January 1, 2016 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #243

220px-Private_SNAFUHappy New Year! Here we go again!

Disney and Snafu. Disney producer Harry Tytle kept a diary during his time working at the Disney Studios. Here is his entry for June 6, 1945: “I talked to Walt about doing the Army “Snafu” pictures. Walt said we should have nothing to do with it. The reason is that the Army originally brought the “Snafu” pictures in to us. We made our best unit available to them and then they took the pictures somewhere else. We offered to do them for $20,000 apiece (half the going price for a short subject and well below our usual costs). Walt saw no reason why we should get into that again.”

nowhere-manAnimated Features That Never Were. After the release of the animated feature Yellow Submarine (1968), the film’s art director Heinz Edelmann and Charles Jenkins formed a short-lived animation studio of their own called Trickfilm that produced a dozen commercials, a few film titles and almost another animated feature film.

Among the projects the company tried to sell was a feature film version of Gulliver’s Travels told from the point of view of the Lilliputians. Another proposal was “The Kingdom of the Bears” based on the 1947 Italian children’s book “The Bears Famous Invasion of Sicily” where a group of starving bears from the northern mountains journey into the land of men seeking food and shelter and it ends badly for them.

Lantz’s Jitterbugs. For a Walter Lantz cartoon, Lantz claimed to United Press reporter Frederick Othman in 1938 that Universal had hired a dozen or more jitterbug dancers for their film Swing, Sister, Swing (1938) so knowing a good opportunity when he saw it, he snuck in a camera and filmed the teenagers dancing. Then he gave the film to his animators who used it as reference for his animated cartoon I’m Just a Jitterbug (1939) with bugs doing the dancing.

“We’re all crazy,” said Lantz to the reporter. “If we weren’t, we’d never concoct our ideas. A mind has got to be more than just peculiar to do it. Craziest, of course, are our writers. They can’t write. They wouldn’t be any good if they could. They’ve got to be men who can express their ideas in pictures. So they think up their gags and draw pictures of ‘em. Usually a man who can express himself in words can’t do it in pictures.”

Lantz said he was paying his writers $125 a week and at one time considering burning all the animation art that was piling up around the studio. “We found out there was a market for these drawings,” he said. “People would buy them to decorate their bar rooms and their nurseries and would pay $3 and $4 each for them. So now we’ve got an art dealer — imagine that! — selling original drawings of Oswald the Rabbit, Clock Gobble, Henrietta Hen, and Gladys Goose and whatnot and sometimes I wake up at night and laugh.”

Ken Burns’ Inspiration. Acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns told TV Guide magazine in 1994 that one of his inspirations was Jay Ward’s Mr. Peabody character. “Obviously, it was a spoof but it was amazingly compelling. I count Mr. Peabody as one of my great influences,” claimed Burns.

baby-weems495Know Your History. In the “Baby Weems” sequence in the Disney feature The Reluctant Dragon (1941), Mount Rushmore is seen with only George Washington and Abraham Lincoln’s heads. The faces were still under construction until October 1941 and this movie was released before it was finished, which is why presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson are missing.

The Mickey Avenue/Dopey Drive signpost outside the Animation Building was built specifically for the movie, and was supposed to be removed afterward. It wasn’t, and it still stands at the Disney studio today.

Tribute to the Nephews. In the 1972 science fiction film Silent Running directed by Douglas Trumbull, the main character, Lowell, befriends three robot drones and renames them Huey, Dewey and Louie after Donald Duck’s nephews.

Leonard Starr and ThunderCats. Artist Leonard Starr may be best remembered for his decades long work writing and illustrating newspaper comic strips like “Mary Perkins ON STAGE” and the revival of “Annie”. He also did extensive work for comic books.

thundercats-titleIn his obituary of Starr, comics historian and author Ron Goulart shared the following story about Starr’s brief foray into animation: “At Rankin/Bass, Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin had been producing successful animated cartoon specials since 1960, such perennial seasonal shows as Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and series like The Jackson Five.

