"What's New" Archives: December 2005
December 31, 2005:
HAPPY NEW YEAR, 62 YEARS LATE:
December 30, 2005:
THAT'S THE TICKET: One of the side benefits of my Walt Disney
biography has been my discovery of the excellent work done by a
number of people whose principal concern has been the history of
the Disneyland park, especially in its early years. I remain convinced
that Walt's best animated films are his most durable legacy, but
thanks to such writers as Michael Broggie, Bruce Gordon, and the
late David Mumford, I have a greater appreciation of how complex
and interesting Disneyland really is.
particularly enjoyed The "E" Ticket, a magazine
devoted to Disneyland's history and now in its 43rd issue. The magazine's
interviews are its greatest strength, and many of them demand the
attention of animation buffs. Not only have the founders and editors,
Jack Janzen and his late brother Leon Janzen, interviewed people
who moved from animation to work on the parkMarc Davis and
Ken Anderson are only two of the most familiar namesbut they
have also talked with Disney staffers like Frank Thomas and Ward
Kimball, whose involvement with the park was peripheral but who
for that reason could offer intriguing perspectives on Disneyland
and its attractions. Add the interviews with people who were concerned
mostly or entirely with Disneyland itself, like the brilliant landscape
architect Bill Evans, and you have an extremely valuable record,
one that can no longer be duplicated, given the deaths of most of
the interview subjects. To learn more about The "E"
Ticket (the name refers to the tickets for Disneyland's elite
attractions under the old ticket-book system), click on this link.
December 29, 2005:
SPLOGGED: I'm accustomed to getting whacked pretty often
at online message boards and blogs, as in responses to my audio
commentaries on the latest set of Looney Tunes DVDs ("I can't
listen to Mr. Barrier's commentaries at all. He may write well but
his commentaries sound like some of the boring school teachers I've
hadhe takes the fun out of it. Sorry, Mr. Barrier, stick to
writing"). So I appreciate Michael Sporn's using his "Splog"
to praise this site, as well as Funnyworld and Hollywood
Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age, as among his
sources of inspiration this past year, in the worthy company of
Amid Amidi's Cartoon
Modern blog and several animated features with more than commercial
ambitions. Michael does say of my writing in Hollywood Cartoons,
though, that my "words were prosaic and well chosen."
I'd like to think he meant to say "precise and well chosen,"
but I'd better not ask. I'll take what I can get.
December 25, 2005:
MERRY CHRISTMAS, 31 YEARS LATE:
That's the front of the 1974 Christmas card from what was then
known as Walt Disney Productions (and is of course © WDP).
It opens up to reveal a sleigh train full of Disney characters,
and that panorama is much too wide for me to reproduce here, unfortunately.
December 23, 2005:
EVEN BETTER MOUSEKEEPING: Soon after I posted the item below, I
got a mailing from Gemstone Publishing that explains the very high
price (list of $149.99; $94.49 at amazon)for the hardcover edition.
It's limited to a thousand numbered copies, and, in Russ Cochran's
words, "is made special by the inclusion of ten double-sized
foldout prints made from the original artwork, much of it from the
personal collection of Steve Geppi."
MOUSEKEEPING: David Gerstein's luxurious new paperback, Walt
Disney's Mickey and the Gang, arrived earlier this week,
and it's a beauty, a must-have for anyone with more than a passing
interest in the cartoons that emerged from the Disney studio during
its greatest period, from the middle 1930s to the early 1940s. The
hook is the Disney material that ran in Good Housekeeping
from 1934-44a monthly page that usually told the story of
a new short cartoon in verse, with illustrations by staff artists
(typically Tom Wood or Hank Porter). The GH pages are attractive,
but of limited interest in themselves; what makes the book extraordinary
is the way that David has used each page as the hook for fascinating
explorations of the cartoons involvedhow they were made, how
they were publicized, how they were transformed into comic books,
comic strips, and merchandise of other kinds. Some pages were based
on stories that never made it to screen, and there's artwork from
those unmade cartoons and others (including two pages of storyboards
for a Disney version of Private Snafu). It's a remarkable package,
bracingly original in both conception and execution. (One caveat:
the link above will take you to the amazon.com page for the very
expensive hardcover edition; you'll almost certainly want to buy
the paperback, which costs less than $20. Just click on "paperback"
under "other editions.")
