Friday, August 05, 2005

You're a Coyote: BE WILY!


Wile E. Coyote!


You are intelligent, sophisticated, and the physical personification of the can-do attitude. No matter how many times something blows up in your face (figuratively or literally) or prized project collapses around you, you will pick yourself up and try, try again. There is a good chance that you are very skilled in problem solving and would probably make a fine engineer. Your main weaknesses (and this is likely obvious to everyone but yourself) are your overconfidence and complete lack of perspective. When you inevitably fail at a task (you can’t possibly achieve all of the lofty goals you set for yourself), you tend to take it personally. If you are not careful, you can become thoroughly obsessed with what is not really a very meaty goal. Try taking a step back from time to time and figure out for yourself if it is really worth it, or if your talents could be best put towards a more rewarding goal. Also, your desire for things to work out the way you’ve planned can make you a bit gullible.

Link: The Which Looney Tune Are You Test written by coolguy3000 on Ok Cupid

Disney Goes All Out for CGI

Disney recently unveiled its slate of computer-animated pictures, and I have to say, they're very nearly worth getting excited over. There is some talk--most of it probably speculative--that those Disney artists who chose to make the switch to CGI are newly invigorated due to Disney's support of the form. But whatever the case, there's no denying that the early art is intriguing.

First we've got this November's Chicken Little, directed by Mark Dindal (The Emperor's New Groove). In 2006, Steve Anderson's A Day with Wilbur Robinson, about a boy from the future, will hit theaters. For 2007, we have the interesting-looking American Dog, which follows the adventure of a TV dog who is lost in the country (if the animation is anything like the pictures I have posted here, this could be something truly artful). This film is directed by Chris Sanders of Lilo & Stitch. In 2008, Glen Keane makes his directorial debut with Rapunzel Unbraided, about two modern teenagers transported into a world of fairy tales. And Woody and Buzz return for Toy Story 3 in 2009, which I'm maybe not looking as forward to...

Still, at least Disney's committed to this and isn't taking a break from making movies. Hopefully, the new direction will turn out to be something watchable. I'm not going to debate over what the right medium is--traditional cel animation or computers--but I am hoping for good stories told well. If you're interested in one of the greatest living animators and what he thinks, however, read this interview with Andreas Deja.

I'm going to be a little blasphemous here, I think one of the thinks that sank Disney was its uniformity of style. In the 1940s, Walt settled on one style and never deviated from it. For the most part, the style was never broken, all the way through to 2004's Home on the Range. If they're smart at Walt Disney Feature Animation, they won't make this same mistake with CGI. Vary the styles a little, that's all I ask. Still, I'm looking forward to it. Check out these pictures, why don't ya?

Rapunzel Unbraided

A Day with Wilbur Robinson
American Dog

Masters of Animation: Walter Lantz

Walter Lantz was born in 1900, and was by all accounts an innately talented artist. Though he attended a few courses in cartooning and animation, he was mostly self-taught; by 15 he was working in the art department of the New York American, a Hearst paper. Though he was only an office boy, he was working for the best cartoonists of the day: George McManus (of Bringing Up Father), George Herriman (of Krazy Kat), and the great Winsor McCay. In a lateral move, Lantz became a camerman (working for Gregory La Cava) for the Hearst International Film Service. Part of the point of the Service was to produce animated versions of the popular Hearst comic strips. By 18, Lantz had become a director of some of these shorts. One of the people who worked with him was Grim Natwick, working in animation for the first time.

Lantz seems to have been not only a quick study, but quite an innovator. He is now credited as being the first animator to recognize that the adaptation of comic strip to a new medium, animation, required inherent changes of method. In other words, he saw that actions speak louder than words, and cut out most of the dialogue in favor of visual gags. Without Lantz, the cartoon might not have caught on very quickly. Hearst was impressed by Lantz's innovation, but unhappy with the cost of the enterprise. In 1918, soon after Lantz began directing, the studio was shut down. Rather than go back to the print medium, Lantz decided to stick with animation and went to work for John Randolph Bray. Under Raoul Barre, Walter Lantz became an animator on the Mutt & Jeff cartoons, before directing his first Bray cartoon, Colonel Heeza Liar's Treasure Island in 1922.

Lantz continued to innovate. The Magic Lamp (1924) is the first cartoon to feature live action and animation that move at the same time. Unlike Walt Disney's Alice Comedies, in which both elements moved separately to create the illusion, Lantz was able to develop the technology in a way that allowed both elements to interact convincingly. Lantz's assitants were future Disney directors Dave Hand and Clyde Geronimi. Lantz created a few series that mixed live action with animation, Un-Natural History, the best of which was How the Elephant Got His Trunk (1925).

