"What's New" Archives: May 2006
May 30, 2006:
NO BIGAMOUSE: In regard to the item just below, Dave Smith of the
Disney Archives says: "It's sloppy reporting. Neal was talking
about Walter Winchell [the subject of an earlier Gabler biography],
not Walt Disney."
May 28, 2006:
BIGAMOUSE?: From a Seattle
report on BookExpo America, the book industry's annual meeting
in Washington earlier this month:
"Biographies of two very different cartoonists are coming
our way: Linda H. Davis' 'Charles Addams: A Cartoonist's Life,'
about the legendary New Yorker contributor who specialized in ghoul
humor, and Neal Gabler's 'Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American
Imagination,' which uncovers some unusual information about the
man behind Mickey Mouse and Disneyland ... for instance, that he
married his second wife without quite divorcing his first. A cheery,
energetic Gabler was at the Knopf dinner at the Corcoran Gallery
on Friday night, describing the detective work he had to do to track
down any information on Wife No. 1."
No, I don't know what that's about.
May 26, 2006:
MCCAY: Jeet Heer's fine piece on Winsor
McCay (and secondarily on the "Masters
of American Comics" exhibit) is now online at the Virginia
Quarterly Review's Web site. Highly recommended.
WALT'S TRAINS: The magazine Miniature Locomotive ran a cover
story on Walt Disney's backyard railroad in its May-June 1952 issue,
and I'm having trouble finding a copy of that article (no luck with
inter-library loan). Does anyone have it? I'll be happy to pay for
May 25, 2006:
TURTLES: John Lasseter may be on the cover of the current issue
of Fortune, but it was an article in the Wall Street Journal
last week that offered what seemed to be an exceptionally clear
picture of the animation industry's future. I don't think it's pretty.
Some excerpts from the Journal's piece, by Cris Prystay and
Geoffrey A. Fowler:
Kao spent 23 yearsand earned a small fortunemaking plastic
Christmas trees in China and selling them to Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
and other big retailers. Then his son, Francis, came home from college
in the U.S. and persuaded him to trade in 10,000 factory workers
for 350 computer animators and a long shot at Hollywood glory. Today,
a company that once was the world's biggest artificial-tree maker
has morphed into one of Asia's biggest digital-animation studios.
[Imagi is the current name of the Kaos' Hong Kong company, earlier
called Boto International Holdings.] It is now halfway through making
a new, $35 million 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' movie, which Time
Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. and Weinstein Co. are set to distribute
in the spring of 2007. ...
"Michael had fled Shanghai at the age of 6 with his family
to escape China's Cultural Revolution. He began working as a tailor
at 13. Like many Hong Kong entrepreneurs, he had learned to be nimble.
'I told him the Christmas tree and animation businesses are the
same. We have cheaper labor costs here, the same as when he started
the tree business,' Francis recalls. 'These businesses will come
East [to Asia]. I told him this is the second wave.'
"In 2000, Michael issued new ... shares to raise about $6.5
million to fund the fledgling animation studio. 'I fully supported
[Francis], but still in the beginning I worried,' says Michael.
'He was spending money.'
"The business faltered at times. Francis hired animators and
began work on 'Zentrix,'an anime-style cartoon about a red-haired
princess, her pet dinosaur and her robot. Francis remembers attending
a TV industry show in Cannes, France in 2001, with just six minutes
of animation to exhibit. He set up a booth. No stopped by or even
asked for his card.
"'I had no experience on how it worked. It turned out you
have to make appointments with all the different buyers ahead of
time,' he says. 'We didn't even have a script to show.'He and his
animators sat in the booth and drank beer instead.
"The next year, Francis booked appointments in advance and
returned with a full pilot of 'Zentrix.' Distributors in France,
Germany, England, Hong Kong and Japan picked it up." ...
"Francis bought a controlling stake in a financially troubled
Japanese computer-animation studio specializing in anime. He quickly
parlayed the company's contacts at DreamWorks SKG, the U.S. movie
company, to promote Imagi's capabilities.
