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Monthly Archives: January 2012

January 21

January 21, 1960 – Goliath II is Released to Theaters; First Disney Film Fully Animated with the Xerox Process.

“His name was Goliath the Second, and he was hardly any bigger than one of his father’s toenails.”

Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, with story by Bill Peet, this 1960 short film is not only an amusing lesson that size isn’t everything, but was a grand experiment by the Disney animators using the new Xerox process, effectively ending an era of old-style romantic animation. The short is narrated by Sterling Holloway, and stars Kevin “Moochie” Corcoran as Goliath II.

Goliath I is the leader of all the elephants, by virtue of being the biggest and the strongest of them all. His only source of disappointment is his son, Goliath II, who is only five inches tall. Try as Goliath II might to make his father proud, he ends up only squeaking when he tries to trumpet, and getting knocked over by the flower he tries to push over. Goliath’s size is also a problem for his mother, who has a hard time keeping an eye on him, especially when the tiger Raja wishes to try the “bite-sized” elephant. Not wanting to be treated like a baby anymore, Goliath runs away from the herd. Although he is saved by his mother when Raja almost eats him, his troubles get worse, as he is marked as a rogue elephant and branded a traitor, disgracing his great father.

Goliath meets a butterfly. This gives the audience a way to see how small he really is.

Goliath gets his chance to prove his worth when he is “left alone to face the terror of all terrors” for elephants – a mouse. Through an epic battle with the pugnacious mouse, with a crocodile hungrily licking its chops to devour the loser, Goliath wins, spares the mouse and wins the respect of the rest of the elephants. He is awarded the highest position in the herd, and a place of honor on his father’s head as the elephants lumber through the jungle.

Goliath and the foe of all foes - a mouse.

Although the Xerox process was used in the dragon scene in Sleeping Beauty, the animators used Goliath II as an experiment to see if it would work on screen. Quite simply, the Xerox process is a way of transferring the animators’ pencil drawings directly to cels, bypassing the inking and painting process. The process, after it had been successfully used in the feature film One Hundred and One Dalmatians, was used in practically every Disney film through The Little Mermaid, when the use of the computer to create the ink lines replicated the old style of inking and painting at a lower cost. The newer process also left more of the feeling that the animator tried to convey before the cleanup began by the inkers and painters.

Sleeping Beauty became the end of a style era, particularly because it had been a very expensive film to create and had not made enough money back, leaving the studio in a dire situation. Ub Iwerks, who had come back to the studio in 1940, had been thinking of ways to lessen the cost of animation. He had been fascinated with the idea of Xerox copying, wondering if he could transfer the animator’s sketch straight to the cel, instead of just a piece of paper. He did a few experiments, and concluded that it was a valid solution for the financially strapped studio.

Ub Iwerks (L) while working on the Xerox Process.

In the early days of the Xerox process, one machine took up three rooms. With a lens and an electrostatically charged plate, the lens took a picture of the drawing, and transferred it to the plate, which would then be dipped in toner. The toner would then be transferred to a clear cel. It dramatically cut costs when it came to animation, but at a price: the beautiful artwork created by the inking and painting department was no more, and the department itself was closed. The style not only replaced the more fairy-tale look of the Disney animated films, but brought in a new modern American art look to the studio.

The Xerox process had mixed reactions from those within the studio. Animator Floyd Norman remarked, “I think we did lose something because the Xerox line lacked the subtlety of the ink line which was incredible…so I guess one could debate those points back and forth. Was Xerox a step forward, or a step backwards?” But animator Andreas Deja argued that “Xerox didn’t cut the quality of the animation. They didn’t do limited animation. It’s still a fully animated film. The acting is still there, it’s still subtle.”

Although there are many opinions of the process, there is no denying the impact it had on the look of Disney films from the 1960s to the 1990s, and it was a good way to save the legacy of animated films. Without Iwerks’ invention, there may not have been The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, or even The Little Mermaid. Goliath II, although most people may not realize it, helped bring about a turning point in animation history, and did it in a delightful way.

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January 20

January 20, 2006 – High School Musical Premieres on Disney Channel

“This could be the start of something new.”

At 8 p.m., January 20, 2006, the television movie, High School Musical, premiered on the Disney Channel. It became the most successful Disney Channel Original Movie ever produced, and was followed with a television sequel (High School Musical 2) and a feature film, (High School Musical 3: Senior Year), as well as best-selling albums and various international spinoffs. The movie was directed by Kenny Ortega, with screenplay by Peter Barsocchini. The cast includes Zac Efron as Troy Bolton, Vanessa Hudgens as Gabriella Montez, Ashley Tisdale as Sharpay Evans, Lucas Grabeel as Ryan Evans, Corbin Bleu as Chad Danforth, and Monique Coleman as Taylor McKessie.

