Disney movie and cartoon characters abound in this audio musical fantasy from the pen of Dick Huemer and the baton of Tutti Camarata. It was also a magazine feature – but could have just as easily been an animated TV special. Let’s take a look and listen:
A CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE IN DISNEYLAND
Disneyland Storyteller Series ST-3912 (Mono / 12” 33 1/3 RPM LP with Book / November 2, 1959)
Reissue: Disneyland Records #1355 (Mono / 12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1973)
Executive Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Producer/Arranger/Conductor: Camarata. Writer: Dick Huemer. Running Time: 23 minutes.
Songs: “The Storybook Tree,” “Jingle Bones,” “The Jungle Tree,” “O Futuristic Christmas Tree” by Dick Huemer and Camarata.
Instrumental: “Once Upon a Dream” (from Sleeping Beauty) by Sammy Fain, based on Tchaikovsky ballet.
Voices: Gloria Wood (Narrator, John, Jane, Disneyland Guest, Mr. Toad, Policeman, Snow White Witch, Witches Three); Bill Lee (Soloist).
This album’s serpentine history starts in the pages of a popular magazine of the day. Readers of the November, 1958, issue of Family Circle magazine had a nice little bedtime story to read to the kids: a full-color illustrated story in verse called “A Christmas Adventure in Disneyland.”
The story, written by Disney Legend Dick Huemer (master story artist with a distinguished career at Disney, preceded by a stint at the Fleischer studio), serves as a tour of Walt Disney’s recently opened Theme Park as well as a vehicle for a plethora of characters from Disney animated features and shorts.
The lengthy verse story was created in association with Disneyland Records, which released a 45 RPM extended play record called “Christmas Trees of Disneyland.” The record contained songs by Tutti Camarata with lyrics by Huemer, describing the trees in the magazine story. The lyrics on the record were not in the magazine, so the two items complemented each other quite well.
It wasn’t until 1959 that the artwork and text from Family Circle was released again, along with a LP record featuring all the songs and the spoken verse, in a package that Disney called a “Storyteller” album, because it has a book bound inside its gatefold cover. Now you didn’t need the magazine to follow the story. (click images below to enlarge the album’s entire storyteller centerfold)
Camarata was able to set the story in one of the most elaborate musical settings possible; a richly orchestrated oratorio with full chorus and orchestra, much as he was doing around the same time with the Sleeping Beauty Storyteller album starring Mary Martin. Rather than use character actors (which was surely doable considering how lavish the project sounds).
The multi-talented singer/actress Gloria Wood carries the entire album on her own, not as easy a task as it might seem since the whole production is rhythmic in nature. Wood does not consciously try to imitate the characters, she takes the role of caregiver reading to children, acting out all the roles (I do that with my kids, though not nearly as well).
What animation fans hear in Wood’s speaking and singing are many of the tones she used in Walter Lantz and Disney cartoons of the same period, as well as Disney’s marvelous short, A Symposium on Popular Songs and its companion album, Tinpanorama. Wood was one of the best vocalists in big bands pop, Hollywood ghost singing, ensemble singing and an endless string of commercials. Once you know her voice, you hear her often (including on the Dobie Gillis TV theme song—Maynard G. Krebs himself mentions her in a throwaway line on one episode).
The songs are nicely eclectic considering their small number. “The Storybook Tree” is pure Disney fairy tale—and sounds very much like the kind of tune you might hear in an animated TV special, not too far from “Fah-Hoo-Horaze, Dah-Hoo-Horaze” and so on. “O Futuristic Christmas Tree” is pretty odd, dissonant stuff for a children’s album, but its odd feel suggests the sci-fi movies of the day. “Jungle Tree” is an impressive fable within the overall story about creatures of diverse origins dropping their barriers and getting along. An interesting plea for the ‘50s, no?
The most fascinating song is “Jingle Bones,” which received the most reuse on subsequent Disney albums and singles. A dark, ironic, look at macabre characters celebrating a twisted version of Christmas makes one wonder if a young Tim Burton ever listened to this album as a youngster. Even if he didn’t, this is pretty inventive stuff for 1958, considering that The Nightmare Before Christmas didn’t hit screens until 1993.
Maybe A Christmas Adventure in Disneyland was intended to become an animated special or featurette, maybe not. But it’s fun to speculate about what it would have been like had it been.
And it’s not too late, in case anyone from Disney animation is reading this…
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Excerpts: Town Square Tree, Sleeping Beauty Castle, Snow White Ride & “Jingle Bones”
In addition to serving as a tour of Walt Disney’s park, A Christmas Adventure in Disneyland also synergizes the current Sleeping Beauty feature, by using its melody of “Once Upon a Dream”. Gloria Wood, as she does on the rest of the album, provides most of the multi-tracked voices (if not all of them) throughout this clever little tune, ingeniously staged by Camarata. Wood’s screeches can also be heard on the song, “Gold Doubloons and Pieces of Eight” on the Songs from the Mickey Mouse Club Serials LP.