JANET KLEIN

janet2.jpgOnce again this Thursday night – and every first Thursday of the each month – Jerry Beck will be the opening act for Janet Klein & Her Parlor Boys at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood.Janet and her boys play authentic 20s jazz music live, and I start the proceedings by providing about 45 minutes of vintage musical shorts and cartoons in glorious 16mm monophonic movie projection. It’s a lot of fun – and if you are in the area, I highly recommend you check out the program. This month I’m showing Fleischer, Terrytoons and Harman-Ising goodies along with some zany live action rareties. Janet and her band are amazing! Here’s a clip of her singing Yiddish Hula Boy in the style of a Max Fleischer Screen Song! Join us!THURSDAY, DECEMBER 2nd, 2004, 8:00 pm
The STEVE ALLEN THEATRE

4773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
(West of Vermont, across from Barnsdale Park)
$15 323-666-4268 for reservations
More info at www.janetklien.com

KRUMPET KONTEST #2

krumpet1.jpgGood day. Here is day two of our contest (which ends tomorrow). The first two people with the correct answer (or what I think is the correct answer) to this question arriving in my email-box wins the dvd prize – 2003 Academy Award Winner HARVIE KRUMPET – courtesy of our friends at StudioWorks Entertainment. Today’s question is:

In 1990, two clay animated shorts by Aardman’s Nick Park were nominated for the Oscar. What was the name of the film that won?

The Contest is now OVER. Today’s winners were Michael Nusair and Todd Jacobsen. The answer was : Creature Comforts

More Cartoon Murals

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Cartoon Brew reader Marc Crisafulli responded to my recent post about cartoon murals with an additional mural (see above) that he saw offered for auction at eBay. This one included cartoon work by Milt Gross, Percy Crosby, George McManus, and others, along with some pin-up art. Sadly for us, it was created for a popular speakeasy, so it’s a few decades too late to see it in its original location.

On the other hand, New York’s the Palm Restaurant, which I need to get to someday, is alive and thriving–and its walls feature work by everyone from Billy De Beck to Carmine Infantino. (The Palm’s other branches have walls festooned with cartoons, too, although at the Boston location, at least, some beloved characters are seriously off-model.) Here’s the Palm’s page on its wall art, with a short article by R.C. Harvey.

SAM COBEAN WEBSITE

magichat2.jpgWilloughby’s Magic
Hat (1943)
The family of cartoonist Sam Cobean have just set up a new website, Sam Cobean’s World, featuring many of his cartoons, biographical information, photos, articles and obituaries. Included in the site are over 200 photos of Cobean’s original drawings from the collection owned by his estate. They have been organized into a browseable photo gallery. Family member Dan Loomis says:

“We hope to make Sam Cobean as well known by current generations as he was in the 1940s-50s. His untimely death in July, 1951, was a sad loss to the world of humorous cartooning.”

Cobean became a successful magazine panel cartoonist after World War II. Prior to the war Cobean had been an inbetweener and storyman at Disney, then joined Screen Gems in the early forties writing some of the best cartoons that studio ever produced – including the lengendary WILLOUGHBY’S MAGIC HAT, WAY DOWN YONDER IN THE CORN plus several other classic Fox & Crow shorts.

JOHN PARR MILLER (1913-2004)

peewee.jpgThe NY TIMES posted this sad news today:

John Parr Miller, an early animator for Walt Disney whose later art adorned best-selling children’s books, including those in the popular Little Golden Books series, died on Oct. 29 on Long Island. He was 91 and lived in Manhasset, N.Y.

