Viacom uses Cartoon Stars to ask for a raise

Viacom is asking Time Warner Cable for a raise – and if they don’t get it they will pull their channels off the cable service AT MIDNIGHT TONIGHT!

Oh, by the way, Happy New Year.

If Time Warner Cable and Viacom can’t reach a deal, the channel blackout would occur after midnight in each time zone. The affected channels would be: Comedy Central, Logo, Palladia, MTV, MTV 2, MTV Hits, MTV Jams, MTV Tr3s, Nickelodeon, Noggin, Nick 2, Nicktoons, Spike, The N, TV Land, VH1, VH1 Classic, VH1 Soul and CMT: Pure Country.

At of the time of this posting, no deal has been reached between Viacom and TWC. I find it interesting that in their hour of need, Viacom reaches for it’s biggest cartoon stars – Spongebob, Dora and Cartman – to appeal to cable customers for help, in newspaper ads (above) and TV spots (below). Cartoons (and their animators) don’t usually rate the respect of live action fare in Hollywood – but when it comes to the financial bottom line, stunts like this really illustrate how powerful animation is to the major corporations.

Actually, there could be a silver lining in all this for classic cartoon fans. It could be a godsend to Cartoon Network who are running a marathon of Looney Tunes all New Year’s Day. The spill-over of kids looking for Nicktoons could end up on CN, potentially giving a huge rating for the Warner Bros. cartoons, which could encourage CN (or another network) to license the Looney Tunes full time. If I were Time Warner, I’d call Viacom’s bluff.

UPDATE: At the last minute, a deal between TWC and Viacom was reached. Nick, MTV and Comedy Central are all there where they should be.

The Financial Woes of Astro Boy‘s Producer

Astro Boy

The Animation Guild blog linked to this Variety article about the financial woes of animation outfit Imagi Int’l, which has studios in both Hong Kong and Los Angeles. The studio, which last year worked on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and is responsible for the forthcoming Astro Boy, also has three other features in the pipeline: Gatchaman, Tusker and Cat Tale. According to the article, Imagi will be able to complete Astro Boy but auditors say that “it is uncertain whether the Group will have the necessary financial resources to complete these animated pictures,” in reference to the following three films. All the sticky financial details are in the Variety piece. According to the Animation Guild, the studio is employing 66 artists in LA as of early-December. This is what the Guild’s business rep Steve Hulett writes about the situation on their blog:

“A short while ago, we received a communication from the company that there could be a short hiccup in cash flow, but not to worry. There were plenty of bucks overall and everything would be ducky in due course. Based on this, maybe things are a tad more serious than that. The company has several animated features in various stages of production, and a lot of money invested in them. It’s going to be grim for the sizable staff working in Sherman Oaks (not to mention Hong Kong) if everything comes to a grinding halt.”

Road Runner makes the Rose Parade

If you can pull yourself away from Cartoon Network’s New Years Day marathon of Looney Tunes, you might tune into coverage of the annual Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena. The 33rd of 100 floats entered represents New Mexico, and the state chose the Road Runner (their state bird) and Wile E. Coyote to celebrate the parade’s theme of “Hats off to Entertainment” in this year’s event.

Chuck Jones daughter Linda and his grandson Craig will be riding on the float. Above is the concept sketch, and a few photographs of the float during construction can be seen in this news story out of Santa Fe, NM.

LoC honors Harryhausen, Lye and a Disneyland home movie

Each year the National Film Preservation Board of The Library of Congress names 25 “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant films to the National Film Registry, a collection of movies selected to be preserved for all time. Chuck Jones’ What’s Opera Doc?, Bob Clampett’s Porky In Wackyland, Fleischer’s Snow White (1933), Pixar’s Toy Story and several Disney titles including Steamboat Willie and Three Little Pigs, have already made the grade. The 2008 selections were just announced this morning and animation was represented by Ray Harryhausen’s classic The 7th Voyage of Sindbad (1958), Len Lye’s experimental short Free Radicals (1979) and a 1956 home movie of Disneyland.

