Daily Barks 12.06 cataroo.com
Barking at the Moon: December 2006

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December 31, 2006
The second half of 2006...
July. Still looking for work, writing articles and putting things on eBay. See PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN II at Disney's El Capitan Theater. A big fire hits the mountains... but luckily does not get near us. Do a gig as Tony the Tiger. A very hot month. Even with all the fans going, we can't seem to cool down the house. Am told I may be in line for a different short gig with Disney. Discover I have a kidney stone. We lose Nikoma, our Akita and nanny.
August. No sign of employment. Continue with writing and eBay. Eagle gets points at a San Diego show. I begin to get severe headaches... but they eventually pass. Mom, Dad and Rachel visit Los Angeles zoo while I lunch with studio folks. Go to the Olympets at Lake Gregory. Eagle wins several gold medals, and Star wins a silver. After 10 years, our washer/dryer combo is declared dead. I attend the World Science Fiction convention as speaker. Told I have a job at a local establishment... but they never call back and my attempts to reach them fail. Nickelodeon talks with me a bit about a possible position that does not pan out.
September. Rachel and I work with the OPEN SEASON characters at several events including a race track and the movie premiere. Go to the Los Angeles County fair. Rachel and I join a new club. A new washer/dryer arrives. We lose Star, matriarch to our family. It is not expected and leaves us devastated.
October. Work a costume gig at the Fresno County fair. After months of therapy, the doctors feel Rachel needs additional tests for her arm. See OPEN SEASON in Blue Jay. Sell items at a Hollywood Collectibles show. Have a meeting at Film Roman about a possible position. Rachel is examined for neurological issues and told she has nerve issues and may need more extreme treatments, like a spinal tap. Dante, our sexy kitty, has some broken teeth and needs dental surgery. Celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary at Castle Park, a local park with early carousel.
November. Rachel gets a new tattoo. I write some more articles. Get word that Film Roman will be hiring me for a project! See HAPPY FEET. Have thanksgiving dinner with my folks, the first in probably two decades! Luca takes breed at a UKC show, and then Group2. Rachel begins sculpting. See SANTA CLAUSE III. We ride Grizzly Mountain at DCA for first time... and repeat it two more times. Rachel's arm begins to feel better, and neuroligist states her nerves may simply re-heal on their own! Begin work at Film Roman on the 29th.
December. Take Rachel, Jet and my folks to Hadleys for date shopping. Jet accompanies to the studio for a photo shoot. Snow comes early this winter with a storm in the middle of the month. Get a call from mom that dad is in the hospital due to bleeding, and . Luckily, he comes home before Christmas. Spend Christmas at Disneyland. It is the 11th anniversary of my proposal to Rachel. See NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM in Blue Jay. Get to Dog Beach for the first time in over two years to see friends and assist in placing a rescue Dane. Spend New Year's Eve day with my folks seeing CHARLOTTE'S WEB. New Year's Eve night finds everyone resting... or at least sleepy. It's been a long year.
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"Last year we stopped the bleeding. This year we must heal the patient."
Arnold Schwarzenegger

December 30, 2006
As 2006 begins to wind down, thought I would take a few days to look back. It has been a rough year in so many ways. But it looks as though it will be another one I got through.
January. The year began with a puppy match in which the location's bathrooms were locked shut! My future at Cartoon Network looked vague and caused much worry. Rachel began having pains in her arm. Added to our yard area with a fence that now circled the house. There were varying days of snow and rain. I read "The Big Sleep" commuting. Discover what was considered a possible coyote den is actually an old septic tank collapsing and creating a huge hole behind the house! Have it filled with concrete... and discover that homeowners insurance does not cover land movements. So if a house slides down a hill, the insurance company is not liable. Luca got her CGC title. I did an interview with Bob Kurtz about the new Pink Panther film titles for an article.
February. Rachel's arm continues to bother her, and her art output lessens. I am made a moderator on one of the forums I frequent and feel a bit more 'computer savy'. Our plans to get a chihuaha rescue are halted when the kids in the house develop kennel cough. A major snow storm that goes on several days strands us a bit. And one of the kid's lixits' pipe bursts from freezing. My train commute is interupted due to a "mysterious package" at one stop.
March. We pick up Jet, with the help of Star. Read "A Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court". Another big snow storm dumps around four feet on the house! We celebrate the pup's birthday at the Linmark facility where everyone has fun and cake. Do some writing and pitching at Cartoon Network with little results. My folks state that a major rent increase in Seattle has made them decide to move to Texas. We pupsit Comet and Dyami. Rachel manages to create a new piece of art for my pin trading needs.
April. My folks decide to come to San Bernardino instead so I begin to look at apartments! Acquired a new computer. A meeting at Cartoon Network indicates many folks are worried about their futures. We pupsit Feather while she is spayed. Read Perry Mason's "The Case of the Howling Dog". I get notification that my show will not be renewed at Cartoon Network, and with no other work, I will be exiting the end of the month. Read "Mary Poppins". Work the annual Pet Expo in Newport Beach with Star, Eagle and Rooster. Dyami returns to us. See THE WILD at Disney's El Capitan theater. Folks move to area. Kele loses part of her tail.
May. Final day on HIHI PUFFY AMIYUMI at Cartoon Network. Get a cold and can't celebrate. Spend a weekend selling at a convention. Tell my folks that I am out of work. Go to Ren Fair with mom, dad and Luca. Look for work at various studios. Little work going on. Start piling on ebay stuff. Meet with folks about a possible Disney gig. Rachel's arm continues to get bad, doctor starts her on spinal therapy several days a week.
June. Continue looking for work. Do some more writing and ebaying. A "lump" is discovered on Rachel's breast. Star appears as a Veteran at the Great Dane Club of California show. Rachel has surgery on her breast, and all is "clear", the lump is benign. See OVER THE HEDGE with my parents. The pain in Rachel's arm becomes so strong she cannot sleep and she begins getting cortisone shots.
more tomorrow...
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"History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon."
Napoleon Bonaparte

