When I first began collecting films (16mm, Super8, 8mm), the films cost from $25 to $500. At those prices, I was forced to keep my library lean. In fact, my first lesson in building a home film library was only buy films I wanted to watch time and again.
Then came the age of videotape. Suddenly, for $20 per blank tape (I bought mine at a warehouse for only $10 per tape), you could record up to 2 hours. I began filling tapes with TV shows, films and such. I soon had hundreds of such tapes. My second lesson learned: If I do not have time to watch it on TV when broadcast, I will not have time to watch a tape delay.
When laserdiscs and sell-through video came to be, my collector instinct took over and I began buying key films one should have in a good film library. My neighbor bought kung-fu films, cheap horror movies and goofy comedies. I soon discovered, when we got together, we invariably watched films in his collection. My third lesson: I am a film viewer, not a library. Buy films to watch, not store.
For example, when Disney finally released SNOW WHITE to home video, my friends were astounded that I was not going to buy a copy. (I still do not have one.) They argued how important the film was, and how great the animation was. I agreed, but argued back that I had seen the film many times (perhaps a hundred) and knew it well. I also said, I knew it was a film that I would not pull out to watch. (“Gee, I feel like watching SNOW WHITE, tonight.”)
The new DVD Treasures gave me the same feeling. The Front Line set looks like a lot of neat, rare stuff. However, I have seen VICTORY THROUGH AIR POWER, and could easily state I have had constant “access” to viewing it. Like many of the films in the set, I have seen them at various times. Ditto for the Tomorrowland set. Would I want to watch them over and over? Probably not. The best bet for me would be to borrow a set from a friend to view them once more this century.
I now believe that there are lots of films (animated and live) that are like vegetables. These are films like CITIZEN KANE, SNOW WHITE, BIRTH OF A NATION, and THE GODFATHER. They are an important part of the young cinema buff’s diet. They are important to building a good understanding of the history and art of film. However, like vegetables, they are not always fun. Then there are the fun food films like KING KONG, 101 DALMATIANS, Charlie Chan, and Abbott & Costello. They may not be great art, but they are great fun. (On rare occasions, films can be both, like SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN.)
These days, with storage space at a premium, as well as limited viewing time, I prefer to spend that time with fun foods. Let those in school eat the vegetables.
With all the various topics I discussed in my return to the apa, folks only seemed interested in my suggestion that Michael Eisner might not be the Grinch who stole Disney animation. As I wrote, I did not know the man, nor did I condone all/any of his actions. I was merely pointing out that a lot of the “good” in animation during the last two decades, and at least 50% of the animation boom was due to his actions. (The other 50% came from Don Bluth and Steven Spielberg.) One writer even suggested it might have been a joke. But, as Q says in GOLDFINGER, “I never joke about my work, 007.”
As one of the first animation industry reporters around (in a time when most animation writing was fan or history based), I am well aware of Eisner’s time at Disney. From day one, Eisner was a hatchet man cutting funds and departments around the studio. Eisner’s desire to visit Disneyland whenever he wanted broke 25 years of the Park being closed Mondays and Tuesdays for renovation causing the Park now to crumble before our eyes. Eisner’s mining (some may call strip-mining) studio assets and properties were shocking. He tore down the back lot where many a great (and not-so-great) Disney film or TV episode was film. Eisner was a man of money, and at that time, money is all the shareholders cared about.
I have lots of stories about the type of man he is. My favorite is probably the Snow White one. When prepping for the re-issue of the film in the 1980s, Eisner thought the poster made Snow White look too old-fashioned. He had them re-design Snow White’s outfit to a more modern dress style and color it pink. As the poster was being previewed, one of the marketing folks asked what people would think, seeing the modern poster’s dress then seeing what Snow White wore in the movie. Eisner looked at the marketing man and said, “After they’ve paid to get into the theater, I don’t care what they think.”
