Daily Barks 02.07 cataroo.com
Barking at the Moon: February 2007

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February 28, 2007
Another month comes to an end. And it has been one of varied emotions and distractions. Dad is back in the hospital. We are obviously hoping for the best, but mom has taken a "wait and see" attitude towards the future. Rachel fractured her foot at the recent show. The next doctor will decide if she needs a simple foot wrap or surgery to instal a pin. Either way, she will be "off" it for many weeks. My blood test came back showing a level so low, I am repeating the test this week to check for possible lab error. The girls are in heat. Eagle is his usual "desirous" mode, and his son Dyami has begun feeling the urge. Only Rooster and Jet are oblivious. Meanwhile the three pusses are up to their usual crazyness hissing and hustling. Thanks to Netflix caught the first discs of the first seasons from HOGAN'S HEROES and WILD WILD WEST. HOGAN was just as I remembered, with each episode about the same. It was interesting to see that the pilot featured a Russian soldier, but he was dropped for the series. No doubt a casualty of the cold war. WILD WILD was equally remembered. It is still a stylish series. Though it was odd seeing how so many of the stories were about Mexicans or Europeans trying to take over the US. My sister is moving again, this time to Arizona and will drive through over the weekend. First time seeing her in several years. Gas has gone up almost 25 cents per gallon over the last few weeks. Watched a TV repeat on the computer via online download. Not as good as a real TV. A definite month of experiences and distractions. Wonder how March will enter, as lion or lamb... or perhaps a little of both.
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"Life is too full of distractions nowadays. When I was a kid we had a little Emerson radio and that was it. We were more dedicated. We didn't have a choice. "
Stan Getz

February 25, 2007
The Academy Awards are over. Must admit to being dissapointed by the flatness of the show. Though the silhouette bits were interesting, once again, there were too many 'entertainment' bits whose main affect was to slow the presentation. Was glad to see HAPPY FEET win the Oscar. Really feel it was the stronger of the three nominees. It was amusing to hear it later described on the show as an "upset". Overall, seems the awards were pretty evenly spread, with no film coming away a "big" winner.
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"To get an Oscar would be an incredible moment in my career, there is no doubt about that. But the 'Lord of the Rings' films are not made for Oscars, they are made for the audience."
Peter Jackson

February 24, 2007
It never fails. Just after I try to defend the backgrounds of animation execs (especially development execs), they show what idiots some are. As my bark on the 20th stated, "I won't start to defend execs who make lame decisions". And there is no defense for the exec interviewed in a recent issue of Animation Magazine. (And there is no defense for Animation Magazine either, even if I was the first editor.) Sadly, not only does this fellow show lack of background, he also shows the biggest problems I have with the development departments of about any studio or network. First, he has to ponder the meaning of life when looking at developments. I have had more than my share of these folks who constantly need to defend their job with a lot of psycho mumbo-jumbo about picking shows. They bring up topics like reasons for the characters to exist, b-plots (the worst thing to ever happen to animation), age and gender the show is being aimed at, where the humor comes from (if they can't tell where humor comes from they ARE in the wrong biz) and such. It is all meaningless babble trying to prove that the exec is somehow being scientific about the process. But as I said earlier, a good exec should "know" when they see a good idea. I would be more impressed with a development exec who told me "in my gut I do (or do not) like the idea." Second, when asked about favorite shows, he tries to be classy by listing hit live action series. Too many folks in animation (execs and creators) do not have respect or even interest in animation. Oh, you can hear their claims about how they love animation and/or grew up on animation. But when push comes to shove, they really can't name anything except the well known series. They watch SIMPSONS, Pixar features, SPONGEBOB and love "classic" animation. If you mention an animated series created in the last two years, they might recognize the name. Heck, many creators in a studio cannot even name all the productions going on in the building! But as too many sites point out, many are simply using animation as a stepping stone to the "real" pot of gold - live action. In the same week at one animation network, I heard the head of development state he wished he could stop making cartoons and start doing some "real entertainment"; I heard a popular creator (with at least three hit series under his belt) lament that he didn't want to spend his whole life "just making cartoons"; and I heard the head of the network state how proud he was to have brought the first live action to the network, and how live action was what kids really wanted to see. What are these folks doing in animation? There was one day the head of exec mentioned all the pitches they had taken that week. I knew the pitches were from a variety of artists from within and outside the studio. He was asked which pitch stood out. He thought for a second, then proudly announced that he had just had lunch with Fabio and discussed animation possibilities! It all reminds me of a favorite story from Ralph Bakshi. Back in the 70s, while discussing the problems of getting studio execs interested in animation, he mentioned how most execs just wanted to deal with celebrities. "That is the problem with animation. You cannot have lunch with Bugs Bunny."
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"They say that movies should be more like life. I think life should be more like the movies."
Myrna Loy