December 28, 2006
At times, it seems no one "gets" animation or family films in general. The recent release of CHARLOTTES WEB is a good example. From the trailers, the film looks to be a fairly charming version of a classic kids book. The opening weekend was "softer" than expected. Translated, the movie did not make as much money as expected. The studio tried to put a positive spin on the numbers by saying that it would hopefully perform strongly through the holidays and reach the numbers of other family films that opened in the same range. The example they gave was PRINCE OF EGYPT, a film considered a box-office bomb at the time. How big a bomb? The numbers were so frightening, Dreamworks head Jeffrey Katzenberg instantly tore apart their next film - a serious adventure in South America and converted it into a comedy - ROAD TO EL DORADO. Dreamworks has never again ventured into heavily serious animated fare. But back to CHARLOTTES. My favorite business expert quote was something to the effect of "even with a strong voicecast the film did not perform well". To this day, there is a perception that all one needs is big star voice talents and you have a hit film. Though big names might attract attention to the film, and give the studio someone to put on the talk shows for publicity, they do not have the same drawing power as in live action. No matter who is voicing a pig, it is still a pig. I think the more obvious reason the film did not do better is simply the story's concept. When kids are rushing to see films about wizards, ogres, and dancing penguins, it is easy to see how the story of a pig on a farm might get passed by. And, just like the penguin reference, this year has seen a lot of talking animal films. So not only is the locale a farm (which most modern kids have no reference to), and the gimmick is talking animals (way overused this year), it stars a "girl" (which is proven to turn boys off). Just like this years other animals flicks like LASSIE and FLICKA, CHARLOTTE just looks a little too plain to attract much attention. A shame no doubt. But films of charm do not always attract an audience. Just think WIZARD OF OZ - which was a financial disaster at the time of its release only to later become a major classic. Will CHARLOTTE fare as well? Who knows? Maybe, as the studio hoped, it will gain some steam through the holidays. But with upcoming competition like living museums and goofy fairytales, it will need to be "some pig" to get noticed.
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"In Tennessee where I grew up, there were animals, farms, wagons, mules."
Tina Turner

December 27, 2006
Today the news was full of reports and comments on the passing of former President Gerald Ford. Since he was President while I was still in college, I have some memories. Remember when (then) vice-president Spiro Agnew resigned. Agnew was quite the buffoon and recall folks were glad to see him go. Like others, I had not heard of Ford prior to Nixon choosing him for vice president. A political junkie I knew said Ford was chosen because he was unknown and would not run for re-election. Then recall how Nixon resigned and Ford replaced him. Though a lot of folks were glad Nixon resigned, I knew a number of folks who thought he was hounded out of office for things "every other President had done but not gotten caught at." When Ford pardoned Nixon it really angered folks. A friend at school totally lost interest in politics claiming all politicians were liars. As he put it, "Agnew said he wouldn't quit, and he did. Nixon said he wouldn't quit, and he did. Ford said he'd be honest and he lied." Though Ford stated at the time the system worked, it really had not. If the system had worked, Nixon would have faced an impeachment trial. By resigning, Nixon beat the government system. And with Ford's pardon, Nixon beat the legal system. However, I was not surprised... and not angered. Despite his apparent clumsiness, I was impressed by Ford's candor. During our first oil crisit, a major oil supplier threatened to hold back oil. While appearing on TV, an interviewer asked Ford what he could do. Ford suggested the possibility of military action. The interviewer wondered if such action could be justified when the US had not been attacked. Ford replied a country that withheld oil was the same as someone choking you. Ford stated that if someone choked you, your only action would be to fight back. As usual, it was a candor not usually found in politics. It was what I liked about him. And why I voted for him when he did run. It was the last time I voted Republican. Ironically, I cannot recall if Ford had a vice-president.
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"A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have."
Gerald Ford

December 26, 2006
A day of working around the house included a trip to the movies. Saw NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM... and it was okay. There were some cute things and some amazing effects, but the story and characters never really engaged us. It was also hurt due to the commercials showing so many of the key moments. It left few surprises for the audience. It also made us wonder if it would inspire kids to go see a museum in real life. For me, the most fun was seeing Mickey Rooney doing some silly schtick. The last few times I'd seen Rooney, including the lame BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, he had a lethargic aura. Even at the collectors show, he tended to wander. Of course, he is 86. But it was nice to see his antics and the sparkle in his eye. In my mind, he has some of the funniest stuff in the film. The trailers were interesting... and highly dated. The theater showed a trailer for NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (which at first made us wonder if we had gone to the wrong theater), Cartoon Network's RE-ANIMATED (which debuted three weeks ago) and ABC Family's 25 days of Christmas programming... which ended on the 25th. Only two new films were promoted. One was RATATOUILLE, Pixar's next film. It is the second time I have seen the trailer... and it still looks to be a renter. The other was THE SIMPSONS MOVIE. That trailer was pretty simple... but the audience laughed almost all the way through it. As the banker told Walt after a sneak preview of SNOW WHITE, the Simpsons film is probably going to make a hatful of money. Which would be nice. It could single handedly return hand drawn animation.
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"I went to the museum where they had all the heads and arms from the statues that are in all the other museums."
Steven Wright

