As long as we’re on the subject of cartoonist events…. Last year in September I was one of several guest speakers at a festival in a little, sleepy town in Missouri named Marceline. The event was called “Toonfest” and it’s presence in Marceline was because Walt Disney had called this charming little town his home for about 5 years, from age 4-9. Other guest speakers that year included Gary and Glenn McCoy, Jim Borgman (Zits), Tom Wilson Jr. (Ziggy), Charles Solomon (animation and cartoon critic) and Tony Bancroft (Disney VP of Imagineering). The people of Marceline welcomed us with open arms and the festival was a lot of fun.
My first thought about this event was that having Walt Disney live in your town for just a few years as a boy did not seem like something to build a town’s identity around. As it turns out, Marceline was not just another place Disney lived. Talking with some of the locals and festival organizers, I learned a great deal about why Marceline was so important to the Disney legacy. It wasn’t just what they had to say, either. I could see it with my own eyes. Main St. in the center of Marceline is a dead ringer for “Main St., USA” in Disneyland/Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom. Disney clearly had the area based on this street in small town Missouri, complete with brick streets, iron lamps with clock faces at the top, building facades, etc. Disney connected with Marceline in a way that affected his life and visions that would later develop into the Disney we all know. I was showed a map of Marceline next to a map of Disneyland, and the placement of the lagoons and lake and other elements matched each other almost perfectly. I saw Disney’s boyhood home, which contained a small barn in which Disney put on his first “show”, charging the neighbors to attend (mom made him return the money). Disney had this barn duplicated and built, board for board,??á¬¨‚Ä†at his California estate to use as a workshop and studio. There are many other examples of this nature.
The most amazing thing was the story of Disney’s return trips to the town, and his plans for it. He and a local??á¬¨‚Ä†partner formed a corporation and began buying land, including his boyhood home, around the area. It was Disney’s intention to build a third Disney park in Marceline. Unlike the other parks, this one would not have rides but serve as a sort of time capsule, allowing children of the future to see the rural and agricultural roots of middle America. Disney died before the “Marceline Project” ever really got off the ground, and without Walt behind it the project was dropped by the Disney machine and Marceline was dutifully ignored by Walt’s successors at Disney. Walt’s brother Roy didn’t share his enthusiasm for the project… maybe he got beat up a lot by the local farm boys as a kid…. at any rate the project was dead and the local participants left holding the bag.
Today the people of Marceline embrace and are proud of the role their town played in the life of Disney. Their little Toonfest, while not particularly grand and not unlike so many small town festivals you see every summer, boasts some pretty big name guests cartoonists. This year’s guests will be Pete Docter (Monster’s Inc.), Chris Browne (Hagar the Horrible), Lynn Johnston (For Better or For Worse), Mike Peters (Mother Goose and Grimm), Dan Piraro (Bizarro) and Tom Wilson, Jr. again. That’s an all-star lineup! It’s will be held Sept. 15-16, 2006 in Marceline, MO.
Toonfest isn’t just a tribute to Disney, but a celebration of American cartooning. You can check out the details of this years event at the Toonfest website.
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