Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Sen and Chihiro's Spiriting Away) tells the story of Chihiro Ogino, a sullen ten-year old girl who, while reluctantly moving with her parents to a new neighborhood, enters the spirit world. After her parents are transformed into pigs by the witch Yubaba, Chihiro takes a job working in Yubaba's bathhouse to find a way to free herself and her parents and return to the human world.
Hayao Miyazaki wrote the script after he decided the film would be based on his friend, associate producer Seiji Okuda's ten-year old daughter, who came to visit his house each summer. With a budget of US$19 million, production of Spirited Away began in 2000. Pixar director John Lasseter, a fan of Miyazaki, was approached by Walt Disney Pictures to supervise an English-language translation for the film's North American release. Screenwriters Cindy Davis Hewitt and Donald H. Hewitt wrote the English-language dialogue, which they wrote to match the characters' original Japanese-language lip movements, something very rare, even in big studio anime releases.
The film was released on 20 July 2001, and became the most successful film in Japanese history, grossing about $330 million worldwide and receiving widespread critical acclaim. The film overtook Titanic (at the time the top-grossing film worldwide) in the Japanese box office to become the highest-grossing film in Japanese history with a ¥30.4 billion total. Spirited Away
frequently ranks among the greatest animated films It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards, the Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival (tied with Bloody Sunday) and is among the top ten in the BFI list of the "50 films You Should See by the Age of 14."
Spirited Away can be simplistically described as Japan's version of Alice in Wonderland: rather than going alone through the rabbit hole, Chihiro follows her parents into the spirit world. As Miyazaki has done in many of his films, he combines Japanese and Western fairy tale elements, as well as mythological elements (a la Joseph Campbell's Journey of the Hero). These include identical twins (one good, one evil); a heroine who has to endure trials and embark on a journey in order to save her parents; magical beings, some of which are helpers and some of which are enemies. As does any hero, Chihiro embarks on a quest, facing the attendant perils and enemies with courage, ingenuity, resourcefulness, determination, compassion, and helpers.
Spirited Away uses additional classic western fairy-tale tropes, including the child who has to pursue adventures alone, either because of the parents or to save the parents; a conveyance (in this case, the Afterlife Express, the train which travels between the spirit world and the mundane world; animal motifs and stereotypes; and a coming-of-age story (Chihiro).
Many of the characters in the Bathhouse itself are based on the Youkai, a widely-varied collection of various supernatural creatures that pop up in Shinto religion.1 They have a lot in common with The Fair Folk (the creatures who are the basis for what we call fairies). Some youkai are good, others are evil, and many are simply different. Some are mischievous, others avoid humans entirely. Shinto is an animist religion, and youkai are often associated with natural features such as forests and mountains. This word is often translated as "demon" in Western translations, but since that term is generally associated with pure evil, that does not adequately describe the creatures in question — they are more like The Fair Folk, spanning the entire moral range between good, mischievous, neutral, and actually evil. The closest true Western equivalent is probably that of the ancient Roman genii or spirits.2
One of the film's main themes is identity -- Chihiro is given a new name when she is hired by the evil with Yubaba to work in the bathhouse of the spirits. But as she grows used to her new name, she loses the memory of her life before the bathhouse: her own identity. So while she is maturing in her determination to rescue her parents, and her identity is changing, she has to battle to maintain a link to who she really is. The boy who helps Chihiro, Haku, is a reflection of this theme. He has lost his identity, and is in servitude to Yubaba; so have Chihiro's parents, who were turned into pigs by Yubaba's magic, for their greed. They have certainly forgotten who they were. Another reflection of this is the character No Face, which has no identity of its own, and can only mirror the emotions of those around it.
Another prominent theme is change and its results: for example, the eroding of cultural traditions eroding (Chihiro doesn't recognize roadside shrines or understand the traditional etiquette). The formerly two-wayAfterlife Express now goes only one direction. The bathhouse workers lament that fewer and fewer gods show up every year, as they're slowly dying out, and "there are no gods in electric things".
Tangentially related to is the theme of ecology, one close to Miyazaki's heart, as well as being present in many Japanese anime films. Haku is the spirit of a river which has been culverted over. In one memorable sequence in the bathhouse, what appears to be a Stink Spirit is discovered to be instead be the spirit of a river clogged with garbage and pollution.
Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli
Miyazaki is known as the "Japanese Walt Disney." His humanistic-oriented animations painstakingly detailed traditional cel animation, during an era of CGI films, were generally filled with magical and/or mythical settings, rich and fantastic characters (usually a young heroine), imaginative and visual renderings, fairytale motifs and plots with moral lessons, tales of the struggle between the strong and the weak, and environmental concerns. His films were bought for American distribution by Disney Studio, and include the following: Miyazaki's second feature, the post-nuclear war tale Warriors of the Wind (1984) (aka Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind), based on the comic book (manga) Miyazaki had created years earlier, about the struggle of a peace-seeking warrior princess to keep two opposing kingdoms from destroying the planet. Later works included Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Kiki's Delivery Service (1989), Porco Rosso (1992) (translated as The Crimson Pig), and Whisper of the Heart (1995). His $20 million animated adventure fantasy epic Princess Mononoke (1997) opened in Japan and quickly became the highestgrossing Japanese film in Japanese history to the time; it was a story set in the 14th century of a mythic battle between forest gods (led by the Wolf God named Moro) and humans who were destroying the Earth. Howl's Moving Castle (2005) was based on a novel by Dianna Wynne Jones.
