Daffy Duck

Since I don’t have any characters who have names beginning with the letter D, (I have several ideas that are not completely developed and planned and that have characters that are not yet named) I will talk about one of my favorite characters that I did not create, and who has a name that begins with the letter D.  That would be Daffy Duck.

Daffy Duck was first created in 1937.  He was one of the first characters to be  what is called a screwball character.  He acted completely crazy and tormented his antagonists with his nuttiness.  This is was what made him popular with audiences.  He eventually supplanted Porky Pig (who was the first Warner Bros. cartoon character to truly become popular) as the most popular Looney Tunes character.

However, as with many characters, he changed.  In some cartoon shorts, Daffy was toned down, but still rather goofy.  But 1948 gave him a significant change.  In the cartoon called, You Were Never Duckier, he is upset that at a fair, the best rooster will win $5,000, but the best duck will win only $5.  He decides to disguise him as a rooster to win the money.  This was the beginning of Daffy being changed into a greedy, negative character, although his personality was not as negative at the time.

Director Chuck Jones fully changed Daffy when he pitted him against Bug Bunny, who by then had been the most popular Looney Tunes character for several years, in 1951 with the cartoon Rabbit Fire, which showed them arguing over whether it is rabbit season or duck season.  This caught on and many other cartoons depicted Daffy as greedy, arrogant, and mean-spirited. Director Friz Freleng took the Bugs-Daffy rivalry further by making them show business rivals in shorts like This is a Life?, A Star is Bored, and Show Biz Bugs.

In the 1960s, after Warner Bros. shut down their cartoon studio, due to the growing popularity of TV, and contracted out animation to outside entities.  Most of the Looney Tunes characters were dropped;  Daffy was one of the exceptions.  He became an antagonist of Speedy Gonzales, and most of such cartoons are criticized not only for being unfunny and slow, but for making Daffy completely unlikable.  By 1968, Daffy and Speedy made their last theatrical appearances, and the following year, Warner Bros. pulled the plug on theatrical cartoons.

Despite this Daffy Duck cartoons continued to be rerun on TV.  There were several revivals of Looney Tunes in the forms of TV specials, compilation films, TV series, and more.  Al of this ensured that such a complex character would never lose his popularity.

My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music Monday: My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music: Part 12

Happy Monday!

Here are more pieces of classical music to share today.  I will share two pieces by Johann Strauss:  Tales from the Vienna Woods and  The Blue Danube

These pieces have a film connection with me.  The first time I heard them was probably when I was a child, and I first saw a Warner Bros. cartoon called A Corny Concerto.  It was a parody of Fantasia, and it featured Elmer Fudd introducing two pieces of music: Tales from Vienna Woods and The Blue Danube.  The first segment featured Porky Pig and a a hunting dog, pursuing Bugs Bunny; the second focused on a young Daffy Duck being wanting to be accepted by a family of swans, but all of attempts fail.

 

In addition both pieces inspired two separate MGM cartoons.

This one is about deer interacting with the faun known as Pan.

This one is a sweet fantasy taking place in the forest.

And here are the pieces in their original contexts.

Tales from Vienna Woods

Blue Danube

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music Monday: My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music: Part 11: Fantasia 2000

I’m sorry to post this a day late, but I felt rather tired, as I did not get much sleep on Sunday night, and I could not focus on completing it; I decided not to skip this post because I figured, “better late than never.”

I talked about the original Fantasia before, but today I will talk about its sequel, which was 60 years in the making.

As the original Fantasia was being developed, Walt Disney intended for it to be a perpetual entertainment experience.  In other words, people it would be regularly rereleased with new segments replacing some of the old ones.  According to Wikipedia: “Disney had wanted Fantasia to be an ongoing project, with a new edition being released every few years.[145] His plan was to substitute one of the original segments with a new one as it was complete, so the viewer would always see a new version of the film.[71] From January to August 1941, story material was developed based on additional pieces, including Ride of the Valkyries by Richard WagnerThe Swan of Tuonela by Jean SibeliusInvitation to the Dance by Carl Maria von WeberFlight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov,[13][71].”

However, that would never happen.  There were many reasons.  First, Disney wanted to release Fantasia as part of a roadshow exhibition.  However, his distributor, RKO Radio Pictures, refused to handle the film because of its length (124 minutes) and because money, materials, and time required to install the new Fantasound sound system in the theaters.  RKO allowed Disney to distribute the film himself.  However, due to the limited release (Fantasia played in only thirteen different roadshow engagements), the fact that the film couldn’t be released in Europe because of World War II, and high costs, the film failed to turn a profit.  The plans to update Fantasia were cancelled.  Disney did make two films consisting of musical segments, Make Mine Music (1946) and Melody Time (1948), but they were not true updates to Fantasia, and were different in style.