Bray Studios closed in 1927, but Lantz didn't stop directing. After some piece work for Hal Roach Studios and Mack Sennet Studios, Lantz was offered an opportunity by his friend Carl Laemmle, the head of Universal Pictures. Laemmle had, through Charles Mintz, acquired Disney's Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series (ironically, Laemmle was one of the many who turned down Mickey Mouse). Lantz got straight to work: he set up Walter Lantz Productions, hired Bill Nolan (the fastest animator who wasn't Ub Iwerks) and (briefly) Tex Avery, and began turning out 26 Oswald cartoons a year. Contemporary accounts say that the Oswald cartoons weren't very good--none of them are widely available--but it must have been fairly popular. By 1939, when the series ended, there had been 160 cartoons.

Walter Lantz Productions didn't exactly flourish at Universal, but they didn't flounder, either. Many of the characters Lantz created were uninteresting, and didn't last very long. Interestingly, after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released by Disney, Lantz tried in vain to raise the funds for his own animated feature, Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp. One can only imagine how exciting it might have been. Instead, Lantz threw his lot in with a panda. In 1936, the first panda came to the West: Su-Lin. Lantz went to the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois to study, photograph, and sketch the panda, and came back to Hollywood with the plans for a new character. Life Begins for Andy Panda (1939) was an immediate hit, capitalizing on the panda-mania that was sweeping the nation at the time. What's interesting about these cartoons is that the two major elements seem to be wildly opposed to one another. While Andy is rather Disney-like--adorable, cuddly, cute, lovable--what goes on around him is the wild mayhem associated with Tex Avery cartoons. Somehow, this is the strength of the series. This wide-eyed innocent at the center of tempestuous craziness is undeniably endearing. Andy Panda was quite popular.

The next year, however, things changed for Lantz. Universal decided to drop Walter Lantz Productions, a move that put the entire studio out of work. Ever innovative and never succumbing to failure, Lantz put forth an idea to his staff: Why not privately collaborate, as quickly as possible, on a new Andy Panda cartoon, Crazy House, sell it to a studio for distribution, and use the money to make another one? This was something of a rarity in 1940--after all, where was the job security?--but the idea worked. Ironically, the cartoon was sold to Universal Pictures. In another cartoon, Knock Knock (1940), Lantz introduced a foil for Andy in the form of the zany, madcap Woody Woodpecker. He was so popular and had so much comic possibility that he was given his own series in 1941, beginning with Woody Woodpecker, and ending in 1972 with his 160th adventure, Bye Bye Blackboard. It became clear what Universal had done by getting rid of Walter Lantz Productions--by casually giving Lantz all of his characters back, Universal had lost out on millions of dollars in merchandising. And all to save $3750 a week.

Andy Panda was often a supporting character for Woody, who was always so on the verge between calm and insane that it made him far funnier than the similar Daffy Duck, who eventually softened. Their best cartoons together are Musical Moments from Chopin (1947--are there any bad cartoons revolving around piano performances?) and Banquet Busters (1948). The last cartoon in the Andy Panda series was 1949's Scrappy's Birthday.

There were other characters, too, though none were quite as popular as Woody and Andy. There were Hickory and Dickory; Sugarfoot; Meany, Miny, and Moe; Windy Bear; and Inspector Willoughby, created by future Donald Duck director Jack Hannah. My personal favorite is the little penguin who hates the cold in Chilly Willy (1953). Although the character was re-tooled by Tex Avery (who worked briefly for Lantz once again from 1954 to 1955) for his second episode, It's Cold (1954), the character didn't hit very highly and only lasted 35 episodes. When Lantz followed Paul Terry to television in 1957, he stuck with the bird, and The Woody Woodpecker Show remained on the air, in one form or another, until 1966 (with frequent revivals).

After the production of the last Woody Woodpecker cartoon, Walter Lantz Productions closed in 1972. Woody had been voiced by Lantz's wife, Gale Stafford. They had produced theatrical animated shorts longer than any other studio, even Walt Disney and Leon Schlesinger. Though Lantz would remain active in animation for the next 20 years, he never directed again, and died in 1994 at the age of 94.

As an added bonus, here's some bad video for Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat (1941), a banned cartoon from Walter Lantz's studio. If you're extremely racially sensitive, best not watch.

Throwdown 8/5

15 random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. A story on AOL News urged us to "find the next Rob Thomas." Um, only if it’s so we can beat him to death with cookery before he has a chance to record any awful, generic crap-rock.

2. Teri Hatcher is going to write what is being described as a "tell-all memoir." Yes, because the set of Lois & Clark was rumored to be a hotbed of sin. By the way, can we stop her from talking about how exquisite she thinks her breasts are yet? Because she’s about as sexually attractive as a Holly Hobby doll.

