Thursday, December 31, 2009



There's a lunar eclipse today.

There's a blue moon. A BLUE MOON, for crying out loud!

The planet Mercury is retrograde.

Ruth Lilly just passed away -- a sad moment for us Hoosiers, especially those of us in Indianapolis.

It's DAMN cold outside.

AND, it's my birthday, and I'm turning frickin' 45 years old. I'm a 45-year-old with a TODDLER.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Batman-Santa tale by Frank Miller and Denny O'Neil

Back in his early days illustrating Daredevil, and long before he did The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One, Frank Miller illustrated a Batman Christmas tale written by Denny O'Neil. This was back in 1980, when Miller was still primarily an illustrator, and was darned good at it -- his early style being like a cross between Neal Adams and Marshall Rogers.

The story, first published in DC Special Series #21, and featuring Miller's first published drawings of Batman, begins like this: Batman is out patrolling on Christmas Eve (of course), and he's rather ticked off about a star being stolen out of a public nativity scene:

Meanwhile, not too far away, a crime boss named Lasko is celebrating Christmas in his own way -- when Batman suddenly drops in on him:

Batman asks why Lasko has arranged to have a boat waiting in Gotham Harbor. Lasko responds by turning his goons loose on Bats -- with predictable results:

Poor old Boomer Katz. He's an ex-con who seems to have gotten very popular all of a sudden, with Batman AND a bunch of underworld thugs out to get him. But Boomer had been working for the Salvation Army and now has a job as a high-end department store Santa -- and he LIKES the job. Trouble is, underworld thugs have bullied him into helping them rob the department store. Poor old Boomer.

After the store closes, the thugs move in on Boomer to get him to let them in the store. He resists, saying he can't go back to being what he was, but they force him to get them access to the store. Once inside, the thugs try to ice Boomer, but he makes a run for it. Lucky for him, Batman hears the gunshots and decides to break into the store, figuring that if he's wrong --

Batman makes short work of all of the thugs except one, who's run out the back to chase after Boomer and kill him. Batman runs after them, but sees no sign of them, until ...

"Wanted: Santa Claus, Dead or Alive," from DC Special Series #21, 1980. Written by Denny O'Neil. Pencils by Frank Miller. Inks by Steve Mitchell.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An important part of the publishing industry dies

It's no secret that various types of publications have been dying a very slow and painful death in the decades since personal computers were first offered to the public. Over the past 20 years, newspapers and magazines, especially, have been scrambling to reinvent themselves in order to stay afloat. Some modest ventures have paid off for some publications; but the industry continues to shrink, and probably will continue to shrink until it's no more, or at least relegated to isolated pockets of small mom-and-pop businesses scattered across the globe. I do hope the small business side prevails and the industry DOES survive somehow, some way. Right now, though, things look pretty bleak.

Book publishing has fared only slightly better than newspaper and magazine publishing. Electronic book sales have helped a little, but they aren't even close to replacing the print industry just yet. And this past week, the book publishing industry was dealt a painful blow. Interestingly, the blow came from the cancellation of two magazines: Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews.

Since 1884, Editor & Publisher, though primarily an information source for newspaper publishers, provided a very important service for professionals in the publishing industry -- it helped us FIND WORK anywhere a position was open. One didn't necessarily have to specialize in newspapers in order to find work via Editor & Publisher -- the entire print and publishing industry was often represented.

If you think the Internet has made finding publishing jobs easier, that's a wrong assumption. There are too many people trying to electronically file their resumes with publishing companies these days. Companies are being SWAMPED with such applications, as filing electronically has become way too quick and easy for most people -- particularly those who aren't even qualified for the jobs in question. As a result, many publishing companies have stopped perusing their email or Web-based sources for potential employees and are looking instead for old-fashioned, snail-mailed paper resumes. Companies know that someone willing to put in the effort and resources to mail them a paper resume and cover letter is worth considering -- and job-seekers know that a company that advertises in a publication like Editor & Publisher really and truly has a position to fill. Without Editor & Publisher, and resources like it, it's become much harder to figure out who in the USA, Canada, or other countries has positions to fill. It's still very difficult to sit down at a computer and search through publisher Web sites for openings, especially since publishers tend to come and go very quickly, and it's too easy to overlook some of them. CareerBuilder and similar services are useless because, as already stated, the volume of electronic resumes is way too high.

Then there's the death of Kirkus Reviews. Since 1933, Kirkus Reviews was a single, trustworthy source used by every part of the publishing and motion picture industry to find out what books and authors were out there, what was worth reading or purchasing, and what wasn't. Kirkus Reviews supplied publishers, libraries, film producers, and more with reviews of over 4,500 titles a year, covering all genres. It helped libraries and booksellers decide what books to have in stock; it helped publishers find authors; it helped filmmakers find ideas for movies and TV shows ... Now it's gone, and there doesn't seem to be anything on the horizon to replace it -- no one, single, reliable, reputable source anywhere, even on the Internet. Hopefully someone somewhere, somehow, will step in to provide the same services. Right now, though, there's nothing in sight.

