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Director: Tim Burton & Mike Johnson
Release Date: September 23, 2005
Rating: ★★★★

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride © Warner BrothersThe shy Victor and Victoria are forced by their unsympathetic parents to marry each other.

Luckily, they actually like each other, but then Victor accidentally marries the deceased Emily who takes him to a world underground, while Victoria is forced to marry the evil lord Barkis…

‘Corpse Bride’ is a typical Tim Burton film, especially in its art direction, in its 19th century, gothic setting, in its dark humor, and in its jolly portrait of death. Because the film is also a Danny Elfman-penned musical, it feels like a successor to ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’ (1993). Nevertheless, it is far more enjoyable than that sometimes tiresome film: ‘Corpse Bride’ features only three songs, two of which help to tell the story. So, even though one could do without the musical element, it doesn’t dominate the complete film.

Also, the art of ‘Corpse Bride’ is a great improvement on ‘Nightmare before Christmas’. The dull greys and blues of the living world contrast greatly with the vivid colors of the underworld, which is clearly more fun to ‘live’ in. The designs of the puppets are extreme, and their almost flawless animation is jawdroppingly rich and expressive. The story is lean, and focuses on the three protagonists, Victor, Victoria and Emily, who all three are very likable characters. The voice cast is impressive, and includes Johnny Depp (Victor), Emily Watson (Victoria), Helena Bonham Carter (Emily) and Christopher Lee (Pastor Gallswells).

All this make ‘Corpse Bride’, together with that other stop-motion film ‘Wallace and Gromit: the Curse of the Were-Rabbit‘, the best animated feature of 2005/2006, surpassing all computer animated films of those years. It proves that traditional animation is still viable and relevant in the computer age.

Watch the tailer for ‘Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: September 16, 1933
Rating: ★★★★

Still from 'The Pied Piper' featuring the pied piper and some rats

‘The Pied Piper’ is a vivid re-telling of the original fairy tale in operetta fashion.

Thus ‘The Pied Pier’, together with ‘King Neptune‘ (1932) and ‘Father Noah’s Ark‘ (1933), belongs to the operetta- like Silly Symphonies. In its score, composed by Leigh Harline, practically all dialogue is sung, making ‘The Pied Piper’ an animated mini-opera.

Its human designs are way more detailed and anatomically correct than in ‘King Neptune’ or ‘Father Noah’s Ark’, making these two films looking old-fashioned, already. Disney was advancing towards the later realism of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937) with a lightning speed…

Unfortunately, at the same time, a sugary approach is unleashed, as well. For example, the rats are not drown, but caught in an imaginary cheese. Likewise, the children, who are depicted as virtual slaves in Hamelin, do not just disappear, but they’re lured into ‘Joyland’, where even the crippled get cured. So, in the end, practically no harm is done to anyone.

And so, like the contemporary ‘Lullaby Land‘, ‘The Pied Piper’ is a strange mixture of ever advancing animation and rather infantile material. A great deal of the remaining Silly Symphonies would share this mixture, and even Disney’s first features, like ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and ‘Bambi‘ (1942) are not immune to it.

The children designs used here would pop up in numerous sugary cartoons from the 1930s, including those from other studios. And, unfortunately, there would be a lot of them…

Watch ‘The Pied Piper’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 39
To the previous Silly Symphony: Lullaby Land
To the next Silly Symphony: The Night before Christmas

Director: David Hand
Release Date: June 29, 1935
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕

Who Killed Cock Robin? © Walt Disney‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’ is a musical mystery very loosely based on the nursery rhyme of the same name. Its source material notwithstanding, ‘Who Killed Cock Robin’ is the most adult Silly Symphony ever made.

True to the Silly symphony concept, all characters either sing or speak in rhyme to Frank Churchill’s music (with Jenny Wren’s sensual blues as a highlight), but in a bare seven minutes the cartoon manages to mock both the law, racialism and gay people, while displaying an unusual eroticism through Jenny Wren, who is a very fine caricature of famous Hollywood actress Mae West, a tour de force by Joe Grant (design) and Hamilton Luske (animation).

