Disney 100: A Century of Dreams – A Special Edition of 20/20

Disney 100: A Century of Dreams – A Special Edition of 20/20. Courtesy of ABC News Studios.

Disney 100: A Century of Dreams – A Special Edition of 20/20 is the latest special to celebrate 100 years of The Walt Disney Company.

It was only a matter of time before this special aired on one of the Disney-owned networks. What surprises me is that it’s airing in December rather than on the 100th anniversary this past October. Better late than never, I suppose?

Some of the previous Disney film stars discuss the first Disney film they saw. Others discuss their own memories of Walt Disney himself or going to one of the many Disney parks. One thing that is for certain: there is a lot of editing work that went into putting this together. Personally, I believe that it would be better to have a documentary series celebrating 100 years of magic and wonder because 83 minutes is way too short. Obviously, ABC needed to fill the block of airtime but there’s a rich history of not just storytelling but the theme parks that it’s not enough to fit everything into the special.

Following a brief prologue, the first subject is Disney Animation. This honestly makes the most sense because the company would not be what it is without its earliest films. Sure, Walt had bigger dreams, including Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but it all starts with the films, specifically the 12 Alice comedies. The Alice comedies run out of steam so Walt creates Oswald the Lucky Rabbit–the only rabbit to be traded for a sports broadcaster, Al Michaels. Walt lost the rights and he was forever changed. His resilience would still push him forward. More than that, he would make sure to own the rights of the next character that he would create: Mickey Mouse. Both Ub Iwerks and Walt would make history with Steamboat Willie. The rest is history.

Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie
Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie. Courtesy of Disney.

Mickey Mouse is probably the most iconic character in Disney history. And yet, creating Mickey wasn’t enough. Instead, Walt decided the time was right to make a feature-length animated film. Nobody had ever attempted to do anything like this. Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs made cinematic history. They used live-action references to elevate the film into what it ended up becoming. In making the film, they also pioneered the multi-plane camera. But still, it almost didn’t even hit its release date because of budget and Walt’s perfectionism. Regardless, the opening shot is still iconic and Walt ended up earning an honorary Oscar. Without Walt’s vision, many Disney films might not have been a thought today.

If animated films were not enough, Walt dreamed up Disneyland. This section is teased with the recent Avengers Campus and the magic that went into Spider-Man flying. The Disneyland section could be a documentary series in and of itself. Behind the Attraction takes us behind the scenes of a handful of theme park attractions. However, Disneyland wasn’t enough. There was a dream to go east–unfortunately, Walt Disney died before Disney World could open. Disney World is large enough today and drives so much of the Florida economy that governors wouldn’t dare to go up against the Mouse. Oh, wait.

Television is the next subject in the special. Walt had his own series that drew viewers in every week. However, what came next was Mickey Mouse Club. It’s a variety show that still impacts the pop culture today. Some of today’s biggest stars were apart of the Disney Channel incarnation. You name them, they were probably a part of the club. But anyway, the Disney Channel shows became massive in popularity because of the tween demographic. In Chris Connelly’s words, Disney knew what it was doing when they produced High School Musical. The musical had such an impact on pop culture and spawned a franchise.

Okay, back to the parks. There are 12 parks across 6 resorts. They would really grow under Michael Eisner and Bob Iger’s leadership. Speaking for myself, I’ve only been to Disney World three different times. I was there for the 40th anniversary. In a perfect world, I’d have gone for the 50th. Between the pandemic, Ron DeSantis, and Florida enacting transphobia in state law, that didn’t happen. I would love to get to Disneyland at some point in my lifetime.

Next up are the movies, especially the music that came with them. Again, you can do a whole documentary series on this part of the Disney canon. The songs have become iconic through the years, be it the Sherman Brothers, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, or more recently, the likes of Robert Lopez, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. My childhood would not be the same without Menken and Ashman. I’m forever grateful that I got to see Menken live in concert in March 2019. Meanwhile, Miranda admits to borrowing a move from the Sherman Brothers for Hamilton.

Every movie has an “I Want” song. We see them time and time again throughout the Disney canon. Miranda admits that it’s the hardest song to write. For “How Far I’ll Go” in Moana, he locked himself up in his childhood room at his parents’ house. Meanwhile, “Let It Go” changed the entire trajectory of Frozen, much to the annoyance of parents everywhere.

Disney Theatricals come to Broadway! That’s the next segment although Broadway wasn’t a fan of Beauty and the Beast at the time. Things would change through the years as Disney musicals are now a Broadway genre in and of itself. The Lion King is one of Broadway’s longest-running shows. It introduced Elton John to a new generation of fans. Another thing that helps is the Disney Musicals in Schools program, allowing musicals to be performed in schools. Meanwhile, Richard Sherman performs “Feed the Birds,” which is Walt’s favorite song. He recently performed a new arrangement for Once Upon a Studio.

