This week, Disney+ welcomes another brand-new TV show: Prop Culture. As the title implies, the show is all about props, specifically those from a series of live-action films released by the Walt Disney Company throughout its history. The eight episodes available to stream right now run the gamut from the truly iconic 1964 live-action/animated film Mary Poppins to newer fare such as the rousing 2003 adventure Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Host and collector Dan Lanigan was able to talk with many of the major players of some of the titles he highlights, but we’re already thinking about the future. What could a second season of Prop Culture look like? Here’s a list of 10 titles, in chronological order, that would make for a perfect set of new props to discover.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Before there was Mary Poppins, Disney went big and bold with one of its earliest live-action films, the adaptation of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The film had an A-list cast, with James Mason as the enigmatic and arrogant Captain Nemo, Kirk Douglas as raffish sailor Ned Land, and Peter Lorre as an obsequious assistant. Casting aside, one of the most remarkable things about this steampunk-style sci-fi adventure is that it’s full of truly jaw-dropping props, from a massive squid that attacks the Nautilus submarine in the finale to that large submarine set itself. Though many of the players involved with the film have long since passed away (Douglas died earlier this year at age 103), exploring the practical sets of Disney’s first major blockbuster would bear a lot of cool discoveries fitting Captain Nemo’s desire for discovery himself.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
After the success of Mary Poppins, Disney wanted to do its best to replicate its mix of live-action and animation, of high fantasy, and of memorable music. The closest the studio came was with its adaptation of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Starring Angela Lansbury as an apprentice witch in the middle of World War II, Bedknobs and Broomsticks can’t quite hold a candle to the story of a practically perfect English nanny, but it’s got a wealth of props that would be well worth displaying. From the eponymous bedknob, which Lansbury’s witch bewitches into enabling her and her young charges to travel through space, to a series of knights in armor brought to life to fight off Nazis, Bedknobs is a collector’s dream come to life itself. And if Lanigan could interview Dame Lansbury about the experience, too, it’d be even more fun to watch.
The Black Hole (1979)
In the early days after the success of the first Star Wars, rival studios tried to replicate what 20th Century Fox had pulled off with the galaxy far, far away. Disney, at a generally low point of its history, didn’t shy away from the challenge with its own science-fiction story. However, the result was The Black Hole, a strange, sometimes quite dark film evoking both 2001: A Space Odyssey and the work of Jules Verne more than anything George Lucas concocted. The film has garnered a cult audience over time, and even though some of its effects were derived by computers, there’s enough tangible prop work, from the detailed spacecraft where much of the action is set, to its own comic-relief robot characters, that might be worth reviving for a new audience’s interest. Seeing as the film has some big-name genre fans, like English director Edgar Wright, Lanigan might even be able to rope in some famous friends to talk about what makes the film so odd and unique.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
The early 1980s were a rough period for the Walt Disney Company. Before the arrival of executives Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, there were serious doubts that the studio would even survive the decade, potentially being the victim of a hostile takeover. The year before those concerns diminished, Disney’s live-action unit released an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, in which a small town is beset upon by a mysterious group of carnies, whose leader (Jonathan Pryce) has a creepy way of making people have their greatest fantasies brought to life, but with a dark downside. While the film isn’t quite as terrifying as it should be, the practical sets of the circus that comes to town, including its enchanted and spooky carousel, would be great to explore as long as those sets were well-preserved.
Return to Oz (1985)
Seeing as The Wizard of Oz is one of the most beloved fantasy films of all time, it makes perfect sense that a studio would want to tell another story set in the world of Oz. And even though Disney didn’t release the original film, the 1939 classic does feel like a Disney movie. So the sequel Return to Oz could’ve been a home run for Disney. What the film is — and you can find out for yourself as it’s streaming on Disney+ — is quite dark and unrelenting in its depiction of an Oz without the wonderful friends we all know. Dorothy returns to Oz after escaping from a mental institution (really!) and finds that the world has changed a lot. Walter Murch, iconic sound editor, directed the film and it’s host to a number of distinctively designed robots, practical sets, and more that would all be worth talking about through Lanigan’s unique, prop-obsessed perspective. It might even introduce the film to a new audience.
