RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: February 2012

February 22

February 22, 2009 – Pixar’s Wall-E Wins the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature

Andrew Stanton (R) with the Wall-E Academy Award. Image Credit: Wikipedia

“[We’ve] been trying for four years to make the best film possible and have it recognized in that regard in something like this – it’s huge.” – Andrew Stanton at the Academy Awards

At the 81st Academy Awards, broadcast February 22, 2009, the Pixar film Wall-E won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. The film was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay (written by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, and Pete Docter), Best Original Score (by Thomas Newman), Best Original Song (Down to Earth by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman), Best Sound Editing (by Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood), and Best Sound Mixing (by Tom Meyer, Michael Semanick, and Ben Burtt). This award would be the fourth win for Pixar in this category since the creation of the Best Animated Feature category in 2001. Many critics voiced their surprise that Wall-E was not nominated for Best Picture, as it was one of the highest rated films of 2008, with a 96 percent approval rating on the online rating site, Rotten Tomatoes. Only three animated films were nominated in the Best Animated Feature category that year: Wall-E, Disney’s Bolt, and Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda.

Image from one of the first advertisements for Wall-E

In an advertisement for the film, shortly after the release of Ratatouille, Andrew Stanton described a lunch with three of the other main players at Pixar: John Lasseter, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft. “In the summer of 1994,” he begins, “there was a lunch…Toy Story was almost complete, and we thought, ‘Well, jeez, if we’re going to make another movie, we gotta get started now.’ So at that lunch, we knocked around a bunch of ideas that eventually became A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo…the last one we talked about that day was the story of a robot, named Wall-E.”

Released on June 27, 2008, the film posed the question: What if mankind had to leave Earth 700 years in the future, and somebody forgot to turn off the last robot? The film includes the voices of Ben Burtt as Wall-E and Elissa Knight as EVE, with Jeff Garlin as the Captain, John Ratzenberger as John, and Kathy Najimy as Mary. The film went on to become the ninth highest grossing film of 2008, with a total domestic gross of $223,808,164.

February 21

February 21, 1947 – The Pluto Short Pluto’s Housewarming is Released to Theaters

On February 21, 1947, audiences were shown a new Pluto short, Pluto’s Housewarming. Charles Nichols directed the film, from a story by Eric Gurney and Bill de la Torre, and with music by Oliver Wallace. This is one of the few shorts where Pluto does battle with his nemesis Butch the Bulldog, who was introduced in the 1940 short Bone Trouble. As with many of the Pluto stories that dealt with Pluto and another critter, the short relies on charm to carry it through, with much success and usually a new friend for Pluto.

Pluto’s doghouse on the beach has been completed, and shines in the summer sun. Excited about the prospect of moving, Pluto takes all of the bones he’s collected from his dilapidated old shanty, and gives his old house a haughty snort after he and his possessions are out the door. He moves into his new house, giving his bones a quick clean before pushing them inside, and begins to organize them by type into little cubbies built beneath his bed. Realizing that he’s forgotten something, he dashes back to the old place to grab his “Home Sweet Home” sign, kicking dust at the old shack before trotting to his new home.

Pluto's enticing new doghouse attracts wildlife, including this tiny turtle

As Pluto heads back, however, he notices that his bones have been tossed out, and is astonished to see a tiny turtle having taken up residence in his new home. The turtle gives Pluto a wave, and continues to set up house. When the turtle tries to push out Pluto’s bowl, Pluto takes a stand against this. Pluto ends up winning this non-aggressive fight by pushing the tiny turtle out onto the beach, only to have the turtle turn around and walk right back in. Pluto ends up carrying the turtle with his teeth in order to dispose of him, throwing him under a crate and leaving him trapped there.

A bit later, Pluto is seen gnawing on a rib bone, when the turtle knocks on the window. As Pluto angrily goes out to dispose of the unwanted squatter, the turtle sneaks in and decides to curl up on the bed, only to find Pluto carrying him away once again. When Pluto comes back, he finds another unwelcome visitor: Butch, the bulldog, who has been chewing on Pluto’s bones in the few moments Pluto was disposing of the other pest. Although Pluto is ready to deal with Butch, Butch seems unconcerned that Pluto is angered by his presence. When Pluto bites Butch, however, Butch goes on the attack.