For me, the fall of Kirkus Reviews is particularly painful, because it gave me my first review -- a favorable one -- for my first novel. It also helped to get my novel into libraries across North America. I don't know who or what will do that for me now. I'm grateful for what Kirkus Reviews did for me. I'll miss it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Superman and Batman vs. the SANTA question

Dagnabbit, I'm sick YET AGAIN. I tell ya, whenever Mighty Mite catches the latest bug going around, I catch it, too -- but whereas it takes her only two days to recover, it seems to take me about two MONTHS. It's not fair, I tells ya!

Well, enough whining. It's time for me to get into the spirit of the holidays, and what better way to do that than to watch super-heroes make idiots of themselves. Let's begin by dropping in on what Superman is up to, shall we? It seems that some kid named Tyrone wrote a letter to the Daily Planet asking if Santa Claus is just for babies. Well, Superman decides he's going to show Tyrone that Santa is cool -- by playing Santa himself.

Awwwww ... You know, Superman is just so cute sometimes. PATHETIC, but cute. What do YOU think, Batman?

Oh, geez, Batman, quit being such a grouch. Ah, but the big jerk can't help it, can he? Not only that, he starts pouring all of his criticism and angst on Superman, telling Supes how he has standards to uphold, blah, blah, blah ...

... and how Supes looks SO STUPID decked out as Santa ...

Poor ol' Superman succumbs to Batman's browbeating. He grudgingly admits that he feels a bit silly, and he gives up the idea of playing Santa. Once Superman leaves Batman and discards his Santa gear, though, he can't resist flying by Tyrone's house and peeking in with his x-ray vision, just to make sure things are okay. And what should he see ...!

BAT-Santa?!?! Why, that -- that -- THAT--!!!

Yeah! GETTIM, Supes! Lousy hypocritical ol' bat-brained so-and-so ...!

("Yes, Tyrone, There Is a Santa Clause," written by Kelley Puckett and drawn by PEte Woods; from DCU Infinite Holiday Special #1, 2007.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Yes, the Muppets are STILL FUNNY!

For anyone who hasn't yet seen it, here is the latest and greatest viral video: The Muppets and their version of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Enjoy!

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

I can't believe how busy I've been. Remember back when I said I was going to take a bit of a break from blogging regularly, because I'd been sitting on a half-finished book that I needed to finish writing? Well, so much for that idea. I've barely been able to touch my book, darn it. Work and other things keep thwarting my good intentions. It's a good thing I'm not on any deadlines -- though I can't help thinking that I'd be more motivated if there WERE deadlines. :-) Ah, well ...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The cast of SpongeBob SquarePants dubs the CLASSICS!

OMG, I have to share this video link my friend George just emailed to me. PRESENTING, the voice cast of SpongeBob SquarePants providing dubs for scenes from Casablanca, Singin' In the Rain, and The Godfather:

Normally, I can take or leave SpongeBob SquarePants, but I LOVE Patrick the starfish as Lina Lamont from Singin' In the Rain. Geez, it put me on the FLOOR when I first heard it. Ha!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Happy World Toilet Day!

Seriously, it IS World Toilet Day. If you don't believe me, go ahead and visit the Web site of the World Toilet Organization. Yes, the organization really exists:

Ah, toilets. Sure, everyone hates cleaning the darn things, but what would we do without them? I dunno about the other parts of the world that are lucky to have toilets, but without them, people here in the USA would probably still be forced to run outside in rain, snow, sleet, hail, fire, or flood to use the outhouse. Yeek! Granted, some parts of the country still DO use outhouses, but most people would rather have a toilet, even if it means having to clean the lousy thing. Yessiree.

What I really want to know right now, though, is -- Do URINALS count on World Toilet Day?

Hmmm ...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Well, here we go again ...

Sunday night is the BIG GAME! You know, THE big game -- the one we see every year between the New England Patriots (boo, hiss!) and the Indianapolis Colts (yay-rah-sis-boom-bah!). Yes, yes, I'm a Hoosier and a native of Indianapolis, so I can't help cheering for my Colts. However, even better than merely cheering for the Colts is having a front seat to the greatest rivalry in the modern NFL. Holy cow -- win or lose, how I love these matchups!

And I have to laugh -- OH how I have to laugh -- at the "Brady vs. Manning" arguments among fans. I swear, they're worse than "Superman vs. Green Lantern" arguments: "Oh, but Brady has more Superbowl rings!" "Yeah, but look at the stats! Peyton is a WAY better quarterback!" "No way -- BRADY is better!" "Brady needs the entire Patriots team to carry his ass!" "No he doesn't!" Blah, blah, blah, blah ...

(Then you have the "Brady-is-prettier-than-Manning" argument. Well, yeah, I'll admit that Brady perfectly fits the profile of the stereotypical handsome quarterback. I know the man is from Louisiana, but Manning looks and sounds so much like a big ol' Indiana farm boy that it's no wonder he fits in with us Hoosiers so well.)

Well, here are my two cents on the Manning vs. Brady argument -- and I'm not saying all this just because I'm a Hoosier. (Really! I'm not!) Let's face the facts, shall we? Professional American football is a sport -- and as such, ultimately, it's entertainment. Period. Yeah, you have athletes out there, but they're out there, really, to entertain the viewers. What the athletes do beyond that is up to them. Off the field, some of them are little more than high-paid thugs, while others actually do good things with the large amount of cash they earn. Both Manning and Brady are known for their charity work (though I would argue that Manning spends WAY more money and time on charity than Brady does, particularly through his PeyBack Foundation). In this respect, though, professional football players are like any other high-paid entertainers -- some are worthy of our attention and some aren't.

