Sunday, September 30, 2007

THE JUNGLE BOOK / Tribute to Ken Anderson




These three doodles I did recently (above) aren't specifically meant to be characters from Disney's THE JUNGLE BOOK, but they sure owe something to it subconsciously. In fact, I have been so inspired by that film over the decades that there is probably a little of it in anything that I have done somehow. Although it isn't as awe-inspiring as PINOCCHIO or some of the earlier classics, it remains a joy forever to me. I won't even try to analyze why, but suffice it to say that to my mind, as the final animated feature made under Walt's personal supervision, it makes a perfect bookend to SNOW WHITE, his first such film, released exactly 3 decades later. Although SNOW WHITE is a much more impressive achievement artistically (and as a milestone in cinema history), JUNGLE BOOK shares with it a kind of freewheeling organic storytelling that was Walt's specialty. Walt's irreverence toward the Rudyard Kipling book remains a controversy, but I defend it on two grounds: the book remains in tact for everyone who wants to read it, and a very reverent and generally faithful (at least in tone) live action version had been produced by Alexander Korda some twenty years earlier. Like SNOW WHITE, JUNGLE BOOK is a cartoon movie that knows it is a cartoon and wants to do what a cartoon can...

I could write on and on about this beloved film (and I might as time goes by), but having recently seen Mark Kennedy post one of Ken Anderson's inspirational sketches of Baloo, I would be remiss if I didn't take this chance to express my admiration for Ken Anderson's work on the film as lead storyboard artist. In some earlier posts I took pains to point out some of Mr. Anderson's more overt swipes in his inspirational work for ROBIN HOOD (1973). Blame my interest in seeing credit given where it's due for that, and not any desire to dishonor Ken Anderson's long and distinguished contributions to feature animation at Disney.


As I understand it, Ken Anderson was already contributing to JUNGLE BOOK early on, but story was originally going to be supervised by the legendary Bill Peet. Apparently, Peet shared a bitter rivalry with Ken, (for that matter, Bill Peet seemed to have nursed multiple grudges with practically anyone he ever worked with) and that rivalry reached a boiling point when Peet clashed with Walt on how to wrangle the elements of the storytelling. This led to both Bill Peet and art director/background stylist Walt Peregoy leaving the film and and the studio. Subsequently, THE JUNGLE BOOK was almost completely re-conceived as Walt took vigorous new interest in the project. Peet and Peregoy had just a few years earlier brought the best of their talents to bear on 101 DALMATIONS, which had been a huge hit. On the strength of that they had been given carte blanche on the follow-up THE SWORD AND THE STONE, which was made with little or no participation from Walt. Unlike DALMATIONS however, SWORD IN THE STONE was (and is) a meandering disappointment with zero narrative drive and generally lackluster characterizations. Bill Peet's legendary ability to mine great gag material is evident in small sporadic bursts, but not often enough. Likewise Peregoy's stylish contemporary background painting technique, (which was such a breakthrough in rendering the modern day London of DALMATIONS), seems woefully out of place in the King Arthur legend. The animation is often great though, with marvelous stuff from Kahl, Thomas, Johnston, Lounsberry and Sibley. The wizard's duel sequence is a real standout.

In any case, putting Ken on the job of adapting JUNGLE BOOK proved a great choice by Walt. Ken was bound to be more open to Walt's input on the story, letting Disney get more "hands-on" in animation than he had been in many years. Since it was his swan song we can be grateful enough for this, but while Ken gave Walt a wide berth to shape the overall continuity, the story and characters, he (Ken Anderson) was free to explore every possible gag and visual idea that the material offered. There are hundreds of sketches by Ken as he tinkered with the endless possibilities of the animal cast and jungle setting. Having seen some of the remaining material in the Disney research library, I can attest to the fact that for every one of these gags that made it into the film, Ken sketched dozens more just as worthy. Even those that didn't make it did at least point the way to something better while inspiring his fellow artists to imagine beyond the framework of the sequences. Many of these sketches used to be on display around the studio when I first got there in 1979--detail gags like Col. Hathi leaning his great bulk on his slender bamboo crop, King Louie and Baloo aping each other's dance moves and other unforgettable visual grace notes. Once I saw photostats of a huge "idea board" for the legendary scene where Shere Kahn the tiger taunts Kaa the python. Milt Kahl is often lauded for this sequence (and well he should be) but from the looks of it every single idea and gag was originally sketched up by Ken. Great animaton like Milt Kahl's in that scene doesn't come from a vacuum, great story work comes first and this is often forgotten. I dedicate this post to the unforgettable work of Ken Anderson on this unforgettable film.


