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Director: Shamus Culhane
Release Date: October 4, 1944
When the barber appears to be gone away, Woody himself steps in, maltreating a large chief and giving an Italian construction worker ‘the works’, singing the complete aria ‘Largo el factotum’ from Gioacchino Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville’.
‘Barber of Seville’ is probably inspired by the barber scene from Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940), which is set to a Hungarian dance by Brahms. The cartoon in its turn probably inspired Chuck Jones, who would use the opera’s overture in ‘Rabbit of Seville’ (1950), with even better results.
‘Barber of Seville’ was the first Woody Woodpecker directed by Shamus Culhane. Culhane was an animation veteran, who had worked at Fleischer, Iwerks, Van Beuren, Walt Disney and Warner Bros. Culhane obviously understood the character better than his predecessor Alex Lovy did: the gags in ‘Barber of Seville’ are faster and funnier, and the story is more consistent than in most of the earlier Woody Woodpecker cartoons.
Moreover, Woody Woodpecker looks better than ever before. Layout man and color stylist Art Heinemann redesigned the character to make him less grotesque, and more appealing. Unfortunately, Culhane would direct only ten Woody Woodpecker shorts, before he left the studio to set up one of his own to make animation films for television.
Watch ‘Barber of Seville’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: November 3, 1944
Unfortunately, Killer-Diller, “the wolf destroying ram” is now in charge, giving the wolf a hard time, especially when the wolf dresses up as a sexy female sheep tot lure the ram away. When to get rid of the horny ram, the wolf reveals himself as being a wolf, the ram simply replies “so am I!”.
This cartoon is full of zany silent comedy, with frequent looks into the camera by the poor wolf, anticipating similar looks by Chuck Jones’ Coyote in his Roadrunner series.
Watch an excerpt from ‘I Got Plenty of Mutton’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: December 12, 1942
Stars: Bugs Bunny
Bugs Bunny is bullied by a large magician, leading to his catch phrase “Of course you realize this means war”. In the second part of the film Bugs Bunny wrecks the magician’s show, and finally the magician himself.
Bugs’s catch phrase was borrowed from Groucho Marx, an important inspiration on Bugs Bunny’s character anyhow. The line would become typical for Bugs as directed by Chuck Jones. Unlike Bob Clampett, Jones would treat the rabbit not as intrinsically mischievous, but as reacting to injustice placed on him.
The large magician in ‘Case of the Missing Hare’ is the first of many particularly large adversaries Jones gave to Bugs, all bullying the rabbit into action. Thus, the magician is the direct forerunner of e.g. the warehouse keeper in ‘Hare Conditioned‘ (1945), the crusher in ‘Rabbit Punch‘ (1948) and Giovanni Jones in ‘Long-Haired Hare‘ (1949).
‘Case of the Missing Hare’ shows that by the end of 1942 Chuck Jones’s mastery over material had become fully realized. The cartoon features his typical character designs, extravagant key poses, original camera angles and sense of design. The latter is exemplified by background artists Gene Fleury and John McGrew’s very unnatural backgrounds. In the first part we watch pink trees and yellow skies. In the second part they got even bolder, reducing the backgrounds to abstract forms in two colors, only.
In its typical and original design and cinematography ‘Case of the Missing Hare’ looks forward to Jones’ mature work of the late forties and fifties.
Watch ‘Case of the Missing Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 14
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: The Hare-Brained Hypnotist
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Tortoise Wins by a Hare
Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: March 28, 1942
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd
‘The Wabbit Who Came to Supper’ was Friz Freleng’s second Bugs Bunny cartoon, only, but he understood the brassy character completely. The highlight of the cartoon is the scene in which in the middle of a chase a clock chimes and Bugs bursts into a convincing New Year routine… in July. This scene not only shows the fresh character’s overpowering personality, it also shows Bugs Bunny’s ability to produce necessary attributes out of nowhere, this time confetti and streamers.
Bugs’ design, however, is rather unappealing and uncertain in this cartoon. And Elmer Fudd, too, has the less appealing alternate fatty design, which Robert Clampett had introduced in ‘Wabbit Twouble’ (1941). Luckily, this design was short-lived and lasted only four cartoons.
Two years later Hanna and Barbera would use the same plot idea in the Tom and Jerry cartoon ‘Million Dollar Cat’ (1944) with even better results.
Watch ‘The Wabbit Who Came to Supper’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 8
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Wabbit Twouble
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: The Wacky Wabbit
Director: Chris Wedge
Release Date: March 15, 2002
The Ice Age itself is depicted well, with lots of crispy ice and snow, and a fauna that matches the period. We watch various North-American ice age mammals, like mammoths, ground sloths, saber-toothed tigers, Glyptodonts, and even the South American species Macrauchenia (which looks like a llama with a trunk). The only mishaps are the two Brontotheres, mistakenly referred to as “rhinos”, a group of species that had died out 34 million years earlier. Fortunately, the makers didn’t fall for the trap of making dinosaurs co-exist with early humans (although we see one trapped in the ice, in a scene that is nonsensical anyhow).
