I am moving from my apartment this week and into a new one. Thus my posts through next week will be even less frequent than usual.As anyone who’s ever had to pack up their life and move it to a new location knows – it’s hell! And in an effort to share the pain – I direct you to Albert Walker’s website The Agony Booth where he has just posted several lengthy (and humorous) reviews of Ruby Spears awful 1983 Saturday morning series Mt. T.Now you know how I feel about moving.
The official obituary of Joe Grant from the Walt Disney Company.
Most people who appreciate animation also enjoy the ancient art of hand lettering and vintage advertising graphics. Thus, I bring your attention to the website of Charles Bruss and his obsession with Wisconsin Drive In Theatres. In particular I point out his page devoted to old newspaper ads advertising Drive-In movie attractions. It’s great to see Baby Huey, Katnip and Donald Duck used as illustrations in the 1950s clippings – one ad actually mentions a cartoon by name, “Chew Chew Baby” (1958), a particularly notorious Paramount Noveltoon.This ad pictured above, from 1944, boasts six shorts (instead of a second feature, I guess) including The Three Stooges, a Pete Smith specialty, a L’il Abner and Screwball Squirrel! Now, that’s entertainment!
The talented Zach Trenholm writes in with a fascinating note about Joe Grant’s early pre-Disney career. He says:
Many people aren’t aware that before Disney (as long ago as that was!) Joe made his way professionally as a caricaturist, specifically for the long-defunct Los Angeles Record newspaper. Even fewer know that he was the old Lindy’s as well as Sardi’s West resident or house caricaturist. Here’s a few promo postcards from those restaurants that utilized his caricatures:
It’s not often that I get excited about an animated feature, particularly a Japanese animated feature, but I’m really eager to check out Masaaki Yuasa’s MIND GAME. The film debuted in Japan last year to tremendous critical praise (both from industry artists and the media) though that didn’t translate to much box office success. (The film’s official website and trailer can be found HERE.) All I’ve seen so far is the trailer and some stills, but it looks to be that rare type of animated film which exploits the wonderful possibilities of this medium and dares to push the art form into uncharted territory. Even the stills are exciting to look at — the individual drawings are packed with cartoon invention that transcend the cliched graphic formulas which have bogged down American hand-drawn animation for more decades than I care to count. The figures in the still directly above are stylized in an elegant manner that recalls the brilliant comic drawings of Lyonel Feininger, truly this looks unlike anything I have ever seen in animation.
Giving credit where it’s due, I first learned about this film at Ben Ettinger’s superbly intelligent anime blog AniPages Daily. Ben has been on a mission over the past year to introduce this film to Western audiences. You can get a sense of how much he’s written about the film by reading his compiled MIND GAME writings HERE. My friend Joshua Smith was similarly impressed with Ben’s praise for the film, and became so intrigued that he purchased the recently released MIND GAME dvd to experience the film for himself. It blew Josh away and he wrote a fine review of the film which he’s allowing me to share with Brew readers. Here are his thoughts on MIND GAME…
MIND GAME REVIEW
by Joshua Smith
Mind Game is perhaps the first true realization of Japanese psychedelia in an animated feature. Japan has long been the world’s leading producer of so-called psychedelic music, and it now seems that this concept of psychedelia is starting to make its appearance in animated film. It may seem odd to some that the notoriously anti-drug Japan could be so full of psychedelic art, but unlike the Western concept of psychedelia, the Japanese version exists independently of psychedelic drug use: Art by itself is believed to be powerful enough to induce profound experiences distinct from those that drugs can provide. So if the message of Mind Game is “you can do anything if you try,” it never says so explicitly. Instead, the film provides an exhilarating and completely absurd realization of sheer willpower, amplified and caricatured to the fullest extent allowed by animation, forcing the viewer to believe in this aforementioned message with absolute certainty. Watching Mind Game is a potentially life-changing experience, and although it will not appeal to a very large audience, at the very least it is destined to become one of those cult-classic masterpieces that only come around about once a decade.
Providing a plot synopsis for Mind Game would be difficult, pointless, and full of spoilers, but to give some indication about the nature of this film, let me just say that the majority of its running time takes place inside the belly of a whale. Mind Game starts off somewhat like a conventional film; the beginning is slow and a little awkward. Some unconventional artistic choices – the unorthodox art design and the sporadic incorporation of live-action photography into the animation – are the only indications of the creativity that is to follow. The movie slowly builds up its power, demonstrating a higher concentration of innovative elements each passing minute. Still-framing through the movie might reveal individual drawings reminiscent of Aaron Springer’s Spongebob, Glen Keane’s Tarzan, Bill Plympton, modern Japanese iconic character design, and the drawings of a seven-year-old, possibly all within the same few seconds. On the other hand, drawings that might appear to be poorly conceived or crude as standalone images become beautiful in motion. In its second half, Mind Game becomes episodic: a showcase of experimental animation techniques in vignettes that are only tangentially related to the basic plot but serve the purpose of heightening the general spirit of the film. This leads up to the incredible climax: a ten-minute burst of raw energy that is sure to be remembered as a highlight of anime history.
