History of Animation

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Mel Brooks probably put it best when talking about trying to find comedy and humor in horrifying events and people, such as the infamous dictators who reigned during World War II: “Rhetoric does not get you anywhere, because Hitler and Mussolini are just as good as rhetoric. But if you can bring these people down with comedy, they stand no chance.”

This was definitely present in the Wartime Cartoons that animation studios such as Disney and Warner Bros. made; very heavy on pro-American/ USA and heavy on anti- Axis Powers, these cartoons heavily relied on bombastic parodies of the infamous dictators that occupied the areas of Europe and Asia, as well as stereotypes of the various ranks of Nazi soldiers. Though the Japanese had their fair share of being stereotyped and mocked by these cartoons, a lot of the Wartime Cartoons focused on the Nazis, mostly because of their heavy, widespread invasion and ever-growing fear. Characters such as Daffy Duck, Superman, Donald Duck, and Popeye all got opportunities to fight the Nazi menace in their own way, much to the enjoyment of people staying at the home-front in America who were worried about how their husbands or oldest sons were fighting overseas, and the constant threat of Axis or Nazi expansion throughout the world. Nowadays, these kinds of Anti-Nazi Wartime Cartoons are usually parodied or have become homages in more recent cartoons; one the best example of this would be the South Park episode where Cartman defeats infamous terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in a manner quite similar to the Daffy Duck cartoons described here.

Warner Bros. used Daffy Duck quite a few times for fighting Nazis; two of the best examples of these would be the cartoons “Daffy The Commando” and “Scrap Happy Daffy“. In the 1943 cartoon “Daffy The Commando“, Daffy Duck goes behind enemy lines to infiltrate a Nazi camp headed by Von Vulture, an obvious stereotype of German commander as he has the evil monocle, is incredibly short-tempered, and even has a bumbling soldier named Schultz (interestingly enough, if anyone has watched the show Hogan’s Heroes, Colonel Klink and Sgt. Schultz could be considered homages to these two). Most of the cartoon involves a series of comedic mishaps with Daffy foiling Von Vulture, but it’s the ending that makes this cartoon extremely memorable. Daffy Duck is fired out of a cannon and lands right in Berlin where Hitler is making a speech; as Hitler is just rambling on in a nonsensical mix of English and German (with a stereotypical German accent), Daffy whacks him with a cartoon mallet, causing Hitler to cry like a baby. What makes this scene so iconic and funny is the entire setup and the way that Hitler is portrayed; the background music is a goofy, organ-grinder mix of “The More We Get Together“, Mel Blanc as Hitler rambling incoherently and bombastically about random things (“MEIN POOMPKIN! MEIN MILK! MEIN HEIMLICH!” just to name a few), and the whole mallet scene, which makes Hitler act like a temper-tantrum throwing kid is all perfectly-timed hilarity (weirdly enough, as I recently watched this cartoon, I got heavily reminded of how one first sees Hitler in Inglorious Basterds).

Scrap-Happy Daffy“, another 1943 Pro-America/ Anti-Nazi cartoon with Daffy Duck against the Nazi menace, and was also interestingly the last cartoon to feature Daffy Duck in black and white. It features Daffy Duck guarding a gigantic scrap yard, as it’s part of his job as an American citizen (during WWII times, every piece of metal and steel wav very crucial; there were many posters that encouraged American citizens to do specific things to cut down on costs and such). Unfortunately, Hitler isn’t pleased about Mussolini’s downfall due to Daffy’s huge scrap pile, and so, sends his troops to launch one of their most powerful weapons to destroy the scrap pile- a billy goat. What makes “Scrap-Happy Daffy” notable is that it’s a textbook example of American Pride at it’s finest; Daffy Duck even sings a song in the beginning of the cartoon about how the citizens of America can be like him and help the Allied forces win the war by saving specific items (with also a very adult joke thrown in of him pointing to a drawing of a pin-up girl). There’s also a very clever visual gag of how Hitler gets introduced in this cartoon, namely cross-fading from a horse’s backside to Hitler sitting at his desk reading the paper.

