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  • 4 Ways Disney and Italy Intersect

    Discover how one of America's iconic businesses has tasted or shared the dolce vita
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    Trying to find information on Walt Disney's relationship with Italy isn't easy. Do a Google search of "Walt Disney and Italy," and you'll see. Mostly what turns up is a list of vacations in Italy that the Walt Disney Company offers tourists. But anyone who has carefully watched Disney films over the years or visited either Italy or Walt Disney World's Epcot theme park in Florida knows there's more to the relationship than that. Here are some ways Italy and Disney have connected:

    1. Topolino

    Photo copyright © Francesca Di Meglio
    Mickey Mouse, the company mascot and character that launched history, is known in most of the world by his English name or a literal translation of it. In Italy, however, he is simply known as “Topolino," which is Italian for mouse.

    In 1932, Mario Nerbini began a newspaper for children in Italy, which contained stories and illustrations featuring Topolino. Not surprisingly, there were copyright issues, according to Swide.com, but Nerbini bought full rights and included writing by Floyd Gottfriedson, who was a prominent Disney illustrator. True to Italian culture, Topolino featured versions of classic stories, such as the Count of Monte Cristo, Don Quixote, and the Three Musketeers.

    Although, the comic book has changed hands over the years and went on hiatus when the United States and Italy were embroiled in World War II, Topolino is still published today. In fact, it is one of the longest running comic books in publishing history. You can read its entire history on the Swide site and see some of the recent covers on Comic Vine.

    2. Pinocchio
    In the late 1800s, Italian author Carlo Collodi wrote the Adventures of Pinocchio as a novel for children. Disney would later use this story to create the 1940 animated feature-length film, Pinocchio. As the follow up to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which is considered the best animated film of all time and a game changer in the movie industry, Pinocchio had large shoes to fill and ended up being a financial failure at first.

    Part of the problem has been attributed to the dark storyline of the novel, which was Disneyfied for the film but still took some getting used to by American audiences. Still, the film is considered a masterpiece of animation and earned two Academy Awards for Best Score and Best Song for “When You Wish Upon a Star," which has become the theme song of the Disney company. More than 70 years after the film's release, whether you're visiting a Disney theme park or a charming village in Italy, you'll likely find Pinocchio souvenirs to take home. After all, the marionette, who wanted to be a real boy and whose nose grew with every lie, is still enchanting audiences all over the world in print and on screen.

    3. Epcot's Italy Pavilion

    Photo copyright © Francesca Di Meglio
    In 1982, Walt Disney World in Florida opened the doors to its second theme park, which was based on an idea Disney himself had for the “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow." The original idea was a futuristic city, in which people could both live, learn, and innovate. One of the major components, according to the plans submitted to the state of Florida, was to include stores and restaurants themed to different countries with natives manning them and answering questions from patrons about their native home life and culture.

    While the actual city never materialized (although Celebration, Fla. was somewhat of an attempt) as Disney envisioned, the theme park does have a World Showcase in which different countries share a bit of their traditions through native staff, shops, attractions, entertainment, and food. Italy's pavilion in World Showcase features a bridge and non-functioning gondola and a replica of the original campanile in Saint Mark's Square of Venice. There is also a replica of the 14th century Doge's Palace and a fountain representing Bernini's Neptune fountain.

    In addition to the popular wine bar and pizzeria, Via Napoli, there's a sit-down Italian restaurant and shops selling imported goods, including perfume, wines and liqueurs, edible treats, and jewelry and apparel. There's also a food cart, in which passers by can purchase gelato and espresso, which is close to the real deal and always comes with a side of conversation with the Italian baristas. Entertainment in the pavilion has included comedians, Tuscan flag throwers (Sbandieratori Di Sansepolcro), and even La Befana (during the holiday season).

    Photo copyright © Francesca Di Meglio

    4. Other Disney Characters
    Italians have clearly influenced Disney artists. Granted, some of the depictions are stereotypical. But there's the pasta scene in Lady & The Tramp and Goofy's ride through Venice, which forces you to forgive the company for its sins. Most recently, the Pixar Cars series has included Italians. In the first movie, Lightning McQueen befriends wheels salespeople Luigi and Guido, who speak mostly in Italian throughout the cartoon.

    Cars 2 featured an Italian race car, Francesco Bernoulli, who was voiced by Italian American actor John Turturro. During the course of the film, Francesco and Lightning McQueen race in the fictitious town of Porto Corsa in Italy. McQueen's team stays with Luigi and Guido's uncle, whose name is Topolino, in a nod to the Mouse himself. See how things come full circle?

    Di Meglio uses the written word to help families create memories and stick together. You can follow her on Facebook at Francesca's Newlyweds Nest and on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 4/18/15

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