It’s almost time for Halloween, and if your family is anything like mine, it’s at least equal to Christmas in importance and excitement. In our house, we have The 31 Days of Halloween. We watch a horror movie or a movie with a great villain, listen to soundtracks like Psycho, Halloween, and, of course, songs from Disney’s The Headless Horseman. This seems like a perfect time to consider a few of Disney’s villains. Villains have played an important part in my love of animation and appreciation for Disney films, and I’m sure some of you can say the same!
I remember back some years ago, before the folks at Disney figured out there were lots of villains fans like me. I would comb the stores all over the parks looking for merchandise featuring Chernabog (not a morning demon), The Evil Queen (a misunderstood crone), Cruella De Vil (I’ve got nothing. She’s bad. She wanted to make a coat out of puppies..) and Shere Khan (voiced by George Sanders, so of course I love him. Don’t be mad at him just because he’s a hungry tiger.) It was extremely rare for me to find anything. Then Nightmare Before Christmas became retroactively popular, and Disney figured out there are scores of fans who loved all the (supposedly) bad guys and gals.
Ever since I started selling animation in 1988, I’ve had loyal fans of villains. Some of them aimed to collect cels or drawings of every single one of them. Others had very specific favorites, and only collected them. Over the years, I’ve sold hundreds of cels and art of Disney villains. It became my specialty. Over the years, they’ve become highly prized, (as I expected), and finding good art in great original condition has become very challenging. Of course, I still try!
What makes the Disney villains such a big deal? For one thing, they are always the character that gets the most story told in the least amount of time. These characters aren’t in a lot of scenes, but the ones featuring them are always some of the movie’s most important moments. In both storytelling and visual quality, they are always the most memorable.
In Snow White, the scene when the Queen turns into the hag is a stunning piece of animation.
The hag isn’t in Snow White for very long, but she’s a gorgeous example of character animation.
The witch, or the Queen as an old hag, was designed by Joe Grant.
The witch was chiefly animated by Norm Ferguson, who was a supervising animator on the film. She was voiced by stage and screen actress Lucille La Verne, who also voiced the Wicked Queen. As someone who had been performing since 1876, performing Juliet and Lady Macbeth back to back at 14, it was her final film performance.
Chernabog steals the whole movie in his sequence Night on Bald Mountain in Fantasia.
Chernabog is perfect for Halloween, because he is based on a Slavic god who rises from the top of Bald Mountain on Walpurgis Night (The Witches’ Sabbath) which might be on April 30th in Europe and Scandinavia, but the holiday mimics Halloween in the US. It is celebrated by dressing in costumes and conducting rituals to keep evil spirits at bay. In Finland there is much drinking, especially of sparkling wine, and the towns have a carnival-like atmosphere.
In Night on Bald Mountain, clearly there isn’t enough going on to ward off evil, since Chernabog calls forth his minions from the fiery pits of hell. He is definitely Disney’s most purely evil villain. The Night on Bald Mountain sequence was animated by Vladimir ‘Bill’ Tytla, one of Disney’s Nine Old Men, and my favorite Disney animator. Conceptualized by a mixture of talented artists including Heinrich Kley, Albert Hurter, and Kay Nielsen, who created the model sheet for Tytla’s animation. The animator was Ukranian, and well aware of the character’s mythology. He was once seen working on the animation in total darkness other than the fluorescent light of his drawing table. Bill Tytla, by all accounts, was an intense, serious man, and captured great emotions in his characters, which also included Yensid, Stromboli, and Dumbo. His last work was directing the animation on The Incredible Mr. Limpet.
Just watch a video of his work, and you’ll understand why he’s a fan favorite:
Cruella is one of Disney’s ‘funny’ villains, but she’s still terrifying, not least because she thinks nothing of killing over a hundred dogs to make a coat. She is immediately unforgettable when makes her first entrance in the film, barging into Roger and Anita’s house.
Cruella originates from the 1956 children’s novel by Dodie Smith, which was originally serialized in Women’s Day as The Great Dog Robbery, with Perdita being called Missis. The animation of Cruella for the original animated feature was done by Marc Davis, from designs by Davis, Ken Anderson, and Bill Peet. Cruella’s half black and half white hair, black dress, and oversized mink coat are all from Smith’s novel. Her skeletal shape and a chain smoking were added by the Disney artists building her look. Her cigarette holder was modeled after the one Marc Davis himself used. The bright red of her coat was an Allusion to her demonic nature. Her character was inspired by actresses Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis from All About Eve, and Rosalind Russell from Auntie Mame.
Here is a great little video profile on Marc Davis.
She was voiced by the gorgeous Belly Lou Gerson, known for her voice work in the 40s and 50s, including on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and Lux Radio Theater. She was in the 1958 horror classic The Fly and guest starred in The Twilight Zone. Fans of the under appreciated animated feature Cats Don’t Dance will love knowing she provided the voice of Frances for the film.
These characters resonate with us for a reason. They represent archetypes known all over the world, many of which were examined and studied by psychologists and philosophers throughout history. Carl Jung is most famous for exploring and explaining archetypes, which allow us all to understand life through symbolism (and put people in neat little categories which can be damaging, especially to women.) He believed the path of life makes more sense and can be walked with more understanding and finesse if we know these timeless, recognizable categories in which the human psyche is driven to place everyone they encounter in their daily lives. Knowing what they are allows us all to play with them, lean into them, or mix and match them, should we so choose. They include The Innocent, The Everyman, The Hero, The Rebel, The Explorer, The Creator, The Ruler, The Magician, The Lover, The Caregiver, The Jester, and The Sage. These archetypes can even be leveraged or manipulated in branding and marketing, as explained HERE.
Joseph Campbell talks about the eight types of characters in the hero’s journey in The Hero of a Thousand Faces. They include the hero, mentor, ally, herald, trickster, shapeshifter, guardian, and shadow. You can read more about there HERE. I’m sure you already know Star Wars was cribbed almost entirely from The Hero’s Journey, which you can see HERE. Most of the Disney villains represent the shadow, but might also have a second archetype, as the hag, who is both shadow and shapeshifter, does.
One of Disney’s first focuses on the villains as a team was in 1981, for a special in The Wonderful World of Disney, which included the Evil Queen’s mirror, Captain Hook, Edgar from The Aristocats, Wille the Giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk, Kaa from Shere Khan, The Evil Queen, Cruella, Madam Medusa, and Maleficent. Disney has created more than 127 villains in films, sequels, tv, video games, books, and theme parks. The more recent villains franchise is a collection with villains that have primary members, which includes the Evil Queen, Chernabog, Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook, Maleficent, Cruella, Ursula, Jafar, Scar, Hades, and Dr. Facilier.
We have this piece, which was the basis of an early incarnation of the villains ‘team’, before Dr. Facilier (Disney’s first Black villain) had been introduced. It’s the color model for the Disney sericel, “Dungeon of Doom”.
Of course there’s a sub-franchise called Disney’s Divas of Darkness, (folks in the know call it DDD for short). That includes Evil Queen, Lady Tremaine, Queen of Hearts, Maleficent, Cruella, Madam Mim, Madame Medusa, Ursula, Ysma, and Mother Gothel (who was inspired by Cher!). Now THAT sounds like a garden party I’d love to attend.
In my research for this blog, I found there is also a sub-franchise called Disney’s Sinister Cats. It includes bad kitties Lucifer, the Cheshire Cat, Si and Am, Shere Khan, Felicia (from The Great Mouse Detective) and Scar. Who knew? Now I need to find some merchandise from this.
Of course there is a lot of of art created by Disney fine artists celebrating villains. You can find our collection of villains, from Disney and elsewhere, HERE.
One of the most endearing qualities of Charlie Brown, and why we all relate to him, is that he is an eternal optimist. He doesn’t think much of himself, and some folks can relate to that, too. Creator Charles Schulz made the character, not only in his own image, but in that of the everyman. The latest art release in the Peanuts Lexicon Series, “Chomp: Charlie Brown vs. The Kite-Eating Tree” really captures Charlie’s positive perspective, as he faces defeat once again, with that ‘stupid’ Kite-Eating Tree chewing up his kite and ruining the prospect of his and Linus’s kite-flying fun. Given the last 18 months we’ve all endured, Charlie Brown is all of us, and like Charlie Brown, we’ll make another kite and go out again to fly it tomorrow and every day, until the wind raises it to the sky.
The Kite-Eating Tree, a favorite of Peanuts fans, has a long and storied past. In his strip, Schulz considered it one of the series’ 12 major set pieces. Inspired by his own experience losing kites into the trees of his childhood home as well as when flying them with his kids, the first time he mentions a kite getting caught in a tree is way back on April 12th, 1956. Then Charlie names his nemesis the Kite-Eating Tree on March 14th, 1965:
The kite-eating tree went on to great popularity, and Schulz created a number of strips featuring the non-human character.
In January of 1969, the Kite-Eating Tree showed his truly voracious appetite in a series in which they ate Schroeder’s piano:
The Kite-Eating Tree appears again in 1977, on February 22nd:
As part of this storyline, Charlie Brown bites the tree, after which he gets a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency. Lucy says he’ll get ‘thrown in the slammer’.
The last appearance of Kite-Eating Tree was on a Sunday strip on February 26th, 1995:
Given its popularity, It was inevitable that the Kite-Eating Tree would be featured in Bill Melendez’s animation of the Peanuts stories. The first cartoon from Melendez was of course the Christmas Special in 1965, but the Kite-Eating Tree made its first appearance in the opening sequence of 1969’s A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Here is a layout drawing showing the character with Charlie:
Here is the opening sequence from the cartoon. Interestingly, the parts with the grinning tree were cut out of the version that plays on Hulu (where you can stream the cartoon if you have an account)
The limited edition was designed by Director of Art Development Sandy Thome, who works with the BIll Melendez Studios, and Emmy-winning animation director Larry Leichliter. It is inspired by an original drawing that Schulz sent to Bill of Schulz as Charlie Brown, which was tacked up in the studio for many years. There’s a great story that goes with it…
Larry Leichliter explained it when I spoke to him about the new piece.
“There was this gag with a kite-eating tree. There was a cartoon, a single strip, that was part of the inspiration for the limited edition. The story is that Bill would send out a small Christmas gift to just about everybody that he knew at Christmas time, and it was something simple, like a T shirt, or a little letter opener, or some some little gadget of some kind. One year he made a kite with “Bill Melendez Productions on it, and sent it out. Everybody really liked them, because they were they were fun to play with. Pretty quickly, Schulz sent back this cartoon showing him posed as Charlie Brown looking up at his tree with his string going up to the tree, saying ‘That stupid tree ate my Melendez kite’, and the tree is saying, ‘It tasted like a taco.’ Obviously because Bill Melendez was Mexican.”
Larry Leichliter, speaking to Leslie Combemale of ArtInsights in September of 2021.
What’s really cool from my perspective as gallery owner, is that, having worked with the Bill Melendez Studios for many years, I’ve gotten dozens of Christmas gifts. They’ve sent them every year, and I’ve loved them all. We’ve gotten an umbrella, a phone stand, a notebook, a backpack, a measuring tape, a hat, a puzzle… I’m not even remembering the weirder items. I never knew the tradition was based on the one they had in-house, and now I appreciate them all the more.
Here is the Chomp limited edition cel and the accompanying giclee of the ‘making of Chomp’ graphite drawings made and signed by Larry:
As usual, Larry drew many many drawings in an effort to capture the mix of incredulity and frustration on the face of eternal optimist Charlie Brown. There’s a ton of nuance that goes into the design, and lots of back and forth between Larry and Sandy, both of whom worked for years with Bill Melendez. They really want to capture the essence of both Bill’s directive as director of A Boy Named Charlie Brown, and Schulz’s character design. There are dozens of permutations before they choose the final possibilities. Here are a few that didn’t make the cut:
I asked Larry, how the development of the limited edition progressed, and how it came together:
I think the first correction I made to it was the size of the tree, because when I first drew it, I drew it way too small in relation to Charlie, and I realized that he could just strangle the tree and pull it down, so I made it bigger! Then I decided to add the teeth and that sort of thing. All the time, I was working on his expression and his attitude. There was a lot of back and forth between Sandy and I, about what what would be the best pose? And at some point, we added Linus I mean, originally, it was just going to be Charlie Brown, and the tree, and the word CHOMP, you know, because we wanted to do this small series of limiteds as a tip of the hat to Schulz by putting these words across the screen. He would put mostly sound effects, or kids laughing, which we used on the first limited edition…the letters onscreen were used pretty often by Schulz, and it was fun when it translated to animation. We really liked doing them.
Larry also talked about his challenges in creating just the right image for Chomp:
Charlie Brown had so many expressions connected with his moment when the kite gets stuck in the tree. There’s frustration, and disappointment and distrust and even outright anger. But mostly it’s just, ‘poor old Charlie Brown’. Resignation. So I was trying to get a dismayed look, because the grimace and the sidelong glance just didn’t seem quite right. Also, at some point, we decided to add Linus to it. Just because Linus is Charlie’s support. In the process, we just try one expression, one drawing after another, until something seems to fit.
As far as the difficulty in drawing Charlie Brown in general, Larry had this to say:
It’s gotten to where it’s not that difficult. Really, Schulz had a great designing sense, and once you kind of tap into it, then you know when you got it right, and when you don’t. He definitely has a different look when he’s facing forward and when he’s in profile, and there are certain proportions, of his hand to his body, the height of his legs and the width of this neck, things like that, that you get used to. One thing is I try to face him towards the camera if I can, because I think most people like that, and I like seeing Charlie Brown looking at the world, but in this case, the profile seemed to work best, so that’s what we went with. As far as what I enjoy about it is just, that, again, the design Schulz has for this character, there very few characters where the design makes them so easy to draw. Another one is Mickey Mouse, and of course he’s iconic as well.
Of course, I figured I’d might as well ask about animating Charlie Brown, as well.
As far as animating Charlie, he really isn’t that easy to animate, because of certain things like the shape of his head, and how it changes when he turns, but then all of the Peanuts characters are like that. They have a different design in profile than they do straight on. There are techniques that you can use in animation to fool the eye into not seeing how the head changes when a character turns. Then there are other things, like the fact that they have very short arms. What do you do if you want him to scratch his nose or take his hat off, all places that his arm won’t reach? You have to stretch his arm to do that. There are ways around it, which Schultz, in many cases, has already thought out for you, and all you have to do is refer to his work. If you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for, you’ll see something that will inspire you to to do it in a way that Schulz would approve.
But why stop there? I asked which characters WERE the hardest to animate.
The hard ones are the ones that you don’t get to draw very often. Like Frieda, for instance. She’s got all this crazy, curly hair and animating it, trying to keep it from just wiggling all over the place, can be a challenge. That challenge can distract you from what you’re trying to do in the first place, which is animated character with some personality and movement. But the more you work with a character, the easier it becomes. Linus is difficult, partly for the same reason, his hair can be very distracting, but also the shape of his head. Linus, Lucy, Frieda, and Schroeder. There are two different head shapes, basically. There’s Charlie Brown’s head shape. And then there’s Linus’s head shape. All of the characters have one or the other. I would say Charlie’s head shape is a little easier to work with than Linus’s. The most difficult is Snoopy, believe it or not, but he’s also the most fun, because both drawing him and animating him is a challenge.
The Peanuts Lexicon Series is really about celebrating the collaboration between Peanuts comic strip creator Charles Schulz and director and animator Bill Melendez, who, along with his team of artists, translated Schulz’s work into the beloved classic cartoons we love.
When I spoke to Sandy, she explained that Charles Schulz was integral to the development of story for Peanuts animation. He always got writing credit for the shows and specials, but it wasn’t a vanity credit, he was really involved in creation.
Mr. Schulz would show Bill strips he’d worked on, and they’d create the storyboards from those strips. We still have a lot of copies in our archives that really represent the seeds of the animated shows.
Sandy Thome, speaking to Leslie Combemale on September 27th, 2021.
Larry added his thoughts on the origins of both the Lexicon Series, and Chomp.
The Chomp kite-eating tree limited edition was actually an amalgam of a couple of shows. Everything really goes back to Schultz and his strip. When we were doing the shows, we were constantly referring to his strip, because one thing that everybody realized early on was that he really enjoyed working on the shows. Bill would go up and meet with Schulz, and the two of them would hammer out a story and Bill would come back and we’d work on the board together. Just the fact that Schultz enjoyed the process of filmmaking as an extension to his strip, I think, which made us more conscientious about studying his work and understanding his drawing, and his characters, and sense of humor…all those things. So you’ll see a lot of his strip in our shows. And that’s why.
Here are two interviews. One that shows Schulz’s personality on an interview with Dick Cavett, and the other that captures Bill Melendez, who famously was considered one of the nicest people to work for in all of animation, as interviewed by animator and historian Tom Sito.
I wanted to go back to the cartoons and find a few examples of those scenes where they interpreted Schulz’s use of lettering. There are many more, and I bet you can even guess some of the expressions (like POW! and Snoopy’s howl OOOOOOoooo!), but I just wanted to give you folks a sense, so I found moments from the below specials, and made screen caps. The only one I can get for a collector is the Snoopy image. The rest have been sold for over 2 decades. There are only a few cel levels with words for each scene, so Sandy explained that once she put together about 4 cel setups, the scene was gone!:
I was fortunate enough to get some original drawings and cels that capture Charlie Brown’s struggle with the Kite-Eating Tree. If you’re interested in buying any of them, you can find them all, along with all our currently available Peanuts are, HERE.
And remember, whether you can relate to Charlie Brown, the Kite-Eating Tree, or both, you can buy the limited edition for $1700 HERE. There are only 50 pieces in the edition and will sell out quickly, so get to it if you are so inspired!
Meanwhile, can YOU guess what the third limited edition after Chomp will be in the Peanuts Lexicon Series? They won’t tell me, so I don’t know, but there are lots of great choices, and I can’t wait to see what they release!
Write your thoughts about Chomp in the comments, and don’t hesitate to contact the gallery via email (artinsights at gmail) if you have any questions.
Meanwhile, here’s hoping you all stay as positive and optimistic as Charlie Brown is. It comes in handy and is the best possible trait when times are tough!
This weekend Reston Town Center is hosting the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival from Friday through Sunday, with over 200 artists displaying and selling their original and limited edition art and craftwork. Straying from the usual date in May because of COVID, this weekend promises to be great weather, and since the entire event happens outside, will be sure to limit the chance of sickness for those who attend.
As part of supporting these artists and the sale of their work, ArtInsights is offering 20% off of all framing while the festival is happening.
Come by, find some new art at the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival, (which you’ll be buying directly from the artists and thereby supporting their artistic endeavors), and bring it in for framing at our gallery. Of course you can always just stop by and say hi! on the way in or out of attending the fest!
Hope to see you this weekend. Those concerned about safety or coming in for a visit, remember to bring your mask.
Friday / Saturday / Sunday 10am-5pm
From sponsor Tephra Institute (formerly Greater Reston Arts Center):
Now in its 30th year, the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival will take place on September 10–12, 2021 and will highlight more than 200 artists who are creating unique, handmade works in the fields of fine art and craft. Drawing upon a robust exhibitor and collector base coupled with Tephra ICA’s contemporary art foundation, the Festival has become one of the region’s most anticipated events, attracting approximately 30,000 people to the unique, outdoor environment of Reston Town Center. The Festival is comprised of one-on-one experiences, performances, and special events leaving an exciting, thoughtful mark in the region. Scroll down to learn more about this marquee event.
Safety precautions will be implemented this year including but not limited to, hand sanitation stations; vaccination requirements for Festival volunteers; and encouragement of social distancing and face mask-wearing in artist booths.
See all the artists coming to the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival HERE.
See all the events and children’s activities happening at the fest HERE.
Ed Asner passed away on August 29th at the age of 91, after living a fascinating life with uncompromising integrity, a tenacious curiosity, and, despite exhibiting a gruff, tough guy exterior, an open heart to both loved ones and strangers. Though beloved by Disney fans for his role in Pixar’s 2009 film UP and appreciated by hardcore tv and film fans since the 1950s, many are unaware of his incredibly diverse career as a voice artist for other animated tv and feature films. He was also a staunch and avowed liberal who fought for and won artists’ rights. He’s a personal favorite of mine, and I have followed his career since I was a baby tv and film geek. I even met him, and he lived up to every expectation. (More about that later in the blog.) So today’s blog is a tribute to Ed Asner.
AWARD WINNING WORK
Asner often played the sort of old school father figures a lot of us could relate to: a tough guy with high expectations, an irascible man who had quite a bark, but also a soft side he showed exactly when you needed it. He won two Emmys on two different shows playing a guy who fit that description as Lou Grant, the newsroom boss in Rhoda, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and later, Lou Grant. Over his career, he portrayed characters both good and bad, from Axel Jordache in 1976’s Rich Man, Poor Man and a slave trader Captain Thomas Davies in 1977’s Roots, to, most memorably, Lou Grant, who famously hated Mary Richards’ spunk but always had her back, Santa in 2003’s Christmas cult classic Elf, and the grumpy but surprisingly openhearted widower Carl Fredricksen in UP. He was in so many classic tv shows there are too many to list, but many fans remember the episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Untouchables, Route 66, The Outer Limits, Gunsmoke, The Fugitive, The Wild Wild West, Mission Impossible, and Mod Squad in which he appeared.
Here he talks about his love of the show The Outer Limits, and his disappointment in his episode, “It Crawled from the Woodwork”:
Here is a great video that hits some of the actor’s career highlights shown when he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Washington West Film Festival, which takes place right here in Reston Town Center:
It is impossible to separate Ed Asner from his politics, and he wouldn’t have wanted you to. An old school Democrat through and through, he came from Kansas City, Kansas, where the right vastly outnumbered the left. He also fought in WW2, so he had every right to expect the best from the government that sent him to war. He was a democratic socialist before Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made it cool. In an interview in 2019, he said, “a real Democrat is a euphemism for socialist. I like it. I think Americans were shucked into equating socialism with communism. People have been placed badly by that equation. They’ve screwed themselves. Until they get over that prejudice, our social progress will be slow.”
While working in film and tv, he was also making a name for himself as a trade unionist and political activist fighting for union and labor rights, including during his time as president of the Screen Actors Guild. He was an outspoken critic of former SAG president Ronald Reagan’s support of the right-wing military government in El Salvador and raised money for medical relief in the country. His activism led to CBS cancelling his show Ed Grant in 1982. He also took part in protests opposing the invasion of Iraq, and was instrumental in crafting the petition “Not in Our Name”, a declaration of dissent signed by thousands of people against US military involvement.
When asked why he decided to write the book (which was co-written by Ed Weinberger) he explained, “As a progressive, it’s a story I believe and believe in. If right-wingers truly understood what the Constitution meant they wouldn’t use it as a crutch every time they screw over the poor and the disenfranchised.”
VOICE ARTIST EXTRAORDINAIRE
Many of you know Asner voiced Carl Fredricksen in UP, but in over 30 years he won awards for lending his talent to dozens of major and minor characters on your favorite cartoons, and worked for nearly every studio. He was Goliath’s mentor Hudson, the founding member of the Manhattan Clan in Gargoyles. For DC, he played Perry White in All-Star Superman, Granny Goodness in Justice League Unlimited, and Roland Daggett in Batman: The Animated Series. For Marvel, he was Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man: The Animated Series. He was also featured on The Simpson, American Dad, King of the Hill, Family Guy, The Boondocks, and tons of other shows you know and love.
Here’s a great video compilation of his work:
Star Wars is another colossal franchise in which Asner played a part as voice artist. Not only did he play Master Vrook Lamar in the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game, he was Jabba the Hutt in the official LucasFilm radio drama of Return of the Jedi, which you can listen to in its entirety here:
Of course to many Carl Fredricksen will always be their favorite Ed Asner role. He talks about that role here:
MEETING A HERO
I was fortunate enough to meet the actor and activist and chat with him for quite a while at D23 a few years ago. I was behind the conference hall waiting to be picked up, and so was Asner. The process of reaching us was convoluted, so it took both our drivers quite a while to get through the maze of checkpoints. I said hello, told him I was a huge fan, and started asking him about his politics and activism. That has always been, to me, one of the most impressive parts of his career. Many artists and performers keep their business and their beliefs separate, but I have always believed those in the limelight should use their platform when they can. Gratefully, I knew his history. He was surprised and pleased with the direction of our conversation, since I think he expected just another delightfully enthusiastic Disney fan. We talked for almost half an hour, and honestly it got pretty deep, including thoughts on death, dignity, integrity and personal responsibility. If I hadn’t already loved him, I would have after that conversation. He reminded me of my dad, who is also big and burly and has never been afraid of deep conversations. When our cars came, we said our goodbyes. His daughter Liza was there, and she’s still my friend on Facebook. She took these great pics of us together:
If you’ve ever wondered if he was a nice guy, I can tell you he really was. For that half hour, especially after signing autographs and talking to fans for hours just beforehand, he couldn’t have faked being nice in the kind of interaction we had. I’ve also heard and read lots of stories since his passing from other folks about what a lovely person he was, whether meeting him for a minute, spending days with him on the road, or as part of a production. I think probably everyone except Charlton Heston was a fan of his!
One of Asner’s last voice projects was for Disney+, on the newly released and incredibly charming Dug Days. Dug Days is a series of 5 shorts from Pixar starring Dug (voiced by animator Bob Peterson, screenwriter and co-director of UP, who also wrote and directed all Dug Days episodes), the lovable dog whose high tech collar translates thought to speech, and his human guardian Carl (Asner). Each episode features a different theme, including Science, Puppies, and of course, Squirrel!. The production took place, in part, during the pandemic, which meant the voice artists had to improvise where they recorded their dialogue. Peterson’s ‘recording studio’ was a spider-infested closet in his house. The fact that Peterson was calling the shots meant that he could add little Easter eggs. Carl and Dug’s new home is #333, the same house number that Peterson’s grandmother lived in back in Ohio. Also look for a reference to Toy Story: 4 in the “Flowers” episode. The Ferris wheel is the same as the one in that feature. As a lover of below the line artists, I love knowing that the camera on one of Carl’s shelves is named after Mark Nielsen, production designer on Dug Days.
The trailer shows you all you need to know about why you should put a little time aside for this new series:
Ah, Mickey and Minnie, that quintessential Disney couple…with Labor Day coming up, families and couples all over the country are jumping in the car or on a plane for a last vacation or getaway. It’s about making travel memories before fall, when kids go back to school, or, as might be in our future, before COVID numbers rise in our communities and around the country again. Still others are staying home for safety, and will spend the holiday reminiscing about trips past over a nice glass of wine. Since there are lots of interpretive Disney images featuring Disney fan favorites Mickey and Minnie Mouse unwinding by the beach, or traveling around the world together, it seemed like a perfect time to talk about the iconic Disney couple, and show a bunch of delightful images of them making memories. Maybe you’ll see yourself in one of them. You can see all the art featuring Mickey and Minnie together HERE.
Walt Disney made Mickey and Minnie’s relationship clear early on, saying in 1933, “In private life, Mickey is married to Minnie. A lot of people have written to him asking this question, because sometimes he appears to be married to her in his films and other times still courting her. What it really amounts to is that Minnie is, for screen purposes, his leading lady. If the story calls for a romantic courtship, then Minnie is the girl; but when the story requires a married couple, then they appear as man and wife. In the studio we have decided that they are married already.”
As many of you know, Mickey Mouse was first animated for an ode to Charles Lindbergh, Plane Crazy in 1928, but that short wasn’t released until after March 17th, 1929. It was Steamboat Willie, released November 18th, 1928, in which he made his first public appearance. He did so with his future lady love Minnie as co-star. Did you know Steamboat Willie was a parody of the Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill, released in May of that year? Walt Disney himself not only directed Steamboat Willie, but supplied the voices of both Mickey and Minnie for the short.
From the very beginning, Mickey was meant to have a love interest. Concept images of him showed a female mouse by his side. As with many relationships, however, it took a few years for them to become a steady couple. The early cartoons show Mickey wooing the flirtatious, musical mouse, and Minnie repeatedly rebuffing Mickey.
It’s in 1929’s Mickey’s Follies, the short that follows Steamboat Willie, in which we learn Minnie’s name and her place in Mickey’s heart is made clear. It was in the song MIckey’s You Hoo, which went on to become a theme song used over the next 90 years. It included his first direct address to the audience, in which Mickey says ‘he’s got a sweetie’ who is ‘neither fat nor skinny’ and that ‘she’s my little Minnie Mouse’. 12 more shorts were produced with Mickey in 1929, but Minnie only co-starred in seven of them, largely playing the role of damsel in distress.