The home movie, Disneyland Dream, is one of the oddest choices the LoC has ever made. Robbins and Meg Barstow won a free trip to Disneyland as part of a “Scotch Brand Cellophane Tape” contest. The little film they made is charming, and really captures what life was like in the 1950s. And the images of 1956 Disneyland and Universal City are priceless. Check it out on Archive.org.

Betty Boop Lottery Tix

Looks like Betty Boop has returned to her pre-Code roots… gambling!

Dave Filipi (Film Curator of Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio) found these Lottery Tickets (above) while visiting his family in Minnesota over Christmas (Alas, no winners).

An iconic symbol during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Betty’s been used for Lottery promotions before in various states (New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin for example). Contestants for the current holiday themed contests in Minnesota must scratch off Pudgy to see if they win. Sounds like a good idea to me.

Popeye goes PD?

According to this article in today’s London Times, Popeye the Sailor will lose its copyright protection in Europe on January 1. Supposedly anyone, starting Thursday could use E.C. Segar’s earliest drawings to create T-Shirts, posters, or whatever.

In the United States the character is protected until 2024, as U.S. law protects a work for 95 years after its initial copyright.

“Haru Mamburu” by Slava Ushakov

This Russian music video dates back to 1994. It’s infectious energy makes it the perfect post-holiday pick-me-up. Directed by Slava Ushakov, it brings to life the nonsensical lyrics of the song “Haru Mamburu” by the Russian rock band Nogu Svelo. There’s an AWN article that offers some details about the director Ushakov. Also, an MP3 of the song can be downloaded from the band’s website.

(Thanks, Craig Clark)

Mr. Bug Goes to Town Screens in NY

Mr Bug Goes to Town

Here’s a special end-of-the-year treat for New Yorkers: the Fleischer’s second and last feature, Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941), is playing at the Film Forum (209 West Houston Street) through New Year’s Day. The daily 1pm matinee presents a new 35mm print of the film and also includes the Fleischer short Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame. More details on the Film Forum website.

(Thanks, Jacob Ospa)

R.I.P. WB Cartoon Mural

Here’s a sure sign of the apocalypse — or at least the end of a local cartoon landmark. Warner Bros. has quietly removed its huge Looney Tunes/Hanna-Barbera/Warner Animation mural (above) during Christmas week. Bugs Bunny and company have adorned the Burbank studio at Olive and Pass Avenues for over 15 years.

I was driving past the studio yesterday when I noticed (and snapped the photo below) the mural was gone. To give them benefit of the doubt, perhaps they are going to replace it with an even better graphic of Bugs Bunny and crew. I hope so… but who wants to bet that Harry Potter or the live action Dark Knight will soon be guiding us toward the Cahuenga Pass.

More Hubley Goodness

Remember when animation used to be lively? Full of verve? Even — dare I say it — playful? I’m back with another sterling example of the genius of John and Faith Hubley; this time it’s 1958’s The Tender Game, about the process of a young man and woman falling in love. There is a wealth of wonderful things to celebrate here, so let’s start with the music: Ella Fitzgerald sings the beautiful ballad, “Tenderly,” backed up and extended by The Oscar Peterson Trio. Um, wow. Bob Kurtz and I have been searching in vain for years for a clean recording of this track, which features these stellar talents at their jazzy prime. Apparently, this track was recorded during the same 1954 sessions Hubley had for his sadly uncompleted feature film, Finian’s Rainbow, where he not only had Ella and Oscar, but also Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra, and a host of other jazz and big band legends. But that’s another story…..