NOW, with that in mind, WHICH is the better Quarterback -- Manning or Brady? I say it's Peyton Manning, simply because, as a professional football player and, ultimately, entertainer, he's DAMN entertaining -- on AND off the field. (Seriously, what other quarterback have you ever seen standing on the field, flapping his arms, and yelling things like, "ICE CREAM ALERT!" during his pre-snap routine?) It helps that the man is a genuinely nice guy and funny as hell -- and deliberately so. There's a reason that Manning, and not Brady, is the NFL's most marketable player. If I gotta sit through a zillion commercials on TV OR online, I'd rather see Manning in them than Brady. At least there's always a good chance of getting a genuine, good-natured belly laugh out of 'em.

"Having a hard time sticking to that new diet?"

Squeaky-clean nice guy Peyton Manning helps the United Way -- sorta:

Actually, the whole Manning family is pretty funny. Gotta love Super Bowl winners Peyton and Eli picking on each other:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Free movie: Sita Sings the Blues

If you're a fan of animation AND classic jazz/blues -- and even if you aren't -- I highly recommend taking the time to download and/or watch Nina Paley's clever, full-length animated movie, Sita Sings the Blues. The movie is a bit hard to describe. The story involves parallels the artist has drawn between her own life and the life of Sita of the Ramayana. It's told via an odd combination of 2D animation styles, the Ramayana, and some 1920s blues recordings from jazz great Annette Hanshaw, with some Bhangra tunes thrown in for good measure. In all of cinema history, the movie's closest cousin is probably The Beatles' animated film, Yellow Submarine. Like Yellow Submarine, the animation in Sita Sings the Blues is primarily limited in nature -- but it doesn't matter because here, the STYLE is the thing. The film has earned mostly favorable reviews from the critics who have seen it, including Roger Ebert, who awarded it four out of four stars.

Now, here's where the FREE part comes in: Sita Sings the Blues, unfortunately, is tied up in all sorts of legal and distribution hassles, mostly dealing with very old copyright laws and with attempts by (far-right AND far-left) extremists to censor the film. To bypass the mess and make sure the movie gets to be seen by anyone who wants to see it, Nina Paley has made the movie available for FREE to anyone who wants to download it, burn it onto DVDs, show it publicly, you name it. Mr. Sea and I downloaded a hi-def version of it onto our PlayStation 3 the other night, and it looks as good as any other high-quality animated movie. We've also watched it three times already. Yes, we like it that much. The entire movie is also posted onto YouTube in one huge clip.

For more information about the movie and the artist, please visit Nina Paley's Website at Support the artist with a donation if you can!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The darkness of Disney 14: The Headless Horseman

In 1959, Disney released The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, a package movie featuring animated adaptations of Washington Irving’s New England ghost tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Kenneth Grahame’s classic childrens’ novel, The Wind in the Willows. The two stories, so different from each other, made for a rather odd pairing, and indeed have been rarely shown together since 1959. The “Ichabod” segment – and its famous Headless Horseman scene -- became particularly popular on U.S. television throughout the 1970s, due to Disney regularly showing it on the television program, The Wonderful World of Disney, for Halloween.

Disney’s version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which is narrated by Bing Crosby, is actually very faithful to Irving’s original story. Where it differs most is in the treatment of the Headless Horseman. Irving’s story leaves readers little doubt that Ichabod Crane’s rival, Brom Bones, is masquerading as the Headless Horsemen. However, Disney’s Horseman is a much more fearsome and apparently supernatural figure, causing audiences to doubt that Brom Bones has anything to do with the apparition. Ichabod Crane himself, along with his horse, is treated comically, but there’s nothing comic about the Headless Horseman. Upon initial release of the film, some audiences found the scene with the Horseman so frightening that many theaters banned the movie.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The darkness of Disney 13: Mickey's Haunted House (with a Green Lantern angle)

“Haunted House” was the fourteenth and last Mickey Mouse cartoon released in Mickey’s debut year, 1929. In the cartoon, Mickey seeks shelter in a house that proves to be almost CRAWLING with skeletons -- and some genuinely spooky scenes. The cartoon bears more than a passing resemblance to "Skeleton Dance," and even includes some animation from that other cartoon, albeit with a twist. There's a strong reason for that -- "Haunted House" was released about the same time as "Skeleton Dance," and as Disney's then-main animator, Ub Iwerks was hard-pressed to ensure cartoons were finished in a timely manner.

Ub Iwerks was known to be a very prolific and imaginative animator, and was also known for his quirky sense of humor. He's credited by many as the true creator of Mickey Mouse, and he was Mickey's animator prior to leaving the studio in 1930. Failing to branch out on his own as an independent animator, Iwerks returned to the studio in 1940, where he developed into a special effects technician and expert on effects animation. His effects work eventually carried over to the Disney theme parks and other film makers, including Alfred Hitchcock.

