Time for another round-up of reviews for books and videos (strangely, most of them Disney-related this time around). But before we get into that I want to plug a couple of personal appearances this month – some local to Southern California, and a couple back east.
First off, I’ll be attending Cinecon 51 this weekend (Sept. 3-7) at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd. It’s mainly an oasis of classic movies – mostly uber-rare titles (like Universal’s rarely seen Myrt and Marge (1933) with Ted Healy and The Three Stooges). However, this year the Con is giving Steve Stanchfield an hour to dazzle us with new restorations (like Ted Eshbaugh’s Sammy Salvage and Ub Iwerk’s The Caveman) and rare Technicolor 35mm prints (like Famous Studio’s Popeye W’ere on our way to Rio and Columbia’s Color Rhapsody A Boy and His Dog). I’ll be there – and if Steve can’t make it I’ll introduce the program. It’s gonna be good. That’s Saturday morning at 10am. More info on Cinecon programming here.
The following week at the Egyptian, I’ll be hosting a program of George Pal Puppetoons. It’s part of a four day tribute to the films of George Pal. In addition to a big-screen showing Arnold Leibovit’s The Puppetoon Movie we will screen several other rare George Pal shorts – including the uber-rare Radio Valve Revolution (1934) which may be Pal’s first animated cartoon. It’s not stop motion, it’s hand drawn and really cool. Not on DVD. I’ll also do a Q&A with with Arnold Leibovit about all things George Pal. Gonna be fun.
Next, I’ll be a guest at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention September 17th-19th, at the lovely Hunt Valley Wyndham Hotel in Hunt Valley, Maryland. I’ll be giving a talk devoted to Betty Boop (on Thursday 9/17 at noon) and Popeye (on Friday 9/18 at 10am). Frankly I’m going to this con just to hang out with several east coast buddies and attend screenings by Ed Hulse (who’s giving a talk on Republic serials on Thursday at 8pm) and Thad K. (showing Warner Bros. cartoons on Saturday at 1pm). I’ll be signing copies of my Worst Cartoons Ever dvd while I’m there – with proceeds going to St. Judes charity. Drop by and say “hello”!
On October 1st I’ll be in Columbus Ohio to give a screening at the Wexner Center on the campus of Ohio State University. I’ll be introducing a tribute to Walter Lantz cartoons! This screening is in conjunction with Comics Crossroads Columbus, a three-day comic art event on campus at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum (and if you haven’t been there – that place is a must-see). “Art Spiegelman, Jeff Smith, Kate Beaton, Craig Thompson, Jaime Hernandez, Bill Griffith, Jeff Lemire and Francoise Mouly headline a group of 15 special guests and 45 exhibitors appearing at the first year of a new annual, city-wide comics literary festival focused on reading and enjoying comics, cartoons, graphic novels and webcomics.” I’ll be there all three days. I’ll just be hanging out, watching panels and reading comics. Join me!
Well that’s all for this month… let’s get to the reviews.
David Gerstein is going for the record; The record of having a new book published almost every time I’m ready to post a review round up. Volume 7 of Fantagraphics superb series of Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse reprints was published in June, and these never fail to surprise and delight me. As much as I’ve come to appreciate Gottfredson’s humorous adventure serials of the 1930s, this volume is set during an interesting transition period over the wartime years (1942-44), when the strip begins to move from its traditional continuities to a gag-a-day.
Gottfredson’s later style emerges, much looser and funnier than his earlier (yet expert) “on-model” strips; the gag strips are now both funny and topical, the remaining serials are particularly timely and inventive. Much involves new technology or fantastic (and fanciful) new inventions. And of course there are Nazis. And Japanese. No more time for rival rodents or the Phantom Blot – now, with Pete aligned with the Germans, Mickey becomes a secret agent, an aircraft factory worker and an air-raid warden.
