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Jul 28

Disney and the Olympic Games

 

Well, anyone who watched the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games in London yesterday, may have noticed a little touch of Disney. During a whimsical portion of the ceremony, featuring hundreds of children jumping on hospital beds, famous author, J.K. Rowling read aloud from Peter Pan as a variety of villains loomed overhead. Some of those villains included characters from Alice in Wonderland, Captain Hook from Peter Pan, and Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians. But the villains didn’t plan on the large number of  Mary Poppins nannies that floated into the stadium to banish the scarey characters from the children’s dreams.

As if one Mary Poppins isn’t amazing enough, seeing the stadium filled with countless Mary Poppins floating from above was magical! But this isn’t the first time the Olympic Games have had a Disney influence. Every Olympic Games since the 1972 Munich Olympic Games has had a different and unique mascot(s), used during the games to communicate the Olympic spirit to the public. In the 1984 Winter Olympic Games, held in LA, California, that mascot was Sam the Eagle, a character originally designed by a Disney artist. Sam the Eagle was a cartooned eagle, wearing the outfit of Uncle Sam in the star spangled USA colors of red, white, and blue.

Probably the largest impact that Disney ever had on the Olympic Games was during the 1960 Winter Games, held in Squaw Valley, California. Walt Disney himself, was asked to organize the Opening Ceremonies. Two months before the ceremonies, Walt hand-picked a few of his best men to begin planning the event. Olympic officials balked at the cost for some of Walt’s plans, but Walt simply informed the officials, “Either we’re going to do it the right way or Disney will pull out”, and his plans were soon underway. Walt sent Imagineer, John Hench, to look at decorating the Olympic site, which he did with 32 towering ice sculptures. Thirty of the ice sculptures lined the Avenue of Athletes, standing 16 feet tall each, with the remaining two sculptures reaching approximately 24 feet tall, alongside the Tower of Nations. Each sculpture depicted male and female athletes competing in winter Olympic events, which became one of the more impressive highlights that spectators remembered from these games. Another item that Walt introduced at these games, were the thirty steel flagpoles for the flags of each participating nation. Each pole had a plaque from Walt, thanking the sponsors, which after the games was given to each company that had paid $500-600 to sponsor the pole for the duration of the games at Squaw Valley.

Disney’s production of the ceremonies set a new standard for future Olympic ceremonies, as one Los Angeles Times reporter, Braven Dyer, stated, “The opening ceremony was the most remarkable thing I ever saw. No matter how much credit you give Walt Disney and his organization, it isn’t nearly enough.” So, as we watch the elaborate, technical pageantry of today’s Olympic ceremonies, we can once again give thanks to the amazing vision of Walt Disney!

 

 

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