"What's New" Archives: January 2005
January 19, 2005:
HIATUS: I'll be traveling much of the time for the next few weeks,
so the site will be quiet. When I come back, I'll have the welcome
opportunity to consider two new DVDs collecting the work of the
independent animator Joanna
Priestley. Independent animation isn't easy to see anywhere,
and certainly not here in the heartlandthat's one reason I
write so little about itand it's encouraging to think that
DVDs like Priestley's may make up for the chronic lack of theatrical
January 15, 2005:
BI-POLAR: On one of my frequent visits to Harry
McCracken's Web site, I ran across this comment from Jerry Beck,
co-proprietor of the indispensable Cartoon
Brew site, in response to my favorable review of The
"Mike seems to appreciate the dreamlike quality of
the visuals. As I said in my review on Cartoon Brew, I could've
bought that had they bookended the film with live action. What explains
the dreamlike quality of the non-dream opening and closing sequences?"
I think the key word here is "dreamlike," as distinct
from "dream." The film doesn't tell us where reality stops
and dream begins, or even if they're fundamentally different. The
boundary between the two is highly fluid. It's just such ambiguityand
mysterythat distinguishes The Polar Express from most
children's entertainments, and that makes it so appealing to me.
DAVID HAND: The first interview I posted on this site was with
Walt Disney's second-in-command during the Disney studio's golden
years and the man in charge of bringing Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs and Bambi to the screen. After he left Disney
in 1944, Hand went to England, where he started and ran a cartoon
studio for the J. Arthur Rank organization. That studio made only
nineteen cartoons before Rank shut it down in 1950.
of those cartoons, all in the "Animaland"
series, were first released on DVD a few years ago, but now
they have reappeared in an enhanced package from Image Entertainment
that includes an 18-minute biography read by Dave Hand's son, David
Hale Hand, a filmography, remarkable photos of "Animaland"
merchandise, and a sampling of Hand's gag cartoons for magazines.
The "Animaland" cartoons themselves are not competitive
with the best Hollywood cartoonsthey couldn't be, given that
Hand had to build his animation studio from the ground upbut
they're fascinating, even so. There are strong hints in some of
them, like Ginger Nutt's Christmas Circus, that Hand's studio
might eventually have produced outstanding cartoons with a distinctive
British flavor. I recommend the DVD to anyone who cares about Hollywood
January 10, 2005:
POLAR EXPRESS IN 3-D: John Benson wrote in response to my speculation
below about the 3-D version of The
Polar Express: "I don't agree that the 3-D doesn't
enhance the entire film. Many effects may not be evident in the
2-D version. The wolves, for example; not just when they're running,
but the first stationary long shot of them with the train in the
background, which I found startlingly beautiful and unexpected.
Or even something as small as the reflection in the hubcap in the
boy's bedroom. Mixing 3-D with 2-D in the same
feature would not only be technically a problem but would be disconcerting.
You accept the technical form that a film is made in as a given
(b&w vs. color, scope vs. standard ratio, sound vs. silent,
etc.), but when it switches in mid-film you're disconcertingly made
it. Especially if you'd have to put on and take off 3-D glasses.
I think you should see the 3-D version before deciding whether it's
The Polar Express isn't playing in 3-D anywhere near where
I live now; neither is it playing in the Washington-Baltimore area,
where I used to live and still visit. It is, however, playing in
Boston, where I'll be for a few days in early February. I'll hope
that Polar Express is still playing in 3-D then. It may be;
evidently the 3-D version is so good that the seasonal connection
isn't as important as it otherwise might be.
January 9, 2005:
POLAR EXPRESS: I finally got around to seeing it a few days ago,
and, to my surprise, I loved it. Click here
to find out why.
I saw Polar Express flat, but it's also showing in
a 3-D version that I haven't seen. Parts of the film, like the dazzling
"hot chocolate" dance routine and the train's roller-coaster
ride, cry out for 3-D, but I don't think other parts of it would
benefit. I wonder if Polar Express would not best be seen
partly flat and partly in 3-D, if today's film technology permitted
such a thing. In this respect, as in others, this movie may be just
a little ahead of its time.
January 4, 2005:
WILL EISNER: I don't usually post "breaking news"
on this sitesites like Cartoon
Brew do that much better than I ever couldbut I can't
help but take notice of the death yesterday of Will Eisner, creator
of "The Spirit." I won't dilate now on what I thought
was so special about Eisner's work; I've already done that, in a
piece posted here.
Suffice it to say that I think Eisner was one of the three great
geniuses of the American comic book, the others being Carl Barks
and Harvey Kurtzman. Now all of them are gone. Eisner was 87 when
he died. I last saw him in 2003, when he spoke at the Library of
Congress, but I'd read about him since in admiring articles in the
New York Times and the Washington Post; I'm grateful
that he lived long enough to be recognized by such institutions
as the great artist he was.
