Friday, December 22, 2006

Other Exceptional Animations with Mature Subject Matter in the Late 70s-Early 80s



Nepenthe Productions and writer/director Martin Rosen (and animator Tony Guy) made two dark films with mature (serious-minded) subject matter - both based on Richard Adams' best-selling novels about animals and ecological concerns:

  • Watership Down (1978), a bleak, allegorical animated fantasy film about the desperate quest of a warren of rabbits to find a new home, led by heroic Hazel (voice of John Hurt), a small, nervous rabbit named Fiver (voice of Richard Briers), and courageous Bigwig (voice of Michael Graham Cox). In the anthropomorphized tale, they must escape the destruction of their land during the construction of a housing development, and join a rival warren named Efrafa led by a vicious militaristic dictator, General Woundwort (voice of Harry Andrews). The film also included the last involvement in a motion picture for legendary actor Zero Mostel who played the cantankerous seagull Kehaar.

  • The Plague Dogs (1982), the even darker, far more nihilistic, pro-animal rights film about two abused laboratory experiment dogs, a cynical, bitter black Labrador named Rowf (voice by Christopher Benjamin) and a brown and white dog named Snitter (voice of John Hurt). Both escape from captivity in a secret British government research lab (Animal Research, Surgical and Experimental) and become fugitives. While on the run, it is falsely reported and suspected that they carry the deadly bubonic plague and they are relentlessly pursued.

  • the Adams' stories of the rabbits of Watership Down were retold in a short-lived animated TV series, produced by Rosen - 3 series of episodes aired beginning in 1999; with title music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
The French/Czech-made, science-fiction oriented Fantastic Planet (1973, Fr.) (aka La Planète Sauvage) possessed similarities to Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) with its two-tiered society on a faraway planet of Ygam, consisting of enslaved humanoids called Oms and a ruling class of bizarre, blue-skinned alien giants named Traags. It was based upon the popular French newspaper serial (Stefan Wul's Oms en Serie ("Oms by the Dozen")), and was lauded with the Cannes Film Festival's special jury prize, the Grand Prix, when it was first released. Its animation technique was to move paper cutouts across backgrounds.



The inventive animated fantasy Twice Upon a Time (1983), executive produced by George Lucas, told a story about two heroes and their friends who tried to prevent a maniacal madman from giving children nightmares. It used the same cut-out paper animation that South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999), the most profane animated film (with 399 swear-words) would also later employ.
Rankin-Bass


The team of Arthur Rankin-Jules Bass was most known for its holiday specials aired on television, such as the object-animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) - with the voice of Burl Ives, Frosty the Snowman (1969) - with the voice of Jimmy Durante, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970) - with voices of Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, and Keenan Wynn. They also created the parody-spoof of monster films, their only feature-length animated film titled Mad Monster Party? (1967), with characters based upon many of the Universal 'monsters' - including Frankenstein (voiced by Boris Karloff), Count Dracula, The Wolf Man, King Kong, The Mummy, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The film used the stop-motion “animagic” process to animate the three-dimensional puppets. Two future Mad Magazine contributors, Harvey Kurtzman and Jack Davis, were responsible for co-writing the screenplay and design work. Reportedly, Tim Burton found this film to be extremely influential upon his own later work.


Also, the team of Rankin-Bass produced the anime-like mythological tale The Last Unicorn (1982). It was a sophisticated story from a screenplay by children's book novelist Peter Beagle about a lonely, last-remaining unicorn (voice of Mia Farrow) who set out on a quest to confront a beast of fire named Red Bull that had eliminated all the other unicorns.
Adults-Rated Animations in the 70s and After

Ralph Bakshi


Normally, animations are regarded as an innocent, innocuous form of entertainment, even though iconoclastic writer/director Ralph Bakshi's, adults-only rated-X feature (in its original release) Fritz the Cat (1972), based upon cartoonist Robert Crumb's underground comics character, was the first X-rated animated feature in Hollywood history. It was about a hippie-like, sex and drug-loving cat.


Writer/director Bakshi's next X-rated animated feature (later re-cut and re-released with an R-rating) was the violent, gritty and misogynistic Heavy Traffic (1973), a semi-autobiographical tale about a misfit comic-book cartoonist that was loosely adapted from Hubert Selby's novel Last Exit to Brooklyn. It blended together animated and live-action sequences in its urban scenes, and also layered old film clips into cartoon backgrounds. The animation auteur also released the controversial Coonskin (1975) (aka Street Fight) that was accused of being racist and offensive. It contained urban-oriented, politically-oriented blaxploitation content about a rabbit that ruled the streets of Harlem.


The surrealistic animator Bakshi also directed the animated cult film Wizards (1977) - a tale of good vs. evil and a test run for his next animation - The Lord of the Rings (1978). This latter film had an adapted screenplay co-written by Peter Beagle (based, although incompletely, upon books in J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy), and was noted for its extensive use of the animation technique of rotoscoping, in which human actors were filmed and 'traced' as cartoon characters. [Tolkien’s earlier introductory work The Hobbit (1937) was filmed as an hour-long animated TV movie by the team of Arthur Rankin Jr.-Jules Bass in 1977 as The Hobbit (1978). Voices for the characters were: Orson Bean (the hobbit Bilbo Baggins), John Huston (the wizard Gandalf), Otto Preminger (Elvenking), Richard Boone (Smaug), Hans Conreid (Thorin), and Brother Theodore (Gollum). Rankin-Bass also concluded the story in the animated TV film The Return of the King (1979).]


Bakshi also released the not-for-children sword-and-scorcery animated Fire and Ice (1983), with work by fantasy design artist Frank Frazetta. (Bakshi also directed various dark and psychedelic-flavored episodes of the Spider-Man cartoon series on ABC-TV beginning in its second season in the late 1960s.) One of his later works was the Paramount studio-financed, poorly-received Cool World (1992), containing a plot with similarities to the parallel animated Toon World in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). It also raised the intriguing question of whether a live-action person could have sex with a cartoon character, and featured Brad Pitt as the voice of a Las Vegas cop, and Kim Basinger as cartoon sex symbol creation Holli Would, who wished to become a 'noid' in the human world.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bill Melendez and the Peanuts Animations



Bill (J. C.) Melendez, who first worked at Walt Disney Studios during the classic animated 40s era, then moved to Leon Schlesinger Cartoons (AKA Warner Brothers Cartoons) in 1942 at the time of the Disney strike, where he made a number of notable Looney Tunes cartoons. But his biggest success was his collaboration with comic-strip cartoonist Charles M. Schultz, and the making of the first animated Peanuts special on CBS-TV, the irreplaceable Christmas special A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). Ultimately, he would be involved as director of about forty Charlie Brown TV specials after 1965, and the producer of a 1983 Saturday morning cartoon show called The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show. He also 'acted' by providing the voices of Snoopy and Woodstock. [Jazz musician Vince Guaraldi scored the 1965 special and continued to score all the Charlie Brown television specials till his death in 1976. His distinctive scores were used on all subsequent specials, movies and TV series.]
Melendez' feature-length film collaborations with Schultz included:
  • A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969) - this was the first full-length animated film starring the Peanuts gang; it contained Vince Guaraldi's classic Oscar-nominated score (that featured lyrics by Rod McKuen)
  • Snoopy, Come Home (1972) - often considered the best feature-length Peanuts film, featured the first appearance of Woodstock (named after the famous rock-music festival in 1969)
  • Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977)
  • Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!) (1980) - its sequel was a 23-minute TV special tribute to US veteran soldiers of WWII titled What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? (1983), a Peabody Award winner

A stage version of the Peanuts comic strip, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, first appeared in 1967 in an off-Broadway Greenwich Village theatre, and remained for four years. The show was later revived on Broadway in 1999 for a short run, and won two Tony Awards. Melendez also directed the Emmy Award-winner for Outstanding Animated Program for PBS-TV's special The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe (1979) which was co-produced by the Children's Television Workshop (famed for two TV series, Sesame Street and The Electric Company). It was based upon the first story of C.S. Lewis' classic children's tales series, Chronicles of Narnia, and it was the first full-length animated movie made for television.

