Thanks to my years of blogging, many authors and their publishers send me animation books to review and recommend. Not all of these books may be for you (heck, some are not right for me) – but I’m just grateful in this internet age that physical printed books still exist – and the good news is there are more worthwhile animation books than ever before.
Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series by J.B. Kaufman and Russell Merritt
If, like me, you have a well worn copy of Merritt and Kaufman’s 2006 edition of Silly Symphonies (originally published by Italy’s La Cineteca Del Friuli, distributed by Indiana University Press), you’ll be delighted to know that Disney Editions has just reprinted the book – with generous updates to the text and numerous new illustrations. Let me be clear: This. Is. A. Must. Have.
The improvements start with the end papers, which are liberally illustrated with line-art (b/w) of Silly Symphony posters (taken from studio publicity press sheets). Here we get our first glimpse of several rarely seen pieces – including the original posters for Music Land, The China Shop, The Golden Touch, The Goddess of Spring and many others I’ve never seen before.
The main text has been given a thorough polish that has been informed new research by the authors. Each Symphony gets a spread (or two) detailing all production credits (animation, music, layout, background, etc.), with synopsis, notes, negative costs, release data, broadcast and DVD release information – and more. No stone left unturned, no bit of information left out. Oh, for such a volume on every (or any) other series of Hollywood cartoons.
The Appendix covers associated shorts (Hot Chocolate Soldier, Don Donald, etc.), unfinished Symphonies, the Sunday comic pages, Silly Symphonies records, children’s books, and Good Housekeeping pages. Most images remain from the previous edition – but the few changes and additions add perfectly to the story. Several notable art excisions in the revised edition, made for political correctness, include the removal of The Big Bad Wolf in peddler disguise, and the substitution of a frame featuring a jungle native in Cannibal Capers (1930) to a safer shot of a lion cooking stew. A screen grab of topless mermaids from the pre-code King Neptune (1932) has also been replaced. All of these changes are understandable and the editors only used the situation to improve the visuals for these entries.
All in all, a joy to read and a vital reference. Needless to say, Merrit and Kaufman have created the definitive tome on the subject. Highly recommended, sez I.
The Walt Disney Studios: A Lot to Remember by Rebecca Cline and Steven B. Clark
Here’s a book I was a looking forward to. I’ve always been fascinated with the Disney lot in Burbank. It was the first built-from-the-ground-up animation studio in California (Fleischer once again beat Disney to it with his studio in Miami in 1938) – and long before Disneyland, the first real estate project Disney himself had a hand in designing.
Though I was expecting a more in-depth read about about the details of procuring the land, designing the buildings, constructing the studio, etc. – along the lines of Todd Pierce’s Three Years In Wonderland (about the building of Disneyland) – I was surprised when I got the book in my hands that it mainly provides a grand overview of the various studios where the Disney brothers made their movies and, once situated in Burbank, the “magic” that emerged from those places.
To be certain: What is here is worth your time and a place on the book shelf. There is much information on the Kingswell and Hyperion studios (with floor plans, rare stills, etc.), and the Burbank studio itself is covered with more details – much of it new to me. There are some fantastic early studio images here not printed elsewhere – as well as numerous behind-the-scenes photos (in fact, I was surprised to spot only one shot from The Reluctant Dragon – and it’s a unique production still of the crew shooting a tracking shot on Mickey Mouse Blvd!).
If you work on the lot, or have visited it at any time, this book will answer your questions and provide a great souvenir of the place. A Lot To Remember is a tribute to a special Disney “land”; A plot of earth where giants roamed and where Walt generated a few classics. Check it out.
The Art of Minnie Mouse Senior Editor: Jennifer Eastwood
The very definition of an in-house, committee-generated Disney coffee table art book. That said, this is a sweet compilation of Minnie Mouse history (including a filmography and an illustrated timeline of the character’s milestones), and some incredible original artwork – interpretations of Minnie from the artists at Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media.
Why not highlight the talented folks under their employ, to give their take on a specific classic character? Kim Raymond, Robert Farrell, Jeffrey Thomas, David Pacheco and Eric Tan are but a few of the great artists featured. Much Minnie memorabilia from the Disney Archive is also featured. All in all, a delightful browse – and if I ever need to know anything about Minnie Mouse I now know where to look.
Recommended for “Minnie Mouse” completists, only.
The Art of Dreamworks’ Trolls by Jerry Schmitz
Yeah, I know. Trolls.
Actually, the movie is cute, funny and filled with eye-candy. And this book, like all the art-of books we are blessed to have these days, is loaded with this insanely appealing pre-production art, design and color. If you loved the film, are studying the craft or just enjoy the art – this one’s for you.
It’s for me on all counts. I’m a fan of the current trend in Hollywood’s CGI animated features to push the “cartoony” design element (i.e. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, Inside Out, Secreet Life Of Pets). Trolls is “cartoon-based” in its visual aesthetic and this book is page after page of inspiring images from Dreamworks art brain trust – which includes Craig Kellman, Timothy Lamb, Dave Burgess, Avner Geller, Phillip Vose and many many others. Storyboards, modeling, the whole process is covered from initial story to final renders – and my friend Jerry Schmitz supplies the comprehensive text.
The Art of Kubo and the Two Strings By Emily Haynes
There is no question that one of the animation highlights of 2016 is Laika’s stop motion feature Kubo And The Two Strings. Artistically it might be the finest film Laika has produced yet – arguably one of the best stop motion features from any studio. Chronicle Books has published the art-of book and, it too, is one of the best on the market.
The character designs by project creator Shannon Tindle – and the art generated by the Laika team particularly David Vandervoort, Deborah Cook, Nelson Lowry, Trevor Daimer, Ean McNamara, August Hall and others – is magnificent and worthy of preservation in such a tome.
Director Travis Knight and Laika Studios are carving out a unique niche with their stop-mo animated features. They deserve to be seen, studied and championed in books like this.