Category Archives: Animation

Toy Story

Directed by John Lasseter
Produced by Ralph Guggenheim & Bonnie Arnold
Written by John Lasseter
Pete Docter
Andrew Stanton
Joe Ranft
Joss Whedon
Joel Cohen
Alec Sokolow
Starring
Tom Hanks
Tim Allen
Don Rickles
Jim Varney
Wallace Shawn
John Ratzenberger
Annie Potts
John Morris
Laurie Metcalf
Erik von Detten
Music by Randy Newman
Editing by Robert Gordon & Lee Unkrich
Studio Pixar Animation Studios
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures
Release date November 22, 1995
Running time 81 minutes
Country United States
Language English
It’s hard to believe that Toy Story is 15 years old. Woody, Buzz and the gang are still fresh after all that time. Now with Toy Story 3 being released today I thought that I would relive the first two adventures.

Toy Story was the first feature-length CGI animated film and unlike Dreamworks’ Shrek, it doesn’t feel dated at all. I think that this is the great thing about Pixar in that they don’t just concentrate on pop culture references or fart jokes (unlike Dreamworks) but actually create characters that an audience can care for and a story that is engaging. It’s a bit hard to review Toy Story as it is a film that almost everyone has seen and I am sure enjoys. There is a lot of great humour and the characters, such as Woody, have real emotions that we can really empathise with.


Gay Purr-ee

Directed by Abe Levitow
Produced by Henry G. Saperstein & Lee Orgel
Written by Joan Janis & Chuck Jones
Starring Judy Garland
Robert Goulet
Mel Blanc
Music by Harold Arlen & E.Y. “Yip” Harburg
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date October 24, 1962 (USA)
Running time 85 mins.
Language English

This is a film that I have wanted to see for a very long time. It was made by the famed UPA cartoons studio, which modernised animation in the 1950s and usurped Disney’s position as the industries leading light. They also took home several Oscars in that decade and created Mr Magoo and Gerald McBoing Boing (with Dr Seuss), but by this films release in 1962 their light had well and truly faded. The studios guiding light, John Hubley had left in the 50s and by 1959 UPA had lost their theatrical distribution contract with Columbia.

This film was also also responsible for Chuck Jones being fired by Warner Bros. Jones had moonlighted for UPA in writing this film, which Warner’s did not appreciate as they had an exclusivity contract with him. Even though Jones is only credited as writing this film some of the character designs, particularly that of Mewsette, look as though they are his style. Many of his team of animators from Warner Bros. were also involved in this project.

There is a bit of other star power in this film. Three decades before it became trendy for major Hollywood stars to do the voices in animated films Judy Garland did the voice of Mewsette. Robert Goulet and Red Buttons play the other leading characters Juane Tom and Robespierre while Paul Frees who was no stranger to voicing animated characters, played the part of Meowrice. The songs in the film which are quite catchy were written by the team of Arlen and Harburg who a couple of decades earlier wrote the songs for another Judy Garland vehicle, The Wizard Of Oz.

The film is quite entertaining but not quite as good as the fare that Disney was making at that time. There is a bit of the UPA pretensions that they were making art rather than making a cartoon, but these are actually enjoyable. The backgrounds are really nice to look at and the little lecture on the different artists from the turn of last century was kind of cool too.


Song Of The South

Directed by Harve Foster (live action)
Wilfred Jackson (animation)
Produced by Walt Disney
Written by Dalton S. Reymond, Morton Grant, Maurice Rapf, Bill Peet, Ralph Wright & George Stallings
Joel Chandler Harris (original stories)
Starring Ruth Warrick
Bobby Driscoll
James Baskett
Luana Patten
Lucile Watson
Hattie McDaniel
Glenn Leedy
Johnny Lee (voice)
Nick Stewart (voice)
Music by Daniele Amfitheatrof, Paul J. Smith (score), Edward Plumb (orchestration)
Cinematography Gregg Toland
Editing by William M. Morgan
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Release date(s) November 12, 1946 (U.S. release)
Running time 94 minutes
Language English

Usually when you think of movies that have been banned the name Walt Disney doesn’t spring to mind. Most Disney films are sweet as saccharine but there is indeed one Disney classic that has been banned for the last two decades and has caused more controversy and differing opinions than any other film that I know of. There are many theories as to why Disney has imposed a ban on this film being released onto DVD  and I really don’t understand most of the speculation. Then again I am neither an American or an African-American and am not fully aware of the issues involved and so can only judge the film on its entertainment value and not its cultural or racial undertones. I will say that I don’t understand why a film such as Birth Of A Nation can be freely available to buy on DVD and shown (as of last Saturday on ABC2) on television yet Song Of The South is not, other than the fact that some people automatically associate the Disney brand name with entertainment for children. (Won’t we think of the children!)

