Director: Tex Avery
Release Date: April 9, 1949
Stars: Droopy, the Wolf, Lina Romay
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Señor Droopy © MGM‘Señor Droopy’ is one of Tex Avery’s most classic cartoons and arguably the best bullfight cartoon of all time, another candidate being Chuck Jones’s ‘Bully for Bugs’ from 1953.

‘Señor Droopy’ is set in Mexico and features the wolf as an overconfident champion bullfighter and Droopy as his measly challenger. Both are in love with Mexican film star/singer Lina Romay, but it’s of course Droopy who wins her: the last scene shows live action footage of this forgotten film star petting our happy hero.

But it’s of course not the story that makes the short so memorable. It’s the gags, and they come in fast and plenty. The film is stuffed with Avery’s own weird logics and cosmic laws, which lead to many a hilarious situation. The best example of Avery’s unique logic may be the following gag: when the bull has vanished between two wooden doors, the wolf closes them together, then another time, but this time vertically, reducing their size by two. He continues doing so until the large doors have been reduced to a tiny cube. He then casually throws the cube behind him, which quickly unfolds to the size of the original doors, which open to reveal a stairway to a cellar, from which the bull rushes back into the arena. Seeing is believing.

‘Señor Droopy’ is not entirely flawless: the wolf’s transformation from über-confident to panic-stricken is not really convincing, and Avery reuses the road gag from ‘Wild and Woolfy‘ (1945), which makes less sense inside the arena. But who cares! The interplay between the wolf, the bull and Droopy is delightful throughout, and even a minor character like the Mexican announcer is animated with gusto.

Watch ‘Señor Droopy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.veoh.com/watch/v202445Gjy2WGzy?h1=Senor+Droopy+-+Droopy

Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: June 3, 1949
Stars: Donald Duck,  Chip ‘n’ Dale
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Winter Storage © Walt DisneyIt’s 7 October, and Chip and Dale are storing acorns for the winter. Because they don’t get enough, they steal them from Donald Duck, who, as a forest ranger, has a sackful to plant new oak trees with.

‘Winter Storage’ was Chip and Dale’s fourth film, and only the second in their mature form. In this cartoon they are even better developed than in their previous entry, ‘Three for Breakfast’ (1948), and watching the interplay between the two chipmunks is a sheer delight. Donald’s role, on the other hand, is modest, and only comes alive in the finale, in a very nice fake ice hockey scene.

Watch ‘Winter Storage’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 77
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Sea Salts
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Honey Harvester

Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: April 8, 1949
Stars: Donald Duck, Bootle Beetle
Rating:
Review:

Sea Salts © Walt DisneyBootle Beetle, introduced in ‘Bootle Beetle‘ from 1947, returns to tell us about his relationship with ‘the captain’, and old seafaring version of Donald Duck. He relates how he and ‘the captain’ were shipwrecked and stranded on a desert island.

Bootle Beetle never was a funny character, and this cartoon, too, suffers: Bootle beetle is simply too cute. Moreover, his relationship to Donald is never explained, nor the fact why Donald is suddenly a captain. To make things worse, the cartoon is painstakingly slow. For example, it contains a very long gag on a coconut, unfavorably reminiscent of the overlong gags of the earliest character animation-based cartoons of the mid-1930’s, like ‘Mickey Plays Papa‘ (1934) or ‘Moving Day‘ (1936).

Watch ‘Sea Salts’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 76
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s Happy Birthday
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Winter Storage

Director: Mikhail Kamenetsky
Release Date: 1984
Rating: ★★
Review:

Wolf and Calf © SoyuzmultfilmMikhail Kamenetsky (1924-2006) was a director of numerous puppet films made between 1965 to 1995, almost all featuring animals.

An old wolf steals a calf to eat, but he starts to like it and to raise it like his own son. In the end, when a hungry bear, a vixen and aboar try to steal his loot, he is saved by the calf itself, which has turned into a strong bull.

‘Wolf and Calf’ is a fable-like children’s film with an old-fashioned look. The designs of the protagonists look like they have come from a 1950’s toy shop. Kamenetsky’s puppet animation is elaborate, and actually quite good, if erratic, but the film suffers from an excess of dialogue, which not always seems to correspond with the animated characters themselves.