Butch is surprised to see such a creature challenging him for squatter's rights

 

Pluto manages to hide in his old shack while Butch gets stuck in the doorway. Convinced that Pluto will stay there, Butch returns to the new house and spies the turtle in the doorway, with crossed arms and a glare on his face. The turtle shows Bruce he’s ready to fight, and ends up biting the bulldog on the nose. When Butch tries to retaliate, the only thing Butch can get his teeth around is the turtle’s shell. Butch tires himself out trying to bite the turtle, and the turtle slips out of his shell when Butch isn’t noticing, giving him a nice bite on the foot. The turtle retrieves his shell and uses it to trip up the bulldog.

Meanwhile, Pluto watches nervously from the old shack, and is amazed to see that the tiny turtle has bested Butch. The turtle gives Butch one last present – a bite on the tail – that sends Butch flying down the beach whimpering. The turtle lands in front of Pluto, limp, which causes Pluto to think the poor creature has died in the line of duty. As he begins to cry, one teardrop falls from Pluto’s snout and revives the turtle. The two hug and decide that they both can live in the new doghouse amicably.

February 20

February 20, 1937 – The Mickey Mouse short Moose Hunters is Released to Theaters

“Hi, Mr. Moose. Have a bite?”

 On February 20, 1937, the Mickey Mouse short Moose Hunters was released to theaters. This was one of the few shorts that used Donald and Goofy along with Mickey, as the writers were finding it difficult to give Mickey solo material. The short was directed by Ben Sharpsteen, with music by Paul J. Smith, and starred Walt Disney as Mickey Mouse, Pinto Colvig as Goofy, and Clarence Nash as Donald Duck.

The "female moose" making her mating call

The short opens with a female moose swimming across a river. When she emerges, however, we see that she has two familiar, yet mismatched, pairs of feet, and sounds her call by using a horn. Following behind this strange moose is a swimming bush, which also sounds out a call by using a horn. As the moose continues to walk and call, it hears something respond, and the front half of the moose stops, causing the back half to run into the front. Goofy emerges from his disguise, excitedly informing the others that there is a moose nearby, and Donald emerges as well, repeating the sentiment. Mickey, now revealed to be the walking bush, answers joyfully, holding a shotgun. “Now do your stuff,” he tells them. “I’ll take care of the rest,” he adds with a wink, patting the shotgun.

Goofy and Donald continue walking in the female moose costume, trying to lure out the real moose. Mickey, meanwhile, travels a bit behind, carefully using his horn to call out the moose, trying to keep hidden within the leaves of his disguise. He stands on top of a bush and uses the horn again; unfortunately, the moose appears beneath him, startling the mouse and causing him to drop his shotgun, which lets out a shot, scaring the moose. Mickey is starting to sweat, as his gun is now in pieces, and he is even more alarmed when the moose spots his disguise, thinking it would be a tasty snack. Mickey tries to keep himself covered and backs away slowly, only to be pursued by the hungry moose, who nearly eats Mickey’s trademark shorts.

Goofy and Donald spy the moose they've been tracking

Goofy and Donald are still trying to track down the moose they’d heard earlier, and when they spy him, they decide to make their disguise prettier, adding lipstick and powder, with Goofy spraying copious amounts of perfume (named Deer Kiss: Parfum Paris) to entice the moose. The perfume wafts its way toward the unsuspecting creature, who willingly follows the teasing scent. The moose takes one look at the “female” and is instantly smitten, especially when Goofy and Donald perform a teasing walk for him.

When Goofy gives the moose a “yoo-hoo,” the moose responds in kind, but with a force so strong that it blows the costume away. Goofy quickly comes up with a plan, grabbing leaves and performing a ballet/fan dance until they can retrieve their disguise, which only causes the moose to become even more smitten with their character. Once clothed again, the two continue their seductive walk, succeeding in getting the moose to follow them; unfortunately, the Donald half of the moose ends up falling off a cliff, and lands on a bee when he jumps back on the land. The bee, very unhappy with Donald’s appearance, flies inside the costume, sending the pair into a dance to the tune of La Cucaracha. The moose, angling for a kiss, ends up kissing Goofy on the face, as Donald tries to hit the bee, only to cause the moose mask to fly off Goofy’s head, but luckily land back just in time so their cover isn’t blown. Again, Goofy and Donald have the moose follow them, bringing him back to Mickey so Mickey can “do the rest.”

