When is a Walter Lantz character NOT really a Walter Lantz character? In 1959, Western Publishing was creating a series of comic books based on licensed characters from Disney, Warner Brothers, Hanna-Barbera and Walter Lantz. Unfortunately, the Lantz stable of characters was pretty small compared to the other two companies but the licensing fee was still very steep.
Editor Chase Craig saw that Lantz had announced he was producing a new theatrical cartoon entitled “Space Mouse”. Craig envisioned a mouse character in a spacesuit and acting like Buck Rogers and asked to see the storyboards.
He was disappointed to discover that the cartoon was just the first in a series that featured two mice, Hickory and Dickory, being chased by a cat named Doc. In the cartoon Doc intended to capture them and sell them to NASA for space exploration experiments.
Craig liked the idea of an outer space mouse hero so much that he brought in writer Carl Fallberg and artist John Carey and they developed the character that Craig imagined.
At the time, there was a strained relationship between Dell and Western over the ownership of the characters. Dell paid Western to prepare the stories and print the contents but Dell controlled the distribution.
Not wanting to get in the middle of the dispute, Craig simply offered the character to Lantz who eagerly accepted. Dell’s Four Color Comics #1132, dated October, 1960 was entirely devoted to Space Mouse who starred in one more issue of Four Color Comics (#1244 November 1961) and Comic Album #7 (1962) before getting his own series (under Western’s newly formed comic book division Gold Key) of five issues beginning in 1962.
Walter Lantz produced a Space Mouse theatrical pilot entitled “The Secret Weapon” that was released in 1960 and later shown on television. The short was directed by Alex Lovy and featured the voice of Johnny Coons as Space Mouse. Outside of a cameo appearance in the special “Spook-A-Nanny“, Lantz never made another Space Mouse cartoon.
Private Fantasia Concert. When Leopold Stokowski was recording the music for Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, the complex recording system set up in the basement of the Academy of Music (also known as the American Academy of Music and is the oldest opera house in the United States still used for its original purpose) was declared a fire hazard and work was ordered stopped.
On the advice of friends, Stokowski called Joe Sharfain, then city solicitor for Philadelphia and an ardent music fan. Sharfain quickly withdrew the stop order and recording proceeded. Later, Stokowski expressed his gratitude and asked, “Now, what can I do for you?” Sharfain said jokingly that one of his greatest wishes was to be rich enough to engage Stokowski and the orchestra for a single performance at which he would be the sole audience. (The price at that time would have been at least $10,000.)
Stokowski asked, “When did you have in mind?” Sharfain answered, “Oh, that’s a long time away.” Stokowski countered, “How about tomorrow at two o’clock?” The incredulous Sharfain appeared at the side door of the Academy of Music the next afternoon, to be escorted by a deputy of the maestro into the hall, empty except for the orchestra and conductor. The maestro turned to make sure Sharfain was there, raised his arms and conducted for four hours—all the music of “Fantasia”—just for Joe Sharfain.
Don Bluth’s Disney Inspiration. When Don Bluth was six years old, his family moved to Payson, Utah where he lived on the family farm. Bluth remembered that time as, “milking 24 cows morning and night and singing Disney songs.” Even then he told animation historian John Cawley that he was “honestly dreaming of working” at the Disney studio.
Bluth’s initial experience with Disney was as a member of the audience at age seven (1944). Don remembered the effect it had on him. “The first one was “Snow White”. I was extremely impressed with it and when I got home I tried to draw Snow White, the dwarfs, all of them.”
“I’d ride my horse to the movie house in town and tie him to a tree while I went in and watched the latest Disney film. Then I’d go home and copy every Disney comic book I could find.”
In 1954, the Bluth family moved to Santa Monica California. Don was a senior at high school. After a year at Brigham Young University, in Utah, he brought a portfolio to the Disney studio in Burbank. He was immediately hired in 1955 as an assistant animator and put to work on “Sleeping Beauty”. He worked as an assistant to Disney Legend John Lounsberry. Oddly after finally realizing his dream he left in 1957, after only two years.
“I left, I think, because I found it kind of boring. I didn’t want to do it,” recalled Don. He did return to Disney in April 1971.
What’s In a Name? Why does Speed Racer have a helmet with the letter “M” on it? In “Mach Go, Go, Go”, the original Japanese animated version of Speed Racer, Speed’s name was Go Mifune. The name was chosen in honor of Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune who appeared in almost 170 films including such classics as “Seven Samurai” and “Rashomon”. So the “M” stood for Mifune. The yellow “G” on Speed’s blue shirt stands for Speed’s first name “Go”.
Schwartz on Animated Musicals. Composer Stephen Schwartz has worked on a number of animated features including “Pocahontas”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Prince of Egypt”.
“Musicals require a suspension of disbelief. When someone bursts into song, you have to suspend your disbelief that they’re doing that. Therefore, musicals need to occur in a somewhat artificial environment. Animation, obviously, is an artificial medium,” stated Schwartz.
“They’re drawings and we know that they’re drawings. So, it’s much easier for drawn characters to burst into song, without the audience ‘falling’ out of the movie. My hope is that as people get more used to musicals on screen through animation, that there will be a comeback of live action musicals.”