Moreover, the film’s world is rather inconsistent, stretching its believability: the wolf, like all other animals, is highly anthropomorphic and even lives in a house, alongside humans, who are afraid of him nonetheless. The calf, on the other hand, remains on all fours, and stays an animal, even though it is able to speak.

Watch ‘Wolf and Calf’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

Director: Ideya Gagarina
Release Date: 1981
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Cabaret © SoyuzmultfilmBased on plays by Federico García Lorca, Cabaret (a better translation would be ‘farce’) is a puppet animation film, using puppets in a puppet theater.

The film is something of a musical and tells about the love between Donna Rosita and Don Cristobál. The music, by world famous composer Sofia Gubaidulina is odd and rather unconvincing in its avant-garde version of the musical genre.

The film falls into two parts: the first part looks most like an ordinary puppet play: it’s fast, hectic, humorous, and even vulgar, with a strong sense of eroticism. Halfway the film, however, the mood changes drastically. Don Cristobál gets rid of his strings and tears off his grotesque mask to reveal a more noble face. With that the film enters the second part, a dreamlike, lyrical one. Unfortunately, the narrative gets lost in this part, and in the end the film suffers from its length, from its meandering music and beautiful, but vague imagery.

‘Cabaret’ was Gagarina’s Fourth film, and her third after she had joined Soyuzmultfilm in 1976. In 1988 Gagarina and Gubaidulina would work together again on “The Cat That Walked by Itself”, a feature film based on Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’. Unfortunately she came to a tragic end, as she was murdered in her own house in 2010.

Watch ‘Cabaret’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Keith Griffiths, Quay Brothers
Airing Date: 1984
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer © Quay Brothers‘The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer’ is a documentary about the Czech master of surrealism.

It was made by the Quay Brothers with the sole purpose of being able to watch Švankmajer’s films themselves. Advertised to the BBC as a documentary on French and Czech surrealism, the film is rather highbrow, featuring artists and art historians, whose remarks are sometimes very difficult to grasp, indeed.

Unfortunately, the master himself refused to be interviewed and he is not shown at all. Luckily, Švankmajer’s strong images speak for themselves, and the documentary undoubtedly helped to raise interest in Švankmajer’s films in the West.

However, ‘The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer’ is also interesting for animation buffs itself, even for someone who has seen all Jan Švankmajer’s films, for it contains original interludes, animated by the Quay brothers, which have a very Švankmajer-like atmosphere, indeed, highlighted by the reuse of music from Švankmajer’s films. These interludes feature a Švankmajer-like teacher, made of household objects, and his apprentice, a doll, whose head is emptied in order to let him experience the world anew. These interludes a no less than wonderful and form an animation short in itself, which is both a great homage to the Czech master and a showcase of the Quay brothers’ own art.

The documentary further shows excerpts from Švankmajer’s films ‘Dimensions of a Dialogue’ (which de facto is shown in its entirety), ‘The Last Trick‘, ‘The Flat’, ‘Et Cetera‘, ‘Jabberwocky‘, ‘Historia Naturae, Suita‘, ‘The Ossuary‘, ‘Games with Stones‘, ‘Punch and Judy’, ‘Don Juan‘ and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.

Watch the animated interludes from ‘The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Michel Ocelot
Airing Date: December 21, 1983 – ?
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

La Princesse Insensible © Michel OcelotAfter the artistic successes of ‘Les trois inventeurs‘ (1979) and ‘La légende du pauvre bossu‘ (1982) Ocelot turned his skills to a gentle and entertaining television series for children.

The series, called ‘La princesse insensible’ (the insensitive princess), consists of thirteen episodes and has a very simple story line: a princess is so bored that nothing can amuse her. The king declares that when a prince manages to amuse the princess nonetheless, he will win her. In the 4 minute long episodes we watch several young princes, sorcerers in fact, trying to amuse her in her own theater, all in vain.

‘La princesse insensible’ uses a mixture of traditional and cut-out animation. Ocelot’s animation may be simple, no doubt due to a limited budget, but it’s very effective in its pantomimed action. The series’ design is elegant in its recreation of an 18th century atmosphere. The framing story is told in silhouettes, reminiscent of the work by Lotte Reiniger, but the theater scenes are in bright colors. The atmosphere is fairy-like and surreal throughout, helped by Christian Maire’s otherworldly music. In all, ‘La princesse insensible’ is a little charming series, which show Ocelot’s delicate and unique voice in the animation world.