19 comments:

Didier Ghez said...

Thanks for this tribute Will, and thanks especially for having shared those two wonderful concept drawings.

Are those part of your own collection? Do you have others that you could share on your blog or that you would be willing to send me scans of to feature on the Disney History blog? (As I mentioned a few times on my blog, Ken Anderson is one of my favorite Disney artists).

Tim said...

Hey Will, check out this link for some great sketches of the deleted Jungle Book Character, Rocky the Rhino: http://www.cinematical.com/2007/09/25/exclusive-concept-art-and-designs-from-disneys-the-jungle-bo/
There are some great Ken Anderson sketches there.

willipino said...

i love the top elephant.
thanks for the history. i'd love to hear more.

Ben Balistreri said...

Great post Sir! Jungle book almost hurts it's so good!! Every time I watch Kaa move around I feel like I want to rub my hands over his eyes. (That probably came across as really weird and creepy.) I share your views on Sword and the Stone as well. I always want to like it more than I actually do. I really love Archimedes, however, and I never thought the sequence were they turn into squirrels got enough respect, maybe cause the Wizard's duel is so boss!
Your drawings on top are great as well!

Thad K said...

These pictures Anderson drawings are great! Thanks for sharing!

BTW Will - I'm at AiP now. If you want to hear what the school's like now, shoot me an email:
thadkomorowski@yahoo.com

Will Finn said...

i have been swamped lately but i couldn't let the week of the JUNGLE BOOK DVD go un-posted. Glad you all like.

Thanks for the link Tim, awesome stuff.

didier, alas these are hi-rez photocopies. the only Ken Anderson original I own (from ROBIN HOOD, ironically) is too big to scan. i'll try to post it somehow tho.

willipino, glad you like the drawings.

ben, those eyes of Kaa....i know man. JB and SWORD were the only two bootleg videos i ever owned, long before they were available. the owl is so great too, pure Ollie goodness.

thad--hope you like AiP--i will drop an email when i get a breather from work.

mark kennedy said...

Will- Great post...Ken contributed so much to the studio and isn't as well known as some of the other guys. I've got some more of his originals laying around...I'll scan them sometime.

According to people who would know this kind of stuff, Ken was paid more than anyone else at the studio, even all of the Nine Old Men.

Bruce said...

Here are some interesting facts, in case if your interested, Will

-Wolfgang Reithermen's son was the voice of Mowgli, and in The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh, Christopher Robin. He would then go on to become a Cinematographer, as well for a semi-sucessful nature Documentary filmaker.

-Before Phil Harris had taken the role of Baloo, they needed a voice that could fit into the boy's predicament. They had tried, according to The Illusion of life, two storymen and two animators, giving him a Ed Wynn personality, then giving the role to various exchange students from India. None of those had worked, so Walt suggested Phil Harris to play the part. While his personal reflected very well on and off screen, Harris was a man of likes and dislikes: being discomfortable, he struggled with 'acting like a bear,' so the animators had asked what would he do, if he had delivered his lines, so he grinned at the script a moment, threw back his head and shook the stage with a rhythmic chant "Well it's a doobey -do-doo;yes, it's a doobey-do-doo; I mean a....etc." Oddly enough, the character had become more entertaining, and was upgraded to a secondary role rather than his little cameo.

-This was the first Disney film with a human protagonist (Mowgli) who is not of caucasian ethnicity.

Thought you might of been interested, and thanks for the very cool sketches, as well for the history lesson. Alot better than anything I can crank out.

From a wannabe cartoonist/ artist

Bruce

Rhett Wickham said...

