Cartoons Get No Respect in LA TIMES

There was an article by TV critic Robert Lloyd in last Sunday’s LA TIMES about the upcoming BOONDOCKS animated series on Cartoon Network, and television animation in general. It’s a positive piece, but what was particularly jarring was Lloyd’s condescending (and unfortunately, all too typical) attitude that animation is primarily a children’s medium. The final point he makes in the piece:

Like the comics, cartoons are children’s things made by adults who are not finished with children’s things. The reason the best of them have cross-generational appeal is not that they contain jokes for adults and jokes for children but that everything in them represents that doubleness: The dumbest jokes are there for the adults too, just as the smarter ones are there for the kids who know enough to get them – and for the kids who don’t, they stand for the fact that there are things still to know, that (pace Homer Simpson) there is something to aspire to: Bugs Bunny cool. And in the meantime, like Huey and Riley, you try to think for yourself. That’s what the cartoons tell us.
It’s exasperating that in 2005, after one hundred years of animated films, mainstream critics still can’t wrap it around their thick skulls that just because something is animated doesn’t automatically mean it’s a product intended for children. To this critic, the best cartoons have “cross-generational appeal” as if a piece of animation that didn’t appeal to both children and adults would somehow be deficient. Granted, most of the shows he writes about in the column are cartoons geared specifically towards children, but it’s a gross disservice to animated discourse to lump adult-oriented animation like THE SIMPSONS and “Adult Swim” shows into the same pot as DANNY PHANTOM and THE BUZZ ON MAGGIE, and judge them all on the basis of whether they appeal to both children and adults. If a critic ever said that comics by Crumb, Spiegelman, Ware and Seth are “children’s things made by adults” and something that merely provides “a release for adults,” that critic would be run out of town, but sadly, this misinformed mindset persists about the animated film.

Chicken Little Belittled

SLANT MAGAZINE’s review of CHICKEN LITTLE begins:

A better name for Chicken Little might have been My First Spielberg Movie given how this mostly innocuous computer-animated contraption takes the childlike but mature feelings of E.T. and War of the Worlds and repackages them as childish sitcom tosh.

And it only gets worse from there

[Earlier on the Brew: VARIETY’s negative review of CHICKEN LITTLE]

The Boy, The Beer and the Bus

What better way to document a film festival than to make a film about it? That’s exactly what Rita Street’s friend, Gayle Ellett, did to document this year’s Ottawa Animation Festival. Gayle doesn’t work in animation, but his laugh-out loud “home-made” film accurately captures the Ottawa flavor, complete with goofy-looking artist types, lots of drinking, and inane animation show pitches. Watch THE BOY, THE BEER AND THE BUS HERE.

CHANNEL FREDERATOR

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Today Fred Seibert launches Channel Frederator, the world’s first cartoon video podcast, established to distribute commercial and eclectic cartoon content to portable video devices such as the new Apple iPod and the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP).Released weekly, Channel Frederator will contain several short form original and classic cartoons submitted by producers from around the world, packaged into 10 to 15 minute episodes by Seibert’s programming team.

The first episode features four submitted cartoons beginning with “Barrista,” a 2D student film by Pendelton Ward, a director currently completing his first Nickelodeon animated short. Next up is Santa Monica-based Blur Studio’s computer generated short “In the Rough.” Independent filmmaker and musician Eileen Brennan adds the flash production “Go Spy Go.” The last cartoon in Episode #1 is Dave Thomas’ flash film “Mantelope” from Wild Brain, San Francisco’s largest animation studio.

Cartoon producers are invited to submit their short films for inclusion in weekly episodes. For a free subscription to the Channel Frederator podcast, go to the iTunes Podcast Directory and search for Channel Frederator, or go to the web site www.channelfrederator.com and click ‘Subscribe.’

