For my second round of blog specimens for my final I have selected Blog 9 and Blog 10

So I was casting about trying to figure out what I would do for my final blog post when a friend reminded me of Anastasia. Before Don Bluth fell into obscurity I really did enjoy his films as a child. However, what interests me more so than the animation’s style or any Don Bluth vs Big-Name-Animation-Company showdown is the history. I remember the myth about Anastasia and how it was rumored she possibly survived the execution of her entire family with the help of a servant. There was a major Anastasia impersonator Anna Anderson, however, when her remains were examined it was proven conclusively that she was not Anastasia. While this impostor bit plays into the film, I am more interested in Grigori Rasputin, a man who possibly “helped to discredit the tsarist government, leading to the fall of the Romanov dynasty, in 1917”.

In the film Rasputin is stuck in a state of un-deadness as a living corpse which seems like an odd move to make for the animators, until you learn of the myths surrounding Rasputin’s death–or rather his refusal to die. Here is a clip from the film where Rasputin sings a song explaining his want for revenge and shows his existence in limbo/refusal to die. In real life he was supposedly poisoned, shot multiple times, tied up an tossed into a half frozen river yet escaped his bonds and attempted to claw at the ice to escape. Some of this has been disproved and some of it given more credence, but the fact remains these myths have marked the movie. Rasputin exists in this movie as a person who will not die, and perseveres to achieve his goals, no matter how twisted. So while the movie is a fantasized version of this inability to be truly killed outright the first time around, it synthesizes with the history of the real Rasputin.

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So there is an Alice in Wonderland craze right now what with the release of
Tim Burton’s version. I did a quick Wikipedia search and whaddaya know: here have been multiple versions of this film. Not only that, but Disney went toe to toe with Souvaine Selective Pictures, whose Alice project being headed by Lou Bunin. Essentially, each side declared the other was trying to swindle them out of money. Disney went so far as to sue Souvaine and the movie house that was going to show Souvaine’s Alice in the US. He declared, as this time magazine article of the day put it, “Bunin’s ‘inferior’ Alice would deceive the public into going to see the wrong picture, thus spoiling his nice new Alice’s box-office take”. Disney and Bunin continued to squabble over Alice in Tweedledee and Tweedledum fashion as the article notes, but in vain. Both films were shown in theatres in the US in 1951, as noted in this Wikipedia entry. Both films were also resounding failures.

Bounin’s Alice:

Disney’s Alice:

Disney, scrappy as ever, did not take this flop lying down, “Disney saw to it that the fame of its version was kept alive by showing an edited version of it on network television as part of their Disneyland  series and issuing two record albums based on the film. The Disney version eventually reached classic film status and was re-released in the 1980s. The British version, meanwhile,  also was sold to television, but only to local stations, where it was eclipsed by showings of the all-star Paramount 1933 live-action film version of the story, which, incidentally, had also flopped in movie theaters”. So while both films flopped in theatres and then went on to enjoy minor success (or at the very least, to live another day on screen), Disney seems to have won the battle. I had never even heard of this version of Alice in Wonderland until I researched the issue. Then again, Disney’s Alice was widely criticized in England (Bunin’s Alice was released mostly in England and France) so perhaps Northern Europe is more familiar with Bunin’s.

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As I scoured my animated film collection for my latest blog post, I stumbled upon Mulan. I decided to Google the movie just to see if anything interesting turned up and voila, Hua Mulan! For those of you who are unfamiliar with Hua Mulan, she is a Chinese heroine of the poem the Ballad of Mulan. The story goes shockingly like the Disney version (minus the hunky man meat that is always needed for a Disney heroine) as noted in this website: Mulan’s father is called up to serve in the army but he is too old and his only son is too young, so Mulan dresses up as a man and serves in her father’s place. The troop she is in fights many battles over many years before going home. As in the Disney film, the emperor offers her a job, but she takes a fine horse instead (whereas in the film she gets an enemy’s sword and the emperor’s Medallion). Her sex isn’t outed until her fellow soldiers come to visit her. This Ballad has inspired many different works ranging from operas to paintings to featured length Disney films.

What interests me, however, is not that Disney did their normal hocus pocus with history, but that this piece of history is so feminist. As Wikipedia notes on the subject, this Ballad has been interpreted as a very early (perhaps as early as the Northern Wei dynasty 386-534) support for gender equality. Not only would that be subversive to the Chinese culture that was overwhelmingly a paternal system the ballad went on to inspire many other works as well as becoming a well entrenched folklore tale in the Chinese community.

Interestingly enough, Disney was hoping this film would help smooth over relations with China as they had soured over the release of Kundun, “a Disney-funded biography of the Dalai Lama that the Chinese government considered politically provocative. China had threatened to curtail business negotiations with Disney over that film and, as the government only accepts ten Western films per year to be shown in their country, Mulan‘s chances of being accepted were low”. So not only was Mulan historically based and Disney managed not to horribly butcher it, it was also used to help repair USA-China relations despite the fact that the story is so against the typical Chinese culture of paternity.

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I recently re-watched “The Land Before Time” (the first one, not the horrendous thousands that followed after–okay not thousands, but according to wikipedia they’ve released “The Land Before Time XIII: The Wisdeom of Friends” and an additional 2 sing-alongs). I remember it was one of my favorite movies as a kid but recently I’ve been hearing a lot about how unhappy Don Bluth was with the version released on VHS in 1988. Apparently the movie underwent mass cuts as noted in this encyclopedic article about the movie, “‘One of the principal sections that was cut was the Tyrannosaurus Rex attack sequence. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas apparently felt that it was too frightening and could even cause some psychological damage in very young children.’ The article went on to state that in all, ‘Nineteen scenes were cut, including front-on scenes portraying the children in severe jeopardy and distress. In addition, the children’s screams were replaced with milder exclamations.'” Bluth fought for the footage but eventually lost that battle and had to accept a run time of 69 minutes–an incredibly short run time for an animated feature.

Further problems ensued. Over $1 million of footage was cut because the scenes were considered “too intense” for children and Bluth was really unhappy with the direction the film was taking. In the end Bluth and Spielberg wanted to make two different movies: Bluth wanted a coming of age story where young dinosaurs must get over their prejudices and racism of each other that had been ingrained since birth–he wanted a harrowing tale; Spielberg wanted a “get-along-gang”. Bluth felt in the end Spielberg won out and I happen to agree. As a child I never noticed how cookie-cutter the characters are. And, granted, that does not matter to children. But children are also just as happy with complex characters such as the ones we see emerging in more recent animations like “The Incredibles” or “Finding Nemo”. Those characters aren’t one trick pony’s who’s every word can be predicted but children still enjoy those films.

Money wise and criticism wise, Bluth was right. People felt “There’s no memorable villain, nor any first-rate comic relief (Petrie just isn’t very funny) to distract us from the script’s lack of freshness.” The flat characters and the removed footage of the T-rex doomed this film in the eyes of critics. They felt it became An American Tale: Dinosaurs! Instead of Fievel we have Little Foot and, OH NO!, he got separated from his family and must go through a dangerous adventure to find them! The idea of overcoming differences and the value of friendship are lost with the cut footage. Instead of camaraderie developed through surviving carnivorous attacks we are left with kids who don’t particularly like each other who are only putting up with each other until they find their equally segregationist families. While some of the footage did need to be removed (the production team brought psychologists in on the job) I’m sure one scene or two could have been left in to at least create a villain for the supposed protagonists.

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While in class on Thursday we watched a lot of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and I was quite suddenly struck by a vivid childhood memory: “Rugrats” and their knock off version “Blocky and Oxwinkle” (the website won’t allow me to embed the video, but the link should take you to it).  At around the 8:30 minutes left to go mark, Blocky and Oxwinkle make their debut (they make more appearances throughout much of the episode). Amusingly enough, they also use the ticking clock/bomb gag like the one we watched in class. They also do the “tune in next time for <insert good option> OR <insert bad option>” send off.

As noted in good old wikipedia “Blocky and Oxwinkle […] are an obvious parody of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Yuri and Svetana […]: A pair of villains who try to trick and get rid of Blocky and Oxwinkle, and calling them ‘Elk and Weasle’. They are a parody of Boris and Natasha, and their nicknames for Blocky and Oxwinkle is a parody of ‘Moose and Squirrel’.” This website notes the differences between the spoof and the original: Blocky is a boy made of blocks with an ox friend named Oxwinkle (who oddly does not speak in the episode). Rocky is a flying squirrel with a moose friend named Bullwinkle who unfortunately speaks a lot and usually in bad puns. Both feature spies who chase the main characters around.

For compare and contrast purposes here is a picture of Blocky and Oxwinkle

And a picture of Rocky and Bullwinkle

The episode in question is titled “Sour Pickles” and was aired November 14 1993 . The timing here to me seems significant. The Cold War was not long over and based on evidence given in the episode (that TV was black and white with no remote control) the time period for the “Blocky and Oxwinkle” cartoon would be 1950-1962 as noted in this website (TVs were available before then but not mass produced and not many people had them, color TVs were first sold in 1962). Furthermore, one of the babies in the episode references to “President Weisenheimer” whom I took to be Eisenhower which further tightens the time frame to 1953-1961 That means anything from the death of Joseph Stalin to China’s entering the power competition, adding a third tier to the Cold War. But wait, yet another clue! The radio in the cartoon references Eisenhower denying claims about a downed US plane. After looking to wikipedia for a Cold War time line that one comment places this episode in May of 1960. The event being referenced is American Pilot Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane being shot down while flying over the Soviet Union.

What impresses me is how the history is fairly accurate and how sneakily it is fitted in. This makes me wonder about cartoons and the Easter eggs they put in for adults: the jokes kids will never get or will find funny for completely different reasons, the references from before their time, etc. Children watching this particular “Rugrats” episode in 1993 would quite feasibly have parents born before 1960 or who were familiar with the events of that time period of the Cold War and could thus appreciate the jokes, references, and so on while the episode is simultaneously interesting and amusing to children.

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So perhaps this observation has come with age or perhaps cartoon makers are truly being instructed more and more to shove values down children’s throats. I grew up watching Popeye and Tom & Jerry. The values I learned from them were to eat spinach in order to beat the snot out of anyone who made me mad or to attempt to annihilate my natural enemy–instinct over communication. It continues to amaze me that I’m not a spinach eating, fight picking jerk or an insane woman who spends all her time plotting how to best kill my enemies (mice or otherwise), but then again I have common sense. I commented on a blog awhile back that focuses on violence in video games and the possible societal effects which got me thinking about violence in cartoons and how it is frequently non-existent these days.

Case in point: Dora the Explorer. That is today’s Tom & Jerry. Dora vs. Swiper–natural enemies in that any normal person would instinctually hate another being that kept trying to steal their stuff. But instead, Dora talks it out with him, “Swiper, no swiping!” This somehow works. Perhaps the creators are trying to teach assertiveness, perhaps they are trying to teach stealing is bad. All I see is a cartoon creating a generation of nimrods who let people steal their stuff while they shout, “Stealer, no stealing!” over and over in complete confusion as to why it does not work. I think the Popeye-punch-their-lights-out method or the less fail-proof Tom and Jerry chase scene would be more appropriate in that situation.

However, as I noted earlier–I am not Popeye nor am I a crazy cat. I don’t know how well these morals being supported by current day cartoons are sticking. Maybe if the creators chose a more believable way to promote morals other than spinach muscles, mouse mania, or stealing stupidity then these morals would stand a better chance at taking root.

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For the blog specimen I have selected Blog 1 and Blog 7.

I have been a Miyazaki fan for quite some time now and have been way more intrigued by his animation than anything Disney put out. This could be due to the newness of his “style” to me and that I was just burnt out on Disney, but I am beginning to think he simply has a better grip on characterization (or at the very least is not as concerned with frightening children).  His animations are hand drawn like in the old days of Disney before CG became their modus operandi (especially after syncing up with Pixar). Everything about the two animation studios seemed so very different–Disney picked well known stories and made them suitable for children. Miyazaki picked stories unheard of (at least in the West) or novels that aren’t ragingly popular (Howl’s Moving Castle). I always watched these films in Japanese with the English subtitles on so I was therefore surprised when I learned Disney does the dubbing for the English versions of Miyazaki’s films. I set out to rewatch the films in English and was deeply displeased with Disney’s maiming of a Miyazaki film with their obvious attempts as “Disney-ification”.

I was deeply disturbed by the liberties Disney took with Spirited Away. To be brief, it’s a story of a young girl whose family stumbles into a world of gods and now she must save them as they have been captured. Along the way she develops a love interest with a river god. However, this god is clearly very, very old (he does not look it, but it is implied) and the girl is very very young. In Disney’s dubbing they reworked certain dialogue and got voice actors of such extremely different ages that the god came off as a mentor to a whiney, frightened girl. They turned her into a stereotypical Disney female protagonist (supremely incompetent, yet somehow always succeeds–usually with a lot of outside help [i.e. Snow white has 7 dwarves protecting her yet she still manages to mess things up until a prince can save her, Princess Jasmine runs away against the better judgment of a Tiger and almost gets her hand chopped off until Abu and Aladdin save her–this theme of getting in trouble and being saved happens over and over]).  Miyazaki’s characters are complex–the female protagonist in Spirited Away wants to save a friend, save her family, and work hard toward harmony with others. She does all in her power to bring cohesion to the incredibly mixed cast. Disney’s version of her is flat.

As noted in this essay on the Miyazaki vs. Disney debate, Miyazaki attempts to create stories for children and adults with rich story lines while “Disney, on the other hand, seems to be increasingly ignoring the older contingent of its audience to produce films with overly simplistic storylines and gaping plot holes”. When Disney dubbed Spirited Away they took all the spirit out of it and left a hollow caricature in its stead.

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In class we watched the transformation of Felix the Cat from the 20s til the 50’s. But I am struck by the amazing similarities between 50s Felix and late 80s/early 90s Felix. As a child I watched that movie religiously, and the minute that song came on, in the 50s version, I knew what to look for. They have the same bag, similar voices and character behaviors. They even have similar goals. The professor in the  feature length film chases Felix through an entire other world to get his bag of tricks in the more recent Felix, just as the professor chases Felix through oceans and labs to get at his bag of tricks in the 50s Felix. However, it is their voice similarity that stuns me. Felix has the same laugh, the professor has the same angry gesticulations. Also, the movie of the 80s sticks with the theme of science from the 50s.

1950s Felix

1980s/1990s Felix

Check out those bags, listen to those voices (36 seconds for the first one and 6:40 for the second shows a good comparison of bags). These bags serve an almost identical purpose which led me to wonder why there were almost zero changes to character design, behavior, and accessories. After a little research, I realized they were both created, worked on, produced, an so on  by Joe Oriolo.

According to this site Felix underwent his major changes from 20s Felix to 50s/80s/90s Felix because of Joe Oriolo. I think it is safe to safe Oriolo is largely responsible for the Felix boom. Suddenly Felix clock faces, Felix dolls, and Felix jewelry came into popularity. Even as recent as 2004 Felix was in popular demand. My only gripe with Felix, is that he is essentially a one-trick pony. When he gets in a jam he’s going to say something incredibly cliche then whip out hisbag to do a magic trick. However, as long as the tricks stay fresh, the gag stays fresh. Oriolo took a pessimistic Felix and turned him into a magic bag carrying, scientist eluding, marketable character.

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