupe, about anthropomorphic cars that has often been credited as the inspiration for Cars, came out the following month.

Apparently, the Disney Company is impressed with Planes and a sequel is already in production and yes, Ron Kaplan at the National Museum of the United States Airforce has been contacted.

I wasn't excited about the film, feeling it was a pretty blatant attempt to expand the merchandising world of Cars, but after my experiences in Dayton, I am looking forward to giving it the benefit of the doubt and taking my nephew to see it.



  1. By marclichon

    Jim, thanks for an interesting article. I live in Cincinnati and was IN Dayton on those dates, boy I wish I knew that event was going on, I would have attended! My father, sons and I try to make a pilgrimage up to the Air Force Museum once a year, it's a fascinating place. We just came from a vacation that included a visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Washington DC and all agree that (other than very few exceptions) Wright Patt in Dayton is *far* superior. As an aside, did you know they have JFK's Air Force One in a nearby 'annex' that you can take a free 5-minute shuttle to? It's really a gem and incredible piece of history that you can walk through. They also have old "X" planes. Anyway, knowing that you, Jim Hill and artists from Pixar all visited for fun/research (albeit at different times) is exciting and I wish I had known and could have met you. The Disney insignias 'in the corner' (as you say) used to be part of a larger rotating display a few years ago but have since been relegated to a side-note. I'm glad they're still there though; we get a kick seeing them. I have those taxi and plane Tex Avery cartoons and am glad someone else remembers them; I love me some Disney but Tex Avery was *funny*. Thanks again for the great article.

  2. By zenifrax

    By the way, although "Planes" has been promoted as being "from above the world of 'Cars,'" the film was created by DisneyToons, not Pixar.

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