The final cartoon that I watched, the 1943 cartoon “The Ducktators” directed by Norman McCabe, is another cartoon encouraging US citizens to buy US savings bonds and stamps, but it’s significant in the fact that it not only makes fun of Hitler, but also Mussolini and Hirohito as well. It begins on a farm with a husband and wife duck expecting their egg (which is curiously black instead of white) to hatch. The egg hatches revealing a duckling with Hitler’s mustache yelling “Seig Hiel!”, indicating, obviously, that he’s Hitler. As the Hitler-Duck grows older, he attracts a goose who bears a resemblance to Benito Mussolini and a duck who is a complete parody of Hirohito, with large stereotypical front teeth and round glasses. The only animal on the barn that tries to stand up to them is one single white dove, but when his peace treaties and requests fail, the dove takes matters into his own hands. This story almost has a Dr. Seuss-like feel to it, as a narrator tells the story in an almost storybook-like tone. Weirdly enough, the ending which features the dove telling his kids how his enemies were defeated (and are shown like animal heads above his fireplace) and the “Buy War Bonds” noticed has been censored since the 1950s (though the whole ending can be found on the sixth volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection).

I understand that Disney had their fair share of making fun of the Axis Powers, but Warner Bros. was much more bombastic in the way that they made fun of Hitler and the Nazis; whereas Disney portrayed them as bumbling fools, Warner Bros.’s type of satire seemed to almost be akin to how Mel Brooks portrayed them in The Producers‘ “Springtime for Hitler” segment. …I guess we just sort of came full circle, didn’t we?

Sources:

TvTropes- Wartime Cartoons

TvTropes- Those Wacky Nazis

I responded to Danyael Hughes and Andrew Steward

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An advertisement poster from the 1940's

The third film produced by Walt Disney and his studio, Fantasia was completely different in terms of style: it was simply animation set to famous classical music pieces with no dialogue provided except by the host of the film, Deems Taylor, who just introduces and sets up the music and the animation that’s set to the music.

Fantasia started off from Walt Disney trying to create a cartoon starring Mickey Mouse that would be his comeback to the mainstream audience, since around the time, Mickey was losing popularity with movie audiences. As the animators were producing the cartoon that would eventually become “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, Leopold Stokowski suggested that Disney expand “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from a cartoon short into a concert feature along with several other animated sequences in the same kind of style of animation set to music. As “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” neared completion, the rest of Fantasia was produced in 1939, and released in theaters about a year later. Sadly, when it first debuted, Fantasia was met with mixed reactions, and failed to generate a large commercial audience, leaving the Disney Animation Studios in a financial crisis.

However, as time went on and Fantasia was re-released in theaters between 1946 to 1977, it was met with positive acclaim from critics. Today, despite the initial commercial failure, Fantasia is now considered a classic and one of the most popular films of all time.

The film is divided into roughly 8 segments, including an intermission. The first segment that starts Fantasia off is Johan Sebastian Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”, which simply starts off featuring colorful, stylized, and superimposed outlines of the orchestra performers. The piece then goes onto feature very abstract forms, shapes, and lines which keep in time with the flow of the music. Its goal isn’t so much as to tell a story as it just visualizes what one can picture in their mind from the music.

The second piece features music from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite”, while depicting the changing of the summer, fall, and winter seasons made by fairies and sprites, also features dance numbers performed by flowers (and even mushrooms) that depict the ethnic types of dance (the Chinese/ mushroom dance, the Russian flowers dance, etc.). It’s simply amazing how the Disney animators can give the cultural flair and personality to the flowers as they do their dance routines, as well as give them defining characteristics, as well as that the animation comes full circle with the fairies welcoming summer, and then turning autumn into winter.

The third animation piece, and perhaps the most famous of the set, is Mickey Mouse in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. Originally the animators wanted to have Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in the leading role, but Disney saw this as Mickey Mouse’s comeback opportunity. The story follows Mickey as a bit of a lazy apprentice to a sorcerer named Yensid, stealing his master’s hat and commanding a broom to life so he can get his chore of fetching water done easier. However, as one can imagine, the situation gets out of hand, and soon Mickey finds himself with an army of sentient brooms concentrating on fetching water. Definitely a great comeback short for Mickey Mouse, the outfit that he wears in this cartoon is possibly one of his most iconic appearances as well.

