Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Dumboards - Part Two

First of all, I'm not sure when he added this, but thank you to Michael Sporn for adding a link to my blog on his "Splog"! Now, it's high time I returned to the Dumbo storyboards he posted up several months ago.

Bath time!

Carrying on where I left off, here is a sketch of Mrs Jumbo taking her son to be washed... everyone remembers this sequence in the film - a look at the loving relationship between mother and son before they are separated. Tytla's animation is a great portrayal of warmth and affection, of the way they are thoroughly happy to be in each other's presence. This sketch goes for a more comical approach: Dumbo is being taken to his bath against his will, a sulky, bratty expression on his face, while Mrs Jumbo's expression shows amusement at her son's ineffectual resistence. A perfectly valid depiction of a mother-son relationship, but hardly fitting for the only time we see them alone together. To me, Dumbo's expression makes him look too specifically to a drawing of a human boy in a children's storybook... in the film his appearance seems more universal, appealing on both human and animal levels.

Mother and son

Speaking of humans, this pose for Mrs Jumbo and the way she holds Dumbo are much more anthropomorphic than the approach they finally settled on.


An unused example of the pain and humiliation Dumbo undergoes as a clown.

Wealthy Ringmaster

Now, in the film, the last we see of the Ringmaster is when Dumbo gets back at him during the Big Town sequence. In the following success montage, Timothy becomes Dumbo's manager, and is seen in a still, proudly signing a contract for him. All this is fitting: the Ringmaster was the one who separated Dumbo from his mother, while Timothy has been a loyal friend who we know can be trusted to look after Dumbo's interests. This sketch, however, shows the Ringmaster gaining from Dumbo's success - perhaps he was intended to be a more positive character than he eventually became.

The Dumbo Hop

Dumbo Peanuts

Presumably the story department came up with various ideas for the success montage, and Walt Disney, Ben Sharpsteen or whoever chose which ones to include in the film. There are a few on the Splog which I wish had survived, as they show Dumbo entering the popular consciousness... I'm particularly fond of the "Dumbo Peanuts"... a bit more endearing than the implications of using Dumbo likenesses to bomb civilians in German cities...

Anyway, there are actually many more boards in Michael's post: these are only the ones which I felt I had something to say about. Once again, you can find the rest here. Until next time!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Youse guise

Now, here is a song I wish I'd known about when I was a kid. I mean, I was familiar with the voice of Bing Crosby from Christmas records, and I was certainly familiar with Disney cartoons (see pretty much any post tagged "personal" and/or "kidhood")... and vaguely familiar with the concept of a headless horseman. But not quite as familiar as I would become...

From Ichabod and Mr Toad, the Disney package-feature with the non-chronological title. This is therefore from the second half of the film, and if you want to know who animated what in this sequence... well, you're in luck, because the draft can be found right here. By the way, anyone got any idea what "black or white or even red" refers to? The obvious answer is hair colours, but the use of "black" and "white" rather than, say "brown" and "blonde" makes it sound like they mean skin colours.

I did once dress as a headless ... man of some sort one Hallowe'en, and went around the neighbourhood with my younger sister, who was dressed as Casper the Friendly Ghost. I mean, she sang the Casper theme (transcribed by the whole family from a video, and containing one or two mondegreens), it's a shame I couldn't have sung something appropriate as well.

The costume included an over-large sweater, with a bow-tie around the top (to keep it from falling down and exposing my real, attached head... thereby destroying the illusion), and a papier-mache head with a wig on top and a gloomy expression painted on the face. It was a fairly last-minute idea and (Could have just used a pumpkin and saved myself the hassle... the shops would have been full of them, and being a traditional Scottish family, it's not like we'd have had any other use for one...)

No, there's no photos. Well, no digital ones anyway. If people are really interested, I could scan something. However, for the past decade or so, may Hallowe'en costumes have usually been variations on the following theme: "barbarian", "renegade knight", "warrior"... or, with some facial make-up, "orc", and rely on some handy pieces of sacking cloth, the fact that the majority of my clothes are black, and some arms and armour I picked up at a costume shop a while back.

Yeah, both of these photos are from the same year (for some reason they were all I could find), but they may as well not be.

Friday, 22 October 2010

In this post, I shall follow in the footsteps of Matt Groening

In the Simpsons comics, Matt Groening would often write some editorial (maybe he still does, I stopped getting them a few years ago... are they still running, actually, or is it all reprints? I mean, the ones I got were *already* reprints, of the American versions. Anyway...), sometimes related to The Simpsons but often just about his life. One of those was "Things which frightened and disturbed me as a kid." And that's kind of the approach I'd like to take to this post.

Sometimes it feels like my defining childhood moments involve watching something on TV which disturbed or haunted me. Usually they seem to be animated. There is one I remember which involved a ship which was overheating... the furnace was overloaded or something, and it was burning up. The main things I can remember are the scene where the characters escape by helicopter or something, and watch the ship blow up in a sort of mushroom cloud, and the fact that one of the characters had an unshaven face. If I saw it again I don't think it would have much of an effect on me, but at the time... well, let's just say I felt the need to leave the room any time The Simpsons was on - Homer's unshaven face brought back the unpleasant memory.

I'd love to find out what TV show that was, though.

Anyway, I think there can be something genuinely unsettling about the stark look of some of those 70s/80s animated TV shows, with their gloomy colours. One of them I am glad to say I was able to find. Say hello to... The Valley of the Dinosaurs, episode 5 "Volcano"!

Yes, it's only the second half. You're experiencing it the way I did. The first half isn't too hard to find if you're curious, and you want to know why this 70s family is hanging out with these cave-dwellers. Why these prehistoric Ama-zon inhabitants are white (or maybe slightly Asian) or why they speak in the same dialect as the 1970s family, only slower and with no inflections, remain mysteries.

So, anyway, this was a TV series that was on before Saturday morning Disney cartoons. So I invariably saw the last few minutes of it before the cartoons I wanted to see came on. This "Volcano" episode was being shown on the first morning I started seeing Saturday morning cartoons, and I must say that in spite of all the tackiness I see before me now, for a young kid like I was at the time, that volcano... referred to at 03:53 as "Devil's Pudding" for some reason... was High Octane Nightmare Fuel.

And, this was followed by an advert for some sort of superhero-based pasta shapes... which was animated, and involved a tidal wave of spaghetti sauce flooding through a city. I think I assumed this was the preview for the following week's episode: "Next time... the lava reaches the city and kills a lot of people!"

And then... the first cartoon on the Saturday Disney show was the Donald Duck classic "Good Scouts", where Donald and his nephews visit Yellowstone National Park... and begins with them all crossing a mud spring called "Devil's Stew Pot". Oh... and the fact that Donald later winds up on top of a geyser, which *erupts*, didn't exactly put the Hanna-Barbera Nightmare Fuel out of my head.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Dumboards - Part One

With Mark Mayerson's Dumbo mosaic drawing to a close I realised I should post my impressions on the story sketches Michael Sporn posted on his "splog" back in May. They're a really interesting look at some unused (or changed) ideas the story-men came up with.

Casey Jones Jr

First of all, Casey Jr, "slow asleep" as Jerry Colonna would have it, in his shed. Notice the full name "Casey Jones Jr" which never appears in the film. (I remember a Little Golden Book or something which referred to the loco as "Casey Jones" though) The name comes from the American legendary figure of Casey Jones, who would later inspire Jack Kinney's short "The Brave Engineer".

Dumbo, Mrs Jumbo, and "friends"

Here we have the other elephants surrounding Mrs Jumbo, with Dumbo resting at her back end. Human figures can be seen in the foreground, and the backdrop (with coconut palm trees) suggests an outdoor setting. The elephants are arranged in the same semi-circular position they are when they complain about Dumbo in the film, but their expressions appear to be kind and indulgent. I'm not sure if this is meant to be a version of Dumbo's birth/delivery, but he already has the big ears.


