Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Disney Docs

So this past weekend, I watched the latest in what I call "Disney Documentaries." They are docs about the people who produced the world's best loved movies. The topics range from music, artists, the (almost) lost art of hand-drawn animation, and Disney artists abroad during WWII. There have been several produced by Disney itself. This gives an easy ability to show clips, original artwork, and music. However, the movies do seem a little santized. There is no real criticism, outside of shifting loyalties to different projects.

Frank and Ollie
Release Date: 1995
Production Company: Buena Vista Pictures
Director: Theodore Thomas
Run time: 89 minutes
Seen on: Netflix DVD
Recommended: Highly, especially if you a fan of the Disney movies
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88%

Frank and Ollie was the latest "Disney Doc" I saw. It tells the story of Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two animators at Disney. The two college friends started at Disney shortly before the release of Snow White. It begins with the two veteran animators still living next door to one another after years of working together. The documentary switches effectively between their common histories, clips of their work in movies, and their re-enacting of important scenes. In this documentary, one learns about how these men were great animators because they were great actors. They figured out an animal could move and react to give it life and personality. Little things, like the placement of their hands or reaction to another character can bring a flat character to life. My favorite example of this is adding character traits of their young children to animate a petulant Prince John in Robin Hood.

The doc also shows them in their leisure time. We meet each of their wives and dogs. We learn how their carpooling allowed them an extra hour a day to confer and fine-tune their projects. Ollie Johnston had a model railroad large enough to ride through the countryside. Frank Thomas was a pianist who played in the band "Firehouse Five Plus Two," a Dixieland band of Disney animators popular in Hollywood in the 1950s. Unfortunately, their last contribution to Disney films was voice cameos in The Incredibles.

I recommend this documentary for those who grew up on the Disney films. It was an interesting and entertaining look into the work of Disney animators.

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