July 3, 2015 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #219


Gilliam and Pinocchio. In the Guardian newspaper April 27, 2001, filmmaker and animator Terry Gilliam was asked about what he thought the ten best animated films of all time were. On his list he included the classic Disney animated feature film Pinocchio (1940).

He explained to the newspaper, “For me, as an American growing up in Minnesota, Walt Disney WAS animation. But the joy of Disney’s films always came from watching the baddies. Pinocchio is visually the richest of his features and it is also the darkest. The Bad Boys’ world is a truly immortal nightmare, full of eerie images of kids turning into donkeys and all manner of strangeness.

“Then there is that stuff with cages, and I notice now that every film I have made features a scene with somebody in a cage—a trait I attribute to watching Pinocchio. Great songs in that film, too. Disney was essentially a musical film-maker. Plus there is something intriguing about a character who desperately wants to be a real person, but who we all think is actually more interesting as a piece of wood.”

keaton-dinoMcCay Inspires Keaton. Winsor McCay’s short cartoon Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) even inspired the great silent movie comedian Buster Keaton. For his 1923 film The Three Ages (designed so it could be cut into three shorts if it failed as a feature), Keaton remembered Gertie. According to animation historian Donald Crafton’s research for his great book “Before Mickey: The Animated Film”, Keaton told his gag writer Clyde Bruckman, “Remember ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’?…The first cartoon comedy ever made. I saw it in the nickelodeon when I was fourteen (Crafton correctly pointed out Keaton was probably closer to nineteen). I’ll ride in on an animated cartoon.”

In the film, using stop motion clay models, Buster made his entrance on the back of a brontosaurus that was reminiscent of Gertie. Crafton got the Keaton quote from the Buster Keaton biography by Rudi Blesh.

JQ_dougTim Matheson and Jonny Quest. In Videoscope magazine #93 (Winter 2015), actor Tim Matheson who was the original voice in Hanna-Barbera’s Jonny Quest animated series from 1964 remembered for interviewer Don Vaughn, “I was around 15 and I had gone in for an audition. They showed me drawings of what Jonny Quest would be, and I think Joe Barbera did my audition and that was it. I didn’t hear anything good or bad for around six months.

“Then all of a sudden they called and said it was a ‘go’. ‘Jonny Quest’ was very challenging because it was different from anything I had done. I was a very naturalistic, realistic kind of actor. Many of the other actors had experience in radio, so they would come in and give a full-on performance from the ‘get-go’.

“Joe Barbera was very patient with me and helped me to learn the tricks of doing that. And the other actors were very gracious. I would go in and watch them voice ‘The Flintstones” and ‘The Jetsons’ to see how they did it. They were the best of the best so you couldn’t help but learn from them.

“I think the show changed a little bit over the season but I remember the first two or three were the most exciting for me because Joe would show them to us (storyboards, concept art, etc.) and we would see how they were coming together. I was a freshman in high school and my peers weren’t watching ‘Jonny Quest’ so it wasn’t one of those things that got me a lot of dates! It wasn’t anything special at school.”

Indians Don’t Go. Animator Doug Wildey recalled in a 1986 interview about how an animated series he pitched was shot down by the network with the simple phrase “Indians Don’t Go”.

Wildey said, “Through the years I’ve gone to networks or production studios with various show ideas. I had one with this Indian kid and an eagle which was a period piece where this Indian kid worked with the U.S. cavalry and the idea was the kid would hold the bow, hold onto the bowstrings and the eagle would grab the bow and fly the kid from place to place. (Laughs) It was a little kid and not too heavy but it was a big eagle!

“Anyway, the phrase that stands out in my mind from the network people that I talked to was a flat ‘Indians don’t go!’ Period. I translated this to mean that there is not that much interest in Indians which to me is a complete surprise because I thought regardless of what the character was that if the character did interesting things that would do it.

“But the word was ‘Indians don’t go’ so the show never got anyplace. It was called ‘Little Bow’ and he had contact with bears and outlaws and the whole schtick.”

From "Indian Fighter" #4 (1950)

From “Indian Fighter” #4 (1950)

Colors of the Wind. Songwriter Alan Menken remembered for Entertainment Weekly magazine (January 23, 2015) writing the iconic song “Colors of the Wind” for Pocahontas (1995): “It really is one of the most important songs I’ve ever written. That was the first song I wrote with Stephen Schwartz, the Broadway prodigy who wrote ‘Godspell’ and ‘Pippin’. He did a lot of research about American Indian folklore, and we listened to a lot of tribal music.

“It was born out of the modality of Native American music, but it quickly moved to its own place, which is hard to define. The grand, slow elegance. It’s a very serious song, but there was no getting humor into ‘Pocahontas’. God knows we tried. We wrote a song for Grandmother Willow to try to add some comedy but we just couldn’t. The only other option would have been to give a song to the pug and the raccoon, and they don’t even speak!”

Bakshi Banned. Animator Ralph Bakshi and producer Steve Krantz were often in big arguments when they worked together and during mid-production of the animated feature Heavy Traffic (1973), it got so heated that Krantz hired an armed guard to keep Bakshi out of the studio for about two weeks.

Dog Gone It. In a 1937 New Yorker article about radio voice artists who imitated animal sounds, it lists Frances Reynolds as doing ducks, roosters and babies but also quotes her as saying she would be “playing the role of Pudgy Betty Boop’s dog for Paramount now for several months.” Other actors listed included Lucille Fletcher, Bradley Barker and Donald Bain (who is credited as having done Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons).


  • I’m curious to know what Terry Gilliam thought were the other nine greatest animated films.

  • Does anyone know who animated the dinosaur in ‘The Three Ages’?

    • Perhaps Willis O’Brien?
      I love Rudi Blesh’s book on Keaton, but there are bits that Blesh got wrong, probably due to faulty memory. He described Keaton walking on a white plank in front of a white backdrop, and an animated dinosaur added underneath him. However, the “Three Ages” footage shows stop-motion models of Keaton and the dino. (Blesh’s description of the waterfall-rescue climax in “Our Hospitality” also differs from what is on film.)

  • And of course, there was Florence Gill, the voice of Disney’s Clara Cluck:

    Also, Fred Lowery was one of the longtime go-to guys in Hollywood, if a cartoon or short required some bird warbling.
    (He was blind after being stricken with Scarlet Fever at age 2.)

    – William

  • Brad Barker and Donald Bain were animal imitators on radio in New York City.

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