Disney Animation has had a profound impact on all our lives. At some point in our time, we may have seen one, two, or even all of those films and shorts that have made us laugh, cry, cringe, or even sing. With the studio celebrating its centennial anniversary, Disney’s newest short, Once Upon a Studio, pays to generations of animators who have walked through the doors and hallways of the studios and have helped us get in touch with all those emotions for the past 100 years. The result is a nine-minute short that gathers nearly all the characters from the films, shorts, and more from across every era of Disney’s history.
Once Upon a Studio opens with a staff of animators exiting Walt Disney Animation Studios for the day, and the camera focuses on two of them. They’ve contributed to delivering generations of incredible animation and storytelling and continue to do so to this very day. Before all the human animators exit the picture, the legendary and late animator Burny Mattinson converses with an intern and wonders, “Boy, if these walls could talk.”
Once the coast is clear, that’s where the magic happens. The walls come alive, with Mickey and Minnie gathering their friends and foes for the studio’s centennial photo. While it’s impossible to bring everyone into the picture, Trent Correy and Dan Abraham did their best to include some of the most iconic characters and a few deep-cut ones. As such, the short combines different generations of animation styles and techniques for an impressive visual story full of goofs, gags, and some nostalgic heart-rending moments. So you’ll see princesses and wicked villains of the hand-drawn era interacting with the characters of the CG era in one scene, and in another, you’ll see Peter Pan, Wendy, Michael, and John fly through the halls, calling upon all of the characters to jump out of their frames so they can be a part of the studio photo, to the tune of “You Can Fly.” In another scene, Pooh’s friends pull him out of the frame. And another scene pays tribute to Mattinson’s greatest short — see if you can find it. The short even has time to welcome its latest character, who wishes upon a star, Asha.
For the most part, Once Upon a Studio is a sweet and touching short that amounts to visiting old friends. Those lucky enough to visit the studio in Burbank will immediately recognize the hallways, rooms, atriums, and patios. Audiences will see what makes the studio so magical as the camera passes through hallways and atriums filled with incredible artwork. Even the unmistakably iconic Sorcerer’s hat that welcomes those who walk into the building plays a role in the short.
Bringing those Disney characters from the past and present interacting with those environments makes it feel even more timeless. And 40 voice actors also return to reprise their respective roles. The result is something that bridges the generational gap. So it’s hard not to get overly emotional when seeing or hearing generations of our favorite heroes and villains getting together for one photo. Don’t be surprised when you laugh at one character getting overly frustrated with another. And you may shed a tear or two when they all sing the studio’s most iconic — and opening theme since the 1980s — song, “When You Wish Upon A Star.”
The short may be a little vain, but considering that the animation studio has built its 100-year legacy on transforming the visual storytelling medium with its game-changing technology and techniques and becoming more aware of the times we live in today, it’s a worthy celebration that honors the studio’s history.
Once Upon a Studio, a new Original short film, premieres on ABC during The Wonderful World of Disney: Disney’s 100th Anniversary Celebration! on October 15, 2023 at 8/7c. It will then be available to watch on Disney+.