It’s been a while since I posted some reviews here on Cartoon Research – and thanks to our regular contributors, and my one-post-per-day policy, there haven’t been many opportunities for me to chime in on the latest cool stuff. If this keeps up I may simply post my future reviews on my news site, Animation Scoop.
I like how Cartoon Research has evolved over the past two years – it’s pretty much become what I hoped it would. A place for regular contributors (and a few special guests) to have a home to post fresh animation scholarship, share recent historical discoveries, and even have some fun with cartoon trivia. A group blog for those who love animation history – and love the people behind that animation history.
I want to once again publicly thank all those who have contributed – from our regular columnists and guest writers to our knowledgable commenters. Thanks to you all for creating this new community.
Now onto those way, way overdue reviews. SPOILER ALERT! I highly recommend each one below. All of these have been out for a while, so if you haven’t already picked them up, I hope my two-cents will urge you to order them today.
With the writings of John Canemaker, Michael Barrier and J.B. Kaufman leading the pack, we are living through a golden age in the documenting of Disney history. J.B. Kaufman’s latest book on the making of Pinocchio (1939) is masterful – and a must-have.
It’s of a piece with his Snow White tome, The Fairest One Of All – a highly readable, entertaining, visually dazzling and throughly informative documentation of the making of arguably Disney’s most sophisticated animated feature.
You want detail? We got detail! It’s all here – from pre-production to final release, and then some: beginning even earlier with the origins of Collodi’s tale and winding up years beyond initial release, discussing spin-off shorts and merchandising, the career of Jiminy Cricket on TV and in comics, and much more… all bases covered with footnotes, appendices that cover sequence by sequence, who animated what and why – and an in-depth filmography of subsequent shorts starring Figaro, Cleo and Jiminy.
In the main text J.B takes us through the feature, through each scene, explaining how the film took its ultimate shape. Have a copy of the movie handy to re-watch as you read – his writing will have you appreciating Pinocchio as you have never before.
PINOCCHIO – The Making Of An Epic is one of the best books of this year or any – and a vital addition to your library.
Here’s something I never thought I’d see – in my home. For decades, it was hard enough to see these rare shorts dimensionally or flat, much less correctly presented in a movie theatre. About twelve years ago a group of 3-D movie enthusiasts (Jeff Joseph, Bob Furmanek and Dan Symmes) staged a month-long festival of classic 3-D films in Hollywood where sold-out crowds of film buffs and industry professionals crowded a 600 seat movie palace (the famed Egyptian Theatre) to watch two synchronized projectors run rare Technicolor polaroid 3-D prints of two-dozen Hollywood features, cartoons, comedy shorts and other ephemera the way they were meant to be seen. I was there – and it was heaven.
My favorite part of the festival was the animated shorts program (which I was delighted to introduce) and the odds-and-ends rarities assembled by 3-D Film Archive President Bob Furmanek. Now those rarities are on blu-ray – lovingly restored and breath-taking to behold. The discs are in 3D so anyone with a 3-D player and 3D HD screen can watch these in their home, restored and in even better shape than the rare prints projected back then. (If you don’t have a 3D TV, the films play perfectly fine, flat, on your standard TV screens).
Among the material of interest to CR readers: Boo Moon (the Famous Studios Casper “Stereotoon”) in a gorgeous restoration – the color is crisp and the 3-D is wonderful, as is a commentary track by our own Thad Komorowski; New Dimensions (aka Motor Rhythm in a reissue by RKO in the 50s) a 1939 World’s Fair promotional film that features the stop-motion building of a Chrysler automobile; Norman MacLaren’s pioneering experimental NFB films Now Is The Time and Around and Around; The Adventures of Sam Space (aka Space Attack in 1960 reissue) a whimsical stop-mo sci-fi puppet film with voices by Paul Frees – again, beautiful restored like you’ve never seen it (and most people have never seen it!); and two live shorts of particular interest: the B’Wana Devil Natural Vision introduction featuring the puppet version of Bob Clampett’s Beany and Cecil (voiced here by Stan Freberg and Daws Butler) – and Stardust In Your Eyes, featuring comic Trustin Howard (the voice of Freleng’s later Warner Bros. pilot Philbert).