I can't resist including this Green Lantern angle: After DC Comics' Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985), the Green Lantern known as Ch'P was redesigned from a realistic-looking anthropomorphic squirrel to a very cartoony raccoon-like character with a decidedly Disney-ish appearance. Along with Ch'P's new appearance, he was given a new foe from his home planet of H'lven -- an evil scientist named Dr. Ub'x. Created by Steve Englehart and Joe Staton, Dr. Ub'x was named after Ub Iwerks -- "Ub'x" being a short form of Ub Iwerks's name.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The darkness of Disney 12: Tarzan vs. Sabor

Disney's Tarzan (1999) is, to date, the most expensive traditionally-animated (that is, 2D/hand-animated) movie ever made, costing nearly $150 million U.S. to produce. Much of the film's cost was due to the Deep Canvas 3D backgrounds that the studio developed to make the backgrounds MOVE and appear much more realistic -- though still like traditional paintings. The investment paid off, and the film earned back well beyond its cost, making it the last big hit of the 1990s Disney Renaissance.

Many longtime Tarzan fans have criticized the liberties the Disney studio took with the story and characters, but one scene, in particular, earns praise from most viewers. The fight between Tarzan and the leopard Sabor is straight out of the comic strip artwork of legendary artist Burne Hogarth -- with a touch of Frank Frazetta thrown in for good measure. It's a dark, fierce, primal fight to the death, and it never pretends to be otherwise. Many movie fans acknowledge it as one of the greatest scenes in Tarzan's very long and varied film history -- and one of the best fight scenes in Disney history.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The darkness of Disney 11: Willie the Whale

As further evidence that Disney has never shied away from confronting audiences with death, there’s Willie the Whale, from the cartoon segment “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met” in the 1946 package movie, Make Mine Music. Willie is depicted as a sympathetic character (unlike the villainous Monstro the whale from Pinocchio) with the miraculous ability to not only sing opera but to sing in three different voices all at once -- tenor, baritone, and bass. The entire cartoon is narrated and sung by Nelson Eddy -- who, impressively, sings and speaks every part in the cartoon. The story: A famous opera impresario learns of the whale and, rather than accept that the whale is singing, believes instead that Willie has swallowed opera singers. He sets off in a hired boat to track down the whale and rescue the “singers.” As Willie is singing and imagining himself in operatic roles onstage at the Metropolitan Opera, the impresario harpoons and kills him. The story is intended to be a tragi-comedy, but the death of Willie is treated rather realistically.

Facing a studio strike, lost revenue, and further complications brought on by World War II, after releasing the feature Dumbo in 1941, Disney mostly turned away from making full-length animated feature films and instead made package films, or movies consisting of many different stories and segments “packaged” together. Package films, particularly musicals, were very popular with movie studios of the time, and popular with audiences as well. In total, Disney produced six package films between 1942 and 1949: Saludos Amigos (1942), The Three Caballeros (1944), Make Mine Music (1946), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), Melody Time (1948), and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949). With the exception of Victory Through Air Power, Disney didn’t produce another full-length animated feature film until Cinderella (1950).

Technically, Fantasia was the first Disney “package film.” However, Fantasia has always been considered independent of the "official" Disney package films. Fantasia had required a great deal of commitment from the studio and had been very expensive to produce. Also, audiences of the time found it “pretentious,” as classical music was believed by many to belong primarily to “snobs.” The less expensive and more freewheeling package films were more palatable to 1940s audiences, and they proved to be popular and lucrative for Disney at the time. Fantasia lost money upon release, but the package films became box office hits. Ironically, Fantasia has gone on to become the most financially successful "package film" in movie history, while features like Make Mine Music have been all but forgotten by general audiences.

(Note: Willie the Whale, of course, is NOT to be confused with Free Willy, 1993)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The darkness of Disney 10: The Firebird

When Walt Disney first produced Fantasia (1940), he envisioned a project that would be constantly renewed, updated, and released with new segments of animation set to classical music. Fantasia, in concept, was to be an ongoing film series that always presented audiences with something new. Unfortunately, the first Fantasia proved to be too much ahead of its time, and audiences stayed away. The film lost money, and Disney was forced to drop the project -- though the studio did release a series of “package films” throughout the 1940s which carried on the spirit of Fantasia, albeit with then-contemporary music (mostly jazz) instead of classical. As the decades went on, however, Fantasia found an ever-growing audience and eventually became one of the most successful films in movie history. A sequel was finally released in 1999: Fantasia 2000.
The original Fantasia ends on a dramatic and somber note, with the famous “Night On Bald Mountain/Ave Maria” sequence. Fantasia 2000 wraps up on an equally dramatic note, though with a decidedly more "upbeat" finale than its predecessor. "The Firebird," based on the music of Igor Stravinsky, depicts a forest sprite, an elk, and the "firebird" itself caught up in a powerful cycle of birth, destruction, and rebirth. The Disney artists based the setting and backgrounds on the 1980 eruption of the Mount St. Helens volcano. An impressive achievement of traditional and effects animation, the firebird is imagined as a ruthless, pitiless lava creature spawned by the volcano.

Fantasia 2000 was designed for and released in IMAX theaters, and then was later adapted for conventional movie screens. Due to the fact that it was produced prior to the year 2000, and many of its sequences and technologies influenced Disney artists long before the film was seen by the general public, some people consider Fantasia 2000-- and "The Firebird" -- the finale of the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s.