A (brief) History of Animated Films (excerpted from the AMC filmsite)
Animated Films are ones in which individual drawings, paintings, or illustrations are photographed frame by frame (stopframe cinematography). Usually, each frame differs slightly from the one preceding it, giving the illusion of movement when frames are projected in rapid succession at 24 frames per second. The earliest cinema animation was composed of frame-by-frame, hand-drawn images. When combined with movement, the illustrator's two-dimensional
static art came alive and created pure and imaginative cinematic images animals and other inanimate objects could become evil villains or heroes. Animations are not a strictly-defined genre category, but rather a film technique, although they often contain genre-like elements.
The first instance of project animated cartoon films was in Paris, in 1892. The inventor of the viewing device called a praxinoscope (1877), French scientist Charles Emile Reynaud also created a large-scale system called Theatre Optique (1888) which could take a strip of pictures or images and project them onto a screen. He demonstrated his system in 1892 for Paris' Musee Grevin, with three of his own films. To create the animations, individually-created images were painted directly onto the frames of a flexible strip of transparent gelatine (with film perforations on the edges), and run through his projection system. Depending upon one's definition of terms, some consider the first film shown, Pauvre Pierrot, the oldest-surviving animated film ever made and publically broadcast.
The predecessor of early film animation was the newspaper comic strips of the 1890s. Historically and technically, the earliest animated film ever made on standard motion picture film was Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906) by newspaper cartoonist J. Stuart Blackton, one of the cofounders of the Vitagraph Company. It was the first cartoon to use the single frame method, projected at 20 frames per second. This was soon followed by the first fully-animatedfilm: Emile Cohl's Fantasmagorie (1908, Fr.), which consisted solely of simple line drawings (of a clown-like stick figure) that blended, transformed or fluidly morphed from one image into another.
Winsor McCay (1869-1934), known as America's Greatest Cartoonist, was the firstto establish the technical method of animating graphics. McCay's first prominent, successful and realistic cartoon character star was a brontosaurus named Gertie in Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) (with 10,000 drawings, backgrounds included), presented as part of his theatrical act. In fact, McCay created the "interactive" illusion of walking into the animation by first disappearing behind the screen, reappearing onscreen, stepping on Gertie's mouth, and then climbing onto Gertie's back for a ride in the earliest example of combined 'live action' and animation, and the first "interactive" animated cartoon. Some consider it the first successful, fully animated cartoon. It premiered in February 1914 at the Palace Theatre in Chicago.
McCay's 12-minute propagandistic, documentary-style The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), an animation landmark, was the first serious reenactment of an historical event (the
torpedoing of the RMS Lusitania by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915, resulting in the loss of almost 2,000 passengers). It was one of the earliest films to utilize cel animation (transparent drawings laid over a fixed background).
Soviet animator (W)ladislaw Starewicz created the first3D, stop-motion narratives in two early films with animated insects: The Grasshopper and the Ant (1911) and The Cameraman's Revenge (1911). John Randolph Bray's first animated film, The Artist's Dream(s) (1913) (aka The Dachshund and the Sausage), the first animated cartoon made in the U.S. by modern techniques, was the first to use 'cels'.
Producer John Randolph Bray's The Debut of Thomas Cat (1920) has often been credited as the first color cartoon, using the expensive Brewster Natural Color Process (a 2-emulsion
color process), an unsuccessful precursor of Technicolor. This was the first animated short genuinely made in color using color film. Drawings were made on transparent celluloid and painted on the reverse, then photographed with a two-color camera. However, some sources have claimed that the Natural Colour Kinematograph Company's In Gollywog Land (1912, UK) was the earliest, using Kinemacolor.
The little-known but pioneering, oldest-surviving feature-length animated film that can be verified (made with silhouette animation techniques and color tinting) was released by German filmmaker and avante-garde artist Lotte Reiniger: The Adventures of Prince Achmed (aka Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed) (1926, Germ.). The film was based on the stories from the Arabian Nights. Reiniger's achievement is often brushed aside, due to the fact that the animations were silhouetted, used paper cutouts, and they were done in Germany. Additionally, the rarely-seen prints that exist have lost much of their original quality. However, the film was very innovative, using multiplane camera techniques and experimenting with wax and sand on the film stock.
The Fleischers (Max, Dave, Joe, and Lou) made technical innovations that would revolutionize the art of animation. In 1915, Max Fleischer invented the rotoscopeto streamline the frame-by-frame copying process. It was a device used to overlay drawings on live-action film. They also pioneered the use of 3D animation landscapes, and produced the first feature animation, the documentary hour-long Einstein's Theory of Relativity (1923).
Produced by the Fleischer brothers, the KoKo Song Car Tunes were the firstanimated films with synchronized sound, using the Lee DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film process. They were the first talking cartoons. They were also the first audience participation films, with singalong lyrics and a 'bouncing ball' helper. The gimmick was a bouncing ball atop the lyrics on screen, to help audiences follow along with the song. Nineteen of the 36 short films were released in both silent and sound versions.
