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Joe Clokey Finds Gumby Essential

Anyone born before 1990 is almost surely familiar with the fantastic claymation adventures of Gumby and his equine pal Pokey. In recent years however the malleable green guy has had a somewhat lower profile. Last year he bounced back into the spotlight with a new comic series, and just recently the Gumby Essentials collection was released with remastered versions of creator Art Clokey’s 15 favorite episodes.

Toon Zone had the opportunity to discuss this new DVD by phone with Art’s son Joe, the current president of Clokey Productions.

ImageJOE CLOKEY: One of my goals was to bring back the magic that is Gumby to the next generation of kids. By doing that I’m also bringing back that magic to the core fans who grew up on Gumby in the 50s, 60s, 80s, and 90s. Gumby was on Nickelodeon in the 90s, and syndicated nationally in the 80s.

There were episodes produced in the 50s, 60s, and 80s. What I decided to do first was to remaster them from their original film. What was cool about this was that they had never been used except for the very first time a negative was made from them. They had no scratches, and they had not faded. They didn’t really require any touch-up. They looked brand new, and the colors were perfect. I saw things on the set that I’d never seen on TV or VHS. So I remastered those with the original soundtrack – the original voices and the original music. This had never been done before.

In the 1950s Gumby premiered with 22 11-minute shows, and those 11-minute shows were cut in half in 1960 into two 6-minute segments and have been shown that way ever since. I put them all back together into their original 11-minute length.

I went through the library and picked out my dad’s favorite episodes. It’s hard because really there are about 20 or more from each period that are his favorites. We’ll have to have a second edition. Anyway Classic Media said let’s do this, and they’re been going full at it to get it out there. We’re using environmentally friendly packaging because my dad and I care a lot about the environment. Gumby’s green and represents chlorophyll, clay and the earth.

TOON ZONE NEWS: Were there any episodes in particular that you felt had to be on this set?

CLOKEY: Well, my very favorite episode is called “Rain Spirits.” The two shorts it’s made of are “Rain Spirits” and “The Kachinas.” Everything I love about Gumby is in it. It has the wonderment, the magic, and the adventure in the book. It has Gumby caring for other people, and making the place better than he found it. His best friend Pokey is always part of the adventure.

Captain Clokey and his sentient paperweights.

The other one that I felt had to be on the set was “Robot Rumpus,” because that’s my dad’s all-time favorite. It’s the pilot episode for the second series. The pilot for the first series was “Gumby on the Moon,” and we have that as a bonus feature.

For the 60s episodes it was easy, because it’s the five episodes that my dad and the fans have always loved. “Ricochet Pete” is a fantastic episode that has a lot of humor in it. I just recently showed that at the biggest puppet exhibit in North America. There were 400 puppeteers there including Jim Henson’s daughter, and they were roaring with laughter at the puppet show at the end of the episode. My dad grew up on Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd, and that kind of physical humor shows up a lot.

TZN: You said the episodes now have the original music. Does that mean it was replaced at some point during their broadcast history?

CLOKEY: The original music was used up until 1988, when Lorimar funded 100 new episodes. They wanted the new music from the 80s series to be consistent, and put it over the old episodes. I thought that was a horrible idea, and I fixed it. We’re not ever going to let that happen again. It was a huge error. Every Gumby fan on the planet hated it. People have an audio memory, and even though the voices were mostly the same you have to have that same soundtrack. The difference is like night and day.

TZN: Speaking of originals, are any of the original Gumby animators still with the company?

CLOKEY: Yes, we have the animators from the 80s series. Our super talented animators and set builders don’t hang around when we’re in between productions though. They work from project to project, but they’re always in contact with us. Four or five of our crewmembers were the lead animators and set builders for the recent King Kong film. My dad’s favorite animator and my favorite friend was the lead animator on Gollum for the Lord of the Rings movies. When we’re in actual animation production they work for us again. They love my dad. Most of these people, some of the best animators in the business, got their start with Gumby.

TZN: A couple years ago there seemed to be a mainstream claymation revival with the Corpse Bride and Wallace & Gromit movies. How do your and your father feel about these big budget modern projects?

Captain Clokey Senior sets up for a round of Gumby bowling.

CLOKEY: We love them. They’re beautiful stop motion projects. We’ve always believed that there is a special texture and appeal to stop motion. As my dad says, in computer animation you have a computer between the animator and the work, whereas with stop animation the animator’s hands are actually on the clay and light actually hits the set. If you look at the Empire Strikes Back sets and then compare them to the new Star Wars, there is something missing in the new films. There isn’t the textural appeal of real life. Real life isn’t perfect. That’s the problem with computer animation. It’s a great art form and Pixar does a great job with it, but they’re actually trying to build into their computer models irregularities because the human face and the movements humans make aren’t regular.

Stop motion animators have always known that. It’s kind of come through their hands through the acting they do with the puppets. It’s a separate art form that will never be replaced by computer animation. Take Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer. My mom used to say it looks shaky, but it’s a classic and it’s one of my all time favorite Christmas shows. What’s appealing about it is the charm. Then you can look at Wallace & Gromit or Corpse Bride and see how good movie animation can be and how much it has evolved.

TZN: Could you imagine ever teaming up with Aardman Animations (Wallace & Gromit) on a Gumby feature film?

CLOKEY: Well, we have our own studio. Aardman had DreamWorks behind them and they spent $50 million in five years to make their movie. They have their own style and way of doing things that are different from ours. I love Aardman. I just couldn’t afford them. Ten years ago I asked my Dad who he thinks is the best animator on the planet and he said Nick Park. My dad has great respect for him.

TZN: You don’t think Gumby would ever go the CG route as Aardman did with Flushed Away?

CLOKEY: My dad never wanted that, and I don’t either. I think computer animation is a great art form. Take Finding Nemo, Cars, or Robots for example. I loved Robots. However Gumby is clay, he’s of the earth. We think real sets are superior to computer generated ones. It’s a different art form though, and I don’t want to put down computer animation.

TZN: I agree that the texture lends the animation a certain charm that you can’t achieve with computers.

CLOKEY: It comes from the animators. It’s actually acting. If you watch our animators, they act in a mirror. When a character had to do a jump for our Davey and Goliath snowboard special you could see them pretending to jump over a mountain.

Daily incantations have not been proven to enable book phasing, but it’s worth a shot.

TZN: I’ve heard that a Gumby DTV film and TV series are in development. Can you provide any details on those projects?

CLOKEY: Yes, Classic Media and we are working on that. I can’t tell you anything more though, because when you’re in production you don’t talk about it.

TZN: What is the market like for claymation these days? I know you’ve done some commercials, and are working on those Gumby projects.

CLOKEY: Gumby‘s coming back in a big way. This is the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the original Gumby TV series. In addition to the best episodes this Gumby Essentials DVD has “Gumbasia,” which is a three minute clay animation art film done to the beat of jazz music. It’s still mind-blowing today. It was the inspiration that got NBC to give my dad his own show with total creative freedom. So we have that on there, and we have the original Gumby “Have a Heart” song from the 60s remastered.

TZN: Is there a chance on a future DVD release of an interview with your father?

CLOKEY: He doesn’t do interviews anymore, but actually three or four years ago when he was still doing them we shot about 30 hours of him talking about Gumby. The filmmaker who shot it made a documentary called Gumby Dharma about the life of my dad. That is going to be on the Sundance Film Channel next spring.

TZN: It sounds like Classic Media is going to primarily market this DVD toward people who grew up with Gumby. No doubt many of these people now have children. Do you think today’s kids can easily relate to the classic Gumby episodes?

The ever youthful stars have remained silent on the subject of plasticine surgery.

CLOKEY: Absolutely. We’ve shown them to groups of children over the last 6-7 years and they loved them. The last generation to grow up on Gumby is in their teens now. The first Gumby movie sold like 800,000 copies in 1996. As for today’s kids, I’ve never met one that didn’t love Gumby. They’re fascinated by the adventures because my dad wasn’t making Gumby episodes just for the 50s or the 60s or the 80s. He wasn’t thinking of marketing, his whole focus was to entertain kids. He kind of kept an eleven-year-old boy in him. His whole focus is to have an adventure. Gumby goes into a book and ends up in space or the Wild West, or has adventures that may not make sense and are trippy in a surreal way.

The adventures are classic in the sense that they work for every generation. That’s why Gumby has its iconic appeal. We’ll sell tens of thousands of a certain Gumby t-shirt, even this year. Just because people want that iconic figure. They love Gumby and Pokey and what they represent.

TZN: Speaking of appealing to today’s kids, it strikes me that Gumby may have significantly influenced the currently very popular Spongebob Squarepants in terms of character and design.

CLOKEY: Actually the creator of that show contacted my dad a few years back and said they felt Gumby was its godfather, and that they were carrying on the Gumby tradition. There’s a certain similarity in the humor. Spongebob isn’t a clone of Gumby obviously. What’s cool about that series is that it appeals to kids and to adults.

TZN: It’s perhaps a little more subversive than Gumby, but they share the sense of wonder and innocence.

CLOKEY: Gumby is very wholesome, but it also has a subversive side in that it’s so surrealistic. It’s very stream of consciousness, not cookie cutter Hollywood animation. It’s actually a pure creation from the artist, which is very rare these days.

Thanks to Joe Clokey for taking the time to speak with us about the wonders of green clay. Gumby Essentials is available at fine retailers everywhere.

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