Here’s a delightful way to begin the week. Cartoon Brew reader Saturnome writes:
Your post last week featuring Bob Godfrey’s Great made me realize how some of the animated film Oscar winners are nowhere to be found on the Internet. I have uploaded some of the rarest ones: “Is It Always Right To Be Right?,” “The Box,” and “Leisure.” It’s all on my YouTube page. From what I know, this make “Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Double Feature” the only Oscar-winning short I haven’t seen anywhere around.
For convenience, I’ve also embedded the videos below. Thank you, Saturnome!
The Box (1967) directed by Fred Wolf
Is It Always Right To Be Right? (1970) directed by Lee Mishkin with design by Corny Cole and narration by Orson Welles
Los Angeles Filmforum is a local organization that regularly screens experimental and avant-garde films, documentaries, and animation. They’ve just announced two programs of animated documentaries, April 5 & 13, presented in two different locations.
Part 1 is on Sunday night April 5, at 7:00 pm at the Egyptian Theatre (6712 Hollywood Blvd at Las Palmas) and deals with biographical profiles and interviews. It features recent animated shorts by Marie-Josee Saint Pierre, Nanette Burstein and Bob Sabiston, among others.
Part 2 is on Monday April 13, 8:00 pm at the Silent Movie Theatre (611 N Fairfax Avenue), and will present The Sinking of the Lusitania (1916) by Winsor McKay, Enter Life (1982) by Faith Hubley, Disney’s Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom! (1953), Never like the First Time (2005) by Jonas Odell, among others. More info here.
Cartoon historian David Gerstein has been rummaging through the Library of Congress and has come up with the dialogue cutting continuities for several MGM cartoons and has noticed discrepancies between the films as they exist today, and these original copyright documents. As noted on Cartoon Brew back in June 2005, MGM not only retitled their cartoon shorts for reissue, but would go in and edit out or reanimate topical gags for rerelease. These copyright cutting continuities are important because they describe scenes and gags which no longer exist. Due to a vault fire in the 1970s, the original negatives for the pre-1951 MGM cartoons no longer exist. Unless rare nitrate projection prints are found, these documents are now the only record of the original films.
Thad Komorowski has just posted the continuity for Avery’s Dumb Hounded. Compare it to the re-release version of the cartoon itself to note the differences. Apparently a whole new opening sequence was added. Thanks to David, for sharing his diligent research with the animation community. Now I’m wondering if that fabled “marriage ending” to Red Hot Riding Hood is in the original release?
This month our foul mouthed puppet companion, Dumpster Diver Dan (above right), has negotiated co-hosting deal with Moodsy the Clinically Depressed Owl (above left), much to the dismay of Compost Brite (not pictured). Yup, this is another plug for our live and local monthly laff-fest, Cartoon Dump. We’ll have a bunch of funny skits, new songs, awful old animated films from the 1950s and 60s and special guest comedian Lizzie Cooperman — Tuesday March 24th, 8pm at the Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd. (two blocks west of Vermont). Map here, reserve tickets here.
If it’s Saturday, it must be time for another obscure 1960s cartoon that, for one reason or other, was never released to TV. Today we have another Paramount Modern Madcap that showcases an adult vice – in this case, gambling.
From Dime To Dime is the story of a Las Vegas loser who listens to his “conscience” (personified as a little green man) and gambles his last dime, to have seemingly the luckiest day of his life. There is almost nothing really funny in this cartoon – it’s more of an anti-gambling morality play than anything else. The background designs by Robert Owen are worth noting, because that’s the best thing in it. Harvey Comics acquired this picture from Paramount for use on their ABC-TV New Casper Cartoon Show but, like The Plot Sickens and In The Nicotine, felt it was inappropriate for kids. A suicide gag at the conclusion didn’t help its chances for Saturday morning broadcast.
Set your Tivos! Next Tuesday, March 24, is the premiere of Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood, a half-hour documentary on Turner Classic Movies. The film airs at 8pm (ET) followed by eleven Jones shorts and the feature-length The Phantom Tollbooth.Memories of Childhood, directed by Peggy Stern, is based on interviews with Jones from 1997. The documentary also includes new animated sequences by John Canemaker that bring to life moments in Jones’s childhood, as well as clips from his films and archival materials. To anybody familiar with the Jones autobiographies, the documentary won’t shed a whole lot of new light onto his early years (the biggest revelation is that he was physically abused by his father). Nevertheless, it’s a lovely presentation that’s enjoyable to watch and serves as a solid introduction to the master animation director.
The scenes with Jones, which feel like snippets that didn’t make it into a larger interview, are inter-cut with simple pieces of animation directed by award winner John Canemaker. Designed to draw parallels between Jones’ words and his career, the “newly animated” segments would be overshadowed by the work of Jones, which is probably why they show so little of it.
If you go to the linked review above, there’s also a lengthy response from Jones’s grandson Craig Kausen, who offers his take on the documentary.
