THE WALT DISNEY FILM ARCHIVES: The Animated Movies 1921-1968 Edited by Daniel Kothensculte (Taschen Books)
Question: When is a book not a book? Answer: When it’s a treasure trove, a museum, an archive unto itself…
Wow! Okay – this book is crazy. Crazy huge, Crazy heavy, crazy expensive – and crazy packed with information and rarely seen photos and artwork. At first it begs the questions – “Do we need another Disney art book?” “Do we need another Disney filmography?” Do we need another look behind the scenes of Snow White, Pinocchio et al? It’s difficult to say “no” when confronted with a project so tremendous, so immense, so well produced.
If you haven’t seen this book in person, it’s 620 huge pages and weighs a ton (actually 15 pounds). So what’s in it? It’s a history of Disney’s animated films, from the start of his career through Winnie the Pooh and The Jungle Book with some of the best Disney historians writing the chapters: J.B. Kaufman (Saudos Amigos, Bambi), Russell Merritt (Laugh-o-Grams and the silent era) Didier Ghez (The Reluctant Dragon), Leonard Maltin (Song of the South, So Dear To My Heart), David R. Smith (The Disneyland Tomorrowland episodes), Brian Sibley (Alice In Wonderland, Sword In The Stone, Mary Poppins), Robin Allen (Snow White, Melody Time), Charles Solomon (Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book, The Wartime Years, etc.), Mindy Johnson (Cinderella, Peter Pan) and others on board. Editor Daniel Kothensculte, a film historian and educator in Germany, tackles several chapters himself (including Fantasia, Dumbo, and Pinocchio).
To be clear, stand-alone books like J.B. Kaufman’s Pinocchio provide deeper dives into each specific subject, but this tome is a satisfying overview – and the large format provides an in-your-face immersive exploration of each era in Disney’s animation career.
This really isn’t a book – its an experience. In standard Taschen fashion, it tries to be the Disney art book to out-do all other Disney art books. And there is no denying it succeeds. To be honest a full 50-60% of the animation art and visuals – cels, backgrounds, pencil art, inspiration art, stills, posters, frame grabs etc. – we’ve seen before (“we” being all of us who have bought every other Disney coffee table art book for the last 40 years), but presented in this large fashion the familiar images have never looked so good. The remaining 40% of the visual matter is astounding new-to-my-eyes archive stuff that blows you away on almost every page. A gallery of wartime shorts one-sheets, behind the scenes photos from Mary Poppins, story conference notes from Melody Time (Johnny Appleseed); the backstory on the production of The Sword In The Stone, I can go on and on…
Is it worth the retail list price of
$200? Yeah – it is. UPDATE: It’s currently now $89.23 on Amazon. Yeah, it really is. Buy it!
Our own Jim Korkis has finally committed to print all his research (decades worth) on Disney’s ill-fated film based on Roald Dahl’s The Gremlins. His latest book, Gremlin Trouble! The Cursed Roald Dahl Film Disney Never Made, tells the tale in detail, from all aspects of its inception, production, its failure to launch – and its ultimate legacy.
Unlike most un-produced Disney films, The Gremlins characters were designed and merchandised, appeared in books and comics, endorsed products and used in military insignia – but never animated. This has had many Disney fans and historians, even the general public, scratching their heads for years. Korkis traces how the project came to be, who the characters are, the issues with the underlying copyright, the Warner Bros. cartoons, later attempted revivals, Joe Dante’s unrelated feature films, and much much more.
Every question I had about the Gremlins is essentially answered in this book – and I do recommend it as a handy reference, to sit next to my other Disney histories (including the Taschen volume reviewed above) that have given this project the short shrift. My only complaint is the lack of illustrations (this book was not authorized by The Walt Disney Company). Jim does include a personal drawing that Bill Justice gave him – and an inscription by Walt Disney in Justice’s personal copy of the 1944 Random House storybook.
THE DEPATIE-FRELENG COLLECTION DVD and blu-ray discs from Kino Lorber Video
From the sublime to the ridiculous.
