That ‘91-’92 two hour block of afternoon television: Ducktails, Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, TailSpin, and Darkwing Duck, may have been the peak of civilization. History will be the judge, I guess.
Ub Iwerks is a fascinating character in the history of animation and with Walt Disney Studios. Co-creator of Mickey and inventor of the xerox style of animation would be enough, but the personal drama with Walt makes the story more human, tragic, and interesting. Plus he built his own version of the MultiPlane camera out of car parts and scrap metal?!
The Walt Disney Family Museum has a biography and overview of Ub’s contributions to the company.
Ub Iwerks was a man of many talents. He was a prolific animator and a brilliant technical mind. He was Walt’s Swiss Army knife, a man who was to Walt whatever he needed him to be. He was as necessary to the beginning of Walt’s career as he was to the end. He left The Walt Disney Studios at a critical juncture to pursue his own career, but eventually found his way back to the company he had once animated into success to engineer it to new heights.
Kind of a lot glossed over in that “left…at a critical juncture…eventually found his way back”
Creative differences with Walt wore on Ub and when offered the chance for artistic freedom and financial backing to run his own animation studio in 1930, he took it. Unbeknownst to Ub, this deal was through Pat Powers, one of the co-founders of Universal Pictures who had a complicated relationship (to say the least) with The Walt Disney Studios. Powers distributed and provided sound equipment for Disney’s cartoons starting with the seminal Steamboat Willie, but soon after, Walt and Roy became suspicious of his business practices and hired their first company attorney, Gunther Lessing, to protect themselves and satisfy their remaining obligations to him.
Where Powers was the saving grace for Mickey Mouse and The Walt Disney Studios in 1928, by the next year he was in the middle of a legal quarrel with Walt over box office receipts, and then the following year, he had signed away Walt’s best friend and animator and ceded the right to distribute Walt’s cartoons to his company’s parent distributor, Columbia Pictures. Upon learning of his new employer, Ub went through Roy to explain to Walt that he did not mean to take a job from Powers, and had he known who he would be working for, “he would never have gone into this.”
So heartbreak for Walt who at the time was still trying to build a utopian studio. But not much on how Iwerks eventually ended up back at the studio. We get to see his name in the credits once again for Make Mine Music, which is a fun surprise if you’re following along in chronological order. Here’s what Neal Gabler has to say about the reunion:
Perhaps the most dramatic demonstration of his regard for the ghosts of his past was his treatment of the man who had committed what was, in Walt’s mind, one of the worst betrayals: his old partner, Ub Iwerks. After leaving the studio abruptly in 1930, lured by the blandishments of Pat Powers, Iwerks had fallen on hard times. His own studio had failed, forcing him to subcontract with Warner Bros. and then Columbia, but these arrangements were ultimately terminated too. “He was one of the first—if not the first—to give his characters depth and roundness,” animator Chuck Jones explained. “But he didn’t have any story capacity, and I don’t think he knew very much about humor; he wasn’t a funny man at all.” In 1940 he was teaching animation at a local vocational school and had gotten up the nerve to write Walt that July about the possibility of opening a school of his own, presumably to help train Disney animators. Walt referred the letter to Vern Caldwell in personnel, who dismissed the suggestion. Meanwhile Ben Sharpsteen, hearing about Iwerks’s plight, phoned him, said that starting a school would be “belittling,” and offered him a job checking animation, which Iwerks gratefully accepted. Sharpsteen was obviously trying to broker a rapprochement between Iwerks and Walt, and when he told Walt that he had asked Iwerks back, Walt said it was Sharpsteen’s prerogative to hire whomever he liked. But on August 9 Walt and Iwerks had lunch at the studio, over which, as Iwerks later told it, Walt asked him what he really wanted to do there. Iwerks, always more interested in technology than animation, said he answered, “Prowl around.” Overlooking their past dispute, Walt assigned him to help develop a new optical camera for special effects, illustrating both Walt’s commitment to anything that would help his studio regardless of his personal feelings and his attachment to his old colleagues now that he presided over an increasingly impersonal bureaucracy.
And “prowl around” he certainly did. Here’s a summary from Michael Ruocco at Cartoon Brew:
When Ub rejoined the Disney studio in 1940, Walt Disney gave his old partner free reign to do as he wished. With Disney’s resources, Ub developed special effects techniques for animation, live-action films and Disney’s theme parks, much of which is still in use today. He helped develop the sodium vapor process for live-action/animation combination and traveling mattes, which he won an Oscar for in 1965 after utilizing it in Mary Poppins. He adapted the Xerox process for animation, which eliminated the tedious task of hand inking every cel. For Disneyland, Ub designed and developed concepts for many of the park’s attractions, including the illusions in The Haunted Mansion and the animatronics for attractions like Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and Pirates of the Caribbean. Disney even loaned him out to Alfred Hitchcock to help with the effects needed to create flocks of attacking birds in The Birds.
And Iwerks desert years weren’t a total bust either. His failed studio was a bit of a Forest Gump of the animation world :
Many animators got their start at Ub’s studio in the early 1930s, including UPA co-founder Steve Bosustow and Warner Bros. director Chuck Jones. Manga and anime pioneer Osama Tezuka was also greatly influenced and inspired by Ub’s work.
If like me, you became interested in the flâneur after Michial mentioned it here is a rambling post titled Baudelaire, Benjamin and the Birth of the Flâneur from The Psychogeographic Review. I didn't know anything about Flâneur, and so this seemed as good an introduction as any. As Michial pointed out in the episode, there is something more than just being cheerful and lazy in the hobo, or the flâneur- there is a spiritual quality they are pursuing.