Disney’s nephew, Roy E. Disney, however, belatedly fulfilled his uncle’s dream by producing Fantasia 2000, which opened in IMAX theaters on January 1, 2000 (mirroring the special road hshow release of the original).  The film featured 7  new segments plus the return of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; instead of having one host, each segment had a different host or hosts.

The film begins with a compilation of scenes from the original Fantasia with Deems Taylor’s introduction heard in voice-over, and then the first number is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which acompanies a story of abstract butterflies fleeing their more sinister counterparts; this segment mirrors the abstract animation of the Tocatta and Fugue from the original.

The second segment uses the music of Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome to tell the story of a pod of humpback whales who can fly.  Steve Martin formally welcomes the audience to the film, and then the film changes its focus to violinist Itzhak Perlman who introduces the segment.

The third segements features the jazzy Rhapsody in Blue, the signature piece of George Gershwin, which tells the story of four New Yorkers (drawn in the style of caracaturist Al Hirschfeld) during the Great Depression who all have different dreams: Duke, a construction worker who longs to be a drummer for a jazz band; Jobless Joe, who wants a job; Rachel; a little girl who wants nothing more than to spend more time with her busy parents; and John, who wants to leave his overly demanding wife.  It is introduced by music producer and mogul Quincy Jones who is accompanied by the piece’s pianist.

Next, Bette Midler gives the viewer information on several pieces and concepts that were considered for a new Fantasia, but they never made it to the screen.  Eventually, the Disney animators chose to Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, but struggled to find the right music for it, finally settling on Dmitri Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto.  First composed in 1957, it is the newest piece in any of the Fantasia films.

Next, James Earl Jones introduces the Finale of The Carnival of Animals by Camille Saint-Saens.  This piece answers the age-old question “What happens if you give a yo-yo to a flock of flamingos?”  It’s definitely the funniest piece in the film.

Next, Penn and Teller introduce The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the only returning piece from the original Fantasia.

Next, James Levine introduces a piece featuring Donald Duck, The first four Marches of Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance set to the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, featuring Donald as Noah’s assistance.

Finally Angela Lansbury introduces, Igor Stravinky’s Firebird Suite.  This segments features a wood sprite bringing a forest back to life after the winter, but then she awakens the Firebird, who lives in a volcano…

While, I don’t think that Fantasia 2000 matches the original, I still feel it’s a worthy feat, with the right amount of diversity, style, and tone.  I wish that Disney would make another one, but I can’t see that happening anytime soon.

 

 

My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music Monday: My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music: Part 4: Walt Disney’s Fantasia

Hello, All.

Happy Monday.

This is a special day for me because it is my 23rd birthday.

To that end, I will do special blog post, and I will talk about some of my favorite pieces of classical in my absolute favorite film: Walt Disney’s Fantasia.

In the late 1930’s Walt Disney planned to make a special Mickey Mouse cartoon accompanied by the the musical piece, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, composed by Paul Dukas.  The intention was to increase the popularity of Mickey Mouse who was beginning to lose fame to other cartoon characters of the time.  One night at restaurant called Chasen’s Southern Pit, Disney had a chance encounter with Leopold Stokowski, the most famous conductor of the time.  Both men were fans of the other, and Disney asked him to conduct the music for The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, to which Stokowski agreed.  However, as production began, Disney realized that the expenses of the short film were growing too much.  He and Stokowski decided to make entire feature based around animated images accompanied by classical music pieces.  They hired Deems Taylor, a composer and music critic, to act as the film’s host, and they created a film version of a classical music concert.

I first discovered the film in late 1999 when I began seeing previews of Fantasia 2000, the sequel to the original film.  I would see that film at the IMAX theater (Fantasia 2000 was screened exclusively in IMAX theaters from January 1, 2000 until April 30, 2000, and it opened in standard theaters on June 16 of that year.) the following February 2000, and I enjoyed it.  Later that summer, I rented the original Fantasia on VHS from Blockbuster, and I greatly enjoyed that as well.

To me, Fantasia is very mystical, mysterious, rich, diverse, and complex.  It has 8 different segments, each dedicated to a specific classical piece.

