DVD REVIEW: Witch's Night Out
Blog, Reviews, TV, People
Posted on Oct 14 2014 by Greg
Gilda Radner voices a bizarre, eccentric old witch in this Canadian production that aired in on NBC in 1978 and later in syndication.

If you're familiar with the artist-driven, independent-style animated films of SESAME STREET, this is a nostalgic throwback to the kind of free-form cartoon style prevalent in the '70s. The characters are usually painted in one color (kind of like Colorforms kits), in a wide range of imaginative countenances.

I seem to remember at least one other special from Leach/Rankin Productions, with some of the same designs and character names (how could I forget Bazooey?). The "Rankin" in this case is not Arthur Rankin of iconic holiday special company Rankin/Bass, but animator Isobel Jean Rankin, who co-wrote the film with partner John Leach.



Mill Creek also included a video comic book version of the story plus a handful of Halloween-themed cartoons to round out the package:

Casper the Friendly Ghost:
• There's Good Boos To-Night 12/23/48
• The Friendly Ghost (Casper's Debut) 11/16/45
• Boo Moon (Originally in 3-D) 12/1/54

Felix the Cat (Original Theatrical Version)
• Skulls & Sculls (1930)

Hoppity Hooper / Uncle Waldo Show (Jay Ward)
• Ring a Ding Spring (9/12/64)

Space Angel (Synchro-Vox TV Series)
• The Ghost & Crystal Mace (All Five Parts / 1964)

Popeye
• Spooky Swabs 8/9/57

The New Three Stooges (Cartoon with Live Action Segments)
• Mummies Boys (1965)

Walter Lantz's Meany, Miny & Moe
• House of Magic 3/8/37





DVD Review: Lucille Ball: First Lady of Comedy
Blog, Reviews, Movies, TV, People
Posted on Oct 09 2014 by Greg


Who doesn't love Lucy, or just needs use a laugh? How about just an "I can't believe what I'm watching" reaction as you watch?

The four Lucille Ball feature films in this 2-disc Mill Creek set run the gamut of pretty good, kind of weird, so-bad-it's-delightful and best of the bunch. All four are nicely restored, so if you've been trying to find decent copies of them on various budget DVDs, you'll have them here.

THE MAGIC CARPET (1951)
Co-starring John Agar and Patricia Medina


This infamous so-bad-it's-delightful "sort of color, sort of spectacular" adventure/fantasy/comedy is notable for several reasons. Check out this history from everythinglucy.com:

"Hoping to force Lucille Ball into breaking her contract, Columbia Pictures chieftain Harry Cohn assigned her to the low-budget Arabian Nights escapade The Magic Carpet. Much to Cohn's amazement, the plucky Ball agreed to appear in the film, forcing Columbia to pay her salary until her option ran out. While Lucille Ball is quite attractive in her harem duds, the viewer cannot help but notice that her bare midriff is often obscured by props and furniture; that's because she was pregnant with her daughter Lucie Arnaz during the filming of The Magic Carpet."



The Magic Carpet
also co-stars (and what old movie did NOT co-star?) George Tobias and the comic relief sidekick--and Raymond Burr as the scheming villain. Imagine Abner Kravitz and Perry Mason in the The Arabian Nights and there's even more to chortle about.

HER HUSBAND'S AFFAIRS (1947)
Co-starring Franchot Tone


A lower-echelon Adam's Rib crossed with a kind of weird Son of Flubber, Her Husband's Affairs is not about infidelity, but about a wife who is (GASP!) more talented and savvy than her pompous, egomaniacal husband. Those who cringe at the pre-feminist aspects of films of a long ago mindset might want to skip Franchot Tone's insufferable whining and fuming about how Lucille Ball bails him out time after time. To be positive, it might be interpreted as a statement about how women should have been treated and were not.



Anyway, it goes from a husband-and-wife conflict story to a very odd fantasy sitcom about wacky inventions and their consequences. Ball is fine as ever, but Tone is probably miscast because his overall disaffected, cool style makes his character unlikable, while a more genial actor might have pulled off the role of this dolt at least a little better.

MISS GRANT TAKES RICHMOND (1949)
Co-Starring William Holden


Ball and Holden play masterfully against each other in this pretty good, Damon Runyonesque tale of "a lovable bunch of bookies and their dashing leader who would reform if only the right woman could change him."



Lovers of I Love Lucy can revel in the comparisons between Holden and Ball in this film and Holden and Lucy Ricardo in the famous "nose-lighting" episode of the classic series. What makes this extra special for classic TV fans is the appearance of Gloria Henry--Dennis the Menace's mom--as one of the young postwar newlyweds. She looks a little different, but there is no mistaking that lovely voice.