February 23, 2007
Sometimes I am amazed at what passes for "good" these days. And I don't just mean in modern entertainment. Lately I have been roaming various forums and reading comments from today's talkers - most of which are around 15-25 years old. Oddly, the very age advertisers are seeking. What I find interesting is when these groups begin discussing "great" or "classic" animation. More and more I see two titles pop up on top animated feature lists - THE ARISTOCATS and THE FOX AND THE HOUND. Not to belittle the modern audience, but I would bet few animation historians, critics or sites would put these features at the top of a list (at least a 'best' list)... much less even a top ten. Yet more and more posters are showing added support. I will admit to being a fan of some "less than great" animation, like Scooby Doo and even ROBIN HOOD. But I think these films at least have a cheese factor that makes them enjoyable. ARISTOCATS and FOX are two, sorry to report, pretty lame films. And they are not alone on my "what the heck" list. When posters discuss great TV animation if the past, they are more likely to be discussing THUNDERCATS, HE-MAN, or MY LITTLE PONY. Again, my list would differ. But it makes me wonder, if such movies and series are considered great by the newer generation... what will they be looking to emulate when they make films? Reminds me of how so many modern films from the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks that play like 80s tv show plots. Maybe it is like the nostalgia boom of early generations - when the 70s was full of shows about the 60s, and the 90s found shows about the 70s. Is our next decade to be filled with 80s wonders? Course, I have heard recently that two top shows of the 1980s (GARFIELD and BOBBY'S WORLD) were both in production for new episodes. And we do have new features based on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers. What's next? A Smurfs feature? A new Muppet Baby series? Maybe Hulk Hogan will make a return. 80s rules!
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"We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they're called memories. Some take us forward, they're called dreams."
Jeremy Irons

February 20, 2007
It is so typical. As networks begin to announce future schedules and series pick-ups folks begin discussing animation executives. I am particularly amused when I read some big name creator lamenting about how animation execs are not creators but come from law, sales, clerical and such. Now I won't start to defend execs who make lame decisions or show a history of poor judgment. (After all, many a creator is guilty of the same crimes.) In fact, I often joke a studio could take all their ideas, put them in a jar, draw out a show, and have as good a chance of a hit as any other system. However, I will staunchley defend their right to come from other fields. Too often creators (aka 'one-hit wonders') make the tired link between being creative and having taste. This occurs in any field from animation to live action to books to music and such. It usually comes after a critic lambasts the creator's new project, or an exec does not pick up their new one. The point is, executives and development folks are there because they are NOT creative. If execs were creative, they would be creating their own thing. Execs are there because it is believed by someone that they have taste and a sense of what the public likes. Was Walt Disney's studio successful because he was an animator? No. If being an animator was all that was needed to have a successful studio, folks from Ub Iwerks to Richard Williams to Don Bluth would have successful studios. Walt had a knack for knowing what people would like. Creators on Walt's staff thought he was wrong to try sound, color, features, theme parks and television. Instead of heeding the creators' concerns, Walt went with his gut. And Walt had a pretty savy gut. Walt thought the soup song in SNOW WHITE made it too long. Walt thought audiences in the 60s would find Winnie the Pooh too soft, so dropped it from feature to short status. Walt thought the Mary Poppins books would make a good film. But Walt also thought that a classical music concert would be a big hit; that Peter Pan was a dull story; and that SLEEPING BEAUTY would be his triumph. He was wrong. Michael Eisner, with no art background, thought Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Lion King were good ideas. He was right. Point is, a person's creative skill is irrelevent in the world of development. What counts is recognizing what is "good" or what can be "successful" - not always the same. When an exec at one network was picking good shows and being friendly with creators, everyone thought they were doing a great job. When the same exec was picking less popular creators or subjects, everyone thought they were doing a terrible job. As one disgruntled creator stated, "show me one show they created that was a hit". Point is, they had picked several shows at other studios and the current network that did reach hit status. Picking one hit is as good as creating one hit. Perhaps better. After all, a creator may have only one good idea. But someone with a "finger on the pulse" of the public can pick many good ideas - and in the business of show business, being able to pick a hit is the key to success and even scorn. Reminds me of the time they asked Fred Wolf, who was producing the super popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, how to make a hit show. He replied, "If I knew that, then all of my shows would be hits". Truer words have seldom come from an executive... or a creator.
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"Well, for one thing, the executives in charge at Cartoon Network are cartoon fans. I mean, these are people who grew up loving animation and loving cartoons, and the only difference between them and me is they don't know how to draw."
Craig McCracken

