Students have a magical day

When 10-year-old Alicia Stout walked onto the set of Walt Disney’s upcoming feature, “Race to Witch Mountain,” she knew that her opinion about movies would never be the same.

“I’m going to look at them in a whole different way now — which is really cool,” said Alicia, one of more than 75 fifth-graders from Walt Disney Elementary School who got to tour the Burbank studio Thursday during Movie Magic Day.

Executives from Disney, including Chairman Dick Cook and Robert Chapek, president of the studios’ Home Entertainment division, led the students on a half-day excursion through some of the studio’s back lots where a visit to the set of “Race to Witch Mountain” resulted in a surprise showing by the film’s star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The tour also featured a clinic on movie making, classes on special effects, casting and the day’s finale: an arts and crafts session where students, teachers and Disney brass spent nearly 30 minutes constructing and showing off makeshift robots inspired by Disney and Pixar’s newest animated picture, “WALL-E.”

“This is a special thing,” Chapek said as he pulled tape from a VHS cassette that was soon to become robot hair. “Disney is not only a company that does businesses all over the world, but it gives back to the community here and all over. I spend 300 days a year on business and five working with kids. There are a lot of rewarding elements.”

Cook also reveled in the rare chance to engage in activities that his position as a leader of one of the world’s largest media companies does not often allow.

“When else can you get a chance to close up shop for half a day?” Cook asked. “I can’t say enough good things about these kids. They were so responsive to everything. I think we have a lot of future actors and set decorators with us.”

While students used a table full of recycled materials to make robots — turning cardboard tubes into legs, tissue boxes into heads and used water bottles into arms — teachers looked on with smiles, touching on the inherent benefits of a day devoted to teaching kids skills that went beyond movie making.

“I think they learned there is more to movies than just being an actor,” teacher Bridget Highfill said.

“They learned that they need to know math, teamwork and that they have to broaden their horizons.”

But the focus for Austin Bui, 10, was on the robot he was constructing in a conference room turned factory floor.

“I’m making a mini-bot,” he said. “It has a tissue box head and button eyes, but only one arm: That’s the water bottle.”

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