Here we have Casey Jr (deliberately) scaring Dumbo and Timothy. Casey doesn't really behave in this manner in the film, where "he" doesn't do anything as humanised as his annoyed finger-drumming in his Reluctant Dragon segment.

Giant of the Jungle

Monarch of the Jungle

Now, these two are the big'uns. People have often wondered who Dumbo's father is. His mother is referred to as Mrs Jumbo, with a married woman's title, and Dumbo himself is originally named "Jumbo Jr." So, who is Jumbo Sr? The fact that Dumbo is delivered by a stork shows that, in this fantasy world, childbirth (and conception) doesn't really work the same way it does in our world, so we just generally assume he doesn't have, or need to have, a father.

But, these drawing suggest he was originally going to have one. Quite a famous one too, identified as "Jumbo, Giant of the Jungle", advertised on a poster for "...ingling Bros" circus. The elephants comment that Dumbo "belongs right alongside his daddy" and that "he'll be there soon". What does this mean? Are the other elephants encouraging him to go on to a greater circus? Was this before their personality/ies had been decided on? Or are they just wanting him out of their circus?

Following Pinocchio and with Bambi in production, it seems to fit the mold that Dumbo, as a young male protagonist, would have a father out there somewhere, if not by his side, and it seems that one of Dumbo's themes was, at one point, going to be about the little elephant trying to live up to his father's success. In the second sketch, look at the size of Jumbo Sr's ears! Were the storymen making these sketches even thinking there was to be anything "un-natural" about the size of Dumbo's own ears?

Keep watching this blog for more thoughts on these story sketches, and thanks to Michael Sporn for posting them up! I would be posting these as comments on his blog, if they were a bit shorter (and, if I hadnt waited until so long after he had posted them up in the first place...)

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Humans and animals in Friz Freleng's "Curtain Razor" (1949)

Friz (or "I.", of you will) Freleng's "Curtain Razor" was made around the time that Warner Brothers stopped populating their cartoons with humanoid "funny animals" and started using animated humans, except for series regulars like Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck, or when the setting (e.g. a chicken farm) demands a certain type of animals (chickens, a guard dog, a fox or a weasel) as the main characters.

In this cartoon, Porky is a talent agent working for Goode and Korny, auditioning performers of various species.

Sometimes their species is an important part of the joke, sometimes it isn't. In the first category, we have a cricket or grasshopper with a loud, strong voice; a chicken who "lays an egg"; and a sheepdog with a flea circus. In the latter category we have the turtle with "a thousand voices"; the Crosby, Sinatra and Jolson birds; the goofy dog with the high-dive act... and, of course, the fox who blows himself up. We also have two humans... a two-headed guy who isn't in show business (he's the janitor) and "Cawford Coo" with his trained pigeons. Things get a bit blurred and confused: Porky thinks that the sheepdog (who walks on all fours, but enters by himself and speaks) is a "dog act" but doesn't assume the same of the high-diving bipedal dog in the bathing suit.

Contrast the two gags which Freleng would later re-use in 1957's "Show Biz Bugs. In the later cartoon, both the "Trained Pigeons" act and the "explosion" act were performed by Daffy Duck. But in "Curtain Razor", it was probably deliberate that one is performed by a human and one by a humanoid animal. It's probably better that "Crawford Coo" is a human, as the joke comes from the fact that the realistic pigeons behave just as real, untrained pigeons would (contrast the flea cricus in the same cartoon!) However, even though it isn't really important to the gag whether the guy who blows himself up is a fox or not, if the fox who blew himself up were human, it would probably be way too gruesome, and Freleng and his storymen may have decided that a gag like that should be left for imaginary beings like anthropomorphic animals, to keep it in the realm of the fantastic... no pun intended!

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Dumbo Deleted Scenes - Part 4

OK, here we go... the rest of the deleted scenes. I can't claim that my reflections are completely comprehensive, so if any of you notice anything you feel I should have mentioned... either about any of these scenes or others I may have missed... then let me know in the comments!

As before, these are transcripts from the drafts - you can find scanned copies of the originals on the A. Film L.A. website by following the links in the scene titles. The portions of the transcript in italics are the parts which don't appear in the film, the rest is included to provide context.

Sequence 16: Clown Sequence (Draft No. 1)

1 LS - Tent. Clowns in sillhouette celebrating and singing, "WE'RE THE SMARTEST CLOWNS ----."

2 MS - Ollie and Frank dancing and singing, "WE'RE THE ANSWER TO AN OLD RINGMASTER'S DREAM."


4 MS - Group of clowns dancing and singing finish of song - "---THE BIG TOWNS, FOR THE GREATEST CLOWNS THE WORLD



The dialogue throughout this sequence is not given in full in the draft, but in a shortened (and sometimes very slightly paraphrased) form. Fortunately most of the cut song is included in the draft, and, better yet, Hans has posted up an acetate recording of it, and of the "hit the big boss for a raise" reprise that survived into the film.

Mark Mayerson mentioned that a lot of the film relies on "the principle of contrast", and there's certainly a lot of contrast going from the tear-jerker previous sequence to the clowns laughing it up in their tent. There would have been more of a direct contrast if they had kept these scenes in, as the film would have gone from one song (the lullaby) to another (the clowns' celebration song). Maybe that kind of cut would have been a bit too jarring, though.

And, yes, two of the clowns are identified as "Ollie and Frank". If they really are named after the two animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, it's very interesting. Neither worked on Dumbo, but would have been occupied on Bambi at the same time. Seems like some light-hearted in-house rivalry. It's also interesting that, so soon after Ollie's promotion to full animator, than he and Frank would already have been seen as some kind of double-act.

Sequence 17: Hiccups and Cure (Draft No. 2) has quite a few differences in the draft, but not much in the way of deleted scenes. Scene 12 is a kind of deleted scene: after Dumbo has swallowed the alcohol-enhanced water, he lets out a hiccup, and the draft mentions a close-up of Timothy saying "OH, I GUESS YOU HAD ONE LITTLE ONE LEFT OVER." However, in the film he is off-screen when he says this.

Also, in scene 18, after Timothy emerges from the bucket, the draft has him say "GIGGLE WATER!", evidently in response to his own question about "WHAT KINDA WATER IS THIS ANYHOW?" The question is in the film but the answer isn't.

Mostly, though, we can see the opposite of deleted scenes - scenes which are in the film but not in the draft. I expect Mark Mayerson will cover this when he reaches this sequence in his mosaic.

Sequence 19.2 - Dumbo learns to fly (Final Draft)

Now, this one's a bit more complicated than the usual clean lifts. Thanks to Zartok-35 for first noticing it.

29 CU - Dumbo's head. Crows flying around. Timothy jumps out of Dumbo's hat on to his trunk. Crows Laughing.

30 EXTREME CU - Timothy on Dumbo's trunk talks to him, kisses feather. "DUMBO! I KNEW YOU COULD DO IT. NOW OUR TROUBLES ARE OVER. HO-HO!" To crows off-stage: "YOU BOYS KEEP THIS UNDER YOUR HATS. MUM'S DA WOID."

31 CU - Crows on top of Dumbo's head: "SHO' NUFF, BOY." "WE DON'T GONNA TALK." "NOT TO NOBODY." "MUM'S DE WOID."

32 CU - Two crows on top of Dumbo's head. Crow with deep voice: "MUM'S DE WOID."

33 CU - Timothy on Dumbo's trunk, says "WAIT'LL WE GET TO THE BIG TOWN."

As Zartok mentioned, a close-up of J.C. was added after this, saying "BOY, THEM CITY FOLKS IS SURE IN FOR A SU'PRISE!" This seems like a bit of a redundant addition: more something that would be taken out to condense dialogue (see story notes from The Reluctant Dragon) than added. In the next sequence, Timothy says basically the same thing - in both the draft and the film.

Or maybe they really needed to hammer it in that flying elephants are supposed to be surpising, in a world where storks literally deliver babies! Then again, we have just had a whole song about how unusual a flying elephant would be.