Chuck Jones main period of work in cartoon shorts was from 1938 to 1961. Then, he opened his own company in 1962, producing nine 30-minute animated films. As animation studios were closing down, he slowly began to move into television and the production of features. From 1963 to 1971, Jones headed the MGM animation department. His The Dot and the Line (1965) was an Academy Award winner for Best Short Subject: Cartoon. Jones contributed script and character designs to UPA's Gay Purree (1962), one of the last animations produced by that innovative studio. One of Jones' greatest accomplishments was directing (as chief animator) the popular half-hour animated TV special Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), a Peabody Award winner. Jones also directed/produced other Seuss classics, including Peabody Award-winning Dr. Seuss: Horton Hears a Who! (1970) and Dr. Seuss: The Cat in the Hat (1972). For Jones' firstand only feature-length film, he adapted the children's fantasy novel The Phantom Tollbooth (1970) by Norton Juster. He executive produced the animated, Oscar-winning made-for-TV half-hour short subject A Christmas Carol (1971), with Alastair Simm reprising his 1951 film role as the voice of Scrooge, the only version of Dickens' tale to win an Oscar. Later, Jones developed The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie (1979), a compilation of eleven shorts, and an 11-minute Road Runner montage compilation consisting of 31 gags from 16 cartoons. One of his final works was an original cartoon short in Peter Hyams' satirical view of TV titled Stay Tuned (1992) in which an American suburban couple (John Ritter as Roy and Pam Dawber as Helen) became transformed into cartoon mice. He also directed an animation segment for the feature film Mrs. Doubtfire (1993). With a 60 year career, and about 300 animated films, Jones won a total of three Academy Awards (For Scentimental Reasons (1949) (with Pepé LePew) Pepe Le Pew's sole Oscar nomination; So Much for So Little (1949) that won in the Documentary: Short Subject category; and The Dot and the Line (1965)); he was presented with an Honorary Oscar in 1996.
Animators and Their Characters
The firstanimated character that attained superstar status (and was anthropomorphic) during the silent era was the mischievous Felix the Cat, from Pat Sullivan Studios. Felix was the first character to be widely merchandised. The Last Life (1928) was the last of the Felix cartoons, due to the advent of the talkies and the success of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse. Max Fleischer was responsible for the provocative, adult-oriented, cartoon Betty Boop vamp character, who always wore a strapless, thigh-high gown (and visible garter) and was based on flapper icon Clara Bow's 'It' Girl and Mae West. The cartoon character with the high baby voice, signature wink, fluttering lashes, shimmying body, and spit curls appeared in a more than 100 films (shorts) and was the top Fleischer star. Unfortunately, the cute, titillating 'boop-oop-a-doop' Betty was destined to be censored with the advent of the enforceable, conservative and puritanical Hays Production Code in 1934. Drastic changes to her character led to her demise in 1938.
The Fleischers also obtained the rights to the tough, one-eyed, spinach-loving sailor Popeye with oversized arms (from the newspaper comic strip published in the New York Journal). In 1933, the firstofficial Popeye cartoon, I Yam What I Yam, was released, the firstin a long series of animated shorts. Popeye's firstTechnicolor cartoon was the two-reel special release Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor (1936), noted for its experimental multiplane 3D backgrounds, and for being the firstFleischer cartoon to be nominated for an Academy Award (Best Short Subject: Cartoon). By 1938, Popeye had replaced Mickey Mouse as the most popular cartoon character in America. Paramount's Famous Studios continued the series beginning in 1942, and Popeye's movie career lasted until 1957. Robert Altman directed the live-action film flop, Popeye (1980).
Dave and Max Fleischer, in an agreement with Paramount and DC Comics, also produced a series of seventeen expensive Supermancartoons in the early 1940s. The high-budgeted films were at $100,000 an episode, about four times the average price of comparative cartoons. The first, Superman (1941) introduced the terms "faster than a speeding bullet" and "Look, up in the sky!" The most famous of the series was the second entry, The Mechanical Monsters (1941) with the superhero battling giant flying robots and marking a re-designed Lois Lane and the first time Superman would change into his costume in a phone booth. The recognizable theme song for the series was incorporated into John Williams' score for Superman: The Movie (1978), and the cartoons were referenced in The Iron Giant (1999).
The Fleischers also produced two feature-length animations with whimsical characters and advanced animation techniques: Gulliver's Travels (1939), an animated musical adaptation of Jonathan Swift's 1726 classic literary satire about war. It was the secondAmerican feature-length animated film ever, following (and patterned) after Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937); and the expensive, technicolor Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941), advertised as the screen's first full-length musical comedy cartoon. Due to the film's financial failure, it was the lastcartoon feature that Max and Dave released.
The character of Krazy Kat was featured in a long-running series of black and white cartoons produced by Columbia Pictures Corp. beginning in 1929 through to 1935 (in 1935 they became Technicolored). The cartoon Kat had already been established as early as 1916 by International Film Service, Inc. with Ignatz Mouse (1916).
The animation studio Terry Toons was established in 1929 by newspaper cartoonist Paul Terry (1887-1971) and Frank Moser (1886-1974). Their most famous and valuable cartoon character was Mighty Mouse, a Superman-like mouse superhero. He became known for his yellow costume, red cape, and his anthem song, with the words "Here I come to save the day!," used by comedian Andy Kaufman in one of his sketches. Later, CBS-TV packaged the Mighty Mouse cartoons into a very popular Saturday morning television show called Mighty Mouse Playhouse, beginning in 1955 and lasting for a record eleven years. Mighty Mouse was the firstcartoon character ever to appear on Saturday mornings. The other most famous of Terry Toons characters were Heckle & Jeckle, identical black crows who first appeared in the mid-40s in The Talking Magpies (1946).
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was the firstanimated character for Universal Pictures. The resemblance of Oswald to its biggest competitor, Mickey Mouse, was striking, especially so since Walt Disney had created them both. Lantz made a series of black-and-white cartoons from 1929 to 1935, featuring the rubber-limbed, long-eared rabbit. Lantz was noted for also making the first-ever Technicolor cartoon: the opening animated sequence to the live-action The King of Jazz (1930).
