Short Film Saturday: How Walt Disney Cartoons Are Made?

This is great contemporary newsreel look at how Disney creates its animated films. This was made in light of the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. One interesting factoid is the budget cited as $1.5 million dollars. Adjusted for inflation that’s $25 million today; I am unsure how much unionization would have ballooned that but just on raw numbers it’s an interesting tidbit. Despite its dated tone its a more entertaining explanation of the traditional animation process than I would give.

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March to Disney: Expanding Alexander’s Day

If there’s one critique I could never get behind in the realm of book-to-film adaptation it’s the kind I hear a great deal surrounding the transition of Where the Wild Things Are from beloved children’s classic to film property. Many found it odd, confounding even, that a 20-page book with scarcely any prose and mostly illustrations would be suitable for film treatment. I personally like the possibilities of expansion over contraction more times than not.

Stephen King when discussing rewriting in On Writing confesses to being more of a putter-inner than a taker-outer, which is to say he’d love to expand on a narrative rather than omit any time. The wisdom to know when to edit as opposed to over-embroider makes a skilled writer. However, a literal adaptation of something as sparse as Alexander… would not only be un-artful, but also far too short for a feature film. Therefore, expansion is necessary.

Furthermore, taking a short story and making it a feature is far less embellishment than taking a single volume and making it two or three films. Therefore, in the over-analytical film news cycle of today it’s a far less worrisome leap.

In fact, expanding on the book diminishes the over-analytical complaint that Alexander is whiny. By turning the film into a narrative with many prongs wherein everyone has a calamitous day it allows the protagonist to come to a realization on his own with minimal wallowing in self-pity and maximizing comedic moments.

However, it is another successful adaptation of a children’s tale that is well-liked in the Disney realm. The only truly bothersome moments are the very Disney realm of it all, which is double-edged sword. For example, the Peter Pan musical the daughter rehearses are with songs from the film not the musical; and the principal’s reference to Wreck-It Ralph seem somewhat extraneous. It would also be a bit odd if this family was being created in a supposedly real world that pretended Disney was not a thing. Furthermore, the viral sensation that Dick Van Dyke is involved in creating is a highlight of the film for sure.

A completely appreciated wrinkle was building in a fully healthy obsession for Alexander that rounds out his character (his obsession with all things Australian). It’s happy accident that Ed Oxenbould is also Australian, but it adds good dimension, sets up a great gag and introduces cool animals – and once again shows off the knack actors of all ages have adapting to American dialects.

Ultimately, the warmth and humor of the tale and the talent of the cast win out and deliver on the promise of a well-thought out expansive adaptation.

Russia in Classic Film Blogathon: Peter and the Wolf (1946)

Intorduction
This post is my first contribution to the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon.

I have always wanted to sit down and define what to me were the “Great Stories.” By great stories what I mean is those stories where I can watch many different adaptations of it without tiring. This particular story, like many that would be on that as of yet un-drafted list, is one I’ve enjoyed since childhood. This 1946 Disney produced version is the one I first saw.

Since discovering and re-discovering it several times over I have since sought out other versions of the story, including: A ballet produced by the Royal Ballet School; a live action/animation hybrid with characterizations by Chuck Jones and a Soviet stop-motion animation film from the ‘50s (this version will soon be featured on a Short Film Saturday post. As well as crafting my own version for the stage for young actors and musicians to perform.

What I believe draws many to this story is, of course, Prokofiev’s music, but also the inherent humor many have found to counterbalance the true scares the plot points can offer.

Peter and the Wolf (1946)

Peter and the Wolf (1946, Disney)

For the purposes of this blogathon, and to mesh with my March to Disney theme, I will focus solely on Disney’s 1946 version created for inclusion in the anthology film Make Mine Music. This version was also later siphoned off as its own short and released on video (once with the original Sterling Holloway narration, and one time now) and it also accompanied a theatrical re-release of Fantasia, which is rather a perfect pair.

Make Mine Music, I recently discovered is yet another title that has been subject to Disney’s self-censorship having lost an entire segment in all subsequent releases due to concerns over racial insensitivity. However, that is but a compelling footnote here. What compels here is the treatment of Peter and the Wolf within the longer piece.

It’s interesting to consider that this short film was fashioned just 10 years after Prokofiev’s opus debuted, a debut he himself cited as being inauspicious. So in many ways this animation truly is largely responsible for popularizing and immortalizing the piece; at least in the west. Like many lasting works it wasn’t an instant success.

Much like Disney did with the Seven Dwarfs (who had no names in Grimm’s version) he named Peter’s animal friends (Sasha – Bird; Sonja – Duck and Ivan – Cat) and the hunters were also named (Misha, Yasha and Vladimir).

