I’m back with another lame attempt by a classic cartoon studio to be relevant in the 1960s.
Today I’ve got what I believe is the last theatrical one-shot produced by the Terrytoon studio in New Rochelle, New York. Search For Misery (1963) is a real curio. I suspect it was concocted as a pilot, an attempt to break into prime time television. Why not? Everyone else was doing it at the time – and Terrytoons was actually owned by a major network, CBS. With other prime time animated series patterned after sitcoms and adventure shows, director Bob Kuwahara and writer Larz Bourne concocted this spoof based on TV’s most tried and true genre: soap operas.
Though years ahead of Mary Hartman, Pitiful Penelope lacks the wit and social satire this sort of thing required. The humor is labored and deliberate. When the character names (Roland Stone, Big Delia, Kay Niver) are the cleverest thing in the script, you know you are in trouble. Cosmo Anzilotti did all the animation, Tom Morrison is the narrator, Dayton Allen and his wife Elvi portray Roland and Penny, respectively. I give it points for being different, and for its attempt to appeal to adults. It’s certainly one of the oddest things Terrytoons ever produced. Because it is so rarely seen, I thought it would be worth a post.
Good ol’ J.J. Sedelmaier, inspired by our post last month of an animated Koko the Clown flip book by Bob Jaques, reached into his archives and unearthed another vintage Fleischer promotional flipbook sequence. These were printed on gummed back sheets so you could cut them out and stick’em on the bottom corner of a book. J.J. scanned them frame by frame and made ‘em move:
J.J. Sedelmaier recently had a visit from John Canemaker at his studio in White Plains. J.J. sent them in with this note:
“We had a chance to go through some of that art I was given years ago from (animator) Jan Svochak. As we’re rummaging through the stuff John says, “Wait! That’s a Tytla sequence!” John saw Tytla’s extreme drawing “X” marks in the upper right hand corner. When you see the way he’s gesturally thrown the anatomy together so effortlessly, it becomes clearer. . . I’d forgotten he worked on Little Audrey…”
Interesting find. Thanks to J.J. for sharing these with us. These drawings are from a scene in Surf Bored — released well after Tytla left Famous Studios, in 1953. Click thumbnails below to see the drawing closer.
Update from John Canemaker: “Oh, the dangers of the instant communication age. In a casual and (I thought ) private conversation with JJ, I commented that the well-made Audrey drawings resembled Tytla’s work and — “oh look — there’s an “X” in the right hand corners, just like Tytla used to make on his extremes”. There was no further research into dates of his employment, etc. Thank you, Richard, (in the comments) for your vigorous defense, but Thad may very well be correct. I am sorry for any misunderstanding.”
SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Paramount Cartoons can be Hazardous to Your (Mental) Health.
We’re ending our series of “dark, domestic” 1960s Paramount cartoons today with the most politically incorrect of them all: In The Nicotine (released theatrically in 1961). Again (like the previously posted The Plot Sickens and Harry Happy), this one was never shown on TV – and never will be. In this one, a shrewish wife commits her smoking obsessed husband to an institution. Hilarity ensues. Though most of the cartoon is taken up with lame gags of “Charlie Butts” (get it?) trying to sneak a cigarette while trying to quit, the resolution (a gag about cigarette gift coupons) is purely pro-smoking! The plot itself is a twist on Gene Deitch’s 1957 Terrytoon Topsy TV — which was ripped off and remade by Paramount in 1959 as TV Fuddlehead — switching to cigarettes from former’s TV addiction. This cartoon was written by the veteran team of Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer, though Mercer doesn’t perform any voices in it (Eddie Lawrence is doing all the male roles). For what it is… Enjoy!
Apparently China had a response to Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda that’s more pointed than the film mentioned in this previous Brew post. According to the KFP entry on Answers.com: “In August 2008, a direct-to-video Chinese animation feature entitled Kung fu Master aka Wong Fei Hong vs Kung Fu Panda was released on DVD in East Asia by Vscape Enterprises. The film is an unofficial sequel; it reportedly combines Kung Fu Panda and Chinese martial arts folk hero Wong Fei Hung. In the film, the panda is assigned by the Buddha to protect an ancient treasure that could give the bearer the power to conquer the world. Upon losing it, the pair sets off on an adventure to retrieve it.”
If anyone has this video, please post a clip. We are anxious to see it. Apparently you can buy it here or here.
It’s an incredible exhibition of golden age original art, character merchandise and rare comic books in a fantastic museum installation. There is also a companion exhibit, Lights! Camera! Action! Comic Book Heroes of Film and Television which focuses on live action and animated super heroes, including material from Popeye, Flash Gordon and Dick Tracy. This portion of the exhibit features original movie posters, movie costumes (Superman and Batman) and the Bat Cycle (from the 1966 TV series). Comic book legend Jerry Robinson (Batman) will give a Curator’s Talk on Thursday night (March 5th, moderated by Mark Evanier) at 8pm. Highly recommended – for more information check the Skirball Center website.