"DreamWorks invited Imagi to vie with other animation studios
to work on 'Father of the Pride,'a primetime animated TV show. Imagi
got the gig. Soon, Francis's animators were soaking up techniques
from experts DreamWorks sent to Hong Kong to see the project through.
Meanwhile, Francis, who wanted Imagi to start creating its own characters
for its own films, began hiring a U.S. executive team to market
the feature-length films he hoped to make. ...
"The $35 million 'Ninja Turtles' film will be one of the most
expensive movies ever made in Hong Kong, but it will cost far less
than what a U.S. animation studio would spend. (Pixar Animation
Studios, for example, spent $90 million to make The Incredibles.)
Imagi, which has a director, scriptwriters and artists in Hollywood,
is backed by 350 animators in Hong Kong, who crank out work for
one-fifth the cost of U.S. animators, Imagi says."
CHICKEN LITTLE: Gene Schiller writes to offer a dissent
negative view (shared by a lot of others, I must add): "The
and my own disenchantment with CGI kept me away from
Chicken Little during its theatrical run, but I finally caught
up with it on DVD. Refreshingly, and unlike most CGI, it felt like
a cartoon! C. Little is obviously modeled after McKimsons
Egghead Jr., automobiles have a nice rubbery feel to them, like
something out of an old Flip the Frog cartoon, and the alien designs
are the coolest since Ward Kimballs Mars and Beyond.
As for the funky 'fish out of water,' I imagine the great Clampett
would have said, 'Why didnt I think of that?' True, the characterizations
are pat, but so whatonce the War of the Worlds subplot kicks
in theres a madcap energy that doesnt quit. And the
plot twists near the end ( a homage to both The Wizard of Oz
and Pee-Wees Big Adventure) are clever and surprising.
In fact, Id say the last 20 minutes or so represent the best
use of CGI weve seen to date. In all, I found Chicken Little
a pleasant surprise, and more fun than expected. Give the little
guy a break."
May 23, 2006:
COMICS ON THE WEB: Larry Levine, whose internet comic strip
"Aw Prunes" I mentioned
last week, writes: "I agree the Web is a tough springboard
for a comic strip with so many strips out there, of wide ranging
quality, seeking to reach an audience. With classic 2D animation
on the wane it's tougher than ever for a cartoonist to find an income-generating
forum. I see Web comics in the same light as how comedians like
The Marx Brothers began in vaudeville, where the acts were plentiful
and mostly unremarkable before reaching their greater successes.
One has to start somewhere, strive to be reach their audience and
remember not to quit their day job!"
Tiago Cardoso has written about a somewhat similar site,
"a new and free site, where users can draw their comic strips
directly online. It's really fun and has some cool features. Other
users' drawings are drawn in 'real time' and are ranked by everyone.
Strips can be viewed by ranking, date, or user. Anyone can even
blog their comics with one line of code (an iFrame link). This is
an important resource to artists wanting to publish their work online
without the knowledge to create a website. And it's a good initiative
for comic art."
If you find that a little hard to grasp, you'll have to visit the
site. Such activity certainly seems healthy to me, although I can't
guess what it will lead to.
CALARTS AT MOMA: This from Josh Siegel, film and media curator
at the Museum of Modern Art in New York: "'Tomorrowland: CalArts
in Moving Pictures' is finally opening at MoMA this Thursday [May
25] and there's an embarrassment of cartoon riches: student work
by many luminaries from Pixar including John Lasseter, Joe Ranft,
Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Ralph Eggleston; as well as Henry
Selick, Paul Demeyer, Stephen Hillenburg, Craig McCracken, Kathy
Rose, Joanna Priestley, Steve Belfer, Q. Allan Brocka, Nancy Beiman,
Mike Cachuela, Max Weintraub, Jorgen Klubien, Gary Conrad, Leon
Joosen. Chris Sanders, David Daniels, Eric Darnell, Adam Beckett
(a big rediscovery; he worked on visual effects for the original
Star Wars), and new talents like Hiroshi Mori and JJ Villard."
