Monday, October 7, 2013

Cartoon Musings: "Goliath II"

Goliath II
A Walt Disney Productions Cartoon
Originally released on January 21, 1960

Goliath II is a very notable Disney short subject for one big reason. It was the first animated production to be done entirely in the then-newly introduced Xerox process, the very format that would be used for all things animated at Disney from this short up until the introduction of APT (Animation Photo Transfer) in the mid-1980s.

Now I don't really admire the look that Xerography brought to the Disney animated features and shorts, the only exception for me is One Hundred and One Dalmatians, where the animators and artists based the entire look of that film around the sketchiness produced by the new process. Because of this, Dalmatians is an iconoclastic Disney film in many ways and a visual feast. Now if they repeated that for other films, I'd be fine, but...

To me, something like The Jungle Book isn't as refined as it should be because the extra lines and scribble was kept in the character animation which clashes with the more naturalistic art direction. I think it works in Dalmatians because everything else around the characters is decidedly sketchy and crawling with lines! It's not completely bothersome, but I can't help but notice the scribble wars going on in the characters during some sequences. I know some may like this, but I personally don't have much praise for it. Walt himself particularly hated Xerography...

It all began with Goliath II, the sort of testing ground for the format that would be attached to the live action film Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with a Circus in early 1960. Does it work as a short, though?

Goliath II's titular elephant is ridiculously small, he's practically a little critter. His father rejects him because in the elephant's society - bigger means better. On the other hand, his mother cares for him and is constantly trying to keep him out of harm's way. He at times is a problem for the other elephants, too. Since Goliath II is the exact opposite of a goliath, he's very vulnerable. A buffoonish tiger named Raja takes complete advantage of this, and throughout the entire film, he's always trying to eat the little pachyderm. Not to mention, this is his opportunity to actually taste an elephant.

Later on, he runs away because he feels like he's being treated like a baby by his mother. As expected, the world away from home is frightening. The film uses a trope that would showed up in some other Disney animated films - Bongo and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too! immediately comes to mind - the whole "at night, animals are scary" sequence. Things like frogs and owls making their usual noises and whatnot frighten the scared elephant. Soon enough, he encounters Raja again only for his mother to save him and subsequently punish him. Running away is such a crime, Goliath II is looked at in a negative light... That is until the herd encounters the most terrifying thing to them on the planet.

You can probably guess what it is.

This surprisingly malicious mouse encounters Goliath II and tells him to leave his sight, or he'll tear him to shreds. (He means business!) Goliath II gets the better of him and reduces him to a coward, who begs for the elephant's mercy in a typical but funny turning of the tables. The brave little elephant now regarded as honorable: He gets to ride on top of his father's head, the herd respects him and he's never out of his mother's sight.

One of Disney's "featurettes" from their late short subject period, Goliath II is perhaps a little longer than it should be, but it tells its story well within the 15-minute timeframe. Sterling Holloway makes for a good narrator, as always. You just can't beat that voice! Goliath II is no Dumbo, but he's likable enough and there are some mildly funny moments. But it's mostly calm, quiet and not really that heavy on the jokes. Like most of the featurettes from the late 1950s and 1960s, it feels like an abridged animated feature.

George Bruns' score definitely fits the more quiet mood, as the short does have a nice look to it. The minimalist and abstract jungle backdrop is fun and vibrant, the colors often pop, and the score only adds to it. The characters all look good too, I especially like the design on Raja, a humorous goofball tiger design. It's a very competently-designed film, but the art direction is the stand-out feature of this mere test film. Actually, listen to Bruns' score and you'll notice that pieces of it would be used in later films like One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Bruns' was often reused, particularly the "sad" music that you'll hear in particular moments in (for a few examples) Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone and The Jungle Book.

In fact, this short is like The Jungle Book's predecessor. The look of it, the score and the setting all scream Jungle Book... A film that wasn't made until seven years later! Either this was some sort of prototype Jungle Book or the crew working on the feature film simply looked back on this short for inspiration.

The former, to me, sounds the most plausible because story man Bill Peet always wanted Walt to tackle Rudyard Kipling's stories. As far back as the late 1930s, even! (A Disney Jungle Book made and released sometime in the 1940s really would've been something!) Walt ended up obtaining the rights to Kipling's classic books in 1962; Bill Peet ultimately ended up abandoning the project and left the studio after many disagreements with Walt over the direction the film was going. (Detailed extensively in books and The Jungle Book's Platinum Edition DVD.)

Anyways, the Sterling Holloway narration also adds to that. I'll always refer to this film as a prototype Jungle Book, or a sort of Jungle Book before it was even approached.

The other notable thing about this short is the heavy use of recycled animation. You thought Robin Hood overdid it? This one makes all of that film's tracing over spree look like nothing. Goliath II not only recycles animation from previous Disney films, it recycles characters! Peter Pan's crocodile is in this, along with Friend Owl from Bambi. A redrawn version of the paranoid bird from Alice in Wonderland also makes an appearance. On top of that, we see animation from Dumbo to several other things being reused. It's probably the most economic piece of animated filmmaking that Disney has ever made!

And funny thing is, The Jungle Book recycled a lot of animation from this! The elephants all collapsing and banging into each other? What casual Disney fan would've known that the scene of Col. Hathi stopping only for the elephants to crash into him was taken from an older short subject? Certainly fascinating, indeed. Man, the Jungle Book connections are unavoidable! Oh yeah, did you know that the film is coming to Blu-ray next spring? Okay, let's move on...

So yes, this little short isn't one of Bill Peet's finest hours in storytelling, but it's not terrible. It's lightweight with some good moments, but it's mostly good to watch for some Disney animation history. I liken it to something like Bongo, a good showcase of what was going on at the studio at the time (animation historian Jerry Beck's analysis of that subject is spot on), but not necessarily a stellar short subject. But I do like the score, the art direction and the Jungle Book connections. It's what I take away from this film.

Anyways, for your viewing pleasure... Goliath II...

You can find this short on the Walt Disney Treasures set Disney Rarities, the 2009 DVD of The Reluctant Dragon (short subject only, not the full 1941 film) or a 2006 DVD entitled It's A Small World of Fun Volume One. If you want to go vintage and do a little collectible hunting, you can track down the 1985 Cartoon Classics Limited Gold Edition II release How The Best Was Won: 1933-1960 - on VHS, Betamax and Laserdisc. The titular character is on the front cover!

What's your take on this short subject? Good? Classic? An interesting watch? A weaker offering from Disney? Sound off below!

1 comment:

  1. what happens to that funny tiger raja later on? how do they get rid of him? :P