July 18, 2015 posted by

Way Way Overdue Reviews

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.

pinocchio-bookPINOCCHIO – The Making Of An Epic by J.B. Kaufman

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.

3d-rareties-disc3-D RARITIES (3-D Film Archive/Flicker Alley) Produced by Bob Furmanek

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.

persistance-dvdPERSISTENCE OF VISION Directed by Kevin Schreck

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-bookCHINESE 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.

CHINESE ANIMATION: A History and Filmography 1912-2012

alvin-dvdTHE ALVIN SHOW (Bagdasarian)

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!


  • I also highly recommend 3-D RARITIES, worth every cent even if you don’t have a full 3D setup at home. The restoration on every short is phenomenal and the release is a clear labour of love. Highlights for me were the NFB shorts and Boo Moon (with a very informative commentary track by Thad, where else would you hear Jerry Beck name-dropped as a “Famous Studios expert”?)

    On the subject of Chinese animation, I think the works of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio in particular deserve a re-release in HD. The (now out-of-print) DVDs released in China looked very good (with pretty good English subtitles to boot!) but I’ve noticed a couple of shorts that didn’t make it onto the sets were restored a few years ago:

    I’m also going to plug another great “cartoon research” blog I found recently highlighting the underappreciated British studio, Halas and Batchelor:

    A collection of their shorts were recently released onto DVD/Blu-ray in the UK. I haven’t had the chance to view my copy yet but it looks like an amazing, diverse selection spanning their over-40 year output of films.

  • I can only agree with you on all counts about “The Alvin Show.” Funny and charming, with a light touch, and Ross Bagdasarian Senior’s music is as distinctive and delightful as ever. Listening to the clip, I am pretty sure he was doing the gondolier’s voice along with “Dave’s” and the double-speed Chipmunks as well. (By the way, if you’re into “space-age lounge” music, RB Senior’s non-Chipmunk recordings are well worth looking into, though you’ll have to scout around for old vinyl.)

  • I’m actually planning to go to the Columbus Wexner Center’s screening of “3-D Rarities” that’s happening next month.

  • What’s wrong with more than one post in a day from time to time? It would make things all the more interesting and active here.

  • Jerry, if you are a firm believer in Richard Williams’ vision for his uncompleted Thief, you can count me as a skeptic. Mind you, I’ve only ever seen the butchered “Arabian Knight” version (if you weren’t paying attention, you would have missed it: it blew through the theaters and was gone in two weeks) but what I saw was more a collection of set pieces, some quite dazzling, than a coherently planned movie with a compelling story and characters.

    I know that cut was thrown together as a salvage job, re-dubbed, re-scored and otherwise messed with but for anyone who followed the saga of this production (I must have first heard about it around 1970; some public television doc was touting Williams as the grand savior, and the few bits and pieces of his work you got to see certainly promised something cool and un-Disney-like was going to be unleashed on the world) you had to wonder, as the years rolled on and one backer after another pulled out of the project, what they knew that we didn’t.

    What they apparently knew was that constant revamping and rewriting your script, fine-tuning this or that elaborate sequence without a clear idea of what comes next or how it will all hang together, then changing your mind and throwing it out and starting over – that’s not a good way to inspire the troops. I thought a lot of what ended up on screen – fussing over every little spot on the deck of cards the bad guy was shuffling – was great in an eyeball-zapping sort of way, but it’s over in three seconds and then you start to realize why this took forever to incubate,

    Richard Williams is a great artist. Roger Rabbit proved he could deliver when someone else was in charge of the story. He is also a great teacher, and took the time to study what his heroes at Disney were doing and explain what it was and why it was so great, in ways maybe even they couldn’t articulate . I will check out this new video, but I stopped shedding tears over the fate of “Thief” long ago. To me the great lost Richard Williams project is one few remember and nobody talks about – “Ziggy’s Gift”. I can’t imagine a property with less potential, but he took it on and did a terrific job with it – better than it deserved.

  • “…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.”

