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DVD REVIEW: The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis - The Complete Series
Blog, TV
Posted on Feb 12 2014 by Greg


What’s better for a Valentine’s Day treat than the classic series about a guy who hasn’t met a girl he doesn’t love? Dobie Gillis falls madly in love in almost every episode of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a landmark CBS sitcom based on the famous short stories by Max Shulman.


In addition to being girl-crazy, the Dobie as depicted in the stories was also a hapless and mildly sneaky young man who was a teen, college student or whatever Shulman wanted him to be at a given time. The Dobie stories was also adapted into a splashy MGM movie that often runs on TCM.


The series took the stories and expanded them into TV’s first teen-focused prime time comedy, starring Dwayne Hickman, fresh from playing a similar role on The Bob Cummings Show. What made the TV show extra-special was the flexibility of its format and its remarkably talented, revolving cast, particularly Bob Denver as Maynard G. Krebs, Sheila James as Zelda Gilroy and Frank Faylen as Dobie’s dad.


Even though show left the series, Tuesday Weld made a few appearances in later shows, but for the most part she was replaced by a succession of young ladies who had some of her attributes but lacked her quirky charm; they were mostly one-note females of the late ‘50s/early ‘60s. They were certainly not shining examples of today’s social mores.


Neither for that matter was Dobie, who tried to pick up young ladies with some pretty cringe-worthy lines, most frequently calling them “my great tawny animal.” Even the girls in the series generally find his lines more than smarmy.


Hickman clearly soaked up his youthful show business experiences like a sponge. His performance, as he has himself noted, veers between Bob Cummings and Jack Benny and it makes him a superb straight man. The episodes in which he is not the sole protagonist are the ones that hold up best.


Bob Denver created two pop culture icons with Maynard and Gilligan. They are similar but not identical. Denver is better than he gets credit for. Maynard is more introspective, witty and ironic than Gilligan. Both Maynard and Gilligan are like innocent children, both chatter incessantly, but Maynard is about 14 years old inside while Gilligan is about 9. Like Jughead in the Archie comics, Maynard doesn’t mind girls as friends but would rather not get involved in a relationship that would tamper with his precious weirdness.


The language of the Dobie Gillis show is legendary, from Maynard’s squeal of “WORK!” beginning in season one to the movie that seems to be playing at the theater for five years, The Monster That Devoured Cleveland. The characters names are almost Seussian.


As Dobie’s dad, Faylen is a crusty but benign owner of a small grocery store filled with quaint, low 1960's prices. Like Archie Bunker, he often mentions his WWII service (including a good conduct medal). Florida Friebus, as Dobie's mom, gets little to do for the series run except for a few second season episodes. It's a shame because she was a stage veteran (she co-wrote a Broadway version of Alice in Wonderland with Eva LaGallienne) and of course, was the lady who knitted on The Bob Newhart show.


The character I would have liked to see more of was Zelda Gilroy, the determined pursuer of Dobie. Zelda is constantly proven to be capable of a lot more than Dobie, perhaps an early comment on the limited choices women had over 50 years ago. She could be Dobie’s booster but seemed not allowed to boost herself – at least until she became a recording star (which was never followed through).


Fans of the show know that the real life Sheila James Kuhl became a highly respected State Senator. It would have been interesting to see how the fictional Zelda and Thalia in particular might have changed with the times as the ‘60s progressed.


As you enjoy each season, look for familiar faces. William Schallert, also known to TV buffs as Patty Duke’s TV dad, plays Professor Pomfret. When the characters enter college, their new professor is Dr. Burkhart, is played by Duke’s TV mom, Jean Byron, who gets far more to do on the Dobie show than on the Duke one.


Also popping up in episodes are Ryan O’Neal, Marlo Thomas, Steve Franken, Mel Blanc, Verna Felton and even silent film star H.B. Warner.

Special mention is due to great studio singer Gloria Wood, who provides the vocal jazz scats used in the early theme songs and as incidental music. Wood was a member of the famed Modernaires, sang on the Bing Crosby Show, made the hit record of “The Woody Woodpecker Song” with Kay Kyser, voiced numerous cartoons and cut records for Disney. Maynard casually drops Wood's name in the episode “The Big Question.”


