Chew Chew Baby (1958)

There’s no debate that animator Irving Spector was, like John Dunn, an under appreciated cartoonist and storyman — working in animation at a time when the finished product didn’t do justice to the talents behind it. Thanks to Spector’s son, Irv’s work is getting some long overdue appreciation in a blog dedicated to his work.

Among the best of the late Paramount output, Chew Chew Baby was produced during a brief period when the studio put some actual effort behind its limited animation. This particular film is one of my favorites, and contains one of Jackson Beck’s (no relation) best performances. It’s also notable as one of the last cartoons to ignore political correctness and feature a pygmy cannibal – as well as one of the last cartoons credited to Isadore Sparber, released a few days before his death in August 1958.

This is also one of the “Harveytoons” not contained in Classic Media’s Complete Harveytoons DVD collection. Mike Van Eaton (of Van Eaton Gallery) recently unearthed a cache of original Spector storyboards from this film (click thumbnails below to enlarge). These drawings are a lot of fun – and this film may be the closest representation of Spector’s design style to make it faithfully to the screen.

OT: Will Friedwald donates his record collection

Here’s an update on the doings of my old colleague and friend Will Friedwald (my co-author on Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: A Complete Illustrated Guide To the Warner Bros. Cartoons and Warner Bros. Animation Art). Will has gone on to become one of major authorities on vintage Jazz, Frank Sinatra, and American music in general — with numerous books to his credit. Most recently, he’s been writing a great series of columns on Jazz for The Wall Street Journal.

The latest news on Will is his donation of over 14,000 record albums, the largest personal Jazz collection in New York if not the United States, to two major music archives. The jazz albums are going to an archive in Washington, D.C. while the popular music and show tunes are going to the Michael Feinstein Foundation for the Preservation of the Great American Songbook.

Read more about it and see examples from the collection on this news report from NY1.

Dying Girl’s Last Wish: To See UP

More heart-breaking than the first ten minutes of Up: this story from the Orange County Register.

A dying 10 year old with a rare form of cancer wanted to see Up. Her mother cold called Pixar and got through to the right person. The next day “a Pixar employee” came to the girl’s house with the DVD and a bag of stuffed animals of characters in the movie. “He shared some quirky background details of the movie and the group settled in to watch Up.”

There’s a lot of speculation as to who the “Pixar employee” is, but more important is that the act happened at all. Read the full story here.

LONDON: An Evening with Ian Emes

Ian Emes

Awesome event coming up in London next Thursday, June 25: a retrospective of the work of British animation director Ian Emes, who created groundbreaking music-related animated works in the Seventies and still creates innovative work nowadays. The event, hosted by art/music collective Stomper, will include an exhibition of his artwork, a screening of his films (including a new collaboration with artist/musician John Foxx), and a conversation between Emes and writer Mark Fisher. It begins at 7pm at the The Horse Hospital art space (Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1HX). Tickets, which are £10, can be purchased online.

Check out the Stomper website for more background details about Emes including this quote about how he entered animation: “To begin with, I wasn’t attracted to the medium of animation, dominated by bouncy characters. I had no animation tutors, only practicing painters and sculptors to encourage me. I was entering the unknown, doing everything through trial and error, fumbling along and inventing my own techniques.” These pieces of animation illustrate what he’s talking about:

Excerpt from his horror short, The Bear

“Dark Side of the Moon” commission by Pink Floyd

“The Oriental Nightfish”

(Thanks, Chris Padilla)

Cartoons at Ohio State

If you like comics, comic strips and animated cartoons, Ohio State University is now Mecca.

I’ll be there, in Columbus Ohio, next week (Saturday June 27th) to introduce a screening of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians (1961) and to celebrate the recently transferred International Museum of Cartoon Art Collection to OSU’s Cartoon Library and Museum. The union of these two collections creates the largest archive of original cartoon art in the world.

There will be several events going on next weekend, some of them free, all of them worthwhile. I will be doing a book signing Saturday 6pm at Wexner Center, then at 7pm we’ll be screening Disney’s 1961 feature. The movie will be preceded by the 1938 Mickey Mouse short, The Brave Little Tailor, and the 1949 Paramount cartoon Leprechaun’s Gold – all in beautiful 35mm! For information on this screening and tickets, go to the Wexner Center website.

On Sunday, the 28th, there are three free open-to-the-public events: In the Grand Lounge, The Ohio State University Faculty Club, 181 South Oval Dr. at 1:00 pm, Milestones of the International Museum of Cartoon Art: A panel discussion with former trustees Brian Walker, Jerry Robinson, and Arnold Roth. At 2:15 pm Keynote Speaker Jim Borgman (Zits) will give an opening address. An Exhibition Opening and Reception at the Hopkins Hall Gallery + Corridor, will commence at 3:30pm. Refreshments will be served. For more information, check the Cartoon Library website.

