May 9, 2014 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #161

Robert Crumb on Disney. In 2011, underground cartoonist Robert Crumb sat down with Alex Wood who runs the official Crumb website to give his commentary on important people in art, music, literature and more including his thoughts on Walt Disney: “When I was a little kid in the 50s, we were profoundly enthralled by Disney, and profoundly affected by the Disney vision. But to my taste, the whole thing starts to decline in the early 1950s. The last one that I think is a truly visionary work is Alice In Wonderland. Beginning with Peter Pan circa 1953 it starts to slide into something too corporate. But those early full-length animated movies, Snow White, Pinochio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Song Of The South, Alice In Wonderland – they’re fabulous stuff.

“The short Disney cartoons are not as creative as either Warner Brothers or Max Fleischer, in my opinion. Max Fleischer of the early ’30s is my favorite of all the short animated cartoons – Betty Boop, Popeye, and all the other early stuff they did. Disney’s studio was the first to consciously contrive to be clean and wholesome. Disney himself was very conservative. And in that process, the cartoons became bland and cute and not that interesting. There still was some good Donald Duck and all that, but they’re not as sharp as the Warner Brothers or Max Fleischer cartoons, as far as I’m concerned.”

Not by Crumb - but the only image we could find to accompany this anecdote.

Not by Crumb – but the only image we could find to accompany this anecdote.

The Birth of the Iron Giant. In 1989, musician Pete Townsend released a rock musical based on writer Ted Hughes sci-fi novel, The Iron Man. Townsend composed much of the music and two of the CD tracks include vocals by the three surviving members of the musical group The Who (Townsend, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle). Townsend pitched the idea of making it an animated feature film to Warner Brothers after a stage version of it was performed at the Old Vic Theater in England in 1993. Warners decided to option the original novel instead and did a very different adaptation of the story now called The Iron Giant with animator and director Brad Bird at the helm. Townsend did receive a producer credit on the final film and reportedly was not upset that his songs weren’t used and told the press, “Well, whatever, I got paid.”

super-friends-smallDeath of Darkseid. Writer Alan Burnett remembered that when he was working on Super Friends, he wanted to include the character of Darkseid, a villain created by the legendary Jack Kirby. Burnett toned down the character so he wouldn’t be too frightening for Saturday morning children but was told he couldn’t use the villain. As Burnett recalls, he couldn’t use the character because “his name was spelled with an ‘ei’ which would offend our German viewers. That’s how they put it. That’s the kind of weirdness we were working with in the 1980s.”

Thunderbirds Aren’t Go. While working on the film Apollo 13 (1995), actors Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon excitedly told director Ron Howard that they had found some incredible film footage of a moon mission that had gone wrong. An eager Howard followed them to a viewing room where the two prankster actors ran an episode of the 1960s marionette sci-fi television series, The Thunderbirds. However, Howard loved it and when filming wrapped on the feature, he tried to put a deal together unsuccessfully of doing a show similar to The Thunderbirds.

bugs-life-smallLasseter’s Research. In a 1999 interview, director and animator John Lasseter talked about some of the research for the Pixar animated feature A Bug’s Life (1998). “In my kitchen, my wife would see some ants and get ready to kill them with the ant spray. I’d say to her ‘Wait a minute’, and end up watching the ants for a long time, seeing how they’d move. My wife would say, ‘Would you just get rid of them?’ and I’d say, ‘No, I’m researching’. I realized when I was watching various ants that we could do that in the movie. Nobody else in any other medium can do ants like we can. We can come up with ways to have a cycle for an ant carrying something, and put different things in his hands and multiply that out. In fact, we have software that even knows the terrain. You can create a path on the terrain, and create a cycle and have this long line of ants. That’s another thing everyone is familiar with. Ants walk in lines, and if you do something, they all scatter. So we used some of the imagery in the movie.”

Sue, Barbie, Sue. In September 1997, Mattel, Inc. filed a lawsuit against the Nissan Motor Company Ltd., over a complaint that the car company’s hugely popular animated commercial, Toys, featured unauthorized use of the toy company’s trademark and brands resulting in ”irreparable injury to Mattel’s name, business reputation and goodwill.”.

The 60-second spot produced by Will Vinton Studios, featured “Roxanne” and “Tad” dolls, which resemble Mattel’s Barbie and Ken properties. In addition, Mattel took issue with other props in the commercial which resemble Mattel toys, including a doll house, a race track, a dinosaur and even a hula hoop. However, “Nick,” the army cadet doll featured as the Nissan-driving hero who rescues Roxanne from a dull life, is not an issue with Mattel, as G.I. Joe is a property that is owned by another toy company, Hasbro.

The case, was filed in the U.S. District Court’s Central District of California. Vinton and Nissan produced a second commercial with the same characters as well. Neither the ad agency, Chiat/Day, or the production company, Will Vinton Studios, involved in the commercial were liable in the suit, which was strictly between Mattel and Nissan. Nissan claimed the doll characters were based on real actors. Nissan lawyers also alleged that Barbie is the illegitimate child of a racy German adult doll named Lilli, claiming the lineage was never admitted when Barbie was copyrighted almost 40 years ago. A confidential settlement between the two companies was reached May 7, 1998.


  • Interesting story, but the show is called ‘Thunderbirds’ not ‘The Thunderbirds’.

  • Heh! I loved that first old Nissan commercial in spite of its general air of smug douchebaggery vs wimpy douchebaggery and its creepy old man. (Not so much the second one–does Our Hero actually get a Nissan to run him over, somehow?) Glad to rediscover it on YouTube.

    Now I’m wondering how Darkseid eventually got okayed for Super Friends Global Guardians. I recall that he got toned down to the point that he was merely tart-mouthed to his underlings and wanted Wonder Woman to be his queen…

    …And so, children, Ron never made his Thunderbirds show and instead we wound up with a big-budget live-action Thunderbirds movie that everyone wishes would disappear into a black hole.

  • Crumb’s love of the Fleischers isn’t surprising — they had a truck keep on trucking in one of the final Betty Boop entries, 1939’s “So Does An Automobile”. Hard not to think of Crumb’s work while watching that scene today.

  • However, “Nick,” the army cadet doll featured as the Nissan-driving hero who rescues Roxanne from a dull life, is not an issue with Mattel, as G.I. Joe is a property that is owned by another toy company, Hasbro.

    Well thank goodness Hasbro had some sense not to pursue this on (even if they weren’t selling them at that size anymore).

  • Some classic “Underground” comics always reminded me of black and white Fleischer Studios cartoons, so it isn’t surprising to me, either, that Robert Crumb liked the Fleischers’ surreal toons. After discovering his work, I almost wish that he’d actually done some cartoons in the Fleischer style as “underground” animated cartoons. I also often think of what the Fleischers might have done had their cartoons gone totally “adult”.

  • Was Crumb interested in the Mickey Mouse comic strip? I seem to recall that in his Mickey Mouse model sheet drawing (which was later included in the book, “The Art of Mickey Mouse”), he seem to make a reference to the mid-40’s “‘Lectric Box” storyline. Granted, I didn’t know about this comic strip story when I first saw Crumb’s drawing, but considering how bizzare that storyline was after I read it (I think the female tree from “Flowers and Trees” shows up at one point), I wouldn’t be surprised if Crumb really refferenced it.

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