New Van Beuren DVDs

Animation historian and cartoon archeologist Steve Stanchfield is back with another double header of rare 1930s cartoons from the long-forgotten Fleischer-rival, Van Beuren Studios. His latest Thunderbean DVDs are The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry and Aesop’s Fables Vol. 2 – and again, I recommend these highly to anyone – especially those who love 1930s-style rubber-hose animation.

The Tom & Jerry set (with gorgeous Milton Knight cover art) is particularly amazing. These hilarious cartoons are obscure to begin with, so a real treat is the fabulous film prints Stanchfield digs up and lovingly restores. Many of the cartoons look really great, especially A Swiss Trick (1931) from a 35mm nitrate sepia-tinted, spliceless print, with its original titles intact. This is as close as we’ll ever get to experiencing one of these cartoons the way audiences saw them in the early 30s. It really makes a difference.

Also on the T&J set, galleries of original trade ads, posters, home movie boxes, picture books, and four additional cartoons starring Tom & Jerry precursors, Waffles and Don. Stanchfield goes an extra five miles here, with the inclusion of a comparison reel of Tom & Jerry animation against a rare Egyptian knock-off by the Frenkel Brothers. Priceless stuff.

For more information on Thunderbean’s complete line of animation rarities, click here.

Christie’s auctioning Rare Disney material

My friend Philippe Videcoq is selling 25 Disney items in an upcoming Christie’s movie memorabilia auction. Among many drawings and layouts, he’s selling three extremely rare items : a three page synopsis from Alice the Beach Nut (the penultimate in the series), typed in 1927; a United Artists Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies Press book; and a 191 page folder entitled Future Fantasias compiled by studio researcher Bob Carr at Walt’s request before Fantasia’s premiere, detailing all possible musical choices for sequence replacements or sequels to Fantasia.

Phillppe sent me some details on the Future Fantasias folder:

During the making of the film, he asked Robert Spencer Carr to keep track of all ideas and projects discussed at the studio for quick reference and further discussion. Carr (March 26, 1909 — April 28, 1994) was Director of Educational Research for Walt Disney Studios. After he left the studio, he became Special Advisor to NICAP. He also served with the Army Orientation Service, produced educational films for the State Department and teached communication at the University of south Florida. He was also an American writer of science fiction and fantasy (selling his first story to Weird Tales at age 15) .

As stated in the opening memo to Walt, this was given to him on October 23, 1940 as a “field manual” for his trip east. This trip was Walt’s trip to New York for the world Premiere of Fantasia, 23 days later (Nov. 13, 1940). Of course, in view of the film’s disappointing box-office returns, the cost of the revolutionary Fantasound system in the theatres, and a closing foreign market due to World War 2, Walt put all these projects aside, but many ideas would eventually turn out as sequences in the package features: Peter and the Wolf in Make Mine Music (1946), Flight of the Bumble Bee (renamed Bumble Boogie) in Melody Time (1948), Rhapsody in Blue and The Firebird in the long-awaited sequel Fantasia 2000. Debussy’s Clair de Lune was even animated, ending up as the Blue Bayou sequence in Make Mine Music. Finally, two suggestions (Valse Triste and Afternoon of a Faun) were eventually used by Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto in his Fantasia spoof Allegro non Troppo (1977).

The folder lists all musical studio properties (and titles advised for copyright), story numbers assigned to pieces, detailed story research, development and production notes, as well as the Deems Taylor dialog written for many pieces (and often recorded, with recording dates). It also includes complete proposed programs for eventual sequels, and a nine page transcript of a story meeting held at the studio on may 14, 1940, with the participation of Walt, Leopold Stokowski, Joe Grant, Ben Sharpsteen and Ed Plumb.

The photograph (above, right) of Walt Disney in his office shows the Future Fantasias folder right behind him, on a shelf.

The auction will take place on November 24th in London. For more information click here.

Jonathan Demme To Make An Animated Feature

Zeitoun

The book cover illustration above by Rachell Sumpter is responsible for one of the more intriguing animated feature announcements I’ve heard in a while. Director/producer Jonathan Demme has optioned the rights to the Dave Eggers novel Zeitoun, and inspired by its cover, he’s decided to make it as an animated film. Demme told The New York Times:

“I was staring at the book and there’s this wonderful line drawing on the cover, the character of Zeitoun in his canoe, paddling through a submerged neighborhood. And I suddenly imagined, What if we could do an animated film and visualize the experiences of the Zeitoun family and all of New Orleans?”

Eggers’s story is in the thoughtful vein of recent features like $9.99, Perspepolis and Waltz with Bashir, and has little to do with the conventional animated fare being churned out by the major studios. It is a true-life account of an Arab-American man, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, and his harrowing experiences in New Orleans immediately following Hurricane Katrina. Demme says that he is currently “deep, deep, deep into researching” how he’s going to produce the animation for the film, and that he wants to stick with a hand-drawn style.

