Friday, December 19, 2008

Kahl Rabbit Fox

I'm guessing this is Kahl, but am not 100% sure. The drawings are very solid (like McKimson) but have more elaborate design details than WB characters. The drawings aim at doing all the acting while remaining appealing - cute that is. Having to remain cute at all times can be somewhat of a handicap when it comes to acting.
The motion and control in these scenes is amazing. Ultra smooth. Lots of squash and stretch, overlap, secondary actions - a million things happening at once while at the same time having to keep the audience focused on the story.
I think the pure Herculean task of keeping all these elements under control is what impresses so many animators and cartoonists - including myself. It's very humbling.
Look at those great hands! They are 40s cartoony style, while at the same time suggesting some knuckles and anatomy underneath the cartoon-skin.
Brer Fox is a very handsome design and extra hard to draw from different angles because of his long snout, snarly lips and lots of teeth - yet he moves very easily and never loses form, no matter what angle we see him from.

You really have to understand construction and hierarchy of forms and details to control all that information without having the character melting all over the place.
As I said in another post, the stories in Song of The South are told better than most Disney features, mainly because Peet tells the stories straight and succinctly. He doesn't add a lot of non-essential Disney filler.
So, in my opinion the story is staged and cut very well. And the pantomime animation is genius. In an earlier scene when we see Brer Fox coming in to greet Brer Rabbit stuck in the tar, his cocksure shuffling walk is extremely clever and cool. I'll put it up in another post.
To me, the cartoons have one flaw that cause a big disconnect between the story and the animation. The voices. The voices are so obnoxious and unintelligible that it gives the animators a big disadvantage.
When the characters talk, the animators have to come up with animation and business that matches the timing of the acting-even though the acting is bad. I think that's the origin of Disney's flailing arms and jittery acting. Walt's ear for voices wasn't always tasteful and he would stick his animators with voices that are grating or just plain weak and without character, forcing the animators to make up a bunch of arbitrary business just to try to keep the scenes alive.
Lots of twins by the way in Rabbit's posing!
Great drawings!
This bit of the rabbit stammering is very uncomfortable for me to watch. It goes on too long and seems completely inane. I think what makes me like Warners animation so much more than Disney's is it's much more character-oriented. I can identify with the characters in WB cartoons. They have motivations and personalities that I recognize. It didn't hurt that they had Mel Blanc doing the voices - a keen observer and satirist of human types. All the voice talent at WB was better suited to cartoons than the Disney voices, and that gave WB another advantage over Disney in creating convincing characters that seem to really exist.
Disney himself must have had a really naive ignorant understanding of human nature because his voices just tend to be silly and juvenile. His animators had to evolve a style of acting that wasn't very natural because they didn't have anything to hang any natural animation on. The voices and written characterizations just aren't very intelligent. It's like trying to wrap sophisticated animation around baby-talk.
Maybe another problem facing the Disney animators is their low weekly output. While McKimson was pumping out 25-50 feet of animation every week, Disney animators were expected to do 5. Working that slowly on each scene had to tempt them to keep going back and adding layers of needless secondary actions, more overlapping fur and ears and stuff that doesn't contribute to making the point.

When I watch a Disney cartoon, I always feel like there are 3 stories happening at the same time. One that the storyboard artist wrote. Another one that the voice actors are reading from, and then another one that the animators are telling. The animation is fascinating, but it feels like there are people talking in the other room trying to distract me from watching the flowing movements. They don't connect except technically in the timing.

This kind of stuff is perfect for little kids and adult animators. It misses the mark for regular folks. That's who WB, Fleischer and Avery are for.


HenriekeG said...

Maybe it's just me, but I'm very fond of the voices in Song of the South myself. It's interesting how James Baskett did the voices of both Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit in the laughing place sequence.
That walk you mentioned is pretty much my favorite part of the movie as it comes to animation. I also love how Brer Fox walks of sideways a few seconds later.
Overall I'm mostly a fan of crazy Clampett cartoons, but I have something for a few Disney characters which makes me love those movies. Maybe it's because I grew up with their comics, and hardly anything else.

Niki said...

I think this is why a lot of kids love the Disney films, cause when I was a kid I only paid attention to what the characters where doing, but not what they were saying. So either way I think the voice-acting won't matter if it's just kids watching, but for adults we need to make sure that the voices connect on more than just that level huh? Maybe if the actors are tested first? see amongst multiple people if we can get it straight. But on behalf of "Song of the South" some voice actors played multiple roles, some maybe it would change good/bad from scene to scene.

