Why I Wrote a Story Inspired by Walt Disney

Foreverland by Andy Orin

I wanted to talk about a short book that I wrote. It’s called Foreverland.

It’s about Louie, an animator in the 1950s who works for a big animation studio. And the studio is just finishing a feature film and puts out a call to all levels of the company for new ideas. They invite anyone to pitch the next big thing. And Louie has an idea: he wants the studio to create some sort of carnival. He wants to make a big festival with all the cartoon characters — essentially a theme park. But he has trouble articulating this idea. And in trying to get his idea across he eventually loses his job. And the only way he can make people understand what he wants is to build the thing himself. And that’s the story of Foreverland.

It’s a novella, I suppose — 25,000 words, if you’re the sort of person who checks the word count on your documents. About 80 pages on Kindle. The reason it’s this length is because I actually started writing it as a screenplay, about a decade ago. I was in film school and wanted to write a whimsical feature-length film. And I tinkered with it off and on for years, but I was never actually going to make the movie, so this summer, in 2021, I wrote a version people could simply read. (That it was originally a movie plot dictated the length; I constructed it to be around 100 minutes long, and I didn’t want to add chaff to the story just to make it more of a book.)

So, obviously this story was inspired by Walt Disney. I love Disney history and wanted to create a story that felt like it took place in a sort of idealized version of an animation studio in the 50s, you know, without labor disputes or anything like that. But when I was first trying to come up with a story, I was particularly interested in Walt Disney’s fascination with trains. Walt had a lifelong interest in trains of all sizes and had a ridable miniature railroad in the backyard of his house in Los Angeles in 1949. And he wasn’t alone in his interest in trains — other animators at Disney also had trains, namely Ollie Johnston and Ward Kimball. (They’re two of the fabled ‘nine old men’, a group of old-timers at Disney Animation.) Ward Kimball’s train was 5/8 scale, meaning it was a colossal, working steam engine about the size of a car. So it’s no surprise that Disneyland also had a train since its first inception (which I believe is also 5/8 scale). Anyway, that’s where my story started. That’s what the first draft was about — a man trying to build a train in his backyard.

But I got stuck on that version of the story and eventually rewrote it. The story became larger and the train became smaller.

I should mention that if you’ve any interest in Disney history, you should absolutely visit the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. They have Walt’s original miniature train, in addition to thousands of other sights and stories. And if you’re in Los Angeles, Walt’s train barn is now in Griffith Park.

One more thing. I want to explain why I published this story myself (aside from the somewhat moot point of trying to place a 25k word narrative fiction story anywhere). There was an art installation outside the Brooklyn Museum in 2018 that struck me. It was just big letters woven onto the front railing that read “do not disappear into silence.” That phrase has stayed with me. Do not disappear into silence. When I was younger I used to agonize over the futility of trying to write. What’s the point if you can’t get published and no one will read it? So after college, I just didn’t try to do anything for a while. I chose silence. Aside from tweeting, I guess.

Moreover, if you’re a writer or an artist or musician or YouTuber, it can also be very frustrating when you try to create something but you feel like you’ve reached the limitations of your talent. You hit your head against the ceiling of your own mediocrity and you know it. And for a while, you may give into the frustration and choose to do nothing. You may give into the silence. But you can’t get any better when you don’t challenge yourself to do something. You’ve got to try and do it — whatever it is you want to do — to improve your craft and maybe even find an audience some day. Not that you need to put every first draft online. But maybe the second or third draft.

So after a while of not really trying I realized it’s better just to try to express yourself even if you aren’t at the level you want to be yet. This is story is an expression of myself, trying not to disappear into silence. And it’s a pretty fun story, in my opinion.

Tales of the Gold Monkey

Tales of the Gold Monkey is a pulp television series with the sensibility of a Saturday morning cartoon, following a cargo pilot’s adventures set in the 1930s South Pacific. If this sounds like the Disney show TaleSpin, that’s because Gold Monkey was a major influence upon the creator of TaleSpin, Jymn Magon.

There are Nazis! Volcanos! Spies! Samurais! A dog with an eye patch! It must have been an expensive show to produce, and indeed it’s quite striking how much show there is. There are real vintage airplanes, aerial dogfights, large sets, and much of the series appears to be shot in Hawaii. In terms of production scale, this is the Game of Thrones of 1982. The series is the brainchild of Magnum PI creator Donald P. Bellisario.vlcsnap-2013-05-10-20h30m58s209

Many television shows that lasted one season or less have come and gone, but the most similar show that comes to mind is The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Young Indy was undoubtedly better produced, directed, and written, but also ten years later. Contemporaneous to Gold Monkey was Bring ‘Em Back Alive, another WWII-era adventure series set in Singapore. Both were criticized as Raiders of the Lost Ark knockoffs, but it would be more accurate to say that the popularity of Raiders is what allowed Gold Monkey and Bring ‘Em Back Alive to be greenlit during that television season. Bellisario was apparently working on the idea before Raiders was released.

