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The Little Prince (1979)

March 16th, 2009 by Anne Richardson · 1 Comment · 1970's, Oregon DP, Oregon animator, Oregon art director, Oregon composer, Oregon director, Oregon editor, Oregon film, Oregon film new definition, Oregon film old definition, Oregon musician, Oregon producer, Oregon studio, Oregon voice artist, Oregon writer, Secretly French, Videos

On Dec. 30, 1935, Antoine Saint-Exupery crashed his Caudron C-630 Simoun in the Sahara Desert. He was discovered four days later, dehydrated, hallucinating, and near death, by a man passing by on a camel.

In 1942, sitting in his New York penthouse, Saint-Exupery  wrote The Little Prince.

In 1979, working out of his Northwest Portland studio, Will Vinton transferred The Little Prince to the big screen. The Little Prince drew on the talents of two Oscar winning animators, Joan Gratz – whose Oscar win would come in 1993 for Mona Lisa Descending A Staircase - and Will Vinton himself, whose Oscar for Closed Mondays was only four years old.

The only known artistic collaboration between a member of French nobility and the son of a McMinnville dairy farmer, The Little Prince was Vinton’s fifth clay animated short. Vinton was seven years away from his first clay animated feature, The Adventures of Mark Twain, eight years away from creating the California Raisins ad campaign. and nine years away from directing Michael Jackson in Speed Demon.

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You can see The Little Prince this weekend at the Hollywood Theatre, with all the original voice actors performing live, along with a live performance of a brand new score by Galen Huckins.  After the Sunday Nov. 14  performance, Will Vinton himself will be present, along with members of the Will Vinton Studio animation team, Joan Gratz, Barry Bruce and Don Merkt, to take questions from the audience.

I hereby claim The Little Prince as an Oregon film, on the merit of multiple qualifying criteria.

This post brought to you by none other than Oregon Cartoon Institute.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Dan Fiebiger // Nov 29, 2010 at 12:00 am

    Vinton’s version of “THE LITTLE PRINCE” (a British feature length live action version with Gene Wilder was released five years earlier) was the third of a series of three half-hour Claymation films commissioned by Executive Producer Billy Budd. All three were each just under a half hour long, and have been released to video by Goodtimes separately and packaged together under the title “THE LTITLE PRINCE AND FRIENDS”. (A 1979 theatrical version of all three films briefly appeared in a few theaters under the title “TRILOGY”.) The first of the Billy Budd series, shot in 16mm, was “MARTIN THE COBBLER” (1977), followed by “RIP VAN WINKLE” (Vinton’s first 35mm production) in 1978, and then “LITTLE PRINCE”.

    It should be noted that like Walt Disney, Vinton seldom did the animation for his films (although he’s quite skilled at technical camera work), and instead hired talented animators to do that work while Vinton produced, directed, and acted as the studio’s high-profile spokesman.

    When considering Vinton’s films, the work of his many talented animators should always also be noted and mentioned, since they almost always did the lion’s share of the actual animation work.

    Co-Producer Bob Gardiner did most of the animation on the Oscar-winning CLOSED MONDAYS short film (1974), as well as an earlier test film called WOBBELY WINO (1973).

    Gardiner worked as an animator on Vinton’s first clay-animated commercials, two spots for the Pacific Pear Company (a precursor to the California Raisins talking fruit idea), a short clay animation intro to a series of live action films about Soccer called SOCCER FOR EVERYONE (1975), a spot for Rainier Beer (a clay-animal parody of Coke’s “I’d like To Teach The World To Sing” commercial, 1975) , and Vinton’s second short film, MOUNTAIN MUSIC (1976) which used the mountain set left over from the Rainier Beer commercial.

    Gardiner and Vinton parted company over creative differences mid-way thru the making of Mountain Music, with Gardiner forming his own company to make commercials and PSAs, and Vinton hiring Don Merkt, Barry Bruce and a few other early animators to finish Mountain Music, and continue on with more commercials (including a spot for Levi’s Pants), and Billy Budd’s “Martin the Cobbler” after that.

    As more work came in, Vinton hired more animators and other film technicians, and moved his studio to bigger locations several times, eventually building his N.W. 22nd and Pettygrove Claymation studio to what it became in the 80s and 90s.

    After making a 17-minute 16mm documentary film about his production process in 1977, titled “CLAYMATION”, Vinton trademarked the “Claymation” name in 1978, and named his studio after his trademark.

    Under the Vinton banner, Barry Bruce’s “GREAT COGNITO” and Joan Gratz’s ‘THE CREATION”were both nominated for Best Animation Oscars in the 1980s.

    Vinton and crew’s series of half-hour holiday specials produced for CBS in the late 80s and early 90s garnered several Emmys.

    Other award-winning animators made their own films under Vinton’s banner in the 80s and 90s also. The “ARNOLD” films and “MR RESISTOR” films are good examples.

    Vinton and crew also did two clay animation TV series in the 90s, Fox’s “GARY AND MIKE” and Eddie Murphy’s Fox series, ‘THE PJs”. For these productions, Vinton got away from using mostly clay and graduated to using pre-fabricated foam puppets that were easier to animate. Vinton called the process “Foamation”.

    Vinton continued his studio until he was bought out by Nike’s Phil Knight in the late 90s, who renamed the studio “Leika”, with their first production being Henry Selleck’s “CORALINE” (2009).

    Vinton also was involved in the production of one independent computer animated feature film, “THE WILD”, released as an acquisition by Disney in 2006.

    Vinton, now mostly retired from active production, currently displays his models and sets at the Oregon Historical Society and teaches classes at the NorthWest Film and Video Center.

    The work of Vinton, Bob Gardiner, Barry Bruce, Joan Gratz, Mark Gustavson, and all the other accomplished local animators are all part of Portland’s animation legacy, and should be duely noted at every opportunity.

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