A related note: In 1977, animator Bruno Bozzetto released the movie Allegro Non Troppo (Not So Fast), a Fantasia parody/tribute. Allegro Non Troppo also has a Stravinsky "Firebird" segment, this one based on the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Instead of Eve eating the apple, the serpent swallows it, after which he evolves into a four-legged creature subjected to ever-increasing horrors of Western civilization.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The darkness of Disney 9: Pink Elephants On Parade

Directed by animator Norm Fergusen, "Pink Elephants On Parade" is one of the most famous sequences from the animated feature Dumbo (1941). Halfway through the movie, Dumbo the baby elephant and Timothy Mouse drink from a bucket of water that, unbeknownst to them, has been spiked with alcohol. In their drunken state, they're confronted with nightmarish illusions of pink elephants, which dance, contort, and convert into a myriad of forms to the sinister song "Pink Elephants On Parade," by Disney veteran songwriters Oliver Wallace and Ned Washington.

"Pink Elephants On Parade" is unusual for an early Disney feature segment in that it blatantly breaks the "fourth wall," or the boundary between fiction and the audience -- first via the elephants marching around the perimeter of the movie screen; and then via the song itself through the lyrics about "Technicolor pachyderms" (Technicolor being the color film process used by Disney). Disney cartoon shorts regularly broke the fourth wall, but the early features were generally off limits for this treatment (though the wisecracking Jiminy Cricket does flirt with speaking directly to the film audience through his narration and commentary in Pinocchio, 1940).

Disney studio artists have tried many times since to recapture the wild invention of "Pink Elephants on Parade." Notable attempts include "Heffalumps and Woozles" from Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, 1968, and the Genie in Aladdin, 1992.

A bit of trivia: The term "pink elephants" as a reference to drunkenness is generally attributed to (or blamed on) author Jack London. He's credited with the first usage of the term, in his novel John Barleycorn (1913): "There are, broadly speaking, two types of drinkers. There is the man whom we all know, stupid, unimaginative, whose brain is bitten numbly by numb maggots; who walks generously with wide-spread, tentative legs, falls frequently in the gutter, and who sees, in the extremity of his ecstasy, blue mice and pink elephants. He is the type that gives rise to the jokes in the funny papers."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The darkness of Disney 8: The Black Cauldron

Just prior to his death in 1966, Walt Disney acquired the film rights to author Lloyd Alexander's childrens fantasy series, the Chronicles of Prydain, of which The Black Cauldron (Newberry Honor book, 1966) was the second volume out of five. In 1985, the Disney studio released an animated film adaptation of the book, advertised as Disney's "25th" animated feature (counting all of the package films the studio released between 1942 and 1949, but conveniently leaving out Victory Through Air Power).

The movie was the darkest animated film Disney had released in a very long time. Just prior to release, it was subjected to censor demands that certain scenes be cut (mostly those involving the film's villain, the Horned King), in order to bring the film down from a PG-13 rating to a PG rating. The final result was panned by most critics and did poorly at the box office. However, the film has gained quite a cult following since then, thanks primarily to Disney keeping it readily available via home video (instead of keeping the film on "special release" status, like most of its other animated features). A "restored" version of the film has yet to be released.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The darkness of Disney 7: Destino

The art of surrealism is often the stuff of nightmares, literally -- and despite the contrary complaints of his peers and critics, no one was better, or more successful at it, than Salvador Dalí. Dalí, who firmly adhered to the writings of Sigmund Freud, was quite adept at depicting his dreams in his art, including his nightmares -- and his nightmare images appear in a great number of his works.

In the early 1940s, Dalí met Walt Disney, and the two soon began collaboration on an animated short film called Destino. The film was to feature Dalí’s artwork -- nightmare images and all -- and music written by Armando Dominguez. Between 1945 and 1946, only a short portion of the film was animated before the entire project was shelved. It remained shelved until 1999, when Walt’s nephew, Roy, unearthed it from the studio archives and decided to have the film finished. The film, which includes the original animated segment from 1946, was finally completed and released in 2003.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The darkness of Disney 6: The death of Bambi's mother

Like Disney's villains, the death of Bambi's mother (from the feature film Bambi, 1942) is almost TOO EASY to list as an example of the darkness evident in Disney animated films. Disney has never been one to shy away from confronting audiences with death. Not only have plenty of characters (especially villains) died in Disney's traditional animated films, Disney has also teased audiences plenty of times by making them THINK a character was dead when he/she really wasn't (as with Trusty in Lady & The Tramp, or Baloo in The Jungle Book).

No other death in a Disney film (with the possible exception of Old Yeller) has had a greater impact on audiences than that of Bambi's mother. The death itself isn't actually shown in the film, and yet it's responsible for turning many people into animal rights supporters (including Paul McCartney, who's admitted to being influenced by the film). It remains one of the most famous, and saddest, death scenes in cinema history.

Many people have a personal story associated with the death of Bambi's mother, and yours truly is no exception. I first saw the film as a very young child, since my dad insisted on taking me to every Disney film that was released in the theater. I don't really remember the first time I saw it, and it was a good twenty years before I saw it again -- and I will NEVER forget the time I saw it again. Neither will Mr. Sea.

