New DVDs: Fleischer and Disney

pinocchio-hs

The great god Coincidence came through this week with the simultaneous release of a dazzling, big budget digital restoration of “Pinocchio” from the Disney empire and a somewhat less impressive, budget edition of the Fleischer brothers’ “Gulliver’s Travels” — providing at least one newspaper hack with the opportunity to evoke the great East Coast/West Coast struggle for the soul of American animation.

35 comments to New DVDs: Fleischer and Disney

  • Shawn Stone

    That GULLIVER into a “widescreen” movie isn’t a surprise; I wonder how many other public domain films will meet the same fate?

    Anyone know if there’s an OK version of GULLIVER’S TRAVELS on DVD?

  • david hare

    Gary Tooze’s site review mentions a very old Image release which is advertised as being “restored from original nitarte Technicolor elements”.

    Dave I think, looking at Gary’s review screengrabs this Gulliver has not only been cropped but also vertically squeezed to “Spread” to the 1.78 frame. Surely it’s completely worthless?

  • alex hicks

    Dave, Anything left of “Mister Bug Goes to Town” for anyone to view?

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    “widescreening” old Academy Ratio movies is particularly hurtful to animated cartoons. For some reason most of them tended to be framed very tightly so that even viewed on an old-fashioned squarish TV set, they often looked cropped, especially at the top of the frame, with a portion of the characters slightly of-screen. I’ve always been slightly annoyed by that and wonder if other people have had the same feeling. Of course it can only be worse with the new, wide screens.

  • david hare

    I won’t go on too much about this because it’s a distraction to the thread but there are increasing reports from US and UK viewers that large numbers of movies, new and old are being reformatted for WS to the specific 16:9 (approximately 1.78:1) ratio of digital TVs. This runs from Academy movies through to 1.85 and Scope titles.

    Here in oz for the last couple of months the government channel ABC 2 digital has been running a series of Universal and Fox titles. They started out with some Hitchcocks, including Vertigo and Rear Window which were not so badly affected (considering Vertigo is 1.85 and RW is 1.66) but they then stated to run Scope films like All That Jazz cropped down to this clearly cutting side elements of composition. Interestingly they also screened a reformatted for TV version of Magnificent Obsession in 1.78, masked from the open matte 1.37 master. This looks far more congenial in this ratio than the now “offical” 2.00:1 as seen on Criterion and elsewhere. In any case the practice of matting even Scope movies down to this universal TV format is becoming alarmingly widespread.

    A final a propos, all but one of the DVD versions of Mungiu’s Four Months Three days are reformatted from the original screening ratio of 2.35 to 1.78.

  • Dave Kehr

    Yes, David H, as I wrote in the column, “Gulliver’s Travels” has been cropped to 1.77 and has been digitially “restored” to the degree that it often looks like half of the image has been wiped away. Pretty awful, I’m afraid. On the other hand, Paramount has done some restoration work on “Mr. Bug Goes to Town.” A print ran at Film Forum last winter (and elsewhere, I imagine) which suggests a DVD will be turning up sooner or later.

  • To make matters worse, Koch has put this disgraceful version of the Fleischer’s film on Blu-ray, which for some will create the illusion that this is some sort of definitive version of the film. Deplorable.

  • Brad Stevens

    David – ALL THAT JAZZ is not a ‘Scope film. It was made in 1.85:1.

  • Junko Yasutani

    There was Japanese laser disc of GULLIVER’S TRAVELS from bad print, but correct aspect ratio.

  • Kent Jones

    We showed MR. BUG GOES TO TOWN under its British title, HOPPITY GOES TO TOWN, when I did a series with Greg Ford a few years ago. I believe it ran with that title at Film Forum, too.

  • nicolas saada

    “Gulliver’s Travels” has been cropped to 1.77″

    Eh guys shall we start the TOUCH OF EVIL thread again ?More seriously, we have to really address this “stretching” problem. As I told you, a 1:77 version of MASK OF DIMITRIOS was shown on tv last december. A complete disaster in regard to Negulesco’s refined direction.

