Docuseries ‘Prop Culture’ peeks behind the scenes of Disney movies

Docuseries ‘Prop Culture’ peeks behind the scenes of Disney movies

April 28, 2020

“Mary Poppins” wouldn’t have been the same without the iconic umbrella used by Mary (Julie Andrews) in the 1964 movie.

You’ll see that umbrella, and much more, in “Prop Culture,” an eight-part Disney+ docuseries hosted by producer/film historian/prop collector Dan Lanigan. In the series, premiering Friday, Lanigan goes behind the scenes of acclaimed Disney films to examine the props that helped to tell their stories.

“The people that make [props] are the ones who do a lot of the work,” Lanigan, 48, tells The Post. “The actors and directors and writers are very important — but the people that accomplish these crazy worlds and these wild magic tricks usually don’t get the light shined on them.”

Each of the show’s eight episodes focuses on a different Disney movie, including “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

The idea for “Prop Culture” occurred to Lanigan, who was also a producer on “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return,” quite a while ago.

“I had been shopping this show around Hollywood for a number of years without much luck,” he says. “Because anybody who was interested wanted to do a ‘transactional’ version of the show — the buying and selling of props — which was not what I wanted to do. It was very important to me that this show was about the art of the pieces and the people behind that art and what it means to them.”

In each episode, Lanigan travels to different locations in pursuit of that movie’s props, from the greater LA area to New York to the Caribbean (one guess what film that was for). Items featured onscreen include Dick Van Dyke’s carousel horse from “Mary Poppins” and the shield from “Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

“Prop Culture” also features guests such as Jason Schwartzman, who played “Mary Poppins” composer Richard Sherman in the film “Saving Mr. Banks.” He joins Lanigan to go inside Walt Disney’s original office and watch the real Sherman play the piano there.

While it might sound like Lanigan spends the show visiting neatly organized studio warehouses, that’s not the case. Making “Prop Culture” involved “a lot of detective work,” he says.

Many of the props featured onscreen are in expected places, such as the Disney archives. But many are in private people’s homes.

“There are so many different places this stuff could go … It’s all about the knowledge of how this movie would have been done and who would have done the work, and then trying to figure out what happened to this piece after production,” he says. “Because usually there’s a purpose for it in the movie, and then sometimes the studio keeps it.

“That’s becoming more common now, but that didn’t always happen,” he says. “Sometimes people that worked on the film would keep it, or they’d give it to their friends who thought it was a neat thing, or it would get put back into a prop room or a wardrobe room that would get repurposed and changed for another film.”

“It’s a lot of ‘Indiana Jones’- style research,” he says, “without the deadly balls coming down and spiders and stuff.”

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