December 20, 2005:
GREG FORD: Reading Michael Sporn's "Splog"
this morning reminds me that I overlooked the fact that Greg Ford
programmed the "Cartoon Musicals" series at the Walter
Reade Theater in New York that I mentioned in yesterday's post.
Greg is the expert at such programming, making the series all the
more recommendable to anyone who'll be in the New York area over
the holidays. Michael advises that the series is sure to sell out,
so don't dawdle.
December 19, 2005:
DISNEYLAND DOCUMENTS: As I mentioned back on December 9,
I've delivered a manuscript for my Walt Disney biography, but I'm
still tracking down stray facts and, I should have added, stray
documents. I've examined and copied thousands of Disney-related
documents over the yearstranscripts of story meetings, interviews,
letters, legal documents, memoranda, and on and onat the Walt
Disney Archives in Burbank and dozens of other locations, but some
items have eluded me. I'm seeking copies of certain Disneyland-related
items, in particular. If anyone has copies of the following items,
or could point me toward them, I'd be delighted to pay reasonable
amounts for copies of my own, or to make a trade:
1. The inventory of the collection of miniatures that Walt displayed
in his office, and Dave Smith's article about that collection in
the February 1978 issue of Small Talk magazine (I've not
been able to locate that issue through interlibrary loan).
2. Walt's August 31, 1948, memo outlining his thoughts on a "Mickey
Mouse Park" in Burbank.
3. The June 1954 report on visits to amusement parks by a Disney
team that included Bill Cottrell.
5. The 1953 "narrative description" of Disneyland that
Karan Ann Marling mentions on page 62 of Designing Disney's Theme
Parks: The Architecture of Reassurance.
6. The 1953 Stanford Research Institute studies for Disneyland (site
and feasibility). I have copies of some of Buzz Price's other reports
for Walt and Roy, but not those two crucial ones.
7. The brief family history by Elias Disney that Bob Thomas mentions
on pages 7-8 of his biography of Roy Disney, Building a Company.
Copies of some of these items are housed at the Disney Archives,
of course, but the Archives has been closed to me and most other
outside researchers for a number of years (I barely made it under
the wire when I was researching Hollywood Cartoons: American
Animation in Its Golden Age). As a result, I've had to rely
on secondary sources in a number of instances where I would much
prefer to rely on primary documents.
In addition to the documents I've listed, I'm sure there are other
documents I don't even know about but that would be of help in rounding
out my portrait of Walt. I don't have a lot of primary material
related to the TV shows, for example. Please don't hesitate to write
if you know of material that might be of use.
POLARIZED: Old-time readers of Funnyworld will remember
Kim Weston's comprehensive article on the unpublished artwork that
Carl Barks drew for the Disney comic books; it was in No. 16, in
1975. Kim and I are back in touch, after a number of years, and
he has contributed some illuminating thoughts on Imax 3-D that I've
added to my Commentary page on Polar
Express, as well as some Barks-related information that
I've added to my page
of additions and corrections for Carl Barks and the Art of
the Comic Book.
BARKS (AND OTHERS) ON DVD: Speaking of Barks, you may have been
intrigued by references to a 9 1/2-minute "bonus feature"
devoted to Barks in the two-DVD Walt Disney Treasures set called
Chronological Donald, Volume Two. This brief survey is a
botch, starting with the closeups of a Disney story man who is supposed
to be Barks but is actually Harry Reeves. This completely avoidable
mistake is made during Leonard Maltin's introduction on the first
disc and repeated during the bonus feature itself.
I doubt that Jerry Beck and the two cartoonists who share most
of the screen time should be blamed for this dismal effort; they've
simply been asked to carry too much of the load. Why ask one of
them to talk about Barks's introduction of Uncle Scrooge when he
has only a vague idea of when it happened (in 1947, not "the
late forties")? Why show so much of other artists' work when
Barks is the ostensible subject? Barks's own brief (and funny) appearance
at the end of the film, from a "Disney Legends" ceremony
at the Burbank studio, comes as a relief.
