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Ub Iwerks: Balloon Land

9 Apr

(Provided on YouTube, courtesy of zootsmcgurn.)

Broke Hoedown Jr. and I just finished watching both volumes of The Cartoons That Time Forgot: Ub Iwerks, and Balloon Land is by far my favorite of the 6+ hours of animation we’ve worked our way through. As you might know, Iwerks‘ contributions to the Disney legacy include everything from single-handedly drawing the first Mickey Mouse cartoon (Plane Crazy) to technical innovations in animation and, eventually Imagineering.

The Cartoons that Time Forgot ranges from the bland (much of Flip the Frog) to the bizarre (see above for Balloon Land). You won’t be surprised to hear that it includes a large number of disquieting racial stereotypes, so don’t watch this with the kids if you’re not prepared to have some educational conversations. But if you can muddle your way through the rough spots, and tolerate some patchy bits badly in need of better restoration, it’s worth it to see Iwerks’ animation, to hear the occasional Carl Stalling score, and to wonder how many of the now-classic, now-tired gags you’ll see in this collection were in fact used here for the first time.

It’s also interesting to note the contrast between Flip (Iwerks’ mainstay) and either Oswald or Mickey. As Broke Hoedown Jr. put it recently, “Walt was the heart, Roy was the brains, and Ub was the hand.” This analogy stands up while watching Iwerks’ solo work . . . while it’s still charming, inventive, and usually technically excellent, a certain depth of character is missing by contrast with the early collaborations between Iwerks and Disney.

And hey, while we’re talking about wisdom from Broke Hoedown Jr. . . . the other day, I told him about some of the rumored changes to Disneyland’s it’s a small world. When I mentioned that Stitch (whom we both love) might be showing up in the Polynesian/Hawaiian section of the attraction, he wrinkled his nose. “Stitch is not Hawaiian,” he proclaimed. “He is an alien experiment.” ‘Nuf said, methinks.

Imaginerding Poll on Imagineers

7 Mar

Yes indeed, they are bringing nerdy back! And right now, they’ve got a poll on their home page, “Which early Disney Imagineer would you most like to spend the day with?”

My vote is for Ub Iwerks . . . and I see that he’s currently running at a dismal 11%, so now I feel the need to sing his praises. It’s not just about his role in the parks, it’s all that early animation stuff too. For cryin’ out loud, the man made a 3D camera in his garage with old car parts! (Details on that story are in The Hand Behind the Mouse, included on disc 2 of the excellent Oswald Disney Treasures DVD tin.)

But this is a topic on which reasonable people differ . . . I’ll be interested to see what the final vote tally is, a couple days from now when the poll is closed.

Sunday Morning Cartoons: Humpty Dumpty

10 Feb

Broke Hoedown Jr. and I have been working our way through The Cartoons That Time Forgot: Ub Iwerks, Volume 1. We’d seen a few snippets of Iwerks non-Disney cartoons in “The Hand Behind the Mouse,” a documentary included in the Oswald DVD tin. We were especially taken by “Humpty Dumpty,” one of many ComicColor cartoons in the collection, with music provided by Carl Stalling.

A word of warning to parents, though: While “Humpty Dumpty” is pretty family-friendly, a lot of the cartoons in this collection have ugly racial stereotypes, and occasionally troublesome portrayals of women. In my home, we use these problematic images as learning experiences, and discuss the historical and social context, but I could also understand why plenty of families would simply not expose their kids to them.

I <3 Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

15 Dec

When I was growing up in the 1970s, Saturday morning cartoons were le plus ultra. Sure, there were re-runs of Flinstones and Banana Splits on UHF all week, but on Saturday mornings the big networks were dedicated to us kids. And on one special Saturday every fall, all the new shows debuted. We’d talk about it for days before, and weeks after.

Well, I woke up this morning like I was eight years old all over again, and scooted on downstairs to watch Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which I finally own on DVD! And Oswald didn’t disappoint.

The first disc on the 2-DVD set from Walt Disney Treasures includes 6 cartoons from 1927, and 7 from 1928. (Plus, some fragments from an additional Oswald cartoon, “Sagebrush Sadie,” which is believed to no longer exist in its full form.) All are cute and amusing, and all should be rewarding viewing for those interested in the early days of cartoons. As Leonard Maltin points out in the introduction, the animation techniques you see in Oswald ultimately influenced not only future Disney works, but the whole genre of American animation, as the Oswald animators later created many other characters and series. The applied principles of cartoon physics are simply fabulous, with certain unusual gags recurring throughout the series. My personal favorite? Oswald’s ability to reverse direction of a means of transportation by simply re-arranging its parts. (Cow galloping in the wrong direction? Just pull its head under its belly, it’ll slide right over to the other end and VOILÁ, you’re running the right way.)

There’s also a sweet, brief documentary, “Oswald Comes Home,” about the loss of Oswald to Universal (geez, just one more reason for us rabid fans to avoid those parks, right?), and the 2006 trade of Al Michaels to bring Oswald back to Disney (along with four rounds of golf and some Olympic highlights).

And it’s not over yet . . . I was so excited about Oswald that I just couldn’t wait to tell y’all, but I haven’t even finished watching the 2-disc set! Disk Two has a documentary about Ub Iwerks (yay!!) plus three of the original Alice comedies (triple yay!!), along with three Mickey Mouse cartoons you’ve seen before (“Plane Crazy,” “Steamboat Willie,” and “Skeleton Dance”).

Dude, I could just stay here on the couch in my pajamas all day. Somebody bring me another bowl of Cap’n Crunch?

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