Once Upon a Studio Celebrates Disney100

A still from Once Upon a Studio. Courtesy of Disney.

Once Upon a Studio features 543 Disney characters from more than 85 feature-length and short films in the studio’s newest short film.

This is a short film that features the best of everything Walt Disney Animation Studios has to offer. It features a mix of both hand-drawn and CG animation over the course of a 13-minute run time. That’s on top of a brief live-action prologue featuring a Disney intern (Renika Williams) and the late Burny Mattinson. The short is later dedicated to the longtime Disney animator who passed away in February 2023. Until his passing, Mattinson had been with Disney since 1953.

After Mattinson and others exit the Roy E. Disney Animation Building, Mattinson comments, “Boy, if these walls could talk.” Mickey Mouse (Chris Diamantopoulos) and Minnie Mouse (Kaitlyn Robrock) exit a production cel and come to life, much like Night at the Museum. The purpose is to take an official 100th Anniversary Studio portrait in honor of Walt Disney and Roy Disney founding the company that would become The Walt Disney Company. Let me tell you that there’s no shortage of nostalgia. We’ve got heroes, villains, and everything in between–major characters and characters long forgotten. We also have Donald Duck being annoyed by Zootopia‘s Flash the Sloth while on the available. Hey, you can’t let Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) and Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) be the only ones!

Mickey and Minnie call on Tinkerbell, Peter Pan, Wendy, Michael, and John to get everyone. There’s also a bittersweet moment where Mickey thanks Walt Disney when he sees a photo. As Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) are talking, Elsa works her magic to prevent Hans (Santino Fontana) from exiting production cel. There are other villains but Hans is frozen. Anyway, Goofy (Bill Farmer) is Goofy and breaks the camera while trying to climb up the ladder. Right when you think they’ll give up is where the Disney magic goes into action. Alan-a-Dale starts playing “When You Wish Upon a Star” on his lute and other characters join in. Fix-It Felix, Jr., Hercules, and the Fairy Godmother help Goofy set the camera up. Finally, Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards) sings and some 54 actors join in.

I’m inserting the photo in the body of the text in the event that it was cut off on the sides:

A still from Once Upon a Studio.
A still from Once Upon a Studio. Courtesy of Disney.

In putting the short film together, Disney brings back a number of familiar voices–some living, some dead. In the case of Robin Williams, they use outtakes from his earlier work on Aladdin. It’s nice to see his estate sign off with their approval after the studio’s previous fall-out with the late comedian. Behind the scenes, there is so much to appreciate about the work being presented. Richard Sherman records a new rendition of “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins as Mickey approaches Walt’s photo. The fact that both Sherman and Mattinson are in the film is a way of bringing the many time periods at Disney. Eric Goldberg, a Disney Legend, supervises the hand-drawn animation. The animators really put in the work to make these characters appear as they originally did on screen. It also wouldn’t be a 100th anniversary short without the inclusion of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

It wasn’t until after watching the short and writing my review that I learned it will be play an Oscar-qualifying run at Hollywood’s El Capitan Theatre. This is to be a solo outing rather than screen with Wish. It’ll also screen in front of the Disny100 special engagement of Moana. Knowing all of this, it has immediately become my personal frontrunner for Best Animated Short. Again, there’s so much nostalgia here!

Once Upon a Studio works as both a love letter to the studio’s history and a thank you to the fans. These are films that millions upon millions have grown up with. Whether it’s the fan who knows the films only through Disney+ or the fans growing up and seeing the films in theaters, there’s something here for everyone. Would I have watched a longer film? Oh, certainly. But for what it does, the 13-minute run time manages to do the job. Walt Disney would be proud.

DIRECTORS/SCREENWRITERS: Dan Abraham and Trent Correy
CAST: Scott Adsit, Tony Anselmo, Awkwafina, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Jodi Benson, Robby Benson, Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Griffen Campbell, Auliʻi Cravalho, Jim Cummings, Ariana DeBose, Chris Diamantopoulos, Richard Epcar, Bill Farmer, Keith Ferguson, Santino Fontana, Josh Gad, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jonathan Groff, Jennifer Hale, Jess Harnell, Tom Hulce, Jeremy Irons, Dwayne Johnson, Bob Joles, Judy Kuhn, Nathan Lane, Luke Lowe, Idina Menzel, Jim Meskimen, Piotr Michael, Mandy Moore, Paige O’Hara, Raymond S. Persi, Ian R’Mante, John C. Reilly, Phoenix Reisser, Kaitlyn Robrock, Anika Noni Rose, Lea Salonga, Lee Slobotkin, Natalie Babbitt Taylor, Josh Robert Thompson, Kelly Marie Tran, Alan Tudyk, Scott Weinger, Richard White, Harland Williams, Daniel Wolfe, James Woods, Michael-Leon Wooley
ARCHIVAL CAST: Stan Alexander, Stephen J. Anderson, Bill Baucom, Peter Behn, Eric Blore, Pat Carroll, Charlie Callas, Bobby Driscoll, Cliff Edwards, Verna Felton, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Robert Guillaume, Sterling Holloway, Billy Joel, Charles Judels, Barbara Luddy, James MacDonald, Bob Newhart, Clarence Nash, Adam Ryen, Chris Sanders, Sarah Silverman, David Spade, Mark Walton, Frank Welker, Robin Williams, Alan Young

Once Upon a Studio premiered October 15, 2023 and is currently streaming on Disney+ and Hulu. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.