However, I’ll stand by my comments that it was Eisner who pumped money into Disney’s feature animation division after AN AMERICAN TAIL soundly trounced Disney in the box-office race. Musker and Clements tell the tale of how they went to Eisner and said if he wanted Disney to get back the animated crown, he needed to put money into the features. This was at a time when Eisner was slashing budgets all through the Disney empire including the parks and studio production. To the surprise of many Disney insiders, Eisner boosted animation funds!
Roy Disney was brought into the studio because of Eisner. Neither Walt nor even Roy Sr. showed any interest in that. (And don’t even ask what Walt thought of Roy Jr. and vise versa in those days.) Roy’s interest in computer animation, and insistence it be used in features, was criticized and “pooh-poohed” by many in the studio. However, Eisner let Roy run with it.
Katzenburg admitted he was instructed by Eisner to “get into” the animation department. In fact, if not for Eisner, there would be no Dreamworks, and thus no SHREK. If not for Eisner, Pixar might not be the force it is. Few studios would have given Pixar as much freedom as Eisner’s Disney did. (Just see how much DreamWorks has stifled Aardman Animation’s output or how Fox held Blue Sky hostage.)
Eisner, Disney, Katzenburg, and almost all beings are a mix of good and bad. While one may outweigh the other, both sides are still there. Those who blindly bash Eisner are not much different than those who bash Walt. (One modern animator described Walt as “a man who made millions and won lots of awards for doing nothing except taking credit for other people’s work.”)
Face it. The current “President” was not elected, he was chosen by the Supreme Court. We went to war in Iraq over “confirmed” weapons of mass destruction, not to free its people. Clinton was threatened with impeachment because he committed perjury in court, not because he committed adultery. Eisner made animation successful as no one had since Walt, not necessarily because Eisner knew what he was doing or was a nice guy.
Peter Cushing has a great line in the classic schlock film HORROR EXPRESS. When he talks of a scientific principle, a woman states his ideas are immoral. Cushing looks her in the eye and states, “It is a fact, madam. And there is no morality in a fact.”
I was reminded of the feature when talking with folks about why some films and TV series fail to find an audience. The usual suspects of marketing, studio execs, publicity, and lame staff were brought up. I then stated an extremely thin book would be creators who considered the failure of a project might actually be due to the project or its creator.
Despite the fairly high failure rate of animation (and other entertainment), one is hard pressed to find creators who think maybe their idea was wrong, or that their handling of the material was at fault. In our (Jim Korkis and I) book HOW TO CREATE ANIMATION, one of the questions I asked the interviewees was to name a project that had failed. It was one of the toughest the creators had to answer. In fact, a few at first balked at even suggesting a film they were involved with had failed. Eventually all found one to point a finger at.
At least when a project failed at the Disney studio, Walt occasionally had the guts to admit that it might have been his doing. I’ve gotten to hear many tales of Walt from those who knew him, and where there. From the Mouseketeers’ bicycle story to the titling of films to the woman in the covered wagon, I think I most admire the guy for his ability to see multiple sides of an issue and buck traditions. Too many of today’s entertainers, production folk and executives are strictly reptilian-brain based.
When I worked at the Disneyland character department (Disney’s term for costume character employees), I found the folks’ reason for doing the job broke into four groups. First was the group who actually enjoyed the idea of performing in costume and entertaining audiences. I was in that group. Next, was a group that consisted of folks who felt it was the best job they could get that offered respect. These were the “little people” (midgets, dwarfs, whatever is proper or appropriate). As one stated, it was better to work at a place and be known as “the guy who plays Mickey Mouse” than as “the midget at the bank”. Third were the folks who simply “fell” into the job. There was no plan, and no real plan to stay. It was something that simply happened. (This is how many folks end up in their careers.) The fourth was the most mysterious. These were the folks who felt working in the character department would be a stepping stone into a career on stage or TV.
