Tuesday, 29 December 2009

A closer look at Snow White sequence 8A: Entertainment (part two)

Continuing from the previous post, this is an interesting sequence when it comes to casting as well, although the assignment of Snow White's scenes are enough to cause a headache!

Scenes 4, 49C and 58A credit two animators when Snow White is the only character on screen, and 23, 31, 37, featuring Snow White and the dwarfs, credit two Snow White animators (supervisor Ham Luske alongside either Grim Natwick and Jack Campbell) alongside one dwarf animator, despite the fact it would seem more logical to have one Snow White animator and two dwarf animators. To the list of scenes with two Snow White animators we can add 9, (Ham Luske and Paul Busch), 26 (Ham Luske and Marc Davis, Grim Natwick's assistant) and 28 (Ham Luske and Max Gray, who, as speculated before, could have been Luske's assistant)... and, following their example, 39 (Ham Luske and Amby Paliwoda). But they're maybe not quite as definite.

In fact, throughout the draft, no matter how many dwarfs are on screen, it is incredibly rare to have more than one dwarf animator credited. This sequence has several scenes of dwarfs playing instruments in the background while others do more interesting things in the foreground, yet each of these scenes credits only one dwarf animator. There could be an ommission in the draft, of course. Sequence 4C is full of them, and, in this sequence, we can assume that scene 49A must contain the work of at least one Snow White animator, even though only Spencer is credited.

The dwarf casting in this sequence partly follows some casting-by-character guidelines, and partly ignores them. Fred Moore and Bill Tytla get a few scenes, starting with some miscellaneous ones at the beginning. Check out Bashful's movements when he yodels in scene 5! Definitely the same animator who gave us Sneezy's convulsions in the "Spooks" sequence. Oddly enough, while Moore also animates the first half or so of the Tall Dopey scenes, it's Fred Spencer who animates the sneeze, despite the fact that Moore animated two of them in "Spooks".

There is a general sense of Dick Lundy "playing" Grumpy, with Marvin Woodward handling Bashful, Fred Spencer Dopey and Les Clark Sleepy. This type of casting can be seen in other sequences as well. However, there are no clear rules: for example, Les Clark animates scene 25A of Dopey picking up a symbal... although he is about to hand it to Sleepy, the latter dwarf is not in shot. Fred Spencer gets a quick shot (scene 40) of Bashful. Spencer animates Grumpy, Sleepy and Bashful in scene 53 (the three dwarfs to be fairly consistently cast, and usually *not* with Spencer!) Les Clark animates Dopey sliding down the pillar in scene 61. The uncredited Riley Thomson gets a few brief shots of various dwarfs towards the end, including an uncharacteristically energetic Sleepy in scene 49G.

There is no real consistent casting of the less prominent dwarfs, which, in this case, includes Doc! Also, Bill Tytla gets Happy's solo verse and tap dance at the beginning. Does anyone have any ideas why this might be?

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the continuity error. Scenes 44 and 45, followed by 49E, show pairs of hands which, judging by the sleeves, must belong to Dopey, even though Dopey is currently standing on Sneezy's head and dancing with Snow White. The draft simply refers to "hands".

In this interview, Wilfred Jackson, who directed this sequence, recalls an animator who did several Dopey scenes but whose name he cannot recall. It seems very likely he's thinking of Fred Spencer.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

A closer look at Snow White sequence 8A: Entertainment (part one)

The draft for this sequence, where the dwarfs make merry and entertain Snow White with the yodelling "Silly Song", was posted up by Hans Perk here. Although unfortunately none of the sequene directors are mentioned on the animator draft, we know from elsewhere (such as this article) that this sequence was directed by Wilfred Jackson, and that unlike with "Spooks" (sequence 4D) directed by storyman Perce Pearce, Jackson does not seem to have had any story input for this "Entertainment" sequence.

Barrier mentions that the storymen who *did* work on it had trouble fitting the individual dwarfs' personalities into the sequence, and I can understand that -- it's the sort of situation which, like the deleted soup-eating sequence, lends itself better to generic slapstick than character acting, but they pulled it off pretty well. It does seem a little surprising to see Grumpy in particular joining in with the music-making, but at least he's playing a pipe organ (which audiences might assoicate with churches, and therefore think of it as a more "serious" instrument?), sits with his back to the others and gets exasperated when Bashful disrupts his timing. One might expect Doc to take more of a supervisory role - trying to conduct or something - but I guess unlike most "control freaks" Doc does know how to unwind. :)

Snow White can feel more timeless somehow than other Disney features... Silver Age features can be criticized for the way they "modernize" traditional stories, but Disney's innovations, such as the dwarfs' names, feel much more universal or, from seventy-odd years later, traditional than the likes of, say, Robin Williams' humor as the Genie in Aladdin.

This sequence is an exception though. The lyrics to the song root this film in a fairly specific time frame and context. Happy's verse ("I love to dance and tap my feet, but they won't keep in rhythm) is a comical apology for inadequate dancing, which plays on the sort of excuses a woman might make for untidy hair ("You see, I washed 'em both today and I can't do nothing with 'em!"). It reminds one of songs like Irving Berlin's "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing") from White Christmas (1955), which includes lyrics about being a "guy with two left feet". I don't really have a problem with that, though, despite its lack of consistency with the rest of the film (would the dwarfs *really* know about women trying to make their hair look nice? Would they really wash their feet, come to that?) I might feel differently if I lived in the '30s, though.

One shot of the dwarfs dancing is missing from the draft, except in a hand-written note "3 follows" after scene 2. Conversely, the half-minute scene 11 is listed in the draft but is nowhere to be scene in the film. The scene is described as "Sneezy sings verse - starts to sneeze - puts finger under nose". Maybe they decided one sneeze gag was enough for this sequence. I wonder if the lyrics to the verse survive?

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Jack and Gus

Every Christmas for the past few years I've got one of the Looney Tunes Golden Collections, and was very sad to see there wouldn't be another one this year. However, one of the presents I got this year (one of the two I got on the 24th rather than the 25th) was the Popeye 1933-1938 DVD! Having checked out a couple of shorts with commentary, I realise that the Bluto voice actor who probably voiced Mr Elephant would be Gus Wickie rather than Jackson Beck. I guess I should have looked it up rather than relying on my assumption Bluto = Jackson Beck.

Oh, and happy Christmas or whatever you do for fun on December 25th to all readers of this blog! (All two and a half of you...) :)

Saturday, 19 December 2009

A closer look at sequence 4-D "Spooks"

I think this was the first sequence to be animated after Bill Tytla's sequence 6-A "Dwarfs at tub washing" and Fred Moore's sequence 5-A "Bedroom". It was the first therefore to extensively use other animators on the dwarfs.

There are a few scenes by Moore and Tytla here, and they don't always seem to be cast with much rhyme or reason: Tytla was known for being best at Doc and Grumpy, and he does get most of the scenes where Doc gives orders and a few of Grumpy expressing his suspicion, but he also shares scene 39 with Babbitt, where the other dwarfs tell Dopey "We're right behind you!" I'm assuming Babbitt animated Dopey while Tytla animated the other dwarfs, but the way in which they are required to all speak in unison as a single unit goes against Tytla's deliberate intention to make all the dwarfs in the washing scene function as separate individuals, but it was probably what he was told to do, and he does get some slight variation in the chaarcters' gestures.