Another of Lantz' legendary creations was the red-headed, blue-bodied, long yellow-beaked, trouble-making Woody Woodpecker, with his distinctive trademarked laugh. Over the next three decades, Lantz made about 200 six-minute Woody cartoons. In 1948, the novelty tune, The Woody Woodpecker, was released on record and became the #1 hit song. It was put into Wet Blanket Policy (1948) and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song. Young boys copied Woody's haircut, and fan clubs developed across the country. In the late 50s, The Woody Woodpecker Show first appeared on ABC-TV in 1957, and led to further shows and syndication.
A less popular but distinctive Lantz cartoon character was Chilly Willy, a penguin who first appeared in 1953 in a cartoon titled appropriately, Chilly Willy. Chilly's popularity soared when animator Tex Avery joined the Lantz Studio the following year and directed Chilly's second and third cartoons. As with Woody, Chilly Willy cartoons appeared until 1972.
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who met at MGM, created the cat and mouse Tom and Jerryseries (clearly influenced by the frenetic action in Tex Avery's work at Warners). The cartoon series highlighting the love-hate relationship between the two animals was first introduced in 1940 with the 9-minute Puss Gets the Boot (1940). Over 100 cartoons from 1940 to 1958 featured the two cartoon characters, and Hanna and Barbera won moreAcademy Awards than any other cartoon series in history, except for Disney's Silly Symphonies. Jerry the mouse danced with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh (1945) the firstinstance of the combination of live action and animation in a feature film. Tom and Jerry also performed an underwater fantasy dance with Esther Williams in Dangerous When Wet (1953).
Animator Jay Ward, working with Alexander Anderson, Jr., created the immensely-popular animated, serialized NBC-TV show Crusader Rabbit. It was the first American animated series produced especially for television. The show originally aired from 1950-1952 and also had a color version in 1957. It told about knight-in-armor Crusader Rabbit and his tiger companion Rags, combatting nemesis Dudley Nightshade; episodes ended in a cliffhanger. Ward went on to produce animated cartoon shows, such as The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show composed of Rocky and His Friends (1959-1961) and The Bullwinkle Show (1961-1964), Hoppity Hooper (1964-1967), George of the Jungle (1967), and The Dudley DoRight Show (1969-1970) about a Canadian Mountie.
In the late 50s, after their success with Tom and Jerrycartoons, Hanna and Barbera
formed their own company. They were one of the earliest animation studios to become successful producing animated cartoon TV shows for television, but were often criticized for
their crude, low-budget animations. They made, among others, The Flintstones (1960-1966), loosely based upon the live-action sitcom The Honeymooners, also ABC-TV's firstseries to be televised in color; The Jetsons (1962-1963); and Scooby Doo (1969 and after). They also produced feature-length films, such as the animated musicals Hey There, It's Yogi Bear! (1964) and The Man Called Flintstone (1966) a James Bond spoof, the Star Treklike Jetsons: The Movie (1990), and the live-action Scooby Doo (2002) (with a sequel in 2004).
Walt Disney was an advertising cartoonist at the Kansas City Film Ad Company, who initially experimented with combining animated and live-action films. The very first films he made himself, at his own animation studio in Kansas City, in 1922, were short cartoons called Newman LaughOGrams. His firstsuccessful silent cartoons (from 1923-1927), after relocating and setting up his own studio in Los Angeles, were a series of shorts (56 episodes) called Alice Comedies (or Alice in Cartoonland). Disney's Alice cartoons placed a live-action title character (Alice) into an animated Wonderland world. Soon after, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit became Disney's firstsuccessful animal star in a 26-cartoon series distributed by Universal beginning in 1927. Oswald was the firstDisney character to be merchandized. Disney produced about two dozen of the silent, black and white Oswald cartoons from 1927-1928, until forced to give up the character to Walter Lantz. He moved onto another memorable character, first named Mortimer Mouse or Mickey Mouse (looking like Oswald with his ears cut off) in 1928.
To help make Mickey stand out from other cartoon characters, the originally silent 7-minute Steamboat Willie was re-released on November 18, 1928 with sound. It was the firstcartoon with a post-produced synchronizedsoundtrack (of music, dialogue, and sound effects) and is considered Mickey Mouse's screen debut performance and birthdate. The character was a takeoff based upon Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill (1928). It was a landmark film and the first sound cartoon to be a major hit, leading to many more Mickey Mouse films during the late 1920s and 1930s. Walt Disney was fast becoming the most influential pioneer in the field of character-based cel animation, through his shrewd oversight of production.
While working on the development of Mickey Mouse shorts, Disney experimented with an ambitious, innovative and groundbreaking series of animations with musical accompaniment called Silly Symphonies, a series of 75 shorts that lasted 10 years from 1929 until 1939, and won a total of seven Academy Awards. Disney's firstfairytale adaptation was the Silly Symphony's title Babes in the Woods (1932), based upon the Hansel and Gretel story by the Brothers Grimm. The firstanimation in full three-color Technicolor was the 29th of Disney's short Silly Symphonies: Flowers and Trees (1932) with anthropomorphic characters; it earned Disney's firstAcademy Award, the first of Walt's 32 personal Academy Awards. The popular, influential Depression-Era fable The Three Little Pigs (1933) was released in 1933 with its optimistic hit theme song: "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" that became a Depression-Era anthem. It was one of the earliest films displaying 'personality animation': each of the three pigs had a distinctive personality. Innovations continued to be created in the short creative animations: the firstofficial Mickey Mouse cartoon made in color titled The Band Concert (1935), and The Old Mill (1937) was the firstwhich used the multiplane camera to provide an illusion of spatial depth and movement.
