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Posts Tagged ‘Walt Disney’

Lost Walt Disney / Ub Iwerks Cartoon Found

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

A print of the silent cartoon Sleigh Bells – long thought lost – has been found at the BFI Archive in London.

As The British Film Institute notes on their website, “The BFI National Archive and Walt Disney Animation Studios are pleased to announce the rediscovery of a rare, long-lost, Walt Disney animated film, Sleigh Bells (1928) featuring the first ever Disney character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a long-eared precursor to Mickey Mouse.

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was invented by Walt Disney in 1927 and was loved for his mischievous and rebellious personality. A number of other films do survive but Sleigh Bells has been, until now, a lost film, unseen since its original release. The animation in the film was accomplished by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, both of whom went on to create the character of Mickey Mouse, following a contractual disagreement with Universal Pictures, for whom they had created the Oswald films.

The print of Sleigh Bells (1928) was preserved in the collections of the BFI National Archive. The exciting rediscovery was made by a researcher browsing the online catalogue of the BFI National Archive’s holdings. Walt Disney Animation Studios have taken this unique surviving film print and created both a new preservation print and digital copies. The film has a running time of approximately six minutes.”

It’s not surprising to me that the film turned up in the BFI Archives; they’ve been way ahead of the United States since the 1940s in cataloguing and preserving classic films from all over the world, when the Hollywood studios themselves did little to preserve the treasures of the past. But now you can see this bit of history for yourself, thanks to an archive that really cares about the history of the cinema. Hats off the to the BFI!

Click here, or on the image above, to see a clip from Sleigh Bells.

Philip Glass’s New Opera: The Perfect American

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Click here, or on the image above, to see a clip from Philip Glass’s new opera, The Perfect American.

As Seth Colter Walls reports in the Browbeat section of Slate, “for the next 83 days, will be presenting a TV-quality broadcast of the recent Italian premiere of a new opera by Philip Glass. Titled The Perfect American—and adapted from Peter Stephen Jungk’s novel of the same name—it’s a tale of Walt Disney’s last days, in which the media titan slips in and out of what we might call empirical reality.

In it, Walt Disney, while supervising the team that is building one of the Animatronic American Personages that have become part of his parks’ public lore, gets into a debate with his Robot Lincoln—about the scope of Honest Abe’s liberalism, and whether it properly extends to Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington and the bearded hippie set.

The schism between the robot and Disney’s technicians stems from the surprising fact that the animatronic Lincoln seems to have a mind of his own. And so the developer team brings Lincoln to Disney, who tries to convince the robotic president that they both belong to the same class of Iconic American. (‘We’re folk heroes, Mr. President. But we have enemies …’)

Not getting quite the response he wants, Disney tries another tack, by asking (among other things): ‘Martin Luther King, Eldridge Cleaver, is that what you wanted? Doesn’t that go too far even for you, Mr. President? The black people’s march in Washington; would you really agree with that?’”

As the liner notes for the world premiere of the opera at the Teatro Real de Madrid add, “The Perfect American is a fictionalized biography of Walt Disney’s final months. We discover Walt’s delusions of immortality via cryogenic preservation, his tirades alongside his Abraham Lincoln talking robot, his utopian visions and his backyard labyrinth of toy trains.

Yet, if at first Walt seems to have a magic wand granting him all his wishes, we soon discover that he is as tortured as the man who crosses his story, Wilhelm Dantine, a cartoonist who worked for him, illustrating sequences for [the film] Sleeping Beauty. Dantine is fascinated by the childlike omnipotence of a man who identifies with Mickey Mouse, and desperately seeks Disney’s recognition at the risk of his own ruin.

Walt’s wife Lillian, his confidante and perhaps mistress Hazel, his brother Roy, his children Diane and Sharon, his close and ill-treated collaborators, and famous figures such as Andy Warhol, all contribute to the opera’s animation, its feel for the life of the Disney world.”

Typically brilliant stuff from Philip Glass, who has a long tradition of composing some of the late 20th and early 21st century’s most engaging and innovative music. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this remarkable, original, and compelling piece of work.

Click here, or on the image above, to see the entire opera The Perfect American.

Flip The Frog

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Flip the Frog was one of the most original cartoon characters of the 1930s.

Ub Iwerks, the creator of Flip the Frog, started with Walt Disney and animated the first several Mickey Mouse cartoons; then he split off on his own and created Flip the Frog, one of the most memorable of all 1930s cartoon characters. When Flip failed to catch on with the public — he was simply too far ahead of his time — Iwerks eventually rejoined the Disney organization, doing special effects work on Disney animated features and cartoons, and also creating the special effects for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).

In addition, Iwerks pioneered the use of the Xerox process to transfer line drawings on paper to clear plastic cels for animation, thus eliminating the “inking” process in classical animation; the results can be seen in such films as One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961). Iwerks won two Academy Awards for his work.

As Steve Hulett wrote, “Ub Iwerks was Walt’s strong right arm in the 1920s. He was a designer and work-horse animator on the early Disney shorts, considered so valuable that he was a 20% owner of the studio. But the 20% ownership ended when Iwerks departed Walt Disney Productions after a falling out with the majority owner. Bankrolled by movie mogul Pat Powers, Iwerks developed the frog character above, but within a few years flamed out as an animation kingpin and returned to Disney’s.” It’s too bad. Flip is, to my mind at least, much more interesting, and more varied, than Mickey Mouse.

Here’s Flip in Spooks, from 1932

Mary Blair, Pioneering Animator and Designer

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Mary Blair at the Walt Disney Studio in 1941; click on the image above for a brief video biography.

Today, October 21, 2011, on what would have been her 100th birthday, Google honors the work of the pioneering animation artist Mary Blair, born Mary Robinson, who started her career with animator Ub Iwerks, moved on to MGM, and then finally found her true home with the Walt Disney company, where she created her most influential and memorable work.

As Barry Neild reports in The Guardian, “Blair, who was born in Oklahoma on 21 October 1911, was best known for the artwork she contributed to animations including Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Cinderella. She also illustrated a number of children’s books. Blair’s colorful, childlike images – vaguely reminiscent of the cubist movement – are credited with bringing modern art into popular animation and influencing a generation of illustrators.

Walt Disney was so taken with her designs that he recruited her to work on It’s A Small World, an attraction that debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and has since been recreated in all of Disney’s theme parks. Other commissions for Blair, who died in 1978, include giant murals at Disneyland and Disney World.”

Blair is one of the key innovators in animation history, and deserves more recognition than she’s gotten in the past. It’s nice to see her getting a global nod for her many contributions to the art of animation, design, and illustration.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at or

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