November 28, 2016:
November 26, 2016:
November 12, 2016:
November 28, 2016:
This latest Disney-princess feature cartoon has much in common with earlier features directed by John Musker and Ron Clements.That's not a particularly good thing. When the Samoan demigod Maui makes his entrance about 45 minutes into the film, I was instantly reminded of the genie's first appearance in Aladdin (1988). Once again, in Moana, a larger-than-life comic figure sings about himself exuberantly, filling the screen. The problem is, Dwayne Johnson—whom I enjoy as an actor, as in his wonderful turn as "Bambi" on Saturday Night Live—is not an untethered comic genius like Robin Williams, and so there's no sense of manic improvisation. What there is, instead, is an abrupt change in tone, as if a rather serious children's story had just become a smart-alecky movie for teenagers.
What happens is roughly the reverse of what happens in an earlier Musker-Clements film, Hercules (1997), whose story takes a sharp turn toward the serious after a jokey opening. There's nothing automatically wrong about such a change in tone, but I don't think Musker and Clements have ever managed such changes as well as they might have. Maui feels to me like a character who has been imposed from the outside, rather than growing out of the story that the film has been telling before he appears.
That story is needlessly complicated, Moana is as a result a half hour too long, and there is way too much talk, but such shortcomings are common in today's animated features, even one as good as Disney's Zootopia. The impulse to make an animated feature as simple and direct as possible—that is, the impulse that underlies the best of the classic Disney features—is absent, or else the directors have not been able to harness it.
Moana has virtues, to be sure, especially its gorgeous effects animation, and Moana herself is an improvement over recent Disney princesses like the Frozen pair, more a real girl and less a plastic doll. The transformation at the end of the film, when a volcanic monster becomes a beautiful tropical island, is lovely and even moving. It's a shame that the story has been structured so that this magical transformation seems almost like a footnote to the Moana-Maui rivalry.
November 26, 2016:
I have a new one out—sort of. It's the first volume of a projected series from IDW that will reprint all the Sunday pages published under the umbrella title "Walt Disney's Treasury of Classic Tales." I wrote introductions for the reprinted comics in the first volume, all of them based on Disney films from the first half of the 1950s. Jesse Marsh (of the Dell Tarzan comic books) drew the adaptations of live-action features like The Sword and the Rose, Manuel Gonzales and Dick Moores those of the Disney feature cartoons and a few shorts. Frank Reilly, the head of Disney's comic-strip department, wrote the continuities that the others illustrated. Each adaptation ran for anywhere from a few weeks to six months in Sunday newspapers.
The book has been available since November 15, according to amazon.com, but I have yet to see a copy. It's no doubt a handsome product. IDW has been doing an excellent job reprinting other Disney comics, like the "Donald Duck" dailies and Sundays and the "Silly Symphonies" Sundays, the latter with notes by J. B. Kaufman, and I have no reason to believe that the new book is any different.
I have no idea if there will be additional "Treasury" volumes, or if I'll be asked to contribute to them, although I'd be happy to do so. Otherwise, my book-writing days are pretty much done. The current publishing climate is not receptive to the kind of work I do, even or perhaps especially at academic publishers. Fortunately, I still have this website as a poultice for my writing itch, and I have a long list of things I want to write about. I hope my personal situation (my father-in-law's poor health and the many attendant complications) will let me get back to writing some substantial pieces in the near future.
From Donald Benson: Received today from Amazon. Enjoyed your introduction and a quick skim reveals it is a handsome product. The end promises a volume two with thirteen more stories. nine of which are live action movies (Perri doesn't sound like a great comic strip choice).
I remember the strip from the mid to late sixties; it dropped out of the San Jose Mercury News somewhere after The Aristocats. Memory has it being less impressive than what's in this book; artwork less detailed and stories more abbreviated. Comic books, in contrast, remained generous with visual detail. Back in the day it was a big deal to even partially possess a favorite movie via comics, comic books, soundtrack LPs and maybe an 8mm home movie reel.
[Posted November 30, 2016]
November 12, 2016:
From Bob Barrett:
Last week Heritage Auctions auctioned off the Edgar Rice Burroughs collection of an acquaintance of mine who passed away a couple of years ago. His wife tried to sell some of it but sales were just too slow and she was going to have to relocate to a care facility. One of the items was this animation cel for the proposed John Carter of Mars cartoon that John Coleman Burroughs and Bob Clampett wanted to produce. My friend and his wife thought the cel was by John Coleman Burroughs, unaware that he did not produce any animation art for the cartoon— it was all by Bob Clampett, as is this cel. Some time back you ran a piece on the proposed Tarzan cartoons that were also to be a collaboration between John Coleman Burroughs and Bob Clampett. Distributors had no interest in the John Carter cartoon and preferred cartoons featuring Tarzan. But even the Tarzan cartoons never really got off the ground— mostly because Clampett wanted to do John Carter and not Tarzan.
For a full rundown on the aborted Tarzan and John Carter cartoons, go to this Essay page, titled "Bob Clampett and 'Tarzantoons.'"