Disney+ TV review: Prop Culture
James R | On 17, May 2020
“These are more than just props.” That’s the sound of an extremely enthusiastic film fan sharing his passion for collecting films props in Disney+ series Prop Culture. It might not sound like the basis of a TV show, but the show emerges as, well, something more than just the props at its centre.
The super fan guiding us through them is Dan Lanigan, who has spent his life collecting artefacts from movies. His reasoning is that every detail on a set has been thought about and put there for a reason. Props “somehow make you feel like you were part of that story”, he says in one of many excited voiceovers. But while the enthusiasm can sometimes feel a little overbearing, it’s also entirely genuine and rather infectious; this guy really does have an unbridled love of all things prop-related.
Crucially, though, the show isn’t about him collecting things, or just showing us around his own private stash, which wouldn’t be enough to sustain a whole show. Instead, he takes us to other people’s stashes to unearth some choice props, or missing ones, from a range of Disney movies. The umbrella handle from Mary Poppins, the helmets and suits from TRON, the armatures for The Nightmare Before Christmas, a shield from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Some of the information we get is basic behind-the-scenes featurette material, but with them come the people behind them in the first place. A swordsmith from Pirates of the Caribbean or an animator from TRON, or even Danny Elfman from The Nightmare Before Christmas, all share frank anecdotes and fond memories with Dan, an interviewer who is so warm and thrilled to meet them that they swiftly open up.
There’s a nice line in the fragility and low-fi nature of so many props’ creations, which is echoed by the personal connections that the interviewers have with the props – the best moment of each episode is when Dan surprises them with an artefact from a job that they’ve either forgotten about or thought about every day since. What emerges is less a programme about props and more about the people behind them. Dan’s right: these are more than just props. They’re testaments to the crew members and artists who rarely get screen time honouring them. These props make us feel like we’re part of a story – not the story of the movie, but the story of the unsung individuals who made them.
Prop Culture is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.