Two Thumbs Up. In the Disney animated feature, “Aladdin” (1992), when Aladdin pushes through the crowd to see Prince Achmed, he stands between caricatures of producers-directors Ron Clements and John Musker. During the song “One Jump”, these caricatures are watching a muscle man striking poses. Originally the characters were supposed to be caricatures of film critics Siskel and Ebert but it was felt they would need to get permission to do that so Clements and Musker were substituted.
The Disney Stare. During the infamous Disney Strike, animator Emery Hawkins joined the picket line because he was disgruntled that, despite Walt Disney’s assurances, he was not going to be moved into features. One day Hawkins was outside the studio when Walt drove up, got out of his car, walked up to Hawkins and stood, inches from his face, glared for what seemed like forever, then wordlessly turned and walked into the building. Hawkins later claimed, when talking to animator Nelson Rhodes that the impact was so great he laid down his picket sign and left the Disney lot that day, going over to the Walter Lantz studio for work. “I knew my days at Disney were over,” stated Hawkins.
Missing the Point. Scott Bradley, who provided the music for the Tom and Jerry cartoons at MGM, was invited to lecture at famed composer Miklos Rozsa’s music class at USC. Bradley explained to the class that music was the most important element in a cartoon because it underlines the gags. To demonstrate this fact, he ran a Tom and Jerry cartoon without music, warning the class that they would find little humor in it. To his annoyance, the class rocked with laughter. Then, he ran the same cartoon with his music to show it would be much funnier. However, a joke is sometimes only funny once and this version was just greeted with polite smiles rather than raucous laughter. An embarrassed Bradley quickly changed the subject.
Horror Hat. The late voice artist Paul Frees was known for his professionalism and for his pride and joy, a green Borsalino hat. During a recording session for a series of Jay Ward cartoons with a tight deadline, Frees was earnestly doing his voice chores when, on the other side of the recording studio glass, Bill Scott, a writer and voice of Bullwinkle, held up a green Borsalino hat. He methodically began to cut the hat up with a pair of scissors as the tortured Frees continued his reading without breaking concentration. When the session was over, Frees rushed out of the booth where Scott gave him his undestroyed hat back. Scott had bought an identical one for the gag.
Space Angel Credits. When animation fans look at the “Space Angel” animated series with the magic of “Synchro-Vox” (human lips superimposed on animated faces), they usually emphasize the work of legendary artist Alex Toth. In truth, for this series, Toth called on his old friend, Warren Tufts, who was responsible for the newspaper comic strips “Lance” and “Casey Ruggles”, to help him out on the art. Tufts preferred writing some synopses and scripts instead. So, Toth illustrated the series with the help of Ray Vinella (illustrator for Lockheed Missile Division), Hy Mankin (who had illustrated the Roy Rogers newspaper strip since 1957), Jim Mabry (USAF illustrator) and Sal Trapani (a comic book artist Toth knew from Dell comic books). However, it is indeed the Toth style that dominates the series.
Birthday Blues. At UCLA’s “A Tribute to Walter Lantz” held in November 1992, producer Lantz surprised everyone in the audience, myself included, when he revealed that he had been going through some personal papers at his lawyer’s office and saw his birth certificate for the first time. It stated he was born in April 1899, not April 1900 as his parents had always told him. So he was a year older, not 92 years old but actually 93, and all those newspaper and magazine articles for decades were completely wrong about the year of his birth. Lantz offered no explanation why his parents told him the wrong year. This is one of those examples of how animation scholarship is so frustrating (and exciting) because new things about the past are being discovered every day.
Two Geniuses Too Many. At one time, actor-director-writer Orson Welles had obtained the rights to the novel, “The Little Prince”, and approached Walt Disney with a proposal of turning it into a feature that would combine live-action and animation. Walt was apparently not pleased with the fact that his staff paid more attention to Welles than to him. Reportedly, he complained to Jack Leighter, “Jack, there is not room on this lot for two geniuses!” The project died.
Peter Pan Rights. Walt Disney was always interested in acquiring the rights to James Barrie’s Peter Pan as a potential animated feature. In 1937, the year of Barrie’s death and just before the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt sent a memo to Disney’s London representative to obtain the rights to Peter Pan immediately. Walt feared the success of Snow White would drive up the price and that rival Max Fleischer might obtain the rights instead and ruin the project.
The Hunt for Red Bullwinkle. Tom Clancy, the well known author of novels like “The Hunt for Red October”, is never stumped with coming up with advanced weaponry. In his novel, Clear and Present Danger (1989), he devised a “Husha-boom”, a bomb that explodes silently. “I got the idea from Rocky and Bullwinkle,” Clancy stated. “Cartoons are a good source of ideas for me.”
Worst Cartoon Ever. In 1991, Brian Sullivan, the director of monitoring for the Illinois based National Coalition on Television Violence, announced that the Fox Network had the highest network average for cartoon violence since 1980. The show that NCTV found most offensive was the animated “Beetlejuice”. “Our major objection is Beetlejuice’s attitude toward violence,” stated Sullivan. “He is extremely mean for a main character. It’s the worst cartoon ever!”
What Feet Sound Like. Animation fan Tom Knott once shared with me the information that the man who supplied the drumming sounds in “The Flintstones” was Gregory Watson, a drummer with swing bands in the 1930s and 1940s who was also the first editor for the show. That smoking bongo riff that accompanies Fred’s feet when he takes off in his car was not done with bongos. Gregory played the part on a leather couch using his bare hands.