June 22, 2017 posted by

Favorite Animation in Live Action Films

Note: I’m going to spend a week not talking about Thunderbean! Things are progressing and things going out the door, but thats all to report!

“The Three Caballeros”

The definition of ‘great animation’ of course depends on who you’re talking to. To me, animated films that accomplish the goal they’re aiming to tackle are successful, at least in the understanding of why they’re going the direction they’re going. Its surprising how many animated films lost sight of that very basic goal, substituting style or extravagance for solidity in the areas needed to make a particular story work. Story people elaborate on dialogue without thinking of how it works visually. Animators can create beautiful work but lose sight of *why* to make it beautiful. Sometimes stylized animation favors design over content or readability, especially in fast sequences. It’s easier to let either the script or the visual or sound content lead the way rather than having each area work well with the others.

In very short form work (a commercial, experimental or non-narrative short) having one element carry the whole film with a basic idea can work incredibly well; a strong visual idea or quality animation just isn’t enough to sustain a feature film however. Perhaps the approach of a large studio helps to bring this about; there’s already a stated goal of what the animation will look like and who the audience is, so that now leaves the story department to conform to a series of already decided directional decisions. That isn’t to say its impossible to live within parameters, but often they can limit the success of an idea because the structure requires things that don’t always work in developing a story.

To that end, animated sequences in otherwise live action films are, if you can forgive the pun, tricky. It’s no wonder that these ideas were not explored often in older films. If they exist as a single highlighted piece, it’s much easier to make it work since it doesnt have to be believable beyond the moment.

“Mary Poppins”

In a narrative structure, the important thing is to connect with the audience. Knowing *how* the particular film is going to accomplish that goal is just as important. The narrative films that I think work best never seem lofty in their attempt to get the audience on board; rather, they start the journey, establish how they want you to think about the film, and go from there.

If you look at the films that combine live-action and animation from the golden age of Hollywood (and animation), having an animated character truly integrated in the story was really only tackled by a few filmmakers. One only needs to watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) to see how difficult it is to get beyond trickery and establish a believable character.

While it seems that Disney could have accomplished this (especially in establishing a relationship between a live action and animated character), they instead stayed safely away from this form of combination. The sequences in The Three Caballeros (1945) and Song of the South (1946) treat these interactions in a similar way to how most live action films did, as a momentary trick sequence. There are a few exceptions in Song of the South where B’rer Rabbit shares a talk with Uncle Remus, but for the most part these parts of the film are reserved for tricks or songs. The same holds true for Mary Poppins (1964). Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) does a little bit more to integrate the live action and animated characters, but also to somewhat limited effect.

So, all of that said, here are my favorite films that contain Live Action/ Animated sequences. I’m purposely leaving out Bunin’s Alice in Wonderland (1949). I’ll tackle that one later!

Mighty Joe Young (1949):

Brilliant artist and animator Willis O’Brien really should be remembered for so much more than his effects work. He truly was groundbreaking in establishing animated characters that are as believable as the live action ones in a film.

The heart in Willis O’Brien’s animation was apparent in the original King Kong (1933) although at times the imperfections of the technical aspects of the animation can be distracting. Many years later, when Mighty Joe Young (1949) was produced, the addition of young animator Ray Harryhausen’s wonderfully empathetic Joe scenes combined with O’Brien’s idea of story elements make nearly every sequence in this film magical. One has to note that the idea of establishing strong empathy for the animated character is something fairly consistent in O’Brien’s work – really unique in the ‘effects’ world. Its interesting to note that Harryhausen, as masterful as his character work was, had a very different approach to the establishment of character. His films were, for the most part, adventures, with the animated characters serving the story as a novelty rather than emotionally connecting with the audience.

In viewing the whole of Mighty Joe Young, it’s interesting how easy it is to forget that Joe isn’t real as any of the other actors. In the orphanage fire near the end of the film, Joe’s acting carries the entire sequence. While not as technically beautiful as many newer stop motion productions, rarely has animation of any kind been as real in human emotion. This sequence contains animation by both O’Brien and Harryhausen. You can usually tell Ray’s animation by both the fluidity, beautiful arcs and the softness of weight. O’Brien’s work was never as technically polished, but beautiful its own way.

