June 3, 2016 posted by

Animation Anecdotes #265

Bob Godfrey on Richard Williams. In 1990 BAFTA held some Master Classes with animators like Peter Lord, Brian Cosgrove, Greg Boulton and others including Bob Godfrey. Here are some excerpts of what Godfrey shared with the small group of students: “Richard Williams is working on his epic film and should at long last have the time and the money to complete it. But it could be like that dream you have that you don’t really want to come true because it will all be over. Dick has this problem. It’s a dream that he’s had for many years. People have died working on this dream and at long last, he is going to have to show the people his dream. It’s a hard thing to face but after this length of time, this dream could all too soon turn into a nightmare.”


Godfrey was referring to the never finished film The Thief and the Cobbler that many animators felt had a significant influence on Disney’s Aladdin (1992). The film has such a rich and convoluted history that recounting its production could fill a book.

Wild West Bambi. Avid outdoorsman, nature photographer and artist Maurice “Jake” Day arranged through the Maine Development Commission for two four-month-old fawns to model for Bambi and Faline during the making of the animated feature classic Bambi (1942). He had them take a four day train ride from the Maine woods to the Hyperion Disney Studio in Hollywood in June 1938.

Walt_with_deerDuring the time they were being sketched at the studio and proving to be a valuable reference for the artists, they lost their spots and grew into adulthood and were donated to the Griffith Park Zoo in 1942 after the film’s release. They lived in a big pen built behind one of the buildings on the lot. Other animals, such as skunks Herman and Petunia, squirrels, birds and chipmunks, were kept at the little homemade zoo as well.

One misty October 1938 morning, animators were surprised to see a wild young buck who lived in Griffith Park had come to visit Faline, responding to his instinctual urges. As the animators approached the visitor, it lowered its young sharp antlers defiantly.

Cars raced along Hyperion Avenue and curious people came outside to watch this real life drama. The ASPCA was called but things escalated as the buck began to panic, desperately looking to find a way out of the crowd.

Assistant Director on the film Larry Landsburgh had once been a rodeo stunt rider. He came out of the studio with a lariat in his hand.

As Disney Legend Frank Thomas recalled the event in later years: “As the buck bolted across a vacant lot, a carefully thrown loop from Larry’s lasso settled around his neck, halting his flight. Quickly, Larry had him down and hogtied, rodeo style, before the buck could hurt himself or any of the spectators.

“Larry kept the buck under control until the ASPCA crew arrived while we studied the defiant animal, impressed by his intensity and vitality. Faline looked wistfully after him in the departing truck and the rest of us returned to the studio with a new understanding of the animals we were trying to draw.”

Human live action reference models were used as well for the animators. According to the film’s pressbook, the models for Bambi and Thumper’s iconic ice skating were actress Jane Randolph, who had never skated before, and Ice-Capades star Donna Atwood.

krusty-dollThe Simpsons Secrets. In TV Guide magazine (November 23-December 6, 2015), it was stated that The Simpsons has won ten Emmys as Outstanding Animated Program. “The first (in 1990) didn’t come as a surprise,” said executive producer Al Jean. “The show was already a phenomenon. We were cocky, but we just assumed an Emmy would come along. Now we take nothing for granted. Especially after the series failed to be nominated in 2014. That’s the year we submitted our LEGO episode. Then that great LEGO movie didn’t get an Oscar nomination. So we blame it on them!”

More than 500 companies license The Simpsons characters and merchandise sales is nearing six billion dollars. “I like it when we actually make fun of all the things we sell,” said cartoonist Matt Groening. “My favorite: When you pull the ring on the Krusty the Clown doll, he says ‘Buy my merchandise!’ and then he laughs.”

dominion-tank-policeWhere are the Paper Pink Panties? Central Park Media was founded in 1990 by John O’Donnell to distribute anime. At the 1990 San Jose Anime Expo, O’Donnell proudly and insistently claimed that his company’s first release would be the pornographic comedy Minna Agechau, saying that it would guarantee his company and the product visibility and press attention. He was planning to include a pair of pink paper panties with the release. While the release had been approved by the Japanese office of the rights holder SONY, the American office killed the release when they found out. CPM’s first release instead became a 1991 subtitled VHS Dominion Tank Police Volume 1. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

Unfortunate Coincidence. Sometimes a film’s release is influenced by an unforseen situation that filmmakers never anticipated. The Steven Spielberg produced feature Small Soldiers (1998) directed by Joe Dante was about two teenagers who get involved in the middle of a war between two sets of action figures. Ernest Borgnine voiced Kip Killigan, the covert operation expert of the Commando Elite a toyline inspired by G.I. Joe.

Burger King restaurants in Springfield, Oregon stopped selling the Kip Killigan figure because the name of the character sounded too much like Kip Kinkel, the fifteen year old boy who was accused of killing two students and wounding two others at Thurston High School. He also allegedlly killed his parents the previous day. Burger King store managers would not discuss the issue on record but apparently a memo was sent to eleven Springfield area outlets instructing them to stop including the Killigan character in the new line of Kids’ Club Meal toys.

first-edition-cauldronMel Shaw and the Black Cauldron. When it came to doing The Black Cauldron (1985), part of the five volumes of Lloyd Alexander’s The Prydain Chronicles, storyman Mel Shaw was given the task to read all the books and condense all the heroes, villains and storylines into a workable cinematic story. He made close to 250 colored pastel sketches of key dramatic moments and put them onto 35mm slides and then synchronized the slides to a recording of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (and some other music). This resulted in a twenty-minute presentation for Shaw to pitch the story of a young boy’s quest for a sinister cauldron that must be destroyed.


  • I remember Burger King’s Small Soldiers promo for their Kids Club meal promo it was the first PG-13 movie promoted for a kids meal. The executives of Burger King were caught by surprise about Small Soldiers’ PG-13 rating by the MPAA they printed a pamphlet to add with the toys saying that “The Toys are suitable for children of all ages, the movie Small Solders may contain material that is inappropriate for younger children”. Several Burger King restaurants decided to not give out the Small Soldiers toys for the Kid’s Club meals but substituted Mr Potato Head toys in place of the Small Soldiers toys while others still had the toys but removed the BK Kids Club meal Small Soldiers promo posters from their locations.

    • Those toys were also an illustration of how bad the marketing was for that movie. Those toys plus all the ads give the impression that the Small Soldiers are the heroes of the movie. In fact, they were the antagonists; the other side was the heroes.

    • Never even saw Small Soldiers at all, now that I think about it, but interesting how screwed up the marketing was on it anyway. Seem like the only thing that came out of that I remember the most was Phil Hartman’s death, he passed away nearly two months before the film came out, so it often came off sour and somber for those of us who remembered him well.

  • Regarding the Kip Killigan figure, well, I would think that they’d stop selling such a “toy” when the name of the figure sounds too much like “KILL AGAIN”. It almost sounds like a cartoon parody.

    • Actually, I think the movie meant it to be a cartoon parody of violent action figures.

    • I’m sure that was the whole point of the film, why BK landed a marketing deal to release those kids meal toys is anyone’s guess.

  • Godfrey’s words on Thief and the Cobbler are eerily prescient. They also remind me of how George Lucas kept reworking the Star Wars films long after their release. Some people just can’t let it go, I guess.
    Also, that Shaw reel sounds like it could make a smashing bonus feature for a Black Cauldron BR DVD. If only Disney had the guts to do so.

  • I am guessing that the buck causing trouble in 1938 was a California Mule Deer, the same species populating the Technicolor English forests of THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD… released earlier that year. Granted, the British had three species available that could have brought Warner Brothers a little more more “authenticity” to Errol Flynn’s spectacular: Roe, Fallow and Red Deer. A little “inter-species” flirtation was going on with the Maine White-tails.

  • I still wonder why there hasn’t been a book on Thief yet. With over 28 – 30 years of production time, you have your material right there.

  • Knowing some of the THIEF’s backstory, I went to see it in the 1990’s when it played a brief run locally. This was the version with Jonathan Winters’ voice included. The thing that struck me about certain sequences is that they seemed visually outdated,
    something that would have fit into YELLOW SUBMARINE. Had the film been completed in the mid-1960’s, it might have gotten out before the SUB and received the raves for innovation that went to the latter film.

  • I was wondering if a Central Park Media retrospective is in the works? (Maybe get Veronica Taylor or Ted Lewis to chip in.)

  • Also from Bob Godfrey in The Observer, July 1 1990:
    “The Animator’s Animator”
    “…for a lifetime’s achievement, energy, output, dedication and fanaticism, we have to be talking about Richard Williams. If Walt Disney’s mantle has fallen on anybody’s shoulders, it must be Dicky’s – thank god it wasn’t mine. The man is crazed: he has spent the last 15 years and a king’s ransom trying to get an animated feature together. Now I understand he’s met another nutcase with money – could the end credits be in sight after all these years? Yes, for sheer tenacity alone, Williams has my vote.”

  • “People have died working on this dream …” (The Thief and the Cobbler).
    Say what?

    • Most of the animators for the original Thief and the Cobbler were well into their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were production began…and the majority of them passed away before it was ever released.

  • CPM’s first release instead became a 1991 subtitled VHS Dominion Tank Police Volume 1. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

    Still, Dominion Tank Police was a good title to start off with anyway. Incidentally, the translation of Minna Agechau is “I’ll Give My All.” I suppose CPM wished it could do so (besides releaseing a few oddities and clunkers like Crystal Triangle, Dog Soldier, Roots Search, and The Humanoid). Not to say every title they had was bad, they had a great catalog with stuff like Project A-Ko (not counting the sequels), A Wind Named Amnesia, They Were 11, the second Urusei Yatsura movie (Beautiful Dreamer) and some stuff I didn’t really care for like M.D. Geist, Legend of the Overfiend, Genocyber and so-on.

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