But a couple of other things, too. I'm not sure if I'd describe scene 29 as a close-up of Dumbo's head, also, it contains Timothy's "I knew you could do it!" line that the draft places in the next shot. I guess they didn't want to lose that line even though they were cutting the scene where it appeared. It seems a surprising number of differences for a so-called "Final" draft.

Sequence 20 - Big town, Dumbo triumphs (Draft No. 2)

3 LS - Burning building. Old Woman Clown running back and forth, yelling, "POOR BABY, OOH, OH."

4 CU - Old Lady Clown yelling, "SAVE MY CHE-ILD."

5 MS - Fire truck enters and throws clowns.

6 MS - Firemen land and run in confusion.

8.1 Clowns grab net - They all fall down.

9 Fireman cranks group of firemen up ladder.

10 Firemen on ladder come up into scene. Ladder out. Firemen fall out of scene.

18 MS - Four Firemen run in with net yelling: "JUMP, COME ON, JUMP."

It seems that originally this sequence was going to have a build-up to Dumbo's leap as big as the one in the earlier "Fireman Sace My Child" sequence, with several scenes of clowns fooling around as before. In addition to those actually included in the draft, there are also mentions of scenes 2, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16 as "No Scene" and 8, 15 and 17 as "Out of Picture". The difference in terminology might refer to different dates when these scenes were removed. At any rate, it appears that they gradually cut more and more of the build-up and eventually decided to just lose the whole thing and "cut to the chase".

Also, from the end of the sequence:

62 CU - Timothy in hat says, "THAT'S THE STUFF, NOW THE VERTICAL FLIP-FLOP."

51 LS - Dumbo weaves through tent poles and zooms out at upper left.

64.1 Dumbo's shadow on tent top. Timothy says,

Now, as you can see, this is another more complicated cut -- it seems that the visual from scene 62 was used to end the sequence, but with Timothy's dialogue from scene 64.1. Also notice the numbering - quite a few shots in this sequence have been rearranged, as noted on the draft - similar to the "Fireman Save My Child" sequence. The draft we have is of the sequence as a work in progress, after they had started and before they had finished rearranging and removing scenes.

Well, that's it for deleted scenes. But the realms of "what could have been" extend further, with Michael Sporn posting some fascinating early storyboards on his blog last month, many of which are of unused story concepts. I'll take a closer look at them in a later post.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Dumbo Deleted Scenes - Part 3

As before, these are transcriptions from the draft posted on Hans Perk's A. Film L.A. blog - material that was deleted from the film is put in italics, the rest is included for the sake of context.

Sequence 12: Gossips disown Dumbo (Draft No. 1)

This missing section includes a few more shots of the "gossip" elephants speculating about what happened to Dumbo after the Pyramid Act disaster. You'll also notice if you look at the draft that the sequence begins with scene 13, and the note: "Scenes 1 through 12 inclusive are out". Either the sequence was originally longer and the beginning was taken out before they even reached draft stage, or scenes 1-12 were an earlier version of the whole sequence, which was later discarded and replaced by the version described in the draft.

15 CU - Catty with block of ice on head - "OH, THAT WONT BE NECESSARY, DEARIE ... THEY'VE FIXED HIM GOOD!"

16 MCU - Matriarch and two elephants. Matriarch: "WHAT DID THEY DO?" Ella: "DID THEY BEAT HIM?"


18 CU - Giggles (hopefully) "DID THEY SHOOT HIM?" (Giggles)


20 CU - Matriarch. Catty, o.s.: Continues: "HE'D BE BETTER OFF DEAD."
Ad lib chatter: "GO ON, TELL US, TELL US!" Matriarch, angry: "I DEMAND TO KNOW!"

21 CU - Catty: "WELL, THEY'VE GONE AND.." She pushes ice back into place with trunk "..MADE HIM...OH DEAR, I JUST CAN'T SAY IT!" Matriarch, o.s.: "OUT WITH IT!" Catty "....MADE HIM A CLOWN!"

It's strange to hear one of the "gossip" elephants use Timothy's term "clink" ... don't they have their own term for it? (The Ringmaster was going to call it "jail" in the "Menagerie" sequence, but that line was also cut)

I'm not sure why these lines were taken out. Maybe the "ad lib" nature of the "chatter" meant that they were just never recorded? Was the gleeful "did they shoot him" deemed a little too harsh? Did they think that it would be more reasonable for Dumbo to have been shot or locked up, and they didn't want to call attention to the unusual nature of his punishment?

Sequence 14: Fireman save my child (Draft No. 1)

Scenes were taken out and shuffled around both before and after this first draft was typed up.
As we can see by the scene numbers as well as additional notes, scenes 2, 7, 14, 20 and 25 have already been taken out, and scene 12 has been moved to follow scene 22. Then, some time after the draft was written, scenes 18 and 21 were taken out, and 19 moved to between 16 and 17.

16 MS - Clown running in with sprinkler to flower box. Cocoanut [sic] tree springs out of flower box.

17 Two-shot. Big clown runs in with little clown who has barrel on back - takes out eye dropper and puts one drop of water on fire.

18 Two-shot. Old woman screaming - mouth wide open. Clown comes in with atomizer and sprays mouth.

19 LS - Firemen running up ladder to burning house and throwing water in Dumbo's face.

21 MS - Eskimo clown runs up to fire and warms [rear end].

22 MS - Dumbo in midst of smoke. Fireman climbs up and fans him.

With a bit of detective work we can also speculate that, before the draft was written, some scenes were added to give Dumbo more of a presence in this sequence, which otherwise might lose him amid all the clowning. A reaction shot of Dumbo is numbered 12.1, and scenes showing the effect of pouring gasoline on the fire, including another reaction shot of Dumbo, are 26.1 and 26.2. These numbers suggest these were late additions to the sequence. It may be that the rearranging of the other scenes was also to make sure that the audience didn't lose sight of Dumbo for two long at a time. I'm reminded of the Battle of Helm's Deep in the film version of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, where they made sure that one of the main characters was on-screen for at least every third shot, so the audience had a focus.

As for the missing scenes themselves: I'm not sure who "old woman" in scene 18 refers to, although I guess it would have to be the clown dressed up as the elephant woman. Presumably "atomizer" means a breath freshener... I guess the gag was taken out because it's almost identical to scene 12 where a clown does the same thing with water from a flower, but a little less "clown-like." The "eskimo clown" from the deleted scene 21 doesn't appear at any other point in the sequence, and I'm curious as to what he would look like, and how late he was removed from the film. Then again, the "captain" from scene 12 doesn't seem to appear in any other shots either (notice the blue coat and epaulettes).

Friday, 4 June 2010

Dumbo Deleted Scenes - Part 2

It occurs to me I should have listed what the draft number has been for each sequence. I have therefore edited the previous posts to include this information.

Sequence 10: Ringmaster's Idea for Pyramid Act (Draft No. 2)

1 MLS - truck to MCU - Shadows of Ringmaster and Joe appear against side of tent. Ringmaster says: "WHAT AN IDEA! YOU KNOW, SOMETIMES I WONDER WHAT MAKES ME..."

3 MCU - Tim and Dumbo watching Ringmaster. o.s. Ringmaster: "SO SMART!" Tim talks over his shoulder to Dumbo: "HUH! HE NEVER HAD AN IDEA IN HIS LIFE -" Ringmaster continues: "JUST VISUALISE..."

4 MCU - Shadows of Ringmaster and Joe. Ringmaster tosses coat - Joe catches it. Ringmaster, excited, continues: "IN THE RING STAND SEVENTEEN ELEPHANTS!"

4.1 MCU - Shadow of Joe - "hangs up" coat, missing pet [?] and allowing coat to fall on floor. Ringmaster o.s. continues "ONE ELEPHANT CLIMBS ON TOP OF ANOTHER ELEPHANT UNTIL..."

