March 16, 2018 posted by Jim Korkis

Animation Anecdotes #354

Val Bettin (right) was the voice of Dr. Dawson (left)

Dr. Dawson. In the October 1986 issue of American Cinematrographer magazine, animator Glen Keane revealed that even though a small, thin actor named Val Bettin did the voice for Dr. Dawson in Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective (1986), Keane used one of Disney’s fabled Nine Old Men animators, Eric Larson who was in charge of a training program at the Disney Studio as his model for the character.

“There were striking parallels between Larson and the character of Dr. Dawson,” said Keane. “They’re both kind-spirited and have gentle personalities. We used some of Larson’s mannerisms… even the way Dawson wears his pants pulled-up over his belly. If you can base the character on someone you know, it’s really helpful. When I was drawing Dawson I couldn’t get the grandfatherly respectability I wanted. Then I noticed that I was drawing the pant lines below his belly like a truck driver. And as soon as I drew the line above the belly, like Eric wears his clothers, he turned into a friendly, respectable, gentle looking guy instead of a beer-drinking slob.”

Filmation Features. In 1985, Filmation announced it would produce thirteen animated feature length films beginning with The New Adventures of Pinocchio. They were each budgeted at about six million dollars and would be ninety minutes long. The plan was to release each film theatrically, then to home video, followed by a television release. Filmation claimed that their research showed a strong demand for family entertainment and a shortage of “quality animated product”.

The other planned films included Snow White and the Seven Dwarfelles, The Challenge of Cinderella, Time Machine II: The Man Who Saved the Future, Bambi: Prince of the Forest, 20 Million Leagues Across the Universe, Frankenstein Lives Again!, The Further Adventures of Gulliver, The Son of Sleeping Beauty, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, The Continuing Adventures of The Jungle Book, New Tales of The Arabian Nights and Alice Returns to Wonderland.

Disney sued to halt these productions but Filmation countered that the characters and stories were in public domain. The judge decided in Filmation’s favor but stated that after the films were released, if any part infringed on Disney’s intellectual property, Disney could then sue. So, for the Pinocchio movie, Filmation could use Gepetto who was in the original book but not the name of Jiminy Cricket which was a Disney creation. So Filmation changed the name of the cricket to “G. Willikers” which was another popular exclamation.

Sunshine Porcupine. How many obscure animated specials ARE there out there that people have forgotten or never seen? Sunshine Porcupine (1980) told the story of EasterVille where Farmer Brown raised special chickens that laid eggs for Easter and employed a large colony of rabbits who harvested, painted and delivered the eggs. However, one day, the Energy Wasters arrived and convinced the farmer to substitute robots for the rabbits but those robots used ten times the amount of energy. The poor farmer was also tricked into using lots of applicances he didn’t need and wasting electricity so the business became bankrupct.

An odd little porcupine talked to the sun who helped him come up with plans to give to the farmer to build a solar energy chicken coop. That device was so efficient it helped power the robots as well (once their dials had been re-set to “energy efficient”). The Energy Wasters left EasterVille in search of other places to cause trouble.

Airing on HBO, this animated special was sponsored by the Department of Energy. The special is filled with songs. June Foray and Chuck McCann supply voices. Al Brodax was one of the writers on the script and is credited as producer and also lyricist. It is actually based on a 1979 book of the same name by Dr. Diane Gess (another credited writer for the special) about “Eggville” and the “Ugli-Unks” who steal energy. Ray Pointer worked on this special, by the way.

Lost Mark Kausler Animation. In The Duck Factory (1984) first episode there is pencil test animation of Sir Thanksalot flattened by his sneezing horse. That amusing animation was done by the prolific Mark Kausler who also did animation in other episodes as well. It is at the 16:31 spot on this clip:

Lunch with Chuck Jones. At lunch at the Disney Studio in 1984, animator and producer Chuck Jones who had been invited as a guest was talking with several Disney animators. At one point, Jones’ MGM Tom and Jerry cartoons came up and Jones stated that his problem with that series is that he could never really understand the characters. “What was the point of the cat chasing the mouse? I mean every cartoon was the same thing….the cat chases the mouse. Why?” After Jones left one animator said to another who also attended the session, “He can’t figure out why a cat chases a mouse…but a coyote and a road runner he understands.”