The moose has been eating Mickey's disguise, leaving him rather nervous about the inevitability of being caught

Unfortunately for the mouse, the moose that thought his disguise was a tasty snack has been eating the disguise, leaving almost nothing for Mickey to hide behind. When the moose takes the last mouthful and sees Mickey holding onto a branch for dear life, he glares at Mickey and gets ready to charge, until he hears a “yoo-hoo” nearby. Turning around, he sees the disguise of Goofy and Donald, becomes instantly smitten, and begins trotting over to “her.” Donald doesn’t see the moose, and keeps trying to pull them away, although Goofy is stuck as the moose cozies up to the front half. Donald emerges, only to see that the moose they’d gotten the attention of, and the moose that just got there, have spotted each other, and are ready to duel for the lady’s hand.

Donald and Goofy try to sneak away and hide up a tree as the two males growl and size each other up before pacing and getting ready to duel with their antlers. The force of their fighting is strong enough to tear the trees from the ground, which causes Goofy and Donald to fall from their perch and land between the two, their disguise blown. “April fool!” Goofy offers weakly, with Donald chiming in with the same sentiment; this does not appease the two males, who decide to take out their aggression on Goofy and Donald. The trio speeds away crazily while being pursued by the two males.

February 19

February 19, 1943 – The Mickey Mouse Short Film Pluto and the Armadillo is Released to Theaters

“Down where the mighty Amazon winds its way through the heart of Brazil, we find many strange and exotic species of flora and fauna.”

On February 19, 1943, audiences were presented with a new Mickey Mouse short entitled Pluto and the Armadillo. Directed by Clyde Geronimi, the short starred Walt Disney as Mickey Mouse, Pinto Colvig as Pluto, and Fred Shields as the Narrator. Interestingly enough, although listed as a Mickey Mouse short, its main actor is Pluto, and Mickey appears only in two small sections.

Our narrator opens the story by explaining that there are “many strange and exotic species of flora and fauna” near Brazil, and then introduces a hanging armadillo, affectionately nicknamed Tatou. Tatou, the narrator informs the audience, “is a very timid creature, and at the slightest noise, even at the drop of a pin, he snaps into a solid ball, becoming, so to speak, a hard nut to crack.”

Turista Americana and his canine play a game

The narrator then moves to the next unusual creature: the turista Americana, or the American Tourist. Mickey and Pluto hop off the Pam Am plane for a fifteen-minute stopover, and Pluto begins to play with a ball that has a strikingly similar design to Tatou’s shell. Mickey throws the ball into some nearby woods, and hits Tatou, who curls up inside his shell. Pluto, thinking Tatou is the ball, goes to retrieve it, but Tatou begins to jump away from Pluto’s mouth. When Pluto gingerly puts out a paw to touch it, Tatou buries himself under ground, then digs a trail away from Pluto, before coming up again and bouncing away from the curious dog and pushing the real ball out from some ferns.

Pluto is confused at the fact that there are now two balls in front of him, and he doesn’t know which one is the one that has been tricking him. Tatou, with a smile on his face, opens his shell slightly to see if Pluto’s still there, and when he gives Pluto a playful wink, Pluto tries to hide while Tatou shuts himself inside again. Although Tatou is being friendly, Pluto’s anger only grows. He tries to capture both of the balls, but the real one is squeezed out of his grasp. Pluto grabs it with his back legs, and both the ball and Tatou begin bouncing as Pluto tries to hold on.

Pluto trying to have a grasp on the situation

Tatou begins to walk away once he slips from Pluto’s grasp, but Pluto rushes around to stop him, determined to find out what exactly this strange creature is. After the two sniff each other out, Pluto determines that he likes Tatou, and the two begin to play a game of underground tag with each other. Tatou hides within a hole, and Pluto, a bit peeved that he ran into some plants and ended up looking like Carmen Miranda, grabs the nearby ball, thinking it’s Tatou, and plays with it rather roughly, causing it to pop. Thinking he’s killed the poor thing, Pluto begins to panic and cry. Tatou, observing from his hiding spot, sees Pluto and starts feeling guilty for making the dog cry. He appears in front of the weeping dog, gives him a lick across the nose, and Pluto instantly cheers at seeing his friend is alive.