Best known as J.P. Miller, the illustrator of several incredible Little Golden Books, Miller’s art is still influential to a new generation of animators artists. His “Little Red Hen” is still in print and considered a classic. “Lucky Mrs. Ticklefeather,” “Little Pee Wee” “The Little Golden Funny Book”, “The Marvelous Merry-Go-Round”, “Tommy’s Wonderful Rides”, “The Circus ABC” and many others, define the Little Golden Book style. These books, all done in the late 1940s and early 50s, are prime examples of the stylized modern commercial art of the era – and a huge influence on many of today’s best animators (including Spumco), leading cartoonists and commercial designers.According to the Times obit:

John Parr Miller found himself in Hollywood during the Depression, with a widowed mother, need of a job and a portfolio from Grand Central Art School, which he had attended for a little more than two years. He found work in the story department at Disney Studio in 1934… In 1937 he was one of only three artists asked to start the studio’s character model department. According to studio archives, he helped create characters for Disney “Pinocchio,” “Fantasia” and “Dumbo.” He left Disney for military service in World War II, when he made training films for the Navy. After the war, Golden Books recruited him and several other Disney veterans to enliven children’s books for a mass market, to go beyond the bland Dick and Jane primers of yore. Mr. Miller continued his work as a freelance artist until about 10 years ago.

KRUMPET KONTEST #1

krumpet1.jpgOur new contest (for today through Wednesday). The first two people with correct answer (or what I think is the correct answer) to this question arriving in my email-box wins the dvd prize – 2003 Academy Award Winner HARVIE KRUMPET – courtesy of our friends at High Fidelity Media. Today’s question is:

In 1974, a clay animated short won the Oscar. What was the name of that film?

The Contest is now OVER. The winners were Robert J. Reynolds and Alan Hershey. The answer is: CLOSED MONDAYS by Will Vinton and Bob Gardiner.

Monday Morning Inspiration

WORKING DOLLARS is a John Sutherland industrial film from the mid-’50s that can be downloaded for free at Archive.org. Unfortunately the film print is awful – scratched up, spliced and faded – and one can only imagine how much cooler a clean print of this film would be. The film’s super-appealing designs and layouts are by Bernie Gruver (1923-1985) and the solid animation is by Emery Hawkins, George Cannata and Jim Pabian. I don’t know much about Gruver, but his design sense is terrific. At Playhouse Pictures, where he worked from the late-’50s through the mid-’60s, he designed the very distinctive Friskie Puppies spots, and then Gruver worked with Bill Melendez for many years on the PEANUTS specials including the classics like A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS and IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN. Here’s a look at Gruver’s Friskies designs:

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Popeye’s Darkest Hour

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I can’t imagine how awful Mainframe’s CG Popeye looks in motion, but these stills are disgusting enough. Frank Panucci, who posted the frame grabs on Animation Nation and has had the misfortune of watching this, describes the CG sailor man as follows: “Popeye’s face, as designed, textured, and animated in 3D by Mainframe, looks like a big bald scrotum.” Compare to the beautiful graphic shapes in the hand-drawn shorts, then go wash your eyes and never speak of this aesthetic monstrosity again.

More Thoughts on the Spongebob Movie

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE

THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE isn’t THE INCREDIBLES, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. The film has a simpler goal: make the audience laugh for an hour-and-a-half. And laugh I did, quite frequently throughout the movie, though it’s interesting to note that the laughter was typically because of either the dialogue (“My eyes! My eyes!”) or a humorous situation (Spongebob and Patrick’s hand-knee slap-jive). There were only three instances during the entire film where I laughed because of the drawings and animation: when Spongebob is “drunk” from ice cream, when Patrick and Spongebob are trying to suppress themselves from singing the “Goofy Goober” song in the biker’s bar, and when Patrick and Spongebob are drying out under the heat of a lamp. In these few sequences, the awesome visual potential of the movie became apparent and the characters rose above their clumsy ’80s DiC-throwback designs to actually deliver on the promise of a cartoony animated feature created by artists. Granted, the rest of the film had funny drawings as well, more than entire seasons of a lot of animated TV series, but the cartoon acting was so inventive in the three aforementioned sequences as to make the rest of the film’s poses and expressions seem downright pedestrian. Perhaps one day we’ll see an animated feature that isn’t afraid to entertain with drawing and animation for a full 90-minutes. Until then, SPONGEBOB is a half decent start towards that goal.