Warner Bros and Looney Tunes
Animators at Warner Bros. Studios began to challenge the style, form and creative content of Disney's pastoral animations in the early 1930s and after. Their cartoons were characterized as being more hip, adult-oriented, and urban than the comparable Disney cartoons of the same period.
The earliest talking Warner Bros Looney Tune was Leon Schlesinger's black and white Sinkin' in the Bathtub (1930), with Bosko in the starring role. It also included the song later popularized by Tiny Tim: Tiptoe Through the Tulips. Following their success with Looney Tunes, Warners expanded with a lively new series called Merrie Melodies beginning in 1931, the first of which featured a character named Foxy.
From 1933-1935, Schlesinger began assembling more staff for Warners, including Bob Clampett and Disney animator Jack King (famous for The Three Little Pigs) to begin creating the official Looney Tunes series. The first Looney Tune was Buddy's Day Out (1933), featuring a Boskolike character. The firstcolor (Cinecolor) WB Merrie Melodie was Honeymoon Hotel (1934). Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones and other animators also joined the Warners staff and would soon be creating some of the best-loved cartoon characters and animations of all time.
From 1935 onward until the early 40s, Warner's director of animation, Fred 'Tex' Avery,
was responsible for much of the manic, satirical, absurdist, extra-violent, crude characters, corny gags and slapstick of numerous productions. Avery's animations, often designed for adult audiences, were often noted for 'pushing the envelope' of acceptable taste. Their firstanimated star was Porky Pig, who starred in Avery's first WB cartoon Gold Diggers of '49 (1935), who created the familiar end tag: "That's All Folks!"
Along with his famed animating staff Isadore "Friz" Freleng, Clampett (bests known for creating the character Tweety) and Jones, Avery created two of the greatest stars for Warners: Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny (with his famous catchphrase: "What's up, Doc?"). Daffy Duck's firstappearance was in Avery's Porky's Duck Hunt (1937). The second duck-hunt picture Daffy Duck and Egghead (1938) was the firstDaffy Duck cartoon in color. Through most of these years, voice artist Mel Blanc provided the voice for all the starring WB characters: Bugs Bunny, Sylvester the Cat, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Speedy Gonzalez, and many others.
Bugs first said his famous line ("Eh, what's up, Doc?") in his fourth, Oscar-nominated Avery cartoon, A Wild Hare (1940) the firsttrue Bugs Bunny cartoon, with Elmer Fudd as a rabbit hunter (and noted for Elmer's first use of his 'wabbit' voice).
Freleng directed the firstPorky Pig cartoon (in two-strip Technicolor) I Haven't Got a Hat (1935) featuring the stuttering character. He made You Oughta Be in Pictures (1940), a spoof satire of the way in which emerging, fast-talking star Daffy convinces Porky to quit his job at Warners by ending his contract with studio head Leon Schlesinger. Freleng also introduced the characters of hot-tempered Yosemite Sam (who first appeared in Hare Trigger (1945)) and Speedy Gonzales (who appeared redesigned in Freleng's Speedy Gonzales (1955)), and brought lisping cat Sylvester (known for his trademark: Thufferin' Thuccotash!") and yellow Tweety (Bird) (with the trademark: "I tawt I taw a puddy tat!") together in a series of films from 1947 to 1964. Their first film together brought the Warner Bros. cartoon department its first Academy Award.
Freleng (and David DePatie) also created the cool, bluesy 'The Pink Panther' animation with a pink feline character for the opening credits of The Pink Panther (1963). The first of a series of theatrical cartoons based upon the pink character was titled The Pink Phink (1964), and it won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Subject. In 1969, he successfully transitioned the character to television as The Pink Panther Show. One of his most famous cartoons was a jazzy version of the original The Three Little Pigs titled Three Little Bops (1957). Freleng won several Oscars over the years, for the films Tweety Pie (1947), Speedy Gonzalez (1955), Birds Anonymous (1957), and Knighty Knight Bugs (1958).
After Avery's departure from Warners' in 1942, Jones furthered the character development of Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. He was also responsible for Elmer Fudd, who first appeared in Elmer's Candid Camera (1940). Jones provided the famous Hunter's Trilogy of cartoons about 'wabbitseason'/'duckseason' in the early 50s, with Bugs Bunny, hunter Elmer Fudd, and the hapless Daffy Duck. He also created the Road Runnerseries with Road Runner ("Meep, Meep" or "Beep, Beep") (known as Accelerati Incredibulis) and Wile E. Coyote (known as Carnivarious Vulgaris), debuting together in Fast and Furryous (1949). Intended to be a onetime only appearance, their popularity called for another cartoon produced 3 years later, Beep, Beep (1952), and then a series of cartoons for many years.
Jones also developed more minor animated characters such as Pepe Le Pew, Inki, Marvin Martian, Michigan J. Frog, Gossamer, and Charlie Dog. As Disney did with Fantasia (1940), Jones fused classical music into the cartoon form in one of his best animations Rabbit of Seville (1950), featuring Elmer Fudd and Bugs as opera singers.
The comic Warner Bros.' Merrie Melodies masterpiece Duck Amuck (1953), inducted into the National Film Registry in 1999, has been widely considered Jones' best cartoon short. In the self-reflective animation, a tormented Daffy Duck struggles against the malicious, off-screen animator himself (revealed at the end as Bugs Bunny, although Jones admitted he was the culprit), as his character is re-drawn, and the props, soundtrack, and backgrounds are changed as Daffy's chances as an emerging cartoon 'star' are sabotaged.