Did you know Pluto started out as Minnie’s dog? In 1930’s The Picnic, Minnie introduces Mickey to her pet dog Rover, marking the first, albeit misnamed, appearance of Pluto. Cat lovers know she also appears in her own shorts with her cat Figaro, who was first introduced in Pinocchio.
Both characters underwent a character redesign in the late 1930s and early 1940s, replacing their rubbery squash and stretch-friendly shapes with more fleshed out figures. Minnie’s new look was introduced in the 1939 short Mickey’s Surprise Party. At the same time, Mickey’s character went further away from troublemaker and more towards everyman. Minnie’s roles started diminishing around this time, going from 50 shorts in the 30s, to a total of 10 in the 1940s. In part, the fact that Marcellite Garner, an ink and paint artist who had become Minnie’s official voice for 1930’s The Cactus Kid, left the studio in 1941 had a huge impact on the character’s inclusion in subsequent cartoons. She voiced over 40 cartoons while continuing to work in the ink and paint department, partnering with Walt as he continued to voice Mickey. Walt was very supportive of Marcellite as she developed Minnie’s character, carving time out between recording sessions to describe and act out all the parts.
Much like Mickey, who didn’t appear in any shorts released theatrically between 1955 and 1983, Minnie has a long break starting with a brief cameo at the end of 1952’s Pluto’s Christmas Tree and lasting until she joined Mickey in his first appearance since 1955, with 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol, where they play Bob Cratchit and his wife.
One of the most romantic stories involving Mickey and Minnie begins with the introduction of artists Wayne Allwine and Russi Taylor as the voices of the the cartoon couple. Allwine was only the third person to provide Mickey’s voice, and did so for 32 years, from 1977 till his death in 2009. Taylor, who was also an award-winning sound and sound effects editor, won the role of Minnie in 1986, when she beat out over 200 other hopefuls for the job. Allwine and Taylor worked closely together for years, falling in love in the process and secretly getting married in 1991 in Hawaii.
Explains Bill Farmer, the voice of Goofy, “Everyone saw it coming. Just watching them work together, I could see their relationship develop into something deeper than a working relationship.” They kept their marriage private because they didn’t want it to color how fans saw the characters, who had remained unmarried. (As far as we know! The two mice might have had a secret wedding too!) Both Wayne Allwine and Russi Taylor were made Disney Legends for their contribution to Disney history. They were said to have made each other better people, which is what love should do. It was after Russi passed away that Farmer is quoted as saying, “When they were together, like Laurel and Hardy, they were just meant to be together as a team, and as a lifelong team. They were just so in love and so wonderful together. I think that love came out in their performances, and gave it a little something extra.”
There were a number of cartoons during the couple’s heyday that celebrate activities couples do together.
From dancing, playing instruments, singing together, or going out on the town in The Barn Dance, Mickey Steps Out, The Shindig, The Whoopee Party, and Mickey’s Gala Premiere…
…going on international adventures or navigating exotic climes as they do in cartoon shorts like Mickey in Arabia, The Klondike Kid and Hawaiian Holiday…
…to celebrating holidays together in Mickey’s Surprise Party, Mickey’s Birthday Party, and Pluto’s Christmas Tree…
There are the times they just show their love, like in Puppy Love and Mickey’s Christmas Carol, but they also enjoy sports or practical activities, as in On Ice, Camping Out, Plane Crazy, The Beach Party, The Barnyard Olympics, Building a Building and The Steeple Chase…
Of course they are always getting each other out of scrapes and jams, as good partners do, like in Shanghaied, The Firefighters, The Gorilla Mystery, Pioneer Days, The Dognapper, and Brave Little Tailor.
Whatever the scenario, this couple is enduring and steadfast, as their 90+ years together attests! You can watch a fair number of these cartoon shorts on Disney+ (although they don’t have a section specific to shorts, remarkably) or of course if you’re curious about any of the many cartoons in which these lovebirds co-star, you can find them by typing them into google or searching on YouTube. Meanwhile, here’s hoping you all get up to some fun and fancy free activities together this Labor Day weekend whether at home or off on an adventure. Remember to find some joy and stay safe, and when all else fails, watch some cartoon shorts with your favorite Disney couple!
You can see all the art featuring Disney’s iconic couple, Mickey and Minnie HERE.
If you love the Genie from the 1992 animated feature Aladdin, Phil from Hercules, Louis from The Princess and the Frog, or enjoyed 1995’s Pocahontas, you love the work of Disney animator Eric Goldberg. He co-directed Pocahontas and was responsible for some of the best character designs in the New Golden Age of Disney. The artist knew he wanted to be an animator by the age of 4, started making flip books at 6, and began making films at 13, after he got a super-8 camera for his bar mitzvah. His most important mentor was Roger Rabbit director Richard Williams, who offered him his first professional job animating on Raggedy Ann and Andy, then invited him to come to London and work at his studio. Goldberg’s diverse illustration and art training at Pratt came in handy working with Williams, whose projects required being well-versed in many artistic styles.
Goldberg was also a fan of caricature artist Al Hirschfeld from childhood, and Hirschfeld’s influence can be seen in his art from the very beginning of his tenure at Disney. It is once again in evidence on his new Disney project, coming soon to Disney+.
ERIC GOLDBERG GIFTS US NEW GOOFY SHORTS
Goldberg is the director of a new series of 3 HAND-DRAWN shorts releasing on DisneyPlus in August, Walt Disney Animation Studios Presents Goofy in How to Stay At Home, featuring ‘everyman’ (or should I say ‘everydog’?) Goofy in “How to Wear a Mask”, “Learning to Cook” and “Binge Watching”. Goldberg pitched the cartoons to Disney execs Jennifer Lee and Clark Spencer in the fall of 2020, and they loved the idea. While he directed all three shorts and was the supervising animator on “How to Wear a Mask”, he enlisted two other longtime colleagues in traditional animation, Mark Henn and Randy Haycock, to act as supervising animators, Henn on Binge Watching and Haycock on Learning to Cook. They’ll play on Disney+ beginning on August 11th. Of course Disney Legend Bill Farmer, who has voiced Goofy since 1987 will bring the character to life with his delightful vocal stylings.
It’s a well-balanced mix of the classic look Goofy had in the ‘How To’ shorts of the 40s and 50s and the more modern style of contemporary animation. There are also some homages to older Disney shorts. In How to Wear a Mask, there’s sampled music from 1942’s How to Play Baseball. In Learning to Cook, Goofy is wearing the outfit he wore in 1942’s MIckey’s Birthday Party, and the new short uses the same score as the classic short. In Binge Watching, the use of squash and stretch, one of the basic building blocks of Disney’s classic traditional 2D animation, is essential to making the humor work and the story hold together.
Can you see Hirschfeld’s influence in the new Goofy shorts? Goldberg himself would say you can see the power of line in all great animation, but specifically in these new cartoons, he wanted a thicker yet crisp line and great flow that would give the character an updated look, but, perhaps not coincidentally, harkens back to the style for which Hirschfeld is so famous.
ALL HAIL HIRSCHFELD
Goldberg has long had a fascination with and was highly influenced by the work of caricaturist and illustrator Al Hirschfeld, whose work he’d followed since high school. Hirschfeld was inspiration for many of the character designs in Aladdin, especially Goldberg’s Genie, which was created with flowing lines, based on the curvilinear drawings for which Hirschfeld was known. Animating Genie was a completely different experience from the norm, in that the film’s directors and co-writers Ron Clemens and John Musker created the character with Robin Williams in mind.
To pitch Robin Williams on doing Aladdin, Goldberg, at the suggestion of Musker and Clements, took some lines from Robin Williams comedy albums and animated Genie to them. One day after he had a few scenes done, Jeffrey Katzenberg walked in with Robin Williams, and they showed him Goldberg’s work. He had animated from the famed Williams routine talking about schizophrenia. He had created a second head for Genie to talk to himself. He made him laugh and it helped persuade Williams to play the character. Much of his scenes were ad-libbed. Goldberg would review his recorded dialogue, then select the best lines and animated the character around them for each scene.
Musker and Clements loved the Hirschfeld-ian design of Genie, so they decided to have all the roles drawn in the same style. Glenn Keane was animating Aladdin, and Goldberg partnered with all the other animators to create a cohesive look in all the characters, making this unified cast. When Hirschfeld saw Aladdin, he gave the team of artists the ultimate compliment and confirmed they were successful by saying, “It all looks like it was drawn with the same hand.”
For Fantasia 2000, Eric directed and wrote two traditionally animated sequences, “Rhapsody in Blue” and “The Carnival of the Animals”, aided by and his wife Susan, who took on the role of art director. Rhapsody in Blue, chosen by Goldberg because it’s his favorite piece of classical music, was a complete artistic love letter to both New York and Al Hirschfeld, and the artist actually came onto the short as official artistic consultant. As part of his desire to be true to his hero’s style and aesthetic, Goldberg actually hid Hirschfeld’s daughter Nina’s name, just as the artist himself did in hundreds of drawings, in various locations in the short, like in Duke’s toothpaste tube and Margaret’s collar.
GOLDBERG DISNEY-FIES HIRSCHFELD FOR SHANGHAI DISNEYLAND
When Shanghai Disneyland was being developed and built, Imagineering wanted to build a Brown Derby or Sardi’s style eatery decorated with Hirschfeld style drawings of Disney characters. Dave Bossart, head of special projects at Disney at the time, looked to Goldberg to create the over 200 drawings. They made a book of all the images called “An Animator’s Gallery: Eric Goldberg Draws the Disney Characters, and displayed some of the original drawings in person at D23 in 2015. If you ever go to Shanghai Disneyland, you can see his finished work at Mickey and Pals Market Cafe.
Goldberg himself explained what makes Hirschfeld such a remarkable artist. “Hirschfeld’s poses were always very strong, very clear, very readable. And my favorites of his work are the ones that are very simple. I think those were his favorites as well. He used to say, ‘When I don’t have the time I make a complex, fussy drawing and when I do I make a simple one.’ Because it does take some effort to boil things down to their essence and Hirschfeld was a master at that. It’s just amazing.”
Goldberg got to spend time with his hero when they had become genuine friends. The studio had him out to Disney a year after Aladdin was released. Eric and Susan Goldberg got to take Al and his wife Dolly to Disneyland. Over the years he was able to get to know the artist very well personally, and the man didn’t diminish, but rather enhanced the legend. Eric and Susan requested Hirschfeld to allow them to use his style for a new short, and after some contemplation and time, he gave permission to use any and all characters he’d drawn in his career. Ultimately, Hirschfeld worked as artistic consultant on what became Rhapsody in Blue, which was one of the best sequences in Fantasia 2000.
GOLDBERG, HIRSCHFELD, AND JONES
To allow Goldberg to express his love for the Hirschfeld line, the folks working with Warner Brothers and the Chuck Jones family engaged him to do his treatment on the classic characters of Chuck Jones. They’ve turned them into limited editions signed by Eric Goldberg himself. In each drawing, he has captured not only the characters but the Hirschfeld style. It’s not easy to encapsulate Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, or Marvin Martian and K-9 with such simplicity. We now have all Eric’s Chuck Jones images from the Fine Line series available for purchase on our site.
Peppermint Patty is not just a quirky kid with, as she herself puts it, ‘hair full of split ends’, she’s an icon, and rightly so. In this Peanuts Profile, we take a look at the art of Patricia Reichardt, or as she’s better known, Peppermint Patty.
Here’s Peppermint Patty, coming in hot from the very beginning, showing she is casual, comfortable with herself, and a great but competitive athlete:
Let’s start by getting one thing clear. Though at the very least, we know that Peppermint Patty is gender queer, Charles Schulz himself said that Peppermint Patty and Marcie were not lesbians. That doesn’t mean they can’t be wonderful, inspiring icons for feminism and queer pride. After all, at her debut on August 22nd, 1966, tomboys and girls who were wearing more butch (read comfortable) clothing, were often mocked and ridiculed, or even arrested for wearing predominately men’s attire. It was only the 1969 Stonewall Riots of June 28th through July 3rd that helped end that kind of discrimination. Though we are all used to it now, a comic strip character that spoke her mind, wore what she wanted, could best both boys and girls at every sport she played, and had a clear feminist agenda, was groundbreaking at the time.
Arguably the most well-developed character outside of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, it was through Peppermint Patty that Schulz took a committed stance on gender equality for women in sports and elsewhere.
Peppermint Patty, or Patricia Reichardt, is a Peanuts anomaly. She is being raised by a single father, is the only character in Peanuts to wear sandals, which she is passionately committed to because her dad gave them to her, and she can beat everyone, boy or girl, in every sport she plays. Initially, freckle-faced Patty was inspired by Charles Schulz’s cousin Patricia Swanson. Her last name was taken from his secretary Sue Reichardt.
In the cartoons, she was voiced by both young male and female actors. For Peppermint Patty’s appearances in animation, Vince Guaraldi created a theme specifically for her. Peanuts Producer Lee Mendelson, who wrote the lyrics to Christmastime is Here, was particularly fond of her theme.
Schulz often mentioned his friendship with Billie Jean King, which began in the early 1970s. King was a strong proponent of equality for women in sports, and was instrumental in getting Title IX passed, which prohibits sex discrimination in all federally funded school programs, including sports. It had a huge impact. Since Title IX passed, female participation at the high school level has grown by 1057 percent, and by 617 percent in college. As Schulz had always believed women could do and should be allowed to do anything men could do, he got behind Title IX and equality for women in sports, in his strip and, by extension, in animation, chiefly through Peppermint Patty.
In 1974, King started the Women’s Sports Foundation. Within a few years, Schulz became a member of the board of trustees. In terms of their friendship, King said she always knew when ‘Sparky’ wanted to talk to her, because he’d put her name in the strip. He was fearless enough to have played doubles with King at the Snoopy Cup tennis tournament in 1984. Though Schulz already felt strongly about equality for women, his longterm friendship with King inspired him to mirror his beliefs in Peanuts. With over 300,000,000 readers at the height of its popularity, the Peanuts comic strip was a powerful tool he could wield to help normalize female athletes.
Here is a series of strips from October, 1979, which was, in part in reaction to the continued backlash against Title IX, and to help push the public towards acceptance of gender equality in sports. Peppermint Patty goes full advocate, sometimes even using actual statistics, and it’s a glorious thing:
Also unique to Peppermint Patty in pop culture and certainly in comic strips is the fact that she has a loving single father (we are never told her mother is dead, but its inferred), who celebrates her for exactly who she is. It’s the reason she is so hell-bent on wearing her sandals every day. She asked him for them and he got them for her, calling her a ‘rare jewel’. Though Patty has a few issues around how she looks, she knows she is lovable because of her dad. Schultz’s wife Jean also said Patty sleeps in class because she stays up late waiting for her dad to come home from work. Awwwww.
Although, as mentioned in his Peanuts Profile, Franklin was a character that Schulz wasn’t entirely comfortable representing because he himself was not Black. He had a daughter who loved sports, however, and spent a lot of time with Bille Jean King, and both were inspirational in bringing Peppermint Patty authentically to life. She is a character that has always been and continues to be a symbol of independence, equality, and self expression. If she can wear her beloved Berks every day, we can let our own freak flags fly, whatever they may be.
Ah, the art of Franklin…When Franklin made his first appearance in a Peanuts comic strip on July 31st, 1968, he did it without any fuss. He showed up at the beach, having found Charlie Brown’s beach ball. “Is this your beach ball?” were his first words. He notices Chuck is attempting to make a sandcastle, but, as Franklin says, “It looks kind of crooked.” to which Charlie replies, “I guess maybe where I’m from I’m not famous for doing things right.”
The next day, on August 1st, 1968, the second strip appeared. In it, Franklin and Charlie Brown are building a better sandcastle together, creating a nice metaphor I hope we can all get behind.
On August 2nd, the third day in a row Franklin makes an appearance, Charlie asks if Franklin can come over and spend the night. Friendship officially started!
In all the years between that first appearance and the last time an original Charles Schulz Peanuts comic appeared in print on February 13th, 2000, Franklin never made fun of or said a bad word to Charlie.
This blog is called The Art of Franklin, not just because ArtInsights got some great original art from the Peanuts specials featuring Franklin (shameless plug but also rare art! yay!!), but because there is definitely an art to Franklin. He may not be the most verbose member of the Peanuts gang, but he is beloved by children and former children all over the world. The fact that he’s entirely positive as a character, smart, a good athlete, a great friend, inquisitive, and self-assured, is the subject of some discussion. Is he too perfect to be interesting? As one of literally millions of Franklin fans, I’d say absolutely not. Though he would have been more three dimensional with some foibles, it’s no surprise Franklin, or as we learn many years later, Franklin Armstrong, was a pillar of the Peanuts community. Charles Schulz was very much a supporter of civil rights, but he had serious reservations that, as a white comic strip artist, he could do justice to a Black character.
In 1968, at the time of Franklin’s debut, had been a very difficult year for America, and this is especially true for Black Americans. Martin Luther King had been assassinated on April 4th, leading to widespread riots across the country. Robert Kennedy, a huge proponent of civil rights, was gunned down on June 6th. The Vietnam War was in the news every day, and the news wasn’t good.
It was in the midst of all that a retired LA school teacher and mother of 3, Harriett Glickman, appealed to Charles Schulz in a letter to the Peanuts creator.
She explained her inspiration for the letter in an interview at the Charles M. Schulz Museum: “It isn’t something that you wake up and decide to do just one day. My sister and I were both raised in a home where our parents, just through the way they lived, kept us understanding our role in the world and our sense of responsibility for others. It was the kind of thing we took into our consciences without having to be taught. It was just the values we had, the respect for other people, and all of which we learned from our parents. In the early days, our parents marched in demonstrations for the rights for workers and for unions. There were so many issued throughout the years that needed my involvement. Then I had small children. Writing a letter was what I could do at the time. However, that letter was the result of my whole life. It was seeing racism in this country, knowing that no matter what there was ugliness and violence, and my letter was nothing compared to the little girl who stood in the doorway to integrate a school with crowds of people spitting at her.”
Schulz wrote back to Glickman, and his response was that he didn’t think he was qualified. He doubted he could write a Black character without unintended condescension.
Seeing he was hesitant, she enlisted two Black friends and parents, Ken Kelly and Monica Gunning. Here’s the letter from Ken Kelly, who was a space engineer who worked on the Surveyor lunar vehicle, and later became an important LA housing advocate. He died on February 27th, 2021 at 93.
It was the combination of these entreaties that led to Schulz creating Franklin. He let Glickman know he’d gotten the other letters, and that she’d be pleased with an upcoming Peanuts story. When United Features Syndicate questioned whether it was a good idea to run the strips, Schulz told them to run the strips as is, or he’d quit. On July 31st, 1968, they ran Franklin’s debut.
The addition of Franklin to the Peanuts gang was not without controversy, and it has continued to this day. The way the characters in the strip speak has a sort of old world charm and simplicity that can be taken entirely the wrong way, or just doesn’t work when dealing with the complex issues of racism, privilege, and inclusion. There’s argument around some of the depictions in the animated specials, famously, when Franklin was seated on his own side of the table at Thanksgiving in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, or the fact that he leads the kids in a dance to a rap song in It’s Spring Training, Charlie Brown. In the case of the Thanksgiving special, the animators say it was a practical matter of making it so all the kids could be seen, but perhaps it would have been better to put Snoopy by himself? The dancing in Spring Training, (which was released in 1992) made the special a product of its time, and was meant to appeal to all kids of the era.
Based on the repeated backlash that began in 1974 and continues to this day, Schulz was right about the difficulty of white artists representing a Black character, but he knew the power that 100 million readers could have on systemic or societal change. Although he always said he just wanted to make a funny strip, he tried to make a difference when he could. There’s no denying the power and influence of seeing a Black child represented in print and onscreen to the many many Black kids who read the comic strip, or watched the TV specials.
In fact, one such kid, Robb Armstrong, who saw the first strip in 1968 as a 9 year old, was inspired to a career in comic art from seeing a Black kid that looked like him in print. His comic strip Jump Start has become the most widely syndicated daily strip by an African American in the world. When his strip was first syndicated, he learned he was in great company, as Peanuts was also published through United Feature Syndicate. He asked to meet one of his artistic heroes, Schulz, and was turned down by the higher ups at the syndicate. Several years later they did meet, and became very good friends. In the 1990s, when a video was being released in which all the characters needed surnames, Schulz asked his then longtime friend Robb Armstrong if he could give his surname to Franklin, who was honored, and thus the iconic comic character became Franklin Armstrong.
In the new documentary about Charles Schulz called Who Are You, Charlie Brown?, a number of well-known personalities, including Al Roker, talk about Franklin’s influence, and the importance of seeing a Black kid as part of the Peanuts gang. A comic strip that over a hundred million people read every week had the potential to have a huge influence over how kids saw the world, and each other. Schulz knew he could make a difference, and even over his own concerns, he created Franklin as the cool, smart, talented, kind Black kid who deserved being treated with appreciation, respect and love. To both Black and white kids who grew up reading him in the funnies and watching him in the specials, he had an enormous impact.
Here are all the films in which Franklin makes an appearance:
As with all art, in which sometimes it takes a while to get the nuances exactly right, the art of Franklin as a character continues to be a work in progress. Speaking of progress, times change. The creation of Franklin was something to celebrate in 1968, but in both print and animation there were bound to be growing pains along the way, especially, as Schulz himself said, when a white artist is bringing a Black character to life at such a volatile time in US history. In the latest feature, 2015’s The Peanuts Movie, Franklin is just one of the gang. He’s as smart as ever (he’s in the student council) and organized (he’s running the school talent show), but he isn’t singled out, and his ‘Blackness’ isn’t part of the story. Regardless, he’s the favorite character of many a Peanuts fan, and is a legitimately important figure in the civil rights movement.
There’s a ton of great Peanuts content on AppleTV+. Have you checked it out? There’s a new Snoopy show which is about to have another season, and a mocumentary on Peanuts and NASA called Snoopy in Space, and even older shows and tv specials you might not have seen. Just released is a new documentary the chronicles the life and work of Charles Schulz called Who Are You, Charlie Brown?, which is an official documentary created with the blessing of his family. Narrated by Lupita N’yong’o, it includes interviews with his wife Jean Schulz, as well as famous folks inspired by the comic strip and subsequent animated specials and shows like graphic artist and author of “Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts” Chip Kidd, directors Paul Feig and Kevin Smith, and tennis legend Billie Jean King.
The documentary has a score by composer Jeff Morrow, who has worked on all the new Peanuts shows and specials on AppleTV+. It’s quite an honor to have been selected to follow in the footsteps of the great Vince Guaraldi, who created the wonderful, iconic music for A Charlie Brown Christmas, among many other Peanuts scores.
Guaraldi grew up inspired by his uncles, who both headed jazz big bands in San Francisco. Early in his career, he worked with famed vibraphonist Cal Tjader before going out on his own, releasing music that would have kept him in obscurity had a DJ not played a B-side with Cast Your Fates to the Wind on it, which garnered him a Grammy Award. Peanuts producer Lee Mendelson heard Cast Your Fate while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, and sought out Guaraldi to compose for a documentary on Peanuts called A Boy Named Charlie Brown in 1963. It was the start of a long career composing for Peanuts specials. Guaraldi’s music for A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965, which was his 8th studio album, is consistently one of the top selling Christmas albums every year to this day, and is in both the Grammy Hall of Fame and the National Recording Registry. His last recording for a Peanuts special was for 1976’s It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown. Only several hours after finishing the recording, Guaraldi died suddenly of a heart attack just moments after leaving the stage of a live performance..
Following Guaraldi, composer Judy Munsen stepped in, working alongside Ed Bogas to create music for specials like What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown!, Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown, and It’s Magic, Charlie Brown. In 2000, jazz pianist and producer David Benoit released the memorial album Here’s to You, Charlie Brown, in recognition of Charles Schulz’s passing. He was involved variously in recording interpretations of Guaraldi Peanuts songs and creating music for specials. Benoit also played piano for the recent The Peanuts Movie, on a score with a mix of music by Guaraldi, and new compositions for orchestra created by Canadian composer Christophe Beck. That’s where Jeff Morrow comes in.
Morrow had been working with fellow Canadian, Emmy and Annie Award Christophe Beck, when Beck began work on The Peanuts Movie. It was through his mentorship with Beck that Morrow got the gig as the new composer for all things Peanuts. I spoke to Morrow about what inspired him to become a composer (animation fans will love knowing it involves The Lion King), how the self-ascribed music geek got into the business, and why Peanuts characters are all the inspiration he needs to create music that fits right into the discography for the iconic property.
ArtInsights:You have said you’ve always been really into film music. What scores were or are the favorites that influenced you?
Jeff Morrow: When I was really young the one that I feel like hooked me was The Lion King, by Hans Zimmer.The music is high emotion. Very dramatic. It was the first time I remember really noticing music in a film. I was nine years old. At that point in my life I was very nerdy and into classical music. I think when I was in third grade I said my favorite music was Mozart. You know that the score for The Lion King actually gets quite classical times, in the part where his father dies especially. It could be Mozart, it’s very much in that sort of vein of music.
Then as I got older, I got really into the more classic stuff for a while, like Bernard Herrmann’s North by Northwest.
The way I got into film music was, I didn’t actually grow up thinking I wanted to be a film composer, because I grew up in Toronto. I didn’t know anyone who was a film composer, so I didn’t really think of it as a thing I could do, until until much later after I had a bit of a career going as a professional musician. Being a composer, it helps that I’m just very much into all kinds of music. I was definitely, for one period of my life, a total jazz snob. Now I’m very omnivorous in what music I listen to.There’s a Duke Ellington quote where he says, “there’s only two kinds of music, good music and bad music.”
Tell me how you got involved in scoring for Peanuts in the first place, which was on The Peanuts Movie working with Christophe Beck.
I had a sort of career going in Canada, scoring kid TV shows and some TV commercials and little low budget films, short films, and features. And then, through this program at the Canadian Film Center, I met Chris down here in LA, in a meeting. We sort of hit it off and and I kept in touch with one of his assistants. Two years later I got an email saying, ‘Hey, Jeff, remember me? We need help. Do you live in LA?’ And I said, ‘No, but I can live in LA. Just give me two weeks.’ And, yeah, two weeks later, I was down here in LA. I was making coffee for Christophe for a couple of weeks, and then he asked me to write something, and he must have liked it, because from at that point on, I was co-writing with him, and ended up getting to write a bit of music for The Peanuts Movie, which was amazing. It was recorded at the Fox stage here in LA, with the 80 piece orchestra.
So how did you connect with Apple for the new Peanuts projects?
Wildbrain and Apple, this is now a number of years later, were getting together to produce all of this new peanuts content, and through Chris I was recommended for for the job. That’s basically how it happened. They asked me to demo. I got together 3 of my now-favorite musicians, but people I just met, into an incredible jazz trio, Ryan Shaw, Jordan Siegel, and Trey Henry. We got together in the studio old school, with everyone of the same room like they used to do, not all of us sectioned off in booths. Apple and Wildbrain loved the demo, and I got the job. So the first thing I did was this little mockumentary for NASA. Jeff Goldblum and Ron Howard were in it. So I thought that was it was kind of a fun way to start. Also, given that Vince Guaraldi actually started scoring Peanuts with a documentary, it seemed like perfect symmetry.
The way that you connected with Christophe Beck and stayed in touch, is that sort of similar to the way you packaged your little demo and took it to Eggplant Productions in Canada? That shows some pretty impressive determination.
Yeah, a little bit, I guess. I feel, of course, very privileged to grow up with supportive parents who encouraged me to do that kind of thing, and whatever cultural norms that suggest that I should be doing that, because I know not everyone has that sort of opportunity to get out there and be connected with some of these people. I just put together a jazz CD of my weird trombone music, googled “music production, Toronto”, and then dropped it off at a few places. The local newspaper in Canada actually did like a little piece on me getting a job there called “Cold Calls Lead to Hot Jobs”.
The first thing you must have been thinking about for Who are you, Charlie Brown? was how to work with a very famous existing music. Also, here you are creating music the story of Charles Schulz, that’s a big deal. What was your strategy from the beginning?