Other brief observations…

> I realize that the dedication at the end of the film – Jules Engel (1909?-2003) – is because SPONGEBOB creator Stephen Hillenburg is a graduate of Engel’s Experimental Animation program at CalArts. Nonetheless, it is ironic that a film with such garish and slapdash color styling would be dedicated to Engel, the artist who introduced the “Color Styling” credit at UPA and who was a proponent for the intelligent use of color in animated cartoons.

> The brief stop motion bit in the film was animated by Screen Novelties founders Seamus Walsh and Mark Caballero and their frequent collaborator Chris Finnegan. It was a pleasantly spontaneous moment in a film that was too heavily plot-driven and bogged down with linear storytelling. David Edelstein put it best in his review of the film for SLATE: “I like my SPONGEBOB a little less lumbering, a little more free-associational, without that big, heavy anchor of a story structure to weigh him down.” The film’s characters are too silly and unique for the conventional trappings of Hollywood storytelling; we never believe that Spongebob and Patrick are in any real danger, so consequently, the scenes with the villains – Plankton, Dennis the Hitman, etc. – are the most tiresome and unnecessary. Had the filmmakers simply created a light-hearted adventure about Spongebob and Patrick embarking on a quest to become men, and thrown in a few more non sequiturs (Patrick in fishnet stockings and heels was a nice touch), the film would have been plenty more entertaining; the potential was there for this film to become a YELLOW SUBMARINE for the Nick generation.

> Apparently, former cast members of the TV sitcom COACH make really solid animation voice actors. Bill Fagerbakke’s Patrick the Starfish is one of the most entertaining cartoon voices I’ve heard in a long time, the perfect blend of idiocy and heart, and Craig T. Nelson’s understated performance as Bob Parr in THE INCREDIBLES was the voice acting surprise of the year. Now it’s Jerry Van Dyke’s turn to amaze us with his vocal chops…

HOLIDAY WEEKEND PINK & BLUES

pinktitles.jpgAs for why I’m not posting so much this holiday weekend – I’m immersed in severe work overload and deadline panic on two (count ‘em 2) book projects: THE PINK PANTHER: THE ULTIMATE VISUAL GUIDE (DK Publishing) and ANIMATED FEATURES FILMS: A COMPLETE GUIDE (Chicago Review Press/Acappella Books). Memo to myself: Never commit to two books at the same time.I will tell you more about these projects when we get closer to publication… right now, let’s just say they look good and they’re still on schedule…

THOUGHTS ON THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE

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Saw THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE last night. It’s a kid’s flick, but a really funny, really good kids flick. I liked it a lot.I’m still warming in the afterglow of the greatness that is THE INCREDIBLES – Pixar’s film is a classic, aimed at all audiences and works on all levels. SPONGEBOB is the best in the recent crop of TV-spinoff movies – a group which includes the RUGRATS movies (they are better than they have any right to be), THE POWERPUFF GIRLS MOVIE (with its strong designs), and TEACHER’S PET (excellent humor, design and direction) – It’s perhaps the best Nickelodeon Movie thus far (full disclosure, I used to work for Nick Movies developing animated features), it encompasses the subversive nature of the channel, the network’s kids empowerment message and great animation design that is classic, yet takes full advantage of the medium’s surreal language.It’s not perfect – but it’s good moments are really good – the highlight for me being the song Spongebob and Patrick sing about being “men” while marching through a monster filled trench – featuring the coolest alien creature designs I’ve seen since Kimball’s MARS & BEYOND.While the animation itself is adequate, the star of the show are the strong layouts, poses, hilarious facial expressions, great comic timing and even funny sound effects (I noticed a cool sound cue from an old Speed Racer episode at one point, but I think I was the only person in the theatre who “got it”).As an animation historian, I thought it was great that this Paramount release has so much combination live action and animation (like Koko The Clown, which Paramount once distributed long ago) and in the Goofy Goober ice cream sequence there is an homage to two early Paramount cartoon stars – Krazy Kat and Popeye – on the wall behind the characters (look close – there’s a panel from the first comic strip appearence of Popeye, and a classic Ignatz & Krazy brick tossing drawing).It’s not the greatest animated film of the year – but a refreshing, worthy, funny holiday movie that is certainly encouraging during this time of 2-D suppression.