December 25, 2006
As planned, spent the day at Disneyland... and it was quite an experience. The park was shockingly crowded. It took around 15 minutes to get through security, another 15 minutes to get into Dland. Once inside it was like Christmas eve at a toy store. We had to waddle through the crowds. They turned the entrances of Frontierland and Adventureland into one way walkways. Even though, we still got to see Pluto, Chip and some other characters. To our surprise, the park was selling a lot of holiday merchandise half off! The first Christmas we have seen this. So we grabbed a few pins. Squeezed onto the carousel. Did some pin trading and then headed over to California Adventure. It was also busy, but at least you could walk easily and see the park. Did some trading, ate, did some more trading and then headed out. As we exited, we noticed large signs stating that they were no longer selling tickets to Disneyland! For most of the time, I couldn't help but think back to the 70s when I worked there. There were so few visitors, it looked like a ghost town. The crowd was usually estimated to be around 20,000. For most of the last decade, Disneyland frequently has over 60,000 guests. Amazing to consider that on the bicentennial, July 4, 1976, the park had 40,000 guests and that caused them to cease all main street vehicles, pull the characters off the streets, and close the entrance. Now they take in over 80,000 before closing the doors. Considering the only new territory since I worked there is Toon Town, I wonder where they put the other 40,000 guests each day? But even with the crowds there is something magical about the place. I still have fun. I still love the characters. I still love wandering the streets. Merry Christmas.
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"It's no secret that we were sticking just about every nickel we had on the chance that people would really be interested in something totally new and unique in the field of entertainment."
Walt Disney

December 24, 2006
Christmas eve. Spent the morning helping with mom and dad. Dad is back from the hospital and doing well at home. The afternoon was spent with several trips to the lake for pictures of the kids with Santa Claus. We do it every year... and it seems Santa notices. While in line several of Santa's 'helpers' commented that from the first day Santa kept saying that he was expecting 'the big dogs' to show up. He is truly a wonderful Santa at the lake. He spends a great deal of time with the children. And he always spends time with our kids. We have some great pix... and some nice memories. Tomorrow, if all goes well, we head to Disneyland. It will have been 11-years since I proposed to Rachel on the carousel there. Must admit, in spite of the generally good news (Rachel's health improving, my employment situation improving, my dad getting out of the hospital), I am having flashes of sadness. It is our first Christmas in many years without several of our kids who "left" us over the last year. In fact, heading for pictures with Santa was quite difficult. But as the new year approaches, it is time to keep looking forward. Those that have left us, have left us with some major responsibilities. It would not be right for me to ignore those responsibilities. I guess this year more than others the theme might be the song, "Have yourself a merry little Christmas." We will. For those with us... and those who have left us. And so it should be.
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"Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won't make it "white"."
Bing Crosby

December 22, 2006
Gas went up 4-cents overnight. Such jumps are pretty common these days. They say gas prices are "going down", and I notice a penny drop. They say gas prices are "going up" and the movement is usually several pennies. Since I keep track of milage and gas purchases, I thought I'd pull out my notebook and see how things have progressed this year. My first gas purchase in Janauary 0f 2006 was $2.09. My first gas purchase in April was $2.85. WOW! I don't see to many other products jumping nearly 10% a month. My first purchase in August was $3.13. ZOWIE! That's a 50% increase in one year. It would be like if McDonald's Happy Meals went from $2.99 to over $4.50. Bet that would cut down on kids eating fast food! In the world of cars, that would mean adding $10,000 to a Toyota Camry. Or Disneyland admission jumping from the current $60 to near $100! Well, things got a bit better. After months of the price "dropping", my first gas purchase in December was a "mere" $2.43. Only 25% more than I paid in January. However after the 4-cent bounce, I am back at $2.47. And the worse part of all this is that I buy my gas at Costco, where the price is around 5-20 cents cheaper than the average station on the street. It is definitely a Merry Christmas... for the oil companies. [Since I first wrote this, the news announced that in Southern California gas prices went up 10-cents in one week.]
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"It takes a full day's pay for a minimum wage earner to pay for one tank of gas today."
Russ Carnahan

December 21, 2006
Being a long time fan of movies and the music of movies, I really miss the voices (and the real tracks) on soundtrack albums. In the classic 'things go in cycles' cliche, soundtrack albums have reverted to their origins... of sorts. In the 30s, when movies released the songs from their films on records (at that time 78rpms), they would re-record the songs. Sometimes they would use the actual stars of the films, other times, they would use popular vocalists. For example, for the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, they released the songs all sung by Fred. No matter who sang them in the movie, or even it was a duet, the singer on the records was Fred Astaire. There were several reasons for this, including the fact that 78rpms had limited play and some songs had to be re-recorded to fit the time. This all began to change due to Walt Disney. When he released SNOW WHITE, it was a film without "name" stars. There is various debate about whether it was due to lack of stars, lack of money or other such "lacks", but the result was Disney decided the best way to release records was to simply record the track from the film onto the record. So the record set from SNOW WHITE stated it featured tracks from the motion picture. For Walt's next film, PINOCCHIO, the record stated it featured songs from the orginal 'soundtrack' of the film... and the term was born. For years, movie studios followed suit and simply clipped a piece of the audio from the film for the record release. This often meant a line or two of dialogue before the song began. However, as technology began to come down and improve, it become easier and easier to seperate those tracks. You did not need all the tracks. The studio could remove dialogue and just have the music and lyrics. For some films this meant little change. But for some it meant big change. For example, on Disney's THE JUNGLE BOOK, the original soundtrack album featured fun banter between Phil Harris (Baloo) and Sebastion Cabot (Bagheera) during the "I Wanna Be Like You" number. When the soundtrack was released almost two decades later on cd, they removed all the banter. Instead, you simply have some background music between Louis Prima's (King Louis) vocals. The song is still fun... but the banter added some additional personality. Another example is SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. Again, early albums featured the climax where Debbie Reynolds is singing the title tune and is stopped midway and the song switches to one by Gene Kelly. Technology and archives allowed the newest release to feature Debbie singing the whole song. Then, the next track has Kelly sing his. The entire moment of surprise, drama and romance is broken. Timing can be as important in musical interaction as dialogue and comedy. And as if going full circle, more and more soundtracks are tinkering with the songs. LION KING 1/2 has a great song of digging by the meerkats. For the soundtrack album, they created a new mix making it more of a song than a scene. The bounce of the original is gone. And more recently, HAPPY FEET features characters doing covers of popular songs (similar to MOULIN ROUGE). For the soundtrack album, the producers have gone back to the original recordings of the songs. I guess some might prefer to hear the original artist perform a song, as opposed to a voice actor, but it is NOT a soundtrack album. It is merely a collection of song references. One need only go to Amazondotcom and read the reviewers complain how kids are so dissapointed to not hear the songs they heard in the film. To them, it doesn't matter if Prince sang the song 20 years ago. What matters is that the penguin sang it now. It seems today, you often have to wait for the film to show up on dvd to get the real soundtrack. No wonder cd sales are down and dvd sales are up. It's a matter of getting what you heard... and what you want.
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"There was a time-and I used to get made fun of a lot-that all I collected was soundtracks."
Jason Marsden