Wow for Will, and your amazing ability to bring such life and personal style with great economy of line.
Seeing your "doodles" (...please, don't throw away those napkins, laddy!) and reading your heartfelt praise for Ken Anderson, I'm struck by the contrast between your line and that Montblanc mayhem that Anderson uses to sculpt his characters. It just goes to show you that equally great things can come from two vastly different approaches and styles.
I remember seeing Anderson’s story drawings as a kid and wishing they would come to life on screen. Although Jungle Book isn’t among my favorites (I know…I’m a plebe, lightening should strike me, etc….) Anderson’s lively and, dare I say it, "hip" character styling lends just the right bounce and bubble to make it a pleasure to watch. But, oh what a wonderful world it would be, indeed, were even more of that tangle of black ink at play on the screen. Man, I miss the Xerox lines of the 70’s.
I have a wonderful "set up" from the unproduced "Catfish Bend" that Ken drew and painted. It's actually a combination of water color and pen and a cel overlay - taking a page from Peregoy's approach to 101 and Sword. I'll scan it and send it over to you some time.
I have to disagree with you a little bit on Bill Peet’s & Walt Peregoy’s work on “Sword in the Stone”, however. I think the color styling and backgrounds on "Sword" are deliciously on-target, and Ken's stuff on the film seems almost too light-hearted. But ultimately, it's the way the action is directed that make me believe Sword's woes are due largely to Woolie's work. I always thought Reitherman was a little clumsy in how he mixed sentimentality, slapstick and fast-paced action - a problem that plagued most of the 70's films on which he ran herd, with Sword and Robin Hood suffering the most for it.
(That said, I think Woolie's amazingly well balanced mix of slapstick and menace in the headless horseman's chase is unrivaled, and hits all the right notes.) But Sword always felt to me to be very much exactly what it is - a very talented guy set out on his own for the first time, perhaps too eager to prove himself and too hamstrung with a desire to please Walt at the same time. I have this theory that Woolie never got the chance to direct the one film for which he was best suited - "Black Cauldron". I wonder if maybe he would have brought a more dynamic and appealing vision to the story that matched those breathtaking Mel Shaw works to life. But then again, I’m the guy who thinks Tim Burton was born too late to direct Mary Poppins, so go figure.

Will Finn said...

thanks bruce and mark for the additional inside info. i didn't know that about ken's salary, but don't doubt it.

rhett--i owe my line clarity to my tablet pc. give me a pen and paper and i will make montblanc mayhem you wouldn't believe!

Didier Ghez said...

Will: If you have more of those color photocopies, I would really LOVE to see them.

Mark: Can't wait to see the layouts you are mentioning.

Rett: I am even more excited about the Catfish Ben set-up. This is a project which, along with Musicana, has always fascinated me. The art that Ken created for those two projects looks stunning, from the few pieces I have seen to date. Thanks for the excellent interviews you are conducting, by the way, Rett.

As for me, I will have to find time at some point to scan the Aristocats, Rescuers and Cinderella pieces I have by Ken.

I wish a book could be published at some point about Ken Anderson's concept drawings. With John Lasseter now in charge of the Studio let's hope this happens in the not too distant future.

Will Finn said...

didier-

those ken pieces you have sound great. cinderella is another favorite of mine. ken o'connor really did amazing work on that one too.

i have a few more 'stats but i will have to scrape around to find them. according to andreas the guy who did that lavish pinocchio art book is planning one on jungle book. if that's for sure, i can't help but think it will be loaded with great ken art.

Pete Emslie said...

Will, it seems like those of us who came along when the Baby Boom yelled "Last call!" can all relate to your fondness for "The Jungle Book". I think it was just the right film at the right time for me, inspiring me towards wanting to one day work for Disney.

After reading your post, I decided to write up something as well on my alltime favourite Disney feature. Hope you'll stop by my blog for a visit! Don't get distracted by hypnotic pythons along the way...

Didier Ghez said...

Will: I will try and call Pierre Lambert this week to find out if his plans for a book about The Jungle Book are still alive.

Matt J said...

Terrific post Will-I've been waiting for a juicy post on Ken Anderson. A book of his contribution to Disney would be something special.

Floyd Norman said...

As always, I find all the talk about Disney's "The Jungle Book" quite amazing. This film was my first as a story artist. Like my old pal, Burny Mattinson, I was "borrowed" from the animation department to help out on story. Seems the two of us never went back.

This film has many delicious memories for me. The first of course, was to be in meetings with Walt Disney. Though I often felt out of place with these talented "old guys," they made me feel right at home. I couldn't help but feel Disney had made a mistake, and sent the wrong person upstairs. But, I sure learned a heck of a lot about Disney story telling. Especially when I was hearing it from the old man himself.

Vance Gerry and I always felt the film was somewhat over rated. Yet, so many people tell me they love it. I guess we did something right.

By the way, the other uncredited storyman on the movie recently passed away. His name was Al Wilson. A very funny guy.

Didier Ghez said...

I have spoken to Pierre this morning and his book project is indeed still alive. He only needs to find a publisher (always the most complex part of such a project, of course).

Will Finn said...

Floyd--
i saw that Al Wilson obit and did not realize he too worked on it.

Vance used to tell me: "the only reason you love JUNGLE BOOK is because you didn't have to WORK on it!" Classic Vance.

Didier-
thanks for the update! i cannot wait to see what he has done.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Wow! You have a beautiful line, Will!