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Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: September 1, 1950
Stars: Donald Duck, the mountain lion
The big cat now has a son, not unlike Bent-Tail in the Pluto short ‘Sheep Dog‘ from 1949. The comedy between father Lion and son is excellent, even though it’s less funny than that of the two coyotes, as the mountain lion’s son is clearly smarter than Bent-Tail jr. Nevertheless, ‘Hook, Lion and Sinker’ is the best of the four films featuring the mountain lion. Donald is only the straight man, with all the comedy restricted to the wonderful interplay between father and son. The two mountain lions are after Donald’s newly caught fish, but unfortunately, Donald has a gun, and he is all too glad to shoot the duo with hail…
Watch ‘Hook, Lion and Sinker’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 86
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Trailer Horn
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Bee at the Beach
Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: August 13, 1949
Stars: Charlie Dog, Porky Pig
Of the quartet, this short is probably the best. Left alone at the roadside, Charlie Dog tries to become Porky Pig’s dog again, who now is a farmer in the countryside. At no point Porky is willing to take him in, despite some great acting by the deceitful mutt: highlight of the film is his playing of a weak, sick, nervous wreck, ruined by the terrors of the big city. This is arguably Charlie Dog’s all time best moment. The cartoon ends at the roadside, again, but now it’s Porky who gets left behind.
Watch ‘Often an Orphan’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Keith Griffiths, Quay Brothers
Airing Date: 1984
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: Albert Barillé
Airing date: April 2?, 1983
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 5?, 1983
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:
Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: December 4?, 1982
It’s also one of the more political episodes. Indeed, its first half is about politics only. It starts with general Teigneux (Pest) reflecting on the past, how he failed to colonize planets because of Omega, referring to the events in episodes 2-6. Then consul Le Nabot (Dwarf) shows him the tapes from earth he had stolen in the previous episode.
The images of earth shows Barillé’s cynical view on the earth’s future: 30 billion people, many of which overfed, a lot of pollution, age-long traffic jams (reminiscent of those from Halas & Batchelor’s cartoon ‘Automania 2000′ from 1963), and a pride in producing weapons. After watching these images, Cassiopeia plans to invade earth.
After this long introduction, our heroes are sent to Cassiopeia to find out what their plans are, but they’re immediately captured and sent into prison. The second half of this episode consists therefore of a classic prison break, with a starring role for the rather matter-of-factly Metro. Our heroes eventually escape using the same meteor trick the Millennium Falcon did in ‘The Emperor Strikes Back’ (1980), one of the numerous influences of George Lucas’ films on Barillé’s series.
Watch ‘À Cassiopée’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is the 9th episode of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’ (Once Upon a Time… Space)
To the 8th episode: Le long voyage (The Long Voyage)
To the 10th episode: La planète déchiquetée (A Planet Blown to Pieces)
Director: Albert Barillé
Airing date: November 27?, 1982
Star of the episode is an ancient forefather of Maestro who, after a journey of more than a 1,000 years, awakes near Omega, only to be greeted by descendants of humans who had made the trip after him, with better, larger and faster spaceships.
This episode excels in beautiful backgrounds and designs, especially of the spaceships. Highlight, however, are the ancient Maestro’s fantasies about extraterrestrial life, just before he encounters the all too familiar inhabitants of Omega.
With ‘Le long voyage’ we firmly return to the main story of ‘Il était une fois… l’espace’. The strange incident from episode 1 is mentioned again, and in this episode we learn that earth still exists, ultimately leading to our heroes visiting their mother planet in episode 17. It also contains an unclear mystery about a hijacked ‘train’, indicating more troubles to come. Moreover, this episode shows Psi’s psychic powers in full, saving Pierrot who has become adrift in space.
Watch ‘Le long voyage’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Roman Kachanov
Release date: 1981
‘Tayna Tretyei Planeti’ (‘The Mystery of the Third Planet’, also ‘[Alice and] The Secret of the Third Planet’) is a delightful science-fiction film for children about the little girl Alice, who accompanies her father, a bespectacled scientist, and the melancholy captain Green on their trips to collect alien animals for the Moscow zoo.
On their way they encounter a mysterious professor, and learn about the illegal slaughter of ‘chatterers’, some kind of alien bird species. The one surviving chatterer provides the key to the mystery, leading our heroes to two heroic astronauts, who have been captured by pirates.
Despite the mystery plot, the overall mood of the film is optimistic, unhurried and relaxed. At no point there’s is any real danger or violence. Even when the villain commits suicide at the end, it turns out to be fake. The film’s delight is not as much found in its story as in its gorgeous designs, its alien images, its surreal backgrounds, Aleksandr Zatsepin’s wonderful soundtrack, full of electronic space-funk, and in its exuberant animation. Alice, for example, has the habit to pull back her hair continuously, while her dad keeps putting his glasses straight. Also featured is a comical alien creature, called Gromozeka, who possesses no less than six arms, which are all animated separately.
It seems that there were no budget problems at Soyuzmultfilm at that time, if animators could indulge that much in excessive animation. The results are gorgeous, but sometimes the elaborate animation slows down the action, especially during the action scenes, which are anything but fast. Nevertheless, ‘Tayna Tretyei Planeti’ is a gem of an animation film, and a feature that definitely deserves to be more well-known, even though it’s a short one, clocking only 45 minutes.
Watch ‘The Mystery of the Third Planet’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Don Bluth
Release date: July 3, 1982
Dissatisfied with the studio’s policies, Don Bluth left the Walt Disney Studio in 1979, taking some fellow animators with him, thus severely delaying the production of ‘The Fox and the Hound‘ (1981).
Bluth set up his own animation studio, Don Bluth Productions, to make animated features in the spirit of the early Disney masterpieces he admired. In doing so, he became the first serious competitor of Disney in the animated feature field since Max Fleischer, who had made two animated features in 1939 and 1941.
‘The Secret of NIMH’ was the brand new studio’s first feature, and a testimony of Don Bluth’s high ambitions. Like ‘The Fox and the Hound’ it is set in more or less modern times, in a rural era, but here all similarities stop. ‘The Secret of NIMH’ is darker, and more mature than Disney’s film. It’s more akin to the earlier ‘The Rescuers‘ (it’s about mice and a rescue mission), to Disney’s next movie ‘The Black Cauldron'(grim atmosphere, swords and sorcery), and even to the non-Disney film ‘Watership Down’ (rodents grouped in all too familiar societies, a goofy bird helping the heroes). The rich and detailed backgrounds look all the way back to ‘Pinocchio’ (1940) and ‘Bambi‘ (1942). Despite all its ambitions, the film therefore lacks a forward-looking vision. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful film, and both the voice cast and the Disney-school animation are top notch throughout.
The story is based on the children’s novel ‘Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH’ by Robert C. O’Brien, and tells about the mouse Mrs. Brisby (a mother, a very rare type of hero in animation films), who tries to protect her sick son from the coming of the field-destroying tractor. In her quest she gets help from the goofy crow Jeremy and by a society of highly intelligent rats, living in a bush nearby.
The whole atmosphere is dark, and grim; the cat, the spider and the owl all look way scarier than anything in any Disney film since ‘Fantasia’ (1940), and there are no less than three deaths in the end. The rats also bring in some misplaced and hard-to-believe fantasy elements, including a magic mirror, an amulet with gravity-defying powers, and an epic sword-fight.
In spite of the great voice acting, the only characters really to come off are Mrs. Brisby (great acting by Elizabeth Hartman), Aunt Shrew (Hermione Baddely), and Jeremy the crow (voiced by comic actor Dom DeLuise). The rats come into the story rather late and one gets the feeling that Bluth wanted to tell too much in too little time, leaving the viewer puzzled after the film is over.
With all its flaws, ‘The Secret of NIMH’ remains Bluth’s most satisfying film, together with one of his last films, ‘Anastasia’ (1997). After ‘The Secret of NIMH’ Bluth teamed up with Steven Spielberg to make the more successful ‘An American Tail’ (1986) and ‘Land before Time’ (1988), but after those more commercial and less original films his productions became more uneven and forgettable, never fulfilling the promise he appeared to have made with his firstborn.
Watch ‘The Secret of NIMH’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Michel Ocelot
Release date: 1982
Three years after ‘Les trois inventeurs‘, Michel Ocelot returns with another disturbing film contemplating mankind’s narrow-mindedness and cruelty.
Using beautiful designs inspired by medieval woodcuts, little animation and no dialogue, Ocelot tells about a young hunchback who tries to win the heart of a beautiful princess, but who’s maltreated by the nobility and ridiculed by the crowds. When he’s stabbed in the back, he becomes an angel carrying the princess off into heaven.
Despite the paucity of animation, the film is beautiful and moving, if not as impressive as ‘Les trois inventeurs’.
Watch ‘La légende du pauvre Bossu’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: René Laloux
Release date: March 24, 1981
In the science fiction film ‘Les maîtres du temps’ Jaffar, the muscular pilot of a spaceship, tries to rescue the little orphan Piel, who is the sole survivor of a massacre on the dangerous planet Perdide.
