Tim here. In case you’re just tuning in, it’s been a brutal week for celebrity deaths (and in the world at large, but let’s not start getting into that or I’ll be too depressed to function). Nathaniel has already written lovely pieces remembering both Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall, so I hope you’ll permit me to go much smaller, to share with you a couple of animated curios paying tribute to those stars’ respective gifts.
Befitting a great vocal contortionist, Williams played several parts in animated films over the years, most famously Aladdin in 1992, though that wasn’t his first (he was in FernGully: The Last Rainforest earlier the same year, as I expect readers born within a very narrow window of years know well, while everyone else is wondering “FernWhat?”). And even that wasn’t his very first brush with animation, which I believe was his part in a short movie that played at what was then called the Disney-MGM Studios theme park at Walt Disney World, in an attraction demonstrating, broadly, how the animation process works. It’s a short film called “Back to Neverland”; several bootlegs are available on YouTube, of which the best one I could find is here. Pending Disney’s lawyers marching through with their cease-and-desists, of course
It’s playful nonsense, with most of its charm coming from the interplay between Williams and Walter Cronkite at his most warmly authoritative, of course. Though the animated sequence is awfully sweet itself, I’ve always found, with Williams keeping the manic energy dialed down and instead simply stressing the sweetness and innocence of the character. It’s a lovely and gentle performance, all childlike joy and heart, and one of my favorite bits of Williams ephemera.
Lauren Bacall didn’t voice any animated characters until 1999’s direct-to-video Madeleine: Lost in Paris, but her voice and sharp features made her a natural for caricature in cartoons during her peak years of popularity. The first of these is the 1946 Bacall to Arms, which also happens to have been one of the very last Merrie Melodies directed by the great Bob Clampett. There’s a lousy version here, and a very good version with historian Jerry Beck chatting over the audio here. But before you watch either one, a brief caution that it’s alarmingly dated: the details of post-WWII society are historically intriguing; the mother-in-law gags are corny and tired; the film-ending blackface joke is arbitrary and awful.
As for the Bacall material, it’s an odd but compelling bit of pop culture history and self-appreciation. Functionally, the film is basically an advertisement for Warner’s hot new commodity. Watching what’s not so much a parody of To Have and Have Not as it is an animated copy, a typical horny cartoon wolf very nearly dies of erotic excitement while watching Bacall slink around and speak in the very un-Bacall tones of Sara Berner, called in when the animation crew learned that they couldn’t use the original To Have and Have Not audio.
One of the unifying themes of all the Bacall obituaries of the last week has been amazement at how perfectly she emerged into the movies, already-formed, a self-assured sex goddess and woman in full control of her own mind and expression in a male-dominated world from the second she stepped onscreen. Bacall to Arms is confirmation that this was already something people were aware of just two years into her career. She was a completely new and bold form of movie star, dominating the screen and the audience from her first entrance, a novelty who also clearly had staying power and the kind of presence that only the best of the best film icons have ever enjoyed. And that’s as clear as the nose on a grotesquely distended cartoon wolf face.