Jack Zander

Jack Zander, the veteran New York producer who began his career during Hollywood’s Golden Age of Animation, died on Monday at age 99. Among his accomplishments as an animator was animating Jerry in Puss Gets the Boot (1940), the first Tom and Jerry cartoon. However, after the war he established and ran two of New York’s best commercial houses, Pelican and Zander’s Animation Parlour.

Mark Mayerson, who worked at Zander’s Animation Parlour in the 1970s, has posted a warmly felt tribute and memoir on his blog; comments by several artists who worked for him, including Nancy Bieman and Tom Sito, have also been added. Sito also wrote this piece in Zander’s honor on his own blog.

I only met Zander once, during the early days of my research into the history of animation unions, as he had served as president of the Screen Cartoonist Guild before becoming a producer. At the time, I was still exploring my topic and Zander was gracious enough to tolerate my sometimes uninformed queries. However, to judge by all who told me of their experience working for Zander, he was not a person who ever forgot his roots as a working artist and treated his employees accordingly.

Roadside Romeo

Roadside_Romeo_thumb1India’s Yash Raj Films, a producer of live-action films, has teamed up with Walt Disney Pictures to produce Roadside Romeo, a computer animated feature due out next year. This story of a dog lost in the streets of Mumbai is being written directed by actor Jugal Hansraj. Yash Raj Films is subcontracting out the actual animation to other studios and promises to infuse it with a Bollywood sensibility.

India has traditionally been a hard sell for animated movies, but has opened up somewhat in recent years as a viable animation industry has evolved. Disney brings experience in animation to the deal in the probable hope of expanding its presence in the growing Indian market, while Yash Raj Film’s gets a chance to expand into a new area and possibly conquer new international markets.

A trailer for the film can be found here.

Enchanted & Bee Movie

Pip, the chipmunk, in Kevin Lima's Enchanted.Enchanted, the new Disney live action/animated musical is the latest post-modern pastiche that depends too much on inside jokes rather than genuine emotion. It’s the type of film one wants to work, but despite some delightful moments, soon becomes tiresome.

The story begins in Andalasia, an ersatz 1950s cel animated, fairytale country, where the handsome Prince Edward meets and falls in love with the beautiful Giselle; however, his plans to marry her the next day are thwarted by his evil stepmother, Queen Narissa, who promptly sends the princess-in-waiting hurtling into the real world, i.e., New York’s Times Square, where she becomes flesh and blood. She is then followed by Edward and Narissa, among others, while Giselle is taken in by chase after her; in the meantime, Giselle is taken in by an divorce lawyer who tries to keep his young daughter away from fairytales.

Though much has been made of the opening sequence’s use of traditional animation, it tends to look and feel like the worse Disney had to offer (and that could be pretty bad ). That would not be a problem if Kevin Lima’s direction and Bill Kelly’s script had gone beyond the obvious cliché moments. Ironically, the one scene where the animation does come alive is when the CGI chipmunk, Pip, in a game of charades, tries to tell the clueless Prince Edward about Queen Narissa’s plot to kill Giselle (see above). (Equally good, in a different way, is Susan Sarandon’s turn as the Queen, who milks her brief live-action appearance for all its worth; unfortunately, it ends prematurely when she turns into a Sleeping Beauty-style CGI dragon.)

The film’s appeal may owe something to the way it tries to lovingly parody the Disney family jewels. This is somewhat akin to Julie Andrews topless turn in Blake Edwards’ S.O.B. (1981), though not so naughty. It was certainly done to better effect in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, as well as numerous other films from the era of Looney Tunes to numerous episodes of today’s TV series.

Bee Movie Bee Movie, DreamWorks Animation’s latest effort (directed by Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner), is a fairly conventional showcase for the talents of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who helped produce and write it. The plot deals with the ambitions of Barry B. Benson, a bee just just out of school, who wants to explore life outside the hive before choosing a career.

Animated films centered around the personality of a comedian like Seinfeld are nothing new. I recall, with some pleasure, Rover Dangerfield (1991), whose Rodney Dangerfield script and performance helped alleviate the film’s rather slapdash production. However, Bee Movie really owes more to DreamWorks’s Antz (1998), which featured the vocal talents of Woody Allen.

For whatever reason, I never watched Seinfeld on TV and, thus, never developed a strong affection for his brand of humor. Even so, I found Bee Movie a pleasant, if not particularly memorable film.