Then there’s the design. Abstract, offbeat, amorphous shapes, rendered in a style more far more painterly than cel paint, that somehow still manage to convey life, personality, and, especially, emotion. This is ably supported and abetted by fantastic character animation by the likes of Bobe Cannon, Emery Hawkins, Ed Smith and Jack Schnerk. (“Who?” I hear you cry.) Jack Schnerk was a veteran animator with a resume from both Hollywood and New York, and I had the pleasure of watching him work on Raggedy Ann and Andy in the mid-70’s. When I first saw this film, it was a 16mm print that Mike Sporn showed me from his private collection. As it unspooled, we got to the piece-de-resistance scene of the two lovers awkwardly sitting on the couch and eventually breaking down their defenses. It knocked me out then, and it still does now. Mike said, “Jack Schnerk animated that scene.” Milt Kahl it’s not. Charming, funny, honest, sensitive, and beautifully timed and observed it is. Cannon’s and Hawkins’ animation of the guy and girl trying to get each other to notice in the park is nothing short of breathtaking: funny, elegant, non-realistic, fluid, sensual, giddy, graphic, playful, expressive, and accessible — despite the abstraction, there is never a moment when we don’t know who is who or what they are feeling. The Hubleys were the absolute masters of this type of animation, and no one ever did more to marry the concepts of jazz, modern art, and the animation medium. This, and The Adventures of *, are my all-time favorite films of theirs.

I could go on and on, and usually do. But action, of course, speaks louder than words so hit the screen below and see what I’m raving about in glorious sound, color and movement.

How to Draw “Fleischer”

Comic art collector Eric Sack is an old friend who has perhaps the finest collection of original underground comix art in the United States – and he has recently post most of it online.

Of specific interest to Cartoon Brew readers is Sack’s original art to what I consider a Holy Grail item: a mid-30s illustrated book by two ace Fleischer Studio animators, Tom Johnson and Bern E. Wolf (aka Bernie Wolf): CARTOONS: How To Draw ‘Em and Make ‘em Move. The art is chockfull of examples of how to make funny drawings, Fleischer style. Was this thing ever published?

But that’s NOT all! Sack has accumulated all kinds of stuff on the periphery of 30s animation. Check out the material listed erroneously under Terrytoons, featuring pinback button art for super-obscure characters like Van Beuren’s Waffles and Al, and Boyd La Vero’s Marty Monk! Also click on this background from Lantz and art created by my buddy Leslie Cabarga. Great stuff all – Thanks, Eric!

Roger Ebert Raves about Sita Sings the Blues

Sita Sings the Blues

Roger Ebert has discovered Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues and he’s written a lengthy piece raving about how wonderful it is. Among other things, he writes:

“I am enchanted. I am swept away. I am smiling from one end of the film to the other. It is astonishingly original. It brings together four entirely separate elements and combines them into a great whimsical chord.”

and

“One remarkable thing about “Sita Sings the Blues” is how versatile the animation is. Paley works entirely in 2-D with strict rules, so that characters remain within their own plane, which overlaps with others. This sounds like a limitation. Actually, it is the source of much amusement. Comedy often depends on the device of establishing unbreakable rules and then finding ways to cheat on them and surprise you. The laughs Paley gets here with 2-D would be the envy of an animator in 3-D. She discovers dimensions where none exist.”

I think it also says a lot about Ebert’s passion and love for cinema that he’s written such a long piece about a film that nobody can currently see and which has no shot at commercial distribution because of copyright issues. Ebert is not only writing about how much he likes it but has also arranged for it to screen at his personal film festival in April 2009 at the University of Illinois. We’re delighted at Cartoon Brew that Ebert is putting his weight behind the film since both Jerry Beck and myself feel that it’s an incredible accomplishment within the animation art form.

Read Roger Ebert’s article here.

UPDATE: Nina Paley has just posted her distribution plan.

The Fine Art of Animator Len Glasser

Did you know that legendary animation director Len Glasser is also a prolific fine artist. This video shows examples of his metal sculptures, paintings and furniture designs.