The bell is ringing for everyone to get back on the plane, and Mickey is frantically looking for Pluto, who appears to have vanished. He finally spies Pluto and what he thinks is the ball, gathers them up, and drags them onto the plane in the nick of time. As Mickey holds the “ball,” Tatou sticks his head out, startling Mickey, who is very, very confused by the situation as the plane flies away.

February 18

February 18, 1967 – Birth of Disney Legend, Animator, and Current Voice of Donald Duck, Tony Anselmo

“The legacy is in my heart and soul that, I feel that it’s an honor to be the guy who gets to be the keeper of the keys or the carrier, or what have you, of this legacy. I love that so much, that’s so important to me. That’s the best part [about being Donald] for me. It’s fun. It can actually be a lot of work, you know, and you have to do long sessions, especially if there’s a lot of tantrums.”

Born February 18, 1967, in Salt Lake City, Utah, Tony Anselmo loved animation from an early age. “I would write the animators, you know, Frank Thomas, and Ollie Johnston, and Jack [Hannah] about what it took to be a Disney animator,” Anselmo explained, “and they would write back, very generously with advice.” While in high school, he took night classes in figure drawing and acting, and submitted his portfolio to the studio. After Ollie Johnston and Jack Hannah saw it, they sent him to the California Institute of the Arts, where he spent three years studying animation under Hannah’s direction. “At that time, I remember telling people I wanted to be an animator, and they didn’t know what that was,” Anselmo recalled. “Since The Little Mermaid, I think there’s been a popularity of what animation is, and everybody wants to be a part of it, but before that it was a very, sort of a cultish thing, where there were very few of us who knew what Disney animation was, and who those people were, the Nine Old Men and California Institute of the Arts.”

After graduating from CalArts, Anselmo was placed into a training program with famed animator Eric Larson for eight months, studying Disney style animation and being given animation tests. After that, Anselmo became and inbetweener at the studio. Anselmo credits Jack Hannah for his entering the studio; coincidentally, Hannah became the director of the Donald Duck unit under Walt Disney, so the old director of Donald hired the new voice of the duck.

Anselmo being interviewed by Leonard Maltin in 2005

When asked how he became the voice of Donald, Anselmo responded that “It wasn’t anything I actually intended to do, but…it really was a small family, everybody knew everybody. And the first day I was on the lot, I was walking up Dopey Drive, and a man came down the steps of the animation building, five-foot-two and white hair [Clarence Nash, longtime voice of Donald Duck], and he passed me and he goes, ‘Good morning’ [in Donald’s voice], and I, in a split second, I had never met him before, and I had never seen who did Donald’s voice, so to hear that distinctive voice coming out of a man who I hadn’t met before was shocking, but at the same moment it was like, that’s Donald Duck! It would have been like being at MGM and seeing Clark Gable.

“Clarence was a good friend. And, doing voices and being the class clown, Donald was a voice that I couldn’t do. And I asked [Nash], for fun, ‘How do you do that?’ And he showed me, and I couldn’t do it. But I would practice from time to time – any voice person will tell you that the best place to practice is in the car, or in the shower – and one day it kind of clicked in, and I thought, ‘Okay, I think that I did it.’ The next time I saw Clarence I said, ‘Is this it?’ and goes, ‘That’s it!’ But it was just the sound, and there’s much more to it. You know, how to enunciate as much as possible. There’s certain words you use, certain words you try not to use, or you use something that means the same thing.

“It wasn’t until…he was supposed to the Rose Parade. In his fiftieth year, I think Ducky got the attention and the acclaim that he had, I think, always deserved. To celebrate Donald’s fiftieth birthday, he put his hand and footprints at the Chinese Theater, he was on the Tonight Show, the Academy Awards, and he was supposed to do the Rose Parade, and I didn’t know that he was sick; he had gotten leukemia. And I went to the Rose Parade and he wasn’t in the car, and Margie Nash called and said he was in the hospital. So I went to the hospital to visit…and he said, ‘You’re gonna do this.’ It all came at the same time and I thought, ‘You’re dying, and you want me to do that? No, I don’t want you to die, and no, I want you to do this.’

