Wednesday, May 22, 2013

HIAWATHA Revisited

There is one bonus feature on last year's POCAHONTAS (1995) Blu ray that justified buying the disc even for someone like me who isn't too keen on revisiting the flawed main film. To my knowledge, no one has reviewed this eleven minute clip yet.

Years ago when I first read Charles Solomon's book "The Disney That Never Was", I got really excited about two abandoned projects. One was the FANTASIA (1940) encore piece CLAIR DE LUNE which in my youthful spirit I immediately decided to remake (without having known about the 1995 restoration of the original). The other one was Disney's in-development-version of Longfellow's poem "The Song of Hiawatha":

"[Walt] kept bringing it up over the years, trying to find the right way to do something with it. He said to us, 'there's something there, y'know? Something we could do - something that's right for us. I don't know what it is or how we'd do it. Don't think of a film, don't even think of a show - don't limit your thinking to a regular theater. Maybe it's something out in the woods, or on a mountain, maybe people are brought in - or - I don't know - but there's something there!'"
(Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston in "The Disney That Never Was", p. 180)
 "A crew of artists led by Dick Kelsey sought to trim and reorganize Longfellow's sprawling 'Indian Edda' into a straightforward story that could be told in a single film." (Solomon, p. 180)
Charcoal, pastels; artist: Dick Kelsey

According to Solomon the feature was in development until the end of 1949 when it was finally shelved. The book contains many beautiful pieces of color artwork, mainly by leading artist Dick Kelsey.

It is well-known that Eric Goldberg, Mike Gabriel and art director Michael Giaimo looked at these HIAWATHA sketches when they developed POCAHONTAS. On the European BD we can now join them.
According to Goldberg, Minnehaha was the inspiration for Pocahontas' friend Nakoma.

After a short introduction by Charles Somolon, Eric Goldberg narrates an eight minute version of the full plot as visualized by storyboards (most of it enlargements from photostats of whole boards) and color development art. Listening to this retelling of the story, it is hard to imagine the many realistic looking characters animated convincingly. This and its primarily adult subject matter are probably the reason why the plug was finally pulled.

One of the photostats the storyboards are taken from.
Even those that are too small to be in focus are included.
Since this is not a gallery but an After Effects enhanced animatic, the images are always panning or zooming. This makes it harder to freeze frame and closely look at them. On the other hand, this whole feature is in HD which means that the picture quality is better than in any of the previous concept art galleries on DVD.

Of course, as usual, no artists except Kelsey and Bill Cottrell are credited, the clip is fairly short and obviously, the POCAHONTAS parallels are slightly if not unduly emphasized. But to date, this bonus feature is the most comprehensive collection of HIAWATHA artwork available. If you want to know what little there is to know about the development of the project, Solomon's book is still the place to go.
This reminds me of the great paintings by Canadian artists of the Algonquin School (Group of Seven).

Goldberg claims that POCAHONTAS' use of non-realistic color for emotional value was inspired by these concept drawings. If only they paid a little more attention to the absence of pink and purple...
Some of the images seem to be photographed straight out of Solomon's book.

Originally, I planned to write a paragraph about the story itself as presented by Eric Goldberg. But especially in the light of Disney/Pixar's current DIA DE LOS MUERTOS trademark controversy these remarks have grown into a longer essay which I will have to revise for a future post.

In the meantime, it is time for another Clampett analysis!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This was fascinating! Thanks for sharing. By the way, have you heard about Fantasia's Destino segment? It was planned to based off of Salvador Dali's artwork. However, the project was ultimately abandoned until many decades later when some of the Disney staff uncovered the storyboards and animated them in 2003.