Legacy Content

Jim Hill
Page 1 of 4

by Jim Hill (archives)
July 26, 2001
Jim Hill reveals the celebrity tragedy that lead to Disney's decision to deliberately neuter this once promising dark ride ... as well as the right-now-in-the-works plans that should turn Superstar Limo into a real crowd pleaser. Part 4 of 4.

If you missed it, click for Part One, Part Two or Part Three of this series.

So the call went out in Glendale: “We need celebrities to appear in several scenes for ‘Superstar Limo to help beef up this show.’ “ The trouble is, there really wasn’t all that much money left in the budget of this Hollywood Backlot Pictures attraction to cover this sort of expense. Which meant that the Mouse couldn’t afford to bring any big names on board to help strengthen SSL’s storyline.

These days, it seems like money is always an issue when it comes to which performers get to appear in which Disney theme park attractions. Take - for example - DCA’s “Golden Dreams.” Do you recall that sequence in the film where there’s this clever transition: The film goes in for a close-up of this poor downtrodden woman who’s caught in the depths of the Great Depression. There’s then a quick cross fade and we see the very same woman - still in close-up, but now all cleaned up - seated in a darkened movie theater, laughing at something that’s being projected up on the screen in front of her.

And what exactly was this woman supposed to be laughing at? Well, “Golden Dreams” ‘s script originally called for this Dust Bowl survivor to be chuckling at the antics of Charlie Chaplin. Which Chaplin film? Why, “The Great Dictator,” of course.

Why the “Great Dictator” ? Because that film features several scenes where Chaplin gets to burlesque Adolph Hitler. A clip from one of those scenes in this 1940 movie would have allowed “GD” to make a virtually seamless transition from its Great Depression sequence right into the section of the film that deals with women’s contributions during World War II (AKA “Rosie the Riveter”)

Unfortunately, the Chaplin estate wanted the Walt Disney Company to pay out an enormous amount of money for the rights to use scenes from “The Great Dictator” in “Golden Dreams.” Disney representaives - in an effort to bring the price down -- tried to play on the Chaplin family’s sympathies. They talked up how Walt and Charlie had been friends way back when and how this brief cameo in an attraction for Disney’s California Adventure would pay tribute to that friendship, etc.

The Chaplin estate didn’t fall for that. They told Disney’s representatives that they could either pay the original asking price or do without the footage from “The Great Dictator.” WDI staffers then appealed to folks higher up in the Mouse House food chain, asking for the extra money necessary to save “GD” ’s carefully scripted smooth transition. In the end, the sharp pencil boys didn’t think that the Chaplin footage was all the essential to the ultimate success of “Golden Dreams.” So they said “No.”

Which is why that woman in the movie theater is now laughing at a scene from Laurel & Hardy’s 1939 film, “The Flying Deuces.” That clip may not have not done much to help with the film’s transition from the Great Depression to WW II. But it was certainly a hell of lot more affordable than a clip from “The Great Dictator.”

Speaking of Disney cutting corners on DCA’s “Golden Dreams”: One place where the Mouse decidedly did NOT cut corners was in its pursuit of imagery of one specific sports figure to use in the closing moments of the film’s musical montage. It literally took months of negotiations - as well as a $50,000 fee - but Disney was finally able to land the rights to use footage of Tiger Woods at the very end of “Just One Dream.” (If that brief glimpse of Tiger at the tail end of the film really worth $50,000? Well, some folks have suggested the negotiation for Tiger’s “Golden Dreams” appearance was really just the dress rehearsal for the even bigger deal that Woods signed with the Mouse House late last month. Compared to that princely fee, $50,000 was just a drop in the bucket. That said, that amount would have covered the cost of inserting the “Great Dictator” footage into “Golden Dreams.” Several times over. So it’s always interesting to see what Disney’s sharp pencil boys are willing to spend the company’s money on.)

Speaking of the sharp pencil boys, these guys just weren’t willing to throw good money after bad in an attempt to fix Superstar Limo. Which is why they wouldn’t allow the Imagineers to go after any performers that weren’t already under contract and/or had a pending deal with the Walt Disney Company to make an appearance in this Hollywood Pictures Backlot attraction.

You heard right, folks. Every celebrity - and I mean every one of them - that makes a caricatured cameo in Superstar Limo already has some sort of direct tie to the Walt Disney Company. You’ve heard of the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”? Well, now it’s time to play “Disney’s Limo Links.”

First up is Regis Philbin. Unless you’ve been in a cave or under a rock for the past two years, you have to know that Regis is the man who personally saved ABC. His “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” game show became a cultural phenomenon that regularly racked up huge ratings for the Disney owned network. Philbin’s relationship with the Mouse goes way back, though. Disney’s Buena Vista Television has been syndicating his highly popular morning TV show (Once “Live with Regis & Kathie Lee” / Now “Live with Regis & Kelly”) for years now. Regis owes much of his fame & fortune to his friends in the Mouse House. So when WDI called and asked permission to use his likeness in Superstar Limo, Philbin’s final answer was “Yes.”

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