My birthday happens to be New Year's Eve. Most people seem to think that must be a fabulous time to have a birthday: "Think of the parties!" Well, hate to disappoint everyone, but having one's birthday on that particular holiday is anything but a party. First of all, the birthday party -- even when you're turning 21 years old -- never lives up to the hype. Second of all, almost everyone always has PLANS on New Year's Eve. This is what contributed to the so-called "Bambi" birthday.

It was my 25th birthday, and I was house-sitting for my mom, who was out of town. Mr. Sea and I weren't married at the time, but we'd been dating for about eight months -- and he had to WORK until just after midnight that night. And all of my other friends and relatives were either working or out of town. Not that I was totally forgotten, mind you. My friends and family left me all alone in my mom's house with TWO birthday cakes, a huge stack of Disney movies (my birthday presents), and two bottles of Moet & Chandon White Star. Mr. Sea promised to come to the house immediately after being let off work. In the meantime, I was on my own, with plenty of movies, cake, and booze.

Two Disney movies and a bottle of champagne later -- and just before midnight -- I popped Bambi into Mom's VCR. BIG mistake. Halfway through the movie, someone knocked on the front door. It was Mr. Sea, finally off work for New Year's. And the poor man was greeted at the door by a VERY drunk, VERY depressed girlfriend who flung herself on him, sobbing, "THEY J-J-J-J-JUST KILLED BAMBI'S Mah-Mah-Mah-Mah-MOMMY! WAAAAAAAAHHH!!!"

My family and friends haven't left me alone on New Year's Eve since.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The darkness of Disney 5: Victory Through Air Power

When the USA entered World War II, the government enlisted the help of Hollywood studios to act not only as morale boosters for troops and civilians, but also as massive propaganda machines. Disney was no exception to this, and the studio produced many films commissioned by the government, mostly for military training purposes. However, Walt Disney himself went a step further by creating an animated feature film of Alexander P. de Seversky’s book, Victory Through Air Power. The book put forth the then-new idea of combat primarily via aircraft, and argued for the formation of an air force as a separate branch of the military. Walt Disney felt that the book’s message was so important that he financed the entire film adaptation out of his own pocket. The movie cost nearly as much to produce as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had – a considerable sum for the time. Disney’s efforts ultimately paid off, however. Not only did the film allegedly influence Franklin Roosevelt’s approach to the war, it heralded Disney’s entrance into the educational film market, which proved to be quite lucrative for the studio in the coming decades.

Released in 1943, Victory Through Air Power doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a war film promoting a strategy for defeating the Axis powers of World War II. The film is technically an animated feature film, though it contains live-action segments of Seversky himself describing some of the ideas from his book. These days, the film is treated mostly as a curiosity – a piece of WWII Hollywood history. Disney has released the movie on home video, packaged with the studio’s WWII theatrical cartoons. The most famous part of the film is the climax, an animated sequence of the bombing of Japan (though not in the way that it ended up really happening). Animated by Marc Davis, the USA and Japan are symbolically depicted as an eagle and an octopus engaged in a dramatic battle.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The darkness of Disney 4: The wicked queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

It’s almost too easy to single out Disney villains as examples of the darker side of traditional Disney animation. There’s a reason why Disney villains are among the most memorable in film history. Though some (like Cruella deVil) are designed for laughs, and others (such as Maleficent) have nothing funny about them, ALL of them have the uncanny ability to tap into the deepest, truest fears that most people carry from early childhood: the loss of a loved one; physical and emotional abuse; mockery and bullying; deliberate harm to a friend or pet; death; and the destruction of happiness in general.

Some people argue that the first Disney feature film villain was the best: the wicked queen from Show White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). In the film, the queen has no name. All audiences know is that she’s Snow White’s stepmother and that she’s insanely jealous of Snow White’s beauty. The extent of her jealousy is so great that, halfway through the movie, the queen voluntarily undergoes a startling transformation in order to destroy Snow White. Through a magical potion, the queen changes from a beautiful, regal (though severe) woman to a bug-eyed old hag. The transformation is still among the most effective in film history. It was helped by the voice actress, Lucille La Verne, who altered her voice to ensure that the queen and the hag sounded almost completely different from one another. (A popular legend states that, in order to sound more “hag-like," La Verne removed her dentures when voicing the hag.) Audiences are left with no doubt that in undergoing such a change, Snow White’s stepmother gets a perverse pleasure from persecuting her stepdaughter.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The darkness of Disney 3: "The Bells of Notre Dame"

While the early Disney artists are usually credited for venturing into the darker side of creativity, the later artists -- particularly those of the so-called Disney Renaissance (1989-1999) -- also deserve such credit. Case in point: the astonishing introduction to the Disney feature, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), featuring the dramatic song “The Bells of Notre Dame.” Though the hunchback himself, Quasimodo, is reimagined as a much more sympathetic protagonist than originally depicted by writer Victor Hugo, the film is filled with dark scenes that arguably match similar efforts by the earlier Disney artists. The film’s introduction not only presents viewers with the tragic origin story of Quasimodo, it also very effectively introduces the film’s villain, Judge Claude Frollo, who “saw corruption everywhere except within.” There’s nothing humorous or “cute and fluffy” about this intro.