5 CU - Ringmaster wriggles out of pants, kicks them up in the air and catches them, as he says: "...FINALLY ALL SEVENTEEN ELEPHANTS HAVE CONSTRUCTED AN ENORMOUS PYRAMID..."

6 CU - Joe's shadow. Ringmaster, o.s., continues "...OF PACHYDERMS!" Joe, puzzled, scratches his head - asks: "WHAT'S A PACHYDERM, BOSS?"

7 MCU - Shadow of Ringmaster - Tosses pants to Joe, o.s., as he says "THAT'S AN ELEPHANT, STUPID. HANG UP MY PANTS!"

8 CU - Joe's shadow - He catches pants, hangs them up as he says "GEE, BOSS, I DON'T KNOW HOW YOU THINK 'EM UP!" Ringmaster, o.s.: "THAT'S NOTHING!"

11 CU - Shadow of Ringmaster wriggling into nightshirt - continues: "THERE STANDS THE PYRAMID OF ELEPHANTS..." Arms shoot up thru sleeves - "I STEP OUT!" Head pops thru neck of shirt - "I BLOW THE WHISTLE!"

12 CU - Tim on tent-peg - Ringmaster continues... "THE TRUMPETERS ARE TRUMPETING - THE DRUMS ARE DRUMMING -" Tim stands up to listen. Ringmaster, o.s., very excited continues "...AND NOW..."

14 MCU - Shadows of Joe and Ringmaster. Ringmaster continues: "...COMES THE CLIMAX!" Joe: "YEAH... WHAT IS THE CLIMAX?" Ringmaster: "I DON'T KNOW"

16 CU - Tim. Ringmaster, o.s. "...DOT'S CHUST VOT I DON'T KNOW." Tim relaxes into disappointed expression - says: "I KNEW HE NEVER HAD NOTHIN' ... BUT STILL I WAS HOPIN'."

17 MCU - Shadow of Ringmaster - "WELL, MAYBE IT COMES TO ME IN A VISION WHILE I DREAM. GOODNIGHT, JOE." Climbs into bed. Joe, o.s. "GOODNIGHT, BOSS."

The main thing from this draft section that isn't in the final film is the Ringmaster explaining to Joe what a pachyderm is. I'm glad they took this out - it just feels like the storymen are calling attention to the fact that they know a word which they think the "average Joe" doesn't. Anyway, we already know that the Ringmaster is talking about a pyramid of elephants, so the audience should know what he means, even if they've never heard the word "pachyderm" before. I do think that the Ringmaster ordering Joe to hang up his clothes is funny though, just after insulting him.

Notice that one of the Ringmaster's deleted lines is written in a thicker German accent than the rest of the dialogue. I'm not sure why that is, although even in the final film he starts to sound more Germanic as he falls asleep.

Also noteworthy is that Timothy's line about "hopin'" the Ringmaster had an idea was cut. I'm not sure why he would hope this: it hasn't occured to him yet that this could be Dumbo's chance to shine. I guess Timothy himself sort of makes a living from the circus and wants it to be successful.

Notice that although the film does not retain the Ringmaster's full description of the pyramid act, he still says "seventeen" elephants will perform rather than the seven who do (or eight in the opening shot, for some reason).

Sequence 11: Pyramid Act
(Draft No. 3)

Not really a deleted scene, but an alternative version of a line, at the start where the Ringmaster is announcing his act.


3.2 CU - Rearview of Ringmaster: ...PYRAMID OF PROUD, PONDEROUS, PULSATING.....



It appears that the Ringmaster struggles over the word "pachyderm" and gives up. In the film he has no such problem with the word. Once again, the film differs from the draft in that it does not make such a big deal about the word "pachyderm" - the film-makers aren't trying to call attention to their vocabulary.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Dumbo Deleted Scenes - Part 0

(edited 4th June 2010 - see "Dumbo Deleted Scenes - Part 2")

OK, in the rush to get that first post out, I missed out a couple of things - nothing really major though, and the first one isn't really a deleted scene, because more changes seem to have been made than just removing some footage.

Ain't that just like me to forget?

(Once again, deleted material goes in italics)

From sequence 5 "Circus Parade" (Draft No. 1)

13 - Dumbo's mother pans through - Dumbo holding onto her tail. Dumbo runs underneath mother. She goes out, leaving Dumbo in the open.

14 - Mother looks back at Dumbo.

15 - Dumbo looks up, runs after mother and falls in mud.

16 - Rear view, parade going back toward tent. Dumbo runs in, trying to catch up with parade.

In the film, scenes 13 and 15 seem to have been run together. The important thing missing is the extra shot of Mrs Jumbo and the final rear view. I don't know what kind of expression Mrs Jumbo was supposed to have, but the fact that she just carries on ahead and leaves him to try to catch up seems uncharacteristically neglectful. When they finished putting the sequence together, it seems they decided to solve the problem of "What is Mrs Jumbo doing?" by ignoring it, and keeping Dumbo as the only character on screen. Having the final shot be of Dumbo fallen in the mud puddle with the crowds laughing once again keeps the focus on Dumbo's ears as the source of his misfortune. It also leads nicely into the following sequence, of Mrs Jumbo washing him.

In the "Elephants Gossip" (Draft No. 4) and "Timothy Befriends Dumbo" (Draft No. 4) sequences there are a few extra scenes/lines I didn't catch last time but nothing worth writing home about. In "Elephants Gossip", the line in scene 8 "Yes, but mother love doesn't have to be blind" seemed to become "...can hide a multitude of sins." Scene 14 and the accompanying line "I'll bet she's furious" were cut, as were a couple of shots where Timothy is frightening the elephants.

In scene 31 of "Timothy Befriends Dumbo" Timothy rejects one of his own (unmentioned) ideas with "Aw, no... that's old stuff..." before he overhears the Ringmaster coming up with an idea of his own. Unlike his deleted lines from earlier in the sequence, I can't think of much of an argument for keeping this one.

If anyone catches anything else on the draft that I should have caught bit didn't, please let me know!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Dumbo Deleted Scenes - Part 1

(edited 4th June 2010 - see "Dumbo Deleted Scenes - Part 2")

It's a good time to be a fan of Walt Disney's Dumbo and animation history. Hans Perk has just posted up a(n almost) complete animation draft, which Mark Mayerson is currently using as a basis for one of his celebrated mosaics. Also, as in the Pinocchio craze of '07, Michael Sporn is getting into the act by posting up some production drawings (including Bill Peet's bathing storyboard briefly glimpsed in the extra features on the 101 Dalmatians DVD).

The draft Hans posted isn't a final version - some scenes are uncredited on it, and some were cut from the film. It's these "deleted scenes" which I'm going to look at over two or three posts, starting with this one. The way I will do this is by transcribing the relevant parts of the draft and putting the deleted material in italics. Once again I would like to make it clear that what a draft calls a "scene" is what most people would think of as a "shot". I'll be using "scene" and "shot" fairly interchangeably here.

Probably the first material on the draft which was deleted from the film is in seq. 6.0 "Menagerie: Mrs Jumbo Goes Berserk". The relevant portion of the draft (Draft No. 2) is as follows:

45 - EXT CU - Mrs Jumbo's back legs - Skinnay reaches in between her legs - Pulls Dumbo out by the tail - Skinnay "C'MON OUT AND PLAY, LOP-EARS" Dumbo looks at Skinnay. Kids o.s. "MAKE A SAIL-BOAT OUT OF HIM!" Skinnay blows in Dumbo's ear. Dumbo looks at his mother, o.s., for help. [i]Skinnay grabs Dumbo's ears, jumps on Dumbo's back, and starts "Roman chariot" riding act. Kids, o.s., start laughing.[/i]

46 - EXT CU - Mrs Jumbo, very alarmed at Skinnay's treatment of Dumbo.

47 - CU - Skinnay in Roman chariot act. Mrs Jumbo's trunk lifts Dumbo out from under Skinnay - Skinnay falls flat - Kids, o.s., laugh harder than ever.

