Four of Signal Films animated model films out of a known total of twenty are included, but I am puzzled by the absence of their most celebrated production promoting Rolex watches entitled The Story of Time. The film attracted great acclaim, won prizes and was even nominated for a Hollywood award. The unit’s first short Mary had a Little Lamb, on road safety, made in 1947 as a trial production, was afterwards bought for distribution by the Petroleum Film Board and included in a gala performance at the International Cinema Festival in Venice.
I regret the absence of illustrative matter, a few drawings of Bonzo are hardly sufficient. Stills and photographs would have added another dimension to the work if they had been readily available. The plain truth is: they are not filed away in great abundance awaiting requests from aspiring authors. I understand and sympathise with his dilemma.
‘British Animated Films’ is a first and as such deserves a place in every film buffs library. Valuable information may be found within its 345 pages and although the price, a little under £30 may seem excessive, there is an abundance of facts, figures and details between the covers to keep the enthusiast involved in discussions and further research for a long time to come. Mr Gifford is to be congratulated on a brave and worthy piece of research, which must be regarded as the beginning rather than the end.
British Animated Films 1895 – 1985 – A Filmography by Denis Gifford. Published by McFarland & Co. Inc. £29.99
Encyclopaedia of Walt Disney’s Animated Characters
Review by David Williams.
The Encyclopaedia of Walt Disney’s Animated Characters is the first major survey of the characters created at the Disney Animation Studios. Jeff Lenburg’s Encyclopaedia of Animated Cartoon Series (Arlington House, 1981) had previously supplied individual filmographies of some of the major characters, and Denis Gifford’s The Great Cartoon Stars (Jupiter, 1979) had given thumb-nail sketches of the same. There have, of course, been specific books on Goofy, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.
In its 320 pages, there are colour and black and white stills and drawings of nearly every character discussed and described. The foreword, by David R. Smith, the Archivist of the Walt Disney Company, recognises John Grant’s achievement in drawing together many strands of previous research and adding to it his own intensive study. There were a few limitations; some of the colour films appear only to have black and white stills, and others, which are not illustrated, were on unstable nitrate stock that has not yet been copied. It is unfortunate that there are no illustrations from the many brilliant Hollywood parodies, precluded, it seems, for ‘legal reasons’. Really a case of parodies lost!
Mr. Grant has written some authoritative essays on the major Disney characters based upon his viewing of the films and his reading of story conference notes and magazine articles. (There is an extremely valuable bibliography too, for those wishing to carry out further research).
Inevitably, in attempting to deal with characters that appear in the cartoons both singly and in teams, there is some overlapping of information, but the author has kept this to an absolute minimum and, helpfully, refers in the text to the page reference of the interloper. At first I could not understand the order of presentation, because instead of reading the whole text through, I was dipping in to find how this or that character was represented. But I soon saw that the order is chronological by the first appearance of the character. This does make finding some characters difficult if you cannot remember, or if you do not know, where they are in the sequence. But there is a very detailed index both in character names and character types, e.g. there is a reference for penguins as a species, and Peter Penguin as a character. I tried it out on some minor kitten characters, and found them quite easily. There are also two very useful appendices; one listing the real-life characters that have been animated in Disney films, and the other, those of Nursery Rhymes.
Of course, some of the characters do not actually have names in the shorts, and I assume that they have been given them either by the storyboard artists, and the model sheet artists, or by their appearance in the strip cartoons of Mickey Mouse Weekly. For instance, since not a word is spoken in Pluto’s Fledgling (1948), how do we know that the little bird was called ‘Orville’?
The feature films are given separate billing as Part Two of the book. Each is described technically, normatively and through the parts played by the characters. Some anomalies creep in here, however. In the description of Fantasia, mention is made that Debussy’s ‘Claire de Lune’ was considered as a possible section in the film, but no mention is made of the fact that the sequence was actually completed, and left out of the release print. Further, when Make Mine Music is discussed, no description is made of the ‘Blue Bayou’ sequence, which was an adaptation of the ‘Claire de Lune’ animation, on the grounds that there is no characterisation in it. Yet the abstract ‘Tocata and Fugue’ sequence of Fantasia does rate a description.
I am disappointed that there is only sporadic mention of the names of animators responsible for particular characters. I would love to know who animated Ferdinand the Bull, but we are only told that one of the animators on the film was Jack Bradbury. The short films did not have credits until the post-war period, and we are thus ‘in the dark’. More detail is given for the key animators in the features, but here again the information is tantalizingly incomplete. For instance, we are told about Ward Kimball’s contribution of the Huntsmen to Peter and the Wolf in Make Mine Music, but not who animated anyone else. Of course, some of this information may not be available. Even in the magnum opus ‘The Illusion of Life’ Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston are not able to fit a name to every drawing that they illustrate. Perhaps this leaves room for a further work, an Encyclopaedia of Disney Animators.
But, this book stands by its tide. It is entertaining, informative, beautifully illustrated and an important addition to the growing number of books that are, at last, recognising the co-operative brilliance of the Disney Studios. At £15, it is very good value.
The Encyclopaedia of Walt Disney’s Animated Characters by John Grant, published by Hamlyn, 1987. £15.
Too Funny for Words
Review by Brian Sibley
Subtitled ‘Disney’s Greatest Sight Gags’, Too Funny for Words (Abbeyville Press, NY) could almost have been called The Illusion of Life II, since it comprises more perceptive revelations on the animator’s art by two of the studio’s Nine Old Men, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. And with their long experience of labouring at the production-line in the Mouse Factory, there is no one better to analyse what makes a good Disney gag.
There is always something faintly absurd about attempting to explain a joke, but Tho¬mas and Johnston fearlessly do just that: showing the differences between spot gags, running gags and action gags. Illustrated with sequences of storyboard sketches, layout designs, animation drawings and stills, the authors demonstrate how gags were thought up and made to work and consider what it is about the Disney gag that is particularly unique: Pluto lost in a Hall of Mirrors; Donald Duck suffering the excru¬ciating pangs of hunger; Thumper dis¬covering love; Goofy attempting to master the knack of skiing; and Mickey Mouse tangling with an anthropomorphic motor car.
In addition, the book contains a history of Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the Gang as well as some charming anecdotes about Walt and his associates that serve to remind once again what a rare and remarkable atmos¬phere prevailed at the Disney Studio during what has rightly been called the Golden Age.
Printed in Animator Issue 23 (Summer 1988)