“The odd thing about it was, for a period of about six months before that, I thought it was just because we were friends and he thought it was fun, he would come in my room in the animation building when I was drawing, and he would say, ‘Try this,’ or ‘What would you do if Donald had to be in this situation, what would you say?’ or ‘Say this,’ and I would go, ‘Okay,’ and I thought it was fun. I really didn’t think he was spending the time, you know…I felt like he had taken me under his wing, to use a corny phrase, but I didn’t know why he was spending so much time with me. And it wasn’t until he was ill in the hospital and he told me, that it was like, ‘Oh.’ So, I’m very protective of it. It’s a legacy of not only Clarence and Jack, who were dear friends of mine, who I respected, and miss, but Walt Disney, and a legacy that I wanted to be a part of. It’s something that I watch over and I’m very protective of it, because I want to keep the integrity of not only the sound of it, but the integrity of the personality of Donald, what he does, what he doesn’t do. It’s not just the way Donald sounds, it’s how he reacts to any given situation. He would react differently to the same situation as Mickey or Goofy would act differently.”

In 1990, Anselmo put both of his skills to good use by animating and voicing Donald in Disney’s version of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. He continues voicing Donald in various Disney projects, most recently the Kinect Disneyland Adventures game, and has said, “Pending natural disaster, I expect to be doing Donald the rest of my life.” He was named a Disney Legend in 2009 at the D23 Expo in Anaheim.

February 17

February 17, 1934 – Mickey Mouse Short Film Camping Out is Released to Theaters

“Hey, Pop! I was having fun, and a big guy hit me!”

On February 17, 1934, the Disney Studios released the Mickey Mouse Short Camping Out, starring Mickey, Minnie, Horace Horsecollar, and Clarabelle Cow. Before the studio created and realized the individual star power of Mickey, Donald Duck, and Goofy, Mickey and Minnie were usually paired with Horace and Clarabelle, who were the major bit players in the short films of the ’30s. The short was directed by David Hand, with music by Bert Lewis.

Mickey and the gang relaxing at their summer camp out

The scene opens on a lazy summer day, with the gang playing a joyful tune. Mickey is playing the harmonica, accompanied by Minnie on banjo and Horace on the mouth harp, and Clarabelle is in the background icing a couple of cakes. As they dance and play merrily, a lone mosquito flies into the picture, wanting to join in on the fun and landing on Mickey’s nose. Mickey tries to blow him away, only to end up getting stung on the nose. Angered, Mickey takes a frying pan, planning to squash the mosquito when he gets the chance. It lands on Clarabelle’s cake, and Mickey ends up flattening the cake and sending icing flying all over Clarabelle, while the mosquito flies away unscathed. Upset by Mickey’s ruining her hard work, Clarabelle takes the other cake and shoves it in Mickey’s face.

As Horace laughs at Mickey and Clarabelle, the mosquito sees an opportunity to give Horace a good sting. It winds up and flies like a fighter plane, sending Horace flying into the air from the impact. Horace swings wildly at it, and thinks he finally hit it, until he hears buzzing from inside his hat. When he removes it, he discovers a giant bump on his head from where the mosquito stung him. Completely angry at this point, Horace swats the mosquito, sending it flying to the ground with a bent nose. Shaking his fist in revenge and sobbing, he calls over his father and says that he was just having fun when a big guy hit him. Heroic music plays as the entire swarm of mosquitoes flies to seek vengeance for the poor little mosquito.

Seeing the swarm coming, the gang mans their battle stations

Minnie spies the swarm, cries out in alarm, and the gang sets up their battle stations. Horace decides to spray them with molasses, which effectively stops them and sticks them to a nearby tree. The second batch of molasses-drenched mosquitoes, however, is sent flying back to Horace, hitting him square in the face. Clarabelle takes the old fashioned method with a flyswatter, only to have the mosquitoes grab the netting and tear it apart. Minnie and Mickey team up, with Minnie opening cans of peas, and Mickey filling a bicycle pump with them, then using the pump as a sort of machine-gun with pea pellets. The mosquitoes catch the peas on their noses, causing them to fall to the ground with the weight. The swarm finds a hammer and uses it to remove the peas from their noses, then take to the air again. Horace uses corn to make his own shooter in order to break up the swarm. Believing him to be successful at driving the swarm away, everyone cheers, but the victory is short-lived as the bugs dive bomb the quartet. Horace, however, grabs an umbrella and pulls the gang to safety, with the swarm hitting the umbrella and sticking. Poor Horace is still holding on to the umbrella, and as the swarm flies away, he joins them. Mickey grabs on to try and pull him down, but is also taken away. The umbrella breaks from the weight, and Horace and Mickey crash to the ground.

