Speaking of Pixar, The Food Network has been running a special episode of their series Dinner Impossible shot at Pixar’s Emeryville studio. In Pixar Movie Mission the chef has 6 hours to feed the entire staff of Pixar, with recipes based on Pixar characters from Finding Nemo, Cars and Ratatouille. Worth watching just to see Brad Bird introduce the Food Network cook — with Lou Romano was one of his “assistant chefs”. It airs again on January 19th at 3:30pm ET/PT.
Times Square Spectacular: Lighting Up Broadway by Darcy Tell, traces the story of the famous Times Square advertising signs, as seen in cartoons like Lights Fantastic. It’s illustrated with numerous rare photographs, maps, restaurant menus, theater programs, magazine covers, postcards, sheet music, and archival documents. What makes this especially interesting for animation historians is Tell’s special tribute to Douglas Leigh, the man who created such Times Square billboards as the legendary Camel cigarettes “smoke rings” sign – and more importantly, his animated light boards, animated by Otto Messmer for 37 years. A beautiful tribute to the Great White Way.
(Thanks, J.J. Sedelmaier)
On sale starting today, the latest three volumes of the amazing Walt Disney Treasures series. Talk about a gift that all animation buffs, Disney enthusiasts, and cartoon fans must have. Take your pick, there is something here for everyone: Donald Duck Volume 3 contains some of the best Duck shorts from the golden age of animation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit restores Disney’s pre-Mouse work to both the studio, and to fans of lost silent-era animation (but don’t forget, it didn’t really “start” until after the rabbit), and Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic. I know some animation fans who ignore the live action entries in this series. My advice: Don’t. These Disneyland discs are loaded with great things about Walt, and rare footage of the artists, designers and animators behind the Magic Kingdom.
Amazon.com is selling these at $22.99 each, Best Buy (see ad above) is selling them even cheaper. You have no excuse. Pick ‘em up for yourself or some animation nut you love.
I ran into Willie Ito at The Animation Guild Holiday Party on Friday night in Burbank. Ito, as you may know, started his animation career at Disney in the 1950s and has worked on Clampett’s Beany & Cecil cartoons (and did many comic books and merchandising art for same), on some of the last (pre-1964) Warner Bros. cartoons and had a lengthy stay at Hanna-Barbera from the ’60s through the ’80s.
He gave me a copy of his hot-off-the-press, self-published children’s book Hello Maggie. The book is written by Shigeru Yabu and is a story taken from his childhood experiences in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. It’s a wonderfully upbeat tale about a difficult period in Japanese-American history. As far as I know, the only place you can get it (unless he hands you a freebie like he did to me) is at the Japanese American Heritage Source website. Ito is planning further publications and collaborations with Mr. Yabu through their Yabitoon Books (website to come).
Check out this informative post by John McElwee on his Greenbriar Pictures Shows blog. McElwee describes what a 1930s Saturday matinee Popeye Club meeting was like, recalling the memories of a local theatre manager and illustrating the post with vintage Popeye short subject trade ads. Ahh, those were the days!
Once I saw this image (above) of Spritle and Chim Chim, I had the feeling the filmmakers were on the right track (pun intended).
And then I saw the trailer – and I think the Wachowski’s have nailed it. I’m not a fan of live action versions of cartoon shows (think Underdog, Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussycats, Dudley Do-Right, Mr. Magoo and on and on), but the Brothers Wachowski’s forthcoming live action Speed Racer movie is lookin’ very good to me. It’s the 60s Japanese cartoon come alive in a candy-colored, pop art way, not seen since Adam West’s Batman series from 1966. I’m sure there are some purists out there who will feel the subject isn’t being treated as seriously as they would like. To those people I say: Get over it. It’s not Jonny Quest or even 8th Man. It’s Speed Racer!
I have no idea if the film is any good. It’ll be out in May and we can all judge it then. In the meantime this looks like a lot of fun. And thank goodness Chim Chim is a real chimp, not a CG animated blob. Watch the trailer here and see more still images here.
Several years ago, when Playhouse Pictures closed its Hollywood office, cartoonist Mike Kazaleh purchased some old files being sold off in their garage sale. In one of the folders Mike found this intriguing bit of correspondence (click on pages below) between UPA Vice President and Production Manager Adrian Woolery and Spyros Skouras, President of 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation.
In this initial letter from November 7th, 1952, Woolery, who has just established his offshoot animation studio Playhouse Pictures, complains to Skouras about the quality of Fox’s Terrytoons (in particular, a Heckle & Jeckle short named House Busters):
“It was not a good picture. The story was completely lacking in charm and imagination. There was not a new or interesting idea in the entire reel. The characters and backgrounds were poorly designed and drawn. The story and gags were not funny or even amusing. I had a feeling this same picture had been done dozens of times in the last score of years and in fact was done much better twenty years ago.”
After hurling a few more insults at the Terrytoon, Woolery concludes:
“It is my sincere belief that we in the animation business have at our command the finest medium of expression. It must be exploited by capable people who have the courage and ability to recognize its unlimited potential. Fortunately, good pictures do not cost any more than bad ones.”