3. Lindsay Lohan--get this--has apparently hired a personal trainer to help her bulk up and get her curves back. "I miss my boobs," she says. I had something to say, but I'll let Defamer sum it up instead:

While we (and pretty much everyone in America) are delighted—delighted!—by the prospect of Lohan’s imminent return to form, we’re even more impressed with the continuing ingenuity of her publicity team. This preemptive strike against the inevitable rumors that her upcoming hospital stay (an injury suffered while working out is nicely set up) will involve the reinstallation of aftermarket mammaries is nothing short of inspired. It takes brass balls of considerable mass to tell the public that a vigorous exercise regimen increases breast size and that puberty reduces it. The only thing separating this ingeniously crafted item from immediate induction into the PR Hall of Fame is its ommission of a seemingly offhanded remark about her trainer’s quirky habit of wearing a lab coat and hanging out in the hospital.

In a completely unrelated story, scientists have discovered a new form of cocaine that actually causes weight gain in women, usually at the rate of two to three dress sizes per month.

In other Lindsay Lohan news, she's actually testifying at her parents' divorce trial. Worst. Parents. Ever.

4. Reports have been going up this past month of people who were healed, changed, comforted, or had a religious awakening because of Mel Gibson's Christ Manifesto The Passion of the Christ. It's sad to think that there are people out there who let a movie--a MOVIE!--influence their lives to the point where they think something along the lines of: "That Jesus was a bad-ass! Look at the inhuman amount of pain he can withstand! I must worship that!" Dude, if you're going to give a movie this much control over your behavior, a) it should be, of course, Smokey and the Bandit, and b) you're too irresponsible to have control over your own life.

5. Lots of talk about how Charlize Theron had a major role in drastically redesigning the costume for Aeon Flux, who as we all remember wears a g-string in the cartoons. She's changed it to a black suit. "When you're playing with aspects of sexuality, certain things have to be hidden," said the actress, who--like almost every recent Oscar-winning actress--has been seen naked in many films, including the one that first brought her any attention (2 Days in the Valley) and the one she received the award for (Monster). "I wanted to stay as true as possible to the original character, but didn't feel the need to go as far with the costume." So, staying true to the character entails completely changing the way she looks? I love it when actresses like Charlize Theron and Halle Berry get all uppity after they win the Oscar. Bitches, you're doing comic book movies! Get a grip! You won the Oscar so you could do B-level genre movies? Whatever...

6. Jamie Foxx wants everyone to know that he thinks people want to knock Tom Cruise off his pedastel because "he has everything." That's a good house boy.

7. Battle of the Box Office Titans! According to the Internet Movie Database, Nicole Richie's film debut, Kids in America, is set to be released the same day as Paris Hilton's next shitty movie, National Lampoon's Pledge This!. I think it's incredibly optimistic to even think that these movies aren't going straight to video...

8. Okay, supposedly Maddox, Angelina Jolie's adopted son, is calling Brad Pitt "daddy." Please, Angie, I'm begging you: just be honest with the media about whether you two are going out, so I don't have to sit and be annoyed by the obsessive speculation! I'm fucking tired of it!

9. So, there's a new al-Qaeda tape, tensions are still running high in London, and every day brings new reports of soldiers dying in Iraq. So...President Bush deserves a vacation? Do you suppose he really believes that he's worked hard enough this year and really feels he's entitled to time off? I only ask because he's not only the worst president since Andrew Johnson (and this is coming from a man who considers Ronald Reagan and Satan to have literally been the same person), but he's spent more time fucking around on vacation than any president ever. And I don't think Washington and Adams had this kind of an intelligence nightmare.

10. Looks like DreamWorks is going to sell itself. Wow, who knew that making the shittiest movies in the history of cinema would actually cause a studio to lose money?

11. Remember that box office slump? Well, it's back. Which says to me (and I'm sure Warners is thrilled, and they have every right to be) that people really only wanted to see Batman Begins and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this summer. I mean, War of the Worlds didn't break the slump, but Charlie did. Very few hits this summer, and most of them Warner Brothers (I wonder if that means anything for The Dukes of Hazzard). Now, I look at this year's box office slump, and it says to me that no one really wants to see the crappy movies that are being foisted on us this summer. But expect studios to start whining about piracy again any day now... Oh, wait--it started on Monday. New round of lawsuits. Way to make people resentful about ever going to see a movie again, Hollywood. You're killing the art and the experience of moviemaking and moviegoing.

12. Sean Connery says that he'll probably never make a movie again, because he's tired of "the idiots" in charge of the money. Dude, you starred in First Knight and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, you have to take some of the blame for the idiocy here. Besides, after so many stories of the war "Sir" Sean bullies directors, he's got no one else to blame.

13. So, Dave Chappelle doesn't want to do the show anymore and...ooh, wait I found a penny! Now, what was I saying?

14. After lower-than-expected DVD sales for The Incredibles and Shrek 2, Robert Routh, an analyst with Jefferies & Co., analyzed the situation thus: too much supply. That's right, there's actually a person out there who doesn't blame the consumers for not wanting it, but thinks that the distributors flood the market too quickly with too many copies, and the retailers send them back quickly to reclaim shelf space. His prediction? That studios will send less copies of their product: "That won't necessarily mean a reduction in overall copies sold but that there will be fewer shipments initially and it will take a longer period of time to sell that number." What Routh fails to take into account is the studio philosophy, which looks like this: "ME WANTEE MONEY NOOOOOOOOOWWWWWW!" They'll learn the business lesson, it'll just take years of bum-scratching to figure it out.

