Pixar’s WALL-E & Hello, Dolly (1969): Worlds Apart yet Connected at Heart

Hello, all! I’m coming at you from a very different angle today. My friend over at Movies Meet Their Match is hosting a blogathon this week celebrating Pixar films. Since Hello, Dolly is such an important element in the Pixar film WALL-E as well as a fun, exuberant movie, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to talk about the connection between these two award winning films.

Now, looking at the two photos above you probably think I’ve lost my mind; but remember, looks can be deceiving.

wall-e (2008)

Andrew Stanton, one of the many creative geniuses behind WALL-E, directed and co-wrote the film with Pete Docter, the current chief creative officer of Pixar. Stanton and Docter came up with the idea of a robot who was left on earth after humankind had left due to the overabundance of trash. Tasked with cleaning up the earth, WALL-E lives a life of monotony and loneliness. One day he sees another robot and falls in love. WALL-E goes after her, taking off on an exciting adventure, and brings positive change to those around him.

Stanton had always loved the classic film aesthetic, and for this film he knew he wanted to juxtapose sci-fi with retro. Having been involved in musical theatre in high school he knew he wanted a show tune for the opening of his film. While searching for the right fit he heard Michael Crawford sing the words “Out there” from Hello, Dolly. Stanton knew it was the one.

"I knew it was the weirdest idea I’d ever had, so I kept it to myself for a while until I felt I could better justify its use. Then I realized the song is about these two naïve guys, who’ve never left their small town, and just want to venture to the big city for one night and kiss a girl. That’s my main character!" - Andrew Stanton
The opening credits to WALL-E (2008)

Stanton was intrigued with the idea of making an animated film in a different way than had been done at Pixar – without dialogue. While the whole film could not be presented as such, the first thirty minutes is just that. Stanton knew this approach would require additional story telling techniques. Again, he turned to Dolly for help.

I started exploring the other songs in the play, and when I found ”It Only Takes a Moment,” it just became this godsend because I was always looking for ways to tell the story without the need to use conventional dialogue. This song became a great device for showing WALL-E’s interest in what love is, and it gave him a way to convey his love for EVE. I happened to have read somewhere that holding hands is the most intimate public display of affection, which led to the idea of WALL-E learning that action by watching the movie. Suddenly I was desperate: ”I’ve gotta get a copy of Hello, Dolly! Please, please, please let them show these two lovers holding hands!” And they were! I took that as a sign that it was meant to be to have these songs in the film because Hello, Dolly! was suddenly helping me tell the story. - A.S.
WALL-E and Eve watching the scene of the lovers in Hello, Dolly (1969) holding hands

Hello, dolly (1969)

Hello, Dolly (1969) is a film adaptation of the successful Broadway production of the same name. Based on Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker, the story concerns a widow (Barbra Streisand) who tries to content herself with being the village matchmaker but soon realizes that she is lonely and needs more out of life. Dolly schemes to get Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau), the “well known unmarried half-a-millionaire,” for her own and sets up Vandergelder’s shop clerks (Michael Crawford and Danny Lockin) with his love interest and her shop assistant.

20th Century Fox, hoping for another Sound of Music (1965), poured SO much money into the production and it shows. The visuals are stunning – filmed on location in the beautiful Hudson Valley area of New York with costumes by the amazing Irene Sharaff. Sadly, the film did not recoup it’s production costs, a staggering $25 million! Nonetheless, this film deserves to be viewed and appreciated for its scope and heart. The creative team is top notch: screenplay by Ernest Lehman; directed by Gene Kelly; and cinematography by Harry Stradling. Jerry Herman wrote the score and Michael Kidd choreographed the dances. The talented cast sparkles throughout the film with contagious energy and each of the production numbers are pure joy to behold.

Both of these films are love stories, just with very different packaging. For Dolly, her loneliness and pursuit of love pushes the story forward, bringing a whole cast of characters together, making the town a happier and better place. For WALL-E, it is the same. He desires to be loved and his pursuit of Eve leads him to go on a life (and world) changing adventure.

Michael Crawford & Danny Lockin

I’ll leave you with this wonderful story Michael Crawford relayed to Andrew Stanton:

“[Crawford] said when he had to punch the very beginning of the song with the orchestra and say the phrase ‘out there,’ he was never getting it right, and finally [director] Gene Kelly had to come out of the booth and come over to him,” “[Kelly] said, ‘Kid, you gotta sing this like it means more than the world. This is bigger than the universe, just think of the stars.’ And the take that they used was the one where he was thinking of the stars when he sang ‘out there.’ So when he saw the opening of WALL-E and it was just this field of stars, it just blew his mind.”