I knew I wanted to sort of pay homage to the sound of The Peanuts cartoons. I kind of the thought was if it was on in the other room, you would recognize it as being in the same world as what you’ve heard. The music Guiraldi wrote for the original stuff was written for kids. I don’t mean viewers, I mean, it’s written for the characters. This documentary is a story about a real life of an adult human. So it needed definitely a slightly different approach. The starting point was the instrumentation, with piano, bass and drums, but then expanded on that to include cello, flute, and clarinet, then vibes.
A number of cues start with solo bass, which is great.
Using bass is a good way to get in under people’s voices. It’s a very supportive sound. If someone’s talking and the bass comes in, you can get into a piece of music without it really announcing itself so much.
There’s definitely inspiration to be found in Guaraldi’s work.
Exactly. It’s not like Vince Guaraldi came up with this stuff in a vacuum. The reason the music sounds like it does is that he wrote it based on the characters. They’re simple kids, but there’s a profoundness to most of them. If I sat there at the piano trying to come up with the next Peanuts Guaraldi theme, it would be too much pressure. So I was mostly thinking about their characters, like Charlie Brown and Linus, and about how serious or philosophical they are. In terms of Schulz himself, he’s just such an empathetic guy, which is why his characters have so much depth to them. It becomes clear in the documentary that when he’s in the room with someone, he’s fully understanding them and picking up on characteristics from them. He’s clearly a person who notices people and takes it all in. I was just thinking about that and what, musically, could represent that?
With your jazz trio, was there a lot of improvisation on the way to creating the cues?
Always. It’s one of the great joys of working on this whole Peanuts world is working with these amazing musicians, just to let them loose on on some of the stuff. These days, working on a film, usually your computer demo is very accurate to what the final is going to be. I had to have a pact with the directors and producers the beginning. In order to get that indescribable vibe you can get from musicians in a room improvising together, it’s gonna be slightly different than what the computer demo sounds like. Thankfully, everyone’s been really receptive of that. It’s such an amazing thing to write a framework for the musicians in some of these cases, and then just watch them bring it to life. As composer, there’s this sort of knob that I turn towards improvisation and then back towards the more compositional throughout, to track the story.
You’ve said all your scores have a concept behind them. What was the concept behind Who Are You, Charlie Brown?
Well, I find especially with documentaries it’s nice to box yourself into a certain set of parameters. I find you end up with something much more interesting. It’s definitely more of a challenge for me, but that’s where it gets fun. So in the case I knew I wanted it to be this small ensemble score, and I want to be able to accomplish every emotion or feeling required within that instrumentation. The piano bass, drums, vibes, cello, flute, and clarinet, that was my limiting factor, basically. It was essentially my imagining The Peanuts band got together, invited a couple of friends, and then had to score a documentary, but those were the only tools they had. No symphony orchestra or synthesizers.
You’ve worked with Henry Jackman and Christophe Beck. What did you learn from them that you’ve taken with you and has informed your work?
What I discovered working with people like Chris and Henry, who have done this for a long time, and been very successful, is that when they get a note from a director, or producer, editor, or assistant producer, they really take it to heart. It’s actually quite impressive. If they just spent the last week working on this couple of minutes of giant symphonic music, and then someone says, ‘I don’t think that’s really working’, they have no ego about it, which is a skill that I feel requires a rewiring of your brain. You can’t just wake up one morning and be totally cool with any kind of changes people want to make to your music. It’s a skill that has to be developed over time. With them, that’s one of hundreds of different things, but as an example that’s something I learned from them. What it allows for in the creative process if that’s your perspective, going into a project, is that it’s really a collaboration.
What was your understanding or experience with Peanuts before you started composing for the property? Did you listen to the Christmas music growing up?
Of course, I listened to it every Christmas growing up, and, you know, became a jazz musician. So there’s definitely something there that inspired me in my life. That music is up there with Miles Davis Kind of Blue. It’s certainly as or maybe even more famous.
How has your perspective on the characters changed since you’ve been working on the Peanuts scores?
It’s just such a thrill and a privilege to be able to work in this world with these characters. To get to write music for them is means I get to dive into their personalities a little more. I just feel like I have a much deeper understanding of where they’re all coming from, and have empathy for them. I might have found Lucy a bit annoying as a kid. I don’t feel that way now.
Who is your favorite character?
Well I would have said Schroeder, because he’s a musician and plays piano like I did when I was a kid. I was a little bit of a Schroeder at some point as a kid, a bit snobby about music. I’m much more in the Linus camp now. I love his soliloquies and his general philosophy.
I love Franklin, and in the documentary you really learn about the impact he had on pop culture and on Black Americans who saw themselves on tv and in the comic strip.
I learned about that from watching the documentary when I was working on the score. Speaking to Schultz’s empathy, to present just a kid with no fanfare when he was introduced, which is, I think, a beautiful thing, and then he gave him huge both a humility and a realness that just placed him in the scene without fanfare but just smart, good friend. I spent a lot of time on the piece of music that goes with that segment of the documentary. , It’s a very important moment. These characters so compelling that if I’m tracking what they’re doing, and their emotions, and how they are onscreen, then it makes the job enjoyable. There’s always hair being pulled out, but it’s very enjoyable.
Are you working on anything right now?
I’m actually working on more Peanuts music, because there’s a lot more great stuff coming to AppleTV+. You and your readers will have to stay tuned because you’re going to love it!
You can watch Who are You, Charlie Brown?now on AppleTV+. The score by Jeff Morrow for Snoopy in Space is available now on Apple Music, with the score for Who are You, Charlie Brown? coming soon.
This week, Disney confirmed to CNN that Rachel Zegler is, indeed, the newest live action Disney princess. She’ll be starring in the upcoming live action remake of Disney’s first full length animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, released in 1937. Zegler will no doubt be a household name after Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake, in which she plays Maria, releases this later this year. She is also already signed on to Zachary Levi’s DC sequel Shazam: Fury of the Gods. Her singing videos on social media have already gleaned her millions of fans around the world. Here’s one where she proves she’s got the Disney princess vocal chops:
Directing and producing Snow White is Marc Webb. Webb, who is best known for 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2 (these are the ones with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone), has ample credentials filming musical performances. He’s the director behind nearly a hundred music videos from the early 2000s, for bands and musicians including Green Day, Fergie, My Chemical Romance, Miley Cyrus and Evanescence. More recently he has executive produced 11 TV shows, including the quirky musical comedy My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, so he should be an expert at casting projects well! Writing the remake is Erin Cressida Wilson, a former professor at UC Santa Barbera, Brown and Duke. She wrote the adapted screenplays for Secretary and The Girl on the Train, both of which we can fairly assume (and even hope) are as far in tone and subject matter as you can get from what a Disney Snow White remake will offer.
All this information about yet another live action version of a Disney classic makes me curious about the history of Snow White, beyond the 1937 Disney animated feature and first official version published by the Grimm brothers. Let’s tuck into a little history, and backstory of the girl we all know as ‘the fairest of them all’.
The Grimm brothers published her story 1812 as Tale 53 in Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Present in that first version were the Evil Queen, the seven dwarfs, a poison apple, a magic mirror, and the icky glass coffin. With only a few changes, the Grimm plot is surprisingly close to that of the Disney feature…
In the *2nd and best known version of the Grimm tale, a queen shallowly wishes for a daughter ‘with skin as white as snow (yikes..this explains why Nazis used the original story in teaching their master race theory to German children), lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony’, then promptly dies in childbirth. As is the custom in old fairy tales, the father picks his second wife very badly. *In the original version of the story, the cruel, evil mother was Snow White’s biological mother, but it is believed they changed that to make the story more palatable to kids…
After seven years of the new queen’s mirror telling her she is ‘the fairest one of all’, the hyper-honest mirror informs her that Snow White has usurped the title.
The queen tasks a huntsman to kill this attractive 7-year-old (?) and bring back, not her heart, but her lungs and liver (which, by the way, in the tradition of the best cannibal queens, she plans to eat..), but he can’t bring himself to do it. Snow runs into the forest, finds the dwarf cottage, and falls asleep in one of their beds. They find her after searching for a prowler, and she explains she had to escape to save her life. The dwarfs say she can stay if she works as their housemaid (child labor laws having yet to be invented..). Ten years pass, and she has grown even more beautiful. When the queen queries her mirror, it tells her Snow White is still top of list and hiding out with the dwarfs.
The queen decides to kill Snow White herself. First, disguised as a peddler, she offers Snow silky bodices as a present, and laces them so tightly that the teen collapses.
The dwarfs show up just in time to loosen the laces and revive her. Next, the peddler gives Snow a poisoned comb that overtakes her (a story point that was originally considered for the 1937 Disney feature), but the dwarfs come and take it out of her hair, reviving her. Finally, the disguised queen brings an apple that Snow bites, putting her in a coma. The dwarfs, thinking Snow is dead, put her in a glass coffin. (This borders on creepy, right? How did they know she wouldn’t decompose? Or didn’t they care? Creeeeepy.)
A prince happens upon Snow the next day, and after hearing her story from the dwars, they give him permission to take her home for a proper burial, but along the way her coffin gets jostled. This dislodges the poison apple slice from her throat and revives her! He declares his love for her, and they marry. (Mais, bien sur!)
Once again, the queen discovers there’s someone fairer, so she toddles off to the wedding to investigate. Finding Snow, she attempts filicide, but the new bride explains all about the queen and her dirty deeds. The prince condemns the queen to wear a pair of scalding iron slippers and dance until she drops dead, giving new meaning to killing it on the dance floor.
There is a lot of conjecture as to the inspiration for the Grimm tale. At the time of publication, none of the first tales were seen as suitable for children, but they were, in fact, all based on folk tales and stories they’d collected from friends and acquaintances. The Grimms were also hardcore historians, and they might have injected some history into Tale #53. Recently it was uncovered that Snow White may have been based on the life of Countess Margaretha von Waldeck. She was famous for her beauty, had a very strict stepmother, and died at 21 under mysterious causes that, in retrospect, might have been poison.
Margaretha’s father owned several copper mines in which the majority of workers were children, (???) and it has been suggested the 7 dwarfs were inspired by the children laboring at the mine. Similar to dwarfs, the children used to live by the dozens in a single room house.
The first time the dwarfs got names was in the 1937 Disney feature. Originally they had a pool of about 50 names for the 7, including Jumpy, Deafy, Dizzey, Hickey, Wheezy, Baldy, Gabby, Nifty, Sniffy, Swift, Lazy, Puffy, Stuffy, Tubby, Shorty and Burpy. Of the many versions of the story between 1812 and 1937, Disney’s is also the only one in which the prince and Snow White meet before she is poisoned.
There are many versions of this story that have existed as oral tales or put in print around the world. In Italy, one of many variants has the ingenue running away from home riding an eagle, which takes her away to a palace inhabited by fairies. In France, one story has dwarfs played by Korrigans, dwarf-like creatures from the Breton folklore, another incorporates three dragons with whom she lives at the bottom of a well. In the Scottish version Gold Tree and Silver Tree, Silver Tree is the queen, and Gold Tree is the far superior (and younger) beauty. Silver pretends to fall ill and declares only eating her daughter’s heart and liver will cure her.
Later versions exist in film and on tv. The first two are silent films, one made in 1902 that is lost, and another that still exists made in 1916.
There are several more risqué versions of the story, including a 1969 German sex comedy and other even more colorful ones, but no need to elaborate on them here. There are horror flicks like Snow White: A Tale of Horror, and of course more recent live action films that include 2012’s Mirror Mirror, starring Julia Roberts and Lily Collins, and the Hunstman series starring Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart. Here is behind the scenes footage from Snow White and the Huntsman.
You’d be surprised to know that Disney is not the first animated version of the story. In 1933, Fleischer Studios released a Betty Boop cartoon called Snow White. It is considered a milestone of animation and was added to the film registry at the Library of Congress in 1994. What makes this short particularly wonderful is that it features Cab Calloway as Koko the Clown. Koko dances while he sings “St James Infirmary”, and that scene is rotoscoped from footage of Cab Calloway.
Even with all the alternate versions of the story released in comics, theater, in literature and elsewhere, in 2013, the US Patent and Trademark Office granted Disney a trademark for the name “Snow White”, which covers absolutely any and everything you can imagine, from internet to radio to all media, only excepting literary works of fiction and nonfiction. Given that, let’s hope the upcoming Disney live action film will satisfy fans of the classic tale. At least it looks like Rachel Zegler is up to the task!
I leave you with a video of the full 1933 Betty Boop cartoon, in which even playing against wonderful voice artist Mae Questel, Cab Calloway steals the show.
As ever, ArtInsights has art representing Disney’s first animated feature, the classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. You can see all the art HERE, and please contact us if looking for original production art from the film!
With all the Father’s Day gift guides out there, I thought it was time to create a Father’s Day gift guide specific to animation and film. Dads love movies and cartoons, so we’ve curated a collection of fun images of superlative cartoon dads and great characters the whole family will love.
Pulling those images together got me thinking about some of my favorite dads in cartoon and film. Some are decidedly dysfunctional, while others set the bar very, very high. Not all are dads in DNA, but all help shape those in their care, for better or worse. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Bob Parr aka Mr. Incredible
In the Operation Kronos database, Mr. Incredible is given the threat rating of 9.1, the highest of all the supers, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a beleaguered dad just trying to get through the day without one of his kids burning the house down or another disappearing into an existential crisis from which there is no recovery. He shows great respect for his wife and partner Helen, stepping up when she gets chosen as the face of the superhero legalization campaign. Bob is voiced by Craig T Nelson, who has played a number of classic dads in film and TV, including Steve Freeling in 1982’s Poltergeist and Zeek Braverman in the small screen version of Parenthood.
Goofy and Pluto
In various spots on the internet (including official Disney sites!) it says Goofy is the only one of the fab five, which includes Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto, to have a son, but that’s not true. Pluto and Fifi have puppies in 1937’s Pluto’s Quin-puplets. This very sweet and pup-tastic short shows a dad who isn’t quite up to the task of watching his little ones, but what parent with 5 babies wouldn’t find wrangling them a challenge?
Goofy, on the other hand, has a long and storied relationship with his son Max, who first appeared as ‘Goofy Jr’ in 1952 in Fathers are People. Imagine one of those ‘How To’ shorts like How to Ski or How to Have an Accident at Work that starred Goofy, but call it ‘How to Father’. It’s a spoof on the many classic live action shorts that capture life in the 50s. They couldn’t seem to decide on the name for Goofy’s son, calling him George in 1953’s Father’s Day Off (This short is the one time Jr/George/Max is voiced by voice artist extraordinaire June Foray). Max finally became a permanent name for Goofy’s son in Goof Troop. Max has his dad’s laugh and is as often as accident prone as Goofy. What’s special about Goofy’s fatherhood is we see an arc in which he and Max deal with father/son issues and grow from them.
Bruce Wayne appears to have been a busy guy in terms of building family, and it’s no wonder after the losses of his childhood. Is he a great role model? Probably not, but he definitely has a strong work ethic, and even as a vigilante he does have an unbendable moral code. What skills as a father he does possess are probably from Alfred, who is not only his butler, but a genius and father figure. There’s a long list of adopted kids in Wayne’s history. First is Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing, who arguably surpassed his mentor/adopted father in skill and positive public perception. Jason Todd, aka Robin and Red Hood, became Wayne’s second son after he met the street kid trying to steal the tires off the Batmobile, but their relationship is complicated. Tim Drake, aka Red Robin, is also adopted by Wayne, after Jason Todd is killed (but before Todd is resurrected. Ahh, comics…). Wayne also has several biological children, including Damian Wayne aka Robin, and Helena Wayne, who is the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle (aka Catwoman). Whether or not Batman is a great dad, he certainly tried to show acceptance and love of a sort to many a lost child. As to whether all things Batman are great as Father’s Day presents, that depends on the dad in question. Most fathers I know would love anything from a Batman c, to a coffee cup, to the original Batmobile, which sold in 2013 for 4.2 million.
Probably the best of all cartoon dads, Mufasa (which means king in Swahili) is king of Pride Rock, and loves his son with all his lion-heart. He has a great relationship with his son Simba, teaching him how to be respectful of all things, show courage, and understand the circle of life. He also sacrifices himself to save his son. His appearance as spirit is inspirational to those who believe their lost loved ones are looking over them. It’s interesting to note that James Earl Jones, the voice of Mufasa in both the animated feature and the live-action film, also has one son, Flynn Earl Jones, who has followed in his father’s footsteps as a voice artist. You can find some of his work on Audible.
Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi
Perhaps you thought I was going to choose Darth Vader. Vader really is one of the most famous fathers in film history, and probably the best of parental cautionary tales, but I’m going another direction. I submit that Yoda and Obi Wan are better and stronger father figures to Luke, teaching him self-reliance, strength of character, courage, and the power of the force. Luke was lucky to have two masters of the force as mentors, and not all those who inspire are parents. If we could only learn and live by Yoda’s words, ‘there is no try’, the world would be better off.
Finally, my very favorite animated dads are from Finding Nemo. Crush watches over his baby boy, Squirt, but also chooses to help even random strangers, as he does with Nemo and his dad Marlin. Teacher, Australian current surfer, and all around rad dude, the 150 year old green sea turtle is all about doing good and bringing joy. That might explain why he’s voiced by Finding Nemo’s writer/director Andrew Staunton. Marlin, as neurotic, pessimistic, and overprotective a clownfish as he is, is still a great dad. His love for his son sparks a fearlessness and determination that leads to powerful change in himself, and also leads the way to his lost son. Marlin and Crush are polar opposites showing all kinds of dudes can be wonderful parents to their sons and daughters.
Another Memorial Day is here, and it’s always a good time to celebrate our brothers and sisters, both veterans and those actively in the military with Memorial Day cartoons.
At first I was going to write about the many really impressive propaganda cartoons of WW2, because I’ve always been fascinated by propaganda of all eras. The problem with propaganda cartoons is they are invariably racist to one group or other, the worst being the representation of the Japanese and Chinese. There were Japanese-American soldiers fighting in World War II who came back to find their families in internment camps. Actually, our friend and animation legend Willie Ito experienced the horrors of the Japanese internment camps, and you can hear his stories about that HERE. There is also, as far as I know, only one cartoon representing Black soldiers, released during WW2 on January 16th, 1943, which is Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, written and directed by Bob Clampett. Unfortunately it has such stereotyped characters that in April of 1943 it was protested by the NAACP, who called on Warner Bros. to withdraw it. It became one of WB’s “Censored Eleven”. I went through all eleven cartoons, and… yikes! They are a strong argument for why people of color have always needed and still need to have positive representation onscreen.
I also thought about posting some anti-war cartoons, but again, that doesn’t really highlight how lucky we are to have people in the military who have in the past or who are protecting and defending our country or standing for those around the world needing to be protected, as the military did in World War II. What’s happening right now, and how much politics enters into who we help and who we don’t, doesn’t lessen the importance and value of what the individuals who serve do.
That being said, if you DO want to watch several of the the most famous anti-war cartoons, there are three that immediately come to mind:
Peace on Earth (1939): This is an MGM cartoon directed by Hugh Harman which has become a yearly Christmas staple in my house. It is a gorgeous and poignant short which features Mel Blanc as the voice of Grandfather squirrel, and captures a post-apocalyptic world in which only animals exist. War destroys man, and the animals, inspired by a book that speaks of loving one another, rebuild the world as non-violent and peaceful. Peace on Earth was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to The Ugly Duckling.
Mickey Mouse in Vietnam(1969): Originally titled Short Subject, this underground animated short was directed by the Whitney Lee Savage, father of Adam Savage of Mythbuster fame. It’s short and sweet, coming in at a minute and ten seconds. An award winner at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen in 1970, it’s not a happy flick, but you can watch Mickey Mouse do his brief military duty below.
Graveyard of the Fireflies (1988): Although director/screenwriter Isao Takahata is an anti-war advocate, he vehemently denies his film, which is based on the 1968 short story by Akiyuki Nosaka, is anti-war. Arguably the most depressing piece of animation anyone could ever watch, (name another if you have a sadder one, by all means), the story takes place at the end of World War II, and tells of a brother and sister who die of starvation after Kobe is firebombed. Watch at your own peril, and with your anti-depressants close at hand.
For the main substance of this Memorial Day Cartoons blog, instead of writing about pure propaganda or anti-war shorts, I wanted to find cartoons that in some way celebrate or highlight the sacrifice of those in our armed forces, but also speak to the importance of supporting them and each other in hard times, such as we’ve had during the pandemic. I also wanted to include really 2 really important cartoons that literally changed the course of World War II.
With that in mind, here are some cartoons that will keep your attention and capture a moment in America you can watch in honor of Memorial Day:
Let’s start with a great featurette released in 1983 on Memorial Day as a prime-time special, and was introduced by Charles M. Schulz.
What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? (1983): If you’ve ever watched Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (1980), you know that Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy, Woodstock, Peppermint Patty and Marcie took a trip to France. This adventure takes place during that trip, though it isn’t mentioned in Bon Voyage. Schulz explained, “I kept thinking how interesting it would be if they should somehow get lost on this little trip and end up at Omaha Beach and envision the scenes of the famous D-Day Invasion of World War II. I even thought that they might pass through Belgium and we could show some landscapes affected by World War I, and how emotional it could be if one of the characters somehow could be made to recite the immortal poem, John McCrae‘s In Flanders Fields.”
Of course Linus does indeed recite the poem, and here’s a clip of that:
You can see the whole featurette on Daily Motion, complete with Marcie giving motorists a piece of her mind in French. It’s pretty great, especially if you’re a fan of everyone’s favorite philosopher, Linus.
Then there are two cartoons released by Disney I especially l love, one that promotes buying war bonds, and the other than asks us all to use all our brain and heart power, and not succumb to bigotry and hate when at war (or, I might add, at any time).
All Together (1942): Walt Disney created four educational and propaganda shorts in partnership with the National Film Board of Canada. They were part of an attempt to keep the studio afloat, after the outbreak of the war in Europe lost them an important market for their films. This 3-minute cartoon was released theatrically, and asked Canadians to support their troops by buying war bonds. Directed by Jack King, it features Walt himself voicing Mickey Mouse, which is the only time Mickey is in a WW2 propaganda film. It shows a parade of Disney characters including Pinocchio, Donald Duck, the Seven Dwarfs, and Pluto, carrying banners about buying bonds. The cartoon was later used in the US theaters, after it entered the war.
Reason and Emotion (1943): Nominated for an Oscar upon its release, you’ll recognize this Disney propaganda short as a major influence on Pixar’s Inside Out, as confirmed by director Pete Docter. Essentially the message is the US version of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On”. Animators Ward Kimball and Ollie Johnson worked on this cartoon, which argues it is essential to use both your head and your heart, not just your heart, or rather your emotions, lest you be manipulated by Hitler’s fear-mongering. The film is also trying to make people aware of how propaganda works, so they could better recognize it when faced with it. You can watch Reason and Emotion on Daily Motion.
Representing all the armed forces wasn’t possible, but I do have three out of four, with the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and apologies to all the Marines out there. I guess the Marines didn’t need cartoons?
The Mighty Navy (1941): Popeye’s 100th theatrical short made him an iconic member of the US Navy, and gave him the white uniform he would often wear in the future. Onboard a Navy training ship, Popeye encounters challenges, especially with the stringent rules and the complicated equipment. When the ship gets surrounded by the enemy, Popeye takes matters into his own muscled hands. In the end he is honored by being adopted as the official insignia of the Navy Bomber Squadron. Reality followed fiction in this case, as images of Popeye started being used on insignias and as nose art.
Donald Gets Drafted (1942): Released on May 1st, 1942, this famous WW2-era Donald short is a favorite among Donald fans and animation art collectors, and is the first time we hear Donald’s full name, Donald Fauntleroy Duck. The short shows Donald enthusiastically heading to the draft board after getting his draft notice, and although he wants to join the Air Force, it is the Army that takes him. After he runs the gauntlet of a number of tests during basic training, Donald winds up in a room full of potatoes with KP duty. What is most interesting about the cartoon, though, is that pacifist Carl Barks, who co-wrote the cartoon, infused it with anti-military messages. He was against the US’s involvement in the war. Barks wanted to show the difference between the reality of wartime Army experience, and the recruitment propaganda that glamorized the life and heroism of military service. Donald was a wartime star, and the most famous of his cartoons from that era, Der Fuehrer’s Face, won an Oscar.
Victory Through Air Power (1943): Based on Alexander P de Seversky’s 1942 book of the same name, this short is extremely important to the outcome of the second world war. Financed personally by Walt, the New York Times devoted a half page to pictures and captions from the film just before its release. The studio had converted itself to a propaganda machine after Pearl Harbor, and the main target of this film was to gain the attention of people in power and realign their way of thinking. It was a success in that way. It influenced both FDR and Winston Churchill in significant ways.
We can’t forget our four-legged veterans and military ‘personnel’. Dogs have been essential during both times of peace and war.
War Dogs (1943): MGM, by way of Hanna and Barbara, celebrated dogs on duty with a short that features one of the less intelligent of the pups in service. Though it does have a brief, unfortunate caricature of a Japanese soldier, the rest of the cartoon is quite sweet in how it explains, even in the midst of the comedic elements this mockumentary uses, the true value of canine recruits.
Lest you believe even a small percentage of pups are as daft as the one represented in War Dogs, I’ll leave you with a live action short released by the Department of Defense as part of the “Big Picture” series, which highlighted aspects of the armed forces. It was filmed in the 50s, and shows the uses and training of Army dogs in Korea and Germany.
That’s it for today’s blog! I’ve had World War II and wartime animation art before, and if you’re interested in this wartime cartoon art as a collector, let me know and I’ll be on the lookout for art from this historic era. Happy Memorial Day, my friends!
As part of our 40th anniversary show for It’s Magic, Charlie Brown, we are giving original drawings by Larry Leichliter that are hand-dedicated by the artist with purchases of any Peanuts art. Pick well.. it’s one drawing per family, not per piece of art purchased!
Order now, and you can choose one of these three drawings:
Snoopy and Woodstock Happy Dance:
Charlie Brown and Snoopy: Suppertime
Snoopy and Lucy: Dog Kisses
This awesome Peanuts art be hand-drawn with or without a dedication (as you prefer) by Larry Leichliter.
You might think about getting the new limited edition just released for the 40th anniversary of It’s Magic, Charlie Brown. MAGICIANS TAKE NOTE!
Leichliter’s career in animation began in 1974 when he worked on BE MY VALENTINE, CHARLIE BROWN. This was followed by numerous other Peanuts specials that he was a crew member of throughout the late 1970s and 1980s. Since then, he has worked on many animated television series, particularly those made for Nickelodeon, which includeHey Arnold!, ChalkZone, The Fairly OddParents, CatDog, SpongeBob SquarePants, The Mighty B!, and Catscratch. Leichliter more recently was a director for the Cartoon Network original series Adventure Time, for which he directed 114 episodes and the original short. Adventure Time also garnered him three Primetime Emmy Award nominations in the category “Outstanding Short-Format Animated Program” in 2010, 2011, and 2012. He is now retired and creating limited edition designs for Sopwith Productions. You can read about Larry HERE.
Emmy-award winning director and animator Larry Leichliter spends every morning hiking with his Australian shepherds for hours, in part to take in the beauty of nature that inspires him, in part to exercise and invigorate his all-too-smart canine best friends, Ben and Olive. He has always had dogs in his life. It’s no wonder, then, that he loved the over 30 years he spent animating Charlie Brown, his anthropomorphic beagle Snoopy, and the whole Peanuts gang at Bill Melendez Studios.
Born in May of 1941 in the LA area, Larry spent his childhood, as many did, watching cartoons like Betty Boop and Popeye and reading the funny papers, where he fell in love with Peanuts comic strip. A reserved and introspective kid, he resonated most with Linus in particular, appreciating his loyal friendship with Charlie Brown and his musings on life.
In school he was good in math and loved to draw, but it didn’t occur to him he could be an animator or filmmaker until he was in high school. Once he got the idea into his head, he committed to going to a college where he could study but also take art classes. He went to Berkeley and UCLA, studying math and psychology, but by far enjoyed his art classes the most.
A great influence on his work and love of animation was when he went to the Tourney of Animation at the LA Museum of Art and saw the work of German abstract animator and filmmaker Oskar Fischinger. Fischinger was creating abstract animation years before anyone else, and was a huge influence on the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor segment of Fantasia.
Here is An Optical Poem from 1937, which he created for MGM.
Another animator that inspired Larry’s career aspirations was another German animator, avant garde artist Lotte Reiniger, whose work was also represented at the Tourney. Lotte is most famous for her silhouette animation, with her 1926 film The Adventures of Prince Achmed, thought to be the oldest surviving feature-length animated film, considered her masterpiece. Once again an example of a female artist being relegated to the footnotes in history, you animation fans should get to know her and her work. Without her, there might have been no multiplane camera!