The separate episodes of ‘La princesse insensible’ are listed below:

1. Le Prince dompteur (The Tamer Prince)
This episode tells the framing story and shows us the first prince. He has a menagerie of trained fairy tale animals: a unicorn, a three-headed dog, a Chinese dragon and a phoenix.

2. Le Prince jardinier (The Gardener Prince)
The second episode, like all following episodes of ‘La princesse insensible’, starts without the framing story. Instead the story is told in the title song. After the intro, we watch the second prince performing right away. He’s a garden prince, able to make plants and flowers grow on the bare floors and pillars of the princess’s theater. When he fails to impress the princess, he dissappears on an ever-growing tree.

3. Le Prince à transformations (The Transforming Prince)
The third prince trying to impress the insensible princess is the most interesting to animation fans. Being called the metamorphosis prince, he’s able to transform himself into all kinds of people and things. Ocelot uses some beautiful metamorphosis animation in doing so. The prince’s performance builds up to a great finale, in which the prince transforms himself into seemingly hundreds of things, which is depicted by the rapid showing of random pictures. This simple device works because we’ve seen the process of transformation just before that. It also adds a humorous touch to the fairy-like atmosphere, because many of the objects are anachronisms in the 18th century setting.

4. Le Prince sourcier (The Dowser Prince)
The fourth prince, the ‘diviner prince’, is able to sprout water everywhere, using a divining-rod, turning the princess’s theater into a fountain. One of the more fairy-like episodes of ‘la princesse insensible’, ‘Le prince sourcier’ is less impressive than the first three episodes. After these three, the diviner prince even fails to impress we viewers.

5. Le Prince qui fait semblant (The Pretender Prince)
The fifth prince trying to impress the princess is almost typically french: he’s a mime artist, miming (among others) that he plays the piano, rides a bicycle and even a motorcycle inside the princess’s theater. When he fails to impress the princess he even mimes that he commits suicide. Like ‘le prince à transformation’ this episode has an extra touch because of the anachronisms.

6. Le Prince météorologue (The Meteorologist Prince)
The sixth prince is called the weather prince, and he’s able to make clouds dancing within the princess’s theater. He also makes rain, lightning and a rainbow. When he leaves the princess unimpressed, he covers himself in snow. One of the lesser episodes of ‘la princesse insensible’, ‘le prince météorologue’ nevertheless shows Ocelot’s fantasy. When one doesn’t expect any more metreological wonder, the prince transforms the rainbow into numbers and patterns.

7. Le Prince sous-marin (The Underwater Prince)
The seventh prince arrives in a fish-like submarine inside an enormous fish-tank. Compared to the other princes, his antics are relatively believable, although he seems to have the ability to make fish forming patterns. This episode is one of the lesser entries in the series, despite the beautiful old-fashioned design of the princes’ submarine.

8. Le Prince volant (The Flying Prince)
The eight prince, the flying prince, looks like a Japanese superhero with wings. During his flight, we see more of the theater than in any other episode. Apparently there’s more public than the princess alone.

9. Le Prince décorateur (The Decorator Prince)
The decorator prince is able to turn the complete theater upside-down, to change its colors by clever lighting. When the princess is unimpressed as ever, he descends into the basements.

10. Le Prince magicien (The Magician Prince)
This prince is called the ‘magician prince’, even though many of the other princess were skilled magicians as well. The prince enters on a flying carpet and turns the pillars of the theater into palm trees, the chandelier into a beach ball and the stone ornaments into butterflies. Then he turns his own hat into a zeppelin and the furniture into a train. Enraged by the princess’s non-reaction, the prince makes everything disappear again, including the theater and himself.

11. Le Prince peintre (The Painter Prince)
The Painter prince episode, unlike the other episodes, has some false starts, as the prince repeatedly forgets something he needs to paint his enormous canvas. The painter exactly copies the theater on his canvas, then paints a happy portrait of the princess. But when she remains unimpressed, he violates his own drawings. It’s charming to see the shadows of Ocelot’s paper figure of the painter, while he’s painting the enormous canvas. It gives the series its handicraft appeal.