And, in our own way Michial and I are picking up the baton of the flâneurs, although instead of wandering through Paris, we're wandering through the Disney Canon. I particularly like this idea:
Certainly we are wandering the cultural treasures (Bambi, Pinnochio) and the detritus (The Three Caballeros). And charitably (assuming you take the heroic view of the flâneur) maybe you could argue that is what Disney Animation Studios was doing in it's own way as well: picking through the stories of the past and repurposing them for their current moment. Making sense of the world through cultural heritage.
In fact, Benjamin also drew a parallel between the experinence of being a flâneur and theatrical entertainment, and I do not think that is coincidental. In a very real sense theater and movies are always collecting, cutting, pasting and remixing life in order to make sense of the world. This is why they possess a deeper truth; they are a distillation of truth. And the process by which we access that truth is our collective imaginations.
Not unlike Happy Valley coming to life through the combined work of both Edger Bergen as the story teller and Luana's imagination, which of course does lead to Willy having on a life of his own beyond Edger's conception.
Bongo may be the most famous Third Culture Bear in the world, but certainly the most famous Third Culture Kid of our time is President Obama. As I mentioned in the episode, there are some fascinating articles about this. This opening line by John H. Richardson in a 2010 piece on Obama for Esquire sums it up perfectly: "America just doesn't understand President Obama." Richardson's piece does an excellent job of breaking down just what a TCK is, and why it is important, but here is the pertinent passage when considering Bongo:
People laugh at you for getting important social markers like dating rituals or slang wrong, and that's when you realize how deep culture really goes — because when people realize you don't share all their habits, they suspect you don't share their values either.
As Richardson says talking about President Obama, but it applies just as well here to poor Bongo: "Sound familiar?"
Another more recent piece (2017) by Ryu Spaeth, appropriately titled Barack Obama, Forever a Third-Culture Kid, sums up a part of the TCK experience in lovely terms, while also highlighting some more of the famous TCKs you may not have known:
This is the legacy of being a third-culture child, like a toll one pays for happiness. Yet the great irony of this life, one so improbable that it makes me laugh, is that of the very few public figures who share this condition—Uma Thurman, Timothy Geithner, Steve Kerr, Kobe Bryant—of the luminaries in this world who, just by existing, make me feel less alone and insubstantial, one of them is the leader of the free world.
If you are interested in the topic of third-culture kids, as I am, I'd recommend the book Richardson quotes extensively in his article: Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by Ruth E. Van Renken, Michael Pollock, and David Pollock.
Bongo does not appear on the poster in Fantasyland. The great Humphrey the bear does, but that makes no sense, because he’s not affiliated with the circus and Bongo is!
There are a couple very similar Donald Duck family trees floating around the interwebs, both illustrated by Don Rosa and based on the work of Carl Barks. The top image below includes Ludwig Von Drake, whereas the bottom one doesn’t. Don’t ask me which one is canon. Comicsalliance has some more interesting information on how the origins of the second image.
If you are interested in going deeper on the topic of media representation of persons with a disability, Colin Barnes' report is an excellent jumping off point. He breaks down twelve commonly recurring media stereotypes. I noticed Dumbo fits a couple of the categories: Disabled Person as Object of Ridicule, Disabled Person as Pitiable and Pathetic, and Disabled Person as Super Cripple.
He also attempts to "formulate a set of principles which will enable all those who work in the media eliminate disablist imagery and so redress the balance." For example, he nails Dumbo with this one: "Resist presenting disabled characters with extra-ordinary abilities or attributes. To do so is to suggest that a disabled individual must over compensate and become super human to be accepted by society."
Knowing and thinking through these common representations helps us guard against the media inappropriately shaping our own imaginations about persons with a disability. And for those of us who are creators, it's a good checklist to avoid disablist imagery in our own work.
Lots more resources in the Appendix as well.
Read the whole thing here.
Exactly the sort of thing I want for every genre of music - but especially classical. Also basically any other media I'm trying to get my head around. Helpful and informed opinions I can trust.
I love the internet. Ask and you shall receive. Dramamasks22 has lined up all the animated crocodiles and alligators into one image. While you're there check out Dramamasks22's other images of every Disney bird, horse, rat, etc.
During our conversation on The Rite of Spring, I mentioned reading an article at one time that discussed how the mounting of dinosaurs in museums has effected our imaginations. (I didn't find it - but this FAQ on dinosaur mounts is fascinating). I would still love to reread that article; if you've seen it send it my way! However, in my process of looking for it, I found some other really interesting things I can direct you to. What's interesting to me is how the art has complimented the science, and the imagination has even outpaced the science. Sorry, Deems Taylor.
Artistic Depictions of Dinosaurs Have Undergone Two Revolutions
Darren Naish's article in Scientific American discusses dinosaur's move from "flabby" (as in Rite of Spring) to "sprightly" and from there to feathery and soft.
Paleoart Shows Dinosaurs Weren't the Terrible Lizards of Your Fantasies
Naish's article also mentions paleoartist John Conway.
Conway spoke to Jacqueline Ronson at Inverse. Ronson gives a nice rundown of the interaction between art and science.
Walt Disney's Dinosaurs: The Story of the Rite of Spring
Which brings us back to Disney and the work he and the studio were doing to advance science through their work on Fantasia.
Noyes posits that the accurate art ignited the imagination and inspired more people to join the field of paleontology.