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"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 evening—most 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 acting—and the films of which it's a part—will 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 sealed—and intellectually stunted—the 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

Josh Siegel
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, will not.

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 josh_siegel@moma.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 at all.

"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:

Disney grave markerWHY 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 Mouse.

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 other—a short and fascinating article—on 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 do it.

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 toonfest@sbcglobal.net, 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 year's event.

June 7, 2005:

Fleischer book coverRICHARD 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 book—a conservative burgher of steady habits, an obsessive tinkerer and inventor—but 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.