Annette Funicello’s passing has created a huge wave (sorry for the Beach Party pun) of emotional reaction, as a true icon is remembered for what many are now recognizing as an extraordinary – and significant – amount of impactful work, in music (she was the first female teen idol of the baby boom) in film and TV.
But Disney Legend Annette also made her mark in animation, not in a Disney feature or even a cartoon short, but in a set of wonderful stop-motion sequences created by two other Disney Legends, X Atencio and Bill Justice. She and Tommy Sands, probably while they were filming Walt Disney’s first musical, Babes in Toyland, sang the theme for the Hayley Mills megahit, The Parent Trap. Accompanying the song (for which I suspect the musical director was longtime Annette mentor Tutti Camarata), was a superb combination of three dimensional and cut out figures that told the story over the titles.
And though the movie (or perhaps more accurately TV movie), The Misadventures of Merlin Jones was a moneymaking hit and a pleasant diversion, the titles stole the show, with an animated cut out Annette singing the title song, written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. It is likely the first and only time that Walt Disney presented his young star in animation.
Of course, Atencio and Justice’s stop-motion sequence in Walt Disney’s first musical, Babes in Toyland, gave us the definitive toy soldiers that, to some, are to Disney Parks holiday parades what the Rockettes are to the Macy’s parade.
One other animation connection: Annette narrated the first “Storyteller” record version of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” She opens the LP by explaining that the story always made her feel all warm and shivery inside, “So I asked Mr. Walt Disney if I could please narrate the story.”
Annette will never totally leave us, as the Disney and beach movies only gain charm over the years and her music is downloadable on iTunes. In away, to quote the song, she’ll always be “Just a whisper away.”
Note: The wonderful paper sculplture above is by Kevin Kidney, who designed it based on the Merlin Jones titles for Annette’s Place – a charity web-store tied to the Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases.