THUNDERBEAN THURSDAY
December 7, 2017 posted by Steve Stanchfield

“On Thimbles Or Something…” Short Thoughts on the Future of Collecting Animated Films

Late in my Junior year of High school, I swiped an article from the Huron High School library’s daily New York Times. I have no idea *why* I was reading the New York Times in high school, but I guess I was since, otherwise, I wouldn’t have seen the article.

That article was stuck in the front clear plastic sleeve on my binder, along with a Kim Dietch cartoon, something from Mad Magazine, a Xerox of Scrappy out of an old issue of Mindrot or Animania and other small drawings. I must have read it over and over since I had parts of it memorized. Happily, many of these articles are on line these days, and this one can be found here:

I had just seen the reissue of Pinocchio in theatres a year earlier, in what would be it’s second to last theatrical release. The earlier release, in 1978, had a huge impact on me as a 10 year old. Of course, I managed to rent the VHS cassette as soon as it was released, and was surprised at how poor the color was on the cassette, compared to what I had seen theatrically.

Two quotes from this article still stick in my head. There first was this one:

“Yesterday, Gene Brink, one of the Disney technicians transferring the film to video tape, said his staff had worked from a print that had ”only been screened three or four times” and did color adjustments from scene to scene. ”Sometimes we see a picture from the film that is a dirty red, which the computer tells is really a true red and we can correct it.” Mr. Brink said the studio had considered re-dubbing the film with new actors for ”a true stereo” soundtrack.”

The “computer” tells us it’s a true red? What?? “re-dubbing the film”? What??

The interesting thing is that the “whole” film looks red in this version, and appears to have been taken from an Eastman SP print of the film. Interesting that at this point in history that hadn’t considered using a neg or making a print to scan for the release.

The other quote that stuck with me through all these years was this one, from Eisner himself:

“Mr. Eisner added that he believed that by the time Pinocchio had its next scheduled release, in 1991, ”the technology will be so advanced and changed there will be a whole new generation that will not have seen the film, because by then videocassettes will be on thimbles or something, and all the existing cassettes will be in collections and libraries.’’”

So, I suppose that Blu-rays and flash drives are the “Thimbles or something” that Eisner predicted. Happily, better versions of the film have been released since then. As a teenager, the disappointment with the look of the VHS of the film prompted me to buy a 35mm IB Technicolor print, something I paid for in installments from a very patient collector. The $300 I sent to him a little at a time was earned from working two minimum wage jobs at $3.35 an hour! I still have that print.

Scanned from 35mm Ib technicolor print

Scanned from 35mm Ib technicolor print

Perhaps the Blu-rays and DVDs we’re collecting now will give way to the “Thimbles” of tomorrow, or, perhaps, some of the things we’re collecting just won’t be available later. It’s hard to say. Pinocchio of course is in no danger of vanishing in any way currently. But other stuff may as well be gone already for as hard as it is to see.

As both a collector and producer of sets of animated films, the overarching theme for me continues to be accessibility to decent quality versions of many of these old films. I had a recent conversation with a good friend/ collector who bemoaned the releasing of Public Domain materials. “It’s the same old stuff” he said with clear frustration, continuing “Why not release things that aren’t out already!”. Of course, I agree. I’m continuing to attempt to grow the little company that is Thunderbean with the big mission being to work on accessibility. Being able to open a can and look at an amazing quality version of something without being able to release it is pretty painful, but at least the can is being opened, a first step toward at least trying to strike a deal to get some of this stuff out there.

Related to this, here are my thoughts about the recent Porky Pig 101 set. Knowing many people involved in both this set, and the criticism of it, here is my ‘last word’ on this:

Each time one of these things are championed, I think it’s important to help it be a success, so others will follow, especially when there are large corporations involved. It really takes only a few champions in the inside to move a set forward through the corporate mechanizations. Sometimes these efforts will not be perfect, and I think it’s fine to point those ‘not right’ things out; I think it’s also our responsibility to consider the best strategy to both help the success of a set even if it didn’t quite meet expectations. The people that help make these things happen are *people*, not just a soulless corporate entity.

As collectors, writers, producers or people working on sets, often our comments are heard above others. Although we’re only a few voices, they can be magnified voices online, and that means our comments have a much larger resonance than even we may think they do – so this requires us to be responsible in these comments. I think it’s legitimate to be frank in finding errors with sets, but responsible in tone without accusation.

I’m happy to have the Porky films in better quality than my old VHS, 16mm and TV copies, and, while imperfect, it’s a start in the direction of releasing the hardest to see material owned by Warners.

My hands are pretty full at the moment with a bunch of sets, but we’re happily working through them with some urgency. Todays stacks of these things went out the door, with more each day. As always, we all appreciate the help in making these things happen. Perhaps one day we won’t have to bemoan any major series not being available. After all, the Popeyes were not available in more recent years.

Have a good week everyone!

14 Comments

  • Hah! I plunked down the $80 for that Pinocchio VHS cassette when it came out in 1984. It was the first pre-recorded cassette I bought to play on my first $400 lo-fi VHS machine in June of that year. (I watched it on my 19″ color TV that was once used by a famous hotel chain. (Thanks you, TV Factory!) I was over the moon, as an Eastmancolor “reduction” in 16mm would have set me back $600 at the time. Ah, memories.

    The quality of transfers on just about all the stuff coming out at that time seems terrible, 30+ years on.

  • When I was a child in the early-mid 70s, my wildest wish was to be able to own my favorite movies so that I could watch them anytime I wanted.

    I spent hours perusing the TV Guide finding old movies to watch and then begging my parents to stay up late to see them. Later on, in college, I would seek out as many screenings of classics as I could find. I went to a series of British Hitchcock films shown in a church basement on faded 16mm prints with horrible sound, just to be able to see them. I think I paid $10 (which doesn’t seem like much now) to see the Star Trek blooper reel and some other weird shorts on the campus of Washington University. Looking back, the 16mm print was faded and the sound so garbled, as to be nearly unwatchable.

    Now, nearly 50 years on, I can do just that and see (and own) movies and cartoons that I would never have had the opportunity to see. I am amazed at the wealth of treasures that we now have access to.

    I think that we have become spoiled with all of the quality that is there and sometimes forget the joy of just being able to see some of the things that are now being released.

    Of course, I want to see things presented in the best possible form, however, in comparison to what I was finding in my youth, some of the current quality issues are minimal in the vast scheme of things.

    I try to support all of these releases whether it be from a small company like Thunderbean or a vast corporation like Warner Brothers because I am greedy. I want to see, not just more, but ALL of it!

    • I wholeheartedly agree. Long are the days we have to wait 365 days for “Oz” again, lol

    • Yep, as an old 60 year old fart, you young’ums don’t know what it was like to not be able to watch on demand or own movies, animation and tv shows. I want these cartoons as perfect as possible, but am happy to get what we get.

  • My problem with the Disney releases, even on DVD, was the absence of image. The original prints were in a square size, like Gone With The Wind is. But they made the image to fit modern TV screens, and this was before flat screeens, and they cut off a lot of image around the edges. I’d have to see a Blu Ray of Pinocchio to see if they’ve improved that.

  • We had cable television in the late 70s and it was a big deal when Disney cut a deal with Showtime for some of its classics like Mary Poppins to be shown. Boy have we come a long way from those days where everything was in a vault and seeing classic cartoons was sporadic at best.

    • I still wish they’d release them theatrically in cycles. They are never quite the same being shown on television.

    • I still wish they’d release them theatrically in cycles. They are never quite the same being shown on television.

      That is true. TV (and Home Video) has ruined that sort of joy that came out of not being able to see a film anytime you wanted unless it just happened to be playing exclusively at that very theatre. Of course that meant for most of my generation, we would have to wait another 6-7 years until that film we wanted to see came back. Those were different times indeed, and why classics like Disney’s Pinocchio lived on.

  • Regarding Porky Pig 101, it was something of a dream come true not only to see these great cartoons, but all in chronological order. The only versions I had seen as a kid were the terrible colorized versions. To see them in their black and white versions was a real treat. I was taken aback by the negative reviews. Sure it wasn’t perfect, but I’ll take this over the colorized versions, or nothing at all.

    I look forward to seeing more licensed properties from Thunderbean, but I also like seeing public domain stuff in the amazing quality Thunderbean has been known for!

  • Like the pantless pig set, there were immediate complaints around the awesome ’66 ‘Batman’ series release – I was stunned. Fans have been dying for that FOREVER, yet….

  • Yeah I remember how reddish that first Pinocchio tape was. Not having seen it theatrically at the time, I probably thought that’s what it looked like, glad to know I was wrong.

    The interesting thing is that the “whole” film looks red in this version, and appears to have been taken from an Eastman SP print of the film. Interesting that at this point in history that hadn’t considered using a neg or making a print to scan for the release.

    It does sound like they just grabbed whatever they had on the shelf and transferred that. I wouldn’t blame the studio (or any for that matter) of having made the same judgement as well when it came to home video releases of their features at the time (past or present). A lot of early releases on tape often looked very substandard compared to where they would be by the 1990’s and beyond.

    • ‘ A lot of early releases on tape often looked very substandard compared to where they would be by the 1990’s and beyond’.

      Oh yeah, they were awful. I have ‘Fistful Of Dollars’ and ‘Enter The Dragon’ from those days – both now almost look like they’re from a $ store bin.

  • We bought Pinocchio for $80.00 when it first came out. My oldest daughter was born in 84. By the time she was two Pinocchio was watched, rewind, watched, rewind, watched, rewind………I raised my kids right.

  • I marvel at the techniques that are being discovered, as time goes on, with which to fully restore old film or audio masters of great music and still make it sound fresh and new without altering a thing. Now, we have amazing computer programs that allow the progressive user to actually reassemble a classic film so that it truly looks and sounds as if it were just released! I just keep hoping that there are folks out there that know how and just how much to use such programs; digital video noise reduction is good, as long as the users know just how much to incorporate its functions and when to intervene when the program has the option to remove bits and pieces of recordings and visuals that are supposed to remain intact.

    Despite my blindness, I’m fascinated with the techniques, and that is why I complain–not to cause others to boycott a project. Overall, I really enjoy the PORKY PIG 101 set and, yes, I hope that there is more, more, more, just to have the complete output of the classic Warner Brothers cartoon studio, with all the blemishes and wrong turns, etc. It is always interesting and always worth discussing here and elsewhere. That is why classic cartoon festivals in theaters in the 1970’s and 1980’s were so popular. Until I attended such shows, I was unaware of some titles that, at that time, remained so rare to the general public; it was like another edge of “underground” comics and cartooning, and I took it mostly as lampooning, and LOONEY TUNES could lampoon, perhaps, better than most studios.

    The PORKY PIG 101 set allows us to see the studio in development, just as some directors were coming into their own, and that is wonderful. I know what it must take for full and complete restoration, after years and years of the source material not ever being touched, and it is truly a gift when better source material is actually discovered and reapplied to what currently exists. I never completely lose hope that we will ever see such restoration and I hope that the industry doesn’t either. Steve, thanks always for what you do, and happy Holidays to you and yours. Let’s look forward.

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