Monthly Archives: April 2010

Groucho Meets Ward

Here is a clip from You Bet Your Life featuring Groucho Marx meeting one of Disney’s 9 old men, animator Ward Kimball. Here Ward talks about the great love of his life… his train set.

Oh, Ward knows all about Pinnochio too, since he animated Jimminy Cricket in that film.


Dumbo

Directed by Ben Sharpsteen
Produced by Walt Disney
Written by Novel Helen Aberson & Harold Pearl
Story Otto Englander, Joe Grant & Dick Huemer
Narrated by John McLeish
Starring Edward Brophy
Herman Bing
Margaret Wright
Sterling Holloway
Cliff Edwards
Music by Frank Churchill & Lance Husher
Studio Walt Disney Productions
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date October 23, 1941
Running time 64 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Dumbo is a very easy film to like. It is not as ambitious as the other films that Disney were making in the 30s and 40s and does not have any great allegories about human nature or feature any battles between good and evil. The animation as a whole is not cutting edge although it does contain one of the most brilliant and surrealistic pieces of animation ever put to film. Overall it is a very simple film with a few great songs that is hugely entertaining.

For those who don’t know, Dumbo is the story of a baby circus elephant, who is taken from his protective mother and then teased because of his oversized ears. He tries to fit into the circus but does not find his niche until the end of the film when it is discovered that his ears can be used as wings and that he can fly. At time the film feels more like an extended short film than a feature, and as it only goes for just on an hour it never overstays its welcome.

One thing that I have discovered is that I have become such an animation nerd that I am almost able to pick out which animator animated which scenes in this film. I am not really that much of an expert and there are others who can easily recognise the quirks of each artist, but I do now recognise the animation style of Ward Kimball and can ID some of his scenes. (His style is a bit more cartoony that the other animators. He is responsible for both Casey Jr. and the crows.) However it is Bill Tytla’s animation in Dumbo that draws the most acclaim.

The best part of the film is of course the ‘pink elephants on parade’ scene. This is a surrealistic, Dali-esque piece of animation that seems quite out of place in such a conventional animated movie. It is brilliant and quite ahead of its time. I wonder if this was a bi-product of Salvador Dali being at Disney as Walt was trying to collaborate on Destino at around this time. I know that in the earlier 40s Dali was influencing other animators at other studios; most notably Bob Clampett (Porky in Wackyland, The Big Snooze) at Warner Bros. but this is a lot wilder than that.

Another memorable scene come just after ‘pink elephants’’ when Dumbo and Timothy Mouse meet the crows. This is a scene where modern Disney would add ‘This is a product of its time!’ as the scene is a little politically incorrect. Still it does feature the song ‘When I See A Elephant Fly’ which is catchy and clever. Frank Churchill won an Academy Award for best song with Baby Mine from Dumbo.

I watched Dumbo last night on the Disney Channel instead of on DVD, which I do own. I was surprised to see such an old product on Disney Channel as they seem to be focussed solely on current tween shows. The film was peppered with commercial breaks for these shows which all seem to be full of annoyingly hyperactive teenagers that seem like they are high on ecstasy. ‘They are like really annoying.’ The main ad was for Jonus, who’s acting skills seem to be as good as their music. Still I guess when I was a kid I watched a lot of annoying, pretentious crap so I should not really comment.

The 70th Anniversary Edition DVD of Dumbo (which will be the fourth time it has been released on DVD) is due out soon. It will also be available on Blu Ray for the first time.


Coraline

Directed by Henry Selick
Produced by Claire Jennings
Written by Henry Selick (Screenplay)
Neil Gaiman (Novel)
Starring Dakota Fanning
Teri Hatcher
Jennifer Saunders
Dawn French
Keith David
John Hodgman
Robert Bailey Jr.
Ian McShane
Music by Bruno Coulais & They Might Be Giants
Cinematography Pete Kozachik
Editing by Christopher Murrie
Studio Laika
Distributed by Focus Features & Universal Pictures International
Release date February 6, 2009
Running time 100 minutes
Country United States
Language English

I love stop motion animation. I think that it is fascinating to think that the animators are able to painstakingly pose and film lifeless puppets so that on film the look like they are real living things. It is really quite amazing and I think that I appreciate this form of animation even more than the traditional ink and cell form that was the dominant form of animation until a decade ago. (I hope that all makes sense!) 2009 saw a bit of a renaissance for stop motion animation with both Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and this movie, Coraline, being nominated for the Academy Award for best animated film. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see Mr. Fox, but I have seen Coraline and think that it is very good.