12. Le Prince artificier (The Artificer Prince)
The fireworks prince, like the painter prince, knows some false starts, when he has troubles preparing the fireworks in the dark. The fireworks effects are created nicely with kaleidoscope effects into beautiful abstract patterns. The prince also illuminates the theatre with neon lights. In the end the prince disappears on a rocket, after which the complete theater explodes.

13. Le Prince écolier (The Schoolboy Prince)
The last prince, ‘the schoolboy prince’ is much less skilled than the other princes, but he immediately solves the princess’s problem: she appears to be terribly nearsighted, and he helps her with his glasses. They marry, and the other princes perform for the princess once again, which leads to a sequence with highlights from the previous episodes.

 

Director: Yuri Norstein
Release Date: 1979
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Tale of Tales © SoyuzmultfilmIn ‘Tale of Tales’ we’re watching a wolf cub trying to survive his loneliness in an old house, relying on his memories.

These images are altered with images of a river scene with a.o. a fisherman, his wife and his children, and a giant Picasso-like minotaur skipping rope. Two other recurring images are that of dancing wives losing their men to war, and that of a little boy eating apples in the snow.

‘Tale of Tale’s is regarded as Yuri Norstein’s masterpiece and as one of the best animation films of all time. This does not mean it is the most accessible of all films, on the contrary. ‘Tale of Tales’ is a poetic film, but a confusing one. The nostalgic images seem unrelated, and are shown in a non-linear fashion. In fact, it is very difficult to render a ‘tale’ out of the images, which are intrinsically very strong, especially those of the melancholy wolf cub and of the iconic river scene.

Most of the film is made of muddy images in sepia-tones, rendering a dreamy atmosphere. Many images return, bridged by the wolf cub character, who, alone, seems to live in the present, outside of the images of a childhood long past. There’s some vague sense of a happy childhood being shattered by war and being lost in time.

The film uses no dialogue, and even the music is timid in its evocation of mood. Some of the cut-out animation is superb, however, and the overall imagery one of great virtuosity. The end result is as beautiful as it is overlong and frustratingly incomprehensible.

Watch ‘Tale of Tales’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Eduard Nazarov
Release Date: 1979
Rating: ★★
Review:

Hunt © SoyuzmultfilmThis Soviet animation film starts when a boy enters a hunting shop.

When he looks at a photo of a hunter on top of a dead lion, his imagination starts to wander. He imagines himself in a forest, and on a Savannah, full of wildlife. When encountering the lion, he prevents the hunter from shooting. Unfortunately, he’s awoken by the shop owner.

‘Hunt’ is a silent film, told with realistic images, strong 1970s designs, and dated electronic music. The film’s opening is probably its best: we’re watching images of busy and indifferent city life, before zooming in on the boy. The film clearly celebrates life, especially in the Savannah scenes, which form a rich contrast to the dull city life images. Nevertheless, the film feels traditional and naive, and more as a product of its time than as a timeless classic.

Watch ‘Hunt’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Directors: Tony Benedict, Gerry Chiniquy, Art Davis, David Detiege & Friz Freleng
Airing Date: April 1, 1980
Stars: Daffy Duck, Foghorn Leghorn, Miss Prissy, Sylvester, Speedy Gonzales
Rating: ★
Review:

Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-Citement © Warner Brothers‘Daffy Duck’s Easter Egg-Citement’ is an Easter-themed Looney Tunes television special produced by DePatie-Freleng.

Unlike Chuck Jones in ‘Bugs Bunny in King Arthur’s Court‘ Friz Freleng doesn’t attempt to tell one long story in the 25 minutes he’s got. Instead, we have three: the first evolves around Miss Prissy, who, in Foghorn Leghorn’s egg farm, lays a golden egg. Daffy and Sylvester find it, and fight eachother for it. This episode contains the only fine piece of animation of the whole special: the depiction of a paranoid Daffy in a car.

In the second episode Daffy is a guard at a chocolate bunny factory, protecting it against Speedy Gonzales, and in the third Daffy tries to go south, trying several options, including a horse. This part reuses the horse from the Pink Panther cartoon ‘Pinto Pink’ (1967) and some of its gags, too.

