The sad news of legendary newsman Walter Cronkite’s recent death at 92 years old has Disney fans remembering his contributions to Walt Disney World theme parks. While many remember Cronkite as the narrator of Epcot’s Spaceship Earth attraction from 1986 to 1994, he was also featured in a 9-minute film entitled Back To Neverland at what was the Disney-MGM Studios at the time (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios).
The 1989 film also starred Robin Williams and served as the introduction to the The Magic of Disney Animation attraction, which took guests on a walking tour of Disney’s animation facility inside the theme park.
Back to Neverland was written and directed by Jerry Rees, whose other Disney theme park credits include directing “Sounds Dangerous” with Drew Carey, Cranium Command formerly at Epcot, the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster pre- and post-show videos with Aerosmith, the video portions of the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter formerly at the Magic Kingdom, the recently updated version of Epcot’s “Oh Canada” film, and many more.
In thinking back to working with Walter Cronkite while filming Back to Neverland, Rees recalled, “Walter was exactly the charming intelligent guy you would imagine him to be. What he presented on the air and what he was in person was one and the same.”
He also shared with me a few behind-the-scenes snapshots he took with Cronkite and Williams on the Back to Neverland set:
Rees notes that the giant books in the background of this portion of film were actually built and not a special effect.
Rees pointed out, “Walter’s face in this photo really sums up who he is.”
It is interesting to also note that Williams’ performance in Back to Neverland is what ultimately led to his casting as the Genie in Aladdin. You can instantly see why when watching this clip from the short film, which includes a quick animated impersonation of Cronkite by Williams:
Walter Cronkite was certainly an important figure in the history of news media but he also made his mark on the history of Disney theme parks. About Cronkite, Rees concluded, “In an era when ‘reality’ is anything but real, he and his approach are a lost treasure.”