Man, those guys at Famous must have really hated their wives. By popular demand, I am posting the 1961 Modern Madcap cartoon, The Plot Sickens. This is another of the Paramount’s series of dark “domestic” comedies, but unlike the others this one is pretty funny – thanks to Irv Spector’s storyboards and Eddie Lawrence’s voice overs. This one was one of several that was released to theatres, but never shown on TV… the subject matter was way above and beyond the viewers of the New Casper Cartoon Show (where most of this era’s Modern Madcaps ended up). It would’ve been a great short to play in front of Jack Lemmon’s How To Murder Your Wife.
We’ve seen animation with sand, with pin screens, and made by scratching directly on raw film. Here’s something new: Printed Linomation. British graphic designer Mark Andrew Webber created it, carving images by hand onto 296 individual pieces of Linoleum. He says it took 500 hours to create the film (the animation is looped three times). You can watch a “pencil test” using the actual Linoleum carvings here. Here’s an earlier experiment and here is time-lapse animation of Mark working on the carvings.
Good news — especially if you are a Disney Peter Pan fanatic.
In case you haven’t heard, Michael Jackson (“The King of Pop”) is going through some financial problems and has to sell a good portion of his personal collection. Julien’s Auctions has just posted the “Amusements, Arcade Games, and Entertainment” catalog for Jackson’s April 24th public auction on their website.
There’s some really interesting Disneyana starting on page 206, including dioramas and other items made specifically for Michael Jackson. Some Warner Bros. and Simpsons items scattered about as well — including his personal first edition hardcover of Of Mice and Magic!! Say it isn’t so, Michael… I hope you’ve kept the paperback edition!
French animator Michel Ocelot (Kirikou And The Sorceress) will be visiting the San Francisco Bay Area this week to attend the opening of his latest feature, Azur & Asmar. The film opens Friday, March 6th for one week at the Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco and Ocelot will attend Friday night and take questions.
Before that, on Wednesday night, The French American Cultural Society will present a free, public screening of his first feature Kirikou And The Sorceress, presented in French with English subtitles. Mr. Ocelot will introduce the film and do an after-film Q&A. That event will be Wednesday night, March 4th at the Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema, starting at 6:40pm. Anyone who is interested in attending needs to RSVP to contact-at-facs-sf.org with their name and expected number of guests. People are advised to arrive early for seats as RSVPing does not necessarily guarantee admission (like any promo screening).
Last month Burbank city officials removed a 50-year-old miniature time capsule that was encased in concrete in the Magnolia Bridge in 1959. It contained a roll of 35mm film with 47 black and white images of Burbank landmarks. This week, the local newspaper The Burbank Times has posted all the images on their website. In addition to shots of City Hall, NBC Studios and Burbank Airport, there are two photos of Walt Disney Studios on Buena Vista Street. To see enlargements of the Disney Studio shots, click here for the Gate, click here for the Animation Building.
Here’s something I’ve never seen before, a 1941 pressbook for Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts. I’m a nut for stuff like this. Click thumbnails below for larger images. Look at those posters and standees (I’m proud to say I have both one sheets, framed, on my walls). This was certainly the first big push for Bugs Bunny — and to target this sort of publicity to exhibitors indicates that Warners knew they had a new star in their hands.
This item was sold on ebay yesterday. If the buyer is reading this — (hint, hint) — I’d love to get hi-rez scans for my new Looney Tunes book.
UPDATE: Collector Eric Calande found he had two of the character ad mats, pictured in the pressbook above, in his collection and sent in pictures (below). They are naturally reverse image (below right), I flipped them (left and center) to view:
The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts is presenting an open screening on Thursday (3/5) showcasing the latest films by its students and recent alumni. The John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts (aka DADA) will present its annual Adobe First Frame screening, at the Directors Guild (DGA) Theater Complex at 7920 Sunset Boulevard (at Fairfax) at 7:30pm.
The program features 19 animated films spanning a range of genres and techniques – including stop-motion, 2D and 3D CG, character and experimental, all by Hench-DADA BA and MFA students. The program running time is 80 minutes. The event is FREE. No reservations necessary. Wine and dessert reception following screening. For more information check the Hench/DADA website
I got such a good reaction to the previous 1960s Paramount cartoon that I posted last week, I couldn’t resist torturing you with another.
First, a confession: Of all the classic Hollywood cartoon shorts, the Paramount/Famous Studios cartoons in general are my favorite “guilty pleasures”. Why? I’m not sure, but I truly admire the skill of the animation crew and art staff. The big problems at Paramount lie in direction, gag timing, and with matters of good taste. By the 1960s they were coasting on their celebrated past, as remnants of the Fleischer studio and their shorts from this era fascinate me. The budgets were cut to the bone and the characters the studio developed for a decade were no longer available for use. They had the freedom to go off and make animated shorts on any subject they wished, in any style of art or technique. Sometimes they took advantage of this freedom, most times they did not. A few gems have risen to the surface (My Daddy The Astronaut, The Itch, The Plumber, Marvin Digs come to mind), but the bad ones of the 60s are so wrong on so many levels, such train wrecks, I can’t keep my eyes off them.
