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.