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Director: Tim Burton
Release Date: October 1, 1982
The short is as typical for Tim Burton as it is atypical for Disney. First, it’s a stop-motion film, something the studio was not famous for, at all. The only other stop-motion film ever released by the studio was ‘Noah’s Ark’ from 1959. Second, the film is in black and white, and third, it has a genuine horror theme, miles away from the child friendly worlds of contemporary Disney films, like ‘The Fox and the Hound‘ (1981) or ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol‘ (1983).
The film uses the deep voice of classic horror star Vincent Price to tell the story of Vincent in rather Dr. Seuss-like rhyme. Vincent is a little seven year old boy, who wants to be like, well… Vincent Price. Because his mind has become twisted by reading stories by Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent imagines himself a madman haunted by his deceased wife, and locked in by a cursed house. In the end his imagination runs haywire, taking hold of him.
Burton does an excellent job mixing horror with silliness. The result is a rather twisted version of ‘Gerald McBoingBoing’ – equally weird, equally expressionistic, but much darker. In ‘Vincent’ you find much of the Tim Burton to come. It’s not hard to see the link between this wonderful short and ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’ (1993), ‘Corpse Bride‘ (2005) or with his live action films like ‘Beetlejuice’ (1988) or ‘Sleepy Hollow’ (1999).
Interestingly, in the same year, Vincent Price would also lend his voice to the Michael Jackson song ‘Thriller’.
Watch ‘Vincent’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Fyodor Khitruk
Release Date: 1983
‘Lion and Ox’ is one of Fyodor Khitruk’s most serious films. It’s a very beautiful short about an ox who befriends a lion. Unfortunately, a devious little fox sets the two against each other, with fatal results.
This simple fable is told without words. They’re not necessary, for the animation is stunning. Apart from the fox, the animals are animated very reallistically, but they still retain a strong sense of emotion, telling the tale in expressions. The designs are very graphic, with beautiful ink lines. The backgrounds, too, are gorgeous, and reminiscent of Chinese paintings in their suggestions of the savanna by using a few powerful paintbrushes.
Watch ‘Lion and Ox’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: December 5, 1942
Stars: Daffy Duck, Porky Pig
‘My Favorite Duck’ is Chuck Jones’s third try on Daffy Duck (after ‘Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur’ from 1939 and ‘Conrad the Sailor‘ from 1942), and his first cartoon starring both Daffy and Porky Pig.
In this cartoon he finally manages to get grip of Daffy’s wacky character: Daffy’s antics are not only annoying, they’re also funny, and well-timed, and Porky is much more sympathetic victim to his antics than Caspar Caveman and Conrad ever were.
When Porky goes camping, the duck nags him, protected by the law which forbids Porky to harm any duck. Nonetheless, in the end, the tables are turned and Porky has his revenge. However, at that point the film breaks, and Daffy tells us ‘what happened’, or does he?
The film break gag first appeared in Max Fleischer’s Popeye cartoon ‘Goonland’. Six years later Jones reused this wonderful film break gag in ‘Rabbit Punch‘ (1948).
Like in other Chuck Jones cartoons from this era, the beautifully stylized backgrounds are a highlight on their own.
Watch ‘My Favorite Duck’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 97
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Porky’s Cafe
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Confusions of a Nutzy Spy
Director: Joop Geesink
Production Date: September 1942
The collaboration results in a charming little advertising film about a Mexican who tries to serenade his love, to no avail. He tries several instruments, without success. But then he magically produces a Philips Radio, and finally his love is impressed.
The puppet animation in this short is very reminiscent of that of George Pal, the Hungarian animator, who had an important puppet film studio in Eindhoven in the late 1930s, and who had made several films for Dutch electronics company Philips himself. Pal, however, had exchanged The Netherlands for the United Kingdom, and finally emigrated to the United States in December 1939, leaving The Netherlands without any animation studio of importance. Now, Toonder and Geesink tried to fill this gap. Perhaps, Philips would be interested to commission films from them.
However, the inexperience of both animators shows: the animation still looks primitive, with a lot of excessive movement. The short’s story, however, is funny and still entertaining today. Indeed, Philips saw potential, and would become an important commissioner to both film makers.
Toonder would soon abandon stop motion, but Geesink would continue in the field, creating one of the most successful stop motion animation studios of the post-war era.
Watch ‘Serenata nocturna’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Directors: Bill Roberts, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske & Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: August 24, 1942
Stars: Donald Duck, Goofy, Joe Carioca
This trip was financed by the Coordinator of Inter-American affairs, and ‘Saludos Amigos’ feels like an advertisement for South America. It’s the first of several ‘package films’ Disney made in the 1940s, and like its followers, it is uneven. There is not much of a story, just a live action travelogue across Bolivia, Chile, Argentine, and Brazil. In between there are four cartoon sequences: Donald Duck as a tourist at Lake Titicaca, the story of Pedro the airplane, Goofy as a Gaucho and a samba sequence featuring Donald and a new character, Joe Carioca.