Fred Moore gets a couple of long scenes of comedy business, scenes 26 and 29, each measuring about 30 seconds and involving Sneezy's hay fever. Sneezy's almost snakelike contortions are a lot of fun to watch, but I can imagine it's the sort of thing Grim Natwick, which his anatomical realism, didn't like about Moore's animation!

Of the supporting animators, the ones who get the most sustained sections of footage are Art Babbitt and Fred Spencer, at the end of the sequence. Babbitt was assigned to Dopey, following his success with Goofy in the shorts, but got into a bit of trouble with management when he started improvising, something he always got away with in the shorts. In this sequence he animates Doc and the others sending Dopey upstairs, and Dopey reacting with (unusually vocal) terror at the sight of the yawning, stretching Snow White. Spencer takes over for the remainder of the sequence, when Dopey runs downstairs, and the others flee him, clobber him, and, after finally recognising him, ask him several questions about what he saw.

Both are fairly Dopey-centric scenes, with the other dwarfs mostly functioning as a single personality. Babbitt gets his fear and trepidation while Spencer gets his frantic energy and childlike suggestibility when he nods and mimes in repsonse to the other dwarfs' questions about what kind of monster he saw. Throughout the film Spencer was assigned to several Dopey scenes and scenes involving a lot of visual action.

There are a couple of scenes which must have been reinstated at the last moment - Scenes 17, where the dwarfs pass by the animals looking in through the window, and scene 25, where they discover the boiling pot on the fire. They are listed in the draft as being out, but this has been fixed in pen. Unfortunately there are no descriptions of the scenes, nor do we know who animated them...

Thursday, 17 December 2009

You're not getting what you think you want, you're getting what you actually want

I find it quite funny/interesting how this poster for Disney's The Jungle Book advertises "Kipling's famous characters", accompanied by images of characters who are in some cases very different from the way they are in Kipling's stories, and in one case (King Louie) entirely invented for the film. They must have been relying on Kipling's characters being not all that famous after all.

Also, apparently Bill Peet, the sole writer of both One Hundred and One Dalmatians and The Sword in the Stone, wrote an draft of the script which Walt Disney rejected on the grounds of being "too dark" and "too Kipling". As he was in the entertainment business, presumably his concern was that audiences wouldn't take to a film which was too much in the Kipling style or spirit.

That's where the irony (or whatever it is) comes in. The poster must have been designed for people who think of Kipling's name as a brand of quality and therefore would be encouraged to see a film when they see his name on it, but who are actually unfamilar with his work and, if they saw a film that really was a faithful adaptation, they wouldn't enjoy it.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Speaking of elephants...

...which I was... um... depending on which order you read the posts. This is the Fleischer studios "Color Classic" titled "An Elephant Never Forgets."

I didn't put this up online, I just discovered it one day when I was browsing a few years ago. It would be great if there's a version of it out there in "Popeye Meets Sinbad" quality but even this copy is *much* better looking than the one I found back then.

There are still a lot of great things about this cartoon to enjoy though...

- The unmistakeably adult voices of this group of, presumably kids. It sounds like Mr Elephant is Jackson "Bluto" Beck and Gus Gorilla is Jack "Popeye" Mercer.

- The opening skipping song. "Rock-a-diddle-di-do-one-three-three"? What does that mean?

- The fact that, when Ferdie Frog pretends to be both himself and his sister, he uses the exact same voice for both of them.

- The names of the characters... usually alliterative, or just plain "Mister", then we have a cockerel named "Rooster Joe."

- The fact that the (swan? goose? stork?) teacher has absolutely no problem with the fighting that's broken out. My sister says she comes across as another kid who's only playing at being a teacher, and given that all the kids sound like adults, who's to say she isn't?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Ken Glennedy

So, John Kricfalusi has posted up some of "Uncle" Eddie's Tiny Toons drawings on his blog. Interesting how he refers to the characters by the names of their Golden Age counterparts, and as being "babies" despite the fact that they are meant to be age 12-14 or so. I guess the Tiny in the name is kind of confusing, heck, before I saw any episodes, I thought the characters were called "Baby Bugs", "Baby Porky" etc. because that was the convention I knew about. Since I assume John K. knows better than this, I guess he's suggesting that the characters are rip-offs and immature, or something.

Fitzgerald was one of the first directors of the series (along with Ken Boyer, Art Leonardi and Art Vitello), and his name appears as a director on three of the earliest episodes, before his unit is taken over, first by Gerard Baldwin, then by promoted character layout / storyboard artist Rich Arons. After that Fitzgerald continued to serve as a writer and storyboarder (usually for the same unit, now under Rich Arons) and occasional director.

The subject of Kennedy animation crops up a lot in the comments. It has a bad reputation among TTA fans but I personally think it was just sometimes misused. Glen Kennedy himself animated (the majority of?) the first episode "Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow" and the segment "One Minute Til Three". (Sadly neither episode is available on YouTube, but you can find screengrabs at the above links)

In "Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow" the characters are not fully defined yet, and so a more "on-model" animation style might have helped to ground them as in some way consistent characters. "One Minute Til Three" on the other hand, is almost entirely devoted to Plucky's frantic mental state -- there is very little physical movement for the characters - and so Kennedy's wild distortions really make Plucky's feelings come across visually - it would be a pretty bland segment if Plucky stayed on-model the whole time. This is a similar situation to that described by Mark Mayerson in his 1980 article on Jim Tyer (and if you don't know who Jim Tyer is, then read this article and I guarantee you'll be seeking out certain Famous and Terrytoons shorts!).

Actually, Glen Kennedy (or at least Kennedy cartoons), Jim Tyer and John Kricfalusi do intersect in one TTA episode. The villain of the episode "Who Bopped Bugs Bunny" is a rival cartoon star named Stanley the Elephant, designed by John K. (his only connection with TTA) and based on the Terrytoons character Sidney the Elephant, originally animated by... Jim Tyer. Now, Glen Kennedy is only credited as a timing director on that episode, with Namcook Lee as animation director, but the scene where Stanley throws a diva fit with his director looks to my admittedly inexpert eyes like Glen might have animated it. It does look like it was animated by the Silver Age answer to Jim Tyer.

(Feel out of the loop because I'm talking about TTA episodes you've never seen? One solution to that: buy the DVDs! No, I don't get paid to write this, but it would be nice if I did.)

25/11/09 Edited to add: Jenny Lerew, another TTA charater layout / storyboard artist, has posted some of John K's Stanley the Elephant drawings on her blog, The Blackwing Diaries. Could anyone other than Kennedy have brought these to animated life?

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Train of thought

Ever been to the Museum of Transport in Glasgow? As a kid, obviously the preserved steam engines are the highlight. As a former kid, they still look impressive and are still, along with the other exhibits, great as a way of looking back to a past age, but their bright colours of blue, yellow and green somehow make it hard to imagine them being real. Maybe it's because most times one sees a steam train nowadays is in an old black-and-white film or photo, it's as if they really were monochromatic.

I know that pretty much every kid has at least a passing acquaintance with certain brightly coloured fictional locomotives, but I guess, subconsciously if not consciously, it seems as if their bright colours are as much a fantasy as their big grey faces.

Now, despite some momentary lapses on the part of some of my fellow students of 18th century Scotland, I think most people would think if a train showed up in a film set in 1745 they'd realise this was wrong. And yet, there was a railway *line* near Edinburgh from 1722, and one of the battles of the 1745 Jacobite uprising was fought along one! The line was used not by locomotives but by horses pulling wagons.