Paul McCartney’s new cartoon

Rolling Stone reports that Paul McCartney will be writing a score for a new animated feature, based on a book he co-wrote, High In The Clouds. Caroline Thompson (Nightmare Before Christmas) is writing the screenplay, Rob Minkoff (The Lion King) is attached to direct.

The Rolling Stone piece ties McCartney to Yellow Submarine as an example of his past involvement with animation. Truth be told, the Beatles had almost no creative input in that feature, but Sir Paul did produce several nice pieces of animation over his career. My favorite is the video for Seaside Woman (1980) directed by Oscar Grillo, and Rupert and the Frog Song (1985) directed by Geoff Dunbar. Here’s the big “frog song” number from Rupert; note the abstract sequence at the 3:50 mark:

Road To Home

Heads up on a new animated feature coming from China. Road To Home is in pre-production at Beijing-based Magic Dumpling studio, on track for an October 2011 release in China. The teaser above reveals the film as a hybrid of painted backgrounds and CG character animation. A report on the studio’s recent presentation at the animation conference in Stuttgart is posted here. A plot synopsis and some production art can be found on Twitch Film.

(Thanks, Al Young)

Hidden Oswald in UP Little Golden Book

This has to be the most trivial post I’ve ever written – and I’ve written some pretty trivial posts – but at least it gives me the chance to once again plug the latest Pixar Little Golden Book tie-in.

Animator Ken Priebe discovered on the first page (center image, click thumbnails below to enlarge) of the Golden Book adaptation of UP, if you look carefully at Carl’s scrapbook, spin it upside down (below right), you can see a microscopic image of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit! Those sly devils at Disney Publishing. Tried to pull a fast one on us, aye? Last year we found an Oswald “cameo” in the Wall-E Little Golden Book. Perhaps this is the beginning of a trend?

Kudos to designer Stuart Smith and illustrators Jean-Paul Orpinas and Scott Tilley. You keep making these books look cool, and I’ll keep buying ‘em!

Another Cartoon Network update

According to an article posted today in the trade publication Broadcasting and Cable, Cartoon Network will start advertising its new CN Real (live action) block with a marketing blitz, which will include a Facebook page and a “fanzine”. The article states:

“Cartoon is also relying on decidedly old-school technology in an attempt to lure viewers to the new lineup: a fanzine. The network is printing eight million copies of the fanzine, which will blend pop culture tips with promotional messaging related to the new shows. The publication will be distributed at movie theaters, Six Flags amusement parks, the Essence Music Festival, Cartoon Network live tours and other events.”

Wait a minute… “a fanzine?” Eight million copies? Any publication printing eight million copies, being bankrolled by a major corporation, and distributed in movie theatres and amusement parks isn’t exactly a fanzine. But then again, Cartoon Network isn’t exactly a Cartoon Network anymore…

P.S. While I was searching Facebook yesterday, I found this Boycott Cartoon Network’s “CN Real” Block page. Thought you should know.

Annecy 09 Snapshots

Waiting at the Geneva Airport for my flight back to New York and thought I’d share pics of a few of the fine animation folk I hung out with this past week in Annecy.

Annecy 2009New York crew: PES, Fran Krause and Signe Baumane

Annecy 2009Eddie White, co-director of The Cat Piano from The People’s Republic of Animation

Annecy 2009Directors Andreas Hykade (Ring of Fire, The Runt) and Bill Plympton

Annecy 2009Director Candy Kugel of Buzzco Associates , designer Harald Siepermann, and director David OReilly

Annecy 2009Filmmaker Ruth Lingford, Projector festival director Susie Wilson, animation curator of the Cinémathèque Québecoise Marco de Blois, and Studio AKA creative director and Lost and Found director Philip Hunt

Annecy 2009Mike and Tim Rauch of Rauch Bros. Animation and designer Erin Kilkenny

Annecy 2009Joost van den Bosch (l.) of Ka-Ching Cartoons and Tomm Moore, co-director of Brendan and the Secret of Kells

Annecy 2009Director Cordell Barker (The Cat Came Back) surrounded by men from Annecy’s Popeye fan club.

Man Vs. Cartoon

I’ve been remiss in mentioning the new limited TV series from Warner Bros. – Man Vs. Cartoon – which began last night on cable’s TRU TV. It’s on every Saturday night at 10pm Eastern/7pm Pacific. The premise of the program is watching a team of New Mexico tech engineers and students build and demonstrate a variety of Wile E. Coyote Acme contraptions. I caught the first episode and it was typical of these reality shows – lots of interviews, lots of preparation for the stunt and a mediocre payoff at the end. Not very exciting, but it held my interest nonetheless. This week they recreated the Rube Goldberg Road Runner trap from Hook Line and Stinker (1958).

In coming weeks they will create a real life version of the Indestructo-Ball from Chuck Jones’ Wild about Hurry (1959) and will maneuver a hot air balloon to unload an anvil onto an oblivious target below (i.e. 1957′s Scrambled Aches).

If Cartoon Network is moving toward live action reality, this is the kind of idea they could have started with.