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Advanced Animation Techniques in the 50s and 60s

In 1949, inspired by the work of Willis O'Brien in King Kong (1933), Ray Harryhausen animated the stop-motion gorilla in Mighty Joe Young (1949), although the work was mostly credited to O'Brien. This was Harryhausen's first feature film for which he created stop-motion animation. Ray Harryhausen's films, such as his best known work Jason and the Argonauts (1963) with its skeletal warriors set-piece, perfected stop-motion animation. By the time the 61 year-old Harryhausen had finished Clash of the Titans (1981), he had worked on more than a dozen sci-fi and fantasy films with stop-motion animation. George Pal, the father of screen science fiction fantasy films, artistically combined live acting cinematography, animation, puppets (e.g., Puppetoons produced for Paramount in the 30s), and other visual effects in films such as Tom Thumb (1958), the Cinerama-configured The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1963).


Animator-geniuses of recent years have used pixillation, the frame by frame animation of live subjects or objects and human beings by filming them incrementally in various fixed poses. Mary Poppins (1964) was a more recent, semi-animated kids musical with both live-action and animated characters.


The best-known work of the Halas & Batchelor animation studios was the adult-themed Animal Farm (1954), the first animated color feature film made in England. The allegorical tale, based on George Orwell's 1945 satirical political novel, told of animals at Manor Farm who were led by pigs Napoleon and Snowball to rebelliously overthrow oppressive Farmer Jones, take over the farm, and form a free, egalitarian socialist utopia. The new society was to be based upon seven principles: 1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy. 2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend. 3. No animal shall wear clothes. 4. No animal shall sleep in a bed. 5. No animal shall drink alcohol. 6. No animal shall kill any other animal. 7. All animals are equal. However, the animals would learn that some animals were more equal than others. [After the success of the 'talking-animal' hit Babe (1995), the film was later remade as the live-action TNT-TV production, Animal Farm (1999). It featured creations of Jim Henson's Creature Shop (where director John Stephenson was a veteran supervisor), animatronics and computer animation.]


A classic family animation with similar animal characters, although a-political, was Charlotte's Web (1973), adapted from E.B. White's beloved tale about an intelligent spider (Charlotte, voiced by Debbie Reynolds), a rat (Templeton, voiced by Paul Lynde), and a bashful, ill-fated barnyard pig (Wilbur, voiced by Henry Gibson). It was noted for Charlotte's sacrificial saving of Wilbur with web-spinning creations ("Some Pig"), Wilbur's caring for Charlotte's egg sac and spiderlings upon her death, and memorable songs including "Mother Earth and Father Time."


The magical puppetry of Jim Henson's Muppet characters have also charmed audiences, first with The Muppet Movie (1979), then followed by more adventures with Kermit, Miss Piggy, and other delightful characters.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Cold War Era Propagandistic Animations
One of the most notorious propaganda films ever made, Duck and Cover (1951), was aimed at school children. The 9-minute Civil Defense film used an animated turtle named Bert to show children how to survive a nuclear explosion or atomic attack by using a "duck and cover" technique under their desks. Later, Bert became a cultural icon in the documentary The Atomic Cafe (1982), and it was cleverly spoofed in The Iron Giant (1999) with a cartoon beaver. For its historical and cultural place within film history, it was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2004.
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UPA Productions - Columbia Studios
Some who left Disney Studios around the time of the studio's 1941 strike later established United Productions of America (UPA), a studio for cartoons distributed by Columbia, and known for simplified, stylized drawings of human characters in the Jolly Frolics cartoon series, such as Gerald McBoing-Boing (first seen in the cartoon Gerald McBoing-Boing (1951)) and the near-sighted Mister Magoo (with voice by Jim Backus).

Mister Magoo's first cartoon was Ragtime Bear (1949) - also in the same series of Jolly Frolics cartoons. The first of the Mister Magoo series of cartoons was Spellbound Hound (1950). Mister Magoo starred in UPA's first feature-length cartoon film, the 76-minute 1001 Arabian Nights (1959).
The 1950s: Disney's Golden Age of Animation (continued)

In the 50s, Disney released more animated features, including the following full-length classics:
  • Cinderella (1950), released on February 15, 1950; three-time Academy Award nominee: Best Score, Best Sound, Best Song (Bibbidy-Bobbidi-Boo) [Cinderella has been widely regarded as the most re-made storyline ever]
  • Alice in Wonderland (1951), released on July 28, 1951; the Disney adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic; its failure at the box-office offset the profits from the previous years' successful Cinderella
  • Peter Pan (1953), released on February 5, 1953; Disney's version of James M. Barrie's story
  • Lady and the Tramp (1955), released on June 16, 1955; Disney's first animated feature in CinemaScope
  • Sleeping Beauty (1959), released on January 29, 1959; also in widescreen format; Academy Award nominee: Best Score
In order, Lady and the Tramp (1955), Peter Pan (1953), and Cinderella (1950) were the top 3 grossing films of the 50s. [Taking into account reissues and re-releases over the years as well as the original releases, the order of these top-grossing animated films of all time has been rearranged, placing Cinderella (1950) first, followed by Lady and the Tramp (1955) and then Peter Pan (1953).]
Disney's Golden Age of Hollywood Animations in the 40s



The Golden Age of Hollywood cartoon comedy was in the late 1930s and 1940s. The critically-praised Pinocchio (1940) released on February 7, 1940 and based on Carlo Collodi's 1881 fable made a record $2.6 million and became the highest-earning film of the year. This second Disney animated feature also won two Oscars, for Best Original Score and Best Song (When You Wish Upon a Star). It was the rites of passage story of a wooden puppet (with Tyrolean britches) that came alive. The delinquent boy was accompanied by an ingenuous narrator/carpetbagger named Jiminy Cricket who served as the boy's conscience (and sounded like Benjamin Franklin). The ingenious animation used the multi-plane camera technique to create an amazingly life-like animation.


Disney experimented with other milestone, ground-breaking techniques that combined classical music and animation in seven separate episodes in the film Fantasia (1940), released on November 12, 1940. The film, with a production cost of more than $2 million (about four times more than an average live-action picture), featured Mickey Mouse as the star of the picture in Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the mouse's only appearance in a feature cartoon. Fantasia was the fullest expression of Disney's earlier work on Silly Symphonies. [A sequel of sorts was released 60 years later, originally in the IMAX format, Fantasia/2000 (1999), with new interpretations of classical music (including Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance, Stravinsky's Firebird, Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 - and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue), plus a replay of The Sorcerer's Apprentice.]