MoMA series will run until August 13 in the Roy and Niuta Titus
Theater 2. Details on the 37 (sic!) programs, as well as on MoMA's
hours and admission prices, are available at MoMA's
Web site. If you live in the New York area or will be visiting
there this summer, you owe it to yourself to at least sample some
of the programs in the series (and if you're going to sample very
many of them, you ought to become a MoMA member and save yourself
some money). The 45-minute "School of Pixar" program,
which will be shown on June 7 at 6:30 p.m. and June 24 at 2 p.m.is
of special interest, since it's made up of student films by familiar
Pixar names like Lasseter, Docter, Ranft, and Stanton. Josh has
provided this list of titles and timings (in alphabetical order):
Mark Andrews, Tarzan, 1993, 3 min
Max Brace, A Date with Suzie, 1995, 2 min
Ken Bruce, Sis, 1986, 5 min
Brenda Chapman, A Birthday, 1987, 3 min
Pete Docter, Winter, 1988, 2 min
Pete Docter, Next Door, 1990, 3 min
Ralph Eggleston, For the Birds, 2000, 3 min
Daniel Holland, Train Crazy, 2003, 3 min
Karen Kiser, Solitaires Sanctuary, 1985, 6 min
John Lasseter, Nitemare, 1979, 4 min
John Lasseter, The Lady and the Lamp, 1979, 4 min
Matt Majers and Jon Fancher, Man, Monkey, Marshmallow, 1999, 2
Bobby Podesta, smoke
, 1997, 4 min
Joe Ranft, Good Humor, 1979, 3 min
Jim Reardon, A Jim Reardon Film, 1986, 4 min
Andrew Stanton, A Story, 1987, 4 min.
Doug Sweetland, Blind Spot, 1993, 3 min.
Mark Walsh, Extra Crispy, 1997, 4 min
Mike Wu, Legend of Shaolin, 1994, 2 min
The New York Times published this
piece about the series last Sunday.
May 19, 2006:
WALT'S PEOPLE, VOLUME THREE: I've previously called your
attention to the first two volumes in Didier Ghez's series of books
called Walt's People: Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew
Him. Didier has just released the third volume in the series,
which you can order from Xlibris by clicking on
this link. (The book will be available through online retailers
like amazon.com later this year.) If you're at all interested in
Disney history, you should own copies of all three volumes.
As the title indicates, these uniquely valuable books collect interviewsmany
of them unpublished or otherwise unavailablewith animators
and other members of the Disney staff, many of whom knew Walt Disney
personally and worked closely with him in the Disney studio's glory
years. To quote from Didier's press release, "Volume 3 features
in-depth interviews with artists James Algar, Lee Blair, Jack Bradbury,
Andreas Deja, Joe Grant, Ben Sharpsteen, Bill Justice, Volus Jones,
Ward Kimball, Burny Mattinson, Floyd Norman, Bill Peet, and Tony
Strobl. These interviews discuss, among many other subjects, the
infamous 1941 strike, the creation of the Donald Duck shorts, the
birth of Chip 'n Dale, the making of The True Life Adventures, and
life at the Studio 'after Walt.'"
I've been happy to contribute some of my own interviews to all
three volumes, and the new book also includes interviews conducted
by such stalwarts of Disney research as Robin Allan, Paul F. Anderson,
J.B. Kaufman, and Jim Korkis. You'll find quotations from some of
the interviews in the first two volumes in my Disney biography.
May 18, 2006:
COAL BLACK: Thanks to Bill Perkins for calling my
attention to the laudatory article
about Bob Clampett's Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs
Weinman on the Web site of the Canadian magazine Maclean's.
I particularly like the title: "The Best Cartoon You've Never
Seen." There's one small error in Jaime's piece: Clampett died
in 1984, not 1980.