Jaffar’s only means of contact with the little boy is through an egg-shaped microphone which Piel calls ‘Mike’. Jaffar is aided by a jolly old man called Silbad, and two little telepathic creatures Silbad rescued from a flower, called Jad and Yula. His only passenger, however, the evil prince Matton, on escape with a treasure, tries to kill Piel in order to get sooner to Aldebaran…
‘Les maîtres du temps’ was René Laloux’ second animated feature film and it shares many characteristics with his first, ‘Le planète sauvage‘: it’s a science fiction film based on a novel by Stefan Wul and using designs by a famous french illustrator, this time comic artist Moebius (Jean Giraud). ‘Les maîtres du temps’ nevertheless is less outlandish than ‘Le planète sauvage': it’s an ‘ordinary’ cell animation film and Moebius’s drawings are less surreal than Topor’s. Yet, they still manage to give the film an otherworldly quality. Especially his designs of Perdide are disturbing, rendering it an uncanny, dangerous planet, indeed.
Moebius’s style is very visible throughout the picture, except for the humans, who are drawn pretty uglily and fail to live up to Moebius’s own high standards. Only the little orphan Piel and the jolly old man Silbad are true to Moebius’s designs. Consequently, they are both very believable and likeable characters, where the others remain flat cardboard examples of ‘the hero’, ‘the beautiful woman’ and ‘the villain’. Their animation, too, remains stiff and unconvincing In contrast, the funny little gnomes Jad and Yula are rendered very flexible and are responsible for some of the most beautiful animation in the film, which was practically all done by the Hungarian Pannonia Film Studio.
‘Les maîtres du temps’ is far from perfect, but mainly thanks to Piel’s character, with whom we can identify immediately, it’s a film with a heart. This, combined with some impressive science fiction images, especially of Perdide and of the planet Gamma 10, make the film one to return to over and over again.
After ‘Les maîtres du temps’ Laloux would make yet another Science fiction feature, now based on drawings by French comic artist Caza: ‘Gandahar’. Unfortunately, it would prove to be the weakest of the trio.
Watch the trailer for ‘Les maîtres du temps’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Abe Levitow
Release date: April 21, 1967
Stars: Tom & Jerry
in this short Jerry is a secret agent who is after a huge stock of cheese, kept in a safe and heavily guarded by the evil ‘Tom Thrush’ (THRUSH was the arch-villain organisation of U.N.C.L.E. In the original series).
Director Abe Levitow and story man Bob Ogle clearly enjoy spoofing the spy cliches. The two are greatly helped by composer Dean Elliott, who provides a very apt sixties spy film musical score. This makes this entry also enjoyable for people who have never watched the original series, but who are familiar with, for example, James Bond.
This short has little to do with Tom & Jerry as originally conceived by Hanna and Barbera, but it is an entertaining cartoon, nonetheless. The film was to be the duo’s last enjoyable theatrical cartoon.
Watch ‘The Mouse from H.U.N.G.E.R.’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Abe Levitow
Release date: April 7, 1967
Stars: Tom & Jerry
The story, by Bob Ogle, is inspired, if not anything new (it’s in fact the reverse of the classic Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘Saturday Evening Puss‘ from 1950): when Tom goes to sleep, Jerry rises to play drums with his hep-cat mice friends in the nightclub ‘Le Cellar Smoqué’.
This, of course, keeps Tom awake, and he desperately tries to get rid of the mice, only to succeed in bothering a large bulldog living in the same apartment block.
Unlike the other Tom & Jerry’s by Chuck Jones’s unit, this short has a lively jazzy score penned by a remarkably inspired Carl Brandt. In short, everything seems to come together for once in this cartoon, making this one of the best of the Chuck Jones Tom & Jerry’s.
Watch ‘Rock ‘n’ Rodent’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Bill Justice
Release date: July 18, 1956
Taking the cartoon modern-style to the max, ‘Jack and Old Mac’ brings jazzy versions of two familiar addition songs: ‘The House That Jack Built’ and ‘Old MacDonald Had A Farm’.
This simple and unpretentious idea leads to one of Disney’s most daring cartoons. The first song only uses characters made out of words and throughout the picture startlingly modern backgrounds are used, which constantly change and which are totally abstract, giving no sense of space whatsoever. The animation, too, is mostly very limited, although some animation is reused from the ‘All the Cats Join In’-sequence from ‘Make Mine Music’ (1946).
George Bruns’s score is strikingly modern for a Disney cartoon, using genuine bebop jazz. In comparison, Louis Prima’s dixieland jazz in ‘Jungle Book’ from eleven years later is much more old-fashioned.
In all, ‘Jack and Old Mac’ is a neglected little masterpiece, and Disney’s modest, but most daring contribution to the cartoon avant-garde.
Justice would direct four more specials: ‘A Cowboy Needs a Horse’ (1956), ‘The Truth about Mother Goose’ (1957), ‘Noah’s Ark’ (1959) and ‘A Symposium on Popular Songs’ (1962), all strikingly modern in design.
