Film Review: Princess and the Frog

20 Feb 2010

Most of my feelings about Princess and the Frog were those of relief that at last Disney had returned to what Disney do best (hand drawn animation telling heart-warming stories, preferably with the occasional song thrown in for good measure) and hope that it did well enough at the box office for them to make more.

I hadn’t actually got around to forming any hopes or expectation about the film itself, so was little more than a blank slate, waiting to be enchanted.

I thought the film was very good. The story was fun, the music memorable. The characters were believable and empathetic (I was a blubbering wreck at the end, but a quick look around the cinema made me realise that I was the only person emotionally devastated by the death of a firefly). Spoiler alert by the way. Sorry about that.

I thought the villainous Dr Facilier was particularly good – his movement perfectly captured his personality. Lead Animator Bruce Smith and his team did a great job on creating a character with distinctive movement and a tortured soul that stole every scene he was in.

If I had a gripe (and I do) it would be the over reliance on the supporting characters to the detriment of the development of the main ones. This is something that Pixar do so well – they trust their main characters to carry the story and provoke the necessary laughter and emotion, so they don’t feel Disney’s need to fill the screen with trumpet playing crocodiles or unusually breasted blind women with a penchant for snakes.

Not in the top 20 or so Disney films, but a great starting point on the road to recovery!

The history of pre-animation

11 Feb 2010

One of the extra activities that we do at Slurpy Studios, are animation workshops for Children aged 7 to 13. Animation is an incredibly fun, inspiring, yet educational activity that children of all ages can engage in, and it's always been a great privilege to be there when a child first sees their creation coming to life before their eyes.

The first thing that we always do with the children is to take them through a series of clips from the last 100 years of animation, from James Stuart Blackton's Enchanted Drawings, all the way through to Avatar. I think that it's only through understanding where animation has come from, and seeing some of the early experiments and breakthroughs that a proper understanding and respect for the medium is born.

I remember my first experiments with animation. We did a thaumatrope in class when I was about 9. A thaumatrope is simple a disc with string attached. On one side is a drawing of a bird (for example) and on the other side is a drawing of a cage. When the string is pulled and the disc is spun, it appears as though the bird is in the cage. This is because of persistence of vision; a flaw with the human eye which causes it to retain an image for a fraction of a second longer than it sees it. It is because of this flaw that both film and animation can work.

Needless to say, the thaumatrope got me hooked, and I spend all of that night making my bird sit inside the cage, before moving on t0 Zeotropes and Phenakistiscopes and (slightly easier to spell) flipbooks.

So, for kids who are budding animators, and for parents who are desperate to give their offspring something to do on a rainy day, here is a template for a thaumatrope that you can print (on to card) and make in a few minutes...

And for anyone out there who is no longer impressed by spinning disc (shame on you), I cannot recommend Dick Balzer's website highly enough. It contains information and images of all of the pre-animation animation toys, such as Praxinoscopes, Tachyscopes, Phenakistiscopes and other such dyslexic nightmares.

Propaganda and war time animation

3 Feb 2010

Yesterday I wrote a very short post which, after a fairly meandering journey, talked a little about propaganda animation produced during the war. Since then I've had several friends asking me more about the subject and, since it's something that I find absolutely fascinating and also something that I have a little bit of knowledge about, having done my dissertation on it, I thought I'd go in to the subject in slightly more depth.

Animation is the perfect medium for propaganda. Why? Lots of reasons:

- Animation is considered an innocent medium. It's associated mostly with children's entertainment, and the audience therefore lowers it's guard. We don't expect a political message to be delivered in an innocent medium.

- Animation doesn't have a class, a race, a sex or anything else that alienates part of the audience. A talking bunny is neither black nor white, neither upper or lower class.

- Animation is a clear and concise medium which allows you to say exactly what you want. The animator controls every single pixel of every single frame of the film, and can show only what they want the audience to see. This increases the power of the message dramatically.

And there are a million of other reasons. This is why animation is frequently used not only in propaganda, but also in advertising, which has many of the same requirements.

In Britain during the Second World War, propaganda was considerably more muted than it's American counterpart. Halas and Batchelor films such as 'Dustbin Parade' for example, reveal England's fighter spirit and everyone pulling together attitude. American films, such as Disney's Der Fuhrer's Face or Education for Death often revealed a more aggressively anti-Nazi/Japanese attitude.

I always believed that this was because the American people needed to be educated about why they were going to war, and why they should hate the Germans. The British already knew why they were going to war and only had to be taught how they could help. It could also be to do with the excessive amount of anti-German propaganda produced in England during the First World War, which had mostly been proven to be lies.

For more information on this fascinating subject, I recommend the films of Halas and Batchelor (and here I can squeeze in a plug for the Animation Research Center in Surrey, which I used to Manage, and which contains an extensive collection from the studio), the documentary Animation Nation from the BBC, and the collection of films from the Disney studio entitled On the Front Lines.

Here are the films contained within On The Front Lines, most of which are available to watch on YouTube:

Donald Gets Drafted

The Army Mascot

Private Pluto

Fall Out; Fall In

The Old Army Game

Home Defense

How to be a Sailor

Commando Duck

The Vanishing Private

Sky Trooper

Victory Vehicles

Der Fuehrer's Face

Education for Death

Reason and Emotion

Thrifty Pig

Seven Wise Dwarfs

Donald's Decision

All Together

The New Spirit

The Spirit of '43

Food Will Win the War

Out of the Frying Pan and into the Firing Line

The Grain that Built a Hemisphere

Cleanliness Brings Health

Chicken Little

Winged Scourge


The vital importance of Coke

2 Feb 2010

As I was working frantically (read: browsing lazily) on the internet today, I came across this advert for Coke from the 1950s which I found so hilariously funny that I had to share it with as many people as I could.

(Click to enlarge)

Just remember that it's never too soon to start your baby on a diet of caffeine and cocaine!

It did remind me though of some Disney films that were made during the war for various Government campaigns. I did my dissertation on the difference in war time propaganda films produced in Britain and America, and watched some creations from the Disney studio that no fan should ever have to see! One film that I stumbled upon during this time (although it didn't make it in to the dissertation) was called The Winged Scourge. It was made in 1943, and uses the Seven Dwarves to warn people against the risk of Malaria, and to inform them that the best method for reducing the risk was to... wait for it... pour oil on to every water source.

Scary huh!

And this film was just one of a great many films that the Disney studios produced during the war (despite the fact that nearly one third of their staff were drafted.)

There's a great DVD collection called Disney on the Front Lines which includes about 30 short films made about the war effort and introduced thoughtfully by film historian and mega Disney nerd Leonard Maltin.

Several of the films have not been seen since their initial release; and others were never shown to the general public. Many of the wartime entertainment shorts are largely propaganda, and many are educational. Donald's nightmare of working on a Nazi assembly line in "Der Fuehrer's Face" is still hilarious slapstick. The grimmer "Education for Death" and "Chicken Little" have aged less gracefully (and considerably less politically correctly!!).

It's a scary collection, but it's also fascinating for anyone with an interest in Disney, animation, the war, propaganda or the changing acceptability of gratuitous racism and health policies which actively push to destroy the environment.