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Floyd Norman Talks Jungle Book, Hanna-Barbera and "The Old Mousetro"
Blog, Movies, People
Posted on Feb 10 2014 by Greg


With the arrival of Walt Disney’s 1967 animated hit The Jungle Book, there’s been a lot of attention to Disney Legend Floyd Norman, and rightly so. He worked for the studio at a point when it was changing in size, focus and its approach to animation. His career at Disney, as well as at other studios, including Hanna-Barbera, happened as tectonic shifts were occurring in entertainment as well as in the country.


Floyd also has no problem speaking from the heart. His opinions and his love for his craft, especially as it flourished at Disney, is matter-of-fact. And he has had reveled in affectionate but barbed satire of his workplaces through the insider gag sketches that have become legends in themselves. From Walt to Bill and Joe to Michael and Jeffrey, check out his cartoon collections and enjoy the ride.


With all this in mind, the challenge of an interview with Floyd is figuring out where to start and trying to avoid the same old, same old. But you can’t blame a guy for trying.


GREG: First of all, I have to tell you how much I enjoyed your book, The Animated Life. And what I loved about it was how you were up front with the pros and cons of the business, but always in a way that didn’t diss anyone. It’s the kind of book I would want to write someday, even though my career can’t get near the same chart as yours.


FLOYD:  Thank you. I really wanted to bring readers into those days, to know what it was like when I worked in the Walt days, and what I have learned about animation.


GREG: I also want to thank you for the eloquent and knowledgeable way you have addressed recent public character attacks on the man you call “the Old Mousetro.”


FLOYD: Thanks again. I said what I thought needed to be said, and it was all true. I was there.


GREG: You were at the Walt Disney Studios during what might be called a sea change in its approach to animation. Sleeping Beauty was the classic fairy tale done on a grand scale, but its box office results made it necessary to look at animation in a very different way.


FLOYD: Well, the  had changed a lot. We had to make features with a lot less money, but still retain the quality people expected. I think we succeeded in a lot of ways, particularly with the strength of the story and the characters. The budget didn’t matter to the audience and they still loved the work we did.


GREG: Even though it’s not a very equivalent comparison, you also experienced a similar turning point during your Hanna-Barbera days. As the studio grew, the cartoons were done, as you’ve said, “Faster, cheaper!”


FLOYD: Yes, and some of the things I worked on were fine, while some weren’t very good.


GREG: But you know, it didn’t matter to us kids watching on Saturday morning. I liked Captain Caveman and a lot of the other shows. Still do.


FLOYD: (laughs)


GREG: No, really! If you take into account the speed you all were working at, it’s a wonder that those shows are even coherent.


FLOYD: That’s because there were some of the best artists working at Hanna-Barbera. It was amazing what they could do.


GREG: But working on The Jungle Book must have been incredible.


FLOYD: I came into it later in the production. There had been changes along the way.


GREG: Is it true that there was originally only one Kaa scene?



FLOYD: Yes. And Walt really liked it so he asked for a second one. Dick and Bob Sherman wrote that great song for it.


GREG: What do you think of the Blu-ray?


FLOYD: I think it looks great. They did a great job on it.


GREG: When I was a kid, my brother and I called the ‘60s Disney cartoons “the ones with the scritchy lines.” We didn’t know what the Xerox process was, and frankly we liked the smoother lines better in the other features. Didn’t Walt hate the scritchy lines?


FLOYD: At first, he didn’t like them, when he saw the look of 101 Dalmatians. But it didn’t bother him later.


GREG: When you watch The Jungle Book now, do you recognize the precise moments of your work?


FLOYD: I recognize every one, every time. I’m grateful for being part of it.








Blu-ray REVIEW: The Jungle Book Diamond Edition
Blog, Reviews, Movies
Posted on Feb 08 2014 by Greg


The last animated film completely supervised by Walt Disney, The Jungle Book is a very comedic spin on the Rudyard Kipling. It's not so much that the book was spoofed, but the bare bones of the story were transformed into a lighthearted, character-driven romp.


But it works. The Jungle Book became a smash in its first release and in reissues. The soundtrack album went gold. Somehow taking an atmospheric jungle adventure and adding Phil Harris, Louis Prima and a swingin' jazz attitude resounds with audiences to this day.


What might have been a loose collection of set pieces carefully tie together with the continual introduction of engaging characters that hold interest in a way that is remarkable for such an episodic film. The Disney story department, among them Disney Legend Floyd Norman and Bing Crosby radio comedy writer Larry Clemmons, never allow the proceedings to lag, much as a Pixar film does the same thing.


Most of the songs are by the great Sherman Brothers, including the iconic "I Wan'na Be Like You" and the unforgettable "Trussst in Me," though the Oscar-nominated "Bare Necessities" was written for an earlier draft of the film by Terry Gilkyson (who also wrote and sung the hit, "Marianne").