The first is the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach, though in recent years, many music scholars and musicologists have questioned whether or not he actually wrote it, since the styles and techniques within it are atypical of him and more consistent with music composed after the Baroque era.  It was originally composed for organ, but Stokowski created an orchestra arrangement for it.  Since the piece was aboslute muisc, music that is not meant to tell a story or depict something concrete, Disney and his animators decided to use abstract animation to go with the music.  Taylor states in his introduction that if one were to go to a concert all and hear this piece, abstract images might go through one’s head.

Second, the The Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky.  Rather than retell the story of the Nutcracker, Disney interpreted the music as a ballet of the personification of nature.  Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is about sprites and fairies putting dew all over a forest during the nighttime.  The Chinese Dance shows a group of mushrroms, made to look Chinese, doing a Chince dance.  Dance of the Reed Flutes depicts ballerina flowers dancing.  The Arab Dance, depicts sexy, sultry goldfish dancing.  The Russian Dance shows lilies and thistles doing a Russian folk dance.  And finally, the Waltz of the Flowers shows fairies changing the seasons from summer to fall and from fall to winter.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice features Mickey Mouse as the apprentice of a sorcerer.  He decides, without permission of supervision, to use the Sorcerer’s magic hat to bring a broomstick to life to fill a cauldron with water.  However, Mickey could not get the broomstick to stop…

The Rite of Spring is different from the first three pieces in that its story is from science rather than fantasy.  It shows the history of the world from when the world was nothing but volcanoes to the evolution of life to the age of the dinosaurs and their extinction.  The composer, Igor Stravinksy was the only Fantasia composer alive at the time.  He enjoyed a work in progress version of the segment, and after the final film was released, he gave the studio the rights to use three of his other works in future films; however, Stravinsky later went on record saying that he hated that a third of the music was omitted and that much of what was kept was reordered.

Next, is “Meet the Soundtrack” where an animated line demonstrates the sounds that the orchestra is capable of making.  The animators certainly embued a lot of personality into the line, making it seem as real  and as memorable as any human or animal character they have created.

Next, is the Pastoral Symphony.  Disney chose to depict the music as depicting Greek mythological creatures including, flying horses, centaurs, fauns, and unicorns.  They originally chose the piece Cydalise by Gabriel Pierne, but the music was not complementary enough to the animation, and so they chose Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. In three sections, the segments depicts, the creatures living around Mount Olympus, the centaurs and centaurettes near a river, a huge party interrupted by Zeus and Vulcan creating a thunderstorm, and then the end of the storm and nightfall.

Then, the film moves on to Amilcare Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours, depicting ostriches hippos, elephants, and alligators doing ballet.  The film was meant as a parody of ballet, but it still pays tribute to ballet at the same time.

Finally, is a double segment, Modest Mussorgsky A Night on Bald Mountain and Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria.  This was designed as a battle of the profane and the sacred.  The first shows the black god, Chernabog coming to life and summoning all sorts of evil beings.  However, when church bells ring, all the evil goes back into hiding and we see a group of the faithful walking through the woods carrying torches as the sun rises.

So diverse, yet so cohesive, Fantasia is a wonderful cinematic journey.  While it was not appreciated much when it was first released, it eventually got its due, and is heralded as a classic.  And now many people around the world appreciate for the work of art that it is.

 

TV Tropes: Non-Singing Voice

This is not a trope, but rather trivia that is on the website of TV Tropes.  The reason that it’s not a trope is because it is not a narrative device.  It’s absence or presence has nothing to do with the story at hand.

Non-Singing Voice refers to the phenomena where an actor is cast in a musical film.  However, the actor does not sing his or her character’s songs in the movie; somebody else does.  The reasons are that the actor cannot sing or that he or she simply does not have the right voice for the material at hand.

This was most common during the Golden Age of Hollywood.  Rather than cast actors who could sing, studios would cast whomever they felt was best for the role or whomever was a bankable actor.  If the actor could not sing the songs in the film, then the studio would hire someone who could.  This was done in secret because it was felt that it would ruin the film for viewers if they knew that actors were not really singing the musical numbers.  Usually an attempt was made to make sure the singer could sound the way the actors might if the actors could actually sing; so in a way these singers were also acting the roles at hand.  Such singers were known as playback singers and their actions for the films were known as dubbing; they would often sign contracts promising to keep their roles in the films secret.  Eventually, the fact that the singers would dub famous actors became common knowledge, but there does not seem to be any backlash against the films themselves.

Now here are some noteworthy cases of the Non-Singing Voice.

Marni Nixon was one of the most common playback singers; she might as well be called the “Queen of the Playback Singers/Dubbers”.  She dubbed for Deborah Kerr in The King and I, Natalie Wood in West Side Story, and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.

Natalie Wood appeared in several musical films and was dubbed in most of them.  The most noteworthy is her role as Maria in West Side Story.  She recorded her songs for the film, but her voice was considered sub-par because the songs were written for a higher vocal range than she was capable of.  She was given the impression at least some of her voice would be used in the final film, but after shooting completed, she was informed that all of her singing would be thrown out, and that Marni Nixon would re-record her musical numbers.  She felt betrayed.  On YouTube there are clips comparing Wood’s voice to Nixon’s voice; it’s clear that Nixon has the more refined voice, and Wood simply lacked the range to adequately sing the songs. In 1962, a year later, Wood appeared in the adaptation of the musical Gypsy as the title character, and did sing her parts; it helped that the score of Gypsy was not as demanding as West Side Story.  Wood would be dubbed two more times.  In 1965 she appeared in the film The Great Race; Jackie Ward recorded the song “The Sweetheart Tree” which Wood’s character sings.  Later that year Wood appeared in Inside Daisy Clover; she had three numbers, A slow and fast version of “You’re Gonna Hear from Me” and “The Circus Is a Wacky World.”  Once again, Wood recorded all of those songs, but only her recording of the first four lines of the slow version of “You’re Gonna Hear from Me” appeared in the final film.  The rest was dubbed by Jackie Ward.  Ward later remarked that after she recorded the songs in the studio with the orchestra, the orchestra erupted into a standing ovation; when she asked why, they said that they were happy that there was finally someone who could sing the songs; Wood’s performances of the songs were apparently sub-par.  Wood later stated that she was not against filming another musical, but only if she could guarantee that all of her songs would be recorded by her and appear in the final film.

In 1990’s several animated films featured voice actors who did not sing their musical numbers, and who instead had other people provide the singing voices of their characters.  This included the Disney films, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Mulan.  Other non-Disney animated films that did this included Anastasia, The Swan Princess, Quest for Camelot, and The Prince of Egypt.

Audrey Hepburn appeared in the 1964 adaptation of the hit Broadway musical  My Fair Lady as Eliza Doolittle.  Julie Andrews, who originated the role on stage, was considered, but was rejected as she had never shot a movie before.  The role called for a soprano vocal range, that Hepburn simply did not have.  She recorded all of her songs, but all of them were re-recorded, except for the majority of “Just You Wait” which was in a lower range than the rest, and one line of “I Could Have Danced All Night,” by Marni Nixon.  Audrey Hepburn stormed out the studio when she learned that her singing would be replaced, but she shortly afterwards apologized her behaving so childishly.  When it was somehow revealed that Hepburn was dubbed by Nixon, Nixon gained infamy, and it is rumored that this revelation is why Hepburn was not even nominated for her role in the film which won several Oscars, including Best Picture.  Ironically, Julie Andrews made her film debut in Mary Poppins that same year and won the Oscar for Best Actress.  There are clips available of YouTube comparing Hepburn’s voice to that of Nixon’s.  Once again, Nixon is clearly more skilled for the material at hand.

In film version of Carmen Jones, much  of the cast could sing, including Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, and Diahann Carroll, but they could not sing opera.  So, opera singers dubbed their voices. The exceptions included Pearl Bailey and Olga James; interestingly, Bailey’s voice did not sound operatic at all, and therefore, does not fit in the rest of the voices in the film (supposedly she refused to be dubbed) and James did have the ability to same opera.  Similarly in the film version of Porgy and Bess most of the cast (some of them had appeared in Carmen Jones) was dubbed, but some were not including Pearl Bailey.

Interestingly, it seems rare nowadays for modern musical films to use playback singers.  I think the reason might be because most actors nowadays have the clout to be able to sing their songs.  Also and perhaps, audiences would not accept the fact that their favorite actors in the film are not really singing.  Modern examples in musical live-action films inlucde George Clooney being dubbed in O Brother Where Art Thou by Dan Tyminski, Zac Efron being dubbed by Drew Seeley in the first High School Musical film (the others in the series had the songs written to fit within Efron’s vocal range) and Minnie Driver being dubbed by Margaret Preece in the film version of The Phantom of the Opera.