Other great classic Disney tales, animated features, and storybooks in the 40s included:

  • Dumbo (1941) - the story of the baby elephant with big flying ears, released on October 23, 1941; Best Song nominee (Baby Mine) and Best Score Academy Award-winner
  • Bambi (1942) - the masterfully poetic tale of woodland creatures and a deer, with the shattering scene of the killing of Bambi's mother; released on August 9, 1942; three-time Academy Award nominee: Best Song (Love is a Song), Best Score, Best Sound [Note: although the second Disney animated film to go into production, it ended up being the fifth release, due to extensive time-consuming research conducted on animals to make it appear exceedingly realistic]
  • Saludos Amigos (1943), released on February 6, 1943; advertised as "Walt Disney Goes South American" with the introduction of Joe Carioca, the Brazilian Jitterbird; three-time Academy Award nominee: Best Sound, Best Score, and Best Song (Saludos Amigos)
  • The Three Caballeros (1945), released on February 3, 1945; two-time Academy Award nominee: Best Sound and Best Score
  • Make Mine Music (1946), released on August 15, 1946; a more modernized version of Fantasia (1940) with popular music by Benny Goodman, the Andrews Sisters, and Dinah Shore; the anthology included the classic tales Casey at the Bat, and Peter and the Wolf; also Blue Bayou, The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met, The Martins and the Coys, All the Cats Join In, and Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet
  • Fun and Fancy Free (1947), released on September 27, 1947; a combination of live-action and animation; included Mickey and the Beanstalk
  • Melody Time (1948), released on May 27, 1948; included animated shorts about two American folk heroes: Johnny Appleseed and Pecos Bill; the last of Disney's large collections of animated shorts
  • So Dear to My Heart (1949), released on January 19, 1949; a live-action film with some animation, starring Burl Ives; an Academy Award nominee for Best Song (Lavender Blue)
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), released on October 5, 1949; included the two shorts: The Wind in the Willows and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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Friday, December 15, 2006

The First Full-Length Animated Film

The earliest animated films that most people remember seeing are the later, more sophisticated Disney feature films that contain exquisite detail, flowing movements, gorgeous and rich color, enchanting characters, lovely musical songs and tunes, and stories drawn with magical or mythological plots. The first, full-length animated film was Disney's classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) released on December 21, 1937, which took four years to make and cost $1.5 million dollars. It was 1938's top moneymaker at $8 million.

It was financed due in part to the success of Disney's earlier animated short, The Three Little Pigs (1933). Although dubbed "Disney's Folly" during the three-four year production of the musical animation, Disney realized that he had to expand and alter the format of cartoons. He used a multi-plane camera, first utilized in his animated, Oscar-winning Silly Symphonies short, The Old Mill (1937) to create an illusion of depth. His version of the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale was the second of its kind - the first was a five-minute Snow White (1933) starring Betty Boop (with an appearance by Cab Calloway). Disney's risk-taking paid off when the film became a financial and critical success.

[It must be noted that another little-known but pioneering, feature-length animated film was released more than a decade earlier by German film-maker and avante-garde artist Lotte Reiniger, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), based on the stories from the Arabian Nights. Reiniger's achievement is often brushed aside, due to the fact that the animations were silhouetted, used paper cut-outs, and they were done in Germany. And the rarely-seen prints that exist have lost much of their original quality. However, the film was very innovative -- it used multi-plane camera techniques and experimented with wax and sand on the film stock.]
Tom and Jerry

In their first full teaming together, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera at MGM created the cat and mouse Tom and Jerry series (clearly influenced by the frenetic action in Tex Avery's work at Warners), comic adventures about Tom - a gray mangy cat, and Jerry - a wisely innocent mouse. When the cartoon series was first introduced in 1940 with the 9 minute Oscar-nominated Puss Gets the Boot (1940), Tom was called 'Jasper' and the mouse had no name.


Over 100 cartoons from 1940 to 1958 featured the two cartoon characters, and Hanna and Barbera were able to break Disney's Oscar monopoly for award-winning cartoons. They won more Academy Awards than any other cartoon series in history, except for Disney's Silly Symphonies. They won Oscars for Best Short Subject: Cartoon for the following animated cartoons:
  • Yankee Doodle Mouse (1943)
  • Mouse Trouble (1944)
  • Quiet, Please! (1945)
  • The Cat Concerto (1946)
  • The Little Orphan (1948)
  • The Two Mouseketeers (1951)
  • Johann Mouse (1952)
In the last film Johann Mouse (1952), Jerry - the mouse, can't resist waltzing when he hears music from the master of the house, Viennese composer Johann Strauss. Tom, also a resident in the household of the Maestro, takes piano lessons to keep Jerry dancing and entranced - so that he can snatch him. One of their most famous cartoons was Mouse in Manhattan (1945) that featured a score by Scott Bradley (made up mostly of Louis Alter's "Manhattan Serenade" later used in The Godfather (1972) and Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown's "Broadway Rhythm") and Jerry's adventures in the big city. [Hanna-Barbera were also responsible for animated TV cartoon shows including Ruff 'n' Ready, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones and Top Cat.]

Later, in a few famous sequences, Jerry the mouse danced with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh (1945) - the first instance of the combination of live action and animation in a feature film. Tom and Jerry also performed an underwater fantasy dance with Esther Williams in Dangerous When Wet (1953). Famed animator Chuck Jones was assigned to produce new episodes for Tom and Jerry cartoons in the 70s at MGM - but they had lost their spunk and spirit by that time - and were ultimately unsuccessful.
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Walter Lantz Studios:

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Woody Woodpecker, and Chilly Willy


Walter Lantz (1900-1994), an early animator, and Charles Mintz (representing Universal and boss Carl Laemmle), took over the character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from Walt Disney in 1928. The resemblance of Oswald to its biggest competitor, Mickey Mouse, was striking. Lantz made a series of black-and-white cartoons from 1929 to 1935, featuring the rubber-limbed, long-eared rabbit, including these early titles: Ozzie of the Circus (1929), Stage Stunt (1929), Stripes and Stars (1929), Wicked West (1929), Nuts and Bolts (1929), Ice Man's Luck (1929), Junegle Jingles (1929), Weary Willies (1929), Saucy Sausages (1929), Race Riot (1929), Oil's Well (1929), Permanent Wave (1929), Cold Turkey (1929), Amature Nite (1929), Snow Use (1929), Hurdy Gurdy (1929), and Nutty Notes (1929). Mickey Rooney was the first to do the character's voice. Lantz was noted for also making the first-ever Technicolor cartoon - the opening animated sequence to the live-action The King of Jazz (1930).


Another of Lantz' legendary creations was red-headed, blue-bodied, long-beaked, trouble-making Woody Woodpecker, with his distinctive laugh ("Ha-Ha-Ha-HA-Ha" by Mel Blanc) and voice (by Mel Blanc for the first four cartoons, and then by Ben "Bugs" Hardaway until 1948, and thereafter by Lantz' own wife Grace Stafford). Woody first appeared in the cartoon Knock, Knock (1940) distributed by Universal Studios, in which he bedeviled another Lantz character Andy Panda. The next year, the popular Woody became a starring character in The Cracked Nut (1941), and began to replace the waning Oswald the Rabbit.


Over the next three decades, Lantz made about 200 six-minute Woody cartoons. Woody's appearance was somewhat softened in The Barber of Seville (1944), but he still maintained his aggressive and slightly sadistic personality. A long-time adversary of Woody's, Wally Walrus, was introduced in The Beach Nut (1944), the same year. In 1948, the novelty tune, The Woody Woodpecker Song (written by George Tibble, Ramey Idriess and Danny Kaye) was released on record and became the #1 hit song (sung by Kay Kyser). The song was put into the latest cartoon, Wet Blanket Policy (1948) (with another new co-star arch-nemesis Buzz Buzzard) and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song (it lost to Buttons and Bows in The Paleface (1948)). Young boys copied Woody's haircut, and fan clubs developed across the country. In the late 50s, The Woody Woodpecker Show first appeared on ABC-TV, and led to further shows and syndication.


