Monday, March 16, 2015

An "Animated" Discussion

Turner Classic Movies was having some sort of mini Disney festival yesterday, starting with Darby O'Gill and the Little People, a story of an old man who cavorts with leprechauns, but isn't believed because ... you know ... leprechauns.  

I watched a lot of it, but finally gave up because, honesty, Darby's teeth bothered me.

(You can't see the upper ones, some of which are missing).  I was wondering what it must have been like to see his face on the theater screen.  Might have given little kids nightmares.

Sean Connery was in the film and I almost didn't recognize him for a long time until he smiled and raised those unmistakable eyebrows.  He must have been a little kid when he made this movie.

Later in the evening, TMC ran the full length movie, The Three Caballeros, starring Donald Duck and his pals, Jose Carioca, a Brasilian parrot and Panchito Pistoles, a Mexican rooster.

This 1945 movie was the first animation that Disney made after Bambi, made in 1942.  The financial problems during the war, and the need to make ready cash had Disney making less time consuming movies instead.
They were also letting their stars perform in war-related movies...

But The Three Caballeros  was a return to full length animation, in addition to some of the most ingenious photographic processes, blending live action with animation, that had been seen to date.  Mixing animation with live action goes back to silent film (anybody remember the Out of the Inkwell cartoons?)

It was Disney animator Ub Iwerks who developed the technique which would allow the three caballeros to interact seamlessly with humans in the movie.

It was a technique which would continue to improve through the 1946 movie Song of the South

and reach its height with Mary Poppins and the dancing penguins.

I learned this stuff and lots more when I was working at The Lamplighters.  My friend Gilbert Russak, actor, director, musical director, conductor, was one of the most intelligent men I knew...and he loved animation.  It was his passion. On the days I worked in San Francisco, we would frequently go out to dinner, stopping first at his apartment, where we would spend an hour or so watching cartoons.  He had lots of books about animation and knew the most interesting trivia.  He lived by a book called "Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons" (by Leonard Maltin), which he referred to almost every day to share some new bit of trivia that he thought about.

As much as he loved Disney animation, particularly the Silly Symphonies his all time favorite cartoon character was Betty Boop.  He loved Betty Boop and had lots of VHS tapes of some of her cartoons.

It was from Gilbert that I learned that Betty started her life as a dog and that in her very earliest appearances, she had long ears, which eventually morphed into earrings.

I loved those discussions I used to have with Gilbert.  I don't watch cartoons much at all any more, but I remember fondly my years sitting with Gilbert and learning about animation.  We attended an animation festival held in San Francisco a couple of years and I remember the first computer animation that we saw.  It was a simple, brief cartoon that had some sort of a ball moving through the screen.  He was fascinated, but we agreed it would take too much money to ever be feasible.

How amazed he would be to see where animation has come in 30 years!

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