These stories are framed with Daffy in a very ‘Duck Amuck‘-like setting. Like ‘Bugs Bunny in King Arthur’s Court’  ‘Daffy Duck’s Easter Egg-citement’ suffers from bad designs (especially Foghorn Leghorn, who’s not a Freleng character, is badly drawn), can music, slow timing and excessive dialogue.

Director: Chuck Jones
Airing Date: February 23, 1978
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam
Rating: ★
Review:

Bugs Bunny in King Arthur's Court © Warner BrothersThe Looney Tunes Television Specials were a series of 25 minute long television programs running from 1976 to 1989 and revisiting the classic Warner Brothers characters in all new material. They were produced by either Chuck Jones’ studio or De Patie-Freleng.

‘Bugs Bunny in King Arthur’s Court’ is the fourth within the series, and produced and directed by Chuck Jones. The story is loosely based on Mark Twain’s ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ from 1889, as Jones readily admits in the opening titles. It features Bugs Bunny as himself, Elmer Fudd as a knight, Daffy Duck as a very unlikely King Arthur, Yosemite Sam as Merlin, and Porky Pig as an anonymous soldier.

Although Jones’s mastery shines through at times, the episode is a sad caricature of the old cartoons. Just nothing seems right. The designs are weak, especially that of Yosemite Sam (not a Jones character), who is too small compared to the others. Moreover, the timing is remarkably slow, and there’s way too much dialogue, slowing down the animation. The gags are further hampered by Dean Elliott’s terrible, partly electronic music. Even Mel Blanc’s voices are poor: his imitation of Arthur Q. Bryan’s voice of Elmer Fudd is nothing like the real thing, and Porky Pig simply stutters too much.

The episode’s trite story is expanded over 24 minutes, while, considering its flaws, it would already have been difficult to remain interesting within seven minutes. The result is a 24 minute long bore. The 1970s were the middle ages of animation, indeed…

Watch ‘Bugs Bunny in King Arthur’s Court’ yourself and tell me what you think:

http://www.funniermoments.com/watch.php?vid=05851c679

Director: Burny Mattinson
Release date: December 16, 1983
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy, Jiminy Cricket, Pete, Willie the Giant
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Mickey's Christmas Carol © Walt DisneyMickey’s Christmas Carol’ is one of countless cinema versions of Charles Dickens’s classic tale, this time using Disney characters.

Star of the film  is Scrooge McDuck, which of course comes natural to the old miser as the character was actually named after Dickens’ main protagonist. Unlike the other characters Scrooge McDuck was mainly a comics hero, created by Carl Barks, and he had appeared on the screen only one time before, in the educational film ‘Scrooge McDuck and Money’ (1967). However, only four years later he would be animated extensively, in the highly successful televison series, Ducktales.

Most people however will remember ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol’ as Mickey’s return to the screen for the first time since his retirement in 1953. But it also marks the return of Donald (as Scrooge’s nephew Fred) and Goofy (as his former partner Jacob Marley) to the screen after a 22 year absence. The film has an all-star cast in any case, reviving many other classic Disney stars, like Jiminy Cricket (as the ghost of Christmas Past), Daisy (as Scrooge’s former love interest) and Pete (as the ghost of Christmas future). Also featured is Willie the giant from ‘Fun and Fancy Free‘ (1948) as the ghost of Christmas present, and several characters from ‘The Wind in the Willows‘ (1949). Apart from these we can see glimpses of the Big Bad Wolf and the three little pigs, Clarabella Cow, Horace Horsecollar, Huey, Dewey and Louie, Minnie Mouse and some characters from ‘Robin Hood‘.

This all-star cast gives the film a nostalgic feel that fits the story. Indeed, with hindsight, one can see ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol’ as an early example of the Renaissance that was about to happen, in which the classic cartoon style was revived after ca. twenty dark years.

‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol’ is no ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, however, and it only looks back, not forward. For example, the rather uninspired score is by Irwin Kostal, who had been composing for Disney since ‘Mary Poppins’ (1964). Moreover, the film’s design, using xerox cells and graphic backgrounds, is firmly rooted in the tradition of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol’ is a nice and entertaining movie, but it would take another five years for the Renaissance hitting Disney in full glory, with inspired and innovative films as ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ (1988) and ‘The Little Mermaid’ (1989).