The format of the show changed itself frequently to avoid becoming stale. Dobie and Maynard would occasionally appear as recruits in the reserves. Occasionally, the show would delve into fantasy in the Disney wacky comedy vein. Somehow it worked and the clever wordplay was the hallmark.



Extras abound on the complete set, some thanks to Stu Shostak of stusshow.com, where you can download several hours of audio programming featuring Dobie cast interviews not available anywhere else. The neatest extra to me was a Coca-Cola music special in which Hickman and Denver introduce Annette (even though we don’t get to see her).








Floyd Norman Talks Jungle Book, Hanna-Barbera and "The Old Mousetro"
Blog, Movies, People
Posted on Feb 09 2014 by Greg


With the arrival of Walt Disney’s 1967 animated hit The Jungle Book, there’s been a lot of attention to Disney Legend Floyd Norman, and rightly so. He worked for the studio at a point when it was changing in size, focus and its approach to animation. His career at Disney, as well as at other studios, including Hanna-Barbera, happened as tectonic shifts were occurring in entertainment as well as in the country.


Floyd also has no problem speaking from the heart. His opinions and his love for his craft, especially as it flourished at Disney, is matter-of-fact. And he has had reveled in affectionate but barbed satire of his workplaces through the insider gag sketches that have become legends in themselves. From Walt to Bill and Joe to Michael and Jeffrey, check out his cartoon collections and enjoy the ride.


With all this in mind, the challenge of an interview with Floyd is figuring out where to start and trying to avoid the same old, same old. But you can’t blame a guy for trying.


GREG: First of all, I have to tell you how much I enjoyed your book, The Animated Life. And what I loved about it was how you were up front with the pros and cons of the business, but always in a way that didn’t diss anyone. It’s the kind of book I would want to write someday, even though my career can’t get near the same chart as yours.


FLOYD:  Thank you. I really wanted to bring readers into those days, to know what it was like when I worked in the Walt days, and what I have learned about animation.


GREG: I also want to thank you for the eloquent and knowledgeable way you have addressed recent public character attacks on the man you call “the Old Mousetro.”


FLOYD: Thanks again. I said what I thought needed to be said, and it was all true. I was there.


GREG: You were at the Walt Disney Studios during what might be called a sea change in its approach to animation. Sleeping Beauty was the classic fairy tale done on a grand scale, but its box office results made it necessary to look at animation in a very different way.


FLOYD: Well, the  had changed a lot. We had to make features with a lot less money, but still retain the quality people expected. I think we succeeded in a lot of ways, particularly with the strength of the story and the characters. The budget didn’t matter to the audience and they still loved the work we did.


GREG: Even though it’s not a very equivalent comparison, you also experienced a similar turning point during your Hanna-Barbera days. As the studio grew, the cartoons were done, as you’ve said, “Faster, cheaper!”


FLOYD: Yes, and some of the things I worked on were fine, while some weren’t very good.


GREG: But you know, it didn’t matter to us kids watching on Saturday morning. I liked Captain Caveman and a lot of the other shows. Still do.


FLOYD: (laughs)


GREG: No, really! If you take into account the speed you all were working at, it’s a wonder that those shows are even coherent.


FLOYD: That’s because there were some of the best artists working at Hanna-Barbera. It was amazing what they could do.


GREG: But working on The Jungle Book must have been incredible.


FLOYD: I came into it later in the production. There had been changes along the way.


GREG: Is it true that there was originally only one Kaa scene?



FLOYD: Yes. And Walt really liked it so he asked for a second one. Dick and Bob Sherman wrote that great song for it.


GREG: What do you think of the Blu-ray?


FLOYD: I think it looks great. They did a great job on it.


GREG: When I was a kid, my brother and I called the ‘60s Disney cartoons “the ones with the scritchy lines.” We didn’t know what the Xerox process was, and frankly we liked the smoother lines better in the other features. Didn’t Walt hate the scritchy lines?