So, if someone made a film which included the battle, it would be more *accurate* to include the railway line, but it would be more *believable* not to... unless the film also included a scene with a horse pulling a wagon along the line. Which is more important? To portray history as it really was and risk people being pulled out of the film when they think you've made a mistake, or to change the facts so the audience will think you're remaining historically accurate?

Sunday, 8 November 2009

You are getting Sleepy... Sleepy... no... not Sleepy, some other guy

The Disney EverNotice site was a favourite of mine in my younger days, until it shut down. Fortunately, with the help of the wayback machine at archive.org, it is (sometimes) able to be seen again. And thanks to Paul Reiter providing a link over on A.FilmL.A., I was able to re-read an odd theory that was put forward on that site.

Visit the EverNotice Snow White page here, and scroll down the post by "Polar Bear" which begins "I've not seen the movie in a few years..." Basically, what the post says is that the character of Sleepy was a last-minute replacement for a different character, and that the evidence to support this is that Sleepy only appears for "a few minutes".

The strangest part of the theory is this: "Polar Bear" identifies another dwarf who appears in most scenes, with "a hatchet face and a red vest" who gets the lines "Goldenrods!" "Do you have to wash where it doesn't show?" and "Was it hard to do?" (in the lead-up to Someday My Prince Will Come).

The implication is that this other dwarf (with at least three lines of dialogue!) is a mysterious un-named character who appears in most scenes *in place* of Sleepy, but that's not really borne out by the film: the description matches Grumpy, Bashful says "Goldenrods" and "Do you have to wash..." and Sneezy (surprisingly, not Sleepy himself) asks "Was it hard to do?"

Incidentally (or not), Michael Barrier says the last dwarf name to be chosen was Sneezy, but that for a few days they were still considering "Deafy" instead. This was before animation began though. Still, you do have to wonder though: Sleepy and Bashful can look almost identical except for the facial expressions, there's a point at the beginning of the "Spooks" sequence where Sneezy seems to turn into Sleepy (scenes 5 and 7 on the draft), and scene 14, described in the draft of the "Entertainment" sequence as "Happy and Doc push Bashful forward" actually has Doc and Sneezy. One wonders if there were any points where one dwarf was redrawn as another...

Sunday, 1 November 2009

A closer look at Snow White sequence 4A and 4B: the Heigh-Ho sequences

The drafts for sequence 4A Dwarfs At Mine and sequence 4B Dwarfs March Home From Mine are on A. Film L.A. here.

Apparently, these sequences were nearly cut from the film (Barrier p.225), in
which case the dwarfs would have been introduced in the following sequence when the animals hear their singing in the distance and hurry to watch.

One advantage of keeping them in is the fact that the diamond mine is a good and memorable set-piece. I'm not sure if the individual dwarfs get a better introduction than they would in their next appearance. They are in small groups rather than all at once, but only Dopey and to a lesser extent Doc (and Sleepy I suppose) get a chance to show their personalities. Although Grumpy, Happy, Bashful and Sneezy are introduced in close-ups with individual singing lines, nothing they do or sing indicates what types of characters they are... it was up to the animators to convey personality.

For the close-ups, Bill Roberts introduces Happy and Grumpy, Marvin Woodward introduces Bashful and Sneezy, Les Clark introduces Sleepy and Art Babbitt introduces Doc. Group shots, particularly of the four digging dwarfs, seem to have been fairly arbitrarily cast, with the same group of characters animated by Al Eugster, Marvin Woodward and Shamus Culhane.

Eugster complained that very little of his footage remained in the film. (Barrier p.224) He does have the glory of having animated the very first dwarf scene to appear in the film, but as of the washing sequence (the most recent draft sequence to have been posted up) that seems to be all. We shall see whether any more of his work survived...

Of course, it's supervising animator Fred Moore who gets the main character stuff here, with Doc inspecting the gems and Dopey as his comical assistant, who tries to amuse Doc by placing diamonds over his eyes, accidentally throws himself into the vault and hangs the key up right next to the entrance where anyone can find it!

Frank Thomas' one scene is also of these two characters: a brief shot where Doc calls "Heigh-Ho!" to the other dwarfs to let them know it's time to go home. Thomas was apparently the first of the non-supervising animators to be assigned to the dwarfs (Barrier p.212) and, as with his first assignment in scene 5A where they first meet Snow White, he seems to have been given the material that Fred Moore didn't have time to do and wasn't important enough for him to do -- like a stand-in for a leading actor!

Shamus Culhane leads the dwarfs out of the mine and into the next sequence where the dwarfs return home. Perhaps in an attempt to acquaint the audience with their individual appearances, the first scene of sequence 4B: Dwarfs March Home From The Mine was to be close-ups on each dwarf, animated by the other dwarf supervisor, Vladimir "Bill" Tytla. The scene did not survive into the film, and the numbering (it is numbered 3 but placed before scenes 1 and 2) suggest that the directors weren't sure exactly where to place it anyway. Some nice scenes by Shamus Culhane, but unfortunately the effects animator responsible for the waterfall is not identified on the draft.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

A closer look at sequence 3B - Snow White meets animals

Definitely a Snow White craze - while at work this evening I saw a poster for a pantomime version of the story, and I overheard part of a lecture which quoted from a girl who had been to see another pantomime production of it in 1938. Probably one of the Disney-approved ones as they seemed to run the racket on Snow White performances at that time.

OK, open up the drafts on A. Film L.A. and stick Snow White in your DVD player, it's time to take a closer look at scene 3B - Snow White meets animals!

In Michael Barrier's book "Hollywood Cartoons" (which is what I'll probably mean when I refer to "Barrier" from now on) he mentions one of the problems which faced Disney and his employees during the making of the film was the casting of the dwarfs. It was impossible for one animator to handle all the dwarfs' footage, nor was it feasible to assign one animator to each dwarf as they spent so much time all on screen at once, interacting with each other. The result was to have several animators assign to the dwarfs, all of whom at some point animated *all* of the dwarfs, and therefore needing to learn the right way to portray all seven characters.

Presumably no such problem existed with the other group of characters drawn by a group of animators: the forest animals. They're less important to the story and less differentiated, with many being generic rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks. It's interesting to compare the designs to those used in Bambi, originally intended to be the second feature. They are more simply drawn than in the later feature, and I find this makes the rabbits more appealing than Thumper. The deer, on the other hand, I find both designs appealing, but the simpler Snow White design is probably less suited for a feature's main characters.

There are a few animals in this and later sequences who stand out as distinctive characters. Most memorable perhaps is the turtle, but there is also a family of deer and of bluebirds. No animator seems to have been consistenly assigned to these characters with the exception of the three bluebirds, who are usually handled by Eric Larson, including in a substantial section where the youngest of the birds sings with Snow White and hits a "sour note". This scene was obviously added to at a late stage, perhaps even during animation, because as Hans notes, scene numbers run from 15B to 15BBBBB!

Other than that, there are occasional consistent assignments: for example, Larson also animates both scene 9 where a group of squirrels flees into a tree trunk and 10A where they emerge from holes in the tree trunk. However, some assignments seem fairly arbitrary: while Bernard Garbutt animates scene 8 - a group of animals (inluding the doe and fawn) scurrying away, over a log, after Snow White wakes up, and scene 10B, featuring the same animals on the same background, the same set-up is animated at the beginning of the sequence in scene 3 by James Algar. No animator seems to "own" any of the animal characters, except for Larson with the three bluebirds.