  • david hare

    Brad – whoops! THere have been however a number of genuine Scope titles cropped to fit in the last few months. It’s getting more common, and it’s the Scope to 1.78 that’s the biggest problem now.

  • I first noticed the Scope-to-16:9 blasphemy on Australian DVDs before I saw it anyplace else. There are a few Umbrella releases not available anywhere else (like Beresford’s “The Club”) that are marred by this cropping.

  • Carlye

    Negulesco’s MASK OF DIMITRIOS made it onto Turner this afternoon and looked pretty good, although I don’t have the expert eye that you probably have, Nicolas.

  • Brad Stevens

    Coincidentally, I just picked up Warners’ Region 1 disc of John Carpenter’s SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME, a 1978 television film which, infuriatingly, has been masked to 1.85 for DVD.

    The most annoying Scope to 16:9 transfer has to be the Region 2 UK disc of Andrew Lau’s THE FLOCK, which, as far as I’m aware, is the only release in the world of Lau’s director’s cut. The vastly inferior producer’s cut is available as a Region 1 disc, correctly framed at 2.35:1.

  • david hare

    Dave, what’s your opinion of the new color temp/ palette on the BluRay compared to the older DVD (I put this on again while I wait for the BluRay to arrive and it certainly has that typically older “orangey” bias that went with a lot of older Technicolor transfers to DVD.)

    I agree with Jean-Pierre the level of artistry from the Disney animators during years 35 to 1940 is unmatched I think (even allowing for those wartime mixed animation/live action pictures.) Not only the suppleness of the line, but surely the gorgeous use of multiplane for depth shots.

    I’m also a big fan of those three late 30s Fleisher two reel Popeye cartoons for Paramount. The restored versions of these on the Warner Popeye boxsets are stunning. There used to be two Laser boxsets of the Betty Boops (pre and psot code) which while not from perfect sources (they’re all slightly cropped) were at least nearly complete, but I’m unaware of any “legit” DVDs of these since then.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    If you get the HD channels from the main cable outlets (HBO, Showtime, TMC, Cinemax, Starz), more often than not scope films are shown closer to 1.85×1, a bit less so for recent films (but still a majority of the time), and nearly always for less recent films.

    On the other hand, some directors must stipulate that their films must be shown properly. All of Soderbergh’s films seem to get proper showings, and I’ve noticed that There Will Be Blood is being shown properly on all Showtime channels, which is extremely unusual for a scope film.

    HDNet on the otherhand, which shows a decent array of less recent films, almost always shows the right aspect ratio (who would believe Mark Cuban has higher standards than those who really should know better).

  • Shawn Stone

    I don’t know that you can expect much from HBO or Cinemax, they showed panned-and-scanned versions of scope movies for decades. (I remember when Woody Allen’s MANHATTAN first turned up on pay TV; it was the first letterboxed-on-TV movie I’d ever seen.) A lot of the older movies offered on Time Warner digital cable on-demand services are the versions prepared for pay TV; I watched SWEET NOVEMBER (Sandy Dennis version) a few months ago and it opened with the old pay TV disclaimer you’d see on HBO and it was “fullscreen.”

  • nicolas saada

    I argue with many friends over Walt Disney especially when I dare state that he’s a genius, especially when you look at a few of “his” movies: FANTASIA, SNOW WHITE, PINOCCHIO and the underrated ALICE IN WONDERLAND.
    Full screen : the case of CHARLEY VARRICK is interesting as it exist in widescreen (the french dvd release) and in full screen (the american dvd release). But in this case the film is neither stretched nor “pan and scan” since it was shot in order to be both matted and not matted. Which leads back to our TOUCH OF EVIl discussion. If widescreen Tv’s were for instance 1:66 instead of 1;77, you can be sure that most formats for these films would be respected. We are now certain that the TOE aspect ratio for the DVD is too tight, and that’s the film is 1:66 (like Welles’ following two efforts, THE TRIAL and CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT). Personally I always “zoom back” on my dvd’s so that I can the whole 1:33 or 2:35 aspect ration on my tv screen. THis is why we sometimes believe 2/35 films are being reformatted to fit the 1:77 widescreen tv whereas most of the time you can actually get it by just using the “zoom out” of your dvd player. You get a magnificent rectangle on your screen, just as you get perfect squares now with these new Criterion 1:33 transfers.

