Searching for Sylvester. As difficult as it is to find some animated gems, it is almost impossible to find animated commercials and not just because of their short shelf life. Many animated commercials were simply thrown away after their initial run because neither ad agencies nor advertisers wanted to invest into having an archives. Years ago, I personally helped 7-UP to locate some Fresh Up Freddie commercials from the 1950s since they had no copies and no idea how to locate any.
In 1982, during a period when Warner Brothers’ Sylvester the Cat was a spokes-cat for 9-Lives cat food, there were also animated commercials. The first three spots (in which legendary animator and historian Mark Kausler did two or three scenes) were only shown in limited test market areas of the country and then revised extensively (taking out a lot of Mark’s animation!). So as difficult as it is to find copies of those commercials, it is pretty much impossible to find the original unedited versions.
Bob Godfrey on Chuck Jones. In 1990 BAFTA held some Master Classes with animators like Peter Lord, Brian Cosgrove, Greg Boulton and others including Bob Godfrey. Here are some excerpts of what Godfrey shared with the small group of students: “If you’ve ever met Chuck Jones, as I have, you can see he is a rabbit. Big feet and his mannerisms. He is Bugs Bunny. I’m reading his book now and it’s a little disappointing. You get the feeling that it may have been ghost written.
“Speaking as an animator, I would have liked more of a breakdown of how one of the classic Bugs Bunny cartoons were made. The scripts in the book are good but only illustrated with stills, no storyboards. I’m still waiting for the one great book on animation that goes from first script to the finished film.”
Scott Shaw! On Cartoons. “I worked on a program called Popeye and Son. We had to show Popeye doing the dishes.”
“I only have my own experience to compare it to but when I was a kid seeing a character jump off the roof, or seeing Popeye punch Bluto and he’d go through three walls or something — maybe I was an especially intelligent kid but I never went out and tried to do any of those things or thought that it applied to real life. I’d just think ‘Gee, this is a great cartoon’,” said Scott Shaw! to the L.A. Times in June 17, 1990.
“All of us in my generation are kind of like time bombs in the business, ticking away, waiting to unleash something of quality. I try to work on shows where there is at least the possibility of skewing some of the story lines and some of the performances so that adults could sit down and watch and not be bored out of their skulls or offended at the treacly sentimentality. I know a lot of adults who watch cartoons in the morning when they’re getting ready instead of the Today show.”
Wisdom of Mel Shaw. In New West magazine December 1978, Mel Shaw, who started in animation when he was sixteen years old in 1932, was working on the story for Disney’s The Black Cauldron. When asked about what Disney was like at the time, Shaw said, “The old joke around here is that there used to be 2,000 artists and 50 bookkeepers and now there’s 50 artists and 2,000 bookeepers and not one of those bookkeepers can draw.”
Get the Lead Out. In August 1998, in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, (CPSC), Pyramid Accessories Inc., of New York, N.Y., recalled about 3,700 of Mulan backpacks and about 1,800 units of Mulan rolling luggage. The backpacks’ and rolling luggage’s artwork contained paint with high levels of lead, which is toxic if ingested by children.
Two styles of the backpacks were involved in the recall, each bearing artwork depicting the Disney character Mulan. One style had a fan-shaped, exterior envelope that partially covers Mulan’s face. The other had a rectangular, exterior envelope below a standing character. The backpacks were sold in two colors: pink and purple. The rolling luggage was pink, about 18 inches long and had the standing image of Mulan.
Retail stores nationwide sold these items from June 1998 through July 1998. The backpacks sold for about $12 and $14, and the luggage sold for about $25 to $30.
The Birth of the Halloween Tree. An incident in 1966 while talking with animator and director Chuck Jones inspired acclaimed author Ray Bradbury to write a script for an animated cartoon that Jones was going to direct. When the project fell through, Bradbury rewrote it in 1972 as a novella entitled The Halloween Tree (that was later animated by Hanna-Barbera in 1993 as a ninety minute television special for which Bradbury won an Emmy award for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program – a clip is embed below).
In October 1993, Bradbury told the whole story: “Run back with me to the day after Halloween 1966. While sharing drinks with Chuck Jones, creator of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, he described an amazing encounter from the night before.
‘Some kids rang my bell,’ Chuck said, ‘and when I opened the door they cried ‘Trick or Treat!’ I yelled back, ‘Trick!’ which stunned and surprised them. So one little boy ran out on the lawn and stood on his head! In the old days, if I hadn’t handed out treats, they would have soaped my windows or firecrackered my mailbox. I stared at all these kids, dressed up as witches, mummies, and ghosts and asked them why they dressed that way. No one knew. They had no roots in the past!’
“I countered with my own tale. “Every Halloween for years,’ I said, “I go visit my father’s grave. Friends protest, ‘Don’t you have any respect for the dead?’ To which I reply, ‘It’s because I do respect the dead that I go.’ That’s what Halloween is, but we have forgotten.
‘Shucks,’ said Chuck, ‘why don’t we make a cartoon to teach people why they wear bones and sneeze mummy dust?’
A longer limited-edition “author’s preferred text” of the novel, compiled and edited by Donn Albright, was published in 2005. This edition also included both the 1967 and 1992 screenplays and a joint interview with Bradbury and Chuck Jones discussing that original screenplay. On October 31, 2007, Bradbury attended the presentation of a Halloween Tree at Disneyland in California, that is now included as part of its annual park-wide Halloween decorations every year.