Monday, March 15, 2010

Early Morning Links

A few links of this and that, beginning with ... all things Alice. The L.A. Times recounts Alice In Wonderlands that we've known if not loved, including the version to the left:

... The most satisfying of all the reissues, the 1933 "Alice in Wonderland" -- actually the second sound-era "Alice," after an obscure 1931 version -- is reasonably faithful to the original and, as such, gratifyingly weird. Combining elements of "Alice's Adventures" and its 1872 sequel "Through the Looking-Glass," the film was directed by the unheralded Norman McLeod; in almost every other respect, though, it was an A-list endeavor.

The screenplay is credited to Joseph L. Mankiewicz and William Cameron Menzies, both of whom would become important filmmakers in their own right. Menzies, already an Oscar-winning art director, was also responsible for the off-kilter sets and visual tricks.

The cast includes W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty, Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle, Gary Cooper as the White Knight and Edward Everett Horton as the Mad Hatter.

It would be misleading, though, to say that the film is full of recognizable faces, since most of the actors are masked, suited and heavily made up (in the spirit of the indelible original illustrations by John Tenniel). The actors get into the romper-room spirit that an "Alice" production invariably induces, but the film's real pleasure is in the ingenuity of its old-school effects ...

(Who better to play the Hatter than the future narrator of Jay Ward's Fractured Fairy Tales?) ....

(Below is a fairly wretched copy of Alice and the Mad Hatter off of somebody's teevee.)

There's animation going on behind the Persian carpet:

TEHRAN -- The common Iranian and Turkish epics of K├Âroglu is once again in the spotlight by the production of an animated film in Iran.

Over 60 people have been working on “The Legend of Hero Roshan” since 2007, producer Alireza Isaii Tafreshi told the Persian service of IRNA on Sunday.

“This animation promotes patriotism among the Iranian youth,” he said. ...

The Princess and the Frog goes to DVD on Tuesday, and Musker and Clements talk once more about the picture:

Q: What were some of your biggest influences on this film? Did you look back to your past movies at all for guidance?

John Musker: It was Bambi and Lady and the Tramp. Those were two big influences in terms of background styling. The painterly lush look of Bambi influenced our bayou scenes and our New Orleans French Quarter cityscapes were influenced by Lady and the Tramp. We were also influenced by the great draftsmanship displayed in the character drawing in Lady. The characters were drawn with a great deal of solidity. ...

Finally, something I've meant to do like forever: There's a wealth of animation blogs out on the internets; below are a chosen few that are very much worth your time.

Story artist Mark Kennedy has a dandy piece about New Yorker staging at his Temple of the Seven Golden Camels:

I read somewhere that when Disney animator Marc Davis taught drawing classes at Disney, he told his students to look at old New Yorker cartoons from the 30's and 40's and try to redraw the and improve their staging. Basically, they were always staged so well that it was a nearly impossible task ...

Mike Peraza has a nice post about an overlooked aspect of animation, and one of the masters:

Don Griffith was the head of the Layout Department at Disney Studios for many years. During the 1970's he helped usher in a young group of kids hungry to learn the tricks of the trade from this master. I had a special affection for Layout as it was explained to me by a teacher at Cal Arts, Ken O'Connor. Layout was the area where the film was staged, where the setting was designed to best portray the character and further the story with specific background design. .... Don was born on February 3, 1918 in Montana. His dad had passed a way when he was a boy and his mom moved the family to Hollywood where she operated a boarding house. He got a job at 19 after interviewing with Walt at Hyperion. ...

Jenny LeRew's BlackWing Diaries is always worth perusing:

[Sanjay Patel's] new book (full title "Ramayana: Divine Loophole") is really stunning in its tackling of the Ramayana, the same story of love and war between gods and mortalsthat inspired Nina Paley's "Sita Sings the Blues".

Leafing through page after page of his lush, beautifully composed, dynamic illustrations was inspiring. Fascinating material, brilliantly executed. The color styling alone would be worth studying ...

Then there is WIll Finn's Small Room which has a wealth of thoughtful stuff regarding animation. Like for instance:

... [I]t occurs to me that if LADY & THE TRAMP were made (or re-made?) today it would: 1. NEVER be drawn, 2. now not even likely be an all-CGI film; 3. almost certainly would be a live action hybrid of the CATS & DOGS type, in other words, for all intents and appearances, a film comprised almost entirely of live action footage of dogs, augmented in post by CGI. And it occurs to me in turn, that this approach would probably suit audiences of all ages just fine.