With a plot reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, the story centers on basketball star and team captain Troy Bolton and shy genius Gabriella Montez, who meet at a New Year’s Party after being pushed to sing karaoke together. Through the song they sing, they begin to develop an attraction to each other, finally exchanging phone numbers before going their separate ways.

Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) reluctantly singing together at the party.

Fortuitously, Gabriella’s mother is transferred to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Troy lives and attends East High School. The two are excited to see each other again, and Troy beings to show Gabriella around the school, while explaining that his singing at the party was not something he did often, nor do his friends know about his musical abilities. The two pause in front of the sign-up sheet for the winter musical, where they run into Sharpay Evans, the Drama Club president. Sharpay has an obvious crush on Troy, and is immediately suspicious of Gabriella, thinking the girl could be a threat to her winning the lead in the musical. With her brother Ryan, they do an Internet search on Gabriella, discovering her past academic achievements, and revealing them to Taylor McKessie, captain of the Scholastic Decathlon Team, who immediately tries to recruit a reluctant Gabriella.

After seeing Gabriella again, and remembering the fun he had singing with her at the party, Troy has trouble concentrating at basketball practice, and decides to check out the auditions. He runs into Gabriella there, but both are two shy to step forward to audition, and by the time they get the courage to do so, the drama teacher Mrs. Darbus immediately turns them down, telling them they are too late, auditions are over. But soon after, she overhears them singing with the composer of the winter musical, and reconsiders, giving them a call-back audition.

Troy and Gabriella singing together once again.

Troy’s call-back for the musical starts a chain of events at the school, with students revealing their secret hobbies, from a basketball player’s love of baking, to a scholastic high-achiever’s hobby of “poppin’ and lockin’.” Troy’s best friend, Chad Danforth, becomes alarmed as people, including Troy, disrupt the status quo, and Chad worries that Troy’s lack of focus will cost them the upcoming championship game. Chad teams up with Taylor, who has been unsuccessful in getting Gabriella to join the Scholastic Decathlon Team, to get Troy and Gabriella to focus on upcoming competitions and forget about the call-back auditions. They scheme to trick Troy into saying that Gabriella isn’t important to him, while Gabriella watches on a wi-fi link Taylor has set up. Crushed, Gabriella decides to join the Scholastic Decathlon Team after all, refusing to audition with or even talk to Troy.

The Scholastic Decathlon Team tricking Gabriella with the live feed from the basketball team.

Chad and Taylor, overwhelmed with guilt for ruining their relationship, finally confess their scheme; Troy goes to Gabriella’s house and they make up, and the pair once again continues to rehearse for call-backs, this time with support from their friends. Sharpay, infuriated at this outcome, convinces Ms. Darbus to reschedule the call-backs to coincide with the basketball game and the Scholastic Decathlon, leaving Troy and Gabriella unable to audition. But the basketball team and the Decathlon team decide to work together on a plan that would allow the pair to audition without missing their competitions.

The premiere broadcast had 7.7 million viewers, and has been seen by more than 225 million viewers globally. It launched the careers of Efron and Hudgens, and several of the cast members released solo albums. The movie also spawned a successful touring concert, from November 29, 2006, to January 28, 2007, with most of the cast reprising their roles, except for Efron, who was replaced by Drew Seeley (whose tenor voice had been used to blend with Efron’s baritone in the film’s soundtrack). The film’s popularity has no doubt ushered in a new age of Disney Channel programming, and defined a new generation of Disney fans.

January 19

January 19, 1949 – So Dear to My Heart is Released to Theaters.

“The greatest wealth a man may acquire is the wisdom he gains from living.”

A film brimming with nostalgia and turn-of-the-century charm, So Dear to My Heart was released to theaters on January 19, 1949, by RKO Radio Pictures. Based on the book Midnight and Jeremiah, by Sterling North, the film is about a boy named Jeremiah Kincaid, who trades his dreams of raising a prize-winning horse for the goal of raising a black lamb named Danny to be a champion at the county fair. The film was directed by Harold Schuster, with screenplay by John Tucker Battle. The cast includes Bobby Driscoll as Jeremiah Kincaid, Beulah Bondi as Granny Kincaid, Burl Ives as Uncle Hiram, and Luana Patton as Tildy, with John Beal providing the narration as the older Jeremiah.

The story opens in an attic, where the audience is taken inside an old scrapbook, observing the seasons and essentially going back in time to an old farm in 1903. The community, especially Jeremiah, is excited that the train stopping in their town contains the famous racehorse, Dan Patch. Jeremiah dreams of raising a horse just like Dan Patch, and he tries to convince Granny to trade their old mule for a mare, for “If we had a mare, we could get a colt,” Jeremiah argues. However, he changes his mind when he helps Granny take care of the new lambs in the barn. Twin lambs had been born: one black, and one white. When the mother shuns the black lamb, Jeremiah wants to adopt it, to which Granny tries to convince him otherwise but she finally agrees to let him keep it when she sees the affection Jeremiah has for the creature.