Richard Sherman and his brother Robert were continually greeted by fans who assumed they had written "Necessities," to the extent that in the introduction created for the Blu-ray, Richard Sherman's appearance is underscored by the incorrect song, rather than perhaps "My Own Home."



If you have the DVD from 2007, you may want to hold on to it, not just because the bonus features are not all on the new DVD but only on the Blu-ray (see below), but also because there are several that did remain exclusive to the 2007 DVD, including the deleted songs.


2014 Diamond Edition Blu-ray-Only Bonus Features

2014 Only:
• Introductions by Diane Disney Miller & Richard M. Sherman
• Music, Memories and Mowgli: A Conversation with Richard M. Sherman, Diane Disney Miller and Floyd Norman
• Alternate Ending: Mowgli and the Hunter
• I Wan’na Be Like You: Hangin’ Out at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
• Bear-E-Oke Sing-Along
• Disney Animation: Sparkling Creativity

From 2007:
• Audio Commentary
• Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund
• Deleted Scene: Lost Character – Rocky the Rhino
• “I Wan’na Be Like You” Music Video – Jonas Brothers
• Disney Song Selection
• The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book
• Disney’s Kipling: Walt Magic Touch on a Literary Classic
• The Lure of The Jungle Book
• Mowgli’s Return to the Wild
• Frank & Ollie: Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston Discuss Character Animation
• Baloo’s Virtual Swingin’ Jungle Cruise
• Disneypedia: Junglemania!
• The Jungle Book Fun With Language Game

2014 Diamond Edition DVD & Blu-ray Bonus Features

• Deleted Scene: Lost Character – Rocky the Rhino
• Disneypedia: Junglemania!

2007 Platinum Edition DVD Bonus Features

2007 Only:
• Seven Deleted Songs
• Art Galleries
• Baloo’s Virtual Swingin’ Jungle Cruise
• The Jungle Book Fun With Language Game

Carried over to 2014 Edition:
• Audio Commentary
• Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund
• Deleted Scene: Lost Character – Rocky the Rhino
• “I Wan’na Be Like You” Music Video – Jonas Brothers
• Disney Song Selection
• The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book
• Disney’s Kipling: Walt Magic Touch on a Literary Classic
• The Lure of The Jungle Book
• Mowgli’s Return to the Wild
• Frank & Ollie: Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston Discuss Character Animation
• Disneypedia: Junglemania!








BOOK REVIEW: "The Spongbob Squarepants Experience"
Blog, TV, Books
Posted on Feb 06 2014 by Greg


To my knowledge, this is the first “serious” book on Spongebob, in the sense that the cartoon is being treated as a considerable work of modern culture. Hopefully it won’t be the last.

 

For gift giving, the timing couldn’t be better—a high-end coffee table treatment of the world’s most popular cartoon sponge. The book is nestled cleverly in a semi-transparent slipcase and really lights up a room. Visually, the book is a treasure for Spongebob fans, especially the older ones (a small child would tear out the little storyboards; a Little Golden Book would do just fine).

 

With the book’s Hendrix-like moniker, The Spongbob Squarepants Experience, rather than “Happy Birthday” or “15 Years,” the book has to cut a wide swath beyond congratulation and commemoration. It does do that and much more.

 

Like an “Art Of” book, it’s loaded with spectacular color reproductions and vibrant sketches. Like a “Treasury” book it has lots of stuff to open, unfold and otherwise marvel upon. Among the tchotchkes are a comic book, storyboards and gag sketches. When you see the work and artistry behind Spongebob Squarebob as a massive body of work, it transcends its well-earned “funny cartoon” reputation and is seen as a huge effort by eminently talented animators, background painters, layout people and voice artists (who all get a profile as each character is discussed).

 

It’s rare today to find an all-around cartoon property like Spongebob, who isn’t as seen largely as a sitcom, “adult” cartoon or kid’s show, that is standing the test of time. Spongebob and his fellow characters have the flexibility, potential and staying power of Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. It’s about time it is recognized in this way

 

Jerry Beck’s text acknowledges the history and impact of Spongebob and his friends on the world over the last fifteen years. It is not simply “decoration” in a pretty book, but of course Jerry’s copy could never be that, even in its most abbreviated form (I love that little Flintstones book). To keep things interesting, the pages have sidebars and running categories like and “favorite lines” and whimsical “little known facts.”

 

Like Oliver Twist, I want some more. Do another one, Jerry.








Arthur Rankin: "He's gone! Oh, he's gone!"
Blog, TV, People, Music
Posted on Feb 01 2014 by Greg


That's what Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer said when he thought he lost Yukon Cornelius. But Bumbles bounced and Yukon survived. Sadly, mega-producer/director/writer Arthur Rankin Jr. did not -- he passed away Thursday at his Bermuda home.


Rankin is major to television as the lead visionary behind TV specials that only grow in popularity and iconic stature as one generation passes them along to the next one. Rankin's contributions to feature films are less known, but he spearheaded a number of films, of which "Mad Monster Party" has become a beloved classic that inspired everyone from Tim Burton to John Lasseter.