Was Woolery trying to convince Skouras to drop Terrytoons and commision Playhouse to provide modern cartoon shorts, as UPA did for Columbia? Skouras replied on January 23rd, 1953 (click letters at left), that he was quite pleased with the Terrytoons as is:
“…I cannot agree with the conclusion you arrived at after seeing the particular Terrytoon called House Wreckers (sic). As a matter of fact, Terrytoons Cartoons are immensely popular with audiences everywhere and are played in thousands of theatres. Audiences found them attractive enough to make our 1952 reciepts from Terrytoon releases to be most gratifying. You may be sure we are always endevoring to make this product better and, in 1953 we will do our utmost to improve all of our short subjects.”
And in fact, shortly thereafter, Fox forced Terry to begin producing his cartoons in CinemaScope. In 1955, perhaps taking Woolery’s suggestion to heart, Terrytoons installed UPA director Gene Deitch to overhaul the theatrical cartoons and bring them up to date with modern graphics.
Below is the first minute and a half of the cartoon that set Woolery off, House Busters, which features animation by Jim Tyer (the scenes of the convict escaping prison) and a delightful song written by Philip Schieb.
Tonight in Hollywood is my monthly mini-movie show with Janet Klein and her Parlor Boys. As always Janet’s live musical concert, featuring pop tunes of the 1920s and 30s, will be preceded by a selection of vintage musical shorts and cartoons, screened in glorious 16mm celluloid. Join us at 8pm, at THE STEVE ALLEN THEATER (Center for Inquiry-West), 4773 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood (Two blocks west of Vermont — Plenty of FREE parking in the rear). Admission $15. – a bargain!
This just in from animator Ken Priebe:
It is with a heavy heart that I pass this news on to you….
I just got a call at VanArts from Carol Southworth, wife of Disney/MGM/Hanna-Barbera veteran animator Ken Southworth, saying that Ken passed away this morning after a series of strokes. He was 89.
I got to know Ken well over the years, having had the privilege to work with him and visit his house in Anaheim; he was a very talented artist who will be missed greatly. He was a guest instructor at VanArts for many years in our summer program. (Ironically, he passed away on the anniversary of Walt Disney’s birthday).
Priebe collected career information on Southworth for his website several years ago. Click here for that information.
Just when you thought it was safe to travel with a big, blue, hammer-wielding maniac…
If you haven’t been doing it already, check out Xeth (Bulbo) Feinberg’s new internet cartoon series PAPU. This is an unabashed plug – but a sincere one, as I am a big fan of Feinberg’s little Flash cartoons. And don’t forget to shop for Bulbo and Papu products, and ask Papu a question on his Blog!
On Wednesday Stu Shostack celebrates the one year anniversary of his internet radio show with a return visit by his inaugural (and frequent) guest Mark Evanier. Mark and Stu will discuss the new Schulz book and why the family is upset about it – Monte Schulz will be calling in to discuss his point of view. They’ll also be talking about the writer’s strike and Mark’s producing and writing of Garfield and Friends. Sevreral other special guests who are VERY big in the animation and comic strip world will be calling in to join the discussion. It’s broadcast live tomorrow, (Wednesday 12/5) from 7-9pm (Eastern)/4-6 pm (Pacific), with taped rebroadcasts each day following, at the same hours. Click Here to Listen.
Oh, and in two weeks (on Dec. 19th), I’ll be on again with another open forum to discuss classic cartoons.
Just when you thought the era of ugly Popeye merchandise was over…
In a universe of bad ideas, we may have winner! Or this may be genius. You decide. Limited edition rubber duck incarnations of famous people and cartoon characters called Celebriducks. This is the brainstorm of entrepreneur Craig Wolfe, and his product is now showing up at retail outlets like Virgin Megastore, and even at Disney World.
Check out the animated characters including Betty Boop, Pink Panther and Felix The Cat. Even more outrageous are the movie stars (The Lone Ranger, Mae West and Mr. T) and religious figures – which includes rubber duck versions of Moses, Satan and Jesus Christ!
(Thanks, Steve Moore)
I’m getting an award!
The Annie Award nominations were announced this morning. The big news is that the juried awards are going to John Kricfalusi, John Canemaker and Glen Keane (getting The Winsor McCay Award, for lifetime achievement), and to Jonathan Gay, Gary Grossman and Robert Tatsumi, the creators of Flash computer software (recieving the Ub Iwerks Award for technical achievement). And little ‘ol me will be recieving the June Foray Award for “significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation”. I’m not sure what to say… except that I’m sincerely honored!
The Annie committees also nominated Ratatouille, The Simpsons Movie, Persepolis, Surf’s Up! and Bee Movie for Best Animated Feature; Everything Will Be OK (Bitter Films), How to Hook Up Your Home Theater (Walt Disney Feature Animation), Mascot Prep (Walt Disney Television Animation), The Chestnut Tree (Picnic Pictures), and Your Friend the Rat (Pixar) for Best Animated Short Subject. Click here for the full list of nominees and winners. The Awards will be presented Friday February 8th at a new location, Royce Hall (on the UCLA Campus) in Westwood. Tickets are now on sale, more information here.
Former Animato and Animation Planet editor G. Michael Dobbs has collected his writings, interviews and reviews from those publications into a new book from BearManor Media, ESCAPE: How Animation Broke Into the Mainstream in the 1990s.
Dobbs’ book contains several interviews with the key players during that last decade, including Parker and Stone, Klasky and Csupo, along with voice actors and various executive personnel at Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Warner Bros. For more info on this book, check the BearManor website.