48 - MCU - Mrs Jumbo puts Dumbo between her legs. Pan with Dumbo, and truck in, as he runs to camera left and peeks around Mrs Jumbo's other leg. Kids o.s. "THE BIGGEST SLING-SHOT IN THE WOILD!" Kid's hand reaches into scene - grabs Dumbo's ear - stretches it - Snaps it in Dumbo's face - Dumbo squeals, hurt.

49 - EXT CU - Mrs Jumbo, angry - reaches with trunk past camera. Kids' o.s. laughter changes to frightened yells.

50 - MCU - [Rear ends] and feet of kids scramming out of scene. Skinnay is grabbed by Mrs Jumbo's trunk, hung over rope and paddled. Skinnay: "HELP! MAMA!" Kids, o.s. "HELP! SHE'S MOIDERIN' SKINNAY!"

The main thing which didn't make it into the final cut was Skinnay's "Roman chariot act." Maybe this is an example of Walt's desire for restraint, as witnessed in his decisions for the mourning scenes in Snow White or the "Your mother can no longer be with you" scene from Bambi. Alternatively, it could be that there was no way to animate it convincingly. Perhaps most importantly, limiting Skinnay's torments to blowing into and snapping Dumbo's ears helps to keep the focus on the large ears - if he were to jump on top of the poor elephant and ride him like a chariot he'd be mocking him all right, but not mocking the size of his ears.

A few more scenes were cut from this sequence.

53 - CU - Ringmaster cracks whip - yells: "DOWN, MRS JUMBO!"

54 - EXT. CU - Mrs Jumbo dodges whip.

54.1 - CU - Ringmaster. Cracks whip again. Turns to yell: "CALL THE RIOT SQUAD!" etc.

55 - MCU - Five or six roustabouts run in thru curtains, carrying pipes, ropes, etc., shouting. Ringmaster, o.s. yells "KELLY! RIOT SQUAD!" etc.

56 - MCU - More roustabouts run into sideshow thru side-door.

57 - CU - Ringmaster yelling "GET THE CHAINS! SURROUND HER!" Cracks whip at Mrs Jumbo, o.s. Roustabouts swarm into scene, hiding Ringmaster from view.

These cuts were probably made to quicken the pace of the scene - the film no longer contains a reference to the "riot squad". Note the odd reference to "Kelly", addressed by the Ringmaster. The animator of these scenes was named Walt Kelly - was this unseen character named after the animator, or did the typist just make a mistake?

Finally, the last shot in the draft for this sequence includes an additional line for the Ringmaster.

74 - CU - Mrs Jumbo's water tub (same tub Dumbo was bathed in at start of sequence) Ringmaster is soused in tub. Stands up in tub, dripping wet, very mad. Yells: "TAKE HER AWAY! PUT HER IN JAIL!"

In the film, he just seethes. The line is unecessary as the next shot is of Mrs Jumbo in "jail", and cutting the line means that the audience experience a mood shift (from "relishing Mrs Jumbo's short-lived victory" to "sympathy for Mrs Jumbo's plight") at the start of a sequence, rather than a few seconds before the end of one.

The draft (Draft No. 4) for seq. 9.0 "Timothy befriends Dumbo" contains some missing dialogue for Timothy.

19 - CU - Dumbo looks doubtfully at one ear, wiggles it, then becomes very proud, smiles, looks at other, wiggles it. Tim, o.s.: "YA KNOW, LOTS OF PEOPLE WITH BIG EARS ARE FAMOUS." Dumbo reacts to "famous," looks down at Tim, o.s.

19.1 - CU Dumbo, draws his head back in surprise as Tim runs up Dumbo's trunk. Tim says "FAMOUS. NOW, LOOK DUMBO..." Dumbo cross-eyed as he watches Tim. Tim: "IF YOU'RE FAMOUS, THEY DON'T MAKE FUN OF YA, YOUR MA DON'T GET SORE..." Dumbo's eyes uncross as he watches Tim. Tim turns suddenly to face Dumbo. Tim: "IF SHE DON'T GET SORE..." Tim runs back up the trunk to between Dumbo's eyes... "THEY LET HER OUTA JAIL 'N EVERYTHING'S OKAY!" Tim turns and starts towards end of trunk again. Dumbo's eyes uncross again as he watches Tim. Tim: "OH BOY! ALL WE GOTTA DO IS BUILD AN ACT!" Dumbo's eyes cross again quickly as Tim rushes back, taps Dumbo on the forehead as he says "...MAKE YOU A STAR!" Tim jumps up in the air as he says "A HEADLINER!" Dumbo's crossed eyes go up and down, following Tim. Tim runs toward the end of the trunk.

It's a good thing they took out the "If you're famous, they don't make fun of ya". While I'm sure there was much less celebrity mocking in 1941 than there is now, they still made fun of famous people. Heck, Timothy's previous line about big ears just goes to show that. Unfortunately, it also means there's not much of an explanation for why Timothy tries to make Dumbo famous, or what this has to do with his earlier offer to "help get your mother outa the clink." Maybe it was cut because someone in authority thought that too much spoken dialogue (well, monologue) was "boring" or something, but Timothy's logic is a little suspect... with Mrs Jumbo chained in a wagon, would she really get much of a chance to show she isn't "getting sore" at the treatment of her son?

I'll leave it here for now... if you're interested in finding out more about these or any other scenes from the film - such as who animated them, check out Hans' posts (although you can only see as far back as the May 2nd post, most of the others can be seen by looking for April 2010 posts), or, if you feel the need for the scenes to be identified visually, just keep an eye out for Mark Mayerson's marvelous, magnificent... I think I'm turning into the Ringmaster. I give you, the mosaics.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

No-one... but Donald Duck!

When I was a kid I got a set of three videos with Disney shorts on them. They were:

Celebrate With Mickey
Mickey's Circus - starring Mickey and Donald
Foul Hunting - starring Goofy
Beach Picnic - starring Donald and Pluto
Mickey's Birthday Party - starring Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and others
Wide Open Spaces - starring Donald
Man's Best Friend - starring Goofy

Donald's Birthday Bash
Donald's Happy Birthday - starring Donald
Contrary Condor - starring Donald
Crazy Over Daisy - starring Donald
The Eyes Have It - starring Donald and Pluto
The Flying Squirrel - starring Donald
Wet Paint - starring Donald
Clown Of The Jungle - starring Donald

Frontier Pluto
R'Coon Dawg - starring Mickey and Pluto
Flying Jalopy - starring Donald
Pluto's Playmate - starring Pluto
Moose Hunters - starring Mickey, Donald and Goofy
Donald's Nephews - starring Donald
T-Bone For Two - starring Pluto

Notice something here? (Besides the fact that you'd think they'd have a trio of videos named after Mickey, Donald and Goofy, rather than Pluto)

Mickey appears in
Celebrate With Mickey - 2 (co-starring with Donald and Goofy)
Donald's Birthday Bash - 0
Frontier Pluto - 2 (one co-starring with Pluto, one co-starring with Donald and Goofy)

...and by "co-starring with" you can pretty much read "upstaged by".

Pluto appears in
Celebrate with Mickey - 1 (co-starring with Donald)
Donald's Happy Birthday - 1 (co-starring with Donald)
Frontier Pluto - 3 (including one co-starring with Mickey)

Donald, on the other hand, appears in
Celebrate With Mickey - 4 (three with co-stars, one solo)
Donald's Birthday Bash - all of them (including one co-starring with Pluto)
Frontier Pluto - 3 (including one co-starring Mickey and Goofy)

Not only is Donald the only one to appear in all the cartoons on his own video, but he generally appears in more cartoons in the other videos than their supposed stars. AND his video has more cartoons on it than the other two.