‘Ice Age’ was Blue Sky’s first feature film and it posed serious competition to Dreamworks and Pixar with a different, yet equally interesting style of computer animation, which was more based on caricature, exaggerated animation and angular designs. The latter unfortunately lead to rather ugly designed humans.
The story of ‘Ice Age’ has uncanny similarities to the computer animation successes of 2001, ‘Shrek’ (a moody giant and an annoying chatterbox travel together), and ‘Monsters, Inc.‘ (strange creatures trying to get a little human kid home). So in this respect, the film tells us nothing new. Its extras can be found in the cartoony character Scrat, whose antics bridges the main action, and in the numerous gags on evolution.
The highlight of the film, however, is the 2D animation of mural paintings depicting Mannie the mammoth’s painful memory of the loss of his wife and son. This is a stunning tour-de-force of both daring and emotional animation, still a rare feat in computer animated feature films.
‘Ice Age’ was a huge success, and has spawned a number of sequels, none of witch mastered to keep the lean storytelling of the first film. Moreover, the stories had less and less to do with the ice age setting. Even worse, in ‘Ice Age 3′ dinosaurs had to come along, after all…
Watch the trailer for ‘Ice Age’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Bruno Bozzetto
Release Date: October 31, 1968
‘Vip mio fratello superuomo’* is Bozzetto’s second feature, and it a great improvement on his first (‘West and Soda‘ from 1965).
The designs are bolder, the pace is higher, the timing sharper, and the story more original. The film starts rightaway with a hilarious history of the VIP superheroes through time. It then introduces our heroes, the superhero SuperVIP and his weak little bespectacled brother, MiniVIP. They end upon an island where a super-villain plans to turn mankind into brainless consumers.
The result is a very nonsensical superhero story, told to a great effect, with the minimum of means and very limited animation. It also shows Bozzetto’s aversion against consumerism, a theme he would expand upon in his masterpiece ‘Allegro non troppo’ (1976). unlike that latter feature, ‘Vip mio fratello superuomo’ remains virtually unknown. This is a pity, for this funny film deserves a wider audience.
Watch and excerpt from ‘Vip mio fratello superuomo’ yourself and tell me what you think:
* also known as ‘My Brother Superman’
Director: Bruno Bozzetto
Release Date: 1967
In this cartoon Bozzetto reduces a man’s whole life to several minutes. The main character’s life takes place in and between depressingly tall grey buildings. He is only allowed brief episodes of sheer joy : during is boyhood, when he falls in love, and when he becomes a father. These short episodes are depicted by colorful pictures of nature, accompanied by lyric music.
‘Una vita in scatola’ must be Bozzetto’s most perfectly timed cartoon, and it is his first real masterpiece.
Watch ‘Una vita in scatola’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Release Date: October 31, 1927
Stars: Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
At one point his girlfriend drops by, only to give him the cold shoulder, so Oswald pretends to be a lifeguard. The girl in turn pretends to drown, but then she really get suck into the ocean by a giant fish. Oswald comes to the rescue and earns a passionate kiss.
Although this film still contains some stiff animation and designs from the early twenties (for example the dog customer), most of the animation is very flexible and lively, especially that of Oswald and the sea. Many of the hot dog gags were reused in the Mickey short ‘The Carnival Kid’ (1929).
Watch ‘All Wet’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Kōji Morimoto, Tensai Okamura & Katsuhiro Otomo
Release Date: December 23, 1995
Seven years after ‘Akira‘, Katsuhiro Otomo returned to the animated screen with ‘Memories’, a package film, which impresses, but fails to reach the heights of ‘Akira’.
Based on his own short stories, ‘Memories’ consists of three unrelated parts: Magnetic Rose, Stink Bomb and Cannon Fodder, which are discussed separately below.
‘Magnetic Rose’ starts the Memories trilogy, and it’s arguably the feature’s most satisfying episode. It is the only part that clearly deals with memories (Kon’s favorite future subject). In this episode a rescuing squad of space garbage collectors is ensnared in the memories of a long deceased opera singer, who still seems alive in her remote satellite home in space, blurring the boundaries of reality.
Even though the science fiction setting with its touches of horror is typical anime, the underlying drama is very mature and quite unique. This episode’s screenplay was penned by future director Satoshi Kon. Kon certainly established himself with this screenplay, and he would further explore the theme of memory and loss in ‘Millennium Actress’ (2001), and the blurring of reality and fantasy in both that film and ‘Paprika’ (2006) with even more spectacular results.
