Walt Disney on American Experience

John Hubley Disney strike film color outtakes Walt Disney American Experience

I was rather pleased with Sarah Colt’s two-part documentary Walt Disney shown the past two nights on PBS, as part of its American Experience series. Part of it, I suppose, is that it devoted so much time to the 1941 Disney strike—one of my specialties, after all, is animation labor history. It really did not tell all the story (Colt simply didn’t have the time), but its recognition of the centrality of the event is important; one only has to compare the strike’s treatment here with that of Theodore Thomas’ Walt & El Grupo (2008), the Disney Studio’s official look at Walt’s goodwill tour of South America, which he went on so he would not have to deal with the strike’s coda.  Aside from John Hubley’s official Screen Cartoon Guild strike film (which Colt heavily used along with color outtakes [see image above]), the only other film I know which tried to deal forthrightly with the event was Imogen Sutton’s Animating Art (1988), made for Britain’s Channel 4, whose American distribution was initially restricted.

I was especially pleased that the film acknowledged (in images if not words) the 1937 Fleischer strike (several of the photos used were from those saved by my father Joe, who worked at Fleischer, and which I had variously loaned to The Animation Guild and the Museum of the Moving Image. (I also had some part in getting Art Babbitt to donate his copy of the Hubley strike film to the UCLA Film Archive; I later helped expedite the donation of the film’s color outtakes via Faith Hubley.)

In terms of omissions and elusions, the film fails to follow through on what happened to Ub Iwerks, who seems to disappear from the narrative without a trace. Iwerks famously left Disney in 1930 to set up his own studio, which was big news at the time; however, Iwerks soon after gave up animating and directing in favor of “tinkering” (e.g., building the first multiplane camera used in an animated cartoon), which has led some historians to feel that he was a tinkerer at heart. I bring this up because Colt clearly shows Disney similarly withdrawing from close creative involvement with his films to build model trains. Disney seems to have  then channeled his puttering into creating Disneyland, though Iwerks’ tinkering did not have such epic results. (My wife, Vickie, and I speculated on the reasons Ub Iwerks gave up animating and directing in “The Independent Animator Model in Early Animation: The Case of Ub Iwerks,” a paper presented at last year’s Society for Animation Studies conference.)

Remembering John Halas

Vivien Halas has posted this filmic remembrance of her father John Halas (1912-1995), who would have been 100 years old today. Halas, whose studio, Halas & Batchelor, made the first British animated feature, Animal Farm (1954), was obviously a seminal figure in British animation and also served as the founding president of ASIFA-International.

The documentary features a number of interviews with friends and people who worked with him at his studio and ASIFA. It also includes some fascinating clips from his films, including a 1970 experiment with 2D computer animation and a 1930 film he made in his native Hungary.

I never really met Halas, though I did correspond with him when I served as editor of the ASIFA-Hollywood’s Graffiti magazine and The Inbetweener newsletter in the mid-1980s. As ASIFA-International President and President Emeritus, he would send out a column which we and other ASIFA chapters would publish.  I still recall a rather prescient piece talking about the growing affinity between visual effects and animation.

Vivien Halas add that, “This short documentary will be available shortly as a bonus on a new DVD specially made for ASIFA of John’s favourite short films from Halas & Batchelor.”

Happy birthday John.

A Dossier on the Animated Documentary

French trailer for Pequeñas Voces (Little Voices), a film about the lives of four Colombian children whose lives are interrupted by the arrival of armed men in their rural communities.

On the occasion of the French release of Jairo Carrillo et Oscar Andrade’s animated documentary, Pequeñas Voces (Little Voices), the AlloCiné website offers (in French) a nice dossier on what has become one of the more interesting areas of animation in recent years. Dounia Georgeon’s introduction notes:

Ever since Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir people cannot stop talking about the animated documentary as a new genre. Contrary to popular belief, its existence goes back (or nearly so) to the early days of film. On the occasion of the release of Little Voices, AlloCiné offers you an overview of the films that have joined the real with the wonderful.

It’s basically a survey of recent films, including Pequeñas Voces, though it does start off with four older titles, including Winsor McCay’s The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918) and Disney’s The Story of Menstruation (1946). If you can read French and/or like me can manage with Google Translate and a bit of college French, it’s worth a glance.