"What's New" Archives: June-August 2005
August 26, 2005:
TOONFEST: The good folks in Marceline, Missouri, Walt Disney's
very likable hometown, have updated their Web site for the annual
Toonfest, which will be held
this year on September 16-17.
MULTIPLE PERSONALITY DISORDER: In this New
York Times article,
Caryn James writes about the current Broadway production Lennon,
in which nine different actors portray the late Beatle over the
course of the eveningmost unsatisfactorily, almost everyone
seems to agree. As James says, "Multiple casting goes too strongly
against the very concept of a coherent dramatized character."
Of course, you can't tell that to the animators and fans
who blather about animated acting but take it for granted that nine
or ten animators can portray the same character successfully over
the course of feature.
True casting by character, so that one animator handles
virtually all of a character's scenes (excepting only those that
would be doubled or second-unit scenes in a live-action film) is
certainly no cure-all, as witness the recent Disney features animated
at least somewhat along those lines. But I'm increasingly convinced
that without it, there's no way that animated acting can achieve
the kind of screen presence we take for granted with the best acting
in live-action films; and without such screen presence, animated
actingand the films of which it's a partwill always
be a marginal cinematic activity.
Alternatively, we have the casting by sequence that Frank Thomas
and Ollie Johnston promote so enthusiastically in Disney Animation:
The Illusion of Life, and that gives us the animation equivalent
of those nine John Lennons. Such animation is inevitably either
incoherent or superficial, or both.
Animation of that kind is probably more fun for the animators (and
no doubt those nine John Lennons are having a good time, too). It
can also be more fun for critics like me, who can rhapsodize over,
say, the brilliant timing of a scene without paying much attention
to whether the scene ultimately makes sense in terms of the character
that is supposedly being portrayed.
But such animation is terribly destructive of the art form, and
I'm afraid the widespread acceptance of the validity of the Thomas-Johnston
approach is a measure of just how hermetically sealedand intellectually
stuntedthe world of animation really is.
August 21, 2005:
CALARTS TRIBUTE AT MOMA: This from Josh Siegel:
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, will pay tribute to CalArts
with a film and video exhibition taking place in May 2006. Celebrating
35 years of remarkably inventive and sophisticated student work,
this historical survey will feature films and videos produced by
the following departments: Film and Video, Experimental Animation,
Character Animation, and Film Directing. Also included are films
and videos produced in the MFA program.
Current students and alumni are invited to submit their films and
videos for consideration. Please send these, along with a CV and
any descriptive materials, to
Film and Media Curator
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
Film prints will be returned. Videocassettes, unless they are unique,
The MoMA curator of the exhibition, Josh Siegel, also welcomes
any suggestions about CalArts graduates and where they might be
contacted. Please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
August 8, 2005:
BUGS 'N MAX: Tex Avery once expressed wonder that Disney didn't
sue Warner Bros. for copyright infringement because Bugs Bunny so
closely resembled Max Hare, the star of Disney's Silly Symphony
Tortoise and the Hare. It seems that the beloved Bunny really
may have dodged a bullet. This from the Motion Picture Academy's
Margaret Herrick Library:
On November 18, 1949, Gunther Lessing, Disney's legal counsel,
wrote to Art Arthur, executive secretary of the Motion Picture Industry
Council, to thank him for sending a clipping of a piece on character
merchandising that mentioned Bugs Bunny repeatedly, and Disney not
"The peculiar circumstance," Lessing wrote, "is
the fact that 'Bugs Bunny,' according to our contention, is an absolute
infringement of our character, 'Max Hare.' Some time ago [Leon]
Schlesinger wrote us a nasty letter claiming that we were infringing
his 'Bugs Bunny.' Walt and I decided that we might as well live
and let live notwithstanding the fact that 'Max Hare' preceded 'Bugs
Bunny' by more than five or six years. So we gave Schlesinger a
license to use his character. I wrote the letter of transmittal
and it so formally related opposition that Schlesinger never replied.
However he did retain the license agreement."
Was Schlesinger joking when he complained about Max Hare? Did Disney,
or more likely Lessing, simply not get it? Harry Tytle writes in
his memoir One of "Walt's Boys" of hearing that
"Walt kiddingly sent a letter authorizing Warners to use the
character." That sounds believable. It's Lessing's letter that
sounds truly strange.
BOOK BEAT: Some time ago, I republished my 1987 review
of John Canemaker's Winsor McCay: His Life and Art and lamented
the unavailability of that fine book. I'm happy to say it will soon
be back in print; you can order it from amazon.com by clicking here.
(Bear in mind, if you search for the book on amazon's site, that
the illiterati there have spelled its subject's name "McKay.")
