Sunday, September 30, 2007
Since Jeff Pepper already ran a Huey, Dewey and Louie comic book cover from one of Donald’s nephews’ Dell Giant Back To School issues over at his excellent Disney blog 2719 Hyperion (link below to the right), I thought I’d run something a little different before Back-to-School Month closes out. Donald Duck wasn’t the only “funny animal” star who had young relatives in his care. With nephew and niece Knothead and Splinter in tow Woody Woodpecker became a much tamer, more domesticated character in the pages of his comic book. Unlike Huey, Dewey and Louie, however, poor Knothead and Splinter didn’t have enough star power to headline their own “school” comic so Uncle Woody still gets top billing. Here, in a pleasingly designed 1954 Giant Comic cover drawn by comic artist Paul Murry, Woody financially exploits his young kin by selling them bribes for their classroom instructors. Doesn’t such behavior border on extortion? Maybe Woody wasn’t such a domesticated comic book character after all…
For those of you intrigued by my earlier post about Turner Classic Movies showcasing Disney movies—and if perhaps you did not believe that TCM was actually showing The Barefoot Executive, starring Kurt Russell, Kurt Russell’s dimples, a chimp and Joe Flynn— the 1971 film is on TCM this morning at 10:00 am eastern/7:00 am pacific. Any Disney film featuring Kurt Russell (even Superdad or Charley and the Angel) is worth watching—and in the case of this film, there’s always the true Disney superstar of the 1970s, Joe Flynn, to ponder. Incidentally, note the cool (and very small) promo for Walt Disney World on the poster. This film was released in March of 1971 and the new Disney “vacation kingdom” was to open in October (36 years ago next month), so this poster add-on was a reminder of the resort’s imminent opening, complete with the “Florida” banner—a now seemingly unnecessary reminder that this new Disney theme park was a different entity than Disneyland in California.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Dueling buccaneers from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl decorate the cover of the new issue of Sketches. Just mailed to Members of the Walt Disney Collectors Society, this new edition of the Society’s official magazine features articles on Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mickey and the Beanstalk, sculptor Jacqueline Perreault Gonzales, and much more tasty Disney goodness besides. As I’ve mentioned, this is a magazine for everyone who loves Disney, but it’s not available on newsstands or by regular subscription—Sketches is exclusively for Society Members. If you don’t want to miss another issue, visit WaltDisneyCollectorsSociety.com or DisneyShopping.com for information about becoming a Member in the Walt Disney Collectors Society.
Friday, September 28, 2007
The October issue of Vanity Fair (Nicole Kidman is on the cover) has an excerpt from the much-anticipated biography of Peanuts comic strip artist Charles M. Schulz. Written by David Michaelis, author of the acclaimed 1998 biography of N.C. Wyeth, Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography will be issued on October 16 (it's now available for pre-order at Amazon.com), and to judge by the Vanity Fair excerpt, it promises to be a thoughtful and extensively researched examination of a very complex man. Not surprisingly the selection printed in the magazine focuses on Snoopy, featuring an insightful analysis of the fantasizing beagle’s leap beyond mere popularity into superstardom during the mid-1960s. But, as the author points out, Peanuts—and Schulz—“had just begun.” This new book promises to be an important addition to our understanding of the artist and his comic-strip magnum opus.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Hallmark Cards has presented some artful uses of the Disney, Peanuts and Looney Tunes characters on their greeting cards, and now they are offering some wonderfully stylized depictions of the MGM Wizard of Oz cast—or at least the Scarecrow. Naturally Hallmark’s use of the Oz characters usually utilize stills of the beloved film, as the card company is an official Oz licensee. But here the film version of the Scarecrow (clasping his honorary “Doctor of Thinkology” diploma and offering a brainy get-well greeting in a card cleverly designed in the shape of the word “Oz”) is depicted in a cartoony style that would actually make a wonderful animated character. Even though the branding on the back of the card would indicate an entire line of similar cards, this is the only example I’ve so far been able to find featuring this appealing graphic design.
The completion of the aforementioned new Goofy cartoon is timely, for its addle-brained star is celebrating his 75th anniversary this year. To celebrate that silly-but-significant occasion the Walt Disney Classics Collection has created a smile-inducing sculpture inspired by Goofy’s first solo starring cartoon, Goofy and Wilbur. Take a gander at this fun work of art (sculpted by Bruce Lau) and get Goofy! (FYI: This sculpture is scheduled for an October 2007 release.)
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
At CartoonBrew.com (hands down the best blog about the art, history and business of animation), historian, writer and hero-to-us-all Jerry Beck recently reviewed Disney’s new Goofy cartoon, How To Hook Up Your Home Theater, which was screened at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. Seems they got it right, both updating and honoring the Goof’s grand goofiness as established in the “How To” cartoons of the 1940s. It really should be no surprise the film is good: Disney’s animation department is now actually headed by a bona fide artist and filmmaker—namely, John Lasseter—who not only loves and respects Disney but understands that elusive quality and knows how to create in that style. And the cartoon is animated by many of Disney’s top animators, including Andreas Deja and Mark Henn. More importantly, this new Goofy short marks the sure-handed return of hand-drawn animation at Disney. Can’t wait to see where they go from here.
The other day I mentioned The Absent-Minded Professor and now I see it is being presented on the cable channel Turner Classic Movies today (11:30 pm eastern/8:30 pm pacific). A showcase for a huge library of vintage films lovingly presented (commercial free, unedited and almost always in their original theatrical aspect ratio), Turner Classic Movies has been showing a number of Disney films lately. In addition to The Absent-Minded Professor, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (proudly letterboxed in the splendor of CinemaScope), Candleshoe and even The Barefoot Executive have all been featured on TCM, and Freaky Friday will be screened (when else?) Friday. The irony of course is that Disney’s own Disney Channel wouldn’t be caught dead showing one of these films. Check out the TCM schedule (TCM.com) and watch for other Disney films that may pop up among all the other classic films presented by this superb movie channel as a matter of course.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Speaking of Jeff Kurrti, another Disney watcher named Jim has an interview with the prolific author about the much-anticipated Disney Editions book, Walt Disney’s Imagineering Legends and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park. Designed by the inestimable Bruce Gordon (an Imagineer himself for many years), the book will explore the art of Imagineering as created by Walt’s handpicked staff. Jim Hill’s informative conversation with Jeff (complete with historic photos of Imagineers such as Claude Coats, Harriet Burns and some guy named Walt) can be read at JimHillMedia.com.
The book’s cover is impressive, highlighting one of the most iconic pieces of Imagineering art: the dynamic drawing of the Disneyland Monorail by John Hench and Bob Gurr. The book will not be available until March 2008 (it's availab le for pre-order at Amazon.com, but as Jim Hill notes, it will definitely be worth the wait.
Through the good graces of author, historian, producer and all-around good pal Jeff Kurtti, I was the image researcher for his book, Disney Dossiers: Files of Characters From the Walt Disney Studios. Published by Disney Editions and designed by ultra-cool becker&mayer! (of beautiful Bellevue, Washington), Disney Dossiers artfully displays a collection of rarely seen art: everything from concept paintings, model sheets, story art and animation drawings from Disney’s priceless Animation Research Library to comic strips, posters and storybook illustrations from the Walt Disney Archives. (Special thanks to the Archives’ Brian Hoffman, by the way, who tirelessly scanned the many Archives treasures that were selected for this tome.) And lest I forget, there’s also typically witty writing and fascinating facts from Mr. Kurtti. I hope every Disney fan will add this endlessly fascinating compendium to his or her library —it’s chock-full of unique art presented in an unusual way. You can find it here. I’ll return to this book now and again to display an irresistible image or two from its pages.
The New York Times reports on a new trend in movies and TV—the nerd as hero. Inspired by last night's premiere of Chuck (NBC) and The Big Bang Theory (CBS) the nation's newspaper of record notes that now it's the geek who is at the center of things and is held up for our admiration. I personally applaud this movement as a positive development. (Are you surprised that I, of all people, would value programs wherein the nerdy, geeky, super smart guy is the hero? I who am not in the least...super smart.) I have not yet seen the debut episode of Chuck (though I liked its lead, Zachary Levi, in a very different, non-nerdy role on the now-cancelled Less Than Perfect), but I saw and enjoyed The Big Bang Theory. It's (what else?) brainy, nerdy, geeky—and funny. Visit this New York Times page to read Alessandra Stanley's perceptive report. I particularly like how she implies Freaks and Geeks was ahead of its time, as most certainly was Undeclared—and let's face it, any writer who references Fred MacMurray in Walt Disney's The Absent-Minded Professor has a special place in my nerdy, geeky (but not-so-smart) heart
Monday, September 24, 2007
I’m the co-editor and staff writer for Sketches, the Official Magazine of the Walt Disney Collectors Society. The magazine celebrates the fine art sculptures of the Walt Disney Classics Collection and although it is of course the release of these beautifully crafted porcelain sculptures that drives the magazine, it is not a catalog. We who write and produce the magazine work hard to make it just that—a real magazine with historically rich and artistically intriguing articles (and of course rare Disney art and photographs) about the wide world of Disney. Sketches is celebrating its 15th year of publication, and in that time we have run articles about many of Disney’s greatest films, shorts, TV shows and live-action films, as well as Disneyland and the other Disney theme parks. For example, in the Winter 2007 issue (released in February 2007) pictured (the cover spotlights Sleeping Beauty, one of Walt Disney’s most magnificent animated films and one of my personal favorites), we featured articles on The Ugly Duckling, Peg Leg Pete, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mary Poppins, to name only a few of the subjects covered. In this blog I hope to revisit some of material we have run in the past and also let you know a hint or two of what’s ahead. In the meantime, if you are interested in becoming a Member of the Walt Disney Collectors Society (and thereby subscribe to Sketches), please visit WaltDisneyCollectorsSociety.com or DisneyShopping.com
Since this blog has an Alice in Wonderland theme (consider its title and the general madness you will find herein) I thought I would start with a Wonderland post. Here’s one of my favorite posters, and its backstory is almost more interesting than the poster itself. When Alice in Wonderland was originally released in 1951, the animated feature was not exactly a runaway hit, and instead of being re-released, it was shown on Walt Disney’s television hour (edited to fit the time slot) several times. Then a “curiouser” thing happened. In 1971 the film became quite popular as a 16mm rental film (remember, kids, this was before home video). In fact, Alice was the most rented film in college towns throughout the country where many students enjoyed watching Alice in Wonderland’s vivid “visual euphoria” while they were, shall we say, chemically enhanced. Finally, in response to renewed interest in the film among both students and Disney aficionados who longed to see this neglected classic on the big screen, Disney decided to reissue Alice in the Spring of 1974. This psychedelic poster was designed to tie-in with the film's newfound far-out reputation, and it remains a mesmerizing Wonderland-worthy delight.