Saturday, May 13, 2006

Animation in The Pied Piper of Basin Street

One of the interesting things about the Lantz studio in the 1940's is the difference in the ability of the animators. At Disney, Warners and MGM, the animators were more consistent in their abilities. In this cartoon, you've got Disney veterans like Dick Lundy and Grim Natwick side by side with Lantz stalwarts like Les Kline and Paul Smith. There's a wide variation in animation quality in this cartoon, but Culhane has done a pretty good job of casting the animators to play to their strengths and not let their weaknesses hurt the cartoon.

Emery Hawkins has only five shots, but shot 39 may be the nicest acting shot in the film. It's got everything Hawkins is known for: strongly rhythmic drawing and posing, broad action, sharp timing, and extreme flexibility. There's a looseness to Hawkins' animation that makes his characters seem far more alive than the work by Les Kline that leads into the shot. Kline's drawings aren't nearly as appealing and his conception of movement is far simpler. You can tell there's a higher proportion of inbetweens in Kline's work than in Hawkins'. Kline's shapes don't change as radically and his poses are pretty mundane. They don't have a strong line of action.

Pat Matthews' animation is not as broad as Hawkins', but the sense of design in his drawing is strong and he's a very capable animator. His introductory scenes with the Mayor make the character of the piper seem likable and are well acted.

LaVerne Harding concentrates mostly on the Mayor character. She's got only a couple of other miscellaneous shots. Her drawing is strong and her acting is good, but her timing isn't as daring as Hawkins'.

Paul Smith's best work in this cartoon is at the end. The shots are short and there's a single, broad action taking place in each of them. Maybe I'm being unfair to him, but I wonder if he had strong character layouts to work with, as the shots look better than I would expect.

Don Williams does some pretty daring things with cropping and perspective in shot 69. Most of the time, the characters in this cartoon are at eye level, a comfortable distance away from the camera and surrounded by lots of negative space to give them a clear silhouette. In the opening shot and this one, Williams animates characters in perspective. Shot 69 is a vertical pan, but what really catches my eye is how close the mice are to the camera as they leap down the button panel and how they're drawn from a high angle. The staging in this shot is unlike any other in the cartoon. Williams also gives the mice an attractive fleshiness and follow-through during their leaps.

Dick Lundy was soon to be directing at Lantz and may only have been filling in as an animator until that happened. His work here rivals Hawkins. The lady mouse's dialogue in shot 3 is handled well and the cheese slicing in scene 4 is well-timed. Having come from Disney, there's no question that his drawing and posing are strong.

Grim Natwick has little to do here. Only five shots, and four of them are pretty short. The old woman in scene 49 resembles the old woman in the Flip the Frog shorts that Natwick worked on for the Iwerks studio. For the old woman, he uses staggered doping of drawings to get the animation to vibrate and the poses are pretty broad.

I think that Natwick's involvement in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has skewed our perception of his career. I think that Snow White and Princess Glory from Gulliver's Travels are atypical of Natwick's work, which really tends to be quite broad and cartoony. That's true of his work at Fleischer and Iwerks in the early '30's, his work at Lantz in the '40's, his TV commercials in the '50's and even his work on Raggedy Ann and Andy in 1977.

I hope that all of the above makes sense. I find it a struggle to use words to talk about animation and one of the things I wish is that we had a better vocabulary to do it.

1 comment:

Hans Grotz said...

Very nice!!!More Hawkins,more Natwick,more Lundy,more Cilhane...more Lantz stuff!!!