CASE YOU MISSED IT: What is apparently a rather beat-up copy of
Mickey Mouse Magazine Vol. l, No. 1, from 1935the magazine
that eventually morphed into Walt Disney's Comics & Stories
in 1940just sold on eBay for $1,436. No, I didn't buy it;
someone from Taiwan did.
INTERNET COMICS: Larry Levine, who describes
himself as a big fan of this site and as a cartoonist inspired by
Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones, has asked that I make other visitors
aware of his internet comic strip, "Aw,
Prunes." So that's what I'm doing. "Aw, Prunes"
runs in the Comics Sherpa section of Universal Press Syndicate's
uComics site; it's a place where aspiring cartoonists offer daily
samples of their work, in most cases, I'm sure, in the hope of attracting
enough visitors, and enough favorable ratings from those visitors,
to persuade UPS to offer their strips to newspapers. The sheer volume
of available strips is staggering; even the list of editors' picks
(daily installments they found particularly appealing) seems to
go on forever. And there's the rub with the Web: it makes it easier
than ever to offer your work to a potential audience, and harder
than ever to get noticed. I don't know of any way out of that box.
May 17, 2006:
SINCERITY: When I wrote about Cars on May 6, I suggested
that Pixar might have a problem with "sincerity" because
its new film appeared to be telling the members of its audience
to adopt a point of view that the filmmakers could not plausibly
claim to embrace wholeheartedly themselves. To quote a Disney press
release, Cars' central theme is that "there are more
important things than trophies, fame and sponsorship." People
who want to succeed at making Hollywood filmsand John Lasseter
and his Pixar colleagues have been very successfulhave no
choice but to regard "trophies, fame and sponsorship,"
or their near equivalents, as very important things indeed. If they
don't, they won't be able to keep making films.
I'm afraid that Richard
Corliss's rave review in Time has heightened my apprehension.
Corliss writes of "the truth of any Lasseter film: friendship
is family. ... A brief stay in [the town of] Radiator Springs brings
Lightning [the racing car who is the film's protagonist] to his
senses: to the recognition that the old have tricks to teach the
young, that winning is more than coming in first and that speed
can't top taking your time to savor the scenerythat, as Lasseter
says, 'the journey in life is the reward.'"
hope those bromides aren't billboarded in the film as crudely as
they are in Corliss' review, but they may well be. If they are,
Lasseter's films will have taken another giant step toward the kind
of obvious insincerity I've come to take for granted in most of
the features from Disney, DreamWorks, and Blue Sky.
I'm concerned not with Lasseter's personal sincerity but rather
with how his growing sophistication, as a person and a filmmaker,
has been matched by his films' retreat into increasingly simplistic
themes. Walt Disney fell into a similar trap. Any number of his
late live-action features proclaim the virtues of a small-town life
Walt himself had left behind, decisively, many years earlier. He
returned to his boyhood home of Marceline, Missouri, occasionallyand
very brieflybut he spent his real vacations not in any such
small town, but in Europe and Hawaii and Palm Springs. As if by
way of compensation for his diminished interest, Walt was painfully
self-indulgent in his depictions of small-town life in Pollyanna,
Follow Me, Boys! and their ilk, his great skills as a story
editor all but invisible in shapeless films that are far too long.
The "sincerity" question has nagged at me more forcefully
with each new Pixar feature. There has been one exception: Brad
Bird's The Incredibles. Sincerity isn't an issue in that
film because Bird is not illustrating a lesson but telling a story.
He may preach a little against the leveling impulse, but never in
a way that compromises his story.
The abstract painter Mark Rothko said in 1958: "I have never
thought that painting a picture has anything to do with self-expression.
It is a communication about the world to someone else. After the
world is convinced about this communication it changes. The world
was never the same after Picasso or Miro. Theirs was a view of the
world which transformed our vision of things."