The multi-award winning Rankin/Bass version of "The Hobbit" was the first filmed adaptation to be released, almost four decades before Peter Jackson brought it to the big screen.



He also sustained the TV musical, particularly with creative partner Jules Bass and musical director Maury Laws. When musical specials were long gone, Rankin/Bass continued them in animated form much like Disney has done in theatrical films, with original songs such as "Holly Jolly Christmas" and "The Heat Miser/Snow Miser Song" becoming perennial holiday hits. (You can even see how the Rankin/Bass look influenced today's biggest box office hits.)



It must be noted that neither Rankin/Bass nor Arthur Rankin ever received an Emmy Award, despite the fact that their work has proven to be some of the most solid entertainment the small screen has ever seen. There was only one nomination for "The Little Drummer Boy Book II." A posthumous Lifetime Achivement Award is certainly due. 



To paraphrase what Santa said to little Karen when she lost her friend, Frosty the Snowman, “You see, he was made of Christmas specials. And Christmas specials will never disappear completely. Oh, his name may disappear for months at a time, and take the form of springtime specials or 'Mad Monster Party,' but when a good December season comes along, he’ll be with us through his Christmas specials all over again.”


To learn more about Rankin/Bass, the ultimate authority is author Rick Goldschmidt, who has published several best sellers about Rankin/Bass. Visit Rick on Facebook or at rankinbass.com.








DVD Review: Double Seasons of Hit Network Sitcoms
Blog, TV
Posted on Jan 22 2014 by Greg


Do the long-running sitcoms of the "must-see" TV era still hold up today? Times may changes, but human nature doesn't, so the more insightful the series, the more it stands the test of time.

The Cosby Show was a mammoth hit from 1984 to 1992, running for eight seasons, pretty much in the top ten or number one in the ratings. The Huxtables are an upscale family who, even though they have their idiosyncracies, are aspirational role models of their time and today as well.



More TV families should be like this now. Most of the storylines are of the traditional family sitcom ilk, with very funny writing by some of TV's best. And then you have Bill Cosby, who makes every line count and is at his best when constructing a story-joke with the artistry of Frank Lloyd Wright.

This DVD package contains the first two of the show's eight seasons, when the kids were young. Watching is now as a parent is particularly entertaining.



There have been many fine fantasy sitcoms -- even today, with ABC's The Neighbors -- but they all struggled with ratings and/or began strong and lost steam. Only Bewitched was a bona fide hit right out of the gate and self-cancelled even when it was still in the top ten in its eighth season. The hypnotic charm of Elizabeth Mongomery is the chief reason, with a stellar cast of seasoned acting giants including Agnes Moorehead and Maurice Evans. (Learn more about Montgomery and Bewitched by searching amazon for the books by Herbie J. Pilato.)

The first two seasons on this DVD set are considered by many to be the best, with Barney Miller show runner Danny Arnold at the helm. If you want to know how great a show like this can be, just watch the episode "A is for Aardvark," directed by screen legend Ida Lupino.


I always really liked this series, if only because the bald guy was the ladies' man (baldness rocks!). Seriously, Laura San Giocomo is a fantastic lead with Mary Tyler Moore skill. She's surrounded by a great supporting cast that have pretty much gone on to subsequent success in other projects. And of course, there's George Segal, whose timing is impeccable. The material is sophisticated and often spicy but there's more to the show and the characters than that. Just Shoot Me comes from Steve Levitan, who co-created Modern Family.

The new DVD combines the midseason premiere episodes and the second season. You can see the chemistry simmer and come to a boil with every installment.


Often cited as one of TV's most under-appreciated sitcoms, Wings enjoyed a solid run of eight seasons as part of the NBC must-see lineup. It was overshadowed by the more flashy shows of the lineup, but it's proven to be a well regarded favorite to its very fierce legion of fans. (A little bit of trivia: Wings was the second sitcom about a small airline service -- the first was the short lived  Tim Conway Show which reunited him with McHale's Navy co-star Joe Flynn.)

Monk fans, look for Tony Shalhoub in a very different character role and lots of "before they were stars" actors who have become prominent over the years. This set is the second Mill Creek release, containing season 3 and 4 (the first two seasons are already available).


Good Times was a very successful spin off from Norman Lear's Maude, which was a spinoff of All in the Family. Unlike earlier sitcom spinoffs, there were never visits from the cast of the previous shows. So Maude never traveled from Tuckahoe, New York to visit the Florida and the Evans family in Chicago.

The first two seasons of Good Times included on this new DVD release are different from the show it became, as J.J. became like Fonzie and became the focus of the series. But the early episodes are also significant because they were more about the struggles of the Evans' to just get by -- much as the theme song says. Getting a job, having enough money to afford the basics, all very pertinent issues that transcend the 70's setting and style of the show.

Also just released in affordable two-season sets: Married with Children (the bizarro-world opposite of Cosby), Highway to Heaven and Charlie's Angels.









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