I’ve been pretty bad about drawing comics lately. I started working again, recording a podcast, and have done a little bit of travelling (more on this later) When my creative drive is low, I try to spend time reading, studying others’ drawings, and watching well-crafted animated films.
I’ve been on a quest to watch all of the Disney classically animated features for the last couple of years, and since being back in Portland, I’ve made tremendous progress, thanks to the multnomah county library. I don’t think I was seeing any for the first time (many I watched on a loop as a kid), but it had been the first time in at least twenty years for some. As an adult, I find new appreciation for the craftsmanship, and the number of talented people working together to produce a seamless whole.
Now, let us be clear, Disney is a shitty company.
They make things harder for artists by limiting creative rights, lobbying to change copyright laws in their favor, and aggressively litigating anyone they find has been co-opting the most ubiquitous brand in the world. Ub Iwerks created Mickey Mouse, in all real sense of the word. Floyd Gottfredson, Carl Barks, Don Rosa, and countless others had to sign Walt’s name to their drawings. They bought Marvel, and used their combined legal might to crush the latest attempt by the Kirby heirs to get some percentage of the profits from characters Jack Kirby created.
BUT their films are the standard for animated films, and really, for kid’s entertainment as a whole. With all that out of the way, here’s the films that struck me lately.
Pinocchio (1940) was Disney Studios’ second,and in my opinion, best animated feature.
Disney’s first film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) was widely heralded as pioneering in the field, and a technical marvel. It is also one of the hardest to sit through. The saccharine levels are high when Snow White trills about love, in between smooching the horde of squirrels and birds that follow her. There’s some good stuff with the woodsman in the forest, but then we have to watch those grotesque dwarves prance about.
Give me Pinocchio any day. The backgrounds are perhaps the most beautifully rendered in any Disney film (and that’s saying something). Gepetto’s workshop, with it’s endless moving clocks and toys, must have taken years alone. The characters are cartoony, and that weird rotoscopey look that is so prominent in Snow White is used only on the Blue Fairy. And the villains are scary as shit. Anthropomorphic foxes selling you to slave traders and giant whales swallowing you whole is pretty potent stuff.
Throw in the voice and personality of Cliff Edwards as Jiminy Cricket, and the fact that all of Disney’s primary “Old Men” animators were there as young men still cutting their teeth, you got yourself a movie.
I’ll admit the sexy goldfish is weird, but Snow White had way more of that kinda stuff.
Sleeping Beauty (1957) is seen as a high mark in Disney design. Illustrator Eyvind Earle was allegedly given unprecedented control of the film’s overall look, in the role of color designer and Background Artist.
The background paintings for Sleeping Beauty took much longer than the average animated cell background, and other team members were not happy with their lack of influence. But that movie is beautiful, it hangs together more cohesively than most animated features, undoubtedly because of Earle’s level of control.
The animation of the prince riding his horse is considered one of the finest examples of a very hard movement to capture. The medieval story elements meld perfectly into the modern-art-inspired, angular style of the film.
It also has a great looking villain, and bonus fact: Chuck Jones worked on this film!
For Tony Millionaire’s recent response to the Disney version of Winnie the Pooh, check this out.
Now there’s probably not a studio in the world that can compete with Disney’s claim for supremacy. But if there is, it’s Studio Ghibli. For the amount of time they’ve been around, they have produced a variety of highly entertaining, spectacularly drawn features for audiences of all ages. Next post I’ll write about my Miyazaki marathon, where I watched Castle of Cagliostro, Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away all in a row. Thatsa whimsical-a meatball!