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Currently showing posts tagged Russell Merritt

  • Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series by Russell Merritt & J.B. Kaufman Book Review

    Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series by Russell Merritt & J.B. Kaufman

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Celebrating the tenth anniversary of its original publication, Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman’s Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series returns in a newly revised and updated edition.  Combining their efforts, esteemed Disney historians Merritt and Kaufman honor the innovative and artistically groundbreaking series of short subjects that advanced the techniques and storytelling traits that would prove invaluable in feature length works such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Dumbo.  Originally conceived as music based one-reelers, Walt Disney’s followup series to his popular Mickey Mouse shorts would ultimately push the boundaries of his artists and what could be made possible in animation using cutting-edge technology.  Debuting in 1929 with the mesmerizingly eerie The Skeleton Dance, the Silly Symphonies became a constant testing ground for new advancements and abstract tales that relied minimally on reoccurring characters and insistently on splendor, dramatics and forward thinking character animation.  Embracing Technicolor photography, the spectacle of Disney’s Symphonies would continue to impress audiences and critics for their decade run, with higher society praising their artistic richness with endless nominations and Academy Awards for their deserved efforts.

    Improving where their phenomenal first printing left off, Merritt and Kaufman’s voracious research through the Disney Archives have built upon the proper credits and rarely known details into the making of all of the short features.  Detailing the Symphonies distribution history from Columbia and United Artists to eventually RKO Radio Pictures, the animation loving duo expertly cover the constant changes, stylistic formulas and emerging talent that brought their wide range of skills to a series so tonally and aesthetically different than the Mickey Mouse shorts.  Including brand new stills, pencil sketches and clean up animation examples, the stunning visuals only reinforce the scholarly research put forth by both Merritt and Kaufman.  Presenting a full filmography of the shorts assembled in production order, all information of interest including, credits, negative costs, opening dates and photos accompany each in exquisite detail.  Far more accessible than ever, Disney’s Silly Symphonies are some of animation history’s treasured gems that unfortunately find themselves unknown by younger audiences or too commonly undervalued as mere predecessors to Disney’s feature length classics.  Much more than the building blocks to Disney’s golden age films, this newly revised offering of Merritt and Kaufman’s Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series serves as a prized addition to any Disney historians library and the perfect gateway to uninitiated audiences unaware of the visual magic sandwiched between Mickey Mouse’s comic exploits and Snow White’s groundbreaking debut.

    Available September 27th from Disney Editions, Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series can be purchased via Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and other fine retailers.

  • Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic by J.B. Kaufman Book Review

    Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic by J.B. Kaufman

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Considered one of the finest achievements in Disney’s revered animation history, Author J.B. Kaufman’s Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic takes an extensive look into the making of this monumental effort that continues to thrive 75 years after its original release.  Containing never before seen art and countless original concept sketches, Kaufman’s in-depth research and obvious passion for this Golden Age classic will educate lifelong admirers and deeply enrich future viewings of Disney’s finest animated film of all time.

    Following up Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first and deeply praised feature-length animated film, Walt Disney and his talented team of artists had their work cut out for themselves formulating their followup.  With Bambi in active development and originally planned as Disney’s second feature, several challenges including, the additional prep work required for such a project shifted gears within the studio bumping Pinocchio as the top priority.  Riding high on the financial riches of Snow White’s success, Walt Disney saw the tale of Author Carlo Collodi’s wooden puppet longing to be a real boy as a remarkable concept, bursting with imaginative opportunities for his artists to push their talents to soaring new heights.  Far from a simple undertaking, Kaufman presents the early origins of Disney and his staff hammering out story details, many of which omitted from its final presentation, that took liberties from its source material to capture a scaled down adaptation without sacrificing the Disney standard.  Culled from interviews and recorded internal conferences with Disney veterans including, Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas, T. Hee and of course, Walt Disney, Kaufman’s painstaking fieldwork provides an expert documentation of the struggles and artistic triumphs the Disney studio encountered on their journeys.

    Collecting over 200 pieces of art ranging from the film’s gorgeous background paintings and other never before seen gems, Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic visually demonstrates the film’s perfectionist style, revolutionary effect techniques and refinements of existing innovations including the multiplane camera crane that preserves its timeless majesty.  From its earliest developments through its rigorous animation process, Kaufman provides added insight into the film’s Academy Award winning music, its vocal performers and promotional campaign.  In addition, although regarded as a classic and landmark achievement in Disney’s history, Kaufman also shares the troublesome release of the film that was critically praised but, stunted at the box-office due to the arrival of World War II closing film distribution in countless European territories for many years.  Through its magical years of creation to its premiere at Rockefeller Center’s Center Theatre and WWII’s ominous cloud darkening its full potential, Pinocchio, with assistance from countless rereleases and such, has endured, capturing the hearts and imaginations of audiences young and old since 1940.  

    75 impressive years later, Disney’s Pinocchio arguably stands as the studio’s finest artistic achievement where rich storytelling and skilled artistry came together in perfect harmony.  Unquestionably considered one of animation’s most inspiring feats, J.B. Kaufman’s fascinating achievement provides the definitive statement on Pinocchio’s treasured history.  With a foreword by Academy Award winner John Canemaker and a special final chapter by noted professor Russell Merritt, Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic is the result of wishing upon a star and receiving one of the most exceptional celebrations of an animated classic.

    Available now from The Walt Disney Family Foundation Press, Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic can be purchased via Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and other fine retailers.