15. Last night, my girlfriend used the following words to describe Daniel Radcliffe, the boy who plays Harry Potter: "So fucking hot."

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Muppet Fans: Worse Than Trekkies

For months now, ever since Disney bought the Muppets, you may have noticed a low, nasal whine coming off of the internet. That whine is, of course, the sound of the Muppet fan in his mid-thirties, howling a lonely lament over the course his pathetic life has taken. And ever since the May airing of The Muppets' Wizard of Oz that howl has become a stuck pig-like squeal of shattered realization, the cold hard smack of reality bursting in as fan after fan looks at his life and realizes one immutable truth: did you know the Muppets were aimed at children?

Oh my God, they are!

We heard this same crash back in 1999 when Star Wars fans, after 16 years of clicking their heels and repeating "there's no place like a galaxy far, far away," were suddenly confronted with the very real fact that they were now middle-aged, and not only were the Star Wars movies being aimed at kids, they had in fact always been aimed at kids. Oh, they can cry about the inherent darkness of The Empire Strikes Back and make excuses for the fact that George Lucas is too untalented to resolve a complex love triangle without resorting to the "long lost brother" cliche all they want. The Star Wars films are about as substantial as a typical Grimm outing, and far less socially relevant. Those fans, by the way, are only gaining a semblance of their original equilibrium back now as they huddle around the altar of Episode III, which manages in its last 20 minutes to rally fans into a frenzy by basically showing them Darth Vader and Tattooine. It's pathetic to hear the same losers who accused George Lucas of desecrating their childhood memories with Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones talk about Retread of the Shit as though it had some kind of mythical power, using embarrassing phrases like "a circle has been completed." Yeah, the last shot was really neat, assholes, I get it. George Lucas owns your ass.

Many of today's Muppet fans are equally lame, pathetic, and irritating. There's a great blog out there called The Muppet Newsflash (it's in my links), full of information and interesting announcements. But the comments section... ouch. There's some asshole who can't let a single post go without making some sort of snarky, anonymous comment about how sad it is that all Disney has done so far is make one movie and re-release stuff from 30 years ago. Obviously, he has no idea how acquisitions work. See, when a company acquires the assets of another company, they want to make money on those assets as quickly as they can in order to recoup their initial investment. For example, Disney now owns the rights to The Muppet Show, a series which many people (such as myself) have been dying to see on DVD, which means there's already an audience. Only makes sense to put it out. Mystery solved.

(A quick word about anonymous posts, by the way: they're cowardly. Straight ahead yellow. You know, there is a space on the Blogger comments for "other," where you can actually leave a name. Or you can just sign your post, as I've seen others do. The internet has created a social nightmare where anybody with half an opinion can walk into the room, shout "you suck!" and run away without justifying such a childish outburst. Adults have opinions, anonymous users--children just react to things they don't like. And only cowards hide behind a shield of anonymity when recycling Jim Hill's condescending "opinions." At least have the grace to put your name to your whining, gutless.)

Back to my main point: Muppet fans and their inherent uselessness. They have yet to realize two important things. First, the Muppets are basically aimed at children. And second, Jim Henson is dead. It's sad, yes, but you have had 15 years to get over it. Now you're just embarrassing to everyone who knows you. That's the problem with these Muppet assholes--they won't accept the passage of time and its inherent dulling effect. They're not really mad about the recent Muppet projects (which have, for the most part, been good, as well as true to the feeling of the Muppets). They're frustrated because, like monkeys and infants, they lack the cognitive capacity to understand why, for example, The Muppets' Wizard of Oz can't be EXACTLY like The Muppet Movie. Well, I'll tell you why, Chim-Chim, and be sure to make a note of this: because it isn't 1979 anymore, and you're 26 years older. Not only is this stuff not being marketed to you, many of the same people aren't even working on it anymore.

That's a key factor here. Ever since Jim Henson died, this legend has grown up about how the Muppets were satirical enough for adults to enjoy, and many fans have taken this to be a sign that the Muppets were never in fact meant for children, but were a subversive entertainment for adults. Fine, except it isn't true. Jim Henson knew he was a children's entertainer and embraced it wholeheartedly. But because of this myth about the Muppets being for adults, every project since 1990 has met with derision. Every time the Muppet creators tried to move ahead into the future--as they did with the short-lived series Muppets Tonight!--the so-called fans never supported it. Where were all of you "fans" when I went to see Muppets from Space in an empty theater in 1999? Whining about why Paul Williams and Jerry Juhl won't work with the Hensons anymore?

I just can't understand what Disney has done wrong, exactly. When they bought the Muppets, their marketing research showed that most people either didn't know who the characters were, or considered them relics from the seventies. Disney has, through a lot of media placement, attempted to restore Kermit and friends to their earlier status as household names. They produced The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, which too many fans are calling a ratings failure because it didn't hit with adults (it did win the kids' audience, though, which is what Disney was going for in the first place--they were trying to capture a new audience of children who had almost no experience of the Muppets, and that was a success; they don't have to cater to you, grown-up losers, because you're already hooked and you'll watch it just to bitch and bitch about it. Free lesson in capitalist marketing, idiots!). Hey, they're doing what no one else was willing to do: give the Muppets' creative team the money and opportunity to create new projects.

I, for one, am glad of this. I am mature enough to know that the Muppets can never be exactly the same as they once were, but I'm glad to see that the characters just might go on for future generations. I still love Kermit the Frog, and I always will, and if I ever get nostalgic, I have The Muppet Movie on DVD. For the rest of you fans, who can't think of a better way to support the return of the Muppets than by throwing a bitch fit...well, it would have been hard for you to enjoy it with no heart, anyway.

Thank You, Catherine Bach


On the eve of The Dukes of Hazzard opening, I have unfortunately turned down a chance to meet Catherine Bach and get her autograph. Apparently, she's going to be at the Hollywood Boulevard theater in Woodridge, Illinois, the town my mother lives in. Because of traffic issues and things, I can't make it, but it is a funny conicidence to me. Thanks to CMT's Dukes of Hazzard marathon, I've been thinking about Catherine a bit recently.

Man, when I was five and six years old, The Dukes of Hazzard looked like the coolest life imaginable. Just a couple of cousins, hanging out and getting into adventures with their kickass car. Sadly, the only hot chick for miles and miles was their cousin, Daisy, but I never really thought about that as a kid. All I could see was hanging out with a hot chick and a cool car. Hell, who needed some other cousin to get in the way? That's how I wanted life to be, baby: me, a (to my young mind) sophisticated and sexy lady, a hound dog (Roscoe's dog Flash was pretty cool to me), and that awesome car, fighting crime and corruption and occasionally going for a swim, just straightening the curves and flattening the hills. Someday the mountain might get me, but the law never will.

Well, I grew up to be a totally different person, but I still love Daisy Duke. Catherine Bach is the whole reason I like girls in the first place. I mean, I thought the girls in my class were icky and cootie-ridden, naturally, but the older girls--the ones that were over 15 were all potential Daisy Dukes to me. I wanted every one of my babysitters to wear short cutoffs and stockings with sandals and have long, pretty hair. At five I had no idea what to do with them, but I knew they were here for some reason other than to watch me when my parents were gone...

Not that I would have said any of this to Catherine Bach had I met her tonight. I would've just asked for an autograph, said hello, shook her hand. I mean, she's Daisy Duke. I think I was quite charming with Claudia Christian and Cynthia Rothrock (at least they had conversations with me at Comicon), but Daisy Duke would be like the time I met Brinke Stevens and could barely say anything. There are just some women you should never meet, man. They remind you that, deep inside, you're still a little boy that's fumbling to pretend he's a man now.

Wow. Daisy Duke.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Some More Masters of Animation

There are some animators from the early period that I'm not overly fond of, but I think rate at the very least a mention due to some distinctive works or accomplishments. Rather than devote smaller posts to these animators, I thought I'd mention some of them here.

THE VAN BUEREN STUDIOS
It's amazing how little is written these days about the Van Bueren Studios. I understand they were of fair popularity--you probably don't really remember seeing any Molly Moo-Cow cartoons (though Molly Moo-Cow and the Butterflies, 1935, is only one of many charming shorts). Today Van Bueren is known better for their much-reviled Felix the Cat series where Felix spoke in an annoying little boy's voice (they are generally well-animated, though, especially Burt Gillett's Bold King Cole, 1936). The cartoons began in 1928 under producer Amadee J. Van Bueren, but were totally revamped by former Disney director Gillett in 1934, introducing the Van Bueren Rainbow Cartoons series, whose major draw was a warm and inviting color pallette. Animation fans mainly remember the Toonerville cartoons, based on the comic strip by Fontaine Fox. My personal favorite VB cartoon is It's a Greek Life (1936), directed by Dan Gordon and starring a centaur shoemaker who is called on by Mercury to repair his winged sandals. But more than anything, the Van Bueren cartoons are mainly a footnote in animation history. Ironically, just two years after Burt Gillett left the Walt Disney Studios in 1934, RKO Radio Pictures, who distributed the Van Bueren cartoons, dropped VB for Disney. The Van Bueren Studios went out of business and were never heard from again.

Here's their racially weird cartoon The Black Duck.


HUGH HARMAN (1903-1982) and RUDOLF ISING (1903-1992)
Harman and Ising worked with Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks at the Kansas City Film Ad Agency, and followed them to work on Laugh-O-Grams, Alice Comedies, and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. For whatever reason, their relationship with the Disney brothers was not a very friendly one, and when Charles Mintz infamously stole Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and hired off the staff, Harman and Ising were among the first recruits. But when Carl Laemmle instead gave the series to Walter Lantz, they weren't hired by Universal. With the help of animator friend Friz Freleng, Harman and Ising went on to produce a pilot film for a new series, Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid in 1929. Bosko was a Negro caricature (mostly because the heavy blacks made the character easier to animate) who sang and danced. In his first appearance, he speaks in a stereotypical Negro voice, but for the series, his voice was changed to sound, well, exactly like Mickey Mouse. In fact, the Bosko cartoons are heavily derivative of Mickey Mouse, no matter how enjoyable the cartoons actually are (hell, in Big Man from the North, 1931, Bosko even tangles with Pegleg Pete!). The cartoon was sold to independent producer Leon Schlesinger, who sold Warner Bros. the idea to make a series of cartoons featuring music they were trying to sell in sheet form. This series was, of course, Looney Tunes, and the first of these shorts in 1930, Sinkin' in the Bathtub, starred Bosko, who would star in 39 more of them. Hugh Harman mostly oversaw Looney Tunes, as Rudy Ising was moved over to start a companion series of his own for Warners, Merrie Melodies, which began in 1931 with Smile, Darn Ya, Smile.

This is Hittin' the Trail for Hallejujah Land.


The two left Leon Schlesinger after budget disputes in 1933, finding a home at MGM, who were willing to buy cartoons from their new company, Harman-Ising Productions. The duo still owned their creation, Bosko. While at MGM, they created the Happy Harmonies series, which tended to run to a long 10 or 11 minutes (and mildly overbudget), so that MGM got rid of them in 1937. MGM opted instead to open up their own in-house animation department, overseen by Fred C. Quimby, who by all accounts didn't really know what he was doing. Despite a staff that comprised William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (as well as, briefly, Friz Freleng), Quimby was forced to re-hire Harman and Ising to run the place (in the meantime, Harman and Ising had done the animation for one of Disney's Silly Symphonies, Merbabies, 1938). Right away, Rudy Ising created the first MGM series character, Barney the Bear. Using his own fondness for napping as the character's main gag, Barney premiered in The Bear That Couldn't Sleep (1939) and ran until 1954.

While at MGM, Hugh Harman directed one of the greatest cartoons of all time, Peace on Earth (1939), in which a mother squirrel tells her children the tale of man, a creature who drove himself to extinction with warfare, until only two men were left--and they killed each other. This cartoon was undeservedly passed over for an Oscar, losing to Disney's The Ugly Duckling, a rather ordinary cartoon. Rudolf Ising won the next year for The Milky Way (1940), a charming adventure of animals in space which was, actually, the first non-Disney cartoon to win the Oscar. Harman and Ising also oversaw production of Puss Gets the Boot (1940), the first Tom & Jerry cartoon. In 1941, Quimby hired Tex Avery, who had left Leon Schlesinger, and he indirectly made Harman and Ising seem like relics of an older style. In 1942, the duo were drafted by the government to work at Hal Roach Studios.

PAUL TERRY (1887-1971)
Terry began as a newspaper artist, but once he saw Winsor McCay's seminal Gertie the Dinosaur, he knew animation was the wave of the future. After making his first independent film (Little Herman, 1915), Terry went to work for John Randolph Bray to work on the cartoon adventures of Farmer Al Falfa. Soon after World War I, Terry formed Fables Studio for a series of Aesop's Fables, which by most accounts was something of a sweatshop; to meet the schedule set by distributors Keith-Albee Theaters (one cartoon a week), Terry was forced into an assembly line style that emphasized quantity over quality. The series was bought by Van Bueren Studios in 1928 (ironically, Keith-Albee would later become RKO, who would distribute Van Bueren before dumping them in favor of Disney). Terry and Amadee J. Van Bueren clashed over the issue of sound, and Terry left the studio in 1929. Terry felt sound was only a fad, an unneccesary expense. Ironically, he had created what some animation historians consider to be the actual first sound cartoon, Dinner Time, in 1928 (some contend that it premiered a few weeks before Steamboat Willie, and still others think that the Fleischers got to sound first).

Even more ironically, when Terry opened his own studio, Terrytoons, in 1930, he immediately began to produce sound cartoons (by that point, sound was probably inevitable, and Terry could no longer ignore it). Right from his first short, Caviar (1930), Terrytoons used original music by Philip A. Scheib. In 1938, Terry introduced Gandy Goose in Gandy the Goose, a character that ran until 1955. Heckle and Jeckle, who premiered in The Talking Magpies (1946), ran until 1954. Other, less memorable Terrytoons characters are Little Roquefort and Percy the Cat, and Dinky Duck.

But Terry's most beloved character was a parody of Superman called Super Mouse, who premiered in The Mouse of Tomorrow (1942). By his fourth cartoon, his name had been changed to Mighty Mouse. The faux-operatic, dramatic style was a hit with audiences, who continued to watch him rescue Pearl Pureheart from the dastardly Oil Can Harry until his last adventure in 1961, Cat Alarm.

Terrytoons was the first major animation studio to break into television, repackaging short cartoons onto Barker Bill's Cartoon Show for CBS. Soon after, in 1955, Paul Terry sold Terrytoons to CBS outright for $3.5 million. Terry retired from animation and lived in luxury off the proceeds from his sale until his death in 1971. A rare case of an animator who was able to live successfully off of his work.

Enjoy Wolf! Wolf!, starring Mighty Mouse (the sound on this is terrible).


WILLIAM HANNA (1910-2001) and JOSEPH BARBERA (born 1911)
Hanna began at Harman-Ising in 1929, and stayed with them through their stints at Schlesinger and MGM. In 1937, when MGM fired Harman and Ising, Hanna was hired as director of animation by Fred Quimby, head of the new MGM animation studio. Barbera was an artist for Collier's magazine, then floated around in the animation world (he once worked for the Fleischers for a mere four days) before being hired by Paul Terry in 1936. When Quimby hired out a large portion of Terry's staff, Barbera made the move to MGM. While at the studio, Hanna and Barbera created the characters of Tom & Jerry, who rivaled Mickey Mouse in popularity throughout the 1940s. The first cartoon in the series was Puss Gets the Boot (1940), a hit with audiences. When Tex Avery came to MGM in 1941, he showed them how to make cartoons faster and wilder, creating the laugh-a-second zaniness that MGM cartoons are famous for. Thanks to his innovations, Hanna and Barbera's Tom & Jerry cartoons were nominated for 13 Oscars between 1940 and 1952. Seven of them won, including The Cat Concerto (1946), probably their best cartoon, which featured Tom attempting to play a piano concerto despite interference from Jerry. Other Oscar-winning 'toons include Yankee Doodle Mouse (1943), The Little Orphan (1948), and the classic The Two Mouseketeers (1951).

The Cat Concerto.


MGM bowed out of theatrical animation in 1957, despite the fact that they were still a major competitive force. The partners formed Hanna-Barbera Productions specifically to create animation for TV. Among their many, many shows: The Ruff and Reddy Show (1957), The Huckleberry Hound Show (1958), Quick Draw McGraw (1959), The Flintstones (1960), Top Cat (1961), The Yogi Bear Show (1961), The Jetsons (1962), The Adventures of Jonny Quest (1964), Scooby Doo, Where Are You? (1969), Wacky Races (1970), The Addams Family (1973), and Hong Kong Phooey (1974), among many, many, many others. If you hate these shows as much as I really, really do, only one conclusion can become clear--Hanna and Barbera were responsible for turning television animation into the vast wasteland of commercialist, poorly produced crap that it remained for as long as they dominated the field (and for sometime thereafter). True, thanks to the cheesiness of these cartoons we get great shows like Harvey Birdman, Attorney-at-Law, but it's not quite an even trade...

Hanna-Barbera also got into feature animation. Although Hey There, It's Yogi Bear (1964) is actually quite charming, The Man Called Flintstone (1970) is so bad that you can actually see steam rising off of it. I always felt Charlotte's Web (1973) was overrated and disappointing, while the less said about Jetsons: The Movie (1990), the better. In the world of animation, the legacy of Hanna-Barbera is, I have to say, one of compromise and carelessness.

The Devil's Rejects


"What's the matter, kid? Don't you like clowns? Don't we make you laugh? I'm going to be back in one hour, and if you don't have a good reason why you don't like clowns, I'm going to kill your whole fucking family!" Sid Haig's performance as Captain Spaulding is an instant classic.


Becca made this for a photoshop contest, and I just thought it was funny. Posted by Picasa

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

8 WOMEN (2001)
An odd little French movie that ended up being very enjoyable. It's a comedy, but it's also a murder mystery, as well as a musical. It's hard to describe, but trust me, it's a lot of fun. The cast are all excellent and gorgeous; there's one transcendent moment when Fanny Ardant and Catherine Deneuve succumb to abandon and passionately make out. Also in the cast are Emmanuelle Beart, Virginie Ledoyen, Isabelle Huppert, and my darling little Ludivine Sagnier (from Swimming Pool and Peter Pan). A truly great, once-in-a-lifetime gathering of female French talent. ***1/2 stars.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
It's something of a mystery to me how I made it this far in life without seeing what is, by all accounts, a seminal horror classic. I saw so many of the modern horror films in junior high, but this one just got lost in the shuffle. I have to say, given everything there is against this film--crappy amateur actors, the apparently $53 budget--Tobe Hooper really managed to make one of the most intense, scary movies I've ever seen in my life. And I tend to not like horror films very much, really. But this one had something to say about the old American Nightmare, the underlying fear in all of us: invasion. Collision. The idea that we could be living our perfectly ordinary lives, and something from within will destroy us with no warning. This is one incredible film: a horror movie with, rarest of the rare, something to say about society. **** stars.

THIRTEEN DAYS (2000)
A surprisingly fast-paced and involving dramatization of what happened in the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis. What is it with Kevin Costner, exactly? Every time I want to write the guy off, he makes another great movie like Open Range. Why does he have to be such a jerk about his talent? If you're interested in American history and politics at all, you really have to see this movie. As taut a screenplay as one could ask for. Dylan Baker is especially good as Robert McNamara. **** stars.

THE RED SHOES (1948)
A beautiful movie with a very slight, cliched story. But the story--a love triangle and a struggle between love and art in a ballet company--is irrelevant, merely an excuse to hang gorgeous, sumptuous visuals on. And the 20-minute ballet at the heart of the film... Watch this movie and tell me that anything you see in music videos can legitimately be called dancing. Wonderful. **** stars.

THE TERMINAL (2004)
Oh my God, Spielberg made a good movie. His first one in over a decade by my count. Except for some obviousness and a little too much of Spielberg's typical preciousness, this was actually involving in a way that didn't make me feel dirty. Spielberg is still preoccupied with escapism as a religious experience, with his dichotimous need to feel secure in authority while at the same time not finding it trustworthy, and he's still not very interested in women as people. But he actually manages to do something he's always had problems with: he reins in the third act. He doesn't let it meander all over the screen for 40 minutes--hell, the movie is actually short! 2 hours, 4 minutes! And Tom Hanks was good--I can't help it, I like Tom Hanks. I always have, since I was a kid. There's something I find warm about him. Not a bad film at all. ***1/2 stars.

THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK (1984)
An Oscar-winning documentary (deservedly so) about San Francisco's Harvey Milk, the first openly gay local politician in American history, and the tragic miscarriage of justice that surrounded his murder in 1978. Even though the documentary openly supports Milk and his causes (Milk successfully fought against SF's attempt to make it illegal for school teachers to be homosexual), it is surprisingly even-handed about his murder by fellow supervisor Dan White. The movie never lets White off the hook (even though the justice system did), but it doesn't excoriate him, instead trying to find the reason for the murder. Sensitive, open-minded, and very, very sad. A powerful film. **** stars.

THE TRANSPORTER (2002)
Meh. It was fun and looked good, but little else. High energy, though. I just wish Luc Besson would go back to actually directing movies. *** stars.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003)
Ouch. Like every bad horror remake since 1998, it's merely an action movie with no social point. What was intense and riveting in 1974 is made cruel and slick by music video director (always a bad sign) Marcus Nispel. Jessica Biel is quite beautiful, though, and every shot she's in is framed for maximum breast effect. So, at least I enjoyed that. You never see them nude, but if you like Jessica Biel's breasts (and the always-great R. Lee Ermy), there's at least that. * star.

PAPARAZZI (2004)
A terrible rip-off of Death Wish with a decent Dennis Farina performance and nothing else. I understand there are paparazzi out there who are the sleazy, taunting rats the movie portrays, but the movie loads its argument by showing only those kinds of people. Some of them are just trying to make a living, I would imagine. No stars for this manipulative piece of shit.

THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (2005)
I personally loved House of 1000 Corpses, and when I heard Rob Zombie was making a sequel, I was on pins and needles. I was not disappointed; in fact, this film is significantly better. Where House was a stylistic homage to 70s slasher movies (before Sean S. Cunningham ruined the whole genre), this one is a lot more like Easy Rider or Two-Lane Blacktop...only with serial killers instead. Sid Haig's Captain Spaulding is easily a great horror character, and I want to see the boisterous, fun, sexy Sherri Moon Zombie in many, many more movies. If you thought Kill Bill was a great movie (and I admit, it was), you should check this out and see what an actual grindhouse movie looks like. Rob Zombie is on his way to mastering the genre, while all Quentin Tarantino has ever done is quote it. **** stars.

SKY HIGH (2005)
It's a lot of fun. Insubstantial as a cloud, but very funny. What can you say about a school for superheroes where the faculty includes Lynda Carter, Bruce Campbell, Dave Foley, and Kevin McDonald? Great cameos, and if you're into comic books and superhero cartoons, some very funny jokes. And I'd like to thank Kelly Preston until the day I die for wearing that Jetstream costume... *** stars.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Which Lost Character Are You?

Women love you, men want to be you...when they recognize you at least. You are a total rocker, right on!
You Are Charlie Pace


Which Character From Lost Are You?
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Sunday, July 31, 2005

Sunday Hottie 26


JESSICA BIEL Posted by Picasa