Mickey Mouse Revue

by Wade Sampson, staff writer
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In the December 31, 1962, issue of Newsweek magazine, Walt Disney talked about plans of creating an attraction at Disneyland for "all of the Disney characters, so everyone can see them… I have in mind a theater, and the figures will not only put on the show but be sitting in the boxes with the visitors, heckling. I don't know just when I'll do that." Almost a decade later, “The Mickey Mouse Revue” opened at Walt Disney World.

On May 25, 2009, the charming Audio-Animatronics show “The Mickey Mouse Revue” closed at Tokyo Disneyland after nearly 26 years of delighting Japanese guests and was replaced by “Mickey’s PhilharMagic”.

A clever Disney manager realized that the show included small Audio-Animatronics figures of the Three Caballeros: Donald Duck, Jose Caricoa, and Panchito. That same cast member also realized that the Mexico pavilion at Epcot had an attraction, the “Gran Fiesta Tour,” featuring these characters and that these figures would be the perfect scale to install in the finale.

Of course, Imagineering quoted a very hefty price for packaging up and shipping the figures to Florida and an even heftier price for installing the figures. After some serious number crunching, the-powers-that-be rationalized that it would be a great guest satisfier to have the figures and agreed to Imagineering’s bill. The figures were shipped to Florida and, once they arrived, Imagineering decided it had underestimated the cost of installation and that the charge would be more than double the already excessive quoted price.

So the figures remain carefully packed backstage in the hopes that someday Epcot will be able to find the money (and in the hopes that Imagineering doesn’t raise the price significantly again) and they will appear in the attraction and be a nice little enhancement for the attraction, as well as a special treat for knowledgeable Disney fans.

This would not have been the first time that figures from the “Mickey Mouse Revue” were recycled into other attractions.

Imagineer Tony Baxter took the mold for the character of Alice (from Alice in Wonderland) from this show and made a lightweight fiberglass model and painted it to look like Tinker Bell. He installed equipment inside so that it would operate like a radio controlled model helicopter and actually fly down Main Street during the parade. A successful test was done in the WED parking lot, but was abandoned over fears that that the 12-pound figure might malfunction and drop on a guest.

Imaginer David Mumford, show designer for the Alice in Wonderland dark ride at Disneyland, claimed in a 1999 interview that the Alice figure added during the 1984 renovation came from the “Mickey Mouse Revue.

”"The Alice figure was a last minute addition, after some debate over showing the character," Mumford said "There was a set of Alice figures in storage from the 1971 ‘Mickey Mouse Revue’ attraction in Florida. Included were some Flower Garden heads, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and Alice, so we used them at Disneyland in 1984.

The Seven Dwarfs figures and their organ were reused in the 1994 Snow White's Scary Adventures ride renovation.

“The Mickey Mouse Revue” show opened as an “E” Ticket attraction at the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971, and ran until September 14, 1980, when it was closed and dismantled and sent to Tokyo Disneyland where it was an opening day attraction in April 1983. The entire show, including the pre-show, was re-recorded in Japanese and a few small cosmetic enhancements to a handful of the characters were made.

The theater at Walt Disney World was renamed the Fantasyland Theater and hosted several other shows over the years including "The Legend of the Lion King” and “Mickey’s Philharmagic.”

From the end of the eight-minute pre-show that covered Mickey’s career and the use of sound in animated film:

Narrator: “Join us now in a presentation of the latest colossal achievement in Mickey's illustrious career. Mickey Mouse, bigger and better than ever, appears in a completely new dimension, leading his friends in a medley of Walt Disney musical highlights.”

Mickey: "Come along folks! It's time for the Mickey Mouse Musical Revue!" (The theater doors open.)

Originally, this almost 10-minute show was going to be called “Mickey Mouse Musical Revue” and that name appeared on some early posters as well as that last announcement in the preshow. An Audio Animatronics figure of Mickey Mouse conducted an all-toon orchestra of 23 characters, and the show itself showcased scenes and songs from some of the memorable Disney animated films that were staged around the orchestra.

There were a total of 73 different Disney animated characters who performed in the show from the Fab Five to Humphrey the Bear, Timothy Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Baloo, Scrooge McDuck and many, many more that filled the 86-foot-long stage. (However, there were a total of 81 figures since some characters appeared at different places on the stage, like the Three Caballeros, or in different costumes. Several characters planned for the show like Horace Horsecollar, Clara Cluck and the Big Bad Wolf didn’t end up in the final production. However, a shadow of the Big Bad Wolf did appear before the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”)

Songs included "Heigh Ho," "Whistle While You Work," "When You Wish Upon A Star," "Hi Diddle Dee Dee," "Who's Afraid of The Big Bad Wolf," "I'm Wishing," "The Silly Song," "All In The Golden Afternoon," "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo," "So This Is Love," "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," and "Mickey Mouse Club March.”

None of the voices in the show were from the original soundtracks, perhaps for legal reasons or the need to compensate those performers.

