Disney animation: behind the scenes
The longest-running program in TV history -- "Disney's Wonderful World" -- is celebrating itself. Begun on ABC in 1954 as "Disneyland" and switching to NBC in 1961 (it will be on CBS next season), the Disney show has had the ratings misfortune for many years of airing opposite one of TV's most popular shows, "60 Minutes."
Both shows are usually fine programs for the whole family, and although "60 Minutes" remains one of my own favorites, I suggest that this Sunday viewers might turn to NBC for a rare Wonderful World special: "The Art of Disney Animation" (NBC, Sunday, 7-8 p.m., check local listings). It is almost good enough to air as a segment on "60 Minutes."
First, allow me to confess that animated film, other than Disney, has always been a problem for me.Avant-garde Czechoslovak, Yugoslav, and even Canadian animated films -- very popular in the 1960s -- always puzzled me. Somehow, despite my initial lose the thread of the story lines quickly and find myself watching wiggles engaged in incomprehensible intellectualized activities, all of which always seem to end with the truimph of good over evil, something which it is impossible to deplore.
I am probably the only one in the world who found it hard to concentrate on the Beatles' gorgeously animated Yellow Submarine." More recently, I have had my difficulties with the morality as well as the story lines of a whole series of cult-animation features by Bakshi.
But Disney has always been on my lumpenm animation-IQ level, starting with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (Although I must admit I had have had some difficulty with Donald's speech on occasion) and progressing to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Dumbo," "Bambi," and even the more difficult, complexly anti-intellectualized and comparatively esoteric "Fantasia."
I could always sit back and enjoy Disney animation without feeling, as I often do now with Feiffer cartoons, that I have been mugged by a high-IQ drawing pencil masquerading as a simple crayon.
If I were to be crass about it, I might accuse the Disney organization of planning this special to promote its newest (actually the 20th) full-length, about-to-be-released animated feature, "THe Fox and the Hound," which figures prominently in the program. But I have already been crass enough for today, so I will overlook the unsubtle promotional aspects of the special and concentrate on the fact that this is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the Disney animated film operation, with little "Pollyanna" star Hayley Mills as a now-grown-up guide who is a puzzled and amazed by the magic of the drawing board as any of us.
Featured in the show are examples of the Disney studios' work for five decades in both cinema and TV. There are scenes from as far back as "Playing Pluto" (1931), and also scenes from the most recent Disney animated products, all of which still carry on the tradition of family entertainment started by the now mythical Walt Disney.
Perhaps, for some young Disney fans, it will be a disillusionment to learn the tricks of the trade, to see the three-dimensional figures first devised, before the animators transpose them into two dimensions, to see how a series of drawings is manipulated to give the illusion of movement, to see and hear Andriana Casselotti, the voice of Snow White, tell how she auditioned with Walt Disney hiding behind a partition so he would not be influenced by her appearance , since all he wanted was the right voice.
And for some Disneyphiles, it may be upsetting to hear the animators talk like ordinary people and reveal how they steal personality from real people for their animated characters, and how many animators relate personally to the drawing-board people they create.
But the knowledge that the voices are usually recorded before the character is animated, that a film such as "The Fox and the hound" (you see, carefully integrated promotion realy works) requires 200,000 individual drawings, in the long run can only add to the pleasure of watching the seemingly spontaneous actions of Disney characters. Now viewers will understand how broad a range of talents and creativity went into the final product and, perhaps, appreciate the work even more. It is also refreshing to note that the name of the late master --Walt Disney -- is constantly on the tongues of those who have followed in his footsteps.
For those whose Disney appetite is merely whetted by this TV special, which includes both movie and television Disney creations, New York City's Museum of Broadcasting is planning a seven-week summer retrospective saluting Walt Disney Productions' 31 years on TV (on series and specials), Aug. 14 through Sept. 7. The museum will be screening more than 25 original TV productions.
Hayley Mills, who will be one of the voices in "The Fox and the hound" (there it goes again), remembers are of her conversations with Walt Disney many years ago.
"The only limit to animation," he told the little girl Hayley, "is your imagination. After all, how else can you make an elephant fly?"
"The Art of disney Animation" not only makes elephants fly, it is likely to make viewers soar as well. Nuclear proliferation in the Mideast
"Near Armageddon: The Spread of Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East" (ABC, Monday, 10-11 p.m., check local listings) is an ABC News Closeup almost as explosive as its own subject matter.
Host and principal correspondent Marshall Frady traces the growth of alleged Mideastern nuclear power to Dimona in Israel, to Iraq, Pakistan, and Libya.Not one national figure -- and there are interviews in most of the countries involved -- admits that there is a present nuclear capability, but all of them hint that there may very well be in the near future.
There are several major controversial segments in this dazzlingly disturbing and important documentary: It is charged that the threat of Israel's atom bombs were a major deterrent to Egypt in the October, 1973, war; and it is also alleged that France, switzerland, and Belgium are unobtrusively allowing nuclear materials and technology to be exported to OPEC states in exchange for a continuing supply of oil. Probably one of the most frightening disclosures is the information that Pakistan may very well be sharing its nuclear arms right now with Colonel Qadaffi of Libya, one of the area's most unstable leaders. It is also pointed out that practically the whole of Israel can be destroyed with three bombs.
Produced by Christopher Isham, directed by Pat Cook, under the aegis of senior producer Richard Richter and executive producer Pamela hill, "Near Armageddon" is filled with warnings that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act is not working. Not only does the documentary constitue a grave warning to the nations of the Middle East, but it also demands attention from the world as it depicts the potential for disaster. It points many fingers at those who hope to gain from future nuclear use for military action. One hopes it will not prove to have been merely a frightening harbinger of horrors to come.
Says Bertrand Goldschmidt, a former French atomic energy commissioner: "Fortunately or unfortunately it's on atomic energy that man will have to pass his exam of reason of madness."
Fortunately, with mass communications intact, a public-spirited shocker of a program like "Near Armageddon" can be of enormous help in forcing the world to recognize that the next year or two in the Middle East may prove to be a finalm exam, unless measures are taken now to stop the madness of nuclear proliferation