All the animators working on this sequence were in Hamilton Luske's unit, as he was the supervising animator for Snow White and the animals. Barrier mentions he had seven animators in his unit: the three who animated the heroine (Grim Natwick, Jack Campbell and Robert Stokes) and the four who animated the animals (who he doesn't name but are presumably the four who animated them in this sequence: Eric Larson, Milt Kahl, James Algar and Bernard Garbutt). Luske also animated the Huntsman in sequence 3A and I'd expect he was the supervisor for the Prince as well, as he was animated by Grim Natwick and Milt Kahl. There are also two more mysterious names on the draft: Maxwell Gray and Tony Rivera. Gray animates the Huntsman in sequence 2B and Rivera's name appears alongside Campbell's, seemingly animating Snow White as well, in sequence 3A. It seems likely they were Luske and Campbell's assistants, respectively, and were assisting on the Snow White animation in this scene as well, but as the animals were also handled by members of Luske's unit, who knows?

Ham Luske actually drew a few of the animal scenes in this sequence himself, including scene 10, the first to feature the bluebird family who, as I mentioned before, were handled by Eric Larson the rest of the time. I wonder why this is. Did he have the technical expertise to animate the fancy flying they do, or did some person in authority feel that the supervisor should do the scene which introduces the characters?

In general Eric Larson animates the most scenes in this sequence and probably is most consistently assigned to specific characters. It's no surprise he became the supervising animator for all the (less anthropomorphic) animal characters in Pinocchio.

The draft Hans has been posting is not a final draft and so there are some interesting differences between it and the finished film. It contains several deleted scenes - this sequence has only one, 27A, and it already has a big question mark over it. There's also a small mistake: scene 15F has the same description as scene 15E, and should be something like "quails come out of cave". Other sequences contain many more scenes that were cut (or changed) later on -- keep checking both A. Film L.A. and this blog to find out more about them!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Snow White drafts!

Hans Perk has started posting the Snow White animator draft to coincide with the release of the "Plantinum Edition". Will this be the start of a Snow White craze of 2009, like the Pinocchio craze of 2007? If so, I'm not going to be late this time! While I don't have any studio documents myself, I thought I would post some of my own thoughts and discoveries about the information on the draft Hans has so kindly decided to provide.

The casting of the early features interests me... unlike the later films which Hans has posted the drafts for, in Pinocchio and Snow White there were units of animators assigned to each character. We often read about how Snow White was animated by Hamilton Luske (supervising animator), Grim Natwick, Jack Campbell and Robert Stokes (and there's a great article about it here), some of whom also worked on the other "realistic" human characters (Natwick on the Prince, Stokes on the Queen). There also seem to have been units assigned to two distinct *groups* of characters -- the dwarfs and the forest creatures. In the case of the dwarfs in particular, this type of casting seems to have caused a few problems, as recounted in Michael Barrier's book "Hollywood Cartoons", and it will be interesting to see how this is reflected in the assignment of scenes to animators. So you can expect quite a few more posts here responding to the Snow White drafts posted on A. Film L.A.

Friday, 16 October 2009

How dumb do they think kids' TV fans are?

When CITV stopped showing Tiny Toon Adventures at some point in the mid-90s, it was time to rely on buying videos. And thus I discovered the "volumes" of the series on video. These were not the motherlodes of silver-age goodness that the Volume 1 and 2 DVDs are today.

Volume One had New Class Day (segments), Kon-Ducki (full), Toons Take Over (full) and What Makes Toons Tick. It promised a "bonus 20 minutes" but there was none to be found - the small print explained quietly that this meant future volumes would only have three episodes on them.

Then came Volume Two, with Weekday Afternoon Live (full), A Cat's Eye View (segments), Acme Cable TV (full) and Love Disconnection (segments). You might notice that this video had four episodes on it as well. In fact, there was no indication on the back of the box that Love Disconnection was even on the video so maybe someone slipped it on in secret, who knows?

Then there was Volume Three. The blurb on the back announced that the episodes would be Duck In The Dark, Little Cake Of Horrors, Night of the Living Pets and Hare-Raising Night. If you know your TTA well, or take a look at the Tiny Toon Adventures Reference Guide, you'll realise that only Hare Raising Night is an episode - the rest are individual segments, from three different episodes. On the video the first three segments were packaged together like one episode, introduced by a clip from Love Disconnection - which, if you'll remember, was part of the previous volume! To make matters worse, the voice cast lists included the names of the episodes the segments came from, which increased the feeling of being ripped off (there's an episode called Best O' Plucky Duck Day??? why are we only seeing one-third of it?).

Next came Volume Four. I never bought that because the blurb on the back made it clear that it was just Volume One with a new box. Although it's possible it was actually *bits* of Volume One with a new box.

Friday, 9 October 2009

If you're gonna preach, for God's sake preach with conviction!

People often call this Tiny Toon Adventures segment "preachy". I'm not really sure why. In order to be preachy, surely you have to be preaching something. People say it's preaching against eating meat, but when you compare it to the great Simpsons episode "Lisa the Vegetarian" (executive produced by vegetarian David Mirkin) it's really just a cartoon run-around in a factory, and an amusing look at the attitudes to meat production in a world of anthropomorphic animals. (No-one whines about classic Bugs Bunny versus Elmer Fudd cartoons being "anti-hunting" soapboxes, but then, the world has many more meat eaters than hunters)

Of course, the captions "Me" and "David" are not part of the actual episode; they are annotations added by the YouTube poster. I'm interested in the story behind them...

I do rather like the "Happy the Cow" bit (which puts me in mind of Suicide Food) but the gender-confusion irritates me, as you'd probably figured out.

And of course the ending kind of hits you over the head with the message that "this is a fantasy world where even vegetables have feelings - it has nothing to do with real life. We're not suggesting you actually go vegetarian or something!"

I can't speak for other vegans or vegetarians of course, but I expect both we and omnivores have problems with this cartoon, and for completely opposite reasons! But maybe I'm wrong. What do you think?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The effect of an indoor volcanic eruption on a gym roof

There is one way in which this cartoon is dated... it didn't forsee the effects of social networking websites on goofing off. Other than that, I think it's fairly universal.

Oh, and for those of you who want the bare essentials, here are the rules of Buster's Guide to Goofing Off.

1. Time flies when you're goofing off.
2. Stop and smell the memories.
3. Never let on that you're procrastinating - people might think you're putting things off.
4. Never work on an empty stomach.
5. Short naps give you time to dream about what you're avoiding.
6. Do everything at the last possible moment.
7. Use short cuts whenever possible.
8. No matter what, always be able to run faster than those who don't follow Buster's Guide to Goofing Off.

Is it really worth pointing out that I should be working on an essay right now? :)

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Spectre of the Subway

Many, many years ago, I had a dream that I and the rest of the family were waiting for a train at Edinburgh Waverley station.

That's Waverley station there.

The train was sitting there in the station all right, but it wasn't doing anything.

Actually, it's only when I'm typing this post that I realise how silly an idea it is... sitting outside the train, waiting for it to move... so we can leave on it? Shouldn't we have been waiting on the train?

Oh well, maybe the doors hadn't opened or something.

Anyway, we were standing around, waiting for the train to move, and we had been doing that for ages, when I suddenly realised that the reason the train wasn't moving because it had nowhere to move. The track was only as long as the train was, and it was blocked off by solid wall at either end.

It also seemed after a while that the train was just a sort of orange pattern on the wall and/or floor, but that's kind of the way dreams work.