A less popular but distinctive Lantz cartoon character was Chilly Willy - a penguin, who first appeared in 1953 in a cartoon titled appropriately, Chilly Willy (1953). Chilly's popularity soared when animator Tex Avery joined the Lantz Studio the following year and directed Chilly's second and third cartoons: I'm Cold (1954) and Academy Award-nominated The Legend of Rock-a-bye Point (1955) for Best Short Subject Cartoon (it lost to Speedy Gonzales (1935), a Warner Bros.' Merrie Melodies cartoon). As with Woody, Chilly Willy cartoons appeared all the way until 1972 - the last year of production.
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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tex Avery

After co-creating some of the most notable cartoon characters of all time at Warners in the late 30s and early 40s, Avery moved to MGM Studios in 1942, where for about thirteen years, he accelerated the pace and scope of animations and adopted new characters: Adolf Wolf, Screwy Squirrel, a sexy red-headed beauty named Red, and a sad basset hound named Droopy (see below). Avery's first cartoon for MGM, Blitzwolf (1942) brought him his sole Oscar nomination. It was a wartime semi-parody of Disney's earlier Three Little Pigs (1933) with Adolf Wolf (Hitler) threatening the house of Sergeant Pork (US).


Besides Tom & Jerry (see below), the other biggest MGM cartoon character, Tex Avery's most famous at the studio, was the meek, slow-moving and slow-talking Droopy Dog. The emotionless, deadpan-voiced, yet stoic Droopy made his debut in MGM's Dumb-Hounded (1943), and received his proper name in his second cartoon, The Shooting of Dan McGoo (1945), a take-off on the Robert Service poem about Dan McGrew. One Droopy Knight (1957) was nominated for an Academy Award - the character's sole nomination (after Avery left the studio).

Later cartoons for MGM included Avery's controversial version of the well-known fairy tale Red Hot Riding Hood (1943) and Screwball Squirrel (1944).
[Tex Avery's work heavily influenced director Chuck Russell's The Mask (1994) featuring Jim Carrey as mild-mannered bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss, who is obsessed with cartoons. When Stanley dons a magical mask, he turns into an alter ego composed of Tex Avery-like cartoon characters - the Wolf (including a famous double-take with his eyes popping out of his head and a wolf whistle), the Tasmanian Devil (whirling like a tornado), and others. He even re-enacts portions of a classic Avery cartoon that he earlier watched on his VCR, Red Hot Riding Hood (1943), in the nightclub scene. All special effects were compliments of George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic.]
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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Chuck Jones

At Warners after Avery's departure in 1942, Chuck Jones (1912-2002) furthered the development of Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. He was also responsible for Elmer Fudd, who first appeared in Elmer's Candid Camera (1940) (although the name "Elmer Fudd" had first been applied in WB cartoons to the Egghead character in A Feud There Was (1938)). Jones provided the famous Hunter's Trilogy of cartoons about 'wabbit-season'/'duck-season' in the early 50s, with Bugs Bunny, hunter Elmer Fudd, and the hapless Daffy Duck:
  • Rabbit Fire (1951)
  • Rabbit Seasoning (1952)
  • Duck! Rabbit! Duck (1953)
He also created the Road Runner series with Road Runner ("Beep, Beep") (known as Accelerati Incredibulis) and Wile E. Coyote (known as Carnivarious Vulgaris), debuting together in Fast and Furry-ous (1949). Intended to be a one-time only appearance, their popularity called for another cartoon produced 3 years later, Beep, Beep (1952), and then a series of cartoons for many years.

Chuck Jones also developed more minor animated characters such as Pepe Le Pew, Inki, Marvin Martian, Michigan J. Frog (see below), Gossamer, and Charlie Dog. As Disney did with Fantasia (1940), Jones fused classical music (Rossini's Barber of Seville, Mendelssohn's Wedding March, and a visual gag about Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro) into the cartoon form in one of his best animations - Rabbit of Seville (1950), featuring Elmer Fudd and Bugs as opera singers.


The comic Warner Bros.' Merrie Melodies masterpiece Duck Amuck (1953), inducted into the National Film Registry in 1999, has been widely considered Jones' best cartoon short. In the self-reflective animation, a tormented Daffy Duck struggles against the malicious, off-screen animator himself (revealed at the end as Bugs Bunny, although Jones admitted he was the culprit), as his character is redrawn, and the props, soundtrack, and backgrounds are changed as Daffy's chances as an emerging cartoon 'star' are sabotaged.


Another of Jones' most famous cartoons was the renowned One Froggy Evening (1955) - about a singing/dancing frog (in retrospect named Michigan J. Frog) who was unearthed from a condemned building's cornerstone. A construction worker - who pursued a fortune with the talented croaker, was dismayed when the Frog would only perform for him and not for an audience or talent agency. The cartoon was noted for a lack of spoken dialogue, and a rich collection of ragtime era songs - Steven Spielberg once noted that it was "the Citizen Kane of animated film". [Years later, a look-alike Michigan J. Frog would become the mascot of Warner Bros. new television network channel.] The animation was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2003.


An additional Jones' masterpiece was What's Opera, Doc? (1957) - featuring Elmer Fudd (as a Teutonic warrior-knight), a cross-dressed Bugs Bunny (as "Brunhilda"), and music from Richard Wagner's 18-hour opera Der Ring des Nibelungen. In 1992, What's Opera, Doc? became the first-ever animated film to be inducted into the National Film Registry. At its conclusion, as the Tannhauser Overture plays, Elmer walks away with a lifeless Bugs in his arms, who perks alive and memorably quips: "Well, what did you expect in an opera -- a happy ending?"


Jones also contributed script and character designs to UPA's Gay Purr-ee (1962), one of the last animations produced by the innovative studio. Similar to Disney's Lady and the Tramp (1955) (and Disney's later effort The Aristocats (1970)) and The Wizard of Oz adventure tale about a country girl, this full-length animated classic featured the voices of Judy Garland (as young feline heroine Mewsette who set off for Paris in the Gay 90s), Robert Goulet (as country bumpkin beau, Jaune-Tom in pursuit), and Hermione Gingold (as cathouse manager Madame Rubens-Chatte), and original songs by Wizard of Oz composers Harold Arlen and E.Y. (Yip) Harburg.


[ - Jones opened his own company, Chuck Jones Enterprises, in 1962, producing nine 30-minute animated films. From 1963-1971, Jones headed the MGM animation department. His The Dot and the Line (1965) was an Academy Award winner for Best Short Subject: Cartoon. One of Jones' greatest accomplishments was directing (as chief animator) the half-hour animated holiday TV special Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), a Peabody Award winner. Jones also directed/produced other Seuss classics, including Peabody Award-winning Dr. Seuss: Horton Hears a Who! (1970) and Dr. Seuss: The Cat in the Hat (1972). Later, he developed The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie (1979), a compilation of eleven shorts including his own two masterpieces mentioned above, and an 11-minute Road Runner montage-compilation consisting of 31 gags from 16 cartoons. One of his final works was an original cartoon short in Peter Hyams' satirical view of TV titled Stay Tuned (1992) in which an American suburban couple (John Ritter as Roy and Pam Dawber as Helen) became transformed into cartoon mice. He also directed an animation segment for the feature film Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).