Larry got his first gig in animation at Hanna Barbara in late 1969, and was there in the early 70s, where he worked as assistant animator on cartoons like Scooby Doo, Harlem Globetrotters, and Josie and the Pussycats. He found this introduction into the world of animation exciting, because not only did he work with artists of amazing talent, but it was his first time working with people from all over the world, and from a wide diversity of cultures. He says it felt very freewheeling, and the artists there had very individual perspectives and artistic visions, refusing to be pigeonholed. He recalls them playing a game where they yelled out “FRUIT ROLL”, and would roll pieces of fruit all the way through the studio from one section to the other. He worked with some of the greatest animators in history, including Iwao Takamoto and Bob Singer.
After a stint at Hanna Barbara, he followed a lot of fellow artists to Ralph Bakshi’s studio, Ralph Bakshi Productions, and worked on some of the animator’s edgy, some would say notorious underground projects in the early 70s, learning from folks like MGM Tom and Jerry animator Irv Spence the great Looney Tunes artist Virgil Ross.
It was in 1974 that Larry found his home at Bill Melendez Studios as an assistant animator under Bernie Gruver and Al Pabian. The first cartoon he worked on there in 1974, was Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown, which debuted on CBS on January 28th, 1975.
Here’s a cute scene that captures his two favorite characters to animate, Linus and Snoopy:
It was feast or famine at Bill Melendez, as was often the case at animation studios, and Larry got laid off, so being a lover of nature, he took a cross-country bike trip, touring America and stopping to visit family and friends at various points across the US. When he was done after three months, the studio was ready for him again, and back he went with his old pal Al Pabian, to work on It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown, again as assistant animator, which means he cleaned up key drawings, did the in-between drawings, and whatever else was needed. It was with 1977’s Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown that he first got animator credit, which means he had to animate a certain number of feet of film in order to qualify.
There’s a delightful scene that captures the ‘wave’ of feminism happening in the late 70s, as well as the mellow confidence we know and love from Snoopy and Woodstock.
At the same time, it was at Bill Melendez Studios where Larry was able to take advantage of an offer through the Local 839 Animation Guild union, and go to art school, since the union would pay a percentage of the tuition. He went back and forth for some years animating some and assisting on other projects, with Larry’s absolute favorite Peanuts special What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown and our special anniversary cartoon It’s Magic, Charlie Brown being examples of the latter.
Larry explains why he has such a soft spot for What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown, “The reason is, at the time we were making that show, my wife Cathy and I were guest hosting Japanese foreign exchange students at our house. As part of their time there, I would bring the group of them to the studio and give them a tour, and then we’d all watch a cartoon. That cartoon was easy to watch, because it didn’t have a lot of dialogue. They just loved it. What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown has a very different look, too. Part of that is the style of Tom Yakutis,, who did a lot of the backgrounds and designed a lot of the look of that show. The story itself is quite a departure for Snoopy.”
Here is a gorgeous series of drawings created for the Golden Book version of What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown:
Larry animated over 30 Peanuts cartoon specials and tv show episodes as animator. What it took for him to become an animation director was for him to leave and direct projects elsewhere, so that Bill and his crew could see him in a new light. He then went on to direct in partnership with Bill Melendez himself, as well as on his own, for Peanuts specials, and shows like Hey, Arnold, SpongeBob Squarepants, Gravity Falls, Adventure Time, for which he won an BAFTA, and Over the Garden Wall, for which he won a Primetime Emmy.
Larry has been designing limited editions for Sopwith Productions, which archives Peanuts animation and sells the official art for Bill Melendez Productions since 2013, with Snoopy’s Dogfight. For his first design, he drew so many storyboards and images that he filled a section of wall wider and taller than he is! His challenge and the fun of these designs, Larry says, is maintaining the integrity of the drawing and animation styles of the many animators he knew and respected during his tenure at Bill Melendez Studios.
When asked the hardest challenge in animating the Peanuts characters, Larry explains, “The biggest problem in Peanuts is turning from profile to front on, because the two poses are slightly different anatomically, like the eyes in relationship to the nose and mouth. The shape of the head is different in profile. To do a head turn was hard. One of the first things I learned as an in-betweener was not to turn the head straight, but turn it with a slight dip or some kind of an arc. The advantage of doing that was you wouldn’t see things shift in alignment.”
Want to learn more about Larry and hear stories from his career animating Peanuts cartoons? Larry Leichliter is taking part in an anniversary celebration of It’s Magic, Charlie Brown, which originally aired on April 28th, 1981.
We’ll be interviewing him and putting the interview online for fans and collectors to see. We’ll have an exclusive pre-release of the new limited edition designed by Larry Leichliter from the cartoon, and with any art we sell, whether it be limited edition or original production art, collectors will get a hand-drawn image of Snoopy or Snoopy and Woodstock signed by the animator. You can see all of Larry’s art HERE.
WE WILL SEND OUT AN EMAIL BLAST AT 7pm EST APRIL 28th
WITH LINKS TO ALL THE EXCLUSIVE ART
so make sure you’re signed up for our newsletter!
For more information or to see all the art available, contact the gallery at artinsight at artinsights dot com!
In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Peanuts animated special “It’s Magic, Charlie Brown“, which first aired on April 28th, 1981, ArtInsights is having a (virtual) special event! It will feature Peanuts cartoon animator and director Larry Leichliter.
We will have exclusive original animation art from It’s Magic, Charlie Brown as well as rare production cels and drawings from the history of Peanuts animation, and premiere the new limited edition from the Charlie Brown special!
There will be an interview with Larry Leichliter via Zoom, which will be posted on our ArtInsights YouTube channel, with links on our website, and a collection of art available for purchase, with hard-to-find scenes and art from your favorite Peanuts cartoons.
The new It’s Magic, Charlie Brown limited edition and the exclusive original production art will posted and available starting at 7pm on April 28th.
We’ll send out an email blast at 7pm EST on the 28th, so make sure you’re on our mailing list, or set your Snoopy alarm clock for 6:59pm!
If collectors are interested in particular images, they can contact the gallery via our email with inquiries. The collection will include some cels with original backgrounds, as well as rare original illustrations from the book versions of various Peanuts specials.
The limited edition will go live and be available at 7pm EST on April 28th. There are only 50 pieces in the edition, and it’s the first in a series, so you’ll want to snap it up if it grooves you, because it will only get better as the releases continue!
It’s Magic Charlie Brown tells the story of Snoopy as he finds a book of magic and becomes fascinated, learning to do tricks, which he first tests on his pal Woodstock. He then performs for the Peanuts gang, which is met with mixed results. Charlie Brown is called up to the stage, Snoopy does a magic trick that makes him disappear, which is successful. A bit too successful, it turns out, because he can’t seem to bring him back. Cue the lit sign saying “METAPHOR” above the poor guy’s ‘block’head.
The rest of the special is about Snoopy TRYING to bring Charlie Brown back, and failing that, giving him a way to be recognized as present, like caking him with mud so he can be seen. The special has a wonderfully classic scene involving Lucy and Charlie Brown and a football. No, he never ever learns. The beauty of Charlie Brown is he is an eternal optimist. I don’t want to ever see him lose his trust.
Andrea Alvin comes by her strong sense of nostalgia honestly. Born in 1947, she grew up in 50s Fresno, California, which she says was ‘always a little backward, always a little late in everything. If you wanted hip and new, you had to go to LA.” There was a candy store around the corner from her grammar school, and they sold sweets through the fence to Andrea and her friends. Six years younger than her only sibling, her brother Mel, she often spent her time alone, drawing in her room. Her mother was, as Andrea puts it, “a major force”, who owned a bustling beauty salon, so Andrea always believed women could do whatever they aspired to. She remembers her mom was almost always on a diet, but every once in a while would give her and Mel $20, a LOT in those days, to go buy candy at the store, and the three would sit together, eating candy and watching movie musicals all day. If there’s a better recipe for imprinting nostalgia than Jujubes and Judy Garland, I can’t imagine what it would be.
In high school, Andrea was popular-adjacent. Her two best friends Donna and Suzy were the most popular girls in school. She graduated early. She always knew art would be her career, so in 1966 she applied to Art Center in Pasadena.
At the time, women made up only a fraction of the student body, and all potential students were encouraged to go to a junior college first. Also there were lots of soldiers coming back from Vietnam just starting school. That put the average age of students in their 20s. Still, barely 18, she and her pal Carol applied and were accepted. Her parents were very supportive of her artistic aspirations, but they did expect her to make a living at it, so she focused on advertising art and illustration. When Andrea graduated in 1969, she had already gotten a job working as an animation designer and animator at Film Fair, quickly followed by a stint at Spungbuggy Works. In both places she created commercials for products like Tootsie Roll and Chicken of the Sea. She also did work for the newly created Children’s Television Network, which would go on to create Sesame Street.
All the while, she was honing her photo-realistic painting style, which she had discovered through her interaction with famed artist photo-realist Robert Cottingham.
In 1970, she was introduced to John Alvin by a friend. Explains Andrea, “Wendy had too many boyfriends, so she brought John over to my house thinking we’d hit it off. It was like, ‘Here! Take him!’”, Andrea laughs. When asked whether they clicked, she responds, “It was instantaneous.” They were married in 1971.
From the very beginning of John’s career as an iconic movie poster illustrator, Andrea worked and partnered with him. Her influence and perspective is in evidence in a number of famous posters. She contributed substantially to the creation for ad campaigns like Batman Returns, Batman Forever at Warner Brothers, and Pinocchio and The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Disney. She has won awards for her illustration and design work in film, and was an equal partner in the company Alvin and Associates, which she started with John.
When John passed away unexpectedly at 59 in 2008, Andrea had more than just emotional pieces to pick up, she found her voice as an artist had changed. While she’d been exercising her photo-realistic talent all along, she wanted to reflect on and integrate how loss had impacted her. As it turns out, even now, nostalgia continues to be a comfort and a subject that speaks to her, as it always has been. But, she explains, her art has definitely evolved.
“As far as nostalgic images, I had started painting a lot of these subjects before he died. It took me a long time to process what I wanted to say, and how to say it in my art, and in the last 4 or 5 years, somehow I’ve come to this more detailed type of painting I’ve been doing, that started with the candy canes and the gumballs. I pulled back from my subject matter. I had one big subject. Now I’ve pulled back, and you get more subject, but also more detail. I don’t know what that says or how that happened, but I have a wider view. I’m not rushing through to complete anything. I have the solitude to sit and look at my work and the detail has come from that. With my more recent work, there’s an atmosphere. There’s a mood.”
Andrea has created official images for Warner Brothers and Disney, engaging her appreciation of animation and film while incorporating her unique style, and she has also created art that speaks to her love of all things nostalgic. Her fans and collectors are grateful. Whether it’s candy, toys, or cartoon characters, Andrea Alvin gives joyful moments from our childhoods back to us in ways only she can.
I spoke to Andrea Alvin about her career and asked her about her newest work in this exclusive interview:
LC: What does the word ‘art’ mean to you and what about being an artist fulfills you as a person?
Andrea Alvin: That’s a big question. Art takes many forms, for example my daughter is an artist, she sings and performs. Art brings beauty and social consciousness into the world. It makes us think, it evokes an emotional response. Being an artist is who I am. I have always wanted to be an artist. It influences how I view the world, both literally and figuratively.
LC: What in your childhood drew you to becoming an artist? How did your inner artist express itself when you were a kid?
Andrea Alvin: I was a very shy child and was happy to spend time alone drawing and coloring and living in my imaginative world. Both my parents and my brother were extroverts and I was not going to try to compete for attention. My brother is six years older than me, so a good portion of my childhood was like being an only child, spending time alone or with adults. Art was my company and my escape.
LC: You went to Art Center. What was the experience of that as a female artist? Were you clear on what style and modality you wanted to work in? How did it form you or help you hone your skill?
Andrea Alvin: When I went to Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, I was one of about ten women in a school of five hundred. I never thought about being a female artist until I saw how much of a minority we were. I think it just made me work harder. Also, I wanted to major in Advertising Design, but I was told that girls only majored in Packaging Design or Fashion Illustration. I started as a fashion illustration major, but I couldn’t draw in that style. I was really bad at it! So, I switched to Ad Design and also took as many painting classes as I could along the way. My parents were set on me having a career, that paid actual money, when I graduated. Art Center was very demanding and accepted only a high level of skill and craftsmanship from every aspect of its curriculum. I have been able to use those skills over the years in the various journeys throughout my career.
LC: You were half of “Alvin and Associates”, which was focused on film advertising design. Your partner and husband John created some really iconic posters. Can you talk about what role you played in creating imagery?
Andrea Alvin: This is where my Ad Design major at Art Center came in handy. When John began getting illustration jobs for movie posters, I was the unknown person in the background helping with concepts, copy lines and critiques. One of my more famous “ghost” contributions is on the Blazing Saddles poster. I came up with the idea to put the Hebrew lettering on Mel Brooks’s Indian head band that says, “Kosher for Passover.” A painting did not leave the studio without my second set of eyes helping to determine that it was ready to release.
When John and I formed Alvin & Associates, we didn’t have any second thoughts about whether we could do it. We were great partners. I was strong in design and concepts and I knew what John could do with an image. We had an unspoken shorthand. A great example is the re-release poster for Disney’s Pinocchio. The image is of the Good Fairy looking down on the little puppet and touching him with her magic wand. I created the layout, chose the specific models and knew John would create the magic that turns him into a boy. I created the concepts and designs for “Batman Returns” and “Batman Forever.” Those posters were a design challenge because all of the movie stars’ likeness contracts. I knew John could make the various images into a cohesive image. I won a Key Art Award for best design of a poster for Batman Forever.
I was the one who moved us into using the computer and Photoshop very early. I saw a demo and knew this was the future. I’d say we were on the bleeding edge of its use in creating movie posters.
LC: Describe your artistic aesthetic, where it comes from (in terms of inspiration—artists you loved, movements that inspired your own work) and what kinds of images draw you to paint them?
Andrea Alvin: Over time my work has become a melding of Impressionism with Photorealism. The brushwork is evident and in some cases fairly loose, but it resolves photographically from a short distance. They look extremely tight in a photograph, but in reality they are not. My objective is, that it definitely looks like a painting and the viewer is aware of the artist’s presence.
As I mentioned earlier, I went to a design school and studied advertising. Andy Warhol and other Pop artists inspired my subject matter. They opened the door to using subjects from popular and commercial culture. In reality, no subject was off limits. In the 80’s, Photorealism became a movement and I really connected with it. Artists like Ralph Goins, Wayne Thiebaud, and Audrey Flack were painting photo-real still lifes of every day subjects with superb mastery. Chuck Close influenced me with the way he filled the canvas with his subjects. John Singer Sargent’s brushwork is inspirational. I still look to the work of those artists.
LC: What is it about nostalgia that makes you want to capture it on canvas?
Andrea Alvin: I started painting subjects that had a nostalgic aspect because I wanted to paint things that were very “American.” To me, the toys and snacks that I grew up with seemed to define my generation and those beyond. We are a consumer society. These are subjects that everyone can relate to. I found that if I used light and atmosphere in my work, it evoked a warm feeling in the viewer. I also find it humorous to elevate these subjects in a grandiose manner. Having a four foot square painting of Oreo Cookies hanging my living room makes me smile.
LC: Could you tell us a bit about some of your most recent pieces?
“Samuel’s Candy Canes”
Each year, Rhinebeck, the town I live in, has a winter celebration called Sinterklaas. It is a combination of a Norman Rockwell Christmas and Mardi Gras. The whole town participates and it brings in people from all over. One year I brought my camera and was shooting pictures throughout the day. I wandered into Samuels Sweet Shop, the town’s only candy store, and it was appropriately decorated for the event. I saw the candy canes in the vintage bucket draped with festive lights, and it really spoke to me. Whenever I look at it I think of SInterklaas and the feeling of the winter holidays. It’s cold outside, but here I am in a warm cozy spot and I’m going to enjoy something sweet. I hope it makes the viewer feel that way as well.
“Got a Penny?”
Generally I only paint from my own photographs, but once in a while, someone has a photo that inspires me. This one, of the gum ball machine was taken by a friend that I went to high school with, Jerry Lane. He’s a professional news cameraman, so it was of excellent quality. Thank you Jerry!
It reminded me of going to the store with my mother. These machines were strategically placed outside the door, so you couldn’t miss it, whether you were coming or going. “Please Mom, have you got a penny? I really need that gum.” We always knew if a mother gave in to the annoying begging, because the gum would turn our mouth and teeth a bright red or green or blue for hours.
“Putting Out the Fires”
I grew up in Fresno, California. It is a place of scorching hot summers with temperatures in the triple digits for days on end. Squirt guns were great fun and a way to stay cool. I was really taken with the shapes, colors and transparencies of these toys. When I completed the painting and was looking for a title, the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school shootings took place. It put a different spin on the subject. Was there a way to portray the subject of guns, even though they are whimsical toys. was not negative? Thus, the title, Putting Out the Fires. Sadly those fires are still burning and the shootings continue.
LC: You’re working now on a piece with ice cream sundaes called “In the Good Old Summertime”. Why did you pick that subject and what is it saying?
Andrea Alvin: My friend in Los Angeles, Lynda Fenneman, took this picture. There is a motel and coffee shop in the San Fernando Valley that has been restored to its original mid century grandeur and is used as a movie set. I connected with this photo because of the iconic nature of the ice cream sundaes and their setting. I’ve cropped in on it to make them even more heroic. Nearly every town had a movie theater and a restaurant with a soda fountain. In my town, we had Carnation. My older brother and his high school friends would hang out there. They called it “The Flower.” “Meet me at The Flower” was a Saturday night invitation. For my grammar school friends and me, it was the lure of the cone shaped glass, chocolate sauce and whipped cream that beckoned to us. It’s those shared memories and the fun of painting those reflections and surfaces that drew me to this subject.
LC: We did a project on candy hearts. What about that was fun or engaged you as an artist?
Andrea Alvin: The candy message hearts are so iconic. They are a perennial Valentine candy. We had fun changing up the messages to be more inclusive to today’s culture. From the traditional Soul Mate and Party Time, we added Love is Love, Queen, and Butch. The colors are sweet and fun and they are really like chunks of chalk, so painting them was a bit of a challenge. We donated a portion of the sales to the Trevor Project, so it felt good to give to a worthy cause.
LC: How has the pandemic effected you as an artist and how has it been integrated into your work?
Andrea Alvin: When I knew we were on lockdown, I thought, “this should be a very creative time.” Unfortunately, I had a very hard time concentrating on art work. It took me a while to get back into painting regularly. I think that my subject matter is a perfect distraction from the bad news and depression that so many people felt. It always makes me feel better.
LC: What one bit of advice would you give to artists who want to be successful?
Andrea Alvin: First, hone your skills. Go to art school or study and practice to be as good as you can be at your chosen art form. Do it for the love of the process and not for the money. Success is not about sales or how much money you can make, it’s about being good at what you do and constantly growing and creating. It takes a lot of drive and a self recognition that “you can do it” no matter what obstacles come your way.
LC: If you have to pick one quote that expresses how you approach life, what would it be and why?
Andrea Alvin: From the artist Chuck Close – “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Today I’m going to discuss Pepé le Pew and the controversy around the classic cartoon character, who won an Academy Award for 1949’s For Scent-imental Reasons. a cartoon we’ll talk about in this blog. I’ll also drop the images of art available for sale representing the character, since purchases have gone through the roof, in case ‘ardent’ fans of the skunk want to add an image of him to their collection.
It all started when New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow caused a stink about Pepé le Pew saying he adds to rape culture, proving once again anyone can get attention even if they know very little about the history of animation.
“blogs are mad bc I said Pepe Le Pew added to rape culture. Let’s see. 1. He grabs/kisses a girl/stranger, repeatedly, w/o consent and against her will. 2. She struggles mightily to get away from him, but he won’t release her 3. He locks a door to prevent her from escaping.” It’s true … Penelope Pussycat was often in Pepe’s clutches.”
While some of that may be true, there’s much more to the story.
First off, and this may be a nitpick, the kitty in early Pepé cartoons wasn’t named Penelope. That name was created and retroactively applied to what the classic WB cartoons called “Le Chat” or “Le Cat” by the Warner Brothers marketing department.
Secondly, there are multiple scenes within the Pepé le Pew cartoons in which the tables are turned, and le Chat becomes the aggressor.
In fact, that occurs in the aforementioned 1949 Oscar winner, as you can see in this video that shows the beginning and end of the cartoon:
That’s not to say that aggression from either side is acceptable, it’s just that ‘Penelope Pussycat’ is still included in the next WB release, and Pepé is not.
For my own part, I saw For Scent-imental Reasons in French, which I’d have to say in retrospect is a very interesting experience. French culture has been, without question, behind the curve as it relates to consent, but to this day French women definitely shrug off inappropriate advances as par for the course, creating hard lines in the sand for anyone wanting to cross them. I have given this whole discourse serious consideration, because I am and always have been a strong proponent of consent.
The thing is, Pepé is a cartoon character. He was created in the 40s, (not an excuse) but he was modeled after Charles Boyer, who played abusive characters on more than one occasion, as well as Maurice Chevalier, who was one of the stars of a film that celebrated a teenager becoming a courtesan for a man dozens of years his senior (1958’s Gigi).
There are so many classic characters that could be retired or should at least be reevaluated, but a cartoon character, especially one created by an animator that is no longer alive to defend him, can easily be cancelled.
Since Chuck isn’t here to speak for his creation, here, from Emma Award winning producer Linda Jones, are thoughts on her father Chuck Jones and his Oscar winning creation Pepé le Pew:
From Linda Jones:
Pepe Le Pew is, I think, more than a lothario… like many of the other comedic characters, both animated and live, I think the underlying theme is one of exaggerating those characteristics we all (or those of us who are honest) recognize to some degree in ourselves. That’s much of what comedy is…. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
If the Pepe cartoons were currently being made, I would say they should and would be considered inappropriate. Whether Warner Bros. decides to shelve the cartoons, as well as the character appearing in new movies, that is a decision they have every right and responsibility to consider… These are changing times and changing mores. Pepe’s pursuit of an unattainable goal was (and still is) a well-used story line…the pursuer, the object and the venue vary, but the underlying idea is classic and will continue to be used and, perhaps, overused.
I don’t know what my father would say about this now…but I know for certain that his career was devoted, entirely and always, to entertainment…to helping us all to laugh. Many have assigned motives and messages to his films…political, societal, even religious. None of them are correct. He was an animated film director and he spent his professional life in the pursuit of entertainment.
There has been reference to these particular cartoons contributing to a “rape culture.” Does this infer that “rape” is a current or recent phenomena? Another discussion for another time, but I have a great deal of difficulty believing that anyone, anywhere was so influenced by watching Pepe Le Pew cartoons that they pursued a life of debauchery. Sorry, it just doesn’t make sense to me. However, as a life-long supporter of women’s rights, I believe it is time to re-visit the past policies, arts, norms, behaviors and make sure we are not making mistakes as we move forward.”
All this fuss has led to WB removing Pepe from all future Looney Tunes storylines and productions. Or did it? Apparently the script was already problematic as it relates to Pepé: In Space Jam: A New Legacy, ascene reportedly involved Pepe hitting on a human character played by Greice Santo and her in turn slapping him away and pouring a drink on him. Then LeBron James was meant to teach Pepe about consent. As Deadline writes, “Pepe then tells the guys that Penelope cat has filed a restraining order against him. James makes a remark in the script that Pepe can’t grab other Tunes without their consent.” There’s no question that’s unacceptable, but it’s also not in keeping with Pepé true character. I suppose if WB isn’t going to stay true to or expand Pepé, it’s better he is left to history, no?
Meanwhile, for fans of the Pepé le Pew character, here are some limited editions created by those who love his history, and you can find them all HERE.
Also, it seems worth mentioning, that a cartoon and real life often bear little to no resemblance. For example, if you think this cartoon ‘mating ritual’ is bad, you should read about the mating of both CATS (which involves teeth and pain and such) and SKUNKS (not much better, to be honest).
What do YOU think about the character being cancelled? It’s a complicated subject, to be sure. I’ve read a number of posts saying American women were uncomfortable with Pepé le Pew as children. That’s not good. I’m sure if that had been my experience, I’d be more inclined to agree with his removal. I do remember thinking I’d have smacked him hard on his little black and white nose. On the other hand, questioning what is consensual, what is crossing the line, and how to be clear about our own boundaries is something we should all learn to do, and early. Perhaps the cartoons could hold a warning, like films that include copious amounts of smoking, or, for that matter, Gone With The Wind (a film I can barely watch, as visually beautiful as it is)?
Jim Salvati is doing the artist thing the right way.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the artists I know during this pandemic. Of course I’m thinking of artists of all kinds, including actors, musicians, and filmmakers, many of whom haven’t worked regularly in what is now over a year. There are also visual artists who have continued to create images, sometimes for art galleries, sometimes in work as illustrators or concept artists. Regardless of the artistic expression, the pandemic has surely had an influence, if not on their income, on the way they create, or find a way to continue in the face of such unprecedented times, or what they are doing to find ways to continue to express themselves.
Of all the artists I know, one I knew would internalize what’s been happening and express it in art, as well as stay centered and forward-moving, is Jim Salvati. The man is, paradoxically, both really chill and really intense at the same time. Here’s a guy who has been a working illustrator, movie concept artist, fine artist, and art professor for over 30 years. Deadlines are a part of his daily life, so it seems reasonable to imagine he’d be pretty stressed out.
Raised in the beach culture of Southern California, Jim has always found a balance of his own art and the water has helped him to keep centered. When the surf’s up, he works from the crack of dawn to 2pm and then goes surfing. When there’s no surfing, he can work 12 hour days until the project is done. Either way works, because both art and nature feed his soul.
As an artist, Jim is a storyteller, and has always been drawn to intense, or complicated subjects. He seeks to find both the darkness and joy in them. He tells his students at the Art Center College of Design to get their passion out in their work, and to express their own experiences through the work as well. It makes sense then, that what he has seen and experienced in the pandemic is reflected in his art. He is quoted as saying, ““The different emotions, gestures, moods, environments, and style of people in my life and those that I cross paths with, all become part of my storytelling.” Here is a piece he did as a commission of Eddie Van Halen during the pandemic, which is part of the Jim Salvati art series of musicians:
I love that he looks like he’s praying, but the deity is music and his own craft as a guitarist. The image is both chill and intense, right?
This expression of intensity and getting to the depth and the meat of his subjects is nothing new. Even as a Disney fine artist, he finds the emotion and simple truth at the heart of the image. Here is a Lilo and Stitch original titled “A Part of the Family”, where he captures what it means to be family in one moment.
There are lots of other examples from his work with Disney that have the same intensity. His paintings are layered and thick with paint. believing an uneven surface adds to the emotion of the story. Even in limited editions, those layers translate visually.
I asked Jim to answer a few questions about his life as artist during the pandemic, what music inspires him, and other things that offer a glimpse into the brain and art process of Jim Salvati. Here are his fascinating answers!
Leslie Combemale: What does art mean to you, and what about being an artist fulfills you as a person?
Jim Salvati: Art means pretty much everything to me. I was raised in a art family, and very influenced by my uncles to get into this industry. It is a very rewarding career to see your work on the big screen, magazines, posters and on collectors’ walls. A very rewarding career. It’s difficult for sure to make every painting, whether digital or analog, perfect every time. It’s the pressure and the looming deadlines. You could say I am 100 % addicted to art and it’s pretty much on my mind 24/7, day and night..when I need sleep.
LC: One of the things I most love about working with you is commissions are always even better than I could imagine. What about doing commissions inspires you as an artist, and can you name a recent one that you really enjoyed?
Jim: Commissions are very exciting, and very scary at the same time, and always challenging, because there’s pressure to make it perfect. I’m always hoping the client is just as happy. Recent 2021 commission is the new book Moby Dick. It’s a huge project that has not been printed at this level since 1930..the “Rockwell Kent Edition”. 15 Paintings and inkings. It’s a legacy project. This one is for the history books.
LC: What are your favorite Disney and your favorite non-Disney pieces you’ve done lately and why?
Jim: Recently doing some Disney concept work that is not produced yet. I took a break to deal with some family stuff. My incredibly cool Dad and I had a intentional break away from art that was very much needed, because I have never been unemployed, and have never taken a break, ever.
