Piggy: The Pig Warner Bros. Had Before Porky Pig, or, Mickey Mouse in Pig Form

After Foxy, the previous starring character of the Merrie Melodies was dropped, a replacement debuted just a month after Foxy’s last appearance in a theatrical cartoon short subject.  He was Piggy.  Piggy debuted in a short called You Don’t Know What You’re Doin’!, where he played the saxophone in a night club.

Piggy looked a lot like Mickey Mouse, only as a pig.  He still looked less like Mickey mouse than Foxy did, but even then it is likely that there was no intention to copy Mickey Mouse because because Mickey, Piggy, and Foxy were based on sketches of mice that Hugh Harman drew in 1925, while Harman was working for Disney.

Piggy appeared in one additional short in the series called Hittin’ the Trail for Hallelujah Land, which was later banned from TV and home media, due to containing portrayals of black people that are now considered offensive; it was one of eleven shorts that are called the Censored Eleven, and I will discuss them in a future post.  Then he was discontinued.

Friz Freleng revived the character in 1936 under a brand new design.

Piggy appeared in two cartoons, At Your Service Madame and Pigs Is Pigs; the first depicted him as the part of a family, and the latter featured him the main protagonist; both portrayed him as a glutton as is defining character trait.

Piggy did not appear in the Tiny Toon Adventures episode, “Two-Tone Town”.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Foxy: Warner Bros.’ Very Own Mickey Mouse

When Warner Bros. created the Merrie Melodies series, they needed a character to be the star.

Rudolf Ising assumed supervision of the new series, while Hugh Harman began directing Looney Tunes shorts as a solo director.  Ising created Foxy, who looked very familiar.

As you can see, Foxy looked almost like Mickey Mouse.  The biggest differences are the ears and the tail.

It may appear that Foxy was a rip-off of Mickey Mouse, but that is not true.  In 1925, Hugh Harman, who was working for Walt Disney at the time, along with Ising drew some mice.  These mice were later used by Disney and Ub Iwerks to create Mickey Mouse.  Harman figured that since he made the original drawings, it was perfectly acceptable for him and Ising to create a character based upon them.  And so, Foxy was born.

Foxy debuted in 1931 in the short, Lady Play Your Mandolin.  He would appear in two more shorts, Smile, Darn Ya, Smile! and One More Time, before being retired; in fact, he was killed off in his last short.

Foxy would be brought back to life in 1990s in the show Tiny Toons Adventures, where he and his previously unnamed girlfriend, who is now called Roxy, are,  along with another largely forgotten early Warner Bros. cartoon character, Goopy Geer (whom I will talk about in a future post) live in the black-and-white part of Acme Acres.  They have been long forgotten over many decades, and so, Babs Bunny and Buster Bunny decide to give them another taste of the spotlight.

Foxy has lived on in home media releases and even on television.  In 2000, Cartoon Network aired a special hour-long episode of their documentary series ToonHeads called The Lost Cartoons, which featured pieces of Warner Bros. animation that either had been rarely seen, if at all, since their original releases, or had never been seen by the public at all.  This special featured Lady, Play Your Mandolin! and it was later released on the first volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection.

 

 

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: Disney’s First Cartoon Star

Before there was Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney had a rabbit.

Previously, Walt Disney made a series of live-action/animation hybrid short films called the Alice Comedies.  They focused on a young real-world girl who ventured into the cartoon world where she had lots of adventures.  However, after three years, the series was discontinued due to money constraints.

There was a need for a new series of cartoons.  Disney’s distributor, Charles Mintz, told Disney about how the studio Universal, wanted to release cartoons.  A deal was made with Universal, and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was created.

The first cartoon in the series, Poor Papa, depicted Oswald as being old and tired.  The bosses at Universal did not like the short and the portrayal of Oswald, and therefore, Disney made a new one, Trolley Troubles, where Oswald was depicted as being much more young, spirited, and energetic.  This cartoon was released in 1927, whereas Poor Papa did not see the light of day until 1928.

Oswald became very popular, and he was even the first character created by Disney to be made into merchandise.

However, things would not be this way forever.