With a 60 year career, and more than 300 animated films, Chuck Jones won a total of three Academy Awards (the three awards were for: (1) For Scent-imental Reasons (1949) (with Pepé LePew) - Pepe Le Pew's sole Oscar nomination, (2) the animated short So Much for So Little (1949) that won in the Documentary: Short Subject category, and (3) The Dot and the Line (1965)), and he was presented with an Honorary Oscar in 1996. - ]
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Friz Freleng


One of the earliest pioneering animators was Friz Freleng, who directed the first Porky Pig cartoon (in two-strip Technicolor) I Haven't Got a Hat (1935) featuring the stuttering character. In the 40s when he was working at Warners, he was best-known for his contributions to the zany Looney Tunes cartoons, including for example, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig in You Oughta Be in Pictures (1940) - a spoof satire of the way in which emerging, fast-talking star Daffy convinces Porky to quit his job at Warners by ending his contract with studio head Leon Schlesinger. Freleng also introduced the characters of hot-tempered Yosemite Sam (who first appeared in Hare Trigger (1945)) and Speedy Gonzales (who appeared redesigned in Freleng's Speedy Gonzales (1955)), and brought lisping cat Sylvester (known for his trademark: "Thufferin' Thuccotash!") and yellow Tweety (Bird) (with the trademark: "I tawt I taw a puddy tat!") together in a series of Friz Freleng-directed films from 1947-1964. Their first film together (in which Sylvester was called "Thomas") was Tweetie Pie (1947) - it brought the Warner Bros. cartoon department its first Academy Award. [Sylvester's first film was Life With Feathers (1945), while Tweety Pie preceded the feline predator and first appeared in A Tale of Two Kitties (1942), but was named Orson.]


Friz Freleng (and David DePatie) also created the cool, bluesy 'The Pink Panther' animation with a pink feline character for the opening credits of The Pink Panther (1963). The first of a series of theatrical cartoons based upon the pink character was titled The Pink Phink (1964), and it won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Subject. In 1969, he successfully transitioned the character to television as The Pink Panther Show. One of his most famous cartoons was a jazzy version of the original The Three Little Pigs titled Three Little Bops (1957). Freleng won several Oscars over the years, for the films Tweety Pie (1947), Speedy Gonzalez (1955), Birds Anonymous (1957), and Knighty Knight Bugs (1958).

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Tex Avery Era at Warners

The Classic Cartoon Characters

From 1935 onward until the early to mid-40s, Warner's director of animation Fred 'Tex' Avery (who was recruited from Lantz, see more below), was responsible for much of the manic, satirical, absurdist, extra-violent, crude characters and corny gags and slapstick of numerous productions. Avery's animations, often designed for adult audiences, were often noted for 'pushing the envelope' of acceptable taste. Their first animated star was Porky Pig (see Bob Clampett below). Avery's first WB cartoon was Gold Diggers of '49 (1935) starring Porky Pig.


Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were titles that directly copied competitor Disney's Silly Symphonies. Looney Tunes became known for closing with the familiar Porky Pig end tag: "That's All Folks!" In 1936, composer Carl W. Stalling (who was the musical director of Warners' animation department for over two decades) chose "Merrily We Roll Along" (used most often for Merrie Melodies) and "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" (used most often for Looney Tunes) as the distinctive theme songs for Warners' cartoons.


Along with his famed animating staff - Isadore "Friz" Freleng, Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones, Tex Avery created two of the greatest stars for Warners:

  • Daffy Duck
  • Bugs Bunny
Daffy Duck's first appearance was in Avery's Porky's Duck Hunt (1937), remade the next year as Porky's Hare Hunt (1938). The name Daffy Duck (derived from the name of famed baseball player Dizzy Dean's brother Daffy) was used for the first time in the title of Avery's second duck-hunt picture Daffy Duck and Egghead (1938) - this was also the first Daffy Duck cartoon in color. [Egghead was the prototype for the character of Elmer Fudd.] (Through most of these years, Mel Blanc provided the voice for all the starring WB characters: Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Speedy Gonzalez, and many others.)

A prototype of Bugs Bunny debuted with co-star Porky Pig in Porky's Hare Hunt (1938) as a wiseguy hare. Bugs first said his famous line ("Eh, what's up, Doc?" voiced by Mel Blanc) in his fourth, Oscar-nominated Tex Avery cartoon, A Wild Hare (1940) - the first true Bugs Bunny cartoon with Elmer Fudd as a rabbit hunter (and noted for Elmer's first use of his 'wabbit' voice). Bugs finally received his identifiable name by his fifth cartoon, Elmer's Pet Rabbit (1941).
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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Happy Harmonies



Meanwhile, at MGM by 1934, Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising created the Happy Harmonies series of cartoons, eventually producing a total of 36 films by 1938. The first few in the series were:




  • The Discontented Canary (1934)
  • The Old Pioneer (1934)
  • A Tale of the Vienna Woods (1934)
  • Bosko's Parlor Pranks (1934)
  • Toyland Broadcast (1934)
  • Hey-Hey Fever (1935)


The Birth of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies :

The Ascendancy of Warner Bros



The Bosko film was the impetus for the birth of Warners Bros.' Looney Tunes (see more below). The black and white Sinkin' in the Bathtub (1930), with Bosko in the starring role, was the earliest talking 'Looney Tune', released on May 30, 1930. It also included the song later popularized by Tiny Tim: "Tiptoe Through the Tulips." Following their success with Looney Tunes, Warners expanded with a lively new series called Merrie Melodies beginning in 1931 - the first of which featured a character named Foxy. The first Merrie Melodie was Lady, Play Your Mandolin! (1931), released on August 31, 1931, followed by Smile, Darn Ya, Smile! (1931) (animated by Isadore Freleng & Max Maxwell) and One More Time (1931). Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies were made with Harman-Ising until near mid-1933, when they split with Schlesinger.


Animators at Warner Bros. Studios began to challenge the style, form and creative content of Disney's pastoral animations in the early 1930s and after. Their cartoons were characterized as being more hip, adult-oriented, and urban than the comparable Disney cartoons of the same period.


From 1933-1935 , producer Leon Schlesinger began assembling more staff for Warners, including Bob Clampett and Disney animator Jack King (famous for The Three Little Pigs) to begin creating the official Looney Tunes series. The first Looney Tune was Buddy's Day Out (1933), featuring a Bosko-like character (subsequent Looney Tunes were just a series of Buddy pictures), and the first color (Cinecolor) WB Merrie Melodie was Honeymoon Hotel (1934).


Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones and other animators also joined the Warners staff - who would soon be creating some of the best-loved cartoon characters and animations of all time. Beginning in 1935, they worked in a run-down back lot building known as 'Termite Terrace.'


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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Leon Schlesinger

The Early Days at Warners

Warners' producer of cartoons, Leon Schlesinger (from 1930-1944) released a 5-minute pilot film named Bosko The TalkInk Kid (1929) - the first synchronized talking animated short/cartoon (as opposed to a cartoon with a soundtrack), with a little black boy character named Bosko who actually spoke dialogue. [The character of Bosko slightly resembled its major competitor at the time - Disney's Mickey Mouse, and many of the studios also had similar characters, such as Lantz' Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (see below), or Columbia's Krazy Kat.] At the end of the cartoon, Bosko went back into the inkwell and said, "So long, folks!" - the origination of the famous "That's all, folks!" end title. The Bosko pilot was drawn by two ex-Disney animators -- Hugh Harman (1903-1982) and Rudolf Ising (1903-1992), who began to make the first cartoons for Warner Bros.
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Fox's TerryToons Cartoons


The animation studio TerryToons was established in 1929 by newspaper cartoonist Paul Terry (1887-1971) and Frank Moser (1886-1974). They began producing cartoons by 1930 (until 1935) that were distributed by Fox Pictures. The titles of their first 25 films were all food items, such as: Caviar (1930), Pretzels (1930), Spanish Onions (1930), Indian Pudding (1930), Roman Punch (1930), and Hot Turkey (1930).


The most famous and valuable cartoon character from TerryToons was Mighty Mouse, a Superman-like mouse superhero that first debuted as a prototype "SuperMouse" in the short The Mouse of Tomorrow (1942). In a couple of years, the more recognizable Mighty Mouse was born and renamed in an appearance in The Champion of Justice (1944). He became known for his yellow costume, red cape, and his anthem song, with the words "Here I come to save the day!" Later, CBS-TV took the Mighty Mouse cartoons and packaged them into a very popular Saturday morning television show called Mighty Mouse Playhouse, beginning in 1955 and lasting for a record eleven years. Mighty Mouse was the first cartoon character ever to appear on Saturday mornings.