It’s great to see distributors like Netflix giving a second life to the many brief but wonderful television series that have hooked our sense of romance and adventure over the years. If you can still maintain your childlike sense of wonder, you’ll probably enjoy Tales of the Gold Monkey. It’s only available by disc over Netflix, or you can just buy whole the 21-episode run on Amazon for thirty bucks.

Mad Men Season 6 Poster

Mad Men Season 6 Poster

I’ve been staring at this all day. On one level it’s a simple allusion to the Don Draper / Dick Whitman dynamic, but more broadly it shows Don at the crossroads between domestic stability with his family, and the independent recklessness of his earlier, more hedonistic life style. The retreating Don is wearing a lighter suit, as he did years ago in the early sixties, when he was more of a rogue figure going against the establishment.  Perhaps his domestication requires a certain complacency with the establishment, The Man, the people in charge, that he knows he would have rebelled against in his earlier life. Don is holding Megan’s cut off  hand like as a weighty obligation. He would much rather be the fugitive on the run, beating the system rather than becoming the system.

They even hired an old-school illustrator to do it.

Ha Cha Cha Cha

When I was a kid, sometimes I would pantomime that I had a giant nose and was smoking an imaginary cigar and I’d say “ha cha cha cha!” What a hilarious five year old vaudeville performer I was. I picked that up from some old Chuck Jones cartoons, though I couldn’t tell you which — until a few nights ago when I was watching Tom and Jerry by myself around midnight (… and I’m single, ladies!).

In the 1967 episode Surf-Bored Cat, Tom gets an octopus stuck on his head, and when one of the octopus’s tentacles looks like a big nose, he breaks the fourth wall and hams it up: ha cha cha cha! You can watch it on Dailymotion (the chacha moment occurring at 3:30):


There are similar impressions in other cartoons of the 50s and 60s. I even knew as a kid that they were referring to some known personality, maybe Groucho, and that adults probably got the joke. I just thought it was funny. But who the hell were the cartoons referring to?

Naturally I googled “ha cha cha cha” and found Jimmy Durante, the Schnozzola himself. Durante was a performer and comedian with a long career in show business and had a number of catch phrases. There’s even a section on his Wikipedia page detailing his presence in animation.

So that’s who I was imitating. Many of those cartoons were rich with jokes and allusions to performers, comedians, and musicians past, and I suppose there were numerous fans of Durante among the animators, including Chuck Jones. If I have kids I’ll definitely make them watch some of the classics. It’s good to start with the fundamentals. Ha cha cha cha!

Attaining Imperfection

Like most people with a modern phone, I like playing with applications that emulate the look of various types old film when taking pictures. Namely:


at the Mexicali/Calexico borderCameraBag:

And the latest app darling, Instagram:

Transbay terminal
As it happens, I knew one of the founders of Instagram years ago in undergrad, and he was a nice fellow, so I’ve been using the app.


Is it silly to degrade the quality of a digital image so that it evokes more difficult and more imperfect media? No. So long as you keep copies of the unfiltered photo, of course. Film prints and instant or cheap camera images with light leaks, chromatic aberrations, and other such antiquated ‘imperfections’ evoke the nostalgic sensation of flipping through old family photo albums of birthdays and Christmases past, of ancestors, and lithe parents with newborns. The musk of ancient paper, the crackle of the protective plastic… The experience may not be universal, but the romance of an idealized past, however imaginative and far from facts, can be quite appealing.

As with all art, the associations and emotional connotations that are called forth by an image or sentence or song are more important than the literal representation.

Moreover, applying such effects is an act of discovery, just like making prints in the dim red light of dark room. Actual photo and print development is its own difficult art form and technical exercise, but the digitization and instant gratification of photo apps provide similar satisfaction – without the hard work.

Sorry for my word salad; here are some more pictures. I’ve enjoyed working with 35mm film, but it is a time-consuming and expensive hobby. For reference and contrast from the previous images, here are some of my actual photographs taken on cameras that actually make a clicking sound that isn’t prerecorded:

Well, to tell the truth, photo apps are popular because they have sex appeal: we see celebrities and rock stars and models represented in such stylized forms of photography on album covers and in movies, and we want to be among them. But reminiscing about photo albums makes for a nicer story.