Watch ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 126
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Simple Things
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Prince and the Pauper

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: April 2?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

L'infini de l'espace © ProcidisWith ‘L’infini de l’espace’ Albert Barillé rounds up his personal science fiction story, which is the series ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon A Time Space).

After the computer society had brought the constellation of Cassopeia to its knees, it has issued the same ultimatum to Omega. The episode opens with the council of Omega rejecting it, in name of the ‘dignity of man’. Nevertheless, after the gruesome defeat of Cassiopeia in ‘Combat de titans‘ the intergalactic bond knows it doesn’t stand a chance, and most of the episode has an atmosphere of inescapable doom, with an added dose of melodrama.

Maestro and Metro set off to try to find a way to penetrate Yama’s strong defense field, but soon Maestro takes a different path, a spiritual one, in which he apparently meets Psi’s mysterious visitors, who are the possessors of the mysterious vessel in episode 1. It’s these mysterious superbeings that finally pop up as a deus ex machina, destroying Yama’s whole fleet with help of an unstable star in a matter of seconds. After the strong apocalyptic build up of the last three episodes, this announced yet all too easy solution comes a bit like a letdown.

The episode ends with an encounter with the more advanced species, in a scene reminiscent of the great science fiction movies ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968) and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977). The aliens tell our heroes that their help in this case was an exception, and that mankind should find its own way to the next, immaterial stage, through a path of kindness, tolerance and wisdom. The series ends with Psi remarking that they themselves had said the same thing to the primitive Cro-Magnon people in episode 5.

In way the ethereal aliens are arguably as patronizing as the emotionless robots of Yama had been, but the aliens’ ways show a confidence in and compassion with mankind, which Barillé strongly juxtaposes to the cold reasoned violence of the computer superpower.

Thus ends ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’. The series probably has known few reruns, if any at all, and is not as well-known as its successor, ‘Il était une fois… la vie’ (Once Upon A Time… Life), let alone contemporary American series like ‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’ or ‘The Smurfs’. Unlike the creators of those latter two series, however, Albert Barillé dared to take children seriously, sharing with them his views on more mature subjects like politics, philosophy, spirituality and mankind itself. I was one of those kids, and I thank him for it.

Watch ‘L’infini de l’espace’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 26th and last episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 25th episode: Combat de titans (The Battle of the Titans)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: March 26?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Combat de titans © ProcidisIn the opening scene of this next to final episode, Cassiopeian general Teigneux (Pest) convinces his senate to give an ultimatum for unconditional surrender to Omega. But then he himself gets the same ultimatum from his former ally, Yama…

The general’s reaction is to arrest his senate, taking the final step to become a full dictator at last, and to declare war on Yama. Meanwhile on Omega Pierrot conceives a plan to harm the robot enemy from the inside, which he performs not only with the faithful Psi and Metro, but also Le Petit Gros and his girlfriend, Pierrot’s sister. By trickery, the five manage to be brought inside a Yama cruiser, where Pierrot places a bomb.

Some excitement is added, when after having placed the bomb the five are having difficulties leaving the ship, especially when Metro forgets an important code. Nevertheless, it’s the politics and the depressing battle scenes of Cassopeia’s ill-fated war that impress the most, not the antics of our heroes.

Yama’s might is shown by images literally flooded by space ships, and by battle scenes in which Cassiopeian cruisers are shot to pieces with a frightening ease. Nevertheless Le Teigneux persists almost to the very end, with his subordinates obeying with the motto of ‘Befehl ist Befehl‘. Thus Cassopeia heads to its own mass destruction, similar to Germany and Japan in World War II. Only when Yama threatens to blow up the entire planet of Cassiopeia itself, Le Teigneux gives in, and surrenders unconditionally. Now it will be Omega’s turn…

This episode’s images of war and mass destruction are very disturbing, and in no sense Barillé glorifies war, on the contrary. Although they had been the stock enemy in the past, the viewer is invited to sympathize with the Cassiopeians. Teigneux’s admiral is seen repeatedly in sheer distress, torn between the general’s bullheadedness and the sheer hopelessness of his own duty, with his subordinates mourning the loss of human lives. Barillé raises the very question what cause would justify such loss, leaving the answer to the viewer. This is a very different take on war than the heroism of Star Wars, and a much more mature one, despite being aimed at children.