December 20, 2006
More thoughts on Joe Barbera's passing. Being a journalist at heart, and at times a historian, I am always interested in how deaths in the industry are reported. For example, even though such key entertainment figures as Orson Welles, James Stewart and Henry Mancini did their final work in animated features, view of the obits mentioned that final performance. In the area of animation deaths, it seems obits always need to connect a character to the corpse. When the likes of John Wayne, Aaron Spelling or Alfred Hitchcock died, few obit headlines tied the artist to a specific film or character. Of course, Wayne, Spelling and Hitchcock were well known names, unlike a Jones, Kimball or Barbera. Animation folks are best known for the characters they worked on, so a tag is always added - 'so-and-so, creator of such-and-such died today'. Of course, with Barbera's death, there was a multitude of characters to credit. Seems the most popular have been (in apparent preference of the media) - Scooby Doo, Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones. It is fun watching a number of bloggers and forums take "offense" at giving Barbera credit for Scooby. Reminds me of the Disney grumblers who for decades complained that Walt took credit for others work - though Disney frequently credited his 'staff' and 'nine old men'. But what strikes me as most interesting is how linked Barbera was to Hanna. And it was just not be corporate dictate. Barbera was quite free in mentioning others who worked with him. Even though it seemed as if "Bill and Joe" did not connect much in later years, each always took time to credit the other. So Barbera's (and Hanna's actually) obit headlines usually stated the person as "co-creator". A nice touch. Compare that to when Chuck Jones died. No "co-creator" in those headlines. They all shouted "creator" of Bugs Bunny, Pepe, Road Runner, etc. No recognition at all about the other talents who were equally "creators" like Avery, Clampett, Freleng and such. Perhaps that is why the HB studio, like the Disney studio survived long after the efforts of such solo credits as Jones. Bill and Joe understood that animation is really a team effort. Yes, it is nice to get the attention, the press and the accolades. And anyone with any staying power in animation certainly deserves it. But it is nicer when the person receiving them takes time to acknowledge that they did not act alone. Hanna always referenced Barbera. Barbera always referenced Hanna. So the public and media see them as a team - as bonded as Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello and Scooby & Shaggy. That's kind of nice to see in an industry that has seen its creators become more and more self centered.
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"No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit."
Andrew Carnegie

December 19, 2006
The last few days have been full of... twists. I don't think the term "surprises" fits. Saturday, while down the mountain picking up the kids raw diet, a storm hits that dumps snow on the mountain. The drive up was a bit more treacherous than usual as we have had a lot of new folks move in... and they were not aware of driving needs in snow. We saw vehicle after vehicle that had slid off the road as we drove up. Sunday brought a lot of shoveling and then a call from my mom that dad was in the hospital due to bleeding. Since they were on a tour trip at the time, I needed to go to the distant hospital to pick her up so she could get her car from the lot the tour started from. Rushed clearing the snow and headed off. Dad seemed weak from the loss of blood, but okay. Plans were for him to get some tests on Monday and come home Tuesday. Monday, after a hectic morning at work, I got a call from Rachel around noon. The hospital called us since it could not reach mom. Dad had suffered a heart attack. I rushed from the studio to find mom was okay, but had been out shopping. We headed back to the hospital to find dad "resting and stable". On the drive back, we hoped to bring him up to a closer hospital at first chance. That night, before going to bed early, I read that Joe Barbera had passed away on Monday. Today the news and websites were full of bios, tributes and memories. Having been a fan of HB from my youngest days, all I'll say is that I am glad that Joe lived long enough to see his star rise again. When I first got in the business years ago finding anyone with a kind word about Joe was rare. I had met him while still in college and met him on varous occasions afterward, always findling him pleasant, creative and a true icon. Now its Tuesday. Sky is sunny. Dad is (again) "resting and stable", but unable to leave until Thursday. Joe is getting proper respect, thank goodness for Boomerang. 2006 - Only 12 days to go.

December 15, 2006
Read some sad news... "For the first time, the Golden Globes have an award for best animated feature film, following the lead of the Oscars, which added an animation category in 2001. Globe animated nominees were the talking-automobiles comedy CARS, the penguin romp HAPPY FEET and the fright flick MONSTER HOUSE." So another award ceremony decides to put animation into its own category (*cough*ghetto*cough*). While I can understand that animation producers want the chance to go up and get an award... any award, creating isolated categories for animation seems to diminish the art, rather than celebrate it. Are the producers implying that animated films are not good enough to compete in the general categories? It seemed odd, that after BEAUTY AND THE BEAST won a nomination for a Best Picture Oscar, there was a big move to give animation its own Academy category. Certainly live action producers are not worried about losing to animation. It was the animation producers who felt shunned. Now the Golden Globes have followed suit. And in their case it seems almost silly. Since 1990, 10 animated features have been nominated for Best Motion Picture - Musical/Comedy by the Golden Globes including LITTLE MERMAID (Disney), TOY STORY (Pixar), CHICKEN RUN (Aardman) and SHREK (Dreamworks). That is a respectable track record and a good variety of studios and styles. Two animated features have actually won the award - BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and THE LION KING. In some ways it all strikes me a bit condescending - like the spoiled child who needs to get his own gift everytime he attends a friend's birthday party. I often hear how folks in animation want the same "respect" given to live action. I do not think leaving the party to have your own celebration in the closet brings much respect. But I guess it does bring trophies for the producers. Maybe I would feel different if the awards were for "writing" or "directing" an animated feature. But just maybe.
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"Success is like winning the sweepstakes or getting killed in an automobile crash. It always happens to somebody else."
Allan Sherman