The Devil Doll (1936):

While not animation per-se, this particular sequence shows off the incredible (for the time) combination using mattes and giant sets. This Todd Browning film is a little slow at times, but worth watching to see the really fun effects sequences.

Hollywood Party (1934):

The Mickey sequence with Jimmy Durante is really fun – and, honestly, I enjoy it more than the color short Hot Chocolate Soldiers that is part of this feature. Mickey’s appearance here seems so well suited to me. Here’s a trailer that has a piece of this sequence, starting at :42 in

Hi Diddle Diddle (1943)

There’s fun animation by Leon Schlesinger studios in both the titles of this film and the ending (starting at 1:10:39 in this version).

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Of course Harryhausen’s Skeleton sequence from Jason and Argonauts (1963) is an amazing example of his ingenuity in design as well as animation abilities. Harryhausen animated *all* the skeletons single handedly by himself! It’s an astonishing accomplishment. Of course, as characters, even the live action actors exist to serve the story’s direction only, leaving the action to carry sequences rather than any emotional content.

Pee Wees Big Adventure (1985):

The incredibly unexpected animation in the Large Marge sequence in this film was designed and animated by the Chiodo Brothers. It remains one of the great surprises in a film full of bizarreness. The audience I saw it with in 1985 were still laughing well into the next sequence of the film.

Invitation to the Dance (1956):

I really like the Sinbad the Sailor sequence a lot more. Although it’s quite long, each piece of the animation sequence is entertaining – perhaps its better when viewed in pieces. Here’s an early part of the sequence, with the dragon. The animation here is stunningly beautiful, and perfectly suited for the sequence. Gene Hazelton and Michael Lah are among the many animators that worked on it.

Of course, Gene Kelly Dancing with Jerry in Anchors Aweigh (1945) is more famous:

Song of the South (1946):

I particularly like the How Do You Do? sequence in this film. It works perfectly as a bridge into the next all-animated sequence.

Here is a not too good copy of the film. (There’s a better one floating around I wish I could show!)

Ok – enough of what I like. What are your favorite animated sequences in live action films?


  • THE PINK PANTHER — The famous opening titles begin with the Panther becoming visible in the plot-driving gem. And at the end he steps into live action as a traffic cop.

    BULLWHIP GRIFFIN — Ward Kimball is credited with the engraving-style transitions and some cartoony live-action effects (stars radiating from an injured fist; a static cupid crossing the screen with an off-key trumpet).

    FORBIDDEN PLANET — The invisible monster when defined by electrical energy, by Josh Meador on loan from Disney.

    ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN — Dracula becomes bat and visa versa. A bit more effective than Superman turning into an animated drawing when flying in the Columbia serial.

    The 1981 Broadway musical WOMAN OF THE YEAR had a cartoonist whose creation would talk to him and shared a musical number. It was filmed animation rear-projected. Back in the 60s THE APPLE TREE had a piece of animation by Richard Williams, covering a character’s transition from chimney sweep to Monroe-scale star.

  • Referring to ones not mentioned, probably the “Freddy Get Ready” dream sequence with Bugs Bunny in “My Dream is Yours” (1949). I especially like how Bugs dances around at the end of the sequence.

  • Mine was the Three Little Pigs segment animated by Walt Disney in the Mexican movie Cri Cri el Grillo Cantador (Cri Cri The Singing Cricket).

    The End Credits for Around the World In 80 Days with David Nivens and Cantinflas,
    The opening credits to It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,
    the opening cast credits from Rankin Bass’s The Day Dreamer featuring the cast with a caricature of the cast drawn by Al Hirshfield and the cast (either animated of live action) of who they portrayed in the film including Ray Bolger as The Pieman in both live action and animation
    the opening credits of Grease.
    The opening credits of the Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers.
    The opening credits of C.H.O.M.P.S.
    The Jesusita En Chihuahua segment from The Three Caballeros,
    Blame It On The Samba from Melody Time
    The Snow White parody from 9 to 5
    And, as you mention above, “The Hot Choc-Late Soldiers” from Hollywood Party.
    The 1933 live action version of Alice in Wonderland with the Walrus and the Carpenter segment animated by the Harman-Ising Studios

  • I know it gets a lot of flack, but I really like the animated flying Superman sequences in the 2 Kirk Allyn Superman serials. It’s a creative and fluid solution to a big creative problem (it’s Superman — he HAS to fly!) on a miniscule budget.