Annecy 2009 Winners


The 2009 Annecy International Animation Festival wrapped up a few hours ago in Annecy, France. Here is the link to the complete list of winners. Top prize for short film, the Annecy Cristal, was awarded to the Swedish film Slavar (Slaves), a CG piece about Sudanese children forced to work as slaves. A special distinction for short film went to David OReilly’s Please Say Something and the Audience Award was awarded to PES’s Western Spaghetti.

The Annecy Cristal for feature film was divided between two films: Henry Selick’s Coraline and Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max. Audience award for feature film went to Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey’s Brendan and the Secret of Kells.

Other notable awards include Cristal for best TV production to Alexey Alexeev’s Log Jam, best TV Special to Philip Hunt’s Lost and Found, music video to Karni & Saul’s “Float” for Flogging Molly, and best graduation film to Carlo Vogele’s For Sock’s Sake.

Kevin Lima to direct The Incredible Mr. Limpet

The big news today is the announcement of Kevin Lima (Enchanted, Tarzan, A Goofy Movie) as director of a remake of The Incredible Mr. Limpet. I’m semi-excited about this because, as a kid, I really loved the original movie. Check out the original trailer below which plays up the live action sequences, and strangely enough, Arthur Godfrey’s cover of the film’s “I Want” song, “I Wish I Were A Fish”.

The animation in The Incredible Mr. Limpet was the last work produced by the original Warner Bros. animation studio, after ceasing production on 32 years of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts. Bill Tytla was brought in to supervise, but essentially the direction was handled by Robert McKimson. After Limpet the studio was disbanded.

The press reports of Lima assuming the director role on a Limpet remake do not mention if the animation sequences will be in CG or hand drawn. I know there were previous attempts in recent years to launch uncanny valley versions starring Robin Williams and/or Jim Carrey (with a Mike Judge script!), using ugly mo-cap human heads grafted onto CG fish bodies. Hopefully they will start from scratch and consider cartoon animation (a la Lima’s Enchanted). Could be a lot of fun.

More from TV Guide

Three more vintage pieces from TV Guide, presented for your historical reading pleasure. Click thumbnails below to enlarge and read. First up, on the far left below, a color spread on Ward Kimball’s first Tomorrowland episode Man In Space from the March 5th, 1955 issue.

In the center, a review of “TV Cartoons” from the December 30th, 1961 edition. Esteemed critic Gilbert Seldes (The Seven Lively Arts), in the brief space alloted, manages to praise early Disney, Bullwinkle and “a 15-year-old (Paramount) Popeye” – while putting down the use of canned laughter, The Flintstones and Disney realism. A good read.

Finally, on the far right, a page from the February 16th 1963 issue commemorating the birth of Pebbles on The Flintstones.

(Thanks, Stu Shostack)

“The Trouble With Lou”

Pixar’s Teddy Newton produced and co-wrote (with director Gregor Joackim) an independent live action feature, The Trouble with Lou, in 2001. It’s NSFW, laugh-out-loud hilarious and is now on iTunes. It stars animation designer Lou Romano (Ratatouille) as “Himself”, and composer Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles, Up, Star Trek ) did the score. It’s almost like Pixar’s bastard step-child.

Teddy sent me these facts about he film:

1. The Trouble with Lou was shot over a 33 day period.

2. It was independently financed by Teddy Newton for the cost of $300,000.

3. The entire cast was made up of unknowns.

4. Dr. Killgore is played by cartoonist Tom Winkler.

Below is the first two and a half minutes. Download the entire feature here.

Vancouver Opera “Contest”

Hardly a week passes without news of another exploitative animation “contest.” Sadly, this time it’s an arts organization–the Vancouver Opera–that is soliciting animators to create a short film (under four minutes long) to promote their upcoming season of performances.

This paragraph from their contest rules page is a real hoot:

By entering this Contest, each entrant grants Sponsor and YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully sub-licenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform his/her entry on the Website in connection with this Contest. Entrants further grant Sponsor a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully sub-licenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform their entries in any and all media now known or hereafter developed (including, without limitation, print, broadcast and Internet), for all legitimate business purposes including advertising and promotional activities. Entrants further waive all moral rights in and to the original entry and derivative works of the original entry.

Plain English translation: “Shut up filmmakers! We can do whatever we want with your work and we don’t owe you a cent!”

What does the winner receive for all their hard effort? Perhaps a shiny new Cintiq? Nope, they’re too cheap for that. They will, however, give you a Wacom tablet valued at $349, a copy of Street Fighter 4, and some other useless junk. Their gifts are childish, which, to me, sheds some insight into the entire contest and the contest organizer’s view of our art form. It’s just a cartoon, they say, so we can give the winner a bunch of games as a prize. It’s absolutely shameful.

Perhaps we can return the favor on Cartoon Brew by creating a contest that solicits composers to write us operas for free and then hand over all the rights to their work. Just give me a few days to go out and buy a videogame. Apparently that’s the currency that artists are paid with nowadays.