October 24, 2019 posted by Steve Stanchfield

Did Animation Get It Wrong or Right?

I’m stepping’ out from Thunderbean for a night and getting some fresh air! News soon as well as something more in depth as soon as I catch up with everything here….

From Jones’ MGM Cartoon, “The Bear That Wasn’t”

There’s been many times I’ve wondered, after watching an adaptation of a comic character or book, just how they managed to get things so wrong given the fact that the original format is often rich in content and character. Maybe this topic is a well worn path, but here are the things from animation’s history, some less seen things that I think were spot on— and a ones that really, really were not. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these, or others that *you* think got it right.

Whistle for Willie (1965)

I love this simple, straightforward adaptation of this children’s book, written byEzra Jack Keats, and faithfully adapted into animation by Mal Wittman. Somehow the animation timing and style work just perfectly here.

Krazy Kat (1996)

Poor Krazy has been subjected to so many adaptations that often leave out some or all of the wonderful things about this comic strip, while this short adaptation seems to have been done with love and affection towards it’s much deserving world. This sequence was intended to be part of a documentary about George Herriman which, unfortunately, was never produced. It was made at Spitting Image studios in London, working with Hearst Corp for the BBC TV documentary series called ‘Arena’. The director/animator was Derek Mogford, the puppets were made by Mackinnon & Saunders.

Calvin and Hobbs animation (2008)

Creator Bill Watterson is well known to have done his best to not exploit his wonderful characters; so, for better or worse, this has often led to fan animation. Here’s a short piece by student animator Donato Di Carlo.

The Bear that Wasn’t (1967)

I honestly don’t know exactly how I feel about this 1967 Chuck Jones adaptation of Frank Tashlin’s lovely little story. There’s some really nice animation and layout throughout, but somehow it seems to miss the simple heart of the original.

Mike Mulligan and his Steamshovel (1990)

Michael Sporn’s half hour short, produced for HBO, has a lot of things that are really fun about it. I wish I liked the music better, bit I’m quite fond of the Sporn touch in this short.

A Doonesbury Special (1977)

Garry Trudeau’s characters are wonderfully animated by John Hubley’s studio. I had a 16mm print of this special that I never had a chance to watch; it was stolen from a stack of things I had just bought at a film show many, many years back.

Now, what are some things that you think got it right or wrong?

Have a good week everyone!


  • The Secret Of NIMH, Don Bluth’s movie of Robert C. O’Brien’s book Mrs Frisby & The Rats Of NIMH is an very faithful adaptation of the story. Yes, some things were changed, like Nicodemus being killed by Jenner, but the movie is a perfect version of the original story.

    • My mileage may vary. I didn’t like changing science into magic, or turning Mrs. Brisby into Jean Grey.

  • For my money, the greatest animated adaptation of any book is Richard Williams’s “A Christmas Carol” (1971), which completely blew me away when I saw it as a boy. The richly detailed grotesquerie of Victorian illustration brought to life, and the incredible attention to detail — like the way a candle flame changed when someone opened a door — are absolutely amazing. Imagine what he might have done with Tenniel’s illustrations of “Alice in Wonderland!” But as the production history of “The Thief and the Cobbler” sadly demonstrates, Williams’s lofty aspirations for the art of animation were not economically viable in the second half of the twentieth century.

    As for the worst, I suppose it would be unfair to name Max Fleischer’s “Gulliver’s Travels”, even though it both drastically changed the plot of the original novel and completely missed the point. But in the eighties I saw a thoroughly dreadful animated version of “Gulliver” that appeared to have been translated from the Spanish. What stands out about it in my memory is the musical score, which was heavily influenced by twelve-tone modernism. It sounded like the scores that Hanns Eisler used to write for those dreary East German propaganda documentaries — not something you’d expect to accompany what I’m sure was meant to be a light-hearted children’s movie!

  • Filmation’s ARCHIE was such a disappointment to me when it premiered! Dal McKennon’s voice for the lead character was terrible (GUMBY? REALLY?) and why, oh, why was Veronica suddenly a southern belle? Howard Morris was a good choice for Jughead, though. And, hey, what happened to the hash marks on Archies’s head?!?!?

    • Veronica as a Southern Belle goes all the way back to the radio show “The Adventures of Archie Andrews”, where both Veronica and her father had Southern-sounding voices. This carried over to Filmation’s TV series.

    • Bob Hastings, who played Archie on that radio series, was asked to repeat his role for the animated series – but he was mad at Filmation for not paying him to do extra voices on the Superboy series, so he told them no, and McKennon was cast instead.
      As for why Archie lacked the cross-hatching on the back of his head (and his freckles)- most likely, to simplify the character designs for animation.

    • MAD Magazine’s 1954 Archie Comics parody (featuring a very well-endowed “Biddy” and “Salonica”) poked fun at Archie’s cross-hatching, for example toward the end of the story when our hero is alone in a jail cell: “…My name is Starchie Standrews, and I’ve been behind bars so long the criss-crossing on my head has turned gray! …I also now have gray criss-crossing on my chin!”

    • Those are reasons, not excuses.

