The 60s was a relatively quiet time for Disney regarding animation as they stepped up production on their live action films (and blended the two in Mary Poppins). There are only three animated features released this decade, so let’s hop in.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961, Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman)
This film was a true delight to revisit. If you love animals as much as I do, your heart will warm upon seeing all of the different characters who band together to escape the evil clutches of Cruella de Vil.
The animation style is much more rough around the edges, with the animators adopting a more sketch-like approach in the finished product. There are even frames that haven’t been detailed, most notably the portraits lining the staircase of Roger and Anita’s house. While it might seem like the animators ran out of time to paint the background, this approach was an intentional style choice thanks to art director Ken Anderson. He also decided to use ink pens for his artwork, which give a more line-art and sketchy style, complete with ink bleeds.
Shockingly, Sleeping Beauty’s failure at the box office almost shut down the Disney animation studios altogether, and One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ success single-handedly saved the animation department. After Sleeping Beauty, Disney felt that animation was too expensive for the revenue the films made, but still felt strongly about animation, so pressed on. There were some technical elements with this film that saved the company a lot of money (namely Xerox photography which entirely removed the inking process of animation). I bet you can guess what the number one benefit of using Xerox in this film was? Copy and pasting some spotted dogs, of course! Apparently if they animated each dog and spot individually, the film would have cost double to make. Critically, the film was relatively well-received, and completely reinvigorated Disney both personally and as an animation mogul.
Helene Stanley is back as a live action reference for Anita (keen readers will know she also assisted as Cinderella and Princess Aurora), and while it’s nice to see her characterisation again, I feel like Dalmatians is potentially where Disney start cutting corners a little. This is the stage where voice actors don’t change their voices from role to role (a trend we’ll see is an undercurrent to the 1970s films), and animators are beginning to copy and paste already drawn characters from previous projects.
I’m also surprised at how dark this film is! There’s talk of skinning dogs and debates over whether to poison or drown them… let’s hope most of that goes over kids’ heads, hey?
Either way, the film certainly makes me excited for Cruella. Now, will someone please give Rolly something to eat?
The Sword in the Stone (1963, Wolfgang Reitherman)
I’m going to be brutally honest: this film was a slog to get through. We were almost on par with Alice in Wonderland here, but without the infuriation.
Hear me out: you hear about a film about King Arthur. You know about the sword stuck in the stone, and that whoever can pull it out becomes the king. So why does it take an hour and nineteen minutes of us being fish, then squirrels, then birds, for Arthur to finally pull the freaking sword out?! The whole film is padding time, and once the sword is pulled, it’s lights out, roll credits.
And I’m not the only one who thought that! I’ll quote Variety here: “The feature-length cartoon
demonstrates anew the magic of the Disney animators and imagination in character creation. But one might wish for a script which stayed more with the basic story line rather than taking so many twists and turns which have little bearing on the tale about King Arthur as a lad.”
Admittedly, I’m not one for medieval things. I was never really interested in shows a la Game of Thrones or The Witcher or anything else around that time. It’s just not my thing. But I think even if it was, the actual plot of this film just isn’t there. I’m not touched by the growing of a boy into a man (mainly because Arthur doesn’t evolve as a character at all), or amused by the slapstick comedy about escaping the clutches of a wolf.
Archimedes the owl is the only good thing I can say about this film, and the magic is very reminiscent of Mickey’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia.
Shockingly, this film was in the works since the late 1930s. Perhaps this film was the victim of too much development time – too much poking and prodding and rewriting that resulted in an entirely different film from the initial idea.
Fun fact: around the time of this film, Disney’s elder brother tried to convince him to shut down Disney’s animation department, citing that enough films had been made to make successful re-releases. Walt refused, but now that he had his sights on building a theme park, he agreed that only one animated film would be released every four years (spoiler alert: that didn’t happen).
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this one, and probably won’t watch it again.
The Jungle Book (1967, Wolfgang Reitherman)
I actually covered this film last year during my COVID movie project, which you can read about here. I didn’t feel the need for a re-watch as I’ve seen it recently, and I won’t go into that much detail.
But I will give you a few details I learned about in my research:
Disney was more involved in this film than the previous two released this decade due to the disappointing reviews from The Sword in the Stone, and without him, we would have gotten a much darker film. Story artist Bill Peet wanted a more adult tale about the struggles between animals and man, but Disney wanted something family friendly. The two reportedly had a disagreement, which resulted in Peet leaving Disney.
New writer Larry Clemmons was brought on, and Walt gave him a copy of the original book, apparently saying, “The first thing I want you to do is not to read it.” Granted, the novel was more episodic, and needed a fabricated throughline to make the narrative work, and I think the resulting film is delightful. The film was a huge success both financially and critically.
Sadly, The Jungle Book was the last film Disney was involved in before his death in 1966. I think the characterisation especially is a worthy ode to his memory.
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