The other day, Brandon, our resident "Technology Specialist" here at Primal Screen, came up to me and asked, "Ward, what do animators consider as 'The Holy Grail' of animation?" He asked me this because he was considering flying to New York to see an extremely rare screening what many cinemaphiles consider as "The Holy Grail" of cinema: Out 1, a 13 hour long 1971 film directed by French New Wave director Jacques Rivette. There is only one English subtitled print of the film, and that one print will be screened at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, NYC this weekend. (To read more about this film, click HERE.)
SO -- What would you consider The Holy Grail of Animation? What cartoon, short film, or feature (or anything else) that you've heard about but have never seen -- preferably something that is practically impossible to see -- that has achieved legendary status throughout the years?
Bob Clampett's Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarves (1943) comes to mind. Anything else that you've heard or read about that's considered a rarity to actually find on videotape, DVD, or film?
To get the ball rolling, I asked several of my animation contacts this very question and the answers I've received so far are as varied as there are animation styles out there. One thing is certain: everyone has their own personal take on what they consider a 'Holy Grail'. Whether it was something that was seen during childhood or historically lost and/or forgotten films, these 'grails' all represent something special to these animators. Here are some of their answers (I'll update this often when I receive any new replies):
Animation historian Jerry Beck has a great deal on his Grail List:
I have many personal "Holy Grail's". For example, I'd love to see original Technicolor prints of the four lost Columbia BARNEY GOOGLE cartoons (I have silent, korean colorized versions that were never publicly released). I'd like to see the lost Snuffy Smith Paramount Noveltoon SPREE FOR ALL (1946). I'd like to see all twelve of the Dick Huemor TOBY THE PUP cartoons (RKO, 1931). Luckily several have resurfaced in recent years.
The four or five United Artists' DAFFY DITTIES cartoons by Frank Tashlin (from 1945-6) and the Republic JERKY JOURNIES (1947) are essentially lost (though I know of several fragments in collectors hands).
The biggest Holy Grail's for Warner Bros. cartoon buffs would be the lost ending to THE HECKLING HARE (Tex Avery, 1942). The abrupt ending has confounded cartoon fans for years... and it is this bit that caused Avery's dismissal from Leon Schlesinger Productions.
I probably could go on and on. There are lost Fleischer cartoons, Columbia cartoons, even lost Terrytoons. Maybe those should stay lost. Gene Deitch is looking for his first entertainment cartoon (done at UPA) HOODY DOODY AND THE MAGIC HAT.
Animation historian, professor, author, and animator John Canemaker:
I would love to see all of the influential, innovative short films of the late George Dunning available to the public. especially THE WARDROBE; THE APPLE; THE FLYING MAN; DAMON THE MOWER; THE MAGGOT, and THE TEMPEST (a work-in-progress).
Dan Sarto of AWN:
There is an old MGM cartoon I saw in college 25 years ago, Uncle Tom's Cabana I believe it was called, that featured the wolf going nuts over the pretty singer at the club, etc....I have no idea if that's available, but I'd put it in the same category.
Tom Knott from Laika:
The top of my list is:
George Pal's pre-Hollywood Puppettoons.
I've seen a few of these but not all. I understand that many are deteriorating and need major restoration.
Tom Sito lists some things that are not actual films:
The Original Preston Blair book, with all the real copyright charactrers in them ( I have a copy),
I'd like to see the notes from Don Graham's first lecture at Disney in 1935.
Maybe Meile Cohls shorts done in the US, based on McManus Life WIth Father, which were all destroyed in a fire at the E'Clair film vaults in New Jersey in 1911.
Animator Joel Trussell:
Youtube's pretty much put an end to any holy grails for me. I remember a few years ago being on a quest for John K's early work with Mighty Mouse, but it was only available on PAL tapes. I would've had to put down a $200 deposit to rent a PAL vcr in order to see them and I passed. Now I can just type it into Youtube and presto!
I mean c'mon, you can even get the Mighty Orbots opening sequence there...LINK
Black Coal for that matter too...LINK
My holy grail now is Lucas' Electronic Labyrinth, which you can see here, but not with the original soundtrack...LINK
Step it up Youtuber's! I know you've got it somewhere out there.
Fellow Atlantan animator Clay Croker offered up his list (he's since added more in the comments -- read here):
The original version of The Thief should be at the top of EVERYONE'S list.
My "personal conquest" list is much quirkier.
* The 1967 animated Spider-Man pilot is at the top of THAT list. (I saw about 75% of it at a convention 25 years ago)
* The italian(?) or french(/) version of A Christmas Carol that I saw numerous times as a kid...