The Incredibles is just such a transforming "communication
about the world"not to the world, like Lasseter's
moralizing films, but about the world. Bird has made it possible
to think of computer animation in invigorating new ways. Except
in a narrow technical sense, that hasn't been true of Pixar's other
features, and I think their lack in that respect is directly related
to the presence in each film of confining themes.
if we accept the idea that an animated feature need not be shaped
around such themes, can we agree that a film should be shaped around
characters who strike an audience as sincere and likable as soon
as they appear on the screen? After all, the characters in most
Pixar films are all but automatically likable; you'd have to be
a real Scrooge not to like Woody and Buzz and Nemo and their compatriots.
Here again, though, a comparison with The Incredibles is
illuminating. There's nothing automatically likable about the characters
in The Incredibles. They become likable because of
what they do, not because of how they're conceived. As a result
they're not just more likable but far more real than the characters
in other Pixar films.
The other night I watched Gilda, the 1946 live-action feature
directed by Charles Vidor, and I was struck by what a terrific movie
it isfor the first hour, when all three lead characters, played
by Glenn Ford, Rita Hayworth, and George Macready, are anything
but "sincere and likable." They're better than that, they're
interesting. But Gilda falls apart in its second half,
when you can sense some nervous Columbia executive insisting that
the two romantic leads show themselves to be nice people before
the movie ends.
The quest for sincerity and likability has sunk other movies,
too, notably Pinocchio, whose title character Walt Disney
transformed into a boring cipher rather than run the risk of alienating
the audience by making him the brash, mischievous character of Collodi's
original. It's risky giving characters their head and letting them
define themselves in the hands of a gifted actor or animator, but
there are risks in doing it the other way, toonot just artistically
but also financially, as Walt learned when Pinocchio tanked
at the box office.
These days, certainly, the arguments are almost all on the side
of carefully manufactured sincerity and likability, especially when
money is the measure. The Incredibles, as successful as it
was, still lagged far behind Finding Nemo, an inferior film.
Without Nemo's tailwind, I wonder just how well Incredibles
would have done. Movies are, to borrow a phrase from A. O. Scott
of the New York Times, "a field usually defined by commercial
concerns and controlled by other people's money," and such
limitations have special force when the films involved are mass-market
fare aimed at families with children. In making such films, the
temptation to seal their family-friendliness with homely morals
and artificially likable characters must be all but irresistible.
Brad Bird may have pointed the way toward better films, but I wonder
if he or anyone else will be able to follow that path. If not, at
least we'll know what we're missing.
When my Disney biography is finally wrapped up, I'll be devoting
almost all my attention to my next book, a historical survey of
the American comic book. I feel some relief at the thought of spending
a lot of time with Carl Barks, John Stanley, Walt Kelly, Harvey
Kurtzman, Will Eisner, and their peers. Those cartoonists, working
in a despised medium, knew how to deal with adult concerns in an
adult manner without losing the children who made up so much of
their audience. Brad Bird aside, I can't think of anyone making
feature-length Hollywood animated films today of whom I can say
May 16, 2006:
BASIC BLACK: I hope you've been watching some of the films
Turner Classic Movies has been showing on Tuesday and Thursday nights
in its series devoted to the depiction of blacks in Hollywood movies.
Even if, like me, you oppose the suppression of classic cartoons
like the "censored eleven" (Warner Bros. cartoons withheld
because of their racial content), it's sobering to see some of the
live-action features that provided the theatrical context for those
cartoons. Anyone who has just watched Stepin Fetchit in all his
appalling glory in Judge Priest (1933) should have an enhanced
understanding of why a studio might feel some unease about making
widely available a cartoon with a Fetchit character in it (Disney's
Mother Goose Goes Hollywood, for example).