Dana Terrace said...

Song of the South animation is beautiful and I agree, the voices are nothing like I would ever hear in a Disney film.
But when you say the disney animation, the voices, etc. are disconnected and too involved in secondary movements could you give a visual example? I'm having trouble understand what you're trying to say.

JohnK said...

I love Song of The South too. If the voices are working for you then that's good.

I always have trouble connecting Disney animation with the voices behind them. They just don't seem related to me, but I don't expect everyone else to think so.

The characters seem to move for movement's sake rather than to specifically express individual emotions and thoughts. But that's just me.

I'm so used to studying my favorite live actors that animation acting in general seems primitive to me.Especially Disney's.

pappy d said...

This is my favorite Disney movie for design & art direction. Bill Peet had a genius for simplicity. The character designs were fluid (before they got carried away with the Picasso-influenced straight vs. curve). You can feel the rolling clean forms of the earth & the sky is a simple wash with a few unobtrusive little clouds where absolutely needed.

But who can understand those thick American accents?

Alain-Christian said...

DO NOT feel obligated to post this on your comments, I just didn't know any other way to get this to you.

Cartoon Brew needs help choosing the 100 greatest Looney Tunes; I immediately thought of you.

Caleb said...

"It's like trying to wrap sophisticated animation around baby-talk."

What a great way to sum up Disney. Is it possible that Walt thought that most people were too stupid, and had to be pandered to? It's not that I hate Disney, I just hate how they get all the credit while most people have never heard of McKimson (25-50 feet a week!).

In my opinion, the one thing that Disney did better than most is presentation. Mickey is introduced by an announcer and he walks out in a tuxedo. Even Goofy will get dressed up and be on his best behavior. WB has that same song play during the intro every time. This may have made sense when the shorts played in theaters, but watching them on DVD can be an endurance test of the mind.

Zoran Taylor said...

I think the voices were supposed to be "cute". I bet the actors were capable of more, but Walt specifically wanted more naive-sounding "performances". There's good voice acting hiding in there somewhere, but just like with the animation on, let's say, the Seven Dwarfs (best example to sum up Disney's flaws, I think), the performances are inhibited by memorized bits of "business" that the actors have to return to every so often - TOO often, actually, because it's all measured on a little-kid attention span, and a cynical assumption of one at that! (If kids really had no attention spans, why would they RE-WATCH things so much?! Let alone feature-length movies.)

This may be just me, but I don't think it's always a bad thing for a character to have minor bits of "stock business". I find when I watch people I know, the tics that make them distinctive can also tell you things about the person - e.g. standing, pointing, moving a certain way when talking might imply a shy personality that's not used to approaching people and overcompensates with unintentionally funny gestures. (I do this like crazy. So does John, actually! Hey man, it's true, just watch you're own interviews!)
The catch here is that the business has to A) mean something for both the character and the context, and B) leave room for evolution, variation and further observation. Porky's stutter didn't stay exactly same all the time. Neither did Stimpy's impishness. Someday I want to design characters, and then make little introductory comic strips that demonstrate how their bodies and vocabularies might respond to different situations. This would function as an EXTREMELY loose guide for animators, just to give them a sense of what's on the table. They could take my gestures and invert them, stretch them, invent their own interpretation of what I was getting at, etc. If we get TOO obsessed with being specific, we might just lose the unifying element: the character itself!

(Sorry for rambling there - I just have so many thoughts on this stuff, It's like a pandora's box -let one out, and the rest just fall out after it!)

oppo said...

"This kind of stuff is perfect for little kids and adult animators. It misses the mark for regular folks. That's who WB, Fleischer and Avery are for."

Ah, yes, but what about the lay people of animation, the people who can't draw but lov egood cartoons. Doesn't this stuff have a place for them. It certainly does for me.

trevor thompson said...

Song of The South sticks out in my memory as being the best Disney viewing experience I have ever had in a theatre. It doesn't look to me much like the other Disney cartoons, for reasons you've explained here, John.

Also, I noticed that these screen grabs are actually pictures taken of your screen leading me to believe that you only have this on videotape.

They've released it on DVD, albeit unofficially, but the good news is that they probably didn't do anything to the colors since they probably didn't have the budget.