December 14, 2006
As I have learned many a time over the past few years, making plans can be a futile task. One can wake up to discover the world has turned around and suddenly things are upside down. Oddly, it is a lesson we should learn early in life. After all, I was around when I began having nuclear attack drills in school. We lived in Houston, which was so close to Cuba, which was (supposedly) getting nuclear weapons. Then I remember when we were told to leave school because President Kennedy had been shot. It is odd that such change only happens in crisis, from Presidential assignations, to NASA disasters, to Planes crashing into buildings. Even most personal ones come from sudden illness or accident. And with that change any and all plans can suddenly seem pointless. The reason this topic has come up again is political. As the news media keeps repeating, "Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota was in critical but stable condition Thursday after emergency brain surgery". All of the plans and posturing over the new Democratic congress are now mute. As I write this, no one knows the outcome. Will the senator recover enough to keep the democrats in power? Will the republican governor appoint a republican senator? As the cliche goes, time will tell. But more is being told in this moment. At a time when the country is apparently so evenly divided, this should serve as a warning that it will not take an election to change politics in this country. Many of the country's senators are over 60. Illness or death can happen at any time. It brings a new meaning to "national security", and the limited amount we have. Also brought to the foreground is the reminder that all injuries and deaths are not equal. It is strange that the hundreds of deaths in Iraq will have less of an affect on how this country is run than an operation on a single senator.
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"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying."
Woody Allen

December 13, 2006
A recent story element on FAMILY GUY has Brian (technically the family dog) involved in a physical relationship with a bimbo. The fact that the lady is human has at least one animation forum a buzz over this apparent bestial relationship. Members are arguing (and voting) over whether it is really bestiality or just a cartoon gag. I think the final resolve will come when they decide what Brian really is. Is he a dog? a human-dog? a human in a dog body? Brian definitely has some dog in him since he has (offscreen) sex with a racing greyhound. Brian almost becomes "fixed" until the puppies arrive with human heads! Once again, it makes me wonder why suddenly something attracts the attention of viewers. For example, there was much ballyhoo when THE SIMPSONS announced they were going to have a gay character. Few made comment that gay characters had been on the show for years. And only the most dense would not realize that Smithers has a gay crush on his boss, Mr. Burns. But back to the funnier show, FAMILY GUY. From almost the first season Brian has shown an attraction to Lois, Peter's wife. Not only does he joke about 'doing' her (and even daughter Meg), he sees an analyst about it, and even marries her when Peter disappears in an episode in which Lois' denial of sex is a major issue. So why is this sudden affair such an issue? Forums full of animation fans don't have issues with Roger & Jessica Rabbit, or Droopy and various ladies (aka "Red"), or even Bugs Bunny's oogling Lauren Bacall. But Brian looking at a human female? Perhaps it is because folks making FAMILY GUY have created such a real universe that the fans accept events in that universe as real life. Such postings makes me wonder what they think of Stewie.
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"I think people should be free to engage in any sexual practices they choose; they should draw the line at goats though."
Elton John

December 12, 2006
After getting X-MEN 3 on dvd, Rachel asked if Harry Potter (with plans to film all 7 books) would that be the longest running series of movies. I said it would certainly be one of the longest series of films that utilized all the books faithfully. But with only 7 books, it would be outdistanced by the likes of Tarzan, Charlie Chan, Blondie and other long running series from Hollywood's "Golden" age. She stopped me and asked if there were any current long running series, not counting remakes. And, truth be told, there are not a lot. Many of the series in the 30s, 40s and 50s were B-movies. These were soon taken over by series on TV. In fact, most of the movies series of the golden age eventualy ended up as series on TV. However, the idea of movie series is still somewhat alive, though often short-lived. One can easily count the number of movies in most series since they many have a roman numeral following the title. Seems as if most series peter out around III or IV. The original PLANET OF THE APES series got up to five. Depending on how you count the STAR TREK movies, they come in around 5-7. I am not sure how one would count the STAR WARS films - 3+3? 6? And what of series that start out as movies, then move to direct to video (like the nearly dozen LAND BEFORE TIME movies) or TV like BLADE? I would say that perhaps the longest running would be the James Bond films. Now in its fourth decade, the Bond films have broken many rules and records. With 6 different actors (and counting), it may be the continuing series (ie from the same production family) with the most actors playing the main character. More than once this series was counted out. But it has managed, like Dumbledore's Fawke's, to be reborn out of fire - often with the entrance of a new Bond. Most likely, with the ever increasing venues for entertainment, movies will most likely create some initial heat (and thus sequels) before evolving into TV, home video, games and other aspects. And speaking of Harry Potter, ABC Family recently ran the first three. Seeing one after another after another, it really showed how strong a movie the third one is. The first two are fast paced and lively... but the third has real atmosphere, real showmanship, and real emotion. Makes me want to see the fourth again to see if it is as successful as a movie.
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"There will always be sequels, it is par of pop culture, what's old is new again."
Robert Englund

