The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

Michael Sporn was a successful independent animator who lived and worked in New York City. A remarkably gifted individual, he built a long and prolific legacy of award-winning animated short films, often adapted from popular children’s books. According to Wikipedia, he produced and directed over thirty half-hour specials for PBS, CBS, HBO and Showtime. He created cartoon shorts for Sesame Street, public service announcements for UNICEF, and also music videos, documentary and film titles, commercial logos and industrial spots. He was immensely prolific and talented.

In addition to these achievements, Sporn created over fifteen short films, including adaptations of Raggedy Ann & Andy, Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, Goodnight Moon, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Little Match Girl, The Red Shoes, and many more. No doubt you will have your favorites from his filmography; I know I have mine.

Sporn was working on a feature animated movie based on the life and works of Edgar Allen Poe during his final years, which, unfortunately, was never to see completion. It was during this time that he began his battle with pancreatic cancer, which he fought with boundless courage and good spirits. Unfortunately, he would succumb to the disease, passing away in 2014.

In the early months of 2006, as I was beginning Ghibli Blog, Sporn was kind enough to send me a DVD copy of his most recent film, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (I repaid his kindness by sending a package of numerous Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata films which were only then available in Japan). Based upon a great illustrated book, It tells the story of a Manhattan performance artist who famously tied a tightrope between the then-newly built World Trade Center towers, then danced and frolicked between the towers to the delight of the people below. The cartoon captures a sense of pencil and watercolor nostalgia, perfectly realized from the book, sparsely and carefully animated, as though Sporn did not wish to impose himself. It is the work of an artist with a keen eye, a sharp mind, and a humble spirit.

As a visual artist myself (or at least a good substitute for one), I enjoy the look of this movie, its illustrative style, like the pages of the book sparkled with life. It reminds me of all the terrific animation I used to watch as a child on a USA Network show called “Calliope,” stories about The Wild Things and Phil Harmonic and Carole King looking for her Chicken Soup. Michael Sporn would have been at home on that program.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers won many awards, including the Audience Choice Award at the 2005 Heartland Film Festival, the award for Best Short Animation Made For Children at the 2006 Ottawa International Animation Festival, and the Andrew Carnegie Medal For Excellence in Children’s Video. He earned an Academy Award Nomination for his 1984 short film Doctor DeSoto, adapted from William Steig’s children’s book.

I cannot claim to have personally known the man. I only shared my love of movies and animation between our two websites (Sporn’s Splog remains a treasure trove of animation history and criticism). But I found Michael Sporn to be kind and generous, always patient and cheerful, and always an inspiration. I do wish he were still alive, so that I could walk into his New York studio with copies of my books in hand. I’d love to hear what he would think.

When some people die, the world they leave behind becomes a little quieter, a little colder, a little less colorful and interesting. Michael Sporn has gone from us, and the silence in the autumn air speaks volumes. If only we could hear his voice just once more. But time moves forward, and all things must pass.

Leave a Reply