I guess that's what people want. Donald by the barrelfull.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Fridge brilliance and Donald's Lucky Day (Disney, 1939)

The TV Tropes website defines fridge brilliance as a circumstance where your reaction to something you read, watch or listen to is one of confusion and annoyance, but which, at some unspecified point later (proverbially, when you are just going about your life, opening a fridge to get out some food or drink) makes you go "A-ha! NOW I get it!"

Hans Perk posted the animator drafts for the cartoon "Donald's Lucky Day" in August 2006. The following month, Mark Mayerson posted a mosaic of the short, a critique of the story and some thoughts on the animators. It's the critique of the story which I'm mainly interested here, I just provided the other links for background info.

Some of Mayerson's critiisms are deserved: for example, the cat just disappears after the bomb goes off, and the fish are eaten by a smarm of anonymous cats rather than the one who's been appearing throughout the cartoon, which isn't a very satisfying ending. (Actually, it suggests the poor cat was blown up or drowned, which probably wasn't their intention) It would have been better if it had ended with the "hero" cat chowing down on fish, and Donald doing one of his end-of-cartoon "aw, shucks" type chuckles.

However, another of his comments is that Donald "would have been luckier if he lost the package immediately and saved himself a lot of effort." However, this would be impossible, because... it was still Friday 13th! The bomb is supposed to go off at 12 o'clock, right? So, up until that happens, it's Friday 13th and Donald is having an unlucky day. After the bomb goes off, it's now Saturday 14th. Donald exclaims "This is my lucky day!" meaning the new day that's just started. In fact, in the opening scene with the gangsters, they refer to the bomb as a "valentine", so they're thinking of it as going off at the start of the 14th (February, that is) as well.

OK, I don't know if that's what the intention of the writers/animators was. If it was, I guess the main problem is that they didn't make it clear enough. So, here's my revised ending:

Donald gets covered in fish. He hears on the radio something like: "When you hear the sound of the tone, the time will be 12 o'clock, midnight. That's the end of Friday 13th. Did you all make it?" Donald, overjoyed: "Oh boy! This is my lucky day!" Then the cat emerges out of his hat, gobbles down a fish, and rubs against Donald's face. Donald chuckles awkwardly. End.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Lion King makes no sense, etc.

Last night I had to put up with about ten students of varying degrees of drunkenness tonelessly "singing" a bunch of songs from the Silver Age Broadway-influenced era of Disney films. Probably the part of that which really epitomises the whole "fun to think back on, but not so great to actually endure" side of it is when all ten of them bellow the *spoken* parts of the songs.

Incidentally, I'm not so straight-laced that I can't enjoy a bit of mirth and music. But while I love Singin' In The Rain, The Bandwagon, and the style of songs from the 1940s which often appear in musicals from around that time, I'd never say I'm a "fan of musicals" because for most people that means being a fan of Les Miserables, Evita... um... you get the idea.

One of the things I brought up to the other people who were less than enthralled by this little music-fest (or rather, to anyone who I thought was likely to listen) was that many of the words from the Lion King songs make no sense in the context of the film. Simba sings about "the spotlight" and Scar makes a metaphorical remark about "the lights are not all on upstairs" (referring to the Hyenas' stupidity). It extends beyond the songs, too: Zazu says that Scar would make a "charming throw-rug". But the characters in the film should have no knowledge of electric lights, or furniture, or anything like that. There's no technology in their world. I know, they should have no knowledge of the English language either, but we can accept that as part of the internal logic of the film. Just like, if they actually *had* electric lights and so on, we could accept that as part of the film's internal logic, but not if they *don't* have any but still talk and sing about them.

(Incidentally, when I mentioned to one person about there being "internal inconsistencies", he pointed out that some of the animals, e.g. the antelopes, don't speak. That's an entirely different issue, and one I expect to write about in the near future.)

I guess anachronistic references in Disney films can be traced back to The Sword in the Stone, where there was a clearly established mediaeval setting, but where Merlin was able to reference things from the future -- always to the confusion of other characters -- because of his magic powers. This was taken to it natural conclusion (?) with the Genie in Aladdin. But then with The Lion King it just seemed to become "comic characters can know everything."

There should be a page for this on "TV Tropes", which deals with other media besides TV -- in fact there probably already is one, I just don't know what to look for. Basically, I'm meaning where a film establishes a world with its own internal rules, and then one character breaks these rules by making a joke about something no-one in that world should know about. This sort of thing doesn't always matter, of course. No-one cares about anachronistic jokes in Monty Python and the Holy Grail because the film doesn't try to pretend its world has any sort of rules about what its characters are or aren't familiar with. Shrek's kind of a grey area. I don't think Donkey should know what an in-flight movie is, because there are no planes in their world, but it doesn't feel like quite such a big deal somehow.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Vindication, like

As part of my Museum studies course, I am expected to read a fair amount of "theory". This doesn't just mean reading about doing something without actually doing it, but more along the lines of "literary theory", or, if you will, "philosophy." And one of the books which I borrowed from the library to provide some of that theory was called "The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern" by Fredric Jameson. I've only read bits of it, but it's got some interesting things to say about our culture in general, including the popular kind.

It was interesting to read (on page 8, if you're interested in looking for yourself) the author's argument that Star Wars is a "nostalgia film" despite the fact that it doesn't actually take place in the past (well, not in a real past anyway), because it conveys the past by invoking an art form (old-time adventure serials) from the past. It then goes on to say that Raiders of the Lost Ark does both - it suggests the 1930s not just through its setting but through it's storytelling techniques.

Now, that's pretty much what I was saying about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in my earlier post, although at the time the book was written, Raiders was the only Indiana Jones film on offer. They don't just take place in the 1930s, they take place, in effect, in a film made in the 1930s.

So, it's nice to know that the experts are agreeing with me. Maybe that means I'm kind of an expert as well.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Everybody do the Kennedy Buster dance!

"Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow" was the first episode of "Tiny Toon Adventures" to be made, although seventeen other episodes were broadcast before it. It was written by Tom Ruegger, Wayne Kaatz, Gordon Bressack and Charles M Howell IV; directed by Ken Boyer and Eddie Fitzgerald, and animated by Kennedy Cartoons. You can watch it on the Tiny Toon Adventures Season 1 Volume 1 DVD.

In the first act of the episode Elmyra captures Buster, involving a lot of wacky high-jinks in Elmyra's house and a long phoney death scene for Buster.

The second act has Buster discovering Elmyra's other mistreated pets and setting them all free, but then getting re-captured himself.

The third act has the other characters, led by Babs, rescuing Buster and them all giving Elmyra a taste of her own medicine in an elaborate "Planet of the Bunnies" setpiece.

More thoughts on this episode from the animation fan community can be found on this discussion thread, where Speedy Boris describes it as a "very uneven mix of "80's adventure story" and [...] Looney Tunes-esque humor". In this interview Tom Ruegger seems to say that Fitzgerald directed the first and third acts, with Boyer directing the middle act. It makes sense that the middle act had a different director, as it is very different in tone. Although it contains a few gags, it doesn't have the Bob Clampett manic energy of the first or third act. (I'm not criticizing Ken Boyer, who directed several great episodes of the series) If Fitzgerald did direct 2/3 of the episode, though, it seems strange that most of the credited artists (storyboards, character layouts) are from Ken Boyer's unit.

Ruegger also describes the episode as "very bizarre half-hour story that feels more like three shorts", which suggests to me that each act had a different writer. I suspect that Bressack and/or Howell had something to do with the middle act where Buster releases the other pets from their cages, as similar scenes occur in "Sawdust and Toonsil" and "Hare-Raising Night", which they also wrote.

Apparently the third act was heavily re-written by Eddie Fitzgerald. I don't know whether the entire "Planet of the Bunnies" sequence was his idea, or whether he just expanded it and took it in his own direction, but it is a brilliant virtual non-sequitur. You might expect something like this to be the main part of an episode, but here it's just a bit on the end, which comes pretty much out nowhere.

It contains a lot of references to Bob Clampett's cartoons from the Golden Age of Warner Bros.

