Cast & Crew
Walt Disney shares animated and live-action representations of America's struggle for independence.
The Liberty Story -
The first is Ben and Me (1953), an animated film about a lowly mouse named Amos who takes refuge in the print shop of Benjamin Franklin. The mouse ends up inspiring and guiding Franklin to success, giving the inventor and Founding Father his best ideas while hidden in Franklin's hat. After getting hit by lightning during one of Franklin's experiments with electricity, Amos runs off. Franklin's pleas bring the mouse back--armed with a contract for his services, the wording of which inspires the opening of the Declaration of Independence.
The other liberty story is taken from one of Disney's most popular live-action films of the time, Johnny Tremain (1957). (Those of us who saw it as kids can still sing the catchy theme song.) Based on the Newberry Award-winning 1943 novel for young readers by Esther Forbes, the story is set in Boston at the onset of the American Revolution. Johnny is a young silversmith apprentice who severely burns his hand, rendering him unemployable. He becomes a messenger for the Sons of Liberty, the secret society founded to fight British taxation in the colonies and protect the rights of the colonists. A number of real historical figures pop up in the film, including Samuel Adams and Paul Revere.
This wasn't the only time portions of the film were edited for use on the weekly Disney show. In 1958, edited versions were broadcast under the titles The Boston Tea Party and The Shot Heard 'Round the World.
Johnny Tremain was directed by Robert Stevenson, whose early works include Jane Eyre (1943) with Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles, the first remake of Back Street (1941), and the anti-communist potboiler The Woman on Pier 13 (1949). In the 1950s, Stevenson began working mostly on television. He began his long association with Disney on Johnny Tremain and went on to direct Old Yeller (1957), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), Mary Poppins (1964), and The Love Bug (1968).
Ben and Me was directed by Hamilton Luske, who brought to the screen such Disney classics as Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), and Lady and the Tramp (1955).
If the American colonies weren't enough to make his case for liberty, Disney threw in for good measure a few clips of his earlier film The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), which featured future Oscar-winner Peter Finch as the Sheriff of Nottingham.
After Tremain was released, Walt Disney planned to build an annex to his Disneyland Main Street USA called Liberty Street, but the project was never realized. In 1971, five years after his death, the idea was revived and expanded as Liberty Square in the new Walt Disney World in Florida.
Directors: Hamilton Luske, Robert Stevenson
Screenplay: James Algar, Bill Peet, Robert Lawson, Thomas W. Blackburn
Cinematography: Charles P. Boyle
Editing: Lloyd L. Richardson
Art Direction: Carroll Clark
Music: George Bruns, Oliver Wallace
Cast: Hal Stalmaster (Johnny Tremain), Luana Patten (Priscilla Lapham), Sterling Holloway (Amos), Charles Ruggles (Ben Franklin)
By Rob Nixon