The intro is narrated/sung by the character Clopin, King of the Gypsies, voiced by Broadway actor and singer Paul Kandel. Other voices include Tony Jay as Frollo and David Ogden Stiers as the Archdeacon. David Ogden Stiers is notable in Disney history for voicing characters and narratives for several of its traditionally-animated feature films, making him sort of a Disney “voice mascot,” much the way John Ratzenberger is for Pixar. The music is by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.

In 1999, the film was adapted as a stage musical, Der Glöckner von Notre Dame, which follows an even darker tone, overall, than the film. It opened at the Musical Theatre Berlin (in Berlin, Germany) and ran through 2002. It’s one of Berlin's longest-running musicals to date.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The darkness of Disney 2: The Skeleton Dance

In 1929, on the heels of Mickey Mouse's initial popularity, Walt Disney sought to expand the number of cartoons regularly released by his studio. He did so by creating the Silly Symphonies series, which ran from 1929 to 1939 for a total of 75 cartoons. Silly Symphonies usually featured stories or scenes set to specific songs or types of music, and for the most part didn't star any of the regular Disney characters. The series proved invaluable in giving the Disney artists a chance to experiment with various story and art styles and techniques, which in turn led, eventually, to the animated feature films.

The first of the Silly Symphonies was The Skeleton Dance, a somewhat macabre cartoon that showcases the early animation style of Disney's then-right-hand man, Ub Iwerks. Most notably for this cartoon, Iwerks animated the still-startling image of a skeleton leaping forward at the viewer and seemingly swallowing the camera. Also featured is a musical soundtrack created and adapted by Carl Stalling, who would later go on to create the distinctive musical backgrounds for the Warner Brothers cartoons. Note that the "plot" to The Skeleton Dance is essentially the same as that for Night on Bald Mountain, which audiences saw 11 years later.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The darkness of Disney: Night on Bald Mountain

I'm tired of all the people whining about how Disney is too "cute and fluffy" to own Marvel Comics. Disney ain't just talking mice and cuddly critters, ya know. To prove it, I'm devoting the rest of this month to exploring the DARKNESS of DISNEY. For me, there's no better way to start things off than with that most celebrated and astonishing of dark Disney moments -- "Night on Bald Mountain," from the feature film Fantasia (1940).

Fantasia is the third movie of what's commonly referred to as Disney's "Great Four" (Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi -- and sometimes Dumbo). They were the first animated feature films Disney produced. No expense or artistry was spared, and they were produced at a time when the studio was much more willing to take artistic and technological risks. World War II and reductions in box-office takes, along with a nasty studio strike, effectively put an end to this wild animation experimentation, and the Disney studio, unfortunately, never really recovered during Walt Disney's lifetime. Recovery in the animation department didn't take effect until the release of the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, in 1988, which sparked the beginning of the "Disney Renaissance," and a Renaissance in animation in general.

Fantasia arose from a meeting between Disney and legendary composer/arranger/orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowsky, during which they discussed creating a concert feature starring Mickey Mouse. What resulted was a movie consisting entirely of animated sequences set to Stokowsky'e arrangements of famous classical music pieces. Think of the segments as being sort-of classical music videos -- of which "Night on Bald Mountain" is one of the most famous. In it, the devil/demon Chernabog and a hoard of spirits dance to Stokowsky's arrangement of Mussorgsky's dark masterpiece. Chernabog was animated by the legendary Vladimir "Bill" Tytla, who reportedly used Bela Lugosi as a model.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Superman-Batman: Public Enemies movie -- a real-time review

I finally have my DVD copy of the movie Superman-Batman: Public Enemies. I’ve never read the original comic issues/graphic novel, so this should be interesting. Time to fire this thing up and have a nice evening of watching good guys punch out bad guys. Here we go …!

- Previews, previews, blah, blah, blah … Don’t really care about any of these at the moment. I just wanna watch the movie.

- Hmmmm … Interesting little montage of current economic woes. Some not-so-subtle commentary here.

- Wow, people in the DC Universe must be really hard up for entertainment if they think a swearing talk show host is hilarious. (I guess the guy is supposed to be a takeoff on Jon Stewart of the Daily Show – but Jon Stewart really is FUNNY.)

- Lex for president. Rah, rah, ree.

- Oh, Captain Atom … and why the heck is Power Girl there with Luthor?

- Major Force? Really?

- The opening credits kind of remind me of those for Justice League: New Frontier.

- Yay for DC voice veterans!

- Allison Mack, huh? Wonder who she’s voicing.

- Runaway Ferrari!

- “I’ll shoot myself! I swear!” Yeah, good luck with that.

- Ah-HA. Allison Mack is Power Girl.

- Oh, Captain Atom. You moron.

- Wow. Power Girl has huge … EYES. No, seriously, her eyes are huge – like ridiculously huge. I’m not sure the “anime look” is working here. (Ha! Mr. Sea just said the big eyes are probably designed to call attention away from Power Girl’s chest.)

- So far, I’m not crazy about the art style. The animation is decent, though.

- Amanda Waller! I always did like her.

- Gee, a huge kryptonite meteor is hurtling toward earth. Just call a Green Lantern. THAT will take care of it. Piece of cake.

