Tag Archives: Walt Disney

Propaganda & Animation #1: Chicken Little

22 Dec

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Anyone remember Disney’s classic adaption of Chicken Little? You know, the one with the adorable little chicken and a recitation of Mein Kampf?

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Not as good as Pinocchio quoting Joseph Stalin.

No, I am not talking about the 2005 feature animated film. Although there’s some devious sub messages in that film, I’m sure. Instead, we’ll be looking at the 1943 short film directed by Clyde Geronimi.

This is my first installment of Propaganda & Animation, which looks into odd and fascinating union of (surprise, surprise) Propaganda and Animation. One of the main reasons I created this blog was to explore animation’s role in the exciting and disturbing world of Propaganda. Most people don’t realize this, but beloved characters such as Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Popeye, and others were masters at Propaganda. And perhaps nobody in Hollywood was as great a Propagandist than Walt Disney. Heck, the US Government even commissioned Walt Disney to make films to convince Latin Americans to not become Nazis. But that’s a tale for another day. Aside from creating propaganda for potential international allies, Disney also created propaganda pieces to be used here on the Home front.

The reason I’m starting with Chicken Little is that it is incredibly blunt in its propagandist nature (which makes it easy to write about), and I automatically adore anything that has a farm animals in it (which makes it even easier to write about).

Let’s first take a look at the film, which you can watch right here. Now this particular video begins with a disclosure from Leonard Maltin, so you know some serious shit is about to go down.

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Thank you for gracing our presence Lenny!

Maltin doesn’t just spew out his usual “Beware of racism and violence” bit. He goes as far as to state that, “Chicken Little is one Disney cartoon that parents might want to see for themselves before deciding if it’s appropriate for their kids”. Yikes.

The film begins as your run of the mill Disney fairy tale. You have a nice little barnyard overfilling with cutsie little animals. We then meet Chicken Little, who is described as a “Playboy and Yo-Yo Champ”

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And manages to be nerdier than the 2005 Chicken Little.

 

The narrator explains that the farm animals feel safe and secure because they are surrounded by a big, strong fence (like some Americans felt safe because a big, strong ocean separated them from Hitler). Speaking of which, the villain then makes his entrance.

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Quick little side note, Foxy Loxy was animated by my all time favorite animator Ward Kimball, who readers of the blog know I’m a huge fan of. Instead of using physical force, Foxy Loxy decides to use cunning and Psychology to destroy the farmyard. Originally, the title of the book he reads from was Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Deciding to be a bit more subtle, Disney changed to the title to Psychology, but the passages that Foxy Loxy reads are still from Mein Kampf. Some choice quotations include; “If you tell a lie, don’t tell a little one. Tell them a big one” and “Undermine the faith of the masses and their leaders”.

After reading, “To influence the masses, aim first at the least intelligent”. He asks, “Who looks nice and stupid?” and settles on Chicken Little.

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Yeah…. that’s about right.

Foxy Loxy, using theatricals that would make Liberace proud, convinces Chicken Little that a piece of the sky hit him on the head. In a panic, Chicken Little tells the farmyard that the sky is falling and the farm animals proceeds to lose their shit. Cockey Lockey succeeds in quelling the future fox fodder’s fears, by pointing out that the piece of the sky is nothing more than a hunk of wood with a star painted on it.

Undeterred, Foxy Loxy employs drag and impersonation to make the farm animals loose their faith in Cockey Lockey’s reason. He then puppets Chicken Little to be the new leader, who evangelizes everyone to the way of the Falling Sky. Chicken Little encourages everyone to run hide in a cave, per Foxy Loxey’s suggestion.

As Foxy Loxey follows them into the cave, the narrator reassures us that “everything will turn out alright”. Very Disney. But then we are shown-

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Why isn’t this a ride at Disneyland?

In shock, the narrator proclaims, “Hey wait a minute, this isn’t right! This isn’t the way it ends in my book!” To which Foxy Loxey, holding his book responds, “Oh yeah? Don’t believe everything you read brother!”

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Why isn’t there a ride based off of this at Disneyland?

With a dark ending like that, I’m not surprised that Maltin recommends parents to view this short first. I don’t really need to analysis this short too much, the film is incredibly blunt in its message. Chicken Little is a wartime parable warning the American public to keep a calm head in tumultuous times. For Americans today, the end of WWII seems inevitable. Of course Fascism in Germany, Italy, and Japan would fall. Good always triumphs over that sort of evil! But in the 1940s, it didn’t always look that way. The intentions of this short were to, in a very macabre fashion, tell Americans to keep calm and be controlled by reason. Fear, irrationality, and panic is what the enemy wanted. Keep Calm and Carry On.

Interestingly enough, the original ending featured a gravestones with swastikas representing the dead farm animals (is that a sentence you expected to read on a cartoon blog?). But Disney changed it, along with the Mein Kampf reference, to make the film less dated and more lasting. Which I suppose is a smart move. Because this parable is applicable to our world today. Don’t panic, that’s what they want.

All in all, I like this short. The characters are fun, it’s not condescending, and it doesn’t sugarcoat what is at stake here. There is no happy ending for irrational behaviour. The writing is slick and the animation decent. And successfully gets the point across.

I hope you enjoyed my first post in THREE YEARS. How criminal is that? In addition to Propaganda & Animation, I have a couple of other projects in mind that will generate posts. So here’s to me staying around! Happy Holidays.

Did I Miss Anything?

21 May

Hey guys! I know I’ve been MIA. It’s been a crazy month, mostly with work and school. What time I’ve had online, I’ve spent on tumblr (Where I just did my first Disney giveaway, so that was fun).

Anyway, one of my followers on tumblr asked me why I haven’t posted anything lately, so I’ll just  copy and paste the my response post here:

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Anonymous asked: “When are you going to update your animation blog?”

The Green Bat: “Oh lord you’re not the first to ask! I’m so ashamed, it’s been like over a month!

My time on Internet in general has been cut down immensely due to finals week. I really only check tumblr, for a few mins each day. I plan to write my next article in a week, after my Junior College graduation.

But big things are in the works! I’m going to write the second installment to my “Dead Disney” series, as well as a look into Disney’s propaganda masterpiece from the 1940s, Chicken Little. (The ORIGINAL one). Also one of my followers asked if I knew anything about Disney voice actor José Oliveira. There is virtually no information in English online, but a shit ton in Portuguese, so I translated a couple of articles from Brazil for them. (I do take requests, if anyone has any article ideas let me know!)”

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So that’s that! I apologize for the inactivity, but I won’t let this blog die so early! So stay tuned!

Here’s a picture of Walt Disney making a salad to hold you over.

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Disney’s 9 Old Men: My Favorite Ward Kimball Scenes

3 Apr

I’ve been in the difficult process of writing an article about my top 10 Disney movies. And after a few entries I noticed that I kept mentioning one person, over, and over, and over. And talking about how influential he was to Disney Studios. And how much I admired his work. Was I talking about the big cheese himself, Walt Disney? Nope! Actually the subject of my fangirling was the greatest of Disney’s legendary 9 Old Men – Sir Ward Kimball.

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Alright, he’s not actually Sir Ward Kimball. But if there was a knighthood for animators, I assure you he’d get it. Kimball was at Disney from 1934 to 1972. He won an Oscar in 1953 for directing Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom and again in 1970 for It’s Tough to Be a Bird. Kimball’s area of expertise was wild and manic characters. Walt Disney knew he had true talent on his hands, and once remarked that “Ward Kimball is one man who works for me that I’m willing to call a genius.”

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This is my exact expression when I’m watching Ward’s work

What I’m trying to impress on you is that I am a huuuuge fan of his. There’s only one animator I admire more, and that’s Sir Chuck Jones.

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Sorry Chuck, I’ll fangirl over you at a later date!

