Can a Hollywood animation icon make it in the harsh world of NYC reality? 1,386 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming
Mickey was awful tired. The snap of life was long gone. The heartbeats and thought-waves had died out when the drawing stopped. After that, animation was only a matter of machines, and money. Walt Disney, who wasn’t the nice man his conglomerate’s PR department sold to the world, was long dead, his severed head supposedly stuck in a San Fernando Valley deep-freeze. Minnie, the she-mouse Mickey was supposed to love, had turned into a block of black ice with long eyelashes and too much lipstick. Minnie had nothing to say anymore. She’d been clobbered by life or its simulation, stricken mute as Pluto, that distant animal star. Mickey knew how love felt, but he’d never been happy with what it really meant, to him.
He felt rootless, lifeless, old. Born from a bottle of India ink and a stolen idea, made to move by brushes with destiny, forced to express emotions not necessarily his own, he nonetheless felt the urge to return, somewhere. Back to the well of blackness, the life-blood that tasted like the end, which is where it all began, for him.
Mickey didn’t say goodbye to anyone at the Studio. Not a word to Huey, Dewey and Louie, or whatever Donald’s nephews were called. Not a word to his supposed friend, that buck-toothed monster from another species. He couldn’t even bring himself to say that stupid name.
He didn’t leave a note, he just left.
The pioneer of children’s entertainment gives the leaders of his legacy some adult advice. 1,075 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
When Walt Disney passed away on December 15, 1966, he left an artistic and commercial legacy that his successors are still mining. He also – according to persistent rumor – left behind a private film that was to be shown to his top executives exactly one year after he died. When the anniversary day arrived, they were led into “the sweat box,” the tiny airless room where animators used to screen their rough footage, and shown to assigned seats. The lights went down and Walt appeared on film. He spoke to each of them by name and told them exactly what they were to do for the next five years. When the film ended, the stunned men returned to their corner offices and the sole existing print they had just watched was destroyed — again, on Walt’s posthumous orders. Always known for meticulous, if not compulsive, planning, Walt had issued instructions for the completion of Walt Disney World in Florida, its expansion into European and Asian countries, and development details for WED Enterprises and RETLAW. He even cautioned against releasing the animated features too quickly on home video, a medium whose commercial debut was still nine years off but which his studio contracts had been predicting for decades.
It was therefore an extraordinary moment when the transcript for this film was discovered between the pages of story conference notes for The Jungle Book, the picture Walt had been developing when he died. We present it here for the first time as a tribute to the man who built an empire upon a mouse:
Kids and adults say the darndest things at a focus group for a cartoon show. 2,630 words. Story and illustrations by Mark Fearing.
Kate DeMarca sat in a reasonably comfortable chair behind the glass in a darkened room watching eight and nine year olds file into a fake living room. She was working on her third latte. That isn’t a good way to keep calm but the interns, who seemed impossibly young and thin, will bring you anything you want during a focus group.
Focus Pocus was a faceless building buried amongst the strip malls in the Valley and it was already 95 degrees at 9 in the morning. Normally this wouldn’t be a big issue but for the fact that the air conditioning was on the fritz. So Kate, Stanley Demowitz and Leah Cause were starting to feel like they were in a sauna.
“It’s not just me, right? I mean, it’s hot in here, right?” Stanley said.
Kate rolled her eyes because he was the SVP in charge and now Stanley needed permission to feel hot. If his Dad wasn’t the CEO of Bank of California and who happened to be best friends with the head of the animation studio Kate worked for, he’d be… what? A banker? A stay-at-home dad? A regional sales manager for toilet paper?
“But the kids are comfortable, that’s the important thing. Their room still has cooling,” said Leah, always the voice of staying-on-track and getting-to-the-point and getting promoted.
“It’s fucking hot,” confirmed Kate.
OSCAR FICTION PACKAGE: After a movie studio’s big night, the new boss plans changes. 1,442 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
TO: All Employees of Persistent Pictures
FROM: Bradford “Buddy” Newborn, President
RE: Studio Philosophy and Production Slate
We’re all proud of the eight Oscars that Persistent Pictures won last night under Bob Cutner’s management. We hope he gets to use his taste and leadership at another company now that he’s suddenly moved on to make way for me.
Since arriving to head the studio, I’ve seen many of you in the hallways, in the valet parking lot, and as I walk through the commissary on the way to my private dining room. But this is the first chance I’ve had to introduce myself since my father, Bradford Newborn Sr., bought the studio.
To quell some of the rumors and wisecracks I’ve been hearing through our advanced monitoring system, I am well aware that moviemaking isn’t anything like the strappy sandal business. It just so happens that shoes are only one of the many manufacturing interests of Newborn International. We also make small home appliances (“Nothing larger than a toaster oven” is our motto), breath mints and lacrosse equipment. We also had a major investment in the Miami Majors, an ice hockey franchise that I was in charge of running until it folded last year. Let me speak frankly: the Majors died because of poor public support, not because of that lawsuit from 12-year-old Jimmy Brewin after a puck got sucked up into the Zamboni and shot out into the stands, taking with it half his face.
I can report that Little Jimmy is doing well, all things considered, and loves his new nose, mouth and mansion.
Now, for studio business.
A movie exec and a toon duck give a film critic offers he can’t refuse. 2,741 words. Illustration #1 by Thomas Wearing. Illustration #2 by Mark Fearing.
I had been waiting a long time for this. Freiburg Studios was not in the habit of letting film historians go rummaging through their archives. Of course, all their pre-war files had been donated to UCLA, but that was because the new corporate owners were clearing out material they had no use for. Their animation collection was another story, and everything related to it was treated as worth its weight in gold. Frankly, given their place in cartoon history, that would have been letting it go cheaply.
As a scholarly film critic who had a secure perch on a daily cable show, I had written several books that included chapters on some of Freiburg’s most notable films, including their musical spectaculars and their stylish film noir cycle of the late 1940s and 1950s. In fact, their head of the DVD division recently asked me to autograph the noir book. Usually the only feedback studios gave me on my film writing was when they misquoted me in their ads.
“When sales of 60-year-old titles start to spike, I want to know why," he said, explaining why. "It turns out your book brought a number of these old films back into the public eye. We even had to release some titles because we were getting so many requests for them.”
I was flattered, of course. The highest compliment you can pay a film critic is not that you agreed with him but that his words made you want to check out the movie for yourself. The exec, who went by the name Stan Foster III according to his business card emblazoned with the Freiburg Studios logo, invited me to lunch the following week. He had a proposition I found hard to ignore.