Hell, if it were funny enough and engaging, I'd probably enjoy it as well. The fact that I have a hard time imagining why it would be done otherwise is partially what bothers me...

I could see George Clooney and Jennifer Anniston being equipped with AVATAR helmets to help record and faithfully transfer their emotions and lip sync to cgi-augmentations which would be integrated with live action footage of the real dogs they were portraying and that the whole thing would probably be a massive hit.

Something about this though, suggests a trend I find unsettling. It suggests to me that the tolerance for a well-crafted cartoon image, even one as sedate and safe (albeit expert) as any in the original LADY, even if it were faithfully re-created, rendered and impeccably lit in CGI, is pretty much shrinking in the hearts of the public and the minds of the power brokers.

But, of course, you can click away and find your own favorites. And before you know it, half the day will be gone. Enjoy your workweek, if at all possible.


Anonymous said...

early morning indeed.

Anonymous said...

So this is Ron and John admitting they were the wrong people to make the first new Disney 2D film?
"The painterly lush look of Bambi..." worked for Bambi and that film's pastoral forest/eden. " our New Orleans French Quarter cityscapes were influenced by Lady and the Tramp" worked for L&T because it helped give a sense of smalltown America in the early 1900s.
None of these things helped evoke New Orleans, the South or the Bayou.
One more reason why this film was a disaster and couldn't bring audiences into the theaters.

Anonymous said...

btw, that's Sanjay PATEL. Not "pantel."

And it's a brilliant book.

Steve Hulett said...

I'll make the necessary correction to my stoopid typo.

Anonymous said...

One more reason why this film was a disaster and couldn't bring audiences into the theaters.

A $250 million worldwide gross is a long way from "disaster."

Anonymous said...

Not in thi day and age and NOT what Disney needed to bring back 2D.
It's a disaster if the entertainment community consider it an underacheiver. It's a disaster if the people in charge of Disney think it's a failure. It's a disaster when JL looks to lay blame on someone else.
It's a disaster when they have backtracked on committing to go forward with 2D and lay off crews.

The only one it's not a disaster for is Pixar. They may very well end up being the default Disney animation studio.

Anonymous said...

Really. Do you think Disney looked at other animated films to help create the look of Lady and the Tramp or Bambi? Is there any wonder why audiences weren't excited to go see it?

Anonymous said...

As for the Alice article, it sounds as if the reporter went boldly went out of his way to watch three versions (the 60's and the cheesy Syfy) before proclaiming the weirdo 30's version as "the most faithful".
(Leaving aside the West Coast image of "Betcha didn't know there were others besides Tim and the '51 cartoon!")
I see no mention of the '72 live-action British version that court-transcripted about 90% of the book dialogue, put Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan in cameos, and still got the jokes.

Anonymous said...

Alice in the Palace is the best version available. With Meryl Streep, nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

None of these things helped evoke New Orleans, the South or the Bayou.

Ever read E.D. Baker's book the movie was supposedly "based" on? There's virtually no resemblance whatsoever except for the kiss.
The setting is the basic cute-fairytale pastiche, the princess is a generic princess, and the "story" is just an episodic character-encounter hop from point A to swamp-witch point B. No jazz, no gumbo, no proactive female empowerment--The New Orleans stuff all came out of R&J's head, and boy, did it need it. (The "Not a princess" plot, however, came out of Eisner-era panic.)

And if the main line of attack is "Sure, it made money, but it must be a disaster if people THINK it is", well, y'see, that's the point some of us defenders had been making all along...Not that it doesn't sound a little desperate, mind.
Still, with the Alice link at the top, it's more original to talk about how Walt's '51 cartoon wasn't quite as "evil" as it's been painted over the years.

Andre Martin said...

I just think that they were trying too hard this time and it simply did work in the box office because of that noisy publicity but actually it really is not that overly outstanding...

Anonymous said...

"Alice in the Palace is the best version available. With Meryl Streep, nonetheless."

Palace was based on an off-Broadway musical that went uptown and closed overnight. It's hard not to see why. (I remember a friend watching the actor-improv, and asking "...Are they tripping?")
If you want a good stage version, PBS did an all-star version in '83, with Richard Burton appearing in a bit part with daughter Kate. (Who tends to read Alice's lines as if they're grim Shakespearean soliloquies.)

Unknown said...

"None of these things helped evoke New Orleans, the South or the Bayou.
One more reason why this film was a disaster and couldn't bring audiences into the theaters."

Yes. Every child who saw the trailer immediate thought "Wow, that background really doesn't evoke New Orleans for me. Let's see Alvin instead!"

Stop over analyzing.

Anonymous said...

It IS part of the whole fabric of what made this film feel "seen it".
It wasn't children staying away from this film that made it do poorly. It was the film not bringing in the evening dating audiences. That's what is necessary to make a film a hit. If every child and family went to see the film that would only account for a small part of the Box Office necessary to make this film a hit.

Can you clearly say that if the film had looked fresh and different (not trying to steal the look of L&T and Bambi and numerous character designs from other films) it wouldn't have helped draw audiences in - even before they discovered the story was a warmed over mess?
My guess is that instead of trying to compete with Pixar and DW there was a conscious decision to try and go nostalgic and recycle the past and miraculously people would long for the good old days of 2D (before it got bad). They even hired two directors that hadn't had a hit since 1992.

This was not what a return to 2D needed.

Anonymous said...

wow.. the reasons i'm hearing that Princess and the Frog did poorly are seriously inflated. Disaster is so far from the case. First, The movie did well. Not good, not great, it did well. Second, Disney did overstep the marketing basically telling everyone this is something you've seen before and enjoyed but it's pretty much the same thing. Last, Disney was expecting a turn-around far greater then they should have. They were pitting it against the likes of The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast, and without releasing a traditionally animated film with an expected turn around for quite a few years, they were expecting it to do as well as recent computer animated movies.

The real test for Princess and the Frog will be to see how much merchandise it sells. That's the real bank for Disney here.

Aurora Dawson said...

I kind of blame, The Princess and the Frog's lukewarm performance on the scheduling date for the film.

I read that Cook set it up so that the movies A Christmas Carol and Old Dogs were set in November and The Princess and the Frog in early December.

Though it probably seemed like a good idea at the time to schedule a "princess" movie during the holiday season; it really wasn't in the end. So I guess Disney learned this by putting Tangled in November, but they're still facing the first-half of the final Harry Potter. So maybe they're setting themselves up to fail.

Anyway so my point is it looks like as soon as Eisner left his influence on the company stayed. First he bought the dying Muppet franchise, liked them as a kid don't think this generation likes puppets anymore. Second the Disney Princess franchise, a sort of clever way to recycle iconic Disney heroines, but it also poisoned any future films featuring a female protagonist. Finally, cheap Disney sequels. Enough said.

Sorry for the rant needed to get it out.


PS: Please no more ranting about Lasseter or Iger. They're just trying to fix the mess Eisner left and set in motion. They're just stuck with it.

Anonymous said...

I read that Cook set it up so that the movies A Christmas Carol and Old Dogs were set in November and The Princess and the Frog in early December.

Generally, there are only two times you can put a major animated movie in Nov.-Dec: Nov. 1-7, and the week of Dec. 25th.
Obviously, if you're doing Christmas Carol, the second option's a bit late...But first-November is usually the most valuable for an animated or Xmas-themed (like Tim Allen's Santa Clauses), since mall crowds are still light, kids want to start getting in a holiday mood, you're one week ahead of the mid-November big-studio offerings, and you've got a whole month of business to play with.
And since, as noted, Alvin grabbed the Dec. 25th slot, PATF didn't have many scheduling options left, unless they pushed back to spring '10 (which might've helped).
As for "comedies" like Old Dogs (note the quotation marks), that was counted as mainstream-adult, for which Dec. rules don't apply.

Also, PATF had been announced almost the same week as Eisner departing; audiences got the message, and wanted to treat it as a "historical event" rather than a movie.
Which raised expectations a little TOO unrealistically hopeful for what should've been a harmless little piece.

Anonymous said...

audiences got the message

No, the Dis-fans got the message. The general movie audience didn't connect Eisner leaving to PatF, and didn't care about anything other than whether they wanted to see the film or not.

All this talk about release dates and expectations is mostly baloney. Audiences go see the films they want to, and they skip the ones they don't want to see. December 25 has NOT traditionally been a great release date. People should actually do some research before spouting their opinions as "facts."

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