Here's a link:

Official Song Of The South DVD

- trevor.

Sagelights said...

you when speak of Disney flailing two characters come to mind. The old man from the Artistocats, and Merlin from Sword in the stone. Those two really stand out to me.

Also a character that might have had flailing but I think it worked was the Reluctant Dragon, I love all his gestures.

and I must say Brehr Fox is kind of hot. I think its his enthusiasm.

When I think about it specially in Snow White the juvenile voices is totally there in his films. But maybe that's what made the villains stand out, I thought the step mother from Cinderella and maleficent from sleeping beauty had kinda of sexy dominatrix voices.

Brian Goss said...

Wow! I'm really surprised you don't like the voices in Disney films, John (especially this one). I think it has the best voice choices along with Bambi. To me, that was always part of the appeal of both features, besides the obvious drawing skills which you've pointed out.

I always thought that Disney animation really took a turn for the worst AFTER Walt Disney died. THAT'S when the voices (among other things) got really irritating and disonnected with the characters. The biggest example I can think of is Robin
Hood. You'd think the story was set in the rural Southeastern US rather than England. ACK!

James N. said...

"They've released it on DVD, albeit unofficially, but the good news is that they probably didn't do anything to the colors since they probably didn't have the budget.

Here's a link:

Official Song Of The South DVD

- trevor."

That's not an official release but rather a bootleg release made by transferring the VHS to DVD.

I doubt Disney will ever release Song of the South on DVD. It's really too bad.

John A said...

There's one little piece of animation in Song of the South that I really love: It's in the Tar Baby sequence, where B'rer Rabbit is hopping around saying "Howdy" to everyone. He greets the Tar Baby and when he doesn't respond, B'rer Rabbit just stops in midair and does a little 'take'. He then proceeds to disengage from his frozen position in the air, hop to the ground and then walk back to the Tar Baby. It's a nice little bit of anti-gravity cartooniness that you don't often see in a Disney film, something you almost never see them do in a feature film. While not a hilarious gag in and of itself, the timing, the staging, and the consistantly good acting in this sequence is very nice.

glamaFez said...

Brer Rabbit's stuttering is an example of a mannerism that was frequently heard in white imitations of blacks many decades ago.

Niki said...

This is kinda late, but here's more unappeal for you:


Also, I still think that the Disney animations should be practiced, I'm starting to think it maybe necessary for some children films that just don't get your attention like this

Weirdo said...

"Song of the South" is one of my favorite bits of Disney animation. This was one of the ultimate in character animation for them. I'm pretty sure it was this kind of work that the animators loved - funny, distinct characters.

cartoonjoe said...

"Brer Rabbit's stuttering is an example of a mannerism that was frequently heard in white imitations of blacks many decades ago."

actually, the voice of Brer Rabbit was performed by Johnny Lee, an old-school black performer whose best-known role was crooked lawyer Algonquin J. Calhoun on the radio and tv versions of "The Amos 'n' Andy Show", where he used that self-same stutter in his dialogues on the show.

(While we're on the subject, both James Baskett (Uncle Remus/brer Fox) and Nick Stewart (Brer Bear) were also featured on Amos 'n' Andy radio/tv, Baskett as an earlier crooked lawyer Gabby Gibson, and Stewart as Lightnin' on tv.)

HemlockMan said...

There were some good Disney voices--Sterling Holloway was good.

Matt said...

Is Stimpy based on Sophie B. Hawkins and Ren Sophie's secret daddy?

Kate said...

As an avid fan of Brer Rabbit (and as someone who has heard many people do his voice) I believe the best was by far Johnny Lee.

fandumb said...

I think you should post the stuff from 'Stimpy's Fan Club'. That had GREAT cartoon acting in it; especially when Ren is responding to the letters. There's a bit where he's read the letter from Cindy, and he's absolutely furious at being called a mosquito. Then he settles a little, looks grudgingly up at the pile of letters... and then an evil smile spreads across his face as he writes his reply. Then when he reads the letter from Johnny, and he's completely stumped as to how to answer. His eyes stray to the letter and there's a look of worry on his face. Then his brow furrows; he knows what he must do. Then as he writes 'Dear Johnny' you can see a flash of genuine anxiety, from the way he bites his lip; and then flares back up into rage as he writes 'you... make me SICK!'