As I said, this was the most mysterious. Even at that time, before I had gained my many years of experience in the business, I couldn’t figure how “dancing as Tigger” would get one a job in a Broadway show or TV series. Yet these folks, some who had come from other Park entertainment such as parades or stage shows, felt they would get discovered. I know some folks have gone from jobs at Disneyland into entertainment, but they were not the “sweaty, stinky people in costume” (as we were usually referred to).
This all came flashing back to me the other day when one of our top folks indicated that he was going to direct a live action feature, because, he “didn’t want to do cartoons all his life”. I suddenly realized, like at the character department, the folks in animation also could be broken down into those (almost) same four groups.
You have the first group, those who enjoy making cartoons for the sheer joy of working in cartoons. You have the second group who think it is more respectful than other artistic ventures. There is a top director on a primetime series that once referred to working in animation as “sounding better than airbrushing t-shirts at a swap meet”. Then, of course, is the group who simply fell into the business after planning to be painters or architects or even comic artists. There are people who simply float from medium to medium and career-to-career. I would classify these as folks who keep falling into jobs.
Finally you have the fourth group, those that actually are not pleased with their current work and really do want to move on. Unlike the dancing Tigger, I do know that if one can be associated with a big enough animated hit, they can move into the bigger world of live-action. I certainly cannot condemn those who take advantage of offered opportunities. However, it is a little sad when the only reason one is in cartoons is to get out.
Actually, animation even has a fifth group. When the boom hit in the 90s, a group came in for the express purpose of making “big money”. I remember seeing ads in animation publications, articles in papers and news reports about all the money you could make in animation. It almost sounded as good as selling Grit. A number of folks who worked with me constantly talked of the reason they had come into the business was to make money. Some did, but for most, it didn’t last. At least at Disneyland no one ever did it only for the money. Or, as we joked at Disneyland - “what money?” The other joke, which also fits animation, “We only do it for the glamour.” If you don’t get the joke, you don’t work in animation… or at Disneyland.
It reminded me of the time I was at the Disney studio to see the early stages of an upcoming feature, THE FOX AND THE HOUND. I was led into a room where Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson were seated. The duo discussed a bit about Disney animation and then showed some pencil tests of animation they had done for the new film. The scene featured a very young Tod. As I watched, I was taken with how familiar the character looked. Suddenly, it dawned on me. The young boy’s face with a pointy nose/muzzle was Pinocchio. I mentioned this similarity to Frank and Ollie. One chuckled and said, it did have some resemblance, and then told the group that after you draw the same stuff over and over, it does begin to look the same.
During the 1980’s many animation fans and artists complained how Disney films all looked alike. Stories of character designers taking old model sheets and simply drawing over them to create new characters were common. Even film critics would comment on the similarities of character design. And Disney was not alone. Folks complained (or noted) how Jones’ Grinch and Tom were one and the same, and how so many H-B characters looked alike. Most felt this was due to the studios using the same artists over and over.
Then the 1990s came and we saw the birth of “creator driven” animation. Suddenly the chains of design were broken. New artists were breathing new life into the business. But, as the situation with Silver shows, really all that has happened is that a new set of standards has been imposed. I constantly hear how something looks like Power Puff Girls or Ren and Stimpy or Batman. Thanks to fan-based (or “click”-based) creators and limited imagination executives, the same designers are brought in show after show. And even if a new designer is used, the designer is told to draw like so-and-so. Out are Iwao Takamoto, Marc Davis and Bob Givens. Now we have Steven Silver, Craig Kellman and Bruce Timm.
This is not to taint any of the new talent that has come along. (I can lay claim to having worked with both Kellman and Timm at some of their first jobs.) However, it is to remind folks that studio style is something that happens and cannot really be stopped. Like energy, it can only be diverted.
