Monday, June 12, 2006

More on All the Cats Join In

Hans Perk pointed out that I mislabeled shot 33 as Tom Bertino when it should have been Albert Bertino. I've made the correction. Tom Bertino is a modern day visual effects supervisor, which is why I got confused. I should point out that in this mosaic, the shot numbers are from Disney studio documentation.

This short is part of Make Mine Music, a kind of Fantasia for 1940's music. Disney also made Melody Time in this vein. If you are unfamiliar with these two films, you should see them. While they don't contain the drama or acting challenges of the earlier and later Disney features, they employ a wide range of design styles and contain lively, unpretentious animation.

This segment is an early music video and is all about movement, making it a great jumping off point for discussing the work of different animators. Watch how they deal with shape, proportion, timing and flexibility.

John Sibley opens the cartoon with some fairly low key animation that really only takes off with scene 10. He's back later with much better stuff. Andrew Engman is probably more of an effects than character animator and he carries us into Fred Moore's scenes.

Notice Moore's version of the blond boy in scene 15. He's got a larger head and a lower waist than the version drawn by Sibley in scene 8. The differences are subtle, but Moore's proportions and shapes are just more appealing than other people's work in this cartoon. His animation of the big and little sisters is just gorgeous. Great proportions, shapes, poses, timing and follow through. He does the best work in this cartoon, bar none.

The sisters get taken over by Milt Kahl, who does a pretty good job of keeping Moore's spirit, but there are differences. In scene 24 Kahl draws big sister with a smaller head and a longer body than Moore. While his timing is every bit as good as Moore's, his shapes are not as appealing and his drawings don't flow into each other as well. Kahl's lines are not as rhythmic as Moore's. You can argue that Kahl was a more versatile draftsman and actor, but he loses to Moore on appeal.

Just like Paul Allen was the hidden treasure in Mr. Duck Steps Out, Cliff Nordberg gets the prize for this cartoon. This was Nordberg's first credited feature at Disney, though he might have worked uncredited on shorts. He stayed at the studio through The Fox and the Hound. Nordberg's drawings are pleasing and his animation is very loose-limbed and full of energy. Does anyone know if Nordberg was ever interviewed?

By contrast, Hal King's work is stodgy. He's not one for much stretch and squash and he doesn't push his timing.

Bill Justice does some of the dance animation in the malt shop, and there's a bit of a rotoscope look to it. This film is rarely discussed, so I have no idea if reference footage was shot for the dancers, though I wouldn't be surprised. There's something about the proportions in some of Justice's scenes that suggest that he's working off of photostats. Justice is a good animator, but dance animation is hard and he may have had some difficulty with it.

Sibley and Nordberg wrap up the cartoon. Sibley has fun with the 1920's refugee. Nordberg's group dance scenes are beautifully broad and Sibley follows him up with some acrobatic dancing.

Jack Kinney clearly knew who his best animators were. He's got Sibley opening and closing the film. He's got Moore and Kahl on the most extensive personality animation in the film: the big and little sisters. Nordberg is sprinkled throughout the film to keep the energy up. Justice and King are a little flat, but they keep things going. Engman's scenes do their job, connecting everything together.

There's no dialogue, no real conflict, and no brilliant gags. There's just music and motion. When they're done this well, that's enough.


Hans Perk said...

Wonderful review! You make it sound so obvious and simple - as if you put my thoughts into words without my having to think them, if you know what I mean.
That takes quite a bit of thought, so: bravo!
Are you up for Ferdinand the Bull?

Jenny Lerew said...

Wonderful rundown of the film, Mark.
I actually love what Milt Kahl did when he got his bit with the Big Sister(her slide, dig through the closet, shake of the Little Sis and hopping while putting on shoes are all fantastic)--but I too noticed the subtle differences in the handling of the characters' proportions--who all obviously started as Fred Moore's designs, so it's fascinating to compare. I'd thought(before seeing the drafts)that Sibley's animation might have also been Fred's--the use of the (large) hands,. the timing--but yep, when you see what's really Fred's it's so singular.
I also love the Nordberg scenes. I don't think he was ever interviewed, but Dale Oliver said he was one of truly great, funny--and unsung--animators of Disney's golden age. I believe it.

Anonymous said...

I worked on Nordberg's stuff back in the fifties and sixties. He was a great animator. Very under rated. I also love John Sibley's stuff. Another talented guy.

I saw this film when I was a kid, and was lucky enough to get to Disney while these old guys were still around. Sadly, I didn't get to Disney in time to meet Freddie. He's still my hero.

Mark Mayerson said...

Floyd, are you writing an autobiography? If not, have you thought about sitting down for a career-spanning interview?