Below is one of these. It’s one of several “domestic cartoons” that Paramount made under it’s Modern Madcap label. Various studios tried this type of fare in the 1950s. Robert McKimson’s Wild Wife (1954) at Warner Bros. is an example; the Pete Hothead cartoons at UPA and the Gene Deitch John Doormat series at Terrytoons are others. Paramount tried a few of these as well, however here the characters aren’t funny, and there’s no attempt at social commentary. They are simply bleak and pessimistic – each one more depressing than the last. Perhaps next time I’ll post In The Nicotine (1961) about a man who terrorizes his wife with his constant chain smoking; or The Plot Sickens (1961, written by Irv Spector) in which a nebbish plans various ways to kill his shrewish wife. Unpleasant subjects, poorly made, with painfully unfunny results.
Here’s one short that really disturbs me – and once again, I don’t believe this it was ever aired on television. It’s about a guy who is a complete asshole and wife abuser. It’s dark. It’s oppressive. So of course it’s called Harry Happy.
The 2D animation renaissance of the 1990s began in the 1980s. Did any one movie or TV show begin it – or was it the combination of the popularity of Mighty Mouse the New Adventures (1987), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), The Little Mermaid (1989), and the introduction of The Simpsons (1987)? Some might credit the Don Bluth/Steven Spielberg An American Tail (1986) as the catalyst.
Certainly the 1979 exodus of Don Bluth, Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy and eleven others from Disney, in protest of the then-deteriorating animation department, could be considered the beginning-of-the-beginning. During the 1970s, Bluth and company – while still employed at Disney – tinkered away at nights and on weekends in a little garage in Culver City on a personal film. The goal was to learn how to make a classically animated film from scratch, and do it all by themselves without studio support.
Banjo The Woodpile Cat was that film – and it emboldened the group to break free of Disney and start making new films on their own. How successful they were, creatively, is a matter of opinion – and as for Banjo itself, no one considers it a classic but it’s always been a sweet little picture. Now Bluth has re-released Banjo on a two-disc DVD that is actually worth owning by any serious student of animation or Disney history.
In addition to a newly remastered version of the film, there is a great audio commentary track by Bluth, Goldman and Pomeroy recounting the making of the short. On the second disc is a 13-part documentary, The Story Behind Banjo, with the trio detailing their time at Disney, how they made on Banjo at night while animating The Rescuers, Pete’s Dragon and The Small One during business hours, what they learned and how it led to their departure from Disney. It’s a fascinating story. There is also a vintage TV newscast from 1980 with behind the scenes footage at Bluth’s newly independent studio, a separate on-camera “conversation” with Don and a collection of trailers for every feature and video game the Bluth studio ever worked on.
It’s a great package of material – and you can buy the DVD from Don himself off Amazon.com. Below is a excerpt from the middle of the short:
This cute looking 2D animated feature, which I posted about last October, opened theatrically this week in Russia. An interview with director Sergei Seryogin and producer Alexander Gerasimov is posted here. Apparently it isn’t doing too well on it’s home turf. I hope we get a chance to see it on our shores.
Warner Bros. cartoon art collector Eric Calande recently acquired this item through an antique dealer – a Bosko doll. Click thumbnails above for larger images. Is this the first piece of licensed merchandise of a Looney Tunes character? Whether it is or isn’t – it’s damn cool!
As a post-script to our last post: If foot-long raging Mickey’s don’t turn you on, then how about these Star Wars/Disney statues (click thumbnails above to see full image). For $195 a piece you can choose from Mickey as Luke, Minnie as Leia (in the gold bikini from Return of the Jedi), Goofy Chewbacca or Donald as Han in Carbonite.
These limited edition statues (600 each) will be released the second week in June. 500 of each will be available at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, with the remaining 100 of each being sent to Disneyland. We empathize with Jeff Sparkman on cnet.com’s Crave, who is begging Disney and Lucasfilm to stop licensing this cross-promotional stuff. His latest piece is entitled, Dear George Lucas: You’re allowed to say no sometimes.
The Chuck Jones Tom & Jerry cartoons of the 1960s are a mixed bag. There are a couple of good ones (I really like The Cat Above, The Mouse Below and The Cat’s Me-Ouch for example) and a whole bunch of mediocre ones. But one thing that most agree is that the films themselves look great thanks to Maurice Noble’s layouts, Jones character designs and the first rate professionalism of his crew. MGM/UA released a laser disc boxed set of these back in the 1990s (which was marred by awful DVNR clean-up technology, which essentially ruined the cartoons one redeeming value: the animation). Now Warner Bros. is making up for that with two-disc DVD collection of digitally remastered cartoons. Tom & Jerry: Chuck Jones Collection features 34 Tom & Jerry shorts and two bonus documentaries: Peggy Stern’s Chuck Jones: Memories of A Childhood (which airs March 24th at 8pm on TCM) and an original doc, produced by our friends at New Wave Entertainment: Tom and Jerry… and Chuck. It goes on sale June 23rd.
For more information on Chuck Jones check out the new blog devoted to the director, by his grandson Craig Kausen: Chuck Redux blog