One of the examples of how much Jeremiah cares for Danny.

The lamb, now called Danny (after Dan Patch), causes nothing but headaches for Granny, breaking screen doors and rocking chairs, and Jeremiah is so consumed with taking care of Danny that he neglects his chores. Fortunately, Jeremiah has a strong ally in his Uncle Hiram, who tries to convince Granny to let Danny compete for the blue ribbon at the county fair. Uncle Hiram’s isn’t able to convince her, however, so Jeremiah plans to raise the money to pay for travel to the fair on his own by finding a bee’s hive and selling wild honey. Jeremiah and his friend, Tildy, find the hive and with Uncle Hiram’s help, bring back two tubs full of wild honey.

Burl Ives (L) as Uncle Hiram, Bobby Driscoll (C) as Jeremiah Kincaid, and Luana Patten (R) as Tildy.

Just as things are looking up for Jeremiah, he arrives home to find that Tildy accidentally let Danny escape into the woods and is unable to find him. Jeremiah runs out looking for him during a dangerous thunderstorm, but is dragged home by Granny. As Jeremiah sulks in bed, Granny begins to lecture Jeremiah on how he no longer loves the lamb, but the material things the lamb could provide: money and blue ribbons. Granny adds that God may not provide Danny mercy throughout the night, telling him that “the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” The next morning, Jeremiah leaves at daybreak, and finds Danny, who had curled up in a log to survive the night. After he returns to the farm with Danny, he tells Tildy that they aren’t going to the fair, causing her to cry. When Granny questions him, he sheepishly tells her that he made a promise to God that if He would keep Danny safe through the storm, he wouldn’t go to the fair. Granny, touched by this turnaround in Jeremiah’s attitude, declares that she prayed that if God kept Danny safe, they would go to the fair, and since she’s known God longer, He wouldn’t mind if they go. And so the family heads off to the fair, with Danny groomed and looking impeccable, with Jeremiah certain that Danny will win the prize. The ending of the film is one of the most charming endings in Disney’s live-action film history.

The film itself is a mixture of live-action and animation, with the animation providing bookends to live-action segments rather than being interwoven in the film. The animation sections are interesting segments in themselves; a character named the Wise Old Owl, who provides some spirited advice, gives lessons of perseverance through the biblical stories of David and Goliath, and the walls of Jericho, as well as the historical stories of Christopher Columbus and Robert the Bruce. Although the animated sequences may seem a bit intrusive to the overall film, Walt Disney once explained that he “saw the cartoon characters as figments of a small boy’s imagination, and I think they were justified.”

One of the animated scrapbook segments from the film, acting more as Jeremiah's imagination than reality.

The music for the film doesn’t stand out as it would in a true movie musical, but it establishes the time period in which the film is set. Uncle Hiram, played by Burl Ives, provides many amusing ad-libbed songs. The opening song, “So Dear to My Heart,” was written by Ticker Freeman and Irving Taylor; “County Fair” was written by Robert Wells and Mel Torme; “It’s Watcha Do with Whatcha Got” was written by Don Raye and Gene DePaul. “Ol’ Dan Patch,” “Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly),” and “Stick-to-it-ivity” were written by Eliot Daniel and Larry Morey. The song “Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly),” based on an old English folk song, was nominated for the Academy Award for song in 1949, but lost out to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” from Neptune’s Daughter.

Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten were under contract with Disney, having already done the film Song of the South for the company. Driscoll himself received many positive reviews for his performance, and was awarded a special Academy Award as the “Outstanding Juvenile Actor of 1949” for his work in this film, and the non-Disney film The Window.

Luana Patten (L) and Bobby Driscoll. They were the first two contract players for the Walt Disney Studios; this was their second film together.

An interesting fact about this film concerns animator Ward Kimball: an avid railroad enthusiast, he was given the train station used on set and installed it at his Southern California home, where he would surprise the neighbors by driving around in his full-size train.

Overall, the film is a gem in the Disney library, and one that should not be missed. Because of uncertain marketing in 1948, the film didn’t make a huge profit, but it received highly positive reviews, and still shines with the well-known Disney charm.

January 18

January 18, 1941 – Birth of Disney Legend David Stollery.

David Stollery's title card from the serial Annette.

“I wonder how many Celica-driving ‘Mickey Mouse Club’ fans ever knew that ‘Marty’ designed their car?” – Tim Considine, Disney Legend and actor.

David John Stollery III was born January 18, 1941, in Los Angeles, into a show-business family, his father having been a radio announcer, and his mother a radio star while living in Portland, Oregon. At age seven, Stollery began his acting career by landing a role in a touring production of Medea, and was later voted Child Actor of the Year for his role in the production On Borrowed Time, starring actor Victor Moore. He appeared in several films, beginning with an uncredited role in the 1949 film A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and getting his big boost as a feature actor in the 1951 film, Darling, How Could You! His Disney roles, however, gave him the most prominence as an actor.

Walt Disney saw Stollery perform on an episode of The Ray Milland Show, playing a young genius, and was convinced that the boy would be perfect for the role of Marty Markham in the upcoming Mickey Mouse Club serial, “The Adventures of Spin and Marty,” co-starring Tim Considine as Spin. The serial was very popular, and Stollery was quickly signed for two more “Spin and Marty” serials: “The Further Adventures of Spin and Marty” in 1956, and “The New Adventures of Spin and Marty” in 1957. Stollery also appeared in a serial starring Annette Funicello, simply titled “Annette,” in which he played the character Mike Martin. He also acted in two feature films for Disney: Westward Ho the Wagons! in 1956, and Ten Who Dared in 1960.

Stollery as Marty Markham in The Adventures of Spin and Marty.

Unlike most child actors, Stollery did not pursue acting as a fulltime career, instead opting to study design at the Art Center College of Design, and becoming an auto designer for General Motors. In 1973, he was hired by Toyota to manage the automotive design group, Calty Design Research, designing the second generation of the A40 Series Toyota Celica in 1978.

Stollery has mostly stayed out of the spotlight since his Disney days. His most recent on-screen appearance was a documentary in 2005 on the Walt Disney Treasures set, The Adventures of Spin and Marty, in which Stollery and co-star Tim Considine explore the property that was used as the set for the Triple R Ranch and share their memories of performing on the show. He was inducted into the Disney Legends at the October 9, 2006 ceremony.

January 17

January 17, 1913 – Birth of Disney Legend Claude Coats.

Claude Coats (L) showing the Pirates attraction to Julie Reihm and Walt Disney.

“His energy, curiosity and drive to create new experiences for our Disney park guests made him a leader and a teacher for all of us. He was a genuine one-of-a-kind.” – Marty Sklar, Walt Disney Imagineering President.

Claude Coats had a prolific career at the Walt Disney Studios: He began with creating the fantastical watercolor backgrounds in Pinocchio, and eventually became one of the lead developers of Walt Disney World attractions, including several World Showcase Pavilions at EPCOT Center. One of the few employees to receive a 50-year service award, Coats retired in 1984 after 54 years with Disney.

Born January 17, 1913, in San Francisco, Coats was raised in Los Angeles, and attended the University of Southern California, graduating with a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts in 1934. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute, studying watercolor painting and becoming an active member of the California Water Color Society. Through the society, he was hired by Disney as an apprentice background painter in June 1935. Coats worked on backgrounds and color stylings of such films as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Dumbo, Saludos Amigos, Make Mine Music, Lady and the Tramp, Cinderella, and Peter Pan. His watercolor background work on Pinocchio, however, continues to be lauded by animation critics and art collectors alike. Coats took the paintings of the village and Geppetto’s workshop by artist Gustaf Tenggren, and turned them into backgrounds “with the most appetizing appeal,” said animation historian, John Culhane. Coats’ eye for color was also used on several acclaimed short films, including The Old Mill and Ferdinand the Bull, both Academy Award winners.

Coats took on a new role in1955, when he became one of the elite artists brought in to work with WED Enterprises (now known as Walt Disney Imagineering). As part of the development team for several attractions, beginning with Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Coats helped bring Disney’s vision for Disneyland into being. He worked on several popular attractions, including The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and Submarine Voyage. Coats and Imagineer Herb Ryman were tasked with the darker rides in Fantasyland, including Peter Pan’s Flight. Coats also used his skills while working on the The 1964 New York World’s Fair attractions, including The Carousel of Progress and It’s a Small World.

Coats appeared in the Disneyland 10th Anniversary Episode on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (see the January 3rd entry), introduced by Walt as “the Imagineer in charge of the pirate project.” He explains staging a scene in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, where one character is being forced to walk the plank, to Walt and Julie Reihm during the episode.

Coats went on to design attractions for Walt Disney World, including The Mickey Mouse Review, Universe of Energy, and several World Showcase pavilions. He also worked on the international parks, including the Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour for Tokyo Disneyland. After 54 years of work for the Disney Company, Coats retired in November 1984, and was inducted as a Disney Legend at the October 22, 1991 ceremony. He passed away in Burbank, California, on January 9, 1992.

January 16

January 16, 2003 – Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular Opens in Disneyland

The sign for the show at the Hyperion Theater.

“Must I yearn forever to be free, free to climb a tree and ponder, free to wander?” – Jasmine, “To Be Free.”

