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Craft

The Blu-ray release of Disney's "Sword in the Stone" scrubbed the life out of the 1963 classic.

Over the past several weeks here, GO! has been given the privilege of talking to a couple of folks with local ties who've been on the front lines of the animation field.

Several weeks ago, we profiled Disney director Kevin Lima, who was in the area as a guest of the Lincoln Film Festival in Lincoln, along with his wife and fellow animation toiler, Brenda Chapman, the Logan County native who won an Oscar co-directing Disney's "Brave."

(Brenda, of course, has been a GO! story subject as far back as 1998, when she became the first woman director of animated feature, "Prince of Egypt.") 

This week, as you'll have already doubtless noticed in the adjoining space, McLean County native (and former Pantagraph employee!) Dena Peterson tells us about her work on the certifiably unique "Loving Vincent," premiering locally Nov. 30 at the Normal Theater.

Though Lima began in the hand-drawn, cel animation era, his career has continued through the tradition's nearly wholesale shift into the digital realm.

Peterson, meanwhile, has had no prior animation experience, yet has become a part of a groundbreaking film that she thinks may be remembered as the genre's "Steamboat Willie" for the 21st century (the Disney Mickey Mouse short that became the first animated short with synchronized sound). 

As a painter, Peterson was drawn to "Loving Vincent" because of its tactile sensibility ... of being hand-made, with every brush stroke of the 65,000 painted frames visible in the moving image.

Lima, who began at the animation table in hand-made Disney classics like "Aladdin" and "The Little Mermaid," eventually moved to the director's chair on both animation ("Tarzan") and live-action ("Enchanted") projects.

In his interview two weeks ago, he, too, professed a love for the human touch evident in cel animation before digital hyper-reality and perfection eliminated every last trace of hand-administered ink and paint.

Which brings us to a beef we've had with many a Disney animation classic from the hand-drawn era as they've migrated from their analogue origins to the digital realm — first via DVD, then into the higher-def realms of Blu-ray and beyond.

Assuming that its audience's collective eye has been trained toward the frankly sterile perfections of computer animation, we've watched the likes of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Pinocchio" and "Bambi" buffed and scrubbed within a hair of their hand-drawn life.

Using digital tools gone wild, they've eliminated every last trace, so to speak, of animation's spontaneous combustion — i.e., the bits of dust and other flotsam left behind in the act of creation — which the average person doesn't miss.

Nor, we suppose, do we. A speck of dust is a speck of dust.

But in the haste to scrub everything to 21st technical specs, so that the kiddies being baby-sat with the videos won't reject them as artifacts from the dark ages, the organic element that attracted Peterson to "Loving Vincent" has been lost.

Not always. But more often than we'd prefer.

Those of us who grew up in the pre-home video era, with Disney's cel-animated classics in constant 35mm re-release in theaters, got used to seeing the ink-and-paint strokes fluctuating within Pinocchio or Dumbo or Sneezy.

Though the studio has become less reckless with its elimination tools, there are occasional disasters still being foisted on the public, including the Blu-ray release several years ago of 1963's "The Sword in the Stone."

Granted, this is not in the upper tier of sacred Disney animation classics. But even a second-tier title like this didn't deserve the evisceration this one got in the digital realm, so drained of definition and detail in its bid for high-def perfection that it made even its earlier DVD edition look truer to its original self.

Today, the living-breathing-organic look of animation made by the hand of man and woman is no longer aesthetically pleasing to eyes conditioned to uniform perfection.

If "Loving Vincent" does nothing else for us, let us hope it returns to those who see it not only a taste for the human touch, but an appetite for some more, please.

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Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com.

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