Move over Uncle Scrooge!

Disney will now compete with Hollywood (and in particular, Warner Bros. the owner of DC Comics) buy purchasing Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion dollars, according to Variety.

What will this mean for our favorite comics characters – and the animation studios Disney controls? Will Donald meet Howard The Duck? Will The Incredibles cross over to fight The Fantastic Four? Will Disney Feature Animation do an Inhumans movie? Will Disney character comics be published by Marvel? How will this affect the theme parks? Disney XD?

Due to prior deals (for example, Iron Man is sown up at Paramount for years to come) nothing will happen right away, but lots to think about, and lots of exciting possibilities.

Image of Mickey above drawn by Jack Kirby for Craig Yoe’s book The Art of Mickey Mouse. See the full length image at Yoe’s new I.T.C.H. blog

Technicolor Tuesday

Join me at the Silent Movie Theatre on Tuesday (September 1st) for an entire orgy of 35mm Technicolor cartoons from the 30s, 40s and 50s. We’ve dug up a whole program of diverse classic cartoons with only one thing in common – each is a vintage film print struck in the original three strip Tech process.

Not to go all film geek on you, but this is going to be one helluva show, with Color Rhapsodies, Terrytoons and Noveltoons galore – projected as they were originally intended on the big screen. Forget digital, Technicolor was the cream-of-the-crop chemical film process which required three separate negatives to create its vivid images – and unlike other film stocks, the color never faded. Sadly, Technicolor’s dye-transfer process, used during the golden age of Hollywood, stopped due to costs in 1974.

Luckily, prints still exist – but they are getting scarce. Our big show starts at 8pm and advance tickets are on sale now. Check the CineFamily website for more information. Click the thumbnails below to see frame enlargements from a few of the actual prints we will be showing.

Film Review: Walt and El Grupo

Walt and El Grupo is the new feature length documentary about the two month tour of South America that Walt and his staff (which included Lee and Mary Blair, Frank Thomas and Norm Ferguson) took – by arrangement of the U.S. Government – in 1941. I had a chance to see it last week – and I enjoyed it very much.

Using previously unseen 16mm color home movies, rare newsreel footage and photographs, as well as interviews with relatives, historians (John Canemaker, J.B. Kaufman) and witnesses (several people who interacted with Walt and the group during the trip were located and interviewed!) the filmmakers (Franks son, Theodore with Kuniko Okubo) retrace the entire tour and take us along for the ride.

If you are a fan of the history of Walt Disney, the Disney studio in general, the Latin America themed shorts (and features) – or, if like me, you just like watching candid footage of Walt – you will love this film. In fact, if you fall into those categories, it’s a must-see. This is a whole chapter in the life of Disney we hadn’t seen before, told in depth, bringing us much closer the man behind the mouse.

This was a troubling time for Walt, personally. The animators strike was in full swing at the studio, Fantasia was in the red, and if that wasn’t enough, his father passed away while he was on the trip. This period marked a true turning point in Walt’s career as a filmmaker and producer. But, as this documentary shows, the experience from this tour influenced not just Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros but films and ride attractions in the decades to come.

If I had to nitpick, I’d say Walt and El Grupo doesn’t show enough clips from the cartoons which resulted from the tour. But rest assured, this is no simple DVD “bonus piece” – it’s a well made, well researched film that will add to your knowledge of Disney history. It opens on September 11th in New York and L.A. (with additional cities to follow) and its well worth your time.

El Superbeasto theatrical screenings Sept. 12th

A “One Night Only” theatrical screening of The Haunted World of El Superbeasto is set for September 12th in about 50 movie theaters across the country. In LA it’s playing at the Mann Chinese 6. In New York, it’ll be at the Chelsea Cinemas. Most theatres are running the animated feature as a midnight show.

Theatre locations, film information and tickets are available online here.

Hi Diddle Diddle (1943)

For the sake of film history, I’ll occasionally seek out odd bits of animation contained in obscure Hollywood movies and post them here – so you don’t have to. Previous postings in this series included Dave Fleischer in Trocadero (1944), and the Leon Schlesinger animation sequences in When’s Your Birthday? (1937) and She Married A Cop (1939).