Maltin has taken heat in some quarters for the poor picture quality
of some of the cartoons in this year's two animated Treasures sets,
the Donald and Disney
Raritiesthere's a big step down from the consistently
high level of the earlier Disney Treasuresbut my own very
limited experience in such matters suggests to me that other people
were responsible. For what it's worth, the two Treasures sets devoted
to live-action televisionone of "The
Adventures of Spin and Marty," from the Mickey Mouse
Club, and the other of "Swamp
Fox" and "Elfego Baca" episodes from the weekly
Disney showlook very good.
I'm amused by the fine line Maltin sometimes has to walk in his
introductions to the Treasures sets, as when he talks about the
people who made the "Baca" and "Swamp Fox" shows
as "storytellers." That's another way of saying they were
hacks. Efficient hackwork is what Walt wanted, and, alas, it's just
what he got. I'm delighted that these shows are available again
in such excellent presentations, especially with Walt's original
introductions, but as to whether they're "treasures" of
any kindwell, let's save that discussion until after a lot
more Disney TV shows have made it onto DVD. I'll buy them all.
NEW YORK EVENTS: I left Manhattan a few days too early this month
to see the blockbuster Pixar
exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art that runs through February
6, but interesting critiques have been published in the New
York Times (the online version corrects a silly mistake
in which Linda Hunt was credited for the voice of Edna Mode, whose
voice was actually provided by Brad Bird) and on the "Splog"
page of Michael Sporn's new Web site.
lower-profile New York event is a Film Society of Lincoln Center
series devoted to cartoon musicals, at the Walter Reade Theater,
which John Benson called to my attention. It'll run December 28-January
4. Click here
for the schedule. Reading over the titles to be shown is to
some extent an exercise in nostalgiaI was instantly reminded
of the pre-video days when such retrospectives were the only, or
almost the only, way to see a lot of these cartoonsbut some
of the films are still scarce on videotape or DVD. If I were in
New York after Christmas, I'd certainly make an effort to see the
program devoted to Walter Lantz's Swing Symphonies and Musical Miniatures
on December 28 (repeated on December 30). "Independently Musical,"
on January 1 (repeated January 3), looks to be more of a mixed bag,
but some of the cartoons on the program, like Mark Kausler's It's
the Cat (illustrated here), are very much worth seeing. And
an Oskar Fischinger program that includes his wonderful Motion
Painting No. 1 (shown twice on January 2) is self-recommending.
BLOGS: I mentioned Michael Sporn's "Splog"
a few paragraphs ago, and it is turning out to be a valuable
source of animation information, especially New York-related. I'll
be paying it regular visits.
Another enjoyable blog I've encountered recently is Jenny
Lerew's. Like Michael Sporn, she's an animation professional,
but on the West Coast, where she works in story for DreamWorks.
(headed "one sketch, long caption") on Fred Moore, Ward
Kimball, and Walt Kelly is especially recommendable. We can only
hope that she'll publish the article on Moore that she researched
when many of his old Disney colleagues were still around to share
their memories of that great animator. She wrote it for Funnyworldin
its post-Barrier phasebut the magazine expired before the
article was published.
are so many excellent blogs now that it's impossible to keep track
of them all, but I can't end without recommending Amid Amidi's new
Modern. Amid, the co-proprietor of the indispensable Cartoon
Brew site, is the author of a forthcoming book on animation
design in the 1950s, as exemplified by UPA, and this site is an
outgrowth of his work. Lots of fascinating stuff here, artwork especially,
but there's also a plaintive memo from Steve Bosustow about the
cost overruns on Gerald McBoing Boing's Symphony, along with
a lot of frame grabs from that cartoon. It's a cartoon that Amid
admires, and that I don'tI find the story insultingly silly,
and I have problems with aspects of the design (when you fill the
screen with figures depicted in transparent line drawings, as in
the frame grab above, the result is likely to be messy, as if a
closet full of coat hangers had gone berserk). But Amid's postings
often make even such relatively unsuccessful cartoons interesting,
and they're a good omen for his book.