Well, this dream kind of stuck with me. Maybe it was the eerie silence of a station where the train didn't move. But it started to become a recurring dream, that of a train station where the trains were blocked off at either end.

It was only a couple of months ago, when I decided to visit the Glasgow Museum of Transport for the first time in over ten, maybe over fifteen years, that I finally discovered where the original dream must have come from:

This is part of the Museum's "Kelvin Street" display, which is a reconstruction of a hypothetical street in Glasgow in the... um... past. (Unfortunately I can't seem to get any images of the other parts of the display. I just have to recommend you visit it, if, like me, you like the uncanny feeling of being in a film noir, and cinemas which show cartoons like "Mr Duck Steps Out") It contains a replica of an underground station, with stationery old-fashioned train carriages sitting in it. Of course, the station doesn't have real tunnels on each side of it, it just has black tunnel-shapes painted on the walls... and compared to a real underground station, it is eerily quiet.

It's almost like the vision of Tombstone from the Star Trek episode "Spectre of the Gun." Dreamlike in itself... and most definitely the inspiration for a dream.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Can you dig it? I mean... You've got to dig!

This is one of the series which was still there on the video when I found it in summer 2002, and, indeed, which I went on to make the website about. Educational kids' TV at its best. A series about everyday events which kids can learn basic scientific facts from. Animated fantasy sequences illustrating characters' thoughts. Songs which are outside the story's continuity which may or may not have been sung by members of the cast. Dialogue which doesn't patronize the five-or-six-year-old kids in the audience but which doesn't aim too far over their heads either... (Actually, one of Charles Way's episodes would have illustrated this point a bit better) in particular, no smirking innuendo. You can read what I thought about the series back in Ought Two here.

Oh, and those shots of flowers opening up seemed to be in every schools TV programme back in the early 90s.

It's just another parcel!

Well... here he is! Check him out in all his lampshade-headed glory! It's Mr Boom! (or "Mr Boon" as continuity announcers would sometimes call him, presumably expecting a full rhyme with "Moon".) I don't remember this one (obviously, since it doesn't involve building a house) and you might notice the watching Earth bit actually comes *after* the guest... but before Mr Boo[m/n] gives us a song.

I'm not too impressed that the opening sequence seems to have been cut off, but I'm glad to see the complete (and rarely-shown IIRC) closing sequence on the end. Notice the date is 1990, so I'd have been 4 or 5 years old at the time... so I guess it could have been one of the episodes I saw. I don't remember that smiley face which sounds like a Cyberman kid though.

Hey, there's one notable fact about Mr Boom's physiology which I totally forgot to mention last time. His nose makes a squeak sound if you touch it. That was what really put him on the map for me as a kid so I'm at a loss to explain why I forgot it when I made the earlier post. And there's the name, Andy Munro. Guess it's the same guy then. I'm glad about that.

Other great things about this video include Mr Boom's use of the word "wheech" (or however you spell it), and the fact that the storyteller wears a spacesuit when he's outside, but the entrance to the Dome is just a cardboard door that won't shut properly.

So, in conclusion... thank you TributeToThePast... whoever you are!

The Pinocchio craze of Ought Seven

When I look back fondly on my days at University, somehow it's the Spring 2007 semester that gives me the most nostalgic glow. However, one of the things about that time which really put it on the map had nothing to do with University life. I refer to when Hans Perk posted the animator drafts for Pinocchio!

In order to understand why that was so great, I need to take you back to the summer of 2002. Some piece of stimulus -- probably the Rankin-Bass animated versions of The Hobbit and The Return of the King -- gave me a renewed interest in some of the old animated films - especially the ones from the late '30s and very early '40s: Snow White, Gulliver's Travels, Pinocchio and Hoppity (aka Mr Bug) Goes To Town.

I do remember having that kidhood feeling of fascination/terror regarding Pinocchio. It was probably the one of those films which I had seen the least often... and perhaps that was why it was the one which caught my interest the most, although it would be almost a year before I saw it again. I did read about it, though, in a book that had been in the house a long time, which I had also not looked at for many years: Christopher Finch's The Art of Walt Disney.

In this book I discovered some information about the making of Pinocchio which I probably hadn't paid attention to when I looked in the book before. I learned that different animators were assigned to different characters: for example, Jiminy Cricket's animators included Ward Kimball, Woolie Reitherman and Don Towsley, and Lampwick was animated by Fred Moore. I recognised the names of many animators, and had long been able to distinguish the directors of Warner Brothers cartoons (I could tell a Chuck Jones cartoon from a Bob Clampett cartoon, for example), but this was the first time I had really learned anything about what the actual animators did.

In summer 2003 I had rediscovered "golden age" animation, and I found the Termite Terrace Trading Post on the ToonZone forums. (If those links are confusing you, this was before the TTTP moved to the Golden Age Cartoons forums) And there I was in contact with people who were able to tell you which person was responsible for which character or which scene in almost any cartoon - usually the Tom and Jerry and Warner Bros. shorts. I did hear (read, that is) vague talk about how the Disney studio always kept meticulous animation records, but I knew that if I ever asked the simple question "Who animated what in Pinocchio", even if anyone knew the answer it would be far to big and complicated for them to post.

Then in summer 2006, I saw that some animation historians had set up blogs where they were posting old studio records - animation drafts which listed each individual scene (what we would usually call a "shot") and who animated it. One blogger, Michael Sporn, had even posted up the first few scenes of the Pinocchio draft! But those were the only pages he had. And thus, it wasn't until February 2007 that I was able to finally see that which I had hoped for all those years.

So, over the next few weeks, as Hans posted more and more pages of the animation draft, I would learn the answer to "who animated what." In fact, at the time part of my University work actually involved studying old censuses which had been put onto computer databases and learning what conlusions could be reached from them. So after each of those classes on Tuesday mornings, I'd put aside one set of historical records and check the A. Film L.A. blog to see if a different type of historical records had been posted.

It was the start of a kind of Pinocchio craze among animation bloggers, but that will have to wait for another post...

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Use your imagination!

Some seven years ago I found a bunch of videotapes which had been hidden away in a cupboard. The videos contained educational kids TV programmes from about ten years earlier. Some of them were from the famous "Look and Read" series, which inspired me to discover Ben Clarke's site devoted to the "Look and Read" stories (at the time it was not part of the Broadcast for Schools site, which didn't exist back then) and create my own (much more simple-looking) website about two of the other "schools progs" from my kidhood - "Thinkabout Science" and "Science Challenge" -- with a LOT of help from Ben Clarke!

One series, however, I did not find any of was "Over the Moon". This was a Scottish show, starring a one-man-band who went by the name of "Mr Boom", which sort of rhymes with the name of the show. I didn't find any episodes because they were all on one video, and we taped over that video long ago, with some other educational stuff (including, I think, some "Look and Read") and then partly with "The Simpsons" until I discovered there was some "Look and Read" on it.

It's a shame that "Over the Moon" has been lost to the ages, though. What I remember is this:

It took place in a glass dome, purportedly on the surface of the Moon.
Mr Boom looked through a telescope to watch people on Earth, doing some sort of activity. The only one I remember was building a house, specifically the roof of a house, and Mr Boom explaining that this was to stop all the rain from getting in.
The second part of each episode involved some sort of guest, visiting him on the moon, and singing a song or reading a story. Actually, this may have only happened once, and I could be wrong about the song or story, except that most TV programmes for kids of that age tended to end with a song or a story.
The theme song included the lines: "Use your imagination, to jump over the moon, over the moon" and a harmonica solo. When they broadcast closing credits, it included the lines "You have used your imagination to jump over the moon, over the moon, return to your Earth location..."