Donald’s antics at Lake Titicaca are only mildly funny, until its finale, the suspension bridge scene, which evokes a genuine sense of heights. Pedro the airplane is a children’s story using a narrator. It’s probably the first animation film starring a humanized vehicle, and very succesful at that. Pedro is well-designed, being both a plane and a likable little boy. His story reaches an exciting climax when Pedro gets caught in a storm near Aconcagua. ‘Goofy as a gaucho’ is a nice follow-up to ‘How to ride a horse’ from ‘The Reluctant Dragon’ (1941), with Goofy acting as an Argentine gaucho. This sequence is based on the art of Argentine painter Florencio Molina Campos (1891-1959), without being as gritty. The result is both educational and funny.
However, the real highlight of the film is its finale, in which Donald meets the Brazilian parrot Joe Carioca. Both dance to a samba, following a background which is created ‘on the spot’ by a brush. This sequence is alive with creativity, seemingly introducing a new era of more stylized images and brighter colors, which would dominate the 1940s and 1950s.
Joe Carioca was such an intoxicating character, he was returned to the screen, where he would reunite with Donald in ‘The Three Caballeros‘ (1944) and ‘Melody Time‘ (1948), in still more stylized and colorful scenes.
Watch an excerpt from ‘Saludos Amigos’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: March 4, 1942
It turns out to be the wolf, who will be hanged for harassing the three little pigs. The wolf pleads unguilty, however, and tells us “what really happened”. In his own story the wolf is a classical music teacher, loving peace and quiet (the most ridiculous illustration of this is the image of the wolf crocheting a bath tube out of a sheep). He’s visited by the three little pigs who play hot jazz, bullying the wolf, wrecking his instruments, and finally his house.
It’s a bit odd to associate such intoxicating jazz with random violence à la Clockwork Orange, but the result is an entertaining cartoon, although it is clearly tributary to the 1941 Warner Bros. cartoon ‘The Trial of Mr. Wolf’, which features a very similar story idea. Interestingly enough the director of that cartoon, Friz Freleng, would later also direct a cartoon about a wolf and three little pigs playing hot jazz, in ‘The Three Little Bops‘ (1957).
Watch ‘The Hams That Couldn’t Be Cured’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 13, 1942
Popeye had joined the navy before the United States entered the war, in ‘The Mighty Navy’ (November 1941), so in ‘Blunder Below’ he’s ready to fight the enemy, the first major cartoon star to do so on the movie screen.
In the first part of this cartoon Popeye tries to be a normal sailor, among Superman-like sailors, trying to learn gunning. He is no talent, however, blundering away and almost shooting down the captain by accident.
But when a submarine approaches, Popeye shows his real worth: he beats the submarine single-handedly, saving the battle cruiser. It’s this great combination of clumsiness and superhuman powers which make Popeye such an appealing character.
The approaching submarine is accompanied by the music of Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig, indicating a German origin. However, it soon turns out to be Japanese. The submarine is anthropomorphic itself and completely dehumanized, as if it were not manned by people at all. When in August 1942 Popeye changed hands from the Fleischers to Paramount, this would radically change…
Watch ‘Blunder Below’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: September 1, 1941
Based on the 1941 hit song by the Andrews sisters, ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”‘ tells the story of a black trumpeter who gets drafted and has to blow the reveille, which he does in a swinging style, introducing the song.
The song itself is accompanied by various gags on blacks in the army. Even the Andrews Sisters themselves make a cameo, although they do not sing. Typical of the era, the blacks are pretty stereotyped, with huge lips, grammatically incorrect speech, and allusions to gambling. Two of them even die during the cartoon: one black after playing xylophone on some shells, while the other gets eaten by an alligator. So I can understand if some people find it hard to watch this cartoon today.
Nevertheless, the overall mood of the cartoon is cheerful and rather innocent, emphasizing the swinging mood. In fact, thanks to the catchy song and some flexible animation ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”‘ is one of the great jazz cartoons. It’s also one of the most enjoyable army cartoons of the era, of which it is probably the first, predating cartoons like the Pluto short ‘The Army Mascot‘, ‘Donald Gets Drafted‘, featuring Donald Duck, and the Woody Woodpecker cartoon ‘Ace in the Hole’ (all from 1942).
Watch ‘The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Bobe Cannon
Release Date: November 29, 1951
‘The Wonder Gloves’ is one of the more extreme films by the UPA studio: the characters have an extraordinarily thick outline, and Paul Julian’s backgrounds are minimal and very graphic, indeed, using photographic material to indicate textures.