Last night I had a great time catching up with one of my favorite animated features of all time, Max Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels (1939). However, it was not to the newly released Koch restored version we mentioned in this post last month.
I started watching the Koch DVD (they sent me a review copy) and I must admit, for a minute or so I was delighted with the crystal clear soundtrack and the brighter picture. But right away, during the opening shipwreck sequence I could tell something was wrong. I pulled out my one-dollar public domain copy to compare — and upon examination here’s what I concluded: #1 The Koch version squeezed the original 1:66 screen ratio to a 1:85 “letterbox” picture. All the picture information is there, but flattened – all the characters are squat, fatter. #2 The Koch restoration removed frames from the animation. The characters move less fluid in the Koch version. This is particularly noticeable in any fast moving action or dancing sequences. Like the Ladd “colorization” shorts, it must have been cheaper to “clean up” less frames, and digitize the movie “on threes” (to keep sync with the soundtrack). #3 The DVNR has softened the picture, particularly blurring the elaborate background paintings.
I don’t have a perfect copy of the film to compare this “restoration” to – but I do have production stills (in black & white). These are photographs of the original cels and backgrounds, released for publicity purposes in 1939. Below (click thumbnails to see enlarged images) compare the black & white still of a cel (center, below) with a color frame (left, below) from the Koch DVD. Note how everything in the color frame is now squat and fuzzy.
If you want to see more frame grabs and the technical specs from the Koch version, head on over to DVDbeaver/HD Sensei, or get a second opinion over at The Blu-Ray Blog. Me – I’ll keep enjoying the copy I bought for a buck, and hope that someday the original neg is restored by the corporation that holds it. In the meantime, while I’m in my Gulliver mood, I’ve taken the occasion to post an excellent four page publicity story from Good Housekeeping (click thumbnails below to read). Enjoy!
Lots of interesting new animation-related iPhone apps are being released, and I’m going try and write about as many as I can on the Brew. Mouthoff is an iPhone app that applies a crude animated lip-sync to voice inputs into the phone. It’s kind of like Clutch Cargo in reverse–instead of cartoons with human mouths, it’s real people with cartoon mouths. It can be downloaded for $1 from the iTunes store. Here’s an example of how it works:
Cartoonist M. Wartella (Wonder Showzen, Superjail!) created a stylish Aztec-art inspired two-minute segment for tonight’s episode of Xavier: Renegade Angel on Adult Swim. The segment is previewed below. Wartella discusses his creative process and offers a short ‘how-to animate’ video in this interview on Cold Hard Flash (if only creating animation was as easy for the rest of us).
Sony Pictures Animation released the trailer today for their next feature, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Watch it here. The eyes on the characters are bigger than in most Pixar/Dreamworks-style CG features so I suppose they’re going for a “cartoony” aesthetic.
Can anybody point to a short film from, let’s say Annecy in 1985, that was seen by millions of people at the time of its release. This year’s competition program offers numerous shorts that fall into that category and it’s exciting as hell. Even a decade ago, animated shorts remained a fringe-culture oddity seen by a relative handful in festivals and touring-compilations. Thanks to the Internet though, independent animation has been lifted out of the cultural ghetto and is quick becoming as visible and mainstream as it was during the Golden Age of theatrical animation when shorts preceded feature films.
What we are seeing are the beginnings of a new age of animated shorts, an age where short-form animation is an integral part of the cultural mainstream. As shorts increase their visibility, more and more people will see them and be inspired to create their own, which is great news for everybody, except for animation festivals like Annecy which must begin to rethink their roles or face the risk of irrelevancy. Festivals are no longer in a position to introduce these films to the audience because there’s a good chance the audience has already seen them. Therefore, festivals must find new ways to add value to their programming, whether through creating connections between the rich history of the art form and the contemporary shorts movement, or looking to the future and bringing understanding to where all of this is headed. Most importantly, they could begin to serve as a focal gathering point for artists and businesspeople who want to help one another make money from the animation that is being produced.
Going on sale sometime within the next month is the fifth volume (our last, for now) of my and Leslie Cabarga’s Harvey Comics Classics from Dark Horse Books. Previous volumes were devoted to Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, Hot Stuff and Baby Huey. The latest one is entitled The Harvey Girls and features the exploits of Harvey’s famous female trio: Little Audrey, Little Dot and Little Lotta.
The book contains more great artwork from animator Steve Muffatti and cartoonist Warren Kremer. Personally, I think it’s some of the best comic art ever produced. Speaking of which, I’m coming to New York on Friday April 17th to give a lecture on the history of Harvey Comics and it’s connection to Paramount’s Famous Studios. It’ll be at MoCCA, on the final weekend of the Harvey Comics exhibit there. Mark the date, though I’ll do another post when we get closer to remind you. In the meantime, check out our great new book, The Harvey Girls.