CANEMAKER ON BOTH COASTS

nemopanel.jpgJohn Canemaker will give lectures and screenings in both New York and Los Angeles to celebrate the revised edition of his book WINSOR McCAY. Both the book and Canemaker’s lectures are highly recommended by us at Cartoon Brew.In New York, you can catch Canemaker at MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art, 6:30pm, Titus 2 Theatre) on Thursday November 17, 2005 in a special talk about McCay, illustrated with images from Canemaker’s newly expanded biography, and a screening of four of McCay’s greatest films: Little Nemo (1911), How a Mosquito Operates (1912), Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), and The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918). Following the presentation, Canemaker will sign copies of his book.Canemaker will also present this lecture at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) on January 14th, 2006. More details on his Los Angeles visit as we get closer to the date. If you live on the east coast or west coast – mark your calenders now.

KRAZY SATURDAY

krazyrare2.jpgJust a quick reminder that if you have any interest in the history of animation – and if you happen to be in Southern California today – you might want to drop by Asifa-Hollywood’s screening of 12 very rare Columbia KRAZY KAT cartoons from the 1929-1934 period. All the hard core classic cartoon fans in the area will be there. I’ll be hosting the event and selling a few classic cartoon odds and ends at the check-in table. Special thanks to Michael Schlesinger at Columbia Pictures for allowing us to screen these 35mm vault prints. For more info see ASIFA-Hollywood’s website.

Is there a doctor in the house?

Spline Doctors

Six animators at Pixar have banded together to start a (well titled) blog named Spline Doctors. Besides animating, all these guys teach animation in the evenings. The goal, they write, is to create “a forum to discuss animation education and whatever else.” Should be fun to see what they come up with. The animators involved are:Scott Clark
Andrew Gordon
Stephen Gregory
Angus MacLane
Billy Merritt
Mike Venturini

TCM TO SCREEN MIYAZAKI

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ICv2.com is reporting that Turner Classic Movies will be running nine Miyazaki films in January 2006. This is the package of Studio Ghibli features that Disney acquired, which includes Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso and Whisper of the Heart. No word if TCM is going to run them subtitled or dubbed. This is probably timed to remind Academy voters to consider Howl’s Moving Castle for Best Animated Feature. While I’m not crazy about TCM showing anything after 1970, I do admit Miyazaki’s works are true modern classics.And there’s no doubt in my mind that Disney does the best English dubs. Last night I had the the privilege of screening the new dub of MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO and doing a Q&A with the staff of Disney Character Voices responsible for the Ghibli adaptations. Having been principally involved with the original 1989 dubs of TOTORO and KIKI, I am delighted with these upgrades. And seeing Totoro again, after so many years, confirms my own subjective belief that this is Miyazaki’s best film – period. It also reassured me that traditional hand drawn feature animation is not dead, and will not die if animators are inspired to tell a great story.Check the TCM homepage in January for more information on the Miyazaki festival.

JACK MATHIS (1931-2005)

valleybook.jpgI don’t go off topic many times here on Cartoon Brew, but an obituary in today’s L.A. TIMES is worth noting.Jack Mathis passed away a week or so ago. I never met the man, but I have great respect for him and his life’s work chronicling the history of Republic Pictures. Mathis ran an advertising agency in Illinois as a day job, but on the side he spent decades self-publishing several books detailing the history of Hollywood’s greatest B-movie studio. And detail is the operative word. His books, particularly VALLEY OF THE CLIFFHANGERS, are as meticulous as they were beautifully produced. And they were very influential to me and the approach I try to aspire in researching and writing about animation history. He was finishing up his magnum opus, REPUBLIC CONFIDENTIAL (part 3), when he passed away. I certainly hope his estate will finish the project for him – as a tribute to his life.

Swindle and Esopus

SWINDLE and ESOPUS

It’s always exciting to see animated films and animation artists receive recognition in mainstream art publications. Achieving this type of acceptance has been an uphill battle for many years, but it seems that nowadays, art publications are increasingly opening their doors to animation-related stories. For example, SWINDLE MAGAZINE, a top-notch art/culture quarterly with a heavy West Coast bent, has an interview with David Weidman in their latest issue (#4). They call him “one of the friendliest, most jovial 85-year-olds you’ll come across,” and having interviewed Dave for my 1950s animation design book, I can attest to the accuracy of that statement. Animation was an important part of Weidman’s career, but he also spent a lot of time producing his own artwork, including beautiful silk screen prints that can be purchased at WeidmansArt.com. The only downside to the SWINDLE article is that the writer isn’t particularly well versed in animation history so he’s unable to ask Weidman specific questions about his animation career and find out exactly what he did at UPA (and other studios like Storyboard and Hanna Barbera). There’s also some errors, like the chronology of when Weidman worked on the ill-fated John Hubley feature FINIAN’S RAINBOW. Pretty minor stuff. Overall, it’s great to see a classic animation artist receive an 8-page spread (and the back cover) of a classy publication like SWINDLE.