Full disclosure: I’m involved with this DVD/blu-ray series. Kino/Lorber has been releasing the entire DePatie Freleng theatrical cartoon collection (except the Pink Panther shorts) on DVD and blu-ray – whether you like them or not.
Last year Kino released five sets – The Inspector, Roland and Ratfink, The Ant and The Aardvark, Tijuana Toads and Crazy Legs Crane. This month they’ve added two more: Hoot Kloot and The Blue Racer. They’ve got The Dogfather and Mister Jaw on tap for early next year.
I know what you’re thinking: Why? And why am I involved? Let’s answer this in several ways. First off, let it be known I want all cartoons released and available. I want the 1960s and 70s Woody Woodpecker/Chilly Willy/ Beary Family cartoons released on DVD. I want Sad Cat/Luno/James Hound committed to blu ray. So yeah, I’m into digging into the barrel of DePatie-Freleng. Even to the bottom of it. That, and I like DePatie Freleng.
Confession: I love the 1964-1970 DePatie Freleng cartoons. No, not the shorts they produced for Warner Bros. during this period – but practically everything else they did was good and well-worth a look. That includes TV commercials (Apple Jacks, etc.), TV series (Super 6), specials, animated titles (Pink Panther and numerous others) and segments for features and TV shows (My World and Welcome To It). And especially the shorts they released through United Artists.
The UA-Mirisch cartoons (unlike the DPF cartoons produced for WB) are a more realistic take on what the Warner Bros. cartoons might have morphed into had the studio maintained its staff past 1962. The house style of the cartoons (1964-1970) is progressive. The studio moved into the 1960s with an artistic daring, with no comparison to what UPA had done in the 50s, or what Disney and Hanna-Barbera (or any other studio) were doing in the 60s.
Artists like John Dunn, Dick Ung and Corny Cole, not to mention Hawley Pratt, Art Davis and Art Leonardi were doing great work here that collectively defined a new look for theatrical cartoons of the era.
Are all these shorts worth collecting? No – but the good ones are just that… really good. And I have been delighted to discover that there is usually at least “one” good cartoon (sometimes more than one) on each set. (There are no good cartoons on the Crazy Legs Crane set… but that one is worth getting for my inspired audio track commentary).What are some of those “good” cartoons? Here’s a few I love: The first two Roland and Ratfink cartoons – Hawks and Doves (1968) and Hurts and Flowers (1969), both by Pratt (director) and Dunn (story) – are the most distinctive and sharpest cartoon shorts I think the studio released during this era.
The Inspector shorts, especially the first year (1965-66) when William Lava was doing the music, are especially fine and funny- with visually creative “villains” like the shape shifting “Blotch” and the three-headed Brothers Matzoriiley. The “pilot” cartoon for the Blue Racer, Support Your Local Serpent (1972) directed by Art Davis, surprised me with great art direction (by Richard Thomas) and fine animation (by Dick Thompson). The Hoot Kloot cartoon Gold Struck (1974), directed and designed by Roy Morita, is the closest thing to a theatrical Jay Ward cartoon you’ll ever see. Really.
Greg Ford, Mark Arnold and I provide informative commentary, occasionally with archival audio from directors Friz Freleng, Art Davis and Bob Balser. Constantine Nasr (who did the “Behind-The-Tunes” segments on the Looney Tunes Golden Collections) directed several bonus documentaries – a few of them featuring me, or interviews I did with Art Leonardi, Doug Goodwin, Joe Siracusa and others. Greg Ford and William Hohauser produced these sets at the same level they had on the Warner’s Popeye and Looney Tunes Golden sets. Oh and hey, did I mention the cartoons themselves look gorgeous in these hi-def restorations.
These are not everyone’s cup of tea – but with at least a few good cartoons and some entertaining extras, I think you’ll enjoy them. I hope you’ll try one.
Post Script: I know what you’re thinking. Has it come to this? Is there no hope for the hundreds of classic theatricals (not to mention the Tex Avery’s) still not restored and released on disc? I promise to make it up to you this fall. SHHH-H-H-H! I’m working with Warner Archives now on a special “classic cartoon” collection that will be announced very soon. And hopefully it will be the first of many more…