Another of Jones' most famous cartoons was the renowned One Froggy Evening (1955) about a singing/dancing frog (in retrospect named Michigan J. Frog). The cartoon was noted for a lack of spoken dialogue, and a rich collection of ragtime era songs. Steven Spielberg once noted that it was "the Citizen Kane of animated film". Years later, a lookalike Michigan J. Frog would become the mascot of Warner Bros. new television network channel. The animation was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2003.
An additional Jones' masterpiece was the 7-minute parody What's Opera, Doc? (1957) featuring Bugs' nemesis Elmer Fudd (as a Teutonic warrior knight), a cross-dressed Bugs Bunny (as "Brunhilda"), and music from Richard Wagner's 18-hour opera Der Ring des Nibelungen. In 1992, What's Opera, Doc? became the first-ever animated film to be inducted into the National Film Registry. At its conclusion, as the Tannhauser Overture plays, Elmer walks away with a lifeless Bugs in his arms, who perks alive and memorably quips: "Well, what did you expect in an opera, a happy ending?"
Tex Avery and MGM
After leaving Warner Bros, Tex Avery moved to MGM Studios in 1941, where for about thirteen years, he accelerated the pace and scope of animations and adopted new characters: Adolf Wolf, Screwy Squirrel, a sexy redheaded beauty named Red, and a sad, droopy-eyed, dead-panning basset hound named Droopy.
Avery's firstcartoon for MGM, the anti-German propagandist short Blitzwolf (1942) brought him his soleOscar nomination. It was a wartime semi-parody of Disney's earlier Three Little Pigs (1933) with Adolf Wolf (a thinly-disguised Hitler, portrayed as "one big stinker") threatening to invade the state of Pigmania and the house of Sergeant Pork (US). Besides Tom & Jerry, the other biggest MGM cartoon character, Avery's most famous and long-lasting at the studio, was the meek, slow-moving and slow-talking Droopy Dog. The emotionless, deadpan-voiced, yet stoic Droopy (known as "Happy Hound") made his nameless debut in MGM's Dumb-Hounded (1943). His first line of dialogue was: "Hello all you happy people...you know what? I'm the hero." Drag-Along Droopy (1954) was one of the classic Droopy cartoons, a spoof on range wars between sheepherders (Droopy) and ranchers (the Wolf's "Bear Butte Ranch"), as was Dixieland Droopy (1954) the firstDroopy cartoon in Cinemascope. One Droopy Knight (1957) was nominated for an Academy Award the character's solenomination (after Avery left the studio).
Later cartoons for MGM included Avery's controversially-sexy version of the well-known fairy tale Red Hot Riding Hood (1943) and Screwball Squirrel (1944). Avery's work heavily influenced director Chuck Russell's The Mask (1994) featuring Jim Carrey as mild-mannered bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss, who is obsessed with cartoons. When Stanley dons a magical mask, he turns into an alter ego composed of Tex Avery-like cartoon characters the Wolf (including a famous double-take with his eyes popping out of his head and a wolf whistle), the Tasmanian Devil (whirling like a tornado), and others. He even reenacts portions of Red Hot Riding Hood's nightclub scene.
The later, more sophisticated Disney feature films, contain exquisite detail, flowing movements, gorgeous and rich color, enchanting characters, lovely musical songs and tunes, and stories drawn with magical, fairy tale or mythological plots. The first, full-length animated film was Disney's classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), which took four years to make and cost $1.5 million dollars. It was 1938's top moneymaker at $8 million. Although dubbed "Disney's Folly" during its production, Disney realized that he had to expand and alter the format of cartoons. He used a multiplane camera, first utilized in his animated, Oscar-winning Silly Symphonies short, The Old Mill (1937) to create an illusion of depth and movement. His version of the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale was the second of its kind; the first was a five-minute Snow White (1933). Disney's risk-taking paid off when the film became a financial and critical success.
The critically-praised Pinocchio (1940), based on Carlo Collodi's 1883 fable, made a record $2.6 million and became the highest-earning film of the year. This second Disney animated feature also won two Oscars, for Best Original Score and Best Song (When You Wish Upon a Star). The ingenious animation used the multiplane camera technique to create an amazingly lifelike animation. Disney experimented with other milestone, groundbreaking techniques that combined classical music and animation in seven separate episodes in the film Fantasia (1940), released on November 12, 1940. The film, with a production cost of more than $2 million (about four times more than an average live-action picture), featured Mickey Mouse as the star of the picture in Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the mouse's only appearance in a feature cartoon. It was the first film to be released in a multichannel stereo sound format called Fantasound,decades ahead of its time, requiring a special system devised for playback, although it was rarely shown that way due to the expense (and the fact that only 6 theaters were equipped to play Fantasound). Fantasia was the fullest expression of Disney's earlier work on Silly Symphonies. A sequel of sorts was released 60 years later, originally in the IMAX format, Fantasia/2000 (1999), with new interpretations of classical music. Other great classic Disney tales, animated features, and storybooks in the 40s included: Dumbo (1941) the story of the baby elephant with big flying ears; and Best Song nominee (Baby Mine) and Best Score Academy Award-winner Bambi (1942) the masterfully poetic tale of woodland creatures and a deer, with the shattering scene of the killing of Bambi's mother. The Song of the South (1946), was Disney's first live-action feature film, but also contained three major segments of animation; it was based upon Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus folk tales featuring Br'er Rabbit. Due to extensive protests (mostly by the NAACP) over the stereotypical representations of blacks in the film and the romanticizing of slavery, the controversial film was never released on home video for US audiences; the film's hit song "Zipa-Dee-Doo-Dah" won the Academy Awards Oscar for Best Song.
In the 50s, Disney released more animated features, including the classics: Cinderella (1950), three-time Academy Award nominee (Best Score, Best Sound, Best Song (Bibbidy-Bobbidi-Boo)); Alice in Wonderland (1951), the Disney adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic; Peter Pan (1953); Lady and the Tramp (1955); Disney's firstanimated feature in CinemaScope Sleeping Beauty (1959), also in widescreen format, Academy Award nominee (Best Score). In order, Lady and the Tramp (1955), Peter Pan (1953), and Cinderella (1950) were the top 3 grossing films of the 50s. Disney achieved a milestone in the 1954 awards ceremony as the individual with the mostOscar wins –4 -- in a single year.
Some animators left Disney around the time of the studio's 1941 strike, and later established United Productions of America (UPA), a studio for cartoons distributed by Columbia. It was known for simplified, stylized drawings of human characters in the Jolly Frolics cartoon series, such as Gerald McBoingBoing (first seen in the cartoon Gerald McBoingBoing
(1951)) and the nearsighted Mister Magoo (with voice by Jim Backus). Mister Magoo's first cartoon was Ragtime Bear (1949). The firstof the Mister Magoo series of cartoons was
Spellbound Hound (1950). Mister Magoo starred in UPA's firstfeature-length cartoon film, the 76-minute 1001 Arabian Nights (1959).
Advanced Animation Techniques in the 50s and 60s
Animator geniuses of recent years have used pixillation, the frame by frame animation of live subjects or objects and human beings by filming them incrementally in various fixed poses. Mary Poppins (1964) was a more recent, semi-animated kids musical with both live-action and animated characters.
The Halas & Batchelor (husband and wife) animation studios produced the adult-themed Animal Farm (1954), the firstanimated color feature film made in England. The allegorical tale was based on George Orwell's 1945 satirical political novel. After the success of the 'talking-animal' hit Babe (1995), the film was later remade as the live-action TNT-TV production, Animal Farm (1999). It featured creations of Jim Henson's Creature, animatronics and computer animation.
Bill Melendez and the PeanutsAnimations
Bill (J. C.) Melendez collaborated with comic strip cartoonist Charles M. Schultz in the making of the firstanimated Peanuts special on CBS-TV, the irreplaceable A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). Ultimately, Melendez would be involved as director of about forty Charlie Brown TV specials, and the producer of a 1983 Saturday morning cartoon show called The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show. Melendez' feature-length film collaborations with Schultz included A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969) the firstfull-length animated film starring the Peanutsgang. Snoopy, Come Home (1972) is often considered the best feature-length Peanuts film, featuring the firstappearance of Woodstock (named after the famous rock music festival in 1969).
Melendez also directed the Emmy Award-winner for Outstanding Animated Program The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe (1979), based upon the firststory of C.S. Lewis' classic children's tales series, TheChronicles of Narnia. It was the firstfull-length animated feature film created directly for television's small screen, broadcast over two nights on US television.
Iconoclastic writer/director Ralph Bakshi's, adults-only Fritz the Cat (1972), based upon cartoonist Robert Crumb's underground comics character, was the firstX-rated animated feature in Hollywood history. It was also the first independent animated film to gross more than $100 million at the box office. Writer/director Bakshi's next X-rated animated feature (later recut and rereleased with an R-rating) was the violent, gritty and misogynistic Heavy Traffic (1973), a semiautobiographical tale about a misfit comic book cartoonist loosely adapted from Hubert Selby's novel Last Exit to Brooklyn. It blended animated and live-action sequences in its urban scenes, and also layered old film clips into cartoon backgrounds. The animation auteur also released the controversial Coonskin (1975) (aka Street Fight), accused of being racist and offensive. It contained urban-oriented, politically-oriented, blaxploitation content about a rabbit that ruled the streets of Harlem.
Bakshi also directed the animated cult film Wizards (1977) a tale of good vs. evil. It was a test run for his next animation, The Lord of the Rings (1978) the first cinematic production of the story that combined The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers into one animated film. His plan to film the final chapter of the trilogy, The Return of the King, never materialized. Bakshi's film had an adapted screenplay co-written by Peter Beagle and was noted for its extensive use of the animation technique of rotoscoping, in which human actors were filmed and 'traced' as cartoon characters. Bakshi also released the not-for-children sword-and-sorcery
animated Fire and Ice (1983), with work by fantasy design artist Frank Frazetta. One of his later works was the Paramount-financed, poorly-received Cool World (1992), containing a plot with similarities to the parallel animated Toon World in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). It also raised the intriguing question of whether a live-action person could have sex with a cartoon character, and featured Brad Pitt as the voice of a Las Vegas cop, and Kim Basinger as cartoon sex symbol creation Holli Would, who wished to become a 'noid' in the human world.
The team of Arthur Rankin/Jules Bass was most known for its television specials, such as the object-animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964); Frosty the Snowman (1969); and Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970). They also created the parody/spoof of monster films, their onlyfeature-length animated film Mad Monster Party? (1967), with characters based upon many of the Universal 'monsters'. The film used the stop-motion “animagic” process to animate the three-dimensional puppets. Reportedly, Tim Burton found this film to be extremely influential upon his own later work. Also, the team of Rankin-Bass produced the anime-like mythological tale The Last Unicorn (1982), a sophisticated story from a screenplay by novelist Peter Beagle about a lonely, last-remaining who set out on a quest to confront a beast of fire named Red Bull that had eliminated all the other unicorns.
Other Exceptional Animations with Mature Subject Matter in the Late 70s, Early 80s
Nepenthe Productions, writer/director Martin Rosen, and animator Tony Guy made two dark films with mature (serious-minded) subject matter, both based on Richard Adams' bestselling novels about animals and ecological concerns: Watership Down (1978), a bleak, allegorical animated fantasy film, the most successful British animated feature of its time; and The Plague Dogs (1982), the even darker, far more nihilistic, pro-animal rights film about two abused laboratory experiment dogs, who escape from captivity in a secret British government research lab (Animal Research, Surgical and Experimental) and become fugitives.
The French/Czech-made, science-fiction oriented Fantastic Planet (1973, Fr.) (aka La Planète Sauvage) possessed similarities to Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) with its two-tiered
society on a faraway planet of Ygam, consisting of enslaved humanoids called Oms and a ruling class of bizarre, blue-skinned alien giants named Traags. It was based upon the popular French newspaper serial (Stefan Wul's Oms en Serie ("Oms by the Dozen")), and was lauded with the
Cannes Film Festival's special jury prize, the Grand Prix, when it was first released. Its animation technique was to move paper cutouts across backgrounds.
The inventive animated fantasy Twice Upon a Time (1983), executive produced by George Lucas, told a story about two heroes and their friends who tried to prevent a maniacal madman from giving children nightmares. It used the same cutout paper animation that South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999), the most profane animated film (with 399 swearwords)
would also later employ.
Other pioneering animations in the early 80s relied heavily on rock music, adult themes of sex and violence, and capitalized on the post-Star Wars (1977) scifi fantasy boom. Some have since become cult favorites for midnight movie fans: Gerald Potterton's uneven, multipart
anthology film Heavy Metal (1981) based on the 70s fantasy, cyberpunk comic book of the same name, was heavy on adult-oriented content. A midnight screening favorite, it featured hallucinatory images and a heavy rock soundtrack. A computer-generated and cel animated sequel which went direct-to-cable TV, Heavy Metal 2000, featured a tough, buxom heroine named FAKK 2 (who was based upon the B-movie queen Julie Strain), frequent glimpses of cartoon nudity, and a heavy metal soundtrack.
Clive Smith's post-apocalyptic animated musical fantasy Rock & Rule (1983) told about an aging R&R singer named Mok who searches for eternal life. Smith's company Nelvana had earlier produced a 27-minute short The Devil and Daniel Mouse (1978).
Gerald Scarfe's animation in the antiauthoritarian, antiwar Pink Floyd the Wall (1982) presented deeply adult content (on the subjects of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and violence) and psychosexual Freudian imagery.
Japanimation or Anime
One of the reasons for the popular emergence of Japanese animation was the successful animated Japanese TV series Astro Boy (1963). The Western release of director Katsuhiro Otomo's cult favorite epic animated adventure Akira (1988), based on the science fiction comic book (manga) series (a post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk tale set in NeoTokyo), also contributed to the spread of Japanese anime (or "Japanimation") worldwide. Others have created equally inventive and beautiful animations, including: director Yoshiaki Kawajiri's dark, excessively violent and adult oriented Wicked City (1987); director Isao Takahata's Only Yesterday (1991); and Pom Poko (1994) anime auteur Mamoru Oshii's cyberpunk, apocalyptic animated thriller, Ghost in the Shell (1995) one of the most expensive animefilms ever made, and the first made specifically for the international market. Satoshi Kon's Millenium Actress (2001) and the Pokemon series of children's films (beginning in 1999) are also notable examples of anime.
Excellent examples of feature length, science fiction Japanese animewere directed by auteur animator and founder of the famed Ghibli Studios, Hayao Miyazaki. Ghibli films also include the powerful and poignant Grave of the Fireflies (1988), a tear-jerking tale based on Akiyuki Nosaka's semi-autobiographical novel of the same name about two orphaned Japanese children during the waning days of World War II: a teenaged boy and his 4 year-old sister, and their slow and graphic deaths by starvation. It was written and directed by Isao Takahata; animation historian Ernest Rister felt it was comparable to Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993), and film critic Roger Ebert considered it one of the greatest (anti) war films ever made.
The 90's and beyond
I am stopping this history here, as you are most likely familiar with the animated films from the last twenty years. They include Pixar's Toy Story series and Disney's princess movies, as well as Monsters, Inc. made using CGI (computer-generated-imagery), and films like The Lord of the Rings which combine CGI and live-action. Another interesting film, Bunraku, combines animated title and bridge sequences, using puppet-silhouettes, vivid colors and stylized shapes, and live-action. You are probably also familiar, as well, with some of the popular anime series, such as Full Metal Alchemist or the animated Samurai Jack.
CGI has changed the production techniques of anime and amination, but the results are not always as beautiful as hand-drawn cels; CGI is almost too smooth and too regular for my tastes. But we all know I'm old school.
1 Shinto was the original religion of Japan and the Japanese people before Buddhism came along. Essentially, it's a set of practices, to be carried out diligently, to establish a connection between present day Japan and its ancient past. Shinto today is a term that applies to public shrines suited to various purposes such as war memorials, harvest festivals, romance, and historical monuments, as well as various sectarian organizations. It's notable for being rather light on philosophizing and heavy on community spirits. In short, Shintoism, particularly modern Shintoism, is less a religion and more of a celebration of Japanese-ness.
2 In Roman religion, the genius is the individual instance of a general divine nature that is present in every individual person, place, or thing. Much like a guardian angel, the genius would follow each man from the hour of his birth until the day he died.For women it was the Juno spirit that would accompany each of them. The Greeks called their genii, daemons, and believed in them long before the Romans.