I never really paid attention to the name of the guy playing Mr Boom. I guess I just assumed Boom was his real surname. I did realise that it wasn't really filmed on the Moon, though. And you know how I knew? When Mr Boom looked at the Earth, he looked through a telescope that pointed up the way. But everyone knows the Moon is *above* the Earth. So surely his telescope should be pointing down!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Always put off till tomorrow what you can do today...

If you haven't read Terry Pratchett's "Lords and Ladies" or seen the animated film Aladdin and the King of Thieves, but intend to, you might not want to read the following post.

Quite a few years ago, I was reading Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel "Lords and Ladies". Near the beginning of the book, the youngest witch, Magrat, is about to marry King Verence II, who she fell in love with before she (or he for that matter) knew of his royal identity. She is uncertain about whether to go ahead with the wedding, and it is called off until the end of the book. For some reason, during the wedding scene a piece of music came into my head, and I had no idea where it came from. All I knew was the music seemed somehow appropriate... I was sure it must be from a film, where something was supposed to happen at the beginning of the film but, because of the film's main action, was delayed until the end.

For the next few years I pondered this mystery. Every so often I would be reminded of it, and it would sort of sit there irritating me, like a piece of food caught between two teeth.

It was only quite recently that I discovered it was actually even more appropriate to the situation than I had realised. I'm not sure what it was which made me see "Aladdin and the King of Thieves" for the second or third time in my life and the first in many years, but for one reason I'm glad I did.

Check out the soundtrack at 2:05. That's the mystery piece of music. You see, in this film Aladdin and Jasmine are "finally getting married" to quote several lines of the opening song, but the wedding is crashed by the forty thieves, and it doesn't really take place until the end of the film.

Now keep watching the clip until, oh, about 4:44, and you'll hear a remark by the Genie which might cause a few 'brows to raise. To wit : "I thought the ground wasn't supposed to move till the honeymoon." This is what is known as a smutty joke. What he means is "The ground isn't supposed to move until they are having sexual intercourse."

Well, presumably that's what he means. Of course, another interpretation of the line is "They aren't supposed to have sexual intercourse until the honeymoon."

I mean, really, you gotta feel bad for Aladdin and Jasmine. Some people have been a bit confused by the whole wedding angle of King of Thieves, noting that it looked like they were getting married at the end of the original Aladdin film -- y'know, the one which could afford such luxuries as a CGI flying carpet and Alan Menken. Well, that's what they were *going* to do, but The Powers That Be decided to change that... possibly because they were already planning to make a sequel or two, and unlike the people behind Shrek they didn't think it would be a good idea for the romantic leads to be a married couple for the duration of the sequel(s).

So, because of some avaricious executive, the poor young things have to wait from the end of the first film till the start of the third... and *then* they have to wait *again* until the end of the film!

OK, I guess there's some Alan Menken in King of Thieves. This coda (well, the song at least) was originally intended for the end of the first film, but removed because the characters were no longer getting married at the end (I assume).

Actually, quite a few reprises of the "Arabian Nights" song were cut from the first film... you can see them all here. But what's this? A difference in the lyrics! You see, the original, as printed on "aladdincentral" site, had a line about Aladdin and Jasmine "doing just what they all do best". In the King of Thieves version, you'll notice the line has become "May their marriage truly be blessed." Someone had a problem with the original line, and it's not even like it was saying they cut off their ears because they didn't like their faces.

So, to summarize:

Aladdin and Jasmine don't get a wedding at the end of the first film. They try to have one at the start of the third film but they are unable to until the end of the third film. The "ground isn't supposed to move", if-you-know-what-I-mean until their honeymoon. And even after they get married, they aren't permitted to "do just what they all do best", if-even-I-know-what-I-mean.

So, can we construct the Silver Age Disney viewpoint on sex and marriage (which may or may not go together like a horse and carriage) from this?

"Don't have sex until you get married. In fact, it's better if you don't even get married for a long time. And even then, after you get married, it's probably better if you don't do it then either."

DarmoktheGreen, bringing you semi-founded speculation since... um... possibly my Alice in Wonderland post. Or maybe the one about Indiana Jones.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

A pirate I was meant to be!

This should be a lot of fun. I'm a big fan of the Monkey Island series. I wonder how close they'll stick to the original script - new material would be good but I'm also hoping to hear the now-familiar voice of Guybrush performing lines like "You must have mistaken me for someone else, I am not a farmer."

I remember playing Monkey Island 2 when I was a kid - the version which had about 20 discs which you had to keep on taking out and putting in. I never reached the end of it, which was probably a good thing because you kind of need to be familiar with the climaxes of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to really "get" the ending, two films I wouldn't see for a few years...

But that wasn't my introduction to piratical computer games. That would have been away back in about 1990, when we had a BBC Basic computer, and one of the games we installed was called simply "Pirate". I loved that game. There was no mouse on that computer, and you could give the game only six commands (expressed by six of the function keys) - north, south, east, west, yes and no.

Level one took place in a small sea (actually, I guess it was more of a lake - it was surrounded by coastline after all). Locations included dragon island (where you'd only survive if you had already acquired a sword earlier in your travels) and cat island, where a black cat would tell you its name - a name which would be required as a password to reach the land-based level 2.

Things which could happen to you included:

Killed by the dragon of dragon island
Cursed by a man who you refuse to rescue
Overthrown by your crew and ordered to "walk the plank" (a crocodile, or possibly a shark, eagerly awaiting your arrival in the sea)
Dashed against the rocks in that omnipresent coastline
Losing a battle with an enemy crew of pirates
Shipwrecked on an island and unable to signal for help because you hadn't captured any flags to signal with

That was in level 1. In level 2 you might get stampeded by a boar or struck by lightning... "and your boots smoke!" I never got any further than part way through level 2 so who knows how many wonders awaited later in the game?

Of course, as various characters point out in Monkey Island 3, you can't die in a LucasArts adventure game (unless they're trying something new) so I'm unlikely ever again to read (or hear) the following pronouncement:

"Cap'n, we are done for! The dogs are too much for us."

Monday, 29 June 2009


It seems that this old copy of "The Hundred and One Dalmatians" has a couple of pages missing. That's a bit annoying. Maybe I should try and find another one.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts regarding Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, specifically the infamous banquet scene.

In the extra features on the DVD, we hear Lucas and Spielberg saying how they wanted the scene to be full of old-fashioned slapstick comedy. Meanwhile, the scriptwriters Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz express their interest in Indian culture and Hindu religion. No-one suggests there's any sort of clash here, but I think there might be. Huyck and Katz wanted to make a film which takes place in 1930s India, while Lucas and Spielberg wanted to make a film which takes place in a fictional India which might be found in a 1930s film.

You ever seen this early draft of the script? It's discussed in this great article "Raiders of the Lost Drafts", but there's a few things the article doesn't mention but which I think are worth calling attention to. The banquet is there in all its glory, but it's followed by a scene with Indy and the English colonial officer. Indy reads the "bizarre choice of menu" as a clue that Pankot Palace is not what it seems, as "a devout Hindu would never touch meat". That may be a generalisation but if so it's a lot closer to the truth than the implication made in the film - that live eels served in the body of a snake, soup full of eyes and chilled monkey brains are representative of Indian cuisine.

