Saturday, 24 August 2013

Saturday Morning Cartoons - What I Did On My Animation Vacation (Summer 2013)

Hi everyone! It's great to be back in Canada!

If you were one of the 1 persons that guy who read my blog last week, you'll recall that I was on vacation in California not so long ago. And yes, I experienced beauty, music, culture and other boring stuff like that. But more importantly, I was provided with an unexpectedly varied cavalcade of cartoon-y goodness! Turns out Cali can be considered a go-to destination for your next "animation vacation". 


Truthfully, the tiny Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco is more of a showcase of comic strip and comic book art, more than animation. I love both, so still found many cool things inside. Of particular interest was original artwork featuring a number of legendary newspaper "funnies" like Pogo, Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, For Better Or For Worse, etc. - not to mention reproductions of earlier offerings from artists like Winsor McKay.

Temporary exhibits roll in and out as well. I was bummed to have just missed a retrospective on artist Sam Keith. When I was there, two centrepieces included a look at graphic novelist Will Eisner and a "75th Anniversary Celebration" of Superman. Being a cartoon fan, more than a comic fan, I was disappointed there wasn't much in the way of reference to my favourite Max and Dave Fleischer Superman cartoons from the 1940's. The exhibit focused more on the comic book art, and rightfully so. 

But halfway through the exhibit, I was super-happy to discover the largest group of people crowded around a small TV screen - all of them affixed to one of those Fleischer cartoons. You could also hear Sammy Timberg's heroic theme song blasting as you entered the exhibit, which was a nice touch. 

Looking online at some of the temporary exhibits from years' past, it seems certain shows better showcase animation, like actual cels. But if you're a cartoon fan like me, chances are you're also a comic fan and will find something of interest regardless of when you're visiting. Definitely worth the trip, and something that won't eat up a lot of your time. 


I've never been a huge Disney fan, so originally, this stop was least important in my mind. But I'm glad I went because I was expecting it to be more...well, Disney. Y'know, Disney in the corporate sense. The second happiest place on Earth. But as it turned out, it was very adult and unafraid to touch on a few less-than-happy subjects, including artist strikes and financial troubles, for example. 

The Walt Disney Family Museum was founded by Walt's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, and his grandson, Walter E.D. Miller. It's owned by the Walt Disney Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that doesn't seem directly affiliated with the more profit-focused Walt Disney Company. I say that because I noticed that a lot of items were credited as being donated separately by The Walt Disney Company. Anyway, that's not to say the gift shop that concludes your visit is sparse and unassuming. But compared to Disneyland's Main Street, it's quite modest. I liked how a large majority of the Mickey merch paid homage to the original (and decidedly off-model by today's standards) character design. 

This is an incredibly thorough museum. I'm a casual Disney fan at best, but still found myself rushed with only an hour to spare, so if you're planning a visit, be prepared to leave yourself enough time. If you're a Disney fan, you could easily spend at least half-a-day inside. 

Nothing is left uncovered including a detailed family tree, a look at Walt's pre-Mickey career trajectory, post-Mickey business and entertainment, and all other things leading up to (and including!) his death. Of particular interest was an entire floor dedicated to the creation of Disneyland, including poster artwork and an intricate model of the original park. Also cool were reproductions of some of Disney's work as a cartoonist, which made me rethink my perception of Disney as being more of an artist, instead of the world's biggest businessman.

Still, you have to admit that much of Disney's success was based on his ability to surround himself with some of the industry's best (better?) artists. And I was surprised to see how much credit was given to those artists who worked on some of Disney's biggest projects. For example, in the Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs section, animators in a video interview speak of the time they wasted laying out a dinner-table sequence that Disney deleted in the interest of streamlining the story. Fellow animator Ub Iwerks is highlighted throughout, although his contributions to the creation of Mickey Mouse and Oswald The Lucky Rabbit are never really confirmed. And I even learned a little myself, as I had no idea that Little Golden Books artist Mary Blair was a concept illustrator for movies like Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. Anyway, the museum is pretty good to acknowledge those who didn't have Disney as a surname. 

And then I found even more...uh, adult fare. 

Another "adult" section nearby highlighted Disney's contributions to wartime efforts. 

I spent way too much of the little time I had watching propaganda pieces on a tiny TV monitor - many of which I hadn't seen before. Obviously you don't have to go to San Fran to watch them, but there's lots of other worthwhile material to check out while you're at the museum.


On our way to a boring old scenic vineyard in the Napa Valley, we stopped in Santa Rosa to visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum, a gallery devoted to good ol' Charlie Brown and his creator. I'm a huge fan of both comic strip and the cartoon specials, so this was fun for me. Co-curated and overseen by Sparky's widow, Jean Schulz, the museum houses specific gallery pieces and themed artwork as it applies to rotating exhibitions.

While I visited there were two pieces - one which paid tribute to (then) modern furniture design in the comic strips, and the other focused on Snoopy's family. The latter included a run of original artwork and stories featuring Snoopy's brothers and sister, including several arcs revolving around one of my favourite characters, Spike - Snoopy's weird and emaciated brother from Needles. 