Today’s clip (below) is three sequences bunched together from United Artists 1943 screwball comedy, Hi Diddle Diddle. Leon Schlesinger provided a bit of animation at the beginning of the film (looks like McKimson animation to me, but I’ll defer to the more knowledgeable experts in our readership) and a cartoon bit in the last scene. The clip in the middle, coming in the middle of the film, sets up the end gag: An egotistical opera singer (silent screen actress Pola Negri, in a comeback role) has wall paper depicting a cartoon Richard Wagner and his family. In the final sequence, Adolphe Menjou, who’s been drinking, imagines the cartoon images (looks like from Freleng’s unit) on the wall paper coming to life and running away from the awful singing of his family (including “good witch” Billie Burke, seated at the piano bench). You don’t want to know what leads up to this; you don’t want to see this movie. It’s pretty bad. Even the animation stuff is rather lackluster. But here it is, for those of you who were ever wondering about this relatively rare sequence:

The entire flick can be seen on 50 Movie Pack: Classic Musicals, a DVD boxed set from Mill Creek Entertainment, which I recently snagged for $9. at Big Lots. The aforementioned Trocadero is on the set, as well as King Kelly of the USA (1934) which has a really odd animation sequence – which I will posting very soon.

Sheridan Instructor Attempts Art Criticism (and Fails)

Ottawa Animation Festival

In my mind, the worst quality a teacher can have is to be close-minded because that narrow interpretation of good and bad is passed on to an entire generation of young artists at a critical time when they should be learning, growing, and exploring. That’s why I shuddered when I read this post on Sheridan instructor Pete Emslie’s blog in which he trashes this year’s poster for the Ottawa International Animation Festival (pictured above). The poster was drawn by Theo Ushev, who in addition to being an accomplished fine artist, is the director of amazing animated shorts like Drux Flux and Tower Bawher. In his post, Emslie he describes it as “blecchh!,” a “cat vomiting,” and writes that it’s proper place would be “taped to a fridge door by some loving mom.” It’s downright embarrassing to think that this guy represents the quality of instruction and critical thinking at a school that purports itself to be one of the top animation institutions in the world.

Emslie’s criticisms, if describing something as “blecchh” can be regarded as a valid criticism, drew a response from Ottawa festival director Chris Robinson who wrote on his blog:

What annoys me is the infantile hostility coming from a man who claims to have 30 years experience in animation as an animator and, egad, a teacher (I thought teachers are supposed to be guides. They introduce students to a diversity of possibilities and then let them go off and develop their own thoughts.). This guy doesnt even try. It’s just outright reaction. The work is ugly and pretentious and that’s that. There’s no processing, no attempt to contemplate and consider. He doesnt even encourage dialogue (isn’t that one of the primary functions of being a teacher?).

Animation director Michael Sporn also weighed in on the issue (and a lengthy comments thread follows his thoughts), while the artist himself, Theo Ushev, wrote on his blog, “I had much more daring posters in my life. But it seems that the animation community is a little special. And this conversation happens in 2009?!!! Not in 1909.”

Not sure what any of this means except that I was bothered enough to write about it. At the end of the day, life goes on. Sheridan students who are too young to know any better will continue accepting instruction from a guy who draws cartoon characters on a par with Chris Hart and throws in some tired Hirschfeld impersonations to boot. Theo Ushev will continue making beautiful films and drawings. The Ottawa International Animation Festival will be a great time for everybody who attends. And animation will continue to advance as an art in spite of those who wish to impose primitive rules and restrictions about what a piece of animation can and can’t be. If something good came out of all this, it’s that Marco de Blois, the animation curator at the Cinémathèque québécoise, started a new blog devoted to the art of the animation festival poster.

UPDATE: NY animator Elliot Cowan has redesigned Theo Ushev’s Ottawa poster to appease those who feel that the artwork should be more “animationy.”

Two Upcoming Animation Festivals in Brazil

Iris Festival

Next month in Rio de Janeiro marks the debut of Íris–International Festival of LGBT Animation. According to the festival, they will screen animated films with topics related to sexual diversity: gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transvestites and transexuals. There are only two programs of films in their inaugural year, and the programs will screen on September 1, 8 and 15. Line-up of the films can be viewed on their site.

Festival of Erotic Animation

Also coming up in Rio and Sao Paulo is the 4th International Festival of Erotic Animation. The festival is currently accepting submissions through August 31. Their is no entry fee to submit a film.

The Secret of Kells to screen in L.A.