I am now getting back to Disney work, all new and not yet seen. Being a perfectionist, I will send in the Disney work when I think it’s ready and perfect, to keep the tradition of always sending in my best work to them.
LC: Do films and tv shows impact your artistry? if so, what are a few that have impacted you lately or continue to inspire you and why?
Jim: I consider myself a film and music nerd. My taste in film is very eclectic. It’s all over the place. I love films and soundtracks so much. All films inspire me. It’s such a great art form. Films are almost impossible to make. It’s such a difficult industry . There are so many moving parts, that it is amazing some films even get made. I also watch the ‘Making of’ documentaries. Just watch Heart of Darkness and you will see the ‘Making Of Apocalypse Now‘. It was impossible to complete, and almost killed Martin Sheen and Francis Ford Coppola. Even student films are tough to complete. I have recently been into small independent films. The most recent film I loved is NY fine artist Julian Schnabel’s film about Vincent Va Gogh, Eternity’s Gate. I loved Jojo Rabbit for the filmmaking, story telling, and the Bowie soundtrack. Julian Schnabel is the business model I follow: art and filmmaking.
LC: What is the most valuable way you’ve found to find joy as you’ve moved through the pandemic?
Jim: I consider myself a music nerd as well. My taste in music is very eclectic and extremely all over the place. I listen to it all, and I’m looking for new music all the time. Can’t list 5! My brain is spinning even thinking about that! David Bowie is my go-to. I also go through phases from art jobs that influence my listening, like a project I started that had me revisiting The Doors and even watching the film Doors live at the Hollywood Bowl from 1968. It is astonishing to watch, because the band members are trying to keep up with Jim Morrison! It’s a great concert, but if you watch closely, it’s stressful because of Jim’s unpredictability. I do love his lyrics. I am always a bigger fan of written lyrics.
LC: What is the most valuable way you’ve found to find joy as you’ve moved through the pandemic?
Jim: That’s easy. I engulfed my life in producing art that took on a ton of work…then took a break to concentrate on family and fitness, which benefits mental health. I worked out by riding, hiking, and of course surfing, and doing anything to move. About one year ago I was at a concert with thousands of young people, shoulder to shoulder, and one of the best concerts I have ever been to… I mentioned my eclectic taste…this concert, which was exactly one year ago, was electronic music by Dj Destructo, with actor Idris Elba, who started his career as a DJ, then became a great actor, but Idris still does concerts. It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended. No one sat down the whole time. It really reminded me that the electronic music industry is totally influenced by Kraftwerk! I really love it live music and miss concerts so much. That is what I miss most, then travel. I survived the one year shut down and it makes me feel so fortunate…especially since I sold more paintings lately then before the pandemic! The break was good for me and now back neck deep in art. The Disney work is coming soon!
LC: How has the pandemic impacted your creativity or painting?
Jim: The pandemic and my intentional break in not doing art for awhile has made me more creative and fresh. I am working on a film now that is so incredible. It’s fresh, new, and a never-seen-before concept. It’s rewarding and so creative to be part of something new. Disney will be with me forever. I needed a break to re-boot and get a fresh new direction. Disney has been in my life and career since I started. I have never been without my Disney family.
The pandemic is wearing on me for sure, so I’m trying my best to give back to people in need, and to the students who are so 100% engaged and committed in their education..I want to give them my best.
Here, in honor of Jim Salvati’s love of surfing, is this blog’s Covid Comfort Cartoon, from 1972’s Snoopy Come Home:
All across the country this February, we’ve been inundated with winter weather. At the time of this writing, Texas has been without power for way too long, due to a crushing storm, and that system has blown across to the Atlantic, dropping snow and ice as it has traveled. Perhaps, even with the few snow storms we’ve had in 2021, we might be ready for balmy, spring and summer weather. In the interest of remembering the winter chill with warm feelings rather than bitterness that rivals the wind chill factor, I thought it fitting to consider the best, most charming, most romantic, nostalgic winter scenes in the history of Disney.
With that in mind, here are ten snow scenes from Disney that will warm your heart better than any bonfire.
It’s true that on my list of ten, Fantasia is the oldest, but it’s also the perfect start, because in Disney’s Fantasia, the Nutcracker Suite takes us through all four seasons, with the Waltz of the Flowers moving from fall to winter.
One of the things I’ve noticed at the gallery is that when kids love Fantasia, (and bear with me, because I’m sure this seems weird) they tend to be really smart. In the 28 years that I’ve owned an art gallery, I’ve seen lots of these kids grow up, and the Fantasia fans are all doctors, professors, and other professions that require optimal brainpower.
The original production cels and concept art from Fantasia are always beautiful as art, beyond as a means to an end. The ink work on the surface of the cels is intricate, often in multiple colors, and in the case of the fairies, many have diaphanous wings. You can see examples of some of the concept art and cel work from Fantasia, HERE.
2. BAMBI (1942)
I know the scenes in snow from Bambi can bring back traumatic memories from kids who remember Bambi’s loss, but the scene where Bambi learns to walk on ice is one of the most charming (and technologically advanced in terms of character action for the time) sequences ever at Disney. The backgrounds by Tyrus Wong combined with the sweet friendship captured between Bambi and Thumper in this scene work to make the film a favorite across time and across generations.
3. MAKE MINE MUSIC (1946): Peter and the Wolf
For those who know Peter and the Wolf from bedtime stories or, if you have musician parents, from Prokofiev, Disney’s version brought the characters and music into vivid life. The composer met Disney during a tour of the west in 1938, and played the piece on piano for him. Sterling Holloway, who is best known as the voice of Winnie the Pooh, was the original narrator. The whole story takes place in the snow, and it perfectly evocative of winter. Here’s the short with David Bowie doing the narration!
4. LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955)
There are two scenes that take place at Christmastime in Lady and the Tramp, but only one actually shows the snow and ice. The last scene in the movie captures Jock and Trusty coming to visit Lady, Tramp, and their growing family, braving winter (even with Trusty’s broken paw) to do so. One of my favorite images from Disney Fine Art is of the canine family outside their house in the snow, and it’s done by Rodel Gonzalez. You can see it HERE.
5. 101 DALMATIANS (1960)
I’m sure you Disney fans will agree, when you think of Disney and snow, you think of 101 Dalmatians, and the intrepid mom and dad ushering their own and their adoptive pups through the driving snow, away from Cruella, and back to the safety of Roger and Anita. This is a very popular scene for art collectors who love the movie, but many forget just how miserable the dogs are for most of their trek. Still, there’s no question it’s beautifully animated. If you dig Dalmatians, you can find official art and production cels on our site HERE. All I can say is, poor pups! These are some great parents…
6. SWORD AND THE STONE (1963)
One of the most iconic moments that represent literature (loosely, I’ll grant you) is the moment Wart pulls the sword from the stone in Disney’s 1963 version of the Arthurian legend by T.H.White. The film is often forgotten in the lists of best Disney films, but it was a box office success at the time. Disney had bought the rights to the White’s novel all the way back in 1939, but much like The Little Mermaid, it took decades to come to the screen. Some of the best minds and talents in animation worked on the film, including story artist Bill Peet, art director Ken Anderson, background artist Walt Peregoy, and animators Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Les Clark, Eric Larson, and Don Lusk. Floyd Norman (who has a great documentary about his life in animation) was an assistant animator on the film, and it leveraged the genius of composers The Sherman Brothers. Iconic!
7. THE RESCUERS (1977)
Little is as charming as classy mouse Bianca, played by Ava Gabor, dressed in winter attire. Even better is witnessing the very sweet relationship between her and Bernard (Bob Newhart). Spies, orphans, diamonds, and bats come together to tell as story that was well received the world over. The Rescuers has one of animator Milt Kahl’s best and favorite creations in Madame Medusa. Alls well that ends well, even in the midst of snow and ice, as you see here in the last scene of the films.
8. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1993)
Few would argue that the snow scenes in Beauty and the Beast are some of the most romantic and memorable in Disney’s history. It was a film that was loved and held a special place in the hearts of those who worked on it, as you can see in the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty about the Disney renaissance. The song “Something There” shows Belle and the beast getting closer and Belle seeing the sweeter side of her furry friend/soon to be beloved. There is a lot of animation art that captures this scene, one of which you can find HERE. Paige O’Hara, the voice of Belle, is one of the official artists creating art based on the film, (much of which is very muc about snow!) and you can find their work HERE.
9. MONSTERS INC. (2001)
“What?”, you say? Toy Story has snow? Two words: Abominable Snowman. The scenes that start with Mike and Sully finding themselves in sub-zero temps with no idea how to get back are some of the most exciting and memorable of the whole film. How wonderful that Mike and Sully meet a new friend and show how well they work together as best friends!
There’s not much official art of Monsters Inc., but official Disney artist Tim Rogerson made a great piece, complete with the Abominable Snowman, representing all your favorite characters from this great cartoon! You can find it HERE.
10. FROZEN (2013)
It’s good that I can to begin and end this blog post with iconic winter scenes, and finishing off the 10 Disney snow scenes is a film that is really all about winter. I mean, ‘the cold never bothered me anyway’ continues to be on the lips of fans all over the world. The highest-grossing Disney film of all time, Frozen also had one of the longest incubation periods, with the first thoughts of turning it into a feature starting in 1937. For many years it was going under the title “The Snow Queen”, and in fact, I remember speaking to friends inside the studio in the 1990s who were working on treatments and ideas for it. The focus by animators and story artists was to be as realistic as possible in terms of capturing Norway’s fjords and the naturalistic environments, so much so that, for example, they brought a live reindeer named Sage to the studio to study. The name Frozen was meant not only to speak to the frigid world of Arendelle, but also the frozen relationships and Elsa’s frozen heart that needed to be thawed. In that respect, the cold weather, the snow and the ice, were a way of advancing story and character in a way that hadn’t been done before at Disney. The perfect example of that is in the song ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman”:
For my first blog of 2021, I want to talk about cartoon love, love and romance in animation and animation art. Every February, as I look around the gallery, I consider just how much of animation and cartoon shorts are focused on love and romance. To be sure, it’s a strange year to celebrate Valentine’s Day. In 2020, Much of the world wasn’t yet aware of the impending pandemic, so for many it was business as usual. Some couples went out to dinner, some celebrated with gifts or champagne, and friends got together and had a Galentine’s party. My husband and I don’t really celebrate, but last year we did make a good meal and watch horror movies, and I got a ‘secret Valentine’ from my dad, as I have since I was 10 years old.
This year is different. We are all still hunkered down. Most of us aren’t going out to restaurants. We also all need as much joy as we can muster, because we are still apart from some of our favorite people. What we CAN do this year, though, is watch cartoons. We can watch them with our partners, or make Galentine’s an event this year by planning a watch party through Disney+ . There are so many movies and shorts that celebrate love, and the streaming site has pulled together a collection to make us feel a little closer to each other.
About Cartoon love: Some of the best Disney shorts feature iconic couples, like 1938’s Brave Little Tailor and 1940’s Donald Duck Steps Out. Donald Duck Steps Out is one of the cartoons available as part of this Valentine’s Day collection. So is the 1936 classic Mickey’s Rival.
As to feature films, the first that comes to mind is Lady and the Tramp, which is actually listed in AFI’s “100 Years 100 Passions”. How about prince and princess stories like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella? There are also more recent classics like Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast.
While we’re at it, we might as well add a little “I LOVE YOU. I KNOW.” to the equation. It isn’t animation, but it’s officially Disney, and Princess Leia makes everything better or at least bearable, even isolation.
Whether you are surrounded by family or braving the pandemic alone, these animated friends will help you through until we can be together again.
In honor of the month where we remember love and appreciate those who keep us close, here is the first COVID COMFORT CARTOON of 2021:
2012’s Paperman, a gorgeous and very romantic short that won both an Academy Award and Annie Award for Best Animated Short.
Stay safe out there, and remember, we’re all in this together. Let’s make sure we let those we love know it as often as possible.
Many of our great friends who also happen to be clients have been supporting ArtInsights gallery since last March when the Covid Pandemic effectively shut down the country (or it certainly should have..), and it’s not just heartwarming but an honor for that to be the case, but we’ve been asked many times by them, by folks online, and by friends how ArtInsights and how Michael and I are faring in what must be the worst time for small business since The Great Depression. That’s almost 100 years. Bummer for us to be part of this time in the economy, but since we’ve been in small business for over 30 years, we can’t be completely shocked. The short answer is that we’re hanging in there and doing ok up to this point, and that’s not a little because of our loyal clients, old and new. I thought I’d share our experience, and how we’ve found new clients at a time when so few are spending money at brick and mortar small businesses.
First, I’ll say something I’ve said many times to friends and clients. Very very few people get into owning and running an art gallery expecting to make a living at it. Even in the world of animation (and I’d say film art, but there are so few of us out there, there’s nothing to compare us to) nearly all the galleries are owned by people who don’t need to make money. Mostly it’s something people who don’t have to work and come from a trust fund or a family with money do because it seems like fun, or charming…or maybe a place to drink wine and chat? We are not those people. We can’t really afford to make many mistakes, at least not big ones. For example, the one time I misunderstood how advertising on YouTube worked and spent $800 in one week, I barely slept for days. (Lesson learned there!) Our time is our currency, and that’s what we spend instead of a big budget for advertising and marketing. We’ve had to learn how to do things ourselves. That includes what art we offer here in the gallery.
Our focus has been film art and animation for the 25+ years we’ve been in Reston Town Center. We have had to, during that time, shift and change with what we see in the marketplace. Here are a few examples:
We noticed about 20 years ago there was a lot of restored animation art showing up at auction, so we started trying to only represent production art that was in original condition.
When Disney kept switching the companies they had representing their art, stopped selling production art, and started only selling ‘Interpretive Disney Art’, we started focusing on the artists that actually worked for Disney, rather than those randomly chosen for their style. We have amplified Michelle St. Laurent (art directed for Disney production designer at the theme parks) , Tim Rogerson (graphic designer for the theme parks), Toby Bluth (art director for The Tigger Movie, etc), Lorelay Bove (visual development/concept artist at Pixar), Peter and Harrison Ellenshaw (Oscar winning matte background painter and special effects artists, respectively), James Coleman (background artist for many Disney films, including The Little Mermaid) Jim Salvati (concept artists for multiple studios), Bill Silvers (concept and background artist for multiple studios, worked on Lilo & Stitch & a bunch of other Disney movies) and John Alvin (movie poster artist who worked on over 250 posters, created Lion King, The Little Mermaid, & Aladdin posters for Disney).
When artists who had spent a large part of their careers at Hanna Barbera and Warner Brothers started selling their art, we started commissioning art from them, (other galleries followed suit, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and more commissions mean more money for these wonderful people!), so we have exclusive art by Bob Singer and Willie Ito.
When artists went out on their own or approached Disney directly to sell their art, we found ways to amplify and represent their work, leading to exclusive art from them, so we have art from Bill Silvers you can only get at ArtInsights.
When auctions started selling more and more animation art that had been restored, we carried less animation art, but focused on more exclusive, rarer images like key set-ups and concept art.
We saw that Warner Brothers, Disney, and Hanna Barbera limited editions were being overproduced, so we limited our inventory of them, guiding our clients to original art and only the most iconic limited editions, and only when the price was right.
We’ve had a good internet presence since the beginning of our business. Let me tell you, that’s been interesting. Anyone who had to have a good website that represents original art but couldn’t spend $10,000 on creating it had quite a time in the 1990s. What that meant was doing a lot of blogging and a lot of updating ourselves. We’ve also had about 10 completely new websites over the years. That got us used to adding inventory and writing about animation and film art. You know that website Marvel designed as a cool way to center the story in 1994? Our website looked almost exactly like that:
It’s the fact that we always focused as much on our website and selling online as we did in the brick and mortar store that has, in part, saved us during the pandemic. We literally see nearly no one that isn’t a longterm client or ours, or someone who has searched us out online right now in the gallery. (at the moment, I’m quite glad of that, because I don’t want some random, vaguely interested lookie-loo giving me and mine Covid)
We have had to use Facebook, twitter, and Instagram (free, not paid) to get our message out as well. That worked better before they made it impossible for anyone to see posts without paying for them. Occasionally we still make a sale through social media, but it’s not usually from someone just seeing a post. It’s mostly from being part of secret groups. Facebook and all the other social media sites should have offered free advertising and marketing to small businesses during the pandemic. They said they were going to, but I never saw any proof that it actually happened…this has been a problem for small businesses since 2016, when political pages and advertising took over Facebook et al.
So, how have we found ways to be ok through Covid in 2020? It really started with my ability to write (see my work on: TheCredits, and The Alliance of Women Film Journalists) and my concern for other folks who were FREAKING out about their loved ones or themselves dying of a horrible virus. Early in the pandemic, we shut the gallery to in-person visits. I tried to think what I could do to help people feel better, and how I could help artists and wholesale companies I wanted to support. Since I’ve been in the animation and film art business for longer than most folks, I figured I could write about what I knew, and I could interview artists and figures in animation that might distract and entertain. I talked to Bob Singer, (and got exclusive original Hanna Barbera art directly from him) Talked to Don Cameron about his work on Batman: The Animated Series
As to my dear friend John Alvin, I wrote about his work on Hook, in part because *MIRACLE of MIRACLES!* Andrea Alvin found 5 copies of a production used image from the film used for the opening sequence from the film. We sold them all as a result of the blog, but you can always check with me to see if she finds any others.
Andrea Alvin’s closets are like the door to Narnia. She keeps finding things and calling me with exciting news. I keep hoping she’ll discover more production art used for Blade Runner or some such, but that’s just a dream I have (that also includes electric sheep..).
I also wrote a blog about the art from Cats Don’t Dance, from which we found two original backgrounds. John Alvin did the movie poster for that movie. I had no idea there was such an obsessive fanbase for art and information from Cats Don’t Dance. I had never watched it, and once I did, I had a better idea why so many people love it, especially dancers.
I had a wonderful chat with Ruth Clampett, the daughter of Bob Clampett, about Bob’s tv show Beanie and Cecil, and got some exclusive art from the original cartoon. That blog was a big hit, and we sold most of the art we got from the Clampett estate because of it. I can tell you Beany & Cecil fans are the best! After all these years, they still just love those quirky characters!
Sopwith Productions, the company that sells all the art from the Bill Melendez Studios, is my absolute favorite wholesale company. They are always willing to connect me with animators and artists for interviews, and that makes me, and the Charlie Brown TV animated specials and Peanuts art collectors so happy!
It was through them that I got the art from the MetLife commercial featuring all the Peanuts characters together as an orchestra. They are some of the most beautiful cels I’ve ever seen, and since Snoopy is my favorite character and I grew up watching Charlie Brown cartoons, I loved learning about why these cels are so gorgeous. Bill Melendez got paid the same amount for a 15-30 second commercial as he did for making a 30 minute Peanuts cartoon special! I talk about this in my Beethoven’s 250th Birthday Peanuts animation blog.
Early on, I included something called the “COVID COMFORT CARTOON” or “COVID COMFORT CLIP” at the end of every blog, which was just a clip relating to a cartoon or film mentioned. It was fun finding something appropriate. I think my favorite was the one with the Hex Girls, a fictitious band first featured in Scooby Doo! and the Witch’s Ghost. In the late 90s when the band was introduced, it became a cult favorite for kids first exploring their sexuality, because there’s some androgyny and queerness afoot there, something you didn’t see in cartoons at the time.
I found that sometimes the links I added went bad, depending on who uploaded it in the first place, so I got choosier and more specific about what I included in the blogs. I have also always included some Covid Comfort in my newsletters, which started out weekly at the beginning of the pandemic, and have been shifted to bi-weekly (because the blogs take so much time to research and because I’m often adding a lot of art to the site before each newsletter…)
One of the other things ArtInsights has been doing through the Covid pandemic is incorporating charity connections in much of our sales. Early on, we gave 10% of all sales of anything hero-related to charities helping get PPE and safety support for frontline workers. We also started donating 10% of all sales of Harry Potter art to the National Center for Transgender Equality. That commitment will continue until we have sold all Harry Potter art currently in stock, and we won’t be ordering any more after we sell them through. We feel too strongly about supporting our trans brothers and sister to put any more money into JKR’s pockets, even as we still hold Harry Potter dear to our hearts and always will.
I’m sure you have seen our posts and promos about a partnership with our friend Julie, who makes masks over on Etsy at Joyful Creations by J. For folks who have been able to come by the gallery, you could and still can buy masks at the store, but all the money goes to Julie, who worked at a job that was too dangerous for her, being in a high-risk family, and now makes masks and creates clothing through her Etsy store. We started doing that in March, back when more folks were mask-adverse. (Gratefully most sane folks are wearing them now.)
All these blogs, COVID COMFORT CARTOONS, working with Julie, connecting with charity, having exclusive art you can only get through my gallery and posting about all of it on social media led way way more folks to find us online, which led to more clients and more sales.
Is it more work? Yes. It is way more work. Michael and I have never been afraid of work. If you’re someone who is in small business, especially with ArtInsights, an art gallery that has to make enough money to support a family, you can’t be afraid of hard work and long hours. But I also believe we have been succeeding because I started out the pandemic just wanting to soothe and comfort our friends and clients and anyone else who might find us. I also wanted the gallery’s success to extend to artists and companies we know and love. Never let anyone tell you that doing well and doing good can’t go hand in hand.
What do I think 2021 will bring to ArtInsights? I honestly have no idea. I hope I can find more interesting things to write about that relate to the art we sell and the artists we love and want to support. I know we’ll have a very low profile in terms of the physical gallery until the current virulent and terrifying wave of the virus is quelled. We’ll be focused online, where we can all gather and interact safely. Does it sting a little we are paying so much to be in a nice center when we aren’t many clients? Maybe a bit. But its also lovely that we are in an outside mall, where shoppers feel safer, and lovelier still that we can control our retail environment so that those who ARE high risk feel safe coming for a physical visit. We will be there, masked up, door open for ventilation, pens and door knobs wiped down, just like I’d want it in my favorite stores.
At ArtInsights, we feel incredibly grateful with all the small businesses closing down that we have, so far, found a way to survive. Hopefully our way will continue to keep us open, safe, and stable until we all see better days. With clients like you, we stand a very good chance.
What can you do to help? You can buy some art from our gallery! One of the ways we’ve stayed viable and on the radar of collectors is that we have so much art you can’t get anywhere else. From Bill Silvers artist proofs, to limited edition and original art by John Alvin, to exclusive collections of original art featuring Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and friends, we have some special pieces that you won’t see anywhere else.
Please go through our website and find some treasures for you family and/or to liven up the living space you’ll be working in and experiencing for the near future. Click here to see our latest acquisitions.
Thanks to all of you, old clients, new clients, potential clients…you are why we are still here and why we will be here in the future. You are the only reason, really. THANKS.
In the tradition of 2020/2021, I’ll end this blog with Covid Comfort Clips: Seems like a great idea to show the trailers to 3 great animated features released this year, all of which deserve at the very least to be nominated for an Oscar:
Beethoven turns 250 in December. We don’t actually know the date of his birth, but we do know he was a December baby. Since Schroeder has had a passion for the composer since he was able to put his fingers to a keyboard, we asked the folks at Sopwith if there was any special Peanuts art celebrating classical music. Guess what? YES THEY DO! So now we have Peanuts Beethoven art just in time.
MetLife, which has a history with the Peanuts characters in their commercials, created one of their best in which all our most beloved Peanuts characters are featured. Now there’s Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang in production art from the commercial, and it’s a unique opportunity to get Snoopy, Schroeder, Lucy, Linus, Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty, Pig Pen, Marcie, and Franklin, plus a bunch of other great characters in one production cel. There are also some gorgeous production drawings and some color keys that go with them. Also there are some great production cels of Schroeder and Snoopy together performing, and Snoopy conducting with the sort of passion you’d expect from everyone’s favorite beagle.
What’s most interesting is the fact that Bill Melendez Studios got the same budget for these 15 second or 30 second commercials as they did for a 30 minute tv special! That explains how beautiful and detailed this Peanuts production art is. They had so much time to do their very best!!
You can find the Peanuts Beethoven art on the Peanuts page HERE, and if you love listening to or playing classical music or playing in an orchestra, this is a unique opportunity.
Here are some of my favorites:
I wish we could find the actual commercial, but we haven’t luck yet, but I called them and hope they’ll go through their research and send a copy of it at some point. Still, I have NEVER seen all these characters together in a production cel, so this is a musical win for us all!
Disney and Star Wars concept artist William Silvers, ‘Bill’ to his friends, has the sort of Olympic level of chill a traffic controller would envy. He looks like a surfer that just stepped out of a particularly bitchin’ wave. The only time he doesn’t have a mellow smile on his face is when he’s concentrating on his painting, and even then, one sneaks out from time to time…and why wouldn’t he smile? He’s living the life most artists only dream of, and he knows it. What’s more, he appreciates it.
Bill was born in a small town in Ohio to hardworking parents. He remembers from his very first memories being inspired by his dad, who was also an artist, but tucked away his aspirations to work at a factory to keep his family in food and shelter. His dad supported Bill’s love of drawing, and applauded him when, even as a young child, he copied cartoons from the paper. Explains Bill, “My happy place was drawing for hours and creating different characters. This was my escape from the reality. Even as a child I already knew I was going to leave the small town.” It wasn’t an automatic he would go to college or study art past high school, though. With six kids in a household struggling to make ends meet, financial resources were limited. Thank goddess for his teachers, who believed in him and pushed him his senior year to do whatever it took to pursue his art after graduation.
Once again inspired by his dad’s work ethic, Bill took factory jobs and worked in restaurants while keeping up his studies, all to raise the money for college. He attended Bowling Green University and left Ohio at 23, heading to the big city of New York. There he found endless inspiration from the artists he met and connected with, all of whom believed in him and offered a sort of cheerleading that made him determined to succeed.
It was having some of his art featured on Seinfeld episodes, Season 5 Episode 17 “The Wife”, and Season 4, Episode 19 “The Implant” (which featured Teri Hatcher), that brought him to the attention of Disney.
You’ll know the Teri Hatcher episode from this little gem:
They approached him about a position as a background artist in the Feature Animation Department for the film Mulan. He took the job, and has been working steadily and successfully ever since. You will see his backgrounds in some of the best films of the New Golden Age at Disney, including Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, and Brother Bear.
He relayed a story to me about how important working fast was during his time at Disney. He got used to painting both very precisely and very quickly, because time was always in short supply. The problem was, he painted way faster than some of the other folks working there, so he’d be done with his daily projects hours before anyone else. He still can paint very quickly, but likes going back through his work and adding even more layers. It’s why his originals, regardless of the style in which he paints them, have such visual depth.
William Silvers has clocked time at nearly every film studio, on some of the most beloved properties, including Star Wars. He worked for Industrial Light and Magic, a division of LucasFilm, in 2004. In Revenge of the Sith, if you watch the scene where (spoiler alert!) Anakin strikes down the young padawans, you’ll see some of his gorgeous work.
He relayed the story to me of one day when he was working on that scene. No one who goes into the studio is able to bring in anything, including cell phones or computers, lest they leak important plot points or images. Everyone signs a non-disclosure contract. During a break, he was checking in with his wife Ewa, and told her he couldn’t tell her anything about what he was doing, but to remember that day. When the film came out, he showed her that scene, and told her he knew that day he had worked on the darkest storyline he’d ever be part of. He says he still feels that way, all these years later.
In addition to Star Wars and multiple films at Disney, he also lended his artistry to the backgrounds in The Day After Tomorrow, as well as DreamWorks films How To Train Your Dragon 2, (where he created backgrounds for the scene where they discover the secret home of the dragons, among many other scenes), Mr Peabody & Sherman, The Croods, Rise of the Guardians, Puss in Boots, and the Kung Fu Panda franchise. He also worked with Warner Bros, and Sony on a number of films.
All these projects brought him to the attention of Universal, who hired him as senior designer, and he has since been involved in the design of their theme parks worldwide. If you’ve ever ridden Skull Island: Reign of Kong and enjoyed it, you have him, in part, to thank!
Some years into his career at Disney, he started working creating Disney Fine Art with several of the official companies, ultimately landing in the enviable position of dealing directly with Disney at the theme parks. He always has the support and help of his wife Ewa, who, to be honest, is the perfect partner and compliment for Bill, with her personality traits of gentle kindness and sensitivity, as well as her listening skills. She is always in attendance when he is featured at the artist special events throughout the year. You can meet him in person during one of these events and see his smile and experience his laid back attitude in person the next time your visit to Disney World coincides with an art event there.