FLOYD: At first, he didn’t like them, when he saw the look of 101 Dalmatians. But it didn’t bother him later.


GREG: When you watch The Jungle Book now, do you recognize the precise moments of your work?


FLOYD: I recognize every one, every time. I’m grateful for being part of it.








Blu-ray REVIEW: The Jungle Book Diamond Edition
Blog, Reviews, Movies
Posted on Feb 08 2014 by Greg


The last animated film completely supervised by Walt Disney, The Jungle Book is a very comedic spin on the Rudyard Kipling. It's not so much that the book was spoofed, but the bare bones of the story were transformed into a lighthearted, character-driven romp.


But it works. The Jungle Book became a smash in its first release and in reissues. The soundtrack album went gold. Somehow taking an atmospheric jungle adventure and adding Phil Harris, Louis Prima and a swingin' jazz attitude resounds with audiences to this day.


What might have been a loose collection of set pieces carefully tie together with the continual introduction of engaging characters that hold interest in a way that is remarkable for such an episodic film. The Disney story department, among them Disney Legend Floyd Norman and Bing Crosby radio comedy writer Larry Clemmons, never allow the proceedings to lag, much as a Pixar film does the same thing.


Most of the songs are by the great Sherman Brothers, including the iconic "I Wan'na Be Like You" and the unforgettable "Trussst in Me," though the Oscar-nominated "Bare Necessities" was written for an earlier draft of the film by Terry Gilkyson (who also wrote and sung the hit, "Marianne").


Richard Sherman and his brother Robert were continually greeted by fans who assumed they had written "Necessities," to the extent that in the introduction created for the Blu-ray, Richard Sherman's appearance is underscored by the incorrect song, rather than perhaps "My Own Home."



If you have the DVD from 2007, you may want to hold on to it, not just because the bonus features are not all on the new DVD but only on the Blu-ray (see below), but also because there are several that did remain exclusive to the 2007 DVD, including the deleted songs.


2014 Diamond Edition Blu-ray-Only Bonus Features

2014 Only:
• Introductions by Diane Disney Miller & Richard M. Sherman
• Music, Memories and Mowgli: A Conversation with Richard M. Sherman, Diane Disney Miller and Floyd Norman
• Alternate Ending: Mowgli and the Hunter
• I Wan’na Be Like You: Hangin’ Out at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
• Bear-E-Oke Sing-Along
• Disney Animation: Sparkling Creativity

From 2007:
• Audio Commentary
• Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund
• Deleted Scene: Lost Character – Rocky the Rhino
• “I Wan’na Be Like You” Music Video – Jonas Brothers
• Disney Song Selection
• The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book
• Disney’s Kipling: Walt Magic Touch on a Literary Classic
• The Lure of The Jungle Book
• Mowgli’s Return to the Wild
• Frank & Ollie: Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston Discuss Character Animation
• Baloo’s Virtual Swingin’ Jungle Cruise
• Disneypedia: Junglemania!
• The Jungle Book Fun With Language Game

2014 Diamond Edition DVD & Blu-ray Bonus Features

• Deleted Scene: Lost Character – Rocky the Rhino
• Disneypedia: Junglemania!

2007 Platinum Edition DVD Bonus Features

2007 Only:
• Seven Deleted Songs
• Art Galleries
• Baloo’s Virtual Swingin’ Jungle Cruise
• The Jungle Book Fun With Language Game

Carried over to 2014 Edition:
• Audio Commentary
• Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund
• Deleted Scene: Lost Character – Rocky the Rhino
• “I Wan’na Be Like You” Music Video – Jonas Brothers
• Disney Song Selection
• The Bare Necessities: The Making of The Jungle Book
• Disney’s Kipling: Walt Magic Touch on a Literary Classic
• The Lure of The Jungle Book
• Mowgli’s Return to the Wild
• Frank & Ollie: Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston Discuss Character Animation
• Disneypedia: Junglemania!