I have written extensively on divorcing oneself from a prior incarnation of a narrative when watching the film. However, when discussing different versions of a work noting changes matters. The introduction of the representative instruments remains, yet the situation with the Duck’s fate is slightly changed from the original.

Peter and the Wolf (1946, Disney)

The short balances real scares like the wolf’s appearance in general, his threatening the duck and other’s are balanced with humorous touches, like Peter’s pop-gun, pantomime action and voice-over dialogue. This follows through to the ending with Peter’s presumed fate and his heroic reveal.

It truly is a fairy tale set to music that also includes some of Disney’s didactic proclivities by having signs in Cyrillic then dissolve to translated versions after being misunderstood. This helps indicate to even the youngest audience members that the story is foreign in origin, but allows them to relate to it through the narrative storytelling technique.

The main action sequence of the film is very well and dramatically rendered. Furthermore, at 13 minutes there’s a more grandiose sprawl to this tale than standard six-to-eight minute shorts allow. Yet, with the musical score usually clocking in around 25 minutes in length it moves more briskly apace than that. Add to that the typical deep, intricate backgrounds, and fanciful setting that Disney can create, and you get a world that is fully realized and dimensional. A narrative landscape that seems much larger than indicated and seems to belie the modesty of budget likely implemented (I hypothesize somewhere between pre-War opulence and wartime belt-tightening).

It’s a rendition that has stood the test of time, and like much classic animation, has come to define pieces of classical music in the minds of those who know it. Whether individually or as part of the underrated Make Mine Music it’s a short that is worth knowing whether you’re a Disney enthusiast or not.

 

 

March to Disney: Disney Comics News and Wishes

As I covered on this guest post the fears many had about Disney acquiring LucasFilm are likely unfounded based on Disney’s track record with Marvel. One interesting way in which there doesn’t appear to be quite so much synergy is in the comic book handling of traditionally Disney properties. Figment (2014, Disney/Marvel) Marvel has published some Disney titles like Figment, which was an enjoyable and creative series that added dimension to a created-for-a-ride character; and standalone graphic novels like Space Mountain; as well as the reintroduction of Star Wars comics to the Marvel line. However, the traditional Disney comic titles like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, and Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories are coming back this year and not under a proprietary banner or under the Marvel mast but rather with indy publisher IDW (They were last handled by Boom!). Disney Comics do have a subset of fans all their own, and don’t get me wrong: I love the focus here, which will surely please fans:

The new line will launch with April’s Uncle Scrooge No. 1, followed in May with a new Donald Duck series, with Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney Comics and Stories debuting in June and July, respectively. Each of the series will feature reprints of work originated overseas for foreign-language Disney comics, with new covers featuring monthly themes based on areas of Walt Disney resorts, including Adventureland (April), Tomorrowland (May) and Fantasyland (July).

One unique thing is that country-by-country indigenous creators have shaped the characters in their homeland, whether they be Disney mainstays or original. An original example would be the extended family that Zé Carioca has amassed in Brazil. However, the THR article touches upon the oddity of this scenario:

The announcement means that Disney’s comic book licenses are currently split between a number of different publishers; IDW has the classic Disney animated characters, while Marvel controls the rights to material based on Disney theme park properties (To date, the company has produced Seekers of the Weird, Figment and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad) and Canadian publisher Joe’s Books publishes titles based on recent animated movies including Frozen and Big Hero 6. As unusual as it may seem, this is actually the second time that IDW has gained comic book rights to a property owned by a corporation that also owns its own comic book publisher; in 2013, the publisher announced that it had gained the comic book license for a number of Cartoon Network properties, despite CN parent Warner Bros. also owning DC Entertainment.

I don’t have the entertainment law or business acumen to discern how or why this works. I know that Fantagraphics has dealt with several properties that are the purview of several other entities for their wonderful editions. I am glad to see these stories debut here, but I also hope this indicates Disney getting more active in proliferating its comics characters. There are several character whom are more prevalent in the comic universe of Disney that need updated treatments. Bucky Bug (Disney) Here are just a few:

Gyro Gearloose Bucky Bug Flintheart Grimgold Gladstone Gander Magica De Spell

and more! Pete's Dragon (1977, Disney) Alternatively, there are also many smaller and/or “lesser” characters in the cinematic realm that could use new life in the comics realm:

Hamish, Hubert and Harris from Brave Roger Rabbit Panchito (Not very prevalent in Mexico) The Rescuers Elliot from Pete’s Dragon The Isle of Naboombu from Bedknobs and Broomsticks

And more! Ultimately, I won’t nitpick business dealings too much. I just hope it does lead to more diversity in the Disney comics universe. And it should almost go without saying that after the success of Big Hero 6 that Baymax and Hiro should be back, correct?

