An interesting fact about the initial ABC run of The Wonderful World of Disney is that many of the episodes were film in colour despite not being aired that way. This is true of last week’s entry. Strange as it seems today, at the time, not one show on ABC was broadcast in colour. Walt filmed it that was because, well, Walt was going to Walt. This would prove convenient for later rebroadcast, but one of the frustrations he felt with ABC—and there were many—had to do with feeling limited. After all, we know that filming in colour and airing in B&W is not the way to produce the most satisfying B&W experience, but Walt was as always looking to the future.
When the show moved to NBC, it took on a new title. It had been Walt Disney’s Disneyland and Walt Disney Presents on ABC. The first episode was actually divided in half; half of it was a special starring the first animated character Disney created for TV. Yes, folks, it’s the introduction of Professor Ludwig Von Drake, who would appear over the years as an expert in whatever Disney needed an expert in. Here, he is a an expert in colour, teaching us a fair amount of the science. Which is actually not so bad, as far as it goes.
Von Drake keeps mentioning that not everyone watching the show would have a colour TV, certainly true. At the time, why would you? There are repeated references to their network; an obnoxious peacock interrupts “The Spectrum Song,” leading Von Drake to tell us that said peacock dyes his feathers. RCA, then-owner of NBC, managed to persuade the FCC to make their colour system the US standard. Even so, it would take four more years before so much as 95% of NBC’s new programming was in colour; ABC lost their contract with Disney in part because they couldn’t offer colour.
One thing that initial colour offerings tend to have is the idea that, if you can have any colour, you should have every colour. Among other things, this special gives us a montage of vibrant scenes from nature; sunsets, autumn leaves, and erupting lava among them. There’s a few scenes filmed in the Ink and Paint Department. And of course that means bottles and bottles of pigment in the background. I’ll admit, though, it’s hard to be sure how well it looked since this is, sigh, yet another thing I’ve found in uneven video quality on YouTube.
Oh, I grant you, I’m sure Disney doesn’t want us lingering on a few weird minutes of Walt ogling some of the young women of that department. Still, this is exactly the sort of thing I was most excited at the thought that it would be emerging from the Vault for Disney+. Okay, so that’s a me thing. But the second half of the show, “Donald in Mathmagic Land,” isn’t available on its own, either, and that’s more surprising. Both segments are examples of some of the fine educational work Disney has produced when no one was paying attention, and we can’t see them.
Because, yes, ogling, but before he does that, Walt gives us a brief rundown on the history of developments such as the coming of sound in film cartoons, much less television at all. And that’s great and useful. What Ludwig Von Drake teaches us is relatively surface level, but of course that also means it’s less likely to have been superceded by later discoveries. Disney was good at getting education into things. You’d think they’d put some of it in the easiest place to keep their stuff and make sure of the video quality.