A moment of silence for one of the greats … Alex “Rocky & Bullwinkle” Anderson

It is difficult to imagine now but there was a time when there was practically no intelligent, funny animation on TV. When I was a kid all that me and the mastodons could watch on TV was Hannah-Barbara mass-produced dreck, leavened with re-runs of the great Warner Bros. cartoons. Wonder why Scooby Doo has such a devoted following? It’s because it was one of the better kids shows on at the time – and it really is just a shade away from pure crap.

BullwinkleRocky & Bullwinkle were the exception. They were to TV what Mad Magazine was to publishing – subversive, under-the-radar, smart and funny commentary on the grown-up world. Boris & Natasha made fun of the Cold War (I have a framed picture of Boris on the wall in the living room at Collateral Damage HQ). Sherman & Peabody made fun of history, Fractured Fairy Tales made fun of, well, fairy tales, Dudley Do-Right made fun of Canada. Of course they were actually making fun of everything in the world under the guise of laughing at these topics but that was part of the fun. (Dudley’s girlfriend, Nell, has a crush on Dudley’s horse!) Rocky & Bullwinkle’s Wossamotta U. stories are a send up of college athletics on a par with The Marx Brother’s Horse Feathers. In this golden age of The Simpsons, South Park, Harvey Birdman, King of The Hill and Futurama it is easy to forget how plain old horrible TV cartoons once were. Even the cartoons explicitly aimed at youngsters are better. I will happily sit down and watch Phineas & Ferb,Kim Possible, Arthur, Rugrats and more without feeling I am being insulted and condescended to as I was watching Hannah-Barbara shows.

While most people associate Rocky & Bullwinkle with Jay Ward

Mr. Anderson, who grew up in a cartooning family in California, was also the creator of Crusader Rabbit, which became television’s first animated cartoon series in 1949. He spent much of his career in advertising, and his role in creating Rocky and Bullwinkle was overlooked with time. He fought a long legal battle late in life to reclaim recognition as the cartoon characters’ artistic father. … Mr. Anderson and Ward grew up together in Berkeley, Calif., and formed a business in the late 1940s to pitch cartoon ideas to television. Crusader Rabbit, Rocky, Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right were among the characters they showed to studio executives before Crusader Rabbit was picked up. After Mr. Anderson’s other cartoon ideas failed to catch on, he joined a San Francisco advertising agency. Ward moved to Los Angeles, trying to sell TV studios on a Bullwinkle series.

rocky_bullwinkle_4__04070Anderson took legal action after seeing a documentary about Bullwinkle that didn’t even mention his name. He won and in 1993 – four years after Jay Ward’s death — received a lump-sum settlement, along with a court-mandated acknowledgment as "the creator of the first version of the characters of Rocky, Bullwinkle and Dudley."

Bless you and thank you, Mr. Anderson.

 

AND ON A SADLY RELATED NOTE: RIP and thank you to Leo Collum, a cartoonist whose blustering businessmen, clueless doctors, venal lawyers and all-too-human dogs and cats amused readers of The New Yorker for the past 33 years, died on Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 68 and lived in Malibu, Calif. For a selection of his cartoons, click here.

News article about the master, Hayao Miyazaki

He discusses his new movie Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. And the overuse of computers in animation:

“I think animation is something that needs the pencil, needs man’s drawing hand, and that is why I decided to do this work in this way,” the silver haired, notoriously shy director told reporters after a press screening. “Currently computer graphics are of course used a great deal and, as I’ve said before, this use can at times be excessive,” he added, speaking through an interpreter. “I will continue to use my pencil as long as I can.”

I was pleased to be reminded that the great one is only 67 & so there are many more years of his creations yet to come.

Hey Pixar-heads — when is it being released in the US?

SAVE THE TOTORO FOREST!!!

As regular readers know I am slavishly devoted to master animator Hayao Miyazaki and consider his movie My Neighbor Totoro which was released 20 years ago to be one of the greatest films ever made.  Now Sayama Forest, also known as Totor Forest, which inspired Miyazaki to create the movie is the focus of an effort to save it from further destruction by developers.

In artistic terms this wood is the equivalent of Monet’s gardens at Giverny or Arles for van Gogh and Gaugin.

The Totoro Forest Project is the brainchild of Enrico Casarosa and Dice Tsutsumi and has not surprisingly received the enthusiastic support of Pixar.

I quote from Animation Magazine:

Artists from around the world were asked to come up with artwork inspired by the gentle creature depicted in the landmark movie. Over 200 original pieces from internationally acclaimed artists and animators—William Joyce, Andreas Deja, Timothy Lamb, Ronnie del Carmen, Ralph Eggleston, Pete Docter and Peter de Seve, to name a few—are featured in this one-of-a-kind event which tries to answer the question “What is your Totoro?” The auction will be held at Pixar Animation Studio on September 6th. A companion art book, edited by Karen Paik (The Story of Pixar), will also be available at the event. Selected artwork from the Totoro auction will be featured as two special exhibitions at The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco (Exhibit A: Sept. 26-Dec. 7; Exhibit B: Nov. 6-Feb. 20).

The website is truly awesome: Totoro Forest Project.

Now to figure out how to get to San Francisco.

WALL*E is amazingly good

In no particular order the greatest animated movies I’ve ever seen are:

All of these are among the greatest movies ever made PERIOD.

Add to that list, WALL*E. Even by Pixar’s admittedly high standards, WALL*E is exceptional. If it doesn’t have the characters as complex as some other movies it is because it is a fable. In that respect it has a lot in common with Edward Scissorhands.

WALL*E is tells a fine, simple (not obvious) story superbly. (I’m going to stay away from plot synopsis. Go see it. We’ll talk.) It is essentially a silent movie, a great and bold decision (and something it shares with Triplets). In addition to being a fine filet of consumer culture, W also includes an extended comment on the sterility of life in a controlled environment designed for nothing but amusement. That would be the bread and butter of Pixar’s life-partner Disney. Is this:

  1. a cynical comment by a company that makes its money from these parks; or
  2. a truly subversive effort to sway the people who make The Land of Mouse so profitable?

Not sure. But I do know it’s great.

I could go on but I’m tired and heading off for vacation. See you all in a week.