BOOK REVIEW: "The Spongbob Squarepants Experience"
Blog, TV, Books
Posted on Feb 05 2014 by Greg


To my knowledge, this is the first “serious” book on Spongebob, in the sense that the cartoon is being treated as a considerable work of modern culture. Hopefully it won’t be the last.

 

For gift giving, the timing couldn’t be better—a high-end coffee table treatment of the world’s most popular cartoon sponge. The book is nestled cleverly in a semi-transparent slipcase and really lights up a room. Visually, the book is a treasure for Spongebob fans, especially the older ones (a small child would tear out the little storyboards; a Little Golden Book would do just fine).

 

With the book’s Hendrix-like moniker, The Spongbob Squarepants Experience, rather than “Happy Birthday” or “15 Years,” the book has to cut a wide swath beyond congratulation and commemoration. It does do that and much more.

 

Like an “Art Of” book, it’s loaded with spectacular color reproductions and vibrant sketches. Like a “Treasury” book it has lots of stuff to open, unfold and otherwise marvel upon. Among the tchotchkes are a comic book, storyboards and gag sketches. When you see the work and artistry behind Spongebob Squarebob as a massive body of work, it transcends its well-earned “funny cartoon” reputation and is seen as a huge effort by eminently talented animators, background painters, layout people and voice artists (who all get a profile as each character is discussed).

 

It’s rare today to find an all-around cartoon property like Spongebob, who isn’t as seen largely as a sitcom, “adult” cartoon or kid’s show, that is standing the test of time. Spongebob and his fellow characters have the flexibility, potential and staying power of Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. It’s about time it is recognized in this way

 

Jerry Beck’s text acknowledges the history and impact of Spongebob and his friends on the world over the last fifteen years. It is not simply “decoration” in a pretty book, but of course Jerry’s copy could never be that, even in its most abbreviated form (I love that little Flintstones book). To keep things interesting, the pages have sidebars and running categories like and “favorite lines” and whimsical “little known facts.”

 

Like Oliver Twist, I want some more. Do another one, Jerry.








Arthur Rankin: "He's gone! Oh, he's gone!"
Blog, TV, People, Music
Posted on Feb 01 2014 by Greg


That's what Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer said when he thought he lost Yukon Cornelius. But Bumbles bounced and Yukon survived. Sadly, mega-producer/director/writer Arthur Rankin Jr. did not -- he passed away Thursday at his Bermuda home.


Rankin is major to television as the lead visionary behind TV specials that only grow in popularity and iconic stature as one generation passes them along to the next one. Rankin's contributions to feature films are less known, but he spearheaded a number of films, of which "Mad Monster Party" has become a beloved classic that inspired everyone from Tim Burton to John Lasseter.



The multi-award winning Rankin/Bass version of "The Hobbit" was the first filmed adaptation to be released, almost four decades before Peter Jackson brought it to the big screen.



He also sustained the TV musical, particularly with creative partner Jules Bass and musical director Maury Laws. When musical specials were long gone, Rankin/Bass continued them in animated form much like Disney has done in theatrical films, with original songs such as "Holly Jolly Christmas" and "The Heat Miser/Snow Miser Song" becoming perennial holiday hits. (You can even see how the Rankin/Bass look influenced today's biggest box office hits.)



It must be noted that neither Rankin/Bass nor Arthur Rankin ever received an Emmy Award, despite the fact that their work has proven to be some of the most solid entertainment the small screen has ever seen. There was only one nomination for "The Little Drummer Boy Book II." A posthumous Lifetime Achivement Award is certainly due. 



To paraphrase what Santa said to little Karen when she lost her friend, Frosty the Snowman, “You see, he was made of Christmas specials. And Christmas specials will never disappear completely. Oh, his name may disappear for months at a time, and take the form of springtime specials or 'Mad Monster Party,' but when a good December season comes along, he’ll be with us through his Christmas specials all over again.”


To learn more about Rankin/Bass, the ultimate authority is author Rick Goldschmidt, who has published several best sellers about Rankin/Bass. Visit Rick on Facebook or at rankinbass.com.










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