Tomm Moore’s highly stylish animated feature, The Secret of Kells will screen in Los Angeles one time only, at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, on Saturday September 26th at 4pm. It’s part of the L.A. Irish Film Festival.

The Secret of Kells, which never received an official U.S. release, was produced by Kilkenny based Cartoon Saloon. Check the trailer here. For additional information and art from the film, check director Moore’s production blog.

Jerry’s Event Round-Up

I now have three (count ‘em, three) regularly scheduled live events in Hollywood California. If you can’t make it this month, please print this post and stick it on your refrigerator, or jot these down for future reference. I’ll be there every month:

Cartoon Dump – Every fourth Tuesday of every month. TV’s Frank, puppets, funny songs and really bad cartoons. At the Steve Allen Theatre. Next up: tomorrow night August 25th at 8pm. Special guest comedian Rick Overton.

Cartoozdays at the Silent Movie – First Tuesday of every month. Different theme each month. This month: “Technicolor Tuesday” – a whole program of classic Hollywood cartoons in 35mm IB Tech. September 1st at 8pm.

Janet Klein – First Thursday of every month. Janet and her Parlor Boys play 20s, 30s jazz and pop tunes. Preceeded by me and my 16mm projector, with rare musical shorts and cartoons of the 1930s. Next show, September 3rd, 8pm at the Steve Allen.

Comparing Avatar to Delgo

James Cameron unveiled the trailer to his eagerly awaited science fiction spectacular Avatar this week and, to me, it certainly looks intriguing.

However, several sites have begun comparing the visuals from Cameron’s opus to last year’s box office bomb, Delgo. Check out Movieline’s 7 Eeriest Parallels between Avatar and Delgo, and these screen caps at Denihilation.com, and tell me they don’t have a point.

Let’s hope they don’t share a similar fate.

The King Of Jazz

Walter Lantz animated a short sequence for the Universal feature King Of Jazz (released 3/30/30). The sequence is notable as the first two-color Technicolor cartoon released in the sound era (though color cartoons predate the talkie era; and Iwerks’ Technicolor Fiddlesticks with Flip the Frog, was released later in 1930). I wanted to get this clip included on the Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’s (Vols. 1 & 2, both highly recommended, nonetheless), but legal considerations prevented it. Musician Alex Rannie (Disney, Ren & Stimpy, etc.) spotted the clip on You Tube and sent us the link, along with several historical annotations (below).

Notes from Alex Rannie: Whilst roaming around the Interwebs I discovered that someone has posted the two-strip Technicolor animated sequence from the 1930 film King of Jazz. Since I couldn’t leave well enough alone, I jotted down a few lines about the music and related references. There’s a heck of a lot of music in this three-minute piece, and a slew of contemporary musical references that would have elicited laughter from a 1930 audience. Wish they still made animated films as jam-packed with fun and wit as this one!

Music used in the King of Jazz (1930) animated sequence:

The opening is a mash-up of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” (a.k.a. “The Bear Went over the Mountain”) — whose origins can be found in “Malbrouk,” a French street song dating back to at least the mid-18th century — and the “Hunt Theme” (a.k.a. “A-Hunting We Will Go”), which may be based on a folk tune or part of an original work for piano entitled “A Hunting Scene” by Procida Bucalossi (published in London in 1884) which in turn may have been influenced by the tune “Tantivy, My Boy, Tantivy,” music by Thos. Costellow and words by Mr. Upton (published in London 1782-1792).

The chase proper (after Whiteman fires his shots) begins with a variation on a phrase from George Gershwin’s 1924 masterpiece Rhapsody in Blue, which was commissioned, appropriately enough, by Paul Whiteman.

(Editor’s Note: The information in the following paragraph misidentifies “The Mosquitoes’ Parade” as “The Whistler and His Dog.” Please see comments below for more detail.)

The chase continues to the Arthur Pryor melody “The Whistler and His Dog,” published in 1905. (Pryor was a composer and trombonist who played in Sousa’s band and collaborated with L. Frank Baum on a (sadly lost) opera. You can also hear shades of “The Whistler and His Dog” throughout Lady and the Tramp.)

When Whiteman opens his mouth he sings the African American Spiritual “My Lord Delivered Daniel” (which is also sung by Bing Crosby elsewhere in King of Jazz). (The animated Whiteman is voiced by Whiteman himself, with the lion’s “Mammy” (a reference to singer Al Jolson and his role in the seminal sound film The Jazz Singer (1927) provided by Crosby.) The song, which tells of the Biblical figure Daniel’s miraculous survival when placed in a lion’s den, was first published in 1872 (though was probably around many years prior).