Dick Tracy (1990)
One of the great surprises of Prop Culture isn’t just that Dan Lanigan gets to talk about and showcase some of the most memorable props and sets of Disney’s live-action films. He also talks to many of the stars and filmmakers of those projects, from Danny Elfman and Chris Sarandon for The Nightmare Before Christmas, to Joe Johnston and the famously reclusive Rick Moranis for Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Well, this might be aiming... a little high, but for season two, a great title to highlight, both because of the star wattage and because of the film’s striking design would be Dick Tracy. The 1990 comic-book film attempted to ride the wave of post-Batman success, with a massive cast including director Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, and more. The film’s colorful costumes, Art Deco production design, and even the character makeup would make for a fascinating exploration into a big-budget swing for the fences. And Beatty’s passion for the famed comic-strip character would fuel a compelling episode on the film more than 30 years after its release.
The Rocketeer (1991)
One of the great comic-book films of all time, The Rocketeer sadly never took flight at the box office. But this story of a pilot in 1930s-era Los Angeleno who gets the gift of flight by strapping a jet pack to his back is one of Disney’s very best live-action titles, boasting a murderer’s row of character actors, a creepy villain, and a wonderfully designed and manufactured world. Unlike Dick Tracy, The Rocketeer is meant to exist in something approximating our own world, but with a heightened sense of fantasy in its loving and nostalgic representation of classic Hollywood. Everything from the jet pack our hero Cliff Secord wears to his hood-ornament-style helmet, all the way to sets of a swanky nightclub and Howard Hughes’ office could get highlighted in a new episode. And since in a first-season episode, Lanigan already spoke with its director, the aforementioned Joe Johnston, why not do so for the director’s best Disney film?
The Sixth Sense (1999)
Not every title in the first season of Prop Culture is a Walt Disney Pictures release; one episode is on the Touchstone Pictures release Who Framed Roger Rabbit. There’s one truly massive hit from Disney subsidiary Hollywood Pictures that might be scary, yes, but also could work well for a show all about sets and props. The Sixth Sense, now more than 20 years old, was the sleeper hit to end all sleeper hits, grossing nearly $300 million at the box office and getting a Best Picture nomination. The spooky ghost story is best known for its twist ending, but M. Night Shyamalan’s film is also mostly practical, with haunted apartments, a school with some dark secrets, and more. Lanigan would likely get a lot of mileage out of talking to the director and exploring his Philadelphia hometown for this iconic masterpiece.
John Carter (2012)
A few of the titles on the first season of Prop Culture are arguably cult classics at best, such as the 1982 film Tron. There’s no reason that a couple of more modern cult favorites couldn’t make the cut for season two. With that in mind, Disney — even in its more successful recent years — has gone big with two recent live-action films. The first of those (we’ll get to the second shortly) is from Pixar director Andrew Stanton. His adaptation of John Carter was a box-office flop, yes, but its fanbase is legion and quite loud. Even with a world of Mars built out via CGI, John Carter would have a lot of props and sets worth discussing, from its memorable costumes to spaceships, Martian buildings, and more.
The other big swing Disney took in the 2010s was, coincidentally enough, with another Pixar filmmaker, Brad Bird. His second live-action film was all about the future, appropriately titled Tomorrowland. Inspired by the theme-park land, Tomorrowland was actually about the secret society of innovators that lay dormant for decades while Earth grew mired in cynicism and despair. Tomorrowland feels an awful lot like the first act of a larger story that never got to be told, but Bird didn’t spare any expense in terms of the sleek production design — when our heroine first explores the glittering skyline of Tomorrowland, it’s a hell of a sight to behold — nor in its costumes, sets, and modern evocation of '50s-era Space Age culture. Diving back into the film’s design might turn people back onto the film as a whole.