August 25, 2013:
It's Walt Kelly's 100th Birthday
August 8, 2013:
Floyd Norman on Saving Mr. Banks
August 25, 2013:
I've been spending a lot of time with Walt Kelly recently, in his papers at Ohio State for a couple of days in June and for the last few weeks at home while I've been finishing my book on the Dell comic books, Funnybooks. It has been a pleasure—Kelly is one of my two favorite cartoonists, in tandem with Carl Barks—but I've left myself with not enough room for a suitable centennial tribute. So, I'm posting the cover of a Kelly comic book, the second issue of Pogo Possum, from 1950. This was the first Kelly comic book I bought with one of my own dimes (I'd had Animal Comics bought for me in previous years). I remember trying to share with my parents at the dinner table some of the hilarity I found in this comic book, only to meet a stone wall of resistance. My father became a convert eventually, but my mother never did, alas.
As for centennial tributes, there are some worthy ones on the Web, from Mark Mayerson and the Whirled of Kelly website. There's also video on YouTube of the Kelly panel at this year's San Diego ComicCon, chaired by Mark Evanier.
From Donald Benson: Just a casual remembrance. As a kid I had the book I Go Pogo, and while I got that it was satirical I enjoyed how the whole thing held together as a collection of funny stories. Now that I have the reprint volume covering that period, I see how much Kelly edited and redrew so it would play as a near graphic novel instead of a simple reprint of strips. Later he went whole hog with entire books of original material—illustrated verses, tales with the Pogo gang dropped into other settings, and even stories with humans.
Now that the strips are getting long-overdue attention, here's hoping The Pogo Peek-A-Book and the like get similar airing. There's a lot of stuff that should find a permanent place in children's literature.
MB replies: I agree, on all points.
[Posted September 28, 2013]
Two years ago, shortly after the death of Cornelius “Corny” Cole, I published here the interview that Milt Gray and I conducted with Corny in 1991. That interview covered Corny’s career from his earliest days as an in-betweener at the Disney studio up through his work as a production designer on many animated features, shorts, and TV shows. Along the way, Corny talked about his friend Willie Ito, who worked with him at Disney and Warner Bros. in the 1950s. Willie read the interview recently and wrote me to say that Corny had exaggerated a bit in describing a couple of episodes in which Willie was involved. I’ve posted Willie’s very enjoyable message on this separate Feedback page. I interviewed Willie not long before I interviewed Corny, and with any luck I’ll get that interview (and others) posted before too many more years.
From Thad Komorowski: Willie Ito! It was so wonderful to read that message. What an absolute sweetheart. The first person from the "Golden Age" I ever spoke to. He embodies all that is right in animation, and that message is the proof. He isn't angry about what Corny said, he just wanted to set the record straight about how funny exaggerated stories often go down as "fact." How refreshing.
[Posted August 26, 2013]
August 8, 2013:
Floyd Norman, who had the privilege of working alongside Walt Disney fifty years ago—and whose opinions always command respect for that and many other reasons—has seen Saving Mr. Banks, the Disney movie I wrote about on July 17. It's the Christmas release based on the making of Mary Poppins, and starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Floyd wrote:
As always, I enjoyed your post on the new Disney film, Saving Mr. Banks. You might be surprised to hear that I thoroughly enjoyed the film and think that audiences will be surprised how good it is.
I count myself lucky to have been in meetings with the Old Maestro back in the sixties. On set, I even related to Mr. Hanks that he was playing Walt somewhat young. No worries, however. I think Tom Hanks has captured in his performance the essence of Walt Disney. His enthusiasm, his incredible optimism, and his ability as a canny salesman. No, he doesn't look like Walt and he doesn't sound like Walt. Yet, much to my surprise he is Walt Disney.
That's good enough for me. I'll buy a ticket, or maybe two. But here's an odd thing. Saving Mr. Banks, with a winning impersonation of Walt, will be the opening round in what I'm sure will be a year-long celebration of Mary Poppins' fiftieth anniversary, with the film being hailed as Walt's greatest achievement. But as Mark Sonntag has pointed out, the packaging planned for the Blu-ray 50th anniversary edition doesn't identify the film as "Walt Disney's Mary Poppins" but as "Disney Mary Poppins." This is the same sort of depersonalized packaging we've seen on other reissued Disney features in the past year.
Conflicting impulses seem to be at war here. Perhaps these are the questions being posed in that big building on the Disney lot, the one with the Seven Dwarfs on the pediment: Do we celebrate Walt as an individual, perhaps to the point of transforming him into a new sort of "Disney character," or do we work at converting "Disney" into as innocuous a brand name as "Ford"?
Henry Ford was a controversial man, after all, but no one now decides to buy or not to buy a Ford automobile on the basis of Henry's antisemitism. Walt has been a magnet for controversy, too—unjustifiably, if I need to say that yet again, but I wonder if that matters to the people who are now managing the brand.
From Donald Benson: The trailer I've seen highlights Travers' relationship with her own father shaping her book. So is this going to be the story of an unusual Hollywood producer versus a British eccentric, or Uncle Walt as a sort of spirit guide for an author discovering her own subtext? If it's the latter, it might be a disappointment for audiences expecting a movie primarily about Walt Disney.
Other trailer clips highlight the friction. For years the semi-official Disney mythology and later interviews with Travers painted the collaboration as bumpy at best. One oft-repeated story has Travers approaching Disney after the premiere with a list of changes, including the removal of Dick Van Dyke. A grinning Walt tells her it's his movie now. Given that the trailer presents a sympathetic and funny Travers, I'll be surprised if they use that.
I'll go out on a limb and guess it ends with Disney and Travers as buddies, or at least mutually respectful. It will be interesting to see if Travers edges towards becoming a "Disney Legend", official or otherwise, on the strength of the movie.
[Posted August 10, 2013]
From John K. Richardson: Hah – I’m amazed at Floyd Norman’s take on Hanks’ Walt. I guess I might actually like the film… probably, even!
[Posted August 12, 2013]
From Brent Swanson: My late friend, Dr. Stephen Eberhart, carried on lifelong correspondences with several authors including Carl Barks, J. K. Rowling, and P. L. Travers. Over the years, Steve told me he had "made peace" with several Disney literary adaptations and had come to enjoy them. But there were two exceptions: the Winnie the Pooh cartoons and Mary Poppins. The latter he referred to as an "utter travesty," and the hint was pretty clear this was the steadfast opinion of P. L. Travers.
I think the Disneyfied "Walt" character dates back to Disney's tenure as host of the weekly tv show. The happy, chuckling host, seemingly as intrigued by Disney magic as the rest of us, is an image at odds with most recollections I've read. One of the moments that was cut from the "Mr. Lincoln" preshow film long ago had Walt musing that, since the Tiki Room birds would all be robots, he wouldn't have to pay them a salary as he would live performers.
[Posted August 23, 2013]