D23 Day 1 closes with ‘Darby O’Gill’ and some luck of the Irish

Sept. 11, 2009 | 4:13 p.m.

DISNEY’S D23 EXPO

Darby O'Gill and the Little People

The first day of Walt Disney Co.’s inaugral D23 Expo was a loooong one.

I had the pleasure of introducing last night’s screening of “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” but I have to say that I was worried that I would be looking out on nothing but empty seats. The film, which celebrates its golden anniversary this year, is a fun artifact from Disney’s deep library, but considering the fact that the screening started at 10 p.m. on a Thursday night, well, I wasn’t sure even the lure of Sean Connery singing “Pretty Irish Girls” was enough to fill the theater at the Anaheim Convention Center. Also, after seeing the expo’s sparse crowds in the morning (which were followed by a more robust attendance in the afternoon)  I had some serious doubts about the number of die-hards willing to stick around into the late hours to see the wee people.

Turns out that some people just can’t ever get enough Disney. There were several hundred people and a great mood in the room. I brought out Dave Smith, the chief archivist for Disney for four decades now, and we had a nice chat under the spotlight about this 1959 film that Walt Disney viewed as homage to his own Irish heritage.

Some fun facts Smith shared: Walt Disney had started work on the movie in the mid-1940s but the project was delayed as he sought the best way to bring the leprechauns to life on the screen. He resisted the  pressure of theater owners to make it an animated film (which at the time, of course, was all theater owners expected from Disney) in whole or in part. Despite making a good number of films in Europe, this one was made entirely in Southern California,  and the intense lighting needed to accomplish the trick photography to flattened depth-perception required a massive investment in air-conditioning to keep the work environment tolerable. Smith also said that, reportedly, Connery’s performance in the movie caught the eye of James Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli and led to him being cast as 007. Smith also said the film was a commercial disappointment at its release in part because the Irish accents were so dense that American audiences struggled with the dialogue; for re-releases, Disney went back and had the whole film dubbed again to soften the brogues.

The movie screenings continue tonight with the “50 and Fabulous” series of 1959 Disney releases. I’ll be interviewing Tommy Kirk before the 10 p.m. showing of “The Shaggy Dog“; hope to see some of you there. Then on Saturday night it’s the big one: “Sleeping Beauty.” Check back in today for ongoing blog coverage of day two of the D23 Expo, which runs through Sunday night. 

– Geoff Boucher

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  UPDATE: Somehow I screwed up Dave Smith’s name in the first version of this post but, c’mon, it’s a pretty tricky name.

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