The strip reproductions are crisp and clear and – as usual – Gerstein packs the front and back matter with “bonus material”, icing on the cake to be sure. This time around Tom Andre provides a historic overview of the strips in this volume, explaining the context of the stories, the contributions of writer Bill Walsh and more; “Casty” Castellan, the Italian Mickey writer/artist writes a heartfelt appreciation; Alberto Beccattini and editor Gerstein spotlight artist Bill Wright, writers Dick Shaw and Bill Walsh; Gerstein digs up Gottfrtedson’s rare 1930s gag-a-day strips (done for Europe!); foreign editions of collected versions of the strips in this volume; background on Mickey, Minnie and nephew Morty and much much more – all illustrated with rarely seen art and photos.
You should be buying these all along, as they come out. If you haven’t, Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Vol. 7: “March Of The Zombies” is actually a great one to begin with. Classic comics and expert cartoon research. What more can I say? Buy it.
American Experience: Walt Disney – PBS
PBS’ long-awaited two-part four hour American Experience documentary on Walt Disney will be telecast over two nights, Monday September 14th and Tuesday September 15th. They sent me an advance copy, so I guess I’ll give you my opinion.
My first thought after screening the entire four-hour telecast was that four hours isn’t enough. Walt Disney needs to be covered in a 20 two-hour parts, or perhaps a mini-series for Netflix. There is too much left out of the PBS show. Let me be clear, most of what is here is factual, accurate and important. But there is barely a mention of Dumbo, or of important stepping stone productions in the Silly Symphonies series; the war, the strike and the South American tour are given the short shrift.
Much emphasis is placed on negative reaction of Song Of The South, without the context that this film was a product of its time. Much emphasis is on Disney’s HUAC testimony, and his creation of Disneyland (though that subject alone is worthy of a far more-in-depth dedicated special). The film – by Sarah Colt, who previously did the American Experience doc on Henry Ford – tries to have it both ways: safe enough to please Walt Disney Studios but critical enough to give the film some teeth.
I was so happy to see friends Mike Barrier, Floyd Norman, and Tom Sito lend their expertise on camera. Our Tommy Stathes provided silent animation clips from various studios to represent Disney’s various competitors during the 1920s. Many other reputable folks, some colleagues of mine, loaned archival materials and research to the film – and as I said above, I heard nothing amiss. The factual data is solid. My only real disappointment is in what was left out. There is so much more to Disney’s story, additional facts that explain the “why’s” and “wherefores”. This show does indeed “scratch the surface” – but only that.
I certainly recommend that all readers of Cartoon Research watch this special. I’ll be curious to hear what you think.
From Mister Magoo to Papa Smurf by Gerard Baldwin
Gerard Baldwin is one of those guys who’s worked on everything, starting as an inbetweener at UPA, an animator at John Sutherland, and becoming a director at Jay Ward. He was the director of Ralph Bakshi’s Heavy Traffic for two weeks, he later produced Super Friends and then supervised The Smurfs for Hanna Barbera… I could go on, but why not have Gerard tell you about it himself?
Baldwin has just published a 198-page memoir From Mister Magoo to Papa Smurf that fits neatly on the bookshelf between Keith Scott’s The Moose That Roared and Shamus Culhane’s Talking Animals and Other People. Like Culhane’s autobiography, Baldwin tells a version of his life story – almost stream of consciousness, from his point of view – and tells it like it is (or was), warts and all.
This is good stuff. The bullshit and the bullshitters. His ups, his downs, his insecurities, his successes. For us, who have only seen his name flash by on hundreds of films and TV shows, here’s the other side of the story. And the story behind the stories. Baldwin goes off on tangents from time to time, but the effect is of one listening to man tell his story with passion – and occasional frustration. For those of us interested in animation history, this is gold.
After I read Shamus Culhane’s book 30 years ago, I wished more animation veterans would write similar memoirs. Baldwin has done his. Baldwin illustrates the book with drawings and several rare photos. Darrell Van Citters contributes a Foreword. Check it out. Methinks you’ll be happy you did.