The fourth animation, Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”, depicts a condensed version of how scientists believe the Earth was formed; from the Big Bang, to the first primordial creatures as they evolve into dinosaurs, until environmental conditions causes their extinction. On a personal note, this has always terrified me on a sort of a primal level; the music is very melancholic and nigh-Pagan-esque. The animation also contains scenes of pretty graphic violence, such as the climatic fight between a Stegosaurus and a Tyrannosaruus, and the depiction of dinosaurs dying from heat, exposure, and starvation. An interesting note is that Disney wanted to actually end the animation by showing a group of cavemen discovering fire and dancing happily, but executive meddling prevented that, and instead the animation ends on a down note, with a shot of a barren Earth as the sun sets.

After a much-needed lighthearted and humorous intermission, the next animation features Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6- “The Pastoral Symphony” depicted in a light-hearted, whimsical story featuring creatures of Greek myth such as centaurs/ centaurettes, fauns, unicorns, and winged horses gathering for a festival honoring Bacchus, the God of wine and festivities, only for Zeus to crash the party by causing a storm and throwing lightning bolts just for sport.  The strongest aspect of this piece has to be the art and animation, which is so colorful and fluid; even looking at it about 70 years from now, the animation doesn’t look dated or jerky. The ending scene of the gods changing from sunset to night-time is probably the most sublime and beautiful endings I’ve seen, and it brings tears to my eyes even to this day. However, “The Pastoral Symphony” is probably the animation segment that has had the most controversy over time, mostly for a small scene depicting a racially stereotyped African American centaurette named Sunflower acting as a handmaiden, while also being part human-part donkey. The scenes depicting Sunflower have been edited with the camera panning and zooming to cut her out from the scene, though you can find the clip easily on YouTube.

The sixth animation, “Dance of the Hourse” focuses on a more humorous note in characters and story-line. The “dancers of the morning” are depicted as ostriches, hippos are the “dancers of the daytime”, elephants as “dancers of the evening”, and the “dancers of the night” are played by alligators; each group of dancers starts off with their own comical scenes and dances, which leads up to the lead alligator falls in love with the lead hippo. From there on, it goes completely into chaos, as all dancers ensue in a chaotic battle as to who will lead the dance, eventually deciding to all dance together.

Finally, the seventh and eighth animation pieces are probably the second-most famous pieces in Fantasia. To start off with probably the scariest and darkest piece out of the movie is Mussorkgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”. The animation takes place on Walpurgis Night (or “Devil’s Night”), with the demon lord Chernabog awaking and summoning ghosts, skeletons, demons, harpies, and other hellish creatures from a town. As he controls the actions and movements of the damned summoned creatures, as well as destroying them by just crushing them with his hands, he summons fire and lava to throw some in to, as well. It goes on to show the demons fly and dance around as Chernabog turns women spirits into filthy demonic animals before dropping them in the lava with a nightmarish grin on his face. However, the frightful merriment is interrupted by the Angelus bell, which causes Chernabog and the damned to retreat; which follows into the final piece, Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria”. As the piece begins, the camera retreats from Bald Mountain, to a procession of robed monks carrying lighted torches, following them through a forest, then through a gothic cathedral, finally out through a thicket of trees to reveal the sunrise as the film ends. This is probably one of the most sublime moments that Disney has ever created; from the transition from the nightmarish world of Bald Mountain, to the gentle, calming procession of “Ave Maria”. Both pieces usage of the color blue are quite striking in these, most specifically in “Ave Maria”, as it shows the gentle dawn approaching.

Honestly, one can’t really give their own personal opinion on this, as Fantasia was meant to have so many interpretations to each individual. However, I can personally say that I’m saddened that not many animators try and do animation projects such as these anymore; it’s quite amazing how the music and animation influence the whole setting and atmosphere of the movie, which is what Disney did strongly in Fantasia. It’s quite ironic how Fantasia is now revered as one of the greatest animated masterpieces today, despite being a failure when it came out. If you haven’t seen Fantasia, watch it. You won’t be disappointed.

I replied to Sarah Askiri and Erica Rose.

Sources:

Fantasia’s Wikipedia page

Fantasai on TVTropes.org

I’ll start this out on a personal note: as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that legendary cartoon artist and animator Chuck Jones has become a huge inspiration for me. For some reason, everything about his style is instantly appealing; the way his characters are gestured and move, the facial expressions, and most importantly, the comedic timing. He worked on some of the most famous Looney Tunes shorts, such as What’s Opera, Doc?, One Froggy Evening, the Hunting Trilogy (which I will discuss for another time), and, the cartoon that I will be talking about today, Duck Amuck, which is probably one of the most iconic cartoons ever in animation.