It had been a few years since I saw Check and Double Check,
the 1930 Amos 'n' Andy feature in which Charles Correll and Freeman
Godsen play their radio characters in blackface, but it was just
as awful as I remembereddownright creepy, in fact. I don't
think that had to be the case; when Laurence Olivier filmed Othello,
he played the title character as a black man, and he was noble and
moving in the part. But, of course, Correll and Godsen put on blackface
not to enter the lives of black people and find the comedy there,
but to get cheap laughs. It was appropriate that their makeup made
them look not comical, but hard and mean.
whose site I try to visit at least a couple of times a week, posted
a link earlier this year to thoughtful comments on Coal Black
and de Sebben Dwarfs by Sterling
Fisher, a young African American. Fisher is troubled by the
stereotypes Bob Clampett used, but he also acknowledges the cartoon's
merits: "Coal Black never seems mean-spirited. In fact,
it seems downright jubilant. It has the same wacky, cartoony feel
of other Robert Clampett cartoons except it's applied to black characters."
I think Fisher's closing remarks are especially pertinent, and
I wish they would be taken to heart by the right people at Warner
Bros.: "I think this cartoon should be seen, especially in
a historical context. While I wasn't offended enough by it to be
repulsed outright, it will definitely offend some. However, I don't
think that this cartoon (or any other negative, offensive portrayals)
should be boxed up and locked away. They should be confronted and
discussed. If we can better understand our past, we will be better
able to deal with our future."
May 7, 2006:
DISNEY DOCUMENTS, CONT'D: As I've mentioned, I'm very close
to done with my Walt Disney biography. I'm still seeking copies
of a few Disney-related documents, however. I've found some of the
items I listed in earlier postings, but here's what I'm still hunting
1. Dave Smith's 1978 inventory of Walt's miniature collection,
as cited on page 30 of Karal Ann Marling's Designing Disney's
2. Smith's article on Walt's miniatures for Small Talk magazine.
3. Walt's August 31, 1948, memo on a "Mickey Mouse Park."
4. The six-page 1952 prospectus describing Walt's plans for a Burbank
5. The June 1954 report on visits to amusement parks by the Cottrell
team, as mentioned in Marling, page 64.
6. The brief family history by Elias Disney that Thomas mentions
in his biography of Roy Disney, pages 7-8.
7. The 1953 SRI feasibility study for Disneyland.
I located a copy of the 1953 SRI site study, as well as copies of
the 1953 "pitch kit" and the 1949 and 1953 annual reports.
I'm sure some of the items listed above exist outside Disney's tightly
guarded files, too. My photocopy of the "pitch kit" is
marked as originating in Walt Disney Imagineering's library, for
example, and I suspect that other historical documents of interest
in that library have been copied over the years. I'd welcome any
SPEAKING OF DOCUMENTS...: I've accumulated about forty file drawers
full of them over the years as I've researched books and articles,
along with shelves full of books and tape recordings and you name
it. I've been thinking about where all this stuff should wind up
when I no longer have any need for it, thanks to death, disability,
or simple weariness. An institution of some kind is the obvious
answer, but I have no idea which one, and I've heard enough horror
stories about mishandled collections to know that care is in order
in picking a repository for a personal archive like mine. I'm well
aware, too, that the subject matter we all find so fascinating is
still regarded with disdain by a lot of academics and librarians
(one of whom has already snubbed me when I wrote to ask for an appointment).
So, I'd love to have your serious suggestionsbut please, base
them on some hard knowledge of the institution you're writing about.
May 6, 2006:
CARS: I wish I could feel more optimistic about this Pixar
film, but then along comes a press release from Disney to ratchet
up my skepticism again. An excerpt:
"After taking moviegoers magically into the realm of toys,
bugs, monsters, fish, and superheroes, the masterful storytellers
and technical wizards at Pixar Animation Studios ... and Academy
Award-winning director John Lasseter ... hit the road with a fast-paced
comedy adventure set inside the world of cars. Lightning McQueen
(voiced by OWEN WILSON), a hotshot rookie race car driven to succeed,
discovers that life is about the journey, not the finish line, when
he finds himself unexpectedly detoured in the sleepy Route 66 town
of Radiator Springs. On route across the country to the big Piston
Cup Championship in California to compete against two seasoned pros,
McQueen gets to know the town's offbeat charactersincluding
Doc Hudson (a 1951 Hudson Hornet with a mysterious past, voiced
by PAUL NEWMAN), Sally Carrera (a snazzy 2002 Porsche voiced by
BONNIE HUNT), and Mater (a rusty but trusty tow truck voiced by
LARRY THE CABLE GUY)who help him realize that there are more
important things than trophies, fame and sponsorship."
