Still stuck inside? Already binge-watched everything on Disney+, HBOmax and Netflix – twice? That makes it a perfect moment for me to review another batch of new animation books recently submitted for my approval. Most of these I approve of very much.
Here’s a little slice of movie history that no one has thought to document before – and thank goodness film historian Hal Erickson finally has! A Van Beuren Production, Hal’s latest book, is a godsend for those of us who love grade B features, serials, oddball shorts – and especially the Van Bueren cartoons.
It’s less a biography of Amedee Van Bueren (though that’s here, too) and more a survey of – as its subtitle states – the 619 cartoons, 875 live action shorts, 4 feature films and 1 twelve chapter serial.
Essentially each chapter takes on a particular series – The Grantland Rice Sportlights, The Song Sketches, Smitty and his Pals, The Charlie Chaplin Mutual Comedies, Easy Aces, The Dumb-Bell Letters, etc. – with more detail about them than, I dare say, anyone has every attempted before. I think I now know more about Walter Futter’s Curiosities than even… Walter Futter!
But it’s the cartoons most of us care about. Erickson has wisely divided the cartoon studio’s history into three chapters (the silent era, the early 1930s, and the Rainbow Parades) giving each “era” its due. There’s a deeper dive into the Paul Terry Aesop’s Fables success and its influence; why there were only two Sentinel Louie and Amos N’ Andy cartoons – not to mention two Cubby Bear’s by Harman-Ising, and two Rainbow Parade by Ted Eshbaugh. And if you are looking for more insight into the Molly Moo Cow cartoons – that’s here! (However, no one can properly ever explain “why” Molly Moo Cow – but I digress).
While there is a complete studio filmography (just the title of each subject and its year), it’s each series overall that is analyzed, discussed and explained. Erickson is very thorough and an engaging writer – and I’m a big fan of his previous Television Cartoon Shows: An Illustrated Encycopedia. The book is a wonderful read and the full scope of Van Bueren’s output is very well reflected. The Bottom Line: If you are a fan of this studio, its New York productions and just plain obscure Hollywood history – this one’s for you.
They Drew as They Pleased Volume 6: The Hidden Art of Disney’s New Golden Age by Didier Ghez (Chronicle)
I must admit I walked into Didier Ghez’s latest book, preparing to be underwhelmed. The overall premise of this volume puts a spotlight on the Disney concept artists of the modern CGI era, the 1990s through 2020. The previous volumes in this series had blown my mind with their profiles (and ample never-before-seen artwork) of Disney’s great designers and artists from the pre-digital era.
But I was wrong to have any doubt. I’m convinced now – Didier can do no wrong. This sixth and final volume of his They Drew As They Pleased series is a not only a worthy follow up to the previous edition, but a killer must-have. Joe Grant, Hans Bacher, Mike Gabriel, Michael Giaimo are deservedly revered by Disney fans and fellow artists – and here’s all the proof of why that is. The Joe Grant section alone is worth the purchase price – with Ghez’s expert text on Grant’s career and the super-rare drawings of Lady, The Square World, Inspector Bones among much else in the mix. Important stuff here.
Hans Bacher’s conceptual paintings for Mulan, Fantasia 2000, Beauty and The Beast remind us why the 90s renaissance was a second Golden Age. Mike Gabriel (Lorenzo) joined Disney in 1979 and had a hand in The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective and everything ever since for good reason. His work is exemplary and his commentary on his process is insightful.
I first heard of Michael Giaimo when Warner Bros. assigned him to design the dust jacket for my book I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat (1991) and I’ve been keeping track of his career ever since. He was part of that second year of Cal Arts Character Animation program (the group of students that included Tim Burton, Brad Bird, Nancy Beiman, Darrell Van Citters among others). He started at Disney on The Fox and The Hound. He spent six years away from Disney (joining Darrell Van Citters on Box Office Bunny at Warners, where he designed my book jacket among other designing assignments). He returned to Disney on Pocahontas and has had an important hand in things there since – particularly his pivotal work during the last ten years on Frozen and Frozen 2.
This is the finale of a phenomenal series of books. Each one is a gem. Thank you to Didier Ghez (and kudos to Chronicle Books for their support of this project). All six are highly recommended for the permanent bookshelf, in an easy-to-reach position.
2020 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual by Didier Ghez, Mindy Johnson, Kevin M. Kern, Matt Moryc, JB Kaufman, and Jim Hollifield (Hyperion Historical Alliance)
The Hyperion Historical Alliance is a group of international Disney historians organized Didier Ghez who meet regularly to share notes, trade research and present details of their latest research. They also print monographs and produce a yearly Annual Report of important new research and facets of Disney history not covered anywhere else.
