Saturday Matinee #126: Life Comes to Fantasy (1945 to Present)
Published June 1, 2013
by Albert Gutierrez
In March of last year, we took a look at how live-action reference footage helps to inspire animators when they draw the movements of characters for Disney's animated films (Saturday Matinee #62). I dubbed it "Fantasy Comes to Life," as we indeed saw how the fantastical nature of animation had begun with live-action roots. This time, we'll be looking at a slight inversion of that phrase. "Life Comes to Fantasy" won't exactly look at how pre-viz animated sequences help storyboard a live-action performance. Instead, we'll check out four of my favorite moments when a live-action character stepped into that fantastical animated world:
#4: "Wow, really good reception here." (Enchanted, 2007)
Enchanted remains one of the few occurrences in which a live-action character actually becomes animated when they enter the world, and vice versa. The majority of the film saw Giselle leave the cartoon world of Andalasia for the real world of New York City. But by the film's end, it was (spoiler alert) Nancy who ventured into Andalasia. She became a cartoon in the process, albeit one with a working cell phone. I've always loved this moment, simply because it allowed Nancy to finally have her love-at-first-sight, let-me-at-him romance. Throughout the film (and in a vital deleted scene), I always saw that Nancy was secretly yearning for such a life. She needed the dalliance in fantasy, just as Giselle needed the dose of reality. Thus, the animated world is the perfect, happy ending for Nancy. Why haven't we seen Princess Nancy added to the Disney Princess line?
Enchanted is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray.
#3: "Os Quindins de Yayi" (The Three Caballeros, 1945)
As Donald Duck and Joe Carioca arrive in their pop-up book version of Baia, they come across Aurora Miranda, walking down a cartoon street. She's carrying quindims (misspelt as quindins) for any passerby to purchase, but Joe and Donald would rather walk along with her through the streets. Unfortunately for them, Aurora Miranda draws a crowd of her own, and they have a grand old time dancing in the town square. This sequence is notable for using rear-projection elements to make it seem like Aurora was standing in the cartoon world with Donald and Joe. Watching the sequence today is still a wonder, especially when we get virtual "multi-plane" shots in which the live actors are actually in front of an animated background, with Donald and Joe in the foreground.
The Three Caballeros is available on DVD.
#2: "Cheers and Candied Apples" (Mary Poppins, 1964)
The entire chalk-picture sequence from Mary Poppins could be listed here, but instead, I decided to pick this little moment with Bert, the kids, and the fox. We're only given a few shots at this angle, but I always loved it as a child. For one thing, the shot shows how both live-action and cartoon elements are used together, rather than exclusively featuring one. Most of the "character in another world" movies give prominence to one world over the other. However, in this shot, we see both sides represented equally. We have the animated background, with an animated character, holding an animated prop. At the same time, we have live-action characters, also holding live-action props, and sitting on a live-action fence. The worlds converge nicely here, showing that animation and live-action can indeed be equals. Plus, I always loved that they gave the fox his own candied apple.
Mary Poppins is available on DVD.
#1: "Everything is Satisfactual with Uncle Remus" (Song of the South, 1946)
For all intents and purposes, Song of the South does not need the live-action photoplay, which makes up the bulk of its running time. In actuality, Disney wanted to make a full-length animated feature based on the Br'er Rabbit tales. Due to the post-war struggles of the studios, he made the decision to instead mix the animated tales with a live-action wraparound story, one which is charming, but ultimately rather dull. The film shines during the animated sequences, with Uncle Remus' entrance into the world being the highlight of the entire film. The effect Disney used as a novelty in 1923 ("Alice in Cartoonland") would be refined by 1945 (The Three Caballeros), and then perfected a year later in this film.
Sadly, few will get to experience this moment with Uncle Remus unless they want to do some extra digging. Song of the South hasn't seen a legal U.S. release since 1986, although a few moments from the film have been legally available from Disney on home media. Most prominently, the entire animated sequence involving "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" and Br'er Rabbit's "running away" tale is excerpted in its entirely in the 1950 Disney television special "One Hour in Wonderland." This special is readily available on LaserDisc, DVD, and Blu-Ray with Alice in Wonderland.