Though Glasser spent years working in commercial animation and live-action film, he studied fine art in school. During the 1950s while attending the Philadelphia Museum School of Art, he had an impressive group of art and design teachers including Armin Hofmann, Franz Kline, Melville Price and S. Neil Fujita.

Here are a couple examples of Len’s TV commercials:

Huck, Yogi and Magilla Gorilla at Disneyland

Reader Keith Bryant made this unusual observation while watching the Disney Treasures DVD Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic:

There’s an old episode of The Wonderful World of Color, “Disneyland Around the Seasons” (1966), where they show the Disneyland Christmas parade. If you look closely at Santa Claus’ float you’ll see dozens of generic toys and NONE of them seem to be licenced Disney character toys (although, a large teddy bear is wearing a t-shirt that says “Winnie the Pooh but the bear doesn’t look at all like him). However, if you look even closer, you can see a fairly large plush Magilla Gorilla. Imagine that, a Disneyland parade (circa 1966) and a Hanna-Barbera toy is on the float! Could you imagine that happening today?!? Howze that for Disney Christmas trivia?

Not bad! I spotted what looks like a Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear doll as well (see blow-up below). I agree, Santa would never get away with that today.

Chicago For a Few Days by Ray Ray Mitrano

I’m currently visiting Chicago for a few days so it seems appropriate to share the animated short Chicago For A Few Days by Brooklyn-based artist Ray Ray Mitrano. The film, which documents Mitrano’s train trip to Chicago, was made by arranging paper and found objects onto a scanner bed. It’s an unconventional piece of animation and the narration helps make it truly special.

Hanna Barbera Flickr

Here’s a delightful Christmas gift to all our readers whose stockings went bare…

Kerry Cisneroz and Dom Giansante are lifelong H-B fanatics and have created a pool on flickr all to do with Hanna Barbera. The mission is to show as much of their collections as possible, highlight obscure characters, showcase art they have done and ask that contributors do the same. It’s a treasure trove of great pics and thanks to contributors, they’ve unearthed a lot of great paraphenalia. Dig in and enjoy!

Cartoon Brew TV: A Few Quick Facts

Our Christmas present to you: episode 15 of Cartoon Brew TV. Jerry Beck is back this week with a brand-new commentary edition of “Brew Vaults.” He takes a look at a rare episode of A Few Quick Facts. This cartoon was originally shown to servicemen during World War II as part of the Army/Navy Screen Magazine, a newsreel program produced under the supervision of director Frank Capra. This three-part episode honors the Navy’s latest battleships; praises the American soldier’s brain; and explains the cost and care of a G.I’s shoes. Jerry is joined on the commentary by animator and historian Mark Kausler. Head on over to hear Jerry and Mark’s thoughts about A Few Quick Facts only on Cartoon Brew TV!

Cartoon Brew TV #15: A Few Quick Facts

(Alternate commentary-free version: This link will allow you to watch the cartoon without audio commentary)

This episode from the Cartoon Brew TV Vault features a rare episode of A Few Quick Facts, a companion series to Warner Bros. Private Snafu shorts. This cartoon was originally shown to servicemen during World War II as part of the Army/Navy Screen Magazine, a newsreel program produced from June 1943 until early 1946 by the Army Signal Corps under the supervision of director Frank Capra. This 3-part episode honors the Navy’s latest battleships; praises the American soldier’s brain; and explains the cost and care of a G.I’s shoes.

A Few Quick Facts were produced by several Hollywood studios, including MGM, Hugh Harman Productions and United Film Productions (later known as UPA). The budgets were low, but the artists were allowed a lot of freedom to experiment with graphics and pioneer limited animation techniques which would soon, for good or ill, become commonplace in the industry.

Jerry Beck and Mark Kausler provide audio commentary on this short. Thanks to Keith Paynter for providing this rare film to us. Special kudos to Michael Geisler for recording the commentary track, and Randall Kaplan for sound and picture editing.