Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

A blog dedicated to the making of the first animated Christmas special, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Christmas Belles

One of the biggest pleasures in writing the book was finding out how many people loved the special and were excited to read about its genesis.  One of those was a fellow animator, who visited me at my office to buy a copy of the book last year  and whose interest in animation dated back to his teen years in the early 1960s.  He used to haunt the dumpsters in back of the various animation studios around Los Angeles and his rescue efforts paid off in some rather unique and  interesting finds. 

At UPA, for example, he discovered Abe Levitow's original model sheet drawings for the 1960s Mr. Magoo model in the trash,

as well as some of the most unusual items from the special to come to my attention.  As he went through his stack, he showed me some cels from the show-not just the standard production cels but cels which had a very different version of Belle on them.  This Belle was the one designed by Tony Rivera,

and not the one we know from the special, as designed by Lee Mishkin.  

Unlike the cels of the Tony Rivera’s three ghosts depicted in the book (p. 84), these were not suggested model cels of Belle but the same model from three different scenes, sequentially numbered, indicating they were random cels from those scenes.  These were production cels!

To say the least, it was a rather stunning find.  Later, another collector showed me a character layout with the same model of Belle, yet more evidence of a mid-production change.  Recently, I had the chance to examine the original scene folders for this sequence and found notes on them indicating that the scenes had indeed been re-animated.  There's no doubt this sequence was first animated, inked, painted and shot using the Tony Rivera model of Belle.  

I mention this in the audio commentary track on the new DVD release but here you have the opportunity to see the difference first hand. Tony's model of Belle, while simple, is still appealing but the animator for these scenes seems to have completely lost the charm inherent in the original design.  As the DVD feature "From Pencil to Paint" shows, the animators relied heavily on the character layouts as guides for their animation, consequently the layout artist for this sequence also shares some responsibility.  Rivera's clean graphic design has deteriorated into a series of undulating lines defining virtually nothing.  A sensitive hand was needed to translate his graphic sensibility into animation; lacking that, a new approach was required. 

Arguments could certainly be made regarding the quality of draftsmanship in the revised scene but this version of Belle is more feminine and far easier on the eyes.  What was difficult to comprehend is that on a film which clearly did not have a luxurious budget, an entire sequence would make it all the way through the production process to final color, only to be redone.  Making the decision to completely redo it was an expensive one although it also appears to have been the right one.   To compare it to live action, it was as if the sequence had been shot with one actress only to realize there was no chemistry and it had to be recast and reshot with a new actress.


Anonymous said...

A very important find! The final Belle design although a drastic improvement still reflects the time constraints at the time , but her cute , elegant design blends with Mago0. As you know I have a drawing from this scene as well with Belle and Mago0 dancing when she was still in the early chubby stage and her face was not even drawn in! The Mago0 Admirer

Craig said...

Great stuff! Love it!

Joe R. Frinzi said...

Wow! What a find. Clearly the new Belle is better, but it's great to see this earlier version of her character. I can't wait to see what other treats you have in store for us on the new DVD extras. Thanks Darrell.

Joel Brinkerhoff said...

What an improvement! I agree it's hard to imagine the first design being approved and not showing the inadequacies earlier in the boards and layouts. Great find!