On January 16, 2003, the first performance of Disney’s Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular premiered in the Hyperion Theater at the Hollywood Pictures Backlot in Disneyland’s California Adventure Park. Based on the 1992 hit animated film, the Broadway-style musical uses many special effects and elaborate puppetry to transfer the essence of the animated film to the live-action stage, including Aladdin and Jasmine’s enchanted carpet ride around the theater. The 45-minute show is one of the more popular events in Disneyland.

The Genie and Aladdin. Note the elaborate steps taken to recreate the Genie in costume.

Many of the film’s elements are retained in this stage production: many of the musical numbers by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Sir Tim Rice are performed, and the show includes a new number with lyrics and music by Alan Menken, entitled To Be Free. A cast recording released in 2003 contains many of the instrumental tracks used throughout the show. The cast on the recording includes Miles Wesley as Aladdin, Dee Dee Magno as Jasmine, and Nick Santa Maria as The Genie.

Thanks to the show’s popularity at Disneyland, Aladdin has begun its journey to other stages, heading toward a Broadway production, if the show does well. A version of the show opened at Seattle’s 5th Street Theater in July, 2011, and another production is scheduled from July 5th through the 13th at The Muny Theater in St. Louis. This new production will include songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman that had been cut from earlier drafts of the film.

January 15

January 15, 1943 – Education for Death is Released to Theaters

“He sees no more than the party wants him to; he says nothing but what the party wants him to say; and he does nothing but what the party wants him to do.”

Surely the grimmest film the studio produced during World War II, Education for Death: The Making of a Nazi, was premiered in theaters on January 15, 1943. Based on the bestselling book by Gregor Ziemer, the short was directed by Clyde Geronimi and principally animated by Ward Kimball. It was narrated in English by then-popular radio personality Art Smith; however, the dialogue in the short is in German. This helps to provide a sense of distance between the viewer and the characters, further heightening the fear of the Nazi doctrine in Americans. Disney Legend Joe Grant said that by making the short, the studios hoped to make it “visible to people what was going on. And you couldn’t do it in a better way than with the graphics in a cartoon. It wasn’t a cartoon, it was actually an editorial. I think it did the job.”

The story centers on a young German boy named Hans, and how he grows up in this new Nazi order, becoming a brainwashed believer of the Nazi ideology. The story begins with Hans’ parents standing in front of a soldier, registering their child’s birth. They present birth certificates dating all the way back to their great-grandparents, proving that they are pure Aryan. The mother wishes to name her child Hans, which, fortunately, is not on the forbidden name list (which includes Franklin and Winston as its top two forbidden names). The parents are then given a hereditary passport, with twelve lines, giving them “a subtle hint that Germany needs soldiers.” As a reward for giving birth, the couple is given a copy of Germany’s bestseller, Mein Kampf.

The hereditary passport: note Hans' name at the top, with more room for future names. His mother was expected to produce a large family for Germany's sake.

The next segment is of one of the doctored fairy tales presented to Hans in kindergarten. As this film was shown to general audiences, the animators tried to present at least one moment of humor in this otherwise dark film. The fairy tale in question is the story of Sleeping Beauty, with the Wicked Witch representing democracy, vanquished by the Prince (Hitler) before he wakes the Princess (Germany) with a kiss. The Princess, however, is anything but beautiful; instead, she is portrayed as an obese Wagnerian woman holding a stein and able to sing only the words “Heil Hitler!” “Prince Hitler” is anything but dashing: He struggles to carry Germany and barely manages to plop her on his horse (with a little comedic help). The moral of this story, the narrator tells us, “seems to be that Hitler got Germany on her feet, climbed into the saddle, and took her for a ride.” It could be argued that the comedy was so strong here to show the audience the absurdity of what German children were being taught in schools.

The caricatures of Germany as the Princess, and "Prince Hitler," taking Germany for a ride.

The most emotional part of this short is the classroom scene. The students begin their day giving a pledge to a portrait of Hitler that they will fight, obey, and die for their Fuehrer. The classroom also has portraits of Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels (also slightly caricatured for comedic effect, although the effect is very subtle). The teacher then gives the class a lesson in “natural history,” in which a fox chases a rabbit, corners the poor creature, and devours him. When asked what his thoughts are on the subject, Hans answers, “The poor rabbit.” The teacher is furious, calling Hans an idiot, and making him sit in the corner with the dunce cap while the students are encouraged to mock him and laugh at him. The poor boy thinks he has disappointed the Fuehrer and Herren Goering and Goebbels with his answer. The teacher asks for the correct answers, which include:

The world belongs to the strong!

And to the brutal!

The rabbit is a coward and deserves to die! We spit on the rabbit!