I predict you’ll enjoy everything on this set – including the informative 24 page booklet – but even if you are looking only for the animation, you’ll not be disappointed. A superior presentation of uber-rare material. Do not miss 3-D RARETIES.
What can I say – this is another must-have. The story of Richard Williams and his Quixote-like 25-year quest to create the ultimate artist-driven animated feature – his Citizen Kane-turned-Magnificent Ambersons – “The Thief and The Cobbler”. Filmmaker Kevin Schreck has put together the master-class on this subject; a fascinating, jaw-dropping documentary that will break your heart and blow your mind.
Williams was attempting to “save animation”, which had fallen on hard times in the 1960s and 70s. He won awards (including the Oscar) for his various shorts and commercials – doing all manner of work with one goal in mind – to create his masterpiece. I’m one of those who believe that if he had completed it to his vision (the “work-in-progress” version is included on a second disc) the end might have justified the means. It was visionary – and ahead of its time.
Little did Williams know his work on Roger Rabbit would accomplish the goal he initially set out to accomplish with Thief – to save the art of animation and inspire a new generation. Director Schreck has assembled rare footage – much of it of Williams and his colleagues telling the story first hand to the camera – and included fresh interviews with witnesses and participants in the Williams saga. With side roads that encompass Williams work on several other projects (though notably lacking much mention of Raggedy Ann and Andy), this is a story that had to be told – and Schreck has done a superb job putting the pieces of this puzzle together.
The DVD comes with an additional disc with 3 1/2 hours of bonus material, including that work-in-progress version, deleted scenes and pencil tests galore. Don’t ponder getting this for twenty five years – buy it now!
CHINESE ANIMATION: A History and Filmography 1912-2012 by Rolf Giesen (McFarland and Co.)
I picked this up at Comic Con last week and its by Rolf Giesen, who did a great job co-writing a previous book on the cartoons made in Nazi Germany, Animation Under The Swastika.
Unlike Japanese anime, Chinese animation really started to explode fairly recently, at the turn of the century – 2000. Giesen does a fine job documenting the country’s history with the medium during the 20th Century, with a complete film by film analysis. Credits, synopsis, opinion and back story is here for most of the shorts and features.
Gieson, who is a professional animation writer from Berlin now living in China, has been able to likewise document Chinese animation in this century as well – making his book a handy guide to Chinese animators past and present as well as to their notable films.
As China grows in international importance culturally, research like this will be particularly significant going forward. Gieson is the first to chart this new frontier – and he’s done a fine job raising awareness. If you are collecting data on international animation, this book is vital.
Long in demand by classic TV and vintage animation fans – this is the first time release of several full-length episodes (three to be exact) of the half-hour prime time The Alvin Show, originally produced by Format Films, that aired on CBS in 1961.
For anyone turned off by current iterations of Alvin and The Chipmunks, watching these shows may be a revelation. The character design has appeal; the stories are funny; the songs are delightful. More so, the restorations here are beautiful. Better than new – the colors are vivid.
Many of the artists were ex-UPA and it shows. The art direction (by Jules Engel) is gorgeous. This is certainly worth the $14.46 Amazon is currently charging. Credits for this show include direction by Osmond Evans, Rudy Larriva, Gil Turner and Alan Zazlove; Stories by Bob Kurtz, Leo Salkin, Cal Howard, Ed Nofzinger; Production designs by Sam Weiss, Ernie Nordli and Dale Barnhart.
Why only three episodes? Why not release the entire series? My guess is the Bagdasarian’s (who independently released this video on their own) are testing the waters. If enough people buy, perhaps they will pony up the funds to restore the entire series.
The disc features the episodes with the Chipmunks biggest hit songs – Witch Doctor and The Chipmunk Song, and it also contains segments with the programs hilarious co-feature, Clyde Crashcup (and Leonardo). Don’t let the clip below fool you – it looks MUCH better on your home screen. Highly recommended!