Watch ‘Combat de titans’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 25th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 24th episode: Le grand ordinateur (The Great Computer)
To the 26th episode: L’infini de l’espace (The Infinity of Space)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: March 19?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Le grand ordinateur © Procidis‘La grand ordinateur’ completely takes place in the robot city that took flight in the previous episode, ‘Cité en vol‘.

First we watch Pierrot and Metro wandering endless corridors in search for Psi. Then the flying city invites Omega’s large space ship inside, which is dwarfed by the gigantic city. Inside, colonel Pierre and Maestro from the ship are soon reunited with Pierrot, Psi and Metro, and we meet the great computer itself at last, which is the robot city of Yama itself.

The great computer tells about its origin and how it has been behind every robot scheme in the series (e.g. the robot revolt in ‘La révolte des robots‘, and the doomsday rocket in ‘L’imparable menace‘). It reveals its ultimate plan, which is to stop man from its own inclination to violence. It does so by taking total control of humanity, so “no man will ever know any pain or sorrow again”. In the end the great computer shows its immense war fleet, and sends our heroes back to Omega with its message.

This episode is hampered by some odd staging, and at times terrible drawings of our heroes, but it’s also arguably Barillé’s most daring episode: a great deal of it is filled with a philosophical discussion on questions like what makes man human? Is it allowed to sacrifice lives for the greater good? And is violence to end all violence ethical? Bold subjects for a children’s series, indeed!

Both the great computer’s reasoning and action are very believable, and its consequences food for thought. It’s ironic how its destructive approach is fueled by a wish to end all violence. It makes it one of the most interesting villains ever put to the screen, especially because it’s not really visible.

Watch ‘Le grand ordinateur’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 24th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 23th episode: Cité en vol (City in Flight)
To the 25th episode: Combat de titans (The Battle of the Titans)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: March 12?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Cité en vol © Procidis‘Cité en vol’ is the third of six episodes, which form the finale of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’.

This episode starts with Pierrot and Murdock flying to the hostile planet of Yama. Yama is overtly similar to Mos Eisley from ‘Star Wars’ (1977), and Pierrot and Murdock walk around like jedis. At Yama they ally with a rebel group, and together they try to enter the center of the city, which is pure robot territorium. Unfortunately, the robot city is well-guarded…

Meanwhile the humanoids try to get to the secrets of Psi’s psychic powers. As Pierrot reveals to Murdock, if they’ll succeed nothing will be able to stop them. At one point they get help from a Cassiopeian telepath, and he and Psi have a telepathic mind battle, which is a nightmarish variation on the battle between Merlin and Madam Mim in ‘The Sword in the Stone’ (1963). This scene, with its continuous metamorphosis, arguably is the most impressive piece of animation of the entire series, even if it’s still nowhere near the Disney animation that might have inspired it.

Although most of this episode is about Pierrot trying to get inside the robot city, it also hints at the real dangers the humanoids form. They call ambassador Le Nabot (Dwarf) a fool behind his back, and continuously refer to a secret plan. At the end of the episode the robot city takes flight, giving the episode its name. This concept Barillé undoubtedly borrowed from James Blish’s science fiction book series ‘Cities in flight’, which appeared between 1955 and 1962.

The importance of this event will only be revealed later, but it’s clear that Pierrot made it inside just in time. Unfortunately, it does kill Murdock, the only human being killed on screen in the entire series, a death that made a strong impression on me when I was a kid.

Watch ‘Cité en vol’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 23th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 22th episode: Un monde hostile (A Hostile World)
To the 24th episode: Le grand ordinateur (The Great Computer)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: March 5?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Un monde hostile © Procidis‘Un monde hostile’ is the exciting second of six episodes, which form the finale of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’.

It immediately starts where ‘Les humanoïdes‘ left off, with Pierrot’s ride through the hostile world of Apis. Practically the complete episode is devoted to Pierrot’s journey.

Meanwhile Psi is visited by Le Nabot (Dwarf), who’s actually proposing to her. Because Psi’s certain Pierrot will come to rescue her, she accidently reveils that he’s not dead, endangering his life. Le Nabot immediately restarts the search for our hero. He succeeds in destroying their mounts, and Pierrot and his fellow travellers have to continue on foot.

Soon however they’re are captured by bandits, whose captain turns out to be Murdock, the very man they seek. After some discussion, Murdock decides to help our heroes, and the episode ends with them flying to the neighboring planet Yama…

Because of its one-dimensional subject (Pierrot is travelling to Murdock’s place throughout the picture), ‘Un monde hostile’ is a little less compelling than the other final episodes. But on the way Sylva provides some necessary background information, which will be expanded upon in the following episodes.

Watch ‘Un monde hostile’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 22th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 21th episode: Les Humanoïdes (The Humanoids)
To the 23th episode: Cité en vol (City in Flight)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: February 26?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Les humanoïdes © ProcidisIt’s the last ride of the Libellule, Pierrot’s and Psi’s little spaceship, and the last flight of our heroes as a team.

What should have been a routine flight, turns into disaster, when our heroes encounter enormous space vessels, which together are able to destroy complete planets (similar to the Death Star in ‘Star Wars’ from 1977). Composer Michel Legrand enhances the menace of these weapons of mass destruction by accompanying the images with a repeated, uncanny electronic riff.

When intercepted by space ships, the Libellule crashes on the planet Apis, where Psi is captured by the very humanoids she had encountered in ‘Les anneaux de Saturne‘. While she is taken to the neighbor planet Yama, Pierrot joins a rebel group of humans fighting the humanoids, and two of them, Sylva and Gillio, join him and Metro on a journey to find one captain Murdock, the only one on Apis that owns a spaceship.

In ‘Les humanoïdes’ the mysterious ally of Cassiopeia, Yama, reveals itself. It turns out to be a whole planet of humanoids, controlled by a supercomputer. In fact, Yama is behind every robot-involved scheme in the entire series, as they will reveal later.

‘Les humanoïdes” is the first episode of the six-part mini-series within the ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ that constitutes its great finale. This finale in particular elevates the series above average, giving this series its extra grandeur.

Watch ‘Les Humanoïdes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 21th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 20th episode: La revanche des robots (The Revenge of the Robots)
To the 22th episode: Un monde hostile (An hostile world)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: February 19?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

La revanche des robots © ProcidisIn the opening scene of this episode Pierrot, Psi, Petit Gros and Metro are honored for their heroic deeds in a.o. ‘L’imparable menace‘.

Adventure immediately announces itself, however, when the planet Leto (see ‘La révolte des robots‘) asks especially for Metro to mediate in a new conflict between robots and humans. This time, the robots want Metro to fight two of their battle robots, generals Goldenbar II and III, improved versions of the giant robot Metro defeated in ‘La révolte des robots’. Metro wins both fights, but surprisingly, the robots regard these losses only as temporary setbacks on the way to success. The last six episodes will show why…

Like ‘La révolte des robots’, ‘La revanche des robots’ is a highly enjoyable episode, with a star role for the matter-of-factly little robot Metro, battling two giant Grendizer (Goldorak)-like robots, with a rather improbable, but scary capability of duplication.

Watch ‘La revanche des robots’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 20th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 19th episode: L’étrange retour vers Oméga (The Strange Return to Omega)
To the 21th episode: Les humanoïdes (The Humanoids)

Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: February 12?, 1983
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

L’étrange retour vers Oméga © ProcidisIn the opening sequence of this episode the brave little robot Metro (who had been destroyed in ‘Les anneaux de Saturne) has been repaired and he joins Pierrot and Psi when they leave earth in a cruise ship called the Cosmopolitan.

Strange things are happening there, however, and our heroes are shadowed continuously. They discover that part of the crew has been replaced by robots…

‘L’étrange retour vers Oméga’ has a great mystery plot and together with ‘La revanche des robots‘ it forms a great prelude to the one-story-finale, which consists of the last six episodes.

Watch ‘L’étrange retour vers Oméga’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is the 19th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 18th episode: L’Atlantide (Atlantis)
To the 20th episode: La revanche des robots (The Revenge of the Robots)

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