Of course, this short scene doesn't appear in the film. My idea is that Lucas and Spielberg devised the banquet scene without really thinking about whether it was "accurate" or not, because they weren't really thinking of it as taking place in a real version of India. Huyck and Katz, with their genuine interest in India, tried to explain the strange food by calling attention to it as being a sign that Pankot Palace did not follow usual Hindu beliefs. But Lucas and Spielberg didn't feel that the banquet needed any explanation and so, with their powers as executive producer and director, they cut it.

(You'll note I refer to "Lucas and Spielberg" throughout this post, as I'm not sure which person was responsible for each decision)

So, who was "right" then? The writers or the producer/directors? Well, I've read posts on forums by a few people identifying themselves as Indian, some who like the finished film and some who feel offended by it. So I guess there's no one answer. But I think the portrayal of the Indian characters in any version of Temple of Doom is better than the portrayal of the African characters in the proposed "Monkey King" film, which contains an "ADORABLE" pygmy named Tiki, who is studied by a zoologist and lives in a zoo cage.

(Note: Although the online version of the script indicates it was written in 1995 as a potential fourth film, it was later found out that it was actually written some time earlier as a potential *third* film -- you can see some elements in the script which wound up in Last Crusade)

And if you'd prefer that I defended my own culture instead, well, I can do that too. I'm not from the Highlands myself but even I can tell that the supposedly Scottish characters in the opening scenes of Monkey King are not at all like anyone you might find in this country, bearing names such as "Seamus Seagrove" and "Bottomley", using expressions like "truer than an angel's kiss" and "like you've seen a screamin' banshee" and dropping their 'H's all over the place. The only positive thing I can say about these ridiculous Irish stereotypes is that they aren't supposed to be Irish characters...

Saturday, 27 June 2009

One Hundred and One Alterations!

I was looking in the cupboard for something else entirely, and I found a copy of Dodie Smith’s “The Hundred and One Dalmatians”, which was adapted into the animated film “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” … sometimes referred to as “101 Dalmations” … or sometimes misspelled “… Dalmations” … which was read to me as a kid *before* I saw the film!

For a while I’ve been wanting to write close comparisons of animated films and the books they were adapted from, so where better to start than one of the best? According to the extra features on the new DVD, Dodie Smith herself contacted Bill Peet to tell him that the film was even better than her book! (And I bet Bill was doubly thrilled, seeing as he and not Walt was being praised for the adaptation) So in the near future I’ll be comparing the Dalmatians book and film, and hopefully it will be the first in a series.

By the way, a while ago Mark Mayerson posted more of a brief overview of the differences between the two versions of the story, and Hans Perk posted an early script draft of the film which in some ways is closer to the events in the book.

Friday, 19 June 2009

He-animals and she-animals

I was just thinking of the word "gander" and how there doesn't seem to be a female equivalent, other than "goose" which can be used for either sex. I realised the same was true of ducks -- a male duck is a drake but a female duck is just a duck, which could be either -- and the opposite was true of a bunch of mammals: a "fox" can be male or female, but a female fox is a vixen, a "dog" can be male or female, but a female dog is called something which might mean I need to put an "adult content" warning on this blog.

Looking at those examples, it seems as if birds are female "by default" and that mammals are male "by default" ... but of course, there's more to it than that.

In an episode of The Simpsons, one of the characters (one of Marge's sisters, Patty or Selma) remarks that "There are no lady goats. A lady goat is a sheep." Obviously the writers intended that as a joke, but it's interesting how the *character*, if not the writer, thought of "sheep" as the name for a female creature.

I guess it's a general rule for farm animals: the farmers breed them to produce more of their kind, as well as by-products of reproduction (milk, eggs) and so they find it more profitable to have more females around. Therefore female farm animals have more of a public presence, and so they colour perceptions of the whole species. Specieses. You know.

Take cows. A female cow is a cow, a male cow is a bull. The situations different from the ducks and geese mentioned above, as nobody uses "cows" as a general name for both sexes. But people, if they don't think about it *too* hard, tend to attribute the female name (cow) and characteristics (milk) to the whole species -- remember a character in an advert for some milk drink, called something like "Hugh Heifer", who was very definitely male but looked like a (female) cow, complete with udder? -- and, according to language enthusiast Bill Bryson, prudish Victorians would sometimes call bulls "male cows" or even "gentlemen cows".

And chickens. Well, seems like we've got some equality here. A female is a hen, a male is a cockerel or rooster. And yet... "hen" and "chicken" are sort of treated as synonyms, and once again, the undeniably female charateristic of laying eggs is generally thought of as an activity of "chickens" as a species. Even though Foghorn Leghorn has often identified himself as a chicken -- rooster, that is!

And how about pigs? Seems about the same -- a female is a sow, a male is a boar. But when do we really hear the word "boar" except when referring to a wild one? And, even more so, a wild pig is always a "wild boar". There must be wild sows out there, wherever there are wild boars... else where would all the wild piglets come from (or "wild boar piglets" as they seem to be generally called... is that why there aren't more of them?)?

But I guess wild animals *are* male by default. Both sexes of lion are lions, and a female is also a "lioness". Hmmm... there aren't too many other examples of that. There used to be of course: it used to be more common for a female tiger to be called a "tigress" or the female of other species to be referred to as a "she-" followed by the species name (e.g. she-wolf). I don't think anyone ever spoke of a he-anything, unless it was a "he-cow".

OK, what about domesticated animals then? Not the ones who are bred out of their natural life-cycle or gender ratio, but the pets, the companions? We've already covered dogs at the beginning, but it goes much further than that, as there are people who call all dogs "he" whether they are actually male or female. Curiously, for such people all cats are "she."

So does that mean that cats, as a species, are identified by the same name which distinguishes female cats from the guys? Well... sort of. A male cat has a special name for him, a "tom cat". But a female cat? Some people say "tabby cat" but of course that's ridiculous -- "tabby" refers to the cat's markings, and there are plenty of "tom" cats who are also "tabby". Heck, where I live, we have one, and Tom is actually his *name*, so you really can't argue with that.

So, what's my point in this digression? Nothing really... but I guess it's part of the human trend to put everything into pairs (I remember from English lectures that there's a word for that -- unfortunately I don't remember what the word is. Once I find out I'll edit this post, so it will look like I remembered all along). A dog is male, so a cat must be female.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Raiding memories

Watched Raiders of the Lost Ark again this evening, and, as I always am when I see it, I was reminded of the massive gap between the first and second time I saw it.

About five years ago I saw all the Indiana Jones films (well, all the Indiana Jones films so far) for the first time in ages. A lot of the details I saw just as I remembered them - for example, I remembered Indy climbing under the van and back in, then throwing the Nazi soldier out of the front, and the soldier trying to copy what Indy did, but failing.

However, a lot of things were different from the way I remembered them... and what's more, they're different from the way I *still* remember seeing them when I first saw the film. When I watched Raiders again in '04, I didn't just say "Oh, yes, of course, that's how it really went", I still remember the other version of the film. The one with different camera angles, some scenes in a different order... and the grand finale, where the villains open the ark and it causes them to melt (you know the scene if you know Indiana Jones) taking place inside a building, overgrown with weeds and creepers, with Indy and Marion nowhere near them.

About five years ago I saw Raiders for the first time in ages. It was great to see it again. But somehow I wish I could see that "other" Raiders again, the one that must only have existed inside my head, for some mysterious and unknown reason.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

"Who's got a kiss for the pickety witch, the pickety witch, the pickety witch?"

