Unproduced Don Bluth Films. Here are two more pitches that the Bluth studio prepared to pitch back in the 1980s and 90s – two projects that might have been.
SATYRDAY. Prior to the start of An American Tail (1986), Don Bluth bought the rights to the book Satyrday by Stephen Bauer. It was a strange tale of the last human, living in a world of mysticism and darkness. A giant owl steals, with the help of ravens who are his minions, the moon , which is depicted as a young girl in a glowing, glass sphere. The owl hopes to keep the world in darkness and thus rule it.
The story is about a young boy along with his Satyr friend and a beautiful werefox who all journey to rescue the moon and discover the fate of the human race. Even though Bluth stated that most of the book would not transfer well, he was fascinated by the relationship of the owl, the darkness and the boy and stated that it was similar to the relationship of Shere Kahn and Mowgli from Disney’s The Jungle Book (1967).
KANDU, SONG OF THE ICE WHALE. Kandu, Song of the Ice Whale was a never produced feature from Don Bluth based on the real life incident in 1989 where three gray whales were caught in the rapidly forming ice at Point Barrow, Alaska. Countries around the world spent millions of dollars to free the whales before they could perish. Bluth finally abandoned the project in the early 1990s.
Groening Thoughts. “It’s very tempting,” said cartoonist Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons in 2007, “to put my hand on an animator’s shoulder and go, ‘Why don’t you just try….?’ You can just feel the muscle tension ripple through the shirt. So I try not to do that, except when absolutely necessary. We do jokes that we love for the first 150 times and then we suddenly go, ‘Eh, change it’.”
Who Was Brenda Banks? The first black Female animator may have been the mysterious Brenda Banks from Georgia.
As animation legend Ralph Bakshi remembered: “This young girl, her name is Brenda Banks, okay? I’m doing Wizards, she comes in off the street…she comes in and says, “I want to animate.” Just like that.
“[I asked her] “Why’d you come here?” “I like your movies,” [she said]. “Did you ever animate?” “No.” “Did anyone ever let you animate?” “No.” “Why do you think you can animate?” “I want to animate.”
“[I asked her] “Where you’re from” [and she replied] “Georgia, somewhere.” “How’d you get here?” “Walked. Train.”
Ralph asked what she liked to animate and she said “funny stuff”. He assigned her to work on some of the goons in Wizards (1977) because he felt that the main characters had to be animated perfectly but with the goons it was okay for her to make mistakes on them.
“I figured if she can’t do that then she can’t do anything. So I sat her down at desk figuring she was going to fail miserably. She was one of the most hysterically funniest animators I had ever worked with actually. She was such a naturally gifted girl that anything she did on the goons was the gooniest thing you ever saw in your whole life. She became the star of the goons at the studio.”
Actually, Banks had had a handful of previous professional animation credits before walking into Bakshi’s studio.
She continued working on other Bakshi’s features from The Lord of the Rings (1978) to Fire and Ice (1983) before leaving to work at Warner Brothers on the Looney Tunes characters for television specials, Hanna-Barbera on The Pirates of Dark Water and The Smurfs and even Fox’s The Simpsons.
She has quite an impressive resume of work. She disappeared after doing animation layout for the television series King of the Hill from 1997 to 2005 and no biographical information other than her work itself seems to exist.
I have recently done some research and Brenda Banks may not be the first black female animator although there is no doubt that she was incredibly talented and prolific. Apparently a Jackie Banks (who died in 1995) may have done some animation work for Bob Clampett and Dr. Ayoka Chenzira supposedly did some animation in her earliest films back in 1971.
I am posting this piece in the hopes that those knowledgeable folks who read this column may have some more insight on Brenda Banks and Jackie Banks in particular.
Walter Lantz Overseas. According to the Stars And Stripes newspaper from December 8, 1969, animation legend Walter Lantz and his wife Gracie were on a whirlwind thirty-one day tour set up by the USO and Special Services Department to visit Japan, Korea, Okinawa, the Philippines, Guam and Hawaii.
“While in Japan we visited seven hospitals and saw all the boys back from Vietnam,” recalled the cartoonist. “At first I thought this was going to be hard to take, all the wounded and everything, but after seeing their smiling faces and their friendly greetings, it was a joy to be there,” stated Lantz.“I guess the key to them knowing us was Woody Woodpecker, although most of them didn’t know Gracie did the voice. But they all recognized it when she chimed out the famous call. One boy, who had a stomach wound, asked her not to do it anymore because he laughed so hard he was afraid his stitches would come out.”
“It seems like they all had tape recorders and wanted to tape me doing Woody’s call,” Gracie recalled. “One soldier said he was going to play it at four o’clock in the morning to give everyone a start.”
When asked by one of the soldiers why she was wearing dark glasses, Gracie replied, “I wear them so everyone will know I’m from Hollywood.” “I wear them to cover up the bags under my eyes,” quipped Walter.
“You see, we’re not entertainers or movie stars. We don’t put on an act or anything like that. We just came over to tell the boys what we think about them and appreciate what they’re doing for us,” said Gracie. “We see as many of the boys as we can everyday. On Thanksgiving they tried to give us the day off to rest, but I told them if we wanted a day off we would have stayed in Hollywood.”