For example, I ran into an exec from Atlanta recently. He was there to promote the “new look” for the network and a new series of interstitials. I told him I hoped they wouldn’t drop some of the classic funny ones. My example was the great one where Yogi is not allowed into the (live action) studio because he has no badge and the guards don’t recall who he is. The exec stated the clip was mostly gone because “no one really remembers Yogi”, so the joke was lost on the viewers.
Yogi, along with many classic characters (and performers), has entered into what I refer to as the self-fulfilling prophecy of extinction. It starts when someone feels a character isn’t as popular as it used to be. The owner begins scheduling less of the character. The character then becomes even less popular until the general public has forgotten it. Sometimes this is done on purpose, sometimes by circumstances.
Example: Viacom doesn’t think Terrytoons fit on Nickelodeon. Thus the likes of Mighty Mouse, Heckle & Jeckle and Sick Sick Sidney are not seen. (Why Viacom can’t stick them on Nicktoons or TVland I don’t’ know.) These characters haven’t really been seen since the 1980s, and that was mostly on budget videos. While discussing cartoons at the studio, I found that a number of 30-somethings had no knowledge of Heckle and Jeckle. They were “aware” of Mighty Mouse as a feature at Nick based on “some comic book or something.”
It doesn’t even take long. When one thinks of the feature booms in the 80s and 90s, how many of them are still “discussed.” Such films as FERN GULLY, ALL DOGS GO TO HEAVEN and BALTO are mostly remembered because of video sequels. It could be argued that these films did poorly at the box office and are thus doomed to the shadows. However, despite the huge box-office success of AN AMERICAN TAIL, the film is also not discussed, or even highly regarded.
Folks are quick to point up films like LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, LION KING, TOY STORY, SHREK and FINDING NEMO. But does one hear talk of A BUGS LIFE, ANTZ, MONSTERS INC., and CHICKEN RUN? Even the much championed Florida-toons MULAN, LILO and BROTHER BEAR seem to have already fallen into obscurity. (In fact, a recent Disney press release stated MULAN’s fall release on DVD was the first time the film had been on that format! Even some Disney websites couldn’t remember it had been released on DVD a few years ago.)
And back to Grim and Carl. I certainly don’t see much discussion about Andreas Deja and Glen Keane. The only mention I ever seem to find of the Disney’s nine old men, or other classic past “greats” is in the obits column. Seems the names in the animation press these days are Eisner, Disney (Roy), Lasseter and a guy named Pixar. How long before the likes of Clampett, Lantz, Jones, Kimball, Avery, etc. are no better known to the public than Horace Horsecollar, Foxy, Willie Whopper and Wally Gator?
“Harry Potter has proved that it’s not simply a fad or phase like ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.’ It’s in for the long haul.”
Turtles: a fad. Why is it folks try to show they are smart by picking on properties they deem as unsuccessful or passé. I see it when folks cruelly ridicule things like Smurfs, Barney or even Mister Rogers. They spout how such properties are “lame”. They fill with evil glee when announcing that all their friends, and thus obviously the population at large, are equally insulted by such trivial creations. However, as should be obvious to anyone ever seeing such shows, they are not aimed at the expert’s age group (though the maturity level of such expert’s may be close). Are such writers trying to feel superior by picking on easy targets? Or do they simply seek to hate shows or properties that millions love.
Turtles: a fad. Let’s see. The comic series began in 1984 and continues to this day. So it is a 20-year fad in comics. I do not think I would consider a 20-year run in comics a fad. Most comics don’t even get past the first few years.
The animated series debuted in 1987 as a syndicated series and moved to network TV (CBS), an almost unheard of move. It was broadcast on network and syndication for several years. In fact, it was one of the top-rated Saturday morning shows on CBS. The series lasted over 100 episodes. A new series is currently in its second season, and airing (again) on two networks! So the animated property is a fad of 17 years.
In 1988 a toy line began. It continues to this day. In fact, a recent licensing industry report stated the Turtle toys were nominated “for three 2004 LIMA awards: Overall Best License of the Year, Best Character Brand License of the Year and Best Character Brand Licensee of the Year- Hard Goods for Playmates Toys' action figures.” It goes on to report, “Playmates, whose initial line became one of the top selling action figure brands in the U.S. in 2003, is now rolling out new toys for 2004.” The toys are a fad of 16 years.
Harry Potter’s first book appeared less than ten years ago (in 1996). There have been five written so far. There have been three movies (same as the Turtles). Obviously, to this expert, a highly profitable 20-year property is a mere “fad or phase” compared to a property that has not even lasted a decade.
This expert makes the common mistake (amongst those who don’t follow the news, and only gleam headlines and press-releases) of assuming that if something is not super hot it is a flop. A variety of properties from Mickey Mouse to Garfield to Pokemon are no longer “hot”. Yet they continue to do big sales and attract thousands (millions?) of fans and buyers. I don’t know why these critics can’t accept the fact that sometimes properties are successful with a group of people you don’t associate with or understand.
A good example is the TV ratings system. A year ago two local disc jockeys looked at the top 10 TV series (which at the time included things like FRIENDS, FRASER, etc.). They discovered that in their large circle of contacts (friends, family, professionals, listeners, etc.) no one watched any of the top 10 shows. It made them realize that there are huge groups of people who may not always be amongst the “in” crowd or even “your” crowd.
Maybe animation and entertainment reporters can finally figure this out. But I doubt it.
While I have never been to Anthrocon, I have attended furcons up and down the West Coast since the first was held over a decade ago. I will admit that one can find a great variety of individuals at a furry con ranging from the quiet fan who wanders the dealers room to the over-the-top character who can be heard voicing his opinion throughout the entire hall. I will also state that I think there is nothing wrong with a majority of the fur community.
Michel Gagne’s page was a pleasant report, and he seemed to enjoy the event. His pictures showed a huge number of folks in fursuits (costumes). Oddly, my mind went right to the recent AnimeExpo held in Anaheim. This gathering of japanimation fans has also been going for many years. (I can brag/date myself, by stating I also attended the first AnimeExpo.) What struck me this year was the enormous amount of costumes. I would say that easily 30% of those in attendance the first day were in full costumes based on a anime characters. At least half of those wandering the dealer’s room had some sort of costume (a jacket, a hat, a hairstyle, a tail, ears, etc.) reminiscent of characters.
It really made me think, “What’s the difference?” I don’t hear any animation folks deriding anime cons for their costumers. (Actually, one can hear praise for “cosplay” at anime events.)
Furry fandom and anime fandom share similar roots. It was the interest in such early series as Kimba, Astroboy and Gigantor that begat both. The original “CFO” (Cartoon Fantasy Organization) was devoted to viewing animation ranging from Disney to Warners to Japanese (including Kimba, Yamato, Lupin III and others). Those more interested in the anthropomorphic series eventually split off into “furries” just as comic fans split from sci-fi fans in the 1960s.
Comic conventions since the 1960s have had folks wearing superhero suits. I recall sci-fi cons of the 70s with folks wandering around as Star Trek characters. They might have been considered odd, or “over enthusiastic”. Those that were “dead on” were sometimes thought of as “cool”. Horror conventions featured folks in their best Dracula or Werewolf look. The San Diego Comic Con, now known as Comic Con International, used to have hundreds of people in costumes. (I can even state that I was at the first SDCC!) Sadly, the current location of Comic Con International makes it non-conducive to all but the most ardent (or paid) costume folks. (The last time I appeared in costume, I had to ride the trolley from my hotel to the convention center in costume.)