The giant pair of lips is from "Tin Pan Alley Cats" where jazz music sends a Fats Waller cat "outta this world" and into a WW2-era version of Wackyland. I don't believe they are announcing a science-fiction double-feature.

The scene where Buster and three other characters, disguised as Buster clones, all hide in Elmyra's bed and scare her seems to come from "Kitty Kornered" where Porky's cats disguise as Martians. Also, the little dance all the Busters do at the end of the scene was apparently inspired by the end of "Porky in Wackyland" where Porky discovers there are actually several Dodo birds and the one he has caught is not the last after all. And it contains a Clampett catchphrase "Now, we wouldn't say that!" That's three Clampett references in one short scene! It also inspired Glen Kennedy to create the Kennedy Buster Dance, something that would appear a lot in the episodes his studio animated.

Glen Kennedy, the animation supervisor of his studio, animated about two-thirds of this episode, (far more than usual) including the entire third act. His style is pretty easy to spot once you know what it is, but it really looks much more expressive in motion than these frame-grabs can show. One technique which I think is unique to his animation is when characters point up into the sky for no apparent reason.

Additionally, there are a few scenes which he doesn't appear to have animated, but which nonetheless contain some of his poses, such as a character running off-screen by stretching out of the frame and leaving his or her head behind.

The gag credit no doubt refers to the omnipresence of Glen's animation.

One short sequence, in which Buster dresses as a doctor, was by Jon McClenahan, when he was the only animator at his studio, StarToons, and was taking work from other studios. By his own admission he had not quite got a handle on the characters. He would go on to do great things in the rest of the series.

There are a few more scenes here and there which might be examples of his work before it grew into what it became. The shot above is from one such scene: it comes right after the "doctor" bit and seems to have been inspired by some of Chuck Jones' 1960s work.

You can understand why this episode was delayed instead of being the series premiere. Some of the character roles are pretty strange: Elmyra is treated as some sort of arch-nemesis, Babs is a presenter with nothing to do until the third act and who spends most of the time in her "Tinkerbunny" outfit. Plucky and Hamton make cameos outside the action (they show up out of nowhere during the "death scene", and only Buster seems to be aware of their existence). And Buster and Babs' accomplices for their plot against Elmyra are a strange mix of Furrball, Fifi and Tyrone Turtle!

Also, Charlie Adler hasn't quite got the hang of his Buster voice, especially during his death act. Acme Acres is vaguely defined as a "land of magic and enchantment".

The actual first episode to air, "The Looney Beginning" (an "origin story" which was the 48th episode to be produced), has more to recommend it as an introduction to the series, with Babs and Buster as the main characters, Montana Max as the villain, and the creation of Acme Looniversity. But I do kind of like the strange quirkiness of "Hare Today" - a look at how the series *might* have turned out.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Nothing but the lies

I know that Captain Pugwash didn't really have crew members called "Master Bates" or "Roger the Cabin Boy". I know that the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street was not renamed the Veggie Monster as some sort of evil plan to indoctrinate kids into eating more healthily.

(Of course, I'm using "evil" sarcastically here. Although a plan to introduce healthy eating to kids could have a morally suspect element to it, if the plan is to make kids healthy enough to form an army of muscle-bound troops to help you take over the world. But I don't think that's on anyone's mind when they whine about the government having the audacity to try to stop their kids from getting heart diseases.)

The Sesame Street one I learned on snopes, the Pugwash one I knew from being familiar with the Pugwash *books* from my kidhood, confirmed by snopes. I have heard both of these claims stated as fact. I could have replied "That's not true..." but they were unlikely to believe me, and if I did convince them I'd just have been a kill-joy. So I kept my mouth shut and let them enjoy their slanderous anti-nutritious fun. Maybe I was right to do so, or maybe that just leads down the path to ignoring other, more important truths and tacitly accepting other, more damaging lies.

Oh, and if you want PG-13 names in Captain Pugwash... well, one of them is called Willy. How snickersome. But his last (or first) name is not Gilligan.

Saturday, 23 January 2010


When I was a small kid, I remember having a typically small-kid-like top with a picture of a dog as an aviator on it. Also, the writing "Dog Gone Flying". The dog had a cheerful, friendly face, he didn't look evil or anything. However, there was something a bit disturbing about him. His face was quite small, compacted down in the lower part of his head. That's not disturbing, it an be quite appealing. What was distrurbing was the fact that, up on his high forehead were a pair of goggles... over another pair of eyes!

In the absence of any photos of this garment, here's a rough impression of it on MSPaint based on memory.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Hello, all you happy people.

One of the presents I got this year was the DVD set of the theatrical Droopy shorts. It wasn't one of the first I decided to check out... in fact, unlike some of the other DVDs I got, I didn't stick it in my DVD player until a few days later! I guess this is because I had the feeling that these cartoons didn't represent the best of what Avery did at MGM, and that while I was watching them, something would remind me of a better Avery MGM cartoon, and I would wish I was watching that instead.

I think my negative feelings about the Droopy cartoons came from a specific group of them, from around 1950, which pitted Droopy against Spike the bulldog. They were built on a blackout gags formula, in which Droopy and Spike are competing for something, and so Spike tries various schemes against Droopy (either trying to kill him, or just make him fail at something) which all backfire in exactly the same way. The humour levels really seem to go down after the first four where he is pitted against the wolf.

As it turns out though, there were some other good ones made around the same time... "Out-Foxed", for example, and even "Droopy's Double Trouble", although it does feature Spike, is much more enjoyable to me than the five Spike and Droopy entries which came before it. This was the last Droopy cartoon Avery made before his sabbatical and brief replacement by Dick Lundy, and if the quality of the Droopy shorts are anything to go by, it was a much-needed break.

The following cartoons (on Disc 2 of the DVD set) are much more inventive, funny, and inventively funny. Even though "Three Little Pups" is a blackout-gag cartoon, it is still one of my favourites, and contains one of my favourite Avery gags (ironically featuring a bulldog)...

"Break it up, son. Joke's over."

Most of the post-sabbatical Droopy cartoons have a Western theme to them, and this may have been Avery's element.

Now, the last few shorts were directed by Michael Lah, and I was expecting the quality to plunge. But, interestingly enough, it doesn't! I'm not saying it was a similar situation to the Popeye cartoons, where the first Famous entries were better than the last few Fleischers - as I said above, the weak phase for Tex's Droopys came much earlier. I did enjoy them a lot more than those earlier "weak phase" Droopys though. "Grin and Share It" is based on the same formula, but, well, I prefer it. "One Droopy Knight" is largely a remake of the earlier "Senor Droopy" but I find the mythical knights-and-dragons setting more suited to the basic story than the bullfighting arena.

(the only thing that "Senor Droopy" has in its favour over "One Droopy Knight" is the live-action end gag)

Hmmm... it's only when getting that screengrab that I was reminded that Senor Droopy's opponent is the wolf, not Spike. Well, I'd still classfy it as one of the weaker formula shorts, not in the same league as "Dumb-Hounded" through "Northwest Hounded Police".

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Kaa, the incredible shape-changing snake

From a Sterling Holloway stork to a Sterling Holloway snake...

I didn't notice this myself, I had read a very offhand remark about there being two different looks for Kaa in the Disney Jungle Book. So I decided to check it out:

Indeed, in the clip below (his second sequence in the film) he looks much cartoonier than in the clip above (his first sequence). His eyes are closer together and rise further above his head, his nose tapers out the way instead of in the way... and the general shape of his face allows for more variation in movement... actually, in the later sequence he almost looks like a serpentine Daffy Duck, say... mid-1950s, Chuck Jones unit.

The later design is certainly the better of the two, and probably the "definitive" look for the character, but I wonder why the earlier sequence has the different design? A common explanation would be that it had a different animator, but you'd think on a feature film like this they'd have a standard model sheet and diligent assistants to keep the drawings close to that model sheet. Another possibility is that they changed the design after they had already animated the earlier sequence, but surely they'd get someone to reanimate it, like they did with Dopey's soap antics in the washing sequence of Snow White. After Disney's death did consistency really fall apart?