This post is my contribution to The Pixar Blogathon hosted by Movies Meet Their Match. Thanks for letting me participate, MC. This was so fun! Click here to check out the rest of the entries.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Hans Christian Andersen (1952): A Fairy-Tale Feast for the Eyes, Ears, and Soul

“Everything you look at can become a fairy tale and you can get a story from everything you touch.”

H. C. Andersen

This movie is about a spinner of tales, a dreamer of dreams. In order to appreciate the delightful, colorful, smorgasbord that awaits, one must remember that this movie makes no claim in being an accurate biographical account of Andersen’s life. In fact, the title card says it is a fairy tale about the author himself.

Danny Kaye plays the title character. He is lovable, innocent, and optimistic. He is also sensitive and dreamy-eyed and this is where the plot of the film comes in.

Hans disrupts the town he lives in by distracting the children from their schoolwork with his stories. Kicked out of town, he leaves for the grand city of Copenhagen only to fall for Doro, a beautiful ballerina (Zizi Jeanmaire in her film debut) who is wed to her demanding choreographer (Farley Granger). Where and when will outsider Hans find his place in the world?

I love how this film clearly illustrates the impact Hans’s stories have on those around him. To the children he imparts joy, adding more to life than just schoolwork in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” To some he gives comfort as in “The Ugly Duckling” and “Thumbelina.” When Hans writes “The Little Mermaid” ballet for Doro it becomes a hit for the ballet company and a turning point in their relationship.

For me this movie is like a warm hug. I grew up watching it and singing along to the many delightful songs. Its beauty comes from the simplicity in the story line and Hans’s amiable nature wonderfully displayed by Danny Kaye. The gorgeous Technicolor, stunning direction by Charles Vidor, and cinematography by Harry Stradling doesn’t hurt either 😉 The Little Mermaid Ballet is one of my favorite dance sequences in the movies. The staging is unique, creative, and the choreography beautifully suggests a mermaid’s underwater movements.

Frank Loesser’s memorable score brilliantly inhabit Hans’s world adding to the dreamy quality that blurs reality and fantasy. Composer-lyricist Loesser, whose star was ascending in the music world, was Goldwyn’s choice to write the songs for the film. In 1949, he won the Oscar for “Baby, Its Cold Outside” and the following year he had tremendous success with Guys and Dolls on Broadway. When Goldwyn bought the film rights for the show, he also signed Loesser for Hans Christian Andersen.

In a few ways this movie reminds me of The Red Shoes (1948). The tale of “The Red Shoes” was written by Andersen. Both movies were filmed in Technicolor, contain gorgeous ballet sequences, and share similar themes. If you enjoy The Red Shoes (and who doesn’t?) you might enjoy Hans Christian Andersen as well.

Lastly, I would recommend this movie even for those who aren’t fans of Danny Kaye’s comedic style. The way he interacts with children is a joy to behold and the drama in the script allows him to show more range as an actor, giving one a better picture of the man of many talents.

This movie is perfect for a rainy day, and for those inevitable days when you and I feel lower than low. It will perk you right up and give you something to smile about. Who could ask for more than that?

This post is my contribution to The Classic Literature on Film Blogathon hosted by Paul of Silver Screen Classics. My thanks go out to Paul for letting me participate in this event. Click here, here, and here to read the rest of the entries.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Rose Marie (1954): Love Amidst the Rockies

Tomboy meets manly man, falls for his charm, and becomes a “lady” for him. Sound familiar?

Rose Marie has shades of two other highly esteemed musicals of the 50’s – MGM’s Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Warner Brothers’ Calamity Jane (1953), in which a tomboy gets transformed into a lady. Interestingly, these films also share the same leading man, Howard Keel. What makes Rose Marie unique however, is the style of the music, the casting of the heroine, and the ending of the story.

This 1954 adaptation of Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart’s operetta, Rose-Marie, was MGM’s third time bringing this story to the big screen. The first film, now considered to be lost, (1928) was a silent with Joan Crawford playing the lead. The second and best-known version, (1936) starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, gave the team their signature song, “Indian Love Call.” Each time the film has been re-made, the story has changed, but the 1954 version bears close resemblance to the original operetta. While the film only retained three of the songs from the original operetta, it did add five others. The duet “I Have the Love” is exceptionally lovely.

Taking us on this journey into the Canadian wilderness and into the heart of Rose Marie is the lovely Ann Blyth. As the titular character, Ann is sassy and independent, while still retaining her feminine charm. She is the perfect blend of innocence and fire. Unlike Betty Hutton’s Annie Oakley and Doris Day’s Calamity Jane, Ann Blyth’s Rose Marie is not larger than life; quite the contrary. Ann plays the part in an understated fashion. She brings out Rose Marie’s naivety, and her plight to find her proper place in the world. I think this is what made her so wonderful in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) – her ability to portray a character who is innocent and naive about certain things, but also very vulnerable and emotionally intelligent at the same time. And to play that character in a likable way that does not come across as fake, contrived, or cloying.