Am I alone in thinking that Cars sounds distressingly reminiscent
of Robots, last year's dreadful CGI feature? Not in plot
details, and not just in the all-caps emphasis on star voices. The
resemblance I see is in the copout of using machines as charactersmachines
being the kind of thing that CGI animators do bestcombined
with a leaden theme. "There are more important things than
trophies, fame and sponsorship"that's a theme that most
of the people making the film can only half believe in, if at all.
I don't want to denigrate the value of insincerity, an unfairly
maligned trait, but it can cripple when an audience is asked to
validate an insincere artist's sincerity and, worse, when the artist
himself can't seem to tell the difference.
MAYERSON: Mark Mayerson, creator of the CGI series Monster
by Mistake, has started a blog
that promises to be one of the most stimulating sites for discussion
of the art of animation. I hope Mark will post there some of his
commentary from his contributions to APAtoons, a bi-monthly, privately
published compendium where a few dozen animators and fans exchange
thoughts through highly personal little publications. Mark's critique
of Chicken Little, for example, is the best I've read. He
really goes to the heart of why that film is so rotten, and he explains
the larger meaning of its rottenness. Many more people should read
that critique than those of us on APAtoons' roster.
BOWERS: This is of course not a news sitefor that you should
be paying daily visits to Cartoon
Brew and Animated
News (and, for Disney news, LaughingPlace)but
rather a sort of holding pen for items of various kinds that catch
my eye. This item is a perfect example. Paul Etcheverry has called
my attention to the questions
he has posed about the early animator/comedian Charles Bowers. I
can't answer them, but perhaps someone in my audience can. As a
connoisseur of such minutiae, I'm glad Paul is asking his questions,
in any case.
I haven't seen The Wild or Ice Age: The Meltdown,
and I don't expect to see either. Life is too short. But I'm looking
forward to watching the DVD
devoted to Oskar Fischinger that the Center for Visual Music
will release on May 15. One of the films on the DVD will be Fischinger's
Motion Painting No. 1, which I wrote about in one of
my first postings on the site. The other films may not offer as
much, but Fischinger is almost always interesting where many other
makers of abstract animated films are dull. Abstract films can easily
from a sort of stasisthey move, but without going anyplace.
Too many filmmakers seem to think that abstraction alone confers
superiority, moral and aesthetic, and that a striking abstract pattern,
set in repetitive motion, is all that's needed; as a result, abstract
films often look like European TV commercials for some fancy, mysterious
product (I wait for the soothing voice, speaking in Italian, but
it never comes). Fischinger made some commercials for theaters,
but they weren't like that; I don't think he ever ignored film's
imperative to move forward in time. I can't guarantee that you'll
find Motion Painting No. 1 as entertaining as the best Looney
Tunes, but it's a splendid achievement, and everyone interested
as an art form should see it at least once. The new DVD promises
to be an excellent way to do that, not only through what looks to
be a high-quality transfer but by putting the film in the context
of an intelligent selection of his other work.