And now a personal note to Jonathan Demme: Mr. Demme, if you’re reading this, I beg you not to use cheap Flash/AfterEffects-style animation. Don’t Waltz with Bashir this film, and compromise the personal impact of the story with mechanical movement. Maintain the integrity and vitality of the graphic illustration that initially drew you to the project, and bring it to life with the nuance and lushness that only traditional hand-drawn animation can provide. Look at the works of Koji Yamamura, Frédéric Back, and Sylvain Chomet to understand the unique storytelling possibilities of the animation medium. Prove to the world that not every live-action director has a clumsy, heavy-footed, Bob Zemeckis-like approach to the art form.

(Thanks, TStevens, for the story link)

Dr. Sketchy’s is coming!

Dr. Sketchy’s is an alternative life drawing salon and traveling artists social club – and it’s coming to California.

It started as a one-time Brooklyn art event and is now a nationwide movement. Founded in 2005 by artist Molly Crabapple, Dr. Sketchy’s Roadshow inaugural tour will take place throughout California between November 2nd and 14th, with stops in Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Long Beach, Sherman Oaks, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Bakersfield, Fresno, Monterey, San Jose, Sacramento and Alhambra. To quote their blog:

Artist and art voyeurs need only bring a $10 donation and their favorite drawing supplies. Dr. Sketchy’s and the Roadshow’s art-centric host venues will provide everything else (top notch models, refreshments, casual networking opportunities, and an all around good time).

No RSVP necessary, but space at each venue is limited. The L.A. date is Thursday November 5th at Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks. Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra will host the show on November 14th. Check the full list of locations and dates here.

Canemaker talks McCay at Ohio State

More John Canemaker news! John will present his do-not-miss lecture/screening on the art and life of animation pioneer Winsor McCay (1867—1934) at the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, next Tuesday November 3rd.

As part of the lecture, Canemaker presents Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) the way it was meant to be shown — as a vaudeville act with live musical accompaniment (photo above is from Canemaker’s recent screening in Annecy). The program starts at 7:00 pm at the Wexner Center Film/Video Theater, 1871 North High Street in Columbus, Ohio. The event is part of the current Winsor McCay: Legendary Cartoonist exhibit at the OSU Cartoon Library and Museum. For tickets and information, please visit the Cartoon Museum website.

Yowp, the Early Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Blog

Huckleberry Hound

Yowp: Stuff about Early Hanna-Barbera Cartoons is a blog that’ll tell you more about Hanna-Barbera cartoons than you probably cared to know. The blog creator, who is anonymous, knows his stuff, and gives us insidery opinions of this sort: “Here’s where you wish someone like Foster or Maltese was guiding the dialogue because Shows’ lines come off as trite and obvious.” His obsessiveness (I can only assume a guy does this blog because no girl would ever obsess over early H-B like this) is not entirely without merit. He also highlights pieces of animation that serve as fine lessons for anybody creating limited animation, such as this lovely two-drawing cycle of Doggie Daddy driving a car.

Two Guys Named Joe by John Canemaker

Two Guys Named Joe

John Canemaker‘s next book is available for pre-order on Amazon. Two Guys Named Joe: Master Animation Storytellers Joe Grant and Joe Ranft will be released in August 2010. John gave me a preview of the book a couple months back. It is an intimate look at the accomplishments and struggles (both personal and professional) of two animation giants. If you think you already know these guys, you’re going to be in for a surprise. Needless to say, it’s guaranteed to be one of the must-haves of next year.

No Encore for Monsters vs. Aliens

Jeff Katzenberg on why there won’t be a second installment of Monsters vs. Aliens:

“I’d like to tell you there’s a perfectly rational, clear and easy answer as to why not, but there isn’t. There was enough of a consensus from our distribution and marketing folks in certain parts of the world that we would be pushing a boulder up a hill.”

Who said that a concerted effort by the international community wasn’t a good way of stopping Katzenberg from making bad films? If one good thing came out of the film though, it’s this poster by Nate Wragg created for the MvA TV special, Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space, that debuts on NBC tonight:

Pumpkin Invasion

UPDATE: Nate Wragg has uploaded the other poster he created for the MvA TV special onto his blog.

Chuck Jones’s Opinion of Working at Disney

I’ve praised this blog before, but the Chuck Jones blog, run by Chuck’s grandson Craig, continues to be a treasure trove of artwork and new information about the director.