As some people might not know, Woolie Reitherman, the director of The Jungle Book, was very fond of reusing animation. In this case, the scenes of Kaa unravelling (1:56 - 2:07 in the first clip, 4:55 - 5:00 in the second) are the same. This creates a continuity error: when he unravels in the second sequence, the way he's wrapped around the tree branches changes completely. It also makes the difference in the design stand out a bit more.

Oddly enough, some of the following footage in the second sequence is reused from the first sequence, while some is new. But, of course, even in the new footage he still has the (older?) first sequence design.

Oh, and if any of you are turned on by the thought of a ridiculously long snake hypnotising you and coiling himself around you... well, keep it to yourself, OK? ;)

Saturday, 9 January 2010

A closer look at... a single line from Walt Disney's Dumbo

"Look Out For Mr Stork", the opening song of the Walt Disney classic Dumbo, with lyrics by Ned Washington and music by Frank Churchill and/or Oliver Wallace.

You know, I wonder how much we can understand about the Disney "style" by looking at one of the lines: "Remember those quintuplets, or the woman in the shoe?" (1:37 - 1:41 on the video and oddly not subtitled).

"Those quintuplets" presumably refers to the Dionne quintuplets - the Wikipedia entry certainly thinks so at least. I probably have the commentaries on the Looney Tunes Golden Collections to thank for figuring that out. The cartoon "Baby Bottleneck" (Bob Clampett, 1946), in which Porky and Daffy have to help out the "overworked stork", features a scene where Daffy is answering phone requests, and at one point replies, in a shocked tone, "Mr Dionne, please!" Clampett obviously realised that at least some of the audience would understand that Dionne = unusual amount of childbirth.

Dumbo doesn't get so specific, but refers to "those quintuplets", almost like "Oh, yeah, I remember reading something about a set of quintuplets in the news once" and this reference is immediately followed by a reference to a nursery rhyme, which is also about an unusual amount of children.

There's a couple of ways to interpret this, neither of which is necessarily right:
Disney (as a company) wanted to prove it was "with the times" by including a fairly topical reference, albeit a very non-specific one, then, having exhausted that attempt, fell back on the more comfortably familiar world of nursery rhymes.
The lyricist wanted to include a fairly topical reference, but some higher authority at the studio prefered that the film remain "timeless" (kind of like how Disney didn't want the vultures in The Jungle Book to be a rock'n'roll group because he thought that style of music wouldn't last very long) and so insisted he downplay the specificity of the reference and immediately follow it up with the kind of reference that the studio had become more familiar for.

There's probably plenty of evidence against either theory, but I do find that line an interesting example of opposing directions at the Disney studio.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Look out, Itchy! He's Irish!

When I was a kid I read this joke:

"Is this yours? The name's all smudged."
"No, my name is Allsop."

I didn't quite understand it. I assumed the joke must be that the name "Allsop" apparently looked like a smudge of ink, and that Mr Allsop was saying "No, it's not smudged, my name really does look like that."

I also read a similar joke.

"Is this yours? The name's obliterated."
"No, my name's O'Brien."

I am ashamed to say that not only did I not notice the similarity between the two jokes, but I didn't know what "obliterated" meant either. (I'm not sure how old I was at this point) I thought it might mean "has an O' at the beginning" and the joke was that the foolish Mr O'Brien didn't realise his name was indeed "obliterated".

It was may years later, and, actually, many years after learning what "obliterated" really meant, that I noticed the similarity of the two jokes (some things just come to memory like that) - they were really just versions of the same joke: Person 1 is expressing that he can't read the name, Person 2 thinks that Person 1 *is* reading out a name similar to Person 2's real name.

Of the two, I think that the "O'Brien" version works better, as it's more plausible that someone might think "O'bliterated" is a real name than that they might think "Allsmudged" is. The only problem is that it's potentially insulting to Irish people, as it seems to belong on the same genre as the "Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman" or the "Pat and Mike" jokes, where a character's Irishness is used as a signpost that he is meant to be stupid.

The thing is, I don't think the joke is offensive unless you're already aware of the "Irish = stupid" tradition in so many other jokes. The guy isn't called "O'Brien" because it's a name befitting a stupid character, he's called "O'Brien" because it sounds vaguely like "obliterated". But unfortunately, because of all those *other* jokes, we have to put up with the "Allsmudged" version or risk offending someone. If it weren't for those jokes we could tell the "O'Brien" one to anyone we wanted and have a good old laugh together.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Let the old Doctor die with a fond goodbye...

The four years of Russell T Davies' tenure as Doctor Who showrunner corresponded to my four years at University. I don't mean they were similar (although if I really analysed it, maybe I might find a few similarities), but the year after I graduated, no Doctor Who series. But now I've started a post-grad at a different university and... guess what! This year there will be a new series of Doctor who with a different showrunner. Not only that, but my postgrad course is at Glasgow Uni, and the new showrunner is Steven Moffat, who comes from very near Glasgow. Incredible!

Even without that personal coinceidental reason, I'm one of the many people who thinks Steven Moffat would be a great choice to take over. His episodes have really made the most of the time-travel element of the series... in "Blink" the Doctor records half a conversation for someone several years in the future who will provide the other side of the conversation. In "The Girl in the Fireplace" he and his companions are on a spaceship where different portals lead to different points in the life of a historical figure. In "Silence in the Library" he meets someone who has already met a later incarnation of him. To be fair, other writers, including Russell T Davies, have also done this to an extent.

But one of Davies' flaws, in my opinion, has been an over-fondness of including scenes where something big is shooting down at people in a city (usually London) as they flee for their lives. "The Next Doctor" was a great episode... but it was let down somewhat by the fact that RTD just had to include that giant Cyberman. (Well... he didn't *have* to. That's the point I'm making.) Steven Moffat, on the other hand, has almost always gone for the simple-but-effective... or maybe that should be the simple-thus-effective: people in gas masks, clockwork androids, living statues which are never seen to move onscreen. Oh, and his episodes are terrifying in a way which only ideas and not in-your-face visuals can be.

In Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook's "A Writer's Tale", Davies mentions that he wrote the final draft of all episodes except Moffat's, Chris Chibnall's, Stephen Greenhorn's and Matthew Graham's. We therefore can be sure that the Steven Moffat who writes six episodes of the 2010 series will be the same Steven Moffat who brought us those earlier episodes, and that what we have seen before was not a version of his style that was filtered through Davies' own.

We know a bit about some of the other writers who will return, courtesy of wikipedia - Chris Chibnall will write two episodes (one two-part story, perhaps?), as will Gareth Roberts. Chris Chibnall wrote the highly entertaining "42" in the 2007 series, as well as some of Life on Mars, so that should be good. Gareth Roberts' episodes have also been great so far, although "The Unicorn and the Wasp" can feel a little flippant compared to some of the others. Also, as Roberts had been rewritten by Davies for both of his episodes we've seen before, we may be encountering an entirely new Gareth Roberts this year. We don't really know how much of either "The Shakespeare Code" or "The Unicorn and the Wasp" were Roberts' own and how much were Davies'.

And now we come to the big one: Richard Curtis will be writing an episode, apparently including "Vincent Van Gogh stabbing a yellow monster". I'm slightly wary about this. In a BBC interview he mentions that it's "a treat for his children" and that he's glad that families can sit together to watch "something like Doctor Who and the X Factor"... I'm hoping that he isn't only writing for children and fans of the X Factor. It's also a little troublesome for me that he is writing an episode with a historical setting, given that he has previously written a very well known TV series with a historical setting, one where accuracy ranked probably lowest on the list of priorities. But I hope that with Steven Moffat in charge he's not likely to make the same types of Blackadder-esque blunders which have medieval English kings being rulers of "Britain", which includes Scotland...