For almost as long as Walt Disney has no longer been animated, a notion has been prevalent in popular culture that he was cryogenically frozen, to preserve him for a time when medical science could revive him with a cure for his terminal cancer. Depending on who you listen to, his body (or just his head) has been secreted away underneath Pirates Of The Caribbean or Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland in California, awaiting defrosting.
The original mention of it seems to come from a tabloid – The National Spotlight – which, a few short weeks after Disney’s death, published a story saying that one of their reporters had disguised himself as a hospital orderly, and found Disney’s body frozen in a metal cylinder. And, like that, an irrepressible urban legend was born. Jokes about ‘Disney On Ice’ have been a part of mainstream culture pretty much ever since, with everything from Family Guy to 30 Rock having used the idea of the Waltsicle as a punchline or source of humour.
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The notion was even used as the core of a 2002 novel – Waking Walt – written by a former Disneyland & Walt Disney World Vice-President, Larry Pontius. In the book, Walt Disney has been kept in suspended animation awaiting a cure for lung cancer; in the meantime, a hostile takeover of the Disney Company is being mounted, and a clandestine group called The Circle want a revived Walt to help save the business and the day. Although Pontius is a former Disney exec, there’s no suggestion he has based the tale upon anything other than years of rumour and speculation, instead of any insider knowledge.
Now, an independent feature film – The Further Adventures of Walt’s Frozen Head – has taken the idea to its (il)logical conclusion, and given form to the notion that Walt’s head has been preserved for all these years at the Magic Kingdom. The brainchild of writer & director Benjamin Lancaster, Walt’s Frozen Head found its funding through Kickstarter, which has – along with other similar crowdfunding sites – proved to be an effective way for projects to come to fruition which would have failed to get made via conventional and traditional methods. It appears that the workers truly have seized the means of production.
The story is centred around estranged father and husband Peter Carter (Daniel Cooksley), a Magic Kingdom employee who’s on a quest to find a replacement Mickey Mouse toy, after his daughter lost hers years ago, and wants to get one just the same for her upcoming birthday. Peter gets directed into the bowels of the park, but takes a wrong turn along the way, and ends up stumbling across literally the head of the company – a defrosted Walt Disney (Ron Schneider), sans body, who only gets thawed out once a year for 72 hours, to handle important company business.
Disney is itching to be able to explore the park – which opened five years after he’d ‘died’ – which is something that the execs never let him do. He makes Peter an offer he simply can’t refuse, and ends up being willingly ‘kidnapped’ by Peter, so that he can finally get to see the Magic Kingdom for himself. However, it’s a race against the clock, as not only does Walt have to be refozen within three days, but Peter also has to try and take Walt on the grand tour before he gets caught. In amongst all this, Peter also has to try and keep the peace with his wife – from whom he’s currently separated – as well as facing up to the fact his daughter is no longer a little girl, but is becoming a grown woman.
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Understandably, the filmmakers didn’t get permission from the Disney Company to be able to film on their property, so all the shooting at the Magic Kingdom was done surreptitiously; it suits the movie’s theme perfectly, with having to try and sneak the disembodied head of Walt into the park. It’s also a nice twist where, at one point, Peter smuggles Walt into one of the main competitors, Sea World, much to Disney’s dismay. It’s not actually the first picture to be shot on Disney property in a guerrilla filmmaking style – 2013’s movie Escape From Tomorrow based a horror movie at Walt Disney World, as did viral ‘found footage’ short Missing In The Mansion; Banksy also shot a scene in one of the parks for Exit Through The Gift Shop, so Walt’s Frozen Head is in good company.
Daniel Cooksley’s Peter, the protagonist, exudes a nervous, sweaty charm which is reminiscent of Crispin Glover (and, to a lesser extent, Jeffrey Weissman) as George McFly in Back To The Future. It’s not a totally polished performance, and is a little rough around the edges at times, but he does enough to carry the movie along, and give the whole exercise a convincing moral centre, even when he’s doing things which go against his better judgment. You can also see he’s a man struggling to keep things together, with his separation from his wife, and his daughter growing up and becoming an independent adult, which is something he has trouble accepting.
Okay, it’s a fantasy flick, but you still find yourself having to stretch credulity a lot to accept that a bodiless head can not just be alive, but also talk without having a set of lungs attached for breathing. Don’t let it worry you – just sit back, switch off that logical part of your brain, and enjoy. Ron Schneider’s Walt is astounding, uncanny in his appearance and vocal imitation of the man himself, to the extent you have to stop and remind yourself it’s only a movie and not actually a documentary. Without such a strong performance, the enterprise would undoubtedly have floundered, so it’s fortunate indeed to have him here.
Walt’s Frozen Head really is a touching coming-of-age picture, heartwarming and funny in equal measure. It may not be the most technically perfect picture, but given the budget and resources, it’s achieved a great deal. It seems that when you wish upon a star (or a Kickstarter), dreams can come true.
The Further Adventures Of Walt’s Frozen Head is currently available to watch for free on YouTube.