Duck Amuck was directed by Chuck Jones, and was released in early 1953 as part of the Merrie Melodies series. Since its debut, it’s been voted #2 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members in the field of animation, deemed “culturally significant” by the US Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1999, and even had a Nintendo DS game based on it.

Daffy Duck, trying in vain to stop the typical cartoon ending fade-out.

The premise is simple: it seemingly begins with Daffy Duck starring in an Errol Flynn-esque Three Muskateers cartoon, only to find out that the background just fades out into a blank white background. From there on out, it’s a comedic, desperate struggle for Daffy Duck, as he’s constantly tormented by the main antagonist of the short, an unseen animator. The unseen animator constantly changes the location, art style, objects, perspective, and even Daffy himself by making him mute, then giving him inappropriate sound effects as a voice; and messing up his color scheme only to draw him as some sort of mutant alien creature (which has been parodied in other cartoons, such as The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, and Bart’s nightmare in The Simpsons’ Halloween special: Treehouse of Horror II).

The iconic creature that the unseen animator turns Daffy into. Naturally, he doesn't take this too well.

Why does Duck Amuck have this timeless feel to it? Why do none of the jokes never get old? It mostly has to do with Chuck Jones taking the concept of “breaking the 4th wall” and just having so much surreal experimentation and fun with it. The way that Daffy Duck responds to everything that the unseen animator does produces hilarious reactions and results. Chuck Jones even said that he was just having good-natured fun, showing the audience what boundaries he could push and transform Daffy into, yet at the same time, Daffy still retains his pompous, hot-headed personality regardless how much his appearance, voice or interactive environment changes. The ending with the cartoon, where it reveals that the unseen animator is actually Daffy’s buddy/ friendly rival, Bugs Bunny (who says one of his famous catchphrases, “Ain’t I a stinker?”) just adds to all of the weird hilarity that happens.

Two years later, Jones made a cartoon entitled Rabbit Rampage, which was a spiritual successor to Duck Amuck, as it featured Bugs Bunny this time as the victim of the unseen animator’s expense (who in the end turns out to be Elmer Fudd in one of the few cartoons where he actually outsmarts/ outwits Bugs Bunny). While still an interesting cartoon in its own right, it still doesn’t hold a candle to the original, and the best.

Bugs Bunny seems to have met his match, as the unseen animator relentlessly draws a barrage of hats and wigs.

Sources:

Wikipedia Article

This week, I commented on Brittany Alberry and Amanda Martin

On the website thatguywiththeglasses.com (mostly famous for Internet Personality The Nostalgia Critic), I found a very interesting two-part video analysis on not just how cartoons evolved into what they are today, but the whole concept of animation in general as written/ narrated by MarzGurl, a member of Inked Reality, an affiliate of thatguywiththeglasses.com. In the first part of her review, MarzGurl briefly summarizes the Silent Film era up to the 1960’s, where animation began to clearly show a much cheaper budget, while attempting to give the viewer concrete backup of her statement that while “cartoon” and “animation” are not the same thing (she explains that a cartoon usually involves elements of comedy, whereas animation is more or less just another medium of entertainment like a movie, TV program, or book), the current stereotype for animation in general is that it’s primarily “cartoons for kids”.

I do have to say one of the strongest points about this part of the review is that, despite not really going into too much detail about every single aspect, studio, and cartoon icon of the time, somebody without any knowledge or study of the complete animation history can get a nicely abridged version of it in this review. There was something morbidly funny, yet weird as MarzGurl pointed out that the cartoon shorts that were shown at films during the “Silent Film/ Sound” eras were mostly targeted toward adults rather than kids. For example, a clip of a Felix the Cat cartoon where the titular cat discovers that he accidentally is the father of a litter of kittens which subsequently leads to him committing suicide by gas was personally one of the more eerily disturbing clips shown in the video. I understand that this has not been the first time that a cartoon character has used suicide, but the seemingly utter sincerity of the cartoon, as well as Felix’s desperate preparation of the gas pump to escape his now-wife and kids combined with the bouncy vaudeville music makes for an uncomfortable laugh.

Another aspect that I liked during the first part was her point that the Wartime Cartoons (though this could now probably apply to almost any cartoon made in the 1940’s- 1960’s) are pretty much banned from public viewing due to, in MarzGurl’s opinion, people are more offended at cartoons that parodied Hitler or the Nazis in general, especially in today’s PC society (although, to be fair, a lot of the Wartime Cartoons produced by Warner Bros. and Disney are now in DVD collections). On a more personal note, I feel that it’s this extreme view of political correctness is one of the main causes why animation is mostly viewed as a form of entertainment for children is because any sort of satire making fun of a catastrophic event would involve stereotypes which young children possibly wouldn’t understand; not to mention rampant cries of soccer moms complaining that the animation would be making their kids racist or “culturally insensitive” for a lighter term.

One weak point, however, is that she only mentions Walt Disney making his movies as well as his Silly Symphonies/ Steamboat Willie, but doesn’t really dwell too much on it, and just assumes that we know the rest since Disney movies are the quintessential form of animated movies that every person watches as a child. I personally would’ve like to hear her talk about Disney just a little more, as well as mention their period in which their movies weren’t becoming the blockbusters like they were during the 1930’s, as well as the company resorting to recycling their animation in certain movies.

During Part 2 of her “History of Animation”, MarzGurl picks up where she left off in the first part, namely the period during the 1960’s where the cost of animation productions increased, so companies such as Hanna Barbera had cartoons with fewer animation frames, jerky animation, and sub-part art (as well as one too many cartoons involving a similar plot-line to one their most popular cartoons, Scooby Doo, but I digress).

The strongest aspect in this part of her “History of Animation” video is her view on cartoons from the 1980’s, who, while are still remembered fondly through pure nostalgia, mainly served as marketing vehicles so children could buy all of the toy product tie-ins, making animation (in these examples anyway), purely a commercial business. Another point that she remarks on is the fact that since animation at this stage is now aimed primarily for kids rather than adults, any sort of  violence was now kiddified or removed altogether; the best example of this is G. I. Joe, which has guns firing laser beams and people parachuting to safety, along with a Public Service Announcement at the end of each episode.

However, Part 2 is probably where MarzGurl derails from her analysis of animation in general, and starts to go into a full blown rant not unlike basically saying in a nutshell “I miss ‘The Good Ol’ Days’, animation today is garbage!” Although she briefly acknowledges that Don Bluth movies such as An American Tale and The Secret of NIMH, as well as Pixar movies and certain animated programs produced by Steven Spielberg such as Animainiacs and Freakazoid! attempted to be just as much for adults as kids, she dismisses anything else as, in her words, “pure retardation”. More specifically, she targets shows such as Ren and Stimpy and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, cartoon shows that purposefully have a morbid, “out there” sense of humor, and just insults them without giving any sort of indication as to why they are “crap”, other than the fact that she just plain doesn’t like cartoons that have Gross Out Humor.

Another aspect that makes this part of the review extremely weak and personally leaves her whole Animation analysis on a very sour note is that while she also judges a single show based on a gag song (as she does with The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack) without seemingly bothering to look at the content, her view of the “Japanese Animation Surge” that appeared on Toonami and Adult Swim basically comes across as another anime fan saying Japanese Animation is the only good animation out there. What really drives the proverbial nail in the coffin though, is that MarzGurl then proceeds to waste two minutes of the review basically directly insulting Adult Swim/ Williams Street and mocking the long-running Adult Swim show Aqua Teen Hunger Force rather than using the time to explain her reasons why; only just give the explanation “just because”.

Although MarzGurl has some very good points on animation and its history in the first part of the video, the second part is what nearly kills any sort of credibility; basically devolving into a rant complaining about shows she doesn’t like, rather than try and get facts about them, and how this has impacted animation. Not to mention that she doesn’t remark about the fact that more and more animators are using computers/ digital animation (either in 2D or 3D)/ CGI to create most cartoons/ animation nowadays. In conclusion, it’s probably best just to see the first part if one wants to see an unbiased look at the history of animation, but if you must see the second part, I honestly wouldn’t expect much information out of it.

History of Animation Part One

History of Animation Part Two



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