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Category Archives: Animation

Blue Ribbon Release

Jerry Beck reveals the special features included on the sixth and final Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD set (via Something Old, Nothing New). While it’s sad that this will be the last set, I can understand the reasoning behind it. Warner Home Video still plans to release restored vintage WB cartoons on DVD for the foreseeable future — only in smaller and more economical packages. As these sets went along, they delved into more obscure and interesting territory. Which in my opinion is fantastic. I’m especially looking forward to the WWII- and Bosko-centric discs (I can’t possibly be the only Bosko fan out there?).

Cheap Thrill: Color Classics Cartoons

Max Fleischer Color Classics: Somewhere In DreamlandWe’ve been spending the last few nights having a re-viewing of the nicely packaged Max Fleischer Color Classics: Somewhere In Dreamland DVD, which originally came out in 2002. The shorts in the set are pallid imitations of Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies cartoons of the ’30s, for sure, but they are fun despite the sometimes shoddy prints used on the DVD. I like to think of the Fleischers as the Warner Bros. to Disney’s MGM — their humor was much more lowbrow and urban, fresh and free of pretentions. Even if many of these shorts focus on cutesy birds, fish and bunnies, you see a lot of ethnic humor and weird animation that makes even the lesser ‘toons (and believe me, there were a lot of ’em) worthwhile viewing.

Another cool thing about these cartoons is that they have scenes where it appears as if the characters are traipsing around huge and intricate 3D landscapes. This was achieved via a patented “stereo-optical” process of filming animation cels propped vertically against a huge turntable made up to look like a miniature railroad train diorama. It’s a weird effect, but I could see where it would have wowed audiences back then. The process was put to especially good use in the 1934 outing Little Dutch Mill. Check out that amazing windmill:

The image below gives an idea of how the working process went while filming these sequences. Intrepid Christopher tracked down this terrific illustration accompanying the original patent application. Often the cartoons would have moving parts in the backgrounds, or a change in camera angle — it must have been a logistical nightmare, but the results speak for themselves.

Patent Illustration

Notice that the patent was filed on November 2, 1933 and it was finally granted on September 15, 1936. Ironically, at that point the Fleischer studio was beginning to phase out the use of the process and you see less and less cartoons using it as the thirties went on. All’s Fair at the Fair from 1938 doesn’t use the process at all, and yet it remains one of the best Color Classics due to the surplus of good gags and some wonderful Streamline Moderne designs:

The Color Classics limped onward, eventually becoming the vehicle for a charmless donkey duo called Hunky ‘N Spunky before coming to a close in 1941. Later on, Paramount sold off the series to a TV distributor who eventually let the cartoons lapse into the public domain. That explains why cruddy looking prints are the only surviving way to see them (does Paramount still own the negatives?), but I guess a cruddy print is better than nothing. Even through all the dust and scratches one can see a surplus of creativity going on there. Viva Color Classics!

Company Picnic

While viewing one of Shout! Factory’s Best of the Electric Company DVDs yesterday, a couple of clips stood out in a) unearthing tingly deja-vu feelings, and b) showcasing the often daring visual and musical cues the show took. These are both from episode #453, which first aired on January 15, 1975. The kinetic and colorful animated clip below, illustrating the word “house”, must have made a huge impression on my tiny mind. What strikes me most from an adult standpoint is the Mary Blairish look of the geometric shapes piling on top of each other — oh, and the soundtrack is quite groovy.

Our second clip visualizes the very ’70s concept of “right on”. I definitely remember singing along with this tune as a kid — and it does have a funky vibe and visual panache more in line with the Schoolhouse Rock shorts than The Electric Company. YouTube member NantoVision has assembled a lot of other excellent EC clips with informed commentary.

Differently Animated

We love Aardman and Creature Comforts. So I was delighted to find that they’ve applied the C.C. formula to a series of British PSAs that call attention to people with disabilities. (via Cartoon Brew)

P.S. I should also note that the flop American version of Creature Comforts has been released on DVD. The disc contains the three episodes CBS broadcast last summer and the four additional installments Aardman produced which were never aired.

Revisiting Twice Upon a Time

Twice Upon A TimeLooks like our pal Ward Jenkins has done it again with a lengthy examination on the forgotten 1983 animated feature Twice Upon a Time in which he interviews animation expert and Twice superfan Taylor Jenssen. Like Ward, I first came across this movie long ago on VHS after reading something about it somewhere (Premiere magazine perhaps?). I also remember being impressed by the film’s uniquely animated paper cutout visuals, but the fact that I don’t recall one iota of the storyline or characters probably explains why it’s never ingrained itself in the hearts of animation fans. The film played like a cross between a slicker version of Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python segments and an overly arty children’s book come to life. In other words, dazzling to look at but a bit vacant. Despite its shortcomings, I wish that Warner Bros. could give Twice a new life on DVD — but after reading Jenssen’s interview I’m not holding my breath. Maybe, in a better world, it could be loaned out to Criterion for a beautifully produced DVD with commentaries and deleted scenes? Just having a little “pie in the sky” moment there.

Now I want Ward to do a post on The Mouse and His Child, another semi-forgotten animated effort from my past. Check it out on YouTube.

The Electric Light Orchestra/Animation Connection

Recently I bought one of the recently marked-down Simpsons DVD box sets at Amazon. Needing something else to qualify for freee Super Saver shipping, I tossed in a copy of The Essential Electric Light Orchestra. Now, this was a band that I liked as a kid. I can remember having my mom buy me a copy of “Turn to Stone” at the local record store when I was eight. A few years later I listened closely to “Hold On Tight” on my little clock radio, memorizing the lyrics (even the French parts!). But I never gave them much thought again until recently. What have I been missing? Teflon-perfect pop that puts me in a perpetually shiny, happy place, that’s what.

Great as that collection was, it didn’t have any of ELO’s hits from Xanadu soundtrack, so of course I had to buy that album at iTunes. Guilty pleasure much? I’m aware that Jeff Lynne would probably rather forget his involvement in this masterpiece of camp, but strangely enough the soundtrack LP caught him and Olivia Newton-John at their respective creative peaks. Hell, I even liked Olivia’s retro-’40s duet with a wobbly-sounding Gene Kelly. Here’s the animated “Don’t Walk Away” sequence from that movie, directed by Don Bluth in between his stint at Disney and his first feature film, The Secret of N.I.H.M.:

But wait, people, the Electric Light Orchestra animation fest doesn’t end there! Here’s a gem of an opening sequence made for Daicon IV, a Sci-Fi convention held in Osaka, Japan. The anime adventures of a sword-ridin’ Playboy bunny used ELO’s underrated 1981 single “Twilight” on its soundtrack (without Lynne’s permission apparently), to mind-blowing effect. Wow, just wow: