Sunday, December 22, 2013

Early Disney: plenty weird shit

I've never been able to draw or paint worth a shit. Never been able to "get a likeness" or anything else. I did go through one manic phase of thinking I could paint. Plenty weird, or what - because I couldn't; they were merely brush-stroke experiments, but at the time I felt like an undiscovered genius.

Right. So now I content myself with the fun and simple quasi-art form of the gif or GIF (pronounced "gif" as in "gift", "jiff", or Gee Eye Eff, depending on who is right on a particular day.) The gif has entered the culture to such an extent that Kmart has made a whole series of ads of people endlessly freaking out in 2 or 3-second, repeating, shrieking flails, something to do with finding a great bargain at Kmart. Which is about as rewarding as going to that red-and-white, sterilized mausoleum known as Target.

But I digress.

Making these funny little endlessly-repeating doodles got a lot easier for me when these YouTube-to-gif sites sprang up. The one I'm using now - (please don't crash, pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease - if I say this too loud it'll hear me) - is called Gifsforum and will actually make a decent-length gif that can tell a tiny story. (The best example is yet to come.) 

The farther back you go in the supposedly-divinely-inspired Disney oeuvre, the stranger it gets. They're pretty primitive, these early Laughatoons or whatever they're called, even predating the long-running Silly Symphony series. In this one, Disney the shameless thief steals Fleischer's invention of combining live-action with animation. Doesn't do it nearly as well, either - the little girl in this bizarre hallucinogenic version of Alice in Wonderland is smudgy and sooty and indistinct. And the animals in these early things, I don't know, they don't look very real to me - their movements are wooden and jerky and often plain ridiculous. This cartoon came out in about 1923, meaning it had no dialogue, and no real story either. It wasn't until the early '30s that animators began to think in terms of story. 

From the infamous Bugs in Love. I remember this one so well! I was over at Ann Peet's house after school, and the Mickey Mouse Club came on and they showed this. Ann and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes and groaned, "Oh nooooooooooo. . . Bugs in Love." We hated it. Now that I actually watch it, it's innovative, even takes stabs at characterization, and beats the hell out of  the gimmicky and rather stupid Alice in Wonderland. 

This might just be the most beautiful gif I've ever made. YouTube is such a mixed bag that along with the usual smudgy, surreal, dredged-up-from-a-bad-dream copies of copies of copies, you once in a while get a pristine example of early animation like this, looking probably better than it did on the movie screens it was originally seen on.

God knows how much later this one came out, but much has happened in the interim: the passersby have a sort of attitude, not just trudging or juddering along stiff-legged, though a couple of things give away the '30s vintage. Mickey isn't in his final form, not yet, still looks a bit snouty, wears a weird sort of  two-button diaper along with his enormous white gloves, and looks flat, like three dinner plates stuck together. The horse pulling the sleigh in the background has the clumpy feet and enormous nostrils typical of early Disney animals. But then there is that holy, Christmas-cardy background, with its mysterious 3D effect. Wonder where he stole that from.

Postlude: just dredged up this very tasty quote from Wikipedia! Taken from a German newspaper during the Third Reich:

"Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed...Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal...Away with Jewish brutalization of the people! Down with Mickey Mouse! Wear the Swastika Cross!"