  • Michael Adams

    As Tom says, HDNet seems to show everything in the correct ratio. Seeing WINCHESTER ’73 in Academy at first seems odd on a wide screen, but Mann’s careful compositions, as always, soon make it easy to ignore the bars on the sides. Also one of the most beautiful black-and-white films I’ve ever seen on television. Cuban’s criteria may be influenced by his pal Soderbergh.

  • David H., I’d say the Blu-ray “Pinocchio” looks a little warm to my eyes, like most contemporary Technicolor transfers, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker on an otherwise excellent disc. They’ve done a fine job of preserving the line and have even allowed some unevenly painted frames to remain, preserving some of the hand-made sense that was almost eliminated from the “Sleeping Beauty” do-over.

    When the history of taste is written, Disney will deserve a chapter of is own. For the highbrows of the 1930s he was one of the designated “true” artists of the cinema, alongside Chaplin and Eisenstein, while today he has been downgraded to a po-mo whipping boy. I recommend Neal Gabler’s recent biography as a guide to how deeply Disney was involved in the pre-war films, as well as Neal’s moving portrait of the broken Disney of the post-war years, when the Bank of America cut back his financing and imposed industrial methods on an artisanal operation.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    David H.: as far as Betty Boop cartoons are concerned,in 1996 Republic Pictures (Spelling Entertainment)put out a quite decent-looking series of eight VHS (remember VHS?)gathering no less than 115 Boop shorts. It was put together by Jerry Beck (who also co-wrote the terrific “Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies”) and volume one has an introduction by Richard Fleischer. I absolutely cherish that box set. Volume three is titled “Surrealism” — but all the others could be too.

  • Brian Dauth

    Also consider 101 DALMATIANS as a great Disney movie. It was my favorite as a child and when I looked at it recently, I still loved it. I was amazed at how much of the film had lodged in my memory, and how rich the interplay of line and color felt. The animation has a depth and reverberance that the more famous and “lush” Disney films lack for me.

    LADY AND THE TRAMP was also good when I revisited it.

  • nicolas saada

    “101 DALMATIANS as a great Disney movie”
    You’re right Brian ! It’s like an animation film directed by Billy Wilder! It’s great?
    “LADY AND THE TRAMP was also good when I revisited it.”
    Yes, this one looks more like a George Stevens film.
    Actually, most of the Disney films seem to borrow to different key cinematic styles.
    There’s a lot of Hitchcock in SLEEPING BEAUTY, James WHale and Browning in SNOW WHITE, and CINDERELLA looks like a Jeannette Mac Donald musical.

  • Brian Dauth

    Nicolas: That is brilliant! I never thought of 101 DALMATIANS as a Billy Wilder animated movie (though as I was writing the post, WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION popped in my head and I ascribed the thought to “Movies set in London”) — Cruella De Vil meets Christine Vole!! Maybe why I love 101 D so much (I have often thought that ADVISE AND CONSENT was my favorite Preminger film because it reminded me so strongly of a Mankiewicz movie).

  • david hare

    Jean-Pierre the two laser boxsets of Betty Boop were each three discs and are clearly the same collection! Each Box has the Fleischer intro, and each disc side is labelled with a theme like “Surrealism” (That one includes Bimbo’s Initiation for instance. )

    I don’t have any reference books to verify this but I get the impression it was the Fleischers who first dveloped the multiplane camera technique in the mid thirties – the first significant appearance is a quite beautiful two strip Cinecolor Betty Boop, “Poor Cinderella”. The multiplane footage in the Popeye two reel adventures is eye popping. By the time Disney’s artists take hold of it for Pinocchio it’s refined into its purests expression.