Treasure from the Disney Vault Tonight

As you may or may not know Disney and TCM recently struck a deal which includes not only TCM’s assistance with the Great Movie Ride at Hollywood Studios, but also allows TCM to start air Disney titles that are rarer. It’s the sort of aficionado fare Disney used to embrace in many ways but has consistently made more niche. It’s a great move for both companies. Here is the first line up. Prepare your couch and fire up your DVRs!

The schedule can be viewed on a .pdf provided by TCM below.

Treasures_from_The_Disney_Vault_Schedule (Disney/TCM)

Tarzan Thursday: Tarzan (1999)

Introduction

In 2012 the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th year in print. A serialized version of the story first appeared in 1912. A hardcover collection of Tarzan of the Apes first appeared in 1914. Being in the middle of the Tarzan centennial period it’s an opportune time to (re)visit many of the screen renditions of the character. Previous posts in this and other series can be found here.

As I have referenced several times in the past, there was a time when I wandered away from Disney fare but alas I have come home. In looking back it lasted maybe a decade or so. Now, having been back I am occasionally catching up. Thus, having tracked down many Tarzan titles over the past two years revisiting many and parsing them out and finding what in each typically does not work for me I figured it was time to give Disney’s rendition of Tarzan (the initial one) a shot.

As it turns out this film is a nearly unqualified success in both what it does in terms of telling a Tarzan story but also in its smooth manipulation of the standard Disney formulae. In terms of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creation, as best as prior cinematic adaptations are concerned it distills merely one book, Tarzan of the Apes, and adapts that to tell its story. So far as Disney has been concerned there was no other blueprint to go off of because they were tackling the tale for the first time.

With an opening that is dialogue-free, save for Phil Collins’ source music; the film begins rather quietly and powerfully. The connection established between an orphaned babe and Kala, a female gorilla who rescues him and raises him as her own. The technique of animation allows for more exacting and concise editorial decisions about what needs to be shown. Since there are no live animals, but ones constantly under control of the animators, the temptation of cutting to something for cute factor is gone. Clearly, cultural mores changed over time, but the fact that this film deals strictly in an origin allows it to convey characters on a more human level, and avoid pitfalls some past films faced.

Tarzan (Disney, 1999)

Interesting from a Disney standpoint is that the characters do not sing, the music is played as part of the score. There’s one moment of instrumentation but they are not anthropomorphic chorus members this time. Tarzan’s sliding about as if strapped to an invisible surfboard through jungle trees gets a bit trite but it does add a controlled kinetic element and makes him seem superhuman. Also a stumbling block that is overcome is that of language. It takes some suspension of disbelief, but Tarzan and his family can talk to one another, but when he meets Jane, her father, and Clayton; he can only grunt at first and then he learns to parrot and eventually understand. This is well-covered with artful montages.

By getting away from certain conventions that other Tarzan movies set, and spinning the tale a Disney way, while also tweaking certain expectations of a Disney film the road to success is already paved. In a pleasurable surprise, however, the film also does manage to tug at the heartstrings like most Disney fare does – more strongly here. Also, Disney flips the script on a template established in The Jungle Book. A successful restructuring of a given pattern can be a joy to watch, conversely a failure of such an attempt is difficult to deal with.

Taking all that in mind, with so many other versions under my belt, and with the hallmark Disney delivery of the origin, this may be the Tarzan film I was looking for all along the one that combines adventure, emotion and the intrinsically fascinating things about this tale in one package.

Short Film Saturday – Checkin’ in with Goofy

Yes, this is an advertisement, and a webtoon at that, however, even in advertising there is room for creativity. Also, as I have discussed before with Disney animated shorts there is room for advancement without neglecting the past. Here to introduce Disney’s then-new online check-in for their cruise lines the animators/storytellers use a 1940s approach from Goofy’s string of how-to videos to introduce the new system humorosly. Enjoy!

Disney and Phase 4 Settled Frozen Lawsuit

You may or may not have heard that Disney had filed suit against Phase 4 for trademark infringement. Basically, the claim Disney was making was a rather obvious one: owing to the success of Frozen Phase 4 decided to try to bamboozle more unwitting consumers in the market place by creating confusion between their animated film and Disney’s.

They changed the title from The Legend of Sarila to Frozen Land. While by itself that may not have been enough the brazen actions of Phase 4 went further remaking their poster and logo to look like this:

frozenland

I have greatly enjoyed some Phase 4 titles and this move seemed like one far beneath them just to catch a few Redbox users off-guard. This is not over-zealous brand management. Disney, it was said, could really do nothing about Escape from Tomorrow (A guerrilla-shot horror film shot entirely at Disney World) legally and it was inadvisable to try, so they didn’t.