Here are some great limited editions available through ArtInsights, that you can find by going HERE.
We at ArtInsights are blessed to not only be friends with Bill and Ewa, but also represent his art at the gallery, with images of his artists proofs from before he worked with the parks. From Lilo and Stitch to Disney Princesses to some great images from the Star Wars saga, we’ve got exclusive images that come directly from Bill, and what’s more, you can access both art designed much like the backgrounds he created during his stint there, as well as art created in a more fluid, subjective style that he also loves to do. You can only get these images through ArtInsights! From time to time, we also have access to original art, so keep checking back to see what goodies we’ve gotten from our very artistic, joyful, and inspired pal.
Bill knows he is incredibly lucky to do what he loves for a living. He attributes his success to his background. The trick is to keep going, and do what only you can do. He reasons, “What I realize now is my small-town upbringing and limited resources, as well as my heritage, has preserved in me a personal code and standards. These are the things I live by every day and teach my children; to retain your individuality, to work hard with dedication, to follow your dreams, but stay grounded.”
What I love most about Bill is his sense of optimism and inclusivity. He believes every time we help each other win, we all win. When it comes to art, being the very best isn’t as important as doing your best, and finding joy in that journey of always working to be better. Says Bill, “There will always be someone with skills greater than your own. I’m not looking to follow others or pull them down. I don’t compete with anyone but myself and I’m myself am my most harsh critic! I don’t create art just to make money. Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed by amazing opportunities to work for the best studios in the filming, gaming and theme park industry. I’ve work among some of the most influential and creative individuals. I’ve been truly blessed, and that’s my greatest reward! I guess I’m the proof that ‘all our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them’, even if you are just a small-town kid. “
We asked William Silvers a few questions about his life and career:
What is your favorite movie you worked on and why?
Mulan was a perfect film to kickstart to my film career. I was able to start on the film in the early stages of development, taking me through the entire process of preproduction all the way to post. The experiences and knowledge about the film industry I gained was invaluable. Mulan will always have a special place in my heart.
What is one of your best memories in terms of learning experiences as part of your career?
Although the Disney backgrounds were traditionally created in Acrylics, the directors for Lilo And Stitch decided to use the watercolor technique abandoned since the 40s. This made Lilo And Stitch one of the most challenging and fun films to work on over the years. As a training exercise, the background artist would take trips to paint in watercolors throughout the Disney parks. We also studied the film classics, like Snow White and Pinocchio.
Can you describe your process in creating art for film?
As background artist, we were responsible for the mood and color of the films, we created the entire environment the animated characters lived in. Theatrical staging was a key feature of the backgrounds painted for Disney films. Similar to backdrops on Broadway, the backgrounds were painted to enhance the main characters and not distract or overpower them by attracting too much attention. Although Mulan was a stylized film, we looked to Bambi for inspiration on staging and painting style.
You have two distinct styles. What about each of them feeds you as an artist?
I have a natural tendency to paint in a very detailed way, so I love to challenge myself to be as loose and impressionistic as I can. I believe this is good exercise to help me be more creative in the painting process.
List your 5 favorite movies:
Pinocchio, Snow White, Bambi, Mulan, Lilo and Stitch and Star Wars.
You listen to music when you paint, yes? How do you decide what you’ll play, and what are some of your favorite pieces or songs to listen to when working?
Music to me is very important when I am painting. During the block-in stage, I listen to hard rock. I have a tendency to lose myself while I’m painting, as my concentration is focused on the painting. The block-in stage can be intimidating, so the music helps to keep me focused. After the block-in stage is finished, the detail work is done with softer, more meditative music, more Andrea Bocelli and less Guns and Roses!
What do you find is consistently the thing that brings you most inspiration as an artist?
There is truly nothing more exciting then challenging yourself and broadening your creativity with some of the best artists in the film industry. Disney Feature Animation was at the height of popularity during the Mulan years, and all the artists were treated accordingly. It was during a visit from John Lassiter to the Disney Animation Studio that I realized the wave would not last forever. John brought with him the first finished sequence to Toy Story to screen for the studio. I was blown away by what I’d seen, and immediately bought a computer and started preparing for the inevitable shift from 2D to 3D animation. I found out I love working on a computer as much as I do in the traditional way, with paints in my hand.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing for a living?
I have always loved architecture. If I wasn’t an artist, I most certainly would have been an architect.
What is one sentence that reflects your philosophy of life or the best advice for living?
Life is short! Focus it on doing what you love and what will make you happy!
We did an interview in person with Bill some years ago, where he talks in-depth about his career and his art styles. Check it out!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year? Ok, well in 2020, it stands to reason that the end is the most wonderful time, right? Still, even with the challenges and stress of a pandemic, an election, strife, and not nearly enough films watched in theaters to make up for it, we’re finding ways to show our loved ones we care, to share our joy with family and friends, and to find ways to come together, even if it’s via FaceTime, Zoom, or 15 feet away as the 40 degree winds blow. We find a way. And the holidays means it’s time for the ArtInsights Holiday Gift Guide!
The holidays are still coming, and we could all use a little fun and frivolity, and maybe a little help gifting from afar, and this year, folks are searching for that special gift that brings peace, distraction, brings a smile, and says “every little thing is going to be all right”.
For many who follow ArtInsights, the perfect present might come in the form of film and cartoon art, so we’re here to help. We have gifts in a wide variety of price ranges, from your favorite films, featuring your favorite characters. Maybe your dad loves Yoda. Your Mom might be a Potterhead. Your kids might be into Batman or Captain America or Elsa. Whatever it is, we’ve got you.
First up, here is a collection of art ready to ship and in stock to give you ideas and solve the quest to find gifts for folks in your life who are the pickiest, or hardest-to-find-gifts-for, or already-have-everything.
And in your very own galaxy, we have Star Wars art. We’ve got art created by artists who worked on the films, all of which are exclusive or from sold out editions. Click on the image to see all our Star Wars images.
A STAR WARS HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE
How about a little Harry Potter? Do you believe in magic? We could all use a little right about now. Let the power of Potter put a spell on the wizards and witches in your life. 10% all sales goes to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
A HARRY POTTER HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE
The folks who release all things Charlie Brown and Peanuts have offered us some wonderful pieces this year, and if you and yours love Snoopy, Woodstock and all the Peanuts characters, we have lots of sold out and exclusive art you can only get through ArtInsights. From the Christmas to Halloween to Thanksgiving specials, you’ll find all sort of heartwarming images, and at a variety of prices to fit the budget.
A CHARLIE BROWN AND PEANUTS HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE
As you may know, we’ve been working with famed Hanna Barbera character and layout artist Bob Singer. Bob is in his mid-90s, and still quite a hoot. We have some great original art by him for those who love original art of classic animation, including Scooby Doo, The Flintstones, Top Cat, and more.
A HANNA BARBERA HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE: Scooby-Doo, Flintstones, Yogi Bear, and more, all by Bob Singer
Did you know November 13th is the 80th anniversary of the release of Fantasia? The evocative beauty of this classic Disney animated feature has yet to be matched or surpassed. We have art that stirs the art and music inside, and many of our available pieces are both well-priced and from sold out limited editions. Once a fan of Fantasia, always a fan of Fantasia!
A FANTASIA HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE
There’s always room on the wall for another Alex Ross image. What? You don’t have any? How about your blossoming comic book artist daughter or son, or the partner you always suspect is only pretending not to be a superhero? Check out all our Alex Ross artist’s proofs, exclusives, and pieces from sold out editions. You’re sure to find something for your batcave or fortress of solitude.
A MARVEL AND DC HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE: featuring Alex Ross
As ever, we love working with our friend Bill Silvers to offer our clients exclusive Disney and Star Wars limited editions. You can find beautiful images of your favorite Disney princesses, villains, and magical beasts on the Bill Silvers page on our website.
WILLIAM SILVERS DISNEY ART HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE
And in case none of that is resonating, maybe just checking out some of our Disney original and limited edition art. We have 101 Dalmatians, Beauty and the Beast, rare original drawings of Mickey Mouse and the Fab Five, and more! SEE IT ALL HERE.
ANDDON’T FORGET YOUR MASK!
Lastly, if you’re looking for stocking stuffers that are both practical and festive, we have partnered with our friend Julie to offer ‘MOVIE MAGIC’ masks, which you can buy directly from her for $12.00 each. There are lots to choose from, including Dr. Who, Wonder Woman, Winnie the Pooh, Nightmare Before Christmas, Star Trek, Snoopy, and so many more.
and if you’re nearby and plan on stopping into the gallery, we have lots of her masks here for you to pick up in person.
We are ArtInsights wish you safety and good health now and into the new year, as well as peace and love shared with family and friends. You are never truly alone. If you find it hard this season, remember to reach out. A little bit of joy and comfort is always just a phone call, a Zoom, or a FaceTime away.
Thanks to you all for your support of our gallery. All the best to you!
With the exciting news that a Willow tv show is officially happening at the Disney+ streaming service, and starting production next year, I thought it might be a great time to look back on the beautiful illustration art created for the original John Alvin Willow posters. The art represents many different aspects of what made John Alvin one of the greatest as well as one of the most singular movie poster artists in history. In this blog, I’m going to show a number of John Alvin’s art created for the Willow movie campaign, some of which have never been published before.
First, a bit of information on the new show. Ron Howard, director of the original film, is executive producing. The only official star of the film is Willow is Warwick Davis, reprising his role as Willow Ufgood. It will introduce all-new characters to the world of enchantment that features fairy queens and two-headed Eborsisk monsters. Says Davis, “So many fans have asked me over the years if Willow will make a return, and now I’m thrilled to tell them that he will indeed. Many have told me they grew up with ‘Willow’ and that the film has influenced how they view heroism in our own world. If Willow Ufgood can represent the heroic potential in all of us, then he is a character I am extremely honored to reprise.”
Jonathan Kasdan and Wendy Mericle are executive producing, with Kasdan writing the pilot. Also getting an E.P credit is director Jon M. Chu (of Crazy Rich Asians fame) who will be directing the pilot. “Growing up in the ’80s, Willow has had a profound effect on me,” said Chu. “The story of the bravest heroes in the least likely places allowed me, an Asian-American kid growing up in a Chinese restaurant looking to go to Hollywood, to believe in the power of our own will, determination and of course, inner magic. So the fact that I get to work with my heroes from Kathleen Kennedy to Ron Howard is bigger than a dream-come-true. It’s a bucket-list moment for me. Jon Kasdan and Wendy Mericle have added such groundbreaking new characters and delightful surprises to this timeless story that I can’t wait for the world to come along on this epic journey with us.”
The original Willow film was released in 1988, and though it wasn’t an immediate triumph at the box office, it became a huge cult classic, leading to the creation of a board game and a number of computer games.
John Alvin was brought in quite early in the 88 production, and in those days, John, who was already storied for creating the E.T., Blade Runner, and Cocoon posters, had a lot of interaction with both Ron Howard and producer George Lucas. The Alvin key art for the Cocoon movie poster is a perfect example of that “Alvin-izing” that drew fans to films with ‘the promise of a great experience’.
John started working before he had seen any final movie images. Some of his earliest designs for the film were extensive sketches that intentionally called to mind the art of Frank Frazetta. Those were drawn on grey Canson paster paper and have a beautiful classical quality. Some of the original poses of the lead characters found their way into the finished posters.
John Alvin did three movie posters for Willow, which in itself is a rarity. He was one movie poster artist that would get the entire campaign to work on, from start to finish, including the teaser poster, and all other marketing designs, including images for buses, and other ancillary locations.
For Willow, his first image was the teaser, and really leveraged his ‘Alvin-izing’ to full effect. It was released 9 months before the film’s release, and just created a magical quality to pique interest in seeing more. Swirling clouds of orange and yellow are lit by the sun and magical light, and said “forget what you know or what you think you know”. This poster represents another aspect of John’s unique abilities, and that is his ability to create logo treatments. John Alvin loved creating his own typography or logo designs, as he did for E.T., and a number of other films. Willow is another example of that. Most movie poster artists stick to painting, often from other people’s ideas, but John would often come up with the idea, the composition, the painting itself, and the logo treatment. It’s what makes John Alvin so unusual and important to the history of film art.
His second poster was one that blended the iconic design style he was known for (again, the ‘Alvin-izing’) and told more about the film by presenting the characters. It had all the magic of the teaser image, but also celebrated the archetypal imagery reminiscent of Joseph Campbell’s ‘A Hero’s Journey’. And why not? George Lucas was involved, after all.
It still wasn’t the ‘kitchen sink’ design style represented in the best known one-sheet he did with all the faces of the characters. In the book The Art of John Alvin, Andrea Alvin called the second poster ‘The Journey Image’, which was compiled from various production shots he got as inspiration. It’s interesting the number of designs he came up with that could have been the one-sheet, some of which I think are more inspiring and visually compelling than what they ultimately chose.
The final one-sheet again incorporated elements from both the first and second poster, while also showing the lead actors in close-up. What I’ve mentioned as ‘kitchen sink’ design was used to great effect early on in the history of film art and classic movie posters, but with traditional illustration, there was always room for creativity and additional storytelling, as with John Alvin’s Blade Runner poster, which prominently showed Harrison Ford, as per his contract, but also featured the architecture and world fans of the film recognize as unique to the film. Creative kitchen sink designs were used beautifully by Bob Peak and Richard Amsel, two other greats of film history.
In the process of John Alvin painting the final one sheet, he created a finish for which he got notes to alter the faces a bit, which he did. However, the finish he sent in in advance of that one was still used for the computer game. Notice the differences.
As Andrea explains in her book, it is very rare for a movie poster artist to be able to create three unique posters that build on one another, as is using a unique logo design created by the illustrator. For that reason, Willow is a great example of John Alvin’s important place in film history. His work also turns out to have had a significant effect on inspiring the longterm fans of the film, who number the Willow posters among their favorites in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. It’s wonderful to think that a movie on which he had an impact as artist will now live on and build a whole new set of fans in a new incarnation.
We celebrate John Alvin every day. When you watch the new series, think of his contribution to the beloved classic, and to the whole of film history.
*The estate of John Alvin is currently not accepting offers for purchase of single images from his Willow art collection. For more information about the work and art of John Alvin, contact Artinsights.
As sometimes happens, there’s been a surprise release by the folks at the studio that produces all the Charlie Brown cartoon specials. Even though it precedes Halloween, it’s a celebration of the fan favorite and ultimate mood stabilizer, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Called “Let it Whip, Snoopy”, it captures the opening sequence of the wonderful winter skating scene, and comes with a great storyboard giclee created and signed by Charlie Brown animated specials director and animator Larry Leichliter. Here is the limited edition set:
Here is the trailer for the cartoon, which shows a tiny snippet of the sequence used for the limited edition… (although, let’s be honest, we ALL remember the scene, right?)
In honor of the release of “Crack the Whip, Snoopy!” release, let’s talk a bit about A Charlie Brown Christmas.
First off, of course there would be no Peanuts animated specials at all without Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez. Lee Mendelson was the executive producer of many Peanuts specials, but he started out his association with all things Peanuts by approaching Charles Schulz about making a documentary about him and his Peanuts comic strip. He had just done a doc on Willie Mays called A Man Named Mays:
Charles Schulz, or ‘Sparky’, as his friends called him, had watched and enjoyed it, so they collaborated on the documentary A Boy Named Charlie Brown in 1963. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola approached Mendelson about producing an animated Christmas special for tv, and he immediately called Sparky about creating something featuring the Peanuts characters. Schulz suggested using Bill Melendez, who had worked with Sparky creating some Peanuts Ford Motor Company commercials. Networks weren’t interested in the special.
Then, in April of 1965, the Peanuts characters graced the cover of Time magazine, which increased interest in an animated special, and the clock started ticking. Mendelson and Schulz created an outline for a special in less than a day.
They created the first and most classic cartoon in only 6 months, with the script having been whipped together in only a few weeks. and it aired on December 9th, 1965. Schulz built the idea around ‘the meaning of Christmas’, interspersed with scenes of skating, something he did as a child. He also included a substantive scene in which a bible verse is quoted, and though there were a few specials that specifically mentioned Christianity, this was the first animated cartoon to incorporate religion in its plot and structure.
It won both an Emmy and Peabody Award. It got both high ratings and critical acclaim. Lee Mendelson actually wrote the lyrics to the Christmas classic ‘Christmastime is Here’ in only minutes.
It is so fitting that Mendelson wrote such an enduring Christmas classic, as, in a bittersweet endnote, Lee just died on Christmas Day of 2019. I interviewed him about his work a few years ago, and you can watch him talk about all this himself (and watch me all excited talking to him!):
The cartoon was anything but ordinary. They did a lot of ‘outside the box’ decisions as part of it, like hiring voice actors that were children, having no laugh track (Schulz’s idea), and using jazz as the soundtrack. It seems to all make sense now, since we’ve seen it so many times (it has played every year at Christmas since 1965) but at the time everyone thought it would fail miserably.
I talked to Bill Melendez’s son Steve about working on the Christmas special, and he relates how he came up with the scene with Linus sharing the message of Christmas onstage.
Since Larry Leichliter is responsible for the design of the new limited edition as well as the storyboard that accompanies it, I asked him about his love of the Christmas special, and about creating the storyboard.
What makes “A Charlie Brown Christmas” special to you?
Larry: “First of all It’s a Christmas cartoon. Not that I love every Christmas cartoon, but it’s Peanuts, and I’ve always loved Peanuts. What makes it special and have such longevity is not the nostalgia of remembering being a kid and watching this show for the first time, although that’s a wonderful memory. I think for all of us, It’s a story that forever rings true.
I love watching Charlie Brown wrestle with his problem, with the help of his friend Linus. His encounters with the realities of the world and its insensitivity to his plight are tragic and funny and he makes me root for him every time. Then there is Linus, who sticks by him like a true friend. He ultimately always shows him the way to his answer and a release from his problem.”
Who is your favorite character in Peanuts?
“Linus has always been my favorite Peanuts character. The combination of his vulnerability (he is a thumb-sucking, blanket-hugging child, after all) and his knowledge and philosophical beyond-his-years personality is irresistible. He is Charlie Brown’s truest friend. Even Snoopy isn’t as loyal.”
How did you compose the storyboard, and what do you love about creating them? it really captures a moment fans love from the cartoon.
“Thanks! I love showing some of the “behind the scenes” elements of making cartoons. In this case, I couldn’t decide right away just what moment of the skating scene would be ideal for our project, so it was suggested that I might pose out the “crack the whip” sequence in a story board. Then it was just a matter of showing the characters adding onto the chain until they all inevitably fly off. I think it captures not only the nostalgia, but also what is funny and charming about the special as a whole.”
If you want to get a sense of Larry and his great career, you can watch my discussion with him and Sandy Thome, head of art development for all things relating to Charlie Brown animated cartoons. Beyond being incredibly talented, he’s quite shy, and a lovely guy.
We have other Peanuts animation art, and of course, we can always find cels based on what you’re looking for (though, not from the Christmas special, not anymore!) check out what we have right now HERE, and contact us for special requests.
We recently unearthed some great storyboards from Hollyrock-a-Bye Baby, a Flinstones cartoon from 1993 that celebrates family, friendship, and the joy of children and grandchildren. Bob Singer, who worked at Hanna Barbera for many years, has signed this great Hanna Barbera production art, and we have them for sale on our website. Check them out HERE.
Hollyrock-a-Bye Baby aired right before Christmas, and only weeks after I Yabba-Dabba-Doo!, which featured Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm getting married. (we knew that was going to happen, didn’t we?) In the movie, they move to Hollyrock, where Bamm-Bamm has hopes of becoming a screenwriter. The cartoon features the voice as Jean Vander Pyl as Wilma, who originated the character in the early 60s, when she made $250 an episode for her work! She was also the voice of Rosie the Robot on The Jetsons, and guest starred in episodes of lots of famous sitcoms of the 50s and 60s, including Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best. You’ll also find consummate voice artists Mark Hamill playing Slick, and Russi Taylor as baby Pebbles.
Here’s a preview clip showing you the cartoon, which you can rent or buy online:
This Flintstones production art from Hollyrock-a-Bye Baby shows some of the quirky elements of the show that created such a following by reinventing LA, or La La Land, as a stone-age landscape. Some of the storyboards capture that vibe, showing ‘Boulder Hills’, the ‘Hollyrock Bowl’, and other classic landmarks of the city, as well as moments from the birth of Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm’s kids.
As it’s Halloween season, we are thrilled to also get original art by Bob Singer representing his favorite Hanna Barbera cartoon, Scooby-Doo, with characters Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, the Scooby Gang, and the monsters they fight every week! Bob talks about his work on the show in a new interview we did with him about his career and life, freshly posted on YouTube. You’ll be among the first to see it! Look for the moment when he pulls out old layout drawings and character studies of the monsters he created for Scooby-Doo!
I wrote another blog about Bob, (we love him) and you can find that HERE.
Check out this exclusive interview with background artist, layout artist, production designer and character designer Bob Singer:
Check out this new original Scooby-Doo art by Bob Singer featuring the Mystery Machine!
Interestingly enough, it turns out the lore about the iconic van says that it was originally owned by Flash Flannigan, the keyboard player for a band called ‘The Mystery Kids’. He sold the van to Fred Jones when he quit the band, and the rest is Scooby-Doo history! I wrote another blog about Scooby-Doo, and you can find that HERE.
It is particularly exciting to get this Bob Singer art, since he rarely paints anymore, being in his mid-90s. We have some great images representing his time at Warner Brothers and Hanna Barbera. If you love those classic cartoons, this is a great way to get art by someone who had a hand in creating them!
Let us know if you’re interested in a commission by Bob Singer, and we’ll check to see if he’s up for it. You never know! He’s truly one of the last great animators who worked at as many studios as he did, along with one of my favorite men in the world, Willie Ito. Bob is a wonderful talent and a great guy and we’re all very lucky he turned his talent towards the cartoons of Hanna Barbera!
I’ll leave you with another “COVID COMFORT CARTOON”.
Bob talked about how he designed the ‘10,000 volt ghost’, so here is a video of every scene he’s in from the original show:
We just got two gorgeous Cats Don’t Dance original backgrounds. I knew John Alvin did Cats Don’t Dance production art. He created the movie poster, so I started researching about the history of the flick when we found the backgrounds. I watched the movie, and read up on this poor under-appreciated cat-centric cartoon.
This overlooked animated feature from 1997 is so much fun! I decided to write about this week on the Artinsights blog. By the end, you’ll want to watch Cats Don’t Dance, whether you’re already a huge fan, or you’ll be seeing it for the first time…
The coolest thing about Cats Don’t Dance is the original idea for the film came out of the semi-feral cats that have roamed around the Warner Brothers lot since the beginning of the studio.
Scott Bakula as a singing cartoon cat in 30s Hollywood is something that sounds best to his obsessive fans, most of whom know that he started as a performer on stage in New York, and has quite the singing chops. So it should come as no surprise that he starred in the oddly under-the-radar cartoon geek cult favorite Cats Don’t Dance.
Need confirmation that Scott Bakula can sing? He was chosen to perform at the Kennedy Center Honors for Stephen Sondheim in 1993:
Cats Don’t Dance is a highly entertaining animated feature from 1997 that should have been a hit, but was released at the worst possible time, when Turner Feature Animation merged with Time Warner. During the last gasps of Turner Feature Animation, head management kept rotating in and out, and every transition meant drastic changes in the movie. Ultimately, it just got lost in all the upheaval and studio noise.
The story is of optimistic, fresh faced (or whiskered) cat named Danny (Bakula), who dreams of fame in Hollywood, and arrives from his hometown in Indiana with stars in his eyes. He lands a small role in a movie called Li’l Ark Angel, that stars Darla Dimple, a super creepy animated parody of Shirley Temple, which sort of morphs Temple with Tiffany, the bride of Chucky. He plays against love interest Sawyer (voiced by Jasmine Guy, sung by Natalie Cole), a white cat that could be the feline version of any number of human actresses like Judy Garland or Ginger Rogers. Darla is determined to keep Danny, Sawyer and their animal actor colleagues in the shadows and away from her spotlight, so trouble ensues.
Here is a trailer for the movie:
The list of performers cast as the animals is impressive. It includes Kathy Najimy, Betty Lou Gerson, voice of Cruella de Vil in 1960’s 101 Dalmatians in her last role, Hal Holbrook, Don Knotts, and René Auberjonois, who won a Tony Award for the musical Coco in 1970, way before voicing the chef in The Little Mermaid. Director Mark Dindal did voice duty with Max, Darla’s muscle-bound valet and enforcer.
Fans of Emperor’s New Groove should know Cats Don’t Dance’s director Dindal also helmed the new Disney classic, and is currently working on an animated feature about Garfield. Clearly cats are a thing! (Maybe you recall that Yzma turns into a cat. Not only did he animated that, he was the cat’s voice for about a split second..)
Also notable is that the film was originally meant to be a Michael Jackson vehicle, who was going to star, produce, and help with the choreography. At that point, it was going to be a live action and animation hybrid. All the musical numbers were written by Randy Newman, who was hot off of 1995’s Toy Story and 1996’s James and the Giant Peach. Song and dance legend Gene Kelly acted as choreography consultant. The movie was his last project and was dedicated to his memory.
Our pal, cinema artist John Alvin did the movie poster for Cats Don’t Dance, and he was with the project from the very beginning. Alvin and Associates, which included both John and his wife Andrea Alvin, created some wonderful concepts along the way. Says Andrea of the experience, “It’s basically a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney movie. I really liked it, and had a great time designing one sheets that looked like those old movie musicals from the 30’s and 40’s. It was one of those that I had a lot of design influence, and John refined and painted.”
Here are some images of John Alvin Cats Don’t Dance concept art, many of which are being shown to the public for the first time:
I had known the art from Cats Don’t Dance was in the Warner Brothers archives for a while, since I’d seen some of it when I visited the studio years ago. At that time, the art hadn’t been available. When someone inside WB offered me two Cats Don’t Dance original production backgrounds of iconic Hollywood landmarks, I leapt at it.
Who doesn’t want their own Hollywood sign? Click for more info or to buy!
This great piece is from the opening sequence of the movie, and is shown at 1:18 in Danny’s Arrival Song:
We also got a Cats Don’t Dance production background that captures those famed iconic movie openings at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre:
So much of Hollywood history happened there. Here are a few premiere videos:
And one more, because any excuse to post a video of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell…this is the two gorgeous bombshells putting their hands in cement…
Isn’t it time you checked out this charming little film about optimism and working together that deserves more than being forgotten?
You can watch it here for $1.99, and probably on lots of other of your favorite streaming services:
Mickey has been a classic draw for Disney fans since 1928. Strangely, the fascination in terms of collecting started to wane in the mid-90s, and only in the last few years has he started having a resurgence. Now, since the 90th anniversary of Mickey Mouse in 2018, collectors are snapping up the oldest Mickey Mouse drawings and cels of the character they can find. They are especially keen on art from cartoons where Mickey was voiced by Walt Disney between 1928 and 1947. The exceptions are Carl Stalling, who voiced Mickey in 1929’s The Karnival Kid, and Clarence Nash, for 1934’s The Dognapper.
Though Mickey Mouse appears in 130 Disney cartoons, Mickey didn’t have any official shorts between 1955 and 1983. He was one of the stars of The Mickey Mouse Club, but for over 25 years there were no Mickey shorts created for theatrical release.
Mickey was created in 1928 by Ub Iwerks as an underdog that appealed to all those looking to pull themselves up by their American bootstraps. It may be that his first words, uttered in 1929’s Karnival Kid, were “hot dogs! hot dogs!”, but with his exclamations of 30s slag words “swell!” and “gee whiz!” that made him beloved by fans around the world.
Based on the swashbucklers of the silent era, Mickey Mouse was always getting himself into trouble, and appealing to folks who were feeling low from the financial strain of the depression, playing characters from all walks of life, from swanky tuxedoed mouse-about-town to mouse of the people firefighters to intrepid explorers like prospectors and world travelers. Always a lover of dogs, shorts with his pal Pluto appeal to pet lovers, just as the shorts where he and his lady love Minnie have romantic adventures appeal to couples who seek an innocent representation of their partnership.
Steamboat Willie premiered at Universal’s Colony Theater in New York on November 18th, and was an immediate hit. By 1932, there was a fan club, the Mickey Mouse Club had a million members. By 1934, Mickey merchandise brought in $600,000 a year. The financial success of the character really is responsible for building the huge media empire we all know today. It’s true that, as Walt said, “It all started with a mouse”.