  • Well, if you are including shorts – Porky Pig shaking hands with Leon Schlesinger in You Ought To Be In Pictures should be mentioned. That’s a classic combination shot if ever there was one.

  • This one:

    Of course, there are a lot of “Out Of The Inkwell” cartoons that are pretty peachy, as well:

  • Aside from KING KONG and the unjustly under-rated SON OF KONG, early thirties mixing of live-action humans with “puppetoons” certainly enjoyed a high point with Aleksandr Ptushko’s NOVYY GULLIVER. Had that not been a Soviet “commie” film, I wonder if it would have been a staple on TV for many decades.

    • I only managed to get a ( quite good ) copy of this soviet classic a year or two ago – & it was even better than I expected!
      A true masterpiece of animation full of detail & atmosphere.
      I hope & wish that somehow a full restoration may be one day possible.

      Obviously one of the greatest – in my opinion the greatest along with the Fleischers’ Out Of The Inkwell/Koko series – mixers of live action & animation was Karel Zeman :

      His 6 feature length films using such a mixture are sublime – especially the warm mild surrealism of having his live actors move through sets/backgrounds resembling old book illustrations.
      As I’m sure most are aware there are blu-rays available of full 4K restorations of his ‘Baron Prasil’ (Munchausen) & ‘Invention For Destruction’ (aka ‘Fabulous World Of Jules Verne’ ) with ‘the same treatment for ‘Journey To The Beginning Of Time’ coming this year! ( And the other 3 classics are aso available as good quality DVDs ).

      KZ really was the master of the live action/animated/’tricks’ mix.
      Film magic of the highest order suffused with love.

    • Too bad Jiri Trnka didn’t do the mixing route even though there were live-action scenes in THE EMPEROR’S NIGHTINGALE.

  • We can not forget also the opening sequence of the film Who’s That Girl, starring Madonna; American Splendor, in which Harvey Pekar appears as himself, played by actor Paul Giamatti and in cartoon version; The classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit; Tank Girl, 1995 film, based on the comics created by Jamie Hewlett, which has some animated sequences; The animated opening sequence of the film George of The Jungle, produced by Sergio Aragones; Several opening sequences produced by the legendary British animator Richard Williams: Casino Royale (1967 version), What’s New, Pussycat ?, etc.

  • The Incredible Mr. Limpet is a classic
    Pink Floyd’s The Wall (which coincidentally was shown on TCM last night) with some amazing animated images by Gerald Scarfe.
    Elinor Rigby sequence from The Yellow Submarine has processed live action.
    The Man Who Could Work Miracles has a nice stop motion sequence where he magically organizes his workplace.
    George Pal did a lot of this stuff: tom thumb, The Great Rupert, Wonderful World of the Brothers Grim, 7 Faces of Dr Lao, Doc Savage is not a good film, but there is an animated mist that is pretty cool
    I worked on two animated titls for features Earth Girls Are Easy (I animated a little) and Drop Dead Fred (Joe Ranft designed, I animated & directed).

    and honorable mention to two music videos: Michael Patterson’s sketchy hand drawing electrify A-Ha’s Take on Me and there is a wealth of cool stop motion, including early work by Nick Park, in Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.

  • Well, someone beat me to it, but I have to echo the honorable mention of “THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET” The animation may not have been top of the line, but it worked for me, especially when Don Knotts’ character falls into the water and we see his form morph from human to amphibious as he tumbles to the bottom.

  • The animated fish in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” are stunning, and very briefly viewed. If you blink, you miss them.
    The opening and closing animation in the Disney feature “Mr. Magoo” is better than what comes in between.
    “Xanadu” (everybody’s favorite Gene Kelly film, right?) features an animated sequence as part of a song in the middle.
    The feature film “Pepe” from the early 60’s featuring Cantinflas evidently had an intended animated sequence as a dream of Pepe’s toward the end of the film. It’s not in any print I’ve seen of the film, but the Dell comic book version not only has the dream sequence inserted into the narrative, but the inside cover page which includes stills from the film also has one scene showing a live-action Cantinflas fighting an animated bull. Anybody know if this footage exists, or was ever completed?
    I love the animated sequence in “Dangerous When Wet” when a live-action Esther Williams swims with an animated Tom and Jerry. They encounter an octopus who sings with Fernando Lamas’ singing voice.
    And leave us not forget Gene Kelly’s “Jack and the Beanstalk” with better than average television animation from Hanna-Barbera. I like the sequence when he dances with the “Woggle Birds” and also when he dances with the Princess. For less expensive animation, it’s not too bad.
    Hanna-Barbera followed up with blending live action and animation in “The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” which actually shows minimal interaction between the live actors and the cartoon characters they encounter, but a few of the episodes are beautifully animated. One in particular, “Hunting the Hunter” shows more realistic animals than the H-B studios usually attempted. “The Curse of Thut” is also very effective in its evocation of an animated desert landscape.
    And has anybody mentioned “Blame it on the Samba” from “Melody Time”? I love the way Ethel Smith’s organ blows apart and reassembles without missing a beat. Great stuff!
    Those are a few that come to mind right now. Thanks for a nifty post!