Didier Ghez has emerged over the last dozen years as one of the leading Disney historians (up there with Canemaker, Barrier and Kaufman) – and one of the most enthusiastic proponents of research into animation history I’ve ever met. His Walt’s People volumes are particularly vital.
They Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age is, I believe, Didier’s first “art book”, but its more than that. It’s an important examination of Disney’s key concept artists of the 1930s. The fact that it’s also lavishly illustrated, well-written (loaded with new information) and entertaining is icing on the cake.
“Delicious” is the word that comes to mind to describe the rare artwork, paintings, sketches and doodles unearthed herein. Breathtaking, inspiring and, I guess, historic are these rare pieces; illustrations that are essentially the earliest spark in the visualization of several, soon-to-be classic animated features (essentially Snow White, Pinnochio and various Silly Symphonies).
Ghez tells the stories of Albert Hurter, Ferdinand Horvath, Gustaf Tenggren and (lesser known to me) Bianca Majolie (the first woman hired in the Disney Story Department) using, as best he can, their own words – culled from rare interviews, autobiographies, surviving correspondence, diaries and testimonies of their colleagues. Staggering new detail here – as assembled by Ghez, its also a joy to read.
The book is meant to be a companion to John Canemaker’s earlier (and highly recommended) Before The Animation Begins – and a worthy companion it is. Pete Docter writes a heartfelt Foreword. No more talk – buy this book.
An Animator’s Gallery: Eric Goldberg Draws The Disney Characters by Dave Bossert
I reviewed this on my Animation Scoop blog last week as part of my report on the recent D23 fan event in Anaheim. That’s where this remarkable book made its debut. An Animator’s Gallery: Eric Goldberg Draws The Disney Characters (by Dave Bossert) is a must-have if you are a fan of Eric Goldberg (full disclosure: I am a longtime personal friend of Eric’s), and can be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone who admires great art and the classic Disney characters.
Imagine the history of Disney cartoon stars – from Oswald and Mickey to Frozen and Big Hero 6 – all drawn by one artist, Eric Goldberg. Shanghai Disney Resort in China approached Disney Animation Studios Special Projects (Dave Bossert) about creating a series of framed caricatures of Disney animation characters, similar to the type that graced Hollywood Brown Derby back in the Golden Age. 144 individual images were required to fill the walls of the dining room – and though it was first considered a job for a large group of artists, it as decided to hand the assignment to the one artist who could handle such a scope of character designs with relative ease.
Bossert begins the book with a bio of Eric and details of how this art came to be – with much interesting and rare Goldberg art and photos (including model sheets from Get A Horse!). The bulk of the book are the drawings – and they are incredible. Every animated character and feature gets the Goldberg treatment – and you’ve never seen the characters from The Black Cauldron, Dinosaur or Cars look so appealing (Miraculously, Eric even makes Mater look good). These pieces are gorgeous and the book itself is my idea of what a great coffee table art book should be – 192 oversized, glossy pages that will hold you in awe of Eric’s artistic gifts.
Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection – DVD and BluRay
Collecting classic Disney cartoon shorts on DVD and blu-ray may become a thing of the past (though not in this household) – so that makes this latest release from Buena Vista Home Entertainment a doubly important addition for your personal archive.
Disney has collected here twelve recently created theatrical shorts (produced between 2000 and 2014) and made them available on this new compilation – each with a brief introduction by a member of its production team (usually a producer and director – but sometimes an animator or other). Feast, Get A Horse! (with Mickey and the gang), Paperman, How To Hook Up your Home Theatre (with Goofy) and Lorenzo alone are worth the purchase price alone – and I recommend buying this collection simply for those. The Ballad Of Nessie, John Henry and The Little Match Girl have much to admire as well.
The obvious question is, where is Glago’s Guest (2008), Destino (2003) or, heck, the Oscar nominated Redux Riding Hood (1997)?? It’s hard to knock a new video collection in this day and age – especially one that includes two (count ’em, 2) new theatrical shorts with Goofy. If only for that, the Walt Disney Animation Studios Short Films Collection earns a place on your video shelf.