* The Chuck Jones' produced Dennis The Menace cartoon that ran on "The Curiousity Shop" in the early 7o's
* The first Fat Albert animation that ran on a 1960's Bill Cosby special, where he was about 20 feet tall and buildings collapsed around him as he ran.
* more Jot cartoons...some really weird ones I remember.
* and LOTS of GREAT animated commercials from the 1950s and 60s!
I'll think of some more, but those are off the top of my head.
I realize that these aren't classics, but I would really love to see 'em
Animation historian and author Michael Barrier:
I've been immersed in Walt Disney for the last few years, so herewith some candidates from Walt's output:
1) The two missing Laugh-O-gram fairy tales--Jack and the Beanstalk and Goldie Locks and the Three Bears.
2) Any of the missing Disney silents in the Alice and Oswald series, especially those from 1927-28.
3) Any of Disney's 1921-22 Newman Laugh-O-grams in their original form (the surviving reel is evidently a patchwork).
4) The Little Artist, the (apparently) unfinished film that Disney and Fred Harman made together circa 1921.
5) Any examples of Walt's work at Kansas City Film Ad in 1920-22.
Animation professor and Animation Journal editor Maureen Furniss:
Hi - my TA is madly searching for Hot Wheels cartoons. He's a TV animation historian and really wants them in any way, shape, or form. As for me, I've always lamented that UPA films are so hard to find. I think the main reason Hellboy DVDs sold at all is that Gerald McBoing Boing and The Telltale Heart are in the supplements. I've got a copy of a 'Sony Classics' video that went out of print long ago, and the colors are horrible (a huge problem when teaching UPA to students who are already doubtful about anything made more than about ten years ago). But I'd even like to see other UPA works in circulation -- beyond the Boings and the 'classic' one shots that the studio's so famous for (Rooty Toot Toot, etc.). And then there's the original Gumbys . . .
Of course, being an historian of experimental work, there's a whole bunch of stuff in my 'hard to see' category. For example, James Whitney's "Lapis."
Fellow Cartoon Brewer and author Amid Amidi:
I doubt most of these are commonly sought after by a large percentage of animation fans, but my "holy grail" list includes: a nice print of the animated segments of THE FOUR POSTER, short films by Fred Mogubgub, the FAT ALBERT pilot, the PETE THE PUP tv pilot by Milt Gross, Manuel Otero's MAITRE, the storyboard for the second FLEBUS short, John Sutherland's industrial film ROMANCE OF CHEESE, the commercial output of UPA-NY and the original pilot for UPA's DUSTY OF THE CIRCUS.
And if an entire studio can be included in the list of "holy grails" I'd nominate the British outfit WM Larkins Studios. This is about as lost as a studio can become and their work has been criminally forgotten and buried. They produced tons of amazing industrial films and theatrical commercials during the 1940s and 1950s. The real genius there was a guy named Peter Sachs, but other big names in animation like Bob Godfrey, Philip Stapp and Richard Taylor also worked there. I want to see all of their work. Some of their industrial work is documented HERE.
Many respondents mention Richard Williams' original cut of The Thief and the Cobbler as the ultimate Holy Grail of Animation. The film could also be described as The Magnificent Ambersons of animation, as the film was recut and reedited, much to the horror of the filmmaker. Began in 1968, "Thief" was a project that Dick Williams noodled with throughout the years, even hiring animation legends Art Babbitt and Grim Natwick to work on it. After it was seized by Completion Bond, the final watered-down version was eventually released in 1995 in North America as ARABIAN NIGHT -- a mere shell of William's original vision (there are many work prints floating around out there as copies of copies on VHS with some amazing animation that did not make the final cut).
Recently, filmmaker Garrett Gilchrist did the painstaking job of putting together the definitive version of "Thief" -- the one that closely resembles Dick's original version. You can view The Thief and the Cobbler: Recobbled Cut on YouTube in segments, but I'd rather wait to have a nice quality version once it's available.
Oh, I forgot to add that another oft-mentioned "Holy Grail" from the many animators who replied to my question is Disney's Song of the South. There's been a Japanese Laserdisc version available for years now (I've got a VHS copy from that disc), providing many within the industry the one and only chance to see this film in in its entirety. Last released in the theatres in the mid-80's, it's been holed up in the Disney vault ever since. There was a possibility of "Song" being released on DVD this year (as perhaps part of the popular Leonard Maltin-hosted "Disney Treasures" -- which are more aimed at adults), but Disney chief Rob Iger shot that possibility down. (You can read a transcript of the reasons why Iger decided not to release the film on DVD at a shareholder's meeting HERE.)
So...what film or cartoon do you consider the "Holy Grail" of animation? Would love to hear what others have to say.