December 17, 2005:
STOP THE MOTION: Milt Gray points out a goof in my posting yesterday
about stop-motion animation: "You said that you could hardly
imagine Bob Clampett as a stop-motion director, but didn't Bob show
you those experimental stop-motion films that he made in 1938? I
was surprised how good they were, I thought they were better than
what George Pal did later, but Bob didn't make any more because
Leon Schlesinger insisted that his studio would only turn out animated
I do remember those films; what I should have said, probably,
is that I can't imagine the Bob Clampett of the early forties, when
he was at his peak as a director, finding stop-motion animation
at all satisfactory as a vehicle. The fluidity and spontaneity of
his direction, and of the animation done in response to it, seems
to me incompatible with the incremental, step-by-step nature of
And as Milt also reminds me, I've enjoyed at least one other stop-motion
feature, The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Milt adds: "Inbetweening cartoon animation is kinda
fun (at least for me), but I would never want to have to do stop
motion animation, because how does one know where one is going,
and how does one correct a mistake? That's something I should have
asked Bob Clampett, I guess."
December 16, 2005:
WALLACE & GROMIT: Kel Crum wrote to express disappointment
that I never got around to reviewing Wallace and Gromit: The
Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I saw about twenty minutes of that
feature, actually, before I was defeated by a faulty sound system
and asked for a refund (which the theater gave me without hesitation).
I haven't made any effort to see it again. I have a blind spot where
stop-motion animation is concerned, I'm afraid, and I don't like
to review films for which I have trouble mustering sympathy or interest.
My problem may be that the intense, painstaking labor required to
produce a stop-motion film almost always seems to me disproportionate
to what winds up on the screen. Which is to say, I've never seen
a stop-motion film that I thought was nearly as exciting or funny
as the best hand-drawn or computer-animated films. I can't imagine
very many of the animators and directors I've most admired working
in stop motion. Norm Ferguson as a stop-motion animator? Bob Clampett
as a stop-motion director? The mind boggles. Looking at it from
the outside, as I must, stop motion feels claustrophobic to me,
a feeling I never have where the best hand-drawn animation is concerned,
even though its basis is also small changes, frame to frame. (A
lot of in-betweeners might dispute me on the claustrophobia angle.)
I did enjoy Chicken Run, however.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: My negative review
of John Kricfalusi's Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon
(or Cartoon Party) has been slumbering in a corner of the
site for a couple of years now, but Keithy Sutheren evidently just
discovered it and had this to say about it: "Why do you have
a grudge against Ren and Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon?, theyre so
funny. I think youre jealous that you cannot make a cartoon.You
seem like a real conservative square: a lawyer masquerading as an
animator, now THATS sad. Lets see you make a cartoon, Barrier."
Ah, if only I could attract such dedicated fans.
IGER ON ANIMATION: Yesterday (the thirty-ninth anniversary of Walt
Disney's death) in the Wall Street Journal, Disney's new
CEO Robert Iger said this: "I've concluded that for the company
to be successful long-term creatively, it must get animation right."
Absolutely correct, I think, but a remarkable statement coming from
a Disney CEO, considering that in the Eisner years the Walt Disney
Company seemed to have become more a hotel and cruise-ship operator
than a film producer, much less a leader in animation. Iger was
quoted in an article about the ongoing Disney-Pixar negotiations,
which have become ominously prolonged. I still expect an eventual
renewal of that partnership, however.
December 15, 2005:
THE POP-IN: The current (December 19) issue of The New
Yorker includes an article by Caitlin Flanagan, available online,
called "Becoming Mary Poppins: P. L. Travers, Walt Disney,
and the Making of the Myth." Apart from the author's interview
with Richard Sherman, one half of Disney's songwriting team, it's
mostly a library job that seems to have been assembled with limited
cooperation, if any, from either Travers's estate or the Disney
studio. To me, Flanagan's misreading of the film (like her exaggeration
of its influence on the children who saw it) is sweeping in its
scope, leading to statements like these: "As Mary Poppins slips
away, Mrs. Banks goes to the park with her family [abandoning her
role as a suffragette and] embracing her proper role in the household.