When time came to negotiate a new contract with Charles Mintz, Disney asked for a 20% budget increase in order to improve the quality of animation of his shorts.  Mintz not only rejected his request, he said that Disney would have to accept a 20% budget decrease; the reason was financial constraints, but Mintz promised more money if things turned around.  Then it got worse.  Mintz revealed that he was already hiring away Disney’s staff as part of a new commitment.  Since Walt Disney did not own the rights to Oswald, he had no choices other than to accept Mintz’s terms or to walk away.

Disney finished his contract, and he left, accompanied by only a small number of his former staff including, most importantly, Ub Iwerks.  Disney vowed to make sure that he works for nobody other than himself, and he also made sure that he owned the rights to whatever characters he created so that no matter what, nobody could stop him from making cartoons with those characters.  Disney and Iwerks created Mickey Mouse, and the rest is history.

Meanwhile, Mintz oversaw the production of more Oswald cartoons.  Some of his staff included other men who were instrumental in the history of animation including Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, and Friz Freleng.

Then things went south.

After Mickey Mouse appeared in the first cartoon with synchronized sound, Steamboat Willie, which of course was a huge success, Universal was angry that he had allowed Disney to walk away.

Mintz attempted to get Disney to come back.  But Disney refused to accept his terms.  The terms were hardly any better than the previous terms that he previously offered Disney.  The terms would be that Universal would own Mickey Mouse, Disney would get a small increase in pay, and a lack of control over his staff.  Disney said no.  Oswald cartoons eventually moved to sound, but that   Universal later fired Mintz and his studio in 1929, and they hired Walter Lantz to make more cartoons with Oswald.  Mintz would find a new home making cartoons for Columbia Pictures

Lantz changed the course of Oswald, making his shorts more and more driven by fantasy.  Eventually, as Disney created his signature style of being very cute, Lantz tried to emulate it, but Oswald gradually lost his popularity, being phased out in 1938.

Oswald was revived in 1943, in a short film called The Egg-Cracker Suite, but this attempt was a failure because Oswald was depicted as being very cute, when by that time, most audiences favored abrasive, assertive cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Universal’s own Woody Woodpecker, among others. This was his last appearance in a theatrical cartoon, except for a cameo in a 1952 Woody Woodpecker cartoon.

Fast-forward to 2006.  The Walt Disney Company negotiated with NBCUniversal for the rights to Oswald.  By trading sportscaster Al Michaels to NBCUniversal, Disney got in exchange, the rights to the Oswald character and the surviving Disney Oswald cartoons.

The cartoons were released in December of 2006 under the Walt Disney Treasures collection (Only 13 shorts were known to exist at the time, but two more were discovered since then).  Oswald began appearing in videos games, Disney theme parks, and even in short films (2013’s Get a Horse).  This is a happy ending for a Disney’s very first cartoon star.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oswald_the_Lucky_Rabbit

 

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/WesternAnimation/OswaldTheLuckyRabbit?from=Main.OswaldTheLuckyRabbit

 

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music Monday: My Favorite Pieces of Classical Music: Part 13

Happy Monday!

Today I will share one piece of music only.

The Skaters’ Waltz

From Wikipedia:

“Les Patineurs Valse or The Skaters’ Waltz or Die Schlittschuhläufer-Walzer (German), Op. 183, is a waltz by Émile Waldteufel.

Known in English as The Skaters’ Waltz, it was composed in 1882 and was inspired by the Cercle des Patineurs or ‘Rink of Skaters’ at the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. His introduction to the waltz can be likened to the poise of a skater and the glissando notes invoke scenes of a wintry atmosphere. The other themes that follow are graceful and swirling, as if to depict a ring of skaters in their glory.[citation needed] Bells were also added for good measure to complete the winter scenery. It was published by Hopwood & Crew and was dedicated to Ernest Coquelin who was the younger brother of two celebrated actor brothers of the Comédie Française.”

It has all of the traits I like in music: sweet melodies and airy sounds.

Also, due to this piece depicting ice skating it makes me want to go ice skating.

I first discovered this piece through a Mickey Mouse cartoon called On Ice.  It was played at the beginning.  Very fitting.  It also features in another Disney cartoon called Winter.

 

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.