The other most famous of TerryToons characters were Heckle & Jeckle, identical black crows who first appeared in the mid-40s in The Talking Magpies (1946).


Columbia Pictures Cartoons


- Krazy Kat -

The character of Krazy Kat was featured in a long-running series of black and white cartoons produced by Columbia Pictures Corp. beginning in 1929 through to 1935 (in 1935 they became Technicolored), although the cartoon Kat had already been established as early as 1916 by International Film Service, Inc. with their Introducing Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse (1916). The first Krazy Kat cartoon was Ratskin (1929), followed by Canned Music (1929).
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Other Disney Cartoon Characters

The cartoon character Pluto was first introduced (unnamed) in 1930 in the Mickey Mouse cartoon The Chain Gang (1930) and named Rover in The Picnic (1930). It took another short before he attained his familiar name. Eventually, Lend a Paw (1942), with Pluto in the lead role, won an Oscar for Best Short Subject: Cartoon. Goofy debuted as an extra in Mickey's Revue (1932). [Recently, he was featured in his own full-length film, A Goofy Movie (1995).] A sailor-suited, web-footed Donald Duck was introduced in 1934 in the Silly Symphony The Wise Little Hen (1934) (with his brief opening words "Who--me? Oh no! I got a bellyache!"), and then in Orphan's Benefit (1934) (this also marked Donald's first appearance in a Mickey Mouse cartoon, and with Goofy - of course, this was the first time that all three characters appeared together). Mickey Mouse made his color film debut in The Band Concert (1935). Donald's female partner, Daisy (first named "Donna Duck") was introduced in Don Donald (1937).

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies

Beginning in the 1930s, feature films were often preceded by obligatory cartoon shorts, showcasing a rapidly-developing film technique. While working on the development of Mickey Mouse shorts, Disney also experimented with an ambitious, innovative series of animations with ground-breaking features called Silly Symphonies - a series of 75 shorts that lasted until 1939, and won a total of seven Academy Awards.



The first of Disney's Silly Symphonies was The Skeleton Dance (1929), released on August 22, 1929, a night-time graveyard dance of skeletons. Other Silly Symphonies cartoons followed in the same year:

  • El Terrible Toreador, September 7, 1929
  • Springtime, October 24, 1929
  • Hell's Bells, October 30, 1929
  • The Merry Dwarfs, December 16, 1929


The first animation in full three-color Technicolor was the 29th of Disney's short Silly Symphonies: Flowers and Trees (1932) with anthropomorphic characters - it produced Disney's first Academy Award, the first of Walt's 32 personal Academy Awards. The popular, influential Depression-Era fable The Three Little Pigs (1933) was released in 1933 with its optimistic hit theme song: "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" (based upon the tune of Happy Birthday). Innovations continued to be created in the short creative animations, The Band Concert (1935), Music Land (1935) and The Old Mill (1937) - the latter being the first to use the multi-plane camera to provide an illusion of depth. The following list summarizes all of Disney's 'Oscar'-winning Silly Symphonies:

  1. Flowers and Trees (1931/2)
  2. The Three Little Pigs (1932/3)
  3. The Tortoise and the Hare (1934)
  4. Three Orphan Kittens (1935)
  5. The Country Cousin (1936)
  6. The Old Mill (1937)
  7. The Ugly Duckling (1939)
Fleischer Studios' Two Feature Films



Two feature-length animations with whimsical characters and advanced animation techniques by the Fleischers deserve mention, although the Fleischers are better-remembered for their shorts than for their only two features:


(1) Gulliver's Travels (1939), an animated musical adaptation of Jonathan Swift's 1726 classic literary satire about war. The Fleischers, who were in direct competition with Disney, released this inferior attempt - it was the second American feature-length animated film ever, following (and patterned) after Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). (See below) The film was a two-time Academy Awards nominee: for Victor Young's Best Original Score, and for Best Song: Faithful Forever.


(2) the expensive, Technicolored Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941), advertised as the screen's first full-length musical comedy cartoon. (It was originally named after Frank Capra's earlier feature Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), and also given an alternate title: Hoppity Goes to Town.) Due to the film's financial failure, it was the last cartoon feature that Max and Dave released.

As a final footnote, Fleischer Studios, after restructuring as Famous Studios by Paramount, also produced cartoons based on Harvey Comics characters, including over two dozen Little Lulu (Moppet) cartoons in the 40s, and over 50 Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoons that stretched into the 1950s (Casper made his debut in Izzy Sparber's cartoon short The Friendly Ghost (1945)).
The Fleischer Brothers: Inventors, Cartoon Makers

At the same time, serious rivals to Disney's animation production came from the Fleischers (Max, Dave, Joe, and Lou). They were already making technical innovations that would revolutionize the art of animation. In 1917, Max Fleischer invented the rotoscope to streamline the frame-by-frame copying process - it was a device used to overlay drawings on live-action film. The Fleischers were also pioneering the use of 3-D animation landscapes, and produced the hour-long Einstein's Theory of Relativity (1923). They also made the first cartoon with a soundtrack - Song Car-Tune (1924-7) with sing-along cartoons.

[Little-known fact: Max Fleischer was the father of Richard Fleischer, the director of Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Fantastic Voyage (1966), Doctor Dolittle (1967) and Soylent Green (1973).]


KoKo the Clown

One of the Fleischers' first successful ventures occurred in 1919 with the premiere of the part live-action/part animation Out of the Inkwell series of shorts, featuring the animated KoKo the Clown character in a live-action world - one of the first animated characters.



Bimbo
From 1929-1932, their Talkartoons for Paramount starred a mouse-like character named Bimbo - who was soon relegated to a minor companion co-star with the Fleischer's next racy cartoon star.


Betty Boop

Max Fleischer was responsible for the provocative, adult-oriented, cartoon Betty Boop vamp-character, who always wore a strapless, thigh-high gown (and visible garter) and was based on flapper icon Clara Bow's 'It' Girl and Mae West. A prototype of the squeaky- and baby-voiced cartoon queen (voiced for most of the 30s by Mae Questel) was introduced in a Bimbo Talkartoon entitled Dizzy Dishes (1930) - with her appearing as a long-eared puppy dog! In the early cartoon Betty Co-Ed (1931), she was called Betty, and in a pre-Code Bimbo cartoon entitled Silly Scandals (1931) (the title spoofed Disney's Silly Symphonies), she was named Betty Boop for the first time (she sings You're Driving Me Crazy while her dress top keeps falling down). However, in Stopping the Show (1932), she appeared under her own credits banner for the first time (she had previously appeared only in Talkartoons and Screen Songs).


Betty Boop's voice was actually modeled on the voice of another actress, Helen Kane, who created a sensation on Broadway in 1928 with a "boop-oop-a-doop" rendition of the hit song I Wanna Be Loved by You. The cartoon character with a high baby voice and spit curls then appeared in a series of short cartoons and became the top Fleischer star, in Minnie the Moocher (1932), the risque Boop-Oop-A-Doop (1932), Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle (1932), the five-minute Snow White (1933) (with an appearance by Cab Calloway) - the first animated film based upon the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale, Betty Boop's Rise to Fame (1934), in her sole color cartoon Poor Cinderella (1934) - the Fleischer's first color cartoon with Betty sporting red hair, and the Oscar-nominated Riding the Rails (1938). She displayed a bit of breast and performed a sexy hula in the pre-code Betty Boop's Rise To Fame (1934). Unfortunately, the cute, titillating 'boop-oop-a-doop' Betty was destined to be censored with the advent of the enforceable, conservative and puritanical Hays Production Code in 1934. Drastic changes to her character after 1934 led to her demise by 1939, with her last cartoon, Yip Yip Yippy (1939). [During the 30s, Mae Questel recorded On the Good Ship Lollipop -- in Betty Boop's voice-- which sold more than 2 million copies.