The Raggy Dolls. The Raggy Dolls is a British animated series that ran from 1986 to 1994. Set in Mr. Grimes’ Toy Factory, imperfect dolls are thrown into a reject bin but each week when no one was looking “embark on different adventures where their problem profiles usually save the day”. The series was meant to encourage children to think positively about disabilities and working together. The series lasted 112 episodes and ten books were published.

Characters included Back to Front (a doll with a backward-facing head as a result of the manufacturer putting his head on the wrong-way round), Lucy (Her limbs are inadequately attached with nylon thread with her name being a pun on the word “loose”), and Dotty (accidentally had paint dots spilt on her hair and clothing).

“The Raggy Dolls concept was by Melvyn Jacobson, I was the animator and animation director,” stated Mark Mason who did the work in traditional hand drawn animation for Orchid Productions Limited. “The key members of the production team would throw ideas into the air, and Neil Innes would hone in on some of them and write the scripts. Neil was great. We didn’t meet very often, but he’s a lovely chap. He had the hardest job of all: writing all the scripts, doing all the voices and all the music; all brilliantly.”

Innes was a one time member of the comedy rock group, The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. A talented musician, Innes played keyboards, guitar, bass and did vocals. In the 1970s, his BBC series, The Neil Innes Book of Records featured some animation. Innes also worked with Monty Python on a variety of projects and was “Ron Nasty” of The Rutles.


  • So how many of those features announced by Filmation actually got made?

    • Only one” Snow White and the Seven Dwafelles” which was released as “Happily Ever After” and was delayed due to Filmation’s closure.

    • Two. Snow White was later released as Happily Ever, it was Filmation’s final production. Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night was released in 1987.

  • I think the Chuck Jones quote was misunderstood. I’d heard this anecdote before, and at the time, I remember hearing that Jones was confused as to why, on some TOM AND JERRY cartoons, as created by Hanna/Barbera, the cat and mouse were at odds with each other while, in other instances, the cat and mouse were friends. He (Jones) always remained focused on the reasons why things happened in his ROAD RUNNER cartoons and in other cartoons. Jones is like the “method actor” in the animation business. His characters have to have a motivation in whatever they are doing, and he is one of the few animators to make note of the fact that, sometimes, a dog and cat can be friends, i.e. “FEED THE KITTY”. In that sense, I do wonder why he couldn’t understand the “motivation” for the cat and mouse to sometimes team up as occasional “pals” against an invading body, as in “DOG TROUBLE”, but in the end, that’s all knit-picking and it is interesting that different animators saw the world through different eyes.

  • In Lou Scheimer’s book, he mentions that defending Filmation’s right to make movies based on Pinocchio and the others basically destroyed the budget for the films. So while the movies did well enough on their own, saddled with the ‘lawsuit debt’, they were considered flops and killed the other films. So Disney won in the end after all.

  • Wow, Sunshine Porcupine nearly sounds like what is going on in the chicken industry today! Big corps own the chickens, and the ‘farmers’ that raise them get paid next to nothing- as they have to pay for everything while raising them.

  • The Raggy Dolls title sequence was animated by Roy Evans, based on illustrations by Steve Smallman. Originally the show was going to consist of a narration accompanied by Smallman’s illustrations, but on seeing the title sequence the producers at Yorkshire Television felt that the static images would seem anticlimactic, and commissioned Evans to animate the stories as well. He produced the first 13 episodes, but it required him to work full-time on the project (up to 7 days a week!) so when Yorkshire TV required a tighter production schedule he declined the second series. The first series had been a hit so more money was found and Orchid Productions, a Manchester-based commercials company, was approached. Mark Mason tweaked the characters slightly (he simplified Sad Sack’s hair, for example) and led a team of two or three animators to produce a further six series. (Animators who have worked on the series include Ken Emmett, Billy Allison, Hugh Workman and Bob Sparkes.) Mark designed new characters, drew storyboards and layouts and timed the action, as well as contributing to the animation. The series ended in 1991, and Mark left Orchid to form his own company. Yorkshire TV was taken over by Granada, and they discovered there were not enough episodes to make up a package for international distribution. Orchid hired me to direct the last 2 series (1993-4)

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