Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Let’s Review a Movie: Frank and Ollie (1995)

Today would have been the 100th birthday of an amazing man, Ollie Johnston.  Like Ward Kimball, who I’ve talked about before, Ollie was of Walt’s Nine Old Men.  He brought great personality animation to many of Disney’s features over his long career, along with writing several books including the wonderful ‘Illusion of Life’.  In honour of all of that I’ve decided to celebrate the occasion by looking at the film that documented his life and career, along with the life of his animation partner and lifelong friend Frank Thomas.

First off it’s great that everything about this DVD is geared towards 2D animation.  From the DVD menu screen, to the bonus feature material about Winsor McCay, to the art on the box; showing Ollie and Frank with some of the characters they helped animate over the years, moving from pencil drawings to full colour.  Although some of those designs are totally off-model.  

Through-out the movie they have people discussing different scenes that they did like Frank’s animation of Bambi and Thumper ice skating, and Ollie talking about animating Thumper’s speech about eating blossoms.  Ollie and Frank talk about scenes they did together like Alice and the doorknob in Alice in Wonderland, and Mowgli and Baloo in The Jungle Book.  People talk about the different ways the two men animated and how they brought out the personalities of the characters.  I found the discussion about Frank’s animation of the spaghetti scene in Lady and the Tramp really interesting, because I never noticed before that Tramp eats more than Lady does because he’s a street dog and Lady having a home and being more well fed enjoys the music more than the meal.  Frank and Ollie also talk about their own mentors in animation like Fred Moore and Bill Tytla.  Ollie even shows Fred Moore’s pencil that he kept taped to his window to remind him what a great artist Fred was.  They of course talk about Walt and working at Disney, that includes some fun bits like the caricatures all the artists did of each other about ever topic every discussed.        

But the documentary is not just about their careers as animators, but their personal lives as well.  The movie opens with photographs of Frank and Ollie when they were little.  They talk about their early years living in a boarding house, and their time at art school.  They talk about the Disney shorts that got them interested in animation.  Frank talks about how he always gets he’s best ideas when shaving.  Ollie talks about getting great ideas while walking, and then the movie showing the path he had made in the grass from doing it so often.  It shows Ollie’s model railroad hobby and Frank’s time with the Firehouse Five Plus Two. The music for the movie uses that jazz style too and I love it.  We see them and their wives dancing and laughing as Frank plays the piano.  There are some great slice of life things like doing the crossword puzzle, talking walks, and Ollie looking for a specific drawing then complaining to Marie that he can’t find it and her making a great comeback.  Then the camera focuses on a post-it note that reads “if you can’t find it look in here”.  We even get some screen time with their wives by themselves too which I thought was great because Marie Johnston worked in the ink and paint department at the Disney studio way back in the 1940’s.  It’s really wonderful to see them all reminiscing and having fun and just being a great group of friends.  It also saddens me to know that all four of them are gone now.   Still the great work that Frank and Ollie did with Disney and the lives they lived touched both near with their family and friends and far with the animators they mentored, and audiences around the world lives on and that’s not bad.   
In closing I think this is a wonderful documentary of two amazing men and any fan of animation or Disney in general should really check it out.   

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