    Jerry, I don’t see why you can’t allow for more than one post per day if you’ve got more interesting stuff to post. To me, the most important aspect of that policy is to have AT LEAST one post per day. And of course, regular segments like “Thunderbean Thursday” should come out on their regular days. But I certainly wouldn’t mind more posts than one-per-day every now and then.

    Personally, I like this site more than Animaton Scoop, and I would much prefer that reviews specifcally relevant to Cartoon Research are indeed posted here. If that means two posts on the same day occacionally… bring it on!

    • MESTERIUS, ZACHARY and others:

      I’d love to post more than once a day here – and that may happen at some point in the future. The problem is a matter of time – my time – and quality. I just don’t have enough time as I edit two blogs, teach, write books, and contribute to a dozen other things that preoccupy my day. And I want to maintain a certain level of quality – and our current limited roster of contributors certainly assures that.

      Also, it should be known, that Cartoon Research is primarily a labor-of-love by me and our regular writers. We all put in more hours creating these posts – without proper compensation – than we can really spare. So it’ll be at least one-a-day, like the vitamin tablet, for the time being and I hope you can live with that. Thanks.

    • I say thumbs down to that. That’s too much. I spend enough time on cartoons already (watching them, that is).

      One post a day is fine. I skip the ones that don’t interest me. But too often, I find something I missed days ago, which I’d like to say something about but there’s little point, seeing as how it’s been pushed down the line. Life is cruel.

  • The Alvin Show was one of my favorites when I was a litte shaver, but when RB Senior passed away The Chipmunks ceased to exist (or put in permanent hiatus) until 1978 when Ross Bagdasarin Junior brought back The Chipmunks in Chipmunk Punk. In December 1980 Chuck Jones animated the Christmas special A Chipmunk Christmas (with all three chipmunks with freckles!) also they brought back Clyde Crashcup (who was one of my favorite characters on The Alvin Show sans his assistant Leonardo) during a dream sequence where Clyde was creating the perfect “Santy Claus” (sadly that scene was edited out on future broadcasts of A Chipmunk Christmas on ABC Family).

    After the successful run of A Chipmunk Christmas Ruby-Spears bought the animation rights to Alvin and the Chipmunks. Sadly the series was (to my opinion ) crudely drawn (the Chuck Jones version was better in my opinion) and Ruby-Spears eliminated Clyde Crashcup and Leonardo to make room for The Chipettes (Brittany, Jeanette and Eleanor) and in season three thier caretaker Beatrice Miller.

    When The Chipmunk Movie came out both the Chipmunks and the Chipettes had a major make over thanks to MWS Productions (Murakami Wolf Swenson) and both the Chipmunks and Chipettes had a better look that they has when Ruby Spears first animated them as well as a brand new opening and closing for the series. The most memorable episodes were parodies on Treasure Island,Sherlock Holmes and the tv show Moonlighting.

    Fun Fact: there was a scene on Alvin and the Chipmunks spoofing Home Alone where they shown a barefooted Alvin with Ninja Turtle feet (guess some of the animators who was working with Alvin and the Chipmunks was also working with TMNT/TMHT in the same time.

    Later DiC Productions took over for Ruby-Spears but kept the redesign characters that MWS created and added a new charater who was last seen in the special A Chipmunk Reunion, Vinnie (aka as Alvina) Alvin,Simon and Theodore’s Mom.

    DiC later animated The Chipmunks Go To The Movies which was a zany comical spoof on movie from the past and current films such as Jaws, Gremlins, Batman, Splash and Honey I Shrunk The Kids. It only lasted one season due to NBC deciding to cut all animated programming to make room for live action teen programming.

    The Chipmunks also release two direct to video movies featuring two legendary monsters from the Paramount Studios, Frankenstein and The Wolfman.

    And of course there are the three films featuring the CGI versions of the Chipmunks and Chipettes who look more realistic that thier original counterparts.

  • Just in case anyone hadn’t read it and might enjoy it, this is about Raggedy Ann & Andy:

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