December 11, 2006
Bowling for memories. The Film Roman studio had their holiday party at the bowling alley next to Jerry's Deli. The trip there and back brought a flood of memories. My first bowling memory was as a youngster when I got a Huck Hound and Yogi Bear bowling kit. All the parts were hollow plastic. You bowled by filling the ball with water (for weight) and rolling it at pins of Huck and Yogi. This was around 1960. But back to more recent times. I don't mention the bowling alley by name, as it has had several over the years. My first introduction to it was working with Don Bluth on the videogames. It was a few blocks from the studio (which was behind a bank) and occasionally frequented by the staff. Remember the week we were told there would be some layoffs due to a break in production between SPACE ACE and DRAGON'S LAIR II. A few of us in the annex decided we would all head over to the bar at the bowling alley/Jerry's on Friday night to say goodbye to those who were leaving. To our surprise, that Friday afternoon the entire staff was called to a meeting. We assumed it would be a grand 'good-bye' to those leaving by Don and a promise for return to work. Instead, we were told that one of the gaming partners had gone into bankruptcy and the studio was closing. Period. That day. We were told to get our things and leave. It was a bigger party than we expected at the bowling alley. Driving there, I noticed the annex was still standing next to the coin store. But it had been "renovated" and looked a bit different. More different was the Bluth studio. The bank in front was now a Middle Eastern restaurant. And the building in the back, where SECRET OF NIMH, DRAGON'S LAIR, SPACE ACE and pre-production for DRAGON'S LAIR II and AN AMERICAN TAIL were done was now a parking garage! To quote Snoopy - "Stop parking on my memories!" My next bowling memory was of being on the Cartoon Network bowling team. It was after the next to last game of the "series" that injured my back which caused me extreme pain for several weeks and to lose the use of my left arm for several months. End result. I lost several months of work, still have a hand that is often numb or cramping, and got a Scooby Doo bowling ball. I have never used the ball as my arm has never really recovered enough to bowl. At the Film Roman party, I got to relive some of the driving experience to the Bluth studio, even though much of the area has changed. Perhaps most ironic was running into some folks at the party who worked with me at Bluth during those crazy days. They were also at Film Roman! Perhaps the biggest twist was running into a fellow who actually worked in the annex building with me. There were probably around a dozen at most there. My "office" with 5 artists and the xerography department. He was in that department. I wonder if he remembered the days we had to leave the annex building due to smoking wires. The building's electrical work was quite old... and the equipment was heavy power usage. Who would think a trip to a bowling alley would spark so much backstory?
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"I haven't had sex in eight months. To be honest, I now prefer to go bowling."
Lil' Kim

December 10, 2006
The Annie Awards recently announced their nominations. And to use Jack Benny's reputed line after introducing himself to radio audiences at the start of his long running radio career - "I will now pause for the listening audience to say, 'who cares'." The Annie Awards have been around for over three decades... and they still get little notice except when the nominations are announced, and then when the winners are announced. There were times they strived to be a major award, but even in the animation booms of the 80s and 90s they just got "no respect". (To bring in another classic comedian.) Ever since the Academy Awards added a Best Animated Picture to their list, some try to make the Annies a measuring stick for the Oscar. Oh well, it worked with the Golden Globes. The only thing Annie nominations seem to generate is the standard award controversy centering around who did and did not get nomimated - mostly who did not. This year is no exception. With over a dozen animated features to pick from, the Annies' list is pretty expected - CARS, HAPPY FEET, MONSTER HOUSE (well that might be a surprise), OPEN SEASON and OVER THE HEDGE. It would be a bit surprising if the Oscar list varied much from this... unless ICE AGE II (which got directing, storyboarding and music nods) or FLUSHED AWAY (which got a directing, writing and animation nods) is added. But considering the flat box-office of FLUSHED, along with the divorce of Dreamworks and Aardman, it seems no one will be submitting that film. In fact, having done studio submissions for several years, I can honestly state, the Annies have the most difficult and cumbersome submission process of all awards. As well as a (at times) questionable elimination process. (At various times the nominations came from the members, like the Academy, or just the board, like the Tonies, sometimes both.) It is not surprising that the final list of nominations can be a bit wonky at times. For example, Best Animated Television Production has CHARLIE AND LOLA (pre-school series), FOSTER'S HOME FOR IMAGINARY FRIENDS (children 6-11). KING OF THE HILL (adult), THE FAIRLY ODDPARENTS (children 6-11) and WOW! WOW! WUBBZY! (pre-school, HI BOB!). Immediately forums were wondering where FAMILY GUY (who got writing and voice nods), AVATAR, AMERICAN DAD (who also got writing nods), SPONGEBOB and SOUTH PARK were. And the awards still have trouble deciding how to divide and categorize their categories. BROTHER BEAR II, a direct to vid feature was nominated in writer for features. BAMBI II, a direct to vid feature was nominated in Best Video. Course, with no writing for video, what's a bear to do? Perhaps the biggest, and nicest surprise was seeing some nods for ROBOT CHICKEN in animation. (Equally surprising was the studio listed as responsible for the animation.) Funniest argument this year has to be the nasty comments appearing on various forums over the nomination of MY GYM PARTNER'S A MONKEY writing nomination. My one "negative" is the justification by ASIFA for having three "young" folks getting the life achievement oriented Winsor McCay awards. Not to say that Bill Plympton, Genndy Tartakovsky and Andreas Deja don't deserve a little honoring, I just resent that one reason being given on the website for the younger noms is, "There is a reason for this. A little thing that we in the Animation History game refer to as the Dark Ages of Animation. A 20 year period from around 1955 to about 1975 when almost no new talent came into the field of animation." It was during that era the likes of Floyd Norman, Phil Roman, Bob Richardson, Ralph Bakshi, Milt Gray and others showed up. Floyd used to talk about coming into the industry and being surprised that most folks felt the business was dieing. It is because of talents like Floyd, Phil, Bob, Ralph, Milt and others that there IS an animation industry today. They came aboard what many considered a sinking ship and not only survived, but saved the boat with them. Dark ages indeed. Even with their hedge of "almost no new talent", the only thing "dark" is the dismissal of it by those who came later in an attempt to be closer to the "golden age" by erasing 20 years of hard work and creative folks. The Annies, which purport to honor animation art and history, should know better.
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"Awards are only a publicity gimmick."
Tony Randall

