In Burbank, as Disney’s headquarters grew an inch every day with their successes, so did their methods to make films. Ever since its first feature in, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Disney’s creative forces have almost led the ethos of Western cinema. Media, in all shapes and forms, became more accessible, entertaining and ubiquitous. But it wasn’t simply a revolutionary, counter-culture ideology that brought them here — it was also their attention to detail, their technical breakthroughs, and their ability to club storytelling with striking visuals. Each of their films has been supported by long, arduous processes, and the new docuseries on Disney+ Hotstar, Prop Culture, taps into that — providing a delightful ride for each and every Disney fanatic.
Diving into Disney’s archives, film historian and collector Dan Lanigan tracks down the most memorable props and costumes used in various Disney films, from Mary Poppins’ umbrella to the lion-pommelled Narnia sword. The props and items are old enough to be obliterated by cobwebs — a lot of them are worn, oxidised and disrepaired, but feel just as fresh and attractive. They are all historical artefacts at this point — Jack Sparrow’s iconic frock coat and bandana duo, that now look weathered, don’t fail to remind us of the character’s eccentricities. And while Lanigan deliberately feeds into the childhood Disney nostalgia, you can’t help but be mesmerised at all the props you see and their sheer volume.
But over and above that nostalgic sentiment, you develop an appreciation for everything that actually goes into the filmmaking process. We have revelled in the escapades of Disney films, so, to see what went behind creating those over-the-top escapades is treasured viewing. The docuseries isn’t just a detailed laundry list of the famous props — it delves into their history, and the years of blood, sweat and tears behind them. We are shown a fascinating cocktail of art, science and technology. When we enter the sci-fi Tron universe with Lanigan, we see how they creatively circumvented the technological limitations of the time — after all, it was one of the first films to put together interactions between humans and digital effects.
On the surface, Prop Culture seems like an extended, 4-hour Disney commercial, it essentially promotes all Disney projects in 8 parts — Mary Poppins, Tron, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and The Muppet Movie.
However, Dan Lanigan goes way beyond that. Each prop is associated with someone and Lanigan interacts with several people to study the nature of those props. From blacksmiths explaining how they designed swords for characters, to actors talking about voice modulation, Lanigan provides an eclectic mix of artists here. While getting into the shrink-ray machine for Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, we hear various behind-the-scenes tidbits from director Joe Johnston and former actor Rick Moranis. And that is what’s so wonderful about the series, we learn about everyone’s experiences with their films, correlating that with how we felt about the movie when we watched it. We are in the same position as Lanigan when he interacts with these artists, you can feel his eagerness and excitement — especially as he gets a haircut with Christopher Lloyd.
Prop Culture is a sanctuary of diverse Disney relics, all with the potential to transport Disney-obsessed fans back to those films. Disney has always been distinguished for its technical prowess, from its intricate set designs to its audio-visual glamour, and the props are just an instrument to explore these protracted filmmaking processes. The docuseries revisits the studio’s history with style and keenness, creating a perfect concoction to satisfy all Disney geeks.