The story's happy ending depends on a signal fact: the Banks children
will no longer be brought up by servants. Henceforth their own mothercorralled
homeward through the beneficient intercessions of Mary Poppinswill
do the job herself. 'Mary Poppins' advocates the kind of family
life that Walt Disney had spent his career both chronicling and
helping to foster on a national level: father at work, mother at
home, children flourishing."
I don't like Mary Poppins much, but my problem with
it is not its allegiance to what might be considered an outmoded
conception of the nuclear family. (Mrs. Banks was made a suffragrette
not because Disney wanted to put her in her place at the end of
the film, but because Glynis Johns had to be given something to
do and, especially, a song to sing.) Mary Poppins's crucial
weakness is a down-to-earth movie weakness, short-sighted casting.
The script's true central character is Mr. Banks, because
the story turns on his transformation; the role required an actor
as strong as, say, Rex Harrison. But Walt Disney cast David Tomlinson
as Mr. Banks instead. Walt wasn't interested in working with actors
as expensive and temperamental as Rex Harrison, but, most important,
he never advanced past the idea that Julie Andrews was necessarily
his star because the film is called Mary Poppins. It thus
seemed natural to him to cast Tomlinson, an excellent supporting
actor, as Mr. Banks. But Tomlinson was confined by mannerisms and
temperament to roles calling for a stuffy, easily ruffled Englishman;
casting him as Mr. Banks meant that there was a fatal lack of weight
at the very center of the film.
Set beside the disastrous casting of Tomlinson, the casting of
Dick Van Dyke (instead of a far more appropriate actor like Tommy
Steele) as a Cockney chimney sweep was merely unfortunate, particularly
so during the extended dance on the rooftops. That number demanded
a strong lead dancer, and there was no way that Van Dyke, as hard
as he worked, and as likable as he was as Bert, could fill that
It was thanks to Walt Disney's decisions, on casting and other
matters, that Mary Poppins wound up as a very long, very
broad film strung together from an assortment of musical numbers,
some irresistibly cheerful, others tiresomely sentimental. As its
special effects and studio-bound sets come to seem more dated, and
its structural weaknesses more obvious, it gets harder and harder
to regard the film as a whole as any kind of classic, however well
some of the individual numbers hold up. I'm sure that fifty years
now, diehard Disney buffs will still be chattering about the "magic"
of Mary Poppins, but by then I doubt that anyone will be
SPORN ON GRILLO: Michael
Sporn responds to Oscar Grillo's deliberately provocative remarks
in my December 14 posting, just below: "As to Oscar Grillo's
suggestion, it would be a good one if animation weren't everything
to me. I haven't suffered my company and its very trying difficulties
for 26 years to take a five-year break so other people can get it
together. Who cares what they or anyone else do? I do my work and
my only reward is the film itself. Oscar is a brilliant animator/artist.
If he has a problem with the work other people are doing or how
that work is being received, he should put that complaint into his
own work somehow."
December 14, 2005:
A MODEST PROPOSAL... : ...from Oscar
Grillo, to wit: "The word ANIMATION (Like POETRY or TRUTH
or LOVE) is of enormous significance, and nowadays it is seldom
taken seriously by its practitioners. I strongly advise anybody
who is involved in this extraordinary form of art to take a deep
breath and meditate about the meaning of it before they enter into
any animated project: unless you mean it, don't bother. It is a
waste of your time and ours. Life's too short to sit in darkened
rooms for a couple of hours watching flashing lights with no meaning.
I would even suggest a moratorium on animated films for a considerable
time to clear the decks and the air...No animated films should be
produced for at least five years!!!"
Anyone who has just seen Chicken
Little may be tempted to agreebut since seeing that
wretched film, I've seen Michael Sporn's The Man Who Walked Between
the Towers (the complete film, not just the clip on his Web
site), and I daresay that most people lucky enough to see it
will not want to take Oscar's pledge.
SECOND SIGHT: There's always the danger, when you revisit a fondly
remembered film, that it will seem less impressive on a second viewing.