Watch ‘Jack and Old Mac’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Jack Kinney
Release date: May 21, 1954
‘Pigs is Pigs’ is probably the best of the lot. It’s a story in rhyme and song about a railway station employee who does everything by the rules. At one day he has a dispute with a Scotchman about whether guinea pigs are pigs or not. The guinea pigs remain at the station until the bureaucrats of his company have found out the answer. Unfortunately, the animals multiply by the hour, soon filling the complete station.
The designs and animation of this short are highly stylized, making ‘Pigs is Pigs’ a prime example of ‘cartoon modern’, despite its 1905 setting. The scenes at the railway company are the best, ruthlessly parodying the aimless ways of bureaucracy.
Watch ‘Pigs is Pigs’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Ward Kimball
Airing Date: March 9, 1955
Stars: Walt Disney, Ward Kimball, Wernher von Braun
The documentary includes information about rockets, weightlessness and concludes with an exciting account of man’s first space travel, based on the designs by rocket engineer Wernher von Braun. Von Braun is one of three German scientists featured in the program, the others being Willy Ley and Heinz Haber, demonstrating the enormous influence of German scientists on American science. Ley had fled Nazi Germany in 1935, but Haber stayed there till the end of the war, and Von Braun was even responsible for the deadly V2 rocket, a technical tour-de-force, but also the Nazi regime’s most fearful weapon.
‘Man in Space’ is shortly introduced by Walt Disney himself, quickly giving the presentation to director Ward Kimball, who remains the main host of the program. Kimball is clearly in his element here. His own wacky cartoon animation style is featured in a short history of man’s attempts to enter space, and in Haber’s accounts of ‘space medicine’. Indeed, he later called the space series, of which ‘Man in Space’ is the first entry, the creative high point of his career.
Throughout the movie, the use of animation is sparse, however, and the animation itself very limited. Nevertheless, its use is very effective, especially in the visionary concluding part, with its typical fifties science fiction designs.
‘Man in Space’ would be followed by ‘Man and the Moon‘ (1955) and ‘Mars and Beyond’ (1957), taking ideas on space travel even further.
Watch ‘Man in Space’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Chuck Jones
Release date: August 8, 1955
Stars: Porky Pig, Sylvester
This time they’re camping out when they’re visited by a bird-like alien. The alien takes their complete camping site to outer space. As in the former cartoons, Porky remains completely unaware of what’s happening, while Sylvester sees it all, much to his horror. In the end we see them drive off into the horizon on a strange, strange planet.
‘Jumpin’ Jupiter’ is a beautiful and well animated cartoon, and arguably the most enjoyable of the Porky-Sylvester pairings. The action is helped by Carl Stalling’s particularly inspired music, which matches the science fiction setting perfectly.
Watch ‘Jumpin’ Jupiter’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: August 7, 1954
Stars: Tweety & Sylvester
He goes straight to hell, where a bulldog-like devil tells him he can return to earth because he has still eight lives left. Unfortunately, back on earth Sylvester loses his lives fast, especially during a chase at a carnival.
‘Satan’s Waitin’ shows some similarities to the Tom & Jerry cartoon ‘Heavenly Puss‘ (1949), including bulldog devils and a heavenly escalator. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most original and most inspired of the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons, on par with the celebrated ‘Birds Anonymous’ from 1957.
Watch ‘Satan’s Waitin’’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: January 14, 1955
Stars: Donald Duck
This leads to a great satirical cartoon, ridiculing hunting and hunters. It even contains a parody on ‘Bambi‘!
‘No hunting’ feels like a Goofy short featuring Donald. Like in the Goofy shorts, most of the humor comes from the contrast between the narrator’s lines and what is shown on the screen. It’s a very enjoyable Cinemascope cartoon, which deserves to be more widely known.
Watch ‘No Hunting’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 110
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Grand Canyonscope
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: Bearly Asleep
Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: August 13, 1954
Stars: Donald Duck, Humphrey the Bear
It also introduces the fidgety park ranger, voiced by Bill Thompson (more commonly known as the voice of Droopy and Mr. Smee in ‘Peter Pan’, 1953). The park ranger would star in five cartoons. In this short he orders the bears to mix with the tourists, something they gladly do, because this means getting fed. Humphrey, however, is stuck to Donald, who doesn’t share a crumb with the bear. This leads to Humphrey making more and more desperate attempts to obtain food.
Donald is hardly anything more than a straight man in this short. But it’s an entertaining film, nonetheless, featuring beautiful backgrounds.
Watch ‘Grin and Bear it’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Donald Duck cartoon No. 107
To the previous Donald Duck cartoon: Dragon Around
To the next Donald Duck cartoon: The Flying Squirrel