- Why the heck send Superman up there in a lead suit? Send Captain Marvel! He won’t need one!

- I repeat – CALL A GREEN LANTERN. Or CAPTAIN MARVEL. Geez loweez -- Luthor, Bats, and Supes all have tunnel vision.

- Metallo! Oooh, fight, fight!

- Cemetery fight! You just can’t have a good super-hero yarn without a cemetery fight – unless you have a sewer fight instead, that is.

- Yeah, where IS the Flash when you need him? Good question, Supes.

- Oooh, a Kill Bill Volume 2 moment!

- I really don’t want to know where Batman put that bomb.

- That looks like Major Force.

- NOW there’s a sewer scene. No fighting, though.

- The banter between Bats and Supes is a hoot. Ha!

- Look out! Alfred’s got a gun! (Waitaminute – what’s Alfred doing with a gun!? Batman HATES guns.)

- If kryptonite could affect Superman psychologically, wouldn’t it affect Power Girl, too?

- “Between you and me, I HATE that.” Ha! Yeah, he would.

- Barbecued Metallo. Yummy.

- Silver Banshee! Oh, COOL!

- Wow, it’s the Ice Villain Brigade. I guess it never dawned on me before, just how many of these DC has.

- Grundy and Mongul? And Grundy’s talking like he did in Brad Meltzer’s run of Justice League.

- Wow, the bad guys are really popping out of the woodwork.

- Grodd. Of course.

- “Your funeral.” “Already had one.” *Snicker.*

- Some of the background paintings in this movie are gorgeous.

- Oh, Captain Atom. You moron.

- Starfire enters the fray. And since when does Black Lightning fly?

- Thank goodness Power Girl has come to her senses. I was beginning to think she was being mind controlled.

- Except for the different color schemes, Captain Atom and Major Force could be twins.

- I repeat – CALL A GREEN LANTERN OR CAPTAIN MARVEL. For crying out loud!

- Oh! Hey! It’s Captain Marvel! Speak of the devil …!

- And Hawkman!

- The people who compose the music for these DC superhero animated movies really don’t get enough credit. The music is top notch.

- Yay! Superman vs. Captain Marvel has ALWAYS been my favorite super-hero slugfest matchup.

- Billy Batson is a devious little brat.

- Ten bucks for a can of lima beans? Is that an in-joke or something?

- Am I the only person in the world who’s getting really tired of the whole Luther-shooting-up-with-kryptonite thing?

- It’s BatHawkman!

- Amanda Waller ROCKS.

- “Wasn’t interested in toys, though.” Since WHEN, Bats? The only super-hero with more gadgets than YOU is Ted Kord!

- Hiro Okamura. With X-ray goggles. Poor Power Girl. Hey, Supes – you KNOW who Hiro is. Or you should.

- OMG, it’s a giant Shogun Warrior Composite Superman. That is by far the silliest, geekiest, and most AWESOME thing I’ve seen all week.

- That’s a bad headshot of Batman. Look, bat-boogers!

- Oh, Lex Luthor. You moron.

- “That was my best friend.” Somehow, I don’t think Batman feels the same way about Superman.

- Y’know, some people in the DCU are gonna start bombarding all the news site commentaries with complaints about how Superman is beating up the president of the United States.

- Uh, wouldn’t all that kryptonite radiation STILL be a danger to Superman? AND Power Girl?

- Ha! Nice way to plug the Superman-Batman logo.

- I still say this whole thing could have been avoided if they’d sent Captain Marvel or a Green Lantern out there instead.

- Lois finally puts in an appearance.

- Hey, LOOK, everyone! Superman is getting all friendly with Lois Lane on that rooftop! Isn’t she married or something?

Final verdict: Despite all of my griping, I really, really liked this movie. It has the usual logistical issues for people who know a little too much about the DCU -- but, seriously, I think it’s one of the better films. HIGHLY entertaining. I think it was helped a lot by how the relationship between Bats and Supes was handled. The creative team and the voice actors played the characters off each other very nicely. I still think, of all the animated super-hero features Warners/DC has released so far, Wonder Woman is the best. However, Superman-Batman: Public Enemies is up there for me. It’s definitely a keeper.

Note: One thing that I think is still lacking in the DC animated features is a real sense of “Motion Picture Event.” Much as I like these films, I really don’t get the same “Big Picture” sense from them that I get from other, comparable (and, admittedly, originally theatrically released) animated features that I’ve watched on DVD – like, say, Iron Giant, or one of Disney’s better animated movies. The DC animated features feel more like really, really good, long Justice League Unlimited episodes. I’m not sure what the animation team could do to break out of that mold, but if they keep it up with the high standards they’re obviously reaching for, I’m sure they’ll succeed eventually.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The art of Lego Cube Dudes!

If you haven't yet seen these, take a gander: Pixar animator Angus MacLane (especially known for his work on Wall*E) uses Legos to create what are known as Cube Dudes. Granted, there are a lot of pop-culture characters that already appear in Lego or similar form, but MacLane's figures are well worth noting. Here are just a few -- just a few! -- of my favorites:

Jack Skellington:


Hal Jordan (Green Lantern):

Colonel Sanders:

Darth Vader:

Wonder Woman:

The Mighty Thor:




Who says playing with Legos is only for little kids?