As the lion sharpens his teeth (using his tongue as a strop) he is accompanied by “Mess Call,” a military bugle call signaling mealtime.

And when the lion returns his teeth to his mouth we hear an upbeat version of the usually melancholic theme from the Andante cantabile movement (Andante = walking tempo, cantabile = in a singing style) of Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1 in D major. (According to some sources, the celebrated melody of the Andante cantabile that famously brought Tolstoy to tears was based on a Ukrainian folk-song that Tchaikovsky serendipitously overheard being sung by a house-painter.)

In order to save himself, Whiteman tunes up his violin and launches into the Milton Ager and Jack Yellen song, “Music Hath Charms.” Like “My Lord Delivered Daniel,” “Music Hath Charms” is sung by Bing Crosby elsewhere in King of Jazz.

(Whiteman autographed his photos with the phrase “Music Hath Charmes” as early as 1922, but the song, “Music Hath Charms” appears to have been written specifically for King of Jazz.)

The title of the song comes from the English playwright and poet William Congreve’s play The mourning bride (1697): “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast, To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak,” though it’s more often garbled to read “Music hath charms to soothe a savage beast.”

“Music Hath Charms” is interrupted twice before it, and the animated sequence, ends.

The first time is when we see Oswald and a snake doing a shimmy. The music for this bit is “The Streets of Cairo, or the Poor Little Country Maid,” written by Sol Bloom “the Music Man” (and congressional representative) for the infamous dancer Little Egypt who appeared at the World’s Columbian Exposition (a.k.a. the Chicago World’s Fair) of 1893.

The second interruption occurs when the monkey on top of the palm tree becomes annoyed and we hear a brief snippet of “Aba Daba Honeymoon,” a song hit by Arthur Fields and Walter Donovan from 1914.

And then it’s back to the closing phrase of “Music Hath Charms” and the true story as to how “…Paul Whiteman was crowned the ‘King of Jazz’.”

The arranger of all this music was a recent addition to Walter Lantz’s staff, James “Jimmy” Dietrich (1894-1984). He was responsible for scoring a large chunk of the Lantz Oswalds (and for adding scores to Disney’s silent Oswald cartoons for sound re-issue) and would continue to work with Lantz through late 1937. While some animation reference books credit Dietrich as being an arranger for Paul Whiteman’s band who segued into working for Lantz while working on King of Jazz, his name doesn’t appear in any of Whiteman Orchestra rosters that I’ve run across and I’d be most eager to hear from anyone with additional information.

Cartoon Brew TV #22: Disney’s The Princess and the Frog

This week on Cartoon Brew TV, we offer an exclusive behind-the-scenes clip, courtesy of the Walt Disney Company, from their forthcoming hand-drawn feature, The Princess and the Frog.

In the video, supervising animator Bruce Smith (Bebe’s Kids, The Proud Family) discusses the character of Dr. Facilier, the villain of the film, and how voice actor Keith David influences the animators work and the character’s performance. David is shown performing and being directed by John Musker and Ron Clements. There are also some brief bits of pencil tests and color footage that hasn’t appeared anywhere else on the web.

After witnessing Disney abandon their hand-drawn films several years ago, and watching the rest of Hollywood consumed by CG, it’s incredibly exciting seeing classical character animation being produced on this scale. Sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. The Princess and the Frog marks the return of a beloved moviegoing tradition: the classic Disney fairy tale, and no one is rooting harder for this film to be a success than I. Based on this preview, and clips screened at Comic-Con, I’m convinced the studio is on the right track.

We thank the Walt Disney Company for allowing Brew readers this early peak at their film. The Princess and The Frog opens in LA and NY on November 25, 2009, and nationwide on December 11, 2009.

Cartoon Brew TV: Disney’s The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog

Today’s 22nd episode of Cartoon Brew TV is a special one as we present an exclusive preview of Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation, The Princess and the Frog. This behind-the-scenes clip, courtesy of The Walt Disney Company, discusses the villain of the film, Dr. Facilier. The piece, entitled “Conjuring the Villain,” includes comments from supervising animator Bruce Smith and voice actor Keith David about their work on the character. Click over to Cartoon Brew TV to catch an early look at Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.