Sunday, 19 December 2010

Blabs on "The Small One"

It certainly has been a while when I did my "Blabs" series, and the first was Dumbo. But now I'd like to talk about one of my favourite Don Bluth films; and also one of Bluth's last films when he was working for Disney; yep this is The Small One.

Hmm, some of you people may think--this is interesting! Well, no Walt Disney didn't really have involvement in it; and the film was made when Walt was long gone; but Disney actually adapted the film rights in the 1950's, when Small One was based on a popular story by Charles Tazewell, however at the time Pete Young (the story writer) was going to write the screenplay; but to get help and advice from some of the Disney old-timers; Bluth hired veteran Vance Gerry to co-write the screenplay.

Now, The Small One is a Christmas animated-feature that was released in 1978, by Walt Disney Productions, and it was directed and produced by Don Bluth; and originally this film was released to mark the reissue for Pinocchio. At the time, Don Bluth was rumored to succeed Wolfgang Reitherman (who was head of the Disney animated-features canon), and soon Woolie would be retiring; and Bluth wanted Disney to go back to it's old ways; and started making test-features (Small One including), and since some of the Disney artists disagreed; Bluth and a few of his workers went on to form "Don Bluth Productions", along with John Pomeroy and Gary Goldman, and a few others, and went on to produce some acclaimed animated films like The Secret of NIMH, An American Tale, The Land Before Time, etc.

Part 1.
Part 2.

I think The Small One is a fine attempt of Don Bluth's first masterpiece; of course; it's surprisingly underrated, and Bluth had finished working on The Rescuers, and originally the director for The Small One was going to be Dick Sebast (who was credited for story and animator on The Rescuers, and animator on Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too). Afterwards, Don Bluth took over the film; and started doing it his own way. Bluth animated a some scenes in the film as well.

The story really focuses on the hills, outside the town Nazareth; and the Boy (who isn't named, but voiced by Sean Marshall who was the star of Pete's Dragon), and he lived in a farm with his father; and they owned a lot of donkeys; but the Boy's favourite was "Small One", they liked to play and have fun; although since the Donkey was getting tired, old and weak; the father had no choice but to sell the donkey; leaving the Boy devastated; but accepts it anyway.
The next, day they go to the town market; and the Boy tries to sell the donkey for one silver coin; and then he encounters the Tanner; and only wants the Donkey to kill and tan him; but the Boy refuses and runs off; and sees a group of merchants, and advice him to sell the donkey to the auctioneer; but the auctioneer was only bidding horses, not donkeys; and as a result he starts to insult "Small One". This leaves to the Boy depressed, when he couldn't sell him; until Joseph finally sells the donkey and takes his wife all the way to Bethlehem.

The story is nice; and the animation is quite rough, but the acting is still there; and the charm is also still there. Now, animators and crew who worked on films such as Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, The Reluctant Dragon, Dumbo, or Peter Pan, etc. Most of them are not with us anymore; and very few of those people are still living with us. While on films like The Small One and The Rescuers; there's still a lot of folks still with us. Like, Don Bluth; for instance, and animators like Dorse Lanpher, John Pomeroy, Gary Goldman, Chuck Harvey, Ted Kierscey, etc. So, it would be nice for a change to talk about a different Disney film; that is in fact sort of a Nativity film; which the plot has twists into it, and fits in well.

Probably, my favourite scene in The Small One are the Three Merchants who go around singing, Clink, clink, clank, clank; the animation is so wonderful and beautifully timed; and a lot of speedlines in there; and it all fits so well. I think it's a highlight to the film. The tall merchant with the 5 o'clock shadow reminds me of Jafar from Aladdin, and the medium sized merchant with the langy beard reminds me of one of the characters in The Thief and the Cobbler, and the small merchant really reminds me of Merry weather from Sleeping Beauty; probably the face really looks alike; and the fact that they're both wearing blue. The merchants have been a favourite of mine in the film; and they were actually animated by Disney veteran; not Frank, Ollie, Milt or Ward Kimball; it was Cliff Nordberg. Yes, we all know that Cliff animated at Disney for many years; and worked on most of the Disney features; and in this short The Small One he is now an animation director; and he got two characters to work on all by himself; the 3 merchants and the Auctioneer. I believe at the time, Cliff was the oldest staff in the animation department that was still animating, while Frank and Ollie retired. Probably, the only Disney veterans on the film who were experienced were Cliff Nordberg and Vance Gerry; and Cliff was the most professional animator on the film; and they were probably the only two that worked with Walt closely on the films with screen-credits.

However, the scenes of the three Merchants have been altered, and the voices have been altered in later issues; by the PC Police; originally the lyrics were "we simply cheat a little if we must", and changed to "we work a little harder if we must.", and on DVD versions, the altered song version is sticked to it; and there's NOTHING wrong with the original song; although in these YouTube videos I posted here; the merchants song is the original version; because this version I'm posting is old. The PC Police, think that the simply cheat a little if we must, was something to do with Jewish stereotypes or something.

The scenes with the Auctioneer; was also animated by Cliff Nordberg; and he does some great acting scenes; and the character looks a little like Stromboli from Pinocchio, and with a similar personality to the character. Nordberg's auctioneer is fine; but it isn't a masterpiece; and at times; I think he exaggerates on the character a bit too much; which I find over-the-top.

I should point out that much of the Boy and Donkey scenes were animated by John Pomeroy and Gary Goldman; they do an excellent job with the acting scenes; and Pomeroy animates the Joseph scenes as well; and Goldman also animates the Tanner. They were important to the story, and a lot of animators worked on the characters as well; and most of these animators on the short went on to work at Don Bluth Productions; while some remained at Disney.

There is an entire draft posted here, right here on Hans Perk's blog.

[[Addition: 20 December 2010]] 31 years ago today; veteran animator Cliff Nordberg passed away at the age of 62; let's all have a moment of silence and remember that great man!

[[Another addition: 30 January 2011]], I just discovered that female animator who worked on The Small One and several Don Bluth films, Heidi Guedel-Garfolo passed away on December 1, 2010 aged 62. May she be missed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

YES - Heidi Guedel-Garafalo was a dear friend of mine, and is most definitely missed ! I'm so glad I got to know her to the depth I did, before cancer stole her away way too young ...