The Great Cartoon Murals

small.jpgSo I’m trying to get for Iowa City for Thanksgiving–but at the moment, I’m stuck at the San Francisco airport, where my flight has been delayed by three hours. What better way to kill time than to celebrate the happy news of the rescue of Dick Huemer’s murals with a look at other murals by cartoonists?

Back on October 29th, 2002 (scroll down), Jerry blogged at CARTOON RESEARCH on the old Museum of Cartoon Art’s bathroom murals, which included work by Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Wendy Pini, and many others. I’m not sure if these were saved when the Museum left Port Chester, New York for Boca Raton. (Anybody know?) But at least we have photos. (Matthew Hasson, if you’re reading this–maybe it’s time to repost yours on the Web?)

Like Dick Huemer, Charles Schulz decorated a wall at his home with children’s illustrations. Fortunately, Sparky’s work was not only saved, but is on public view at the Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California.

When I was a kid, I didn’t consider any trip to New York complete without a visit to a saloon called Costello’s. No, I wasn’t a budding barfly–Costello’s had amazing murals by James Thurber, and a less-amazing but still interesting wall with art by the likes of Milt Caniff and Mort Walker. Here’s an article from early 2004 with the alarming news that the Thurber murals are missing and the cartoonist’s wall is threatened. (By now, it may be history.)

Lastly, LA’s Chinatown welcomes visitors with a big outdoor mural of a dragon by Disney inspirational artist Ty Wong. (Click here and scroll down to see it–I learned it was by Ty when his BAMBI colleague, Maurice Noble, pointed it out to me.) Ty Wong has done a remarkable number of interesting things in his long career–here’s the online companion to a recent museum exhibit of his work.

Anyone know of other cartoon murals, past or present? Hmmmm–there’s Mary Blair’s Disney theme park work…

The Animation Documentary Of the Year

DREAM ON SILLY DREAMER sounds awesome! I want to see this film!! And it sounds like it would make a perfect double feature with THE SWEATBOX, the film by Sting’s wife (does she even have a name?) documenting the hilariously inept production of THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE. Florida animator Hugo Giraud first clued me in to DREAM ON:

Former Disney animators Tony West and Dan Lund have made a documentary about the downfall of traditional animation at Disney and the layoffs/closings of mainly the Burbank and Orlando studios. It contains some animation (I pitched in a bit) and has a couple of the big guns like Andreas Deja interviewed (as seen in the TRAILER). The film has been locked after post and it’s now seeking festival venues and distribution.

West and Lund obviously have an appreciation for the Disney animation tradition that the management at the studio currently does not have, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they have to say in this film. The original animation created for the doc also looks like a lot of fun, and it seems like they’ve put a lot of love and care into this film (check out their “WestLund” homage logo at the beginning of the trailer).

GREEN SCREEN UPDATE

Here’s an update to our earlier STORY about Drew Carey’s live-action/cartoon series. I’ve heard from a few folks close to DREW CAREY’S GREEN SCREEN SHOW and they both have similarly depressing news about the show’s future. Says one source: “Yes, we are contractually finishing up our last episode this week and then we’ll be disbanded like a Peruvian brothel after a police raid.” Says a second source: “I would say it is cancelled; they dropped it a few weeks ago, after the fifth episode. However we are still working on it to finish up the contractually obligated 12 episodes. So there are more left (I’ve seen some of them and as a whole they are funnier than the first five), but when they’ll ever air is a mystery. Even though some say it is on hiatus I feel it is like BATMAN BEYOND’S hiatus – a show every one swore wasn’t cancelled but when was the last time you saw a new episode air.”