So, when I went to see The Polar Express in Imax 3D in New
York earlier this month, it was with a certain trepidation. I loved
the "flat" version I saw early this year, as I said in
but I worried that a second viewing would call my original enthusiasm
Not to worry. The 3D version is especially impressive, for
reasons like those John Benson sets out in his addendum to my review,
but I wouldn't change a word of what I wrote last February about
the "flat" version. I realize that enthusiasm for Polar
Express is regarded as rank heresy in some quarters, but I'm
sorry, I can't help it (and my heresy is ranker than you might thinkI've
really enjoyed Waking Life both times I've seen it, too).
I would hesitate to watch Polar Express on DVDI think
it needs a big screen, even a flat one, more than most moviesbut
I pity anyone who passes up a chance to see this extraordinary film
in Imax 3D.
Now I have to work up the courage to buy or rent the DVD of Madagascar,
another film I expected to hate but didn't.
December 13, 2005:
JOE GRANT: You can read excerpts from my 1988 interview with the
renowned Disney artist and story man, who died last spring, by clicking
December 12, 2005:
CHICKEN LITTLE: You can read my commentary on Disney's latest by
December 9, 2005:
AS I WAS SAYING...: I didn't expect to take quite so long
a leave of absence from the site to work on my Walt Disney biography,
but that's what happened. That book is not "finished,"
by any means. Although I delivered a manuscript to University of
California Press on November 28, I'm still tracking down lots of
stray facts, and I expect to revise the book in various ways after
it has come under the scrutiny of several expert readers. But I'm
now over the hump, and I plan to update the site with some frequency
in the next few weeks. I have a Joe Grant interview all but ready
to post, and, thanks to good friend Didier Ghez, some older material,
from Funnyworld and other sourcesa Hugh Harman interview,
for instanceis now in digital form, and I'll be posting it,
too. I was in New York for a few days earlier this month and saw
both Polar Express and Chicken Little in 3D, and I'll
soon weigh in on those two films, the latter especially. (I actually
saw three 3D films on that trip, since the Radio City Music
Hall Christmas show opens with a dazzling short 3D cartoon, but
I wouldn't encourage anyone to spend $85 just to see that film.
If you have the chance to see it for a more reasonable amount, do.)
SPORN: I've written elsewhere on the site about the films of Michael
Sporn, a New York-based independent animator whose work I've
admired for many years. Michael has just put up a wonderful site
devoted to his work, and I strongly recommend a visit. Be sure
to play the video clips from six of his cartoons; taken together,
they give an excellent sense of what is so special about his best
work. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (illustrated
above) is a leading candidate for the Academy Award. Michael has
been nominated only once before, twenty years ago, for the charming
Doctor De Soto, and it is long past time that he was recognized
not only by more nominations but also by an Oscar. Michael is devoted
to hand-drawn animation, the currently unfashionable "2D"
kind, and his best films are eloquent evidence that hand-drawn animation
is capable of a subtlety and emotional power that computer-generated
animation so far cannot match.
PEOPLE, VOLUME TWO: Speaking of Didier Ghez, as I was an item or
two ago, he has just published the second volume of Walt's People,
a trade-paperback series devoted to collecting interviewsoften
difficult or impossible to find otherwisewith people who worked
on the Disney cartoons, usually with Walt himself. Here's a brief
description from Didier's press release: "Walt's People
- Volume 2 features in-depth interviews with artists Friz Freleng,
Grim Natwick, Frank Tashlin, Ward Kimball, Floyd Gottfredson, Herb
Ryman, Frank Thomas, Dale Oliver, Eric Larson, Woolie Reitherman,
Richard Rich, and Glen Keane. These interviews discuss among many
other subjects 'the Bambi that never was,' the challenge
of animating The Jungle Book with the smallest animation
crew in years, the frustrations and joys of Eric Larson and Woolie
Reitherman, and the creation of The Black Cauldron. It contains
hundreds of new stories about the Studio and its artists and should
delight even the most serious historians and enthusiasts."
I'm among the contributors, who also include Robin Allan, Paul F.
Anderson, J.B. Kaufman, Jim Korkis, Mike Lyons, John Province, Thorkil
Rasmussen, Christian Renaut, Arn Saba, and Klaus Strzyz. The book
will be available early next year through online booksellers like
amazon.com (where you can already buy the
first volume). In the meantime, you can buy it directly from
the publisher (for only $18.69) by going to this Web