February 19, 2007
I sometimes forget that President's day is not a "big" holiday. In fact, at times it seems a confused holiday. As I drove to the doctor, amazed he was open, I passed a variety of shops - some open, some not. While at the doctor's I remember that it wasn't that long ago that I was working President's day. Back in the 1970s and 80s, I didn't work for any companies that honored the day. It was when I went to Nickelodeon in the mid-90s that I discovered a firm gave employees the day off. At the time, I commented how I had not gotten a "president's" day off since school. In my day, schools were a bit confused about a February holiday. Some took Washington's birthday off. Some took Lincoln's birthday. I remember some schools made the decision based on the weekday of the holiday. If it fell on Monday through Friday, we got the day off. If it fell on a weekend, well, we schooled 5 days. In the 70s, they merged the two birthdays into "presidents day". But then, it seemed no one considered it a holiday. Today, I do have a holiday from work. Most likely due to the fact that it is a holiday for the animation union. However, unlike other holidays from New Years to 4th of July to Christmas, today is not a holiday for all. Sort of like Martin Luther King day. Celebrated by some (Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network) but not all (Film Roman). Oh well, any paid day off from work is a good day. Cheers to presidents of the past.
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"Teaching was great in that it allowed me my free time. I finished early during the day, and I had a lot of holidays, so I would play around town in various bands."

February 18, 2007
Hit by the flu again... but took some time to add some more pitches to the pitch page.
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"What is writing but an expression of my own life?"
Zane Grey

February 16, 2007
At what point does the economy match up with the working world? It seems every time someone in the government mentions the economy is strong, a major company announces large layoffs of employees. Once again, when I was growing up, a company lay-ing off employees was the sign of a company (and economy) in trouble and was often followed by a drop in stock. But in today's upside down world, when company's get rid of those "pesky" employees, the stock goes up! Anyway, it just seems more and more that the world of Wall Street and the government are far away from the worlds I live in. For example, despite the constant news of "new productions" in animation, most the folks I know are still struggling. One reason is that so many productions these days are super short. You can get hired for a gig and be out of work within a few months! Plus studios are cutting back on the amount of people they need per production by having the smaller crew just do more. Recently on one website, someone asked if it was common to work 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week on features. While a few remembered an occasional rush in the "old days" of the 80s and 90s, most said the current 24/7 production schedule was new. And technology is not helping reduce the load. I laughed when someone was discussing the "wonderful" work experience at Pixar. They discussed the fun and how often they would not leave the studio until 2 or 3 in the morning, and then show back up back at work by 8am! In the 90s the live action film community was forced to change such rules when an employee, while driving home at 3am after almost 24 hours at work, crashed his car into a wall and died. Suddenly, studios felt such hours might not be healthy. Again, all this extra work is not adding up to extra money for most. So while we are told that things are going good in Los Angeles because the average house now sells for half a million dollars, I wonder who is affording such housing? A friend at another studio just had their son get a job at Disneyland. To afford living in Anaheim, he moved in with around half a dozen others. I found that is the standard living arrangement for many a folk at the "happiest place on Earth". I recall when I worked there in the 70s, usually you only had to have two to an apartment to make it work. Of course way back then, you were only making around $5 an hour. Today, those workers are making a hefty $8 an hour. Hm. That works out to an hourly increase of about 10-cents each year. (That works out to around $16 per month.) Wow... the economy IS strong!
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"I have ways of making money that you know nothing of."
John D. Rockefeller