On Monday, 21st April 2008 I finished my work for University. Later that same day I took part in a fellow student's film project.

It had been his plan to make a "Sweded" version of Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow to enter into a competition -- he missed the competition but he decided to make the film anyway. And I was cast as the "Town Elder"... so my role was to say there's no such thing as a headless horseman and then be proved 1) wrong and 2) dead when the Horseman removes my own head.

There were a few setbacks during filming -- for example, a *real* horse showed up (although its rider was a woman, and she had a head) who was a bit scared by us all -- and it wasn't even like we had a headless *horse* prop!

But the biggest setback was the fact that it turned out afterwards that the camera we were using no longer worked. So we had to film again a couple of days later. This time the guy who was going to play the Mayor-type person (Katrina's father) dropped out so I became the Mayor instead and someone else became the Town Elder.

However, it turned out that this time the *tape* was faulty, so it had to be filmed all over again... on the following Monday. This time I didn't have enough time to be the Mayor (for some reason I'm not really sure about) so I was back to being the Town Elder again.

Oh well. It's not as if I'm all that familiar with the Sleepy Hollow story, and what I do know about it involves a character named "Brom Bones" who doesn't appear to be in Burton's version.

Oh, note the extra "E" in Sleeepy Hollow, presumably to distinguish it from the original film. I guess it's like the clones in Timothy Zahn's "Heir to the Empire" books.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Cartoon Idiocy!

In the not-too-distant past, the Golden Age Cartoons (GAC) forums had an annual contest to design an "ugly public domain video cover." If you've ever been to a second-hand place and have at least a passing interest in cartoons you'll have an idea of the sort of thing I'm talking about.

They contain a bunch of cartoons from the 30s and 40s (usually) which have, for some reason or other, fallen into public domain, usually with very bad image and sound quality. The covers invariably have poor attempts at pictures of some of the characters featured in the cartoons, as well as written info which betrays a lack of knowledge about the cartoons and, when the titles are even included, they are often misspelled.

Cartoons which are unfunny, not even intended to be funny, perhaps a little too racist for the more impressionable kids, and not even intended to be watched by kids (such as the WW2-era "Private Snafu" series, originally shown only to the U.S. army) are all thrown together in the name of wholesome children's entertainment.

So, the GAC competition is designed to encourage its members to parody these little quirks by drawing covers of their own, for fictional public domain videos. The results of the contests can be found here: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. For the record, I'm The Spectre. Unfortunately, when I submitted my entry to the 2007 contest, I accidentally sent an earlier version of it, which I had since updated.

That was for those of you (yes, I'm assuming some people are actually reading this blog, how egotistical can you get?) who aren't familiar with the Golden Age Cartoons forums.

Now, here is the web debut of the final version of my 2007 Ugly PD Cover, the one I thought I had submitted until the entries were posted online and I discovered, to my shame, that I had actually submitted the earlier, inferior version.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Kids think the darnedest things, part one

I remember when I was a kid I enjoyed a game of Junior Scrabble. That's the version of Scrabble where the words are already spelled out on the board, helpfully illustrated with pictures, and you just have to cover them over with identical tiles.

For some bizarre reason I thought that the non-junior version of Junior Scrabble was "(A Question of) Scruples". I must, at some point in my kidhood, been told that "Scruples" was a "grown-ups game" or something, and, because the name sounded kind of like "Scrabble" I assumed it was the grown-up version of the same game.

Kids' minds work in weird ways, don't they? Or maybe it's just my mind that works in weird ways.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009


While in general I think that Bryan Talbot's "Alice in Sunderland" is great, there's one claim he makes in it which I take issue with. He says that some people only know the Alice story through "the saccharine Disney version."

It's the use of the word "saccharine" which I object to. The term, when used metaphorically like this, would normally refer to an over-concentration on cuteness or lightness in tone, and when, as in this case, describing an adaptation of another work, suggests that the harsher elements of the original have been downplayed or removed entirely.

Is this really the case with Disney's "Alice in Wonderland"? Well, one of the most famous omissions from the film is the "Pig and Pepper" sequence where a small boy is shaken violently and eventually turns into a pig, but on the other hand, the Disney version does make some of the other scenes a little crueller than Carroll wrote them.

One such scene is where Alice has turned into a giant (one of many times) and is stuck inside the White Rabbit's house. The Rabbit sends a lizard named Bill down the chimney. In the book, Alice gives the chimney a kick and Bill shoots out and lands in the garden, to be promptly nursed to health and appear later in the story. In the film, Alice sneezes, causing Bill to soar into the sky... and never be seen again!

Maybe it's "saccharine" that film-Alice is not intentionally responsible for what she does to Bill, unlike book-Alice? On the other hand, it seems perfectly in-character for book-Alice to behave the way she does in the film, and not desire to cause Bill any harm.

Later in the film, some of the card painters are seen being dragged away to be executed following the Queen of Hearts' famous "OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!" command, and we are to assume that her orders were carried out. Carroll makes it clear that they are not beheaded -- Alice hides them out of harms way, and later is told that the Queen "never executes nobody" (although this double-negative may be one of Carroll's semantic jokes -- she doesn't execute *nobody*, she executes *somebody*.).

One fairly morbid incident occurs in both versions - the story of the Walrus and the Carpenter, who lure oysters away from their homes and eat them. It's a different sort of case though, I guess, as even within the book or film it features as a fictional story, less "real" than the other events.

The animal characters in the film are also distinctly lacking the huge eyes and long eyelashes which characterize many of the studio's animals.

If Disney's Alice film is to be criticized (and it's a film I've always loved since before I can remember) then I don't think "saccharine" is the right criticism to make. Maybe "dumbed-down" might be a little more appropriate... Carroll includes a lot of clever verbal humour which is Disney and his writers leave out, and the book-Alice never, unlike her film counterpart, says that she would rather that books contain "nothing but pictures"!

Although I like the film considerably better than he seems to, I would say a more valid objection would be the one expressed by John Grant in "Masters of Animation", where he uses terms like "wackiness" and "zaniness" to describe what Disney made of the story.

The problem is, though, only an expert can citicize a Disney film for being "wacky" or "zany" -- to the casual person, Disney is never wacky or zany, it is twee and cutesy, while "everyone knows" that Warner Brothers had the racket on madcap humour.

As a general rule, that might well be true, but Talbot isn't talking about talking about general rules, he's talking about Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" film. And it seems like his only reason for calling it "saccharine" is because, well, it's a Disney film. And you don't need to actually watch a Disney film to form an opinion on it.

Kind of a shame really. It's obviously not as big a deal as forming prejudiced opinions about people because of the colour of their skin, the place they come from, their religious beliefs (or lack thereof) etc., but it's still kind of a shame.

Any thoughts or opinions?

Saturday, 25 April 2009

First post

Hi, this is the beginning, I guess. People from VF or VFF might know me as DarmokTheGreen, or from GAC and animation blogs as the spectre. I used to have a livejournal at http://darmok47.livejournal.com/ - you can check that out if you want.

I'm hoping to write in here some thoughts, ideas and opinions about films, often about the way they're different from the works which inspired them, such as books, tv series, even early drafts of the same film. I'm also hoping to use the blog as a way of displaying some of my own creative efforts, and maybe also telling a few anecdotes plus other smaller things which I'll just post because I feel like it and I think other people might like to read them.

Well, that's it for an introduction. Hope to see you around!