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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.
Watch ‘The Case of the Stuttering Pig’ yourself and tell me what you think:
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 genuine 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:
Director: Lev Atamanov
Release Date: 1951
The film tells about a flute player, whose music is so vivid, it can bring a drawing of a stork to life. An evil mandarin captures the bird, demanding it to perform for him. But the stork will only dance to the flute player’s music, and when it hears this music, it flies away through the window.
This film, which uses song, seems to celebrate music and freedom and appears to be a pamphlet against oppression, which is remarkable for a film made under Stalin’s rule. The animation in this short is very good, with beautifully animated humans. The result is one of the more enjoyable Soviet films of the era.
Watch ‘The Yellow Stork’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Dmitry Babichenko
Release Date: 1950
The stag claims this to be unjust, and the two animals ask a bear to be a referee. The bear restores the initial situation to be able to judge the argument, but then runs off with the deer, leaving the wolf under the tree again.
‘The Stag and the Wolf’ is a typical Russian animation film from the early fifties, this time based on an ancient tale (it’s even found among folk tales in Cameroon, albeit with different animals). Like contemporary Soviet films, it has the distinct flavor of Russified Disney. The film pushes the limits of Soviet naturalism, especially in the backgrounds. The bear, however, is very Disney-like, and a little at odds with the particularly realistically designed stag.
Watch ‘The Stag and the Wolf’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Olga Khodatayeva
Release Date: 1950
In this short an old man, a cat and a cock are having trouble to feed all the animals who seek shelter at their place. Therefore they ask the mountain god for help, who gives them a magical little windmill, which produces endless amounts of breads out of of a few grains of corn. Unfortunately, rumor spreads, and soon the little windmill is stolen by a greedy king. But the cock flies to his palace and brings back the magical object, despite several attempts on his life.
‘The Magic Windmill’ is a gentle, if what overlong little film based on a Russian fairy-tale. It uses a naturalistic style, clearly influenced by Disney, with watercolor backgrounds, and a multiplane camera effect in its opening scene . The animal designs are an interesting mix of the Disney style and Russian illustration art. The animation, however, leaves a lot to desire. The animation of movement is awkward, with most characters moving in a slow, all too constant speed. The film uses dialogue in rhyme, but the lip synchronization with the characters is poor.
Despite these flaws, ‘The Magic Windmill’ is a film of great poetry, and one of the best of the Russian fairy tale films of the fifties. Indeed, director Khodatayeva was a veteran of soviet animation, having made films since the 1920′s.
Watch ‘The Magic Windmill’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Paul Driessen
Release Date: 1980
Here we see three narrow frames: the left frame (Land) depicting a sleeping man, the middle one (Air) a bird, and the right one (Sea) a couple on a boat on the ocean. The story involves several themes explored in all three frames, which at times interact but only come together in the end
Like many of Paul Driessen’s shorts ‘Te land ter zee en in de lucht’ involves morbid humor, including a running gag of an ark sinking several times. The film uses no dialogue and no music, only sound effects with very effective results.
Driessen would take the split screen technique to the max in ‘The End of the World in Four Seasons’ (1995), but the genius of ‘Te land, ter zee en in de lucht’ would only be topped by his melancholy film ‘The Boy Who Saw the Iceberg’ from 2000.
Watch ‘Te land, ter zee en in de lucht’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Georges Schwizgebel
Release Date: 1974
More important than the plot, however, is the technique of this film, which makes use of huge pixels, giving it a very digital look. Even though the man and the birds are extremely simplified, their motions are instantly recognizable. Even more remarkable is that the film contains some kind of baroque feel, amplified by Louis Couperin’s harpsichord music.
‘Le Vol d’Icare’ was Swiss animator Georges Schwizgebel’s first animated film. It doesn’t resemble his later films. In fact, it doesn’t resemble any other animation film. But it already shows Schwizgebel’s originality and virtuosity, and it can be considered his first masterpiece.
Watch ‘Le vol d’Icare’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Osvaldo Cavandoli
Release Date: 1974
Stars: La Linea
The first of all La Linea shorts defines the complete series: it consists of numerous unrelated gags around the jabbering little man Linea, who lives in a 2-dimensional world, consisting of only one white line, of which he is part.
This cheerful, but temperamental guy has some characteristics that return in every single episode: First, he talks an Italian-sounding sort of gibberish, provided by voice actor Carlo Bonomi. Second, he always walks to the left of the screen. Third, he always encounters at least one interruption of the line during his walk. Fourth, he frequently argues with his off-screen creator, of whom we only see his hand drawing things for the little guy. And Fifth, our hero has also has an intoxicating laugh, which is heard at least once.
All designs are extremely stylized, yet perfectly recognizable, and beautifully animated. The backgrounds are monochromic, changing from green to red to blue etc. All these elements make this series such a classic, even though most of the episodes are completely plotless, and only last about 2 minutes.
In this particular episode La Linea encounters a turtle, a television set, a tap and a woman. He plays golf and takes a rollercoaster ride. It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s fun. Franco Godi’s music in this particular cartoon is more present than in the following ones, using a tune with voices instead of the instrumental background music of later cartoons.
Watch ‘La Linea episode 1’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Jack Hannah
Release Date: May 30, 1953
Stars: Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie
Donald then fools them by pretending a fountain of youth has made him younger. He even uses an alligator egg to make them believe he turned into an egg again. This leads to an encounter with the mother alligator, whose not amused. In the end we watch Donald and the boys fleeing into the distance.
The backgrounds in this cartoon are extraordinarily colorful. The characters don’t really read well against these backgrounds, but their lushness is overwhelming and an extra highlight besides the gags.
Watch ‘Don’s Fountain of Youth’ yourself and tell me what you think:
Director: Chuck Jones
Release Date: April 19, 1952
Stars: Bugs Bunny
‘Water, Water Every Hare’ is a horror cartoon featuring almost everything a horror movie should have: an evil scientist, a monster, a mummy and a robot. This story is rather awkwardly framed, however, by a story about the river flooding Bugs’s home and transporting him to and from the castle. Facing the monster Bugs repeats his manicure-tric from the earlier film, although this time he pretends to be a hair dresser. He also makes himself invisible and he makes the monster shrink.
If not as funny as ‘Hair-raising Hare’, ‘Water, Water Every Hare’ is full of clever gags. It moves at a relatively relaxed pace, which only a very confident film maker could use with such effect. In that respect, ‘Water, Water Evey Hare’ shows the mastery director Chuck Jones had achieved. He needn’t be fast and furious to be funny and he knew it.
Watch ‘Water, Water Every Hare’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 90
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Foxy Proxy
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hasty Hare
Director: Friz Freleng
Release Date: May 2, 1953
Stars: Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam
Unfortunately, the ‘Mason Dixie Line’, the border between the North (desert) and the South (beautiful green landscape), is protected by Southerner Sam, who isn’t aware that the civil war has ended ages ago. This preposterous idea leads to great gags involving several impersonations by Bugs, a.o. of Abraham Lincoln.
Watch ‘Southern Fried Rabbit’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Bugs Bunny cartoon No. 98
To the previous Bugs Bunny cartoon: Upswept Hare
To the next Bugs Bunny cartoon: Hare-Trimmed