“In 1985, Jules Bass contacted Leonard Starr, who done some scripts for them, with a proposition. They needed some immediate help on a property they’d acquired. It was a sort of swords-and-sorcery sci-fi fantasy idea for a show about humanoid cat people with such names as Lion-O, Cheetera, Tygra, etc.

“Could he, in a hurry, develop it into something workable? He could. Working from a list of the characters and proposed settings, plus an attractive ThunderCats logo, Starr worked out all the basics and some sample story lines.

thundercats-800“Bass was pleased but it’s somewhat unclear what the initial deal was. Starr was to get an on screen credit as the Developer and another as Head Writer. The Developer credit never showed up, though. The show was an almost immediate hit and went out to thrive for four seasons. It inspired all sorts of lucrative merchandising. The problem was that Starr didn’t get a share of the profits and finally had to bring a lawsuit.

“In the startup days, he invited in a group of writers to work on scripts. They included Howie Post, William Overgard, Rick Marshall, and me (Starr and Gil Kane had been friends since their teenage comic book days and, as I recall, I met Starr through Gil). I sat in on a couple of writers meetings in the R/B Manhattan offices and initially wrote three scripts for some of the earliest shows. Bass, for some reason accepted two and rejected the other one and told Leonard not to buy any further scripts from me.

“A bit later, Leonard hired me to work with him at his Westport home. We came up with ThunderCats ideas and I wrote the scripts. He submitted them as by himself and then paid me. I don’t remember why the deal eventually ended but it was fun while it lasted. I invented a pirate character named Ironfist who later became a toy. I do remember that Leonard was one of the most amiable writers I ever worked with.”


  • Anyone know who or even if the Jitterbug character is suppose to be based on anyone in real life? He seems familiar, but I can’t place the voice. The rotoscoping is pretty obvious, taking cues from the old Fleischer efforts, and I get the impression the “Jazz Frogs” was an idea lifted from Harman & Ising’s earlier MGM cartoons..

    Although any cartoon that ends in mass murder gets an automatic pass. Also, some minor Hays Code pushing with the close-ups of the “Eliza” doll lifting her skirt. And lastly it’s also another one of those early 4th wall breaking “Out of the Inkwell” type cartoons situations, with the cuckoo bird apparently real-life resident of the animators’ room.

  • Ah, memories! “The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily” was one of the first books I ever read. I was six years old when the American edition was published. I’d say that I read it to pieces, except that I see that the LAPL still has it:

    Buzzati, Dino, 1906-1972. 
    The bears’ famous invasion of Sicily, written and illustrated by Dino Buzzati. Tr. by Frances Lobb. 
    [New York] Pantheon Books [1947] 
    146 p. illus. (part col.) 29 cm. 

    I memorized most of the poems in it, and I can still quote some of them:

    One, two, three, four –
    These dark thoughts soar!
    Fear, sorrow, doubt, despair
    Hover in the midnight air!

    Yeah, that could have been an awesome animated movie. But with Heinz Edelmann’s art style? I loved “Yellow Submarine”, too, but I can’t see it for “The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily”.

  • The Mickey Avenue/Dopey Drive signpost outside the Animation Building was built specifically for the movie, and was supposed to be removed afterward. It wasn’t, and it still stands at the Disney studio today.

    Didn’t know that was a move prop, glad to see it’s taken on a history all its own!

  • With regard to the “I’m Just A Jitterbug” cartoon I note that Jerry Beck posted some nice information including the original title cards back in 2009 in Cartoon Brew:

  • Othman’s column on Lantz can be found here:

  • I just found out that “The Bears Famous Invasion of Sicily” is now becoming an animated feature with acclaimed graphic artist Lorenzo Mattoti working on it. (Skip to 2:48)

  • I’m curious about the “JITTERBUGS” cartoon *AND* the live action swing movie. I know it will never happen, but it would be nice to own that on DVD with the “JITTERBUGS” cartoon as an extra, but since the cartoon is now deemed to be an insult of the craze and those who enjoyed it, I guess we’ll never see it, but the “swing” cartoons from Lantz are a treat if only for their music. The animation throughout is stunning, from what I can recall.

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