These answers fire up Hans, who, when asked again for his opinion, declared tearfully that he hates the rabbit, and that the world has no room for weaklings. “This lesson is the basis for the Nazi creed,” the narrator declares, “for Germany will likewise destroy all weak and cowardly nations.” The film then switches to scenes of book burning and desecration of churches, with the Bible being replaced by Mein Kampf, and the crucifix being replaced with a sword bearing the swastika. The short ends with Hans marching along in Nazi lockstep, and we watch as he grows up, still heiling and marching.. “In him,” we are told, “is planted no seed of laughter, hope, tolerance, or mercy. He sees no more than the party wants him to; he says nothing but what the party wants him to say; and he does nothing but what the party wants him to do.” The soldiers are all seen with blinders, muzzles, and heavy chains around their necks. The ending of this short is one of the bleakest endings ever put on film.

Wearing blinders, muzzles, and chains, these boys have become perfect unquestioning soldiers for the Nazi warped ideology.

The short is highly staged for dramatic impact, using shadows and silhouettes to highlight the threat the party imposed on the characters. The film was meant to shock and appall audiences, and suffice it to say, the animators did their job well. This short is still an effective piece of propaganda—spreading ideas or information to further or damage a cause—meant to show the American public what Nazism was and why we were at war with Germany. While touches of humor provided small breaks between the grim messages, the film still got its point across and served its purpose well.

January 14

January 14, 1905 – Birth of Disney Legend Sterling Holloway.

“To be in the same recording studio with Sterling Hollowway was a great treat. I mean, the man was a consummate artist.” – Paul Winchell, the original voice of Tigger.

In Disney’s animated film history, there is no voice more recognizable than that of Sterling Holloway, whose charming tenor brought to life some of film’s most beloved characters, including his most famous role of the silly old bear, Winnie the Pooh.

Holloway was born on January 14, 1905, in Cedartown, Georgia. At age 15, he left Georgia to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, where he also found work in vaudeville and on the radio. He moved to Hollywood in 1926, working in silent films. With the advent of talking films, many actors found themselves out of a job, but Holloway was saved by his voice, which gained him many roles in comedies. Among the actors Holloway worked with were Fred MacMurray, Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, and Dick Powell.

In 1941, Holloway had his first role with the Disney Studios, playing the messenger stork in Dumbo. This led to several other voice roles in the feature films, including adult Flower in Bambi, the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, and the narrator of the Peter and the Wolf segment in the package film Peter and the Wolf. He also voiced the character Kaa in The Jungle Book, where he sang the song “Trust in Me.” Holloway also narrated various short films, such as the World War II propaganda short The Pelican and the Snipe, The Little House, and Lambert, The Sheepish Lion. One of his showcase shorts, however, is the 1953 classic, Ben and Me, which received an Academy Award nomination. Holloway played the character Amos, who contributed greatly to Benjamin Franklin’s career.

Holloway with Walt Disney

Holloway’s most beloved role, however, is that of Winnie the Pooh. In 1966, Holloway first voiced the role in the featurette Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, which was later added as a segment in the 1977 film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Around the same time, Holloway also made his way onto TV screens, starring in episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Baileys of Balboa. For Disney, he narrated a special called “Christmas at Walt Disney World,” as well as a combination animation and live-action special called “The Restless Sea.”

Holloway was inducted into the Disney Legends on October 22, 1991. On November 22, 1992, Holloway passed away at the age of 87, leaving behind a legacy of beloved Disney film characters.

January 13

January 13, 1930 – The Mickey Mouse Comic Strip is Distributed by King Features Syndicate.

A preview of the Mickey Mouse comic strip.

On January 13, 1930, two newspapers in the United States, the New York Mirror and the Oakland Post-Enquirer, debuted a new comic strip featuring the popular movie character, Mickey Mouse. It was slow to gain popularity, as the strip was an ongoing story, rather than the usual practice of a gag per strip, but it became an enduring classic lasting for decades.

The first eighteen strips were drawn by famed Disney animator Ub Iwerks. Iwerks recalled that Disney’s original ambition was to become a cartoonist, which is likely the reason the early Mickey Mouse cartoons included the byline, A Walt Disney Comic. Disney decided to write the first four months of comics, although Iwerks had been contacted first about creating a comic strip about Mickey. As Joseph Connelly, the President of King Features Syndicate, wrote in a letter that reads almost like fanmail:

“I think your mouse animation is one of the funniest features I have

ever seen in the movies. Please consider producing one in comic strip

form for newspapers. If you can find time to do one, I shall be very

interested in seeing some specimens.”

Iwerks was already spread thin with other projects for the studio, and handed the letter to Walt, claiming it “wasn’t [his] business. Walt made the deal, and I did the drawings for a few strips.” Walt, on the other hand, had this to say when asked about the comic:

“[In 1929 we were looking for] ways to exploit characters like the

Mouse. The most obvious was a comic strip. So I started work on a

comic strip hoping I could sell it to one of the syndicates. As I was

producing the first one, a letter came to me from King Features

wanting to know if I would be interested in doing a comic strip

featuring Mickey Mouse. Naturally, I accepted their offer.”

