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Disney 1970s Summer Film Festivals

Once upon a time, in the early 1970s, The Walt Disney Company had a hard time distributing their films in the New York area.

Disney’s suburban comedies of the era (like Superdad) and rural adventures (The Bears and I) were caught in a time warp, with no relation to the youth movement and fashions of the times, nor the racial tensions and urban realities that gripped a major metropolitan area like The Big Apple. New York City of the 1970s was the one reflected in films like Midnight Cowboy, Taxi Driver and Death Wish. Disney live action flicks like Herbie Rides Again and No Deposit No Return were as far away from that reality as was Neverland.

In 1973, the Film Society of Lincoln Center held a magnificent Disney Studio retrospective (Michael Sporn wrote about this on his blog) which was a huge success. All shows sold out and it proved there was indeed an audience for Disney fare in the NYC market. The subsequent publicity surrounding the Lincoln Center tribute reverberated for months – and this gave Buena Vista distribution execs a brainstorm.

For the next five years, Buena Vista eschewed the regular release pattern for their new features in the New York market and bunched them up for an annual Disney summer festival that would play in family friendly neighborhood theaters. This was how I, in a time before VHS tapes, DVDs and the Internet, could catch up on Disney’s latest releases and rewatch the classic animated features without having to wait seven years between studio reissues.

The cool thing was that my local theater (the Main Street, in Flushing) was virtually empty for the evening performances (they were mobbed with Moms and Kids during matinees), and was a great way for me to study the animated features undisturbed. And of course I was crazy enough to save the printed schedules. I just recently came across them in my files and thought they were worthy of a post. (Click on thumbnail below to see at full size). Anyone else from New York recall these Disney film festivals of the 1970s?

  • Stephen DeStefano

    Do I remember the festivals? BOY, DO I! Holy Mackerel, my memories of these Summer Disney Festivals are some of my fondest! Whole days were formed around them, for pretty much every child on my street. It was my first introduction to the classic cinema of Pinnocchio and Fantasia, both of which floored me and continue to floor me to this day. I also remember watching “Million Dollar Duck”, “Super Dad” and “Escape from Witch Mountain”, all which floored me to a much less degree (or perhaps just in a different way). Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Jerry—it hardly occurred to me that other cartoon professionals would’ve had their introduction to Disney this way.

  • Daniel J. Drazen

    I’m reminded of the psychic shock I received when I watched “Oliver and Company” for the first time and realized just how … URBAN … it was. Cleaned-up Disney urban, to be sure, but still urban.

  • joecab

    I do! And on a related note, I hope you get around to doing an entry on the Thalia’s cartoon program: I know you’re well acquainted with that one.

  • Thanks Jerry for validating the pack-rat tendencies in all of us.

  • steve kopian

    We used to go to these all the time (or as all the time as our budget would allow). It was great since the shows were always double features so if my parents wanted to they could park us (myself and my brothers) at the show or even get out of the house for four hours. Sometimes we’d get shorts with the features but mostly it was the features. We’d go to the theater for the cartoon and then stay depending upon whether the live action film was any good. I saw a good number of the live action features that way, something I never would have done otherwise. We looked forward to the festivals every year marking the dates on the calendars at home. (It was a great way to see movies multiple times) We were upset when they stopped them, I’m guessing that the mega summer titles Like Jaws, Star Wars and Smokey and the Bandit killed them off. I know that I watched the local theaters shift from first to second run houses (at which time they started to do double features more frequently- two movies for 76 cents) before closing in the early 1980’s at which time the idea of double features-especially Disney ones- had all but vanished.
    They were largely responsible for deepening my love of movies from something rational in to a pathological passion

  • Man, I wish they still did that today, even if it was once every few years. It would be awesome to see these films on the big screen again. Curse you, Internet & DVD Age!

    Besides that, I love the fact that Fantasia & Alice in Wonderland were paired together one year. I wonder what the concession stand looked like after that night?

  • Inkan1969

    Oh, wow. I vividly remember the Disney fest ’76. I’m sure that it was that fest where I saw these movies for the first time.

  • Peter Vincent

    I remember this film festival fondly. My mom would take me to the theater on Saturday afternoons (sometimes at the Main Str theater). I would drive her nuts because I would keep running into the lobby during the movies, with my sketch book (it was actually one of those small notepads you would use in school to write down your homework assignments) and draw the Disney characters displayed on the Festival posters. In fact I also saved one of those printed schedules (somewhere). Thanks for the post Jerry, what a flood of great memories you just brought back.

  • Wes

    I love the typography of the film titles.

  • Fred Cline

    I like how they paired classic animated features with awful live action fare, so the viewers would have to suffer through “Escape to Witch Mountain” to earn the privilege to see “Cinderella”.

  • Now I know why no one knew what I was talking about when I mentioned these shows. I had no idea they were only in the New York area.

    And I can finally prove that I saw Three Caballeros in a theater in the 70s to a crony who insists it wasn’t shown theatrically in our youth!

  • Joep

    I worked as an usher in a movie theater for a few of those festivals. I would park my butt in the theater and watch them over and over.

    The Three Caballeros with all it’s color and movement was really an experience on the big screen.

    This was my first exposure to all this also.

  • Awesome programs Jerry! Makes me wish I had grown up in New York!

    But growing up in Michigan instead, I still have fond memories of seeing theatrical re-issues of the old Disney features. Seeing “Pinocchio” with my dad in 1985 was the first time I had ever experienced an audience APPLAUDING at the end of a movie, and it made a big impact on me.

    My brother, who is autistic, remembers the exact date and location we went to see practically every Disney movie throughout our childhood.

  • they used to do this stuff in jersey too. i remember the bound brook and dunellen theatres would have flyers made and we used to stop by the theatres to get them and it was pure joy knowing what you were going to see every week for that summer

  • Pedro Nakama

    I remember watching Disney films in the 70’s. They were always a double feature. “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” and “Charlie The Lonesome Cougar”. “The Barefoot Executive” and “Charlie The Lonesome Cougar”. “The Jungle Book” and “Charlie The Lonesome Cougar”. “Freaky Friday” and “Charlie The Lonesome Cougar”. “Escape To Witch Mountain” and “Charlie The Lonesome Cougar”. “Charlie The Lonesome Cougar” and “Charlie The Lonesome Cougar”.

  • Andrew Kieswetter

    That was a pretty heavy thing to say regarding Disney and NYC,Jerry.

  • Matt Hasson

    Thanks for reprinting those. They sure bring back memories. I rode my bike 5 miles from Rye to Mamaroneck, NY several times to see those Disney summer fests, though I usually didn’t stick around for the live action feature. For me it was the first time seeing Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo, and it was also nice to see Robin Hood just a couple of years after it’s initial release. I didn’t realize those fests were just for the New York area. We were a lucky bunch to be living there.

  • Dionisio

    I remember those summer Disney movies and I too saw them at the Main Street Theater in Flushing. That really takes me back …