The equally commendable East Coast arts publication, ESOPUS, also has an animation feature in their most current issue (#5). No errors are to be found in this article because it’s written by John Canemaker. In the piece, entitled “Let a Thousand Drawings Bloom,” John examines a scene from “The Nutcracker Suite” sequence in FANTASIA, and discusses the contributions of the scene’s various artists including development artist Elmer Plummer and fx animator Cy Young. The piece, which includes a beautiful color sketch by Plummer and four pages printed on translucent paper to recreate the light table effect, serves as something of an ode to the painstaking, labor-intensive process of creating hand-drawn animation. Though hand-drawn animation is becoming increasingly obsolete at modern studios, Canemaker believes that animation on paper has an effect that today’s digital creations cannot replicate. He writes:

While much is gained using the new technologies, there is a certain sense of loss, too. There’s the touchy-feely aspect of artifacts that represent the solid residue of human imagination; they don’t exist in the digital world as they do in these thought-filled lines on tactile paper. By feeling the paper, holding it in one’s hand, one is able to get a sense of the artist and the artist’s mental processes, not to mention the effort that went into making the sketch.

Props to both SWINDLE and ESOPUS for publishing these stories and treating animation with respect. Hopefully we’ll see more magazines doing these type of animation stories in the future.

Corpse Bride Director in Montreal

Mikek Johnson

FPS magazine began an excellent series of lectures last summer called the Animation Innovator series. Their first guest was animation legend Ray Harryhausen, and the series continues next Wednesday, October 26, with a presentation by CORPSE BRIDE director Mike Johnson. The event takes place in Montreal at Concordia University (Hall Alumni Auditorium, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. West, Montreal, Quebec). Johnson, who has also worked on THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH and THE PJS, will discuss the making of CORPSE BRIDE and show puppets from the production. The presentation will also include a screening of Johnson’s short film THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO GEORGIA. Ticket info and further details are at the FPS website.

One Froggy Tune

One Froggy Evening

Most Brew readers have likely seen Chuck Jones’s ONE FROGGY EVENING (1955) more times than they can count, but do you know the answers to the following questions:

Were the songs “real” songs or were they written especially for ONE FROGGY EVENING?
Who wrote them and when?
Are these all turn-of-the-century songs?
What are the songs really about – what are the rest of the lyrics?

This neat little WEBSITE answered all those questions and told me more about the classic Jones short than I ever wanted to know.

DISNEY’S TOTORO DUB

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Sunday night I’ll be moderating a Q&A at the Hollywood Film Festival closing night World Premiere for Disney’s dub of MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO. Hayao Miyazaki’s 1988 animated classic has been re-dubbed by an all-star cast including Dakota Fanning, Timothy Daly and Pat Carroll. It’s one of Miyazaki’s best, and it’s currently getting hard-to-find on dvd. October 23rd at 7pm at the Arclight Cinema on Sunset Blvd. More info HERE.

MEET JANET WALDO

judyjetson.jpgShe was Josie, Judy Jetson and Penelope Pitstop…. to name but a few. Women In Animation is hosting a luncheon with voice actress Janet Waldo, at the Smoke House in Burbank, on Saturday November 19th.

