Monday, April 22, 2024

Video: Walt Kelly's "We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us"

On Earth Day, which was first established on April 22, 1970, Walt Kelly drew this famous drawing, which became a print, above. 


He also made a short movie about the topic. Nancy Beiman, who met and became friends with Walt Kelly's wife, Selby, posted this on her Facebook page on April 22, 2021. Here's Nancy and then a link to the short film: 

"In 1970, for the first Earth Day, Walt Kelly released a 12 minute animated short film with his wife Selby Kelly called WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US. I saw it in our Environmental Science class in high school. Kelly's animation is stunning. He was one of the all time greats. Selby was art director and her son Scott Daley wrote the final music.
"In 1979 I started working for Zander's Animation Parlour in New York. I was 21 years old. One day our production manager told me that one of the assistants wanted to speak to me. I figured that they wanted to complain. No. The assistant was Selby Kelly, and she wanted to know who this young female animator was.
"We became friends. One day Selby said casually, 'Kelly and I made a film together. Would you like to see it?' (She always called him Kelly).
"Of course I would love to see the film again, I replied. I had a 16mm projector in my apartment and invited Selby for dinner and the screening. I saw something odd about the reel immediately. WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY was only 12 minutes long, yet this reel was a full 30 minutes (Before digital media we could measure the length of film by how much space it took up on a reel.) 
"I checked the first 30 feet for bad splices (another quaint custom.) 'There seem to be a lot of them,' I remarked.
"'Oh, this is the work picture. There are no copies,' Selby replied. My guts turned to ice. I checked the entire reel. I had to make one new splice.
Then I threaded up the projector and worried...but I had nothing to worry about. But I sure had something to look at.
"This was not the same film. Not at all. It was a Leica reel or story reel with filmed storyboards and Kelly reading the script, and a 'needle drop' track. (canned temp music) And it was twice as long because it had a horrific dream sequence and decidedly downbeat ending.
"Walt Kelly could not get anyone to produce this version. No TV studio in the USA, then or now, would have produced it. He got backing from a NGO for a 12 minute version, cut out the horror sequence and gave it an upbeat ending. The 12 minute version still exists, but not on YouTube.
In 1991 I was working for Warner Brothers New York. Selby was planning to move West and leave the city.
"I contacted producer Greg Ford and said 'We have to transfer this to tape before it disappears forever.'
"Greg did this and gave the Kelly family the Beta tape. 
"They released the film on VHS in 1992. Here it is.
"A word about the soundtrack: Kelly couldn't afford a session director. So the soundman in the booth never told him when to cut or do a retake. 'He read the script cold, and was getting madder and madder, because he wanted the man to tell him when he made a mistake,' Selby told me. (Kelly was a big bear of a man who took absolutely no crap from anyone and he obviously terrified the sound man.) Kelly read the entire script in one take. He did indeed make mistakes, but kept on going. This is what a good animation story pitch man does. I was amazed by how effortlessly Kelly switches between character voices.
"And this is the only recorded example of a Golden Age Disney Studio Story man doing a pitch.
Watch it. The shorter film has some dialogue cuts that help it, and Kelly made some lovely layouts that 'plus' the visuals. But this film is the more powerful version. It pulls no punches.
"There is no happy ending."
EDIT: The YouTube version, which I previously posted, has been pulled, but here's a 13 minute version from

 Link to the longer "Leica Version" here.

- This is an edited version of a blog entry from April 22, 2021.

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