  • Bill Melendez did a ok job adapting Peanuts at first, but overtime he couldn’t animate Schulz’s tremor lines, ( heard from one guy that those specials were “awkward”. However, the writing and backgrounds, plus simplicity, save these specials from complete garbage. The writing is what really saves it, since (mostly) Schulz crafted a separate story around comic strips he drew for the bread-and-butter of the franchise, the Peanuts newspaper strip. (Which would make sense because of the United Features credit and late copyright).
    For example, how do you want Charlie Brown and the gang to teach kids about pollution? You adapt a filler comic, then give him an original excuse (made just for the film) that The Cat Next Door’s owner is burning garbage, Then you have Charlie Brown’s baseball team lose and quit- but this time because they can’t see or breathe the polluted air (as well as litter). Then have Charlie teach kids what they can do in real life thanks to Lucy’s psychiatry booth suggestion since his millionth failures is due to pollution.

    Watch the magic here:

    • You do realized that Schulz himself was pretty much involved with all the Peanuts animated projects up to his death, right? They even used gags and storyline that originated in his own strip.

  • I can think of a few examples:

    The British animated tales of Beatrix Potter are very faithful re-creations of the books, even when two books are blended to make one half hour. “Peter Rabbit” and “The Tailor of Gloucester” are my two favorites of the series.

    Disney’s “Ichabod” segment of “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” is one of the rare instances of fidelity to the source material for Disney. Bing Crosby’s laid-back narrative style is a good match for Washington Irving’s prose–and while many Disney touches were added for enhanced comedy or spookiness, the overall production remains remarkably faithful to the original story. In fact, most other film adaptations of the story stray much farther from the original tale. Makes me wish that Disney had tackled more Washington Irving tales.

    The “Raggedy Ann and Andy” feature film is a fascinating study, because in some respects the creators got it exactly right and in other areas they went far off base. The dolls coming to life in the nursery is pretty faithful to the Johnny Gruelle stories. The animation is rich throughout most of the film. The overabundance of show-stopping songs tends to get in the way of the plot, such as it is, although taken one at a time by themselves most of the songs are delightful and would not be out of place in a live stage show aimed at an adult audience. The film as a whole is a bit hard to sit through, so I generally watch it in fifteen-minute increments. But even though it has its shortcomings, I do not dislike the film. I find it entertaining by turns, with some irritating bits (the twins’ reprises as one example), and some incongruity. Overall, I’m glad they made the film and were willing to try something a little daring and out of the (toy) box.

    • +1 for the Beatrix Potter tales! They are very faithful to the stories and enjoyable at any age. ps, the UK DVD’s (R2) are way better quality than their north American counterparts (R1)

    • Re Ichabod Crane, I used to volunteer at a historic site in Sleepy Hollow and the opening pan over the map is an accurate depiction of the geography of that area. And the shot of the churchyard includes an accurate rendition of the Old Dutch Church, built in 1689 and still in use. It’s clear that the animators really did their research in terms of the real-life setting of the story.

  • Steve: I’ve tried to contact you through e-mail (On the 22nd) but no answer. I went to your Facebook page but you haven’t posted in over a year, so I figured that might be fruitless too. How do I get a hold of you? I really want to order the Betty Boop extra set, but I’m having a hard time doing it. Thanks

  • Not only did “The Bear That Wasn’t” miss the mark on the ‘simple heart of the original’, but it actively haunted mine and my siblings’ memories. About 10 years ago, my sister asked me “Do you remember a cartoon where a bear was being yelled at by his boss?” and it all, horrifyingly, comes back.

  • Hi Steve…Do you think Im going to get my PAID pre-orders of Grotesqueries and Noveltoons + bonus on both before Halloween?. I would like your response. Martin

    • I was kinda wondering that myself. I figured since I paid when you asked I could get a progress report or two.

  • I recently watched Halas and Batchelor’s Animal Farm for the first time, and there were some changes that didn’t sit right with me:

    -Turning Benjamin from a jaded onlooker into Boxer’s best buddy who ends up seeking revenge against Napoleon (he’s basically doing double duty filling in for Clover’s role)
    -Blowing up the windmill at the very end of the second battle with the humans rather than the middle of the battle (kind of messes with the “Great Patriotic War” parallel of being beaten back and then turning the tide)
    -Rather than going with Orwell’s sardonic ending, the movie ends on a bittersweet note of “Things might look bleak, but there’s hope yet!”

  • We’ve been working hard to get all the Grotesqueries pre-orders (and Noveltoons) out before Halloween. about 80% are sent already, with the rest hopefully going tomorrow.

  • It’s interesting that the Krazy Kat sequence was animated by Derek Mogford. He was the main animator for Ivor Wood for many years in the 80s and 90s, animating on series like Bertha, Charlie Chalk and (most famously) Postman Pat.

  • Two words: Dick Tracy.

    If the show had been anything like the opening, instead of featuring buffoonish subordinates, they coulda had something…

    Even Filmation did a better job with its rendition, which is saying something.

    • On the other side of the coin, “The Famous Adventures of Mister Magoo” were imaginative adaptations of classic literature. One of my earliest childhood memories is of a ragged Magoo in “Monte Cristo” desperately swimming to escape… 🙂

    • UPA actually did a better Dick Tracy adaptation on the “Famous Adventure” series (with Magoo playing a mob member). I sort of wonder if the studio were considering to do another more serious version of the detective before they were unfairly shut down.

  • UPA also did some highly interesting adaptations of stories: “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Unicorn in the Garden,” and “Madeleine.” In the latter two, the animators did an impressively faithful job of emulating the original artwork. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is genuinely frightening. I seem to remember reading that the “prologue” text at the beginning was added because audiences had come to expect short cartoons to be comedies and that they should know what they were going to see was different.

  • I saw the Crazy Kat test reel some years ago, when it had a Jean Shepherd-sounding narration. Did not realize it was puppet animation; I thought was some wonderful CGI.

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