Popeye

The Fleischers also obtained the rights to the tough, one-eyed, spinach-loving sailor Popeye with over-sized arms (who was introduced in January 1929 in creator Elzie C. Segar's "Thimble Theatre" newspaper comic strip published in the New York Journal for King Features Syndicate since 1919). Popeye became so popular in the comic strip that it was renamed "Thimble Theatre, Starring Popeye." Popeye first appeared on film alongside established cartoon-star Betty Boop in July, 1933 in Fleischers' Betty Boop cartoon titled Popeye the Sailor (1933), in which they dance the hula. Popeye's voice was provided by William Costello (better known as Red Pepper Sam) from 1933-35.


[After Costello was dismissed, Jack Mercer, who began his career as an artist at the cartoon studio, provided Popeye's voice and ad-libbed mutterings for the Fleischers until 1957, and various voices for the two Fleischer feature-length animations - see below.]


The same year in September, the first official Popeye cartoon, I Yam What I Yam was released - the first in a long series of animated shorts. Popeye's first Technicolor cartoon was the two-reel special release Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936), noted for its experimental multi-plane 3-D backgrounds, and for being the first Fleischer cartoon to be nominated for an Academy Award - Best Short Subject - Cartoon. The cartoon character became well-known for his theme song (excerpt below):
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man
I'm strong to the finich
'Cause I eats me spinach
I'm Popeye the Sailor Man...
The voices of Olive Oyl, Popeye's whiny girlfriend, and Sweet Pea were provided by Mae Questel. The character Wimpy provided the name for an unpopular type of British hamburger. By 1938, Popeye had replaced Mickey Mouse as the most popular cartoon character in America. Paramount's Famous Studios continued the series beginning in 1942, and Popeye's movie career lasted until 1957. Robert Altman directed the live-action film flop, Popeye (1980), starring Robin Williams as Popeye, Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl, and Ray Walston as Pappy, Popeye's father.
Superman

Dave and Max Fleischer, in an agreement with Paramount and DC Comics, also produced a series of seventeen Superman cartoons in the early 1940s. The first Superman short, Superman (1941), premiered in 1941, introduced the terms "faster than a speeding bullet" and "Look, up in the sky!". The most famous of the series was the second entry, The Mechanical Monsters (1941) with the super-hero battling giant flying robots - and marking a redesigned Lois Lane and the first time Superman would change into his costume in a phonebooth. Also notable was The Bulleteers (1942).

The Fleischers were responsible for the first ten Superman cartoons (up through Japoteurs (1942)), with the remaining shorts produced by Paramount's Famous Studios during 1942-43. [The recognizable theme song for the series was incorporated into John Williams' score for Superman: The Movie (1978), and the cartoons were referenced in The Iron Giant (1999).]

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Debut of Mickey Mouse


In 1928, Disney Studios' chief animator Ub Iwerks (1901-1971) developed a new character from a figure known as Mortimer Mouse, a crudely-drawn or sketched, rodent-like 'Mickey Mouse' - slightly similar to Felix the Cat. [Mickey Mouse was never a comic strip character before he became a cartoon star.] The first Mickey Mouse cartoon was released on May 15, 1928: Plane Crazy (1928) in which Mickey, while impressing Minnie, imitated aviator Charles Lindbergh. The second was Steamboat Willie (1928), first released (on a limited basis) on July 29, 1928, with Mickey as a roustabout on Pegleg Pete's river steamer, but without his trademark white gloves. The third was The Gallopin' Gaucho (1928) released on August 2, 1928. (These early films were soon re-worked and re-released with sound - with electrifying results.)


To help make Mickey stand out from other cartoon characters at the dawn of the talkies, the 7-minute Steamboat Willie (1928) was re-released on November 18, 1928 with sound and premiered at the Colony Theatre in New York - it was the first cartoon with synchronized sound and is considered Mickey Mouse's screen debut performance and birthdate. Animated star Mickey (with Minnie) was redrawn with shoes and white, four-fingered gloves. [The character was a take-off based upon Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill (1928). ] It was a landmark film and a big hit - leading to many more Mickey Mouse films during the late 1920s and 1930s. Strangely, Mickey's first sound cartoon didn't include Mickey's voice -- he didn't speak until his ninth short, The Karnival Kid (1929) when he said the words: "Hot dogs!" [Walt's voice was used for Mickey.] Walt Disney was fast becoming the most influential pioneer in the field of character-based cel animation.
Early Walt Disney

A classic animator in the early days of cinema was Walt Disney, originally an advertising cartoonist who initially experimented with combining animated and live-action films. The very first films he made, around 1920, were short cartoons called Newman Laugh-O-Grams. His first successful silent cartoons (from 1923-1927) were dozens of shorts called Alice Comedies (or Alice in Cartoonland) that debuted in 1924 with Alice's Day at Sea (1924).

Disney's Alice cartoons placed a live-action title character into an animated Wonderland world. Oswald the Rabbit was Disney's first successful animal star in a 26-cartoon series distributed by Universal beginning in 1927. Oswald appeared in a number of cartoon shorts, such as: Trolley Troubles (1927) and Poor Papa (1927). Disney produced about two dozen of the silent, black and white Oswald cartoons from 1927-1928 until giving up the character to Walter Lantz and moving onto Mickey Mouse (looking like Oswald with his ears cut off) in 1928.

Felix the Cat: First Appearance in 1919


The first animated character that attained superstar status (and was anthropomorphic) during the silent era was the mischievous Felix the Cat, in Pat Sullivan Studios. He was inspired by Kipling's The Cat That Walked By Himself in the Just So Stories published in 1902. Originated by young animator Otto Messmer, the (unnamed) cat's first two cartoons were the five-minute Feline Follies (1919) and Musical Mews (1919), when Felix was known only as "Master Tom." Feline Follies was a segment of the Paramount Magazine, a semi-weekly compilation of short film segments that included animated cartoons.


By the third Felix cartoon, The Adventures of Felix (1919), Felix took his permanent name. For the first few years, the Felix cartoons were distributed by Paramount Pictures, and then by M.J. Winkler. Messmer directed and animated more than 175 Felix cartoons in the years 1919 through 1929. Felix was the first character to be widely merchandised. The last Felix the Cat cartoon, The Last Life (1928), was due to the advent of the talkies and the success of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse. Messmer continued with his comic strip (begun in 1923) until 1966.
Winsor McCay ("America's Greatest Cartoonist")


New York Herald comic-strip animator and sketch artist Winsor McCay (1869-1934) produced a string of comic strips from 1904-1911, his three best being Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, Little Sammy Sneeze, and Little Nemo in Slumberland (from October 15, 1905 to July 23, 1911). Although McCay wasn't the first to create a cartoon animation, he nonetheless helped to define the new industry. He was the first to establish the technical method of animating graphics. His first animation attempt used the popular characters from his comic strip (and became part of his own vaudeville act): Little Nemo in Slumberland (1911) (with 4,000 hand-drawn frames), followed by How a Mosquito Operates (1912) (with 6,000 frames).


His first prominent, successful and realistic cartoon character or star was a brontosaurus named Gertie in Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) (with 10,000 drawings, backgrounds included), again presented as part of his act. In fact, McCay created the "interactive" illusion of walking into the animation by first disappearing behind the screen, reappearing on-screen!, stepping on Gertie's mouth, and then climbing onto Gertie's back for a ride - an astonishing feat! Some consider it the first successful, fully animated cartoon - it premiered in February 1914 at the Palace Theatre in Chicago.