Snoopy's extended family never really prominently played into the strip until the 1990's, and Schulz admitted to it being a mistake - a fact they reference in the actual exhibit. It was also the subject matter of one of the later and lesser-known Peanuts TV specials called 'Snoopy's Reunion' from 1991. This is one of the more inconsistent Peanuts TV specials (you actually see the adults!), during a time when Schulz had less time to oversee the small screen's creative process. This wasn't covered as part of the exhibit. In fact, there's not a lot about Peanuts animation in general, but there are small sections that pay tribute to director Bill Melendez and musician Vince Guaraldi, who helped to solidify the Peanuts transition from print to small and big screens.

As I looked at this art and considered some of Schulz's later work, I was blown away by the quote you see below. As a kid, long before I knew about Schulz's earlier, more streamlined cartooning, I always considered Peanuts to have that squiggly style on purpose - and apparently I wasn't alone. It's amazing how that slight of hand was permanently ingrained into the public consciousness like that. 

Also included in the tour is an awesome transplant of Schulz's original work studio, along with Snoopy's Home Ice (also known as The Redwood Empire Ice Arena), which Schulz had a hand in building back in 1969, which he basically treated as part of his own backyard. Schulz skated here all the time. In fact, he played hockey here. His retired jersey is still on display. The facility now plays host to a multitude of tournaments and practices, safe indoors from the 35+ degree heat. 

Schulz also hosted several figure skating pageants here for years. Autographs of past performers are inscribed in the cement as you walk into the gift shop. Schulz was REALLY into figure skating. In fact, Schulz was SO into figure skating, he insisted that animators watch footage of 3 professional skaters for creating the rink sequences in 1980's, 'She's A Good Skate, Charlie Brown'. One of those skaters included Schulz's daughter, Amy.

After hitting the change room, you can also stop in for a "Snoop-wich" (served in a dog dish!) at the Warm Puppy Cafe. But you can't sit at Schulz's table, which has been permanently reserved. 

As an alternative, this is a great place to sit. And it's far less busy.


Don't let the fun picture fool you. If you're a fan of classic Warner Bros. animation, you should definitely avoid going on the Warner Bros. V.I.P. tour. Because while it's interesting at times, it will give you NO connection to the cartoons you know and love outside of the gift shop. (which is just behind me in the picture above, and accessible without spending $52 on a tour)  No, this tour is more for those assholes who want to sit on the Friends couch. If you'd like to see a tour of an actual animation studio, stay "tooned" for my special "Korea Edition" of 'What I Did On My Animation Vacation', coming soon.

BUT - I must include the Warner Bros. tour here because I actually stumbled onto something cool. I'm assuming it was by accident, and I'm not sure if there's always a section devoted to animation or not. But as we were brought into the Warner Bros. museum (which you're forced to stop at for about 30 minutes), along one of the side walls (at least when I was there), there was a special Chuck Jones exhibit, which featured Bugs Bunny and Road Runner artwork, along with a little bit about Private Snafu. Also included in the exhibit (which was basically just 2 glass cases, so don't take the word 'exhibit' too seriously) was artwork by Chuck's background designer, Maurice Noble. Best highlight was a letter that Chuck had sent to Maurice, which helped to patch up a disagreement they once had. I would've taken a picture of it, but photos were not allowed in the museum, which lent itself to the not-fun atmosphere. To spite them for that affront, I refused to get my photo taken on the Friends couch. Ha! Take THAT, Warner Bros.!

I then ruined that proud moment in the gift shop by handing over 40 dollars for this pair of stuffed animals. What can I say? I'm weak! And I'd never seen merch for The Looney Tunes Show before! And I'm weak!

Wait! I forgot to mention our tour guide DID bring up a cartoon connection to Warner Bros. He reminded everyone that the world-famous water tower was once home to the Warner brothers Wakko and Yakko, and the Warner sister, Dot. This fact was lost on everyone except me, but I was too embarrassed to admit I understood what he was talking about.


I also proved myself weak at The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, in the heart of Orange County. I dropped $300 for this re-creation of one of Chuck's watercolour paintings, called 'Season To Taste'. Let me give you a better look at it.

I also picked up this inspiring print, which I intend to hang in my office.

As you know, single reader (that guy), I'm obsessed with the Road Runner. But there was plenty of other artwork to stare at or purchase. The Center offers a store where you can buy cels or paintings, anywhere from $30 (like the one you see above) to special edition prints worth $3,000. (like the one I left at the store) An art consultant told me how Chuck Jones' daughter, Linda, has a hand in curating the artwork, and revitalizing it for new sales. The Center is also a non-profit arts organization, offering courses, lectures, screenings and presentations to help "inspire the innate creative genius within each person that leads to a more joyous, passionate and harmonious life and world". Also it's a great place to drop $3,000. Unfortunately, I didn't have that much to spend, but I certainly tried to hit that mark as best I could. I also bought books, clothing and other sundries.

One of those sundries was an official Chuck Jones anvil, as pictured below. Obviously scaled down from the more life-size variety, but still surprisingly weighty considering, the piece proved of particular interest to United States airport security. I packed the anvil (still sealed in its box) into my suitcase, which was checked in. Upon arriving back in Canada, I found a note indicating my bag had been "randomly" searched, and the box containing the anvil had been opened! I'm assuming the security folks were huge Chuck Jones fans like myself. But who knows - maybe it's suspicious, and people just aren't buying anvils like they used to?


Anyway, I hope you enjoyed taking a look at this endless series of photographs from my "animation vacation". If you're a cartoon buff, California is definitely worth the trip. Or if you prefer bridges, they have a couple of those too. I think they're referred to as "architectural marvels" or something. But whatever, you can also buy anvils.

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