The argument being Disney cannot and should not control every single image and portrayal of their park. However, the Phase 4 issue is a bit more obvious, could hurt both Disney and anger consumers, furthermore its laziness is beneath even Asylum who while knocking things off intend to do so from the start and don’t make a last-second commitment. It’s even sillier considering how frequently Disney is at the forefront of lobbying for more copyright and trademark protections.

Frozen (2013, Disney)

The settlement was as follows:

Immediately cease marketing and distribution of The Legend of Sarila as FROZEN LAND. Any further distribution, marketing, and/or promotion of The Legend of Sarila or related products, irrespective of format, shall be under the name The Legend of Sarila or another name not confusingly similar to or intended to create any association with FROZEN or any other motion picture marketed, promoted, or released by [Disney Enterprises] or its affiliated companies, including Walt Disney Pictures.

Phase 4 Films cannot use the “Frozen Land” logo in marketing its movie and must take “all practicable efforts” to immediately remove all copies (including DVD covers, DVDs and other media) of “Frozen Land” from stores and distribution centers. Phase 4 Films must then certify to the court that it has destroyed all copies of the infringing logo no later than March 3, 2014. The Judgment also requires Phase 4 Films to pay Disney Enterprises $100,000 no later than January 27, 2014.

Disney’s prompt filing of the trademark lawsuit and the parties’ even more prompt resolution to of it demonstrates that Disney is not going to tolerate infringement of its trademarks. To be honest, at $100,000, Phase 4 Films probably got off cheaply, given how brazenly it copied Disney’s Frozen logo.

Now, Disney likely could have tried to go for even more – many likely expected them to – however, they got exactly what they were after and quick. It would’ve been beneath Disney to go “bigger” against an indie just as it was beneath Phase 4 to try and co-opt Disney’s success for their own title. At the end of the day it’s a proper result.

Franco Leveraging the Disney Link

In screening Interior. Leather Bar. the other day oddly enough the perfect segue to discussing the stigma or connotation that an actor participating in Disney film is hung with.

Interior. Leather Bar. is a film that toes the line of narrative documentary in an attempt to recreate/reimagine the footage that William Friedkin was forced to cut from his 1980 film Cruising to appease the MPAA. So the topics that are discussed are clearly homosexuality, censorship, artistic merit, public perception and the like. How good an idea the so-called project is, and the merits therein are constantly debated “You were in a Disney movie” the character Val states to James Franco to which he replies:

“Being in a Disney movie and doing this that’s the point. That’s what’s giving it it’s power.”

James Franco as of lately has been versatile enough that he probably could’ve gotten away with not having said anything about his appearance in the The Great and Powerful Oz, but in the conversation on public perception it does carry significant weight. The public, as a whole, likes an easy association.

A quick example, would be when Julie Andrews was topless in S.O.B. Surely, over the years Andrews had developed a persona. And part of the idea was to buck that in this role, and that lent some shock to the maneuver, but more often than not the thought wasn’t it was Julie Andrews who would do such a thing, but rather, Maria and more to the point Mary Poppins.

In more recent, more directly Disney-related incidents actor Jake T. Austin used a profanity in a tweet and the overwhelming reaction from those who responded negatively wasn’t really just about his syntax. Rather it was that he cursed while, or perhaps, just after finishing his run on Disney. His response was level-headed and something to the effect of “I may have been on Disney, but I’m human.”

Sure, even I am surprised that Disney doesn’t crack the whip on the social media activity of its contracted actors more, but that just highlights the fact that these are people, they are not branded cattle, but the perception publicly remains that the image portrayed in fiction is the persona in reality.

This is perhaps more true of Disney kids, and former Disney kids, than any other subset in entertainment. Disney is perhaps the most recognized brand around. And unprovable memes about what Walt would think of the Disney Channel as if he never dealt in cheese aside, the brand is still preserved and still seeking some of the same ideals while entertaining, but that doesn’t make the player automatons like those found in Magic Kingdom attractions.

Sure, we can sit back and comment upon the judgment, or lack their of shown in the exploits of Miley Cyrus and the photos of Dylan Sprouse, but the fact of the matter is whatever we think of such things Disney really shouldn’t enter the equation. Miley is very clearly no longer interest in her former persona or alter ego, and the Sprouses whether self-photographed or not, have already discussed the end of their Disney tenure. Therefore any current misstep or perceived misstep ought not lead back to where they started.

However, it invariably does, in a way its human nature. That brings us back to Franco. While there is a scripted nature to the film at hand, in spite of the documentarian approach, there is a consciousness and a willingness to use his name, and recent associations to garner attention for the film he’s making and the ideas he’s exploring. It’s a shrewd move to address it and consciously use it as opposed to running for it. Either way, whether the Disney connection should be used or not, he knows the link will exist in some minds and he willingly exploits it here to good effect.