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|Kevin Krock, editor|
I have always been a big fan of Disney history and animation, and I especially enjoy learning about the early days of the studio, when artists were first developing the art of animation. Two of the most influential artists in the history of Disney animation are Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, members of Walt's Nine Old Men, life-long friends, neighbors, and the subjects of this movie. This fascinating and heartwarming look at their friendship, lives, influences, inspirations, and interactions with Walt provides a unique snapshot behind the strong forces that shaped the face of animation.
This simple and entertaining movie follows the careers and lives of these two remarkable artists, from the day they met through their days at the Studios after the death of Walt, to their lasting influence on current Disney animators. Throughout the movie, we are treated to their unique recollections, humorous stories, and glimpses into their personal lives. It is just one of those quiet documentary movies that you need to see to fully appreciate, and if you are at all interested in Disney animation history but have not seen this movie, make an effort to, and you will be glad you did.
I will say, though, that this movie does not play very well with toddlers and young children, as they only get brief glimpses of their favorite, classic animated characters and instead get a lot of talking heads. Another quick point to keep in mind is that the PG rating is primarily due to a nude sketch that appears on screen for a few seconds fairly early in the movie. While I was fascinated with the movie, my two young boys quickly grew bored of the segments I showed them, and they just wanted to watch the bonus material of Ollie riding his trains, over and over. So when you pick this one up, save it for after your children go to bed, or you will probably be pestered to no end by your little ones.
For a single disc special edition, you get a pretty darn good selection of bonus material. This disc features more than 70 minutes of bonus footage including home movies, Disney outtakes, rare footage, storyboards, pencil sketches, character studies and more. Here are a few of my favorites:
Making The Movie
It is amazing to me to watch these two old friends go back and forth like they do behind the scenes of this movie. While the movie does a great job at presenting these two characters, it is even more fun to see them in all of these off-camera shots relaxing and having fun. Even though it only lasts about eight minutes, it is a treat. To top it off, you also get to see some great old home movie footage from Frank.
This section touches on a wonderfully diverse variety of Frank and Ollie's body of work, and it provides a unique glimpse into how these two artists worked. Besides the interesting but short interview segment with Frank, the segments with Andreas Deja and Glen Keane provide a great perspective on how Frank an Ollie impacted modern animation. In a fairly even split, Deja focuses on Frank, and Keane discusses Ollie.
In addition to those two cool little sections, there is about 12 minutes worth of video addressing the evolution of the Pirate's Cave scene from The Rescuers. Included in this section are an early story reel featuring animation from fellow Disney animation legend Milt Kahl, a discussion with Frank and Ollie about the development of the scene and their storyboarded changes, and a later story reel of the scene with pencil animation. It is not terribly long, but it provides a good sense of how these two could take a pretty good scene and make it great.
Gems from the Outtakes
Rather than outtakes meaning flubs and mistakes, this sections includes a few video tidbits from the movie that were cut because they just did not fit in anywhere. There is a neat clip of Glen Kean talking about his experiences with working with Ollie and how it felt to learn from a master animator, and along a similar line, Frank talks about some of the advice imparted to him by Fred Moore, another Disney animation legend. Also, Walt was not known to compliment his staff very often, but there is a clip of both Frank and Ollie talking about what it was like to get a compliment from Walt. Finally, there is short section of Frank talking about acting, its role in animation, and the future of animation
Ollie and His Trains
My boys and I love trains, and it is a wonderfully unique opportunity to see video featuring Ollie and his trains. Besides Walt and Ward Kimball, Ollie was another of the Studio's live steamer aficionados who built their own fully functioning steam-powered model railroads, and this section features video of Ollie on his inch-scale backyard and narrow-gauge railroads. It would be really cool if Michael Broggie, author of the wonderful book Walt Disney's Railroad Story, could work on a historical compilation DVD of Disney-related railroading footage to supplement his book, and I know I would snap it up in a second.
Frank and the Firehouse Five Plus Two
Not only were the Disney animators amazing artists, but many were also very musically inclined. Frank Thomas was one of those animators, and he and six other Disney Studio artist/musicians, including Ward Kimball, put together a wonderful jazz group called Firehouse Five Plus Two. While they initially started playing around the Studio at lunch, their exposure increased over the years as they began performing at Studio functions and Disneyland, recording albums, and appearing on national television. The music by itself is quite enjoyable, but watching video footage and seeing these familiar animators performing outside of the arena most of us equate them with is pretty fun.
This section includes a couple of items that are a treat to have on DVD. First, there is a very short three-minute featurette on the story of the band, and it also includes some rare color film footage of the band members performing. The second item is a four-minute segment of the band performing on Jazz Scene USA in 1962. Both of these featurettes perfectly highlight the range and depth of talent that Disney had at his disposal.
All of this bonus stuff is really neat for those of us looking to learn and see a bit more about these icons of animation. Additionally, this material is the perfect compliment to the main feature of the disc.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
This movie is relatively old, and I was not expecting much from either the video or audio transfers. However, the anamorphic widescreen video transfer looks quite nice, with solid colors, good detail, and no visibly distracting digital compression artifacts. Additionally, the print they used for the transfer was pretty clean, as grain is relatively minimal and dust and scratches are few and far between.
Since this is a documentary, the audio is mostly limited to dialogue, so even though this is a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack, most of the audio is pretty monaural. It is clear and easy to understand, and it will work perfectly fine on any home theater.
As for the interface, it is one of my personal favorites. No commercials to skip. Fantastic animated menus featuring flip-book-like transitions and sketch-type dissolves. Just about every menu has some musical accompaniment, and the hierarchy is simple and easy to navigate.
The Final Evaluation
For any Disney animation fan or amateur animation historian, this disc is a must have, especially if you only have the old videotape. The movie is wonderfully charming, and its presentation is very nice. On top of that, there is a pretty decent amount of bonus material for a single disc special edition, and it is sure to fascinate. Just be aware that young children may not find the talking heads and brief animation clips quite as interesting as you and I might.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Kevin here.
Making The Movie (8 min)
The Early Days
Gems From The Outtakes (10 min)
Ollie And His Trains
Frank And The Firehouse Five Plus Two
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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