January 1, 2005:
LIVE-ACTION WALT: Charles Ilardi writes about my recent
guide" to Walt Disney's live-action features on DVD: "I
have no doubt youve picked the best of the crop (I still
remember being four years old and waiting in line for hours
outside Radio City Music Hall to watch That Darn Cat;
those scars havent healed yet!). But I must call attention
Three Lives of Thomasina. As an animation fan and a fan
of The Prisoner (there are a few of us!) I was most surprised
by the presence of Patrick McGoohan in a Disney film, acting at
his most Number Six surliest. Additionally, hes surrounded
by future Prisoner comrades like actor Finlay Currie (a Disney
Brit-film vet) and director Don Chaffey. (Incidentally, the cameraman,
Paul BeesonTo Sir, With Love, The Saintdidnt
work on The Prisoner, but he was second-unit cameraman on
Raiders of the Lost Ark, for whom the second-unit director
was David Tomblin, producer of The Prisoner!) Anyway, McGoohan
must surely give the earthiest performance ever in a Disney production,
and at times the combination of the realistic atmosphere and the
magical elements of the Paul Gallico story dont gel. It is
interesting to watch, nonetheless, and Im curious what you
and your readers think of this film."
me, Thomasina is one of the many Disney live-action films
that suffer from Walt's reliance on TV-trained directors (who sometimes
returned to TV after working for him). Walt apparently valued their
efficiency, but fast set-ups and the skillful marshaling of actors
too often came at the cost of sliding over crucial character relationships.
In Thomasina, we're left with questions whose answers a more
sensitive director would have suggested through his principals'
responses to one another: Why is the father (the McGoohan character)
so cold? Is it because he fears being hurt grievously again if anything
should happen to his daughter? Does he not see in Thomasina's death
and his daughter's grief an analogue to his own grief? And so on.
It's just such questions that Ken Annakin anticipates and answers
in his four films for Disney, through his sympathetic handling of
his actors. He does it so smoothly that it's tempting to assume
that the answers were always there; but they weren't.
Gene Schiller writes about one of those Annakin films: "Thanks
for steering us towards Third
Man on the Mountain, a thoroughly enjoyable film, though
you might have mentioned William Alwyn's fine score." A good
point. The music for most Disney live-action films is so dreadfula
constant auditory poke in the ribsthat it would be a shame
not to acknowledge the rare good score. Let me also recommend Max
Steiner's score for Those
Calloways, one of the many coulda-been-good Disney films.
INTERVIEWS: With one exceptionthe Fess
Parker interviewthe interviews I've published on the site
were recorded years or even decades ago. A good friend of the site
wrote recently to suggest that I pursue an interview with one of
today's hot animation directors, and I asked another good friend
of the site what he thought of that idea. His answer:
"Prior to Funnyworld, the past generation [of animation
filmmakers] was almost never interviewed, so we knew nothing about
what they did or how they thought. But today's generation is so
extensively interviewed that we already know everything about themwe
know what they're going to do before they do it. That's why it is
probably a waste of your time to put any effort into interviewing
the new guys. Plus, most of the new guys, being the center of so
much media attention, already have egos as big as Chuck Jones' after
he began getting so much media attention. Better to stick with Fess
Well said. I flatter myself that I might be able to ask people
like Brad Bird questions that other interviewers aren't asking,
but with so many interviews in print, it seems likely that most
of the pertinent questions are being covered.
And as to whether the PR people for the major cartoon studios
would even entertain an interview request from the proprietor of
a Web site that never gets more than a couple of thousand page hits
on its very best days...probably I'm better off not knowing.
AUTHORS: Joshua Wilson, whose thoughtful message about my book
Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age,
prompted me to put up a new Feedback
page devoted to the book, wrote again after reading my response
to his message: "When I said I couldnt imagine the author
of Hollywood Cartoons laughing at the Tom and Jerry short
Solid Serenade, I really meant the 'author' persona that
arises in my mind from the tone of the writing. Its a concept
I have a hard time describing, but that objective, serious tone
gives the impression of a serious mind behind the words."
When I read Josh's message, I was reminded of a passage at the
end of George Orwell's essay on Dickens, when Orwell writes about
how an author's persona can be distinct from the author himself:
"When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing,
one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page.
It is not necessarily the face of the writer. ... What one sees
is the face that the writer ought to have. Well, in the case
of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens's
photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man about
forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with
a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity."
I have the feeling, based on the messages I receive, that at least
a few of my readers do see a face behind the page. Whether it's
always the face I'd choose that they see is another question, of
course. Sometimes I think they see a rather severe face, brow knotted
and head shaking as if to say, "Won't do, won't do at all."
But better that face than none at all, I suppose.
RESURRECTIONS: If you subscribed to Funnyworld around 1978,
you got a premium: a record containing a short interview with Jack
Mercer, the great voice of Popeye, conducted by the New York cartoon
maker Michael Sporn. That interview is available again, as one of
the many added features on a DVD, "Popeye
Original Classics," made up otherwise of excellent transfers
of the Fleischer Popeye cartoons that are in the public domain.
King Features' continuing refusal to approve video releases of the
Fleischer and Famous Popeyeseven as it gives its blessing
to a hideous CGI version of the characteris one of animation's
greatest disgraces. Buying the new DVD, from Steve Stanchfield's
Thunderbean Animation, is an excellent way to thumb your nose at
the smug fools who run King.