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.
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