The latest in WIA’s series of “Where The Bodies Are Buried” Salons will feature the legendary Ms. Waldo, who’ll tell us what it was like working in cartoons in the early, non-corporate days. If you want to hear the unauthorized version of the Golden years of Animation, reserve a place for yourself on Saturday. November 19, at The Smoke House (one of the last remaining Old Industry watering holes), from 12 noon to around 3-ish. $23.00 per person.Menu: Choice of chicken teriyaki, caesar salad with blackened salmon or caesar salad with chicken. Coffee or tea included. No-host bar (they offer a martini cited by the Los Angeles Times as legendary). Pre-pay recommended, as seating is limited.

Please RSVP to (310) 535-3838 by November 16th. The price of the event is $23.00, Send your check to: WIA/Waldo Salon P.O. Box 251, Topanga, CA 90290. Please specify your food preference. The Smoke House is at 4420 Lakeside Drive, in Burbank, across from the Warner Bros. lot. Valet parking available.

KRAZY KAT SCREENING

krazyasifa1.jpgASIFA-Hollywood will be screening a dozen extremely rare KRAZY KAT cartoons on Saturday October 29th at 3pm – at the AFI in Hollywood.Columbia Pictures KRAZY KAT cartoons are hard enough to see as they are. Originally made for theatres (1929-1939) and later released to TV in the 1950s, the series has been unavailable for viewing for the last 40 years. Though based on the George Herriman comic strip, the Columbia cartoons were the end of a continous line of shorts that began in 1916. By 1929, producer Charles Mintz (the man who took Oswald Rabbit – and the entire animation staff – away from Walt Disney, forcing him & Ub Iwerks to invent Mickey Mouse) had evolved the character from Herriman’s neurotic female into a happy-go-lucky song & dance man – not so different from such early 30s characters such as Bosko, Oswald, Mickey Mouse and Flip the Frog.The twelve cartoons being screened by Asifa next week were never part of the 50s television package, never distributed in 16mm and have not been seen since their original release in the late 20s and early 30s. They contain various characters drinking liquour, vicious ethnic stereotyping and hints of pre-code sex! Several have surreal Fleischer-like imagery and extreme rubber-hose animation – and all contain hot jazz soundtracks typical of their day. Asifa will be screening brand new restored 35mm prints, each retaining their rare original titles.If you enjoy oddball black & white 1930s animation, if you are into funky early sound cartoons – or if you think you’ve seen it all – you haven’t seen these! I urge you to join me on Saturday October 29th. Take it from me: these will never be released on DVD. More information here.

EYE CANDY

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Coolest video this year: Try Telling That To Your Baby by Montreal’s Fluorescent Hill, a directing team comprised of Mark Lomond, Johanne Ste-Marie and Darren Pasemko. The song isn’t so great, but the visuals are superb. More stuff here.

Lomond writes a bit about the production of the video:

The video is made from several thousand photos of candy, which were then digitally painted and composited together. Animation was completed with cg cutouts, stop motion, video, and plain ol’ drawings. The mouths are all 2d and although we were tempted to go 3d for the bulk of the project, we opted for ulcers, headaches, and passion.

Dahl/Disney’s Gremlins are Back

Gremlins

Somehow I missed the news that Dark Horse Comics is working on a February 2006 re-release of the 1943 Roald Dahl children’s book, THE GREMLINS, illustrated primarily by animator Bill Justice (with the above cover reportedly by Mary Blair). The book has long been out of print, and copies run in the hundreds, and often thousands, of dollars. In the early-1940s, GREMLINS was being prepped as a full-length animated feature by Disney, and a lot of development art was created, but this book is ultimately the only thing that Disney ever released. Dark Horse is also planning to release a 3-issue comic book mini-series with new Gremlin adventures. Who knew WWII lore was so popular. What’s next: a Kilroy revival?

Update: Noted animation historian Jim Korkis writes:

It was Mark Kausler who identified for me that the cover of the original book was done by Mary Blair. The interiors were done by Bill Justice and Al Dempster, two longtime Disney artists. In fact, Bill was responsible for some of the gremlin designs and worked closely with Dahl. When I contacted the editor at Dark Horse, he said he wanted to make the reprint like a “DVD” with some extras but they hadn’t decided yet what those extras would be. I did offer them the extensive article that I did for the yet-to-be-published World War II issue of “Persistence of Vision” magazine on the unmade film.