‘Something Wicked’ brings a darker Disney to the ArcLight on Monday

Aug. 02, 2010 | 2:48 p.m.

“Something Wicked This Way Comes” (8 p.m. Aug. 2, ArcLight Hollywood)

Something Wicked This Way Comes Disney

Something special this way comes — and it begins Monday at the ArcLight Hollywood.

Fourteen films spanning five decades of Disney will be screened this month at three theaters in the Los Angeles area, and the first one up is Something Wicked This Way Comes,” the 1983 adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s tale of dark bargains, secret wishes and a sinister salesman. The film’s cast includes Jason Robards, Diane Ladd and Pam Grier, and it marked the film debut of Jonathan Pryce, who portrayed Mr. Dark, the leader of a touring carnival and a man who lived up to his name.

Something Wicked this Way Comes poster

The film series — which also includes “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (1954), “Cinderella” (1950), “Mary Poppins” (1964), “Pete’s Dragon” (1977),  “The Jungle Book” (1967) and “The Rocketeer” (1991) — is part of an intriguing push by Disney to reach into its past to save, celebrate and exhibit the art and artifacts of its 87-year odyssey in American entertainment. More on that in a moment. First, a bit about “Something Wicked,” a film that foreshadowed the darker-corner interests of today’s Disney.

There’s a bright line (or a dark streak?) that connects the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and Guillermo del Toro’s planned “Haunted Mansion” film to the supernatural chills of “Something Wicked” in 1983.

“This was in an era of the company when they were trying to get into darker filmmaking,” said Rob Klein, of the Disney Archives. “It was around the time that Touchstone was conceived, it was beginning to gestate, but this was a film that came out under the Walt Disney banner. You have three films there — The Black Hole,” you have “Something Wicked,” and you also have The Watcher in the Woods — and you when think about them, they came out in a cluster. Those three movies had a darker vibe to them. They were a pivot point for Disney for doing something new as far as style. The company was trying to stay contemporary, and those movies have a very evocative mood to them. That’s what makes them fun to watch. ‘Something Wicked’ has a Halloween vibe to it. And everybody loves Halloween…”

Something Wicked This Way Comes placard

Bradbury was involved directly in the project — a clear indication that Disney was looking for some authenticity and edge to the spooky-night experiment — but the final film got mixed reviews. There was also some turbulence among the creative team about story decisions and, perhaps, about finding the middle ground between Bradbury’s ominous prose and the studio’s all-ages sensibility.

Many observers, though, found the film to be a sparkling moment for Disney, among them film critic Roger Ebert, who wrote that “Something Wicked” was something special.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

“It’s one of the few literary adaptations I’ve seen in which the film not only captures the mood and tone of the novel, but also the novel’s style. Bradbury’s prose is a strange hybrid of craftsmanship and lyricism. He builds his stories and novels in a straightforward way, with strong plotting, but his sentences owe more to Thomas Wolfe than to the pulp tradition, and the lyricism isn’t missed in this movie. In its descriptions of autumn days, in its heartfelt conversations between a father and a son, in the unabashed romanticism of its evil carnival and even in the perfect rhythm of its title, this is a horror movie with elegance.”

The screening of “Something Wicked” and the 13 other films (you can find a full schedule right here) is part of a retrospective surge at Disney. Clearly, there’s no entertainment company in the world that pays more attention to legacy maintenance than Disney, but this goes beyond that — with D23 (the membership-dues fan community for Disney that offers deeper, more elite access for the most passionate fans) and the companion corporate initiative to give the Walt Disney Archives more resources and prominence, the past is becoming a bigger part of Disney’s present and future.

For example: D23 members are actually getting guided tours of the company’s previously off-limits archives; there’s a two-day Anaheim expo dedicated to the history of Disneyland in September; and the talk of a major Disney museum in Glendale continues to gain momentum.

It will be interesting to see what other surprises and treasures greet the true-believers of Disney’s fan tribe in the months to come. “It’s because of D23 that we have a platform to pull these films out and show them and celebrate them on a big screen,” Klein said. “It’s the only way to see them in the format in which they were meant to be seen, on a big screen.”

The archives team, by the way, rescued a bit of history with “Something Wicked,” Klein said.

“This is a great story: We have the lightning rods from the film, and we found those in the prop department in a bucket with a bunch of canes, sticks and broom handles. We found every one of them except for the beetle scarab one — which was the main one, unfortunately. We also found one of the original Dark Pandemonium carnival fliers too. It’s made of tissue paper, very lightweight, so when they had the fans going on the back lot here, they would be able to throw them up and they would catch the air. Maybe now you could do it with CG, but back in the early 1980s, you had to use tissue paper and a wind machine to get them to float around.”