Having watched Song Of The South I have to say that I really do wonder what all the fuss is about. I don’t think that it is blatantly racist at all. I know that the argument that African-Americans who don’t like the film use it that the film is set just after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery and that the black people seem to be happy to work for the whites and that their characters are mere stereotypes but then again that’s the way Hollywood does things. It could also be argued, I guess, that Disney’s films are set in an alternate reality where live action humans and cartoon characters interact. Everyone is happy in the Disneyverse despite what is happening in the real world. However the whites and blacks in this film are not equals and there is a clear line of power that is implied here. The black people are clearly subservant to the whites, except in the eyes of the children who treat everyone with respect.

One thing that I think is the real shame of this film not being able to be viewed is that now no one gets to see Jame Baskett’s performance as Uncle Remus. His performance exudes a warmth that is contagious. His role is also important in another way in that this would have been one of (if not the) first times that a black man had the main role in a film not targeted specifically to a black audience.

I think that Song Of The South is a typical Disney live action film in much the same vein as they would make a decade later, focussing on the lives of some kids and the trials that they have to face. The three animated scenes featuring Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear are brilliantly done too. I don’t think that it makes any sense Banning Song Of The South, especially if more blatantly racist films are freely available to be released onto DVD or shown on TV. Then again this is my opinion.


Shrek Forever After vs Toy Story 3

This month the two biggest animated feature films of the year are set to be released, with Shrek Forever After and Toy Story 3 coming out.I wonder which of these two films will come out on top in the battle of the animated movies. I personally think that Toy Story will easily be the better film but it will be interesting to see which one wins the battle of the box office.

Shrek Forever After

The last Shrek movie was a major disappointment, it was so boring that I almost fell asleep in the cinema watching it. In fact it became everything that the original Shrek film parodied, it was slow and dull, while the animation in all the Shrek films have been crude to say the least.

The biggest problem with Shrek the Third was the green ogre himself. He was just so moody and no fun at all that the only enjoyable parts of the film were the scenes in which he was not featured, where Puss, Donkey, Ginge and Pinocchio stole the show.

From what I’ve seen of the new trailers it looks as though Shrek has ditched the stupid baby ogres that sucked so much life out of the last film. The film looks to be an improvement but I don’t think it can live up to how good the original movie was.

Toy Story 3

It’s been eleven years since the last Toy Story film. In that time Pixar’s main rival Dreamworks has released four Shrek movies, Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon. Pixar’s parent company Disney has gone back to making traditional 2D animated films after a lot of forgettable CGI films, while Pixar has made several well received films such as Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wall E and Up!. They also made Cars which while it may have been Pixar’s only critical failure, still has managed to make lots of money through an excess of merchandise. (I suppose Pixar has had to make up for the lack of merchandise that was available to support Up!)

Having seen the trailer it seems that there are more laughs in Toy Story 3 than in Shrek 4. I am really looking forward to this in a couple of weeks time.

My favourite Toy Story 3 trailer is the Groovin’ With Ken featurette.


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.


The Band Concert

“A Mickey Mouse Cartoon”

Characters
Mickey Mouse
Donald Duck
Goofy (in two possible rolls)
Clarabelle Cow
Horace Horsecollar
Peter Pig

Credits
Director : Wilfred Jackson
Animators
Johnny Cannon
Les Clark
Ugo D’Orsi
Frenchy de Tremaudan
Gerry Geronomi
Hustzi Horvath
Dick Heumer
Jack Kinney
Wolfgang Reitherman
Archie Robin
Louie Schmitt
Dick Williams
Roy Williams
Cy Young

Story and Layout
Hugh Hennesy & Terrell Stapp

Release date: February 23, 1935

Running Time: 9:18

The Band Concert was the first ever Mickey Mouse cartoon in colour and it is probably my favourite Mickey cartoon. Mickey here is a supporting player in his own cartoon, upstage by his co-star Donald Duck several times during the film. This was just Donald’s third or fourth film appearance and he truly shines and shows off his comic potential. The cartoon has wonderful timing and the music is great too. Some of the animation is very beautiful too.  I try to watch this film every couple of months, so I put my Mickey Mouse In Living Color dvd on just for this occasion.

(This Youtube clip is missing the opening titles!!!)

This is my final look at short films this week. They were such an important part of a movie going experience until 40-50 years ago but now it’s a rarity to see anything other than lame commercials before a main feature. Short films did find a new lease on life on TV, especially cartoons shorts and comedies by the Three Stooges and Laurel & Hardy in particular.