Perhaps because it might upset all those boys and girls out there in television land, or perhaps because it has simply been deemed bad for business, it isn't even mentioned, on tonight's two-hour CBS special "Walt Disney, One Man's Dream," that Unca Walt passed on to another kingdom in 1966. He is spoken of in the present tense, as if he were to return at any moment, perhaps as an audio-animatronic device welcoming people to an amusement park. "When Walt Disney dreams, he dreams," says host Michael Landon early in this blearily insufferable parade of plug-minded bibbity-bob -- at 8 on Channel 9. In a way, the show is an apt tribute to one facet of Unca Walt's genius: his ability to tame television into the role of obedient promoter of other enterprises. The object of Le Grand Plug this time is a not-very-whimsical something called EPCOT ("Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow") now being built adjacent to Disney World in Orlando.
Why not just rename the earth Disney World and forget about it? In his narration, Landon says it's been suggested that the U.S.A. be turned into a Disney park with turnstiles at the borders, and of the company's audio-animatronic robot figures, Lincoln and Mark Twain, Landon says, "Walt kind of created a new form of life."
The rewards to the viewer for sitting through this lengthy high mass for the great god Walt consist of occasional refreshing snippets from Disney classics of the past -- the kind of fulfilling fantasy filmmaking that the current Disney management has proven pitifully unable to duplicate. There are scenes from "The Three Little Pigs," "Snow White" (probably a longer excerpt than has previously been shown on TV) and "Fantasia," as well as a cruelly condensed version of a classic Donald Duck cartoon, "Donald's Dream Voice," which, as a succinct statement on the human condition, ranks right up there with the Chuck Jones gem, "One Froggy Evening."
Another moment of blessed relief is provided by "The Collector," a funny short film about a fanatical hoarder of Disney memorabilia, made independently by gifted stop-action magician Mike Jittlov.
But more time is devoted to sickeningly saccharine musical numbers performed by Marie Osmond, Mac Davis, Dick Van Dyke (rather pathetically leading a chorus of EPCOT workers in "We Can Do It," a Depression-style number for the new recession) and even Landon, who sings what was allegedly going through Disney's mind the day before Disneyland opened: "What if nobody comes? What if nobody cares?"
Also on hand to testify to Unca Walt's benign and pervasive influence are a collection of Beloved Cultural Icons: Walter Cronkite, the new Unca Walt, who says that to him, Donald Duck is "certainly Mister Everyman"; Mikhail Baryshnikov, who says his favorite of the seven dwarfs is -- it sounds like, anyway -- "Dumpy"; Andy Warhol, who calls Disney "my favorite artist in the whole world", and Beverly Sills, who affirms her devotion to Bambi and Thumper.
Ugh. It would take more than a spoonful of sugar to make this medicine go down.