Note: I enjoy Betty’s Annie and Doris’s Jane as well; however, I like to note different acting styles and character interpretations. I love the individual qualities each one possesses and appreciate each of them for what they are. The differences are what makes each special, unique, and exciting to watch. We move on… 🙂

Rounding out the cast is Howard Keel, Fernando Lamas, Bert Lahr, and Marjorie Main. The most notable for me was Bert Lahr. I believe this is the second film I’ve seen him in. The first, of course, as the incomparable Cowardly Lion in Oz. He does have a number which is fun to see and makes some of his lion grunts and sounds.

Howard Keel and Fernando Lamas add their rich baritone voices to the mix while vying for the hand of Rose Marie. Keel is well cast as the good-hearted Mountie and Lamas as the ambiguous trapper. In my eyes, these two couldn’t be more opposite – all the more fitting for the story.

MGM pulled out the stops by filming Rose Marie in the Canadian Rockies, and it is simply breathtaking. The gorgeous scenery filmed in eye-popping color enhances the realism of the story and the plight of the Mounties. In addition, the cinematography by Paul Vogel (High Society, 1956) is beautiful and engaging. The film is also the first movie musical to be released in the new widescreen format at that time, CinemaScope.

I had to watch this film twice to fully appreciate it because it took me be surprise. All in all, Rose Marie (1954) is very enjoyable, featuring one of the most beautiful duets, talented singers, nature’s beauty, and produced by the most prestigious studio of Hollywood’s Golden Age. If any of those mentioned above make your heart skip a beat, this film is calling you…

This post is my contribution to the O Canada! Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Speakeasy. Thanks, ladies, for letting me participate! Head over here to read the rest of the posts honoring this vast and beautiful country.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Deborah Kerr in The King and I (1956): How One Woman’s Convictions Changed a Country

Fortunately…I had my Deborah Kerr. She was heaven. She was the perfect Mrs. Anna. She understood Mrs. Anna completely. She understood the relationship between the two. And this is really what made the picture work.”

Yul Brynner

20th Century Fox’s production of The King and I (1956) is a sparkling gem in the crown of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. The terrific cast, memorable tunes, and universal message holds an undying appeal that continues to touch generation after generation.

While at first glance one would think the movie belongs to Yul Brynner, after all he has been identified with the king ever since originating the role on Broadway in 1951, and even the title of the film implies this; however, it is the pairing of Brynner with his leading lady, Deborah Kerr, and the chemistry between them that makes the movie truly come alive and take wing.

For us today, it is hard to imagine that Deborah Kerr was not the first choice for the role of the prim and proper English schoolteacher. Vivien Leigh was considered, but because of health issues she was not able to take on the project.

A notorious perfectionist, Yul Brynner was quite pleased with the casting of Kerr after having met and seeing her perform on Broadway in Tea and Sympathy. The two became good friends with a pleasant working relationship. There were even rumors of a romance between the two. Deborah Kerr later remembered,

“It was Yul who was the solid inspiration behind the movie. He knew and loved every line of the story and every note of the music, and it came out so well due to his insistence that this and that had to be done the way he wanted. He could be difficult, but only because he knew he was right.”

Deborah Kerr, as Anna Leonowens, not only beautifully holds the central heart of the film, she holds her own against the larger than life portrayal of Yul Brynner’s King of Siam. Her character is strong, uncompromising, and just as stubborn as the king; but she is also a lady of principle, propriety, and tenderness. She is the catalyst for change, a breath of fresh air in a place that is stale and harsh. All of these nuances come through in her performance making her a force to be reckoned with.

Anna’s differences with the king set off fireworks, both politically and sexually, resulting in one of the greatest and most romantic scenes in cinematic history – the “Shall We Dance” number. The two draw close together and majestically whirl around the dance floor in an unforgettable scene of unspoken joy, love, and desire.

Beneath the spectacle and grandeur of the film is the underlying principle of freedom and equality. Anna encourages the freedom of the Siamese people and the equality of women in every way she can. She supports Tuptim (Rita Moreno) in her desire to be with Lun Tha, and gives her Uncle Tom’s Cabin to read, inspiring her to dream of and believe in her chance of freedom. Anna encourages the people to think for themselves and perhaps most importantly, she inspires Prince Chulalongkorn’s decree that there will no longer be any groveling on the floor before the king, no doubt leading to more modernization for the people in his upcoming reign.

There is much to enjoy in the The King and I. The screenplay is marvelous, the music is delightful, and the sets and costumes are beautiful, but each time I watch it I’m always struck by Deborah Kerr’s brilliant portrayal of a courageous woman who influenced the change of a nation.

Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr’s handprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

This post is my contribution to The Second Deborah Kerr Blogathon hosted by Maddy of Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. Thanks for letting me participate, Maddy! Check out her great blog and the rest of the entries by clicking here!

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Anchors Aweigh (1945) – A Man and a Mouse

Anchors Aweigh is a delightful, breezy piece of entertainment released in 1945 by the master of musicals, MGM. The movie features Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly as sailors on leave in Hollywood, USA, looking to pick up dates. One is an experienced “sea wolf” (Kelly) and the other is shy and naive (Sinatra). The woman in their lives (Kathryn Grayson) is an extra at MGM trying make it big at the studio as a musical star.

“Screenland, April 1945”

Anchors Aweigh packs quite a punch in the talent department. The film was directed by George Sidney who was just coming into his own with the previous year’s hit, Bathing Beauty. Sidney would go on to direct Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Show Boat (1951), two of the studio’s most successful musicals during the 1950’s. The producer, Joe Pasternak, suggested the pairing of Sinatra and Kelly which turned out to be magical. The two bounce off of each other so well, and you truly believe that they have been friends for years. Sinatra and Kelly would go on to make two other pictures together, but this is my favorite of the three.

Anchors Aweigh marked a turning point in Sinatra’s career. He danced (taught by Gene Kelly), appeared in color, and starred in an MGM musical, all for the first time. Sinatra was already a beloved singer, but his role as Clarence was his first successful venture in movies. He made five other films before Anchors Aweigh, but this one endeared him to his fans and grew his audience.

Gene Kelly is in his prime in this film. He had just hit his stride at Columbia Pictures in Cover Girl with Rita Hayworth (1944). In it he was given creative control of the dances, as Columbia was inexperienced in making musicals. He blew every one away with his work in Cover Girl that by the time he returned to MGM they were ready to hand over the reins for his next musical.

Gene Kelly’s choreography is absolutely delightful in this film, and we get quite a few dances in a variety of styles. The most famous of these routines is “The Worry Song” where Gene Kelly dances with Jerry the Mouse (animated flawlessly by Hanna and Barbera). The desire to do something never done before prompted this dance routine. It was planned out by Gene and his assistant, Stanley Donen.

“Stanley Donen and I sat around for a couple of days trying to think of something and after one long period of silence Stanley suggested, ‘ How about doing a dance with a cartoon?’ This was it…I get all the credit for this, but it would have been impossible for me without Stanley, he worked with the cameraman and called the shots in all these intricate timings and movements. It wasn’t easy for the cameraman-he was being asked to photograph something that wasn’t there.”

gene kelly

The sequence is sheer heaven and a technical tour de force. One can’t help but be amazed by this number, and the pure joy that flows from Gene’s performance is utterly contagious.

Let’s talk about the score for Anchors Aweigh. From “Jealousy,” sung by Grayson, to “If You Knew Susie,” sung by Kelly and Sinatra, to the magnificent rendition of Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” performed at the Hollywood Bowl-this movie is a musical treasure chest! The one song I’m not a fan of is “All of a Sudden My Heart Sings,” a solo by Grayson. It never quite gets off the ground and slows the whole movie down. Jule Styne (of Funny Girl fame) and Sammy Cahn wrote six new songs for this movie. One of which, “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” was nominated for an Oscar.

Image via: https://journeysinclassicfilm.com/2015/07/17/anchors-aweigh-1945/

Did you ever wish you could go back in time and wander through the front gates of MGM? Me too! This film affords us the opportunity to do so! There’s footage of the MGM commissary, the Thalberg building, a recording stage, and the backlot. We get a very rare glimpse of a fleeting time in history, all in glorious Technicolor.

All in all, this movie is a time capsule. It’s for lovers of the MGM musical and the joy of dancing.

Awards & Trivia

  • Anchors Aweigh won the Oscar for Best Musical Score: Georgie Stoll
  • Anchors Aweigh earned Gene Kelly a nomination for Best Actor
  • Anchors Aweigh was nominated for Best Picture and Best (Color) Cinematography
  • Jose Iturbi, the Spanish conductor and pianist, plays himself in this film
  • A cutout of Esther Williams appears in a shop window as the sailors walk the streets of Hollywood. See if you can spot it!
Kelly, Sinatra, and Williams behind the scenes
Image via: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/10/Anchors-Aweigh/tcm-archives.html#tcmarcp-199925

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Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!