Mind Game is the feature directorial debut of Masaaki Yuasa, whose only previous directorial credit was the pilot to a series called Nanchatte Vampiyan (Vampiyan Kids). However, he has been working as an animation director since the early 90′s, which has allowed him to develop his own unique ideas about animation. Yuasa seems to come from the sect of Japanese animators who emphasize the importance of movement over the importance of individual drawings. He is fond of absurd camera angles and sweeping 3D camera moves in drawn animation, where maintaining the rules of perspective is less important than inducing a sense of vertigo. He understands how to maximize expressive possibilities by deforming the characters and taking them off-model, not simply by using the common Japanese method of symbolic off-model expressions and super-deformed characters, but by genuinely caricaturing actions and emotions in novel ways that you just don’t see in North American animation. He is clearly a fan of classic Hollywood cartoons, and would probably excel at emulating Tex Avery if he wanted to. Virtually every piece of animation I’ve seen where Yuasa is credited (even just as a key animator) retains a hint of his unique personal vision, often in the form of that friendly, innocent Japanese psychedelia that carries none of the negative connotations of Western psychedelia. After viewing some of Yuasa’s other work, like Cat Soup, Noiseman Sound Insect, the Nanchatte Vampiyan pilot, and a few episodes of Crayon Shin-chan, it becomes apparent that a masterpiece like Mind Game is not simply a one-time fluke. Yuasa seems to be blessed with boundless creativity that places him at the forefront of the next generation of Japanese animation masters.
Warner Bros. TV Animation continues to dig itself into a deeper and deeper hole of its own making with its LOONATICS fiasco. First, they changed the main character’s name from Buzz Bunny to Ace Bunny, then there was last week’s very public announcement that they’re redesigning all the characters, and now they’re reportedly trying to get rid of the LOONATICS name itself. A friend tells me that there’s currently an in-house contest at Warner Bros. Animation inviting employees to suggest a less decrepit title for the show. I have a few choice suggestions, but unfortunately none of them are appropriate for print.
Rick Goldschmidt has posted a set of rare stop-mo animation spots on his Rankin Bass website. We especially like the short 2-D FROSTY THE SNOWMAN pencil test footage (from the 1969 TV special).(Thanks to Mike Milo for pointing this out)
Don’t miss this – the May/June issue of PRINT (“America’s Graphic Design Magazine”) contains John Canemaker’s in-depth, profusely illustrated article “Farm Subsidy” about the 1954 Halas & Batchelor feature cartoon ANIMAL FARM and how it came to be funded by the CIA.Also, Canemaker reports that he will be in France next month: his new 28-min. animated film THE MOON AND THE SON: AN IMAGINED CONVERSATION has been accepted for competition at the Annecy International Animation Festival, June 6-12.Good luck, John!
If you are in Hollywood on Thursday night – and are looking for things to do – I highly recommend you spend an evening with Janet Klein And Her Parlor Boys. I’ll be there with my “opening act”: several 1930s musical shorts and cartoons in 16mm, preceeding a wonderful evening of live 1920s/early 1930s jazz, rag-time, blues and novelty songs. The fun starts at 8pm Thursday night May 5th at the Steve Allen Theatre in the Los Feliz area, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., (West of Vermont, across from Barnsdall Park). We do this the first Thursday of every month. Please check Janet’s website (under “Showtime”) for more details.
There’s a great post about the classic Ward Kimball short TOOT WHISTLE PLUNK AND BOOM (1953) at the appropriately named Ward-O-Matic, the blog of Atlanta-based animation director Ward Jenkins. The entry includes dozens of frame grabs, which are inspiring to look at even if you’ve already seen the film countless times, as most readers of the Brew surely have. In these stills, one can admire the amazing character design work of Tom Oreb and color styling of Eyvind Earle, but the film is equally impressive to watch in motion (which is not always the case with highly styled animation). The inventive graphic movement created by Kimball, Art Stevens, Julius Svendsen and Marc Davis adds the perfect complement to the contemporary designs of Oreb and Earle. I can’t say enough great things about this cartoon, but don’t take my word — just check out all the visual goodness at Ward’s site.
I’m happy to report our Saturday afternoon screening of rare Scrappy cartoons was a success – but I’d rather let co-host Harry McCracken and Asifa’s Larry Loc (scroll down) tell you about it with their own pictures and comments on their respective blogs.If you missed this once-in-a lifetime event, Asifa-Hollywood is hosting a fuller tribute to Dick Huemer with rare cartoons and special guests on June 9th at the Glendale Central Library. Ray Pointer is organizing this and it looks to be a very special evening.
Robert “Bobe” Cannon (1909-1964) is somebody we don’t talk about nearly often enough on Cartoon Brew. I write about Cannon in greater depth in my upcoming book on 50s animation design, but here’s something I noticed about his work the other day. The image on the left is from a scene that Bobe Cannon animated in Tex Avery’s LITTLE RURAL RIDING HOOD (1949). The image on right is a layout drawing by Cannon from the first Columbia theatrical he directed at UPA, THE MINER’S DAUGHTER (1950). So much is made of Cannon’s dislike for Avery-style humor, but this is an interesting visual example that shows even while working with Avery’s characters and gags, he found opportunities to pursue his own unique graphic style of drawing and movement. On a sidenote, it’s worth mentioning that Italian animation historian Giannalberto Bendazzi has been working on an in-depth biography of Bobe Cannon. I don’t think there’s any release date set for his book, but it promises to shed a lot of light on the life and career of this great animator-director.
A couple brief notes:
> Leonard Maltin recommends my book THE ART OF ROBOTS on his WEBSITE. He writes: “The end result on screen is overwhelming at times; I’m glad to have a book that allows me to admire the artwork one image at a time.” His recommendation is about two-thirds of the page down. Thanks, Leonard!
> The surest way to get a link on Cartoon Brew? Create a post on your blog titled “All Hail Amid Amidi” and draw a caricature of me surrounded by beaver clouds and other monstrous creations.
The surest way to scare the hell out of me? Create a post on your blog titled “All Hail Amid Amidi” and draw a caricature of me surrounded by beaver clouds and other monstrous creations.