Back to the parks with a discussion on the Jungle Cruise. It’s a segue to a discussion about Walt Disney being an adventurous traveler, starting with 1948’s Seal Island. The documentary is one of the 13 True-Life documentaries, many of which won Academy Awards. Disneynature owes its existence to these early documentaries. Well, nature movies in general.

Walt Disney once went on a cruise with his family so of course, it leads to the segment on Disney’s cruises. The cruises are as much of a hit as the parks themselves. Performing on a cruise would launch Jennifer Hudson’s career. Anyway, the building of the ships is just unbelievable. They are working on building their 8th ship at the moment.

Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar is next. “Almost every transaction that occurs at the Company or by the company has its roots in some form of storytelling and creativity,” says current (and former) Disney CEO Bob Iger. You should read his book that touches on the acquisitions. There’s probably a universe where Disney and Apple would have merged had Steve Jobs lived.

Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers
Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo in The Avengers. Photo by Marvel.

Can you imagine Disney without Marvel? I don’t think I can anymore. Marvel has a vast library and many of their characters are perfect for what Disney does. Many of these films are what drives the cultural conversation, much to Martin Scorsese’s dismay. In Kevin Feige I Trust. And then there’s the 2012 Lucasfilm acquisition that led to a new future of Star Wars on both the big screen and small, let alone Galaxy’s Edge at the Disney parks As Iger says: “George Lucas from Star Wars created one of the all-time great mythologies in the modern world in Star Wars. To have an opportunity to be involved with that great mythology was something that I though would be wonderful for the Company.”

The parks are also home to Pandora in Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. It’s a tie-in to James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar franchise, now available on 4K UHD.

It was the Capital Cities acquisition that brought ABC and ESPN under the Disney umbrella. Streaming is certainly changing things and the Fox acquisition added more networks. They only touch on a few contemporary series that aired on the networks, let alone ABC News Again, this can be another documentary series.

This documentary would not be complete without touching on Disney moving forward in this new era of streaming. Disney+ changed the conversation again when its flagship program, The Mandalorian, launched in November 2019. Little did anyone know that Grogu would become a fan favorite. But anyway, Disney+ led to the company opening up their vault for a wider audience. Prior to then, films would come in and out of the vault every now and then. As I tell other people, Disney owns my eyeballs. If there’s a film I own and it’s streaming on Disney+, I’ll watch through Disney+. None of the other studios open up their vast library on a streaming service in the same way as Disney. I don’t have to remind you about David Zaslav.

Marvel kicked off their MCU series with WandaVision. There have been many other series, which has also led to an unfortunate rise in franchise fatigue. The many MCU series are one of the reasons Bob Iger and company are rethinking how they program for streaming. We’ll see what the future looks like for the MCU in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Prior to ending, we get a first look at Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, opening in 2024. The new ride is replacing Splash Mountain in both Disneyland and Disney World.

Movies, television, theme parks, theatricals, cruises–Walt Disney’s legacy is so vast that the 83-minute Disney 100: A Century of Dreams – A Special Edition of 20/20 barely touches on Disney’s full history. Here’s to the next 100 years!

DIRECTOR: Dave Hoffman
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER 20/20: Janice Johnston
FEATURING: Walt Disney, Bob Iger, Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Chris Miller, Walter Miller, Richard Sherman, Elton John, Alan Menken, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Idina Menzel, Jodi Benson, Paige O’Hara, Ariana DeBose, Chris Connelly, Kelley L. Carter, Katy Perry, Chris Evans, John Stamos, Josh Ackerman, Christy Carlson Romano, Chris Berman, Jennifer Lee, Neal Gabler, Mindy Johnson, Fox Carney, Mark Henn, Eric Goldberg, Floyd Norman, Ward Kimball, Josh D’Amaro, Kevin Feige, Morgan Pope, Tony Dohi, Bob Gurr, Mark Gonzales, Bethanee Bemis, Bill “Sully” Sullivan, Djuan Rivers, Zac Efron, Kevin Kern, Tom Fitzgerald, Kenny Ortega, Michael Eisner, Doris Hardoon, Jeanette Lomboy, Thomas Schumacher, Robert Lopez, Todd James Pierce, Laura Cabo, Pam Rawlins, Pete Docter, Tom Hanks, Jon Favreau, Kathleen Kennedy, Oscar Isaac, J.J. Abrams, Mark Hamill, James Cameron, Sigourney Weaver, Ryan Reynolds, Scott Van Pelt, Anthony Anderson, Sheryl Lee Roth, Shonda Rhimes, Josh Gad, Pedro Pascal, Beckly Cline, Carmen Smith

Disney 100: A Century of Dreams – A Special Edition of 20/20 aired December 14, 2023 on ABC, is currently streaming on Hulu, and will be streaming December 12/22 on Disney+. Grade: 4/5

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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.