Another book you should be pre-ordering is Daniel Goldmark's Tunes
for 'Toons: Music and the Hollywood Cartoon. Daniel teaches
in the music department at Case Western Reserve University, and
he is that lamentably rare specimen, a professor involved with animation
who loves his subject, writes well about it, and enjoys sharing
his very extensive knowledge. Such a subversive attitude will not
win him many friends in the Society for Animation Studies, I'm afraid.
July 29, 2005:
HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE: I'm still struggling to find time for the
site, but I've added a Commentary page with a few thoughts about
Hayao Miyazaki's latest feature.
July 10, 2005:
THE SITE NEGLECT: I've let the site go hang for the last month or
so while I've been occupied with travel and research for my Walt
Disney biography. I spent a couple of weeks in June in Los Angeles
and vicinity, where I devoted one Saturday to visiting and revisiting
a good many Disney-related sites. One such was Forest Lawn, the
huge cemetery in Glendale, where I took the accompanying photograph.
I'd somehow never gotten around to visiting the place before; for
me, it's the piped-in music that makes it seem so strange.
Along the way, at an L.A. library, I uncovered a fascinating letter
from Gunther Lessing that I'll describe soon. Bugs Bunny may have
come closer than anyone ever imagined to suffering the fate of Milton
I expect to see Howl's Moving Castle this week, and I'll
probably weigh in on that, too.
June 12, 2005:
TIMELY LINKS: A couple of interesting pieces in today's New
York Times, one on Miyazaki,
inspired by the release of Howl's Moving Castle (which I
hope to review later this month), and the othera short and
children's reluctance to believe that parts of a live-action film
were not computer-animated.
June 11, 2005:
MARCELINE'S TOONFEST: I wrote a few months ago about
Marceline, Missouri, the good little town where Walt Disney
spent five crucial years of his boyhood. It holds a "Toonfest"
every year in Walt's honor, and this year's will be on Friday, September
16, and Saturday, September 17. Some excerpts from the press release:
Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Jim Borgman
will lead a contingent of the world's most talented creators of
cartoons and entertainment to Marceline's vintage Uptown Theater
where they will show and tell audiences what they do and how they
Glenn and Gary McCoy, National Cartoonists Society Reuben
Awards winners, and creators of the zany new "Flying McCoys"
newspaper panel cartoon, (Glenn also creates editorial cartoons
and "The Duplex" comic strip), will join Jim Borgman and
more great talents to headline free humorous and informative presentations.
The McCoy brothers, whose banter rivals their cartoons, will be
Toonfest theater programs co-masters of ceremonies. Presentations
at the Uptown Theater are from 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Friday for high school
students (including a lunch break), and 12:30-5 p.m. Saturday for
the general public.
The all-star lineup at the Uptown continues with Tony Baxter.
Baxter began work at Disneyland as a teenage grounds sweeper and
rode his successful theme park and ride ideas to the position of
Senior Vice President Creative Development, Walt Disney Imagineering.
Cartoonist Tom Wilson Jr. will draw his naive star, "Ziggy,"
and share with Toonfest audiences his insight into what makes America's
most lovable comics page loser a big winner with millions of readers.
Three-time Academy Award nominee Pete Docter is a Pixar Animation
writer, animator, director and more, whose credits include hits
Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bug's Life,
and Monsters, Inc., and an epic in development he can't talk
about yet. Docter will show and tell Toonfest audiences "how
we do that."
All Toonfest headliners will be Grand Marshals in a gala parade
beginning Saturday morning at 10. Other Saturday events include
a cartoon exhibit sponsored by the National Cartoonists Society
North Central Chapter at the Masonic Hall. Included will be works
by Toonfest headliners and the opportunity to meet them in person.
For more Toonfest information, including events, schedule, how
to get there and where to stay; and about submitting cartoons to
the Toonfest exhibition, contact a Toonfest Ambassador at email@example.com,
660-376-9258, or Walt Disney's Hometown Toonfest, 207 N. Main St.
USA, Marceline MO 64658.
There's also a Toonfest Web site,
but the last time I checked it still had information up about last
June 7, 2005:
FLEISCHER ON MAX: Yesterday I received my copy of Out
of the Inkwell: Max Fleischer and the Animation Revolution,
Richard Fleischer's biography of his father, a book I first wrote
about in my March 9 posting. It's a compact, handsome book, with
lots of great photos. I'll post detailed comments later, but for
now, let me repeat some of what I said three months ago, after I'd
read the book in manuscript:
"The Max whom his employees observed, and whom they
have described in interviews with a number of writers, was consistent
with the Max in this booka conservative burgher of steady
habits, an obsessive tinkerer and inventorbut much of Richard
Fleischer's rich anecdotal material could only have come from a
member of Max's immediate family. .. I came away from the book feeling
that I knew Max better than before, and that I liked him more. The
book also fills gaps, both large and small, in the historical record."
The book is available now from amazon.com, and you can order it
by clicking here.