BAKSHI: Like me, you may have gone for years without thinking at
all about Ralph Bakshi's odd and unfinished version of The Lord
of the Rings. As Vinny Asaro has pointed out, though, some people
think about it quite a lot (and not always with distaste). As evidence,
Vinny points to this thread
he started on a Tolkien Web site. Interesting stuffVinny has
catalogued a lot of Bakshi's visual influenceseven if, like
me, you're beyond persuading that Bakshi and his films are worth
THE POP-IN: Robert Latona writes from Spain about the stage version
of Disney's Mary Poppins that has been playing in London:
"After your grumpy take on Mary Poppins in your section
Disney, you've probably heard from others about the current
London stage production, with a completely new book by Julian Fellowes
(who did the screenplay for Gosford Park, and is evidently quite
aGod, how I hate the expression'media personality 'in
Britain). It sticks far closer to the no-nonsense nanny that P.
L. Travers created (and whose artificial sweetening you see as weakening
the Disney film) and very conspicuously puts the emphasis (as you
indicated you felt it ought to be) on the redemption of Mr. Banks.
Consider yourself vindicated!
"Took my eldest to see it last year and Lord, what a treat
it was hearing the Sherman brothers' score as I, personally, had
been hoping for years to experience it: with all the electrifying
immediacy of a live stage performance enhanced withn state-of-the-art
choreography.Wonderful, but nothing like the non-stop flash and
razzle-dazzle of the crafted-to-studio-spec adaptations of The
Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. Makes me suspect the
studio declined ultimate control over the London productionbut
I don't really know the backstory.
"Even so, I'm a long way from disdaining my Disney DVD. Never
mind the mediocre animation sequences, never mind (I know, I know,
it takes a major effort of will) Dick Van Dyke: no other version
will give me as much pleasure as Walt Disney did when he (a) got
the Shermans to write a major-league musical theatre classic and
(b) got Julie Andrews in prime voice, all five amazing, Waterford
crystal octaves of it, to sing their songs for us."
DISNEY TREASURES: This from David Gerstein, who has a growing list
of good things, most Disney-related, to his credit:
attempting to start a grassroots Internet awareness campaign for
the project I'm managing at Gemstone now, Walt
trade paperbacks, featuring highly collectible comics. If the first
book does well, more will follow, with some great stuff from Gottfredson,
Barks, and also some much more unusual creators (rare prewar British
and Italian Disney writers and artists, for example). It's deliberately
an effort to follow on Mickey
and the Gang: Classic Stories in Verse
with a more collector-oriented regular title. Attached to this
e-mail is the first ad, presenting the series concept in a gently
comical manner. Let's see what you think; pass it along if you'd
like. I've been looking forward to this for a long time."
Click on the small version of the ad to see the full-size thing.
And click here
to pre-order from amazon.com.
A CHANGE OF MIND: I know this will disappoint some of my visitors,
but I've decided after all to do audio commentary for three of the
cartoons in the fourth set of Looney Tunes DVDs. What changed my
mind was Ali
Matar's message. If my commentaries lead just a few people to
my books, they're worth doing.
Speaking of Ali Matar, he writes as follows:
"Thanks for your reply on the website. I take your point.
I recently saw Raging Bull again, and though it's no animated
movie, I understood what you meant as I analysed DeNiro's performance.
He was the character, not an imitation of him. Everything about
the way he moved, talked and stood; the way he ate, drank and fought
was informed by his character. Every detail of his manner and actions
spoke of self hatred, jealousy and paranoia. I guess it's reasonable
to expect such perfection from animated characters."
May 4, 2006
WALT: I submitted a revised version of The Animated Man:
A Life of Walt Disney to the University of California Press
a couple of days ago, so I finally have a little time for this site.
I'm always mystified by people like Terry
Teachout, who maintains an active (and very interesting) blog
on the arts even while turning out books and articles at a pace
that far exceeds mine. More power to him and to those like him,
but I don't think I'll ever be able to work that way.
This "final" version of The Animated Man will
be succeeded by others, as the book goes through copy editing and
into page proofs, but it's starting to feel reasonably "final"
even to me. The book is turning out very well, I think, and in important
respects it's going to be far more accurate than even the better
Disney biographies or semi-biographies published to date.
I don't know yet when The Animated Man will be published,
but it will probably be sometime in 2007. I'll keep you posted.