December 9, 2006
Where is the money in animation? This question came up at lunch the other day with some friends. It happened when someone was distressed over rates being paid for work on a particular series. The producer of the series tried to sooth the worker by indicating the series had a healthy budget of almost $350,000 per episode. Healthy? In the 1980s, we were making the GARFIELD AND FRIENDS series for around $300,000 per half hour. By the early 1990s, most series were running around $325,000 per half hour. Of course the likes of Disney and Warners began going as high as $400-450,000 per half hour. But, to be honest, a lot of that money went to big name producers and studio execs. I recall someone at Warners told me that over 10% of the budget for TINY TOONS went to Steven Spielberg. In the late 90s, budgets were regularly around $400,000. But as the new millenium arrived, more and more studios were 'cutting back' on expenses. Generally this was done by using more freelance artists. Another tactic was to reduce the staff working on the series. Know of one series where the artists had to spend hours in line making their own copies of boards and such. It seems odd to keep being told by the media that animation is so "strong" and so many studios are doing well. Of course, some shows are pulling a "Spielberg" by spending a lot of money on one or two "name" talents. I was being interviewed for a series and the studio exec stated the budget numbers. It sounded like a decent number. Then the exec leaned forward and mentioned that they were already paying "top dollar" for the producer, writer, and character designer. Everyone else would have to work for union minimum. Wow. Just like live action films. As the lunch conversation continued, I chuckled a bit. I mentioned how my favorite comment about the mascot business is static pay. I make as much for a professional gig today as I did in the early 1980s. I guess animation, whether via pencil or pixel also falls into that category. The only difference is that there was never a "boom" period for mascot work. Folks in costumes never had the chance to know any better.
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"Even though I can make my own budgets, I always ask for less money than we need so that you have to be more creative, you have to strip it down."
Robert Rodriguez

December 8, 2006
It occurred to me that I haven't mentioned the location of my new employ. I am "back" at Film Roman working on a new project for them. Talk about a "circle of life". My first stint at Film Roman was around 20 years ago! I was officially to get the first season of GARFIELD AND FRIENDS running. It was Phil's first TV series, after a successful run of Emmy-winning TV specials featuring Jim Davis' fat cat. When I came on board, the studio was on Riverside drive in a builing that Filmation used in the 1960s. The employees consisted of Phil Roman, his receptionist, Sandra (accountant), Liz (the lady who was to run the series until her pregnancy necessisated a lengthy leave), Brett Koth (then a board artist that I had known from the videogame days of Bluth who went on to become the 'ghost' of Garfield) and Gary Conrad (then board artist who would cross my path at many times in many functins). There were still several folks who were working on the GARFIELD: HIS 9 LIVES SPECIAL, but it was "somewhat" wrapping up. The studio was an amazing mix of talent just out of school and veterans of animation's golden age. (Where else would a CalArts grad work with the designer of Bugs Bunny, a director of Mr. Magoo and a painter from Rocky & Bullwinkle?) In those days, on an employee birthday or holiday (like Christmas), Phil would take the whole staff out to lunch at The Smokehouse. Some of the first "new" employees to join us after me included Phyllis Craig (the studio's first color coordinator- prior to that they used an outside facility which sometimes took days to see a color model) and Mitch Schauer (coming in as board artist, and another who would cross my path in many ways). We were there for a few years until Phil decided it was time to start growing. New execs and projects began to arrive and the studio soon outgrew the Filmation building and headed out to a larger facility in North Hollywood to work on series for the new FOX Saturday morning block. A year or two later THE SIMPSONS would arrive and the studio would finally become known for something besides Jim Davis' cat. I left shortly after to help build what was to become a new powerhouse studio utilizing the Marvel Comic characters. But that studio was absorbed, adjusted and abandoned within a few years. (Half a decade later it would be tried again with the success of the first SPIDER-MAN feature.) Today the Film Roman studio is in yet another location, and a division of Starz entertainment. Some things are still familiar, including a number of studio policies. THE SIMPSONS is still with the company. Much as when I left, there are lots of projects in various stages of production. There are even some familiar faces from my early days here. And there are faces from about every studio I have worked at. And that is nice. But there are also dozens of new faces. And that is also nice. One of the positive things about this business is the influx of new folks. And one of the nice things about Film Roman is that they still have respect and use for old faces.
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"Spend even a little time in this industry, and you get used to the ups and downs, the blanket accusations and mortal curses that mean nothing at all."
Joe Barbera

December 7, 2006
Time is relative. So, apparently is age. Over the last few weeks, I have heard several stories that are discussing the same event from different perspectives. First was a story about how "10 is the new 15". It indicated that kids of 10 were now as sophisticated as 15-year olds of the 80s and 90s. That meant kids of 10 were now more rebellious, more interested in sex (and drugs), and more desirous of being "in control". Then came the report that the 60s were "middle age" and "old age" was starting in the 80s! It suggested folks are still working well into their 70s. Along the same lines, it was stated that the 60s were "the new" 40s. YIKES! I remember reading in school how people in present times lived longer. It seems not only do they live longer... they are having the actual time stretched also. When I was in school, it was considered you were not "an adult" until you hit 21. You "retired" at 65. That meant you were expected to take care of things for 44 years. But if one is to begin making major decisions at 10... and expected to keep working into the 80s... that means today's kids must be prepared for around 70 years of work and responsibility. That's double of what it used to be only a few decades ago. And what about the issue of age discrimination? Today the new generation is taking charge by 25... and by 30 one is considered "old". In old speak, that meant having to struggle for another 30 as an "oldie". But now, kids will probably be taking over around 20. And if the "old" age sticks at 30, that means the kids of today will be "past it" and still have around 50 years... what used to be the average length of a career. For me, it seems as if no matter how close I come to "getting a rest", they keep moving the finish line farther away.
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"You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old."
George Burns