As with the story of how Mickey Mouse came to be, there were discrepancies between the recollections of Disney and Iwerks. Although it may not be clear through their statements of who was accurate, it seems that Walt was always interested in doing a comic strip, but work had not started before Iwerks received the letter from Connelly.

But Iwerks did animate the strips, and then the project was given to Win Smith for three months. Smith butted heads with Walt over seniority and age; when Walt asked Smith to write the comic as well as animate it, Smith refused, telling Walt that “No goddamn young whipper-snapper’s going to tell me what to do.” Smith quit that day, and the strip was taken over by Floyd Gottfredson.

Floyd Gottfredson

Gottfredson was asked to take over the strip for a few weeks until a replacement was found, but ended up working on the comic for forty-five years, until he retired in 1975. While the early comics were based on the cartoons in theaters, Gottfredson put his own personal spin on the strip, using contemporary events like the Great Depression and World War II as backdrops for heroic adventures in which Mickey battled corrupt politicians and assorted villains to save his friends and country.

The first comic strip, entitled “Lost on a Desert Island,” is very reflective of the attitudes of the period, with exaggerated interpretations of anyone who wasn’t Anglo-Saxon. These clichés were commonplace, used when one didn’t have the time or patience to create a fully-formed character.

The comic itself is a dry run of the adventure comics that lay ahead in the strip’s future, but it is charming for what it is. It begins with Mickey in the barnyard, trying to fly a homemade plane, which is similar to the plot of the 1928 short film, Plane Crazy. Mickey gets the plane to fly (losing Minnie Mouse in the process, who lands to safety using her bloomers as a parachute), but ends up in the middle of a typhoon and crashes on a desert island. Although this is a continuous story, there are gags to end each strip, and it has a real charm about it. If one is able to look past the attitudes of the past that are heavily featured in the strip, it’s a good read overall.

January 12

January 12, 1957 – John Lasseter is Born

“There’s something about John that you kind of get the feeling that [the fact that something’s never been done before] doesn’t matter. I mean, [just because it hasn’t] been done before, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.” – Glen Keane, animator (The Little Mermaid, Tangled)

John Lasseter was born on January 12, 1957, in Hollywood, California, and was raised in Whittier. When he was growing up, cartoons were seen as “kidstuff,” and part of growing up was to leave the childish things behind, but Lasseter refused to shed his love of animation. “I even watched them when it wasn’t cool in high school,” Lasseter reminisced. During his freshman year, Lasseter found a book in the library that would set him on the path of his passion: The Art of Animation, by Bob Thomas. “When I was growing up, I loved cartoons more than anything else. And when I was in high school, I found this book, this old, ratty book, called The Art of Animation. And it was about the Disney Studios and how they made animated films,” Lasseter said. “And it was one of those things that just dawned on me: people make cartoons for a living. They actually get paid to make cartoons. And I thought, ‘That’s what I wanna do.’ Right then, right there, it was like I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Soon after reading the book, Lasseter went to the movies to see a re-release of Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, and after seeing it, he proclaimed to his mother, an art teacher, that he wanted to be an animator for Disney. She encouraged his dream, and Lasseter began to send letters and drawings to the studio, receiving letters of support back. In 1975, Lasseter applied to the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), was accepted into the first program that taught Disney-style character animation, taught by Disney’s great collaborators of the 1930s, the Nine Old Men. Lasseter found himself in an atmosphere where he didn’t have to hide his love of animation anymore, and was surrounded by those who had the same passion. His classmates included Brad Bird (director of The Incredibles), John Musker (co-director of The Little Mermaid), and Tim Burton.

Lasseter's class at CalArts, dated March 1976

There was no denying Lasseter’s talent at CalArts. Two of his student films won back-to-back Student Academy Awards: Lady and the Lamp in 1979, and Nitemare in 1980. His success brought him his dream job: he became a junior animator at the Disney Studios. Animator Glen Keane remarked that it was “. . . so great to meet John. There was this immediate sharing of information of your passion and excitement for animation, and he knew a lot about the history and the past.” To outsiders, Lasseter was touted as a new rising star. But inside the studio, animation had grown dormant. Budget cuts were taking their toll on animated films, leaving Lasseter brokenhearted. “This was not what I always dreamed Disney was,” he remembered.