Over the years, I have had the chance to interview Bill Justice, both in California and in Florida, and to spend time with him entertaining at Give Kids the World. It was always fun to spend time with Justice, who genuinely loved drawing and was always full of life and stories. Unfortunately, Justice is in poor health today and has been in a nursing home in Southern California for more than a year. His 96th birthday will be the first week of February. A good friend of mine, who is a talented and reasonably well known Disney artist, visits Justice occasionally and told me that his short term memory is a problem, but that if they discuss the Golden Age of Disney, he is still pretty sharp.

Justice has had a long and illustrious career with the Disney Company from being the primary animator of Chip and Dale to an experimenter in stop motion animation in Babes in Toyland, and the opening credits for Disney live-action films to the first designer of character costumes at Disneyland to one of the original Audio-Animatronics programmers on attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean. That’s only the tip of his many achievements. He also directed the opening animation for the original Mickey Mouse Club television show, for instance.

“The Mickey Mouse Revue” was the original brainchild of Justice although, of course, others were involved including John Hench and Blaine Gibson.

About the time work was beginning on the Magic Kingdom in Florida, Justice had an idea. Here in his own words from more than 15 years ago is the story of the origin of “The Mickey Mouse Revue.”

“WED had designed some imaginative shows for the parks, but we seemed to be getting away from our heritage. Pirates of the Caribbean was a big hit, but what did it have to do with Disney? What we needed was a reminder of what Walt had accomplished. I pulled out a sheet of paper and got to work.

“Mickey Mouse would have to be the main figure. Yet some mention must be made of our great animated classics. I made sketches of all the characters I thought should appear. Then, I called upon my modeling skills to build a one-16th-inch scale paper cut-out model of what I wanted. This was before photo-copying machines with reducing capabilities, so I had to make all the drawings in scale. Many of the figures had to be drawn, a quarter-inch high. The entire set was about 18-inches long by 3.5-inches high. But this model was a good tool for planning the show sequence and experimenting with different scenes.

“Once I thought I had a winner, it was time for a bigger model. I recruited some craftsmen and we built a room size miniature theater with a stage about twelve feet wide. Blaine Gibson and his assistants sculpted all the figures to one quarter inch scale from my drawings. Everything worked except the figures themselves—lighting, turntables, curtains, sound tracks. When we were done, I notified my bosses. They invited Roy O. Disney to see the results of our work. The show we had in mind was this:

“Mickey Mouse would lead an orchestra of Studio characters through a medley of Disney tunes. Then on the sides of the stage and behind the orchestra, scenes from our most popular animated features would appear one by one. Mickey and his orchestra would close the performance.

“Roy looked the model over, then paid me the best compliment I ever had in my career: ‘This is the kind of show we should spend our money on.’ That’s how ‘The Mickey Mouse Revue’ was born.

“I monitored the show’s progress until it opened. Blaine and his sculptors made full-size characters to serve as models for the Audio-Animatronics figures. The figures were built and a theater was designed. One problem surfaced: Mickey. With 33 functions crammed into a 42-inch body, he was the most complex figure to date. He also became my biggest programming challenge because he was supposed to lead the orchestra.

“I finally discovered I should program Mickey’s arms to raise as high as possible, then immediately drop as low as possible. Same thing with his wrists and elbows—bend back and forth as quickly as he could to the extremes. This is the only way Mickey could appear to keep up with the tempo.

“As the show’s theater in the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World was being constructed, someone came up with the idea of having a pre-show. They designed an area just outside the main theater where guests could watch a film on Mickey while they were waiting to enter. Good idea, except there was a glitch. The theater seated 504 people, but the space available for the pre-show could only accommodate 300. Unfortunately, there was no time left to make further changes.

“The Mickey Mouse Revue was always very popular. It came as a shock when I was told my pride and joy was being moved to Tokyo Disneyland. Why? ‘Because it never played to full capacity’. Of course not! How can you fill 504 seats with 300 people? Management!”

Of course, another reason for the attraction to move to Japan was not only the Japanese love of cute things (since it made the list of what the Oriental Land Company wanted for its park) but it also saved the Disney Company money because it was the only attraction that was shipped directly to Japan rather than being replicated. It would have been time consuming and expensive to build it from scratch in Tokyo.

In his outstanding book, Realityland, author and good friend David Koenig interviewed Bob Mathieson (who held many positions including vice president of operations at Magic Kingdom) who recalled, “It was a very big fight. We screamed like crazy on that one. It was a very popular attraction, and it was so much of our culture. It was what people really loved. But they didn’t have time to build their own. They had to take it.”

At the Magic Kingdom, the attraction had already been downgraded to a “D” Ticket amidst Disney accountanteer concerns that it had not become a signature attraction for the Magic Kingdom. It was the first attraction to be removed from the Magic Kingdom.

Mickey Mouse: “Thank you folks, that concludes our show. We hope you enjoyed it!” (The final dialogue from the original show.)