These features are especially striking when one bears in mind that the Hays Code was already active in 1935. Due to his self-censorship of the movie industry sex and violence were banned from the movies. To illustrate its effect: due to this code an erotic cartoon character like Betty Boop had to be tuned down and was turned into a goody-goody and quite a bland character. Yet, ‘Who Killed Cock Robin’ displays its satire and eroticism in full glory.

When Cock Robin has been shot by a mysterious shadow, the Keystone Cop-like police randomly arrests some bystanders: a tough-looking guy, a black bird (in those days blacks were easily arrested just because of their color) and a cuckoo who resembles Harpo Marx. They’re treated very roughly, being knocked by the cops almost all the time. And when Jenny exclaims that justice should be done, the judge simply orders to hang all verdicts even though nobody knows who’s guilty!

It’s Cupid, an obvious caricature of a homosexual, who prevents this cruel sentence. Cock Robin appears to be alive, and finally he and Jenny Wren reunite in a hot kiss. Thus ends one of the most spectacular cartoons of the 1930s.

Watch ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 54
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Cookie Carnival
To the next Silly Symphony: Music Land

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: April 8, 1933
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Goofy, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★★★½

Ye Olden Days © Walt DisneyMickey and the gang are staged in many different times and places in their cartoons. Yet, this medieval short is the only cartoon in which they are introduced as actors performing their parts.

This idea of Mickey being an actor was first coined in ‘The Wayward Canary’ (1932) and played out to the max in ‘Mickey’s Gala Premier’ (1933). This cartoon nevertheless is played without any awareness of the public.

Minnie is the princess of Lalapazoo, and forced by her father to marry prince Goofy from Pupudadoo. Minnie refuses and is locked up in the high tower. Fortunately, there is minstrel Mickey to save her and to battle the evil prince, chasing him through the window, and marrying the princess himself. This adventure film cliche Disney already had visited in the Oswald cartoon ‘Oh What A Knight’, but it is expanded and improved in ‘Ye Olden Days’.

Like ‘Building a Building’ and ‘The Mad Doctor’ from the same year, this cartoon is partly a musical with lots of parts sung. It also contains a very anachronistic guillotine and an elaborately designed horse that shows the aspirations of the studio to master more lifelike designs and animation.

Goofy, who is introduced as Dippy Dawg, is quite miscast here, playing the villain, whom he acts out more sillily than threateningly. It seems that the animators didn’t really know what to do with the character, so far only funny because of his typical voice. So, after this film they dropped him for more than a year.

Watch ‘Ye Olden Days’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 55
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Mellerdrammer
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Mail Pilot

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: April 8, 1933
Rating: ★★★½

Father Noah's Ark © Walt DisneyThe biblical story of Noah has been quite popular with the Disney Studio: it has retold the story three times on film .

‘Father Noah’s Ark’ is its first version, the others are a stop motion film from 1959 (‘Noah’s Ark’) and a sequence from ‘Fantasia 2000’ featuring Donald Duck.

This cartoon belongs to Disney’s operetta phase (see also ‘King Neptune‘) and tells the age old story as a musical, including some gospel singing. The story is quite straightforward and the short contains only a few mild gags, the best of which are in the building sequence, e.g. the wives using an assembly line of porcupines and some monkeys using a rhinoceros to make planks out of a log.

The designs seem to be halfhearted: Father Noah’s sons look ridiculously cartoony, wearing Mickey Mouse type gloves, for instance. His sons’ wives, on the other hand, are designed in art deco fashion.

The animals, too, are in different stages of naturalism, but the cows portrayed are much more realistic than the ones featured in the Mickey Mouse shorts of the same time. Moreover, when the animals flee into the ark, we see some unprecedentedly realistic giraffes, sealions and lions.

The most stunning naturalism is found in the animation of the sea when the ark is at the mercy of the waves. This is a spectacular scene by any standards. The storm part also features a complex scene of several animals rolling from side to side. There’s a good sense of weight in this sequence, with the elephant moving last.

Watch ‘Father Noah’s Ark’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 35
To the previous Silly Symphony: Birds in the Spring
To the next Silly Symphony: Three Little Pigs

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