To me, some of the best and most affordable animation art is the graphite art from early Mickey Mouse cartoons. To be honest, those have always been my Mickey Mouse cartoons. Early characterization of Mickey Mouse was much edgier, and more interesting. From the late 20s to the mid-30s, Mickey Mouse was rubbery, while the animators were experimenting with squash and stretch, and working out how to express action and character through animation.
Finding beautiful Mickey Mouse production drawings from the late 20s to mid-30s is exciting for Disney fans, and one way you can tell the really old Mickey Mouse drawings is by the number of peg holes in the drawing, with 2 holes being prevalent up until 1935. You can read about the evolution of the peg HERE.
How cool is it to get Mickey Mouse drawings from back when he was in his first formative years? Those drawings are in the hundreds, not the thousands, unlike drawings from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia, which go for thousands of dollars. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is one of the most recognizable cartoons from the character, but is also right after the character’s redesign by Disney animator and member of the 9 Old Men, Freddie Moore.
This one original drawing is interesting in that it was used for both 1930’s The Shindig and 1932’s The Whoopee Party.
The joyful character Mickey is dancing with is a pig, in case you wondered. Here is a video from 1930:
Here are some freaky elements of the most desirable animation art images and Mickey Mouse drawings and cels: the best are when you can see both ears laying side by side on his head (and that goes for Minnie Mouse, too!). An animated expression, like one of shock or surprise, or that famous determined look he did so well, is also very important.
Many folks want drawings and cels of Freddie Moore Mickeys. Moore who was known at the resident Mickey specialist. In 1938 the famous animator redesigned Mickey’s body away from looking as much like what Ward Kimball called Mickey’s “rubber hose, round circle” design, or what made when they used squash and stretch on him look so noodle-like. Mickey’s eyes have changed a lot through the years, but Freddie Moore ultimately gave him the smaller white eyes with pupils you see in more recent cartoons.
Here’s an original Mickey drawing from 1937, as he is changing:
And here are two drawings from 1939 and 1941, both from very famous Mickey Mouse cartoons:
Still, the Mickey cartoons from the early 30s have a truly vintage feel and represent a time when the Mickey Mouse Club was new and animation was influencing kids just coming out of the depression. At the time, Mickey was a cheeky rogue. Minnie Mouse from that era is also fascinating, as she was stronger, more opinionated, and seemed an equal part of their partnership, pre-polka dot, and pre-bow, when she still sported a hat with a flower on top.
They gave her a makeover in the 1940s, and she’s looked almost exactly the same since then. The way both she and Mickey were drawn and characterized in their early cartoons is what created the love for those two from fans all over the world. It was in 1932, after all, when Walt Disney got an honorary Oscar for his creation.
Whether you are more a fan of pre-1935 Mickey (before Freddie Moore started altering his design) or post-35, when he starts looking more like the Mickey we see today, Mickey represents classic, vintage America in a way that little else can.
To see the collection of all the vintage Disney Mickey Mouse drawings available, GO HERE.
Michelle St Laurent has made an indelible mark on the Disney fine art scene, and over her career has become one of the artists whose work is the most sought-after by Disney collectors. It’s plain to see why. Read on for more about Michelle St. Laurent and for an exclusive interview!
There are few artists I’ve enjoyed working with more than Disney interpretive artist Tim Rogerson. He is not only one of the most successful artists in the Disney Art Program, selling out his editions and originals at the Disney parks and around the world, he’s one of the most joyful, optimistic people I’ve ever met, and he’s been a friend for over 15 years. We’ve worked together on dozens of commissions over the years, including pieces that wound up becoming his most popular sellers as limited editions, like one of his earliest piece, ‘L’Amour‘ from Lady and the Tramp, the Alice in Wonderland art ‘Dreaming in Color’, ‘Fantasia’, and ‘All Their Wicked Ways’, which had so many villains, it took almost 2 years to get approval from Disney!
A few Tim Rogerson limited editions based on ArtInsights commissions:
As to commissions, here we are 7 years ago, as he is painting Dreaming in Color with Alice in Wonderland, talking about his ideas and inspiration:
There are so many more I sold but didn’t commission. I feel like I sold ‘Micasso’, but I can’t remember who wound up with it!
In any case, it’s one of the favorite paintings he ever did, and altered the trajectory of his career and cemented his aesthetic. I love all his edgier Disney art, as do many of his avid collectors. Disney fans know Tim Rogerson. For those of you who don’t, you can read his bio HERE.
For those who already know and appreciate him, as much of a fan as you might be of the artist, there are probably some things you don’t know about Tim Rogerson. You also might be wondering what he’s been doing during the pandemic, and what some of his favorite Disney art pieces he has done recently. We’ve got you covered there! We spoke to Tim about all that, and more.
First, some basics: How did you get your start at Disney?
TR: “While I was attending Ringling College of Art & Design, I would drive up to Disney World on the weekends, to work in the main street gallery of the Magic Kingdom behind the register. It was a sweet part-time job that allowed me to be surrounded by art, with front row seats to the light parade and fireworks every night. I would stare at paintings by Peter Ellenshaw and James Coleman all day. Funnily enough, they would become great friends 4 years later. At the end of my first year at Ringling, we had a signing event in the gallery, with Disney Legend, Ralph Kent. He worked with Walt back in the day, and was the official, “Keeper of the Mouse”, which meant every piece of art with Mickey had to go through him for approval. You could draw the perfect Mickey, and he still would draw over it to make it better. At the signing, I told him I was going to school at Ringling, and wanted to work for him one day. He put me on the spot right there, and asked me to draw Mickey for him. He told me he can read everything about an artist by the way they draw Mickey. The pressure was on, my hand was shaking, and there I was, about to draw Mickey for a Disney Legend. As soon as my hand touched the paper, it was muscle memory, the drawing I’ve been practicing since I was 4 years old. Still to this day, it’s one of the best Mickeys I’ve ever drawn, and it was perfect timing to do it for Ralph.”
So that’s how you first got hired?
“Yes! He hired me right there, I trained with him the whole summer, and it was an experience I’ll cherish forever. Ralph was like Mr Miyagi, but instead of ‘wax on, wax off’, he made me draw 10,000 circles on my first day. His office was on the 2nd floor of the animation building, and I would always take the long way around to peak into production of Lilo & Stitch. I was the last artist Ralph hired and trained before retiring. After training, I went back to the gallery, but now as a character artist behind the animation desk, drawing characters for guests to purchase. I did that and designed close to 1000 t-shirts for the parks before graduating from art school in 2004.”
“Upon graduation, it was devastating when 2D animation closed it’s doors before I could start my internship, but another opportunity walked through the front door of the Magic Kingdom gallery. It was Michael Young, with Disney Fine art. We hit it off right away, and I sent him some paintings as a tryout. Most of the other Disney fine artists were landscape painters, with tiny characters off in the distance. I was the complete opposite, painting the characters larger than life, filling all four corners of the canvas with bright bold colors. That was 16 years ago, and it’s been an amazing journey ever since, painting for Disney Fine Art!”
How did you get the D23 official artist gig?
“It still amazes me to this day that I had the honor of painting the official art for the first ever D23 Expo in 2009. I was just starting to create really complex cubist pieces, combining lots of characters together in interesting compositions. I had completed ‘The Enchantment of Snow White’, ‘Of Mice and Music’, and ‘Strings of Temptation’, which had caught Disney’s eye, thinking I would be able to combine all these elements of D23 Expo into one painting. I’ll never forget the infamous conference call, with 18 executives, that spanned the whole Disney company from Feature Animation, ABC, Radio Disney, and ESPN, to Disney Channel. They all wanted their own thing in this epic painting, and at the end of the call, I had a huge list that took up multiple pages.”
Did you feel pressure or start freaking out at that point?
“The crazy thing is that I was never nervous about it. If I had known how big D23 Expo would become, and that this painting would hang in the Disney Archives forever, then I would have been a nervous wreck. Instead, I figured out early on that the concept behind the painting would be the simple idea, that it all started with a mouse. Everything at D23 Expo exists because of the success of Mickey Mouse, back in 1928. So I drew a big classic Mickey to fill the composition, and then intertwined with Mickey, were all the elements of D23 Expo. It was like putting a puzzle together, and everything clicked into place. That painting and that event changed my life. Seeing 100,000 Disney fans wearing my shirt and buying my art, while fans put together a 15 foot tall mural of my painting out of legos, was surreal! I was the official artist again for D23 Expo in 2013, and have been the official artist for the Winter Olympics, Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, Disneyland 60th, and Mickey’s 90th.”
How does music play a role in your creative experience?
“I can’t paint without music, and you can easily tell how a painting is going by the music I’m listening to. If you hear classical music, that means I’m struggling, and trying to summon the renaissance masters to show me the way. If you hear Red Hot Chili Peppers, that means all is good, and I’m having a blast painting. I can’t wait to hear their next album with John Frusciante’s return. My favorite music to listen to are film scores, especially Thomas Newman, who has a rhythm and mood that’s perfect to paint to. If it’s raining outside, it’s gotta be Miles Davis or Norah Jones. But honestly, I listen to all good music, it doesn’t matter what genre, just as long as it has soul. Just discovered Jacob Collier the other day, and I truly think he’s Mozart reincarnated.”
What are your favorite recent paintings that have been released as limited editions?
90 YEARS OF MICKEY MOUSE
“This was an official piece celebrating Mickey’s 90th Birthday since his debut as Steamboat Willie. I choose 9 different Mickeys, with each representing a different decade and era of the mouse, from sketch to paint. Mickey has always been a big part of my life, from the first drawing I did at 4 years old while watching my father draw Mickey, to drawing Mickey at 18 years old for Disney Legend, Ralph Kent, who hired and trained me as a character artist for Disney. My first painting for Disney Fine Art 15 years ago was of Mickey, and even my good friend from art school is now the official voice of Mickey! Walt once said, “It all started with a mouse”, and it’s so true for me, too. It was an honor to be able to paint a piece for Mickey’s 90th, and give a gift back to the mouse.”
CAST OF TOYS
“Toy Story was released almost 25 years ago, and changed animation forever. As I was drawing this piece, and figuring out how to compose all the main characters, I found an interesting layout showcasing the old into the new. On the left side, you find all the old vintage toys, from Woody’s round up and the Potato heads, that generations have played with. On the right side, you find all the future galactic toys from outer space. And in the middle is Andy’s room, where both worlds collide. In a way, it’s also the story of animation. Woody represents the old school 2D, vintage, hand made way of animation, and Buzz is the shiny new 3D way of animation.”
MOANA KNOWS THE WAY
“I find I always paint my best work when I make it personal. To most people, this looks like a painting of Moana and Maui, but for me, this is a painting of my daughter growing up and becoming a strong leader, as I help steer the way as a father. If only I was as cool as Dwayne “The ROCK” Johnson! When people ask me who’s the hardest character to paint, I now answer Maui, because of the tattoos. Each tattoo has a meaning, and you can’t mess those details up.”
What have you been up to since the pandemic hit? How has it impacted your creativity or painting?
“I’ve been joking with my wife for years that I wish I had a pause button, where I could stop time, and finally catch up with commissions and projects. I’m always struggling to keep up. It’s a good thing for an artist to be busy, but you also don’t want collectors waiting two years for commissions. This pandemic is not what I had in mind, but it has given me the opportunity to finally catch up. I had close to 30 commissions in March, and now I’m down to 8. I’ve also had the time to experiment, and try new techniques that I’m really excited about implementing in my next works. For my fans, I hope it’s something to look forward to in the next releases!”
TEN THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT DISNEY ARTIST TIM ROGERSON:
1. He loves wine.
He doesn’t drink it to excess, but as a celebration. We used to come visit a friend that lived only a few doors down from his house who had an insane wine cellar. He could literally pick dozens of bottles of wine for any year of the 20th century, and would open them in honor of a birthday, a special event, or just to mark a gathering of friends. Tim would walk down to our friend’s house, and we’d sit by the pool and drink champagne or wine so expensive that most of us would never even dream of buying it, and talk about movies, music, and art.
2. He loves movies.
Of course he does! Several times he’s been at ArtInsights for events or shows and we’ve had an evening of movie watching. He and my husband Michael and I have seen lots of movies for the first time together. If you are a film lover, he’s one of those guys that will be a kindred spirit. It’s rare when he can’t find something to love about a movie, and he loves all genres. I remember telling him about the movie “Tigers Are Not Afraid”, by Issa Lopez, knowing he would love it. It’s a terrifying, moving, gorgeous film, and I just knew he’d dig it. That’s the thing about him, and lots of artists that paint Disney. They see the whole picture: the good, the dark, the sad, the joyful…and it all goes into their work, no matter what they are painting. His favorite movie-watching experience was in Rome.
Tim relates, “Sitting in the coliseum in Rome with my iPad watching Gladiator was an absolutely EPIC experience! It was like being surrounded by genius filmmaking and the ghosts of the past at the same time.”
When I asked him to name 5 of his favorite movies, he said:
“Oh boy, that’s impossible! I’ll just tell you what they are as of today:
Indiana and The Last Crusade (Greatest film ever made)
A New Hope,
Road to Perdition,
Superman the movie,
The John Woo masterpiece, Face Off!”
Of course I had to make him explain why The Last Crusade is his favorite.
“I love Raiders, but Last Crusade humanized Indy. Plus: The River Phoenix intro! Never being able to impress his father Sean-freaking-Connery! The epic tank battle! And the powerful ending to save his father, who finally calls him by his name Indiana! Literally as I was typing Last Crusade, I heard “You have chosen…………….wisely!”…so it must be true.”
3. He is obsessed with Nicolas Cage.
He explains, “I was a nick cage junky as a 13 yr old. I was obsessed with The Rock, then Con Air. Had to sneak into Face Off, which was R-rated, not knowing anything except John Woo and Nick Cage. It blew my brain!!”
He also loves television shows, especially those with complicated stories and anti-heroes. He took inspiration from one such show for a piece of art:
4. Peter Pan is his favorite Disney animated feature film.
“Peter Pan always fully captured my imagination as a kid, and it’s still my favorite Disney animated film. To fly, never grow up, and spend your day fighting pirates…Sign me up!”
5. It all started with a mouse. Again.
It might be that Disney said, “It all started with a mouse.”, but that is literally true for Tim Rogerson. His dad Danny was a director at Disney and worked closely with Don “Ducky” Williams, who taught his dad to draw Mickey. He would watch his father draw Mickey all the time. When Tim was 4 years old, Danny went to Tim’s class for a parent day, and he taught the whole class how to draw Mickey Mouse. He followed his dad’s directions and drew his first very own Mickey Mouse, and from that day on, he was hooked. Tim knew his calling was to become a Disney artist.
6. His sketchbook is his diary.
Tim Rogerson never goes a day without drawing sketches in his notebook. He takes it everywhere, including Paris, Riyadh, and everywhere else he has traveled. Entire series have been created out of his daily drawings, like his Food and Wine fine art images. It goes all the way back to when he was a kid. Some people have diaries, Tim documents his experiences and speaks his own truth through art, and he does it with pen and pencil on paper. He has lots of filled notebooks all lined up in chronological order in his studio.
7. Lately, he’s been inspired by Pixar concept artists.
At Pixar, the concept artists are free to create in any medium. Whether they are moved to do watercolors, or use cut paper, or paint in oils, inside Pixar, the folks in charge believe that kind of unique, personal exploration will be invaluable to story, and the finished film. Many of them have looked back at the Disney artists of the 50s, like Claude Coats and Mary Blair. It’s all about shape and color. Tim has found inspiration for his art from both those old Disney artists, and the new artists creating designs inside Pixar.
8. He’s a night owl.
Not least because Tim Rogerson always has at least a dozen commissions lined up, he’s always very busy. Still, he finds he does his best work at night, especially when just everyone else is asleep. He is also a dad to a little girl, and he wants to enjoy her childhood, so he spends lots of his daylight hours with her. Night is for art. Around 11pm, he cranks up the music and gets to work. Many is the time I’ve gone over to his house at 11am and he’s still working. Usually he’s discovered some new music at some point during the night, and added some inspired element to the art that wasn’t there the night before.
9. He loves all genres of music, but in his soul, he’s a jazz cat.
When I asked him his favorite music, he immediately had an answer. His favorite album is Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis. It’s a go-to when he truly wants to look inward for inspiration while creating. A Love Supreme by John Coltrane is a close second. As to his favorite song, it’s been the same a long time: Crash by Dave Matthews.
10. Don’t ask him what his favorite color is. (Tim explains why:)
“I get asked all the time what my favorite color is. It has become a hilarious mind trip that I can never answer. It’s like asking a writer, ‘what is your favorite letter?’ or a musician, ‘what is your favorite note?’ You have to combine letters to make a word. A musician has to combine notes to make music. That’s how I see color, so to pic out one as a favorite is impossible.”
*Tim Rogerson also does commissions, although he is always working down a 20-30 commission requests, so it does take some time between when you order a piece and completion. If interested, contact the gallery via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We were thrilled when, this week, we happened upon a gorgeous little collection of Batman original production backgrounds. These are from The New Adventures of Batman and Batman Beyond, and they are exquisite. One of them is over 28 inches long…
Holy Priceless Collection of Etruscan Snoods!
We’ve been working to find key set-ups and original backgrounds from the Batman tv series since starting our gallery nearly 30 years ago. We found very few from the first season of Batman: The Animated Series, which is what started it all, but we have had some from the second season, and been on the lookout for backgrounds from The New Batman Adventures and Batman Beyond. While the look of the characters changes, the style and design of the backgrounds remained much the same, and is one of the ways the various shows have some continuity.
Before Batman: The Animated Series was suggested, created, and introduced, there weren’t cartoon series that looked like them. You’d have to go back to one of the inspirations for Warner Brothers cartoon, the 40s Superman cartoons from Fleischer Studio to find animation that looked remotely like the new show.
The critically acclaimed 85 episodes of Batman: The Animated Series (or BTAS as the cool kids call it) prepared the way for The New Batman Adventures (often shortened as TNBA), which allowed the existence of Batman Beyond, and then Justice League and a host of direct to video releases. Each series has its diehard fans and its great qualities, but it is BTAS that created the hardcore following that continued to watch continuations and other incarnations of the caped crusader’s story. It also created Harley Quinn, which has launched a thousand comic books and even her own feature film.
Thought this collection of backgrounds is from TNBA and Batman Beyond, their aesthetic is anchored in the original 1992-1995 series. Batman: The Animated Series was created by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, and won several daytime Emmys and one Nighttime Emmy (for Robin’s Reckoning, Part 1). Timm and Radomski did an early, minute and a half animation test to show what they had in mind for a Batman show, and the producers loved it.
Here is a great primer about BTAS, TNBA and Batman Beyond, from Comics Explained:
You can also find out a lot more, if you haven’t already seen it, from the video released with the BTAS home edition, which has all the major creative players interviewed.
Interview with Background Designer Don Cameron:
I spoke to background designer and layout artist Don Cameron, who worked on the first season of Batman: The Animated Series, and asked a few questions about his experience and the aesthetic of the show.
Working for WB and especially on Batman is a really big deal. How did you wind up there?
“I was aware of it because I knew someone at Warner Brothers who had gotten a tape of the test that Bruce Timm did. I saw that tape and was just blown away by it. I thought it looked amazing, and I immediately thought of the Fleischer Superman cartoons. The guy mentioned to me that they were looking for background people and he could get me a test. I took the test and got a call from Bruce Timm later that day asking if I was available for work. I got hired, and I was one of the first people, but there were a bunch of us hired on the same day.”
Other than the Fleischer Superman and the pulp magazines and book covers of the 30s and 40s that Bruce Timm had pasted up all over, what additional inspiration do you remember was part of building the look of the show, and since you worked on the backgrounds, that specifically?
“As to the backgrounds mostly we were told to look at the work of architect Hugh Ferris. There was also a comic book out at the time called Mr. X. Those were the two main sources to look at, as well as the Superman cartoons, obviously. Ferris was huge, especially with the early versions of Gotham, they were taken straight from his work.”
Hugh Ferriss was an architect from the early part of the 20th century who considered the psychological conditions of urban life and was a huge influence on other architects of his generation. He architectural drawings are famously dark and moody, often presented at night, light by spotlights, or surrounded by a mysterious fog. He is so famous as his craft, that every year the American Society of American Illustrators gives out an award in his name for architectural rendering excellence.
Mr X was created by Dean Motter. Mr X is an architect of a dystopian place called Radiant City. He believes he must fix errors in its construction, so he rarely sleeps and stays awake thanks to a drug he engineered. His design theory is called “psychetecture”, which leads its citizenry to go mad. It is influenced by Bauhaus and Friz Lang’s Metropolis.
Mr. X, in turn, influenced Tim Burton’s Batman, which was also an inspiration to Bruce Timm in creating the look and feel of Batman: The Animated Series.
How many designers were there? How many folks working on your part of the project?
“I think as far as background designers, there were 5 or 6, and then background layout was probably another 4 people, then maybe 4 more people working to turn them into production backgrounds. It’s so different now, but we were drawing on the old animation wheels and we would draw on animation paper, and then they would take those drawings and transfer them onto black board, and then they would airbrush the final image onto the black board. To have 4 people making all those backgrounds, that impressive. Batman backgrounds, when you see them in person, are pretty spectacular.”
how you were directed in terms of creating? What kinds of guidelines were you required to stick to?
“One time in particular I did was a warehouse, and Bruce really liked the design that I did. Basically, we were told to look at the inspiration, and then you had a lot of freedom. ’We need a warehouse, it’s gotta have a skylight and a door right here.’ That was about it. You were left to just take off and do whatever you wanted, as long as it fit within the style. I never remember feeling really confined with anything.”
How did you learn what you wanted to do, since architecture requires a very specific type of drawing?
“I actually wanted to be an architect when I was younger. I tried it, and then soon discovered the artistic aspect was sometimes secondary to regulations and rules that you’re required to follow when you’re designing. I had done some study of it, though. I also worked as a machinist for 8 years so I was very 3D oriented, having worked on blueprints and that sort of thing. The Batman stuff came very naturally to me, because it was very geometric.”
“I did a pan on the very first episode, that was the “On Leather Wings”, the scene with a couple of policeman in a blimp, and they’re drifting over the city, and you cut to a shot from their POV of the buildings passing by as they drift over. I actually did the layout for that scene, and it was 3 fields wide. The field would basically be the image that’s on your tv when you look at it, so 3 fields is 3 tv widths across. I drew the city from the angle that they would see it, which was a 45% angle. I remember it took me a week to do that one shot.”
“We had a lot of freedom as long as it looked like it belonged in the city. I was taking components and maybe flipping them around or turning them on the side. You do whatever tricks you can to create entirely different buildings. You’re basically working with shapes and how you arrange them, and the rest is up to you, and your ideas.”
You just worked on a feature film for Bob’s Burgers. How was that different than your experience on Batman?
“I was a background designer on that, too. It was far more difficult. I thought it would be easier. The thing with Bob’s Burgers, you have to draw everything from real world and you have to draw it to scale. Since they’ve had a show that’s lasted 10 seasons, it’s important when you design a room, that it’s perfectly to scale, so that it can be used somewhere down the line. You can’t change the scale of doorways from one scene to the next, because over time that problem will compound and become more obvious. There has to be cohesiveness to everything. These are very very detailed backgrounds. It was difficult but it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it.”
At least it’s digital, though, so if you make a mistake, it’s a lot easier.
“Yes, it’s all digital. I got into 3D as well about 10 years ago, and I did a little clip on YouTube. It’s just a few seconds. I actually built a 3D version of Gotham and I did a little scene and I was able to draw it, animate it, and color it all within a few days. That was just my little test to compare the old ways with the new ways. It’s pretty amazing what can be done with the technology.”
You said you have a cool and special story for my readers, that few know about on Batman. Do tell!
“On one of the episodes, a character layout artist on the crew, his name was Charlie Bean and he came to me and said he was leaving the show. I thought he was crazy, because he was on one of the biggest shows around. He said he was leaving to do a show about a cat and a chihuahua. I thought, ‘You’re leaving Batman to do a show about a cat and a chihuahua?” He thought it looked cool and he wanted to try it, and of course it was Ren and Stimpy. His final episode is one with the Scarecrow called Nothing to Fear. There’s a scene in which Batman gets one of Scarecrow’s grenades thrown at him, and Batman starts to hallucinate, and he sees a bat appear in front of him. That was the final scene that Charlie worked on before he left for Ren and Stimpy. If you look at it very carefully, for a few seconds the bat looks like Ren from Ren and Stimpy!”
What are you left with in terms of your memories of the show in retrospect?
“The thing that was cool about Warner Brothers is you’d get off the elevator every morning and there was the shield. I got to meet Stephen Spielberg because he was around the studio a lot, working with Tiny Toons. That was so great. I was really young when I worked on BTAS, and I got to be really free in creating and I loved that, but I think it was only later that I realized just how lucky I was to have been on the show. It’s got a huge following, and people just continue to love it. I am so glad to have been able to be part of that, and even now I’m really glad I get to do this, do art, for a living. There are thousands of people lined up who would love to do this job, and I still get to do it every day. I know I am very lucky.”
In terms of Batman original production backgrounds, we have one key-set up with Joker and Harley from Joker’s Millions (which, by the way, Don Cameron actually worked on) which is gorgeous:
“The Joker’s Millions” is both a comic book story and an animated TV series episode where the Joker suddenly inherits a massive fortune, only to find out too late that he has fallen victim to an elaborate scheme to humiliate him.
We also have several hand-painted production backgrounds from Batman Beyond.
The first is from Rebirth, which is episode 2 of Batman Beyond.
“Rebirth” is the two-part premiere of the show. It depicts Batman‘s retirement when Bruce Wayne steps down, and later rebirth as Terry McGinnis years afterward. After Bruce becomes aware of his declining health and lays down his mantle, Gotham City is without its protector for twenty years until Terry discovers the secret then takes the batsuit to avenge his father’s murder, which revives Batman in Gotham City.
From episode 6 Heroes, This background is around 20 x 10 inches. Doesn’t this remind you of Blade Runner? That film was also inspired in part by the designs of Hugh Ferriss.
“Heroes” is about The Terrific Trio, a group of scientists who became superheroes after gaining powers in an experiment gone awry, who make their way into Gotham and become media sensations. But Magma, Freon, and the 2-D Man soon learn that the accident that gave them their powers was not really an accident. The Terrific Trio were based upon the Fantastic Four, a superhero group created by Marvel.
“Dead Man’s Hand” is the eighth episode of Batman Beyond. It depicts the first time that the Royal Flush Gang fights the new Batman. After learning that Batman is back in Gotham, the Royal Flush Gang returns to take revenge. Meanwhile, Dana breaks up with Terry but he finds a new girlfriend: Melanie Walker. Unbeknownst to Terry, Melanie is actually the Gang’s “Ten”. Now, both of them must deal with their dual lives while trying to be with each other.
“A Touch of Curaré” is the twelfth episode of the show. It depicts the first appearance of the assassin Curaré. Gotham City District Attorney Sam Young has been marked for death by the Society of Assassins, who have sent their best member: Curaré. Now Batman must face off against one of the world’s deadliest fighters. Making things worse, is the fact that Commissioner Barbara Gordon, Young’s wife, isn’t as liberal as her father was when it comes to costumed vigilantes, despite having been one herself.
“Mind Games” is the tenth episode of the second season of Batman Beyond. It depicts Terry‘s first encounter with people wielding psychic capabilities. After saving a supposed family from a car accident, Terry starts receiving strange messages from the family’s daughter. He soon learns that she’s contacting him telepathically and that she’s been kidnapped by a group called “The Brain Trust”. Now Terry must fight to save the child from super-powered individuals.
I love getting pieces I wasn’t expecting. This is the most fun part of owning an art gallery that specializes in film and animation art. I can’t wait to see who winds up with these beauties!
I’ll leave you with the opening sequence from Batman Beyond, which I love:
It is said often online, or really anywhere where people talk movies, that the movie Hook is beloved by anyone who was a kid when it came out in 1991, while adults were less enthused by the film. Here we are, almost 30 years later, and those kids are now adults, and they are loud and proud about their fandom. There are websites and wiki pages and fan Facebook pages, all celebrating Steven Spielberg’s riff or extenuation of the story of Peter Pan. There’s even a famous, award-winning song by the musician Skrillex called ‘Bangarang’, inspired by the famous battle cry uttered by the Lost Boys.