Soviet animator (W)ladislaw Starewicz created the first 3-D, stop-motion narratives in two early films with animated insects: The Grasshopper and the Ant (1911) and The Cameraman's Revenge (1911). And John Randolph Bray's first animated film, The Artist's Dream(s) (1913) (aka The Dachshund and the Sausage), the first animated cartoon made in the U.S. by modern techniques was the first to use 'cels' - transparent drawings laid over a fixed background.
ANIMATED FILMS

Animated Films are ones in which individual drawings, paintings, or illustrations are photographed frame by frame (stop-frame cinematography). Usually, each frame differs slightly from the one preceding it, giving the illusion of movement when frames are projected in rapid succession at 24 frames per second. The earliest cinema animation was composed of frame-by-frame, hand-drawn images. When combined with movement, the illustrator's two-dimensional static art came alive and created pure and imaginative cinematic images - animals and other inanimate objects could become evil villains or heroes.

Animations are not a strictly-defined genre category, but rather a film technique, although they often contain genre-like elements. Animation, fairy tales, and stop-motion films often appeal to children, but it would marginalize animations to view them only as "children's entertainment." Animated films are often directed to, or appeal most to children, but easily can be enjoyed by all. See section on children's-family films. Please see this website's related section on Visual and Special Effects Milestones in Cinematic History.

Early Animation:

The predecessor of early animation was the newspaper comic strips of the 1890s. Historically and technically, the first short, animated film (in other words, the first fully-animated film ever made) was Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906) by newspaper cartoonist J. Stuart Blackton, one of the co-founders of the Vitagraph Company.

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The underground

Alongside the Hollywood tradition, there has also been an underground film tradition of low budget, often self-produced works created outside of the studio system and without the involvement of labor unions.
Machinima and The Long Tail

One major new development in the early 21st century is the development of systems that make it much easier for regular people to write, shoot, edit and distribute their own movies without the large aparatus of the film industry. This phenomenon and its repercussions are outlined in Chris Anderson's theory, The Long Tail. One of the new systems for this kind of filmmaking is a new process called machinima, which is best exemplified by the comedy series Red vs. Blue and the action/drama series The Codex.
The new millennium

Peter Greenaway's The Tulse Luper Suitcases takes advantage of new media and high definition technology. The documentary film also rose as a commercial genre for perhaps the first time, with the success of films such as March of the Penguins and Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11. A new genre is created with Martin Kunert and Eric Manes' Voices of Iraq, when 150 inexpensive DV cameras are distributed across Iraq, transforming ordinary people into collaborative filmmakers. The success of Gladiator lead to a revival of interest in epic cinema. Home theatre systems became increasingly sophisticated, as did some of the special edition DVDs designed to be shown on them. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was released on DVD in the theatrical versions and in special edition versions intended only for the home cinema audience.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The 1990s: technical advances

The early 1990s saw the rise of a commercially successful independent cinema in the United States. Although the box office was increasingly dominated by effects-heavy films such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) or Titanic (1997), films like Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies and videotape (1989) and Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) enjoyed significant commercial success both at the cinema and on home video.

The major studios would begin to create their own "independent" production companies to finance and produce such films. One of the most successful independents of the 1990s, Miramax Films, was bought by Disney the year before the release of Tarantino's runaway hit Pulp Fiction in 1994. The same year marked the beginning of film and video distribution online. Animated films aimed at family audiences also regained their popularity, with Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. 1995 saw the first feature length computer-animated feature with Pixar's Toy Story.

In the 1990s, cinema began the process of making another transition, from physical film stock to digital cinema technology. Meanwhile, in the home video realm, the DVD would become the new standard for watching movies after their standard theatrical releases.

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The '80s: sequels, blockbusters and videotape

The shift that occurred in the 1980s from seeing movies in a theater to watching videos on a VCR, is a move close to the original concepts of Thomas Edison. In the early part of that decade, the movie studios tried legal action to ban home ownership of VCRs as a violation of copyright, which proved unsuccessful. That proved fortunate, however, as the sale and rental of their movies on home video became a significant source of revenue for the movie companies.

The Lucas-Spielberg combine would dominate Hollywood cinema for much of the 1980s, and lead to much imitation. Two follow-ups to Star Wars, three to Jaws, and three Indiana Jones films helped to make sequels to successful films more of an expectation than ever before. Lucas also launched THX Ltd, a division of Lucasfilm in 1982 [2], while Spielberg enjoyed one of the decade's biggest successes in E.T. the same year. American independent cinema struggled more during the decade, although Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980), After Hours (1985), and The King of Comedy (1983) helped to establish him as one of the most critically acclaimed American film makers of the era.

British cinema was given a boost during the early 1980s by the arrival of David Puttnam's company Goldcrest Films. The films Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, The Killing Fields and A Room with a View appealed to a middlebrow audience which was increasingly being ignored by the major Hollywood studios.

While the 1970s had helped to define the modern blockbuster motion picture, the way Hollywood released its films would now change. Films, for the most part, would premiere in a wider number of theatres, although, to this day, some movies still premiere using the route of the limited/roadshow release system. Against some expectations, the rise of the multiplex cinema did not allow less mainstream films to be shown, but simply allowed the major blockbusters to be given an even greater number of screenings. However, films that had been overlooked in cinemas were increasingly being given a second chance on home video and later DVD.

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The 'New Hollywood' or Post-classical cinema

'The New Hollywood' and 'post-classical cinema' are terms used to describe the period following the decline of the studio system in the 50s and 60s and the end of the production code. It is defined by a greater tendency to dramatize such things as sexuality and violence, and by the rising importance of blockbuster movies.

'Post-classical cinema' is a term used to describe the changing methods of storytelling in the New Hollywood. It has been argued that new approaches to drama and characterization played upon audience expectations acquired in the classical/Golden Age period: chronology may be scrambled, storylines may feature "twist endings", and lines between the antagonist and protagonist may be blurred. The roots of post-classical storytelling may be seen in film noir, in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and in Hitchcock's storyline-shattering Psycho.

The 1970s saw the emergence of a new generation of American film makers, like Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Brian de Palma. This coincided with the increasing popularity of the auteur theory in film literature and the media, a development which gave these directors far greater control over their projects than would have been possible in earlier eras. This led to some enormous critical and commercial successes, like Coppola's The Godfather films, Spielberg's Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and George Lucas's Star Wars. It also, however, led to some inevitable failures, including Peter Bogdanovich's At Long Last Love and Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate. The latter almost single-handledly brought down its backer United Artists following its release in 1980.

The disaster of Heaven's Gate is generally seen as marking the end of the "New Hollywood". The phenomenal success in the 1970s of Jaws and Star Wars in particular, lead to the rise of the modern blockbuster, with the Hollywood studios increasingly intent on producing a smaller number of very high budget films with massive marketing and promotional backing. This trend had already been foreshadowed by the commercial success of earlier films such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno.

The mid-1970s had also seen a big increase in adult cinemas and the legal production of hardcore pornographic films in the U.S. Deep Throat and its star Linda Lovelace became something of a phenomenon and lead to a spate of similar sex films throughout the decade. These would finally die out with the introduction of VCR technology in the 1980s.

The early '70s also alerted English language audiences to the new West German cinema, with Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wim Wenders among its leading exponents.
The end of the decade saw the first major international interest in Australian cinema. Peter Weir's films Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave and Fred Schepisi's The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith gained critical acclaim, while George Miller's violent futuristic actioner Mad Max was a substantial hit in 1979 and marked the beginning of Australian attempts to target the international market.

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