CONTEST #5

golden3.jpgOur final contest (for now). The first two people with correct answer (or what I think is the correct answer) to this simple question arriving in my email-box wins a prize. Both winners today get a copy LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION Volume 2. Today’s question is:

What was the last theatrical Warner Bros. cartoon short to feature voice work by Billy Bletcher?(Hint: The one I’m thinking of is on LTGC V.2)

The Contest is now OVER. Craig Davison and David Dobrydney (sp?) were the winners. The answer was: A Bear For Punishment (1951) as Papa Bear.

DC REPRINTS FOX & CROW!

foxcrowcom.jpgWell not quite.The Fox and Crow, Flippity & Flop, Sugar & Spike, and Nutsy Squirrel are a few of the characters who get a page devoted to them in a new book, The Golden Age of DC Comics: 365 Days by Les Daniels, Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear (Abrams, hardcover, $29.95).goldendc.jpgThe book is an elaborate page-a-day calendar. Each spread represents a particular day, with a little informational paragraph by Daniels about a DC comics character on one side, and a huge Kidd/Spear color dots enlarged comics panel image on the other. The Fox & Crow appear on April 13th and June 21st.Of course there are numerous of pictures of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman from dozens of golden age comics – but how often do we see images of Dodo and the Frog (a favorite of mine – drawn by animator Otto Feuer) in a coffee table book?

The World Loves Animation

This past weekend, three out of the top four movies at the North American box office – THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE, THE INCREDIBLES, THE POLAR EXPRESS – were animated films. I’m too lazy to do research, but I’d be willing to bet that this is the first time it’s ever happened. Meanwhile, in Japan this past weekend, Hayao Miyazaki’s latest animated film HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE set a new Japanese box office record for an opening weekend, taking in 1.5 billion yen ($14.6 million).

Green Screen No More?

Boy that was fast. DREW CAREY’S GREEN SCREEN SHOW, the Ron Diamond-produced TV series that mixed live-action improv with animation, is already off the WB’s schedule. I’ve heard both that it’s been cancelled and that it’s temporarily on hiatus, though it’s not clear which story is accurate. I saw the first episode and actually enjoyed it, but forgot to watch all the subsequent episodes.

CONTEST #4

golden3.jpgwackyraces.jpg Once again I ask a simple question. The first two people with correct answers (or what I think is the correct answer) to hit my email-box win a prize. Today I have two prizes. The first place winner gets to choose his or her prize from the two.Today’s prizes are: WACKY RACES: THE COMPLETE SERIES and LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION Vol.2. Today’s question is:

Which Warner Bros. cartoon director made the first cartoon to star Henery Hawk?

The Contest is now OVER. The winners are Barb Herholzer and Tyler Sticka. The answer is: Chuck Jones – in the 1942 cartoon THE SQUAWKIN’ HAWK.

Defending the McCay

Larry Loc, a Winsor McCay Award committee member and one of ASIFA-Hollywood’s hardest working board members, has written a defense of their decision to award Virginia Davis a lifetime achievement award. Needless to say, I don’t agree one bit, but in the interest of presenting both sides of the story, here is a link to his COMMENTS. My gripe remains that Ms. Davis simply doesn’t fit ASIFA-Hollywood’s own criteria for the award, which is meant to honor lifetime contributions to the art of animation and for work that exhibits outstanding contributions to excellence in animation. Giving the award to a child actress who may have held some minor degree of responsibility in helping Walt Disney get his first theatrical series is not in my opinion a wise use of the honor, especially when there are artists who have spent 40-50 years in this business creating beautiful art day in and day out and who remain unrecognized.

DICK HUEMER MURALS SAVED!

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Complain about the Annie awards all you want – Asifa-Hollywood is a great organization that does much good to promote and preserve the cause of animation.Case in point, last week I posted an urgent plea from Richard Huemer (son of animator Dick Huemer) about a hand painted mural in the former Huemer home that was about to be demolished. On Saturday Asifa Hollywood members, led by organization president Antran Manoogian, helped preserve those walls from the Huemer home. Antran was able to negotiate with the demolition company to save two bedroom walls which featured original artwork by Huemer of classic Disney characters. The artwork is now being kept at a temporary storage location. See more photos here. Thanks to Antran and all the volunteers that helped make this happen.