December 6, 2006
What a difference six months can make. During the summer, the animation industry was a-buzz over the idea of Disney and Pixar joining forces. Everyone was thrilled that a former animator would have power over the execs in animation. At the time, I wondered if it would simply be the end of Disney animation, suggesting the closure of Disney's computer division. I was chastised for being "mr. negative." (For the last 20+ years my comments about animation business were frequently greeted with the comment that I was "being negative". It didn't matter that most of my observations came true.) Well, Disney has announced a major lay-off of animation talent. It must be a major one, as the other layoffs, occuring since the summer, got little notice. Disney states that the shedding is due to a new schedule of releasing and the desire not to keep a staff on between projects. Putting a positive spin on it, the animation union has stated that Disney is simply doing what other studios do - hire on a per project basis. Well, Disney falling in line with the rest of the crumbling industry sounds like a positive step. NOT. The fact is, since the 60s Disney was keeping only key staff while bringing on temp talent when features were thick. When the boom of the 90s came, suddenly they had enough features going to eliminate the temp talent bounce. Now they have returned. I can understand small studios that need to hire and fire as projects happen. Although, to Phil Roman's credit, in the early days during slow times, Phil seemed to find something for folks to do until the new season picked up. At the time, Film Roman was a small studio, with one show. If Phil could do it, why can't Disney? Disney can keep multiple high priced producers, executives, personal assistants and such on full time. One need only walk around the studio lot. It is seldom "empty". But the idea of keeping 100 or so artists around full time? The cost! The cost! Again, it is common in the industry. But what made the old Disney, and the original Film Roman, so great was that they were better than common.
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"After I was fired from Disney, I did some of the worst movies ever made."
Tommy Kirk

December 5, 2006
Once again children's television is being put at risk. A batch of well-meaning doctors have decided that tv commercials make kids fat. The American Academy of Pediatrics noted that "young people" view an estimated 40,000 ads per year. They are "alarmed that such exposure may contribute significantly to obesity, poor health and drug use." No doubt, kids are exposed to an awful lot of consumerism at a young age. However, to solve the issue, the Academy "wants Congress to implement a ban on 'junk food' advertising during programming that is viewed predominantly by young children." Much like the current administration that simply increases spending without increasing taxes, the Academy seems to think one can simply spend without thought of income. If children's television loses the option to advertise snack (aka "junk") foods, who will pick up the tab? Will car manufacturers place ads during LOONATICS? Will Tylenol advertise during YU-GI-OH (actually not a bad idea)? Will Tide advertise during THE X'S? Networks aleady work within a large amount of regulations regarding ads. They have to place ads with the care one might play a game of Operation. If you place an ad for a product to close to an improper show (that might have a similar product), *zap* you lose. I recall when making GARFIELD AND FRIENDS back in the 80s,we often liked to put joke props in segments. Garfield might put on a pair of Orson slippers. Or Roy might wake up to an Odie alarm clock. Around the third season, CBS asked us to stop with jokes. They feared someone might think we were trying to sell kids on such products! (Jim Davis would have loved to have had any real products with the US Acres characters!) As the 90s progressed, standards became stricter with networks wanting no naming of produces whatsoever. Not even street signs that might indicate an endorsement. There went all the "Cawley Laundries", "Cawley Kwiky Marts" and "John's Hot Dogs". I certainly agree that obesity and drug abuse are serious issues. But I really object to groups who insist that strangling children's entertainment is the cure. Maybe if adults stopped smoking, drinking, overeating and talking sex kids would get a stronger message than removing Tony the Tiger from Saturday morning.
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"The reason I went for Jenny Craig is I thought, Maybe I'm not the only one who has stupid reasons for getting fat."
Kirstie Alley

December 4, 2006
No bark... just too tired. A kid emergency in the middle of night... er, crack of dawn.

December 3, 2006
This weekend viewed some episodes of the new GREG THE BUNNY series thanks to Netflix. I will admit to having had no knowledge of the character's internet life prior to the FOX TV series. That show always hit me as one of those series that started too soon. Kind of like FATHER OF THE PRIDE and other "high concept" series. Most writers and execs don't know that a high concept is not enough to build a series. I think if GREG or FATHER had been given a second season, each might have grown into hit shows. The basics were there... they just needed some time to develop real characters and situations. But back to the disc. After the FOX series, Greg has ended up doing film parodies on the Independent Film Channel. Got the disc and began watching a few. First, have to admit, on the first disc, I was unfamiliar with several of the films being parodied. And just did not 'get' them. So I watched the few based on films I was familiar with. Best two were probably the spoofs of ANNIE HALL and 2001. Both were well done... just (sadly) not funny. They reminded me of what passes for satire these days. Often, it seems enough to simply mimick the style of a film and insert your characters. Whether it be Greg, Homer Simpson or Plucky Duck, the writers simply re-cast the original with their characters. While this shows the skill of the art directors and designers in duplicating another's style, it illustrates the lack of skill in the writer's. But back to Greg. After watching a few, we simply but the disc back for shipping to Netflix. It is a shame. The FOX series showed a lot of potential for comedy. The new IFC series should have showed the same potential. But it simply showed even puppets need something more than just a hand. They need a brain.
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"When I was a kid, I never saw a puppet show. I never played with puppets or had any interest in them."
Jim Henson

December 2, 2006
Is it the end of an era? Going through a variety of grocery stores, I have found a dearth of holiday cereals. When I first began collecting animated character cereals in the 1980s, there were not a lot of boxes. By the end of the 1980s, the cereal industry was using boxes to attract more buyers with all sorts of special covers and editions. One of the most used trends was Christmas. Seemed every kids cereal had some sort of holiday theme tie-in. Some, like Rice Krispies, would had red and green colors to their cereal. Others, like Lucky Charms came up with special holiday themed marshmallows. While others even renamed themselves such as Capn' Crunch being Christmas Crunch. It was around this time that I stopped collecting cereal boxes as they were no longer being made to package cereal... they were being created for collectors. The same strategy that was used to sell comic books (like multiple covers, special papers, etc.) was being used by the makers of children's cereals... and it just made the special boxes less special. It seems others were equally unimpressed as I recall come January, most of the boxes were still on the shelves. By February they had moved to Big Lots! and other remainded stores. So perhaps that is why this year I haven't seen any. Kind of sad. The occasional special box was fun. But the glut of them just killed the interest in the general public. Oh well... back to bite size shredded wheat.
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"Like religion, politics, and family planning, cereal is not a topic to be brought up in public. It's too controversial."
Erma Bombeck

December 1, 2006
No bark... just too tired. Back to work and all.

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