I suspect that if you’re reading this website, you are, as I am, a Disneyphile. If that’s the case, then you should be super-excited, as I am, for an upcoming debut on Disney+ this Friday, May 1. That’s when the new series Prop Culture will be released to the general public.
Lucky me, I recently had the chance to preview the entire eight-episode series, and to chat with Prop Culture’s host, creator and executive producer, Dan Lanigan.
Lanigan has been chasing and collecting movie memorabilia for a large part of his adult life, a passion that grew from collecting action figures as a child. Among the prized possessions of his private cache are John Belushi’s iconic costume from The Blues Brothers, the golden idol from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and one of the original Ghostbusters’ Proton Packs.
Lanigan was inspired to make Prop Culture, “because I have an obsession for movie-used art. You know, props, costumes, wardrobe, set pieces, all that kind of stuff. And I wanted to share my obsession with the world, and show everybody why the people that work on these films are all just as important as the stars.”
Throughout the course of the series, Lanigan does just that. Not only does he ferret out the whereabouts of these old props and “artifacts,” as he calls them, but he also reunites them with their creators – the set designers, costumers, choreographers, artists, animators and others whose important behind-the-scenes work make movie magic. The result? Some engaging and truly heart-warming television, far from the dry documentary you might expect.
“There’s just so many amazing people that I got to meet through the show,” Lanigan says, “that are truly, genuinely nice people, that look back upon these films as important to them and important to the world.”
Each carefully crafted show takes the viewer on an intriguing journey that’s part American Pickers, part Antiques Road Show, part In Search Of…, and a whole lot of Disney Magic.
“I love this stuff,” Lanigan notes. “I live and breathe it. And I learn about filmmaking by collecting props.”
“I’m hoping to inspire young filmmakers to see that anybody can do this if they apply themselves,” he adds. “Whether it’s costuming, whether it’s engineering, whether it’s automotive, whether it’s sculpting, whether it’s painting, whether it’s design, whether it’s directing or camera work… there’s so many different skill sets that come together, and part of the show is about celebrating those artisans.”
Although all eight episodes of Prop Culture are being released on May 1 – a departure from recent Disney+ series that have been doled out one episode per week – I’d suggest you start your binge-watching with Episode 1, Mary Poppins. Not only does the episode give you some background on the show’s premise, it provides some poignant scenes that will really tug at the heartstrings — trust me, keep the tissues at the ready for this one!
In this first episode, Lanigan searches for Mary Poppins’ original parrot-headed umbrella and the St. Paul Cathedral snowglobe — items that, like many props, weren’t always saved. As he explains in the show’s introduction, objects like this were often lost or, worse, discarded, because they were considered “just tools… they were ‘just’ props,” not considered as having any lasting value.
Along with sharing the surprising story behind finding Mary’s genuine bottomless carpet bag, Lanigan also pays a visit to the Disney Archives to share some of its Poppins treasures, and brings some rare objects together with their creators and former owners.
In this episode and the others, it’s often the stories BEHIND the story that are most compelling, as told to Lanigan by the artisans who lived them. Take, for example, the scene with choreographer Dee Dee Wood, who worked with her then-husband Marc Breaux to develop such famous dance routines as “Step in Time.” When Wood, now 93 years old, shares how much working on that film and with Disney meant to her, and means to her still, all self-respecting Disney-lovers will get a lump in their throats.
These episodes are filled with other stellar moments – such as actress Karen Dotrice, who played young Jane Banks, being reunited with some sentimental pieces in a “reveal” that’s sure to bring a tear to your eye. Then there’s composer Danny Elfman singing a few lines from Nightmare Before Christmas; the kids from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (all grown up now!) reminiscing over their outfits and props; Christopher Lloyd, who played the villainous Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? checking out his old costume. And then be sure to have your tissues handy again for Episode 8 – The Muppet Movie. No spoilers here, but it’s a don’t-miss, for sure!
“I watched Mary Poppins along with a number of other films with my father when I was a kid, both in our basement and at the movie theater,” Lanigan says. “And you know, there’s something about that quality time that you spend with your parents, with family activities, that just strengthens the bonds. So I hope that families can learn interesting things about the movies they love, and maybe these kids can be inspired to get into the trades.”
“Sharing the film with future generations is really important,” he concludes. “Hopefully I can get somebody who watches one of my episodes that hasn’t seen that movie to be interested in seeing that film and grow the fan base, because this stuff deserves it.”
And if you’re a film-lover, in particular a Disney film-lover, you deserve to see Prop Culture. Treat yourself this weekend!
The eight episodes of Prop Culture, all to be released on May 1, are:
- Episode 101 – “Mary Poppins”
- Episode 102 – “Tron”
- Episode 103 – “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas”
- Episode 104 – “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”
- Episode 105 – “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”
- Episode 106 – “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”
- Episode 107 – “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”
- Episode 108 – “The Muppet Movie”
While you’re waiting for Prop Culture’s debut, don’t miss “Disney+ Throwbacks,” a weeklong celebration of Disney fan favorites. Follow Disney+ on Twitter and Instagram, and check out the hashtag #DisneyPlusThrowbacks on social media to find new content daily, including stickers and special messages from the stars of your favorite Disney shows and movies.