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Disney In Depth: Garry Marshall’s Disney Company Legacy Revisited
Brett Nachman   |  @   |  

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Just a few weeks ago Disney In Depth celebrated this summer’s 15th anniversary of The Princess Diaries, a major commercial hit for Walt Disney Pictures and Garry Marshall, the film’s director.

Regrettably, there was the news this week of Marshall’s death. Having directed seven films for The Walt Disney Company and being responsible for creating a slew of hit shows for ABC during its comedy heyday in the 1970s, Marshall played a substantial role in developing popular content. His passing at age 81 comes across as almost too soon for a man still hard at work, always wanting to produce laughter and happiness.

Garry Marshall

As Michael Percoco thoroughly covered in Marshall’s obituary for Geeks of Doom, his Hollywood legacy is extremely significant. If only Happy Days was his one-hit wonder, I am sure people would appreciate his television influence, but he created several hit spin-offs, including Laverne and Shirley, and Mork and Mindy. At a time when ABC was lacking hit content, the emergence of these three shows, under Marshall’s capable direction, energized the network.

Soon everyone turned to ABC to watch the hilarity of the Fonz, the goofy roommates, and that alien played by (then) up-and-comer Robin Williams. While Happy Days lasted the longest of all the shows, delivering episodes for 11 seasons, each was ingrained into American popular culture for decades to come. We reference a show “jumping the shark” because of that moment when Fonzie literally did just that, and use catchphrases from all three shows. As the 1980s proceeded, Marshall veered into films, in which he directed a handful of well-received features, such as Young Doctors in Love and Overboard.

Awards success entered the picture as he directed his first couple of films for The Walt Disney Company under its Touchstone Pictures banner. 1988’s Beaches, starring Bette Midler, obtained a few Grammys and an Academy Award nomination for its art direction. Next came 1990’s smash Pretty Woman, which was one of the studio’s biggest critical and financial victories. It is the most successful romantic comedy of all time, and launched Julia Roberts’ career into superstar status. Her Oscar nomination for this role was just the icing on the cake. Marshall can be credited for those.

Several other films for the studio followed, including Runaway Bride (distributed by Touchstone internationally), The Other Sister, and Raising Helen. His projects for other studios, like these, were a mixed bag in terms of critical acclaim. However, Marshall had a knack for cultivating loyal viewers through his feel-good offerings. Below is a trailer of Pretty Woman by YouTube channel TouchstoneOnDemand.

2001’s The Princess Diaries, as I have stated, is a Disney gem. Although based on source material, Marshall’s trademark features in his films (wackiness, heart, strong comedic talent, and Hector Elizondo, of course) allowed this family film to strike a chord with audiences all over the world. Who knows if Anne Hathaway would have taken off in the same way had she not been cast in The Princess Diaries. Thanks Garry Marshall! The sequel, while not as inspired like the first, still had its moments and introduced audiences to Chris Pine, who we most commonly know as the new Captain Kirk.

The Princess Diaries movies are forever a beloved piece of the Disney live-action catalogue. Because of Garry Marshall’s directing style, the films – more so, the original – can be watched again and again without losing charm and sincerity. Interestingly, there were even serious talks about him directing a third Princess Diaries film with Hathaway returning to the role. Whether or not the project proceeds (without Marshall, unfortunately) will likely be up to the studio.

Besides his directing and writing, Marshall made appearances in a variety of television shows and films. For Disney, he cameoed as the devilishly-dressed figure in 1993’s Hocus Pocus, voiced Buck Cluck, the father of the titular character in 2005’s animated Chicken Little, and played a supporting role (a conspiracy theorist) in 2009’s Dwayne Johnson-led Race to Witch Mountain. He also guest-starred in a variety of television series for Disney and other companies, too.

Garry Marshall’s Disney work will be remembered for these movies and series that stir up audiences’ emotions, take us to another decade or time in our lives, and, most of all, induce loads of laughter. Perhaps he is now looking down on us all from the mythical land of Genovia. Like many famous personalities who pass, his life continues through the work he crafted. Generations to come will return to the programming he developed and quote the remarkably endearing characters. What a wonderful legacy.

Below is a trailer of The Princess Diaries from YouTube channel DisneyMoviesOnDemand.

This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, released on the first and third Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.

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