The mosquitoes free themselves, pull together to form a giant mosquito, and angrily chase after the gang as they run to take refuge in their tent, with the only casualty being Horace’s hat. The swarm continues its attack, with the gang using all of their supplies as best they can to stop the menace. Mickey’s solution is to trap the mosquitoes in the only thing he can find: Clarabelle’s bloomers. As the mosquitoes buzz away, surrendering, the gang cheers at their victory.

February 16

February 16, 1904 – Birth of Song of the South Actor, James Baskett

James Baskett (C), preparing for a scene in Song of the South

“[Baskett was] the best actor, I believe, to be discovered in years.” – Walt Disney

On February 16, 1904, James Baskett was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1939, he moved to Los Angeles and had a supporting role in the film Straight to Heaven, followed by more supporting roles in Revenge of the Zombies in 1943 and The Heavenly Body in 1944. In 1944, he was asked to join the Amos ‘n’ Andy radio show, playing the lawyer Gaby Gibson.

In 1945, after spying an advertisement for open auditions, Baskett auditioned for a bit part in Disney’s upcoming film Song of the South, originally called Uncle Remus and based on the Joel Chandler Harris Uncle Remus stories, originally published in 1881. Baskett had little experience in film, but impressed Walt so much that he was offered the lead role of Uncle Remus. Baskett was also the voice of Brer Fox in the animated sequences, and the voice of Brer Rabbit when Johnny Lee was unable to do the voice for a sequence due to another commitment. Film critic Leonard Maltin remarked that Baskett was “ideal as Uncle Remus, eliciting just the right kind of warmth and humor, and later poignancy, from the character.”

After the film’s release, Walt continued to stay in contact with Baskett. This friendship led to Walt lobbying the Academy to give Baskett an Oscar for his portrayal, for Walt said Baskett worked “almost wholly without direction” and had devised the characterization of Remus himself. On March 20, 1948, Baskett was awarded an honorary Academy Award “for his able and heartwarming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and storyteller to the children of the world, in Walt Disney’s Song of the South.” This made Baskett the first actor in a Disney film to win an Academy Award, as well as the first African-American man to win an Oscar. On July 9, 1948, only a few short months after this victory, Baskett died of heart disease at the age of 44. His wife, Margaret, wrote Walt Disney a thankful letter, telling Walt that he had been a “friend in deed and [we] certainly have been in need.”

Although Song of the South was the only film Baskett appeared in, due to his untimely death in 1948, the role, and film, are an important part of Disney history that should not be forgotten or brushed aside. Baskett, in my opinion, should be honored by Disney as a Disney Legend – without the warmth Baskett presented as Uncle Remus, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah would not have been as memorable as it is now. The film is a victim of selective judgment by the critics: Gone With the Wind is lauded, although it truly does deal with slavery, whereas this film is set in the period of Reconstruction. Baskett’s portrayal of Uncle Remus shows a man who continues to keep a cheerful disposition, no matter what hand life has dealt him, and is truly respected by every other person in the film, from Bobby Driscoll’s Johnny, to Lucile Watson’s Grandmother. The range of emotion Baskett shows, including the dramatic scene after Jonny is attacked by a bull, only adds proof to what Walt told his sister Ruth, that Baskett was one of the greatest actors to be discovered in a long time. Baskett certainly could have achieved a lot had he lived longer, and it is a crime to let his legacy die, along with the technical and artistic merit of Song of the South by hiding this film away from the public. Baskett should be honored as a Disney Legend for his portrayal, plain and simple. He played Uncle Remus the way he should have been played: with warmth, wisdom, and a wonderful human being.