The turning point came when employees of the studio were shown a screening of the 1982 film Tron. Lasseter and Keane became excited about the potential they saw in the use of computers for animation. They were able to get approval to experiment with a combination of computer background and 2D animated characters, first working on a 30-second test clip based on Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Soon after, Lasseter got approval to work with his story team on a feature film based on the short story The Brave Little Toaster, which would mark his feature directorial debut. After eight months of development, Lasseter had a pitch meeting with the then-head of the studio, Ron Miller. Miller didn’t react favorably to the story, telling Lasseter that “[t]he only reason to do computer animation is if [they] could do it faster or cheaper.” A few mintues later, Lasseter was called down to a manager’s office with this simple but staggering message: “Well, John, your project is now complete, so your employment with the Disney Studios is now terminated.”

Don Hahn (producer for Beauty and the Beast) remarked, “He got fired, because, honestly, the studio didn’t know what to do with him. Even at that early day, this Disney Studio that he dreamed about working at, turned out to be a really dysfunctional place, in reality. And he was a born director, he was a born leader, and his expectation and passion excelled what the studio was doing then.” In 1983, while attending a computer conference in Long Beach, Lasseter ran into Ed Catmull, a speaker at the conference, and a comrade in the passion for 3D computer animation. Lasseter didn’t have the heart to tell Catmull he’d been fired from Disney, but did admit that Brave Little Toaster had been shelved. This was a great opportunity for them both, as Catmull, then working at Lucasfilm, needed to bring on someone who was a real animator. John was hired on the spot under the title of “interface designer,” so as not to alarm George Lucas, as they weren’t sure he would approve of hiring an animator for the technical team.

The Lucasfilm group.

Lasseter inspired the team to create software that would imitate the squash and stretch technique that had been taught in traditional animation courses. Inspired by the design of Mickey Mouse, as well as the limitations of what the computer could do, Lasseter created a character named Andre, made entirely of geometric shapes. The group at Lucasfilm’s first short film, The Adventures of Andre and Wally B, was premiered at the 1984 SIGGRAPH computer convention, and the crowd went wild over it. Lasseter made his way into the spotlight in 1989, when he and Bill Reeves won Oscars for Best Animated Short Subject for Tin Toy, the first ever awarded to a computer-animated film. “With each subsequent short film,” Steve Jobs explained, “John got more ambitious, and the team got more experience, and the software got better.”

To save Pixar, Lasseter pitched to Disney an idea for a half-hour Christmas special based on the award-winning short. Disney, on the other hand, was trying to lure Lasseter back to direct a feature film. But Lasseter was determined to stay with the struggling company. Eventually, Pixar and Disney reached a deal for a full-length animated feature: a story from a toy’s point of view, done in a 3D plastic world. The Pixar staff was elated, and Lasseter later recalled, “Ignorance is bliss. We did not know what we didn’t know.” After many trials and tribulations, including an entire scrapping of the “jumped-through-Disney’s-hoops” version of the film, Toy Story was released in theaters on Thanksgiving Weekend, 1995. Lasseter was awarded a special achievement Oscar for creating the first computer-animated feature film. The animation community was blown away, and audiences fell in love with the story.

Lasseter being presented with a special achievement Oscar.

Lasseter continued to push his animators with the next film, A Bug’s Life. Determined to beat the “second-product syndrome,” the animators pulled out all of the stops, and A Bug’s Life became the highest grossing animated film of 1998. After the international promotional tour of the film, Lasseter came home for a well-deserved break, while a secondary team began work on a direct-to-video sequel to Toy Story, which would be the first project not supervised by Lasseter. However, the film was not very good, although Disney had said it was good enough to release theatrically, and Lasster was asked to come in and help fix it. Nine months before its release, Lasseter scrapped the entire film over the course of a weekend and rewrote it. Jim Murphy, an animator at Pixar, had this to say about the rewrite: “John came back and pitched the story to the animation department. Just in that pitch, he totally fired everyone up and inspired everyone to really do the impossible.” In the end, Toy Story 2 was another success for Lasseter and Pixar, becoming one of those rare sequels considered as good as, or better, than the first film.

With Disney’s acquisition of Pixar in 2006, Disney finally got Lasseter back, only this time Lasseter was named the Chief Creative Officer of both studios, as well as the Principal Creative Advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering. He has acted in many roles since then, including executive producer for films including WALL-E and Tangled, director for Ponyo and Cars 2, and creative consultant on The Muppets. In 2007, Lasseter was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in honor of all of his achievements in the field of computer animation.

"So it’s become this way of working that the art challenges technology, technology inspires the art."

John Lasseter is one of my heroes, and a true example of why you should never let go of your dreams. There is so much to say on Lasseter’s influence, and it was hard to not start to write the entire history of Pixar, as the two go hand in hand. It’s interesting to see the development of a kid who tried to not be seen going to see a Disney film as a teenager, to one of the most influential people in the field of animation. The amount of dedication he and the other members of Pixar have put in their films, including their focus on story as much as their focus on the medium, is truly inspirational.