My favorite recent post is this letter that Chuck wrote to his daughter Linda following his brief stint working at the Disney studio in 1953. In it, Jones gives his perspective of working at the studio, and it sounds not so different from a lot of contemporary feature animation studios:

At Disney’s it was always necessary to be certain places at certain times. God knows why, nothing ever happened, so it was nearly impossible to work there without a timepiece. You could get along without talent, but not a watch…. Ah..I think this was a good mood–I mean move to return here [to Warner Bros.], I had not realized how much I missed the sweetness of my own solitude. At Disney’s aloneness or desire to be alone generates suspicion, you are always surrounded by people, drifting in and out, exchanging hackneyed pleasantries or just sitting, staring with baleful intensity at one’s own navel. What a waste! What a waste of wonderful talent!

Jones also offered an unflattering opinion of Disney director Ham Luske:

I went to Disney’s with respect for H… L…., I could not fathom him but I felt that there must be some pretty strong talent there, not evident on the surface perhaps but still waters run deep etc. etc. If I still think this then I am the only one who has recently worked there who does. Walt adjudges him a work horse, stolid, unimaginative, but able to get things done if someone else has injected the life and the spark into the material. Many others think of him as simply and purely a dolt and a dull dolt at that. I saw too little of him to make any judgment, but I can no longer assume that he has talent. Isn’t that a pity?

It’s particularly interesting to read this letter in context of Chuck’s later opinions of working at Disney, which can be found in this terrific article by Wade Sampson.

Carnaval No Inferno

Brazilian artist Helder Santos drew, animated and directed this video for the local band Eddie and singer Karina Buhr. Santos writes:

The video is a protest against the violence and social problems in Brazil. Everybody thinks of Brazil as the fun, carnaval country. We tried to put what really happens here though the vision of a masked ball carnaval of horror. Hope you like it.

Santos produced it along with his wife Camilla and friends at production house CherryPlus.

Magoo’s Christmas Carol panel in NYC

The Paley Center for Media on 52nd Street will be hosting a screening and panel discussion celebrating The First Christmas Special: Revisiting Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 6:00 pm. Following a screening of the show, a panel including animator/author Darrell Van Citters; Judy Levitow, daughter of Magoo’s director Abe Levitow; and Marie Matthews, Voice of “Young Scrooge”, will examine the making of the program and its place in television history. Reserve tickets here.

Three Weeks of Animation on Shokus Internet Radio

Shokus Internet Radio is beginning a three-week arc saluting the animation industry starting today with two of the best voiceover artists in the business: Gregg Berger (Garfield, The Angry Beavers, Batman Beyond, Duckman, Transformers, etc.) and Michael Bell (Rugrats, Voltron, Superfriends, Jonny Quest, et al). Stu’s Show airs live on Wednesday and repeated each subsequent day at the same time 7-9pm Eastern / 4-6pm Pacific.

On November 4th, Bob Bergen (Porky Pig, Tweety, Lupin III) will be the guest, and on November 11th, yours truly (Jerry Beck) will be there to answer questions on the burning issues of the day. Turn on, Toon In, Click Here.

Mighty Mouse – the New Adventures on DVD

Here it comes to save your day.

This past year I’ve been working with CBS Video and Paramount Home Entertainment on compiling the Ralph Bakshi/John Kricfalusi Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures complete series DVD set — and now you can pre-order it on Amazon.com. It’ll be released on January 5th 2010 and bonus materials include commentary by John Kricfalusi, Tom Minton, Mike Kazaleh and Kent Butterworth; three original Terry Toons cartoons (1943′s He Dood It Again with original “Super Mouse” titles, the 1945 Oscar nominated Gypsy Life, and one of the first cartoons Bakshi ever animated on, from 1961, Mysterious Package); and a bonus behind the scenes documentary, Breaking the Mold: the Re-Making of Mighty Mouse with Ralph, John K., Bruce Timm, Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Vicki Jenson, Libby Simon, Mike Kazaleh, Kent Butterworth, Tom Minton, etc.

The 1987-88 series has been beautifully restored and will be released uncut, and the documentary contains much rare behind-the-scenes footage and commentary. Take it from me – this is a must-have. Mike Kazaleh designed the wrap around cover (above, click image to see it larger).

In L.A. This Week: Meet Selick, Docter and Anderson

If you are a member of Asifa Hollywood, this is a killer week: you can meet Henry Selick, Peter Docter and Wes Anderson and see their films at free screenings in Los Angeles. And at each one, yours truly, Brewmaster Jerry Beck will conduct a Q&A with the filmmakers (that’s my mug above with two puppets from Coraline from my session with Henry Selick last week in Ottawa). If you haven’t RSVP’d yet – do it now. Info is posted here.

