ANIMATION ANECDOTES
February 28, 2014 posted by Jim Korkis

Animation Anecdotes #151

Lantz Remembers Oswald. “I was on the lot the day Disney left Universal. I had animated a scene for a Laurel and Hardy film where they were asleep and dreaming of flying elephants. So I animated the elephants. They (Hal Roach) thought it was a miracle! After that, I went over to Universal Studios and animated a scene about Andy Gump. He was dreaming he was going to the moon on his mattress. Carl Laemmle wanted me to set up an animation studio at Universal and continue making Oswald the Rabbit cartoons. I told Walt (Disney) and he said, “God bless you, Walt. I’m doing just great!” He remained a dear friend right up until the day he died. I made 260 Oswald cartoons. I later changed Oswald from a black rabbit to a white one because the comic book company said they didn’t want a comic with a black rabbit. They thought a white one looks better and that kids visualized rabbits as white. So I changed him,” said animation legend Walter Lantz to writer John Province in 1994.

Walt the Actor. “Walt inspired us a lot, because he had a natural ability to act. He’d spontaneously get up in a meeting and act something out the way he saw it. In ‘The Jungle Book’ (1967), where the bear first appears from behind the trees, Walt would act out how he saw the bear doing that, which gave me the key for the whole character of the bear. Walt says, ‘you know, he’s snapping his fingers…kind of a Phil Harris sort of musician.”

Analyzing Animation. “As much as we learned from the instructors (at CalArts), we learned that much or even more from each other. We would just sit and talk. The CalArts library had 16mm prints of six Disney features. This was before home video, and we wore those prints out analyzing them. We would watch films twice a week down in the animation room. The school had a 16mm projector that could stop the film, play it slowly and backwards. There would be about ten of us. We would go out and have dinner and then spend the evening analyzing the films,” recalled animator and director John Lasseter.

Burton’s Cauldron. Apparently, the animators and producer Joe Hale wanted to use young Tim Burton’s distinctive designs for “The Black Cauldron” (1985) but directors Art Stevens, Ted Berman and Richard Rich felt those drawings were not “Disney” and kept pulling at Hale to forget about them. Finally, the issue was taken to President and CEO Ron Miller to decide since the animators wanted to make the film quirky but the directors wanted a more traditional film. Miller had just seen the outstanding box office results for the re-release of “Lady and the Tramp” and decided that Disney should not deviate from the traditional path.

Rafiki250Rafiki Rules. Rob Minkoff, co-director of “The Lion King” (1994) told writer Jim Fanning in 1994, “When I started on the picture, the original conception of Rafiki was very straight. He was described as the elder statesman and one of the things I remember is both Roger (Allers, co-director) and I felt that the character should be more fun. We wanted the character to be more interesting, so we said ‘let’s just make him kind of zany, Ben Gunn from ‘Treasure Island’ crossed with a Yoda kind of character. They had already contracted with Robert Guillaume who had done one or two session with a very different interpretation of the character, extremely dour. We were doing some section and I think I asked (Guillaume) to laugh into the line. He did this great laugh that was wacky and crazy and funny and weird. It was really great and it sort of set the character. The laughter would somehow always spark something that would bring him to a really, really great performance.”

Feathertop. Feeling that the success of “The Swan Princess” (1994) was assured, director Richard Rich began planning his next animated feature, “Feathertop” planned for a 1998 release. It was never made. Based on the Nathaniel Hawthorne story of a scarecrow whose hat makes him appear human to others (except for a mirror), the film would have included characters like Bristles, a broom, and Max, a grumpy mouse who only wants peace and quiet. Both would have served as comic relief. The villain would have been Count Grisham, who abusely rules the town where the story take place. The climax would have been Feathertop physically supporting a collasping bridge over which a horse-drawn carriage loaded with children was passing. Feathertop would also have fallen in love with a human girl. Rich planned to use computers to handle some of the work like coloring the film and handling objects like the carriage. Rich intended to make both the dialog and the music contemporary.

Just Smurfy. Peyo, the creator of the Smurfs, discovered that television standards and practices eliminated one aspect of his popular comic strip. “I had to do away with a trademark of most stories: the bespectacled Smurf who hits the moralizing Smurf on the head with a mallet as soon as the moralizing begins,” commented Peyo. “That couldn’t be shown on television, I was told, because the little spectator (watching at home) could very well go into his father’s garage, take a hammer and hit his sister on the head with it.”

The Popeye Diet. When Jack Mercer took over the job of voicing Popeye the Sailor for the Fleischer animated cartoons, Max Fleischer thought that Jack was too skinny to get a fulsome voice for the sailor and suggested Jack start eating a diet of spaghetti and drinking Guinness Stout. Mercer was often embarrassed doing Popeye’s voice because he felt his version sounded like a high falsetto and he struggled to get it in a lower register.

Booping Da Boop. “I just put it in at one of the rehearsals, a sort of interlude. It’s hard to explain — I haven’t explained it to myself yet. It’s like Valle with vo-de-o-do, Crosby with boo-boo-boo, and Durante with cha-cha-cha,” said Helen Kane, the inspiration for Betty Boop, explaining the creation of her “boop-boop-a-doop” signature phrase for the song “That’s My Weakness Now” (embed below). Boop-boop-a-doop is a meaningless word that often inspires risqué interpretations but it frustrated the court reporter who had to take it down endless times during Kane’s suit against the Fleischer Studio. In March 1965, Kane appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show”. It was her last public performance. She passed away September 1966.

10 Comments

  • The Laurel and Hardy film is actually titled “Flying Elephants,” and Lantz’s effects shot is not a dream. The two-reeler is set in the stone age, and when caveman Ollie makes small talk with a cavegirl he points out the elephants are flying south for the winter.

    Bits of animation, drawn and stop-motion, crop up in a lot of silent comedy shorts and occasionally in features, usually to put over an impossible gag. In “The Three Ages,” we get a few silly-looking stop-motion shots of a dinosaur with a tiny Buster Keaton pacing its back.

  • Love the stories as always, but the “Walt the Actor” paragraph is currently unsourced. Is it Thomas or Johnston or one of Disney’s other animators?

    • It was Ollie Johnston from a conversation I had with him in the 1990s at an animation gallery signing in Los Angeles. However, Frank Thomas has also told that story as well.

  • Poor Helen Kane! I always thought she got a raw deal.

    • That’s what happens when you steal material from others it always comes back to haunt you.

  • The comic book company didn’t want a black rabbit, because kids always see rabbits as white…right.

  • Wish they kept the Mallet bit for the Smurfs cartoons. I didn’t think that was too violent. Explain to me again why the parent code was thought to be needed?

    • Still, replacing the mallet with simply throwing Brainy out of the village a million times was funny to me.

  • Walter Lantz is getting the star character from the hottest new animator in the business. Of the two Walts, I’m betting on Lantz!

    • Agreed. Especially considering Bill Nolan’s Oswald animation gives us the Felix the Cat that never was.

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