    • “New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” may have been less ambitious in animation, but the optical work was much cleaner than “Jack and the Beanstalk”, which is riddled with black specs. “Jack” was clearly a learning experience.

      The special edition DVD of “20,000 Leagues” has exotic fish that were animated but not used in the feature. It was impressive, but clearly animation (also a brief shot, probably experimental, of the Nautilus as a drawn effect instead of a model).

    • Thanks for reminding us about Xanadu, that was some fine work by Don Bluth.

  • Ralph Bakshi’s Heavy Traffic mixed Live-action and animation in certain scenes.

  • On the subject of shorts, there’s “Real Inside” from the National Film Board of Canada:
    Animation, writing, and co-direction by John Weldon (“Special Delivery”, “To Be”).

  • So Mickey appeared in MGM’s “Hollywood Party” in 1934; does that mean Disney had a policy change by the time “Anchor’s Away” started production, or is the famous quote: “Mickey Mouse will never be in an MGM picture.” apocryphal?

  • My additional two favorites would be “The Adventures of Popeye”, where Popeye comes to life on the book cover to interact with the little boy and The Mouse That Jack Built” with Jack Benny seeing the cartoon mice exiting the live-action cat’s mouth.
    The live-action hands repairing the film in “Goonland” is terrific, too!

  • I like the animated stomach-ache/food-fight scene between the ice cream and the hot dog, from the 1938 Our Gang short “Men In Fright”.
    The all-fruit band playing the dream sequence of MGM’s 1940 Rooney/Garland film “Strike Up The Band”, even though it more likely puppets or robots, created by Henry Rox :
    The animated title sequence (but not so much the animated intro that was added later) to “The Fearless Vampire Killers”:
    The original opening for “Ziegfeld Follies” :
    BIGG3469 mentioned this but here’s a link to “Los Tres Cochinitos” sequence of the Mexican movie Cri Cri el Grillo Cantador:

  • THE MYSTERIOUS HOUSE OF DOCTOR C — Originally a lavish and straightforward 1966 filming of the ballet “Coppelia”, it reappeared ten years later in a somewhat dumbed-down version ( has the story). Two pointless and drearily animated “dream sequences” were added: One had Dr. C (Walter Slezak) as a matador dealing with a stalling bull (Terry-Thomas). The other had a girl in a Roman dress whose voice broke more than glass.

    SO DEAR TO MY HEART — Disney’s story of a boy bonding with a sheep. Reportedly at his distributor’s insistence, Disney inserted animated scenes based on the boy’s scrapbook coming to life.

    THE WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM — George Pal’s Cinerama epic offered Puppetoon elves in the story of the shoemaker and a jewel-encrusted stop-motion dragon. Pal’s TOM THUMB included a long sequence of toys coming to life to play with tiny Tom; stop motion in some shots and costumed actors in others.

    THE ZIEGFELD FOLLIES, MGM’s big variety-show movie, used stop-motion puppets to illustrate Ziegfeld’s memories of the good old days.

    ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1933) presented the Walrus and the Carpenter as a cartoon.

    BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 had an animated number about a ripple (more a blob of water) with rhythm.

    MONTY PYTHON — The TV shows and the movies naturally featured Terry Gillium’s work.

  • Since we’re including animated opening titles… there’s Sally Cruikshank’s opening for “Mannequin,” perhaps the best thing about that film.
    Leon Schelsinger produced not only the animated titles for the early John Wayne western “Haunted Gold,” he produced the entire film (a rare venture in live action).

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