3rd Annual Honor the Youth Contest Powwo

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Submitted by on: November 30, 2012


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Pow Wow Last Update: November 30, 2012




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  1. to ‘glorify’ the Nine Old Men, including Frank and Ollie, who wrote The Illusion of Life…as also a huge Ren & Stimpy fan (I own mpluitle Logs)…as a regular attendee at Pub Night, Dave Spafford’s legendary ‘Star Wars Cantina of Animation’ than ran every Friday night for five years after Spaff came back from animating on Roger Rabbit in London… and the co-writer of a four-part mini-series on ‘Walt’ the life of Walt Disney…I can offer some additional perspective on John K.’s insightful post. It seemed to me that Walt could be just as big a pain in the ass as John K. to work with. And I mean that as a kind of compliment. They both had a vision about a thing, and they were relentless, each in their own way, of pursuing it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an artist, or what you are, that, to me, is the definition of heroic. It does not, however, mean that everyone who accompanies the hero on some part of his or her journey is a hero too. Just because it is about Disney and it is a big thick book, does not mean the Illusion of Life was a heroic work, or that Frank and Ollie were somehow heroic for having written it. It was a gig for them. A way for them to stick around the studio like a zoo animals will not leave an unlocked cage.So Walt…Walt was exacting. Demanding. Tempestuous. Temperamental. Arbitrary. A ‘nazi’ about certain things, just as John describes him. He could be an incredibly cruel and cross taskmaster, especially in the last five or six years of his life, when he had a lot going on, his lung cancer being about the least of it.My reading of the man, whom I never met, though I tried to meet as many people as possible who knew him well, was that he had a great heart. His love of children and childhood, trains, animals, playfulness, miniatures, new technologies, cold chili eaten from a can, animal turds and various other barnyard obscenities, cigarettes, clothes etc.– informed his studio’s work. In this sense, I always thought the title ‘The Illusion of Life’ missed the point. Disney’s ‘magic’ (god how i hated using that word when I was at Disney, that and ‘wizard’) was that it wasn’t an Illuion…it was life itself up there on that screen. Those of us who had nightmares for months afterward about that damn witch with that damn red apple, or who can’t help but smile at Thumper and Bambi on ice, or who thought the dragon in Sleeping Beauty was bitchin, will attest. That shit was REAL. Walt had his office overlooking the entrance to the Ink & Paint Dept., so that he could watch which of his Animation Boys were seeing which of his Ink & Paint Girls. Walt himself had a hard time getting it up, but he liked it when other people got it up. Which is why his daughter Diane married a guy who gave them ten or twelve kids. His favorite drink was a scotch mist. Hazel George, his personal nurse, whom I interviewed on her death bed, told me many revealing things about Walt. One image I cannot shake is that at the end of a working day, Walt would be in great pain around the neck and face, with what they thought at the time was an old polo injury. He’d go into his private therapy room off to the side of his office, where Hazel would strap him into what she called a ‘mobile traction unit’ a large man-sized steel contraption designed to immobilize every part of the body except the part that hurt, and exercise this. So Hazel would immobilize him in the machine, wrap his face in hot towels and the machine would torque his neck and head around and around in circles, and various other programmed directions. She would make a scotch mist and poke a straw through those hot towels and mirror the movement of the mobile traction unit as she held the glass. And Walt would unburden himself about what was bothering him. Hazel was his confidante. It is a scene I’d like to see re-enacted someday with Meryl Streep playing Hazel and Kevin Kline as Walt.The point is, Walt was an earthy, human ribald, struggling-like-everybody-else-with-his-shortcomings guy who did what he could with what he had. All things considered, I’d say he did pretty well. After two years of research about him, I came away with no more, but certainly no less, respect for Walt Disney than I would have for anyone who has lived a heroic life. I came away understanding that his greatest gift was perhaps the ability to relate to people on meaningful levels. He could talk tech to the tech guys, voices t the voice guys, systems to the systems guys. He was no more or less anti-semitic or patriarchal than most WASP entrepreneurs of his generation who grew up in the midwest. Walt chewed out, abused and publicly humiliated the proud Ken Anderson so badly for the black-line Xeroxing in ‘101 Dalmatians’ that Walt’s behavior gave the poor guy not one but two strokes.And let’s remember that if it weren’t for his brother, Roy, who could talk sense to the bankers and keep Walt from reeling off in too many experimental directions, Walt probably never would’ve gotten out of the garage where it all beganI had a lot of respect for the seven the Nine Old Men that I got to know…especially Woolie and Milt, who were sort of like Dutch uncles to me…as I know they were to Andreas and Glen and a lot of others. I think a problem with the animation culture–and I say this as someone who reveres animators and animation folk generally– is that it has become a kind of cult built around the ‘Frank & Ollie’ model. The animation art as depicted by those two. Art weenies. I loved F & O like I did the rest of them, but the truth is that they were ass-kissing fraidy cats compared to Woolie and Milt and Ward and most of the rest of those cats. Milt Kahl thought Frank and Ollie’s stuff was weak sauce, and that’s the truth. Spafford captured it one time when he made a drawing of Kahl pissing on a pile of Frank’s drawings as an alarmed Frank looked on, and Kahl saying, ‘Hey Frank, your drawings are gettng better all the time’ Milt thought it was hilarious. So did I. I can assure you that Frank and Ollie did not. Woolie talked a lot about sex. Frank and Ollie talked about pantomime in drawings. The people with their own artistic vision plus the valor to stand up to Walt, like Milt Kahl, Bill Peet, Jack Hannah, Chuck Jones…had to get out, or move on to Disneyland designing or something else in the organization. Kimball started building his own brand, hosting his own TV show and making his own films. It was too stifling for them in Animation, or as Jones put it…’you had to wait around for Walt to come downstairs’ John K., your stuff is not the illusion, like the best of Disney’s animation, it’s the real thing. Life itself, reverberating through the cinematic experience. And it does not stop at the edges of the frames, the frames canot contain it, which is what flummoxes the dumbasses at Nick and Diz and other animation orgs when they have to deal with that. I met you once in your Glendale studio in the late 1990s, and you described for me a world you wanted to ‘knit together’. The idea was ahead of its time in terms of the technology…but it’s not any more, and I hope that the knitting is happening. Because now is the time.Thank you for the post.

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