SHOUTS TO ALL MY LOST BOYS!….
In case you aren’t one of the enthusiastic fans of the movie and don’t remember that quote, here it is:
There are so many interesting aspects of the Hook movie that not everyone knows.
So it’s particularly cool that we have Hook movie art! We are so excited to have an exclusive piece of movie history direct from the John Alvin estate, that occupies a unique place in movie history, in that it is both a prop and movie campaign art. There is a map, the original of which is 40 x 60, that was used in the making of the teaser trailer for Steven Spielberg’s Hook. I was talking to John Alvin’s wife about the piece, which we have in his archives. She mentioned, off the cuff, that she had all of the printed versions of the map. They were created on special paper, so that at a particular time during the trailer, the map could catch fire. We have partnered with Andrea to sell these great images, which are also 40 x 60. There are only 6 of them available!
Here is a video of the trailer that uses John Alvin Hook art nearly the entire time, and switches to live action right after the map goes up in flames:
I spoke to Andrea Alvin about the John Alvin Studios working on Hook, and she relayed a few interesting tidbits fans would love to know. John Alvin was hired, initially, to do a treatment as a potential movie poster. He came up with a design of Wendy’s window, with curtains and Wonderland in the distance. He only did one graphite, and one full-color image that was 20 x 30 inches. Eventually, as most people know, the finish was illustrated by Drew Struzan. However, John Alvin also worked on the advance poster for the film, which was just a single hook. The marketing people had created a large image of the hook used by the captain, but the image looked flat. So they sent a large print of it to John, and he “Alvin-ized” it, adding light flairs and reflected light to give it a more dramatic, compelling look.
John Alvin called what he did “the promise of a great experience”, which included creating curiosity in potential viewers, often by using iconic imagery imbued with light to add a mystical, ethereal quality. He certainly did that with this Hook image!
Around the same time, the studio came to John and asked him to create a map that would include Neverland and part of the real world to be used for the entire teaser trailer, and John came up with the now-famous map, meant to look mysterious and centuries old.
He knew the map had to be big, because to use it for the whole trailer, the camera would have to pan across it. He also knew in the trailer it would be burned through. So he made the 40 x 60 map, and they printed copies on special paper that burns easily.
Explains Andrea Alvin, “We had a layout that we had to follow, for what the actual map would be, for example, where Wonderland would be. We had to follow that, and design it to look like an old map on parchment. A lot of the painting was done in thinned-out acrylics, and sponged on, to make it look like parchment. Then he drew the little locations over the top. He had to find a good compass rose to put on it to make it look old and original, so he did copious research in books, because this was before the internet had everything anyone would ever need, and he finally discovered the perfect image. John hand-lettered all the words on the map, too, which was unusual. Nearly no illustrators would do hand-lettering or design their own for their posters, but John did.”
Both John Alvin and his wife Andrea went to the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, where many other famous artists and directors have gone, including Ralph McQuarrie, Syd Mead, Eyvind Earle, Bob Peak, Drew Struzan, Zack Snyder, and Michael Bay. For those focusing in illustration and fine art, taking hand-lettering classes was mandatory. John Alvin had not only a love but an affinity for it, and you can see the expression of his talent on many of his one-sheets, including Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, E.T., Victor/Victoria, Gremlins, Willow, The Princess Bride, and The Phantom of the Paradise, just to name a few.
Andrea Alvin continues, “Most movie poster artists hire a lettering artist and then drop it in. You can’t go buy at typeface that looks like that, and it’s essential to the art and the look of the poster.”
As to how John felt about the movie Hook, Andrea says she remembers he loved it, even though many critics panned it. “To John, it was like a musical without the music. John liked fantasy movies and he loved popcorn movies made to be entertainment. The goal wasn’t to make great art, it was to make a great movie that entertained, and that it did.”
It’s interesting that John felt that way. Originally, Spielberg wanted to make the film as a musical. His interest in the story went all the back to his childhood, and in fact he directed a story based on Peter Pan in school when he was only 11 years old. He had worked on various versions of the story in the early 80s, even considering creating a musical.
At the same time, award-winning composer John Williams and lyricist and composer Leslie Bricusse were working on a Broadway play of Hook, and wrote a number of songs, which could have been used for the movie, since Spielberg had hired Williams as the composer for the film score. Ultimately, there were two songs used in Hook, “When You’re Alone”, which went on to be nominated for an Oscar, and “I Don’t Want to Grow Up”.
The script needed some help, and one of the script doctors hired but uncredited for her work was Carrie Fisher. Here she is talking about being a fixer, and being hilarious, as usual.
Since its release, Hook has remained a favorite to many who saw the film as kids, and has expanded its fandom since then, not least because of all the quirky elements to be enjoyed. There are many star cameos, from George Lucas and Carrie Fisher playing a couple kissing on the bridge at the very beginning of the film, to Jimmy Buffett, David Crosby, and Glenn Close playing pirates, Gwyneth Paltrow playing a young Wendy, and Phil Collins playing a police inspector. Check a few of them out here:
Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, and Bob Hoskins are all in top form, although for Williams, another film he starred in around that time eclipsed this one, and for good reason. It was the following year, in 1992, that Disney’s Aladdin was released, with Williams as the Genie. The other high-profile cast member was a 24-year-old Julia Roberts, who was badly miscast, and also had a horrible year that led to so much tabloid talk, she had to do an interview only weeks before Hook’s release. To capture a female superstar early in her career who is clearly a novice at damage control, you can read the 1991 interview in Entertainment Weekly HERE.
In 2017, Dante Basco, who played fan favorite Lost Boy Rufio, executive produced an unauthorized short film, “Bangarang: The Hook Prequel”, that was funded through Kickstarter. It’s about how Roofus, a bullied Filipino kid, finds his courage and becomes a Lost Boy. This short is a testament to the power of the Hook fandom. The campaign raised nearly $69,000 when the goal was only $30,000! You can watch it here:
For those who are looking for a really rare, exclusive piece of film history, we can’t think of anything better than a map of the ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ world that comes directly from famed movie poster artist John Alvin’s estate. The art will also come with a certificate from Andrea Alvin designating it as one of 6 pieces that belonged to the Alvin family.
To see Hook, you can go to any major streaming service, or look for listings on your cable schedule. It’s playing repeatedly for free on mine this June, and I’ll be watching it soon. Join me. Maybe we’ll hear each other screaming BANGARANG!
We’ll end by posting part of my interview with John 11 years ago at my gallery. You’ll notice as usual, he’s wearing his iconic red shoes!
It’s that time again, for San Diego Comic-Con 2020 and the very impressive collection of new releases that makes the Alex Ross Art booth the go-to magnet of thousands of fans and collectors that swarm SDCC every year! This year, though, the San Diego Comic-Con Alex Ross experience will be a virtual experience. That might not be the same as pushing through the throngs of geeky cosplayers like cattle, but it will be a helluva a lot safer! It’s called #SDCC@Home, and the fact that it’s virtual means you have all the more access to the work you love, through SDCC and Alex Ross Art-connected moi!
Who is Alex Ross? Here’s a segment from CBS This Morning featuring Alex:
Those of you not interested or not in the market to buy any art, skip to below the line, where you can read more about Alex Ross and see some videos with him talking about his work, inspiration, and career.
THE CURIOUS CAN CONTINUE TO SCROLL DOWN AND SEE ALL THE GOODIES…
All the planned releases are going forward, and as usual, I’m working to get #1 and AP1 of every edition. Soooo, if you’re hot for that special highly-desired number one or Artists Proof #1, you should contact us immediately via our email at email@example.com.
What’s coming out? Well, one we can show you, and the rest you’ll have to contact me to see an image. We would ask you not to share online in any way before the official release date of July 22nd. Don’t get me in trouble with one of the foremost figures in illustration! Let’s get to it.
First, the gallery has AP1 of this new Black Widow image, which is one of those heroines that both men and women have grown to love with surprising ferocity. Why not? She’s complicated, gorgeous, brilliant, and lethal. It was meant to be released in tandem with the live action film, slated for earlier in the year, but postponed because of the pandemic. That’s all the more reason for us to celebrate the powerful character. Ross used her original costume, as he most fondly remembers her, and injects a pop art aesthetic in the background, using the title graphic from some of the most classic and wonderful comic titles in history.
edition size of 50, with 15 APs, PPs and EPs, size is 20 x 30 inches, and the price is $825 for the regular edition, $925 for #1, and $1025 for AP1.
Here’s the image. Contact us to snap up the AP1!
Black Widow signed giclee on canvas:
DC Comics Shadows Series signed giclees on paper
Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam!
Edition size is 75, with 25 APs, PPs and EPs. Retail is $475 each for the regular edition, with APs at $675.
Each piece has an image of 13 x 25.75 and paper size of 16 x 28.75.
The first 50 are set aside for sets, as are #1-#15 of the APs.
The sets are $1725 for the regular edition, $2425 for #1 and the APs.
CONTACT US FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO BUY (firstname.lastname@example.org)
We’re very excited about the new Alex Ross David Bowie image, which has been in the works for a loooong time. In fact, he had been in talks with David Bowie and his representatives way before he passed away. David Bowie himself saw the sketch for the new release and loved it. One of Alex Ross’s favorite memories of listening to Bowie was his narration of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, which he did because he wanted to give it to his then 7-year-old son Duncan for Christmas. It was one of Bowie’s favorite projects ever.
The dramatic image is of David and his magical two-colored eyes, but with hooves as legs, and ode to his beloved project. We can send images of these out, but please don’t share them online before the release date on July 22nd.
Bowie by Alex Ross signed giclee on paper:
Edition size is 50 regular edition, 15 APs, PPs and EPs.Retail is $425 regular edition, with APs at $595. (AP1 is $695)
Image size is 12 x 25.75, paper size 15 x 28.75.
CONTACT ME FOR AN IMAGE AND TO PURCHASE (email@example.com)
We have access to the AP editions for the signed lithograph on paper of Original Seven, which is a continuation of the Originals series that includes this piece, Avengers Assemble, and The X-Men.
The X-Men signed lithograph on paper:
The X-Men: Wolverine, Night Crawler, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Storm, and Colossus
Signed by Alex Ross, APs reserved for galleries, we have AP1.
Edition size is 295, with 25 APs, PPs, and EPs. Retail is $495 for APs, with AP1 at $595.
Image size is 14 x 28, paper size 18 x 32. Contact us through email for more information.
The Original Seven signed lithograph on paper:
Justice League of America:
Green Lantern, Flash, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter
Signed by Alex Ross, APs reserved for galleries, we have AP1.
Edition size 295, 25 APs, PPs, and EPs. Retail is $595. AP1 is $695.
Image size is 39.5 x 17 image size, and 42.5 x 20.5 paper size.
Many of you know we’ve been selling the art of Alex Ross for some time now, and we even exclusively represented him at the New York Comic-Con and other cons around the country. Ross is one of the most recognized, lauded comic book illustrators in the world, and is collected across the globe, from China to Chattanooga Tennessee.
An artist represented in museums like The Louvre, The Andy Warhol Museum, The Norman Rockwell Museum, and many others, he has brought a new spotlight and acceptance to comic books. His iconic realism and intricate, tight illustration style, which of course is inspired by the work of Norman Rockwell and his contemporaries, has a visceral, nostalgic quality that resonates with comic fans and collectors of comic book art.
He’s also been a bit of a muse to the filmmakers who built the Marvel and DC cinematic universes. In fact, did you know Alex Ross did the opening credits for Spider-Man 2? opening credits: Of course you did, but you want to watch it again, don’t you?
Speaking of San Diego Comic-Con, we get asked a lot if Alex will be at the convention. Almost without exception, the answer would be no. The reason is he is one of the only illustrators working today that creates exclusively in the traditional way. He does not do digital illustration. Here he talks about why:
“creating art is a tactile interaction so I love the fact that i get to work with real materials. I’m still working with paper and with a brush and paint. That to me is very stimulating. I’m completely ignorant of the modern tools. I’ve never taken to using computers. But for everybody else that has, there’s really no difference between them and I, in terms of what drives us. There’s no superiority in one way of working versus another. It’s all about creating something and getting it out there because however the audience absorbs it is what matters.”
I’ve contended that there is something about physical painting, or physical art created all by hand, that creates a connection between the creator and the collector, as if there’s an exchange of artistic energy. It might sound ‘woowoo’, but there’s so much attention, passion, and drive on the part of the artist during the act of creating, it seems obvious to me that the canvas or paper and whatever was used as a medium would be infused with that intention and creative energy. That’s not to say that digital art doesn’t have power. It can convey as much to the viewer as any image done traditionally. It’s just in terms of being in the presence of the physical painting, as a collector, that I believe there is a marked difference in terms of magnetic visual appeal.
Here is a video about some of his techniques within his artistic process:
So the fact that Alex Ross works by hand, and is committed to continuing to do so, speaks to his love of the history of illustration, expands his reach back to those who influenced him, and excuses him from personal appearances in the potentially 100s of cons that happen around the world every year.
He will, from time to time, appear at an Alex Ross exhibit museum opening, as exampled by his being at the first day of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, which is only about an hour from my gallery. Folks who wanted to meet him started lining up 8 hours before the museum opened that day. He stayed 3 hours after closing, and still didn’t meet every of the thousands of people in line.
Perhaps you want to hear Alex talk about his life and work on, say, a podcast. I have just the thing. Comic Book Central, is hosted and produced by Emmy Award-winning producer Joe Stuber, has been called “the Actors’ Studio of comic books”, and has an episode with Alex. Start 18 minutes in after all the commercials, and you’ll enjoy their chat. He talked about the influence the show The Electric Company had on him as a child. Here’s the very first Spidey Adventure episode, which stars Danny Seagren as Spidey (he worked for Jim Henson as a puppeteer and played Big Bird on The Ed Sullivan Show), and is narrated by none other than Morgan Freeman! (interview: https://13thdimension.com/tvs-original-spider-man-breaks-his-silence/)
The work of Alex Ross is not for everyone. There are some who prefer the more 60s-styled work that feels more like what classic comic books looked like, as in the art of Jim Lee. If you’re a fan of superheroes and iconic characters that help us aspire to be more fearless and more courageous in our lives, a reminder in the form of one of his images may be the perfect thing to add to your world. Wouldn’t it be delightful, if you are working from home, to have your favorite superhero looking back at you as you do what you do?
How about Alex Ross’s Batman? He is known for how he draws the caped crusader, and his art of that character has had a huge influence on his popularity. Here he is talking about the tortured, driven, and in-need-of-therapy Mr. Wayne.
I’ll leave you with the fact that despite the desire by the powers-that-be to keep Alex Ross as apolitical as possible, he has always found subversive ways to express his opinion through his art. As anyone who knows the history of comic books will tell you, the characters represented therein are the first “social justice warriors”. It has ever been thus. Comic superheroes defend the weak, tend to be aliens or immigrants of some kind, and stand up to oppression and bullying.
Here is a perfect example, loaded onto his YouTube page a few weeks ago. Note the fact that nowhere does it say anything except on his YouTube page itself. It’s titled “Comic Heroes”.
It’s only if you go onto the YouTube page that you see this (a message that states simple “black lives matter”. WE AGREE, ALEX.
We are selling cartoon and film art masks. Why? Because we are 100% in on wearing them and 100% in on supplying the most awesome ones we can, to inspire people to wear them.
As a small business owner, I’ve been impacted by the shutdown, to be sure. Not only were all the stores in my center shut for more than two months, the fear and dread shared by the whole world made sales difficult. Although apparently there are some people who still don’t know someone who has either gotten very sick or died from COVID, people in the service and retail industries will tell you, we all know someone. So, as someone in retail, it has been difficult. Even so, I supported staying at home for everyone. I would do the same thing again, and indeed may do the same thing again if the record numbers of infection happening in places like Texas reach to Virginia.
As a small business owner, I also get to know many of my clients. We’ve been in business for over 27 years. Some of my clients have become close friends. I don’t want to see those friends sick or suffering through the loss of family members, and I certainly don’t want to be the one that spreads the disease to them and those they love. I also, as a gallery owner of film and animation art, have a number of older and high risk clients. Perhaps it’s because, for example, if someone has MS or very bad asthma, they are more likely, as they stay inside to find fascination in film.
Those are all very good reasons for me to pay attention to what’s happening with research, and to follow as many guidelines that will keep both me and clients safe. That includes wearing masks.
There are so many magic-filled, fantastical films and stories we in the US watch and read. Imagination has always been one of the seeds of our best classic and contemporary cinema. I didn’t think that meant, however, that there wasn’t also room for science and common sense. There are many studies by respected experts that have shown wearing a mask makes a difference in the spread of COVID-19. There’s the article on the MAYO CLINIC WEBSITE about why masks protect us. There’s also an article in which Dr. Steven Gordon, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Infectious Disease and pulmonologist Read Dweik, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute, explain the science around why wearing a mask is important. Of course, as they say, masks need to be used in conjunction with social distancing to be most effective. Because so little testing is done, we have no idea how many people are wandering around spreading the disease. I want them covered, so I don’t get sick, and I want to be covered so I don’t spread it to anyone else. Do you know how many people discovered quite accidentally they had COVID? D.L Hughley is just one example.
I could list articles all day explaining and proving that efficacy all day.
I’m no doctor, but It seems pretty simple to understand that if someone is coughing and sneezing into a mask instead of into the air, the mask will catch a lot of that before it gets to anyone else. It’s not a complicated concept. The point is, if you want to go out into the world and go shopping, or out to eat, or spend time with someone, you wear a mask in case you have the virus and don’t know it. So I, as a business owner, wear a mask. I wear it out of respect for my clients, friends, and all our loved ones. I also wear it because maybe it will help us all get back on our economic feet while saving lives.
With that in mind, I contacted my childhood friend Julie, who is making lovely, very well-designed masks, and asked her if she could make them for me to sell in the gallery. Julie had been working as a driver for UPS, but because she has some high-risk folks in her inner circle, she had to stop so she wouldn’t put them at risk. Making masks is her new way of breadwinning. I’m so happy to partner with her! These aren’t just any badly made, cursory bit of flimsy fabric. Her masks have adjustable ear straps and filter pockets. They are swank!
I have been wanting face coverings that represented some of my favorite movies and tv shows, whether they be cartoon or live action. So…we got together and started seeking out cool fabrics featuring Marvel, DC, Disney, and other hot properties. So far, we’ve found Mulan, Maleficent, Harry Potter, Avengers, Snoopy, Dr. Who, Nightmare Before Christmas, Scooby Doo, Winnie the Pooh, and Aquaman, and we’re finding new fabric every day!
All our cartoon and film art masks are $12.00. If you need them shipped, it’s an additional $1.00-$3.00 or more, depending on how many you order.
All the proceeds go to Julie, so when you buy them from ArtInsights we just have you send her payment via PayPal. We are also donating $2.00 from each sale to Oxfam America, which is working through US partners to fund programs that offer direct, immediate support to marginalized communities in some of the most distressed parts of the country struggling with the disease.
YOU CAN NOW ORDER DIRECTLY FROM THE ETSY SHOP, AND HAVE IT SENT TO YOU!
It’s interesting that when we started looking around for fabric for cartoon and film art masks, we ran up against the fact that lots of enterprising folks are buying up all available fabric and then selling on Etsy, small amounts they’ve cut up into what’s called a “fat quarter”, which is just enough to make 2 or 3 masks, at 4x the cost of the fabric if you can get it in the stores. That’s quite the mark-up!
As those who know me are aware, I’ll get all the fabric I want eventually. I always find a way. So we WILL be getting Batman (there’s a particular fabric I have in mind, and it will be OURS!) and Wonder Woman. I’ll also find Star Wars, but of course all these have to be 100% cotton. That’s the best and safest to use.
Whether you buy a mask by Julie through ArtInsights that features Scooby or Hermione or whatever character you love, or you go the none-more-black route, we hope you’ll protect those you love, and even those you don’t know, when you’re in close proximity. It might keep stores from closing again, and it might even save someone you love.
Lady and the Tramp was released June 22nd, 1955, making this June its 65th anniversary. The film was so popular, a live-action version of it came out in 2019! The original movie has so much history, and such a strong fanbase, we at ArtInsights thought it would be a great idea to pull together a collection of original art available for sale to our Lady and the Tramp collectors. Check out all the art, then read on for my own experiences as an animation art gallery owner selling Lady and the Tramp art for over 32 years, as well as videos and trivia about this classic Disney film.
I have some vivid, lasting memories of my experience with selling Lady and the Tramp production cels as an animation art gallery owner. I have several clients that I’ve known nearly the entire time I’ve been in the business, who have been collecting Lady and the Tramp cels for over 25 years. When I started in 1988, you could find Lady and the Tramp production art, including cels, for as little as $200. Although the Spaghetti Scene production cels have always been the most expensive, and have never been cheap, there was always cels and drawings you could get for very little.
I have had some wonderful key set-ups in my time selling Lady and the Tramp art. Because of these longterm clients, they usually never make it to the general public, and that’s ok. Gratefully, most of these folks are willing to let us show the art in the gallery for a few months before they take it home and it’s never seen again.
CALL IT PUPPY LOVE
Some years ago, there was a poll done for the most romantic films of all time, (this was pre-The Notebook which I’ve never seen, by the way) and Lady and the Tramp was 2nd on the list. At the time, I thought it was odd, but if you’ve looked at any of those “Most Romantic Movies of All Time” lists, they are full of really depressing choices, and very unhealthy relationships: Gone With the Wind? Casablanca? Love Story? and Brokeback Mountain is so sad I could never watch it again. So, yes, I’m onboard with Lady and the Tramp being one of the most romantic movies of all time. It has since been one of only two animated features added to the AFI’s “100 Greatest Love Stories of All Time”, landing at 95. Once again, however, you’ll see lots of very depressing, fatal or extremely toxic relationships on the list. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Last Tango in Paris are #89, #67, and #48…I’ll stick with Lady and the Tramp.
DISNEY ART CORNER AND RESTORATION GEEK SPEAK
The problem as always been that Lady and the Tramp falls during the Art Corner era of Disney art. Most of the cels from the movie were trimmed down, put against a litho background or colored mat, sealed into that recognizable Disneyland mat, and sold at the Art Corner at Disney. As I’ve mentioned before in other blogs, that means they are all stuck to their backgrounds. That the art is stuck to the background does not inherently reduce the value of the art. If you’re buying a full cel, or even if you get a Disneyland mat set-up, a few bits of separation are no big deal, and you shouldn’t restore any piece that just has a bit of flaking. Only restore art that is impossible to enjoy as it is.
GIVING VOICE TO A CLASSIC
Some of my favorite voice artists worked on Lady and the Tramp. You may find it’s more than a coincidence, as an animation art collector, that your favorite characters from wildly different movies are all voiced by the same artist. For example, Barbara Luddy, who voiced Lady, also gave voice to Merryweather in Sleeping Beauty, and Kanga in Winnie the Pooh. *She is also in the Primal Scream episode of 1975’s The Night Stalker! Verna Felton, one of my personal favorites, lends her voice to Aunt Sarah. She’s also the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella and the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. *For fans of I Love Lucy, she’s in two episodes from 1953.
My favorite characters in Lady and the Tramp, including the two lead stars, are all pound dogs. I love Jock, but my favorites are Bull, Toughie, Pedro, and Boris. Voice actor Bill Thompson, who had a long and successful career, played both Jock and Bull. You might find it fun to know he voiced another Scot, Scrooge McDuck in 1967’s Scrooge McDuck and Money. He’s also Mr. Smee in Peter Pan, the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. Bearing that in mind, it won’t surprise you he voiced Droopy and Ranger J Audubon. The voice of Pedro and Toughy, both of whom I LOVE, are courtesy of Dal McKennon, who was a very successful character actor on TV in the 50s and 60s. I love that IMDB says he was the voice of Max in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but he’s uncredited!
Tramp was played by Larry Roberts, who has just the one screen credit, having been discovered onstage by a Disney insider. Before that, he had fought in World War 2 and performed for the troops during the Korean War. He was a popular guest on variety shows, but retired in the late 50s. He then turned his interests towards clothing design, which he did till shortly before his death by AIDS-related causes in 1992.
Here’s a great video about the voice artists, including an interview with the voice of the Gopher, Stan Freberg:
A PART OF ANIMATION HISTORY
Some of the greatest animators of all time worked on Lady and the Tramp. Hamilton Luske, who won an Oscar for Visual Effects in Mary Poppins, directed Lady and the Tramp with the same directing partners he worked with on Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland, Clyde Geronimi and Wilfred Jackson. It was scored by Oliver Wallace, who won an Oscar for his score for Dumbo. He also scored about a million Disney shorts, including 1939’s Society Dog Show, and Der Fuehrer’s Face. If you love the music to Cinderella, Peter Pan, or Alice in Wonderland, you can thank Oliver Wallace. The backgrounds were done, in part, by famed artists Claude Coats and Eyvind Earle.
I remember going to the Disney Animation Research Library when Lella Smith was in charge. It was a tour set up for members of the Disney Advisory Board. She had laid out a bunch of backgrounds, layouts, and storyboards from Lady and the Tramp. Most of the folks walking through didn’t know as much about the vintage stuff as I did, nor did they recognize the work of both Claude Coats and Eyvind Earle, as I did. I literally had to hold back tears seeing all this beautiful art. Lella saw me getting overwhelmed, and we talked for quite some time while the other members kept walking. I really believe the fact that the art moved me so much is why Lella and I became friends.
My friend Willie Ito worked on Lady and the Tramp as an in-betweener. It was one of the first jobs he had at Disney, and he got to work on the spaghetti scene! He remembers it fondly.
Given that Lady and the Tramp artist Willie Ito spent part of his childhood in a Japanese Concentration Camp in the US, maybe we should talk about Si and Am.
A WORD ABOUT THE RACISM IN LADY AND THE TRAMP
Depending on where you fall on the ‘we learn from history’ continuum, you either believe the Si and Am, the Siamese cats that wreak havoc at the Darlings, blaming it on poor Lady, are an abomination, an important reminder of the history of racism against Asians in the US, or just a silly, ill-advised part of an otherwise great movie. To me, the part of the characterization that is most problematic (apart from the song) is that Siamese cats in general are portrayed as evil creatures up to no good, AND they’re voiced as Asian. I’m strongly on the side of never cutting anything out of any movie, even the blackface in Holiday Inn. Our country, as we all know, has a history of racism still showing itself today. We have to acknowledge where that comes from, recognize it, note it, and learn from it. I spent my whole childhood hating Siamese cats because of Lady and the Tramp. I don’t think I internalized that kind of judgment on Asian folks, but racism is an insidious thing. I mean, people stopped going to Asian restaurants because of COVID, somehow making a correlation there, however stupid that is, so….
The original pair of cats was drafted and designed in 1943, and was meant to suggest the yellow peril. They were called Nip and Tuck. In Ward Greene’s novelization, written during the production, Si and Am actually offer a tearful and genuine apology to Tramp for hiding a rat’s body in the nursery as a joke.
The 2019 live action version of Lady and the Tramp changed the cat breed to Rex, calling them Devon and Rex. What I think should happen for the original, is the film should have an introduction by a scholar of Asian cultural anthropological studies, who can frame that part of the film for today.
Here’s a video of Peggy Lee working on the song, and performing it, which is, no matter how you look at it, fascinating.
THE STORY BEHIND THE CHARACTERS
Lady was designed after story man Joe Grant’s cocker spaniel Lady. She had been sidelined when Joe’s baby arrived. He showed Walt some sketches he made of her in the late 30s, who found them intriguing so he asked Grant to work up some storyboards. Walt didn’t like them, so the idea was shelved. In 1943, Walt bought the rights to a story by Ward Greene called Happy Dan The Cynical Dog, and the studio started working on some version of that, which kept including Lady in some fashion. Grant left the studio in 1949, and never got the credit for his part in making Lady and the Tramp a classic. Watch Disney historians and animators talking about the original story here:
A BOX OFFICE SUCCESS
When Lady and the Tramp came out, it was the most successful movie since Snow White, even though originally it was panned by critics. That only goes to show how wrong we movie critics can be.
I know from personal experience just how beloved the film is, especially by Disney fans. It’s for this reason that I thought I’d bring together a collection of Lady and the Tramp original production cels and drawings for sale on this special occasion of the film’s 65th anniversary. None of these pieces are listed on the gallery website. For more information, prices, and to inquire about purchasing any of the images, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a wonderful collection of Lady and the Tramp art actually used in the making of the film. Using the numbers listed for each image, please contact us immediately to find out about availability!