"What's New" Archives: July-August 2006
August 4, 2006:
BLOGHZ: I'm leaving town tomorrow for a couple of weeks,
so the site will be quiet again for at least that long. It bothers
me a little to be "off the air" for such long stretches,
and I've had spurts where I more or less tried to make up for my
silences by posting almost every day. But I've finally admitted
to myself that this site isn't a blog, and I don't want to make
it one. As much as I enjoy visiting some blogs almost every dayMichael
Mayerson, to name a few of my favoritesI don't have any
desire to emulate them. I suppose I spent too many years working
for a daily newspaper to want to feel the lash of a daily deadline
again. An RSS feed is the obvious answerso that people who
like the site will know when I've posted something newand
I hope to be providing one by the end of the summer.
DISNEY: The summer isn't over, but it's clear that Cars
is going to struggle to finish ahead of The Incredibles at
the box office. Pixar thus continues its slow descent from Finding
Nemo's peak. Moreover, the marketplace is cluttered now with
computer-animated features of questionable merit artistically and
financially, and Pixar's superior films can't help but be damaged
by association, however unfairly. (I haven't seen the likes of The
Ant Bully or Barnyard, and don't plan to, but from all
appearances they're today's equivalents of the awful imitation-Disney
features of the nineties, the films made by people like Don Bluth
and Richard Rich when Disney's success briefly encouraged other
studios to dabble in animation.) Further evidence, I suppose, that
Robert Iger's purchase of Pixar was perfectly timedfor Steve
Jobs, but not for Disney.
It's hard to quarrel with Iger's conception of the company, though;
he believes that Disney has to get animation right if the company
as a whole is to do well, and I think he's correct. Commiting Disney
to a revival of traditional hand-drawn animation is a brave and
inspiring thing to have done. It's in the execution of his good
big ideas that he may falter, as in paying too much for Pixar and
in bringing back the tired Clements-Musker team to revive hand-drawn
animation. Iger may be Disney's equivalent of Gerald Levin at Time
Warner, a man whose vision of the future was in some ways inspired
but who, as it turned out, didn't know how to get his company from
here to there.
August 3, 2006:
BREAKING SILENCE: I've had to neglect the Web site for a
month while I reviewed the copy-edited manuscript of The Animated
Man: A Life of Walt Disney, answering the editor's questions
and making quite a few revisions of my own. What I sent back to
University of California Press earlier this week amounted to yet
another version of the book, my third. It's turning out well, I
think. I'll see page proofs in October, and the book should be in
print sometime next spring.
LT ON DVD: As best I can tell, the contents of the fourth "Golden
Collection" of Looney Tunes on DVD have not been announced
yet, but I don't think I'm breaking any confidences when I say that
I've done commentaries for three Frank Tashlin cartoons from the
thirties. My commentaries on the first three sets have been attacked
frequently as dry and boring, and I've taken those criticisms to
heart. I've listened to a lot of other commentaries, in the hope
of improving mine, and these are the lessons I've applied:
Laugh maniacally throughout the cartoon. Even when nothing
funny is happening on the screen. Or maybe especially when nothing
funny is happening on the screen.
Use expressions like "way cool" and "holy crap"
whenever possible. They're extremely useful filler when you
want to keep your mouth moving but your mind is taking a break.
Share the mike with a veteran of the "Golden Age."
I've used clips from old interviews in earlier commentaries,
of course, but there's nothing like having a real person at your
elbow while the cartoon is running. People who worked on Frank Tashlin's
cartoons seventy years ago are in short supply now, but I was lucky
to find Alvin "Stubby" Karpis, who worked as an ink and
paint girl at the Schlesinger studio for three weeks in 1937, until
someone noticed he was a man. Stubby is 97 now and has trouble remembering
to take his medicine, but his memories of his Schlesinger days are
razor-sharp, as this exchange demonstrates:
Barrier: Holy crap, Stubby, that animation is way cool.
That's gotta be Rod Scribner.
Stubby: Yep, that's Rod, for sure.
Barrier: Wait, wait! I was wrong! That looks like Glen Keane's
stuff to me! Holy crap, I never dreamed that Glen was working at
Schlesinger's in 1936!
Stubby: Yep, that's Glen, for sure.
God bless Warner Home Video for preserving these precious memories.
Tell outrageously funny stories. I've tried to do a little
of that in past commentaries, but I've realized I never went far
enough. In one new commentary, for example, I tell how Leon Schlesinger
found Frank Tashlin getting it on with an ink and paint girl (not
Stubby) on top of Leon's desk. Leon yells at him, "What the
hell do you think you're doing, dipping your pen in company inker!"
Never heard that story before? That's because I made it up. Cartoons
are (1) fictional, and (2) funny, and (3) entertaining, so commentaries
should be the same, right? Right.
I hope the fans who've complained about my commentaries will appreciate
my effort to meet them more than halfway. And I hope all the people
who've accused me of hating cartoons will believe me when I say
that I really do love cartoons. It's cartoon fans I can't
July 6, 2006:
SIZE: I don't much like the idea of turning this site into
a running commentary on what's wrong with Cars,
but the opportunities for such commentary are simply too great.
A visitor to the site has pointed out yet another problem with the
film: the visual monotony that's inevitable when most of the characters
are approximately the same size. Cars has a few supporting
characters that are exceptionally big or small, but for the most
part the vehicles on the screen, and all of the lead characters,
are sedans that don't vary much in their basic dimensions, or, for
that matter, their basic appearance.
That put me to thinking about the enormous variations in size that
contribute to the visual interest, and thus the appeal, of so many
animated featuresPinocchio, Dumbo, Cinderella,
Alice, Dalmatians, Jungle Book, just to list
some of the most obvious of the Disney films. In Pixar's features,
too, variations in size have been exploited effectively; Monsters,
Inc. comes immediately to mind. Not only do differences in size
contribute to visual interest, but I think they pose stimulating
challenges to the filmmakers, too; scenes have to be staged and
animated in a way that takes advantage of those differences rather
than trips over them. If Pinocchio is a more cinematically
sophisticated film than Snow White, that's surely because
it had to be, given the challenge posed by the tremendous range
in the characters' sizes, all the way from Jiminy Cricket to Monstro
July 5, 2006:
CARS AGAIN: In response to my May 29 posting about the nature
of some of the backgrounds in Carsare they truly computer-generated,
as my review says, or
have traditionally painted backgrounds somehow been matted in?I
received this message from Floyd Norman, the veteran artist and
writer whose career began at the Disney studio when Walt himself
was still in charge:
"Concerning your discussion about digital painting or matte
painting in Pixar's Cars, I'm almost certain we were looking
at nothing less than digital painted backgrounds.
"My wife, Adrienne is a digital illustrator for Disney, and
she says she could easily paint those country and cityscapes in
the computer. My wife is a traditionally trained painter who has
made the transition to digital, and I must confess that she is an
amazing painter even using digital tools.
"I worked at Disney when guys like Peter Ellenshaw and Allen
Malley were painting on glass. We've come a long way."
That sounds right to me. Incidentally, Floyd posts as "Mr.
Fun" at the Animation
Nation online forum. His posts (like some recent ones on The
Sword in the Stone) are always worth seeking out. His patience
and generosity are remarkable, as is his knowledge of the animation