In ‘Magnetic Rose’ the characters are from all over the world, and this is one of the few anime, where the Japanese character looks distinctively Asian compared to the European characters.
Directed by Tensai Okamura, ‘Stink Bomb’ feels like a comical interlude between the two more serious outer episodes. The story is set in present day Japan and features a very stupid, but surprisingly indestructible protagonist who turns into a nonsensical lethal weapon. The story is simple: our ‘hero’ accidently swallows the wrong pills, wich turn him into a lethal weapon, sweating poisonous gasses that kill everything in sight. Although he remains unaware of this, he becomes the cause of the destruction of Japan. This story is rather silly, and there’s a lot of broad comic acting, but the short also has some disturbing undertones, with the fear of mass destruction weapons and corrupt governments played out well.
Otomo himself directed the last and most beautiful sequence of Memories. This episode has an original graphic style that doesn’t resemble any other anime. The film is ‘shot’ in one long camera take (with a little bit of smuggling, but very impressive nonetheless) and deals with an alternative, distinctively European, world where a totalitarian military regime enters every aspect of life.
In this sequence we’re following a single family. They live in a city were all work and school is directed to the war with a mysterious and unseen moving city. This war is fought entirely by using cannons. Despite the caricatured humans, the atmosphere is hardly comical, but dark and disturbing. However, the drama is less engaging than in ‘Magnetic Rose’. Nonetheless, because of its unique style, and strict control of cinematography, ‘Cannon Fodder’ is a small masterpiece.
Watch the trailer for ‘Memories’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Release Date: August 2, 1986
Its story is set in a parallel world, which has a genuinely late 19th century European feel, but where flying machines are very common. The strange machines imagined for the film are both wonderful and convincing.
We follow the two orphan children Pazu, a poor mine worker, and Sheeta, who falls from the sky carrying a mysterious amulet, which reveals that she’s a Laputan princess. Followed by the Dola clan, a gang of pirates led by an old pink-haired woman, and by the military led by the enigmatic gentleman Muska, the children seek out to find the flying island.
Unlike other films by Miyazaki, ‘Laputa’ knows a real villain, the ruthless prince Muska. While the children admire Laputa for its nature, and while the pirates and the soldiers are only after its treasures, Muska seeks the island’s destructive possibilities to obtain world power. On the way, the film moves to a grander and grander scale, with a finale on the floating island that shows us dazzling heights, and which doesn’t eschew many killings, making ‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’ Miyazaki’s most violent movie.
‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’ is akin to the earlier ‘Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind‘ in its focus on the importance of love and nature and its aversion to short-minded people only interested in power and destruction. Despite its violent finale, ‘Laputa’ is more overtly a film for children than ‘Nausicaä’. Its focus stays with the rather naive children, and it contains more humor, especially in the depiction of the pirates, who are almost used as a comic relief only.
In any sense, ‘Laputa’ is a powerful film: its depiction of an original made-up world is convincing, its animation is outstanding, and its message complex and far from black and white. It once again shows the mastery of Miyazaki and the Ghibli studio.
Watch the trailer for ‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Ah Da
Release Date: 1980
Three monks visit a house on a hill top to meditate and to worship Buddha. Unfortunately, they have to fetch their water in the lake below. Only after a fire they are willing to cooperate in this.
The film uses clear and simple designs and very elementary backgrounds. Its storytelling is very lean, and uses no dialogue. Unfortunately, like many other Chinese animation films, it also suffers from slowness. Ah Da clearly takes his time, telling his story on a leisurely speed. The result is a meditative film, the comedy notwithstanding.
Watch ‘Three Monks’ yourself and tell me what you think:
* this film probably is best known by its French title: ‘Les trois moines’
Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: October 30, 1937
Stars: Porky Pig, Petunia Pig
The siblings inherit their estate from their late uncle Solomon (who’s a caricature of Oliver Hardy). Unfortunately, the evil lawyer Goodwill is after them, changing himself into a dr. Hyde-like character. Strangely enough he insults somebody in the audience, the “guy in the third row”. This to his own regret, for it’s this guy who saves Porky and his siblings in the end! This type of dimension-defying humor was a novelty at the time and would become a Warner Bros. trademark in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.
Director: Frank Tashlin
Release Date: August 22, 1936
Stars: Porky Pig
The film looks primitive when compared to Disney films of the same time, looking more like a Disney film from 1932-1933. Its story is sweet, and not very funny, but Carl Stalling’s music is fresh, and Tashlin’s staging is already very impressive. Especially the air battle sequence (in which Porky, in a small army plane, fights an air fleet of hawks ) is remarkably stunning, showing unparalleled fast montage and original ‘camera’ shots. Both these techniques would become Tashlin trademarks, and would contribute to a faster, more gag-orientated style at Warner Bros.