February 15, 2007

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"Love is what you've been through with somebody."
James Thurber

February 13, 2007
There are some things I get tired of hearing people say. Especially when they are wrong. A recent website discussed the whole Cartoon Network/Boston topic. Several folks responded how sad, stupid, etc. it was. Then one mentioned how the reaction by politicians and police showed how "mindless" we had become. This brought someone with the (now common) response - "An act of war by some very evil people was declared on us by killing nearly 3000 innocent men and women at their work desks." Well, as mentioned, I am really tired of hearing the propaganda about 9/11. Yes, it was tragic and I have nothing but sympathy and respect for those who lost their lives and those who fought to save others. BUT, 9/11 was a criminal act. Period. It was not a calculated event by a foreign entity to bring us into/or scare us out of a war, or destroy our military as Pearl Harbor (a popular comparison) was. 9/11 was an act of terrorism by a group trying to create despair on civilians. It was the same type of act as the folks who bombed the World Trade Towers in the 90s, or blew up the Oklahoma government building, or shot a missle at our ship in the Mediterannian, or fought off the FBI in Waco, or bombed Bank of America's in the 60s, or sent worms through the internet, or assasinated Presidents, or murdered OJ Simpson's former wife, or even molested a child at Walt Disney World. These are criminal acts. Period. The events of 9/11 should have been treated as the crime they were. All of our resources should have gone to countries willing to help us get the masterminds behind the plot. Instead, our country went running around like a chicken with its head cut off throwing money and bombs all over the place. Again, the events of 9/11 were tragic and will always be remembered as such. At least for another decade or two. But they were acts of criminals, not acts of war. It is sad that our current administration has been able to cloud that issue so successfully. And sadder yet that so many in the public use the events of 9/11 to bolster any arguement for the government's ever growing intrusion into our freedoms and privacy. No matter what happens in Iraq or Afghanistan, it will not bring us any closer to catching the criminals of 9/11. We could have spent all this time on the golf course with OJ looking for Bin Laden while he searched for his wife's killer. And that would have gotten us as close to Bin Laden as we are now.
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"Barack Obama announced today he will seek the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Which group do you think now has the larger number? People running for the 2008 presidency or people claiming to have fathered Anna Nicole Smith's child?"
Mark Evanier

February 12, 2007
The Annies were given out over the weekend and, to no surprise, CARS won best feature. However, it was more of a nod to the popularity of Pixar. Aardman's swan song with Dreamworks, FLUSHED AWAY won most of the production awards from directors and writers to artists. It created an interesting split in loyalties. The Annies, like so many award groups seem infatuated with any product from Pixar. I laughed a few weeks ago when a prominent animation forum was discussing this year's Oscar nominations. Most felt CARS would win. Then several went off to state that Pixar's RATATOULE would be the best picture in 2007. Not bad being able to win awards sight unseen. But back to CARS and the Annies and awards. At this point, in all the US battles, Pixar's CARS has taken the prize - including People's Choice, Golden Globe, Producers Guild and now Annies. The only dissenting vote is from the British Film Academy, which gave their Baftra award to HAPPY FEET. HAPPY FEET has also won most of the critic's awards from Dallas, to Toronto, to New York to Los Angeles. I shamelessly admit to enjoying HAPPY FEET far more than CARS. The Pixar studio is quickly getting into a rut of 'heartfelt films' that follow well worn plotlines and pacing. I think it has to do with so many of thier key creators all coming from the 1980s of animation. A time when 'heart' in animation meant expressing a moral about family and home. While creative folks making things like HAPPY FEET, OPEN SEASON and even SHREK are more influenced by live action films of the 80s and 90s when entertainment meant absurd characters, humor and the only moral was one of 'friendship'. As Elliott might say, "Bros before does". Some Pixar films exemplify this humor (TOY STORY 1, MONSTERS INC), but mostly they tend to float in the "cute and cuddly" talent pool. And I think the Annie awards showed this exactly. While the fans of animation want to constantly rally around Pixar (as the tv folks always rally around Simpsons to show support for longevity over creativity), they also "prefer" the free wheeling, absurdist humor films of Aardman. The Annies love and support of Pixar shows the same underdog support they gave CATS DON'T DANCE and THE IRON GIANT when Warners 'dumped' both into theaters their respective years. Though I must admit, considering Pixar is now running the shots at Disney (cancelling projects, firing talent, forcing their creative choices on highly respected Disney talent), how long can they keep their underdog or little studio status?
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"We are not trying to entertain the critics. I'll take my chances with the public."
Walt Disney

February 11, 2007
Every so often on one of the animation forums I visit someone will ask "which cartoon character are you like?" Long ago, Rachel "dissapointed" me by stating she felt I was like Penfold, the rotund, bumbling assistant to DangerMouse. However, more and more I tend to see myself as Brian on FAMILY GUY. Like him, I tend to be a bit of the outraged liberal. My dialogue can lean towards the quip or sting. Brian comes across well educated and logical... and I would like to think I share those traits. I also tend to start projects and not follow through. (Stewie might as well ask me how my book is coming along.) I enjoy drinking, but have never been the heavy drinker Brian can be. I can be equally involved and detached at the same time. I am frequently a surrogate father figure or mentor, as much as a judge and dictator. Actually, in a world where so many cartoon characters are dimwitted losers, whiners and simpletons, Brian is probably the closest we have to a classic character along the lines of a Bugs Bunny. Like Bugs, Brian can be defiant, clever, resourceful, romantic, violent, brash and responsible. True, Bugs was not known for being a boozer, but his origin came at a time when drinking was down due to the war effort... and after the war, he was more aligned with young audiences. Brian has no worries about being a role model to children. He can just be real. Wish I had that option.
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"A dog is not considered a good dog because he is a good barker. A man is not considered a good man because he is a good talker."

February 10, 2007
It seems today about any place that sells drinks or pizza has TV sets. What I can't understand is why they all insist on being turned to sports channels. On superbowl Sunday we were going to head out for a lunch and realized any place that had TV sets was to be avoided. We opted for Sizzler. Now while sportsbars are obvious locations for sport channel TV, I must admit the last times I have been in such venues few seem to have sporty customers. The pizza parlors are more family. Wouldn't something like Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, TVland, GameShow Channel or some similar generic network be a better match for the audience? The sports programming had zero eyes following it last time we were in one. And how about those bars at airports, train stations and such. Last time I was around them it seemd most of the clientelle were busy on their laptops and cel phones. Seems as if a business or news channel would be of more interest to the crowd. Now I am sure that there are times, like the superbowl when everyone (at least it seems like everyone) is interested in sports and a sports channel is appropriate. But during the rest of the day, week, month, year, why not something on TV everyone can watch as they wait for service. At least MTV or VH1 would offer a music background.
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"If the world were a bar, America would currently be the angry drunk waving around a loaded gun. Yeah, the other people in the bar may be afraid of him, but they sure as hell don't respect him."
Wil Wheaton

February 9, 2007
Just read what could be the saddest news for Cartoon Network – Jim Samples resigned over the Adult Swim scandal. Those not in the business will not recognize the name, but Jim was a leading force in getting Cartoon Network moving the last few years. No doubt some sites will use this news to bash the network or made snide comments about executives. They will be so wrong. Jim was a unique exec. He frequently went to the studio in Burbank to talk with the creators and crews in town hall type events. While others might use such venues to just talk up the network’s latest plans, which he would also do, Jim spent most of his time taking questions. He was always honest in his answers. If something could not be changed, he would state so. If there was a problem in ratings, approvals, talent, he would not throw the bull. I recall more than once someone would ask a very sensitive question. He would smile, look around a bit and state he could not answer that in public. And at those meetings he would truly listen. At one meeting an artist brought up the frustration of the ‘bugs’ on the screen blocking story info and action. Jim stated he had not heard of such a concern in Atlanta (Cartoon Network’s corporate office), but quickly added, if it was a concern to artists, he would bring it up. And shortly after, the bug size was reduced slightly. Jim exemplified a casual southern charm not seen in most studio execs. Jim was always open to anyone’s approach. When he would visit Burbank, he would be rushed from meeting to meeting… but if you bumped into him in the hall, he always had time to stop and listen. Jim was not a creative type. He let others make those decisions. Jim oft said some of those decisions made him nervous for legal reasons, but he stated it was important for the network to be daring at times. It is a shame such a crusader for creative and marketing freedom would be the one to take the fall for other’s ideas. Of course, as mentioned, I think his gentleman nature would cause him to take that fall. (I doubt the “creative” person responsible for the idea would have such courage.) Though he did not agree with some of the ideas, he always supported them. And the fact that his support included taking the hit, makes him a true leader in my eyes. I doubt other execs will now allow such freedom since it could put them into a similar position.
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"The price of greatness is responsibility."
Winston Churchill

February 8, 2007
Some more thoughts continuing on my 'what if' theme of Disney past. First I talked of if early animated features had been comedy or action instead of musicals, and how Disney had a chance to move from musicals to buddy comedies and passed. Then I talked of how Ron Miller tried to move Disney into a bit edgier material, and take suggestions from the younger talent in the 1970s and was kicked out for his attempts. In the early 1980s, Disney animation had another chance to break free from the molds (or should I say moldy) forms of production. Peter Schneider had been hired by Eisner to take over the animation department. He called me in as one of three folks to talk about animation production. He did not say where he got my name, only that I was recommended. Knowing a number of the newer folks at the studio, I wondered if they had suggested me. Anyway, he was interested in getting some new life and direction into features. Mostly he wanted to see if the current process was the only way to do animation. He asked if one always needed three directors on a feature. He asked if writers had to come from animation. He asked if directors had to have been animators first. He asked if songs had to be in animated features, and if they had to be sung by the characters. To all of these I said "no" and gave some examples here and there. After some more questions he finally stopped and said he agreed 100% with me. He then stated all the animators he talked too said he was wrong on every aspect. They said features have been done at Disney the same way Walt started them with SNOW WHITE. He mentioned he had tried to convince Eisner and other execs to go new ways, but that they were all afraid to demand too much change from the animators. It was only after the release of THE BLACK CAULDRON that Eisner began to demand changes, like insisting on a script or treatment be written prior to greenlighting a film. So often I hear about how execs have ruined modern animation. But in some ways, it was the stubborn-ness of the old guard, or the new kids enamored with the old system that kept the creative process from moving forward. Any attempt to add something new to the mix was deemed a disaster in the making. Ironically, the end result was that the old ways, unwilling to bend or change eventualy were just knocked down by others who were willing to move forward, be open to technologies and welcome diverse creative input.
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"They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom."

February 7, 2007
In Stephen Sondheim's MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, the story starts at the present and works backward allowing the audience to see points in time when decisions made affected the present. The other day, I mentioned Disney's chance to get into the buddy-comedy feature genre years before Pixar and Dreamworks came to dominate the field. And how they chose another road - musical fairy tales. Disney had another key moment in the late 1970s with Ron Miller. Ron Miller was certainly not a dynamic, Hollywood deal maker like his successor Michael Eisner. But Miller had some good ideas that sadly were often flattened by low self esteem. I think Ron got told he was just a "dumb jock" so often, that he began to think it was true. More than once I got a chance to talk with him and found him well versed on Disney, entertainment and new ideas. Yet, I also saw that he was quick to back down when confronted with the old guard. For example, when someone found a sequence created for the original FANTASIA (later used in a different film), they attached the original classical music track and held a screening for Miller and key Disney toppers. They proposed putting the sequence into the original film and re-releasing the film. They stated how Walt had planned for FANTASIA to be a film that changed sequences through the years. They even suggested such shorts could be training grounds for new animators. Ron thought it sounded like a good idea. Suddenly Woolie Rietherman, one of the "nine old men" stood up and said the whole idea was bull-sh*t. He said he never heard the story and knew Walt "always" said when a film is done it is done. (With the poor box-office of FANTASIA, Walt did opt against doing future versions, and perhaps this is what Woolie recalled.) However, the damage was done. Ron stated if that was the way Walt wanted it, the project was dead. Ironically almost two decades later Roy Disney did the exact same thing with FANTASIA 2000. Similarly, Ron had talked with various new talent coming into the studio that suggested getting big name writers (like Woody Allen), stylistic artists and new music talent to work on the features. He thought all sounded like good ideas. Again, it was the old guard that re-enforced that only those who had done animation could understand how to create classic animated features. So that idea was dropped. He tried to get more edge into the films, but was constantly being "corrected" or stopped by a board fearful of losing the family image. I remember one night walking around the studio and bumping into the head of the board asking people for "another word for 'damn'". Seemed a character was going to say it in an upcoming live action film and the board was trying to find a more family friendly term. Good ideas like BLACK HOLE, TRON, BLACK CAULDRON and SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES were tweaked to death and watered down. By the early 80s it looked as if Disney was out of step with the public and Miller took the fall. Eisner came in... got top (non-animated) talent and went into edgier properties and was hailed a hero. If Ron had been stronger in his convictions, who knows where the studio might have been by the early 1980s. And where it would be today.
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"Traveling's the fun. Flashing by the countryside. Making you think merrily, merrily What can go wrong?"
Stephen Sondheim

February 6, 2007
Recently an animation website, while discussing the Oscars, repeated that animation was not a genre. It was a specific process of film making. Folks get confused since animation so often falls into the same type of genre. Since Disney became the focus of animated features, it was perceived as a musical comedy genre. SNOW WHITE set a standard that controlled the process from its debut in 1937 until the end of the last century. Anyone who wanted to get into the field seemed locked into that genre. One wonders if Fleischer had done a Popeye or Superman feature as their first entry, instead of the standard musical GULLIVERS TRAVEL, or if Bob Clampett had successfully completed his JOHN CARTER OF MARS project the direction animated features might have taken. But back to musicals. As dominating a force as that genre was, the newer buddy-comedy is equally fearsome. Since the success of the TOY STORY and SHREK franchises, it seems buddy comedies are the animated rage. As they grew in popularity, Disney struggled with musicals and an occasional diversion towards action. In a way, it is ironic. When I was working with Disney Feature development back in the late 1980s, the studio was thinking of heading away from the musical format. The new management (like Eisner and Katzenburg) thought the new direction was buddy comedies with music from modern artists. OLIVER AND COMPANY was a slight edge in that direction. I developed a number of properties falling into the buddy genre. One was almost put into production. However the success and raves of LITTLE MERMAID kept ringing in their heads. Most of the animators at the time did not want to do comedy, and wanted Disney to "stay true" to its classic tale legacy. So the studio decided to dump the buddy comedy idea and stick with musical stories. As the cliche goes, putting all their eggs in one basket. It was only a few years later that Pixar and Dreamworks (with Katzenburg) shifted to cgi buddy comedies. As is often the case, it is hard to beat someone at their own game, as many had tried in their battle with Disney. When other studios moved away from the Disney formula/genre, they found their own, more successful voice. Much like the musing on Fleischer and Clampett, I wonder if Disney had set up that buddy-comedy unit in the 1980s and been releasing them with their musicals would the cgi comedies have gotten as much attention?
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"Sometimes I wonder how I got into comedy at all."
Don Adams

February 5, 2007
As bad as TV news is, I have recently been apalled at how much worse radio news is getting. First, the "newspersons" (and I use the term loosely) seem totally un-newsworthy. Most sound like game show hosts asking the dumbest of questions to their interviewees. During a recent fire story (where many folks lost their homes), the newsman asked a person who had just lost their home if they think "other people who lose their homes feel the same as you?" What? Or the time one was discussing the war and other issues with a Senator. No matter what the Senator was talking about, the war, the econmy, health care, etc. the reporter just kept replying over and over, "but you know the polls say we should get out of Iraq." On top of that, a local radio station is now starting to play funny "clips" from films to go with their stories. Whenever they start one of those weird news type stories (about someone doing something pretty stupid - from crimes to laws suggested) they now drop in a clip of dialogue from a film for comic effect. Such actions are typical on morning music shows where you have two hosts who yammer on for hour after hour about nothing. But a news show? It all makes me think of the FAMILY GUY episode in which Brian and Stewie become a radio team. Over half the time radio hosts are on the air, the audio is simply created by the djs pushing buttons that repeat odd sounds, the station call letters, slogans and such. As radio news creeps closer to morning djs and radical talk shows, it makes one wonder where one can go to get news. Forget NPR... they spend half their time talking about Iraq. Yes. It is a major story... but there is another 90% of the world with things happening. Time to change the dial to Dingo and the baby.
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"I wanted to be a radio announcer."
Dick Van Dyke

February 3, 2007
Placing labels on people is never a good idea. Recently several folks in animation have bemoaned the newer crop of executives in the business. They point out how some have no experience in animation, or have wrong assumptions about audiences, or even that they don't even watch animation. While all of this is true, by labeling executives they are committing the same sins as the executives. They complain that executives today are only interested in fresh talent. Yet, if executives didn't push for fresh talent, some of the complainers (who created fresh animation) would not have the prestige they have today. In fact, the "problem" of executives in animation probably goes back to the origins of the entertainment form. And so many of the problems all come from labeling. I have seen ideas rejected because the submitter was too young, too old, too wild, too plain, too well known, and too unknown. I have seen creators blocked because their last show was an action series and the new series is comedy. I have seen writers blocked because they were not artists, and artists blocked because they were not writers. And, of course, I have seen management ideas rejected or rejoiced because they came from management. It is amusing (and frustrating) to see studios scour small comic conventions, YouTube, art schools and other venues for the next great talent. All the while having a building full of talented artists, writers and producers. Reminds me of one studio that was run by an artist who refused to let anyone on staff write for their series. His belief was that if you were a good writer, you would not be working there! I also enjoy hearing studios comment that as an employee, you have an "inside track" to the development department. Yet the employee must start with the same lower level development execs as anyone walking in off the street. The solution? I am not sure there is one. It would certainly help if everyone in the business began looking at the ideas and not the label attached to the person presenting it.
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"I think putting labels on people is just an easy way of marketing something you don't understand."
Adam Jones

February 2, 2007
This weekend is the big superbowl game... so I hear from everyone. (Though I spent a year as a cheerleader in Jr. High, I have never been a big sports fan.) The two teams playing are, in alphabetical order, the Bears and the Colts. And what a disappointment. I don't know if the teams are any good, but when it comes to the mascot meter, these pigskin palookas are real party poopers. Since I keep an eye out for horse/pony paraphenilia from time to time, I thought I would check and see what they Colts might have. To my surprise, the closest they come to anything equine is an occasional horse shoe design on some merchandise. Where are the plush ponies for kids? Where are the equine mascot items for collectors? All they have is a bunch of player numbers, images of players and such nonsense. Remembering a few Bears items, I went to their site. A bit better. In a few images, you catch a bear head by the name. But again, that is it. No plush bears, no clever bear images. Just a bunch of numbers, players and names. BIG DEAL! What is the point of having a name if you do nothing with it? Has football (and sports in general) gotten "too sophisticated" for animal mascots. Or do they thinkg that painted faces and cheese hats are more macho. For years now there has been a debate on the names of some teams and their possible offense to one culture or another. Time and again the teams shout they have billions of dollars invested in the brand. Well, when I look at the Colts and the Bears, I see little investment beyond the word. If cable channels with actual programming plans can change names and branding (Spike, CW, etc.) then certainly a team can. After all, for all the connection to horse and bear, they might as well call the teams the Chicago Bs and the Indianapolis Cs. Think of the money they would save on imprinting letters. As hard as it might be to believe, I have even less interest in the Super Bowl than normal. So for me it will be Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl. This year they have a kitty half time show, (ooo... maybe one of the collars with fall off in a wardrobe malfunction) and a tailgate party! Fun stuff.
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"After all, is football a game or a religion?"
Howard Cosell

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