Tonight at 7pm is the screening of UP with Pete Docter at the Chinese Theatre (6925 Hollywood Blvd.) in Hollywood. I know this is short notice, but they’ve opened it up to all members of the Animation Guild, students from Cal Arts and readers of Cartoon Brew. But you have to RSVP. If you can make it, call (818) 560-4350 right now to reserve your seat – it’s FREE!! See you there!

The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History

The Simpsons book by John Ortved

Noteworthy new book about The SimpsonsThe Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History by journalist John Ortved draws on eighty new interviews to create an oral history about the creation and day-to-day production of the show.

Ortved wrote an interesting article for The Daily Beast in which he talks about how Fox and James L. Brooks refused to cooperate with him for the book:

Brooks sent a letter to every current Simpsons employee, and all the former ones he thought mattered, asking them not to speak to me. The writers’ agents sent denial after denial for interview requests and eventually stopped responding altogether…There was one “D’oh!” in James L. Brooks and the Gracie Films master plan: Many people don’t like James L. Brooks. No one gets as successful as Brooks in Hollywood without making enemies, but people carry a special dislike for the man whose power and smart media control has managed to project an image of an avuncular, loveable neurotic for the better part of 50 years.”

Reviews of the book–Entertainment Weekly, NPR–have generally been positive, with the biggest complaint being that it falls apart towards the end. This is an almost inevitable byproduct of writing a book about a studio or show that is still in progress. David A. Price’s otherwise well-researched The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company also suffered towards the end when it attempted to put newer Pixar efforts into context without the participation of key figures.

I’m still curious to read Ortved’s book for its documentation of the early years. No doubt, there will be many more histories of The Simpsons in the years to come. This is only the first, and it appears to be a solid start towards chronicling the most successful animated TV series of all time. If you’ve read the book, please share your thoughts in the comments. The book can be purchased on Amazon for the discounted price of $17.82.

Meet the President of Fox Animation Studios

Since 2007, Vanessa Morrison has been President of Fox Animation Studios. Morrison started as an intern at 20th Century Fox fifteen years ago and climbed the ranks, eventually overseeing the live action Fat Albert and Garfield movies and the live-action-computer animated hybrid Alvin and the Chipmunks. Today she works with Blue Sky Studios and filmmakers like Wes Anderson to bring their animated features to the screen.

Each week, the L.A. Times profiles a different Southern California executive in their Weekend Business section. Yesterday, the Sunday Times ran this piece about who she is.

Astro Boy‘s Abysmal Opening, and Imagi’s Sinking Ship

Astro Boy

Imagi, an animation studio that thought it could compete with the big boys, has suffered a major blow after the abysmal opening of Astro Boy which debuted in 6th place with barely over $7 million. UPDATE: The actual opening weekend box office gross for Astro Boy was $6.7 million.

Hong Kong-based Imagi entered the animation industry with grand ideas, but little production know-how and the uninspiring idea of applying TV production models to CG animated features by preparing the pre-production in the US and animating the films in Asia where labor is cheap (well, cheaper, since Astro Boy still cost a ridiculous $65 million). The company’s first film, TMNT, debuted modestly with $54 million in 2007. Astro Boy will have difficulty matching even half of that figure.

Even more embarrassing, Astro Boy is a big flop in its home country of Japan, where it barely made it into the top ten on its opening weekend, and dropped out of the top 10 in its second week. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that when you attempt to Westernize a distinctly foreign product, you end up alienating everybody. The more important lesson is that just because you’re basing a film around an existing property doesn’t guarantee a hit. The other part of the equation is that you also have to make a good film that people actually want to see. Then again, it also helps if the property you’re remaking isn’t an obscure mid-century relic that no normal human being under the age of 35 (and definitely no teenager) has heard of.

As readers may recall, Imagi was experiencing major financial difficulties late last year, which resulted in the loss of many of their top talents in the LA studio. They were given a temporary reprieve after Chinese investors stepped in at the last minute. The tradeoff, according to The Hollywood Reporter, was that the company had to revamp its production slate (Tusker was dropped), and begin searching for a “hero concept of Chinese origin” to produce as an upcoming feature. (Their next feature, Gatchaman, was already well into production, and is still slated to follow Astro Boy.) The Chinese are keeping Imagi on financial life support for the time being, but it’s becoming obvious that they lack the vision and passion for animation that results in films that audiences will pay to watch.

Teletoon’s Detour pilots

I don’t know if these will be as exciting as CN’s unaired Cartoonstitute pilots we featured a while back, but Canada’s Teletoon network is releasing shorts from its pilot program, The Detour, one a week, every Friday online and on air. The first one up is Cal Brunker’s Ninjamaica, produced by Lenz Entertainment.

But I’m particularly looking forward to next week’s Angora Napkin by Nick Cross and Troy Little. Here’s why:

(Thanks, Cameron Archer)