The group has just released its second edition (2020) – and this has quickly become a vital resource of information and revelations, a must-have for anyone serious about Walt Disney, his films and theme parks. There are six pieces here – each one filled with fascinating new insights. It’s hard to pick a favorite – they were all great. I was surprised how much I enjoyed Matt Moryc’s thorough piece on the Walt Disney World Preview Center, a temporary open-to-the-public reception building – the first structure built on the Disney World property – that gave a preview of what’s to come. I was equally fascinated in Kevin Kern’s survey of A Practically Perfect Premiere, the arrangements that went into the Mary Poppins World Premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Where else would you read articles like this, or find this information?
Mindy Johnson and Didier Ghez profile two unacknowledged females in Walt Disney’s golden-age stable of talent – Didier introduces us (or at least, introduces to me) to Grace Huntington, an unsung dynamo in the Story Department and details her many contributions. Mindy profiles the equally uncredited Betty Smith-Totten who went from Disney Ink and Paint to become a studio Assistant Animator; then later, in the 1940s, she became an inbetweener and assistant animator in Art Davis’ unit at Warner Bros.
J.B Kaufman provides the complete details behind the four Disney Canadian War Bond Trailers commissioned by the National Film Board of Canada, the first films Ub Iwerks made upon his return to the Disney Studio. And Didier Ghez recounts the latter day Mickey Mouse revivals (between 1978 and 2018), what was planned and what came to be – and why.
Absolutely essential. Get this today, pick up the 2019 edition if you don’t have it – and mark your calendar to buy the 2021 Annual next year.
The Art of WolfWalkers by Charles Solomon (Abrams)
Without a doubt, animator Tomm Moore (Song of The Sea, The Secret of Kells) is one of our contemporary greats, an Irish “Miyazaki”. His body of work continues to grow, and get even better – and his latest Wolfwalkers is already considered the leading challenger (to Pixar’s Soul) for this year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (GKids will distribute to a few theaters and Apple+ will stream it later this year).
Charles Solomon’s lavish new book recounts in detail the making of this new film. The book is divided into nine chapters that cover all the bases – including story, characters, design, layout and background, music, animation and direction – with extensive cooperation from directors Moore and Ross Stewart. The artwork is gorgeous – and a loving foreward by animator James Baxter sets the stage. Great animation isn’t only in the past – Tomm Moore is generating classics now. And this book by Solomon is more than a keepsake – it’s the archive of what makes this film work as a modern day masterpiece. Highly Recommended.
SHOUT OUTS and SHORT TAKES
Famous First Edition: New Fun #1 (DC Comics). When I ordered a copy of DC Comics hardcover reprint of their very first publication – New Fun #1 (February 1935) – I never thought it would have anything in it to rate being reviewed on this blog. But this comic book is historic for several reasons, chief among them is that is launched the publisher that would bring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and hundreds more into pop culture history. It was also the first newsstand publication featuring original comic strips (prior comics magazines would simply reprint newspaper comic strips). What I didn’t realize is that the book contained a series of Oswald The Lucky Rabbit comic strips (“by arrangement with Universal Pictures”). It also contains a strip (“Bubby and Beevil”) by the publications art director, Dick Loderer, utilizing the model sheets from Eshbaugh’s The Sunshine Makers (1935)! This book is an incredible piece of history – and it delights me that Universal’s Oswald and Van Beuren’s Joy and Glooms are part of it. Check it out.
Art of Invader Zim by Chris McDonnell (Abrams Books) – Not sure if I ever mentioned it, but I’m a huge fan of Invader Zim. The series was brilliant – and if you haven’t discovered it yet, someday you will. This book answers every question about the show, from its humble beginnings and pitch meetings to the recent Netflix feature – and everything in between. Creator Jhonen Vasquez is all over this – the artwork, pencils, layouts, model sheets, storyboards, the comics… everything is incredible. Rebecca Sugar gives a heart felt foreword recounting her experiences as a fan of the show. All I can say is, if you love Invader Zim buy this today. It’s great!
Steven Universe: End of an Era by Chris McDonnell (Abrams Books) – This book is a follow up to McDonnell’s previous Steven Universe: Art & Origins (2017) and its a keeper. Covering Season four through the finale (“Change Your Mind”), the centerpiece of the book is extensive interviews with creator Rebecca Sugar and her crew detailing the process for creating the series, it’s lore and the character arcs. The book is illustrated with hundreds of illustrations, preliminary art, photos… a perfect companion tome that documents the making of a modern TV classic.