As stated, there are those in furry fandom who are not the best representation of the human race. But show me an interest group whose membership is 100% “all there”? How about the animation fan that insisted Don Bluth draw Snow White naked? Or the comic collector who likes “girlie art” issues? Maybe it is the movie collector who searches the internet for scandals or sex videos on their favorite star? Perhaps it is the sci-fi fan who collects apa’s featuring stories about gay sex on Star Trek? Maybe it is the anime fan that buys the (equivalent of) Tijuana bibles from Japan utilizing popular characters. (One at the recent Anime-Expo bragged of erotic adventures based on Johnny Depp’s character in Disney’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.)
We all know today’s media is a visual black hole that constantly sucks in more and more imagery to compete. What is better than a seemingly innocent idea twisted? People in animal suits are built to order. You see them in commercials. You see them being attacked at sporting events. (I sometimes state mascots have taken over from mimes as acceptable targets of violence.) You even see people in suits attacking others in venues like JACKASS and TRIGGER HAPPY TV. It is a lot more interesting than some geek holding a comic or watching a cartoon. (And we all know what folks think of adults who watch cartoons… except for THE SIMPSONS or cgi. That’s ok.)
Bottom line is, cartoon fans, furries, comic collectors, movie buffs, sci-fi folks, ren faire people, trading card players, etc. just want to have fun with their hobby. It is somewhat amusing when one group calls another group “weird”. It allows you to instantly pull up the “pot calling the kettle black” cliché. However, it also makes the person making that call look a bit stupid.
The above-mentioned animation website, after chiding the furcon, stated it might be better to go to Comic Con International San Diego. CCI:San Diego is the con where a man dressed as a coffee cup was running around demanding “more coffee”, a woman wearing almost nothing was fondling random men’s chests, a Klingon was shouting out curses in his “natural” language and a fan walked up to a professional at an autograph booth and told the artist, “Your work looks like shit.”
MUCH more dignified.
It was obvious from what I saw, that the more material on a subject, the longer and more seriously the studio had worked on the project. Some had been worked at on and off for decades. I found several that were obviously from the 1930s. I did not find many that seemed to have come later than the mid 1960s.
I was thrilled to find one on a proposed Reynard The Fox feature. There were around 2-3 boxes of material. Spending lunch hours, I researched through the boxes and created an article about the production. It was printed, and later was heavily “borrowed from” for the ROBIN HOOD chapter in the Encyclopedia of Disney Characters.
When I first showed the article to Dave Smith, then archivist, he was fascinated. They had simply moved all the boxes from a storage area, and made no effort to look at them. Dave asked me to go down and make a list of all the titles. It took a few days, but I compiled the list. In doing so, I found another feature with lots of boxes: Gremlins. It became another article.
After the articles appeared, we heard from legal. They suddenly feared the copyright of all this material. Since none of it had ever been produced, or even reproduced, legal feared someone could steal the ideas. My solution was to print a book about all the films. I felt there would be a large audience for such information. The studio and the lawyers disagreed. I then suggested taking some of the larger developments, of which there were many that had lots of great art, and print them as storybooks. Again, legal and studio execs nixed the idea. (Those who are Disney book buffs know decades later these ideas became realities.)
Anyway, while doing that housecleaning which came across the autographs mentioned above, I found my original list. I had forgotten that on some titles, I expanded a bit on what I found. For some grins, I thought I would share a bit of that list.
Titles and my notes (in parentheses) that are in the A section of the list are: Abdul Abulbul Amir (including a copy of a Sandburg poem); Accidents Ready to Happen (for the National Safety Council); Acrobatic Pluto; Adventures in a Perambulator (a musical subject); Adventures of Don Quixote (2 boxes of materials); Airplane Mickey; Ajax, the Stool Pigeon; Alaska (2 boxes); Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves; Alley Antics; Amazon Basin, The; American Inheritance; Amusement Park; Anderson, Hans Christian (8 large envelopes); Animal Power; Animals and Clowns; Animation Combos; Any Old Port; Anyone Can Draw; Are You Superstitious; Armored Truckers; Army Psycho-Therapy; Army Story; Art Spirit, The; Artist’s Story, The; Athletic Program; Aviation.