The tricks change, but the movie magic stays the same.

— Geoff Boucher


Dark Carnival

Ray Bradbury’s “Dark Carnival” and painting with words

GUEST ESSAY: Searching for Bradbury

Disney Archives finding a big future in the past

The “lost” treasures of “20,000 Leagues”

Disney’s D23 looks to future and celebrates past

AMAZING PHOTO: Disneyland, opening day 1955

Photos, from top: A scene from “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Credit: Walt Disney Studios. A promotional poster for the film. A flier used in the 1983 film. Credit: Walt Disney Archives. Lightning-rod props from “Something Wicked.”  Credit: Walt Disney Archives. “The Dark Carnival,” an oil painting by Ray Bradbury.

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15 Responses to ‘Something Wicked’ brings a darker Disney to the ArcLight on Monday

  1. Ed says:

    This is a weird movie. I remember hating it as a kid, and then seeing a part of it on TV a few years back and being incredibly moved by it. Maybe it just gets better with age, meaning the age of the viewer?

  2. Trevor says:

    I watched this one as a kid and absolutely loved it. Then I watched it again as an adult and absolutely loved it. This movie was ahead of its time and still holds up.

  3. Fabrisse says:

    I saw this film when I was in college and remember being both thrilled and creeped out. I'd love to see it on the big screen again. Is there any chance Disney will show these in other cities?

  4. Excellent Disney archives interview with Rob Klein. This series of films and the D23 program, along with a growing willingness by the Disney company to show their archives promises for an interesting future for fans.
    Thanks for the article!

  5. Scott P says:

    Where's "Song of the South"?

  6. Sam says:

    It's a good if frustrating film. Robards is a little too old for the part though he is always good. The ending looks like it got out of the hands of the director and the Disney execs stepped in with the over-the-top effects that seem so oddly out of place in regards to how everything else works and builds in the film. But still it has real moments both with its actors and the sense of fear and dread it generates. Pryce was note perfect as Mr. Dark and wow, that scene on the bed with the spiders still gets to me!

  7. Ed says:

    Saw it last night. Robards IS too old, and that's the point. He's an old man who regrets his choices. I was strangely moved by the opening, which as a kid I found boring and stilted, and now bits of it (like the ugly teacher who finds the drawing of herself) moved me almost to tears. The lyrical, poetic dialogue must have been near impossible to recite. And then comes one too many scenes of the kid trying to emote next to an old pro like Robards, one too many "quiet" moments of whispers and exposition, and it feels like it goes nowhere. But one thing I forgot over and over was that it was a "Disney" movie. It feels more like the work of a European director who has some weighty issues on his mind. As an adult, it's tremendously moving. Overall, I did indeed find it much better now than I did when I was 12.

  8. geoff boucher says:

    I was struck last night by the unhurried pacing of the emotional scenes and the stage-play feel to some sequences with the long tracking shots (like the one in the library when Mr Dark rips out pages) and the lyrical dialogue, as you put it.
    It's a very unusual film, halfway between "Night Gallery" and a Disney verison of "Tom Sawyer."
    I think Robards was brilliant in it. He was about 60 at the time of filming, I believe, and he added the creaks, pauses and concerns of a man of a 80. I don't think he was too old in age and if he was too old in attitude, well, that's the point of the role.

  9. savvydude says:

    Great movie. The long shot showing the train heading into the small town is both ominous and beautiful. Plus 'Something Wicked' has Jason Robards in it- so of course it's good.

  10. Elene Parker says:

    Unfortunately for Disney, they seem to be hitting a few financial roadblocks. I'm sure it's really nothing major, but in case you'd like to know more, here's a good place to look: http://www.pressdisplay.com/pressdisplay/showlink

  11. Rivenburg says:

    I remember as a youth being disapointed by the film, thinking it a pointless excersize in scary mood lighting with a let-down ending. As an adult looking for more than flash bang wow pow action features, the moodyness plays strongly and few things ever filmed have this particular feel to them. Ray is a master of that particular mood, as is seen in parts of Dandilion wine and a few other works of his.
    If I worked in the add industry I would be mining his work for sports shoe imagery unmatched anywhere.

  12. […] Disney finished dark: ‘Something Wicked,’ revisited […]

  13. Steven says:

    What would an orginal Darks Pandemonium Carnival flyer fetch these days ? Do any still exsists ? What color were they, yellow or pinkish ?

  14. Bill A. says:

    Great movie and adaptation of the book. Loved too many scenes to mention them all but certainly the scene in the library where Dark has the witch give Robard's a taste of death, slowing his heart to the edge of failure. That has got to be one of the best, and what it must be like to feel yourself slowly dying with your life slipping away. The pounding in your ears. WOW!

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