THE FULLER BRUSH GIRL (1950)
Co-Starring Eddie Albert


Like Miss Grant Takes Richmond, this is one of the most widely played of Ball's film comedies. Of all four in this set, it's the best of the bunch for its snappy pace, beautifully timed slapstick, engaging story and the chemistry between Ball and Arnold, who play the postwar couple this time around.

If you watch this with young people, you might have to start by explaining that Fuller Brush people were like Avon or Mary Kay sales people who went door-to-door with household gadgets or, in this case, beauty products. Ball and Anold's characters are as hapless as can be and you can see each successive catastrophe mounting a mile away, but that's part of the fun and part of the filmmaker's craft.

It was also scripted by Looney Tunes director turned Hollywood movie director Frank Tashlin, so like his Jerry Lewis hits, the action is very cartoony and was very likely storyboarded in the same way as animation.



Only one year away from becoming Lucy Ricardo, The Fuller Brush Girl is a prelude to I Love Lucy for Lucille Ball as well for her fans. You can imagine see how Ethel, Fred and Ricky might have reacted to all the zany hijinks.








BOOK REVIEWS: Over There & Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man
Blog, Reviews, Movies, People, Books
Posted on Sep 23 2014 by Greg


A new Disney Press series and a much-anticipated celebration of a Disney giant are on the way to bookshelves.

 

The new series allows the artists of Pixar and Disney to stretch beyond animation and express their creative visions through picture book art and text. The first was No Slurping, No Burping by Lorelay Bove (who worked on Wreck It Ralph, Winnie the Pooh the upcoming Big Hero 6, and is the first designer to create new artwork for Walt Disney Records’ Legacy Collection CD albums.

  

For the second book in the series, Pixar Production Designer created Over There, a gentle children’s fable about a wistful little shrew named Shredder. This simple story, carefully laid out on each page spread, takes Shredder on a small quest to find one thing and somehow finding another.



 

With the quiet power of its peaceful forest settings and snuggly places for the characters to nestle, this is just the sort of story for bedtime, rainy days or those times when things just need to settle down. My kids are in their teens, but they still occasionally yearn for the comfort of story time. Pilcher himself takes part in readings of his book to groups of youngsters in public storytime events.

 

The story is very cute (not in a treacly way), but the artwork is over the top great, reminiscent of the classic Big Golden Books illustrated by such Disney artists as Al Dempster and Gustav Tenggren. It’s a grand tradition that will hopefully continue with further releases.



 Marc Davis with the voice of Sleeping Beauty, Mary Costa.


The other new Disney Press release shines a well-deserved light on Disney Legend Marc Davis’ career, which goes all the way back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He animated Alice, Tinker Bell, Cinderella, Maleficent and Cruella DeVil. He designed characters for Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise and the fondly remembered America Sings attractions. He was an accomplished painter and a caring, unforgettable teacher.

 

Marc dreamed up enough major works to fill several lifetimes. Yet he was definitely not one of those “look at me, I’m so great, blah, blah, blah” kind of people. He was devoted to his wife, Alice (also a Disney Legend as a major contributor to Disney history as costume designer for many attractions), dedicated to Disney art and imagination, and, across the board, remembered as a genial, unassuming fellow.

 

His admirers include some of the most accomplished individuals in the art and entertainment industry, who along with many of us, were waiting a long time for such a magnificent book as Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man to come along. This book is their opportunity to reminisce about Marc for us, and our opportunity to look for hours at each and every vivid image in this new book—many of which seem to jump off the page.

 

Imagineering and Disney Legend Marty Sklar expresses his awe at Marc’s work for Disney Parks. Peter Docter, Oscar-winning director of Disney•Pixar’s Up and Monsters, Inc. presents an extensive portfolio of Marc’s concept art and pencil drawings. Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King producer Don Hahn elaborates on Marc’s fine art. Veteran Disney animator and historian Andreas Deja takes us on a tour of Marc’s animal studies. Glen Keane, acclaimed animator of Ariel, the Beast, Tarzan, Rapunzel, Aladdin and others, guides us through Marc’s vast collection of sketchbooks.

 

And there’s so much more. Walt Disney Family Museum Creative Consultant and historian Paula Sigman-Lowery explains Marc’s fascination with the art and people of New Guinea. Author/filmmaker Mindy Johnson helps us get acquainted with the wondrous Alice Davis. Renowned animation historian and critic Charles Solomon presents a look at the unproduced animated feature, Chanticleer. Award-winning animation director Bob Kurtz recalls Marc’s skill as a teacher. There are even selections from Marc’s unpublished book on how humans and animals move (Parents’ alert: some tasteful nudes in this section.)


 

Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man is already on sale at select Disney Parks shops and through Merchandise Guest Services at 1-877-560-6477). It goes on sale nationwide October 7. Steve Pilcher’s Over There is available now.






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