The film is at times a little dark and really young kids may find it a little scary. I suppose that this perhaps to be expected as it is directed by Henry Selick, who previously directed Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and James And The Giant Peach for Disney and is based on a book by Neil Gaiman.

The plot involves Coraline, whose parents are too wrapped up in their own lives to take much notice of her. They’ve just moved to a new house where Coraline discovers a secret door to an alternate reality and her other family. This new family are just like her own but perfect, except for their button eyes. They cater to Coralline’s every whim, especially her Other Mother but things start change after Coraline wishes that she could stay with her other family forever. Upon hearing this the Other Mother states that if Coraline really wants to stay she should become just like them and allow her to sew buttons onto Coraline’s eyes. Naturally the thought of this revolts Coraline who then discovers that the Other Mother is really a monster.

The film is particularly creepy in parts, especially the character of the ‘other Wybie’, the other world’s doppelgänger of Coralline’s friend. Unlike the real Wybie the other one has had his lips sewn together so that he doesn’t speak. It is in my mind really amazing how this lifeless puppet can express so much emotion without speaking a single word. He does look as though his soul has been tortured whenever he’s on screen and expresses such a great mix of defiance and defeat that it is a great credit to the director and the puppet makers. It is here that it is easy to forget that this is a stop motion film and has not created using computer generated graphics. I can only imagine how painstaking the film-making process must have been to make the film this good.

There is but one criticism that I can level at the film and that is that the animation is not as smooth in some places as it should be. In a few scenes, mostly at the beginning of the film, the animation looks a little jerky, as if there are additional frames added to the film. I guess this was done to enhance the 3D version of the film but as I was watching the 2D version it just made the film a little jerky in places.

The DVD contains both the 2D and 3D version of the film and comes with those funky red/blue glasses that people in the 1950s used to use when watching 3D films, not the more modern Roy Orbison glasses that are used today. I still think that 3D is a gimmick and will die out unless some poindexter can invent a way to watch these films without the silly, uncomfortable glasses. It also doesn’t help when today’s cutting edge 3D filmmakers use cheap tricks like having objects fly at the camera for no reason at all  just because it is a 3D film. This sort of gimmick becomes boring after a while and is not so cutting edge, as the same thing used to be done in the 50s (House Of Wax’s scene with the spruiker batting the ball at the camera!!!). Anyway the rumour is that 3D is just a fad designed to get cinemas to update their projection equipment to digital and that in a few years it will go the same way as the first 3D era in the 1950s. I still laugh at the thought of people buying 3D TVs and hearing Gerry Harvey say that they are the way of the future. Sorry but I cannot really see people sitting around watching the TV with those ridiculous glasses on. 3D TVs will be just like those internet refrigerators that people like Gerry Harvey were predicting that we’d all have a decade ago.

After that rant all I can say is that  Coraline is a very good film and was worthy of its Academy Award nomination. It is a little scary in parts but it is very well made and enjoyable.


I’m Back!!!

I will be back this week again doing this stupid blog. I won’t be trying to kill myself with the stupid schedule I had before my hiatus by trying to post a movie review every day. Maybe I will just do two or three a week. See, I told you that I would eventually get bored of this thing but at least I am not completely giving up on it. By the way, if anyone has any requests of movies they want me to review, feel free to tell me if/when you leave a comment. More than likely I will ignore your request but I do enjoy the feedback. Anyway I do have the next movie that I want to watch all worked out and I will try to get that review up over the weekend. For those wanting to know what it is, you’ll have to wait, but as a clue I will tell you that it came out in the last twelve months and is animated, but is not computer animated. That should narrow things down a little bit!


Jimmy Stewart on the Dean Martin Show

Here’s a clip of Jimmy Stewart on the Dean Martin show. I am surprised that Dean wasn’t playing drunk on this night, as he usually did when he was on TV in the 60s and 70s.

Be warned, there are some syncing issues with the vid.


Dean Martin Roasts – Jimmy Stewart

Thought that this would be something interesting. Saw it on Youtube this evening. It’s pretty funny stuff that you don’t see nowadays.

Milton Berle

Henry Fonda

George Burns

Orson Welles

Gladys Ormphby

Lawanda Page

Rich Little

Foster Brooks & (of course) Don Rickles


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