So I after gushing, and gushing, about how much I enjoyed his work, I decided to create a post just in honor of Ward. Ward has such an EXTENSIVE portfolio, I can’t possible go in depth about all of of his work. But I’ll look at six of my personal favorite Ward Kimball moments. And this is not a ‘countdown’ list. So number 1 isn’t my absolute favorite moment, I don’t know if I could accurately rank that.

(Before I do, I want to give a shout out to 365 Days of Ward Kimball, where I got a lot of this information and some pictures from. Also this well researched biography, where I got the Pecos Bill information from)

1. Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio (1940)

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Pinocchio was the second Disney feature. Snow White came first. Ward animated the vultures, as well as the scene where the dwarfs put their noses over the bed. You probably don’t remember the vultures, and don’t feel bad about that. As cool as they are, they’re very insignificant. So how did Ward go from animating those minor scenes, to Jiminy Cricket- one of the most important characters in Pinocchio?

Ward actually had animated a couple other scenes for Snow White– but were cut from the film. Ward was devastated by this, as it took him at least 8 months to animate them (some sources say over a year). He was about to leave the studio, but Walt offered him the role of the Cricket character for the upcoming Pinocchio film to make up for it. Walt felt that Pinocchio was missing something. Ward created that missing something in Jiminy Cricket- an extremely minor and forgettable character in the book, but under Ward’s direction he became one of the most recognizable cartoon characters of all time.

Ward in his later years with sketches of Jiminy

Ward in his later years with sketches of Jiminy

Ward designed the cricket, who became more human-like over time, and animated the bulk of his scenes (including the scene where Jiminy scolds Pinocchio at the Pool Hall). Jiminy is a great example of how versatile Ward could be. The cricket isn’t bouncing off the walls like what we usually expect from a Kimball character. Jiminy’s movements are more reserved and sincere, but still incredibly appealing. Jiminy is easily one of the best characters in Pinocchio. He has some of the most entertaining lines in the film (“You’ve buttered your bread, now you got to sleep in it!” or “What does an actor want with a conscience anyway?”)

Anyways, here some Jiminy Cricket for ya (starting at 3:38). The character that is most associated with Ward, and one of his best creations.

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Pointless trivia! Pinocchio is my favorite Disney film.

2. Ward and Fred in The Nifty Nineties (1938)

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I actually first saw this charming and nostalgic short a couple weeks ago (I’m currently on a quest to watch all 583 of Disney’s short films, but that’s another story). This short has a great score and the animation on the whole is incredibly fluid. It’s easily one of my favorite Mickey Mouse cartoons.

So where does Ward play into all of this? During the short, Mickey takes Minnie to a Vaudeville show. And one of the performances is titled “Fred and Ward: Two Clever Boys from Illinois”. Two small and cartoony men then dance onto the scene. And I recognized instantly that “Fred and Ward” are caricatures of two of Disney’s 9 Old Men: Fred Moore (animator of Timothy from Dumbo) and then of course, Ward Kimball.

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Ward in cartoon form.

Here’s the thing: Animators. Love. Caricatures. The more you study animation, the more you’ll see hidden easter eggs and caricatures, and that sort of thing. Ward and Fred both voiced their respective caricatures as well. That on its own is a great Ward moment, but according to these animation drafts, Kimball also animated himself and Moore.

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Animation drawing by Ward

You can see Ward’s work on this film here: (Click it!) The scene I’m referring to begins at 4:23 and ends at 5:39. It’s a short segment, and Ward animated the whole thing (besides Mickey and Minnie). Like the rest of the short, it’s very fluid. It’s bouncy, and Fred and Ward’s character designs are appealing. I especially like the near constant movement- even their hats seem to dance along with them.

3. The Title Song of The Three Caballeros (1944)

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Here’s the thing about The Three Caballeros. As a whole, the animation is very weak. The reason for this is there wasn’t one supervising animator for each character. According to South of the Border With Disney, six different animators drew José Carioca in the Bahia segment alone. And that’s just seven minutes of the film. This means that there is a lot of inconsistency, and it’s very noticeable.

However, one of my favorite pieces of character animation ever is in this movie. While researching for this article, I’ve seen this sequence referred to as “Kimball’s Masterpiece” and “Kimball’s most Kimball-esque sequence”. When Warner Brothers legend Chuck Jones visited Disney Studios while Aladdin was in production, and saw Eric Goldberg’s animation for Friend Like Me, he said that it reminded him of “the song from The Three Caballeros”.

So what sequence am I referring to? Ward animated Panchito Pistoles’ wild introduction, and animated the follwoing dance to the Three Caballeros song (Ay! Jalisco No Te Rajes). The only part not animated by Ward in this four minute sequence are Joe Carioca’s closeups, which were done by Fred Moore.

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Ward animating Panchito

So you can watch most of the sequence I mentioned above right here (aquí). Every time I watch this scene, I’m impressed. It’s a lot of fun, and I’m sure Ward had a blast doing it. Props appear and disappear, the characters are in constant movement and are all over the place, the they’ll will walk out of the scene in the left, and then appear on the opposite side. It’s schizophrenic, it’s exuberant and it’s reckless. The pacing is marvelous. The whole thing goes against logic, and Ward took full advantage of the fact that these were animated characters.

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A piece of Kimball’s animation for The Three Caballeros

During this period in Disney history, we often think of the advances in animating characters realistically. Think of the animation of Snow White, and the animal characters in Bambi. While the animation in those films are incredible, it’s nice I think to see Disney do a short break from that, something unorthodox. This scene is easily the best part of The Three Caballeros.

Animated by Kimball

Animated by Kimball

4. The Crows from Dumbo (1941)

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Oh boy, should I even go here?

Alright, before I go further let me explain a couple things. I’ve read my fair share of reviews regarding racism in Disney movies. I’m actually a History student, and I believe that studying films involving racism are better than just pretending it didn’t happen. How else can you learn from it? And the thing about the Crows is that they’re totally taken out of context. This was the 1940s. Cracked points out that this film came out couple years after a ban against Lynching was voted down by congress.

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In a strange way, the crows portrayal is almost progressive, when you compare it to most other African American roles in film at the time. Roles for African Americans were usually stock characters. The Crows transcend being mere stereotypes, and are actually complex and intelligent. If you were actually paying attention during the movie, you would of noticed that the crows were some of the only positive characters, and helped out Dumbo instead of treating him like shit like everyone else did. They were sympathetic to Dumbo.

Ward and the leader crow. (Who's actually never called "Jim Crow" in the film. Only on the model sheets)

Ward and the leader crow. (Who’s actually never called “Jim Crow” in the film. Only on the model sheets)

Think what you will about the Crows. They’re actually my favorite characters in Dumbo, and I love the song ‘When I see an Elephant Fly”. Friends of mine won’t be surprised by that choice, because I love word play and puns. And that’s what that entire song is (I heard a fireside chat, I saw a baseball bat, I’ve seen a peanut stand). Ward Kimball animated the crows, and again like the Three Caballeros, the song they sing is choreographed wonderfully. Dumbo stands out because compared to its other Disney contemporaries Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi, it’s more colorful and cartooony. The crows are probably the most exuberant part of the film (except for those unsettling Pink Elephants).

Piece of the animation, signed by Kimball.

Piece of the animation, signed by Kimball.

As I mentioned before, the Crows are surprisingly complex for their short screen time and for being African American characters during their time. Despite their poking fun at Timothy, they’re very likable. And I attribute Ward’s candid animation to this. Even when not singing the crows movements are both classy and zany at the same time. An interesting mix. For some reason, I like those few seconds of animation when the crows watch Dumbo fall, shown here at 2:10 to 2:20.

5. Pecos Bill from Melody Time (1948)

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Pecos Bill was quite a cowboy down in Texas!

I think it’s sad that people aren’t familiar with the Disney Package films. Sure, they’re not the best films. Not by far. But they do have some great stories in them- Peter and the Wolf, Mickey and the Beanstalk, and my personal favorite, Pecos Bill. This story is fifteen minutes long, and every second of it is enjoyable. The narration, the song, the animation, the backgrounds. Disney takes full advantage of the storytelling style of tall tales, and it translates well onto the screen.

Seriously though, Ward is adorable

Seriously though, Ward is adorable.

You can see Pecos Bill in its entirety right here cowpolk. Ward did the the majority of the animation for the character Pecos Bill, and from what I gather his horse Widowmaker as well. I did not know this before I wrote this article, but it’s one of a limited number of times that Ward collaborated with his rival Milt Kahl. They had different opinions and opposing personalities Milt was mainly responsible for the animation of Slu-Foot Sue, the better half of Ward’s Pecos Bill. Kudos to both of them, because they did a great job animating their respective characters.

Despite what this sketch tells you, Pecos Bill does not have a happy ending.

Despite what this sketch tells you, Pecos Bill does not have a happy ending.

As for Ward’s animation. To the surprise of no one it’s very cartoony. Pecos is actually pretty elastic in his movements. I wish that there was more information of what exactly Ward did and didn’t animate, as well as more of his sketches from this as well. You can definitely see a Ward Kimball impression on Pecos throughout the whole thing.

6. The Un-Birthday Party in Alice in Wonderland (1951)

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Ward’s style made him a perfect fit for a movie as zany as Alice in Wonderland. Ward was a directing animator on this film. Ward animated a whole lot of characters in this film- Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum, The White Rabbit, The Carpenter, and the Cheshire Cat. But the scene that he worked on that sticks out the most is of course, The Un-Birthday Scene.

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Walt watches Ward draw the Mad Hatter

That is one of the best scenes in any Disney film, and one of the most iconic. Between Jerry Colonna and Ed Wynn’s voice work, the Mary Blair-esque backgrounds, the dialogue, the animation, even the framing, makes it an incredibly enduring and entertaining sequence. Now, Ward Kimball wasn’t the only animator who worked on this scene. There was actually quite a lot, including Cliff Nordberg, Marc Davis, Woolie Reitherman, Marvin Woodward, John Lounsbery, among others. If you’re interested to see who animated what, check out these animation drafts. And here’s the UnBirthday Scene. Ward animated the introduction of the Mad Hatter and March Hare (0:32- 0:51), Scolding Alice for being rude (1:01-1:11), The Mad Hatter pouring tea on himself (1:39-1:45), and the Mad Hatter during most of the scene where he is “fixing” The White Rabbit’s watch. There’s some other smaller segments too, but you can check the animation drafts for that.

Ward's animation for Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum

Ward’s animation for Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum

My favorite part of the Unbirthday Party that Ward animates is The Mad Hatter unmercifully destroying the poor White Rabbit’s watch. The whole thing is great, but I especially like The Mad Hatter’s reaction to The March Hare’s suggestion of using Mustard. “Mustard! Don’t let’s not be silly!” The Hatter reacts with great alarm, he tilts his head up and does a weird shrug thing with his shoulders and hips. That was animated by Ward, and it is definitely a nice touch. (Not to mention his follow up response is hilarious. “Lemon, now that’s different”)

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So that’s juts six of the many great Ward Kimball moments. There’s so much more though! He animated the mice and Lucifer the Cat from Cinderella. There’s also scenes in Mary Poppins, Adventures of Icahbod and Mr. Toad, Peter Pan, Saludos Amigos that he animated. Not to mention countless shorts as well. One I’d like to point out, is Mother Goose Goes to Hollywood. I always liked the scene with The Marx Brothers (at 1:19) . Just how they walk is so fun to watch. Imagine how happy I was to find out that it was animated by Ward!

I am a big fan of caricatures and the Marx Brothers

I am a big fan of caricatures and the Marx Brothers

I also will take this opportunity to mention that last year a biography on Ward was suppose to be published. Sadly, due to pressure from the Walt Disney Company, the book has been killed. This is the thing that bothers me about Disney as a company. They like to keep their artists under a constant mythological state, and this book has been killed because it doesn’t conform with Disney’s fairy tale like narrative. Needless to say, I’m disappointed.

Anyway, that’s all I have for now. Thank for reading!