    I think Disney owed the Fleischers quite a bit.

  • Pat

    To Shawn or anyone who has a theory: Why does HBO continue to show all of its theatrical films in pan-and-scan versions and yet screens all of its own orignal prograammin (including Bill Maher!) letterboxed? I could almost understand a network being apprehensive about letterboxing 10 or 12 years ago, but these days, never everyone has a widescreen or flatscreen TV, even the movie illiterate. Can someone please explain???

  • Johan Andreasson

    David, I think it was Disney´s one time partner Ub Iwerks who invented the multiplane camera – and according to one of his old animators Iwerks built it very cheaply from old auto parts! (While the multiplane camera that Disney developed a couple of years later was extremly expensive.) I´ve unfortunately seen very little of Fleishers Popeye cartoons, but I think that the three dimensional effect there comes from using actual three dimensional models as backgrounds.

  • david hare

    Johan that may well be right! In one mid thirties Betty Boop (featuring a free standing moderne penthouse on a stilt) the actual set at various points starts to revolve and move in what looks like three dimensional reality. Indeed a number of precode Bettys with various black jazz musicians, Cab Calloway et al, are in esssence the first combined animation/live action shorts, I suspect. So the stop frame shooting appears to have cretaed the 3 dimensional appearance mechanically rather than photographically, a la Ub and Walt.

    I recommend you rent or otherwise take a look at the last of the three Popeye Technicolor 2 reelers – “Aladdin’s Cave” – an absolute stunner.

  • I’ll recognize Disney’s mastery of naturalistic animation (the mantle of which I think Hayao Miyazaki inherited eventually) at the same time maintain that it’s the Fleischer’s cheeky effrontery that still makes my heart race.

    The Fleischer’s 3-D effect was achieved through the stereoptical process, a fascinating alternative to the multiplane. I wish someone–Miyazaki, or maybe Brad Bird–would try doing a feature using this.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    The reason for the premium cable channels not matting films on their non-HD outlets is likely this:

    Their more demanding/aware of the difference customers get HD and consider this something worth
    paying extra for.

    That they show their own original programming this way is part of a more evolutionary process which will eventually extend to all of their programming.

  • david: “I recommend you rent or otherwise take a look at the last of the three Popeye Technicolor 2 reelers – “Aladdin’s Cave” – an absolute stunner.”

    I agree–think they’re all stunners, though this third one didn’t use the steropticon process (I liked the effects in the two-reel Sinbad best, but perhaps the most striking use of this was in Little Swee’pea)

  • david hare

    Noel I must be confusing it with the Ali Baba cartoon. The scenes in the cave are unbelievable. I better check the Sinbad again!

    By way of nothing I just received the UK Disc of Wise Blood – a terrific late Huston. (The Criterion is due in May) – the image is outstanding, gorgeous, a real peach of a transfer. I just cannot imagine Criterion doing it any better….and for Euro/UK and Oz buyers British DVDs now seem to be an absolute bargain, compared to importing from the US.

  • Dave Kehr

    One of the (few) highlights of the new “Gulliver’s Travels” disc is a muddily transferred Technicolor promotional short, shorn of its titles and unconscionably cropped like the rest of the disc, that takes you “behind the scenes” at the shiny new Fleischer studios in Miami. There are extended shots of the Fleischers’ 3-D rig in action, and it is a very different process than Disney’s Multiplane, using miniature sets and props rather than layered cels.

  • Like I said: would like one of today’s animation outfits to try this method, maybe updated a little (the Korean Wonderful Days was a start).

    Anyone seen Coraline? Much prefer it to Wall E.