Watch ‘Porky’s Poultry Plant’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Peter Lord
Release Date: 1991
His creator orders him around, but the man soon discovers his barren sphere is too small to do anything, and that he is stuck to it. Luckily, in the end the creator grands him a companion, which turns out to be a penguin (iris out).
This film features some pretty dark humor typical for the early Aardman films. Its claustrophobia feels real and disturbing, and the film raises inevitable questions about existence and purpose of life. And though it contains great silent comedy gags, the film is rather unsettling overall. Lord’s animation is superb throughout, and a prime example of the more comedy-driven animation style the Aardman studio took from 1989 on.
Watch ‘Adam’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Release Date: 1987
‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ is not quite as elaborate, however. It’s a sweet little video in mostly black and white. It’s set to Nina Simone’s 1958 recording of the song, which was reissued in 1987 after being used in a successful commercial for Chanel No.5.
The clip features cat characters, including a black female cat singer, and a white cat who’s in love with her. It also features some live action footage showing details of a piano, brushes on a snare drum, and a double bass.
The smoky nightclub atmosphere is captured very well, and the animation, joyful if a little crude, matches the song perfectly. The result is one of the most enjoyable little stop motion films of the 1980’s.
Watch ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Paul Driessen
Release Date: 1982
Driessen’s unique animation style is most present in this cartoon. For example, the knight has an odd way of falling to pieces and reassembling himself. ‘Oh What a Knight’ is one of Driessen’s funniest films. In fact it would not be surpassed until his ‘3 Misses’ from 1998.
Watch ‘Oh What a Knight’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Georges Schwizgebel
Release Date: 1982
After 1’40 we become the monster itself, walking through endless chambers and corridors and staircases in an almost computer animation-like long sequence of perspective animation. The rooms, initially filled with abstract shapes, become more and more complex. They contain more and more windows and human forms, and finally moving human forms, ending with multiple copies of the monster’s bride. In the end we watch the monster itself, in his depiction by Boris Karloff. he smiles at his bride, but she only screams…
This film, which is set to very nervous electronic music, is a very impressive study of perspective: we really feel we are walking. The film has a repetitive and dreamlike quality, which is enhanced by its surreal settings, reminiscent of paintings by Giorgio de Chirico.
Watch ‘Le ravissement de Frank N. Stein’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Compiler: Marv Newland
Release Date: 1985
The short features a strange yellow fellow on high heels called Foska. All scenes start and end with this character, and most of the animators feature him in their own scenes. The result is a dazzling string of totally unrelated scenes, some funny, some weird and some totally abstract.
A few animators bring their own typical style strongly into their scenes, like Zdenko Gašparović, Sally Cruikshank and Paul Driessen, others turn to abstract patterns, like Kathy Rose, Kazurai Furuya, and Per Lygum. The latter’s contribution is an early computer animation, featuring geometrical forms only. Highlight, however, is Frank Nissen’s contribution, in which a swimming octopus transforms into a naked woman.
The complete film is an ode to the imagination of the animators and the endless possibilities of the medium.
Watch ‘Anijam’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Te Wei
Release Date: 1960
They mistake two shrimps, a goldfish, a crab, a turtle and a catfish for their mother, before their real mother finds them.
Told by a voice-over, ‘Where is Mama’ is a genuinely Chinese film: it is based on an ancient Chinese fable, it is typically preoccupied with nature and water, its watercolor and ink style is based on classic Chinese painters (most obviously Qi Baishi), and it is set to a serene and leisurely speed.
The result is a film that is a bit slow, but strikingly beautiful. The short looks timelessly Chinese, but at the time of its release the film’s style was completely new and daring within the Chinese animation film world. However, it would take ca. twenty years before its influence became clear, because five years after the making of this cartoon the Shanghai Animation Studio was shut down as part of the Cultural Revolution. Only in the late seventies it would be up and running again. In the following decade ‘Where is Mama’ would be an inspiration to many Chinese animators, who would reuse several of this film’s key elements. In that decade, too, Te Wei made his own masterpiece, ‘Feeling from Mountain and Water‘ (1988).
Watch ‘Where is Mama’ yourself and tell me what you think:
* this film probably is best known by its French title: ‘Les têtards à la recherche de leur maman’
Directors: John Halas & Joy Batchelor
Release Date: 1948
Luckily, the film is rather original and exciting: using a rather abstract score by Hungarian composer Mátyás Seiber, it consists of associative images with a strong sense of surrealism. It loosely tells the story of man struggling to be free. Even though it has to pay its debts to Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ (1940), ‘The Magic Canvas’ surely is one of the most avant-gardistic films of its time, and a testimony of Halas & Batchelor’s animation ambitions.
Watch ‘Magic Canvas’ yourself and tell me what you think: