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AMERICAN MASTERS: TYRUS

What to know: Shines a much-deserved light on the life of Tyrus Wong, who worked on classic animated films for Disney, Warner Bros and others.
Recommended age 12-18
80 minutes
CDROM
PBS DISTRIBUTION
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This American Masters program shines a much-deserved light on the life of Tyrus Wong, a Chinese American artist who emigrated to the U.S. at nine-years-old and struggled through poverty and prejudice to become an artist for Disney Pictures and Warner Brothers. Wong's masterful drawings and paintings combined classic Chinese styles with Western themes that was first recognized at Disney, with Wong's work directly inspiring the impressionistic style of the classic Bambi. Regrettably, due to prejudice, Wong was only credited as a background artist in the final film. But he was celebrated in his later years for his artwork, which included holiday cards and painted ceramic dinnerware. The program's 80 minutes fly by in a smoothly-edited collage of archival footage, movie clips, copious examples of Wong's art and interviews with Wong, his daughters as well as art and film historians. Fans of Bambi will likely wish there was a greater emphasis on the film and Wong's contributions, but overall this is a vivid and engaging portrait of a relatively unknown, yet influential artist who passed away in 2016 at age 106. Recommended for ages 12 to 18 and older. 4.5 out of 5 stars. Reviewed by Michael F., KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror
People worldwide have seen the Disney animated classic Bambi and have been deeply moved by it, but few can tell you the name of the artist behind the film. Even fewer are aware of this pioneering artist's impact on American art and popular culture. Until his death at the age of 106, Tyrus Wong (1910-2016) was America's oldest living Chinese American artist and one of the last remaining artists from the golden age of Disney animation. The quiet beauty of his Eastern-influenced paintings caught the eye of Walt Disney, who made Wong the inspirational sketch artist for Bambi. Filmmaker Pamela Tom (A Tribute to Sir Sidney Poitier, Two Lies) corrects a historical wrong by spotlighting this seminal, but heretofore under-credited, figure. Born in Canton (now Guangzhou), China, right before the fall of the Chinese Empire, Wong and his father immigrated to America in 1919, never to see their family again. The film shows how he overcame a life of poverty and racism to become a celebrated painter who once exhibited with Picasso and Matisse, a Hollywood sketch artist, and 'Disney Legend.' Previously unseen art and interviews with Wong, movie clips and archival footage illustrate how his unique style - melding Chinese calligraphic and landscape influences with contemporary Western art - is found in everything from Disney animation (Bambi) and live-action Hollywood studio films (Rebel Without a Cause, The Wild Bunch, Sands of Iwo Jima, April in Paris) to Hallmark Christmas cards, kites and hand-painted California dinnerware to fine art and Depression-era WPA paintings. The film also features new interviews with his daughters and fellow artists/designers, including his Disney co-worker and friend Milton Quon, Andreas Deja (The Little Mermaid), Eric Goldberg (Aladdin) and Paul Felix (Lilo & Stitch), and curators and historians of Wong's work.
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