Moreover, the animation is limited, sometimes no more than several poses without movement inbetween. Lou Maury’s music, too, is strikingly modern, more reminiscent of contemporary French music than of classic cartoon music.
In the cartoon Uncle George tells his nephew how he found yellow wonder boxing gloves with which he became a star boxer. The framing story uses dialogue, but Uncle George’s story is told in pantomime.
Unfortunately, the story is less interesting than the designs of the cartoon. At points the limited animation hampers a fluent telling instead of enhancing it.
Watch ‘The Wonder Gloves’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: October 21, 1951
We quickly move to several years later, when his son has become a hyper-active and extremely playful young boy, who troubles his father a lot. Like the other George Geef cartoons the humor of the cartoon stems mostly from its recognisability. Fathers can connect immediately to Mr. Geef’s problems with his son.
Although it’s not brought with great bravado, ‘Fathers are People’ is a milestone within the Disney catalog: for the first time a Disney star becomes a parent. Although it may be debatable whether Mr. Geef really is Goofy, the son is his, he’s not some nephew or whatever, like Huey, Dewey and Louie are. This is a very rare happening in the complete cartoon universe. True, Oswald became a father in ‘Poor Papa’ (1927), but this was a pilot film, and Oswald wasn’t a star, yet. And indeed, Pete was the first Disney cartoon character shown to be a father, having a son in ‘Bellboy Donald‘, 1942, but that cartoon didn’t celebrate a birth.
Anyway, George Geef jr. would return the next year in ‘Father’s Lion’. But in ‘A Goofy Movie’ (1995) Goofy had a very different and older son called Max, so maybe George Geef and Goofy weren’t one and the same, after all…
Watch ‘Fathers are People’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Goofy cartoon No. 32
To the previous Goofy cartoon: Get Rich Quick
To the next Goofy cartoon: No Smoking
Director: Jack Kinney
Release Date: June 29, 1951
Several of the Goofy cartoons of the 1950s cover everyday problems like driving and smoking, and, in ‘Tomorrow We Diet!’, dieting. These subjects remain remarkably topical, which makes them enjoyable to watch today.
‘Tomorrow We Diet’ features a particular fat type of Goofy with a weird faint voice. This fat Goofy is encouraged to diet by his rather independent mirror image. This unfortunately leads to hallucinations of food and to sleep-walking. When he finally gives in to his hunger he discovers that ‘the man in the mirror’ has eaten everything.
The highlights of the cartoon are a number of fatness gags, and the nightmarish hallucination sequence with its continuous voices saying “eat!”
Watch ‘Tomorrow We Diet!’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Goofy cartoon No. 30
To the previous Goofy cartoon: Cold War
To the next Goofy cartoon: Get Rich Quick
Director: Walter Lantz
Release Date: October 10, 1951
Stars: Woody Woodpecker
Woody Woodpecker plays the role of the grasshopper, being extremely lazy, and stealing food from his neighbors: two beavers, a squirrel and a nest of ants. In the opening shot we watch him reading a book called “work and how to avoid it” by Hans Doolittle, and later we learn that Woody’s motto is “Why worry about tomorrow, I’m gone the day after”.
Then winter arrives, and Woody even refuses to join the birds flying South. However, confronted with an empty stomach and an empty cupboard Woody is forced to beg his neighbors for food. They however punish him for their maltreatment. So, when spring arrives they find him trapped inside an ice cube. However, when the animals take pity on Woody and revive him, they soon experience the woodpecker hasn’t learned a bit…
‘Redwood Sap’ is not a gag cartoon like contemporary Woody Woodpecker shorts. With its fable-like story it looks back to cartoons of the 1930s. However, in its speed, its animation and in its dubious moral, it’s clearly a product of its own time. ‘Redwood Sap’ shows the inventiveness of the Walter Lantz studio, who could turn out original cartoons even on a small budget.
Watch ‘Redwood Sap’ yourself and tell me what you think:
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:
This is Porky Pig cartoon no. 126
To the previous Porky Pig cartoon: Curtain Raizor
To the next Porky Pig cartoon: Dough for the Do-Do
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.
The documentary 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‘.
However, ‘The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer’ is also interesting for animation buffs, even for the one who have seen all Jan Švankmajer’s films, for its original interludes, which are animated by the Quay brothers. These interludes have a truly Švankmajer-like atmosphere, highlighted by the reuse of music from Švankmajer’s films. They 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 are 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. In fact, the Quay Brothers compiled the interludes and these are available and widely known under the same name as the complete documentary, which is, in fact, eclipsed by the animated short version.
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 as 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 something of the same kind to the primitive Cro-Magnon people in episode 5.
In a 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: